Under The North Pole can be found in

ISFDB.org Magazine Entry


When Anthropologist George Kane, lost in the frozen Arctic, stumbled on that strange workroom, deep in the blue depths of a glacier, he thought he had found sanctuary. But he had discovered a mad scientist's ice-palace laboratory-and a wild scheme to plunge the world into chaos by demagnetizing the North Pole!

THE night was clear and moonless, with scintillating star clusters frosting the sombre sky as Sven Hagart stood with legs spread solidly against the wallowing roll of the trawler Annisquam harbor bound. His thick, hairy hands gripped the wheel tightly and his strong teeth were clamped on the stem of his short pipe. Behind thick-lensed spectacles his pale eyes probed the darkness. From time to time he screwed up his lips and spat through the open window of the pilot house into the phosphorescent sea.

Over the monotonous throb of the engine came the sound of the crew talking lazily as they listened to one of them playing melodious chords on a harmonica. Hagart smiled to himself, his weathered face aglow in the feeble light of the binnacle. The day's haul had been good, the crew was in fine fettle and the engine hitting well. The sea was running comparatively calm, with long ground swells. By force of habit he thrust his head through the window and glanced upwards at Polaris for checking with the compass.

Absently his eyes shuttled back to the binnacle and in the next instant his face became blank with astonishment and his pipe sagged in his lips. Sven Hagart gaped incredulously at the rocking disc of the compass and then his strong teeth were clamping on the pipe stem with such power that it snapped off. "Ar det mojligt!" he murmured. "Has the stars gone crazy or iss I asleep!"

He blinked a couple of times, then looked out again. Polaris was only half a point off the starboard bow, shining bright and clear. Again his troubled eyes sought the compass and narrowed. Quickly he becketted the wheel, removed his spectacles and polished them vigorously. Perhaps spray had warped his vision... but he sensed differently as he replaced the glasses, setting them into their customary place.

For the third time he stared at the North Star and back at the binnacle again. His face seemed to drain of all color and with a throaty exclamation of alarm and puzzlement he thrust his head through the door and yelled: "Eric! Nathan! Come quick! Something iss... I don't know what!"

INSTANTLY the harmonica silenced. There was a scramble of feet on deck. Sven stood by the binnacle, pointing an accusing finger at the compass. "It says nor'east!" he burst out. "An' the Star is just off the starboard quarter. How can we be goin' nor'east an' nor'-by-west at the same time?"

The seamen crowded about him and stared. One of them rocked the binnacle and the compass rolled lazily past the point it had been holding, farther east. Tensely they watched, expecting it to halt and swing back. But the disc continued to move steadily in a full circle!

Alarmed, the men examined it. Nothing seemed out of whack and there was no metal near to throw it off. But the disc kept on swinging aimlessly through ninety degrees of arc as if immune to the customary magnetic attraction. Sven threw up his hands helplessly. "Iss we crazy or iss it? Or iss the stars just flying around like lightning bugs?"

At exactly that moment all over the northern hemisphere, men were staring unbelievingly at compasses which refused to make sense. The captains of great liners flashed messages back and forth asking bearings, afraid to believe their time-tried indicators, and yet afraid not to, puzzled by the strange discrepancies between gyrocompasses and magnetic compasses. Astronomers found their telescopes off as much as one hundred and eighty degrees—according to stationary, exact compasses. They radioed back and forth demanding to know if the same thing were happening at other observatories.

Air-liner pilots suddenly found themselves flying two hundred miles per hour in exactly the opposite direction from what they had been pursuing five minutes before. And even as they watched, the maddening cylinders of their instruments continued to swing about, now registering east, now west, now north, even south.

For three hours the ether boiled with frantic messages from men who were lost at sea, or aimlessly cruising the skies afraid to land, from lighthouse keepers who thought their great, stone towers were twisting on sinking bases. The Naval Observatory spent a desperate hour trying to solve the riddle, and finally gave up and sat with folded hands awaiting the answer.

And after three hours the erratic needles of half the world's compasses gradually moved back and took up the positions they had held for thousands of years—due north. Once more the stars agreed with the faithful, slender needles of steel or the broad disks of mariners' compasses. Whatever it had been the crisis was over.

And in all the world there was only one man who knew what was happening, and that man was too far away to be of any help. Besides, George Kane was having troubles of his own at that moment. He stood—figuratively and literally—on the brink of death.

* * * * *

For three days after he was separated from the rest of his party on Prince of Wales of Ireland, tall, bony young Kane struggled to find them. There were six members of the expedition sent up by the Smithsonian Institute, and Kane was the youngest of them. But after endless hours of wandering about, he realized he was hopelessly lost.

The young anthropologist, leader of an expedition to investigate rumors of a strange race in the Arctic—rumors they had dispelled—was in the most difficult spot of his life. He had no food, no water.

DESPERATELY, he stumbled ahead. His feet were so nearly frozen that he couldn't move his toes inside the thick boots, nor could he flex his fingers. He lost all consciousness of time, and seemed to see nothing but snow. All his senses were blended into one great, empty feeling of being hopelessly lost. But the fiame of hope is unquenchable in man; it kept him struggling ahead long after his strength was really used up.

And then, after endless hours, George Kane suddenly straightened up and listened. His drawn face took on a new intensity. Frowning, he stared at the ground. There was a peculiar pounding beneath his feet. At first he thought he had strayed onto ice and that it was cracking, but soon he realized the sound was different.

It was steady, regular. It was like an engine heard at a great distance, only this was felt, instead of heard. For a long time he stood and tried to figure it out. Then he lo...

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