Astounding Stories, August, 1931 – various authors

Within a thick-walled sphere of steel eight feet in diameter, with crystal-clear fused-quartz windows, there crouched an alert young scientist, George Abbot. The sphere rested on the primeval muck and slime at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, one mile beneath the surface. Marooned on the sea-floor, his hoisting cable cut, young Abbot is left at the mercy of the man-sharks. The beam from his 200-watt searchlight, which shot out through one of his three windows into the dark blue depths beyond, seemed faint indeed, yet it served to illuminate anything which crossed it, or on which it fell. For a considerable length of time since his descent to the ocean floor, young Abbot had clung to one of the thick windows of his bathysphere, absorbed by the marine life outside. Slender small fish with stereoscopic eyes, darted in and out of the beam of light. Swimming snails floated by, carrying their own phosphorescent lanterns. Paper-thin transparent crustaceans swam into view, followed by a few white shrimps, pale as ghosts. Then a mist of tiny fish swept across his field of vision. Abbot cupped his face in his hands, and stared out. The incongruous thought flashed across his mind that thus he had often sat by the window of his club in New York, and gazed out at the passing motor traffic. His searchlight cut a sharp swath through the blue muck. More than once he thought he saw large moving fish-like forms far away. “Speed up the generator,” he called into his phone. Immediately the shaft of light brightened.

He set about trying to focus upon one of those dim elusive shapes which had so intrigued him. ut suddenly the searchlight went out! Intent on repairing the apparatus as rapidly as possible, Abbot snapped the button-switch, which ought to have illuminated the interior of his diving-sphere; but the lights did not go on. Then he noticed that the electric fan, on which he depended to keep his air-supply properly mixed, had stopped. He spoke into the telephone transmitter, which hung in front of his mouth: “Hi, there, up on the boat! My electric power is cut off. I’m down here with my fan stopped and my heat cut off. Hoist me up, and be quick about it!” “O.K., sir.” As the young man waited for the winch to get under way on the boat a mile above him, he pulled out his electric pocket flashlight and sent its feeble ray out through his quartz-glass window into the dim royal-purple depths beyond, in one last attempt to get a look at those mysterious fish-shapes which had so intrigued him. And then he saw one of them distinctly.

Evidently they had swum closer when the glow of his searchlight had stopped; and so the sudden flash of his pocket-light had taken them by surprise. For, as he snapped it on, he caught an instant’s glimpse of a grinning fish-face pressed close against the outside of his thick window-pane, as though trying to peer in at him. The fish-face somewhat resembled the head of a shark, except that the mouth was a bit smaller and not quite so leeringly brutal, and the forehead was rather high and domed. But what most attracted Abbot’s attention, in the brief instant before the startled fish whisked away in a swirl of phosphorescent foam, was the fact that, from beneath each of the two pectoral fins, there protruded what appeared to be a skinny human arm, terminating in three fingers and a thumb! Then the fish was gone. Abbot snapped off his little light. The diving-sphere quivered, as the hoisting-cable tautened. But suddenly the sphere settled back to the bottom of the sea with a jarring thud. “Cable’s parted, sir!” spoke a frantic voice in his earphones. or a moment George Abbot sat stunned with horror. Then his mind began to race, like a squirrel in a cage, seeking some way of escape.

Perhaps he could manage to unscrew the 400-pound trap door at the top of the sphere, and shoot to the surface, with the bubbling-out of the confined air. But his scientifically trained mind made some rapid calculations which showed him this was absurd. At the depth of a mile, the pressure is roughly 156 atmospheres, that is to say, 156 times the airpressure at the surface of the earth; and the moment that his sphere was opened to this pressure, he would be blown back inwardly away from the man-hole, and the air inside his sphere would suddenly be compressed to only 1/156 of its former volume. Not only would this pressure be sufficient to squash him into a mangled pulp, but also the sudden compression of the air inside the sphere would generate enough heat to fry that mangled pulp to a crisp cinder almost instantly. As George Abbot came to a full realization of the horror of these facts, he recoiled from the trap-door as though it were charged with death. “For Heaven’s sakes, do something!” he shrieked in agony into the transmitter. “Courage, sir,” came back the reply. “We are rigging up a grapple just as fast as we can. Long before your oxygen gives out, we shall slide it down to you along the telephone line, which is the only remaining connection between us. When it settles about your sphere, and you can see its hooks outside your window by the light of your pocket-flash, let us know, and we’ll trip the grapple and haul you up.

