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   Chapter 7 No.7

The Land of the Changing Sun By Will N. Harben Characters: 20666

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

Johnston followed his guide to a flying machine outside. He hesitated an instant, as the officer was holding the door open, and looked back toward the conservatory; but he could not see Thorndyke.

"Where are you taking me?" he asked desperately. But the officer did not seem to hear the question. He was motioning to a tall man of athletic build who wore a dark blue uniform and who came hastily forward and pushed the American into the machine. Through the open door Johnston saw Thorndyke's anxious face as the Englishman emerged from the conservatory and strode toward them. The two officers entered and closed the glass door.

Then the machine rose and Johnston's spirits sank as they shot upward and floated easily over the humming crowd into the free white light above the smokeless city. The poor captive leaned on the window-sill and looked out. There was no breeze, and no current of air except that caused by their rapid passage through the atmosphere.

Up, up, they went, till the city seemed a blur of mingled white and gray, and then the color below changed to a vague blue as they flew over the fields of the open country.

The first officer took a glass and a decanter from a receptacle under a seat, and, pouring a little red fluid into the glass, offered it to the American.

"Drink it," he said, "it will put you to sleep for a time."

"I don't want to be drugged."

"The journey will try your nerves. It is harmless."

"I don't want it; if I take it, you will have to pour it down my throat."

The officer smiled as he put the glass and decanter away. Faster and faster flew the machine. They had to put the window down, for the current of air had become too strong and cool to be pleasant. The color of the sunlight changed to green, and then at noon, from the zenith, a glorious red light shimmered down and veiled the earth with such a beautiful translucent haze that the poor American for a moment almost forgot his trouble.

The afternoon came on. The sunlight became successively green, white, blue, lavender, rose and gray. The sun was no longer in sight and the gray in the west was darkening into purple, the last hour of the day. Night was at hand. Johnston's limbs were growing stiff from inaction, and he had a strong desire to speak or to hear one of the officers say something, but they were dozing in their respective corners. The moon had risen and hung far out in space overhead, but they seemed to be leaving it behind. Later he felt sure of this, for its light gradually became dimmer and dimmer till at last they were in total darkness-darkness pierced only by the powerful search-light which threw its dazzling, trumpet-shaped rays far ahead. But, search as he would in the direction they were going, the unfortunate American could see nothing but the ever-receding wall of blackness.

Suddenly they began to descend. The officers awoke and stretched themselves and yawned. One of them opened the window and Johnston heard a far-off, roaring sound like that of a multitude of skaters on a vast sheet of ice.

Down, down, they dropped. Johnston's heart was in his mouth.

The machine suddenly slackened in its speed and then hung poised in mid-air. The rays of the search-light were directed downward and slowly shifted from point to point. Looking down, the American caught glimpses of rugged rocks, sharp cliffs and yawning chasms.

"How is it?" asked the first officer, through a speaking-tube, of the driver.

"A good landing!" was the reply.

"Well, go down." And a moment later the machine settled on the uneven ground.

The same officer opened the door, and gently pushed Johnston out. Johnston expected them to follow him, but the door of the machine closed behind him.

"Stand out of the way," cried out the officer through the window; "you may get struck as we rise."

Involuntarily Johnston obeyed. There was a sound of escaping air from beneath the machine, a fierce commotion in the atmosphere which sucked him toward the machine, and then the dazzling search-light blinded him, as the air-ship bounded upward and sailed back over the course it had come.

Johnston stood paralyzed with fear. "My God, this is awful!" he exclaimed in terror, and his knees gave way beneath him and he sank to the rock. "They have left me here to starve in this hellish darkness!" He remained there for a moment, his face covered with his hands, then he sprang up desperately, and started to grope through the darkness, he knew not whither. He stumbled at almost every step, and ran against boulders which bruised his hands and face, and went on till his strength was gone. Then he paused and looked back toward the direction from which he had come. It seemed to him that he could see the straight line of mighty black wall above which there was a faint appearance of light. A lump rose in the throat of the poor fellow, and tears sprang into his eyes.

But what was that? Surely it was a sound. It could not have been the wind, for the air was perfectly still. The sound was repeated. It was like the moaning of a human voice far away in the dark. Could it be some one in distress, some poor unfortunate, banished being, like himself? Again he heard the sound, and this time, it was like the voice of some one talking.

