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Thought-Provoking Book-Length Super Science Novel By Science Fiction's Best Loved and Best Known Satirist!

The leaping blue atomic flames that belched from Hannibal Spratt's exploding time-machine sucked Harry and Celia, two present-day humans, into the mad, mechanical empire of 2439 Tranerica, where interstellar mechanisms held men and women in Robot slavery!

CHAPTER I

IN THE Crystal Room

HANNIBAL FAIRCHILD SPRATT the Seventh, the sole surviving heir of the great Spratt-Fairchild dynasty and the ruler of all Tranerica (formerly America), sat in the Crystal Room of his castle above the Hudson. Through the clear glittering walls of a dome-shaped chamber that arched two hundred feet above him, the winter sun shone in remote, chilly splendor. The rays, filtering in as through a layer of ice, gave a bluish, rather ghostly complexion to Spratt as he idled in his cushioned chair; they lent a cold accentuation to the baldness of his polished pate, to the outlines of his pallid, puffy face and knob-like chin, and to his stumpy form, arrayed in a purple, bejeweled, toga-like robe.

With a yawn, he slowly lifted himself out of his chair, and ran his fingers across the keyboard of a five-foot machine, with something of the appearance of a greatly enlarged typewriter. Instantly a door to his rear slammed to a close; another door far in front of him turned outward; a partition in the glass roof opened slightly, admitting the outer air; a wire along the wall began moving, and bore a lighted cigarette almost to his lips; a paper came rattling in through a little tube, and opened as though moved by invisible hands; and—best of all, for it brought a light to the ruler's, cloudy gray eyes!—a tray with a decanter of some sparkling red liquid glided in along two little rails placed just above the floor.

As Spratt sipped the beverage, he chanced to let his gaze rest on a large printed sheet that cut off the light on a segment of the glass wall a few yards away. "By the blue lightnings," he muttered, "it's time to tum a new leaf!" And he pressed another key on the type-writer-like instrument; and a lever reached out automatically, and tore off the printed sheet. "December 31, 2438," it had read. But in its place appeared a paper with the notation, "January 1, 2439."

Having finished his drink, Spratt thrust the cigarette between his lips, and strolled listlessly across the room. He stared out through the wall—which, being entirely of glass, was like one great continuous window—and saw the river glistening fifteen hundred feet below. Bordering the water on both shores and reaching into the distance as far as his somewhat dim sight could follow, he saw the gigantic black bulks of the "Hives"—those enormous buildings which, each a quarter of a mile high and rectangular, triangular or hexagonal in shape, had existed ever since the Iron Renaissance of the twenty-second century. The eyes of the ruler, as he glanced out at those huge familiar structures, scarcely noted how closely they were packed together, windowless and forbidding; or how, in the narrow aisles between them, a darkness as of midnight reigned, except when now and then a light flashed and went out in their vague depths, like the signal lamp of some soul astray in Purgatory.

SPRATT yawned once more, and looked bored; a sigh came from between his heavy lips. "This business of being a dictator isn't what it used to be," he reflected, gloomily. "Everything runs so smoothly, there's nothing left for me to do. Why, there hasn't even been a revolt for seventy-five years. They say that dear old great-granddad, Hannibal Fairchild Spratt the Fourth, had a cracking good time putting down the insurrection of the Mill Robots. But that was way back in 2362. Then his father, Hannibal Fairchild Spratt the Third, had to liquidate ten thousand conspirators who were plotting against his life. That was more than a hundred years ago. And, before that time, the first two members of their dynasty had to keep things humming to cut down their enemies and stay on their thrones. But look at me! Nothing to do but press buttons all day. No one would even think of questioning my authority. I don't have to issue commands; I'm obeyed automatically. And, all the while, I'm so weary of the whole thing I often think of taking one long jump into the Hudson and ending it all."

Dismally the sovereign glanced down at the waters, still glittering in the noonday sun despite the shadowing towers that arose on all sides. Then irresolutely he ambled away; turned a switch; entered a little plush-lined car that rolled in through a door which opened as if of its own volition; pulled a second switch; and went gliding away through long steel-lined corridors. As he shot rapidly forward, doors opened before him and closed behind him with perfectly timed regularity, although no human operator was visible; lights gleamed and vanished; the car turned curves and descended grades although the rider did nothing to guide it; and finally it came to a halt in an immense room marked "Science Laboratory."

Well, might as well go on with my experiments," Spratt reflected. For he had one great secret vice; frequently, when bored with everything else in life, he would find amusement and relaxation in his scientific investigations. Just now he was on the trail of a discovery which, he thought, would startle even a century that had all but lost the capacity for enthusiasm.

