From Supernatural Stories 24 - 1959
THE GREEN CLOUD
BY BRON FANE
Copyright © R. Lionel Fanthorpe
Used with permission
“There was nothing to be seen but the velvety green mist . . .”
It was a horrible day — that of itself was an understatement — the grey sky was throwing down sheets of stinging ice-cold rain, rain that was rapidly turning to sleet as it fell. The bitter northeast wind howled and whined around the streets and tugged at roofs and chimney pots alike with vicious exuberance. It was the sort of day on which coat collars were well and truly up — so were backs. Faces were being worn long. It was not the least sort of day upon which anything unexpectedly pleasant could happen — and yet it did.
The postman whistled cheerily despite the weather, as he walked up the short path and rang the bell of the Stearman’s flat. Val came to the door, having just come in himself from the inclemency of the elements. “What’s this?” he said jovially, “another bill?” The postman shook his head.
“No, sir, it’s the beginning of the month, sir. Don’t you recognise the envelope?” He was obviously hoping for a tip. Val looked down at the envelope and saw why.
“By the great spiral nebula of Andromeda,” he whistled, “the premium bonds*1 have come up — good old Ernie*2. Bless his little electronic buttons. La Noire,” he called. “Come and see. We’ve got the premium bonds up!” His beautiful dark-haired wife ran swiftly through from the dining room.
“Really,” she breathed, “this isn’t the first of April you know Val.”
“No, really,” he replied, “and the postman’s still waiting for a tip to prove it.” The postman grinned rather ashamedly.
“I wasn’t sir, not really, sir, I’m sorry, sir.” Val fished in his pocket and gave him half a crown.
“It’s not a very big percentage of one thousand pounds,” he said, “on the other hand, of course, we might have only won five pounds, so take it and be thankful before I open the envelope.” The postman grinned.
“Thanks a lot, sir, very kind of you, sir. I hope it’s a big one,” and whistling even more cheerfully he departed to finish his deliveries. When Val’s shaking fingers finally pulled the contents from their envelope, he seized La Noire playfully round the waist and swung her high into the air.
“Two hundred and fifty beautiful little green one pound notes will be ours as soon as we present this cheque,” he announced. “Let me see, how many stories would I have to present to my editor to collect that lot? How many scoops?”
“Only one really good scoop,” answered his wife “— but then, how often do you get a scoop?”
“Madam,” said Val with mock dignity, “you are being unduly critical. May I remind you that if we had printed one tenth — only one tenth — of the fantastic adventures that we have been through then we should have collected enough scoops for every national daily at least six times a year . . .”
“Now whose being conceited my modest hero?” smiled La Noire, “but seriously, what are we going to do?”
“What are we going to do about what?” said Val, willfully obtuse.
“The cheque, of course,” retorted his wife. “What are we going to do with it?”
“Well, there’s only one thing to do with cheques, that I know of,” said Val feigning stupidity, “one takes them into the jolly old bank, dear old fruit, and cashes them.” La Noire drew a deep breath and sighed. Val was apparently in one of his jubilant but trying moods.
“If you really want it in words of one syllable, my mongoloid idiot of a spouse,” she said sweetly, the venom only increased by her dulcet tones. “If, as I said, I must reduce my statement to monosyllables — to what purpose do you intend to put the money that we have won?” Val looked nonplussed for a moment.
“I need a new set of golf clubs,” he smiled hopefully.
“Well, I want a sewing machine, a washing machine, a spin drier, a new fridge, and a fur coat . . .” He interrupted her.
“And I want another three wins to pay for that lot — we will now be serious.”
“What are we going to do — serious or not?” persisted La Noire.
“The next item on the agenda,” said Val, “is to go through and finish the cup of coffee, which our good friend the postman interrupted — come on!” La Noire led the way back into the dining room and they discussed their good news over the coffee.
“We can either be ever so wise and save it,” pronounced Val, “for the proverbial rainy day,” he looked out of the window — “which seems to be here — I think there is a moral in this weather, you know, I think we ought to save it!” His eyes still held a bantering humour.
“On the other hand,” said La Noire, “if we had never won it we wouldn’t have it to save, and after all, we want a little fun and games from life, surely!” Val scratched his head.
“A little fun and games,” he gasped in feigned exasperation. “A little after what we’ve been through: My dear good girl, we have had enough adventure to last a thousand people a thousand life times. I would be quite happy now to vegetate for good on a little provincial weekly where nothing happens except the local vegetable show, or the amateur dramatic society concert, or a returned missionary comes along to speak at the Women’s Own. No thanks: You know, I believe I must be getting old.” La Noire looked at him, this time there was no humour in her eyes.
“You know, Val,” she said softly, “if we stopped living adventurously we should almost stop living; my nerves have been at danger pitch for so many years, that I hardly know what it’s like to relax, and even if I did relax, I should rust.”
“Well, there don’t seem to be any adventure on the horizon at the moment,” replied Val. “Sorry I can’t oblige.” He, too, was serious now, though his words had a humourous twist.
“Let’s make some adventure,” said La Noire. “Do you know what I would like to do with the money, darling?”
This time he was serious — “Whatever it is we’ll do it,” he said. “Come on, tell me.”
“I think it would be wonderful to get plane tickets for some remote and isolated spot, and just for the fun of it, fly over there and see what its like. You know, stick a pin in a map — that sort of thing . . .”
“I shall have to fix things with the Old Man first,” said Val. The ‘Old Man’ to whom he so disrespectfully referred, was the irascible Scotch editor of his paper, the ‘Daily Globe,’ and when Mac got going he could verbally shrivel any reporter, senior reporter, sub-editor, camera man, or office boy in about three and a half seconds flat. He was a living firework display, that man. He was feared and awed and loved in equal proportions by nearly every member of the staff . . .
“We will stick a pin in a map, then” conceded Val, “but first, I will go and phone you-know-who.” He took up the receiver as he spoke, “Stearman here. Editor please,” he said after he had made his connection.
“What is it this time?” roared Mac. “Whenever you ring me, Stearman, there’s always something at the back of your horrible, crawling mind! Tell me, where do you want to go now? How long a holiday do you want this time? How much pay do you want to draw in advance?”
“What a charming man you are, sir,” replied Val, grinning at La Noire as she put her fingers in her ears to shut out the flow of invective Mac was pumping down the ‘phone.
“All right. Get to the point,” snarled the editor. “Go on Stearman, speak man, speak!”
“I will when I get a chance, sir,” answered Val quietly. “Any chance of a few days off? I’ve just had a win on the premium bonds, and I want a short holiday.”
“Your life is all holiday,” snarled the ‘phone in his ear. “I’ve never known ye do any work in all the years I’ve employed ye! But if ye’re really set on going, don’t be too long. If I didna let ye go, ye’d get the mistaken idea that your services are indispensable to my paper — that we’d close wi’oot ye! Can’t you see the headline to-morrow, ‘We regret the ‘Globe’ will not be in circulation for the next week because our ace reporter, Mr. Stearman, has gone down to Winklebay-on-Sea to pick up oysters.’”
“At least I realise that I am replaceable,” said Val quietly. “On the other hand, what are you going to do about my column — is the office boy to write it?”
“Stearman!” — a snarl of fury — “that column will be cabled from Timbuctoo, or from Alaska — is that clear? That column will be cabled from the Antipodes; it will be cabled from the centre of the earth; it will be cabled if you are on the Moon, Mars or Venus. It will be cabled from hell if you are dead, and from heaven if they let you in by mistake. Is that clear? I want your column, Stearman, and I want it on time: That’s all!” The ‘phone crashed down with such force that it almost made Val’s receiver vibrate.
