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Astounding Stories of Super-Science, December 1930 online

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to pull us in; tow us!"

* * * * *

The ball swayed as the _Minneconsin's_ mighty engines responded to his
orders and the cliff wall disappeared.

"As long as they know we're here, we might as well announce our presence
in good style," said the doctor grimly as he closed a switch and threw
all of the sphere's huge lights into action. He had turned on the lights
just in time, for even as he did so a mighty tentacle shot out of the
darkness and wrapped itself around the ball. For a moment it clung there
and then was withdrawn.

"The thing can't stand light," remarked the doctor as he threw off the
switch. "That sub was herding it like a cow by the use of a light beam.
As long as we are lighted up we are safe from attack."

"Then for God's sake turn on the lights!" cried Carnes.

"I want it to attack us," replied the doctor calmly. "We have no
offensive weapons and only by meeting an attack can we harm the thing."

As he spoke there came a soft whisper of sound from the vitrilene walls
and they were thrown from their feet by a sudden jerk. Dr. Bird stumbled
to the switch and closed it, and the ball was flooded with light. Two
arms were now on them but they were slowly withdrawn as the lights
glared forth. The huge outlines of the beast could be seen as it
followed them toward the surface. Its great eyes glared at them
hungrily. The submarine was visible only as a speck of light in the
distance.

* * * * *

The _Minneconsin's_ speed was picking up under the urge of her huge
steam turbines, and the ball was nearing the surface. The sea was light
enough now that they could see for quite a distance. The telephone bell
jangled and Dr. Bird picked the receiver from its hook.

"Hello," he said. "What's that? You can? By all means, fire. Yes,
indeed, we're well out of danger; we must be thirty or forty feet down.
Watch the fun now," he went on to Carnes as he replaced the receiver.
"The beast is showing above the surface and they're going to shell it."

They watched the surface and suddenly there came a flash of light
followed by a dull boom of sound. The huge octopus suddenly sank below
them, thrashing its arms about wildly.

"A hit!" shouted Dr. Bird into the telephone. "Get it again if it shows
up. I want it to get good and mad."

He turned off the lights in the ball and the octopus attacked again. The
shell had taught it caution and it kept well down, but three huge arms
came up from the depths of the sea and wrapped themselves about the
ball. The forward motion stopped for a moment, and then came a jerk that
threw them down. The ball started to sink.

"Our cable has parted!" cried the doctor. "Turn on the lights!"

* * * * *

Carnes closed the switch. The ball was so covered with the huge
tentacles that they could see nothing, but the light had its usual
effect and they were released. The ball sank toward the bottom and they
could see the huge cephalopod lying below watching them. Blood was
flowing from a wound near one of its eyes where the _Minneconsin's_
shell had found its mark.

Toward the huge monster they sank until they lay on the bottom of the
ocean and a few yards from it. In an instant the sea became opaque and
they could see nothing.

"He has shot his ink!" cried the doctor. "Here comes the real attack.
Strap yourself to the wall where you can reach one of the motor
switches."

Through the darkness huge arms came out and wrapped themselves around
the ball. The heavy vitrilene groaned under the enormous pressure which
was applied, but it held. The ink was clearing slightly and they could
see that the sphere was covered by the arms. The mass moved and the huge
maw opened before them. The pipes projecting from the sides of the ball
were buried in the creature's flesh.

"Good Lord, he's going to swallow us!" gasped the doctor. "Quick,
Carnes, the motor switch."

He closed one of them as he spoke, and the powerful little electric
motors began to hum, forcing forward the piston attached to the tank
connected to the hollow rods. Steadily the little motors hummed, and the
tank emptied through the rods into the body of the giant cephalopod.

"I hope the stuff works fast," groaned the doctor as they approached
closer to the giant maw. "I never tried giving an octopus a hypodermic
injection of prussic acid before, but it ought to do the business.
There's enough acid there to kill half New York City."

* * * * *

Carnes blanched as the ball approached the mouth. One by one the arms
unwound until only one was holding them and the jaws opened wider. They
were almost in them when the motion stopped. They could feel a shudder
run through the arm which held them. For a moment the arm alternately
expanded and contracted, almost releasing them only to clutch them
again. Another arm came from the depths and whipped about the ball, and
again the vitrilene groaned at the pressure which was applied. The arms
were suddenly withdrawn and the ball started to sink.

