The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol V Part 26

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"My world," Glora was saying. "You like it? See the starlight on the lake? I have heard that your world looks like this at night, in summer. Ours is always like this. No day, no night. Just like this--starlight." Her hand went to Alan's shoulder. "You like it? My world?"

"Yes, Glora. It's very beautiful."

There was a sheen on everything, a soft, glowing sheen of phosph.o.r.escence from the rocks rising to meet the pale wan starlight. The night air was soft, with a gentle breeze that rippled the distant lake into a great spread of gold and silver light.

The city was called Orena. I saw at once that we were about normal size in relation to its houses and people. There were fields beneath our ledge, with farm implements lying in them; no workers, for this was the time for sleep. Ribbons of roads wound over the country, pale streamers in the starlight.

Glora gestured, "The giants are on their island. Everyone sleeps now. You see the island off there?"



Beyond the city, over the low stone roofs of its flat-topped dwellings, the silver spread of lake showed a green-clad island some three miles off sh.o.r.e. The distance made its white stone houses seem small. But as I gazed, I realized that they were large compared to their environment, all far larger than those of the little town. The island was perhaps a mile in length. Between it and the mainland a boat was coming toward us. It was a dark blob of hull on the s.h.i.+ning water, and above it a queerly shaped circular sail was puffed out, like a balloon parachute, by the wind.

"The giants live there?" said Alan. "You mean Polter's men?"

"And women. Yes."

"Are there many giants?"

"No."

"How many?" I put in. "How large are they? In relation to us now, I mean. And to your normal size?"

"You ask so many questions so fast, George. There are two hundred or more of the giants. And there are more than that many thousands of our people, here. Slaves, because the giants are four times as large. This little city, these fields, these hills of stone and metal, all this was ours to have in peace and happiness until your Polter came."

She gestured. "Everywhere is a great reach of desert and forest. There are insects, but no wild beasts--nothing to harm us. Nature is kind here. The weather is always like this. We were happy, until Polter came."

"And only a few thousand people," Alan said. "No other cities?"

"What lies off in the great distance, we do not know. Our nation is ten times what is here. We have a few other cities, and some of our people live in the forests."

She broke off. "That boat is coming for Polter. He is in the city no doubt of that. The boat will take him and that girl you call Babs, to the giant's island. His castle is there."

I turned to Alan. "They must have arrived only recently. Before we go any further we have to decide what size to be. We can't be gigantic because I'm sure he'd kill Babs if he sees us. We've got to plan!"

If we could get on that boat and go with him to the island--But in what size? Very small? But then, if we were very small it would take us hours to get from here to the boat. Glora pointed out where it would land--just beyond the village where the houses were set in a spa.r.s.e fringe. It would be there, apparently, in ten or fifteen minutes. Polter probably was there now with Babs, waiting for it.

In our present size we could not get there in time. It was two or three miles at least. But a trifle larger--the size of one of Polter's giants--we would be able to make it. We would be seen, but in the pale starlight, keeping away from the city as much as possible, we might only be mistaken for Polter's people. And when we got closer we would diminish our size, creep into the boat, get near Babs and Polter and then plan what to do.

We climbed down from the ledge and stood at the base of the towering cliff which reared its jagged wall against the stars. A field and a road were near us. The road seemed of normal size. A man was in the field. He was apparently about my height. He presently discarded his work, walked away from us and vanished.

"Hurry, Glora." Alan and I stood beside her while she took pellets from her vials. We wanted our stature now to be four times what it was. Glora gave us pellets of both drugs, one of which was slightly more intense than the other.

"Polter made them this way," she said. "The two taken at once give just the growth to take us from this normal size to the stature of the giants."

Alan and I did not touch our own vials. We had used none of our enlarging drug upon the journey, and the supply she had given us of the other was almost gone.

As I took these pellets which Glora now gave us, standing there by the side of that road, I recall that I was struck with the realization that never once upon this journey had I conceived myself to be other than normal stature. I am normally about six feet tall. I still felt--there in that golden atom--the same height. This landscape seemed of normal size. There were trees nearby--spreading, fantastic-looking growths with great strings of pods hanging from them. But still--as I looked up to see one arching over me with its blue-brown leaves and an air-vine carrying vivid yellow blossoms--whatever the size of the tree, I could only conceive of myself as a normal man of six-foot stature standing beneath it. The human ego always supreme! Around each man's consciousness of himself the entire universe revolves.

