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Astounding Stories of Super-Science, December 1930 online

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"I'm going to put on a diving suit and explore that wreck," he said. "If
there ever was any danger, it isn't apparent now; and I can't find out
anything until I get inside."

"Don't do it, Doctor!" cried Carnes. "Remember what happened to the
other divers!"

* * * * *

"We don't know what happened to them, Carnes. No matter what it was,
there is no danger apparent right now, and I've got to get into that
ship before I can get any real information. We could have lowered an
under-sea camera and learned as much as we have so far."

"Let me go instead of you, Doctor."

"I'm sorry to refuse you, old dear, but frankly, I wouldn't trust your
judgment as to what you had seen if you went alone; and we can't both
go."

"Why not?"

"If we both went, who would work the air to let us back in? No, this is
a one-man job and I'm the one to do it. While I am gone, keep a sharp
lookout, and if you see anything unusual call me at once."

"How can I call you?"

"On this small radio phone. A pair of receivers tuned to the right
wave-length are in my diving helmet, and I will be able to hear you
although I can't reply. I won't be gone long: I have only a small air
tank, large enough to keep me going for thirty minutes. Now help me into
my suit and keep a sharp watch. A timely warning may save my life if
anything happens."

With Carnes' assistance, Dr. Bird donned a deep-sea diving outfit and
screwed down the helmet. He crawled through the inner door into the lock
and lifted the inner door into place. Carnes fastened the door with nuts
and the Doctor opened a pair of valves in the outer door and filled the
lock with water. He removed the outer door; and, taking in one hand a
steel-shod twelve-foot pike with a hook on the end, and in the other a
waterproof flashlight, he sallied forth. As he left the shell he paused
for a moment, and then returned and picked up the heavy wrench with
which he had removed the nuts holding the outer door into place. He
fastened the tool to the belt of his suit. Then, with a wave of his hand
toward the detective, he approached the hulk.

The hole in the side was too high for him to reach, but he hooked the
end of his pike in one of the joints of the _Arethusa's_ plates and
climbed slowly and painfully up the side of the vessel. As he
disappeared into the hull, Carnes realized with a sudden start that he
had been watching his friend and neglecting the duty imposed on him of
keeping a sharp watch. He turned quickly to the floodlights and searched
the sea bottom.

* * * * *

Nothing appeared, and the minutes moved as slowly as hours should.
Carnes felt that he had been submerged alone for weeks, and his nerves
grew so tense that he felt that he would scream in another instant. A
sudden thought sobered him like a dash of cold water. If he screamed,
Dr. Bird would take it for an alarm signal and possibly be afraid to
emerge from the vessel. His watch showed him that the Doctor had been
gone for twenty-five minutes and he moved slowly to the radio
transmitter.

"Dr. Bird," he said slowly and distinctly, "you have been gone nearly
thirty minutes. Nothing alarming has appeared but I will feel better
when I see you coming back."

He glued his eyes on the opening in the ship's side and waited. Five
minutes passed, and then ten, with no signs of the Doctor. Carnes moved
again to the receiver.

"It has been over half an hour. Doctor," he cried in a pleading voice.
"If you are all right, for God's sake show yourself. I am frantic with
worry."

Another five minutes passed, and the sweat dripped in a steady stream
from the detective's chin. Suddenly he gave a sob of relief and sank
back against the side of the globe. A bulky figure showed at the edge of
the hole, and Dr. Bird climbed slowly and heavily out of the hold and
dropped to the sea bottom. He lay prone for a moment before he rose and
made his way with evident effort toward the sphere. He entered the
compartment and with a heroic effort lifted the outer door into place,
and feebly and with fumbling fingers placed nuts on the bolts. His hands
wandered uncertainly toward the valves and closed the upper one. He
waved his hand toward Carnes and sank in a heap on the floor of the
lock.

* * * * *

With trembling hands Carnes connected the air and opened the valve. Air
flowed into the lock and the water was gradually forced out. When the
lock was empty, he waited for Dr. Bird to close the outer valve but the
Doctor did not move. Carnes tore at the bolts which held the inner door
and threw his weight against it. It held against his assault, and he
thought frantically. An inspiration came to him, and he disconnected
the air valve. With a whistling rush, the air from the lock rushed into
the sphere and he forced open the inner door. A stream of sea water
drove against his feet through the open valve, and he reached for the
valve to close it. The force of the water held it open for a moment, but
he threw every ounce of his strength into the effort. The valve slowly
closed.

