The Lord of Death and the Queen of Life
by Homer Eon Flint
THE SKY CUBE
The doctor, who was easily the most musical of the four men, sang in a
"The owl and the pussy-cat went to sea In a beautiful, pea-green boat."
The geologist, who had held down the lower end of a quartet in his
university days, growled an accompaniment under his breath as he
blithely peeled the potatoes. Occasionally a high-pitched note or two
came from the direction of the engineer; he could not spare much wind
while clambering about the machinery, oil-can in hand. The architect,
alone, ignored the famous tune.
"What I can't understand, Smith," he insisted, "is how you draw the
electricity from the ether into this car without blasting us all to
The engineer squinted through an opal glass shutter into one of the
tunnels, through which the anti-gravitation current was pouring. "If you
didn't know any more about buildings than you do about machinery,
Jackson," he grunted, because of his squatting position, "I'd hate to
live in one of your houses!"
The architect smiled grimly. "You're living in one of 'em right now,
Smith," said he; "that is, if you call this car a house."
Smith straightened up. He was an unimportant-looking man, of medium
height and build, and bearing a mild, good-humored expression. Nobody
would ever look at him twice, would ever guess that his skull concealed
an unusually complete knowledge of electricity, mechanisms, and such
"I told you yesterday, Jackson," he said, "that the air surrounding the
earth is chock full of electricity. And—"
"And that the higher we go, the more juice," added the other,
remembering. "As much as to say that it is the atmosphere, then, that
protects the earth from the surrounding voltage."
The engineer nodded. "Occasionally it breaks through, anyhow, in the
form of lightning. Now, in order to control that current, and prevent it
from turning this machine, and us, into ashes, all we do is to pass the
juice through a cylinder of highly compressed air, fixed in this wall.
By varying the pressure and dampness within the cylinder, we can
regulate the flow."
The builder nodded rapidly. "All right. But why doesn't the electricity
affect the walls themselves? I thought they were made of steel."
The engineer glanced through the dead-light at the reddish disk of the
Earth, hazy and indistinct at a distance of forty million miles. "It
isn't steel; it's a non-magnetic alloy. Besides, there's a layer of
crystalline sulphur between the alloy and the vacuum space."
"The vacuum is what keeps out the cold, isn't it?" Jackson knew, but he
asked in order to learn more.
"Keeps out the sun's heat, too. The outer shell is pretty blamed hot on
that side, just as hot as it is cold on the shady side." Smith seated
himself beside a huge electrical machine, a rotary converter which he
next indicated with a jerk of his thumb. "But you don't want to forget
that the juice outside is no use to us, the way it is. We have to change
"It's neither positive nor negative; it's just neutral. So we separate
it into two parts; and all we have to do, when we want to get away from
the earth or any other magnetic-sphere, is to aim a bunch of positive
current at the corresponding pole of the planet, or negative current at
the other pole. Like poles repel, you know."
"Listens easy," commented Jackson. "Too easy."
"Well, it isn't exactly as simple as all that. Takes a lot of apparatus,
all told," and the engineer looked about the room, his glance resting
fondly on his beloved machinery.
The big room, fifty feet square, was almost filled with machines; some
reached nearly to the ceiling, the same distance above. In fact, the
interior of the "cube," as that form of sky-car was known, had very
little waste space. The living quarters of the four men who occupied it
had to be fitted in wherever there happened to be room. The architect's
own berth was sandwiched in between two huge dynamos.
He was thinking hard. "I see now why you have such a lot of adjustments
for those tunnels," meaning the six square tubes which opened into the
ether through the six walls of the room. "You've got to point the juice
"I should say so." Smith led the way to a window, and the two shaded
their eyes from the lights within while they gazed at the ashy glow of
Mercury, toward which they were traveling. "I've got to adjust the
current so as to point exactly toward his northern half." Smith might
have added that a continual stream of repelling current was still
directed toward the earth, and another toward the sun, away over to
their right; both to prevent being drawn off their course.
"And how fast are we going?"
"Four or five times as fast as mother earth: between eighty and ninety
miles per second. It's easy to get up speed out here, of course, where
there's no air resistance."
Another voice broke in. The geologist had finished his potatoes, and a
savory smell was already issuing from the frying pan. Years spent in the
wilderness had made the geologist a good cook, and doubly welcome as a
member of the expedition.
"We ought to get there tomorrow, then," he said eagerly. Indoor life did
not appeal to him, even under such exciting circumstances. He peered at
Mercury through his binoculars. "Beginning to show up fine now."
The builder improved upon Van Emmon's example by setting up the car's
biggest telescope, a four-inch tube of unusual excellence. All three
pronounced the planet, which was three-fourths "full" as they viewed it,
as having pretty much the appearance of the moon.
"Wonder why there's always been so much mystery about Mercury?" pondered
the architect invitingly. "Looks as though the big five-foot telescope
on Mt. Wilson would have shown everything."
"Ask doc," suggested Smith, diplomatically. Jackson turned and hailed
the little man on the other side of the car. He looked up absently from
the scientific apparatus with which he had been making a test of the
room's chemically purified air, then he stepped to the oxygen tanks and
closed the flow a trifle, referring to his figures in the severely exact
manner of his craft. He crossed to the group.
"Mercury is so close to the sun," he answered the architect's question,
"he's always been hard to observe. For a long time the astronomers
couldn't even agree that he always keeps the same face toward the sun,
like the moon toward the earth."
"Then his day is as long as his year?"
"Eighty-eight of our days; yes."
"Continual sunlight! He can't be inhabited, then?" The architect knew
very little about the planets. He had been included in the party
because, along with his professional knowledge, he possessed remarkable
ability as an amateur antiquarian. He knew as much about the doings of
the ancients as the average man knows of baseball.
Dr. Kinney shook his head. "Not at present, certainly."
Instantly Jackson was alert. "Then perhaps there were people there at
"Why not?" the doctor put it lightly. "There's little or no atmosphere
there now, of course, but that's not saying there never has been. Even
if he is such a little planet—less than three thousand, smaller than
the moon—he must have had plenty of air and water at one time, the same
as the Earth."
"What's become of the air?" Van Emmon wanted to know. Kinney eyed him in
reproach. He said:
"You ought to know. Mercury has only two-fifths as much gravitation as
the earth; a man weighing a hundred and fifty back home would be only a
sixty-pounder there. And you can't expect stuff as light as air to stay
forever on a planet with no more pull than that, when the sun is on the
job only thirty-six millions miles away."
"About a third as far as from the Earth to the sun," commented the
engineer. "By George, it must be hot!"
"On the sunlit side, yes," said Kinney. "On the dark side it is as cold
as space itself—four hundred and sixty below, Fahrenheit."
They considered this in silence for some minutes. The builder went to
another window and looked at Venus, at that time about sixty million
miles distant, on the far side of the sun. They were intending to visit
"Earth's twin sister" on their return. After a while he came back to the
group, ready with another question:
"If Mercury ever was inhabited, then his day wasn't as long as it is
now, was it?"
"No," said the doctor. "In all probability he once had a day the same
length as ours. Mercury is a comparatively old planet, you know; being
smaller, he cooled off earlier than the earth, and has been more
affected by the pull of the sun. But it's been a mighty long time since
he had a day like ours; before the earth was cool enough to live on,
"But since Mercury was made out of the same batch of material—"
prompted the geologist.
"No reason, then, why life shouldn't have existed there in the past!"
exclaimed the architect, his eyes sparkling with the instinct of the
born antiquarian. He glanced up eagerly as the doctor coughed
apologetically and said:
"Don't forget that, even if Mercury is part baked and part frozen, there
must be a region in between which is neither." He picked up a small
globe from the table and ran a finger completely around it from pole to
pole. "So. There must be a narrow band of country where the sun is only
partly above the horizon, and where the climate is temperate."
"Then—" the architect almost shouted in his excitement, an excitement
only slightly greater than that of the other two—"then, if there were
people on Mercury at one time—"
The doctor nodded gravely. "There may be some there now!"
A DEAD CITY
From a height of a few thousand miles Mercury, at first glance, strongly
reminded them of the moon. The general effect was the same—leaden disk,
with slight prominences here and there on the circumference, and large,
irregular splotches of a darkish shade relieved by a great many
brilliantly lighted areas, lines, and spots.
A second glance, however, found a marked difference. Instead of the
craters, which always distinguished the moon, Mercury showed ranges of
bona fide mountains.
The doctor gave a sigh of regret, mixed with a generous amount of
excitement. "Too bad those mountains weren't distinguishable from the
earth," he complained. "We wouldn't have been so quick to brand Mercury
a dead world."
The others were too engrossed to comment. The sky-car was rapidly
sinking nearer and nearer the planet; already Smith had stopped the
current with which he had attracted the cube toward the little world's
northern hemisphere, and was now using negative voltage. This, in order
to act as a brake, and prevent them from falling to destruction.
Suddenly Van Emmon, the geologist, whose eyes had been glued to his
binoculars, gave an exclamation of wonder. "Look at those faults!" He
pointed toward a region south of that for which they were bound; what
might be called the planet's torrid zone.
At first it was hard to see; then, little by little, there unfolded
before their eyes a giant, spiderlike system of chasms in the strange
surface beneath them. From a point almost directly opposite the sun,
these cracks radiated in a half-dozen different directions; vast,
irregular clefts, they ran through mountain and plain alike. In places
they must have been hundreds of miles wide, while there was no guessing
as to their depth. For all that the four in the cube could see, they
"Small likelihood of anybody being alive there now," commented the
geologist skeptically. "If the sun has dried it out enough to produce
faults like that, how could animal life exist?"
"Notice, however," prompted the doctor, "that the cracks do not extend
all the way to the edge of the disk." This was true; all the great
chasms ended far short of the "twilight band" which the doctor had
declared might still contain life.
But as the sky-car rushed downward their attention became fixed upon the
surface directly beneath them, a point whose latitude corresponded
roughly with that of New York on the Earth. It was a region of low-lying
mountains, decidedly different from various precipitous ranges to be
seen to the north and east. On the west, or left-hand side of this
district, a comparatively level stretch, with an occasional peak or two
projecting, suggested the ancient bed of an ocean.
By this time they were within a thousand miles. Smith threw on a little
more current; their speed diminished to a safer point, and they scanned
the approaching surface with the greatest of care. The architect, who
was a New Yorker, was strongly reminded of the fall aspect of the
Appalachians; but Van Emmon, who was born and raised on the Pacific
coast, declared that the spot was almost exactly like the region north
of San Francisco. "If I didn't know where I was," he declared, "I'd be
trying to locate Eureka right now."
The engineer smiled tolerantly. He had spent several years in Scotland,
and he felt sure, he obligingly told the others, that this new locality
was far more like the Ben Lomond country than any other spot on earth.
He was so positive, he made the doctor, a New Zealander, smile quite
"It is just like the hills near my home," he stated, with an air of
finality which made further discussion useless.
"There's a river!" the architect suddenly exclaimed, pointing; then
added, before the others could comment, "I mean, what was once a river."
They saw that he was right; an irregular but well-defined streak of
sandy hue trickled down the middle of their chosen destination—a long,
L-shaped valley, surrounded by low hills.
"That's the most likely place, outside of the twilight zone, for life to
be found," remarked the doctor. "Neither mountainous nor dead level."
He added: "The spectroscope has plainly shown that there's water vapor
in what little air there is. Must be precious little. If the air was as
humid as the earth's, we couldn't see the surface at all from this
The inviting-looking valley was now less than a hundred miles below.
Inviting, however, only in outline; in color it was a grayish buff,
scorched and forbidding. The hills were yellower, and an alkali white on
"Do either of you fellows see anything GREEN?" demanded the engineer, a
little later. They were silent; each had noticed long before, that not
even near the poles was there the slightest sign of vegetation.
"No chance unless there's foliage," muttered the doctor, half to
himself. The builder asked what he meant. He explained: "So far as we
know, all animal life depends upon vegetation for its oxygen. Not only
the oxygen in the air, but that stored in the plants which animals eat.
Unless there's greenery—"
He paused at a low exclamation from Smith. The engineer's eyes were
fixed, in wonder and excitement, upon that part of the valley which lay
at the joint of the "L" below them. It was perhaps six miles across; and
all over the comparatively smooth surface jutted dark projections.
Viewed through the glasses, they had a regular, uniform appearance.
"By Jove!" ejaculated the doctor, almost in awe. He leaned forward and
scrubbed the dead-light for the tenth time. All four men strained their
eyes to see.
It was the architect who broke the silence which followed. The other
three were content to let the thrill of the thing have its way with
them. Such a feeling had little weight with the expert in archeology.
"Well," he declared jubilantly in his boyish voice, "either I eat my hat
or that's a genuine, bona fide city!"
As swiftly as an elevator drops, and as safely, the cube shot straight
downward. Every second the landscape narrowed and shrunk, leaving the
remaining details larger, clearer, sharper. Bit by bit the amazing thing
below them resolved itself into a real metropolis.
Within five minutes they were less than a mile above it. Smith threw on
more current, so that the descent stopped; and the cube hung motionless
For another five minutes the four men studied the scene in nervous
silence. Each knew that the others were looking for the same thing—some
sign of life. A little spot of green, or possibly something in motion—a
single whiff of smoke would have been enough to cause a whoop of joy.
But nobody shouted. There was nothing to shout about. Nowhere in all
that locality apparently was there the slightest indication that any
save themselves were alive.
Instead, the most extraordinary city that man had ever laid eyes upon
was stretched directly beneath. It was grouped about what seemed to be
the meeting-point of three great roads, which led to this spot from as
many passes through the surrounding hills. And the city seemed thus
naturally divided into three segments, of equal size and shape, and each
with its own street system.
For they undoubtedly were streets. No metropolis on earth ever had its
blocks laid out with such unvarying exactness. This Mercurian city
contained none but perfect equilateral triangles, and the streets
themselves were of absolutely uniform width.
The buildings, however, showed no such uniformity. On the outskirts of
this brilliantly tan mystery the blocks seemed to contain nothing save
odd heaps of dingy, sun-baked mud. On the extreme north, however, lay
five blocks grouped together, whose buildings, like those in the middle
of the city, were rather tall, square-cut and of the same dusty, cream-
"Down-town" were several structures especially prominent for their
height. They towered to such an extent, in fact, that their upper
windows were easily made out. Apparently they were hundreds of stories
Here and there on the streets could be seen small spots, colored a
darker buff than the rest of that dazzling landscape. But not one of the
spots was moving.
"We'll go down further," said the engineer tentatively, in a low tone.
There was no comment. He gradually reduced the repelling current, so
that the sky-car resumed its descent.
They sank down until they were on a level with the top of one of those
extraordinary sky-scrapers. The roof seemed perfectly flat, except for a
large, round, black opening in its center. No one was in sight.
When opposite the upper row of windows, at a distance of perhaps twenty
feet, Smith brought the car to a halt, and they peered in. There were no
panes; the windows opened directly into a vast room; but nothing was
clearly visible in the blackness save the outlines of the opening in the
They went down further, keeping well to the middle of the space above
the street. At every other yard they kept a sharp lookout for the
inhabitants; but so far as they could see, their approach was entirely
When within fifty yards of the surface, all four men made a search for
cross-wires below. They saw none; there were no poles, even. Neither, to
their astonishment, was there such a thing as a sidewalk. The street
stretched, unbroken by curbing, from wall to wall and from corner to
As the cube settled slowly to the ground, the adventurers left the
deadlight to use the windows. For a moment the view was obscured by a
swirl of dust, raised by the spurt of the current; then this cloud
vanished, settling to the ground with astounding suddenness, as though
jerked down by some invisible hand.
Directly ahead of them, distant perhaps a hundred yards, lay a
yellowish-brown mass of unusual octagonal shape. One end contained a
small oval opening, but the men from the Earth looked in vain for any
creature to emerge from it.
The doctor silently set to work with his apparatus. From an air-tight
double-doored compartment he obtained a sample of the ether outside the
car; and with the aid of previously arranged chemicals, quickly learned
There was no air. Not only was there no oxygen, the element upon which
all known life depends, but there was no nitrogen, no carbon dioxide;
not the slightest trace of water vapor or of the other less known
elements which can be found in small amounts in our own atmosphere.
Clearly, as the doctor said, whatever air the astronomers had observed
must exist on the circumference of the planet only, and not in this sun-
blasted, north-central spot.
On the outer walls of the cube, so arranged as to be visible through the
windows, were various instruments. The barometer showed no pressure. The
thermometer, a specially devised one which used gas instead of mercury,
showed a temperature of six hundred degrees, Fahrenheit.
No air, no water, and a baking heat; as the geologist remarked, how
could life exist there? But the architect suggested that possibly there
was some form of life, of which men knew nothing, which could exist
under such circumstances.
They got out three of the suits. These were a good deal like those worn
by divers, except that the outer layer was made of non-conducting
aluminum cloth, flexible, air-tight, and strong. Between it and the
inner lining was a layer of cells, into which the men now pumped several
pints of liquid oxygen. The terrific cold of this chemical made the
heavy flannel of the inner lining very welcome; while the oxygen itself,
as fast as it evaporated, revitalized the air within the big, glass-
Once safely locked within the clumsy suits, Jackson, Van Emmon, and
Smith took their places within the vestibule; while the doctor, who had
volunteered to stay behind, watched them open the outer door. With a
hiss all the air in the vestibule rushed out; and the doctor earnestly
thanked his stars that the inner door had been built very strongly.
The men stepped out on to the ground. At first they moved with great
care, being uncertain that their feet were weighted heavily enough to
counteract the reduced gravitation of the tiny planet. But they had been
living in a very peculiar condition, gravitationally speaking, for the
past three days; and they quickly adapted themselves. After a little
shifting about, the three artificial monsters gave their telephone wires
another scrutiny; then, keeping always within ten feet of each other, so
as not to throw any strain on the connections, they strode in a matter-
of-fact way toward the nearest doorway.
For a moment or two they stood outside the queer, peaked archway, their
glimmering suits standing out oddly in the blinding sunlight. Then they
advanced boldly into the opening; in a flash they vanished from the
doctor's sight, and the inklike blackness of the opening again stared at
him from that dazzling wall.
THE HOUSE OF DUST
The geologist, strong man that he was, and by profession an investigator
of the unknown—Van Emmon—took the lead. He stalked straight ahead into
a vast space which, without any preliminary hallway, filled the entire
Before their eyes were accustomed to the shadow—"Pretty cold," murmured
the architect into the phone transmitter; it was fastened to the inside
of the helmet, directly in front of his mouth, while the receiver was
placed beside his ear. All three stopped short to adjust each other's
electrical heating apparatus. To do this, they did not use their fingers
directly; they manipulated ingenious non-magnetic pliers attached to the
ends of fingerless, insulated mittens.
Before they had finished, the builder, who had been puzzling over the
extraordinary suddenness with which that cloud of dust had settled,
received an inspiration. He was carrying note-book and camera. With his
pliers he tore out a sheet from the former, and holding book in one hand
and the leaf in the other, he allowed them to drop at the same instant.
They reached the ground together.
"See?" The architect repeated the experiment. "Back home, where there's
air, the paper would have floated down; it would have taken three times
as long for it to fall as the book."
Smith nodded, but he had been thinking of something else. He said
gravely: "Remember what I told you—it's air that insulates the earth
from the ether. If there's no air here—" he glanced out into the
pitiless sunlight—"then I hope there's no flaw in our insulation. We're
walking in an electrical bath."
They looked around. Objects were pretty distinct now. They could easily
see that the floor was covered with what appeared to be machines, laid
out in orderly fashion. Here, however, as outside, everything was coated
with that fine, cream-colored dust. It filled every nook and cranny; it
stirred about their feet with every step.
The geologist led the way down a broad aisle, on either side of which
towered immense machinery. Smith was for stopping to examine them one by
one; but the others vetoed the engineer's passion, and strode on toward
the end of the triangle. More than anything else, they looked for the
absent population to show itself.
Suddenly Van Emmon stopped short. "Is it possible that they're all
asleep?" He added that, even though the sun shone steadily the year
around, the people must take time for rest.
But Smith stirred the dust with his foot and shook his head. "I've seen
no tracks. This dust has been lying here for weeks, perhaps months. If
the folks are away, then they must be taking a community vacation."
At the end of the aisle they reached a small, railed-in space, strongly
resembling what might be seen in any office on the earth. In the middle
of it stood a low, flat-topped desk, for all the world like that of a
prosperous real-estate agent, except that it was about half a foot
lower. There was no chair. For lack of a visible gate in the railing,
the explorers stepped over, being careful not to touch it.
There was nothing on top of the desk save the usual coat of dust. Below,
a very wide space had been left for the legs of whoever had used it; and
flanking this space were two pedestals, containing what looked to be a
multitude of exceedingly small drawers. Smith bent and examined them;
apparently they had no locks; and he unhesitatingly reached out, gripped
the knob of one and pulled.
Noiselessly, instantaneously, the whole desk crumbled to powder.
Startled, Smith stumbled backwards, knocking against the railing. Next
instant it lay on the floor, its fragments scarcely distinguishable from
what had already covered the surface. Only a tiny cloud of dust arose,
and in half a second this had settled.
The three looked at each other significantly. Clearly, the thing that
had just happened argued a great lapse of time since the user of that
desk officiated in that enclosure. It looked as though Smith's guess of
"weeks, perhaps months," would have to be changed to years, perhaps
"Feel all right?" asked the geologist. Jackson and Smith made
affirmative noises; and again they stepped out, this time walking in the
aisle along the outer wall. They could see their sky-car plainly through
Here the machinery could be examined more closely. They resembled
automatic testing scales, said Smith; such as is used in weighing
complicated metal products after finishing and assembling. Moreover,
they seemed to be connected, the one to the other, with a series of
endless belts, which Smith thought indicated automatic production. To
all appearances, the dust-covered apparatus stood just as it had been
left when operations ceased, an unguessable length of time before.
Smith showed no desire to touch the things now. Seeing this, the
geologist deliberately reached out and scraped the dust from the nearest
machine; and to the vast relief of all three, no damage was done. The
dust fell straight to the floor, exposing a brilliantly polished streak
of greenish-white metal.
Van Emmon made another tentative brush or so at other points, with the
same result. Clean, untarnished metal lay beneath all that dust. Clearly
it was some non-conducting alloy; whatever it was, it had successfully
resisted the action of the elements all the while that such presumably
wooden articles as the desk and railing had been steadily rotting.
Emboldened, Smith clambered up on the frame of one of the machines. He
examined it closely as to its cams, clutches, gearing, and other details
significant enough to his mechanical training. He noted their
adjustments, scrutinized the conveying apparatus, and came back carrying
a cylindrical object which he had removed from an automatic chuck.
"This is what they were making," he remarked, trying to conceal his
excitement. The others brushed the dust from the thing, a huge piece of
metal which would have been too much for their strength on the earth.
Instantly they identified it.
It was a cannon shell.
Again Van Emmon led the way. They took a reassuring glance out the
window at the familiar cube, then passed along the aisle toward the
farther corner. As they neared it they saw that it contained a small
enclosure of heavy metal scrollwork, within which stood a triangular
The men examined it as closely as possible, noting especially the
extremely low stool which stood upon its platform. The same unerodable
metal seemed to have been used throughout the whole affair.
After a careful scrutiny of the two levers which appeared to control the
thing—"I'm going to try it out," announced Smith, well knowing that the
others would have to go with him if they kept the telephones intact.
They protested that the thing was not safe; Smith replied that they had
seen no stairway, or anything corresponding to one. "If this lift is
made of that alloy," admiringly, "then it's safe." But Jackson managed
to talk him out of it.
When they returned to the heap of powdered wood which had been the desk,
Smith spied a long work-bench under a nearby window. There they found a
very ordinary vise, in which was clamped a piece of metal; but for the
dust, it might have been placed there ten minutes before. On the bench
lay several tools, some familiar to the engineer and some entirely
strange. A set of screw-drivers of various sizes caught his eye. He
picked them up, and again experienced the sensation of having wood turn
to dust at his touch. The blades were whole.
Still searching, the engineer found a square metal chest of drawers,
each of which he promptly opened. The contents were laden with dust, but
he brushed this off and disclosed a quantity of exceedingly delicate
instruments. They were more like dentists' tools than machinists', yet
plainly were intended for mechanical use.
One drawer held what appeared to be a roll of drawings. Smith did not
want to touch them; with infinite care he blew off the dust with the aid
of his oxygen pipe. After a moment or two the surface was clear, but it
offered no encouragement; it was the blank side of the paper.
There was no help for it. Smith grasped the roll firmly with his pliers
—and next second gazed upon dust.
In the bottom drawer lay something that aroused the curiosity of all
three. These were small reels, about two inches in diameter and a
quarter of an inch thick, each incased in a tight-fitting box. They
resembled measuring tapes to some extent, except that the ribbons were
made of marvelously thin material. Van Emmon guessed that there were a
hundred yards in a roll. Smith estimated it at three hundred. They
seemed to be made of a metal similar to that composing the machines.
Smith pocketed them all.
It was the builder who thought to look under the bench, but it was Smith
who had brought a light. By its aid they discovered a very small
machine, decidedly like a stock ticker, except that it had no glass
dome, but possessed at one end a curious metal disk about a foot in
diameter. Apparently it had been undergoing repairs; it was impossible
to guess its purpose. Smith's pride was instantly aroused; he tucked it
under his arm, and was impatient to get back to the cube, where he might
more carefully examine his find with the tips of his fingers.
It was when they were about to leave the building that they thought to
inspect walls and ceiling. Not that anything worth while was to be seen;
the surfaces seemed perfectly plain and bare, except for the inevitable
dust. Even the uppermost corners, ten feet above their heads, showed
dust to the light of Smith's electric torch.
Van Emmon stopped and stared at the spot as though fascinated. The
others were ready to go; they turned and looked at him curiously. For a
moment or two he seemed struggling for breath.
"Good Heavens!" he gasped, almost in a whisper. His face was white; the
other two leaped toward him, fearful that he was suffocating. But he
pushed them away roughly.
"We're fools! Blind, blithering idiots—that's what we are!" He pointed
toward the ceiling with a hand that trembled plainly, and went on in a
voice which he tried to make fierce despite the awe which shook it.
"Look at that dust again! How'd it get there?" He paused while the
others, the thought finally getting to them, felt a queer chill striking
at the backs of their necks. "Men—there's only one way for the dust to
settle on a wall! It's got to have air to carry it! It couldn't possibly
get there without air!
"That dust settled long before life appeared on the Earth, even! It's
been there ever since the air disappeared from Mercury!"
