"Of course," said Evelyn, smiling. "They use cuyal openly, there!"
"How'd you learn all that?" demanded Tommy.
"Ahnya told me. We made gestures and smiled at each other. We understood perfectly. She's crazy about her husband, and I—well she knows I'm going to marry you, so...."
"I suppose she explained with a smile and gestures just how much of a strain it is, simply keeping the city going?"
"Of course," said Evelyn calmly. "The city's fighting against the jungle, which grows worse all the time. They used to grow their foodstuffs in the open fields. Then within the city. Now they use empty towers and artificial light. I don't know why."
* * * * *
Tommy grunted again.
"This planet's just had, or is having, a change of geologic period," he explained, frowning. "The plants people need to live on aren't adapted to the new climate and new plants fit for food are scarce. They have to grow food under shelter, now, and their machines take an abnormal amount of supervision—I don't know why. The air-conditions for the food plants; the machines that fight back the jungle creepers which thrive in the new climate and try to crawl into the city to smother it; the power machines; the clothing machines—a million machines have to be kept going to keep back the jungle and fight off starvation and just hold on doggedly to the bare fact of civilization. And they're short-handed. The law of diminishing returns seems to operate. They're trying to maintain a civilization higher than their environment will support. They work until they're ready to drop, just to stay in the same place. And the monotony and the strain makes some of them take to cuyal for relief."
He surveyed the city from the oval window, frowning in thought.
"It's a drug which grows wild," he added slowly. "It peps them up. It makes the monotony and the weariness bearable. And then, suddenly, they break. They hate the machines and the city and everything they ever knew or did. It's a sort of delayed-action psychosis which goes off with a bang. Some of them go amuck in the city, using their belt-weapons until they're killed. More of them bolt for the jungle. The city loses better than one per cent of its population a year to the jungle. And then they're Ragged Men, half mad at all times and wholly mad as far as the city and its machines are concerned."
Evelyn linked her arm in his.
"Somehow," she told him, smiling, "I think one Thomas Reames is working out ways and means to help a city named Yugna."
"Not yet," said Tommy grimly. "We have to think of Earth. Not everybody in the Council approved of us. Aten told me one chap argued that we ought to be shoved out into the jungle again as compatriots of Jacaro. And the machines were especially short-handed to-day because of a diversion of labor to get ready something monstrous and really deadly to send down the Tube to Earth. We've got to find out what that is, and stop it."
* * * * *
But on the second day afterward, when he and Evelyn were summoned before the Council again, he still had not found out. During those two days he learned many other things, to be sure: that Aten for instance, was relieved from duty at the machines only because he was wounded; that the power of the main machines came from a deep bore which brought up superheated steam from the source of boiling springs long since built over; that iron was a rare metal, and consequently there was no dynamo in the city and magnetism was practically an unknown force; that electrokinetics was a laboratory puzzle—or had been, when there was leisure for research—while the science of electrostatics had progressed far past its state on Earth. The little truncheonlike weapons carried a stored-up static charge measurable only in hundreds of thousands of volts, which could be released in flashes which were effective up to a hundred feet or more.
And he learned that the thermit-throwers actually spat out in normal operation tiny droplets of matter Aten could not describe clearly, but which seemed to be radioactive with a period of five minutes or less; that in Rahn, the nearest other city, cuyal was taken openly, and the jungle was growing into the town with no one to hold it back; that two generations since there had been twenty cities like this one, but that a bare dozen still survived; that there was a tradition that human beings had come upon this planet from another world where other human beings had harried them, and that in that other world there were divers races of humanity, of different colors, whereas in the world of the Golden City all mankind was one race; that Tommy's declaration that he came from another group of dimensions had been debated and, on re-examination of Jacaro's Tube, accepted, and that there was keen argument going on as to the measures to be taken concerning it.
* * * * *
These things Tommy had learned, and he and Evelyn went to their second interrogation by the city's Council armed with written vocabularies of nearly a thousand words, which they had sorted out and made ready for use. But they were still ignorant of the weapons the Golden City might use against Earth.
The Council meeting took place in the same hall, with its alternating black-and-gold flooring and the saffron-red lighting panels casting a soft light everywhere. This was a scheduled meeting, foreseen and arranged for. The twelve chairs above the heavy table were all occupied from the first. But Tommy realized that the table had been intended to seat a large number of councilors. There were guards stationed formally behind the chairs. There were spectators, auditors of the deliberations of the Council. They were dressed in a myriad colors, and they talked quietly among themselves; but it seemed to Tommy that nowhere had he seen weariness, as an ingrained expression, upon so many faces.
Tommy and Evelyn were led to the foot of the Council table. The bearded old man in blue began the questioning. As Keeper of Foodstuffs—according to Aten—he was a sort of presiding officer.
Tommy answered the questions crisply. He had known what they would be, and he had developed a vocabulary to answer them. He told them of Earth, of Professor Denham, of his and the professor's experiments. He outlined the first experiment with the Fifth-Dimension catapult and the result of it—when the Golden City had sent the Death Mist to wipe out a band of Ragged Men who had captured a citizen, and after him Evelyn and her father.
* * * * *
This they remembered. Nods went around the table. Tommy told them of Jacaro, stressing the fact that Jacaro was an outlaw, a criminal upon Earth. He explained the theft of the model Tube, and how it was that their first contact with Earth had been with the dregs of Earth humanity. On behalf of his countrymen he offered reparation for all the damage Jacaro and his men had done. He proposed a peaceful commerce between worlds, to the infinite benefit of both.
There was silence until he finished. The faces before him were immobile. But a hawk-faced man in brown asked dry questions. Were there more races than one upon Earth? Were they of diverse colors? Did they ever war among themselves? At Tommy's answers the atmosphere seemed to change. And the hawk-faced man rose to speak.
Tommy and Evelyn, he conceded caustically, had certainly come from another world. Their own most ancient legends described just such a world as his: a world of many races of many colors, who fought many wars among themselves. Their ancestors had fled from such a world, according to legend through a twisting cavern which they had sealed behind them. The conditions Tommy described had been the cause of their ancestors' flight. They, the people of Yugna, would do well to follow the example of their forebears: strip these Earth folk of their weapons, exile them to the jungles, destroy the Tube through which the Mist of Many Colors had been sent. All should be as in past ages.
* * * * *
Tommy opened his mouth to answer, but another man sprang to his feet. His face alone was not weary and worn. As he stood up, Aten murmured "Cuyal!" and Tommy understood that this man used the drug which was destroying the city's citizens, but gave a transient energy to its victims. He spoke in fiery phrases, urging action which would be drastic and certain. He spoke confidently, persuasively. There was a rustling among those who watched and listened to the debate. He had caught at their imagination.
Evelyn, exerting every faculty to understand, saw Tommy's lips set grimly.
"What—what is it?" she whispered. "I—I don't understand...."
Tommy spoke in a savage growl.
"He says," he told her bitterly, "that in one blow they can defeat both the jungle and the invaders from Earth. In past ages their ancestors were faced by enemies they could not defeat. They fled to this world. Now they are faced by jungles they cannot defeat. He proposes that they flee to our world. The Death Mist is a toy, he reminds them, compared with gases they know. There is a gas of which one part in ten hundred million is fatal! In a hundred of their days they can make and send through the Tube enough of it to kill every living thing on Earth. They've figures on the Earth's size and atmosphere from me, damn 'em! And he reminds them that that deadly gas changes of itself into a harmless substance. He urges them to gas Earth humanity out of existence, call upon the other cities of this world, and presently move through the Tube to Earth. They'll carry their food-plants, rebuild their cities, and abandon this planet to the jungles and the Ragged Men. And the hell of it is, they can do it!"
A sudden approving buzz went through the Council hall.
The Fleet from Rahn
The approval of the citizens of Yugna was not enthusiastic. It was desperate. Their faces were weary. Their lives were warped. They had been fighting since birth against the encroachment of the jungle, which until the days of their grandparents had been no menace at all. But for two generations these people had been foredoomed, and they knew it. Nearly half the cities of their race were overwhelmed and their inhabitants reduced to savage hunters in the victorious jungles. Now the people of Yugna saw a chance to escape from the jungle. They were offered rest. Peace. Relaxation from the desperate need to serve insatiable machines. Sheer desperation impelled them. In their situation, the people of Earth would annihilate a solar system for relief, let alone the inhabitants of a single planet.
