AUTHOR OF ‘THE MACHINE MAN OF ARDATHIA’ & ‘AN ADVENTURE IN TIME’
In his impregnable stronghold Pross Mere-Mer lived and it was nothing to him that others toiled and died to make his grandeur and luxury possible. Pross Mere-Mer was a tall and handsome Narlonian of the eighth satellite of Ern, that satellite which had extended its tyrannical sway not only over the other eight satellites (through conquests of his redoubtable father and grandfather) but over portions of Sacred Ern itself, long held to be the abode of Elo Hava.
A Narlonian of giant proportions, his three supple feelers ringed with bands of precious metals, Pross Mere-Mer clothed the sinuous length of teeba, which terminated in the round body and twin steps with pieces of pliable lirum. The cold eye of the middle feeler turned this way and that as Pross Mere-Mer expressed his discontent with things as they were. The other two feelers sucked, with their sucker-like mouths, at the metal tubes which brought the energy from distant Rano for his morning meal. “What is this, Ra-Kooma?” he demanded of his chief adviser, who had sought an audience with him. “What is this news you are telling me of Bar-Zee?”
Ra-Kooma waved obsequious feelers also ringed with bands of precious metals, but in less profusion than those of his master. “The Bar-Zeenians are in revolt, Potent Pross; they have overpowered their guards and have seized the Towers of Intelligence.”
Pross Mere-Mer’s feelers turned green, then black. “And you float there,” he cried with gurgling fury, “and dare to speak of such tidings!” His speaking mouth – high up in the central jell that held the cruel and calculating brain – shot forward a protuberant tongue. Ra-Kooma cringed, the green slimy eye in the middle of the feeler showing fear and something else which it was impossible to define – hatred perhaps overshadowed by the fear. With a twist of his sinuous teeba, Pross Mere-Mer shot forward through the heavy vapor of the room and struck Ra-Kooma with a swinging feeler. The chief adviser made no attempt to defend himself. Back he went from the blow, sank to the floor of the room, then rose again several feet away, where he floated meekly, his feelers a servile yellow and pink. His anger thus appeased, Pross Mere-Mer again devoted himself to his breakfast. “Bah!” he said, regaining his normal hue of bright, “we will make short work of those rebels.” But if he had been able to see and hear the rebel council in conference he might not have been so confident.
The council was composed of swart Bar-Zeenians from the tul-mills, the gren-mines and from the heavier vapor swamp of the Ethor region where so many unfortunates toiled and died yearly to satisfy the tastes and demands of the Narlonians for cana and tera. Fo-Peta led them – Fo-Peta the agitator and professional revolutionist who had been captured the year before and sent to the Ethor region to waste away his strength at continuous hard labor. Better for Pross Mere-Mer if he had put him to death but this the ferocious cruelty of the tyrant forbade; he desired to have his enemy wither with the swamp attrition – the hideous nager.
Now Fo-Peta, having organized and led the Bar-Zeenian toilers in successful revolt – though such a thing had seemed beyond the realms of possibility – rose and addressed the council. He was not of Bar-Zee himself, being a black Efranian, but the jell brain-case was unusually large, denoting a superior mentality, and he had, besides the three feelers, a single tentacle characteristic of his race, which could be extended from the middle body. “Fellow Rebels,” he said, “it is no secret to many of you that I have for years plotted the overthrow of Narlonianism. These Pross Lords of Narlone have laid waste the eight satellites of Ern, they have forced us into slavery, our virgos into shameful servitude. You know how first they came bearing gifts, how we welcomed them, fools that we were, as gods from Ern itself. Before we knew, they had taken advantage of our superstition, had fastened on us the yoke of their despotism. Now all our toil, our labor, is utilized to make Narlone wonderful and glorious while we, the workers, the producers groan in misery and poverty. Many years ago were the shackles forged for our limbs and many of you may not know the history of those days; but we know, we professional revolutionists, and we tell you that only as you stand together as one, make common cause with the oppressed of all the satellites, can you hope to prevail against your taskmasters.” His feelers glowed militantly. “We have overthrown our guards, captured the Intelligence Towers, but soon Pross Mere-Mer and the other Pross Lords under him, will hurl against us the concentrated might of Narlone. We cannot hope to stand against them, against the force they will bring to subdue us. To stay here is to perish; we must flee for the moment.”
“Flee? But to where?”
“To Ern itself.”
A murmur of doubt, of amazement, ran through the council.
“Flee to Ern!”
A swart Bar-Zeenian floated forward. “How can we do that? The home of Elo Hava? We would be smitten with death.”
Fo-Peta said calmly, “The Narlonians have been there. You didn’t know that. Even Holy Ern itself has been invaded by them. But you they keep in ignorance of the fact, allowing you to enter superstitious ideas, the better to rule you and keep you in chains. But Ern, though invaded, has not been totally subjugated. It is a vast pace; not the home of mythical gods as you think but of beings similar to us. Some of these beings have built wonderful cities, achieved far-reaching powers. To Ern then shall we flee, the alliance of those great cities seek.”
“But how, how?”
“By the same means the Narlonians used – we shall go in space-ships. Only the council, of course; there would not be room for all the rebels. Many must stay behind and await our return.” The eye on the middle feeler turned this way and that sorrowfully. “It is the only way, Fellow Rebels.”