"I thought you'd never get back," complained the doctor crossly, when
the three entered. They had been gone just half an hour.
Next moment he was studying their faces, and at once he demanded the
most important fact. They told him, and before they had finished he was
half-way into another suit. He was all eagerness; but somehow the three
were very glad to be inside the cube again, and firmly insisted upon
moving to another spot before making further explorations.
Within a minute or two the cube was hovering opposite the upper floor of
the building the three had entered; and with only a foot of space
separating the window of the sky-car and the dust-covered wall, the men
from the earth inspected the interior at considerable length. They
flashed a search-light all about the place, and concluded that it was
the receiving-room, where the raw iron billets were brought via the
elevator, and from there slid to the floor below. At one end, in exactly
the same location as the desk Smith had destroyed, stood another, with a
low and remarkably broad chair beside it.
So far as could be seen, there were neither doors, window-panes, nor
shutters through the structure. "To get all the light and air they
could," guessed the doctor. "Perhaps that's why the buildings are all
triangular; most wall surface in proportion to floor area, that way."
A few hundred feet higher they began to look for prominent buildings.
Only in forgetful moments did either of them scan the landscape for
signs of life; they knew now that there could be none.
"We ought to learn something there," the doctor said after a while,
pointing out a particularly large, squat, irregularly built affair on
the edge of the "business district." The architect, however, was in
favor of an exceptionally large, high building in the isolated group
previously noted in the "suburbs." But because it was nearer, they
maneuvered first in the direction of the doctor's choice.
The sky-car came to rest in a large plaza opposite what appeared to be
the structure's main entrance. From their window the explorers saw that
the squat effect was due only to the space the edifice covered; for it
was an edifice, a full five stories high.
The doctor was impatient to go. Smith was willing enough to stay behind;
he was already joyously examining the strange machine he had found. Two
minutes later Kinney, Van Emmon, and Jackson were standing before the
portals of the great building.
There they halted, and no wonder. The entire face of the building could
now be seen to be covered with a mass of carvings; for the most part
they were statues in bas relief. All were fantastic in the extreme, but
whether purposely so or not, there was no way to tell. Certainly any
such work on the part of an earthly artist would have branded him either
as insane or as an incomprehensible genius.
Directly above the entrance was a group which might have been labeled,
"The Triumph of the Brute." An enormously powerful man, nearly as broad
as he was tall, stood exulting over his victim, a less robust figure,
prostrate under his feet. Both were clad in armor. The victor's face was
distorted into a savage snarl, startlingly hideous by reason of the
prodigious size of his head, planted as it was directly upon his
shoulders; for he had no neck. His eyes were set so close together that
at first glance they seemed to be but one. His nose was flat and African
in type, while his mouth, devoid of curves, was simply revolting in its
huge, thick-lipped lack of proportion. His chin was square and
aggressive; his forehead, strangely enough, extremely high and narrow,
rather than low and broad.
His victim lay in an attitude that indicated the most agonizing torture;
his head was bent completely back, and around behind his shoulders. On
the ground lay two battle-axes, huge affairs almost as heavy as the
massively muscled men who had used them.
But the eyes of the explorers kept coming back to the fearsome face of
the conqueror. From the brows down, he was simply a huge, brutal giant;
above his eyes, he was an intellectual. The combination was absolutely
frightful; the beast looked capable of anything, of overcoming any
obstacle, mental or physical, internal or external, in order to assert
his apparently enormous will. He could control himself or dominate
others with equal ease and assurance.
"It can't be that he was drawn from life," said the doctor, with an
effort. It wasn't easy to criticize that figure, lifeless though it was.
"On a planet like this, with such slight gravitation, there is no need
for such huge strength. The typical Mercurian should be tall and flimsy
in build, rather than short and compact."
But the geologist differed. "We want to remember that the earth has no
standard type. Think what a difference there is between the mosquito and
the elephant, the snake and the spider! One would suppose that they had
been developed under totally different planetary conditions, instead of
all right on the same globe.
"No; I think this monster may have been genuine." And with that the
geologist turned to examine the other statuary.
Without exception, it resembled the central group; all the figures were
neckless, and all much more heavily built than any people on earth.
There were several female figures; they had the same general build, and
in every case were so placed as to enhance the glory of the males. In
one group the woman was offering up food and drink to a resting worker;
in another she was being carried off, struggling, in the arms of a
fairly good-looking warrior.
Dr. Kinney led the way into the building. As in the other structure,
there was no door. The space seemed to be but one story in height,
although that had the effect of a cathedral. The whole of the ceiling,
irregularly arched in a curious, pointed manner, was ornamented with
grotesque figures; while the walls were also partially formed of squat,
semi-human statues, set upon huge, triangular shafts. In the spaces
between these outlandish pilasters there had once been some sort of
decorations, A great many photos were taken here.
As for the floor, it was divided in all directions by low walls. About
five and a half feet in height, these walls separated the great room
into perhaps a hundred triangular compartments, each about the size of
an ordinary living room. Broad openings, about five feet square,
provided free access from one compartment to any other. The men from the
earth, by standing on tiptoes, could see over and beyond this system.
"Wonder if these walls were supposed to cut off the view?" speculated
the doctor. "I mean, do you suppose that the Mercurians were such short
people as that?" His question had to go unanswered.
They stepped into the nearest compartment, and were on the point of
pronouncing it bare, when Jackson, with an exclamation, excitedly
brushed away some of the dust and showed that the presumably solid walls
were really chests of drawers. Shallow things of that peculiar metal,
these drawers numbered several hundred to the compartment. In the whole
building there must have been millions.
Once more the dust was carefully removed, revealing a layer of those
curious rolls or reels, exactly similar to what had been found in the
tool chest in the shell works. A careful examination of the metallic
tape showed nothing whatever to the naked eye, although the doctor
fancied that he made out some strange characters on the little boxes
His view was shortly proved. Finding drawer after drawer to contain a
similar display, varying from one to a dozen of the diminutive ribbons,
Van Emmon adopted the plan of gently blowing away the dust from the
faces of the drawers before opening them. This revealed the fact that
each of the shallow things was neatly labeled!
Instantly the three were intent upon this fresh clue. The markings were
very faint and delicate, the slightest touch being enough to destroy
them. To the untrained eye, they resembled ancient Egyptian
hieroglyphics; to the archeologist, they meant that a brand-new system
of ideographs had been found.
Suddenly Jackson straightened up and looked about with a new interest.
He went to one of the square doorways and very carefully removed the
dust from a small plate on the lintel. He need not have been so careful;
engraved in the solid metal was a single character, plainly in the same
language as the other ideographs.
The architect smiled triumphantly into the inquiring eyes of his
friends. "I won't have to eat my hat," said he. "This is a sure-enough
city, all right, and this is its library!"
Smith was still busy on the little machine when they returned to the
cube. He said that one part of it had disappeared, and was busily
engaged in filing a bit of steel to take its place. As soon as it was
ready, he thought, they could see what the apparatus meant.
The three had brought a large number of the reels. They were confident
that a microscopic search of the ribbons would disclose something to
bear out Jackson's theory that the great structure was really a
repository for books, or whatever corresponded with books on Mercury.
"But the main thing," said the doctor, enthusiastically, "is to get over
to the 'twilight band.' I'm beginning to have all sorts of wild hopes."
Jackson urged that they first visit the big "mansion" on the outskirts
of this place; he said he felt sure, somehow, that it would be worth
while. But Van Emmon backed up the doctor, and the architect had to be
content with an agreement to return in case their trip was futile.
Inside of a few minutes the cube was being drawn steadily over toward
the left or western edge of the planet's sunlit face. As it moved, all
except Smith kept close watch on the ground below. They made out town
after town, as well as separate buildings; and on the roads were to be
seen a great many of those octagonal structures, all motionless.
After several hundred miles of this, the surface abruptly sloped toward
what had clearly been the bed of an ocean. No sign of habitations here,
however; so apparently the water had disappeared AFTER the humans had
This ancient sea ended a short distance from the district they were
seeking. A little more travel brought them to a point where the sun cast
as much shadow as light on the surface. It was here they descended,
coming to rest on a sunlit knoll which overlooked a small, building-
According to Kinney's apparatus, there was about one-fortieth the amount
of air that exists on the earth. Of water vapor there was a trace; but
all their search revealed no human life. Not only that, but there was no
trace of lower animals; there was not even a lizard, much less a bird.
And even the most ancient-looking of the sculptures showed no creatures
of the air; only huge, antediluvian monsters were ever depicted.
They took a great many photos as a matter of course. Also, they
investigated some of the big, octagonal machines in the streets, finding
them to be similar to the great "tanks" that were used in the war,
except that they did not have the characteristic caterpillar tread;
their eight faces were so linked together that the entire affair could
roll, after a jolting, slab-sided, flopping fashion. Inside were curious
engines, and sturdy machines designed to throw the cannon-shells they
had seen; no explosive was employed, apparently, but centrifugal force
generated in whirling wheels. Apparently these cars, or chariots, were
The explorers returned to the cube, where they found that Smith,
happening to look out a window, had spied a pond not far off. The three
visited it and found, on its banks, the first green stuff they had seen;
a tiny, flowerless salt grass, very scarce. It bordered a slimy, bluish
pool of absolutely still fluid. Nobody would call it water. They took a
few samples of it and went back.
And within a few minutes the doctor slid a small glass slide into his
microscope, and examined the object with much satisfaction. What he saw
was a tiny, gelatinlike globule; among scientists it is known as the
amoeba. It is the simplest known form of life—the so-called "single
cell." It had been the first thing to live on that planet, and
apparently it was also the last.
THE CLOSED DOOR
As they neared Jackson's pet "mansion" each man paid close attention to
the intervening blocks. For the most part these were simply shapeless
ruins; heaps of what had once been, perhaps, brick or stone. Once they
allowed the cube to rest on the top of one of these mounds; but the sky-
car's great weight merely sank it into the mass. There was nothing under
it save that same sandy dust.
Apparently the locality they were approaching had been set aside as a
very exclusive residence district for the elite of the country. Possibly
it contained the homes of the royalty, assuming that there had been a
royalty. At any rate the conspicuous structure Jackson had selected was
certainly the home of the most important member of that colony.
When the three, once more in their helmets and suits, stood before the
low, broad portico which protected the entrance to that edifice, the
first thing they made out was an ornamental frieze running across the
face. In the same bold, realistic style as the other sculpture, there
was depicted a hand-to-hand battle between two groups of those half
savage, half cultured monstrosities. And in the background was shown a
glowing orb, obviously the sun.
"See that?" exclaimed the doctor. "The size of that sun, I mean! Compare
it with the way old Sol looks now!"
They took a single glance at the great ball of fire over their heads;
nine times the size it always seemed at home, it contrasted sharply with
the rather small ball shown in the carvings.
"Understand?" the doctor went on. "When that sculpture was made, Mercury
was little nearer the sun than the earth is now!"
The builder was hugely impressed. He asked, eagerly: "Then probably the
people became as highly developed as we?"
Van Emmon nodded approvingly, but the doctor opposed. "No; I think not,
Jackson. Mercury never did have as much air as the earth, and
consequently had much less oxygen. And the struggle for existence," he
went on, watching to see if the geologist approved each point as he made
it, "the struggle for life is, in the last analysis, a struggle for
"So I would say that life was a pretty strenuous proposition here, while
it lasted. Perhaps they were—" He stopped, then added: "What I can't
understand is, how did it happen that their affairs came to such an
abrupt end? And why don't we see any—er—indications?"
"Skeletons?" The architect shuddered. Next second, though, his face lit
up with a thought. "I remember reading that electricity will decompose
bone, in time." And then he shuddered again as his foot stirred that
lifeless, impalpable dust. Was it possible?
As they passed into the great house the first thing they noted was the
floor, undivided, dust-covered, and bare, except for what had perhaps
been rugs. The shape was the inevitable equilateral triangle; and here,
with a certain magnificent disregard for precedent, the builders had
done away with a ceiling entirely, and instead had sloped the three
walls up till they met in a single point, a hundred feet overhead. The
effect was massively simple.
In one corner a section of the floor was elevated perhaps three feet
above the rest, and directly back of this was a broad doorway, set in a
short wall. The three advanced at once toward it.
Here the electric torch came in very handy. It disclosed a poorly
lighted stairway, very broad, unrailed, and preposterously steep. The
steps were each over three feet high.
"Difference in gravitation," said the doctor, in response to Jackson's
questioning look. "Easy enough for the old-timers, perhaps." They
struggled up the flight as best they could, reaching the top after over
five minutes of climbing.
Perhaps it was the reaction from this exertion; at all events each felt
a distinct loss of confidence as, after regaining their wind, they again
began to explore. Neither said anything about it to the others; but each
noted a queer sense of foreboding, far more disquieting than either of
them had felt when investigating anything else. It may have been due to
the fact that, in their hurry, they had not stopped to eat.
The floor they were on was fairly well lighted with the usual oval
windows. The space was open, except that it contained the same kind of
dividing walls they had found in the library. Here, however, each
compartment contained but one opening, and that not uniformly placed. In
fact, as the three noted with a growing uneasiness, it was necessary to
pass through every one of them in order to reach the corner farthest,
from the ladderlike stairs. Why it should make them uneasy, neither
could have said.
When they were almost through the labyrinth, Van Emmon, after standing
on tiptoes for the tenth time, in order to locate himself, noted
something that had escaped their attention before. "These compartments
used to be covered over," he said, for some reason lowering his voice.
He pointed out niches in the walls, such as undoubtedly once held the
ends of heavy timbers. "What was this place, anyhow? A trap?"
Unconsciously they lightened their steps as they neared the last
compartment. They found, as expected, that it was another stairwell. Van
Emmon turned the light upon every corner of the place before going any
further; but except for a formless heap of rubbish in one corner, which
they did not investigate, the place was as bare as the rest of the
Again they climbed, this time for a much shorter distance; but Jackson,
slightly built chap that he was, needed a little help on the steep
stairs. They were not sorry that they had reached the uppermost floor of
the mansion. It was somewhat better lighted than the floor below, and
they were relieved to find that the triangular compartments did not have
the significant niches in their walls. Their spirits rose perceptibly.
At the corner farthest from the stairs one of the walls rose straight to
the ceiling, completely cutting off a rather large triangle. The three
paid no attention to the other compartments, but went straight to what
they felt sure was the most vital spot in the place. And their feelings
were justified with a vengeance when they saw that the usual doorway in
this wall was protected by something that had, so far, been entirely
missing everywhere else.
It was barred by a heavy door.
For several minutes the doctor, the geologist, and the architect stood
before it. Neither would have liked to admit that he would just as soon
leave that door unopened. All the former uneasiness came back. It was
all the more inexplicable, with the brilliant sunlight only a few feet
away, that each should have felt chilled by the place.
"Wonder if it's locked?" remarked Van Emmon. He pressed against the
dust-covered barrier, half expecting it to turn to dust; but evidently
it had been made of the time-defying alloy. It stood firm. And to all
appearances it was nearly air-tight.
"Well!" said the doctor suddenly, so that the other two started
nervously. "The door's got to come down; that's all!" They looked
around; there was no furniture, no loose piece of material of any kind.
Van Emmon straightway backed away from the door about six feet, and the
others followed his example.
"All together!" grunted the geologist; and the three aluminum-armored
monsters charged the door. It shook under the impact; a shower of dust
fell down; and they saw that they had loosened the thing.
"Once more!" This time a wide crack showed all around the edge of the
door, and the third attempt finished the job. Noiselessly—for there was
no air to carry the sound—but with a heavy jar which all three felt
through their feet, the barrier went flat on the floor beyond.
At the same instant a curious, invisible wave, like a tiny puff of wind,
floated out of the darkness and passed by the three men from the earth.
Each noticed it, but neither mentioned it at the time. Van Emmon was
already searching the darkness with the torch.
Apparently it was only an anteroom. A few feet beyond was another wall,
and in it stood another door, larger and heavier than the first. The
three did not stop; they immediately tried their strength on this one
After a half dozen attempts without so much as shaking the massive
affair—"It's no use," panted the geologist, wishing that he could get a
handkerchief to his forehead. "We can't loosen it without tools."
Jackson was for trying again, but the doctor agreed with Van Emmon. They
reflected that they had been away from Smith long enough, anyhow. The
cube was out of sight from where they were.
Van Emmon turned the light on the walls of the anteroom, and found, on a
shelf at one end, a neat pile of those little reels, eleven in all. He
pocketed the lot. There was nothing else.
Jackson and Kinney started to go. They retreated as far into the main
room as their telephone wires would allow. Still the geologist held
"Come on," said the doctor uneasily. "It's getting cold."
Next second they stopped short, nerves on edge, at a strange exclamation
from Van Emmon. They looked around to see him pointing his light
directly at the floor. Even in that unnatural suit of mail, his attitude
was one of horror.
"Look here," he said in a low, strained voice. They went to his side,
and instinctively glanced behind them before looking at what lay in the
It was the imprint of an enormous human foot.
The first thing that greeted the ears of the explorers upon taking off
their suits in the sky-car, was the exultant voice of Smith. He was too
excited to notice anything out of the way in their manner; he was almost
dancing in front of his bench, where the unknown machine, now
reconstructed, stood belted to a small electric-motor.
"It runs!" he was shouting. "You got here just in time!" He began to
fumble with a switch.
"What of it?" remarked the doctor in the bland tone which he kept for
occasions when Smith needed calming. "What will it do if it does run?"
The engineer looked blank. "Why—" Then he remembered, and picked up one
of the reels at random. "There's a clamp here just the right size to
hold one of these," he explained, fitting the ribbon into place and
threading its free end into a loop on a spool which looked as though
made for it. But his excitement had passed; he now cautiously set a
small anvil between himself and the apparatus, and then, with the aid of
a long stick, he threw on the current.
For a moment nothing happened, save the hum of the motor. Then a
strange, leafy rustling sounded from the mechanism, and next, without
any warning, a high-pitched voice, nasal and plaintive but distinctly
human, spoke from the big metal disk.
The words were unintelligible. The language was totally unlike anything
ever heard on the earth. And yet, deliberately if somewhat cringingly,
the voice proceeded with what was apparently a recitation. There were
modulations, pauses, sentences; but seemingly the paragraphs were all
short and to the point.
As the thing went on the four men came closer and watched the operation
of the machine. The ribbon unrolled slowly; it was plain that, if the
one topic occupied the whole reel, then it must have the length of an
ordinary chapter. And as the voice continued, certain dramatic qualities
came out and governed the words, utterly incomprehensible though they
were. There was a real thrill to it.
After a while they stopped the thing. "No use listening to this now," as
the doctor said. "We've got to learn a good deal more about these people
before we can guess what it all means."
And yet, although all were very hungry, on Jackson's suggestion they
tried out one of the "records" that was brought from that baffling
anteroom. Smith was very much interested in that unopened door, and Van
Emmon was in the midst of it when Jackson started the motor.
The geologist's words stuck in his throat. The disk was actually shaking
with the vibrations of a most terrific voice. Prodigiously loud and
powerful, its booming, resonant bass smote the ears like the roll of
thunder. It was irresistible in its force, compelling in its assurance,
masterful and strong to an overpowering degree. Involuntarily the men
from the earth stepped back.
On it roared and rumbled, speaking the same language as that of the
other record; but whereas the first speaker merely USED the words, the
last speaker demolished them. One felt that he had extracted every ounce
of power in the language, leaving it weak and flabby, unfit for further
use. He threw out his sentences as though done with them; not boldly,
not defiantly, least of all, tentatively, he spoke with a certainty and
force that came from a knowledge that he could compel, rather than
induce his hearers to believe.
It took a little nerve to shut him off; Van Emmon was the one who did
it. Somehow they all felt immensely relieved when the gigantic voice was
silenced; and at once began discussing the thing with great earnestness.
Jackson was for assuming that the first record was worn and old, the
last one, fresh and new; but after examining both tapes under a glass,
and seeing how equally clear cut and sharp the impressions all were,
they agreed that the extraordinary voice they had heard was practically
true to life.
They tried out the rest of the records in that batch, finding that they
were all by the same speaker. Nowhere among the ribbons brought from the
library was another of his making, although a great number of different
voices was included; neither was there another talker with a fifth the
volume, the resonance, the absolute power of conviction that this
unknown colossus possessed.
Of course this is no place to describe the laborious process of
interpreting these documents, records of a past which was gone before
earth's mankind had even begun. The work involved the study of countless
photos, covering everything from inscriptions to parts of machinery, and
other details which furnished clue after clue to that superancient
language. It was not deciphered, in fact, until several years after the
explorers had submitted their finds to the world's foremost
lexicographers, antiquarians and paleontologists. Even today some of it
But right here is, most emphatically, the place to insert the tale told
by that unparalleled voice. And incredible though it may seem, as judged
by the standards of the peoples of this earth, the account is fairly
proved by the facts uncovered by the expedition. It would be but begging
the question to doubt the genuineness of the thing; and if,
understanding the language, one were to hear the original as it fell,
word for word from the iron mouth of Strokor [Footnote: Translator's
note—In the Mercurian language, stroke means iron, or heart.] the
Great-hearing, one would believe; none could doubt, nor would.
And so it does not do him justice to set it down in ordinary print. One
must imagine the story being related by Stentor himself; must conceive
of each word falling like the blow of a mammoth sledge. The tale was not
told—it was BELLOWED; and this is how it ran:
I am Strokor, son of Strok, the armorer. I am Strokor, a maker of tools
of war; Strokor, the mightiest man in the world; Strokor, whose wisdom
outwitted the hordes of Klow; Strokor, who has never feared, and never
failed. Let him who dares, dispute it. I—I am Strokor!
In my youth I was, as now, the marvel of all who saw. I was ever robust
and daring, and naught but much older, bigger lads could outdo me. I
balked at nothing, be it a game or a battle; it was, and forever shall
be, my chief delight to best all others.
'Twas from my mother that I gained my huge frame and sound heart. In
truth, I am very like her, now that I think upon it. She, too, was
indomitable in battle, and famed for her liking for strife. No doubt
'twas her stalwart figure that caught my father's fancy.
Aye, my mother was a very likely woman, but she boasted no brains. "I
need no cunning," I remember she said; and he who was so unlucky in
battle as to fall into her hands could vouch for the truth of it—as
long as he lived, which would not be long. She was a grand woman, slow
to anger and a match for many a good pair of men. Often, as a lad, have
I carried the marks of her punishment for the most of a year.
And thus it seems that I owe my head to my father. He was a marvelously
clever man, dexterous with hand and brain alike. Moreover, he was no
weakling; perchance I should credit him with some of my agility, for he
was famed as a gymnast, though not a powerful one. 'Twas he who taught
me how to disable my enemy with a mere clutch of the neck at a certain
But Strok, the armorer, was feared most because of his brain, and his
knack of using his mind to the undoing of others. And he taught me all
that he knew; taught me all that he had learned in a lifetime of
fighting for the emperor, of mending the complicated machines in the
armory, of contact with the chemists who wrought the secret alloy, and
the chiefs who led the army.
Some of this he taught me when I was not yet a man. Why he should have
done so, I know not, save that he seemed to value my affection, and
liked not my mother's demands that I heed her call, not his. At all
events, I oft found his shop a place of refuge from her wrath; and I
early came to value his teachings.
When I became a man he abruptly ended the practice. I think he saw that
I was become as dexterous as he with the tools of the craft, and he
feared lest I know more than he. Well he might; the day I realized this
I laughed long and loud. And from that time forth he taught me, not
because he chose to, but because I bent a chisel in my bare hands,
before his eyes, and told him his place.
Many times he strove to trick me, and more than once he all but caught
me in some trap. He was a crafty man, and relied not upon brawn, but
upon wits. Yet I was ever on the watch, and I but learned the more from
"Ye are very kind," I mocked him one morning. When I had taken my seat a
huge weight had dropped from above and crushed my stool to splinters,
much as it would have crushed my skull had I not leaped instantly aside.
"Ye are kinder than most fathers, who teach their sons nothing at all."
He foamed at his mouth in his rage and discomfiture. "Insolent whelp!"
he snarled. "Thou art quick as a cat on thy feet!"
But I was not to be appeased by words. I smote him on the chest with my
bare hand, so that he fell on the far side of the room. "Let that be a
warning," I told him, when he had recovered, some time later. "If ye
have any more tricks, try them for, not on, me." Which I claim to be a
neat twist of words.
It was not long after that when I saw a change in my father. He no
longer tried to snare me; instead, he began, of his own free will, to
train my mind to other than warlike things. At first, I was suspicious
enough. I looked for new traps, and watched all the closer. I told him
that his next try would surely be his last, and I meant it.
But the time came when I saw that my father was reconciled to his
master. I saw that he genuinely admitted my prowess; and where he
formerly envied me, he now took great pride in all I accomplished, and
claimed that it was but his own brains acting through my body.
I let him indulge in the conceit. I grudged it not to him, so long as he
taught me. In truth, he was so eager to add to my store of facts, so
intent upon filling my head with what filled his, that at times I was
fairly compelled to stop him, lest I tire.
My mother opposed all this. "The lad needs none of thy wiles," she
gibed. "He is no stripling; he is a man's man, and a fit son of his
"Aye," quoth my father slyly. "He has thy muscle and thy courage. Thank
Jon, he hath not thy empty head!"
Whereat she flew at him. Had she caught him, she would have destroyed
him, such was her rage; and afterwards she would have mourned her folly
and mayhap have injured herself; for she loved him greatly. But he
stepped aside just in the nick of time, and she crashed into the wall
behind him with such force that she was senseless for a time. I remember
And yet, to give credit where credit is due, I must admit that I owe a
great deal to that gray-beard, Maka, the star-gazer. But for him,
perchance, the name of Strokor would mean but little, for 'twas he who
gave me ambition.
Truly it was an uncommon affair, my first meeting with him. Now that I
shake my memory for it, it seems that something else of like consequence
came to pass on the same occasion. Curious; but I have not thought on it
for many days.
Yes, it is true; I met Maka on the very morn that I first laid eyes on
the girl Ave.
I was returning from the northland at the time. A rumor had come down to
Vlama that one of the people in the snow country had seen a lone
specimen of the mulikka. Now these were but a myth. No man living
remembers when the carvings on the House of Learning were made, and all
the wise men say that it hath been ages since any being other than man
roamed the world. Yet, I was young. I determined to search for the thing
anyhow; and 'twas only after wasting many days in the snow that I cursed
my luck, and turned back.
