Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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THE name O'Neill and red hair and temper go naturally together, and Sally had 'em all. Right now Sally O'Neill was a red-headed fury on wheels, which was something, because even when she wasn't mad, Sally was beautiful.
"Danny Marshall!" she literally flung both body and voice at the dazed young man standing before her, "how did this get out?"
"How did what get out?" asked Dan Marshall, devouring the flame of her with his eyes.
"This!" snapped Sally, thrusting an opened magazine under his nose.
"Oh, Radio News, hey," he blinked and drew his eyes into focus by the simple expedient of taking a backward step. Then they widened. "Honey, you mean we got some publicity—" He snatched the magazine from her.
"Publicity!" she screamed. "Oh—Dan Marshall, I could kill you—!" He ignored her fury for the moment. "'Small town girl blows fuse...'" he began reading, then stopped, swallowed hard, and crimsoned to his ears. "How'd this get out?" he bellowed. Sally's lips tightened. "I'm asking that question, Dan Marshall, and you'd better begin answering it."
Marshall's brow began to furrow in an annoyed frown and he gripped the magazine tighter as he read on. " 'Station KABL, Sharon Springs, Kansas, recently went off the air for over an hour on two separate occasions, when Miss Sally O'Neill, soprano, kicked the daylights out of the power tubes with (you can take it or leave it) her "high A over high C!" It seems technician Daniel Marshall didn't account for the dynamite in this lovely (we hear) little lady's voice. Might we suggest a little back-pedaling on the volume rheostat next time, Danny?'"
There was a strained silence that grew more strained as his voice ceased.
"Well?" said Sally dangerously.
Marshall expelled his breath in a long whoosh, and looked at her. "I'm sorry, Sally," he said simply. "I don't know how the story got out. I didn't do it. And you know as well as I do, that our mutual contract to get you into the big-time means as much to me as it does to you. More, maybe, because after all, a guy wants the girl who's going to be his wife to get every break..."
"And I suppose you'll let the tubes blow out next Friday night when we go on the network," she told him. "Is that what you mean by 'breaks'?"
"Now, Sally..." he began pleadingly. "How about giving me a break? After all, has an engineer ever had to contend with the kind of a voice you've got? I tell you, when you go out over the airwaves from coast to coast Friday night on the National Talent Roundup, you're going to hit Star Lane with a bang. And how can I put you over if I don't experiment first and make sure nothing will go wrong?"
"You've tried twice now," she pointed out. "It seems to me a little thing like turning a rheostat oughtn't be so hard."
HE tossed the magazine onto the desk and taking her slim shoulders in his hands, kissed her on the lips.
"Anything's hard, when it means taking my eyes off you," he grinned. "But seriously, honey, I'm sorry this all got out, and I'll promise that in the future that pesky little rheostat behaves. In fact, I'm putting you on the dinner concert this evening with the same number you'll sing Friday night—"
"Oh!" her eyes widened. "Your—aria!"
"—yeah—and make sure we have the volume under control," he finished with a rush. "That'll give us a chance to let you hit all those high notes in my composition, and—"
"But, Danny," she protested, "you weren't going to use it until Friday. You haven't even had it copyrighted. Do you think you should?"
"Silly," he bantered. "Who's going to steal it. After all, you're the only one in the world, so far as I know, who can actually sing it, and anyway, without warning, who could get it down on paper?"
He backed away and looked her up and down critically. "Let's see—" he mumbled, "You've never seen beauty until you've seen Sally. Hair the color of all the shades of red in a tropic sunset; eyes filled with the green of calm, deep water, but eyes that sometimes flash with the angry flame of a meteor from space; an ivory-white throat with a delicious indentation where the leaping pulse of fiery youth beats visibly; high, gleaming forehead; a form so exquisite that—"
"Danny Marshall," she interrupted abruptly, "are you drunk?"
He grinned at her impudently. "No. Just going over your good points for the publicity releases I'll be giving out after Friday..."
He halted as she turned and tripped lightly to a desk and a typewriter. Inserting a sheet of paper, she began typing. As she typed, she read aloud.
"Tall as a Greek god, and with wavy blond hair; eyes as blue as any seagoing Viking of old; a devil with the women; clumsy, especially with a rheostat; and oh so easy to forgive—"
The keys jammed as he leaned over the desk and kissed her again.
"Sally," he breathed, "you're a jewel!"
"WHAT a jewel!" chuckled Martin Ryker, leaning back in his leather-cushioned desk chair, and shifting his big feet to a more comfortable position on the glass-topped desk of his New York office. "Small town girl blows tubes! That's rich. This guy Kinchell is a riot. Wonder where he gets all his gags?"
Martin Ryker read on. Suddenly his feet thudded to the floor and he sat up straight, his eyes widening.
"Saaay!" he muttered, the grin wiped from his face. "It takes a pretty steady jolt of juice to blow a main power tube. And it says here she's good looking. Maybe this ain't so funny after all..."
He jabbed a fat finger down on the buzzer button on his desk. Instantly a dapper secretary, whose ferret eyes belied any look of inoffensiveness his general appearance gave, came in.
Ryker threw the magazine at him. "Page 36," he barked. "Read the gag about the girl blowing the tubes at KABL. Then get out there by plane. Get a recording of her voice, and if it's any good, in your crooked opinion, slap a contract at her. Ham, grand opera, Chesterfield cigarettes, what's the difference. She's got power. This is the age of power. I don't miss no bets. And I got lots of contract blanks. Get going!"
Martin Ryker settled back in his seat, a thoughtful look on his face as the secretary scurried out. Then, after a moment, he grinned. "Rich!" he chortled. "That guy Kinchell knows his onions. He's got a swell grapevine. Swell!"
"SHE'S swell, boss, swell! I got some of the sweetest glitter-stuff ever put in cans. And she ain't ham, boss. She's even too good for grand opera. She's good for a coffee program any day in the week.
"Where'm I callin' from? Right here in—what'sa name of this stinkin-little burg now?—oh yeah, Sharon Springs—
"Now wait a minute, boss, and let me finish tellin' yuh. That's why I'm calling from here. I didn't get no contract—yet. Y'see, it's a funny set-up, and I gotta work it out a little devious. It seems the gal is in love with the station director, this Dan Marshall guy, and they got it all stowed away in the frigidaire. Yeah, he's gonna manage her, and get her on the top rung of the ladder of success, and then he's gonna marry her.
"Sure, boss, I talked to him. Not big money, you understand, because he's a smart boy and he has plans. I found out around town about him—plenty. The kind of a kid who has ideas of his own chain, and cleaning up on and in the big time. In fact, boss, he has been quoted as saying you are a stinking crook.
"No, boss, I didn't say that. Hold on, will you? Maybe you are, but I never say it. But he won't have nothing to do with us. And neither will she. His word is law with her, and he's the little tin god. She's plenty soft on him.
"Well, anyways, I didn't get to first base with offering her a contract. She says Danny boy is right smart, and
he'll have her up there in no time.
"Sure you got time, boss. Here's the set-up. She goes on the air Friday night over the National Talent Roundup—
"Cripes, boss, I know it's a rival chain. But lemme finish. She ain't gonna make no hit over the Roundup. When she gets to that first high A over high C, the volume control won't cut down for her. Blooey! Get it? She blows another tube, and the local station goes off the air for a couple hours. Sally's sore at the boy friend right now for the plug Kinchell gave her. And if Danny-boy botches it up again, making her sound like an air raid warning just before the blackout, she's going to be hopping mad, and I wouldn't be surprised if she could be easily persuaded to tear up her contract with him, if she has one.
"But that ain't all. She sang a composition of the boy friend's, written especially for that voice of hers, and it sure is a sweet one. The boy has talent. She's got the voice. Well, I found out he ain't had it copyrighted yet—in fact, it's still in the rough draft. The song, I mean. So I took the precaution to record the song as she sang it last night on the dinner concert.
"Yeah, I knew you'd know what to do in a case like this. That's why I rushed the waxy to you this ayem by airmail.
"You're coming down yourself to handle the girl? Okay with me. I'll see that the station goes off the air. That volume rheostat won't work at the proper time.
"Sure, boss, you can count on me for the dirty work..."
DAN MARSHALL glanced nervously at the minute hand of his watch, then fixed the control phones more firmly over his ears. It was time for Sally to go on the National Talent Roundup.
He caught the applause for the last section of the cross country pickup, and the announcer began his smooth, dramatically uttered introduction to the next section.
"...Miss Sally O'Neill, soprano!" he finished.
Marshall gave his meters a critical scrutiny, threw a switch that began a recording, then settled back to listen as the clear soprano voice of Sally O'Neill drifted into his ears. Her voice floated on, clear as a bell, tinkling in rising bars, ever higher.
Marshall leaned forward. "Now—" he breathed.
Sally's voice soared upward, upward, then surged out in full volume. Marshall turned the rheostat down deftly. Suddenly his earphones began to blare, rattled deafeningly, then with an abrupt finality, went dead.
Marshall tore the phones from his head, his ears ringing. Then he became conscious that the ringing wasn't all in his ears. There was a high-pitched tone that still echoed through the locked control room, almost reverberating from the walls, as though some giant clock had just tolled the hour of one.
There was a sharp crackling sound, as of an electric arc sputtering somewhere. Then abruptly the lights dimmed. As though being muffled out by an invisible blanket of darkness, they faded away, to be replaced at last by intense blackness. Marshall sat paralyzed by the phenomenon, then he blinked. There was something before him in the darkness—something hanging in mid-air in that Stygian gloom!
The hair prickled erect on his scalp and his spine crawled. For there, before his aching eyes, a glow came up; a brilliant crimson glow, shot with silver flashes of incandescence. And its light revealed the most fantastic being Marshall had ever seen in any nightmare.
It was a nameless thing of gleaming red metal, perhaps five feet in height. It had a formless head, with odd projections that might have been eyes, but there were no eyes in them. It had metallic arms, terminating in almost human hands. It had no legs, but a round bottom almost ludicrously like an untippable salt cellar, ringed by a band of what seemed to be radio-active gold.
And it floated effortlessly perhaps a foot above the floor.
Almost blinded by the angry flashings from its electrically alive body, Marshall shrank back in his chair.
"My God!" he gasped. "What is this...thing!"
And then, to his utter horror, he felt his whole body possessed, his brain invaded, by a nameless vibration that somehow took the form of words. He was powerless to move, and listened in growing incredulity as a voice rang out soundlessly in his mind.
"I am Yolan! Is it you who have done this to me? Twice before you invaded my world in the ether; twice before you have tried to despoil me of my freedom. Now you have succeeded. I do not like it. What is this horrible world into which you have called me?. Why have you sought me out with your vibration that commands?"
Marshall was dazed, fought to regain his possession of his faculties. But he was helpless to answer. Instead, he felt his mind being probed into, the answers being dug unmercifully from him. Replies that were meaningless, because not even he knew the answers.
He felt that the incredible thing before him was sifting out the things it drew from his brain, trying to catalogue them, understand them. And suddenly he knew that the thing was failing utterly.
"I am Yolan," repeated the monster, rather querulously. "What is this world? Why have I been trapped in this dark place? I am Yolan. I am Yolan."
