In 1935 the mighty genius of Moyen gripped the Eastern world like a hand of steel. In a matter of months he had welded the Orient into an unbeatable war-machine. He had, through the sheer magnetism of a strange personality, carried the Eastern world with him on his march to conquest of the earth, and men followed him with blind faith as men in the past have followed the banners of the Thaumaturgists.
A strange name, to the sound of which none could assign nationality. Some said his father was a Russian refugee, his mother a Mongol woman. Some said he was the son of a Caucasian woman lost in the Gobi and rescued by a mad lama of Tibet, who became father of Moyen. Some said that his mother was a goddess, his father a fiend out of hell.
But this all men knew about him: that he combined within himself the courage of a Hannibal, the military genius of a Napoleon, the ideals of a Sun Yat Sen; and that he had sworn to himself he would never rest until the earth was peopled by a single nation, with Moyen himself in the seat of the mighty ruler.
Madagascar was the seat of his government, from which he looked across into United Africa, the first to join his confederacy. The Orient was a dependency, even to that forbidden land of the Goloks, where outlanders sometimes went, but whence they never returned--and to the wild Goloks he was a god whose will was absolute, to render obedience to whom was a privilege accorded only to the Chosen.
In a short year his confederacy had brought under his might the millions of Asia, which he had welded into a mighty machine for further conquest.
And because the Americas saw the handwriting on the wall, they sent out to see the man Moyen, with orders to penetrate to his very side, as a spy, their most trusted Secret Agent--Prester Kleig.
Only the ignorant believed that Moyen was mad. The military and diplomatic geniuses of the world recognized his genius, and resented it.
But Prester Kleig, of the Secret Service of the Americas, one of the few men whose headquarters were in the Secret Room in Washington, had reached Moyen.
Now he was coming home.
He came home to tell his people what Moyen was planning, and to admit that his investigations had been hampered at every turn by the uncanny genius of Moyen. Military plans had been guarded with unbelievable secrecy. War machines he knew to exist, yet had seen only those common to all the armies of the world.
And now, twenty-four hours out of New York City, aboard the S. S. Stellar, Prester Kleig was literally willing the steamer to greater speed--and in far Madagascar the strange man called Moyen had given the ultimatum:
“The Western World shall be next!”
The Hand of Moyen.
“Who is that man?” asked a young lady passenger of the steward, with the imperious inflection which tells of riches able to force obedience from menials who labor for hire.
She pointed a bejeweled finger at the slender, soldierly figure which stood in the prow of the liner, like a figurehead, peering into the storm under the vessel’s forefoot.
“That gentleman, milady?” repeated the steward obsequiously. “That is Prester Kleig, head of the Secret Agents, Master of the Secret Room, just now returning from Madagascar, via Europe, after a visit to the realm of Moyen.”
A gasp of terror burst from the lips of the woman. Her cheeks blanched.
“Moyen!” She almost whispered it. “Moyen! The half-god of Asia, whom men call mad!”
“Not mad, milady. No, Moyen is not mad, save with a lust for power. He is the conqueror of the ages, already ruling more of the earth’s population than any man has ever done before him--even Alexander!”
But the young lady was not listening to stewards. Wealthy young ladies did not, save when asked questions dealing with personal service to themselves. Her eyes devoured the slender man who stood in the prow of the Stellar, while her lips shaped, over and over again, the dread name which was on the lips of the people of the world:
Up in the prow, if Prester Kleig, who carried a dread secret in his breast, knew of the young lady’s regard, he gave no sign. There were touches of gray at his temples, though he was still under forty. He had seen more of life, knew more of its terrors, than most men twice his age--because he had lived harshly in service to his country.
He was thinking of Moyen, the genius of the misshapen body, the pale eyes which reflected the fires of a Satanic soul, set deeply in the midst of the face of an angel; and wondering if he would be able to arrive in time, sorry that he had not returned home by airplane.