"Drop the lead, Carnes!" cried the doctor. With the aid of the detective
he operated the electric catches which held the huge mass of lead to the
bottom, and the sphere shot up through the water like a rocket. It
leaped clear of the water and fell back with a splash. A half mile away
the _Minneconsin_ was swinging in a wide circle to head back toward
them. They turned their gaze toward the shore.

As they looked a giant arm shot a hundred yards up into the air,
twisting and writhing frantically. It disappeared, and another, and then
half a dozen flashed into the air. The arms dipped below the surface. A
huge black body reared its bulk free from the water for a moment, and
the sea boiled as though in a violent storm. The body sank and again the
arms were thrown up, twisting and turning like a half dozen huge snakes.
The whole creature sank below the waves and the ball tossed back and
forth, often buried under tons of water and once tossed thirty feet into
the air by the huge waves.

* * * * *

A momentary lull came in the waves. Carnes gave a cry of astonishment
and pointed toward the shore. With an effort, Dr. Bird twisted himself
in his lashing and looked in that direction. The huge body had again
come to the surface, and three of the arms were towering into the air.
Grasped in them was a long, black, cigar-shaped object. As they watched
the object was torn into two parts and the fragments crushed by the
enormous power of the octopus. Again the arms writhed in torment, and
then they stiffened out. For a moment they towered in the air and then
slowly sank below the surface of the sea.

"The cyanide has worked," cried the doctor, "and in its last agonies the
creature has turned on its creator and destroyed him. It is a shame, for
Saranoff was a brilliant although perverted genius, and besides, I would
have liked to have learned his method. However, I may find something
when we open the land end and raid the cave; and really, he was too
brilliant a man to hang for murder. Once we open the cave and I get any
data that is there, my connection with the case will end. Trailing down
the gold and recovering it is a routine matter for Bolton, and one in
which he won't need my help."

"What about that creature we saw in the cave, Doctor? Won't it hatch
into another terror of the sea like the thing that destroyed the ship?"

"The trochosphere? No, I'm not worried there. It won't try to leave the
cave for some days yet, and by that time we'll have the land end opened
and the floodlights turned on. They will keep it there and it will
starve to death. We could send down a sub to feed it a torpedo, but
there's no need. Nature will dispose of it. Meanwhile, I hope the
_Minneconsin_ rigs up a jury tackle pretty soon and takes us on board.
I'm getting seasick."

* * * * *

_IN THE NEXT ISSUE_

THE FIFTH-DIMENSION CATAPULT

_A Novelette of an Extraordinary Interdimensional Rescue_
_By_ Murray Leinster


THE GATE TO XORAN

_A Thrilling Story of a Metal Man's Visit to Earth_
_By_ Hal K. Wells


THE EYE OF ALLAH

_A Story of the Tracking Down of a Mysterious Scientific Killer_
_By_ C. D. Willard


THE PIRATE PLANET

_Part Three of the Outstanding Current Novel_
_By_ Charles W. Diffin


- - _AND OTHERS_!

* * * * *




Gray Denim

_By Harl Vincent_

The blood of the Van Dorn's ran in Karl's veins. He rode the skies
like an avenging god.

[Illustration: _There came a stabbing pencil of light from over Karl's
shoulder._]


Beneath the huge central arch in Cooper Square a meeting was in
progress - a gathering of the gray-clad workers of the lower levels of
New York. Less than two hundred of their number were in evidence, and
these huddled in dejected groups around the pedestal from which a
fiery-tongued orator was addressing them. Lounging negligently at the
edge of the small crowd were a dozen of the red police.

"I tell you, comrades," the speaker was shouting, "the time has come
when we must revolt. We must battle to the death with the wearers of the
purple. Why work out our lives down here so they can live in the lap of
luxury over our heads? Why labor day after day at the oxygen generators
to give them the fresh air they breathe?"

The speaker paused uncertainly as a chorus of raucous laughter came to
his ears. He glared belligerently at a group of newcomers who stood
aloof from his own gathering. Seven or eight of them there were, and
they wore the gray with obvious discomfort. Slummers! Well, they'd hear
something they could carry back with them when they returned to their
homes!

