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The Sunken Empire

By H. Thompson Rich

Concerning the strange adventures of Professor Stevens with the Antillians on the floor of the mysterious Sargasso Sea.

"THEN you really expect to find the lost continent of Atlantis, Professor?"

Martin Stevens lifted his bearded face sternly to the reporter who was interviewing him in his study aboard the torpedo-submarine Nereid, a craft of his own invention, as she lay moored at her Brooklyn wharf, on an afternoon in October.

"My dear young man," he said, "I am not even going to look for it."

The aspiring journalist—Larry Hunter by name—was properly abashed.

"But I thought," he insisted nevertheless, "that you said you were going to explore the ocean floor under the Sargasso Sea?"

"And so I did," Professor Stevens admitted, a smile moving that gray beard now and his blue eyes twinkling merrily. "But the Sargasso, an area almost equal to Europe, covers other land as well— land of far more recent submergence than Atlantis, which foundered in 9564 B. C., according to Plato. What I am going to look for is this newer lost continent, or island rather —namely, the great island of Antillia, of which the West Indies remain above water to-day."

"Antillia?" queried Larry Hunter, wonderingly. "I never heard of it." Again the professor regarded his interviewer sternly.

"There are many things you have never heard of, young man," he told him. "Antillia may be termed the missing link between Atlantis and America. It was there that Atlantean culture survived after the appalling catastrophe that wiped out the Atlantean homeland, with its seventy million inhabitants, and it was in the colonies the Antillians established in Mexico and Peru, that their own culture in turn survived, after Antillia too had sunk."

"My Lord! You don't mean to say the Mayas and Incas originated on that island of Antillia?"

"No, I mean to say they originated on the continent of Atlantis, and that Antillia was the stepping stone to the New World, where they built the strange pyramids we find smothered in the jungle—even as thousands of years before the Atlanteans established colonies in Egypt and founded the earliest dynasties of pyramid-building Pharaohs."

LARRY was pushing his pencil furiously.

"Whew!" he gasped. "Some story, Professor!"

"To the general public, perhaps," was the reply. "But to scholars of antiquity, these postulates are pretty well known and pretty well accepted. It remains but to get concrete evidence, in order to prove them to the world at large—and that is the object of my expedition."

More hurried scribbling, then:

"But, say—why don't you go direct to Atlantis and get the real dope?"

"Because that continent foundered so long ago that it is doubtful if any evidence would have withstood the ravages of time," Professor Stevens explained, "whereas Antillia went down no earlier than 200 B. C., archaeologists agree."

"That answers my question," declared Larry, his admiration for this doughty graybeard rising momentarily. "And now, Professor, I wonder if you'd be willing to say a few words about this craft of yours?"

"Cheerfully, if you think it would interest anyone. What would you care to have me say?"

"Well, in the first place, what does the name Nereid mean?"

"Sea-nymph. The derivation is from the Latin and Greek, meaning daughter of the sea-god Nereus. Appropriate, don't you think?"

"Swell. And why do you call it a torpedo-submarine? How does it differ from the common or navy variety?"

PROFESSOR STEVENS smiled. It was like asking what was the difference between the sun and the moon, when about the only point of resemblance they had was that they were both round. Nevertheless, he enumerated some of the major modifications he had developed.

Among them, perhaps the most radical, was its motive power, which was produced by what he called a vacuo-turbine—a device that sucked in the water at the snout of the craft and expelled it at the tail, at the same time purifying a certain amount for drinking purposes and extracting sufficient oxygen to maintain a healthful atmosphere while running submerged.

Then, the structure of the Nereid was unique, he explained, permitting it to attain depths where the pressure would crush an ordinary submarine, while mechanical eyes on the television principle afforded a view in all directions, and locks enabling them to leave the craft at will and explore the sea-bottom were provided.

This latter feat they would accomplish in special suits, designed on the same pneumatic principle as the torpedo itself and capable of sustaining sufficient inflation to resist whatever pressures might be encountered, as well as being equipped with vibratory sending and receiving apparatus, for maintaining communication with those left aboard.

ALL these things and more Professor Stevens outlined, as Larry's pencil flew, admitting that he had spent the past ten years and the best part of his private fortune in developing his plans.

"But you'll get it all back, won't you? Aren't there all sorts of Spanish galleons and pirate barques laden with gold supposed to be down there?"

"Undoubtedly," was the calm reply. "But I am not on a treasure hunt, young man. If I find one single sign of former life, I shall be amply rewarded."

