Astounding Stories of Super-Science, December 1930 online

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through which he edged his laborious way, all offered an almost animate,
armed hostility.

Altogether this journey was the least sweet he had taken anywhere. Yet
he went on.

Why had eleven Mexican bandits refused to advance even to within decent
rifle range of the canyon's mouth? What was there about the putrid yet
gorgeous perfume that had made the stallion go off his nut, so to

After a time, Kirby veered away from a fourteen-foot rattler which
flashed in a loathsome coil on his left hand. Hungry, weakened by all he
had been through since breakfast time, he plodded doggedly on.

But a moment later he stumbled past a twisted cedar, and then stopped,
forgetting even the snakes.

At his feet lay the bleached skeleton of a man.

* * * * *

Beside the right hand, in a position which indicated that only the final
relaxation of death had loosened his grip upon a precious object, lay a
cylinder, carefully carved, of rich, yellow gold.

Of the science of anthropology Kirby knew enough to make him sure that
the dolicocephalic skull and characteristically shaped pelvic and thigh
bones of the skeleton had belonged to a white man.

As for the cylinder - But he was not so sure what that was.

Regardless of the dry swish of a rattler's body on the rocks behind
him, he lifted the object from the spot in which it had lain for no man
knew how long. Of much the size and shape of an old-time cylindrical wax
phonograph record, the softly gleaming thing weighed, he judged, almost
two pounds.

Two pounds of soft, virgin gold of a quality as fine as any he had seen
amongst all the treasures brought out of Mexico, Yucatan, and Peru

But the gold was not the only thing. If Kirby was human enough to think
in terms of treasure, he was also enough of an amateur anthropologist to
hold his breath over the carvings on the yellow surface.

First he recognized the ancient symbols of Sun and Moon. And then a
representation, semi-realistic, semi-conventionalized, of Quetzalcoatl,
the Feathered Serpent, known in all the annals of primitive Mexican

Good enough.

But the mere symbols by no means told the whole story of the cylinder.
The workmanship was archaic, older than any Aztec art Kirby knew, older
than Toltec, older far, he ventured to guess, than even earliest archaic
Mayan carvings.

God, what a find!

* * * * *

For a moment it seemed almost impossible that he, Freddie Kirby, native
of Kansas, unromantic aviator, should have been the one to discover this
relic of an unknown, lost race. Yet the cylinder of gold was there, in
his hand.

After a long minute Kirby looked around him, then listened.

From up the canyon came the provocative rumble of the geyser. It was
closer now, and Kirby, glancing at his watch which had been spared to
him in the Wasp's crash, noted that just forty-four minutes had passed
since the last eruption. There was nothing to be done about the bleached
skeleton. So, tucking the precious cylinder into his tunic, Kirby
headed on up the gash of a canyon.

Far away indeed seemed the neat, maple-shaded asphalt street, the rows
of parked cars and farm wagons, the telephone office and drug store and
bank, of the Kansas town where he had grown up.

Time passed until again he heard the geyser, and again was dizzied by
the perfume. As the fragrance - close and powerful now - died away, he
flailed with one arm at a two-foot bat which flapped close to his head.

And then he trudged his dogged way around a deeply shadowed bend, and
found the chasm not only almost wholly dark, but narrower than it had
been at any previous point.

"Holy mackerel," Kirby groaned. "Phew! If this keeps up, I - "

He stopped. His jaw dropped.

"Oh, hell!"

The beetling walls narrowed in until the gash was scarcely fifteen feet
wide. Further progress was barred by a smooth wall which rose sheer in
front of him.

* * * * *

Kirby did not know how many seconds passed before he made out through
the gloom that the wall was man-made and carved with the same symbols of
Sun, Moon, and Feathered Serpent, which ornamented the cylinder of gold.
But when he did realize at last, the shout with which he expressed his
feeling was anything but a groan.

It simply meant that the skeleton which once had been a man, had almost
surely found the golden cylinder beyond the wall and not in the canyon.
And if the dead man had passed that smooth, carved barrier, another man
could do it!

Kirby jumped forward, began to search in the darkness for some hidden

Minute after minute passed. He gave another cry. He saw a long, upright
crack in the stone surface, and a quick push of his hands made the
stones in front of him give almost an inch.

