The Inner World
By A. HYATT VERRILL
Illustrated by Morley
In three parts from Amazing Stories magazine June, July, August 1935. Digital capture by Doug Frizzle 2007
It is a long while since we had the pleasure of presenting a story to our readers by this distinguished author. It will perhaps be recognized as a departure from the topics of his recent ones which we have given. We know that many of our readers will be delighted to see his name again in our list and we can promise them that there will be no disappointment; the story is so good.
CHAPTER I Doctor Thurlow's Demonstration
RECENTLY I have received a most remarkable, I might even say astounding, communication. A communication so amazing and incredible that did I not possess the tangible and unquestionable evidence of its authenticity I would not dare to make it public. But as it is, with concrete proofs of the origin of the communication where anyone may see and examine them, I feel that the communication is of such great and universal interest and importance that it should be given to the world.
This astonishing document came to me by the most matter-of-fact and ordinary means—the United States Mail. It was posted at St, Thomas in the Virgin Islands and was accompanied by an explanatory letter which read as follows:
I am mailing you under separate cover by parcel post an object which belongs to you and which I have been directed to send to your address.
A day or two ago, while bathing at
Upon securing it I discovered it was not a buoy, for there was no ring at the lower side, and upon lifting it I heard something move or rattle within.
Curiosity now being aroused, I examined the strange object and discovered that it was formed of two sections, and after a little time I managed to separate the two halves which were fastened with a cleverly-designed interrupted screw much like that on the breech-block of a modern gun. At the time I was astonished to note that, although the container was constructed of some metal and was nearly half an inch in thickness, yet its weight was less than that of a similar sized sphere of thin aluminum.
Within this spherical shell was a metal cylinder with a screw cap, and within this was a second cylinder and a sheet of some parchment-like material bearing writing in English, French, German, Italian. Portuguese, Norwegian, Dutch, and several other languages which I could not identify, as well as in Chinese, Hebraic and other characters. As the English, French and others with which I am more or less familiar, were practically identical in meaning I assume that all the others carried the same message, which was a request that whoever might find the object would at once forward it to you at the address I have given and that the finder would not disturb the contents of the smaller cylinder.
I have therefore replaced the sheet of parchment and the larger cylinder and am sending you everything exactly as it was when I found it."
The letter was signed "Valdemar Broberg". Naturally I was extremely curious to know what this strange thing might be and to discover who had directed it to be sent to me and why. And when in due course the package arrived I lost no time in unpacking it and examining the red and white globe which was within. I found it precisely as Mr. Broberg had described it, and having learned the secret from his letter, I had no difficulty in separating the two sections. But even though I had been prepared for it, I, too, was astonished to find such a thick, metallic container weighing so little. However, I was consumed with curiosity as to its contents rather than its composition and I quickly opened the tube or cylinder and drew out the sheet of parchment that Mr. Broberg had mentioned.
As I glanced at the writing a cry of absolute amazement came from my lips, and I stared, unable to believe the evidences of my own senses. The writing was unmistakable. I would have recognized it anywhere as the handwriting of my long-missing friend, Dr. Henry Marshall Thurlow! It was a message from the dead. What did it mean? What— With shaking fingers I tore open the smaller cylinder and drew out a large number of extremely thin sheets of some tough, fibrous material, covered on both sides with the same fine, unmistakable handwriting.
Fascinated, enthralled, utterly oblivious of all else, I read the most remarkable and incredible of tales. And now, having explained how this astounding story came into my possession, I must digress a little and must hark back for three years to a certain evening when I had been seated in Dr. Thurlow's library discussing—as was our wont—various scientific subjects. Thurlow was, as all who have kept abreast of science must be aware, a scientist of most unusual attainments. His discoveries had been many, his painstaking researches had become famous, yet by many of his fellow scientists he was regarded as slightly deranged.
By that I do not mean to imply that anyone ever suggested or even hinted that Dr. Thurlow was insane. No one who knew him could have thought this for an instant. He was, in fact, about the sanest man I have ever known.
BUT it was the general impression that his theories, his discoveries, his marvelous vision of scientific facts undreamed of by others, had become something of an obsession or monomania and that many of his hypotheses were so iconoclastic, so far-fetched and so fantastic as to be nothing more than visionary dreams or delusions. Personally I never felt that way, and having known him for years—since boyhood, in fact— I was positive that many of Thurlow's theories and statements were made merely to attract attention, to bring about learned discussions and controversies, and that he did not actually believe in them himself.
Still no one could deny that many of his wildest ideas had borne concrete fruit. I shall never forget the time when he demonstrated his claims that light could be preserved indefinitely and could be brought forth when required. "The so-called cold light of fireflies, deep-sea vertebrates and invertebrates and other organisms is nothing more or less than stored light," he declared positively. "We humans deem cold light a marvelous—an unobtainable—thing merely because we associate all light with heat. Why? Because all our light comes from the sun and is accompanied by heat waves. In order to obtain cold light all that is necessary is to filter the heat waves from the light waves and preserve the latter. No doubt, at the present time, the cost of doing this would be prohibitive, but it can be done, and I'm prepared to demonstrate the fact."
And he did in a most astounding manner. He actually froze light and by so doing eliminated the accompanying heat. Then, by thawing out the frozen light, he set free the cold light. It was a most amazing demonstration, but there is no necessity for describing the process in detail here, nor is it essential to more than mention his other remarkable demonstrations which proved conclusively the accuracy and truth of his deductions and theories. Such, for example, as reproducing the music on a gramophone disc in the form of light and then, by means of a photo-electric cell, transforming the light into sound; starting ponderous machinery into motion by the flash of a pocket electric torch or even by the scratching of a match at a distance, and finally his demonstration of the truth of his assertion that all life, all living tissues, were purely electrical phenomena, and that human bodies (as well as the bodies of all animals and the substance of plants) were nothing more or less than electric batteries or generators, in which the cells were negative and positive, and that in every respect they followed precisely the same laws, the same actions and possessed the same characteristics as an ordinary storage-battery. All these matters, as I say, have no real bearing on the present story, other than to illustrate the fact that Thurlow was far in advance of his time; that, in innumerable cases, he proved conclusively that his most far-fetched and seemingly fantastic theories were actualities, and that, although deemed slightly deranged in regard to certain phases of science, no one dared prophecy what wild, reactionary and seemingly preposterous theory Dr. Thurlow might not put forth and—later, prove true.
And it was one of these seemingly fantastical, and to me impossible and preposterous theories, that we were discussing in his library on the evening I have mentioned.
"Honestly, you're not serious," I said with a laugh.
"On the contrary, I never was more serious in my life," he assured me. "And you may laugh your head off if you please, but it will not alter facts."
"Facts!" I cried, for I dearly loved to argue with him. "Facts! Why, your statement is absolutely contrary to all facts. You're talking theories and the wildest, most ridiculous theories at that." 'That merely proves you are entirely lacking in logic and common sense," he informed me. "What you call facts are suppositions, claims—I might say excuses —formulated and invented in order to explain matters which cannot be explained by any of your so-called facts." Thurlow's announcement, made with all the assurance of conviction, that the earth was not a solid sphere but a hollow shell, had brought about the discussion. It was not, I admit, an entirely new or novel idea. I recalled that, more years ago than I cared to remember, the same theory had been advanced by a certain fellow named Holmes, and I remembered how the press and the public had ridiculed him and how "Holmes' Hole" had become a byword and a synonym for anything ridiculous or far-fetched. But for Thurlow to make such a palpably absurd statement was so ridiculous and so far beyond any theory he had hitherto promulgated, that I was convinced that he was joking or that he had made it merely to afford a subject for argument.
Yet now he was maintaining that his preposterous theory was borne out by facts.
"Anyone can make such claims," I told him. "But it is quite another matter to prove them. My own opinion is that you do not believe the earth to be hollow any more than I do myself. But as long as you have taken that stand, suppose you attempt to explain the whys and the wherefores of your alleged belief, and also elucidate in regard to the paradoxical statement you just made: that all accepted facts are not facts at all."
"Anyone with common sense, and who stopped to consider the matter, would at once realize the truth and would not require proof," he observed. "Let me ask you a few questions which you should be able to answer with intelligence. When molten matter cools, which portion hardens first?"
"That's easy," I replied glibly. "The outside, of course."
Thurlow nodded. "Precisely," he commented. "And when an object cools, what is the physical result as regards volume?"
"Just as easy as the other," I grinned. "It shrinks—diminishes in volume."
"Right again," he observed. "Very well. Assuming that the earth was once a molten mass and that, as must have been the case, the outer surface cooled and hardened first and so formed a crust, how could the interior have cooled without shrinkage and so leaving a cavity?"
"BY Jove, I never thought of that!" I exclaimed. "But now that I do, I should say off-hand that there were cavities—cracks, crevices, holes—rather than one large cavity. I suppose that caves, volcanic craters, earth cracks, faults, etc., are the results of such cooling."
"That's the great trouble with most people—they don't think," he said sarcastically. "And you forget that craters blow outward," he reminded me, "Also, the other cavities you mentioned are merely fissures in the outer crust produced by its shrinkage when cooling. None are of any great depth and the aggregate of all is but a small fraction of the space that must have resulted from the cooling of such a vast mass as the earth. If you stop to consider that our globe is approximately 8,000 miles in diameter, you may perhaps realize what an immense amount of shrinkage must have taken place and what an immense void there must be somewhere within the sphere."
"Not necessarily," I retorted. "Why shouldn't there be thousands—millions, if you please—of small cavities? And besides, why do you assume that the interior has cooled? I have always understood that quite the opposite theory was that generally accepted."
"The answer to your last question answers your first," he said. "If the interior of the earth were still molten, the rotation of the sphere would cause the liquid interior to lag behind. It would pile up in an immense wave and would completely upset the world's equilibrium if it did not act like a brake—or rather a counter-balance—to stop the earth's motion completely. And, as I said, that answers your first question also. But wait—I can give you a far better and more convincing explanation by means of a demonstration, than would be possible by means of words."
He rose. "Come into my laboratory," he said.
"There is nothing so convincing as a practical demonstration," he remarked, as he lit a Bunsen burner and placed a small saucepan over the flame.
Then, opening a drawer, he produced a metal sphere about five inches in diameter and an oval board with a deep groove extending around one surface close to its edge.
Glancing at the tin pan, he turned off the burner and opened a small aperture in the metal sphere. "This aluminum globe," he explained, "will represent our terrestrial sphere with its hardened outer surface or crust and this"—he continued, as he lifted the pan and carefully poured its molten contents into the spherical container—"is melted wax, which represents the molten interior of the earth."
As he spoke he closed the aperture in the sphere and placing it in the groove on the board he commenced rolling it rapidly around by slightly tilting the board back and forth.
"Unfortunately, we cannot exactly reproduce the motion of the earth," he observed, "but this approaches it very closely, both in its rotation about its own axis and in its elliptical orbit about the sun. In other words, this aluminum globe filled with molten wax traveling about on an elliptical course and whirling as it goes should produce practically the same physical results as took place when our earth had hardened merely on the surface. And now" he exclaimed, as he ceased moving the board and lifted the sphere, "we will see just what has occurred within the globe."
Stepping to a bench, he threw an electric switch and started a small circular saw with which he sliced the sphere in two.
"There you are!" he cried triumphantly as he handed me the two halves. "You see what happened. The wax hardened to form a fairly thick coating within the outer shell and in so doing left a large empty spherical cavity in the center. Exactly what must have occurred when our old earth cooled off."
"But this is wax," I objected, "while the interior of the earth is mineral— rock. The results might not be the same with different materials—inorganic ones." "Quite so." he agreed. "I might have used a nickel-steel sphere and molten sand, but it would have taken more time and the results would have been so similar that you would not have noticed any difference. I know, for I have already tried it. Moreover, I have very carefully computed the extent of shrinkage that must have occurred in the earth. As nearly as I calculate, there is a cavity approximately two thousand miles in diameter within our sphere."
"But surely," I exclaimed, "such a cavity would have been discovered long ago."
THURLOW laughed. "What, with some three thousand miles of solid earth, or rather rock, on every side! How would anyone even guess that such a cavity exists? They might reason that there must be—as I have—but it would not have been 'discovered', as you put it, by accident. But these are all details. The fact remains that, first: the interior of the earth is cold, or at least has solidified, otherwise the rotation and orbit of the sphere would have been affected, and, second, if it has solidified, then it contains a cavity."
"Well, suppose it does, what of it?" I demanded. "If it is over two thousand miles deep, it's rather out of reach."
"What of it?" he cried. "Why, that cavity is undoubtedly inhabited. It is my belief that within this earth cavity there is air, water, vegetation, animal life. And I do not believe it is beyond reach. I—"
I roared with laughter. "The old Holmes' Hole idea!" I exclaimed. "And explain, please, how plants and animals —even human beings—can exist in a closed cavity without light or heat?"
"Who said there was no light or heat?" he demanded. "Why shouldn't there be both? We receive our light and heat from the sun. Why shouldn't there be some body that serves for a sun within this cavity? And 'who said it was a 'closed' cavity? That's not my idea, I believe there is an opening— perhaps several. You may scoff at the old Holmes' Hole theory, but I'm convinced Holmes was on the right track.
"Poppycock; we know there's no hole at either pole. And if there were any such opening, the oceans would run into the cavity and fill it with water."
"They would not," he declared positively. "The centrifugal force of the earth rotating at the speed of a thousand miles an hour would prevent any such action, and the same centrifugal force would prevent the water within the cavity from flowing out to the surface of the globe. What do we know about the poles? Nothing. They have been 'discovered’—if a spot which does not actually exist and never is twice in the same place, can be 'discovered'—but there are vast areas in the polar regions that are quite unknown. Besides, they are completely hidden by ice. Who can say what may be beneath the polar ice-caps? And the entrances to the interior are doubtless small."
"Just for the sake of getting your ideas straight, why should there be any opening?" I asked him. "If the crust was the first to cool and harden, why should there be a hole in it? I don't see any in this wax and aluminum affair."
"Of course not," he replied. "In the first place, wax in cooling does not give off any appreciable quantity of gas, but molten rocks and metals may. In the second place, the metal shell we have used is far too strong in relation to the cooling wax, and any gases that might be generated, to permit of its being ruptured. With the earth it was different— the cooling was a gradual process from the surface inward. As the matter cooled and emitted gases, they burst through the first thin crust and formed faults, volcanoes, caves, blow-outs and fissures; but as the crust became thicker and the outer surface became thoroughly solidified, the gases could not penetrate the shell and they accumulated until they were under enormous pressure. Now, if you will notice, you will see that at the opposite poles of this sphere the wax is appreciably thinner than elsewhere. To be sure it is a matter of merely a fraction of an inch in this case, but magnified to the size of the earth it would be equal to hundreds of miles. That's the solution. Eventually the compressed gases burst through these thin portions of the earth's crust at or near the theoretical poles. It's perfectly plain, perfectly feasible, and is borne out by logical deductions from established facts."
"All right, have it your own way," I told him. "I suppose the next thing I’ll hear you say is that you plan to fit out an expedition to explore your inner world. But how about gravitation? How could your cavity denizens keep right-side-up on the walls of their spherical chamber?"
"Gravitation, my boy, is merely the effect of one body upon another, the larger body having the greater effect, and the larger body in this case would be the earth surrounding the cavity, just as in our case the earth beneath us is the larger body. No. I'm not planning to take an expedition in search of this inner world. But I'm determined to try to locate one of those entrances—alone!"
"How are you going?" I inquired, smiling. "Going to bore through the crust and dive in, or do you plan to climb through a volcano, or perhaps you will embark in a submarine and travel under the ice to the Pole and dive into old 'Holmes' Hole."'
THURLOW smiled. He never lost his temper, no matter how much anyone ridiculed or jollied him. "No, I haven't planned to employ any of your very original devices," he informed me with fine sarcasm. "Such things belong quite properly in the realm of fiction— not in science. Just what plans I have in view I do not care to divulge. But" —very seriously—"I shall not only succeed, but if I find I cannot return—and if I survive—I shall exert every endeavor to communicate my discoveries to the scoffing, hide-bound, scientific world."
"Well, I wish you luck, old man!" I told him as I turned to leave. "Sorry I can't join you, but, until there are through trains, modern steamers or other safe and comfortable means of visiting the earth's interior, I'll confine my tours to the external portions of old Mother Earth. I'm off for Europe in a day or two and I'm rushed as it is. So I fear I shan't see you again before you leave for 'Holmes' Hole'. But I shall most anxiously await a radio or a cable from you telling me of your safe arrival in the vacuous center of the sphere."
He grinned. "Get out!" he cried good-naturedly, throwing a desk-eraser at my head. "Why can't you be serious?"
"Never more serious in my life," I cried, dodging a book. "By the way, be sure and take a gun and a camera. I’ll watch the Sunday supplements in hopes of seeing your photograph beside a dead something or other slain by you in the earth's center. Good night, old man!"
CHAPTER II An Amazing Document
THE disappearance of Dr. Thurlow caused little commotion in the world at large. Let a prominent banker, politician, merchant, actor, sportsman, prize fighter or even notorious crook die or vanish mysteriously and the press fairly screams the news to the world. It will afford ample copy for days and will be discussed by everyone. But when the same thing happens to some eminent scientist, a column at most will be devoted to the event; in a few days it will be forgotten, and the chances are that not one person in a thousand could tell you who the missing man was, what he had done, or any other details. Scientists are regarded as erratic beings at best; they seem to be apart from the common herd and not subject (at least in the eyes of the laymen) to the same rules, reactions and behavior as are ordinary mortals. And when a scientist is in the habit of precipitately rushing off to the ends of the earth, leaving no address behind him nor word of his unexpected return, the public scarcely can be blamed if it refuses to get excited or even interested when said scientist's absence extends for months. So, when my friend Thurlow suddenly vanished and no word of his whereabouts was received for several months, few, with the exception of his friends and some fellow-scientists, paid any particular attention to the matter.
Indeed, even I was not particularly worried or surprised. When I first read of Thurlow being missing from his home and usual haunts (the paragraph appearing in the Associated Press News printed in the newspaper, El Tiempo of Madrid, where I was at the time), I chuckled as I recalled his last words to me and remarked to myself that he'd probably gone off to Holmes' Hole. And it was not until I returned to the States after an absence of nearly a year, and found that Thurlow was still missing, that I realized that he actually had vanished as though the earth had swallowed him up. That was three years ago and from that day to the present time no word had come from him, no slightest trace of Thurlow had ever been found.
No one had been able to suggest a reasonable explanation of his disappearance, until I received the strange metal sphere picked up, floating in the Caribbean Sea, and which contained an astounding document in Thurlow's handwriting.
And now, having explained how the amazing communication came into my possession, and having told of the events that took place on that last evening that I was with Thurlow, I will set down the strange tale that was written upon those tough, thin sheets within the cylinder.
"Whether or not you ever will receive this is problematical," he wrote after a few words of greeting. "But as I have released a round dozen of the containers, each with a duplicate copy of this document, I have hopes that at least one may eventually come into your hands. But before I begin to relate my experiences and to describe my present surroundings let me warn you that neither you nor anyone else on your old outside world will believe what I am writing. To you and the rest it will appear too wild and incredible. I will be branded either as a maniac or an outrageous liar. But if skeptics will examine the container and the material of which it is composed, if competent chemists and metallurgists will analyze the metal, I think they, at least, will be convinced that the objects did not come from any known spot on the surface of the earth. But after all it really doesn't make much difference whether anyone believes my statements or not. I'm here and am likely to remain here as long as I live— which I fear will not be very long— and it is, merely, because I am aware of the futility of ever attempting to return to the surface of the earth, that I am taking this means of communicating with you, my nearest friend, and acquainting you and the world with the amazing discoveries I have made here.