Shouts began to be heard above the uproar in the Council hall—approving shouts, demands that one be appointed to conduct the operation which was to give them a new planet on which to live, where their food-plants would thrive in the open, where jungles would no longer press on them.
Tommy's face went savage and desperate, itself. He clenched and unclenched his hands, struggling among his meagre supply of words for promises of help from Earth, which promises would tip the scales for peace again. He raised his voice in a shout for attention. He was unheard. The Council hall was in an uproar of desperate approval. The orator stood flushed and triumphant. The Council members looked from eye to eye, and slowly the old, white-bearded Keeper of Foodstuffs placed a golden box upon the table. He touched it in a certain fashion, and handed it to the next man. That second man touched it, and passed it to a third. And that man....
* * * * *
A hush fell instantly. Tommy understood. The measure was being decided by solemn vote. The voting device had reached the fifth man when there was a frantic clatter of footsteps, a door burst in, and babbling men stood in the opening, white-faced and stammering and overwhelmed, but trying to make a report.
Consternation reigned, incredulous, amazed consternation. The bearded old man rose dazedly and strode from the hall with the rest of the Council following him. A pause of stunned stupefaction, and the spectators in the hall rushed for other doors.
"Stick to Aten," snapped Tommy. "Something's broken, and it has to be our way. Let's see what it is."
He clung alike to Evelyn and to Aten as the air-pilot fought to clear a way. The doors were jammed. It was minutes before they could make their way through and plunge up the interminable steps Aten mounted, only to fling himself out to the open air. Then they were upon a flying bridge between two of the towers of the city. All about the city human figures were massing, staring upward.
And above the city swirled a swarm of aircraft. Tommy counted three of the clumsy ornithopters, high and motelike. There were twenty or thirty of the small, one-man craft. There were a dozen or more two-man planes. And there were at least forty giant single-wing ships which looked as if they had been made for carrying freight. They soared and circled above the city in soundless confusion. Before each of them glittered something silvery, like glass, which was not a screw propeller but somehow drew them on.
The Council was massed two hundred yards away. A single-seater dived downward, soared and circled noiselessly fifty yards overhead, and its pilot shouted a message. Then he climbed swiftly and rejoined his fellows. The men about Tommy looked stunned, as if they could not believe their ears. Aten seemed stricken beyond the passability of reaction.
* * * * *
"I got part of it," snapped Tommy, to Evelyn's whispered question. "I think I know the rest. Aten!" He snapped question after question in his inadequate phrasing of the city's tongue. Evelyn saw Aten answer dully, then bitterly, and then, as Tommy caught his arm and whispered savagely to him, Aten's eyes caught fire. He nodded violently and turned on his heel.
"Come on!" And Tommy seized Evelyn's arm again.
They followed closely as Aten wormed his way through the crowd. They raced behind him downstairs and through a door into a dusty and unvisited room. It was a museum. Aten pointed grimly.
Here were the automatic pistols taken from those of Jacaro's men who had been killed, a nasty sub-machine gun which had been Tommy's, and grenades—Jacaro's. Tommy checked shell calibres and carried off a ninety-shot magazine full of explosive bullets, and a repeating rifle.
"I can do more accurate work with this than the machine gun," he said cryptically. "Let's go!"
It was not until they were racing away from the Council building in one of the two-wheeled vehicles that Evelyn spoke again.
"I—understand part," she said unsteadily. "Those planes overhead are from Rahn. And they're threatening—"
"Blackmail," said Tommy between clenched teeth. "It sounds like a perfectly normal Earth racket. A fleet from Rahn is over Yugna, loaded with the Death Mist. Yugna pays food and goods and women or it's wiped out by gas. Further, it surrenders its aircraft to make further collections easier. Rahn refuses to die, though it's let in the jungle. It's turned pirate stronghold. Fed and clothed by a few other cities like this one, it should be able to hold out. It's a racket, Evelyn. A stick-up. A hijacking of a civilised city. Sounds like Jacaro."
* * * * *
The little vehicle darted madly through empty highways, passing groups of men staring dazedly upward at the soaring motes overhead. It darted down this inclined way, up that one. It shot into a building and around a winding ramp. It stopped with a jerk and Aten was climbing out. He ran through a doorway, Tommy and Evelyn following. Planes of all sizes, still and lifeless, filled a vast hall. And Aten struggled with a door mechanism and a monster valve swung wide. Then Tommy threw his weight with Aten's to roll out the plane he had selected. It was a small, triangular ship, with seats for three, but it was heavy. The two men moved it with desperate exertion. Aten pointed, panting, to slide-rail and it took them five minutes to get the plane about that rail and engage a curious contrivance in a slot in the ship's fuselage.
"Tommy," said Evelyn, "you're not going to—"
"Run away? Hardly!" said Tommy. "We're going up. I'm going to fight the fleet with bullets. They don't have missile-weapons here, and Aten will know the range of their electric-charge outfits."
"I'm coming too," said Evelyn desperately.
Tommy hesitated, then agreed.
"If we fail they'll gas the city anyway. One way or the other...."
There was a sudden rumble as Evelyn took her place. The plane shot forward with a swift smooth acceleration. There was no sound of any motor. There was no movement of the glittering thing at the forepart of the plane. But the ship reached the end of the slide and lifted, and then was in mid-air, fifty feet above the vehicular way, a hundred feet above the ground.
* * * * *
Tommy spoke urgently. Aten nodded. The ship had started to climb. He leveled it out and darted straight forward. He swung madly to dodge a soaring tower. He swept upward a little to avoid a flying bridge. The ship was travelling with an enormous speed, and the golden walls of the city flashed past below them and they sped away across feathery jungle.
"If we climbed at once," observed Tommy shortly, "they'd think we meant to fight. They might start their gassing. As it is, we look like we're running away."
Evelyn said nothing. For five miles the plane fled as if in panic. Evelyn clung to the filigree side of the cockpit. The city dwindled behind them. Then Aten climbed steeply. Tommy was looking keenly at the glittering thing which propelled the ship. It seemed like a crystal gridwork, like angular lace contrived of glass. But a cold blue flame burned in it and Tommy was obscurely reminded of a neon tube, though the color was wholly unlike. A blast of air poured back through the grid. Somehow, by some development of electro-statics, the "static jet" which is merely a toy in Earth laboratories had become usable as a means of propelling aircraft.
Back they swept toward the Golden City, five thousand feet or more aloft. The ground was partly obscured by the hazy, humid atmosphere, but glinting sun-reflections from the city guided them. Soaring things took shape before them and grew swiftly nearer. Tommy spoke again, busily loading the automatic rifle with explosive shells.
Aten swung to follow a vast dark shape in its circular soaring, a hundred feet above it and a hundred yards behind. Wind whistled, rising to a shriek. Tommy fired painstakingly.
* * * * *
The other plane zoomed suddenly as a flash of blue flame spouted before it. It dived, then, fluttering and swooping, began to drift helplessly toward the spires of the city below it.
"Good!" snapped Tommy. "Another one, Aten."
Aten made no reply. He flung his ship sidewise and dived steeply before a monstrous freight carrier. Tommy fired deliberately as they swept past. The propelling grid flashed blue flame in a vast, crashing flame. It, too, began to flutter down.
Tommy did not miss until the fifth time, and Aten turned with a grimace of disappointment. Tommy's second shot burst in a freight compartment and a man screamed. His voice carried horribly in the silence of these heights. But Tommy shot again, and, again, and there was a satisfying blue flash as a fifth big ship went fluttering helplessly down.
Aten began to circle for height Tommy refilled the magazine.
"I'm bringing 'em down," he explained unnecessarily to Evelyn, "by smashing their propellers. They have to land, and when they land they're hostages—I hope!"
Confusion became apparent among the hostile planes. The one Yugna ship was identified as the source of disaster. Tommy worked his rifle in cold fury. He aimed at no man, but the propelling grids were large. For a one-man ship they were five feet in diameter, and for the big freight ships, they were circles fifteen feet across. They were perfect targets, and Aten seemed to grasp the necessary tactics almost instantly. Dead ahead or from straight astern, Tommy could not miss a shot. The fleet of Rahn went fluttering downward. Fifteen of the biggest were down, and six of the two-man planes. A sixteenth and seventeenth flashed at their bows and drifted helplessly....
