Astounding Stories of Super-Science August 1931: VOL. VII, NO. 2 - The Port of Missing Planes by@astoundingstories

Astounding Stories of Super-Science August 1931: VOL. VII, NO. 2 - The Port of Missing Planes

So that's the "Port of Missing Planes," mused Dick Purdy as he looked down over the side of his cockpit. "It looks wild and desolate all right, but at that I can't fancy a bus cracking up here and not being found pronto. Gosh, Wilder cracked in the wildest part of Arizona and he was found in a week."
image
Astounding Stories HackerNoon profile picture

@astoundingstories
Astounding Stories

Dare to dream. Dare to go where no other has gone before.

Astounding Stories of Super-Science August 1931, by Astounding Stories is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. VOL. VII, NO. 2 - The Port of Missing Planes

The Port of Missing Planes

By Captain S. P. Meek

image

"That portion of the wall has gone back in time exactly three seconds," he announced.

So that's the "Port of Missing Planes," mused Dick Purdy as he looked down over the side of his cockpit. "It looks wild and desolate all right, but at that I can't fancy a bus cracking up here and not being found pronto. Gosh, Wilder cracked in the wildest part of Arizona and he was found in a week."

image

The mail plane droned monotonously on through perfect flying weather. Purdy continued to study the ground. Recently transferred from a western run, he was getting his first glimpse of that section of ill repute. Below him stretched a desolate, almost uninhabited stretch of country. By looking back he could see Bellefonte a few miles behind him, but Philipsburg, the next spot marked on his map, was not yet visible. Twelve hundred feet below him ran a silver line of water which his map told him was Little Moshannon Run. As he watched he suddenly realized that the ground was not slipping by under him as rapidly as it should. He glanced at his air-speed meter.

"What the dickens?" he cried in surprise. For an hour his speed had remained almost constant at one hundred miles an hour. Without apparent cause it had dropped to forty, less than flying speed. He realized that he was falling. A glance at his altimeter confirmed the impression. The needle had dropped four hundred feet and was slowly moving toward sea-level.

With an exclamation of alarm, Purdy advanced his throttle until the three motors of his plane roared at full capacity. For a moment his air-speed picked up, but the gain was only momentary. As he watched, the meter dropped to zero, although the propellers still whirled at top speed. His altimeter showed that he was gradually losing elevation.

He stood up and looked over the side of his plane. The ground below him was stationary as far as forward progress was concerned, but it was slowly rising to meet him. He fumbled at the release ring of his parachute but another glance at the ground made him hesitate. It was not more than three hundred feet below him.

"I must be dreaming!" he cried. The ground was no longer stationary. For some unexplained reason he was going backward. The motors were still roaring at top speed. Purdy dropped back into his seat in the cockpit. With his ailerons set for maximum lift he coaxed every possible revolution from his laboring motors. For several minutes he strained at the controls before he cast a quick glance over the side. His backward speed had accelerated and the ground was less than fifty feet below him. It was too close for a parachute jump.

"As slow as I'm falling, I won't crack much, anyway," he consoled himself. He reached for his switch and the roar of the motors died away in silence. The plane gave a sickening lurch backwards and down for an instant. Purdy again leaned over the side. He was no longer going either forward or back but was sinking slowly down. He looked at the ground directly under him. A cry of horror came from his lips. He sat back mopping his brow. Another glance over the side brought an expression of terror to his white face and he reached for the heavy automatic pistol which hung by the side of the control seat.

"He cleared Bellefonte at nine in the morning, Dr. Bird" said Inspector Dolan of the Post Office Department, "and headed toward Philipsburg. He never arrived. By ten we were alarmed and by eleven we had planes out searching for him. They reported nothing. He must have come to grief within a rather restricted area, so we sent search parties out at once. That was two weeks ago yesterday. No trace of either him or his plane has been found."

"The flying conditions were good?"

"Perfect. Also, Purdy is above suspicion. He has been flying the mail on the western runs for three years. This is his first accident. He was carrying nothing of unusual value."

"Are there any local conditions unfavorable to flying?"

"None at all. It is much uninhabited country, but there is no reason why it shouldn't be safe country to fly over."

"There are some damnably unfavorable local conditions, Doctor, although I can't tell you what they are," broke in Operative Carnes of the United States Secret Service. "Dick Purdy was rather more than an acquaintance of mine. After he was lost I looked into the record of that section a little. It is known among aviators as 'The Port of Missing Planes.'"

"How did it get a name like that?"

"From the number of unexplained and unexplainable accidents that happen right there. Dugan of the air mail, was lost there last May. They found the mailbags where he had dropped them before he crashed, but they never found a trace of him or his plane."

"They didn't?"

"Not a trace. The same thing happened when Mayfield cracked in August. He made a jump and broke his neck in landing. He was found all right, but his ship wasn't. Trierson of the army, dropped there and his plane was never found. Neither was he. He was seen to go down in a forced landing. He was flying last in a formation. As soon as he went down the other ships turned back and circled over the ground where he should have fallen. They saw nothing. Search parties found no trace of either him or his ship. Those are the best known cases, but I have heard rumors of several private ships which have gone down in that district and have never been seen or heard of since."

Dr. Bird sat forward with a glitter in his piercing black eyes. Carnes gave a grunt of satisfaction. He knew the meaning of that glitter. The Doctor's interest had been fully aroused.

"Inspector Dolan," said Dr. Bird sharply, "why didn't you tell me those things?"

"Well, Doctor, we don't like to talk about mail wrecks any more than we have to. Of course, the loss of so many planes in one area is merely a coincidence. Probably the wrecked planes were stolen as souvenirs. Such things happen, you know."

"Fiddlesticks!" said Dr. Bird sharply. He raised one long slender hand with beautifully modeled tapering fingers and threw back his unruly mop of black hair. His square, almost rugged jaw, protruded and the glitter in his eyes grew in intensity. "No souvenir hunting vandals could cart away whole planes without leaving a trace. In that case, what became of the bodies? No, Inspector, this has gone beyond the range of coincidence. There is some mystery here and it needs looking into. Fortunately, my work at the Bureau of Standards is in such shape that I can safely leave it. I intend to devote my entire time to clearing this matter up. The ramifications may run deeper than either you or I suspect. Please have all of your records dealing with plane disappearances or wrecks in that locality sent to my office at once."