You may remember that on the last evening we were together I expressed my belief that the earth is hollow and inhabited within, and declared my intention of attempting to reach the interior. Well, here I am! How I came here—is of little importance. In fact I can scarcely say myself—it was all too chaotic, too nightmarish an experience to describe lucidly, and, besides, I lost consciousness for a considerable period —I do not know for how long-—so I actually do not know myself exactly what transpired. The all-important fact is that the interior of the earth is hollow, that I am writing this within that vast cavity, and that it is inhabited. But such inhabitants!
But wait. Before I attempt to describe these incredible beings let me begin at the beginning and relate my experiences, my impressions and my observations in the order in which they occurred.
My first conscious impression, upon regaining my senses, was of a vast, dim, bluish fog. I seemed to be resting upon a shelf of rock. Close at hand a steep rocky slope rose and vanished in the all-pervading blueness a few feet above my head. On the other side an equally steep slope vanished in an unfathomable blue abyss. It was as if I had been poised in space—a space of a most peculiar, an almost indescribable sort. But it was not until later that I discovered its peculiarity. Though at first it had impressed me as fog, yet I soon discovered there was no mist, the atmosphere being of a deep blue, an almost indigo color, quite impossible to describe adequately. It was like a clear, dark night on the outer earth, if you can imagine such a night with intense blue in place of blackness. But even on your darkest nights there is some light. The moonlight, the faint light of the stars, a dim light from the sky; but here there was no light, there was no glimmer of stars, moon or sky. Yet the rocks about me were visible, I could see my own body and limbs. The effect was so strange, so weird, that for some minutes I could think of nothing else and remained, seated upon the outjutting rock, gazing at my immediate surroundings. Possibly I can best describe the effect by comparing it to a painting—one of those mysteriously baffling monotone things of blue in which the figures and other objects are merely dim, shadowy forms of a lighter shade. The last feature. I suddenly discovered, was what made it so peculiar. My clothing, my skin, the rocks about me were all blue! Blue of various shades—like an overexposed blueprint, I thought at the time, yet somehow giving the effect of colors. Presently I rose and moved cautiously towards the rocky slope, for I desired to see more of this strange inner world and I realized that I must ascend or descend the mountain side in order to do so. As I rose and moved I made a most astounding discovery. I have said that I seemed to be in a fog, and, as in a fog, near by objects were visible but faded or blurred into the all-pervading blueness a short distance away. And now as I moved I discovered with amazement that the nebulous, lighter sphere about me moved with me!
IT was exactly as if I had been carrying a lantern in a dense blue fog. When I extended my arm the luminosity also extended in the same direction. It was as if my body emitted a feeble glow like that of a firefly. I became intensely interested in this strange phenomenon. I examined the rocks, I experimented, and when I discovered that neither my body nor my hand—when placed close to the rocks or my own person—cast any shadow, when I discovered that there was no lighter, no darker side to anything, I became at last convinced that the glow actually issued from myself and that a similar glow came from the rocks. Drawing my knife from my pocket I tossed it over to the rock several feet distant. The spot where it lay was invisible in the deep indigo darkness, yet the knife was clearly visible as a bluish knife surrounded with an aura of pale-blue light. I tried the same test upon other objects, and always with the same result. Everything, regardless of its composition, glowed and rendered itself visible in this strange almost uncanny place. And the effect was even more uncanny than the place itself. With no areas of light and shade there was no effect of rotundity, no impression of bulk or thickness. Everything appeared flat—as if cut from thin paper.
And neither was there any effect of distance. I found it impossible to say or to judge whether the rocks were within six inches or six feet of my hand. My own feet might have been yards distant as far as I could determine, and I laughed aloud at my clumsy efforts to touch my own limbs at a definite spot. It was exactly as if there were but two dimensions, and for a few moments I was almost convinced that in this remarkable place there was no third dimension. But I soon discovered this was not the case. Thickness could be felt even if not seen (or I might better say appreciated when looking directly at an object) but when viewed from another direction the thickness became visible and I was soon convinced that the whole puzzling effect was the result of light emanating from matter itself. It was a most interesting scientific discovery and I wondered that I had never thought of the matter before, that it never had occurred to me that with all portions of an object equally illuminated the object loses all effects of solidity when viewed by human eyes.
But the discovery that every object— at least every object available to me at the time—emitted its own light, was so much more astonishing and so much more puzzling, that it fully occupied my thoughts as I stepped from my rocky refuge and examined the steep slopes within the radius of my glow. For a space I hesitated. Should I go up or down? What was below, what above the spot where I stood? But it did not take long to make up my mind. If I descended the mountain side and found nothing—or perchance water—I would be forced to reascend. Also, in descending I might at any moment come to an unseen precipice and plunge into space thus ending my explorations forthwith. On the other hand, if I climbed upward and found nothing of interest I could easily climb down again, and I could not fall up a precipice. So, slowly and cautiously—for it was like progressing through a smoke-screen—and testing each rock as I advanced. I climbed upward. I do not know how long I ascended. My watch had stopped and there was no sun, no light to go by, but I should judge it was perhaps an hour before I at last reached what appeared to be the summit. At all events it was a ridge and on the farther side was a second steep slope.
Reasoning that isolated as I was upon a mountain top in a vast impenetrable sea of deep blue atmosphere I was just as likely to find something of interest in one direction as in another, I began descending this new slope. It was quite easy. In fact the difficulty was in not descending too rapidly. Presently, as I slipped and slid downward, I noticed signs of vegetation. I say vegetation, but for a space I did not recognize the things as plants. Indeed, I at first mistook them for some species of gigantic glowworms. Like all objects they emitted a bluish light and they moved slowly about as if crawling over the rocks. Often, too, they would remain motionless and as if standing upon their heads. In size they varied from a few inches to a couple of feet or even a yard in length, and as they, too, appeared absolutely without thickness, they gave a most striking effect of unreality. With some little effort—for it was impossible to judge their distance from me—I managed to seize one of the smallest of the things and to my utter amazement I discovered it to be a plant! There was no doubt of it.
The structure was unquestionably a vegetable growth. There were roots, a stem—stout and fleshy, now that I held it in my hands—with several coarse leaves growing close to the stalk and with a bud or seed-capsule—I was not positive which. As I held the strange plant in my grasp it actually squirmed —a most unpleasant and repellent sensation it gave me—its leaves vibrating, its stem twisting and bending and its roots, which I now found bore tiny suckers, clinging tenaciously to my hand and exerting no little power as if striving to draw the plant free. Placing the thing upon a rock I watched it with astonishment as it moved, quite rapidly away, by means of its roots, until coming to a crevice, it reared up on end and the folded leaves slowly expanded.
HERE was an amazing phenomenon. A plant that possessed not only the power of independent movement, but which seemed also to possess a vestige of brain power or reason.
Yet, after all I reflected, as I continued my descent, why shouldn't there be such plants? I recalled the sensitive nimosas of the tropics which fold their leaves and shrivel up at a touch or even at the approach of an enemy, real or supposed; I remembered how on one occasion I had conducted quite a series of experiments with these while in the Canal Zone. How I had, by touching the same plant repeatedly but without harming it, practically "tamed" the mimosa, or rather had taught it, until it actually had recognized me and would permit me to handle it freely without folding its leaves, although it instantly would shrivel and shrink if touched by another person. In fact the results of those experiments were embodied in a monograph which caused quite a sensation at the time. And, after all, was it much of a step from such a sentient plant as the tropical mimosa to a plant which struggled to escape when held? I did not think so. As far as the plants' ability to move was concerned, that ability did not so greatly surprise mc. Many of our commonest vines and many ferns, lichens, mosses and other plants climb with considerable rapidity over objects by extending their tendrils equipped with suckers, and literally, even if slowly, walking. The only difference was that these plants within the earth moved more rapidly and carried themselves along as they moved.
SUDDENLY I brought myself to a stop with a jerk. A sudden wild idea had flashed through my brain. Did these walking plants move any more rapidly than the climbing vines etc., on the outer earth? Wasn't it possible— By Jove! I exclaimed, it was, not only possible but probable, logical, I might even say factual, that the whole effect was in my own brain. Coming from the outer world, accustomed to gauging time entirely by the accepted earthly standards based on the rotation of the earth, or by the sun as we put it, my mentality naturally was regulated, as one might say, to outer earth time. But here within the earth, where there was no sun and without even my watch to guide me, all relative time was completely lost. Then, even more abruptly and surprisingly, another thought came to me. The speed of rotation here within the earth must necessarily be less than at the surface. I had no idea what the diameter of this cavity might be, but I had calculated—basing my calculations upon numerous experiments—that it should have an internal diameter of approximately two thousand miles.
In that case (my brain was now working rapidly) the circumference would be approximately six thousand miles whereas the outer circumference of the earth would be approximately twenty-four thousand (I am omitting the exact figures in order to make my explanation clearer and to avoid confusing you with mathematical problems which I know you detest). In other words, the outer circumference would be roughly speaking about four times that of the interior and consequently one complete revolution of the sphere, which would require twenty-four hours or a speed of one thousand miles an hour at the surface, within the earth, would mean a speed of only two hundred and fifty miles an hour! All independent motion within the cavity would be (gauged by outer earth standards of speed) fully four times faster than on the surface of the globe! (as a matter of fact I discovered later that I was greatly at fault in my calculations, as I shall explain further on). Here was a truly amazing condition which I had completely forgotten to take into consideration when making my calculations and planning for my entrance into this inner world. No wonder my descent had been chaotic and nightmarish! The wonder was that I had not been utterly destroyed. At the speed at which I had been travelling I must have accelerated to the speed of a bullet (an outer earth bullet I mean) when I reached the inner space.
Of course now, I reflected, my movements were no more rapid in proportion to the movements of everything else about me than they would have been on the outer surface. But my eyes, my brain, trained, adjusted, accustomed to movement relative to immovable objects were still functioning in the old outer-earth manner. It was all a most novel and a most fascinating theme, and as I once more resumed my descent I longed to be able to get in touch with Einstein and learn if he had ever thought of the matter during his researches and the working out of his relativity theories.
EVEN obsessed as I was in mulling over these newest discoveries in my mind, I noticed my surroundings which of course were most limited visually. Among other things I observed that the vegetation was changing in its character. The moving plants had vanished and all about were weird growths. Had they been of various colors many would have been most beautiful, for their forms were exquisite. But all being of the same pale, luminous blue they gave the exact effect of being unreal, of being mere pictures painted upon a flat blue background and slightly blurred. Some were squat, rounded masses like immense brain corals or more like the Yaretta plant of the Andes, that odd woody plant of the celery family that forms the only fuel in the higher mountains of South America. Others were porous-looking spongy masses. Others rose like giant candelabra. Many were obviously fungi, while by far the greater majority had the forms of delicately-branched corals. And I had quite a shock when, in trying to check my rapid descent, I brought up with a bang against a cluster of these and with a sharp metallic rattle they broke and fell like shattered glass about me. For a moment I sat staring at the things. They were coral! Had I taken leave of my senses or was this the dried up bed of a sea? Astounded, I examined the broken masses and whistled. The things were alive. They were not plants but animals; communal masses of polyps covering skeletal foundations precisely as do corals. But instead of being soft, jelly-like and slimy like the coral polyps of the sea, these were leathery, firm and only slightly damp or moist. Needless to say I examined the growths with the most intense interest. Some, I soon discovered, were true plants though in form indistinguishable from the others; many were similar to the sea-fans and sea-rods or gorgonias—flexible, horny, rather than calcareous growths. Still others I recognized as bryozoans; others were unquestionably hydroids. I even found that there were land sponges, while among the roots of the taller growths and the rocks I came upon alcyonarians —sea-anemones—growing there on the bare dry hillside. By this time my mind was in such a whirl that, had I seen fishes swimming through the air about me, had an octopus crawled from under a rock, I should not have been greatly surprised. It was the most remarkable, the most dreamlike sensation I had ever experienced; exactly like being beneath the sea. How, why, I wondered, had it come to pass that forms of animal and plant life which we regard as strictly marine should here be terrestrial? And if such forms of life were found on dry land what forms would be beneath the waters in this earth-cavity? Of course—I laughed at myself with the thought— there might not be water. In that case I'd be in a pretty fix. But I was so intensely interested in my surroundings and in trying to analyze the causes for such a topsy-turvey condition of things that I gave no thought to my future or to my own danger. Very possibly, I decided, the dark blue atmosphere had a great deal to do with the question.
The conditions, as far as light or rather absence of light, were concerned were very similar to those existing at considerable depths below the sea. And —I suddenly realized—deep-sea life was almost universally phosphorescent or luminous, so why not here on dry land? On the other hand—there was a deal of speculation possible here—the aberrant marine growth might well be the result of the sea having dried up. It might be quite possible that through ages of gradual recession of the sea, marine growths had adapted themselves to a terrestrial life. Not until I thought of that explanation did I begin to recall similar examples of life on the outer surface of the earth. I deeply regretted the fact that I was not a skilled zoologist; but I knew something of Natural History nevertheless. I recalled having read a paper by a zoologist friend in which he described a number of species of sea-worms, of ascidians, of corallines and even a few species of hololhurians that were strictly terrestrial. I remembered that the common pill-bugs were in reality crustaceans essentially of marine types. There were many species of corals, sponges, hydroids, etc, which were exposed for considerable periods at low tide and felt no ill effects from the air, and in that case it wasn't quite so remarkable as it had seemed to find terrestrial corals, sponges and sea-anemones. Still, I reflected, as I again resumed my down-hill journey, in a land where corals took the place of plants, where alcyonaria were substituted for vegetables, there must be some even more amazing forms of life among the vertebrates, if there were vertebrates here. What a field for scientific research the place must be! What a pity that Darwin, Huxley, Agassiz—the other great naturalists—hadn't known of this strange world! What strong proofs of their theories and dogmas they might have found! What treatises might be written on the effects of environment upon life, the influences of light, the survival of the fittest and all the rest!
As these thoughts flashed through my mind I uttered an exclamation of surprise and came to an abrupt halt. Among the strange growths near me some large creature was moving about! In the dim, bluish glow of the clustered corals and millepores I could not distinguish the thing's form, and the luminosity of its own body only made it the more confusing. I listened intently and could distinctly hear it chewing, munching something. Very cautiously I drew nearer and peered between the coral stalks. The thing was not as large as I had at first thought. It was about the size of a setter dog, but peer as I might I did not seem able to make head or tail of it.
MY curiosity overcoming all other sensations, and emboldened by the thought that the creature probably had never seen a human being before, I wormed my way closer and closer, until at last I had a clear view of the beast. And as I did so an exclamation of amazement burst from my lips. Never had human eyes looked upon such a creature. I am afraid it is impossible to describe it, but I will try. In general form I can best liken it to one of those bologna-shaped toy balloons. Depending from it were a number of thin, tentaclelike appendages; at one end were a number of short stout necks, each bearing a pair of powerful horny jaws; at the other extremity were flat, flipper-like organs arranged in a double row, while above the whole was a semi-circular or rounded protuberance bearing six or eight immense goggle eyes, each mounted on the end of a movable stalk. Impossible, uncanny as the thing seemed, yet its actions were even more incredible. Moving slowly about by means of certain of its tentacle-like legs, others of these appendages sought twigs of coral, snapped them off and like hands carried them to the jaws that opened and closed with machine-like regularity, while the stalked eyes on the conning tower (if I may so call it), peered this way and that, as if seeking the most delicate tidbits. The whole affair—I could not bring myself to regard it as an animal—worked with the precision, the steadiness and the accuracy of some mechanical device. I could almost imagine that sausage-shaped body to be filled with gears, cams and wheels, with a sentient, miniature human in the control-room back of the eyes, his hands on levers and switches. Fascinated I watched it. Good Lord! I thought, if all forms of life in the earth's centre were as bizarre as this thing, what might I not find? What would the highest beings— those who corresponded to mankind—be like? As I watched the thing (and you must bear in mind that its unreal appearance was vastly increased by its apparent flatness and lack of bulk) and observed every motion, every action as it browsed its way through the terrestrial coral grove, the true character of the creature began to dawn upon me. It was, I suddenly realized, a communal form of life, a creature in which independent individuals were combined to form a whole, in which separate organisms served instead of organs. Each of the appendages I now saw was, in reality, a distinct animal. Each was adapted to performing one particular function and devoted itself exclusively to that function. Some served as means of locomotion, others served as hands, others did nothing but devour food; the group of creatures upon the top functioned only as eyes while the bulky body no doubt served as the food reservoir, the nerve centre, the circulatory system and the brains of the entire community. What a marvelous creature to be sure! How unique, how—Dimly, I seemed to remember having read of or having seen something of the sort before. I racked my brains trying to recall it.
Suddenly it dawned upon me. It was one of those pelagic jelly-fishes commonly known as the Portuguese Man of War! Now I had dug the impression from the pigeon-holes of my mind everything came back to me. A world famous zoologist had captured one of the creatures from the deck of a ship and had given his fellow passengers a most interesting and instructive lecture on the marvels of the iridescently colored creature. He had explained how the exquisitely-tinted bladder served as a float and sail, how the trailing tentacles were, in reality, distinct animals each with some certain duty—some to sting, some to propel the whole, some to capture the prey—precisely as the strange creature before me was doing. Good heavens! I muttered, is everything in this earth-cavity a terrestrial form of marine life. If—
Some movement, some sound on my part must have frightened the weird creature. It suddenly ceased moving, the eyes roved about, the jaws ceased to open and shut. Then, like coiled springs, the hanging legs and arms snapped up close to the body, the great jaws drew back into the fleshy necks, the flipper organs were extended and beat the air and before my astounded eyes the creature rose and flew off! For a brief instant I could see it—a faintly lighter spot in the deep blueness. Then it vanished.
As the impossible looking thing disappeared I became aware of a decided thirst and of a keen appetite. Luckily I had provided myself with compact emergency rations, sufficient to keep me nourished for a week. But my canteen, I found to my chagrin, had been injured in my entrance to the strange world and was empty. And as usual, once I found my throat dry and my canteen empty, my thirst rapidly increased. There was no water on the hillside and feeling terrified for fear there might be no fresh water anywhere, and realizing that it would be found at the foot of the hill if it did exist, I hurried as rapidly as safety permitted down the slope. In fact I moved rather more rapidly that safety warranted. Before I could check myself I shot over the verge of a precipice, hurtled head over heels through that impenetrable blue void and landed, with a terrific splash, in water.
But the taste in my mouth, the smarting in my eyes left no doubt as to the quality of that liquid. It was salt! Salt or salter than the ocean, and with a strange, most horribly disagreeable flavor, in addition. I rose to my feet—the water was barely four feet in depth—brushed the brine from my eyes, spat out that which had filled my mouth, and waded ashore. As I reached the beach or rather shingle, a perfect host of creatures fled from my approach. What they were, what they were like I could not state. All that I could distinguish were the luminous objects scuttling off in every direction like fiddler-crabs on a shore on the earth's surface. Anyway I was not at all interested in anything save my thirst. The terribly saline and ill-tasting water had added to my desire for a drink, and feeling that there must be a stream or a spring somewhere I hurried as rapidly as possible along the shore.
