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Published 31 January 2016

Fifteen golden-age science-fiction stories by A. E. van Vogt

These fifteen stories are all fine examples of this great writer’s best work from his most creative period - the forties and early fifties, the "golden age" of science-fiction.

All of the stories published here are the original magazine versions, with the magazine artwork and cover for each story.

e-book versions of this sizable anthology (185,000 words, 600+ standard printed pages) are available for downloading below.


date of last update: Jan. 7, 2017:
- the original magazine illustrations and covers have been added to each story;
- the later "fix-up" (and often-anthologized) versions of The Seesaw (1941) and The Rull (1948) have been replaced with their quite different original magazine versions – which are thus now available here for the first time since their initial publication!

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. Repetition (1940) [1] - an emissary from Earth struggles for survival on a moon of Jupiter in horrendous conditions, accompanied by a deadly enemy, with the fate of the solar system at stake.

2. Not the First (1941) [2] - a spaceship gets utterly lost 500,000 light-years from Earth after trying out a new faster-than-light atomic drive, and needs some really original thinking to get back on track.

3. The Seesaw (1941) [3] - an average sort of fellow enters a mysterious gunshop that has suddenly appeared in town and rapidly finds himself in the midst of a civil war seven thousand years into the future.

4. Recruiting Station (1942) [4] - volunteers for an overseas liberation struggle get transported from a recruiting station into a hugely-distant future intergalactic war desperate for ever-more cannon fodder.

5. Co-Operate Or Else! (1942) [5] - an Earth scientist engages in a deadly struggle with an Ezwal that wants at all costs to prevent the professor from discovering and revealing the truth about his race’s true capabilities, when in the midst of their struggle appears a patrol spaceship of mankind’s most dreaded enemy, the Rull.

6. The Changeling (1944) [6] - a 50-year-old general manager of a prosperous firm realizes one day that not only does he feel and look like a 30-year-old, but that he cannot remember anything about what happened before he took on his current position four years previously. It turns out that he has special properties indeed, and that he is the only one who can thwart a plot to impose a military dictatorship on the whole country.

7. The Purpose (1945) [7] - a dynamic young lady reporter investigates a fire at a mysterious local laboratory, and starts to unravel a diabolical plot of mind-boggling proportions.

8. The Chronicler (1946) [8] - a young businessman survives a car crash only to find that the accident has revealed that he has a previously-unsuspected third eye! And then he spots a young woman shadowing him who also has one! And then he gets transported to a time warp where everyone has one!

9. The Rull (1948) [9] - the foremost Earth specialist on the ferocious Rull civilization that has been ravaging the Milky Way galaxy for thousands of years comes face to face with one of them, and has a rousing series of victories and defeats in the ensuing battle for survival.

10. The Green Forest (1949) [10] - man is at war throughout the galaxy with the Yevds – who can assume any shape whatever via light distortion – and must at all costs prevent this formidable enemy from discovering the key weak-point in their defensive system.

11. Final Command (1949) [11] - robots and men are on the verge of an all-our war of extermination against each other and an impromptu night-time meeting between the leaders of each camp in an amusement park to talk things over will decide the fate of both species.

12. Automaton (1950) [12] - when robots get control of governments around the world and outlaw sex for humans, bombs start blasting off all over the place. But humans have a secret weapon which the robots don’t: psychology …

13. Process (1950) [13] - an intelligent plant-like life-form mobilizes its considerable resources to defend its planet from an invading Earth spaceship, with quite surprising results.

14. This Joe (1951) [14] - a Peruvian Indian proves his worth in the thin atmosphere of the mountains on Mars, in spite of the hostility and aggressive discrimination prevalent among the other workers there.

15. Fulfillment (1951) [15] - an intelligent Thing that has been sitting on a hillside for time immemorial suddenly comes into thought contact with Brain, an ultra-intelligent machine, and a titanic struggle develops.

1. REPETITION (1940)


HIS EYES ached. He kept blinking them as he flew, striving to keep in sight the glitter of hurtling metal that was the power-driven spacesuit of his guide.
The man was desperately hard to see against the blazing brilliance of the remote disk of the incredibly small and gem-like sun, rising higher and higher from the fantastic horizon of Europa. It was almost, Thomas told himself, as if the guide were deliberately holding himself into the glare of the morning sun to distract his (Thomas’s) wearying mind and dull his strength.
More than a mile below, a scatter of forest spread unevenly over a grim, forbidding land. Pock-marked rock, tortured gravel, and occasionally a sparse, reluctant growth of Jupiter grass that showed as brown and uninviting as the bare straggle of forest—and was gone into distance as they sped far above, two shining things of metal, darting along with the speed of shooting stars.
Several times Thomas saw herds of the tall, dapple-gray grass-eaters below; and once, far to the left, he caught the sheeny glint of a scale-armored, bloodsucker gryb.
It was hard to see his speedometer, built into the transparent headpiece of his flying space armor—hard because he had on a second headpiece underneath, attached to his electrically heated clothes; and the light from the sun split dazzlingly through the two barriers. But now that his suspicions were aroused, he strained his eyes against that glare until they watered and blurred. What he saw lightened his heavy jaw into a thin, hard line. He snapped into his communicators, his voice as cold and hard as his thoughts: "Hey, you ahead there—what’s your name? Barkett, Birkett—"
"Bartlett, sir! " a young man’s voice sounded in his communicators; and it seemed to the older man’s alert hearing that the accent on the "sir" held the faintest suggestion of a sneer, and a definite hostility. "Ray Bartlett! What is it, sir?"
"You told me this trip would be five hundred and twenty-one miles or—"
"Or thereabouts! " The reply was swift, but the sneer was stronger, the hostility more apparent, more intentional.
Thomas’s eyes narrowed to steely gray slits. "You said five hundred and twenty-one miles. The figure is odd enough to be presumed exact, and there is no possibility that you would not know the exact distance from the Five Cities to the platinum mines. We have now traveled five hundred and twenty-nine miles—more every minute—since leaving the Five Cities a little over an hour ago, and—"
"So we have! " interrupted the young man with unmistakable insolence. ’Now isn’t that too bad, Mr. Famous Statesman Former Explorer Thomas."
Thomas was silent, examining the situation for its potential menace. His first indignant impulse was to pursue the unexpected arrogance of the other, but his brain, suddenly crystal-clear, throttled the desire and leaped ahead in a blaze of speculation.
There was murder intent here. His mind ticked coldly, with a sense of something repeated; for the threat of death he had faced before, during those bold, tremendous years when he had roamed the farthest planets. It was icily comforting to know that this was but a repetition of what he had previously experienced—comforting to remember that he had conquered in the past. In murder, as in everything else, experience counted.

Thomas began to decelerate against the fury of built-up, velocity. It would take time—but perhaps there still was time, though the other’s attitude suggested the crisis was dangerously near. There was no more he could do till he had slowed considerably. Thomas quieted his leaping pulses and said gently:
"Tell me, is the whole community in on this murder? Or is it a scheme of your own?"
"There’s no harm in telling you now! " Bartlett retorted. "We knew in advance that your visit here was a farce. Ostensibly you came to find out for the Earth government if this moon of Jupiter were worth fighting about; actually, the government had decided in advance that they weren’t going to fight, and you, with your terrific reputation, were to come here and put the thing over, pretending to be fair, but—"
His voice broke in a flare of hate: "You sneaking coward! What about the folks who’ve been trying to make a living here, slaving, hoping, dreaming, planning, creating for the future? And for what! So that a bunch of cynical politicians can sell us down the river to a dirty, arrogant gang of Martians."
Thomas laughed, a hard, humorless but understanding laugh that hid the slow caution with which he slanted toward the ground. The strain of the curving dive racked his body, tore at his lungs, but he held to it grimly. He was alone in the sky now; the shining spacesuit of the guide had vanished into the dim distance. Evidently the man had not turned his head or noticed the deviation on his finder. Anxious for the discovery to be as long delayed as possible, Thomas said:
"So that’s it. I see that I am now confronted with the emotional immaturities of a bunch of child minds. I wonder if the human race will ever grow up. Don’t you know that at one time the world was divided into warring nations, and before that into fiercely patriotic States; and before that human beings owed their loyalties to towns? Will we always have such fools to contend with? Well-meaning fools, who understand nothing of political, social, or vital economy, and are perpetually victims of their own undisciplined desires and emotional incoherencies."
"Yaah! " Ray Bartlett snarled. "That kind of talk may go over big in the drawing rooms of London and New York, but it’s plain rot to the men and women who stand to lose their homes. You’re going to die because we’re not letting you get back with any living story about Europa. We’re going to fake up some notes in your handwriting,—we’ve got a handwriting expert—and then we’ll give the notes to the newspapers; and let the government try to back out after that. With you dead—"
Thomas asked grimly: "And how are you going to kill me?"
"In about ten seconds," the young man began tautly, "your engine—" He broke off. "Hah, you’re not behind me any more. So you’re trying to land. Well, it won’t do you any good; damn your soul! I’ll be right back that way—"
Thomas was only fifty feet from the bleak rock when there was a sudden grinding in the hitherto silent mechanism of his atomic motor. The deadly swiftness of what happened then left no time for more than instinctive action. He felt a pain against his legs, a sharp, tearing pain, a dizzy, burning sensation that staggered his reason—and then he had struck the ground—and with a wild, automatic motion jerked off the power that was being so horribly short-circuited, that was burning him alive. Darkness closed over his brain like an engulfing blanket—

The blurred world of rock swaying and swirling about him—that was Thomas’s awakening! He forced himself to consciousness and realized—after a moment of mental blankness, that he was no longer in his spacesuit. And, when he opened his eyes he could see without a sense of dazzle, now that he had only the one helmet—the one attached to his electrically heated clothes. He grew aware of something—an edge of rock—pressing painfully into his back. Dizzily, but with sane eyes, he looked up at a lean-faced young man, who was kneeling beside him.
The young man—Ray Bartlett—returned his gaze with unsmiling hostility, and said curtly, "You’re lucky to be alive. Obviously you shut off the motor just in time. It was being shorted by lead grit, and burned your legs a little. I’ve put some salve on, so you won’t feel any pain; and you’ll be able to walk."
He stopped and climbed to his feet. Thomas shook his head to clear away the black spots, and then gazed up at the other questioningly, but he said nothing. The young man seemed to realize what was in his mind. "I didn’t think I’d be squeamish with so much at stake," he confessed almost roughly, "but I am. I came back to kill you, but I wouldn’t even kill a dog without giving him a chance. Well, you’ve got your chance, if it’s worth anything."
Thomas sat up, his eyes narrowed on the young man’s face inside the other’s helmet. Ray Bartlett was a handsome young fellow with a pleasing countenance that ordinarily must have been frank and open. It was an honest face, twisted now with resentment and a sort of dogged determination.
Frowning with thought, Thomas looked around; and his eyes, trained for detail, saw a lack in the picture. "Where’s your spacesuit?"
Ray Bartlett nodded his head skyward. His voice held no quality of friendliness as he said: "If your eyes are good, you’ll see a dark spot, almost invisible now, to the right of the sun. I chained your suit to mine, then gave mine power. They’ll be falling into Jupiter about three hundred hours from now."
Thomas pondered that matter-of-factly. "You’ll pardon me if I don’t quite believe that you’ve decided to stay and die with me. I know that men will die for what they believe to be right. But I can’t quite follow the logic of why you should die. No doubt you have made arrangements to be rescued."
Ray Bartlett flushed, his face growing dark with the turgid wave of angry color. "There’ll be no rescue," he growled from his throat. "I didn’t like what you said about undisciplined desires and emotional immaturities. I know what you meant—that we of the Five Cities were thinking selfishly of ourselves, blind to the general welfare. I’m going to prove to you that, in this matter, no individual in our community thinks of himself. I’m going to die here with you because, naturally, we’ll never reach the Five Cities on foot, and as for the platinum mines, they’re even farther away."
"Pure bravado! " Thomas said. "In the first place your staying with me proves nothing but that you’re a fool; in the second, I am incapable of admiring such an action. However, I’m glad you’re here with me, and I appreciate the salve on these burns."

Thomas climbed gingerly to his feet, testing his legs, first the right, then the left, and felt a little sickening surge of dizziness that he fought back with an effort. "Hm-m-m," he commented aloud in the same matter-of-fact manner as before. "No pain, but weak. That salve ought to have healed the burns by dark."
"You take it very calmly," said Ray Bartlett acridly.
Thomas nodded his powerfully built head. "I’m always glad to realize I’m alive; and I feel that I can convince you that the course being pursued by the government of which I am a minister is the only sane one."
The young man laughed harshly. "Fat chance. Besides, it doesn’t matter. You don’t seem to realize our predicament. We’re at least twelve days from civilization—that’s figuring sixty miles a day, which is hardly possible. Tonight, the temperature will fall to a hundred below freezing, at least, though it varies down to as low as a hundred and seventy-five below, depending on the shifting of Europa’s core, which is very hot, you know, and very close to the surface at times. That’s why human beings—and other life—can exist on this moon at all. The core is jockeyed around by the Sun and Jupiter, with the Sun dominating, so that it’s always fairly warm in the daytime and why, also, when the pull is on the other side of the planet, it’s so devilish cold at night. I’m explaining this to you, so you’ll have an idea of what it’s all about."
"Go on," Thomas replied without comment.
"Well, if the cold doesn’t kill us, we’re bound to run into at least one bloodsucker gryb every few days. They can smell human blood at an astounding distance; and blood for some chemical reason drives them mad with desire. Once they corner a human being it’s all up. They tear down the largest trees, or dig into caves through solid rock. The only protection is an atomic gun, and ours went up with our suits. We’ve got only my hunting knife. Besides all that, our only possible food is the giant grass-eater, which runs like a deer at the first sight of anything living, and which, besides, could kill a dozen unarmed men if it were cornered. You’ll be surprised how hungry it is possible to get within a short time. Something in the air—and, of course, we’re breathing filtered Europan air —speeds up normal digestion. We’ll be starving to death in a couple of hours."
"It seems to give you a sort of mournful satisfaction," Thomas said dryly.
The young man flashed: "I’m here to see that you don’t get back alive to the settlement, that’s all."
Thomas scarcely heard him. His face was screwed into a black frown. "The more you tell me, the more I am convinced that the human beings on Europa are a sorry lot, no true pioneers. They’ve been here fifty years, and they’ve built their cities with machines, and machine-operated their mines—and not a single individual has rooted himself in the soil. No one has learned to exist without the luxuries that were brought from Earth. You talk of their having slaved and created. Bah! I tell you, Ray Bartlett, this is a terrible indictment of these so-called pioneers of yours, who simply moved the equivalent of an Earth city here and live an artificial life, longing for the day, no doubt, when they’re wealthy enough to get back to the real thing."
The young man retorted grimly: "Yes. Well, you try living off the soil of this barren moon—try killing a gryb with your bare hands."
"Not my hands," replied Thomas as grimly. "My brains and my experience. We’re going to get back to the Five Cities in spite of these natural obstacles, in spite of you! "

