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WITHIN the depths of the seas reside some of the most intriguing mysteries of nature. As for down as we have gone, but a few hundred feet, we have already discovered strange forms of fish life—life that has adjusted itself to the great pressure and the sunlessness and airlessness of the watery deeps. What might we find at a depth of a mile or five miles where the pressures are Terrific and the waters intolerably cold? Man is already attempting to find out—for construction of a diving equipment to go down over o mile is on the way.

It is also possible that some time in the remote past a great cataclysm may have changed the formation of the earth and the seas depths and produced a type of life totally strange to us. Whether this story deals with that problem we cannot tell—for there is a corking good air of mystery here that we cannot spoil by too many hints.


THIS is the story of the almost incredible Sargasso Sea mystery and of an adventure which sounds a little mad but which was actually based on a series of facts thrilling and amazing to the entire civilized world.

Lest readers of succeeding generations attribute facts which follow to an unbridled imagination it should be remembered that the salient points in the narrative were emblazoned across the front page of every newspaper in the world when the expedition I am about to describe returned. Several scientific books were also prepared from data obtained during the adventure.

As for my own part in this story I can truthfully say it was inspired first by my search for my sweetheart Marna, and second by my natural love for indulging in hazardous undertakings. I had the powerful double objective of trying to find the girl I loved and aiding in solving a mystery which piqued the curiosity of all who were acquainted with it.

The Sargasso Sea mystery, like many other events of major importance, began in a manner which excited passing but not unusual interest. The disappearance of the Marovia, a freighter carrying a cargo of coffee from Rio de Janeiro, was the first link in the chain of mystifying circumstances. Prospects for the trip were favorable when the Marovia left port.

When the freighter was two days out, the Atlantic Coast Company, the corporation which owned the ship received a radio message that all was well and that an exceptional time record was apt to be set on the trip. That was the last: message ever received from the ill-fated Moravia.

There was not even the customary S. O. S. of a vessel in distress. The ship had apparently disappeared from the face of the ocean. Vessels in that vicinity could give no information on the supposed disaster. The Marovia had simply failed to reach its berth in the East River, New York. No clues were discovered in the official investigation ordered by the owning company following the strange disappearance.

At the time the last radio message was sent the Marovia had been in the general vicinity of the Gulf Stream. She had last been sighted in that vicinity by the Island Queen, whose captain noted the fact in the ship's log and gave the customary greeting as the two vessels passed each other. The captain of the Island Queen perceived nothing wrong in the appearance of the Marovia. The disappearance of the freighter was given front page attention in the metropolitan dailies, but the announcement was not accompanied by the excitement aroused by subsequent reports of lost vessels.

Uneasiness became apparent in maritime circles when a second ship tailed to make port. This time it was the St. Paul, a Tropic Navigation steamer outbound from New York. Its destination was a Central American port. Again the last radio communication from the ill-fated boat was received just before she reached the Gulf Stream. It was a regular report stating that all was well. But it was the last word the owners ever received from the ship and its crew of twenty-four men.

The probable fate of the two ships became the topic of wide spread speculation. Many persons wrote to the newspapers offering possible explanations. Public discussion became so strong that the United States Government sent a Coast Guard boat to the scene of the two mysterious disappearances.

Not even a final radio message heralded the disappearance of the Coast Guard vessel and its crew of eight!

The affair had assumed serious proportions by that time. Freight carriage between the United States and the tropics was suffering.

As I look back on that time of turbulence in maritime circles it seems that there was a sort of regularity in the way the boats were reported missing. Each was last heard from in approximately the same Gulf Stream location. The disappearance occurred at intervals of about every seven days. Not once was an S. O. S. picked up by any of the stations tuned in on the area.

Despite the fact that traffic was considerably cut down on ocean trails adjoining the mystery area a total of thirty-four ships went to an unknown fate in it.

DEPREDATIONS, if such they were, became so drastic that the countries whose maritime shipping was involved, by international agreement forbade ships venturing within a three-mile radius of. the dangerous territory. Special Coast Guard cutters were assigned to the outer circle of the radius to warn vessels, and if necessary force them to abide by the ruling. A long detour, agreed upon by the countries whose commerce was threatened, provided a safe but more costly and circuitous route.

A special investigation board was formed by the Various ship corporations. But efforts of the board were fruitless.

An attempt to solve the mystery that attracted wide spread attention was the expedition fitted out by the New York Times. I cite it as an example of what the press has often done in the interests of public safety.

There were two ships in the Times expedition. It was planned for them to work independently. Each was completely outfitted with the most modern equipment obtainable. Much of this equipment was donated by sympathetic companies and individuals.

Every known precaution for sudden emergencies was provided for in the equipment. Naturally the radio receiving and sending sets were of the most advanced types science could offer. One of the noteworthy features of the communication system was the use of radio beams. The leaders of the Times expedition were assisted in working out details of the radio beam use by scientists from the Paldron Institute.1

1: The radio beam had been experimented with as far back as 1930 but did not come into general use until some years later.

These radio beams (there was one for each ship) operated from a land station located on the Florida Coast. The continuous beam emanated from the land station and maintained constant communication with both ships. The beam was registered on tape, ticker machines being located on both vessels as well as at the land station. Thus the slightest deviation from the true course by either ship would be instantly noted, both by its companion craft and at the land station.

Theoretically the radio beam idea was a perfect method for maintaining constant communication. Events following the start of the expedition merely proved the fallacy of placing entire faith in a machine or a mechanical arrangement.

Details were checked and equipment thoroughly tested before the Times expedition left New York. Radio communication with the two vessels was maintained satisfactorily, messages being received many times daily.

The first piece of startling news from the expedition came when a message was flashed to New York stating that a life boat from the St. Paul had been found. The bodies of a man and a woman, charred beyond recognition, were in the floating hulk.

In the midst of this startling message, communication was suddenly cut off with the broadcasting ship. The unfinished message was picked up by several stations. Radio beam communication from the ship also ceased abruptly. Then the radio beam from the second ship suddenly terminated, also. A listening world was literally kept gasping.

Both ships in the Times expedition had vanished as completely as had the other crafts lost in that treacherous strip of sea. A seaplane dispatched from the Florida coast to search for possible wreckage on the water might well have taken off for eternity. Seen for the last time winging out over the sea, the fate of the plane, like that of the ships, remained unknown, until the mystery was finally cleared up.