* * * * *
Then the one-man ships attacked. Six of them at once. Aten grinned and dived for all of them. One by one, Tommy smashed their crystal grids and watched them sinking unsteadily toward the towers of the city. As his own ship drove over them, little golden flashes licked out. Electric-charge weapons. One flash struck the wingtip of their plane, and flame burst out, but Aten flung the ship into a mad whirl in which the blaze was blown out.
Another freight ship helpless—and another. Then the air fleet of Rahn turned and fled. The ornithopters winged away in heavy, creaking terror. The others dived for speed and flattened out hardly above the tree-fern jungle. They streaked away in ignominious panic. Aten darted and circled above them and, as Tommy failed to fire, turned and went racing back toward the city.
"After the first ones went down," observed Tommy, "they knew that if they gassed the city we'd shoot them down into their own gas cloud. So they ran away. I hope this gives us a pull."
The city's towers loomed before them. The lacy bridges swarmed with human figures. Somewhere a fight was in progress about a grounded plane from Rahn. Others seemed to have surrendered sullenly on alighting. For the first time Tommy saw the city as a thronging mass of humanity, and for the first time he realized how terrible must be the strain upon the city if with so large a population so few could be free for leisure in normal times.
The little plane settled down and landed lightly. There were a dozen men on the landing platform now, and they were herding disarmed men from Rahn away from a big ship Tommy had brought down. Tommy looked curiously at the prisoners. They seemed freer than the inhabitants of Yugna. Their faces showed no such signs of strain. But they did not seem well-fed, nor did they appear as capable or as resolute.
"Cuyal," said Aten in an explanatory tone, seeing Tommy's expression. He put his shoulder to the big ship, to wheel it back into its shed.
"You son of a gun," grunted Tommy, "it's all in the day's work to you, fighting an invading fleet!"
A messenger came panting through the doorway. Tommy grinned.
"The Council wants us, Evelyn. Now maybe they'll listen."
* * * * *
The atmosphere of the resumed Council meeting was, as a matter of fact, considerably changed. The white-bearded Keeper of Foodstuffs thanked them with dignity. He invited Tommy to offer advice, since his services had proved so useful.
"Advice?" said Tommy, in the halting, fumbling phrases he had slaved to acquire. "I would put the prisoners from Rahn to work at the machines, releasing citizens." There was a buzz of approval, and he added drily in English: "I'm playing politics, Evelyn." Again in the speech of Yugna he added: "And I would have the fleet of Yugna soar above Rahn, not to demand tribute as that city did, but to disable all its aircraft, so that such piracy as to-day may not be tried again!" There was a second buzz of approval. "And third," said Tommy earnestly, "I would communicate with Earth, rather than assassinate it. I would require the science of Earth for the benefit of this world, rather than use the science of this world to annihilate that! I—"
For the second time the Council meeting was interrupted. An armed messenger came pounding into the room. He reported swiftly. Tommy grasped Evelyn's wrist in what was almost a painful grip.
"Noises in the Tube!" he told her sharply. "Earth-folk doing something in the Tube Jacaro came through. Your father...."
There was an alert silence in the Council hall. The white-bearded old man had listened to the messenger. Now he asked a grim question of Tommy.
"They may be my friends, or your enemies," said Tommy briefly. "Mass thermit-throwers and let me find out!"
* * * * *
It was the only possible thing to do. Tommy and Evelyn went with the Council, in a body, in a huge wheeled vehicle that raced across the city. Lingering groups still searched the sky above them, now blessedly empty again. But the Council's vehicle dived down and down to ground level, where the rumble of machines was loud indeed, and then turned into a tunnel which went down still farther. There was feverish activity ahead, where it stopped, and a golden thermit-thrower came into sight upon a dull-colored truck.
Questions. Feverish replies. The white-bearded man touched Tommy on the shoulder, regarding him with a peculiarly noncommittal gaze, and pointed to a doorway that someone was just opening. The door swung wide. There was a confusion of prismatically-colored mist within it, and Tommy noticed that tanks upon tanks were massed outside the metal wall of that compartment, and seemingly had been pouring something into the room.
The mist drew back from the door. Saffron-red lighting panels appeared dimly, then grew distinct. There were small, collapsed bundles of fur upon the floor of the storeroom being exposed to view. They were, probably, the equivalent of rats. And then the last remnant of mist vanished with a curiously wraithlike abruptness, and the end of Jacaro's Tube came into view.
Tommy advanced, Evelyn clinging to his sleeve. There were clanking noises audible in this room even above the dull rumble of the city's machines. The noises came from the Tube's mouth. It was four feet and more across, and it projected at a crazy angle out of a previously solid wall.
"Hello!" shouted Tommy. "Down the Tube!"
* * * * *
The clattering noise stopped, then continued at a faster rate.
"The gas is cut off!" shouted Tommy again. "Who's there?"
A voice gasped from the Tube's depths:
"It's him!" The tone was made metallic by echoing and reechoing in the bends of the Tube, but it was Smithers. "We're comin', Mr. Reames."
"Is—is Daddy there?" called Evelyn eagerly. "Daddy!"
"Coming," said a grim voice.
The clattering grew nearer. A goggled, gas-masked head appeared, and a body followed it out of the Tube, laden with a multitude of burdens. A second climbed still more heavily after the first. The brightly-colored citizens of the Golden City reached quietly to the weapons at their waists. A third voice came up the Tube, distant and nearly unintelligible. It roared a question.
Smithers ripped off his gas mask and said distinctly:
"Sure we're through. Go ahead. An' go to hell!"
Then there was a thunderous detonation somewhere down in the Tube's depths. The visible part of it jerked spasmodically and cracked across. A wisp of brownish smoke puffed out of it, and the stinging reek of high explosive tainted the air. Then Evelyn was clinging close to her father, and he was patting her comfortingly, and Smithers was pumping both of Tommy's hands, his normal calmness torn from him for once. But after a bare moment he had gripped himself again. He unloaded an impressive number of parcels from about his person. Then he regarded the citizens of the Golden City with an impersonal, estimating gaze, ignoring twenty weapons trained upon him.
"Those damn fools back on Earth," he observed impassively, "decided the professor an' me was better off of it. So they let us come through the Tube before they blew it up. We brought the explosive bullets, Mr. Reames. I hope we brought enough."
And Tommy grinned elatedly as Denham turned to crush his hands in his own.
"Those Devils Have Got Evelyn!"
That night the three of them talked, on a high terrace with most of the Golden City spread out below them. Over their heads, lights of many colors moved and shifted slowly in the sky. There were a myriad glowing specks of saffron-red about the ways of the city, and the air was full of fragrant odors. The breath of the jungle reached them even a thousand feet above ground. And the dull, persistent roar of the machines reached them too. There were five people on the terrace: Tommy, Denham, Smithers, Aten and the white-bearded old Keeper of Foodstuffs. He looked on as the Earthmen talked.
"We're marooned," Tommy was saying crisply, "and for the time being we've got to throw in with these people. I believe they came from Earth originally. Four, five thousand years ago, perhaps. Their tale is of a cave they sealed up behind them. It might have been a primitive Tube, if such a thing can be imagined."
Denham filled his pipe and lighted it meditatively.
"Half the American Indian tribes," he observed drily, "had legends of coming originally from an underworld. I wonder if Tubes are less your own invention than we thought?"
"In any case, Earth is safe."
"Is it?" insisted Denham. "You say they understood at once when you talked of dimension-travel. Ask the old chap there."
* * * * *
Tommy frowned, then labored with the question. The bearded old man spoke gravely. At his answer, Tommy grimaced.
"Datl's gone looking for the cave their legends tell of," he said reluctantly. "He's the lad who wanted the city to gas Earth with some ghastly stuff they know of, and move over when the gas was harmless again. But the cave has been lost for centuries, and it's in the torrid zone—which is torrid! We're near the North Pole of this planet, and it's tropic here. It must be mighty hot at the equator. Datl took a ship and supplies and sailed off. He may be killed. In any case it'll be some time before he's dangerous. Meanwhile, as I said, we're marooned."
"And more," said Denham deliberately. "By the time the authorities halfway believed me, and Von Holtz could talk, there were more deaths from the Death Mist. It wiped out a village, clean. So when it was realized that I'd caused it—or that was their interpretation—and was the only man who could cause it again, why, the authorities thought it a splendid idea for me to come through the Tube. They invited me to commit suicide. My knowledge was too dangerous for a man to have. So," he added grimly, "I have committed suicide. We will not be welcomed back on Earth, Tommy."
