The Tentacles From Below by Anthony Gilmore
A COMPLETE NOVELETTE
ull stop. Rest ready."
These words glowed in vivid red against the black background of the
NX-1's control order-board. A wheel was spun over, a lever pulled
back, and in the hull of the submarine descended the peculiar silence
found only in mile-deep waters. Men rested at their posts, eyes alert.
Down to tremendous ocean depths goes Commander Keith Wells
in his blind duel with the marauding "machine-fish."
Above, in the control room, Hemingway Bowman, youthful first officer,
glanced at the teleview screen and swore softly.
"Keith," he said, "between you and me, I'll be damned glad when this
monotonous job's over. I joined the Navy to see the world, but this
charting job's giving me entirely too many close-ups of the deadest
parts of it!"
Commander Keith Wells. U. S. N., grinned broadly. "Well," he remarked,
"in a few minutes we can call it a day—or night, rather—and then
it's back to the Falcon while the day shift 'sees the world.'" He
turned again to his dials as Hemmy Bowman, with a sigh, resumed work.
"Depth, six thousand feet. Visibility poor. Bottom eight thousand," he
said into the phone hung before his lips, and fifty feet aft, in a
small cubby, a blue-clad figure monotonously repeated the observations
and noted them down in an official geographical survey report.
uch had been their routine for two tiring weeks, all part of the
NX-l's present work of re-charting the Newfoundland banks.
As early as 1929 slight cataclysms had begun to tear up the sea-floor
of this region, and of late—1935—seismographs and cable companies
had reported titanic upheavals and sinkings of the ocean bed, changing
hundreds of miles of underwater territory. Finally Washington decided
to chart the alterations this series of sub-sea earthquakes had
And for this job the NX-1 was detailed. A super-submarine fresh from
the yards, small, but modern to the last degree, she contained such
exclusive features as a sheathing of the tough new glycosteel,
automatic air rectifiers, a location chart for showing positions of
nearby submarines, the newly developed Edsel electric motors, and
automatic teleview screen. When below surface she was a sealed tube of
metal one hundred feet long, and possessed of an enormous cruising
radius. From the flower of the Navy some thirty men were picked, and
in company with the mother-ship Falcon she put out to combine an
exhaustive trial trip with the practical charting of the newly changed
Now this work was almost over. Keith Wells told himself that he, like
Bowman, would be glad to set foot on land again. This surveying was
important, of course, but too dry for him—no action. He smiled at the
lines of boredom on Hemmy's brow as the younger man stared gloomily
into the teleview screen.
And then the smile left his lips. The radio operator, in a cubby
adjoining the control room, had spoken into the communication tube:
"Urgent call for you, sir! From Captain Knapp!"
ells reached out and clipped a pair of extension phones over his
ears. The deep voice of Robert Knapp, captain of the mother-ship
Falcon, came ringing in. It was strained with an excitement unusual
"Wells? Knapp speaking. Something damned funny's just happened near
here. You know the fishing fleet that was near us yesterday morning?"
"Well, the whole thing's gone down! Destroyed, absolutely! The sea's
been like glass, the weather perfect—yet from the wreckage, what
there is of it, you'd think a typhoon had struck! I can't begin to
explain it. No survivors, either, so far, though we're hunting for
"You say the boats are completely destroyed?"
"Smashed like driftwood. I tell you it's preposterous—and yet it's
the fact. I think you'd better return at once, old man; you're only
half an hour off. And come on the surface; it's getting light now, and
you might pick up something. God knows what this means, Keith, but
it's up to us to find out. It's—it's got me...."
His tones were oddly disturbed—almost scared—and this from a man who
didn't know what fear was.
"But Bob," Keith asked, "how did you—"
"Stand by a minute! The lookout reports survivors!"
ells turned to meet Bowman's inquisitive face. He quickly repeated
the gist of Knapp's weird story. "We saw them at dusk, last
evening—remember? And now they're gone, destroyed. What can have done
For some minutes the two surprised men speculated on the strange
occurrence. Then Knapp's voice again rang in the headphones.
"Wells? My God, man, this is getting downright fantastic! We've just
taken two survivors on board; one's barely alive and the other crazy.
I can't get an intelligible thing from him; he keeps shrieking about
writhing arms and awful eyes—and monsters he calls 'machine-fish'!"
"You're sure he's insane?"
Robert Knapp's voice hesitated queerly.
"Well, he's shrieking about 'machine-fish'—fish with machines over
them!... I—I'm going to broadcast the whole story to the land
stations. 'Machine-fish'! I don't know.... I don't know.... You'd
better hurry back, Wells!"
He rang off.
eith slipped off the headphones and told Bowman what he had learned.
Hardy, staunchly built craft, those fishing boats were; born in the
teeth of gales. What horror could have ripped them—all of them—to
driftwood, with the weather perfect? And a half-mad survivor, raving
"Such things are preposterous," Bowman commented scornfully.
"But—the fleet's gone, Hemmy," Keith replied. "Anyway, we'll speed
back, and see what it's all about."
He punched swift commands on the control studs. "Empty Tanks, Zoom to
Surface, Full Speed," the crimson words glared down below, and the
NX-1 at once shoved her snout up, trembling as her great electric
motors began their pulsing whine. The delicate fingers of the massed
dials before Keith danced exultantly. The depth-levels tolled out:
"Seven thousand ... six thousand ... five thousand—"
"Keith! Look there!"
Hemmy Bowman was pointing with amazement at the location chart, a
black mesh screen that showed the position of other submarines within
a radius of two miles. In one corner, a spot of vivid red was shining.
"But it can't be a submarine!" Wells objected. "Our reports would have
The two officers stared at each other.
"'Machine-fish!'" Bowman whispered softly. "If there were machines,
the metal would register on the chart."
"It must be them!" the commander roared, coming out of his daze. "And,
by God, we're going after them!"
apidly he brought the NX-1 out of her zoom to the surface, and left
her at four thousand feet, in perfect trim, while he read the
A green spot in the center of the location chart denoted the NX-1's
exact position. A distance of perhaps forty inches separated it from
the red light on the meshed screen—which represented, roughly, a mile
and a half. Below the chart was a thick dial, over which a black hand,
indicating the mysterious submersible's approximate depth, was slowly
"He's sinking—whatever he is," Keith muttered to Hemmy. "Hey, Sparks!
Get me Captain Knapp."
A moment later the connection was put through.
"Bob? This is Wells again. Bob, our location chart shows the presence
of some strange undersea metallic body. It can't be a submarine, for
my maritime reports would show its presence. We think it has some
connection with the 'machine-fish' that survivor raved about. At any
rate, I'm going after it. The world has a right to know what destroyed
that fishing fleet, and since the NX-1 is right on the spot it's my
duty to track it down. Re-broadcast this news to land stations, will
you? I'll keep in touch with you."
Knapp's voice came soberly back. "I guess you're right, Keith; it's up
to you.... So long, old man. Good luck!"
n Wells' veins throbbed the lust for action. With control studs at
hand, location chart and teleview screen before his eyes and fifteen
men waiting below for his commands, he had no fear of any monster the
underseas might spew up. He glanced swiftly at the location chart and
depth indicator again.
The mysterious red spot was slowly coming across the NX-1's bows at
a distance of about one mile. Keith punched a stud, and, as his craft
filled her tank and slipped down further into deep water, he spoke to
"Take control for a minute. Keep on all speed, and follow 'em like a
bloodhound. I'm going below."
He strode down the connecting ramp to the lower deck, where he found
fifteen men standing vigilantly at posts. At once Keith plunged into a
full explanation of what he had learned up in the control room. He
"A great moral burden rests on us—every one of us—as we will soon
come face to face with a possible world menace. Anything may happen. A
state of war exists on this submarine. You will be prepared for any
Sobered faces greeted this announcement, and perceptibly the men
straightened and held themselves more alertly. Wells at once returned
to the control room. A glance at the location chart and its two tiny
lights told him that the intervening distance had been decreased to
about half a mile.
The depth dial showed them both to be two miles below, and steadily
diving lower. Charts showed the sea-floor to be three miles deep in
this position, and that meant—
"Look there!" exclaimed the first officer suddenly. "It's changing
he crimson stud had suddenly shifted its course, and now was fleeing
directly before them. For a moment the distance between the green and
red lights remained constant—and then Keith Wells stared
unbelievingly at the chart, wiped a hand across his eyes and stared
"Why—why, the devils are as fast as we!" he exclaimed in amazement.
"I think they're even gaining on us!"
"And there's no other submarine in the world that can do more than
thirty under water!" Hemmy Bowman added. "We're hitting a full
A call came through the communication tube from Sparks. "Report from
Consolidated Radio News-Broadcasters, sir, aimed especially at us."
"Well?" asked Keith, motioning Hemmy to listen in. Sparks read it.
"'A week ago Atlantic City reported that seven men were snatched off
fishing boat by unidentified tentacled monsters. Testimony of
witnesses was discredited, but was later corroborated by the almost
identical testimony of other witnesses at Brighton Beach, England, who
saw man and woman taken by mysterious monsters whilst bathing.'
Perhaps these same creatures destroyed the Newfoundland fishing
fleet." His level voice ceased.
"Tentacled monsters ... 'machine-fish,'" Wells murmured slowly.
Their eyes met, the same wonder in each. "Well," Keith rapped at
last, "we're seeing this through!"
e turned again to the location chart. The green spot as always was in
the center, and at a constant distance was the red, showing that the
NX-1 was hot on the other's trail. The depth dials indicated that
both were diving deeper every moment.
"Where in hell's it going?" the commander rasped. "We'll be on the
floor in a few minutes!"
Here the teleview showed the world to be one of fantasy, one to which
the sun did not exist. It was not an utter, pitchy blackness that
pervaded the water, but rather a peculiar, dark blueness. No fish
schools, Keith noted, scurried from them. They had already left these
waters; aware, perhaps, of the passing Terror....
They plunged lower yet. Wells was conscious of Hemmy Bowman's quick,
uneven breathing. Conscious of the tautness of his own nerves, strung
like quivering violin strings. Conscious of the terrific walls of
water pressing in on them. And conscious of the men below, their lives
bound implicitly in his will and brain....
A thought came to him, and quickly he reached into a rack for the
chart of the local sea-floor. His brow creased with puzzlement as he
"Here's more mystery, Hemmy," he muttered. "Look—there's an
underwater cliff about half a mile dead ahead. It rises to within four
thousand feet of the surface. And that thing out there is charging
straight into its base!"
"They must be aware of it," jerked the other. "See?—they've stopped!"
t was true. The gulf between the two colored spots was rapidly being
swallowed up. At a pulsing forty-one knots the NX-1 was closing in
on the motionless mystery craft.
"They're sinking to the floor itself," observed Wells. "Perhaps
waiting to attack."
The invisible beams from their ultra-violet light-beacons streamed
through the silent gloom outside, yet still the teleview screen was
empty. Keith punched a stud, and the NX-1's whining motors dulled to
a scarcely audible purr.
"What is the thing?" muttered Hemmy Bowman. "God, Keith, what is
For answer, the commander dropped them the last five hundred feet. The
sea-floor rose like a gray ghost. More control studs were pushed; the
order-board below read: "All Power Off, Rest in Trim." The location
chart told a tale that wrung a gasp from Bowman's throat. The red and
green lights were practically touching....
The hands of Petty Officer Brown, the helmsman, were quivering on the
helm. Wells' fists kept tensing and relaxing as he peered for a sight
of the enemy in the teleview. Nothing showed but the moving fingers of
spectral kelp. Then both he and Bowman cried out as one:
The Silent Ray
strange shape had suddenly materialized on the screen—an immense,
oval-shaped thing of dull metal, with great curving cuts of glass-like
substance in its blunt bow, like staring eyes; a lifeless, staring
thing, stretching far into the curtain of gloom behind. How long it
was, Keith could not tell; at first his numb brain refused to grasp it
and reduce it to definite, sane standards of size and length. The cold
weeds of the sea-floor kelp beds swayed eerily over and around it.
From its bow, he saw, peculiar knobs jutted, the function of which he
guessed with dread.
Was it waiting with a purpose? Was it waiting—and inviting attack?
A frightened whisper from Hemmy Bowman broke the hush:
"Keith, the thing has ports, but shows no lights! What kind of
creatures can they be?"
As he spoke, the three men in the control room felt the unmistakable,
jarring tingle of an electric shock. And while their nerves still
jumped, it came again; and again. They were conscious of a slight
feeling of drowsiness.
Keith gaped at Bowman and Brown, and then a flash on the teleview
screen drew his eyes. There, against the blackness of its otherwise
inanimate hulk, one of the jutting knobs on the bow of the mysterious
submarine was glowing and pulsing with orange life! With it came the
tingling shock again. It flicked off as they watched, then returned
and went once more.
"They're attacking, but thank God the shock was harmless!" Wells said
grimly. "All right; they've asked for it: I'm going to see how they
like the taste of a torpedo!"
he two submarines were resting on the ocean floor with perhaps two
hundred feet between them. The NX-1's bow tubes were not exactly in
line to score a direct hit; she would have to be maneuvered slightly
to port. The range was short; the explosion from the torpedoes would
Keith punched the control studs, ordering the men below to assume
firing stations. Then, while waiting for the NX-1 to shift, he
studied the teleview screen to sight the range exactly. The black dot
which represented the enemy craft was not directly on the crossed
hair-lines of the dial-like range-finder, but shifting the NX-1 a
few feet would bring it to the perfect firing point.
But the NX-1 did not budge.
Surprised, her commander swung and looked at Bowman. "What the devil?"
he cried. "Did that shock—?" He left the dread thought unfinished and
leaped to the speaking tubes.
"Craig! Jones! Wetherby!" he yelled. "Men! Don't you hear me? Aren't
He broke off, wordless, waiting for an answer that did not come, then
sprang to the connecting ramp and ran to the deck below.
The scene he found halted him abruptly in his tracks. Every member of
the crew was sprawled on the deck, in grotesque, limp postures. They
had been standing rigidly at posts, he saw, when the thing, whatever
it was, had struck. Without a sound, without a single cry of alarm,
the NX-1's crew had been laid low!
he commander slowly advanced to the deck and stared more closely at
the upturned faces around him. He saw that every man's eyes were open.
Bending over one still form, he pressed his hand on the heart. It was
beating! The man was alive! Amazed, he moved to another and another:
they were all breathing, slowly and regularly—were all alive! A
curious look in their eyes staggered him for a moment. He could swear
that they recognized him, knew he was staring at them—for every
single pair was alight with intelligence, and Keith fancied he saw
gleams of recognition.
