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His teeth were chattering so that he could hardly speak, but he gasped
out a story about seeing a monstrous head, a half mile across, he said,
with a long snake body stretching out over the sea until the end of it
was lost on the horizon. I turned my glass in the direction he pointed
and of course there was nothing to be seen. The man's condition was such
as to make him worse than useless as a lookout, so I relieved him and
ordered him below. I took it for a touch of delirium tremens.

"We were bucking a head wind, although not a very stiff one, and we
didn't make port until after dark, so we anchored at quarantine, just
off Staten Island, in forty fathoms of water, and Captain Murphy radioed
for a Coast Guard boat to come out and lay by us for the night. As you
have probably heard, we were carrying four millions in bar gold
consigned to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from the Bank of
England."

* * * * *

Dr. Bird and Carnes nodded. The inexplicable loss of the _Arethusa_ had
occupied much space in the papers ten days earlier.

"The cutter came out, signalled, and dropped anchor about three hundred
yards away. So far, everything was exactly as it should be. I walked to
the stern of the boat and looked out across the Atlantic and then I
realized that Green wasn't the only one who could see things. The wind
had fallen and it was getting pretty dark, but not too dark to see
things a pretty good distance away. As I looked I saw, or thought I saw,
a huge black leathery mass come to the surface a mile or so away. There
were two things on it that looked like eyes, and I had a feeling as
though some malignant thing was staring at me. I rubbed my eyes and
looked again, but the vision persisted, and I went forward to get a
glass. When I came back the thing, whatever it was, had disappeared, but
the water where it had been was boiling as though there were a great
spring or something of the sort under the surface.

"I trained my glass on the disturbed area, and I will take my oath
that I saw a huge body like a snake emerge from the water. It lay in
long undulations on the waves, and moved with them as though it were
floating. It was quite a bit nearer than the first thing had been and
I could see it plainly with the glass. I would judge it to be fifteen
or twenty feet thick, and it actually seemed to disappear in the
distance as Green had described it. The sight of the thing sent shivers
up and down my spine, and I gave a hoarse shout. The lookout hurried
to my side and asked me what the trouble was. I pointed and handed
him the glass. He looked through it and handed it back to me with a
curious expression.

"'I can't see nothing, sir,' he said.

"I took the glass from him and tried to level it but my hands were
trembling so that I was forced to rest it on the rail. The lookout was
right. There was absolutely nothing to be seen and the peculiar
appearance of the sea had subsided to normal. The lookout was staring at
me rather curiously and I knew that he was thinking the same thing about
me as I had thought about Green in the afternoon. I made some kind of an
excuse and went below to pull myself together. I caught a glimpse of
myself in the glass. I was as white as a sheet, and the sweat was
running off my face in drops.

* * * * *

"I shook myself together after a fashion and managed to persuade myself
that the whole thing was just a trick of my mind, inspired by Green's
vivid description of his delirious vision of the afternoon. Eight bells
struck, and when Mr. Fulton, the junior officer, relieved me, I laid
down and tried to quiet myself. I didn't have much luck. Just before I
took the deck again at midnight I slipped down to the forecastle to see
how Green was coming along. He was lying in his bunk, wide awake, with
staring eyes.

"'How are you feeling now, Green?' I asked.

"He looked up at me with an expression of a man who has looked death in
the face.

"'Ain't there no chance of dockin' to-night, Mr. Mitchell?' he asked.

"'Of course not,' I said rather sharply. 'What's the matter with you?
Are you afraid your sea serpent will get us?'

"'He'll get us if we stay out here to-night, sir,' he replied with an
air of conviction. 'I saw the horrible mouth on him, large enough to
bite this ship in half; and it had a beak like a bird, like a bloody
parrot, sir. I saw its horrible body, too, with great black ulcers on
the under side of it where the sharks had been after it. For all the
shark takes a man now and then, he's the seaman's friend, sir, because
he kills off the sea serpents who would take ship and all.'

"'Nonsense, Green!' I said sharply. 'Don't talk any more such
foolishness or I'll have you ironed. You've been drinking so much that
you are seeing things, and I won't have the crew disturbed by your crazy
talk.'

