Part 3 out of 7
the eye could follow it dilated; opened!
Where the azure globe had been, flashed out a disk of
flaming splendors, the very secret soul of flowered flame!
And simultaneously the pyramids leaped up and out behind
it--two gigantic, four-rayed stars blazing with cold
The green auroral curtainings flared out, ran with
streaming radiance--as though some Spirit of Jewels had
broken bonds of enchantment and burst forth jubilant,
flooding the shaft with its freed glories. Norhala's song
ceased; an arm dropped down upon the shoulders of Ruth.
Then woman and girl began to float toward the radiant
As one, the three of us sprang after them. I felt a
shock that was like a quick, abrupt tap upon every nerve
and muscle, stiffening them into helpless rigidity.
Paralyzing that sharp, unseen contact had been, but
nothing of pain followed it. Instead it created an
extraordinary acuteness of sight and hearing, an abnormal keying
up of the observational faculties, as though the energy so
mysteriously drawn from our motor centers had been
thrown back into the sensory.
I could take in every minute detail of the flashing
miracle of gemmed fires and its flaming ministers. Halfway
between them and us Norhala and Ruth drifted; I
could catch no hint of voluntary motion on their part and
knew that they were not walking, but were being borne
onward by some manifestation of that same force which
held us motionless.
I forgot them in my contemplation of the Disk.
It was oval, twenty feet in height, I judged, and twelve
in its greatest width. A broad band, translucent as sun
golden chrysolite, ran about its periphery.
Set within this zodiac and spaced at mathematically
regular intervals were nine ovoids of intensely living light.
They shone like nine gigantic cabochon cut sapphires; they
ranged from palest, watery blue up through azure and
purple and down to a ghostly mauve shot with sullen undertones
In each of them was throned a flame that seemed the
very fiery essence of vitality.
The--BODY--was convex, swelling outward like the
boss of a shield; shimmering rosy-gray and crystalline.
From the vital ovoids ran a pattern of sparkling threads,
irised and brilliant as floss of molten jewels; converging
with interfacings of spirals, of volutes and of triangles into
And that nucleus, what was it?
Even now I can but guess--brain in part as we understand
brain, certainly; but far, far more than that in
its energies, its powers.
It was like an immense rose. An incredible rose of a
thousand close clustering petals. It blossomed with a
myriad shifting hues. And instant by instant the flood of
varicolored flame that poured into its petalings down from
the sapphire ovoids waxed and waned in crescendoes and
diminuendoes of relucent harmonies--ecstatic, awesome.
The heart of the rose was a star of incandescent ruby.
From the flaming crimson center to aureate, flashing penumbra
it was instinct with and poured forth power--power vast and
Not with that same completeness could I realize the
ministering star shapes, half hidden as they were by the
Disk. Their radiance was less, nor had they its miracle of
pulsing gem fires. Blue they were, blue of a peculiar vibrancy,
and blue were the glistening threads that ran
down from blue-black circular convexities set within each
of the points visible to me.
Unlike in shape, their flame of vitality dimmer than the
ovoids of the Disk's golden zone, still I knew that they
were even as those--ORGANS, organs of unknown senses, unknown
potentialities. Their nuclei I could not observe.
The floating figures had drawn close to that disk and had
And on the moment of their pausing I felt a surge of
strength, a snapping of the spell that had bound us, an
instantaneous withdrawal of the inhibiting force. Ventnor
broke into a run, holding his rifle at the alert. We raced
after him; were close to the shining shapes. And, gasping,
we stopped short not a dozen paces away.
For Norhala had soared up toward the flaming rose of
the Disk as though lifted by gentle, unseen hands. Close
to it for an instant she swung. I saw the exquisite body
gleam through her thin robes as though bathed in soft
flames of rosy pearl.
Higher she floated, and toward the right of the zodiac.
From the edges of three of the ovoids swirled a little
cloud of tentacles, gossamer filaments of opal. They
whipped out a full yard from the Disk's surface, touching
her, caressing her.
For a moment she hung there, her face hidden from us;
then was dropped softly to her feet and stood, arms
stretched wide, her copper hair streaming cloudily about
her regal head.
And up past her floated Ruth, levitated as had been she
--and her face, ecstatic as though she were gazing into
Paradise, yet drenched with the tranquillity of the infinite.
Her wide eyes stared up toward that rose of splendors
through which the pulsing colors now raced more
swiftly. She hung poised before it while around her head
a faint aureole began to form.
Again the gossamer threads thrust forth, searched her.
They ran over her rough clothing--perplexedly. They coiled
about her neck, stole through her hair, brushed shut her
eyes, circled her brow, her breasts, girdled her.
Weirdly was it like some intelligence observing, studying,
some creature of another species--puzzled by its similarity
and unsimilarity with the one other creature of its
kind it knew, and striving to reconcile those differences.
And like such a questioning brain calling upon others
for counsel, it swung Ruth upward to the watching star
at the right.
A rifle shot rang out.
Another--the reports breaking the silence like a profanation.
Unseen by either of us, Ventnor had slipped
to one side where he could cover the core of ruby flame
that must have seemed to him the heart of the Disk's
rose of fire. He knelt a few yards away, white lipped, eyes
cold gray ice, sighting carefully for a third shot.
"Don't! Martin--don't fire!" I shouted, leaping toward
"Stop! Ventnor--" Drake's panic cry mingled with my
But before we could reach him, Norhala flew to him,
like a darting swallow. Down the face of the Disk glided
the upright body of Ruth, struck softly, stood swaying.
And out of the blue-black convexity within a star point
of one of the opened pyramids a lance of intense green
flame darted, a lightning bolt as real as any hurled by
tempest, upon Ventnor.
The shattered air closed behind the streaming spark
with the sound of breaking glass.
It struck her. It seemed to splash upon her, to run down
her like water. One curling tongue writhed over her bare
shoulder and leaped to the barrel of the rifle in Ventnor's
hands. It flashed up it and licked him. The gun was torn
from his grip, hurled high in air, exploding as it went. He
leaped convulsively from his knees and dropped.
I heard a wailing, low, bitter and heartbroken. Past
us ran Ruth, all dream, all unearthliness gone from a face
now a tragic mask of human woe and terror. She threw
herself down beside her brother, felt of his heart; then
raised herself upon her knees and thrust out supplicating
hands to the shapes.
"Don't hurt him any more! He didn't mean it!" she cried
out to them piteously--like a child. She reached up, caught
one of Norhala's hands. "Norhala--don't let them kill him.
Don't let them hurt him any more. Please!" she sobbed.
Beside me I heard Drake cursing.
"If they touch her I'll kill the woman! I will, by God I
will!" He strode to Norhala's side.
"If you want to live, call off these devils of yours." His
voice was strangled.
She looked at him, wonder deepening on the tranquil
brow, in the clear, untroubled gaze. Of course she could
not understand his words--but it was not that which
made my own sick apprehension grow.
It was that she did not understand what called them
forth. Did not even understand what reason lay behind
Ruth's sorrow, Ruth's prayer.
And more and more wondering grew in her eyes as
she looked from the threatening Drake to the supplicating
Ruth, and from them to the still body of Ventnor.
"Tell her what I say, Goodwin. I mean it."
I shook my head. That was not the way, I knew. I
looked toward the Disk, still flanked with its sextette of
spheres, still guarded by the flaming blue stars. They were
motionless, calm, watching. I sensed no hostility, no anger;
it was as though they were waiting for us to--to--
waiting for us to do what?
It came to me--they were indifferent. That was it--as
indifferent as we could be to the struggle of an ephemera;
and as mildly curious.
"Norhala," I turned to the woman, "she would not have
him suffer; she would not have him die. She loves him."
"Love?" she repeated, and all of her wonderment seemed
crystallized in the word. "Love?" she asked.
"She loves him," I said; and then, why I did not know,
but I added, pointing to Drake: "and he loves her."
There was a tiny, astonished sob from Ruth. Again
Norhala brooded over her. Then with a little despairing
shake of her head, she paced over and faced the great Disk.
Tensely we waited. Communication there was between
them, interchange of--thought; how carried out I would
not hazard even to myself.
But of a surety these two--the goddess woman, the
wholly unhuman shape of metal, of jeweled fires and
conscious force--understood each other.