It was beyond his strength to haul the heavy Doctor with his pressure
diving suit through the restricted confines of the inner door, so Carnes
wormed his way into the lock and with trembling fingers unscrewed the
helmet of the Doctor's diving suit. The helmet clanged to the floor and
Carnes scooped up his hands full of water and dashed it into the
Doctor's face. There was no response and he was at his wit's end. He
sprang for the radio to order the sphere hauled up when his glance fell
on the oxygen tank. It took him only a moment to connect a rubber hose
to the tank, and in a few seconds a blast of the life-giving gas was
blowing into the scientist's face. Dr. Bird gave a convulsive gasp or
two and opened his eyes.

"Shut off the juice, Carnes," he said faintly. "Too much of that's
bad."

Carnes shut off the oxygen and Dr. Bird struggled to a sitting position
and inhaled deep breaths.

"That was a narrow squeak, old dear," he said faintly. "Give me a hand
and I'll climb in."

* * * * *

With the detective's aid he climbed into the sphere and Carnes fastened
the inner door. Slowly the Doctor rid himself of the diving suit and lay
prone on the floor, his breath still coming in gasps.

"Thanks for your warning about the time, Carnes," he said. "I knew that
my air supply was running short but I was caught down there and couldn't
readily free myself. I thought for a while that my time had come, but it
wasn't so written. By the looks of things, I freed myself just in
time."

"Did you find out anything?" asked the detective eagerly.

"I did," replied Dr. Bird grimly. "For one thing, the gold is no longer
in the hold of the _Arethusa_."

"It's gone?"

"Clean as a whistle, every bar of it. A hole has been cut in the vault
around the combination, and the bars slid back and the door opened. The
gold has been stolen."

"Might it not have been stolen before the vessel sank?"

"The idea occurred to me of course, and I examined things pretty
carefully. I know that the theft occurred after the vessel sank."

"How could you tell?"

"For one thing, the hole was cut with an under-water cutting torch. For
the second, look here."

* * * * *

The Doctor rolled up his trousers and showed the detective his leg.
Carnes cried out as he saw huge purple welts on it.

"What caused that?" he cried.

"As I entered the vault, I stepped full into a steel bear trap which was
set there for the purpose of catching and holding anyone who entered.
Someone has visited the _Arethusa_, since she sank, and looted her, and
also arranged so that any diver who got as far as the vault would never
return to the surface to tell of it. Luckily for myself, I carried a
heavy wrench and was able to free myself. Most divers don't carry such a
thing."

"But who could have done it?"

"That's what we have got to find out, and we aren't going to do it down
here. Give the word to have us hauled up; and, Carnes, don't mention
anything about the looting of the vessel. Allow it to be understood that
I couldn't get into the hold. We'll head back for New York at once. I
want to have a few small changes made in this sphere before we use it
again. While I am doing that, I want you to get hold of the Coast Guard
or the Immigration Service or whoever it is that has the complete
records in that case of alien smuggling, by the Young Labor party. When
you get the information, report to me and we'll go over it. You might
also drop a hint to Captain Starley that will stop all further attempts
at salvage operations for a few days. Tell him that I'll arrange to have
a Coast Guard cutter guard the locality of the wreck."

"Won't that be rather risky for the cutter?"

"I think not. The gold is gone and there is no reason to apprehend any
further danger in that locality, at least for the present."

* * * * *

At nine o'clock next morning Carnes and Dr. Bird sat in the office of
Lieutenant Commander Minden of the United States Coast Guard, listening
intently to the history of the alien smuggling case. Commander Minden
was saying:

"Their boats would load up and clear ostensibly for Rio de Janeiro or
some other South American port, but once they were in the Atlantic, they
would alter their course and head from the Massachusetts coast. Of
course, we had no right to interfere with them on the high seas, and
they never came closer than fifty miles of our coast line. When they got
that close, they would cruise slowly back and forth for a few days and
then steam away south to the port they had cleared for. When they got
there, of course there were no passengers on board.

