Beyond the Heaviside Layer
by Capt S. P. Meek
They were moving sluggishly along the red light, seeming
to flow rather than crawl.
McQuarrie, the City Editor, looked up as I entered his office.
"Bond," he asked, "do you know Jim Carpenter?"
"I know him slightly," I replied cautiously. "I have met him several
times and I interviewed him some years ago when he improved the Hadley
rocket motor. I can't claim a very extensive acquaintance with him."
"I thought you knew him well. It is a surprise to me to find that there
is any prominent man who is not an especial friend of yours. At any rate
you know him as well as anyone of the staff, so I'll give you the
For eighty vertical miles Carpenter and
Bond blasted their way—only to be
trapped by the extraordinary monsters
of the heaviside layer.
"What's he up to now?" I asked.
"He's going to try to punch a hole in the heaviside layer."
"But that's impossible," I cried. "How can anyone...."
My voice died away in silence. True enough, the idea of trying to make a
permanent hole in a field of magnetic force was absurd, but even as I
spoke I remembered that Jim Carpenter had never agreed to the opinion
almost unanimously held by our scientists as to the true nature of the
"It may be impossible," replied McQuarrie dryly, "but you are not hired
by this paper as a scientific consultant. For some reason, God alone
knows why, the owner thinks that you are a reporter. Get down there and
try to prove he is right by digging up a few facts about Carpenter's
attempt. Wire your stuff in and Peavey will write it up. On this one
occasion, please try to conceal your erudition and send in your story in
simple words of one syllable which uneducated men like Peavey and me can
comprehend. That's all."
He turned again to his desk and I left the room. At one time I would
have come from such an interview with my face burning, but McQuarrie's
vitriol slid off me like water off a duck's back. He didn't really mean
half of what he said, and he knew as well as I did that his crack about
my holding my job with the Clarion as a matter of pull was grossly
unjust. It is true that I knew Trimble, the owner of the Clarion, fairly
well, but I got my job without any aid from him. McQuarrie himself hired
me and I held my job because he hadn't fired me, despite the caustic
remarks which he addressed to me. I had made the mistake when I first
got on the paper of letting McQuarrie know that I was a graduate
electrical engineer from Leland University, and he had held it against
me from that day on. I don't know whether he really held it seriously
against me or not, but what I have written above is a fair sample of his
usual manner toward me.
In point of fact I had greatly minimized the extent of my acquaintance
with Jim Carpenter. I had been in Leland at the same time that he was
and had known him quite well. When I graduated, which was two years
after he did, I worked for about a year in his laboratory, and my
knowledge of the improvement which had made the Hadley rocket motor a
practicability came from first hand knowledge and not from an interview.
That was several years before but I knew that he never forgot an
acquaintance, let alone a friend, and while I had left him to take up
other work our parting had been pleasant, and I looked forward with real
pleasure to seeing him again.
Jim Carpenter, the stormy petrel of modern science! The eternal
iconoclast: the perpetual opponent! He was probably as deeply versed in
the theory of electricity and physical chemistry as any man alive, but
it pleased him to pose as a "practical" man who knew next to nothing of
theory and who despised the little he did know. His great delight was to
experimentally smash the most beautifully constructed theories which
were advanced and taught in the colleges and universities of the world,
and when he couldn't smash them by experimental evidence, to attack them
from the standpoint of philosophical reasoning and to twist around the
data on which they were built and make it prove, or seem to prove, the
exact opposite of what was generally accepted.
No one questioned his ability. When the ill-fated Hadley had first
constructed the rocket motor which bears his name it was Jim Carpenter
who made it practical. Hadley had tried to disintegrate lead in order to
get his back thrust from the atomic energy which it contained and proved
by apparently unimpeachable mathematics that lead was the only substance
which could be used. Jim Carpenter had snorted through the pages of the
electrical journals and had turned out a modification of Hadley's
invention which disintegrated aluminum. The main difference in
performance was that, while Hadley's original motor would not develop
enough power to lift itself from the ground, Carpenter's modification
produced twenty times the horsepower per pound of weight of any
previously known generator of power and changed the rocket ship from a
wild dream to an everyday commonplace.
When Hadley later constructed his space flyer and proposed to visit the
moon, it was Jim Carpenter who ridiculed the idea of the attempt being
successful. He proposed the novel and weird idea that the path to space
was not open, but that the earth and the atmosphere were enclosed in a
hollow sphere of impenetrable substance through which Hadley's space
flyer could not pass. How accurate were his prognostications was soon
known to everyone. Hadley built and equipped his flyer and started off
on what he hoped would be an epoch making flight. It was one, but not in
the way which he had hoped. His ship took off readily enough, being
powered with four rocket motors working on Carpenter's principle, and
rose to a height of about fifty miles, gaining velocity rapidly. At that
point his velocity suddenly began to drop.