“Wonder what that chap would be like if he stopped barking?” he remarked. “You know, darling,” he turned to La Noire, “I get the impression that deep down beneath that crustacean exterior is the heart of a soft, pink woolly lamb.” La Noire smiled.
“It only goes to show,” she answered, “how thick a crustacean exterior can be. Most people would get tired of digging long before they reached the soft, pink, woolly piece!”
“True,” sighed Val, “Very true. Anyway, that’s settled. Now then, the next call must be to the travel agents.” Val being a very experienced globetrotter, didn’t go to the type of agency where one is encountered by a languid secretary and waits for weeks for passports, visas, settlement of currency problems, and a hundred and one other details — all at five per cent! He spoke direct to an old school chum who was manager of a nationally-known organisation.
“George — Val here.”
“Oh — how are you?” There followed five minutes of reminiscences, during which La Noire stood with an expression of insidious boredom, and deliberately twiddled her thumbs under her husband’s nose.
“Will you cut the cackle and get some tickets to somewhere?” she whispered. Val waved her to silence and continued the reminiscence.
“By the way,” said his friend at last, “where do you want to go,”
“This,” answered Val, “will convulse you with helpless laughter. I warn you in advance that I am not going to be responsible for any injury you may do yourself in the process. We have just had a small, unexpected turn-up on the premium bonds, and we don’t give a hang where we go, so long as it’s somewhere remote, strange, fascinating, and has a smack of adventure about it. I suggest you get a pin and stick it in a map in any improbable area, and we will take your word for it.” He heard an explosive laugh from the other end.
“Are you serious, Val,” queried George.
“Honest to goodness, Scout’s honour and all that sort of thing,” replied Val boyishly. “Come on, there’s a good sport, find me somewhere to go, and we shall ask for a refund of the fare if something good doesn’t happen” There was a long pause — “You still there?” questioned Val anxiously.
“Thinking,” answered George, “thinking hard.”
“I thought I heard cogwheels” whispered La Noire.
“Hush!” reprimanded Val, “he’ll hear you.”
“I have heard,” interposed George, “cogwheels, wasn’t it madam?” La Noire giggled.
“Well, I do wish you’d hurry up and think of something, George,” she replied. “This £250 is absolutely burning a hole in my pocket.”
“Do you want to spend the lot?” queried George hopefully. “Got some lovely trips for £250 — Oh, half-way round the world at least.”
“What about back again?” joked Val.
“Send you to such a lovely place you wouldn’t want to come back,” chaffed George. “Cogwheels,” he muttered under his breath. “I’ll give you cogwheels.”
“Tell you what,” said Val, “for some reason I’ve got an intuition about South America. “Just be a good chap and stick a pin in a map — I, suppose you’ve got a map in your place? Can anyone in your establishment read maps?” There was another guffaw.
“I wonder sometimes,” replied George, “the mistakes that get made here. Do you know, we had a poor old fellow here the other day muttering on about Kans, and we thought he wanted Cannes in the south of France, until we found out he was some sort of Polish-American with a voice affliction and he wanted to get back to Kansas. But he’s quite happy in the south of France now. We had a letter from him asking for some more money — but I’m digressing, and I’ve got other customers besides you . . . Smithy.” Val heard him call to someone in the background. “Bring me a map of South America and a pin, will you?”
“Pin, sir?” piped a faint voice in the distance. Val and La Noire chuckled as they listened.
“Yes, Smithy, a pin. P-i-n” He spoke into the mouthpiece again. “Now you know what I have to put up with, if you overheard that conversation.” The Stearmans were chuckling loudly.
“Hurry up with that pin, no matter how you are obtaining it,” said Val.
“Eeni, meeni, minie, mo,” said George, “where shall the Stearmans jolly well go?” Splat! He stuck in the pin — “half a minute while I try to read the name of the place. How about Monte Video?” he asked.
“Monte Video?” queried La Noire, “my geography’s a bit shaky, where on earth is that?”
“Capital of Uruguay — situated on the River Plate.” answered George. “Quite an important harbour, got a decent university, main business, I believe is beef salting. Estimated population six hundred and eighty thousand. This is Uncle George, walking encyclopedia, telling you all about this interesting place that you should know already — or perhaps you were able to play truant when you should have been at school, madam? That’s one for the cogwheels,” he hissed in an undertone. “The score is now deuce,” said Val, “I suggest we hang up. Thanks awfully, old man. Will you get us a couple of tickets there, return. Needless to say, will the £250 do it?”
“Don’t see why not,” answered George. “Won’t be the lap of luxury, but it will get you there.”
“Thanks a lot,” replied Val, “give us a ring when everything’s fixed.”
“Absolutely,” George came back.” “Passports still valid?”
“Oh, too true,” said Val, “never know when we have to make a hurried escape in my line of business.” They both laughed.
“Cheerio for now,” said George, “I expect I will ring you tomorrow, everything will be ready then.”
“Oh, good show,” said Val, “Cheerio.” They hung up.
It was exactly twenty-four hours after their ‘phone call that the Stearman’s found themselves on board their plane, heading for Monte Video. The other passengers were an odd assortment, and there were two who stood out particularly.
“We’re in rather good company,” said Val quietly to La Noire, “you see that chap in front — the old boy with the tremendous mop of white curly hair and the domed forehead,” La Noire nodded, “well, that apparently innocuous looking old Father Christmas,” went on Val, “is no other than the eminent Professor de Kerrett, who in the opinion of most people, is the world’s leading atomic physicist. Usually travels with a massive bodyguard. The bowler-hatted business man with the rather broad shoulders who is just behind him, trying to interest himself in the Financial Times — which he doesn’t understand — is pretty sure to be a Scotland Yard man — that’s interesting —” he broke off suddenly.
“What’s that?” asked La Noire.
“I’m not sure whether our funny business man from Scotland Yard is busy watching De Kerrett, or whether he’s watching the other gentleman — chap on the right, sitting about three seats in front of the Professor.” La Noire craned her neck a little to follow the direction of her husband’s gaze.
“Which one do you mean” she queried.
“Rather suave, nice looking chap,” said Val, “about thirty, sleek, rather like the better type of villain from a Victorian melodrama.”
“Do you know him?” asked La Noire.
“Every journalist in London knows Silver Morcombe,” whispered Val quietly. “He’s a sort of twentieth century Raffles — kind of real-life Simon Templar, if you like — modern Robin Hood type. To put it in words of one syllable, he’s a good crook. Smuggles jewels when he gets the chance. Open safes with amazing alacrity. Gives you a beaming smile, will take your watch and sell it and give the proceeds to some impoverished native when he gets to Monte Video . . . by and large, rather a nice chap! I believe he is wanted by Interpol at the moment — no, he can’t be, or he wouldn’t be travelling so openly. He must have just skidded out from underneath that last rap they were trying to pin on him. Remarkably clever, but then, he has to be for his line of business.” They settled back to enjoy the flight.
The airliner struck an airpocket and they were jolted about like peas in a pod.
“George said this wouldn’t be exactly the lap of luxury,” said Val ruefully.
“I am going to enjoy it,” said La Noire, sounding a trifle breathless. “After all, we don’t come to Monte Video every day.”
“Good job we don’t if the route is marked with air pockets like that one,” said Val, rubbing a tender portion of his anatomy. “I wish they would spare just a little more upholstery for these seats.”
“Your trouble is, you don’t sit still.” exclaimed La Noire. “Can you expect to be comfortable if you keep on jiggling about?”
