Astounding Stories, August, 1931, p.1Various
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VOL. VII, No. 2 CONTENTS AUGUST, 1931
THE DANGER FROM THE DEEP RALPH MILNE FARLEY 149
_Marooned on the Sea-Floor, His Hoisting Cable Cut, Young Abbot Is Left at the Mercy of the Man-Sharks._
BROOD OF THE DARK MOON CHARLES WILLARD DIFFIN 168
_Once More Chet, Walt and Diane Are United in a Wild Ride to the Dark Moon. But This Time They Go as Prisoners of Their Deadly Enemy Schwartzmann._ (Beginning a Four-Part Novel.)
IF THE SUN DIED R. F. STARZL 198
_Tens of Millenniums After the Death of the Sun There Comes a Young Man Who Dares to Open the Frozen Gate of Subterranea._
THE MIDGET FROM THE ISLAND H. G. WINTER 214
_Garth Howard, Prey to Half the Animals of the Forest, Fights Valiantly to Regain His Lost Five Feet of Size._ (A Complete Novelette.)
THE MOON WEED HARL VINCENT 236
_Unwittingly the Traitor of the Earth, Van Pits Himself Against the Inexorably Tightening Web of Plant-Beasts He Has Released from the Moon._
THE PORT OF MISSING PLANES CAPTAIN S. P. MEEK 255
_In the Underground Caverns of the Selom, Dr. Bird Once Again Locks Wills with the Subversive Genius, Saranoff._
THE READERS CORNER ALL OF US 273
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* * * * *
The Danger from the Deep
_By Ralph Milne Farley_
_He caught a glimpse of the grinning fish-face._]
[Sidenote: Marooned on the sea-floor, his hoisting cable cut, youngAbbot is left at the mercy of the man-sharks.]
Within a thick-walled sphere of steel eight feet in diameter, withcrystal-clear fused-quartz windows, there crouched an alert youngscientist, George Abbot. The sphere rested on the primeval muck andslime at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, one mile beneath thesurface.
The beam from his 200-watt searchlight, which shot out through one ofhis three windows into the dark blue depths beyond, seemed faintindeed, yet it served to illuminate anything which crossed it, or onwhich it fell.
For a considerable length of time since his descent to the oceanfloor, young Abbot had clung to one of the thick windows of hisbathysphere, absorbed by the marine life outside. Slender small fishwith stereoscopic eyes, darted in and out of the beam of light.Swimming snails floated by, carrying their own phosphorescentlanterns. Paper-thin transparent crustaceans swam into view, followedby a few white shrimps, pale as ghosts. Then a mist of tiny fish sweptacross his field of vision. Abbot cupped his face in his hands, andstared out.
The incongruous thought flashed across his mind that thus he had oftensat by the window of his club in New York, and gazed out at thepassing motor traffic.
His searchlight cut a sharp swath through the blue muck. More thanonce he thought he saw large moving fish-like forms far away.
"Speed up the generator," he called into his phone.
Immediately the shaft of light brightened. He set about trying tofocus upon one of those dim elusive shapes which had so intrigued him.
* * * * *
But suddenly the searchlight went out! Intent on repairing theapparatus as rapidly as possible, Abbot snapped the button-switch,which ought to have illuminated the interior of his diving-sphere; butthe lights did not go on. Then he noticed that the electric fan, onwhich he depended to keep his air-supply properly mixed, had stopped.
He spoke into the telephone transmitter, which hung in front of hismouth: "Hi, there, up on the boat! My electric power is cut off. I'mdown here with my fan stopped and my heat cut off. Hoist me up, and bequick about it!"
As the young man waited for the winch to get under way on the boat amile above him, he pulled out his electric pocket flashlight and sentits feeble ray out through his quartz-glass window into the dimroyal-purple depths beyond, in one last attempt to get a look at thosemysterious fish-shapes which had so intrigued him.
And then he saw one of them distinctly.
Evidently they had swum closer when the glow of his searchlight hadstopped; and so the sudden flash of his pocket-light had taken them bysurprise.
For, as he snapped it on, he caught an instant's glimpse of a grinningfish-face pressed close against the outside of his thick window-pane,as though trying to peer in at him. The fish-face somewhat resembledthe head of a shark, except that the mouth was a bit smaller and notquite so leeringly brutal, and the forehead was rather high and domed.
But what most attracted Abbot's attention, in the brief instant beforethe startled fish whisked away in a swirl of phosphorescent foam, wasthe fact that, from beneath each of the two pectoral fins, thereprotruded what appeared to be a skinny human arm, terminating in threefingers and a thumb!
Then the fish was gone. Abbot snapped off his little light.
The diving-sphere quivered, as the hoisting-cable tautened. Butsuddenly the sphere settled back to the bottom of the sea with ajarring thud. "Cable's parted, sir!" spoke a frantic voice in hisear-phones.
* * * * *
For a moment George Abbot sat stunned with horror. Then his mind beganto race, like a squirrel in a cage, seeking some way of escape.
Perhaps he could manage to unscrew the 400-pound trap door at the topof the sphere, and shoot to the surface, with the bubbling-out of theconfined air. But his scientifically trained mind made some rapidcalculations which showed him this was absurd.
At the depth of a mile, the pressure is roughly 156 atmospheres, thatis to say, 156 times the air-pressure at the surface of the earth; andthe moment tha
Not only would this pressure be sufficient to squash him into amangled pulp, but also the sudden compression of the air inside thesphere would generate enough heat to fry that mangled pulp to a crispcinder almost instantly.
As George Abbot came to a full realization of the horror of thesefacts, he recoiled from the trap-door as though it were charged withdeath.
"For Heaven's sakes, do something!" he shrieked in agony into thetransmitter.
"Courage, sir," came back the reply. "We are rigging up a grapple justas fast as we can. Long before your oxygen gives out, we shall slideit down to you along the telephone line, which is the only remainingconnection between us. When it settles about your sphere, and you cansee its hooks outside your window by the light of your pocket-flash,let us know, and we'll trip the grapple and haul you up."
"Thank you," replied the young man.
* * * * *
He was calm now, but it was an enforced and numb kind of calmness.Mechanically he throttled down his oxygen supply, so as to make itlast longer. Mechanically he took out his notebook and pencil andstarted to write down, in the dark, his experiences; for he wasdetermined to leave a full account for posterity, even though hehimself should perish.