” “Thank you,” replied the young man. e was calm now, but it was an enforced and numb kind of calmness. Mechanically he throttled down his oxygen supply, so as to make it last longer. Mechanically he took out his notebook and pencil and started to write down, in the dark, his experiences; for he was determined to leave a full account for posterity, even though he himself should perish. After setting down a categorical description of the successive partings of the electric light cable and the hoist cable, and his thoughts and feelings in that connection, he described in detail the shark with hands, which he had seen through the window of his sphere. He tried to be very explicit about this, for he realized that his account would probably be laid, by everyone, to the disordered imagination of his last dying moments; being a true scientist, George Abbot wanted the world to believe him, so that another sphere would be built and sent down to the ocean depths, to find out more about these peculiar denizens of the deep. Of course, no one would believe him. This thought kept drumming in his ears. No one—except Professor Osborne. Old Osborne would believe! George Abbot’s mind flashed back to a conversation he had had with the old professor, just before the oil interests had sent him on this exploring trip to discover the source of the large quantities of petroleum which had begun to bubble up from the bottom of a certain section of the Pacific very near where Abbot now was.

sborne had said, “This petroleum suggests a gusher to me. And what causes gushers? Human beings, boring for oil, to satisfy human needs.” “But, Professor,” Abbot had objected, “there can’t be any human beings at the bottom of the sea!” “Why not?” Professor Osborne had countered. “Life is supposed to have originated spontaneously in the slime of the ocean depths; therefore that part of the earth has had a head-start on us in the game of evolution. May not this head-start have been maintained right down to date, thus producing at the bottom of the sea a race superior to anything upon the dry land?” “But,” Abbot had objected further, “if so, why haven’t they come up to visit or conquer us? And why haven’t we ever found any trace of them?” “Quite simple to explain,” the old professor had replied. “Any creature who can live at the frightful pressures of the ocean depths could never survive a journey even halfway to the surface. It would be like our trying to live in an almost perfect vacuum. We should explode, and so would these denizens of the deep, if they tried to come up here. Even one of their dead bodies could not be brought to the surface in recognizable form. No contact with them will ever be possible, nor will they ever constitute a menace to any one—for which we may thank the Lord!” George Abbot now reviewed this conversation as he crouched in his diving-sphere in the purple darkness of the marine depths.

Yes, old Osborne would believe him. The diary must be written for Osborne’s eyes. bbot sent another beam from his pocket light suddenly out into the water; and this time he surprised several of the peculiar fish. These, like the first, had arms and hands and high intelligent foreheads. Then suddenly Abbot laughed a harsh laugh. Old Osborne had been wrong in one thing, namely in saying that the super-race of the deep would never be a menace to anyone. They were being a menace to George Abbot, right now, for it was undoubtedly they who had cut his cables. Probably they were possessed of much the same scientific curiosity with regard to him as he was with regard to them, and so they had determined to secure him as a museum specimen. The idea was a weird one. He laughed again, mirthlessly.

“What is the matter, sir?” came an anxious voice in his ear-phones. “Hurry that grapple!” was his reply. “I have found out what cut my cables. There are some very intelligent-looking fish down here, and I think they want me for—” An ominous click sounded in his ears. Then silence. “Hello! Hello there!” he shouted. “Can you hear me up on the boat?” But no answer came back. The line remained dead. The strange fish had cut George Abbot’s last contact with the upper world. The grapple-hooks could never find him now, for there was now not even a telephone cable to guide them down to his sphere.

The realization that he was hopelessly lost, and that he had not much longer to live, came as a real relief to him, after the last few moments of frantic uncertainty. oping that his sphere would eventually be found, even though too late to do him any good, he set assiduously to work jotting down all the details which he could remember of those strange denizens of the deep, the man-handed sharks, which he was now firmly convinced were the cause of his present predicament. He stared out through one of his windows into the brilliant blue darkness, but did not turn on his flashlight. How near were these enemies of his, he wondered? The presence of those menacing man-sharks, just outside the four-inch-thick steel shell, which withstood a ton of pressure for each square inch of its surface, began to obsess young Abbot. What were they doing out there in the watery-blue midnight? Perhaps, having secured his sphere as a scientific specimen, they were already preparing to cut into it so as to see what was inside. That these fish could cut through four inches of steel was not so improbable as it sounded, for had they not already succeeded in severing a rubber cable an inch and a half thick, containing two heavy copper wires, and also two inches of the finest, non-kinking steel rope! The young scientist flashed his pocket torch out through the thick quartz pane, but his enemies were nowhere in sight. Then he fell to calculating his oxygen supply. His normal consumption was about half a quart per minute, at which rate his two tanks would be good for thirty-six hours. His chemical racks contained enough soda-lime to absorb the excess carbon dioxide, enough calcium chloride to keep down the humidity and enough charcoal to sweeten the body odors for much more than that period. For a moment, the thought of these facts encouraged him.

