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IT was not without considerable difficulty that I persuaded Lieutenant Alan Morley to allow me to place his story before the public. His is a sensitive and retiring nature, and the ridicule which he feels positive will follow the disclosure of such amazing adventures will be hard for him to bear. However, as it is a record of what happened to the Lauritania, her passengers and crew, after her strange disappearance off Cape Clear in 1917, I feel that it should be given wide publicity. Whether or not it is universally accepted, which I am sure will not be the case, is a matter of small concern to me. I have seen and heard evidence that convinces me, and will have done my duty when I have made it the property of the public.
Most of us remember the striking newspaper reports of the strange disappearance of the Lauritania, twelve years ago. On the evening of October 14th she had steamed out of Liverpool under cover of darkness in order to avoid lurking German submarines.
Her apparent destination, because of the certainty that spies would be watching and reporting, was New York City, but her real destination, as afterward disclosed, was Brest. The passengers who had gone aboard her in civilian clothing were British soldiers and nurses, bound for the Western Front of the great World War.
The Lauritania was convoyed by two destroyers, and it is to the report of the captain of one of these destroyers, filed with the British Admiralty, that I now have reference. In brief, he stated that the three ships had reached a point in the vicinity of 51° north latitude and 9° west longitude, just off Cape Clear, about two o'clock the morning of the 15th, when the disappearance occurred. Running without lights, the three boats kept in constant touch by wireless, but a heavy fog descended shortly before two o'clock, and at two all wireless communication from the Lauritania ceased. Alarmed by this, the captain of the destroyer turned on his searchlights, sounded his fog-horn at intervals, and began a search for the liner. By two-fifteen a. m. the fog had lifted and the two destroyers arrived simultaneously at the spot where the Lauritania had last been heard from. Although they circled the spot and hunted in the vicinity the rest of that night and all next day, and for two days thereafter, they found no trace of the missing boat, nor of any wreckage which might reasonably have been supposed to appear in case the boat had been torpedoed and sunk. In the records of the Admiralty, it appears that a subsequent examination of the sea bottom was made in the vicinity, but with a negative result. The Lauritania had disappeared as completely and mysteriously as if she had suddenly been transported to another planet. So much for the Admiralty records.
TO my passion for deep-sea fishing may be ascribed the reason for my chance meeting with Lieutenant Alan Morley and the confidence he has since placed in me. I put out from Chinde one bright morning in a small sailing vessel with a crew of one black man, to try my luck in the Mozambique Channel. A sudden storm arose, making it imperative that we lower sail, and blew us far off shore.
When the fury of the tempest had subsided, night was coming on.
We sighted a tiny islet not more than a half-mile distant, and sailed toward it. Despite the fact that my ebon crew assured me there were no inhabited islets in this vicinity, I saw a figure moving on the shore as we approached.
Scarcely had we beached our light craft when a ragged, bearded person ran toward us, shouting incoherently and dancing like a wild man. Ludicrous and unkempt as he appeared at the moment, he is the hero of a series of adventures which, so far as I am aware, transcend any previous human experience.
How we spent the night with him on the island, regaled with fruit and roasted shell-fish, and made our way to the mainland on the following day, need not be recorded here.
Suffice to say that when shaved and clothed, the marooned man was obviously young, handsome, and every inch a gentleman. I spent more than a week in his company before I thought it prudent, over an evening glass of Scotch and soda, to ask him about a package which he always carried with him, and which he had brought, wrapped in fiber cloth which he had woven from hibiscus bast, when we left the island.
"If you have something of value in that package, Lieutenant," I said, "don't you think it would be wise to place it in a bank vault? There are many shady characters on this coast, and if it contains pearls, for instance, we may find you some morning with a knife in your back and. the package missing."
"It contains nothing of value to anyone but me, my friend."
"But are you sure? Things that are of value to one man are usually of equal value to many others."
"Judge, then, for yourself," he replied, handing me the package.
I hesitated, looking at the shiny oilskin wrapper which he had lately provided.
"Unwrap it," he said.
Upon opening the package I found that it contained a notebook in which a number of penciled entries had been made. It was stained, dog-eared, and discolored, but still legible.
"Read," said the lieutenant, "and then call me mad if you will. I must tell someone, sometime, I suppose."
I read, spellbound, far into the night, the lieutenant puffing his pipe in a great leather chair beside me. It is from that dog- eared notebook that I have taken the following story, for the sake of brevity omitting certain details which will probably not be of interest to the public at large. Here is the story...
WE were steaming down the coast of Ireland without lights, keeping in touch by wireless with the two destroyers that were to guard us from submarine attack, when a heavy fog suddenly descended. I was in the wireless room at the time, and the operator, suddenly throwing off his head-phones, informed me that the instrument had gone dead. A cry from the helmsman's cabin, just ahead, sent me running. When I came up beside him, he shouted: "Do you see what I see, sir?" and pointed to the ship's compass. It was whirling so rapidly that the face appeared as a blur. I was both startled and puzzled, though not alarmed.
It was when I again stepped outside the cabin that the situation grew alarming. There was a lurid red glow tinting the surrounding fog and lighting up the deck like a flash from an opened fire-door. But this was not all. The ship's motion through the water was being retarded by some unknown agency! There was no sudden shock—just a slow retardation, but it was sufficient to make our oil-burning engines labor and vibrate with an unusual amount of noise. This noise, however, was drowned in a moment by a sputtering, crackling sound which came from overhead. At the same instant, three brilliant shafts of light, one green, one red, and one violet in hue, cut through the fog, trained on us as from a distant and extremely tall lighthouse or a far-off airship. Where the three rays combined to flood our ship with light the result was dazzling white brilliance that exceeded the glare of the noonday sun, and I noticed that our masts, funnels, rigging and sails were giving off millions of multicolored sparks and rays.
We had anti-aircraft guns aboard, and I heard the captain order them made ready for action. Convinced that we were being attacked by Zeppelins with some new and unspeakably fiendish device, I drew my Colt service forty-five and hurried up to the boat deck to join in the fray. Before I reached it, however, a strange thing happened. The huge bulk of the Lauritania rose from the water—engines racing and screws roaring like airplane propellers—dimly audible above the crackling of the ship, which had apparently become radio-active under the influence of the three lights.
For a moment I caught a glimpse of the waves beneath us, reflecting the brilliant sheen of light; then they disappeared, and with them, the ship I was standing on, and everything, in fact, except the three colored rays.
Believing that I had suddenly gone blind, I held my right hand before my eyes. I could not see it. With my left hand I grasped the rail. This I could feel, but could not see. Presently I could no longer even feel the rail! All sounds ceased. It was as if I were without body or weight in a soundless void, lighted by the three, converging rays, which alone remained visible.
By a supreme effort of will, I managed to retain consciousness and to watch the three amazing rays. It seemed to me that their angles of convergence were slowly growing less acute, and from this I deduced that either we were approaching their source, or their source was approaching us.
I do not know how long it was that I stood thus, presumably grasping the rail which I could neither see nor feel—it may have been a few seconds, or it may have been many hours. I had lost all sense of time. At any rate, things presently began to grow visible once more. At first I saw the dim outlines of the ship's foremast and rigging. Then the decks and railings and the people on them came into view. The red of our forward smoke-stack loomed beside me, and above it I could see the painted black diamond on a white background which was the trademark of our company.
A feeling of weakness, which I could not shake off, assailed me. Others, I observed, had fared worse than I, a few staggering as if drunk or drugged, but most of them lying or groveling on the decks.