The Times expedition has gone down in history as a sincere but futile effort. The names of those who lost their lives have been remembered in the monument erected to their heroism at Union Square.

You may think I am devoting too much explanation to the expedition sent out by the Times. But had it not been for that expedition I would never have become personally interested in the Sargasso Sea mystery and with all modesty I think I may add that its secret would still be locked in the ocean bosom.

Because Marna Montgomery was aboard the flag ship of the Times outfit. And when Marna disappeared I would have used whatever puny strength I possess in moving heaven and earth, if necessary, to discover her fate and solve the horrid mystery of the Sargasso.

Marna was a spirited girl whose beauty was matched by her impetuosity. As a woman reporter on the Times she had had her share of journalistic thrills. But when plans for the Times expedition to the Sargasso Sea were announced, Marne forthwith decided that the job "covering" that undertaking was to he the crowning jewel in her list of newspaper exploits.

She would listen to no entreaties against undertaking the perilous voyage. But she did agree that when she returned finis was to be written on her professional career. She agreed then to become my wife and settle down to the comparatively prosaic task of juggling the salary of a wireless telegrapher. At the time I was serving on the Toltec, which plied between New York and Cuba.

Imagine my anguish then, when that last radio message from the Times expedition was cut short. For a time I thought I would actually lose my mind. Then it was that my company decided to sponsor a final effort to clear up the mystery. I eagerly volunteered and because of my knowledge of wireless telegraphy was accepted for the hazardous undertaking.

The company was in really dire financial straits as a result of the unexplained oceanic tragedies. Eight of its best ships had gone into the maw of the Sargasso. Their loss had disrupted the freight-carrying schedule and because immediate adjustments had been necessitated. many of the most profitable contracts had been lost. Then, too, the cost of operation had been materially increased by the addition of the 700- mile detour prescribed by the government.

THE route of the Toltec did not quite penetrate the forbidden area, although our course was near the scene of disaster. At that our proximity to that portion of the sea aroused fearful apprehension on the part of many of the sailors. Personally I have never subscribed to the superstitions of either land or sea. I felt that there must be sortie human agency or logical explanation behind the disappearance.

So when my company decided to make a final desperate effort to solve the mystery, I pressed my claim as a member of the party. To be frank there were not many volunteers and my personal interest in solving the riddle aided me in securing one of the two berths open.

Officials of the company had decided against sending a large vessel into the area. They reasoned that this had been unsuccessful in previous attempts and that a smaller craft would probably have a better chance. The plan was outlined to me by McAndrews, terminal superintendent, at a conference of line officials to which I was summoned.

He explained:

"The plan we have finally decided upon is to send a small motorboat carrying only two men into the area.

"We shall take all possible precautions to insure your safety but after you reach the area the rest will depend on yourselves."

He motioned to a silent figure half-concealed by the shadows in one corner of the room. With a start I recognized Novak! Realization that I was to have that famous adventurer as my companion added zest to the affair.

But McAndrews was continuing:

"We believe that you will have a good chance as you will not be hampered with a large vessel which may attract the attention of your unknown enemy, if there is an enemy.

"This simple plan may succeed where the more elaborate attempts of others have failed. if it doesn't—well it means the financial ruin of those who are left behind."

After the plan had been thoroughly outlined to Novak and myself, we were given an opportunity to change our minds if we wished. McAndrews and the others who sat about the conference table impressed upon us the dangerous nature of the mission and urged us to withdraw if we felt any hesitancy in the matter.

Spurred on by eagerness to discover some clue to Marna's fate I eagerly waived all suggestions that it was not too late to withdraw. Novak was equally determined to go. In his strange career the unknown had always exercised a peculiar fascination for him. A tragedy of his early manhood had apparently robbed him of the desire to live. He had engaged in one mad adventure "after another, always emerging with his ill-prized life.

McAndrews admonished:

"I must remind you that the chances of your emerging alive from this undertaking are absolutely against you."

Then finally he said: "Do you still wish to go?"

There was a moment's silence in the room.

Then I said: "I am perfectly willing to take the risk." Adding: "There is only one reason for hesitancy on my part."

McAndrews asked quickly:

"What is that?" I replied: "That is that my mother shall suffer no financial embarrassment if I am lost."

"You need feel no worry on that score," McAndrews replied. "She will be well provided for as long as she lives . if you fail to return."

Novak, always a man of few words, gave an almost taciturn affirmative to McAndrews.

As this time I think it opportune to tell you something about Novak. As the company's foreign representative he traveled almost constantly and was a familiar figure in the picturesque ports of call on our line's routes. He had figured in several Central and South America peccadillos and had weathered the storms of political intrigue many times.

More than six feet tall and of athletic build he was a commanding figure. Although reserved, his mien was pleasant and his personality attracted and held attention wherever he went. His indomitable strength of character was reflected in piercing gray eyes and an aggressive profile. His blond hair was streaked with gray.

Varied adventure had punctuated his career even as a young man. The countries to the South of us had always interested him and he had engaged in their turbulent politics, to his later sorrow. While in his early twenties he had wooed and won a Spanish girl, noted for her beauty and intellectual attainments. They had removed to a South American rancho presented to Novak by a grateful friend, whom he had rendered a valorous service.

Then revolution flamed across the country and Novak's wife fell a victim to its brutalities She was captured and her execution ordered by the revolutionary chieftain. Novak, who was absent from home at the time, attributed the cold blooded murder to personal malice directed toward him-self.

A short time later the governor's palace resounded to the shrieks of servants who discovered that the revolutionary leader and his entire family had fallen victim to a swift and little known poison. The multiple murder was never conclusively proven to have been done by Novak although the crime was generally acknowledged and even applauded in some circles as a just revenge.2

This attitude toward the affair was taken by the author of an article on Novak's colorful career which appeared in The New Republic pages 56 to 64, in April, 1939.


CHAPTER II

The Derelict

THE United States Government was quick to offer its aid to the company for the perilous undertaking. Navy seaplanes were stationed at our Florida Coast base and other aids offered us.