“I am not jiggling about,” said Val, with dignity, “I was minding my own business when this unmentionable plane suddenly decided to hiccough — or whatever it did — and in consequence I am very much annoyed; I can get bumps like that at any time, without paying £250 for them.” They both laughed.
The air hostess came along to see if they would like refreshments.
“Any liniment?” enquired Val perversely. La Noire dug him swiftly in the ribs. The air hostess was South American and her English was still not quite perfect.
“What is that the gentleman wanted?” she asked quickly.
“It’s a new kind of drink called ‘Linnamon’“ said La Noire. “I am sure you haven’t got any. But we wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a couple of dry Martinis, would we Val?”
“Indeed we wouldn’t,” agreed her husband, “the sooner the better.” The air hostess walked swiftly and efficiently between the rows of seats to bring them their drinks. The weather had been absolutely perfect up till now, but it seemed as though that air pocket had cast a slur over the blue perfection of the sky. From the eastern horizon a jagged wrack of clouds began to roll ever higher until what had an hour earlier been an unspoilt panorama of purest azure, now looked for all the world like a masterpiece that has been deliberately ruined by a temperamental artist. They drank the Martinis in silence as the plane flew steadily away to the southwest.
The mighty rollers of the great Atlantic spread out below them and Val couldn’t help thinking how ironic it was that the world’s greatest mountain range should lie hidden beneath these grey-green waters. Oddly, a passage of Scripture flitted through his mind. “Men do not light a candle and hide it under a bushel . . . the city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.” It was weird to think of that glorious, majestic scenery hidden for ever. Hidden from the admiring eyes of man beneath those impenetrable waters, only the highest peaks visible as the Azores, Tristan da Cuna, and the Canary Islands . . .
The plane flew into a sky that was rapidly turning grey then purple — a weird sky, and at this altitude, for they were flying high, the rarefaction of the atmosphere seemed to accentuate the peculiarity of the celestial colouration. Then quite suddenly they saw to the left of them the most peculiar astral phenomena that any of them had ever seen. The abstracted Professor De Kerrett was jerked out of his reverie back to sudden consciousness of reality. Silver Morcombe was gazing out with ill-concealed excitement. He was a man whose metabolic rate was considerably more rapid than many of his fellows. He lived dangerously, therefore he lived faster. New sights, new sounds, were a challenge to Silver, and he paid attention to them accordingly. He was a man with a zeal and a talent for living — and he used his talent to the full! Whatever friends or enemies may say of Morcombe they would all agree that he was a hundred per cent alive. ‘Vital’ was the word that described him best.
Ahead of them the sky filled with a thick green mist. It was not a pleasant natural green, neither was it like the green of the sea, or even the bright green of a lime light. It was a green such as no mortal eye had gazed upon before. A great artist once proved to the world that a picture could be painted with one colour only. He chose blue to show the tremendous versatility of that hue. There are greens of infinite variety, but this green seemed to be the impure colour of evil. It was a bad colour. A colour that pulsated with rottenness — a colour that had no part in the spectrum, a colour that had no right to exist. The colour seemed from some alien dimension, and because of its very otherness, it sent strange shivers of fear through Val Stearman and La Noire.
There seemed to be no apparent end to this strange, green cloud — it was above them, beneath them, in front of them, as well as to the side. Before the pilot was able to take any evasive action they were in it, and it closed around them like a prison, locking them in with frightening finality. La Noire couldn’t help thinking of the dreaded verse above the Bastille, ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here.’
The green-ness was completely impenetrable and yet as they looked at the windows they realised that it was not condensing as a normal fog or vapour would have done. Not a single drop of moisture appeared on the glass. In that respect it was like a green smoke, and yet it did not appear to be composed of minute particles of dust as smoke is composed — it was more like a green jelly, in so far as it appeared quite smooth. There didn’t appear to be any break in it at all. It was not a cloud, although it looked like a cloud. It was not vapour, though at first it appeared to be vapour. And it was most certainly not smoke or fumes.
It was as if they had suddenly become two-dimensional and entered a picture in verdant tones, of which they were just part of the canvas. The deadly shadow of the green environment was absolutely terrifying. Any reserve which had previously existed between the passengers had completely gone now.
“This is dashed odd,” said Silver Morcombe turning round and speaking rather languidly, but the languidity was part of his confidence trickster pose, for there was nothing at all languid about Silver Morcombe, and as the very strangeness of the green unreality was brought home to them, even so this pose dropped away, and a few seconds later when he spoke again, his voice was changed. It was brisk and efficient, like his mind. He turned in his seat and looked straight at Val.
“I know you,” he said.
“I know you, too,” replied Val, taken aback, “your name is Morcombe.”
“Yes, yours is Stearman, you’re a reporter.”
“That’s right,” said Val, “would you like me to give your profession, or would you like to keep it secret?” Other passengers were looking at them now as they conducted their conversation across three or four seats.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Morcombe, “It doesn’t look as if anything much is going to matter if we don’t come to the end of this green stuff. Ever seen anything like it? You’ve been around a bit, seen you before — abroad.”
“That’s right,” answered Val, “North Africa, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, yes, that’s right. I had a spot of business there.”
“Yes, you were lucky to get out of that,” Stearman replied. “We’ll talk about this cloud, shall we?”
“Willingly,” said Morcombe. “Past is past, the present is the thing to live for. Future may never materialise is my motto. Have you ever seen anything like it before?” Val shook his head slowly.
“Have you, darling?” he queried, turning to La Noire. “No,” she whispered, “I don’t like it. It’s horrible somehow. I have come across things that remind me of this but never on the physical plane. This doesn’t look like ordinary colour — it’s as if we were flying in a green spotlight.” Even as she spoke, Silver’s keen eye was roving round the inside of the plane. The green vapour seemed to permeate everywhere, as if metal and glass alike were porous to this creeping green cloud — this coloured Presence.
Suddenly a strange glassy look began to creep over Morcombe’s face, his voice was slower as he turned. Val Stearman was a man of unusual strength and stamina, and it was this fact which made him the last to succumb to the weird paralysis, which, starting with the change in Morcombe’s expression, spread rapidly over the passengers and crew of the airliner.
As the emerald light seemed to spread insiduously over the aircraft, becoming more pronounced with every passing second, so, one by one, every man, woman and child on board froze into statuesque immobility. After the first dazing effects on Morcombe’s eyes, the tough international crook managed to avoid it for a little and he and Val were vainly trying to reach each other across the plane, as they both sought mutual aid from one another.
The whole macabre scene was indescribable. The engines of the plane had stopped, and yet it did not dive, but hovered, enveloped in this green cloud. Like a ghost plane in a ghostly sky, peopled with the dead, it simply hovered motionless, as if suspended by invisible threads, as silent as the Marie Celeste. Its props stood still and stark. The air hostess like a waxwork waitress, with a tray of drinks in her hand, stood framed in the doorway; the pilot’s hands were still on the controls, the navigator with his pencil and pad; the wireless operator, sensing that something was wrong, on the very point of sending out an S.O.S., a message destined never to be sent . . . frozen . . . like three-dimensional images of people.
Motionless as a painted green plane in a painted green sky, the airliner simply stayed where she was. It was fantastic, incredible — truly out of this world. Completely unbelievable. A massive modern airliner — one of the crowning points of twentieth century engineering and achievement. Frozen in the sky by an unknown green cloud. As the paralysis inflicted the passengers, so their consciousness left them. Each in turn had felt himself or herself, sinking down into a strange dark green abyss. An abyss in which there was no sensibility, an abyss of nothingness, an abyss of no awareness. And then it was even more terrifying . . . for the green cloud with its cargo began to move.