Suddenly Marshall felt his brain released. He sensed in the doubting, shifting motions of the metal creature as it swayed in the air before him, that it was caught in the web of doubt, of indecision, of bewilderment perhaps even greater than his own.
Then the creature seemed to stiffen, become motionless, as though listening, or sensing something beyond Marshall's earthly perceptions.
There began a high pitched droning, a squeal that sounded oddly like the clashing heterodying of an old-fashioned receiver. Then there came brilliant flashes of light, and a roar of awful sound.
Marshall sensed rather than saw, that the creature was going to rush toward him, hurtle at him with metallic devastation.
Instinctively he threw himself prone, and for an instant, was bathed in an eerie electrical glow as the nameless bulk hurled over his prostrate form. Something struck his breast painfully. Then, with a terrific crash, a shower of plaster, wood, and bricks, it was gone. And in its place was a huge gap in the wall of the building through which a street light shone.
Down below, in the street, as Marshall picked himself dazedly up, a crowd was collecting.
"An explosion!" someone yelled. "The radio station has exploded!"
And then, inexplicably, the lights went on. Marshall stared around dazedly. They came on exactly as they had gone, as though a muffling blanket had been lifted from them.
On the stairway the thudding of feet came. Marshall staggered to the door and unlocked it, and a blue-coated policeman burst into view.
"Begorry," he gasped. "What's goin' on in here, me lad?"
"I don't know, Flanagan!" said Marshall with tight lips. Something...went past me, and burst through that wall as though it wasn't there
"Something big, red, made of metal—and it floated in the air, with nothing to hold it up..."
Marshall stared appealingly at the frowning Flanagan.
"It was all lit up, like a weird ghost. It didn't have a face, and no legs. But it had arms, and hands, with metal fingers—" Marshall indicated his shirt, which was torn over his breast. And underneath were bloody scratches that looked like—the clawmarks of a giant cat.
Flanagan frowned. He looked at Marshall. "Have you been drinking—" he began.
Dan Marshall shook his head. "No," he said hoarsely. "I saw it, Flanagan. And I'm sure I never want to see it again. Because there just can't be anything like that!"
Marshall staggered to the door and stepped out.
And stood face to face with a blazing-eyed, tight-lipped girl.
"DAN MARSHALL," she said, voice trembling, tiny fists clenching and unclenching stiffly at her sides. "An hour ago I would have drawn and quartered the man who called you a fool. But right now, I'd shake his hand. You, utter, complete, bungler. Do you know what you've done, Dan Marshall? You've made me the laughing stock of the country. Business manager! You couldn't manage to hold your breath long enough to embarrass the insurance company!"
Her eyes widened a moment as she saw the wreckage of the control room.
"My," she added acidly. "You've managed to blow up more than the tubes with my high notes, this time. The publicity on this will be simply wonderful! I'll be blowing up buildings and bridges next!"
"Sally," Marshall grabbed her arms. "Please! I didn't do all this. A strange metal robot did it. He came into the control room and spoke to me. He said his name was Yolan. He hypnotized me, read my mind..." Abruptly Marshall stopped speaking, realizing how insane his hurried words were sounding. He saw the expression of utter disbelief and disgust that was sweeping over Sally's lovely features.
"Dan Marshall!" she said in utter amazed anger. "Dan Marshall—you're drunk!"
The cold fury in her tones rose in crescendo until she almost screamed. Suddenly with a furious motion, she wrenched her ring from her finger and threw it at him. Then, sobbing, she whirled and ran from the studio into the night.
"Sally!" he called, sprinting after her, but at the door he stopped. There was no halting Sally now, he knew, and the sting where the ring had hit against his face made his heart sink to his shoes.
"Golly," he muttered. "She means that. Now I am in a jam."
Despondently he turned back to the studio and then halted as the dapper little man sauntered past, a slightly amazed expression apparent, even yet, on his rat-like face.
"What are you doing here," asked Marshall in sudden suspicion.
"Nothing at all. For a time I still had hopes. But now—" The little man shrugged.
"She had a nice voice," he said regretfully. "But I don't think anybody could do anything with it now. Unless you could use it for a factory whistle—"
"Why you little rat!" Marshall blazed, clenching his fist.
The dapper little man ducked hurriedly past him into the night.
"THERE just can't be anything like that, Miss Latour!" the frantic, perspiring, red-faced Insurance Adjuster rasped despairingly. "We're willing to settle any reasonable claims. Especially when they involve a well-known movie actress like yourself. But when you tell us that some floating, red-metal thing-a-muh-bob comes into your, uh...ah...boudoir and shocks you into a faint—" He paused, almost hysterical, and mopped his brow. "Well, good heavens, Miss Latour, how can I tell my company that that's what they have to pay claim on?"
The raven-haired cinema star rose, pulling her dressing robe closer about her, eyes blazing.
"Do you mean to say that you think I'm lying?" she shouted.
Her agent, a fat, bald little man with a thick accent rose quickly, putting his fat hand on her arm in an effort to calm her down. "Now, now, Lettie," he said quickly, "don't get hysterical!"
She shook his hand from her arm, continuing to stare at the Insurance Adjuster. Her voice, as she spoke, was cold, low, and seething with indignation.
"For the last time," she said, "I'll tell you just what happened. And then your company better pay my claims, or I'll—."
"Please don't get hysterical, Lettie!" her Agent implored.
"Shuddup!" the actress shouted. "This thing came into my room! I was telephoning long distance, New York. The operator had given us the connection, and I'd talked for almost two minutes when the hook-in seemed to grow fainter. Then there was a confusion of static. The phone began to crackle like...like...something alive. Then this horrible thing came floating into the room!"
The very recollection of the incident seemed to flood her with horror, for she pulled her dressing robe closer, shuddering, face pale.
"If you don't settle for my shock, and settle plenty—" she repeated ominously. Her voice rose shrilly. "It was terrible, I tell you, terrible!"
The Insurance Adjuster was at the door. "Okay, Miss Latour. I swear I'll do all I can. We settle! But don't let this thing get into the newspapers. If some of the other hams—uh, actresses, around Hollywood got wind that my company was paying for claims like that—" He paused to shudder. "It would break us!"
When the Adjuster was gone, the Agent turned to the actress. He rubbed his chubby paws, beaming.
"Wonderful, Lettie, colossal! What a news story! What publicity, little girl! How did you ever think of it? A metal monster visits film cutie—wow, I can see the headlines!"
The actress was gazing stonily at the little Agent, her eyes once more kindling sparks. "You imbecile!" she grated. "There was such a monster. I tell you I saw it!"
The Agent's face whitened. He backed toward the door. "But Lettie," he wailed. "There just can't be anything like that!"
He slipped out of the door just in time to avoid a flying paper weight.
IT was after midnight as the rotund, middle-aged radio "ham" closed the door behind him in his attic and, with the dazed and loving expression of an addict, walked over to his apparatus in the corner of his room. His gait was a trifle unsteady, for the party he had just returned from had been quite generously flooded with Cheering Nectar.
But a "ham" being a "ham"—drunk or sober—he was sitting at his set five minutes later, earphones on his head, intoning blearily into the small mike before him.
"C-Q, calling C-Q," the mellow and middle-aged gentleman said.
"Hello, C-Q, hello C-Q, hie," he repeated.
For a while he sat there, waiting for response. Then, slightly annoyed, he made an adjustment on the control board in front of him. Static seemed to be bad tonight, terrible.
"Hie, hello C-Q," the inebriated gentleman mumbled. "Damn, hello C-Q!"
Suddenly he sat bolt upright, an expression of extreme confusion wreathing his face. He made another adjustment, then another. In the silence of the room, the crackling response in his earphones seemed unnecessarily loud. A third adjustment, and the crackling became still louder.
The tubes on the control apparatus were glowing redly, more and more brilliantly. The "ham" tried to rise from his seat, tried to get the earphones off of his head. He failed in both attempts, and sat there, mouth agape, while the control board itself began to crackle.
There was a terrific explosion, followed by a series of wild, lightning-like flashes! The entire attic seemed bathed in a brilliant, static light. The "ham" had been thrown from his seat by the concussion, the earphones jarred from his head!
A crash of glass—and the attic window was shattered. Something red, something metal, glowing, weaving, floated into the room!
The "ham" tried to scream, tried to shout. The din and the flashing continued. Blackness closed around him.
PRECISELY ten minutes later, his wife was helping him to his feet. She was little, gray-haired, and angry. The confusion in the room was silenced. The attic was once more peaceful. But the window was broken, and his radio apparatus was a charred, twisted thing in the corner.
"You'll have to make up your mind," his wife was saying. "Either confine yourself to radio as a hobby, or drinking. But you can't mix them both. I knew something like this would happen sooner or later!"
Sobered and shaken, the "ham" stood there, looking doubtfully around the attic. He opened his mouth, was going to tell his wife about the floating thing, the red metal thing. Then he clamped his jaws shut. Hell. It hadn't happened. There just couldn't be anything like that!
Last night the entire community was thrown into utter darkness when a breakdown occurred in the city power plant. For twenty hours New-haven was without electric lights or electric power.
In a sworn statement, the night shift at the power plant declared that the breakdown was caused by forces beyond their control—that some tremendous electrical force, a floating, inhuman thing, invaded the plant, blowing out the turbines completely!
AIRLINER CRASHES, TWELVE DIE
SENATOR NORDERHOFF KILLED
(USP) The mysterious crash of the gigantic, Chicago-bound Midwestern Airliner, in the Michigan Dunes early this morning has already had nationwide results in its implications. An immediate investigation by the Interstate Air Commission has been demanded by local authorities who investigated the scene of the crash.
The disaster, which resulted in the death of Senator James L. Norderhoff (Dem. Ia.), and eleven others, occurred at approximately five-thirty this morning.
Co-pilot, Jess Weems, is still lingering between life and death at the State Hospital.
The condition of the plane, which didn't burn when it crashed, leads authorities to suspect that the cause of the crash might have been something other than a mechanical one. The motor was still in almost perfect condition upon inspection. The rear of the fuselage, however, was practically completely torn away.
Co-pilot Weems, although delirious, has made several strange statements which lead authorities to believe that some human agency engineered the accident. These statements indicate that someone, perhaps one of the passengers forced a way into the pilot's compartment to deliberately wreck the ship, which was following a radio beam into Chicago.
CRUISE LINER ON REEF
RADIO BEAM BLAMED
A strange radio static condition, which last night held the Key West area in a state of electrical confusion, was blamed for the miscalculations made through radio beam by the officers of the cruise liner Floridan, and is said to have resulted in the reef shoaling of the vessel.
Passengers aboard the Floridan gave strangely conflicting opinions as to the cause of the grounding. Some of them swear that they could see weird lightning flashes that occasionally pierced the fog. Others, undoubtedly influenced by the well-known Loch Ness Sea Monster myth, swear to having seen an odd, red, glowing creature floating in and out between the electrical storm bursts. These statements however, have been discounted by Captain Rolf Peterson.
THE telephone lineman climbed out of the truck, pausing to strap his pole-climbing apparatus on his legs. The broad, straight stretch of Highway Eighteen was like a shimmering ribbon of mirror as the fine mist of rain sprayed relentlessly down from the darkened skies.
