Spawn of the Stars
by Charles Willard Diffin
The sky was alive with winged shapes,
and high in the air shone the glittering
menace, trailing five plumes of gas.
When Cyrus R. Thurston
bought himself a single-motored
Stoughton job he
was looking for new thrills.
Flying around the east coast had lost
its zest: he wanted
to join that
jaunty group who
spoke so easily of
hopping off for
And what Cyrus
wanted he usually obtained. But if
that young millionaire-sportsman had
been told that on his first flight this
blocky, bulletlike ship was to pitch him
headlong into the exact center of the
wildest, strangest war this earth had
ever seen—well, it is still probable that
not have lost the
the starlit, calm
night, three thousand
feet above a sage sprinkled desert,
when the trip ended. Slim Riley had
the stick when the first blast of hot oil
ripped slashingly across the pilot's
window. "There goes your old trip!"
he yelled. "Why don't they try putting
engines in these ships?"
He jammed over the throttle and,
with motor idling, swept down toward
the endless miles of moonlit waste.
Wind? They had been boring into it.
Through the opened window he
spotted a likely stretch of ground.
Setting down the ship on a nice piece
of Arizona desert was a mere detail for
"Let off a flare," he ordered, "when
I give the word."
The white glare of it faded the
stars as he sideslipped, then
straightened out on his hand-picked
field. The plane rolled down a clear
space and stopped. The bright glare
persisted while he stared curiously
from the quiet cabin. Cutting the motor
he opened both windows, then
grabbed Thurston by the shoulder.
"'Tis a curious thing, that," he said
unsteadily. His hand pointed straight
ahead. The flare died, but the bright
stars of the desert country still shone
on a glistening, shining bulb.
It was some two hundred feet away.
The lower part was lost in shadow, but
its upper surfaces shone rounded and
silvery like a giant bubble. It towered
in the air, scores of feet above the
chaparral beside it. There was a
round spot of black on its side, which
looked absurdly like a door....
"I saw something moving," said
Thurston slowly. "On the ground I
saw.... Oh, good Lord, Slim, it isn't
Slim Riley made no reply. His eyes
were to an undulating, ghastly
something that oozed and crawled
in the pale light not far from the bulb.
His hand was reaching, reaching....
It found what he sought; he leaned toward
the window. In his hand was the
Very pistol for discharging the flares.
He aimed forward and up.
The second flare hung close before
it settled on the sandy floor. Its blinding
whiteness made the more loathsome
the sickening yellow of the flabby
flowing thing that writhed frantically
in the glare. It was formless, shapeless,
a heaving mound of nauseous matter.
Yet even in its agonized writhing
distortions they sensed the beating pulsations
that marked it a living thing.
There were unending ripplings
crossing and recrossing through the
convolutions. To Thurston there was
suddenly a sickening likeness: the
thing was a brain from a gigantic skull—it
was naked—was suffering....
The thing poured itself across the
sand. Before the staring gaze of
the speechless men an excrescence appeared—a
thick bulb on the mass—that
protruded itself into a tentacle. At the
end there grew instantly a hooked
hand. It reached for the black opening
in the great shell, found it, and the
whole loathsome shapelessness poured
itself up and through the hole.
Only at the last was it still. In the
dark opening the last slippery mass held
quiet for endless seconds. It formed,
as they watched, to a head—frightful—menacing.
Eyes appeared in the head;
eyes flat and round and black save for
a cross slit in each; eyes that stared
horribly and unchangingly into theirs.
Below them a gaping mouth opened
and closed.... The head melted—was
And with its going came a rushing
roar of sound.
From under the metallic mass
shrieked a vaporous cloud. It drove at
them, a swirling blast of snow and
sand. Some buried memory of gas
attacks woke Riley from his stupor. He
slammed shut the windows an instant
before the cloud struck, but not before
they had seen, in the moonlight, a
gleaming, gigantic, elongated bulb rise
swiftly—screamingly—into the upper
The blast tore at their plane. And
the cold in their tight compartment
was like the cold of outer space. The
men stared, speechless, panting. Their
breath froze in that frigid room into
"It—it...." Thurston gasped—and
slumped helpless upon the floor.
It was an hour before they dared
open the door of their cabin. An
hour of biting, numbing cold. Zero—on
a warm summer night on the desert!
Snow in the hurricane that had struck
"'Twas the blast from the thing,"
guessed the pilot; "though never did
I see an engine with an exhaust like
that." He was pounding himself with
his arms to force up the chilled circulation.
"But the beast—the—the thing!" exclaimed
Thurston. "It's monstrous;
indecent! It thought—no question of
that—but no body! Horrible! Just a
raw, naked, thinking protoplasm!"
It was here that he flung open the
door. They sniffed cautiously of the
air. It was warm again—clean—save
for a hint of some nauseous odor. They
walked forward; Riley carried a flash.
The odor grew to a stench as they
came where the great mass had lain.
On the ground was a fleshy mound.
There were bones showing, and horns
on a skull. Riley held the light close
to show the body of a steer. A body
of raw bleeding meat. Half of it had
"The damned thing," said Riley, and
paused vainly for adequate words. "The
damned thing was eating.... Like a
jelly-fish, it was!"
"Exactly," Thurston agreed. He
pointed about. There were other heaps
scattered among the low sage.
"Smothered," guessed Thurston,
"with that frozen exhaust. Then the
filthy thing landed and came out to
"Hold the light for me," the pilot
commanded. "I'm goin' to fix that
busted oil line. And I'm goin' to do
it right now. Maybe the creature's still
They sat in their room. About
them was the luxury of a modern
hotel. Cyrus Thurston stared vacantly
at the breakfast he was forgetting to
eat. He wiped his hands mechanically
on a snowy napkin. He looked from
the window. There were palm trees
in the park, and autos in a ceaseless
stream. And people! Sane, sober
people, living in a sane world. Newsboys
were shouting; the life of the city
"Riley!" Thurston turned to the man
across the table. His voice was curiously
toneless, and his face haggard.
"Riley, I haven't slept for three nights.
Neither have you. We've got to get
this thing straight. We didn't both
become absolute maniacs at the same
instant, but—it was not there, it was
never there—not that...." He was
lost in unpleasant recollections. "There
are other records of hallucinations."
"Hallucinations—hell!" said Slim
Riley. He was looking at a Los Angeles
newspaper. He passed one hand
wearily across his eyes, but his face
was happier than it had been in days.
"We didn't imagine it, we aren't
crazy—it's real! Would you read that
now!" He passed the paper across to
Thurston. The headlines were startling.
"Pilot Killed by Mysterious Airship.
Silvery Bubble Hangs Over New York.
Downs Army Plane in Burst of Flame.
Vanishes at Terrific Speed."
"It's our little friend," said Thurston.
And on his face, too, the lines
were vanishing; to find this horror a
reality was positive relief. "Here's the
same cloud of vapor—drifted slowly
across the city, the accounts says, blowing
this stuff like steam from underneath.
Airplanes investigated—an army
plane drove into the vapor—terrific explosion—plane
down in flames—others
wrecked. The machine ascended with
meteor speed, trailing blue flame.
Come on, boy, where's that old bus?
Thought I never wanted to fly a plane
again. Now I don't want to do anything
"Where to?" Slim inquired.
"Headquarters," Thurston told him.
From Los Angeles to Washington
is not far, as the plane flies. There
was a stop or two for gasoline, but it
was only a day later that they were
seated in the War Office. Thurston's
card had gained immediate admittance.
