Chapter 12 – At the Crater’s Core by J. Harvey Haggard
2230890Cosmos — Chapter 12 – At the Crater’s CoreJ. Harvey Haggard

“Bullo! Oh, Bullo!”

Bullo, erstwhile head spy of Lemnis, was largely proportioned and as strong as three ordinary men. Of death he was unafraid, as had been evinced time and again during his precarious life on his mother planet, nor could mortal combat, even against hopeless odds or great numbers, daunt him. But there was one secret overwhelming terror in Bullo’s life, and she was four and one-third light-years away on a planet which circled the double star Alpha Centauri.

He had been lolling gloomily across a swinging bunk in the “living-room” quarters of the Lemnisian space ship, moored at the lunar crater, Copernicus, his massive head propped upon a bulging fist, and dejection plainly writ upon his demeanor. The inner atmosphere of the space ship (warmed by tiny twin pencil-beams of brilliant white light which shot across the ceiling, and which formed illumination for the interior as well) was slightly more than warm; his clothes were loosened at breast and elbow, revealing bulging muscles glistening with sweat.

Thus when a voice, seemingly calling his name, materialized out of thin air, he jumped savagely, and spun around to peer at a startlingly empty room, and a look of supernatural fear came across his broad bull-like features. Superstitious and Tor-fearing, he had witnessed phenomena upon this strange weird satellite of the alien unknown earth which seemed beyond the pale of the natural. But his look of instantaneous fear was replaced by one of condescending toleration as he again surveyed the vacant inanimate room. His remark was characteristic.

“Warps!” he said. “Space warps! I’m either imagining things or it’s that Wrongness of Space up to some deviltry again.” He had been duped once by a flickering light which had lulled him into hypnotism, but now he was fore-warned and therefore fore-armed; drawing the latnem filament cap which shut out trajected thought impressions, he returned to his remorseful reminiscing. He was thinking of their ill-fated mission, which had brought three Lemnisians here from their planet 4 1/3 light-years away, in an effort to thwart the purpose of a power-mad dictator, Ay-Artz, who was rocketing toward the Solar System with a powerful space armada of twenty-one gigantic armed space ships, bristling with tremendous high powered devastating weapons; weapons no more brutal than the hard cruel faces of the men behind them who scanned the heavens thru square-lined glassite space-windows with eager homicidal eyes, for they were barbarians, in whose hands another’s science had unwittingly placed weapons of horrific scope.

Yet the efforts of the trio seemed to have been ill-omened from the start, and Tor, god of cosmic creation, seemed to have deliberately turned his inscrutable head as his heroic followers sought to avert the purpose of those who must surely be minions of Krauz, cosmic god of Destruction. All this speculation gave Bullo an eerie feeling that they were fighting a hopeless foredoomed battle, and his premonitions, reflected and intensified by the latnem filament cap, brought his mentality a clear portrayal of the immense odds they faced. This mysterious entity of almost supernatural powers known to them as the Wrongness of Space, must surely be an evil genie, in league with Krauz, god of Destruction.

But suddenly, again, and more clearly this time, there came a calling voice into Bullo’s brain, vibrating thru his ear-drums resoundingly and conveyed to his brain with a clang, thus penetrating the thought barrier of the latnem cap, since it was a sound-vibration and not a telepathic impulse which was clearly registered.

“Bullo! Oh, Bullo!”

“Who – who’s there?” stammered Bullo, licking his dry lips. His huge hands grabbed the edge of the bunk and knotted, and his eyes goggled into the utter emptiness of the living room, down the spiral stairway, which was equally barren and mysterious under the vivid glowing of the twin-beam lights.

“Why, Papa Bullo, how could you?” – again that strangely familiar voice wheezed discordantly into his mentality, awakening disturbing memories. “Bullo, you good-for-nothing ham-faced Lemnisian, you knew I’d follow you all over the universe if necessary. Isn’t it just like you to go off on a skylark, and all the time there’s twelve little Lemnisians, counting the twins that just came out of their larveal cocoons, back in Lemnis with no one to provide for them! And here you are, having a good time, with never a thought for—“

“Mama!” cried Bullo, springing to his feet and peering in consternation: for as had been admitted there was one overwhelming terror in the spy chieftain’s life, his shrewish wife, and this voice was strangely remindful of home and nagging wife, Hakka. Yes, blast all space! – he was crazy or – Her spirit had followed him, commanded by her indomitable will, where her body could not, that was what….

Fearing to believe, Bullo staggered out into the center of the room with arms outstretched like a man playing blind man’s buff, and rather to his amazement he encountered something solid where everything looked so empty, which shoved him in the nose so forcefully he was sent stumbling backward. A nebulaeic formation in the center of the room suddenly appeared, coagulating swiftly, and before the startled giant appeared the well-known proportions of the young deposed Emperor, Dos-Tev of Lemnis, wearing a peculiar jutting harness, who was convulsed with laughter.

“Yes, Bullo, it’s I,” the solidified apparition announced, taking his hand from his nose, from whence the mimicking, nasal voice had been manufactured. “It’s a device I’m perfecting as a possible resort in the struggle to come. It’s an invisibility producing apparatus, but I call it a forced-field vision transporter.” He motioned to his peculiar harness, to a framework circling his waist which radiated out into a rim-loop of whitely gleaming metal closely woven with tiny shields of woven strands which seemed to be composed of flexible glass.

“Then it’s not Hakka,” cried Bullo in evident relief. “And it isn’t true about the twins–?” He looked so querulous and believing that Dos-Tev chuckled again, but his face quickly resumed a grave mien.

“Bullo,” he said emphatically, striking his fist in his palm, after laying down the glass-woven harness. “We’ve deliberated too long! Every day this Wrongness of Space is getting stronger. Whether it’s devil or man, I know not. Whether it’s vulnerable or not, I cannot fathom. Yet somewhere in the heart of this crater-pocked seimi-riven satellite there crouches an ancient stagnated evil which must be eradicated sooner or later, which is threatening at the peace of the universe and is uniting with that devil in man’s guise, Ay-Artz.”