The moment he entered the laboratory, he was a transformed man. With something of an inventor's natural pride, he glanced at the great machine that towered above him, with coils as of monstrous exposed entrails, and projecting pipes as of factory smokestacks and tall dials, and wires and wheels intricately interwoven, and a dark buzzing something in his heart, which might have reminded one of a dynamo purring. Certainly, the machine was unlike anything else which existed even in the mechanical twenty-fifth century; and Spratt, as he stared up at it, forgot that he was the head and ruler of all Tranerica, forgot all the monotony and ennui of a dictator's life, forget everything except that he was on the road to a great scientific discovery.

"OUR age has made marvelous progress in its command of invisible rays," he meditated, as he plunged a corkscrew-like steel device down a long tube and caused a sheet of red lightning to flash across the room. "We have solved the problem of the distant control of moving cars, doors, elevators, aircraft and the like. But in one respect we've never gone very far. For the last five centuries, our knowledge of the fourth dimension has been confined mostly to theory. Except, of course," he added, with a chuckle of sly satisfaction as a wave of blue flame crackled in front of him, "for my machine!"

"It's not perfect yet," he went on, while his hands deftly manipulated a lever, "but it takes advantage of a new principle. It's evident that the rays of the fourth dimension must impinge on those of the third, since all the universe is really one. At the point where they impinge, it may be possible to pass from one dimension to the other. The means we may be able to shift to another position in time, since time, as has been brought out centuries ago, is the fourth dimension of space. Or, on the other hand, we may bring objects out of some other place in time into the year 2438—no, 2439. Well, isn't that what I've really done already?"

While his fingers still pulled at the levers of the machine, Spratt glanced behind him to a great glass case, where a curious assortment of bric-a-brac had been accumulated. There was a fragment of an old, mouldy, broken vase, bearing an Etruscan inscription; a desiccated seven-foot bone, which might have belonged to a dinosaur; a Medieval steel helmet, badly eaten by rust; the shattered half of what looked a little like a bronze Buddha; and—the prize and crown of the collection!—an electric light bulb which may have dated back as far as the mid-twentieth century, its fractured antique filament still distinctly visible in the glass interior.

"With such objects already gathered from the past, by causing it to merge with our own dimension," reflected Spratt, permitting himself an inventor's natural pride, "there is no telling where we may not end. Yes! I may yet be known to the world as something more worthwhile than a dictator!"

Long and lovingly he peered at the curios in his glass case—so long and lovingly, in fact, that he may have become a trifle careless. His fingers moved almost automatically among a great array of switches and levers, as numerous as the keys on a piano; and his eyes did not closely follow what his hands were doing. Accordingly, he may have pulled the wrong rod—at least, this is how he afterwards explained the matter to himself—with the result that Hannibal Fairchild Spratt the Seventh received the greatest shock that had come to him in all his forty-nine years on earth.

All at once the room seemed deluged in a flood of leaping blue fire. There came a detonation as of exploding dynamite; the upper portions of the dimension-machine flew apart, and crashed against the ceiling as if shot out of a trench mortar; the walls shook, the floor heaved like the deck of a vessel pitching at sea; and green and purple lights succeeded the blue in the split fraction of a second. Then there came the sound of heavy objects thudding; and finally, while a rain of debris showered to all parts of the room, a cry as of some being in agony came from the depths of the shattered machine; and then by degrees all grew still.

STUNNED by the concussion, Spratt picked himself up from a corner of the room, into which he had been providentially hurled. A fragment of flying steel as long as his arm had missed his head by less than the width of his small finger, yet he had not entirely escaped injury. His neatly shaven lower lip was bleeding; there was a blue gash beneath his left eye; the sleeves of his toga were torn, and the gown was streaked and speckled with machine oil; moreover, his shin was bruised so painfully that he groaned. Nevertheless, Spratt felt fortunate as he arose to his feet; for he knew that he escaped destruction by a hair's breadth.

"By the white fires!" he thought, as he gloomily surveyed the dimension-machine, which now was little more than a twisted mass of wreckage. "This ends my experiments with super-space! Ah, well! I suppose I'll have to resign myself. I'll never be anything more for the rest of my life than dictator of half the world!"

Mournfully he continued his ruminations, as he mopped a perspiring brow. "Mighty lucky _I took the precaution of making the laboratory soundproof. Otherwise, the explosion would have been heard, and then wouldn't I be the laughing stock of two continents! Not openly, of course," he rambled on, "for people still value their lives!"

He took a step forward to examine the ruins; and, as he did so, he received a shock only slightly less than that of the explosion. A low moan came to his ears; and something stirred slightly amid the debris. Then, while he paused thunderstricken, he heard a second moan from a different direction; and something else moved amid the wreckage.

