* * *
It was about 20 minutes after the others had left when the iris valve door opened up slightly, leaving a fist-sized hole in the center of it.
â€œItâ€™s opening,â€ Virgil Thomas said quietly.
They all pointed their guns at the hole.
â€œVirgil! Hold the door so they canâ€™t open it more!â€ Rockefeller said.
Virgil Thomas grabbed the spindle with his left hand, still pointing his pistol at the door with his right. They couldnâ€™t see who or what might be behind the door. Felix backed up slightly, keeping it in his sights. Then the iris valve closed again.
â€œSpeak or be fired upon!â€ Rockefeller said loudly.
â€œItâ€™s Jebediah,â€ the voice came from the other side.
â€œVirgil, open that door now!â€ Rockefeller said.
Virgil did so. Cooper stood just outside the door.
â€œI found him!â€ he said, jumping from foot to foot. â€œI found Tommy! I found Tommy!â€
â€œWell, get in here, Jebediah!â€ Rockefeller said. â€œGet in!â€
â€œNo, câ€™mon! Letâ€™s go get him! Câ€™mon! Câ€™mon!â€
He turned and started walking the way they had come originally. Rockefeller started to move towards the hallway.
â€œWait sir!â€ Felix said. â€œSomething is wrong.â€
â€œI agree, Felix,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œWhat do you mean â€˜Somethingâ€™s wrong?â€™ That was Jebediah.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Felix said. â€œSomething just feels wrong.â€
â€œI-I donâ€™t trust Jebediah either but â€¦ he seemed like he was in a frantic state,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œVirgil. Virgil, close that door back.â€
â€œYes sir,â€ Virgil Thomas said.
â€œAnd hold onto it tight,â€ Rockefeller said.
Virgil Thomas manipulated the spindle and the iris valve slid shut again.
â€œIf that was the real Jebediah, heâ€™ll be back here again,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œAnd if itâ€™s not â€¦â€
They sat for another five minutes in silence, watching the door and the strange portals. Then Virgil Thomas frowned.
â€œItâ€™s moving or something,â€ he said. â€œI got hold of it.â€
â€œCan you open it just a little bit?â€ Rockefeller asked.
â€œIâ€™ll try,â€ Virgil Thomas said.
The iris valve opened up very slowly.
â€œHow far?â€ he asked.
â€œThatâ€™s fine!â€ Rockefeller said when it had opened in the middle about six inches across. â€œThatâ€™s fine. Right there! Right there!â€
Virgil Thomas gripped the spindle and the door stopped opening.
â€œSpeak or be fired upon!â€ Rockefeller said loudly.
â€œItâ€™s me,â€ a voice came. â€œItâ€™s Jebediah. Why-why arenâ€™t you coming?â€
â€œGet in this room right now, Jebediah! Itâ€™s not safe!â€
â€œWe donâ€™t have any time! We donâ€™t have any time!â€
â€œWe have all the time in the world, Jebediah. Get in this room.â€
â€œLeave them!â€ a new voice whispered, one they had never heard before, though it set their nerves on edge. â€œWe will be back soon for you!â€
Virgil looked at Rockefeller.
â€œFire!â€ he said.
All three of them blasted at the small hole but the bullets struck the door, ricocheted in the room, and there was a cry from outside. Felix immediately worked the action on his rifle. Virgil Thomas looked at Rockefeller.
â€œClose the door!â€ the dilettante said. â€œClose the door!â€
Virgil Thomas manipulated the spindle and the iris valve slid shut.
â€œAnd we will not open that again,â€ Rockefeller said.
Virgil Thomas put his pistol in his pocket and put both hands on the spindle.
â€œThatâ€™s a good idea,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œFelix, start watching the doors behind us too.â€
Felix did so, putting his back in a corner and watched the four portals.
* * *
The others had made their way back to Brown Mountain Beach as quickly as they possibly could. It took some between 35 and 40 minutes to get there in the lengthening shadows. Electric lights burned at the pavilion and several men were there, including at least two uniformed deputies. Miss Edington went to retrieve her shotgun and box of shells as well as a purse to carry it with. She also found three flashlights which she tucked into the purse. Miss Fairfield retrieved her other camera and flash equipment, as well as a lantern and a few sandwiches. Bricker got more ammunition for his own shotgun.