Whereupon the young reporter regarded the subject of his interview with fresh admiration, not unmingled with wonder. In his own hectic world, people had no such scorn of gold. Gee, he'd sure like to go along! The professor could have his old statues or whatever he was looking for. As for himself, he'd fill up his pockets with Spanish doubloons and pieces of eight!

Larry was snapped out of his trance by a light knock on the door, which opened to admit a radiant girl in creamy knickers and green cardigan.

"May I come in, daddy?" she inquired, hesitating, as she saw he was not alone.

"You seem to be in already, my dear," the professor told her, rising from his desk and stepping forward.

Then, turning to Larry, who had also risen, he said:

"Mr. Hunter, this is my daughter, Diane, who is also my secretary."

"I am pleased to meet you, Miss Stevens," said Larry, taking her hand.

And he meant it—for almost anyone would have been pleased to meet Diane, with her tawny gold hair, warm olive cheeks and eyes bluer even than her father's and just as twinkling, just as intelligent.

"She will accompany the expedition and take stenographic notes of everything we observe," added her father, to Larry's amazement.

"What?" he declared. "You mean to say that—that—"

"Of course he means to say that I'm going, if that's what you mean to say, Mr. Hunter," Diane assured him. "Can you think of any good reason why I shouldn't go, when girls are flying around the world and everything else?"

Even had Larry been able to think of any good reason, he wouldn't have mentioned it. But as a matter of fact, he had shifted quite abruptly to an entirely different line of thought. Diane, he was thinking—Diana, goddess of the chase, the huntress! And himself, Larry Hunter—the hunter and the huntress!

Gee, but he'd like to go! What an adventure, hunting around together on the bottom of the ocean!

WHAT a wild dream, rather, he concluded when his senses returned. For after all, he was only a reporter, fated to write about other people's adventures, not to participate in them. So he put away his pad and pencil and prepared to leave.

But at the door he paused.

"Oh, yes—one more question. When are you planning to leave, Professor?"

At that, Martin Stevens and his daughter exchanged a swift glance. Then, with a smile, Diane said:

"I see no reason why we shouldn't tell him, daddy."

"But we didn't tell the reporters from the other papers, my dear," protested her father.

"Then suppose we give Mr. Hunter the exclusive story," she said, transferring her smile to Larry now. "It will be what you call a—a scoop. Isn't that it?"

"That's it."

She caught her father's acquiescing nod. "Then here's your scoop, Mr. Hunter. We leave to-night."

To-night! This was indeed a scoop! If he hurried, he could catch the late afternoon editions with it.

"I—I certainly thank you, Miss Stevens!" he exclaimed. "That'll make the front page!"

As he grasped the door-knob, he added, turning to her father:

"And I want to thank you too, Professor—and wish you good luck!"

Then, with a hasty handshake, and a last smile of gratitude for Diane, he flung open the door and departed, unconscious that two young blue eyes followed his broad shoulders wistfully till they disappeared from view.

BUT Larry was unaware that he had made a favorable impression on Diane. He felt it was the reverse. As he headed toward the subway, that vivid blond goddess of the chase was uppermost in his thoughts.

Soon she'd be off in the Nereid, bound for the mysterious regions under the Sargasso Sea, while in a few moments he'd be in the subway, bound under the prosaic East River for New York.

No—damned if he would!

Suddenly, with a wild inspiration, the young reporter altered his course, dove into the nearest phone booth and got his city editor on the wire.

Scoop? This was just the first installment. He'd get a scoop that would fill a book!

And his city editor tacitly O. K.'d the idea.

With the result that when the Nereid drew away from her wharf that night, on the start of her unparalleled voyage, Larry Hunter was a stowaway.

THE place where he had succeeded in secreting himself was a small storeroom far aft, on one of the lower decks. There he huddled in the darkness, while the slow hours wore away, hearing only the low hum of the craft's vacuo-turbine and the flux of water running through her.

From the way she rolled and pitched, he judged she was still proceeding along on the surface.

Having eaten before he came aboard, he felt no hunger, but the close air and the dark quarters brought drowsiness. He slept.

When he awoke it was still dark, of course, but a glance at his luminous wrist-watch told him it was morning now. And the fact that the rolling and pitching had ceased made him believe they were now running submerged.

The urge for breakfast asserting itself, Larry drew a bar of chocolate from his pocket and munched on it. But this was scanty fare for a healthy young six-footer, accustomed to a liberal portion of ham and eggs. Furthermore, the lack of coffee made him realize that he was gettin...

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