Tommy made an impatient gesture.
"Worry about that later," he said impatiently. "Right now there's a war on. Rahn's desperate, and the prisoners we took this morning say Jacaro and his gunmen are there, advising them. Ragged Men have joined in to help kill civilized humans. And they've still got aircraft."
"Which can still bombard this city," observed Denham. "Can't they?"
Tommy pointed to the many-colored beams of light playing through the sky overhead.
"No. Those lights were invented to guide night-flying planes back home. They're static lights—cold lights, by the way—and they register powerfully when a static-discharge propeller comes within range of them. If Rahn tries a night attack, Aten and I take off and shoot them down again. That's that. But we've got to design gas masks for these people, and I think I can persuade the Council to send over and take all Rahn's aircraft away to-morrow. But the real emergency is the jungle."
* * * * *
He expounded the situation of the city as he understood it. He labored painstakingly to make his meaning clear while Denham blew meditative smoke rings and Smithers listened quietly. But when Tommy had finished, Smithers said in a vast calm:
"Say, Mr. Reames, y'know I asked you to get somebody to take me through some o' these engine rooms. That's kinda my specialty. An' these folks are good, no question! There's engines—even steam engines—we couldn't build on Earth. But, my Gawd, they're dumb! There ain't a piece of automatic machinery on the place. There's one man to every motor, handlin' the controls or the throttle. They got stuff we couldn't come near, but they never thought of a steam governor."
Tommy turned kindling eyes upon him. "Go on!"
"Hell," said Smithers, "gimme some tools an' I'll go through one shop an' cut the workin' force in half, just slammin' governors, reducin' valves, an' automatic cut-offs on the machines I understand!"
Tommy jumped to his feet. He paced up and down, then halted and began to spout at Aten and the Keeper of Foodstuffs. He gesticulated, fumbling for words, and hunted absurdly for the ones he wanted among his written lists, and finally was drawing excitedly on Aten's black-metal tablet. Smithers got up and looked over his shoulder.
"That ain't it, Mr. Reames," he said slowly. "Maybe I...."
* * * * *
Tommy pressed the stud that erased the page. Smithers took the tablet and began to draw painstakingly. Aten, watching, exclaimed suddenly. Smithers was drawing an actual machine, actually used in the Golden City, and he was making a working sketch of a governor so that it would operate without supervision while the steam pressure continued. Aten began to talk excitedly. The Keeper of Foodstuffs took the tablet and examined it. He looked blank, then amazed, and as the utterly foreign idea of a machine which controlled itself struck home, his hands shook and color deepened in his cheeks.
He gave an order to Aten, who dashed away. In ten minutes other men began to arrive. They bent over the drawing. Excited comments, discussions and disputes began. A dawning enthusiasm manifested itself. Two of them approached Smithers respectfully, with shining eyes. They drew their tablets from their belts, rather skilfully drew the governor he had indicated in larger scale, and by gestures asked for more detailed plans. Smithers stood up to go with them.
"You're a hero, now, Smithers," Tommy informed him exultantly. "They'll work you to death and call you blessed!"
"Yes, sir," said Smithers. "These fellas are right good mechanics. They just happened to miss this trick." He paused. "Uh—where's Miss Evelyn?"
"With Aten's—wife," said Tommy. This was no time to discuss the marital system of Yugna. "We were prisoners until this morning. Now we're guests of honor. Evelyn's talking to a lot of women and trying to boost our prestige."
* * * * *
Smithers went over to the gesticulating group of draftsmen. He settled down to explain by drawings, since he had not a word of their language. In a few minutes a group went rushing away with the sketch tablets held jealously to their breasts, bound for workshops. Other men appeared to present new problems. A wave of sheer enthusiasm was in being. A new idea which would lessen the demands of the machines was a godsend to these folk.
Then Denham blew a smoke ring and said meditatively:
"I think I've got something too, Tommy. Ultra-sonic vibrations. Sound waves at two to three hundred thousand per second. Air won't carry them. Liquids will. They use 'em to sterilize milk, killing the germs by sound waves carried through the fluid. I think we can start some ultra-sonic generators out there that will go through the wet soil and kill all vegetation within a given range. We might clear away the jungle for half a mile or so and then use ultra-sonic beams to help it clear while new food-plants are tried out."
Tommy's eyes glowed.
"You've given yourself a job! We'll turn this planet upside down."
"We'll have to," said Denham drily. "This city may believe in you, but there are others, and these folk are a little too clever. There's no reason why some other city shouldn't attack Earth, if they seriously attack the problem of building a Tube."
Tommy ground his teeth, frowning. Then he started up. There was a new noise down in the city. A sudden flare of intolerable illumination broke out. There was an explosion, many screams, then the yelling tumult of men in deadly battle.
* * * * *
Every man on the tower terrace was facing toward the noise, staring. The white-bearded man gave an order, deliberately. Men rushed. But as they swarmed toward an exit, a green beam of light appeared near the uproar. It streaked upward, wavering from side to side and making the golden walls visible in a ghostly fashion. It shivered in a hasty rhythm.
Aten groaned, almost sobbed. There was another flash of that unbearable actinic flame. A thermit-thrower was in action. Then a third flash. This was farther away. The tumult died suddenly, but the green light-beam continued its motion.
Tommy was snapping questions. Aten spoke, and choked upon his words. Tommy swore in a sudden raging passion and then turned a chalky face toward the other two men from Earth.
"The prisoners!" he said in a hoarse voice. "The men from Rahn! They broke loose. They rushed an arsenal. With hand weapons and a thermit-thrower they fought their way to a place where the big vehicles are kept. They raided a dwelling-tower on the way and seized women. They've gone off on the metal roads through the jungle!" He tried to ease his collar. Aten, still watching the green beam, croaked another sentence. "Those devils have got Evelyn!" cried Tommy hoarsely. "My God! Aten's wife, and his...." He jerked a hand toward the Councilor. "Fifty women—gone through the jungle with them, toward Rahn! Those devils have got Evelyn!"
He whirled upon Aten, seizing his shoulder, shaking the man as he roared questions.
"No chance of catching them." Far away, in the jungle, the infinitely vivid actinic flame blazed for several seconds. "They've sprayed thermit on the road. It's melted and ruined. It'd take hours to haul the ground vehicles past the gap. They're got arms and lights. They can fight off the beasts and Ragged Men. They'll make Rahn. And then"—he shook with the rage that possessed him—"Jacaro's there with those gunmen of his and his friends the Ragged Men!"
* * * * *
He seemed to control himself with a terrific effort. He turned to the white-bearded Councilor, whose bearing was that of a man stunned by disaster. Tommy spoke measuredly, choosing words with a painstaking care, clipping the words crisply as he spoke.
The Councilor stiffened. Old as he was, an undeniable fighting light came into his eyes. He barked orders right and left. Men woke from the paralysis of shock and fled upon errands of his command. And Tommy turned to Denham and Smithers.
"The women will be safe until dawn," he said evenly. "Our late prisoners can't lose the way—aluminum roads that are no longer much used lead between all the cities—but they won't dare stop in the jungles. They'll go straight on through. They should reach Rahn at dawn or a little before. And at dawn our air fleet will be over the city and they'll give back the women, unharmed, or we'll turn their own trick on them, by God! It'd be better for Evelyn to die of gas than as—as the Ragged Men would kill her!"
His hands were clenched and he breathed noisily for an instant. Then he swallowed, and went on in the same unnatural calm:
"Smithers, you're going to stay behind, with part of the air fleet. You'll get aloft before dawn and shoot down any strange aircraft. They might try to stalemate us by repeating their threat, with our guns over Rahn. I'll give orders."
He turned again to the Councilor, who nodded, glanced at Smithers, and repeated the command.
"You, sir," he spoke to Denham, "you'll come with me. It's your right, I suppose. And we'll go down and get ready."
He led the way steadily toward a door. But he reached up to his collar, once, as if he were choking, and ripped away collar and coat and all, unconscious of the resistance of the cloth.