"It must have been a paralyzing ray!" he gasped. "A thing our
scientists've been trying to develop for years.... And that monster
outside knows the secret...." He lifted an arm of the inert figure at
his feet; when he released the grip, it flopped limply back to the
"Keith! Come back, quick!"
Startled, the commander turned to find Hemingway Bowman at the top of
the connecting ramp, his face distorted with alarm.
"For God's sake, come back quick!" he yelled again. "Down there the
ray might get you!"
With the words, Wells leaped to the ramp and raced to the control
room. He had no sooner made it than he felt again the queer tingle of
the electric charge. He found himself trembling. Bowman's face was
white. His words came stuttering.
"One second later and they'd have got you.... They got Sparks in his
cubby.... You see, the ray doesn't affect us in the control room
"Because the Gibson insulation that protects the instruments keeps it
out!" Keith finished grimly. "I see!"
Just then a slight jar ran through the submarine. Coincident with it
came a cry from Brown, the helmsman. His arm was pointed at the
There they saw the enemy's mighty dirigible of metal was now within
thirty feet of the NX-1. It had crept up silently, without warning.
And, spanning the short gulf between them, an arm of webbed metal
craned from the other's huge bow, hooking tightly into the American
submarine's forward hawser holes!
As they took this in, the enemy ship moved away and the arm of metal
tightened. The NX-1 shuddered. And, at first slowly, but with ever
increasing speed, she got under way and slid after her captor. They
were being towed away. Kidnaped! Men, submarine and all!
eith Wells mopped sweat from a hot brow and rapidly reviewed his
weapons. He was sorely restricted. Through an emergency system the
NX-1 could be propelled and maneuvered from her control room; but
the torpedo tubes needed local attendance.
"Hemmy, reverse engines," he jerked, himself spinning over a small
wheel. "Let's see if we can out-pull the devil!"
At once they felt the shock of the paralyzing ray, and then the
surging whine of the Edsel electrics pulsed up and in the teleview
screen they watched the grim struggle of ship against ship.
Imperceptibly, almost, as her screws cut in and churned, the forward
progress of the NX-1 was slowing, the speed of the other being cut
down, until finally they but barely forged ahead. Slowly, ever so
slowly they were out-pulled; inch by inch they were dragged ahead.
Their motors could not hold even.
"She's more powerful than we!" Wells' bitter voice spoke. "Damn!" He
thought desperately, while Bowman and Brown stared at the fantastic
tale the teleview spelled out.
Again the paralyzing shock tingled, an intangible jailer that bound
them, more surely than steel bars, to the control room. To dare that
streaming barrage meant instant impotence, and perhaps, later,
"Our two bow torpedoes," Keith mused slowly. "We're a bit close, but
it's our only chance. The ray comes at intervals of about a minute;
the torps are ready for firing. If one of us could dash forward and
discharge 'em.... Brown, that's you!"
The petty officer met his commander's gaze levelly. He smiled. "Yes,
sir, I'm ready!" he said.
"Good! It'll have to be quick work, though; I'll try and keep the sub
pointed straight. Wait for the ray, then run like hell!"
he first officer took over the helm and Brown stepped to the forward
ladder, waiting for the periodic ray to be discharged.
The odd tingle came and vanished. "Now!" Wells roared, and Brown
leaped down the thin steel rungs.
He staggered at the bottom from the force of his impact, then
straightened and raced madly forward. Through the drone of the motors
the two officers could hear the staccato beat of his feet.
But their eyes were glued to the teleview. Through clutching beds of
seaweed the enemy submarine was ploughing. Her great, smooth bow lay
straight ahead, metal hawser arm spanning the thirty feet between
them. In another second, Keith thought grimly, two dynamite packed
tubes of sudden death would thunderbolt into that hull, and—
Brown pulled the lever.
The tubes spat out compressed air; a scream ran through the submarine;
and the two steel fish leaped from their sheaths, their tiny props
roaring. Over the narrow gulf they shot; the range was short, their
target dead ahead—and yet by bare inches they missed!
No answering roar bellowed back. Keith had watched their course; had
seen them flash by the enemy's bow, flicking it with their rudders,
but nothing more. "Why?" he cried. And, as Bowman moved his hands in a
hopeless gesture, he saw in the teleview the reason.
It was a jagged pinnacle of rock, which, just before Brown had fired,
had been straight ahead. The towing monster had seen it and veered
sharply to avoid crashing. The barest change of course, yet sufficient
to avoid the torpedoes....
ells and Bowman were cursing savagely when the sound of Brown, racing
desperately aft, jerked the commander to the ladder. He saw the petty
officer at its foot. "Hurry!" Wells shouted. "The ray!"
Brown grasped the steel rungs and scrambled upward, but he was too
late. The fatal charge tingled. A peculiar, surprised expression
washed over his face; his hands loosened their grip. For a second his
eyes looked questioningly at his commander; a faint sigh escaped him;
and then his arms flung out, his body relaxed, and he slumped like a
slab of meat to the deck below....
Keith Wells saw red. Blind to everything, he was just about to charge
down the ladder to himself re-load the forward tubes when the grip of
Hemmy Bowman's hand stayed him. The thing Hemmy was staring at in the
teleview screen sobered him completely.
The wall of rock to which the enemy submarine had first been charging
had become visible, soaring vastly from the gloom of the sea-floor.
And the monster was towing them straight into a dark, jagged cleft at
"It's a cavern!" Keith breathed. "A split in the rock—the lair of
that devil. And we're being dragged into it!"
t that moment Keith Wells knew fear. Each second they were being
hauled closer to the monster's dim lair. It lay there, dark,
mysterious, fingered by gently swaying, clammy kelp. A hushed solitude
seemed to reign over it, aweing all undersea life from the
vicinity.... Wells turned his head to meet Bowman's eyes, and read in
them a silent question.
He groaned in the agony of his mind. In a few minutes, all would be
over. Once the NX-1 was dragged into that dark cavern there'd be no
chance of escaping to warn the world above, of saving the submarine.
What now? The question brought beads of sweat to his tormented brow.
He, Keith Wells, standing impotently by while his ship, the pride of
the service, was hauled inch by inch to some strange doom!
Racked by these thoughts, he murmured tortured, jerky phrases,
unconscious he was giving voice to the things that flogged his brain.
"What can I do? I've got to save my ship—I've got to get back to
break the news—I've got to tell the world! But how? How—" His
expression changed suddenly. "That's it! That hawser arm between us
must be broken!"
First Officer Hemingway Bowman's clear voice broke in on the older
man's thoughts with that one crisp word. Keith swung to find the
other's eyes fixed levelly on his.
"You're right, Keith. The hawser arm must be broken; with a depth
charge, of course. It's the only way.
"To attach a depth charge," he continued evenly, "a man must leave the
ship. You can't, Keith. It will be me."
he commander did not speak. "I'll put on a sea-suit," Hemmy went on
quickly, eyes lighting. "You tip the submarine and I'll slide out the
conning tower exit port on the lee side, so they can't see me, and
worm forward through the kelp. We're almost holding them even; that'll
be easy. I'll be protected from the paralyzing shock until the last
second, and it may not get me outside; that'll have to be chanced. The
hawser arm's only some ten feet above the sea-floor; I can reach it
with a hook on the charge." He paused.
"I'll attach it; and when it bursts I'll try to get back and grab that
ring on the midships exit port, and you can let me in when we get to
the surface. But if I take too long, Keith—if I miss—you beat it
without me. You understand? Beat it!"
He gazed straight at his friend. "Understand, Keith?"
Commander Keith Wells bowed his head in acquiescence. He was afraid
that if he met Hemmy Bowman's steady eyes he'd make a fool of
Hemmy glanced at the screen once more, shivering as he saw how near
the black cavern was. Then he moved rapidly, playing the cards
carefully for his gamble with death. He had to: the trumps were in the
From the locker where their sea-suits were stowed he grabbed his own,
and with quick fingers ripped the slides and fitted it on. A sheath of
yellow Lestofabrik, its weighted feet and gleaming casque transformed
his slim figure into a giant such as might stalk through a nightmare.
Built cunningly into the helmet was a tiny radio transmitter and
receiver, with a range of a quarter-mile; hugging to the shoulders,
inside nestled the air-making mechanism, its tiny generators already
in motion. Around the helmet was fastened a small removable
undersea-light. The wrists of the suit were very flexible, permitting
the freest motion.
Once in the suit, Hemmy smiled through the still-opened face-shield.
"Got the depth charge ready, Keith? Make it fast—that cavern's
ilently the commander fitted the black bomb to his friend's
shoulders. It was timed to fire a minute after being set. A long wire
hook craned from its top, and this hook Bowman would fasten on the
"Without Sparks, I guess I'll have to communicate with you through
portable," Keith said, and quickly donned one of the tiny portable
"Right. Ready, Keith."
Bowman started his awkward, crawling progress up the ladder into the
conning tower just above, Keith helping from behind. When they stood
before the exit port on the lee side, Wells shot back its bolts and
the door swung open, revealing the black emptiness of the water
chamber. The commander gazed for a second into Bowman's eyes. The
moment had come.
Keith turned his head away, felt a hand grip his. He wrung it
Bowman clumped into the chamber.
The commander closed and locked the door, and he heard the streaming
water pour in as Hemmy turned the valve. Then Wells sped down the
ladder and tilted the diving and course rudders of the submarine.
She swayed daintily over to port; held there. A moment later the
recurring electric tingle brushed him. Had the enemy seen Bowman
leave? Had the ray struck him down?
He glared into the teleview. "Thank God!" he breathed. For Hemmy had
already slid down the NX-1's smooth hull and was safe on the
sea-floor beside her.
"Everything right?" Wells asked, speaking into the microphone of his
"All O.K.," came the answer. "Going forward now. Kelp thick as hell."
eith's eyes bored at the screen. This misshapen monster who was his
friend! Almost obscured by bands of thick-leaved kelp the yellow form
moved, hands clearing a pathway through the weeds. Slowly but surely
he made for the bow of the submersible.
"Hard going, Keith. God—the cavern's right ahead!"
It was ghostly to hear Hemmy's warm voice from the lifeless solitude
outside. Breath coming quickly, Wells watched the silent scene—the
cleft in the wall of rock overshadowing everything now. The diver
fought ahead, gaining inch by inch.
Now, save for occasional clumps of weed, he was exposed to the
enemy.... Now the last desperate gauntlet was reached.... Keith felt
his blood pound hotly.
"I'm gaining, Keith. Gaining...."
Bowman had little breath for speech. His tiny form battled on, now
sinking from sight as he dropped into some masked gully, now wrestling
slowly with great swaying strands of kelp, but always struggling
"I'm at the bow, Keith! The hawser arm's right in our mooring holes.
I'll go halfway before fastening the charge. Any signs of life from
"None yet, Hemmy. But go slow. Hide all you can, old man, for God's
Right beneath the metal arm, Bowman's dwarfed figure crept doggedly
ahead. Forward, inch by breathless inch. Kelp thickened, washed away;
the two hulking submersibles, captor and captive, surged onward—but
just a little faster went the valiant figure with the black charge on
The towing monster had its snout in the cavern. The darkness
thickened. Bowman was quarter way!
He plunged desperately. Half way!
"I'm there, Keith! Now for it!"
"Oh, God!" Wells cried. "They see you; they're coming!"
For he had seen strange shapes leaving the enemy submarine.
And at that same moment, Bowman saw them, too.
hey came like the blink of a dark eye from a door that had quickly
slid open in the mysterious ship's bow. As tall as a man they were,
and there were two of them, though at first the nature of their
bodies merged with the wreathing kelp made them seem like a dozen.
Bowman stared at them, hypnotized with fear. His legs and arms went
dead, and his whole gallant spirit seemed to slump into lifeless clay.
Now he knew why the fishermen had shrieked "machine-fish." Each one of
them had eight tapering arms, eight restless tentacles. These were
octopi, most hideous scavengers of the ocean floor! And not only
octopi—but octopi sheathed in metal-scaled armor!
As they came closer, he realized this preposterous fact. The dark
substance of their writhing tentacles was not flesh: it was a coat of
metal scales. And the fat central mass which held their eyes and vital
organs and beaked jaw—this mass was completely enveloped by a globe
of glass. From inside, he could see great eyes staring at him. The
monsters came towards him quite slowly, obviously wary, advancing over
the sea-floor in what was a hideous mockery of walking, their forward
With a sob, Hemmy Bowman pulled himself from his trance. He glanced
back at the NX-1. He still had time to retreat. He might be able to
get back inside before these monsters seized him.
But that meant abandoning his job. And already his own submarine was
nosing into the cavern. The choice between the octopi and retreat
stared him in the face. He pulled himself together and jerked his arms
back to action.
yes bulging, Keith Wells peered at the dim teleview screen. He saw
the creatures approaching Hemmy. And then, suddenly, he remembered his
"Hemmy! Come back, for God's sake!" he cried. "Come back while you
But Bowman had already seized the depth charge from his back and
hooked it on the hawser arm above.
Immediately, with that action, all caution fled from the approaching
monsters. Their tentacles whipped furiously; and in a great arc they
sprang for the tiny figure of the diver.
With a deep breath, Hemmy staggered forward to meet them. "Keith!" he
gasped. "I'll try to hold 'em away from the charge! When it bursts,
zoom! Zoom like hell to the surface!" And then the tentacles had him.
Keith watched, cursing his impotence to help. Hemmy had no weapon; he
was trying to hold them back by the weight of his body; he reached out
and grasped a tentacle and hugged it to him, shoving forward with all
his puny strength. But all his effort was as nothing. One of the
octopi writhed past him and darted onto the depth charge. Its
tentacles tugged at the bomb; pulled furiously.
The time charge exploded. The NX-1 rocked like a quivering reed;
Wells was knocked violently to the floor; a vast roar smote his
ear-drums. When he staggered to his feet he found that the octopus
that was pulling at the charge had disappeared—blown into fragments
of flesh and metal. But the hawser arm was broken! The NX-1, free,
shot back a full fifty feet under the pull of her reversed screws. A
cry echoed in her commander's ears:
"Go back, Keith! Go like hell!"
He saw the remaining octopus lift Bowman and whip to the exit port of
its submarine. The lid slid into place, closing on the monster and his
friend, and the enemy ship vanished into the black cavern....
nce clear of the opening, Keith set his motors full forward and
brought the diving rudders up. Quickly the ship sped from the haunted
sea-floor to the sun-warmed surface. A last thin call rang in his
"They've got me inside, Keith. It's dark, and filled with water. I
can't see anything, but I—I guess we're going through the cavern....
Forget about me, old boy. So long! So—"
The voice was abruptly cut off.