"Got the low-down," he had written on
the back of his card, "on the mystery
"What you have told me is incredible,"
the Secretary was saying, "or
would be if General Lozier here had
not reported personally on the occurrence
at New York. But the monster,
the thing you have described.... Cy,
if I didn't know you as I do I would
have you locked up."
"It's true," said Thurston, simply.
"It's damnable, but it's true. Now what
does it mean?"
"Heaven knows," was the response.
"That's where it came from—out of
"Not what we saw," Slim Riley broke
in. "That thing came straight out of
Hell." And in his voice was no suggestion
"You left Los Angeles early yesterday;
have you seen the papers?"
Thurston shook his head.
"They are back," said the Secretary.
"Reported over London—Paris—the
West Coast. Even China has seen
them. Shanghai cabled an hour ago."
"Them? How many are there?"
"Nobody knows. There were five
seen at one time. There are more—unless
the same ones go around the
world in a matter of minutes."
Thurston remembered that
whirlwind of vapor and a vanishing
speck in the Arizona sky. "They
could," he asserted. "They're faster
than anything on earth. Though what
drives them ... that gas—steam—whatever
"Hydrogen," stated General Lozier.
"I saw the New York show when poor
Davis got his. He flew into the exhaust;
it went off like a million bombs.
Characteristic hydrogen flame trailed
the damn thing up out of sight—a tail
of blue fire."
"And cold," stated Thurston.
"Hot as a Bunsen burner," the General
contradicted. "Davis' plane almost
"Before it ignited," said the other.
He told of the cold in their plane.
"Ha!" The General spoke explosively.
"That's expansion. That's a tip on
their motive power. Expansion of gas.
That accounts for the cold and the
vapor. Suddenly expanded it would be
intensely cold. The moisture of the
air would condense, freeze. But how
could they carry it? Or"—he frowned
for a moment, brows drawn over deep-set
gray eyes—"or generate it? But
that's crazy—that's impossible!"
"So is the whole matter," the Secretary
reminded him. "With the information
Mr. Thurston and Mr. Riley
have given us, the whole affair is beyond
any gage our past experience
might supply. We start from the impossible,
and we go—where? What is
to be done?"
"With your permission, sir, a number
of things shall be done. It would
be interesting to see what a squadron
of planes might accomplish, diving on
them from above. Or anti-aircraft
"No," said the Secretary of War,
"not yet. They have looked us
over, but they have not attacked. For
the present we do not know what they
are. All of us have our suspicions—thoughts
of interplanetary travel—thoughts
too wild for serious utterance—but
we know nothing.
"Say nothing to the papers of what
you have told me," he directed Thurston.
"Lord knows their surmises are
wild enough now. And for you, General,
in the event of any hostile move,
you will resist."
"Your order was anticipated, sir."
The General permitted himself a slight
smile. "The air force is ready."
"Of course," the Secretary of War
nodded. "Meet me here to-night—nine
o'clock." He included Thurston and
Riley in the command. "We need to
think ... to think ... and perhaps their
mission is friendly."
"Friendly!" The two flyers exchanged
glances as they went to the
door. And each knew what the other
was seeing—a viscous ocherous mass
that formed into a head where eyes
devilish in their hate stared coldly into
"Think, we need to think," repeated
Thurston later. "A creature that is just
one big hideous brain, that can think
an arm into existence—think a head
where it wishes! What does a thing
like that think of? What beastly
thoughts could that—that thing conceive?"
"If I got the sights of a Lewis gun
on it," said Riley vindictively, "I'd
make it think."
"And my guess is that is all you
would accomplish," Thurston told him.
"I am forming a few theories about our
visitors. One is that it quite
impossible to find a vital spot in that
big homogeneous mass."
The pilot dispensed with theories:
his was a more literal mind. "Where
on earth did they come from, do you
suppose, Mr. Thurston?"
They were walking to their hotel.
Thurston raised his eyes to the
summer heavens. Faint stars were
beginning to twinkle; there was one
that glowed steadily.
"Nowhere on earth," Thurston stated
softly, "nowhere on earth."
"Maybe so," said the pilot, "maybe
so. We've thought about it and talked
about it ... and they've gone ahead and
done it." He called to a newsboy; they
took the latest editions to their room.
The papers were ablaze with speculation.
There were dispatches from all
corners of the earth, interviews with
scientists and near scientists. The machines
were a Soviet invention—they
were beyond anything human—they
were harmless—they would wipe out
civilization—poison gas—blasts of fire
like that which had enveloped the army
And through it all Thurston read an
ill-concealed fear, a reflection of panic
that was gripping the nation—the
whole world. These great machines
were sinister. Wherever they appeared
came the sense of being
watched, of a menace being calmly
withheld. And at thought of the obscene
monsters inside those spheres,
Thurston's lips were compressed and
his eyes hardened. He threw the papers
"They are here," he said, "and that's
all that we know. I hope the Secretary
of War gets some good men together.
And I hope someone is inspired with
"An answer is it?" said Riley. "I'm
thinkin' that the answer will come, but
not from these swivel-chair fighters.
'Tis the boys in the cockpits with one
hand on the stick and one on the guns
that will have the answer."
But Thurston shook his head. "Their
speed," he said, "and the gas! Remember
that cold. How much of it can they
lay over a city?"
The question was unanswered, unless
the quick ringing of the phone was
"War Department," said a voice.
"Hold the wire." The voice of the Secretary
of War came on immediately.
"Thurston?" he asked. "Come over
at once on the jump, old man. Hell's
The windows of the War Department
Building were all alight
as they approached. Cars were coming
and going; men in uniform, as the
Secretary had said, "on the jump."
Soldiers with bayonets stopped them,
then passed Thurston and his companion
on. Bells were ringing from all
sides. But in the Secretary's office
was perfect quiet.
General Lozier was there, Thurston
saw, and an imposing array of gold-braided
men with a sprinkling of those
in civilian clothes. One he recognized:
MacGregor from the Bureau of Standards.
The Secretary handed Thurston
"Radio," he explained. "They are
over the Pacific coast. Hit near Vancouver;
Associated Press says city destroyed.
They are working down the
coast. Same story—blast of hydrogen
from their funnel shaped base. Colder
than Greenland below them; snow fell
in Seattle. No real attack since Vancouver
and little damage done—" A
message was laid before him.
"Portland," he said. "Five mystery
ships over city. Dart repeatedly toward
earth, deliver blast of gas and then
retreat. Doing no damage. Apparently
inviting attack. All commercial planes
ordered grounded. Awaiting instructions.
"Gentlemen," said the Secretary, "I
believe I speak for all present when I
say that, in the absence of first hand
information, we are utterly unable to
arrive at any definite conclusion or
make a definite plan. There is a menace
in this, undeniably. Mr. Thurston
and Mr. Riley have been good enough
to report to me. They have seen one
machine at close range. It was occupied
by a monster so incredible that the
report would receive no attention from
me did I not know Mr. Thurston personally.
"Where have they come from? What
does it mean—what is their mission?
Only God knows.
"Gentlemen, I feel that I must see
them. I want General Lozier to accompany
me, also Doctor MacGregor, to
advise me from the scientific angle. I
am going to the Pacific Coast. They
may not wait—that is true—but they
appear to be going slowly south. I will
leave to-night for San Diego. I hope
to intercept them. We have strong
air-forces there; the Navy Department
He waited for no comment. "General,"
he ordered, "will you kindly
arrange for a plane? Take an escort
or not as you think best.
"Mr. Thurston and Mr. Riley will
also accompany us. We want all the
authoritative data we can get. This on
my return will be placed before you,
gentlemen, for your consideration."
He rose from his chair. "I hope they
wait for us," he said.