"Why," he continued in rising tones, "do we sit at the controls of the
pneumatic tubes which carry thousands of our fellows to tasks equally
irksome, while they of the purple ride their air yachts to the pleasure
cities of the sky lanes? Never in the history of mankind have the poor
been poorer and the rich richer!"

"Yah!" shouted a disrespectful voice from among the newcomers. "You're
full o' bunk! Nothing but bunk!"

An ominous murmur swelled from the crowd and the red police roused from
their lethargy. The mounting scream of a siren echoed in the vaulted
recesses above and re-echoed from the surrounding columns - the call for
reserves.

* * * * *

All was confusion in the Square. The little group of newcomers
immediately became the center of a mêlée of dangerous proportions. Some
of the more timid of the wearers of the gray struggled to get out of the
crowd and away. Others, not in sympathy with the speaker, rushed to the
support of the besieged visitors. The police were, for the moment,
overwhelmed.

The orator, mad with resentment and injured pride, hurled himself into
the group. A knife flashed in his hand; rose and fell. A scream of agony
shrilled piercingly above the din of the fighting.

Then came the reserves, and the wielder of the knife turned to escape.
He broke away from the milling combatants and made speedily for the
shadows that lay beyond the great pillars of the Square. But he never
reached them, for one of the red guards raised his riot pistol and
fired. There was a dull _plop_, and a rubbery something struck the
fleeing man and wrapped powerful tentacles around his body, binding him
hand and foot in their swift embrace. He fell crashing to the pavement.

A lieutenant of the red police was shouting his orders and the din in
the Square was deafening. With their numbers greatly augmented, the
guards were now in control of the situation and their maces struck left
and right. Groans and curses came from the gray-clad workers, who now
fought desperately to escape.

Then, with startling suddenness, the artificial sunlight of the
cavernous Square was gone, leaving the battle to continue in utter
darkness.

* * * * *

Cooper Square, in the year 2108, was the one gathering place in New York
City where the wearers of the gray denim were permitted to assemble and
discuss their grievances publicly. Deep in the maze of lower-level ways
seldom visited by wearers of the purple, the grottolike enclosure bore
the name of a philanthropist of the late nineteenth century and still
carried a musty air of certain of the traditions of that period.

In Astor Way, on the lowest level of all, there was a tiny book shop.
Nestled between two of the great columns that provided foundation
support for the eighty levels above, it was safely hidden from the gaze
of curious passersby in the Square. Slumming parties from afar, their
purple temporarily discarded for the gray, occasionally passed within a
stone's throw of the little shop, never suspecting the existence of such
a retreat amidst the dark shadows of the pillars. But to the initiated
few amongst the wearers of the gray, and to certain of the red police,
it was well known.

Rudolph Krassin, proprietor of the establishment, was a bent and
withered ancient. His jacket of gray denim hung loosely from his
spare frame and his hollow cough bespoke a deep-seated ailment.
Looking out from behind thick lenses set in his square-rimmed
spectacles, the watery eyes seemed vacant; uncomprehending. But old
Rudolph was a scholar - keen-witted - and a gentleman besides. To his
many friends of the gray-clad multitude he was an anomaly; they
could not understand his devotion to his well-thumbed volumes. But they
listened to his words of wisdom and, more frequently than they could
afford, parted with precious labor tickets in exchange for reading
matter that was usually of the lighter variety.

* * * * *

When the fighting started in the Square, Rudolph was watching and
listening from a point of vantage in the shadows near his shop. This
fellow Leontardo, who was the speaker, was an agitator of the worst
sort. His arguments always were calculated to arouse the passions of his
hearers; to inflame them against the wearers of the purple. He had
nothing constructive to offer. Always he spoke of destruction; war;
bloodshed. Rudolph marveled at the patience of the red police. To-day,
these newcomers, obviously a slumming party of youngsters bent on
whatever mischief they could find, were interfering with the speaker.
The old man chuckled at the first interruption. But at signs of real
trouble he scurried into the shadows and vanished in the blackness of
first-level passages known only to himself. He knew where to find the
automatic sub-station of the Power Syndicate.