After setting down a categorical description of the successivepartings of the electric light cable and the hoist cable, and histhoughts and feelings in that connection, he described in detail theshark with hands, which he had seen through the window of his sphere.He tried to be very explicit about this, for he realized that hisaccount would probably be laid, by everyone, to the disorderedimagination of his last dying moments; being a true scientist, GeorgeAbbot wanted the world to believe him, so that another sphere would bebuilt and sent down to the ocean depths, to find out more about thesepeculiar denizens of the deep.
Of course, no one would believe him. This thought kept drumming in hisears. No one--except Professor Osborne. Old Osborne would believe!
George Abbot's mind flashed back to a conversation he had had with theold professor, just before the oil interests had sent him on thisexploring trip to discover the source of the large quantities ofpetroleum which had begun to bubble up from the bottom of a certainsection of the Pacific very near where Abbot now was.
* * * * *
Osborne had said, "This petroleum suggests a gusher to me. And whatcauses gushers? Human beings, boring for oil, to satisfy human needs."
"But, Professor," Abbot had objected, "there can't be any human beingsat the bottom of the sea!"
"Why not?" Professor Osborne had countered. "Life is supposed to haveoriginated spontaneously in the slime of the ocean depths; thereforethat part of the earth has had a head-start on us in the game ofevolution. May not this head-start have been maintained right down todate, thus producing at the bottom of the sea a race superior toanything upon the dry land?"
"But," Abbot had objected further, "if so, why haven't they come up tovisit or conquer us? And why haven't we ever found any trace of them?"
"Quite simple to explain," the old professor had replied. "Anycreature who can live at the frightful pressures of the ocean depthscould never survive a journey even halfway to the surface. It would belike our trying to live in an almost perfect vacuum. We shouldexplode, and so would these denizens of the deep, if they tried tocome up here. Even one of their dead bodies could not be brought tothe surface in recognizable form. No contact with them will ever bepossible, nor will they ever constitute a menace to any one--for whichwe may thank the Lord!"
George Abbot now reviewed this conversation as he crouched in hisdiving-sphere in the purple darkness of the marine depths. Yes, oldOsborne would believe him. The diary must be written for Osborne'seyes.
* * * * *
Abbot sent another beam from his pocket light suddenly out into thewater; and this time he surprised several of the peculiar fish. These,like the first, had arms and hands and high intelligent foreheads.
Then suddenly Abbot laughed a harsh laugh. Old Osborne had been wrongin one thing, namely in saying that the super-race of the deep wouldnever be a menace to anyone. They were being a menace to George Abbot,right now, for it was undoubtedly they who had cut his cables.Probably they were possessed of much the same scientific curiositywith regard to him as he was with regard to them, and so they haddetermined to secure him as a museum specimen.
The idea was a weird one. He laughed again, mirthlessly.
"What is the matter, sir?" came an anxious voice in his ear-phones.
"Hurry that grapple!" was his reply. "I have found out what cut mycables. There are some very intelligent-looking fish down here, and Ithink they want me for--"
An ominous click sounded in his ears. Then silence.
"Hello! Hello there!" he shouted. "Can you hear me up on the boat?"
But no answer came back. The line remained dead. The strange fish hadcut George Abbot's last contact with the upper world. Thegrapple-hooks could never find him now, for there was now not even atelephone cable to guide them down to his sphere.
The realization that he was hopelessly lost, and that he had not muchlonger to live, came as a real relief to him, after the last fewmoments of frantic uncertainty.
* * * * *
Hoping that his sphere would eventually be found, even though too lateto do him any good, he set assiduously to work jotting down all thedetails which he could remember of those strange denizens of the deep,the man-handed sharks, which he was now firmly convinced were thecause of his present predicament.
He stared out through one of his windows into the brilliant bluedarkness, but did not turn on his flashlight. How near were theseenemies of his, he wondered?
The presence of those menacing man-sharks, just outside thefour-inch-thick steel shell, which withstood a ton of pressure foreach square inch of its surface, began to obsess young Abbot. Whatwere they doing out there in the watery-blue midnight? Perhaps, havingsecured his sphere as a scientific specimen, they were alreadypreparing to cut into it so as to see what was inside. That thesefish could cut through four inches of steel was not so improbable asit sounded, for had they not already succeeded in severing a rubbercable an inch and a half thick, containing two heavy copper wires, andalso two inches of the finest, non-kinking steel rope!
The young scientist flashed his pocket torch out through the thickquartz pane, but his enemies were nowhere in sight. Then he fell tocalculating his oxygen supply. His normal consumption was about half aquart per minute, at which rate his two tanks would be good forthirty-six hours. His chemical racks contained enough soda-lime toabsorb the excess carbon dioxide, enough calcium chloride to keep downthe humidity and enough charcoal to sweeten the body odors for muchmore than that period.
For a moment, the thought of these facts encouraged him. He had beendown less than two hours. Perhaps the boat above him could affect hisrescue in the more than thirty-four hours which remained!
* * * * *
But then he realized that he had failed to take into consideration thenear-freezing temperature of the ocean depths. This temperature heknew to be in the neighborhood of 39 degrees Fahrenheit--even thoughno thermometer hung outside his window, as none could withstand thefrightful pressures at the bottom of the sea. For it is one of theremarkable facts of inductive science that man has been able to figureout _a priori_ that the temperature at all deep points of the ocean,tropic as well as arctic, must always be stable at approximately 39degrees.
Abbot was clad only in a light cotton sailor suit, and now that hissource of heat had been cut off by the severing of his power lines,his prison was rapidly becoming unbearably chilly. His thick steelsphere constituted such a perfect transmitter of heat that he mightalmost as well have been a
Abbot's emotions ran all the gamut from stupefaction, through dullcalmness, clear-headed thought, intense but aimless mental activity,nervousness, frenzy, and insane delirium, back to stupefaction again.
During one of his periods of calmness, he figured out what an almosttotal impossibility there was of the chance that his ship, one mileabove him on the surface, could ever find his sphere with grapplinghooks. Yet he prayed for that chance. A single chance in a millionsometimes does happen.