He was in constant radio communication with the earth and he reported
his difficulty. Carpenter advised him to turn back while he could, but
Hadley kept on. Slower and slower became his progress, and after he had
penetrated ten miles into the substance which hindered him, his ship
stuck fast. Instead of using his bow motors and trying to back out, he
had moved them to the rear, and with the combined force of his four
motors he had penetrated for another two miles. There he insanely tried
to force his motors to drive him on until his fuel was exhausted.
He had lived for over a year in his space flyer, but all of his efforts
did not serve to materially change his position. He had tried, of
course, to go out through his air locks and explore space, but his
strength, even although aided by powerful levers, could not open the
outer doors of the locks against the force which was holding them shut.
Careful observations were continuously made of the position of his
flyer and it was found that it was gradually returning toward the earth.
Its motion was very slight, not enough to give any hope for the
occupant. Starting from a motion so slow that it could hardly be
detected, the velocity of return gradually accelerated; and three years
after Hadley's death, the flyer was suddenly released from the force
which held it, and it plunged to the earth, to be reduced by the force
of its fall to a twisted, pitiful mass of unrecognizable junk.
The remains were examined, and the iron steel parts were found to be
highly magnetized. This fact was seized upon by the scientists of the
world and a theory was built up of a magnetic field of force surrounding
the earth through which nothing of a magnetic nature could pass. This
theory received almost universal acceptance, Jim Carpenter alone of the
more prominent men of learning refusing to admit the validity of it. He
gravely stated it as his belief that no magnetic field existed, but that
the heaviside layer was composed of some liquid of high viscosity whose
density and consequent resistance to the passage of a body through it
increased in the ratio of the square of the distance to which one
penetrated into it.
There was a moment of stunned surprise when he announced his radical
idea, and then a burst of Jovian laughter shook the scientific press.
Carpenter was in his glory. For months he waged a bitter controversy in
the scientific journals and when he failed to win converts by this
method, he announced that he would prove it by blasting a way into space
through the heaviside layer, a thing which would be patently impossible
were it a field of force. He had lapsed into silence for two years and
his curt note to the Associated Press to the effect that he was now
ready to demonstrate his experiment was the first intimation the world
had received of his progress.
I drew expense money from the cashier and boarded the Lark for Los
Angeles. When I arrived I went to a hotel and at once called Carpenter
on the telephone.
"Jim Carpenter speaking," came his voice presently.
"Good evening, Mr. Carpenter," I replied, "this is Bond of the San
I would be ashamed to repeat the language which came over that
telephone. I was informed that all reporters were pests and that I was a
doubly obnoxious specimen and that were I within reach I would be
promptly assaulted and that reporters would be received at nine the next
morning and no earlier or later.
"Just a minute, Mr. Carpenter," I cried as he neared the end of his
peroration and was, I fancied, about to slam up the receiver. "Don't you
remember me? I was at Leland with you and used to work in your
laboratory in the atomic disintegration section."
"What's your name?" he demanded.
"Bond, Mr. Carpenter."
"Oh, First Mortgage! Certainly I remember you. Mighty glad to hear your
voice. How are you?"
"Fine, thank you, Mr. Carpenter. I would not have ventured to call you
had I not known you. I didn't mean to impose and I'll be glad to see you
in the morning at nine."
"Not by a long shot," he cried. "You'll come up right away. Where are
"At the El Rey."
"Well, check out and come right up here. There's lots of room for you
here at the plant and I'll be glad to have you. I want at least one
intelligent report of this experiment and you should be able to write
it. I'll look for you in an hour."
"I don't want to impose—" I began; but he interrupted.
"Nonsense, glad to have you. I needed someone like you badly and you
have come just in the nick of time. I'll expect you in an hour."
The receiver clicked and I hastened to follow his instructions. A
ringside seat was just what I was looking for. It took my taxi a little
over an hour to get to the Carpenter laboratory and I chuckled when I
thought of how McQuarrie's face would look when he saw my expense
account. Presently we reached the edge of the grounds which surrounded
the Carpenter laboratory and were stopped at the high gate I remembered
"Are you sure you'll get in, buddy?" asked my driver.
"Certainly," I replied. "What made you ask?"
"I've brought three chaps out here to-day and none of them got in," he
answered with a grin. "I'm glad you're so sure, but I'll just wait
around until you are inside before I drive away."
I laughed and advanced to the gate. Tim, the old guard, was still there,
and he remembered and welcomed me.