Returning to the darkness he had created in the Square, he was relieved
to find that the sounds of the fighting had subsided. Apparently most of
the wearers of the gray had escaped. He skirted the avenue of pillars
along Astor Way, feeling his way from one to another as he progressed
toward his little shop. Peering into the blackness of the square he saw
the feeble beams of several flash-lamps in the hands of the police. They
were searching for survivors of the fracas, maces and riot pistols held
ready for use. A sobbing gasp from close by set his pulses throbbing. He
crept stealthily in the direction from which the sound had come.

"Steady now," came a whispered voice. "My uncle's shop is close by.
He'll take you in. Here - let me lift you."

* * * * *

There was a shuffling on the opposite side of the pillar at which
Rudolph had halted; another grunt of pain.

"Karl!" hissed the old man. It was his nephew.

"Uncle Rudolph?" came the guarded response.

"Yes. Can I help you?"

"Quick - yes - he's fainted."

The old man was around the huge base of the column in an instant. He
groped in the darkness and his hands encountered human bodies.

"Who is it?" he breathed.

"One of the hecklers, Uncle. A young lad; and of the purple I think.
He's been knifed."

Together they dragged the inert form into the shelter of the long line
of pillars. There was a trampling of many men in the square. That would
be a second detachment of reserves. A ray of light filtered through and
dancing shadows of the giant columns made grotesque outlines against the
walls of the Way. A portable searchlight had been brought to the scene.
They must hurry.

Impeded by the dead weight of their burden, they made sorry progress and
several times found it necessary to halt in the shadow of a pillar while
the red police passed by in their search of the Square. It was with a
sigh of relief that Rudolph opened the door of his shop and with still
greater satisfaction closed and bolted it securely. His nephew
shouldered the limp form of the unconscious youth and carried it to his
own bed in one of the rear rooms.

"Ugh!" exclaimed old Rudolph as he ripped open the young man's shirt,
"it's a nasty cut. Warm water, Karl."

The gaping wound was washed and bound tightly. Rudolph's experienced
fingers told him the knife had not reached a vital spot. The youth would
recover.

"But Karl," he objected, "he wears the purple. Under the gray. See!
It'll get us in trouble if we keep him."

He was stripping the young man of his clothing to prepare him for bed.
Suddenly there was revealed on the white skin a triangular mark. Bright
scarlet it was and just over the right hip. He made a hasty attempt to
hide it from the watching eyes of Karl.

"Uncle!" snapped his nephew, " - the mark you call cursed! He has it,
too!"

* * * * *

The tall young man in gray was on his knees, tearing the hands of the
old man away. He saw the mark clearly now. There was no further use of
attempting to conceal it. Rudolph rose and faced his angered nephew, his
watery eyes inscrutable.

"You told me, Rudolph, that it was a brand that cursed me. I have seen
it on him, too. You have lied to me."

The old man's eyes wavered. He trembled violently.

"Why did you lie?" demanded Karl. "Am I not your nephew? Am I not really
cursed as you've maintained? Tell me - tell me!"

He had the old man by the shoulders, shaking him cruelly.

"Karl - Karl," begged the helpless ancient, "it was for your good. I
swear it. You were born to the purple. That's what that mark means - not
that you're degraded to the gray, as I said. But there's a reason. Let
me explain."

"Bah! A reason! You've kept me in this misery and squalor for a reason!
Who's my father?"

He flung Rudolph to the floor, where the old man crouched in apprehensive
misery.

"Please Karl - don't! I can explain. Just give me time. It's a long
story."

"Time! Time! For twenty-odd years you've lied to me; cheated me. My
birthright - where is it?"

He menaced his supposed uncle; was about to strike him. Then suddenly he
was ashamed. He turned on his heel.

"I'm leaving," he said shortly.

"Karl - my boy," begged Rudolph Krassin, struggling to his feet. "You
can't! That lad in there - he - "

But Karl was too angry to reason.

"To hell with him!" he raged, "and to hell with you! I'm through!"

He stamped from the room and out into the eery shadows of the Way. Karl
was done with his old life. He'd go to the upper levels and claim his
rights. Some day, too, he'd punish the man who'd stolen them away. God!
Born to the purple! To think he'd missed it all! Probably was kidnaped
by the old rascal he'd been calling uncle. But he'd find out. Rudolph
didn't have to explain. Fingerprint records would clear his name;
establish his rightful station in life. He dived into a passage that
would lead him to one of the express lifts. He'd soon be overhead.