Miss Edington went to the pavilion and found coolers filled with sandwiches wrapped in wax paper and canteens of water for the searchers. She asked one of the deputies about the food.
â€œYes maâ€™am, are you going up on the mountain to search?â€ he said.
â€œYes,â€ she said.
â€œYou sure youâ€™re going to need that shotgun? Can you handle that?â€
â€œYes. I assure you, hon. I can.â€
â€œAre you sure, maâ€™am?â€
â€œI have a party of the hill.â€
It took her some time to assure the deputy she could handle herself and the gun despite being a woman. Eventually she just ignored his protests, took food and water, and left. She overheard the other deputy telling some of the men there to head up to Adams Mountain on the opposite side of the river from Brown Mountain.
It was after 7 p.m. before they met once again and headed towards Brown Mountain. Miss Edington put a cigarette in her long filter and lit it.
* * *
It was around 7 p.m. by the watches of the men in the strange room when they heard a tapping at the iris door.
â€œMr. Rockefeller!â€ Cooperâ€™s voice came again.
â€œJebediah, if you do not come into this room as soon as we open this door, I will shoot you,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œAre â€¦ you gonna shoot me when I come through the door?â€
â€œNot as long asâ”€â€
â€œListen! Listen! Mr. Rockefeller! You got the wrong idea, Mr. Rockefeller!â€
â€œI donâ€™t think I do, Jebediah.â€
â€œYou do! You do! These people ainâ€™t - they ainâ€™t no harm to us! Itâ€™s all just a big mistake.â€
â€œThen whereâ€™s Tommy?â€
â€œHeâ€™s okay. Heâ€™s fine.â€
â€œBring Tommy to the door.â€
â€œNo. No. No.â€
â€œThatâ€™s where you lose me Jebediah.â€
â€œThey changed the plans. You see, they gotta find out about Tommy. You see these-these people are from way out there. Theyâ€™re from way out there. Theyâ€™re from â€¦ past Neptune. And past the whole solar system.â€
â€œI believe you, Jebediah, I really do.â€
â€œYeah, but they donâ€™t mean no harm! They just - they just - they wanna - they just like their secrets. They know how mankind reacts, how yâ€™all reacted: shooting through the door.â€
â€œThen whyâ€™d they say they were coming for you next?â€
â€œHe was scared. You was shooting at it. You gotta understand that.â€
Virgil Thomas caught Rockefellerâ€™s eye and just shook his head.
â€œNo no,â€ Jebediah went on talking through the door. â€œThey just - they was just scared. He was scared. And he was â€˜fraid yaâ€™ll was gonna kill him. See, they donâ€™t want nothinâ€™ here but they mine here. They mine. They take some of the minerals. And they found some stuff here, on Brown Mountain, see? And so, then this boy, he kind of stumbled upon â€˜em. So, they-they-they-they have tâ€™ find out why. They have to figure out how he got in. â€˜Cause you canâ€™t get in, unless â€¦ you canâ€™t get in. Unless you know â€¦ I donâ€™t even know. Itâ€™s beyond me. I donâ€™t even know.â€
â€œJebediah, I want to believe you, I really do,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œAnd if they do mean us no harm, then they will not mind waiting a few more minutes for â€¦ the rest of to get here.â€
â€œRight, but they know youâ€™re going to bring back more men with guns to try and kill â€˜em.â€
â€œWe will not fire unless we are attacked. I give you my word.â€
â€œThey donâ€™t understand that. Theyâ€™re not from here. They donâ€™t think like us.â€
â€œThen tell them, Jebediah.â€
â€œIâ€™ll try! Iâ€™ll try! But â€¦ theyâ€™re not gonna do you no harm. They â€¦ they can tell you things. They can show you things.â€
â€œWhy havenâ€™t they hurt you yet? Why arenâ€™t they scared of you, Jebediah?â€
â€œWell, my pappy, they knew him. So they know me. So â€¦â€
â€œYou knew about this place, Jebediah?â€
â€œI never been here. I never been here. Swear on my mommaâ€™s life.â€
â€œDid you know of this place?â€
â€œBut I knew they lived here on Brown Mountainâ”€â€
â€œI knew it!â€
â€œâ”€and they donâ€™t like visitors. They donâ€™t like visitors, sir. So-so Iâ€™m â€¦ you got â€¦ you gotta leave or you gotta let â€˜em talk to you. Face to face. But you know, some people go crazy when they see â€˜em, because theyâ€™re not like us. Theyâ€™re not like us at all. Theyâ€™re different.â€
â€œThey can talk to me through this door, Jebediah, just as you are doing right now. I will let them do that.â€
â€œAll right. All right.â€
â€œGo tell them.â€
â€œIâ€™ll tell â€˜em. Iâ€™ll tell â€˜em.â€
It was perhaps a half hour later when they heard a scraping or scratching on the door.