For she turned, stood aside--and the body of Ventnor
quivered, arose from the floor, stood upright and with
closed eyes, head dropping upon one shoulder, glided toward
the Disk like a dead man carried by those messengers
never seen by man who, the Arabs believe, bear the death
drugged souls before Allah for their awakening.
Ruth moaned and hid her eyes; Drake reached down,
gathered her up in his arms, held her close.
Ventnor's body stood before the Disk, then swam up
along its face. The tendrils waved out, felt of it, thrust
themselves down through the wide collar of the shirt. The
floating form passed higher, over the edge of the Disk; lay
high beside the right star point of the rayed shape to
which Ruth had been passing when Ventnor's shot brought
the tragedy upon us. I saw other tentacles whip forth,
Then down the body swung, was borne through air, laid
gently at our feet.
"He is not--dead," it was Norhala beside me; she lifted
Ruth's face from Drake's breast. "He will not die. It may
be he will walk again. They can not help," there was a
shadow of apology in her tones. "They did not know. They
thought it was the"--she hesitated as though at loss for
words--"the--the Fire Play."
"The Fire Play?" I gasped.
"Yes," she nodded. "You shall see it. And now I will take
him to my house. You are safe--now, nor need you
trouble. For he has given you to me."
"Who has given us to you--Norhala?" I asked, as calmly
as I could.
"He"--she nodded to the Disk, then spoke the phrase
that was both ancient Assyria's and ancient Persia's
title for their all-conquering rulers, and that meant--"the
King of Kings. The Great King, Master of Life and
She took Ruth from Drake's arms, pointing to Ventnor.
"Bear him," she commanded, and led the way back
through the walls of light.
As we lifted the body, I slipped my hand through the
shirt, felt at the heart. Faint was the pulsation and slow,
Close to the encircling vapors I cast one look behind
me. The shapes stood immobile, flashing disks, gigantic
radiant stars and the six great spheres beneath their
geometric super-Euclidean god or shrine or machine of
interwoven threads of luminous force and metal--still
motionless, still watching.
We emerged into the place of pillars. There stood the
hooded pony and its patience, its uncomplaining acceptance
of its place as servant to man brought a lump into
my throat, salved, I suppose, my human vanity, abased as
it had been by the colossal indifference of those things
to which we were but playthings.
Again Norhala sent forth her call. Out of the maze
glided her quintette of familiars; again the four clicked
into one. Upon its top we lifted, Drake ascending first, the
pony; then the body of Ventnor.
I saw Norhala lead Ruth to the remaining cube; saw the
girl break away from her, leap beside me, and kneeling at
her brother's head, cradle it against her soft breast. Then
as I found in the medicine case the hypodermic needle
and the strychnine for which I had been searching, I
began my examination of Ventnor.
The cubes quivered--swept away through the forest of
We crouched, the three of us, blind to anything that lay
about us, heedless of whatever road of wonders we were
on, striving to strengthen in Ventnor the spark of life so
"I WILL GIVE
In our concentration upon Ventnor none of us
had given thought to the passing of time, nor where we
were going. We stripped him to the waist, and while
Ruth massaged head and neck, Drake's strong fingers
kneaded chest and abdomen. I had used to the utmost my
somewhat limited medical knowledge.
We had found no mark nor burn upon him, not even
upon his hands over which had run the licking flame. The
slightly purplish, cyanotic tinge of his skin had given way
to a clear pallor; the skin was itself disquietingly cold,
the blood-pressure only slightly subnormal. The pulse
was more rapid, stronger; the breathing faint but regular,
and with no laboring. The pupils of his eyes were contracted
almost to the point of invisibility.
I could get no nervous reactions whatever. I am familiar
with the effects of electric shock and know what
to do in such cases, but Ventnor's symptoms, while similar
in part, presented other features unknown to me and most
puzzling. There was a passive automatism, a perplexing
muscular rigidity which caused arms and legs, hands and
head to remain, doll-like, in any position placed.
Several times during my labors I had been aware of
Norhala gazing down upon us; but she made no effort
to help, nor did she speak.
Now, my strained attention relaxing, I began to receive
and note impressions from without. There was a different
feeling in the air, a diminution of the magnetic tension;
I smelled the blessed breath of trees and water.
The light about us was clear and pearly, about the intensity
of the moon at full. Looking back along the way
we had been traveling, I saw a half mile away vertical,
knife-sharp edges of two facing cliffs, the gap between
them a mile or more wide.
Through them we must have passed, for beyond them
were the radiant mists of the pit of the city, and through
this precipitous gateway filtered the enveloping luminosity.
On each side of us uprose gradually converging and perpendicular
scarps along whose base huddled a sparse foliage.
There came a low whistle of astonishment from Drake; I
turned. We were slowly gliding toward something that
looked like nothing so much as a huge and shimmering
bubble of mingled sapphire and turquoise, swimming up
from and two-thirds above and the balance still hidden
within earth. It seemed to draw to itself the light, sending
it back with gleamings of the gray-blue of the star sapphire,
with pellucid azures and lazulis like clouded jades,
with glistening peacock iridescences and tender, milky
greens of tropic shallows.
Little turrets globular and topaz, yellow and pierced
with tiny hexagonal openings clustered about it like baby
bubbles just nestling down to rest.
Great trees shadowed it, unfamiliar trees among whose
glossy leaves blossomed in wreaths flowers pink and white
as apple-blossoms. From their graceful branches strange
fruits, golden and scarlet and pear-shaped, hung pendulous.
It was an elfin palace; a goblin dwelling; such a bower as
some mirthful, beauty-loving Jinn King of Jewels might
have built from enchanted hoards for some well-beloved
daughter of earth.
All of fifty feet in height was the blue globe, and up to
a wide and ovaled entrance ran a broad and shining roadway.
Along this the cubes swept and stopped.
"My house," murmured Norhala.
The attraction that had held us to the surface of the
blocks relaxed, angled through changed and assisting lines
of force; the hosts of minute eyes sparkling quizzically,
interestedly, at us, we gently slid Ventnor's body; lifted
down the pony.
"Enter," sighed Norhala, and waved a welcoming hand.
"Tell her to wait a minute," ordered Drake.
He slipped the bandage from off the pony's head, threw
off the saddlebags, and led it to the side of the roadway
where thick, lush grass was growing, spangled with
flowerets. There he hobbled it and rejoined us. Together
we picked up Ventnor and passed slowly through the
We stood in a shadowed chamber. The light that filled
it was translucent, and oddly enough with little of the
bluish quality I had expected. Crystalline it was; the
shadows crystalline, too, rigid--like the facets of great
crystals. And as my eyes accustomed themselves I saw
that what I had thought shadows actually were none.
They were slices of semitransparent stone like pale
moonstones, springing from the curving walls and the high
dome, and bisecting and intersecting the chamber. They
were pierced with oval doorways over which fell glimmering
metallic curtains--silk of silver and gold.
I glimpsed a pile of this silken stuff near by, and as
we laid our burden upon it Ruth caught my arm with a
little frightened cry.
Through a curtained oval sidled a figure.
Black and tall, its long and gnarled arms swung apelike;
its shoulders were distorted, one so much longer than the
other that the hand upon that side hung far below the
It walked with a curious, crablike motion. Upon its face
were stamped countless wrinkles and its blackness seemed
less that of pigmentation than the weathering of unbelievable
years, the very stain of ancientness. And about
neither face nor figure was there anything to show
whether it was man or woman.
From the twisted shoulders a short and sleeveless red
tunic fell. Incredibly old the creature was--and by its
corded muscles, its sinewy tendons, as incredibly powerful.
It raised within me a half sick revulsion, loathing. But
the eyes were not ancient, no. Irisless, lashless, black and
brilliant, they blazed out of the face's carven web of
wrinkles, intent upon Norhala and filled with a flame of
It threw itself at her feet, prostrate, the inordinately
long arms outstretched.
"Mistress!" it whined in a high and curiously unpleasant
falsetto. "Great lady! Goddess!"
She stretched out a sandaled foot, touched one of the
black taloned hands, and at the contact I saw a shiver of
ecstasy run through the lank body. "Yuruk--" she began,
and paused, regarding us.
"The goddess speaks! Yuruk hears! The goddess speaks!"
It was a chant of adoration.
"Yuruk. Rise. Look upon the strangers."