* * * * *
Several hours had by now elapsed since the parting of the youngscientist's cables. It was bitterly cold inside the sphere. In orderto keep warm, he had to exercise during his calm moments assystematically as his cramped quarters would permit. During hisfrantic moments he got plenty of exercise automatically. And of courseall this movement used up more than the normal amount of oxygen, sothat he was forced to open the valves on his tanks to two or threetimes their normal flow. His span of further life was thereby cut toten or twelve hours, if indeed he could keep himself warm for thatlong.
Why didn't the people on the boat do something!
He was just about to indulge in one of his frantic fits of despair,when he heard or felt--the two senses being strangely commingled inhis present situation--a clank or thump upon the top of hisbathysphere. Instantly hope flooded him. Could it be that the onechance in a million had actually happened, and that a grapple from theboat above had actually found him?
With feverish expectation, he pressed the button of his littleelectric pocket flashlight, and sent its feeble beam out through oneof the quartz-glass windows into the blue-black depths beyond.
No hooks in front of this window. He tried the others. No hooks there,either. But he did see plenty of the superhuman fish. Eighteen ofthem, he counted, in sight at one time. And also two huge snake-likecreatures with crested backs and maned heads, veritable sea-serpents.
As there was nothing the young man could do to assist in the grapplingof his sphere by his friends in the boat above, he devoted his time tojotting down a detailed description of these two new beasts and oftheir behavior.
One of the sharks appeared to be leading or driving them up to thebathysphere; and when they got close enough, Abbot was surprised tosee that they wore what appeared to be a harness!
* * * * *
The clanking upon the bathysphere continued, and now the young manlearned its cause. It was not the grapple hooks from his ship, butchains--chains which the man-armed sharks were wrapping around thebathysphere.
Two more of the harnessed sea-serpents swam into view, and these twowere hitched to a flat cart: an actual cart with wheels. The chainswere attached to the harness of the original two beasts; they swamupward and disappeared from view; and the sphere slowly rose from themucky bottom of the sea, to be lowered again squarely on top of thecart. The cart jerked forward, and a journey over the ocean floorbegan.
Then the little pocket torch dimmed to a dull red glow, and the sceneoutside faded gradually from view. Abbot switched off the now uselesslight and set to work with scientific precision to record all theseunbelievable events.
In his interest and excitement, he had forgotten the ever-increasingcold; but gradually, as he wrote, the frigidity of his surroundingswas forced on his consciousness. He turned on more oxygen, andexercised frantically. Meanwhile the cart, carrying his bathysphere,bumped along over an uneven road.
From time to time, he tried his almost exhausted little light, but itsdim red beam was completely absorbed by the blue of the ocean depths,and he could make out nothing except two bulking indistinct shapes,writhing on ahead of him. Finally even this degree of visibilityfailed, and he could see absolutely nothing outside.
He was now so chilled and numb that he could no longer write. With alast effort, he noted down that fact, and then put the book away inits rack.
He began to feel drowsy. Rousing himself, he turned on more oxygen.The effect was exhilaration and a feeling of silly joy. He began tobabble drunkenly to himself. His head swam. His mind was in a daze.
* * * * *
It seemed hours later when he awoke. Ahead of him in the distancethere was a dim pale-blue light, against which there could be seen, insilhouette, the forms of the two serpentine steeds and their fish-likedrivers. Abbot's hands and feet were completely numb, but his head wasclear.
As they drew nearer to the light, it gradually took form, until itturned out to be the mouth of a cave. The cart entered it.
Down a long tunnel they progressed, the light getting brighter andbrighter as they advanced. The color of the light became a goldengreen. The rough stone walls of the tunnel could now be seen; andfinally there appeared, ahead, two semicircular doors, swung backagainst the sides of the passage.
Beyond these doors, the tunnel walls were smooth and exactlycylindrical, and on the ceiling there were many luminous tubes, whichlit up the place as brightly as daylight. The cart came to a stop.
The young scientist could now see with surprising distinctness hiscaptors and their serpentine steeds, and even the details of thechains and the harness. He tried to pick up his diary, so as to jotdown some points which he had theretofore missed; but his hands weretoo numb. But at least he could keep on observing; so he glued hiseyes to the thick quartz window-pane once more.
A short distance ahead in the passage there was another pair of doors.Presently these swung open and the cavalcade moved forward. Five orsix successive pairs of doors were passed in this manner, and then thesea-serpents began to thrash about and become almost unmanageable. Itwas evident that some change not to their liking had taken place intheir surroundings.
* * * * *
At last, as one of the portals swung open, young Abbot saw whatappeared to be four deep-sea diving-suits. Could these suits containhuman beings? And if so, who? It seemed incredible, for no diving-suithad ever been devised in which a man could descend to the depth of onemile, and live.
These four figures, whatever they were, came stolidly forward and tookcharge of the cart. One of the sharks swam up to them and appeared totalk to them with its hands. Then the sharks unhitched the twosea-serpents and led them to the rear, and Abbot saw them no more.
The four divers picked up the chains, and slowly towed the cartforward, their clumsy, ponderous movements contrasting markedly withthe swift and sure swishings which had characterized the man-sharksand their snake-like steeds.
Several more pairs of doors were passed, and then there met them fourfigures in less cumbersome diving-suits, like those ordinarily used bymen just below the surface of the sea. One of the deep-sea divers thenpressed his face close to the outside of one of the windows of thebathysphere, as though to take a look inside; but the four newcomerswaved him away, and hurriedly picked up the chains. Nevertheless, inthat brief instant, Abbot had seen within the head-piece of the diverwhat appeared to be a bearded human face.
Several more pairs of doors were passed. The four deep-sea diversfloundered along beside the cart, quite evidently having more and moredifficulty of locomotion as each successive doorway was passed, untilfinally they lay down and were left behind.
At last the procession entered a section of tunnel which was square,instead of circular, and in which there was a wide shelf along oneside about three feet above the floor. The four divers then droppedthe chains, and one by one took a look at Abbot through his window.
And he at the same time took a most interested look at them.
They had unmistakable human faces!
* * * * *
He must be dreaming! For even if Osborne was right about his supposedsuper-race at the bottom of the sea, this race could not be human, forthe pressures here would be entirely too great. No human being couldpossibly stand two thousand pounds per square inch!
