The morning passed, and the first part of the afternoon. Two wrecking trains stood with steam up at the edge of the hole. Grouped by the trains were a hundred negroes with shovels and picks. Carnes sat at the edge of the hole and stared down into it. He was roused from his reverie by the sound of a motor.
From the north came an airplane. High over the hole it passed, and then swerved and descended. On the under side of the wings could be seen the insignia of the Air Corps. Carnes jumped to his feet and waved his hat. Lower came the plane until it roared across the cavern less than a hundred feet above the ground. Two figures leaned out and examined the terrain carefully. Carnes waved again. One of the figures waved a hand in reply. The plane rose in the air and straightened out toward Charleston.
"We'll have the doctor here in a few minutes now," said Carnes to the Colonel. "It might be a good plan to send a motorcycle out along the Charleston road to bring him in. We don't want the guards to delay him."
The colonel gave an order and a motorcycle shot off down the road. In half an hour it came sputtering back with a huge Cadillac roaring in its wake. The car drew up and stopped. From it descended two men. The first was a small, wizened figure with heavy glasses. What hair age had left to him was as white as snow. The second figure, which towered over the first, was one to merit attention anywhere.
Dr. Bird was as light on his feet and as quick and graceful as a cat, but there was nothing feline about his appearance. He stood well over six feet in his stockings and tipped the beam close to the two hundred mark. Not one ounce of fat was on his huge frame. So fine was he drawn that unless one looked closely he would never suspect the weight of bone and muscle that his unobtrusive tweed suit covered. Piercing black eyes looked out from under shaggy brows. His face was lean and browned, and it took a second glance to realize the tremendous height and breadth of his forehead. A craggy jutting chin spoke of stubbornness and the relentless following up of a line of action determined on. His head was topped with an unruly shock of black hair which he tossed back with a hand that commanded instant attention.
His hands were the most noteworthy thing about the famous Bureau scientist. Long slender hands, they were, with slim tapering fingers--the hands of an artist and a dreamer. The acid stains that marred them could not hide their slim beauty, yet Carnes knew that those hands had muscles like steel wire and that the doctor boasted a grip that could crush the hand of a professional wrestler. He had seen him tear a deck of playing cards in half and, after doubling, again in half, with as little effort as the ordinary man would use in tearing a bare dozen of the cards. As he climbed out of the car his keen black eyes swept around in a comprehensive glance. Carnes, trained observer that he was, knew that in that one glance every essential detail which it had taken him an hour to place had been accurately noted and stored away in the doctor's mind. He came forward to the detective.
"Has anything happened since you telephoned me?" was his first question.
"Nothing, Doctor. I followed your instructions and also assembled a crew of men with excavating tools."
"You're improving, Carnes. This is Dr. Lassen. This is a little out of your line. Doctor, but you may see something familiar. What does it look like to you?"
"Not like an earthquake, Bird, at all events. Offhand I would say that a huge cavern had been washed in the earth and the ground had caved in."
"It looks that way. If you are right, we should find running water if we dig deep enough. Have you been down in the hole, Carnes?"
"Then that's the first thing to do. You have ropes, of course?"
Carnes called to the waiting gang of negroes and a dozen of these hurried up with ropes. Dr. Bird slung a rope around his body under his arms and was lowered into the hole. The rope slackened as he reached bottom. Carnes lay on his stomach and looked over the edge. Dr. Bird was gingerly picking his way across the ground. He turned and called up.
"Carnes, you and Lassen can come down if you care to."
In a few minutes the detective and the volcanologist joined him in the cavern. The top surface of the ground was rolled up into waves like the sea. The sides of the hole were almost sheer. The naked rock was exposed for thirty feet. Above the rock could be seen the subsoil, and then the layer of top soil and vegetation. Dr. Bird was carefully examining the rock wall.
"What do you make of these, Lassen?" he asked, pointing to a row of horizontal striations in the rock. The volcanologist studied them.
"They might be water marks but if so they are different from any that I have seen before," he said doubtfully. "It looks as though some force had cut the rock away in one sharp stroke."
"Exactly. Notice this yellow powder on the ridges. Water would have washed it away."
