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A City Vanishes

HENRY ALLEN swore softly as the energy-fed motor of his heloplane stuttered, then died away in a series of futile gasps. He knew well enough what was the matter. In his annoyance at drawing this absurd midnight assignment, he had forgotten that the atomic integrator in its light, compact motor beneath his seat was in need of a new vitalizing capsule.

Already the steady beam of the New York-Buenos Aires longitudinal route lay far behind him, close to the horizon, the steady rush of sky traffic brilliantly illuminating its north and south levels. And the Philadelphia-Chicago route had not yet flashed into view ahead to his left. Nowhere within the gliding reach of his heloplane was there a capsule station.

As he looked down at the neon-lit tracery of super highways beneath him, seeking a safe spot on which to swoop down in his battered runabout ship, he expanded his profanity to include Carlin Roberts, the editor of the New York Television Service. Roberts had sent him out this late to interview Professor Marvin Manning, the eccentric scientist who chose secluded retreats in the wilds of northwestern New Jersey far from the beaten paths of civilization. Allen, forgetful, had allowed his supply of reserve capsules to dwindle away unreplenished.

Allen, a lean, rather studious young man whose heavy shoulders and lean ?anks belied the scholarly east of his face, glanced quickly at the sky to check his directions by the unsmiling stars that thickly dotted the heavens. The professor had promised to put out a direction beam from the landing roof above his laboratory home. But so far the tuned indicator on the dashboard had not glowed with any indication that he had entered the zone of Manning's personal control.

Far above him a great express lane roared through the heavens, speeding its way toward Chicago. But the region immediately beneath was perilously dark and thinly settled. Allen slid his control forward and eased the heloplane comfortably down, jockeying for position with the aid of the horizontal propellor.

He'd dispose of Manning quickly. Manning was just another old crackpot who, through some mental twist or a desire for publicity, was prophesying the end of the world. They'd been doing it every year, ever since man had learned the art of lingual communication.

Allen hit the ground with a hard jolt, and heard one of the short side wings buckle as a jagged outcrop tore its way through the thin aeroluminum. Well, he was all right, he told himself as he hopped out of the plane, but it looked as if the science expert of the New York Television Service was going to spend the night on this deserted hilltop, waiting until dawn to hail a day patrolman on his rounds for rescue. And old Professor Manning and his end-of-the-world theories would have to wait. Allen inspected the damage to his machine rather ruefully, then Allen climbed back and went to sleep.

WHEN the explosion came, Allen was jolted out of a dreamless rest with frightening speed. It was a strange, tugging sensation, that jerked at his head and made his scalp tingle unpleasantly.

There seemed at first to be no sound, only a sensation of being sucked dry by a force that rocked his little ship like a feather.

Then, from the east, came the crashes. They seemed to be taking place miles behind him, But even at a distance their sound and concussion were audible, like a gigantic rumble of thunder, becoming at its climax a splitting detonation.

Five minutes later, the sky had overcast, and rain was pouring down upon the roof of the little cockpit in torrents, driving, cloudburst rain.

Allen's first thought was that the great energy-producing atomic storehouse in New York City had blown up. Such a disaster would be beyond computation as a horror. Every resident of the great city would be annihilated instantly. He felt cold and clammy all over at the mere thought. Unable to get clear from is precarious perch, or even to effect wing repairs, he dozed fitfully through the remaining hours of the turbulent night.

Shortly after dawn, a dawn which rose sluggish and brooding beneath a strangely metallic sky, a patrolman flew overhead. Allen called him by radio telephone. Fifteen minutes later, his wing cleared an engine refueled, he sped on to the interview with Professor Manning. The officer, it seemed, had heard rumdrs of some disaster, but the television press-radio censorhip board had evidently kept the news under its capacious belt.

Professor Manning greeted him anxiously where he landed on the trim white roof of the laboratory. He was a vast amount of man, full-bearded, deep-voiced, and thicker fore-and-aft through his shoulders than the average athlete is wide.

"You were late, Allen," he snapped. "Too late. It has already begun, and Lord knows how we can stop it. It's horrible, horrible." He passed a gnarled chemical-stained set of fingers across his face. Allen noticed then that the great man of science was tired to the point of exhaustion. His snapping brown eyes were sunk deep into his skull, and fatigue had etched its lines around his mouth.

The reporter explained the accident which had delayed him, feeling rather foolish for his careless omission of extra energy capsules before taking off. The scientist merely shrugged his shoulders helplessly and led the way down into his laboratory home.

"Do you know what happened last night?" the reporter asked. For answer, Manning nodded as they strode through a magnificently equipped work room containing several devices with which Allen, for all his knowledge of science, was totally unfamiliar. The professor then led the way on into a television chamber. The plate was empty.

"You see?" Manning asked eloquently. Allen looked curiously at the older man. There was nothing to see on the plate.

"The set is turned on Newark," he went on. "What do you see?"

"Nothing," said Allen, puzzled.

"Exactly!" snapped the professor. "Because there is nothing there!"

"The commission has undoubtedly been forced to disconnect Newark from the service temporarily," said the reporter, though for the first time he felt uneasy.

MANNING laughed, a trifle scornfully. "I know there is nothing there." he said emphatically. "I and I alone have been expecting this unthinkable calamity. I did not know where it was to fall, so I could issue no warning." And I was not ready, still am not ready."

"What do you mean, Professor Manning?" Allen asked. Something about the wild intensity of the scientific man was convincing him despite himself.