In the silence that followed, Thomas examined their surroundings. He felt his first real chill of doubt as his eyes and mind took in that wild and desolate hell of rock that stretched to every horizon. No, not every! Barely visible in the remote distance of the direction they would have to go was a dark mist of black cliff. It seemed to swim there against the haze of semi-blackness that was the sky beyond the horizon. In the near distance the piling rock showed fantastic shapes, as if frozen in a state of writhing anguish. And there was no beauty in it, no sweep of grandeur, simply endless, desperate miles of black, tortured deadness—and silence!
He grew aware of the silence with a start that pierced his body like a physical shock. The silence seemed suddenly alive. It pressed unrelentingly down upon that flat stretch of rock where they stood. A malevolent silence that kept on and on, without echoes, without even a wind now to whistle and moan over the billion caves and gouged trenches that honeycombed the bleak, dark, treacherous land around them. A silence that seemed the very spirit of this harsh and deadly little world, here under that tiny, cold, brilliant sun, little more than a dazzling, distorted point in the blue-black sky.
"Gets you, doesn’t it?" Ray Bartlett said, and there was a sneer in his voice.
Thomas stared at him, without exactly seeing him. His gaze was far away. "Yes," he said thoughtfully. "I’d forgotten what it felt like; and I hadn’t realized how much I’d forgotten. Well, we’d better get started."
As they leaped cautiously over the rock, assisted by the smaller gravitation of Europa, the young man said: "Perhaps you’ll understand better how we, who’ve built cities and homes on this far-away moon, feel about the prospect of being handed over to another government?"
"I am not," said Thomas curtly, "prepared to discuss the matter with a person who does not understand psychology, sociology, history, and political economy. There is nothing more futile than arguing with someone who has no basis for his opinions but a vague backwash of emotions."
"We know what’s right and what’s human," Ray Bartlett replied icily. "We’ve got our scientists, too, and our engineers and teachers; and I’m here to see that their decision to kill you is carried out."
"You have only a knife now," Thomas commented, "and if you attacked me with that I’d have to show you the method employed by the Martian plainsmen to disarm a man with a knife. It’s very simple, really, and consistently effective."
"Yeah! " Ray Bartlett said roughly, his lean face tight, his formidable body tense. "What good would that do? I could still tear you apart with my bare hands."
Thomas slowed in his swift walking to glance at the other. "I venture to suggest that, with my wide experience in my favor, you could do nothing against me. However," he said hastily as the young man’s dark eyes flashed with unfriendly intent, "I apologize for making a provocative remark. My words might properly be construed as a dare—in fact, all threats, however veiled behind apparent reason and moral uplift, are dares—and history teaches that such provocation produces an inevitable physical conflict. Tell me, what do you do for a living?"
"I’m a metal engineer! " Ray Bartlett said gruffly.
"Oh," Thomas’ voice held a note of pleased surprise. "I see that I’ve been underestimating you. No one will understand better than you the metal end of this business of Mars taking over Europa."
"Mars isn’t taking over Europa! " Bartlett snapped. "And don’t try to pull any flattery about how easy it should be for me to understand your subtle reasoning. I can see through that kind of stuff."

Thomas ignored him. "Here are the figures. The Earth uses ten billion tons of steel every year; Mars two billion—"
"That’s proof," Bartlett interjected, "that they wouldn’t dare go to war with us, because even as it is, we sell them half their steel. If we cut that out, they couldn’t maintain their industries to supply peace-time needs, let alone wartime. We can tell them to go stick it."
"You’re quite wrong. Your reasoning is that of a newspaper correspondent who totals up the armaments of opposing sides and then says, ’Look, we’ve got more!’ War is the great unknown, the unpredictable. A military genius with a million men can lick a proportionately well-armed two million men. Up to a certain point, war is a science like astronomy, then it becomes astrology. So far as science can help us, our general staff has decided that, strategically, we are in a bad way. While we do not actually believe we would lose, we could not guarantee a victory."
"That is the argument of conservative old women. They wouldn’t dare to fight."
"Here’s the breakdown of figures," Thomas went on calmly. "Half our steel, as well as the billion tons we sell to Mars, is mined with great difficulty on Jupiter. We couldn’t operate those mines in case of war because the mines are hopelessly vulnerable to attack. That leaves us five billion. We couldn’t operate the mines on Titan, which provide a scanty fifty million tons of steel, and, of course, Europa would be captured within a month of the war’s beginning. The reason for all this is that it is militarily impossible for our ships to maintain the spacelanes between Earth and Jupiter, except at certain seasons of the year, when Mars was on the other side of the Sun from Jupiter. The Martians, however, would not start the war until the situation was favorable to them.
"Now, naturally, the Martians won’t be able to operate the Jupiter mines under war conditions, but they should have no difficulty continuing operations on Ganymede, Io, Callistor, as well as Europa after they take it, and Titan, after they take that. Meantime, we’d have the supplies of Venus, the Moon, and Earth, sufficient to supply us with some four billion tons a year. Considering the greater size of Earth, and the larger populations on Venus and Earth, they, with their smaller normally necessary needs, would actually have the advantage of us with their twelve hundred million tons.
"And all these mighty forces would be unleashed into a trillion-dollar war for what? To retain a paltry hundred million tons of steel—and other metals in proportion—from Europa. Naturally, we decided it wasn’t worth it when we saw the way the political situation on Mars was tending toward one disastrous inevitable end."
"You damned cowards! " Ray Bartlett snarled. "We’re not fighting for steel. We’re fighting to the last man and woman for our cities and our homes. Now, let’s not talk about it any more. You make me sick with your cold inhuman reasoning. Using human beings like pawns. Well, let me tell you, they’re the only ones who count. Thank Heaven, you and I haven’t a chance of getting out of this alive."

Two hours later the Sun was high in those dark, gloomy heavens. It had been two hours of silence. Two hours while they tramped precariously along thin stretches of rock between fantastic valleys that yawned on either side, while they skirted the edges of caves whose bleak depths sheered straight down into the restless bowels of the Moon. Two hours of desolation.
The great black cliff, no longer misted by distance, loomed near and gigantic. As far as the eye could see it stretched to either side; and from where Thomas toiled and leaped ever more wearily, its wall seemed to rear up abrupt and glassy and unscalable.
He gasped: "I didn’t realize I was so out of condition. I hate to confess it, but I’m not sure I can climb that cliff."
The young man turned a face toward him that had lost its brown healthiness in a gray, dull fatigue. A hint of fire came into his dark eyes.
"It’s hunger! " he said curtly. "I told you what it would be like. We’re starving."
Thomas pressed on, but after a moment slackened his pace, and said: "This grass-eater—it also eats the smaller branches of trees, doesn’t it?"
"Yes. That’s what its long neck is for. What about it?" "Is that all it eats?"
"That and Jupiter grass! "
"Nothing else?" Thomas’s voice was sharp with question, his powerfully built face drawn tight with insistence. "Think, man! "
Ray Bartlett bridled. "Don’t take that tone to me. What’s the use of all this, anyway?"
"Sorry—about the tone, I mean. What does it drink?"
"It licks ice. They always stay near the rivers. During the brief melting periods each year, all the water from the forests runs into the rivers and freezes. The only other thing it eats or drinks is salt. Like Earth animals, they absolutely have to have salt, and it’s pretty rare."
"Salt! That’s it!" Thomas’ voice was triumphant. "We’ll have to turn back. We passed a stretch of rock salt about a mile back. We’ll have to get some.
"Go back! Are you crazy?"
Thomas stared at him, his eyes gray pools of steely glitter. "Listen, Bartlett, I said awhile ago that I didn’t think I could climb those cliffs. Well, don’t worry, I’ll climb them. And I’ll last through all today, and all tomorrow and the other twelve or fifty or twenty days. I’ve put on about twenty-five pounds during the last ten years that I’ve been a cabinet minister. Well, dammit, my body’ll use that as food, and by Heaven, I’ll be alive and moving and going strong when you’re staggering like a drunken sailor. I’ll be alive when you’re dead and buried for a hundred miles. But if we expect to kill a grass-eater and live decently, we’ve got to have salt. I saw some salt, and we can’t take a chance on passing it up. So back we go."
They glared at each other with the wild, tempestuous anger of two men whose nerves are on ultimate edge. Then Bartlett drew a deep breath and said: "I don’t know what your plan is, but it sounds crazy to me. Have you ever seen a grass-eater? Well, it looks something like a giraffe, only it’s bigger, and faster on its feet. Maybe you’ve got some idea of tempting it with salt, and then killing it with a knife. I tell you, you can’t get near it—But go back with you. It doesn’t matter, because we’re going to die, no matter what you think. What I’m hoping is that a gryb sees us. It’ll be quick that way."
"There is something," said Thomas, "pitiful and horrible about a young man who is determined to die."
"You don’t think I want to die! " the young man flashed. "Why, I had everything to live for, until you came along with your miserable—"
His passionate voice died abruptly, but Thomas knew better than to let so much fierce feeling die unexplored. "No doubt," he ventured softly, "there is a girl you love—"
He saw by the wretched look on the young man’s face that he had struck home.
"Ah, well," said Thomas, "she’ll probably marry someone else. There’s always a second man who desires to taste of the manifold delights and charms of a beautiful and intelligent girl."
The young man said nothing; and Thomas realized his words had started a cruel strain of thought in the other. Ile felt no compunction. It was imperative that Ray Bartlett developed a desire to live. In the crisis that seemed all too near now, his assistance might easily be the difference between life and death.

It was odd, the fever of talk that came upon Thomas as they laboriously retraced their steps to the salt rock. It was as if his tongue, as if all of his body, had become intoxicated; and yet his words, though swift, were not incoherent, but reasoned and calculated to convince the younger man.
"Look at it this way. Your people, over a period of fifty years, have built five cities, with a total population of a million. You produce from your mines a hundred million tons of steel, a thousand tons of platinum, and about a hundred million tons of other metals—about two hundred million tons altogether. Of course, that’s per year. Now, your engineers pointed out that estimates of Europa’s recoverable metals indicated that in a thousand years the supply will be exhausted. In other words, there are two hundred billion tons of metal on this little moon, equal to twenty years of the normal needs of Earth. The value of the entire thousand years’ supply, at an average of twenty dollars per ton, is four thousand billion dollars. I need hardly tell you that a war between Earth and Mars would cost ten times that much for each year it lasted, not counting the hundred to two hundred million lives that would be destroyed in every conceivable horrible manner, the brutalizing of minds that would take place, the destruction of liberty that would ensue. Did the leaders of your community consider that in their deliberations?"
"I tell you," Ray Bartlett contended stubbornly, "the Martians won’t fight, if you stand up to them and—"
"You keep repeating that like a parrot! " Thomas snapped. "The internal political situation on Mars has reached an explosive point. There are two groups on the planet—one, ferociously hostile to Earth, the other—the government—believing in negotiation. We want that .government to stay in power, but they haven’t a chance in the elections this year unless they can show material progress, Europa will be their answer—"
"Here’s your salt! " Bartlett interrupted him curtly.
The salt rock composed a narrow ledge that protruded like a long fence which ran along in a startlingly straight line and ended abruptly at a canyon’s edge, the fence rearing up, as if cringing back in frank dismay at finding itself teetering on the brink of an abyss.
Thomas picked up two pieces of salt rubble and slipped them into capacious, pockets of his, plainsman-like coat—and started back toward the dark wall of cliff nearly three miles away. He took up the thread of his argument where he had left off.
"And remember this, it’s not only Europa’s recoverable metals that will be used up in a thousand years, but also the metal resources of the entire Solar System. That’s why we must have an equitable distribution now, because we can’t afford to spend the last hundred of those thousand years fighting over metal with Mars. You see, in that thousand years we must reach the stars. We must develop speeds immeasurably greater than that of light—and in that last, urgent hundred years we must have their cooperation, not their enmity. Therefore they must not be dependent on us for anything; and we must not be under the continual mind-destroying temptation of being able to save ourselves for a few years longer if we sacrifice them."
Ray Bartlett said, rage nearly choking his voice: "I can see what you’re trying to do—pretending that you’re capable of thinking of the long-run welfare of the world. Well, forget it; you’re not God. People get to believe they are, you know; and that they can so manipulate the strings of their puppet ideas and puppet men that everything will inevitably happen as they desire. But we’re not puppets, we human beings. In a thousand years, anything can happen."
He finished roughly: "And now I tell you again to shut up! I don’t want to hear your arguments. You said before that the basis of our beliefs is different. You’re damned right it is. So shut up, damn you! I’m so hungry that I can hardly stand up."
"Well," Thomas asked wearily, "what is the basis of your opinions? I am willing to debate on your basis."
The young man made no answer. They trudged along in silence.

Thomas’s body ached in every muscle, and every nerve pulsed alarms to his brain. He clung with a desperate, stubborn strength to each bit of rock projecting from the cliff wall, horribly aware that a slip meant death. Once he looked down, and his brain reeled in dismay from the depths that fell away behind him.
Through blurred vision he saw the young man a few feet away, the tortured lines of his face a grim reminder of the hunger weakness that was corroding the very roofs of their two precariously held lives.
"Hang on!" Thomas gasped. "It’s only a few more yards."
They made it, and collapsed on the edge of that terrific cliff, too weary to climb the gentle slope that remained before they could look over the country beyond, too exhausted to do anything but lie there, sucking the life-giving air into their lungs. At last Ray Bartlett gasped: "What’s the use? If we had any sense we’d jump off this cliff and get it over with."
"We can jump into a deep cave any time," Thomas retorted. "Let’s get going."
He rose shakily to his feet, took a few steps, then stiffened and flung himself down with a hissing intake of his breath. His fingers grabbed the other’s leg and jerked him back brutally to a prone position.
"Down for your life. There’s a herd of grass-eaters half a mile away. And they mean life for us."
Bartlett crawled up beside him, almost eagerly; and the two peered cautiously over the knob of rock out onto a grassy plain. The plain was somewhat below them, Thomas saw. To the left, a scant hundred yards away, like a wedge driven into the grassland, was the pointed edge of a forest. The grass beyond seemed almost like a projection of the forest growth. It, too, formed a wedge that petered out in bleak rock. At the far end of the grass was a herd of about a hundred grass-eaters.
"They’re working this way!" Thomas said. "And they’ll pass close to that wedge of trees."
A faint ire of irony edged Bartlett’s voice as he said: "And what will you do—run out and put salt on their tails? I tell you, Thomas, we haven’t got a thing that—"
"Our first course," said Thomas, unheeding, seeming to think out loud, "is to get into that thick belt of trees. We can do that by skirting along this cliff’s edge, and putting the trees between us and the animals. Then you can lend me your knife."
"O.K.! " the young man agreed in a tired voice. "If you won’t listen, you’ll have to learn from experience. I tell you, you won’t get within a quarter of a mile of those things."
"I don’t want to," Thomas replied. "You see, Bartlett, if you had more confidence in life, you’d realize that this problem of killing animals by cunning has been solved before. It’s absolutely amazing how similarly it has been solved on different worlds, and under widely differing conditions. One would almost suspect a common evolution, but actually it is only a parallel situation producing a parallel solution. Just watch me."
"I’m willing," said Ray Bartlett. "There’s almost any way I’d rather die than by starving. A meal of cooked grass-eater is tough going, but it’ll be pure heaven. Don’t forget, though, that the blood-sucker grybs follow grass-eater herds, get as near as possible at night, then kill them in the morning when they’re frozen. Right now, with darkness near, a gryb must be out there somewhere, hiding, sneaking nearer. Pretty soon he’ll smell us, and then he’ll—"
"We’ll come to the gryb when he comes for us! " said Thomas calmly. "I’m sorry I never visited this moon in my younger days; these problems would all have been settled long ago. In the meantime, the forest is our goal."