There was no wind to stir it at such a high altitude, or currents to account for the movement, and yet it moved. It moved and continued to move. Its speed increased. Its velocity grew higher with each passing minute. Until the whole terrifying green cloud was moving as fast as the plane had moved, and then faster, heading for the unexplored interior of South America. Heading for the land of the Incas, for the mysterious source of the Amazon, for the country of the strange beings who worshipped the sun thousands of years before the Christian era; heading for the homeland of forgotten civilization; heading for the unknown . . .
* * *
The next thing the pilot knew was that he was awake, terrifyingly awake, for his plane was clear of the green cloud, which was the last thing he could remember, and diving fast from about eight thousand feet. For a few desperate seconds he wrestled with the controls, and then apparently realising that no power on earth would restart his engines in time he did a miraculous gliding manoeuvre, and brought the plane round in a life-saving circle, which was a wonderful piece of navigation. The co-pilot exchanged glances with him and heaved a tremendous sigh of relief. Engines or no engines, they were not going to do a nose-dive.
Losing altitude at every second the giant sky liner coasted slowly towards the distant earth — the vista that spread out before them didn’t look very encouraging. As far as the horizon in every direction stretched a trackless expanse of matted green jungle.
“Where on earth are we?” wondered the co-pilot. The Captain shook his head.
“Haven’t the faintest. All I can remember is that terrible green cloud, where were we then?” The navigator was snapping back to life.
“We were somewhere in mid-Atlantic, sir.” He looked at his chart. “Last position I’ve got for a checkpoint, we were only about three hundred miles west of England. This is pretty definitely the tropics, but is it Africa, or South America, or where?”
“South America, at a guess,” said the co-pilot. “But one jungle is very much like another at this height.” The Captain nodded.
“Very true,” he commented. “There’s another common denominator of jungles, too —” there was a pause. “Nowhere to land,” said No. 2. “I know, sir. What do you suggest?”
“Can you see anywhere?” asked the Captain. They combed the green beneath them with their eyes.
“What’s that?” said the wireless officer. “Down there, sir.” The Captain and the co-pilot followed his gaze to starboard.
“Can’t see anything,” said the Captain.
“There sir,” repeated Sparks. “Look again:” and he pointed through the perspex vision screen.
“Yes, by George, you’re right,” said No. 2. “It’s some sort of clearing. By the stars and stripes, it’s not very big, do you think we can do it, sir?”
“We shall have to do it,” said the Captain grimly.
“Sparks just slip back and see how the passengers are.” Already distant sounds of stirring could be heard from the main body of the fuselage. Before Sparks could open the door, the pretty South American air hostess entered the cockpit.
“Sir, whatever happened?” she questioned.
“Don’t know,” said the Captain grimly, “wish I did. What about the passengers?”
“Everyone all right sir. I have just reassured them that it was a natural phenomenon.” She laughed rather weakly.
“You’ve done a jolly good job,” said the Captain. “Shows presence of mind, my girl. I’ll see you’re mentioned in dispatches for this.” She laughed.
“What is ‘dispatches’, pliz?” she asked puzzled.
“It means I’ll tell the boss you’re a jolly good air hostess,” replied the Captain quietly, with gentle humour. Then his whole attention was on getting the sky liner down safely into the narrow clearing.
“Tell the passengers that we are going to have to make a forced landing, because of a little bit of engine trouble. Tell them it is nothing to worry about. There is no danger, and to fasten their safety belts, we will be under way again as soon as possible. Emphasise that there is no danger.” He again exchanged glances with the co-pilot. “And may God forgive me for the biggest lie I have ever told,” he whispered when the girl had left.
“If you are proved to be wrong, we shall very soon know whether you have been forgiven, because we shall meet our Maker. I suggest we offer up any prayers we know, because this is just about the stickiest landing we shall ever attempt.” He did not speak again until, with a reverberating ‘Boom’ and a frightening jar, the airliner touched down in the rough sandy clearing for which he had made. Slewing wildly from left to right the big plane jerked and jolted, like a horse that resents being broken in. It bucked and kicked like a living thing. The Captain’s face went white and then grey as he wrestled with the controls. The clearing was littered with boulders, and patches of treacherous soft sand and it seemed that at any moment the plane must somersault and throw them all to destruction, and yet, no air line pilot would hold his ticket unless he was the kind of man who could deal with just this sort of emergency. Captain Len Jenkins was an ace among airline pilots. With a great sigh of relief he stopped the plane less than a dozen paces from the edge of the clearing. He turned to No. 2:
“As long as I live I never want to do that again,” he gasped. “Next time we have to land in a clearing the size of a handkerchief I’m going to throw a heart attack and let you do it! Could I use a drink!” Sparks hurried off to fetch him one.
“You’ve certainly earned one, sir,” said No. 2 fervently. “By the Saints, you’ve earned one!” As Jenkins poured back the double Scotch he eyed No. 2. “You are now witnessing your Captain breaking a rule and a tradition of this airline,” he said. “I have never before taken a drink on board a plane, or within an hour of take-off.”
“I think, sir,” replied No. 2 respectfully, “that there are times when rules and traditions may’ be ignored.” Len handed the empty glass back to the radio operator.
“Another one — even bigger if the glass will hold it.”
“Of course, sir,” said Sparks and darted back to fetch it. He had scarcely returned before there was a shout of alarm from the passenger section of the plane. A sudden shriek in a high-pitched feminine voice.
“Look! Look there! In the jungle! Natives, savages, and they’re coming to attack!” With a movement that was so perfectly timed that it might have been practised, both Val Stearman and Silver Morcombe dived for their jacket pockets. They eyed each other and grinned unashamedly. Clarence Buelager was on the verge of hysterics.
“Look, look, look,” he kept gasping, pointing frantically towards the jungle, but possibly due to the angle at which the plane rested, none of the others had so far seen the object that was causing the excitable Hollywood man to reach the verge of a stroke. And then Silver Morcombe saw them too, and his cold blue eyes narrowed until they were like two slits of steel. The hand that had gone to his jacket pocket snapped out, and it was not empty. La Noire saw them next, and she stifled an involuntary scream of terror and clutched at her husband’s arm.
“Look, darling, he’s right. Look.” From the thick matted jungle all around them, brown-skinned natives were advancing towards the stricken plane. They were natives such as none of the passengers or crew had seen before. Short, stocky men, with hideous painted faces, and worst of all — no hair. Their heads were as bald as the rocks that littered that jungle clearing. They shone like polished mahogany, in the high South American sun.
“Who are they?” whispered La Noire.
“They might be friendly,” said Val doubtfully, but like Morcombe he, too, had drawn his gun. The air hostess rushed through the fuselage to tell Len Jenkins that the natives were approaching, but Jenkins had already seen them. He did not share Val Stearman’s optimism and with a quick blow of his fist smashed open the emergency arms locker and distributed revolvers and munition to the co-pilot, radio operator and stewardess.
“Can you use this, Maria?” he asked quickly.
“Yes, my father he had a ranchero. I know how to shoot,” she said confidently.
“Good girl,” said Jenkins, “I hope none of us will have to shoot, but I don’t believe in taking a chance. I didn’t take ten years off my life getting this plane down safely, only to have myself and passengers butchered by a set of blood-thirsty head hunters. I wonder if they know any English?” he went on ruefully, “though I should say it’s a pretty forlorn hope.” Gun in hand he slid open the cockpit hatch and leapt lightly down to meet them. All of them expected that if there was to be a battle the advantage of weapons would be with them. They had expected clubs, spears and blow pipes, any of which could be easily countered by a modem firearm. But now their expectations came to nothing! The natives carried long black rods that had appeared in the distance to be spears, and suddenly the leading savage swung his up as if to throw it at Jenkins, whose finger tightened on the trigger.