We crouched on the ground when this growth now began; it would not do to be observed changing size. Polter's giants never did that. Years before, he had made them large--his few hundred men and women. They were, Glora said, people both of this realm and from our great world above--dissolute criminal characters who had now set themselves up here as the nucleus of a ruling race.

In a moment now, we were the size of these giants. Twenty to twenty-five feet tall, in relation to the environment. But I did not feel so. As I stood up--still feeling myself in normal stature--I saw around me a shrunken little landscape. The trees, as though in a j.a.panese garden, were about my own height; the road was a smooth, level path; the little field near us had a toy fence around it. On another road nearby a man was walking. In height he would barely have reached my knees. He saw us rise beside the trees. He darted off in alarm, and disappeared.

I have taken longer to tell all this than the actual time which pa.s.sed. We could see the boat coming from the island, and it was still a fair distance off sh.o.r.e. We ran along the road, skirting the edge of the little town. None of its houses were taller than ourselves. The windows and doorways were ovals into which we could only have inserted a head or an arm. Most of them were dark. Little people occasionally stared out, saw us run past, and ducked back, thankful that we did not stop to hara.s.s them.

"This way," said Glora. She ran like a faun, hardly winded, with Alan and me heavily panting behind her. "There are trees--thick trees--quite near where the boat lands. We can get in them and hide and change our size to smallness. But hurry, for we shall need a great deal of time when we are small!"

The little spread of town and the s.h.i.+ning lake remained always to our right. In five minutes we were past most of the houses. A patch of woods, with thick, interlacing treetops about our own height, lay ahead. It extended a few hundred feet over to the lake sh.o.r.e. The sailboat was heading in close. There was a broad starlit roadway at the edge of the lake, and a dock at which the boat was preparing to land.

Would we be in time? I suddenly feared not. To get small now, with distance lengthening between us and the boat, would be disastrous. And where was Polter?

Abruptly we saw him. There had been only little people visible to us: none of our own height. The lake roadway by the dock was brightly starlit. As we approached the intervening patch of woods it seemed that a crowd of little people were near the dock. Polter must have been sitting. But now he rose up. We could not mistake his thick hunched figure, the lump on his shoulders clear in the starlight with the gleaming lake as a background. The crowd of little figures were milling around his knees. In the silence of the night the murmur of their voices floated over to us.

"There he is!" Alan gasped. We all three checked our running; we were at the edge of the patch of woods. "By G.o.d, there he is! Let's get larger and rush him! He's only a few hundred feet away!"

But Babs? Where was Babs?

"Alan, get down!" I crouched, pulling Alan and Glora with me. "Don't let him see us! We can't rush him Alan, 'til we find Babs. He'd see us coming and kill her."

Of all the strange events that had been flung at us, I think this sudden crisis now most confused Alan and me.... To get larger, or smaller? Which? Yet something had to be done at once.

Glora said, "We can get through the woods best in this size. We won't be seen and will be closer to the landing."

We crouched so that the treetops were always well over us. The patch of woods was dark. A soil of black loam was under us, a thick soft underbrush reached our knees, and lacy, flexible leaves and branches were about shoulder height. We pushed them aside, forcing our way softly forward. It was not far. The little murmuring voices of the crowd grew louder.

Presently we were crouching at the other edge of the woods. I softly shoved the tree branches aside until we could all three get a clear view of the strange scene now directly before us.

And I saw a toy dock, at which a twenty-foot, bargelike open sailboat was landing; a narrow starlit roadway, crowded with a milling throng of people all no more than a foot and a half in height. The crowd milled almost to where we were crouching, unseen in the shrubbery.

Across the road by the dock, Polter stood with the crowd down around his knees. In height he seemed the old familiar Polter. Bareheaded, with his s.h.a.ggy black hair shot with white. He was dressed in Earth fas.h.i.+on: narrow black evening trousers and a white s.h.i.+rt and collar with flowing black tie. I saw at once what Alan had noticed--the change in him. An abnormality of age. I would have called him now forty, or older. Beyond even that there was an abnormality. A man old before his time; or younger than he should have been for the years he had lived. An indescribable mingling of something of the two worlds, perhaps. It marked him with a look at once unnatural and sinister.

These were instant impressions. Glora was plucking at me. "On the white chest of his s.h.i.+rt, something is there."

Polter was coatless, with snowy white s.h.i.+rt and cuffs to his thick wrists. He was no more than fifty feet from us. On his s.h.i.+rt bosom something golden in color was hanging like a large bauble, an ornament, an insignia. It was strapped tightly there with a band about his chest, a cord, like a necklace chain, up to his thick hunched neck, and other chains down to his belt.