"I mean," said Manning, "that Newark has vanished from the face of the globe—or very nearly so. As a matter of fact, I suspect it still exists, but in such a form that it defies all human credibility. And no one save the authors of the calamity know the next point of attack. It may be Philadelphia, Trenton, Scranton, even New York itself."

"It sounds incredible," said Allen, feeling that Manning must be mad.

"Incredible?" the professor asked, a curious expression on his bearded face. "Listen." He turned on the switch, tuning in the flight directions for the day in a constant stream of facts.

"Pilot Curtin of the Orient express will drop to level three at once. Beam repairs make this imperative. All traffic over routes one and seventeen has been suspended. Violators will meet with instant arrest. . . ." Manning and the reporter exchanged significant glances. One and seventeen were the Newark routes. Suspending both of them was unheard of. Something very definitely was wrong. "Tell me," Allen said simply to Professor Manning. "What do you think has happened?"

"Come with me," said the scientist grimly, leading the way hack to the laboratory work room. There he bent over a small, but expertly made fluoromicroscope, adjusting the screws.

"Look for yourself," he said finally, stepping back to give room to Allen. The reporter peered into the lens. At first he was puzzled. Lying beneath him, enlarged fifty times, was the horror-inspiring head and mandibles of an apparently simple black ant. He squinted closer, trying to make out some unusual feature. The eyes were glazed in death and many-faceted, and the jaws below them sagged horribly open. But it did not seem especially startling. Just the head of an ant, greatly enlarged.

"Look!" exclaimed Manning. "Look under his chin." Allen did so and noticed, for the first time, a little device that looked oddly like ap cube fastened to the scaly skin.

"What is it?" he asked.

"It is, I believe, an atomic adjustor and tela-communications kit," he said gravely. I opened one, and it was quite amazing. Come here. Manning led the way to another microscope. Under its lens was one of the strange little cubes, one of the walls carefully removed. Machinery, elaborate, delicately constructed little wheels and cams and springs, finer than those of any mechanism known to man, stood exposed there.

ALLEN wondered whether he was being made the victim of a hoax. The very thought of ants using machinery struck him as absurd. And still, there was that machine, whatever it was, vaguely reminiscent of the atomic adjustors he had seen, yet somehow different.

"Well," he said, stalling for time, "what is the significance of this?"

"Just this, young man," said Manning. "It means that certain tribes or species of ants have, through some incredible process, learned the value and use of atomic regulation as well as controlled telepathic communication. In one direction they have far outstripped humanity—they can reduce the size of any structure to measurements commensurate with their own. That is what they've done to the city of Newark, unless my entire hypothesis is wrong!"

Allen paled.

"Good Lord!" he exclaimed. "We must find out at once. This is horrible, too awful for belief. Why, with power like that, they could—"

"Remember," said Manning. "They already have."

At the television board, Allen called Carlin Roberts, his editor in New York.

"See here," he greeted his superior, disbelief rising strong within him as he talked, "Professor Manning says that Newark vanished in that explosion last night. How about it? Is he full of the well-known prune juice?"

Roberts, on the television screen, seemed to shake with some irrepressible emotion at his statement. It took him some seconds to regain the power of speech.

"Listen," he saidfinally. "You bring Manning back to New York with you right now. Tell him to bring whatever he'll need with him. The entire Atomic Commission has been sitting in conference all day. They don't know what to do." The editor's voice dropped.

"Listen, Henry," he went on. "Manning's right. Newark is gone. just like that!" He snapped expressive fingers significantly. "Nearly a million souls, men, women, and children, vanished off the face of the Earth last night. It's the most horrible catastrophe in history. All that's left is a grassless crater a couple of miles in diameter. And they can't find the city!"

Allen turned to the professor, who nodded. "Mr. Roberts," he said simply. Tell the Commission that I place my humble talents at their disposal. And tell them I must have Allen take me to the scene en route."

"I'll see that you're permitted to fly over," said Roberts. "The censors want to keep the whole thing as quiet as possible until they find out something about it."

"I believe myself to be the only living human being with even the faintest knowledge of what is going on," the professor replied. "And furthermore, if I am right as I have been to date, some of us shall find the missing city in a few hours."

"I hope to God you're right," said the editor, his lips grim. "It's the most terrible scourge ever visited on mankind. Worse, even, than war."

The professor turned off the switch and again led Allen into the laboratory. "Come," he said "You must help me pack. There are a few things I shall have to take with us. We are going to find the lost city of Newark, New Jersey."

Allen, sick and shaken with horror, silently obeyed the staccato orders.


Into Smallness

AS Henry Allen sped his little heloplane toward the scene of the horror, the great professor sat beside him, speaking no word, sunk deep in thought of the disaster that was overtaking mankind. When, three years before, he had found the machine-bearing ant, he had felt then that mankind, so long prophesied for insect domination, was drawing very close. And feverishly he had worked to save his species.

When the atomic adjustor and tela-communications box upon his laboratory table had showed signs of sudden activity the day before, he had felt that the doom was almost upon man and had called Carlin Roberts and the Atomic Commission, who had dispatched young Henry Allen, crack science reporter, to visit the professor and sound him out.

He and he alone knew or had the slightest conception asto the nature of the catastrophe. Even his coldly trained scientific brain rebelled before what he felt to be fact. It was beyond the line of madness.

A police heloplane, trim and streamlined, hovered beside them as they came within fifty miles of Newark. All traffic, Allen noticed, was being maintained on the lowest levels to eliminate long-range vision. The reporter identified himself and was permitted to pass. Roberts had arranged the permit as planned.