* * * * *
That night the Golden City made savage preparation for war. Ships were loaded and ranged in order. Crews armed themselves, and helped in the loading and arming of other ships. Oddly enough, it was to Tommy that men came to ask if the directing apparatus for the Death Mist should be carried. The Death Mist could, of course, be used as a gas alone, drifting with the wind, or it could be directed from a distance. This had been done on Earth, with the directional impulses sent blindly down the Tube merely to keep the Mist moving always. The controlling apparatus could be carried in a monster freight plane. Tommy ordered it done. Also he had the captured planes from Rahn refitted for flight by replacing their smashed propelling grids. Fresh crews of men for these ships organized themselves.
When the fleet took off there was only darkness in all the world. The unfamiliar stars above shone bright and very near as Tommy's ship, leading, winged noiselessly up and down and straight away from the play of prismatic lights above the city. Behind him, silhouetted against that many-colored glow, were the angular shapes of many other noiseless shadows. The ornithopters with their racket would start later, so the planes would be soaring above Rahn before their presence was even suspected. The rest of the fleet flew in darkness.
* * * * *
The flight above the jungle would have been awe-inspiring at another time. There were the stars above, nearer and brighter than those of Earth. There was no Milky Way in the firmament of this universe. The stars were separate and fewer in number. There was no moon. And below there was only utter, unrelieved darkness, from which now and again beast-sounds arose. They were clearly audible on board the silent air fleet. Roarings, bellowings, and hoarse screamings. Once the ships passed above a tumult as of unthinkable monsters in deadly battle, when for an instant the very clashing of monstrous jaws was audible and a hissing sound which seemed filled with deadly hate.
Then lights—few of them, and dim ones. Then blazing fires—Ragged Men, camped without the walls of Rahn or in some gold-walled courtyard where the jungle thrust greedy, invading green tentacles. The air fleet circled noiselessly in a huge batlike cloud. Then things came racing from the darkness, down below, and there was a tumult and a shouting, and presently the hilarious, insanely gleeful uproar of the Ragged Men. Tommy's face went gray. These were the escaped prisoners, arrived actually after the air fleet which was to demand the return of their captives.
Tommy wet his lips and spoke grimly to his pilot. There were six men and many Death-Mist bombs in his ship. He was asking if communication could be had with the other ships. It was wise to let Rahn know at once that avengers lurked overhead for the captives just delivered there.
For answer, a green signal-beam shot out. It wavered here and there. Tommy commanded again. And as the signal-beam flickered, he somehow sensed the obedience of the invisible ships about him. They were sweeping off to right and left. Bombs of the Death Mist were dropping in the darkness. Even in the starlight, Tommy could see great walls of pale vapor building themselves up above the jungle. And a sudden confused noise of yapping defiance and raging hatred came up from the city of Rahn. But before dawn came there was no other sign that their presence was known.
* * * * *
The ornithopters came squeaking and rattling in their heavy flight just as the dull-red sun of this world peered above the horizon. The tree-fern fronds waved languidly in the morning breeze. The walls and towers of Rahn gleamed bright gold, in parts, and in parts they seemed dull and scabrous with some creeping fungus stuff, and on one side of the city the wall was overwhelmed by a triumphant tide of green. There the jungle had crawled over the ramparts and surged into the city. Three of the towers had their bases in the welter of growing things, and creepers had climbed incredibly and were still climbing to enter and then destroy the man-made structures.
But about the city there now reared a new rampart, rising above the tree-fern tops: there was a wall of the Death Mist encompassing the city. No living thing could enter or leave the city without passing through that cloud. And at Tommy's order it moved forward to the very encampments of the Ragged Men.
He spoke, beginning his ultimatum. But a movement below checked him. On a landing stage that was spotted with molds and lichens, women were being herded into clear view. They were the women of the Golden City. Tommy saw a tiny figure in khaki—Evelyn! Then there was a sudden uproar from an encampment of the Ragged Men. His eyes flicked there, and he saw the Ragged Men running into and out of the tall wall of Death Mist. And they laughed uproariously and ran into and out of the Mist again.
His pilot dived down. The Ragged Men yelled and capered and howled derisively at him. He saw that they removed masklike things from their faces in order to shout, and donned them again before running again into the Mist. At once he understood. The Ragged Men had gas masks!
Then, a sudden cracking noise. Three men had opened fire with rifles from below. Their garments were drab-colored, in contrast to the vivid tints of the clothing of the inhabitants of Rahn. They were Jacaro's gunmen. And a great freight carrier from Yugna veered suddenly, and a bluish flash burst out before it, and it began to flutter helplessly down into the city beneath.
The weapons of Tommy's fleet were useless, since the citizens of Rahn were protected by gas masks. And Tommy's fighting ships were subject to the same rifle fire against their propelling grids that had defeated the fleet from Rahn. The only thing the avenging fleet could now accomplish was the death of the women it could not save.
A huge ornithopter came heavily out on the landing stage in the city of Rahn. Its crew took their places. With a creaking and rattling noise it rose toward the invading fleet. From its filigree cockpit sides, men waved green branches. A green light wavered from the big plane that carried the bearded Council man and Denham. That plane swept forward and hovered above the ornithopter. The two flying things seemed almost fastened together, so closely did their pilots maintain that same speed and course. A snaky rope went coiling down into the lower ship's cockpit. A burly figure began to climb it hand over hand. A second figure followed. A third figure, in the drab clothing that distinguished Jacaro's men from all others, wrapped the rope about himself and was hauled up bodily. And Tommy had seen Jacaro but once, yet he was suddenly grimly convinced that this was Jacaro himself.
The two planes swept apart. The ornithopter descended toward the landing stage of Rahn. The freight plane swept toward the ship that carried Tommy. Again the snaky rope coiled down. And Tommy swung up the fifteen feet that alone separated the two soaring planes, and looked into the hard, amused eyes of Jacaro where he sat between two other emissaries of Rahn. One of them was half naked and savage, with the light of madness in his eyes. A Ragged Man. The other was lean and desperate, despite the colored tunic of a civilized man that he wore.
* * * * *
"Hello," said Jacaro blandly. "We come up to talk things over."
Tommy gave him the briefest of nods. He looked at Denham—who was deathly white and grim—and the bearded Councilor.
"I' been givin' 'em the dope," said Jacaro easily. "We got the whip hand now. We got gas masks, we got guns just the same as you have, an' we got the women."
"You haven't ammunition," said Tommy evenly, "or damned little. Your men brought down one ship, and stopped. If you had enough shells would you have stopped there?"
"You got arithmetic, Reames," he conceded. "That's so. But—I'm sayin' it again—we got the women. Your girl, for one! Now, how about throwin' in with me, you an' the professor?"
"No," said Tommy.
"In a coupla months, Rahn'll be runnin' this planet," said Jacaro blandly, "and I'm runnin' Rahn! I didn't know how easy the racket'd be, or I'd 've let Yugna alone. I'd 've come here first. Now get it! Rahn runnin' the planet, with a couple guys runnin' Rahn an' passin' down through a Tube any little thing we want, like a few million bucks in solid gold. An' Rahn an' the other cities for kinda country homes for us an' our friends. All the women we want, good liquor, an' a swell time!"
"Talk sense," said Tommy, without even contempt in his tone.
* * * * *
"No sense actin' too big!" But the snarl encouraged Tommy, because it proved Jacaro less confidant than he tried to seem. His next change of tone proved it. "Aw, hell!" he said placatingly. "This is what I'm figurin' on. These guys ain't used to fighting, but they got the stuff. They got gases that are hell-roarin'. They got ships can beat any we got back home. Figure out the racket. A couple big Tubes, that'll let a ship—maybe folded—go through. A fleet of 'em floatin' over N'York, loaded with gas—that white stuff y' can steer wherever y' want it. Figure the shake-down. We could pull a hundred million from Chicago! We c'd take over the whole United States! Try that on y' piano! Me, King Jacaro, King of America!" His dark eyes flashed. "I'll give y' Canada or Mexico, whichever y' want. Name y' price, guy. A coupla months organizin' here, buildin' a big Tube, then...."
Tommy's expression did not change.
"If it were that easy," he said drily, "you wouldn't be bargaining. I'm not altogether a fool, Jacaro. We want those women back. You want something we've got, and you want it badly. Cut out the oratory and tell me the real price for the return of the women, unharmed."
Jacaro burst into a flood of profanity.