He had taken the Stellar only because the peacefulness of ocean liner travel would aid his thoughts, and he required time to marshal them. Liner travel was now a luxury, as all save the immensely wealthy traveled by plane across the oceans. Now Prester Kleig was sorry, for any moment, he felt, Moyen might strike.
He turned and looked back along the deck of the Stellar. His eyes played over the trimly gowned figure of the woman who questioned the steward, but did not really see her. And then...
“Great God!” The words were a prayer, and they burst from the lips of Prester Kleig like an explosion. Passengers appeared from the lee of lifeboats. Officers on the bridge whirled to look at the man who shouted. Seamen paused in their labors to stare. Aloft in the crow’s-nest the lookout lowered his eyes from scouring the horizon to stare at Prester Kleig--who was pointing.
All eyes turned in the direction indicated.
Climbing into the sky, a mile off the starboard beam, was an airplane with a bulbous body and queerly slanted wings. It had neither wheels nor pontoons, and it traveled with unbelievable speed. It came on bullet-fast, headed directly for the side of the Stellar.
“Lower the boats!” yelled Kleig. “Lower the boats! For God’s sake lower the boats!”
For Prester Kleig, in that casual turning, had seen what none aboard the Stellar, even the lookout above, had seen. The airplane, which had neither wheels nor pontoons, had risen, as Aphrodite is said to have risen, out of the waves! He had seen the wings come out of the bulbous body, snap backward into place, and the plane was in full flight the instant it appeared.
Prester Kleig had no hope that his warning would be in time, but he would always feel better for having given it. As the captain debated with himself as to whether this lunatic should be confined as dangerous, the strange airplane nosed over and dived down to the sea, a hundred yards from the side of the Stellar. Just before it struck the water, its wings snapped forward and became part of the bulbous body of the thing, the whole of which shot like a bullet into the sea.
Prester Kleig stood at the rail, peering out at the spot where the plane had plunged in with scarcely a splash, and his right hand was raised as though he gave a final, despairing signal.
Of all aboard the Stellar, he only saw that black streak which, ten feet under water, raced like a bolt of lightning from the nose of the submerged but visible plane, straight as a die for the side of the Stellar. Just a black streak, no bigger than a small man’s arm, from the nose of the plane to the side of the Stellar.
From the crow’s-nest came the startled, terrific voice of the lookout, in the beginning of a cry that must remain forever inarticulate.
The world, in that blinding moment, seemed to rock on its foundations; to shatter itself to bits in a chaotic jumble of sound and of movement, shot through and through with lurid flames. Kleig felt himself hurled upward and outward, turned over and over endlessly...
He felt the storm-tossed waters close over him, and knew he had struck. In the moment he knew--oblivion, deep, ebon and impenetrable, blotted out knowledge.
A roaring, rushing river of chaotic sound, first. Jumbled sound to which Prester Kleig could give no adequate name. But as he tried to analyze its meanings, he was able to differentiate between sounds, and to discover the identity of some.
The river of sound he decided to be the sound of a vibrational explosion of some sort--vibrational because it had that quivery quality which causes a feeling of uneasiness and fret, that feeling which makes one turn and look around to find the eyes boring into one’s back--yet multiplied in its intensity an uncounted number of times.
Other sounds which came through the chaotic river of sound were the terrified screaming of the men and women who were doomed. Lifeboats were never lowered, for the reason that with the disintegration of the Stellar, everything inanimate aboard her likewise disintegrated, dropping men and women, crew and passengers, into the freezing waters of the Atlantic.
Prester Kleig dropped with them, only partially unconscious after the first icy plunge. He knew when he floated on the surface, for he felt himself lifted and hurled by the waves. In his half-dream he saw men and women being carried away into wave-shrouded darkness, clawing wildly at nothingness for support, clawing at one another, locking arms, and going down together.
The Stellar, in the merest matter of seconds, had become spoil of the sea, and her crew and passengers had vanished forever from the sight of men. Yet Prester Kleig lived on, knew that he lived on, and that there was an element, too strong to be disbelieved, of reality in his dream.