The creature--and now I knew what it was--writhed,
twisted, and hideously apelike crouched upon its haunches,
hands knuckling the floor.
By the amazement in the unwinking eyes it was plain
that not till now had the eunuch taken cognizance of us.
The amazement fled, was replaced with a black fire of
malignancy, of hatred--jealousy.
"Augh!" he snarled; leaped to his feet; thrust an arm
toward Ruth. She gave a little cry, cowered against
"None of that!" He struck down the clutching arm.
"Yuruk!" There was a hint of anger in the bell-toned
voice. "Yuruk, these belong to me. No harm must come
to them. Yuruk--beware!"
"The goddess commands. Yuruk obeys." If fear quavered
in the words, beneath was more than a trace of a
sullenness, too, sinister enough.
"That's a nice little playmate for her new playthings,"
muttered Drake. "If that bird gets the least bit gay--I
shoot him pronto." He gave Ruth a reassuring hug. "Cheer
up, Ruth. Don't mind that thing. He's something we can
Norhala waved a white hand; Yuruk sidled over to one
of the curtained ovals and through it, reappearing almost
instantly with a huge platter upon which were fruits, and
a curdly white liquid in bowls of thick porcelain.
"Eat," she said, as the gnarled black arms placed the
platter at our feet.
"Hungry?" asked Drake. Ruth shook her head violently.
"I'm going out for the saddlebags," said Drake. "We'll
use our own stuff--while it lasts. I'm taking no chances on
what the Yuruk lad brings--with all due respect to
Norhala's good intentions."
He started for the doorway; the eunuch blocked his
"We have with us food of our own, Norhala," I explained.
"He goes to get it."
She nodded indifferently; clapped her hands. Yuruk
shrank back, and out strode Drake.
"I am weary," sighed Norhala. "The way was long. I
will refresh myself--"
She stretched out a foot toward Yuruk. He knelt, unlaced
the turquoise bands, drew off the sandals. Her hands
sought her breast, dwelt for an instant there.
Down slipped her silken veils, clingingly, slowly, as
though reluctant to unclasp her; whispering they fell from
the high and tender breasts, the delicate rounded hips,
and clustered about her feet in soft petalings as of some
flower of pale amber foam. Out of the calyx of that
flower arose the gleaming miracle of her body crowned with
glowing glory of her cloudy hair.
Naked she was, yet clothed with an unearthly purity,
the purity of the far-flung, serene stars, of the eternal
snows upon some calm, high-flung peak, the tranquil, silver
dawns of spring; protected by some spell of divinity which
chilled and slew the flame of desire. A maiden Ishtar,
a virginal Isis; a woman--yet with no more of woman's
lure than if she had been some exquisite and breathing
statue of mingled ivory and milk of pearls.
So she stood, indifferent to us who gazed upon her, withdrawn,
musing, as though she had forgotten us. And that
serene indifference, with its entire absence of what we
term sex consciousness, revealed to me once more how
great was the abyss between us and her.
Slowly she raised her arms, wound the floating tresses
into a coronal. I saw Drake enter with the saddlebags;
saw them drop from hands relaxing under the shock of
this amazing tableau; saw his eyes widen and fill with
wonder and half-awed admiration.
Now Norhala stepped out of her fallen robes and moved
toward the further wall, Yuruk following. He stooped,
raised an ewer of silver and began gently to pour over
her shoulders its contents. Again and again he bent and
filled the vessel, dipping it into a shallow basin from which
came the bubbling and chuckling of a little spring. And
again I marveled at the marble smoothness and fineness
of her skin on which the caressing water left tiny silvery
globules, gemming it. The eunuch slithered to one side,
drew from a quaint chest clothes of white floss; patted
her dry with them; threw over her shoulders a silken robe
Back she floated to us; hovered over Ruth, crouching
with her brother's head upon her knees.
She made a motion as though to draw the girl to her;
hesitated as Ruth's face set in a passion of denial. A
shadow of kindness drifted through the wide, mysterious
eyes; a shadow of pity joined it as she looked curiously
down on Ventnor.
"Bathe," she murmured, and pointed to the pool. "And
rest. No harm shall come to any of you here. And you--"
A hand rested for a moment lightly on the girl's curly
head. "When you desire it--I will again give you--peace!"
She parted the curtains, and the eunuch still following,
was hidden beyond them.
Helplessly we looked at each other. Then called forth
perhaps by what she saw in Drake's eyes, perhaps by another
thought, Ruth's cheeks crimsoned, her head drooped;
the web of her hair hid the warm rose of her face, the
frozen pallor of Ventnor's.
Abruptly, she sprang to her feet. "Walter! Dick! Something's
happening to Martin!"
Before she had ceased we were beside her; bending over
Ventnor. His mouth was opening, slowly, slowly--with an
effort agonizing to watch. Then his voice came through
lips that scarcely moved; faint, faint as though it floated
from infinite distances, a ghost of a voice whispering with
phantom breath out of a dead throat.
"Hard--hard! So hard!" the whispering complained.
"Don't know how long I can keep connection--with voice.
"Was fool to shoot. Sorry--might have gotten you in
worse trouble--but crazy with fear for Ruth--thought,
too, might be worth chance. Sorry--not my usual line--"
The thin thread of sound ceased. I felt my eyes fill
with tears; it was like Ventnor to flay himself like this
for what he thought stupidity, like him to make this
effort to admit his supposed fault and crave forgiveness
--as like him as that mad attack upon the flaming Disk
in its own temple, surrounded by its ministers, had been
so bafflingly unlike his usual cool, collected self.
"Martin," I called, bending closer, "it's nothing, old
friend. No one blames you. Try to rouse yourself."
"Dear," it was Ruth, passionately tender, "it's me. Can
you hear me?"
"Only speck of consciousness and motionless in the
void," the whisper began again. "Terribly alive, terribly
alone. Seem outside space yet--still in body. Can't see,
hear, feel--short-circuited from every sense--but in some
strange way realize you--Ruth, Walter, Drake.
"See without seeing--here floating in darkness that is
also light--black light--indescribable. In touch, too, with
Again the voice trailed into silence; returned, word and
phrase pouring forth disconnected, with a curious and
turbulent rhythm, like rushing wave crests linked by half-seen
threads of the spindrift, vocal fragments of thought
swiftly assembled by some subtle faculty of the mind as
they fell into a coherent, incredible message.
"Group consciousness--gigantic--operating within our
sphere--operating also in spheres of vibration, energy,
force--above, below one to which humanity reacts--perception,
command forces known to us--but in greater degree--cognizant,
manipulate unknown energies--senses known to us--unknown--can't
realize them fully--impossible cover, only impinge on contact
points akin to our senses, forces--even these profoundly modified
by additional ones--metallic, crystalline, magnetic, electric--
inorganic with every power of organic--consciousness basically
same as ours--profoundly changed by differences
in mechanism through which it finds expression--difference
"Conscious, mobile--inexorable, invulnerable. Getting
clearer--see more clearly--see--" the voice shrilled out
in a shuddering, thin lash of despair--"No! No--oh, God
Then clearly and solemnly:
"And God said: let us make men in our image, after
our likeness, and let them have dominion over all the
earth, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the
A silence; we bent closer, listening; the still, small voice
took up the thread once more--but clearly further on.
Something we had missed between that text from Genesis
and what we were now hearing; something that even as he
had warned us, he had not been able to articulate. The
whisper broke through clearly in the middle of a sentence.
"Nor is Jehovah the God of myriads of millions who
through those same centuries, and centuries upon centuries
before them, found earth a garden and grave--and
all these countless gods and goddesses only phantom barriers
raised by man to stand between him and the eternal
forces man's instinct has always warned him are ever in
readiness to destroy. That do destroy him as soon as his
vigilance relaxes, his resistance weakens--the eternal,
ruthless law that will annihilate humanity the instant it
runs counter to that law and turns its will and strength
A little pause; then came these singular sentences:
"Weaklings praying for miracles to make easy the path
their own wills should clear. Beggars who whine for alms
from dreams. Shirkers each struggling to place upon his
god the burden whose carrying and whose carrying alone
can give him strength to walk free and unafraid, himself
godlike among the stars."
And now distinctly, unfalteringly, the voice went on:
"Dominion over all the earth? Yes--as long as man is
fit to rule; no longer. Science has warned us. Where was
the mammal when the giant reptiles reigned? Slinking
hidden and afraid in the dark and secret places. Yet man
sprang from these skulking beasts.
