I guess you know the rest of the story, about how that destroyer spotted us and got us and my diary aboard, and towed the rocket to San Francisco. News of the "captured Martian" leaked out, and we all became nine-day wonders until the dismantling of the rocket.
Kroger says he must have dissolved in the water, and wonders what that would do. There are about a thousand of those crystal-scales on a Martian.
So last week we found out, when those red-scaled things began clambering out of the sea on every coastal region on Earth. Kroger tried to explain to me about salinity osmosis and hydrostatic pressure and crystalline life, but in no time at all he lost me.
The point is, bullets won't stop these things, and wherever a crystal falls, a new Martian springs up in a few weeks. It looks like the five of us have abetted an invasion from Mars.
Needless to say, we're no longer heroes.
I haven't heard from Pat or Lloyd for a week. Jones was picked up attacking a candy factory yesterday, and Kroger and I were allowed to sign on for the flight to Venus scheduled within the next few days--because of our experience.
Kroger says there's only enough fuel for a one-way trip. I don't care. I've always wanted to travel with the President.
HELLHOUNDS OF THE COSMOS.
By Clifford D. Simak
Weird are the conditions of the interdimensional struggle faced by Dr. White's ninety-nine men.
The paper had gone to press, graphically describing the latest of the many horrible events which had been enacted upon the Earth in the last six months. The headlines screamed that Six Corners, a little hamlet in Pennsylvania, had been wiped out by the Horror. Another front-page story told of a Terror in the Amazon Valley which had sent the natives down the river in babbling fear. Other stories told of deaths here and there, all attributable to the "Black Horror," as it was called.
The telephone rang.
"Hello," said the editor.
"London calling," came the voice of the operator.
"All right," replied the editor.
He recognized the voice of Terry Masters, special correspondent. His voice came clearly over the transatlantic telephone.
"The Horror is attacking London in force," he said. "There are thousands of them and they have completely surrounded the city. All roads are blocked. The government declared the city under martial rule a quarter of an hour ago and efforts are being made to prepare for resistance against the enemy."
"Just a second," the editor shouted into the transmitter.
He touched a button on his desk and in a moment an answering buzz told him he was in communication with the press-room.
"Stop the presses!" he yelled into the speaking tube. "Get ready for a new front make-up!"
"O.K.," came faintly through the tube, and the editor turned back to the phone.
"Now let's have it," he said, and the voice at the London end of the wire droned on, telling the story that in another half hour was read by a world which shuddered in cold fear even as it scanned the glaring headlines.
"Woods," said the editor of the Press to a reporter, "run over and talk to Dr. Silas White. He phoned me to send someone. Something about this Horror business."
Henry Woods rose from his chair without a word and walked from the office. As he passed the wire machine it was tapping out, with a maddeningly methodical slowness, the story of the fall of London. Only half an hour before it had rapped forth the flashes concerning the attack on Paris and Berlin.
He passed out of the building into a street that was swarming with terrified humanity. Six months of terror, of numerous mysterious deaths, of villages blotted out, had set the world on edge. Now with London in possession of the Horror and Paris and Berlin fighting hopelessly for their lives, the entire population of the world was half insane with fright.
Exhorters on street corners enlarged upon the end of the world, asking that the people prepare for eternity, attributing the Horror to the act of a Supreme Being enraged with the wickedness of the Earth.
Expecting every moment an attack by the Horror, people left their work and gathered in the streets. Traffic, in places, had been blocked for hours and law and order were practically paralyzed. Commerce and transportation were disrupted as fright-ridden people fled from the larger cities, seeking doubtful hiding places in rural districts from the death that stalked the land.
A loudspeaker in front of a music store blared forth the latest news flashes.
"It has been learned," came the measured tones of the announcer, "that all communication with Berlin ceased about ten minutes ago. At Paris all efforts to hold the Horror at bay have been futile. Explosives blow it apart, but have the same effect upon it as explosion has on gas. It flies apart and then reforms again, not always in the same shape as it was before. A new gas, one of the most deadly ever conceived by man, has failed to have any effect on the things. Electric guns and heat guns have absolutely no effect upon them.
"A news flash which has just come in from Rome says that a large number of the Horrors has been sighted north of that city by airmen. It seems they are attacking the capitals of the world first. Word comes from Washington that every known form of defense is being amassed at that city. New York is also preparing...."
Henry Woods fought his way through the crowd which milled in front of the loudspeaker. The hum of excitement was giving away to a silence, the silence of a stunned people, the fearful silence of a populace facing a presence it is unable to understand, an embattled world standing with useless weapons before an incomprehensible enemy.
In despair the reporter looked about for a taxi, but realized, with a groan of resignation, that no taxi could possibly operate in that crowded street. A street car, blocked by the stream of humanity which jostled and elbowed about it, stood still, a defeated thing.
Seemingly the only man with a definite purpose in that whirlpool of terror-stricken men and women, the newspaperman settled down to the serious business of battling his way through the swarming street.
"Before I go to the crux of the matter," said Dr. Silas White, about half an hour later, "let us first review what we know of this so-called Horror. Suppose you tell me exactly what you know of it."
Henry Woods shifted uneasily in his chair. Why didn't the old fool get down to business? The chief would raise hell if this story didn't make the regular edition. He stole a glance at his wrist-watch. There was still almost an hour left. Maybe he could manage it. If the old chap would only snap into it!
"I know no more," he said, "than is common knowledge."
The gimlet eyes of the old white-haired scientist regarded the newspaperman sharply.
"And that is?" he questioned.
There was no way out of it, thought Henry. He'd have to humor the old fellow.
"The Horror," he replied, "appeared on Earth, so far as the knowledge of man is concerned, about six months ago."
Dr. White nodded approvingly.
