Part 4 out of 7
that was certain; she must stay here with her brother.
She would be safer in Norhala's home than where we were
going, of course, and yet to leave her was most distressing.
After all, I wondered, was there any need of both of us
taking the journey; would not one do just as well?
Drake could stay--
"No use of putting all our eggs in one basket," I
broached the subject. "I'll go down by myself while you
stay and help Ruth. You can always follow if I don't turn
up in a reasonable time."
His indignation at this proposal was matched only by
"You'll go with him, Dick Drake," she cried, "or I'll
never look at or speak to you again!"
"Good Lord! Did you think for a minute I wouldn't?"
Pain and wrath struggled on his face. "We go together
or neither of us goes. Ruth will be all right here, Goodwin.
The only thing she has any cause to fear is Yuruk--and
he's had his lesson.
"Besides, she'll have the rifles and her pistols, and she
knows how to use them. What d'ye mean by making such
a proposition as that?" His indignation burst all bounds.
Lamely I tried to justify myself.
"I'll be all right," said Ruth. "I'm not afraid of Yuruk.
And none of these Things will hurt me--not after--not
after--" Her eyes fell, her lips quivered, then she faced
us steadily. "Don't ask me how I know that," she said
quietly. "Believe me, I do know it. I am closer to--them
than you two are. And if I choose I can call upon that
alien strength their master gave me. It is for you two that
"No fear for us," Drake burst out hastily. "We're Norhala's
little playthings. We're tabu. Take it from me,
Ruth, I'd bet my head there isn't one of these Things,
great or small, and no matter how many, that doesn't by
this time know all about us.
"We'll probably be received with demonstrations of
interest by the populace as welcome guests. Probably
we'll find a sign--'Welcome to our City'--hung up over
the front gate."
She smiled, a trifle tremulously.
"We'll come back," he said. Suddenly he leaned forward,
put his hands on her shoulders. "Do you think there is
anything that could keep me from coming back?" he
She trembled, wide eyes searching deep into his.
"Well," I broke in, a bit uncomfortably, "we'd better be
starting. I think as Drake does, that we're tabu. Barring
accident there's no danger. And if I guess right about
these Things, accident is impossible."
"As inconceivable as the multiplication table going
wrong," he laughed, straightening.
And so we made ready. Our rifles would be worse than
useless, we knew; our pistols we decided to carry as Drake
put it, "for comfort." Canteens filled with water; a couple
of emergency rations, a few instruments, including a small
spectroscope, a selection from the medical kit--all these
packed in a little haversack which he threw over his
I pocketed my compact but exceedingly powerful field-glasses.
To my poignant and everlasting regret my camera
had been upon the bolting pony, and Ventnor had long
been out of films for his.
We were ready for our journey.
Our path led straight away, a smooth and dark-gray
road whose surface resembled cement packed under enormous
pressure. It was all of fifty feet wide and now, in
daylight, glistened faintly as though overlaid with some
vitreous coating. It narrowed abruptly into a wedged way
that stopped at the threshold of Norhala's door.
Diminishing through the distance, it stretched straight
as an arrow onward and vanished between perpendicular
cliffs which formed the frowning gateway through which
the night before we had passed upon the coursing cubes
from the pit of the city. Here, as then, a mistiness
checked the gaze.
Ruth with us, we made a brief inspection of the surroundings
of Norhala's house. It was set as though in the
narrowest portion of an hour-glass. The precipitous walls
marched inward from the gateway forming the lower half
of the figure; at the back they swung apart at a wider
This upper part of the hour-glass was filled with a park-like
forest. It was closed, perhaps twenty miles away, by
a barrier of cliffs.
How, I wondered, did the path which Yuruk had pointed
out to me pierce them? Was it by pass or tunnel; and why
was it the armored men had not found and followed it?
The waist between these two mountain wedges was a
valley not more than a mile wide. Norhala's house stood
in its center; and it was like a garden, dotted with flowering
and fragrant lilies and here and there a tiny green
meadow. The great globe of blue that was Norhala's
dwelling seemed less to rest upon the ground than to
emerge from it; as though its basic curvatures were hidden
in the earth.
What was its substance I could not tell. It was as
though built of the lacquer of the gems whose colors it
held. And beautiful, wondrously, incredibly beautiful it
was--an immense bubble of froth of molten sapphires
We had not time to study its beauties. A few last instructions
to Ruth, and we set forth down the gray road.
Hardly had we taken a few steps when there came a faint
cry from her.
"Dick! Dick--come here!"
He sprang to her, caught her hands in his. For a moment,
half frightened it seemed, she considered him.
"Dick," I heard her whisper. "Dick--come back safe to
I saw his arms close about her, hers tighten around his
neck; black hair touched the silken brown curls, their
lips met, clung. I turned away.
In a little time he joined me; head down, silent, he
strode along beside me, utterly dejected.
A hundred more yards and we turned. Ruth was still
standing on the threshold of the house of mystery, watching
us. She waved her hands, flitted in, was hidden from
us. And Drake still silent, we pushed on.
The walls of the gateway were close. The sparse vegetation
along the base of the cliffs had ceased; the roadway
itself had merged into the smooth, bare floor of the
canyon. From vertical edge to vertical edge of the rocky
portal stretched a curtain of shimmering mist. As we
drew nearer we saw that this was motionless, and less
like vapor of water than vapor of light; it streamed in
oddly fixed lines like atoms of crystals in a still solution.
Drake thrust an arm within it, waved it; the mist did not
move. It seemed instead to interpenetrate the arm--as
though bone and flesh were spectral, without power to
dislodge the shining particles from position.
We passed within it--side by side.
Instantly I knew that whatever these veils were, they
were not moisture. The air we breathed was dry, electric.
I was sensible of a decided stimulation, a pleasant tingling
along every nerve, a gaiety almost light-headed. We could
see each other quite plainly, the rocky floor on which
we trod as well. Within this vapor of light there was no
ghost of sound; it was utterly empty of it. I saw Drake
turn to me, his mouth open in a laugh, his lips move in
speech--and although he bent close to my ear, I heard
nothing. He frowned, puzzled, and walked on.
Abruptly we stepped into an opening, a pocket of clear
air. Our ears were filled with a high, shrill humming as
unpleasantly vibrant as the shriek of a sand blast. Six feet
to our right was the edge of the ledge on which we stood;
beyond it was a sheer drop into space. A shaft piercing
down into the void and walled with the mists.
But it was not that shaft that made us clutch each other.
No! It was that through it uprose a colossal column of
the cubes. It stood a hundred feet from us. Its top was
another hundred feet above the level of our ledge and
its length vanished in the depths.
And its head was a gigantic spinning wheel, yards in
thickness, tapering at its point of contact with the cliff
wall into a diameter half that of the side closest the column,
gleaming with flashes of green flame and grinding
with tremendous speed at the face of the rock.
Over it, attached to the cliff, was a great vizored hood
of some pale yellow metal, and it was this shelter that
cutting off the vaporous light like an enormous umbrella
made the pocket of clarity in which we stood, the shaft
up which sprang the pillar.
All along the length of that column as far as we could
see the myriad tiny eyes of the Metal People shone out
upon us, not twinkling mischievously, but--grotesque as
this may seem, I cannot help it--wide with surprise.
Only an instant longer did the great wheel spin. I saw
the screaming rock melting beneath it, dropping like lava.
Then, as though it had received some message, abruptly
its motion now ceased.
It tilted; looked down upon us!
I noted that its grinding surface was studded thickly
with the smaller pyramids and that the tips of these were
each capped with what seemed to be faceted gems gleaming
with the same pale yellow radiance as the Shrine of the
The column was bending; the wheel approaching.
Drake seized me by the arm, drew me swiftly back into
the mists. We were shrouded in their silences. Step by step
we went on, peering for the edge of the shelf, feeling
in fancy that prodigious wheeled face stealing upon us;
afraid to look behind lest in looking we might step too
close to the unseen verge.
Yard after yard we slowly covered. Suddenly the vapors
thinned; we passed out of them--
A chaos of sound beat about us. The clanging of a million
anvils; the clamor of a million forges; the crashing
of a hundred years of thunder; the roarings of a thousand
hurricanes. The prodigious bellowings of the Pit beating
against us now as they had when we had flown down the
long ramp into the depths of the Sea of Light.
Instinct with unthinkable power was that clamor; the
very voice of Force. Stunned, nay BLINDED, by it, we
covered ears and eyes.