He had been down less than two hours. Perhaps the boat above him could affect his rescue in the more than thirty-four hours which remained! ut then he realized that he had failed to take into consideration the near-freezing temperature of the ocean depths. This temperature he knew to be in the neighborhood of 39 degrees Fahrenheit—even though no thermometer hung outside his window, as none could withstand the frightful pressures at the bottom of the sea. For it is one of the remarkable facts of inductive science that man has been able to figure out a priori that the temperature at all deep points of the ocean, tropic as well as arctic, must always be stable at approximately 39 degrees. Abbot was clad only in a light cotton sailor suit, and now that his source of heat had been cut off by the severing of his power lines, his prison was rapidly becoming unbearably chilly. His thick steel sphere constituted such a perfect transmitter of heat that he might almost as well have been actually swimming in water of 39 degrees temperature, so far as comfort was concerned. Abbot’s emotions ran all the gamut from stupefaction, through dull calmness, clear-headed thought, intense but aimless mental activity, nervousness, frenzy, and insane delirium, back to stupefaction again. During one of his periods of calmness, he figured out what an almost total impossibility there was of the chance that his ship, one mile above him on the surface, could ever find his sphere with grappling hooks. Yet he prayed for that chance. A single chance in a million sometimes does happen.

everal hours had by now elapsed since the parting of the young scientist’s cables. It was bitterly cold inside the sphere. In order to keep warm, he had to exercise during his calm moments as systematically as his cramped quarters would permit. During his frantic moments he got plenty of exercise automatically. And of course all this movement used up more than the normal amount of oxygen, so that he was forced to open the valves on his tanks to two or three times their normal flow. His span of further life was thereby cut to ten or twelve hours, if indeed he could keep himself warm for that long. Why didn’t the people on the boat do something! He was just about to indulge in one of his frantic fits of despair, when he heard or felt—the two senses being strangely commingled in his present situation—a clank or thump upon the top of his bathysphere. Instantly hope flooded him. Could it be that the one chance in a million had actually happened, and that a grapple from the boat above had actually found him? With feverish expectation, he pressed the button of his little electric pocket flashlight, and sent its feeble beam out through one of the quartz-glass windows into the blue-black depths beyond. No hooks in front of this window.

He tried the others. No hooks there, either. But he did see plenty of the superhuman fish. Eighteen of them, he counted, in sight at one time. And also two huge snake-like creatures with crested backs and maned heads, veritable sea-serpents. As there was nothing the young man could do to assist in the grappling of his sphere by his friends in the boat above, he devoted his time to jotting down a detailed description of these two new beasts and of their behavior. One of the sharks appeared to be leading or driving them up to the bathysphere; and when they got close enough, Abbot was surprised to see that they wore what appeared to be a harness! he clanking upon the bathysphere continued, and now the young man learned its cause. It was not the grapple hooks from his ship, but chains—chains which the man-armed sharks were wrapping around the bathysphere. Two more of the harnessed sea-serpents swam into view, and these two were hitched to a flat cart: an actual cart with wheels. The chains were attached to the harness of the original two beasts; they swam upward and disappeared from view; and the sphere slowly rose from the mucky bottom of the sea, to be lowered again squarely on top of the cart.

The cart jerked forward, and a journey over the ocean floor began. Then the little pocket torch dimmed to a dull red glow, and the scene outside faded gradually from view. Abbot switched off the now useless light and set to work with scientific precision to record all these unbelievable events. In his interest and excitement, he had forgotten the ever-increasing cold; but gradually, as he wrote, the frigidity of his surroundings was forced on his consciousness. He turned on more oxygen, and exercised frantically. Meanwhile the cart, carrying his bathysphere, bumped along over an uneven road. From time to time, he tried his almost exhausted little light, but its dim red beam was completely absorbed by the blue of the ocean depths, and he could make out nothing except two bulking indistinct shapes, writhing on ahead of him. Finally even this degree of visibility failed, and he could see absolutely nothing outside. He was now so chilled and numb that he could no longer write. With a last effort, he noted down that fact, and then put the book away in its rack.

He began to feel drowsy. Rousing himself, he turned on more oxygen. The effect was exhilaration and a feeling of silly joy. He began to babble drunkenly to himself. His head swam. His mind was in a daze.

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