We flew from New York to Florida. Both Novak and myself were quiet and thoughtful on the trip. We did not attempt much conversation. Partly due to our own inclinations and partly due to the monotonous roar of the three powerful Diesel engines our plane was powered with.

Fantastic thoughts and improbable theories flashed through my mind on that trip. Theories which I had seen advanced in the columns of science fiction story magazines permeated my mind and I toyed with various ideas inspired by these stories, of which I had read many, and tried to adapt them to the problem at hand. Novak appeared to be sunk in an introspective mood.

The plane winged south at a fast clip. Air travel was no novelty to me and I took slight interest in the panoramic vistas which unfolded beneath us. In fact with the prospect of our great adventure before me the flight proved rather boresome and I sighed and stretched with relief when we deplaned at Key West.

An official United States Army car met us at the sir field and took us to the dock where a Coast Guard boat was awaiting us. We boarded the cutter and soon were on our way to the edge of the forbidden area. There our motor boat was lowered over the side and we bade those aboard the cutter a sober farewell.

Our motor boat was a small, compactly built craft. It had two small cabins of cubby hole proportions. A heavy sea would have speedily capsized our floating home but as the tropical storm season was past we had little to fear in the way of weather. Food and fuel sufficient for a month's cruise were on board, although we hoped to satisfactorily end our mission in much less time than that.

When we shook hands with officers aboard the Coast Guard boat, it was apparent that they never expected tn see us alive again. We were serious. naturally, and the goodbyes of our companions were almost disheartening.

Soon we were flashing through the sparkling sea and thoughts of death and danger seined far away as we reveled in the motion of the smoothly performing boat. Our motors, there were two. vibrated gently and soon we were in the midst of the dreaded area. The "V" edge of our bow cut the water like a knife and sent pearly cascades of water hack in a delicate shower.

I was at the wheel. We had worked out a plan whereby we would stand three-hour tricks at the wheel during the daylight hours and float at night. As we had no particular goal and could ascertain our position at any time by instruments this plan was calculated to conversed our strength for the vigilant search we planned to make.

We cruised about the area all of that first day noting nothing unusual. I began to penetrate Novak's shell of taciturnity and discover the qualities that cemented our lasting friendship. The loneliness of our surroundings, the nature of our mission and the sense-quickening qualities of being in a death defying adventure together, rapidly ripened our association from superficial to deep friendship.

On the third day out we discovered our first clue. It was also the first actual intimation of the amazing, incredible adventure which befell us.

I was standing at the bow, scanning the horizon, while Novak stood his turn at the wheel. The monotonous vista I was gazing at was at once dismal and disgusting.

Much of this portion of the sea was covered with a weed from which a nauseating stench arose. The thick, greenish scum, which is characteristic of the Sargasso alone, covered the sea weed. The odor was an abominable one. In fact it was all but unbearable. I do not consider myself a squeamish person but that retching smell all but made me ill.

Our very food seemed permeated by it and the consumption of meals became an almost unbearable ordeal.

On this particular day as I stood at the how I was reflecting on the vagaries of the human mind. I thought of the inadequate existence most of us lead, immersed in selfish desires; sating them; engaging in warfare less human than that waged by the lower animals; and withal complacently contented with ourselves. Pictures of our self-important business men, the executives in our big cities, occurred to me and I thought how insignificant their might was when compared to that of nature.

Thoughts of this kind usually lead to bitter introspection and then develop into a morbid contemplation of our daily existence which is detrimental in a mental sense. This psychological phenomena is interesting and absolutely true. as any student of the science will tell you. I was deeply hurled in self-pitying introspection when an excited sound from Novak brought me out of my reverie with a start.

Glancing up, my startled gaze encountered the looming hulk of the nearly unrecognizable hull of the Marovia, the first ship which had disappeared in the Sargasso Sea.

SHE was tipped sluggishly to one side Sand rolling slightly. Her sides were charred and encrusted with green scum. The sides and hull looked as though fierce fire had swept them. Yet the masts, stanchions and cargo booms were untouched. The steel sides appeared to have borne the brunt of the devastating flame.

But the phenomena that later aroused my excited cry was not immediately noted by me. When my roving gaze did rest on it, I gasped. It was this. The entire bow of the vessel, from rail to waterline, and from the end of the well deck through the lore-castle, was one mass of fused metal.

It looked as though some shaft of superheat, like veritable fingers from hell, had reached out and melted the metal in the ship. The vastness of the destruction was appalling. I knew that no instrument known to the world could wreak such havoc. I shuddered at thoughts too horrible to voice.

Novak and I stood speechless. A cold sweat had broken out on us.

Finally Novak regained a measure of his composure and said:

"I guess we'd better board her."

Although the prospect was temporarily unnerving to me I borrowed from Novak's calm and prepared to aid him in pulling our boat alongside the spectral Marovia.

It had become increasingly difficult for our craft to move through the water before we spied the wrecked ship and it was with real difficulty that we forced our small boat through the clinging fields of sea weed and finally pulled up against the Marovia. Tying our craft to what had once been the anchor chain of the stricken boat, we began clambering up its side.

More than once I cursed to myself during that climb. lagged pieces of splintered steel tore at my flesh and clothing. Novak, as usual, stood the ordeal with fortitude.

My audible sigh of relief, when we reached the deck, sounded strangely loud on that freighter which once had proudly plowed through gale swept seas.

"We'd better take a look at the deck and the staterooms first." Novak suggested.

There was nothing on the deck or bridge to arouse continent. Then we started a tour of the staterooms. As you know every freighter has a few staterooms reserved for the use of infrequent passengers and company officials.

In every cabin we found the same condition. Floors had been ripped up and walls demolished. The significant fact was that while apparently nothing else had been taken every bit of steel was gone.

A ghastly revelation awaited us at the end of the deck. Those aboard had evidently fled for protection to the last stateroom and barricaded the door against some enemy, unknown to us. This door had evidently been literally burned from its hinges. Although constructed of thin sheet metal it apparently had been an easy matter to penetrate it with a weapon powerful enough to inflict the damage we had already noted on the steel bow and other parts of the ship.

Huddled in the far corner of the room were the pitiful remains of the ill-starred crew and passengers. Charred corpses, burned to a crisp, were piled in a grotesque heap.

Softly cursing. Novak surveyed the horrible scene.