â€œIs this how we say â€˜Helloâ€™ now, Jebediah?â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œWhat is it you want?â€ a strange voice whispered from the other side of the door. â€œWhy are you here?â€
â€œWe need Tommy.â€
â€œHe is of interest to us.â€
â€œWhat is your name?â€
â€œWe do not have names.â€
â€œWell, here in America, we do have names. And my name is Rockefeller.â€
â€œWhat is your whole name?â€
â€œJohn P. Rockefeller Jr.â€
â€œWe mean no harm to the boy. But we must study him. We must know how he got in.â€
â€œHow long must you study the boy?â€
â€œA week, perhaps. He will be back.â€
â€œWe will give him back to you. How did you get in? How did you get in here?â€
â€œI would trade you that information for the boy. I know you want to study the boy, but his parents are looking for him. Do you have parents? Do you know what parents are?â€
â€œWe know what parents are but we do not have them. They are alien to us. Unimportant.â€
â€œWe â€¦ need the boy. Now.â€
â€œIt is impossible. He has already been â€¦ he has already shown us the way.â€
â€œShown you what way?â€
â€œThe way. There are special things about him. The gate heâ€™s opened. Heâ€™s opened the gate in the gate room.â€
A strange buzzing came from the other side of the door.
â€œWe will not harm you,â€ the voice whispered again. â€œCome forth. We can show you such things. Such things as you have never seen before.â€
â€œWe â€¦ do not want to harm you either. We come in peace, only for the boy, and we will do what it takes to get the boy.â€
â€œIt is our experience that mankind is not ready for us, that it destroys that which he does not understand.â€
â€œThat is â€¦ that is very true.â€
â€œSome of mankind belong to a cult - the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign. They seek to destroy us. We do not know that you are not them or that these parents that you speak of have not sent the boy in an effort to destroy us.â€
â€œI am not of this cult. I can promise you that. Neither is Felix or my friend Virgil in here. Please, just allow me to get my friends back here and then we will talk to you, face-to-face. But we need the boy.â€
â€œYou will bring guns. You will bring death. Destruction.â€
â€œWe bring weapons because we were afraid, but weâ”€â€
â€œAll of mankind lives in fear.â€
â€œâ”€can be persuaded not to be afraid of you if you are reasonable and give us the boy.â€
â€œWe are reasonable. We have been reasonable. We have tried, on occasions, many occasions, to contact mankind and we are met with guns and swords and sticks and hatred. There are secrets that we can show you, worlds we could take you to, but you would have none of it.â€
â€œDo you trust me?â€
â€œYou are mankind. You cannot be trusted.â€
â€œThen why do you want to show us these things and talk to me if you cannot even trust me? I trust you.â€
â€œNon sequitur. Your argument makes no sense.
â€œVirgil, open the door.â€
Virgil Thomas looked at Rockefeller with astonishment and then pulled the gun back out of his pocket. He gave Rockefeller a look that seemed to question if he was sure about that course of action.
â€œYes,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œFelix, lower your gun.â€
Felix looked nervous about that as well, but lowered his aim from the door. Virgil Thomas didnâ€™t aim the pistol at the door but held it ready.
â€œDo you see that I trust you now?â€ Rockefeller said as the door slowly opened.
There was not one, but three of the horrific things outside of the door. Two of them held strange silver device that appeared to be a disjointed, worm-riddled piece of wood that tapered to a point. They brought them up to bear as the iris valve slid open. The one in the middle held a warty, doorknob-sized lump of black metal covered in tiny wires in one of its many nippers.