There was a vibratory sense, too, as of the near activity of a noiseless motor. Noiseless motor! Where had he last thought of those two words? With what recent catastrophe were they associated? No, he could not recall, though he knew he should be able to do so.
Then the sense of motion to the front was apparent--an unnumbered sense, rather than concrete feeling. Motion to front, influenced by the rising and falling motion of mountainous waves.
So suddenly as to be a distinct shock, the wave motion ceased, though the forward motion--and upward!--not only continued but increased.
That airplane of the bulbous body, the queerly slanted wings...
But the glimmering of realization vanished as a sickishly sweet odor assailed his nostrils and sent its swift-moving tentacles upward to wrap themself soothingly about his brain. But the sense of flight, unbelievably swift, was present and recognizable, though all else eluded him. He had the impression, however, that it was intended that all save the most vagrant, most widely differentiated, impressions elude him--that he should acquire only half pictures, which would therefore be all the more terrible in retrospect.
The only impressions which were real were those of motion to the front, and upward, and the sense of noiseless machinery, vibrating the whole, nearby.
Then a distinct realization of the cessation of the sense of flying, and a return, though in lesser degree, of the rising and falling of waves. This latter sensation became less and less, though the feeling of traveling downward continued. Prester Kleig knew that he was going down into the sea again, down into it deeply ... Then that odor once more, and the elusive memory.
Forward motion at last, in the depths, swift, forward motion, though Prester Kleig could not even guess at the direction. Just swift motion, and the mutter of voices, the giving of orders...
Prester Kleig regained consciousness fully on the sands of the shore. He sat up stiffly, staring out to sea. A storm was raging, and the sea was an angry waste. No ship showed on the waters; the mad, tumbled sky above it was either empty of planes or they had climbed to invisibility above the clouds that raced and churned with the storm.
Out of the storm, almost at Prester Kleig’s feet, dropped a small airplane. Through the window a familiar face peered at Kleig. A helmeted, begoggled figure opened the door and stepped out.
“Kleig, old man,” said the flyer, “you gave me the right dope all right, but I’ll swear there isn’t a wireless tower within a hundred miles of this place! How did you manage it?”
“Kane, you’re crazy, or I am, or...” But Prester Kleig could not go on with the thought which had rushed through his brain with the numbing impact of a blow. He grasped the hand of Carlos Kane, of the Domestic Service, and the yellow flimsy Kane held out to him. It read simply:
“Shipwrecked. Am ashore at--” There followed grid coordinate map readings. “Come at once, prepared to fly me to Washington.” It was signed “Kleig.”
“Kane,” said Kleig, “I did not send this message!”
What more was there to be said? Horror looked out of the eyes of Prester Kleig, and was reflected in those of Carlos Kane. Both men turned, peering out across the tumbled welter of waters.
Somewhere out there, tight-locked in the gloomy archives of the Atlantic, was the secret of the message which had brought Carlos Kane to Prester Kleig--and the agency which had sent it.
Wings of To-morrow
As Prester Kleig climbed into the enclosed passenger pit of the monoplane--a Mayther--his ears seemed literally to be ringing with the drumming, mighty voice of Moyen. But now that voice, instead of merely speaking, rang with sardonic laughter. He had never heard the laughter of Moyen, but he could guess how it would sound.
That airplane of the slanted wings, the bulbous, almost bulletlike fuselage, what of it? It was simple, as Kleig looked back at his memoried glimpse of it. The submarine was a metal fish made with human hands; the airplane aped the birds. The strange ship which had caused the destruction of the Stellar, was a combination fish and bird--which merely aped nature a bit further, as anyone who had ever traversed tropical waters would have instantly recognized.
But what did it portend? What ghastly terrors of Moyen roamed the deeps of the Atlantic, of the Pacific, the oceans of the world? How close were some of these to the United States?
The pale eyes of Moyen, he was sure, were already turned toward the West.