Dr. Bird stepped forward to the wall and idly attempted to pick up a pinch of the yellow powder he had referred to in his fingers. He gave an exclamation of surprise as he did so. The powder was evidently fast to the wall. He drew his knife from his pocket and pried at the stuff. It fell readily. He scraped again and caught a speck of the falling powder in his hand. He gave a cry of surprise, for his hand sank as though borne down by a heavy weight. With an effort he lifted his hand and examined the substance.
"Come here, Carnes," he said. "Hold your hand up to catch some of this powder as I scrape it off."
The detective held up his hand. Dr. Bird pried with his knife and a shower of dull yellow particles fell. Carnes' hand sank as though the bits of dust had been a lead bar. He placed his other hand under it and with an effort lifted both hands up a few inches.
"What on earth is this stuff, Doctor?" he cried. "It's as heavy as lead."
"It's a great deal heavier than lead, Carnesy, old dear. I don't know what it is. I am inclined to think you did a wise thing when you sent for me. Lassen, take a look at this stuff. Did you ever run into anything like it?"
The aged volcanologist shook his head. The yellow powder was something beyond his ken.
"I have been poking around volcanos all my life," he said, "and I have seen some queer things come out of the ground--but nothing like that."
Dr. Bird poked tentatively at the substance for a moment, his brow furrowed in lines of thought. He suddenly threw back his shoulders in a gesture of decision.
"Send a gang of excavators down here," he cried. "Never mind the power shovel at present."
Down the ropes swarmed the gang of negroes. Dr. Bird indicated an area at one end of the cavern and directed them to dig. The blacks flew to work with a will. The top soil and subsoil were rapidly tossed into buckets and hauled to the surface. When bare rock lay before them, the negroes ceased their efforts.
"What next, Doctuh, suh?" asked the foreman.
"Get dynamite!" cried the doctor. "If I'm right, this underground cavern is entered by a tunnel. We'll blast away this caved-in rock until we locate it."
Then occurred a strange thing.
"There is no need to go to that trouble, Dr. Bird," spoke a metallic voice, from nowhere, it seemed. The negroes looked at one another. Picks and shovels fell from nerveless hands.
"Your guess about a tunnel is correct, Doctor," went on the Voice. "There is a tunnel leading away from the spot where you are, but to find the end would be useless to you. I have prepared for that."
From the blacks came a low moan of fear.
"Ha'nts!" cried one of them. The cry was taken up and spread into a rolling chorus of fear. With one accord they dropped their tools and stampeded in a mad rush toward the dangling ropes. Carnes sprang forward to stop them.
"Let them go, Carnes!" cried the doctor. "Their work is done for the present. Let's locate that radio receiver."
"That also will be a useless search. Doctor," spoke up the Voice again. "I have perfected a transmitter which will send my voice through space and make it audible without the aid of the clumsy apparatus you depend on. I am also able to see you through the miles of intervening rock without the aid of any instruments at your end."
"I presume that you can hear me as well?"
"Certainly, Doctor. To save you trouble--and I dislike to see you waste the efforts of your really good brain on minor problems--I will tell you that your surmise is correct. A tunnel does lead both to and from the place where you stand. It twists and turns so that even you would be puzzled to plot a general direction. You would have to follow it inch by inch. If you tried that, naturally I would cause it to collapse before you, or on top of you, if you got too close. Be content with what you have seen and seek a better way to trace me."
"Who are you, anyway?" blurted out Carnes.
"Is it possible that you do not know? Such is fame. I thought that at least my friend Mr. Carnes would suspect that Ivan Saranoff had done this."
"But you're dead!" protested the detective. "We killed you when we destroyed your helicopter."
"You killed merely an assistant who had disobeyed my orders. Had I not decreed his death, he would be alive to-day. I could kill you as you stand there; you into nothingness; but I do not choose to do so--yet. Other attempts I have made you have frustrated, but this time I shall succeed. I will institute a reign of terror which will bring your rich, foolish country to its knees. Listen, while I give you a taste of my power. The city of Charleston is about to be destroyed."
A thunderous roaring filled the air. Crash followed crash in rapid succession. It sounded as though all the noise of the universe had been concentrated in the cavern. The earth shook and rocked like a restless sea. From above came cries of terror.