The lineman turned to his partner, a stocky barrel-chested little fellow wearing a black cap pulled low over his eyes. The lineman was tall, and he had to bend over to shout into the little man's ear, for it was difficult to be heard above the rumbling thunder overhead.
"This is a helluva night, Shorty," the Lineman bellowed. "1 wish I was home and in bed."
Shorty grinned, and pulled his cap lower over his eyes, fishing for a crumpled pack of cigarettes in his pocket. "Don't worry me none," he shouted in response. "You gotta do the climbing!"
The Lineman grinned, then, and Shorty went to the back of the truck to get his apparatus. When he returned, the Lineman was standing beside the tall telephone pole some four yards off the edge of the highway.
"Hurry up," the Lineman shouted. "Wanta get up and get done with it. Then we can catch some Java and sinkers down the road."
Shorty nodded, handing him his equipment, then stepped back, watching as the Lineman began his ascent of the pole. The Lineman's spikes dug deep in the wood, and in a few moments he neared the top. From his perch, he could look down on the stocky, small figure of his helper. The rain was heavier, now, beating into the Lineman's face.
The thunder rolled louder, ominously, and then was followed by a smashing detonation. The pole seemed to sway. The Lineman looked down the road, along the tops of the other poles, squinting through the rain. Then his eyes widened incredulously.
Far down the line, perhaps a mile and a half away, he saw a rapidly growing orange-and-red ball of flame!
He watched, fascinated. The thing crackled along the telephone lines, flashes of electrical sparks shooting off in its wake. He opened his mouth, then snapped it shut. The pole was literally trembling from some strange vibration!
The wires next to his elbow were buzzing, and he felt the heat of them even through his thick jacket. Frantically, he moved back, his spikes digging into wood. There was one thought, now that he'd been galvanized into action—get down!
From the ground, he heard a shout, hoarse, terrified; Shorty's voice. Then, looking up again, he screamed wildly. The terrifically rushing ball of crackling sparks and orange flame was less than forty yards from him, moving with incredible speed!
But he was too late. The thing was upon him!
Blazing, crashing, numbing flashes seared his mind and stunned his body. He felt himself falling, falling—
SHORTY met the nurse outside the door of the Lineman's hospital ward room.
"How is he?" he asked shakily.
"He'll be all right," she answered. And Shorty knew from the tone of her voice that she meant it. "You won't be able to see him until tomorrow," she concluded.
Shorty turned away. Electrical shock was what he'd told them. But God, that thing hadn't been an electrical shock! It was...it was...Shorty shuddered, seeking a word. There just couldn't be anything like it!
DAN MARSHALL snapped on the radio in his hotel room, adjusted the volume rheostat and then listened intently as the voice of the announcer suddenly swelled into being.
"Attention ladies and gentlemen! A special late bulletin from Florida. During an electrical storm in that region, witnesses reported the appearance of a strange comet-like object that appeared suddenly and flashed away out of sight before its exact nature could be ascertained. The witnesses state further that numerous bolts of lightning struck the object as if attracted to it by some strange magnetic force. The city officials are checking into the matter. Keep tuned to this—"
Dan Marshall cut off the voice with a vicious twist of his wrist and ran an impatient hand through his rumpled hair.
"That's the fourth report today," he muttered to himself, "What the hell's back of these electrical disturbances? Power plants, radio stations, wireless units, all turned upside down. And with every one of these freakish disturbances the witnesses have mentioned a floating, flaming object, or something like that. It can't just be a coincidence."
He paced the floor of his room nervously. At the back of his brain an insistent fear was plucking. What was the thing that had accosted him, then blasted out of the radio station?
He frowned thoughtfully. Was the thing that had been "born," so to speak, at the radio station, the same thing that was responsible for the freakish occurrences throughout the country?
As wild as that might sound it was as logical a guess as any other until someone unearthed more definite facts about the queer creature of the ether.
What kind of a thing was it? What furnished its energy; the terrible blasting energy that could shatter without effort a wall of concrete and steel ? Did it have any directional intelligence or was it just a physical projection of strange radio waves?
These questions, Marshall knew, would have to be answered before anyone could do any more than guess about the weird being.
And in the meantime he had problems of his own and his main problem concerned a green eyed bundle of feminine dynamite—Sally O'Neill!
Furious over the blow-out at the station, she was ready to sign a contract with the man, Ryker, who had flown in. She had agreed to fly to New York with him for an audition.
Marshall pounded his big fist into the palm of his hand viciously. He was convinced the grinning, smirking fellow was rotten to the core. He didn't give a hang about himself but he didn't want Sally to be taken for a ride.
He had just made up his mind to make another attempt to change Sally's mind when there came a knock on the door. He crossed to it, opened it. Sally was standing there. Under her arm was a bundle of newspapers.
"May I come in?" she asked, in a tone of voice that would have bored through chrome steel.
MARSHALL knew the storm signals.
The flashing green eyes, the gorgeous mass of red hair tossed back that way from her proudly held head spelled trouble. He grinned and stepped aside.
"Welcome, your gracious Majesty," he bowed low as she swept past him. "This humble domain is yours forever and I am yours to command."
He forced a mask of impassive gravity over his face and took her by the arm and led her to an overstuffed chair.
"The throne is just a bit dusty but ever since we went off the Gold Standard we can't afford maid service. However," he turned her around, put both hands on her shoulders and pushed her gently into the chair, "if it were brocaded satin on solid gold it would still be unworthy—"
"Dan Marshall," she interrupted ominously, "will you stop that nonsense and listen to me?"
He looked at her closely. "You sound very grim, my dear. Outside sparrows are twittering—"
"They're not sparrows," she corrected him automatically. "They're robins."
"Robins they are, then," he agreed, "but anyway they're twittering happily, the sun is shining, God's in his heaven, everything's cheerful and bright—and look at you. You should be laughing, smiling—"
"Smiling!" she cried. "What have I got to smile about? I've got nothing to laugh at, but thanks to you, the whole country is laughing at me. Have you seen the morning papers?" she demanded suddenly.
"Well, as a matter of fact," he admitted, "I haven't. But," he peered at the bundle of papers in her arm, "I have a very definite feeling that I'm going to before I'm much older."
"You're right for once," she snapped. She thrust the papers at him. "Read them. You'll get a big kick out of them. They're positively hilarious. All about the—the—vocal freak; I believe that's the expression one brilliant reporter coined."
Marshall shuffled rapidly through the papers, turning to the entertainment columns and glancing at the articles relating to the broadcast of the night before. He read a few chapters from each story and winced.
They hadn't pulled any punches. All of the papers had gone to town on the story, treating Sally as if she were some fantastic freak, who shouldn't be allowed on the air waves. But some of the stories, Marshall was forced to admit were really funny. For instance the radio critic of the Memphis Gazette had written:
"It is our opinion that Miss O'Neill's peculiar vocal qualities would be admirably suited to Lights Out program. Think of it! The announcer would introduce the program with—Light's Out! Miss O'Neill would hit her high note—and they would be!"
Marshall chuckled. An instant later he realized what a mistake that was.
"Oh," Sally's voice was outraged, "so you think it's funny too!" She sprang to her feet and looked eagerly about for something to throw. Fortunately for Dan Marshall there wasn't anything movable within reach. With a helpless moan she sank back into the chair.
"THAT'S the last straw," she said bitterly. "After getting me into this trouble, making me the laughing stock of the country, ruining my chances of a radio career, you still have the nerve to think there's something funny about it."
"Now wait a minute, honey," Marshall sank to his knees beside her and tried to capture one of her hands, but she kept them firmly locked in her lap. "I didn't mean to laugh. You've gotta believe me when I tell you that I feel worse than you do about the whole thing. I feel like thirty-three varieties of rat and I'm not just being dramatic. I wanted you to go over. That's all I've been working for, dreaming of, for all these years. Together with my aria and your voice I didn't think anything could ever stop us. And nothing will. This mechanical trouble we can straighten out and then we'll be on our way up."
"All this has a familiar ring to it," Sally commented frostily.
"I know it," Marshall snapped. "I've said it over and over again because I mean it. Another thing: I don't believe your voice threw us off the air the last time. I think that rheostat was tampered with in some way."
Marshall snapped his fingers excitedly. What a stupid blundering fool he was. Why hadn't he thought of that before?
"Of course," he cried excitedly, "that's it."
He thought swiftly, the whole jumbled assortments of fact falling into a clear picture in his mind. Ryker wanted Sally's contract. What more logical than to make Sally look bad, make her look like a useless vocal freak, then make her an offer. Sure that she was a flop Sally would snap at it as a last hope. Which was just what she had done. That's what Ryker's agent had been doing near the control room. He'd tampered with the mechanism so that it wouldn't respond to the rheostat.
"Don't you see, honey," he spoke swiftly, excitedly. "Ryker wanted you to think you were no good so he contrived to mess up the broadcast. Don't you see by signing a contract and going to New York with him you're playing right into his hands?"
"You haven't any proof of that," Sally challenged doubtfully, "and I don't think you could prove it. Mr. Ryker is taking me now when no one else wants me. He is willing to take a chance on my voice and give me a break. That's more than the other networks would do."
"Who said nobody wants you?" Marshall snapped belligerently. "You're going to be the hottest thing in radio and nothing's going to stop you. You've got the most glorious set of pipes that the ether has ever heard and you're feeling grateful because some two-bit chiseler like Ryker is going to audition you, because some big combine is trying to buy up talent at about one-tenth of what it's worth."
"Combine?" she snapped. "That sounds very encouraging to me. At least they'll have money. They'll be able to provide decent equipment that won't get temperamental every time someone turns on a little extra volume. It won't be a small, half-dozen watt station that spends as much time off the air as it does on. At least they'll be able to give me the opportunity of singing without fear of blowing up the control room!
"That's all I want. An opportunity to be heard. They'll give me that, and I'll be able to stand or fall on the merits of my voice alone. I'll be able to concentrate on my vocal production without worrying about inefficient engineers, cheap equipment, shortage of power—and you, Dan Marshall!"
She tossed her head defiantly.
MARSHALL put his hands on his hips and stared down at her. For a moment he said nothing, then he whistled softly.
"If I hadn't heard it," he said quietly, "I wouldn't have believed it."
Sally twisted uncomfortably under his gaze and averted her eyes.
"Well," she said, after a painful silence, "I have to think of myself don't I? I have to take advantage of an opportunity that will give me the things I want."
She looked up anxiously at his silent figure. "Well," she cried defensively, "don't I?"
Marshall's features were strained and white. "Sure," he said wearily, "you've got to look out for yourself, baby, and I don't think there's any question about your being able to do it. We're small time down here and you belong in the big time. The boys down here have helped you a bit but that's all right. Don't worry about that! You're going up. You've got the right technique. Don't take along any excess baggage. Use people, sure that's okay, but when they become a nuisance just dust 'em off like a fly speck."
He turned without glancing at her and crossed the room to the window. Without looking back he said, "Good luck, Sally."
Sally looked at his stiff, proud back and suddenly she was out of the chair, running to him, sobbing.