I was afoot, for the going was too rough for my chariot. I had not yet
quit the wilderness before, from a height, I spied a group of people
ascending from the valley. Knowing not whether they be friends or foes,
I hid beside the path up which they must come; for I was weary and
wanting no strife.
Yet I became alert enough when the three—they were two ditch-tenders,
one old, one young, and a girl—came within earshot. For they were
quarreling. It seemed that the young man, who was plainly eager to gain
the girl, had fouled in a try to force her favor. The older man chided
And just when they came opposite my rock, the younger man, whose passion
had got the better of him, suddenly tripped the older, so that he fell
upon the ledge and would have fallen to his death on the rocks below had
not the girl, crying out in her terror, leaped forward and caught his
At once the ditch-tender took the lass about the waist, and strove to
pull her away. For a moment she held fast, and in that moment I,
Strokor, stood forth from behind the rock.
Now, be it known that I am no champion of weaklings. I have no liking
for the troubles of others; enough of my own, say I. I was but angered
that the ditch-tender should have done the trick so clumsily, and upon
an old man, at that. I cared not for the gray beard, nor what became of
the chit. I clapped the trickster upon the shoulder and spun him about.
"Ye clumsy coward!" I jeered. "Have ye had no practice that ye should
trip the old one no better than that?"
"Who are ye?" he stuttered, like the coward he was. I laughed and helped
the chit drag Maka—for it was he—up to safety.
"I am a far better man than ye," I said, not caring to give my name.
"And I can show ye how the thing should be done. Come; at me, if ye are
At that he dashed upon me; and such was his fear of ridicule—for the
girl was laughing him to scorn now—he put up a fair, stiff fight. But I
forgot my weariness when he foully clotted me on the head with a stone.
I drove at him with all the speed and suddenness my father had taught
me, caught the fellow by the ankle, and brought him down atop me.
The rest was easy. I bent my knee under his middle, and tossed him high.
In a flash I was upon my feet, and caught him from behind. And in
another second I had rushed him to the cliff; and when he turned to save
himself, I tripped him as neatly as father himself could have done it,
so that the fellow will guard the ditch no more, save in the caverns of
I laughed and picked up my pack. My head hurt a bit from the fellow's
blow, but a little water would do for that. I started to go.
"Ye are a brave man!" cried the girl. I turned carelessly, and then,
quite for the first time, I had a real look at her.
She was in no way like any woman I had seen. All of them had been much
like the men: brawny and close-knit, as well fitted for their work as
are men for war. But this chit was all but slender; not skinny, but
prettily rounded out, and soft like. I cannot say that I admired her at
first glance; she seemed fit only to look at, not to live. I was minded
of some of the ancient carvings, which show delicate, lightly built
animals that have long since been killed off; graceful trifles that
rested the eye.
As for the old man: "Aye, thou art brave, and wondrous strong, my lad,"
said he, still a bit shaky from his close call. I was pleased with the
acknowledgment, and turned back.
"It was nothing," I told them; and I recounted some of my exploits,
notably one in which I routed a raiding party of men from Klow, six in
all, carrying in two alive on my shoulders. "I am the son of Strok, the
"Ye are Strokor!" marveled the girl, staring at me as though I were a
god. Then she threw back her head and stepped close.
"I am Ave. This is Maka; he is my uncle, but best known as a star-gazer.
My father was Durok, the engine-maker." She watched my face.
"Durok?" I knew him well. My father had said that he was quite as brainy
as himself. "He were a fine man, Ave."
"Aye," said she proudly. She stepped closer; I could not but see how
like him she was, though a woman. And next second she laid a hand on my
"I am yet a free woman, Strokor. Hast thou picked thy mate?" And her
Now, 'twas not my first experience of the kind. Many women had looked
like that at me before. But I had always been a man's man, and had ever
heeded my father's warning to have naught whatever to do with women.
"They are the worst trick of all," he told me; and I had never forgot.
Belike I owe much of my power to just this.
But Ave had acted too quickly for me to get away. I laughed again, and
shook her off.
"I will have naught to do with ye," I told her, civilly enough. "When I
am ready to take a woman, I shall take her; not before."
At that the blood left her face; she stood very straight, and her eyes
flashed dangerously. Were she a man I should have stood on my guard. But
she made no move; only the softness in her eyes gave way to such a
savage look that I was filled with amaze. And thus I left them; the old
man calling down the blessing of Jon upon me for having saved his life,
and the chit glaring after me as though no curses would suffice.
A right queer matter, I thought at the time. I guessed not what would
come of it; not then.
'Twas a fortnight later, more or less, when next I saw Maka. I was
lumbering along in my chariot, feeling most uncomfortable under the eyes
of my friends; for one foot of my machine had a loose link, and 'twas
flapping absurdly. And I liked it none too well when Maka stopped his
own rattletrap in front of mine, and came running to my window. Next
moment I forgot his impertinence.
"Strokor," he whispered, his face alive with excitement, "thou art a
brave lad, and didst save my life. Now, know you that a party of the men
of Klow have secreted themselves under the stairway behind the emperor's
throne. They have killed the guards, and will of a certainty kill the
"'Twould serve the dolt right," I replied, for I really cared but
little. "But why have ye come to me, old man? I am but a lieutenant in
the armory; I am not the captain of the palace guard."
"Because," he answered, gazing at me very pleasingly, "thou couldst
dispose of the whole party single handed—there are but four—and gain
much glory for thyself."
"By Jon!" I swore, vastly delighted; and without stopping to ask Maka
whence he had got his knowledge, I went at once to the spot. However,
when I got back, I sought the star-gazer—I ought to mention that I had
no trouble with the louts, and that the emperor himself saw me finishing
off the last of them—I sought the star-gazer and demanded how he had
"Hast ever heard of Edam?" he inquired in return.
"Edam?" I had not; the name was strange to me. "Who is he?"
"A man as young as thyself, but a mere stripling," quoth Maka. "He was a
pupil of mine when I taught in the House of Learning. Of late he has
turned to prophecy; and it is fair remarkable how well the lad doth
guess. At all events, 'twas he, Strokor, who told me of the plot. He saw
it in a dream."
"Then Edam must yet be in Vlama," said I, "if he were able to tell ye.
Canst bring him to me? I would know him."
And so it came about that, on the eve of that same day, Maka brought
Edam to my house. I remember it well; for 'twas the same day that the
emperor, in gratitude of my little service in the anteroom, had relieved
me from my post in the armory and made me captain of the palace guard. I
was thus become the youngest captain, also the biggest and strongest;
and, as will soon appear, by far the longest-headed.
I was in high good humor, and had decided to celebrate with a feast. So
when my two callers arrived, I sat them down before a meal such as cost
a tenth [Footnote: Since Mercury had no moon, its people never coined a
word to correspond with our "month," and for the same reason they never
had a week. Their time was reckoned only in days, years, and fractions
of the two.] of my year's salary.
I served not only the usual products of the field, variously prepared,
but as a special gift from the emperor's own stock, a piece of mulikka
meat, frozen, which had been found in the northland by some geologists a
few years aback. It had been kept in the palace icing-room all this
time, and was in prime condition. Maka and I enjoyed it overmuch, but
Edam would touch it not.
He was a slightly built lad, not at all the sturdy man that I am, but of
less than half the weight. His head, too, was unlike mine; his forehead
was wide as well as tall, and his eyes were mild as a slave's.
"Ye are very young to be a prophet," I said to him, after we were
filled, and the slaves had cleared away our litter. "Tell me: hast
foretold anything else that has come to pass?"
"Aye," he replied, not at all boldly, but what some call modestly. "I
prophesied the armistice which now stands between our empire and
"Is this true?" I demanded of Maka. The old man bowed his head gravely
and looked upon the young man with far more respect than I felt. He
"Tell Strokor the dream thou hadst two nights ago, Edam. It were a right
strange thing, whether true or no."
The stripling shifted his weight on his stool, and moved the bowl
closer. Then he thrust his pipe deep into it, and let the liquid flow
slowly out his nostrils. [Footnote: A curious custom among the
Mercurians, who had no tobacco. There is no other way to explain some of
the carvings. Doubtless the liquid was sweet-smelling, and perhaps
"I saw this," he began, "immediately before rising, and after a very
light supper; so I know that it was a vision from Jon, and not of my own
"I was standing upon the summit of a mountain, and gazing down upon a
very large, fertile valley. It was heavily wooded, dark green and
inviting. But what first drew my attention was a great number of animals
moving about IN THE AIR. They were passing strange affairs, some large,
some small, variously colored, and all covered with the same sort of
fur, quite unlike any hair I have ever seen."
"In the air?" I echoed, recovering from my astonishment. Then I laughed
mightily. "Man, ye must be crazy! There is no animal can live in the
air! Ye must mean in the water or on land."
"Nay," interposed the star-gazer. "Thou hast never studied the stars,
Strokor, or thou wouldst know that there be a number of them which,
through the enlarging tube, show themselves to be round worlds, like
unto our own.
"And it doth further appear that these other worlds also have air like
this we breathe, and that some have less, while others have even more.
From what Edam has told me," finished the old man, "I judge that his
vision took place on Jeos, [Footnote: The Mercurian word for earth.] a
world much larger than ours according to my calculations, and doubtless
having enough air to permit very light creatures to move about in it."
"Go on," said I to Edam, good-humoredly. "I be ever willing to believe
anything strange when my stomach is full."
The dreamer had taken no offense. "Then I bent my gaze closer, as I am
always able, in visions. And I saw that the greenery was most remarkably
dense, tangled and luxuriant to a degree not ever seen here. And moving
about in it was the most extraordinary collection of beings that I have
ever laid these eyes upon.
"There were some huge creatures, quite as tall as thy house, Strokor,
with legs as big around as that huge chest of thine. They had tails, as
had our ancient mulikka, save that these were terrific things, as long
and as big as the trunk of a large tree. I know not their names.
[Footnote: Probably the dinosaur.]
"And then, at the other extreme, was a tiny creature of the air, which
moved with a musical hum. It could have hid under thy finger-nail,
Strokor, yet it had a tiny sharp-pointed bill, with which it stung most
aggravatingly. And between these two there were any number of creatures
of varying size and shape.
"But nowhere was there a sign of a man. True, there was one hairy,
grotesque creature which hung by its hands and feet from the tree-tops,
very like thee in some way, Strokor; but its face and head were those of
a brainless beast, not of a man. Nowhere was a creature like me or thee.
"And the most curious thing was this: Although there were ten times as
many of these creatures, big and little, to the same space as on our
world, yet there was no great amount of strife. In truth, there is far
more combat and destruction among we men than among the beasts.
"And," he spoke most earnestly, as though he would not care to be
disbelieved, "I saw fathers fight to protect their young!"
I near fell from my stool in my amaze. Never in all my life had I heard
a thing so far from the fact. "What!" I shouted. "Ye sit there like a
sane man, and tell me ye saw fathers fight for their young?"
He nodded his head, still very gravely. I fell silent for want of words,
but Maka put in a thought. "It would appear, Strokor, that it be not so
much of an effort for beings to live, there on Jeos, as here. Perchance
'tis the greater amount of vegetation; at all accounts, the animals need
not prey upon one another so generally; and that, then, would explain
why some have energy enough to waste in the care of their young."
"I can understand," I said, very slowly. "I can understand why a mother
will fight for her babes; 'tis reasonable enough, no doubt. But as for
fathers doing the same—Edam, dost mean to say that ALL creatures on
Jeos do this?"
"Nay; only some. It may be that fewer than half of the varieties have
the custom. Howbeit, 'tis a beautiful one. When the vision ended I was
right loath to go."
"Faugh!" I spat upon the ground. "Such softness makes me ill! I be glad
I were born in a man's world, where I can take a man's chances. I want
no favoring. If I am strong enough to live, I live; if not, I die. What
more can I ask?"
"Aye, my lad!" said Maka approvingly. "This be a world for the strong.
There is no room here for others; there is scarce enough food for those
who, thanks to their strength, do survive." He slipped the gold band
from off his wrist, and held it up for Jon to see. "Here, Strokor, a
pledge! A pledge to—the survival of the fittest!"
"A neat, neat wording!" I roared, as I took the pledge with him. Then we
both stopped short. Edam had not joined us. "Edam, my lad," spake the
old man, "ye will take the pledge with us?"
The stripling's eyes were troubled. Well he knew that, once he refused
such an act, he were no longer welcome in my house, nor in Maka's. But
when he looked around it were bravely enough.
"Men, I have neither the strength of the one nor the brains of the other
of ye. I am but a watchmaker; I live because of my skill with the little
"I have no quarrel with either of ye." He got to his feet, and started
to the door. "But I cannot take the pledge with ye.
"I have seen a wondrous thing, and I love it. And, though I know not
why—I feel that Jon has willed it for Jeos to see a new race of men, a
race even better than ours."
I leaped to my feet. "Better than ours! Mean ye to say, stripling, that
there can be a better man than Strokor?"
I full expected him to shrink from me in fear; I was able to crush him
with one blow. But he stood his ground; nay, stepped forward and laid a
hand easily upon my shoulder.
"Strokor—ye are more than a man; ye are two men in one. There is no
finer—I say it fair. And yet, I doubt not that there can be, and will
be, a better!"
And with that such a curious expression came into his face, such a glow
of some strange land of warmth, that I let my hand drop and suffered him
to depart in peace—such was my wonder.
Besides, any miserable lout could have destroyed the lad.
Maka sat deep in thought for a time, and when he did speak he made no
mention of the lad who had just quit us. Instead, he looked me over,
long and earnestly, and at the end he shook his head sorrowfully and
"Thou art the sort of a son I would have had, Strokor, given the wits of
thy father to hold a woman like thy mother. And thou didst save my
He mused a little longer, then roused himself and spake sharply: "Thou
art a vain man, Strokor!"
"Aye," I agreed, willingly enough. "And none has better cause than I!"
He would not acknowledge the quip. "Thou hast everything needful to
tickle thy vanity. Thou hast the envy of those who note thy strength,
the praise of them who love thy courage, and the respect of they who
value thy brains. All these thou hast—and yet ye have not that which is
I thought swiftly and turned on him with a frown: "Mean ye that I am not
"Nay, Strokor," quoth the star-gazer. "There be none handsomer in this
world, no matter what the standard of any other, such as Edam's Jeos.
"It is not that. It is, that thou hast no ambition."
I considered this deeply. At first thought it was not true; had I not
always made it a point to best my opponent? From my youth it had been
ever my custom to succeed where bigger bodies and older minds had
failed. Was not this ambition?
But before I disputed the point with Maka, I saw what he meant. I had no
FINAL ambition, no ultimate goal for which to strive. I had been content
from year to year to outdo each rival as he came before me; and now,
with mind and body alike in the pink of condition, I was come to the
place where none durst stand before me.
"Ye are right, Maka," I admitted, not because I cared to gratify his
conceit, but because it were always for my own good to own up when
wrong, that I might learn the better. "Ye are right; I need to decide
upon a life-purpose. What have ye thought?"
The old man was greatly pleased. "Our talk with Edam brought it all
before me. Know you, Strokor, that the survival of the fittest is a rule
which governs man as well as men. It applies to the entire population,
Strokor, just as truly as to me or thee.
"In fine, we men who are now the sole inhabitants of this world, are
descended from a race of people who survived solely because they were
fitter than the mulikka, fitter than the reptiles, the fittest, by far,
of all the creatures.
"That being the case, it is plain that in time either our empire, or
that of Klow's, must triumph over the other. And that which remains
shall be the fittest!"
"Hold!" I cried. "Why cannot matters remain just as they now are—and
"That" he said rapidly, "is because thou knowest so little about the
future of this world. But I am famed as a student of the heavens; and I
tell thee it is possible, by means of certain delicate measuring
instruments, together with the highest mathematics, to keep a very close
watch upon the course of our world. And we now know that our year is
much shorter than it was in the days of the mulikka."
I nodded my head. "Rightly enough, since our days are become steadily
longer, for some mysterious reason."
"A reason no longer a mystery," quoth Maka. "It is now known that the
sun is a very powerful magnet, and that it is constantly pulling upon
our world and bringing it nearer and nearer to himself. That is why it
hath become slightly warmer during the past hundred years; the records
show it plain. And the same influence has caused the lengthening of our
He stopped and let me think. Soon I saw it clearly enough; a time must
come when the increasing warmth of the sun would stifle all forms of
vegetable life, and that would mean the choking of mankind. It might
take untold centuries; yet, plainly enough, the world must some day
become too small for even those who now remained upon it.
Suddenly I leaped to my feet and strode the room in my excitement. "Ye
are right, Maka!" I shouted, thoroughly aroused. "There cannot always be
the two empires. In time one or the other must prevail; Jon has willed
it. And—" I stopped short and stared at him—"I need not tell ye which
it shall be!"
"I knew thou wouldst see the light, Strokor! Thou hast thy father's
I sat me down, but instantly leaped up again, such was my enthusiasm.
"Maka," I cried, "our emperor is not the man for the place! It is true
that he were a brave warrior in his youth; he won the throne fairly. And
we have suffered him to keep it because he is a wise man, and because we
have had little trouble with the men of Klow since their defeat two
"But he, today, is content to sit at his ease and quote platitudes about
live and let live. Faugh! I am ashamed that I should even have given ear
I stopped short and glared at the old man. "Maka—hark ye well! If it be
the will of Jon to decide between the men of Klow and the men of
Vlamaland, then it is my intent to take a hand in this decision!"
"Aye, my lad," he said tranquilly; and then added, quite as though he
knew what my answer must be: "How do ye intend to go about it?"
"Like a man! I, Strokor, shall become the emperor!"
A small storm had come up while Maka and I were talking. Now, as he was
about to quit me, the clouds were clearing away and an occasional stroke
of lightning came down. One of these, however, hit the ground such a
short distance away that both of us could smell the smoke.
My mind was more alive than it had ever been before. "Now, what caused
that, Maka? The lightning, I mean; we have it nearly every day, yet I
have never thought to question it before."
"It is no mystery, my lad," quoth Maka, dodging into his chariot, so
that he was not wet. "I myself have watched the thing from the top of
high mountains, where the air is so light that a man can scarce get
enough to fill his lungs; and I say unto you that, were it not for what
air we have, we should have naught save the lightning. The space about
the air is full of it."
He started his engine, then leaned out into the rain and said softly:
"Hold fast to what thy father has taught thee, Strokor. Have nothing to
do with the women. 'Tis a man's job ahead of thee, and the future of the
empire is in thy hands.
"And," as he clattered off, "fill not thy head with wonderings about the
"Aye," said I right earnestly, and immediately turned my thoughts to my
new ambition. And yet the thing Maka had just told me kept coming back
to my mind, and so it does to this very day. I know not why I should
mention it at all save that each time I think upon Maka, I also think
upon the lightning, whether I will or no.
I slept not at all that night, but sat [Footnote: It seems to have been
the custom among the soldiers never to lie down, but to take their sleep
sitting or standing; a habit not hard to form where the gravitation was
so slight. No doubt this also explains their stunted legs.] till the
dawn came, thinking out a plan of action. By that time I was fair
convinced that there was naught to be gained by waiting; waiting makes
me impatient as well. I determined to act at once; and since one day is
quite as good as the next, I decided that this day was to see the thing
I came before the emperor at noon and received my decorations. Within
the hour I had made myself known to the four and ninety men who were to
be my command; a picked company, all of a height and weight, with bodies
that lacked little of my own perfection. Never was there a finer guard
about the palace.
My first care was to pick a quarrel with the outgoing commander. Twere
easy enough; he was green with envy, anyhow. And so it came about that
we met about mid afternoon, with seconds, in a well-frequented field in
Before supper was eaten my entire troop knew that their new captain had
tossed his ball-slinger away without using it, had taken twenty balls
from their former commander's weapon, and while thus wounded had charged
the man and despatched him with bare hands! Needless to say, this
exploit quite won their hearts; none but a blind man could have missed
the respect they showed me when, all bandaged and sore, I lined them up
next morning. Afterward I learned that they had all taken a pledge to
"follow Strokor through the gates of Hofe itself!"
'Twere but a week later that, fully recovered and in perfect fettle, I
called my men together one morn as the sun rose. By that time I had
given them a sample of my brains through ordering a rearrangement of
their quarters such as made the same much more comfortable. Also, I had
dealt with one slight infraction of the rules in such a drastic fashion
that they knew I would brook no trifling. All told, 'tis hard to say
whether they thought the most of me or of Jon.
"Men," said I, as bluntly as I knew, "the emperor is an old man. And, as
ye know, he is disposed to be lenient toward the men of Klow; whereas,
ye and I well know that the louts are blackguards.
"Now, I will tell ye more. It has come to me lately that Klow is
plotting to attack us with strange weapons." I thought best, considering
their ignorance, not to give them my own reasons. "Of course I have told
the emperor of it; yet he will not act. He says to wait till we are
I stopped and watched their faces. Sure enough; the idea fair made them
ache. Each and every one of these men was spoiling for a fight.
"Now, tell me; how would ye like to become the emperor's body-guard?" I
did not have to wait long; the light that flared in their faces told me
plainly. "And—how would ye like to have me for your emperor?"
At that their tongues were loosed, and I hindered them not. They yelled
for pure joy, and pressed about me like a pack of children. I saw that
the time was ripe for action.
"Up, then!" I roared, and, of course, led the way. We met the emperor's
guard on the lower stairs; and from that point on we fair hacked our way
Well, no need to describe the fight. For a time I thought we were gone;
the guards had a cunningly devised labyrinth on the second floor, and
attacked us from holes in a false ceiling, so that we suffered heavily
at first. But I saw what was amiss, and shouted to my men to clear away
the timbers; and after that it was clear work. I lost forty men before
the guard was disposed of. The emperor I finished myself; he dodged
right spryly for a time, but at last I caught him and tossed him to the
foot of the upper stairs. And there he still lies for none of my men
would touch him, nor would I. We covered him with quicklime and some
As soon as we had taken care of those who were not too far gone, I
called the men together and caused a round of spirits to be served. Then
we all feasted on the emperor's store, and soon were feeling like
"Men," I said impressively, "I am proud of ye. Never did an emperor have
such a dangerous gang of bullies!"
At that they all grinned happily, and I added: "And 'tis a fine staff of
generals that ye'll make!"
Need I say more? Those men would have overturned the palace for me had I
said the word. As it was, they obeyed my next orders in such a spirit
that success was assured from the first.
First, using the dead emperor's name, I caused the various chiefs to be
brought together at once to the court chamber. At the same time I
contrived, by means I need not go into here, to prevent any word of our
action from getting abroad. So, when the former staff faced me the next
morning, they learned that they were to be executed. I could trust not
one; they were all friends of the old man.
With the chiefs out of the way, and my own men taking their commands,
the whole army fell into my hands. True, there were some insurrections
here and there; but my men handled them with such speed and harshness
that any further stubbornness turned to admiration. By this time the
fame of Strokor was spread throughout the empire.
And thus it came about that, within a week of the night that old Maka
first put the idea into my head, Strokor, son of Strok, reigned
throughout Vlamaland. And, to make it complete, the army celebrated my
accession by taking a pledge before Jon:
"To Strokor, the fittest of the fit!"
Now, out of a total population of perhaps three million, I had about a
quarter-million first-class fighters in my half of the world. Klow, by
comparison, had but two-thirds the number; his land was not a rich one.
But he had the advantage of knowing, some while in advance, of the new
ruler in Vlama; and shortly my spies reported that his armories were
devising a new type of weapon. 'Twas a strange verification of my own
fiction to my men. I could learn nothing, however, about it.
Meanwhile I caused a vast number of flat-boats to be built, all in
secret. Each of them was intended for a single fighter and his supplies;
and each was so arranged, with side paddle wheels, that it would be
driven by the motor in the soldier's chariot, and thus give each his own
Again discarding all precedent, I packed not all my forces together, as
had been done in the past, but scattered them up and adown the coast
fronting the land of Klow; and at a prearranged time my quarter-million
men set out, a company in each tiny fleet. Some were slightly in advance
of the rest, who had the shorter distance to travel. And, just as I had
planned, we all arrived at a certain spot on Klow's coast at practically
the same hour, although two nights later.
'Twas a brilliant stroke. The enemy looked not for a fleet of water-
ants, ready to step right out of the sea into battle. Their fleet was
looking for us, true, but not in that shape. And we were all safely
ashore before they had ceased to scour the seas for us.
I immediately placed my heavy machines, and just as all former
expeditions had done, opened the assault at once with a shower of the
poison shells. I relied, it will be seen, upon the surprise of my attack
to strike terror into the hearts of the louts.
But apparently they were prepared for anything, no matter how rapid the
attack. My bombardment had not proceeded many moments before, to my
dismay, some of their own shells began to fall among us. Soon they were
giving as good as we.
"Now, how knew they that we should come to this spot?" I demanded of
Maka. I had placed him in my cabinet as soon as I had reached the
The old man stroked his beard gravely. "Perchance it had been wrong to
come to the old landing. They simply began shelling it as a matter of
"Ye are right again," I told him; and forthwith moved my pieces over
into another triangle. (Previously, of course, all my charioteers had
gone on toward the capital). However, I took care to move my machines,
one at a time, so that there was no let-up in my bombardment.
But scarce had we taken up the new position before the enemy's shells
likewise shifted, and began to strike once more in our midst. I swore a
great oath and whirled upon Maka in wrath.
"Think ye that there be a spy among us?" I demanded. "How else can ye
explain this thing? My men have combed the land about us; there are none
of the louts secreted here; and, even so, they could not have notified
Klow so soon. Besides, 'tis pitch dark." I were sorely mystified.
All we could do was to fling our shells as fast as our machines would
work and dodge the enemy's hail as best we could. Thus the time passed,
and it were near dawn when the first messengers [Footnote: Messengers;
no telegraph or telephone, much less wireless. In a civilization as
strenuous as that of Mercury, there was never enough consideration for
others to lead to such socially beneficial things as these, no more than
railroads or printing presses. Civilization appears to be in exact
proportion to the ease of getting a living, other conditions being
"They have stopped us just outside the walls of the city," was the
report. It pleased me that they should have pushed so far at first; I
climbed at once into my chariot.
"Now is the time for Strokor to strike!" I gave orders for the staff to
remain where it was. "I will send ye word when the city is mine."
But before I started my engine I glanced up at the sky, to see if the
dawn were yet come; and as I gazed I thought I saw something come
between me and a star. I brushed the hair away from my eyes, and looked
again. To my boundless surprise I made out, not one, but three strange
objects moving about swiftly in the air!
"Look!" I cried, and my whole staff craned their necks. In a moment all
had seen, and great was their wonder. I blamed them not for their fears.