"I'd rather Evelyn died from gas," said Tommy, "than as your filthy Ragged Men would kill her. And you know I mean it." He switched to the language of the cities to go on coldly: "If one woman is harmed, Rahn dies. We will shoot down every ship that rises from her stages. We will spray burning thermit through her streets. We will cover her towers with gas until her people starve in the gas masks they've made!"
The lean man in the tunic of Rahn snarled bitterly: "What matter? We starve now!"
Tommy turned upon him as Jacaro whirled and cursed him bitterly for the revealing outburst.
"We will ransom the women with food," said Tommy coldly—and then his eyes flamed, "and thrash you afterwards for fools!"
* * * * *
He made a gesture to the Keeper of Foodstuffs. It was unconsciously an authoritative gesture, though the Keeper of Foodstuffs was in the state of affairs in Yugna the head of the Council. But that old man spoke deliberately. The man from Rahn snarled his reply. And Tommy turned aside as the bargaining went on. He could see Evelyn down below, a tiny speck of khaki amid the rainbow-colored robes of the other women. This had been a savage expedition, to rescue or to avenge. It had deteriorated into a bargain. Tommy heard, dully, amounts of unfamiliar weights and measures of foodstuffs he did not recognize. He heard the time and place of payment named: the gate of Yugna, the third dawn hence. He hardly looked up as at some signal one of their own ornithopters slid below and the three ambassadors of Rahn prepared to go over the side. But Jacaro snarled out of one corner of his mouth.
"These guys are takin' each other's words. Maybe that's all right, but I'm warnin' you, if there's any double-crossin'...."
He was gone. The Keeper of Foodstuffs touched Tommy's shoulder.
"Our flier," he said slowly, "will make sure our women are as yet unharmed. We are to deliver the foods at our own city gate, and after the women have been returned. Rahn dares not keep them or harm them. We of Yugna keep our word. Even in Rahn they know it."
"But they won't keep theirs," said Tommy heavily. "Not with a man of Earth to lead them."
* * * * *
He watched with his heart in his mouth as the ornithopter alighted near the assembled women of Yugna. As the three ambassadors climbed out, he could hear the faint murmur of voices. The men of Yugna, under truce, called across the landing stage to the women of their own city, and the women replied to them. Then the crew of the one grounded freighter arrived on the landing stage and the flapping flier rose slowly and rejoined the fleet. Its crew shouted a shamefaced reassurance to the flagship.
"I suppose," said Tommy bitterly, "we'd better go back—if you're sure the women are safe."
"I am sure," said the old man unhappily, "or I had not agreed to pay half the foodstuffs in Yugna for their return."
He withdrew into a troubled silence as the fleet swept far from triumphantly for him. Denham had not spoken at all, though his eyes had blazed savagely upon the men of Rahn. Now he spoke, dry-throatedly:
"She is all right so far," said Tommy bitterly. "She's to be ransomed by foodstuffs, paid at the gates of Yugna. And Jacaro bragged he's running Rahn—and they've got gas masks. We'd better be ready for trouble after the women are returned."
Denham nodded grimly. Tommy reached out and took one of the black tablets from the man beside him. He began to draw carefully, his eyes savage.
"There's high-pressure steam in Yugna," said Tommy coldly. "I'm designing steam guns. Gravity feed of spherical projectiles. A jet of steam instead of gunpowder. They'll be low-velocity, but we can use big-calibre balls for shock effect, and with long barrels they ought to serve for a hundred yards or better. Smooth bore, of course."
Denham stirred. His lips were pinched.
"I'll design a gas mask," he said restlessly, "and Smithers and I, between us, will do what we can."
* * * * *
The air fleet went on over the waving tree-fern jungle in an unvarying monotony of bitterness. Presently Tommy wearily explained his design to the bearded Councilor who, with the quick comprehension of mechanical design apparently instinctive in these folk, grasped it immediately. He selected three of the six-man crew and passed Tommy's drawings to them. While the jungle flowed beneath the fleet they studied the sketches, made other drawings, and showed them eagerly to Tommy. When the fleet soared down to the scattered landing stages, not only was the design understood but apparently plans for production had been made. It did not take the men of the Golden City long to respond.
Tommy flung himself savagely into the work he had taken upon himself. It did not occur to him to ask for authority. He knew what had to be done and he set to work to do it, commanding men and materials as if there could be no question of disobedience. As a matter of fact, he yielded impatiently to an order of the Council that he should present himself in the Council hall, and, since no questions were asked him, continued his organizing in the very presence of the Council, sending for information and giving orders in a low tone while the Council deliberated. A vote was taken by the voting machine. At its end, he was solemnly informed that, though not a native of Yugna, he was entrusted with the command of the defense forces of the city. His skill in arms—as evidenced by his defeat of the fleet of Rahn—and his ability in command—when he met the gas-mask defense of Rahn with a threat of starvation—moved the Council to that action. He accepted the command almost abstractedly, and hurried away to pick gun emplacements.
* * * * *
Within four hours after the return of the fleet, the first steam gun was ready for trial. Smithers appeared, sweat-streaked and vastly calm, to announce that others could be turned out in quantity.
"These guys have got the stuff," he said steadily. "Instead o' castin' their stuff, they shoot it on a core in a melted spray. They ain't got steel, an' copper's scarce, but they got some alloys that are good an' tough. One's part tungsten or I'm crazy."
"Turn out all the guns you can," he said. "I look for fighting."
"Yeah," said Smithers. "Miss Evelyn's still all right?"
"Up to three hours ago," said Tommy grimly. "Every three hours one of our ships lands in Rahn and reports. We give the Rahnians their stuff at our own city gates. I've warned Jacaro that we've mounted thermit-throwers on our food stores. If he manages to gas us by surprise, nevertheless our foodstuffs can't be captured. They've got to turn over Evelyn and cart off their food before they dare to fight, else they'll starve."
"But—uh—there're other cities they could stick up, ain't there?"
"We've warned them," said Tommy curtly. "They've got thermit-throwers mounted on their food supplies, too. And they're desperate enough to keep Rahn off. They're willing enough to let Yugna do the fighting, but they know what Rahn's winning will mean."
Smithers turned away, then turned back.
"Uh—Mr. Reames," he said heavily, "these fellas've gone near crazy about governors an' reducing valves an' such. They're inventin' ways to use 'em on machines I don't make head or tail of. We got three-four hundred men loose from machines already, an' they're turnin' out these steam guns as soon as you check up. There'll be more loose by night. I had 'em spray some castin's for another Tube, too. Workin' like they do, an' with the tools they got, they make speed."
Tommy responded impatiently: "There's no steel, no iron for magnets."
"I know," admitted Smithers. "I'm tryin' steam cylinders to—uh—energize the castin's, instead o' coils. It'll be ready by mornin'. I wish you'd look it over, Mr. Reames. If Miss Evelyn gets safe into the city, we could send her down the Tube to Earth until the fightin's over."
"I'll try to see it," said Tommy impatiently. "I'll try!"
* * * * *
He turned back to the set-up steam gun. A flexible pipe from a heavily insulated cylinder ran to it. A hopper dropped metallic balls down into a bored-out barrel, where they were sucked into the blast of superheated steam from the storage cylinder. At a touch of the trigger a monstrous cloud of steam poured out. It was six feet from the gun muzzle before it condensed enough to be visible. Then a huge white cloud developed; but the metal pellets went on with deadly force. Half an inch in diameter, they carried seven hundred yards at extreme elevation. Point-blank range was seventy-five yards. They would kill at three hundred, and stun or disable beyond that. At a hundred yards they would tear through a man's body.
Tommy was promised a hundred of the weapons, with their boilers, in two days. He selected their emplacements. He directed that a disabling device be inserted, so if rushed they could not be turned against their owners. He inspected the gas masks being turned out by the women, who in this emergency worked like the men. Though helpless before machinery, it seemed, they could contrive a fabric device like a gas mask.