“What?” stammered Bull, staring. “You mean—“

“That fools win where scientists fear to tread,” quoted Dos-Tev.

Bullo came forward, his eyes gleaming eagerly.

“Sire,” he gasped unbelievingly. “Sire! Why, sir, it’s almost like your real self. Just like we used to be, on the isle of Elbon. Remember when we fought our way thru the Shark-men of the Lower Circle in Lemnis, and that time you pulled me from the dimension-exploding torp-sphere.”

“And you as well,” cried Dos-Tev, eyes gleaming with memories of former carefree days of active service on Lemnis, when his king-father Ras-Tev had held the throne and he had been but a mere prince stripling. “You saved me from the space vorghis driven from Risbo. I’ve a scar yet, Bullo, where his horn-hooked tongue raked my breast.”

Long monotonous days these had been; almost four years, filled with worry and suspense. A fringe of greying hair was prematurely frosting young Dos-Tev’s temples.

And of a sudden Dos-Tev was remembering the island of Elbon, on Lemnis, and thinking of the beautiful metal-green sky and of the double sun of Alpha Centauri sparkling over the purple waves of the sea. Again he breathed in memory the iodine-scented breeze and felt the invigorating lash of the Lemnisian ocean spray beating against his cheek as he stood in memory once again in the prow of one of the stately barks of the regal fleet. That indefinable taint of iodine, that “smell” of home – but here it was gone, replaced with the odorless synthetic air of the space ship (the peculiar “green” scent accompanying samples of earth-atmosphere had been nauseating and almost stifling to the Lemnisians).

“Lemnis,” sighed Dos-Tev lovingly. But suddenly he groaned and a harsh look overspread his face. “It will always be under that tyrant’s rule, Bullo, unless – unless we win out here!”

Both of them turned as the head and shoulders of Mea-Quin appeared ascending the spiral stairway. His old figure looked somehow more ancient and forlorn. He had been getting more this of recent, and his venerable beard looked unkempt beneath his gaunt hollowed eyes, which were set upon their flushed faces as he came forward.

“Dos-Tev, what madness is this?” he protested.

But Dos-Tev, who had so long looked patiently to the older man for guidance, felt a sudden repugnance for the endless waiting vigil which had availed them so little. Hampered at every turn, he was at the last goaded near to desperation.

“I’m tired of it!” he cried. “Yes, by Tor, we’ve been listening to your mollycoddling long enough. I’m going out and strike, and strike now, as once I would have done without this endless procrastination, and hiding like rabbits in a cave. We’ll rout him out, the Wrongness of Space. I’m prepared; that’s what this apparatus is for, Mea-Quin. Invisible, I can venture into his very den, descend into Copernicus unperceived by him, and discover this diabolical other-dimension short-cut thru which he is effecting his deviltry.”

Mea-Quin listened patiently, making no comment. He had seen youth before, unleashed beyond restraint by the taut nerve-strain of a long siege. He said nothing against the projected attempt, but spoke quietly.

“And how do you know that the Wrongness of Space isn’t expecting just that?” he queried softly, his eyes glowing strangely. “How do you know that he hasn’t read your thought, isn’t listening in right now?”

“Because I have lined the interior of the space ship with the grey filaments of the latnem thought-reflector!” retorted Dos-Tev, “And I can perfect the invisibility force-field. It really transports vision, in the same sense a wireless radio transports sound. Sound, converted into etheric waves, is transported from receiver to transmitter, to duplicate itself in another sound box. These shields of forced-fields do the same thing with light. The shield in front is built up by a radiated field, which absorbs the color-vibrations, transmits then over an etheric vibration which penetrates my enclosed body, and the shield to the rear reproduces the colors from the impulse of the penetrating ether-ray. Thus a body within is invisible, tho you really see a synthetic view re-broadcasted from the other side of the body. This enclosed force-field is retroactive, transmitting light-scenes in any direction, and the apparatus is entirely enclosed, so nothing is visible to an observer.”

As Dos-Tev completed his outburst he stood panting, and Mea-Quin, looking more weary than ever, turned and slowly made his way across the room to a small television screen trajected up and out toward space, from which he knew that Ay-Artz and his ruthless armada were rushing upon an unprepared solar system.

Bullo, taken aback by the seeming opposition which had suddenly flared up between the young prince and the old scientist, crouched with open mouth in very evident discomfort. Dos-Tev, red-faced, stood breathing heavily. After several moments his passion subsided, and he hung his head. Slowly he walked across to the silent Mea-Quin, and placed a hand upon his arm.

“Forgive me, Mea-Quin,” he said simply. “I fear I have momentarily lost both my senses and my respect for your wisdom. It would be foolhardy. There’s one chance in a hundred we’d come out alive or victorious. But this inactivity – this monotony—“

“I know,” returned Mea-Quin, without turning around. “It was – just natural – Dos-Tev. There is nothing to be forgiven. As you say – there is one chance in a hundred – you’d come back.”

Dos-Tev suddenly saw that Mea-Quin’s eyes were filled with tears and abruptly the old scientist had caught his hand in a thin purple-veined one and was pressing it savagely. Something was wrong – he realized it instinctively; something had happened – this old man who loved him like a father. Something cold and icy was clutching at Dos-Tev’s heart; a nameless chill ran up his spine. For what he saw, for the first time in those long trying years, upon the face of Mea-Quin – was fear! Always the old scientist’s courage had served to carry the young prince along. He had faith in the other’s greatness, had always felt that in the end Mea-Quin would win out. Suddenly he felt hollow inside, as tho he were stumbling before a precipice.

“By the Tor, Mea-Quin,” he cried imploringly. “What has happened? I see it in your face. Speak.”

Mea-Quin’s sunken chin had set, and he turned red-rimmed eyes again out toward space, breathing deeply.