Keith ripped the instrument from his head. Then, face white and drawn,
he ran to the radio cubby. Standing over Sparks' inert body, he put
through a call to Robert Knapp, on the Falcon.
"Knapp?" he said harshly. "This is Wells. I'll be with you in a few
minutes. Yes—yes—I'll tell you the whole story later. But get this
now: Have the day shift all ready to take over the submarine by the
time I pull alongside."
He said no more just then; but rang off, and, looking back, he
"But I'll be back, Hemmy—I'll be back!"
In the Cavern
hat's the story, Knapp. They got Bowman, and I had to run away.
Their ship disappeared into the cavern. I've got a hunch, though, that
it's not just a cavern, but a tunnel, leading through to some
underwater world. That series of sub-sea earthquakes probably opened
it up; and now these devil-octopi are free to pour out. I've got to
find out what's what, and that's why I'm going down again as soon as
the torpedo system's ready!"
Keith and Robert Knapp were in the Falcon's chart room. On the table
before them lay a broad white map with a cross-mark indicating the
position of the mysterious dark cavern.
Wells was striding up and down like a caged tiger in his impatience to
be off. Every other minute he glared down to where the NX-1 lay
alongside. On her conning tower stood the tall blond-haired figure of
Graham, the first officer of the day shift, supervising the final
details of the work of installing a system of jury controls whereby
the submarine's torpedoes could be fired from her control room.
Keith stopped short and faced Knapp. "It won't be so one-sided this
time, Bob," he promised. "You see: when the location chart shows the
enemy ship, I'll rush all men into the control room, where the
paralyzing ray can't harm them. I don't know but what they have in
other weapons, but I'm gambling on getting my torps in first. They've
killed Bowman; they've ravaged a whole fishing fleet; they're free to
emerge from their hole and maraud every ocean on the globe! They've
got to be stopped! And since I'm armed and have the only submarine on
the spot, I've got to do it! I know how to fight them now!"
aptain Robert Knapp's sense of things was badly disordered. He had
just heard a story which his common sense told him couldn't be true,
but which the evidence of his eyes had grimly authenticated. He had
seen fifteen men slung aboard his ship from the NX-1's silent hull;
men stretched in grotesque, limp attitudes; men struck down by a
paralyzing ray. Why, no nation on earth had developed rays for
warfare! Yet—a crew of helpless men was even then in the sick bay,
receiving attention in the hope that they might recover.
"You're going right through that cavern, then, Wells?" he asked
incredulously. "You're going to investigate what lies beyond?"
"Nothing else! And I won't come out till I've blown that octopi ship
"It sounds preposterous," Knapp murmured, shaking his head. "Octopi,
you say—and clad in metal suits! Running a submarine more powerful
than the NX-1! Armed with a ray—a paralyzing ray! I can't
believe—I can't conceive—"
"You've seen the men!... Knapp, if I were you I'd swing my
eight-inchers out, bring up the plane catapult and keep the deck
torpedo tubes loaded and ready. It's best to be prepared; God knows
what's going on underseas these days!"
First Officer Graham appeared at the door. "Work finished, sir," he
said. "Ready to cast off."
"Thank heaven!" Wells muttered, and stretched out his hand to Robert
Knapp. "Broadcast what I've told you, Bob, and say that the NX-1
won't be back till everything's under control. I'll keep in touch with
you. So long!" And he was gone before the captain could even wish him
rders raced from her commander's fingers on the stud board in the
control room. "Crash Dive" filled her tanks and put her nose
perilously down, so that in thirty seconds only a swirling patch of
water was left to show where once she'd lain. A brief command to the
helmsman and she pointed straight for the dark cavern marked on the
When well under way, Keith descended with Graham to inspect the new
torpedo firing system, and found it in good working order. "Graham,"
he ordered tersely, "instruct the crew fully about rushing to the
control room on one ring of the general alarm. And send the cook up to
me in a minute or so. I'll be in Sparks' cubby."
Above again, he instructed the radio man to rig a remote control
sender and receiver in the insulated control room. The need for
centering the whole crew there during engagements would crowd the room
awkwardly, but at other times, while proceeding on their inspection of
the cavern lair, they could remain at their regular posts.
That, at least, was Wells' plan.
He looked up and found the cook, McKegnie, grinning at him from the
door of the control room. Keith smiled, running his eyes over the
portly magnificence of his gently perspiring figure. "Keg," he said
cheerfully, "I want you to move your hot plate and culinary apparatus
up here; you see, we're all likely to be crowded in here for some
time, and your coffee's going to be an absolute necessity." He
couldn't resist a crack at McKegnie's well-known and passionate
curiosity as to what made the thigmajigs of the control board work:
"And besides, it'll give you a chance to observe the instruments and
perfect yourself for your future career as a naval officer. Much
better than a correspondence course in 'How to Be a Submarine
Cook McKegnie grinned sheepishly, and left. He was well used to such
jests, but he never would admit that his extraordinary interest in
watching the ship's wheels go round was accompanied by a miraculous
inability to comprehend why they went round....
ifteen minutes later the helmsman's cry, "Cavern showing, sir!" swung
the commander to the teleview screen. The dark, kelp-shrouded opening
he knew so well was already looming on it. And he was prepared.
"Enter," he said, while his punched studs ordered, "Quarter Speed,
Ready at Posts, Tanks in Trim." The NX-1 slackened her gait,
balanced cautiously, and struck a straight, even course as she crept
closer to the cleft entrance through which, some two hours earlier,
the octopi ship had nosed.
Screws turning slowly, she edged through the jagged cavern. Shades of
inky blackness grew on the teleview and danced in fantastic blotches;
the screen turned to a welter of black, threatening shadows; became a
useless maze of ever-changing forms. Keith mouthed curses as he stared
at it; he now had nothing by which to judge his progress, to maneuver
the submarine, save directional instruments and, perhaps, chance
scrapings of the tunnel's ragged walls against the outer hull. The
NX-1 was running a gauntlet of immeasurable danger, her only
assurance of success being the fact that a larger craft had preceded
But how far, Keith wondered, had that ship preceded her? How was he to
know that it had gone straight through? There might be a dozen
different turnings in this tunnel: the submarine could easily tilt
head-on against a jagged rock and puncture her hull. There might be
mines planted directly in their course; he might be swimming straight
into some hideous ambuscade.
He drove these thoughts from his mind. The passage had to be made on
the fickle authority of the senses; and, realizing this, Wells took
the helm into his own hands. Graham was posted at the location chart,
with instructions to report the red light if it showed.
own below, the Edsel electrics were humming very softly; the men
stood vigilantly at posts. On their brows were little beads of sweat,
and here and there a hand clenched nervously. All knew they were in a
tight place; otherwise they were ignorant of where their commander was
leading them. Occasionally a long, shivering rasp ran through the ship
as her hull nudged the rough tunnel wall. Then the course rudders
would swing gently over; and perhaps, almost immediately, another
grinding cry of rock and steel would come from the other side. Then
would come quickly indrawn breaths as the rudders swung again and the
humming silence droned on.
The scrapings came quite often. Often, too, the motors would go silent
altogether, and the NX-1 would rest almost motionless as her
commander felt for an opening. It was a tense, nerve-wringing ordeal.
The silence, the waiting, the dainty scrapings were maddening.
Keith Wells' skin was prickling. He kept only fingertips on the tiny
helm: he was playing that uncanny sixth sense of the submarine
commander. When it misled him, the rasping rock groaned out, scarring
the submarine's smooth skin. Generally, the tunnel was straight; but
each time he heard his ship rub against some exterior obstruction, his
teeth went tight—for who knew but what it might be a mine?
They had penetrated perhaps a half-mile when Graham, eyes steady on
the teleview, reported: "Light growing, sir!"
ells saw that the screen was filling with a soft, faintly glowing
bluish color. The walls of the tunnel became visible, and he noted
that they were widening out, funnel-like. He dared to increase speed
slightly. Three minutes later he saw that the blue illumination was
seeping from the end of the tunnel. They continued out.
"Thank God, we're through!" he muttered to Graham. "You see, I was
right! It's an underground sea—and we're at the top of it." For the
instruments indicated a depth beneath them of roughly three miles.
They were in, evidently, a large cavern, of vast length and depth.
The NX-1 continued slowly forward, two pairs of eyes intent on her
teleview screen. Keith jotted down the tunnel's position, and the
funnel-shaped hole sank away behind their slow screws. And then, upon
the location chart, a faint red dot suddenly glowed!
It was upon them in a flash. A small tube of metal, shaped somewhat in
the form of the big octopi submarine, had darted up from below,
hovered a second close to them, and then, almost before they realized
they were being surveyed, sped back into the mysterious depths from
which it had come.
"A lookout, I suppose," Keith muttered, breathing more easily.
"Couldn't have held more than two of those creatures.... Well, the
alarm's out, I guess, Graham, but it can't be helped. Let's see what
it's like down below."
hey plunged steadily down, then ahead. And presently there grew on
the teleview vague forms which widened their eyes and made their
breath come quicker. Keith had guessed the tunnel led to a
civilization of some kind, but he was not prepared for the sight that
loomed hazily through the soft blue water.
Strange, moundlike shapes appeared far below, mounds grouped in
orderly rows and clusters, with streets running between them, thronged
with tiny, spidery dots. Octopi! It was, the commander realized, a
city of the monsters—a complete city like those of surface peoples!
For several miles in every direction the water-city spread out,
farther than the teleview could pierce. Wells marveled at this
separately developed civilization, this deep-buried realm of octopi
whose unexpected intellectual powers had permitted such development.
Perhaps, he pondered, this city was only one of many; perhaps only a
village. He could but vaguely glimpse the queer mound buildings, but
saw that they were of varying height and were filled with dark round
entrance holes, through which the creatures streamed on their
He saw no schools of fish around. "I guess they're been all killed
off, or eaten," he commented to the wonder-struck Graham. "Probably
the octopi have separate hatcheries where they raise them for food."
"But—good Lord!" the first officer exclaimed. "A city—a city like
ours! Down here, filled with octopi!..."
"Yes," answered Wells grimly, "and this 'city' may only be a small
settlement; there may be scores of these places. We'd better continue
ahead now that we're here; for we've got to get all the information we
can. I only hope these monsters haven't more than one big submarine.
We can expect an attack any minute...."
he NX-1 pressed on. The city dropped behind. A breathless tenseness
had settled down over the submarine; she was proceeding with utmost
caution, her anxious officers alert at the location chart. The great
fear that tormented them was that they might be attacked, not by one,
but by a fleet of the octopi ships....
Then, at the rim of the chart, a red dot appeared! It grew rapidly,
charging down on them at great speed. The spot was large; this was no
small sentry boat! At once the alarm bell shrilled its warning; the
crew below left their posts and raced to the control room. With sure
mechanical fingers the emergency system gripped the valve handles and
motor levers; Keith swung the NX-1 onto a level keel, straightened
her out, and decreased speed still more. Giving the rods of the motor
and rudder controls to Graham, he moved to the small lever which would
unleash his bow torpedoes, and fingered it lightly. The NX-1 was
ready for action.
Scarcely had the men reached the small control room than the familiar
electric charge tingled. They stared wonderingly at each other, half
afraid. No one seemed hurt. One hand on the torpedo lever, Wells
watched his charts and instruments. He thanked God that there was only
one of the enemy.
The ray's shock came again—and stronger. The red dot was practically
upon them. The screen was still empty. Coolly, Keith slowed the
submarine to a dead stop. The crimson stud came closer....
nd then he saw it. It was the same fearsome, hulking form. The same
curving windows, dark and lifeless. The same knobs on its bow, one now
leaping and pulsing with the paralyzing glow. At a distance of a few
hundred feet the octopi ship swerved to a halt, dousing the NX-1 with
its ray unceasingly. Again those two underwater craft, so oddly
contrasted, were face to face. And again the weapon that had once
struck the American ship's crew down at their posts was directed full
onto the NX-1.
But it was harmless! It merely tingled, and did not paralyze! The
control room sheathing held it out stoutly. The men's faces showed
Keith smiled grimly. Now, at least, he had the devils where he wanted
them; now it was his turn to strike with a—to them—terrible,
mysterious weapon. They had attacked; had failed—and now he could
square up for Hemmy and send a pair of torpedoes into that ship of
"Port five!" The ship swerved slightly. "Hold even!" The enemy craft
was very close. The NX-1's bow tubes were sighted in direct line.
Her torpedoes could not possibly miss. This time, destruction for the
octopi ship was inevitable....
Keith Wells gripped the lever that held the torps in leash.
Sparks, a bare foot from him, yelled out the word. Wells, alarmed,
released his grip on the knob. The radio operator was listening
intently, a circle of taut faces around his crouched back. He swung
"For God's sake, don't fire!" he cried. "Hemingway Bowman's on that
submarine! He's alive—and calling for you!"
The Other Weapon
Keith Wells let go the torpedo lever. His whole orderly plan of action
was crashed in a second.—For an instant he stood gaping at the radio
man, forgetful of the peril outside, striving desperately to hit on
some way of surmounting this unlooked-for obstacle. The idea of firing
on his friend—killing Hemmy Bowman with his own hand—paralyzed his
And in that unguarded instant the octopi struck.
From the bow of the enemy submarine, slanting from another of its
peculiar knobs, a narrow beam of violet light poured, cutting a vivid
swathe across the teleview. The huddled men stared at it, not
comprehending what it was. They felt no shock of electricity, nor
could they discern any other harmful effect. The ray held steadily on
their bow, not varying in the slightest, for a full thirty seconds.
And still none of them could feel or see any damage.
Wells, however, gradually became aware that he was bathed in
perspiration, that great streams of sweat were coursing down his
face. A quick glance told him that every member of the crew was the
same way; and then, suddenly, he was conscious of a wave of intense
heat—heat which quickly became terrific. The control room was
Before he could act, the NX-1 slipped sharply to one side. A sharp
hissing sound grew at her bow, climbing steadily to a shriek. Long
streamers of white steam crept along the lower deck and seeped up into
the control room. And then rose the fatal sound of rushing
water—water pouring into the submarine from outside!
For the violet beam was a heat ray—a weapon surface civilizations had
not yet developed. While the NX-1's crew had stared at it in the
teleview, it had melted a hole in their bow.
Immediately the submarine lost trim, and the deck tilted ominously. In
the face of material danger—danger from a source he understood—the
commander became cool and methodical.
"Sea-suits on!" he snapped. "Then forward and break out steel
collision-mat and weld it in place! Every man! You, too, Sparks and
"But—but, sir!" stammered Graham. "Do you want them to get us with
their paralyzing ray?"