The second day the work went on more desperately still. But Smithers' work in releasing men was telling. There were fifteen hundred governors, or reducing valves, or autocratic cut-outs in operation now. And fifteen hundred men were released from the machines, which had to be kept going to keep the city alive. With that many men, intelligent mechanics all, Tommy and Smithers worked wonders. Smithers drove them mercilessly, using profanity and mechanical drawings instead of speech. Denham withdrew twenty men and labored on top of one of the towers. Toward sunset of the second day, vast clouds of steam bellied out from it at odd, irregular intervals. Nothing else manifested itself. Those irregular belchings of steam continued until dark, but Tommy paid no attention to them. He was driving the gunners of the machine guns to practice. He was planning patrols, devising a reserve, mounting thermit-throwers, and arranging for the delivery of the promised ransom at the specified city gate. So far, there was no sign of anything unusual in Rahn. Messengers from Yugna saw the captive women regularly, once every three hours. The last to leave had reported them being loaded into great ground vehicles under a defending escort, to travel through the dark jungle roads to Yugna. A vast concourse of empty vehicles was trailing into the jungle after them, to bring back the food which would keep Rahn from starving, for a while. It all seemed wholly regular.
* * * * *
At dawn, the remaining ships of the air fleet of Rahn were soaring silently above the jungle about the Golden City. They made no threat. They offered no affront. But they soared, and soared....
A little after dawn, glitterings in the jungle announced the arrival of the convoy. Messengers, in advance, shouted the news. Men from Yugna went out to inspect. The atmosphere grew tense. The air fleet of Rahn drew closer.
Slowly, a great golden gateway yawned. Four ground vehicles rolled forward, and under escort of the Rahnians entered the city. Half the captive women from Yugna were within them. They alighted, weeping for joy, and were promptly whisked away. Evelyn was not among them. Tommy ground his teeth. An explanation came. When one half the promised ransom was paid, the others would be forthcoming.
Tommy gave grim orders. Half the foodstuffs were taken to the city gate—half, no more. At his direction, it was explained gently to the Rahnians that the rest of the ransom remained under guard of the thermit-throwers. It would not be exposed to capture until the last of the captives were released. There was argument, expostulation. The rest of the women appeared. Aten, at Tommy's express command, piled Evelyn and his own wife into a ground vehicle and came racing madly to the tower from which Tommy could see all the circuit of the city.
"You're all right?" asked Tommy. At Evelyn's speechless nod, he put his hand heavily on her shoulder. "I'm glad," he managed to say. "Put on that gas mask. Hell's going to pop in a minute."
He watched, every muscle tense. There was confusion about the city gate. Ground vehicles, loaded with foodstuffs, poured out of the gate and back toward the jungle. Other vehicles with improvised enlargements to their carrying platforms—making them into huge closed boxes—rolled up to the gate. The loaded vehicles rolled back and back and back, and ever more apparently empty ones crowded about the city gate waiting for admission.
Then there was a sudden flare of intolerable light. A wild yell arose. Clouds of steam shot up from the ready steam guns. But the circling air fleet turned as one ship and plunged for the city. The leaders began to drop smoking things that turned into monstrous pillars of prismatically-colored mist. A wave of deadly vapor rolled over the ramparts of the city. And then there was a long-continued ululation and the noise of battle. Ragged Men, hidden in the jungle, had swarmed upon the walls with ladders made of jungle reeds. They came over the parapet in a wave of howling madness. And they surged into the city, flinging gas bombs as they came.
The city was pandemonium. Tommy, looking down from his post of command, swore softly under his breath. The Death Mist was harmless to the defenders of Yugna as a gas, because of their gas masks. But it served as a screen. It blotted out the waves of attackers so the steam guns could not be aimed save at the shortest of short ranges. His precautions were taking effect, to be sure. Two thirds of the attackers were Ragged Men drawn from about half the surviving cities, and against such a horde Yugna could not have held out at all but for his preparations. Now the defenders took a heavy toll. Swarms of men came racing toward the open gate, their truncheons aglow in the sunlight. The ring of Death Mist was contracting as if to strangle the city, and it left the ramparts bare again. And from more than one point upon the battlements the roaring clouds of steam burst out again. A dozen guns concentrated on the racing men of Rahn, plunging from the jungle to enter by the gate. They were racing forward, without order but at top speed, to share in the fighting and loot. Then streams of metal balls tore into them. The front of the irregular column was wiped out utterly. Wide swathes were cut in the rest. The survivors ran wildly forward over a litter of dead and dying men. Electric-charge weapons sent crackling discharges among them. Their contorted figures reeled and fell or leaped convulsively to lie forever still where they struck. And then the steam guns turned about to fire into the rear of the men who had charged past them.
The steam guns had literally blasted away the line of Ragged Men where they stood. But the line went on, with great ragged gaps in it, to be sure, but still vastly outnumbering the defenders of the city. Here and there a steam gun was silent, its gun crew dead. And presently those that were left were useless, immobile upon the ramparts in the rear of the attack.
* * * * *
Down in the ways of the city the fight rose to a riotous clamor. At Tommy's order the women of the city had been concentrated into a few strong towers. The machines of the city were left undefended for a time. A few strong patrols of fighting men, strategically placed, flung themselves with irresistible force upon certain bands of maddened Ragged Men. But where a combat raged, there the Ragged Men swarmed howling. Their hatred impelled them to suicidal courage and to unspeakable atrocities. From his tower, Tommy saw a man of Yugna, evidently a prisoner. Four Ragged Men surrounded him, literally tearing him to pieces like the maniacs they were. Then he saw dust spurting up in a swift-advancing line, and all four Ragged Men twitched and collapsed on top of their victim. A steam gun had done that. A fighting patrol of the men of Yugna swept fiercely down a paved way in one of the Golden City's vehicles. There was the glint of gold from it. A solid, choked mass of invaders rushed upon it. Without slackening speed, without a pause, the vehicle raced ahead. Intolerable flashes of light appeared. A thermit-thrower was mounted on the machine. It drove forward like a flaming meteor, and as electric-charge weapons flashed upon it men screamed and died. It tore into a vast cloud of the Death Mist and the unbearable flames of its weapon could only be seen as illuminations of that deadly vapor.
A part of the city was free of defenders, save the isolated steam gunners left behind upon the walls. Ragged Men, drunk with success, ran through its ways, slashing at the walls, battering at the light-panels, pounding upon the doorways of the towers. Tommy saw them hacking at the great doorway of a tower. It gave. They rushed within. Almost instantly thereafter the opening spouted them forth again and after them, leaping upon them, snapping and biting and striking out with monstrous paws and teeth, were green lizard-things like the one that had been killed—years back, it seemed—on Earth. A deadly combat began instantly. But when the last of the fighting creatures was down, no more than a dozen were left of the three score who had begun the fight.
* * * * *
But this was not the main battle. The main battle was hidden under the Death-Mist cloud, concentrated in a vast thick mass in the very center of the city. Tommy watched that grimly. Perhaps eight thousand men had assailed the city. Certainly two thousand of them were represented by the still or twitching forms in queer attitudes here and there, in single dots or groups. There were seven hundred corpses before the city gate alone, where the steam guns had mowed down a reinforcing column. And there were others scattered all about. The defenders had lost heavily enough, but Tommy's defense behind the line of the ramparts was soundly concentrated in strong points, equipped with steam guns and mostly armed with thermit-throwers as well. From the center of the city there came only a vast, unorganized tumult of battle and death.
Then a huge winged thing came soaring down past Tommy's tower. It landed with a crash on the roofs below, spilling its men like ants. Tommy strained his eyes. There was a billowing outburst of steam from the tower where Denham had been working the night before. A big flier burst into the weird bright flame of the thermit fluid. It fell, splitting apart as it dropped. Again the billowing steam. No result—but beyond the city walls showed a flash of thermit flame.
"Denham!" muttered Tommy. "He's got a steam cannon; he's shooting shells loaded with thermit! They smash when they hit. Good!"
He dispatched a man with orders, but a messenger was panting his way up as the runner left. He thrust a scribbled bit of paper into Tommy's hand.
"I'm trying to bring down the ship that's controlling the Death Mist. I'll shell those devils in the middle of town as soon as our controls can handle the Mist.
Tommy began to snap out his commands. He raced downward toward the street. Men seemed to spring up like magic about him. A ship with one wing aflame was tottering in mid-air, and another was dropping like a plummet.
Then Tommy uttered a roar of pure joy. The huge globe of beautiful, deadly vapor was lifting! Its control-ship was shattered, and men of the Golden City had found its setting. The Mist rose swiftly in a single vast globule of varicolored reflections. And the situation in the center of the city was clear. Two towers were besieged. Dense masses of the invaders crowded about them, battering at them. Steam guns opened from their windows. Thermit-throwers shot out flashes of deadly fire.