"Oh Dan, I didn't mean it," she cried, "I didn't mean it. I couldn't leave you, you know that. It was hateful of me to say the things I did."
He turned to her, his face lighting suddenly, and she buried hers against his chest. "I was angry, foolish, Dan, please forgive me," she murmured against his shoulder. "I'm not going to New York. We'll go together or not at all. I'll tell them to—to jump in the lake. There'll be other chances and we'll take them together. I don't care about anything except being with you. Everything's all right again, isn't it, Dan? Please say everything's all right again."
Dan Marshall didn't answer.
Instead he did some fast thinking. He was realizing, perhaps for the first time in his life, how much Sally meant to him, and he was also realizing that he was standing in the way of her career. There was no doubt of it. What she said in the heat of anger and wounded pride had been the bitter truth. Sally needed good equipment to handle her glorious voice, expert publicity men, all the things that the others could give her and he could not. Her loyalty to him prevented her from accepting another offer, the offer that would lead her to stardom and fame. If she stuck with him she might never get there. He couldn't allow her to sacrifice herself for him. He had to make her take that offer, go to New York and there was only one way that he could do that. He hated to do it, but it was the only way he could drive her away from him.
"Stop snivelling," he snapped. "That won't make any impression on me."
She stepped back from him and dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief.
"I'm sorry," she said, "but please don't be angry, Dan. I forgot myself for a minute because I was so disappointed and hurt that I wanted to hurt someone else. Please forgive me."
"Bravo, bravo," he jeered, "very good acting my dear. You really should be in Hollywood. Radio neglects your histrionic ability completely. But in spite of your cleverness it's no go. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not as simple as I look."
"Dan," she cried sharply, "what do you mean?"
"Aha," he smiled, "more acting. As if you didn't know. But if you really want me to draw a diagram I shall. Although I feel it's really unnecessary. In the first place you know that you're going to have a hell of a job cracking the eastern networks. Your voice isn't the greatest in the world, y'know, and on top of that you're liable to knock the station off the air before you get through. Knowing all this you realize that your chances are slim indeed unless you can get something different and sensational and inspiring to sing."
"Oh, Dan," Sally cried, "that's—"
"Let me finish," Marshall tried to keep his voice hard and brittle. "You knew this and you knew that if you could twist me around your finger I'd let you take my aria to New York with you. Well it was a good try, but it didn't work. You go to New York—without the aria. You were always just an investment to me and you turned out to be a darned poor investment. Why I even pretented to be nuts about you." He turned abruptly at the sight of her face and stared unseeingly out the window.
"Yeah, I—I even was that silly. Just to get you to put a little more oomph into your singing, but even that didn't help. Anyway you look at it, you were a complete bust to me. But I draw the line when you try to steal my aria!"
Sally backed away a step, her hand crawling to her throat. "No—no Dan," she said weakly, "you don't mean it. You're joking. Please say you're just joking."
Marshall felt something like a cold hand closing over his heart, but he forced his voice to carry a note of nonchalant derision.
"The answer is still no, baby. Get it through that pretty head of yours that I mean it. You're a smooth article, but you're just not smooth enough. I've got work to do so I'll have to ask you to stop annoying Uncle Danny. Drop me a line when you hit the city, kid."
Marshall waited for an instant and then looked over his shoulder. The door to the corridor was open and the room was empty. Sally had gone.
MARSHALL sank into a chair and buried his head in his arms. For a long time he remained motionless and when he raised his head, his face was white and haggard with suffering.
"I did it," he muttered to himself, "I'd rather have stuck my hand into a furnace than hurt that kid, but it's for her own good. Some day she'll thank me."
So Dan Marshall sat there numbly, the anguish at what he'd been forced to do driving all other thoughts from his mind. Sally, gone this time for good. But it was better. It had to be better this way. Quick, and final.
Hours passed, while Marshall remained there in his room, quite alone with his grief. But the nostalgic recollections of Sally were becoming more than he could bear. Enough was enough. At last he rose, conscious that he must do something, anything, to drive this hellish torture from his mind.
Now he felt a sudden burst of rage, a futile, maddening sort of rage, at the thing that had been responsible for this.
Dan Marshall tightened his fists as a vivid light flashed in his brain. There was a way—crossing to his bureau drawer, he fished into a pile of odds and ends, bringing forth a stub nosed automatic pistol. It might be handy, for a plan that was already forming in his mind; a plan that had to do with a certain recording.
Marshall strode out of his room. Twenty minutes later, in the growing darkness, he was at the radio station.
LOCKING the doors, he went to the control room. There he secured the recording of that fatal Friday night Talent broadcast. The record that had been impressing in its waxen self the clear tones of Sally's voice, singing his aria.
Marshall had a theory concerning that record, that voice, that aria. A theory that tied in now, with growing clarity in his mind, with the weird red metal menace that had first appeared in this very same control room.
As he thought of the incident, Marshall stared at the temporarily closed wall of the room; the one that had been wrecked by the impetuous and powerful plunge of the metal horror toward some unknown destination.
It had been through that wall that the monster had gone, to create all the havoc the newspapers had been bewilderedly telling of in the past twenty-four hours. Through the radio that thing had come, and through radio and electrical waves it seemed to travel. Take, for instance, the case of the ship wrecked because its radio beam signals were awry. Or the telephone lineman who had been so weirdly jolted from his perch atop a power pole. Or the powerhouse that had gone dead in the middle of the night, completely wrecked by a weird red phantom creature that literally sucked the energy from whirling dynamos, and shorted expensive machinery. Or the crash of the air liner, causing the death of Senator Norderhoff.
Marshall thought he knew the answer now. The strange radio waves generated by Sally's unusual voice had been the real key to the red menace. Those waves had brought it blindly into being in this very room, torn from a strange world of its own, perhaps even in another dimension. It had accused him of exactly that. But then Marshall hadn't understood.
Then, bewildered by its presence in an utterly strange place, it had sensed something, gone plunging to seek it. Had that something been the radio beam that guided the Senator's plane? Had the uncanny robot flung itself along that beam, seeking a way to return to the world it called its own, and thus crashed blindly, with the same force it had used to smash through the wall, into the plane, sending it hurtling in flames to the Michigan Sand Dunes?
The implications were stunning to Marshall, and now, with the record that he instinctively felt held the key to the floating demon in his hand, he felt his rage subside; the rage that had made him want to do something dangerous, anything, just so he could forget Sally. Did he really want to broadcast Sally's voice once again, using the record, and recall that flaming horror to this station?
Marshall grinned, suddenly, recklessly. What the hell. What did he care what happened? He'd faced the thing before—talked with it. He'd do it again, and maybe this time send it back to the place it sought; the place from which it came. He'd talk to it again. He knew it had intelligence. It would understand now, what he could tell it. He would send it back forever to its own world. He would prevent the tragedies that were taking place, perhaps more of them even now, as the robot-creature plunged madly about the country, seeking a way out of its strange dilemma.
He made his way purposefully to the broadcast room. If his hunch was right, the flaming, floating robot would be forced to return to the studio when he played those key notes that obviously impelled the creature irresistibly to their source.
IN a matter of fifteen minutes he was ready. Then, his hand on the switch that would put Station KABL on the air, he stopped, his face a mask of chagrin. But he grinned shortly after a moment. This was going to be expensive, because when he played that record, it meant more blown-out tubes.
Abruptly he pulled the switch down, then started the recording. Hastily he barked the required announcement and call-letters into the ether, then stepped across the room, back against the wall, waiting tensely. He could hear nothing, except the faint scratching of the needle on the recording. He hadn't turned on the speaker. A moment, then suddenly the meters on the control panel leaped, flickered back and forth, then slammed back against the zero-post with finality.
"There she goes!" said Marshall grimly, aloud.
And with the words, there came the now familiar shrill heterodyning noise, the crackle of a vast kind of static, and brilliant flashes of red and white light. And abruptly, there in the deserted radio station, blackness descended, like a mantle, and the lights blanked out. For a moment Marshall stood in darkness lit by alternately flaming bursts of red and white. Then a brilliant crimson glare filled the room, making it seem like a scene out of Dante's Inferno and there, in the center of the room, floating motionless, except for a slight bewildered swaying was—the Radio Robot!
Marshall stood stiffly, hardly aware that in the tenseness of the moment he had drawn his automatic and held it leveled in his hand. His breath seemed frozen in his lungs, and his hair prickled on his scalp. This time, unlike the first appearance of the terror, he could see all the details of it plainly. And an unnamed, unreasoning fear gripped him. This was nothing earthly. It was nothing remotely human. It was—alien! Utterly and impossibly alien.
The robot floated quietly a moment, seeming to regard him with its eyeless eyes. Marshall felt some queer, unhuman sense observing him, groping to understand him. And he waited.
But then, abruptly, realization of danger flooded over him. He felt invisible fingers plucking at his brain, felt his body begin to go numb under the devilish spell of the monster. Once again, as it had that first time, the creature was taking possession of his body and his will. But not completely, yet. Marshall knew that he could still command himself to a limited extent, could still force his body to obey, although sluggishly, under tremendous mental effort, the commands of his enmeshed will.
He tightened his fingers about the butt of the gun.
THE automatic was kicking against his rigid grip and blasting deafeningly in the silence of the room, while vivid flashes shot through the crimson darkness. But the horrible vision remained swaying there before him, even though he triggered again and again.
A last empty click told Marshall that his ammunition was exhausted. And he stood there, frozen, while the stench of gunsmoke burned his nostrils and the room rang from the shots. His useless weapon slipped from nerveless fingers, and even as it did—the thing talked! Calmly, coldly, as though his shots had gone unnoticed.
There were no sounds, but there was a voice. There was no language—but words stamped themselves on his mind! And dazedly, horrified, Marshall watched the creature floating redly before his eyes, while thought-communications burned into his brain.
"It is no good. You are not able to harm me. I, Yolan, am not of your world. The weapons of your world are useless against me. I seek a way back. I have been hurled into your sphere through no wishes of mine. I seek a way back. I am Yolan. I come from—"
And as the words broke off, Marshall had another form of impressions registered upon him, weird, odd, eerie mental photographic visions. Familiar vision—like newsreels of incredible number jumbled on a gigantic screen; of songs, music, speeches, dramas; of garbled commercial announcements. An utterly fantastic montage of half-human things, of unhuman things.
And somehow, too, Marshall got the impression of this world in relation to his own—another dimension was its border, another plane of existence marked the span that divided it from his own. But it had the same sun, the same moon, the same stars and stratosphere. And then the visions blurred, the montage fading out of focus until it was but a gray blot.
The words resumed, once again hammering against Marshall's consciousness. "That is my world. The world from which I was taken. The world to which I seek return. I am Yolan. It was here that I was snapped into your world through some strange gateway. It is here that the gateway must still exist. I seek that door back from your world to mine. I must return. I am Yolan."