'Twas Maka who spoke first. "They are much too large to be creatures of
Jon," he muttered. "They must be some trick of the enemy.
"Dost recall Edam's vision of the creatures in the air of Jeos?" he went
on, knowing that I would not hinder him. "Now, as I remember it, he said
they flew with great speed. Were it not possible, Strokor, for suitable
engines to propel very light structures at such high speed as to remain
suspended in the air, after the manner of leaves in a storm? I note
these strangers move quite fast."
It was even so; and at that same instant one of them swung directly
above our heads, so close that I could hear the hum of a powerful
engine. So it was only a trick! I shook myself together.
"Attention!" My staff drew up at the word. "They are but few; fear them
not! We waste no more time here! Pack up the machines, and follow!"
And thus we charged upon Klow.
I found that my men had entirely surrounded the city. Klow's men were
putting up a plucky fight, and showing no signs of fearing us. Seeing
this, I blew a blast on my engine's whistle, so that my bullies might
know that I had come.
Immediately the word ran up and down the line, so that within a few
minutes Klow was facing a roaring crowd of half-mad terrors. I myself
set the example by charging the nearest group of the enemy, all of whom
were mounted within the rather small and perfectly circular chariots
which they preferred. They were quick, but slippery. Also, they could
not stand before a determined rush, as several of them learned after
vainly trying to slip some balls through my windows and, failing in
that, striving to get away from me.
But I ran them down, and toppled them over, and dropped suffocation
bombs into their little cages with such vigor and disregard of their
volleys that my men could not resist the example. We charged all along
that vast circular line, and we cheered mightily when the whole front
broke, turned tail, and ran before us.
But scarce had they got away before a queer thing happened. A flock of
those great air-creatures, some eight altogether, rose up from the
middle of the city. It was now fairly light, and we could see well. One
of them had some sort of engine trouble, so that it had to return at
once; but the other seven came out to the battle-line and began to
circle the city.
As they did so they dropped odd, misshapen parcels, totally unlike
materials of war; but when they struck they gave off prodigious puffs of
a greenish smoke, of so terribly pungent a nature that my men dropped
before it like apples from a shaken tree. 'Twas a fearful sight; lucky
for us that the louts had had no practice, else few of us should be
alive to tell the tale.
And so they swept around the great circle, many triangles in area; and
everywhere the unthinkable things smote the hearts of my men with a fear
they had never known. Only one of the devices suffered; it was brought
down by a chance fling of a poison shell. The rest, after loosing their
burdens, returned to the city for more.
I am no fool. I saw that we could do nothing against such weapons, but
must use all our wits if we escaped even.
"Return!" I commanded, and instantly my staff whistled the code. The men
obeyed with alacrity, making off at top speed with the men of Klow in
hot pursuit, although able to do little damage.
Aye, it were a sorrowful thing, that retreat. The best I could do was to
remain till the very last, having to deal with a number of persistent
louts who all but suffocated me, at that. But I managed to empty my
slinger into some of them and to topple the rest. I was mainly angry
that Klow had not showed himself.
By the time I had reached the seashore, most of my men were in their
boats. Again I stayed till the last, although I could see the enemy's
fleet bearing down hard upon us from the north. In truth we would have
all been lost, had we come in the manner of former campaigns, all
together in big transports. But because we could scatter every which
way, the fleet harmed us little; and four-fifths of us got safely back.
Happily, none of the air-machines had range enough to reach Vlamaland.
As soon as I could get my staff together, I gave orders such as would
insure discipline. Then, reminding my hearties that Klow, knowing our
helplessness, would surely attack as soon as fully equipped, I made this
"To the man who shall suggest the best way of meeting their attack, I
shall give the third of my empire!"
So they knew that the case was desperate. As for myself, I slept not a
bit, but paced my sleep-chamber and thought deeply.
Now, a bit of a shell, from an enemy slinger, had penetrated my arm.
Till now, I had paid no attention to it. But it began to bother me, so I
pulled the metal from my arm with my teeth. And quite by chance I placed
the billet on the table within a few inches of the compass I had carried
on my boat.
To my intense surprise the needle of the compass swung violently about,
so that one end pointed directly at the fragment of metal. I moved them
closer together; there was no doubt that they were strongly attracted.
The enemy's shells were made of mere iron!
The moment I fully realized this, I saw clearly how we might baffle the
men of Klow. I instantly summoned some men gave the orders much as
though I had known for years what was to be done, and in a few moments
had the satisfaction of seeing my messengers hurrying north and south.
And so it came about that, within three days of our shameful retreat, a
tenth of my men were at work on the new project. As yet there was no
word from my spies across the sea; but we worked with all possible
haste. And this, very briefly, is what we did:
We laid a gigantic line of iron clear across the empire. From north to
south, from snow to snow; one end was bedded in the island of Pathna,
where the north magnetic-pole is found, while the other stopped on the
opposite side of the world, in a hole dug through the ice into the solid
earth of the South Polar Plain. And every foot of that enormous rod—
'twas as big around as my leg—was insulated from the ground with pieces
of our secret non-magnetic alloy!
Not for nothing had our chemists sought the metal which would resist the
lightning. And not for nothing did my bullies piece the rod together,
all working at the same time, so that the whole thing were complete in
seven days. That is, complete save for the final connecting link; and
that lay, a loglike roll of iron, at the door of my palace, ready to be
rolled into place when I were but ready.
And on the morrow the Klow reached our shores.
My first intent was to let them advance unhampered; but Maka pointed out
that such a policy might give them suspicions, and so we disputed their
course all the way. I gave orders to show no great amount of resistance;
and thus, the louts reached Vlama in high feather, confident that the
game was theirs.
I stood at the door of the palace as Klow himself rolled up to the edge
of the parade-ground. My men, obeying orders, had given way to him; his
crews swarmed the space behind and on all sides of him, while my own
bullies were all about and behind the palace. Never did two such giant
armies face one another in peace; for I had caused my banner to be
floated wrong end to, in token of surrender.
First, a small body of subordinates waited upon me, demanding that I
give up the throne. I answered that I would treat with none save Klow
himself; and shortly the knave, surrounded by perhaps fifty underlings,
stepped up before me.
"Hail, Stroker!" he growled, his voice shaking a bit with excitement;
not with fear, for he were a brave man. "Hail to thee and to thine, and
a pleasant stay in Hofe for ye all!"
"Hail, Klow!" replied I, glancing up meaningly at the air monsters
wheeling there. "I take it that ye purpose to execute us."
"Aye," he growled savagely. "Thou didst attack without provocation. Thy
life is forfeit, and as many more as may be found needful to guarantee
"Then," I quoth, my manner changing, "then ye have saved me the trouble
of deciding what shall be thy fate. Execution, say you? So be it!"
And I strode down to the great log of iron which lay ready to fill the
gap. Klow looked at me with a peculiar expression, as though he thought
me mad. True, it looked it; how could I do him harm without myself
But I kicked the props which held the iron, and gave it a start with my
foot. The ends of the pole-to-pole rod lay concealed by brush, perchance
fifty yards away. In ten seconds that last section had rolled completely
between them; and only a fool would have missed seeing that, the last
ten feet, the iron was fair jerked through the air.
As this happened we all heard a tremendous crackling, like that of
nearby lightning, while enormous clouds of dust arose from the two
concealed ends, which were now become connections. And at the same time
a loud, steely click, just one and no more, sounded from the intruding
For a moment Klow was vastly puzzled. Then he snarled angrily: "What
means this foolery, Strokor? Advance, and give up thy ax!"
For answer I turned me about, so as to face my men, and held up my hand
in signal. Instantly the whistles sounded, and my hearties came bounding
into the field.
"Treachery!" shouted Klow; and his officers ran here and there,
shouting: "To arms! Charge and destroy! No quarter!"
But I paid little attention to the hubbub. I were gazing up at those
infernal creatures of the air; and my heart sang within me as I saw
them, circling erratically but very surely down to the earth. And as
they came nearer, my satisfaction was entire; for their engines were
At the same time consternation was reigning among our visitors. Not a
man of all Klow's thousands was able to move his car or lift a weapon.
Every slinger was jammed, as though frozen by invisible ice; all their
balls and shells were stuck together, like the work of a transparent
glue. Even their side arms were locked in their scabbards; and all their
tugging could budge them not!
But none of my men were so handicapped. Each man's chariot was running
as though naught had happened; they thundered forward, discharging their
balls and shells as freely as they had across the sea. Their charge was
a murderous one; not a man of Klow's was able to resist, save with what
force he could put into his bare hands.
Klow saw all this from the middle of his group of officers. None were
able to more than place his body 'twixt us and their chief. In a very
few moments they saw that the unknown magic had made them as children in
our hands; they were utterly lost; and Klow turned away from the sight
with a black face. Again he faced me.
"What means this, ye huge bundle of lies? What mean ye by tricking us
with yon badge of surrender, only to tie our hands with thy magic of
Hofe? Is this the way to fight like a man?"
I had stood at ease in my door since rolling the iron. Now, I looked
about me still more easily; my men were running down the louts, who had
jumped from their useless chariots and taken to their heels. 'Twere but
a matter of time before the army of Klow would be no more, at that rate.
"Klow," I answered him mildly; "ye are right; this is not the way to
fight like a man. Neither," I pointed out one of the fallen air-cars;
"neither is that the way, flitting over our heads like shadows, and
destroying us with filthy smoke! Shame on ye, Klow, for stooping to
such! And upon thy own head be the blame for the trick I have played
"You attacked us without provocation," he muttered, sourly.
"Aye, and for a very good reason," I replied. "Yet I see thy viewpoint,
and shalt give thee the benefit of the doubt." I turned to my whistlers
and gave an order; so that presently the great slaughter had stopped. My
men and Klow's alike struggled back to see what were amiss.
I handed Klow an ax. "Throw away thine own, scabbard and all," I told
him. "It is useless, for 'tis made of iron. Ours, and all our tools of
war, are formed of an alloy which is immune from the magic."
He took the ax in wonderment. "What means it, Strokor?" asked he again,
meanwhile stripping himself in a businesslike fashion that it were good
"It means," said I, throwing off my robe, "that I have unchained the
magnetism of this world. Know you, Klow, that all of the children of the
sun are full of his power; it is like unto that of the tiny magnet which
ye give children for to play; but it is mighty, even as our world is
"Good Jon!" he gasped; for his was not a daring mind. "What have ye
done, ye trifler?"
"I have transformed this empire into one vast magnet," I answered
coolly. Then I showed him a boulder on the summit of a distant hill;
through the tube, Klow could see some of my men standing beside it.
"Place one of thy own men on the roof of the palace," I told Klow, "and
give him orders to lower my banner should ye give him the word.
"For upon the outcome of this fight 'twixt me and thee, Klow, hinges the
whole affair! If thou dost survive, down comes my banner; and my men on
the hill shall topple the boulder which shall rush down the slope and
burst the iron rod and break the spell. Stand, then, and defend
And it did me good to see the spirit fly into his eyes. He saw that his
empire lived or died as he lived or died, and he fought as he had never
fought before. Small man that he was beside myself, he were wondrous
quick and sure in his motions; before I knew it, he had bit his ax deep
into my side.
And in another moment or two it was over. For, as soon as I felt the
pain of that gash, I flung my own blade away; and with a roar such as
would have shaken a stouter heart than his, I charged the man, took a
second fearful blow full on my chest and heeding it not at all I
snatched the ax from his hands. Then, as he turned to run, I dropped
that tool also.
And I ran him down, and felled him, and broke his head with my hands.
[Footnote: This chapter was originally as long as the others, but an
unfortunate accident of Mr. Smith's, before he was thoroughly familiar
with the machine, mutilated a large portion of the tape so badly that it
was made worthless. This explains why something appears to be missing
from the account, and also why this chapter begins in the middle of a
slaves; but the most were slain. Neither could we bother with their
women and others left behind.
Now, by this time the empire was as one man in its worship of me. I had
been emperor but a year, and already I had made it certain that only the
men of Vlamaland, and no others, should live in the sight of Jon. So
well thought they of me, I might fair have sat upon my reputation, and
have spent my last days in feasting like the man before me.
But I was still too young and full of energy to take my ease. I found
myself more and more restless; I had naught to do; it had all been done.
At last I sent for old Maka.
"Ye put me up to this, ye old fraud," I told him, pretending to be
wrathful. "Now set me another task, or I'll have thy head!"
He knew me too well to be affrighted. He said that he had been
considering my case of late.
"Strokor, thy father was right when he told thee to have naught to do
with women. That is to say, he were right at the time. Were he alive
today"—I forgot to say that my father was killed in the battle across
the sea—"he would of a certainty say that it were high time for thee to
pick thy mate.
"Remember, Strokor; great though thou art, yet when death taketh thee
thy greatness is become a memory. Methinks ye should leave something
more substantial behind."
It took but little thought to convince me that Maka were right once
more. Fact; as soon as I thought upon it, it were a woman that I was
restless for. The mere notion instantly gave me something worth while to
look forward to.
"Jon bless thee!" I told the old man. "Ye have named both the trouble
and the remedy. I will attend to it at once."
He sat thinking for some time longer. "Has thought of any woman in
special, Strokor?" said he.
I had not. The idea was too new to me. "The best in the world shall be
mine, of course," I told him. "But as for which one—hast any notion
"Aye," he quoth. "'Tis my own niece I have in mind. Perchance ye
remember her; a pretty child, who was with me when thou didst save my
life up there on the mountainside."
I recalled the chit fairly well. "But she were not a vigorous woman,
Maka. Think you she is fit for me?"
"Aye, if any be," he replied earnestly. "Ave is not robust, true, but
her muscles are as wires. It is because of what lies in her head,
however, that I commend her. I have taught her all I know."
"So!" I exclaimed, much pleased. "Then she is indeed fit to be the
empress. And as I recall her, she were exceedingly good to look at."
"Say no more. Ave shall be the wife of Strokor!" And so it was arranged.
Well, and there ye have the story of Strokor, the mightiest man in the
world, and the wisest. More than this I shall not tell with my own lips;
I shall have singers recite my deeds until half the compartments in the
House of Words is filled with the records thereof. But it were well that
I should tell this much in mine own way.
My ambition is fulfilled. Let the hand of Jon descend upon our world, if
it may; I care not if presently the sun come nearer, and the water dry
up, and the days grow longer and longer, till the day and the year
become of the same length. I care not; my people, such as be left of
them, shall own what there is, and shall live as long as life is
I shall leave behind no race of weaklings. Every man shall be fit to
live, and the fittest of them all shall live the longer. And he, no
matter how many cycles hence, shall look back to Strokor, and to Ave,
his wife, and shall say:
"I am what I am, the last man on the world, because Strokor was the
fittest man of his time!"
Aye; my fame shall live as long as there be life. Tonight, as I speak
these things into the word machine, my heart is singing with the joy of
it all. Thank Jon, I were born a man, not a woman!
Tomorrow I go to fetch Ave. I shall not send for her; I cannot trust her
beauty to the hands of my crew. The more I think of her, the more I see
that mine whole life hath been devised for this one moment. I see that,
insignificant though she be, Ave is a needed link in the chain. I have
come to want her more than food; I am become a lovesick fool!
Aye! I can afford to poke fun at myself. I can afford anything in this
world; for I be its greatest man.
Its greatest man! Here is the place to stop. There is no more I can say,
the story is done; the story of Strokor, the greatest man in the whole
'Tis several years since last I faced this machine, many and many a day
since I said that my story was done, and placed the record on the shelf
of my anteroom, my heart full of satisfaction. And today I must needs
add another record, perhaps two, to the pile.
When I set out for the highlands on the morn following what I last
related I took with me but two or three men; not that I had any need for
guards, but because it looketh not well for the emperor to travel
without retainers, however few. Practically, I was alone.
I reached the locality as the sun went down. The sky was a brilliant
color; I remember it well. Darkness would come soon, though not as
quickly as farther south. Commonly, I think not upon such trifles; but I
were nearing my love, and tender things came easily to my mind.
My chariot kept to the road which lay alongside the irrigating flume, a
stone trough which runs from the snow-covered hills to the dry country
below. I had already noted this flume where it emptied into the basin in
the valley below; for it had had a new kind of a spillway affixed to it,
a broad, smooth platform with a slightly upward curve, over which the
water was shooting. I saw no sense in the arrangement, and made up my
mind to ask Maka about it; for the empire prized this trough most
highly. It ran straight and true, over expensive bridges where needed,
with scarce a bend to hold back the flow.
When I stopped my car outside the house I was surprised that none should
come out to greet me. Maka had sent word of my coming; all should have
been in readiness. But I was forced to use my whistle. There was no
stir. I became angry; I told my bullies to stay where they were, and
myself burst in the door.
The house was a sturdy stone affair of one floor, set against the side
of the mountain, a short distance above the flume. I looked about the
interior in surprise; for not a soul was in sight in any of the
compartments. There were signs that people had been there but a few
moments before. I called it strange, for I had seen no one leave the
house as I approached.
At last, as I was inspecting the eating place, I noted a small door let
into the outer wall. It was open; and by squeezing I managed to get
through. I found that it let into a long, dark passage.
I followed this, going steadily down a flight of stairs, and all of a
sudden bumped into an iron grating. At the same moment I saw that the
passageway made a turn just beyond; and by craning my neck and straining
my eyes I could see a faintly lighted chamber just a few feet away.
And before my eyes could scarce make out the figures of some people in
the middle of the place, a voice came to my ear.
"Hail, Strokor!" it said; and great was my astonishment as I recognized
the tones of Edam, the young dreamer whom Maka had brought to my house.
"Edam!" I cried. "What do ye here? Come and open these bars!"
He made no reply, save to laugh in a way I did not like. I shook the
grating savagely, so that I felt it give. "Edam!" I roared. "Open this
grating at once; and tell me, where is Ave?"
"I am here," came another voice; and I stopped in sheer surprise, to
peer closer and to see, for the first time, that it were really the
dreamer and the chit, these two and no more, who sat there in the
underground chamber. They seemed to be sitting in some sort of a box,
with glass windows.
"Ave—come here!" I spoke much more gently than to Edam; for my heart
was soft with thoughts of her. "It is thy lord, Strokor, the emperor,
who calls thee. Come!"
"I stay here," said she in the same clear voice, entirely unshaken by my
presence. "Edam hath claimed me, and I shall cleave to him. I want none
of ye, ye giant!"
For a moment I was minded to throw my weight against the barrier, such
was my rage. Then I thought better on it, and closely examined the bars.
Two were loose.
"Ave," said I, contriving to keep my voice even, although my hands were
busy with the bars as I spake. "Ave—ye do wrong to spite me thus. Know
ye not that I am the emperor, and that these bars cannot stand before
me? I warn ye, if I must call my men to help me, and to witness my
shame, it will go hard with ye! Better that ye should come willingly. Ye
are not for such as Edam."
"No?" quoth the young man, speaking up for the chit. "Ye are wrong,
Strokor. We defy thee to do thy worst; we are prepared to flee from ye
at all costs!"
I had twisted one of the bars out of my way without their seeing it. I
strove at the next as I answered, still controlling my voice: "'Twill do
ye no good to flee, Edam; ye know that. And as for Ave—she shall wish
she had never been born!"
"So I should," she replied with spirit, "if I were to become thy woman.
But know you, Strokor, that Ave, the daughter of Durok, would rather die
than take the name of one who had spurned her, as ye did me!"
So I had; it had slipped my mind. "But I want thee now, Ave," said I
softly, preparing to slip through the opening I had made. "Surely ye
would not take thine own life?"
"Nay," she answered, with a laugh in her voice. "Rather I would go with
Edam here. I would go," she finished, her voice rising in her
excitement, "away from this horrible man's world; away from it all,
Strokor, and to Jeos! Hear ye? To Jeos! And—"
But at that instant I burst through the grating. Without a sound I
charged straight for the pair of them. And without a sound they slipped
away from before my grasp. Next second I was gazing stupidly at the
rushing, swirling water of the flume.
And I saw that they had been sitting in the cabin of a tiny boat, and
that they had got away!
There was an opening into the outer air; I rushed through, and stared in
the growing twilight down the black furrow of the flume. Far in the
distance, and going like a streak, I spied the glittering glass windows
of the little craft. Once I made out the flutter of a saucy hand.
"We shall get them when they reach the valley!" I shouted to the men.
Then I reached for my tube, and sighted it on the lower end of the
flume, far, far below, almost too far away to be clear to the naked eye.
In an incredibly short time the craft reached the end. It traveled at an
extraordinary rate; perchance 'twas weighted; I marveled that its
windows could stand the force of the air. And I scarce had time to fear
that the twain should be destroyed on that upturned spillway before it
And then an awesome thing happened. As the boat struck the incline it
shot upward into the air at a steep slant. Up, up it went; my heart
jumped into my mouth; for surely they must be crushed when they came
But the craft did not come down. It went on and on, up and up; its speed
scarcely slackened; 'twas like that of a shooting star. And in far less
time than it takes to tell it, the little boat was high up among the
stars, going higher every instant, and farther away from me. And
suddenly the sweat broke cold on my forehead; for dead ahead, directly
in line with their travel, lay the bluish white gleam of Jeos.
So great was my rage over the escape of the dreamer with my woman, at
first I felt no sorrow. Later, after days and days of search in and
about the basin, I came to grieve most terribly over my loss. When I
came home to the palace, I was well-nigh ill.
In vain did I make the most generous of rewards. The whole empire turned
out to search for the missing ones, but nothing came of it all. Yet I
never ceased to hope, especially after my talk with Maka.
"Aye," he said, when I questioned him, "it were barely possible that
they have left this world for all time. I have calculated the speed
which their craft might have attained, had it the right proportions,
and, in truth, it might have left the spillway at such a speed that it
entirely overcame the draw of the ground.
"But I think it were a slim chance. It is more than likely, Strokor,
that Ave shall return to thee."
Was I not the fitter man? Surely Edam's purpose could not succeed; Jon
would not have it so. The woman was mine, because I had chosen her; and
she must come back to me, and in safety, or I should tear Edam into
But as time went on and naught transpired, I became more and more
melancholy. Life became an empty thing; it had been empty enough before
I had craved the girl, but now it was empty with hopelessness.
After a while I got to thinking of some of the things Maka had told me.
The more I thought of the future, the blacker it seemed. True, there
were many other women; but there had been only one Ave. No such beauty
had ever graced this world before. And I knew I could be happy with no
Now I saw that all my fame had been in vain. I had lost the only woman
that was fit for me, and when I died there would be naught left but my
name. Even that the next emperor might blot out, if he chose. It had all
been in vain!
"It shall not be!" I roared to myself, as I strode about my compartment,
gnawing at my hands in my misery. And in just such a fit of helpless
anger the great idea came to me.
No sooner conceived than put into practice. I will not go closely into
details; I will relate just the outstanding facts. What I did was to
select a very tall mountain, located almost on the equator, and
proclaimed my intention to erect a monument to Jon upon its summit. I
caused vast quanities of materials to be brought to the place; and for a
year a hundred thousand men labored to put the pieces together.
When they had finished, they had made a mammoth tower partly of wood and
partly of alloy. It was made in sections so that it might be placed,
piece upon piece, one above another high into the sky.
It was an enormous task. When it was complete, I had a tower as high as
the mountain itself erected upon its summit.
And next I caused section after section of the long, iron, pole-to-pole
rod, which had tricked Klow, to be hauled up into the tower. I was only
careful to begin the process from the top and work downward. I gave word
that the last three sections be inserted at midday at a given day.
And at that hour I was safe inside a non-magnetic room.
I know right well when the deed was done. There was a most terrific
earthquake. All about me, though I could see nothing at all, I could
hear buildings falling. The din was appalling.
At the same time the air was fairly shattered with the rattle of the
lightning. Never have I heard the like before. The rod had loosed the
wrath of the forces above our air!
And as suddenly the whole deafening storm ended. Perchance the rod was
destroyed by the lightning; I never went to see. For I know, the
electricity split the very ground apart. But I gazed out of a window in
the top of my palace, and saw that I had succeeded.
Not a soul but myself remained alive.
None but buildings made of the alloy were standing. Not only man, but
most of his works had perished in that awful blast. I, alone, remained!
I, Strokor, am the survivor! I, the greatest man; it were but fit that I
should be the last! No man shall come after me, to honor me or not as he
chooses. I, and no other, shall be, the last man!
And when Ave returns—as she must, though it be ages hence—when she
comes, she shall find me waiting. I, Strokor, the mighty and wise, shall
be here when she returns. I shall wait for her forever; here I shall
always stay. The stars may move from their places, but I shall not go!
For it is my intention to make use of another secret Maka taught me. In
brief—[Footnote: The record ends here. It may be that Strokor left the
machine for some trivial reason, and forgot to finish his story. At all
events, it is necessary to refer to the further discoveries of the
expedition in order to learn the outcome of it all.]
Provided with a sledge-hammer, a crowbar, and a hydraulic jack, and even
with drills and explosives as a last resort, Jackson, Kinney, and Van
Emmon returned the same day to the walled-in room in the top of that
mystifying mansion. The materials they carried would have made
considerable of a load had not Smith removed enough of the weights from
their suits to offset their burden. They reached the unopened door
without special exertion, and with no mishap.
They looked in vain for a crack big enough to hold the point of the
crowbar; neither could the most vigorous jabbing loosen any of the
material. They dropped that tool and tried the sledge. It got no
results; even in the hands of the husky geologist, the most vigorous
blows failed to budge the door. They did not even dent it.
So they propped the powerful hydraulic jack, a tool sturdy enough to
lift a house, at an angle against the door. Then, using the crowbar as a
lever, the architect steadily turned up the screw, the mechanism
multiplying his very ordinary strength a hundredfold. In a moment it
could be seen that he was getting results; the door began to stir. Van
Emmon struck one edge with the sledge-hammer, and it gave slightly.
In another minute the whole door, weighing over a ton, had been pushed
almost out of its opening. The jack overbalanced, toppled over; they did
not readjust it, but threw their combined weight upon the barrier.
There was no need to try again. With a shiver the huge slab of metal
slid, upright, into the space beyond, stood straight on end for a second
or so, then toppled to the floor.
AND THIS TIME THEY HEARD THE CRASH.
For, as the door fell, a great gust of wind rushed out with a hissing
shriek, almost overbalancing the men from the earth. They stood still
for a while, breathing hard from their exertion, trying in vain to peer
into the blackness before them. Under no circumstances would either of
them have admitted that he was gathering courage.