Abbot glanced upward at the ceiling lights, but these had becomestrangely blurred. There seemed to be an opaque barrier above him, andthis barrier seemed to be slowly descending. The lights blurred outcompletely, and were replaced by a diffused illumination over theentire ripply barrier. And then it dawned on the young man that thisdescending sheet of silver was the surface of the water. He was in alock, and the water was being pumped out.
The surface settled about the helmets of the divers, and their helmetsdisappeared; then their shoulders and the rest of them. At last itreached the level of Abbot's window. The divers could again be seen,and among then on the shelf there stood a half dozen naked beardedmen, clad only in loin-cloths. They had evidently entered the lockwhile the water was subsiding.
* * * * *
These men unbuckled the helmets of the divers and helped them out, andthen splashed down into the water and peered in through the windows ofthe bathysphere. Presently some of them left through a door at the endof the platform, but soon reappeared with staging, which they set uparound the sphere. Then, climbing on top, they got to work on theman-hole cover.
As George Abbot realized their purpose, he became frantic. Althoughthese men appeared to be human, just like himself, yet hisscientifically-trained mind told him that they must be of some veryspecial anatomical structure, in order to be able to withstand theimmense pressures at the bottom of the Pacific. It was all right forthem to be out there, but it would be fatal to him!
And then the heavy circular door above him began slowly to revolve.
This was terrible! In a moment the crushing pressures of the depthswould come seeping in. Rising unsteadily upon his knees, the young mantried with his fingers to resist the rotation of the door; but itcontinued to turn.
Yet no pressure could be felt. The door became completely unscrewed.It was pried up, and slid off the top of the bathysphere, to crashupon the floor outside. Inquisitive bearded faces peered down throughthe hole.
Young Abbot slumped to the cold bottom of the sphere and stared backat them. He was saved; incredibly saved! These were real people, theair was real air and he must therefore be on the surface of the earth,instead of at the bottom of the Pacific as he had imagined! With asigh of relief, he fainted....
* * * * *
When he came to his senses again, he was lying in a bed in a smallroom. Bending over him was the sweetest feminine face that he had everseen.
The girl seemed to be about twenty years of age. She was clad in aclinging robe of some filmy green substance. Her hair was honey-brown,short and curly, and her forehead high and intelligent. Her eyes, anindescribable shade of deep violet, were matchlessly set off by herivory skin.
The young man smiled up at her, and she smiled back. Thus far it hadnot occurred to him to wonder where he was, or why. No recollection ofhis recent strange adventures came to him. To him this was an exoticdream, from which he did not care to awake.
She spoke. Her words were unintelligible, and unlike any languagewhich George Abbot knew or had even heard; and he was an accomplishedlinguist in addition to his other attainments.
And her words were not all that was strange about her speech, for thevery tones of her voice sounded completely unhuman, although notdispleasing. Her talk had a metallic ring to it, like the brassy blareof temple gongs, and yet was so smooth and subdued as to be sweeterthan any sound that the young scientist had ever heard before.
"Beautiful dream fairy," replied the enraptured young man, "I haven'tthe slightest idea what you are saying, but keep right on. I like it."
His own voice sounded crass and crude compared to hers. At his firstwords she gave a start of surprise, but thereafter the sound did notappear to grate on her ears.
* * * * *
Then one of the bearded men in loin-cloths entered, and he and thegirl talked together, quite evidently about their patient. The man'svoice had the same strange metallic quality to it as that of the girl,but was deeper, so that it boomed with the rich notes of a bell.
At the sight of the man, young Abbot's memory swept back, and heremembered the adventure of his diving-sphere, and its capture, onemile down, by the strange shark-fish with human hands and arms. Buthow he had reached the surface of the earth again, he couldn't figureout. Nor did he particularly care.
The strange man withdrew, and the girl sat down beside the bed andsmiled at Abbot. He smiled back at her.
Presently another girl entered and called, "Milli!"
The girl beside the bed started, and looking up asked some question,to which the other replied.
The newcomer brought in some strange warm food in a covered dish andthen withdrew. The first girl proceeded to feed her patient.
After the meal, which tasted unlike anything which the young man hadever eaten before, the beautiful nurse again essayed conversation withhim. She seemed perplexed and a bit frightened that he could notunderstand her words. Somehow, the young man sensed that this girl hadnever heard any other language than her own, and that she did not evenknow that other languages existed.
* * * * *
Strengthened by his food, he determined to set about learning herlanguage as soon as possible. So he pointed at her and asked, "Milli?"
She nodded, and spoke some word which he took for "yes."
Then he pointed to himself and said, "George."
She understood, but the word was a difficult one for her to duplicatein the metallic tongue of her people. She made several attempts, untilhe laughingly spoke her word for "yes."
Then he pointed to other objects about the room. She gave him thenames of these, but he could easily see that she felt that, if he didnot know the names for all these common things, there must besomething the matter with him.
He wondered how he could make her understand that there were otherlanguages in the world than her own; and then he remembered the sharkswith their hands and what he had taken to be their sign language.Perhaps Milli at least knew of the existence of the sign language.This would afford a parallel; for if she realized that there were twolanguages in the world, might there not be three?
So Abbot made some meaningless signs with his fingers. Milli quiteevidently was accustomed to this kind of talk, but she was furtherperplexed to find that George talked gibberish with his hands as wellas with his mouth.
She made some signs with her hands, and then said something orally.Young Abbot instantly pointed to her mouth, and held up one finger;then to her hands, and held up two; then to his own mouth, and held upthree, at the same time speaking a sentence of English. Instantly shecaught on: there were three languages in the world. And thereafter sheno longer regarded him as crazy.
For several hours she taught him. Then another meal was brought, afterwhich she left him, and the lights went out.
* * * * *
He awakened feeling thoroughly rested and well. The lights were on andMilli was beside him.
He asked for his clothes. They were brought. Milli withdrew and he putthem on.
After breakfast, which they ate together, one of the bearded men cameand led him out through a number of winding corridors into a largerroom, in which there was a closed spherical glass tank, about ten feetin diameter, containing one of the human sharks. Around the tank stoodfive of the bearded men.