Somehow, Marshall was speaking. He hadn't been conscious of anything but the incredible apparition, its fantastic powers.[*]
[* Incredible as it may seem, the meaning of the uncanny things that Marshall sensed may be quite significant. The law of conservation of energy would seem to dictate that no energy is ever lost, only changed. And it can be changed to but one thing—matter! What then, happens to all the radio waves that are being broadcast in their millions every day? Are they not energy? The answer, of course, is yes. Where do they go? Do they travel ever onward into the depths of space? Here again, we must say something definite. We must say no. The Heaviside layer does not permit radio waves to escape the earth. They have been proven to bounce back from a height of some two hundred miles. They bounce from earth to stratosphere, and back again, hopping and skipping around the earth. This accounts for the phenomenon known as the "skip-area" which has long hampered long range radio broadcasting. Short wave stations still encounter this "skip-area" and signals tend to fade altogether at certain points, these points never stationary, but moving around the earth in a definite cycle—the cycle caused by the pattern of the reflections from the Heaviside layer.With all these points in mind, it means that all broadcasts are retained, in some infinitesimal, and greatly scattered manner, by the earth, perhaps in a very different dimension from our own three, the three of which our senses are cognizant. Certainly radio waves are not part of our three-dimensional perception. We need artificial senses—receivers—to pick up radio waves. Then, admitting the possibility of energy becoming matter, perhaps by sheer saturation, could not Yolan, the floating robot, who rides such things as radio beams, electrical flashes, telephone current, etc., be the materialization of those energies being constantly broadcast? Could he not be those energies, transformed into matter, crystallized into an intelligent being, made so by all the intelligence-patterns of those broadcasted radio waves ? Science and logic lend much support to such a theory, and none against.—Ed.]
But now the words were tumbling from his lips and he was powerless to stop them. It was once more as though he were being drained of all his thoughts, as though the robot were forcing him, in some strange manner, to speak.
And even as he talked, Marshall was aware that the words he spoke were the results of the conscious thoughts in his mind. He heard himself, as if from a distance, narrating a wild mixture of fear, anxiety, rage and all the emotions he had felt upon his entrance to the studio, in addition to a recounting of the panoramic emotions that had registered upon him when the radio robot had first appeared.
The odd monstrosity seemed to be digesting all this, sorting it. But, too, Marshall realized that while this was going on he had insight into the thought processes of the creature. Evidently the radio robot was forced to leave itself vulnerable when seeking radio-mental information from others. Like an open connection on either end of an actual radio wave transmission—both able to send and receive communications.
STRANGELY, Marshall's sensations of fear had left him. His wonder and astonishment remained, but his mind had regained its ability to estimate the situation coolly. The danger, obviously, remained. But Marshall was now oblivious to it. And now his voice had ceased.
The creature still swayed before him, the heterodyning shrilling audible once more. The glow to its body was strong enough to produce illumination in the room, strong enough to bring into sharp relief the trailing arms and metallic fingered hands of it.
Slowly, Marshall could feel its mind processes digesting the information which it had sucked from his conscious thoughts. Methodically, the thing was sorting, and as it arrived at conclusions, those same conclusions were instantly apparent to Marshall.
The robot was recognizing, dimly, the reasons for Marshall's visit to the studio. Then this information was pushed aside, as the creature groped onward toward what it was seeking—information by which it could find its way out of this strange world into which it had been thrust; groping, determinedly toward that solution. Dan Marshall could feel the robot's brain searching for that information.
It was evident that the creature had at first suspected Marshall was among those responsible for its transmigration from its own world into this. But now, as the thoughts it had sucked from Marshall's brain failed to lead it to the pattern it sought, the thing seemed to be filled with a frantic bewilderment. An instant later, and thought-words stamped themselves on Marshall's mind once more. The robot-like creature was again speaking to him.
"It was here that the door existed. You must know of the door."
And at the question, panic once more struck into Marshall's heart. Too late he realized the situation. The gateway! The robot wanted to know the gateway. And that gateway was—Sally!
Instantly Marshall knew he must keep the secret from the robot. The evil that he sensed in the creature's disregard, or was it lack of knowledge, of living things of this strange world, would be vented upon her helpless head, if the robot discovered she was his only hope of returning to his own world. And Marshall knew, too, now, that this was true. Sally O'Neill, singing his aria, with her once-in-a-thousand-years voice, was the key to the door to the other world, just as the high note was the summoning command that tore him from it. If the robot discovered what it was that had brought him, he would seek the means to reverse the action. He would seek out Sally, and try to use her to return to his own weird domain of ether waves.
He, Dan Marshall, must lie, and successfully, to a creature that could command his mind, overpower his will by sheer overbearing intelligence and mental force. As though from a distance he heard his voice saying: "I don't. I know nothing of how you came here."
"There was a door," the creature insisted, "through which I was brought here. A door that must still be here. I, Yolan, must find that door. I must return." Suddenly he seemed to glow more redly, and jerked right and left as though blown by sharp gusts. Marshall had a sudden sensation that the creature's reactions were turning from bewilderment to frustrated rage.
And then Dan Marshall knew—realized he was being driven, against his will, to think logically toward the solution the robot sought, to seek some explanation of how this had come about, how this strange creature had been hurled from his own dimension into this! And he was unable to prevent himself from answering.
"RADIO," Dan was saying unable to stop the words that tumbled from his unwilling lips. "You're from a world of another dimension, a world living side by side with ours, an other-dimensional radio world. Your entrance into our world occurred at a radio station, this station. Your entrance from the radio world must have come through radio." As Marshall spoke these halting, elementary sentences, he realized that the radio robot was using his mind, blindly probing his knowledge of the natural world, to gain information which the robot itself was unable to comprehend!
"You entered our world through this station," Marshall continued, "at a time when—" and then Marshall tried to halt the words he knew were coming.
But his struggle was short-lived. His mind, battling desperately against the will forces of the robot, seemed to bend back in against itself until he could stand it no longer. Marshall gave in—and the words tumbled from his lips.
"At a time when," Marshall continued, "Sally had just blown the station hook-up with the high note she took. The high note that wasn't controlled by the engineer." And suddenly Marshall's voice stopped. It was as though the force which had been impelling him had unexpectedly ceased—because the robot had gotten its desired information.
There was an ominous silence in the darkness of the room. A silence in which the weird, suspended monstrosity glowed strangely, while Marshall felt the creature digesting the information.
"I understand. It is clear to Yolan now," the robot's words again burned into Marshall's brain. "It is this Sally creature. She holds the key to the door. The power by which I was torn from my world."
Marshall felt his scalp tingling at the menace of the words, cursing himself wildly for not having had the strength to resist the will of the radio robot. Sally—he'd betrayed her. This monstrosity would—Marshall choked off the thought. He had to get away, quickly, before he was again drained of more information by the monstrous floating thing!
He tried to turn, but he seemed to be literally frozen, unable to move his legs or twist his body. Then the voice of the radio creature was sending words to his brain once more.
"This Sally creature. I must find her. I know now, given time, how to open the door and return to my own world. But it will do me no good to return, if she lives. For she has the key—the power, to call me, against my will, back here. That must not happen again, after I return. So I must kill her. You shall tell me where to find her. You must! You will!"
The words burned with a command that defied all resistance, and again Marshall found himself speaking.
"A plane," he said, "such as you smashed down when you rode the radio beam. It will carry her to New York. She will be on that plane. You will find her on that plane. Even now she should be on her way."
Again the pressure seemed to be released. Again he was free of the monster's will. But it was too late. The radio robot now knew all he needed to know!
And suddenly, too, Marshall found he was once again able to move, once again able to breathe free of the strange radio-active shackles this creature had forged about his being. The heterodyning shrill rose in tempo, and the red metal body of the floating thing seemed to crackle with electrical vibrations—just as though gathering together power for momentum.
Marshall stood, frozen, then gasped as the robot reached out, took the record that was the key to his existence, the force that could call him from where he roved the ether, and smashed it, deliberately. It was as if the thing had said: "Now try to call me back!"
A sudden, blasting, raw-edged whine—and the thing was gone, with incredible speed! And once again the monster had moved in the line of quickest direction—straight through the concrete and steel of the station walls!
And again, the blanket of darkness that had enveloped the station was lifted. It was as if a fuse had been blown somewhere, and was now repaired. Lights flooded the room again!
MARSHALL paid scant attention to the ragged gap in the side of the wall, the gap through which the radio robot had hurtled, for the one thought in his mind was that of Sally. The robot was headed for Sally, seeking her, and knowing that she was on a plane bound for New York!
In three swift strides he was across the room and out into the hallway. Deserted, but an office door was ajar at the end of the hall. Marshall had some wild idea of calling the airport, chartering a plane immediately to overtake Sally's, as he headed for the open office door. And then, the sight of an electric clock above the door stopped him dead in his tracks.
The thing had been stopped, of course, during the time that the radio robot had been in the building. But the time to which the hands pointed gave Marshall a start. When he'd entered the building, there had been still an hour and a half before Sally's plane was to leave. An hour and a half.
Instantly, Marshall realized this, and realized, too that he had lost all track or sense of time during his encounter with the metal monster. But it couldn't have been an hour and a half. It couldn't have been that long.
Marshall cursed himself and looked at his wrist watch. In his haste and fear he had forgotten it completely. It wouldn't have been affected by the robot's presence—even though the electric clocks in the building had. By comparing the time of the stopped clock on the wall to his own watch, Marshall was able to approximate the length of his stay in the building. It had only been an hour. There was still half an hour left, a half an hour in which he might be able to stop Sally from boarding the plane. The plane which, somehow in his confusion, he had figured Sally already aboard.
There was a chance, although a scant one, that he might be able to reach Sally at the hotel. Marshall had moved into the office with the open door, even as he mentally considered this. An instant later and he was at the phone.
The desk clerk hesitated, while Marshall's heart hammered wildly in his chest, asking someone if Miss O'Neill had checked out yet. Then he came back on the wire.
"Think she's still in her room. I'll connect you," the clerk said over the phone. Marshall closed his eyes, praying silently that Sally was still there, while the receiver in his ear buzzed softly as the desk clerk tried to get her room on the switchboard.
SWEAT stood out in little beads on Marshall's forehead, and he ran a trembling hand nervously through his blonde hair as he waited. The very seconds seemed like separate eternities. Then—at last—he heard the click of the receiver in Sally's room being lifted.
"Sally!" Marshall was unable to keep the relief and overjoyed emotion from his voice.
The girl had instantly recognized Marshall's voice. For immediately she murmured something glacierally, and her voice was fading away as though she intended to hang up.
"Sally!" Marshall's tones were those of desperate urgency, and they must have communicated themselves to the girl, for she said stonily:
"Yes, what do you want? Please make it brief. I'm in a rush."
"Just that!" Marshall blurted, realizing that his haste would give him scant chance to put across what he had to say. "It's about your leaving, Sally. You can't do it. You mustn't. Please, I beg you!"
"Is that all you called for—a dramatic, amateurish, last-minute sob act?" Sally's voice was frigidity itself.
"But listen, Sally," Marshall was cursing himself desperately for the botch he was making of this. How could he tell her that some damned, grotesque monster was threatening her life—and make her believe it? The only thing he'd be able to do would be to stall her off. Try to make her stay in the hotel until he got there. Then it would be too late to take the plane. The plane for which the radio-robot was now more than likely searching the radio beams!