In a minute the architect, his eyes sparkling with his enthusiasm for
the antique, picked up the electric torch and turned it into the
compartment. As he did so the other two stepped to his side, so that the
three of them faced the unknown together. It was just as well. Outlined
in that circle of light, and not six feet in front of them, stood a
great chair upon a wide platform; and seated in it, erect and alert, his
wide open eyes staring straight into those of the three, was the
frightful mountainous form of Strokor, the giant, himself.
For an indeterminable length of time the men from the earth stood there,
speechless, unbreathing, staring at that awful monster as though at a
nightmare. He did not move; he was entirely at ease, and yet plainly on
guard, glaring at them with an air of conscious superiority which held
them powerless. Instinctively they knew that the all-dominating voice in
the records had belonged to this Hercules. But their instinct could not
tell them whether the man still lived.
It was the doctor's brain that worked first. Automatically, from a
lifelong habit of diagnosis, he inspected that dreadful figure quite as
though it were that of a patient. Bit by bit his subconscious mind
pieced together the evidence; the man in the chair showed no signs of
life. And after a while the doctor's conscious mind also knew.
"He is dead," he said positively, in his natural voice; and such was the
vast relief of the other two that they were in no way startled by the
sound. Instantly all three drew long breaths; the tension was relaxed;
and Van Emmon's curiosity found a harsh and unsteady voice.
"How under heaven has he been preserved all this time? Especially," he
added, remembering, "considering the air that we found in the room?"
The doctor answered after a moment, his reply taking the form of
advancing a step or two and holding out a hand. It touched glass.
For the first time since the discovery, the builder shifted the light.
He had held it as still as death for a full minute. Now he flashed it
all about the place, and they saw that the huge figure was entirely
encased in glass. The cabinet measured about six feet on each of its
sides, and about five feet in height; but such were the squat
proportions of the occupant that he filled the whole space.
A slight examination showed that the case was not fixed to the platform,
but had a separate bottom, upon which the stumplike chair was set. Also,
they found that, thanks to the reduced pull of the planet, it was not
hard for the three of them to lift the cabinet bodily, despite its
weight of almost a thousand pounds. They left the tools lie there,
discarded as much weight as they could, and proceeded to carry that
ages-old superman out into the light.
Here they could see that the great man was all but a negro in color. It
was equally clear, however, from an examination of his mammoth cranium
and extraordinary expression, that he was as highly developed along most
mental lines as the greatest men on earth. It was the back of his head,
however, so flat that it was only a continuation of his neck, or,
rather, shoulders, that told where the flaw lay. That, together with the
hardness of his eye, the cruelty of his mouth, and the absolute lack of
softness anywhere in the ironlike face or frame—all this condemned the
monster for what he was; inhuman.
It was not easy to get him down the two flights of stairs. More than
once they had to prop the case on a step while they rested; and at one
time, just before they reached that curious heap of rubbish at the foot
of the upper stairs, Jackson's strength gave way and it looked as though
the whole thing would get away from them. Van Emmon saved it at the cost
of a bruised shoulder.
Once at the bottom of the lower flight, the rest was easy. Within a very
few minutes the astonished face of the engineer was peering into the
vestibule; he could hardly wait until the air-tight door was locked
before opening the inner valves. He stared at the mammoth figure in the
case long and hard, and from then on showed a great deal of respect for
his three friends.
Of course, at that time the members of the expedition did not understand
the conditions of Mercury as they are now known. They had to depend upon
the general impression they got from their first-hand investigations;
and it is remarkable that the doctor should have guessed so close to the
"He must have made up his mind to outlast everybody else," was the way
he put it as he kicked off his suit. He stepped up to the cabinet and
felt of the glass. "I wish it were possible, without breaking the case,
to see how he was embalmed."
His fingers still rested on the glass. Suddenly his eyes narrowed; he
ran his fingers over the entire surface of the pane, and then whirled to
stare at a thermometer.
"That's mighty curious!" he ejaculated. "This thing was bitter cold when
we brought it in! Now it's already as warm as this car!"
Smith's eyes lit up. "It may be," he offered, "that the case doesn't
contain a vacuum, but some gas which has an electrical affinity for our
"Or," exclaimed the geologist suddenly, "the glass itself may be totally
different from ours. It may be made of—"
"GOD!" shouted the doctor, jerking his hand from the cabinet and leaping
straight backward. At the same instant, with a grinding crash, all three
sides of the case collapsed and fell in splinters to the floor.
"Look out!" shrieked Jackson. He was staring straight into the now
unhooded eyes of the giant. He backed away, stumbled against a stool,
and fell to the floor in a dead faint. Smith fumbled impotently with a
hammer. The doctor was shaking like a leaf.
But Van Emmon stood still in his tracks, his eyes fixed on the Goliath;
his fingernails gashed the palms of his hands but he would not budge.
And as he stared he saw, from first to last, the whole ghastly change
that came, after billions of years of waiting, to the sole survivor of
A glaze swept over the huge figure. Next instant every line in that
adamant frame lost its strength; the hardness left the eyes and mouth.
The head seemed to sink lower into the massive shoulders, and the
irresistible hands relaxed. In another second the thing that had once
been as iron had become as rubber.
But only for an instant. Second by second that huge mountain of muscle
slipped and jellied and actually melted before the eyes of the humans.
At the same time a curious acrid odor arose; Smith fell to coughing. The
doctor turned on more oxygen.
In less than half a minute the man who had once conquered a planet was
reduced to a steaming mound of brownish paste. As it sank to the floor
of the case, it touched a layer of coarse yellow powder sprinkled there;
and it was this that caused the vapor. In a moment the room was filled
with the haze of it; luckily, the doctor's apparatus worked well.
And thus it came about that, within five minutes from being exposed to
the air of the sky-car, that whole immense bulk, chair and all, had
vanished. The powder had turned it to vapor, and the purifying chemicals
had sucked it up. Nothing was left save a heap of smoking, grayish ashes
in the center of the broken glass.
Van Emmon's fingers relaxed their grip. He stirred to action, and turned
briskly to Smith.
"Here! Help me with this thing!"
Between them they got the remains of the cabinet, with its gruesome
load, into the vestibule. As for the doctor, he was bending over
Jackson's still unconscious form. When he saw what the others were
doing, he gave a great sigh of relief.
"Good!" He helped them close the door. "Let's get away from this damned
The outer door was opened. At the same time Smith started the machinery;
and as the sky-car shot away from the ground he tilted it slightly, so
that the contents of the vestibule was slid into space. Down it fell
like so much lead.
The doctor glanced through a nearby window, and his face brightened as
he made out the distant gleam of another planet. He watched the receding
surface of Mercury with positive delight.
"Nice place to get away from," he commented. "And now, my friends, for
Venus, and then—home!"
But the other's eyes were fixed upon a tiny sparkle in the dust outside
the palace, where the vestibule had dropped its load. It was the sun
shining upon some broken bits of glass; the glass which, for untold
ages, had enclosed the throne of the Death-lord.
THE QUEEN OF LIFE
NEXT STOP, VENUS!
When he first got the idea of the sky-car, the doctor never stopped to
consider whether he was the right man for such an excursion. Personally,
he hated travel. He was merely a general practitioner, with a great
fondness for astronomy; and the sole reason why he wanted to visit the
planets was that he couldn't see them well enough with his telescope. So
he dabbled a little in magnetism and so forth, and stumbled upon the
principle of the cube.
But he had no mechanical ability, and was on the point of giving up the
scheme when he met Smith. He was instantly impressed by the engineer's
highly commonplace face; he had had considerable experience with human
contrariness, and felt sure that Smith must be an absolute wonder, since
he looked so very ordinary.
Kinney's diagnosis proved correct. Smith knew his business; the
machinery was finished in a hurry and done right. However, when it came
to fitting the outfit into a suitable sky-car, Kinney was obliged to
call in an architect. That accounts for E. Williams Jackson. At the same
time, it occurred to the doctor that they would need a cook. Mrs. Kinney
had refused to have anything whatever to do with the trip, and so Kinney
put an ad in the paper. As luck would have it, Van Emmon, the geologist,
who had learned how to cook when he first became a mountaineer, saw the
ad and answered it in hope of adventure.
The doctor himself, besides his training in the mental and bodily
frailities of human beings, had also an unusual command of the related
sciences, such as biology. Smith's specialties have already been named;
he could drive an airplane or a nail with equal ease. Van Emmon, as a
part of his profession, was a skilled "fossilologist," and was well up
in natural history.
As for E. Williams Jackson—the architect was also the sociologist of
the four. Moreover, he had quite a reputation as an amateur antiquarian.
Nevertheless, the most important thing about E. Williams Jackson was not
learned until after the visit to Mercury, after the terrible end of that
exploration, after the architect, falling in a faint, had been revived
under the doctor's care.
"Gentlemen," said Kinney, coming from the secluded nook among the
dynamos which had been the architect's bunk; "gentlemen, I must inform
you that Jackson is not what we thought.
"He—I mean, she—is a woman!"
Which put an entirely new face upon matters. The three men, discussing
it, marveled that the architect had been able to keep her sex a secret
all the time they were exploring at Mercury. They did not know that none
of E. Williams Jackson's fellow architects had ever guessed the truth.
Ambitious and ingenious, with a natural liking for house-planning, she
had resolved that her sex should not stand in the way of success.
And when she finally came to herself, there in her bunk, and suspected
that her secret was out—instead of shame or embarrassment she felt only
chagrin. She walked, rather unsteadily, across the floor of the great
cube-shaped car to the window where the three were standing; and as they
quietly made a place for her, she took it entirely as a matter of
course, and without a word.
The doctor had been speaking of the peculiar fitness of the four for
what they were doing. "And if I'm not mistaken," he went on, "we're
going to need all the brains we can pool, when we get to Venus.
"I never would have claimed, when we started out, that Mercury had ever
been inhabited. But now that we've seen what we've seen, I feel dead
sure that Venus once was peopled."
The four looked out the triple-glazed vacuum-insulated window at the
steadily growing globe of "Earth's twin sister." Half in sunlight and
half in shadow, this planet, for ages the synonym for beauty, was now
but a million miles away. She looked as large as the moon; but instead
of a silvery gleam, she showed a creamy radiance fully three times as
"Let's see," reflected the geologist aloud. "As I recall it, the
brightness of a planet depends upon the amount of its air. That would
indicate, then, that Venus has about as much as the earth, wouldn't it?"
remembering how the home planet had looked when they left it.
The doctor nodded. "There are other factors; but undoubtedly we are
approaching a world which is a great deal like our own. Venus is nearly
as large as the earth, has about nine-tenths the surface, and a gravity
almost as strong. The main difference is that she's only two-thirds as
far from the sun as we are."
"How long is her day?" Smith wanted to know.
"Can't say. Some observers claim to have seen her clearly enough to
announce a day of the same length as ours. Others calculate that she's
like Mercury; always the same face toward the sun. If so, her day is
also her year—two hundred and twenty-five of our days."
Van Emmon looked disappointed. "In that case she would be blistering hot
on one side and freezing cold on the other; except," remembering
Mercury, "except for the 'twilight zone,' where the climate would be
neither one nor the other, but temperate." He pointed to the line down
the middle of the disk before them, the line which divided the lighted
from the unlighted, the day from the night.
The four looked more intently. It should be remembered that the very
brilliance of Venus has always hindered the astronomers; the planet as a
whole is always very conspicuous but its very glare makes it impossible
to see any details. The surface has always seemed to be covered by a
veil of hazy, faintly streaked vapor.
Smith gave a queer exclamation. For a moment or two he stared hard at
the planet; then looked up with an apologetic grin.
"I had a foolish idea. I thought—" He checked himself. "Say, doesn't
Venus remind you of something?"
The doctor slowly shook his head. "Can't say that it does, Smith. I have
always considered Venus as having an appearance peculiarly her own.
The engineer started to answer, stopped, thought better of it, and
instead pointed out the half that was in shadow. "Why is it that we can
make out the black portion so easily?"
Kinney could answer this. "The fact is, it isn't really black at all,
but faintly lighted. Presumably it is star-shine."
"Star-shine!" echoed the architect, interested.
"Just that. You see," finished the doctor, "if that side is never turned
toward the sun, then it must be covered with ice, which would reflect
"Ah!" exclaimed Smith with satisfaction. "I wasn't so crazy after all!
My notion was that the whole blamed thing is covered with ice!"
It looked reasonable. Certainly the entire sphere had a somewhat watery
appearance. It prompted the geologist to say:
"Kinney—if that reflection is really due to ice, then there must be
plenty of water vapor in the air. And if that's the case—"
"Not only is life entirely possible," stated the doctor quietly, "but
I'll bet you this sky-car against an abandoned soap-stone mine that we
find humans, or near-human beings there when we land tomorrow!"
SPEAKING OF VENUS
The architect was still dressed in the fashionably cut suit of men's
clothes she had worn while in the car. Van Emmon thought of this when he
said, somewhat awkwardly:
"Well, I'm going to fix something to eat. It'll be ready in half an
She looked at him, slightly puzzled; then understood. "You mean to give
me time to change my clothes? Thanks; but I'm used to these. And
besides," with spirit, "I never could see why women couldn't wear what
they choose, so long as it is decent."
There was no denying that hers were both becoming and "decent." Modeled
after the usual riding costume, both coat and breeches were youthfully,
rather than mannishly, tailored; and the narrow, vertical stripe of the
dark gray material served to make her slenderness almost girlish. In
short, what with her poet-style hair, her independent manner and direct
speech, she was far more like a boy of twenty than a woman nearing
She walked with Van Emmon, dodging machinery all the way, across the big
car to the little kitchenette over which he had presided. There, to his
dismay, the girl took off her coat, rolled up her sleeves, and announced
her intention of helping.
"You're a good cook, Van—I mean, Mr.—"
"Let it go at Van, please," said he hastily. "My first name is Gustave,
but nobody has ever used it since I was christened."
"Same with my 'Edna,' she declared. "Mother's name was Williams, and I
was nicknamed 'Billie' before I can remember. So that's settled," with
great firmness. The point is—Van—you're a good cook, but everything
tastes of bacon. I wish you'd let me boss this meal."
He looked rebellious for an instant, then gave a sigh of relief. "I'm
really tickled to death."
A little later the doctor and Smith, looking across, saw Van Emmon being
initiated into the system which constructs scalloped potatoes. Next, he
was discovering that there is more than one way to prepare dried beef.
"For once, we won't cream it," said E. Billie Jackson, dryly, as Van
Emmon laid down the can-opener. "We'll make an omelet out of it, and see
if anything happens."
She was already beating the eggs. He cut up the meat into small pieces,
and when he was finished, took the egg-beater away from her. He turned
it so energetically that a speck of foam flew into his face.
"Go slow," she advised, nonchalantly reaching up with a dish-towel and
wiping the fleck away. Whereupon he worked the machine more furiously
Soon he was wondering how on earth he had come to assume, all along,
that she was not a woman. He now saw that what he had previously
considered boyishness in her was, in fact, simply the vigor and
freshness of an earnest, healthy, energetic girl. It dawned upon him
that her keen, gray eyes were not sharp, but alert; her mouth, not hard,
but resolute; her whole expression, instead of mannish, just as womanly
as that of any girl who has been thrown upon her own resources, and made
good. He soon found that his eyesight did not suffer in any way because
he looked at her.
"Now," she remarked, in her businesslike way, as she placed the brimming
pan into the oven, "I suppose that I'll hear various hints to the effect
that a woman has no business trying to do men's stunts. And I warn you
right now that I'm prepared to put up a warm argument!"
"Of course," said the geologist, with such gravity that the girl knew he
didn't mean it; "of course a woman's place is in the home. Surrounded by
seventeen or eighteen children, and cooking for that many more hired men
besides, she is simply ideal. We realize that."
"Then, admitting that much, why shouldn't a woman be as independent as
she likes? Think what women did during the war; remember what a lot of
women are doctors and lawyers! Is there any good reason why I couldn't
design a library as well as a man could?"
"None at all," agreed Van Emmon, handing over the dish of chopped meat.
The girl carefully folded the contents into the now spongelike omelet as
he went on: "By the way, a neighbor of mine told me, just before I left,
that he was having trouble with a broken sewer. How'd you like to—"
"About as well as you'd like to darn socks!" she came back, evidently
being primed for such comments. She took a look at the potatoes, and
then permitted the geologist to open their sixth can of peaches. "I must
say they're good," she admitted, as she noted the eagerness with which
Bread and butter, olives, coffee and cake completed that meal. The table
was set with more care than usual, a clean cloth and napkins being
unearthed for the occasion. When Smith and Kinney were called, both
declared that they weren't hungry enough to do justice to it all.
"It's just as well you weren't very hungry," commented Billie, as she
finished giving each of them a second helping of the potatoes. "There's
barely enough left for me," and she took it.
"Say, I never thought of it before, Miss—er—Miss Billie," said Smith
coloring; "but you eat just as much as a man!"
"Ye gods, how shocking!" she jeered. "Come to think of it, Smith, you
eat MORE than a woman!"
The doctor's face grew red with some suppressed emotion. After a while
he said soberly: "I'll tell you what's worrying Smith. He's afraid that
women, having suddenly become very progressive, will forge entirely
ahead of men. You understand—having started, they can't stop. And I
must admit that I've thought seriously of it at times myself."
"Me too," added Van Emmon earnestly. "I have the same feeling about it
that an elderly man must have when he sees a young one get on the job.
Instead of being glad that the women are making good, I sort of resent
"I knew it!" exclaimed the girl delightedly. "But I never heard a man
admit it before!"
"Perhaps it isn't as serious as we think," said the practical Smith,
scraping the bottom of the potato pan. "I believe that the progress of
women may have a fine effect upon men, making us less self-satisfied,
and more alert. For one thing," glancing about the cube, "we've got to
clean up a bit, now that we know you're a woman!"
The architect's eyes flashed. "Because you know mighty well I'll light
in and do it myself, if you don't; that's what you mean! Please take
notice that I'm to be respected, not because of what I AM, but because
of what I can DO!"
"In behalf of myself and companions, I surrender!" said the doctor
gallantly. Then he instantly added: "And yet, even when we are actually
chivalrous, we are disregarding your desire to be appreciated for what
you are worth. Pardon me, Miss Billie; I'll not forget again.
"At the same time, my dear," remembering that he had a daughter of his
own, nearly the builder's age, "we men have come to think of women
primarily as potential mothers, and secondarily as people of affairs.
And considering that motherhood is something that is denied to us lords
of the earth—"
"For which we can thank a merciful Providence," interjected the girl
"Considering this—excuse my seriousness—really amazing fact, you can't
blame us for expecting women to fulfil this vital function before taking
up other matters."
"Yes?" remarked the girl, watching the peaches with anxious eye as Van
Emmon helped himself. "Funny; but I always understood that the first
function of man was to father the race; yet, invariably the young
fellows try to make names for themselves before, not after, they marry!"
"Scalped!" chuckled Van Emmon, as the doctor hid his discomfiture behind
a large piece of cake. "You may know a lot about Venus, doc, but you
don't know much about women!"
"Speaking about Venus," Smith was reminded, "we may learn something
bearing upon the very point we have been discussing if Kinney's right
about the inhabitants."
The doctor nodded eagerly. "You see, if there's people still alive on
the planet, they're probably further advanced than we on the earth.
Other things being equal, of course. Being a smaller planet than ours,
she cooled off sooner, and thus became fit for life earlier. And having
been made from the same 'batch,' to use Van's expression, that Mercury
and all the rest were, why, in all likelihood evolution has taken place
there much the same as with us, only sooner.
"I should expect," he elaborated largely, "that we shall find the
inhabitants much the same as we humans, only extremely civilized. It may
be that they are as far above us as we are above monkeys."
Smith broke in by quoting an astronomer who contended that Venus kept
only one face toward the sun. "Maybe she always did, Kinney."
The doctor shook his head. "See how perfectly round she is? No
oblateness whatever. It proves that she once revolved, otherwise she'd
be pear-shaped, from the sun's pull."
There was a short silence, during which Billie concluded that the only
scraps left would be the coffee-grounds. Then Van Emmon pushed away from
the table, got to his feet, stretched a little to relieve his nerves,
"Well, whatever we find on Venus, I hope the women do the cooking!"
THE FIRST VENUSIAN
When the sky-car was within a thousand miles of the surface, Smith
adjusted the currents so that the floor was directed downward. The four
changed from the window to the deadlight, and watched the approaching
disk with every bit of the excitement and interest they had felt when
The doctor had warned them that the heavy atmosphere which Venus was
known to possess would prevent seeing as clearly as in the case of the
smaller planet. All were much disappointed, however, to find that they
were still unable to make out a single definite detail. The great half-
shining, half-black world showed nothing but that vaguely streaked, ice-
There was something very queer about it all. "Strange that we should see
no movement in those clouds," mused the doctor aloud. "That is, if they
really are clouds."
Van Emmon already doubted it. "Just what I was thinking. There ought to
be terrific winds; yet, so far as I have seen, there's been nothing
doing anywhere on the surface since we first began to observe it."
After a while the doctor put away his binoculars and rubbed his eyes.
"We might as well descend faster, Smith. Can't see a thing from here."
Unhindered by air to impede its progress the sky-car had been hurtling
through space at cometary speed. Now, however, Smith added the power of
the apparatus to the pull of the planet, so that the disk began to rush
toward them at a truly alarming rate. After a few seconds of it Billie
found herself unconsciously moving to the side of the geologist.
He looked down at her, understood, and flushed with pleasure. "There's
no danger," he confidently assured her, with the result that, her
courage fortified, the girl moved back to her place again. Van Emmon
inwardly kicked himself.
So deceptive was that peculiar fogginess Smith throttled their descent
as soon as they had reached the point where the planet's appearance
changed from round to flat. They were headed for the line which marked
the boundary of the shadow. This gray "twilight zone" was three or four
hundred miles in width; on the right of it—to the east—the dazzling
surface of that sunlit vapor contrasted sharply with the all but black
mistiness of the starward side. Clearly the zone ought to be temperate
Down they sank. As they came nearer a curious pinkish tint began to show
beneath them. Shortly it became more noticeable; the doctor gave a
sudden grunt of satisfaction, and Smith stopped the car.
A minute later the doctor had taken a sample of the surrounding ether
through his laboratory test-vestibule; and shortly announced that they
were now floating in air instead of space.
"Good deal like ours back home, too"—exultingly. "Pretty thin, of
course." He made a short calculation, referring to the aneroid barometer
which was mounted on the outer frame of a window, and said he judged
that their altitude was about five miles.
The descent continued, Smith using the utmost caution. The other three
kept their eyes glued to the deadlight; and their mystification was only
equaled by their uneasiness as that motionless, bleary glaze failed
absolutely to show anything they had not seen a thousand miles higher.
Not a single detail!
"It reminds me," said the girl in a low voice, "of something I once saw
from the top of a hill. It was the reflection of the sun from the
surface of a pond; not clear water, but covered with—"
"Good Heavens!" interrupted Van Emmon, struck with the thought. "Can it
be that the whole planet is under water?"
Beyond a doubt his guess was justified. There was an oily smoothness
about that dazzling haze which made it remarkably like a lake of still
and rather dirty water under a bright sun.
But the doctor said no. "Any water I ever heard of would make clouds,"
said he; "and we know there's air enough to guarantee plenty of wind.
Yet nothing seems to be in motion." He was frowning continually now.
It was Billie who first declared that she saw the surface. "Stop," she
said to Smith evenly, and he instantly obeyed. All four gathered around
the deadlight, and soon agreed that the peculiarly elusive skin of the
planet was actually within sight. However, it was like deciding upon the
distance of the moon—as easy to say that it were within arm's reach as
a long ways off.
The doctor went to a window. There he could look out upon the sun, a
painfully bright object much larger than it looks from the Earth. It was
just "ascending," and half of it was below the horizon. A blinding
streak of light was reflected from a point on the surface not far from
the cube. Shading his eyes with his hand the doctor could see that the
mysterious crust was absolutely smooth.
On the opposite side of the car the horizon ended in a sunrise glow of a
slightly greenish radiance. From that side the pinkish tint of the
surface was quite pronounced.
Before going any lower the doctor, struck with an idea, declared: "We
always want to remember that this car is perfectly soundproof. Suppose
we open the outer door of the vestibule. I imagine we'll learn something
It was possible to open this door without touching the inner valves,
using mechanism concealed within the walls. The moment it was done—the
door faced the "north"—pandemonium itself broke loose. A most terrific
shrieking and howling came from the outside; it was wind, passing at a
rate such as would make a hurricane seem a mere zephyr. The doctor
closed the door so that they could think.
"It's the draft," he concluded; "the draft from the sun-warmed side to
the cold side."
As for Van Emmon, he was getting out a rope and a heavy leaden weight.
On the rope he formed knots every five feet, about twenty of them; and
after getting into one of the insulated, aluminum-armored and oxygen-
helmeted suits with which they had explored Mercury, he locked himself
on the other side of the inner vestibule door and proceeded to "sound."
To the amazement of all except Billie "bottom" was reached in less than
twenty feet. "I thought so," she said with satisfaction; but she was not
at ease until Van Emmon had returned in safety from that booming,
His first remark upon removing his helmet almost took them off their
feet. "The point is," said he, throttling his excitement—"the point is,
the rope was nearly jerked out of my hands!
"Understand what I mean? The surface is REVOLVING!"
This upset every idea they had had; it never occurred to any of them
that the planet could revolve at such speed that it would appear
stationary. Smith went at once to the eastern window and watched
closely, for fear some irregularity in that apparently perfect sphere
might catch them unawares. They did not learn till later that Venus's
day is a little less than twenty-five hours, and therefore, since they
had approached her near the equator, the wind they had encountered was
moving at nearly nine hundred miles per hour!
Bit by bit, though, the cube answered to the wind-pressure. Soon they
noted the sun rising slowly; and by the time it was two hours high the
surface, which had been whizzing under them like some highly polished
top, became entirely motionless: The cube had "stopped."
One minute later the car touched the level. Smith very slowly reduced
the repelling current so that the immense weight of the cube was but
gradually shifted to the unknown surface beneath. Ton after ton was
"Stop!" came from the doctor. He had noted through the window a slight
curvature in the material.
So the machinery was left in action. "At any rate," said Smith, "we know
that the confounded stuff isn't antimagnetic, whatever it is." Of course
this was true—even though the gelatinlike shell could not support the
cube's weight, yet it did not insulate the planet from the repelling
The thermometer registered three hundred and thirty-five degrees
Fahrenheit. "Two hundred and eighty degrees higher than it would be at
home in the same latitude," remarked the doctor. "We'll have to use the
suits." He took it for granted that exploration should begin at once.