"You'd rather drown?" Wells flung back. Silenced, the first officer
donned his sea-suit, and in thirty seconds the rest of the crew had
theirs on and were cluttering clumsily forward.
lone in the control room, Keith battled with the unbalancing flow of
water, maneuvering with all his skill in a futile attempt to keep the
NX-1 on even keel. The men forward worked with great speed, spurred
on by the realization that they were fighting death itself, but even
as they labored the submarine swung in ever increasing rolls and dips;
the great weight of water she had shipped slopped back and forth; her
bow went steadily down. Keith swept her forward tanks clean of water,
always conscious of the immobile, staring octopi submarine in the
teleview, watching them, it seemed, curiously, and not driving home
their advantage with additional bolts of the violet heat ray.
Despite her commander's frantic efforts, the NX-1 fluttered down
remorselessly; the cavern floor rose, and, sinking with them, came the
octopi craft, in slow mockery of a fighting plane pursuing its
stricken foe to the very ground....
She struck bottom with a soft, thudding jar, and settled on even keel.
At once Wells released the helm, jumped into his own sea-suit and
stumbled down to take command.
He found the steel collision-mat in place, and the welding of it
nearly completed. A few feathery trickles of water still seeped
through on each side, but under his terse directions the pumps were
soon draining it out. The weird figures of the crew in their sea-suits
looked like creatures from another planet as they rapidly finished the
"All right—up to the control room, everybody! Fast!" Wells roared.
The men stumbled aft as rapidly as they could in their cumbersome
suits. Several were already on the ladder. A few feet further—
But at that moment the paralyzing ray again stabbed into the ship—and
Keith Wells slumped helplessly to the deck. And as he crumpled, he
glimpsed the grotesque, falling figures of his men, and saw one come
tumbling down the ladder from the control room, where he had almost
eculiar sensations, unendurable thoughts raced through the commander
as he lay there limply. He knew his predicament. He wanted desperately
to rise, to rush to the control room. Time and time again in those
first few moments of impotence he strove mightily to pull his limbs
back to life. But his greatest efforts were barren of result, save to
leave him feeling still weaker. The fate that he had seen strike down
Brown now enmeshed him. He was paralyzed. Helpless. In the midst of
After a moment all sensation left his body. His limbs might not have
existed. Sensation, pain, lived only in his brain—and there it was
terrible, because self-created.
He found himself sprawled flat on his back, his eyes directed stiffly
upward. He could not move them, but out of the corners he vaguely
sensed the other figures around him. Helpless, every one! And who knew
if they would ever come out of the spell! Victory had gone to the
Minutes that seemed like hours passed. And then a well-remembered
voice sounded in the radio earphones in his helmet. It was Hemmy
Bowman, speaking from the enemy ship.
"Keith! Keith Wells! Are you there?" the voice cried. "Keith! What
have they done to you?"
And Keith, he could not answer! He could not answer that troubled
voice of his friend—that voice from a friend he had thought dead.
Again Bowman spoke. "Keith! Can't you hear me? What are they doing to
you? Oh—" For a moment it stopped, then came once more, thick with
anguish. "Oh, God, what's happened?" Then lower: "If only there were
light, so I could see what they're doing...." The voice tapered into
silence. Keith could picture Hemmy, probably bound, giving him up for
hen, quite distinctly, he heard a clank at the NX-1's bow! The
submarine jerked, her bow tilted up—and with increasing speed she
moved forward, silently as a ghost.
Keith thought he knew what that meant. The octopi ship had grasped
them with another of its hawser arms, and was pulling them away. But
where to? One of those mound cities? His brain was a turmoil as he
tried to imagine what was before them. But all he could do was lie
there and wait.
The American craft was towed for perhaps ten minutes—ten ages to her
commander—then coasted slowly to a pause, and with a sharp jar
settled into rest. As she did so, every light in her hull went
It had been bad enough with the lights on, but the darkness was far
worse. The submarine was a tomb—as silent as one, and full of men who
lived and yet were dead. Hemmy Bowman's voice came no more to Wells.
He was alone with his moiling doubts and fears and unanswerable
questions, and he knew that every other man there was alone with them,
As his eyes became partially accustomed to the darkness, he could
distinguish vaguely the forms of the familiar mechanisms above him. A
slight noise grew suddenly and resolved itself into a prolonged
scraping along the outer hull of the submarine. At intervals it paused
and gave way to a series of sharp, definite taps.
Keith realized what those sounds signified: the octopi were striving
to find some entrance to the NX-1! This, he told himself, was the
end. The creatures would break through; water would rush in, and every
man would drown. For the face-shields of their sea-suits were open!
The dull scrapings ran completely around the motionless submarine,
punctuated with the same staccato tappings. By the movement of the
sound, Wells realized the octopi were approaching the lower starboard
exit port. And as they neared that port, the noise abruptly stopped.
Then for some minutes silence fell. Next, the commander heard what was
unmistakably the exit port's water chamber being filled—and a moment
later emptied again. The devilish creatures had solved the puzzle of
the means of entrance!
n the awful darkness the inner door of the port swung open. A slow,
slithering sound came to Wells' ears. He sensed, though he could not
see, the presence of alien creature. An odor struck his nostrils—that
A deliberate something crawled directly across one outstretched arm,
and another across his legs. And above him loomed a monstrous,
complicated shadow, which, after a moment, slowly melted from his line
of vision. Panicky, he strove again to bring his limbs back to life,
but still could not....
Keith knew that in the darkness which their huge unblinking eyes could
penetrate they were inspecting the NX-1's interior, examining the
men stretched on its deck, feeling them with their cold metal-scaled
tentacles. Another complicated shadow crept back over the commander's
line of sight, and from all around rose the slithering, shuffling
tread of the octopi's many tentacles, rasping on the steel flooring.
Sweat from Wells' forehead trickled down and stung his eyes as he lay
in that dark agony. There seemed to be countless investigating
tentacles feeling through the entire submarine. One of them,
iron-hard, suddenly coiled under his armpit and lifted him lightly as
a feather from the deck. Another snaked up and clicked his face-shield
securely shut. Keith heard other clicks, and knew that the shields of
his men were likewise being closed.
The commander was held straight out from the octopus' revolting body,
and as he swung, helpless, he could see that more men were grasped
similarly in other mighty arms. Dangling in the shadow-filled darkness
he was carried slowly to the exit port, and he heard the inner door
swing open, then close again. Water streamed through the valves; it
encompassed him with a feeling of lightness, a feeling of floating, as
he swung at the end of the long metal-sheathed tentacles. A moment
later a soft bluish glow burst on his vision, and he saw that he was
outside. There was a long wait, and when the current next swung him
around he was dismayed to see that every one of the monstrous
creatures near him was dangling on high two or three men of his
helpless crew. The whole outfit was in the power of the devil-fish!
And then their captors moved forward with them on a ghastly march of
But Keith Wells did not know that, crouched behind the instrument
panel in the control room, shivering and sick with fear, was the plump
form of Cook Angus McKegnie, who had just gained it just before the
paralyzing ray had struck.
The Monster with the Armlets of Gold
emingway Bowman's ardent wish, after he was whipped quickly through
the round exit port of the octopi submarine, was for a quick, clean
death. The horror and mystery of his situation had left him with one
conscious emotion, that he was afraid. The worst had been when he was
hauled through the port; when, expecting anything, he had been able to
see nothing in the dark, water-filled mystery ship.
Deliberate tentacles had stroked over every inch of his
body—tentacles that were not metal-scaled, as had been the arms of
the creature that captured him. It was then that he guessed the true
purpose of the metal suits the octopi wore—to protect their bodies
against the lesser pressure near the surface of the sea. Inside the
submarine they did not need them. He decided that the ship was used
for rapidly transporting large numbers of the octopi to distant
regions, and also for a weapon of offense and defense. The
intelligence of the cuttlefish astounded him.
Keith had got away. At least he knew that, and he thanked God for it.
His bold stroke had not been in vain, his sacrifice not useless.
After the inspection of the tentacles, Hemmy had been shoved to a
corner of the octopi submarine. He had felt cords wrapped around his
body. After being thus secured, he was left to himself. He was utterly
alone, except for strange, vague shadows that floated through the
darkness—shadows that heated his brain as he realized how many of
the devil-fish there were.
Hours that seemed like endless days passed.
Bowman concluded that the submarine had gone straight through the
cavern and emerged finally into what seemed to be another sea. Dead
silence filled the ship. What was happening, he could only guess. The
craft seemed to run on forever. Never once did tentacles brush or
inspect him again.
inally the ship stopped, and a great round door opened in one wall.
By the soft bluish glow that seeped in Hemmy caught a glimpse of his
surroundings, and his gorge rose at the sight. The ship was literally
filled with a slowly waving forest of long black tentacles. Weird
instruments, unlike anything he had ever seen, were grouped around the
walls, and before them attendant octopi poised, their hideous eyes
fixed and steady. There were no dividing decks as in the NX-1; the
craft was one huge shell.
Then came furious activity. The door fell shut again, and the ship
shot off at great speed. Hemmy felt sure that they were advancing to
again attack the NX-1, and at once began to try to reach his
comrades through radiophone. He knew that Wells would come back.
Finally he caught a human voice, and heard the NX-1's radio operator
shout to the commander that he, Bowman, was alive and calling. But
when he tried to speak further, the American craft's radio was silent.
And then, in the octopi submarine, had come a soft glow of violet....
Was it a more deadly weapon than the paralyzing ray? In great suspense
the prisoner waited. Silence—silence! Horrible doubts beset his mind.
Was Keith refraining from firing his torpedoes because he, Bowman, was
on board the enemy boat? The thought stung him. He tried desperately
again to reach Wells; but there was no answer. Were the Americans
Age-long minutes passed. Then the exit port opened and several
metal-clad octopi swam out. Hemmy had a glimpse of the NX-1 lying
silent and apparently lifeless on the sea-floor, a gaping hole in her
As if to taunt him with the sight, the creatures left the round door
open, and presently Bowman beheld the octopi open the NX-1's
starboard exit port and enter. Later the port swung open again, and he
saw the monsters emerge, each gripping several men clad in yellow
sea-suits! That they were dead, or victims of the ray, was obvious
from the way they limply dangled.
The exit port closed, and darkness filled the octopi ship. Hemmy
Bowman panted with the futile effort to break his bonds.
"You devils!" he yelled in blind rage, exhausted. "Why don't you take
me with them? Take me! Take me, damn your stinking hides!"
hen Keith Wells was taken from the silent NX-1, a host of
astounding impressions swarmed his brain. Swinging lightly at the end
of his captor's tentacle, he strove as best he could, with eyes
rigidly fixed straight ahead, to grasp his new surroundings. He had,
first, one flash of the octopi ship lying quite close to them, its
hulk, as always, immobile and apparently lifeless. And inside it, he
was sure, was his friend and first officer, Hemmy Bowman—a captive.
He saw that the octopi submarine had towed the NX-1 into one of the
weird mound cities. His own ship was lying in what seemed a kind of
public square, and crowds of black octopi were swarming around it as
he and his crew were brought out. Shooting straight off the square ran
one of the wide streets he had previously seen from above, and on each
side the brown mound-buildings rose. Their details were hazy, because
of the cuttlefish inhabitants who swam thickly in front of them.
His captors started their march down this broad street. Great crowds
of reddish-colored octopi clustered on each side of it; other swarms
hung almost motionless—except for their constantly writhing
tentacles—above, so that their line of progress was through what
resembled a restless, living tunnel of repulsive black flesh, snaky
arms and huge, unblinking eyes. Keith felt faint from the horror of
it. Thousands of the monsters were there, all hanging in the soft,
blue-glowing water; and occasionally, as he floated almost
horizontally in his captor's firm grip, his legs would brush the wall
of clammy flesh; or perhaps one of the tentacles would reach out as if
to touch him.
The octopus that held him swam some five feet off the street bed
itself; at intervals the thick swarm on either side would part for a
second, and Keith could glimpse the huge mound-buildings, ever growing
larger, with round entrance holes dotted all over their smooth
surface, above as well as the sides.
The march was ghastly. Their captors were taking them through the
heart of the water-metropolis; displaying their human captives as did
the Caesars in Roman triumphs of old!
he swarming crowds of tentacled monsters grew thicker as they
progressed, and their tentacles began to whip more quickly, as if
anger was burning in their loathsome bodies. Keith noted the menace of
their sharp-beaked jaws, and the sickening sucker-discs on the livid
under-side of the tentacles. As far as he could see, the swarms fell
in behind the procession after it had passed. Following them—where?
Just as Wells felt himself on the verge of fainting, the procession
turned to the right and entered the largest mound-building of all, a
vast dome rising in the very center of the octopi metropolis. They
continued through a corridor perhaps twenty feet high, from which at
intervals other corridors branched. Held by one arm, and ever and
again turning helplessly over in his horizontal transit, Keith caught
glimpses of walls covered with intricate designs on a basic
eight-armed motif—designs of artistic value, that gave evidence of
culture and civilization.
The passage ended as suddenly as it had begun, and they came into the
main body of a gigantic building.
The commander could hardly credit his eyes. The place resembled a
stadium, and was so vast that he felt dwarfed to nothingness. The
domed roof soared far above in misty bluish light. On the floor,
exactly beneath the center of the great dome, was a raised platform,
and on it a dais resembling a very wide throne. Around the dais a
score or more of octopi—officials, Keith supposed—were grouped.
Rapidly the creatures following the procession swam into the chamber.
Monstrously large as the place was, the floor soon was filled with the
thick flood of cuttlefish which swarmed in from many doors. Keith,
held with the other captives just to one side of the hole he had
entered by, began to think that they must soon refuse to let any more
in—when, to his surprise, he saw the latest arrivals begin to form a
gallery twenty feet above those on the ground floor, and, when this
was extended far back and completely filled, start yet another above
it—and another, and another.... In ten minutes the mighty hall was
crowded with countless layers of the cold-eyed monsters, each layer
angling up from the central dais so that all could see.
"God!" the commander thought. "Nothing but solidly-packed devil-fish
all the way to the dome! A slaughter pit! And we, of course, are to be
inutes passed. The throne was still empty, and the thousands in the
amphitheater seemed waiting for an occupant. Keith wished he was able
to close his eyes. The restless, never-ceasing weaving of the
countless tentacles in the levels above made the scene a nightmare.
Some waved slowly, others whipped excitedly, but never for an instant
did one pause. The movements were like the never-ceasing shifting and
swaying of the trunks and feet of elephants; in the dim glow the huge
chamber seemed to be filled with one fantastic, million-tentacled
monster that stared with its thousand eyes down on the forlorn group
of puny human beings....