Rockefeller held up his hand.
â€œOur weapons are lowered and yours should be too,â€ he said. â€œThis is a trust.â€
Virgil Thomas stopped opening the door at that point. The hole was about a foot and a half across.
â€œYou are trespassing,â€ one of the terrible creatures hissed. â€œOthers are coming. You have already said.â€
â€œYes, and we can persuade them to trust you if you would trust us,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œI have opened the door to show you that we mean you no harm. Iâ€™ve opened the door to show you that we can be trusted. That not all mankind fears you.â€
â€œThrow your weapons out! Through the door.â€
â€œWhat do you wish to do with our guns?â€
â€œProve that you are no threat.â€
After a moment, Rockefeller tossed the rifle through the hole in the door.
â€œTell your fellows to do the same,â€ the creature whispered.
â€œI cannot speak for them,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œYou are trusting me right now. If you give us reason to trust you, they will give you their weapons as well. We are trusting each other gradually. You understand, yes?â€
Virgil Thomas glared at Rockefeller, eyes wide.
â€œIâ€™ve given you one weapon as a further show of faith,â€ Rockefeller went on. â€œNow give me a reason to trust you.â€
â€œOpen the door and come with us,â€ the thing whispered.
Virgil shook his head.
â€œWhere will you take me?â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œThe things we will show you,â€ the horror hissed.
â€œCan you promise me that I will not be harmed?â€
â€œYou will not be harmed. In the least.â€
Rockefeller looked at Felix and Virgil Thomas. The latter shook his head, apparently not trusting the situation. Felix looked doubtful and worried.
â€œWhere is Jebediah?â€ Rockefeller asked.
â€œHe has gone to the boy,â€ the horror whispered back.
â€œCan you prove that he is safe? If you bring me Jebediah, I can trust you.â€
The colors of the appendage in the approximate area of what could only be considered a head on the creature in the center had been glowing and changing constantly as they spoke. Now the colors flared up and the pattern changed. Then the thing on their right turned, leapt clumsily into the air, and flew away. It was out of sight within moments.
â€œIf I can see that Jebediah is safe, then I will come with you,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œVery well,â€ the thing in the middle whispered. â€œYou will learn such things as mankind has not yet known.â€
I hope so, Rockefeller thought. God, I hope so.
* * *
It was 7:45 p.m. when Bricker, Miss Fairfield, and Miss Edington returned to the darkened hollow with the strange markings on the rock wall. Miss Edington tapped on the wall with her fingernails but there was no response. They had 15 minutes until Rockefeller was supposed to open the strange portal.
* * *
It was five minutes before Rockefeller heard another buzzing noise from the hallway. The other creature came back and, for the first time, he noticed that the creatures with the strange silver sticks had some kind of odd covering on their bodies. It was different from the other creature. Cooper was with the other creature. He walked up to the narrow opening and peeked in carefully. His rifle was slung on his back.
â€œThey said I needed to talk to you, Mr. Rockefeller?â€ he asked.
â€œHave you seen Tommy? For sure. No lying.â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œYes sir,â€ Cooper said quickly. â€œI saw Tommy.â€
â€œAnd these â€¦ friends of yours have not harmed you in any way?â€
Cooper looked at one of the things.
â€œNo sir,â€ he said. â€œNo.â€
â€œWhy did you look at him when I asked you that question?â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œYou said my friends, so I looked at the â€¦ these things. At the fungi.â€
He pronounced it fun-jee.
â€œWhere did you meet us Jebediah?â€ Rockefeller asked. â€œDo you remember where you first met us?â€
â€œI met you back at Brown Mountain Beach,â€ Cooper said. â€œI offered to help you and then ran off. That was just a few hours ago. Waâ€™nâ€™t too terrible long.â€
â€œAnd what did I step in when I went up the mountain? Do you remember that?â€
â€œThat bear trap.â€
â€œThatâ€™s how they try to protect themselves. I couldnâ€™t tell you then. They try to protect themselves to keep people off of this place.â€
â€œThatâ€™s how they warn people off. That ainâ€™t our way, but itâ€™s their way. â€˜Cause theyâ€™re not like us. Theyâ€™re not like us at all but they know things. They know so many things.â€
â€œFelix. Virgil. I want you to stay here. Open this door and I will go through. And do not open this door again until I have returned. Please tell the others what has happened and, if I do not returnâ”€â€
â€œShould I come with you sir?â€ Felix said.