"For how long a time in the history of earth has man
been master of it? For a breath--for a cloud's passing.
And will remain master only until something grown
stronger wrests mastery from him--even as he wrested
it from his ravening kind--as they took it from the
reptiles--as did the reptiles from the giant saurians--which
snatched it from the nightmare rulers of the Triassic--
and so down to whatever held sway in the murk of earth
"Life! Life! Life! Life everywhere struggling for completion!
"Life crowding other life aside, battling for its moment
of supremacy, gaining it, holding it for one rise and fall
of the wings of time beating through eternity--and then
--hurled down, trampled under the feet of another straining
life whose hour has struck.
"Life crowding outside every barred threshold in a
million circling worlds, yes, in a million rushing universes;
pressing against the doors, bursting them down, overwhelming,
forcing out those dwellers who had thought themselves so secure.
"And these--these--" the voice suddenly dropped, became
thickly, vibrantly resonant, "over the Threshold, within
the House of Man--nor does he even dream that his doors
are down. These--Things of metal whose brains are thinking
crystals--Things that suck their strength from the sun
and whose blood is the lightning.
"The sun! The sun!" he cried. "There lies their weakness!"
The voice rose in pitch, grew strident.
"Go back to the city! Go back to the city! Walter--
Drake. They are not invulnerable. No! The sun--strike
them through the sun! Go into the city--not invulnerable
--the Keeper of the Cones--strike at the Cones when--
the Keeper of the Cones--ah-h-h-ah--"
We shrank back appalled, for from the parted, scarcely
moving lips in the unchanging face a gust of laughter,
mad, mocking, terrifying, racked its way.
"Vulnerable--under the law--even as we! The Cones!
"Go!" he gasped. A tremor shook him; slowly the mouth
"Martin! Brother," wept Ruth. I thrust my hand into his
breast; felt the heart beating, with a curious suggestion of
stubborn, unshakable strength, as though every vital force
had concentrated there as in a beleaguered citadel.
But Ventnor himself, the consciousness that was Ventnor
was gone; had withdrawn into that subjective void in
which he had said he floated--a lonely sentient atom, his
one line of communication with us cut; severed from us as
completely as though he were, as he had described it,
And Drake and I looked at each other's eyes, neither
daring to be first to break the silence of which the muffled
sobbing of the girl seemed to be the sorrowful soul.
The peculiar ability of the human mind to slip so
readily into the refuge of the commonplace after, or even
during, some well-nigh intolerable crisis, has been to me
long one of the most interesting phenomena of our
It is instinctively a protective habit, of course, acquired
through precisely the same causes that had given to animals
their protective coloration--the stripes, say, of the
zebra and tiger that blend so cunningly with the barred
and speckled shadowings of bush and jungle, the twig
and leaflike shapes and hues of certain insects; in fact,
all that natural camouflage which was the basis of the art
of concealment so astonishingly developed in the late war.
Like the animals of the wild, the mind of man moves
through a jungle--the jungle of life, passing along paths
beaten out by the thought of his countless forefathers in
their progress from birth to death.
And these paths are bordered and screened, figuratively
and literally, with bush and trees of his own selection,
setting out and cultivation--shelters of the familiar, the
habitual, the customary.
On these ancestral paths, within these barriers of usage,
man moves hidden and secure as the animals in their
haunts--or so he thinks.
Outside them lie the wildernesses and the gardens of the
unknown, and man's little trails are but rabbit-runs in an
But they are home to him!
Therefore it is that he scurries from some open place
of revelation, some storm of emotion, some strength-testing
struggle, back into the shelter of the obvious;
finding it an intellectual environment that demands no
slightest expenditure of mental energy or initiative,
strength to sally forth again into the unfamiliar.
I crave pardon for this digression. I set it down because
now I remember how, when Drake at last broke the
silence that had closed in upon the passing of that still,
small voice the essence of these thoughts occurred to me.
He strode over to the weeping girl, and in his voice was
a roughness that angered me until I realized his purpose.
"Get up, Ruth," he ordered. "He came back once and
he'll come back again. Now let him be and help us get a
meal together. I'm hungry."
She looked up at him, incredulously, indignation rising.
"Eat!" she exclaimed. "You can be hungry?"
"You bet I can--and I am," he answered cheerfully.
"Come on; we've got to make the best of it."
"Ruth," I broke in gently, "we'll all have to think about
ourselves a little if we're to be of any use to him. You
must eat--and then rest."
"No use crying in the milk even if it's spilt," observed
Drake, even more cheerfully brutal. "I learned that at the
front where we got so we'd yelp for food even when the
lads who'd been bringing it were all mixed up in it."
She lifted Ventnor's head from her lap, rested it on the
silks; arose, eyes wrathful, her little hands closed in fists
as though to strike him.
"Oh--you brute!" she whispered. "And I thought--I
thought--Oh, I hate you!"
"That's better," said Dick. "Go ahead and hit me if you
want. The madder you get the better you'll feel."
For a moment I thought she was going to take him at
his word; then her anger fled.
"Thanks--Dick," she said quietly.
And while I sat studying Ventnor, they put together a
meal from the stores, brewed tea over the spirit-lamp with
water from the bubbling spring. In these commonplaces I
knew that she at least was finding relief from that strain
of the abnormal under which we had labored so long. To
my surprise I found that I was hungry, and with deep
relief I watched Ruth partake of food and drink even
About her seemed to hover something of the ethereal,
elusive, and disquieting. Was it the strangely pellucid
light that gave the effect, I wondered; and knew it was not,
for as I scanned her covertly, there fell upon her face that
shadow of inhuman tranquillity, of unearthly withdrawal
which, I guessed, had more than anything else maddened
Ventnor into his attack upon the Disk.
I watched her fight against it, drive it back. White
lipped, she raised her head and met my gaze. And in her
eyes I read both terror and--shame.
It came to me that painful as it might be for her the time
for questioning had come.
"Ruth," I said, "I know it's not necessary to remind
you that we're in a tight place. Every fact and every scrap
of knowledge that we can lay hold of is of the utmost
importance in enabling us to determine our course.
"I'm going to repeat your brother's question--what did
Norhala do to you? And what happened when you were
floating before the Disk?"
The blaze of interest in Drake's eyes at these questions
changed to amazement at her stricken recoil from them.
"There was nothing," she whispered--then defiantly--
"nothing. I don't know what you mean."
"Ruth!" I spoke sharply now, in my own perplexity.
"You do know. You must tell us--for his sake." I pointed
She drew a long breath.
"You're right--of course," she said unsteadily. "Only
I--I thought maybe I could fight it out myself. But you'll
have to know it--there's a taint upon me."
I caught in Drake's swift glance the echo of my own
thrill of apprehension for her sanity.
"Yes," she said, now quietly. "Some new and alien
thing within my heart, my brain, my soul. It came to me
from Norhala when we rode the flying block, and--he--
sealed upon me when I was in--his"--again she crimsoned,
And as we gazed at her, incredulously:
"A thing that urges me to forget you two--and Martin
--and all the world I've known. That tries to pull me from
you--from all--to drift untroubled in some vast calm
filled with an ordered ecstasy of peace. And whose calling
I want, God help me, oh, so desperately to heed!
"It whispered to me first," she said, "from Norhala--
when she put her arm around me. It whispered and then
seemed to float from her and cover me like--like a veil,
and from head to foot. It was a quietness and peace that
held within it a happiness at one and the same time
utterly tranquil and utterly free.
"I seemed to be at the doorway to unknown ecstasies
--and the life I had known only a dream--and you, all
of you--even Martin, dreams within a dream. You weren't
--real--and you did not--matter."
"Hypnotism," muttered Drake, as she paused.
"No." She shook her head. "No--more than that. The
wonder of it grew--and grew. I thrilled with it. I remember
nothing of that ride, saw nothing--except that once
through the peace enfolding me pierced warning that
Martin was in peril, and I broke through to see him
clutching Norhala and to see floating up in her eyes death
"And I saved him--and again forgot. Then, when I saw
that beautiful, flaming Shape--I felt no terror, no fear--
only a tremendous--joyous--anticipation, as though--as
though--" She faltered, hung her head, then leaving that
sentence unfinished, whispered: "and when--it--lifted me
it was as though I had come at last out of some endless
black ocean of despair into the full sun of paradise."