The Post Office inspector stiffened.

"Of course, Dr. Bird," he said formally, "we are very glad to hear any suggestion that you may care to offer. When it comes, however, to a matter of surrendering control of a Post Office matter to the Department of Commerce or to the Treasury Department, I doubt the propriety. Our records are confidential ones and are not open to everyone who is curious. I will inform the proper authorities of your desire to help, but I doubt seriously if they will avail themselves of your offer."

Dr. Bird's black eyes shot fire. "Idiot!" he said. "If you're a specimen of the Post Office Department, I'll have the entire case taken out of your hands. Do you mean to cooperate with me or not?"

"I fail to see what interest the Bureau of Standards can have in the affair."

"The Bureau isn't mixed up in it; Dr. Bird is. If necessary, I will go direct to the President. Oh, thunder! What's the use of talking to you? Who's your chief?"

"Chief Inspector Watkins is in charge of all investigations."

"Carnes, get him on the telephone. Tell him we are taking charge of the investigation. If he balks, have Bolton go over his head. Then get the chief of the Air Corps on the wire and arrange for an army plane to-morrow. There is something more than a mail robbery back of this or I'm badly fooled."

"Do you suspect—"

"I suspect nothing and no one, Carnes—yet! I'll get a few instruments together to take with us to-morrow. We'll fly over that section until something happens if it takes us until this time next year."

A three-seated scout plane rose from Langley Field at eight the next morning. Captain Garland was at the controls. In the rear cockpit sat Dr. Bird and Carnes. Inside his flying helmet, the doctor wore a pair of headphones which were connected to a box on the floor before him. Carnes carried no apparatus but his hand rested carelessly on the grip of a machine-gun.

The plane cleared Bellefonte at nine-thirty and bore east toward Philipsburg. Captain Garland kept his eyes on his instrument board and on a map. Less than six hundred feet above the ground, he was following the air-mail route as exactly as possible. Overhead a mail plane winged its way east, three thousand feet above them.

Fifteen minutes brought them to Philipsburg. Captain Garland shot his plane upward a few hundred feet.

"Turn back, Captain," said Dr. Bird into the speaking tube. "Retrace your course a quarter of a mile farther north. At Bellefonte, turn back and go over the same ground another quarter of a mile north. Keep flying back and forth, working your way north, until I tell you to stop."

The plane swung around and headed back toward Bellefonte.

"Of course, we can't tell exactly what route he followed," said the doctor to Carnes, "but he was new on this run and it is safe to assume that he didn't stray far. We'll quarter the whole area before we stop."

Carnes watched the ground below them carefully. There was nothing about it to distinguish it from any other wooded mountainous country and his interest waned. He glanced aloft. The mail plane had disappeared in the distance and the sky was clear of aircraft. He turned again to the ground. It looked closer than it had before. He turned and looked at the duplicate altimeter. The plane had lost nearly a hundred feet elevation.

"There's something wrong about this plane, Doctor," came Captain Garland's voice through the speaking tube. "It doesn't behave like it should."

"I guess we've found what we were looking for, Carnes," said Dr. Bird grimly. "What seems to be the matter, Captain?"

"Blessed if I know," was the answer. "It feels like a drag of some sort, like an automobile going through heavy sand. We're slowing down, though I am giving her all the gun I've got!"

"Cut your motor!" said the doctor shortly. He bent over the duplicate instrument board as the roar of the motor died away. Carnes rose and looked over the side.

"Look, Doctor!" he cried in a strained voice. Directly below them yawned a hole sixty feet in diameter and extending down into the bowels of the earth. The plane hovered over the hole for a moment and then slowly descended into it.

"What is it?" cried the detective.

"It's the secret of the Port of Missing Planes," replied Dr. Bird. "Throw off your parachute. Keep your gun and light handy but don't fire unless I do first. The same holds good for you, Captain."

The plane sunk until it was fifty feet below the level of the ground. Carnes looked up. Gradually the circle of sky became blurred and hazy as though the air were heavy with dust. The rasp of Dr. Bird's flashlight key aroused him and he hastily wound his own. The haze above them grew thicker. Suddenly the light died and then came darkness, a darkness so thick and absolute that it bore down on them like a weight. Dr. Bird's light stabbed a path through it.

They were in a tunnel or tube reaching into the ground. The sides were smooth and polished, as though water worn. The plane sank deeper and deeper into the earth. Suddenly Dr. Bird's light went out.

"What's the matter, Doctor?" asked Carnes, "did your light fail?"

"No," came a strained voice. "I turned it out."

"Why?"

"I don't know. Light yours."

Carnes reached into his pocket. Dr. Bird could hear his breath come in panting sobs as though he were exerting his whole strength.

"I can't do it, Doctor," he gasped. "I want to, but some power greater than my will prevents me."

"Are you affected, Captain?" asked the Doctor.

"I—can't—move," came in muffled accents from the front cockpit.

"Some power beyond my knowledge has us in its grasp," said the doctor. "All we can do is sit tight and see what happens. We are no longer falling at any rate."

From the forward cockpit came a rustling sound. There was a slight jar in the ship, and it gave as though a weight had been applied to one side.

"What are you doing, Garland?" asked the doctor sharply.

There was no reply. Again came the rustling sound. The ship gave a sudden lurch as though a weight had left the side. Carnes suddenly spoke.

"Good-by, Doctor," he said. "I'm going over the side."

"I have been fighting it but I'm going myself in a minute," replied the doctor grimly. "Something is pulling me over. It's the same power that keeps me from turning on my light."

"It's perfectly safe to go over," said Carnes suddenly. "The plane is resting on a solid base."

"I have the same feeling. Catch hold of my belt and let's go."

They climbed over the side of the plane and dropped to the ground. Their descent made absolutely no sound. Dr. Bird stopped and felt the floor.

"Crepe rubber, or something of the sort," he murmured. "At any rate, it's noise and vibration proof."

"Now what?" asked Carnes.

"This way," replied the doctor confidently. "I'm beginning to get the hang of understanding this. The way is perfectly level and open before us. Keep your hand on my shoulder and step right out."