All at once his shoulder was planted, and behind that square shoulder
was straining all the muscle of his two hundred pound body. The result
was all that he desired. When he ceased pushing, a slab of rock gaped
wide before him, giving entrance to a pitch dark tunnel.

For a moment he held the portal back, then, releasing his pressure, he
stepped into the dark passage. By the time a ponderous grating of rocks
assured him that the door had swung shut of its own weight, he had
produced matches and struck a light.

* * * * *

The puny flame showed him a curving passage hewn smoothly through the
heart of bedrock. Before the flare died he walked twenty feet, and as
another match burned to his fingers, he found the right hand curve of
the passage giving way to a left hand twist. After that he dared use no
more of his precious matches. But just when the darkness was beginning
to wear badly on his nerves, he uttered a low cry.

As he increased his rapid walk to a run, the faint light he had suddenly
seen ahead of him grew until it became a circular flare of daylight
which marked the tunnel's end.

Out of the passage Kirby strode with shoulders square and head up, his
cool, level, practical blue eyes wide with wonder. Out of the tunnel he
strode into the valley of the perfumed geyser.

"God above!"

The words were vibrant with hoarse reverence. He saw the sunlight of a
cliff-surrounded diminutive Garden of Eden. He saw a vale of flowering
grass, of palms and live oaks, saw patches of lilies so huge as to
transcend belief, and dizzying clumps of tree cactus almost as tall as
the palms themselves.

What was more, he saw in the center of this upland, cliff-guarded
valley, a gaping black orifice which every faculty of judgment told him
was the mouth of the geyser of perfume. And beside it, outstretched on a
smooth sheet of rock which glistened as though coated with a layer of
clear, sparkling glass, he saw -

* * * * *

Kirby blinked his eyes rapidly, hardly believing what he saw.

On the glistening rock lay the perfectly preserved figure of a Spanish
Conquistadore in full armor. Morion and breast-plate were in place, and
glistened as though they had been burnished this morning. And the
Spaniard's dark, handsome, bearded face! Kirby saw instantly that no
decay had touched it, that even the hairs of the beard were perfect. The
whole armor-clad corpse gleamed softly with a covering of the same
glassy substance which covered the rock.

Kirby glanced at his watch, saw that twelve minutes must elapse before
the geyser spouted again. Then his eyes narrowed. He remained standing
where he was, hard by the mouth of the tunnel, knowing that a wise man
would conduct cautiously his exploration of this valley of wonders.

Arsenic! Silicon!

The two words stood out sharply in his thought. In Africa existed plenty
of springs whose waters contained enough arsenic to bring death to those
who drank. Might not the Spaniard's presence here be explained, then, by
assuming that the geyser water was charged with a strong arsenic
content, and, in addition, with some sort of silicon solution which,
left to dry in the air, hardened to glass?

Lord, what a discovery to take back with him to Kansas! Almost it made
the discovery of the golden cylinder pale by comparison. Why, the
commercial uses to which this silicon water might be put were almost
without limit, and the owner of the concession might confidently expect
to make millions!

It was while Kirby stood there, breathless and jubilant, waiting for
the geyser to spout, that he began to feel that _he was being watched_.

Suddenly, with a start, he shot a sweeping glance over the whole grove.
But that did no good. He saw nothing save sunlight and waving green

Eleven days were to pass before he discovered all that was to be
involved in that sensation of being gazed at by unseen eyes.


At the beginning of the eleventh morning in the valley, Kirby had again
posted himself close to the mouth of the black tunnel, and again felt
that hidden eyes were observing him.

But this morning differed from the first morning, because now, for the
first time, he was ready to do something about the watcher or watchers.
Exploration of the whole valley had not helped. Therefore, there lay at
his feet a considerable coil of rope, the manufacture of which from
plaited strands of the tough grass in his Eden had taken him whole days.
With what patience he could find, he was waiting for the gigantic spout
of milky-colored, perfumed water which would mean that the geyser had
gone off and would erupt no more for exactly forty-four minutes.

Eleven days in the valley!