One of them proceeded to address Abbot, but of course the youngAmerican could not make out what he was saying. This apparent lack ofintelligence seemed to exasperate the man; and finally he turnedtoward the tank, and engaged in a sign language conference with thefish; then turned back to Abbot again and spoke to him very sternly.
But Abbot shook his head and replied, "Milli. Bring Milli."
One of the other men flashed a look of triumph at their leader, andlaughed.
"Yes," he added, "bring Milli."
The leader scowled at him, and some words were interchanged, but itended in Milli being sent for. She apparently explained the situationto the satisfaction of the fish, to the intense glee of the man whohad sent for her, and to the rather complete discomfiture of theleader of the five.
Abbot later learned that the leader's name was Thig, and that the nameof the gleeful man was Dolf.
The reception over, Milli led Abbot back to his room.
* * * * *
There ensued many days--very pleasant days--of language instructionfrom Milli. Dolf and Thig and others of the five came frequently, tonote his progress and to talk with him and ask him questions.
A sitting room was provided for him, adjoining his sleeping quarters.Milli occupied quarters nearby.
Within a week he had mastered enough of the language of these people,for their strange history began to be intelligible to him.
In spite of the fact that the air here was at merely atmosphericpressure, nevertheless this place was one mile beneath the surface ofthe Pacific. Milli and her people lived in a city hollowed out of areef of rocks, reinforced against the terrific weight of the water andfilled with laboratory-made air. They had never been to the surface ofthe sea.
The fish with the human arms were their creators and their masters.
Professor Osborne had been right. The fish of the deep, having a headstart on the rest of the world, had evolved to a perfectlyunbelievable degree of intelligence. Centuries ago they had built forthemselves the exact analog of George Abbot's bathysphere, and in itthey had made much the same sort of exploring trips to the surfacethat he had made down into the deeps. But their spheres had beenconstructed to keep in, rather than to keep out, great pressure.
Their scientists had gathered a wealth of data as to conditions on thesurface, and had even seen and studied human beings. But theirinsatiable scientific curiosity had led them to want to know moreabout the strange country above them and the strange persons whoinhabited it. And so they set about breeding, in their ownlaboratories, creatures which should be as like as possible to thosewhom they had observed on the surface.
* * * * *
Of course, this experiment necessitated their first setting up anair-filled partial vacuum similar to that which surrounds the earth.But they had persisted. They had brought down samples of air from thesurface of the sea, and had analyzed and duplicated it on a largescale.
Finally, through long years, they had so directed--and controlled thecourse of evolution, in their breederies, as first to be able toproduce creatures which could live in air at low pressures, and thento evolve the descendants of those creatures into intelligent humanbeings.
Some of the lower types of this evolutionary process, both in thedirect line of descent of man, and among the collateral offshoots, hadbeen retained for food and other purposes. Abbot, with intensescientific interest, studied these specimens in the zoo of theunderwater city where he was staying.
Plans had been in progress for some time, among the fish-folk andtheir human subjects, to send an expedition to the surface. And nowthe shark masters had fortunately been able to secure alive an actualspecimen of the surface folk--namely, George Abbot. The expedition wasaccordingly postponed until they could pump out of the young scientistall the information possible.
Abbot was naturally overjoyed at the prospect. This would not only gethim out of here--but think what it would mean to science!
The plans of the sharks were entirely peaceful. Furthermore there wereonly about two hundred of their laboratory-bred synthetic humanbeings, and so these could constitute no menace to mankind.Accordingly he enthusiastically assured them that they could dependupon the hearty cooperation of the scientists of the outer earth.
* * * * *
During all his stay so far in this cave city, Abbot had been permittedto come in contact only with Milli, the members of the Committee ofFive, and an occasional guard or laboratory assistant. Yet, in spiteof the absence of personal contacts with other members of this strangerace, Abbot was constantly aware of a background of many people andtense activity, which kept the wheels of industry and domestic economyturning in this undersea city.
Although the young man readily accustomed himself to the speech andfood and customs of this strange race, his personal modesty andneatness revolted at the loin-cloths and beards of the men; and so, byspecial dispensation, he was permitted to wear his sailor suit and toshave.
The Committee of Five, who constituted a sort of ruling body for thecity, interviewed him at length, cross-examined him most skilfully andtook copious notes. But there seemed to be a strange lack of commonmeeting ground between their minds and his, so that very often theywere forced to call on Milli to act as an intermediary. The beautifulyoung girl seemed able to understand both George Abbot and the leadersof her own people with equal facility.
A number of specially constructed submarines had already been built tocarry the expedition to the surface. Before it came time to use them,Abbot tried to paint as glowing a picture as possible of life onearth; but he found it necessary to gloss over a great many things.How could he explain and justify war, liquor, crime, poverty, graft,and the other evils to which constant acquaintance has rendered thehuman race so calloused?
* * * * *
He was unable to deceive the men of the deep. With theirsuper-intelligence, they relentlessly unearthed from him all thesalient facts. And, as a result of their discoveries, their initialfriendly feeling for the world of men rapidly developed into supremecontempt.
But Abbot on the other hand developed a deep respect for them. Theirchemistry and their electrical and mechanical devices amazed andastounded him. They even were able to keep sun-time and tell theseasons, by means of gyroscopes!
Age was measured much as it is on the surface. This fact was broughtto Abbot's attention by the approach of Milli's twentieth birthday.
Strange to relate, she seemed to dread the approach of thatanniversary, and finally told Abbot the reason.
"It is the custom," said she, "when a girl or a boy reaches twenty, togive a very rigorous intelligence test. In fact, such a test is givenon every birthday, but the one on the twentieth is the hardest. Sofar, I have just barely passed each test, which fact marks me as ofvery low mentality indeed. And, if I fail _this_ time, they will killme, so as to make room for others who have a better right to live."
"Impossible!" exclaimed the young man indignantly. "Why, you have abetter mind than those of many of the leading scientists of the outerworld!"
"All the same," she gloomily replied, "it is way below standard fordown here."
* * * * *
On the day of the test, he did his best to cheer her up. Dolf alsocame--she seemed to be an especial protege of his--and gave her hisencouragement. He had been coaching her heavily for the examinationsfor some time previous.
But later in the day she returned in tears to report to Abbot that shehad failed, and had only twenty-four hours to live. Before he realizedwhat he was doing, Abbot had seized her in his arms, and was pouringout to her a love which up to that moment he had not realizedexisted.