As before, the clangor died, leaving in its wake a
bewildered silence. Then that silence began to throb with
a vast humming, and through that humming rang a
murmur as that of a river of diamonds.
We opened our eyes, felt awe grip our throats as
though a hand had clutched them.
Difficult, difficult almost beyond thought is it for
me now to essay to draw in words the scene before us then.
For although I can set down what it was we saw, I nor
any man can transmute into phrases its essence, its spirit,
the intangible wonder that was its synthesis--the appallingly
beautiful, soul-shaking strangeness of it, its grandeur,
its fantasy, and its alien terror.
The Domain of the Metal Monster--it was filled like a
chalice with Its will; was the visible expression of that
We stood at the very rim of a wide ledge. We looked
down into an immense pit, shaped into a perfect oval,
thirty miles in length I judged, and half that as wide,
and rimmed with colossal precipices. We were at the
upper end of this deep valley and on the tip of its axis;
I mean that it stretched longitudinally before us along the
line of greatest length. Five hundred feet below was the
pit's floor. Gone were the clouds of light that had obscured
it the night before; the air crystal clear; every detail standing
out with stereoscopic sharpness.
First the eyes rested upon a broad band of fluorescent
amethyst, ringing the entire rocky wall. It girdled the
cliffs at a height of ten thousand feet, and from this
flaming zone, as though it clutched them, fell the curtains
of sparkling mist, the enigmatic, sound-slaying vapors.
But now I saw that all of these veils were not motionless
like those through which we had just passed. To the northwest
they were pulsing like the aurora, and like the aurora
they were shot through with swift iridescences, spectrums,
polychromatic gleamings. And always these were ordered,
geometric--like immense and flitting prismatic crystals
flying swiftly to the very edges of the veils, then darting
as swiftly back.
From zone and veils the gaze leaped to the incredible
City towering not two miles away from us.
Blue black, shining, sharply cut as though from polished
steel, it reared full five thousand feet on high!
How great it was I could not tell, for the height of its
precipitous walls barred the vision. The frowning facade
turned toward us was, I estimated, five miles in length. Its
colossal scarp struck the eyes like a blow; its shadow,
falling upon us, checked the heart. It was overpowering
--dreadful as that midnight city of Dis that Dante
saw rising up from another pit.
It was a metal city, mountainous.
Featureless, smooth, the immense wall of it heaved
heavenward. It should have been blind, that vast oblong
face--but it was not blind. From it radiated alertness,
vigilance. It seemed to gaze toward us as though every
foot were manned with sentinels; guardians invisible to
the eyes whose concentration of watchfulness was caught
by some subtle hidden sense higher than sight.
It was a metal city, mountainous and--AWARE.
About its base were huge openings. Through and around
these portals swirled hordes of the Metal People; in units
and in combinations coming and going, streaming in and
out, forming as they came and went patterns about the
openings like the fretted spume of great breakers surging
into, retreating from, ocean-bitten gaps in some iron-bound
From the immensity of the City the eyes dropped back
to the Pit in which it lay. Its floor was plaquelike, a great
plane smooth as though turned by potter's wheel, broken
by no mound nor hillock, slope nor terrace; level, horizontal,
flawlessly flat. On it was no green living thing
--no tree nor bush, meadow nor covert.
It was alive with movement. A ferment that was as
purposeful as it was mechanical, a ferment symmetrical,
geometrical, supremely ordered--
The surging of the Metal Hordes.
There they moved beneath us, these enigmatic beings,
in a countless host. They marched and countermarched
in battalions, in regiments, in armies. Far to the south I
glimpsed a company of colossal shapes like mobile, castellated
and pyramidal mounts. They were circling, weaving
about each other with incredible rapidity--like scores of
great pyramids crowned with gigantic turrets and dancing.
From these turrets came vivid flashes, lightning bright--
on their wake the rolling echoes of faraway thunder.
Out of the north sped a squadron of obelisks from whose
tops flamed and flared the immense spinning wheels, appearing
at this distance like fiery whirling disks.
Up from their setting the Metal People lifted themselves
in a thousand incredible shapes, shapes squared and
globed and spiked and shifting swiftly into other thousands
as incredible. I saw a mass of them draw themselves
up into the likeness of a tent skyscraper high; hang so
for an instant, then writhe into a monstrous chimera of a
dozen towering legs that strode away like a gigantic headless
and bodiless tarantula in steps two hundred feet long.
I watched mile-long lines of them shape and reshape into
circles, into interlaced lozenges and pentagons--then lift
in great columns and shoot through the air in unimaginable barrage.
Through all this incessant movement I sensed plainly
purpose, knew that it was definite activity toward a definite
end, caught the clear suggestion of drill, of maneuver.
And when the shiftings of the Metal Hordes permitted
we saw that all the flat floor of the valley was stripped
and checkered, stippled and tessellated with every color,
patterned with enormous lozenges and squares, rhomboids
and parallelograms, pentagons and hexagons and diamonds,
lunettes, circles and spirals; harlequined yet harmonious;
instinct with a grotesque suggestion of a super-Futurism.
But always this patterning was ordered, always COHERENT.
As though it were a page on which was spelled some
untranslatable other world message.
Fourth Dimensional revelations by some Euclidean
deity! Commandments traced by some mathematical God!
Looping across the vale, emerging from the sparkling
folds of the southernmost curtainings and vanishing into
the gleaming veils of the easternmost, ran a broad ribbon
of pale-green jade; not straightly but with manifold
convolutions and flourishes. It was like a sentence in
It was margined with sapphire blue. All along its twisting
course two broad bands of jet margined the cerulean shore.
It was spanned by scores of flashing crystal arches. Nor
were these bridges--even from that distance I knew they
were no bridges. From them came the crystalline murmurings.
Jade? This stream jade? If so then it must be in truth
molten, for I caught its swift and polished rushing! It was
no jade. It was in truth a river; a river running like a
writing across a patterned plane.
I looked upward--up to the circling peaks. They were
a stupendous coronet thrusting miles deep into the dazzling
sky. I raised my glasses, swept them. In color they
were an immense and variegated flower with countless
multiform petals of stone; in outline they were a ring of
fortresses built by fantastic unknown Gods.
Up they thrust--domed and arched, spired and horned,
pyramided, fanged and needled. Here were palisades of
burning orange with barbicans of incandescent bronze;
there aiguilles of azure rising from bastions of cinnabar
red; turrets of royal purple, obelisks of indigo; titanic forts
whose walls were splashed with vermilion, with citron
yellows and with rust of rubies; watch towers of flaming
Scattered among them were the flashing emeralds of the
glaciers and the immense pallid baroques of the snow
Like a diadem the summits ringed the Pit. Below them
ran the ring of flashing amethyst with its aural mists.
Between them lay the vast and patterned flat covered with
still symbol and inexplicable movement. Under their summits
brooded the blue black, metallic mass of the Seeing
Within circling walls, over plain and from the City
hovered a cosmic spirit not to be understood by man. Like
an emanation of stars and space, it was yet gem fine and
gem hard, crystalline and metallic, lapidescent and--
Down from the ledge where we stood fell a steep ramp,
similar to that by which, in the darkness, we had descended.
It dropped at an angle of at least forty-five degrees; its
surface was smooth and polished.
Through the mists at our back stole a shining block. It
paused, seemed to perk itself; spun so that in turn
each of its six faces took us in.
I felt myself lifted upon it by multitudes of little invisible
hands; saw Drake whirling up beside me. I moved toward
him--through the force that held us. A block swept
away from the ledge, swayed for a moment. Under us, as
though we were floating in air, the Pit lay stretched.
There was a rapid readjustment, a shifting of our two
selves upon another surface. I looked down upon a tremendous,
slender pillar of the cubes, dropping below, five
hundred feet to the valley's floor a column of which the
block that held us was the top.
Gone was the whirling wheel that had crowned it, but I
knew this for the Grinding Thing from which we had fled;
the questing block had been its scout. As though curious
to know more of us, the Shape had sought us out through
the mists, its messenger had caught us, delivered us to it.
The pillar leaned over--bent like that shining pillar
that had bridged for us, at Norhala's commands, the abyss.
The floor of the valley arose to meet us. Further and
further leaned the pillar. Again there was a rapid shifting
of us to another surface of the crowning cube. Fast now
swept up toward us the valley floor. A dizziness clouded
my sight. There was a little shock, a rolling over the
Thing that had held us--
We stood upon the floor of the Pit.