"Hello!" shouted the American, and a cold shudder went over him at the sound of his own husky voice. There was a dead silence, then, like an echo of his own cry, faintly came the word, "Hello!"

Filled with superstitious fear, the American cautiously groped toward the sound. "Hello, there, who are you?"

"Help, help!" said the voice, and it was now much nearer.

Johnston plunged forward precipitately. "Where are you?"

"Here," and a human form loomed up before him.

For a moment neither spoke, then the strange figure said: "I thought at first that you were some one sent to rescue me, but I see you are alone-damned like myself."

"It looks that way," replied Johnston.

"When did they bring you?"

"Only a moment ago."

"My God, it is awful! A week ago I did not dream of such a fate as this. I had enemies. The medical men were bribed to vote against me. Am I not strong? Am I not muscular? Feel my arms and thighs."

He held out an arm and Johnston felt of it. The muscles were like stone.

"You are a giant."

"Ah! you are right; but they reported that there was a taint in my blood. I was to marry Lallio, the most beautiful creature in our village-Madryl, you know, the nearest hamlet to the home of the Sun. I was rich, and the best farmer there. But Lyngale wanted her. She hated him and spat at him when he spoke against me. He proved by others that my lungs were weak, and showed them the blood of a slain dog in my fields that they said had come from my lungs. Ah, they were curs! My lungs weak! Strike my chest with all your might. Does it not sound like the king's thunder? Strike, I say!" and as the enfeebled American struck his bare breast he cried:-"Harder, harder! Pooh, you are a child, see this, and this," and he emphasized his words with thunderous blows on his resounding chest.

"But it has been so for a century," he panted; "hundreds have been unjustly buried alive here. The king thinks it is not murder because they die of starvation. I have stumbled over the bones of giants here in the dark lands, and have met dying men that are stronger than the king's athletes."

"What, are there others here?" gasped the American.

The Alphian was silent in astonishment.

"Why, where did you come from?" he asked, after a pause.

"From New York City."

"I don't know of it, and yet I thought I knew of all the places inside the great endless wall."

Johnston was mystified in his turn. "It is not in your country-your world, or whatever you call it. It is far away."

"Ah, under the white sun! In the 'Ocean Country,' and the world of fierce winds and disease. And you are from there. I had heard of it before they banished me; but two days since I came across a dying man, away over there. He was huddled against the wall, and had fallen and killed himself in his efforts to climb back to food and light.

"I saw him die. He told me that he had come from your land when he was a child. His trouble was the lungs and he had fallen off to a skeleton. He talked to me of your wide ocean land. Is it, indeed so great? And has it no walls about it?"

"No, it is surrounded by water."

"I cannot understand," and, after a pause, in which Johnston could hear the great fellow's heart beating, he continued; "That must be the Heaven the man spoke about. And beyond the water is it always dark like this, and do they banish people there as the king has us?"

"No; beyond are other countries. But is there no chance for us to escape from here?"

The Alphian laughed bitterly. "None. What were you banished for?"

"I hardly know."

"Hold out your arm. There," as he grasped Johnston's arm in a clasp of iron, "I see; you are undeveloped, unfit-none but the healthy and strong are allowed to live in Alpha. It is right, of course; but it is hard to bear. But I must lie down. I am wearied with constant rambling. I am nervous too. I fell asleep awhile ago and dreamt I heard all my friends in a great clamoring body calling my name, 'Branasko!' and then I awoke and cried for help."

As he spoke he sank with a sigh to the ground and rested his head on his elbows and knees and seemed asleep. The American sat down beside him, and, for a long time, neither spoke. Branasko broke the silence; he awoke with a start and eyed his companion in sleepy wonder.

"Ugh, I dreamt again," he grunted, "are you asleep?"

"No," was Johnston's reply. "I am hungry and thirsty and cannot sleep."

"So am I, but we must wait till it is lighter, then we can go in search of food. When I was a boy I learned to catch fish in pools with my hands and it has prolonged my life here. When the light comes again, I shall show you how I do it."

"Then the day does break? I thought it was eternally dark here."

"It does not get very light, because we are behind the sun; but it is lighter than now, for we get the sun's reflection, enough at least to keep us from falling into the chasms."