Accompanying the visual perceptions were the auditory. I could hear the moans of men, the shrieks and sobbing of frightened women. I could again feel the rail tightly gripped in my hand—the solid metal steps beneath my feet.
Descending the rest of the way to the boat deck, I encountered Captain Winslow. He reeled as if intoxicated, and I placed my hand on his arm to steady him.
"If you know what has happened to us, Lieutenant, in God's name tell me!" he cried.
"Must be some new electrical device of the Germans, sir," I replied, "but too deep for my comprehension."
While I was speaking the captain took out his binoculars and focused them on the source of the rays. Suddenly he uttered an exclamation of surprise and wonder and pushed them into my hands.
''Look, Lieutenant," he cried. ''A super-Zeppelin!"
I looked, and saw something which appeared anything but a Zeppelin to me. It was an enormous globe, shining with a silvery white light like that of the moon, except at the polar extremities which appeared black, and protruded. The three light rays appeared to be coming through portholes in the immense sphere.
"If that is a Zeppelin, sir, or bears any relation to one," I said, "then I have never seen a German airship."
"I guess you're right, Lieutenant. It's something else—but what? The thing seems to be drawing us through the air without contact—sort of magnetic attraction, I suppose."
"Looks that way, sir. Perhaps the globe acts as a huge electro-magnet, and the projecting black poles are really magnetic poles. Our ship, being principally steel, would be drawn along the magnetic lines of force like a bar of iron. On the other hand, it may not be magnetism at all. Perhaps the light rays are performing the work of levitation and propulsion, applying laws unknown to, and even unsuspected by us."
''Perhaps, but let us examine some evidence of a more simple nature. What country, for instance, would you say we are sailing over just at present?"
THE captain had been looking over the rail while I had continued to stare at the strange machine that had us in its power. I now followed the direction of his gaze, then rushed to the rail, marveling meanwhile at the extraordinary landscape which spread before my eyes, weirdly lighted by the rays reflected from our ship. The ground immediately beneath us was gently rolling prairie, covered with a velvety carpet of reddish- brown vegetation. Browsing on this rich pasturage were large herds of odd-looking creatures. The adults were as large as draft-horses, and more nearly resembled the ornithorhynchus than any earthly creature I can think of, being rotund of figure and having huge, flat, duck-like bills. Unlike the ornithorhynchus, however, they had long, arching necks, and legs as long as those of camels. The nearest herd was about five hundred feet below me, and from that distance I judged that the creatures were quite hairless and without even rudimentary tails. I noticed several young ones, the smallest of which was about two and a half feet in length. One of these suckled from mammae, situated just behind the forelegs of the mother instead of beneath the hind legs as in earthly cattle and horses.
Each herd, it appeared, had an attendant, a man-like creature that walked on two legs and appeared to be covered with brown feathers with the exception of the face, which was quite naked and rather bestial-looking in the individual nearest me. I noticed, too, that there grew from the head of this quasi-human creature a crest of long, bright-hued feathers, slightly resembling the feather crown of an Indian chief, but instead of ending in a tail at the back, following the ridges of the shoulders and the back of each arm and ending in a point of short feathers at the wrist, forming rudimentary wings. The marking of these feathers was quite similar to that of the tail feathers of a peacock. This brilliant crest was raised and lowered at will, like the crest of a jay or a Muscovy duck.
The silvery sheen of a number of lakes broke the reddish-brown of the landscape, and I saw that a number of the duck-billed creatures were enjoying baths in them, sporting about like seals at play, diving beneath the surface, and remaining for considerable intervals, to emerge presently, apparently much refreshed, and betake themselves again to the pasturage.
I was looking over the port side of the vessel at the time, and as my eyes took in a more distant portion of the landscape I saw that we were approaching an exceedingly rugged land formation. In the distance it looked like a group of sharp, stony peaks with sheer, precipitous sides, separated by immensely deep gorges or canyons, and I was reaching for my binoculars to satisfy my curiosity on this point when the captain plucked at my sleeve.
"What's the matter, Lieutenant? Dazed?" he asked.
"I don't think so, sir."
"Well, then, I asked you a question. What country are we sailing over? Have you any idea?"
''Not the slightest."
"But you have a theory or something. You must have."
"About the only theory I can advance at present, sir, is a negative one. My opinion is that we are not flying over the earth."
"You think we have been transported to some other planet?"
"So it seems."
"Then take a look at the sky. Is that Mars directly overhead, or isn't it?"
"It may be Mars, although it's a trifle off color. Looks almost purple."
"What about the planet that appears to be setting at our right?"
"Looks a little like Jupiter, except for the violet tinge to the light it gives off."
"Use your binoculars. I've used mine."
I hastily adjusted my powerful glasses and looked at the planet in question. It was Jupiter, without a doubt, for I saw four of his moons, one on the left, and three on the right, just as they should have been at the time.
"It's Jupiter, all right," I said.
"And now, what about the planet that appears to be rising at our left?"
"Venus, without a doubt," I said, "although it has an unusual bluish cast."
"And the increasing light on the horizon beneath her tells us that the sun will rise in a very few minutes. So where are we?"
"Not far from the earth," I said. "Perhaps we are on the moon."
"Have you noticed any change in the pull of gravity?"
"You would, Lieutenant, on the moon."
"To be sure."
"Then our astronomical observations tell us we are on or near the earth, while common sense tells us that the ground beneath us is not the earth. That city we are approaching, for example, bears only a very slight resemblance to anything I have ever seen or heard of on our planet."
I had been so absorbed in our conversation that I had forgotten to watch the strange land over which we were passing. Now, looking over the rail once more, I saw that we were very close to the rugged land formation which I had previously noticed. The higher points were covered with buildings of exceedingly strange design. Most of them were hexagonal in form, and the tallest were higher than any modern Skyscraper. Although they were of various heights and widths, and some quite irregular in outline, all agreed in one particular—they were invariably crowned by glistening domes that reflected the rays of the morning sun with great brilliance.
The place was inhabited, for I saw figures moving about, although they were still too far away for me to judge what they were like. By bringing my binoculars into play, however, I managed to see one group quite clearly, even to the expressions on their faces. They seemed to be regarding our ship with as much astonishment as I felt at sight of them. They were human beings, I thought, but such beings. All were stark naked and their skins gleamed a golden yellow in the morning sunlight They seemed to be wearing multi-hued feather crowns which followed the ridges of the shoulders and the back of each arm, ending in a point of short feathers half-way between shoulder and elbow. I plainly made out ten females and four males, standing on the edge of a deep canyon, the top of which was covered with dark red vegetation, and a fifth male looking at us through an instrument which resembled a telescope.
A short distance from them, a huge stream, wider than the Niagara, plunged dizzily to the bottom of the canyon, which must have been at least five hundred feet deep. Just above the falls was a lake, nearly oval in form, about a half-mile across at its widest point and perhaps a mile in length. This lake was surrounded by the queer buildings I have described, rising in disparate confusion like a primordial colony of thallophytic growths on its rocky shore-line.
In the center of this lake was an island, also covered with the same type of structures except at one end. This was occupied by three huge towers twice as tall as any of the near-by buildings- The towers supported an immense ring which seemed to be made of shiny brown metal. The globe which held us in its power by means of the strange rays was directly above this ring, and settling toward it.
UP until this time I had been so preoccupied with the unusual events and sights that I had paid small heed to my fellow beings aboard ship. Now, upon glancing to the right and left, I saw that the port rails of our four decks were lined with passengers and crew alike, all apparently unhurt, and watching the strange city we were approaching with an interest that appeared equal to my own. As the throb of our engines lad ceased, I judged that Andy MacPherson, our chief engineer, had thriftily shut them off to save fuel, without waiting for orders.