â€œI do not think so, Felix,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œNo.â€
Virgil Thomas just shook his head.
â€œIf you do choose to follow me later, when the others have arrived, make sure that they are all aware that we are not to fire upon our â€¦ hosts,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œYes sir,â€ Felix said.
â€œEveryone must remain calm. This is a trust exercise. Virgil, if you would please.â€
Virgil Thomas looked very unhappy about the situation but manipulated the spindle and the iris valve opened up. When it was only about four and a half feet wide, Rockefeller slipped through and the iris valve closed again. This close to the terrible things, Rockefeller could smell them - it was a sour milk scent of sorts, mixed with something strange he couldnâ€™t identify.
â€œCome with us,â€ the creature with the small black device whispered.
One of the horrible creatures took the lead, heading down the tunnel the way they had not yet gone. Rockefeller and Cooper fell into line behind them, followed by the other two creatures, both of them walking clumsily.
â€œWhat have they shown you Jebediah?â€ Rockefeller asked.
â€œTheyâ€™re so much more advanced than us!â€ Cooper said. â€œThey just know things. And so some of us protect â€˜em. Some of us help â€˜em. That Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign, theyâ€™re worshippers of this god called Hastur and trying to wipe â€˜em out. So theyâ€™re scared! Theyâ€™re scared of us â€˜cause so many of us are with them, with the Hastur folk. And theyâ€™re just â€¦ those are evil folk. Theyâ€™re bad folk.â€
â€œI will trust them and I will trust you Jebediah, as long as I see Tommy safely to the hands of his parents.â€
â€œThey already got Tommy where they need to. They gotta talk to him. They gotta study him. They gotta find out â€¦ he-he made it through the gate. He came through. You gotta have a special â€¦ itâ€™s like - itâ€™s likeâ”€â€
â€œYouâ€™re telling me a mentally retarded boy impresses these â€¦ creatures.â€
â€œI dunno. I didnâ€™t know about it until I came down in here. I ainâ€™t never been in here before. Because, you see, I know about this place, but I never been here. You know, â€˜cause weâ€™re just protecting it. This is all â€¦ sometimes they say, youâ€™re mind can go, and you just go crazy and kill everything in sight. Because they say weâ€™re delicate. Weâ€™re delicate. Weâ€™re delicate creatures and that the universe is a harsh, uncaring place. And-and youâ€™ve gotta â€¦ why, they say theyâ€™ve had friends of humans before and then they just go nuts when they see â€˜em and they try to kill â€˜em. Or maybe they were spies or â€¦â€
Cooper went on about it, seemingly desperate to convince Rockefeller of what he was saying.
* * *
Outside, at almost exactly 8 p.m., a hand came through the gate. It opened and waited. Miss Edington grabbed it and then it squeezed several times. She squeezed back and it pulled her through. Felix was on the other side of the gate, holding her hands.
â€œWhere are the rest, miss?â€ he said.
â€œBack there,â€ she said.
â€œThatâ€™s why â€¦ oh dear. We should have worked out some kind of signal.â€
â€œWell, you know.â€
Looking particularly unhappy about it, Felix stuck his hand through the gate again. He waited about 20 seconds and then pulled Bricker and Miss Fairfield through. They all immediately noticed Rockefeller was gone and Virgil Thomas stood by the spindle, revolver in hand.
â€œWhat happened here?â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œRockefeller went with â€˜em about five minutes ago, those things outside there in the corridor,â€ Virgil Thomas said.