Prester Kleig sighed as he seated himself beside Carlos Kane. Then Kane pressed one of the myriad of buttons on the dash, and Kleig lifted his eyes to peer through the skylight, to where that single press of a button had set in motion the intricate machinery of the helicopter.
A four-bladed fan lifted on a slender pedestal, sufficiently high above the surface of the wing for the vanes to be free of the central propeller. Then, automatically, the vanes became invisible, and the Mayther lifted from the sandy beach as lightly, and far more straightly, than any bird.
As the ship climbed away for the skies, and through the transparent floor the beach and the Atlantic fell away below the ship, a sigh of relief escaped Kleig. This was living! Up here one was free, if only for a moment, and the swift wind of flight brushed all cobwebs from the tired human brain. He watched the slender needle of the altimeter, as it moved around the face of the dial as steadily as the hands of a clock, around to thirty thousand, thirty-five, forty.
Then Carlos Kane, every movement as effortless as the flight of the silvery winged Mayther, thrust forth his hand to the dash again, pressed another button. Instantly the propellers vanished into a blur as the vanes of the helicopter dropped down the slender staff and the vanes themselves fitted snugly into their appointed notches atop the wing.
For a second Carlos Kane glanced at the tiny map to the right of the dash, and set his course. It was a matter of moments only, but while Kane worked, Prester Kleig studied the instruments on the dash, for it had been months since he had flown, save for his recent half-dreamlike experience. There was a button which released the mechanism of the deadly guns, fired by compressed air, all operated from the noiseless motor, whose muzzles exactly cleared the tips of Mayther’s wings, two guns to each wing, one on the entering edge, one on the trailing edge, fitted snugly into the adamant rigging.
Four guns which could fire to right or left, twin streams of lead, the number of rounds governed only by the carrying power of the Mayther. Prester Kleig knew them all: the guns in the wings, the guns which fired through the three propellers, and the guns set two and two in the fuselage, to right and left of the pits, which could be fixed either up or down--all by the mere pressing of buttons. It was marvelous, miraculous, yet even as Kleig told himself that this was so, he felt, deep in the heart of him, that Moyen knew all about ships like these, and regarded them as the toys of children.
Kane touched Kleig on the shoulder, signaling, indicating that the atmosphere in the pits had been regulated to their new height, and that they could remove their helmets and oxygen tanks without danger.
With a sigh Prester Kleig sat back, and the two friends turned to face each other.
“You certainly look done in, Kleig,” said Kane sympathetically. “You must have been through hell, and then some. Tell me about this Moyen; that is, if you think you care to talk about him.”
“Talk about him!” repeated Kleig. “Talk about him? It will be a relief! There has been nothing, and nobody, on my mind save Moyen for weary months on end. If I don’t talk to someone about him, I’ll go mad, if I’m not mad already. Moyen? A monster with the face of an angel! What else can one say about him? A devil and a saint, a brute whose followers would go with him into hell’s fire, and sing him hosannas as they were consumed in agony! The greatest mob psychologist the world has ever seen. He’s a genius, Kane, and unless something is done, the Western world, all the world, is doomed to sit at the feet, listen to the commands, of Moyen!
“He isn’t an Oriental; he isn’t a European; he isn’t negroid or Indian; but there is something about him that makes one thing of all of these, singly and collectively. His body is twisted and grotesque, and when one looks at his face, one feels a desire to touch him, to swear eternal fealty to him--until one looks into his pale eyes, eyes almost milky in their paleness--and gets the merest hint of the thoughts which actuate him. If he has a failing I did not find it. He does not drink, gamble...”
“And women?” queried Kane, softly.
Kleig was madly in love with the sister of Kane, Charmion, and this thing touched him nearest the heart, because Charmion was one of her country’s most famous beauties, about whom Moyen must already have heard.