When it appeared that we were to be lowered into the lake, the captain ordered all members of the crew to their posts. Then Major Pickering, who was in command of the troops we had on board, walked up to where the captain and I were standing.
"Jolly old go, what?" he said, apparently addressing both of us.
The captain grunted an affirmative and I nodded.
"What d'you think the blighters have planned for us?" he continued.
"I haven't the slightest idea," confessed the captain.
"Nor I, but they have the look of savages to me—cannibals, I'll warrant. I've five hundred fighting Tommies, you know, and plenty of arms and ammunition. If they're planning to do us in it might be well to be prepared."
''They probably have weapons that will make your rifles about as effective as pea-shooters against machine-guns, Major," replied the captain. "However, it may be a good plan to arm your men if you're sure you can keep them in hand."
"We're fighting men, all of us," said the major, ''and if we're headed for kingdom come we prefer to shoot our way."
"They're lowering us toward the water now," cried the captain, excitedly. "Arm your men, but keep them below deck for the present." He swung on me. "Order all the women to stay within their cabins."
While the major sang out orders to his men, I hurried off to see that the captain's instructions were carried out.
On reaching the fourth deck I saw that the crews of our six submarine guns, two forward, two amidships, and two aft, were ready for action. Major Pickering was standing beside one of the forward hatches, and smiled grimly as I passed. Behind him in the hatchway, and on the deck below, his Tommies were hastily donning uniforms and getting in line for the issuance of weapons and ammunition.
My mission completed, I returned to the boat deck. I found that the captain had quitted it, and on going forward, saw him on the bridge conversing with Reynolds, the officer of the deck. Our anti-aircraft guns were manned, their crews standing by for orders. Everything that could be done in the way of preparedness had been done; yet how futile, after all, must be any offensive move we could possibly make against an enemy who could, at will, dissolve our ship, our weapons, our very bodies into apparent nothingness.
I went to my cabin for an extra forty-five, notwithstanding, and after belting it about me and donning a light raincoat in order that my weapons might not be conspicuous, mounted to the quarter-deck for a good view of what was taking place about us, as well as to be within easy reach of the captain's call.
We were now being carried slowly across the lake, our keel perhaps fifty feet above the water, and our apparent destination a dock in the lee of the island I have previously mentioned. The three rays which were trained on us were still visible, despite the brilliant light of the morning sun.
The entire shore was lined with the yellow people, and the docks and buildings on the island were dotted with them. Moored at the docks were a number of globes, smaller than the one which held us captive, but having, in addition to the portholes, rows of keel-like ridges which traversed the spheres at right angles to their equators and narrowed down to mere points just before they reached the black poles. There were several different sizes, but even the largest was not more than a fourth as big as our aerial captor.
Hearing a splashing sound behind me, I turned, then ran to the starboard rail and gazed in amazement. One of the queer water- vehicles that I had just noticed had apparently left the shore and was rolling toward us at a terrific rate of speed over the surface of the water, its two poles standing out horizontally like the axles of a wheel. I immediately thought I understood the purpose of the keel-like ridges which propelled the globular boat so rapidly over the water, but I had not seen all. When it drew near, its pilot evidently mistrusted the clearance between our keel and the surface, for the thing suddenly stood up on one pole, and dived, still rotating in the same direction. I noticed, however, that the rudders had been shifted, turned almost at right angles to the first position, so the blades had given the globe the same action as that of a screw being driven into a board.
In less than five seconds the vehicle popped out of the water on our port side, turned over on its belt, shifted its blades, and rolled quickly to the dock. I have seen the fastest hydroplanes in the world, but I have never seen anything in terrestrial waters that even approached the speed at which this remarkable water-ball traveled.
A moment more, and we were being lowered gently, almost imperceptibly, into the water beside the dock. We were very close to the strange yellow people now—not more than fifty feet from the nearest group—and I could see that they were not only entirely without a trace of hair, but that the feathers which I had previously observed actually grew from their heads, shoulders and arms. The males, I observed, had brilliant- hued feather crowns of all imaginable colors and combinations, but those of the females were very plain, most of them brown, black, or gray.
It was strange to see them elevating and lowering these crests like birds, while many of them talked excitedly.
The sound of their voices, which was now quite distinct, was strangely like that of a flock of birds, although it varied from low, harsh, rasping tones like those of wild ducks to high, shrill, and often flute-like soprano notes as pleasing as those of the lark or the red-wing.
ALMOST before I was aware of it our ship was floating on the surface of the lake. Then the rays from the huge globe were suddenly shut off and we glided slowly toward the dock.
Grappling hooks, padded with some soft material and nearly soundless, were thrown aboard us and we were drawn against the dock, which was also padded, making fenders unnecessary.
None of the queer bird-people attempted to come on board, and so far as I could tell, none of the people near us was armed. They had nothing in their hands, and as they wore no clothing it was obvious that they carried no weapons concealed about them, unless, indeed, these were hidden in the feather crowns. There was, however, a row of them farther back whose bearing seemed military, and who carried what appeared to be weapons of some sort, although I could not even guess their use. The things they held in their hands were about two feet in length, and curved out to muzzles at each end which were shaped like the tops of champagne glasses, easily eight or nine inches in diameter. In addition, each man wore a belt to which was fastened a tube or pipe about three feet in length.
Meanwhile, the giant globe which had carried us into this strange world circled lazily overhead for a moment, then made for the three towers supporting the huge metal ring which I have previously described. On reaching a point above the ring it righted itself—that is, it moved its two poles into a perpendicular position—and settled slowly until it came to rest in the metallic ring. Here, then, was an airdrome built especially for the remarkable airship of the bird-people.
A round door in the globe suddenly swung open, and a short, pot-bellied bird-man with a purple feather crown stepped out and stood on the ring. His appearance was the signal for a demonstration from the crowd which I took to be cheering, from its slight resemblance to the manner in which a terrestrial crowd shows its pleasure.
It consisted of raising all the crests, elevating all hands, and emitting a deafening medley of shrill, whistling notes of marked bird-like quality.
After elevating his own feather crest three times and smiling, the potbellied man, followed by two companions whose crests we're mottled green and red, stepped into the nearest tower and disappeared from view. He emerged at the bottom a moment later, however, and still accompanied by the others, entered the door of a globe about fifteen feet in diameter, which had apparently been waiting for him. This globe, like those in the water, had points of resemblance to the one he had just quitted; that is, it had black poles, round portholes, and doors. There projected from each side of the equator, however, two rows of powerful-looking cleats which sank into the soft ground like those on heavy tractor wheels.
As soon as the door had closed behind them, the thing rolled toward us with incredible swiftness. The two lines of soldiers or police—I was convinced they were one or the other—opened a lane in the crowd for the strange land- vehicle, and it rolled straight down to the dock, where it came to a sudden stop.
Once more the door of the vehicle opened, and the pot-bellied man stepped out, followed by his two companions. Then, with the ponderous dignity of a New Amsterdam alderman, the rotund individual walked toward the ship, while the other two kept at a respectful distance behind him. "When he had waddled to within twenty feet of our rail, he stopped and leisurely examined the ship. Presently his eyes met mine, and he smiled. I returned the smile, and he held up a pudgy hand, beckoning with a short, fat finger. It was plainly an invitation for me to come down.
I turned and called to the captain, who had been watching the whole affair from the bridge.