While he waited, Kirby considered them. Who had made the beautiful
footprints beside him, when he had slept at last after his arrival here?
Why had so many of the queer, fuzzy topped shrubs with immense
yam-shaped roots, which grew here been taken away during that first
sleep, and during all his other periods of sleep? Who had taken them?
Early in his stay, he had learned that the tuberlike roots were good to
eat and would sustain life, and he supposed that the unseen people of
the valley took them for food. But who were these people of the valley?

Who had laid beside him during his first sleep the immense lily with
perfume like that which came with the milky geyser spray - that spray of
death and delight mingled? Why had someone scratched a line in the earth
from him directly to the distant orifice of the geyser? Was this, as he
believed, a signal to come not only to the edge of the orifice, _but to
lower himself down into its depths_? And if the line were intended as a
signal, did the persons who came to the valley while he slept, always
eluding him, wish him well or mean to do him harm?

Last question of all: had the beautiful girl's face he believed he had
seen just once, been real or an hallucination? It had been while he was
kneeling at the very edge of the geyser cone, staring down its many
colored throat, that the vision had appeared. Misty white amidst the
green gloom, the face had been turned up to him, smiling, its lips
forming a kiss, and its great eyes beckoning. Had the face been real or
a dream?

Eleven days in the valley! Now, with his braided rope ready at last, he
was going to do something which might help to answer his questions.

* * * * *

Kirby reached out and began to run his grass rope, yard by yard, through
his hands, searching carefully for any flaw. A canyon wren made the air
sweet above him, while the morning sun began to wink and blink against
the shadows which still lay against the face of the guardian cliffs.
Kirby glanced at his watch and got up.

Crossing beyond the mouth of the geyser, he grinned good morning at his
friend the Conquistadore, and marched on into the shade of the live oak
which grew nearest the geyser. Here he made one end of his rope fast to
the gnarled trunk, inspected his pistol, patted his tunic to make sure
that the cylinder of gold was safe, then stood by to await the geyser.

With the passing of three minutes there came from the still empty
orifice a sonorous rumbling. Kirby grinned.

From deep in the earth issued a sound of fizzing and bubbling, and
then, to the accompaniment of subterranean thunder, burst loose the
milky, upward column which had never ceased to awe the man who watched
so eagerly this morning. As the titanic jet leaped skyward now, the
slanting rays of the sun caught it, and turned the water, fanning out,
into a fire opal, into a sheet of living color.

Kirby, hard headed to the last, drew from the supply in one pocket of
his tunic, a strip of one of the tuberlike roots, and munched it.

The thunder ceased. The waters receded.

After that Kirby hesitated not a second. Promptly he moved forward,
flung his coil of line down into the geyser tunnel, and swung on to the
line. By the time he had swallowed the last bite of his breakfast, the
world he knew had been left behind, and he was climbing down to a new.

* * * * *

It became at once apparent that the gorgeously colored, glassy-smooth
throat glowed with tints which were unfamiliar to him. He could perceive
these new shades of color, yet had no name for them.

As he stopped after fifty feet to breathe, the color phenomenon made him
wonder if the tuber roots he had been eating had affected his vision;
then decided they had not. In addition to food value, the roots had some
power to stimulate courage and a slight mental exhilaration. But the
drug had proved non-habit forming, and Kirby knew that his powers of
perception were not now, and never had been, affected.

He swung down further.

Just a moment after he began that progress was when things began to
happen to him. First he heard what seemed to be the low titter of a
human voice laughing sweetly. Next came a far off, unutterably lovely
strumming of music. And then he realized that, at a depth of about a
hundred feet, he was hanging level with a hole which marked the mouth
of another tunnel.

This new tunnel sloped down into the earth on his right hand. The floor
and walls were glassy smooth, and the angle of descent was steep, but by
no means as steep as the drop of the vertical geyser shaft in which he
now hung.

Laughter, music, the new tunnel suddenly aroused an excitement which
made him quiver.

"When I saw _her_," he gasped, "she was standing here, in the mouth of
this tunnel, looking up at me!"

Violently, Freddie Kirby forgot the maple-shaded street of his Kansas
town, forgot everything but desire to reach the mouth of the new tunnel,
where the girl of the exquisite face and beckoning lips had stood.
Tightening his grip on the rope, he began to swing himself back and
forth like a pendulum.