"Sally," he continued desperately. "Your life is in danger if you take that plane. I haven't time to tell you now. You must wait at the hotel until I get there! For the love of heaven, Sally, please listen to me!"
"As cheap gags go," he heard Sally's voice replying acidly, "that was rather good. Considering it came from someone so cheap himself!"
"Sally," Marshall was straining every effort of will to get his message to her, to make her believe him. But even as he spoke he knew it was useless to try to crack the shell she'd built to cover the hurt he'd inflicted on her. "Sally," he pleaded. "Listen to me, for the sake of what we used to feel, for the sake of what we once meant to one another—listen to me!"
"How touching. Really, you should try radio theatricals sometime," Sally's voice replied. "There's a lot of money in it for anyone who can make animal sounds—of the snake variety!"
"Sally," Marshall's voice was one last pleading effort. "You have to wait. Please! I can explain!"
"Sorry," Sally answered, and it seemed that the coating of ice to her tones had thickened with each reply. "Sorry. I'm in a hurry. I have a plane to catch. To New York. If what you have to say is really important, you might send it air mail—to your congressman!" The click of the receiver was quite final in its sound.
Marshall slammed the telephone down, gritting his teeth. She was starting for the airport. It was almost half an hour from the radio station to the airport, and less than that from the hotel to there.
There was one last chance—try to get to the airport before the plane left. He knew, as he rushed from the office, that Sally would arrive at the airport before him. He hoped that she wouldn't be gone—also—before him!
Dashing out of the station building, Marshall found a taxicab waiting on the corner. He clambered inside, stuffing a ten dollar bill into the startled driver's paw.
"The airport," he gasped, still breathing hard, "as fast as you can make it!"
The Cabbie did his best—within the law. But there were stoplights, and no amount of persuasion on the part of Dan Marshall could induce him to break the law. They pulled into the airport just as a huge, tri-motored transport plane took off, rising eastward. Marshall was out of the cab, looking after the rising ship until it was lost in the darkness of the sky. Lost in the sky in which the robot waited for Sally!
FOR several stunned minutes, Dan Marshall stood there, gazing up at the vast black sky—fighting off the horrible realization that his chance of saving Sally had disappeared even as the tiny gray silhouette of the huge airliner had vanished in the gloom.
Gone—and there was no way to stop her. Even now the robot might—Marshall couldn't finish the thought. It was too ghastly. Not Sally. Sally couldn't die. He had to stop that plane—somehow!
And then Marshall wheeled, seized by a sudden daring idea—inspiration born of his frantic urgency. There was a way, a possibility, and anything was worth a gamble!
A message. A message along the radio beam would do it, might reach the plane in time to avert the certain disaster that lay ahead.
Marshall's long legs carried him swiftly across the landing field, past the depot waiting rooms, and up to the Airport Radio Room. Through the lighted window, Marshall could see two operators sitting over wireless keys inside the place. There was also a man in the uniform of an Army Lieutenant standing before a desk. Marshall barged through the door.
The Lieutenant, a tall, dark young fellow, turned quizzically at his hasty entrance. One of the operators looked up from the wireless key before him.
"I must get in touch with the airliner that just left for New York!" Dan said swiftly, loudly. "It's extremely urgent!"
The Lieutenant smiled curiously. "What's the trouble?"
Marshall started to speak, then cut off the words he had almost uttered. It would do no good to tell them the truth. They'd send no messages for madmen. And they would certainly think him mad if he babbled about robots and plane crashes. Desperately, he searched his brain for a logical excuse, something that would enable him to talk them into putting the message through.
"There's a girl aboard," Dan said, forming his idea as he spoke, "whose mother has taken ill, seriously! I must get in touch with her. I tell you, it's urgent. I must get a message to the ship." As he finished, Marshall was thinking swiftly. A message to the airliner might result in an emergency landing—he hoped. If he could get them to make such a landing, could put across his message, he might avert the robot's head-on crash with the airliner.
The Lieutenant nodded sympathetically. "We can send a message to the next airport—but that's all. As soon as she arrives there she'll receive it."
"But I've got to reach her in the plane, immediately!" Marshall's voice was frantic.
The Lieutenant shook his head. "Sorry. Against communication orders. Airship wave lengths are to be used strictly for navigation communications between the ships and the ground stations. Besides, it wouldn't hasten matters any if the girl were to get the message in the plane. She'd have to wait until it landed at the next stop, anyway."
Marshall was already cursing himself inwardly for a blundering fool. His hastily constructed lie had been much too hasty, much too stupid, to aid his plans. He stood there, hesitating for an instant, then his hand, which had been groping about in his pocket, touched his automatic. The weapon was empty, and quite useless. But it might serve. In a swift motion, he drew, leveling the gun on the three startled occupants of the wireless room.
HE tried to keep both hand and voice steady as he held the gun on the three. "You'll send the message I tell you," Marshall snapped. He lifted the gun slightly, ominously.
The Lieutenant's tone was suddenly soft, deadly, as he said:
"Listen, fellow, I don't know what in hell this is all about, but you'd better put that thing down before it goes off. There'll be no messages sent from here. Don't be a fool!"
The wireless operators sat at their keys, faces turned in astonishment toward Dan, but there was no fear in their expressions. Marshall groaned inwardly. His threat was—like his gun—quite empty. His bluff had been called. These men, even though they must think him mad, were displaying cool courage.
And at that instant, even while he hesitated, the door behind Marshall was opened. Quickly, Marshall stepped to the side, gun still leveled on the three in the room, eyes flicking to the person who had just entered. The intruder was a man in greasy overalls, obviously an aviation mechanic. He didn't see Marshall, and spoke directly to the Lieutenant.
"Your ship is ready, Lieutenant," the mechanic said. "We've rolled her up on the ramp, and she's all set to go."
And then, noticing the fixed expression on the Lieutenant's face, the mechanic wheeled, saw Dan Marshall and the gun he held in his hand.
"Okay," Marshall snapped, waving the gun to include the mechanic, "step over beside the Lieutenant, and no tricks!"
A new idea—a daring scheme—had suddenly come to Marshall. It was born with the entering speech of the mechanic, and by the sight of the Lieutenant's overcoat and visored cap lying on a table less than five feet from where Dan stood. A ship, evidently an army plane, Dan was thinking. It would have a radio. It would—
He didn't need to reason any further. His own past in the air-mail service would come in handy now. He stepped to the table, still holding the gun on the others, and picked up the overcoat and visored cap. Clumsily, he kept the gun steady, and somehow managed to don the coat and cap.
This had consumed less than sixty seconds—one breathless minute while the four watched him in silent amazement. Now Marshall was at the door, still keeping them covered with the automatic.
"Okay, gentlemen," Marshall snapped. "I'm leaving, but I'll be looking over my shoulder for three or four minutes as I go. It won't be smart for any one of you to stick your nose out the door of this shack until after that time!" Marshall had backed to the door, still open as the mechanic had left it. Now he stepped out onto the stoop. Then, quickly, he slammed the door shut on the men inside, wheeled, and dashed down the steps.
There was only one plane on the take-off ramp, and the ramp was less than a hundred yards from the shack. Marshall, burdered by the heavy army overcoat, made the ramp in a little over ten seconds. The mechanics who were around the U. S. Army fighting plane, were startled as Marshall drew up beside it.
"Okay," Dan snapped. "In a hurry. Let's get under way!"
To all appearances, Dan was an Army Officer, and the grease monkeys, though startled, helped him willingly into the cockpit. Then, as Marshall throttled the ship to greater life, he saw the blocks snapped away, and he gunned the plane down the runway.
Marshall took one quick look over his shoulder, before the tail lifted. One quick look that showed him four angry men dashing from the Airport Radio Room toward the now deserted take-off ramp!
And then Marshall was easing back on the stick, and the swift little combat ship climbed skyward as the black ground blotted off in darkness beneath him. Above, the starless sky waited tauntingly—as though challenging him to overtake the airliner, to get his message to the great ship before tragedy, stark calamity, struck at Sally O'Neill.
IN the pilot's compartment of the Transcontinental Airliner Hawk, the co-pilot at the radio board looked quizzically at his partner.
"I can't understand it, Clem," he said. "This damned static is increasing with every mile we make. "I'm having a helluva time trying to get the ground stations ahead. They just don't seem to come through, even though we're on the beam."
The pilot, a wide-shouldered, freckled, young blond, shook his head worriedly. "Try again," was all he said.
THE attractive young stewardess moved down the aisle of the Hawk's cabin smiling at the passengers, arranging pillows and pausing occasionally to answer questions.
She was passing along the aisle when a short, fat man caught her by the arm. The passenger list gave his name as "Ryker." He sat on the outside of the aisle, next to a lovely red-headed girl whom the list identified as "Miss Sally O'Neill."
"Listen, Stewardess," Ryker said, "aren't we traveling rather rough on this hop? Seems as if something might be haywire with our course."
The stewardess smiled reassuringly. "Not at all," she answered. "The weather's rough tonight, yes. But there isn't anything to worry about. We'll be into better conditions shortly." Ryker nodded doubtfully. "I see," he said. "I guess so. I was just curious. Don't want anything to happen. This little lady here," he pointed to the redheaded girl beside him, "has to get to New York without delay. Got an important broadcast to make, and she can't afford to miss the only rehearsal she'll have."
The stewardess smiled again. "Miss O'Neill will arrive on schedule, never fear." Then she moved down the aisle as Ryker turned and began to speak to the girl.
THE freckle-faced pilot of the Hawk moved his wide shoulders restlessly and turned to the co-pilot. His voice was slightly uneasy as he spoke.
"Try to get that beam-call in a little clearer," he said. "It seems to me that we're not riding smoothly. There's no reason for static, unless there's an electrical storm ahead of us. Get in touch with the ground shack a hundred miles ahead. See if they've noticed anything."
The co-pilot moved his hands expressively. "Hell, Clem, I'm trying to do that. I've been trying for almost fifteen minutes. But this static condition is getting worse and worse."
The pilot shook his head bewilderedly. "For a radio beam, the points we're riding are about as smooth as a roller coaster. Keep trying."
Muttering inaudibly, the co-pilot went back to his radio.
DAN MARSHALL was giving the little combat ship a dose of hell. For fifteen minutes now, he'd torn the guts out of the motor in an effort to narrow down the distance between himself and the Hawk.
His mind was torn in an agony of anxiety and terrifying apprehension. Every single mile he'd put behind him had been this way. And he still had no sight of the Hawk ahead. Marshall had used the radio again and again, sending our frantic messages in the hope that the pilots of the huge transport plane might somehow receive them.
But there were indications which might mean a foreboding of disaster. For, from his radio, Dan Marshall was able to realize that the static conditions in the sky around him were growing steadily worse and worse. This meant but one thing—that he was getting closer and closer to Yolan. Obviously, the radio robot's prowling of the beam was responsible for these static conditions. Soon, perhaps, he might be close enough to get a message to the airliner.
He'd need to be close to pierce the static!
But sooner than that, perhaps, the monster might find the Hawk—and Marshall dreaded to think of the results that would follow. He knew, now, that the situation had narrowed down to one premise. He would get to the transport ship before the robot did—or Yolan would find the plane before Marshall's message could reach it.