â€œMr. Rockefeller did what!?!â€
â€œHe went with them!â€
â€œWhat do you mean he went with them?â€
â€œHe talked to them. He trusts them. I guess. I donâ€™t know.â€
â€œI think heâ€™s crazy!â€
â€œI do. I told him not to go.â€
â€œOh dear. These Yankees donâ€™t know what theyâ€™re doing. Sorry, Felix.â€
â€œI think Rockefeller, he might be in some kind of danger, himself.â€
â€œOh dear. Should we go after him?â€
â€œThey went down the corridor, away from the way which we came.â€
â€œYes, Mr. Rockefeller went with them,â€ Felix said. â€œHe discussed a truce. He said we were not to shoot them. They are apparently afraid of humanity.â€
â€œWell, Iâ€™m afraid of them,â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œHe also talked to Jebediah who was working for them the entire time, apparently.â€
â€œI knew I shouldnâ€™t have trusted that man.â€
â€œJebediah said they were going to show him Tommy Bailey, although they said something about taking him somewhere before.â€
â€œThatâ€™s why he was hesitant to leave the whole time.â€
â€œMr. Rockefeller was insistent on going. Iâ€™m a little concerned.â€
â€œIâ€™m more than concerned,â€ Virgil Thomas said. â€œThey probably going to do terrible things to him.â€
â€œWell, what should we do?â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œWell, they went about 10 minutes ago,â€ Virgil Thomas said.
â€œYes maâ€™am, they left roughly 10 minutes ago,â€ Felix said, looking at his watch. â€œWe were waiting for you.â€
â€œAre they going to bring him back?â€ she asked.
â€œI do not know.â€
â€œDid he say?â€
â€œBut he said that we need to trust them, we need to not use weapons against them.â€
â€œThat man done gone insane. I donâ€™t know what just happened here but I â€¦â€
â€œIt was quite disturbing. Not as disturbing as putting my hand through that thing, but â€¦ it was quite disturbing.â€
Miss Edington paced, trying to figure out what to do.
â€œWe havenâ€™t opened that door,â€ Virgil Thomas said. â€œMr. Rockefeller said not to open that door â€˜til yâ€™all got here or until he came back.â€
â€œFelix, Virgil, do you know what way they went?â€ Miss Edington asked.
â€œYes miss,â€ Virgil Thomas said. â€œThey went the other way up the corridor.â€
â€œYes maâ€™am,â€ Felix said.
â€œVirgil, Iâ€™m gonna need you to put your gun in your pocket,â€ Miss Edington said. â€œWeâ€™re gonna leave our stuff here. And weâ€™re just going to look for them.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think thatâ€™s a good idea,â€ Virgil Thomas said, putting his revolver away.
â€œI know. But I donâ€™t like this. And if Mr. Rockefellerâ€™s right about them and they arenâ€™t going to harm us â€¦â€
â€œThem things ainâ€™t natural.â€
â€œThey said they came from â€¦ Jebediah said they came from beyond Neptune,â€ Felix interjected.
Both servants shook their heads. They didnâ€™t know.
â€œThey didnâ€™t look like nothing Iâ€™ve ever seen before,â€ Virgil Thomas said.
Miss Edington put her shotgun down.
â€œVirgil, open the door,â€ she said.
Virgil Thomas didnâ€™t look happy but he opened the iris valve. One of the horrible creatures was right outside the door. Miss Edington screamed when she saw the terrible thing and it raised up a silvery stick that looked more like worm-ridden wood than metal and the sound of thunder reverberated through the room as a bolt of electricity crackled forth. Miss Edington narrowly leapt aside. The blast of electricity left a black mark on the floor. The door slammed shut again.
â€œMr. Rockefellerâ€™s dead,â€ Miss Edington muttered. â€œMr. Rockefellerâ€™s dead.â€
â€œNow I thought you said Mr. Rockefeller reasoned with this things?â€ she said.
â€œYes miss,â€ Felix said.
â€œThey speak English?â€
â€œYes miss. They talked to him in a whispering voice. It was quite unnerving.
â€œNow why the hell you shooting at me!?!â€
There was no reply.
â€œMr. alien man!â€ Miss Edington said. â€œYou better answer me!â€
â€œYou are not to leave the room until Rockefeller has given his word,â€ the whispering voice came back.
â€œWell, how long is he going to be away?â€
â€œI do not know. You will stay in the room.â€
Miss Fairfield started to set up her good camera and the flash, pointing them at the iris valve.
â€œNow why canâ€™t I leave?â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œYou may not leave until an accord has been reached,â€ the voice on the other side of the door whispered.
