AUTHOR OF: ‘THE THIEVES FROM ISTOT,’ ‘DAWN TO DUSK,’ ETC.
Bullo found it hard to be optimistic, as was his natural state, for both of his companions were in the very depths of despair. Dos-Tev, deposed prince of Lemnis, sat upon the metal bench along one wall so apathetically that he might have been the model for a study in dejection. As for Mea-Quin, his aged face lined and seamed by the many trials they had recently gone thru, his quick, nervous pace up and down the room bespoke futile rage and despondency. And Bullo himself cast his eyes about their tiny metal prison with no windows and but one securely-locked door, and felt his heart down near his toes.
Mea-Quin broke a long, heart-breaking silence: “It has all come to this! A three year trip and over thru space, concerted efforts that finally gave us contact with the peoples of the solar system, a chance to give Ay-Artz a royal welcome with a powerful fighting armada – and then the Wrongness of Space steps in and in one moment spoils it all! May Tor damn him, and may his soul, if he has one, be consigned to Kruaz – that being who calls himself Krzza of Lxyfa! And may the evil gods of every dimension in the universe tear him to shreds—”
Mea-Quin stopped his tirade and spluttered into silence as a hand touched his shoulder. It was Dos-Tev, his face beseeching, hopeful.
“Perhaps – perhaps the various officers of the different fleets of the solar system will be suspicious of those plotted courses sent by the Wrongness of Space in your name. Oh, if we could only know that they were, and that they would be safe. I would die in peace then, knowing that Ay-Artz would be defeated, thru our carried-on efforts.”
“Ayhuu, Dos-Tev,” returned the Lemnisian scientist. “If only that could be. But I fear that the various fleets, eager to get into action, will sweep along those false and treacherous courses given by our enemy, and realize only too late their danger. By Tor, it is tormenting to think of it – the Third Planet fleet dashing sunward; the Eighth Planet’s ship flying into the maw of Jupiter’s flaming and deadly Red Spot; the dreadnaughts of Mars—“
But Mea-Quin did not have to repeat for them the list of dooms for each of the fleets, for the Wrongness of Space, laughing hellishly, had itemized it for them in malicious detail before he had had them thrown into their present cell in his other-dimensional palace at the bottom of Copernicus.
“Ayhuu, a depressing outlook for the future of the solar system,” agreed Dos-Tev, sinking again to his seat on the hard, cold bench, “the arch-tyrant, Ay-Artz, will arrive in a few days. The Wrongness of Space will greet him, and the two gloating evil-doers will sweep out into an unprotected system of worlds, and there will be none to stop them.”
Bullo, who had listened in silence, involuntarily clenched his fists. His hatred for Ay-Artz was second in degree only to his love for his Prince, and his love for Dos-Tev was infinite.
Unable to remain quiet, the giant Lemnisian came to his feet and tried again, as he had tried already a dozen times, to batter down the door of their prison with his mighty body, but in vain. It was solid metal, probably inches thick, and Dos-Tev pulled him away, shaking his head.
As tho his blows against the obstacle were a signal, the door suddenly swung open and all three turned in surprise to see standing there one of the helpers of the Wrongness of Space. The huge green beast leered at them evilly, and raised his claw-like hand, beckoning them to follow.
“I wonder,” asked Mea-Quin, “what this can mean. Ayhuu – I fear it may be our last—“
Dos-Tev gripped his arm fiercely, whispering in his ear. “Here is a chance to fight for our liberty. Bullo will lead. When he jumps at the guard, you rush past.”
“But—“ with the word of remonstrance on his lips Mea-Quin saw it was too late to stop them. Already Bullo had stepped out the door, closely followed by Dos-Tev, who fairly trembled in eagerness. The guard had backed to the wall of the corridor and watched them come out, seemingly careless. But when Bullo made a sudden sideward leap, there came a lurid violet flash and the brawny Lemnisian stumbled. Dos-Tev, despite the old scientist’s sudden cry, who saw how hopeless it was, sprang also, to be met by a similar burst of eye-searing radiance from the black tube in the guard’s hand.
The green man glanced at the two bodies lying paralyzed at his feet and pointed the black tube at Mea-Quin menacingly. Then seeing that the scientist stood still and had no thought of attacking, he turned it away. From his belt he extracted another tube, a bright scarlet in color, he sprayed a soft amber light over the fallen Lemnisians and a moment later they arose, chastened and sheepish of face.
The guard tossed his head down the corridor, an unmistakable signal to move on, and stepped behind them. Without another word, deflated in spirit by their sudden and utter defeat, Bullo and Dos-Tev strode down the hallway, and Mea-Quin followed, his sad eyes yet more sad.
The Wrongness of Space, a being so like a man and yet so different in character, awaited them on his throne of black stone. He leered at the three prisoners triumphantly.