Five minutes later, they saw the scene of the tragedy, a weird and barren spectacle of horror. A vast pit, perhaps two and a quarter miles from rim to rim at its widest, stood where the city's towers had risen sharp and proud above the flat Jersey marshes and meadows.

It reminded Allen of the tremendous holes plowed out by the nitro-disintegration bombs that were dropped on the hapless Mexicans in the last peasant uprising over the quartz fields south of the Rio Grande. But this was bigger, more terrifying, more completely. A whole city had vanished completely, leaving not the slightest trace of its former existence behind.

Police patrol planes were clustered strategically around the edges of the great pit, and far below them, almost invisible against the drabness of its color, Allen could make out the tiny dots that were men, working their way slowly toward the center of the pit. Manning, who had been watching too, turned to his companion.

"Land in the center," he said calmly. "We will save time. And there can be no danger now."

"I hope you're right," said Allen. "It's not a pleasant spectacle. A great city—disappearing just like that." Then, with set lips and pale face, he feathered the little machine to a perfect landing in the center of the pit. Professor Manning was out and on the ground almost before the landing gear touched, and began to move around in a circle, scanning the ground. The air police, on foot, were still a good mile away toward the rim on all sides.

"What are you doing?" Allen asked the scientist. "I'm looking for the lost city of Newark," said Manning, still scanning the dry, crumbly earth. There was a pool in one corner of the pit where broken water mains had plunged their liquid burden unimpeded until the commission employees had arrived to stop them up.

Allen began to search as the professor was doing, not understanding the process in the least. He might as well be looking for a golf ball in a desert. And ten minutes later, when he found the object of their search, the golf ball simile became horribly real.

WITHIN a hundred yards of the plane, at the exact center of the circular pit, was a tiny plateau, its surface irregular. This little plateau, strangely symmetrical in its circularity, was perhaps 35 to 40 feet in diameter. It stood a few inches above the smooth devastation around it. It bore a curiously metallic gridiron pattern, intersected with strange little pillars, the tallest of them clustered together to the north, perhaps a foot or two in height. Squatting down to get the profile elevation of this strange discovery, Allen understood, with a wave of sickening horror, that the search for Newark was ended. That odd plateau was Newark, complete, and apparently undamaged architecturally, but reduced in size to the tiniest of miniatures. The professor had been right!

The ants, leaders of the insect world, had at last declared war on their enemy, man. Only, instead of becoming larger, as imaginative gentlemen of a scientific bent had always assumed, they had, by means of their discovery of atomic adjustability, simply cut man down to their own size. Allen recalled the various stories he had heard concerning the immense comparative strength of the ant—how one of them would be equal in muscular energy to perhaps a score of men of similar size.

The realization of the helplessness of the inhabitants of Newark, if there were any left, turned his mind into turmoil. The hideous face of the ant he had seen shortly before in the professor's studio rose before him and made him shudder.

Together, the two surveyed the remains, in silent contemplation of the fate of the once-populous city. Every building appeared undamaged. The skyscrapers rose in the downtown district, and three-wheeled, streamlined helobiles parked at the curbs looked like tiny metallic globules.

But nowhere in the entire city was there a sign of life. No helohile moved. The planes and gyros and rocket speedsters of the inner airport remained behind the hangar doors. One mighty Transglobe liner stood poised for flight on the field itself, its lights still on for the voyage. But no reduced passengers clustered around its gate, nor was there a sign of pilot and crew within.

But even as the two men watched, a tiny figure, perhaps a quarter of an inch high, could be seen moving slowly across the tiny strips of what had been the concrete runways. Allen gasped. This figure was a man!

FROM a building behind the tiny figure emerged two orthodox looking black ants. Methodically, without apparent haste, they overtook the little human, moving up, one on each side. While the reporter and the scientist looked on in horror, one of them darted in on the running human figure, seized it with its matidibles, and the insects then sped inside the open door of a hangar. They did not reappear.

Allen and the proflessor ezchanged glances, then prepared to meet the air-police searchers, who were running toward them.

"We must get to the Commission at once," said Manning. "Allen, I want you to help me. You will either come back with the greatest story of all man's history, or you will not come back at all. You may meet a death so horrible that not even the sight you have just witnessed may give you a conception."

"I think I understand," said the reporter quietly. "Anywhere you go, Professor—"

"Fine," said Manning. He hailed the nearest searchers and indicated the tiny remnants of the town. They came running up, singly and in small groups, eyeing the miniature city with strange tense silence. "Come," said the Professor. "We must report this. The Commission is waiting." He led the way to Allen's little heloplane, and they took off at once for New York and the great Atomic Tower which rose to a mighty air landing platform some two miles in the air.

They were hurried down to the committee chamber, where they were received with, nervous anxiety by the distinguished members, who had already received word of their tragic discovery via the television service. Manning went directly to them and reports the facts simply.

"So you see, gentlemen," the professor continued, "I believe that what has happened is this. Some development in these diabolically clever insects has enabled them to master the elements of mechanical and atomic knowledge. They have ferreted out some of those very secrets that you gentlemen have been guarding so closely lest they fall into evil hands and bring about ruin and destruction. By an intense concentration of atomic reducers, they have been able to reduce the city of Newark to micro-size. This reduction, coming suddenly, naturally created a tremendous vacuum in the surrounding area. This caused the storm of last night.