"Shall I go, sir?"
"If you wish, but remember, I do not order you to go."
I hurried down the ladders to the fourth deck, which was nearly level with the dock, ordered the gang-plank down, and then advanced to meet the important individual who had signified a desire for my presence, assuming as much dignity as I could muster. I felt, rather than saw, thousands of the bird-like eyes watching me, particularly those of the double line of guards between which I passed. I was instantly conscious of a feeling of embarrassment at being in a crowd of stark naked beings. Actually, I believe I could not have felt more embarrassed had I been stark naked myself in a well-dressed crowd.
The little pot-bellied man advanced, raised his purple feather-crest, and laid his right hand over my heart. As this appeared to be a form of salute, I raised my cap with my left hand and placed my right hand over his heart. This appeared to please him, for he smiled and removed his hand from my chest, at the same time lowering his feather-crest. I followed suit by smiling, replacing my cap on my head, and removing my hand-Then he turned and said something in a low voice to one of the two men who stood behind him. The two conversed very rapidly for a few moments, and the sound was so similar to that made by ducks which are about to be fed that the thought of Major Pickering's remark about cannibals came to me with unpleasant suddenness. While the two talked there came from the multitude a hushed twittering, punctuated from time to time with hoarse but subdued cries.
After a few moments of animated conversation with the two men who had followed him, the little fat man turned to me once more, took my arm, and indicated by a gesture that he wished to go on board our ship. As I nodded and led him up the gangplank I noticed that two of the armed guards fell in just behind us. The two unarmed bird-men came next, and behind them six more guards.
WE had scarcely reached the deck when one of the soldiers, who had apparently just come up the ladder by himself, advanced toward us in a threatening manner. He lurched slightly, and his face showed the effect of heavy drinking, which surprized me exceedingly until I remembered that some of our people had been revived with brandy. Perhaps he had an abnormal taste for liquor and had obtained and emptied one of the flasks. At any rate he came up in front of us, holding his rifle with bayonet fixed in a menacing manner.
"'Op it, yellow-belly!" he shouted at the little pot-bellied man. "'Op it, you bloody sarvage, or hi'll put you through it, so 'elp me!"
That the man was crazed by the experiences he had just gone through, coupled with the liquor he had subsequently consumed, I felt positive, as we had come aboard quite peaceably, and no one else on the ship seemed to doubt the apparently amicable intentions of the squat leader of the bird-people. I leaped forward with the intention of disarming the poor fellow, but before I could reach him he swiftly melted, gun and all, before my eyes. Where he had been standing a moment before there was absolutely no sign that he had ever been.
Mystified, I turned and looked at the pot-bellied man, who was smiling as if slightly amused by something. Beside him stood one of the guards, holding the long tube which had previously dangled from his belt so that one end pointed to the spot where the soldier had been. He held it so for a moment longer, then let it drop once more to his side.
There came to me the sudden realization that one of my fellows had been murdered in some inexplicable manner, and with it a blind, unreasoning rage. Without stopping to think—for the soldier had, after all, been killed in defense of the rotund leader—I leaped at the grinning guard and swung a crashing blow to the point of his jaw which stretched him on the deck. The next moment I fully expected instant annihilation, for the tubes of three of the guards were pointed at me. They were lowered, however, at a signal from the potbellied man. Then he smiled once more, as if nothing had happened, took my arm and signified that he wished to be conducted about the ship. The guard I had struck was not attended by any of his fellows, but left where he lay, while another sprang forward to take his place. When we started off I saw that he was sitting up, holding his jaw with one hand, and frowning darkly.
I led our captor—for such he assuredly was—forward to where Major Pickering was standing at the head of his men. A file of them was lined up with rifles grounded, and all, including the commander, saluted as we approached. The bird-men replied to the salute by raising and lowering their feather crowns, and then the little fat man greeted the major just as he had greeted me.
I next took him up to the captain, who had remained on the bridge, and he was saluted in the same manner. Then our captor indicated by signs that he wished the captain and me to accompany him ashore. We were discussing the advisability of this when the sharp crack of a pistol was heard. It was followed by a continuous fusillade, mingled with shouts, screams, curses, and the peculiar bird-like cries of the yellow people.
I leaped for the ladder, but the potbellied man, with surprising agility for one of his obesity, was ahead of me. He must have cleared the three ladders to the fourth deck in less than a minute, I at his heels.
The first thing I saw was the yellow guard I had struck in the jaw, lying on his back with blood and brains oozing from a hole in his forehead. A score of his fellows were sprawled on the deck, apparently dead or badly wounded, another was draped over the gang-plank, and several more lay on the dock. The crowd of unarmed bird-people was scattering in every direction in wild confusion, but the guards had formed a single line across the pier and were evidently preparing to charge the ship. The British soldiers had deployed along the rail, from behind which they were firing with considerable effect, as attested by the gaps opened in the enemy line.
It was plain to be seen, however, that the contest was as unequal as if our people had been using bows and arrows and the enemy machine-guns, for the. yellow guards were using their tubes with deadly accuracy, and with such rapidity that fully a hundred men melted and disappeared before my eyes in as many seconds. I caught a glimpse of Major Pickering, firing his automatic in the thick of the battle; then the enemy charged. They were met by a countercharge of soldiers that poured up from the middle hatchway, and a fight at close quarters ensued. I drew my forty- fives and hurried aft to join in the battle, but it ceased suddenly and unexpectedly. At a sharp command from the pot- bellied man, the attackers withdrew, leaving fully a hundred dead and wounded, and barely a dozen of our soldiers who had escaped their lethal tubes, above deck.
Whirling, I faced the inexplicable little leader of the bird- people, with blood in my eye, but he smiled placatingly and motioned me to put my guns away. At this moment Captain Winslow, followed by the two companions of the leader and his seven guards, came up behind him. The major, also, strolled toward us, coolly reloading his smoking automatic.
"Who started this fight, Major?" asked the captain.
"That shabby cannibal the lieutenant bowled over some time ago," he replied, indicating the body of the man whose jaw I had dislocated. "He got up after you had gone above, and came over to where the men were standing with the evident intention of wiping out the whole file with that damned tube of his. Got two men before I shot him through the head. That shot started the guards on shore, and naturally I wasn't going to let them kill my men without fighting back."
While this conversation was going on the little pot-bellied man was watching and listening. Evidently he understood, from the major's gestures, something of what had taken place. At any rate he smiled, nodded, and then held a short consultation with his two unarmed companions. Presently he turned to us, and once more signified that the captain and I were to accompany him ashore.
"We'll have to talk him out of that idea, Lieutenant," the captain said to me. "After what has just happened one of us should remain on board."
"Perhaps he'll take me alone," I said. "I'll try him."
As best I could, I conveyed this idea to our captor by signs. Evidently he comprehended my meaning, for he held up two fingers and then pointed to the shore with a rather imperious gesture.
"Maybe the blighter will let me go in your place," said the major. "I don't mind going, and my officers can look after the men."
Once more I made representations to the bird-man, pointing to the major and myself, then to the shore.
To my surprise he smiled his assent, and we promptly went ashore. The yellow people, who had scattered for covering during the conflict, were coming out of the buildings once more, and eyeing the major and me with unconcealed curiosity. The guards calmly set about the business of removing their dead and wounded without the slightest show of animosity.
After climbing a bank covered with short, thick grass, springy and pleasant tor tread upon we entered an arched doorway in the base of one of the tall buildings. We passed thence through a dimly lighted corridor, and stepped into a cylindrical elevator cage, the shaft of which was built in such a manner as to project beyond the outer wall of the building. I had previously noticed these shafts on most of the other buildings, but had not, until now, surmised their purpose.