"Me ordhers wuz t' let yez roight in, sor," he said as he greeted me.
"Jist lave ye'er bag here and Oi'll have ut sint roight up."
I dropped my bag and trudged up the well remembered path to the
laboratory. It had been enlarged somewhat since I saw it last and, late
though the hour was, there was a bustle in the air and I could see a
number of men working in the building. From an area in the rear, which
was lighted by huge flood lights, came the staccato tattoo of a riveter.
I walked up to the front of the laboratory and entered. I knew the way
to Carpenter's office and I went directly there and knocked.
"Hello, First Mortgage!" cried Jim Carpenter as I entered in response to
his call. "I'm glad to see you. Excuse the bruskness of my first
greeting to you over the telephone, but the press have been deviling me
all day, every man jack of them trying to steal a march on the rest. I
am going to open the whole shebang at nine to-morrow and give them all
an equal chance to look things over before I turn the current on at
noon. As soon as we have a little chat, I'll show you over the works."
After half an hour's chat he rose. "Come along, First Mortgage," he
said, "we'll go out and look the place over and I'll explain everything.
If my ideas work out, you'll have no chance to go over it to-morrow, so
I want you to see it now."
I had no chance to ask him what he meant by this remark, for he walked
rapidly from the laboratory and I perforce followed him. He led the way
to the patch of lighted ground behind the building where the riveting
machine was still beating out its monotonous cacaphony and paused by the
first of a series of huge reflectors, which were arranged in a circle.
"Here is the start of the thing," he said. "There are two hundred and
fifty of these reflectors arranged in a circle four hundred yards in
diameter. Each of them is an opened parabola of such spread that their
beams will cover an area ten yards in diameter at fifty miles above the
earth. If my calculations are correct they should penetrate through the
layer at an average speed of fifteen miles per hour per unit, and by two
o'clock to-morrow afternoon, the road to space should be open."
"What is your power?" I asked.
"Nothing but a concentration of infra-red rays. The heaviside layer, as
you doubtless know, is a liquid and, I think, an organic liquid. If I am
right in that thought, the infra-red will cut through it like a knife
"If it is a liquid, how will you prevent it from flowing back into the
hole you have opened?" I asked.
"When the current is first turned on, each reflector will bear on the
same point. Notice that they are moveable. They are arranged so that
they move together. As soon as the first hole is bored through, they
will move by clockwork, extending the opening until each points
vertically upward and the hole is four hundred yards in diameter. I am
positive that there will be no rapid flow even after the current is
turned off, for I believe that the liquid is about as mobile as
petroleum jelley. Should it close, however, it would take only a couple
of hours to open it again to allow the space flyer to return."
"What space flyer?" I demanded quickly.
"The one we are going to be on, First Mortgage," he replied with a
We?" I cried, aghast.
"Certainly. We. You and I. You didn't think I was going to send you
alone, did you?"
"I didn't know that anyone was going."
"Of course. Someone has to go; otherwise, how could I prove my point? I
might cut through a hundred holes and yet these stiff-necked old
fossils, seeing nothing, would not believe. No, First Mortgage, when
those arcs start working to-morrow, you and I will be in a Hadley space
ship up at the bottom of the layer, and as soon as the road has been
opened, two of the lamps will cut off to allow us through. Then the
battery will hold the road open while we pass out into space and
"Suppose we meet with Hadley's fate?" I demanded.
"We won't. Even if I am wrong—which is very unlikely—we won't meet
with any such fate. We have two stern motors and four bow motors. As
soon as we meet with the slightest resistance to our forward progress we
will stop and have twice the power plus gravity to send us earthwards.
There is no danger connected with the trip."
"All the same—" I began.
"All the same, you're going," he replied. "Man alive, think of the
chance to make a world scoop for your paper! No other press man has the
slightest inkling of my plan and even if they had, there isn't another
space flyer in the world that I know of. If you don't want to go, I'll
give some one else the chance, but I prefer you, for you know something
of my work."
I thought rapidly for a moment. The chance was a unique one and one that
half the press men in San Francisco would have given their shirts to
get. I had had my doubts of the accuracy of Jim Carpenter's reasoning
while I was away from him, but there was no resisting the dynamic
personality of the man when in his presence.
"You win," I said with a laugh. "Your threat of offering some of my
hated rivals a chance settled it."
"Good boy!" he exclaimed, pounding me on the back. "I knew you'd come. I
had intended to take one of my assistants with me, but as soon as I knew
you were here I decided that you were the man. There really ought to be
a press representative along. Come with me and I'll show you our flyer."