Branasko lowered his head to his knees and slept again, but the American, though we

aried, was wakeful. Several hours passed. The Alphian was sleeping soundly, his breathing was very heavy and he had rolled down on his side.

Far away in the east the darkness gradually faded into purple, and then into gray, and slowly hints of pink appeared in the skies. It was dawn. Johnston touched his companion. The man awoke and looked at him from his great swollen eyes.

"It is day," he yawned, rising and stretching himself.

"But the sun is not in sight."

"No; it shows itself only in the middle of the day, and then but for a few minutes. We must go now and search for food. I will show you how to catch the eyeless fish in the black caverns over there." And he led the American into the blackness behind them. Every now and then, as they stumbled along, Johnston would look longingly back toward the faint pink light that shone above the high black wall. But Branasko hastened on.

Presently they came to the edge of a black chasm and the American was filled with awe, for, from the seemingly fathomless depths, came a great roaring sound like that of a mighty wind and the air that came from it was hot, though pure and free from the odor of gas.

"What is this?" he asked.

"They are everywhere," answered Branasko, "if it were not for their hot breathing the Land of the Changing Sun would be cold and damp."

"Then the sun does not give out heat?"


"It is cold?"

"I believe so, I have never thought much about it."

The American was mystified, but he did not question farther, for Branasko was carefully lowering himself into the hot gulf.

"Follow me," he said; "we must cross it to reach the caves. I will guide you. I have been over this way before."

"But can we stand the heat?"

"Oh, yes; when we get used to it, it is invigorating. I perspire in streams, but I feel better afterward. Come on."

Branasko's head only was above the ground. "I am standing on a ledge," he said. "Get down beside me. Fear nothing. It is solid; besides, what does it matter? You can die but once, and it would really be better to fall down there into the internal fires than to starve slowly."

Johnston shuddered convulsively as he let himself down beside Branasko. His foot dislodged a stone. With a crash it fell upon a lower ledge and bounded off and went whizzing down into the depths. Both men listened. They heard the stone bounding from ledge to ledge till the sound was lost in the internal roaring.

"It is mighty deep," said Johnston.

"Yes, but follow me; we cannot stop here; we must go along this ledge till we get to the point where the chasm is narrow enough to jump across. I have done it."

"The American held to his companion with one hand and the rock with the other, and they slowly made their way along the narrow ledge, pausing every now and then to rest. At every step the path grew more perilous and narrower, and the cliff on their left rose higher and higher, till the reflected light of the sun had entirely disappeared. At certain points the hot wind dashed upon them as furiously as the whirling mist in 'The Cave of Winds' at Niagara Falls. Once Johnston's foot slipped and he fell, but was drawn back to safety by the strong arm of the Alphian.

"Be careful; hold to the cliff's face," warned Branasko indifferently, and he moved onward as if nothing unusual had occurred. Presently they reached a point where a narrow boulder jutted out over the chasm toward the opposite side, and Branasko cautiously crawled out upon it. When he had got to its end, Johnston could not see him in the gloom, but his voice came to him out of the roaring of the chasm.

"I can see the other side, and am going to jump." An instant later, the American heard the clatter of the Alphian's shoes on the rock, and his grunt of satisfaction. Then Branasko called out: "Come on; crawl out till you feel the end of the rock, and then you can see me."

In great trepidation the American slowly crawled out on the narrow rock. Below him yawned the hot darkness, above hung that black ominous canopy of nothingness. Slowly he advanced on hands and knees, every moment feeling the sharp rock growing narrower, till finally he reached the end. He looked ahead. He could but faintly see the ledge and Branasko's tall form silhouetted upon it.

"See, this is where you have to alight," cried the Alphian. "Jump, I will catch you!"

"I am afraid I shall topple over when I stand up," replied the American. "The rock is narrow and my head is already swimming. I fear I cannot reach you. It is no use."

"Tut, tut!" exclaimed Branasko. "Stand up quickly, and jump at once. Don't stop to think about it."

Johnston obeyed. He felt his feet firmly braced on the rock and he sprang toward the opposite ledge with all his might. Branasko caught him.

"Good," he grunted. "There is another place, we must jump again. It is further on." Along this ledge they went for some distance, Branasko leading the way and holding the arm of the American.