As if at a command the arms of the octopi on the platform suddenly
began to weave in perfect unison in some weird ceremony. First they
swayed out towards the waiting captives, then they swerved slowly to
the empty throne. Then came a few quick, excited whippings; and once
more the long arms reached out at the small group at the entrance.
This went on for some minutes. Then, very suddenly, a creature swam up
from what must have been an opening in the floor onto the dais-throne.
Keith saw it well.
It was an octopus, a giant amongst octopi, and Wells knew at once it
was the ruler of the realm, the lord and master of the swarming
galleries and the cities of mound-buildings.
It was larger than its fellows by a full three feet. And, encircling
each great tentacle just where it joined the central mass of flesh,
was a broad, glittering band of polished gold—eight thick armlets
that ringed the creature's revolting head-body with a circle of
gleaming pagan splendor. Keith could almost fancy that a certain royal
air hung over the monster.
The huge, unblinking eyes of the king stared at the horror-frozen
captives. One long tentacle lifted slowly upward, and their captors at
once started towards the throne with them. The score of octopi on each
side stilled their weaving arms. A battery of emotionless eyes drilled
into Wells' paralyzed body. He felt faint. Unquestionably the horrible
ceremony was leading up to some form of cold-blooded sacrifice....
he monarch stretched a mighty arm towards Keith, and, as in a dream,
he felt himself lifted out of his guard's grasp. The snakelike
tentacle gripped him about the waist, and held him dangling like a
puppet twenty feet in the water while the two deadly eyes stared
steadily at him. He was brought closer, until the hideous central
mass, with its cruel beaked jaw and ink sac hanging behind, was no
more than a foot away.
Then another arm stroked slowly along the commander's helpless body.
Once or twice it prodded sharply, and Wells felt a surge of fear, for
his sea-suit might break. Deliberately the prying tentacle moved over
him, delicately feeling his helmet, his weighted feet, his legs.
Keith Wells grew angry. He was being inspected like a trapped monkey!
He, commander of the NX-1, representative of one of the world's
mightiest nations—prodded and stared at by this fish, this octopus! A
great rage suffused him, and with a terrific effort he tried to jab
his arms into one of those devilish eyes. But try as he might, his
body would not respond. He could not move a finger.
For a long time the loathsome inspection continued, until the
monstrous king seemed satisfied. Wells was handed back. There followed
an interminable period in which nothing whatever was done, as far as
he could see. He was sure that they must be talking, debating, but no
sound reached his ears through the tight helmet. All the time the
endless motion in the swarming levels above went on. It became hazy,
dreamlike, and in spite of himself the commander began to feel drowsy.
The weaving and swaying was producing a hypnotic effect. At last the
desire to sleep grew overpowering.
Wells and his men were more than half unconscious when their original
captors finally pulled them back from the royal presence and began a
humble retreat from the throne room. Slowly they backed to the
entrance. Keith's last drowsy glimpse was of a grotesque, gold-ringed
monster on a throne, with a score of smaller tentacled creatures
around him, and a vast haze of weaving tentacles and unblinking eyes
They passed from the huge chamber. The commander felt delirious, as in
a nightmare, but he knew that they were again in the long corridor,
and that their captors were taking them further into the mighty
building, further from the street outside. He glimpsed great rooms
branching off the corridor, and swarms of black octopi inside them.
The light became fainter; and at last the procession turned into a
separate, rough-walled chamber, dimly lit and empty.
Wells felt the grip around his arm loosen, and he floated limply to
the floor among his men. He slept....
The Glass Bell Jar
eith awoke hours later.
Slowly he became conscious of a cramped, stiff body, of a dull pain
racking his head. He stretched out his limbs—and, suddenly, realized
he could move.
Remembering the paralyzing ray that had struck him down, and half
afraid that his senses were tricking him, he kicked his left leg out.
It moved with its old vigor. He quickly found that his strength had
returned, that he could feel and move. The effect of the ray had worn
With a glow of new hope he rose to his feet and exercised numb
muscles. Looking around, he saw the other men still stretched out on
the floor of their rough-walled, watery prison. He called into his
"Graham! Graham, wake up!" A grotesque figure stirred among its
fellows; turned over. "It's Wells, Graham," Keith continued. "Get up;
you can, now!" And he watched the form of his big first officer
stretch out and finally rise, while stupid, sleepy sounds came to his
"Why—why; the paralysis is gone!" Graham said at length.
"Yes, but maybe the octopi don't know it. Rouse the other men at once,
and we'll see what we can do."
It was weird, the sight of the lifeless figures of the men stirring to
life in the dim-lit water as Graham shook each one's shoulder. The
radiophones buzzed and clicked with their excited comments and
ejaculations. Keith felt much better. With his men restored to
strength, and clustered in a determined, hard-fighting mass, he saw a
hope of breaking out and regaining the NX-1.
He let them exercise as he had for some minutes, then proceeded to a
brisk roll-call. There should be fifteen men and two officers. Rapidly
Graham ran over the names, and each time a voice rang back in
reply—until he came to the cook.
"McKegnie?... Cook McKegnie?"
There was no answer. Wells stared around the group of dim figures and
himself called the name again. But McKegnie was not present. And as
the commander and his men realized it the numbing spell of their
desperate position settled down on them again like a shroud.
Keith shook off the mood. "Well," he muttered, "I guess the devils got
him. Poor McKegnie's seen the wheels go round for the last time....
All right: take command, Graham. I'm going to do a little
he round entrance hole was some fifteen feet from him, at the far end
of the cell. Keith advanced cautiously to it, the peculiar light
feeling the water gave him making his steps uncertain. The dim blue
illumination made the details of the corridor outside hazy, shadowy,
but it seemed to be empty. Peering out, Wells could sight no guarding
octopi. He edged closer and stared down to the left. Twenty feet away
the vague light tapered into darker gloom, filled with thick, wavering
shadows; but it was apparently devoid of tentacles. He wondered if
the octopi were unaware that the effects of their ray had worn off,
and peeped cautiously around the edge to the right.
Immediately a long arm whipped out, grasped him around the waist and
flung him twisting and turning back into the chamber. Graham
laboriously made his way to the commander and helped him to his feet.
"Hurt, sir?" he asked anxiously.
"No," Keith gasped. "But that devil—"
He stopped short. The first officer turned and followed his
The entrance hole of the cell had filled with a monstrous shape. A
huge octopus was resting there, its unblinking eyes coldly surveying
the crew of the NX-1. On each of its thick tentacles was a broad
band of polished gold. It was the king, the same creature that had
inspected them from the throne-dais a few hours before. And behind him
in the corridor the men glimpsed another octopus.
Slowly the ruler of the octopi swam into the chamber. Its great eyes
centered icily on Keith Wells, standing at the head of his cowering
men; and its mighty tentacles waved slowly, gracefully, as if the
creature stood in doubt. One of them tentatively reached out and
hovered over their heads, moving uncertainly back and forth. Then,
like a monstrous water snake, the tentacle poised, flicked out and
plucked a man from his comrades.
His shriek of terror rasped in their earphones. "Steady, men!" Keith
cried. "It's hopeless to try and fight them! The monster just wants to
look him over!"
he man—Williams, a petty officer—was dangled by the armpit in
mid-water and made to slowly revolve. The tip of another huge arm
snaked out and for some seconds stroked his body, probing curiously.
He panted with fright, and in their earphones his friends could hear
his every tortured exhalation. Anxiously, Keith watched. Then,
without warning, another tentacle darted up, fastened its tip on the
breast of the captive's sea-suit, and deliberately ripped it open.
The doomed man's last scream rang in their helmets as the water poured
into his suit. They saw him writhe and struggle desperately in the
remorseless grip which held him. The two huge eyes of the cuttlefish
surveyed his death throes minutely; watched his agonized struggles
gradually weaken; watched his legs and arms relax, his head sink
lower.... And then the tentacle let a lifeless body float to the
Jennerby, a huge engineer, went completely mad. "I'll get him, the
devil!" he yelled, and before Keith could command him to stay back,
had flung himself onto the giant king.
Death came as a mere matter of course. Without apparent effort, the
monarch ripped off Jennerby's helmet and sent him spinning back. The
man's body writhed and shuddered, and in a moment another stark white
face showed where death had struck....
Trembling, sick at heart, the commander yet had to think of his men.
"For God's sake," he cautioned them, "keep back. Don't try to fight
now; we've got to wait our chance! Steady. Steady...."
The king's deliberate tentacle again began its slow weaving. It was
choosing another victim. And this time it darted straight out at Keith
Wells and gripped him with a mighty clutch about the waist.
The commander did not cry out. As he was brought close to the staring
eyes, and felt their sinister gaze run over him, it flashed through
him for some obscure reason that the monster knew him for what he was,
the leader, from the tiny bars on each shoulder of his sea-suit.... He
waited for the tentacles to rip it open.
But they did not. Instead, the creature turned and swiftly swam with
him out through the entrance hole.
hey went to the left in the corridor, further into the heart of the
building. The bluish light became stronger. As Keith twisted in the
giant monarch's grip he glimpsed the other octopus following with the
two dead men. He saved his strength knowing it was hopeless just then
to try and struggle free.
Quick as was his passage, he noticed that the walls of the corridor
were covered with intricate designs, in bas-relief, and colored. He
passed row after row of mural paintings of octopi in various
activities, and guessed that they represented the race's history. One
was obviously a scene of battle, with a tentacled army locked in
combat with another strange horde of fishlike creatures; a second
showed the construction of the queer mound-buildings on the sea-floor,
with scores of monsters hauling great chunks of material into place,
and another pictured the huge audience chamber, with a gold-banded
king motionless on his throne.
As the king drew him rapidly along, he had a glimpse through a
circular doorway of a large room, inside which were clustered the
black shapes of thousands of baby octopi, tended by what were
evidently nurses. Other such rooms were passed, and the young
commander's brain whirled as he tried to measure the size and progress
of this undersea civilization. Perhaps the race of octopi was growing,
reaching out; needed new room to colonize. That would explain why
their submarine had been sent through the tunnel....
A voice sounded in his ears:
"Keith? Are you all right?" It was Graham, calling from the cell
"So far," Wells assured him. "I'll keep in touch, and let you know
At that moment, his captor carried him into a large chamber at the end
of the corridor. He looked around, and decided it was a laboratory. He
beheld strange instruments, anatomical charts of octopi on the walls
and, in one corner, a small jar of glass, in which a dull flame was
burning. Many-shaped keen-bladed knives lay on various low tables, and
thin, wicked-looking prongs and pincers.
"I'm in their experimental laboratory, Graham," Wells spoke into the
mouthpiece of his tiny radio. And then his roving eyes saw something
that made him audibly gasp.
"What's the matter, Keith?" came the first officer's anxious voice.
After a moment the commander answered. "It's—it's a pile of human
bodies. The bodies of those fishermen. They—they've been
experimenting on them...."
as he, too, Wells wondered, to be experimented on? The sight of that
stacked pile of bodies chilled him with horror. He kept his eyes from
them, till the octopus with the golden bands swung him through a
hinged door in the farther wall.
He found himself in a side room, smaller than the outer chamber, the
whole center of which was occupied by a huge glass bell jar, some
thirty feet in diameter. Inside it was much strange-looking apparatus
on tables, and trays of operating instruments—knives like those in
the outer room, and the same thin prongs. The great jar was empty of
water, and on one side was an entrance port.
The king tossed Keith into a corner and quickly donned a metal-scaled
water-suit. When he had it all on, and the glass body-container
fastened into place, he picked up his captive again and advanced
through the bell jar's entrance port into a small water chamber. A
moment later Wells felt his body grow heavy as the water of the
compartment ran out, and then there was a click and he found himself
inside the jar, still held in the merciless grip of a tentacle.
He twisted around to find the cold eyes of the octopus staring at him
only a foot away. And as he wondered what was going to happen next,
the king unfastened the glass face-shield of the commander's sea-suit
with a quick flip of the tip of a tentacle.
Keith's arms were pinned to his sides; he could not move to try to
refasten the face-shield. Fearful, he held his breath; held it until
his face was purple and his lungs were near to bursting. But at last
the limit was reached, and with a great wrench he sucked in a full
It was clean, fresh air!
he air was like a breath of his own world brought down to this cold
realm of octopi. Once he had caught up with his breathing it poured
new life into his limbs, jaded from the artificial air of the
sea-suit. Keith felt his muscles respond, felt his whole body glow
with new strength and life. Twelve inches away the king was watching
his every reaction closely through the huge helmet of glass. The
thought passed through the commander's mind that he was not only king,
but chief scientist of this strange water civilization.
Then, while his lungs swallowed hungrily the good, fresh air, several
tentacles began to feel around him in an attempt to unfasten the rest
of his sea-suit.
Wells blanched at the sudden realization of how helpless he would be
if the suit were taken from him. He would then not only be a prisoner
of the octopi, but a prisoner of the glass jar, unable ever to leave
it, and more than ever at the mercy of his captor's least whim. Not
that he had any delusion that he would live long in any case: it was
just the simple strong instinct of self-preservation that made him
grab at every chance for life.
This thought flashed through his mind, even while the octopus was
fumbling with the catches of his suit. And along with it was born a
desperate plan of escape. He was in his own element, air; the octopus
out of his. If he could crack the glass of the king's helmet, and let
the water out and air in!... The glass was only twelve inches away.
The commander stopped his resistance, and at the same time felt about
with his legs until he had them well braced against a lower tentacle.
He pushed gently, and came a few inches nearer the glass; a little
more. Then, with a quick, strong jerk of his body he crashed the steel
frame of his helmet square against the cuttlefish's sheathing of
The creature was taken wholly by surprise. Tentacles whipped out to
tear the rash human quickly away—but not before Keith had pounded
again, and heard the splinter of smashed glass! He had jabbed a hole
in the glass body-piece, and already the life-giving water was pouring
Panic seized the king, and he became a nightmare of tortured
tentacles. Wells was flung wildly away and fetched up against the side
of the jar with a crash that for a second stunned him. More and more
water poured from the octopus' suit, and air at once rushed in to take
its place. The creature's great eyes became filmy, while the revolting
spidery body slewed here and there across the jar, all the time
whipping and thrashing at the strangling air. Keith scurried from side
to side, trying to keep out of reach of the crazy, writhing tentacles.
Once a glancing blow knocked him flat, but the monster was altogether
unconscious of him and he got away.
Little by little the terrific whipping and coiling of the tentacles
quieted down. The drowning king lay in one place now; its loathsome
red body, no longer protected by glass, turned bluish. Keith thrilled
with elation at his victory.
And then, for the first time, he noticed that there was a full three
inches of water on the floor—far too much to spill from the king's
suit. A quick look around showed him where it came from. There was a
long crack in the side of the glass jar, at the place where he had
been crashed against it—and water was pouring in!