The three men in the cavern were thrown to the ground. Shaken by the fall and deafened by the tumult, they hung onto irregularities of the rock on which they lay. Gradually the tumult and the shaking subsided. The cries from above became more apparent. Silence finally reigned in the cavern and the metallic Voice spoke again.
"Go back now and look at Charleston and you will see what to expect. The rest of your cities will soon share the same fate. Beware of trying to trace my movements, for your lives are in the hollow of my hand."
The voice died away in silence. From the edge of the hole came a cry. A Fort Moultrie officer was peering down at them.
"Are you all right down there?" he hailed.
"Right as hops," called Dr. Bird cheerfully. "What happened up above?"
"I don't know, Doctor. There seems to be a lot of smoke and fire over in the direction of the city. I expect the quake shook them up a little this time. What shall we do now?"
"We're ready to come up. First I'm going to send up a wheelbarrow full of yellow powder. Rig a crane to lift it, for it's too heavy to try to hoist with ropes."
With the aid of Carnes and Dr. Lassen, Dr. Bird collected a few cubic inches of the yellow powder from the ridges in the rock. He made the wheelbarrow containing it fast to the wire cables of the crane and gave the signal. Slowly it was raised to the surface. When it had safely reached there he turned to his companions.
"Grab a rope and let's go," he said.
In a few moments they were on the upper level. With the efforts of half a dozen men, the body of the wheelbarrow was lifted into the car. With a few final words of instruction to the colonel, Dr. Bird and his companions entered the car and were whisked away to the city.
A spectacle of destruction and ruin awaited them. Fully one-fourth of the city had sunk thirty feet into the ground. The sinking was not even nor uniform. The sunken ground was rolled into huge waves while buildings which had collapsed lay in confused heaps on all sides. From a dozen places in the area, columns of fire rose in the air.
Dr. Bird wasted little time on the scene before him. His car skirted the edge of the huge hole and took the road toward the Charleston airport, which was in a section which had suffered little. In half an hour the army transport roared into the air carrying Dr. Bird's precious load of yellow powder. Four hours later they dropped to a landing at Langley Field.
"Now, Carnes," said the doctor as they debarked from the plane, "there is work ahead. It may be too late to do much to-night, but we have no time to waste. Get Bolton on the wire and tell him that we have positive evidence that Saranoff is still alive and still up to his devil's tricks. Start every man of the secret service and every Department of Justice agent that can be spared on the trail. He can't live underground all the time, and you ought to get on his tracks somehow. I'm going up to the laboratory and see what I can do with this stuff. Report to me there to-morrow morning."
Carnes hurried away. Bolton, the chief of the United States Secret Service, had long ago recovered from any professional jealousy he had ever felt of Dr. Bird. The doctor's message that Ivan Saranoff, the arch-enemy of society, the head of the Young Labor party, the unofficial chief of the secret Soviet forces in the United States, was alive and again in the field against law and order was enough to set in motion every force that he controlled. Waving aside precedent and crashing his way past secretaries, he set in motion not only the agents of the Department of Justice but also the post-office forces and the specialized but highly efficient Military and Naval Intelligence Divisions. The telephone and telegraph wires from Washington were kept busy all night carrying orders and bringing in reports. But despite all this activity, it was with a disappointed face that Operative Carnes sought the doctor in the morning.
Dr. Bird was in his private laboratory on the third floor of the Bureau of Standards. When Carnes entered he was seated in a chair at his desk. His black eyes shone out from a chalky face like two burned holes in a blanket. Carnes started at the appearance of utter weariness presented by the famous scientist. Dr. Bird straightened up and squared his shoulders as the detective entered.
"Any luck, Carnes?" he asked eagerly.
"None at all, Doctor. We haven't been able to get a single trace of his corporeal existence since that submarine was destroyed off the Massachusetts coast. All we have is Karuska's word that he is still alive."
"We heard his voice yesterday."
"His or another's."
"True. Have you set in motion every agency that the government has?"
"Every one. Either Bolton or I have talked to the Chief of Police in every large city in the United States and Canada. Every known member of the Young Labor party who is above the mere rank and file is under close surveillance."
"Good enough. Keep at it and you'll trace him eventually. As soon as I get a few quarts of black coffee into my system, I'll start another line of search going."