So there in the blackness of the night, two thousand feet above a mountain range, Marshall throttled his ship ahead, hoping, ever hoping, peering ahead in the darkness, until suddenly his eyes narrowed and his hope crystallized to an emotion approaching almost hysterical relief. Ahead of him, perhaps a mile and a half in the gray-black night, he saw the flickering sheen of silvered wings!
Frantically, almost sobbing, Marshall reached for his radio hook-up on the control board. Reached for it, then stopped midway, his hand clenching in sudden, awful horror. For far off in the distance, so far as to be but a tiny dancing spark, something was moving to meet the Hawk. And that something, beyond all shadow of doubt, was the Floating Robot!
It was growing—that dancing, meteor-like spark. Growing as Marshall watched in frozen terror. Growing as it hurtled at incredible speed along the beam; hurtled toward the big plane!
SOMEHOW, Marshall had the radio apparatus in his hand, was shouting into the ship's transmitter mike.
"Calling Airliner Hawk... Calling pilot on Hawk...Veer Off!...Veer, for God's sake!"
But the spark was growing until it was a monstrous ball of crackling electrical flame, hurtling blindly toward the airliner. Marshall was shouting into the transmitter mike, again and again, almost insanely. The silver winged transport ship suddenly was bobbing cork-like, this way and that, as the pilot apparently saw the swift menace approaching. He was descending now, trying to land.
Marshall's lungs were torn and hoarse, but he shouted again and again, as though he could, by the very volume of his voice, avert the terror of the impending catastrophe.
And then the hurtling ball of electrical hell was upon the great airliner—and suddenly, at the last instant, the Hawk was veering!
But it veered too late, for Marshall, even as his breath tore in his lungs, saw both ship and robot bob in the same direction! Even as the air became thick with crackling static, above it came the sickening sound of the great metal wing of the transport plane shearing!
Yolan had hit the wing—and the great ship was twisting earthward, swiftly falling, falling. Marshall groaned with the torment of a man in hell, and threw his hand across his face. He couldn't bear to watch it, couldn't, couldn't. His mind was lanced with agony—Sally...Sally!...going down to her death!
Beneath, the cruel peaks of the mountain ranges waited, ready to embrace the falling plane, ready to gnash their fanged teeth into the twisted wreckage that would crumple there.
Marshall kicked his plane into a steep, twisting climb, blotting out the horror of the sight for a merciful instant. Numbing the agony that gripped his brain for an instant at least. And finally, leveling the ship out, Marshall forced himself to look over the side.
The wreck was down there on the snow-peaked crags—but incredibly, was not burning, was not torn asunder by the rock ridges! The wing was gone, but that had happened in midair, and now the ship lay on its belly, otherwise intact. By a miracle of skill the pilot had landed the ship! Dancing around it, though, was the crackling flaming ball that meant Yolan! And then Yolan shot away, into the forest!
And in that startled instant, Marshall dared to believe that the astonishing miracle had really happened—that Sally, pray God, was still alive. For from the position of the ship, from the very appearance of it—there was a good chance that she was—A chance!
One glance was enough to show Marshall that there wasn't the slightest chance of his being able to land his ship on those mountain ridges. The attempt would mean instant death. The transport plane had settled there through miracle, but miracles didn't happen twice. There was, therefore, but one thing for Marshall to do. Get back to the airport. Get back as swiftly as wings could carry him, and report the crash, rescue the survivors from the crags, if they—she still lived.
But suddenly Marshall realized that he couldn't return to the airport. He couldn't risk it—for at this very moment the hue and cry over his theft of the Army plane was probably under way. By now every field within flying range of the place was probably on the lookout for him. And soon—if it were not already a fact—there would be other ships searching the skyways for his pirated plane.
But he had to get back to the Hawk, had to get there before Sally—if she were still alive—fell victim to the floating robot! With every thought, Marshall tried desperately to make himself believe Sally still lived.
Marshall ruddered the fighting ship hard, pointed the nose back in the direction from which he'd come. Two things were now clear to him. He couldn't return to any legitimate landing field, and, should he manage to get to the Hawk, there would be only one way to defeat the robot. One way born around an inspiration that had occurred subconsciously to him less than a minute ago.
It was a wild scheme, perhaps an impossible one, but there was a chance of its working. And too, it would fit in perfectly with the fact that there was no legitimate field where he could land. For Marshall had remembered a field, a deserted, barren, bumpy long-undeveloped realty tract near the radio station. He would be able to land there—maybe. And from there it was less than ten minutes to the studios, where, he could organize the rest of his plan before he set out for the Hawk.
Less than a quarter of an hour later, Marshall—with the aid of God and good air sense—set the ship down on the deserted realty stretch. And in less than half that time, he was racing up the steps and into the radio station.
THE ground was rushing at her. Saber-sharp crags reached up at her like the open jaws of some hungry beast.
Sally O'Neill jerked the crash belt tighter about her slim waist and breathed a silent prayer. It was only a matter of seconds before the Hawk would dash itself into splintered wreckage on those razor keen rocks.
"Ready." It was the Stewardess moving down the aisle. "Two hundred feet. Prepare for crash!"
"Damn it," Ryker screamed, "do something, do y'hear, do something! I don't want to die."
There was no answer from her but Sally looked scornfully at the small, trembling figure of the radio executive.
"Why don't you jump?" she snapped.
The next instant the plane brushed a high rock and a rending, splintering noise crashed into her eardrums.
"This is it!" someone shouted.
The ship nosed over sharply and then with sickening abruptness, its forward motion was checked. It was as if a giant hand had stretched out to catch the crashing ship.
Sally cried out as her entire weight strained against the narrow strap that circled her waist—then a mantle of blackness settled over her.
When she opened her eyes the plane was still, evidently resting in the ravine. Sally crawled to her feet, trying to pull her confused, bewildered wits together.
Her eardrums rang with shock and dizziness and she moved awkwardly to the door. One of the pilots was climbing from his seat shaking his head.
"It's crazy, impossible," he muttered.
Sally's hand was on the knob of the door when a heavy hand fell on her shoulder, spun her around and away from the door.
It was Ryker, his face twisted with hysterical fear.
"Out of my way," he screamed, "Let me out of here!"
HE jerked open the door and sprang to the ground, sobbing wildly. Sally started to follow him and then she stopped—her mouth opening in horror.
Something was floating toward the ship! A red and gold ball of metal, surrounded by white, crackling sparks and flame. Ominously, silently, it floated toward the ship as if directed by some evil, malignant intelligence.
Sally heard her own terror stricken scream ringing in her ears before she was aware that she had opened her mouth.
Ryker heard her and wheeled, his face going a pasty white as his eyes focused on the horrible apparition floating toward him.
"Keep away," he screamed. "For God's sake keep away." His voice broke into an hysterical, mouthing babble as he backed away from the silently advancing creature. Then he turned and fled, his hoarse bleating screams trailing over his shoulder.
For an instant the fiery monster seemed to hesitate, then it flashed after him, the huge metallic ball of energy whistling through the air like a meteor.
Sally screamed again. And then the creature of flame was on top of Ryker. A terrible bleating scream ripped through the air and Ryker was on the ground threshing horribly under the attack of the weird monster.
Sally covered her face with her hands. It was too awful! Her thoughts broke off suddenly and her heart seemed to swell in her chest until it would choke her. And even at that instant—she knew!
This creature, this weird, incredible apparition must be the thing that Dan had tried to warn her about. And it was looking for her! She stifled the scream of panic that welled in her throat and looked desperately about for some place to hide.
About a hundred yards from the plane a slope led to a ridge and beyond that the dark opening of a mining shaft was visible.
In an instant she was on the rough uneven ground, running, stumbling toward the shaft, toward safety. A frantic glance over her shoulder showed her the incredible figure of the radio robot still hovering over the now still body of Ryker.
Within fifty yards her breath was searing her lungs and throat like a hot blast from a furnace. Her heart hammered painfully against her ribs, but she couldn't stop. If she did—A sob wrenched itself from her throat as she pictured her fate at the mercies of the hideous fury of the radio robot!
HER high heels twisted and turned on the rocky, treacherous ground but somehow she managed to keep her feet, and stumble onward. The wind whipped her auburn-red hair over her face, blinding her but she struggled on, desperately, frantically, knowing that her only slim chance was to keep running, to reach the comparative security of the mining shaft before the robot caught her.
Twenty feet from the entrance of the shaft she heard a hissing, roaring noise behind her. Twisting, she saw over her shoulder a huge, flaming ball of red and black fire, flashing about the ship, seemingly confused and baffled.
Sally sobbed a prayer of thankfulness and hurried up the few remaining feet that led to the sanctuary of the shaft. At the dark entrance she paused and looked back at the plane. The flaming robot was still circling the plane but suddenly his course veered. He was flashing away from the plane, hurtling over the ground toward the entrance of the shaft!
Sally fought back a scream. Somehow the creature had discovered her trail, and was flashing with incredible speed toward her. For the briefest nicker of a second, she remained paralyzed with fright, then she wheeled and ran into the shaft.
Stygian blackness enveloped her immediately. She fled through the shaft, her feet finding footing by a miracle. She knew she was running downhill, toward the center of the mountain; and she was also aware that she was running on rail tracks, for her heels caught and twisted on the ties. And suddenly her heel caught and held, her ankle twisted sharply, throwing her to the ground. For a second she couldn't move, and then she crawled to her feet, looked fearfully back up the shaft. There was a queer flickering illumination at the mouth of the tunnel and then the radio robot was in sight, its hissing, crackling, red and gold body silhouetted in terrible clarity against the blackness of the night.
Sally whimpered in terror, but she did not quit. Wheeling, she ran again, her breath escaping her throat in great sobs. Behind her she could hear a terrible noise that sounded like the crackling of a mighty blaze. Then by the flickering eerie light that was illuminating the tunnel she saw a tunnel siding branching off to her left. Without thinking, she hurled herself to the ground, crawled into the siding. Quivering with terror she crouched helplessly against the rough wall of rock and waited!
THE noise at the mouth of the shaft was growing in volume and then the tunnel itself was filled with the roaring ominous noise. The entire shaft trembled slightly and then with the speed of a meteor and the noise of an express train, the floating robot flashed past her, and disappeared into the bowels of the earth.
It was hunting, Sally knew, for her!
Trembling, she crawled to her feet and bumped into a hard, heavy object. She saw that it was a small car loaded with ore, set on the siding track. Moving around it, the idea came to her. It was wild but—
She ran to the front of the ore car and jerked out the wooden blocks from under the wheels. Then she hurried to the rear of the car, her pulses throbbing madly. Bending low she braced her shoulder against the grab-iron of the car and shoved with all of her weight and strength. For a terrible second the car remained motionless, then it was rolling slowly, the rails creaking protestingly under its weight.
Sally panted exultantly as the car gathered momentum and speed. With a final shove she sent it rolling onto the tracks of the main shaft. It gathered speed swiftly and with a rattling, metallic roar, sped down the rails—after the floating robot.
Sally watched as it rocked and rattled down the rails. And then it happened.
