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   Chapter 9 No.9

The Land of the Changing Sun By Will N. Harben Characters: 9408

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


Branasko paused again in his walk towards the mysterious light.

"It cannot be from the internal fires," said he, "for this light is white, and the glow of the fires is red."

"Let's turn back," suggested Johnston, "it can do us no good to go down there; it is only taking us further from the wall."

"I should like to understand it," returned the Alphian thoughtfully; "and, besides, there can be no more danger there than back among the hot crevices. We have got to perish anyway, and we might as well spice the remainder of our lives with whatever adventure we can. Who knows what we may not discover? There are many things about the land of Alpha that the inhabitants do not understand."

"I'll follow you anywhere," acquiesced Johnston; "you are right."

They stumbled on over the rocky surface in silence. At times, the roof of the cavern sank so low that they had to stoop to pass under it, and again it rose sharply like the roof of a cathedral, and the rays of the far-away, but ever-increasing light, shone upon glistening stalactites that hung from the darkness above them like daggers of diamonds set in ebony.

"It is not so near as I supposed," said the Alphian wearily. "And the light seemed to me to be shining on a cliff over which water is pouring in places. Yes, you can see that it is water by the ripples in the light."

"Yes, but where can the light itself be?"

"I cannot yet tell; wait till we get nearer."

In about an hour they came to a wide chasm on the other side of which towered a vast cliff of white crystal. It was on this that the trembling light was playing.

"Not a waterfall after all," said Branasko; "see, there is the source of the reflection," and he pointed to the left through a series of dark chambers of the cavern to a dazzling light. "Come, let's go nearer it." He moved a few steps forward and then happening to look over his shoulder he stopped abruptly, and uttered an exclamation of surprise.

"What is it?" And Johnston followed the eyes of the Alphian.

"Our shadows on the crystal cliff," said Branasko in an awed tone; "only the light from the changing sun could make them so."

Johnston shuddered superstitiously at the tone of Branasko's quivering voice, and their giant shadows which stood out on the smooth crystal like silhouettes. So clear-cut were they, that, in his own shadow, the American could see his breast heaving and in Branasko's the quivering of the Alphian's huge body and limbs.

"If we have happened upon the home of the sun, only the spirit of the dead kings could tell what will become of us," said Branasko.

"Puh! you are blindly superstitious," said Johnston; "what if we do come upon the sun? Let's go down there and look into the mystery."

Branasko fell into the rear and the American stoutly pushed ahead toward the light which was every moment increasing. As they advanced the cave got larger until it opened out into a larger plain over which hung fathomless darkness, and out of the plain a great dazzling globe of light was slowly rising.

"It is the sun itself," exclaimed Branasko, and he sank to the earth and covered his face with his hands. "I have not thought ever to see it out of the sky."

The American was deeply thrilled by the grand sight. He sat down by Branasko and together they watched the vast ball of light emerge from the black earth and gradually disappear in a great hole in the roof of the cavern. It left a broad stream of light behind it, and, now that the sun itself was out of view, the silent spectators could see the great square hole from which it had risen.

As if by mutual consent, they rose and made their way over the rocks to the verge of the hole, which seemed several thousand feet square. At first, owing to the brightness of the sun overhead, they could see nothing; but, as the great orb gradually disappeared, they began to see lights and the figures of men moving about below. Later they observed the polished parts of stupendous machinery-machinery that moved almost noiselessly.

Johnston caught sight of a great net-work of moving cables reaching from the machinery up through the hole above and exclaimed enthusiastically:-"A mechanical sun! electric daylight! What genius! A world in a great cave! Hundreds of square miles and thousands of well organized people living under the light of an artificial sun!"

The Alphian looked at him astonished. "Is it not so in your country?" he asked.

Johnston smiled. "The great sun that lights the outer world is as much greater than that ball of light as Alpha is greater than a grain of sand. But this surely is the greatest achievement of man. But while I now understand how your su

n goes over the whole of Alpha, I cannot see how it returns."

"Then you have not heard of the great tunnel of the Sun," replied the Alphian.

"No,what is it?"

"It runs beneath Alpha and connects the rising and setting points of the sun. There is a point beneath the king's palace where, by a staircase, the king and his officers may go down and inspect the sun as it is on its way back to the east during the day."

"Wonderful!"

"And once a year a royal party goes in the sun over its entire course. It is said that it is sumptuously furnished inside, and not too warm, the lights being only innumerable small ones on the outside."

The two men were silent for a moment then Johnston said:

"Perhaps we might be able to get into it unobserved and be thus carried over to the other side, or reach the palace through the tunnel."

Branasko started convulsively, and then, as he looked into the earnest eyes of the American, he said despondently:

"We have got to die, anyway; it may be well for us to think of it; but on the other side, in the Barrens, there is no more chance for escape than here. But the adventure would at least give us something to think about; let's try it."

"All right; but how can we get down there where the sun starts to rise?" asked the American, peering cautiously over the edge of the hole.

"There must be some way," answered Branasko. "Ah, see! further to the left there are some ledges; let's see what can be done that way."

"I am with you."

The rays of the departing sun were almost gone, and the electric lights down among the machinery seemed afar off like stars reflected in deep water. With great difficulty the two men lowered themselves from one sharp ledge to another till they had gone half down to the bottom.

"It is no use," said Branasko, peering over the lowest ledge. "There are no more ledges and this one juts out so far that even if there were smaller ones beneath we could not get to them."

"That is true," agreed the American, "but look, is not that a lake beneath? I think it must be, for the lights are reflected on its surface."

"You are right," answered Branasko; "and I now see a chance for us to get down safely."

"How?"

"The workers are too far from the lake to see us; we can drop into the water and swim ashore."

"Would they not hear the splashing of our bodies?"

"I think not; but first let's experiment with a big stone."

Suiting the action to the word, they secured a stone weighing about seventy-five pounds and brought it to the ledge. Carefully poising it in mid-air, they let it go. Down it went, cutting the air with a sharp whizzing sound. They listened breathlessly, but heard no sound as the rock struck the water, and the men among the machinery seemed undisturbed. Only the widening circles of rings on the lake's surface indicated where the stone had fallen.

"Good," ejaculated the Alphian; "are you equal to such a plunge? The water must be deep, and we won't be hurt at all if only we can keep our feet downward and hold our breath long enough. Our clothing will soon dry down there, for feel the warmth that comes from below."

The Alphian slowly crawled out on the sharpest projection of the ledge. "Are you willing to try it?" he asked, over his shoulder.

"Yes."

"Well, wait till you see me swim ashore, and then follow."

Johnston shuddered as the strong fellow swung himself over the ledge and hung downward.

"Adieu," said Branasko, and he let go. Down he fell, as straight as an arrow, into the shadows below. For an instant Johnston heard the fluttering of the fellow's clothing as he fell through the darkness, and then there was no sound except the low whirr of the cables and the monotonous hum of the great wheels beneath. Then the smooth surface of the lake was broken in a white foaming spot, and, later, he saw something small and dark slowly swimming shoreward. It was Branasko, and the men to the right had not heard or seen him.

Johnston saw him reach the shore, then he crawled out to the point of the projecting rock and tremblingly lowered himself till he hung downward as Branasko had done. He had just drawn a deep breath preparatory to letting go his hold, when, chancing to look down, he saw a long narrow barge slowly emerging from the cliff directly under him. For an instant he was so much startled that he almost lost his grip on the rock. He tried to climb back on the ledge, but his strength was gone. He felt that he could not hold out till the boat had passed. Death was before him, and a horrible one. The boat seemed to crawl. Everything was a blur before his eyes. His fingers began to relax, and with a low cry he fell.

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