"Ruth!" cried Drake, and at the pain in his cry she
"Wait," she said, and held up a little, tremulous hand.
"You asked--and now you must listen."
She was silent; and when once more she spoke her voice
was low, curiously rhythmic; her eyes rapt:
"I was free--free from every human fetter of fear or
sorrow or love or hate; free even of hope--for what was
there to hope for when everything desirable was mine?
And I was elemental; one with the eternal things yet
fully conscious that I was--I.
"It was as though I were the shining shadow of a star
afloat upon the breast of some still and hidden woodland
pool; as though I were a little wind dancing among the
mountain tops; a mist whirling down a quiet glen; a
shimmering lance of the aurora pulsing in the high solitudes.
"And there was music--strange and wondrous music
and terrible, but not terrible to me--who was part of it.
Vast chords and singing themes that rang like clusters of
little swinging stars and harmonies that were like the very
voice of infinite law resolving within itself all discords.
And all--all--passionless, yet--rapturous.
"Out of the Thing that held me, out from its fires
pulsed vitality--a flood of inhuman energy in which I was
bathed. And it was as though this energy were--reassembling
me, fitting me even closer to the elemental things,
changing me fully into them.
"I felt the little tendrils touching, caressing--then came
the shots. Awakening was--dreadful, a struggling back
from drowning. I saw Martin--blasted. I drove the--the
spell away from me, tore it away.
"And, O Walter--Dick--it hurt--it hurt--and for a
breath before I ran to him it was like--like coming from
a world in which there was no disorder, no sorrow, no
doubts, a rhythmic, harmonious world of light and music,
into--into a world that was like a black and dirty kitchen.
"And it's there," her voice rose, hysterically. "It's still
within me--whispering, whispering; urging me away from
you, from Martin, from every human thing; bidding me
give myself up, surrender my humanity.
"Its seal," she sobbed. "No--HIS seal! An alien consciousness
sealed within me, that tries to make the human
me a slave--that waits to overcome my will--and if I
surrender gives me freedom, an incredible freedom--but
makes me, being still human, a--monster."
She hid her face in her hands, quivering.
"If I could sleep," she wailed. "But I'm afraid to sleep.
I think I shall never sleep again. For sleeping how do I
know what I may be when I wake?"
I caught Drake's eye; he nodded. I slipped my hand
down into the medicine-case, brought forth a certain potent
and tasteless combination of drugs which I carry upon
I dropped a little into her cup, then held it to her lips.
Like a child, unthinking, she obeyed and drank.
"But I'll not surrender." Her eyes were tragic. "Never
think it! I can win--don't you know I can?"
"Win?" Drake dropped down beside her, drew her toward him.
"Bravest girl I've known--of course you'll win.
And remember this--nine-tenths of what you're thinking
now is purely over-wrought nerves and weariness. You'll
win--and we'll win, never doubt it."
"I don't," she said. "I know it--oh, it will be hard--but I
Her eyes closed, her body relaxed; the potion had
done its work quickly. We laid her beside Ventnor on the
pile of silken stuffs, covered them both with a fold, then
looked at each other long and silently--and I wondered
whether my face was as grim and drawn as his.
"It appears," he said at last, curtly, "that it's up to you
and me for powwow quick. I hope you're not sleepy."
"I am not," I answered as curtly; the edge of nerves in
his manner of questioning doing nothing to soothe my
own, "and even if I were I would hardly expect to put all
the burden of the present problem upon you by going to
"For God's sake don't be a prima donna," he flared up.
"I meant no offense."
"I'm sorry, Dick," I said. "We're both a little jumpy, I
guess." He nodded; gripped my hand.
"It wouldn't be so bad," he muttered, "if all four of us
were all right. But Ventnor's down and out, and God
alone knows for how long. And Ruth--has all the trouble
we have and some special ones of her own. I've an idea"--
he hesitated--"an idea that there was no exaggeration
in that story she told--an idea that if anything she underplayed it."
"I, too," I replied somberly. "And to me it is the most
hideous phase of this whole situation--and for reasons
not all connected with Ruth," I added.
"Hideous!" he repeated. "Unthinkable--yet all this is
unthinkable. And still--it is! And Ventnor--coming back
--that way. Like a lost soul finding voice.
"Was it raving, Goodwin? Or could he have been--how
was it he put it--in touch with these Things and their
purpose? Was that message--truth?"
"Ask yourself that question," I said. "Man--you know
it was truth. Had not inklings of it come to you even before
he spoke? They had to me. His message was but an
interpretation, a synthesis of facts I, for one, lacked the
courage to admit."
"I, too," he nodded. "But he went further than that.
What did he mean by the Keeper of the Cones--and that
the Things--were vulnerable under the same law that
orders us? And why did he command us to go back to
the city? How could he know--how could he?"
"There's nothing inexplicable in that, at any rate," I
answered. "Abnormal sensitivity of perception due to the
cutting off of all sensual impressions. There's nothing
uncommon in that. You have its most familiar form in the
sensitivity of the blind. You've watched the same thing
at work in certain forms of hypnotic experimentation,
"Through the operation of entirely understandable
causes the mind gains the power to react to vibrations
that normally pass unperceived; is able to project itself
through this keying up of perception into a wider area of
consciousness than the normal. Just as in certain diseases
of the ear the sufferer, though deaf to sounds within
the average range of hearing, is fully aware of sound
vibrations far above and far below those the healthy ear
"I know," he said. "I don't need to be convinced. But
we accept these things in theory--and when we get up
against them for ourselves we doubt.
"How many people are there in Christendom, do you
think, who believe that the Saviour ascended from the
dead, but who if they saw it today would insist upon
medical inspection, doctor's certificates, a clinic, and even
after that render a Scotch verdict? I'm not speaking irreverently
--I'm just stating a fact."
Suddenly he moved away from me, strode over to the
curtained oval through which Norhala had gone.
"Dick," I cried, following him hastily, "where are you
going? What are you going to do?"
"I'm going after Norhala," he answered. "I'm going to
have a showdown with her or know the reason why."
"Drake," I cried again, aghast, "don't make the mistake
Ventnor did. That's not the way to win through. Don't--I
beg you, don't."
"You're wrong," he answered stubbornly. "I'm going
to get her. She's got to talk."
He thrust out a hand to the curtains. Before he could
touch them, they were parted. Out from between them
slithered the black eunuch. He stood motionless, regarding
us; in the ink-black eyes a red flame of hatred. I pushed
myself between him and Drake.
"Where is your mistress, Yuruk?" I asked.
"The goddess has gone," he replied sullenly.
"Gone?" I said suspiciously, for certainly Norhala had
not passed us. "Where?"
"Who shall question the goddess?" he asked. "She comes
and she goes as she pleases."
I translated this for Drake.
"He's got to show me," he said. "Don't think I'm going
to spill any beans, Goodwin. But I want to talk to her. I
think I'm right, honestly I do."
After all, I reflected, there was much in his determination
to recommend it. It was the obvious thing to do--unless
we admitted that Norhala was superhuman; and that
I would not admit. In command of forces we did not yet
know, en rapport with these People of Metal, sealed with
that alien consciousness Ruth had described--all these,
yes. But still a woman--of that I was certain. And
surely Drake could be trusted not to repeat Ventnor's
"Yuruk," I said, "we think you lie. We would speak to
your mistress. Take us to her."
"I have told you that the goddess is not here," he said.
"If you do not believe it is nothing to me. I cannot take
you to her for I do not know where she is. Is it your wish
that I take you through her house?"
"It is," I said.
"The goddess has commanded me to serve you in all
things." He bowed, sardonically. "Follow."
Our search was short. We stepped out into what for
want of better words I can describe only as a central hall.
It was circular, and strewn with thick piled small rugs
whose hues had been softened by the alchemy of time into
exquisite, shadowy echoes of color.
The walls of this hall were of the same moonstone substance
that had enclosed the chamber upon whose inner
threshold we were. They whirled straight up to the dome
in a crystalline, cylindrical cone. Four doorways like that
in which we stood pierced them. Through each of their
curtainings in turn we peered.