“I have failed,” he said slowly thru set teeth. “The Wrongness of Space is too strong.” Ay-Artz is flashing toward us with the speed of light, and now the time has come when I should have sent the word to come, to all those planets who are preparing, but the radiation beam, the improved Thi-Ranley, has been neutralized, bent back. The Wrongness of Space has curtailed my every effort, and at last is in supremacy. I cannot send the message.”

“You mean? –“ queried Dos-Tev, the explanation of the other’s sadness suddenly encompassing him with its full significance.

“We must be brave,” said Mea-Quin.

“That I must go,” finished Dos-Tev for himself. “That it is our only chance – now. I must go down – into the crater – and somehow deflect the power-beam controls of the Wrongness of Space.”

At this Bullo sprang forward, his eyes aglow.

“And I shall go with you!” he cried. “Together, Prince. A chance in a hundred! Tor, Prince what more could I ask, with you!”

“Yes, you too shall go,” said Mea-Quin bitterly. “And I, because my body is weakest and the poorest, must stay, because someone must guard the ship. It all rests upon your shoulders now, Prince of Lemnis.”

As the old scientist pronounced the title, the man who had been deposed drew slowly erect. Whirling from an abyss of conflicting emotions, he was deposited once more on firm ground. It had been the first time that he had been addressed in exactly that manner. It meant that no matter what happened to Mea-Quin, and to Lemnis, he was the true prince, the only one upon whom they depended. Their only hope. The single symbol of promise for the future.

He was calm now, not at all possessed with the feverish excitement which had led to his original outburst. He felt self-control now. Stronger.

“No, Mea-Quin,” he said. “Not alone upon my shoulders, but upon the three of us, who bear equal burdens, for the part you play in attending the vessel is as important as that of Bullo, or mine.

“Stay always at the transmitter, always you understand, for I promise you Mea-Quin, that tho I may not return, still there will be a moment, perhaps but a fraction only, in which your messages may go thru. Wait for that moment, for upon it may rest the future of the universe. I know that we shall succeed, that the message will go thru, but if we never meet again, I cannot think that the great Tor will totally destroy all that nobleness of spirit which lies within you and which people call a soul, and perhaps we shall meet again, beyond this curious cail we call matter, and creation.”

“I understand,” said Mea-Quin. “I shall be waiting.”

“Then we will leave by the next darkness, a scant day away,” said Dos-Tev. “I must prepare the invisibility harness.”

Soon after fall of the month-long lunar night, Mea-Quin watched them go, crouched at the control-desk in the room below, and as his eyes stared into the televisor screen which brought the nocturnal scene without to his eyes, his hands steadied the manipulations which were sending a terrific bombardment of whirling disturbances into the ether, hoping to distract the instruments or attention of the Wrongness of Space if it happened to be directed upon the crater-mouth. He built up a terrific field of live crackling static which shimmered down thru the base of the ship and played coruscating will-o-the-wisp lights along the rough lava-basalt surface of the satellite, iridescent flickerings which bent against some insurmountable force and met themselves. The Thi-Ranley radiator swayed under the overburdening load, leaking the built-up charge into the room, but Mea-Quin had no thought for it.

Out there in the blackness, where the thin sliver of illumination which was the rising of the earth-light hung in the black firmament over the yawning maw of the crater, dark as the pits of Tartarus, his thoughts concentrated. Dimly limned against the feeble earth-light were the serrated contours of the satellite, beyond and around the crater. Faint splinters of saw-toothed ridges hung ghostily from the gloom against the earth’s reflection. Lurking pits and grottos hinted at other craters, at the crumbling rotting surface which, removed from air and voided of life, was suffering the age-long erosion of time alone. One precipitous edge of Copernicus, hanging limply against the earth glow, dropped sheer and raggedly where the bomb hurled by Bullo had landed, dispersing its terrible gamma rays. Yet tho he strain his eyes, Mea-Quin could see nothing of the two he sought, tho he knew their invisible bodies, surrounded by the force-fields which directed vision thru and beyond, were groping their ways along the unseen beam of force which extended in a plane from the curious chunky projector at the nose of the space ship, which had been used by Dos-Tev when the Wrongness of Space had hurled a boomeranging message rocket back at the mother ship, to detract the momentum and destructive ability from the speeding missile.

With the aid of Mea-Quin, a compact tiny projector of the unseen beam had been fashioned into the invisibility harness, with the result that Dos-Tev and Bullo could direct the beam downward into the crater and allow their bodies to fall slowly and at will. By building a growing beam-cylinder of force from the crater floor, Dos-Tev believed they would be able to ascend, were their hazardous undertaking successful.

The crater, due to the unobstructed perspective of the airless void, seemed closer and smaller than it really was. Mea-Quin knew that it stretched fifty-six miles across, and that a cup-like upper formation was formed by a floor 12,000 feet below the rim, in the center of which the true inner shaft bored downward, scarcely two hundred yards in diameter at the aperture. He waited for six hours, during which time they had agreed Dos-Tev and Bullo would have had time to find the approximate center over the crater. Then with a muttered propitiation to Tor, the scientist leaned over and jerked a switch with his talon-like hand.

Up on the nose of the space ship, a curious, semi-cylindrical meshwork of wires became visible, glowing redly, while pulsations and flickerings departed from the cooling metal. In a moment the meshwork was cold, hugged up against the chunky projector, and the supporting beam of invisible force which had extended in a plane out over the crater was gone. Somewhere over Copernicus, the two invisible bodies of Dos-Tev and Bullo had been loosed in mid-void as the force-plane disseminated beneath their feet, and now were falling toward the heart of the crater, under the power of their own apparati.

Darkness, eddying and impenetrable. Above; a circular star-field like black velvet dusted lightly with powdered crystal, growing constantly smaller. Around and below, a darkness so dense as to seem almost animate.

For the first few minutes of the fall, rioting sensations assailed Dos-Tev. He couldn’t think cohesively, falling as he was, with a feeling of weightless expansiveness. His legs were slightly asprawl in their air-tight metal space suit casing. He could feel nothing firm, nothing solid beneath his feet. The force-beam spreading fan-wise below cushioned his entire body simultaneously, as a dense liquid medium might have done; here but a void (air at this height too tenuous to be credited) and darkness.