“But where are the space-ships?”
“We shall find them, never fear,” said Fo-Peta, his jell brain-case showing a tinge of grimness. “Pross Mere-Mer will send against us the eight patrol ships at first, scarce realizing how completely we are in possession here. These we shall seize – at a price of course; many may die – but once in our hands we can count on having time to prepare them for the voyage to Ern, make off in safety, before the coming of the Pross Lords in concentrated strength. Those of the Ethor Region shall go with us; the rest must return to their work and avoid the wrath of the Narlonians, disowning what has taken place, blaming all on us of the swamps.”
So it was decided; and when T-Roma of the squadron patrol came down into the heavy vapor of Bar-Zee, but ill-informed by the wireless message of the extent of the uprising on the ninth satellite, he was very pleased to observe that all save one of the Intelligence Towers greeted him with the customary salutes. Signaling his fleet to land, he threw open the door of his control ship, ordering the others to do the same, neglecting to prepare his ejector tubes save in the most perfunctory manner. The swart wave of Bar-Zeenian rebels was totally unexpected; yet even at that the first crest of it went under to the crackling of hurriedly discharged weapons. But the second crest carried the ships; and the third wiped out all resistance by sheer weight of numbers and saw to it that not a member of the crews escaped alive. When Pross Mere-Mer and his fellow Lords arrived they found only obedient, toiling slaves, who professed to know nothing of any uprising or of the fate of the eight patrol ships. Some slaves they sent in anger to the Ethor Regions, others they tortured to make them reveal what they know; though in vain, and in the end, having established new guards in the Intelligence Towers, they returned to Narlone. But hurtling through space to the vast planet Ern, Fo-Peta and his fellow members of the Rebel Council gazed with mingled awe and anxiety at the sacred world’s lurid and forbidding surface. Fo-Peta knew how to manage a space-ship. From his control-room he directed the flight, not alone of his own vessel but of the seven others. Few of the Bar-Zeenians had ever been out in space before. They gazed in fear and wonder through the transparent metal. One after another they saw Ern’s satellites swing into view, their own satellite, the ninth, swinging against them in its course.
Here in the space between Ern and its satellites, metallic vapors swirled and eddied, tho of too attenuated a nature to have sustained life; and thru it the distant planets and central sun which made up the solar system, shone reddish and reddish green. Built for travel between the nine satellites and the navigation of the space betwixt Ern and its moon, the space-ships were provided with apparatus for the collecting of metallic vapors from outside and the compressing of their contents to the density necessary for the sustaining of life. Many of the phenomena that might be expected outside the orbits of the satellites, beyond the radius of the metallic vapors, were not experienced by the Bar-Zeenians. They floated freely within the confines of their vessels, and while conscious of increasing weight because of the accelerating speed, were yet able to move about, tho with appreciable slowness, it taking strenuous twists of their slim teebas to make locomotion at all possible.
Fo-Peta did not make direct for Ern. Rather he directed his ships in a slant, avoiding the three flat concentric rings at the equator where the Narlonians had established a colony and several Intelligence Towers. The rings, viewed at relatively such a close range, appeared whirling particles of matter, seething, churning, yet for all that affording solidity enough on which to land. Directing the lenses properly, it was possible to show photographic pictures of the magna slates of the spiral structures of the Narlonians. Thousands of teens from them, Fo-Peta, drove by, his objective the northern portion of Ern. Turning on its axis every ten and a quarter hours, the huge planet was aiding the space-ships to advance westward, though the direct flight was towards the north pole. Hours passed, days. The almost invisible metallic vapors – detectable only thru the agency of the screenscope – yet provided a certain amount of friction and this factor governed the highest speed at which it was safe to travel. Approaching Ern, the vapors deepened; photographic pictures showed nothing but a brownish haze. Soon this haze was around them. The compressing pumps had to be slowed down. A thousand teens above the surface, the ships moved northward at relatively slow speeds, cruising through metallic vapors as dense as those on Bar-Zee itself. Analysis of the vapors showed that there were present one or two elements not known to the satellites but seemingly non-injurious to life. Fo-Peta ordered the vapor-tight doors of the ships to be thrown open and the voyagers all reveled in the luxury of absorbing all the metallic vapors their bodies craved and spouting it through their gills. But at one mile altitude this absorption became difficult and was accompanied by pains in the middle body, dizziness in the jell brain-case; and though this sickness passed after a time, as the voyagers became acclimated to it, Fo-Peta dared not go lower. The sun was not discernible by day, save as a nebulous blur in the heavens, and at night the moons were invisible.
NOTE: Ern – Saturn; Darth – Earth; Awn – Luna; Vir – Man; Vigo – Woman;
Teens – Miles; Neroon – Generation.
Earth time is used throughout the story for the reader’s convenience.
The vast city lay sprawled on the crest and slopes of a mighty mountain. Daylight – like twilight to their eyes and scarcely daylight at all as they knew it – revealed it to them. Fo-Peta brought the ships to rest in the midst of a mighty square. Towering fern growths, analogous to similar growths on Bar-Zee and Narlone but giant-like in comparison, grew in the square, and through the paths they lined floated hundreds of the city’s inhabitants, tall people with abnormally long teebas propelling them, their single eyes gleaming, their feelers tinged blue with astonishment. Brown they were, like the metallic vapors they moved through, bands of lirum-colored silver and gold round their middle bodies and many of them carried in one feeler what appeared to be long canes. These latter advanced briskly on the space-ships, jell brain-cases glowing hotly with demand. Their speaking mouths, under the jell, opened, and they shouted questions at the voyagers, at Fo-Peta who stood forth as the commander of the expedition.