The car was off the trail, plowing along the track and ripping into the soft shale shoulder that flanked the tunnel. Sparks flew, a steady roar filled the tunnel, then tons of dirt and ore were collapsing from the walls and ceilings, burying the car under their weight.
Sally watched, held in horrified fascination as boulders and rocks piled together in a jarring, shattering tangle, completely sealing the tunnel. Sally sobbed in relief. The thing, the weird apparition that had menaced her, was down there buried under tons of rock and dirt. Blocked off!
The noise of the crash slowly trembled away into silence, but she was aware then of another noise. A steady, burring noise that filled the darkness with an angry crackling sound. It seemed to come from deep under the debris and to be heading with irresistible power toward her.
Sally trembled. It was the creature, she knew, burrowing relentlessly forward. He hadn't been destroyed by the cave-in, merely enraged, momentarily blocked off.
She wheeled then and ran for the mouth of the shaft. In the darkness she didn't see the beam. It was slipping from its place and she darted under it. A hard, unyielding weight crashed into her shoulder, and Sally O'Neill felt nothing more but blackness.
THE tiny truck thundered around a sharp, banked turn on the white ribbon of highway, but Dan Marshall, at the wheel, didn't lessen his pressure on the accelerator the slightest. From the instant he'd entered the station, he had worked swiftly, desperately. And now he was driving wildly, torn by an anxiety of impatience, as the burning, tires of the truck ate up mile after mile, racing against time.
The speedometer needle wavered at eighty, while the tiny truck two-wheeled, then righted itself. Now Dan straightened out around the turn, and the speedometer needle crawled slowly, surely, to ninety-five—the maximum speed which the little vehicle could reach.
Hearing the equipment in the back of the truck slide perilously to one side, Marshall breathed a swift prayer that none of it should be damaged. And then he cursed inwardly, for he still was uncertain that he'd ever have the opportunity to use it. If Sally had been harmed, if Sally weren't alive when he reached the wreck: Marshall shuddered at the thought, his foot mashing the accelerator until it seemed as though he were pushing it through the floorboards.
The roads were growing steeper and with every twisting turn the tiny truck creaked protestingly against the ruthless treatment it was receiving. Marshall, if he noticed this, was not concerned. His face, twisted in anxiety, was fixed rigidly on the road ahead of him. Somewhere along here there should be a highway siding—a siding leading to a bumpy gravel off-road. That gravel route would take him to the scene of the airliner's crash.
And then, rushing up at him, and caught for an instant in the white glare of his headlights, Marshall saw the signboard that told him the gravel road was less than a quarter of a mile away. Ten seconds later, Marshall had slowed the truck enough to throw it into a sliding, crunching, sickening turn that brought him around facing the road siding. Then, throwing the truck into second, he was thundering ahead toward the gravel off-road.
Minutes later, Marshall's truck was bumping perilously, recklessly, along the gravel road. It was as steep and winding as it was bumpy, bleak trees hemming it in along the sides. Marshall knew, now, that he had to run the risk of damaging the equipment, had to sacrifice everything, risk all, in his efforts to beat Time.
Four miles ahead, four miles in which the truck had climbed better than a thousand feet, Marshall heard a sound which made him instantly kill the motor and leap from the truck—a hoarse shout, coming from deep back in the roadside, behind the thick maze of forest!
And as he stood there, beside the truck, looking uncertainly right and left through the darkness, the shout was repeated.
"Halllloooooo, there! Helllllllllp, halllooooo!"
Marshall had placed the sound, and was barging off the road and into the underbrush of forest, heading for the voice, shouting himself, "Coming! Coming!"
Three hundred feet later, Marshall emerged from the forest underbrush and stood at the edge of a clearing that marked a narrow mountain ravine. He gasped a sobbing cry of relief—for there in the clearing was the wreck of the Hawk, and surrounding it were the survivors of the disaster!
MARSHALL was running across the clearing, ''and one of the group huddled beside the plane was coming to meet him. From the fellow's dress, Marshall knew him for one of the pilots.
And then, while Marshall stood beside him, the fellow was babbling incoherently, clutching frantically to his arm, his face white and torn with strain.
"Thank God, you've come! Where are the rest? We're going crazy...all of us. Terrible! One of the passengers, a man, gruesomely torn apart by some hideous thing ... Girl... ran like hell toward the forest edge, up a grade leading to that old mine there," the pilot pointed. "Don't know how we were cushioned into our landing ... shouldda been killed ... all of us ... a monster ... a crackling thing from hell I tell you...followed the girl after killing that guy ... we all saw it...can't be crazy! God, it's been a nightmare. Been next to the plane ever since. Didn't dare separate."
Then the rest of them had gotten courage enough to come beside Marshall, were surrounding him, all of them babbling in wild hysteria, their faces white with ghastly fear. And Marshall, piecing the story together as swiftly as he could, got the entire picture. Primarily, the robot was still in the vicinity, Sally was still alive—and both had disappeared toward that mine on the side of the mountain ridge!
Dan Marshall didn't hesitate, he took instant command of the situation. His words lashed the frightened group into a dull, completely bewildered subservience.
Three male passengers and the pilot carried the co-pilot, who had a broken leg, back to the truck, while the stewardess shepherded the others—a little girl and four women—along also. They left them in the truck, while the three men, with Marshall's aid and direction, unloaded the mobile equipment from the back of the tiny vehicle. They were dazed, all of them, and uncomprehending.
"We'll have to carry it back to the clearing, up the side of that mountain ridge to the deserted mine shaft!" Marshall snapped.
"But, wha—" the pilot began.
"The girl, you fool," Marshall's voice was harsh with the anxiety that tore at him. "She's up there, and that 'thing' you saw is up there too. We're going after. And I'm going to need this equipment badly!"
The pilot seemed about to protest no further, but one of the three male passengers, a bald, fat little man, squealed indignation. And suddenly the pilot had him by the lapels, shaking him violently. "You heard him," he grated. "We're all pitching in. Let's get going!"
Dan Marshall had time for one brief, humorless grin of thanks, then, as swiftly as they could move under their burdens, the little group started through the forest underbrush and back to the clearing and the wreckage. Marshall led the way, now, with the pilot directly behind him.
They were across the clearing, past the crumpled hulk of the airliner, and starting up the mountain ridge that led to the deserted mine. Somewhere up there, Dan Marshall knew, the metal robot monster sought Sally O'Neill.
AND then they stood on the ridge, all of them breathing heavily from their exertions, looking right and left in apprehension. But Marshall hadn't hesitated. The gaping opening that marked the entrance to the mine seemed to beckon, and even as he approached it he heard a faint, distant crackling coming from its darkened recesses. The radio robot was in there, and so, therefore, was Sally!
Marshall turned to shout to the others, but his mouth had half-opened when there came another, louder and more ominous sound from the shaft. A distant rumbling, increasing in volume as it swept along to the throat of the tunnel—a CAVE IN!
Face white with sudden, terrible apprehension, Marshall shouted to the pilot.
"For God's sake, get over here with the stuff! They're in there!"
The rumble had grown fainter, but Marshall thought he could still hear rock falling inside the tunnel. He caught the choking breath of ore dust that rushed out at him. While the others brought the equipment to the mouth of the mine tunnel, Marshall worked swiftly, desperately, reeling out foot after foot of portable microphone wire—fighting off the terrible premonitions that seared his mind.
Then, flashlight in hand, microphone strapped to his chest, Dan Marshall turned to the others. "Whatever happens, wait here," he ordered. "If I don't come out—you'll know what to do!"
And with that, Marshall stepped into the inky tunnel, snapping his flashlight, throwing its rays down the long slope. For his first ten strides, the searching white finger revealed nothing. Revealed nothing as a sudden pounding reverberated from back in the tunnel. Then, as Marshall cried aloud in a hysteria of relief, the flashlight's ray caught Sally!
The girl was on the floor of the shaft, lying perhaps a hundred feet ahead, pinned back against the water-soaked walls by a thick, heavy prop beam!
For an awful moment this scene stamped itself on Marshall's brain like some nightmarish panorama. Then he saw more. The girl was unconscious, and lay limply twisted beneath the
weight of the huge wooden beam. But behind her, less than two hundred feet, was the place where the cave-in had occurred—the place from which even now the thunderous pounding was coming!
And through the debris of stone and buckled timber proppings, on the other side of that cave-in—was the floating radio robot! Marshall saw faint sparks and heard angry crackling as the creature hurled itself again and again in prodigious efforts to break through the slag slide to where they were!
Now Marshall was beside the girl, while the monster continued to rain great blows on the debris which blocked him off. Marshall had Sally's head cradled in his arms, and was sobbing half-hysterically in relief as he realized she was still alive. The shock, the fright, perhaps a blow from the falling beam, had stunned her into unconsciousness. But she was still alive!
The hammering of the monster grew louder, and looking up wildly, Marshall saw that the timbers blocking the creature's path were slowly giving way before the terrific assault! The radio monstrosity was breaking through!
The crackling static-like flashes were increasing in a sort of frenzied fury as the thing gained progress, inch-by-inch, through the block-off!
Frantically, Marshall bent over the girl. But in an instant he saw that it would take the efforts of three men to move the beam from her. And then, suddenly, he remembered the microphone strapped to his chest. His scheme—But, even as he thought of it, even as the momentarily forgotten plan returned to him, he knew it was now useless!
Useless, because it had depended on the voice of Sally O'Neill—and now Sally lay inertly in his arms, unable to utter a word, let alone the note that was their one weapon against the monster!
MARSHALL bit savagely into his lower lip, cursing the Gods of Fate that had done this to him, the terrible mocking Fate that grinned evilly down on them in challenge to avert the menace that would destroy them both before another minute had passed.
"Sally, Sally," he sobbed desperately. "Oh God, girl, I can't get you out of this I—" his voice broke off, and he drew her head to his chest.
At that instant, even as Marshall's horrified gaze saw the crackling monster shatter the last of the debris that had been holding it off, Sally O'Neill stirred. Stirred, and moved her head back to look dazedly up into the face of Dan Marshall—and in the next instant to look toward the hammering, crackling monster. '
As the thing smashed through the last of the barrier, and hung suspended like some glowing, horrible picture of Death—Sally O'Neill screamed shrilly!
The next scene would be stamped on Dan Marshall's memory through eternity. There was a vast, roaring, ear-splitting, tremendous detonation. Splashes of static flame shot everywhere along the shaft, blinding in the lightning-like vividness of them. The floating monster, engulfed in the vortex of this holocaust disintegrated into a myriad shower of blazing sparks. And then—all was black...
SALLY was sobbing against Dan Marshall's chest. "Don't worry, darling," he said gently, "it's all over now. He's gone, forever destroyed. There'll be no more radio robot—ever."
Sally shuddered. "But my scream, you said my scream was responsible—" she began.
Marshall broke in: "That scream hit precisely the same pitch as the high note in the aria. And it was through that high note that I'd intended to hurl the monster back into the ether. The telephone voice-scrambling device I brought in the truck from the station took care of the rest. It hurled the pieces of the creature into a thousand different aerial waves."
But Sally O'Neill, ever the woman, was losing interest in the explanation. Obviously, she was far more concerned with the man who held her in his arms—the man who stopped talking now to kiss her again.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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