Quick labored breathings within his radio-phone attachment reminded him that Bullo also was descending with him into the crater’s depths, doubtless experiencing all of the rioting phantasmagoric emotions which had been manifest to himself.

“Bullo!” he called softly into the tiny transmitter built in his head gear. “How are you going?”

“Is that you, Sire?” came Bullo’s anxious tones. “Ayhuu! – but that’s a relief! I feel about as disembodied as an astral on a gas-planet. I can’t see a blinking thing, except a few stars overhead. I was beginning to think we couldn’t see out of all this gear; space suit, invisibility harness and all.”

“Oh yes,” returned Dos-Tev. “We can see all right when there is anything to see, which there isn’t right now. Thank our lucky start we’ve got the latest television-plate head-gear tho. If we had the old type of glassite goggles we couldn’t see out of our own force-field.” He was referring to the hexagonal hemispherical television-screen built directly into the inner face of the space suit head-gear, an important advancement since the old type Lemnisian glassite goggles. The difference of rate of expansion under heat between the glassite and the metal housing had caused much difficulty in keeping them air-tight.

“Right you are,” came Bullo’s awed tones, clearly transmitting a shudder; — Dos-Tev could imagine his huge ungainly frame sprawling helplessly in all of its encumbering gear, yet falling as lightly as down. “But it’ll be good night space if we rub a crater wall and puncture a suit. I’d be helpless as a new-born babe if we bumped up against the Wrongness of Space right here and now—“

“If you don’t quit talking,” chided Dos-Tev, cutting into the rambling soliloquy, “you’ll have yourself worked into a nervous state. Remember the crater is fifty-six miles in diameter up here, and it took us six hours to walk to the center. Also this diameter prevails for over two miles to the false-floor of debris. After we get to the inner shaft we’ll have some worrying to do.”

There was a moment’s silence and then a more courageous, “Yes, Sire,” from Bullo. No braver man was made in Lemnis than the ex-spy when it came to hand-to-hand conflict, but when invisible dangers threatened, his superstitious nature asserted itself.

Indeed it had been an eerie experience, Dos-Tev reflected. He had felt about as bodiless as a wraith when he and Bullo had crawled out of the space ship upon the unseen force-beam plane exerted from the projector at the craft’s nose. Bullo, who had stayed close to his young ruler, was utterly invisible in his harness, and all Dos-Tev could see of material matter was the hexagonal televiso-screen outlines in front of his headgear. They had walked gingerly upon the unseen plane, with the macabre rays of the earth-glow penetrating their bodies to shed its radiance upon sharp black lava-basalt rock formations far below – the rim of the crater – which could have slit their space suits on knife-sharp edges and cut their bodies to shreds had the beam suddenly failed and they been precipitated downward, even at the low gravity acceleration of Luna.

Six hours they had walked out over the invisible plane-field above Copernicus, and at last Dos-Tev, by charting the brightening earth-glow, decided that they were over the inner shaft which penetrated the floor of the huge upper cup of the crater.

They had adjusted the beam supporters on their harness; exactly six hours after they had left the ship, the force-plane jerked out of existence, cut by Mea-Quin in the space ship, and they plunged downward. The earth-glow seemed to vanish in a gleaming scimitar streak which ended in the serrated crater rim, behind which it was lost to view. The circular rim swooped up and around them, and they were lost in the circumambient darkness. Their harness beam-supporters, shedding a fan-like ray downward, had soon halted their wild acceleration, and now they descended slowly and under control.

Even yet, immersed in the enveloping dark, Dos-Tev was not sure; — had he correctly plotted the lower shaft? The thought that perhaps they might miss it brought up a conjectured picture of their bodies lying torn and broken upon the ledge. Yet they dared risk no light beams in search; the flame would be certain to be detected by the instruments of the Wrongness of Space. They would have to take the chance, and Fate would cast the die.

His wandering thoughts were abruptly jerked into the present as a shrill cry of terror came sharply into his earphones.

“Bullo!” cried Dos-Tev, feeling apprehension as he strove in vain to pierce the utter gloom. “Bullo!” For a moment there was no answer. That sharp poignant cry had wavered with tension; it had ended abruptly, as tho something had seized Bullo’s body and hurled it viciously out into the darkness. Sounds as of struggling came to the Lemnisian prince’s ears, and he called again. Then a panting voice from the spy chief came, distant and muffles by his struggling body.

“Help! Something’s—“

A moment of terror. Dos-Tev felt it too, some force wrapping about him. Suddenly he was swept around and hurled out into a great arc. There was a moment of wild tumbling, of chaotic nightmare. A wild force bore him swiftly, in a great spiral motion. And suddenly it came to him.

“Take it easy, Bullo,” he cried, half sobbing in relief, “It’s the inner shaft. We’re circling above it. Our force-beam keeps shoving us away from the rim, and we’re going down in a spiral. Take it easy; we’ll gradually shift to the center again.”

The sound of struggling ceased; a weak voice chuckled, half-frightened, half-humorously.

“I – I thought the – Wrongness of Space had me,” called Bullo from his position on the other side of the spiral. “But I couldn’t get my paws into anything holding me. I guess – I must be in a blue funk!”

“Buck up!” admonished Dos-Tev hearteningly. “I’ve a hunch you’ll have plenty to get your paws into, before this is over.”

So their descent continued. It was as Dos-Tev guessed. After spiraling for a short time, the circles gradually diminished, and Dos-Tev was relieved to know that they were safely descending down the inner shaft. They fell for a time in silence. Bullo, who had entered the shaft first, was lower than Dos-Tev, tho how much lower he had no way of reckoning, except by the doubtful amplification power of Bullo’s voice in his earphones.

[Due to the length of this chapter and the short time left to print it, we can present only half this month, the other half will appear next month.]