And breaking from the immense and prostrate shaft on
whose top we had ridden downward came score upon
score of the cubes. They broke from it, disintegrating it;
circled about us, curiously, interestedly, twinkling at us
from their deep sparkling points of eyes.
Helplessly we gazed at those who circled around us.
Then suddenly I felt myself lifted once more, was tossed
to the surface of the nearest block. Upon it I spun while
the tiny eyes searched me. Then like a human ball it tossed
me to another. I caught a glimpse of Drake's tall figure
drifting through the air.
The play became more rapid, breathtaking. It was play;
I recognized that. But it was perilous play for us. I felt
myself as fragile as a doll of glass in the hands of careless
I was tossed to a waiting cube. On the ground, not ten
feet from me, was Drake, swaying dizzily. Suddenly the
cube that held me tightened its grip; tightened it so that
it drew me irresistibly flat down upon its surface. Before
I dropped, Drake's body leaped toward me as though
drawn by a lasso. He fell at my side.
Then pursued by scores of the Things and like some
mischievous boy bearing off the spoils, the block that held
us raced away, straight for an open portal. A blaze of
incandescent blue flame blinded me; again as the dazzlement
faded I saw Drake beside me--a skeleton form.
Swiftly flesh melted back upon him, clothed him.
The cube stopped, abruptly; the hosts of little unseen
hands raised us, slid us gently over its edge, set us upright
beside it. And it sped away.
All about us stretched another of those vast halls in
which on high burned the pale-gilt suns. Between its
colossal columns streamed thousands of the Metal Folk;
no longer hurriedly, but quietly, deliberately, sedately.
We were within the City--even as Ventnor had commanded.
THAT WAS ALIVE
Close beside us was one of the cyclopean columns. We
crept to it; crouched at its base opposite the drift of the
Metal People; strove, huddled there, to regain our shaken
poise. Like bagatelles we felt in that tremendous place,
the weird luminaries gleaming above like garlands of
frozen suns, the enigmatic hosts of animate cubes and
spheres and pyramids trooping past.
They ranged in size from shapes yard-high to giants of
thirty feet or more. They paid no heed to us, did not
stop; streaming on, engrossed in whatever mysterious business
was summoning them. And after a time their numbers
lessened; thinned down to widely separate groups, to
stragglers; then ceased. The hall was empty of them.
As far as the eye could reach the columned spaces
stretched. I was conscious once more of that unusual flow
of energy through every vein and nerve.
"Follow the crowd!" said Drake. "Do you feel just full
of pep and ginger, by the way?"
"I am aware of the most extraordinary vigor," I answered.
"Some weird joint," he mused, looking about him. "Wonder
if they have any windows? This whole place looked
solid to me--what I could see of it. Wonder if we'll get
up against it for air? These Things don't need it, that's
He broke off staring fascinatedly at the pillar behind us.
"Look here, Goodwin!" There was a tremor in his voice.
"What do you make of THIS?"
I followed his pointing finger; looked at him inquiringly.
"The eyes!" he said impatiently. "Don't you see them?
The eyes in the column!"
And now I saw them. The pillar was a pale metallic
blue, in color a trifle darker than the Metal Folk. All
within it were the myriads of tiny crystalline points that
we had grown to know were the receptors of some
strange sense of sight. But they did not sparkle as did
those others; they were dull, lifeless. I touched the surface.
It was smooth, cool--with none of that subtle, warm
vitality that pulsed through all the Things with which I
had come in contact. I shook my head, realizing as I did
so what a shock the incredible possibility he had suggested
had given me.
"No," I said. "There is a resemblance, yes. But there
is no force about this--stuff; no life. Besides, such a thing
is utterly incredible."
"They might be--dormant," he suggested stubbornly.
"Can you see any mark of their joining--if they ARE the
Together we scanned the pillar minutely. The faces
seemed unbroken, continuous; there was no trace of those
thin and shining lines that marked the juncture of the
cubes when they had clicked together to form the bridge
of the abyss or that had gleamed, crosslike, upon the back
of the combined four upon which we had followed Norhala.
"It's a sheer impossibility. It's madness to think such a
thing, Drake!" I exclaimed, and wondered at my own
vehemence of denial.
"Maybe," he shook his head doubtfully. "Maybe--but
--well--let's be on our way."
We strode on, following the direction the Metal Folk
had gone. Clearly Drake was still doubtful; at each pillar
he hesitated, scanning it closely with troubled eyes.
But I, having determinedly dismissed the idea, was
more interested in the fantastic lights that flooded this
columned hall with their buttercup radiance. They were
still and unwinking; not disks, I could see now, but globes.
Great and small, they floated motionless, their rays extending
rigidly and as still as the orb that shed them.
Yet rigid as they were there was nothing about either
rays or orbs that suggested either hardness or the metallic.
They were vaporous, soft as St. Elmo's fire, the witch
lights that cling at times to the spars of ships, weird
gleaming visitors from the invisible ocean of atmospheric
When they disappeared, as they did frequently, it was
instantaneously, completely, with a disconcerting sleight-of-hand
finality. I noted, though, that when they did
vanish, immediately close to where they had been other
orbs swam forth with that same astonishing abruptness;
sometimes only one, larger it might be than that which
had gone; sometimes a cluster of smaller globes, their
frozen, crocused rays impinging.
What could they be, I wondered--how fixed, and what
the source of their light? Products of electro-magnetic
currents and born of the interpenetration of such streams
flowing above us? Such a theory might account for their
disappearance, and reappearance, shiftings of the flows
that changed the light producing points of contact. Wireless
lights? If so here was an idea that human science
might elaborate if ever we returned to--
"Now which way?" Drake broke in upon my musing.
The hall had ended. We stood before a blank wall vanishing
into the soft mists hiding the roof of the chamber.
"I thought we had been going along the way They went,"
I said in amazement.
"So did I," he answered. "We must have circled. They
never went through THAT unless--unless--" He hesitated.
"Unless what?" I asked sharply.
"Unless it opened and let them through," he said. "Have
you forgotten those great ovals--like cat's eyes that opened
in the outer walls?" he added quietly.
I HAD forgotten. I looked again at the wall. Certainly it
was smooth, lineless. In one unbroken, shining surface it
rose, a facade of polished metal. Within it the deep set
points of light were duller even than they had been in the
pillars; almost indeed indistinguishable.
"Go on to the left," I said none too patiently. "And get
that absurd notion out of your head."
"All right." He flushed. "But you don't think I'm afraid,
"If what you're thinking were true, you'd have a right
to be," I replied tartly. "And I want to tell you I'D be
afraid. Damned afraid."
For perhaps two hundred paces we skirted the base of
the wall. We came abruptly to an opening, an oblong
passageway fully fifty foot wide by twice as high. At its
entrance the mellow, saffron light was cut off as though
by an invisible screen. The tunnel itself was filled with a
dim grayish blue luster. For an instant we contemplated it.
"I wouldn't care to be caught in there by any rush," I
"There's not much good in thinking of that now," said
Drake, grimly. "A few chances more or less in a joint of
this kind is nothing between friends, Goodwin; take it
from me. Come on."
We entered. Walls, floor and roof were composed of
the same substance as the great pillars, the wall of the
outer chamber; filled like them with dimmed replicas of
the twinkling eye points.
"Odd that all the places in here are square," muttered
Drake. "They don't seem to have used any spherical or
pyramidal ideas in their building--if it is a building."
It was true. All was mathematically straight up and
down and across. It was strange--still we had seen little
There was a warmth about this passageway we trod; a
difference in the air of it. The warmth grew, a dry and
baking heat; but stimulative rather than oppressive. I
touched the walls; the warmth did not come from them.
And there was no wind. Yet as we went on the heat increased.
The passageway turned at a right angle, continuing in a
corridor half its former dimensions. Far away shone a high
bar of pale yellow radiance, rising like a pillar of light
from floor to roof. Toward it, perforce, we trudged. Its
brilliancy grew greater.
A few paces away from it we stopped. The yellow
luminescence streamed through a slit not more than a foot
wide in the wall. We were in a cul-de-sac for the opening
was not wide enough for either Drake or me to push
through. Through it with the light gushed the curious heat
Drake walked to the opening, peered through. I joined
At first all that I could see was a space filled with the
saffron lambency. Then I saw that this was splashed with
tiny flashes of the jewel fires; little lances and javelin
thrusts of burning emeralds and rubies; darting gem hard
flames rose scarlet and pale sapphire; quick flares of violet.
