At Tiffany's--as indeed in many other places--the soldiers made close visual contact with the apparitions. A patrolling group of soldiers entered Tiffany's and went to the second floor. They reported a seated group of "ghosts," with numbers of white shapes working near them at a lower level which brought them into Tiffany's basement.
The soldiers thought that what was seated here might be a leader. Apparitions rushed up to him, and away. And here the soldiers saw what seemed the wraiths of two girls, seated quietly together, helmeted and garbed like the men. And men seemed watching them.
By one-thirty there was great activity, constant movement of the apparitions everywhere. Doing what? No one could say. The attack, so closely impending now, was presaged by nothing which could be understood.
There was one soldier who at about one-thirty A.M. was watching the spectres which lurked seemingly in the foundations of Tiffany's. He was called to distant Westchester where the harried Army officials had their temporary headquarters this night. He sped there on his motorcycle and so by chance he was left alive to tell what he had seen. The wraiths under Tiffany's were placing little wedge-shaped ghostly bricks very carefully at different points. It occurred to this soldier that they were putting them in spaces coincidental with the building's foundations.
And then came the attack. The materialization bombs--as we knew them to be--were fired. Progressively over a few minutes, at a thousand different points. The area seemed to be from the Battery to Seventy-second Street. Observers in circling airplanes saw it best--there were few others left alive to tell of it.
The whole thing lasted ten minutes. Perhaps it was not even so long. It began at Washington Square. The little ghostly wedges which had been placed within the bricks of the arch at the foot of Fifth Avenue began materializing; turning solid. From imponderability they grew tangible; demanded free empty space of their own. Wedged and pushed with solidifying molecules and atoms, each demanding its little space and finding none. Encountering other solidity.
Outraged nature! No two material bodies can occupy the same space at the same time!
The Washington Arch very queerly seemed to burst apart by a strangely silent explosion. The upper portion toppled and fell with a clatter of masonry littering the avenue and park.
Then a house nearby went down; then another. Everything seemed to be crumbling, falling. That was the beginning. Within a minute the chaos spread, running over the city like fire on strewn gasoline. Buildings everywhere came crashing down. The street heaved up, cracking apart in long jagged lines of opening rifts as though an earthquake were splitting them. The subways and tubes and tunnels yawned like black fantastic chasms crossed and littered by broken girders.
The river waters heaved with waves lashed white as the great bridges fell into them; and sucked down and closed again with tumultuous whirlpools where the water had rushed into the cracked tunnels of the river bed.
Of the towering skyscrapers the Woolworth was the first to crumble; it split into sections as it fell across the wreckage which already littered City Hall. Then the Bank of Manhattan Building, crumbling, partly falling sidewise, partly slumping upon the ruins of itself. Simultaneously the Chrysler Building toppled. For a second or two it seemed perilously to sway. Breathless, awesome seconds. It swayed over, lurched back like a great tree in a wind. Then very slowly it swayed again and did not come back. Falling to the east, its whole giant length came down in a great arc. The descent grew faster, until, in one great swoop it crashed upon the wreckage of the Grand Central Station. The roar of it surged over the city. The crash of masonry; the clatter of its myriad windows, the din of its rending, breaking girders.
The giant buildings were everywhere tumbling like falling giants; like Titans stricken by invisible tumors implanted in their vitals. It lasted ten minutes. What infinitude of horror came to proud and lordly Manhattan Island in those momentous ten minutes!
Ten thousand patrolling soldiers and police, bands of lurking criminals, and men, women and children who still had not left the city, went down to death in those ten minutes. Yet no observer could have seen them. Their little bodies, so small amid these Titans of their own creation, went into oblivion unnoticed in the chaos.
The little solidifying bombs of the White Invaders did their work silently. But what a roar surged up into the moonlit night from the stricken city! What tumult of mingled sounds! What a myriad of splintering, reverberating crashes, bursting upward into the night; echoing away, renewed again and again so that it all was a vast pulsing throb of terrible sound. And under it, inaudible, what faint little sounds must have been the agonized screams of the humans who were entombed!
Then the pulse of the great roaring sound began slowing. Soon it became a dying roar. A last building was toppling here and there. The silence of death was spreading over the mangled litter of the strewn city. Dying chaos of sound; but now it was a chaos of color. Up-rolling clouds of plaster dust; and then darker, heavier clouds of smoke. Lurid yellow spots showed through the smoke clouds where everywhere fires were breaking up.
And under it, within it all, the vague white shapes of the enemy apparitions stood untouched, still peering curious, awed triumphant at what they had done.
Another ten minutes passed; then half an hour, perhaps. The apparitions were moving now. The many little groups were gathering into fewer, larger groups. One marched high in the air, with faint lurid green beams slanting down at the ruins of the city; not as weapons this time, but as beams of faint light, seemingly to illuminate the scene, or perhaps as signals to the ghostly army.
The warships in the Hudson were steaming slowly toward the Battery to escape. Searchlights from them, from the other ships hovering impotent in the bay, and from a group of encircling planes, flashed their white beams over the night to mingle with the glare of the fires and the black pall of smoke which was spreading now like a shroud.