Dos-Tev guessed their speed of falling to be about four miles per hour. The circular patch of the firmament above had long since dwindled to a pinpoint and vanished. It was odd how time seemed to fly, during the excitement of their venture. An hour-and-a-half he thought it must have been. That meant six miles below the surface. Six miles! But in all probability the shaft continued for several hundreds of miles into the satellite. Not that they were assured that their beam support kept them pushed back from the walls, they could drop faster. Twenty-five miles an hour.

Considerably accelerated now; but safe, for he had an instrument in his harness which would warn him, by a sharp sting, when the bottom of the shaft neared. An ultra-sensitive cell caught the electro-gravity emanations from below – a tiny circuit would close when the crater-floor neared.

Interminable time; it seemed much longer in the lightlessness. Foreboding thoughts, given shape by imagination and dark, moved through his brain. Occasionally he would signal Bullo, to be sure all was well, and to comfort his being with the sound of a human voice.

Synthetic food pellets, an invigorating repast, delivered thru an elastic tube; which dropped them as the chin pressed a trigger. Water, in a similar fashion; from the reservoir within the shoulder tanks of the space suit.

At a hundred miles depth they began to notice the phosphorescence, eddying behind them. Bullo remarked it.

“Increasing density of air,” explained Dos-Tev. “Coupled with lumiferous bacteria! I’ve seen them in Lemnisian caverns.”

“But bacteria means life,” protested Bullo, as tho he had expected nothing animate here. “Within this desert satellite.”

“Why not?” returned Dos-Tev. “James Tarvish tells me Luna once formed part of the planet earth – or so their theory goes. If so, the life spores which must have been present on both before the separation, when it was one molten mass, must have been present on both later. The tidal action of the Sun on the molten mass must have drawn the satellite from its mother. Why shouldn’t the life spores germinate here as well as there?”

“Then perhaps there is some sort of advanced life below,” returned Bullo. “Perhaps the Wrongness of Space is a Lunarian, developed thru an evolutive scale here, a cousin to earth men.”

“Perhaps,” agreed Dos-Tev doubtfully. “It’s possible. But even a distant branching creature should feel sympathy when a common enemy is advancing on the Solar System. No, I think he isn’t a native Lunarian, but has been driven insane perhaps; by something – or some life – below us.”

At two hundred miles – after falling eight hours – the darkness was at its densest, but tests showed the air was thicker. Below this, the gloom began to lighten, due to large quantities of the phosphorescent bacteria which infested the atmosphere, even clinging to the crater walls.

They would have to slow down; to proceed with more caution. Dos-Tev had it in mind to call to Bullo – when the voice of that individual rang out in his own suit.

“There’s a light ahead!”

“Better slow down,” suggested Dos-Tev digesting this bit of interesting news. “Keep talking, directing me; until our apparati bumps together.”

“As you say, Sire,” returned Bullo, with growing excitement manifest in his voice. “It does look weird. Why, I’m beginning to be able to see the walls of the crater! It’s widened considerably. I do believe there’s vegetation hanging to the walls!”

It was true. Dos-Tev could see that a brightening gloom was permeating the shaft. He began to make out the crater wall, lighted by a faint phosphorescence, and grotesque clum-like growths hung to rocky projections here and there. Pale flowers of toady colors blossomed from the vegetative growths, which turned their corollas down and not up the shaft, toward the light. Dos-Tev called Bullo’s attention to this phenomenon.

“It means that somewhere below there’s a source of light,” he cried interestedly. “Altho I think the chief source of the phosphorescence covering the crater’s walls is from lumiferous bacteria. Ayhuu – but look at that.”

Looking down the shaft, which was illuminated from some source at lower depths, Dos-Tev saw an indistinct blotch zooming up the shaft. Bloated and bulbous, it resembled some balloon-fish species from the depths of Lemnis’ oceans, had it not been for the leather-like flap-wings fluttering at either side. The head was small and puffy, surrounded by a muff of rose-colored membraneous gills. Popping eyes glinted in the cavern’s depths. Swiftly it zoomed upward. A cry of consternation came from below.

“Ayhuu! Back, demon of Kruz,” came Bullo’s voice. “Back, by Tor.”

Dos-Tev had forgotten Bullo, invisible and just below, who doubtless was just within the creature’s path. However, he was quickly made aware of Bullo’s aliveness. The flapping monstrosity suddenly uttered a shriek of terrified horror (exterior sounds also being transmitter to the space suit head phones); an invisible force had plunged into its face, bending it back, and a wing at the side fell broken.

“I’ll fix you,” panted Bullo, from below. The joy of battle was rampant in his voice. “I guess there is some advantage to being invisible after all.”

Another wing bent backward; screaming resoundingly, filling the shaft with the dinning noise, the creature flopped aside, struggling furiously. Dos-Tev pressed a button on his control belt which would allow him to fall swiftly into the fray. Evidently however, the creature managed to wriggle from Bullo clutches, for it fluttered erratically back down the shaft.

“Bullo. Are you all right?” cried the Lemnisian prince to his unseen comrade. When assured that the ex-spy was even feeling invigorated by his recent quasi-victory, he called a brief reconnoiter before descending further.

“It’s pretty evident that plenty of air is down here,” he said. “Get your hand ray ejector ready. We don’t want to be taken off-hand again.”

In the denser atmosphere small animal life in minute form became very evident; infinitesimal flying saurian-like creatures fluttered through the jungle-matts of encircling vegetation. Dos-Tev, to whom Luna was an alien world, was not surprised by this copious underworld life as an earthman would have been. Once a coiling liana-like growth moved from a dark grotto, sending chilling fear into their hearts, but no tangible menace materialized. A huge toad-like body, swinging by a long fleshy stem of corpse-like hue, jutted from the crater wall over an abutting projection, its great shark-toothed mouth wide open for any prey which might venture up and down the shaft, but being invisible, they managed to avert this threat. Had it not been for their invisibility, the shaft might have proven impassable.