"There is nothing new in this theory," Professor Manning continued. "The great Einstein left us the kernel of the situation in his last great treatise. It involves the symmetrical reduction of atomic units in any object, live or static, without altering the relative density of such atomic units. In simpler terms, a painless, thorough readjustment in whatever field the force is applied to. Judging by the one poor fellow we saw, I should say that the reduction has amounted to the removal of two hundred and eighty-seven out of every two hundred and eighty-eight atomic units. This can be easily checked by comparing the buildings of the reduced city in their present form with their original dimensions.

"Now, from my examination of the atomic adjustors developed by the insects, it would seem that they have not yet been able to put into effect the expansion of atomic relativity. Had they done so, it would be logical for them to enlarge themselves, rather than to reduce the size of whatever they choose to attack. It is in this one fact, whose secret is held by the Commission which you gentlemen represent, that we must seek our salvation from this scourge which imperils us.

"I have been preparing for this emergency for three years, ever since I saw the first adjustor box on one of the insects delivered to me by chance. There is only one way to meet them. Mr. Allen has consented to go with me. We shall require four ray-gun permits immediately and two ultra-condensed packages of atomic force. If we do not get these, we shall be unable to return to you at all."

The Commission quickly set about giving them the equipment they desired, and the two intrepid men returned to the scene of the disaster. Manning then opened his kit and took out a little boxlike object, perhaps a foot square, on which were two indicators and a small, wide-mouthed horn.

"You understand how to work the condensed atomic force kit you were just given?" the professor asked. Allen nodded. Its theory was given to all graduates of the Academy of World Science, of which he was an alumnus. By standing within four inches of the machine, and by pressing the charger button, an atomic reserve field enlarged to the degree set any object at which it was directed. And now, he thought, he was going to go through a process directly opposite.

The professor set one dial at the point between the numbers 270 and 280 which corresponded to 288. Then, standing beside the reporter within the field offered by the angle of the horn's mouth, he leaned forward and twirled the other indicator. A strange sucking noise resulted, and, for a moment, the air grew thin in a tiny repetition of the horror of the night before. While the Commission members watched, the professor and his young co-adventurer grew hazy in outline, then vanished.

For the reporter, it was a strange though not unpleasant sensation. His vision grew dim, and the world grew hazy about him. But this lasted only a second. He looked inquiringly at the professor, who pointed a finger behind him. Allen looked and gasped.

NEWARK had come back. Great towers rose high in the air above him, their windows glistening in answer to the sun. Certain foggy shapes loomed up in the distance, their outlines indistinct. And as he looked, he saw them move.

"Professor!" he gasped. "What are those?"

Manning chuckled. "Those," he said quietly, "are the members of the Commission who came out from New York with us. Now do you understand?"

Allen nodded, a wave of terror sweeping through him.

"Can-—can we get back?" he asked, his eyes staring up at the metallic sky.

"As long as you hang on to your condensed atomic force you can," said Manning. "We are going to explore now. Have both ray-guns ready."

Allen checked his atomic package, which was fastened to his belt, and took a ray-gun in each hand, holding them ready for instant use.

But as they passed through the streets of the city, all seemed quiet and harmless enough—too quiet, for nowhere was there a sign of human life, and nowhere was therea vestige of violence. When they reached Market Street, Allen suggested they take one of the helobiles that lined the curb. A large new sedan was standing in the street, its door swinging open.

They entered the car, and Allen drove through every street of the town, searching for life, human or insect. And at last, the pair found themselves approaching Market Street, where they had first picked up the helobile. A dreadful fetid odor, unlike any smell known to man, assailed their nostrils.

The professor leaned forward, a sudden light in his eyes.

"Be careful," he said. "Stop the car. That odor means one of the insects is around."

BUT he was too late. Already, the helobile had swung into the wide street on the upper level from which they had commenced their driven Allen needed no further commands to stop. For, less than two blocks away, a group of the most horrible creatures he had ever seen were huddling together in a strange tangle of jagged mandibles, and long, jagged, strangely angular legs.

Bodies gleamed a shiny black, showing green where the light struck them, and huge, incredible eyes, many-faceted like great living diamonds, stared unwinking and dreadful in a steady circumference of 360 degrees, the full periphery of three-dimensional observation.

Even as Allen braked, the group of insects saw him and broke up their huddle. They advanced with incredible speed, bearing down on the helobile in a terrifying eight-legged gallop. Allen quickly pressed the speed button of his vehicle and swung it around in an arc of its own length. He shot into an intersection and pulled it around the first corner, zizzagging away from the dreadful pursuers.

Cold sweat was breaking out on his skin, for, fast as the helobile was, his territory for flight was limited to the two-mile diameter, and these monstrous insects could almost keep pace with him. One hand drifted nervously to the ray-gun on the seat beside him, released the safety catch. The professor looking back over his shoulder, ray-guns cocked and ready, broke into a roar of triumphant laughter.

"By heaven!" he exclaimed. "They wouldn't believe me, but I was right! I was right all the time!"

Chapter III

Insect Menace

ALLEN made a sharp turn. "Come on," he said. "Let's ditch the car." He swung around another corner and found a garage to his right. Quickly he pulled inside it, scrambled out, and shut the great front doors. Then, with the professor out after him, both of them carrying their precious ray-guns, they raced through a back entrance into a narrow alley, on the other side of which rose the great spire of the Marfane Company's tower.

A quick blast from Allen's ray-gun opened the lock on the massive rear door. They had doubled back on their tracks so thoroughly that, from the other side of the building, they could watch from an upper window the operation of the insects who were pursuing them.