Thomas’s outward calmness was but a mask for his inner excitement. His body shook with hunger and eagerness as they reached the safety of the forest. His fingers were trembling violently as he took Bartlett’s knife and began to dig at the base of a great, bare, brown tree.
"It’s the root, isn’t it," he asked unsteadily, "that’s so tough and springy that it’s almost like fine tempered steel, and won’t break even if it’s bent into a circle? They call it eurood on Earth, and it’s used in industry."
"Uh-huh! " Bartlett agreed. "What are you going to do—make a bow? I suppose you could use a couple of grass blades in place of catgut. The grass is pretty strong and makes good rope."
"No," said Thomas. "I’m not making a bow and arrow. Mind you, 1 can shoot a pretty mean arrow. But I’m remembering what you said about not being able to get within a quarter of a mile of the beasts."
He jerked out a root, which was about an inch in thickness, cut off a generous two-foot length, and began to sharpen, first one end, then the other.
It was hard going, harder than he had expected, because the knife skidded along the surface almost as if it were metal. Finally it obtained a cutting hold. "Makes a good edge and point," he commented. "And now, give me a hand in bending this double, while I tie some grass blades around to keep it that way."
"O-oh! " said Bartlett wonderingly. "I see-e-e! Say, that is clever. It’ll make a mouthful about six inches in diameter. The grass-eater that gets it will gobble it up in one gulp to prevent any of the others getting the salt you’re going to smear on it. His digestive juices will dissolve the grass string, the points will spring apart and tear the wall of his stomach, producing an internal hemorrhage."
"It’s a method," said Thomas, "used by the primitives of Venus to kill the elusive Paamer deer; the Martian plainsman kills the water gopher with it, and, last but not least, our own Eskimo back on Earth uses it on wolves. Naturally, they all use different kinds of bait, but the principle is the same."
He made his way cautiously to the edge of the forest. From the shelter of a tree he flung the little piece of bent wood with all his strength. It landed in the grass a hundred and fifty feet away.
"We’d better make some more! " Thomas said. "We can’t depend on one being found."

The eating was good; the cooked meat tough but tasty; and it was good, too, to feel the flow of strength into his body. Thomas sighed at last and stood up, glanced at the sinking Sun, an orange-sized ball of flame in the western sky.
"We’ll have to carry sixty Earth pounds of meat apiece; that’s four pounds a day for the next fifteen days. Eating meat alone is dangerous; we may go insane, though it really requires about a month for that. We’ve got to carry the meat because we can’t waste any more time killing grass-eaters."
Thomas began to cut into the meaty part of the animal, which lay stretched out on the tough grass; and in a few minutes had tied together two light bundles. By braiding grass together, he made himself a pack sack and lifted the long shank of meat until it was strapped to his back. There was a little adjustment necessary to keep the weight from pressing his electrically heated clothes too tightly against him; when he looked up finally, he saw that the young man was looking at him peculiarly.
"You realize, of course," Bartlett said, "that you’re quite insane now. It’s true that, with these heated suits, we may be able to live through the cold of tonight, provided we find a deep cave. But don’t think for a second that, once a gryb gets on our trail, we’ll be able to throw it a piece of sharpened wood and expect it to have an internal hemorrhage."
"Why not?" Thomas asked; and his voice was sharp.
"Because it’s the toughest creature ever spawned by a crazy evolution, the main reason I imagine why no intelligent form of life evolved on Europa. Its claws are literally diamond hard; its teeth can twist metals out of shape; its stomach wall can scarcely be cut with a knife, let alone a crudely pointed wood."
His voice took on a harsh note of exasperation: "I’m glad we’ve had this meal; starving wasn’t my idea of a pleasant death. I want the quick death that the gryb will give us. But for heaven’s sake, get it out of your head that we shall live through this. I tell you, the monster will follow us into any cave, cleverly enlarge it wherever he has difficulty; and he’ll get us because eventually we’ll reach a dead end. They’re not normal caves, you know, but meteor holes, the result of a cosmic cataclysm millions of years ago, and they’re all twisted out of shape by the movement of the planet’s crust. As for tonight, we’d better get busy and find a deep cave with plenty of twists in it, and perhaps a place where we can block the air currents from coming in. The winds will be arriving about a half an hour before the sun goes down, and our electric heaters won’t be worth anything against those freezing blasts. It might pay us to gather some of the dead wood lying around, so we can build a fire at the really cold part of the night."
Getting the wood into the cave was simple enough. They gathered great armfuls of it, and tossed it down to where it formed a cluttering pile at the first twist in the tunnel. Then, having gathered all the loose wood in the vicinity, they lowered themselves down to the first level, Thomas first in a gingerly fashion; the young man—Thomas noticed—with a snap and spring. A smile crinkled the lips of the older man. The spirit of youth, he reflected, would not be suppressed.
They were just finishing throwing the wood down to the next level when suddenly a shadow darkened the cave mouth. Thomas glanced up with a terrible start and had a fleeting glimpse of great fanged jaws and glowing eyes that glared from a hideous head; a thick red tongue licked out in unholy desire, and a spray of saliva rained down upon their transparent metal helmets and leather-like gloves. And then Ray Bartlett’s leather-covered hands bit like sharp stones into Thomas’s arm; he felt himself dragged over the edge.
They landed unhurt among the loose pile of branches below; and scrambled frantically to throw it farther down. A great mad clawing and horrible bass mewing above them whipped them to desperate speed. They made it, as that enormous head peered down from the second level, visible only by the phosphorescent glow of its eyes, like two burning coals a foot and a half apart.
There was a terrific scrambling sound behind the two men as they pushed wildly down to the next level; a rock bounced down, narrowly missing them as it clattered past; and then, abruptly, silence and continuing darkness.
"What’s happened?" Thomas asked in bewilderment.
There was bitterness in Ray Bartlett’s voice as he replied: "It’s wedged itself in, because it’s realized it can’t get us in the few minutes left before it freezes for the night; and, of course, now we won’t be able to get out past it, with that great body squeezed against the rock sides. It’s really a very clever animal in its way. It never chases grass-eaters, but just follows them. It has discovered that it wakes up a few minutes before they do; naturally, it thinks we, too, will freeze, and that it will wake up before we will. In any event, it knows we can’t get out. And we can’t. We’re finished."

All that long night, Thomas waited and watched. There were times when he dozed, and there were times when he thought he was dozing, only to realize with a dreadful start that the horrible darkness had played devil’s tricks on his mind.
The darkness during the early part of the night was like a weight that held them down. Not the faintest glimmer of natural light penetrated that Stygian night. And when, at last, they made a fire from their pile of brush, the pale, flickering flames pushed but feebly against the pressing, relentless force of the darkness and seemed helpless against the cold.
Thomas began to notice the cold, first as an uncomfortable chill that ate into his flesh, and then as a steady, almost painful, clamminess that struck into his very bones.
The cold was noticeable, too, in the way white hoarfrost thick riled on the walls. Great cracks appeared in the rock; and not once, but several times, sections of the ceiling collapsed with a roar that threatened their lives. The first clatter of falling debris seemed to waken Bartlett from a state of semi-coma. He jerked to his feet; and Thomas watched him silently as he paced restlessly to and fro, clapping his gloved, heated hands together to keep them warm.
"Why not," Thomas asked, "go up and build a fire against the gryb’s body? If we could burn him—"
"He’d just wake up," Bartlett said tersely, "and besides, his hide won’t burn at ordinary temperatures. It has all the properties of metallic asbestos, conducts heat, but is practically noncombustible."
Thomas was silent, frowning; then: "The toughness of this creature is no joke—and the worst of it all is that our danger, the whole affair, has been utterly useless. Fake handwriting or not, my colleagues will know the truth and will suspect foul play. Rumors to that effect will spread automatically through the press and develop into open vilification of the murderous Five Cities. Before you know it, there will be a swelling murmur of demand for retribution; and in such a dark atmosphere it will be the simplest matter in the world to hand Europa over to Mars. You think that’s far-fetched, don’t you?"
"It’s crazy! " half whispered Ray Bartlett shakily.
"You may not realize it even now," Thomas went on, "but the person to have concentrated upon was myself. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that any solution which I proposed would have been accepted. My reputation has been the product of a peculiar set of circumstances, but, once established, it acquired rock-like qualities. The report of my death will create a sensation and have all the effects that I have described."
"Well, what should we have done?" Ray Bartlett exclaimed with dark bitterness. "We showed you all our resources because we were determined to leave you no excuse. But what could we do against a person who thought in billions where we thought in millions? To you everything was small, unimportant. The full capacity of all our mines was just a drop in the tremendous maw of Earth’s metal furnaces. What could we do?"
"Accept the situation! " Thomas shrugged. "What’s the difference whether you sold your metal hereafter to Mars or to Earth; all you ever see are the big freight ships that come here and load up. There would be no objection to making a stipulation that the community have submitted to them the names of governors that Mars would place here, from which they could take their choice. We could also stipulate that the Martians live in separate cities to begin with, and that all business relations between individuals be on a purely voluntary basis; and, oh, a hundred other stipulations could be made, to be effective during, say, the first fifty years."
"I don’t really suppose it matters," the young man said gloomily. "I suppose we are stupid fools to object to being handed over like a herd of sheep. It’s our pride, and, in a kind of way, I can see your point about the unfairness of the distribution of natural resources. Oh, Lord, here I am talking again. What’s the use of you and I arguing on this subject? It’s too late. In a few hours that damn thing that’s got us sealed in here will wake up and finish us. There’s nothing we’ve got that can hold it back one inch, or one second."
"Don’t be so sure of that! " Thomas said. "I admit the toughness of this monster has got me worried sick, but don’t forget what I’ve said: these problems have been solved before on other planets."
"You’re mad! I tell you, sir, even with an atomic gun it’s touch and go getting the gryb before it gets you. Its hide is so tough it won’t begin to disintegrate until your heart’s in your hoots. What can we do against a thing like that when all we’ve got is a knife?"
"Let me have the knife," Thomas replied. "I want to sharpen it."
His face twisted into a wry smile. Perhaps it didn’t mean much, but the young man had called him "sir" quite unconsciously. There were psychological implications in the use of the word.

The sustained darkness of that night, the insistent crackle of the palely flickering fire seemed to become more and more alive as the nervous hours twitched by. It was Thomas who was pacing now, his medium-tall, powerful body restless and tense with anxious uncertainty.
It was getting distinctly warmer; the white hoarfrost was melting in places, yielding for the first time to the heat of the spluttering flame; and the chill was no longer reaching clammily through his heated clothes.
A scatter of fine ashes lay on the ground, indication of how completely the fuel had burned away; but even as it was the cave was beginning to show a haze of smoke fumes, through which it was difficult to see properly.
Abruptly there was a great stirring above them; and then a deep, eager mewing, and a scrambling, scratching sound. Ray Bartlett jerked erect from where he had been lying and leaped to his feet. He gasped: "It’s awake, and it’s remembered."
"Well," said Thomas grimly, "this is what you’ve been longing for."
From across the fire the young man stared at him moodily. He said harshly: "You don’t think I want to die, do you? Besides, I’m beginning to see that killing you will solve nothing. It was a mad scheme."
"You agree, then," said Thomas, "that people who have not rooted themselves into a land, but are simply exploiting it, have no right to expect the living, vital organism of the people to which they belong, to risk a death blow in order to protect them and their purely artificial structure?"
"Oh, I don’t know what I think! " Ray Bartlett exclaimed. "For heaven’s sake, let’s quit quibbling. That damned thing—"
A rock bounded down and crashed between them, missing the fire, then vanishing noisily into the darkness beyond. There followed a horrible squeezing, a rasping sound as of brittle scales scraping rock; and then, terribly near, the drumming sound as of a monstrous sledge hammer at work.
"He’s breaking off a piece of rock! " Bartlett panted. "Quick! Get into a concavity against the wall. Those rocks may come tumbling down here, and they won’t miss us forever— What are you doing?"
"I’m afraid," said Thomas in a shaky voice, "I’ve got to risk the rock. There’s no time to waste."
His leather-covered hands trembled with the excitement that gripped him as he hastily unfastened one of the glove extensions. He winced a little as his hand emerged into the open air, and immediately jerked it over the hot flame of the fire.
"Phew, it’s cold. Must still be about ninety below. I’ll have to warm this knife or it’ll stick to my skin."
He held the blade into the flame, finally withdrew it, made a neat incision in the thumb of his bare hand, and wiped the blood onto the knife blade, smearing it on until his hand, blue with the cold, refused to bleed any more. Then he quickly slipped it back into its glove.
It tingled as it warmed, but in spite of the pain he picked up a flaming faggot by its unburned end and walked along into the darkness, his eyes searching the floor. He was vaguely aware of the young man following him.
"Ah," Thomas said, and even in his own ears his voice sounded wrenched from him. He knelt quivering beside a thin crack in the rock. "This’ll be just about right. It’s practically against the wall, protected from falling rocks by this projecting edge of wall."
He glanced up at Bartlett. "The reason I had us camp here last night instead of farther down was because this ledge is nearly sixty feet long. The gryb is about thirty feet long from tail to snout, isn’t it?"
"Yes! "
"Well, this will give it room to come down and walk a few feet; and besides, the cave is wide enough here for us to squeeze past it when it’s dead."
"When it’s dead! " the young man echoed with a groan. "You must be the world’s prize fool—"
Thomas scarcely heard him. He was carefully inserting the handle of the knife into the crack of the rock, wedging it in. He tested it.
"Hm-m-m, it seems solid enough. But we’ll have to make doubly sure."
"Hurry! " Bartlett exclaimed. "We’ve got to get down to the next level. There’s just a chance that there is a connection somewhere below with another cave."
"There isn’t! I went down to investigate while you were sleeping. There are only two more levels after this."
"For Heaven’s sake, man, it’ll be here in a minute."
"A minute is all I need! " Thomas replied, struggling to calm his clamoring heart, to slow the convulsive gasping of his lungs. "I want to pound these slivers of rocks beside the knife to brace it."