Deep down within the heart of Luna was – the Hemisphere! It was one mile in diameter and a half-mile in height. From the bottom of its huge disc-like floor to the top of the broad domed roof it was a solid expanse of permeable shifting grayness, inhabited by strange two-dimensional shadows and angles which were continually moving. An observer from the world above would have found something chilling, something totally extraneous, in the mere vista, suffused by a dull foggy illumination, of which the source was not visible. The interior might be compared to the reflections cast by twirling many-faceted crystals, except that the bezels commingled and entangled in a writhing infusion which bespoke of no regularity.

Yet within this vista of shifting planes and two-dimensional angles, darker objects were moving waveringly thru the great hemispherical enclosure, like interior organs of a giant beast. Great streams of disc-like shadows filed thru the space between floor and ceiling in great angles and steep declivities, on far-flung curves which embraced the width of the Hemisphere; disc-shadows seemingly without support or propulsion, which disappeared into labyrinthine tunnels which crawled away from the central cavern into the rock, and which moved thru the angles and shadows as tho disembodied.

The crater-shaft, one hundred yards in diameter, opened from a precipitous shelf at one rim of the hemisphere, like a bottomless abyss. In the exact center of the cavern’s floor was a curious formation which seemed to draw the visitations of the disc-shadows as a magnet draws iron filings. The geometric design of this curious formation was fantastic and unsymmetrical, with a suggestion of pseudo-stability, like saline crystals built haphazardly within a heavy salt compound, and it was from a circular aperture in this great central edifice that the disc-shadows emerged, two-dimensional corpuscles which zoomed across the cavern spaces effortlessly, yet not aimlessly, like flung boomerangs. Tangled streams of these disc-things were continually emitting from the rotting labyrinthine caverns coiling from every edge of the hemispherical enclosure into the strata of moon-rock, or from the abysmal depths of the crater-shaft; shooting across the enclosed flickering space like twirled pie-pans, yet there was a certain faint suggestiveness of preordered purpose. They appeared to congregate near the central fantastic design of the crystalline formation at the cavern’s center. At the same time, as fast as they entered, other disc-like shadows reappeared from the central building, flinging themselves upward into the shadowed void, to sail gracefully out toward the crater-shaft, to disappear into its huge depths.

It was ominously evident that the ingoing disc-shadows were of a much darker hue when they re-entered the central cavern than when they left; as tho they were carrying some necessary ingredient into the shifting extraneous conflagration of two-dimensional shadows. Slave and workers – obeying a superior command.

Overhead, more than two hundred miles of solid rock-strata lay like a thick shell – an exuviate – as tho this alien bit of spake were animate, and the moon-matter a shell over its pulsating being. The crater-shaft itself, like a huge gaping aesophagus, was drawing into the Hemisphere a current of rarefied air, and like corpuscles the disc-shadows flickered upon their endless journeys. Yet herein lay the stronghold, the natural habitat, of the Wrongness of Space. From the first Dos-Tev realized that the space within this great Hemisphere was warped from common dimensions, he grasped that these shifting shadows were two-dimensional bases of objects moving in another plane; alien, and yet not entirely dissociated with the three-dimensional world.

Down in the central cavern, this tiny portion of “another space” was suddenly disrupted from its quasi-orderly precision. Something moved, vast and intruding, at one rim where the aperture of a huge winding vein-tunnel opened, and an enormous object jerked tentatively out into the main body of the cavern.

Perhaps the most jarring feature to this intrusion was that the object was of black solid three-dimensions, while the rest of the cavern was not. True, it was startlingly menacing in effect.

A giant claw – sixteen feet high; with distended pincers gaping, it shoved out, to be followed by a body so vast that it completely filled the rim of the cavern. A hideous unbelievable body! A giant crab-creature, an evolutive development of normal tangible dimensions, tho its customary habitat probably extended into the upper rarefied veins of the satellite. Yet here it was an alien visitant! Gigantic in proportions, he reached the sloping roof, with horny armored crest tapering into protruding chiton protected globe-eyes as large as pumpkins, and large convoluted tentacles, each forty feet in length, poked querulously outward into the dizzying unfamiliar spectacle within the cavern.

He came out of his grotto jerkily, as tho prodded from behind, but when he caught sight of the intangibility of the cavern, of the central abutments from whence whirled streams of corpuscular disc-shadow life, his interest quickened, and the many smaller claw-feet behind the huge pincers propelled him forward interestedly, tho he was obviously out of his familiar medium. A floating corpuscle, two yard in diameter and of almost immaterial thinness, was drifting past one huge eye. It caught his attention, and with a vicious snap the gigantic sixteen-foot claw reared out and snared it securely, thereby proving its tangibility. Writhing, the disc-shadow was drawn toward the giant crab’s mouth.

Some electrical manifestation of the danger must have radiated outward from the stricken thing, for suddenly all of the disc-shadows in the giant cavern quit their orderly routine and swarmed like bees over the giant crab. Darting in aerial attack, they soon buried the monster by sheer numbers, but his threshing body attested to the grim battle he was putting up.

Simultaneously, from between two of the rear smaller claws, two immaterial eddies swirled, making their ways thru the angered darting disc-shadows which swooped in long attacking arcs from every direction.

Dos-Tev and Bullo, who had witnessed the colossal struggle, were not a little impressed, and Bullo would have lingered to watch its outcome, had not Dos-Tev urged speed.

“This is our chance, Bullo!” he cried. “Just what we’ve been wanting. The disc-creatures are all occupied, and we may get into the inner place unnoticed. I’m sure that this is the central power of the Wrongness of Space, and if destroyed – well, all I ask is to get to it.”

They moved forward at a swift pace, their eyes upon the crystalline jumble of unconnected bezels a half mile ahead, in the center of the extraneous hemispherical enclosure. For some time they had lingered unseen upon the outskirts of the great central cavern, where they had alighted on the ledge from the crater-shaft. Dos-Tev was sore puzzled. It had come to him, viewing the shifting shadows, that these planes and angles were bases of objects moving in another plane, only partly in the three-dimensional world. He had attempted to explain his theory to Bullo – with small success. Suppose – he had pointed out – we take a simple simile. A piece of paper, laying flat, may represent a two-dimensional world. Another piece of paper, placed perpendicularly across the first one, would also be two-dimensional, yet to each other, only one dimension would be tangible – where the edge of the perpendicular lay across the other. To a flatlander of one world, the other world would appear merely as a thin line – one dimension.