Into my sight through the irised, crocus mist swam the
radiant body of Norhala!
She stood naked, clad only in the veils of her hair that
glowed now like spun silk of molten copper, her strange
eyes wide and smiling, the galaxies of tiny stars sparkling
through their gray depths.
And all about her swirled a countless host of the Little
From them came the gem fires piercing the aureate mists.
They played and frolicked about her in scores of swiftly
forming, swiftly changing, goblin shapes. They circled her
feet in shining, elfin rings; then opening into flaming disks
and stars, shot up and spun about the white miracle of
her body in great girdles of multi-colored living fires.
Mingled with disk and star were tiny crosses gleaming
with sullen, deep crimsons and smoky orange.
A flash of blue incandescence and a slender pillared
shape leaped from the floor; became a coronet, a whirling,
flashing halo toward which streamed up the flaming tendrilings
of her tresses. Other halos circled her arms and
breasts; they spun like bracelets about the outstretched
Then like a swiftly rushing wave a host of the Little
Things thrust themselves up, covered her, hid her in a
I saw an exquisite arm thrust itself from their clinging,
wave gaily; saw her glorious head emerge from the
incredible, the seething draperies of living jewels. I heard
her laughter, sweet and golden and far away.
Goddess of the Inexplicable! Madonna of the Metal Babes!
The Nursery of the Metal People!
Norhala was gone, blotted out from our sight! Gone too
were the bar of light and the chamber into which we
had been peering. We stared at a smooth, blank wall. With
that same ensorcelled swiftness the wall had closed even
as we had stared through it; closed so quickly that we
had not seen its motion.
I gripped Drake; shrank with him into the farthest
corner--for on the other side of us the wall was opening.
First it was only a crack; then rapidly it widened. There
stretched another passageway, luminous and long; far
down it we glimpsed movement. Closer that movement
came, grew plainer. Out of the mistily luminous distances,
three abreast and filling the corridor from side to side,
raced upon us a company of the great spheres!
Back we cowered from their approach--back and back;
arms outstretched, pressing against the barrier, flattening
ourselves against the shock of the destroying impact
"It's all up," muttered Drake. "No place to run. They're
bound to smash us. Stick close, Doc. Get back to Ruth.
Maybe I can stop them!"
Before I could check him, he had leaped straight in the
path of the rushing globes, now a scant twoscore yards
The globes stopped--halted a few feet from him. They
seemed to contemplate us, astonished. They turned upon
themselves, as though consulting. Slowly they advanced.
We were pushed forward and lifted gently. Then as we
hung suspended, held by that force which always I
can liken only to myriads of tiny invisible hands, the
shining arcs of their backs undulated beneath us.
Their files swung around the corner and marched down
the passage by which we had come from the immense hall.
And when the last rank had passed from under us we
were dropped softly to our feet; stood swaying in their
A curious frenzy of helpless indignation shook me, a
rage of humiliation obscuring all gratitude I should have
felt for our escape. Drake's eyes blazed wrath.
"The insolent devils!" He raised clenched fists. "The
insolent, domineering devils!"
We stared after them.
Was the passage growing narrower--closing? Even as I
gazed I saw it shrink; saw its walls slide silently toward
each other. I pushed Drake into the newly opened way
and sprang after him.
Behind us was an unbroken wall covering all that
space in which but a moment before we had stood!
Is it to be wondered that a panic seized us; that we
began to run crazily down the alley that still lay open
before us, casting over our shoulders quick, fearful
glances to see whether that inexorable, dreadful closing
was continuing, threatening to crush us between these
walls like flies in a vise of steel?
But they did not close. Unbroken, silent, the way
stretched before us and behind us. At last, gasping,
avoiding each other's gaze, we paused.
And at that very moment of pause a deeper tremor
shook me, a trembling of the very foundations of life,
the shuddering of one who faces the inconceivable knowing
at last that the inconceivable--IS.
For, abruptly, walls and floor and roof broke forth into
As though a film had been withdrawn from them, as
though they had awakened from slumber, myriads of little
points of light shone forth upon us from the pale-blue
surfaces--lights that considered us, measured us--mocked
The little points of living light that were the eyes of the
This was no corridor cut through inert matter by mechanic
art; its opening had been caused by no hidden
mechanisms! It was a living Thing--walled and floored
and roofed by the living bodies--of the Metal People
Its opening, as had been the closing of that other passage,
was the conscious, coordinate and voluntary action
of the Things that formed these mighty walls.
An action that obeyed, was directed by, the incredibly
gigantic, communistic will which, like the spirit of the
hive, the soul of the formicary, animated every unit of
A greater realization swept us. If THIS were true, then
those pillars in the vast hall, its towering walls--all this
City was one living Thing!
Built of the animate bodies of countless millions! Tons
upon countless tons of them shaping a gigantic pile of
which every atom was sentient, mobile--intelligent!
A Metal Monster!
Now I knew why it was that its frowning facade had
seemed to watch us Argus-eyed as the Things had tossed
us toward it. It HAD watched us!
That flood of watchfulness pulsing about us had been
actual concentration of regard of untold billions of tiny
eyes of the living block which formed the City's cliff.
A City that Saw! A City that was Alive!
No secret mechanism then--back darted my mind to
that first terror--had closed the wall, shutting from our
sight Norhala at play with the Little Things. None had
opened the way for, had closed the way behind, the
coursing spheres. It had been done by the conscious action
of the conscious Things of whose living bodies was
built this whole tremendous thinking pile!
I think that for a moment we both went a little mad as
that staggering truth came to us. I know we started to run
once more, side by side, gripping like frightened children
each other's hands. Then Drake stopped.
"By all the HELL of this place," he said, solemnly, "I'll
run no more. After all--we're men. If they kill us, they
kill us. But by the God who made me I'll run from them
no more. I'll die standing."
His courage steadied me. Defiantly we marched on. Up
from below us, down from the roof, out from the walls
of our way the hosts of eyes gleamed and twinkled upon
"Who could have believed it?" he muttered, half to himself.
"A living city of them! A living nest of them; a
prodigious living nest of metal!"
"A nest?" I caught the word. What did it suggest? That
was it--the nest of the army ants, the city of the army
ants, that Beebe had studied in the South American jungles
and once described to me. After all, was this more
wonderful, more unbelievable than that--the city of ants
which was formed by their living bodies precisely as this
was of the bodies of the Cubes?
How had Beebe* phrased it--"the home, the nest, the
hearth, the nursery, the bridal suite, the kitchen, the bed
and board of the army ants." Built of and occupied by
those blind and dead and savage little insects which by
the guidance of smell alone carried on the most intricate
operations, the most complex activities. Nothing here was
stranger than that, I reflected--if once one could rid the
mind of the paralyzing influence of the shapes of the
Metal Things. Whence came the stimuli that moved THEM,
the stimuli to which THEY reacted?
* William Beebe, Atlantic Monthly, October, 1919.
Well then--whence and how came the orders to which
the ANTS responded; that bade them open THIS corridor in
their nest, close THAT, form this chamber, fill that one?
Was one more mysterious than the other?
Breaking into my current of thoughts came consciousness
that I was moving with increased speed; that my
body was fast growing lighter.
Simultaneously with this recognition I felt myself lifted
from the floor of the corridor and levitated with considerable
rapidity forward; looking down I saw that floor
several feet below me. Drake's arm wound itself around
"Closing up behind us," he muttered. "They're putting
It was, indeed, as though the passageway had wearied
of our deliberate progress. Had decided to--give us a lift.
Rearward it was shutting. I noted with interest how accurately
this motion kept pace with our own speed, and
how fluidly the walls seemed to run together.
Our movement became accelerated. It was as though
we floated buoyantly, weightless, upon some swift stream.
The sensation was curiously pleasant, languorous--what
was that word Ruth had used?--ELEMENTAL--and free. The
supporting force seemed to flow equally from walls and
floor; to reach down to us from the roof. It was slumberously
even, and effortless. I saw that in advance of us
the living corridor was opening even as behind us it was
All around us the little eye points twinkled and--
There was no danger here--there could be none. Deeper
and deeper dropped my mind into the depths of that alien
tranquillity. Faster and faster we floated--onward.