A freight eleyator yawned openly at them at one end of the crystal-tiled corridor. Half a minute later they were on the fortieth floor, hurriedly crossing to the front of the great edifice. It would never do to go too far up. Then any operations beldw would be too distant for clear visibility.

As they operied a door into the main lobby of the floor on which they stood, the professor stopped and sniffed. That terrible odor was creeping about them again. Carefully they peeked around a corner and stiffened with horror at what they saw.

Two men were lying on the crystal carpet, horribly twisted in death. Their faces were of a dreadful pallor, almost green. It looked as though all the blood had been sucked from their veins. And in the hand of one of them was an old-fashioned automatic pistol, of the type used by the Germans in the first World War, an antique of the sort permitted without license by the Commission.

But Allen's eyes did not linger long on the two bodies. For, rising over them was one of the ants, its eyes gleaming balefully. The creature of nightmare saw them; and its antennae quivered. Slowly it stepped over the bodies, its mandibles open and dripping with what looked like human gore. Its movements were sluggish, and apparently it had been hurt, but there was no doubt of its intentions. For a moment both men were paralyzed by the sheer horror of what they saw.

The giant insect came closer, its jaws snapping. Around its neck was the little box which had first drawn Manning's attention to the peril with which humanity, embarked for the first time in history on a program of warless progress, was threatened. Its hind section, soft and fibrous, had been pierced by three of the old-type bullets, and a yellow liquid came oozing through the little holes.

Then, with an unconscious yell of horror, the reporter lifted one of his ray-guns and pointed it at the monster. Already the shuffle of its dragging feet was swishing loudly in his ears, and the clack of its shell-like jaws was plainly audible as it savored in advance the taste of its foe. Allen's finger pressed the trigger, and a beam of green light shot forth from the muzzle of his weapon.

THE insect stopped as if it had run into a stone wall. It stood perfectly still, unable to move, while the ray ate itself into his body. At last, its whole frame began to crackle and give oil the same green fire. It never fell, but rather disintegrated before the deadly flame. It grew smaller, wasted away into a white powder. Only then did Allen turn off the power.

Turning their backs on this scene of horror, the professor and the reporter went to a front window, knocked out the permanent glass, and looked down at the street beneath. More of the insects had arrived and were digging a hole in the center of the pavement. Here and there appeared men, yoked together, their heads bowed, helping them achieve their object. The professor's beard bristled with excitement.

"Tonight," he said, "we must visit the underworld. We must learn the directing force behind this horror." He looked at the reporter thoughtfully, and then pulled a metal kitbox from his pocket. It was the ant's atomic-adjustor and tela-communication box that had been in his laboratory earlier. Having been in the atomic adjustment field he had originally set up, it too had maintained its relatively microscopic size.

"Watch now," said Professor Manning. "I am going to make this larger."

He took the condensed package of atomic force from his pocket, studied a sheet of paper marked with symbols relative to the minute speck that was the ant's neck-device. Then he placed the two objects a certain distance apart on a table, and turned an indicator on the package. But only for a moment. Quickly then, his supple fingers turned the indicator back.

Allen looked swiftly at the box. It was now about four inches by three by two and gleamed with the shine of some dark metal. He glanced at the professor curiously.

"What are you going to do with that?" he asked.

"I am going to attempt now to solve a problem that should have been finished three years ago," he said slowly.

"At that time the Commission called me a crack-pot and refused to give me condensed atomic force. Now, perhaps, it is too late. I am going to try to solve the mystery of insect communication. For years I have planned it with the microscope's aid, but no instruments were fine enough to risk tearing this invaluable instrument apart."

Manning placed the box against the side of his neck and held it there. When his hand came away, the kit stuck there, held by some current within itself.

"Hm-m-m," he said thoughtfully. "I've wondered what they use to fasten them. Now I know."

"What is it?" asked Allen, curious, Manning raised a finger. "Wait," he said. "Wait. I can feel a command running through me." His eyes suddenly blazed, and he turned ferociously on the young reporter. He pointed his ray-gun directly at Allen's head.

With a desperate effort, unaware of what madness had seized the scientist, the reporter sprang and grappled with him.

ALMOST at once he knew that it was of no avail. Despite his own strength; he was no match for the scientist, who seemed suddenly to have taken on superhuman powers.

Slowly the gun, which he was seeking to wrest away from the older man, was regaining its aim at his temple. He felt the muscles well in a mighty surge as the brawny arm beneath him forced its way upward. At its final jerk, his own ?ngers were thrust disdainfully aside, and with the gesture, his hand flew up, knocking the box from Manning's neck.

At once the scientist ceased fighting and stared at his comrade, a look of frightened surprise in his eyes. He passed a suddenly fluttering hand over his eyes.

"My God!" he said. "What was I doing? Tell me, quick."

"You were trying to kill me," said Allen, his brow bursting with sweat. "You came too close for comfort. Why, you had the strength of seven men!"

"The strength of anant, you mean," said Manning, a grim light in his eyes. "The minute I put on that control box, I could feel it. A message pouring through me, 'Kill men! Kill men! Kill them so that the insects may rule their cities and the world.' It came over and over again. I was not human then, I was in the control of the ants!"

"You mean to say you could understand it?" Allen asked incredulously. "It doesn't make sense."