Tommy led five hundred men in savage assault, cleaving the mass of invaders like a wedge. He cut off a hundred men and wiped them out, while a rear guard poured electric charges into the main body of the enemy. More men of Yugna came leaping from a dozen doorways and joined them. Tommy found Smithers by his side, powder-stained and sweat-streaked.
* * * * *
"Miss Evelyn's all right?" Smithers asked in a great calm.
"She is," growled Tommy. "On the top floor of a tower, with a hundred men to guard her."
"You didn't look at the Tube I made," said Smithers impassively; "but I turned on the steam. Looks like it worked. It's ready to go through, anyways. It's the same place the other one was, down in that cellar. I'm tellin' you in case anything happens."
He opened fire with a magazine rifle into the thick of the mob that assailed the two towers. Tommy left him with fifty men to block a highway and led his men again into the mass of mingled Ragged Men and Rahnians. His followers saw his tactics now. They split off a section of the mob and fell upon it ferociously. There were sudden awful screams. Thermit flame was rising from two places in the very thick of the mob. It burst up from a third, and fourth, and fifth.... Denham, atop his tower, had the range with his steam cannon, and was flinging heavy shells into the attackers of the two central buildings. And then there was a roaring of steam and a ground vehicle came to a stop not fifty feet away. A gun crew of Yugnans had shifted their unwieldy weapon and its insulated steam boiler to a freight-carrying vehicle. Now the gunner pulled trigger and traversed his weapon into the thick of the massed invaders, while his companions worked desperately to keep the hopper full of projectiles.
The invaders melted away. Steam guns in the towers, thermit projectiles from the cannon far away: now this.... And the concealing cloud of Death Mist was rising still, headed straight up toward the zenith. It looked like a tiny, dwindling pearl.
* * * * *
The assault upon Yugna had been a mad one, a frantic one. But the flight from Yugna was the flight of men trying to escape from hell. Wild panic characterized the fleeing men. They threw aside their weapons and ran with screams of terror no whit less horrible than their howls of triumph had been. And Tommy would have stopped the slaughter, but there was no way to send orders to the rampart gunners in time. As the fugitives swarmed toward the walls again, the storms of steam-propelled missiles mowed them down. Even those who scrambled down to the ground outside and fled sobbing for the jungle were pursued by hails of bullets. Of the eight thousand men who assailed Yugna, less than one in five escaped.
Pursuit was still in progress. Here and there, through the city, the sound of isolated combats still went on. Denham came down from his tower, looking rather sick as he saw the carnage about him. A strong escort brought Evelyn. Aten was grinning proudly, as though he had in person defeated the enemy. And as Evelyn shakingly put out her hand to touch Tommy's arm—it was only later that he realized he had been wounded in half a dozen minor ways—a shadow roared over their heads. The crackle of firearms came from it.
"Jacaro!" snarled Tommy. He leaped instinctively to pursue. But the flying thing was bound for a landing in an open square, the same one which not long since had seen the heaviest fighting. It alighted there and toppled askew on contact. Figures tumbled out of it, in torn and ragged garments fashioned in the style of the very best tailors of the Earth's underworld.
Men of Yugna raced to intercept them. Firearms spat and bellowed luridly. In a close-knit, flame-spitting group, the knot of men raced over fallen bodies and hurtled areas where the pavement had cooled to no more than a dull-red heat where a thermit shell had struck. One man, two, three men fell under the small-arms fire. The gangsters went racing on, firing desperately. They dived into a tunnel and disappeared.
* * * * *
"The Tube!" roared Smithers. "They' goin' for the Tube!"
He plunged forward, and Tommy seized his arm.
"They'll go through your Tube," he said curtly. "It looks like the one they came through. They'll think it is. Let 'em!"
Smithers tried to tear free.
"But they'll get back to Earth!" he raged. "They'll get off clear!"
The sharp, cracking sound of a gun-cotton explosion came out of the doorway into which Jacaro and his men had dived. Tommy smiled very grimly indeed.
"They've gone through," he said drily, "and they've blown up the Tube behind them. But—I didn't tell you—I took a look at your castings. Your pupils were putting them together, ready for the steam to go in, in place of the coils I used. But—er—Smithers! You'd discarded one pair of castings. They didn't satisfy you. Your pupils forgot that. They hooked them all together."
"Instead of four right-angled bends," said Tommy grimly, "you have six connected together. You turned on the steam in a hurry, not noticing. And I don't know how many series of dimensions there are in this universe of ours. We know of two. There may be any number. But Jacaro and his men didn't go back to Earth. God only knows where they landed, or what it's like. Maybe somewhere a million miles in space. Nobody knows. The main thing is that Earth is safe now. The Death Mist has faded out of the picture."
He turned and smiled warmly at Evelyn. He was a rather horrible sight just then, though he did not know it. He was bloody and burned and wounded. He ignored all matters but success, however.
"I think," he said drily, "we have won the confidence of the Golden City, Evelyn, and that there'll be no more talk of gassing Earth. As soon as the Council meets again, we'll make sure. And then—well, I think we can devote a certain amount of time to our personal affairs. You are the first Earth-girl to be kissed in the Fifth Dimension. We'll have to see if you can't distinguish yourself further."
* * * * *
Again the Council hall in the tower of government in the Golden City of Yugna. Again the queer benches about the black wood table—though two of the seats that had been occupied were now empty. Again the guards behind the chairs, and the crowd of watchers—visitors, citizens of Yugna attending the deliberations of the Council. The audience was a queer one, this time. There were bandages here and there. There were men who were wounded, broken, bent and crippled in the fighting. But a warmly welcoming murmur spread through the hall as Tommy came in, himself rather extensively patched. He was wearing the tunic and breeches of the Golden City, because his own clothes were hopelessly beyond repair. The bearded old Councilor gathered the eyes of his fellows. They rose. This Council seated itself as one man.
Quiet, placid formalities. The Keeper of Foodstuffs murmured that the ransom paid to Rahn had been recaptured after the fight. The Keeper of Rolls reported with savage satisfaction the number of enemies who had been slain in battle. He added that the loss to Yugna was less than one man to ten of the enemy. And he added with still greater emphasis that the shops being fitted with automatic controls had released now—it had grown so much—two thousand men from the necessary day-and-night working force, and further releases were to be expected. The demands of the machines were lessened already beyond the memory of man. Eyes turned to Tommy. There was an expectant pause for his reply.
* * * * *
"I have been Commander of Defense Forces," he told them slowly, "in this fighting. I have given you weapons. My two friends have done more. The machines will need fewer and fewer attendants as the hints they have given you are developed by yourselves. And there is some hope that one of my friends may show you, in ultra-sonic vibrations, a weapon against the jungle itself. My own work is finished. But I ask again for friendship for my planet Earth. I ask that no war be made on my own people. I ask that what benefits you receive from us be passed to the other surviving cities on the same terms. And since there can be no further fighting on this scale, I give back my commission as Commander of Defense."
There was a little murmur among the men of Yugna, looking on. It rose to a protesting babble, to a shout of denial. The bearded old Keeper of Foodstuffs smiled.
"It is proposed that the appointment as Commander of Defense Forces be permanent," he said mildly.
He produced the queer black box and touched it in a certain fashion. He passed it to the next man, and the next and next. It went around the table. It passed a second time, but this time each man merely looked at the top.
"You command the defense forces of Yugna for always," said the bearded old man, gently. "Now give orders that your requests become laws."
* * * * *
Tommy stared blankly. He was suddenly aware of Aten in the background, smiling triumphantly and very happily at him. There was something like a roar of approval from the men of Yugna, assembled.
"Just what," demanded Tommy, "does this mean?"
"For many years," said a hawk-faced man ungraciously, "we have had no Commander of Defense. We have had no wars. But we see it is needful. We have chosen you, with all agreeing. The Commander of Defense"—he sniffed a little, pugnaciously—"has the authority the ancient kings once owned."
Tommy leaned back in the curious benchlike chair, his eyes narrow and thoughtful. This would simplify matters. No danger of trouble to Earth. A free hand for Denham and Smithers to help these folk, and for Denham to learn scientific facts—in the sciences they had developed—which would be of inestimable value to Earth. And it could be possible to open a peaceful trade with the nations of Earth without any danger of war. And maybe....
He smiled suddenly. It widened almost into a grin.
"All right. I'll settle down here for a while. But—er—just how does one set about getting married here?"