Time was when a commander called
loudly for a horse, but in this day a
Secretary of War is not kept waiting
for transportation. Sirening motorcycles
preceded them from the city.
Within an hour, motors roaring wide
open, ripping into the summer
night, lights slipping eastward
three thousand feet below, the Secretary
of War for the United States was
on his way. And on either side from
their plane stretched the arms of a V.
Like a flight of gigantic wild geese,
fast fighting planes of the Army air
service bored steadily into the night,
guarantors of safe convoy.
"The Air Service is ready," General
Lozier had said. And Thurston and
his pilot knew that from East coast to
West, swift scout planes, whose idling
engines could roar into action at a moment's
notice, stood waiting; battle
planes hidden in hangars would roll
forth at the word—the Navy was cooperating—and
at San Diego there
were strong naval units, Army units,
and Marine Corps.
"They don't know what we can do,
what we have up our sleeve: they are
feeling us out," said the Secretary.
They had stopped more than once for
gas and for wireless reports. He held
a sheaf of typewritten briefs.
"Going slowly south. They have
taken their time. Hours over San
Francisco and the bay district. Repeating
same tactics; fall with terrific
speed to cushion against their blast of
gas. Trying to draw us out, provoke
an attack, make us show our strength.
Well, we shall beat them to San Diego
at this rate. We'll be there in a few
The afternoon sun was dropping
ahead of them when they sighted
the water. "Eckener Pass," the pilot
told them, "where the Graf Zeppelin
came through. Wonder what these
birds would think of a Zepp!
"There's the ocean," he added after
a time. San Diego glistened against
the bare hills. "There's North Island—the
Army field." He stared intently
ahead, then shouted: "And there they
are! Look there!"
Over the city a cluster of meteors
was falling. Dark underneath, their
tops shone like pure silver in the sun's
slanting glare. They fell toward the
city, then buried themselves in a dense
cloud of steam, rebounding at once to
the upper air, vapor trailing behind
The cloud billowed slowly. It
struck the hills of the city, then lifted
"Land at once," requested the Secretary.
A flash of silver countermanded
It hung there before them, a great
gleaming globe, keeping always its distance
ahead. It was elongated at the
base, Thurston observed. From that
base shot the familiar blast that turned
steamy a hundred feet below as it
chilled the warm air. There were round
orifices, like ports, ranged around the
top, where an occasional jet of vapor
showed this to be a method of control.
Other spots shone dark and glassy.
Were they windows? He hardly realized
their peril, so interested was he
in the strange machine ahead.
Then: "Dodge that vapor," ordered
General Lozier. The plane
wavered in signal to the others and
swung sharply to the left. Each man
knew the flaming death that was theirs
if the fire of their exhaust touched that
explosive mixture of hydrogen and air.
The great bubble turned with them and
paralleled their course.
"He's watching us," said Riley, "giving
us the once over, the slimy devil.
Ain't there a gun on this ship?"
The General addressed his superior.
Even above the roar of the motors his
voice seemed quiet, assured. "We must
not land now," he said. "We can't land
at North Island. It would focus their
attention upon our defenses. That
thing—whatever it is—is looking for a
vulnerable spot. We must.... Hold
on—there he goes!"
The big bulb shot upward. It slanted
above them, and hovered there.
"I think he is about to attack," said
the General quietly. And, to the commander
of their squadron: "It's in your
hands now, Captain. It's your fight."
The Captain nodded and squinted
above. "He's got to throw heavier stuff
than that," he remarked. A small object
was falling from the cloud. It
passed close to their ship.
"Half-pint size," said Cyrus Thurston,
and laughed in derision. There
was something ludicrous in the futility
of the attack. He stuck his head from
a window into the gale they created.
He sheltered his eyes to try to follow
the missile in its fall.
They were over the city. The
criss-cross of streets made a grill-work
of lines; tall buildings were
dwarfed from this three thousand foot
altitude. The sun slanted across a
projecting promontory to make golden
ripples on a blue sea and the city
sparkled back in the clear air. Tiny
white faces were massed in the streets,
huddled in clusters where the futile
black missile had vanished.
And then—then the city was
A white cloud-bank billowed and
mushroomed. Slowly, it seemed to the
It was done in the fraction of a second.
Yet in that brief time his eyes
registered the chaotic sweep in advance
of the cloud. There came a
crashing of buildings in some monster
whirlwind, a white cloud engulfing it
all.... It was rising—was on them.
"God," thought Thurston, "why can't
I move!" The plane lifted and lurched.
A thunder of sound crashed against
them, an intolerable force. They were
crushed to the floor as the plane was
hurled over and upward.
Out of the mad whirling tangle of
flying bodies, Thurston glimpsed one
clear picture. The face of the pilot
hung battered and blood-covered before
him, and over the limp body the hand
of Slim Riley clutched at the switch.
"Bully boy," he said dazedly, "he's
cutting the motors...." The thought
ended in blackness.
There was no sound of engines or
beating propellers when he came to
his senses. Something lay heavy upon
him. He pushed it to one side. It was
the body of General Lozier.
He drew himself to his knees to
look slowly about, rubbed stupidly
at his eyes to quiet the whirl, then
stared at the blood on his hand. It
was so quiet—the motors—what was it
that happened? Slim had reached for
The whirling subsided. Before him
he saw Slim Riley at the controls. He
got to his feet and went unsteadily forward.
It was a battered face that was
lifted to his.
"She was spinning," the puffed lips
were muttering slowly. "I brought her
out ... there's the field...." His voice
was thick; he formed the words slowly,
painfully. "Got to land ... can
you take it? I'm—I'm—" He slumped
limply in his seat.
Thurston's arms were uninjured. He
dragged the pilot to the floor and got
back of the wheel. The field was below
them. There were planes taxiing
out; he heard the roar of their motors.
He tried the controls. The plane answered
stiffly, but he managed to level
off as the brown field approached.
Thurston never remembered that
landing. He was trying to drag Riley
from the battered plane when the first
man got to him.
"Secretary of War?" he gasped. "In
there.... Take Riley; I can walk."
"We'll get them," an officer assured
him. "Knew you were coming. They
sure gave you hell! But look at the
Arms carried him stumbling from the
field. Above the low hangars he saw
smoke clouds over the bay. These and
red rolling flames marked what had
been an American city. Far in the
heavens moved five glinting specks.
His head reeled with the thunder of
engines. There were planes standing
in lines and more erupting from
hangars, where khaki-clad men, faces
tense under leather helmets, rushed
"General Lozier is dead," said a
voice. Thurston turned to the man.
They were bringing the others. "The
rest are smashed up some," the officer
told him, "but I think they'll pull
The Secretary of War for the
United States lay beside him. Men
with red on their sleeves were slitting
his coat. Through one good eye he
squinted at Thurston. He even managed
"Well, I wanted to see them up
close," he said. "They say you saved
us, old man."
Thurston waved that aside. "Thank
Riley—" he began, but the words ended
in the roar of an exhaust. A plane
darted swiftly away to shoot vertically
a hundred feet in the air. Another followed
and another. In a cloud of brown
dust they streamed endlessly out,
zooming up like angry hornets, eager
to get into the fight.
"Fast little devils!" the ambulance
man observed. "Here come the big
A leviathan went deafeningly past.
And again others came on in quick succession.
Farther up the field, silvery
gray planes with rudders flaunting
their red, white and blue rose circling
to the heights.
"That's the Navy," was the explanation.
The surgeon straightened the
Secretary's arm. "See them come off
the big airplane carriers!"