No one stayed behind. The machines could be relied upon, as they knew
from nearly two weeks of use, and certainly there was nothing in sight
which could possibly interfere with the cube. Nevertheless, the matter-
of-fact engineer took care to remove part of the door-operating
apparatus when he left the vestibule, and nobody commented upon it. It
seemed the sensible thing to do; that was all.
There was just about enough additional weight in their suits to balance
the slightly reduced gravitation, so they moved about, four misshapen,
metallic hulks, with as much freedom as though back home. Always they
kept within a few feet of each other so as to throw no strain on their
interconnecting telephone wires. The big, glass-faced helmets gave a
remarkable sense of security.
They made a complete circuit of the cube, and at the end of it looked at
each other in perplexity. Never, save in the middle of an ocean, in the
doldrums, did any man ever see such a totally barren spot. Not a tree,
much less a sign of human occupation; there was not even the slightest
mound. The planet was, in actual fact, as smooth and as bare as a
Moreover, the surface itself remained as mysterious as before. Of course
they did not touch it with bare hands—all wore insulated mittens—but
the dazzling stuff was certainly as hard as steel and as highly
polished. It was neither transparent nor opaque, but translucent, "like
pink mother-of-pearl," as Billie suggested.
She was the first to propose that they move to another spot. "We ought
to try a place where it's not yet dawn," said she, shielding her eyes
from the glare. (It will be remembered that the suits protected them
from the heat itself.) "Can't see anything."
"Hush!" hissed the doctor. They turned and followed his gaze to a spot
not thirty feet from where they stood.
At the same instant they felt a faint jar in the material under their
feet. And next second they saw that a large section of the supposedly
solid surface was in motion.
A portion about ten feet square was being lifted bodily in front of
their eyes, and before another word was said this block of the unknown
substance was raised until they could see that it was all of a yard
thick. Up it went at the same deliberate rate; and the four
involuntarily moved closer together as they saw that there was something
It was a cage, for all the world like that of an elevator except that it
was made of clear glass. Another second and it had stopped, with its
floor level with the surface; and the people from the earth saw that it
contained a man.
He was quite tall, slenderly built, and dressed in a queer satiny
material which fitted him like an acrobat's suit. He was extremely thin
as to legs, narrow as to shoulders, deep in the chest and short in the
waist. All this, however, they saw after their inspection of his head.
It was human! Marvelously refined in every detail, yet it was set upon a
graceful neck, and modeled upon much the same lines as that of any man.
It was not that of a brute, nor yet that of a bird; it was—human!
He stood at ease, resting slightly on one foot, and dispelled any notion
that he might be unreal by shifting his weight occasionally. Meanwhile
he watched the four with a grave, interested smile; and they, in turn,
His chin was small, even retreating; but his mouth was wide and curved
into an exaggerated Cupid's bow. Even as he continued to smile the
curves did not leave his lips; they, however, were thin rather than
thick. His nose was quite small, with a decidedly Irish cast; but his
eyes, set far apart above quite shallow cheekbones, were exceedingly
large and of a brilliant blue. In fact, it was mainly his eyes that gave
character to his face; although none could overlook his breadth of
forehead, running back to a cranium that fairly bulged over the ears,
and seemed ready to rise like a tightly inflated balloon. His skin was
And so they stood for uncounted minutes. At last the doctor noted that
the stranger was eying them with far less interest than they showed in
him; he stood as though he felt on display; and the doctor gave an
exclamation of perplexity that broke the spell. The four impulsively
drew up to the glass; Van Emmon touched it with his mitten; and that is
how the four explorers came to receive the vibrations that came next.
For the man in the cage, in turn, put out his hand and touched the glass
opposite Van Emmon. Then he opened his mouth.
"I am very glad to see you," said he in a soft, pulsating voice—and in
the best of English.
A PUZZLED WORLD
For a moment blank amazement gripped the four. Then amazement gave way
to genuine apprehension. Were they insane to imagine that this man of
another world had spoken to them in their own language? Each looked at
the other, and was astounded to see that all had heard the same thing.
Presently the stranger spoke again; if anything, the kindly smile on his
face became even broader. "Suppose we postpone explaining how I am able
to use your tongue. It will be easier for you to understand after you
have been with us a while." He spoke slowly and carefully, yet with a
faint lisp, much as some infant prodigy might speak.
But there was no doubt that he had really done it. The doctor managed to
clear his throat.
"You are right," said he, with vastly less assurance than the amazing
stranger. "We will try to understand things in the order you think best
to present them. You—should know best."
Kinney introduced himself by name and profession, also the other three.
The stranger nodded affably to each. "You may call me Estra," said he,
pronouncing it "Ethtra." "There is no occupation on the Earth
corresponding with mine, but in my spare moments I am an astronomer like
The doctor silently marveled. He had not told the stranger about his
hobby. Meanwhile the architect attempted to break the ice even finer.
"We take it for granted," said she rather nervously, "that your people
are somewhat further advanced than us on the earth. However, we expect
to be given credit for having visited your planet before you visited
ours!" She said this with an engaging smile which won an instant
response; the Venusian's lips almost lost their curves in his generous
"You will find that we greatly respect all that you have accomplished,"
he declared earnestly. "As for your apparatus"—glancing at the cube—
"you have the advantage on the earth of certain chemical elements which
are entirely lacking here, otherwise we should have called upon you long
He slipped a panel of glass to one side. "Step in quickly!" he
exclaimed, gasping; and the four obeyed him without thought. It was only
when the panel was replaced that they noticed the floor of the cage; it
was of clear glass, like the sides, and looked totally incapable of
bearing their combined weight.
The Venusian smiled at Smith's worried look. "The material is amply
strong enough," said he. "I am only concerned about your machine there.
Is it safe to be left alone?"
"So far as we know, yes," answered Van Emmon, who did not feel quite as
much confidence in the stranger as the rest.
"Then we can go down at once." With these words the man in satin turned
to a small black box in one wall of the elevator and touched a button.
[Footnote: For details of this and other matters of an electrical and
mechanical nature, the technical reader is referred to Mr. Smith's
reports to the A. S. M. E.]
Instantly the car began to descend, at first slowly and then with
swiftly increasing velocity. By the time the explorers had accustomed
their eyes to the sudden semi-darkness, the cage was dropping at such a
speed that the air fairly sang past its sides.
Far overhead was a square, black shadow in the waxlike crust which they
had left; it was the shadow of the cube. All about them was a dimly lit
network of braces, arches and semitransparent columns; to all
appearances the system seemed to support the crust. Billie whirled upon
"I've got it now! The whole globe is covered with glass!"
Estra smiled his approval. "For thousands upon thousands of centuries,
my friend. The thing was done when our ancestors first suspected that
our planet was doomed to come so near the sun. It was the only way we
could protect ourselves from the heat."
"Great!" exploded the doctor, admiration overcoming regret that he had
not thought of it himself. But Smith had other thoughts:
"How long did it take to finish the job? And what did it cost?"
"Two centuries; and about twice the cost of your last war. I need only
suggest to you that we colored the material so as to reflect most of the
heat. That is why the material looks blue from below, although pink from
"Say"—from Billie—"how long are we to keep on dropping like this?"
"We will arrive in a moment or two," answered the smiling one. "The roof
is raised several miles above the sea-level in order to cover all the
By this time the four were able to make out things pretty well. They saw
that the dimness was only relative; the Venusian world was actually as
well lighted as any part of the earth on a cloudy day. And they saw that
they were descending in a locality of astonishing beauty.
The stranger halted the car so that they could inspect the scene as
though from an airplane. In no way did the landscape resemble that of
the earth. To begin with, pillars of huge dimensions were placed every
quarter-mile or so; it was these that supported the intricate archwork
above. They were made of the same translucent stuff as the crust, but
had a light topaz tint. The Venusian said:
"You will not need to be told that the science of metallurgy has
advanced quite far with us. All our metals can be made transparent, if
we like; those pillars are colored variously in different regions so as
to be clearly distinguishable and prevent collisions of flying
But Van Emmon and Billie were both more interested in what lay between
the columns. They scarcely noticed that there were no people in sight at
the time. The ground was covered with an indescribable wealth of color;
and it was only by a close examination that the buildings could be
distinguished as such.
For they were all made of that semi-transparent stuff. Of every
conceivable tint and shade, the structure showed an utter lack of
uniformity in size, shape or arrangement. Moreover, the ground was
absolutely packed with them; they spread as far as the eye could reach.
But if there was profusion, there also was confusion—apparently.
Streets ran anywhere and everywhere; there was no visible system to
anything. And where there was no space for a building, invariably there
was a shrub, a bush or a small tree of some kind, all in full flower.
The only sign of regularity to be seen was in the roofs—practically all
of them were flat. Whether the building was some rambling, loosely
gathered agglomeration of vari-colored wings, or a single, towering
skyscraper of one tint, almost inevitably it was crowned with a
perfectly level surface.
"I see," said Van Emmon, thoughtfully. "You have no rain."
"Precisely"—from Estra. "We have the air completely under our control.
We give our vegetation artificial showers when we think it should have
it, not when nature wills; and similarly we use electricity instead of
sunlight that we may stimulate its growth."
"In short"—Van Emmon put it as the car slid slowly down the remaining
distance—"in short, you have abolished the weather."
The Venusian nodded. "And I'll save you the trouble of suggesting," he
added, "that we are nothing more nor less than hothouse people!"
THE HUMAN CONSERVATORY
"But there is this difference," he cautioned as they stepped out of the
elevator into a sort of a plaza, "that, whereas you people on the earth
have only begun to use the hothouse principle, we here have perfected
"I suggest that you waste no time looking for faults."
Van Emmon stared at the doctor. "How does this idea fit your theory,
Kinney—that Venus is simply the earth plus several thousand extra
generations of civilization?"
"Fit?" echoed the doctor. "Fits like a glove. We humans are fast
becoming a race of indoor-people despite all the various "back-to-
nature" movements. Look at the popularity of inclosed automobiles, for
"The only thing that surprises me"—turning to their guide—"is that
you use your legs for their original purpose."
Estra smiled, and pointed out something standing a few feet away. It was
a small, shuttle-shaped air-craft, with clear glass sides which had
actually made them overlook it at first. Peering closer they saw that
the plaza and surrounding streets were nearly filled with these all but
The Venusian explained. "You marvel that I use my legs and walk the same
as you do. I am glad you have brought up this point, because it is a
fact that our people use mechanisms instead of bodily energy, almost
altogether. These cars you see are universally used for transportation.
I am one of the very few who appreciate the value of natural exercise."
"Do you mean to say," demanded Van Emmon, "that the average Venusian
does no walking?"
"Not a mile a year," said Estra gravely.
"Just what he is obliged to do indoors from room to room." And he
involuntarily glanced down at his own extremely thin legs.
The architect's eyes widened with a growing understanding. "I see now,"
she murmured. "That's why there was no one else to greet us."
The Venusian smiled gratefully. "We thought it best. You'd have been
shocked outright, I am sure, had you been introduced to a representative
Venusian without any explanation."
They fell silent. Still, without moving from the point where they had
left the elevator, the four from the earth examined the surrounding
buildings in a renewed effort to see some system in their arrangement.
Directly in front of them was a particularly large structure. Like all
the rest, it was of hopelessly irregular design, yet it had a large
domed central portion which gave it the appearance of an auditorium; and
the effect was further borne out by a subdued humming sound which seemed
to come from it.
Smith asked Estra if it were a hall.
"Yes and no," was the answer. "It fills the purpose of a hall, but is
not built on the hall plan." And Smith tried to stare through the
translucent walls of the thing.
The other buildings within immediate reach were of every possible
appearance. Some would have passed for cottages, others for stores,
still others for the most fanciful of studios. And nowhere was there
such a thing as a sign, even at the street corners, much less on a
"Not that we would be able to read your signs, if you had them,"
commented the doctor, "but I'd like to know how your people find their
way without something of that kind to guide them."
Estra's smile did not change. "That is something you will understand
better before long," said he, "provided you feel ready to explore a
The four looked at each other in question, and suddenly it struck them
all that they were a rather pugnacious-looking crew in their cumbersome
suits of armor and formidable helmets. The doctor turned to Estra.
"You ought to know"—he appealed—"whether we can take off these suits
"It would be best," was the reply. "You will find the air and
temperature decidedly more warm and moist than what you have been used
to, but otherwise practically the same. There is a slightly larger
proportion of oxygen; that is all. Just imagine you are in a hothouse."
Smith and the doctor were already discarding their suits. Van Emmon and
Billie followed more slowly; the one, because he did not share the
doctor's confidence in their guide; the other, because of a sudden
shyness in his presence. The Venusian noted this.
"You need not feel any embarrassment," said he to Billie's vast
astonishment. "There is no distinction here between the dress of the two
sexes." And again all four marveled that he should know so much about
Once out of the armor the visitors felt much more at ease. The slightly
reduced gravitation gave them a sense of lightness and freedom which
more than balanced the junglelike oppressiveness of the air. They found
themselves guarding against a certain exuberance; perhaps it was the
extra oxygen, too.
They strode toward the large structure directly ahead. At its entrance—
a wide, square portal which opened into a fan-shaped lobby—Estra paused
and smiled apologetically—as he mopped his forehead and upper lip with
a paper handkerchief, which he immediately dropped into a small, trap-
covered opening in the wall at his side.
These little doors, by the way, were to be seen at frequent intervals
wherever they went. Incidentally not a scrap of paper or other refuse
was to be noted anywhere—streets and all were spotless.
As for Estra—"I am not accustomed to moving at such speed," he
explained his discomfort. "If you do not mind, please walk a little more
They took their time about passing through this lobby. For one thing,
Estra said there would have to be a small delay; and for another, the
walls and ceilings of the space were most remarkably ornamented. They
were fairly covered with what appeared, at first glance, to be
absolutely lifelike paintings and sculptures. They were so arranged as
to strengthen the structural lines of the place, and, of course, they
were of more interest to Billie than to the others. [Footnote: The
specialist in architecture and related subjects is referred to E.
Williams Jackson's report to the A.I.A., for details of these basrelief
Desiring to examine some of the work far overhead, Billie clambered up
on a convenient pedestal in order to look more closely. She took the
strength of things for granted, and put her weight too heavily on a
molding on the edge of the pedestal; with the result that there was a
sharp crack; and the girl struck the floor in a heap. She got to her
feet before Van Emmon could reach her side, but her face was white with
"Sprained—ankle," said she between set lips, and proceeded to stump up
and down the lobby, "to limber up," as she said, although her three
companions offered to do anything that might relieve her.
To the surprise of all, Estra leaned against a pillar and watched the
whole affair with perfect composure. He made no offer of help, said
nothing whatever in sympathy. In a moment he noticed the looks they gave
"I must beg your pardon," he said, still smiling. "I am sorry this
happened; it will not be easy to explain.
"But you will find all Venusians very unsympathetic. Not that we are
hard hearted, but because we simply lost the power of sympathy.
"We do not know what pity is. We have eliminated everything that is
disagreeable, all that is painful, from our lives to such an extent that
there is never any cause for pity."
The three young people could say nothing in answer. The doctor, however,
"Perhaps it is superfluous; but—tell me—have you done away with
"That is just the point," agreed the Venusian. "Justice took the place
of pity and mercy; it was so long ago I am barely able to appreciate
your own views on the subject."
Billie, her ankle somewhat better, turned to examine other work; but at
the moment another Venusian approached from the upper end of the lobby.
Walking slowly, he carried four small parcels with a great deal of
effort, and the explorers had time to scrutinize him closely.
He was built much like Estra, but shorter, and with a little more flesh
about the torso. His forehead bulged directly over his eyes, instead of
above his ears, as did Estra's; also his eyes were smaller and not as
far apart. His whole expression was equally kind and affable, despite a
curiously shriveled appearance of his lips; they made the front of his
mouth quite flat, and served to take attention away from his pitifully
Estra greeted him with a cheery phrase, in a language decidedly
different from any the explorers were familiar with. In a way, it was
Spanish, or, rather, the pure Castilian tongue; but it seemed to be
devoid of dental consonants. It was very agreeable to listen to.
Estra, however, had taken the four parcels from his comrade, and now
presented him to the four, saying that his name was Kalara, and that he
was a machinist. "He cannot use your tongue," said the Venusian. "Few of
us have mastered it. There are difficulties.
"As for these machines"—unwrapping the parcels—"I must apologize in
advance for certain defects in their design. I invented them under
pressure, so to speak, having to perfect the whole idea in the rather
short time that has elapsed since you, doctor, began the sky-car."
"And what is the purpose of the machines?" from Billie, as she was about
to accept the first of the devices from the Venusian.
For some reason he appeared to be especially interested in the girl, and
addressed half of his remarks to her; and it was while his smiling gaze
was fixed upon her eyes that he gave the answer:
"They are to serve"—very carefully—"partly as lexicons and partly as
grammars. In short, they are mechanical interpreters."
THE TRANSLATING MACHINES
"First, let me remind you," said the Venusian, "of our lack of certain
elements that you are familiar with on the Earth. We have never been
able to improve on the common telephone. That is why we must still
assemble in person whenever we have any collective activity; while on
the Earth the time will come when your wireless principle will be
developed to the point of transmitting both light and sound; and after
that there will be little need of gatherings of any sort."
Then he explained the apparatus. It consisted of a miniature head-
telephone, connected to a small, metallic case the size of a cigar-box,
the cover of which was a transparent diaphragm. Estra did not open the
case, but showed the mechanism through the cover.
"Essentially, this is a 'word-for-word' device," said he, pointing to a
swiftly revolving dial within the box. "On one face of that dial are
some ten thousand word-images, made by vibration, after the phonograph
method. Directly opposite, on the other face, are the corresponding
words in the other language. The disk is rotating at such an enormous
speed that, for all practical purposes, any word which may chance to be
spoken will be translated almost instantaneously."
He indicated two delicate, many-tentacled "feelers," as he called them,
one on each face of the disk. One of these "felt" the proper word-image
as it whirled beneath, while the other established an electrical contact
with the corresponding waves beneath, at the same time exciting a
complicated-looking talking machine.
"That," commented Estra, "is not so easy to explain. It transforms this
literal translation into an idiomatic one. Perhaps you will understand
its workings a little later when you learn how and why I am able to use
your own language."
By this time the four had reached the point where nothing could surprise
them. They were becoming accustomed to the unaccustomed. Had they been
told that the Venusians had abolished speech altogether, they would have
felt disappointed, but not incredulous. However, the doctor thought of
"Have you any extra 'records,' to be used in case we visit some other
nations while we are here?"
For just a second the Venusian was puzzled; then his smile broadened.
"The one record will do," said he, "wherever you go."
"A universal language!" Billie's eyes sparkled with interest.
"Long, long ago," Estra said. "It was established soon after our league
of nations was formed."
"Does the league actually prevent war and promote peace?" demanded Van
Emmon. This had been a disputed question when the four left the earth.
"We no longer have a league of nations," said their guide slowly. And
instantly the four were eying him eagerly. This was really refreshing,
to find that the Venusians were actually lacking in something.
"So it didn't work?" commented the doctor, disappointed.
But the Venusian's smile was still there. "It worked itself out," said
he. "We have no further use for a league. We have no more nations. We
And he helped them adjust the machines.
The cases were slung over their shoulders and the telephones clamped to
their ears. When all ready, Estra began to talk, and his voice came
nearly as sharp and clear through the apparatus as before. It was
modified by a metallic flatness, together with a certain amount of
mechanical noise in which a peculiar hissing was the most noticeable.
Otherwise he said:
"I am now using my own language. If I make any mistakes, you must not
blame the machine. It is as nearly perfect as I was able to make it."
He then asked them what blunders they noted. Billie, who was the most
enthusiastic about the thing, declared that they would have no trouble
in understanding; whereupon Estra quietly asked:
"Do you feel like going now to try them out?"
Once more an exchange of glances between the four from the earth.
Clearly the Venusians were extremely considerate people, to leave their
visitors in the care of the one man, apparently, who was able to make
them feel at home. There seemed to be no reason for uneasiness.
But Van Emmon still had his old misgivings about Estra. There was
something about the effeminate Venusian which irritated the big
geologist; it always does make a strong man suspicious to see a weaker
one show such self-confidence. Van Emmon drew the doctor and Billie
aside, while Smith and Estra went on with the test. Said Van Emmon:
"It just occurred to me that the cube might look pretty good to these
people. You remember what this chap said about their lack of some of our
chemicals. What do you think—is it really safe to put ourselves
entirely in their power?"
"You mean," said the doctor slowly, "that they might try to keep us here
rather than lose the cube?"
Van Emmon nodded gravely, but Billie had strong objections. "Estra
doesn't look like that sort," she declared vehemently.
"He's too good natured to be a crook; he needs a guardian rather than a
It flashed into the doctor's mind that many a woman had fallen in love
with a man merely because he seemed to be in need of some one to take
care of him.
That is, the self-reliant kind of woman; and Billie certainly was self-
reliant. Something of the same notion came vaguely to the geologist at
the same time; and with a vigor that was quite uncalled for, he urged:
"I say, 'safety first.' We shouldn't have left the cube unguarded. I
propose that one of us, at least, return to the surface while the others
attend this meeting—or trap, for all we know."
"All right," said Billie promptly. "Get Estra to show you how to use the
elevator, and wait for us in the vestibule."
Van Emmon's face flamed. "That isn't what I meant!" hotly. "If anybody
goes to the cube, it should be you, Billie!"
If Billie did not notice the use of her nickname, at least the doctor
did. The girl simply snorted.
"If you think for one second that I'm going to back out just because I'm
a woman, let me tell you that you're very badly mistaken!"
Van Emmon turned to the doctor appealingly, but the doctor took the
action personally. He shook his head. "I wouldn't miss this for
anything, Van. Estra looks safe to me. Go and ask Smith; maybe he is
willing to be the goat."
The geologist took one good look at the engineer's absorbed,
unquestioning manner as he listened to the Venusian, and gave up the
idea with a sigh. For a moment he was sour; then he smiled shyly.
"I'm more than anxious to meet the bunch myself," he admitted; and led
the way back to Estra. The Venusian looked at him with no change of
expression, although there was something very disconcerting in the
precocious wisdom of his eyes. Their very kindliness and serenity gave
him an appearance of superiority, such as only aggravated the
But there was nothing to do but to trust him. They followed him through
two sets of doors, which slid noiselessly open before them in response
to some mechanism operated by the Venusian's steps. This brought them to
another of the glass elevators, in which they descended perhaps ten
feet, stepping out of it onto a moving platform; this, in turn, extended
the length of a low dimly lighted passageway about a hundred yards long.
When they got off, they were standing in a small anteroom.
The Venusian paused and smiled at the four again. "Do you feel like
going on display now?" he asked; then added: "I should have said: 'Do
you feel like seeing Venus on display, for we all know more or less
about you already.'"
But the visitors were braced for the experience. Estra looked at each
approvingly, and then did something which made them wonder. He stood
stock still for perhaps a second, his eyes closed as though listening;
and then, without explanation, he led the way through an opal-glass door
into a brilliantly lighted space.
Next moment the explorers were standing in the midst of the people of
THE ULTIMATE RACE
The four were at the bottom of a huge, conelike pit, such as instantly
reminded the doctor of a medical clinic. The space where they stood was,
perhaps, twenty feet in diameter, while the walls enclosing the whole
hall were many hundreds of feet apart. And sloping up from the center,
on all sides, was tier upon tier of the most extraordinary seats in all
For each and every one of those thousands of Venusians was separately
enclosed in glass. Nowhere was there a figure to be seen who was not
installed in one of those small, transparent boxes, just large enough
for a single person. Moreover—and it came somewhat as a shock to the
four when they noted it—the central platform itself was both covered
and surrounded with the same material.
"Make yourselves at home," Estra was saying. He pointed to several
microphones within easy reach. "These are provided with my translators,
so when you are ready to open up conversation, go right ahead as though
you were among your own people." And he made himself comfortable in a
saddlelike chair, as much as to say that there was no hurry.
For a long time the explorers stood taking it in. The Venusians, without
exception, stared back at them with nearly equal curiosity. And despite
the extraordinary nature of the proceeding, this mutual scrutiny took
place in comparative silence; for while the glass gave a certain sense
of security to the newcomers, it also cut off all sound except that low
The nearest row of the people got their closest attention. Without
exception, they had the same general build as Estra; slim, delicate, and
anemic, they resembled a "ward full of convalescent consumptives," as
the doctor commented under his breath. Not one of them would ever give a
joke-smith material for a fat-man anecdote; at the same time there was
nothing feverish, nervous, or broken down in their appearance. "A pretty
lot of invalids," as Billie added to the doctor's remark.
Many observers would have been struck, first, by the extreme diversity
in the matter of dress. All wore skin-tight clothing, and much of it was
silky, like Estra's. But there was a bewildering assortment of colors,
and the most extraordinary decorations, or, rather, ornaments. So far as
dress went, there was no telling anything whatever about sex.
"Are they all men?" asked Billie, wondering, of Estra. The Venusian
shook his head with his invariable smile. "Nor all women either," said
But in many respects they were astonishingly alike. Almost to a soul
their upper lips were withered and flat. One and all had short,
emaciated-looking legs. Each and every one had a crop of really
luxuriant hair; the shades varied between the usual blonde and brunette,
with little of the reddishness so common on the earth; but there were no
bald people at all. On the other hand, there were no beards or mustaches
in the whole crowd; every face was bare!
"Like a lot of Chinamen," said Van Emmon in an undertone; "can't tell
one from another." But Billie pointed out that this was not strictly
true; a close inspection of the faces showed an extremely wide range of
distinction. No two chins in the crowd were exactly alike, although not
one of them showed any of the resolute firmness which is admired on the
Earth. All were weak, yet different.
Neither were there any prominent noses, although there were none that
could have been called insignificant. And while every pair of eyes in
the place was large, as large as Estra's, yet there was every desirable
color and expression.
To sum it all up, and to use the doctor's words: "They've developed a
standard type, all right, just as the characteristic American face is
the standard Earth type; but—did you ever see such variations?"
Nevertheless, the most striking thing about these people to the eyes of
the visitors was their mutual resemblance. For one thing, there seemed
to be no nervous people present. There were many children in the crowd,
too; yet all sat very still, and only an occasional movement of the
hands served to indicate consciousness. In this sense, they were all
remarkably well bred.