The flyer proved to be of the same general type as had been used by
Hadley. It was equipped with six rocket motors, four discharging to the
bow and two to the stern. Any one of them, Carpenter said, was ample for
motive power. Equilibrium was maintained by means of a heavy gyroscope
which would prevent any turning of the axis of its rotation. The entire
flyer shell could be revolved about the axis so that oblique motion with
our bow and stern motors was readily possible. Direct lateral movement
was provided for by valves which would divert a portion of the discharge
of either a bow or stern motor out through side vents in any direction.
The motive power, of course, was furnished by the atomic disintegration
of powdered aluminum. The whole interior, except for the portion of the
walls, roof and floor, which was taken up by vitriolene windows, was
At nine the next morning the gates to the enclosure were thrown open and
the representatives of the press admitted. Jim Carpenter mounted a
platform and explained briefly what he proposed to do and then broke the
crowd up into small groups and sent them over the works with guides.
When all had been taken around they were reassembled and Carpenter
announced to them his intention of going up in a space flyer and prove,
by going through the heaviside layer, that he had actually destroyed a
portion of it. There was an immediate clamor of applications to go with
him. He laughingly announced that one reporter was all that he could
stand on the ship and that he was taking one of his former associates
with him. I could tell by the envious looks with which I was favored
that any popularity I had ever had among my associates was gone forever.
There was little time to think of such things, however, for the hour for
our departure was approaching, and the photographers were clamoring for
pictures of us and the flyer.
We satisfied them at last, and I entered the flyer after Carpenter. We
sealed the car up, started the air conditioner, and were ready for
"Scared, Pete?" asked Carpenter, his hand on the starting lever.
I gulped a little as I looked at him. He was perfectly calm to a casual
inspection, but I knew him well enough to interpret the small spots of
red which appeared on his high cheekbones and the glitter in his eye. He
may not have been as frightened as I was but he was laboring under an
enormous nervous strain. The mere fact that he called me "Pete" instead
of his usual "First Mortgage" showed that he was feeling pretty serious.
"Not exactly scared," I replied, "but rather uneasy, so to speak."
He laughed nervously.
"Cheer up, old man! If anything goes wrong, we won't know it. Sit down
and get comfortable; this thing will start with a jerk."
He pulled the starting lever forward suddenly and I felt as though an
intolerable weight were pressed against me, glueing me to my seat. The
feeling lasted only for a moment, for he quickly eased up on the motor,
and in a few moments I felt quite normal.
"How fast are we going?" I asked.
"Only two hundred miles an hour," he replied. "We will reach the layer
in plenty of time at this rate and I don't want to jam into it. You can
get up now."
I rose, moved over to the observation glass in the floor, and looked
down. We were already five or ten miles above the earth and were
ascending rapidly. I could still detect the great circle of reflectors
with which our way was to be opened.
"How can you tell where these heat beams are when they are turned on?" I
asked. "Infra-red rays are not visible, and we will soon be out of sight
of the reflectors."
"I forgot to mention that I am having a small portion of visible red
rays mixed with the infra-red so that we can spot them. I have a radio
telephone here, working on my private wavelength, so that I can direct
operations from here as well as from the ground—in fact, better. If
you're cold, turn on the heater."
The friction of the flyer against the air had so far made up for the
decreasing temperature of the air surrounding us, but a glance at the
outside thermometer warned me that his suggestion was a wise one. I
turned a valve which diverted a small portion of our exhaust through a
heating coil in the flyer. It was hard to realize that I was actually in
a rocket space ship, the second one to be flown and that, with the
exception of the ill-fated Hadley, farther from the earth than any man
had been before. There was no sensation of movement in that hermetically
sealed flyer, and, after the first few moments, the steady drone of the
rocket motor failed to register on my senses. I was surprised to see
that there was no trail of detritus behind us.
"You can see our trail at night," replied Carpenter when I asked him
about it, "but in daylight, there is nothing to see. The slight
luminosity of the gasses is hidden by the sun's rays. We may be able to
see it when we get out in space beyond the layer, but I don't know. We
have arrived at the bottom of the layer now, I believe. At any rate, we
are losing velocity."
I moved over to the instrument board and looked. Our speed had dropped
to one hundred and ten miles an hour and was steadily falling off.
Carpenter pulled the control lever and reduced our power. Gradually the
flyer came to a stop and hung poised in space. He shut off the power an
instant and at once our indicator showed that we were falling, although
very slowly. He promptly reapplied the power, and by careful adjustment
brought us again to a dead stop.
"Ready to go," he remarked looking at his watch, "and just on time, too.