Abruptly, ahead of us shone a blaze of daylight. We
passed into it. The force holding us withdrew its grip; I
felt solidity beneath my feet; stood and leaned back
against a smooth wall.
The corridor had ended and--had shut us out from itself.
"Bounced!" exclaimed Drake.
And incongruous, flippant, colloquial as was that word,
I know none that would better describe my own feelings.
We were BOUNCED out upon a turret jutting from the barrier.
And before us lay spread the most amazing, the most
extraordinary fantastic scene upon which, I think, the
vision of man has rested since the advent of time.
It was a crater; a half mile on high and all of two thousand
feet across ran the circular lip of its vast rim. Above
it was a circle of white and glaring sky in whose center
flamed the sun.
And instantly, before my vision could grasp a tithe of
that panorama, I knew that this place was the very heart
of the City; its vital ganglion; its soul.
Around the crater lip were poised thousands of concave
disks, vernal green, enormous. They were like a border of
gigantic, upthrust shields; and within each, emblazoned
like a shield's device, was a blinding flower of flame--
the reflected, dilated face of the sun. Below this diadem
hung, pendent, clusters of other disks, swarmed like the
globular hiving of the constellation Hercules' captured
stars. And each of these prisoned the image of our sun.
A hundred feet below us was the crater floor.
Up from it thrust a mountainous forest of the pallidly
radiant cones; bristling; prodigious. Tier upon tier, thicket
upon thicket, phalanx upon phalanx they climbed. Up and
up, pyramidically, they flung their spiked hosts.
They drew together two thousand feet above us, clustering
close about the foot of a single huge spire which
thrust itself skyward above them. The crest of this spire
was truncated. From its shorn tip radiated scores of long
and slender spokes holding in place a thousand feet wide
wheel of wan green disks whose concave surfaces, unlike
those smooth ones girding the crater, were curiously
This amazing structure rested upon a myriad-footed
base of crystal, even as had that other cornute fantasy
beside which we had met the great Disk. But it was in size
to that as--as Leviathan to a minnow. From it streamed
the same baffling suggestion of invincible force transmuted
into matter; energy coalesced into the tangible; power
made concentrate in the vestments of substance.
Half-way between crater lip and floor began the hordes
of the Metal People.
In colossal animate cheveau-de-frise of hundred-foot
girders they thrust themselves out from the curving walls
--walls, I knew, as alive as they!
From these Brobdignagian beams they swung in ropes
and clusters--spheres and cubes studded as thickly with
the pyramids as ever Titan's mace with spikes. Group after
bizarre group they dropped; pendulous. Coppices of slender
columns of thistled globes sprang up to meet the
Between the girders they draped themselves in long,
stellated garlands; grouped themselves in innumerable,
They clicked into place around the golden turret in
which we crouched.
In fantastic arrases they swayed in front of us--now
hiding by, now revealing through their quicksilver interweavings
the mounts of the Cones.
And steadily those flowing in below added to their multitudes;
gliding up cable and pillar; building out still further
the living girders, stringing themselves upon living
festoon and living garland, weaving in among them, changing
their shapes, rewriting their symbols.
They swung and threaded swiftly, in shifting arabesque,
in Gothic traceries, in lace-like fantasies; utterly bizarre,
unutterably beautiful--crystalline, geometric always.
Abruptly their movement ceased--so abruptly that the
stoppage of all the ordered turmoil had the quality of
An unimaginable tapestry bedight with incredible broidery,
the Metal People draped the vast cup.
Pillared it as though it were a temple.
Garnished it with their bodies as though it were a
Across the floor toward the Cones glided a palely lustrous
sphere. In shape only a globe like all its kind, yet it
was invested with power; it radiated power as a star does
light; was clothed in unseen garments of supernal force.
In its wake drifted two great pyramids; after them ten
spheres but little smaller than the Shape which led.
"The Metal Emperor!" breathed Drake.
On they swept until they reached the base of the Cones.
They paused at the edge of the crystal tabling. They
There was a flashing as of a meteor bursting. The globe
had opened into that splendor of jewel fires before which
had floated Norhala and Ruth.
I saw again the luminous ovals of sapphire, studding its
golden zone, the mystic rose of pulsing, petal flame, the
still core of incandescent ruby that was the heart of that
Strangely I felt my own heart veer toward this--Thing;
bowing before its beauty and its strength; almost worshiping!
A shock of revulsion went through me. I shot a quick,
half frightened glance at Drake. He was crouching dangerously
close to the lip of the ledge, hands clasped and
knuckles white with the intensity of his grip, eyes rapt,
staring--upon the verge of worship even as I had been.
"Drake!" I thrust my elbow into his side brutally. "None
of that! Remember you're human! Guard yourself, man
"What?" he muttered; then, abruptly: "How did you
"I felt it myself," I answered: "For God's sake, Dick--
hold fast to yourself! Remember Ruth!"
He shook his head violently--as though to be rid of
some clinging, cloying thing.
"I'll not forget again," he said.
He huddled down once more close to the edge of the
shelf; peering over. No one of the Metal People had
moved; the silence, the stillness, was unbroken.
Now the flanking pyramids shot forth into twin stars,
blazing with violet luminescences. And one by one after
them the ten lesser spheres expanded into flaming orbs;
beautiful they were, but far less glorious than that Disk of
whom they were the counselors?--ministers?--what?
Still there was no movement among all the arrased,
girdered, pillared hosts.
There came a little wailing; far away it was and far.
Nearer it drew. Was that a tremor that passed through
the crowded crater? A quick pulse of--eagerness?
"Hungry!" whispered Drake. "They're HUNGRY!"
Closer was the wailing; again that faint tremor quivered
over the place. And now I caught it--a quick and avid
"Hungry," whispered Drake again. "Like a lot of lions
with the keeper coming along with meat."
The wailing was below us. I felt, not a quiver this time,
but an unmistakable shock pass through the Horde. It
Into the field of our vision, up to the flaming Disk
rushed an immense cube.
Thrice the height of a tall man--as I think I have noted
before--when it unfolded its radiance was that shape of
mingled beauty and power I call the Metal Emperor.
Yet this Thing eclipsed it. Black, uncompromising, in
some indefinable way BRUTAL, its square bulk blotted out
the Disk's effulgence; shrouded it. And a shadow seemed
to fall upon the crater. The violet fires of the flanking stars
pulsed out--watchfully, threateningly.
For only an instant the darkening block loomed against
the Disk; blackened it.
There came another meteor burst of light. Where the
cube had been was now a tremendous, fiery cross--a cross
Its upper arm arose to twice the length either of its
horizontals or the square that was its foot. In its opening
it must have turned, for its--FACE--was toward us and
away from the Cones, its body hid the Disk, and almost
all the surfaces of the two watchful Stars.
Eighty feet at least in height, this cruciform shape
stood. It flamed and flickered with angry, smoky crimsons
and scarlets; with sullen orange glowings and glitterings of
sulphurous yellows. Within its fires were none of those
leaping, multicolored glories that were the Metal Emperor's;
no trace of the pulsing, mystic rose; no shadow
of jubilant sapphire; no purple royal; no tender, merciful
greens nor gracious opalescences. Nothing even of the
blasting violet of the Stars.
All angry, smoky reds and ochres the cross blazed
forth--and in its lurid glowings was something sinister,
something real, something cruel, something--nearer to
earth, closer to man.
"The Keeper of the Cones and the Metal Emperor!"
muttered Drake. "I begin to get it--yes--I begin to get--
Once more the pulse, the avid throbbing shook the
crater. And as swiftly in its wake rushed back the
stillness, the silence.
The Keeper turned--I saw its palely lustrous blue metallic
back. I drew out my little field-glasses, focussed them.
The Cross slipped sidewise past the Disk, its courtiers,
its stellated guardians. As it went by they swung about
with it; ever facing it.
And now at last was clear a thing that had puzzled
greatly--the mechanism of that opening process by which
sphere became oval disk, pyramid a four-pointed star and
--as I had glimpsed in the play of the Little Things about
Norhala, could see now so plainly in the Keeper--the
blocks took this inverted cruciform shape.
The Metal People were hollow!
In their enclosing sides dwelt all their vitality--their
And those sides were--everything that THEY were!
Folded, the oval disk became the sphere; the four points
of the star, the square from which those points radiated;
shutting became the pyramid; the six faces of the cubes
were when opened the inverted cross.