In another, they were remarkably rude. At any given moment a good half
of the people were eating, or, rather, sipping liquids of various sorts
from small tumblers. Probably every person in the house, before the
affair was over, had imbibed two or three ounces of fluid; but not once
was the matter apologized for, nor the four invited to partake.
"So this may be the outcome of our outrageous habit of eating sweetmeats
at theaters," muttered the doctor. And again noting the hairless faces:
"Just what I said when men first began using those depilatories instead
of shaving—no more beards!"
But it was Billie who explained the invariable crop of hair. "No use to
look for baldness; they don't wear hats! Why should they, since there's
neither sun nor rain to protect their heads from?"
Mainly, however, the architect was interested in the building itself. To
her, the most striking feature was not the tremendously arched dome, nor
yet the remarkable system of bracing which dispensed with any columns in
all that vast space. It was something simpler—there were no aisles.
"Now, what do you make of that?" the girl asked Van Emmon. "How do they
ever get to their places?" But he could not suggest anything more than
to recall an individual elevator scheme once proposed.
To Smith, one object of interest was the telephone system. Remarkably
like those used on the Earth, one was located in each of the tiny glass
cages. He was likewise puzzled to account for the ventilation system;
each cage was apparently air-tight, yet no Venusian showed any
But the geologist, for want of anything strictly within his professional
range, interested himself in trying to fathom the moral attitude of
these people. He was still suspicious of them, notwithstanding a growing
tendency to like every one of their pleasant, really agreeable faces.
There was neither solemnity, sourness, nor bitterness to be seen
anywhere; at the same time, there was no sign of levity. In every
countenance was the same inexplicable mixture of wisdom and benevolence
that distinguished Estra. Nowhere was there hostility, and nowhere was
there crudity. Somehow, the big geologist would have felt more at home
had he seen something antagonistic. Essentially, Van Emmon was a
At last the four felt their attention lagging. Novelties always pall
quickly, no matter how striking. Estra sensed the feeling and inquired:
"Which of you will do the honors?"
Instinctively the three younger folk turned to the doctor. He made no
protest, but stepped at once to one of the microphones, put on his most
impressive professional face, and began:
"My friends"—and Van Emmon noted a pleased look come into every face
about them—"my friends, I do not need to state how significant this
meeting is to us all. From what Estra has said, I gather that you have
informed yourselves regarding us, in some manner which he has promised
to make clear. At all events, I am exceedingly anxious to see your
At this a broad smile came to many of the faces before him; but he went
on, unnoticing: "Certainly there is not much I could tell you which you
do not already know; Estra's use of our language proves this. I only
need to assure you that we will be glad to answer any questions that may
occur to you. It goes without saying that we, of course, are filled with
delight to find your planet so wondrously and happily populated,
especially after our experience on Mercury, of which, I presume, you are
Apparently they were. The doctor went on: "You may be sure that we are
fairly bursting with questions. However, we are content to become
informed as Estra sees fit to guide us.
"There is just one thing, more than any other, which I would like to
know at this time. Why is it that, although you all show a great lack of
exercise, and are continually eating, you never appear to be healthy?"
Instantly a Venusian in the fifth row, to the doctor's right, touched
his phone and replied: "It is a matter of diet. We have nothing but
'absolute' foods; if you understand what that means."
And from that time on, despite the fact that the explorers asked
questions which, at home, would have found hundreds ready and able to
answer, on Venus only one person answered any given question, and always
without any apparent prearrangement. For a long time they could not
account for this.
The doctor motioned for Smith to take his place. The engineer looked a
little embarrassed, but cleared his throat noisily and said:
"I am especially struck with the fact that each of you sits in a
separate glass pew, or case. Why is this?"
The reply came from one of the few people present who showed any signs
of age. He was, perhaps, sixty, and his hair was fast whitening. He
"For reasons of sanitation. It is not wise to breathe the breath of
"Also," supplemented someone from the other side of that vast pit—
"also, each is thereby enabled to surround himself with the electrical
influences which suit him best."
Smith stepped back, pondering. The doctor looked to the geologist to
take his place, but Van Emmon made way for Billie. At any other time she
would have resented his "woman-first" attitude; now she quickly found
"How are you able to get along without aisles? It may seem a foolish
question, to you; but on earth we would consider a hall without aisles
about as convenient as a room without a door."
Immediately a Venusian directly in front of her, and on a level with her
eyes, called out: "Watch me, madam." And quite without an effort beyond
touching a button or two, the fellow rose straight into the air, glass
and all, and then floated gently over toward the middle of the hall.
"It probably appears complicated to you," explained the Venusian whose
side he had just left. "We make use of elements not found on your
Billie's sang froid was not shaken. Instantly she came back
energetically: "Apparently your method overcomes gravitation. Why
haven't you tried to travel away from your planet?"
And she looked around with the air of one who has uttered a poser, only
to have another of the satin-clad people reply, from a point which she
was not able to locate:
"Because enough such power cannot be safely concentrated."
As Billie retired, Van Emmon noted with growing irritation that the
continuously affable aspect of the Venusians had not altered in any way,
unless it was to become even more genial and sure. The big man strode
energetically to the microphone, and the other three noted a general
movement of interest and admiration as the people inspected him.
"Why," demanded he, "do we see no signs of contention? If you are
familiar with conditions on the earth, you surely know that rivalry, in
one form or another, is the accepted basis of life. But all of you,
here, appear to be perfectly happy, and at the same time entirely sure
"We have just come from a planet where we have seen the principle of
combat, of competition, carried so far that it seems to have wrecked the
race; so you will pardon my curiosity, I am sure. From your faces, one
would conclude that you had abolished self-interest altogether. Just why
are you so—well, extraordinarily self-complacent?" And he thrust out
his aggressive jaw as though to make up for the lack of chins about him.
"Because there is nothing for us to combat, save within ourselves." This
from a wide-faced chap in a bluish-white suit.
"But surely you have rivalry of some sort?"
"No." Another voice added: "Rivalry is the outgrowth of getting a
livelihood; on earth it is inevitable, because men do the work. Here,
everything is done by machines." Still another put in: "Discontent is
the mother of ambition, but we are all content, because each possesses
all he desires."
But the geologist was far from satisfied. "Then," said he vigorously,
"if you have eliminated all contention, you have nullified the great law
of contrasts. You say you are all rich. How do you know, if you have no
poverty to contrast it with?
"On earth, we appreciate warmth because we have experienced cold;
pleasure, because we know pain; happiness, because we have always had
misery with us. If we have not had the one, we cannot value the other.
"If you have never been discontented, how do you know that you are
For a minute or two it looked as though Van Emmon had raised an
unanswerable question. There was no immediate reply. Even Estra looked
around, as though in wonder at the silence, and seemed on the point of
answering of his own accord when a voice came from a man far up on the
left. He said:
"A little explanation may be wise. To begin with, you will agree that
black is black because white is white; but it doesn't follow that blue
is blue because green is green, or red is red. Blue is blue because it
is neither green nor red nor any other color. It is blue, not because it
contrasts with these other colors, but because it merely differs from
"Now, we on Venus do not need poverty, in order to appreciate wealth.
Instead, each of us is blessed with his own particular choice of wealth.
Each is blessed in a different way; some with children, some with
intellect, some with other matters; and the question of mere quantity
"We do not need pain or misery," spoke up someone else, "any more than
you people on the earth require an additional color, in order to
appreciate the variety you already have." And then, from a Venusian with
an especially strong voice:
"That we are really content, we know absolutely. For each of us, in his
own distinctive way, is wholly and peculiarly satisfied."
And it only added to the geologist's irritation to have these striking
statements made in a good-humored, impersonal fashion which totally
disarmed all opposition. That the Venusians were perfectly sure of their
ground, was undeniable; but they had such a cheerful way of looking at
it, as though they didn't care a rap whether Van Emmon agreed or not,
that—If they'd only have shown some spirit! Van Emmon would have liked
it infinitely better if one of them had only become hot about it.
At this point Estra rose in his chair. "I think you had best approach us
from a fresh viewpoint," said he in his unfailingly agreeable manner.
The doctor nodded vigorously, and again Estra closed his eyes in that
odd, hesitating way. Immediately every one in the place, with the
exception of a single person in the lowest row, took flight in his or
her little glass pew. In a moment the great vault overhead was fairly
swarming with people; and in less than a minute the last of them had
floated out through one of the arches in the walls.
Estra opened a panel in the central cage, and admitted the Venusian who
had stayed behind. She—for it appeared to be a young woman—walked with
about the same facility as Estra; but as soon as she had entered the
space, took the seat Estra had vacated, and waited.
The action rather disappointed the doctor. He removed the interpreting
telephone from his head, and asked:
"I rather thought we were going to meet one of your officials, Estra.
We'd hate to go back home without having met your president, or whatever
you call your chief executive."
The two Venusians exchanged smiles, and to the surprise of the explorers
the woman gave the reply, in language as good as Estra's, but an even
sweeter expression: "There is no such thing as a chief executive on
"I meant," explained the doctor, rattled, "the chairman of your cabinet,
or council, or whatever it is that regulates your affairs. Perhaps,"
with an inspiration, "I should have said, the speaker of your congress."
The Venusian shook her head, still smiling. She hesitated while
selecting the best words; and the four noted that, while her features
were quite as delicate as Estra's, her face was proportionately larger,
and her whole figure better filled out. No one would have said that she
was pretty, much less beautiful; but none would deny that she was very
good-looking, in a wholesome, intelligent, capable sort of a way. Her
name, Estra told them later, was Myrin; and he explained that he and she
were associated solely because of their mutual interest in the same
Said Myrin: "You are accustomed to the idea of government. We, however,
have outgrown it.
"If you stop to think, you will agree that the purpose of government is
to maintain peace, on the one hand, and to wage war, on the other. Now,
as to war—we haven't even separate nations, any more. So we have no
wars. And as for internal conflict—why should we ever quarrel, when
each of us is assured all that he can possibly want?"
"So you have abolished government?"
"A very long time ago. You on the earth will do the same, as soon as
your people have been educated up to the point of trusting each other."
"You haven't even a congress, then?"
Myrin shook her head. "All questions such as a congress would deal with,
were settled ages ago. You must remember that the material features of
our civilization have not changed for thousands of generations. The only
questions that come up now are purely personal ones, which each must
settle for himself."
Van Emmon, as before, was not at all satisfied. "You say that machinery
does your work for you. I presume you do not mean that literally; there
must be some duties which cannot be performed without human direction,
at least. How do you get these duties accomplished, if you have no
government to compel your people to do them?"
Myrin looked at a loss, either for the answer itself or for the most
suitable words. Estra gave the reply: "Every device we possess is
absolutely automatic. There is not one item in the materials we use but
that was constructed, exactly as you see it now, many thousands of years
Smith was incredulous. "Do you mean to say that those little glass pews
have been in use all that time?"
Estra nodded, smiling gently at the engineer's amazement. "Like
everything else, they were built to last. You must remember that we do
not have anything like an 'investment,' here; we do not have to consider
the question of 'getting our capital back.' So, if any further
improvements were to be made, they also would be done in a permanent
Billie gave an exclamation of bewilderment. "I don't understand! You say
that nothing new has been built, or even replaced, for centuries. How do
you take care of your increase in population?" thinking of the great
crowd that had just left.
Myrin was the one who answered this. As she did so, she got slowly to
her feet; and speaking with the utmost care, watched to be sure that the
four understood her:
"Ever since the roof was put on, our increase of population has been
exactly balanced by our death rate!"
The four followed their guides in silence as they led the way into the
plaza. Now, the space was alive with Venusians. The little cages were
everywhere floating about in the air; some of the people were
laboriously shifting themselves into their aircraft; others were guiding
their "pews" direct to nearby houses. The visitors got plenty of curious
stares from these quiet miracle-workers, who seemed vastly more at home
in the air than on the ground. "As thick as flies," Van Emmon commented.
Estra and Myrin, walking very slowly, took them to a side street, where
two of the cigar-shaped cars were standing. Billie and Smith got in with
Estra, while Van Emmon and the doctor were given seats beside the
Venusian woman. The two cars were connected by telephone, so that in
effect the two parties were one.
By this time, the visitors had become so accustomed to the transparent
material that they felt no uneasiness as the ground receded below them.
Smith, especially, was tremendously impressed with Estra's declaration
that the glass was, except for appearance, nothing more nor less than an
extremely strong, steel alloy.
Propelled by the unexplained forces which the two drivers controlled by
means of buttons in black cases, the two cars began to thread their way
through the great roof-columns; and as they proceeded, the four grew
more and more amazed at the great extent of the city. For miles upon
miles that heterogeneous collection of buildings stretched, unbroken and
without system, until the eye tired of trying to make out the limits of
"What is the name of this city?" asked Billie, secretly hoping that it
might bear some resemblance to "New York." It struck her fancy to assume
that this supermetropolis represented what Gotham, in time, might
Estra did not take his attention from what he was doing, but answered as
readily as ever. "I do not blame you for mistaking this for a city. The
fact is, however, that we have no such thing."
Billie stared at him helplessly. "You've abolished cities, too?"
"Not exactly. In the same sense that we have abolished nations, yes.
Likewise we have abolished states, also counties. Neither have we such a
thing as 'the country,' now.
"My friends, Venus is simply one immense city."
THE SURVIVAL OF ALL
Somehow all four were unwilling to press this question. It did not seem
possible that Estra was right, or, if he was, that they could possibly
understand his explanation, should he give it. The cars flew side by
side for perhaps a hundred miles, while the visitors put in the time in
examining the landscape with the never-ending interest of all aeronauts.
Here and there, in that closely-packed surface, a particularly large
building was to be noted every half mile or so. "Factories?" asked
Billie of Estra, but he shook his head.
"I'll show you factories later on," said he. "What you see are schools."
But most observers would have considered the structures severely plain
for their purpose.
After a long silence: "I'm still looking for streams," said Van Emmon to
Myrin. "Are your rivers as large as ours?"
"We have no rivers," was the calm reply. "Rivers are entirely too
wasteful of water. All our drainage is carried off through underground
"You haven't done away with your oceans, too, have you?" the geologist
asked, rather sarcastically. But he was scarcely prepared for the reply
"No; we couldn't get along without them, I am afraid. However, we did
the best we could in their case." And without signaling to Estra she
dove the machine towards the ground. Smith looked for the telephone
wires to snap, but Estra seemed to know, and instantly followed Myrin's
lead. The doctor noticed, and wondered all the more.
And then came another surprise. As the machines neared the surface, a
familiar odor floated in through the open windows of the air-craft; and
the four found themselves looking at each other for signs of
irrationality. A moment, and they saw that they were not mistaken.
For, although that kaleidoscopic expanse of buildings showed not the
slightest break, yet they were now located on the sea. The houses were
packed as closely together as anywhere; apparently all were floating,
yet not ten square yards of open sea could be seen in any one spot.
Van Emmon almost forgot his resentment in his growing wonder. "That gets
me, Myrin! Those houses seem to be merely floating, yet I see no motion
whatever! Why are there no waves?"
The doctor snorted. "Shame on you, Van! Don't let our friends think that
you're an absolute ignoramus." He added: "Venus has no moon, and no
wind, at least under the roof. Therefore, no waves."
Smith put in: "That being the case, there is no chance to start a wave-
motor industry here. Neither," as he thought further, "neither for
water-power. Having no rain in your mountains, Estra, where do you get
But it was Myrin who answered. "I suppose you are all familiar with
radium? It is nothing more or less than condensed sunlight, which in
turn is simply electromagnetic waves; although it may take your
scientists a good many centuries to reach that conclusion.
"Well, every particle of the material which composes this planet,
contains radioactivity of some sort; and we long ago discovered a way to
release it and use it. One pound of solid granite yields enough energy
to—well, a great deal of power."
They had now been flying for two hours, and still no end to that
thickly-housed, ever different appearance of the ground. Also, although
they saw a great many birds, they noted no animals. Finally, Billie
could hold in no longer.
"Are we to understand," she demanded of Estra, "that the whole of this
planet is as densely populated as we see it?"
"Just that," replied the Venusian. "Why not? The roof makes our climate
uniform from pole to pole, while our buildings are such that, whether on
land or on sea, they are equally livable."
"But—Estra!" expostulated the girl. "Venus is nearly as big as the
earth. And it looks to be as thickly populated as—as Rhode Island! Why,
you must have a colossal population; let me see." And she scribbled away
in her memorandum book.
But both Smith and the doctor had already worked it out. They looked up,
"Over three hundred billion," murmured the doctor, as though dizzy.
The Venusian checked Smith's correction with, "You dropped one cipher,
doctor. There are three and a half trillion of us!"
"Good lord!" whispered Van Emmon, all his antagonism gone for the
moment. And again the explorers were silent for a long time.
By and by, however—"We have just seen what it meant, there on Mercury,"
said the doctor, in a low voice, "for the principle of 'the survival of
the fit' to be carried to its logical end; for who is to decide what is
fitness, save the fittest? One man, apparently, outlived every one else
on the planet, and then he also died.
"But here you have gone the limit in the other direction. Of course, we
might have known that you long ago abolished poverty, unearned wealth,
pestilence, drunkenness and the other causes of premature death; but as
for three and a half trillion!"
"Nevertheless," remarked Myrin, "every last one of us, once born, lives
to die of old age; and in most cases this means several hundred of your
Smith involuntarily rubbed his eyes; and they all laughed, a nervous
sort of a laugh which left the visitors still in doubt as to their
senses, and their guides' sanity. Van Emmon's suspicions came back with
a rush, and he burst out:
"Say—you'll excuse me, but I can't swallow this! Here you've shown us
houses as thick as leaves; not a sign of a farm, much less an orchard!
No vegetation at all, except for a few flowers!
"Three and a half trillion! All right; let it go at that!" Out came his
chin, and he brought one fist down upon the other as though he were
cracking rocks with a hammer, and with every blow he uttered a word:
LOAVES AND FISHES
Without a word Myrin drove her machine toward the ground, and, as
before, Estra followed despite the lack of any visible signal. Within a
minute the two machines had come to rest, softly and without
disturbance, on the roof of a handsome building, much like an apartment
house. There was the usual transparent elevator, and a minute later the
four were being introduced to the occupants of a typical Venusian house.
These two people, apparently man and wife, did not need to be told why
the explorers had been brought there. They led the way from the dimly
lighted hallway in which the elevator had stopped, into a group of
brightly decorated rooms. Here the four were given seats in the usual
saddellike chairs, and then Myrin answered Van Emmon's question:
"I knew that this point would arise soon, and you will pardon me if I
handle it in a prearranged fashion. I will admit that it is not an easy
question Mr. Van Emmon has put; not because the answer is at all
complicated but, on the contrary, extremely simple."
The four were listening unanimously. Despite himself, Van Emmon was
highly impressed by the Venusian woman's serious manner. Perhaps it was
because, in her earnestness, she was not quite so affable as before. She
"From where you are sitting, you can see all the rooms in this house.
You will look in vain for anything even remotely resembling a kitchen.
There is not even a dining-room.
"And yet you must not jump to the conclusion that we all use
restaurants. We have no such thing as a public eating place. Or rather,"
and here she spoke very carefully, "rather, every place is an eating
The doctor looked Myrin over as though she were a patient with a new
kind of disease. "You do not mean that literally, of course," said he
But she nodded gravely. "You must not misunderstand. Remember, even on
your own planet, the distribution of food is becoming more and more
extensive, until you can now buy something to eat at every crossroads.
We have merely carried the idea to its logical end, so that all
Venusians can obtain food at any time, and at any spot."
She turned in her chair—all the chairs on Venus were pivoted, Estra
said—and touched a button in the wall at her hand. A panel slid
noiselessly aside, and revealed a tiny buffet. At least, Billie labeled
it a buffet, for want of a more accurate term.
For it consisted of a silver bibb, something like the nozzle of a soda-
water fountain above which was a board containing a large number of
tiny, numbered push buttons. Below the bibb was a space in which a cup
might be set, and projecting from a tube at one side was a solid block
of telescoping, transparent cups.
"This," said Myrin, "is the Venusian Nutrition System. There is a
station like this in every room on the planet." And she proceeded to
take a cup from the tube, filling each from the silver faucet while she
pressed a variety of the buttons.
The four watched in silence, and eagerly took what was given to them. It
comprised liquids entirely; liquids of every degree of fluidity, from
some as thin as water to others as thick as gruel. They varied even more
as to color, ranging from actual transparency to a deep chocolate.
"Now, I warn you not to be shocked," said Myrin, "although I fully
expect that you will be. The fact is that we have no other kind of food
than what you see; there are thousands upon thousands of different kinds
and flavors, but they are all fluids. We have nothing whatever in solid
"You see," she explained, "we have no teeth."
All they could do was to stare at her as, with a return of her smile,
she made a sudden gesture across the front of her mouth. Next instant a
set of false teeth lay in her hand!
Estra spoke up. "We are both obliged to wear them in order that we might
use your language." He removed his own, to show a mouth as free of teeth
as a newborn baby's. Both Venusians replaced their sets, and smiled
afresh at the explorers' astonishment.
"Teeth will soon be a thing of the past with you on the Earth, too,"
commented Myrin. "Dr. Kinney will surely testify to that. Your use of
soft, cooked foods, instead of the coarse, hard articles provided by
nature, is bound to have this effect in time. With us, it resulted in
having teeth reduced to the standing of your appendix; and, like you, we
resort to an operation rather than take chances on trouble. I may
mention that the appendix is totally absent from all Venusians, while we
are beginning to lose all traces of either the first or second molars;
just as you are beginning to lose your wisdom teeth.
"However, suppose you try our diet while I explain."
The four once more looked at each other. The doctor was the first to
take a sip of one of the cups handed to him, and Van Emmon was the last;
the geologist waited to see the effects upon the others before gingerly
tasting of the thickest, darkest liquid of them all. Another taste, and
he discovered that it was very good, and that he was exceedingly hungry.
"Very delicately flavored," commented Billie, after emptying her fourth
glass, a golden fluid with a slightly oily appearance.
"Delicately is right," said the doctor. "This stuff is barely flavored
at all, Estra."
The Venusian was also "eating." "We much prefer them all that way," said
he. "I suppose you would consider our tastes very finicky, on Earth; but
the fact is we are able to distinguish between minute variations in
flavoring such as would escape all on earth except a humming-bird."
"I suppose," remarked the doctor, smacking his lips over a reddish
solution with a winelike flavor, "I suppose we can expect something of
that sort on the Earth, too, in time. Originally mankind was only able
to distinguish fresh from stale, and animal from vegetable flavors."
After a while Myrin went on: "You know, the processes of nutrition, as
they take place among your people, are extremely wasteful. You have
probably heard it said that 'the average human is only fifty per cent
efficient.' That simply means that digestion, assimilation and excretion
require half the energy which they secure from the food.
"Now, the articles you have just swallowed require very little work on
the part of your digestive apparatus, and none at all upon your
eliminating tract. The food is almost instantly transformed into fresh
blood; if I am not mistaken, you already feel much refreshed."
This was decidedly true. All four felt actually stimulated; Van Emmon
instantly suspected the food of being alcoholic. As he continued to
watch its effect, however, he saw that there was no harmful reaction as
in the case of the notorious drug.
"I think I can now tell you how we produce enough food for the three and
a half trillion of us, despite our lack of farms and orchards," said
Returning to the air-craft, the four were taken a short distance in a
new direction, and again descended, this time transferring to an
elevator which dropped far below the surface. They came to a stop about
ten floors down.
"Naturally," said Myrin, "we reserve all the surface for residence
purposes; although, it is possible to live down here in comparative
comfort, since we have plenty of electrical energy to spare." And she
operated a switch, flooding the place with a brilliant glow. Thrown from
concealed sources, this light was quite as strong as the subdued
daylight which they had just left. "But unless we were free to fly about
as much as we do, we should feel that life was a bore. Nobody stays
below any longer than is necessary.
"Now, this is where our food comes from." Whereupon she showed them a
series of automatic machines, all working away there in the solid rock
of the planet; and of such an extraordinary nature that Smith, the
engineer, moved about in an atmosphere of supreme bliss.
"You will understand," said Myrin, "that the usual processes of
nutrition, on the Earth, depend entirely upon plant life. We, however,
cannot spare room enough for any such system; so we had to devise
substitutes for plants.
"In effect, that is what these machines are. They convert bed-rock into
loam, take the nitrates and other chemicals [Footnote: The geology of
Venus is thoroughly described in Mr. Van Emmon's reports to the A. M. E.
A.] directly from this artificial soil, and by a pseudo-osmotic process
secure results similar to those produced by roots.
"Likewise we have developed artificial leaves," pointing out a huge
apparatus which none but a highly trained expert in both botany and
mechanics could half understood. "This machine first manufactures
chlorophyl—yes, it does," as the doctor snorted incredulously; "not an
imitation, but real chlorophyl—and then transforms the various elements
into starch, sugar, and proteids through the agency of the sunlight
recovered from the granite.
"In short, to answer your question, Mr. Van Emmon, as to how we are all
fed—we do not grow our food at all; we go straight to the practically
unlimited supply of raw materials under our feet, and manufacture our
Billie was very quiet during their return to the surface. She said
nothing until they had reached the two cars; and then pausing as she was
about to step in, she said:
"Well, I never saw our old friend, the high cost of living, handled
quite so easily!
"If that's the way you do things here, Estra," and the girl did not
flinch at the gazes the others turned upon her, "if that's your way,
it's good enough for me! I'm going to stay!"
For the first time, Estra looked astonished. He and Myrin exchanged
lightninglike glances; then the Venusian's face warmed with the smile he
gave the architect.
"It is very good of you to say that," he said impressively. "I was
afraid some of our—peculiarities—might arouse very different
They stared at one another for a second or two, long enough for the
doctor to notice, and to see how Van Emmon took it. The geologist,
however, was smiling upon the girl in a big-brotherly fashion, which
indicated that he thought she didn't mean what she had said. Had he been
looking up at her, however, instead of down upon her, he would have seen
that her chin was most resolute.
Just as they were about to start again, both Estra and Myrin stopped
short in their tracks, with that odd hesitation that had mystified the
four all along; and after perhaps five seconds of silence turned to one
another with grave faces. It was Estra who explained.
"It is curious how things do pile up," said he, a little conscious of
having employed an idiom. "Our planet has gone along for hundreds of
generations without anything especially remarkable happening, so that
recently many prophets have foretold a number of startling events to
take place on a single day. And this seems to have come true.