CHAPTER III The Tss'zor
I DO not know how far I walked nor for how long. I became almost mad with thirst, my eyes smarted, and I stumbled doggedly on my way, inadequately lit by the blue glow from my own person. Oddly enough the fact that I was emitting a bluish light did not particularly interest nor surprise me. But I assume, now that I think of it, that it undoubtedly was because everything glowed in the same manner so that my own phosphorescence seemed quite natural. Yet I recall that even while stumbling and hurrying along that invisible shore beside an invisible sea I could not help thinking how much I resembled some deep-sea merman moving through the abyss of the ocean. Weird fancies went through my brain. Very vividly I recalled my visit to the Natural History Museum in New York and how Dr. Osborn had shown me the latest additions to the exhibits—marvelously constructed scenes representing the depths of the sea with models of its bizarre denizens, scenes so arranged that when viewed from within the darkened hall I seemed to be in a submarine chamber gazing out of its windows. I remembered how those seeming windows gave on a deep-bluish void much like that in which I was moving; how in that void I had distinguished the dim, ghostly forms of fish revealed by their own luminosity. And even in my extremity, my consuming desire for water, I chuckled as I recollected the sudden astounding transformation that took place when hidden lights were turned on and the grotesque models were revealed in their entity. What would be the effect if some great light suddenly should illuminate this dark world through which I was blindly moving? I tried mentally to picture it, to imagine the weirdly, perhaps horribly, strange denizens I should see.
Terrible thoughts would, however, obtrude themselves. There was every chance that there was no fresh water within the entire interior of the earth. The more I thought of it the more firmly convinced I became that there was none. Why should there be? Where could it come from? With no sun to evaporate the ocean, with no clouds to condense and fall as rain, how could there be streams? And it was beyond the realms of possibility to imagine that water, from the exterior of the earth, could percolate through two thousand miles and more of solid rock. No, the chances were that I was doomed, doomed to perish miserably of thirst within the shell of the earth.
Then my thoughts took another turn. If there was no sun—as there certainly could not be—and no light other than the luminous glow from every object— how could there be warmth? Yet now I thought of it the place was comfortably warm. Moreover, the air seemed pure; indeed it had a tonic property, as if its oxygen content was higher than in the outer atmosphere. What was to be the end of all this, anyway? Even if I found water how about food? I could not subsist on coral growths nor on those coarse, fibrous walking plants. Even if I could manage to bring myself to the point of devouring those weird beasts such as I had seen, how could I capture them? And if by some miracle I managed to secure both food and drink, what earthly good would result from my wandering about in this dark hole? I could make no observations, could learn nothing of anything beyond the circumscribed area thrown by the light of my own body. And I could not return to the outer world. Of that I was positive. I was doomed to remain here forever, and, I decided, perhaps it would be just as well—and far easier and quicker —if I blew my brains out then and there. In fact I actually reached for my revolver, when a sound from the blueness ahead caused me to halt, motionless, ears straining, heart beating wildly. The next instant I dashed madly forward. It was the sound of falling water!
A moment later I had plunged into a babbling, burbling stream and was lapping up the cool, sweet liquid like a thirst-mad beast.
Lying prone, my mouth and nose in the stream, my eyes within an inch of the water I was oblivious of everything about me. Suddenly a blaze of light seemed to envelop all the world. I was dazzled, blinded. With a sharp terrified cry I sprang up to shrink back, shaking with terror at what I saw.
A few yards distant, silhouetted in the blinding glare of what seemed a powerful searchlight, stood the most fearsome, most impossible of beings. I could not credit my eyes, could not rid-myself of the feeling that it was all a dream, a nightmare, or that I had been injured and had lost my mind. Yet nowhere—not even in the brain of a raving maniac or the mind of a sleeping man— had such a being ever been conceived.
Words fail to describe such a thing, No man can properly describe a form, a color, a sound totally unlike anything he ever has seen or imagined. So, although having seen this being—(and by now, having become thoroughly accustomed to it and to others of the same sort)—yet I do not know how I can describe him so that you, my friend, will receive an adequate word picture of what I saw. I will do my best though I fear that to use comparisons with earthly objects is most unsatisfactory. But enough. Let me try.
THE being before me was about three feet in height, but his form— He was neither human, bestial, bird-like, reptilian nor did he in the least resemble a gigantic insect. Yet he was a combination of all. And yet perhaps the most astounding part of his appearance was that, within the circle of brilliant light, he had thickness, bulk and an effect of reality that somehow had been entirely lacking in the cases of all other objects I had seen. Also, I noted in the brief second I realized this, that the scene was almost the precise counterpart of that I had seen in the museum and had so vividly recalled as I had hurried to the stream—the sudden rendering of dim forms clearly visible. But not one of the grotesque models of those impossible sea-monsters in the museum had been one tenth as grotesque and impossible as the being before me.
Can you imagine a cross between an octopus, an ant, a human being and a bat? I'll warrant you cannot, hence you cannot imagine what the being was like. And in addition he possessed many features which neither the bat, the octopus, the man nor the ant possesses. Like the octopus he had eight legs or tentacles, each, however, was specialized. Some had suckers like those on the tentacles of the octopus; others bore hand-like organs, others were obviously feet, and still others ended in lobster or crablike pincers. Unlike the octopus whose body is a rather shapeless mass of soft flesh, the body of this creature was segmented, narrow-waisted and covered with a shining, metallic-like armor similar to that of an ant. The head was semi-human in shape, yet the eyes were lidless and many-facetted like those of an insect or rather, I might say, like those of a caterpillar, giving the face the astonishing resemblance to the full front view of a puss-moth larva of gigantic size. Short, stout, muscular arms were attached to the chest or thorax, but these, instead of being free, were connected with the body by mambraneous wing-like tissue, and I saw— with something of horror—that the arms were folded sharply back upon themselves and ended in extremely long, slender fingers or claws which served as ribs to the membranes exactly like those of a bat. Still more batlike was the short soft hair that covered the head, the neck, the arms and portions of the wings. But most astonishing and bizarre of all was a long appendage—like the antenna of an insect or of a crustacean—that sprang from between the shoulders and ended in a swollen, bulbous tip from which streamed a brilliant light. All this I took in at a glance while still blinking in the unwonted glare. And at the same time I noticed that, in the light thrown by this marvelous antenna-like organ, the strange creature was brilliantly-colored, that the rocks about were glaring red, purple and yellow, and that my own garments were of their accustomed tints. Oddly enough this came as a distinct surprise, for even in the short time I had been within the earth, I had become so accustomed to seeing all objects of a uniform, pale-blue shade that to once again see colors amazed me. For what was perhaps ten seconds we stood there, each staring at the other and—no doubt —each mutually astounded at the other's appearance. Meanwhile the search-light antenna was moving about, turning its light upon me from various angles. Presently a low humming, a peculiar vibratory note, issued from the creature. In a way it reminded me of the sound of a cricket, yet it had a deeper, more resonant tone and I noticed—for I listened most attentively—that it was divided into separate notes of varying lengths and of distinct degrees of pitch. I had not the slightest doubt that the being was striving to talk, to communicate with me, and, wondering what the results would be, I spoke, asking who he was, giving him my name and assuring him I was peacefully inclined. At sound of my voice he gave a quick and, I thought, startled step backward and raised two of his tentacles with their murderous-looking nippers as if to defend himself. At the same time his arms partly unfolded and his mambraneous wings fluttered as if ready at an instant's warning to take flight. Evidently, I decided, he was a rather timid beast, despite his terrifying appearance, and I gave vent to a sharp whistle.
But instead of scaring him more this appeared to reassure him. He lowered his claws, refolded his wings, and, moving quite close to where I stood, tentatively extended a tentacle which ended in delicate fingers and gently touched my body. I admit that I had an almost overwhelming desire to scream and to leap away. But I managed to hold my ground as the soft fingers moved quickly over my person. And as they came in contact with my bare hand I was astonished to find them warm. The thing was warm-blooded then; he must be a vertebrate!
Somehow the discovery that the being was a warm-blooded vertebrate rather reassured me. If a vertebrate, then he must possess intelligence. For that matter the fact that he uttered sounds that obviously were speech, that he felt me over so carefully, and that he possessed artificial light, all proved that he was intelligent, that he possessed reasoning powers. I wondered if in this indescribably weird creature before me I beheld one of the—I was about to say human —superior beings of the earth's interior; beings who were analogous to man on the outer surface of the globe. Hardly had this thought flashed through my mind, when, to my still greater amazement, I discovered that the light he used was not artificial but natural. That it was a part and portion of his own organism, like the light from a stupendous firefly.
By this time the creature, or as from now on I shall refer to him, the “Tss'zor"—(this being their own name for themselves as nearly as it is possible to reproduce the sounds by English letters)—by this time, as I say, he had ceased his examination, and apparently being satisfied that I, too, was a warmblooded, intelligent vertebrate, he spread his wings as if in preparation for flight. Now it is strange, but nevertheless true, that despite my natural feeling of repugnance for the Tss'zor, a repugnance that came very near being dread or terror, I felt quite alarmed at the thought of his leaving me. Somehow the idea of being left alone in that vast abyss of blue darkness, of seeing nothing but luminous pale-blue formless things, of wandering about in the miniature sphere of my own luminosity, was far more terrifying than the Tss'zor, who, despite his fearful aspect, appeared real, almost like a fellow-being in that dream-like, unreal world. But most of all, I think, I dreaded the thought of being bereft of his brilliant light. So, as I saw him lifting those mambraneous wings, mad terror swept over me, and unconsciously I threw out my arms and cried out, begging him not to desert. Perhaps it was my gesture, perhaps my tone, or again, perhaps, he had not planned to leave me and merely carried out his original intentions. Whatever the cause, as I threw out my arms and stepped toward him, he suddenly seized me in two of his sucker-armed tentacles. The shock of feeling the snakelike things encircle my body, pinning my arms to my sides, was unspeakably horrible, and I screamed aloud, for I felt certain my last minute had come.
MADLY, but impotently I struggled, expecting each second to see those great scissors-like nippers snap at me, to feel them shearing through my limbs. But I was absolutely helpless, the strength in those tentacles was simply prodigious, and the suckers clung as though glued in place. With a quick motion he drew me close to his hard, shining body, and as, exhausted, I ceased my cries and my mad struggles for an instant, I was aware of a low, crooning or purring sound issuing from the thorax of my captor. I was amazed. Somehow the lulling comforting sound seemed woefully out of place in that fearsome body. Yet there could be no doubt it was intended to lull my fears, and at the same instant the hand-like organs stroked my body gently, as if the Tss'zor was trying its best to assure me that he meant me no harm. But whether he was friendly or whether I was to be destroyed, I was helpless in his grasp, and the next instant my fears, my forebodings were forgotten in wonder at his actions. With a sudden movement he leaped high in air, spread his great wings, and, carrying me in his embrace, he went sailing off into the blue void.
I cannot hope to convey to you the strangeness of my sensations. Like a living glider (for the wings were never flapped) my captor sped silently, smoothly onward, gradually descending, until with a slight motion, a warping as I may term it, of his wings, he soared upward on a long slant. Nothing was visible save ourselves. On every side, above and below, was that immeasurable indigo void. We might have been alone in outer space, the only living things in the entire universe, disembodied spirits illuminated by the blazing light which, carried at the tip of the antenna, extended far ahead of the soaring Tss'zor and threw its beam of light into the darkness. Possibly you may not credit it, but I assure you that, my first mad terror over, I actually enjoyed my involuntary flight. And by now I had begun to feel confident that the Tss'zor did not intend to harm me; but was in all probability carrying me to some spot where there were others of his kind. And my curiosity to see more of this inner world, to see more of the creatures, and to learn more of other possible inhabitants completely drove all fear from my mind.
Presently, far to one side, I noticed a faint blur of paler blue like a star shining through a thin cloud. Rapidly it increased in size and brilliancy and suddenly, with what seemed terrific speed, a dazzling light came rushing towards us. I had a momentary glimpse of a counterpart of the Tss'zor that was carrying me; I heard the two onrushing creatures exchange clear, high-pitched musical notes. Then, veering to one-side, passing so closely that I might have touched its wings, the second Tss-zor swept past, and a moment later was a rapidly-vanishing blur in the distance. Soon another of the flying creatures appeared; a few moments later several were in view at once, and presently the place seemed dotted with their speeding lights and their sharp, musical cries came from every side. And as was borne onward I could not help likening the effect to that of traffic on a foggy night on a motor-highway at home.
Suddenly, ahead of us, I saw a dull, pale-bluish glow that rose in an arc and from whose upper edges shot streamers of multicolored lights. It was like a miniature Aurora Borealis, and I stared at it wondering what it could be, what it presaged. Whatever it might be my captor was heading towards it; on every side I could see others of his kind converging towards the same point. Rapidly the light increased. The dull glow broke up into many separate luminous points, and, almost before I realized it, we were swooping down toward a myriad of brilliant lights. I gasped, I blinked my eyes as the rows and clusters of lights seemed to leap towards us. It couldn't be possible! It was beyond the bounds of credibility! But unless I were stark raving mad or in the throes of delirium it must be—Yes, I could no longer doubt it—We were descending towards a great, brilliantly illuminated city!
CHAPTER IV In the City
ALTHOUGH at that time I obtained only a brief glimpse, a rather hazy impression, of the city, I now know it so well, that I think it best to describe its principal features before continuing with my narrative.
Along the edge of the sea was a shingle beach, and above this was a broad, high wall, partly natural and partly artificial, that extended in a semicircle perhaps five miles in length, and which began and ended at a perpendicular cliff that rose back of the city and vanished in the dark upper air. Just back of the semi-circular wall was a broad area or esplanade, and from this, like spokes from the rim of a wheel, a great number of lanes or streets stretched towards the cliff where they converged to a great tunnel-like opening in the cliff which I may liken to the wheel's hub. As this was at an elevation of more than one hundred feet above the sea-wall, all the streets sloped sharply downward. Between these narrow lanes were thousands of buildings; low cylindrical structures with dome shaped roofs strikingly like the "pill boxes" erected in England during the Great War. All were window-less, all doorless, and all were identical to the smallest detail except in one spot where, a short distance from the opening in the cliff, the buildings were of large, I might say immense size, though otherwise like all the rest. At either side of the city, between the last row of houses and the precipice, there was a broad triangular open space which at first glance appeared to be carefully cultivated farms or kitchen gardens. But, as I discovered later, the seeming vegetables were very largely terrestrial zoophytes—corals, sponges, alcyonaria, etc., which had been so altered through ages of selection, breeding, hybridizing and cultivation that they bore no more resemblance to the wild forms I had seen, than the finest potato bears to the tough and stringy root of the Peruvian highlands. Among these, too, were beds of true plants—mainly fungi and fleshy-leaved growths unlike anything I had ever seen. No, I must qualify that statement; they were unlike any terrestrial plants I had ever seen, but when, in due course of time, I had an opportunity to examine them, I found them all analogous to our marine plants. And here I might as well digress and explain that in this strange inner world nearly all forms of animal and plant life appear to have evolved and developed along absolutely opposite lines to those on the earth's surface. Nearly every marine plant and animal that I have seen is closely related to species confined to land on the outer surface, while practically all those that exist on land here are near relatives of maritime species in your world. There are, however, quite a number which are common to both land and water or are in a way amphibious, and the manner in which Nature has altered or adjusted the structure and organs of these various plants and animals to adapt them to what to me still appears a paradoxical habitat, is most interesting. But of that I will write later.
In addition to the gardens I have described, the triangular spaces also contained pens or enclosures wherein were various weird, grotesque and even horrible looking creatures; the domestic flocks and fowl of the Tss'zors.
But the most striking feature of the city was its illumination. I doubt if any city of similar size anywhere on earth can boast of so many lights. There is one on every house, there are thousands along the sea wall, and although individually they are weak, yet the aggregate gives a brilliant glare that illuminates the entire city and the sea for several hundred yards beyond the shore, and lights up the cliff-side for fully one thousand feet above the city. Even at my first glimpse of the city, as borne in the grasp of the flying Tss'zor I sped towards it, it occurred to me that it was most peculiar that beings who possessed such powerful lights embodied in their own organisms, should require artificial lights in their city. But this passing thought was submerged in my interest in the character of the city's lights. They appeared to blaze from slender posts or poles, the flames wavering, flaring, darting in and out like the flaming gases from a blast furnace; but with no trace of smoke. Moreover, the flames, instead of being red or orange, were of a clear brilliant white, a dazzling white. But the phenomenon that held by attention was the wondrous play of color (that I had seen from a distance and that I mentioned) hovering like the aurora above the illuminated area. And now when close at hand the display was magnificent beyond words, awe-inspiring in its grandeur. In a vast arch of rainbow-hued light it stretched across the sky above the city, blotting out the sky like a screen of multicolored fire; a wavering, prismatic curtain, giving the city the effect of being beneath an enormous opalescent dome, upon which a thousand colored lights were focussed. Indeed it gave me such an impression of it being a tangible solid thing, that I held my breath as the Tss'zor, with me in his tentacles, rushed straight towards it. I cannot attempt to convey the impression I received as the creature swooped toward that iridescent screen through which, as though viewed through a soap-bubble, I could see the twinkling lights of the great city and even could distinguish—blurred and dimly—the buildings and streets. Each moment I expected to feel and hear the crash as we struck, to find myself wounded, hurtling down to death. And then a most astounding, a most incredible thing happened. As the light upon the outstretched antenna of the Tss'zor touched that radiant screen, the colors faded and vanished, leaving a great opening, as though it had been of wax and the Tss'zor's light a red-hot iron. The next instant we were through the opening, I saw the flashing, multicolored curtain close behind us. On wide-spread wings the Tss'zor volplaned downward and landed, as gently as a feather, upon the esplanade beyond the city's wall.
As the creature's wings folded, his tentacles released their grasp and I was once more free. Free, yes, but I might as well have been in chains, for all about me, as if conjured from nowhere, were throngs of strange beings. Many were Tss'zors identical with the fellow who had brought me to the city. But others were even stranger, weirder. Some had great unwinking, fishy eyes that occupied nearly the entire area of their flat faces, while their great toothless, gaping mouths gave them an even more fish-like aspect These, too, were quite distinct from the Tss'zor in other respects. Their wings were almost rudimentary. They had several pairs of arms, their tentacles were shorter and stouter than those of the Tss'zor, and, instead of fur and shining armor, their bodies were covered with gleaming scales. Moreover, while they possessed lights fully as brilliant as those of the Tss'zors, each light was carried on a short tubule projecting from the top of the head. Still others were almost like quadrupeds in general shape, but were naked, pulpy-looking things whose tentacles were small and weak, whose heads—or rather faces—were almost porcine, who did not possess wings, and who had twin lights at the ends of horn like processes, much like the horns of a giraffe.
AND speaking of giraffes—there were a number of creatures with such long, attenuated necks, such mild-looking eyes, such vacuous expressions that they reminded me forcibly of those odd African antelopes. But all resemblances ended with the necks and heads. The bodies were seal-like; flippers and tentacles took the places of arms and legs, and the brilliant light with which they were equipped was within a membraneous protuberance on the creatures' chests.
All these I took in at my first hurried and terrified glance at the crowd, while strange musical and sibilant sounds almost deafened me. Then my eyes caught sight of two or three totally different creatures, the most exquisitely colored and beautifully formed things I had yet seen. Of course you have seen those ferocious coleoptera commonly called tiger-beetles, so you are familiar with the magnificent, gem-like coloring of their chitonous elytra and thoraces.