"We patrolled the coast carefully while they were around but we never
got any indication of any landing of aliens and yet we knew they were
being landed in some way. We drew lines so close that a cork couldn't
get by without being seen and we even had the air patrolled, but with no
results. Eventually the air patrol was the thing that gave them away.

"They had been operating so successfully that they evidently got
careless and started a load off late in the night so they didn't reach
the coast by dawn. A Navy plane was flying along the coast-line about
twelve miles off when they spotted a submarine running parallel with the
coast, headed north. It didn't look like an American craft and they went
on and radioed Washington and found that we had no under-sea craft in
that neighborhood. They returned to their patrol and followed the sub
for a matter of thirty or forty miles up the coast, and then it turned
in right toward the shore. The shore line there is rocky, and, at the
point where the sub was heading, it falls sheer about two hundred
fathoms. The sub ran right at the cliff and disappeared from view."

* * * * *

Lieutenant Commander Minden paused impressively. Carnes and Dr. Bird set
forward in their chairs, for it was evident that the crux of the story
was at hand.

"When the plane reported what they had seen, we knew how those aliens
were being landed. The point where the sub went in gave us a good idea
of the location of their base and we threw a cordon of men around and
searched. A Navy sub was sent to the scene and they reported that there
was a tunnel opening into the rock, about a hundred fathoms under water,
running for they had no idea how far under the land. They stayed to
guard the hole while we combed the land. It took us a week to locate the
place, but we traced some truck loads of food and finally found it. This
tunnel ran under the land for a mile and then ended in a large cave
underground. The Young Labor party had established a regular receiving
depot there, and took the aliens from the sub and kept them for a day or
two until they had a chance to load them into trucks and run them into
Boston or some other town in the night.

"Once we had the place spotted, we sent a gang in and captured the whole
works without any trouble. The underground cavern had no natural opening
to the surface, but one had been made by blasting. We captured the
whole lot and then sealed the end of the hole with rock and concrete.
That was the end of the affair."

"Thank you, Commander; you have given us a very graphic description of
it. I suppose you could find the entrance which was sealed up?"

* * * * *

"Easily. I led the raiding party. I forgot to mention one blunder we
made. Evidently some word of our plans leaked out, for the sub which was
guarding the outer end of the tunnel was called away by a radio message
supposed to be from the Navy Department. It had gone only a short
distance, however, when the commander smelled a rat and made his way
back. He was too late. He was just in time to see the sub emerge from
the hole and head into the open sea. He gave chase, but the other sub
was faster than the Navy boat and it got clear away. The leader of the
gang must have been on it, for we didn't get him."

"Who was the leader?"

"From some records we captured, his name was Ivan Saranoff. I never saw
him."

"Saranoff?" said Dr. Bird thoughtfully. "The name seems familiar. Where
have I - Thunder! I know now. He was at one time a member of the faculty
of St. Petersburg. He was one of the leading biologists of his time.
Carnes, we've found our man."

"If you are thinking of Saranoff, I am afraid you are mistaken, Doctor,"
said Commander Minden. "Neither he nor his submarine have ever been
heard of since and it has been generally conceded that they were lost at
sea. We had some pretty rough weather just after that affair."

"Rough weather doesn't mean much to a sub, Commander. I expect that he's
our man. At any rate, the place we want to go is the end of that
tunnel."

"I'm at your service, Doctor."

"Carnes, get the location of that tunnel entrance from Commander Minden
and order the _Minneconsin_ to proceed north along the coast to that
vicinity and stand by for radio orders. I am going to telephone Mitchell
Field and get a plane. We have no time to lose."

* * * * *

The plane from Mitchell Field roared down to a landing, and Carnes, Dr.
Bird and Commander Minden dismounted from the rear cockpit and looked
around. They had landed in a smooth field at the base of a rise almost
rugged enough to be called a mountain. A group of three men were
standing near them as they got out of the plane. One of the men
approached.

"Dr. Bird?" asked the newcomer. "I am Tom Harron, United States Marshal.
These two men are deputies. I understand that I am to report to you for
orders."

"I'm glad to know you, Mr. Harron. This is Operative Carnes of the
Secret Service and Commander Minden of the Coast Guard. We are going to
explore an underground cavern that is located in this vicinity."