"How do you know where we're going?"

"I don't, but something tells me that the road is level and open. It is the same thing that brought us over the side. I can't explain it but it is some sort of a telepathic control exerted by an intelligence. Whether the sending mind is reinforced by instruments I don't know, but I rather fancy not."

"Where is Garland?"

"He went off in another direction. I could feel the power that guided him although it was not directed at us. Something tells me that he is safe for the present."

For half a mile they made their way through the darkness before they stopped. This time Carnes could plainly understand the command which came to both of them.

"There is a table before us," said Dr. Bird. "Lay your flashlight and pistol on it."

Carnes struggled against the order but the power guiding him was stronger than his will. He strove to turn on his light. When he could not, he tried to cock his pistol. With a sigh, he laid his gun and light on the table before him. Without words, the two men walked forward a few feet and sat confidently down on a bench that something told them was there.

For a moment they sat quietly. A cry, choked in the middle, came from the detective's throat. Cold clammy hands touched his face. He strove again to cry out, but his voice was paralyzed. The hands went methodically over his body, evidently searching for weapons. Mustering up his will, Carnes made a grab for one of them. His captor apparently had no objection to the detective's action for Carnes seized the hand without effort. But he almost dropped it. The hand was as large as a ham. He reached for the other hand but could not locate it. A movement on the part of his captor brought it to him and he made the startling discovery that the palms were directed outward. The hand had only four fingers, which were armed with long curved claws instead of nails. Carnes ran his hand up the palm to search for a thumb but found none. He found, however, that, while the hands were naked, the wrists were covered with short thick fur.

"Doctor!" he cried, "there's—"

Again came the overpowering will and his speech died away in silence. He sat dumb and motionless while his captor moved over to Dr. Bird. A second animal came forward and felt the detective over. He was not allowed to move this time, nor was he while a third and fourth animal went carefully over him. The four drew back some distance.

"Doctor," whispered Carnes as the influence grew fainter.

"Shh!" was the answer, and as the doctor's demand for silence was reinforced by another wave of the paralyzing power, Carnes had no choice. As he sat there silent, the power which held him again seemed to grow less. He found that he could move his arms slightly. He edged forward to get his gun and light. Before he reached them, a beam of light split the darkness. Dr. Bird stood, electric torch in hand, staring before him.

At a distance of a few feet stood a group of half a dozen animals about the height of a man as they stood erect on their short hind legs. They were covered with heavy brown fur. Their lower limbs were thin and light, but their shoulders and forelegs were heavy and powerful. Their forepaws, which had the palms facing outward, were armed with the long wicked claws he had felt. No visible ears protruded from the round skulls. Their heads appeared to rest between their shoulders, so short were their necks. Their muzzles were long and obtusely pointed. Through grinning jaws could be seen powerful white teeth.

"Talpidae!" cried Dr. Bird. "Carnes, they are a race of giant intellectual moles!"

Despite the fact that they had no visible eyes, the creatures were strongly affected by the light. They dropped on all fours and turned their backs to the scientist and the detective. Two of them scurried away down a long tunnel which opened from the room in which they stood. Dr. Bird turned his light up and swept the room. It was roughly circular, a hundred feet in diameter, with a roof ten feet high. Dozens of tunnels led off in every direction.

"Your light, Carnes, quick!" cried the doctor in a strained voice. Carnes reached toward the table for his light. Before he could reach it he was frozen into immobility. From the corner of his eye he could watch the doctor. Dr. Bird was struggling to bring the light back on the moles which stood before them. Great beads of sweat stood out on his forehead. Inch by inch he moved the light closer to his goal, but Carnes could see that his thumb was stealing up toward the switch button. His breath came in sobs. Suddenly the light went out.

For some time the two men sat motionless on the bench unable to speak or move. One of the moles stepped before them and gave a mental command. The two rose to their feet. For a mile or more they followed their guide, then, at a silent command, they turned to the right for a few steps and stopped. In another moment, the numbing influence had departed.

"Are you all right, Carnes?"

"Yes, right as can be. Doctor, what were those things? Where are we? What's it all about?"

"We'll find out in time, I guess," replied the doctor with a chuckle. "Carnes, isn't this the darnedest thing we've ever been through? Captured half a mile underground by a race of giant talpidae before whose mental orders we are as helpless as children. Did you understand any of their talk?"

"Talk? I didn't hear any."

"Well, mental conversation then. They made no sound."

"No. All I understood was the orders I obeyed."

"I got a great deal of it," the doctor said. "We are evidently in or near a sort of central community of these fellows. They spoke; thought is a better word; they thought of doing away with us but decided to wait until they consulted someone with more authority. You see, we are not airplane pilots. Captain Garland was taken at once to the place where they have other aviators imprisoned."

"What do they want of pilots underground?"

"I couldn't quite get that. There was another thought that I am not sure that I interpreted correctly. If I did, there is some man of the upper world down here in a position of considerable authority among them. He has some use for pilots, but what use, I don't know. We are to be held until he is consulted."

"Who could it be?"

"I can only think of one man. Carnes, and I hope I'm wrong. I don't have to name him."

"You mean—?"

"Ivan Saranoff. We haven't heard of him or had any activity from him for the last eight months. We know that he had a subterranean borer with which he has penetrated deep into the earth. Isn't it possible that he has, at some time in his explorations, come into contact with these fellows and made friends with them?"

"It's possible, Doctor, but I hoped we had killed him when we destroyed his borer."

"So did I, but he seems to bear a charmed life. Several times we have thought him dead, only to have him show up with some new form of devil's work. It is too much to hope that we have succeeded in doing away with him. Did you notice one thing? Those fellows were helpless while I held the light on them. The one which was holding us captive got so interested in the discussion about our fate that he momentarily forgot us. That was when I got my light. Until I turned the light away from them, we were free men."

"That's right," answered the secret service man.

"Remember that. The next time we get a light on a bunch of them, hold them in the beam until we can make terms."

"If we ever get hold of a light again."

"I have a light they didn't get, probably because I didn't think of it while they were around. It is one of those fountain pen battery affairs and they probably took it for a pen. I won't turn it on now, partly to save it and partly not to let them know we have it. Let's see what our prison is like."