Keith flung himself against the crack, jammed his arm into the
broadest part of the leak. But still the water rushed in. The octopus
was in its death throes, weakening steadily—but just as steadily the
water poured in and rose up the sides of its body. In a flash Wells
saw that the liquid would win the race to cover it and allow the
monster to resume breathing.
"Oh, damn it!" he cursed fervently. "Now I've got to run for it!"
e stumbled to the port, snapping shut his face-shield as he went. In
a moment he had solved the working of the mechanism and was in the
water chamber, then outside in the room itself. Fortunately his
sea-suit was unhurt. He thanked heaven for that as he tore away a
boardlike piece of apparatus and jammed it over the leak in the jar.
Keith paused a moment to plan. The king of the octopi was still
writhing in ever weakening struggles, but the water was halfway up his
body. "It'll cover him soon," thought the commander, "and then it's a
question how long it'll take him to come to. I've got to move
fast—slip out into the corridor and run the gauntlet back to the
men." His eyes rested on a large knife, and he appropriated it, since
he saw nothing else he might use.
For the first time since the beginning of the fight he answered the
questions and exclamations that had constantly sounded in his ears
from the distant crew. Tersely he told them what had happened, and of
the gauntlet he had to run.
"Make ready for a dash to the NX-1," he finished. "It's now or
never. Wait three minutes for me, and if I don't make it, go ahead
anyway. Remember—three minutes. This is an order. So long, fellows!"
He shut his ears to the bedlam of comment that followed. His knife
ready, he took a few steps to the door and pushed out—right into the
tentacles of a waiting octopus.
is knife was useless. While locked motionless by three arms of his
captor, another streaked out and wrenched it from his hand. Once again
Keith was absolutely helpless.
Great confusion resulted in the laboratory. The commander heard no
sound, but the guard must have called, for five more octopi darted
rapidly out of an adjoining room. Their tentacles writhing in great
excitement, they swam past and into the inner chamber to the rescue of
their nearly drowned king.
The devil-fish that held Wells almost crushed him to death in its
excitement. It was obviously undecided what to do; but finally it sped
him down the passageway and cast him back inside the cell with his
men. Then it quickly retreated.
The commander staggered to his feet and faced Graham and the others.
"A miracle!" he gasped; "I'll tell you later. But now we've got to
make our break. The king's out, and we've got to get away before they
bring him to. There's nothing to do but rush the door. It means sure
death for half of us, and probably for all—but God help us if the
king catches us!"
He paused and surveyed them keenly. "Everybody with me?" he asked. And
not one man held back his answer.
Wells smiled a little. "Good!" he said.
here were twelve men and two officers. There were thousands of
octopi. On the face of it, their chances seemed hopeless. Not for a
second did Keith count on getting many men to the NX-1. But he knew
where the submarine was, and he had to try.
Tersely he gave them final instructions.
"This corridor leads to the main entrance. That is, to the
right—understand? Then straight down the street outside, to the left,
is the square where they towed the NX-1. I'd say it was a hundred
"There's one guard outside. Graham, you and half the men to the right
of the door. I'll take the rest to the left. Our only chance is to try
and destroy the octopus' eyes."
His mind cast about desperately for some form of weapon. The only
detachable thing on their sea-suits was the small helmet-light, a
thing, Keith told himself, without possible offensive use. Still, the
beams would enable them to more clearly see their path and keep
together, so he ordered them in hand.
The men were grouped and alert. The moment had come.
"Remember," he said, "—its eyes. Then stick together and run like
hell. All right—good luck—and let's go!"
Awkwardly, stumbling clumsily in the retarding water, the small group
surged through the door. Immediately a black shape pounced upon them
from the clustered shadows—the guarding octopus.
Its tentacles seemed to be everywhere. In seconds five men were
clutched in its awful grip, their fists rising and falling impotently
as the hideous arms constricted and crushed them inward. Keith, free
of the clasp, yelled: "The eyes! The eyes! Put out its eyes!"
or answer, a yellow arm clutching a helmet-light broke through the
grotesquely milling mass and struck at the cuttlefish's great pools of
eyes. It missed, but the switch flicked on, and there stabbed through
the gloom a broad, glaringly white ray.
Its effect was astounding. The beam smote the octopus squarely in its
huge eyes, and immediately the creature shuddered; writhed with pain.
The tentacles released the men—and the monster fled back into the
A shout from the men roared in the commander's earphones. "They can't
stand the light!" he cried. "Thank God! Beams on, everyone! Flash 'em
in their eyes! Forward!"
Fourteen shafts of eye-dazzling light forked through the corridor.
The tiny company, beating their path with criss-crossing shafts of
white, forged ahead. They thrashed the shadows with their beams,
probing each inch of water—clearing their way even as a tank hoses
machine-gun bullets before its clumsy body. Their former slender
chance grew; they filled with hope.
Another swarm of devil-fish, long arms whipping before them, raced
from branching corridors and bore down on the company of humans. The
men were ready, and fourteen tongues of white met them squarely. They
faltered; the weight of their fellows behind shoved them on; but the
rays steadied, and the front row of octopi broke in panic. The others
at once followed in wild retreat.
"Keep together, men!" Keith ordered sharply. "One beam to each
octopus—straight in its eyes till it retreats! Forward!"
hey pressed on. The octopi, with eyes used only to the soft blue glow
of the cavern, could not stand against the brilliant rays. Keith
leading, the NX-1's crew stumbled out into the street.
They faltered a moment when they saw each entrance hole of the
mound-buildings shooting out streams of octopi. Hundreds were in sight
already. The whole city was evidently alarmed. Wells at once formed
his men in a circle, so their beams would guard them on every side and
above. Apparently the octopi could not approach within thirty feet of
them, and even at that distance they turned and fled, writhing with
pain, whenever a shaft of light struck full in their eyes.
"The square's just ahead!" the commander roared. "One last rush, now,
and we'll reach the submarine! Stick close; keep your arms locked; and
watch out above!"
The circle of men narrowed. The rays gave their tiny cluster the
appearance of a monster even more fantastic than those moiling around
them—a monster with long straight tentacles of glaring white. They
stumbled forward through the magically parting ranks of black octopi.
The beams kept the creatures back; they were helpless before them.
Foot by foot under the inverted bowl of threshing tentacles the
NX-1's crew lumbered ahead. The street at last ceased; the wide
square opened before them.
"We're here!" Wells yelled exultantly. "This is the—"
His voice fell into abrupt silence. He stared around the square, and
his heart went cold indeed. They had reached the right place, but it
The NX-1 was not there!
Cook, the Navigator
hrough all these hours, one man had remained on the NX-1, and that
man was, to put it mildly, scared to death.
Cook Angus McKegnie had been nearest the connecting ladder when Keith
Wells roared out the command to retreat above, and his desire to
regain a place of safety was so earnest that he made the control room
in record time. At once he had felt the tingle of the paralyzing ray.
Struck by a horrible thought, he ventured to peer down the ladder—and
groaned to see the figures of his comrades, all lying limply on the
deck. His portly frame quivered like jelly as realization came to him
that he was the only one who had escaped the ray.
Heroic ideas of saving the submarine, of rescuing the men below,
flashed wildly through his head. But only for a moment. On second
thought, he felt he ought to hide. So, in the tomblike silence that
had fallen, the two-hundred-and-twenty-pound McKegnie wormed a way
behind an instrument panel, effecting the journey by vigorous shoves
of his stomach. It was minutes later that he first noticed that some
sharp jutting object was jutting deep into his ample paunch, but he
could do nothing to remedy it. He was hidden, anyway, and he was going
to stay hidden!
The cook felt the NX-1 being towed forward. Then, after a dreadful
wait, he heard queer noises down below, and was positive the exit
ports had opened. The snakelike slithering and shuffling which
followed would mean that the enemy was inside the NX-1. The thought
brought St. Vitus' dance to his limbs, and, try as he might, he
couldn't still them. Then again the ports opened, the gloomy silence
returned, and Angus McKegnie was alone with his reflections.
fter the first hour he gave voice to them in one simple, bitter
sentence. "Just why the hell," he muttered, "did I ever join the
Navy?" The silence offered no reply, and McKegnie, desperate from his
cramped position, ventured to poke his head around the instrument
panel. The faint emergency lights showed the control room to be empty.
He decided to come out, and did so, worming his way back with great
Once out, the first thing his eyes fell on was the teleview screen.
Now the cook had never seen one of the octopi, and the screen showed
hundreds of monsters clustering around the NX-1. So with unusual
promptness he acted, jamming himself once again into his hiding place.
Maybe, he thought, they had some way in which they could see into the
control room and discover him!
Hours passed. The cook was sopping with sweat. Finally his thoughts
emerged into words.
"I got to get out of here!" he said intensely. "I got to! And I got
to run this submarine!"
The sound of his voice somehow emboldened him. Once more he backed out
of his cranny, and with cautious, trembling steps explored the control
room. He kept his eyes from the teleview, though it had a terrible
fascination for him, and surveyed the NX-1's array of control
instruments. The prospective navigator groaned at the sight.
There were dozens of mysterious wheels, jutting from every possible
angle, squads of black and red-handled levers, whole armies of queer
little stud-buttons and dials. His knowledge of cooking helped him not
at all in the presence of that maze of devices. Timidly he touched one
of the levers, but immediately snatched his hand away as if afraid it
would bite. His boldly announced purpose of running the craft went
n accidental glimpse of the monsters in the teleview suddenly decided
him that he needed a weapon. He hunted frantically through the lockers
and found three service revolvers, which he fastened at his waist,
adding his own carving knife to the arsenal. But he didn't feel much
better. Then, remembering for the first time his sea-suit radio, he
yelled: "Mr. Wells! Mr. Wells! Oh, Mr. Wells, where are you? Can you
hear me?" There was, of course, no answer.
He tried to bring his muddled thoughts and fears to order. "I got to
run this thing," he said doggedly. "Got to! Now, let's see: what the
hell's this thing for?... What the—"
He broke off short, and his eyes went wide. He had heard a noise!
Yes—there it was again! The same peculiar scraping at one of the exit
ports! He glanced fearfully at the teleview. "Oh, Lord!" he yelped.
"They're comin' in to get me!"
He started to dive back behind the instrument panel, but stopped, drew
two guns, and in an agonized muddle trotted back and forth for a
moment, waving them. Another look at the screen showed that an exit
port was open, admitting two metal-scaled octopi. McKegnie couldn't
stand it any longer: he wedged himself behind his panel again. Soon
sounds of the metal tentacles on the deck below told him that one of
the creatures was coming up the ramp—then slithering into the control
room itself. The cook was a lather of cold perspiration.
For a few minutes there was silence. The octopus was apparently
surveying this new part of the submarine. Then, without warning, the
tip of a metal-scaled tentacle felt around the panel and crept,
exploring, up Angus McKegnie's leg—which leg was again suddenly
afflicted with St. Vitus' dance. The tentacles coiled, pulled
hard—and the cook with a yowl was yanked out into the room.
angling upside down, high in the air, he submitted to the fishy stare
of the great eyes under the sheathing of glass. But soon he started to
squirm, and his violent contortions brought a rush of blood to his
head, making him quite dizzy. It was while he was in that state that
things started to happen.
First, a great roar rolled through the NX-1, and McKegnie found
himself flat on the floor with his breath knocked out. Then, while
this was registering on his mind, he discovered himself the center of
a madly milling set of tentacles, and instinctively scrambled out of
the way. From a distance he saw that the tentacles belonged to the
octopus that had held him, and that their coilings and threshings were
gradually dying down, until only a quiver ran through them from time
to time. While McKegnie was trying to figure this all out he noticed
that the monster's glass sheeting was shattered, that it lay in a pool
of water, and that the odor of burnt powder was in the air. Looking
down he found that he had a gun in his hand. A thin wisp of smoke was
curling from the barrel.
"Gee whiz!" he ejaculated. "Gee whiz!"
As he stood there recovering from his surprise, he heard the other
octopus crawling up the connecting ramp, coming to see what had
befallen its fellow. Preceded by two trembling guns, McKegnie tiptoed
to the ramp and peered down.
From the darkness he saw another complicated mass of metal tentacles
and glass advancing up towards him. Fear smote the cook, and almost
without volition be pointed his guns and pulled the triggers. As
before, a bullet crashed into the great dome of glass, and he watched
a short but terrible death struggle. He had, by himself, slain two
A tremendous elation filled McKegnie—until it occurred to him that
his shots might have been heard outside. At once he ran and looked at
the teleview view screen, and what he saw on its silver surface took
all the triumph abruptly out of him. The octopi outside were darting
about with alarming activity; a whole cluster of them was centered at
the exit port, and, even as the cook stared, the preliminary sounds of
opening it came to his ears.
"Now I got to run this ship!" he groaned.
e peered at the mass of levers and wheels, put out a hand, closed his
eyes, hesitated, and pulled one of them back. Nothing happened.
He tried another. The noise below grew, but still the NX-1 remained
motionless. Desperate, the cook jerked several other levers. The whine
of electric motors surged through the silence; the submarine shuddered
and slewed off to the right, as if trying to dig into the sea-floor.
"I got it started!" he cried. He did something else. The NX-1 stuck
her bow dizzily up and sped into the misty-blue realm above in a
grand, sweeping circle. The sea-floor with its mound-buildings and
swarming octopi fell away behind with a rush.
"There!" muttered the triumphant cook. "But—how did I do it?"
The submarine was rising like a sky-rocket. McKegnie remembered
suddenly that Wells had said the cavern was only a few miles high; he
must now be very near the top. He held his breath while he pushed a
likely looking lever the other way.
He was lucky. The NX-1 capered like a two-year-old, kicked up her
stern and bolted eagerly for the depths once more. Again the floor of
the cavern rushed up at him, again he pulled the potent lever back,
and again the submarine meteored upward.
This procedure went on for some time. McKegnie was only running an
elevator. Was he doomed to dash up and down between floor and ceiling
forever? He gave forth pints of sweat, now and then groaning as the
submarine grazed horribly close to top or bottom. The dead octopus at
his feet slithered limply around on the crazy-angling deck.
"I can't keep this up forever!" the cook said peevishly. "Now, what
the hell's this thing for?"
e turned it, and the NX-1 tilted in one of her dives and raced
forward, midway between ceiling and floor. Her navigator relaxed
slightly. He had found the major controls; at least he had been able
to stop his dizzy game of plunging up and down. Then, just as he was
beginning to wonder where he could go, a large red spot glowed at the
edge of the location chart.
"Oh, Lord!" he cried. "That's the other submarine—an' it's comin'
Evidently it was, for the red spot rapidly approached the green one.