If his remarks were part of his professional
training in removing a patient's
thoughts from his pain, they
were effective. The Secretary stared
out to sea, where two great flat-decked
craft were shooting planes with the
regularity of a rapid fire gun. They
stood out sharply against a bank of
gray fog. Cyrus Thurston forgot his
bruised body, forgot his own peril—even
the inferno that raged back across
the bay: he was lost in the sheer thrill
of the spectacle.
Above them the sky was alive
with winged shapes. And from
all the disorder there was order appearing.
Squadron after squadron swept
to battle formation. Like flights of
wild ducks the true sharp-pointed Vs
soared off into the sky. Far above and
beyond, rows of dots marked the race
of swift scouts for the upper levels.
And high in the clear air shone the
glittering menace trailing their five
plumes of gas.
A deeper detonation was merging
into the uproar. It came from the
ships, Thurston knew, where anti-aircraft
guns poured a rain of shells into
the sky. About the invaders they
bloomed into clusters of smoke balls.
The globes shot a thousand feet into
the air. Again the shells found them,
and again they retreated.
"Look!" said Thurston. "They got
He groaned as a long curving arc of
speed showed that the big bulb was under
control. Over the ships it paused,
to balance and swing, then shot to the
zenith as one of the great boats exploded
in a cloud of vapor.
The following blast swept the airdrome.
Planes yet on the ground went
like dry autumn leaves. The hangars
Thurston cowered in awe. They were
sheltered, he saw, by a slope of the
ground. No ridicule now for the
A second blast marked when the gas-cloud
ignited. The billowing flames
were blue. They writhed in tortured
convulsions through the air. Endless
explosions merged into one rumbling
MacGregor had roused from his stupor;
he raised to a sitting position.
"Hydrogen," he stated positively,
and pointed where great volumes of
flame were sent whirling aloft. "It
burns as it mixes with air." The scientist
was studying intently the mammoth
reaction. "But the volume," he
marveled, "the volume! From that
small container! Impossible!"
"Impossible," the Secretary agreed,
"but...." He pointed with his one good
arm toward the Pacific. Two great
ships of steel, blackened and battered
in that fiery breath, tossed helplessly
upon the pitching, heaving sea. They
furnished to the scientist's exclamation
the only adequate reply.
Each man stared aghast into the pallid
faces of his companions. "I think
we have underestimated the opposition,"
said the Secretary of War quietly.
"Look—the fog is coming in, but
it's too late to save them."
The big ships were vanishing in the
oncoming fog. Whirls of vapor
were eddying toward them in the flame-blaster
air. Above them the watchers
saw dimly the five gleaming bulbs.
There were airplanes attacking: the
tapping of machine-gun fire came to
Fast planes circled and swooped toward
the enemy. An armada of big
planes drove in from beyond. Formations
were blocking space above....
Every branch of the service was there,
Thurston exulted, the army, Marine
Corps, the Navy. He gripped hard at
the dry ground in a paralysis of taut
nerves. The battle was on, and in the
balance hung the fate of the world.
The fog drove in fast. Through
straining eyes he tried in vain to
glimpse the drama spread above. The
world grew dark and gray. He buried
his face in his hands.
And again came the thunder. The
men on the ground forced their gaze
to the clouds, though they knew some
fresh horror awaited.
The fog-clouds reflected the blue terror
above. They were riven and torn.
And through them black objects were
falling. Some blazed as they fell.
They slipped into unthought maneuvers—they
darted to earth trailing yellow
and black of gasoline fires. The
air was filled with the dread rain of
death that was spewed from the gray
clouds. Gone was the roaring of motors.
The air-force of the San Diego
area swept in silence to the earth,
whose impact alone could give kindly
concealment to their flame-stricken
Thurston's last control snapped. He
flung himself flat to bury his face in
the sheltering earth.
Only the driving necessity of work
to be done saved the sanity of the
survivors. The commercial broadcasting
stations were demolished, a part of
the fuel for the terrible furnace across
the bay. But the Naval radio station
was beyond on an outlying hill. The
Secretary of War was in charge. An
hour's work and this was again in commission
to flash to the world the story
of disaster. It told the world also of
what lay ahead. The writing was
plain. No prophet was needed to forecast
the doom and destruction that
awaited the earth.
Civilization was helpless. What of
armies and cannon, of navies, of aircraft,
when from some unreachable
height these monsters within their
bulbous machines could drop coldly—methodically—their
And when each bomb meant shattering
destruction; each explosion blasting all
within a radius of miles; each followed
by the blue blast of fire that melted the
twisted framework of buildings and
powdered the stones to make of a proud
city a desolation of wreckage, black
and silent beneath the cold stars.
There was no crumb of comfort for the
world in the terror the radio told.
Slim Riley was lying on an improvised
cot when Thurston and the representative
of the Bureau of Standards
joined him. Four walls of a room still
gave shelter in a half-wrecked building.
There were candles burning: the
dark was unbearable.
"Sit down," said MacGregor quietly;
"we must think...."
"Think!" Thurston's voice had an
hysterical note. "I can't think! I
mustn't think! I'll go raving crazy...."
"Yes, think," said the scientist. "Had
it occurred to you that that is our only
"We must think, we must analyze.
Have these devils a vulnerable spot?
Is there any known means of attack?
We do not know. We must learn.
Here in this room we have all the direct
information the world possesses of
this menace. I have seen their machines
in operation. You have seen
more—you have looked at the monsters
themselves. At one of them, anyway."
The man's voice was quiet, methodical.
Mr. MacGregor was attacking
a problem. Problems called for
concentration; not hysterics. He could
have poured the contents from a beaker
without spilling a drop. His poise was
needed: they were soon to make a laboratory
The door burst open to admit a wild-eyed
figure that snatched up their candles
and dashed them to the floor.
"Lights out!" he screamed at them.
"There's one of 'em coming back." He
was gone from the room.
The men sprang for the door, then
turned to where Riley was clumsily
crawling from his couch. An arm under
each of his, and the three men
stumbled from the room.
They looked about them in the night.
The fog-banks were high, drifting in
from the ocean. Beneath them the air
was clear; from somewhere above a hidden
moon forced a pale light through
the clouds. And over the ocean, close
to the water, drifted a familiar shape.
Familiar in its huge sleek roundness,
in its funnel-shaped base where a soft
roar made vaporous clouds upon the
water. Familiar, too, in the wild dread
The watchers were spellbound. To
Thurston there came a fury of impotent
frenzy. It was so near! His
hands trembled to tear at that door,
to rip at that foul mass he knew was
within.... The great bulb drifted
past. It was nearing the shore. But
its action! Its motion!
Gone was the swift certainty of control.
The thing settled and sank, to
rise weakly with a fresh blast of gas
from its exhaust. It settled again, and
passed waveringly on in the night.
Thurston was throbbingly alive
with hope that was certainty. "It's
been hit," he exulted; "it's been hit.
Quick! After it, follow it!" He
dashed for a car. There were some
that had been salvaged from the less
ruined buildings. He swung it quickly
around where the others were waiting.
"Get a gun," he commanded. "Hey,
you,"—to an officer who appeared—"your
pistol, man, quick! We're going
after it!" He caught the tossed
gun and hurried the others into the
"Wait," MacGregor commanded.
"Would you hunt elephants with a pop-gun?
Or these things?"
"Yes," the other told him, "or my
bare hands! Are you coming, or aren't
The physicist was unmoved. "The
creature you saw—you said that it
writhed in a bright light—you said it
seemed almost in agony. There's an
idea there! Yes, I'm going with you,
but keep your shirt on, and think."