"Yes, but it does make sense," said the professor. "I told you it was a tela-communications machine. What was giving me that message was a brain, an intellect. It is this intellect, the most evil in the history of the world, that is driving the ants to attempt to wipe out humanity, slaughter it, enslave it. Every insect whd wears one of these kits, and there are doubtless billions of them, is in the power of this brain. We must find this brain tonight and deliver the world from it

"I presume, though we shall find out quickly enough, that this intellect can vary his orders to his slaves. It would seem that since it has been unable to enlarge its species, it has demanded that every human be taken from the streets. It had plenty of time in which to accomplish this between last night and dawn, with an army of ants at its beck and call, but even so, that poor fellow we saw on the airport field managed to keep his freedom for many hours. I doubt that the population is dead. Perhaps it would be better if they were.

"But it does not seem in line with the intelligence of this brain that it should wantonly destory helpless captives who could be put to work for it. It is thus that I believe it is able to order some ants to kill, while others it commands to employ as prisoners differently. The death will is most probably only to be used on ants hunting the last possible refugees above the earth's surface. We must wait and see."

All through the long day, the two men waited in the empty office room, watching their foes and the enslaved humans working on that opening beneath them. The professor's interest in the methods used by the insects was profound. They were, it seemed, making an entrance to some sort of underground passage, for close to a thousand of the eight-legged monsters came in or out of the hole, and the humans employed, yoked together in squads of four, numbered close to a thousand more.

If there was any doubt in the scientist's mind as to the mechanical and engineering abilities of the ants, it was quickly dispelled by the efficiency of their labors. The hole in the street was trimmed and edged with some sort of metal, until was a perfectly round orifice. Apparently it sloped away beneath in a sort of ramp. And, late in the afternoon, a group which had been working to one side opened up to disclose a gigantic cover, made to simulate perfectly the torn-up pavement of the street.

Forty teams of men carried it, groaning beneath the heavy load and the lashing antennae of their oppressors. As they at last lowered it in place, he could see, thanks to some mysterious irradiation from the passage beneath, a brief glimpse of elaborate screws and dynamos.

Human engineers, under some dreadful compulsion, had been forced to manufacture the machinery to raise and lower the great round door. With darkness, the insects and their captives marched into the hole and disappeared from view. The lid was lowered, and the deserted metropolis grew still and dim in the night. At last the professor stirred.

"Come," he said simply to the reporter, who had watched the proceedings, as fascinated as the scientist. They went down the freight elevator once more and silently crossed the street. No lurking outposts disturbed them, though they kept their ray-guns cocked and ready.

"How are we going to get in?" asked Allen as Manning strode on past the great circle in the street. The professor made no response. Instead, he crossed directly into the National Air-Conditioning Company building, which loomed across from their hiding place of the day.

"There must be an outpost at the entrance itself," the scientist said finally, pausing inside the entrance of the uninhabited skyscraper. "We can break through farther along the passage with our ray-guns."

"How do you know where the passage is?" Allen asked curiously.

"I don't know," said Manning, "but we're going to find out." His beard bristled as he led the way into the cellars which plunged far beneath the level of the street outside, using a crystal lamp to guide them.

"From what limited observations I have been able to make," he said, stopping by a wall along which ran a great waterpipe, "it should lie behind this water system. The water itself will have been cut off, so I think we can bore through them with safety. And remember, if anything happens to me, you have your condensed atomic force. You know how to use it.

"But what we must do is destroy the brain that lies behind this invasion. Without its malign influence dictating to the insects through the tela-communications boxes, they should quickly revert to their earlier harmless social state. If we don't, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and, one by one, all the great cities of the world will suffer the horrible fate that has overtaken Newark.

"And there is not enough condensed atomic force in the tanks of the Universe to restore one-tenth of the people already reduced to their normal standards of physical worth. We must get that intellect and destroy it before it destroys us and our kind!"

THE two adventurers went to work, using the rays carefully so as not to attract much attention should they be breaking through into the underworld of the ants. At first their efforts, once through the concrete foundations, met nothing but dirt and sand. They worked themselves clean through the wall in the direction where the tunnel should lie. At last, with fatigue close upon them, they both heard a rhythmic thumping ahead, the roar of vast machinery. They were getting close. Using their ray-guns with doubled energy and caution, they ate through the space that separated them from their destination.

At last, Allen felt his weapon bite into metal. And then, suddenly at the break of dawn in the Orient, a splotch of light showed through. Carefully, slowly, they enlarged the opening. At last it was large enough for a man to crawl through. The reporter shook hands with his comrade and forced his way through the hole.

At once, terrible talons seized him, enveloped him, choking off his cry of warning. He was unable to point his ray-gun at the loathsome, incredibly powerful insect body that smothered his breath and view. He drove a foot into the soft hind section and felt the talons grip him so painfully that he felt suddenly sick.

Then the terrible odor began to overpower him once more. He was drifting toward unconsciousness and did not hear the hissing sound that preceded the loosening of his horrible captor's grip.

When at last he stood erect, gasping for the breath that had been driven from him, he saw Professor Manning standing grimly alongside, his ray-gun smoking in his grip. The ant who had seized him lay on its side, its head completely disintegrated. Wordlessly, he shook the hand of the man who had saved his life.

They were standing in a long passage, lit mysteriously by a heathless, iridescent glow, stretching away to a dim distance. Behind them was a heavy steel door, which was closed tight, Here and there, openings in the tunnel revealed other passages, some lighted, some not. Nowhere did they see more of their insect antagonists. The one just killed by the professor was evidently a lone guard for the inner side of the gate. The man patrol was beyond the barrier in all probability, nearer the entrance to the tunnel proper.

Distasteful as the work was, both men busied themselves jamming the body of the dead guard through the hole by which they themselves, had entered. The hole might not be noticed immediately, but the dead ant certainly would. The task done, they proceeded along the passage, seeking whatever destiny lay ahead.