They felt their way around the room. It proved to be eight paces by ten in size. Like the tunnels it was floored with crepe rubber or some similar substance which gave out no sound of footsteps, yet was firm underfoot. The room was furnished with two beds, a table and two chairs. There was no sign of a door.

"That's that," exclaimed the doctor when they had finished their exploration. "I'm hungry. I wonder when we eat. Hello, here comes one of the fellows now."

Carnes made no reply. As the doctor's speech ended, a wave of mental power enveloped the room. One of the moles entered, moved over to the table for an instant and then left the room. An earthly odor of vegetables pervaded the room.

"My question is answered," said the doctor. "We eat now."

He moved to the table. On it had been placed dishes containing three different types of roots. Two of them proved to be palatable, but the third was woody and bitter. The prisoners made a hearty meal from the two they relished. For an hour they sat waiting.

"Here they come again!" exclaimed the doctor. "We are going before the person I spoke of. Can't you get their thoughts?"

"No, I can't, Doctor. I can understand when I get a command, but aside from those times everything is a blank to me."

"My mental wave receiver, if that's what it is, must be attuned to a different frequency than yours, for I can hear them talking to one another. I guess I should say that I can feel them thinking to one another. At any rate, they want us to follow. Come along, the road will be open and level."

The doctor stepped out confidently with Carnes at his heels. For half a mile they went forward. Presently they halted.

"We are in a big chamber here, Carnes," whispered the doctor, "and there is someone before us. We'll have some light in a minute."

His prophecy was soon fulfilled. A vague glimmer of light began to fill the cavern in which they stood. As it grew stronger they could see a raised dais before them on which were seated three figures. Two of them were the giant moles. Each of the moles wore a helmet which covered his head completely, with no sign of lenses or other means of vision. It was the central figure, however, which held the attention of the prisoners.

Seated on a chair and regarding, them with an expression of sardonic amusement was a man. Above a high forehead rose a thin scrub of white hair. Keen brown eyes peered at them from under almost hairless brows. The nose was high bridged and aquiline and went well with his prominent cheekbones. His mouth was a mere gash below his nose, framed by thin bloodless lips. The lips were curled in a sneer, revealing yellow teeth. The whole expression of the face was one of revolting cruelty.

"So," said the figure slowly, "fate has been kind to me. My friends, Dr. Bird and Operative Carnes have chosen to pay me a long visit. I am greatly flattered."

The thin metallic voice with its noticeable accent struck a familiar chord.

"Saranoff!" gasped Carnes.

"Yes, Mr. Carnes, Saranoff. Professor Ivan Saranoff, of the faculty of St. Petersburg once. Now merely Saranoff, the scourge of the bourgeois."

"I  hoped we had killed you," murmured Carnes.

"It was no fault of Dr. Bird's that he failed," replied the Russian with an excess of malevolence in his voice. "His method was a correct one. Merely the fortuitous fact that we had just pierced one of the tunnels of the Selom, and I was away from my borer exploring it, saved me. You did me a good turn, Doctor, without meaning to. You destroyed an instrument on which I had relied. In doing so, you unwittingly delivered into my hands a power greater than any I had dreamed of—the Selom."

"What can a mental cripple like you do with blind allies like them?" asked Dr. Bird with a contemptuous laugh. The Russian half rose from his seat in rage. For a moment his hand toyed with a switch before him. The sardonic sneer came back into his face and he dropped back into his seat.

"You nearly provoked me to destroy you, Doctor," he said, "but cold calculation saved you. Since you will never return to the upper world, save when and as I decree, I have no objection to telling you. The Selom are not blind. Their eyes are under the skin as is the case with many of the talpidae, but for all that they can see very well. Their eyes function on a shorter wave than ours, a wave so short that it readily penetrates through miles of earth and rock. This cavern is now flooded with it. Visible light, the light by which we see, is limited to their eyes, hence the helmets which you see. They can see through those helmets as well as you or I can see through air."

"What do you intend to do with us?"

"Ah, Doctor, there you hit me in a tender spot. I have a sore temptation to close this switch on which my hand rests. Were I to do so, both you and Mr. Carnes would vanish forevermore. I have, however, conceived a very real affection for you two. Your brains, Doctor, working in my behalf instead of against me would render me well-nigh omnipotent. Mr. Carnes has a certain low cunning which I can also use to advantage. Both of you will join me."

"You might as well close your switch and save your breath, Saranoff, for we will do nothing of the sort," replied the doctor sharply.

"Ah, but you will. So will Mr. Carnes. I had no hopes that you would join me willingly. In fact, I am pleased that you do not. I could never trust you. All the same, you will join my forces as have the others whom I have brought into the hands of the Selom. I have ways of accomplishing my desires. It pleases my fancy, Doctor, to use your brains in aiding me in my scientific developments. You will enjoy working with the scientists of the Selom. Among them you will find brains which excel any to be found on the surface of the earth, since we two are below. Already I have learned much from them. You, Mr. Carnes shall be taught to pilot an airplane. When my cohorts go forth from the realms of the Selom to establish the rule of Russia, you will be piloting one of the planes. Your first task will be to learn to fly."

"I refuse to do anything of the sort!" said Carnes.

"I will not be ready to have your flying lessons started until to-morrow," replied the Russian, "and you will have until then to reconsider your rash decision. It will be much easier for you if you obey my orders. If you still refuse to-morrow, you will pay a visit to the laboratory of the Selom. When you return your lessons will be started. You will now be taken to your cell. I have use for Dr. Bird this afternoon."

"I won't leave Dr. Bird and that's flat!" exclaimed Carnes. Dr. Bird interrupted him.

"Go ahead, Carnesy, old dear," he said lightly. "You might just as well toddle along under your own power as to be dragged along. You have a day for reflection, in any event. I daresay I'll see you again before they do anything to you."

Carnes glanced keenly at the doctor's face. What he saw evidently reassured him for he turned without a word and walked away. The light grew gradually dimmer until darkness again reigned in the cavern.

"Come, Doctor," said Saranoff's voice. "We have work to do."

Carnes sat alone in his cell for hours. The darkness and loneliness wore on him until he felt that his nerves would crack. Not a sound came to him. He threw himself on one of the beds and plugged his ears with his finger tips in an attempt to keep the silence out. Then a cheerful voice sounded in the cell and a friendly hand fell on his shoulder.