The paralyzing ray tingled, and a moment later the enemy's huge bulk
loomed on the teleview screen, a band of violet light spearing from
one of her jutting knobs.
Frantically McKegnie juggled his levers, and then it was that the
NX-1 really showed what was in her. She emulated, on a grand scale,
a bucking bronco: she stood almost on her nose, and threatened to
describe somersaults; she tried it the other way, on her stern; she
rolled dizzily; she all but looped the loop, and went staggering
around the cavern in great erratic bounds that must have made the
octopi think she was in the hands of a mad-man—which she practically
was. Her designer would have had heart failure.
In the teleview screen the frantic McKegnie would see the octopi
submarine rush erratically by with a flash of its violet heat ray; the
location chart showed the red spot zigzagging drunkenly around the
green one. Each boat made occasional short, crazy darts at the other;
sometimes they would stand approximately still. It was a riotous game
of tag, and McKegnie knew too well that he was "it."
During one brief pause the anguished cook found himself groaning
aloud: "Oh, Mr. Wells, where are you? I can't keep this up! I can't! I
here were still several important-looking controls that were
mysteries to him. But what if he should pull one and open all the exit
ports? He shuddered at the thought.
Things had become nightmarish. The ship was pitted scores of places by
the heat ray. The control room had grown stifling. McKegnie was losing
pounds of flesh, and literally stood in a pool of his own
perspiration. The octopi craft kept doggedly after the NX-1, no
matter how often and effectually the sweating cook's reckless hands
prevented her getting the heat ray home.
For a long time the two ships continued to race up and down. The
NX-1 would plunge, pirouette around the other, and scamper away
towards the ceiling as if enjoying it all hugely, abruptly to forsake
her course and come zooming down once more. She would weave in romping
circles and seem to go utterly crazy as her jumbled navigator pulled
his levers and turned his wheels in a frantic effort to get somewhere.
To get somewhere! Yes—but where?
"Oh, Mr. Wells, where are you?" the harried cook would bleat at
Or, plaintively: "Now, what the hell's this thing for?"
ourteen humans stood at bay on the cold sea-floor, dazed by the
ruthless stroke of ill-luck which had taken the NX-1 from where they
had left it.
"It's gone," whispered Graham over and over in a hopeless tone. Keith
tried to pull himself together. He had to think of his men.
In a second, his whole plan, which had seemed to be approaching
success so rapidly, was smashed by the disappearance of the submarine.
Mechanically he kept his helmet-light playing into the ever-thickening
eyes and tentacles around him, while he scanned the sea-floor nearby.
It was filling more closely than ever with the black, writhing forms
of the cuttlefish. The rays still held them back, but their great bulk
loomed over the small party of humans like a sinister storm cloud.
Soon, in their overwhelming mass, they would crush down, and the
submarine's crew be conquered by sheer force of numbers.
"Look!" Keith cried. "There's where she was lying!"
He pointed out on the floor of the square a deep groove, obviously
made by the hull of the NX-1. Its length and jaggedness seemed to
denote that the submarine had tried to bore into the bed of the cavern
itself. Wells was mystified. If the octopi-ship had towed her away,
she would certainly not have gouged that deep scar on the sea
But he dismissed the strange disappearance from his mind. He had to
work out a plan of action.
"Keep together, men, and follow that scar!" he ordered tersely.
"There's a chance that the NX-1's somewhere further along!"
It was a futile hope, he knew—but there was nothing else. The tiny
group, centered in the inverted bowl of black, writhing tentacles,
hen the octopi struck with another weapon, in an effort to dull the
spearing beams of white. Here and there from the mass of black an even
blacker cloud began to emerge. It quickly settled over the whole
scene, pervading it with a pitchy, clinging darkness that obscured
each man from his neighbor.
"Ink!" cried one of them. It was sepia from the cuttlefish's ink
sacs—the weapon with which these monsters of the underseas blind and
confuse their victims.
"Faster!" the commander roared in answer. "And for heaven's sake, keep
They huddled closer. Under the protecting cloud of ink the mass of
octopi pressed nearer. The struggle became fantastic, unreal, as the
brilliant beams of white bored through the utter blackness searching
for eyes which the men knew were there, yet could not see until their
rays chanced upon them. Snaky shadows milled horribly close to the
little group of bulging yellow figures. Blacker and blacker grew the
water; they could not always see the monsters as they drove them back
on each side. Now and then a bold tentacle actually touched one of
them for a moment before its owner was thrust, blinded, away.
Suddenly the dark cloud cleared a little as the fight moved into an
unseen current. Their range of vision lengthened to ten or twelve
feet; they could dimly sense the looming mass of cuttlefish: and it
was less often that one of the monsters darted forward, daring the
rays of white, and became altogether visible. When this did happen,
half a dozen dazzling beams converged on the octopus' eyes and drove
it back in writhing agony.
The men were the hub of a grotesque cartwheel, whose spokes were
inter-crossing rays of white. They still forged onward along the
groove, but moved more slowly now, and Keith Wells, tired to death,
realized the combat could not go on much longer. Their advance was
useless; a mere jest. The NX-1 had vanished. It would only be a
question of time before their batteries gave out, or the swarms of
octopi crushed in on the struggling crew. Their overwhelming numbers
would tell in the end.... The men were silent, except for the
occasional gasps which came from their laboring lungs.
nd then the king of the octopi appeared.
Keith had been wondering, in the aching turmoil that was his brain,
where the gold-banded monarch was. He knew the monster had been
rescued, and he dreaded coming face to face once more with that huge
form. Now, armlets of glittering yellow suddenly flashed in the thick
of the besieging tentacles, and two great evil eyes glared for a
second at Keith Wells. The commander flung a burst of light at them
and laughed crazily as the monster scurried back. For a few moments
the king was not visible.
"Well, fellows," Wells said, "it won't be long now. His Majesty's back
on the field." He grinned a little through his weary face. "I wonder
what he'll hatch up to combat our helmet-lights? Watch close: he's
The commander did not have long to wonder. The vague wall of tentacles
began retreating deeper into the ink. Keith could not imagine the
reason for it, but held himself taut and ready. His men, likewise
noting the move, unconsciously grouped closer, waiting tensely for
they knew not what.
The king of the octopi had indeed hatched a plan of attack. After a
moment the mass of creatures again became slowly visible, but this
time when the rays shot out they did not hold them back. Could
not—for their eyes were not visible.
"My God!" Wells cried. "They're coming backwards!"
t was so. The octopi—no doubt under their ruler's orders—had turned
themselves around, and now, with eyes directly away from the dazzling
shafts of white, were closing slowly in on the humans from all sides.
The helmet-lights were useless. They could not reach the creatures'
Tentacles coiling, whipping, interweaving, the wall of flesh pressed
in. Death stared the helpless crew of the NX-1 in the face. First
Officer Graham shrugged his shoulders and said tiredly:
"Well, I guess it's all over.... Unless," he added with a feeble
smile, "somebody figures a way to melt us through the sea-floor...."
Keith Wells' face suddenly lit up with an idea. He swung around and
"The hell it's over! We can go up!"
His crew understood at once. "What fools we—" Graham began, but Keith
cut him short.
"Listen," he rapped quickly. "Jam together in one bunch and lock arms
tight. When I give the word, flood your suits with air. We'll go up
like comets; crash right through the devils.... Hurry!... All ready?"
He saw that they were. "Then, together—go!" he commanded.
As one man the crew adjusted their air-controls, bulging the sea-suits
with air. Their weighted feet left the cavern floor at once, and,
locked tightly together, the whole fourteen of them shot like a bullet
to the living ceiling of unsuspecting cuttlefish above.
They hit with a terrific crash. Keith was momentarily stunned by the
force of impact. He felt himself torn away from his men, felt a dozen
tentacles snake over him, and mechanically stabbed out with his
helmet-light. For a moment he was held; then the air and his light
pulled him through, and he broke out through the top.
In his rocketing upward progress the extra oxygen rapidly cleared his
mind. Glancing below he saw a great, dark, many-fingered cloud
dropping rapidly away, and was glad to know that the octopi could not
follow him into the lesser pressures above without their suits. Over
the dark cloud he glimpsed a few scattered pin-points of light—the
helmet-beams of the other men. They were rising as swiftly as he.
"Thank God!" he murmured reverently. "We broke through! We broke
The Return of the Wanderer
ells watched the several helmet-lights shooting upwards and wondered
if they represented all the men that had got safely through the net of
tentacles. Remembering the rocky ceiling they were rapidly
approaching, he ordered the others to reduce speed by discharging air
from their sea-suits. He received no articulate answer.
Although he cut down the rush of his own progress, it was with a jar
that he bounded into the top of the cavern. As he dangled there, he
beheld four light beams hurtling upward; his earphones registered
crash after crash: and then he saw the beams go spinning down into the
gloom again, weaving and crossing fantastically, the shock having
jerked them from their owner's hands. Keith had lost his own
helmet-light below, but peering around he could make out a few vague
forms, bumping and twisting in the current.
"Graham!" the commander called. "Graham, you there?" After a moment
his first officer's voice came thickly back.
"Yes—here. A bit groggy. That crash...." Wells swam clumsily towards
"I guess only a few of us broke through," the commander said slowly.
As the two officers hung at the roof, swinging grotesquely, one by one
the other men came to their senses and reported their presence in the
radiophone. Keith ordered them to cluster around him, and soon eight
weird figures had grouped nearby. After a while they located two
others, which brought their total to ten men and two officers. They
looked a long time, but could not find any more. Two were gone.
eep silence fell over the tiny group. The dark mass of the rocky
ceiling scraped their helmets; below, the bluish waters tapered into a
thick gloom, hiding, miles beneath, the mound-buildings and swarming
One of the men spoke. His words were audible to everyone, and they
voiced the thought in every brain:
"What're we going to do now?"
Keith had no answer. They had escaped the immediate danger, but it was
only a temporary respite. The commander knew it was hopeless to try
and locate the tunnel leading to the outer sea, for they were very
tired, and in their clumsy suits they would be able to swim only a few
rods. Their helmet-lights were gone; they had played their last card.
"They're goin' to find us after a while," the pessimistic voice
continued. "They'll send that submarine of theirs after us—or maybe
they'll come up in their metal suits...."
"Well," Keith replied with forced cheerfulness, "then we'll have to
fight 'em off."
"Why not rip our suits an' end it now—" began another, but Graham's
voice cut in sharply.
"Quiet!" he said. "I heard something!"
The men stilled abruptly. In tense silence their ears strained at the
headphones. Wells asked: "What did you hear?"
"Wait!" Graham interrupted, listening intently. "There it is again!
Listen! Can't you hear it? Why, it sounded like—like—"
Keith concentrated his whole mind on listening, but could catch
nothing at all. He was just about to give up when he caught a faint,
jumbled murmur—the murmur of a human voice.
"My God!" he whispered. The voice, little by little, grew, and Wells
could distinguish words. They formed into a complete sentence. Keith
heard it plainly. It was:
"Now, what the hell's this thing for?"
nmistakably, it was the voice of Cook Angus McKegnie, whom they all
had thought dead.
Amazed, the men of the crew started to jabber. "Quiet!" Wells ordered
sharply. He listened again. McKegnie's voice was growing quickly and
"McKegnie!" the commander cried excitedly. "McKegnie, can you hear
me?" There was no answer. Patiently Wells waited a minute, every
second of which increased the volume of his long-lost cook's
bewildered tones. Again he tried.
"McKegnie! Can you hear me? This is Commander Wells. McKegnie!"
The cook's stammering voice came back:
"Why—why—is that you, Mr. Wells? Did I hear you, Mr. Wells?"
"Yes!" Keith shouted impatiently. "This is Commander Wells! For
heaven's sake, McKegnie, where are you?"
"I don't know, sir!" the cook responded. "Where are you?"
Keith was for the moment perplexed. "But—but, are you a prisoner?" he
questioned. And he could have sworn he heard a distinct note of pride
as the invisible McKegnie replied: "Oh, no, sir! Not yet! These devils
been tryin' their best to get me, but they couldn't! No, sir!"
Wells became more and more puzzled. "Then—but—you're not running the
NX-1, are you?"
McKegnie's voice was much louder now, and growing every second. The
note of pride persisted. "Of course, sir!" he confirmed. "It was kind
of hard at first, with these octopises botherin' me, but I got onto it
pretty quick. That octopis ship chased me with them heat rays for a
long time, but I ain't seen them lately. I guess I kinda tired them
is last words grew louder with a rush, and from the dark depths
beneath a long shape suddenly appeared, hurtling up at the group of
astounded men in a zoom that bade fair to take it straight through the
ceiling. It was the NX-1.
"Dive, man, dive!" Keith yelled. "Cook, pull that black-handled lever
towards you! Yank it back! Yank it back! Quick!" He sighed with relief
as he saw his madly-driven submarine pause, whip its nose downward,
and crash back for the depths from which it had come.
The commander spoke rapidly. "McKegnie, listen: Leave the black lever
halfway, so you'll level out. Straighten your helm. We're only a
little above you; come round in a circle till I tell you to stop."
The NX-1 came out of her dive, and, as the cook evidently shoved her
helm over, went skirting around in a wide, drunken circle, some
thousand feet below her regular crew.
"All right!" Keith shouted. The fear that the octopi submarine would
dart back before he could get aboard his ship was looming in his mind.
"You're at the helm, Cook; there's a wheel right over your head. Spin
it around—oh, my God, there you go again!" He groaned while the
NX-1 went swooping off on a repetition of her crazy circle.
"Sorry, sir," the culinary navigator said thickly. "I guess I got the
"Now!" Wells roared. "Spin that wheel above your head.... That's
right—right—there! Don't touch a thing, Cook! We're coming down."
The submarine had paused directly beneath them, listing slightly to
port. Then began the cautious business of the descent. Under Wells'
rapid orders the men linked arms again and discharged more air from
their sea-suits. Slowly, thin chains of bubbles rising behind them,
they sank towards the dim shape of the NX-1 below. Wells' eyes kept
probing the thick gloom far beneath. Every moment he expected to see
it disgorge a swarm of octopi.
They neared the submarine, and saw numberless pitted spots in her
body, where the heat ray had stabbed for a moment. In their excitement
they missed their level by some feet, but clutching together they
admitted more air and soon rose even with the starboard exit port.
"Swim forward," Keith ordered. "Hurry!" The weird figures groped
clumsily, and very slowly neared the port. The commander, in the van,
at last reached out and gripped its jutting external controls. He
could not work them at first: his hands were numb and awkward.
As he tugged and struggled with them a shout rang in his headphone. It
was McKegnie, scared to death.