And Thomas pounded, while Bartlett danced frantically from one foot to another in a panic of anxiety. He pounded while that scrambling from above became a roaring confusion, so near now that it was deafening. He pounded while his nerves jangled and shook from the hellish bass mewing that blasted down from the ravenous beast.
And then, with a gasp, he flung aside the piece of rock with which he had been hammering; and the two men lowered themselves recklessly over the edge—just as two great glowing eyes peered down upon them.
The firelight revealed the vague outlines of a dark, fanged mouth, a thick, twisting tongue; and then there was a scaly glitter as the monstrosity plunged downward right onto the fire.
Thomas saw no more. He let go his hold and skittered downward for nearly twenty feet before he struck bottom. For a minute he lay there, too dizzy to realize that the scrambling noise from above had stopped.
Instead there was a low grunting of pain, and then a sucking sound.
"What the dickens! " Ray Bartlett muttered.
"Wait! " Thomas whispered tensely.
They waited what must have been five minutes, then ten —half an hour. The sucking sound above was weaker. An overtone of wheezing accompanied it, and the grunts had stopped. Once there was a low, hoarse moan of agony.
"Help me up! " Thomas whispered. "I want to see how close it is to death."
"Listen," snapped Ray Bartlett, "either you’re mad or I’m going to be. For heaven’s sake, what’s it doing?"
"It smelled the blood on the knife," Thomas replied, "and began to lick it. The licking cut its tongue into ribbons, which whipped it into a frenzy, because with every lick more of its own blood would flow into its mouth. You say it loves blood. For the last half hour it’s been gorging itself on its own blood. Primitive stuff, common to all planets. Civilized men, apparently, never think of things like that."
"I guess," Ray Bartlett said in a queer voice after a long moment, "there’s nothing now to prevent us getting back to the Five Cities."
Thomas stared with narrowed eyes at the other’s vague bulk in the darkness. "Nothing, except—you! "They climbed in silence to where the gryb lay dead.
Thomas was aware of Bartlett watching him as he gingerly removed the knife from where it was wedged into the rock. Then abruptly, harshly, Bartlett said: "Give me that!"
Thomas hesitated, then handed the knife over. It was possible he would have to take the terrific risk of telling young Bartlett the truth about the whole business. For undoubtedly the younger man was once again all enemy.

Outside, the morning greeted them, bleak, yet somehow more inviting. The little red Sun was well above the horizon, and something else was in the sky, too: a huge red ball of pale fire, Jupiter the giant, sinking now toward the western horizon.
The sky, the world of Europa, was lighter, brighter; even the rocks didn’t look so dead, nor so black. A strong wind was blowing; and it added to the sense of life. The morning seemed cheerful after the black night, as if hope were once again possible.
"It’s a false hope," thought Thomas. "The Lord save me from the stubborn duty sense of an honest man. He’s going to attack."
Yet the fury of attack, when it came, surpassed his expectations. He caught the movement, the flash of the knife out of the corner of his eye—and whipped aside.
The knife caught the resisting fabric of the arm of his electrically heated suit, scraped a foot-long scar on that obstinate, half-metallic substance, and then Thomas was dancing away along a ledge of firm rock.
"You . . . silly . . . fool! " he gasped. "You don’t know what you’re doing."
"You bet I know! " Bartlett ground out. "I’ve got orders to kill you, and I’m going to in spite of your silver tongue. You’re the devil himself for talking, but now you die."
He leaped forward, knife poised, and Thomas let him come. There was a way of disarming a man with a knife, provided the man did not know the method and provided it worked the first time.
Bartlett grunted as he leaped; his free hand grabbed at Thomas, and that was all Thomas needed. Just a damned amateur who didn’t know knife fighters didn’t try for holds.
Thomas snatched at the claw-like spread of that striking hand, caught it with grim strength and jerked the young man past him with every ounce of his power. As Bartlett shot by him, propelled by his own momentum as well as by that arm-wrenching pull, Thomas twisted along with him. At the last instant he braced himself for the shock and sent the two-hundred-pound body spinning along like a top.
Frantically, Ray Bartlett fought for balance. But there was no mercy in that rough ground. Upjutting rock snagged his feet; he fell with mind-stunning violence, kicked weakly and lay still.
Thomas picked up the knife from where it had fallen.
"I’ll keep this," he said when the other’s glazed eyes began to show animation. "But what am I going to do with you? We’ve got twelve days, at least, during which I’ll be at your mercy a score of times a day. A swiftly heaved rock to smash my head, a sudden shove as we skirt some crater—"
"I’ll . . . do . . . it . . . too."
Thomas frowned. "At least, you’re honest. That makes it possible for me not to kill you, but to trust you with a secret so important that if the barest hint of it got out in advance it would shatter the greatest diplomatic stroke of the ages. But I must have your most sacred word of honor that not one word will escape you under any circumstances."
"I guess I can promise that! " Ray Bartlett said in a thick, unsteady voice; then, with more fire: "But I’ll see you in hell before I change my mind."
"You promise, nevertheless."
"Yes, I promise, but there’s nothing—"

Thomas cut him short: "There has never been a more enlightened group of men on Mars than the present government. If we hand over Europa to prove our good will to the doubters among the opposition, that government will, immediately on re-election, vote to join the Earth-Venus union. I need hardly tell you that the thing is so tremendous that it staggers the imagination. For the first time in the history of men—"
"Suppose they lose the election?"
"We can trust that crew of rabble-rousers to encroach immediately on the rights of the Europans, as defined by the agreement we will draw up. Whereupon we shall declare the agreement null and void and take over Europa."
"Bah! That means war, and you wouldn’t have the nerve."
Thomas’ steely eyes glazed unflinchingly at the younger man. "Let me tell you that I am the dominating minister in the present Earth-Venus government; and I hope I have convinced you that fear is not one of my characteristics. My colleagues and I do not fear, but hate, war. However, we are convinced that war will not be necessary. The government on Mars will win the election; and I think that you agree with me there."
Bartlett muttered: "Getting Europa handed to them on a platter ought to swing any election, I guess."
Thomas ignored his surliness, and in a voice that was queerly husky he said: "I have talked of repetition being a rule of life. But somewhere along the pathway of the Universe there must be a first time for everything, a first peaceful solution along sound sociological lines of the antagonisms of great sovereign powers.
"Some day man will reach the stars, and all the old, old problems will repeat themselves. When that day comes, we must have established sanity in the very souls of men, so firmly rooted that there will be an endless repetition of peaceful solutions."
He stood up. "Think it over, and then decide for yourself whether you’ve got the nerve to face the recriminations of your friends for letting me come in alive. There’s a dark, bitter period ahead for Europa, and the agony of your people will be heaped on your head. It’s a hard choice."
In the west, mighty Jupiter was being engulfed by the blue, dark horizon, an age-old cycle repeating. The strong wind died, and there was quiet upon that wild, fantastic land. Thomas was aware of the young man walking behind him—too aware; it made him less alert for what was ahead.
Abruptly he stumbled to the edge of a jagged black hole that fell away into sheer, dreadful depths. He hung there, teetering, frantic, over the abyss.
And then two iron-hard hands caught his shoulder, jerked him back from that desperate danger.
"Be careful, sir! " breathed the anxious voice of Ray Bartlett. "Be careful, or you’ll be killed."

2. NOT THE FIRST (1941)


Captain Harcourt wakened with a start. In the darkness he lay tense, shaking the sleep out of his mind. Something was wrong. He couldn’t quite place the discordant factor, but it trembled there on the verge of his brain, an alien thing that shattered for him the security of the spaceship.
He strained his senses against the blackness of the room—and abruptly grew aware of the intensity of that dark. The night of the room was shadow-less, a pitch-like black that lay like an opaque blanket hard on his eyeballs.
That was it. The darkness. The indirect night light must have gone off. And out here in interstellar space there would be no diffused light as there was on Earth and even within the limits of the solar system.
Still, it was odd that the lighting system should have gone on the blink on this first “night” of this first trip of the first spaceship powered by the new, stupendous atomic drive.
A sudden thought made him reach toward the light switch.
The click made a futile sound in the pressing weight of the darkness—and seemed like a signal for the footsteps that whispered hesitantly along the corridor, and paused outside his door. There was a knock, then a muffled, familiar, yet strained voice: “Harcourt!”
The urgency in the man’s tone seemed to hold connection to all the odd menace of the past few minutes. Harcourt, conscious of relief, barked, “Come in, Gunther. The door’s unlocked!”
In the darkness, he slipped from under the sheets and fumbled for his clothes—as the door opened, and the breathing of the navigation officer of the ship became a thick, satisfying sound that destroyed the last vestige of the hard silence.
“Harcourt, the damnedest thing has happened. It started when everything electrical went out of order. Compton says we’ve been accelerating for two hours now at heaven only knows what rate.”
There was no pressure on him now. The familiar presence and voice of Gunther had a calming effect; the sense of queer, mysterious things was utterly gone. Here was something into which he could figuratively sink his teeth.
Harcourt stepped matter-of-factly into his trousers and said after a moment: “I hadn’t noticed the acceleration. So used to the— Hmm, doesn’t seem more than two gravities. Nothing serious could result in two hours. As for light, they’ve got those gas lamps in the emergency room.”
For the moment it was all quite convincing. He hadn’t gone to bed till the ship’s speed was well past the velocity of light. Everybody had been curious about what would happen at that tremendous milepost—whether the Lorenz-Fitzgerald contraction theory was substance or appearance.
Nothing had happened. The test ship simply forged ahead, accelerating each second, and, just before he retired, they had estimated the speed at nearly two hundred thousand miles per second.
The complacent mood ended. He said sharply, “Did you say Compton sent you?"
Compton was chief engineer, and he was definitely not one to give way to panics of any description. Harcourt frowned. “What does Compton think?”
“Neither he nor I can understand it; and when we lost sight of the sun he thought you’d better be—”
“When you what?”
Gunther’s laugh broke humorlessly through the darkness. “Harcourt, the damned thing is so unbelievable that when Compton called me on the communicator just now he spent half the time talking to himself like an old woman of the gutter. Only he, O’Day and I know the worst yet.
“Harcourt, we’ve figured out that we’re approximately five hundred thousand light-years from Earth—and that the chance of our ever finding our sun in that swirl of suns makes searching for needles in haystacks a form of child’s play.
“We’re lost as no human being has ever been.”

In the utter darkness beside the bank of telescope eyepieces Harcourt waited and watched. Though he could not see them, he was tautly aware of the grim men who sat so quietly, peering into the night of space ahead—at the remote point of light out there that never varied a hairbreadth in its position on the crossed wires of the eyepieces. The silence was complete, and yet—
The very presence of these able men was a living, vibrating force to him who had known them intimately for so many years. The beat of their thought, the shifting of space-toughened muscles, was a sound that distorted rather than disturbed the hard tensity of the silence.
The silence shattered as Gunther spoke matter-of-factly: “There’s no doubt about it, of course. We’re going to pass through the star system ahead. An ordinary sun, I should say, a little colder than our own, but possibly half again as large, and about thirty thousand parsecs distant.”
“Go away with you,” came the gruff voice of physicist O’Day. “You can’t tell how far away it is. Where’s your triangle?”
“I don’t need any such tricks,” retorted Gunther heatedly. “I just use my God-given intelligence. You watch. We’ll be able to verify our speed when we pass through the system; and velocity multiplied by time elapsed will—”
Harcourt interjected gently, “So far as we know, Gunther, Compton hasn’t any lights yet. If he hasn’t, we won’t be able to look at our watches, so we won’t know the time elapsed; so you can’t prove anything. What is your method, if it isn’t triangulation—and it can’t be. We’re open to conviction."
Gunther said, “It’s plain common sense. Notice the cross lines on your eyepieces. The lines intersect on the point of light—and there’s not a fraction of variation or blur.
“These lenses have tested perfect according to the latest standards, but observatory astronomers back home have found that beyond one hundred fifty thousand light-years there is the beginning of distortion. Therefore I could have said a minute or so ago that we were within one hundred and fifty thousand light-years of that sun.
“But there’s more. When I first looked into the eyepiece—before I called you, Captain—the distortion was there. I’m pretty good at estimating time, and I should say it required about twelve minutes for me to get you and fumble my way back in here. When I looked then the distortion was gone. There’s an automatic device in my eyepiece for measuring degree of distortion. When I first looked, the distortion was .005, roughly equivalent to twenty-five thousand light-years. There’s another point—”
“You needn’t go on,” Harcourt interjected quietly. “You’ve proved your case.”
O’Day groaned. “That’ll be maybe twenty-four thousand light-years in twelve minutes. Two thousand a minute; that’ll be thirty light-years a second. And we’ve been sittin’ here maybe more’n twenty-five minutes since you an’ Harcourt came back. That’ll be another fifty thousand light-years, or thirty thousand parsecs between us an’ the star. You’re a good man, Gunther. But how will we ever identify the blamed thing when we come back? It would be makin’ such a fine gunsight for the return trip if we could maybe get another sight farther on, when we finally stop this runaway or—”
Harcourt cut him off grimly. “There’s just one point that you two gentlemen have neglected to take into account. It’s true we must try to stop the ship—Compton’s men are working at the engines now. But everything else is only preliminary to our main task of thinking our way back to Earth.
We shall probably find it necessary, if we live, to change our entire conception of space.
“I said—if we live! What you scientists in your zeal failed to notice was that the most delicate instruments ever invented by man, the cross-lines of this telescope, intersect directly on the approaching sun. They haven’t changed for more than thirty minutes, so we must assume the sun is following a course in space directly toward us, or away from us.
“As it is, we’re going to run squarely into a ball of fire a million miles plus in diameter. I leave the rest to your imaginations.”