"'You won't think it's talk when those big eyes stare into yours
to-night, Mr. Mitchell, and that body twists around you and squeezes the
life out of you. I don't care whether you iron me or not; I know that
I'm doomed and so is everyone else; but I won't talk about it, sir. The
crew might as well rest easy while they can, for there's no escape if we
have to stay out here to-night.'

"'Well, be sure you keep a tight mouth then,' I said, and left rather
hurriedly. I was in a cold sweat, for his air of conviction, together
with what I had seen, had shaken me pretty badly. I heard the watch
changing up above, and knew there would be men in the forecastle in a
minute. I didn't want to face them right then.

* * * * *

"Mr. Fulton reported everything quiet when I went on deck to relieve
him, and although I surveyed the water through a night glass for as far
as I could see, there was nothing out of the way. The Coast Guard's
lights were shining less than a quarter of a mile away, and things
looked peaceful enough. The wind had gone down with the sun; the sea was
almost glassy, and there was a bright moon.

"After going around the ship, I relieved all of the watch except two men
for lookouts, and sent them below to get a good night's sleep. If I
hadn't done that, some of them might be alive now.

"I paced the deck for an hour trying to quiet my nerves, but really
getting more nervous every minute. Three bells struck and I walked
forward and leaned on the rail to watch the water. I saw a peculiar
swirl as though some large body were coming to the surface from below,
and then I saw - it.

"Dr. Bird, I take a drink once in a while when I am on shore, but never
at sea and never in excess, and I know it wasn't a vision of drink
delirium. I felt perfectly normal aside from my nervousness, and I don't
think it was fever. Either I saw it or I am insane, for it is as vivid
to me as though I were standing on the _Arethusa's_ deck and that
monstrous horror was rising once more before my eyes."

The seaman's face had become drawn and white as he talked, and drops of
sweat were trickling from his chin. Carnes sat forward absorbed in his
narrative while Dr. Bird sat back with a glitter in his black eyes and
an expression of great attention on his face.

"Go on, Mr. Mitchell," the doctor said soothingly. "Tell me just what
you saw."

* * * * *

Mitchell shuddered and glanced quickly around the laboratory as though
to assure himself that he was safe within four walls.

"From the surface of the sea," he went on, "rose a massive body, black,
and of the appearance of wet leather. It must have been a couple of
hundred yards across, although the size of objects is often magnified by
moonlight and my terror may have added to its size. In the midst of it
were two great discs, thirty feet across, which glowed red with the
reflected moonlight. It stared for a moment and then rose higher until
it towered above the ship; and then I saw, or thought I saw, a huge
gaping beak like a parrot's. It was as Green had described it, large
enough to bite the _Arethusa_ in half, and she was a ship of three
thousand tons.

"I was frozen with horror and couldn't move or cry out. As I watched, I
saw the long snake-like body emerge from the water, and the estimate I
had made of the size in the afternoon seemed pitifully inadequate.
Presently a second and a third snake arose from the water, and then
more, until the whole sea and the air above it seemed a writhing mass of
huge snakes. I remember wondering why the watch of the Coast Guard
cutter didn't sound an alarm, and then I realized that the thing had
arisen on our port side and the cutter was on the starboard.

"The mass of snakes writhed backward and forward, and then two of them
rose in the air and hung over the ship. I could see the under side and I
saw what Green had called the scars where the sharks had attacked. They
were great cup-shaped depressions with vile white edges, and they did
resemble huge sores or ulcers. They wavered over the ship for an
instant, and then both of them dropped down on the deck.

"I found my voice and I think that I gave a yell, but even as I opened
my mouth, I realized the futility of it. The _Arethusa_ was sucked down
into the sea as though it had been a tiny chip. I saw the water rising
to the rail, and I think I cried out again. The ship tilted and I felt
myself falling. The next thing I knew was when I was in the hospital and
was told that I had been raving for a week. I was afraid to tell my
story for fear I would be put in an asylum, so I kept a tight tongue in
my head until I was discharged."

* * * * *

Dr. Bird mused for a moment as the seaman's voice stopped.