"Well, Carnesy, old dear," said Dr. Bird, "have you been lonesome?"

"Dr. Bird!" gasped Carnes in tones of relief. "Are you all right?"

"Right as can be. I learned a lot this afternoon. For one thing, you're going to start flying lessons to-morrow and you're going to do your best to become an expert pilot in a short time. It is the only thing to do."

"And fly a plane for Saranoff?"

"I hope not. The only way to avoid that very thing is to keep your mentality unimpaired so that I can call on you for help when I need it. If the Selom operate on you, you will be useless to me."

"Operate? What do you mean?"

"I'll tell you. The Selom are a very old and highly civilized people. For ages they have possessed scientific knowledge for which the upper-world scientists are now blindly groping. Among other things, they have a perfect knowledge of the workings of the brain. If they operate they will remove from your brain every speck of memory you have of past events, leaving only those things that will be useful to Saranoff. You will be his complete slave. In that condition you will be taught to fly a plane. When the time comes, you will fly one with no remembrance of anything which happened prior to the operation and with no will but his. It will be easier to teach you flying in your natural state if you are willing. You will be willing."

"If you wish it, Doctor."

"I do wish it, most decidedly," Dr. Bird went on. "Obey every order they give you. You will find that the Selom are an enlightened and civilized race. They are very kindly and would willingly harm no one."

"Then why have they taken up with Saranoff?"

"He is the first man with whom they have come into contact. He has told them a horrible tale of conditions on the surface, and they have swallowed it, hook, line and sinker. They believe that he is going to establish a new order of happiness and plenty for all with the aid of his gang of cutthroats from Russia. If they had the slightest inkling of the true state of affairs, they would turn on him in an instant."

"Why don't you tell them?"

"Remember that I am a stranger here and he has poisoned their minds against me. Although the mind of an ordinary men is an open book to them, they cannot read Saranoff's secret thoughts against his will. They can't read mine either, for that matter. I am working in the laboratory and I will pick up a great deal. When the time comes, we will strike for our liberty and for the safety of the world."

"Did you learn Saranoff's plans?"

"Yes. He is gathering planes and pilots in the underground caverns of the Selom. When he gets enough, he will bring men from Russia to man the planes. What could the United States, or the world for that matter, do against a fleet of hundreds, possibly thousands, of the best planes equipped with deadly weapons unknown to their science? That menace confronts us and we must remove it. To give you some idea of the power of the Selom, this afternoon Saranoff and I with one assistant opened a cavern in the solid rock three miles long and a mile wide and over six hundred feet in height."

"Three men! How on earth did you do it?"

"Two men and one mole. We did it with a ray, the secret of which only the Selom and Saranoff know."

"You have told me a disintegrating ray is an impossibility," objected Carnes.

"It is. This was not a disintegrating ray. Carnes, either I am crazy or the Selom have solved the secret of time, the fourth dimension. I haven't been able to grasp the whole thing yet. What I think we did was to remove that rock a distance, perhaps only a millionth of a second, forward or back into time. At any rate it ceased to exist, yet they can bring it back unchanged at will. That was the way they captured our plane. They sent out a magnetic ray of such power that it stopped our plane in midair and brought it to the ground. They removed the rock from beneath us and lowered us into the hole. By reversing the process they restored things to their original condition. All of these tunnels and rooms were made in that way."

"I still don't understand how they did it."

"I don't either, but I hope to in time. Now let's go to bed. It's late. To-morrow you will start your lessons with Captain Garland as an instructor. He won't know you for he was operated on this afternoon. Do your best to become a pilot. When I get ready, I want you with me in full possession of all your faculties."

The next morning the two prisoners separated and went to their duties. In the cavern which Dr. Bird had described, Captain Garland was waiting beside the plane he had flown. He did not know Carnes, but he still knew how to fly. Declining to enter into any conversation, he started expounding the theory of flying to the detective. Carnes remembered Dr. Bird's words and applied himself wholeheartedly. For four hours they worked together. At the end of that time the light faded in the cavern and Carnes was led by an unseen guide back to his cell. He threw himself on a bed and awaited Dr. Bird's return.

"I have learned a few more things about the Selom," said the doctor when he entered the cell several hours later. "We are in their largest community. They have cities or warrens scattered all over the world. Each city has its own ruler, but the whole race are ruled by an overlord or king who habitually lives here. He is away visiting a community under northern Africa just now, but he will be back in a few days. The Selom are sincere in their desire to help the upper world. They feel great pity for mankind in view of the conditions Saranoff has described to them. When the king returns. I plan to make a direct appeal to him. In the meantime, go on with your flying lessons. How did you make out to-day?"

The second day was a repetition of the first, as were the third and fourth. A week passed before Dr. Bird entered the cell in evident excitement.

"Has Hanac brought our evening food yet?" he asked anxiously.

"No, Doctor."

"Good. Take this light. As soon as he enters throw the light full on him and hold him until I work on him. We've got to make our escape."

"Why?"

"The king is due back to-morrow. Saranoff is frightened at the good impression I have made on the Selom. He is supreme in the monarch's absence, so he plans to operate on both of us before he returns. He is afraid to allow me to see the king with an unimpaired intellect and memory. Shh! Here comes Hanac." The door to their cell opened noiselessly. When the mole who brought their food was well inside, Carnes turned on the tiny flashlight. The mole dropped on all fours and tried to turn its back. Dr. Bird sprang forward. For an instant his slim muscular fingers worked on the mole's neck and shoulders. Silently the animal sank in a heap.

"Come on, Carnes," cried the doctor. "Turn off the light."

"Did you kill him, Doctor?" asked Carnes as he raced down a pitch dark corridor at the scientist's heels.

"No, I merely paralyzed him temporarily. He'll be all right in a day or so. Turn here."

For ten minutes they ran down corridor after corridor. Carnes soon lost all track of direction, but Dr. Bird never hesitated. Presently he slowed down to a walk.

"It's a good thing I have a good memory," he said. "I planned that course out from a map, and I had to memorize every turn and distance of it. We are now behind your flying hall and away from any of the regular dwellings of the Selom. Straight west about four miles is one of the time-ray machines with a guard over it. Aside from them, there isn't a mole between here and Detroit."