“You do, my boy,” he breathed to himself. “You do, you draw your arm one tiny fraction of an inch further, and I will drop you where you stand.” But the native did not throw the black rod, and suddenly Jenkins realised that it was not a spear. It was a tube of some sort and it was not a crude, primitive weapon either. It was a tube of black shining meta1, and next instant a beam of vivid green light struck the gallant Captain fair and square in the middle of the chest. With a coughing gasp he collapsed to the ground insensible.
Pandemonium broke loose on the plane. Thrusting La Noire behind him, Val Stearman crouched low beaeath the window and loosed off three or four rounds with the big Browning, shattering the perspex, which dropped onto the heads of the bald natives. Silver Morcombe, too, threw himself suddenly down below the level of the windows. They were just in time. At a prearranged signal the natives swung up their black rods and sprayed the whole of the plane with shafts of the deadly green light, that had brought them to this weird spot in the first place. Those passengers who were still sitting upright in the beams slumped unconscious in their seats. For a few seconds more, Stearman and Morcombe fired viciously at the approaching natives and then they too slumped unconscious as the hideous enemy climbed in through the fuselage door.
* * *
The next thing they knew they were shackled together like a chain gang of slaves and all around them the horrible, hairless natives with their hideous, mask-like, evil faces were driving them on through the jungle. It was a nightmare journey. Their captors seemed far less than human as they guided the Europeans into the sweltering steamy inferno of the matted vegetation. They were chained in single file and any effort at conversation was met with a savage blow from one of the long black rods. Finally they gave up trying to talk and marched in gloomy silence.
La Noire went over, in her mind, the whole fantastic business from the start. Everything had been perfectly routine she thought, until the airliner had flown into that weird green cloud and everyone had lost consciousness and woken up thousands of miles from the point at which they had encountered the cloud. After a miraculous landing by the pilot, these strange natives had appeared from the jungle as if — she realised suddenly — as if they were expecting the stricken plane to have landed just there! Otherwise they could never have arrived so quickly.
Another point that tied up in her mind, was the connection between the palpable green of the cloud and the same weird green light that emanated from the black rods used by the natives. They were, she reflected, vaguely like the relationship between a bomb and a rifle or revolver, the same power but in different degrees of control.
It was unbearably hot in the jungle, and before she had covered more than a mile La Noire had lost both shoes. The stewardess, Maria, had been equally unfortunate and so had, the other women passengers. Poor old Professor De Kerrett was tottering along as though the effort would be his last. Despite their apparent savagery however, the hairless natives were watching him with ill-concealed concern. Finally one, who appeared to be the leader, grunted an order in their strange guttural tongue and with a savage jerk on the chain indicated to the prisoners that they were to halt.
Watching carefully in case of any attempt to escape the natives closed in and released De Kerrett from his chain. Another snarled order from the leader and the old scientist was being quite carefully borne aloft on a simple wooden litter that had been hastily cut from the jungle around them. It was uncanny to watch the way in which these savage naked tribesmen found their way through the steaming, trackless undergrowth. All the time their route wound upwards until after what seemed an eternity the weary prisoners found that the jungle was at last giving way to scrubby undergrowth and bare, open rocks.
Curiously Val turned, and saw the plane far, far below them in the tiny clearing, a shining silver speck against a blanket of dark green. His heart sank as he saw how far they had been marched from their link with civilization. For he knew that without the natives to guide them they would have very little chance of ever reaching the plane again, It was open country now, as they continued to climb steadily over bare craggy rocks that reached right to the skyline.
At last they had reached the summit and looked down a sharp precipitous ravine. If anything, it resembled the Grand Canyon itself. It was immense and splendid. Larger than anything they had ever seen before. The leader of the natives gestured with his hand and they sat down, thankfully lowering themselves to the ground. Val edged closer to La Noire and wondered whether he dare risk a whisper. He saw the natives sharp savage eye resting on him, balefully, but decided to chance it.
“How are you feeling darling,” he gasped wearily.
“Not so good,” she breathed. The native raised his black rod threateningly and they lapsed into silence. Silver Morcombe looked down over the edge of the ravine and strained his eyes to see what lay below. In doing so he surveyed the whole panorama of the great, sharp-sided valley and realised that its first appearance of unlimited size was false. For unlike the Grand Canyon the ends of this tremendous chasm were visible from the spot where they now rested.
It was a tremendous rectangular depression and, impossible as it sounded, Silver got the idea, that it had been deliberately hollowed out from the rock, centuries and centuries ago. He dismissed the thought as crazy and impossible but the thought persisted. Far below, he could see weird, great shapes moving in jerky procession. There was something just vaguely familiar about them, but for the life of him, he couldn’t think what. Odd memories from the very depths of his subconscious kept trying to tell him what they were. Somewhere, somehow, in some strange connection, he had seen something that reminded him of these grey, moving shapes lumbering along on the valley floor. But the memory continued to elude him, and his attention was taken from the grey shapes as his eye began to pick out other details.
There were buildings there, strange, bizarre buildings, weird and unearthly. They made him think for all the world of an oil refinery or some large chemical development plant. And yet the layout was not that of any chemical plant, that he had ever seen, and there were in addition, various metallic towers. Slim, skylon-like devices that rose with elegant grace towards the roof of the valley. Their construction was so fine, that from such a distance, it was impossible for Morcombe to pick out details.
The hawk-eyed leader of the natives who had captured them decided that the prisoners had rested long enough. With a hoarse cry he urged them to their feet and a few seconds later they were moving at a slow shambling walk along the top of the ravine, goaded by the cruel black rods. The thought uppermost in every mind was how were the natives going to descend into that uncanny valley far below, There didn’t appear to be any steps or pathways leading down the perpendicular sides.
Ten minutes more and they found themselves being rounded up on a large flat stone, perfectly rectangular in shape and as highly polished as if it had been treated with a sand blaster in an up-to-date machine shop. The native in charge took great care to see that neither prisoners nor any of his own men were too close to the edge of this rectangular stone. When at last he was satisfied with their positions he knelt down and pulled hard at a round iron ring let into the polished block. There was a muffled whirring noise. It sounded to Val Stearman as if powerful steel hawsers were’ being let out on great. well-lubricated winch drums. The whirring noise grew louder and then very swiftly and smoothly the square stone block began to descend. The native in command pulled another control that was set in the stone and a telescopic metal grille unfolded itself from the edges, until it formed a protecting rail, some five feet in height.
The prisoners could not but help admire the ingenuity of thought that could produce a scientific marvel of this kind in the primeval, tropical jungle. The sides of the lift that faced the prisoners looked down over the valley; the other three sides formed part of the shaft which had been gouged out of the living rock.
The speed increased still more until it became nauseating to descend at such high velocity. The natives, however, took it in their stride. It was obvious that they themselves used this elevator many times a day. As they descended Silver edged forward to get a look at the valley floor. He was rather nearer than the other prisoners to the open edge of the lift and at last he was able to make out the strange, lumbering, grey shapes that had amazed him from the heights above. His blood almost froze in his veins.
For now that he could see them clearly he recognised the half-familiar outline of a number of prehistoric reptiles!
Away to his right a giant brontosaurus rolled jerkily across the valley floor. Beside it, a ferocious horned triceratops was roving towards a sparse clump of vegetation. In the other direction the tall vicious figure of Tyrannosaurus Rex was making a bee-line towards the armour-plated triceratops. Something flashed by, level with the earth. At first glance he thought it was a giant blackbird, then it whirled and flew past again. This time he saw what it was. The flying creature was a pterodactyl — there could be no mistaking that vicious toothed beak and the long raking claws that topped its wing tips.