"You cried out all right, Mr. Mitchell," he said. "You gave two distinct
shouts, both of which were heard by the watch on the _Wren_, the Coast
Guard cutter. They reported that at 1:30, the _Arethusa_ sank without
warning. As soon as he heard your shouts, the watch gave the alarm and
the crew piled on deck. The _Arethusa_ was gone completely and the
_Wren_ was tossing about like 'a chip in a whirlpool' as they
graphically described it. The _Wren_ had steam up and they fought the
waves and steamed over your anchoring ground looking for survivors, but
they found none. The sea gradually subsided and they did the only thing
they could do - dropped a buoy, to guide the salvage people, and radioed
for assistance. The _Robin_ came out and joined them, and both cutters
stood by until daylight, but nothing unusual was seen. The insurance
people are trying to salvage the wreck now, but so far they have made
little headway."

"That brings me to the rest of the story, the part that made me decide
to come to you, Doctor," said the seaman. "Did you see what happened to
the divers yesterday?"

Dr. Bird nodded.

"I saw a brief account of it," he said. "It seems that two of them were
lost through their lines getting fouled and their air connections
severed in some way. I don't believe the bodies have been recovered
yet."

"They never will be recovered, Doctor. I was discharged from the
hospital yesterday and the papers were just out with an account of it. I
went down to the dock where the _John MacLean_, the salvage ship, ties
up, and I talked to Captain Starley who commands it. I have known him
casually for some years, although not intimately, and he gave me a few
more details than the press got. He didn't connect me up at first with
the Mitchell who was reported lost on the _Arethusa_.

"The first man to go down from the _MacLean_ was Charley Melrose, an
expert diver. He went down in a pressure outfit to the bottom and
started to work. Everything was going along fine until the telephone
suddenly rang and the man who answered it heard him say, 'Raise me, for
God's sake! Hurry!' The signal for raising was given, but they hadn't
got him more than thirty feet from the bottom before there came a tug on
the line and he was gone! The air line, the lifting cable and the
telephone cord floated free and were reeled in. Melrose had been plucked
off the end of that line as you or I would pluck off a grape."

* * * * *

Dr. Bird leaned forward with the curious glitter again in his eye.

"Go on," he said tersely.

"Blake, the other diver, donned a suit and insisted on being lowered at
once. Starley tried to dissuade him but he insisted on going down. They
lowered him over the side with a twelve-foot steel-shod pike in his
hand. He never got to the bottom. He had not been lowered more than a
hundred feet when a scream came over the telephone, and again there was
a jerk on the lines which threatened to wreck the reel - and the line
came aboard with no diver on the end of it. At the same time, Starley
told me, the sea boiled and churned as though the whole bottom were
coming up, and his ship was tossed about as though it were in a violent
storm, although it was calm enough for forty fathom salvage work and
that is pretty quiet, you know. Half the time his screws were out of
water and he had a hard time to keep from being capsized. He fought his
way out of the disturbed area, and as soon as he did, it started to
quiet down, and in ten minutes it was calm again.

"Starley was pretty badly shaken and besides he had lost both of his
divers, so he came in and I saw him at the dock. When I heard his yarn,
I took him into my confidence and told him what I had seen and that I
proposed coming to you and asking your advice. I was afraid until I
heard his story that it was merely a vision that I had had, but it
certainly was no vision that plucked those two divers off their lines."

"Has Captain Starley told that story to anyone else yet?"

"No, Doctor, he hasn't. He promised not to talk until after I had seen
you. I'll vouch for him; he'll keep his word through anything; and he is
keeping his whole crew on board until he hears from me."

* * * * *

Dr. Bird sprang to his feet.

"Mr. Mitchell," he said energetically, "you have shown excellent
judgment. Wire Captain Starley that you have seen me and that he is to
hold his crew on board and to talk to no one until I get there. Carnes,
telephone the Chief of Naval Operations and ask him to receive me in
conference at once. Have him get the Secretary of the Navy in, too, if
he is available. When you have finished that, telephone Bolton that you
will be away from Washington indefinitely."

"I'll telephone Admiral Buck for you, Doctor, but I don't dare telephone
any such message to Bolton; he'd take my head off. He has been running
the whole service ragged lately, and this is my first afternoon off duty
in a fortnight."

"What's the trouble, a flood of new counterfeits?"