“Who are you, strangers, and whence do you come in such mysterious fashion?”
The language was foreign in some respects to Fo-Peta’s receiving vents yet he understood the gist of what was said well enough. While lying in Pross Mere-Mer’s prison, awaiting trial, he had amused himself by acquiring the dialect of a fellow prisoner, a savage rebel from the southern wilds of Ern made captive by the Pross Lords, and the speech he now heard was in many ways similar. “I am Fo-Peta,” he said, “from the Satellite Efrania, and these, my fellow-voyagers, are from Bar-Zee, the ninth moon. We have visited you as you see, in our space ships.”
The chief of the interlocutors pondered these words as if he failed quite to grasp their meaning. “Efrania,” he muttered; “Bar-Zee, — what places be they; I have never heard of them before. And this talk of space-ships –“ he shook a perplexed feeler.
“We have come to visit your rulers, your chief men,” said Fo-Peta. “In peace have we come, refugees seeking asylum, delegates craving alliance. I pray you conduct me to them.”
Other persons in authority appeared at length – one important dignitary riding in a self-propelled carriage which skimmed the pathways with amazing speed. He harangued Fo-Peta briefly. A floating regiment of what could be nothing but warriors with metal covers protecting their jells, and armed with disk reflectors – or so they seemed – surrounded the space-ships and kept back the curious crowds. Shortly arrived a gorgeous vehicle to which Fo-Peta was conducted with great pomp and ceremony. Then, accompanied by troops and followed by a vast concourse of people, the vehicle skimmed through the aisles of the square and entered the highways of the city proper.
Never had Fo-Peta seen anything to equal its grandeur and size. The capital of Narlone was a mighty metropolis but this huge city was far mightier. Buildings of ethereal loveliness rose on every hand. Here and there, in wide open places, were scattered marts of trade, of commerce. And now his heart gave a mighty leap and then misgave him; for he saw ones floating along bearing the yokes of burden characteristic of toilers, of slaves, and he thought sadly, “Is it possible that tyranny and exploitation exists here too?” But he strove to dismiss this thought. The metal vapors were heavy to absorb, his middle body labored to absorb them and he loosened his lirum band and spouted through his gills.
The palace to which they came occupied the highest peak of the mountain range, two miles in the airm its silvery walls and strange towers wavering through the brown mist. In a wide courtyard the vehicle was left and conducted by several impressive individuals with myriad-hued bracelets on their feelers, Fo-Peta was brought to the audience hall. The walls and ceiling of this hall were of beaten turquay inlaid with tonlin and the floor was of spun prack. On a dias of tul three rulers of this vast and wealthy city swayed, the middle one occupying a somewhat higher-place chair than the others. The middle ruler opened his speaking mouth and called out in a thin, piping voice, “Welcome to Hade.” The one on the left intoned, “Thou who are called Fo-Peta.” The one on the right chanted in a deep bass, “The rulers of Hade make thee welcome.” Then all the colorful courtiers thronging the sides of the dais and surrounding the chairs cried out in unison, “Welcome! Thrice welcome!”
Fo-Peta’s central jell glowed with appreciation; his feelers made proper obeisance. “Thanks, mighty rulers, mighty people. I, a traveler from the nine satellites to Hade, come to you as a refugee – myself and companions – to enlist your powerful aid in our behalf.”
The middle ruler leaned forward, his jell showing intense curiosity. “What are those satellites of which you speak?”
Fo-Peta’s feelers registered amazement. “Surely you know of them, the nine moons circling this planet of yours?”
“No,” said the ruler slowly, “no, we did not know of them; never have we seen them: the metallic vapors are too dense to allow of our studying the heavens with any precision. But tell us – those moons you speak of are inhabited?”
“As you perceive, by inhabitants like to myself. All the moons are populated. The satellites are enslaved, exploited, for a powerful minority. The Narlones have even enslaved portions of this world of your, Ern itself.”
A murmur of surprise was audible in the audience hall.
“Ern, as you call it, is big,” said the middle ruler, “and it is quite possible that savage lands far to the south where we have penetrated but seldom have come under foreign sway. But tell me, is this Narlone you speak of powerful and wealthy?”
“Aye,” said Fo-Peta, his jell showing the truthfulness of what he said, “wealthy and powerful. Tul-mills and gren-mines do they work with slave labor, and from the Ethor regions of Bar-Zee extract the rare and precious cana and tara.”
The hue of avarice flitted thru the jells of the three rulers and was to be seen in the feelers of the courtiers listening eagerly, “Cana and tara! They are rare amongst us. But you – why have you sought us out?”
Then Fo-Peta told them of the conditions in the tul-mills and the gren-mines, of the certain death from attrition – the hideous nager – which assailed those condemned to labor long years in the Ethor regions. He told of his life as a professional revolutionist, of his many attempts to organize the toilers to overthrow Narlone rule of Pross Lords; of his arrest, condemnation, leadership of the successful uprising on Bar-Zee; of the seizure of the spaceships, the flight to Ern. The three rulers listened attentively, their jells veiled now in a protective gray which hid all emotion. “I have come to enlist your aid against the Narlonian exploiters, to ask your help in overthrowing them, to beg of you to assist me in setting the slaves of the nine satellites free!”