Finally in an awed voice I asked: "How do you explain it?"

"The only theory I could advance is still hazy," Novak replied. "I must find more corroborating evidence before attributing it to more than distorted imagination."

Then, after a moment of thought—

"I will say this much, though, because it is proven by the evidence before our eyes; a heat ray of some kind is involved in this tragedy.

"Look at the condition of the ship's how, this door, and those," motioning to the pile of bodies, "that is the only way those things can be explained."

"I had somewhat the same thought, Novak," I admitted. "But it seemed so fantastic I hesitated to voice it."

Thoughtfully Novak replied: "The idea at first seems improbable to us because it is a radical departure from anything we are familiar with. "But the use of a powerful heat ray is no new idea in the scientific world. As far back as 1789 the possibility of such a ray was mentioned and experimented with unsuccessfully."

"A German made progress with the idea in 1928 and did actually develop a ray of comparatively small effectiveness. He killed rats, guinea pigs and small animals during his experiments.

"In a reverse manner the ray was used to promote the growth of vegetables. With a milder application than that used on the animals he was able to cut in half the time usually required for a tree to mature.

"You have heard of the vibratory ray which wrecked the Harvard laboratories in 1936 killing all those who knew the secret of the invention.

"To explain the theory in a simple way, I will cite the well known fact that a substance the size of a football heated no the surface temperature of the sun would shrivel any human being or inanimate object within a radius of a half-mile.

"NOW suppose you had a fragment of such a substance and put it in a tube insulated at all points except a small opening in the front. Thus the heat could travel out of the tube in only one direction, namely the front.

"Assume, too, that by pressing a tiny button you could set into operation apparatus that would heat this theoretical fragment to the temperature necessary for your purpose. The operator would thus be able to control, aim and fire» at will. At the same time he would be adequately protected by the insulation.

"The result would be a weapon so effective that any nation having it would be able» to dominate the world. It would be the deciding factor in any war. Now I believe something similar to this theoretical ray I have been describing has been used here."

He paused leaving me gaping in wonder.

Finally, motioning to the mute group. I Asked: "Who do you think is responsible for this wholesale destruction?"

"Your guess is as good as mine," Novak replied. "So far as I can see nothing has been removed from the ship but steel. Why all these lives should have been taken I don't knows There was no mercenary advantage to the attackers as the ship carried no bullion. The cargo has been left untouched, as you can sec.

"A nation seeking to ruin our marine commerce would not operate in this manner. Besides many vessels have been lost which belonged to countries other than ours. No, Bob, I am afraid our solution lies elsewhere."

This rather excited conversation had been carried on as we stood beside that pitiful pile of dead. Now our droughts came back to it.

"We can at least give them a decent burial," Novak suggested.

A search for canvas revealed tint and some strong cord in the ship's storeroom. Returning with the canvas and cord we began the ghastly task of sewing the bodies into individual sacks and weighting them. Twilight was on us before we finished so we decided to postpone the actual burial until morning.

Although we made a brave attempt neither of us at much that night. And I must confess we slept but little. Rising early we prepared to finish our self-appointed gruesome task.

While Novak prepared our breakfast I decided to look over the wireless apparatus on the ship. I wanted to find out why the operator had not sent out an S.O.S. in the face of such imminent danger.

Looking over the equipment I found everything to be in perfect order. So far as I could discover the wireless apparatus was functioning smoothly. I got a satisfactory spark in testing the set and decided that whatever disturbance had interfered with the sending of a message had been only temporary.

I thought of sending a manage out over the set but hesitated for fear whatever enemy was responsible for the condition of the Moravia might pick up the code.

After a breakfast devoid of conversation, Novak and I went forward with the burial. He had found a Bible in the captain's cabin and rend from it. As the solemn intonations of Novak's voice pronounced the scriptural passages he had selected, I let the bodies slide over the rail, one by one, into tho placid water.

After the last body had been lowered to its watery grave, we stood with bowed heads for a moment. The sunshine was streaming down on us but it failed to lighten the gloom of our spirits. The water which had engulfed more than a score of bodies ceased to gurgle and as it became calm again a large field of greenish sea grass floated over the fatal spot.


CHAPTER III

Fingers of Doom

FOLLOWING the emotional strain of the burial neither Naval: nor myself felt like continuing our explorations that day. We had previously tied our motor boat to the side of the Marovia and by tacit agreement remained there that day.

We were standing in the bow of the Marovia discussing our next move. I broached the idea of continuing our search for the other lost vessels but Novak vetoed this suggestion pointing out that we had by no mains completely examined the derelict we were aboard.

Suddenly I noticed Novak grow tense, as though some sight or sound had aroused his suspicion. He thrust a warning hand on my arm as I started to speak. Then I heard it, too.

A low humming whirr which rose rapidly to a high pitched whine. The very air seemed to vibrate with the unusual force of the sound. It seemed to be coming from the side of the ship, and beneath it.

Cautiously creeping to the side of the Marovia I peered overboard. At first I saw nothing. Then I noticed a queer and unnatural effulgence coming up from the murky depths of the ocean.

Some phosphorescent object seemed to be coming to the surface. The water began to boil and I saw that a circle of clear water was rapidly widening as the sea weed and other surface material was forced back.

Then I saw it! Rising out of the water its phosphorescent sides dripped with water. Similar in some ways to a submarine it had the same elongated shape with a fuller looking tower that alone marred the symmetry of its smooth lines. There were no ballast tanks along the sides, either.

The motors ceased their eerie whine as the thing rose to the top of the water. A curious silence followed.

I cannot with mere words describe the queer machine I beheld. It was larger than a submarine and its entire outer surface was covered with a series of scales, similar to those found on a fish. The scale-like covering produced the phosphorescence I had first noted. Yet there was no sign of aquatic life in the object. It was unquestionably a machine powered with some type of motor strange to us.

The queer craft came to a halt except for a gentle rocking back and forth occasioned by the waves. Then a section of the top slid back with a grating noise.

Novak hissed in my ear:

"Hide! God knows what is in there."

Instantly I whirled and with Novak close behind me ran towards the middle of the boat. Our running feet made a reverberating sound on the empty deck and the next moment I was cursing our folly at having forgotten that. Continuing, though, we dived into hiding behind a pile of tarpaulin slung carelessly into a heap on the deck.

