A mysterious pale complected stranger named Ool with watery blue eyes, a black cape and an odd accent stalked New York City. The stranger used a fluttering motion of his hand to bring sudden death! He was searching for a pair of thick black-lensed goggles which were the key to finding a hidden realm under the frozen north where giant mushrooms grew and all manner of strange fungi.
In solving this mystery, Doc and his crew found a lost civilization that had gone underground thousands of years ago. These people had adapted to life underground and were technologically advanced. There sole source of light is strange device that makes the air itself glow but it can only be seen using the black lensed goggles. The primary source of food for him these people were fungi and fish.
Who were these people and how was it that they had adapted to living in a land where it is always night?
Several of the Doc Savage Super Sagas describe lost human races that had gone underground thousands of years ago to avoid some great catastrophe. The discovery of the city of Taz in the Super Saga "The Mystery Under the Sea" points to a technologically superior civilization that once existed in a sunken land in the Atlantic Ocean which led to the fabled story of Atlantis.
The strange pale people of the Land of Always Night must have been a colony from that same culture which went underground to avoid whatever destroyed Taz. This was a radical solution since it meant that they had to live in total darkness. Whatever they were fleeing must have been truly monstrous.
Of necessity, these refugees needed to make a number of adaptations, including genetic ones in order to survive. To begin with, they lost most of their skin pigmentation since they did not need protection for the sun's ultraviolet rays. But as a consequence, they could not use sunlight to manufacture Vitamin D3 which is generated by UVB rays in surface people. Furthermore, they had no good sources of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Retinoids, and other nutrients which only come from green plants.
Then there were the vision problems. In a world with no high-output light source, vision would be practically useless and the "glowing air" device they had was decidedly unreliable in moist air as the Super Saga showed. Color vision especially requires much higher levels of ambient light than one finds underground. The goggles only enhanced light and dark vision and did not distinguish color.
The goggles themselves used photomultiplier technology and they were not merely crystal filters as the Super Saga implies. The power source was a small nuclear reactor that used a high yield radioactive isotope. The radiation was contained by a light-weight ceramic material.
According to my sources, the true capabilities of the Night People were not disclosed in the Super Saga to prevent a panic. For a variety of reasons, these people preferred to remain in their underground world and it is a good thing that they did!
I have discovered that the Night People were an artificially enhanced client race that the Taz civilization had developed to perform tasks such as mining and manufacturing in the depths of the Earth. They also were apparently granted abilities to make them effective underground soldiers to counter a threat from an underground source. One may speculate that the Night People were put in place to prevent the incursion of the underground realm of XINAIÁN into Taz's territories. the story of the XINAIÁN realm has been told in the Story "The Mound" by Zealia Bishop and H. P. Lovecraft.
In order for them to function effectively underground, the Night People had been given several anatomic and physiological endowments. First of all their livers had been enlarged and were capable of synthesizing several biologically important substances that surface people must obtain from vegetable sources including Vitamin C, Biotin, Vitamin A and a host of retinoids and bioflavinoids.
They had a particular enzyme system derived from sulfur-reducing bacteria that was capable of actively generating 2-carbon fragments from carbon dioxide and synthesizing sugars in a manner similar to photosynthesis but in the absence of sunlight. This same system activated Vitamin D3 as well without light. This process generally used sulfur as the terminal electron acceptor, but could use other molecules including sulfite, thiosulfate, acetonitrile, and even oxygen as the terminal electron receptors. The other sulfur-containing substrates are not very efficient, acetonitrile produces hydrogen cyanide which is toxic, and oxygen is frankly damaging to the organelle that houses the enzyme system if it is used for very long. For this reason while they can use othere compounds for short periods of time, elemental sulfur is a requirement in the Night People's diet to maintain optimum health. There was quite a bit of sulfur in their underground realm and this allowed the Night People to survive on a diet that would be substandard for surface people.
Sulfur was the most common material used in this process. This generated hydrogen sulfide which gives the Night People and their realm the distinct odor of 'rotten eggs.' Hydrogen sulfide is highly toxic and is chemically very similar to hydrogen cyanide. As a consequence, the Night People are very tolerant of both of these poisonous chemicals. The same protective mecahnisms also make them resistant to carbon Monoxide too. Nevertheless too much of any of these three chemicals can be fatal even to them. Trying to survive for too long on a substandard diet may result in auto-intoxication for them. They have several pathways to detoxify hydrogen sulfide including the synthesis of the essential amino acids cysteine and methionine both of which contain sulfur. There are also bacteria in the the intestines of Night People which can oxidise hydrogen sulfide to elemental sulfur and sulfates.
The capability to use sulfur to power chemical syntheses is present in intracellular organelles called sulfoplasts. These are similar in size and design to the mitochondria in eukaryote cells that use oxygen to generate cellular energy and the chloroplasts in plants in which photosynthesis occurs. The sulfoplast has its own DNA and protein synthesis system that uses unique ribosomes unlike those used in the main cytoplasm of the cell.