"What did you find out last night?"
"I found that our seismograph recorded the Charleston disaster. It was merely a faint jog, about what should be caused by a severe landslide. The disaster did not affect the earth's crust, but was purely local. That gives me a clue to his method."
"I described the affair to Bolton and he suggested that it might be caused by a disintegrating ray."
Dr. Bird snorted. "When will people learn that there is not, and in the nature of things never can be, a disintegrating ray?" he exclaimed. "Of course a ray can be made which will tear things down to their constituent elements, but matter is indestructible, and the idea of wiping matter out of existence is absurd."
"But I have heard you say that matter and energy were interchangeable."
"That is a different proposition. I believe they are. In fact, if you remember, Carmichael proved it, although the proof was lost at his death. Nothing of the sort was done at Charleston, however. Do you know how much energy is contained in matter? Well, a cubic inch of copper would drive the largest ship afloat around the world twice, and across the Atlantic to boot. The energy contained in the cubic yards of rock that were removed under Charleston would have blown the world to fragments."
"Then what did happen?"
"Matter, as you know, is composed of atoms. These atoms are as far from one another, compared to their size, as the stars and planets of the universe. Each atom in turn is composed of electrons, negative particles of electrical energy, held in position about a fixed central nucleus of positive electricity known as a proton. I speak now of the simplest element. Most of them have many protons and electrons in their make-up. The space between these particles compared with their size is such that the universe would be crowded in comparison."
"What does that lead to?"
"I have described the composition of lead, the densest known element, over thirteen times as heavy as water, bulk for bulk. Conceive what it would mean if some force could compress together these widely separated particles until they touched. The resulting substance would be an element of almost inconceivable density. Such a condition is approached in the stars, some of which are as high as four thousand times as dense as the earth. What Saranoff has done is to find some way of compressing together the atoms into that yellow powder which we found in the cavern. He has not gone to the limit, for the stuff is only a little over four thousand times as dense as water. A cubic inch of it weighs one hundred and thirty-two pounds. With its density increased to that extent, the volume is reduced accordingly. That was what accounted for those caverns into which the earth tumbled."
"I'll believe you, Doctor," replied the detective; "but I'd believe you just as quickly if you swore that the moon was made of cream cheese made from the milk taken from the milky way. One would be just as understandable to me as the other."
They were interrupted by the entrance of a waiter who bore a huge pot of steaming coffee. Dr. Bird's eyes lighted up as a cup was poured. Carnes knew enough not to interrupt while the doctor poured and drank eight cups of the strong black fluid. As he drank, the lines of fatigue disappeared from the scientist's face. He sat up as fresh as though he had not been working at high pressure the entire night.
"Dr. Fisher tells me that the amount of caffeine I drink would kill a horse," he said with a chuckle; "but sometimes it is needed. I feel better now. Let's get to work."
"What shall we do?"
"Despite Saranoff's words, it must be possible to trace him. He is undoubtedly releasing his energy from some form of subterranean borer, and such a thing can be located. The energy he uses must set up electrical disturbances which instruments will detect. I have had work started on a number of ultra-sensitive wave detectors which will record any wave-length from zero to five millimeters. We'll send them to various points along the seacoast. They ought to pick up the stray waves from the energy he is using to blast a path through the earth. I'm not going to bother with the waves from his motor; they may be of any wave-length, and there would be constant false alarms. I have another idea."
"What is it?"
"I am judging Saranoff from his previous actions. You remember that he used a submarine in that alien-smuggling scheme the Coast Guard broke up, and also when he loosed that sea monster on the Atlantic shipping? He seems to be rather fond of submarines."
"The amount of energy he uses must be almost inconceivable," Dr. Bird went on. "He can hardly carry an amount of fuel which will enable him to bore underground for very many miles, Charleston is on the coast. I have an idea that he uses a submarine to transport his borer from point to point. After using the borer he must return to the submarine for recharging and transportation to the point where he plans to strike next. I already have two hundred planes scouring the sea looking for such a craft."
"Where do you expect him to strike next?"
"I have no idea. New York and Washington will undoubtedly be targets eventually, but neither of them may be next. Meanwhile, would you like to do a little more flying?"