He turned again to the officer. "We
need lights," he explained, "bright
lights. What is there? Magnesium?
Lights of any kind?"
"Wait." The man rushed off into
He was back in a moment to thrust
a pistol into the car. "Flares," he explained.
"Here's a flashlight, if you
need it." The car tore at the ground
as Thurston opened it wide. He drove
recklessly toward the highway that followed
The high fog had thinned to a mist.
A full moon was breaking through to
touch with silver the white breakers
hissing on the sand. It spread its full
glory on dunes and sea: one more of
the countless soft nights where peace
and calm beauty told of an ageless existence
that made naught of the red
havoc of men or of monsters. It shone
on the ceaseless surf that had beaten
these shores before there were men,
that would thunder there still when
men were no more. But to the tense
crouching men in the car it shone only
ahead on a distant, glittering speck. A
wavering reflection marked the uncertain
flight of the stricken enemy.
Thurston drove like a maniac;
the road carried them straight toward
their quarry. What could he do
when he overtook it? He neither knew
nor cared. There was only the blind
fury forcing him on within reach of
the thing. He cursed as the lights of
the car showed a bend in the road. It
was leaving the shore.
He slackened their speed to drive
cautiously into the sand. It dragged
at the car, but he fought through to
the beach, where he hoped for firm
footing. The tide was out. They tore
madly along the smooth sand, breakers
clutching at the flying wheels.
The strange aircraft was nearer; it
was plainly over the shore, they saw.
Thurston groaned as it shot high in the
air in an effort to clear the cliffs ahead.
But the heights were no longer a refuge.
Again it settled. It struck on
the cliff to rebound in a last futile leap.
The great pear shape tilted, then shot
end over end to crash hard on the firm
sand. The lights of the car struck the
wreck, and they saw the shell roll over
once. A ragged break was opening—the
spherical top fell slowly to one
side. It was still rocking as they
brought the car to a stop. Filling the
lower shell, they saw dimly, was a
mucouslike mass that seethed and
struggled in the brilliance of their
MacGregor was persisting in his theory.
"Keep the lights on it!" he
shouted. "It can't stand the light."
While they watched, the hideous,
bubbling beast oozed over the side of
the broken shell to shelter itself in
the shadow beneath. And again Thurston
sensed the pulse and throb of life
in the monstrous mass.
He saw again in his rage the
streaming rain of black airplanes;
saw, too, the bodies, blackened
and charred as they saw them when
first they tried rescue from the crashed
ships; the smoke clouds and flames
from the blasted city, where people—his
people, men and women and little
children—had met terrible death. He
sprang from the car. Yet he faltered
with a revulsion that was almost a
nausea. His gun was gripped in his
hand as he ran toward the monster.
"Come back!" shouted MacGregor.
"Come back! Have you gone mad?"
He was jerking at the door of the car.
Beyond the white funnel of their
lights a yellow thing was moving. It
twisted and flowed with incredible
speed a hundred feet back to the base
of the cliff. It drew itself together in
a quivering heap.
An out-thrusting rock threw a sheltering
shadow; the moon was low in
the west. In the blackness a phosphorescence
was apparent. It rippled and
rose in the dark with the pulsing beat
of the jellylike mass. And through it
were showing two discs. Gray at first,
they formed to black, staring eyes.
Thurston had followed. His gun was
raised as he neared it. Then out of
the mass shot a serpentine arm. It
whipped about him, soft, sticky, viscid—utterly
loathsome. He screamed once
when it clung to his face, then tore
savagely and in silence at the encircling
The gun! He ripped a blinding
mass from his face and emptied
the automatic in a stream of shots
straight toward the eyes. And he
knew as he fired that the effort was
useless; to have shot at the milky surf
would have been as vain.
The thing was pulling him irresistibly;
he sank to his knees; it dragged
him over the sand. He clutched at a
rock. A vision was before him: the
carcass of a steer, half absorbed and
still bleeding on the sand of an Arizona
To be drawn to the smothering embrace
of that glutinous mass ... for
that monstrous appetite.... He tore
afresh at the unyielding folds, then
knew MacGregor was beside him.
In the man's hand was a flashlight.
The scientist risked his life on a guess.
He thrust the powerful light into the
clinging serpent. It was like the touch
of hot iron to human flesh. The arm
struggled and flailed in a paroxysm of
Thurston was free. He lay gasping
on the sand. But MacGregor!...
He looked up to see him vanish in the
clinging ooze. Another thick tentacle
had been projected from the main mass
to sweep like a whip about the man.
It hissed as it whirled about him in
the still air.
The flashlight was gone; Thurston's
hand touched it in the sand. He sprang
to his feet and pressed the switch. No
light responded; the flashlight was out—broken.
A thick arm slashed and wrapped
about him.... It beat him to the
ground. The sand was moving beneath
him; he was being dragged swiftly,
helplessly, toward what waited in the
shadow. He was smothering.... A
blinding glare filled his eyes....
The flares were still burning when
he dared look about. MacGregor
was pulling frantically at his arm.
"Quick—quick!" he was shouting.
Thurston scrambled to his feet.
One glimpse he caught of a heaving
yellow mass in the white light; it
twisted in horrible convulsions. They
Riley was half out of the machine.
He had tried to drag himself to their
assistance. "I couldn't make it," he
said: "then I thought of the flares."
"Thank Heaven," said MacGregor
with emphasis, "it was your legs that
were paralyzed, Riley, not your brain."
Thurston found his voice. "Let me
have that Very pistol. If light hurts
that damn thing, I am going to put a
blaze of magnesium into the middle
of it if I die for it."
"They're all gone," said Riley.
"Then let's get out of here. I've had
enough. We can come back later on."
He got back of the wheel and
slammed the door of the sedan. The
moonlight was gone. The darkness
was velvet just tinged with the gray
that precedes the dawn. Back in the
deeper blackness at the cliff-base a
phosphorescent something wavered and
glowed. The light rippled and flowed
in all directions over the mass.
Thurston felt, vaguely, its mystery—the
bulk was a vast, naked brain; its
quiverings were like visible thought
The phosphorescence grew brighter.
The thing was approaching.
Thurston let in his clutch, but the scientist
"Wait," he implored, "wait! I
wouldn't miss this for the world." He
waved toward the east, where far distant
ranges were etched in palest rose.
"We know less than nothing of these
creatures, in what part of the universe
they are spawned, how they live, where
they live—Saturn!—Mars!—the Moon!
But—we shall soon know how one
The thing was coming from the cliff.
In the dim grayness it seemed less
yellow, less fluid. A membrane enclosed
it. It was close to the car. Was
it hunger that drove it, or cold rage
for these puny opponents? The hollow
eyes were glaring; a thick arm formed
quickly to dart out toward the car. A
cloud, high above, caught the color of
Before their eyes the vile mass
pulsed visibly; it quivered and beat.
Then, sensing its danger, it darted like
some headless serpent for its machine.
It massed itself about the shattered
top to heave convulsively. The top was
lifted, carried toward the rest of the
great metal egg. The sun's first rays
made golden arrows through the distant
The struggling mass released its burden
to stretch its vile length toward
the dark caves under the cliffs. The
last sheltering fog-veil parted. The
thing was to the high bank
when the first bright shaft of direct
sunlight shot through.
Incredible in the concealment of
night, the vast protoplasmic pod was
doubly so in the glare of day. But it
was there before them, not a hundred
feet distant. And it boiled in vast tortured
convulsions. The clean sunshine
struck it, and the mass heaved itself
into the air in a nauseous eruption,
then fell limply to the earth.