All were precisely similar in shape and proportions,
radiating in a lunetted, curved base triangle from the
middle chamber; the curvature of the enclosing globe forming
back wall and roof; the translucent slicings the sides;
the circle of floor of the inner hall the truncating lunette.
The first of these chambers was utterly bare. The one
opposite held a half-dozen suits of the lacquered armor,
as many wicked looking, short and double-edged swords
and long javelins. The third I judged to be the lair of
Yuruk; within it was a copper brazier, a stand of spears
and a gigantic bow, a quiver full of arrows leaning beside
it. The fourth room was littered with coffers great and
small, of wood and of bronze, and all tightly closed.
The fifth room was beyond question Norhala's bedchamber.
Upon its floor the ancient rugs were thick. A low
couch of carven ivory inset with gold rested a few feet
from the doorway. A dozen or more of the chests were
scattered about and flowing over with silken stuffs.
Upon the back of four golden lions stood a high mirror
of polished silver. And close to it, in curiously incongruous
domestic array stood a stiffly marshaled row of sandals.
Upon one of the chests were heaped combs and fillets of
shell and gold and ivory studded with jewels blue and
yellow and crimson.
To all of these we gave but a passing glance. We sought
for Norhala. And of her we found no shadow. She had
gone even as the black eunuch had said; flitting unseen
past Ruth, perhaps, absorbed in her watch over her
brother; perhaps through some hidden opening in this
room of hers.
Yuruk let drop the curtains, sidled back to the first
room, we after him. The two there had not moved. We
drew the saddlebags close, propped ourselves against
The black eunuch squatted a dozen feet away, facing us,
chin upon his knees, taking us in with unblinking eyes
blank of any emotion. Then he began to move slowly his
tremendously long arms in easy, soothing motion, the
hands running along the floor upon their talons in arcs
and circles. It was curious how these hands seemed to be
endowed with a volition of their own, independent of the
arms upon which they swung.
And now I could see only the hands, shuttling so smoothly,
so rhythmically back and forth--weaving so sleepily,
so sleepily back and forth--black hands that dripped sleep
Hypnotic! I sprang from the lethargy closing upon me.
In one quick side glance I saw Drake's head nodding--
nodding in time to the movement of the black hands. I
jumped to my feet, shaking with an intensity of rage
unfamiliar to me; thrust my pistol into the wrinkled face.
"Damn you!" I cried. "Stop that. Stop it and turn your
The corded muscles of the arms contracted, the claws
of the slithering paws drew in as though he were about to
clutch me; the ebon pools of eyes were covered with a
frozen film of hate.
He could not have known what was this tube with
which I menaced him, but its threat he certainly sensed
and was afraid to meet. He squattered about, wrapped his
arms around his knees, crouched with back toward us.
"What's the matter?" asked Drake drowsily.
"He tried to hypnotize us," I answered shortly. "And
pretty nearly did."
"So that's what it was." He was now wide awake. "I
watched those hands of his and got sleepier and sleepier
--I guess we'd better tie Mr. Yuruk up." He jumped to
"No," I said, restraining him. "No. He's safe enough as
long as we're on the alert. I don't want to use any force
on him yet. Wait until we know we can get something
worth while by doing it."
"All right," he nodded, grimly. "But when the time
comes I'm telling you straight, Doc, I'm going the limit.
There's something about that human spider that makes me
itch to squash him--slowly."
"I'll have no compunction--when it's worth while," I
answered as grimly.
We sank down again against the saddlebags; Drake
brought out a black pipe, looked at it sorrowfully; at me
"All mine was on that pony that bolted," I answered
"All mine was on my beast, too," he sighed. "And I
lost my pouch in that spurt from the ruins."
He sighed again, clamped white teeth down upon the
"Of course," he said at last, "if Ventnor was right in
that--that disembodied analysis of his, it's rather--well,
terrifying, isn't it?"
"It's all of that," I replied, "and considerably more."
"Metal, he said," Drake mused. "Things of metal with
brains of thinking crystal and their blood the lightnings.
You accept that?"
"So far as my own observation has gone--yes," I
said. "Metallic yet mobile. Inorganic but with all the
quantities we have hitherto thought only those of the
organic and with others added. Crystalline, of course,
in structure and highly complex. Activated by magnetic-electric
forces consciously exerted and as much a part of
their life as brain energy and nerve currents are of our
human life. Animate, moving, sentient combinations of
metal and electric energy."
"The opening of the Disk from the globe and of the
two blasting stars from the pyramids show the flexibility
of the outer--plate would you call it? I couldn't help
thinking of the armadillo after I had time to think at all."
"It may be"--I struggled against the conviction now
strong upon me--"it may be that within that metallic
shell is an organic body, something soft--animal, as
there is within the horny carapace of the turtle, the
nacreous valves of the oyster, the shells of the crustaceans
--it may be that even their inner surface is organic--"
"No," he interrupted, "if there is a body--as we know
a body--it must be between the outer surface and the
inner, for the latter is crystal, jewel hard, impenetrable.
"Goodwin--Ventnor's bullets hit fair. I saw them strike.
They did not ricochet--they dropped dead. Like flies
dashed up against a rock--and the Thing was no more
conscious of their striking than a rock would have been of
"Drake," I said, "my own conviction is that these
creatures are absolutely metallic, entirely inorganic--
incredible, unknown forms. Let us go on that basis."
"I think so, too," he nodded; "but I wanted you to say
it first. And yet--is it so incredible, Goodwin? What is
the definition of vital intelligence--sentience?
"Haeckel's is the accepted one. Anything which can
receive a stimulus, that can react to a stimulus and
retains memory of a stimulus must be called an intelligent,
conscious entity. The gap between what we have long
called the organic and the inorganic is steadily decreasing.
Do you know of the remarkable experiments of
Lillie upon various metals?"
"Vaguely," I said.
"Lillie," he went on, "proved that under the electric
current and other exciting mediums metals exhibited practically
every reaction of the human nerve and muscle.
It grew weary, rested, and after resting was perceptibly
stronger than before; it got what was practically indigestion,
and it exhibited a peculiar but unmistakable
memory. Also, he found, it could acquire disease and die.
"Lillie concluded that there existed a real metallic
consciousness. It was Le Bon who first proved also that
metal is more sensitive than man, and that its immobility
is only apparent. (Le Bon in "Evolution of Matter,"
"Take the block of magnetic iron that stands so gray
and apparently lifeless, subject it to a magnetic current
lifeless, what happens? The iron block is composed of
molecules which under ordinary conditions are disposed
in all possible directions indifferently. But when the
current passes through there is tremendous movement in
that apparently inert mass. All of the tiny particles of
which it is composed turn and shift until their north poles
all point more or less approximately in the direction of
the magnetic force.
"When that happens the block itself becomes a magnet,
filled with and surrounded by a field of magnetic energy;
instinct with it. Outwardly it has not moved; actually
there has been prodigious motion."
"But it is not conscious motion," I objected.
"Ah, but how do you know?" he asked. "If Jacques
Loeb* is right, that action of the iron molecules is
every bit as conscious a movement as the least and the
greatest of our own. There is absolutely no difference
"Your and my and its every movement is nothing but
an involuntary and inevitable reaction to a certain stimulus.
If he's right, then I'm a buttercup--but that's neither
here nor there. Loeb--all he did was to restate destiny,
one of humanity's oldest ideas, in the terms of tropisms,
infusoria and light. Omar Khayyam chemically reincarnated
in the Rockefeller Institute. Nevertheless those
who accept his theories have to admit that there is
essentially no difference between their impulses and the
rush of filings toward a magnet.
"Equally nevertheless, Goodwin, the iron does meet
Haeckel's three tests--it can receive a stimulus, it does
react to that stimulus and it retains memory of it; for
even after the current has ceased it remains changed in
tensile strength, conductivity and other qualities that were
modified by the passage of that current; and as time passes
this memory fades. Precisely as some human experience
increases wariness, caution, which keying up of qualities
remains with us after the experience has passed, and
fades away in the ratio of our sensitivity plus retentiveness
divided by the time elapsing from the original experience
--exactly as it is in the iron."
* Professor Jacques Loeb, of the Rockefeller Institute, New York,
"The Mechanistic Conception of Life."
