A cold chill ran along Jeter's spine. There was something too final about the guide's calm reply. Both adventurers remembered again, most poignantly, the fate of Kress.
The leaders stepped through the door. A flight of steps led downward.
Several of the swarthy-skinned folk walked behind Jeter and Eyer. There was no gainsaying the fact that they were prisoners.
Jeter and Eyer gasped a little as they looked into the interior of the white globe. It was of unusual extent, Jeter estimated, a complete globe; but this one was bisected by a floor at its center, of some substance that might, for its apparent lightness, have been aluminum. Plainly it was the dwelling place of these strange conquerors of the stratosphere. It might have been a vast room designed as the dwelling place of people accustomed to all sorts of personal comforts.
On the "floor" were several buildings, of the same material as the floor. It remained to be seen what these buildings were for, but Jeter could guess, he believed, with fair accuracy. The large building in the center would be the central control room housing whatever apparatus of any kind was needed in the working of this space ship. There were smaller buildings, most of them conical, looking oddly like beehives, which doubtless housed the denizens of the globe.
The atmosphere was much like that of New York in early autumn. It was of equable temperature. There was no discomfort in walking, no difficulty in breathing. Jeter surmised that at least one of those buildings, perhaps the central one, housed some sort of oxygen renewer. Such a device at this height was naturally essential.
The stairs ended. The prisoners and their guards stopped at floor level.
Jeter paused to look about him. His scientific eyes were studying the construction of the globe. The idea of escape from the predicament into which he and Eyer were plunged would never be out of his head for moment.
"Come along, you!"
Jeter started, stung by the savagery which suddenly edged the voice of the man who had first greeted him. There was contempt in it--and an assumption of personal superiority which galled the independent Jeter.
He grinned a little, looked at Eyer.
"I wonder if we have to take it," he said softly.
"It seems we might expect a little respect, at least," Eyer grinned in answer.
The guard suddenly caught Jeter by the shoulder.
"I said to come along!"
If the man had been intending to provoke a fight he couldn't have gone about it in any better way. Jeter suddenly, without a change of expression, sent a right fist crashing to the fellow's jaw.
"Don't use your gat, Eyer," he called to his partner. "We may kill a key man who may be necessary to our well-being later on. But black eyes and broken noses should be no bar to efficiency."
Without any fuss or hullabaloo, the dozen or so denizens of the globe who had met the partners closed on them. They came on with a rush. Jeter and Eyer stood back to back and slugged. They were young, with youthful joy in battle. They were trained to the minute. As fliers they took pride in their physical condition. They were out-numbered, but it was also a matter of pride with them to demand respect wherever they went. It was also a matter of pride to down as many of the attackers as possible before they themselves were downed.
It became plain that, though the denizens of the globe were armed with knives, they were not to be used. And it didn't seem they would be needed. The fighters were all muscular, well-trained fighters. But for the most part they fought in the manner of Chinese ta chaen, or Japanese ju-jutsu men. They used holds that were bone-breaking and it taxed the pair to the utmost to keep from being maimed by their killing strength.
The swarthy men were men of courage, no doubt about that. They fought with silent ferocity. They blinked when struck, but came back to take yet other blows with the tenacity of so many bulldogs. There was no gainsaying them, it seemed. They were here for the purpose of subduing their visitors and nothing short of death would stop them.
It wasn't courtesy, either, that failure to use knives, for Jeter saw murder looking out of more than one pair of eyes as their two pairs of fists landed on brown faces, smashed noses askew, and started eyes to closing.
"Their leader has them under absolute control--and that's a point for the enemy," Jeter panted to himself, as the strain of battle began to tell on him. "They've been instructed, no matter what we do, to bring us to their master or masters alive."
For a moment he toyed with the idea of drawing his weapon and firing pointblank into the enemy. He knew they would be compelled to take lives to escape--and that the lives of all these people were forfeit anyway because of the havoc which had descended upon New York City.
But he didn't make a move for his weapon. It would be sure death if he did, for the others were armed.
Brown men fell before the smashing of their fists. But the end of the fight was a foregone conclusion. Jeter had a bruised jaw. Eyer's nose was bleeding and one eye was closed when the reception committee finally came to close quarters, smothered them by sheer weight of numbers, and made them prisoners. Jeter's right wrist was manacled to Eyer's left with a pair of ordinary steel handcuffs. Their weapons were taken away from them now.