Nor were these flexible, mobile walls massive. They
were indeed, considering the apparent mass of the Metal
Folk, most astonishingly fragile. Those of the Keeper,
despite its eighty feet of height, could not have been more
than a yard in thickness. At the edges I thought I could
see groovings; noted the same appearances at the outlines
of the Stars. Seen sidewise, the body of the Metal Emperor
showed as a convexity; its surface smooth, with a
suggestion of transparency.
The Keeper was bending; its oblong upper plane dropping
forward as though upon a hinge. Lower and lower
this flange bent--in a grotesque, terrifying obeisance; a
horrible mockery of reverence.
Was this mountain of Cones then actually a shrine--an
idol of the Metal People--their God?
The oblong that was the upper half of the cruciform
Shape extended now at right angles to the horizontal arms.
It hovered, a rectangle forty feet long, as many feet over
the floor at the base of the crystal pedestal. It bent
again, this time from the hinge that held the outstretched
arms to the base. And now it was a huge truncated cross,
a T-shaped figure, hovering only twenty feet above the
Down from the Keeper writhed and flicked a tangle of
tentacles; serpentine, whiplike. Silvery white, they were
dyed with the scarlet and orange flaming of the surface
now hidden from my eyes; reflected those sullen and angry
gleamings. Vermiceous, coiling, they seemed to drop from
every inch of the overhanging planes.
Something there was beneath them--something like an
immense and luminous tablet. The tentacles were moving
over it--pressing here, thrusting there, turning, pushing,
A shuddering passed through the crowding cones. I
saw the tremor shake their bristling hosts, oscillate the
great spire, set the faceted disks quivering.
The trembling grew; a vibration in every separate cone
that became even more rapid. There was a faint, curiously
oppressive humming--like the distant echo of a tempest
Faster, ever faster grew the vibration. Now the sharp
outlines of the cones were dissolving.
And now they were--gone.
The mount of the cones had become a mighty pyramid
of pale green radiance--one tremendous, pallid flame, of
which the spire was the tongue. Out from the disked wheel
at its shorn tip gushed a flood of light--light that gathered
itself from the leaping radiance below it.
The tentacles of the Keeper moved more swiftly over
the enigmatic tablet; writhing cloudily; confusedly rapid.
The faceted disks wavered; turned upward; the wheel began
Up from that flaming circle, out into the sky leaped a
thick, pale green column of intensest light.
With prodigious speed, as compact as water, CONCENTRATE,
it struck--straight out toward the face of the sun.
It thrust up with the speed of light--the speed of light?
A thought came to me; incredible I believed it even as I
reacted to it. My pulse is uniformly seventy to the minute.
I sought my wrist, found the artery, made allowance for
its possible acceleration, began to count.
"What's the matter?" asked Drake.
"Take my glasses," I muttered, trying to keep up, while
speaking, my tally. "Matches in my pocket. Smoke the
lenses. I want to look at sun."
With a look of stupefied amazement which, at another
time I would have found laughable, he obeyed.
"Hold them to my eyes," I ordered.
Three minutes had gone by.
There it was--that for which I sought. Clear through
the darkened lenses I could see the sun spot, high up on
the northern-most limb of the sun. An unimaginable cyclone
of incandescent gases; an unthinkably huge dynamo
pouring its floods of electro-magnetism upon all the circling
planets; that solar crater which we now know was,
when at its maximum, all of one hundred and fifty thousand
miles across; the great sun spot of the summer of
1919--the most enormous ever recorded by astronomical
Five minutes had gone by.
Common sense whispered to me. There was no use keeping
my eyes fixed to the glasses. Even if that thought were
true--even if that pillar of radiance were a MESSENGER, an
earth-hurled bolt flying to the sun through atmosphere
and outer space with the speed of light, even if it were
this stupendous creation of these Things, still between
eight and nine minutes must elapse before it could reach
the orb; and as many minutes must go by before the image
of whatever its impact might produce upon the sun could
pass back over the bridge of light spanning the ninety
millions of miles between it and us.
And after all did not that hypothesis belong to the utterly
impossible? Even were it so--what was it that the
Metal Monster expected to follow? This radiant shaft,
colossal as it was to us, was infinitesimal compared to the
target at which it was aimed.
What possible effect could that spear have upon the
And yet--and yet--a gnat's bite can drive an elephant
mad. And Nature's balance is delicate; and what great
happenings may follow the slightest disturbance of her
infinitely sensitive, her complex, equilibrium? It might be--
it might be--
Eight minutes had passed.
"Take the glasses," I bade Drake. "Look up at the sun
spot--the big one."
"I see it." He had obeyed me. "What of it?"
The shaft, if I were right, had by now touched the sun.
What was to follow?
"I don't get you at all," said Drake, and lowered the
"What's happening? Look at the Cones! Look at the
Emperor!" gasped Drake.
I peered down, then almost forgot to count.
The pyramidal flame that had been the mount of Cones
was shrunken. The pillar of radiance had not lessened--
but the mechanism that was its source had retreated whole
yards within the field of its crystal base.
And the Metal Emperor! Dulled and faint were his fires,
dimmed his splendors; and fainter still were the violet
luminescences of the watching Stars, the shimmering livery
of his court.
The Keeper of the Cones! Were not its outstretched
planes hovering lower and lower over the gleaming tablet;
its tentacles moving aimlessly, feebly--wearily?
I had a sense of force being withdrawn from all about
me. It was as though all the City were being drained of
life--as though vitality were being sucked from it to feed
this pyramid of radiance; drained from it to forge the
thrusting spear piercing sunward.
The Metal People seemed to hang limply, inert; the living
girders seemed to sag; the living columns to bend; to
droop and to sway.
With a nerve-racking crash one of the laden beams fell;
dragging down with it others; bending, shattering in its
fall a thicket of the horned columns. Behind us the
sparkling eyes of the wall were dimmed, vacant--dying.
Something of that hellish loneliness, that demoniac desire
for immolation that had assailed us in the haunted hollow
of the ruins began to creep over me.
The crowded crater was fainting. The life was going out
of the City--its magnetic life, draining into the shaft
of green fire.
Duller grew the Metal Emperor's glories.
"Goodwin," cried Drake, "the life's going out of these
Things! Going out with that ray they're shooting."
I watched the tentacles of the Keeper grope over the
tablet. Abruptly the flaming pyramid darkened--WENT OUT.
The radiant pillar hurtled upward like a thunder-bolt;
vanished in space.
Before us stood the mount of cones, shrunken to a sixth
of its former size.
All about the crater-lip the ringed shields tilted; thrust
themselves on high, as though behind each was an eager
lifting arm. Below them the hived clusters of disks changed
from globules into wide coronets.
I dropped my wrist; seized the glasses from Drake;
raised them to the sun. For a moment I saw nothing--then
a tiny spot of white incandescence shone forth at the
lower edge of the great spot. It grew into a point of
radiance, dazzling even through the shadowed lenses.
I rubbed my eyes; looked again. It was still there, larger
--blazing with an ever increasing and intolerable intensity.
I handed the glasses to Drake, silently.
"I see it!" he muttered. "I see it! And THAT did it--that!
Goodwin!" There was panic in his cry. "Goodwin! The
spot! it's widening! It's widening!"
I snatched the glasses from him. I caught again the
dazzling flashing. But whether Drake HAD seen the spot widen,
change--to this day I do not know.
To me it seemed unchanged--and yet--perhaps it was
not. It may be that under that finger of force, that spear
of light, that wound in the side of our sun HAD opened
That the sun had winced!
I do not to this day know. But whether it had or not--
still shone the intolerably brilliant light. And miracle
enough that was for me.
Twenty minutes--subconsciously I had gone on counting--
About the cratered girdle of the upthrust shields a
glimmering mistiness was gathering; a translucent mist,
beryl pale and beryl clear. In a heart-beat it had thickened
into a vast and vaporous ring through whose swarms of
corpuscles the sun's reflected image upon each disk shone
clear--as though seen through clouds of transparent
atoms of aquamarine.
Again the filaments of the Keeper moved--feebly. As
one of the hosts of circling shields shifted downward.
Brilliant, ever more brilliant, waxed the fast-thickening
Abruptly, and again as one, the disks began to revolve.
From every concave surface, from the surfaces of the
huge circlets below them, flashed out a stream of green
fire--green as the fire of green life itself. Corpuscular,
spun of uncounted rushing, dazzling ions the great rays
struck across, impinged upon the thousand-foot wheel
that crowned the cones; set it whirling.