Similarly, he pointed out, one of the common three dimensions might be shifted into the fourth, leaving a vacancy in one of the visible three, whereby objects would be visible and tangible only as the two dimensional proportions left! It was his idea that this hemisphere was the workshop of the Wrongness of Space, that the lines and angles represented two-dimensional bases of walls, instruments, and manipulative devices, one of their dimensions having been shifted to the fourth. This each shifting angle, and perhaps even the disc-shadows themselves, might merely be the reflected portion of a monstrous engine, integral parts to the whole which was radiating such powerful influences into the upper ether.

It seemed a terribly interminable time before they reached the multi-faceted structures thrusting up from the lava floor. Here they halted, momentarily nonplused, for they could see no entrance.

“They were getting in some way!” cried Dos-Tev. “Surely we can find—“ He was interrupted by a horrified gasp. There, not three feet away, was one of the disc-shadows, wavering motionless before an aperture. A sentinel, it was unquiet, as tho it sensed their presence. It was the first time either of the Lemnisians had examined the curious beings of the crater’s core at close range.

Utterly flat, the disc-thing possessed but two dimensions, an irregular blotchy mass, whose fringe was constantly writhing and changing, like the pseudo-podic projections of an amoeba. Whirling iridescent colors, rainbow misted as a pool of oil film, twisted and writhed within the two-dimensional being’s irregular body formation. Abruptly Dos-Tev realized that they must take the offensive.

“Try and slip past him,” he cried, flinging a quick scrutiny over his shoulder. Under the illumination emanating ghostily from the grayish atmosphere he could see the giant crab, hopelessly overpowered, striving to retreat into the side tunnel. He was almost hidden under the swarming piles of the attacking disc-things. “We’ll chance it.”

He leaped forward toward the aperture, but the vibration of his voice must have somehow reached the disc-man. An angry gyration of colors vortexed over his upper center, and a pseudo-pod tentacle flicked out like lightning, catching Dos-Tev a searing blow across the cheek. At the same time he was aware that the disc possessed a huge bulking mass, much more than he had expected. He struck out; his doubled fist encountered a wall-like tenacity in the thinness of the disc-shadow. A crushing impact struck his forehead a numbing blow. He was stumbling when the disc-thing fluttered back amazingly, floated up into the air, and helplessly writhed in evident pain some six feet from the ground.

“I guess that got him, Sire,” explained the invisible Bullo. “My poor fist is broken tho, Ayhuu – but he has mass! What is the thing, anyhow?”

Dos-Tev, his senses reeling, leaned against the wall for a moment. The great crab had vanished and from the side tunnel a stream of returning disc-things was emerging. Crying to Bullo, he ran thru the aperture, finding himself in a long illuminated tunnel.

Queerly enough, from this perspective the entire structure looked transparent. Translucent outlines beyond the walls and floor were visible, and the diffused illumination seemed more apparent. The floor seemed to be reflected from a dozen different angles. It reminded him of a drawing he had once seen of a tesseract, the four dimensional cube, drawn in a perspective from hyper space. Yet he managed to make out the corridor, which advanced past intersecting ones deep into the mazing structure, proceeding straight, and yet at the same time visible thru queerly oblique angles.

One of his hands reached to his invisible belt and plucked at the gamma bomb which he had secured there. The other reached out and grasped Bullo’s hand. Together they ran swiftly toward the center of the webbing corridors, where gigantic machines showed shadow-like and transparent thru the hyper space perspective.

Yet victory was not to be easy. From a point high overhead the disc-things could be seen, milling thru and around the upper stories, brought to their eyes by a bending of light around a curvature not of three dimensions. Somehow alarmed, these two-dimensional bodies were rushing to the defense. Around the central room of the apparatus they drew a cordon of milling disc-shadows who waited with threshing pseudo-pods for the unseen men who were threatening their stronghold.

“I’ll rush the ring!” cried Bullo, “with the vibrator hand-gun. You try to get thru, somehow.”

Before Dos-Tev could remonstrate, Bullo had pressed the hand of his young ruler and was gone, hurling himself into the orderly ring of two-dimensional disc-creatures. A swirling maelstrom suddenly materialized, from which a keen blue ray – the destructive vibrator beam – shot, hurling the shadows into disintegrating oblivion. Dos-Tev, seeing a break, dashed thru, holding the gamma bomb in a fierce grip, while the noise of fierce conflict came into his ear-phones.

An opening was before him. Beyong, pointed cylinders, vacu-tube containers, and queer serrated ranks of thin plates and strips. A disc-thing, his colors swirling horribly, threw himself before Dos-Tev, and they went down struggling upon the threshold. An unbelievable mass crushed him backward, but as yet his grip was not loosed upon the gamma bomb. Hurled toward the floor, he spun, caught the blow upon his back, and with a single swipe of his arm, hurled the lethal missile.

“In the name of Tor!” he shouted, as the deadly explosive materialized beyond the invisible force-field and arced into the apparatus. It struck a huge tank, and before Dos-Tev’s raging brain came one last picture. The entire structure dissipating. Fluxing into crystal glass-like fragments which eddied slowly around as if in a mill stream. Then expanded.

The crushing weight upon his chest bore him downward into reeling oblivion, altho he never totally lost consciousness. Vaguely he was aware that the disc-man had changed, that in his place a live human body squirmed and tusseled, and presently he was held motionless, while he opened his eyes to stare into – a purple atmosphere.

A normal three-dimensional world; but a different plane. He knew it at once, even as the green naked giants tore the invisibility harness as well as the space suit from his body, then bound him securely. A choking breath of the sweetly tinged atmosphere came into his gasping lungs.