Try then to visualize a creature, fully six feet in height, covered from head to foot with a similar jewel-like armor. Try to imagine such a living being with eight articulated arms, with two of these ending in hands of ten digits each, with two ending in tong-like talons, with two more bearing scores of minute wires or setae,* and with the last two terminating in an assortment of digits—no I must say tools—that are like nothing so much as one of those remarkable knives fitted with wrenches, pliers, scissors, gimlets and what not which are so commonly seen on display in the windows of cutlery dealers. Then, having assembled this picture in your mind, stretch your imagination still further and try to form a mental vision of the creature with an almost human face, with a small mouth equipped with several pairs of jaws, with a parrot-beak nose, with keen eyes glowing with red light, with a high forehead above which, suspended on twin antennae, are lights as brilliant as a motor car's headlights. Then to the whole add shimmering velvety wings, and possibly—possibly, I say—you may have some remote and vague idea of what these things were like.
*Bristle-like or hair-like projections of various descriptions, grow on insects, birds and mosses.
DESPITE their savage eyes like living coals, and their beak-like noses, which give them a predatory aspect, and despite a somewhat insect-like character that they possessed, still, of all that throng I felt that these were the most sentient beings of all. Everything about them spoke somehow of efficiency, of intelligence and of understanding. And yet somehow I could not overcome the feeling that they were little more than machines endowed with life and brains. But I had little time to speculate on such matters at that time, for in the midst of that crowd of fearsome, nightmarish beings I felt almost sick with terror. To be sure I was armed. I carried two revolvers and a heavy-bladed hunting knife was at my side. Yet I realized that any resistance would be hopeless, merely suicidal. And I must admit that, so far, not one of the creatures had exhibited any signs of hostility. Indeed, their attitudes, their expressions all hinted of wonder and curiosity rather than of enmity. But what was to be the final result? Was I considered a prisoner, a mere curiosity—some strange new beast—or was I deemed a guest, free to go or to do as I pleased?
With no means of inter-communication we were at a hopeless impasse.
BUT I was not left long in doubt. Sharp notes issued from scores of throats, the throng hummed like a hive of angry bees. Pushing and jostling one another, they formed an open lane and in this appeared two creatures wholly different from any of the rest. At first sight I shuddered and could scarcely believe the evidence of my eyes. They seemed two disembodied heads rolling towards me, though as they drew nearer I saw that they actually did possess bodies and legs. But these were so out of proportion that the beings appeared like those huge balloons made in the forms of grotesque figures that are carried and released during parades and carnivals back in your world. And the resemblance was made the more striking by the color of these beings—a rich ruby-red—upon which their features seemed painted rather than molded. Their mouths were merely round holes, their noses were represented by broad longitudinal slits, their ears were huge conical appendages which could be turned in any direction, while their eyes—huge, lidless and staring—were borne on the ends of stalks, and, when not in use, were drawn back or telescoped into deep sockets. Altogether they were the most unreal, the most repellent-looking things I had seen, and as they stood within a few feet of me with eyes extended and focused upon me, I felt as if I were between two dome-roofed observatories and was being scrutinized by inmates with powerful telescopes. Having examined me from every possible angle, the things drew in their eyes and extended slender, delicate tentacles. It was all I could do to control myself as the finger-like, snaky things felt over my person. And when one of them caressed my face I could stand no more, and with an exclamation of disgust I struck it viciously with my hand. Instantly a powerful tentacle encircled my body, pinning my arms to my sides, and, as if in the grasp of a giant python, I was drawn, half-strangled, into the grasp of one of the Tss'zors for the second time.
Musical notes, sharp hisses, angry sounds filled the air. The big-heads emitted cries that might have issued from the siren of a fire-truck, and there was no mistaking the menacing attitude that every being in the vicinity instantly assumed. I was, I admit, terrified beyond words. I realized that I had committed an unforgivable act and I expected momentarily to be torn to pieces. But instead I was held powerless to move, and surrounded by the angry throng of nightmarish beings, was carried rapidly along the esplanade, around the outer rows of buildings, and was pitched headlong into an enclosure that resembled a bear-pit. Half-stunned I lay there, until suddenly I was aroused by a low, ominous, growling sound, sprang to my feet and peered in the direction whence the sounds came. And at what I saw the blood seemed to freeze in my veins. Issuing from a black den on the further side of the pit was the most terrible, the most horrifying monster, human mind could conceive. As large as a full-grown bear, with a gorilla-like face, with tiny, wicked blazing eyes and lips drawn back over enormous fang-like teeth, the awful beast was dragging itself towards me by means of small naked feet armed with sharp talons fully a foot in length. For a moment I stood, paralyzed with terror, unable to move or even to cry out. And in that brief moment I noticed that attached to the forelegs were shreds of ragged, bloody membrane. It was some form of gigantic, ferocious vampire-bat rendered incapable of flight by mutilation of its wings! Somehow this realization of the thing's true character galvanized me into life and action. Suddenly I remembered I was armed and, whipping out my revolver, I blazed away at the loathsome beast. With a scream of pain and anger it reared itself up, waved its crippled limbs helplessly and, pitching forward, rolled over dying.
But I had scant time to note this. At the sound of the thing's frenzied cry, two more of its kind had come charging from the hole.
MY first shot brought one of the horrible creatures down, but before I could fire again the second was almost upon me. Never will I forget the awful terror of that moment. Until my dying day I shall dream of it in nightmares. So close was the fiendish thing that its fetid breath was overpowering, and I actually could look down its livid-red throat as its jaws, with their gleaming, needle-sharp fangs, snapped open and shut within two feet of my face! Only the fact that it was crippled saved me from being seized and torn to pieces. It was impossible for me to retreat, for my back was against the wall, and I felt sick, numb with dread of the result if my bullet did not kill the thing instantly. Of course all this took place in a few seconds, in that immeasurably short space of time that was required for me to swing my revolver towards the beast and press the trigger. But ages seemed to elapse between the two reports of my weapon. And when the shot did ring out, the muzzle of my pistol actually was within the open jaws of the monster, and as he collapsed and fell, lurching forward and bearing me with him to the ground, the pistol was wrenched from my grasp. Screaming, partly hysterical from the sudden relief of my tensed nerves and partly with loathing at feeling the warm, palpitating, furry body, overpowering in its disgusting musky odor, pressing against me, I pushed it violently aside and sprang free.
But the terror I had known before was nothing to what I now felt. The second giant vampire had not been killed, but only wounded, and now, more vicious, more savage than ever, he was rushing upon me! And my revolver was somewhere out of reach beneath the great dead body of the other beast! For an instant I was stunned with my feeling of utter helplessness. Then I remembered my hunting-knife and jerked it from its sheath. It was a miserable weapon with which to battle with the monstrous bat whose dagger-like teeth were as long as the knife's blade and whose sharp claws were capable of tearing through clothing, skin and flesh. But it was my only chance. The creature was wounded. I had noticed that in their crippled state the things were not particularly agile, and I hoped and prayed that I might be able to dodge the horrible beast's charge and by stepping to one side deliver a fatal blow.
It is hopeless for me to try to describe the next few moments. To me it was a chaos, a nightmare of snapping jaws, lashing claws, sharp metallic squeaks, an overwhelming odor of musk and blood, leaps, dashing, dodging, slashing and stabbing. Again and again I felt my knife bury itself in flesh; again and again the vicious talons reached my garments and ripped great rents in the stout cloth. And then suddenly, with no apparent reason, the great body sank to the ground, rolled over and lay still.
I had won! There was nothing more to fear, and weak, exhausted, I staggered back. Suddenly I felt myself seized from the rear. Something like a great serpent wrapped itself about my body. Mad with terror I shrieked, struggled, and the world went black before my eyes. I recovered consciousness to find myself resting, not in that foul pen with the dead bodies of the giant bats, but in a strange chamber. Above my head was an arched ceiling of snowy white material wrought in most amazing, intricate and delicate designs that were somehow strange and yet also familiar to me. Indeed, I was so fascinated by the design that I quite forgot my horrible experience with the bats and did not, for a space, wonder what had occurred or where I was. Then I saw that the walls, too, were of the same pattern and suddenly, as I recalled the strange, cylindrical, dome-roofed buildings I had seen when approaching the city, I realized I must be within one of them. And with this realization came another. No wonder the arabesque-like pattern seemed familiar. The building was of coral. Not constructed of blocks of coral-rock, but cut, actually hollowed out, of some gigantic species of coral. For an instant the idea seemed preposterous, incredible. Then I smiled at my own thoughts. Wasn't everything preposterous, incredible? Wasn't this entire inner world—the Tss'zors, the light screen, all the forms of life I had seen, the city itself—incredible, utterly preposterous? And for a house to be formed by hollowing out the interior of some giant madrepore was perhaps the least incredible and least preposterous of anything I had yet discovered.
MY thoughts were interrupted by a slight sound and, turning over, I discovered I was not alone in the chamber. Seated—no, I might better say squatted—upon the floor was one of those resplendently beautiful creatures with the iridescent metallic armor. Evidently, I thought, I was still a prisoner. Somehow the appearance of the armor-clad creatures had given me the impression that they were soldiers or police, and I even had pictured to myself, what a marvelously efficient police force they would make, if a company of them could be taken back to the world where I belonged. There would be no bribery or corruption, no graft possible with these fellows, and the toughest gun man or gangster who ever took a rival for a "ride" would be as helpless as a child in the face of these armored and armed beings. So, quite naturally, finding myself alone with one of the chaps, I deemed myself a prisoner under guard. But only for an instant. No sooner did the magnificent creature sec that I was conscious, than he rose swiftly, emitted a strange, low-pitched humming sound, moved his light-tipped antennae about. Scurrying to one side of the room, he opened a concealed trap-door, peered into it with his ruby-red eyes and uttered a series of sharp, clicking sounds. Then, returning to within a few feet of where I rested, sitting upright on a most uncomfortable sort of stone couch, he proceeded to gesticulate and utter curiously modulated sounds. Even the most stupid person would instantly have realized the creature was striving to converse with me. But despite the fact that I deem myself anything but stupid, I could make nothing of it. Still it was decidedly embarrassing to sit there and say nothing, so I joined in the conversation, asking the fellow all manner of questions; but, of course, knowing full well that my words were as meaningless to him as his were incomprehensible to me.
But his gestures, or at least some of them, were easily understood. He had an immense advantage, for he possessed eight arms with dozens of fingers—or digits. Of course I could make nothing of much that he tried to convey by means of the movements of his various appendages. But I very quickly grasped the fact that he at least regarded me as a superior being, that instead of being a guard or keeper he was there to protect me and serve me, and that the sudden change in my status quo was the battle with the giant bats.
It was then for the first time that noticed my revolver and knife had been placed within my reach, and very gratefully I at once replaced the weapons in holster and sheath after first reloading the pistol.
Now I stopped to think of it, the dash and report of my revolver would doubtless have amazed and awed the denizens of this inner-world city. But, as nearly as I could determine from my guardian's gestures, there was something more than this and, moreover, the creature appeared to be as much impressed by my knife as by my pistol. But it was not until much later that I learned the reason for this; when I discovered that the use of metals was absolutely unknown to the inhabitants, and that the hardness and keenness of the blade had impressed them as even more wonderful than the revolver shots. But this in a way was not so surprising after all. A firearm was entirely beyond them. They knew of nothing analogous to it, whereas their own chitonous talons, claws, and the implementlike digits on certain classes of individuals were, in a remote way, comparable to my knife.
So engrossed was I in striving to grasp the meaning of my companion's communications, that I failed to note the arrival of another creature carrying a tray-like affair laden with what unquestionably was food. Looking back upon it now, I have to smile as I think what a problem I must have been to these people when I first arrived. They had not the most remote idea of I required in the way of sleeping quarters, food or drink. But as each type or caste—there is no word that exactly answers my purpose—as each particular form of the denizens of the city consumed some special form of food and drink, they had tried to solve the problem of my sustenance by bringing me a little of every kind of provender known to the entire community.
THERE were some things which no human being could have eaten, even if on the verge of starvation: pulpy, evil-smelling, jelly-like raw flesh of creatures like giant sea-slugs; gritty, repulsive, gristly meat from some other marine animal; the stringy, rubber-like flesh of actinias or sea anemones. But there were also vegetables which, although raw—for no food is ever cooked in this strange world — was palatable, while shrimp or crab-like crustaceans, the fungi, small snails, and especially rich, tender, terrestrial algae, were all very good.
At last, having dined, I rose, and by dint of signs indicated that I desired to go outside and see the surroundings. My companion seemed quick to grasp my meaning, and lighting the way by means of his antennae-borne lights, he led the way, down through the trap-door, down a winding flight of steps, through a tunnel and so up a steep incline into the outer air and the strange luminous, multicolored glow that illuminated this city of the inner world.
END OF PART I
In this second Part of Mr. Verrill's story the reader will find that he maintains the interest and that the result is a real A. Hyatt Verrill story. He keeps us in the inner world of which so much has been told in the Past in the way of surmise and even of fixed belief.
What Has Gone Before:
A brightly painted metal sphere was found floating in the ocean off the
As I glanced about I discovered that none of the innumerable buildings possessed visible doors or entrances, but that all were connected by underground passages with manhole-like openings into the streets. But I had little time to speculate on the reason for this. Almost instantly my strange companion and myself were surrounded by a crowd of the strange, impossibly-weird denizens of the city. And their tones, their actions, their entire manner were respectful, almost worshipful. Strange, I thought, how alike were these bizarre creatures of the inner world and my fellow men of the outer sphere in their reactions to an event which appeared startling or novel. They were as much carried away by enthusiasm and hero worship as any Broadway crowd, for to them my weapons and my battle with the giant captive bats were on a par with Lindbergh's flight or Byrd's conquest of the Antarctic as regarded by humans. And my presence aroused the same enthusiasm, the same ridiculous sort of demonstrations that have been in vogue since the first cave-man slew the first cave-bear and was treated like a demigod by his less courageous fellows. Still, such human-like characteristics in these strange beings amazed me, for they were not in the least human otherwise. And their attitude towards me struck me as being entirely out of proportion to the causes which had aroused it. But then, of course, I did not at the time understand what really was back of it.
But enough of this. I would have given anything to have been able to converse or even communicate intelligently with the creatures, for on every side were amazing, puzzling matters which aroused my most intense interest, but which were inexplicable to me at the time. There is no need to enter into a minute or detailed account of all I saw, for my time and my space are both limited and there are more important or at least more vital matters to relate. Moreover, were I to attempt to describe many things they would still remain incomprehensible to you and my fellow men, if ever this document should reach you, my friend, for whom it is intended.
Enough to say that for several days I devoted my time to exploring the city and that, after the first day or two, I could move about without being constantly surrounded by a mob. And I must digress long enough to explain that when I say "days" I mean periods of twenty-four hours by my watch, for in this interior world there are neither days nor nights, nor as far as I have been able to determine, any such thing as time. Of course, when I came to think of it, there was no reason why time should exist. To us time has so long become a habit, a necessity I might say, that mankind scarcely could exist without it. Yet time, as we know it, is merely an arbitrary matter dependent and based upon the periods of light and darkness caused by the rotation of the earth. But here, in the interior of the world, there are no such periods, no planets on which to base any observations or to serve as standards, and hence no standard of time. And the denizens appear to get along just as well—perhaps better—in spite of its absence.
For several days, as I say, I explored the city, reasoning out and by observation solving many puzzles, and acquiring a slight familiarity with the medium of communication—I can scarcely call it a language—of the inhabitants. Even my presence seemed to have become little more than an accepted fact, for these creatures appear to possess no curiosity and, the first novelty of my appearance having worn off, the beings seemed scarcely to give me a second thought. No, I cannot say that. Always, where-ever I went, I was accompanied by a group of the metallic-armored creatures, like the police-guard that accompanies some great personage or crowned head when visiting one of our earth cities.
It was while thus wandering about, accompanied by my body-guard, about ten days after my arrival that suddenly and without any apparent reason there was a tremendous commotion in the city. I was near the water front at the time, when sharp, shrill, excited cries arose from every side. The creatures in the neighborhood started to scurrying, flying, hurrying off in every direction, and the air seemed suddenly to be filled with countless Tss'zors winging with incredible speed towards the landing-places. Almost instantly my guards formed a cordon about me. By gestures, clicks and squeaks they urged me on, and conducted me into an unusually large manhole and through underground passages into a very large transparent chamber.
EVERYWHERE the streets were filled with fleeing inhabitants of every type, all clattering, squealing, squeaking, chirruping and obviously panic stricken, all tumbling as fast as possible into the apertures that led to the queer, domed houses. Overhead, the flying Tss'zors were winging downward in scores, their lights flashing and gleaming. In a marvelously short time the last of the beings on the streets, together with most of the Tss'zors, had vanished in their burrows, and the city was deserted. But above the town, and flying back and forth just within the area of multicolored light, was a veritable army of Tss'zors and a legion of the metallic-winged creatures like those filling the chamber in which I stood. What was it all about? What had caused the sudden panic? That there was some untoward event, some danger impending, was evident; and that it was something from above, from the outer blue darkness, I felt sure, yet I could not imagine what it could be.
Suddenly I saw a squadron of the Tss'zors dash upward and to one side. The veil of light seemed suddenly obliterated in one spot. Against the glow I could see dim, dark, swiftly-moving shapes at which the Tss'zors hurled themselves in a solid phalanx.
I STOOD spellbound, enthralled, gazing at that terrific battle in the sky. The flashing lights of the Tss'zors, with their swiftly moving bodies, their snakelike tentacles coiling and uncoiling, their armor-like shells, gleaming orange, green, purple, as their light rays were radiated from their bodies, their swiftly-moving membranous wings, mingled with huge, black bodies, with widespread, dusky wings, as they fought and struggled with the horde of giant enemies that had appeared from nowhere out of the fathomless blue void.
It was the same on every side. In a dozen places the Tss'zors were engaged in the terrific aerial struggle, while in one spot the squadrons of iridescent-armored guards were hurling themselves with incredible fury at the enemy. No battle between human-made aircraft could equal or even approach this warfare between the two winged hosts who fought, not with rapid-fire guns and flaming, thundering weapons, but hand to hand (if such a term may be used) with the claws, teeth, pincers and digits given them by nature. And they fought with the insane ferocity, the utter disregard of danger and death of brute beasts—far more than that—with the in-conceivable ferocity of battling ants or insects.
Fragments of limbs, torn wings, dismembered bodies fell hurtling downward by dozens, and as I saw the mutilated black forms of the enemies come plunging, spinning, somersaulting through the air like great disabled airplanes, I gasped. They were bats. Giant, repulsive vampires! The same horrible creatures as those with whom I had battled on that day when I had first arrived! No wonder the inhabitants had fled in tenor. No wonder the Tss'zors were fighting furiously to drive off these blood sucking attackers from the outer void. Unquestionably there had been other raids and —the thought was somewhat reassuring —the Tss'zors must have been the victors, else the crippled prisoners of war would not have been in that foul pen, where I had been thrown like a Christian martyr to the wild beasts in Rome.
My very soul revolted at the thought of the fearsome things reaching the city, and in my dread of what might follow, were the giant vampires victorious, I quite forgot that within the domed buildings I and the inhabitants of the town were safe. Safe from the blood-thirsty fangs of the great bats, yes, for even they would be powerless to destroy or to penetrate the thick walls of the dwellings, and their huge bodies could not enter through the narrow apertures and passages. But, I was doomed to a death as bad if not worse than being torn to pieces by the creatures, doomed to starve to death, if once the enemy was in control of the city.
