Four Miles Within
Chapter 3

Public Domain

You Haven’t the Guts

“Just as I thought,” said James Quade in the silence that fell when the last echoes had died away, and the splinters of steel and rock had settled. “You see, Professor, this earth-borer belongs to me. Yes, I built one too. But I couldn’t, unfortunately, get it working properly--that is, in time to get down here first. After all, I’m not a scientist, and remembered little enough of your borer’s plans ... It’s probably young Holmes who’s dropped in on us. Shall we see?”

David Guinness and his daughter were speechless with dread. Quade had trained the searchlight on the borer, and by turning their heads they could see it plainly. It was all too clear that the machine was a total wreck. It had pitched over onto one side, its shell cracked and mangled irreparably. Grotesque pieces of crumpled metal lay all around it. Its slanting course had tumbled it within fifteen yards of the sphere.

In silence the old man and the girl watched Quade walk deliberately over to it, his automatic steady in his right hand. He wrenched at the long, narrow door, but it was so badly bent that for a while he could not get it open. At last it swung out, however, and Quade peered inside.

After a moment he reached in and drew out a rifle. He took it over to a nearby rock, smashed the gun’s breech, then flung it, useless, aside. Returning to the borer, he again peered in.

Sue was about to scream from the torturous suspense when he at last straightened up and looked around at the white-faced girl and her father.

“Mr. Holmes is tougher than I’d thought possible,” he said, with a thin smile; “he’s still alive.” And, as Sue gasped with relief, he added: “Would you like to see him?”


He dragged the young man’s unconscious body roughly out on the floor. There were several bad bruises on his face and head, but otherwise he was apparently uninjured. As Quade stood over him, playing idly with the automatic, he stirred, and blinked, and at last, with an effort, got up on one elbow and looked straight at the thin lips and narrowed eyes of the man standing above. He shook his head, trying to comprehend, then muttered hazily:

“You--you’re--Quade?”

Quade did not have time to answer, for Sue Guinness cried out:

“Phil! Are you all right?”

Phil stared stupidly around, caught sight of the two who lay bound on the floor, and staggered to his feet. “Sue!” he cried, relief and understanding flooding his voice. He started towards her.

“Stand where you are!” Quade snapped harshly, and the automatic in his hand came up. Holmes peered at it and stopped, but his blood-streaked face settled into tight lines, and his body tensed.

“You’d better,” continued Quade. “Now tell me what happened to Juan.”

Phil forced himself to be calm. “Your pal, the greaser?” he said cuttingly. “He’s lying on a bunk in your shack. He shot himself, playing with a gun.”

Quade chose not to notice the way Phil said this, but a little of the suave self-confidence was gone from his face as he said: “Well, in that case I’ll have to hurry back to the surface to attend to him. But don’t be alarmed,” he added, more brightly. “I’ll be back for you all in an hour or so.”

At this, David Guinness struggled frantically with his bonds and yelled:

“Don’t believe him, Phil! He’s going to leave us here, to starve and die! He told us so just before you came down!”


Quade’s face twitched perceptibly. His eyes were nervous.

“Is that true, Quade?” Holmes asked. There was a steely note in his voice.

“Why--no, of course not,” the other said hastily, uncertain whether to lie or not. “Of course I didn’t!”

Phil Holmes looked square into his eyes. He bluffed.

“You couldn’t desert us, Quade. You haven’t the guts. You haven’t the guts.”

His face and eyes burned with the contempt that was in his words. It cut Quade to the raw. But he could not avoid Phil’s eyes. He stared at them for a full moment, trembling slightly. Slowly, by inches, he started to back toward the sphere; then suddenly he ran for it with all his might, Holmes after him. Quade got to it first, and inside, as he yanked in the searchlight and slammed and locked the door, he yelled:

“You’ll see, you damned pup! You’ll see!” And there was the smothered sound of half-maniacal laughter...

Phil threw all his weight against the metal door, but it was hopeless and he knew it. He had gathered himself for another rush when he heard Guinness yell:

“Back, Phil--back! He’ll turn on the side disintegrators!”

Mad with rage as the young man was, he at once saw the danger and leaped away--only to almost fall over the professor’s prone body. With hurrying, trembling fingers he untied the pair’s bonds, and they struggled to their feet, cramped and stiff. Then it was Phil who warned them.

“Back as far as you can! Hurry!” He grabbed Sue’s hand and plunged toward the uncertain protection of a huge rock far in the rear. At once he made them lie flat on the ground.


As yet the sphere had not stirred nor emitted a whisper of sound, though they knew the man inside was conning the controls in a fever of haste to leave the cavern. But they hadn’t long to wait. There came a sputter, a starting cough from the rocket tubes beneath the sphere. Quickly they warmed into life, and the dully glimmering ball rocked in the hole it lay in. Then a cataract of noise unleashed itself; a devastating thunder roared through the echoing cavern as the rockets burst into full force. A wave of brilliant orange-red splashed out from under the sphere, licked back up its sides, and seemed literally to shove the great ball up towards the hole in the ceiling.

Its ascent was very slow. As it gained height it looked--save for its speed--like a fantastic meteor flaming through the night, for the orange plumage that streamed from beneath lit the ball with dazzling color. A glowing sphere, it staggered midway between floor and ceiling, creeping jerkily upwards.

“He’s not going to hit the hole!” shouted Guinness.

The borer had not risen in a perfectly straight line; it jarred against the rim of the hole, and wavered uncertainly. Every second the roar of its rockets, swollen by echoes, rose in a savage crescendo; the faces of the three who watched were painted orange in the glow.

The sphere was blind. The man inside could judge his course only by the feel. As the three who were deserted watched, hoping ardently that Quade would not be able to find the opening, the left side-rockets spouted lances of fire, and they knew he had discovered the way to maneuver the borer laterally. The new flames welded with the exhaust of the main tubes into a great fan-shaped tail, so brilliant and shot through with other colors that their eyes could not stand the sight, except in winks. The borer jerked to the right, but still it could not find the hole. Then the flames lessened for a moment, and the borer sank down, to rise again a moment later. Its ascent was so labored that Phil shouted to Professor Guinness:

“Why so slow?”

And the inventor told him that which he had not seen for the intolerable light.

“Only half his rockets are on!”


This time the sphere was correctly aimed, however, and it roared straight into the hole. Immediately the fierce sound of the exhaust was muffled, and in a few seconds only the fiery plumage, shooting down from the ceiling, showed where the machine was. Then this disappeared, and the noise alone was left.

 
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