The leader of the committee, panting, but apparently unconcerned over what had happened, motioned the two men to lead the way. He pointed to the large building in the center of the "floor."
"That way," he said, "and I hope Sitsumi and The Three give us permission to throw you out without parachutes or high altitude suits."
"Pleasant cuss, aren't you?" said Eyer. "I don't think you like us."
The man would have struck Eyer for his grinning levity; but at that moment a door opened in the side of the large building and a man in Oriental robes stood there.
"Bring then here at once, Naka!" he said.
The man called Naka, the leader whom Jeter had first struck, bowed low, with deep respect, to the man in the doorway.
"Yes, O Sitsumi!" he said. As he spoke he sucked in his breath with that snakelike hissing sound which is the acme of politeness, in Japan--"that my humble breath may not blow upon you"--and spread wide his hands. "They are extremely low persons and dared lay hands upon your emissaries."
Eyer grinned again.
"I think," he called, "there transpired what might be called a general laying on of hands by all hands."
"I deeply deplore your inclination to levity, Tema Eyer," said the man in the doorway. "It is not seemly in one whose intelligence entitles him to a place in our counsels."
Eyer looked at Jeter. What was the meaning of Sitsumi's cryptic utterance?
"Bring them in," snapped Sitsumi.
Jeter studied the man with interest. He knew instantly who he was and understood why Sitsumi had refused to answer his radio messages to Japan. He couldn't very well have done so in the circumstances. Here, under the broad dome of Sitsumi was probably the greatest scientific brain of the century. Jeter saw cruelty in his eyes too; ruthlessness, and determination.
The prisoners were marched into the room behind Sitsumi, who stepped aside, looking curiously at Jeter and Eyer as they passed him. Inside the door, pausing only a moment to glance over the big room's appointments, Jeter turned on Sitsumi.
"Just what do you intend doing with us, Sitsumi?" he asked. "I suppose it's useless to ask you, also, what the meaning of all this is?"
"I shall answer both your questions, Jeter," said Sitsumi. "Step this way, please. The Three should hear our conference."
They were conducted into a smaller room. Its floors were covered with skins. There were easy chairs and divans. It might have been their own luxuriously appointed rooms at Mineola. At a long table three men--all Orientals--were deeply immersed in some activity which bent their heads absorbedly over the very center of the table. It might have been a three-sided chess game, by their attitudes.
"Gentlemen!" said Sitsumi.
The three men turned.
"My colleagues, Wang Li, Liao Wu and Yung Chan," Sitsumi introduced them. "Without them our great work would have been impossible."
Here were the three missing Chinese scientists. Jeter and Eyer had seen many pictures of them. Jeter wondered whether their adherence to Sitsumi were voluntary or forced. But it was voluntary, of course. The three brains of these brilliant men could easily have outwitted Sitsumi had they been unwilling to associate themselves with him. The three Orientals bowed.
Jeter and Eyer were bidden to take chairs side by side. The guards drew back a little but never took their eyes off the two. Sitsumi ranged himself beside his colleagues at the table.
"I'll answer your questions now, gentlemen, in the presence of my colleagues so that you shall know that we are together in what we propose. We wish you to join us. The only alternative is ... well, you recall what happened to your countryman, Kress? The same, or a similar fate, will be yours if you don't ally yourselves with us."
Jeter and Eyer exchanged glances.
"Just what are you doing?" asked Jeter. "I've seen some of the results of your activities, but I can see no reason for them. I would pronounce everything you have done so far to be the acts of madmen."
"We are not mad," said Sitsumi. "We are simply a group of people of mixed blood who deplore the barriers of racial prejudice, for one thing. We are advocates of a deliberately contrived super-race, produced by the amalgamation of the best minds and the best bodies of all races. We ourselves are what the world calls Eurasians. In our youth people patronised us. In Asia we were shunned. We were shunned everywhere by both races from which we trace our ancestry. We are not trying to be avenged upon the world because we have been pariahs. We are not so petty. But by striving until we have become the world's four greatest scientists we have proved to our own satisfaction that a mixture of blood is a wholesome thing. This expedition of ours, and its effect so far on New York City, is the result of our years of planning."