There were two young men in a monoplane which had helplessly circled over mid-Manhattan. They saw the city fall, and noticed the lurking wraiths untouched amid the ruins and in the air overhead. And they saw, when it was over, that one great building very strangely had escaped. The Empire State, rearing its tower high into the serene moonlight above the wreckage and the rising layers of smoke, stood unscathed in the very heart of Manhattan. The lone survivor, standing there with the moonlight shining upon its top, and the smoke gathering black around its spreading base.
The two observers in the airplane, stricken with horror at what they had seen, flew mechanically back and forth. Once they passed within a few hundred feet of the standing giant. They saw its two hundred foot mooring mast for dirigibles rising above the eighty-five stories of the main structure. They saw the little observatory room up there in the mooring mast top, with its circular observation platform, a balcony around it. But they did not notice the figures on that balcony.
Then, from the top of the Empire State Building--from the circular observation platform--a single, horribly intense green light-beam slanted out into the night! A new attack! As though all which had gone before were not enough destruction, now came a new assault. The spectral enemies were tangible now!
The single green light-beam was very narrow. But the moonlight could not fade it; over miles of distance it held visible. It struck first a passing airplane. The two observers in the monoplane were at this time down near the Battery. They saw the giant beam hit the airplane. A moment it clung, and parts of the plane faded. The plane wavered, and then, like a plummet, fell.
The beam swung. It struck a warship lying in the upper bay. Explosions sounded. Puffs of light flared. The ship, with all its passengers vanished and gone, lay gutted and empty.
The source of the light moved rapidly around the circular balcony. The light darted to every distant point of the compass. The surprised distant ships and forts, realizing that here for the first time was a tangible assailant, screamed shots into the night. But the green beam struck the ships and forts and instantly silenced them.
Now the realization of this tangible enemy spread very far. Within a few minutes, planes and radio communication had carried the news. From distant points which the light could not or did not reach, long-range guns were firing at the Empire State. A moment or two only. The base of the building was struck.
Then, frantically, observing planes sent out the warning to stop firing. The green beam had for a minute or two vanished. But now it flashed on again. What was this? The spectral wraiths of ten thousand of the enemy were staring. The observers in the planes stared and gasped. What fantasy! What new weird sight was this, stranger than all that had preceded it!
On the Tower Balcony Upon the little observatory balcony at the top of the Empire State some twelve hundred feet above the stricken city, Don and I were with Tako as he erected the giant projector. In the midst of the silent shadowy outline of the stricken city falling around us, we had carried the projector up the mountain slope. The spectre of the Empire State Building was presently around us; we were in a hallway of one of the upper stories. Slowly, we materialized with our burden. I recall, as the dark empty corridor of the office building came to solidity around me, with what surprise I heard for the first time the muffled reverberations from the crumbling city....
We climbed the dark and empty stairs, upward into the mooring mast. Don and I toiled with the box, under the weapons of our two guards.
It was only a few minutes while Tako assembled and mounted the weapon. It stood a trifle higher than the parapet top. It rolled freely upon a little carriage mounted with wheels. Don and I peered at it. We hovered close to Tako with only one thought in our minds, Jane's murmured words--if we could learn something about this projector....
Then the horror dulled us. We obeyed orders mechanically, as though all of it were a terrible dream, with only a vague undercurrent of reiterated thought: some chance must come--some fated little chance coming our way.
I recall, during those last terrible minutes when Tako flung the projector beam to send all his distant enemies hurtling into annihilation, that I stood in a daze by the parapet. Don had ceased to look. Tako was rolling the projector from one point to another around the circular balcony. Sometimes he was out of sight on the other side, with the observatory room in the mast hiding him.
We had been ordered not to move. The two guards stood with hand weapons turned on so that the faint green beams slanted downward by their feet, instantly ready, either for Don or me.
And I clung to the balcony rail, staring down at the broken city. It lay strewn and flattened as though, not ten minutes, but ten thousand years of time had crumbled it into ruins.
Then shots from the distant warships began screaming at us. With a grim smile, Tako silenced them. There was a momentary lull.
And then came our chance! Fate, bringing just one unforeseen little thing to link the chain, to turn the undercurrent of existing circumstances--and to give us our chance. Or perhaps Jane, guided by fate, created the opportunity. She does not know. She too was dazed, numb--but there was within her also the memory of what Tolla had almost said. And Tolla's frenzy of jealousy....
Tako appeared from around the balcony, rolling the projector. Its beam was off. He flung a glance of warning at the two guards to watch us. He left the projector, flushed, triumphant, all his senses perhaps reeling with the realization of what he had done. He saw the two girls huddled in the moonlight of the balcony floor. He stooped and pushed Tolla roughly away.
"Jane! Jane, did you see it? My triumph! Tako, master of everything! Even of you--is it not so?"
Did some instinct impel her not to repulse him? Some intuition giving her strength to flash him a single alluring moonlit glance?
But suddenly he had enwrapped her in his arms. Kissing her, murmuring love and lust....