"Oh, hurry, Mr. Wells!" he yelled. "Quick! Quick, please! The octopis
ship's comin', sir! The red light's back!"
To the Death
he emergency steadied Keith's fingers. He got the door open and
motioned Graham and six men inside the water chamber. The passage took
but a minute. Then he sent the rest of the crew in, being himself the
last to enter. When the chamber was finally empty, and Wells had
stepped through the inner door onto the lower deck of the NX-1, a
great sigh of relief broke from him. Never before had anything looked
so good as that brilliantly lit deck with its familiar maze of
machinery and bulkheads.
"Thank God," he said simply, and his joy was shared by the whole crew.
A new feeling had come over them. Back home—in their own submarine,
their own element—they had at least a fighting chance with the
octopi. But Keith let them waste no time. He knew that a final,
desperate duel to the death with their foe still was ahead. "Above to
the control room," he ordered. "Fast!"
They lumbered up the connecting ramp. A disheveled, wild-eyed form met
them. Keith couldn't help chuckling as he passed the now much thinner
and paler cook, with the arsenal handy at his waist. On the deck of
the control room lay a huge tentacled body, metal-scaled, with its
dome of glass shattered and its great cold eyes staring unseeingly
away. "I killed him," stammered McKegnie pridefully; "but Mr.
Wells—look at that red light, sir!"
Keith glanced rapidly at the location chart, ripping off his sea-suit
as he did. The fateful red stud was moving swiftly down on the
motionless green one. The men had surrounded McKegnie, laughing and
slapping him on the back, but the commander's terse orders jerked them
abruptly back to action.
"The rectifiers, Graham: clean out this stale air. Sea-suits off; at
emergency posts. Take the helm, Craig; you, Wetherby, trim the ship.
No, no, Cook—keep away from the controls!"
The NX-1 balanced herself; fresh air came rushing in, sweeping out
the stale. Keith stared at the location chart, waiting for the
submarine to be ready. The red light was almost upon them.
"Right!" he roared at last. "Diving rudder controls, Graham! Full
speed for the tunnel!"
t that moment the octopi ship swept into view, its full battery of
offensive weapons flaring forth. The paralyzing ray tingled again and
again over the control room. Someone laughed at its uselessness. The
violet heat ray leveled full at them, but the commander avoided it
with "Port ten, starboard ten! Maintain zigzag course to the tunnel."
He understood the enemy's weapons now; he was throbbing with the
fierce thrill of action. This duel was to be the climax of their whole
adventure. "And, by heaven," he promised, "it's going to be a fight!"
The other craft seemed to realize the NX-1 was now in expert hands.
She raced along to starboard for some minutes, her heat ray trying
vainly to steady on the American's weaving form. Wells wondered if the
king of the octopi was aboard her, in command; he thought perhaps the
ship had postponed her chase of McKegnie to pick him up. "I hope he
is!" the commander breathed, and fingered the torpedo lever. He had
some debts to pay.
The NX-1, engines working smoothly, proceeded on a desperate dash
for the tunnel that led to the outer sea. But the octopi ship
apparently knew what Keith intended, for she abandoned her offensive
rays, changed course a few degrees and slowly but steadily pulled
ahead. "Damn!" Keith exclaimed. "She'll get there before us!"
The dim shape dwindled on the screen, and before long her bulk had
disappeared entirely. Wells then could watch her swift, straight
progress only on the location chart.
en minutes later the funnel-like opening of the tunnel loomed on the
teleview, and squarely in front, blocking it, was the waiting form of
the octopi submarine.
"Quarter speed!" Keith snapped. "Hold her steady, Graham; I'm going to
try a bow torpedo. I think we're beyond their ray."
Sighting his range on the telescopic range-finder, he worked the
NX-1 slowly into position. He noticed that his first officer was
staring oddly at him. He was bothered by the queer look. "What's
wrong?" he asked impatiently.
"But—what about Hemmy Bowman?"
Bowman! In the rush of action and suspense, Keith Wells had completely
forgotten his officer in the enemy submarine. "Oh, God!" he groaned.
The cruel situation that had stayed his hand once before had again
come to falter his course of action. The men were watching him; Graham
had a question in his eyes. They all knew what had to be decided....
Keith shrugged his shoulders hopelessly. It was his greater duty to
destroy the octopi submarine. And yet—
"Fish for Hemmy, Sparks," he ordered. "Craig, keep present distance
from enemy. Full stop."
A moment later the radio operator looked up. "Mr. Bowman on the
phones, sir." With a heavy weight on his heart the commander clipped
on the extension headphones.
"Keith? Keith? Thank God you're alive!" Bowman's voice shook with
gladness. "You're all back on the NX-1, Keith? The whole crew's with
you? Oh, Lord, it's good to hear you again!"
"Yes. We got back all right, Hemmy—a miracle. They've still got you
"Yes.... Keith—you're trying to dodge out of the tunnel, aren't you?"
ells smiled bitterly, and as he paused to frame an answer Bowman
"I want you to blow up this submarine, Keith," he said quickly. "A
favor to me."
He cut Wells short when the commander started to interrupt. "Wait! Let
me finish," he pleaded. "I want to explain. I'd been hoping—but never
mind that.... Keith, a while ago I managed to work loose. I lost my
head completely and tackled these devils. It was a foolish thing to
do; they overcame me, naturally. But, in the struggle, they tore my
"Oh, just a tiny tear, or I wouldn't have lasted till now. But a leak
all the same—in the right leg. Since then I've been gripping the
edges of the fabric as tightly as I can—but I couldn't keep the water
inside this ship from seeping through. It came in slowly at first,
then faster as my hands grew numb. It's up to my neck now, Keith ...
and—it won't be long! I've just a few minutes left...."
The faint words tapered into silence.
"No!" roared Keith in a great rush of emotion. But Hemmy's eager
voice came right back:
"Oh yes, you must! It would be a mercy to kill me, Keith."
There were tears in the commander's eyes. "Are you sure, Hemmy?" he
asked. "Are you sure?"
"Oh, yes. It would be a mercy."
Wells' lips formed a straight grim line. His words squeezed through it
tightly. "All right, Hemmy. Thanks. Thanks. I—I'll go after them now,
old man. I'll try and keep in touch with you through the duel, but
I—I can't promise—"
He could almost see Hemingway Bowman give his old familiar smile as he
"Then so long, Keith!"
ommander Keith Wells studied the teleview screen. The men were half
afraid to look at his strained blanched face.
Repeatedly the violet beam speared through the water, reaching for the
"Turn ship. Line up for stern torpedoes," the commander ordered
harshly. He realized he could not hold his submarine steady to obtain
a perfect sight, for the heat ray needed only thirty seconds to melt
through their shell. He would have to swing the ship slowly about;
and, as the shape of the enemy crossed the hair-lines on the
range-finder, unleash his torpedoes and gamble on hitting the moving
The NX-1 swung around, always maintaining a slight forward motion
and zigzagging constantly to nullify the heat beam. Wells watched the
range-finder closely. The octopi ship slanted downwards, the deadly
violet ray stabbing from her bow. Slowly the black dot that
represented her appeared on the dial, and slowly it dropped towards
the crossed lines that showed the perfect firing point.
Keith grasped the torpedo lever. The NX-1's stern was towards her
target. Dead silence hung in the control room. The NX-1 swung
slightly. The octopi craft appeared directly in the middle of the
Wells pulled back the lever.
The hiss of compressed air sprang from her stern. He had fired two
tubes, his whole stock of stern torpedoes. The pair of dreadful
weapons leaped out and settled on their course. Keith shot his gaze to
The torpedoes missed. Only by feet, but a miss all the same. They
raced on past the octopi submarine and, with a tremendous, ear-numbing
explosion, burst on the wall of the cavern beyond. Both ships reeled
from the shock. Graham swore viciously, but Wells' masklike face
showed no slightest change of expression....
A voice rang in Keith's headphones. "Tough, Keith! Better luck next
time!" Then the commander winced. He simply could not answer Hemmy
Bowman; could not answer that fine, brave voice....
he stern torpedoes were gone. The tubes could not be reloaded, for
the paralyzing ray bound the men to the control room. That left them
two torpedoes in the bow.
The violet heat ray kept fingering hungrily on their outer hull, and
every man knew that the plates were weakening under the steady strain,
which was only lessened by the NX-1's constant zigzagging. The
control room was very hot. Both ships were now a full mile from the
tunnel entrance. Keith plunged the NX-1 down, swung her around, to
bring his bow tubes to bear, and zigzagged upwards.
It was obvious that the octopi craft had been alarmed by the terrific
explosion. They now adopted tactics similar to the American ship's,
and for awhile both submarines circled cautiously, maneuvering for an
"If only we could keep the ship steady!" Graham muttered. "But then
that heat ray'd get us!"
The commander kept his eyes on the teleview. Again and again the
violet shaft pronged at them. The heat grew stifling. Sweat was
pouring from all the men's bodies. Every face was strained and taut.
"Starboard full!" Wells said suddenly. "A little up, Graham!" He had
seen a chance; the octopi craft was slightly above, and in a moment
would pass directly in the line of the bow tubes. The NX-1 stuck her
nose up, swung rapidly to the right. Keith pulled back the firing
lever, releasing one torpedo.
The long messenger of death hurtled straight for the enemy's hull.
They watched its course breathlessly....
"My God!" the first officer groaned. "Could they see it coming?" For
the octopi submarine had swung to one side, neatly dodging the
speeding tube of dynamite.
"One left!" he added bitterly. "One left!"
desperate plan formed in Keith Wells' mind. His last torpedo simply
had to strike the mark; he could take no chances with it. He motioned
the haggard-faced Graham to him.
"There's only one thing left to do," he said quietly. "We've got to
deliberately face that heat ray; chance its puncturing our plates."
"How do you mean, sir?"
"Get in very close, so as to make our last torpedo sure to hit. We've
got to approach the enemy head-on at full speed. We'll corkscrew up to
them until we get within two hundred yards, then go straight forward
for ten or fifteen seconds, giving us the opportunity to sight the
remaining torpedo directly on them. The heat ray may break through
before I fire—but when I do fire it's a sure hit."
The men had heard every word. Quietly Wells ordered:
"Take the torpedo control, Graham. I'll take the helm."
The first officer obeyed without a word. Keith grasped the helm. The
plans were made for their last desperate attempt.
"Right," the commander said shortly. "Here we go."
here had been a taut silence before, but now, knowing that they were
deliberately offering themselves a perfect target for the heat ray in
order to get their last torpedo home, the intensity was almost
unbearable. The men felt like shrieking, jumping—doing anything to
break the awful hush. The air was charged with the same unnameable
something that heralds a typhoon.
Keith Wells was like a white statue at the helm, save for the
betraying trickles of sweat that coursed down his drawn cheeks. His
hands moved the wheel slowly from port to starboard; his eyes bored at
the screen before him. The ship was in command of a man of steel, a
man with but one purpose....
"Up—up," he ordered. "Hold—in trim—full speed forward!"
He had brought the NX-1 directly in line with the octopi ship. And
now the craft leaped forward under full power, while he shot the helm
back and forth ceaselessly. His ship was describing a corkscrewing
motion, weaving straight at the enemy. Grasping her opportunity, the
octopi submarine remained motionless, steadily dousing the approaching
American craft with her silent violet ray and driving the temperature
in the control room to even greater heights.
The distance between them rapidly lessened. Would the plates stand it?
Would the ray melt through the weakened steel before he could fire?
With an effort Keith drove these doubts from his mind ... but he could
not banish a certain dull, steady ache from his consciousness....
he range dwindled. The heat became intolerable. Everyone's clothing
was sopping wet. A man ripped off his shirt, gasping for air. Wells
kept his eyes on the screen, though half-blinded by smarting sweat.
The plates had to give soon, he knew.
The octopi submarine, beam on and dead ahead, began to move to port at
quickly increasing speed. At once Keith stopped swinging the helm, and
the NX-1's corkscrewing motion of protection ceased. And then came
the real test, the gauntlet of seconds.
Right straight into the retreating violet beam they went, at top
speed. They gained rapidly. The heat was furnace-like. The commander,
watching the range-finder, kept moving the helm slightly over. A shaft
of violet heat spanned the two shells of metal. For ten seconds it had
held on the NX-1. The black dot of the enemy craft moved slowly to
exact center on the dial. Fifteen seconds ... twenty ...
Graham jammed the torpedo lever back.
The deck tilted downward. And Wells' white lips formed the words, "So
long, Hemmy!"—and he tore the phones from his head.
Seconds later a titanic explosion sounded through the cavern; echoed
and re-echoed in vasty roars. The American craft's lights went
off—but not before her men had seen, in the teleview, a fire-shot
maelstrom where a moment before the octopi submarine had been.
"We got them!" yelled Graham.
roar of exultation burst from every throat. The men flung their arms
out, jumped, yelled crazily. Faint emergency lights lit the scene.
"Below, at regular posts," Wells ordered. "Reload bow and stern tubes.
Graham, see to the lights." He himself remained at the helm. In a few
moments the submarine had climbed back to the level of the tunnel. At
quarter speed she nosed into the wide entrance, and slowly forged into
the dense, deceptive shadows.
The commander acted mechanically. Again by touch he steered his ship
through the black, ragged cleft. Fifteen minutes after leaving the
cavern of the octopi her bow poked through the weaving kelp into the
free, salty depths of the Atlantic Ocean.
There was one more task to perform, and Wells lost no time in doing
it. When two hundred yards away he halted the NX-1, steadied her and
sighted the stern tubes just above the dark tunnel hole. Quickly he
sent forth two torpedoes.
A huge roar rumbled through the water, whipping the beds of kelp to
mad convulsions. "Turn around," the commander ordered harshly. He
sighted his bow tubes and again let loose a bolt of two torpedoes.
Then he sent the submarine forward, and, through the teleview,
examined what his four weapons had done.
Huge chunks of rock had been tumbled down, completely closing the
"Well," said Graham, "it's over! Finished! They'll never get through
full-throated cheer burst from the men below, a cheer that rang for
minutes as they realized they were free forever of the octopi, of the
cold underwater city, of the clutching tentacles. Graham grinned
"Sound happy—eh?" he chuckled. "Say, Keith, it's good we've got those
two octopi our fighting cook killed. Knapp would never believe our
story without them!"
He stared curiously at his commander. Wells was standing quite still,
facing the teleview screen. A strange, far-away look was in his eyes.
"What's the matter, old man?" the first officer asked, smiling
straight at him. "Aren't you glad we won through?"
"Of course," answered Keith with a tired smile in return.
"But why did you look that way?" Graham persisted. And Keith Wells
"I was just wondering if Hemmy told the truth."