The World Beyond
Combat of Titans
“Aura, you think you know where Groff may have gone--those times he went out into the hills?”
“Yes. I think so. Lee--that giant, I think now I understand what must have happened.”
The giant shape of Franklin, a mile or two from them, had stood for a moment and then had receded, vanished momentarily as he moved backward behind the hills. Lee and Aura, stunned, still stood beside the little rocky path. Lee’s mind was a turmoil of confusion, with only the knowledge that he must do something now, quickly. There were no weapons here in this peaceful little realm. Four or five of these madmen villains--what need had they of weapons? The monstrous power of size. The thought of it struck at Lee with a chill that seemed turning his blood to ice. The monster that Franklin had become--with a size like that he could scatter death with his naked hands.
“I remember now,” Aura was gasping. “There was a time when your grandfather was working on his science. Groff was helping him then. Your grandfather taught Groff much.”
“Working at what?”
“It was never said. Then your grandfather gave it up--he had decided it would not be wise here.”
Some individual apparatus, with the size-change principle of the space-globe? And Groff had gotten the secret. An abnormality here--Groff with the power of evil latent within him, tempted by this opportunity. What could he have hoped to accomplish? Of what use to him would it be to devastate this little realm? Bitter irony swept Lee. Of what use was vast personal power to anyone? Those madmen of Earth’s history, with their lust for conquest--of what use could the conquest be to them? And yet they had plunged on.
He realized that with Groff there could have been a wider field of conquest. Groff had heard much of Earth. With the power of size here, he could master this realm; then seize the space-globe. Go with it to Earth. Why, in a gigantic size there, he and a few villainous companions could master the Earth-world. A mad dream indeed, but Lee knew it was a lustful possibility matched by many in Earth’s history.
And then Franklin had come here. Franklin, with his knowledge of Earth which Groff would need. Franklin, with his inherent feeling of inferiority--his groping desire for the strength and power of size. What an opportunity for Franklin!
Lee heard himself saying out of the turmoil of his thoughts: “Then, Aura--out there in the hills they’ve got some apparatus, of course, which--”
His words were stricken away. From somewhere in the glowing dimness near at hand there was a groan. A gasping, choking groan; and the sound of something falling.
“Lee--over there--” Aura’s whispered words were drab with horror.
A figure which had been staggering among the rocks near them, had fallen. They rushed to it. Vivian! She was trying to drag herself forward. Her hair, streaming down in a sodden mass, was matted with blood. Her pallid face was blood-smeared. Her neck and throat were a welter of crimson horror. Beside her on the ground lay a strange-looking apparatus of grids and wires--a metal belt--a skeleton helmet ... She was gripping it with a blood-smeared hand, dragging it with her.
“Oh--you, Lee? Thank Gawd I got to you--”
Her elbows gave way; her head and shoulders sank to the rock. Faintly gasping, with blood-foam at her livid lips, she lay motionless. But her glazing eyes gazed up at Lee, and she was trying to smile.
“I went with them--that damned Franklin--he thought I was as bad as him--” Her faint words were barely audible as he bent down to her. “Just want to tell you, Lee--you’re perfectly swell--I guess I fell for you, didn’t I? That’s over now--just wanted you to know it anyway. There’s one of the damned mechanisms they’ve got--”
“Where are they, Vivian?”
“A cave, not very far from here--down that little ravine--just ahead--they’re in there--four or five of them, getting ready to--” Blood was rattling in her throat, choking her. She tried, horribly, to cough. And then she gasped:
“I stole this mechanism. He--Franklin--he caught me--slashed me. He thought I was dead, I guess--but--when he had gone, I got this mechanism--trying to get to you--”
Her choking, rattling breath again gave out. For a moment she lay with a paroxysm of death twitching her. And then, very faintly she gasped:
“Sort of nice--I was able to do one good thing--anyhow. I’m glad of that--”
The paroxysm ended in a moment. Her white lips were still trying to smile as the light went out of her eyes and she was gone. Trembling, Lee stood up, with the mute, white-faced Aura clinging to him. It was fairly obvious how the weird mechanism should be adjusted--anklets, the skeleton helmet of electrodes, the belt around his waist, with its grids, tiny dials and curved battery box. In a moment he stood with the wires strung from his head, to wrist, ankles and waist. There seemed but one little control switch that would slide over a metal arc of intensity contacts.
“Oh, Lee--what--what are you going to do--?” Aura stood white with terror.
“She said--four or five of them in a cave near here--perhaps they haven’t yet gotten large--”
Down in a little ravine Lee found himself running forward in the luminous darkness. He called back, “Aura--you stay where you are--you hide, until it’s over--”
Then, in the turmoil of his mind, there was no thought of the girl. There was only the vision of old Anthony lying back there so helpless--his burning eyes bitter with this thing which had so horribly come to his little realm. To meet force with force was the only answer.
It was not Lee’s plan to increase his size for a moment now. By doing that, almost at once he would be discovered. And perhaps there were still four or five of the murderers, still not giants, in a cave nearby.
The dim rocky ravine, heavy with shadows, led downward. He came to a tunnel opening, advancing more cautiously now. And then, as he turned an angle ahead of him, down a little subterranean declivity a luminous cave was visible. Groff’s hideout. At one of its entrances here Lee stood for an instant gasping. The five men were here--Groff and four of his villainous companions.
The five bodies lay strewn--horribly mangled. And the wreckage of their size-change mechanisms was strewn among them.
So obvious, what had happened! Franklin had been the first to get large. And at once he had turned on them. Franklin, the weakling who dared not have any rivalry! And now Franklin was outside, out in the hills, a raging, murderous monster. For a moment, in the grisly shambles of the little cave Lee stood transfixed. Then his hand was fumbling at his belt. He shoved the small switch-lever.
There was a shock--a humming--a reeling of his senses. It was akin to what he had felt on the space-globe, but stronger, more intense now. For an instant he staggered, confused. The wires strung on him were glowing; he could feel their heat. Weird luminous opalescence streamed from them--it bathed him--strange electrolite radiance that permeated every minute fibre of his being.
With his head steadying, Lee suddenly was aware of movement all about him. The dim outlines of the cave-room were shrinking with a creeping, crawling movement. Cave-walls and roof all shrinking, dwindling, drawing down upon him. Under his feet the rocky ground seemed hitching forward.
This little cave! In a moment while he stood shocked into immobility, the cave was a tiny cell. Down by his feet the gruesome mangled corpses were the size of children. The cave-roof bumped his head. He must get out of here! The realization stabbed him. Why, in another moment or two these dark walls would close upon him! Then with instant changing viewpoint he saw the true actuality. He was a growing giant, crouching here underground--a giant who would be crushed, mangled by his own monstrous growth.