"Now here we are, the chasm is a little wider, but the ledge on the other side is broader." As he spoke he released Johnston's arm and prepared to jump. He filled his lungs two or three times. But he seemed to hesitate. "Pshaw, watching you back there has made me nervous. I never cared before. If I should happen to fall, go back to where we met, it is safer there without a guide than here."

Without another word Branasko hurled himself forward. Johnston held his breath in horror, for Branasko's foot had slipped as he jumped. The Alphian had struck the opposite ledge, but not with his feet, as he intended. He clutched it with his hands and hung there for a moment, struggling to get a foothold in the emptiness beneath him.

"It's no use, I am falling; I can hold no longer!" And Johnston,-too terrified to reply,-heard the poor fellow's hands slipping from the rock, causing a quantity of loose stones to go rattling down below. With a low cry Branasko fell. An instant later Johnston heard him strike the ledge beneath, and heard him cry out in pain. Then all was still except the echoes of Branasko's cry, which bounded and rebounded from side to side of the chasm, and grew fainter and fainter, till it was submerged in the roaring below. Then there was a rattle of stones, and Branasko's voice sounded: "A narrow escape!" he said faintly. "I am on another ledge"-then after a slight pause, "it is much wider, I don't know how wide. Are you listening?"

"Yes, but are you hurt?"

"Not at all. Simply knocked the breath out of me for a moment. There is a cave behind me, and (for a moment there was silence) I can see a light ahead in the cave. I think it must be the reflection of the internal fire. Come down to me and we will explore the cavern, and see where the light comes from."

"I can't get down there!" shouted Johnston, to make himself heard above a sudden increase in the roaring in the chasm, "there is no way."

"Wait a moment!" came from the Alphian. "This ledge seems to incline upward."

Johnston stood perfectly motionless, afraid to move from the ledge either to right or to left, and heard Branasko's footsteps along the rock beneath. "All right so far," he called up, and his voice showed that he had gone to a considerable distance to the left, "the ledge seems to be still leading gradually upward. I think I can reach you."

Fifteen minutes passed. The lone American could no longer hear Branasko's footsteps. Johnston was becoming uneasy and the hot air was causing his head to swim. He was thinking of trying to retrace his footsteps to a place of more security when he heard footsteps, and then the cheery voice of Branasko nearly opposite him across the chasm:

"Are you there?"


"It is well; I have discovered a good pathway down to the cave, and a pool of fish besides. I have saved some for you. I was so hungry I had to eat. Now, you must jump over to me."

"I cannot," declared the American. "I cannot jump so far; besides, you failed."

Branasko laughed. "I did not leap in the right direction. It is this point on which I am now standing that I should have tried to reach. Come, I will catch you."

Johnston could not bear to be considered cowardly, so he stepped to the verge of the chasm and prepared to jump. His head felt more dizzy as he thought of the fathomless depths beneath, and the rush of hot air up the side of the cliff took his breath away, but he braced himself and said calmly: "All right, I am coming." The next instant he sprang forward. Branasko caught him into his arms and they both rolled back on the level stone.

"Good," cried the Alphian, trying to catch his breath, which Johnston had knocked out of him by the fall. "You did better than I; you are lighter."

"Where shall we go now?" asked Johnston, regaining his feet and feeling of his legs and arms to see if he had broken any bones.

"Down this winding path to the place where I saw that light. I want to understand it. But you must first eat this fish. It is delicious. They are swarming in the pools below."

"And water?" said Johnston.

"An abundance of it, and as cold as ice."

As Branasko preceded him down the tortuous path, Johnston ate the raw fish eagerly. Presently they came to a deep pool of water, and both men threw themselves down on their stomachs and drank freely. After this they proceeded slowly for several hundred yards, and finally reached the entrance to the cave in which Branasko had seen the light. At that distance it looked like the light of some great conflagration reflected from the face of a cliff.

They entered the cave and made good progress toward the light, for it showed them the dangerous fissures, sharp boulders and stalactites. They had walked along in silence for several minutes when the Alphian stopped abruptly and turned to his companion. "What is the matter?" asked Johnston.

"It cannot come from the internal fires," replied Branasko, "for the atmosphere grows cooler as we get nearer the light and away from the chasm."

Johnston was too much puzzled to formulate a reply, and he simply waited for the Alphian to continue.

"Let's go on," said Branasko; and in his tone and hesitating manner Johnston detected the first appearance of superstitious fear that he had seen in the brawny Alphian.

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