And now the tide of battle had turned. Despite their frantic struggles, their heroic efforts, their awful sacrifices, the Tss'zors were being decimated. Only a pitiful few remained, still fighting ferociously against the ever-increasing hordes of bats. But there was no thought of retreat. With fixed eyes, speechless, fascinated by the fearful-ness of the scene, I watched as, one by one, the remaining defenders were overcome, as their mutilated, dismembered remains fell from above, until not a Tss'zor remained alive, and before my horror-stricken eyes the army of blood-lustful vampires came swooping downward upon the stricken city. How many there were I cannot say. But there must have been thousands. With a chorus of piercing, horrible squeaks and chatterings they alighted; crawling with great, leathery fluttering wings over the buildings, pausing here and there to devour the bodies or the limbs of their fallen fellows and of the Tss'zors. And then, suddenly, I heard a new sound. A strange, rushing, roaring sound, and outward from the great opening in the cliff came a seething, foaming stream of water; a torrent that almost instantly flooded the streets, that buried the buildings until only the domed roof rose above the rushing tide, that overwhelmed the army of great bats before they could take wing, that bore them, helplessly struggling, into the sea to drown. Instantly, at this amazing sight, I understood many matters that had puzzled me. The purpose of that great tunnel in the cliff, the reason why the houses had no doors, why they were reached only by subterranean passages—all had been planned to provide protection from these terrible loathsome enemies, to afford a means of destroying them, once they invaded the city. But I had little time to think on such matters. The creatures within the chamber were chattering excitedly, they were tugging at me, urging me to descend from my perch. I took a last glance. The flood had ended, only a trickle of water remained in the streets. Here and there the water-soaked, dead bodies of drowned vampires were wedged against buildings or other obstructions, and several dozen of the awful beasts were clinging to the tops of the higher structures, opening and shutting their great wings, squeaking angrily, their red eyes blazing, their terrible teeth bared.
I COULD watch no longer. My guards were becoming insistent, and I sprang from my perch wondering what the creatures wished me to do. I was not left long in doubt. Surrounded by them I hurried downwards into the passageway which, to my surprise, was free from water, and towards the street. I drew back, filled with terror. I was about to be thrust out into the open to face those vicious awful beasts, to be sacrificed with the idea—perhaps—that, having devoured me, the creatures would be appeased and would depart.
I struggled, fought. I was about draw my pistol, to shoot down my guards and even put a bullet through my own head rather than be delivered to the bats, when suddenly it dawned upon me that the actions of the gorgeous creatures about me were not those of beings intent on delivering me to their bloodthirsty enemies. They were not using force. Had they so desired, anyone of them could have seized me, and holding me as helpless as a child, could have carried me bodily from the passage. Neither were their tones raised in anger or command. Rather, they were anxious, argumentative, coaxing. And though they urged me onwards they used only their soft, delicate digits and touched me gently, reassuringly.
Abruptly, with realization of this, much of my terror left me. There was something I did not understand, some reason for my guards wishing me to go on. And now, from the street above us, came excited sounds, loud cries, frenzied squeals, the high pitched, shrilling, insect-like notes of Tss'zors; the uncanny, squeaking chatter of the bats. Reaching towards me one of my companions touched my revolver, lifted it partly from its holster, did the same with my hunting knife and pointed upwards. Like a revelation his meaning was clear to me. Outside a battle was in progress and my services and my weapons were required in the struggle.
Instantly everything was clear to me. I understood why I had been treated so well, why I had been protected and cared for. The beings had seen me kill the vampire prisoners with my strange weapons, and had preserved me as a powerful—in fact very probably to their minds, supernatural ally. In fact, when I came to think of it, I was amazed that, regarding me and my weapons as they did, they had not sent me forth to battle single-handed against the army of bats, without resorting to their own effective method of destroying the bulk of the enemy. As it was it was bad enough. When I had last looked through the slits of the building there had been dozens of the giant vampires still alive in the city, and for a lone man armed with only a revolver and a hunting knife to face the huge, terribly savage creatures was much like a man similarly armed attacking a score of grizzly bears or Bengal tigers.
Still, as I knew from the sounds reaching me from the streets, there were others battling with the horrible creatures, and such an intense loathing and hatred of the things possessed me, that I forgot all fears and all caution and rushed upward grasping my weapons in my hands.
As I reached the street I came upon a scene such as no words can adequately describe; a scene of battle, beside which the bloodiest conflicts of human warfare are scarcely more than frolics. A scene of such brute ferocity, such fearful carnage, such fiendish cruelty and disregard of wounds as baffles description. No longer were the Tss'zors taking an active part in the fighting. The duty of mopping up the surviving, gigantic bats, the hand-to-hand struggle in the streets, was relegated to the iridescent creatures—the Iss-dors as they are called. I had thought that the aerial conflict I had witnessed was terrific and bloody; but it had been tame compared to the war of extermination. To be sure, there were comparatively few of the giant vampires left alive in the city; but compared to the size of the Iss-dors they were like elephants to human beings. And though most were bedraggled, and owing to their wet, heavy fur were unable to take flight, yet they could use their huge membranous wings, and, with a quick flip, would leap a prodigious distance either to hurl themselves upon their foes or to escape from an attack. And a number were still unharmed and were flying overhead, ever and again swooping down upon the struggling groups in the streets. But the onslaughts of these played but a small part in the battle. They were fully engaged in fighting a host of Tss-zors and Iss-dors overhead, and, every few seconds, mangled bodies or dismembered fragments of friends and foes would come hurtling down. Several times I narrowly escaped injury or death by these falling bodies and limbs, and I saw one group of Iss-dors crushed to pulp beneath the falling carcass of a huge bat.
It was as if two squadrons of airplanes were battling above one of your cities, while troops were lighting in the streets below. But no human troops, no terrestrial carnivores, ever fought as did these creatures. As I have said, the bats were the size of grizzly bears; but they were a thousand times more dangerous. If you can imagine a Kodiak bear with the agility of a panther, with wings which, with a single flip, will enable him to leap forty or fifty feet, with teeth over a foot in length, then you will have a faint idea of the terrible beasts I was called upon to face. And, compared to the Iss-dors, I was a puny, helpless being despite my knife and pistol. Clad in chitonous armor, equipped with eight legs, each armed with natural weapons, far more agile than any athlete, and possessing the prodigous strength in proportion to size which is typical of insects, the creatures were scarcely more than fighting machines— living armored tanks—endowed with a high degree of intelligence. And they could survive injuries that would have proved fatal to human beings, without in the least interfering with their activity or their aggressiveness. Close to where I stood was one of the beings who had lost five of its eight legs, and yet was battling madly with a crippled bat or Oz-mok as they are called.
But I never saw the end of the duel. In fact I had but the fraction of a second to take in the terrible scenes being enacted on every side before I found myself in the midst of the carnage. It would have been bad enough to have taken a hand in the fighting but the moment I appeared, the Iss-dors in my vicinity instantly withdrew, leaving me to face the enraged, monstrous Oz-moks alone. Never have I been so filled with terror. My ghastly fear when, in their den, the crippled beasts had attacked me, had been nothing compared to my horror and terror now.
I faced two of the monstrous beasts which, scarcely injured, with their wings still intact, were rushing at me. One, squatting upon the ground, was already opening its wings to spring. The other, poised on the roof of one of the cylindrical buildings, was striving to secure a firm foothold from which to launch itself upon me. There was no time for hesitation, no time to retreat, even had I not been as fearful of the watching Iss-dors in my rear as of the ferocious beasts I faced.
With a terrific effort I controlled my shaking hand and fired at the brute crouching upon the earth. Luck or
As the last cartridge was discharged I drew my knife and drove it with all my strength into the beast's flesh. There, beneath the wing, the hair was short and thin, and I plunged the blade in to the hilt. Again and again I struck. Maddened by pain and terror, with insane fury, I slashed, dug, ripped with the keen-edged steel, literally carving my way into the beast's vitals. Blood spurted from the gaping wound and drenched me from head to foot, the awful musky stench of the brute nauseated me, almost overpowered me. But I had become a maniac of fury, no longer a civilized man, but a blood-thirsty savage. Dimly I was aware that the monster's struggles were decreasing, only half consciously did I realize that presently its struggles ceased altogether. And for some time after the creature had ceased to live I continued to stab, tear and slash at the reeking flesh.
Exhausted, faint, I crawled from beneath the wing of the dead beast. My appearance was greeted with a chorus of hisses, clucks, buzzes and strange half-insect, half-bird-like chirps which corresponded to cheers. The battle in the air had ceased. Whether it was the detonations of my revolver shots, the flashes of the discharges, or the acrid smoke, I do not know. But at the first reports of my revolver the bats—no, the Oz-moks—overhead had been panic stricken and had winged away as fast as they could fly, while those still upon the ground had squeaked in terror and had flopped and scrambled off, seeking some refuge, only to be chased and destroyed without mercy by the victorious Iss-dors.
The battle was over and I found myself regarded as a hero. No, there was more. In the estimation of the strange inhabitants of this impossible city I had been exalted to the status of a divine or supernatural being. The Tss-zors and Iss-dors gathered about, chirping, chattering, emitting shrill, pleased sounds and obviously complimenting and congratulating me. The flat-faced, fishy-eyed, Uk-kuls uttered weird squawks, as they opened and closed their vacuous, toothless mouths and fluttered their rudimentary wings. The porcine, pulpy, wingless Tu-jeers fairly grunted with delight, and their illuminated horns flashed and twinkled as they rolled and waddled about. Even the long-necked, flipper-equipped Mo-hals joined the assemblage of bizarre creatures, and grunted and wheezed as they inflated their membranous, illuminated chests, much as the little West Indian house lizards inflate their orange, gular* pouches, when highly pleased. A moment later the crowd parted and the two grotesque, balloon-like, living heads appeared, their ruby-red faces glowing like giant jack-o'-lanterns, and their telescopic eyes focussed upon me like a battery of guns. But their attitude was very different from what they had preserved on the previous occasion. Also, I had learned by experience. Despite the repugnance I felt, I controlled myself as they touched me with their finger-like tentacles, for I realized that they were friendly, that they were striving, as well as they were able, to assure me of their friendly intentions, and that, as I had intruded myself upon their world, I must abide by their customs and rules.
But despite the fact that I have now dwelt here for more than a year of earth time, I have never yet overcome my inborn feeling of dislike for many of the creatures, and the repugnance I have for others, while from the very first I have been strangely drawn toward the gorgeous Iss-dors.
Although my life was doubtless saved by the Tss-'Zors who carried me to the city when I first arrived, yet almost involuntarily and unconsciously I have felt a companionship, a sympathy with the big, eight-armed, highly intelligent Iss-dors, a sort of friendship which, despite every effort, I have been unable to develop towards any of the other creatures here in this incredible inner world.
*Upon the throat or gullet.
CHAPTER VI A Brief Digression
BEFORE proceeding further with my narrative, old friend, let me digress a little to explain that I long ago learned to converse—after a fashion—with the weird creatures here. This fact will explain why and how I have learned so much regarding the place and its denizens, and by mentioning it here, I will be saved the time and trouble of over and over again explaining the meaning of names and words I must use, when referring to various beings and objects during my story; names which must be used, for there are no counterparts of the things in the world you know, and hence no words to describe them. Also, if you should see fit to bring this story to the attention of my former fellow scientists,, they no doubt may be interested in learning something of the means of communication by which these beings converse. First, let me state that among themselves they can communicate many thoughts and ideas by means of electro-magnetic waves, the action of which are entirely beyond my comprehension, and which are transmitted and received through the same organs which produce the lights. But in addition to this they possess a true language, and a very complex and expressive language, or rather, I might say, a combination of languages.
It is in a way something like the Qui-chua of the Incas, or a bit like Esperanto, inasmuch as it is polyglot tongue embodying features of a dozen languages. The basis is the language of the Iss-dors, who are by far the most intelligent, the most advanced and the most virile race here.
But through the ages, bits of the other dialects have been added, until now it is a truly universal tongue. No, I can't properly refer to it as a tongue, for with one or two exceptions—as the Uk-kuls, the Tu-jeers and the Mo-hals, the sounds are produced by special vibratory organs and not by vocal cords. And the greatest difficulty I have found has been in mastering the strange insectlike sounds, in reproducing them by means of the human organs of speech, and in distinguishing between them by means of the human ear. In fact I have not yet been able to distinguish the finer gradations and higher notes, while many are pitched so high or so low as to be far beyond the auditory range of a human being.
Neither is it at all possible to convey more than an approximate idea of the sounds by means of letters of our world's alphabets. For example, the name of the city—Ju-iss-Zit—is as near as I can convey it, while the name bestowed upon me—in the efforts of these creatures to repeat my name—is "Tssu-uloss" which even you will agree is a pretty poor stab at Thurlow.
I might also add that the language is an exceedingly difficult one to master. In fact no human being ever could really master it, and had I not been a natural linguist, and had I not been familiar with several of the primitive languages of the African and South American tribes, I would have been unable to have progressed to a working knowledge of this inner world dialect. Its chief peculiarity is the fact that it possesses no verbs. It is composed entirely of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, prepositions and numerals. You may wonder how an idea or thought can be expressed without verbs, but it really is quite simple. For example, suppose I wish to say "Where are you going?" The word for place is Us, "you" is So, "foot" is Cka, and to denote a question the word Pst is used. The complete sentence would be "Pst-cha-ils-so" or literally "What place your foot?" But the sentence as expressed in this language is far more complete and definite than if literally translated into English. And moreover, the sentence would be changed were I to ask where a creature was going if going by flight, or again changed if he were going by water, etc. Finally, comparatives and superlatives are formed by adding syllables to a noun—in the middle of the word for comparative and at the end for superlative. Thus "Pu-tu-ru-U" means "high" but "Pu-tu-pu-ru-il" means higher and "Pu-tu-il-pu" means highest. The repetition of the first syllable conveys the comparative or superlative as compared with other objects of a like nature, whereas if compared to objects of a different sort the last syllable would be used.
So if I wished to say that a Tss-zor was higher than an Iss-dor I would use the word "Pu-tu-il-ru-il" and to speak of an object as the highest object in a neighborhood (where there were objects other than the one to which I referred) I would say "Pu-tu-ru-il-il." Of course all of this seems complicated and confusing, but it is no worse than our "er" and "est" and "more" and "most" or in our ridiculous genders. Besides, these people, for I must call them people, can instantly denote whether an object is on land, in the air or in the water by a slight alteration of the noun itself. An Oz-mok or bat is merely Ozmuk in air; but the moment he is on the earth he becomes an Or-mur and if in the water an Oz-mul. These endings "k" “l” and "r" never change. A Tss-zor flying becomes a Tss-soz and if he is on or in water he is a Tss-zol. It is for this reason that all the beings whose natural habitat is earth have names ending in "r," those who are primarily maritime end in "1" and those whose natural element is air have names ending in "k." The one exception is the name "Cheek Horlks" applied to the "big heads" or "wise ones" who, although confined to earth, are lords or rulers of earth, sea and air, and hence have all the letters combined. My own name, as they pronounce it, would indicate that I am a being from nowhere—the ending "s" indicating uncertainty or "unknown." Hence they call my revolver the "Phr-iss," and my knife, "Ist-oss." The terminal "t" indicates a stationary thing or site, hence the name of the city—"Jus-iss-zit" or as nearly as it may be translated : "The place or site of the Tss-zors and Iss-dors with the Others."
But enough of this. I don't suppose you are in the least interested.
BUT there was another discovery I made which may interest you as a medical man. With very few exceptions every living thing I have seen here is artificial! By that I do not mean the animals and plants are imitations. Nor do I imply that they are exactly synthetic. But not a single form of life— with the possible exception of the wild plants, the terrestrial polyps and invertebrates, and a few other things considered worthless, not a single form of life aside from such is natural. What manner of beings were the original denizens of this inner world, I cannot say. I imagine that they were some form of marine crustacean not unlike the tri-lobites or the common "sow-bugs" of your outer world. Also, very probably, their evolution reached the stage of simple vertebrates—perhaps even primitive forms of saurians. At any rate, life must have originated in the sea, and from there have spread to land. And I now am convinced that the reason why marine forms of life—or rather forms which we deem marine—have adapted themselves to a terrestrial life here is owing to the absence of natural light. On the outer surface of the earth, sunlight prevents the marine creatures from leaving their natural habitat. To be sure, some forms have developed a certain resistance to light and can survive the interval between tides. But if you stop to think you will recall that on your earth, all terrestrial animals, which are closely related to marine forms, hide from light beneath stones, etc., and come forth only at night. Also, you will realize, if you think over the matter, that such forms of plant life, as have become marine dwellers, are akin to forms which, on earth, thrive only in dark, shady locations. But to return to my statement in regard to the freakish inhabitants or "people" of this inner world. All are the results of hybridization, of scientifically controlled evolution, and of artificial propagation and development. And all are—incredible as it may appear— combinations of the great animal orders —of the insects, vertebrates, polyps, and some unknown remote ancestral type. Not a single form is mammalian or even warm-blooded! Even the giant Os-moks, which I have referred to as "bats," are not really bats. They are not even warm-blooded, as I discovered to my horror when I stabbed the monster to death on that memorable day. Just what they are I cannot say, but I consider them a form of reptile. And, incredible as it may seem, monstrous as it appeared to me, the Tss-zors, Iss-dors and Mo-hals all have a certain percentage of the Oz-Moks in their structure. Who or what first conceived the idea of developing a dozen or more highly specialized forms of "freaks" by artificial hybridization and rearing is unknown; but the Iss-dors claim that they are the descendents of the original dominating race, and the others are usurpers. As a result, the really superior Iss-dors regard the Tss-dors and other forms somewhat as a pure negro or a pure-blooded white man regards a mulatto on your outer earth. But as they are completely controlled and dominated by the Cheek-Horlks (there are, I have found, scores, hundreds, of these "living heads") who control the relative numbers of each kind of inhabitant, and have charge of all development and propagation, the Iss-dors have been compelled to bow to the Tss-sors, though deemed higher than the Uk-Kuls or the Tu-jeers and Mo-hals.
You may laugh—at the idea of an embryo's arrested or retarded development bringing about totally distinct forms of life. But stop to remember what happens with the bees! Bear in mind the inexplicable fact that an ordinary bee larva, if fed on the "royal jelly," will develop into a queen bee, whereas, if left alone and fed normally, it will become merely a worker. And having considered this fact, and with your mind ready to receive new ideas and with your imagination given free reign, try to reason out what might be the result if the larva in its cell, instead of being the young of a honey bee, was rhe result of hybridization of a bee and an army ant. Would it then be so preposterous to assume that by some special feeding or treatment the larva could be developed into either a monstrous queen bee or a queen ant or a combination of both?
I DO not see anything unreasonable in such an assumption. And that it is neither unreasonable nor unscientific is proved by the fact that precisely such a process is followed here. Take the Tss-zors, for example. They possess certain features of the polyps—note the tentacles, the suckers, etc. They have distinctly crustacean, segmented bodies, antennae, pincers and chitinous armor. They have the eyes of insects, the fur of vertebrates, the membranous wings of flying lizards.
They present, in short, an actual proof of the mingling of many orders of animal life, and yet in their larval form they cannot be distinguished from the Tu-Jeers which are nine-tenths polyp in character, nor from the Mo-Hals, which are distinctly reptilian. For that matter—though I cannot vouch for it from personal observation—the young are identical with the larvae which, eventually, are developed into the Cheek-Horlks or dominating intelligences of the community. But the larvae of the Iss-dors are quite distinct, which leads me to think that they are correct in their claim of being a distinct race of beings. Of course there is no sex among these freaks. In the first place, as you and all scientists are aware, hybridization between animals, even of the same genera, results in sterility in the majority of cases. In the second place, care is taken that the larvae are reared so as to become sexless, for should male and female beings—of the Tss-Zor class for example, be developed and allowed to live, there would be grave danger of their offspring increasing to such an extent that they would dominate everything.