The elevator shot swiftly upward, controlled in some manner that was invisible to me, and stopped suddenly when we had traveled perhaps a hundred feet. A door slid open,, and we stepped into another corridor, patrolled by two guards, armed with the tube and double-funnel contrivances I have previously described. They saluted our three conductors with their feather crests and the salute was returned. Various arched doors led off from the corridor, arid the pot-bellied man threw one of these open. Then he motioned for Major Pickering to enter.
The major stepped in and I was about to follow him, but the little man held me back. Then one of the bird-men went in with the major and closed the door after him. Once more I was piloted along the hallway.
Presently the little man opened another door, and indicated that I was to enter. I stepped into what looked like a small gymnasium, followed by my two captors. After a short consultation with his taller companion, the pot-bellied man went out, closing the door behind him.
I HAVE said the room looked like a small gymnasium. This was my initial impression of it, because the first thing that greeted my eyes on entering it was a trapeze suspended about four feet above the floor. It consisted of a cylindrical cross-bar about three feet long and four inches in diameter suspended on two twisted metal cables. About five feet from this trapeze was another just like it, hanging so that the bars of the two were parallel. The others were similarly suspended on the other side of the room. The place was bare of furniture, although there were a few cabinets built into the walls.
Through the open door of an adjoining room I saw what looked like a large circular basin about eight feet in diameter, filled with water. The floor was composed of a brown, hard substance that reminded me of asphalt, and the walls seemed to be of hard plaster, except where the cabinet doors appeared. These were constructed of something resembling burnished copper, as were the doors of all the rooms. Although it was as light as day in the rooms, I could see no lighting fixtures of any kind, nor were there any windows.
My new companion watched my examination of the room without comment. Then he smiled, pointed to one of the trapezes, and said:
As I had no idea what he meant, I merely smiled in return.
Then, to my surprise, he suddenly leaped up on the trapeze opposite the one he had just indicated and squatted, bird-like, on the bar with his arms crossed. Once again he pointed to the other trapeze and repeated his strange words. Gathering from all this that he wished me to perch myself on the other trapeze, I drew myself up to the bar, and, not to be outdone, attempted to assume the same posture as he. This came near being disastrous, for I immediately lost my balance, and, had I not clutched a cable in the nick of time, would have fallen backward and probably alighted on my head. I thereupon gave it up for the time being and sat down naturally on the bar.
The bird-man, apparently more amazed at than amused by my clumsiness, next pointed to himself and said:
I nodded, and pointing to myself, replied:
He smiled, -and tried to repeat my name, but only succeeded in saying something that sounded like "Alyan Norley."
Then he pointed to the trapeze on which he was seated and said:
I pointed to mine, and replied:
We continued thus for several hours, pointing out and naming objects to each other. It was apparent to me that I had been sent here to learn the language of this strange people, as well as to impart mine, and I tried hard to do both.- My teacher made many sounds that were exceedingly difficult for me to imitate, and I found that he had equal difficulty with many that I made. He seemed utterly unable to pronounce the letters, M, B, and P, invariably translating them as N, D, and T. The tones of this queer language, as I previously stated, had a peculiar, bird-like quality. The men's voices greatly resembled those of ducks when they spoke quietly, but rose and broke to tones like those of wild geese when they talked loudly or became excited. The silvery, flute-like treble tones I had heard in the crowd came exclusively from the women and children.
Presently the door opened, and two women entered, each bearing a tray of food on one hand and a tripod about five feet high in the other. A tripod was placed before each of us and a tray set thereon. Then the women left, and a guard closed the door once more.
There were four basin-like dishes on my tray. One contained a colorless liquid, one a liquid that was rather thick and light brown in color, another small cubes of what looked like meat, and the last, a dozen small brown cubes that appeared to be cakes.
Somewhat puzzled as to the proper table etiquette for disposing of the viands before me, I watched my preceptor. Dropping his hands to his sides, he leaned forward and inserted his mouth in the basin of colorless liquid. Then he lifted his head and tilted it backward in the manner of a chicken drinking water. Knowing without trying that it would be impossible for me to duplicate this remarkable performance without great danger to myself and my tray of food, I clung to my cable with one hand and raised the basin to my lips with the other. It contained a hot beverage which was sweetened and had evidently been brewed from a substance quite similar in flavor to caraway seeds. I next tasted the soup, for such it proved to be, and its flavor was remarkably like that of chicken broth.
My companion drank his soup in the same manner as his beverage, then craned his neck forward and began eating his food like a bird picking grain from the ground, his hands still hanging at his sides.
I used my fingers in lieu of a fork, and learned that the meat, which was tastily cooked and seasoned, had a flavor quite similar to that of wild duck. The flavor of the cakes is indescribable. I can think of no terrestrial food that resembles them. They were, however, delicious, and I was hungry enough to appreciate their strange but delightful taste.
Shortly after we finished our meal, the two women who had brought it removed the dishes, and we went on with our lessons.
After a lapse of about four hours another meal was served. I had, by that time, talked myself hoarse, and was quite -stiff from having been seated on the perch for so many hours. In the interim I had learned to speak and understand many words, among them the first two spoken to me by my teacher-pupil: "Tla ixtar." They meant "Be seated," or more literally, "Be perched."
After the dishes were removed, I got down from my perch to stretch my cramped limbs. For several minutes I paid no attention to my companion. When I did notice him, I saw to my amazement that he was balanced on the center of his perch with His hands crossed, fast asleep! I immediately walked to the door, and attempted to open it, but found it immovable. Then I tiptoed into the next room, where I had seen the huge basin of water. It was quite evidently a bathroom, with fixtures that suited the bird- like habits of its builders. The basin was undoubtedly the bathtub. As there was no door to this room, other than the one through which I had come, I went back to the first room once more. The bird-man was still sleeping on his perch, quite soundly, too, if one might judge by his heavy breathing.
Feeling tired and sleepy myself, I stretched out in a corner with my cap for a pillow and my raincoat for a coverlet, and was soon in the arms of Morpheus.
I WAS awakened, I know not how many hours later, by a tremendous splashing. When I got my eyes opened sufficiently, I saw that Katodar Se was bathing rather strenuously in the basin in the other room.
Presently he leaped out of the water, and turned a lever which evidently drained the tub. He then shook himself and preened his feathers, much like a waterfowl that has just come up from a swim.
As soon as the tub was empty he rinsed and refilled it, and I needed no second invitation to strip and take an exhilarating plunge in the clear, cold water.
Shortly after, breakfast was served by the two young females who had attended us the day before. It consisted of the same beverage we had previously had, fruit, the flavor of which I find myself unable to describe for lack of something with which to compare it, a number of small, sweet cakes, and some squares of meat that tasted like chicken.
As the two weeks that followed were practically a repetition of what I have just described, I will not weary my listeners with the details. Suffice to say that I remained in that room with Katodar Se for that length of time, doing nothing except eat, sleep, bathe and converse with my teacher-pupil. In that time I not only learned to speak the language of Alsitar—for this was the name of the strange world into which we had been drawn—but many other interesting things.
The city around us was called Axto, and was the capital of Axtosora, a nation of bird-men who had evolved directly from birds without the interposition of mammalian forebears. The females laid eggs, which were hatched by sunlight beneath the shining glass domes I had noticed on the buildings.
