Astounding Stories of Super-Science July 1931: The Exile of Time - Chapter XXI by@astoundingstories

Astounding Stories of Super-Science July 1931: The Exile of Time - Chapter XXI

I found the narrow aperture and stood peering down into darkness. Migul crowded behind me. The red beams of its eyes went down into the pit, and by their faint illumination I saw the heads of Larry and a girl, swimming twenty feet below. The girl's dark hair floated out like black seaweed in the water.
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Astounding Stories of Super-Science July 1931, by Astounding Stories is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. The Exile of Time - Chapter XXI

CHAPTER XXI. The Fight in the Power House

I found the narrow aperture and stood peering down into darkness. Migul crowded behind me. The red beams of its eyes went down into the pit, and by their faint illumination I saw the heads of Larry and a girl, swimming twenty feet below. The girl's dark hair floated out like black seaweed in the water.

"The Princess and the strange man!" exclaimed Migul.

I called, "Larry! Larry!"

His labored voice came up. "George? Thank God! Get us—out of here. Almost—gone, George!"

I found my wits: "Then keep quiet! Don't talk. Save your strength. I'll get you out!"

But how? I could see that they were almost spent, for they were swimming with labored, inefficient strokes—Larry using most of his strength to hold up the exhausted girl. We had not a moment to spare. I wildly contemplated tearing my garments to make a rope.

But Migul pushed me away. "I will bring them. Stand back."

The Robot had opened its metal side and drawn forth a flexible wire with a foot-long hook fastened to it. The wire came smoothly out as though unrolling from a drum.

It leaned into the aperture and called down to Larry. "Fasten this around the Princess. Be careful not to harm her. Put it under her arms."

I saw that there was an eyelet on the wire into which the hook could be inserted to make a loop.

"Under her arms," Migul called. "She will have to hold to the hook with her hands or the wire will cut into her. Has she the strength?"

Larry floundered as he adjusted the wire. Tina gasped. "I—have the strength."

The Robot braced itself, spreading its knees against the aperture with its body leaning forward.

"Ready?" it called.

"Yes," came Larry's voice.

Migul's finger pressed a button at the base of its neck, and with the smooth power of machinery the wire cable rolled into its side. Tina came up; Migul gripped her and pulled her through the aperture; laid her gently on the catwalk. I unfastened the hook, and soon Migul had Larry up with us.

The Robot stood aside, with its work done, silently regarding us. I need not detail this reunion of Larry and me there on the spray-swept catwalk, clinging to the side of the great dam with the foaming Hudson beneath us. Larry and Tina were not injured, and presently their strength partially returned. We hastily sketched what had happened to each of us.

It was Tugh who was the guiding evil genius of all these disasters! Tugh, the exile of Time, the ruthless murderer in many eras! He was here, very probably, in the Power House, a few hundred feet away.

And Tina, regarding that Power House with her returning clarity of senses saw that its sending signal lights were off, which meant that the air-power of the New York District was not being supplied. Help from other cities could not arrive.

Tina stood up waveringly. "We cannot stay here like this!" she said. "Tugh has killed the guards, and is there in control. The electrical defenses are shut off; they must be! The Robots will soon be coming along the top of the dam, for their battery renewers are stored in the Power House. If they get them, this massacre will go on for days!—and spread all over! We've got to stop them! We must get in the Power House and capture Tugh!"

"But we have no weapons!" Larry cried. "And he must have that white-ray, if he has killed the guards!"

"I have a weapon!" I said. I had suddenly recalled the cylinder in my pocket. "I have a white-ray!"

A desperate madness was on us all. The lives of thousands of people who might still be alive on Manhattan were at stake; and other millions would be menaced if these Robots renewed their energy and spread the revolt into other cities.

Over the roar, and the wind lashing us, I shouted:

"I promised Migul I would kill Tugh. I will!"

I turned toward Migul. But the Robot had vanished! Afraid, no doubt, that we would want it to go with us after Tugh, the terrified mechanism was hiding. We wasted no time searching for it.