For an appreciable time there was silence in the audience chamber. Some kind of wordless communication was being exchanged by the three rulers and their immediate advisors. Fo-Peta realized this but couldn’t fathom of what import. Then at last the middle ruler opened his speaking mouth and said, “Be of good cheer, we have decided to accede to your requests, extend the help you crave.”
He signaled that the audience was over and floated from his chair, followed by his two fellow-rulers, the three disappearing through a wide doorway. Fo-Peta was then conducted to a well-appointed apartment where he found his Bar-Zeenian companions. Through a transparent metal plate he perceived the spaceships safely moored in the courtyard below and heavily guarded. Servants bearing the burden yoke waited on them, supplying them with energy tubes for suction and, veiling their jells in protective darkness, the voyagers at length fell asleep.
The next day, Fo-Peta was taken to a strange room. It was – he observed – a room devoted to science and scientific achievements. The middle ruler was there and several others undoubtedly scientists and warriors who questioned him at length as to the location of Narlone. With his aid a large map was drawn.
“So,” said one of the scientists, “Narlone is such and such a distance from us now, will be so many teens more tomorrow. Be as exact as you can, please; our whole expedition depends on it.”
Fo-Peta was exact. A scientist of no mean achievement himself he had the data at his feeler-tips. He watched the Hadean scientists sketch and figure. “There is no need for that,” he said at length; “I can guide the space-ship back without fail.”
The middle ruler’s speaking mouth twitched. “Space-ships?” he cried. “We will have no need of your space-ships!”
“Then how—“ questioned Fo-Peta.
“How are we going to reach Narlone and the other satellites, you ask. You will see. Tomorrow we start.”
Back with his companions in the apartment at their disposal, Fo-Peta owned to a feeling of depression and dread. These rulers of Hade, of vast stretches of Ern, could he trust them to bring freedom and liberation to his enslaved countrymen, to the other eight moons? He did not know; he could only await what the future might bring. For weal or woe the die was cast.
One of the servants bearing the burden yoke was a handsome creature of twenty or thereabouts. Her shapely teeba bore her along with grace and courage. Moreover her central jell showed more than an average intelligence. Fo-Peta found himself attracted by her immensely. His first attempts at conversation were received in silence but at length he overcame the aloofness and they talked together. She was curious as to his identity. When he told her that, and of his mission, her feelers blackened with bitterness. “To seek for such aid from the Tyrants of Hade! Look at me. I, Zeera, was once the daughter of a Ked of Junius. A Ked is not a king or chief, a tyrant, but a governor elevated by the people for a brief space. We were a free nation with free workers – all of us were workers. Then came the Hadeans. Our city walls were leveled, our people butchered or enslaved. I was brought here to grace the Hadean triumph, the triumph of the Three. Since which I have labored as a menial in the palace here, bearing the burden yoke. Of late I have caught the fancy of the middle ruler, who desires me for his plaything. This I have refused to become, though promised the removal of the burden yoke forever if I do. Not yet has he tried to force me. But Tal-Ton is cold and ruthless, and I fear, I fear—“
Somehow Fo-Peta found himself grasping one of her feelers with his own. “No!” he cried, “no, it shall never be!”
“How can you prevent it?” she asked sorrowfully, but she did not attempt to withdraw the feeler he held and her jell showed a delicate pink.
“We go on the Narlone expedition tomorrow,” said Fo-Peta, his feelers kindling with a grim hue, “and it may be – it may be the middle ruler will never return.”
One the morrow he was once again summoned to the scientific chamber but now a wall had risen revealing a vast room beyond it whose confines seemed limitless. The vast room was a curious place. In the foreground floated a huge vehicle looking not unlike a torpedo car. Around it were clustered a strange array of mechanic mechanisms; overhead, from the high ceiling, a number of gleaming disks descended to within a short distance of the car’s top. Spiraling the car was an immense spring. Fo-Peta observed that the vast room was filled with smaller replicas of this car, literally hundreds of them within their enveloping spirals and array of mechanisms, having in addition perfectly round globes floating above and seemingly unconnected. He regarded this all this scene with wondering feelers. Inside the large car he was appointed a place at a broad table, a table that was undoubtedly a control board. The map he had aided in drawing was now depicted on a metal plate set in the table’s center and a long finder with needle point rested on the satellite Narlone – on the metropolis of Pross Mere-Mer, to be exact. The middle ruler was there and greeted him with a twitch of the speaking mouth; his jell showed the irony of orange. “Within the hour we start for Narlone.”
“In this machine?”
“In this machine.”
“Then it is a space traveler?”
“Not as you imply.”
Through the transparent metal Fo-Peta saw the other cars being prepared. Warriors floated aboard the others, aboard their own huge car. On the table a lever was deflected. Vapor-tight doors closed with a hollow reverberation; outside the great spiral glowed red-hot, the swirling metallic vapors became alive with golden light. Over the table the commanding scientists pored, moving and adjusting with marvelously fast movements the intricate instruments. Then Fo-Peta experienced an indescribable sensation. To him it seemed that everything cohered in on itself and turned inside out. There was a crucial moment of blackness, disintegration, but when he emerged from his blackness it was to find things unchanged. The scientists sat unmoved in front of their instruments; only the middle ruler had surged to his feet and was staring outwards with his single flexible eye, his jell seething with colors of exultation, greed and ferocity. “Narlone!” he piped. “Narlone!”