â€œWell, you could have said that instead of shooting at me!â€
â€œYou are not to be trusted.â€
â€œWell, neither are you! Hmph!â€
She sat on the floor and pouted. Miss Fairfield finished setting up the good camera on a tripod with the flash equipment connected to it. She had a bulb on a cord that led to the camera, allowing her to take the photograph and set off the flash powder.
â€œNow, did they tell you that they were going to shoot at you if you opened this door?â€ Miss Edington asked Felix.
â€œThey did not, maâ€™am,â€ he replied.
â€œWeâ€™ve heard nothing from Mr. Rockefeller in so long.â€
â€œI think these men â€¦ these aliens, they done done something to Mr. Rockefeller. â€˜Cause they shootinâ€™ at us.â€
â€œI worry about the same thing.â€
â€œYeah,â€ Bricker said.
â€œWhat should we do, miss?â€ Felix asked.
Virgil Thomas also looked at the woman for guidance.
â€œI donâ€™t know about you, Felix, but â€¦ Iâ€™m not prepared to battle no lightning,â€ she said. â€œThereâ€™s not much I can do at this point.â€
Bricker went to the door.
â€œOi, bug-man!â€ he called through the door.
â€œWhat do you want?â€ the whispering voice said.
â€œIf I promise to leave me gun here, will you take me Rockefeller? Iâ€™m really worried about my friend.â€
â€œI must consult with my superiors.â€
â€œYou do that.â€
â€œDo not leave this room.â€
â€œAsk about me too, then!â€ Miss Edington said.
A buzzing noise outside faded away. It returned within a few minutes.
â€œYou will leave all weapons behind,â€ the whispering voice said through the door.
â€œAll right,â€ Bricker said. â€œFine.â€
â€œYou will be taken to Rockefeller.â€
â€œMe too?â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œWhomever wishes to come so long as you are not armed,â€ the whispering voice said.
Virgil Thomas shook his head.
â€œVirgil I think itâ€™ll be all right so long as they donâ€™t shoot no lightning at me again,â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œI donâ€™t know why youâ€™re trusting these folk,â€ Virgil Thomas said.
â€œWell, I gotta find out where Mr. Rockefeller is.â€
â€œHe might be, oh, I donâ€™t know, maybe heâ€™s just â€¦â€ Virgil Thomas said, ending with muttering no one could understand.
â€œVirgil, I appreciate your concern but â€¦ open this door right now.â€
â€œIâ€™m not happy about this at all.â€
She thrust her shotgun into his hands. Bricker put his own shotgun off to the side. Miss Fairfield moved to one side of the camera, holding the bulb on the line. Bricker noticed it.
â€œWait,â€ he said. â€œUh â€¦ I wouldnâ€™t do that. The flash might provoke it to shoot more.â€
â€œThatâ€™s why Iâ€™m standing away from the camera,â€ Miss Fairfield said.
â€œOkay, but, whatâ€™s the point?â€ Miss Edington said. â€œYouâ€™re just going to provoke it and all your stuffâ€™s going to be destroyed.â€
Miss Fairfield sighed.
â€œI guess,â€ she said.
â€œJust leave it for now and get out your little camera that donâ€™t flash,â€ Miss Edington said. â€œI have a flashlight in my bag if you need. But then again â€¦â€
Looking around the room, Miss Fairfield guessed all of the photographs sheâ€™d so far taken in the tunnels were probably going to end up underdeveloped.
Virgil Thomas had taken the large revolver out of his pocket again.
â€œVirgil, lower that and open the door,â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œIâ€™ll open the door,â€ Virgil Thomas said.
â€œYou will lower it too! Donâ€™t make me tell daddy.â€
â€œYou can tell him.â€
He manipulated the spindle and the door slowly opened. The horrible thing was still there and Miss Fairfield gasped when she saw it. She dropped the bulb and it fell to the ground with a clack. She stared at the terrible thing, mouth agape. Miss Edington looked over her shoulder at the woman and then looked back at the terrible thing.
Bricker and Miss Edington left the room.
â€œClose the door behind us,â€ the thing whispered.