The completely feathered people I had seen on my first entry into this queer land were slaves of the Axtosorians—savages, still retaining the body feathers and rudimentary wings of their avian ancestors. Katodar Se assured me that there were several wild tribes of savages who could fly, and that there were also tribes of barbarians who covered their partly feathered bodies with clothing. All the civilized peoples, lie said, had lost most of their body feathers while passing through this barbaric state, but had eventually abandoned clothing and the false and unnatural modesty which accompanies its use. When venturing into extremely cold regions, he said, his people anointed their skins with lotions which were ample protection against discomfort, and less cumbersome than garments.
The little pot-bellied man who had captured us was a scientist—the greatest on the planet Alsitar according to Katodar Se—and consequently the ruler of his own country, Axtosora, for the rulers of all civilized nations on Alsitar were their leading scientists. This important little man's name was Vangar De, the syllable "De" signifying first, or supreme ruler. The syllable "Se," after the name of my companion, signified that he was a scientist and therefore one of the elect, from the ranks of whom would eventually come the ruler who would succeed Vangar De. In this way, positions or occupations were signified among the leaders by syllables tacked on after their names. The common people, however, were not accorded this privilege, and had to be content with one name apiece.
AS soon as I had mastered the language sufficiently, I questioned Katodar Se as to the manner in which we had been brought to Alsitar, and the reason for it.
Vangar De, he said, had always suspected that Alsitar was not alone in its trip around the sun, but that it was only one phase, (me state of existence out of many that were bound together by the invisible magnetic sphere that surrounds the earth. This belief of Vangar De, he said, was shared by the leading scientists of a race of animal people who had white skins, and hair instead of feathers—who, in fact, greatly resembled myself in physical appearance if not in dress and action. Their greatest scientist, Tensan De, had been trying to invent a way to investigate the theory which was really a tradition with these animal people, whose ancestors were said to have come from a different state of existence at a time when the tail of a huge comet, violet in color, had brushed the earth. The fact that they were the only people of animal descent in Alsitar seemed to bear out this tradition.
Vangar De, being greater than the great Tensan De of the animal people (according to his henchman) had been the first to invent a way of investigating the different planes of existence or, as Katodar Se expressed it, existence in different angles of vibration.
The electro-magnetic flying-globe was not his invention. These globes, in fact, were common everywhere among the civilized nations of Alsitar. They had been developed from the earlier types which had been used on land and in the water, and which I saw in use on the day the Lauritania was lowered into the lake.
I regret that I can not describe in detail the working-parts of this remarkable flying-globe, as the description alone would take up an entire volume; however, I will give you a general idea of how it works. The poles are actually the ends of a soft iron core that extends clear through the globe. The globe itself, although it appears to be made from white metal, is of heavy glass. Coiled inside of this glass are many layers of copper wire, wound in such a manner that when an electric current passes through them, terrific magnetic force is generated in the iron core. The terminals of the wires are attached to small but extremely powerful storage batteries, each of which loses but one thousandth of its charge in a year under the most trying conditions.
Inside the globe, at points midway between the core and the equator, are suspended the cages which hold the men. They are hung in such a manner that no matter which way the globe tips their floors are always parallel with the surface of the ground. In one of these cages—the cage of the pilot—is the intricate device which enables the globe to grasp and utilize the planetary magnetic lines of force, traveling in the upper or lower lines, or to the right or left by simple movements of the control levers; for no two lines or sets of lines are exactly alike, and a shifting of the magnetic lines in the flying-globe will immediately change their affinities for the planetary lines. Knowing the nature of these lines at various heights and in different directions, the operator can travel at will, utilizing the terrific magnetic forces of the planet itself.
Katodar Se admitted that he was unable to explain the principles of the red, green and violet rays which had drawn our ship into his world. These, he said, were the secret of Vangar De, and him alone. The purpose of them, he said, was, however, no secret. The red ray could attract or repel objects swiftly or slowly in accordance with the will of the operator. The green ray could reduce, or entirely remove the gravitational pull of the earth on any matter it touched. The violet could change the angle as well as the rate of the vibrations of any matter on which it was flashed, transforming it to any other angle of vibration desired by the operator.
It was by means of these rays that Vangar De had been able to enter our world, seize the Lauritania, and convey it back to his own world. He had selected our ship, changed our angle of vibration to his own, reduced the gravitational pull on us, and drawn us to his city as easily as if we had been a feather in the path of a vacuum cleaner.
He also informed me that considerable rivalry existed between Vangar De of the bird-people and Tensan De of the animal people, and that the two races were constantly warring on each other.
Up to the end of the two-week period I have mentioned I had never seen a soul other than Katodar Se and the two young women who brought our meals, although my preceptor had left the room several times. Inquiries about Major Pickering and the people who had been left on the ship were always met by the reply: "You shall learn in good time." This monotonous answer was as irritating as it was unsatisfactory, and only served to intensify a persistently recurring intuitive feeling that all was not well with them.
It was a relief, therefore, when my preceptor informed me one morning that I was ready to be taken before Vangar De. After breakfast, our door was left open by the guard, and we descended the elevator.
WHEN we emerged in the open air, I was glad to see the Lauritania lying peacefully at the dock, just as I had left her, with her passengers and crew moving about on the decks as if nothing untoward had happened. I noticed that a number of our sailors as well as a great many of the British soldiers were strolling through the streets, some of them hobnobbing with the natives by means of gestures with every appearance of friendliness and good will. This sight served to allay the fears I had entertained concerning their safety and, coupled with the benign influence of fresh air and sunlight, served to raise my spirits considerably.
After threading numerous narrow and crooked streets we came, at length, to the great Science Building, which was hexagonal like the others and crowned by a similar dome, but was at least twenty times greater in diameter than any I had previously seen. We entered through an immense arched doorway and after traversing a long hall lavishly decorated with brightly colored mural paintings which depicted the queer bird-people in various activities, as well as many queerer creatures, mostly bird-like in form, came to a long row of elevators, before each of which stood an armed guard. Katodar Se piloted me into one of these and the elevator shot up with such terrific speed that my vertebrae felt as if they had suddenly been crushed together. I caught one glimpse of my companion's face, which registered abject terror—then came a fearful shock and oblivion.
When I came to my senses I was lying in the bottom of the elevator with a heavy weight across my chest, a throbbing pain in my head, and numerous sore spots on my body. Wiggling from beneath, the weight, I saw that it was the body of Katodar Se, whether dead or alive I could not tell, but he appeared quite lifeless. His face and feathers were smeared with blood.
Seeing that the car had stopped directly in front of a door, I opened it, and entered a narrow hallway which seemed untenanted. I shouted as loudly as I could for help, but there was no answer. Then, still looking for help, I opened the first door I came to, and entered what appeared to be a laboratory, judging from the array of instruments, as well as liquids, powders and crystals in oddly shaped containers, which lined its walls and covered its tables. There was no one in the room. I tried another door and found a similar room, also unoccupied. The third room proved to be another laboratory, and I was about to close the door and pass on when I noticed something on the top of one of the tables that froze my blood with horror. It was the body of a man—a white man—spread-eagled with wrists and ankles bound to pegs in the corners of the table. The chest and abdomen had been split down the center and laid back on each side. The face, contorted with pain, I recognized as that of Jeeves, one of our machinist's mates, a little wild when on shore leave, but an excellent mechanic. As I turned from this sickening sight there came to me the sudden realization of the meaning of those bound wrists and ankles. Vivisection! It is not necessary so to bind a cadaver. Poor Jeeves had been ripped open alive!