Mea-Quin met his red-flecked, tawny eyes – the eyes of a beast of prey – unflinchingly. “So, tyrant from an alien dimension, this I suppose is our last hour of life. Well, have done with it, by Tor, that we may not be forced to bear longer your nauseous presence.”
Daring words for a prisoner to speak, but the green demon seemed to disregard the insult, and instead broke into a shrilling of insane mirth. “Being doomed,” he radiated by telepathy, “you hope for a quick and sudden death. I have other plans.”
The Lemnisians shivered at the ominous implication.
The green being went on: “But let us put that matter aside for a moment. I wish at present to satisfy your scientific curiosity regarding inter-dimensional travel. There are many separate universes of three dimensions, so many that even my mind reels at the thought. They lie separate from one another, yet so close thru an arbitrary fourth dimension, that to one who has solved the riddle, as I have, it is a simple matter to visit them. Yet they are not all parallel, in a manner of speaking, to one another. Some of them overlap in one dimension, some in two, but generally the overlapping is somewhere in the reaches of their respective spatial voids, so that only an occasional space ship warps unwittingly from one universe to another by blundering thru the overlap.
“To make it clearer, use the analogy of two-dimensional world – planes of existence, in short – which may lie like leaved about one another, touching here and there. The over-lapping of two-dimensional worlds would be a line; the overlapping of three-dimensional worlds are plane surfaces. The over-lapping of four-dimensional universes – which you can readily see is hypothetical – would be volumes, or block spaces. However, the space between three dimensional worlds – which in turn is one dimension of another universe – is actually a fourth dimension. And it has proved very useful to me, this little knowledge.
“I escaped from my own universe, hounded by enemies, and cast my eyes about for some alien existence in which I might become a ruler, for my talent and nature will have nothing less.”
The yellow, panther-eyes of the green giant gleamed fanatically as he went on: “The power which enables me to traverse the fourth dimension, enclosed in this little device run by ultra-atomic energy, is a terrific magnetic strain that can radiate along only a certain axis opposed to the three dimensions. Imagine your Flatlander. He has a strain-producer which when turned parallel to his two-dimensional world is a motive force. When turned at right angles to his world, it is a force that pushes him up or down – i.e. into the third dimension. Or in analogy with our world, the fourth dimension.
“But no ordinary energy is powerful enough to do such a miraculous thing. Rocket-power, atomic power, the enormous powers of planetary momentum – all are inadequate. It requires a special form of energy greater than those. It is not the quantity of the power that counts, but the quality. If must be instantaneous confined power, like the sharp snap that breaks a cord which will resist much greater steady pulling, or like the quick blow that chips rock where applied pressure will not harm it.”
The Wrongness of Space was obviously bragging. Was showing off his great knowledge of things no one else knew. He went on, like a lecturer:
“I have visited many strange universes in my search for one suitable to my plans. Some are maddeningly distorted to our perspective, filled with horrific, unnamable things, shuddery things. Others are similar to this one of yours, which happens to be a great deal like my former home-world. In some the passing of time is greatly accelerated or slowed. I spent but a seeming minute in one universe to find myself ten year past the date of departure.
“However, my travels are over. Your solar system is ideally suited to my schemes. It is ripe for the plucking. Ay-Artz will do the preliminary work for me and then I will step in and become absolute emperor. As for Ay-Artz – he will… die!”
With a crescendo of maniacal laughter that betoken a mind whose sanity had long since departed, the green giant gloated on: “From the solar system I shall branch out. All the nearer stars shall become part of my empire! With my means of instantaneous transportation via the fourth dimension, I can conquer system after system and hold them all under my omnipotent rule!”
The Lemnisians started. Krzza of Lyxfa showed himself in his true colors, a despot of despots. A creature without a universe, ready to swoop vulture-like on a fair system of worlds, destroying all opposition. Beside him, Ay-Artz dwindled as a tyrant. This maniac was their worst and most dangerous foe.
A maniac, but dangerous. A mind insane, but holding the key to immense power. His mental warp would prove only a greater scourge to the peoples who would soon feel his iron fist.
Thus confronted with the true picture of what the future held in store for intelligent life in the universe, the three Lemnisians gasped in utter dismay.
“Ayhuuu!” croaked Mea-Quin hoarsely. “It is Krauz personified that speaks to us!”
Dos-Tev set his lips firmly to keep from shouting denunciations at the monstrous green other-dimensional creature with such utterly gross ambitions. Bullo stood motionless, completely stunned by things he could not grasp as readily as his masters.
Suddenly the Wrongness of Space arose from his throne.
“As for yourselves, I have a special way of destroying those who cross my path. You creatures from Lemnis fomented resistance to Ay-Artz, thus delaying me. Hear your doom!
“There is a special universe totally removed from this one wherein there is a world inhabited by awesome creatures defying description. They will make short work of you. You will be transported there in your space suits, fully armed. Perhaps with your gamma bombs, and force-plane projector you will stave off destruction long enough to become gibbering idiots at the terrors of that world. You, Mea-Quin, are a great scientist – ah, yet, a great scientist. But in that world you will be as helpless as a naked child. There you are sentenced to go by the order of Krzza, Emperor of the Universe!”