"Do you mean the one where they used to smuggle aliens? That is closed
up. I was in charge of that work and we closed it tight as a drum two
years ago."

"Can you find the entrance?"

"Sure. It isn't over a mile from here."

"Lead the way, then. We want to take a look at it."

The marshal led the way toward the eminence and took a path which led up
a gully in its side. He paused for a moment to take his bearings and
then turned sharply to his left and climbed part way up the side of the
ravine.

"Here it is," he announced. An expression of astonishment crossed his
face and he examined the ground closely. "By Golly, Doc," he went on as
he straightened up, "this place has been opened since I left it!"

* * * * *

Dr. Bird hurried forward and joined him. The heavy stone and concrete
with which the entrance to the cavern had been sealed were undisturbed,
but in the side of the hill was set a steel door beside the concrete.
There was no sign of a keyhole or other means of entering it.

"Was this steel door part of your work?" asked Carnes.

"No, sir, it wasn't. We sealed it solid. That door has been put there
since."

Dr. Bird closely examined the structure. He tapped it and went around
the edges and then straightened up and took a small pocket compass from
his pocket and opened the case. The needle swung crazily for a moment
and then pointed straight toward the door.

"A magnetic lock," he exclaimed. "If we could find the power line it
would be easy to force, but finding that line might take us a week. At
any rate, we have found out what we were after. This is their base from
which they are operating. Mr. Harron, I want you to station a guard
armed with rifles at this door day and night until I personally relieve
you. Remember, until I relieve you, in person. Verbal or written orders
don't go. Capture or kill anyone who tries to enter or leave the cavern
through this entrance. Just now we'll find that cavern more vulnerable
from the sea end, and that is where I mean to attack. We'll force that
door and explore from this end later. Commander Minden, you may stay
here with Mr. Harron, if you like, or you may come with Carnes and me.
We are going on board the _Minneconsin_."

* * * * *

The Mitchell Field plane roared to a take-off and bore south along the
coast. Half an hour of flying brought them in view of the battleship
steaming at full speed up the coast. Dr. Bird radioed instructions to
the ship, and an hour later a launch picked them up from the beach and
took them out. As soon as they were on board they resumed their
progress, and in two hours the peak that Dr. Bird had marked as a
landmark was opposite.

"Steam in as close to the shore as you can safely," he said, "and then
lower us. Once we are down, you will be guided by our telephoned
instructions. Come on, Carnes, let's go."

The detective followed him into the sphere as the _Minneconsin_ edged up
toward the shore. The huge ball was lifted from the deck and lowered
gently into two hundred fathoms of water. It was pitch dark at that
depth, and Dr. Bird switched on one floodlight and studied the cliff
which rose a hundred yards from them.

"We have missed the place, Carnes," he said. "We'll have them pull us up
a few hundred feet and then steam along the coast."

He turned to the telephone and the sphere rose while the battleship
steamed slowly ahead, the vitrilene ball following in her wake. For a
quarter of a mile they continued on their way, and then Dr. Bird halted
the ship.

"What depth are we?" he asked. "Eighty fathoms? All right, lower us,
please."

* * * * *

The ball sank until it rested on the sea bottom, and Dr. Bird turned on
two additional floodlights and studied the surroundings. The bed of the
ocean was literally covered with lobster and crab shell, with the bones
of fish scattered here and there among them. A few bones of land animals
were mixed with the debris and Carnes gave a gasp as Dr. Bird pointed
out to him a diving helmet.

"We are on the right track," said the scientist grimly. He stepped to
the telephone and ordered the sphere raised to one hundred fathoms. The
ship moved forward along the coast until Dr. Bird again stepped to the
telephone and halted it. Before them yawned the entrance to the
underground tunnel. It was about two hundred feet high and three hundred
across, and their most powerful beams would not penetrate to the end of
it. A pile of debris could be seen on the floor of the tunnel and
Carnes fancied that he could see another diving helmet among the litter.
Dr. Bird pointed toward the side of the cavern.