The lift began to slow down as they reached the valley floor. Finally it came to rest and the terrified prisoners walked off into the sunlit landscape of an alien world. The towering mass that had in the distance looked like a refinery or chemical works, was, on closer inspection far more alien than it had appeared at first. It was quite definitely machinery of some kind, but as to its exact purpose the prisoners were unable to hazard a guess. The natives carrying Professor De Kerrett’s litter pulled the old man to his feet as the lift finally stopped in response to the controls, and the protecting grille folded back into the stone.
The leading native gestured them forward and once more, urged on by slashing blows from the cruel black ray weapons, the unhappy group moved forward. As they drew even closer to the machinery that seemed to fill the valley floor, they could hear the powerful humming vibrations that were coming from it. Instantly they shrank back as one of the lumbering saurians suddenly confronted them round the comer of the strange alien building. The natives, however, were completely unconcerned at the gigantic reptiles that were wandering about. The enormous creature in their path stopped, its massive limbs jerked spasmodically and then came to rest.
The native leading the prisoners, moved to the huge wall-like side of the beast, and raising the black rod rapped sharply on the creature’s side. For a tense second the watching prisoners expected the hideous carnivore to swing round in a circle of angry teeth and devour him, but they were not in the least prepared for what did happen — part of the creatures great reptilian side folded back upon itself like a sliding panel, revealing a strange dark aperture within. Inside the body of the colossal reptile was a panel of scientific instruments that was undoubtedly a controlling panel, for behind it sat one of the hideous hairless natives. He made an adjustment to his controls and leapt out, as if in answer to the other’s knock. They exchanged a few hoarse, guttural sentences very quickly and then the driver of the fantastic machine climbed back into the interior of the creature and closed the panel. The prisoners stood and watched in fascinated, spellbound horror as the great reptile jerked clumsily away. Val Stearman was unable to remain silent any longer.
“I just don’t believe it,” he exclaimed, “I have never seen anything like this.”
“Neither have I,” whispered La Noire, “its terrible.” The keen brain of Silver Morcombe was trying to assess the amazing facts. As he stood lost in thought his roving eyes flashed to the tyrannosaurus and the triceratops that were now very close together. Next second the carnivore threw itself viciously at the vegetarian, and the two great beasts rolled over in what appeared to be mortal combat.
The other reptiles in the area began making towards them at all possible speed, and to the further amazement of the prisoners, as soon as the other beasts reached the contestants they began pulling them away from one another, and standing them the right way up. The whole affair was over in less than a minute, and the two subdued monsters were quiet again. As Morcombe watched the control panels in these two also opened, and native drivers crawled out, white faced and shaken, to disappear into one of the buildings. The other beasts moved off once more and disappeared about their separate business. The two driverless beasts remained absolutely still.
Practical man that he was Silver wondered whether he could be dreaming. The whole thing was so utterly crazy and fantastic. The native overseer was driving them on again rapidly now, among a tangled mass of machinery towards a round, conical building. Towards the centre of the valley, as they reached it, the native raised his hand towards a metal plate set in the stone wall of the building. There was a loud, high-pitched buzzing, of a frequency so unpleasant that it seemed almost solid in its intensity. Listening to it was rather like receiving a physical blow. A panel in the wall of the conical building slid noiselessly back and the native guards ushered them through.
The hall was large, and seemed to the prisoners to be in the form of a concentric cone. When the last of them was inside they watched in bewilderment to see what was going to happen next.
The native approached the inner wall and repeated his performance in front of an almost identical panel, the wall behind them slid shut, and a new panel slid open. They passed through once more into an identical chamber, more conical and concentric than the first. Yet another wall lay beyond this. Here, too, the native held his hand in the strange sound beam that opened the panel. They moved reluctantly into a third chamber, brilliantly lit with a cold, harsh, white light. It was a glare rather than a light, intensely unpleasant to the eyes.
In the centre of this inner chamber was a tall, raised dais, and in the centre of the dais was a throne . . . a tall, sinister creature sat upon it. The light made it difficult to see very clearly, so powerful was its intensity, and so harsh its glare. But light or no light, the prisoners could see at a glance that the thing upon the throne was a foul and evil monster. Like the natives it was utterly devoid of hair. Its skull and flesh shone with a strange inhuman gleam; it seemed more like an inert statue in polished alabaster than a living creature. It was wrong, macabre, altogether bad. As they entered it turned its head and gazed in their direction. Like the natives, its voice was savage and guttural.
“So, you have come to the Forbidden Valley,” the words had a terrifying, threatening sound to them. Yet they sounded more like words of a robot than the voice of anything living.
“You have come to the Forbidden Valley,” repeated the terrifying Thing. “No doubt there is much that you would like explained.” Val wished his hands were free to draw a gun, for he knew, deep down within his soul that this thing was so evil that it must be destroyed. He knew it instinctively, and so did La Noire. Silver Morcombe was looking at the Beast with eyes that did not flinch, but were nonetheless grim and filled with purpose, as if he, too, were thinking, “This ‘man’ must die.” The eyes were like two pools of deep black water and yet, as it looked at them, there occasionally rose to the surface of those pools flashes of clear red fire, as if the hatred and evil in the mind of the monster was making itself visible through the eyes. Val looked, and thought to himself, ‘The eyes are the windows of the soul.’ ‘May the saints preserve us from the evil in the soul of this fiend.’
“I always take pleasure in explaining to newcomers the principles upon which this kingdom is administered,” intoned the beast. “‘You will perhaps be interested to know how you were captured in the first place.” Slowly and jerkily its arm moved as if to indicate the whole expanse of machinery that filled the valley floor.
“I am the last of the ancient gods of the West,” said the beast, speaking very slowly. “I am a god of Violence, I am a Lord of Destruction. My followers served me with sacrifice of blood, and I inspired them to go out to fight, to kill, to destroy.” The mad red light was flashing in its eyes, “I am one of the Ancient Beings,” it snarled. “I am a Great One. But I must tell you the facts, yes, the facts,” it repeated slowly. “Firstly then, all this machinery is mine. Designed in this brain, product of centuries of thought. Our civilisation was old before the civilisation of Greece and Rome were even heard of. Our civilisation was old with Ur of the Chaldees. It was old when China was young and when the Egyptians had not yet learnt to hew stone. It was a great civilisation, because I was its god! As you will see we are not without our scientific progress.” The creature gave a wild, demoniacal laugh. “But first things first, all this machinery that you can see is the product of my workers, but there are things that they cannot do with their clumsy hands and minds. I need scientists.” The red evil flashed again as his eyes lit on the hapless Professor De Kerrett. “I need scientists to put the finishing touches to my work . . . I must have them. After working for so many centuries am I to be thwarted now?”
The Thing was terrible to listen to. “And so I gazed into the ether and picked up the thoughts of travelers everywhere. Somewhere I knew there must be a man somewhere in the air — for I have great power in the air — somewhere in the air there was a man flying, a man from whose mind I could pick up mathematical emanation — a scientist such as you, my dear Professor De Kerrett, so although my machine is unfinished, it has done its preliminary work well. With your brain we shall build it until it is a masterpiece against which no nation of the world can stand. This machine,” again that sweeping gesture of his arm that seemed to include the whole valley, “this machine,” he repeated “creates the green cloud. This machine sends that cloud to conquer, to destroy, to bring under my control all nations of the earth. But first the machine must be completed. So nearly ready: so close to success I can smell it: I can feel it with my hands — and yet, there are one or two small things my machine still lacks, and you, professor, shall help to fix them. Help me to finish my masterpiece, my dream of a score of centuries.” De Kerrett was backing away from him in horror to the fullest extent of the chain.