Perhaps the spine twisting laugh emitted by the Wrongness of Space made the Lemnisians shudder more that the approach of a terrible doom.
“Just one word, Krzza,” cried Mea-Quin, cutting short the mad creature’s laugh. “Somewhere, somehow, sometime, you will be tripped up. You have great powers, but they are not infinite. The race we come from, and the peoples of the universe, are not the kind to let tyranny long exist. You will fail—“
“Brave words,” radiated the Wrongness of Space with mental sarcasm. “Maybe they will comfort you when you face the unmentionable horrors of your doom.”
The first impression the Lemnisians had of the world on which Krzza marooned them was one of prickling, abysmal fear. Almost as tho it were a material entity, soul-sickening, enervating, crushing fear weighed them down. It was a terrible handicap from the first, as it inspired them almost to fall down and grovel in abject misery and dread of – they knew not what.
They faced each other in a thick fog of swirling yellow vapors, standing on crumbly, barren ground, and took heart in seeing slung on each other’s belt a gamma bomb and a force-place projector. With the latter instrument, they should be immune from physical harm till the atomic valves burned out, which would not be for many hours.
Mea-Quin spoke first, his voice vibrating in the headphones of his friends. “The Wrongness of Space has given me much food for thought with his lecture on dimensions.”
“Food for thought?” queried Dos-Tev, amazed. “What good will that do us, stranded here on an unknown world in an unknown universe!”
“Ayhuu! There are certain things—“
“I like this not,” came the voice of Bullo. “Creatures – whatever and wherever they are – could attack only too easily in this gloom.”
Both Dos-Tev and Mea-Quin opened their mouths to speak, but no words came forth as a fresh wave of that indefinable sensation of stark terror, like a wave of an etheric tide, swept over them, setting them all atremble. Then, of a sudden, they were fighting for their lives.
Figures loomed up in the xanthic mists all around them; horrid, frightening shapes of nightmare appearance. With a silence and intentness that was hideous they leaped upon the marooned men with multiple slavering jaws and powerful talons. Queerly angular in shape, they moved with rheumatic clumsiness, and from various vents in their crystalline hides puffed smoky vapors.
Bullo’s force-plane projector was already in action, smiting the nightmare monsters with irresistible blows and volatilizing them wherever the fan-rays struck fullest. Dos-Tev and Mea-Quin then joined in the slaughter, and by common instinct they formed a triangle facing outward, this protecting their backs. In unending waves the monsters advanced, scrambling over the bulwark of mutilated bodies that quickly ringed the three Lemnisians. Minutes passed and they began to perspire from the exertion of swinging the appreciably heavy projectors in an arc of 120 degrees to prevent any beast from getting within striking distance.
“Metallic beings,” gasped Mea-Quin, his scientific nature asserting itself even in the heat of battle. “Crystalloid creatures whose body processes run at furnace heat. Tor help us if one of them gets close enough to rake us with teeth or talons; they would shear us like a knife!”
Smoking and fuming like the combustion engines they were in reality, the hideous monsters swept upon them, seemingly unknowing of fear. The hills of ringed bodies became higher and broader. It became increasingly more dangerous as the beasts could run up behind and suddenly clamber over almost upon them.
“Not the normal killing or food instinct,” gasped Mea-Quin, his keen brain recording facts even with death in his face. “This is something – greater. The ultra-hatred of alien creatures who sense we are intruders from a distant world. Or perhaps – it is something we cannot even understand.”
“Save your – breath!” admonished Dos-Tav. “Knowledge cannot help us now.”
“To the glory and honor of Lemnis!” suddenly came from Bullo. “And may Kruaz some day be the torment of that Wrongness of Space!”
A gamma bomb arced up gracefully and fell full upon the advancing hordes of fire-breathing monsters, to rain all about the place a crystalline mass of debris.
Dos-Tev knew they could not hold out much longer. The unending stream of metalloid, glinting pyro-creatures, the very spawn of an earthly hell, showed no signs of backing down. The young prince, with a prayer to Tor on his lips, swung his force-plane projector wherever blood-shot eyes saw movement. Suddenly a gigantic figure loomed over the bodies of slain beasts and tumbled at him. The projector ray severed part of trunk, but with amazing vitality the monster reached down an incredibly long claw arm and raked his talons at the man. Dos-Tev felt a violent concussion that threw him bodily against the trunk of another dead beast. It was like being rammed by a cannon-ball and then thrown up against a steel wall. Dos-Tev felt a blackness come over him and he resigned his soul to Tor.
But he was not dead, and came to consciousness finding himself supported by Bullo in a sitting position.
“Dos-Tev! Wake up,” the anguished face of Bullo came to him, “the beasts have gone temporarily! We are free!”