We had all been half hysterical for these few moments, but we steadied quickly enough as we approached the Power House's lower entrance. The building was a rectangular structure some two hundred feet long. It was fastened upon great brackets to the perpendicular side of the dam and jutted out some fifty feet. It was two levels in height—a total of about forty feet to its flat roof, in the center of which was set a small oval tower. The whole structure was above us now; the catwalk went close underneath it, passing through an arch of the huge supporting brackets and terminating in a small lower platform, with an open spiral staircase leading upward some ten feet into the lower story.

The place seemed dark and deserted as we crept up to it. Gazing above me, I could see the top of the dam, now looming above the Power House. There was a break in the spillway at this point. The arching cascade of water under which the catwalk hung ended here. We came out where there was a vista of the lower Hudson beneath us, showing dimly down past the docklights and skeleton landing stages to the bay.

The sky was visible now and the open wind struck us full. It was a crazy pendulum wind. A storm was breaking overhead. There were flares of lightning and thunder cracks—from disturbed nature, outraged by the temperature changes of the Robot's red and violet rays.

The Power House, so far as we could see, was dark and deserted. Its normal lights were extinguished. Was Tugh in there? It was my weapon against his. The white-ray was new to Tina; we had no way of estimating this cylinder's effective range.

The cylinder of the white-ray which I carried was not the one with which Tugh murdered Harl. Mine was portable, and considerably smaller.

I kept Tina and Larry well behind me. It was a desperate approach, and I was well aware of it. The catwalk now was illumined at intervals by the lightning; Tugh from many points of vantage in the Power House could have seen us and exterminated us with a soundless flash swift as a lightning bolt itself. But we had to chance it.

We reached the small lower platform. The catwalk terminated. The Power House was a roof over us. I stood at the foot of the spiral staircase, which went up through a rectangular opening in the floor. There was a vista of a dark room-segment.

"Keep behind me," I murmured, and I started up. Was Tugh lurking here, waiting for me to raise myself above this opening? If he had been, he could have held his position against a score of assailants.

But he was not. I soon stood breathlessly in a dark metal room. Tina and Larry came up.

"He's not here," I whispered. It was more silent in here: the cascading water was further away from us now. There came a flash of lightning, followed in a few seconds by its accompanying thunder crash.

I started. "What's that?"

On the floor near us lay a gruesome, crumpled thing. I bent over it, waiting for another flash. When one came I saw it was a heap of clothes, covering a white skeleton. By the garments Tina knew it was one of the guards.

We crept into a small interior corridor where a small light was burning. The remains of two other guards lay here, close by the doorway as though they had come running at Tugh's alarm, only to be struck down.

It was horribly gruesome, here in the dimness with these bleached bones which had been living men so recently. And it was nerve-breaking to know that Tugh was doubtless here somewhere.

"Listen!" whispered Tina.

There was a crackling sound overhead, and then the blurred murmur of a voice. An audible broadcasting transmitter was in operation.

"It's in the tower," said Tina swiftly. "Tugh must be there."

This was an infinite relief. We went to the top story, passing, unheeding, another crumpled heap. Again we stood listening. The transmitter was hissing and spluttering, and then shouting its magnified human voice out into the night. It was Tugh up there. He was calling audibly to his Robots, with words which would be relayed upon all the local magnifiers in the city. Between the thunder cracks we heard him plainly now.

"This is your Master Tugh in the Power House. Robots, we are triumphant! The city is isolated! No help can get in! Kill all humans! Spare none! This night sees the end of human rule!"

And again: "When you want renewal, come along the top roadway of the dam. The electric defenses are off. You can come, and I have your renewers here. I have new batteries, new strength for you Robots!"

Tugh had been in the Power House before. He knew the operations of its various controls. But he had come always by the surface route; he had heard of the existence of the secret tunnel, but had never before this night been able to find out where it was.

"You stay here," I told Tina and Larry; "I'll go up there. I'll get him now once and for all."

I reached the Power House roof. The storm tore at me. It was beginning to rain. I was near the outer edge of the roof, and ten feet away stood the oval tower. I saw windows twenty feet up, with dim lights in them. Mingled with the storm was the hiss of the transmitter in the top of the tower, and the roar of Tugh's magnified voice. He had evidently been there only a brief time. From where I crouched on the roof, I could see overhead, along the top edge of the dam looming above me. The red Robot rays were everywhere in the city, but none as yet showed along the dam's upper roadway.