I stared at it. An ornament, like a cube held flat against his s.h.i.+rt front--a little golden cube, ornate with tiny bars.

I heard Alan murmuring, "A cage! Why George, it's--"

And then, simultaneously, realization struck me. It was a golden cage strapped there. And I seemed to see that there was something in it. A tiny figure? Babs!

"I think he has her there," Glora murmured. "You see the little box with bars? The girl, Babs, is a prisoner in there." She spoke swiftly, vehemently. "He will take the boat to the island."

She gripped us. "You think it really best to go? I do what you say. I had the wish to get to my father with these drugs."

"No!" exclaimed Alan. "We must keep close to Polter!"

We were ready with our pellets. But a sudden activity in the road made us pause. The crowd of little people were hostile to Polter. A sullen hostility. They milled about him as he stood there, gazing down at them sardonically.

And abruptly he shouted at them in English. "You speak my language, some of you. Then listen!"

The crowd fell silent.

"Listen. This iss your future Queen. Can you see her? She iss small now. But she has the magic power. Soon she will be large, like me."

The crowd was shouting again. It surged forward, but it lacked a leader, and those in advance shoved backward in fear.

Polter spoke again. "This girl from my world, you will like her. She iss kind and very beautiful. When she iss large, you will see how beautiful."

A small stone suddenly came up from the throng of little people and struck Polter on the shoulder. Then another. The crowd, emboldened, made a rush: surged against his legs.

He shouted, "You do that? Why, how dare you? I show you what giants do when you make dem angry!"

From down by his knees he plucked the small figure of a man. The crowd scattered with shouts of terror. Polter had the struggling eighteen-inch figure by the wrist. He whirled it around his head like a ninepin and flung it over the canopy of the dock far out into the s.h.i.+mmering lake!

CHAPTER VII.

The trees around us expanded to towering forest giants. The underbrush rose up over our heads. We had taken a taste of the diminis.h.i.+ng drug. Glora showed us how to touch it to our tongue several times, to adjust our size as we became smaller. It took us no more than a minute to diminish. We could hear the roar of the crowd, and Polter's voice shouting. We ran forward through the great forest. It was a fair distance out to the starlit road. We saw it as a wide s.h.i.+ning esplanade. The people now were giants twice our height! Polter, himself towering with a seeming fifty-foot stature, was standing by the gigantic canopy of the dock. He had dispersed the crowd. There was an open s.p.a.ce on the esplanade--a run for us of about a hundred feet.

"We've got to chance it," I murmured. "Make a run for it--now."

We darted across. In the confusion, with all eyes centered on Polter, we escaped discovery. It was dim under the dock canopy. Polter had backed from the road and was walking to the barge. It lay like the length of an ocean liner, its sail looming an enormous spread above it. The gunwale was level with the dock. A dozen or more fifty-foot men were greeting Polter. They were amids.h.i.+ps.

I realize now that in those moments as we scurried aboard like wharf rats, we took wild chances. We made for the stern which momentarily was unoccupied. To Polter and his men we were eight or nine inches tall. We dropped over the gunwale, slid down the thirty or forty-foot incline of the interior and landed on the bottom of the boat.

There were many places where we could safely hide. A litter of gigantic rope-strands was around us. We could see the bottom of a crossbench looming over head, and the great curving sides of the vessel with the gunwales outlined against the starlight.

The boat left the dock in a moment; the sail bellied out, enormous over us. Ten feet forward from us the towering figure of a man sat on a bench with the steering mechanism before him. Further on, the other men were dispersed, with one or two in the distant bow. Polter reclined on a cus.h.i.+oned couch amids.h.i.+ps. Looking along the dark widely level bottom of the boat there were only the feet and legs of men visible.

Alan whispered, "Let's get closer."

We were insects soundlessly scuttling unnoticed in the dimness. It was noisy down here--the clank of the steering mechanism; the swish and surge of the water against the hull; the voices of the men.

We pa.s.sed the boots of the seated helmsmen, and found another hiding place nearer Polter. We could see his giant length plainly. None of the other men were near him. He was reclining on an elbow, stretched at ease on a cus.h.i.+on. And at the moment, he was fumbling with the chains that fastened the little golden cage to his chest. The cage was double its former size to us now. A shaft of pale light came down, reflected from the great sail surface overhead. It struck the bars of the cage. We could see a small figure in there.