Fo-Peta stared through the transparent plates. Yes, it was Narlone! Unbelievable though it might seem, they were floating in the metallic vapor above the metropolis of the Pross Lords. He absorbed with a great heave of the middle body, blowing through his gills. Narlone! What magic was this? The thin towers of the metropolis wavered around them as the car sank lower. Floating Narlonians glared upward with writhing feelers. On the roof of the great central fortress of Pross Mere-Mer appeared guards, propelling themselves with agitated teebas to and fro. Upon the cars – hundreds of the replicas were hovering in the vapor with the golden globes above them – the deadly weapons of the Narlonians were being trained; the lethal ray, the lightning bolt. Fo-Peta knew that Pross Mere-Mer would scarcely wait for explanations of this strange visitation. Not thus had he ruled for years. First he would blast into destruction; explanations would come later. But he never had the chance to blast. On the great table a watchful scientist pressed a button; another adjusted a smaller finder on the map, which had been divided into squares. Through the metallic vapors a strange gleam ran, agitated, vibrating. Everything shook. Fo-Peta saw the towers of the Pross Lords shake and shimmer. The rate of vibration increased. The floating Norlonians all vibrated to a slowly increasing rhythm. They were rocked into surrender. Then, from the hundreds of floating cars, Hadean warriors wearing jell-protectors and carrying round disks swarmed. The fortress of Pross Mere-Mer fell without a blow. The Hadeans took over the Intelligence Towers, the centers of power, the weapons of the Narlonians which, though strange to them, they seemed instinctively to understand. The middle ruler looked at Fo-Peta, his feelers gloating arrogant colors. “Thus we make war, we rulers of Hade, and nothing can stand against us!” Fo-Peta swathed his jell in impenetrable gray. The opportunity to dispose of the middle ruler had never presented itself. There had been no fighting of the sort he had looked forward to. The middle ruler left his car only to parade in state through the captured city. Then Fo-Peta saw what the globes contained: all the glitter and pomp necessary for the pageantry of conquest. He saw Pross Mere-Mer and his fellow Pross Lords lead captive aboard the middle ruler’s car; he saw treasures of tul and gren, of cana and tara, being looted from the storehouses of the metropolis. Addressing himself to the middle ruler with the proper obeisance of feelers, he said: “The Pross Lords have fallen, Narlone is overthrown. Now shall the slaves go free.”
The middle ruler’s jell showed a frowning hue. Fo-Peta said, “Do remember your promise.”
“I will remember.”
But the heart of Fo-Peta was heavy with foreboding, and well it might be, for the middle ruler whispered in the receiving vent of a trusted adviser. Aboard the huge car, about the control table the scientists sat, waiting the order to return to Hade. Fo-Peta conversed with one of them. “But I still do not understand.” The other waved an indulgent feeler. “Nor do we ourselves – wholly. We know only the principle works.”
“What is the principle?”
“You know that there are three dimensions in which we live. A fourth dimension has been added to these three – time. Time is the fourth dimension. But above that again lies another dimension – the fifth. In this fifth dimension the relativity that constitutes for us the illusion of distance, of separation, is abolished. For it is only on the third (and even the fourth) plane that things seem apart, distinct from one another. Therefore we have achieved a method of going where we wish by way of the fifth dimension.”
“Startling as it may sound, we go out of existence relatively, in the fifth dimension, and reappear at the spot on which we have the needle of this finder. To do this it is necessary to know the exact location of the spot to which we are going to travel – its distance from us – in three-dimensional figures; and it is necessary to reduce this information to a chart, a map such as you observed us make of Narlone. Since the metropolis of Narlone and Hade occupy identical spots—”
“In the fifth dimension: tho of course they have no relative existence there, no existence at all, really, since they are relative phenomena and exist as we know them only in three dimensions. Since they occupy identical spots in the fifth dimension or absolute sense, we have but to go through that spot and reappear three-dimensionally where we have set the needle. There is danger in doing this without knowing our objective; that is why we have to be careful. Not all places reached thru the fifth dimension are capable of supporting life, though of course we have taken chances and lost machines. However this car is supplied with chemicals necessary to make metallic vapors for us to absorb for a long time, if need be, and there are energy tubes for sustenance.”
He paused and regarded Fo-Peta benevolently. Fo-Peta’s jell expressed wonder and amazement.
“But how will you return to Hade?”
“By replacing this metal map of Narlone with one of Hade – so – and setting the finder. You will note that the cars all carry with them their spirals. It is the spirals that make possible our passing thru the fifth dimension – and the spirals are manipulated from within the cars.” He indicated a lever with a negligent wave of a feeler.