Take a glass and watch the ground. I am going to have the heat turned
I took the binoculars he indicated and turned them toward the ground
while he gave a few crisp orders into his telephone. Presently from the
ground beneath us burst out a circle of red dots from which long beams
stabbed up into the heavens. The beams converged as they mounted until
at a point slightly below us, and a half-mile away they became one solid
beam of red. One peculiarity I noticed was that, while they were plainly
visible near the ground, they faded out, and it was not until they were
a few miles below us that they again became apparent. I followed their
path upward into the heavens.
"Look here, Jim!" I cried as I did so. "Something's happening!"
He sprang to my side and glanced at the beam.
"Hurrah!" he shouted, pounding me on the back. "I was right! Look! And
the fools called it a magnetic field!"
Upward the beam was boring its way, but it was almost concealed by a
rain of fine particles of black which were falling around it.
"It's even more spectacular than I had hoped," he chortled. "I had
expected to reduce the layer to such fluidity that we could penetrate
it or even to vaporize it, but we are actually destroying it! That stuff
is soot and is proof, if proof be needed, that the layer is an organic
He turned to his telephone and communicated the momentous news to the
earth and then rejoined me at the window. For ten minutes we watched and
a slight diminution of the black cloud became apparent.
"They're through the layer," exclaimed Carpenter. "Now watch, and you'll
see something. I'm going to start spreading the beam."
He turned again to his telephone, and presently the beam began to widen
and spread out. As it did so the dark cloud became more dense than it
had been before. The earth below us was hidden and we could see the red
only as a dim murky glow through the falling soot. Carpenter inquired of
the laboratory and found that we were completely invisible to the
ground, half the heavens being hidden by the black pall. For an hour the
beam worked its way toward us.
"The hole is about four hundred yards in diameter right now," said
Carpenter as he turned from the telephone. "I have told them to stop the
movement of the reflectors, and as soon as the air clears a little,
we'll start through."
It took another hour for the soot to clear enough that we could plainly
detect the ring of red light before us. Carpenter gave some orders to
the ground, and a gap thirty yards wide opened in the wall before us.
Toward this gap the flyer moved slowly under the side thrust of the
diverted motor discharge. The temperature rose rapidly as we neared the
wall of red light before us. Nearer we drew until the light was on both
sides of us. Another few feet and the flyer shot forward with a jerk
that threw me sprawling on the floor. Carpenter fell too, but he
maintained his hold on the controls and tore at them desperately to
I scrambled to my feet and watched. The red wall was alarmingly close.
Nearer we drove and then came another jerk which threw me sprawling
again. The wall retreated. In another moment we were standing still,
with the red all around us at a distance of about two hundred yards.
"We had a narrow escape from being cremated," said Carpenter with a
shaky laugh. "I knew that our speed would increase as soon as we got
clear of the layer but it caught me by surprise just the same. I had no
idea how great the holding effect of the stuff was. Well, First
Mortgage, the road to space is open for us. May I invite you to be my
guest on a little week-end jaunt to the Moon?"
"No thanks, Jim," I said with a wry smile. "I think a little trip to the
edge of the layer will quite satisfy me."
"Quitter," he laughed. "Well, say good-by to familiar things. Here we
He turned to the controls of the flyer, and presently we were moving
again, this time directly away from the earth. There was no jerk at
starting this time, merely a feeling as though the floor were pressing
against my feet, a great deal like the feeling a person gets when they
rise rapidly in an express elevator. The indicator showed that we were
traveling only sixty miles an hour. For half an hour we continued
monotonously on our way with nothing to divert us. Carpenter yawned.
"Now that it's all over, I feel let down and sleepy," he announced. "We
are well beyond the point to which Hadley penetrated and so far we have
met with no resistance. We are probably nearly at the outer edge of the
layer. I think I'll shoot up a few miles more and then call it a day and
go home. We are about eighty miles from the earth now."
I looked down, but could see nothing below us but the dense cloud of
black soot resulting from the destruction of the heaviside layer. Like
Carpenter, I felt sleepy, and I suppressed a yawn as I turned again to
"Look here, Jim!" I cried suddenly. "What's that?"
He moved in a leisurely manner to my side and looked out. As he did so I
felt his hand tighten on my shoulder with a desperate grip. Down the
wall of red which surrounded us was coming an object of some kind. The
thing was fully seventy-five yards long and half as wide at its main
portion, while long irregular streams extended for a hundred yards on
each side of it. There seemed to be dozens of them.
"What is it, Jim?" I asked in a voice which sounded high and unnatural
"I don't know," he muttered, half to me and half to himself. "Good Lord,
there's another of them!"