I left that room in mingled fury and horror and hurriedly searched the other rooms, hoping to find a butcher that I might slay. All were untenanted. In some I found remains which convinced me that other members of our ship's company had been cut up, and these added fuel to the flames of my wrath.
Convinced that there was no way to leave the floor I was on except by the elevator, I returned to it and tried to find some way of operating the mechanism. It contained no visible projections except two small protuberances on the floor that looked like the heads of rivets. I was about to test the purpose of these when Katodar Se moved, and uttered a feeble moan. An intuitive voice suddenly warned me that it would be fatal to let him know what I had discovered. I succeeded in softly closing the door before he opened his eyes. Then he sat up weakly and looked about him for a moment as if trying to recall where he was.
"Ah, I remember," he said, finally. "The button stuck—fault of some careless mechanic. We have had a narrow escape from death, Aryan Norley."
"But how are we going to get out of here?" I asked.
"Perhaps"—he pressed his hand to his bloody forehead for a moment—"perhaps I can fix it."
The floor of the elevator was composed of metal plates, through one of which the two protuberances projected. My companion removed this plate and examined the mechanisms to which the two buttons were connected. Presently he pried a small piece of metal from one of them.
"As I suspected," he muttered. ''Criminal carelessness."
He replaced the plate, got to his feet, and stood on one of the buttons. We descended quite rapidly, but fortunately not nearly so rapidly as we had ascended.
Katodar Se brought the car to rest by raising his foot, and opened a door. Expecting to enter another narrow hallway, I was surprized to see a huge circular room crammed with the bird- people. A few were standing, but most of them were perched on trapezes such as I have previously described, arranged in curved rows in front of a raised dais which was at the opposite end of the room. Balanced on a trapeze above the center of this dais was the little, pot-bellied Vangar De, scientist-ruler of Axtosora, backed by a semicircle of armed guards. Captain Winslow and Major Pickering stood together at one side of the dais, and I recognized the major's instructor on the other.
My tutor piloted me down the central aisle, straight to the dais, and the chatter and twitter of bird-like voices followed us. They were hushed, however, as we stopped in front of the ruler's perch.
Vangar De looked down at my companion and frowned.
"What is the meaning of this tardiness, Katodar Se?" he asked harshly. "There is blood on your face and feathers. Have you been attacked?"
My instructor contritely asked pardon for being late, and explained how it came about.
"Your excuse is a legitimate one, Katodar Se," said the ruler. Then he motioned to a man at my right, who promptly hopped off his perch and advanced to the foot of the dais. "Gidsal Se," he said, "learn the name of the mechanic who last repaired elevator thirteen, and see that he is entered in today's games."
Gidsal Se saluted and hastily withdrew.
Vangar De turned his sharp little eyes on me and smiled.
"Alyan Norley," he said, "we had intended questioning you this morning, but it has grown late and the people will be impatient for the opening of the games. We will therefore repair to the stadium, where you and your friends will be my guests for the day."
He then hopped down from his perch, and with every appearance of cordiality led the way through a door beside the dais, down a long hallway, and up a flight of steps. Almost before I was aware of it I found myself in a sort of box, which contained about a dozen perches, looking down into a large open-air arena surrounded by thousands of perches, most of which were already occupied by the bird-people.
Vangar De, having perched himself on the central bar, said: "Tla ixtar," and the rest of us, including our tutors and the scientist-ruler's six armed guards, availed ourselves of the invitation and climbed to our perches. Captain Winslow took the perch next to me and I lost no time in telling him—speaking French so that the bird-men would not understand—just what I had seen on the top floor of the Science Building. Enraged and horrified though he was by my narrative, he managed to keep his features from betraying his feelings, though he gave his opinion of Vangar De and his subjects in quite forceful French. Then he told me that more than a dozen men had disappeared during my absence, but as they had, in nearly every case, been seen to carry on flirtations with the avian girls or women, it was assumed that they had deserted the ship of their own free wills. It was, of course, quite obvious from what I had seen, that the women, or most of them at least, had acted as lures for the scientists, who were apparently as interested in exploring our interiors as in studying our language, customs and culture.
OUR conversation was interrupted by the sudden booming of a deep-voiced gong above our heads, and turning to Vangar De, I saw that he had his right hand extended, apparently as a signal for the opening of the games.
An answering gong sounded at the opposite end of the stadium; then a gate opened in the wall, and two men bounded into the arena. One was yellow with a blue and white feather crown, but the other was a white man who might have been one of our own people so far as his physical appearance went, except that he wore a garment which greatly resembled the skin of a lion, across one shoulder, and girded around his waist. Both men were armed with the double funnel-shaped contrivances and lethal tubes.
It was not until both men had dashed to the enter of the arena and stood facing each other at a distance of about fifty feet that I realized that they were to be opponents in a duel to the death.
"Crest of my grandfather!" exclaimed Katodar Se, who was perched on my right, "if it be not the mechanic who so nearly caused our death!"
"But who is the other?" I asked. "The one with the skin about him?"
"A captured warrior of Gulvasora," he replied. "If he succeeds in besting ten of our felons who have been condemned to the games, he will be permitted to live in peace among us."
"But not given his freedom?"
"Perhaps, when his country ceases to war with ours."
At the sound of a gong, the two combatants suddenly went into action. Because of my previous observation of the work of these lethal tubes, I expected the contest to be over in an instant. But I was mistaken. I had never seen the funnel-like devices used before. Now they were brought into play, being held in the left hand so that the funnel on one end was in front of the fighter while that on the other projected back from beneath the left arm. Both fighters crouched low behind their funnels, manipulating their deadly tubes with no apparent effect on each other, and hopping or darting this way and that as if sparring for openings.
Suddenly the bird-man sprang toward his opponent, apparently bent on dispatching him at close quarters, but he had made a fatal mistake of some sort, for he disappeared in midair.
While the white victor awaited his next opponent, I plied Katodar Se with questions regarding the weapons, and he explained their use.
"All matter," he said, "is but a mode of motion. Dense matter is a group of slow motions, while lighter matter is an agglomerate of swifter motions. The tubes are nothing more than matter energizers which, when properly pointed and focused, increase the atomic and proton-electronic motion of matter so rapidly that its density is reduced to nothing at all, or at least to nothing of which we are able to take cognizance, which amounts to the same thing. The defensive instruments are built to attract and capture the rays from the tubes, which, being tins intercepted, form a flux through them, similar to a magnetic flux through a bar of iron. During the process, however, they are slowed down by resistance until, before emerging at the other end, they are rendered quite harmless."
The white warrior fell before his next opponent, and others were brought on the field to duel with the same type of weapons. It appeared, however, that these duels were merely preliminaries to whet the appetites of the people for the more bloody and primitive battles that followed. Men fought with clubs, stones, axes, swords, and bows and arrows quite similar to those used in Europe in early days. The lethal tubes were used, however, to clear the arena of corpses and gore at the end of each fight by the simple process of dissolving them to nothingness.
Then horrible, grotesque, man-killing creatures were brought on the scene. The first, a huge feathered snake at least forty feet in length, crawled into the arena amid cries of delight from the onlookers. A white man of the enemy nation of Gulvasora, although armed with a sword and a brave fighter, was seized and swallowed after a short skirmish. After swallowing a second white swordsman the snake grew sluggish, and was dragged away with a large cable attached behind its jaws.
Numerous other queer creatures, most of them apparently half bird, half reptile, slew or were slain in their turn. Then the booming of the gong silenced the crowd, and a crier stood forth to announce the final event.