The prince of Lemnis shook his head, which ached throbbingly, and looked up to see Mea-Quin busily taking apart his projector.
“The awful punishment we wreaked on them,” went on Bullo, overjoyed at seeing his beloved prince conscious and unharmed, “finally beat them back, thank Tor, and I fear none too soon. Seeing you fly off your feet from the blow of that long-armed demon, it seemed an example of what would soon happen to all of us. Then quite suddenly, as I leaped to protect your fallen body, I found nothing before the sweep of my rays.”
Dos-Tev struggled to his feet with the help of Bullo. “Ayhuu, that was a hearty blow, but my bones are sound and the space suit must be yet intact or I would not be breathing.”
“You would be breathing,” supplemented Mea-Quin, “but the gasses filling your lungs would quickly bring asphyxiation. Those crystalline pyro-creatures exhaust probably the same products as combustion engines, including carbon monoxide.”
Even now as they looked around, they saw numerous puffs of smoky vapors issuing from carbon blackened vents amongst the monsters who were wounded but not yet dead. Here and there steel-like claws attached to thin piston rod arms yet moved spasmodically. Dos-Tev shuddered. What fearsome creatures, embodying the enormous strength and power of machinery with its practical indestructibility. Any ordinary weapon would have been laughably inadequate against their numberless might. Only the giant powered force-plane projector, designed to wipe out space ships and capable of volatilizing even meteors, had saved them from instant annihilation.
“And you,” said Dos-Tev, turning to Mea-Quin, “what are you doing?”
Busily, almost frantically, Mea-Quin was engaged with the inside of his projector. “You remember,” returned the scientist, still panting from the exertions of battle, “I said the Wrongness of Space had given me food for thought with what he told us of dimension-traveling.”
“But what are you doing tampering with one of our weapons?” queried the prince, puzzled. “Tor help us if the beasts attack again while we have only two projectors in use.”
Mea-Quin’s voice came back anguished. “Ayhuu, gods forbid that happen! Our only hope is that they give us long enough respite that I may finish this. Bullo, do you go to the top of that heap of bodies, the highest point, and keep a weather eye open for attack. But wait – first give me your projector.”
Bullo left obediently and Dos-Tev, sensing that the scientist was working out something important with the projectors, watched avidly as Mea-Quin extracted the atomic valve unit with its precious vial of radioactive material from Bullo’s weapon and held it in his gauntleted fingers.
“Bullo!” call the scientist. “Is all clear around us?”
The giant Lemnisian, perched astride the twisted body of a beast atop a fuming heap of devastated monsters, looked carefully around thru the eddying fogs of amber that seemed an integral part of this queer world. “I see none of the beasts, Sire. Yet they may be no more than five hundred yards away, what with this thrice damned yellow fog to obscure the landscape.”
“We will have to take a chance,” muttered Mea-Quin. “If only I had my hands free! – this way, with these clumsy gauntlets, it may take fifteen minutes. Dos-Tev, give me the atomic valve of your weapon.”
“Now we are completely at their mercy,” said the prince. “You are making, I suppose, a triple-powered projector with completely circling rays?”
“No. More than that. I am preparing a means of escape from this world – from this universe!”
The prince gasped. Mea-Quin went on: “I must concentrate on this work now. Forgive me if I withhold explanation till after it is done and proves its worth – or uselessness.”
For long minutes the greatest scientist of Lemnis pecked with clumsy, but sure, metal-meshed fingers at the inner mechanism of the projector, inserting in the one casing both power-units of his companions’ weapons. It was a trying ordeal, as they could not know but what any moment the ferocious, nightmare monsters might again charge upon them. Bullo, most endangered of all, fidgeted uneasily and more than once almost cried a warning as the writhing vapors seemed to darken with dreaded shapes. But they were tricks of his apprehensive eyes.
Finally Mea-Quin straightened from his labors. “It is done! Pray Tor it succeeds as I hope it to. Now I will explain. The Wrongness of Space in his arrant boasting, unwittingly revealed to me the secret of fourth dimensional travel. Like a flash is came to me. Perhaps he underestimated my scientific understanding.” He smiled grimly to himself. On far off Lemnis the science of Mea-Quin was almost proverbial. “Anyway, you remember his statement that a certain force, applied in a certain way, can cast the matter in its vicinity from its normal three dimensions into a fourth and therefore into a different dimensional universe. Even when you, Dos-Tev, with the latnem thought isolation helmet, conceived and built the first projector at the nose of our ship, I had a faint glimmering there that the ray-force it produced was singular in its properties. Its ability to produce anarchy of motion, dissipate momentum as radiation, and release the kinetic energy of crystalline matter is—“
“I see, I see!” the prince burst in. “The very elements of dimension transmutation! Long suspected in Lemnisian science, and here at our fingertips. But wait! It is still only a destructive force unless applied as a warping strain in the ether. How will we do that? Krzza knows the secret, but—“
“Ah, but we do!” interrupted Mea-Quin. “That too came to me in a flash of understanding. The Flatlander analogy – if in Flatland this sort of energy which can reorganize matter were applied at right angles to their plane of existence, it becomes a force capable of throwing its possessor out of his normal dimensions. If we, in turn, can apply this projector’s energy out of our normal three dimensions—“
“And how will that be done?” asked the prince hopelessly. “To us there is no conception of any but three dimensions as far as our senses indicate. It is the big obstacle to our duplicating the Wrongness of Space’s maneuvers in the fourth dimension.”