Crouching there we heard a shrill whistle. The sound resembled the siren on a fire truck more than anything else I could associate it with.

Peering from our hiding place we noticed a blue radiance which slowly became visible in the air about us. It rapidly grew in outline and began to assume a definite shape. Benumbing fear sent fingers of ice to constrict my heart.

The radiance continued to grow in intensity until a well defined aura of blue flame enveloped the entire ship. There was a charged feeling in the air as though electricity might be the force back of the phenomena.

Gradually the aura of blue flame began to localize and change to a deep purple hue. It was a magnificent display of force for which I had no doubt there was a perfectly natural origin or explanation.

Every color in the spectrum now became apparent. Thin streamers of a deep orange color cut through the air like exploratory fingers. They wavered, groping, toward the the dim corners of the deck. They almost seemed possessed of an intelligence of their own as they slid along the rail as if in search of something.

In our terror it seemed to us they were tentacles of some malignant enemy reaching out to find us. I gasped involuntarily as the full force of that idea struck me.

Blind, unreasoning fear began to flow through my veins and pervade my very being. Shivering violently, I crouched lower. Then the scene began to turn black. It seemed to me that a veritable sash of crepe was across my soul. In the complete absence of light the darkness itself seemed to be possessed of substance.

The darkness lifted for a moment. All was quiet. And then I heard Novak cry out. His hoarse scream sounded distant and unreal. It ended abruptly as though some antagonistic hand had reached out and throttled him.

Lurid light was shed on the deck for an instant by a brilliant purple flash which caused me to fall back. By that time I felt as if the foundations of my sanity were reeling. I seemed to be living a horrible, inconceivable nightmare.

THEN I realized that the flash had seared me, scorching my hair, brows and lashes and all but burning the clothes from my body.

I screamed and heard no sound. I beat my hands in futility against my breast and felt agonizing pain as a result. I had a mad impulse to throw myself over the rail.

Rising to follow that impulse, which to my disordered mind seemed a desirable end to my horrid dream, I felt something cold and clammy clinging to me. I also had a burning sensation in my back, not unlike that produced by contact with certain kinds of fish which have the power of inflicting terrible electric burns.

Terrible pain shot through the small of my back. Then I stumbled with outflung arms and sank into the depths of merciful oblivion . . . .

I seemed to be floating on air. There was a curious feeling of elation in my body. Briefly, as I regained consciousness the mental predominated over the physical. Then I became aware of my aches and pains. I saw that one of my arms was blackened and blistered. Pain was coursing through my entire body in a steady, unceasing rhythm. I cried out involuntarily and almost fainted from the pain.

Through the mists that were beginning to clear before my eyes, I saw Novak looking down at me anxiously.

"Where are we?" I managed to gasp.

Novak admonished me to lie quietly for a few moments.

My eyes wandered about and I noticed I was in a fairly large bed. The room was small and furnished in an unimaginative fashion which was depressing. There were no splashes of color, no attempts at beauty in the room. Everything was in a low monotonous brown hue. The ceiling was low, being barely six feet I judged, and the whole room seemed to be swaying gently.

A dim blue light which seemed to be the room's sole illumination exuded from the ceiling, though not localized at any definite point. The floor had a fluffy covering, not unlike cotton in its natural state, which was in the prevailing shade of brown.

Novak's voice as he talked had a strained quality which I attributed to the evident sound proof qualities that had been used in the construction of the room. I focused my wandering thoughts on what he was saying:

"—after I screamed I felt something on my face. Then I lost consciousness and when I awoke I was lying on that bed with you.

"Once after I regained consciousness I saw a section of the wall slide back and some kind of a robot entered the room. Somewhat on the type of Eros and those other Robots exhibited at Hadden Hall not long ago. It left food here and later returned with a bottle of something that lasted like some kind of brandy. I forced some of the liquid down your throat. You revived —and here we are."

"But how long have we been here?" I inquired weakly.

"I regained consciousness several hours ago but of course I do not know how long I remained unconscious," Novak replied.

"What are we going to do?" I asked impatiently. "For all we know we may be headed toward the bottom of the ocean."

"You have diagnosed our course better than you think." Novak smiled grimly. "See what I discovered a while ago."

Approaching the far wall he pressed a button invisible to me. The wall slid" back revealing an outer transparent wall such as those used in the submarines of the Paldron Institute subsea research department.

I managed to stagger over and press my forehead against this wall. The water was flashing by on the outside and showed that we must be traveling at a high rate of speed. How high I had no means of calculating.

Afraid to believe what I could plainly see, I retorted: "Nonsense, perhaps we are just below the water line."

"No, you saw it when it rose out of the water" Novak replied quietly. "It is undoubtedly a submersible of some kind. Then, too, there have been several times when I could plainly tell that we were descending at a sharp angle."

"But what's it all about?" I asked desperately .

"The Lord only knows, but we have certainly bumped into something we are entirely unacquainted with or prepared for."

We continued to thrash about conversationally in search of a satisfactory theory for our situation when suddenly a low sound warned us we were no longer alone. Turning I surveyed the man who had entered.

IN stature he was short almost to the point of being a dwarf. His legs were almost ridiculously small and undeveloped. His hands, loo, were abnormally small as was his torso.

His head attracted my attention. It was enormous in comparison with the rest of his body. His broad forehead sloped back to a head which was entirely without hair. A pair of extraordinarily large and brilliant eyes gazed at us. The entire impression I gained was that of a super-normal intellect.

Motioning with a withered and shrunken hand for us to follow he turned to leave the room. I stood irresolute until Novak set the example. I seemed to look to him instinctively for guidance. When he took the initial step toward the aperture I followed.

We walked down a low hall which was barely wide enough for our passage, even single file. The ceiling of this hall was even lower than that in the room we had just left.

Thus we walked until we came to an obstruction. Then our silent guide pulled. n lever which operated a portcullis-like arrangement. As it dropped behind us we heard a sigh not unlike that caused by the escape of highly compressed air.

Next we passed through a group of small rooms. evidently used for passenger-cabins and store rooms. Finally we emerged into what must have been the central room of the vessel.