The yellow membrane turned
paler. Once more the staring
black eyes formed to turn hopelessly
toward the sheltering globe. Then the
bulk flattened out on the sand. It was
a jellylike mound, through which trembled
endless quivering palpitations.
The sun struck hot, and before the
eyes of the watching, speechless men
was a sickening, horrible sight—a
festering mass of corruption.
The sickening yellow was liquid. It
seethed and bubbled with liberated
gases; it decomposed to purplish fluid
streams. A breath of wind blew in
their direction. The stench from the
hideous pool was overpowering, unbearable.
Their heads swam in the evil
breath.... Thurston ripped the gears
into reverse, nor stopped until they
were far away on the clean sand.
The tide was coming in when they
returned. Gone was the vile putrescence.
The waves were lapping at the
base of the gleaming machine.
"We'll have to work fast," said MacGregor.
"I must know, I must learn."
He drew himself up and into the shattered
It was of metal, some forty feet
across, its framework a maze of latticed
struts. The central part was
clear. Here in a wide, shallow pan the
monster had rested. Below this was
tubing, intricate coils, massive, heavy
and strong. MacGregor lowered himself
upon it, Thurston was beside him.
They went down into the dim bowels
of the deadly instrument.
"Hydrogen," the physicist was stating.
"Hydrogen—there's our starting
point. A generator, obviously, forming
the gas—from what? They couldn't
compress it! They couldn't carry it
or make it, not the volume that they
evolved. But they did it, they did it!"
Close to the coils a dim light was
glowing. It was a pin-point of
radiance in the half-darkness about
them. The two men bent closer.
"See," directed MacGregor, "it
strikes on this mirror—bright metal
and parabolic. It disperses the light,
doesn't concentrate it! Ah! Here is
another, and another. This one is bent—broken.
They are adjustable. Hm!
Micrometer accuracy for reducing the
light. The last one could reflect
through this slot. It's light that does
it, Thurston, it's light that does it!"
"Does what?" Thurston had followed
the other's analysis of the diffusion
process. "The light that would
finally reach that slot would be hardly
"It's the agent," said MacGregor,
"the activator—the catalyst! What
does it strike upon? I must know—I
The waves were splashing outside
the shell. Thurston turned in a feverish
search of the unexplored depths.
There was a surprising simplicity, an
absence of complicated mechanism.
The generator, with its tremendous
braces to carry its thrust to the framework
itself, filled most of the space.
Some of the ribs were thicker, he noticed.
Solid metal, as if they might
carry great weights. Resting upon
them were ranged numbers of objects.
They were like eggs, slender, and
inches in length. On some were .
They worked through the
shells on long slender rods. Each was
threaded finely—an adjustable arm engaged
the thread. Thurston called excitedly
to the other.
"Here they are," he said. "Look!
Here are the shells. Here's what blew
He pointed to the slim shafts with
their little fans.
"Adjustable, see? Unwind in their
fall ... set 'em for any length of travel
... fires the charge in the air. That's
how they wiped out our air fleet."
There were others without the ;
they had fins to hold them nose
downward. On each nose was a small
"Detonators of some sort," said MacGregor.
"We've got to have one. We
must get it out quick; the tide's coming
in." He laid his hands upon one of
the slim, egg-shaped things. He lifted,
then strained mightily. But the object
did not rise; it only rolled sluggishly.
The scientist stared at it amazed.
"Specific gravity," he exclaimed, "beyond
anything known! There's nothing
on earth ... there is no such substance
... no form of matter...." His
eyes were incredulous.
"Lots to learn," Thurston answered
grimly. "We've yet to learn how to
fight off the other four."
The other nodded. "Here's the
secret," he said. "These shells liberate
the same gas that drives the machine.
Solve one and we solve both—then we
learn how to combat it. But how to remove
it—that is the problem. You and
I can never lift this out of here."
His glance darted about. There was
a small door in the metal beam. The
groove in which the shells were placed
led to it; it was a port for launching
the projectiles. He moved it, opened
it. A dash of spray struck him in the
face. He glanced inquiringly at his
"Dare we do it?" he asked. "Slide
one of them out?"
Each man looked long into the eyes
of the other. Was this, then, the end
of their terrible night? One shell to
be dropped—then a bursting volcano
to blast them to eternity....
"The boys in the planes risked it,"
said Thurston quietly. "They got
theirs." He stopped for a broken fragment
of steel. "Try one with a fan on;
it hasn't a detonator."
The men pried at the slim thing. It
slid slowly toward the open port. One
heave and it balanced on the edge, then
vanished abruptly. The spray was cold
on their faces. They breathed heavily
with the realization that they still
There were days of horror that
followed, horror tempered by a
numbing paralysis of all emotions.
There were bodies by thousands to be
heaped in the pit where San Diego had
stood, to be buried beneath countless
tons of debris and dirt. Trains brought
an army of helpers; airplanes came
with doctors and nurses and the beginning
of a mountain of supplies. The
need was there; it must be met. Yet
the whole world was waiting while it
helped, waiting for the next blow to
Telegraph service was improvised,
and radio receivers rushed in. The
news of the world was theirs once
more. And it told of a terrified, waiting
world. There would be no temporizing
now on the part of the invaders.
They had seen the airplanes
swarming from the ground—they
would know an airdrome next time
from the air. Thurston had noted the
windows in the great shell, windows
of dull-colored glass which would protect
the darkness of the interior, essential
to life for the horrible occupant,
but through which it could see.
It could watch all directions at once.
The great shell had vanished from
the shore. Pounding waves and
the shifting sands of high tide had obliterated
all trace. More than once had
Thurston uttered devout thanks for the
chance shell from an anti-aircraft gun
that had entered the funnel beneath the
machine, had bent and twisted the arrangement
of mirrors that he and MacGregor
had seen, and, exploding, had
cracked and broken the domed roof of
the bulb. They had learned little, but
MacGregor was up north within reach
of Los Angeles laboratories. And he
had with him the slim cylinder of
death. He was studying, thinking.
Telephone service had been established
for official business. The whole
nation-wide system, for that matter,
was under military control. The Secretary
of War had flown back to Washington.
The whole world was on a war
basis. War! And none knew where
they should defend themselves, nor
An orderly rushed Thurston to the
telephone. "You are wanted at once;
Los Angeles calling."
The voice of MacGregor was cool
and unhurried as Thurston listened.
"Grab a plane, old man," he was saying,
"and come up here on the jump."
The phrase brought a grim smile to
Thurston's tired lips. "Hell's popping!"
the Secretary of War had added
on that evening those long ages before.
Did MacGregor have something? Was
a different kind of hell preparing to
pop? The thoughts flashed through the
"I need a good deputy," MacGregor
said. "You may be the whole works—may
have to carry on—but I'll tell you
it all later. Meet me at the Biltmore."
"In less than two hours," Thurston
A plane was at his disposal.
Riley's legs were functioning
again, after a fashion. They kept the
appointment with minutes to spare.
"Come on," said MacGregor, "I'll
talk to you in the car." The automobile
whirled them out of the city to
race off upon a winding highway that
climbed into far hills. There was
twenty miles of this; MacGregor had
time for his talk.
"They've struck," he told the two
men. "They were over Germany yesterday.
The news was kept quiet: I
got the last report a half-hour ago.
They pretty well wiped out Berlin. No
air-force there. France and England
sent a swarm of planes, from the reports.
Poor devils! No need to tell
you what they got. We've seen it first
hand. They headed west over the Atlantic,
the four machines. Gave England
a burst or two from high up,
paused over New York, then went on.
But they're here somewhere, we think.