“No!” said the old scientist, “Never, never. I’d rather die than help you, you fiend!”
“Well said,” exclaimed Stearman, “Well done, old man.” A stinging blow from one of the black metal rods felled the scientist to his knees. The savage creature upon the throne laughed cruelly.
“‘It doesn’t pay to argue with me, as you will find out later, you old fool,” he said. “But of course, you will have noticed another aspect of our civilisation — unique I believe throughout the world.” They looked at him. “You mean those dinosaurs,” said Silver Morcombe at last, “the monsters, the reptiles?”
“I do indeed,” said the beast, “I do indeed.’ He leered out the words. “You would perhaps like to know the secret of this power in my valley, hidden away from the rest of the world. We have developed a wonderful science, and one of the secrets we have discovered is how to put controls in without killing the creatures. Look at it this way, by a process of selective breeding we have produced a monster with a cavity — or the beginning of a cavity, in its internal organs. We operate on the monster and build in one of our control stations. The monster still lives and breathes. It still has strength and muscles, but it has much, much more, now. It has a new brain and new nerve centre controlled by the driver. Think of what this means.”
“I want to ask a question,” said Silver. “A few minutes ago I saw two of these creatures fighting — what went wrong with your super science?”
“From time to time,” snarled the creature imperiously, “these creatures revert to in instinctive behaviour. It can’t be helped.” It lapsed into silent thought for a moment, “in your own world, I believe motor cars skid, as you know to your cost airplanes fail to fly.”
He laughed, “So too, our means of locomotion occasionally get out of control.” Again that evil laugh. “Enough of this. I need slaves. Your hands are more fitted to the task of completing my machine than the hands of these natives, they lack the skill. The brain of the professor there will be very useful to me, very useful indeed. And in case he should fail to co-operate,” the eyes of the monster flashed red again, “should he or any of you fail to co-operate, all the women will die by the torture.”
He barked orders to the natives in their own guttural tongue and to the horror of the prisoners the women were unchained and all secured to the walls of the terrifying throne room. “The rest of you will go out towards the machine with Ogaka. In a few minutes I will come to you and give you your first task, and remember for every refusal and for every failure one of these shall die slowly at the hands of my native torturers.” A terrible hush had fallen over the prisoners as they followed the native overseer out of the awful throne room into the valley beyond.
It was not long before the creature himself was leading them around the fantastic network of machinery.
“You, of course, will understand me Professor even if the others don’t. This machine works on a principle which is a combination of the atomic theory and a law that is unknown to your science, which we call the principle of vibratory frequency. Which means, to simplify it, that everything in the universe vibrates at a certain speed or frequency. For instance, when one matches the exact degree of frequency of vibration, to the exactitude which we are able to do here, one can shatter and destroy them. Or by combining this power with an inverted atomic reactor one can send out a cloud of negative matter which I believe you have already seen demonstrated to your cost. Yes,” he hissed triumphantly, “the Green Cloud is my masterpiece; it is not yet quite perfect. I could not bring you here to the valley as I would have done. I could bring you nearly to the spot I wanted, I bring you to that little clearing and send my men there to meet you, but I couldn’t quite achieve my ambition. But I shall,” again he looked at De Kerrett, “but I shall, shan’t I, Professor? Remember you will hear their last screams if you don’t do as you are told!”
The old man seemed to have shrunk into himself with the tremendous burden that was laid upon him. He was on the horns of a horrible dilemma, for he knew that to aid this evil creature to perfect the terrible green paralysing vapour was to threaten the world with slavery or destruction. Not to obey would mean an indescribable fate for their fellow passengers.
“We have no choice,” said Val Stearman slowly, “we must co-operate,” under his breath he hissed — “for the time being at any rate . . .”
Hours passed and turned into days; night and morning came and went; the sun rose and set, and the unwilling prisoners worked on. Driven to it in desperation for the sake of the hostages. Whenever the opportunity arose they conversed together in whispers, and the three who were together most were De Kerrett, Val Stearman, and Silver Morcombe. The Professor had explained the exact principle of the machine to the two big adventurers, and now they were trying to devise some plan of action.
“You see,” De Kerrett was saying, “it would be so easy to destroy if only we could get into this control room here. This is the key to the whole thing. This is the panel from which the Green Cloud is transmitted. It also contains the control house for the reactor. If these switches were thrown over to their fullest extent and locked in position, the reactor would reach a critical mass and fusion would take place — in other words, my friends,” he whispered, “we would be able to produce an atomic power that would clean out this foul and evil place . . .” but at that moment they were interrupted by the approach of Ogaka and his ever-ready metallic weapon. It was three hours later before they had another opportunity to speak.
“Professor,” said Silver quietly, “I have been studying that control room as far as possible. Can you tell me one thing — if the controls were thrown over to the critical mass position, would it render those green rays harmless?” The Professor nodded.
“Without the basic feed-back from that central tower unit,” he said, “the green tubes are nothing but sticks.” Silver again lapsed into a long thoughtful silence.
* * *
After innumerable days of imprisonment and toil, when the action came it came with the violence of an erupting volcano and the plan was all Silver’s. He called the Professor and Val Stearman to him as they lay in their sleeping quarters that night.
“Listen, we’ve got to make the break now — that machine is nearly ready, and we all know that as soon as we finish the machine the beast will finish us and the rest of the world. I am going to make a break for the control room. When I am in I am going to throw those switches to critical mass position. That will cut the power from the green rays. Get the women, kill as many of these devils as you can, then run! Run as you have never run in your lives before, because pretty soon this place isn’t going to exist any more!
“But what if they break in and get you?” quavered the Professor. “What if they get you before it reaches critical mass?”
“They won’t,” said Morcombe quietly. “You may depend on that.” The full import of what Silver was doing was borne home to Val Stearman. He felt a lump come up in his throat as he shook Morcombe’s hand.
“If we get out of this alive,” he said, “and if any man in the years to come ever tells me that Silver Morcombe was a crook, I think I will kill him where he stands.”
“Can it:” replied Morcombe, “I can’t stand heroics; somebody’s got to do it and I’m the only man who can break in. I have always made a habit of breaking in,” he added whimsically. “They say as a man lives so shall he die. It looks as if it’s going to come true for me.” He took the big reporter’s hand in a firm grip and then the Professor’s, and the last they saw of him was a swift black shape that had somehow eluded the native guards and reached the contro1 room. How he did it they never knew, but they listened for his signal. A single revolver shot, to show that he was safely inside. By a stroke of luck they had found their guns hidden away in one of the workshops, under guard of one of the natives who had grown careless. They heard the signal.
“He’s done it,” breathed Val: “NOW!” Suddenly the prisoners were prisoners no longer — they were a leaping, angry mass of avengers.
Ogaka was not the native overseer for nothing. His crude but effective organising ability was soon obvious. A crowd of savages began to assemble urgently to put down the rebellion. Black rods were leveled purposefully and confidently. The look of consternation on Ogaka’s face was a wonderful sight to the Europeans. His black rod emitted a tiny puff of green and then . . . nothing. He shook it desperately as a child shakes a cheap fountain pen that has failed him in the eleven plus crisis, and then Val Stearman’s big automatic took him in the stomach and he collapsed with a sobbing groan. The natives froze in horror as their leader fell and their weapons failed, and in that frozen second the furious tide of avenging prisoners swept over them.