The room was large, in fact much larger than you expect to find on a ship of any kind. It was brilliantly lighted, also. The light was the same blue as that in our room but emanated from two tubular rods fixed to the ceiling by metal clamps. The light streamed down revealing in pitiless detail every object in the room.

Thirty or more of the strange-looking men were seated in a row of chairs arranged horseshoe fashion. In the hollow of the semicircle were two vacant chairs. The old man who had acted as our guide motioned us to be seated in them.

We sank down into deep cushions, side by side, our elbows touching, and waited for the next step in this strange drama.


CHAPTER IV

The Council

GLANCING about I noticed with a shudder of apprehension that every countenance in that room was the same! Tho faces of our captors were so identical that they might have been cast from the same mold.

I had no time to speculate on that, though, as one of the queer creatures advanced toward Novel: and myself and began adjusting helmet-like arrangements on our heads.

These helmets were fitted with electrodes and mouthpieces and were attached to a complicated looking machine in the center of the room by wires. One of our captors stationed himself at this machine.

A distinct click sounded through the room and then a metallic sounding voice began to speak:

"I would advise you to sit still and listen quietly. You are in no immediate danger."

Then the voice continued:

"You are probably interested most in where you are. This is a vessel from Daar, the sunken city. It is the first ship sent from the lower world to the surface of the sea in search of Borite."

Novak interrupted with a question to which the voice replied:

"Borite is known to your world as a chemical element, in ours it is called a primary."

Again Novak made a query to which the reply was:

"The atomic weight of Borite is 55.84."

"That is what we know as iron", Novak exclaimed.

I thought of the Marovia and its missing metal lining.

"May I ask what you want with Borite?" Novak continued.

"For use in a vibratory heat ray which when properly handled is a powerful weapon of warfare," the voice replied.

We were to learn more about that ray within a short time!

The voice continued and next launched into a brief history of Daar, the city to which we were being taken, and its inhabitants.

Later we learned that the method of communication between our captors and ourselves was an intricate arrangement for the transfer of thoughts. They were not actually speaking to us at all. The apparatus made it possible for any one in the room to consciously send a thought to or receive a thought from any one else in the room.

Unusual facts about Daar were related by the "spokesman" during the remainder of the council. We learned that the city had once existed above sea level on a continent not unlike those of the world from which Novak and I came.

The race inhabiting Daar was the supreme one of the continent. Then a series of earthquakes began crumbling the earth and as the cataclysms increased in intensity it became apparent that Daar was slowly sinking into the sea.

Scientists of the city devoted their skill to the problem of saving the race. To have constructed enough boats to save the population would have required years whereas the most optimistic calculations gave the city but a few more weeks of existence.

A scheme of salvation was perfected by Dobeer, one of the nation's most learned scientists. The result was the erection of an anti-gravitational machine which nullified the weight of the ocean. Thus as the supposedly doomed city slowly sunk beneath the waves of the ocean it was encased in walls of weightless water.

So Daar became a mighty city located on dry land beneath the sea. isolated from communication with other worlds the Daarians devoted themselves to the study of science with amazing results.

Waste materials such as are discarded in our world were utilized to the fullest possible extent. Synthetic food was but one of the marvels of everyday life. Atomic energy also was utilized in many ways to aid in supporting life in the city.

Those were the salient facts imparted to us during that queer "conversation" in the council hall of our captors. It appeared that the meeting had been called more for the purpose of supplying us with information than to obtain any information from us.

After the meeting Metoor, one of the councillors, was assigned to us as a guide and in succeeding days took us on inspection trips to various parts of the submersible.

The engine room was the most unbelievable feature of the ship to me. I had pic-turned it to myself as being filled with massive machinery. My surprise was complete therefore when I found that its most prominent feature was a small circular table which stood on three legs in the center of the room.

A large globe surmounted this table. This globe was surrounded by smaller ones which glowed alternately in weird fashion and rising from the cluster of globes was a long, slender tube. This tube emitted the high pitched whine we had heard so often. The display of colors and dynamic force given off by this delicate apparatus caused the room to resemble a scientific laboratory more than the power room of a vessel.

"Surely that tube doesn't furnish the power which drives this ship," I exclaimed.

"But it does," Metoor responded, "an infinitesimal sliver of steel is in that tube. When the atoms in the steel are broken up intra-atomic energy is produced which furishes the propelling power for the ship."

"HOW do you release that power?"

Novak asked.

Our guide explained:

"The steel is held in the middle of the tube by two clamps. A current of electricity of a high potential passes through it projecting a stream of electrons from the bottom of the tube to the vibratory ray which bombards the electrons of the steel atoms. The balance is thus disrupted and the proton released. Stores of energy attaining titanic proportions are thus available."

Another question of Novak's was in regard to the method of controlling the vertical and horizontal movements of the vessel.

Metoor replied:

"That is accomplished by means of a weight reducing and increasing machine. In other words an invention similar to the anti-gravitational machine you have heard about. By increasing the weight of the ship we are able to sink and also to withstand the Terrific pressure of the lower ocean depths.

"By the opposite use of the machine we can decrease weight. In fact we can lighten the vessel until it actually weighs less than the atmosphere. That is what we have to do when we emerge from the water and enter our own city."

We passed through the other parts of the ship in rapid succession. The living quarters of the councillors were at the back of the ship. There were storerooms there, also, in which we saw piles of steel trimmings.

Looking at those mute reminders of the terrible catastrophes on top of the sea I wondered what lay ahead of us in Daar.

Daar

HAVING no means for calculating time I do not know how long our journey in the submersible lasted.

One day Meteor summoned Naval: and me to the council chamber and pushing back ad panel in the wall said:

"Look!"

We were floating above a large city. As we gazazl in astonished awe Metoor Said:

"The city of Daar."

Our craft landed in much the same manner a huge dirigible is brought down. It was anchored on the flat roof of a large building with the manual labor being performed by robots who were almost human in appearance. The mechanism operating them must have been almost perfect.

The scene was one of bustling Metoor remained by our sides until landing operations were completed and than led us from the machine.

"There will be a meeting of the councillors this afternoon which you will attend", he told us.

Until that time we were left more or less to our own devices with one of the councillors acting as a guide, or, as we suspected, as guard.