â€œOne more thing,â€ Miss Edington said. â€œFelix, please check on Miss Fairfield. She donâ€™t look like she took something so well.â€
Both of the servants looked very concerned. The thing gestured with the silvery thing for them to proceed it down the tunnel. Virgil closed the door as Felix went to Miss Fairfield and slapped her face lightly. She continued to stare at the closed door, a look of profound terror upon her face. It was more than a minute before she came to her senses with a slow blink.
â€œAre you all right, miss?â€ Felix said.
Miss Fairfield blinked and looked around. She did not remember anything after seeing the terrible thing. She looked at the flash powder and saw it had not been fired, and then saw the camera button on the ground. She glared at it, angry.
â€œShe went with them,â€ Felix said.
â€œI didnâ€™t take a picture,â€ she muttered.
â€œThey went that direction.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t take a picture!â€
â€œMaâ€™am, please! Please!â€
Felix looked towards Virgil Thomas, who glowered, more angry than sheâ€™d ever seen him.
â€œWhy did â€¦ we should go,â€ she said. â€œWe should go after them.â€
Virgil Thomas manipulated the spindle and the iris valve slid silently open. He pocketed his pistol and picked up one of the double-barrel shotguns. He cracked it open, checked the load, and closed it back again. He picked up a womanâ€™s bag on the ground. Felix picked up his rifle and Miss Fairfield picked up the other double barrel shotgun there.
They crept into the empty corridor.
â€œThey went that way,â€ Felix said, pointing down the way they had not yet gone.
They headed up the corridor, Virgil Thomas in the lead. They went down about an eighth of a mile before they came upon another iris valve on the left. Miss Fairfield heard voices coming from the other side of the door, including a high-pitched womanâ€™s voice who sounded angry, as well as a British voice, and whispering. Virgil went to the spindle by the door.
â€œOpen it a little bit,â€ Miss Fairfield told the man.
He nodded and manipulated the spindle. The iris valve opened less than an inch across. Miss Fairfield put her eye to the hole and looked through.
* * *
Only a minute or so before, Miss Edington and Bricker had been led to an iris valve on their left only a few hundred yards past the room they had been in. The horrible creature opened up the door.
â€œIn there,â€ the thing hissed. â€œGo in there.â€
It pointed the strange silver rod at them. Miss Edington looked at the creature and then stepped into the room, which was already lit. Three more of the horrible things were in the room. One of them wore the strange substance over its body and held another of the strange silver rods. The other two were bent over Rockefeller, who lay on his back on a table. A strange cylinder sat on the table next to him. Jebediah Cooper stood in the corner, frowning. He did not appear to be happy.
The room itself was pentagonal. A number of plastic slabs, a single large table, racks of strange, alien equipment, and several large drawings depicting various portions of the human brain were all in the room. The drawings were marked with symbols and complex formulae impossible to understand. Hanging over the table in the center of the room were tendrils and tubes, some apparently with sharp claws and blades.
Another table held a dozen shiny cylinders, each about a foot high and about half that diameter with three curious sockets set in an isosceles triangle over the front convex surface. Some of them seemed to have small plates with writing on them. Next to them was a tall rig with twin lenses mounted on the front, a box with vacuum tubes and a sounding board, and a small box with a metal disk.
Against another wall was a strange mechanism covered with tubes and studded with lights that looked more as if it had been grown than made. Another iris valve stood in the wall to the right.
The creature had entered the room behind the two and closed the door behind them. It nudged them to the side.
â€œDo not move,â€ it whispered to them. â€œYour friend agreed to this. Do not interfere.â€
â€œNow what exactly are yâ€™all doinâ€™ to him?â€ Miss Edington asked.
â€œYou shall see,â€ the thing whispered. â€œDo not be afraid. He is unharmed.â€
* * *
When Rockefeller initially entered the chamber some time before, he had found another of the things in there. Two of them had gripped the man.
â€œWe will show you the things,â€ it whispered to him. â€œAll the things.â€
â€œYes,â€ he replied.
â€œLay on the table.â€
â€œYes. Thank you. I trust you.â€
They had placed him in the table and shined a light in his eyes. He found himself paralyzed but could feel and hear and see everything that happened to him.
* * *
* * *