Several moments later he sat up on a greenish mat of woven grass. They were in a court room, an edifice of stone. From above came the glare of electron tubes. A few feet from him, bound securely, lay Bullo, his harness gone, and half his clothing torn from his body. His huge face was a picture of incredulity. His surprise at suddenly materializing in another world had proved his undoing, and after a short battle the huge green giants had disarmed him and rendered him helpless.

These green men! Dos-Tev suddenly understood. They were the disc-shadows. It had been their two-dimensional bases floating around in that other world, while the shadows and planes of the building with its surrounding paraphernalia had consisted the moving shadows. Their transportation had been affected by shifting the third dimension into the fourth. He became aware of a great throne – cut from pure green crystal, before which the naked savages were bowing and making obsequious gestures.

Another world! The court-yard of a castle, over which a great dome stretched. But these were real people of tangible dimensions, who had appeared like corpuscles to their warped semi-view from the other plane. The giant on the throne was a real man, tho his demonical face was wreathed in a triumphant grin. His head, perched upon massive shoulders, was diminutive and bird-like after the manner of some Lemnisians Dos-Tev had known who had been mentally inefficient. In one hand he grasped a long forked scepter. In the other lay a curious device with levers and push-buttons. And somehow it came to his dazed senses that the one who sat before him was the mad Wrongness of Space; even as the green giant threw back his head and howled shrilly with insane mirth, his red-flecked eyes glowing like the eyes of a panther. The Wrongness of Space suddenly sent a bombarding thought roaring into Dos-Tev’s brain.

“You have failed! I dissipated the destructive energy of your bomb into another dimension, not of your normal three. Yes; I will explain:

“We, like yourselves, occupy but three dimensions. There are many other of what you call dimensions, a fourth, fifth and even sixth. Our normal world lies in these last three, totally removed from your own. I am Krzza, of Lxyfa. All Lxyfa was rightfully mine; and the tyrants tainted the people lies, telling them I am mad. But I escaped. Yes, with my faithful house servants, I escaped, some day to return a conqueror. The fools – they had me hemmed in – and they will never know – that our very dimensions were transported over to this plane. This world too I will conquer; its silly weapons are utterly feeble and powerless against me. This Ay-Artz will make an excellent ally; I needed space ships which ply these dimensions anyway, so he came in handy; together we shall conquer the universe.” Insane – banished from his own dimensions, this madman was to be loosed with ineffable powers upon the helpless Solar System. Altho insanity was manifest in his shriveled bird-like head, yet there was maniacal power, a dominating driving force which, tho erratic, still sufficed to exert his versatile whims upon his under-servants, who probably feared him and held his insanity in superstitious adulation.

The Wrongness of Space, or Krzza of Lxyia, as he had proclaimed himself, ended his discourse with a wild howl of laughter and gestured with green claws, manipulating a lever in the device he held in his lips.

A silvery pool suddenly formed upon the floor; upon which a vision integrated. It was a televisio device, and Dos-Tev gasped as he saw the familiar interior of the Lemnisian space ship on the rim of Copernicus, with Mea-Quin waiting patiently at the controls.

Dos-Tev could see the white-bearded face, set and grim, and even the sweat rolling down the tense withered cheek. Then from the green giant’s hand he saw a black cylinder pointing down toward the televisio pool. A ball of violet radiance shot down to the floor, passed beyond, and entered the space ship. It had been short-cutted across the fourth dimension.

As the blinding ball seared across the room and dispersed its energy into the old scientist’s body, Mea-Quin staggered to his feet, stiffened, his body writhing in horror as he collapsed in a state of moveless but animate paralysis upon the floor. At a gesture from the Wrongness of Space, the giant naked men picked up the bodies of Dos-Tev and Bullo, filing down toward the pool of radiance in the center of the floor, while the maddening chatter of insane laughter filled the chamber and re-echoed hollowly.

Madness – Dos-Tev knew it too then. It seemed that those soulless chuckles were communicated to his own mentality, and that he leaped and surged thru indescribable convolutions and pulsation of iridescent wave matter. This sensation subsided as the giant who bore him leaped thru the radiant pool to land softly within the space ship’s interior. The mad Krzza followed at his leisure, his face bearing a satanic smile as he came lightly to rest before the instrument panel from which Mea-Quin had fallen. He looked down at the fallen scientist, whose paralyzed eyes were wide and movelessly accusing, and prodded him with his toe.

“It was an interesting game, Lemnisians,” came his leering thought-wave. “I watched the two’s progress down the crater – oh, I have means. It amused me incredibly. But I was idle, and a study of human emotions, of the mental cogwheels of the human brain, will without doubt prove a valuable knowledge in the strife to come. In a few weeks Ay-Artz will be here and we will join forces. As I said, his space fliers will be very convenient; doubtless the man is a fool, a mental weakling himself; but I had expected nothing as easy as this in invading another dimension. And now—“

He made an evil grimace of mockery and moved nearer to the instrument panels which in the end had failed the Lemnisians, an insinuative menace in his attitude. The paralyzed form of Mea-Quin seemed to stiffen, altho that was perhaps but a mental illusion generated from the horrified wave force which came from his glaring blood-shotten eyes.

“Now,” continued the Wrongness of Space, “it is time the planets are called, that their armada may be aggregated—“ And abruptly the space ship was filled with dry staccato sobs of a madman at the height of mirth.

Dos-Tev, unable to control his body, struggled futilely against the bonds which were cutting bloody streaks across his hands. His eyes could not hold to the set accusing ones of Mea-Quin. Bullo lay beside him, helpless; mumbling incoherently.

The supreme and utter horror came with the realization of that the giant green madman was doing over the controls. He was sending out the messages to the planets, impersonating Mea-Quin, but the misleading directions he was dispatching were to guide the armadas of the Solar System to their doom. Ay-Artz and the madman from the alien dimension were at last actively joining forces in the conquest of the Solar System. What lay ahead of the Sun’s brood?