"What are we going to do, Doctor?"

"Keep out of their way and avoid recapture if we can. If we merely wanted to escape we would try to get possession of that time-ray machine and open a road to the surface. However, I am not content with that. I want to stay underground until Astok, their king, returns. When he comes, we will surrender to him."

"Suppose they operate without giving us a chance to present our side of the affair."

"If they do, Saranoff wins; but they won't. The more I have seen of the Selom, the more impressed I am by their sense of justice. They'll give us a hearing, all right, and a fair one."

For two hours the doctor led the way. At the end of that time he stopped.

"We've gone as far as we need to," he said. "They'll undoubtedly send out searching parties, but if we can avoid thinking they won't be able to find us. The tunnels are a perfect labyrinth. If you care to sleep, go to it. We'll be safer sleeping than awake, for we won't be sending out thoughts so fast."

Dr. Bird threw himself down on the rubber floor of the tunnel and was soon asleep. Carnes tried to follow his example, but sleep would not come to him. Frantically he tried to think of nothing. By an effort he would sit for a few minutes with his mind a conscious blank, but thoughts would throng in in spite of him. Time and again he brought himself up with a jerk and forced his mind to become a blank. The hours passed slowly. Carnes grew cramped from long immobility and rose. A sudden thought intruded itself into his mind. "I might as well throw that light away," he murmured to himself. "It will be no good now. The Selom won't hurt us if they do catch us."

He reached in his pocket for the light. He was about to hurl it from him when a moment of sanity came to him. He stared about. The impulse to hurl the light away came stronger. He strove in vain to turn it on.

"Doctor!" he cried suddenly. "Wake up! They're after us!"

With a bound, Dr. Bird was on his feet.

"The light!" he cried. "Where is it?"

"In—my—hand," murmured Carnes with stiffening lips.

Dr. Bird seized the light. A beam stabbed the darkness. Less than fifty feet from them stood two moles. As the light flashed on Carnes regained control of himself.

"Take the light, Carnes," snapped the doctor. "I've got to put these fellows to sleep."

Slowly he advanced toward the motionless Selom. He had almost reached them when the light flickered out. He turned and raced at full speed toward the detective. Carnes was standing rigid and motionless. Dr. Bird took the light from his hand. Despite the almost overpowering drag on his mind, he managed to turn it on. He swung the beam around in a circle. Besides the two Selom he had seen before, the light revealed a pair standing behind him. As the light struck them, the numbing influence vanished for an instant from the doctor's mind. He moved a step forward and then halted. The moles behind him were hurling waves of mental power at him. Again the light cleared him for an instant, but he got a brief glance of other moles hurrying from every direction.

"The jig's up, I guess," he muttered. He strove to free himself by the use of his light, but the tiny battery had done its duty, and gradually the light grew dimmer. The influence grew too strong for him. With a sigh he shut off the feeble ray and hurled the light from him. The moles closed in.

"All right," said the doctor audibly. "We'll go peaceably."

As he spoke the paralyzing power was withdrawn. With Carnes at his side he retraced the route he had taken from the cell. Before they reached it they turned off. Dr. Bird realized that they were treading the familiar path to the laboratory.

Outside the laboratory the Selom halted. A wave of mental power enveloped the prisoners and they remained silent and motionless while their escort withdrew. From the laboratory came three of the Selom scientists. As the laboratory door opened they could see that it was bathed in a flood of light, and that the moles wore helmets covering their heads. They moved inside. Clad in a white gown stood Saranoff.

"So, my friends, you would run away and leave me, would you?" gloated the Russian. "And just when I had planned a very beneficial operation for you! I will remove permanently from your brains all the delusions which now encumber them, and for your own puny wills I will substitute my own."

The power which had held the prisoners silent disappeared.

"You have caught us, Saranoff," said Dr. Bird. "I know the power you wield and that you are making no idle boast. I appeal, however, to these others, my friends. The operation you are planning to perform is not a routine one. It is one that should have the sanction of the king before it is done. I appeal from you to him."

"He is far away," laughed Saranoff. "When he returns, your plea will be presented to him, but it will be too late to do you any good. You are right, Doctor—I do not plan a mere routine operation. Not only will I remove your memory, but I'm going to use the time-ray on you and banish forever into the unknown a portion of your brains. Without knowing which adjustment I make of the infinite number possible, no one, not even the king, can ever recall it."

Dr. Bird turned to the Selom scientists and hurled his thoughts at them.

"This man intends to commit a horrible crime," he thought, "and one which he has no authority to perform. To you I appeal for justice. Bid him wait until Astok returns, and let him be the judge as to whether it shall be done. Jumor, you know me well. You know that my brain is the equal of one of the Selom. Even you cannot read my thoughts against my will. Are you willing to see that brain destroyed? Astok will be here soon and nothing will be lost by a short delay."

"He thinks truly," was the answering thought of Jumor. "It would be better to wait."

"We will not wait," crashed Saranoff's thought into their consciousness. "He killed Hanac when he escaped, and his punishment shall be as I have decreed. Did not the king give me full power while he was away?"

"It is true that he ordered us to obey this man in all things dealing with upper-world men," thought Jumor. "If it is true that he killed Hanac his punishment is doubtless just."

"I did not kill Hanac," returned the doctor. "He is paralyzed and will be all right in a few hours, if he isn't already. I demand that you wait until Astok returns. When an appeal is made to him, no other may judge. So says the Selom law."

"That is true," replied Jumor. "We will wait until the king returns."

"We will not wait," came Saranoff's thought. "The king delegated to me his powers during his absence, as far as all the world, save the Selom, were concerned. Were it one of the Selom appealing to the king, I would be powerless before the appeal. These are not bound by Selom law and are not entitled to its benefits. We will operate at once."

"Then you will operate alone," retorted Jumor. "I will not assist you."

"I need none of your help," thought Saranoff. "Asmo and Camol, will you help me? If you refuse I will report to Astok that you have disobeyed and defied his chosen delegate."

"We had better assist him, Jumor," thought Asmo. "Astok did delegate his authority. I am not of the nobility and I dare not refuse to help."