How, you may well ask, can species be propagated without sex? You cannot be blamed for such a question. for in your outer world scientists have been experimenting with the production of synthetic life basing all their ideas on the necessity of male and female cells. But here the line of experimenting— and success—has been along totally distinct lines—along the line of spontaneous life brought about through electrical, or I might say, electro-magnetic, impulses operating upon protoplasmic cellular tissues. And already, from what I have seen, I can assure you that if my old confreres in the old-fogyish world of science wish to produce life, regardless of sex or fertilized cells, let them scrap all they have done and try starting life exactly as it was started in the beginning of creation—by means of incalculably high-frequency electro-magnetic impulses directed upon slimes. Every atom contains all the elements of actual life. All that is necessary is to start the proper impulses within the atoms and life will appear. Sex, fertilization! Mere words, relative terms! When a seed or an ovary or other so-called "female" cell is fertilized to produce life what happens? Nothing more nor less than an electrical impulse! I can best compare it to the action of the old-fashioned plunge batteries, the bichromate of potash cells. As long as the zinc electrodes remained out of the liquid no current was generated, of course. But the instant the zincs were immersed there was generated a powerful electric current.
The same, or at least a quite analogous, thing occurs when the spermatozoon comes into contact with the female cell. A sudden terrifically high-frequency impulse is produced and the atoms of the cells spring into life. But I am forgetting that I am writing a brief narrative of my adventures and experiences rather than a scientific treatise. Still, this dissertation will save space and confusion and digressions later on. But to go back to the main thread of my story.
CHAPTER VII Explorations and Discoveries
ONE result of my new status in the community was that I found myself free to go anywhere I chose. To be sure I was always accompanied by a body-guard of the Iss-dors, but I realized they were there to protect me, and they invariably kept at some distance and never interfered in any way with my movements. The first thing I did was to explore the city. I had an excellent bird's eye view of the town when I first arrived, carried in the grasp of the Tss-Zor; but anyone who has seen a strange city from an airplane, and afterwards has wandered through its streets, knows how different the one impression is from the other. Perhaps the most striking feature of the city was its monotony. The straight avenues, radiating from the great orifice in the cliff, were all precisely alike, and the innumerable pill box-like dwellings differed one from another only in size. Nowhere was there a building of another type, nowhere an imposing edifice. And though many inhabitants were to be seen, there was not a shop, a factory or any sign of business, occupation or industry visible. Despite the living beings in evidence, the place gave me the impression of being dead—a deserted city. Little did I dream, on that first occasion, that I was actually strolling on the roof of the city and not in the city itself; that beneath the avenues with the rows of cylindrical structures were hordes of the inhabitants.
But I discovered that beneath the surface the place is a labyrinth of passages, thoroughfares, rooms, chambers and cavernous halls wherein the strange beings dwell and pass their lives and carry on their duties and occupations. Neither is this subterranean city a dark and dismal place. On the contrary it is brilliantly illuminated, the air is fresh, and aside from the fact that the streets or passageways are roofed over I would never have suspected that I was underground had I not known such to be the case. Here are the immense chambers or buildings of the Cheek-Horlks—the "Big heads" as I always mentally term them. Here are their laboratories, their Toks-chat or "place of life" where masses of artificially developed slimes are transformed into countless squirming embryonic forms of life. Here, too, are the incubation rooms, the rearing cells, the nurseries wherein the larvae were treated and fed to produce Tss-zors, Uk-kuls, Tu-jeers or Mo-hals as required, and here dwelt and delved and pondered the grotesque, repugnant-looking beings, the "big-heads," who ruled and regulated and controlled the entire community, as though it were a vast machine responding instantly and with perfect precision and certainty to their touch upon the levers. I use the past tense in speaking of them, you may notice. For the Cheek-Horlks are a thing of the past, as I shall explain later. No longer do the "Big heads" hold sway, no more do they operate the living mechanism they created from their protoplasmic slime. But I am getting ahead of my story.
Once I had recovered from the excitement, the turmoil and the daze of my first introduction to the city and its life, and could coordinate my thoughts and take cognizance of the scientific aspects of my strange environment, I realized that the most astonishing phenomenon was the entire absence of heat. Not that it is cold. On the contrary, heat and cold being merely relative terms, in a place where there is no heat there can be no cold. Perhaps you cannot grasp this, for you and all humans, having always been accustomed to varying temperatures, have come to regard heat and cold as essential things, as integral and inseparable factors of existence and of the universe. And it is, I admit, a difficult matter to convey, by mere words, the impression or I might say sensations produced upon me in a place where neither heat nor cold exist. If you have ever immersed your body in water of precisely the same temperature of your skin you may have a more or less accurate idea of the effect. But even that is not precisely the same. However, to proceed. It dawned upon me as something of a shock that in all this inner world, among these thousands of living, sentient beings, I was the only living being possessing warm blood and radiating a certain amount of heat. And later, when I had learned to converse freely with the creatures here, I learned that they had been more awed by the warmth of my body than by anything else. I can well understand how tremendously such an amazing, and to them incredible, condition must have impressed them. To find a living being, with a body radiating even a slight degree of heat, would be comparable to the wonder you and other humans would feel should you come upon a visitor from Mars or Venus, obviously of flesh and blood, whose body was of the temperature of red-hot coals. And that the Tss-zor who found me should have so overcome its amazement and wonder as to transport me in its grasp to the city, speaks volumes for the efficiency and courage of the creature. But one of the attributes of these beings—regardless of their type—is their absolute fearlessness. They are wholly ignorant of what we call cowardice, dread, terror or fear. They possess more than what we of the earth have designated as brute courage. Theirs is not the courage of ignorance, the bravery of the beast who cannot foresee danger to himself, who cannot reason, for these beings are intelligent and they possess keen reasoning powers. No, their immunity to fear is due to the fact that the cells in their brains which produce fear are wholly lacking. Yet they are perfectly aware of the fact that they can be injured, wounded, crippled and killed, that they can suffer agonies of pain. Unlike the moth who flutters into the flame and singes its wings, unaware of the danger and the results which will follow, these beings hurl themselves into battle, fully cognizant of the fact that they may be maimed or destroyed. But not knowing the meaning of the term fear, they have no dread of death, no terror of suffering.
In this respect they are callous, as unfeeling as machines. Yet they do not needlessly run risks of injury or death. And as heat is absolutely fatal to them, they possess a caution—it cannot be called fear—of heat above all else. Hence, as I said, I can appreciate how truly awed and amazed they must have been at finding me—a living being—not only surviving the heat of my own body but actually producing it. And while the temperature of my person is not great enough to injure these beings, still, even now, they keep at what they consider a respectful distance and when occasion arises and they have need of touching me, they do so with the utmost care and use such of their tentacles as are the least sensitive.
BUT I have again digressed—to go back to my exploration of the city. Having on that first day wandered through the streets, I turned my steps to the triangular areas which, I had decided from my aerial view, must be farms or cultivated land. Judge of my surprise when I found no land, no earth supporting the strange growths on these kitchen gardens. But, as I have already mentioned, the vegetation was all of marine forms although terrestrial—No, I must qualify that statement. There were certain fungi. And the animal life represented was also distinctly marine. Many forms and types I recognized. The algae, corallines, bryozoans, corals, actinians, alcyonaria, etc. But there were also entirely new and strange fauna. Some doubtless merely highly cultivated varieties of native species, others unquestionably artificially developed by the same process used in developing the inhabitants of the city. But perhaps the most interesting and striking things were the live-stock, if I may employ that term in referring to the creatures. Here were the weirdest, most bizarre forms of life it is possible to imagine, veritable nightmares, yet presently I began to realize that few were real monstrosities, actual freaks, but merely highly developed and specialized varieties of the very marine life with which I was familiar. There, for example, were a number of the grotesque creatures I have described my seeing, when first I found myself in this inner world. But now that I watched the beasts, grazing on the aberrant corallines, I recognized them as gigantic "sea mice" in their anatomical structure, differing little from related species inhabiting the oceans of the outer world. Other creatures, which at first I had thought were true vertebrates—-some species of porcupine,—I discovered were gigantic echinoderms—sea-urchins as you would call them—which had developed true legs and feet and had otherwise adapted themselves to a terrestrial habitat. But it came as a distinct shock to find cephalopods, or octopods, living on land and crawling about like giant garden snails, for these terrestrial polyps were akin to the pearly nautilus, or perhaps more like the ancient ammonites, and bore beautifully colored shells. In fact after I had been studying the farms for a short time I should not have been surprised to have seen winged crabs flitting about, nor fish running hither and thither among the stalks of budding hydroids. But the nearest approach to the latter was a most interesting and delightfully amusing herd of hippocampus.
Like the little sea-horses with which you arc familiar, these possessed prehensile tails and tubular snouts. But through breeding and selection—so I assumed—the bony armor of the ordinary hippocampus had been eliminated while the fins had become transformed to wing-like appendages. Yet in their actions, their attitudes, their every movement they were still sea-horses, although as large as hares. I chuckled with laughter and delight as they moved stiffly upright through the air, their transparent fin-wings whirring like miniature airplane propellers, or, clinging fast to a plant stalk by means of their prehensile tails, they swayed back and forth, their big soft eyes and horse-like heads turning this way and that with the half-questing, half-dignified expression so typical of their tiny relatives of your world's eelgrass beds.
But I must cease dwelling on these domesticated beasts and plants. To do so is like a traveller devoting space to describing the cattle, swine and garden truck of lands he has visited.
AND here I may as well tell you something tiling of the social organization of the denizens of this inner world, so that, as I proceed, you may more easily and clearly understand matters to which I shall refer.
Each of the various types of inhabitants is highly specialized, as I have said; but it was not until I had resided here for some time that I learned that each is specialized to perform certain definite duties. Thus the sole occupation of the Cheek-horlks was to create, propagate and develop the various castes or type of the population, to rule and to be the brains of the community. The Iss-dors are the mechanics, the warriors, the industrialists, and are by far the least intelligent class. The Tss-zors act as a sort of flying corps, as couriers, scouts, police, and have charge of the commissariat. The Uk-kuls are the farmers and have charge of cleaning the city and are the builders or laborers. The Tu-jeers are the prototypes of our idle rich and act as inspectors, and as arbiters in cases of disagreements, while the Mo-hals are the fishermen and also have charge of the fresh water supply and the lighting of the city. Although I have, I think, forgotten to mention the fact, they possess both lungs and gills and are perfectly amphibious.
Having thoroughly explored the upper city and the farms, I turned toward the great tunnel in the cliff, for I was filled with curiosity to learn how and by what mechanism that torrent of water had been ejected to destroy the invading Ozmoks, and to determine, if possible, the cause of the glorious, multicolored aura that formed a dome of light above the city. That is, as well as the marvelous lights of the city, were produced, artificialiy, seemed incredible, yet I felt certain this must be the case. My first idea—that the lambent, flamelike city lights were produced by natural gas—had been discarded when I had discovered that the seeming flames were cold, or rather that they were devoid of heat. And as I felt positive that the magnificent, opalescent arch was of electrical origin I mentally decided that the city's lights came from the same source. Moreover, as I had seen no signs of any mechanical apparatus during my exploration of the city, and as obviously the water, used to such good purpose during the battle must have been controlled by mechanical devices, I leaped to the assumption that the power or other plants must be near the opening in the cliff.
But as I approached the yawning, black orifice I saw no indications of buildings which might house machinery or electrical apparatus. Puzzled and even more curious than ever, I stepped towards the black hole, and instantly my guard of Iss-dors became greatly excited. They gathered about, squeaking and buzzing, uttering odd clicks and clucks. And when disregarding this, I moved nearer the aperature they reached out their finger-like appendages, and touching me gently, exerted a firm pressure which was unmistakably intended as an indication for me to turn back. Having by this time overcome my fear of the creatures, and rather curious to learn what means they might take to prevent me from following out my intentions, I brushed past the creatures. But I was not left long in doubt as to their actions. Without hesitation they seized my garments with their nippers, and dragged me forcibly away.
A moment later they halted, and two of the creatures raised one of the manhole-like doors in the streets. I entered and descended. But instead of emerging in a circular chamber I found myself in a vaulted passage, and presently we came to a vast chamber. A single glance at the roof with its masses of stalactites assured me that we were in a natural cavern.
I could scarcely believe my eyes. I was speechless, dumb with amazement. The immense room was a hive of industry, a-quiver with the hum and drone of machinery!
END OF PART II
Part 3 of 3 - Conclusion
The readers of this story are now certainly involved in some very mysterious incidents described in the story of the inside of our earth. The title of Chapter Eight, with which this final portion starts, would answer for this introduction, putting it all into three words.
CHAPTER VIII Some Mysteries Explained
NEVER have I regretted anything more than I regretted not being an electrical or mechanical engineer, so as to be able to render a technical account of the contents of that great subterranean workshop.
But, after all, the mechanical features of the place are of much less importance than the methods, principles and operations that are followed here, and which, if they could be employed in your outer world, would revolutionize all your industries and life. But as you will understand when you have finished reading this, such a thing is wholly impossible, for conditions in this inner world are totally different from those of the world in which you live.
As for the mechanisms, suffice it to say, that they gave me the same general impression that I would receive in any great electrical plant, only far simpler and less confusing. The first peculiarity that impressed me was the entire absence of wheels. I had always supposed that wheels in some form were essential to mechanics, but there was not a wheel, gear or sprocket visible. Also, there was none of the clank and rattle which I was wont to associate with machinery. The only sound was a low humming noise, broken now and then by a sharp crackle, like distant machine-gun fire, and the scores of busy Iss-dors, moving about, adjusting a device here, another there, were strangely quiet. As I stood there at the entrance, gazing into the cavernous chamber, it seemed to me that the creatures moving about within must bear charmed lives or must possess some incredible immunity to electrical discharges, for the place appeared ablaze with sparks, lambent blue flashes and quivering tongues of flame. Even as I stared, one of the Iss-dors moved across the floor and as he passed beneath a heavy bar of metal, dazzling zig-zag flashes shot down and enveloped the creature in blue fire. But to my amazement he paid not the least attention, and continued on his way unharmed.
But the thing which interested me most, and held my attention, was a great funnel-shaped affair in the centre of the floor with an inverted funnel-like contrivance set into the roof of the cavern above it. From the strange device came a steady subdued roar, like the noise of rushing water, and between the two apertures a magnificent wave of color played back and forth, changing from dazzling white to vivid green, from fiery crimson to golden yellow, from violet to palest blue. Instantly I knew that here was the source of that marvellous curtain of light that hung the puzzling "Northern lights," while above the city. But I was looking at something far more wonderful, far more important than that, for although I was not then aware of the fact, I was gazing at the source of the Aurora Borealis!
I can almost hear your contemptuous snort of incredulity when you read those words, if by merest chance you ever do read them. But I assure you, my friend, such actually was the case. As I later discovered, the colored electromagnetic discharges, generated here in this inner world, penetrate rock or any substance as freely as do the electromagnetic radio waves with which you are familiar. And it is the overflow, as I might term it, of this force here, that passing through the earth's shell, causes the puzzling "Northern Lights” while the Aurora Australis is merely an induced display caused by certain of the waves being filtered by the constituents of the earth's crust. These, arrested at the point you call the North Pole, flow in all directions through the earth's shell until meeting at the other extremity of the earth's axis, and unable to travel farther, they are discharged into the air. Perhaps I have not made this wholly clear to you. As I recall that you are, or rather were, always demanding an ocular demonstration of my theories, let me put this in a different manner, in a way which will enable you to grasp the phenomenon and, if you so desire, demonstrate it visually.
SUPPOSE you have a sphere suspended in air, and pour oil or some other liquid upon the point of suspension. You will note that the liquid flows over the sphere forming an even film and adhering to the surface, until, at the point opposite that of suspension, it joins and drops off. That, in a crude manner, illustrates the action of themagnetic waves which, interrupted by the earth's shell, flow coincidently in every direction until they meet at the South Pole. There, unable to travel farther, and with a force vastly augmented, like a cumulative wave, they break the resistance of the earth's crust and spring into air. And as only certain of the original waves are thus filtered, the southern aurora, is quite distinct in appearance from that of the north, a peculiarity that long has puzzled scientists.
Why, I can almost hear you ask, does the intensity of the
Of course I did not acquire a knowledge of all these matters on my first visit to the city's power and lighting plant. Only after months of life in this incredible spot, only after I had acquired a good knowledge of the language, and only after I had become familiar with the principles and operations of the remarkable devices and potential forces in use, did I discover the true solutions of many mysteries that had confronted me from the moment I had arrived in this inner world.
In the first place there was that strange luminous glow I mentioned having noticed when first I regained consciousness and found myself in the abysmal blue darkness. The explanation, as well as the explanations of many other matters, lies in the fact that here there is no sunlight, no solar light-rays, and no heat. And hence the atmosphere is filled with electrical and electro-magnetic waves or potential-charged electrons which cannot exist in the presence of sunlight. I suppose even you are aware that certain minerals and bodies emit light or are fluorescent when exposed to the action of certain invisible rays of the spectrum, to the so-called Roentgen rays, etc. In fact you must be familiar with this phenomenon, for in your practice you doubtless employ a fluoroscope. Very well, here, where rays or waves exist which are destroyed or absorbed by sunlight, practically all organic and inorganic substances are more or less fluorescent.
Among the few exceptions are the bat-like Oz-mooks whose odor, I am certain, is caused by a volatile oil which prevents their fluorescence, just as a coating of certain oils and waxes will prevent various minerals from becoming fluorescent when exposed to rays which, under normal conditions, will cause a brilliant glow to emanate from the substances. I am certain that such is the case, as I have found that the creatures' blood, as well as their dead bodies, after a few days, emit a considerable amount of light.
And it is very largely this lack of luminosity that makes the Oz-mooks such terrible enemies.
But to resume. Naturally, having discovered the cause of the luminous glow around objects, I jumped to the conclusion that the brilliant lights with which the various creatures are equipped were produced by organs which functioned to intensify and concentrate the fluorescence. But in that surmise I was greatly mistaken. The lights, my friend, are really artificial.
YOU scoff! You remind me that I have stated they were a part of the antennae or tentacles of the various beings. Very well, so they are, yet artificial nevertheless; light-producing devices grafted on the living tissues! In short they are composed of a material which I can best liken to platinum sponge. As you know, platinum sponge, when exposed to any hydro-carbon gas in the presence of oxygen, will become incandescent. In somewhat the same manner the material grafted into the tissues of these beings, and known as pu-mulx or literally, "Light giver," becomes brilliantly luminous when exposed to the action of nitrogen. And thus the creature bearing the pu-mulx in its tissues, can vastly increase or decrease the amount of light by voluntarily controlling the amount of nitrogen that comes in contact with the material. How is this done? By the simple method of breathing, by expelling the vitiated air, high in nitrogen, from the lungs through a tube or channel leading to the pu-mulx. But in one respect the pu-mulx differs vastly from platinum sponge. It emits no heat when incandescent. Here then, is the secret of cold light. I have no slightest doubt that the cold light produced by fireflies and other forms of life of the outer world is the result of very similar conditions, probably the action of oxygen in the blood upon some substance produced and stored by Nature in tiny cells in the creatures’ bodies.
This brings me once again to the subject of heat, or rather lack of heat, here in this inner world. When I revealed to you my theories as to the existence of a hollow earth, and you asked me how such a place could exist without a sun or light, I declared that there might be a sun or at least some object which took the place of that planet. And, oddly enough, I never seriously took into consideration the conditions which would of necessity result from an entire absence of sun or sunlight. But for that matter, neither I nor anyone else could have foreseen what those results would be. In fact you of the outer earth are so accustomed to the sun, and to all the manifold conditions resulting therefrom, that you never stop to ponder on what the earth would be like, if there were no sun and never had been one.