Finally her sobbing ceased, and she smiled through her tears.
"George, dear," said she, "it is worth dying, to know that you carefor me like this."
"I won't let them kill you!" asserted the young man belligerently."They owe me something for the assistance which I am to give them ontheir expedition. I shall demand your life as the price of mycooperation. Besides, you are the only one of all your people who hasbrains enough to understand what I tell them about the outer earth. Itis they who are weak-minded; not you!"
But she sadly shook her head.
"It would never do for you to sponsor me," said she, "for it wouldalienate my one friend in power, Dolf. He loves me; no, don't scowl,for I do
"'Yet'?" exclaimed Abbot, "when you have less than a day to live?"
"You have given me hope," the girl replied, "and also an idea. Dolfpromised to appeal to the other members of the Five. I have justthought of a good ground for his appeal; namely, my ability totranslate your clumsy description into a form suited to the highintelligence of our superiors."
"'Clumsy'?" exclaimed the young man, a bit nettled.
"Oh, pardon me, dear. I'm so sorry," said she contritely. "I didn'tmean to let it slip. And now I must rush to Dolf and tell him myidea."
"Don't let him make love to you, though!" admonished Abbot gloomily.
She kissed him lightly, and fled.
* * * * *
A half hour later she was back, all smiles. The idea had gone acrossbig. Dolf, as the leader of the projected expedition, had demandedthat Milli be brought along as liaison officer between them and theirguide; and the other four committeemen had reluctantly acceded. Theexecution was accordingly indefinitely postponed.
The young couple spent the evening making happy plans for their lifetogether on the outer earth, for as soon as they should arrive inAmerica, Dolf would have no further hold over them.
The next day, the Committee of Five announced that, for a change, theywere going to give George Abbot an intelligence test. He hadrepresented himself as being one of the scientists of the outer earth;accordingly, they could gauge the caliber of his fellow countrymen bydetermining his I. Q.
Milli was quite agitated when this program was announced, but theordeal held no terrors for George Abbot. Had he not taken many suchtests on earth and passed them easily?
So he appeared before the Committee of Five with a rather cocky air.He had yet to see an intelligence test too tricky for him to eatalive.
"Start him with something easy," suggested Dolf. "Perhaps they don'thave tests on the outer earth. You know, one gains a certain facilityby practice."
"Milli didn't, in spite of all the practicing which you gave her,"maliciously remarked Thig.
Dolf glowered at him.
* * * * *
"What is the cube root of 378?" suddenly asked one of the othermembers of the committee.
"Oh, a little over seven," hazarded Abbot.
"Come, come," boomed Thig: "give it to us exactly."
"Well, seven-point-two, I guess."
"Don't guess. Give it exact, to four decimal places."
"In my head?" asked Abbot incredulously.
"Certainly!" replied Thig. "Even a child could do that. We're givingyou easy questions to start with."
"Start him on _square_ root," suggested Dolf kindly. "Remember heisn't used to these tests like our people are."
So they tried him with square root, in which he turned out to beequally dumb.
Abstract questions of physics and chemistry he did better on; but theactual quantitative problems, which they expected him to solve in hishead, stumped him completely.
Then they asked him about education on earth, and the qualificationsfor becoming a scientist, and who were the leaders in his field, andwhat degrees they held, and what one had to do to get those degrees,etc. Finally they dismissed him. Dolf then sent for Milli.
She was gone about an hour, and returned to Abbot wide-eyed andincredulous.
"Oh, George," said she, lowering her voice. "Dolf tells me that yourintelligence is below that of a five-year-old child! Perhaps that iswhy you and I get along so well together: we are both morons."
* * * * *
He started to protest, but she silenced him with a gesture and hurriedon. "I am not supposed to tell you this, but I want you to know thatyour examination to-day has resulted in a complete change in theirplans for the expedition to the surface. They have consulted with theleaders of our masters, and they agree with them."
She was plainly agitated.
"What is it, dear?" asked Abbot, with ominous foreboding.
Milli continued: "Early during your test, when you demonstrated thatyou couldn't do the very simplest mathematical problems in your head,they began to doubt your boastings that you are a scientist. But youwere so ingenuous in your answers about conditions on the surface,that finally their faith in your honesty returned. If you are ascientist among men, as they now believe, then the average run of yourpeople must be mere animals. This explains what has puzzled thembefore; namely, how the people of the earth tolerate poverty andunemployment and crime, and disease and war."
"And so a mere handful of our people, by purely peaceful means, couldeasily make themselves the rulers of the earth. Probably this would beall for the best; but somehow, my feelings tell me that it is not. Iknow only too well what it is to be an inferior among intelligentbeings; so will not your people be happier, left alone to theirstupidity, just as I would be?"
* * * * *
George Abbot was crushed. This frank acceptance by Milli of thealleged fact that he was a mere moron, was most humiliating. Andswiftly he realized what a real menace to the earth, was thiscontemplated invasion from the deeps.
All that was worst in the world above would taint these intellectualgiants of the undersea. They would rise to supremacy, and then wouldbecome rapacious tyrants over those whom they would regard as being nomore than animals.
He had witnessed jealousies among them down below. Might not thesejealousies flame into huge wars when translated to the world above?Giants striving for mastery, using the human cattle as cannon fodder!He painted to the girl a word-picture of the horrible vision which heforesaw.
The invasion must be stopped at all costs! He and Milli must pit theirpuny wits against these supermen!
But what could they do? As they were pondering this problem, a girlentered their sitting room--the same who had brought Abbot'sbreakfast on his first day in the caves. Milli introduced George tothe newcomer, whose name was Romehl.
Romehl appeared so woebegone that the young American ventured toinquire if she too had been having difficulty with one of her tests.But that was not the trouble; hers was rather of the heart.
About the same age as Milli, Romehl had recently passed her twentiethbirthday test and hence was eligible to marry; so she and a young mannamed Hakin had requested the fish-masters to give them the requisitepermission. But their overlords for some reason had peremptorilydenied the request. Romehl and Hakin were desolate.
* * * * *
Young Abbot's sympathies were at once aroused.
"Can't something be done?" he started to ask.