"How long was it from the time when
you saw the first monster until we
heard from them again?"
Thurston forced his mind back
to those days that seemed so far
in the past. He tried to remember.
"Four days," broke in Riley. "It was
the fourth day after we found the devil
"Feeding!" interrupted the scientist.
"That's the point I am making. Four
days. Remember that!
"And we knew they were down in
the Argentine five days ago—that's another
item kept from an hysterical
public. They slaughtered some thousands
of cattle; there were scores of
them found where the devils—I'll borrow
Riley's word—where the devils
had fed. Nothing left but hide and
"And—mark this—that was four days
before they appeared over Berlin.
"Why? Don't ask me. Do they have
to lie quiet for that period miles up
there in space? God knows. Perhaps!
These things seem outside the knowledge
of a deity. But enough of that!
Remember: four days! Let us assume
that there is this four days waiting
period. It will help us to time them.
I'll come back to that later.
"Here is what I have been doing.
We know that light is a means of attack.
I believe that the detonators we
saw on those bombs merely opened a
seal in the shell and forced in a flash
of some sort. I believe that radiant
energy is what fires the blast.
"What is it that explodes? Nobody
knows. We have opened the shell,
working in the absolute blackness of a
room a hundred feet underground. We
found in it a powder—two powders, to
"They are mixed. One is finely divided,
the other rather granular. Their
specific gravity is enormous, beyond
anything known to physical science
unless it would be the hypothetical
neutron masses we think are in certain
stars. But this is not matter as we
know matter; it is something new.
"Our theory is this: the hydrogen
atom has been split, resolved
into components, not of electrons and
the proton centers, but held at some
halfway point of decomposition. Matter
composed only of neutrons would
be heavy beyond belief. This fits the
theory in that respect. But the point is
this: When these solids are formed—they
are dense—they represent in a
cubic centimeter possibly a cubic mile
of hydrogen gas under normal pressure.
That's a guess, but it will give
you the idea.
"Not compressed, you understand,
but all the elements present in other
than elemental form for the reconstruction
of the atom ... for a million billions
"Then the light strikes it. These
dense solids become instantly a gas—miles
of it held in that small space.
"There you have it: the gas, the explosion,
the entire absence of heat—which
is to say, its terrific cold—when
Slim Riley was looking bewildered
but game. "Sure, I saw it snow," he
affirmed, "so I guess the rest must be
O.K. But what are we going to do
about it? You say light kills 'em, and
fires their bombs. But how can we let
light into those big steel shells, or the
little ones either?"
"Not through those thick walls," said
MacGregor. "Not light. One of our
anti-aircraft shells made a direct hit.
That might not happen again in a million
shots. But there are other forms
of radiant energy that do penetrate
The car had stopped beside a
grove of eucalyptus. A barren,
sun-baked hillside stretched beyond.
MacGregor motioned them to alight.
Riley was afire with optimism. "And
do you believe it?" he asked eagerly.
"Do you believe that we've got 'em
Thurston, too, looked into MacGregor's
face: Riley was not the only
one who needed encouragement. But
the gray eyes were suddenly tired and
"You ask what I believe," said the
scientist slowly. "I believe we are witnessing
the end of the world, our
world of humans, their struggles, their
grave hopes and happiness and aspirations...."
He was not looking at them. His
gaze was far off in space.
"Men will struggle and fight with
their puny weapons, but these monsters
will win, and they will have their
way with us. Then more of them will
come. The world, I believe, is
He straightened his shoulders. "But
we can die fighting," he added, and
pointed over the hill.
"Over there," he said, "in the valley
beyond, is a charge of their explosive
and a little apparatus of mine. I intend
to fire the charge from a distance
of three hundred yards. I expect to be
safe, perfectly safe. But accidents
"In Washington a plane is being prepared.
I have given instructions
through hours of phoning. They are
working night and day. It will contain
a huge generator for producing
my ray. Nothing new! Just the product
of our knowledge of radiant energy
up to date. But the man who flies that
plane will die—horribly. No time to
experiment with protection. The rays
will destroy him, though he may live a
"I am asking you," he told Cyrus
Thurston, "to handle that plane. You
may be of service to the world—you
may find you are utterly powerless.
You surely will die. But you know
the machines and the monsters; your
knowledge may be of value in an attack."
He waited. The silence lasted
for only a moment.
"Why, sure," said Cyrus Thurston.
He looked at the eucalyptus grove
with earnest appraisal. The sun
made lovely shadows among their
stripped trunks: the world was a beautiful
place. A lingering death, MacGregor
had intimated—and horrible....
"Why, sure," he repeated steadily.
Slim Riley shoved him firmly aside
to stand facing MacGregor.
"Sure, hell!" he said. "I'm your man,
"What do you know about flying?"
he asked Cyrus Thurston. "You're
good—for a beginner. But men like
you two have got brains, and I'm thinkin'
the world will be needin' them.
Now me, all I'm good for is holdin' a
shtick"—his brogue had returned to
his speech, and was evidence of his
"And, besides"—the smile faded
from his lips, and his voice was suddenly
soft—"them boys we saw take
their last flip was just pilots to you,
just a bunch of good fighters. Well,
they're buddies of mine. I fought beside
some of them in France.... I belong!"
He grinned happily at Thurston.
"Besides," he said, "what do you know
MacGregor gripped him by the hand.
"You win," he said. "Report to Washington.
The Secretary of War has all
He turned to Thurston. "Now for
you! Get this! The enemy
machines almost attacked New York.
One of them came low, then went back,
and the four flashed out of sight toward
the west. It is my belief that
New York is next, but the devils are
hungry. The beast that attacked us
was ravenous, remember. They need
food and lots of it. You will hear of
their feeding, and you can count on
four days. Keep Riley informed—that's
"Now I'm going over the hill. If
this experiment works, there's a chance
we can repeat it on a larger scale. No
certainty, but a chance! I'll be back.
Full instructions at the hotel in
case...." He vanished into the scrub
"Not exactly encouraging," Thurston
pondered, "but he's a good man, Mac,
a good egg! Not as big a brain as the
one we saw, but perhaps it's a better
one—cleaner—and it's working!"
They were sheltered under the brow
of the hill, but the blast from the valley
beyond rocked them like an earthquake.
They rushed to the top of the
knoll. MacGregor was standing in the
valley; he waved them a greeting and
shouted something unintelligible.
The gas had mushroomed into a
cloud of steamy vapor. From above
came snowflakes to whirl in the churning
mass, then fall to the ground. A
wind came howling about them to beat
upon the cloud. It swirled slowly back
and down the valley. The figure of
MacGregor vanished in its smothering
"Exit, MacGregor!" said Cyrus
Thurston softly. He held tight to the
struggling figure of Slim Riley.
"He couldn't live a minute in that
atmosphere of hydrogen," he explained.
"They can—the devils!—but
not a good egg like Mac. It's our job
now—yours and mine."
Slowly the gas retreated, lifted to
permit their passage down the slope.
MacGregor was a good
prophet. Thurston admitted that
when, four days later, he stood on the
roof of the Equitable Building in
lower New York.
The monsters had fed as predicted.
Out in Wyoming a desolate area
marked the place of their meal, where
a great herd of cattle lay smothered
and frozen. There were ranch houses,
too, in the circle of destruction, their
occupants frozen stiff as the carcasses
that dotted the plains. The country
had stood tense for the following blow.
Only Thurston had lived in certainty
of a few days reprieve. And now had
come the fourth day.
In Washington was Riley. Thurston
had been in touch with him frequently.