I got into the tower and mounted its small stairs. Creeping cautiously to the entrance of the control room, I saw a fairly large, dimly lighted oval apartment. Great banks of levers stood around it; tables of control apparatus; rows of dials, illumined by tiny lights like staring eyes. There was another gruesome heap of garments here on the floor; a grinning white skull leered at me.

This was the main control room of the Power House. Across it, near an open window, Tugh sat with his back to me, bent over a table with the grid of a microphone before him. I raised my cylinder; then lowered it, for I had only a partial view of him: a huge transformer stood like a barrier between us.

Noiselessly I stepped over the threshold, and to one side within the room. The place was a buzz and hiss of sound topped by Tugh's broadcast voice and the roar of the storm outside—yet he was instantly aware of me! His voice in the microphone abruptly stopped; he rose and with an incredibly swift motion whirled and flung at me a heavy metal weight which had been lying on the table by his hand. The missile struck my outstretched weapon just as I was aiming it to fire, and the cylinder, undischarged, was knocked from my hand and went spinning across the floor several feet away from me.

Tugh, like an uncoiling spring, still with one continuous motion, made a leap sidewise to where his own weapon was lying on a bench, and I saw he would reach it before I could retrieve mine.

I flung my heavy battery box but missed him. And as I rushed at him he caught up his cylinder and fired it full at me! But no flash came: only a click. He had exhausted its charge when he killed the Power House guards. With a curse he flung it at my face, and my arm took its blow just as I struck him. We fell gripping each other, and rolled on the floor.

I was aware that Larry and Tina had followed me up. Larry shouted, "Look out for him, George!"

I have described Larry's hand-to-hand encounter with the cripple; mine was much the same; I was a child in his grip. But with his weapon useless, and Larry rushing into the room, Tugh must have felt that for all his strength and fighting skill he would be worsted in this encounter. He blocked a jab of my fist, flung me headlong away and sprang to his feet just as Larry leaped at him.

I stood erect, to see that he had sent Larry crashing to the floor. I heard his sardonic laugh as he hurled a metal stool at Tina, who was trying to throw something at him. Then, turning, he sprang through the open window casement and disappeared.

It was twenty feet down to the roof. We reached the window to see Tugh picking himself up unhurt. Then, with his awkward gait but at amazing speed, he ran across the roof to a small entrance in the face of the dam where an interior staircase gave access to the roadway on top.

He was escaping us. The electrical gate was open to him. It was only a few hundred feet along the dam roadway to that gate; and beyond it the roadway was open into the city, where now we could see the distant flashing lights of the Robots advancing along the dam.

Larry and I would have rushed to the roof to follow Tugh, but Tina checked us. She said:

"No—he has too great a start. He's on top by now, and it's only a short distance to the gate. There's a better way here: I can electrify the gate again—trap him inside."

There was a similar gate and wall-barrier at the Jersey entrance to the dam, and both gates operated together. The nearby Jersey section was, is still, an agricultural district save for a few landing stages for the great airliners. The robots had spread into Jersey; but since few humans were there, with only Robot agriculturists working the section, the unimportant Jersey events have not figured in my narrative.

Tina found the gate controls. But they would not operate!

Those precious lost seconds, with Tugh running along the top of the dam and his Robots advancing to join him!

"Tina, hurry!" I cried. Larry and I bent anxiously over her, but the levers meant nothing to us. There were lost seconds while she desperately fumbled, and Larry pleaded:

"Tina, dear, what's the matter?"

"He must have ripped out a wire to make sure of getting away. I—I must find it. Everything seems all right."

A minute gone. Surely Tugh would have reached the gate by now. Or, worse, the Robots would have come through, and would assail us here.

"Tina!" pleaded Larry, "don't get excited. Take it calmly: you can find the trouble."

I rushed to the window. I could see the upper half of the cross wall gate-barrier. It jutted above the top edge of the dam from the point of vision. On the Manhattan side I saw the oncoming Robot lights. And then suddenly I made out a light on this side of the barrier; it marked Tugh; it must have been a beam signal he was carrying. It moved slowly, retarded by distance, but it was almost to the gate; and then it reached there.

"He's gone through!" I called. Then I saw him on the land side. He had escaped us and joined the Robots. The lights showed them all coming for the gate.

And then Tina abruptly found the loosened wire.