A superficial survey of Daar revealed that it was laid out in accordance with the radial plan of city building in the upper world. The buildings were practically uniform in size and were arranged so that they led toward a square or park which appeared to be a public meeting place of some land.

Architecturally the buildings tended toward the massive and utilitarian style. Each was surmounted by a tall, gray spire which in turn supported a glittering globe. These domes pointed toward the dim wall above, which we knew to be the ocean wall.

In the center of the square or park, where -.the buildings terminated, there was a tall fence surrounding a spire larger than any in the city. This building housed the anti-gravitational apparatus, we later learned.

Anti-gravitational emanations from that tall spire held the ocean back and insured the safety of the city.

Despite the oddities of the city Novak and I were concentrating more on thoughts of the council meeting than on the strange sights surrounding us. We felt that our fate probably depended on that meeting. At the very least we hoped to discover some clue as to the reason for our capture and transportation to Daar.

Impatiently, therefore, we waited for the summons which came in due time calling us to the meeting. In the council chamber we found a large group of men awaiting us who were identical in appearance to those we had seen on the submersible.

Metoor was the spokesman for the group and after our headpieces had been adjusted be plunged immediately into the subject. "We are facing a grave national crisis," he began, "the Borite we have obtained is insufficient for our purpose. We want you to guide us to a spot on the surface of the sea where we can be sure of obtaining more."

Novak spoke for us and in a series of discreet questions discovered that the Daarians were badly disappointed in the small amount of iron obtained from the ship they had destroyed. They had hoped to obtain much greater quantities of the valuable substance.

Naturally we were not inclined to league ourselves with these strange creatures against our own people, so we disclaimed any knowledge of where they might be sure of obtaining greater quantities of steel.

The councillors were quite frank in outlining their needs to us. They seemed to consider us harmless in hurting their enterprise. We discovered that a struggle for supremacy was in process between two opposing factions in the sub-sea metropolis.

The group with whom we were perforce allied were the hereditary rulers of Daar. Although they numbered only 250 in a population of about 20,000 persons they had held undisputed sway until a short time before. Their commands were enforced by thousands of robots created by the councillors and capable of carrying out any instructions they were given.

We learned that celibacy was maintained among the councillors and that their number remained the same always. All of them were bred from an artificially fertilized female who was selected every 25 years from among the masses. That explained their standardization in face and form. The general population, known as "the masses," had submitted to this dictatorship until a short time before when threats of an uprising began to spread. The masses, it seemed, were tired of their life of servitude and planned to overthrow the councillors, construct enough submersibles for the purpose and escape to the upper world.

This much we learned before being dismissed from the council. Metoor then informed us that guides would take us for a more extended tour of the city than we had yet enjoyed. We were told that we need have no fear in visiting the various parts of the city as the plans of the masses were as yet secret and supposedly unknown to the councillors.

Novak had characteristically decided that he preferred to see the scientific laboratories of Daar first while I wished to tour the city generally. As we waited for our guides we heard a sigh of compressed air that signaled the opening of a door leading to the elevator, or pneumatic-tube arrangement which connected the different buildings in Daar.

We turned in rather uninterested fashion and then it seemed for a moment that my heart stopped beating. The next moment it was racing, trip-hammer fashion.

IN the door, beside one of the men of Daar, stood Marna!

She stood Transfixed with surprise, too. Her jet black hair cascaded down and partially covered her white shoulders. Her blue eyes, which had a tinge of violet in them, were opened wide in astonishment and her lips were parted.

The tight-fitting white garment she wore accentuated the symmetrical lines of her figure. Indeed to my startled eyes she looked like the vision of a Greek statue come to life.

Then after a brief moment of amazement I stiffened and pretended not to know her. But with our eyes we spoke volumes, and only when the guide left us alone for a moment did we embrace, and seated Marna and I began a mutual explanation of what we knew about our situation and how we happened to be where we were.

Marna's story was much like mine. The Times boat on which she had been a passenger had been attacked in much the same way Novak and I had been overcome on the Marovia.

The fearful rays had flashed over the boat spreading death and destruction. Marna lost consciousness and when she revived found herself among the strange crew on the Daarian boat. Apparently she was the only person on any of the attacked boats whose life had been spared. Why this was she did not know. But on the return trips the Daarian boat made to the surface of the sea no one else had been brought back except Novak and myself.

The men on the submersible had treated her with a respect and almost a homage that had led Marna to believe her capture was in accordance with some plan. But so far she had been able to learn nothing about the reason for her preservation at a time when all others were suffering a horrible death.

Marna had been accorded full freedom and whenever possible her slightest wish in Daar bad been granted. As there was no possible chance for her escape she had gone wherever she wished. Natural curiosity had prompted her to thoroughly explore the peculiarities of the city. As a result she was almost as familiar with the city as the Daariana themselves.

In summoning her as one of her guides, Metoor had played what he thought would be a waggish trick by suddenly confronting us with one of our own race. How little he had guessed what that discovery meant to me!

Needless to say Atoor, the Daarian accompanying Marna, summarily became Novak's guide to the laboratories while Marna and I departed for a happy tour of the remainder of the city.

We bade Novak and Atoor a temporary goodbye as Marna led the way to a corner of the room where she pressed a hidden button. A door flew open revealing a tiny cushioned elevator. We entered and began our pleasurable trip together.

Marna took delight than and later in showing me her superior knowledge of the ways of Daar and we bad many hearty laughs as she guided me about the city.

After entering the elevator Marna manipulated a lever. A light glowed at the top and I felt an almost sickening acceleration. The elevator came to a easy halt within a few minutes and stepping from it we found ourselves on a balcony overlooking a broad street.

The thoroughfare beneath us was paved with a hard looking white stone, which was similar to marble in appearance. Throngs of people were jostling each other about in the crowded street. I immediately noticed the lack of any type of vehicular traffic. Yet this was not such a strange situation when you considered that the city at its widest point was only six miles across.

Vehicles for transportation through the streets would have constituted a public nuisance due to the crowded condition of the city. Thinking of our traffic tangles in the upper world I could not help smiling and giving the Daarians another of those mental salutes I was getting in the habit of bestowing on them as I became better acquainted with their ideas.

We stood on the balcony a short time surveying the scene and listening to the snatches of inane conversation which floated up to us. The masses conversed together freely and only the councillors used the method of thought transference in place of using their voices.