Everything, I might almost say, depends upon the sun in that world I once knew. All the civilization, the progress, the life, the history, the geology, the scientific achievements of the outer world and of mankind are dependent upon the sun. Indirectly, all your machinery, all your activities, all your power and industries depend upon the sun. To be sure, you may not realize it; but without wood, coal, oil, natural gas, vegetation, how could you exist? And all your power (aside from water power) depends upon the stored-up sunlight contained in fuel of one kind or another. Without the sun or material which, containing sunlight or potential heat and power, could be used to produce light and heat, man could not survive. But here, from the very beginning of time, light and heat and all true vegetation have been non-existent. Yet hordes of intelligent, and in some respects superior beings have existed, and man can exist as my own presence proves beyond dispute, for, in place of sunlight, Nature or the Creator, whichever you prefer, has provided a force which, scarcely known and less understood by mankind, has been harnessed and controlled and made to serve every purpose here. This, my friend, is the magnetic force of the earth. The force which causes the compass needle to point towards your north, the force which man employs for a thousand and one purposes, but employs blindly and in minute quantities, in fact only in those infinitessimal quantities which, escaping or leaking from its source within the earth, is partly captured and harnessed by mankind on the surface of the planet.
I say here lies the source of all earthly magnetism, all electro-magnetic phenomena. Exactly, beyond all question. For centuries man has been puzzling his brains over the magnetic compass; he has tried to find a logical theory to explain why, if a bar of iron is held parallel with the axis of the earth and is struck a sharp blow or is rubbed with a magnet, it will become magnetized. He has advanced theory after theory to account for magnetic iron ore, to find why the magnetic pole of the earth varies, to establish rules and regulations and laws governing electro-magnetism, But all to no avail. Why? Because man has always assumed that the earth is solid, that he is living on the surface of a mass of molten or semi-molten minerals. Instead, he is living on the surface of a hollow sphere, on a crust barely three-thousand five hundred miles in thickness—and much less in some places—and with sentient living beings— in many ways far in advance of mankind— using and controlling forces which they have mastered, and which originate in their inner world. And man, dwelling in blissful ignorance of the fact, tries to control and understand the by-products or discarded bits of forces which come to him.
ONE of the first things I discovered, or rather, I might say, reasoned out, was that this city of
I CAN foresee another question arising in your mind. If there is no sun, no natural heat here, why isn't it cold? A very natural question, my friend, but easily explained. In the first place there are no polar ice-caps, no snow-covered wastes, no
We are surrounded by from one to two thousand miles of the earth's shell which naturally contains a certain amount of heat, and no doubt the magnetically-charged molecules of air and water maintain an even temperature. If you have ever been in a deep pit, in a mine or in an underground dugout, you will have noticed the same feeling I have referred to—the absence of appreciable heat or cold. And of course you are aware that, even in the coldest winter weather, the water in deep wells does not freeze. Aha! you exclaim. Water! Without the sun's heat to evaporate your sea and produce rain, what about fresh water? What about that rill you mentioned? And for that matter how do you have a sea in your inner world? Perfectly natural and logical questions, my friend; questions which arose in my own mind, I admit. As for the sea, it was unquestionably formed by the condensation of gases when the earth cooled, just as the seas of the outer world were formed. And the heat of the sun is not at all essential to the evaporation of water. A certain amount of evaporation will take place when the water comes in contact with air, regardless of the temperature—even if below freezing—as you can readily demonstrate by placing a dish of water in a dark, cool cupboard. And this comparatively small amount of moisture, when condensed on the walls of this inner world, is amply sufficient to supply the few trickling rills which exist here.
Moreover, you must bear in mind that this inner sea is vastly larger in proportion to the land than the oceans of your outer world. Neither do the inhabitants depend upon the small amount of fresh water for their needs. All that they require is produced artificially, not by distillation as you might assume, but by extracting oxygen and hydrogen from the air and sea and recombining them artificially. That human beings have not long ago done this seems truly astonishing, now that I have seen how simple the process is. From time immemorial no one, as far as I am aware, has ever made an exhaustive study of the process with a view to inventing some mechanism to perform the same function. But if, by the grace of God, this manuscript ever reaches you or any other civilized man, and is brought to the attention of scientists, and if this suggestion should be followed out, it may save them time and trouble to know beforehand that they will be forced to draw upon the air for oxygen. Water, or H20, should, theoretically, provide the correct proportions of the two gases to produce water when recombined. But in practice—at least by the process used here— it does not work out. There is a marked decrease in the quantity of oxygen recovered, and to restore this the required amount is obtained from the air.
Unquestionably, as you were always most uncannily adept at picking flaws in my theories and assertions, you will pounce upon a seeming discrepancy where I say that heat is fatal to these beings and yet mention metal utensils and mechanical devices and will want to know how the metal could have been smelted and formed into shape without heat. The metal is not smelted but is obtained by an electro-chemical process, and it is not cast, rolled or hammered into shape, but is deposited in the desired form by the electrolytic method. A slow, inefficient process, you think! On the contrary, a very rapid and efficient method, as you would realize had you ever visited one of the great copper refineries—such as the Chuquicamata plant in
I HAVE already said that if anyone doubted the truth of this narrative (provided it ever reaches my fellow men), they would be convinced if they examined the metal of which the containers are formed, for it is a metal wholly unknown to man. It is, in fact, a hitherto unknown element, one of the alkali group allied to potassium, sodium, etc., but, unlike them, extremely hard, durable and non-corrodable, and lighter even than aluminum.
Possibly, in fact probably, the various metallic ores known to man occur here, but as far as I have been able to ascertain there is only magnetic iron ore— which exists in vast quantities—and gold which is everywhere abundant and is used by these beings in place of copper.
I believe I have now explained all the puzzling matters I have mentioned, aside from the absence of wheels. As I have said, it seemed incredible that mechanized industry could exist without this greatest of man's inventions, and I have been amazed at the manner in which the lack of wheels has been overcome. Very largely all mechanical operations—aside from those where magnetic or electro-magnetic forces are used directly—are carried on by means of vacuum. By passing terrific magnetic discharges through waste gases obtained in the production of the metal, which is called Oss-ott, an almost perfect vacuum is produced. And instead of driving pistons and machines by the force of expansion and explosions, these beings reverse the process and use vacuum, thus utilizing the normal air pressure as a driving force. It is by this means that the great reservoir, a natural cavern within the rocky wall above the city, is filled with sea water ready to be released and come rushing through the tunnel-like aperture to annihilate the terrible Oz-moks in their raids upon the town.
But there is one incident, I have mentioned, which I have forgotten to clear up. That is the impunity with which the Iss-dors passed through crackling sparks and flashing discharges within the power chamber. I was dumbfounded, utterly amazed at their apparent immunity to electrical discharges, veritable artificial lightning, so it seemed. Yet now I do the same and think no more of standing in the midst of the crackling blue flames than you would think of standing in a shaft of sunlight. Yet I have a most vivid recollection of my first experience. Carefully avoiding the areas where the discharges occurred, I passed beneath a great metal beam, and instantly darting, zig-zagging bolt of fire hurled themselves at me. But the awful terror that swept over me in the first fraction of a second gave way to indescribable wonder when I felt no ill effects, no searing burns, not even the bone-wrenching sensation of an electrical shock. But I had yet to learn that it was not an electrical but a magnetic discharge that enveloped me, that whereas light produced by electricity is caused by resistance and is hot, light produced by magnetic force is obtained by conductivity and is cold.
CHAPTER IX Civil War
I MUST pass very briefly over the next few months of my life, here in the city of
Much of my time, too, was spent in the great power plant, for here was almost endless material for study and investigation. And, strangely enough, it never occurred to me that the knowledge I was acquiring was of no possible value; that I would never, could never, return to the outer world and my fellow men. Neither did I dream of the events which were soon to occur and which would result in such untoward and radical changes in the entire organization and life of this inner world.
Of course, as I learned to converse more and more with Nee-ser and the other denizens of the city, I acquired a more intimate and accurate knowledge of many things which, hitherto, I had been obliged to reason out or guess at. Thus, when I came to learn the truth about the awful Oz-mooks, I found them to be a far more terrible menace than I had thought. Their homes were a vast labyrinth of caves on the opposite side of the sea—at the South Pole, if I may put it that way—and from time immemorial they had been making their periodical raids upon the city.
And, despite the fact that the inhabitants of Jus-iss-zit had devised means of resisting the beasts, and of destroying them wholesale, and were, in this respect, always victorious, yet their losses were terrific. Now all this aroused a new train of thought in my mind. If, as I had by then learned was the case, the various beings were produced artificially and in any numbers desired, and if, as it appears, the Iss-dors, the Tss-zors and the others were wholly lacking in fear and family ties and human sensibilities, why should they be disturbed by the loss of a few hundreds or thousands of the population? I puzzled over this for some time, but could think of no reasonable solution, and even when I questioned Nee-ser he could not throw light on the question. So I at last concluded that it was merely the universal instinct of self-preservation. But in this surmise I was mistaken as I discovered later, for despite the fact that they were created and reared by artificial means yet they possess a racial or nationalistic pride and the same inexplicable thing, called patriotism, that burns in the heart or rather mind of man. And despite the fact that the various types of beings were produced from identical protoplasmic cells, they develop strong laws or caste prejudices and jealousies, each type feeling that the others are inferiors, despite the fact that they live and work in apparent harmony, forgetting all differences and uniting in the common cause when threatened by the invading Oz-moks. In this respect they are remarkably human. And I discovered that they possessed even more human traits, when I learned that the Iss-dors and Tss-zors both resented being ruled and regulated by the Cheek-horlks or "Big Heads." In this respect at least, the two most intelligent and really superior types were firmly united. But they were helpless, for the "Big Heads" held the whip hand. They were the creators as well as the rulers of the community; they alone possessed the super-intelligence and technical knowledge essential to the operation of the mechanisms. And no doubt matters would have gone on indefinitely as they were, had it not been for my arrival. But I never suspected that my presence had completely altered conditions until Nee-ser, and a delegation of his fellows, approached me with a proposition to overthrow the Cheek-horlks and make me the ruler of the community in their stead.
To say that I was amazed, completely dumbfounded at the suggestion is to put it mildly. And it placed me in the devil of a fix. If I agreed, it meant that I would be the leader of a revolution in which I had no interest and no desire to take part. On the other hand, if I declined, the Iss-dors and their allies, the Tss-zors, might, in fact probably would, put an abrupt and unpleasant end to my career on the principle that dead men tell no tales.
I was in a terrible quandary. Whichever course I followed was fraught with dire peril, for despite my repugnances— I might say hatred—of the "Big Heads" which I had felt ever since my first experience with them, I had a deep respect for their intelligence and resourcefulness. And regardless of the superior strength, activity and fighting qualities of the Iss-dors and Tss-zors, I felt by no means certain that they would be the victors in a conflict where brute force was pitted against brains and science.
Unable to reach a decision, I decided to talk the matter over with Nee-ser who, by this time, I had come to regard as a real friend. Why, I asked him, did the Iss-dors and Tss-zors desire to do away with the Cheek-horlks and overthrow the existing order of things, and why did they think that I, an alien, a totally strange and distinct being from themselves, was fitted to be their ruler?
His reply was so startlingly like the reply that I would have expected from a human radical that I was astounded. Why, he demanded, should a few beings no better than—in his estimation inferior to — their fellows, control the entire community? Why should the Cheek-horlks, who were reared from the same cells as the others, arrogate to themselves the right to rule, the right to regulate the numbers, the types, the duties of thousands? Why should they have the right to decide whether a being was to be an Iss-dor, a Tss-zor, a Tu-jeer, a Mo-hal, an Uk-kul or a Cheek-horlk? And as for myself, I was the solution to their problems. To place any member or members of the community in power would be merely a change from bad to worse. Moreover, not one of the various types possessed the brains, the knowledge and the executive and scientific ability to rule. I was a being apart, a being from another sphere, belonging to neither of the several types, hence there could be no jealousy among the factions. And had I not proved—by my terrible phr-iss (revolver) and my deadly Ist-oss (knife) that I was a superior being? I argued, expostulated. I pointed out that I did not possess the knowledge of the Cheek-harlks regarding the power plant, the mechanisms and the forces they employed. I even reminded him that, eventually I would die and that there would be no other of my kind to take my place, and at last I felt that I had convinced him that matters were much better left as they were. Yet, as he left my presence, I thought he appeared disappointed and chagrined, if that were possible with beings wholly lacking in what we humans call emotions.
Little did I dream what was in his mind. Little did I realize that it was impossible to gauge the mental processes, the psychologies of these creatures by human standards. Little did I appreciate the fact that I was dealing with beings who, created and reared with a view to a highly specialized life and career, possessed single-track minds incapable of being swayed from a course; beings more stubborn, more blind to reason than the proverbial army mule.
Within the hour Nee-ser and his fellow Iss-dors returned. And I fairly gasped, speechless with amazement and indignation, when they informed me that the Cheek-horlks had been utterly destroyed and that I was the sole ruler of the entire community. The blow had fallen. I had nothing to say in the matter. Regardless of my wishes and desires I had been placed in full control of the city of
Cold-bloodedly, without the least compassion—-for compassion, pity, cruelty are non-existent in their minds—the Iss-dors had massacred the helpless "Big Heads.” But the existing order of things was not to be overthrown by a bloodless revolution. The swine-like, wingless Tu-jeers, the amphibious Mo-hals and the scaly, toothless Uk-kuls had had no part in the revolt, and as word of what had happened spread, these opposing factions attacked the Iss-dors and Tss-zors with blind, maniacal fury. All the pent-up class antagonism and jealousy that had smouldered in what passed for brains now burst into flame. And, willy-nilly, realizing that to refuse would be suicidal, I, as the leader of the revolutionary party, was forced to take part in the desperate battle raging in the streets of the city.
The terrible warfare against the batlike Oz-mooks was nothing beside this civil war. Devoid of fear, oblivious of death, regardless of wounds, struggling hand-to-hand, tearing, biting, ripping, insane with fury, the creatures fought. Despite their comparative lack of armament and their pulpy bodies, the Tu-jeers hurled themselves upon the armor-clad Tss-zors and, bearing them down by sheer weight, tore them to pieces with their great tusks. The scaly Uk-kuls flung themselves upon their foes and, seizing their heads in their great, gaping mouths, literally devoured them alive. And the long-necked, mild-eyed Mo-hals became obsessed with a mad fury, and, grasping their enemies with their teeth, plunged with them into the sea and drowned them like rats. Surrounded by battling Iss-dors, I found myself in the thick of the melee. But the battle was not of my making; I had no enmity towards the opposing factions, and only, when some blood-crazed creature rushed at me, did I use my weapons in defense of my own life. And I was fully occupied in doing this. A flat-faced Uk-kul, its scale-covered body reeking with blood, its embryonic wings torn to ribbons, one great unwinking lidless eye torn from its socket, charged me with open mouth. At the report of my revolver the remaining eye vanished like a bursting balloon and the fearsome beast rolled dying at my feet.
A bulky Tu-jeer lumbered forward like an animated tank, its bloody tusks gnashing, its pig-like eyes gleaming wickedly. I leaped from its path and fired three bullets into its pulpy side. As the brute plunged to the earth a gripping pain shot through my shoulder, I was swung off my feet and, held in the vise-like jaws of an infuriated Mo-hak, I was half-lifted, half-dragged toward the verge of the sea-wall. Frantically I struggled, and, knife in hand, stabbed and slashed upward and backward, striving to reach the creature's head or neck. I felt the blade strike home, the grip on my shoulder relaxed and I fell sprawling to the ground. Over me stood the Mo-hal, blood gushing from a deep slash in its throat, its body reared, about to throw its weight upon me and crush me to pulp. Quickly I twisted aside and fired blindly at the glowing membrane on the beasts chest. With a hoarse, choking scream it reeled and plunged into the sea.
The battle, fearful, desperate as it had been, was brief. As I rose dizzily to my feet the Uk-kuls and Tu-jeers were in full retreat, and the surviving Mo-hals were seeking safety in the sea. The carnage had been terrific. Bodies were piled everywhere. The battle ground was strewn with dismembered legs, tentacles and wings. Both sides had lost heavily, but the Iss-dors had suffered the least. Nee-ser had escaped almost unharmed. He had lost two of his legs, there were scars on his iridescent, armor-like shell, and one of his antennae lights had been torn away. But the injuries were trivial, and with his fellows and the Iss-dors he began methodically to clear away the street, tossing bodies and fragments of friends and foes into the sea. And then a strange thing happened. The decimated Uk-kuls and Tu-jeers appeared on the scene, and as quietly and calmly as though the recent outbreak had never occurred, and without the least show of enmity, the Uk-kuls took charge of cleaning the city under the direction of the Tu-jeers. The specialized portions of their brains were again in control. The duties for which they had been bred and reared were again paramount, and all enmities and differences were forgotten.
The incident struck me as most remarkable at the moment. Then I smiled to myself as I realized that the behavior of these beings was exactly in line with the actions of mankind under similar circumstances. I recalled how, during the World War, the Allies —battling furiously with the Germans— accusing their foes of committing fiendish atrocities, vowed that never again would they traffic with Germany, that after the war was over the Germans would be boycotted, socially and economically. Yet within a few hours after peace had been established German firms were advertising in British and American papers, and within a short time all had been forgotten and commerce and trade and social intercourse had returned to pre-war conditions.
With the revolution over and the life of the city again restored to its normal conditions, I had time to give serious thought to the problems I now faced. And I realized fully for the first time how very serious those problems were.
First of all, I must devote all my energy, all my time, all my mind to mastering the intricacies of the power and lighting plant. To be sure, the mechanics, laborers and operators were quite capable of keeping the plant going as long as all went well. But they were little more than machines themselves, and possessed no knowledge of the underlying principles involved. This problem, however, did not worry me greatly. I had already devoted considerable time to studying the forces and apparatus, and had acquired a fairly comprehensive idea of the principles involved. And though I have never specialized in mechanics or engineering, I had little doubt that I could handle this portion of my manifold duties. But there was another and a far greater problem that did worry me. I had not the remotest idea as to how the Cheek-horlks had created, propagated and reared the embryos of the various types of beings. The breeding room or nursery, the Toks-chat, asnt was called, had been under the sole control of the defunct Big-Heads. No one but they had had an inkling of what took place there, and, despite my knowledge of biology, and what I had learned from my fragmentary conversations with the Cheek-horlks, I realized that only by experimenting could I hope to succeed in the artificial propagation and rearing of future generations of inhabitants, and that the chances of success or failure were all in favor of failure.
But there was one consolation. I would have plenty of time to experiment, for there was a large supply of well advanced larvae on hand, and as these, when matured, would more than offset the losses caused by the revolution, there was no pressing need of creating a new batch of embryos.
Finally there was the problem of the Oz-moks. Although they had been repulsed with heavy losses on their last raid. Nee-ser assured me that they would return, and herein lay a very grave danger and my most serious problem. Hitherto, the losses sustained by the inhabitants of the city had been of no real or lasting importance, for they could be rapidly replaced by the proper proportion of new Iss-dors, Tss-zors, etc. But unless I could discover the secret of producing new individuals of the various types, the doom of the community would be sealed if the Oz-moks' attacks continued. With each raid, the population of Juss-iss-zit would be decreased, there would be less and less chances of victory, until eventually the savage, bat-like beasts would triumph and the last inhabitant of the city would be destroyed. Not only would I have to discover how to produce new individuals to take the places of those lost. I would have to learn how to produce the right types, especially the Iss-dors and Tss-zors, who formed the principal defensive and fighting forces.