"Suit yourself, Asmo," replied Jumor. "I refuse to assist, and will appeal to Astok against him."

The third mole hesitated.

"You are higher in rank than we are, Jumor," he thought at length, "and like Asmo, I dare not resist him. I heard the king give this upper-earth man his authority while he was away. I will assist."

"And I will leave the room," retorted Jumor.

He moved to a door and threw it open. At the threshold he paused and sent back a final thought.

"I will appeal to Astok, our ruler. I will send now a message to him to hurry home that he may judge between us."

The door closed behind him. Saranoff chuckled audibly.

"Good-by, Carnes," said Dr. Bird sadly. "This devil can do all he says he can, and more. I'm sorry I brought you and Garland into this mess."

"Oh, well, it can't be helped, Doctor," replied the detective with an attempt at cheerfulness. "What is he going to do to us?"

"He'll have to use instruments for what he plans," said the doctor. "Ordinarily a routine mental operation is performed without the use of extraneous power. The mind of the operator is electrically connected to the mind of the victim. By means of thought waves the operator banishes from the mind of the subject such portions of his memory and mentality as he chooses. He may then substitute other things in place of what he has removed. Any of the Selom could operate on you, but I doubt whether Jumor himself could do it successfully on me without aid from power. Here come the instruments."

Asmo and Camol took from a cabinet on the side of the wall what looked like a cloth helmet. Attached to it were a dozen wires which they connected to a box on a table. The box was made of crystal and inside it could be seen a number of vacuum tubes and coils of various designs. Other leads ran to a similar helmet which Asmo placed on Saranoff's head. A heavy cable ran to a switch on the wall.

As Camol closed the switch the tubes in the box began to glow with weird lights. Violet, green and orange streamers of light came from them to dance in wild patterns on the laboratory walls. For five minutes Saranoff made adjustments to dials on the front of the crystal box. The colored lights died away and a gentle golden glow came from the apparatus. He threw off the helmet.

Camol left the laboratory and returned with a large coil on the top of which was mounted a parabolic reflector. A device like a clock on the front of the coil was constantly marking the passage of time. The dial had two indicators which were together. Saranoff chuckled.

"You may not have seen this device work, Doctor," he said. "In order to let you know what you are facing, I will demonstrate."

He turned the reflector so that it bore on the wall. He adjusted the moving dial so that the two indicators were no longer together. As he closed a switch, the wall before the reflector vanished. Saranoff turned off the power.

"That portion of the wall has gone back in time exactly three seconds," he announced. "As far as the present is concerned, it has ceased to exist. It is following us through time three seconds behind us, but in all eternity it will never catch up unless I aid it. Since the exact time is known, it can be restored. If I were to alter this adjustment ever so little, it could never be recalled. Watch me."

He again closed the switch, this time in a reverse direction. The wall instantly filled up as it had been before. He moved the time dial so that the two indicators coincided.

"After I have sent a portion of your physical brain into the past or the future as the fancy strikes me, I will change the adjustment of that dial. Since there are an infinite number of adjustments to which I might have set it, the chances that any one could ever duplicate my setting and restore it are the complement of infinity, or zero," he said. "I am now ready to remove your memory. If the impossible should happen and your physical brain be restored it would be useless. Asmo, adjust the helmet. I will operate on my friend, the Doctor, first."

Carnes strove to rush to Dr. Bird's assistance, but he was helpless before the force of Camol's will. Asmo adjusted the helmet to Dr. Bird's head and buckled it firmly in place. With an evil grin, Saranoff donned the other helmet.

"Good-by, Dr. Bird," he said mockingly. "You will continue to see me, but you won't know me, except as your master."

His hand reached for the switch. It had almost closed on it when Saranoff stopped convulsively. He sat motionless while the laboratory door opened and Jumor entered the room. He was followed by another mole. The newcomer was fully six inches taller than the others. His head was hidden by a helmet, but around his arms he wore strings of sparkling jewels.

"Ivan Saranoff, what means this?" his powerful thoughts dominated the room.

"I was merely engaged in rectifying some of the mental errors of this man of the upper earth," explained the Russian eagerly. "It is merely a routine operation such as you gave me authority to perform."

"An operation which uses power is not routine," replied the king. "I am told that this upper-earth man has a brain equal to those of my most advanced scientist. I am also told that you planned to do more than rectify his mental errors."

"You have been falsely informed. I was merely about to adjust his memory."

"Then what means this?" The king pointed to the time-ray machine.

"That was brought here in order that it could be used when you returned," thought the Russian eagerly. "This upper-earth man killed Hanac when he brought him food."

The door opened and Hanac entered.

"Oh, Astok," objected Hanac's thoughts, "when these upper-earth men had me at their mercy, with a light, they spared me. They paralyzed me for a time so that they might escape but they did it in such a manner that no harm came to me."

"So Jumor told me," replied the king. "Release them."

In an instant Carnes was on his feet removing the helmet from Dr. Bird's head. The doctor struggled to his feet.

"Dr. Bird," thought the king, "can you communicate with me easily?"

"Yes, Your Majesty, but may I ask that you alter the vibration period of my comrade, Mr. Carnes? He cannot understand you with his present low period."

The king stepped to the box with which Saranoff had been working. In response to his commands the helmet which had been on Dr. Bird's head was placed on the detective. The king made a few adjustments to the dials and signalled for the helmet to be removed.

"Can you understand me, Mr. Carnes?" he asked mentally.

The question leaped with startling clearness into the detective's head. Carefully he framed his answer.

"I can understand you," said the king. "I will now sit in judgment on the appeal made to me. Dr. Bird tell me your story."

With eloquent thoughts, Dr. Bird poured forth the history of the upper world. He told of the great war and the collapse of the Russian monarchy. He traced history to the fall of the moderate party and the rise of the Bolsheviki. He described the horrible conditions existing in Russia. At the end he reviewed the long battle he and Carnes had fought against Saranoff. When he had finished, the king questioned Carnes.

The detective repeated the story in different words and the king turned to Saranoff. From the Russian's mind came a tissue of distorted facts and downright lies. He denied or twisted around everything that the detective and the scientist had said. When he had done with his tale, Astok sat in secret thought for a few minutes.