They followed the straight path. Twice they were forced to duck into side passages to avoid insect patrols, which thumped solidly past them. The second time, in a dark chamber, Allen became aware of the fact that live objects were around him, moving on all sides.

It was a huge chamber, covering thousands of square yards. And the farther half of the ceiling was black with ants, hanging by their feet, at rest. In the dim half-light could be seen hurrying female human shapes, cleaning and caring for the horrid creatures!


The Mighty Brain

WHEN they stepped back into the corridor, shuddering with the horror of what they had just seen, Allen and Professor Manning walked head on into another ant patrol. There were six of the insects, and the lowered their heads, waved their antennae, and charged. The men brought all four of their ray-guns into action. Four of the insects went down, hissing and crackling as the deadly heat caused their immediate disintegration. But the other two, who had circled wide, got to close quarters.

The battle was quickly over. Both men were overpowered by the strength of their dreadful assailants and the horrible odor they seemed able to exude at will. And then, when they were disarmed and helpless, both of their captors stood still, mandibles twitching, antennae erect, heads swaying slightly. And without further ado, they were hustled along the long underground passage.

Down, down they went, into the very bowels of the earth. The corridors grew wider, and the chambers that opened off of them became increasingly large and ornate. In some of them vast machines were visible, throbbing out their rhythmic accents. They had no choice but to accompany their escorts, who moved along, on either side of them, each gripping an arm of the two men to prevent escape.

At last they passed a full company of the insects who stood ranged in long rows at either side of the passage. A brightly lighted door loomed Just beyond them. To Allen, the sight of those rows of insects, as large as horses, with their unbelievably hideous faces and their long hairy legs and cracking jaws, was sickening. He kept his eyes straight ahead, trying not to look at the terrifying things.

When the finally entered the chamber, the first impression that smote both men was one of unspeakable decadence and evil—an evil strong enough to be overpowering in its very presence. The light was bright after the gentle iridescence of the hallways, and it was difficult for both men to see at first. Slowly, their eyes grew accustomed to their surroundings, however, and they could see.

Upon the ceiling were a series of strange decorations, luminous relief maps or pictures of some strange insect art. They appeared unlike man-made charts, yet as Allen looked at them, he saw familiar items here and there. On the largest, surely the bulging sections followed the general outline of Manhattan. There was the bay, the East River, the Hudson, and the Harlem. Suddenly, he understood. They were relief maps of the great cities of America-but they were maps made from beneath. A surface rise was here an indentation, and a surface indentation, like the river bottoms, a rise. Buildings were marked by their foundations rather than by their external elevations, and subways and pipe lines were accurately expressed. The professor had been right one hundred per cent.

ALL at once the reporter felt a voice speak to him, a voice that came through his brain rather than through his ears. It was a chilling tone, so inexpressibly alien and evil that he shuddered. Its hate seemed to taint the air.

In the center of the room, on a raised platform, stood a crystal dome. All the glow of the chamber emanated from it. Allen and Manning had to squint as they looked at it.

And inside of this dome, barely visible through the light, was the huge pale head of the ant. Unlike its mates, it had a high bulging forehead, and its eyes were intense, even in that blinding glow. Allen, who knew in a general way that ant species are divided into workers, fighters, and rulers or scientists, realized that he was looking at an extraordinary example of the last type. The limbs of this insect were shriveled, worthless. And plainly, for an insect, it was incredibly old.

"I am," said its voice, "the synthesis of insect culture. I am the brain of the underworld, the amalgamation of five hundred ant scientists who gladly transferred their intellects and thus their lives into this poor body which contains me.

"For fifty generations we have planned this attack upon the greatest enemy of our kind—man! We shall diminish each city as we have Newark, rebuilding our own reduced entrances as we have here, so that they shall remain invisible to desperate human eyes. And then we shall turn on the smaller communities, destroying each in turn, until the entire world of man shall be at our disposal as ours for so long has been at man's.

"We shall tap the best that your engineers and men of science have to offer and incorporate it to our own uses. Already we have learned from our observers, recording here through telepathic communication, the processes used in your greatest laboratories, the secret of atomic reduction employed against the city above us. The entire district was mined with such reducers, and their rays pointed upward and all discharged at a given signal. Yes, we will use the devices of man to the fullest. Already your engineers are working for us here.

"It is on this account that you are here. You have killed six of my warriors today with a weapon that is new to us. With man in sole possession of this weapon, the struggle may, perhaps, be prolonged with needless loss of life on both sides. Therefore, you shall demonstrate this instrument to me. Do not try to kill me or to create a disturbance. This crystal is proof against all weapons of a physical nature."

"I'll be hanged if I will!" roared the professor aloud, and though the intellect could not have heard him, it nodded its incredible forehead and seemed to smile—a hideous spectacle. A cold, bloodless frightening smile.

"Oh, but you will," it said. "Guards, put a case on his neck."

THE reporter felt his blood turn to ice. He saw the guards approach the scientist with a tela-communication casket, while another hurried into the room with the four guns they had been forced to drop during the scuffle.

"You will be interested to know," the brain went on, "that, thanks to our ability to reduce man and his works, we shall destroy your greatest city, New York, in a few hours. Manhattan Island will be even worse case than Newark, for the sea will sweep over its banks into the hole that remains. Guards, put the box on the professor."

Allen had a sudden desperate idea. His comrade, already held tightly by the guards, would soon be insane or dead if he did not move quickly to save him. He himself was apparently being saved in case the professor was able to hold out and was destroyed. His orders were to destroy the intellect behind the crystal.