“Ayhuu, what he can do, we can do. Look at the ground beneath our feet. Is it soil? No. No plant grows, no grass. It is not siliceous matter, but metallic! Ideal for our purpose.”
“I see again!” answered the prince. “If the projector is buried nose down in this richly metallic soil, its ray will meet such sudden opposition that it will produce the very ether strain we desire.”
“And all the matter within its influence, which will be for yards, would then be thrown out, erupted one might say, into the fourth dimension. That is, if our force is powerful enough. We have depleted the atomic valves a great deal in our battle. The oscillator tube has blackened dangerously. It is but a gamble—“
“But a gamble we must take,” supplied the prince calmly. “Here we are faced with eventual doom, whereas—“
“Sires!” the voice of Bullo sounded ominously excited in their earphones, “they come! I see masses looming in the distance!”
“Bullo, come and come quickly.”
By the Bullo had reached them, Dos-Tev had dug a hole in the hard ground with the handle of one of the discarded projector cases, and Mea-Quin quickly buried the triple powered projector with only its handle and levers protruding.
How crude and futile it looked as an instrument that should whisk them into the fourth dimension, yet the three Lemnisians hovered around it eagerly, holding hands and belts, like lost creatures warming themselves over tiny fire. Hardly had they set themselves and mumbled prayers for success than the vanguard of the attackers shoved fearsome, vaporing heads and gargantuan talons over the rampart of their dead fellows.
Mea-Quin shoved over the lever viciously. In an instant they would know escape or sudden death.
Dos-Tev saw a dragon-like monster rush at him with slavering jaws, flames darting from blackened nostrils. Great claws reached for him, swung hissingly toward his face. Then, like the closing of a door, the vision disappeared. There was a moment of intense pain; every nerve cried aloud. His body seemed in the center of a grist-mill. Then came a violent wrench that all but jerked his grip loose from Mea-Quin’s belt. His eyes closed in giddiness, and then opened when the welcome voice of the scientist drummed to his ears.
“We made it! Ayhuu, Tor be praised!”
“But – but this is not our universe!” cried Dos-Tev, opening his eyes to see a strange firmament, whose sparse stars gleamed with strange hues.
“Indeed not,” agreed Mea-Quin calmly. “The Wrongness of Space isolated us in a universe many times removed, so to speak, from ours.”
“Then what good has our escape from the monsters done us? Here we are isolated in the void of an alien world!”
“Have patience and hope,” returned Mea-Quin unperturbedly. There was a note of exultation in his voice. The feat of traversing the fourth dimension was a balm to his scientific soul, even tho his lot might be no better than before. “Notice,” he continued, “that along with us came a good section of the metallic earth of the monster world, as I foresaw. We have but to repeat the process and project ourselves into another universe and then another and then another, till, if Tor be with us, we shall find our own. Our apparatus is not as refined and trustworthy as that of the Wrongness of Space, but it will do the trick, nevertheless.”
“That means then, sire,” interposed Bullo, “that we are like mariners on an uncharted sea, skipping from island to island in search of our homeland.”
“Exactly, Bullo. Now hold tight; we go again.”
The stars suddenly swam before their eyes and winked out. Again the terrific wrench that betokened their passage from one dimension to another beat at their bodies with material tortures and at their minds with throbbing oscillations. Dos-Tev opened his eyes hopefully, only to see an alien sky again, this time with fiery stars set in numberless clouds of wispy vapor. It was a young universe, strewn with star forming nebulae.
“It is but a gamble,” muttered Mea-Quin, again flicking the controls of the projector still buried in a mighty mass of earth that had come with them from the monster-world. A flaming sun smote their eyes suddenly and not many thousands of miles away floated a ball of iridescent colors. Without delay the scientist caused themselves to be wrenched away from the powerful radiations that well-nigh blinded them, into the next universe.
In the soft blackness of a universe that was empty save for evanescent shimmerings of ghost-light, Mea-Quin allowed them a breathing spell. Their bodies ached in every joint and their brains reeled with pin-fires of shock. It was not pleasant, jumping from dimension to dimension. Something in the process was inimical to health and well-being. They floated in the void gasping and spent.