There was only one other solution to this problem, and that was to prevent the Oz-moks from attacking the city; to take the offensive and strike such a decisive blow at the Oz-moks as to assure freedom from their raids for a long period to come.
The fact that such a thing never had been attempted seemed to me to increase the chances of success, for the Oz-moks would be off guard and might be taken completely by surprise. But I felt that nothing could be left to chance, that the raid if made must be planned and carried out in such a way as to insure a complete victory, and I devoted my mind to devising a method for accomplishing this.
CHAPTER X The Raid on the Oz Mooks
IT may appear strange to you, my friend, that I should have taken any deep interest in the future or the fate of these beings; that I should have devoted all my energies and my thoughts to safeguarding them, to solving their problems, and to maintaining the community over which I had been placed as ruler.
But 1 was actuated by personal motives, aside from any moral obligations which I felt. My own existence was at stake, you must remember, for I was convinced that any great calamity would result in my death, and by this time I had abandoned all hope of ever returning to the outer world.
Hence, in a way, the inhabitants of the city had become my people, and their interests and my own were one.
It was while I was busy in the power plant, perhaps a week after the revolution, that it first occurred to me that it might be possible to manufacture weapons with which to attack the Oz-moks. Despite the natural weapons of the Iss-dors and Tss-zors, the superior strength and size of the bat-like beasts were in their favor in a hand-to-hand conflict. But if my forces could be provided with weapons which could be used effectively at a distance, the advantage would be all on our side. But how could this be done? Although there was an abundance of metal which could be fashioned into any desired form, firearms were of course out of the question. Spears or lances would be but a slight improvement over the armed legs and jaws of the Iss-dors and Tss-zors. I might make javelins which could be hurled with deadly effect, and finally there were bows and arrows. But I soon found that the Oss-ott metal did not possess the resiliency essential to bows, although excellent arrows could be made with the light Oss-ott for shafts and with gold heads. Had I possessed means of smelting, I might have made use of the abundant iron deposits and could, I am sure, have produced steel. But there is nothing in the line of combustible fuel here, and, even if there were, the heat necessary to smelt iron ore and forge steel would be fatal to the Iss-dors, who are the only metal workers.
Not until I had thought of making bows had I realized how woefully handicapped I was for lack of wood. Possibly, I thought, some of the terrestrial marine invertebrate growths might serve in place of wood. With this idea in mind I sent a number of Iss-dors to collect samples of every form of growth with branches or stems long enough to serve my purpose. But while some were strong, woody or fibrous, none were elastic or springy enough to use. I then remembered that the Eskimos use bows made of whalebone, and I kept the Mo-hals busy for days bringing me samples of every form of marine life. And marvelously strange and weird some of these are! But there are no whales in this sea, no true fish and the highly specialized and curiously developed reptilian creatures which take their places held no interest for me, as far as my purpose was concerned. I was about to give up all hope of being able to find a material which would serve for bows when, as is often the case, I found it under my very nose, so to speak. Inspiration came to me as I was trying to explain my wants to Nee-ser. Almost unconsciously my eyes were fixed upon his jewel-like natural armor, the hard, horny shell that covered his body, a shell composed of the lightest, strongest product of Nature: chitin. That was the material I needed! It was present everywhere—the Iss-dors and Tss-zors were encased in it. Their legs were made of it, their beaks were composed of the same material. And myriads of the marine and terrestrial forms of life, all the crustaceans, had external skeletons of chitin. But how and where could I secure the material in sufficient quantities and of sufficient size to make bows? I looked longingly at the iridescent covering of Nee-ser's body, and the beautifully curved segments of his chitinous armor. A strip of that—but I could scarcely destroy scores of the beings to provide their fellows with weapons. And then, suddenly, I remembered. Among the strange beasts brought to me by the Mo-hals there had been some attenuated, squid-like cephalopods, fully six feet in length. Unless they differed markedly from all other cephalopods they must possess "pens" or simple skeletal formations to lend strength and rigidity to their bodies. And unless, by the perversity of Fate, they chanced to be calcareous, these "pens" would be of chitin, and a very tough elastic form of chitin at that. I sprang up, and, telling Nee-ser to summon all the Mo-hals, I hurried to the water-front.
As usual, a crowd of the amphibious beings were already there, and rapidly I explained to them what I wanted and sent them off on their submarine hunt. By the time the creatures summoned by Nee-ser arrived, the first of the Mo-hals was back with one of the squirming, repulsive-looking giant squids. Ripping the creature open with my knife I exposed the ocre-yellow horny-looking "pen". I shouted almost aloud with delight and satisfaction. It was chitin, and chitin which, even in its fresh state, was as elastic, as resilient as tempered steel!
If only there were enough of the cephalopods in the sea, I could provide bows for an army. But I need not have worried over that. The hordes of Mo-hals brought the creatures ashore by hundreds. As fast as the cephalopods were delivered, the Iss-dors, under my direction, ripped them apart and removed the "pens", and rapidly a great pile of the chitin was accumulated.
The first bow that I made exceeded all my expectations. Stringing it with a cord made of the twisted fibres of a tree-like alcyonarian, I tested its strength and found its pull so great that I could not draw it more than half-way to my ear. Then, as a crowd of my subjects looked on, filled with curiosity and no little awe, I fitted an arrow to the string and let drive at a tough, massive sponge I had set up as a mark. The range was short, the target was large, and I could not well have missed. But as the missile thudded into the fibrous sponge, and, passing through it, nicked into the soft limestone beyond, I could have danced with joy, and shrill cries and trills and siren-like shouts arose from the assembled throng. Even their minds could grasp the possibilities of this new weapon, and Nee-ser and the others crowded about, all anxious to have a try with the Twa-put, as they instantly christened it. Although a bit clumsy at first, and although one of the Iss-dors loosed the arrow so wildly that it brought down an Uk-kul (which merely resulted in a greater appreciation of the weapon) they very quickly got the hang of it. And as I watched them, it suddenly dawned upon me that in each individual I possessed several potential archers, for with their multiple hands or feet, whichever you prefer, they could use two or three bows at the same time!
The next few days were busy ones. The Iss-dors, splendid workmen, once they understood what was expected of them, fashioned bows by the score. In the workshops arrows were being manufactured by the gross, and I even enlisted the services of the Iss-dors to gather fibre and twist it into bowstrings. By the end of a fortnight we had enough bows and arrows to supply all the Iss-dors and Tss-zors which I felt could be spared from the city on our prospective raid, and for hour after hour I had them practice using the weapons, until all had become really expert archers. But I had abandoned my idea of equipping them with more than one bow each, and instead had decided to add a supply of javelins to their armament. And I can assure you, my friend, that an eight-armed chitin-armored Tss-zor, equipped with a powerful bow and arrows and a sheaf of javelins, is a warrior worthy of the name, and is only excelled by an Iss-dor similarly armed.
At last all was in readiness for our raid upon the Oz-moks. And so obsessed with the militant spirit had I become, so deeply engrossed in the warlike preparations, and so anxious to witness the battle, that I threw aside all caution, disregarded all danger, and determined to lead the attack in person. The raid of course was to be made by air, and naturally I could not fly. But a Tss-zor had carried me easily and safely across the sea to the city when I had first arrived, and no aeroplane ever devised by man was such a safe means of aerial transportation.
No doubt you will laugh heartily when I confess to you that never in my life have I felt prouder of achievement than when, borne in the grasp of a huge Tss-zor, I rose above the city and gazed upon the armed hosts of winged warriors, rising in squadron after squadron from the great semicircular esplanade, their myriad lights gleaming like countless shooting stars, their iridescent armor flashing back the multicolored rays of the gorgeous aurora stretching upward to the zenith. For me, a scientist, to have been in that position, to be leading an army of incredible beings, denizens of the inner world to battle was, I admit, the height of incongruity. But I had become so accustomed to incongruity at every turn that it did not, at the time, strike me as being other than quite a natural and consistent thing to do.
As soon as we were well away from the city all lights were extinguished and in absolute silence we sped onward. Indescribably weird appeared the hundreds of ghostly flying figures, like faintly phosphorescent wraiths floating through the abysmal, indigo void. For hour after hour we sped on, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, as if conjured from the air, great, luminous forms appeared rushing toward us, converging from every direction. The Oz-moks were upon us!
Though we had failed in our initial purpose to surprise the beasts, although we had been transformed from the attackers to the attacked, there was no panic, no confusion among my warriors. Instantly their lights flashed out, a thousand searchlights stabbed the darkness with their beams and revealed hordes of great, leathery-winged monsters dashing at us with gnashing fangs. But the sudden glare of the myriads of lights dazzled and confused them momentarily. With sharp, high-pitched cries they checked their onward rush; they turned, dove, swung aside, bumping into one another, struggling, in a confused, half-blinded, disorganized mob. And in that instant a thousand bows twanged, a thousand gold-tipped arrows flashed through the air. Screams, cries, squeals rose in a hideous, unearthly din from the Oz-moks, as the missiles buried themselves in furry bodies, tore through beating wings and reached many a vital spot.
Scores of the monsters fell, gyrating madly, into the black abyss below. Scores, badly wounded, made desperate efforts to escape. But scores were unharmed or but slightly wounded, and, like the maddened wild beasts they were, they hurled themselves at us. Again bows twanged and a shower of arrows sang through the air. The range was short, the Oz-moks were large marks, and the Iss-dors and Tss-zors had drawn the arrows to the heads. The oncoming bat-like hosts recoiled like charging infantry in the face of artillery fire. With incredible swiftness a squadron of my Tss-zors swept above the panic-stricken enemy. At the same instant the Iss-dors flashed to right and left, and as the Tss-zors hurled their heavy javelins from above, the Iss-dors delivered a volley of arrows from either flank. Surrounded, assailed from above and from both sides, unable to come to grips with their enemies, the Oz-moks milled and crowded, entangling wings, snapping savagely at one another, their one desire to escape from the trap into which they had unwittingly fallen. But there was no way of retreat left open. Even when they dove, like swooping eagles, to seek safety below the warring hosts, a dozen of my warriors would flash downward and drive arrows or javelins into the fleeing monsters from above. Not a single Oz-mok escaped. The entire force was wiped out, and not one of my army had been injured. It was a glorious victory, but our work was not yet done. I had planned to utterly exterminate the Oz-moks or so decimate them that for years to come there would be no fear of them raiding the city, and the hundreds or more we had destroyed were only a portion of the hordes of the beasts inhabiting the caverns far to the southward.
THERE is no necessity of going into details of what followed. Again and again we met foraging parties of the loathsome, bat-like creatures, and each time the encounter which followed was merely a repetition of the first. How long we had been on the wing before we neared the Oz-moks’ caves I cannot say, but it certainly was many hours after leaving the city before we reached the vicinity of the caverns. No guide, was required to direct our course. Our olfactory organs were amply sufficient, for the nauseating, musky stench from the beasts' lairs reached us when we were miles distant.
For some time we had met no cruising Oz-moks. Not one of those who had beset us had survived to carry warning of our approach to those with in the caves, and I felt certain that the surprise would be complete. It was.
In silence and darkness my forces took up their positions about the yawning black holes in the stupendous cliff. Clinging like flies to the rocks, Iss-dors crouched above the entrances to the caves, and in open formation the Tss-zors formed in line on either side, hovering on vibrating wings in mid-air. When at last all were ready, a flying squad of my forces poised for an instant before the entrance to the cave, and then, with flashing lights, rushed headlong within the cavern. It was a mad, brave, heroic thing to do—to fling themselves into the dens of their ferocious enemies; but, as I have said, these beings are absolutely devoid of fear, and death means nothing to them. Scarcely had they vanished from our sight when screams, cries, siren-like screeches, a pandemonium of confused sounds issued from the cave. The next instant our warriors reappeared — over half their number missing—and close in their rear came the Oz-moks. The cavern literally vomited the great beasts. Blinking as they emerged from the darkness into the blaze of lights, they hesitated at the entrances of their lairs, milling and crowding, and into this seething mass of bodies the Iss-dors clinging to the rocks above drove javelins as fast as they could hurl the weapons. Dozens of the monsters were struck down before they were able to spread their wings and launch themselves in air. And the moment they took flight they were compelled to run—or rather fly— the gantlet of our forces. The slaughter was indescribable. Yet so vast were the numbers of the creatures that many escaped, and hurling themselves at our lines they bore down my warriors by sheer force of numbers and, oblivious of spears and arrows, came to grips with their enemies. But compared to those destroyed those who escaped were negligible. It seemed as if the stream of monsters issuing from the caves would never end, as if they would be spewed forth forever, and grave fears assailed me that our arrows and javelins would be exhausted long before the last of the Oz-moks had come from their dens.
In that case the tables might well be turned. Our victory might become transformed to a rout, a massacre. But I had not counted on the intelligence of my Iss-dors. Elated at the deadly effect of their new weapons, the creatures had no intention of losing them, and as fast as an individual exhausted his supply of arrows and javelins he would leave the ranks and swoop down, to return, a few moments later, with a new supply of weapons salvaged from the dead bodies of the Oz-moks floating on the surface of the sea below.
I need not weary you with further details of that epic battle. Enough to say that when the final Oz-mok had come forth from its den we had dealt a decisive, a terrible blow at our enemies. And though we had not exterminated the race, only a few scores out of countless hundreds survived.
Neither had we escaped wholly unscathed. Several dozens of the Tss-zors had fallen, the losses of the Iss-dors had been fully as great, and scores bore wounds of battle as, triumphant, we left the stinking cave behind us, and sped towards the city with lights blazing bravely and free from all danger of being beset by the fearsome Oz-moks.
CHAPTER XI Amazing Developments
RAPIDLY the time passed. I had much to occupy my mind and to worry me, for despite my every effort, despite endless hours of experimenting, I failed utterly to produce life synthetically. And unless I could create new larvae the entire population was doomed to extinction. What of it? you ask. What of it! Good God. man, can you imagine, can you conceive of dwelling here alone— alone in this weird inner world? Alone with only the monstrous, surviving Oz-moks, the bizarre, terrestrial invertebrates, for company? Alone in a city of the dead, unable, single-handed, to maintain the lights, the water supply; cowering in the silence and darkness; fearing to go forth lest a ravenous, hovering giant vampire should seize me; dying slowly or more probably going raving mad ? No, a thousand times No! Inhuman, grotesque, even repugnant as some of them are, these beings are companions, living, sentient creatures, and to be surrounded by them is a million times better than being alone. No wonder, then, that I worked like a madman to try and produce the germ of life which would insure future generations of inhabitants of the city. And in the meantime the larvae on hand grew, and, knowing no other course to follow, I fed them all alike, for the secret of developing the various types of beings was as great a mystery to me as the production of living organisms from the slim-like cellular tissues. With no little trepidation I watched the various larvae approach maturity. Some, I knew, would appear as Iss-dors, for their larval forms were easily recognized. But the others! Would they prove to be
But, despite my speculations and my concepts, I was utterly unprepared for the actuality. Picture if you can my amazement, my horror I might say, when larva after larva developed into the stalk-eyed, noseless, scarlet-skinned Cheek-horlks — the repulsive "Big-Heads"!
There was but one thing to be done. I must destroy them as fast as they matured. If once they were discovered, I would unquestionably be put to death myself, for never would I be able to convince the Iss-dors and Tss-zors that I had not purposely produced a new brood of the Cheek-horlks, that I had not conspired to reinstate the beings in control of the community.
It was a terrible effort to bring myself to kill the creatures. Despite the fact that there was nothing human about them, yet I felt like a murderer as I put the beings out of the way and destroyed all traces of their existence.
And never will you realize what relief I felt when the Iss-dor larvae matured, gorgeous, fully developed, magnificent creatures far larger and more intelligent than any I had seen, the result no doubt of feeding them on the improper diet during their larval stage. But not until later did I realize what untoward results my ignorance of their food had brought about. The Iss-dors I had reared possessed sex! There were males and females among them!
Can you imagine, can you conceive what this meant to me? The creatures could breed! They could propagate their kind! A continuation of life was assured! No longer need I dread being alone, the sole surviving being here. No more need I rack my brain and toss feverishly through sleepless nights striving to solve the secret of producing life artificially.
What if I couldn't produce Tss-zors, Tu-jeers and the other types? The Iss-dors laid claim to being the original race, they were by far the most intelligent of the lot, they were the most companionable, the most human of all, and I had produced a brood of super-Iss-dors, and had provided the way for them to increase and multiply and become the dominant—more, the only— race.
Little did I dream that by accidentally producing these sexed Iss-dors I had jeopardized my own life. Yet such was the case. I am certain that my doom is sealed, that my end is near. During the months that have passed, since the Iss-dors commenced to breed, they have increased with amazing rapidity. And quite naturally the Tss-zors—as well as the other types—have become excited, angry, threatening. They have demanded of me why I have not produced members of their types capable of propagating their kind. They have openly accused me of plotting with the Iss-dors to destroy all other types and to take full possession of the city. And war—terrible, devastating civil war—is imminent, a war of pitiless extermination, a war which will not end until the last Tss-zor, the last Tu-jeer, the last Mo-hal and the last Uk-kal has been annihilated.
Nee-ser has admitted this to be the case. And if I do not fall during the battles that will rage, I feel confident that I will eventually meet death at the hands of the Iss-dors. They possess no sentiment, no pity, no gratitude. Their sole ambition is to become the only sentient beings in this inner world, and as soon as my services and my presence are no longer essential to them they will put an end to me with as little compunction as they will destroy the last Uk-kul or the last Tss-zor.
I have made a tremendous, a most momentous discovery. Although my escape by the way I reached here is forever barred, I have discovered a means of communicating with the outer world! It seems incredible, miraculous, but it is true!
Deep within the cavern of the reservoir back of the city I discovered a narrow shaft, a blow-hole caused no doubt by gaseous bubbles when the molten world cooled off; and this shaft, I am positive, penetrates through the two hundred miles or more of the earth's crust and communicates with the air of your outer world! I am certain this is so, for there is a strong upward draft at times and at other times a strong downward draft of air. And though it is impossible for me to escape from this inner world and ever again to look upon the faces of my fellow men, I feel that there is a chance—a very good chance—that I may be able to give to them, to you. perhaps, an account of my life here and of my amazing discoveries.
My plan is this: I shall make a number of spherical containers of the light Oss-ott metal. In each I shall place a copy of this manuscript, and having filled the containers with hydrogen I shall release them in the shaft when the draft of air is upward. Possibly they may never reach the surface of the earth. Possibly if they do they may float about in your atmosphere until the hydrogen has leaked out and they drop to earth or into the sea and are never found. But possibly one or more may travel upward to the sunlit atmosphere of your world and may be found, and thus may my fellow-men receive the message from the inner world, probably a message from the dead.
But the Iss-dors will never kill me. Never will those whose existence I have insured tear me to bits. For long I have carefully conserved a loaded cartridge, and when the moment comes I will put a bullet through my brain rather than be put to some terrible death by the beings I have saved from annihilation.
When the end may come I cannot even guess. At any moment red war may burst into flame. At any time the Iss-dors may decide I am no longer needed. Perhaps—no, in fact probably—long before you or others read these words—(if by the grace of God they are ever read), my life will have been ended. And if I could but know that this manuscript had found its way into the hands of my fellow men on earth I would die supremely happy and content.
And now, my friend, farewell. Tomorrow I release this and the other hydrogen-filled spheres. May God guide them to the outer world I once knew and may He see that this narrative reaches the hands for which it is intended.
(Signed) Henry Marshall Thurlow."