The discussion that blurred on then had an unreal quality for Harcourt. The only reality was the blackness, and the great ship plunging madly down a vast pit toward its dreadful doom.
It seemed down, a diving into incredible depths at an insane velocity—and against that cosmic discordance, the voices of the men sounded queer and meaningless, intellectually, violently alive, but the effect was as of small birds fluttering furiously against the wire mesh of a trap that has sprung remorselessly around them.
“Time,” Gunther was saying, “is the only basic force. Time creates space instant by instant, and—”
“Will you be shuttin’ up,” O’Day interrupted scathingly. “You’ve had the solving of the problem of our speed, a practical job for an astronomer and navigation officer. But this’ll be different. Me bein’ the chief of the physicists aboard, I—”
“Omit the preamble!” Harcourt cut in dryly. “Our time is, to put it mildly, drastically limited.”
“Right!” O’Day’s voice came briskly out of the blackness. “Mind ya, I’m not up to offerin’ any final solutions, but here may be some answers:
“The speed of light is not, accordin’ to my present thought, one hundred eighty-six thousand three hundred miles per second. It’s more’n two hundred thousand, maybe fifty thousand more. In previous measurements, we’ve been forgettin’ the effect of the area of tensions that makes a big curve ’round any star system. We’ve known about those tensions, but never gave much thought to how much they might slow up light, the way water and glass does.
“That’s the only thing that’ll explain why nothin’ happened at the apparent speed of light, but plenty happened when we passed the real speed of light. Come to think on it, the real speed must be somethin’ less than two hundred fifty thousand, because we were goin’ slower’n that when the electric system blanked on us.”
“But man alive!” Gunther burst out before Harcourt could speak. “What at that point could have jumped our speed up to a billion times that of light?”
“When we have the solvin’ of that,” O’Day interjected grimly, “the entire universe’ll belong to us.”
“You’re wrong there,” Harcourt stated quietly. “If we solve that, we shall have the speed to go places, but there’s no conceivable science that will make it possible for us to plot a course to or from any destination beyond a few hundred light-years.
“Do not forget that our purpose, when we began this voyage, was to go to Alpha Centauri. From there we intended gradually to work out from star to star, setting up bases where possible, and slowly working out the complex problems involved.
“Theoretically, such a method of plotting space could have gone on indefinitely, though it was generally agreed that the complexity would increase out of all proportion to the extra distance involved.
“But enough of that.” His voice grew harder. “Has it occurred to either of you that even if by some miracle of wit we miss that sun, there is a possibility that this ship may plunge on forever through space at billions of times the velocity of light?
“I mean simply this: our speed jumped inconceivably when we crossed the point of light speed. But that point is now behind us. And there is no similar point ahead that we can cross. When we get our engines reversed, we face the prospect of decelerating at two gravities or a bit more for several thousand years."
“All this is aside from the fact that, at our present distance from Earth, there is nothing known that will help us find our way back.
“I’ll leave these thoughts with you. I’m going to grope my way down to Compton—our last hope!”

There was blazing light in the engine room—a string of gasoline lamps shed the blue-white intensity of their glare onto several score men. Half of the men were taking turns, a dozen at a time, in the simple task of straining at a giant wheel whose shaft disappeared at one end into the bank of monstrous drive tubes. At the other end the wheel was attached to a useless electric motor.
The wheel moved so sluggishly before the combined strength of the workers that Harcourt thought, appalled,
Good heavens, at that rate, it’ll take a day—and we’ve got forty minutes at utmost.
He saw that the other men were putting together a steam engine from parts ripped out of great packing cases. He felt better. The engine would take the place of the electric motor and—
“It’ll take half an hour!” roared a bull-like voice to one side of him. As he turned, Compton bellowed, “And don’t waste time telling me any stories about running into stars. I’ve been listening in to you fellows on this wall communicator.”
Harcourt was conscious of a start of surprise as he saw that the chief engineer was lying on the steel floor, his head propped on a curving metal projection. His heavy face looked strangely white, and when he spoke it was from clenched teeth:
“Couldn’t spare anyone to send you up some light. We’ve got a single, straightforward job down here: to stop those drivers.” He finished ironically: “When we’ve done that we’ll have about fifteen minutes to figure out what good it will do us.”
The mighty man winced as he finished speaking. For the first time Harcourt saw the bandage on his right hand. He said sharply, “You’re hurt!”
"Remind me,” replied Compton grimly, “when we get back to Earth to sock the departmental genius who put an electric lock on the door of the emergency room. I don’t know how long it took to chisel into it, but my finger got lost somewhere in the shuffle.
“It’s all right,” he added swiftly. “I’ve just now taken a ’1ocal.’ It’ll start working in half a minute and we can talk.”

Harcourt nodded stiffly. He knew the fantastic courage and endurance that trained men could show. He said casually: “How would you like some technicians, mathematicians and other such to come down here and relieve your men? There’s a whole corridor full of them out there.”
“Nope!” Compton shook his leonine head. Color was coming into his cheeks, and his voice had a clearer, less strained note as he continued: “These war horses of mine are experts. Just imagine a biologist taking a three-minute shift at putting that steam engine together. Or heaving at that big wheel without ever having been trained to synchronize his muscles to the art of pushing in unity with other men.
“But forget about that. We’ve got a practical problem ahead of us; and before we die I’d like to know what we should have done and could have done. Suppose we get the steam engine running in time—which is not certain; that’s why I put those men on the wheel even before we had light. Anyway, suppose we do, where would we be?"
“Acceleration would stop,” said Harcourt. “But our speed would be constant at something over thirty light-years per second.”
“That’s too hard to strike a sun!” Compton spoke seriously, eyes half closed. He looked up. “Or is it?”
“What do you mean?”
“Simply this: this sun is about twelve hundred thousand miles in diameter. If it were at all gaseous in structure, we could he through so fast its heat would never touch us.”
“Gunther says the star is somewhat colder than our own. That suggests greater density.”
“In that case”—Compton was almost cheerful—“at our speed, and with the hard steel of our ship, we could conceivably pass through a steel plate a couple of million miles in thickness. It’s a problem in fire power for a couple of ex-military men.”
“I’ll leave the problem for your old age,” Harcourt said. “Your attitude suggests that you see no solutions to the situation presented by the star.”
Compton stared at him for a moment, unsmiling; then, “Okay, Chief, I’ll cut out the kidding. You’re right about the star. It took fifty hours to get up to two hundred forty thousand miles per second. Then we crossed some invisible line, and for the past few hours we’ve been plumping along at, as you say, thirty miles a second.
“All right, then, say fifty-three hours that it took us to get here. Even if we eliminate that horrible idea you spawned, about it taking us thousands of years to decelerate, there still remains the certainty that—with the best of luck, that is—with simply a reversal of the conditions that brought us here, it would require not less than fifty-three hours to stop.
“Figure it out for yourself. We might as well play marbles.”

They called Gunther and O’Day. “And bring some liquor t down!” Compton roared through the communicator.
“Wait!” Harcourt prevented him from breaking the connection. He spoke quietly: “Is that you, Gunther?”
“Yep!” the navigation officer responded.
“The star’s still dead on?”
“Deader!" said the ungrammatical Gunther.
Harcourt hesitated; this was the biggest decision he had ever faced in his ten violent years as a commander of a spaceship. His face was stiff as he said finally, huskily:
“All right, then, come down here, but don’t tell anyone else what’s up. They could take it—but what’s the use? Come to Compton’s office.”
He saw that the chief engineer was staring at him strangely. Compton said at last, “So we really give up the ship?”
Harcourt gazed back at him coldly. “Remember, I’m only the coordinator around here. I’m supposed to know something of everything—but when experts tell me there’s no hope, barring miracles, naturally I refuse to run around like an animal with a blind will to live.
“Your men are slaving to get the steam engine running; two pounds of U-235 are doing their bit to heat up the steam boiler. When it’s all ready, we’ll do what we can. Is that clear?”
Compton grinned, but there was silence between them until the other men arrived. O’Day greeted them gloomily.
“There’s a couple of good friends of mine up there whom I’d like to have here now. But what the hell! Let ’em die in peace, says Harcourt; and right he is.”
Gunther poured the dark, glowing liquid, and Harcourt watched the glasses tilt, finally raised his own. He wondered if the others found the stuff as smooth and tasteless as he did. He lowered his glass and said softly:
“Atomic power! So this is the end of man’s first interstellar flight. There’ll be others, of course, and the law of averages will protect them from running into suns; and they’ll get their steam engines going, and their drives reversed; and if this process does reverse itself, then within a given time they’ll stop—and then they’ll be where we thought we were: facing the problem of finding their way back to Earth. It looks to me as if man is stymied by the sheer vastness of the universe.”
“Don’t be such a damned pessimist!” said Compton, his face flushed from his second glass “I’ll wager they’ll have the drivers of the third test ship reversed within ten minutes of crossing that light speed deadline. That means they’ll only be a few thousand light-years from Earth. Taking it in little jumps like that, they’ll never get lost.”
Harcourt saw O’Day look up from his glass; the physicist’s lips parted—and Harcourt allowed his own words to remain unspoken. O’Day said soberly:
“I’m thinkin’ we’ve been puttin’ too much blame on speed and speed alone in this thing. Sure there’s no magic about the speed of light. I didn’t ever see that before, but it’s there plain now. The speed of light depends on the properties of light, and that goes for electricity and radio an’ all those related waves.
“Let’s be keepin’ that in mind. Light an’ such react on space, an’ are held down by nothin’ but their own limitations. An’ there’s only one new thing we’ve got that could’ve put us out here, beyond the speed of light; an’ that’s—”
Atomic energy!” It was Compton, his normally strong voice amazingly low and tense. “O’Day, you’re a genius. Light lacks the energy attributes necessary to break the bonds that hold it leashed. But atomic energy—the reaction of atomic energy on the fabric of space itself—”
Gunther broke in eagerly: “There must be rigid laws. For decades men dreamed of atomic energy, and finally it came, differently than they expected. For centuries after the first spaceship roared crudely to the moon, there has been the dream of the inertia-less drive; and here, somewhat differently than we pictured it, is that dream come alive.”
There was brief silence, Then, once again before Harcourt could speak, there was an interruption. The door burst open—a man poked his head around the corner.
“Steam engine’s ready! Shall we start her up?”
There was a gasp from every man in that room—except Harcourt. He leaped erect before the heavier Compton could more than shuffle his feet; he snapped: “Sit down, Compton!”
His gray gaze flicked with flame-like intensity from face to face. His lean body was taut as stone as /he said, “No, the steam engine does not go on!"
He glanced steadily but swiftly at his wrist watch. He said, “According to Gunther’s calculations, we’re still twenty minutes from the star. During seventeen of those minutes we’re going to sit here and prepare a logical plan for using the forces we have available.”
Turning to the mechanic, he finished quietly: "Tell the boys to relax, Blake."

The men were staring at him; and it was odd to notice that each of the three had become abnormally stiff in posture, their eyes narrowed to pinpoints, hands clenched, cheeks pale. It was not as if they had not been tense a minute before. But now—"
By comparison, their condition then seemed as if it could have been nothing less than easygoing resignation.
For a long moment the silence in the cozy little room, with its library, its chairs and shining oak desk and metal cabinets, was complete. Finally Compton laughed, a curt, tense, humor-less laugh that showed the enormousness of the strain he was under. Even Harcourt jumped at that hard, ugly, explosive jolt of laughter.
“You false alarm!” said Compton. “So you gave up the ship, eh?“
“My problem,” Harcourt said coolly, “was this: we needed original thinking. And new ideas are never born under ultimate strain. In the last twenty minutes, when we seemed to have given up, your minds actually relaxed to a very great extent.
And the idea came! It may be worthless, but it’s what we’ve got to work on. There’s no time to look further.
"And now, with O’Day’s idea, we’re back to the strain of hope. I need hardly tell you that, once an idea exists, trained men can develop it immeasurably faster under pressure.”
Once more his gaze flicked from face to face. Color was coming back to their faces; they were recovering from the tremendous shock. He finished swiftly: “One more thing: you may have wondered why I didn’t invite the others into this. Reason: twenty men only confuse an issue in twenty minutes. It’s we four here, or death for all. Gunther, regardless of the time it will take, we must have recapitulation, a clarification—quick!”
Gunther began roughly: “All right. We crossed the point of light speed. Several things happened: our velocity jumped to a billion or so times that of light. Our electric system went on the blink—there’s something to explain.”
“Go on!” urged Harcourt. “Twelve minutes left!
"Our new speed is due to the reaction of atomic energy on the fabric of space. This reaction did not begin till we had crossed the point of light speed, indicating some connection, possibly a natural, restraining influence of the world of matter and energy as we knew it, on this vaster, potentially cataclysmic force.”
Eleven minutes!” said Harcourt coldly.
Greater streams of sweat were pouring down Gunther’s dark face. He finished jerkily: “Apparently our acceleration continued at two gravities. Our problems are: to stop the ship immediately and to find our way back to Earth.”
He slumped back in his chair like a man who has suddenly become deathly sick. Harcourt snapped: “Compton, what happened to the electricity?”

“The batteries drained of power in about three minutes!” the big man rumbled hoarsely. “That happens to be approximately the theoretically minimum time, given an ultimate demand, and opposed only by the cable resistance. Somewhere it must have jumped to an easy conductor—but where did it go? Don’t ask me!”
“I’m thinkin’,” said O’Day, his voice strangely flat, “I’m thinkin’ it went home.
“Wait!" The flat, steely twang of the word silenced both Harcourt and the astounded Compton. “Time for talkin’ is over. Harcourt, you’ll be enforcin’ my orders.”
“Give them!” barked the captain. His body felt like a cake of ice, his brain like a red-hot poker.
O’Day turned to Compton. “Now get this, you blasted engineer: turn off them drivers ninety-five percent! One inch farther and I’l1 blow your brains out!"
“How the devil am I going to know what the percent is?” Compton said freezingly. “Those are engines, not delicately adjusted laboratory instruments. Why not shut them off all the way?”
“You damned idiot!" O’Day shouted furiously. “That’ll cut us off out here an’ we’ll be lost forever. Get movin’”
Beet-like flame thickened along Compton’s bull neck. The two men glared at each other like two animals out of a cage, where they have been tortured, ready to destroy each other in distorted revenge.
“Compton!” said Harcourt, and he was amazed at the way his voice quavered. “Seven minutes!
Without a word, the chief engineer flung about, jerked open the door and plunged out of sight. He was bellowing some gibberish at his men, but Harcourt couldn’t make out a single sentence.
“There’ll be a point,” O’Day was mumbling beside him, “there’ll be a point where the reaction’ll be minimum—but still there—and we’ll have everything—but let’s get out into the engine room before that scoundrel Compton—”
His voice trailed off. He would have stood there blankly if Harcourt hadn’t taken him gently and shoved his unsteady form through the door.