A few minutes later – or was it hours? – Dos-Tev broke the depressing silence: “It is indeed a great gamble, Mea-Quin. For think once, if we once reach our own universe, reason forbids that we will arrive at the same spot from which we left. Perhaps we will find ourselves in the void of our universe, far from any planet, doomed to float till our air tanks empty themselves!”
“Ayhuu – a great gamble,” agreed Mea-Quin. “But what would you – that we stayed with the monster creatures and tried to tame their alien natures of fire?”
Again the soul-shaking wrench of dimensions – and again and again. Each time their eyes opened hopefully – and each time misted in intense chagrin. Were they perhaps wandering in such a course that they would never reach their own universe?
Trouble came upon them like rain. Bullo’s air supply thinned and only quick action saved his life. But the faulty air-valves were fast approaching uselessness. Dos-Tev’s belt ripped suddenly and he ballooned out. After that a tiny leak kept his air-supply erratic, so that he had to let it pump to his lungs faster. Portions of the all-important mass of earth broke off and seeped away. The projector grew hot and melted off part of its tip; if more melted away, there would be complications. Mea-Quin fainted once from the strain and they began to fear his old body might succumb to the repeated wrenchings. But with indomitable spirit they disregarded their tribulations. Altho little had been said between them, each knew that perhaps on them rested the fate of the universe. Ay-Artz and the still more fearsome and mad Krzza – they three, lost in the mazes of alien dimensions, alone held the key to their defeat.
Seven more times they jerked through fourth dimensions, feeling their endurance rapidly ebb away. Then, of a sudden, their eyes opened wide and their hearts bounded fiercely. Instead of queer, distorted visions of strange, alien universes, they saw the stars and nebulae of – their own universe! With sighs of joy that were far more expressive than shouts would have been, they drank in the sight of familiar firmaments.
“Home! – home at last!” sobbed Mea-Quin brokenly.
“Ayhuu! It is home, even to be in the spaces of our own three familiar dimensions,” cried Dos-Tev.
“But Sires!” Bullo’s voice broke in dejectedly. “Look – where are we; somewhere in the vast interstellar space between suns?”
It was dishearteningly so, it seemed. What good, after all, to be ‘home’, and yet marooned without a space ship in the void?
Then, like a burst of heavenly glory, the sunlight bathed them as their little world of metallic earth slowly rotated to bring them into view of what had been previously blocked from their vision. And with the sight of the sun, they saw something else – the moon, earth’s satellite, looming large and friendly in space.
“Unbelievable!” breathed Mea-Quin. That we are so close to the point of leaving. Why, we cannot be more than a radius away. Ayhuu – already the moon’s gravity draws us; we are descending upon it.”
“Just what did you expect!” asked Dos-Tev curiously.
“I would have expected being displaced in the void far more than this,” replied Mea-Quin thoughtfully. “The relative motions of the universes on their own axes – why did they not displace us? In each separate universe we visited, we must have been thrown first this way and that, and why should fate be so kind as to drop us off so near to the spot of leaving? There is something in this I do not grasp. Ayhuu – I suppose Krzza could explain.”
Dos-Tev bent down and yanked the projector from the soil. “All musing aside, we have the immediate problem of landing on the moon safely, to consider. The force-plane will have to be elongated into a beam to act as a brake to our fall. Can we do it, Mea-Quin?”
They all smiled at this. They who had just accomplished a hazardous journey thru alien dimensions and universes – what was a mere landing on a planet with such a versatile instrument as the force plane projector.
While their tiny planetoid rotated slowly, gravitating in spirals in the grip of the moon, Mea-Quin ran a series of mathematical calculations thru his keen mind and gave the results to Dos-Tev, who memorized them. While traversing the immense reach of space between Alpha Centauri and the solar system they had trained themselves in space mechanics in those three years, so that all but the most complicated problems of spatial maneuvering had become as ABC to them. An hour’s tinkering with the projector and it had become a molecular brake, altering the powerful gravity of the moon so that it pulled them obliquely. This would eventually evolve into an orbit around the moon as they drew near.
“It is relatively simple,” concluded Mea-Quin. “Following our formulae closely the orbit will spiral us to a tangent touching the moon at, or very near Copernicus. No doubt we will land rather abruptly, even with the full power of the projector softening our fall. In about forty hours we will be there.”
They then partook of several food tablets, drank of the water supply in their separate suits, and took turns sleeping during the long time it took for them to fall close to the moon’s surface.
In the jet darkness of the Crater Copernicus, the three Lemnisians talked over their predicament, not that they were once more within reach of their enemy, the Wrongness of Space. They had landed with a rather violent jar a few minutes before, due to the faultiness of the over-used projector. Their bodies sore and bruised, minds still reeling from shock, yet they were imbued with a mighty driving determination – the insane Krzza must be destroyed.
“If we can somehow end his activity,” elaborated Mea-Quin, “we shall have done a great good, even if the solar system’s space fleets are no more. There would still be Ay-Artz to reckon with, but that lies in the hand of fate.”