Spratt's first impulse was to flee. Had he not been a son of the matter-of-fact twenty-fifth century, which had long ceased to believe in ghosts, hauntings, and other such unscientific nonsense, he might even have been filled with superstitious terror. Nothing was more certain than he had been alone in the room only a minute before—whence, therefore, the moans and the mysterious movements? The situation was one to daunt even a braver man than Spratt; hence it is no wonder if he trembled a little and felt his scalp prickling; while old ancestral fears, reviving from the childhood of the race, leapt up in his heart, and turned his knees to water.

Within a second or two, the moans were repeated—and from two separate directions! And Spratt, as he backed up slightly, with a wildly hammering heart, thought of the secret button near the door, which he need only press in order to send a score of mechanical policemen clattering to his aid. But before he could get within yards of the button, something occurred which held him riveted to one spot and caused his eyes almost to pop out of his head. He heard still another moan, followed by a much more vigorous stirring amid the ruined machinery; then something pushed itself up out of the confusion of wires, wheels and rods, and, with a prodigious heaving movement, threw the obstructions out of its way, and staggered to its feet.

Stricken speechless, Spratt stood face to face—with another man! And what a man! More than six feet tall and with shoulders like a bullock's, he tossed a mane of touseled red hair and stared about him in a dazed way through wide blue eyes. He was beardless, "but wore a moustache—as no man had done for centuries! And his clothes—they were like articles straight from a museum! He wore tight-fitting dark trousers, surmounted by an equally tight-fitting dark jacket—in the absurd ancient style! Around his neck he wore a colored rope! His feet were hidden in shining black cases instead of being displayed in sandals! Even had his garments not been rumpled and soiled he could have shone in a masquerade without further make-up!

AFTER glancing about him for a moment as if stunned, the stranger let a startled exclamation come to his lips. "Where am I? And you—who are you?"

Spratt noted what a strange enunciation the man had. It was clear that he was speaking English, and yet it was hard, very hard, to make out what he was saying.

"I—I don't know what happened to me," continued the newcomer, rubbing his hand across his forehead, as if to wipe away the mists. "We—we were up there together on the hilltop—and suddenly everything went blank." And then, as recollection came flashing back, he cried out sharply, almost furiously, "She! Tell me-where is she?"

But before Spratt had had time to answer—indeed, before he had quite made out the meaning of these words-the stranger's attention was caught by another groan from amid the tangles of broken machinery. And he wheeled about, and frantically began working amid the wreckage, which he swept aside with swift and powerful strokes. "Celia!" he cried, in tones of tenderness and alarm. "Celia, dearest! Are you hurt? Are you hurt?"

"No, not much, darling, not much," came the reply, in a softer voice; and, a moment later, another figure stood at his side.

"By the red furies, can it be that fairies are real?" thought Spratt, as, with a gasp, he gazed at the second stranger—a slender, fragile figure all clad in shimmery white, with flowing hair of such a rich golden and delicate features with such an innocent, pansylike grace that for a moment the dictator wondered whether he were not subject to hallucinations, and were not beholding an apparition rather than a breathing woman.


CHAPTER II

Unexpected Visitors

FOR a long, silent minute Spratt stood staring at the two strangers in a fascinated surprise equalled only by the astonishment with which they stared back at him. But gradually, as the hazes cleared from his mind, the inventor realized what had happened. The dimension machine had snatched these beings out of another century! By accident, they had been at the point where the dimensions merged, and had been hurled into the twenty-fifth century from some remote age. It was evident that they were very ancient, not only from the cut of their clothes, but from—

Spratt's reveries were interrupted by the voice of the girl—a full-throated, richly musical voice such as he did not remember ever having heard before.

"Where—where are we? What—what has happened?" she ejaculated, still somewhat dazed, as she leaned against the man for support.

"Never mind, sweetheart, it will be all right," he soothed, bending over her solicitously. "It all seems like some bad practical joke, doesn't it?"

Spratt, although he made every effort, could not quite catch the meaning of these words; but he realized that it was about time for him to say something. Accordingly, he stepped forward, with a gracious sweep of his left arm, following the best twenty-fifth century standards of etiquette; and he addressed the young lady by the name he had heard the man employ.

"You are very welcome, sweetheart," he began, with what he thought to be extraordinary politeness from one in his high position. But he stopped short very suddenly, feeling that he had erred somehow; he did not like the quiver of revulsion that passed through the girl's frame, nor the icy glitter that came into the man's eyes.

"I do not know who you may be," declared the latter, taking a pugnacious forward stride, "but you assume strange liberties on short acquaintance!"

"Would you mind repeating that?" requested the dictator, mildly. "You pronounce English with such a quaint accent, I'm afraid I didn't catch one word."

The stranger's reply was a burst of mocking laughter. "Quaint accent? Why, you ought to hear yourself! You've got the damnedest foreign twist to your tongue I ever heard. Any one would know you hadn't been in the country a year!"