"Sure, it's a crazy machine," the pilot
had told him, "and 'tis not much I
think of it at all. Neither bullets nor
guns, just this big glass contraption
and speed. She's fast, man, she's fast
... but it's little hope I have." And
Thurston, remembering the scientist's
words, was heartless and sick with
There were aircraft ready near New
York; it was generally felt that here
was the next objective. The enemy
had looked it over carefully. And
Washington, too, was guarded. The
nation's capital must receive what little
help the aircraft could afford.
There were other cities waiting for
destruction. If not this time—later!
The horror hung over them all.
The fourth day! And Thurston
was suddenly certain of the fate
of New York. He hurried to a telephone.
Of the Secretary of War he
"Send your planes," he begged.
"Here's where we will get it next.
Send Riley. Let's make a last stand—win
"I'll give you a squadron," was the
concession. "What difference whether
they die there or here...?" The voice
was that of a weary man, weary and
sleepless and hopeless.
"Good-by Cy, old man!" The click
of the receiver sounded in Thurston's
ear. He returned to the roof for his
To wait, to stride nervously back
and forth in impotent expectancy. He
could leave, go out into open country,
but what were a few days or months—or
a year—with this horror upon them?
It was the end. MacGregor was right.
"Good old Mac!"
There were airplanes roaring overhead.
It meant.... Thurston abruptly
was cold; a chill gripped at his heart.
The paroxysm passed. He was
doubled with laughter—or was it he
who was laughing? He was suddenly
buoyantly carefree. Who was he that
it mattered? Cyrus Thurston—an ant!
And their ant-hill was about to be
He walked over to a waiting group
and clapped one man on the shoulder.
"Well, how does it feel to be an ant?"
he inquired and laughed loudly at the
jest. "You and your millions of dollars,
your acres of factories, your
The man looked at him strangely and
edged cautiously away. His eyes, like
those of the others, had a dazed,
stricken look. A woman was sobbing
softly as she clung to her husband.
From the streets far below came a quavering
shrillness of sound.
The planes gathered in climbing
circles. Far on the horizon were four
tiny glinting specks....
Thurston stared until his eyes
were stinging. He was walking in
a waking sleep as he made his way to
the stone coping beyond which was
the street far below. He was dead—dead!—right
this minute. What were
a few minutes more or less? He could
climb over the coping; none of the
huddled, fear-gripped group would
stop him. He could step out into space
and fool them, the devils. They could
never kill him....
What was it MacGregor had said?
Good egg, MacGregor! "But we can
die fighting...." Yes, that was it—die
fighting. But he couldn't fight; he
could only wait. Well, what were the
others doing, down there in the streets—in
their homes? He could wait with
them, die with them....
He straightened slowly and drew one
long breath. He looked steadily and
unafraid at the advancing specks.
They were larger now. He could see
their round forms. The planes were
less noisy: they were far up in the
The bulbs came slantingly down.
They were separating. Thurston wondered
What had they done in Berlin? Yes,
he remembered. Placed themselves at
the four corners of a great square and
wiped out the whole city in one explosion.
Four bombs dropped at the same
instant while they shot up to safety in
the thin air. How did they communicate?
Thought transference, most
likely. Telepathy between those great
brains, one to another. A plane was
falling. It curved and swooped in a
trail of flame, then fell straight toward
the earth. They were fighting....
Thurston stared above. There
were clusters of planes diving
down from on high. Machine-guns
stuttered faintly. "Machine-guns—toys!
Brave, that was it! 'We can die
fighting.'" His thoughts were far off;
it was like listening to another's mind.
The air was filled with swelling
clouds. He saw them before the blast
struck where he stood. The great
building shuddered at the impact.
There were things falling from the
clouds, wrecks of planes, blazing and
shattered. Still came others; he saw
them faintly through the clouds. They
came in from the West; they had gone
far to gain altitude. They drove down
from the heights—the enemy had drifted—they
were over the bay.
More clouds, and another blast thundering
at the city. There were specks,
Thurston saw, falling into the water.
Again the invaders came down from
the heights where they had escaped
their own shattering attack. There was
the faint roar of motors behind, from
the south. The squadron from Washington
They surely had seen the fate that
awaited. And they drove on to the attack,
to strike at an enemy that shot
instantly into the sky leaving crashing
destruction about the torn dead.
"Now!" said Cyrus Thurston aloud.
The big bulbs were back. They
floated easily in the air, a plume of
vapor billowing beneath. They were
ranging to the four corners of a great
One plane only was left, coming in
from the south, a lone straggler, late
for the fray. One plane! Thurston's
shoulders sagged heavily. All they had
left! It went swiftly overhead....
It was fast—fast. Thurston suddenly
knew. It was Riley in that plane.
"Go back, you fool!"—he was screaming
at the top of his voice—"Back—back—you
poor, damned, decent Irishman!"
Tears were streaming down his face.
"His buddies," Riley had said. And
this was Riley, driving swiftly in,
alone, to avenge them....
He saw dimly as the swift plane sped
over the first bulb, on and over the second.
The soft roar of gas from the
machines drowned the sound of his engine.
The plane passed them in silence
to bank sharply toward the third
corner of the forming square.
He was looking them over, Thurston
thought. And the damn beasts disregarded
so contemptible an opponent.
He could still leave. "For God's sake,
Riley, beat it—escape!"
Thurston's mind was solely on the
fate of the lone voyager—until the impossible
was borne in upon him.
The square was disrupted. Three
great bulbs were now drifting. The
wind was carrying them out toward the
bay. They were coming down in a
long, smooth descent. The plane shot
like a winged rocket at the fourth
great, shining ball. To the watcher,
aghast with sudden hope, it seemed
barely to crawl.
"The ray! The ray...." Thurston
saw as if straining eyes had pierced
through the distance to see the invisible.
He saw from below the swift
the streaming, intangible ray. That
was why Riley had flown closely past
and above them—the ray poured from
below. His throat was choking him,
The last enemy took alarm. Had it
seen the slow sinking of its companions,
failed to hear them in reply
to his mental call? The shining pear
shape shot violently upward; the attacking
plane rolled to a vertical bank
as it missed the threatening clouds of
exhaust. "What do you know about
dog-fights?" And Riley had grinned
... Riley belonged!
The bulb swelled before Thurston's
eyes in its swift descent. It canted to
one side to head off the struggling
plane that could never escape, did not
try to escape. The steady wings held
true upon their straight course. From
above came the silver meteor; it seemed
striking at the very plane itself. It was
almost upon it before it belched forth
the cushioning blast of gas.
Through the forming clouds a plane
bored in swiftly. It rolled slowly, was
flying upside down. It was under the
enemy! Its ray.... Thurston was
thrown a score of feet away to crash
helpless into the stone coping by the
thunderous crash of the explosion.
There were fragments falling from a
dense cloud—fragments of curved and
silvery metal ... the wing of a plane
danced and fluttered in the air....
"He fired its bombs," whispered
Thurston in a shaking voice. "He
killed the other devils where they lay—he
destroyed this with its own explosive.
He flew upside down to shoot up
with the ray, to set off its shells...."
His mind was fumbling with the miracle
of it. "Clever pilot, Riley, in a
dog-fight...." And then he realized.
Cyrus Thurston, millionaire sportsman,
sank slowly, numbly to the roof
of the Equitable Building that still
stood. And New York was still there
... and the whole world....
He sobbed weakly, brokenly.
Through his dazed brain flashed a sudden,
mind-saving thought. He laughed
foolishly through his sobs.
"And you said he'd die horribly, Mac,
a horrible death." His head dropped
upon his arms, unconscious—and safe—with
the rest of humanity.