Scarcely had Fo-Peta digested this information when the middle ruler entered the control room, propelled swiftly by his teeba. “Let us return,” he commanded. Obediently the scientists bent over the board. Again the doors shut with a hollow reverberation; the spiral thru the transparent plates could be seen glowing vividly. Again there was the terrifying sensation of everything cohering on itself, turning inside out. Then out of the moment of blackness, of seeming disintegration, Fo-Peta emerged to find that the car was resting once again in the vast room at Hade. It seemed incredible that it had ever quitted the spot. He began to wonder if he hadn’t dreamed all that had occurred. Then he saw the captive Pross Lords being herded by, the marshalling of the burden bearers to unload the cars of tel and gren, of cana and tara, and he knew indeed, miracle that it might seem, that they had been to Narlone and back.
To Narlone and back?! And the middle ruler was yet alive! Alive to force his odious attentions upon Zeera! Fo-Peta’s feelers darkened; his jell, unknowing to himself (he forgot to veil it) showed murderous scarlet. The middle ruler looked and saw and whispered again in the receiving vent of the trusted adviser. The latter waved to him a half dozen warriors with disks and protective jell coverings. They surrounded Fo-Peta. “What does this mean?” he cried.
“That you are being arrested,” said the trusted adviser, feelers martially arrogant.
“By whose order?”
“By mine,” said the middle ruler, floating forward, his jell colored vindictively. “Fool of an Effranian! to think that I would ever further the schemes of a revolutionist. I utilized your aid to further the conquest of Narlone; now your slime of workers will know what it is to slave for a master. They will find in me and my fellow rulers no such tender-bodied Udarians as your Pross Lords of Narlone. As for you – I have put your kind to the torturing death in Hade and will doubtless visit you with the same fate. Away with him!” he piped; “Throw him in the prisons with his betters!” So it came to pass that Fo-Peta was taken down to the dungeons of the castle, down to the black noisome crypts underground, where the metallic vapors were too thick and foul for proper adsorption, and where he was thrown into a cell with two other Narlonian captives – one of whom was Pross Mere-Mer!
Pross Mere-Mer did not know who is was at first, nor did Fo-Peta recognize the Narlonian ruler immediately. Gloomy it was in the cell in the middle ruler’s underprison. Pross Mere-Mer had bribed a guard with a feeler-band of value to provide him with a lan-flare but scarce could its light dissipate the vaporous dark. The jell of Pross Mere-Mer was black with gloom, his feelers indicative of utter woe and depression. In a corner of the cell he floated. his single eye closed wearily. His companion prisoner had been mistaken for a Pross Lord by his captors because of his rich feeler-bands and valuable lirum encasing his middle body. As a matter of fact, he was the ruler’s famous scholar and sky-gazer, Kama-Loo. “Woe, woe is us,” mourned the star-gazer.
“Shut up!” boomed Pross Mere-Mer savagely.
Fo-Peta recognized that distinctive voice. “Greetings, Pross Mere-Mer. How hath the mighty fallen.”
Pross Mere-Mer recognized, in his turn, the peculiar intonation of the rebel Efranian. His eye snapped open, his feelers showed a stormy green. “What dost thou here, traitorous kelp?”
“Mayhap to gloat over my work.”
“Since I am the author of your undoing, the cause of the overthrown of Narlone.”
“Renegade!” thundered the Pross Lord, “and was it thy accursed self that loosed the destroyers upon us? Now by the power of Elo Hava…” His feelers lashed out, an undulation of the teeba thrust him forward.
“Nay,” said Fo-Peta, “restrain yourself, Pross, and do not seek to rend me in pieces. Bitterly to I regret the deed I have done. Not for your sake,” he cried, his jell showing the red of anguish, “but for the sake of the unhappy toilers of the satellites. Clearly to I perceive that in the person of those tyrants of Ern, I have loosed upon them harsher, more voracious and cruel task-masters than even your cruel and bitter self. Now has hope departed.”
“In all save the gods.” It was the sky-gazer, Kama-Loo, who spoke.
“The gods!” Fo-Peta’s jell showed derision. “Where are the gods in whom we shall trust? Pross Mere-Mer drove Elo Hava out of Ern and in his place we have – the Tyrants of Hade.”
“And the message of Awn.”
“The message from Awn?”
“A satellite of Darth, one of the planets of our solar system quite near to the sun.”
Fo-Peta’s feelers colored with interest; with a twist of the teeba he floated nearer. “What do you mean?”
“For a long time we have been receiving them on our screenophotoscope; first as color, which later I was able to translate into sound; then as direct sound itself – a voice. No need to tell you how astounded we were. My instruments proved the source of the message: it was being broadcasted from the satellite of Darth. My translation of what the voice said – thought following certain periodic laws which I will not define – is quite arbitrary and of course may be wrong. ‘Come to Awn’ I construed it as meaning. ‘Come to Awn’.”
“And we were planning to build a special space ship and attempt that very thing when you loosed disaster upon us,” growled Pross Mere-Mer, his feelers glowing anger.
“But Darth, and its satellite Awn, are devoid of metallic vapors,” protested Fo-Peta; “living beings could not exist there.”
“Not living beings as we know them,” agreed Kama-Loo. “Insofar as we know, life depends on certain conditions found only on Ern and its nine satellites. But perhaps absorption of metallic vapors is not a necessary condition for life on every planet. On Darth, as you may know, there are faint traces of metallic vapors though scarcely enough to maintain our forms of life; on Awn, there are no verifiable vapors at all.”
Fo-Peta brooded over what he had heard, his jell shading from one soft hue to another. At length he said, “In the courtyard of this castle stand the eight spaceships myself and the Bar-Zeenians seized from the patrol. If we possessed one of them—”
“To what purpose?”
