Planetoid 127, by Edgar Wallace

Chapter 7

Looking up, he saw a head and shoulders come over the edge of the quarry into which he had fallen. Apparently the man was not prepared to take the risk of following, for presently the sound of his footsteps died away and there was silence.

He lay for half-an-hour motionless, recovering his breath. Although his arm was bruised he could move it and no bones were broken. At the end of his rest he rose cautiously to his knees and explored the position so far as it was revealed by the moonlight.

He had fallen twenty or thirty feet down a steep, chalky slope; but he was by no means at the bottom of the quarry face, and he had to move with the greatest care and circumspection. Presently, however, he found a rough path, which seemed to run interminably upwards. It was nearly half-an-hour later when he came to the road. The car was gone, and he walked back the way he had come, hoping that he would be able to retrieve his motor-bicycle intact, though he had his doubts whether it would be usable. To his delight, when he came upon the machine, he discovered it had suffered little damage other than twisted handlebars. His run home was without event.

Apparently his hasty exit had been heard, for the house was aroused and two manservants were searching the grounds when he came in.

“I heard the gate go smash, sir,” said the butler, explaining his wakefulness. “Lord! I’m glad to see you back. Somebody’s thrown over that stone in the courtyard . . . ”

He babbled on, and Tim was so glad to hear the sound of a human voice that he did not interrupt him.

There was no sleep for him that night. With successive cups of strong coffee, brought at intervals, he sat poring over the manuscript, page by page, almost incredulous of his own eyes and senses. The sunlight poured in through the windows of the little study and found him still sitting, his chin on his palms, the manuscript before him. He had read it again and again until he knew almost every word. Then, locking the papers away in the safe, he walked slowly to the instrument room, and gazed in awe at this evidence of the dead man’s genius.

Something within him told him that never in future would human speech pulsate through this network of wires; never again would that queer little amplifier bring within human hearing the thin sounds of space. Even the code was gone: that vocabulary, reduced with such labour to a dictionary of six thousand words.

He turned the switch and set the little machine working; saw the multicoloured lights gleam and glow. This much the mechanics had succeeded in doing. But the words that filtered through light and charcoal would, he thought, be dead for everlasting. He turned another switch and set something working which Sir Charles had described as a miniature air pump, and stood watching absent-mindedly as the piston thrust in and out. If he only had one tenth of Colson’s genius!

His hand had gone out to turn the switch that stopped the machine, when:

“Oh, Colson, why do you not speak to me?”

The voice came from the very centre of the machine. There was no visible microphone. It was as though the lights and the whirling wheels had become endowed with a voice. Tim’s heart nearly stopped beating.

“Oh, Colson,” wailed the voice, “they are breaking the machines. I have come to tell you this before they arrive. He is dead — he, the master, the wizard, the wonderful man . . . ”

The servant! Mr. Colson had told him that it was the servant who had spoken. The astral Colson was dead. How should he reply?

“Where are you?” he asked hoarsely, but there was no answer, and soon he understood why. Presently:

“I will wait for you to speak. When I hear you I will answer. Speak to me, Colson! In a thousand seconds . . . .”

A thousand seconds! Colson had told him once that wireless waves travel at the same speed as light. Then he was a hundred and eighty million miles away, and a thousand seconds must pass — nearly seventeen minutes — before his voice could reach through space to the man who was listening.

How had he made the machine work? Perhaps the mechanism had succeeded before, but there had been nobody at the other end — wherever the other end might be. And then:

“Oh, Colson, they are here . . . goodbye!”

There came to him the sound of a queer tap-tap-tap and then a crackle as though of splintered glass, and then a scream, so shrill, so full of pain and horror, that involuntarily he stepped back. Then came a crash, and silence. He waited, hardly daring to breathe, but no sound came. At the end of an hour he turned off the switch and went slowly up to his room.

He awoke to find a youth sitting on the edge of his bed. He was so weary and dulled that he did not recognize Chap, even after he spoke.

“Wake up: I’ve got some news for you, dear old bird,” said Chap, staring owlishly through his thick, heavy glasses. “There’s a Nemesis in this business — you may have heard of the lady — Miss Nemesis of Nowhere. First the burglar man is killed and then his boss is smashed to smithereens.”

Tim struggled up. “Who?” he asked. “Not Hildreth?”

Chap nodded.

“He was found just outside Maidenhead, his car broken to bits — they think his steering-wheel went wrong when he was doing sixty an hour. At any rate, he smashed into a tree, and all that’s left of his machine is hot iron!”

“Hildreth! Was he killed?” Chap nodded.

“Completely,” he said callously. “And perhaps it’s as well for him, for Bennett was waiting at his house to arrest him. They’ve got proof that he employed that wretched burglar. Do you know what time it is? It’s two o’clock, you lazy devil, and Sir Charles and Stamford are waiting to see you. Sir Charles has a theory —”

Tim swung out of bed and walked to the window, blinking into the sunlit garden.

“All the theories in the world are going to evaporate before the facts,” he said. Putting his hand under his pillow, he took out the Professor’s manuscript. “I’ll read something to you this afternoon. Is Elsie here?”

Chap nodded. “I’ll be down in half-an-hour,” he said.

His breakfast was also his luncheon, but it was not until after the meal was over, and they had adjourned to the library, that he told them what had happened in the night. Bennett, who arrived soon after, was able to fill in some of the gaps of the story.

“Hildreth,” he said, “in spite of his wealth and security, was a crook of crooks. It is perfectly true that he was tried in Australia and sent to penal servitude. He had got a big wireless plant in his house, and there is no doubt that for many years he has made large sums of money by picking up commercial messages that have been sent by radio and decoding and using them to his own purpose. In this way he must have learnt something about Mr. Colson’s correspondent — he was under the impression that Colson received messages in code and was anxious to get the code-book. By the way, we found the charred remnants of that book in the car. It was burnt out, as you probably know. That alone would have been sufficient to convict Hildreth of complicity in the murder. Fortunately, we have been saved the trouble of a trial.”

“None of the code remains?” asked Tim anxiously. The detective shook his head.

“No, sir, none. There are one or two words — for instance, ‘Zeiith’ means ‘the Parliamentary system of the third decade,’ whatever that may mean. It seems a queer sort of code to me.”

“That is very unfortunate,” said Tim. “I had hoped to devote my time to telling the history of this strange people, and the book would have been invaluable.”

“Which people is this?” asked Sir Charles puzzled. “Did our friend get into communication with one of the lost tribes?”

Tim laughed, in spite of himself. “No, sir. I think the best explanation I can offer you is to read Mr. Colson’s manuscript, which I discovered last night. It is one of the most remarkable stories that has ever been told, and I’ll be glad to have you here, Sir Charles, so that you may supply explanations which do not occur to me.”

“Is it about the planet?” asked Sir Charles quickly, and Tim nodded.

“Then you have discovered it! It is a planetoid —”

Tim shook his head. “No, sir,” he said quietly. “It is a world as big as ours.”

The scientist looked at him open-mouthed.

“A world as big as ours, and never been discovered by our astronomers? How far away?”

“At its nearest, a hundred and eighty million miles,” said Tim.

“Impossible!” cried Sir Charles scornfully. “It would have been detected years ago. It is absolutely impossible!”

“It has never been detected because it is invisible,” said Tim.

“Invisible? How can a planet be invisible? Neptune is much farther distant from the sun —”

“Nevertheless, it is invisible,” said Tim. “And now,” he said, as he took the manuscript from his pocket, “if you will give me your attention, I will tell you the story of Neo. Incidentally, the cryptogram on the stone reads: ‘Behind the sun is another world!’”

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30