"I see no need for wholesale murder. Lecture platforms are open to all creeds, all races...."
Something suggestive of a sneer creased Sitsumi's lips. The Three did not change expression in the least.
"People do not listen to reason. They listen to force. We will use force to make them listen, in the end, to reason--backed in turn by force, if you like. We have settled on New York from which to begin our conquest of the world because it is the world's largest, richest, most representative city. If we control New York we control the wealth of the North American continent, and therefore the continent itself. Our destruction of buildings in New York City serves a twofold purpose. It prepares the inhabitants to listen to us later because, seeing what we are capable of doing, they will be afraid not to. Our efficiency is further shown in our destruction of the old out-of-date buildings, chosen for destruction simply because they are obsolete. The New York City of our schemes will be a magic city...."
"But what is your purpose, in a few words?" insisted Jeter.
"The foundation of a world government; the destruction of the mentally deficient; the scientific production of a mixed race of intellectuals, comparable to, but greater than, that of ancient Greece, which was great because it was a human melting pot."
"How are you going to do it--after you've finished your grandstand plays?" said Eyer.
Sitsumi stared at Eyer, his eyes narrowing. Eyer was making his dislike entirely too plain. Jeter nudged him, but the question had been asked.
"With this space ship--and others which are building," replied Sitsumi. "Haven't you guessed at any of our methods?"
"Yes," said Jeter, "I know you are the rumored inventor of a substance which is invisible because light rays are bent around it instead of passing through, yet the result is as though they actually passed through. I judge that the shell, or skin, of this stratosphere ship is composed of this substance, whose formula of construction is your secret. Light rays passing around it would render it invisible, yet would make the beholding eye seem to see in a straight line as usual, disregarding refraction."
Sitsumi nodded. The Three nodded with him, like puppets. But their eyes were glowingly alive.
"You are right. Are you further interested? If you have no interest in our theories there is little need to pursue our plans further, where you are concerned."
"We are interested, of course," said Jeter. "We are interested in your theories, without committing ourselves to acceptance of them; and we are naturally interested in saving our lives. Let us say then, for the moment, that we do not refuse to join you."
How It Came About "You will have twenty-four hours in which to decide whether to join us," was Sitsumi's ultimatum. "We would not allow you five minutes were it not that our cause would be benefited by the addition of your scientific knowledge."
Sitsumi did not repeat the alternative. Remembering Kress, Jeter and Eyer did not need to ask him. There was but one alternative--death--a particularly horrible one. That Sitsumi and the Three would not hesitate was amply proved. Already they were guilty of the death of thousands. They were in deadly earnest with their scheme for a world government.
Jeter and Eyer were kept shackled together, and were, in addition, chained to the floor of the main room of the white globe with leg irons. Their keys were in the hands of Naka, whose hatred of Jeter for hitting him on the jaw was so malevolent it fairly glowed from his eyes like sparks shot forth.
Food was brought them when asked for. It wasn't easy to partake of it, because their manacled hands had to be moved together, which made it extremely awkward.
Jeter and Eyer set themselves the task of trying to figure some way out in the twenty-four hours of life still left them if they failed. That Hadley, down in New York City, and all the best minds who were cooperating with Jeter and Eyer in their mad effort to avert world catastrophe, would make every effort to come to their assistance by sending up the planes which must even now be nearing completion, they hadn't the slightest doubt.
Would they arrive in time? Even if they did, was there anything they could possibly do to save themselves? Surely this space ship must be vulnerable. Else why did it climb so high into the stratosphere? It was far beyond the reach of ordinary planes. High trajectory projectiles had slight chance of hitting it, even if it were visible. What then was its vulnerability, which this hiding seemed to indicate? They must know within twenty-four hours.
So they sat side by side, watching events unfold. The Three talked mandarin. Eyer, for all his levity, was a man of unusual attainments. He understood mandarin, for one thing--a fact which even Jeter did not know at first. The Chinese never seemed even to consider that either of them might know the tongue. Chinese seldom found foreigners who did comprehend them. In only so much were The Three in the least bit careless.
Eyer strained his ears to hear everything which passed between Sitsumi and the Three. Both men listened to any chance words in English or French on the part of all hands within the globe which might give them a hint.