In rapid succession we visited the places of importance in Daar. Marna gave descriptions of the points of interest and laughingly compared herself to the ballyhoo spielers of the rubber neck wagons in the big cities at home.


CHAPTER V

The Crisis

THE presence of Marna in Daar accelerated the half formed plans Novak and I had already made for our escape.

We attempted in frantic fashion to perfect a plan for eluding the councillors and leaving Daar. The impending crisis in the city served as a spur to our efforts.

But it seemed that we were caught in a trap from which there was no chance of escape.

"Our only hope is to gain control of the submersible some way," I told Novak one day.

"Easier said than done, I'm afraid," he responded, "how are you going to get by the guard?"

"That's what is worrying me," I replied.

A guard of heavily armed robots was on duty at all times. They were directed by a councillor who was always on guard with them. The councillors were afraid that the opposing faction might seek to gain control of the vessel.

An ominous calm seemed to be deepening over the city during those anxious day. The population went about its daily tasks as usual in the factories and laboratories of Daar.

But revolution was brewing secretly and the situation was becoming more acute every day, we learned from Metoor. The masses were merely biding their time waiting for the word from Monas, their leader, before striking.

The work of insulating the vibratory guns with which the councillors planned to repel an open attack was being hurried as rapidly as possible.

Novak and I were permitted a great deal of liberty and with Marna kept our eyes and ears open as we wandered about Daar. But in spite of our efforts we seemed no nearer a solution of our problem.

Metoor continued his friendly interest in us although we saw but little of him as he hurried from one conference to another and between times visited the factory where the heat ray guns were being prepared.

The masses had been kept in ignorance of the development of this ray and all the manual labor of insulation was being done by robots, who obeyed the mental impulses of the councillors in charge of the factory.

One day I gathered courage to ask Metoor a question:

"Meteor, why was Marna alone spared of all those aboard the vessels you destroyed in your search for Borite?"

He replied, almost carelessly: "We will use her instead of a woman from the masses when the time arrives next for replenishing our councillors. In that way we will show the masses bow unimportant they are to our welfare."

Concealing my agitation I made some noncommital reply and thanked whatever instinct had warned me to tell Marna not to betray the fact that we were sweethearts. If the councillors had guessed that we were even acquainted in the upper world they would probably have imprisoned Marna or at least refused to let us spend so much time together.

Day by day the atmosphere seemed to grow more strained in Daar.

"Bob, I believe we could gain control of the submersible if we could get rid of the councillor who directs the guard," Novak said one day.

"That's right," I exclaimed as the full force of the idea struck me, "without the councillor the robots are helpless. They depend entirely on the mental directions given them."

"What's that?" Novak asked sharply as a shrill siren began sounding through the city.

Marna answered:

"That is a signal for the people to gather at the council hall."

Curious to discover the cause of the alarm we joined the throngs of Daarians who were hastening to the park-like enclosure about the council hall.

"By George, Monas has called this meeting, not the councillors," I exclaimed as we neared our destination.

It was the determined looking leader of the masses who stood on a balcony preparing to address the crowd.

"My people," he began in a thundering voice, "I have called you together to tell you of the villainous plans of the councillors."

An angry murmur rose from the crowd.

"We have just discovered their plans for exterminating the masses of Daar with a powerful heat ray gun. They plan to use the gun against us unless we continue to obey them," Monas continued. "Our only means of protection is to seize the factory where these guns are being made!"

The roar of the crowd was almost deafening as the Daarians signified their assent to the plan.

Then suddenly another voice was heard booming out above the noise of the crowd.

METOOR stood on an opposite balcony. "I warn you, people of Daar, that an attempt against the councillors will seal your doom." he shouted, "it is impossible for you to withstand the heat ray gun or seize the factory."

In a tremendous shout the people responded:

"Down with the councillors!"

Then the multitude took up the cry: "To the factory! To the factory!"

Suddenly Novak clutched my arm and hissed: "Look!"

A well aimed flame of blue was shooting through the air. It was directed from a window in the council hall. The brilliant scintillation speedily proved itself to be a deadly weapon and the hoarse clamor of the mob changed to shrieks of pain and fear.

As the terrible ray flashed through the crowd the odor of burning flesh rose to our nostrils in a horrible stench and charred corpses began to fall among the crowd.

Then as the ray was momentarily withdrawn, Monas again leaped to the balcony and cried in a loud voice.

"Oh Councillors, if we die you will perish also. For your own good listen to me."

Metoor from his place motioned Monas to proceed.

"We are not without a defense," Monas cried. "Even now our men have seized the anti-gravitational tower. If you turn the heat ray gun on us again we will plunge the whole city to destruction."

Excitedly I whispered to Novak:

"This is our chance. It is now or never."

He nodded and we began pushing a way through the crowd for Marna working toward the fiat topped building where, the submersible was moored.

Then the very earth beneath us seemed to tremble. We hesitated and then heard a new shout of fear go up.

In the lull we heard Monas' frantic voice:

"Fly for your lives, the men at the tower have mistaken the signal and are loosing the waters upon Daar!"

With that terrible cry ringing in our ears we sped on. Icy blasts of air were sweeping about us and as we neared the machine drops of water like huge splashes of rain began to fall on us.

"Hurry," I panted.

Luck was with us for as we rounded the last corner we saw that only one councillor was on guard with the robots.

Slackening our pace Novak and I crept forward stealthily and than leaped. The councillor was taken unaware and struggled fiercely but we fought with the fury of desperation and soon felt his figure go limp in our grasp. The robots halted stupidly in their tracks unaware of what was taking place.

Then we heard the crashing of masonry and turning saw one of the largest building in Daar sway and then fall in an uproar of falling brick and stone.

Next we heard a mighty whistling sound, not unlike that of a tornado magnified many times.

"The light in the tower is out," Novak screamed into my ear. I gave one fleeting glimpse and saw that the fiery ball in the anti-gravitational tower was dark.

Then I gathered Marna into my arms for the final dash to the door of the submersible. As we gained the security of the machine we heard the titanic roar of the falling ocean.

Novak swung a switch, the craft gave a terrifying wrench and then we could feel it shoot rapidly upward through the only free exit. We were leaving the doomed city!

THE END.