It seemed probable that when the geyser water shot up past the
horizontal tunnel, its force was so great that no water at all entered.
He redoubled his efforts to widen his swing.

* * * * *

Then his feet scraped on the floor, and in a second he had alighted
there. He still hung stoutly to his line, however, for the tunnel sloped
down sharply enough, and was slippery enough, to prohibit the
maintenance of footing unaided.

The music which issued from the depths of that stunningly mysterious
passage swelled to a crescendo - and stopped. Kirby clung there to his
precarious perch, his feet slipping on the glass under them with every
move he made, and feelings stirred in his heart which had never been
there before.

Then, as silence reigned where the music had been, something prompted
him to look up. The next instant he stifled a cry.

With widening eyes he saw the flash of a white arm and the gleam of a
knife hovering over the spot where his taut rope passed out of the
geyser opening into the sunshine of the outer world. Again he stifled a
cry. For crying out would do no good. While the suppressed sound was
still on his lips, the knife flickered.

Then Kirby was shooting downward, the severed line whipping out after
him. The first plunge flung him off his feet. A long swoop which he took
on his back dizzied him. But as the fall continued, he was able to slow
it a little by bracing arms and legs against the tunnel walls.

"Holy Jeehosophat!" he gurgled.

But there seemed to be no particular danger. The slide was as smooth as
most of the chutes he had ever encountered at summer swimming pools. If
ever the confounded spiral passage came to an end, he might find that he
was still all right. As seconds passed and he fell and fell, it seemed
that he was bound for the center of the earth. It seemed that -

* * * * *

He swished around a multiple bend, and eyes which had been accustomed to
darkness were blinded by light.

It was light which radiated in all colors - blue, yellow, browns,
purples, reds, pinks, and then all the new colors for which he had no
name. Somehow Kirby knew that he had shot out of the tunnel, which
emerged high up in the face of a cliff, and that he was dropping through
perfumed, brilliant air resonant with the sound of birds and insects and
human cries. The funny thing was that the pull of gravity was not right,
somehow, and he was dropping fairly slowly. From far below, a body of
what looked like water was sweeping up to meet him. Kirby closed his

When he opened them again, his whole body was stinging with the slap of
his impact, and he found that it was water which he had struck. The
proof of it lay in the fact that he was swimming, and was approaching a

But such water! It was milky white and perfumed as the geyser flow had
been, and it seemed luminous as with a radium fire. Had he not realized
presently that the fluid probably contained enough arsenic to finish a
thousand like him, he would have thought of himself as bathing in the
waters of Paradise.

But then he began to forget about the poison which might already be at
work upon him.

Ahead of him, stretched out in the gorgeous, colored light, ran a beach
which was backed by heavy jungle. And on the beach stood the lovely
creatures, all clad in shimmering, glistening garments, whose flutelike
cries had come to him as he fell.

* * * * *

Kirby looked, and became almost powerless to continue his swim. The
beauty of those frail women was like the reputed beauty of bright
angels. That paralyzing effect of wonder, however, did not last long.

The girls moved forward to the water's edge, and, laughing amongst
themselves, beckoned to him with lovely slender hands whose every motion
was a caress.

"Be not afraid," called one in a curious patois dialect, about
five-sixths of which seemed made up of Spanish words, distorted but

"The water would kill you," called another, "as it killed the Spaniard
in armor. But we are here to save you. I will give you a draught to
drink which will defeat the poison. Come on to us!"

Kirby's heart was almost literally in his mouth now, because the girl
who promised him salvation was she whose lips had formed a kiss at him
from the green-gloomy throat of the geyser.

His feet struck a shale bottom. Panting, he stood up and was conscious
of the fact that despite his forlornly dripping and dishevelled
condition, he was tall and straight and big, and that for some reason
all of the girls on the gleaming sand, and one girl in particular, were
anxious to receive him here.

The one girl had drawn a small, gleaming flask of gold from the misty
bodice of her gown, and was holding it out while she laughed with red
lips and great, dazzling dark eyes.

"_Pronto!_" she called in pure Spanish, and other girls echoed the word.
"Oh," went on the bright owner of the flask, "we thought you would
_never_ have done with your work on the rope. It took you so long!"