"I've been here all my life, sir!" snorted Spratt, indignantly, when he had caught the gist of the latter remark. "I suppose you've been wearing that circus costume, too, all your life?" sneered the stranger, with a gesture toward Spratt's bejeweled purple toga, now smeared and spattered with machine oil. "Don't you think it's time to cut out the comedy? What in hell's name did you do to us anyway? Knock us cold, then kidnap us?"

"Knock you cold? Kidnap you? Circus costume?" repeated the dictator, with a puzzled expression. "I do not know those words. They have a very queer antique sound. If you will excuse me, I shall investigate." While his visitors looked on with wide, gaping eyes he pressed a lettered button that stood with hundreds of others on a dial at one end of the room. A few seconds passed in silence; then a panel on the wall rattled open, and a huge volume slid in through a pneumatic tube and arranged itself neatly on a table.

"THIS dictionary isn't exactly up-to-the-minute," remarked Spratt, as he thumbed through the thousands of pages. "It dates back to the late twenty-four twenties.... Ah, here we are! 'Kidnap. Obsolete. To steal bodily. Refers to a barbarous practice of the Ages of Confusion, no case of which has been known for over three hundred years.'

"So that's what you accuse me off?" he rushed on, looking up and glaring at the man. "Resorting to a barbarous practice of the Ages of Confusion, in order to steal you bodily? Do you give me no credit at all for intelligence?"

"Say, you must be daft!" muttered the man. "I'm not interested in your crazy remarks! All I want to know is when you're going to release me, and this young lady, Celia—Miss Stan-wick."

"Stanwhat?" repeated Spratt. "Stan-wick? What a horrible name! It grates on the tongue like sand! What did you say you wanted me to do?"

"Release us! Set us free! Let us go!" repeated the stranger, with a shout.

"Oh, yes, I see," replied the dictator. "I'm sorry, but it's impossible. The machine is broken, and I couldn't get you back to your own century even if I wanted to."

"Our own century?" echoed the man and the girl, staring at one another in bewilderment.

"That's what I said," reiterated Spratt. "I can tell from your clothes, and also from your speech, that you come from somewhere in the Ages of Confusion. Maybe even as far back as the year 2000."

The newcomers stood regarding Spratt in a quizzical silence, as if not knowing whether he were jesting or a lunatic.

"By the way, just what year was it before your change of dimension?" he inquired. "You know damn well it's 1938!" came the man's growled reply.

"1938? Well, well, well, isn't that interesting? Why, that's much further back than I'd dare to hope! Before the first flush of the Mental Revival! Now I know why your speech and manners are so uncouth. Of course, you're not to be blamed for the backwardness of your age. I congratulate you—congratulate both of you on escaping from the Dark Generations into an enlightened century!"

"Say, I can't make out half of what you're saying, but you ought to go on the stage, you say it so well!" growled the man.

"He'd look wonderful in the movies, wouldn't he," tittered the girl.

"I consider it a piece of rare luck to have met you," continued Spratt, who had not caught the drift of the last remarks. "I've always wondered how it was possible for any one to live at all in the Dark Generations—and now to have first-hand information!—why, it's worth half my empire. Consider yourselves my guests, both of you, so long as you remain in Tranerica.—which, I trust, will be for life. You particularly," he concluded, with an ogling smile at Celia, who frowned in reply and averted her fair head.

While Spratt was making this speech, the red-haired man had sidled over to the table, on which lay the dictionary, whose heavy golden cover gave it an unusual appearance. With a gasp, he turned the leaves, struck by the typography, which was of a style wholly new to him; then, upon glancing at the title page, he let out a little cry of astonishment.

"I'll be damned!" he exclaimed, under his breath. And then, in louder tones, "I'll be damned a thousand times!" And finally, at the top of his voice, "Come, quick, Celia! See! Just see!"

THE girl flitted to his side, and her eyes also widened with amazement as she glanced at the lines he eagerly pointed out: Printed for His Honor Hannibal Fairchild Spratt the Seventh. Hudson Highlands. A. D. 2429."

Yet there was an incredulous smile on her face as she turned toward her companion. "Sounds so matter-of-fact you'd almost think it was real, wouldn't you?" she commented, with a little laugh.

"Yes, it's carrying a practical joke a good deal further than you'd expect," he acknowledged, also with an unbelieving smile. "What I want to know is, who in thunder is Hannibal Fairchild Spratt the Seventh?"

This was the dictator's cue. Coming forward with a broad grin on his baggy face, he bowed and made another wide flourish with his left hand, then declared, "My dear friends from the twentieth century, the man you refer to is none other than myself. Since you would, in the natural course of things ,—h'm—have died nearly five hundred years ago, you couldn't be expected to recognize me. But you see before you Tyngall of Tranerica!"

Having made this announcement, the speaker stood erect and impressive, with a proud light in his glance, as if expecting his hearers to fall down on their knees before hi...

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