“To flee to Awn.”
“Fool!” said Pross Mere-Mer, his feelers writhing contempt; “none of those spaceships are prepared to venture out into interstellar space. What would we do for metallic vapors to absorb, energy tubes to sustain life?”
“That is true.” Suddenly Fo-Peta’s jell glowed with exultation. “The dimensional car!” he exclaimed. They stared at him with motionless feelers. Fo-Peta explained what he meant. “It is the very thing we need. Supplied with what we must have, in a moment we are there.”
“And how are you going to obtain the car?” Pross Mere-Mer’s jell showed the irony of orange. With a twist of the teeba he floated into a corner and closed his sardonic eye. But the learned scholar and sky-gazer, Kama-Loo, was interested. He questioned Fo-Peta again and again as to what he knew of the dimensional car’s functioning. From a fold of his lirum he withdrew a piece of litha and a marker and set to calculating. Soon he had plotted the distance from Ern to Darth’s satellite Awn. Finally he sketched a tentative map. Then his jell colored somberly and he put the map and the calculations back into the fold of his lirum. “Of what use is all this?” he muttered with depressed feelers. Fo-Peta did not answer. His own color was one of depression. Fitfully he wrapped isolation around his jell and slept.
On the morrow the guards came to prepare them to grace the middle ruler’s triumph. The triumph was a gorgeous thing of pomp and unbelievable pageantry. A thousand important Pross Lords had been brought from Narlone to float dejectedly in the wake of their conqueror’s skimming chariot. Again Fo-Peta saw the glorious city but this time as a captive yoked feeler to feeler with Pross Mere-Mer. Thru the thick metallic vapors gay banners drooped and wavered, thousands of Hadeans floated. In the lower depths of the great city, the heavy vapors were scarcely absorbable by their middle bodies or spoutable thru their gills. When their sluggish teebas failed to propel them at the proper speed, guards urged them brutally on with whips of silver prack. Pross Mere-Mer thought of his shorn power, Fo-Peta of the virgo Zeera. He knew now that he loved her dearly, that the very thought of her in the enfoldment of the middle ruler was bitterer than death. Then, his jell fainting with fatigue, he lifted his eye feeler and saw her in the chariot of the tyrant. The burden yoke was gone from her back, her feelers adorned with costly bands, and around her middle body was a royally striped lirum of many colors. The faintness left Fo-Peta’s jell and it colored with the crimson fire of rage. Futilely he strained at his shackles. The guard brought his whip of prack down with stunning force. “Slime of a Narlonian!” Now the chariot floated beyond his vision, carrying Zeera away, Zeera by the side of the middle lord. Abruptly his jell turned black, his feelers drooped; the blare of the conchoes, the shouts of the spectators, fell unheeded on his receiving vents. He scarcely knew when the day-long parade ended, when he and the rest of the exhausted captives were herded back to prison. Here cell Zeera found him, floating dejectedly. “Fo-Peta,” she called softly. They came together in a rush. “Be careful,” she said, “the guards must not see.”
“I saw you today – in his chariot.”
“It was the only way. You he had doomed to the torture chamber as a revolutionist. I had to save your life. Now he has given you to me – as my slave.”
“At a price?”
“At a price.”
“You are his?”
“I go to him tonight.”
“No, no!” Fo-Peta’s jell colored with the hue of anguish. “It must not be! The price is too dear!”
Zeera clung to him. “Not for your life – the life that I love!”
Fo-Peta said tensely, “Let me think.” His feelers showed the gold of concentration. “Zeera, you trust me; you will do as I say?”
“You come and go as you please?”
“Here is the royal seal of Tal-Ton; it opens all doors.”
“Then you must pave the way for me and my companions to the dimensional car room. Now – this instant – tonight.”
Pross Mere-Mer’s feelers lifted with hope. “You mean to—”
“To seize the great control car; to flee in it to—”
“To Narlone!” cried the ruler, his jell coloring vindictively, “where we shall utilize the weapon of Hade to shake them into submission, recapture my kingdom.”
“You forget that nine of us knows how to manipulate the vibration weapon, knows what it looks like or whether indeed it is not resident in some auxiliary car or not. To flee to Narlone would be to deliver ourselves back into the hands of our enemies. We must flee to—”
“To Awn!” cried the star-gazer, Kama-Loo.
“Yes, to Awn, it is our only hope. The rulers of Hade cannot follow us there. To Awn we shall go, and seek the aid of the powerful intelligence broadcasting through space.”
“Who will help me to recover my kingdom?” asked Pross Mere-Mer.
“Who will forward the day of liberation for the enslaved workers and destroy the rule of all tyrants on the nine satellites and on Ern itself?” returned Fo-Peta.
They glared at one another.
Kama-Loo said placatingly: “Is this a time to quarrel?”
“No,” said Fo-Peta, “It is a time to act.”
They floated from the cell. Zeera showed the royal seal to the guard. “By the orders of Tal-Ton – I take these prisoners to him.”