Over it I saw form a limpid cloud of the brilliant
vapors. Whence came these sparkling nebulosities,
these mists of light? It was as though the clustered,
spinning disks reached into the shadowless air, sucked from it
some unseen, rhythmic energy and transformed it into this
visible, coruscating flood.
For now it was a flood. Down from the immense wheel
came pouring cataracts of green fires. They cascaded over
the cones; deluged them; engulfed them.
Beneath that radiant inundation the cones grew. Perceptibly
their volume increased--as though they gorged
themselves upon the light. No--it was as though the
corpuscles flew to them, coalesced and built themselves into
Out and further out upon the base of crystal they crept.
And higher and higher soared their tips, thrusting, ever
thrusting upward toward the whirling wheel that fed
Now from the Keeper's planes writhed the Keeper's tangle
of tentacles, uncoiling eagerly, avidly, through the
twenty feet of space between their source and the
enigmatic mechanism they manipulated. The crater's disks
tilted downward. Into the vast hollow shot their jets of
green radiance, drenching the Metal Hordes, splashing
from the polished walls wherever the Metal Hordes had
left those living walls exposed.
All about us was a trembling, an accelerating pulse
of life. Colossal, rhythmic, ever quicker, ever more
powerfully that pulse throbbed--a prodigious vibration
"Feeding!" whispered Drake. "Feeding! Feeding on the
Faster danced the radiant beams. The crater was a cauldron
of green fires through which the conical rays angled
and interwove, crossed and mingled. And where they
mingled, where they crossed, flamed out suddenly immense
rayless orbs; palpitant for an instant, then dissolving
in spiralling, feathery spray of pallid emerald incandescences.
Stronger and stronger beat the pulse of returning life.
A jetting stream struck squarely upon the Metal Emperor.
Out blazed his splendors--jubilant. His golden
zodiac, no longer tarnished and dull, ran with sun flames;
the wondrous rose was a racing, lambent miracle.
Up snapped the Keeper; towered behind him, all flickering
scarlets and leaping yellows--no longer wrathful or
The place dripped radiance; was filling like a chrisom
Us, too, the sparkling mists bathed.
I was conscious of a curiously wild exhilaration; a
quickening of the pulse; an abnormally rapid breathing.
I stooped to touch Drake; sparks leaped from my outstretched
fingers, great green sparks that crackled as they
impacted upon him. He gave them no heed; but stared
with fascinated eyes upon the crater.
Now from every side broke a tempest of gem fires.
From every girder and column, from every arras, pendent
and looping, burst diamond glitterings, ruby luminescences,
lanced flames of molten emerald and sapphires,
flashings of amethyst and opal, meteoric iridescences,
The hollow was a cave of some Aladdin of the Titans
ablaze with enchanted hoards. It was a place of gems
ensorcelled, gems in which imprisoned hosts of the Jinns of
Light beat sparkling against their crystal walls to escape.
I thrust the fantasies from me. Fantastic enough was
this reality--globe and pyramid and cube of the Metal
People opening wide, bathing in, drinking from the
radiant maelstrom that faster and ever faster swirled
"Feeding!" It was Drake's awed voice. "Feeding on the
The circling shields were raising themselves, lifting
themselves higher above the crater-lip. Into the crowded
cylinder came now only the rays from the high circlets,
the streams from the huge wheel above the still growing
Up and up the shields rose, but by what mechanism
raised I could not see. Their motion ceased; in all their
thousands they turned. Over the City's top and out into
the oval valley they poured their torrents of light; flooding
it, deluging it even as they had this pit that was the
City's heart. Feeding, I knew, those other Metal Hordes
And as though in answer, sweeping down upon us
through the circles of open sky, a clamor poured.
"If we'd but known!" Drake's voice came to me, thin
and unreal through the tumult. "It's what Ventnor meant!
If we had got down there when they were so weak--if
we could have handled the Keeper--we could have
smashed that plate that works the Cones! We could have
"There are other Cones," I cried back to him.
"No," he shook his head. "This is the master machine.
It's what Ventnor meant when he said to strike through
the sun. And we've lost the chance--"
Louder grew the hurricane without; and now within
began its mate. Through the mists flashed linked tempests of
lightnings. Bolt upon javelin bolt, and ever more thickly;
lightnings green as the mists themselves; lightning bolts
of destroying violets, searing scarlets; tearing chains of
withering yellows, globes of exploding multicolored electric
The crater was threaded with the lightnings of the
Metal People; was broidered with them; was a Pit woven
with vast and changing patterns of electric flame.
What was it that Drake had said? That if but we could
have known we could have destroyed these--Things--
Destroyed--Them? Things that could thrust their will
and power up through ninety million miles of space and
suck from the sun the honey of power! Drain it and hive
it within these great mountains of the cones!
Destroy Things that could feed their own life into a
machine to draw back from the sun a greater life--
Things that could forge of their strength a spear which,
piercing the side of the sun, sent gushing back upon them
a tenfold, nay, a thousandfold strength!
Destroy this City that was one vast and living dynamo
feeding upon the magnetic life of earth and sun!
The clamor had grown stupendous, destroying--like
armored Gods roaring at sword play in a hundred
Valhallas; like the war drums of battling universe; like the
smitings of warring suns.
And all the City was throbbing, beating with a gigantic
pulse of life--was fed and drunken with life. I felt that
pulsing become my own; I echoed to it; throbbed in
unison. I saw Drake outlined in flame; that around me a
radiant nimbus was growing.
I thought I saw Norhala floating, clothed in shouting,
flailing fires. I strove to call out to her. By me slipped
the body of Drake; lay flaming at my feet upon the narrow ledge.
There was a roaring within my head--louder, far
louder, than that which beat against my ears. Something
was drawing me forth; drawing me out of my body into
unimaginable depths of blackness. Something was hurling
me out into those cold depths of space that alone could
darken the fires that encircled me--the fires of which I
was becoming a part.
I felt myself leap outward--outward and outward--
Wearily I opened my eyes. Stiffly, painfully, I stirred.
High above me was the tremendous circle of sky, ringed
with the hosts of feeding shields. But the shields were now
wanly gleaming and the sky was the sky of night.
Night? How long had I lain here? And where was
Drake? I struggled to rise.
"Steady, old man," his voice came from beside me.
"Steady--and quiet. How are you feeling?"
"Badly battered," I groaned. "What happened?"
"We weren't used to the show," he said. "We got all fed
up at the orgy. Too much magnetism--we had a sudden
and violent attack of electrical indigestion. Sh-h--look
ahead of you."
Gingerly I turned. I had been lying, I now saw, head
toward and prone at the base of one of the crater's walls.
As my gaze swept away I noted with a curious relief
that the tiny eye-points were no longer sparkling with
their enigmatic life, that they were dulled and dim once
Before me, glimmering pallidly, bristled the mount of
the Cones. Around its crystal base glittered immense
egg-shaped diamond incandescences. They were both rayless
and strangely--lightless; they threw no shadows nor did
their lambency lessen the dimness. Beside each of these
curious luminosities stood one of the sullen-fired, cruciform
shapes--the Things that now I knew for the opened
They were smaller than the Keeper, indeed less than half
his height. They were ranged in an almost unbroken crescent
around the visible arc of the immense pedestal--and
now I saw that the lights were a few feet closer to that
pedestal than they. Egg-shaped as I have said, the wider
end was undermost, resting in a broad cup upheld by a
slender pedicle silvery-gray and metallic.
"They're building out the base," whispered Drake. "The
Cones got so big they have to give them more room."
"Magnetism," I whispered in return. "Electricity--they
drew down from the sun spot. And it was more than that--
I saw the Cones grow under it. It fed them as it fed the
Hordes--but the Cones grew. It was as though the shields
and the Cones turned pure energy into substance."
"And if we hadn't been pretty thoroughly magnetized to
start with it would have done for us," he said.
We watched the operation going on in front of us.
The cross shapes had bent, hinging above the transverse
arms. They bowed in absolute unison as at some signal.
Down from the horizontal plane of each whipped the long
and writhing tentacles.