This was our chance. But we did not know it then. A very chaos of diverse action so suddenly was precipitated upon this balcony!
Don and I cried out and heedlessly leaped forward. The tiny beams of the guards swung up. But they did not reach us, for the guards themselves were stricken into horror. The shot from a far-distant warship screamed past. But that went almost unheeded. Tako had shouted, and the guards impulsively turned so that their beams missed Don and me.
Tolla had flung herself upon Tako and Jane. Screaming, she tore at them and all in an instant rose to her feet. Tako's cylinder, which she had snatched, was in her hand. She flashed it on as Don and I reached her.
The guards for that instant could not fire for we were all intermingled. Don stumbled in his rush and fell upon Tako and Jane, and in a moment rose as the giant Tako lifted him and tried to cast him off.
My rush flung me against Tolla. She was babbling, mouthing frenzied laughs of hysteria. Her beam pointed downward, but as she reeled from the impact of my rush, the beam swung up; missed me, narrowly missed the swaying bodies of Tako and Don, and struck one of the guards who was standing, undecided what to do. It clung to him for a second or two, and then swung to the other guard.
The guards in a puff of spectral light were gone. Tolla stood wavering; then swung her light toward Tako and Don. But I was upon her.
"Tolla! Good God--"
"Get back from me! Back, I tell you."
I heard Jane's agonized warning from the floor. "Bob!"
Tolla's light missed my shoulder. Tako had cast Don off and stood alone as he turned toward us. Then Tolla's light-beam swung on him. I heard her eery maddened laugh as it struck him.
A wraith of Tako was there, stricken as though numbed by surprise.... Then nothingness....
Shots from the distant warships were screaming around us. One struck the base of the building.
I clung to my scattering senses. I gripped Tolla.
"That projector--what was it you almost told Jane?"
She stood stupidly babbling. "Told Jane? That projector--"
She laughed wildly, and like a tigress, cast me off. "Fools of men! Tako--the fool!"
She swung into a frenzy of her own language. And then back into English. "I will show you--Tako, the fool! All those fools out there under the ground and in the sky. I will show them!"
She stooped over the projector and fumbled with the mechanism.
Don gasped, "Those apparitions--is that what you're going to attack?"
The beam flashed on. But it was a different beam now. Fainter, more tenuous; the hum from it was different.
It leaped into the ground. It was a spreading beam this time. It bathed the white apparitions who were peering up at the city.
Why, what was this? Weird, fantastic sight! There was a moment of Tolla's frenzied madness; then she staggered away from the projector. But Don and I had caught the secret. We took her place. We carried it on.
We were hardly aware that the far-off warships had ceased firing. We hardly realized that Tolla had rushed for the parapet; climbed, screaming and laughing--and that Jane tried to stop her.
"Oh, Tolla, don't--"
But Tolla toppled and fell.... Her body was almost not recognized when it was later found down in the ruins.
Don and I flung this new beam into the night. We rolled the projector around the platform, hurling the beam in every direction at the white apparitions....
It had caught first that group which lurked in the ground near the base of the Empire State. Tolla had turned the beam to the reverse co-ordinates from those Tako used. It penetrated into the borderland, reached the apparitions and forcibly materialized them! A second or two it clung to that group of white men's shapes in the ground. They grew solid; ponderable. But the space they now claimed was not empty! Solid rock was here, yielding no space to anything! Like the little materialization bombs, this was nature outraged. The ground and the solid rock heaved up, broken and torn, invisibly permeated and strewn with the infinitesimal atomic particles of what a moment before had been the bodies of living men.
We caught with the beam that marching line of apparitions beneath the ground surface--a section of Tako's army which was advancing upon Westchester. The city streets over them surged upward. And some we caught under the rivers and within the waters of the bay, and the waters heaved and lashed into turmoil.
Then we turned the beam into the air. The apparitions lost contact with their invisible mountain peaks. And with sudden solidity, the gravity of our world pulled at them. They fell. Solid men's bodies, falling with the moonlight on them. Dark blobs turning end over end; plunging into the rivers and the harbor with little splashes of white to mark their fall; and yet others whirling down, crashing into the wreckage of masonry, into the pall of smoke and the lurid yellow flames of the burning city.
The attack of the White Invaders was over.
A year has passed. There has been no further menace; perhaps there never will be. And again, the invisible realm of which Don, Jane and I were vouchsafed so strange a glimpse, lies across a void impenetrable. Earth scientists have the projector, with its current batteries apparently almost exhausted. And they have the transition mechanism which we three were wearing. But of those, the vital element had been removed by Tako--and was gone with him. Many others were found on the bodies, and upon the body of poor Tolla. But all were wrecked by their fall.
Perhaps it is just as well. Yet, often I ponder on that other realm. What strange customs and science and civilization I glimpsed.
Out of such thoughts one always looms upon me: a contemplation of the vastness of things to be known.
And the kindred thought: what a very small part of it we really understand!
THE ETHICAL WAY.
By Joseph Farrell
There is a way around every tabu, knock on wood--but just watch out that the wood doesn't knock back!