* * * * *

A sergeant of the red police looked up startled from his desk as a tall
youth in the gray denim of forty levels below appeared before him.

"Well?" he growled. The stalwart young worker had stared belligerently
and insolently, he thought.

"I want to check my fingerprint record, Sergeant."

"Hm. Pretty cocky, aren't you? The records for such as you are down
below, where you belong."

"Not mine, I think."

"So? And who the devil are you?"

"That's what I'm here to find out. I've got a triangle branded on my
right hip."

"A what?"

"Triangle. Here - look!"

The amazing youngster had raised his jacket and was pulling at his
shirt. The sergeant stared at what was revealed, his eyes bulging as he
looked.

"Lord!" he gasped, "a Van Dorn - in the gray!"

Quickly he turned to the radiovision and made rapid connection with
several persons in turn - important ones, by the appearance of the
features of each in the brilliant disc of the instrument.

Karl was confused by the sudden turn of things. The sergeant talked so
rapidly he could not catch the sense of his words. And that name, Van
Dorn, eluded him. He knew he had heard it before, in the little shop
down there in Astor Way. But he could not place it. He wished fervently
that he had paid more attention to the desires of old Rudolph; had
studied more and read the books the old man had begged him to read. His
new surroundings confused him, too, and he knew that he was the center
of some great new excitement.

* * * * *

Then they were in the room; two individuals, one in the red uniform of a
captain of police, the other a pompous, whiskered man in purple. Others
followed and it seemed to Karl that the room was filled with them,
strangers all, and they stared at him and chattered incessantly. He
experienced an overwhelming impulse to run, but mastered it and faced
them boldly.

A square of plate glass was placed under his outstretched fingers. It
was smeared with something sticky and he watched the whiskered man as he
held it up to the light and studied the impressions. Then there was more
confusion. Everyone talked at once and the pompous one in purple made
use of the radiovision, holding the square of glass near its disc for
observation by the person he had called. The identification number was
repeated aloud, a string of figures and letters that were a meaningless
jumble to Karl. The room became quiet while the police captain thumbed
the pages of a huge book he had taken from among many similar ones that
filled a rack behind the desk.

Karl's blood froze in his veins at the rumbling swish of a car speeding
through the pneumatic tube beneath their feet. His nerves were on edge.
Then the captain of police looked up from the book and there was a
peculiar glint in his eyes as he spoke.

"Peter Van Dorn. Missing since 2085. Wanted by Continental Government.
Ha!"

The words came to Karl's ears through a growing sensation of unreality.
It seemed that the speaker was miles away and that his voice and
features were those of a radiovision likeness. Wanted by the great power
across the Atlantic! It was unthinkable. Why, he had been but an infant
in 2085! What possible crime could he have committed? But the red police
captain was speaking again, this time in a chill voice. And the room of
the police, thick with the smoke of a dozen cigars, became suddenly
stifling.

"Where have you been these twenty-three years, Peter Van Dorn?" asked
the captain. "Who have you lived with, I mean?"

* * * * *

Something warned him to protect old Rudolph. And somehow he wished
he had not treated the old fellow as he did when he left. His
self-possession returned. A wave of hot resentment swept over him.

"That's my affair," he said defiantly.

The captain shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, well," he said, "you needn't
answer - now. We'll find out when it's necessary. In the meanwhile we'll
have to turn you over to the Continental Ambassador."

Two of the red police advanced toward him and the rest drew back.

"You mean I'm under arrest?" asked Karl incredulously.

"Certainly. Of course you're not to be harmed."

One of the guards had him by the arm and he saw the glint of handcuffs.
They couldn't do this! If it had been for rioting in the Square it
would be different. But this! It meant he was a prisoner of a foreign
government, for what reason he could not guess. He lost his head
completely.

The captain cried out in amazement as one of his huskiest guards went
sprawling under a well-planted punch. This youngster must be as crazy as
was his father before him. But he was a whirlwind. Before he could be
stopped he had tackled the other guard and with a mighty heave flung him
halfway across the room where he fell with a thud that left him dazed
and gasping. The pompous little man in the purple crawled under the desk


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Online LibraryVariousAstounding Stories of Super-Science, December 1930 → online text (page 9 of 19)