He felt the condensed atomic force packet in his pocket. Allen understood its working, as he had assured his colleague. While the brain concentrated on Manning, its force had faded from the reporter. Inside the crystal, the great forehead had grown livid in its effort to force from the scientist the secret of the ray-gun.

The professor was striving to maintain his mental power against the dreadful force that was grinding his will to dust. He strained in the grip of his horrible captors, seeking to rid his throat of the box. But their Superhuman strength held it close against him. He began to laugh, a horrible inhuman cackling. His eyes grew bloodshot and glaring. Professor Manning was being driven insane.


Inside the Crystal

ALLEN, racking his brains for some way of saving his partner, stared in fascinated horror at the crystal, where the intellect was putting forth even greater efforts.

"Lord!" thought Allen. "If I could only get inside with the intellect. He has no strength in his body. And nothing can penetrate the crystal!" Then, like a flash, he had the answer. The condensed atomic force!

During the fraction of a second of actual change no object had, actual mass. It was in state of atomic flux, briefly without solidity, without finite substance. In desperation, his fingers reduced the charge in the indicator of his atomic force pocket. It would not do to make the intellect too big. Just enough of a change, so that he could pass through the crystal.

With a quick step, he moved up to the crystal. His captors came after him to grab him. But even as he started, he pressed the little button, directing the field of his instrument toward the dome. For a short half second it grew fuzzy, but in that half second, he stepped through it, turning off his gauge.

Everything in the room seemed to stop. The guards were motionless in horror. The will of the intellect, broken by the change, loosed its hold on the professor. And when the strangeness once more had ceased, the room was different. The dome seemed perhaps twenty-five per cent larger than it had been before, as was the strange insect inside of it.

And Henry Allen was in there with the ruler of the insect scourge. The sudden fear in the intellect's being was flashed through all the ants. They stood Stock-still, trembling.

Allen tensed himself, then drove a hard right fist into the bulging left eye of the brain, shattering its facets and causing it to try to drag its withered limbs away from the human attacker.

"Intellect," said Allen, "you are going to die." His blow had crashed the tiny body beneath that monstrous forehead against the crystal.

"Have mercy. Have mercy!" came the insect's plea. Grim-lipped, Allen continued his blows. Outside the crystal, the guard ants were motionless, powerless to stop him. With a quick gesture, the professor, recovered from his dreadful ordeal, seized the ray-guns from nerveless insect claws. Deprived of the voice that had governed them so long, they were helpless despite their great strength, unable to motivate their limbs.

A minute later they were dead, destroyed by the power of the man-made weapon. And the professor, using his atomic instrument as Allen had done, joined his colleague inside the dome.

"Stop!" he cried to the reporter, who was continuing his attack upon the intellect with driving fists. "Don't kill him.' Seven hundred thousand people are still at the mercy of these insects."

WITH the sound of his voice, sanity returned to Allen. He took a ray-gun from the professor and covered the blinded, beaten intellect. It was cowered shuddering against the crystal. "What are you going to do?"

Allen asked the professor. "I'm going to make the brain send its cohorts away," said the professor. The voice of the insect leader rose.

"No!" it cried. "You can't—"

"Turn on the juice, Allen," said Manning. "Let it die then."

"I'll do your bidding," said the intellect. The reporter began to sense the orders to leave the underground passages issue forth from the ruler. In such close proximity, the tela-communications box was unneeded. For half an hour they stood thus, permitting the commands to go through. The horror of physical pain, which would have left unmoved one of the warrior insects, had completely unnerved this magnificent brain, helpless against the threat of agony and extinction.

But already, the shock of the reporter's blows had taken its toll. At the end of thirty minutes, the orders grew weaker and weaker, until at last they ceased. The intellect fell heavily against the crystal wall.

"He's dead," said Manning after a brief examination. "Come on. Let's get out of here."

Once more using their condensed atomic force, the adventurers emerged from the crystal, leaving the enemy of mankind a broken mass of insect flesh behind them. Walking once more through the corridors, now deserted of insect tyrants, they called to their fellows to emerge.

It was a strange and terrified procession of men, women, children, and babies, that followed them to the unguarded gates, And with a mighty cry of joy, the entrance to the street was opened, and they poured forth into the outdoor levels of the reduced city. Manning, from a radio tower, broadcast a speech to them, explaining the strange events that had occurred.

"Allen and I will leave you in a few minutes," he said, "but it will not be for long. We must return to normal size and inform the Commission of what has to be done. It will probably take a month, during which time you will continue to live in your small size. But you will have weapons to protect you from further attack. And soon enough there will be sufficient condensed atomic force assembled to restore the city and yourselves to rightful proportions.

A mighty roar rose from the assembled crowds who listened to loudspeakers in squares and public places. Gripping hands with their civic leaders, Allen and the professor then turned on their atomic force instruments and grew hazy as they returned to make their reports to the world of man.

Man had triumphed in his first battle with insects.

Meet Sam Merwin Jr.

Twenty-nine-year-old Sam Merwin jr., is the son of the famous novelist Sam Merwin. He's the first Merwin to go in for science fiction, and we hope to see other products from his type mill.

Sam Merwin Jr., was born in Plainfield H.J., brought up in Concord, Mass. Was educated at Andover and Princeton, and is now a resident of New York. He has sold detective and sports fiction to a number of national periodicals, including our companion magazine, Thrilling Sports.

Crime Club is publishing his first book—a detective yarn— this winter.