But Milli silenced him with a warning glance. "Of course not!" shesaid. "Who are we to question the judgment of our all-knowingmasters?"
Romehl had really come to Milli just to pour her troubles into afriendly ear, rather than because she hoped to get any helpful ideas.So she had a good cry, and finally left, somewhat comforted.
George and Milli then took up again the problem of saving the outerearth from the threatened invasion. Milli suggested that they gopeaceably with the expedition, and then warn the authorities ofAmerica at the first opportunity after their arrival; but Abbotpointed out that this would merely result in their both being shut upin some insane asylum, as no one would believe such a crazy story astheirs.
The time for lights to be put out arrived without their thinking ofany better idea.
Next day Milli spent considerable time with Dolf, and on her returnexcitedly informed Abbot that he had evolved a most diabolical plot.There were sufficient quantities of explosives in storage to blast ahole through the wall of the caves, letting in the sea and killingeveryone in the city. Dolf planned to set this off with a time fuse,upon the departure of the expedition. Thus Thig and the people whowere left behind--about two-thirds of the total population of thecity--would be destroyed, and the fish would have no one to s
Relieved of the thraldom of the fish, Dolf could make himself Emperorof the World, and rule over the human cattle, with Milli at his sideas Empress. An alluring program--from Dolf's point of view.
* * * * *
"I didn't expect such treason even from Dolf!" exclaimed the youngAmerican. "We must tell Thig!"
"What good would that do?" remonstrated the girl. "If you failed toconvince Thig, Dolf would make an end of us both. And if you convincedThig, it would mean the end of Dolf, whose influence is all that keepsme alive. We must think of something else."
"Right, as always," replied Abbot.
A growl came from the doorway. It was Dolf, his bearded face blackwith wrath.
"So?" he sputtered. "Treachery, eh?"
He whistled twice and two guards appeared.
"Take them to the prison!" he raged, indicating Abbot and Milli. "Ourexpedition will have to do without a guide. I have learned enough ofthe American language to make a good start, and I guess I can pick upanother guide when we reach the surface." Then, bending close to thefrightened girl, he whispered, "And another Empress."
The guards hustled them away and locked them up. As an addedprecaution, a sentinel was posted in front of each cell door.
Abbot immediately got busy.
"Can you get word for me at once to Thig?" he whispered to the man onguard.
"Perhaps," replied that individual non-committally.
"Then tell him," said Abbot, "that I have proof that Dolf is planningto destroy this city behind him, and never return from the surface."
The sentry became immediately agitated.
"So you know this?" he exclaimed. "How did it leak out? But--throughMilli, of course. And the guard on her cell is not a member of theexpedition! Curses! I must get word to Dolf, and have that guardchanged at once."
And he darted swiftly away.
* * * * *
The young prisoner was plunged into gloom. Now he'd gone and done it!Why hadn't he first made appropriate inquiries of his guard?
A new guard appeared in front of the door.
"Are you going on the expedition?" asked Abbot.
"Yes, worse luck," replied the guard.
The prisoner forgot his own gloom, in his surprise at the gloominessof the other.
"Don't you want to go?" he exclaimed incredulously.
"Do you know Romehl?" asked the guard.
"Yes," Abbot replied.
"Well, that's why."
"Then you must be Hakin!" exclaimed Abbot, with sudden understanding.
"Yes," replied the other dully.
"You are going on the expedition, and Romehl is not?"
"Say, look here!" exclaimed Abbot, and then he launched into thedescription of a plan, which just that moment had occurred to him, forhim, Milli, Romehl and Hakin to make their getaway ahead of theexpedition--in fact, that very night--and to set off the time-fusebefore leaving.
It turned out that Hakin knew where the explosives were planted, andwhere the submarines were kept, and even how to operate them. Heeagerly accepted the plan; and when next relieved as sentinel, hehurried away to inform Romehl.
Three hours later he was back on post. Quickly he explained to hisprisoner all about the workings of the submarines of the expedition.The lights-out bell rang, and all the city became dark, except for dimlights in the passageways. Hakin at once unlocked the door of Abbot'scell, and together the two young men sneaked down the corridor to thecell where Milli was confined.
Silently Hakin and Abbot sprang upon the guard and throttled him; thenreleased Milli. There was no time for more than a few hurried words ofexplanation before the three of them left the prison and made for thelocks of the subterranean canal, picking up Romehl at a preappointedspot on the way.
* * * * *
The canal locks were unguarded, as well as the storerooms of thesubmarines. Each of the rooms held two subs, and could open onto thesecond lock and be separately flooded.
The submarines were of steel as thick as Abbot's bathysphere. Theirshape was that of an elongated rain drop, with fins. In the pointedtip of their tails were motors which could operate at any pressure. Atthe front end were quartz windows. In the top fin was an expandingdevice which could be filled with buoyant gas, produced by chemicals,when the craft neared the surface. Each submarine also contained aradio set, so tuned as to be capable of opening and closing theradio-controlled gates of the locks. Each would carry comfortably twoor three persons.
Having picked out two submarines and found them to be in order, Hakinsneaked back into the corridor to set off the time-fuse, leaving histhree companions in the dark in the storeroom. Abbot put a protectingarm around Milli, while Romehl snuggled close to her other side.
Their hearts were all racing madly with excitement, and this wasintensified when they heard Hakin talking with someone just outsidetheir door.
Then Hakin returned unexpectedly.
"Something terrible has happened!" he breathed. "The explosives havebeen discovered and are gone. One of the expedition men has justinformed me. Someone must have gotten word to Thig--"
"Why, _I_ did," interrupted Milli. "I told my guard, just before theycame and changed him."
Hakin continued hurriedly: "So Dolf plans to leave at once. He isalready rounding up his followers. Come on! We must get out ahead ofhim!"
An uproar could be heard drawing near in the corridor outside. Abbotopened the door and peered out; then shut it again and whispered, "Thetwo factions are fighting already."
"Then come on!" exclaimed Hakin.
* * * * *
As he spoke he turned on the lights, wedged the door tight against itsgaskets and threw the switch which started the water seeping into thestoreroom; then he led Romehl hurriedly to one of the two submarines,while George and Milli rushed to the other. Heavy blows soundedagainst the storeroom door.
The water rapidly rose about them, and the four friends crawledinside the two machines and clamped the lids tight. Then they waitedfor sufficient depth, so that they could get under way.