He pointed. Not far from the first of the things came another, even
larger than the first. They were moving sluggishly along the red light,
seeming to flow rather than to crawl. I had a horrible feeling that they
were alive and malignant. Carpenter stepped back to the controls of the
flyer and stopped our movement; we hung in space, watching them. The
things were almost level with us, but their sluggish movement was
downward toward the earth. In color, they were a brilliant crimson,
deepening into purple near the center. Just as the first of them came
opposite us it paused, and slowly a portion of the mass extended itself
from the main bulk; and then, like doors opening, four huge eyes, each
of them twenty feet in diameter, opened and stared at us.
"It's alive, Jim," I quavered. I hardly knew my own voice as I spoke.
Jim stepped back to the controls with a white face, and slowly we moved
closer to the mass. As we approached I thought that I could detect a
fleeting passage of expression in those huge eyes. Then they disappeared
and only a huge crimson and purple blob lay before us. Jim moved the
controls again and the flyer came to a stop.
Two long streamers moved out from the mass. Suddenly there was a jerk to
the ship which threw us both to the floor. It started upward at express
train speed. Jim staggered to his feet, grasped the controls and started
all four bow motors at full capacity, but even this enormous force had
not the slightest effect in diminishing our speed.
"Well, the thing's got us, whatever it is," said Jim as he pulled his
controls to neutral, shutting off all power. Now that the danger had
assumed a tangible form, he appeared as cool and collected as ever, to
my surprise, I found that I had recovered control of my muscle and of my
voice. I became aware that the shoulder which Jim had gripped was aching
badly, and I rubbed it absently.
"What is it, Jim?" I asked for the third time.
"I don't know," he replied. "It is some horrible inhabitant of space,
something unknown to us on earth. From its appearance and actions, I
think it must be a huge single-celled animal of the type of the earthly
amoeba. If an amoeba is that large here, what must an elephant look
like? However, I expect that we'll learn more about the matter later
because it's taking us with it, wherever it's going."
Suddenly the flyer became dark inside. I looked at the nearest window,
but I could not even detect its outline. I reached for the light switch,
but a sudden change in direction threw me against the wall. There was an
instant of intense heat in the flyer.
"We have passed the heaviside layer," said Jim. "The brute has changed
direction, and we felt that heat when he took us through the infra-red
I reached again for the light switch, but before I could find it our
motion ceased and an instant later the flyer was filled with glaring
sunlight. We both turned to the window.
We lay on a glistening plain of bluish hue which stretched without a
break as far as we could see. Not a thing broke the monotony of our
vision. We turned to the opposite window. How can I describe the sight
which met our horrified gaze? On the plain before us lay a huge purple
monstrosity of gargantuan dimensions. The thing was a shapeless mass,
only the four huge eyes standing out regarding us balefully. The mass
was continually changing its outline and, as we watched, a long streamer
extended itself from the body toward us. Over and around the flyer the
feeler went, while green and red colors played over first one and then
another of the huge eyes before us. The feeler wrapped itself around the
flyer and we were lifted into the air toward those horrible eyes. We had
almost reached them when the thing dropped us. We fell to the plain with
a crash. We staggered to our feet again and looked out. Our captor was
battling for its life.
Its attacker was a smaller thing of a brilliant green hue, striped and
mottled with blue and yellow. While our captor was almost formless, the
newcomer had a very definite shape. It resembled a cross between a bird
and a lizard, its shape resembling a bird, as did tiny rudimentary wings
and a long beak, while the scaly covering and the fact that it had four
legs instead of two bore out the idea that it might be a lizard. Its
huge birdlike beak was armed with three rows of long sharp teeth with
which it was tearing at our captor. The purple amoeba was holding its
assailant with a dozen of its thrown out feelers which were wrapped
about the body and legs of the green horror. The whole battle was
conducted in absolute silence.
"Now's our chance, Jim!" I cried. "Get away from here while that dragon
has the amoeba busy!"
He jumped to the control levers of the flyer and pulled the starting
switch well forward. The shock of the sudden start hurled me to the
floor, but from where I fell I was able to watch the battle on the
plain below us. It raged with uninterrupted fury and I felt certain of
our escape when, with a shock which hurled both Jim and me to the
ceiling, the flyer stopped. We fell back to the floor and I reflected
that it was well for us that the interior of the flyer was so well
padded. Had it not been, our bones would have been broken a dozen times
by the shocks to which we had been subjected.
"What now?" I asked as I painfully struggled to my feet.
"Another of those purple amoebas," replied Jim from the vantage point of
a window. "He's looking us over as if he were trying to decide whether
we are edible or not."
I joined him at the window. The thing which had us was a replica of the
monster we had left below us engaged in battle with the green dragon
which had attacked it. The same indefinite and ever changing outline was
evident, as well as the four huge eyes. The thing regarded us for a
moment and slowly moved us up against its bulk until we touched it.