"The tales you tell me are so far apart that I can give credence to none of them," he announced at length. "There is but one solution. Although they are never used, for the Selom have forgotten the meaning of a falsehood, we have instruments which will drag the truth from the brain of a liar. They are powerful and their use may easily be fatal. If a man gives forth the contents of his brain willingly, the process is not painful. If he tries to conceal anything, it is torture. Will you willingly submit your brains to the searching of this instrument?"

"Gladly," came Dr. Bird's thought and Carnes reechoed it.

"And you, Ivan Saranoff?" demanded the king.

"I will not submit," thought the Russian sullenly.

"You will be examined whether you submit willingly or not," replied Astok. "I am going to learn the truth though I kill you all to get it."

At the king's order, Jumor hastened from the laboratory. He returned in a few minutes with an apparatus similar to the one which Saranoff had planned to use on Dr. Bird, but larger, and with more dials on the crystal box. At a command from the king, Dr. Bird donned the helmet.

The king manipulated switches and dials. Around Dr. Bird's head glowed a halo of crimson light. Twice an expression of momentary pain passed over his countenance. After half an hour, Astok cut on the power and nodded to Carnes.

"Don't try to hold anything back, Carnesy," said Dr. Bird sharply. "You couldn't if you tried, and the process is very painful, I can assure you."

With the helmet on his head the detective sat for ten minutes while the Selom king went through his brain. A dozen times he shrieked in agony but his moments of suffering were short. The king removed the helmet.

"Your minds agree well," he thought. "Now I will examine the mind of my friend."

The helmet was strapped on Saranoff. Instantly an expression of the utmost anguish crossed his face. Shriek after shriek of agony came from his writhing lips. Relentlessly the king applied more power. The cries of the Russian grew heartrending. Suddenly he grew rigid and slumped forward in his chair. Astok impassively manipulated his instrument. After half an hour, he opened the switch and removed the helmet. Under the ministrations of Jumor the Russian revived. The king sat in secret thought for an hour.

"I have examined the brains of all of you," he announced at length, "and I find hopeless contradictions. Each of you believes thoroughly in his own social order. Both tell me of hopeless misery on the part of a large portion of his people. Both tell of horrible wars and suffering beyond my comprehension. The thoughts of all of you teem with modes of bringing death to your fellow beings. Your entire science his been perverted to the ends of destruction. Nothing of the sort can be realized by the Selom where truth, justice and mercy prevail. Each of you holds that his form of government is better than the other, and will cause less suffering and misery than the others'. None of you hold out hope of happiness for your fellow beings. I do not know which system is less obnoxious. My decision is made. The Selom will not interfere in the affairs of the upper-earth. You may fight out your battles without aid and without interference.

"I will operate on both Ivan Saranoff and Dr. Bird. I will remove from their minds all knowledge of our science and instruments and leave them in the same condition that they were when they entered my realms. Each of you will then be returned to upper-earth, Ivan Saranoff to Russia, Dr. Bird and Mr. Carnes to the United States. The pilots, whom I hold prisoners, will have their mentalities restored and be returned to their homes. The planes we have captured, I will send off into time so that they can never be used for the misery of upper-earth men again. Jumor, you will carry out these orders."

"I wish I could remember how that time machine was built and operated," said Dr. Bird reflectively, as he sat in his private laboratory in the Bureau of Standards some time later, "but Jumor did his work well. I can't even remember what the thing looked like."

"Well, Doctor, our trip below wasn't a loss. We removed a very real menace to the established order of things and we have got rid of Saranoff temporarily. It will take him some time to return here from Russia."

"Three weeks or less," said Dr. Bird pessimistically. "However, we have gained one other thing. Did you notice this?"

He pulled what looked like a watch from his pocket. Carnes regarded it with a puzzled expression.

"No, Doctor, what is it?"

"It is a very small camera which takes pictures one-half inch by seven-eighths. I had several opportunities to use it. I wasn't sure that it would work on such short waves, but it did. When Saranoff tries to return to this country, he will find that every immigration inspector and every member of the border patrol has an excellent likeness of him. That may hinder his entrance into the country for a little while."

A CLASSIFICATION OF THE UNIVERSE

A classification of everything in the universe, from the smallest thing yet measured, the electron, less than a millionth of a millionth of an inch in extent, to the biggest, a star system of a thousand million trillion miles, was described recently by Prof. Harlow Shapley of Harvard in a lecture at the commerce center of the College of the City of New York.

Looking forward to a time when man will be able to measure even smaller things than the electron and larger than the greatest star system, Prof. Shapley explained that he had left the classification "open at both ends."

Man, Prof. Shapley said, occupies a very small place in all this system, although, beside an electron or an atom, he is not so negligible, at that.

"The survey," it was explained, "aims toward giving perspective. It gives a sane and modest view of man's place in the scheme.

"The significance of the classification lies in the skeleton which is afforded all science to bring some measure of order out of the world's present chaotic knowledge of the systems of various kinds.

"All systems find a place in this synthesis—atoms, comets and galaxies; man, radiation and the space-time complex. When looked at in this objective way, human beings, and all associated terrestrial organisms, appear only parenthetically in one of the subdivisions of the class of colloidal aggregates."

Prof. Shapley discussed the concept of the cosmoplasma.

"This," it was explained, "is at once the most mysterious and fundamental part of the universe, and only recently has come under direct experimental study. In brief, it is the substratum of materials throughout the universe, between planets, stars and the galaxies.

"It has no obvious systematic organization. Hence it includes such diverse constituents as the high speed shooting stars, interstellar calcium gas and radiation itself.

"Though no one has even seen an electron, the smallest thing included in the classification, they have been proved to exist in several ways. They give forth flashes of light that can be photographed. They have caused the bending of X-rays as they pass through a substance."

About HackerNoon Book Series: We bring you the most important technical, scientific, and insightful public domain books. This book is part of the public domain.

Various. 2010. Astounding Stories of Super-Science, August 1931. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/33016/33016-h/33016-h.htm#Page_255

This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org, located at https://www.gutenberg.org/policy/license.html.

react to story with heart
react to story with light
react to story with boat
react to story with money
L O A D I N G
. . . comments & more!