The steam engine was hissing with soft power. As Harcourt watched, Compton threw the clutch. The shining piston rod jerked into life, shuddered as it took the terrific load; and then the great wheel began to move.
For hours, men had sweated and strained in relays to make that wheel turn. Each turn, Harcourt knew, widened by a microscopic fraction of an inch the space separating the hard energy blocks in each drive tube, where the fury of atomic power was born. Each fraction of widening broke that fury by an infinitesimal degree.
The wheel spun sluggishly, ten revolutions a minute, twenty, thirty—a hundred—and that was top speed for that wheel with that power to drive it.
The seconds fled like sleet before a driving wind. The engine puffed and labored, and clacked in joints that had not been sufficiently tightened during the rush job of putting it together. It was the only sound in that great domed room.
Harcourt glanced at his watch. Four minutes. He smiled bleakly. Actually, of course, Gunther’s estimate might be out many minutes. Actually, any second could bring the intolerable pain of instantaneous, flaming death.
He made no attempt to pass on the knowledge of the time limit. Already he had driven these men to the danger point of human sanity. The violence of their rages a few minutes before were red-flare indicators of abnormal mental abysses ahead. There was nothing to do now but wait.
Beside him, O’Day snarled: “Compton—-I’m warnin’ ya.”
“Okay, okay!" Compton barked sulkily.
Almost pettishly, he pulled the clutch free—and the wheel stopped. There was no momentum. It just stopped.
“Keep jerkin’ it in an’ out now!" O’Day commanded. “An’ stop when I tell ya!" The point of reaction must be close.”
In, out; in, out. It was hard on the engine. The machine labored with a noisy, shuddering clamor. It was harder on the men. They stood like figures of stone. Harcourt glanced stiffly at his watch.
Two minutes!
In, out; in out; in—went the clutch, rhythmically now. Somewhere there was a point where atomic energy would cease to create a full tension in space, but there would still be connection. That much of O’Day’s words were clear. And—

Abruptly the ship staggered, as if it had been struck. It was not a physical blow, for they were not sent reeling off their feet. But Harcourt, who knew the effect of titanic energies, waited for the first shock of inconceivable heat to sear him. Instead—
Now!” came the shrill beat of O’Day’s voice.
Out jerked the clutch in its rhythmical backward and forward movement. The great space liner poised for the space of a heartbeat. The thought came to Harcourt:
Good heavens, we can’t have stopped completely. There must be momentum!
In went that rhythmically manipulated clutch. The ship reeled; and Compton turned. His eyes were glassy, his face twisted with sudden pain.
“Huh!” he said. “What did you say, O’Day? I bumped my finger and—”
“You be-damned idiot!" O’Day almost whispered. “You—”
His words twisted queerly into meaningless sounds. And, for Harcourt a strange blur settled over the scene. He had the fantastic impression that Compton had returned to his automatic manipulation of the clutch; and, insanely, the wheel and the steam engine had reversed.
A period of almost blank confusion passed; and then, incredibly, he was walking backward into Compton’s office, leading an unsteady, backward-walking O’Day. Suddenly there were Compton, Gunther, O’Day and himself sitting around the desk; and senseless words chattered from their lips.
They lifted glasses to their mouths; and, horribly, the liquor flowed from their lips and filled the glasses.
Then he was walking backward again; and there was Compton lying on the engine-room floor, nursing his shattered finger—and then he was back in the dark navigation room, peering through a telescope eyepiece at a remote star.
The jumble of voice sounds came again and again through the blur—finally he lay asleep in bed.
Asleep? Some part of his brain was awake, untouched by this incredible reversal of physical and mental actions. And as he lay there, slow thoughts came to that aloof, watchful part of his mind.
The electricity had, of course, gone home. Literally. And so were they going home. Just how far the madness would carry on, whether it would end at the point of light speed, only time would tell, And obviously, when flights like this were everyday occurrences, passengers and crew would spend the entire journey in bed.
Everything reversed. Atomic energy had created an initial tension in space, and somehow space demanded an inexorable recompense. Action and reaction were equal and opposite. Something was transmitted, and then an exact balance was made. O’Day had quite evidently thought that at the point of change, of reaction, an artificial stability could be created, enabling the ship to remain indefinitely at its remote destination and—

Blackness surged over his thought. He opened his eyes with a start. Somewhere in the back of his brain was a conviction of something wrong. He couldn’t quite place the discordant factor, but it quivered there on the verge of his brain, an alien thing that shattered for him the security of the spaceship.
He strained his senses against the blackness—and abruptly grew aware of the intensity of that dark. That was it! The darkness! The indirect night light must have gone off.
Odd that the light system should have gone on the blink on this first “night” of this first trip of the first spaceship powered by the new, stupendous atomic drive.
Footsteps whispered hesitantly along the corridor. There was a knock, and the voice of Gunther came, strained and muffled. The man entered; and his breathing was a thick, satisfying sound that destroyed the last vestige of the hard silence. Gunther said:
“Harcourt, the damnedest thing has happened. It started when everything electrical went out of order. Compton says we’ve been accelerating for two hours now at heaven only knows what rate.”
For the multi-billionth time, as it had for uncountable years, the inescapable cosmic farce began to rewind, like a film held over!

3. THE SEESAW (1941)

MAGICIAN BELIEVED TO HAVE HYPNOTIZED CROWD!

June 11, 1941—Police and newspaper­men believe that Middle City will shortly be advertised as the next stopping place of a master magician, and they are prepared to extend him a hearty welcome if he will condescend to explain exactly how he fooled hundreds of people into believing they saw a strange building, apparently a kind of gunshop.
The building appeared to appear on the space formerly, and still, occupied by Aunt Sally’s Lunch and Patterson Tailors. Only employees were inside the two aforemen­tioned shops, and none noticed any unto­ward event. A large, brightly shining sign featured the front of the gunshop, which had been so miraculously conjured out of nothingness; and the sign constituted the first evidence that the entire scene was nothing but a masterly illusion. For from whichever angle one gazed at it, one seemed to be staring straight at the words, which read:

FINE WEAPONS
THE RIGHT TO BUY WEAPONS IS THE RIGHT TO BE FREE

The window display was made up of an assortment of rather curiously shaped guns, rifles as well as small arms; and a glowing sign in the window stated:

THE FINEST ENERGY WEAPONS IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE

Inspector Clayton of the Investigation Branch, attempted to enter the shop, but the door seemed to be locked; a few mo­ments later, C. J. (Chris) McAllister, re­porter of the Gazette-Bulletin, tried the door, found that it opened, and entered.
Inspector Clayton attempted to follow him, but discovered that the door was again locked. McAllister emerged after some time, and was seen to be in a dazed condition. All memory of the action had apparently been hypnotized out of him, for he could make no answer to the questions of the police and spectators.
Simultaneous with his reappearance, the strange building vanished as abruptly as it had appeared.
Police state they are baffled as to how the master Magician created so detailed an illusion for so long a period before so large a crowd. They are prepared to recommend his show, when it comes, without reserva­tion.

Author’s Note: The foregoing account did not mention that the police, dissatisfied with the affair, attempted to contact Mc­Allister for a further interview, but were unable to locate him. Weeks passed; and he was still not to be found.
Herewith follows the story of what hap­pened to McAllister from the instant that he found the door of the gunshop unlocked:

THERE was a curious quality about the gunshop door. It was not so much that it opened at his first touch as that, when he pulled, it came away like a weightless thing. For a bare instant, McAllister bad the impres­sion that the knob had freed itself into his palm.
He stood quite still, startled. The thought that came finally had to do with Inspector Clayton, who a minute earlier, had found the door locked.
The thought was like a signal. From behind him boomed the voice of the inspector:
"Ah, McAllister, I’ll handle this now."
It was dark inside the shop beyond the door, too dark to see anything, and, somehow, his eyes wouldn’t accustom themselves to the intense gloom—
Pure reporter’s instinct made him step forward toward the blackness that pressed from beyond the rectangle of door. Out of the corner of one eye, he saw Inspector Clayton’s hand reaching for the door handle that his own fingers had let go a moment before; and quite simply he knew that if the police officer could pre­vent it, no reporter would get inside that building.
His head was still turned, his gaze more on the police inspector than on the darkness in front; and it was as he began another step forward that the remarkable thing happened.
The door handle would not allow Inspector Clayton to touch it. It twisted in some queer way, in some energy way, for it was still there, a strange, blurred shape. The door itself, without visible movement, so swift it was, was suddenly touching McAllister’s heel.
Light almost weightless was that touch; and then, before he could think or react to what had happened, the momentum of his forward move­ment had carried him inside.
As he breasted the darkness, there was a sudden, enormous tensing along his nerves. Then the door shut tight, the brief, incredible agony faded. Ahead was a brightly lit shop; behind—were unbelievable things!

FOR MCALLISTER, the moment that followed was one of blank im­pression. He stood, body twisted awkwardly, only vaguely conscious of the shop’s interior, but tremen­dously aware in the brief moment before he was interrupted, of what lay beyond the transparent panels of the door through which he had just come.
There was no unyielding blackness anywhere, no Inspector Clayton, no muttering crowd of gaping spec­tators, no dingy row of shops across the way.
It wasn’t even remotely the same street. There was no street.
Instead, a peaceful park spread there. Beyond it, brilliant under a noon sun, glowed a city of minarets and stately towers—
From behind him, a husky, musical, woman’s voice said:
"You will be wanting a gun?"
McAllister turned. It wasn’t that he was ready to stop feasting his eyes on the vision of the city. The move­ment was automatic reaction to a sound. And because the whole affair was still like a dream, the city scene faded almost instantly; his mind focused on the young woman who was advancing slowly from the rear section of the store.
Briefly, his thought wouldn’t come clear. A conviction that he ought to say something was tangled with first impressions of the girl’s appearance. She had a slender, well-shaped body; her face was creased into a pleasant smile: She had brown eyes, neat, wavy, brown hair. Her simple frock and sandals seemed so normal at first glance that he gave them no further thought. He was able to say:
"What I can’t understand is why the police officer, who tried to fol­low me, couldn’t get in? And where is he now?"
To his surprise, the girl’s smile be­came faintly apologetic: "We know that people consider it silly of us to keep harping on that ancient feud."
Her voice grew firmer: "We even know how clever the propaganda is that stresses the silliness of our stand. Meanwhile, we never allow any of her men in here. We con­tinue to take our principles very seriously."
She paused as if she expected dawning comprehension from him, but McAllister saw from the slow puzzlement creeping into her eyes that his face must look as limp as were the thoughts behind it.
Her men! The girl had spoken the words as if she was referring to some personage, and in direct reply to his use of the word, police officer. That meant her men, whoever she was, were policemen; and they weren’t al­lowed in this gunshop. So the door was hostile, and wouldn’t admit them.

A STRANGE emptiness struck into McAllister’s mind, matching the hollowness that was beginning to afflict the pit of his stomach, a sense of unplumbed depths, the first, staggering conviction that all was not as it should be. The girl was speaking in a sharper tone:
"You mean you know nothing of all this, that for generations the Gunmaker’s Guild has existed in this age of devastating energies as the com­mon man’s only protection against enslavement. The right to buy guns—"
She stopped again, her narrowed eyes searching him; then: "Come to think of it, there’s something very illogical about you. Your outlandish clothes—you’re not from the north­ern farm plains, are you?"
He shook his head dumbly, more annoyed with his reactions every passing second. But he couldn’t help it. A tightness was growing in him, becoming more unbearable instant by instant, as if somewhere a vital mainspring was being wound to the breaking point.
The young woman went on more swiftly: "And come to think of it, it is astounding that a policeman should have tried the door, and there was no alarm."
Her hand moved; metal flashed in it, metal as bright as steel in blinding sunlight. There was not the faintest hint of the apologetic in her voice as she said:
"You will stay where you are, sir, till I have called my father. In our business, with our responsibility, we never take chances. Something is very wrong here."
Curiously, it was at that point that McAllister’s mind began to function clearly; the thought that came paral­leled hers: How had this gunshop appeared on a 1941 street? How had he come here into this fantastic world?
Something was very wrong indeed!

IT WAS the gun that held his at­tention. A tiny thing it was, shaped like a pistol, but with three cubes projecting in a little half circle from the top of the slightly bulbous firing chamber.
And as he stared, his mind began to quiver on its base; for that wicked little instrument, glittering there in her browned fingers, was as real as she herself.
"Good Heaven!" he whispered. "What the devil kind of gun is it. Lower that thing and let’s try to find out what all this is about.
She seemed not to be listening; and abruptly he noticed that her gaze was flicking to a point on the wall somewhat to his left. He fol­lowed her look—in time to see seven miniature white lights flash on.
Curious lights! Briefly, he was fascinated by the play of light and shade, the waxing and waning from one tiny globe to the next, a rippling movement of infinitesimal incre­ments and decrements, an incredibly delicate effect of instantaneous reac­tion to some supersensitive barom­eter.
The lights steadied; his gaze re­verted to the girl. To his surprise, she was putting away her gun. She must have noticed his expression.
"It’s all right," she said coolly. "The automatics are on you now. If we’re wrong about you, well be glad to apologize. Meanwhile, if you’re still interested in buying a gun, I’ll be happy to demonstrate."
So the automatics were on him, McAllister thought ironically. He felt no relief at the information. Whatever the automatics were, they wouldn’t be working in his favor; and the fact that the young woman could put away her gun, in spite of her suspicions, spoke volumes for the efficiency of the new watchdogs.
There was absolutely nothing he could do but play out this increas­ingly grim and inexplicable farce. Either he was mad, or else he was no longer on Earth, at least not the Earth of 1941—which was utter nonsense.
He’d have to get out of this place, of course. Meanwhile, the girl was assuming that a man who came into a gunshop would, under ordinary circumstances, want to buy a gun.