Deeper and deeper into the mass of the body we penetrated until we were
in a deep cavern with the light coming to us only from the entrance. I
watched the entrance and horror possessed my soul.
"The hole's closing. Jim!" I gasped. "The thing is swallowing us!"
"I expected that," he replied grimly. "The amoeba has no mouth, you
know. Nourishment is passed into the body through the skin, which closes
behind it. We are a modern version of Jonah and the whale, First
"Well, Jonah got out," I ventured.
"We'll try to," he replied. "When that critter swallowed us, he got
something that will prove pretty indigestible. Let's try to give him a
stomach ache. I don't suppose that a machine-gun will affect him, but
we'll try it."
"I didn't know that you had any guns on board."
"Oh yes, I've got two machine-guns. We'll turn one of them loose, but I
don't expect much effect from it."
He moved over to one of the guns and threw off the cover which had
hidden it from my gaze. He fed in a belt of ammunition and pulled his
trigger. For half a minute he held it down, and two hundred and fifty
caliber thirty bullets tore their way into space. There was no evidence
of movement on the part of our host.
"Just as I thought," remarked Jim as he threw aside the empty belt and
covered the gun again. "The thing has no nervous organization to speak
of and probably never felt that. We'll have to rig up a disintegrating
ray for him."
"What?" I gasped.
"A disintegrating ray," he replied. "Oh yes, I know how to make the
fabulous 'death ray' that you journalists are always raving about. I
have never announced my discovery, for war is horrible enough without
it, but I have generated it and used it in my work a number of times.
Did it never occur to you that the rocket motor is built on a
disintegrating ray principle?"
"Of course it is, Jim. I never thought of it in that light before, but
it must be. How can you use it? The discharge from the motors is a
harmless stream of energy particles."
"Instead of turning the ray into powdered aluminum and breaking it down,
what is to prevent me from turning it against the body of our captor and
blasting my way out?"
"I don't know."
"Well, nothing is. I'll have to modify one of the motors a little, but
it's not a hard job. Get some wrenches from the tool box and we'll
An hour of hard work enabled us to disconnect one of the reserve bow
motors and, after the modifications Jim had mentioned, turn the ray out
through the port through which the products of disintegration were meant
to go. When we had bolted it in place with an improvised coupling, Jim
opened the vitriolene screen which held in our air and turned to his
"Here goes," he said.
He pulled the lever to full power and with a roar which almost deafened
us in the small flyer, the ray leaped out to do its deadly work. I
watched through a port beside the motor. There was a flash of intense
light for an instant and then the motor died away in silence. A path to
freedom lay open before us. Jim started one of the stern motors and
slowly we forced our way through the hole torn in the living mass. When
we were almost at the surface, he threw in full power and we shot free
from the amoeba and into the open. Again we were stopped in midair and
drawn back toward the huge bulk. The eyes looked at us and we were
turned around. As the ray swung into a position to point directly toward
one of the eyes, Jim pulled the controlling lever. With the flash of
light which ensued, the eye and a portion of the surrounding tissue
disappeared. The amoeba writhed and changed shape rapidly, while flashes
of brilliant crimson played over the remaining eyes. Again the ray was
brought into play and another of the eyes disappeared. This was
evidently enough for our captor, for it suddenly released us and
instantly we started to fall. Jim caught the control levers and turned
on our power in time to halt us only a few feet above the plain toward
which we were falling. We were close to the point whence we had started
up and we could see that the battle below us was still raging.
The green dragon was partially engulfed by the amoeba, but it still
relentlessly tore off huge chunks and devoured them. The amoeba was
greatly reduced in bulk but it still fought gamely. Even as we
approached the dragon was evidently satiated, for it slowly withdrew
from the purple bulk and back away. Long feelers shot out from the
amoeba's bulk toward the dragon but they were bitten off before they
could grasp their prey.
"Let's get away from here, Jim," I cried, but I spoke too late. Even as
the words left my mouth the green dragon saw us and raised itself in the
air, and with gaping jaws launched itself at us. It took Jim only a
moment to shoot the flyer up into space, and the charge passed
harmlessly beneath us. The dragon checked its headway and turned again
"Use the machine-gun, Pete!" cried Jim. "I've got to run the ship."
I threw the cover off the gun and fed in a fresh belt of ammunition. As
the green monster dashed toward us I hastily aligned the gun and pulled
the trigger. My aim was good and at least fifty of the bullets plowed
through the approaching bulk before Jim dropped the ship and allowed it
to pass above us. Again the dragon turned and charged, and again I met
it with a hail of bullets. They had no apparent effect and Jim dropped
the ship again and let the huge bulk shoot by above us. Twice more the
dragon rushed but the last rush was less violent than had been the first
"The bullets are affecting him, Pete!" cried Jim as he shot the flyer
upward. "Give him another dose!"