"No, the counterfeit division is getting along all right. In point of
fact, they have lent us a dozen men. The trouble is a sudden big
increase in Communist activity throughout the country, with the Young
Labor party behind it. Bolton has been pretty jumpy since that Stokowski
affair last August and he is afraid of another attempt of some sort on
the President."

"The Young Labor party? I thought that gang was bankrupt and out of
business, since the Coast Guard broke up their alien smuggling scheme."

"They were down and out for a while, but they are in funds again - and
how! They must have three or four millions at least."

"Where did they get it?"

"That's what we have been trying to find out. The leaders have presented
bars of gold to a dozen banks throughout the country and demanded
specie. The banks shipped the gold to the mint and it was good gold,
nine hundred and twenty-five fine. What we are trying to find out is how
that gold got into the United States."

"A shipment of that size should be easy to trace."

"It would seem so, but it hasn't been. We have accounted for every pound
of every shipment that has come in through a port of entry, and we have
checked almost that close on the output of every mine in the United
States. If the gold came from Russia, it would have had to cross Europe,
and we can't get any trace of it from abroad. It looks as though they
were _making_ it."

* * * * *

Dr. Bird rubbed his head thoughtfully.

"Possible, but hardly probable," he said. "How much did you say they
had?"

"Over three millions in thirty-pound bars. Each bar shows signs of
having a mint mark chiselled off, but that don't help much for they have
done too good a job. It has us pretty well bluffed."

Again Dr. Bird rubbed his head.

"Telephone Admiral Buck, and then phone Bolton and tell him exactly what
I told you to: that you will be away indefinitely. When he gets through
exploding, tell him that you are going with me and that possibly, just
barely possibly, we might be on the trail of that gold shipment."

"On the trail of the gold!" gasped Carnes. "Surely, Doctor, you don't
think - "

"Once in a while, old dear," replied the Doctor with a chuckle, "which
is more than anyone in the Secret Service does. You might tell Bolton
that I said that, but hang up quickly if you do. I don't want the wires
of my telephone melted off. No, Carnesy, I have no miraculous
inspiration as to where that gold is coming from; I just have a plain
old-fashioned hunch, and that hunch is that we are going to have lots of
fun and more than our share of danger before we see Washington again.
After you get through bearding Bolton in his den, you might call the
Chief of the Air Corps and ask him to have a bomber held at Langley
Field subject to my orders. If he squawks any, I'll talk to him."

He turned to a telephone which stood on his desk and lifted the
receiver.

"Get Mr. Lambertson on the wire," he said. "He is the chief technician
of the Pyrex Glass Works at Corning, New Jersey."

* * * * *

The _U.S.S. Minneconsin_ steamed out of New York harbor and headed down
toward the lower bay. On her forward deck rested a huge globe. The
bottom quarter of the sphere was made of some dark opaque substance but
the upper portion was transparent as crystal. Through the walls could be
seen a quantity of apparatus resting on the opaque bottom portion. Two
mechanics from the Bureau of Standards were making final adjustments of
one of the pieces of apparatus, which resembled a tank fitted with a
piston geared to an electric motor. From the tank, tubes ran to four
hollow pipes, an inch and a half in diameter, which ran through the skin
and extended thirty inches from the outer skin of the twenty-foot
sphere. Dr. Bird stood near talking with the executive officer of the
ship and from time to time giving a brief word of direction to the
mechanics.

"It's safer than you might think, Commander," he said. "In the first
place, that globe is not made of ordinary glass; it is made of
vitrilene, a new semi-malleable glass which was developed at the Bureau
and which is being made on an experimental scale for us by the Pyrex
people. It is much stronger than ordinary glass, and is not sensitive to
shock. It is also perfectly transparent to ultra-violet light, being
superior even to rock crystal or fused quartz in that respect. The
walls, as you have noticed, are four inches thick, and I have calculated
that the ball will stand a uniform external pressure of thirty-five
hundred atmospheres, the pressure which would be encountered at a depth
of about twenty miles. I believe that it will stand a squeeze of six
thousand tons without buckling, and it is impossible to fracture it by
shock. It could be dropped from the top of the Woolworth Building, and
it would just bounce."

"It seems incredible that it could stand such a pressure as you have
named."

"My figures are conservative ones. Lambertson calculated them even
higher, but we allowed for the fact that this is the first large mass of
the material to be cast, and lowered them."