“Obviously, then, since we are isolated from contact with our allies,” spoke Dos-Tev firmly, “we must play a lone hand against Krzza.”
“Let us go then,” growled Bullo. “If I once get within reach of that fiend who marooned us so heartlessly in another world, I will break him in half with my own hands!”
“No, no, Bullo!” remonstrated Dos-Tev quickly. “It can be nothing as direct as that. The Wrongness of Space is impregnable from personal harm in his own natural dimensions. It would do little good even to blast Copernicus and seal its vent, for Krzza could emerge via the fourth dimension. On two things our success must depend – secrecy, and some powerful weapon that can reach him in his own dimensional habitat.”
“The ship – our own ship!” cried Mea-Quin suddenly. “Given a little time, I can convert the force-plane projector at its nose into a dimension opener – similar to our hand projector! What that—“
Fired with hope, they talked over the idea, and not long after began a swift trek over the pumice crater floor, in the direction that should bring them to their space ship and the conference building beside it. From above the dim starlight barely pierced the absolute gloom of a Lunar night. Hours later a giant black object loomed suddenly before them – the conference building.
Dos-Tev gasped. “The space ship! It’s gone!”
Mea-Quin accepted the fact resignedly. “The Wrongness of Space either destroyed it or hid it, probably the latter, fearing our allies might come here and find it.”
“Sires!” burst in Bullo, “we go down to the lair of the fiend?”
Descending the long shaft that led to the heart of their mortal enemy’s domain, cushioned by the force-plane projector, the three Lemnisians felt a suspense that grew as they neared their mark. What if the alien green being were watching them, chortling in glee, waiting for their arrival to again foil them? Did he have some instrument warning him of their approach? The saurian-like creatures who lived in the attenuated air that here obtained became numerous as they approached the bottom, and they kept a wary eye peeled for one that might prove formidable. In the ghost-light of phosphorescence they descended as rapidly as they dared, and finally came to where the shaft opened into its bulbous terminal, unchallenged and unhindered. Dos-Tev allowed the force-beam to push them against one wall, and they traversed the last hundred feet clinging to hanging vegetation. Bullo was the first to see the space ship, reposing to one side of the strangely-shimmering, other dimensional Hemisphere palace of the Wrongness of Space.
“Tor be praised!” exclaimed Mea-Quin softly. “He did not take our ship into his own dimensions. It is there for the taking, if we are not detected.”
Skirting the roof of the cavern so as to avoid the disc shapes which were their enemy’s sentinels, the adventurers, heart in mouth, neared their ship. It was the crucial moment. If they were spied now, it would be their doom. Visually they were not discernible in the pale shimmer of the cavern, but what if the green demon from Lxyza noted their presence by the effect of their force beam on delicate instruments?
Then they were there, on the floor of the cavern. Dos-Tev snapped off the projector with a sigh of relief, and silently, swiftly, they ran toward the ship. Bullo, last to enter, took a last look toward the Hemisphere. A sudden chill struck his heart as he noticed several of the disc shadows coming with increasing speed toward the ship. What irony – in the last moment they had detected the Lemnisians!
“We are seen!” he shouted, dashing in full tilt, causing his companions to turn startled. “The discs, the sentinels, they are hovering about above us!”
“What can we do?” panted Dos-Tev, paralyzed by the unwelcome news. “We have no time to convert the force-plane projector at the ship’s nose!”
“A gamma bomb!” suggested Bullo.
“Too late,” returned Mea-Quin. “Our enemy is by this time prepared against it.” His tones were bitter. Success had been snatched away at the last moment. A margin of a half hour would have seen them prepared to blast the Wrongness of Space to eternity in his dimensional world. Now—
The word came sharply from the scientist. “Bullo, turn on the air-valves full.”
In a few seconds the interior of the ship was habitable and at a sign from Mea-Quin, they removed the space suits, to revel in the feeling of physical freedom.
“Now we can talk without detection,” continued the scientist, “whereas with the suits on, our radios kept Krzza in contact with us. There is yet one hope.”
“And what is that?” cried Dos-Tev and Bullo together.
“We must outwit the Wrongness of Space,” returned Mea-Quin rapidly. “We cannot attack him, true. But at the same time to capture or destroy us, our enemy must either come into our dimension, or draw us into his, as he did before. I have a subtle intuition that—“
Mea-Quin spoke a while longer, and a look of understanding came into the eyes of his companions. Without delay they dashed from the central living quarters, and crawled to the gunner’s nest at the very nose of the ship. Here Dos-Tev crouched before the force-plane projector – a giant compared to their hand ones – and Bullo lovingly caressed the trigger of the projectile gun which was loaded and ready for the use. Mea-Quin operated the lever that swung the nose-cap of the ship free of the muzzles – and they froze to alert waiting.