"I have it!" she exclaimed.

She stood up, tugging with all her strength at the great switch-lever. I saw, up there on the top of the dam, a surge of sparks as the current hissed into the wall-barrier; saw the barrier glow a moment and then subside. And presently the lights of the balked Robots, Tugh with them, retreated back into the wrecked and blood-stained city.

"We did it!" exclaimed Larry. "We're impregnable here. Tina, now the air-power, for help may be on its way. And then call some other city. Can you do that? They must have sent us help by now."

I n a moment the air-power went on, and the city lighting system. Then Tina was at the great transmitter. As she closed the circuits, London was frantically calling us. In the midst of the chaos of electrical sounds which now filled the control room, came the audible voice of the London operator.

"I could not get you because your circuit was broken," it said. "Our air-vessel Micrad; bearing the large projector of the Robot-deranger, landed on the ocean surface two hundred miles from New York harbor. It was forced down when your district air-power failed."

Tina said hurriedly, "Our air-power is on now. Is the Micrad coming?"

"Wait. Hold connection. I will call them." And after a moment's pause the London voice came again: "The Micrad is aloft again, and should be over New York in thirty minutes. You are safe enough now."

As the voice clicked off Tina's emotion suddenly overcame her. "Safe enough! And our city red with human blood!"

A wild thought abruptly swept me. Mary Atwood was back there in the cavern, alone, waiting for me to return! Subconsciously, in the rush of these tumultuous events, my mind had always been on her; she was secure enough, no doubt, locked in that room. But now Tugh was back in the city, and realizing that his cause was lost he would return to her!

I hastily told Larry and Tina.

"But he cannot open the door to get into her," said Larry.

But Migul could open the door. Where was Migul now? It set me shuddering.

We decided to rush back by the underground route. The Power House could remain unattended for a time. We got down into the tunnel and made the trip without incident. We ran to the limit of Tina's strength, and then for a distance I carried her. We were all three panting and exhausted when we came to the corridors under the palace. I think I have never had so shuddering an experience as that trip. I tried to convince myself that nothing could have happened to Mary, that all this haste was unnecessary, but the wild thought persisted: Where was Migul?

A group of officials stood in one of the palace's lower corridors. As they came hastily up to Tina, I suddenly had a contempt for these men who governed a city in which neither they nor anyone else did any work. In this time of bloodshed, all these inmates of the palace had stayed safely within its walls, knowing that it was well fortified and that within a few hours help would doubtless come.

"The Micrad is coming with the long-range deranger," Tina told them briefly. After a moment they hastened away upstairs and I heard one of them shouting:

"The revolt is over! Within an hour we will have all the accursed Robots inert. The Micrad can sweep all the city with her ray!"

The death of Alent, the guard in the tunnel to the Robot cavern, had been discovered by the palace officials, and another guard was there now in his place. Migul had not passed him, this guard told us. But there had been an interim when the gate was open. Had Migul returned here and gone back to Mary?

We reached the cavern of machinery. It was dim and deserted, as before. We came to the door of Mary's room. It was standing half open!

Mary was gone! The couch was overturned, with its coving and pillows strewn about. The room showed every evidence of a desperate struggle. On the floor the great ten-foot length of Migul lay prone on its back. A small door-porte in its metal side was open; the panel hung awry on hinges half ripped away. From the aperture a coil and grid dangled half out in the midst of a tangled skein of wires.

We bent over the Robot. It was not quite inert. Within its metal shell there was a humming and a faint, broken rasping. The staring eye-sockets showed wavering beams of red; the grid of tiny wires back of the parted lips vibrated with a faint jangle.

I bent lower. "Migul, can you hear me?" I asked.

Would it respond? My heart sent a fervent prayer that this mechanical thing—the product of man's inventive genius through a thousand years—would have a last grasp of energy to answer my appeal.

"Migul, can you—"

It spoke. "I hear you." They were thin, jangled tones, crackling and hissing with interference.

"What happened, Migul? Where is the girl?" I asked.

"Tugh—did this—to me. He took the girl."

"Where? Migul, where did he take her? Do you know?"

"Yes. I—have it recorded that he said—they were going to the Time-cage—overhead in the laboratory. He said—they—he and the girl were leaving forever!"

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