It would have been dangerous to have proceeded without the guard, who conducted the prisoners as a matter of course. Through gloomy corridors they floated, up torturous runways until the dungeons were left far below. The castle swarmed with life, with a myriad attendants bearing tapering wands. Zeera constantly showed the royal seal and the guard arrogantly brandished his disk weapon. On his feelers were the black bands of a dungeon keeper and none barred their progress. So they came at last to the middle ruler’s palatial apartment. He had dismissed his various advisors, his favorites, his court attendants and servants, and waited alone – waited for the coming of the virgo Zeera, whose beauty had inflamed his passion and who was at last to yield to him, fully and freely.
It was the longed for hour. His jell tinted amorously, his feelers pulsed with anticipation. The dungeon guard stood aside and Zeera and the three prisoners glided through the open door. At the sight of her Tal-Ton advanced swiftly with a convulsion of the teeba. Then he saw her companions and his sudden rush was abruptly halted. “What is this?” he cried, his jell changing color.
The giant Pross Mere-Mer, fully as large as the middle ruler, did not wait on ceremony. His jell a vicious hue, he surged forward with a powerful twist of the teeba. Back went Tal-Ton in the grip of the Pross Lord’s feelers, squawking out his terror and surprise. Instantly the guard floated into action. “Look out!” warned Zeera.
Helpless to act, Kama-Loo floated in his place. He was the scholar, the scientist, but scarcely the vir of action. Fo-Peta lashed forward to meet the guard. His middle body was making hard work of absorption in the thick metallic vapors of Ern. He sprouted constantly through his gills for the strength to move rapidly. He and the guard were of unequal size, Fo-Peta much the smaller, so the guard was enabled to hold him almost powerless with one feeler while he focused the metal disk with the other. Ill would it have gone with the black Efranian evolutionist if it had not been for the unsuspected tentacle in the middle body. Out it leapt, taking the guard by surprise, and wrestling the metal disk from his feeler’s grasp. Up Fo-Peta whirled the disk and down he brought its heavy metal upon the unprotected jell. The guard has laid aside his protective jell-covering while on dungeon duty. Deep into the jell the heavy disk crashed, spattering its contents. With a terrible convulsion of the teeba and the middle body, the guard collapsed, his feeler relaxed its hold on Fo-Peta. The latter pushed him away and he sank slowly to the floor. Fo-Peta turned. The struggle of giants was still continuing. Pross Mere-Mer was handicapped by difficult absorption, his gills blowing almost continuously. One of his feelers had the middle ruler by the upper teeba, just under the central jell, preventing his speaking mouth from giving more than a half-stifled shout. Fo-Peta did not hesitate. Too much was at stake. At any moment some attendant might blunder on the scene. He darted on Tal-Ton from one side and swung up the heavy disk. The middle ruler collapsed under the same terrible blow that had slain the guard. Pross Mere-Mer turned on Fo-Peta with furious feelers.
“I had desired him for a prisoner,” he thundered, “so that we could have tortured from him the secret of the vibration weapon.”
“Fool!” said Fo-Peta. “Have we the time to fight all night? Zeera says there is a secret way from this apartment to the Chamber of Science. Come, let us hurry.”
They hurried. The night was short. Day would come swiftly enough. The Chamber of Science was shrouded in vaporous dark, silent, deserted, yet they dared not press into service the light of the lan-flare. Precious time it took to find the way from the Science Chamber to the vast room of the dimensional cars. It was too shrouded in vaporous gloom. Fo-Peta prayed that no guards were on duty. They heard none. A lan-flare was lighted. By its aid they at last located the huge central car and entered its control room. “Quick!” hissed Fo-Peta to Kama-Loo. “Here are the metals, the tools for the drawing of the map. Be certain of your calculations. You are sure of them? Good. First we draw the map – thus; now we place the metal in this press. So! Quick – in the name of Elo Hava!”
He swore by the name of a god he had ceased to believe in.
The map was adjusted upon the control table, the needle of the finder was laid upon Awn – upon the exact spot with Kama-Loo declared the mysterious message came from. Fo-Peta floated into the seat before the control instruments. Everything he strove to do as he had seen the scientists of Hade do. He deflected the lever. Instantly the dimensional car and its environs sprang into spectral relief, the vapor-tight doors closed with a hollow reverberation; outside the great spiral glowed red-hot, the swirling metallic vapors became alive with golden light. He was conscious of a thundering noise and through the transparent plates he saw guards – guards who had evidently been on duty not far away – rushing toward the car. His jell quivered. Now was the crucial moment. Could he duplicate the adjustment of intricate instruments as he had seen them adjusted once or twice before? With steady feelers he worked. Now, now… He felt an indescribable sensation, everything cohering in on itself. There was a moment of stygian blackness, disintegration; then out of it he emerged to find himself enveloped in more light then he had ever known before. Through the transparent plates he looked. The car-room of Hade had vanished; the dimensional car was hovering above a dry, arid country. Great bare rocks heaved upward into painful clarity. The others were staring likewise. Zeera clung to Fo-Peta with trembling feelers, her jell covered with fear.
“Victory!” Kama-Loo shouted deliriously. “Victory! We have arrived at Awn!”
“Yes,” said Fo-Peta, his jell colored gravely. “We have arrived at Awn. Let us regulate the metallic vapors to offset this glaring light; then let us test with our instruments the vapor contents of the world outside. It may be that we can soon venture forth in the suits the Hadeans prepared for wear under vaporless conditions and find the intelligence we have come to seek.”
He pressed the button.