"You state the facts very aptly," he said.
"When you say 'so far as the knowledge of man is concerned.'"
"Why is that?"
"You will understand in due time. Please proceed."
Vaguely the newspaperman wondered whether he was interviewing the scientist or the scientist interviewing him.
"They were first reported," Woods said, "early this spring. At that time they wiped out a small village in the province of Quebec. All the inhabitants, except a few fugitives, were found dead, killed mysteriously and half eaten, as if by wild beasts. The fugitives were demented, babbling of black shapes that swept down out of the dark forest upon the little town in the small hours of the morning.
"The next that was heard of them was about a week later, when they struck in an isolated rural district in Poland, killing and feeding on the population of several farms. In the next week more villages were wiped out, in practically every country on the face of the Earth. From the hinterlands came tales of murder done at midnight, of men and women horribly mangled, of livestock slaughtered, of buildings crushed as if by some titanic force.
"At first they worked only at night and then, seeming to become bolder and more numerous, attacked in broad daylight."
The newspaperman paused.
"Is that what you want?" he asked.
"That's part of it," replied Dr. White, "but that's not all. What do these Horrors look like?"
"That's more difficult," said Henry. "They have been reported as every conceivable sort of monstrosity. Some are large and others are small. Some take the form of animals, others of birds and reptiles, and some are cast in appalling shapes such as might be snatched out of the horrid imagery of a thing which resided in a world entirely alien to our own."
Dr. White rose from his chair and strode across the room to confront the other.
"Young man," he asked, "do you think it possible the Horror might have come out of a world entirely alien to our own?"
"I don't know," replied Henry. "I know that some of the scientists believe they came from some other planet, perhaps even from some other solar system. I know they are like nothing ever known before on Earth. They are always inky black, something like black tar, you know, sort of sticky-looking, a disgusting sight. The weapons of mankind can't affect them. Explosives are useless and so are projectiles. They wade through poison gas and fiery chemicals and seem to enjoy them. Elaborate electrical barriers have failed. Heat doesn't make them turn a hair."
"And you think they came from some other planet, perhaps some other solar system?"
"I don't know what to think," said Henry. "If they came out of space they must have come in some conveyance, and that would certainly have been sighted, picked up long before it arrived, by our astronomers. If they came in small conveyances, there must have been many of them. If they came in a single conveyance, it would be too large to escape detection. That is, unless--"
"Unless what?" snapped the scientist.
"Unless it traveled at the speed of light. Then it would have been invisible."
"Not only invisible," snorted the old man, "but non-existent."
A question was on the tip of the newspaperman's tongue, but before it could be asked the old man was speaking again, asking a question: "Can you imagine a fourth dimension?"
"No, I can't," said Henry.
"Can you imagine a thing of only two dimensions?"
The scientist smote his palms together.
"Now we're coming to it!" he exclaimed.
Henry Woods regarded the other narrowly. The old man must be turned. What did fourth and second dimensions have to do with the Horror?
"Do you know anything about evolution?" questioned the old man.
"I have a slight understanding of it. It is the process of upward growth, the stairs by which simple organisms climb to become more complex organisms."
Dr. White grunted and asked still another question: "Do you know anything about the theory of the exploding universe? Have you ever noted the tendency of the perfectly balanced to run amuck?"
The reporter rose slowly to his feet.
"Dr. White," he said, "you phoned my paper you had a story for us. I came here to get it, but all you have done is ask me questions. If you can't tell me what you want us to publish, I will say good-day."
The doctor put forth a hand that shook slightly.
"Sit down, young man," he said. "I don't blame you for being impatient, but I will now come to my point."
The newspaperman sat down again.
"I have developed a hypothesis," said Dr. White, "and have conducted several experiments which seem to bear it out. I am staking my reputation upon the supposition that it is correct. Not only that, but I am also staking the lives of several brave men who believe implicitly in me and my theory. After all, I suppose it makes little difference, for if I fail the world is doomed, if I succeed it is saved from complete destruction.
"Have you ever thought that our evolutionists might be wrong, that evolution might be downward instead of upward? The theory of the exploding universe, the belief that all of creation is running down, being thrown off balance by the loss of energy, spurred onward by cosmic accidents which tend to disturb its equilibrium, to a time when it will run wild and space will be filled with swirling dust of disintegrated worlds, would bear out this contention.
"This does not apply to the human race. There is no question that our evolution is upward, that we have arisen from one-celled creatures wallowing in the slime of primal seas. Our case is probably paralleled by thousands of other intelligences on far-flung planets and island universes. These instances, however, running at cross purposes to the general evolutional trend of the entire cosmos, are mere flashes in the eventual course of cosmic evolution, comparing no more to eternity than a split second does to a million years.
"Taking these instances, then, as inconsequential, let us say that the trend of cosmic evolution is downward rather than upward, from complex units to simpler units rather than from simple units to more complex ones.
"Let us say that life and intelligence have degenerated. How would you say such a degeneration would take place? In just what way would it be manifested? What sort of transition would life pass through in passing from one stage to a lower one? Just what would be the nature of these stages?"
The scientist's eyes glowed brightly as he bent forward in his chair. The newspaperman said simply: "I have no idea."
"Man," cried the old man, "can't you see that it would be a matter of dimensions? From the fourth dimension to the third, from the third to the second, from the second to the first, from the first to a questionable existence or plane which is beyond our understanding or perhaps to oblivion and the end of life. Might not the fourth have evolved from a fifth, the fifth from a sixth, the sixth from a seventh, and so on to no one knows what multidimension?"
Dr. White paused to allow the other man to grasp the importance of his statements. Woods failed lamentably to do so.
"But what has this to do with the Horror?" he asked.
"Have you absolutely no imagination?" shouted the old man.