“Women?” repeated Kleig musingly, his black eyes troubled, haunted. “I scarcely know. He has no love for women, only because he has no capacity for any love save self-love. But when I think of him in this connection I seem to see Moyen, grown to monster proportions, sitting on a mighty throne, with nude women groveling at his feet, bathed in tears, their long hair in mantles of sorrow, hiding their shamed faces! That sounds wild, doesn’t it? But it’s the picture I get of Moyen when I think of Moyen and of women. Many women will love him, and have, perhaps. But while he has taken many, though I am only guessing here, he has given himself to none. Another thing: His followers--well, he sets no limits to the lusts of his men, requiring only that every soldier be fit for duty, with a body strong for hardship. You understand?”
Kane understood; and his face was very pale.
“Yes,” he said, his voice almost a whisper, “I understand, and as you speak of this man I seem to see a city in ruins, and hordes of men marching, bloodstained men entering houses ... from which, immediately afterward, come the screams of women ... terror-stricken women...”
He shuddered and could not go on for the very horror of the vision that had come to him.
But Kleig stared at him as though he saw a ghost.
“Great God, Carl!” he gasped. “The same identical picture has been in my mind, not once but a thousand times! I wonder...”
Was it an omen of the future for the West?
Deep in his soul Prester Kleig fancied he could hear the sardonic laughter of the half-god, Moyen.
A tiny bell rang inside the dash, behind the instruments. Kane had set direction finders, had pressed the button which signaled the Washington-control Station of the National Radio, thus automatically indicating the exact spot above land, by grid-coordinates, where the Mayther should start down for the landing.
An hour later they landed on the flat roof of the new Capitol Building, sinking lightly to rest as a feather, nursed to a gentle landing by the whirring vanes of the helicopter.
Prester Kleig, surrounded by uniformed guards who tried to shield him from the gaze of news-gatherers crowded there on the roof-top, hurried him to the stairway leading into the executive chambers, and through these to the Secret Chamber which only a few men knew, and into which not even Carlos Kane could follow Prester Kleig--yet.
But one man, one news-gatherer, had caught a glimpse of the face of Kleig, and already he raced for the radio tower of his organization, to blazon to the Western world the fact that Kleig had come back.
A Nation Waits in Dread
As Prester Kleig, looking twice his forty years because of fatigue, and almost nameless terrors through which he had passed, went to his rendezvous, the news-gatherer, who shall here remain nameless, raced for the Broadcasting Tower.
As Prester Kleig entered the Secret Room and at a signal all the many doors behind him, along that interminable stairway, swung shut and were tightly locked, the news-gatherer raced for the microphone and gave the “priority” signal to the operator. Millions of people would not only hear the words of the news-gatherer, but would see him, note the expressions which chased one another across his face. For television was long since an accomplished, everyday fact.
“Prester Kleig, of this government’s Secret Service, has just returned to the United Americas! Your informer has just seen him step from the monoplane of Carlos Kane, atop the Capitol Building, and repair at once to the Secret Room, closely guarded. But I saw his face, and though he is under forty, he seems twice that. And you know now what this country has only guessed at before--that he has seen Moyen. Moyen the half-man, half-god, the enigma of the ages. What does Prester Kleig think of this man? He doesn’t say, for he dares not speak, yet. But your informer saw his face, and it is old and twisted with terror! And--”
That ended the discourse of the news-gatherer, and it was many hours before the public really understood. For, with a new sentence but half completed, the picture of the news-gatherer faded blackly off the screens in a million homes, and his voice was blotted out by a humming that mounted to a terrific appalling shriek! Some terrible agency, about which people who knew their radio could only guess, had drowned out the words of the news-gatherer, leaving the public stunned and bewildered, almost groping before a feeling of terror which was all the more unbearable because none could give it a name.
And the public had heard but a fraction of the truth--merely that Kleig had come back. It had been the intention of the government to deny the public even this knowledge, and it had; but knowledge of the denial itself was public property, which filled the hearts of men and women all through the Western Hemisphere with nameless dread. And over all this abode of countless millions hovered the shadow of Moyen.
The government tried to correct the impression which the news-gatherer had given out.