I hastily fed in another belt, but it was not needed. The dragon rushed
the fifth time, but before it reached us its velocity fell off and it
passed harmlessly below us and fell on a long curve to the plain below.
It fell near the purple amoeba which it had battled and a long feeler
shot out and grasped it. Straight into the purple mass it was drawn, and
vanished into the huge bulk.
Jim started one of the stern motors. In a few seconds we were far from
"Have you any idea of which direction to go?" he asked. I shook my head.
"Have you a radio beacon?" I asked.
He withered me with a glance.
"We're beyond the heaviside layer," he reminded me.
For a moment I was stunned.
"We can't be very far from the hole," he said consolingly as he fumbled
with the controls. "But before we try to find it, we had better
disconnect one of the stern motors and rig it as a disintegrating ray so
that we will have one bearing in each direction. We may meet more
denizens of space who like our looks, and we haven't much ammunition
We landed on the plain and in an hour had a second disintegrating ray
ready for action. Thus armed, we rose from the blue plain and started at
random on our way. For ten minutes we went forward. Then Jim stopped the
flyer and turned back. We had gone only a short distance when I called
to him to stop.
"What is it?" he demanded as he brought the flyer to a standstill.
"There's another creature ahead of us," I replied. "A red one."
"Red?" he asked excitedly as he joined me. About a mile ahead of us a
huge mass hung in the air. It resembled the amoeba which had attacked
us, except that the newcomer was red. As we watched, it moved toward us.
As it did so its color changed to purple.
"Hurrah!" cried Jim. "Don't you remember, Pete, that the one which
captured us and took us out of the hole was red while in the hole and
then turned purple? That thing just came out of the hole!"
"Then why can't we see the red beam?" I demanded.
"Because there's no air or anything to reflect it," he replied. "We
can't see it until we are right in it."
I devoutly hoped that he was right as he headed the ship toward the
waiting monster. As we approached the amoeba came rapidly to meet us and
a long feeler shot out. As it did so there was a flash of intense light
ahead of us as Jim turned loose the ray, and the feeler disappeared.
Another and another met the same fate. Then Jim rotated the ship
slightly and let out the full force of the ray toward the monster. A
huge hole was torn in it, and as we approached with our ray blazing, the
amoeba slowly retreated and our path was open before us. Again there was
an instant of intense heat as we passed through the red wall, and we
were again in the hole which Jim's lamps had blasted through the layer.
Below us still lay the fog which had obscured the earth when we had
started on our upward trip.
Down toward the distant earth we dropped. We had gone about thirty miles
before we saw on the side of the hole one of the huge amoeba which were
so thick above.
"We might stop and pick that fellow off," said Jim, "but, on the whole,
I think we'll experiment with him."
He drove the ship nearer and turned it on its axis, holding it in
position by one of the auxiliary discharges. A flash came from our
forward ray and a portion of the amoeba disappeared. A long arm moved
out toward us, but it moved slowly and sluggishly instead of with the
lightninglike swiftness which had characterized the movements of the
others. Jimmy easily eluded it and dropped the ship a few yards. The
creature pursued it, but it moved slowly. For a mile we kept our
distance ahead of it, but we had to constantly decrease our speed to
keep from leaving it behind. Soon we were almost at a standstill, and
Jim reversed our direction and drew nearer. A feeler came slowly and
feebly out a few feet toward us and then stopped. We dropped the ship a
few feet but the amoeba did not follow. Jim glanced at the altimeter.
"Just as I thought," he exclaimed. "We are about forty-five miles above
the earth and already the air is so dense that the thing cannot move
lower. They are fashioned for existence in the regions of space and in
even the most rarified air they are helpless. There is no chance of one
ever reaching the surface of the earth without years of gradual
acclimation, and even if it did, it would be practically immobile. In a
few years the layer will flow enough to plug the hole I have made, but
even so, I'll build a couple of space flyers equipped with
disintegrating rays as soon as we get down and station them alongside
the hole to wipe out any of that space vermin which tries to come
through. Let's go home. We've put in a good day's work."
Hundreds of the purple amoeba have been destroyed by the guarding ships
during the past five years. The hole is filling in as Jim predicted, and
in another ten years the earth will be as securely walled in as it ever
was. But in the mean time, no one knows what unrevealed horrors space
holds, and the world will never rest entirely easy until the slow
process of time again heals the broken protective layer.