IT STRUCK him, suddenly, that, of all the things he could think of, what he most wanted to see was one of those strange guns. There were im­plications of incredible things in the very shape of the instruments. Aloud he said:
"Yes, by all means show me."
Another thought occurred to him. He added: "I have no doubt your father is somewhere in the back­ground making some sort of study of me."
The young woman made no move to lead him anywhere. Her eyes were dark pools of puzzlement, staring at him.
"You may not realize it," she said finally, slowly, "but you have al­ready upset our entire establishment. The lights of the automatics should have gone on the moment father pressed the buttons, as he did when I called to him. They didn’t! That’s unnatural, that’s alien.
"And yet"—her frown deepened—"if you were one of them, how did you get through that door? Is it possible that her scientists have dis­covered human beings who do not af­fect the sensitive energies? And that you are but one of many such, sent as an experiment to determine whether or not entrance could be gained?
"Yet that doesn’t make logic, either.
"If they had even a hope of suc­cess, they would not risk so lightly the chance of an overwhelming sur­prise. Instead you would be the en­tering wedge of an attack on a vast scale. She is ruthless, she’s brilliant; and she craves all power during bet lifetime over poor saps like you who have no more sense than to worship her amazing beauty and the splendor of the Imperial Court."
The young woman paused, with the faintest of smiles. "There I go again, off on a political speech. But you can see that there are at least a few reasons why we should be careful about you."
There was a chair over in one cor­ner; McAllister started for it. His mind was calmer, cooler.
"Look," he began, "I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t even know how I came to be in this shop. I agree with you that the whole thing requires explanation, but I mean that differently than you do. In fact—"
His voice trailed. He had been half lowered over the chair, but in­stead of sinking into it, he came erect like an old, old man. His eyes fixed on lettering that shone above a glass case of guns behind her. He said hoarsely:
"Is that—a calendar?"
She followed his gaze, puzzled: "Yes, it’s June 3rd. What’s wrong?"
"I don’t mean that. I mean—" He caught himself with a horrible effort. "I mean those figures above that. I mean—what year is this?"
The girl looked surprised. She started to say something, then stopped and backed away. Finally: "Don’t look like that! There’s noth­ing wrong. This is eighty-four of the four thousand seven hundredth year of the Imperial House of the Isher. It’s quite all right."

THERE WAS no real feeling in him. Quite deliberately, he sat down, and the conscious wonder came: exactly how should he feel?
Not even surprise came to his aid. Quite simply, the whole pattern of events began to make a sort of distorted logic.
The building front superimposed on those two 1941 shops; the way the door had acted; the great exterior sign with its odd linking of freedom with the right to buy weapons; the actual display of weapons in the window, the finest energy weapons in the known universe!
He grew aware that minutes had passed while he sat there in slow, dumb thought. And that the girl was talking earnestly with a tall, gray-haired man who was standing on the open threshold of the door through which she had originally come.
There was an odd, straining tense­ness in the way they were talking. Their low-spoken words made a curious blur of sound in his ears, strangely unsettling in effect—Mc­Allister could not quite analyze the meaning of it until the girl turned; and, in a voice dark with urgency, said:
"Mr. McAllister, my father wants to know what year you’re from!"
Briefly, the sense of the sentence was overshadowed by that stark urgency; then:
"Huh!" said McAllister. "Do you mean that you’re responsible for—And how the devil did you know my name?"
The older man shook his head. "No, we’re not responsible." His voice quickened, but lost none of its gravity. "There’s no time to ex­plain. What has happened is what we gunmakers have feared for gen­erations: that sooner or later would come one who lusted for unlimited power; and who, to attain tyranny, must necessarily seek first to de­stroy us.
"Your presence here is a manifes­tation of the energy force that she has turned against us—something so new that we did not even suspect it was being used against us. But now —I have no time to waste. Get all the information you can, Lystra, and warn him of his own personal danger."
The man turned. The door closed noiselessly behind his tall figure.

MCALLISTER asked: "What did he mean—personal danger?"
He saw the girl’s brown eyes were uneasy as they rested on him.
"It’s hard to explain," she began in an uncomfortable voice. "First of all, come to the window, and I’ll try to make everything clear. It’s all very confusing to you, I suppose."
McAllister drew a, deep breath. "Now, we’re getting somewhere."
His alarm was gone. The older man seemed to know what it was all about; that meant there should be no difficulty getting home again. As for all this danger to the gun-makers guild, that was their worry, not his. Meanwhile—
He stepped forward, closer to the girl. To his amazement, she cringed away as if he had struck at her.
As he stared blankly, she turned, and laughed a humorless, uncertain laugh; finally she breathed:
"Don’t think I’m being silly, don’t be offended—but for your life’s sake, don’t touch any human body you might come into contact with."
McAllister was conscious of a chill. It struck him with a sudden, sharp dismay that the expression of un­easiness in the girl’s face was—fear!
His own fear fled before a wave of impatience. He controlled himself with an effort.
"Now, look," he began. "I want to get things clear. We can talk here without danger, providing I don’t touch you, or come near you. Is that straight?"
She nodded. "The floor, the walls, every piece of furniture, in fact the entire shop is made of perfect non­conducting material."
McAllister had a. sudden sense of being balanced on a tight rope over a bottomless abyss. The way this girl could imply danger without making clear what the danger was, almost petrified him.
He forced calm into his mind. "Let’s start," he said, "at the begin­ning. How did you and your father know my name, and that I was not of"—he paused before the odd phrase, then went on—"of this time?"
"Father X-rayed you," the girl said, her voice as stiff as her body. "He X-rayed the contents of your pockets. That was how he first found out what was the matter. You see, the X-rays themselves became car­riers of the energy with which you’re charged. That’s what was the mat­ter; that’s why the automatics wouldn’t focus on you, and—"
"Just a minute!" said McAllister. His brain was a spinning world. "Energy—charged?"
The girl was stating at him. "Don’t you understand?" she gasped. "You’ve come across five thousand years of time; and of all the energies in the universe, time is the most potent. You’re charged with tril­lions of trillions of time-energy units. If you should step outside this shop, you’d blow up this city of the Isher and half a hundred miles of land beyond.
"You"—she finished on an un­steady, upward surge of her voice—"you could conceivably destroy the Earth!"

HE HADN’T NOTICED the mirror be­fore; funny, too, because it was large enough, at least eight feet high, and directly in front of him on the wall where, a minute before—he could have sworn—had been solid metal.
"Look at yourself," the girl was saying soothingly. "There’s noth­ing so steadying as one’s own image. Actually, your body is taking the mental shock very well."
It was! He stared in dimly gath­ering surprise at his image. There was a paleness in the lean face that stared back at him; but the body was not actually shaking as the whirling in his mind had suggested.
He grew aware again of the girl. She was standing with a finger on one of a series of wall switches. Ab­ruptly, he felt better.
"Thank you," he said quietly. "I certainly needed that."
She smiled encouragingly; and he was able now to be amazed at her conflicting personality. There had been on the one hand her complete inability a few minutes earlier to get to the point of his danger, a distinct incapacity for explaining things with words; yet obviously her action with the mirror showed a keen understanding of human psychology. He said:
"The problem now is, front your point of view, to circumvent this—Isher—woman, and to get me back to 1941 before I blow up the Earth of of whatever year this is."
The girl nodded. "Father says that you can be sent back, but—as for the rest: watch!"
He had no time for relief at the knowledge that he could be returned to his own time. She pressed another button. Instantly, the mirror was gone into metallic wall. Another button clicked—and the wall vanished.
Literally vanished. Before him stretched a park similar to the one he had already seen through the front door—obviously an extension of the same, garden-like vista. Trees were there, and flowers, and green, green grass in the sun.
Them was also the city again, nearer from this side, but not so pretty, immeasurably grimmer.
One vast building, as high as it was long, massively dark against the sky, dominated the entire horizon. It was a good quarter mile away; and incredibly it was at least that long and that high.
Neither near that monstrous building, nor in the park was a living per­son visible. Everywhere was evi­dence of man’s dynamic labor—but no men, not a movement; even the trees stood motionless in that strangely breathless sunlit day.
"Watch!" said the girl again, more softly.
There was no click this time. She made an adjustment on one of the buttons; and suddenly the view was no longer so clear. It wasn’t that the sun had dimmed its bright intensity. It wasn’t even that glass was visible where a moment before there had been nothing.
There was still no apparent substance between them and that gem-like park. But—
The park was no longer deserted!
Scores of men and machines swarmed out there. McAllister stared in frank amazement; and then as the sense of illusion faded, and the dark menace of those men pene­trated, his emotion changed to dismay.
"Why," he said at last, "those men are soldiers, and the machines are—"
"Energy guns!" she said. "That’s always been their problem: how to get their weapons close enough to our shops to destroy us. It isn’t that the guns are not powerful over a very great distance. Even the rifles we sell can kill unprotected life over a distance of Miles; but our gunshops are so heavily. fortified that, to destroy us, they must use their biggest cannon at point-blank range.
"In the past, they could never do that because we own the surround­ing park; and our alarm system was perfect—until now. The new energy they’re using affects none of our pro­tective instruments; and—what is infinitely worse—affords them a per­fect shield against our own guns. Invisibility, of course, has long been known; but if you hadn’t come, we would have been destroyed without ever knowing what happened."
"But," McAllister exclaimed sharply, "what are you going to do? They’re still out there, working—"
Her brown eyes burned with a fierce, yellow flame. "Where do you think father is?" she asked. "He’s warned the Guild; and every member has now discovered that similar invisible guns are being set up outside his place by invisible men. Every member is working at top speed for some solution. They haven’t found it yet."
She finished quietly: "I thought I’d tell you."
McAllister cleared his throat, parted his lips to speak—then closed them as he realized that no words were even near his lips. Fascinated he watched the soldiers connecting what must have been invisible cables that led to the vast building in the background: foot-thick cables that told of the titanic power that was to be unleashed on the tiny weapon shop,
There was actually nothing to be said. The deadly reality out there overshadowed all conceivable sen­tences and phrases. Of all the peo­ple here, he was the most useless, his opinion the least worth while.
Oddly, he must have spoken aloud, but he did not realize that until the familiar voice of the girl’s father came from one side of him. The older man said:
"You’re quite mistaken, McAl­lister. Of all the people here you are the most valuable. Through you, we discovered that the Isher were actually attacking us. Further­more, our enemies do not know of your existence, therefore have not yet realized the full effect produced by the new blanketing energy they have used.
"You, accordingly, constitute the unknown factor—our only hope, for the time left to us is incredibly short. Unless we can make immediate use of the unknown quantity you represent, all is lost!"
The man looked older, McAllister thought; there were lines of strain in his lean, sallow face as he turned toward his daughter; and his voice, when he spoke, was edged with harshness:
"Lystra, No. 7!"
As the girl’s fingers touched the seventh button, her father explained swiftly to McAllister:
"The Guild supreme council is holding an immediate emergency session. We must choose the most likely method of attacking the prob­lem, and concentrate individually and collectively on that method. Regional conversations are already in progress, but only one important idea has been put forward as yet and . . . ah, gentlemen!"
He spoke past McAllister, who turned with a start, then froze.
Men were coming out of the solid wall, lightly, easily, as if it were a door, and they were stepping across a threshold. One, two, three—twelve.
They were grim-faced men, all ex­cept one who glanced at McAllister, started to walk past, then stopped with a half-amused smile.
"Don’t look so blank. How else do you think we could have survived these many years if we hadn’t been able to transmit material objects through space? The Isher police have always been only too eager to block­ade our sources of supply. Incidentally, my name is Cadron—Peter Cadron!"
McAllister nodded in a perfunc­tory manner. He was no longer genuinely impressed by the new machines. Here were the end-products of the machine age; science and invention so stupendously ad­vanced that men made scarcely a move that did not affect, or was affected by, a machine. He grew aware that a heavy-faced man near him was about to speak. The man began:
"We have gathered here because it is obvious that the source of the new energy is the great building just outside this shop—"
He motioned toward the wall where the mirror had been a few minutes previously, and the window through which McAllister had gazed at the monstrous structure in question. The speaker went on:
"We’ve known, ever since that building was completed five years ago, that it was a power building aimed against us; and now from it new energy has flown out to en­gulf the world, immensely potent energy, so strong that it broke the very tensions of time, fortunately only at this nearest gunshop. Ap­parently, it weakens when trans­mitted over distance. It—"
"Look, Dresley!" came a curt in­terruption from a small, thin man, "what good is all this preamble? You have been examining the various plans put forward by regional groups. Is there, or isn’t there, a decent one among them?"
Dresley hesitated. To McAllis­ter’s surprise, the man’s eyes fixed doubtfully on him, his heavy face worked for a moment, then hard­ened.
"Yes, there is a method, but it depends on compelling our friend from the past to take a great risk. You all know what I’m referring to.
It will gain us the time we need so desperately."
"Eh!" said McAllister, and stood stunned as all eyes turned to stare at him.

THE SECONDS. fled; and it struck McAllister that what he really needed again was the mirror—to prove to him that his body was put­ting up a good front. Something, he thought, something to steady him.
His gaze flicked over the faces of the men. The gunmakers made a curious, confusing pattern in the way they sat, qr stood, or leaned against glass cases of shining guns; and there seemed to be fewer than he had pre­viously counted. One, two—ten, including the girl. He could have sworn there had been fourteen.
His eyes moved on, just in time to see the door of the back room closing. Four of the men had obviously gone to the laboratory or whatever lay beyond that door. Satisfied, he for­got them.
Still, he felt unsettled; and briefly his eyes were held by the purely mechanical wonder of this shop, here in this vastly future world, a shop that was an intricate machine in itself and—
He discovered that he was lighting a cigarette; and abruptly realized that that was what he needed most. The first puff tingled deliciously along his nerves. His mind grew calm; his eyes played thoughtfully over the faces before him. He said:
"I can’t understand how any one of you could even think of compul­sion. According to you, I’m loaded with energy. I may be wrong, but if any of you should try to thrust me back down the chute of time, or even touch me, that energy in me would do devastating things—"
"You’re damned right!" chimed in a young man. He barked irritably at Dresley: "How the devil did you ever come to make such a psycho­logical blunder? You know that McAllister will have to do as we want, to save himself; and he’ll have to do it fast!"
Dresley grunted under the sharp attack. "Hell," he said, "the truth is we have no time to waste, and I just figured there wasn’t time to ex­plain, and that he might scare easily. I see, however, that we’re dealing with an intelligent man."
McAllister’s eyes narrowed over the group. There was something phony here. They were talking too much, wasting the very time they needed, as if they were marking time, waiting for something to happen. He said sharply:
"And don’t give me any soft soap about being intelligent. You fellows are sweating blood. You’d shoot your own grandmothers and trick me into the bargain, because the world you think right is at stake. What’s this plan of yours that you were going to compel me to participate in?"
It was the young man who re­plied: "You are to be given insu­lated clothes and sent back into your own time—"
He paused. McAllister said: "That sounds O. K., so far. What’s the catch?"
"There is no catch!"
McAllister stared. "Now, look here," he began, "don’t give me any of that. If it’s as simple as that, how the devil am I going to be help­ing you against the Isher energy?"
The young man scowled blackly at Dresley: "You see," he said to the other, "you’ve made him suspi­cious with that talk of yours about compulsion."
He faced McAllister. "What we have in mind is an application of a sort of an energy lever and fulcrum principle. You are to be ’weight’ at the long end of a kind of energy ’crowbar,’ which lifts the greater ’weight’ at the short end. You will go back five thousand years in time; the machine in the great building to which your body is tuned, and which has caused all this trouble, will move ahead in time about two weeks."
"In that way," interrupted an­other man before McAllister could speak, "we shall have time to find a counter agent. There must be a so­lution, else our enemies would not have acted so secretly. Well, what do you think?".
McAllister walked slowly over to the chair that he had occupied pre­viously. His mind was turning at furious speed, but he knew with a grim foreboding that he hadn’t a fraction of the technical knowledge necessary to safeguard his interest. He said slowly:
"As I see it, this is supposed to work something like a pump handle. The lever principle, the old idea that if you had a lever long enough, and a suitable fulcrum, you could move the Earth out of its orbit."
"Exactly!" It was the heavy-faced Dresley who spoke. "Only this works in time. You go five thousand years, the building goes a few wee—"
His voice faded, his eagerness drained from him as he caught the expression in McAllister’s face.
"Look!" said McAllister, "there’s nothing more pitiful than a bunch of honest men engaged in their first act of dishonesty. You’re strong men, the intellectual type, who’ve spent your lives enforcing an idealistic conception. You’ve always told yourself that if the occasion should ever require it, you would not hesi­tate to make drastic sacrifices. But you’re not fooling anybody. What’s the catch?"