“Prester Kleig is back,” said the radio, while the government speaker tried, for the benefit of those who could see him, to smile reassuringly. “But there is nothing to cause anyone the slightest concern. He has seen Moyen, yes, and has heard him speak, but still there is nothing to distress anyone, and the whole story will be given to you as soon as possible. Kleig has gone into the Secret Room, yes, but every operative of the government, when discussing business connected with diplomatic relations with foreign powers, is received in the Secret Room. No cause for worry!”
It was so easy to say that, and the speaker realized it, which was why he could but with difficulty make his smile seem reassuring.
“Tell us the truth, and tell us quickly,” might have been the voiceless cries of those who listened and saw the face and fidgeting form of the speaker. But the words were not spoken, because the people sensed a hovering horror, a dread catastrophe beyond the power of words to express--and so looked at one another in silence, their eyes wide with dread, their hearts throbbing to suffocation with nameless foreboding.
So eyes were horror-haunted, and men walked, flew, and rode in fear and trembling--while, down in the Secret Room, Prester Kleig and a dozen old men, men wise in the ways of science and invention, wise in the ways of men and of beasts, of Nature and the Infinite Outside, decided the fate of the Nation.
That Secret Room was closed to every one. Not even the news-gatherers could reach it; not even the all-seeing eye of the telephotograph emblazoned to the world its secrets.
But was it secret?
Perhaps Moyen, the master mobster, smiled when he heard men say so, men who knew in their hearts that Moyen regarded other earthlings as earthlings regard children and their toys. Did the eyes of Moyen gaze even into the depths of the Secret Room, hundreds of feet below even the documentary-treasure vaults of the Capitol?
No one knew the answer to the question, but the radio, reporting the return of Kleig, had given the public a distorted vision of an embodied fear, and in its heart the public answered “Yes!” And what had drowned out the voice of the radio-reporter?
No wonder that, for many hours, a nation waited in fear and trembling, eyes filled with dread that was nameless and absolute, for word from the Secret Room. Fear mounted and mounted as the hours passed and no word came.
In that room Prester Kleig and the twelve old men, one of whom was the country’s President, held counsel with the man who had come back. But before the spoken counsel had been held, awesome and awe-inspiring pictures had flashed across the screen, invented by a third of the old men, from which the world held no secrets, even the secrets of Moyen.
With this mechanism, guarded at forfeit of the lives of a score of men, the men of the Secret Room could peer into even the most secret places of the world. The old men had peered, and had seen things which had blanched their pale cheeks anew. And when they had finished, and the terrible pictures had faded out, a voice had spoken suddenly, like an explosion, in the Secret Room.
“Well, gentlemen, are you satisfied that resistance is futile?”
Just the voice; but to one man in the Secret Room, and to the others when his numbing lips spoke the name, it was far more than enough. For not even the wisest of the great men could explain how, as they knew, having just seen him there, a man could be in Madagascar while his voice spoke aloud in the Secret Room, where even radio was barred!
The name on the lips of Prester Kleig!
Monsters of the Deep
“Gentlemen,” said Prester Kleig as he entered the Secret Room, where sat the scientists and inventive geniuses of the Americas, “we haven’t much time, and I shall waste but little of it. Moyen is ready to strike, if he hasn’t already done so, as I believe. We will see in a matter of seconds. Professor Maniel, we shall need, first of all, your apparatus for returning the vibratory images of events which have transpired within the last thirty-six hours.
“I wish to show those of you who failed to see it the sinking of the Stellar, on which I was a passenger and, I believe, the only survivor.”
Professor Maniel strangely mouse-like save for the ponderous dome of his forehead, stepped away from the circular table without a word. He had invented the machine in question, and he was inordinately proud of it. Through its use he could pick up the sounds, and the pictures, of events which had transpired down the past centuries, from the tinkling of the cymbals of Miriam to all the horror of the conflict men had called the Great War, simply by drawing back from the ether, as the sounds fled outward through space, those sounds and vibrations which he needed.
His science was an exact one, more carefully exact even than the measurement of the speed of light, taking into consideration the dispersion of sound and movement, and the element of time.