* * * * *

"But suppose your lifting cable should break?" objected the naval
officer. "The outfit weighs a good many tons."

"You notice that the lower quarter is made of lead. The specific gravity
of the entire globe when sealed up tight with two men in it is only a
little more than unity. In the water its weight is so little that a
three-inch manilla hawser would raise it, let alone a steel cable. I
have another safety device. Granted that the cable should snap, I can
detach the lead from it and it would shoot to the surface like a
rocket."

"How long can you remain under water in it?"

"A week, if necessary. I have an oxygen tank and a carbon dioxide
removing apparatus which will keep the air in good condition. The globe
is electrically lighted, and can be heated if necessary. Should my
telephone line become fouled and broken, I have a radio set which will
enable me to communicate with you. I can't see that it is especially
dangerous; not nearly as much so as a submarine."

"What is your object in going down, if I may ask?"

"To take pictures and to explore the wreck if we can. The globe is
equipped with huge floodlights and excellent cameras. The salvage people
are having a little trouble and we are trying to help them out."

"You mentioned exploring. Can you leave the globe while it is under
water?"

"Yes. There is a locking device for doing so. A man in a diving suit can
enter the lock and fill it with water. Once the external pressure is
released he can open the outer door and step out. Coming back, he seals
the outer door and the man inside blows out the lock and compressed air
and then the inner door can be opened. It is the same principle as a
torpedo tube."

* * * * *

A jangle of bells interrupted them and the _Minneconsin_ slowed down.
Commander Lawrence stepped to the rail and gave a sharp order to the
navigating officer on the bridge. The bells jangled again and the ship's
engines stopped.

"We are almost over the buoy, Doctor," he said.

Dr. Bird nodded and spoke to the two mechanics. With a few final
touches to the apparatus they emerged from the globe and Dr. Bird
entered.

"Come on, Carnes," he called. "No backing out at the last minute."

Carnes stepped forward with a sickly smile and joined the Doctor in the
huge sphere.

"All right, boys; close her up."

The mechanics swung the outer door into place with a crane. Both the
edge of the door and the surface against which it fitted had been ground
flat and were in addition faced with soft rubber. Bolts were fastened in
the door which passed through holes in the main sphere, and Dr. Bird
spun nuts onto them and tightened them with a heavy wrench. He and
Carnes lifted the smaller inner door into place and bolted it tight. Dr.
Bird stepped to the telephone.

"Lower away," he directed.

From a boom attached to the _Minneconsin's_ forward fighting top, a huge
steel cable swung down, and the latch at the end of the cable was closed
over a vitrilene ring which was fastened to the top of the sphere. The
cable tightened and the globe with the two men in it was lifted over the
side of the battleship and lowered gently into the water. Carnes
involuntarily ducked and threw up his hand as the waters closed over
them. Dr. Bird laughed.

"Look up, Carnes," he said.

Carnes gasped as he looked up and saw the surface of the water above
him. Dr. Bird laughed again and turned to the telephone.

"Lower away," he said. "Everything is tight."

* * * * *

The globe descended into the depths of the sea. Darker and darker it
grew until only a faint twilight glow filled the sphere. A dark bulk
loomed before them. Dr. Bird snapped on one of his huge floodlights and
pointed.

"The _Arethusa_," he said.

The ill-fated vessel lay on her side with a huge jagged hole torn in her
fabric amidships.

"That's where her boilers burst," explained the Doctor. "Luckily we have
a hard bottom to deal with. Let's see if we can locate any of Mitchell's
sea serpents."

He turned on other flood lights and swept the bottom of the sea with
them. The huge beams bored out into the water for a quarter of a mile,
but nothing unusual was to be seen. Dr. Bird turned his attention again
to the wreck.

"Things look normal from this side," he said after a prolonged scrutiny.
"I'll have the _Minneconsin_ steam around it while we look it over."

In response to his telephone orders the ship above them swung around the
wreck in a circle, and Carnes and the Doctor viewed each side in turn.
But nothing of a suspicious nature made its appearance. The sphere
stopped opposite the hole in the side and Dr. Bird turned to Carnes.


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Online LibraryVariousAstounding Stories of Super-Science, December 1930 → online text (page 7 of 19)