Night People also have been given enhanced retinal sensitivity to light and dark with a greater density of rods in the central area of the macula and a relative paucity of cones compared to the eyes of surface people. Consequently, their color vision is less sensitive than ours, but their night vision is extraordinary. The sensitivity of the rods has been shifted deeper into the infrared as well to improve thier vision. Their irises and pupils are enlarged compared to that of surface dwellers to let in more light.
Their eyes have also been designed to be "inside out" when compared to that of surface dwellers. (It is rumored that this is an extremely rare genetic variation among surface humans as well.) The human eye normally sends the optic nerve inside the eye and then spreads out to form the retina. Where the nerve enters the eye is a physiological "blind spot" which we normally suppress so that it is unnoticeable. The Night People form the retina from behind like the Octopus.
The macula in surface people is insensitive to light and dark but highly sensitive to color. It is the most central part of our visual field and is necessary for reading and fine detail vision. At night we have two blind spots in each eye including one at each macula! But the Night People because of the way their eye is constructed have no blind spot at all.
The Night People have also inherited the ability to generate large amounts of electrical voltage in their bodies that can further increase the sensitivity of the retina. It allowed them to boost their vision in the same way that night vision goggles do using a photomultiplier effect. It also gave them a kind of "Radar Sense" that allowed them to perceive nearby objects in the dark using capacitance and radiowave projection.
The photo-multiplier ability fades with age as the eye becomes less sensitive to light. The power to generate electircal potential also decreases with age. That is the reason why the Night People developed the goggles which figure so prominently in the Super Saga. Ordinary young and middle aged people are able to see the "glowing air" effect with their naked eyes and have some limited color vision which makes the world look like a pastel-colored sepia photo. But the villain, Ool, (who was an older man) could not see the "glowing air" reliably. That is why he had the set of goggles with him when he escaped. Even so, he still had the ability to generate an electrical field sufficient to shock a surface dweller.
This ability to generate electricity is similar to that of the electric eels and a full sized adult male Night Person could generate a hefty shock which could be used as an offensive weapon. About one Night Person in a hundred is an adept who has an even greater electrical power which could generate potentially lethal shocks over short distances even though there was no direct contact with the victim. This power can be enhanced by selective mating of adepts with each other, but the Night People's government forbade the interbreeding of adepts except under a specific license. The adepts are automatically trained for the police and the military, but they are forbidden to be members of the ruling class. Any adept born into a noble family must renounce his or her claim to any title.
Other genetic differences included enhanced senses of smell, taste, touch, and hearing which use a similar electrical multiplier mechanism to the one that enhances their vision. The ears of the Night People are slightly larger than ours and their heads are wider to separate the ears more and enhance their ability to detect and localize sounds and echoes. Night People have a sensitivity to ultrasonic frequencies slightly better than that of dogs but not anywhere near that of bats. In the dark they can navigate by sound alone.
They also have longer more sensitive fingers and toes than surface people. Their skin contains light sensitive cells which gives them enhanced Dermo-Optical Perception. They are able to detect light and dark (and even some color) using these skin receptors in low-intensity light. Using this talent they could read the words in a book under starlight using their finger tips.
While vision remains the dominant sense for these people, hearing is a close second and the structure of their brains reflects this with enlargement of the auditory cortices. They also have enhanced spatial orientation skills. But their bodies are designed to move slowly and carefully in the dark and they cannot run for long distances. But they are great climbers and have a powerful grip in their fingers and toes.
Since the Night People's diet is primarily fish and fungi, it is low in carbohydrates and saturated fats. They have relative glucose intolerance and can become diabetic on some normal surface dweller's diets. Ool was quite smitten with chocolate candies on his first trip to the surface. He did not realize that even though they tasted good, for his race they were not a healthy food. A moderate amount of roughage may give them intestinal cramps and even constipation. They also can be overdosed with fat soluble vitamins from dietary sources because these are synthesized in their liver. And the saturated fats from red meats can cause premature cholesterol plaque formation and accelerated atherosclerosis. A well balanced diet can keep the production of hydrogen sulfide to a minimum and decrease the "rotten egg" odor to a point where it is not noticieable by surface dwellers.
Night People are very sensitive to light. They are virtually blind in direct sunlight and will get sunburned easily. Their skin does contain some melanin because it enhances the ability of their radar sense to detect the presence of other people. Some few Night People have a melanin content which approaches that of fair-haired Scandinavians.
Because they are so well suited to their underground environment, the Night People are happy to remain where they are. But now that Ool has escaped and found that the upper world is inhabitable, we should not be surprised if some Night People may venture forth into our world for either befeficent or nefarious reasons.