The interior of the Secret Room became dark as Maniel labored with his minute machinery. Only behind the screen on the wall in rear of the table was there light.
The voice of Maniel began to drone as he thought aloud.
“There is a matter of but a few minutes difference in time between Washington and the last recorded location of the Stellar. The sinking occurred at ten-thirty last evening you say, Kleig? Ah, yes, I have it! Watch carefully, gentlemen!”
So silent were the Secret Agents one could not even have heard the breathing of one of them, for on the screen, misty at first, but becoming moment by moment bolder of outline, was the face of a storm-tossed sea. The liner was slower in forming, and was slightly out of focus for a second or two.
“Ah,” said Professor Maniel. “There it is!”
Through the sound apparatus came the roaring and moaning of a storm at sea. On the screen the Stellar rose high on the waves, dropped into the trough, while spumes of black smoke spread rearward on the waters from her spouting funnels. Figures were visible on her decks, figures which seemed carved in bronze.
In the prow, every expression on his face plainly visible, stood Prester Kleig himself, and as his picture appeared he was in the act of turning.
“Now,” said Kleig himself, there in the Secret Room, “look off to the left, gentlemen, a mile from the Stellar!”
A rustling sound as the scientists shifted in their places.
They all saw it, and a gasp burst from their lips as though at a signal. For, as the Stellar seemed about to plunge off the shadowed screen into the Secret Room, a flying thing had risen out of the sea--an airplane with a bulbous body and queerly slanting wings.
At the same time, out of the mouth of the pictured figure of Prester Kleig, clear and agonized as the tones of a bell struck in frenzy, the words:
“Great God! Lower the boats! Lower the boats! For God’s sake lower the boats!”
In the Secret Room the real Prester Kleig spoke again.
“When the black streak leaves the nose of the plane, after it has submerged, Professor Maniel,” said Kleig softly, “slow your mechanism so that we can see the whole thing in detail.”
There came a grunted affirmative from Professor Maniel.
The nose of the pictured plane tilted over, diving down for the surface of the sea.
“Now!” snapped Kleig. “Don’t wait!”
Instantly the moving pictures on the screen reduced their speed, and the plane appeared to stop its sudden seaward plunge and to drop down as lightly as a feather. The wings of the thing moved forward slowly, folding into the body of the dropping plane.
“They fold forward,” said Kleig quietly, “so that the speed of the plane in the take-off will snap them backward into position for flying!”
No one spoke, because the explanation was so obvious.
Slowly the airplane went down to the surface of the sea, with scarcely a plume of spindrift leaping back after she had struck. She dropped to ten feet below the surface of the water, a hundred yards off the starboard beam of the Stellar, her blunt nose pointing squarely at the side of the doomed liner.
“Now,” said Kleig hoarsely, “watch closely, for God’s sake!”
The liner rose and fell slowly. Out of the nose of the plane, which had now become a tiny submarine, started a narrow tube of black, oddly like the sepia of a giant squid. Straight toward the side of the liner it went. Above the rail the Secret Agents could see the pictured form of Prester Kleig, hand upraised. The black streak reached the side of the Stellar.
It touched the metal plates, spreading upon impact, growing, enlarging, to right and left, upward and downward, and where it touched the Stellar the black of it seemed to erase that portion of the ship. In the slow motion every detail was apparent. At regular speed the blotting out of the Stellar would have been instantaneous.
Kleig saw himself rise slowly from the vanished rail, turning over and over, going down to the sea. He almost closed his eyes, bit his lips to keep back the cries of terror when he saw the others aboard the liner rise, turn over and over, and fly in all directions like jackstraws in a high wind.
The ship was erased from beneath passengers and crew, and passengers and crew fell into the sea. Out of the depths, from all directions, came the starving denizens of the sea--starving because liners now were so few.
“That’s enough of that, Professor,” snapped Kleig. “Now jump ahead approximately eight hours, and see if you can pick up that aero-sub after it dropped me on the Jersey Coast.”