"Granted," I acquiesced. "We now come to their
means of locomotion. In its simplest terms all locomotion
is progress through space against the force of
gravitation. Man's walk is a series of rhythmic stumbles
against this force that constantly strives to drag him
down to earth's face and keep him pressed there. Gravitation
is an etheric--magnetic vibration akin to the force
which holds, to use your simile again, Drake, the filing
against the magnet. A walk is a constant breaking of the
"Take a motion picture of a man walking and run it
through the lantern rapidly and he seems to be flying. We
have none of the awkward fallings and recoveries that
are the tempo of walking as we see it.
"I take it that the movement of these Things is a
conscious breaking of the gravitational current just as
much as is our own movement, but by a rhythm so
swift that it appears to be continuous.
"Doubtless if we could so control our sight as to admit
the vibrations of light slowly enough we would see this
apparently smooth motion as a series of leaps--just as
we do when the motion-picture operator slows down his
machine sufficiently to show us walking in a series of
"Very well--so far, then, we have nothing in this
phenomenon which the human mind cannot conceive as
possible; therefore intellectually we still remain masters of
the phenomena; for it is only that which human thought
cannot encompass which it need fear."
"Metallic," he said, "and crystalline. And yet--why
not? What are we but bags of skin filled with certain
substances in solution and stretched over a supporting
and mobile mechanism largely made up of lime? Out of
that primeval jelly which Gregory* calls Protobion came
after untold millions of years us with our skins, our
nails, and our hair; came, too, the serpents with their
scales, the birds with their feathers; the horny hide of the
rhinoceros and the fairy wings of the butterfly; the shell
of the crab, the gossamer loveliness of the moth and the
shimmering wonder of the mother-of-pearl.
"Is there any greater gap between any of these and the
metallic? I think not."
"Not materially," I answered. "No. But there remains--
"That," he said, "I cannot understand. Ventnor spoke
of--how did he put it?--a group consciousness, operating
in our sphere and in spheres above and below ours, with
senses known and unknown. I got--glimpses--Goodwin,
but I cannot understand."
"We have agreed for reasons that seem sufficient to us to
call these Things metallic, Dick," I replied. "But that does
not necessarily mean that they are composed of any
metal that we know. Nevertheless, being metal, they must
be of crystalline structure.
"As Gregory has pointed out, crystals and what we call
living matter had an equal start in the first essentials of
life. We cannot conceive life without giving it the attribute
of some sort of consciousness. Hunger cannot be
anything but conscious, and there is no other stimulus to
eat but hunger.
"The crystals eat. The extraction of power from food
is conscious because it is purposeful, and there can be no
purpose without consciousness; similarly the power to
work from such derived energy is also purposeful and
therefore conscious. The crystals do both. And the crystals
can transmit all these abilities to their children, just as
we do. For although there would seem to be no reason
why they should not continue to grow to gigantic size
under favorable conditions--yet they do not. They reach
a size beyond which they do not develop.
"Instead, they bud--give birth, in fact--to smaller
ones, which increase until they reach the size of the
* J. W. Gregory, F.R.S.D.Sc., Professor of Geology, University
preceding generation. And like the children of man and
animals, these younger generations grow on precisely as
"Very well, then--we arrive at the conception of a
metallically crystalline being, which by some explosion of
the force of evolution has burst from the to us familiar
and apparently inert stage into these Things that hold us.
And is there any greater difference between the forms
with which we are familiar and them than there is
between us and the crawling amphibian which is our remote
ancestor? Or between that and the amoeba--the
little swimming stomach from which it evolved? Or the
amoeba and the inert jelly of the Protobion?
"As for what Ventnor calls a group consciousness I
would assume that he means a communal intelligence
such as that shown by the bees and the ants--that in the
case of the former Maeterlinck calls the 'Spirit of the
Hive.' It is shown in their groupings--just as the geometric
arrangement of those groupings shows also clearly
their crystalline intelligence.
"I submit that in their rapid coordination either for
attack or movement or work without apparent communication
having passed between the units, there is nothing
more remarkable than the swarming of a hive of bees
where also without apparent communication just so many
waxmakers, nurses, honey-gatherers, chemists, bread-makers,
and all the varied specialists of the hive go with the
old queen, leaving behind sufficient number of each class
for the needs of the young queen.
"All this apportionment is effected without any means of
communication that we recognize. Still it is most obviously
intelligent selection. For if it were haphazard all the
honeymakers might leave and the hive starve, or all the
chemists might go and the food for the young bees not be
properly prepared--and so on and so on."
"But metal," he muttered, "and conscious. It's all very
well--but where did that consciousness come from? And
what is it? And where did they come from? And most
of all, why haven't they overrun the world before this?
"Such development as theirs, such an evolution, presupposes
aeons of time--long as it took us to drag up from
the lizards. What have they been doing--why haven't
they been ready to strike--if Ventnor's right--at humanity
"I don't know," I answered, helplessly. "But evolution
is not the slow, plodding process that Darwin thought.
There seem to be explosions--nature will create a new
form almost in a night. Then comes the long ages of
development and adjustment, and suddenly another new
"It might be so of these--some extraordinary conditions
that shaped them. Or they might have developed
through the ages in spaces within the earth--there's that
incredible abyss we saw that is evidently one of their
highways. Or they might have dropped here upon some
fragment of a broken world, found in this valley the
right conditions and developed in amazing rapidity.*
They're all possible theories--take your pick."
"Something's held them back--and they're rushing to
a climax," he whispered. "Ventnor's right about that--
I feel it. And what can we do?"
"Go back to their city," I said. "Go back as he ordered.
I believe he knows what he's talking about. And I believe
he'll be able to help us. It wasn't just a request
he made, nor even an appeal--it was a command."
"But what can we do--just two men--against these
Things?" he groaned.
"Maybe we'll find out--when we're back in the city," I
"Well," his old reckless cheerfulness came back to
him, "in every crisis of this old globe it's been up to one
man to turn the trick. We're two. And at the worst we
can only go down fighting a little before the rest of us.
So, after all, whatEVER the hell, WHAT the hell."
For a time we were silent.
"Well," he said at last, "we have to go to the city in
the morning." He laughed. "Sounds as though we were
living in the suburbs, somehow, doesn't it?"
"It can't be many hours before dawn," I said. "Turn in
for a while, I'll wake you when I think you've slept
"It doesn't seem fair," he protested, but sleepily.
* Professor Svante Arrhenius's theory of propagation of life by
means of minute spores carried through space. See his "Worlds in
"I'm not sleepy," I told him; nor was I.
But whether I was or not, I wanted to question Yuruk,
uninterrupted and undisturbed.
Drake stretched himself out. When his breathing showed
him fast asleep indeed, I slipped over to the black eunuch
and crouched, right hand close to the butt of my automatic,
"Yuruk," I whispered, "you love us as the wheat field
loves the hail; we are as welcome to you as the death
cord to the condemned. Lo, a door opened into a land of
unpleasant dreams you thought sealed, and we came
through. Answer my questions truthfully and it may be
that we shall return through that door."
Interest welled up in the depths of the black eyes.
"There is a way from here," he muttered. "Nor does
it pass through--Them. I can show it to you."
I had not been blind to the flash of malice, of cunning,
that had shot across the wrinkled face.
"Where does that way lead?" I asked. "There were
those who sought us; men clad in armor with javelins
and arrows. Does your way lead to them, Yuruk?"
For a time he hesitated, the lashless lids half closed.
"Yes," he said sullenly. "The way leads to them; to their
place. But will it not be safer for you there--among your
"I don't know that it will," I answered promptly.
"Those who are unlike us smote those who are like us
and drove them back when they would have taken and
slain us. Why is it not better to remain with them than
to go to our kind who would destroy us?"
"They would not," he said "If you gave them--her."
He thrust a long thumb backward toward sleeping Ruth.
"Cherkis would forgive much for her. And why should
you not? She is only a woman."
He spat--in a way that made me want to kill him.
"Besides," he ended, "have you no arts to amuse him?"
"Cherkis?" I asked.
"Cherkis," he whined. "Is Yuruk a fool not to know
that in the world without, new things have arisen since
long ago we fled from Iskander into the secret valley?
What have you to beguile Cherkis beyond this woman
flesh? Much, I think. Go then to him--unafraid."
Cherkis? There was a familiar sound to that. Cherkis?
Of course--it was the name of Xerxes, the Persian Conqueror,
corrupted by time into this--Cherkis. And Iskander?