"See those floodlights fastened to the cliff so that their beams will
sweep across the mouth of the tunnel when they are lighted?" he said.
"Apparently the cave is used as a prison and the light beams are the
bars. The creature is not at home just now or the bars would be up. My
God! Look at that, Carnes!"

Carnes stared and echoed the Doctor's cry of surprise. Clinging to a
shelf of rock which extended out from the wall of the cavern and half
hidden among the seaweed was a huge marine creature. It looked like a
huge black slug with rudimentary eyes and mouth. The thing was fifty
feet in length and fully fifteen feet in diameter. It hung there, moving
sluggishly as though breathing, and rudimentary tentacles projecting
from one end moved in the water.

"What is it, Doctor?" asked Carnes in a voice of awe.

"It is a typical trochosphere of the giant octopus, the devil fish of
Indian Ocean legend, multiplied a thousand times," he replied. "When the
octopus lays its eggs, they hatch out into the larval form. The free
swimming larva is known as a trochosphere, and I am positive that that
is what we see; but look at the size of the thing! Man alive, if that
ever developed, I can't conceive of its dimensions!"

* * * * *

"I have seen pictures of a huge octopus pulling down a ship," said
Carnes, "but I always fancied they were imaginary."

"They are. This monstrosity before us is no product of nature. A dozen
of them would depopulate the seas in a year. It is a hideous parody of
nature conceived in the brain of a madman and produced by some glandular
disturbance. Saranoff spent years in glandular experimentation, and no
doubt he has managed to stimulate the thyroid of a normal octopus and
produce a giant. I fancy that the immediate parent of the thing before
us was of normal size, and so, probably, are its brothers and sisters.
The phenomenon of giantism of this nature occurs in alternate
generations and then only in rare instances. Its grandparent may not be
far away, however. I wish it was safe to use a submarine to explore that
cavern."

"Why isn't it?"

"Any creature powerful enough to pull the _Arethusa_ under water would
crush a frail submarine without effort. Anyway, a Navy sub isn't built
for under-water exploration like this ball is. The window space is quite
limited and they aren't equipped with powerful floodlights. I would like
to be able to reach that thing and destroy it, but it can wait until
later. The best thing we can do is to put out our lights and wait."

His hand sought the light switch, and the globe became dark. Only a tiny
glimmer of light came down to them from the surface, a hundred fathoms
above. In the darkness they stared into the depths of the sea.

* * * * *

For an hour they waited and then Dr. Bird grasped Carnes by the
shoulder and pointed. Far in the distance could be seen a tiny point
of light. It wavered and winked and at times disappeared, but it was
gradually approaching them. Dr. Bird stepped to the telephone and the
_Minneconsin_ moved a hundred yards further from the shore. The light
disappeared again as though hidden by some opaque body. Their eyes
had become accustomed to the dim light and they could dimly see a long
snake-like body approach the globe and then suddenly withdraw.

The light appeared again only a few hundred yards away. The water
swirled and the sphere swayed drunkenly as some gigantic body moved past
it with express train speed and entered the mouth of the cavern. The
light turned toward them and they could see the dim outlines of a small
submarine on which it was mounted. Another rush of water came as the
object which had entered the cave started to leave it, and the light
swung around. It bore on a huge black body, and was reflected with a red
glow from huge eyes, and the creature backed again into the cave. Back
and forth across the mouth of the cavern the light played, and the
watchers caught a glimpse of a huge parrot beak which could have
engulfed a freight car. From the cavern projected twisting tentacles of
gargantuan dimensions, and red eyes, thirty feet in diameter, glared
balefully at them. For several minutes the light of the submarine played
across the mouth of the cave, and then the floodlights on the cliff
sprang into full glow and bathed the ball and the mouth of the tunnel in
a flood of light.

Before their horrified gaze was an octopus of a size to make them
disbelieve their eyes. The submarine had moved up to within a few feet
of them, and the light from it played full on the ball. The submarine
maneuvered in the vicinity, keeping the ball full in the beam of its
light, and then drew back. As it did so, the floodlights on the cliff
died out and the beam of the submarine's light was directed away from
them. Dr. Bird jumped to the telephone.

"Head straight out to sea and full speed ahead!" he shouted. "Don't try


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Online LibraryVariousAstounding Stories of Super-Science, December 1930 → online text (page 8 of 19)