On one slim chance rested their scheme – that the Wrongness of Space would use his fourth-dimensional opener as a spy beam to locate the Lemnisians, preparatory to yanking them helpless into his own palace and dimension. For long minutes they crouched, mute and slick with apprehension. If Krzza should decide to come into their dimension, or if he should suspect a trick and take precautions, their doom was sealed.
Suddenly Bullo nudged the prince and scientist and jerked his head to the back of the cubicle, where one section of the wall seemed to melt suddenly and become a misted shadow. It was the Wrongness of Space, searching for them thru his fourth dimensional eye!
“Get ready!” breathed Mea-Quin.
Dos-Tev beaded his eyes at the spout of the projector, which lined with the center of the palace, and tensed his hand at the lever. Let but the slightest flicker of transparentness come over the muzzle and he would fire – straight at the Wrongness of Space thru the fourth dimension. Out of the corner of his eye, Dos-Tev saw Bullo’s shoulder suddenly become light and shadowy. The next instant, as tho the Wrongness of Space knew he had found his prey and wanted to transpose them into his presence, the whole cubicle and all in it flickered fantastically and Dos-Tev felt the wrench of the alien dimension.
But the instant before this sensation, the prince of Lemnis jerked over his lever. There was a soundless concussion, a dazzling flare of green – and then merciful darkness.
Dos-Tev came to his senses to find Bullo kneeling beside him, chafing his hands frantically, with a look of great anguish. The prince of Lemnis framed an immediate question. “The Wrongness of Space–?”
“—is no more!” finished Bullo, his face changing to a look of exultance. “That shot was timed just right. It blew the Wrongness of Space and half his castle to Kruaz in Hell! I saw it in one brief glimpse as we were looking thru the fourth dimension. It was like a corridor. At its far end sat the mad Krzza, gloating and confident on his ebony throne. I saw him manipulate his dimension-opener, felt the first pull of the warping of our surroundings – then a look of fear came to his face. He saw in that instant the muzzles of both your and my gun pointing at him. I don’t know which of us two fired first. But of a sudden there were green and black vapors and torn flesh flying at the other end of the corridor, and then the scene flicked out and I saw no more. The concussion that knocked you out I escaped by instinctively gripping the bars of my gun.”
“Thank Tor!” said Dos-Tev, “that our scheme worked. But can we be sure the Wrongness of Space is really destroyed?”
“Yes,” nodded Bullo. “Because the Hemisphere – as we saw Krzza’s palace thru our eyes from our dimension – has utterly disappeared, and no disc shadows hover about that spot.”
“Mea-Quin!” cried the prince suddenly remembering. “Where is he? Did he perhaps get hurt or—“
Bullo’s face fell as he pointed to the scientist lying unconscious on a wall bunk. “When I picked him up in the gun-room, he was moaning deliriously. Now he has fallen into a coma. I fear—“
As tho at a signal, Mea-Quin’s voice, low and pained, came to them. “Dos-Tev! Bullo! Must leave! Must reach earth fleet and warn then – Ay-Artz probably in striking distance. Must carry on!”
The scientist’s voice mumbled a few more indistinguishable words and then died to complete silence.
“It is true,” cried Dos-Tev. “Now that we are done with the insane Krzza, we must carry on against Ay-Artz! The radio, or the Thi-Ranley Radiator—“
Bullo shook his head. “Both completely demolished by the Wrongness of Space while we were gone.”
“Then we must fly to earth as fast as possible. Must find the solar system’s fleets. And if they were destroyed, we will carry on the fight ourselves!” Dos-Tev set his jaw firmly, ordered Bullo to attend to the old scientist, and sprang to the controls of the ship.
It took masterful piloting to guide the space ship up the narrow shaft and its flaming atomic jets seared the sparse lunar vegetation to cinder. Dos-Tev breathed easier when free of the shaft and shot the ship out into space at four gravities acceleration, a well-nigh killing pace in their present condition. He had plotted his course while ascending the shaft, figuring to reach earth’s vicinity on the sunward side, which would bring the ship in a line with the false course given to the earth fleet by Krzza. If fate had been kind and saved them, they would meet not far from Mercury’s orbit. Then—
It was an agonizing trip with no chance to sleep or relax. More than once Dos-Tev felt he had reached the end of his endurance, only to be heartened by Bullo’s stolid strength and courage. Their four-gravities acceleration had to be transformed to almost five gravities of deceleration, due to an error in their original course. Sweeping closer and closer to the sun, atomic jets flaming valiantly, the Lemnisians swept over the false course of the earth fleet.
Thru red-rimmed eyes Dos-Tev spied the earth fleet. “Bullo! Apply six gravities deceleration or we will swing past them! I – I’m done!”
With a gasp, the prince of Lemnis slumped unconscious as the engine roared to higher power. Bullo himself, a monument of endurance, was barely able to cut the power a little later before the terrific strain of six gravities brought him exhausted oblivion. Mea-Quin, unconscious all thru the trip, lay as one dead.