Then we heard Polter's voice. "I will let you out, Babs. You come out, sit on my hand and talk with me. That will be nice? We haf a little time."

He unfastened the cage and put it on the cus.h.i.+on beside him. He was still propped up on one elbow.

"I let you out, now. Be careful, Babs."

My heart was almost smothering me. "Alan! We've got to get still closer! Try something! Get large, shall we?"

Alan whispered tensely, "I don't know! I don't know what to do."

"We can get closer," Glora whispered. "But never larger--not here. They would discover us too soon."

We crept forward. We reached the edge of the cus.h.i.+on. Its top surface was a trifle lower than our heads--a billowing, wrinkled ma.s.s of fabric. But I saw that the folds of it were rough enough to afford a footing. I thought that I could climb it. We stood erect. There was a deep shadow along here, but it was brighter on the cus.h.i.+on top. We could see over its edge; an undulating spread of surface with the giant length of Polter stretched over it. The cage was near us. Polter's great fingers fumbled with it; a door in the lattice bars flipped open.

"Careful, my Babs!" His voice was a throaty, rumbling roar above us. "Careful! I do not want you to be hurt."

From the little doorway came the figure of Babs! The starlight glowed on her blue dress; her black hair was tumbling over her shoulders; her face was pale but she was unharmed.

I think that I had never loved her so much as at that moment. Nor ever seen her so beautiful as in miniature, standing at the door of her golden cage, bravely facing the monstrous misshapen figure of her captor.

We heard her small voice.

"What do you want me to do?"

"Stand quiet. Now I put my hand for you."

His monstrous hand bristled with a thatch of heavy black hair. He slid it carefully along the cus.h.i.+on. Babs was barely the length of one of its finger joints. She climbed upon its palm.

"That iss right, Babs. Now I bring you--hold tight to my finger. Here, I crook the little one. Fling your arms around it."

With a swoop his hand took her aloft and away. Then we saw her, twenty feet or so in the air, still on his hand as he held it near his face.

"Now we haf a little talk, Babs. When we get to the island, I put you back in your cage."

I had a sudden flash of realization. There was something I could do. I know now my judgment was bad. I recall it struck me that Alan would want to do it also. And, perhaps, even Glora. But that wouldn't work. My chances, however desperate, were better alone. Glora and Alan--in our present size--could doubtless disembark safely. Glora knew the layout of the island. And she could follow Polter.

Alan and Glora were standing beside me peering over that billowing cus.h.i.+on spread toward the distant giant palm with Babs standing upon it. I gripped Alan's shoulder.

"See here, Alan," I whispered vehemently: "What ever happens, we must follow Polter. Glora knows the way. Some opportunity will come to get large without being discovered. Then we'll rush Polter!"

Alan's white face turned to me. "Yes, that's what we're planning. But George, here on this boat--"

"Of course not. Can't do it here. Tell Glora, to be sure to follow Polter. Whatever happens, you'll think of nothing else: you won't will you?"

"George, what--"

"We've got to make some opportunity." I was trembling inside, fearful that Alan would be suspicious of me. Yet I had to make sure that he and Glora would stay as close to Polter as possible.

"All right," Alan agreed. "Listen to them."

Polter was talking to Babs. But I didn't hear the words I moved a trifle away. Rash decision! I hardly decided anything. There was only the vision of Babs before me and my love for her. My desperate need of doing something; getting to her, seeing her, being with her. I wanted her near my own size again as though the blessed normality of that would rationalize and lessen her danger. If only I had been less ras.h.!.+ If only back there in that tunnel I had stopped to see what it was my foot kicked against!

I slid away. Alan and Glora did not notice it; they were whispering together and gazing over the cus.h.i.+on at Babs. In the shadow of the cus.h.i.+on I moved some ten feet. On the undulating top of the cus.h.i.+on the little golden cage stood with its lattice door open. It was a few feet from my face.

I fumbled at my belt for the diminis.h.i.+ng vial. I found one pellet left. Well, that would be enough. I was hurried. Alan might discover me. Polter might put Babs back in the cage and close its door. We might be near the island already, and the confusion, the activity of disembarking would defeat me. A thousand things might happen.

I touched the pellet to my tongue. In a few seconds the drug action had come and pa.s.sed. The cus.h.i.+on top loomed well over my head. The side was a ridged, indescribably unnatural vista of cliff wall. The fabric was coa.r.s.e with hairy strands, dented into little ravines and crevices. I climbed and I came panting to the pillow surface. The golden cage was six or eight feet away and was now two feet high.

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol V Part 26

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