* * * * *

Kirby left the smooth lake behind him and stood dripping on the sand.
The moment the air touched his clothes, he felt that they were
stiffening slightly. Yet the sensation brought no terror. He could not
feel terror as he faced the girls.

"Give him the flask, Naida!" someone exclaimed.

"Ah, but the Gods _have_ been kind to us!" echoed another.

The girl with the flask made a gesture for silence.

"Is it Naida you are called?" Kirby put in quickly, and as he spoke the
Spanish words, the roll of them on his tongue did much to make him know
that he was sane and awake, and not dreaming, that this was still the
Twentieth Century, and that he was Freddie Kirby.

Answering his question, Naida nodded, and gave him the flask.

"A single draught will act as antidote to the poison," she said.

"I drink," said Kirby as he raised the flask, "to the many of you who
have been so gracious as to save me!"

A flashing smile, a blush was his answer. And then he had wetted his
lips with, and was swallowing, a limpid liquid which tasted of some

"Enough!" Naida ordered in a second.

As she reached for the flask, her companions closed in as though a
ceremony of some sort had been completed.

"Is it time to tell him yet, Naida?" piped one of the girls, younger
than the rest, whom someone had called Elana.

"Oh, _do_ begin, Naida," chorused two more. "We can't wait _much_ longer
to find out if he is going to help us!"

Kirby turned to Naida, while a soothing sensation crept through him from
the draught he had taken.

"Pray tell me what it is that I am to be permitted to do for you. I
can promise you that the whole of my life and strength, and such
intelligence as I possess, is yours to command."

* * * * *

Excited small cries and a clapping of hands answered him. As for Naida,
her face lighted with glowing joy.

"Oh, one who could say that, _must_ be the friend and protector of whom
we have stood in such bitter need!"

"What," asked Kirby, "is this need which made one of you cut my rope, so
that I should come here?"

A momentary silence was broken only by the hum of insects in the
perfumed air, and by the golden thrilling of a bird back in the jungle.
Then Kirby beheld Naida bowing to him.

"So be it," she said in a voice low and flutelike. "I will speak now
since you request it. Already you have seen that you are here in our
world because we conspired amongst ourselves to bring you here. Our
reason - "

She paused, looked deep into his eyes.

"Amigo," she continued slowly, "we whom you see here are the People of
the Temple. For more centuries than even our sages can tell, our
progenitors have dwelt here, where you find us, knowing always of your
outer world, but remaining always unknown by it. But now the time has
come when those of us who are left amongst our race need the help of one
from the outer races we have shunned. Dangers of various orders confront
us who have waited here for your coming. When we first discovered you in
the Valley of the Geyser, the idea came to me that we must make you
understand our troubles, and ask of you - "

But then she stopped.

As Kirby stared at her, the gentleness of her expression was replaced by
a swift strength which made her majestic.

The next moment bedlam reigned upon the beach.

"_They are after us!_" gasped one of the girls in terror. "Quick, Naida!
Quick! Quick!"

* * * * *

Whatever it was that threatened, Naida did not need to be told that the
need for action was pressing. She shouted at her companions some order
which Kirby did not understand. From a pouch at her side, she snatched
out a greyish, spherical vegetable substance which looked almost like a
tennis ball. Then she braced herself as if to withstand an assault.

"Stand back!" she cried to Kirby.

He had long ago ceased to wonder at anything that might happen here.
Disappointed that Naida's story had been interrupted, wondering what was
wrong, he obeyed Naida's order to keep clear.

As he fell back and stood motionless, there came from behind a dense
screen of shrubs which would have resembled aloe and prickly pear
bushes, save that they were as big as oak trees, a ghastly howling. The
next second, hopped and hurtled across the beach toward the girls, a
group of hair-covered, shaggy creatures which were neither apes nor men.
The faces, contorted with lust, were hideously leathery and brown, the
foreheads small and beetling, and the mouths enormous, with immense
yellow teeth.

Helpless, Kirby realized that Naida and all the others had clapped over
their faces curious masks which seemed to be made of some crystalline
substance, and that now others had armed themselves with the tennis
balls. And that was the last observation he made before the battle

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Online LibraryVariousAstounding Stories of Super-Science, December 1930 → online text (page 12 of 19)