Equally, of course--Alexander. Ventnor had been
"Yuruk," I demanded directly, "is she whom you call
goddess--Norhala--of the people of Cherkis?"
"Long ago," he answered; "long, long ago there was
trouble in their city, even in the great dwelling place of
Cherkis. I fled with her who was the mother of the goddess.
There were twenty of us; and we fled here--by the
way which I will show you--"
He leered cunningly; I gave no sign of interest.
"She who was the mother of the goddess found favor
in the sight of the ruler here," he went on. "But after a
time she grew old and ugly and withered. So he slew
her--like a little mound of dust she danced and blew
away after he had slain her; and also he slew others who
had grown displeasing to him. He blasted me--as he was
blasted--" He pointed to Ventnor.
"Then it was that, recovering, I found my crooked
shoulder. The goddess was born here. She is kin to Him
Who Rules! How else could she shed the lightnings? Was
not the father of Iskander the god Zeus Ammon, who
came to Iskander's mother in the form of a great snake?
Well? At any rate the goddess was born--shedder of
the lightnings even from her birth. And she is as you see
"Cleave to your kind! Cleave to your kind!" Suddenly
he shrilled. "Better is it to be whipped by your brother
than to be eaten by the tiger. Cleave to your kind. Look--
I will show you the way to them."
He sprang to his feet, clasped my wrist in one of his
long hands, led me through the curtained oval into the
cylindrical hall, parted the curtainings of Norhala's bedroom
and pushed me within. Over the floor he slid, still
holding fast to me, and pressed against the farther wall.
An ovoid slice of the gemlike material slid aside, revealing
a doorway. I glimpsed a path, a trail, leading
into a forest pallid green beneath the wan light. This
way thrust itself like a black tongue into the boskage and
vanished in the depths.
"Follow it." He pointed. "Take those who came with
you and follow it."
The wrinkles upon his face writhed with his eagerness.
"You will go?" panted Yuruk. "You will take them and
go by that path?"
"Not yet," I answered absently. "Not yet."
And was brought abruptly to full alertness, vigilance,
by the flame of rage that filled the eyes thrust so close.
"Lead back," I directed curtly. He slid the door into
place, turned sullenly. I followed, wondering what were
the sources of the bitter hatred he so plainly bore for us;
the reasons for his eagerness to be rid of us despite the
commands of this woman who to him at least was goddess.
And by that curious human habit of seeking for the
complex when the simple answer lies close, failed to recognize
that it was jealousy of us that was the root of his
behavior; that he wished to be, as it would seem he had
been for years, the only human thing near Norhala;
failed to realize this, and with Ruth and Drake was terribly
to pay for this failure.
I looked down upon the pair, sleeping soundly; upon
Ventnor lost still in trance.
"Sit," I ordered the eunuch. "And turn your back to
I dropped down beside Drake, my mind wrestling with
the mystery, but every sense alert for movement from
the black. Glibly enough I had passed over Dick's questioning
as to the consciousness of the Metal People; now
I faced it knowing it to be the very crux of these incredible
phenomena; admitting, too, that despite all my special
pleading, about that point swirled in my own mind the
thickest mists of uncertainty. That their sense of order was
immensely beyond a man's was plain.
As plain was it that their knowledge of magnetic force
and its manipulation were far beyond the sphere of humanity.
That they had realization of beauty this palace of
Norhala's proved--and no human imagination could have
conceived it nor human hands have made its thought of
beauty real. What were their senses through which their
Nine in number had been the sapphire ovals set within
the golden zone of the Disk. Clearly it came to me that
these were sense organs!
And the great stars--how many had they? And the
cubes--did they open as did globe and pyramid?
Consciousness itself--after all what is it? A secretion of
the brain? The cumulative expression, wholly chemical, of
the multitudes of cells that form us? The inexplicable
governor of the city of the body of which these myriads
of cells are the citizens--and created by them out of themselves
Is it what many call the soul? Or is it a finer form of
matter, a self-realizing force, which uses the body as its
vehicle just as other forces use for their vestments other
machines? After all, I thought, what is this conscious self
of ours, the ego, but a spark of realization running continuously
along the path of time within the mechanism
we call the brain; making contact along that path as the
electric spark at the end of a wire?
Is there a sea of this conscious force which laps the
shores of the farthest-flung stars; that finds expression in
everything--man and rock, metal and flower, jewel and
cloud? Limited in its expression only by the limitations of
that which animates, and in essence the same in all.
If so, then this problem of the life of the Metal People
ceased to be a problem; was answered!
So thinking I became aware of increasing light; strode
past Yuruk to the door and peeped out. Dawn was paling
the sky. I stooped over Drake, shook him. On the instant
he was awake, alert.
"I only need a little sleep, Dick," I said. "When the sun
is well up, call me."
"Why, it's dawn," he whispered. "Goodwin, you ought
not to have let me sleep so long. I feel like a damned pig."
"Never mind," I said. "But watch the eunuch closely."
I rolled myself up in his warm blanket; sank almost
instantly into dreamless slumber.
High was the sun when I awakened; or so, I supposed,
opening my eyes upon a flood of daylight. As I lay,
lazily, recollection rushed upon me.
It was no sky into which I was gazing; it was the
dome of Norhala's elfin home. And Drake had not aroused
me. Why? And how long had I slept?
I jumped to my feet, stared about. Ruth nor Drake
nor the black eunuch was there!
"Ruth!" I shouted. "Drake!"
There was no answer. I ran to the doorway. Peering
up into the white vault of the heavens I set the time of
day as close to seven; I had slept then three hours,
more or less. Yet short as that time of slumber had been,
I felt marvelously refreshed, reenergized; the effect, I was
certain, of the extraordinarily tonic qualities of the
atmosphere of this place. But where were the others?
I heard Ruth's laughter. Some hundred yards to the left,
half hidden by a screen of flowering shrubs, I saw a small
meadow. Within it a half-dozen little white goats nuzzled
around her and Dick. She was milking one of them.
Reassured, I drew back into the chamber, knelt over
Ventnor. His condition was unchanged. My gaze fell upon
the pool that had been Norhala's bath. Longingly I looked
at it; then satisfying myself that the milking process was
not finished, slipped off my clothes and splashed about.
I had just time to get back in my clothes when through
the doorway came the pair, each carrying a porcelain
pannikin full of milk.
There was no shadow of fear or horror on her face. It
was the old Ruth who stood before me; nor was there effort
in the smile she gave me. She had been washed
clean in the waters of sleep.
"Don't worry, Walter," she said. "I know what you're
thinking. But I'm--ME again."
"Where is Yuruk?" I turned to Drake bruskly to
smother the sob of sheer happiness I felt rising in my
throat; and at his wink and warning grimace abruptly forebore
to press the question.
"You men pick out the things and I'll get breakfast
ready," said Ruth.
Drake picked up the teakettle and motioned me before
"About Yuruk," he whispered when he had gotten outside.
"I gave him a little object lesson. Persuaded him to
go down the line a bit, showed him my pistol, and then
picked off one of Norhala's goats with it. Hated to do it,
but I knew it would be good for his soul.
"He gave one screech and fell on his face and groveled.
Thought it was a lightning bolt, I figure; decided I had
been stealing Norhala's stuff. 'Yuruk,' I told him, 'that's
what you'll get, and worse, if you lay a finger on that
girl inside there.'"
"And then what happened?" I asked.
"He beat it back there." He grinned, pointing toward
the forest through which ran the path the eunuch had
shown me. "Probably hiding back of a tree."
As we filled the container at the outer spring, I told him
of the revelations and the offer Yuruk had made to me.
"Whew-w!" he whistled. "In the nutcracker, eh?
Trouble behind us and trouble in front of us."
"When do we start?" he asked, as we turned back.
"Right after we've eaten," I answered. "There's no use
putting it off. How do you feel about it?"
"Frankly, like the chief guest at a lynching party," he
said. "Curious but none too cheerful."
Nor was I. I was filled with a fever of scientific curiosity.
But I was not cheerful--no!
We ministered to Ventnor as well as we could; forcing
open his set jaws, thrusting a thin rubber tube down past
his windpipe into his gullet and dropping through it a few
ounces of the goat milk. Our own breakfasting was
We could not take Ruth with us upon our journey;