"You have been with us scarcely ten hours," and the visitors stared at
each other in amazement that so much time had passed; "scarcely ten
hours, and here comes an announcement which, for over a hundred years,
has been looked forward to with—"
He stopped abruptly. The doctor gently took him up: "'Looked forward to
Estra and Myrin considered this for perhaps three seconds. It was the
woman who replied: "The fact is, your approach to the planet has
stimulated all sorts of research immensely. Matters that had been
hanging fire indefinitely were revived; this is one of them. In that
sense, you are to blame." But she smiled as reassuringly as she could,
allowing for a certain anxiety which had now come to her face.
"Don't you think you could make it clear to us?" asked Billie
encouragingly. At the same time all four noted that the air, which
before had fairly thronged with machines, was now simply alive with
them. People were flitting here and there like swarms of insects, and
with as little apparent aim. Both Estra and Myrin were extra watchful;
also, they displayed a certain eagerness to get away, setting their
course in still another direction. In a minute or two the congestion
seemed relieved, and Myrin began to talk slowly:
"You have doubtless guessed, by this time, that we Venusians have
crossed what some call 'the animal divide.' We are predominatly
intellectual, while you on the earth are, as a race, still predominantly
animal. Excuse me for putting it so bluntly."
"It's all right," said the doctor, with an effort. "What you say is
true—of most of us." He added: "Most thinking people realize that when
our civilization reaches the point where the getting of a living becomes
secondary, instead of primary as at present, a great change is bound to
come to the race."
The Venusian nodded. "Under the conditions which now surround us, you
can see, we have vastly more time for what you would call spiritual
matters. Only, we label them psychological experiences.
"In fact, the 'supernatural' is the Venusian's daily business!"
There was another pause, during which both Venusians, driving at high
speed though they were, once more closed their eyes for a second or so.
Estra evidently thought it time to explain.
"For instance, 'telepathy.' With us it takes the place of wireless; for
we have developed the power to such a point that any Venusian can 'call
up' any other, no matter where either may be. That is why we need no
signs or addresses. There are certain restrictions; for instance, no one
can read another's thoughts without his permission. Of course, we still
have speech; speech and language are the ABC's of the Venusian; and we
still keep the telephone, for the sake of checking up now and then. Just
now, we are driving for my own house, where there is apparatus which
will enable you to both hear and understand an announcement which is
shortly to be made."
There was something decidedly satisfying, especially to Van Emmon, in
being taken into the Venusian confidence to this extent. When he put his
question, it was with his former aggressiveness much modified. He said:
"I should think that your people have pretty well exhausted the
possibilities of the supernatural, by this time. Progress having come to
an end, I don't see what you find to interest you, Myrin."
"The fact is," Billie put in, "we feel somewhat disappointed that your
people have shown so little interest in us." And she gave a sidelong
glance at Estra, who returned the look with a direct, smiling gaze which
sent a flood of color into the architect's face.
"Look out!" sharply, from Van Emmon; and with barely an inch to spare,
Estra steered his car past another which he had nearly overlooked. For
another minute or two there was silence; then Myrin said:
"You wonder what there is to interest us. And yet, every time you look
up at the stars, the answer is before your eyes.
"You see, although we cannot read your thoughts without your permission,
yet you on the earth cannot prevent us from 'overhearing' anything that
may be said. Under proper conditions, our psychic senses are delicate
enough to feel the slightest whisper on the earth.
"That is why Estra and I are able to use your language; we have learned
it together with an understanding of your lives and customs, by simply
'listening in.' I may add that we are also able to use your eyes; we
knew, directly, what you people looked like before you arrived.
"Well, it is our ambition to visit, in spirit, every planet in the
"There are hundreds of millions of stars; every one is a sun; and each
has planets. One in a hundred contains life; some very elementary,
others much more advanced than we are.
"So far, we have been able to study nearly two thousand worlds besides
those in this solar system. Do you still think, friend, we have nothing
to interest us?"
She raised a hand in a gesture of emphasis; and it was then that Billie,
her eyes on Myrin's fingers, saw another sign of the great advancement
these people had made—direct proof, in fact, of what Myrin had just
For there must have been a tremendous gain in the intellect to have
caused such a drain upon the body as Billie saw. In no other way could
it be explained; the minds of the Venusians had grown at a fearful cost
to flesh and blood.
Not only were the fingernails entirely lacking from Myrin's hand, but
the lower joints of her four fingers, from the palm to the knuckles were
grown smoothly together.
THE MENTAL LIMIT
"Make yourselves at home," said Estra, as they stepped into his
apartment. The cars just filled his balcony. "This is my 'workshop'; see
if you can guess my occupation, from what you see. As for Myrin and
myself, we must make certain preparations before the announcement is
They disappeared, and the four inspected the place. As in the other
house they had entered, the room was provided with a double row of small
windows; some being down near the floor and the others level with the
eyes. These, in addition to two doors, all of which were of translucent
On low benches about the room were a number of instruments, some of
which looked familiar to the doctor. He said he had seen something much
like them in psychology class, during his college days. For the most
part, their appearance defied ordinary description. [Footnote:
Physicians, biologists, and others interested in matters of this nature
will find the above fully treated in Dr. Kinney's reports to the A. M.
But one piece of apparatus was given such prominence that it is worth
detailing. It consisted of a hollow, cube-shaped metal framework; about
a foot in either direction, upon which was mounted about forty long
thumb-screws, all pointing toward the inside of the frame. The inner
ends of the screws were provided with small silver pads; while the outer
ends were so connected, each with a tiny dial, as to register the amount
of motion of the screw. Smith turned one of them in and out, and said it
reminded him of a micrometer gage.
Then Billie noted that the entire device was so placed upon the bench as
to set directly over a hole, about ten inches in diameter. And under the
bench was one of the saddlelike chairs. The architect's antiquarian lore
came back to her with a rush, and she remembered something she had seen
in a museum—a relic of the inquisition.
"Good Heavens!" she whispered. "What is this—an instrument of torture?"
It certainly looked mightily like one of the head-crushing devices
Billie had seen. Thumb-screws and all, this appeared to be only a very
elaborate "persuader," for use upon those who must be made to talk.
But the doctor was thinking hard. A big light flashed into his eyes.
"This," he declared, positively, "is something that will become a matter
of course in our own educational system, as soon as the science of
phrenology is better understood." And next second he had ducked under
the bench, and thrust his head through the round hole, so that his skull
was brought into contact with some of those padded thumb-screws.
"Get the idea?" he finished. "It's a cranium-meter!"
It did not take Smith long to reach the next conclusion. "Then," said
he, "our friend Estra is connected with their school system. Can't say
what he would be called, but I should say his function is to measure the
capacity of students for various kinds of knowledge, in order that their
education may be adapted accordingly.
"Might call him a brain-surveyor," he concluded.
"Or a noodle-smith," added the geologist, deprecatingly.
"Rather, a career-appraiser!" indignantly, from Billie. "People look to
him to suggest what they should take up, and what they should leave
alone. Why, he's one of the most important men on this whole planet!"
And again the doctor was a witness to a clash of eyes between the girl
and the geologist. Van Emmon said nothing further, however, but turned
to examine an immense book-case on the other side of the room.
This case had shelves scarcely two inches apart, and about half as deep,
and held perhaps half a million extremely small books. Each comprised
many hundreds of pages, made of a perfectly opaque, bluish-white
material of such incredible thinness that ordinary India-paper resembled
cardboard by comparison.
They were printed much the same as any other book, except that the
characters were of microscopic size, and the lines extremely close
together. Also, in some of the books these lines were black and red,
Billie eagerly examined one of the diminutive volumes under a strong
glass, and pronounced the black-printed characters not unlike ancient
Gothic type. She guessed that the language was synthetic, like Roman or
Esperanto, and that the alphabet numbered sixty or seventy.
"The red lines," she added, not so confidently, "are in a different
language. Looks wonderfully like Persian." By this time the others were
doing the same as she, and marveling to note that, wherever the red and
black lines were employed, invariably the black were in the same
language; while the red characters were totally different in each book.
Suddenly Smith gave a start, so vigorously that the other turned in
alarm. He was holding one of the books as though it were white hot.
"Look!" he stuttered excitedly. "Just look at it!"
And no wonder. In the book he had chanced to pick up, the red lines were
printed in ENGLISH.
"Talk about your finds!" exclaimed Billie, in an awe-struck tone. "Why,
this library is a literal translation of the languages of—" she fairly
gasped as she recalled Myrin's words—"thousands of planets!"
After that she fell silent. Plainly the discovery had profoundly
affected and strengthened her notion of remaining on the planet. Van
Emmon, watching her narrowly, saw her give the room an appraising glance
which meant, plain as day, "I'd like to keep this place in spick and
span condition!" And another, not so easy to interpret: "I'd like to
show these people a thing or two about designing houses!" And the
geologist's heart sank for an instant.
He turned resolutely to the bookcase, and shortly found something which
he showed to the doctor. It was a book printed all in "Venusian." They
carefully translated the title-page, using one of the interlinear
English books as a guide; and saw that it was a complete text-book on
"With these instructions," the doctor declared, "any one could do as the
Venusians do—visit other worlds in spirit!"
Just then Estra and Myrin returned. They were moving at what was, for
them, a rapid pace; and to all appearances they were rather excited.
"We were not able to make these records as perfect as we would like,"
said Estra, holding up four disks similar to the ones which still lay in
the explorers' translating machines. He proceeded to open the little
black cases and make the exchange. "There will be words used which I did
not see fit to incorporate in the original vocabulary, but which you
will have to understand perfectly if this announcement is to mean
anything to you."
"Thank you," said the doctor quietly. "And now, don't you think we had
best know in advance, just what is to be the subject of—"
"Hush!" whispered Estra; and next second they were listening to the
telephone in amazement.
THE WAR OF THE SEXES
"In accordance with my promise," stated a high-pitched effeminate voice,
"I am going to demonstrate a juvenation method upon which I have worked
for the past one hundred and twenty-two years."
There was a brief pause, during which Estra hurriedly explained that the
man who was making the speech was located far on the other side of the
planet, in a hall like the one the four had first visited; and that he
was making the demonstration before a great gathering of scientists.
"Too bad you cannot see as we do," commented the Venusian. "However,
Savarona may go into the details of—"
"If the committeemen are entirely finished with their measurements,"
stated the unseen experimenter, "I would like to have the results
compared with the recorded figures of Pario Camenol, who was born on the
two hundred and fifteenth day of the year twenty-one thousand seven
hundred and four."
Another rest, and Estra said: "They are examining a boy who appears to
be about twelve years of age."
Then came other voices: "As we all know, the craniums of us all are
absolutely distinct; as much so as our finger-prints." "The measurements
correspond identically with those of Pario Camenol, beyond a doubt."
"This boy can be none other than Pario."
"Then," the high-pitched voice went on, "then notice the formula I have
written on this blackboard. Using this solution, I have supplied
nourishment to this lad from the hour of his birth. Until a few days
ago, I was not satisfied with the results; the patient showed a tiny
variation from the allowable subconscious maximum, together with only
nine-tenths the required motor reaction.
"But I have corrected this. Briefly, I have incorporated in Pario
Camenol's standard diet certain elements which have hitherto been unsafe
to combine. These elements are derivatives of the potash group, for the
most part, together with phosphates which need a new classification.
Their effect," impressively, "has been to postpone age indefinitely!"
There must have been a tremendous sensation in that hall. The speaker's
voice shook with excitement as he went on:
"We have sought in vain, friends, for a way to cheat death of his due.
We have succeeded in postponing his advent until our average longevity
is several times greater than on our neighboring planet. But so far, it
has been a mere reprieve.
"What I have done is to prevent age itself. This lad is a hundred and
twenty-two years old, mentally, and still only twelve years old, as to
"In short, I offer you the fountain of youth itself!"
The speaker paused. There was no comment. Evidently all had been as
greatly impressed as the explorers. Then the voice of the man Savarona
finished, very deliberately:
"I regret to say that my treatment, despite all that I have been able to
do, cannot be adapted to the female constitution. It would be fatal to
any but males. I repeat—I can offer eternal youth, absolutely, but only
to new-born males!"
This time there was a definite response. From the telephone came a
confused murmuring, at which Van Emmon's face lighted up with delight.
The murmuring had an angry sound!
"This is outrageous!" a loud contralto voice was raised above the rest.
"You are unethical, Savarona, to announce such a thing before adapting
it to both sexes!"
The high-pitched voice replied shortly, and with more than a hint of
malice: "If a woman had discovered this, instead of me, I dare say you
would have no objections!"
The murmuring grew louder, angrier, more confused. The four from the
earth looked at each other in some slight uneasiness. At the same time
they noted that Estra, his eyes tightly closed and his fists clenched in
the intensity of his concentration, suddenly gave a sigh of relief. Next
second he began to speak into the telephone, in a voice so loud as to
silence all the clamor.
"Savarona, and the people of Venus! Listen!
"The prophets were right when they said today would witness many great
things! I have just learned of another experiment which transcends even
that of Savarona!"
An instant's pause; then: "First let me remind you that we have been
doing all we could to elevate our spiritual selves. We are daily trying
to eliminate all that is animal, all that is gross and bemeaning in us,
even to the extent of reducing the flavors of our foods to the lowest
tolerable point. And despite all this, we have not been able to get rid
of sex jealousy!
"We still have the beast within us! No matter how pure our love may be,
it is always tainted with rivalry! Always the husband and wife are held
down by this mutual envy, forever dragging at their heels, constantly
holding them back from the lofty heights of spiritual power to which
He paused, and Savarona's voice broke in, triumphantly: "You are right,
Estra! You are right, except you did not mention that this jealousy
becomes less and less as one grows older!
"Now, my discovery will put an end to your beast, Estra! My experiments
took this lad before he had become a man, and allowed his brain to
develop, while his body stopped growing! He is a man in mentality, and
an innocent boy in body!
"Estra, I have done the thing you wish! This boy will never know
jealousy, because he will never know love!"
The man in the room with the four answered in a flash: "So you have,
Savarona, but only for MEN! No female can benefit by what you have
"But I tell you that, within the past few minutes, a child has been born
under circumstances which can be repeated at any time, and for any sex!"
"In this case," the Venusian's voice changed curiously; "in this case,
however, it was a girl; for the mother controlled the sex in the
customary manner." At this, the doctor's interest became acute. At the
same time, the other three felt a tremendous, inexplicable thrill.
"Friends"—and Extra's face shone in his enthusiasm—"friends, for the
first time in creation the human male germ has been dispensed with! The
intellect has done what the laboratory could not do!
"I have the honor to announce that my sister, Amra, has just given
birth"—his voice fairly rang—"has just given birth to a girl baby,
whose only father was her mother's brain!"
This time there was no drowning the confusion. The telephone fairly
shook with innumerable cries, shouts, imprecations. The four gave up
trying to hear, and watched the two Venusians.
Myrin was facing Estra now. Her expression had lost a great deal of its
good humor, and there was a certain sharpness in her voice as she
"Estra—if your sister has done this, and I see no reason to doubt it,
then she has made man superfluous! If women can produce children
mechanically, and govern the sex at will, the coming race need be
nothing but females!"
Estra nodded gravely. "That is what it amounts to, Myrin!"
For a moment the two stared at one another challengingly. On the earth,
their attitude would have indicated some unimportant tiff. None would
have dreamed that the most momentous question in their lives had come
up, and had found them at outs.
Next instant Myrin turned, and without another word walked from the
room. Estra followed slowly to the door, where he stood looking after
her with an expression of the keenest concern on his sensitive, high-
strung features. The three men from the earth, after a glance,
studiously avoided looking at him; but Billie walked up and laid a hand
on his arm.
"Are you really in favor of this—scheme?" she inquired, in a curiously
tender voice. At the same time she gazed intently into Estra's eyes.
He turned, and the smile came back to his face. He took Billie's hand
and laid it between both his own. His voice was even gentler than
"Most certainly I do favor my sister's method, Billie. It will be the
greatest boon the race has ever known. We can look forward, now"—and
his face shone again—"can look forward to generation upon generation of
people whose spirituality will be absolute!"
The girl moved closer to him. She spoke with feverish earnestness.
"There may be some hitch in the idea, Estra. If God meant for man to
become—to become obsolete, He would not have hidden the method all this
time. Suppose some flaw should develop—later on?"
In the cube, Billie Jackson would not have stumbled over such a speech.
She would have ignored the fact that Estra was holding her hand all this
time, and gazing deep into her eyes; she would have been filled with
what she was saying and not with what she was seeing. On the other side
of the room, Van Emmon watched and glowered; he could not hear.
The Venusian lifted his head suddenly. The voices from the telephone had
subsided; only an occasional outburst came from the instrument. Estra
closed his eyes again for a second, and when he opened them again, his
manner was astonishingly alert, and his speech swift and to the point.
"So far as we know, Billie, the method has no flaws. It gives us the
chance to throw off our lower selves; and if by so doing, we reduce the
race to a single sex, only—"
He stopped short, as though at a sound; and with a word of apology
stepped from the room. He opened another door, far down the corridor;
and as he passed through, the wail of a new-born infant came faintly to
"Wonder what's up?" said Smith. Van Emmon, who had gone to the window,
whirled upon the engineer and motioned him to his side.
"Look at the people!"
Smith saw that the nearby houses were almost concealed by a throng which
had gathered, silently and without confusion, during the past few
minutes. Their numbers were increasing swiftly, fresh arrivals packing
the background. People filled the streets; the space below Estra's
balcony was already crowded as closely as it could be. Except for a low-
voiced buzzing, there was no disturbance.
Billie came up. She seemed to divine the temper of the mob. She caught
her breath sharply, and then said, very simply:
"It reminds me of—Bethlehem."
But the words had scarcely left her mouth before an uproar sounded from
one end of the street below. A crowd of excited Venusians was pushing
its way determinedly toward the house, their passage obstructed by
shouting, protesting individuals. Van Emmon's breast began to heave; he
fancied he saw blows struck.
"By George!" he exclaimed, next second. "They're fighting!"
It was true; a hand-to-hand battle was going on less than a block away.
The people below the window surged in the direction of the fight; all
were shouting, now; the clamor was deafening.
"Live and let live!" came one of the shouts. It was taken up by the
group that was doing the attacking, and made into a cheer. Then came
other cries from them. Smith made out something like "Down with sex
"Don't you see?" shouted Smith, above the din. "These people below are
Estra's friends; those newcomers are backing Savarona! Get the idea?" he
repeated. "If Estra wins out, the old boy with the fountain of youth
will never get another boy baby to experiment on!"
"What!" The doctor leaped to their sides. He took it in at a glance;
then whirled to the door. "We ought to warn Estra!"
"He knows it already!" reminded Billie swiftly. A great shout came from
below; the attackers had forced their way through the crowd of Estra's
"Well!" Van Emmon stood squarely in the middle of the room. "So far as
I'm concerned, Estra and his sister can face that crowd alone! I don't
approve of the scheme!"
The doctor eyed him thoughtfully. "I'm not so sure, Van. This is a
tremendous thing; we ought to—"
"Van is—right!" exploded Billie. Her voice rose to a shriek as a crash
shook the house.
Next instant Myrin, for once in a hurry, broke into the room. She
glanced about, missed Estra, looked slightly puzzled, and then frowned
angrily as the Venusian himself stepped in: "You fooled me!" she shot at
him. But he smiled apologetically. He was carrying a large package of
leaflets, closely printed in Venusian; there seemed to be several
thousand in the lot. He said, by way of explanation:
"I had to get ready. Savarona's people will be here any moment; they
have destroyed the elevator, and—"
A wave of clamor burst from below. "They've broken the barrier,"
remarked Estra calmly; he turned to the door, then whirled at a crash
which sounded from above. "Through the roof," he added. He did not even
glance at the balcony, where the two cars barred the way against any
attack from that direction.
Next second he again quit the room. Myrin hesitated a moment,
irresolute, and then followed him thoughtfully. They never saw her
again. As for Estra, he came back in a moment carrying a small, white
bundle, which stirred in his arms. He unhesitatingly handed the child to
Billie. His mouth moved soundlessly as a muffled shriek arose from the
other end of the corridor; there was a thud, a metallic crash, and a
great roar of voices. The mob had broken in, and up, through the back of
the house. The first of the attackers thrust his head and shoulders into
sight not ten feet away.
Estra touched something with his foot, and a door shot across the
corridor. There was an instant's silence; then, the thunder of the mob,
hurling itself against the door. The people were fairly snarling now.
Estra closed the inner door.
"Estra!" shrilly, from Billie. She laid the baby down, and strode to the
Venusian. "Let's get out of here! The car's on the balcony; nobody's in
the way to interfere! Why not—"
A grinding, ripping jar from above, and Estra shook his head. The smile
was gone, and his mouth was set and grim. "They'd catch us before we
went a mile," he said, glancing at the infant, who had begun to cry, in
a stifled, gasping way that tore at the nerves.
"Estra!" Billie pleaded; but he turned away. The doctor strode up to him
and gripped his shoulder.
"What's the good, Estra? What can you accomplish even if you—"
The Venusian tapped his forehead. "I can TELL!" he exclaimed, with a
return of that exalted flush. "Just give me a chance to offer my
sister's discovery to the world, and I shall be satisfied!" He touched
the package of leaflets. "These are not written as clearly as they
should be; but if I cannot hold them back, then these"—fingering the
papers—"these go to the friends down below!" He moved closer to the
window, but his eyes were on the door.
A rending crash told that the corridor was now open to the mob. There
was a rush, and then the storm of the people battering the last door.
"Van! Doc! Billie!" Smith had the window open, and was stepping into one
of the cars. Kinney and the geologist were at his side in an instant.
The girl held back.
"Estra!" she begged. She picked up the baby, and with her free hand
tugged at the Venusian's arm. "Come on! Don't sacrifice yourself!"
The door bulged under the attack. The noise was ear-splitting.
Nevertheless Estra heard, and shook his head without looking at the
woman from the Earth. She dashed to the window, then came back. "Hurry!
There's a chance!" He stood unmoved, watchful and ready. "Estra! I want
you to come!" Her face flamed. "Can't you see? Can't you see that I—I
want you?" She gasped as the door shrieked under the strain. "Come—if
you're a man!"
The Venusian's face changed. He turned, and stared at the girl with eyes
that held nothing but blank amazement. The grimness left his mouth, his
lips partly opened. He took a step forward and threw an arm about her
"Billie—I'm sorry! I never thought!" A crack showed at the edge of the
door, and a roar smote their ears. Estra backed to the window. "Go!" he
shouted. "Go quickly, while you can!"
Billie stood stock still, gazing at him. "I'm going to stay!" she
screamed. "I'll take my chances with—"
He thrust her through the window. "You don't understand!" he shouted,
and took the baby away from her, despite all her strength. Then a
wonderfully tender light came into his eyes. He gripped Billie's hands,
and spoke sorrowfully:
"Billie—I'm not what you thought! I'm not a man—I'm a woman!"
By the time Smith had driven the strange craft fifty yards, he had it
under control. Billie glanced back; Estra was out on the balcony, now,
and the mob was surging against the windows she had locked against them.
She shifted the baby to the hollow of one arm while with the other she
broke the cord of the packet.
At the sight, the crowd in the street gave voice. "Let us have it!" they
were crying; they drowned out the uproar within the house. Estra did not
even look at the other car.
Then the windows gave way. Like the breaking of a dam, a flood of
Venusians poured and tumbled at Estra's feet. She raised her hand, and
shouted something Billie could not hear; then, scarcely without pause,
the crowd bore down upon her.
And even as she was crushed against the railing, with one hand she
dropped the baby to eager, upstretched arms below; and with the other
she tossed the package high in the air. There it broke apart, the air
caught it, and the thousands of leaflets fluttered down upon that street
full of sympathizers.
Leaflets, each of which described a discovery which was to give to women
the power of abolishing the opposite sex, of making Venus a world not
only one in country, one in industry and one in thought, but—one in
The thunderous meaning of Estra's last action almost made Billie forget
that it was, in truth, the woman's last act. For next moment her
lifeless form was being crushed beneath the feet of that supremely
cultured, marvelously civilized mob; for it was only a mob, despite its
astounding advancement; a mob which had retained all the brute's
fanaticism, and all the male jealousy of the female.
For they were all men.
The four had been on Venus almost twenty-four hours when Smith, knowing
the condition of the machinery in the cube, warned the others that they
must return. Secretly, he was tired of the Venusians' continual smiling;
for they had fairly outdone each other to show the visitors all that
could be shown. But it was Van Emmon who thought to ask for Estra's
"These chemicals and metals you are giving us," he said, making a
regular speech of it, "are extremely welcome; they will enable us to
perform experiments otherwise out of our reach.
"But Estra's books will mean still more to the people of the earth. If
there is no one else with more need for them, who is going to put in a
claim, then why not let us have them?"
Apparently the Venusians did not like the idea very well. "They must
have thought it was like letting a monkey play with a rifle," the doctor
afterward put it. But, for lack of a leader with any motive for
objecting, and because Estra had no living relatives to claim the
library, somehow that incredible collection of intellectual gems got
into the possession of the four. Nothing was said about it during the
quiet leave-taking, and when the cube finally rose away from the roof,
Van Emmon's face beamed with happiness and a great sigh of satisfaction
"Well"—looking at the books—"they kind of make up for the fact that
the folks didn't ask us to call again!"
And he turned and went straight to the kitchenette, where he proceeded
with great speed and efficiency to set out the following:
Canned Soup. Canned baked beans. Fried bacon and egg. Coffee. Peaches.
"Come and get it!" he shouted. The doctor tore himself away from the
books; Smith crawled out from the beloved machines; Billie came out
shortly from her cubby-hole, and slipped into her seat in a highly
excited manner. There was a brightness in her cheeks, and a noticeable
change in her usually assured manner. This timidity, so utterly new to
the girl, seemed most pronounced whenever Van Emmon chanced to look at
her; which was quite often.
All four were ravenous. They had been away from the cube a day and a
night, and "all we had to eat was something to drink," as Smith
complained. Nothing whatever was said except "Please pass that" and
"Thanks," for fully fifteen minutes.
At last they were satisfied. The doctor went back to the books; Smith
returned to his oil-can and wrench. But Billie stood by the table, and
began helping Van Emmon to clear up. In a moment they were face to face.
"Van," she said softly, and looked up at him wistfully. "Van—do you
like me better this way?" Her eyes were almost piteous.
Into the man's face there came a look of amazement followed by one of
admiration, and another of genuine delight He gave a little laugh, and
unconsciously threw out his hands.
"Much better, Billie." Neither of them cared a particle whether Smith or
the doctor saw that Billie, very simply and naturally, walked right into
Van Emmon's arms. "Much better. Besides, you're really too graceful to
wear anything else."