And in those twenty-four hours the sky-scientists learned much.
They conversed together, when they spoke of important matters which they wished hidden from their captors, out of the corners of their mouths after the method of criminals. They used it with elaborate unconcern. They might have seemed to be simply staring into space at such moments, dreading approaching death perhaps, and simply twiddling their fingers. But by each other every word was clearly heard.
"That last outburst of Sitsumi's explains a lot of the reported activity in the Lake Baikal region, beyond the Gobi," swiftly dropped from Jeter's lips. "The materials which Sitsumi uses in the preparation of his light-ray-bending substance are found near there somehow. And that means that the Japanese guards--which may be Eurasian guards, after what Sitsumi told us--and employees of this unholy crowd, are easily engaged in the preparation of other space ships."
"Does this thing seem to have any armament?" asked Eyer.
Jeter signified negation with a swift movement of his head.
"Their one weapon seems to be the apparatus which causes that ray. You know, the ray which lifts buildings, pulling them up by the roots."
"Have you any idea what it is?"
"Yes. That last stuff of the Three which you translated for me gives me a clue. At first I thought that they had perfected some substance, perhaps with unknown electrical properties, which nullified gravity. But that won't prove out. If the ray simply nullified gravity, the buildings down there, while weightless, would not rise as they did. They might sway if somebody breathed against them. A midget might lift one with his finger; but they wouldn't fly skyward as they did--and do!"
For a moment the partners ceased their whispering and talked together naturally to disarm suspicion. The fact that the space ship and its ruthless denizens still engaged in the awful work of devastation was amply being proved. In the main room it was possible, through the use of telescopes and audiphones--set into the walls so that they were invisible, yet enabled any one in the room to see everything, and hear everything that transpired on the far earth below--to keep close watch on the work of the destroyers. Anything close enough could be seen with the naked eye through the walls of the globe.
Now the space ship was systematically destroying buildings the length and breadth of Manhattan Island. The river-front buildings were destroyed in a single sweep, from north to south, of the ghastly ray. Farther back from the Hudson, however, after the water-front buildings had been reduced to mere piles of rubble, the most beautiful, most modern buildings were left standing.
"Can't you just imagine those beautiful structures filled with the monsters created by the genius of Sitsumi and the Three--and their as yet unknown lieutenants back at Lake Baikal?"
Eyer gritted his teeth. His hands closed atop the table at which they were seated. The knuckles went white with the strain. The lips of both men were white. They realized to the full the dreadful responsibility which they had assumed. They knew how abysmally hopeless was their chance of accomplishing anything. And without some gigantic effort being made, the world as they knew it would be destroyed. In its place would be a race of strange beings, of vengeful hybrids endowed from birth with the will to conquer, or destroy utterly.
"You were speaking of the levitating ray," prompted Eyer with swift change to the sidewise whispering.
"From what you heard I'm sure it is something invented by Liao Wu, Yung Chan and Wang Li. In so much they have an advantage over Sitsumi. I doubt if there is any love lost among them, beyond the fact that they need one another. Sitsumi is master of the substance which bends light rays--and thus is rendered invisible, while the Three are masters of the ray which not only propels this space ship, but is the agency by which buildings are torn up, dropped and destroyed. It's plain to me that this room is the control room of the space ship. The ray is--well, it's as difficult to explain as electricity, and perhaps as simple in its operation. The ray does more than nullify gravity--can be made to reverse gravity! Let's call the ray the gravity inverter for want of a better name. It makes anything it touches literally fall away from the Earth, toward the point whence the ray emanates!"
"And if we were to obtain control of the apparatus which harnesses the ray?"
"We lack the knowledge of the Three for its operation. No, we've got to find some simpler solution in the brief time we have."
At this point the partners had been within the white globe about ten hours and they had learned much about it. The inner globe, for example, maintained an even keel, no matter how the space ship as a whole moved on its rays that seemed like table legs. The gyroscopic principle was used. The inner globe was movable within the outer globe, or rind. If for any reason the space ship listed in one direction or the other, the inner globe, while it rose and fell naturally, remained upright, its floor always level so that, the gyroscope controlling the whole, the central, levitating, ray would always, must always, as it proved, point downward.