The water rose above their bow windows, but suddenly and inexplicablyit began to subside again. A man waded by around the bow of Abbot'smachine.
"They've crashed in the door, and are pumping out the water again!"exclaimed Abbot. "We're trapped!"
"Not yet!" grimly replied the girl at his side. "Can you work theradio door controls?"
"Then quick! Open the doors into the lock!"
He pressed a button. Ahead of them two gates swung inward, followed bya deluge of water.
"Come on!" spoke the girl. "Full speed ahead, before the water getstoo low."
Abbot did so. Out into the lock they sped, in the face of the surgingcurrent. Then Abbot pushed another button to close the gates behindthem. But the water continued to fall, and they grounded before theyreached the end of the lock. Quite evidently the rush of the currenthad kept the doors from closing behind them. The city was beingflooded through the broken door of the storeroom.
But Abbot opened the next gate, and again they breasted the incomingtorrent. This time, although the level continued to fall, their craftdid not quite ground.
"They must have got the gates shut behind us at last," said he, as heopened the next set and pressed on.
* * * * *
And then he had an idea. Why not omit to close any further gatesbehind him? As a result, the sea pressure would eventually break downthe inmost barriers, and destroy the city as effectively as Dolf'sbomb would have done. But he said nothing to Milli of this plan: shemight wish to save her people.
Gate after gate they passed. This was too simple. A few more locks andthey would be out i
This uncertainty cast a chill of apprehension over them, which wasimmediately heightened by the sudden extinguishing of the overheadlights of the tunnel. Abbot pressed the radio button for the next setof locks, but they did not budge.
"What can be the matter?" he asked frantically.
"My people must have turned off the electric current," Milli replied."The gates won't open without electricity to feed the motors. We'retrapped again."
For a moment they lay stunned by a realization that their escape wasblocked.
"Kiss me good-by, dear," breathed Milli. "This is the end."
As the young man reached over to take her in his arms, the submarinewas suddenly lifted up and spun backward, end over end: then tumbledand bumped along, as though it were a chip on an angry mountaintorrent.
Stunned and bruised and bleeding, the young American finally lostconsciousness....
* * * * *
When he came to his senses again, his first words were, "Milli, whereare you?"
"My darling!" breathed a voice at his side. "Are you all right?"
"Yes," he replied. "Where are we? What has happened?"
"The entire system of locks must have crashed in and flooded thecity," said she.
Instantly Abbott's mind grasped the explanation of this occurrence:their leaving open so many gates behind them had made it impossiblefor the few remaining gates ahead to withstand the terrific pressuresof the ocean depths, and they had crumpled. But he did not tell Millihis part in this.
She continued, "I was pretty badly shaken up myself, but I've got thisboat going again, and we're on our way out of the tunnel. See--I'vefound out how to work our searchlight."
He looked. A broad beam of light from their bow, illuminated thetunnel ahead of them.
Presently another beam appeared, shooting by them from behind.
"Hakin and Romehl!" exclaimed the girl. "Then they're safe, too!"
The tunnel walls grew rough, then disappeared. They were out in theopen sea at last, although still one mile beneath the surface.
But in front of them was an angry seething school of the man-sharks,clearly illumined by the two rays of light. Behind the sharks were ascore or more of serpentine steeds.
The sharks saw the two submarines and charged down upon them; butMilli, with great presence of mind, shut off her searchlight and swungsharply to the left.
"Up! Up!" urged the young man, so she turned the craft upward.
* * * * *
On and on they went, with no interference. Presently they turned thelight on again, so as to see what progress they were making. But theywere making absolutely none! They were merely standing on their tail.They had reached a height of such relatively low pressure that it tookall the churning of their propeller just merely to counteract thegreat weight of their submarine.
Abbot switched on their chemical gas supply, and as their top finexpanded into a balloon they again began to rise.
One thing, however, perplexed the young man: the water about himseemed jet black rather than blue. They must by now be close to thesurface of the sea, where at least a twilight blue should be visible.Even at the one mile depth in his bathysphere, the water had beenbrilliant, yet here, almost at the surface, he could see absolutelynothing.
He switched on the searchlight again to make sure that their windowwasn't clouded over; but it wasn't.
Then suddenly a rippling veil of pale silver appeared ahead; then ablue-black sky and twinkling stars. They had reached the surface, andit was night.
He pointed out the stars to the girl at his side, then swung the noseof the submarine around and showed her the moon.
Where next? George Abbot picked out his position by the stars andheaded east. East across the Pacific, toward America.
* * * * *
But soon he noticed that their little craft was dropping beneath thesurface. He kept heading up more and more; he threw the lever for moreand more chemical gas; yet still they continued to sink.
"Milli!" he exclaimed, "we've got to get out of here!"
She clutched him in fear, for to her the pressure of the open seameant death, certain death. But he pushed her firmly away, andunclamped the lid of the submarine. In another instant he had hauledher out and was battling his way to the surface, while their littleboat sunk slowly beneath them.
Milli was an experienced swimmer, for the undersea folk enjoyed theprivilege of a large indoor pool. As soon as she found that the opensea did not kill her, she became calm.
Side by side they floated in the moonlight. The sky began to pink inthe east. Dawn came, the first dawn that Milli had ever seen.
Suddenly she called George's attention to two bobbing heads somedistance away in the path of light the rising sun made on the ocean.
"Hakin and Romehl!" he exclaimed. Long since they had given them upfor dead; but evidently fate had treated them in much the same way asthemselves.
And a moment later his own salt-stung eyes noticed a long gray shapeto one side.
As the day brightened, Abbot suddenly noticed a large bulking shapenearby.
It was his own boat!--the one which had lowered him into the depths inhis bathysphere so many weeks and weeks ago! Evidently it was stillsticking around, grappling for his long dead body.
"Come on, dear," said he, and side by side they swam over to it.
He helped her up the ship's ladder. The ship's cook sleepily stuck hishead out of the galley door.
"Hullo, Mike," sang out George Abbot merrily to the astonished man."I've brought company for breakfast. And there'll be two more when wecan lower a boat."
Astounding Stories, August, 1931 by Various / Science Fiction have rating 3.2 out of 5 / Based on16 votes