Val Stearman emptied his magazine and every round found its mark. The big journalist was fighting mad and in that mood he was invincible. The butt of the heavy automatic cut and smashed a vicious path through the native guards who yet stood between the explorers and the concentric chamber where the evil beast lurked.
And then, there were no more natives in the way. The whole thing was unbelievably fantastic in its suddenness and it was in that same suddenness that its success lay. Len Jenkins thrust his hand into the sound beam that opened the door, but there was no response from the sliding portal. He moved his hand around without success. Stearman tried, then the wireless operator, but there was still no response from the door. It was the old professor who realised what was wrong.
“The frequency,” he gasped, “only Ogaka’s hand will give the right frequency-response.”
“Damn!” said Stearman savagely. The dazed natives had drawn back a little and were conferring urgently together in small groups. Without Ogaka they were comparitively harmless. And the great beast did not yet appear to have become aware of the situation.
“Anybody got any ammunition left?’ asked Stearman quickly. Rapidly they shook their heads.
“Not a round between us,” said Jenkins.
“Have to make do without then,” said Stearman grimly. De Kerrett glanced anxiously towards the control tower.
“Time’s getting short,” he said flatly, his voice was a monotone, but it conveyed more than the most dramatic sound could ever have done. In those four words hung the whole balance of life and death. He had scarcely finished speaking before Stearman was on his way back through that menacing cordon of natives to the spot where the dying Ogaka lay. It was the work of a second for Val to run his hand unceremoniously over the savage for any hidden weapon and then with one powerful heave he slung Ogaka across his shoulders and ran urgently back to the impenetrable door. Reaching it he held the limp hand of the rapidly dying native in the sound beam. For a second nothing happened, and then the door slid back. Len Jenkins seized Ogaka’s other arm and they dragged him through unceremoniously and without compunction. They reached the next door and then the next . . . and now, the throne room itself lay before them in the heart of its concentric protection.
For a second they paused, wondering how they would fare, unarmed against the hideous entity within. Val longed vainly for a silver bullet or a flask of consecrated water, but he knew that he might as well have wished for the moon.
“Hurry,” panted old De Kerrett, “we must hurry,” and as they glanced down at Ogaka Jenkins realised that the last flicker of life was rapidly ebbing from the native overseer. Just in time they raised the ebony hand to the sound beam and the last door opened. They left Ogaka slumped on the floor and rushed inside prepared for anything; but apart from the prisoners chained to the walls the throne room of the beast was empty.
The chains were strong, but Stearman and Jenkins were stronger. A few seconds of violent tugging and the staples broke. Val and La Noire fell into each other’s arms delirious with joy.
But all knew that the time for rejoicing was not yet. Every second put the reactor closer to critical mass and the valley to cataclysmic anhiliation. Swiftly they ran back through the concentric chambers of the great beast’s lair, and out onto the valley floor. A thousand questions raced through their minds, where was the beast? How long before the reactor blew? How could they reach the plane? How could they cross the impenetrable matted jungle? There was not a native to be seen as they glanced rapidly about them, and then, they saw a line of lumbering dinosaurs advancing towards them.
“By the saints,” breathed Jenkins, “what do we do about this?” There was no apparent escape . . .
They froze motionless and watched the gargantuan line of carnivorous death approach. It struck Stearman as ironical that they should be threatened by both nuclear and prehistoric destruction at the same time. Their eyes were suddenly attracted by a towering tyranosaurus far closer than the rest, moving with erratic uncertainty in their direction. It reached them and Val Stearman threw up his arm instinctively as if to ward off the forty: foot colossus that towered open-jawed above them. The creature stopped in its tracks and remained motionless for seconds that seemed an eternity and then, a panel in its leathery side slid back, to reveal — Silver Morcombe!
“Hop in,” he shouted breathlessly, “2/- trips round the lighthouse. Don’t step on his gizzard professor.” Somehow they scrambled into the monster’s cavernous interior and watched incredulously as Morcombe closed the panel with a deft flick of the switch, “I’m getting the hang of it,” he said apologetically, “it’s rather like driving a mechanical excavator, just a question of pressing the right button at the right time.” He looked through a small observation panel and realised that the enemy dinosaurs were not yet fully aware of what was going on.
“We’ve got to make that lift and make it fast,” said Stearman, his arms tightly round La Noire.
“We have about twenty minutes,” mumbled De Kerrett, “I wonder . . .” he left the sentence unfinished. They all wondered . . .
The lift by which they had descended so long ago lay to the right of them and Silver Morcombe was already urging the gigantic monster in that direction. “What happened,” asked Stearman, “it’s good to see you, man,” Morcombe grinned.
“Good to see you, too. Believe me, I thought the next face I’d see would have horns sprouting on top of it. But after I’d thrown the switches and locked them over, I suddenly thought of a new angle. Even if the switches are in reverse they couldn’t control the reactor without the graphite cooling rods, so while I was waiting for the attack that didn’t come I pulled out the rods with the remote control mechanism and dropped them onto the reactor floor.
In the time left I figured that no power on earth could get that reactor cool, especially since I fouled up the remote control gear as well:” he chuckled to himself. “Have you ever seen two big tin hands playing patacake? They were doing real good till the thumbs got detailed.” He broke off. The native drivers had realised what was happening — their quarry was escaping! And a group of the dinosaurs began moving across to cut them off from the lift. Morcombe gave his undivided attention to his control panel as the gap drew steadily narrower. The first of the dinosaurs was barring their way, but now the question of instinct came to their rescue, for the tyrannosaur in its natural state would prey upon its comparatively unarmed contemporary.
“How did you manage to pinch this thing?” asked Stearman suddenly.
“That’s a professional secret,” grinned Morcombe as, despite the urgings of its native driver, the opposing dinosaur began to recoil from the towering giant in which the Europeans rode. One raking claw struck their opponent down and the lift lay before them. With masterly skill, considering his short acquaintance with the controls Silver Morcombe manoeuvred their strange locomotive onto the platform and switched off its control. Val realised in a trice that somebody had to pull the iron ring, and without a second thought he leapt through the open portal and dropped lightly down to the platform. The hideous flat head of a brontosaurus snaked down towards him on the end of its enormous neck, and Morcombe brought the tyrannosaur back to savage life. Its great jaw closed over the other creature’s throat with a sickening crunch. In the same second, Val pulled the ring. The lift began to shoot upwards with violent acceleration.
Morcombe threw the switch to make the tyrannosaur release its prey, but now instinct was working against him and the monster refused to answer the controls. For one awful second the escaping prisoners thought that the weight of the prey would topple their clumsy vehicle from its perch on the swiftly climbing lift, and then the dexterous Morcombe regained control. The tyrannosaur opened its hideous mouth reluctantly and the flailing body of the saurian plummeted wildly down the precipitous cliff face.
Gradually the lift slowed down and stopped. The jungle lay before them. A jungle that was no longer impenetrable, for the tangled undergrowth parted like straw before the tremendous power of the great reptile. It was ten minutes later that a mushroom cloud filled the horizon behind them, and the ground danced like a living thing with the force of the dreadful explosion. The Valley of the Green Cloud was no more. But foremost in every mind was the question, had the evil god perished with it?
1. A Premium Bond is a bond issued by the National Savings and Investments of the United Kingdom. Unlike a US Savings Bond which increases in value as interest is accrued, a Premium Bond pays interest in a monthly lottery system. All prizes are tax free and range currently from £50 to the top prize of £1,000,000.
2. ERNIE stands for Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment and is the machine that generates the random numbers for the lottery. ERNIE 1 was introduced in 1957 and originally took over 10 days to complete the random generation.
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