Hidden World by Stanton A. Coblentz

Hidden World by Stanton A. Coblentz

Author:Stanton A. Coblentz [Coblentz, Stanton A.]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: Science Fiction
Published: 2011-03-18T00:00:00+00:00

XII. Company Hero

It is impossible to say just how long I lay there in the gloom. It may have been only minutes, but it seemed hours, while the howls of the rabble came to my ears through the thin slit of iron just above.

I felt an intense desire to creep farther down into my hiding place. But my feet were resting on a ledge only a foot or two wide, and vacancy seemed to yawn beneath. I felt sure that I was on the brink of a precipice, for a pebble or fragment of metal, accidentally dislodged by my foot, rattled for a long while as it descended. Meantime I was in as uncomfortable a position as you could imagine: huddled against the iron while a chilly breath of air blew continually over me. I was not only catching cold, but—much worse!—had reason to fear that I might sneeze.

At last, however, the tumult of the multitude subsided, and I could hear the shouting at a distance, until gradually it died out entirely.

Even so, it did not seem safe to lift the iron lid—might some member of the mob not be lurk—

ing near? And so I remained crouched there in the darkness, waiting, waiting.

But after a while, I again heard the sound of voices—voices lifted in loud excitement. “The ventilation! What’s happened to the ventilation?”

“Looks to me like the work of those spies from Zu!”

“Disturbance seems to center somewhere up this way,” grumbled a third. “Those blazing complaints are coming in for miles around!”

“By my mother’s white skin!” resumed the first. “If anything got into one of those pipes, it would automatically stop the air over the whole district!”

As I listened to this conversation, a thrill of horror and a sense of guilt shot over me.

“Remember that last time,” continued one of the men. “When those big rats got caught in one of the tubes? We had to shoot in some Mul-flar and blow them to cinders!”

By this time the men were almost directly above me, and I was overwhelmed by the desire to sneeze. The best I could do was to muffle it, so that it had a stifled but unfortunately all-too-loud sound not in the least like a sneeze. I could hear the men pausing above my head. “Great caverns! What’s that?” one of them snapped. “Didn’t it sound like a rat?”

“If it’s one rat, it’s a whole colony! They grow big down here, you know.”

“Well, here’s the very place,” took up the first. “Right in this air-tube! We’ll fix them, all right!” And I could hear the man rattling the iron lid above my head.

Never before had I wished so ardently for the power of invisibility. I resorted to the desperate expedient of hanging over the brim, holding onto the ledge with both hands, while my body lay along an iron surface sloping at an angle of forty-five degrees.

No sooner had I gained this position than I heard the lid clanging out of place; and a flood of light burst upon me.


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