At the foot of every one I could now perceive a heap
of some faintly glistening material. The tendrils coiled
among this, then drew up something that looked like a
thick rod of crystal. The bent planes straightened;
simultaneously they thrust the crystalline bars toward
There came a curious, brittle hissing. The ends of the
rods began to dissolve into dazzling, diamond rain,
atomically minute, that passing through the egg-shaped
lights poured upon the periphery of the pedestal. Rapidly
the bars melted. Heat there must be in these lights,
terrific heat--yet the Keeper's workers seemed impervious
As the ends of the bars radiated into the annealing mist
I saw the tentacles creep closer and ever closer to the
rayless flame through which the mist flew. And at the
last, as the ultimate atoms drove through, the holding
tendrils were thrust almost within it; touched it, certainly.
A score of times they repeated this process while we
watched. Unaware of us they seemed, or--if aware, then
indifferent. More rapid became their movements, the glassy
ingots streaming through the floating braziers with hardly
a pause in their passing. Abruptly, as though switched,
the incandescences lessened into candle-points; instantly,
as at a signal, the crescent of crosses closed into a crescent
Motionless they stood, huge blocks blackened against
the dim glowing of the cones--sentient monoliths; a
Druid curve; an arc of a metal Stonehenge. And as at
dusk and dawn the great menhirs of Stonehenge fill with a
mysterious, granitic life, seem to be praying priests of
stone, so about these gathered hierophantic illusion.
They quivered; the slender pedicles cupping, the waned
lights swayed; the lights lifted and soared, upright, to
Two by two with measured pace, solemnly the cubes
glided off into the encircling darkness. As they swept
away there streamed behind them other scores not until
then visible to us, joining pair by pair from hidden arcs.
Into the secret shadows they flowed, two by two, each
bearing over it the slim shaft holding the serene flame.
Grotesquely were they like a column of monks marching
with dimmed flambeau of their worship. Angled
metal monks of some god of metal, carrying tapers of
electric fire, withdrawing slowly from a Holy of Holies
whose metallically divine Occupant knew nothing of man
--nor cared to know.
Grotesque--yes. But would that I had the power to
crystallize in words the underlying, alien terror every
movement of the Metal Monster when disintegrate, its
every manifestation when combined, evoked; the incredulous,
amazed lurking always close behind the threshold of the
mind; the never lifting, thin-shuddering shadow.
Smaller, dimmer waned the lights--they were gone.
We crouched, motionless. Nothing stirred; there was
no sound. Without speaking we arose; crept together over
the smooth floor toward the cones.
As we crossed I saw that the pave, like the walls, was
built of the bodies of the Metal People; and, like the
walls, they were dormant, filmed eyes oblivious to our
passing. Closer we crept--were only a scant score of rods
from that colossal mechanism. I noted that the crystal
foundation was set low; was not more than four feet
above the floor. The sturdy, dwarfed pilasters supporting
it thrust up in crowded copses, merging through distance
into apparent solidity.
Now, too, I realized, as I had not when looking down
from above, how stupendous the structure rising from the
crystal foundation was.
I began to wonder how so thin a support could bear
the mount bristling above it--then remembered what it
was that at first had flown from them, shrinking them, and
at last had fed and swelled them.
Light! Weightless magnetic ions; swarms of electric
ions; the misty breath of the infinite energy breathing
upon, condensing upon, them. Could it be that the Cones
for all their apparent mass had little, if any, weight? Like
ringed Saturn, thousands of times Earth's bulk, flaunting
itself in the Heavens--yet if transported to our world so
light that rings and all it would float like a bubble upon our
oceans. The Cones towered above me--close, so close.
The Cones were weightless. How I knew I cannot say--
but now, almost touching them, I did know. Nebulous,
yet solid, were they; compact, yet tenuous, dense and
Again the thought came to me--they were force made
visible; energy made concentrate into matter.
We skirted, seeking for the tablet over which the
Keeper had hovered; the mechanism which, under his
tentacles, had shifted the circling shields, thrust the spear
of green fire into the side of the wounded sun. Hesitantly
I touched the crystal base; the edge was warm, but
whether this warmth came from the dazzling rain which
we had just watched build it outward or whether it was a
property inherent with the substance itself I do not know.
Certainly there was no mark upon it to show where the
molten mists had fallen. It was diamond hard and smooth.
The nearest cones were but a scant nine feet from its
Suddenly we saw the tablet; stood beside it. The shape
of a great T, glimmering with a faint and limpid violet
phosphorescence, it might have been, in shape and size,
the palely shining shadow of the Keeper. It was a foot
above the floor, and had apparently no connection with
It was made of thousands of close-packed tiny octagonal
rods the tops of some of which were cupped, of others
pointed; none was more than half an inch in width.
There was about it a suggestion of wedded crystal and
metal--as about its burden was the suggestion of mated
energy and matter.
The rods were movable; they formed a keyboard unimaginably
complex; a keyboard whose infinite combinations were
like a Fourth Dimensional chess game. I saw
that only the swarms of tentacles that were the Keeper's
hands and these only could be masters of its incredible
intricacies. No Disk--not even the Emperor, no Star shape
could play on it, draw out its chords of power.
But why? Why had it been so made that sullen flaming
Cross alone could release its hidden meanings, made
articulate its interwoven octaves? And how were its
messages conveyed? Up to its bases pressed the dormant
cubes--that under it they lay as well I did not doubt.
There was no visible copula of the tablet with cones;
no antennae between it and the circled shields. Could it
be that the impulses released by the Keeper's coilings
passed through the Metal People of the pave on the
upthrust Metal People of the crater rim who held the
That WAS unthinkable--unthinkable because if so this
mechanism was superfluous.
The swift response to the communal will that we had
observed showed that the Metal Monster needed nothing
of this kind for transmission of the thought of any of
There was some gap here--a gap that the grouped consciousness
could not bridge without other means. Clearly
that was true--else why the tablet, why the Keeper's
Was each of these tiny rods a mechanism akin, in a
fashion, to the sending keys of the wireless; were they
transmitters of subtle energy in which was enfolded command?
Spellers-out of a super-Morse carrying to each responsive
cell of the Metal Monster the bidding of those
higher units which were to It as the brain cells are to us?
That, advanced as the knowledge it implied might be, was
closer to the heart of the possible.
I bent, determined, despite the well-nigh unconquerable
shrinking I felt, to touch the tablet's rods.
A flickering shadow fell upon me; a flock of pulsating
ochreous and scarlet shadows--
The Keeper glowed above us!
In a life that has had its share of dangers, its need
for quick decisions, I recognize that few indeed of my
reactions to peril have been more than purely instinctive;
no more consciously courageous nor intellectually dissociate
from the activating stimulus than the shrinking of
the burned hand from the brand, the will-to-live dictated
rush of the cornered animal upon the thing menacing it.
One such higher functioning was when I followed Larry
O'Keefe and Lakla, the Handmaiden, out to what we
believed soul-destroying death in a place almost as
strange as this*; another was now. Deliberately, detachedly,
I studied the angrily flaming Shape.
* See "The Moon Pool" and "The Conquest of the Moon Pool."
Compared to it we were as a pair of Hop-o'-my-Thumbs
to the Giant; had it been man-shaped we would
have come less than a third way up to its knees. I focussed
my attention upon the twenty-foot-wide square that was
the Keeper's foot. Its surface was jewel smooth, hyaline
--yet beneath it was a suggestion of granulation, of
close-packed, innumerable, microscopic crystals.
Within these grains whose existence was more sensed
than seen glowed dull red light, smoky and sullen. At
each end of the square, close to the bottom, was a
diamond-shaped lozenge, cabochon, perhaps a yard in
width. These were dim yellow, translucent, with no
suggestion of the underlying crystallization. Sense organs I
set them down to be--similar to the great ovals within the
Emperor's golden zone.
My gaze traveled up to the transverse arms. They
stretched sixty feet from tip to tip. At each tip were two
more of the diamond figures, not dull but burning angrily
with orange-and-scarlet luster. In the center of the beam
was something that might have been a smoldering rubrous
reflection of the Emperor's pulsing multicolored rose had
each of the petals of the latter been clipped and squared.
It deepened toward its heart into a singular pattern of
vermilion latticings. Into the entire figure ran numerous
tiny rivulets of angry crimson and orange light, angling
in interwoven patterns with never a curve nor arching.
Set at intervals between them were what looked like
octagonal rosettes filled with slender silvery flutings, wan
striations--like--it came to me--immense chrysanthemum
buds, half opened, and carved in gray jade.
Above towered the gigantic vertical beam. Toward its
top I glimpsed a huge square of flaring crimsons and
bright topaz; two other diamonds stared down upon us