The picture faded out quickly, the screaming of doomed human beings, already hours dead, called back to apparent living by the genius of Maniel died away, and for a space the screen was blank.
Then, the sea again, storm-tossed as before, shifting here and there as Maniel sought in the immensity of sea and sky for the thing he desired.
“Two hundred miles south by east of New York City,” he droned. “There it is, gentlemen!”
They all saw it then, in full flight, eight thousand feet above the surface of the Atlantic, traveling south by east at a dizzy rate of speed.
“Note,” said Kleig, “that it keeps safely to the low altitudes, in order to escape the notice of regular air traffic.”
No one answered.
The eyes of the Secret Agents were on that flashing, bulbous-bodied plane of the strange wings. It appeared to be heading directly for some objective which must be reached at top speed.
For fifteen minutes the flight continued. Then the plane tilted over and dived, and at an altitude still of three thousand feet, the wings slashed forward, clicking into their notches in the sides of the bulbous body, with a sound like the ratchets on subway turnstiles, and, holding their breath, the Secret Agents watched it plummet down to the sea. It was traveling with terrific speed when it struck, yet it entered the water with scarcely a splash.
Then, for the first time, an audible gasp, as that of one person, came from the lips of the Secret Agents. For now they could see the objective of the aero-sub. A monster shadow in the water, at a depth of five hundred feet. A shadow which, as Maniel manipulated his instruments, became a floating underwater fortress, ten times the size of any submarine known to the Americas.
Sporting like porpoises about this held-in-suspension fortress were myriads of other aero-subs, maneuvering by squadrons and flights, weaving in and out like schools of fish. The plane which had bourne Prester Kleig churned in between two of the formations, and vanished into the side of the motionless monster of the deep.
The striking of a deep sea bell, muted by tons and tons of water, sounded in the Secret Room.
“Don’t turn it off, Maniel,” said Kleig. “There’s more yet!”
And there was, for the sound of the bell was a signal. The aero-subs, darting outward from the side of the floating fortress like fish darting out of seaweed, were plunging up toward the surface of the Atlantic. Breathlessly the Secret Agents watched them.
They broke water like flying fish, and their wings shot backward from their notches in the myriad bulbous bodies to click into place in flying position as the scores of aero-subs took the air above the invisible hiding places of the mother submarine.
At eight thousand feet the aero-subs swung into battle formation and, as though controlled by word of command, they maneuvered there like one vast machine of a central control--beautiful as the flight of swallows, deadly as anything that flew.
The Secret Agents swept the cold sweat from their brows, and sighs of terror escaped them all.
At that moment came the voice, loud in the Secret Room, which Kleig at least immediately recognized:
“Well, gentlemen, are you satisfied that resistance is futile?”
And Kleig whispered the name, over and over again.
It was Prester Kleig, Master of the Secret Room, who was the first to regain control after the nerve-numbing question which, asked in far Madagascar, was heard by the Agents in the Secret Room.
“No!” he shouted. “No! No! Moyen, in the end we will beat you!”
Only silence answered, but deep in the heart of Prester Kleig sounded a burst of sardonic laughter--the laughter of Moyen, half-god of Asia. Then the voice again:
“The attack is beginning, gentlemen! Within an hour you will have further evidence of the might of Moyen!”
Prester Kleig, ordered to Madagascar from the Secret Room, had been merely an operative, honored above others in that he had been one of the few, at that time, ever to visit the Secret Room. Now, however, because he had walked closer to Moyen than anyone else, he assumed leadership almost by natural right, and the men who had once deferred to him took orders from him.
“Gentlemen,” he snapped, while the last words of Moyen still hung in the air of the Secret Room, “we must fight Moyen from here. The best brains in the United Americas are gathered here, and if Moyen can be beaten--if he can be beaten--he will be beaten from the Secret Room!”
A sigh from the lips of Professor Maniel. The President of the United Americas nodded his head, as though he too mutely gave authority into the hands of Prester Kleig. The other Secret Agents shifted slightly, but said nothing.