"People of Axtosora," he said, "our mighty ruler has prepared a most pleasant surprise for you. Today you have seen a hundred of our hated enemies do battle in the arena. Our raiding expeditions have been victorious and a thousand more lie in our prisons to pleasure you on other fete days. But this is not all. You shall now see how the mightiest scientist in Alsitar takes vengeance on Tensan De, ruler of the hated Gulvasorians."
At the conclusion of this announcement the gongs boomed once more. Then a dozen men entered the arena, bearing on their shoulders a closed litter or palanquin. While the population twittered with curiosity they marched to the center of the arena and lowered the litter to the ground. One of the bearers then opened a door in the side, reached within, and dragged out a young woman. He pulled her roughly forward by the wrist, but she jerked from his grasp and stood with chin erect, proud defiance mingled with disdain in the look which she returned to the grinning Vangar De. At sight of her a medley of deafening cries came from the onlookers.
One of the litter-bearers cast a sword at her feet, but she paid no attention to it. Then the twelve bird-men took up the palanquin and withdrew from the arena.
The girl—she could not have been more than eighteen—was the most beautiful I have ever beheld in that world or this. Her golden ringlets were circled by a chain of white metal, studded with jewels, and in which a great gleaming emerald glittered above the center of her forehead. A black and yellow garment, apparently made from the skins of leopards, covered her slim body from breasts to thighs, leaving shoulders, arms and legs bare. On her feet were sandals bound with light thongs.
"Who is she?" I asked, turning to my instructor.
"She is Rosan, daughter of Tensan De of Gulvasora," replied Katodar Se. "Great will be the vengeance of Vangar De, and great the sorrowing of his enemies."
While he was speaking there came a murmur from the other end of the stadium, and looking, I saw a huge bird stalk into the arena. It was three times as tall as any ostrich I have ever, seen, and of a much more stocky build. Its wings and body were covered with feathers, mottled black and brown, but its great blue scrawny neck and head were naked and wrinkled like those of a vulture. The huge, curved beak, at least two feet in length, was also vulture-like in appearance, and the scaly legs terminated in feet armed with formidable-looking talons.
"The man-eating gor!" exclaimed Katodar Se. "She will never escape alive."
THE hideous creature had only stalked forward a few steps when it espied its victim in the center of the arena. Then it spread its wings outward, extended its ugly head, and ran straight for the girl. Scarcely realizing what I did, I leaped over the railing and alighted sprawling on the sand twenty feet below. Then I whipped out both forty-fives and sprinted forward, calling to the girl in the language I had just been at such pains to learn.
The bird, however, was too swift for me—swifter, I am convinced, than anything that ever ran upon our earth. Before it reached the girl she stooped and picked up the sword, then crouched, awaiting the attack. The thing had evidently been pricked with swords before, as it showed considerable wariness, circling swiftly around the girl. Suddenly it lunged out with its huge curved beak, seized the blade of the weapon, and tore it from her grasp. I was then within range, but dared not fire for fear of hitting the girl, who was between me and her attacker.
Again I called to her, and this time she heard me, for she immediately turned and ran in my direction. For a moment the bird shook the sword, apparently trying to crunch it in its beak. Then the blade snapped, and the horrid monster, dropping the pieces, leaped forward once more in pursuit of its victim.
I fired as the exhausted girl fell at my feet, but with no perceptible effect on her assailant. Then, with that huge body as a target, I emptied both weapons. To my horror, the thing still advanced!
It was nearly upon us when it faltered, its scaly legs sagging as if under a tremendous weight. There was not time to reload, so I caught up the exhausted girl just as that ugly, gaping beak reached out to seize her, and ran.
I must have covered fully a hundred yards before I realized that pursuit had ceased. Then, upon looking around, I saw the hideous man-eater fluttering and squawking in an aimless circle on the sand.
There was a terrific din in the stadium around us. Believing it was caused by my own actions, I gently lowered the girl to the sand and reloaded my weapons. A shadow, darting across the sand in front of me, attracted my gaze to the heavens and disabused my mind. I saw that which had probably saved both of us from annihilation by the lethal tubes—for the sky was actually swarming with spinning spheres, similar in color and outline to the one which had drawn us to this strange land, but only half as large. Many of them alighted in the arena, and belched forth an army of white warriors, armed with lethal tubes and wave-shields. The panic-stricken yellow people fled this way and that like frightened birds seeking cover, while the tubes of the white warriors took deadly toll. The few bird soldiers in the stadium were quickly disposed of, and it began to look like a thorough victory for the white men, when suddenly the huge globe which had brought us to Alsitar came whirling into view, followed by a flock of smaller globes filled with the yellow defenders. Evidently Vangar De had survived the attack and managed to reach his globe.
Rotating with such rapidity that its portholes were invisible, the big globe descended toward the arena. Suddenly a red ray shot out from it to one of the smaller globes of the white attackers. It arose, and was hurled out into space. Then another and another, caught by the whirling red ray, hurtled out of the arena in long parabolas and disappeared into the blue sky above us.
The girl at my feet stirred uneasily, and I helped her to rise.
"If my father would only come," she cried, "victory might yet be ours. But the great globe of Vangar De is far too powerful for our ordinary war-globes."
One by one, the globes of the Gulvasorians were hurled into outer space until only two remained in the arena. Then, with unexpected suddenness, a huge globe, fully as large as that of Vangar De, appeared.
"He comes! He comes!" cried the girl. "Now will the bird-men learn the might of Tensan De."
Spinning with a velocity that equaled, if it did not excel that of the first globe, the second whirled toward it. They did not collide as I expected, but suddenly began revolving around a common center with such speed that they formed a great blurred ring in the sky above our heads, united by two red rays, each of which projected from one of the globes.
Presently from this giant pinwheel there came a familiar crackling sound. A trail of scintillating sparks appeared, and two violet rays now connected the whirling globes. Vangar De, I assumed, was trying to use his Violet ray as he had used it on our ship, and send his rival's globe hurtling into a different angle of vibration, but the ray of Tensan De neutralized it and was, in turn, neutralized.
The pinwheel, meanwhile, did not remain stationary in the sky, but darted this way and that, and whirled in every conceivable plane. Presently it dipped toward us, there in the arena.
"Run! Run for your life!"
I heard the warning cry of the girl. Simultaneously a violet light fell on me and the world in which I stood melted from my vision. I felt myself falling—then I splashed into cold, salt water. Down, down I went, for many seconds, before I had the sense to strike out. It was a long swim to the surface, where I presently emerged with nearly bursting lungs. I was in rough water and my guns and ammunition weighted me down until swimming was next to impossible.
Unclasping my two gun-belts and letting them sink, I slipped out of my raincoat and jacket, kicked off my boots, and managed to keep afloat more easily. I presently made out far in the distance, a rocky shore-line, whence came the boom of breakers, and struck out for it, swimming steadily to conserve my strength.
How I managed to reach that shore alive and drag myself beyond the reach of the waves, I scarcely know. When full possession of my reasoning faculties came once more, I found that I had somehow been again transported to the terrestrial angle of vibration. For many months I subsisted on shell-fish and fruits, hoping for sight of a rescue ship.
Years, passed. They were years of loneliness which would have driven me quite mad but for a certain memory—a vision of a lovely creature I had held in my arms for a brief instant, only to lose her forever.
Born to this world, I am no longer of it, for my heart lies back in that far or near angle of vibration called Alsitar, and although I now deem it hopeless, I long to go back—to learn once and for all if the golden-haired Rosan still lives with her learned father, Tensan De, in the land of Gulvasora.