IT WAS quite startling to have the suit thrust at him. He hadn’t ob­served the men emerge from the back room; and it came as a distinct shock to realize that they had actu­ally gone for the insulated clothes before they could have known that he would use them.
McAllister stared grimly at Peter Cadron, who held the dull, grayish, limp thing toward hint. A very flame of abrupt rage held him choked; be­fore he could speak, Cadron said in a tight voice:
"Get into this, and get going! It’s a matter of minutes, man! When those guns out there start spraying energy, you won’t be alive to argue about our honesty."
Still he hesitated; the room seemed insufferably hot; and he was sick—sick with the deadly uncertainty. Perspiration streaked stingingly down his cheeks. His frantic gaze fell on the girl, standing silent and subdued in the background, near the front door.
He strode toward her; and either his glare or presence was incredibly frightening, for she cringed and turned white as a sheet.
"Look!" he said. "I’m in this as deep as hell. What’s the risk in this thing? I’ve got to feel that I have some chance. Tell me, what’s the catch?"
The girl was gray now, almost as gray and dead-looking as the suit Peter Cadron was holding. "It’s the friction," she mumbled finally, "you may not get all the way back to 1941. You see, you’ll be a sort of ’weight,’ and—"
McAllister whirled away from her. He climbed into the soft, almost flimsy suit, crowding the overall-like shape over his neatly pressed clothes.
"It comes tight over the head, doesn’t it?" he asked.
"Yes!" It was Lystra’s father who answered. "As soon as you pull that zipper shut, the suit will be­come completely invisible. To out­siders, it will seem just as if you have your ordinary clothes on. The suit is fully equipped. You could live on the Moon inside it."
"What I don’t get," complained McAllister, "is why I have to wear it. I got here all right without it."
He frowned. His words had been automatic, but abruptly, a thought came: "Just a minute. What be­comes of the energy with which I’m charged when I’m bottled up in this insulation?"
He saw by the stiffening expres­sions of those around him that he had touched on a vast subject.
"So that’s it!" he snapped. "The insulation is to prevent me losing any of that energy. That’s how it can make a ’weight.’ I have no doubt there is a connection from this suit to that other machine. Well, it’s not too late. It’s—"
With a desperate twist, he tried to jerk aside, to evade the clutching hands of the four men who leaped at him. Hopeless movement. They had him instantly; and their grips on him were strong beyond his power to break. The fingers of Peter Cadron jerked the zipper tight, and Peter Cadron said:
"Sorry, but when we went into that back room, we also dressed in insulated clothing. That’s why you couldn’t hurt us. Sorry, again!
"And remember this: There’s no certainty that you are being sacri­ficed. The fact that there is no crater in our Earth proves that you did not explode in the past, and that you solved the problem in some other way. Now, somebody open the door, quick!
Irresistibly, he was carried for­ward. And then—
"Wait!"

IT WAS the girl. The colorless gray in her face was a livid thing, Her eyes glittered like dark jewels; and in her fingers was the tiny, mirror-bright gun she had pointed in the beginning at McAllister.
The little group hustling McAl­lister stopped as if they had been struck. He was scarcely aware; for him there was only the girl, and the way the muscles of her lips were working, and the way her voice sud­denly flamed:
"This is utter outrage. Are we such cowards—is it possible that the spirit of liberty can survive only through a shoddy act of murder and gross defiance of the rights of the individual? I say no! Mr. McAl­lister must have the protection of the hypnotism treatment, even if we die during the wasted minutes."
"Lystra!" It was her father; and McAllister realized in the swift movement of the older man, what a brilliant mind was there; and how quickly the older man grasped every aspect of the situation.
He stepped forward, and took the gun from his daughter’s fingers—the only man in the room, McAllister thought flashingly, who could dare approach her in that moment with the certainty she would not fire. For hysteria was in every line of her face; and the racking tears that followed showed how dangerous her stand might have been against the others.
Strangely, not for a moment had hope come. The entire action seemed divorced from his life and his thought; there was only the ob­servation of it. He stood there for a seeming eternity, and, when emo­tion finally came, it was surprise that he was not being hustled to his doom.
With the surprise came awareness that Peter Cadron had let go his arm, and stepped clear of him.
The man’s eyes were calm, his head held proudly erect; he said:
"Your daughter is right, sir. At this point we rise above our petty fears, and we say to this unhappy young man: ’Have courage! You will not be forgotten. We can guarantee nothing, cannot even state exactly what will happen to you. But we say: if it lies in our power to help you, that help you shall have. And now—we must protect you from the devastating psychological pres­sures that would otherwise destroy you, simply but effectively."
Too late, McAllister noticed that the others had turned faces away from that extraordinary wall—the wall that had already displayed so vast a versatility. He did not even see who pressed the activating but­ton for what followed.
There was a flash of dazzling light. For an instant he felt as if his mind had been laid bare; and against that nakedness the voice of Peter Cadron pressed like some ineradicable en­graving stamp:
"To retain your self-control and your sanity—this is your hope: this you will do in spite of everything! And, for your sake, speak of your experience only to scientists or to those in authority whom you feel will understand and help. Good luck!"
So strong remained the effect of that brief flaring light that he felt only vaguely the touch of their hands on him, propelling him, He must have fallen, but there was no pain—
He grew aware that he was lying on a sidewalk. The deep, familiar voice of Police Inspector Clayton boomed over him:
"Clear the way; no crowding now!"

McAllister climbed to his feet. A pall of curious faces gawked at him; and there was no park, no gorgeous city. Instead, a bleak row of one-story shops made a dull pat­tern on either side of the street.
He’d have to get away from here. These people didn’t understand. Somewhere on Earth must be a scientist who could help him. After all, the record was that he hadn’t exploded. Therefore, somewhere, somehow—
He mumbled answers at the ques­tions that beat at him; and then he was clear of the disappointed crowd. There followed purposeless minutes of breakneck walk; the streets ahead grew narrower, dirtier—
He stopped, shaken. What was happening?
It was night, in a brilliant, glow­ing city. He was standing on the boulevard of an avenue that stretched jewel-like into remote dis­tance.
A street that lived, flaming with a soft light that gleamed up from its surface—a road of light, like a river flowing under a sun that shone no­where else, straight and smooth and—
He walked along for uncompre­hending minutes, watching the cars that streamed past, strange, dark shapes that streaked past—and wild hope came!
Was this again the age of the Isher and the gunmakers? it could be; it looked right, and it meant they had brought him back. After all, they were not evil, and they would save him if they could. For all he knew, weeks had passed in their time and—
Abruptly, he was in the center of a blinding snowstorm. He staggered from the first, mighty, unexpected blow of that untamed wind, then, bracing himself, fought for mental and physical calm.
The shining, wondrous night city was gone; gone too the glowing road —both vanished, transformed into this deadly, wilderness world.
He peered through the driving snow. It was daylight; and he could make out the dim shadows of trees that reared up through the white mist of blizzard less than fifty feet away.
Instinctively, he pressed toward their shelter, and stood finally out of that blowing, pressing wind.
He thought: One minute in the distant future; the next—where?
There was certainly no city. Only trees, an uninhabited forest and winter—

THE BLIZZARD was gone. And the trees. He stood on a sandy beach; before him stretched a blue, sunlit sea that rippled over broken, white buildings: All around, scattered far into that shallow, lovely sea, far up into the weed-grown hills, were the remnants of a once tremendous city. Over all clung an aura of incredible age; and the silence of the long-dead was broken only by the gentle, timeless lapping of the waves—
Again came that instantaneous change. More prepared this time, he nevertheless sank twice under the surface of the vast, swift river that carried him on and on. It was hard swimming, but the insulated, suit was buoyant with the air it manu­factured each passing second; and, after a moment, he began to struggle purposely toward the tree-lined shore a hundred feet to his right.
A thought came; and he stopped swimming: "What’s the use!"
The truth was as simple as it was terrible. He was being shunted from the past to the future; he was the "weight" on the long end of an energy seesaw; and in some way, he was slipping farther ahead and far­ther back each time. Only that could explain the catastrophic changes he had already witnessed. In a minute would come another change and—
It came! He was lying face down­ward on green grass, but there was utterly no curiosity in him. He did not look up, but lay there hour after hour, as the seesaw jerked on: past —future—past—future—
Beyond doubt, the gunmakers had won their respite; for at the far end of this dizzy teeter-totter was the machine that had been used by the Isher soldiers as an activating force; it too teetered up, then down, in a mad seesaw.
There remained the gunmakers’ promise to help him, vain now; for they could not know what had hap­pened. They could not find him ever in this maze of time.
There remained the mechanical law that times must balance.
Somewhere, sometime, a balance would be struck, probably in the future—because there was still the fact that he hadn’t exploded in the past. Yes, somewhere would come the balance when he would again face that problem. But now—
On, on, on the seesaw flashed; the world on the one hand grew bright with youth, and on the other dark with fantastic age.
Infinity yawned blackly ahead.
Quite suddenly it came to him that he knew where the seesaw would stop. It would end in the very remote past, with the release of the stupendous temporal energy he had been accumulating with each of those monstrous swings.
He would not witness, but he would cause the formation of the planets.

4. RECRUITING STATION


She didn’t dare! Suddenly, the night was a cold, enveloping thing. The edge of the broad, black river gurgled evilly at her feet as if, now that she had changed her mind—it hungered for her.
Her foot slipped on the wet, sloping ground; and her mind grew blurred with the terrible senseless fear that things were reaching out of the night, trying to drown her now against her will.
She fought up the bank—and slumped breathless onto the nearest park bench, coldly furious with her fear. Dully, she watched the gaunt man come along the pathway past the light standard. So sluggish was her brain that she was not aware of surprise when she realized he was coming straight toward her.
The purulent yellowish light made a crazy patch of his shadow across her where she sat. His voice, when he spoke, was vaguely foreign in tone, yet modulated, cultured. He said:
"Are you interested in the Calonian cause?"
Norma stared. There was no quickening in her brain, but suddenly she began to laugh. It was funny, horribly, hysterically funny funny. To be sitting here, trying to get up the nerve for another attempt at those deadly waters, and then to have some crackbrain come along and—
"You’re deluding yourself, Miss Matheson," the man went on coolly. "You’re not the suicide type."
"Nor the pickup type!" she answered automatically. "Beat it before—"
Abruptly, it penetrated that the man had called her by name. She looked up sharply at the dark blank that was his face. His head against the background of distant light nodded as if in reply to the question that quivered in her thought.
"Yes, I know your name. I also know your history and your fear!"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that a young scientist named Garson arrived in the city tonight to deliver a series of lectures. Ten years ago, when you and he graduated from the same university, he asked you to marry him, but it was a career you wanted—and now you’ve been terrified that, in your extremity, you would go to him for assistance and—"
"Stop!"
The man seemed to watch her as she sat there breathing heavily. He said at last, quietly:
"I think I have proved that I am not simply a casual philanderer."
"What other kind of philanderer is there?" Norma asked, sluggish again. But she made no objection as he sank down on the far end of the bench. His back was still to the light, his features night-enveloped.
"Ah," he said, "you joke; you are bitter. But that is an improvement. You feel now, perhaps, that if somebody has taken an interest in you, all is not lost."
Norma said dully: "People who are acquainted with the basic laws of psychology are cursed with the memory of them even when disaster strikes into their lives. All I’ve done the last ten years is—"
She stopped; then: "You’re very clever. Without more than arousing my instinctive suspicions, you’ve insinuated yourself into the company of a hysterical woman. What’s your purpose?"
"I intend to offer you a job."
Norma’s laugh sounded so harsh in her own ears that she thought, startled: "I am hysterical!"
Aloud, she said: "An apartment, jewels, a car of my own, I suppose?"
His reply was cool: "No! To put it frankly, you’re not pretty enough. Too angular, mentally and physically. That’s been one of your troubles the last ten years; a developing introversion of the mind which has influenced the shape of your body unfavorably."
The words shivered through the suddenly stiffened muscles of her body. With an enormous effort, she forced herself to relax. She said: "I had that coming to me. Insults are good for hysteria; so now what?"
"Are you interested in the Calonian cause?"
"There you go again," she complained. "But yes, I’m for it. Birds of a feather, you know.”
"I know very well indeed. In fact, in those words you named the reason why I am here tonight, hiring a young woman who is up against it. Calonia, too, is up against it and—" He stopped; in the darkness, he spread his shadow-like hands. "You see: good publicity for our recruiting centers."
Norma nodded. She did see, and, suddenly, she didn’t trust herself to speak; her hand trembled as she took the key he held out.
"This key," he said, "will fit the lock of the front door of the recruiting station; it will also fit the lock of the door leading to the apartment above it. The apartment is yours while you have the job. You can go there tonight if you wish, or wait until morning if you fear this is merely a device—now, I must give you a warning."
"Warning?"
"Yes. The work we are doing is illegal. Actually, only the American government can enlist American citizens and operate recruiting stations. We exist on sufferance and sympathy, but at any time someone may lay a charge and the police will have to act."
Norma nodded rapidly. "That’s no risk," she said. "No judge would ever—"
"The address is 322 Carlton Street," he cut in smoothly. "And for your information, my name is Dr. Lell."
Norma had the distinct sense of being pushed along too swiftly for caution. She hesitated, her mind on the street address. "Is that near Bessemer?"
It was his turn to hesitate. "I’m afraid," he confessed, "I don’t know this city very well, at least not in its twentieth century . . . that is," he finished suavely, "I was here many years ago, before the turn of the century."
Norma wondered vaguely why he bothered to explain; she said, half-accusingly: "You’re not a Calonian. You sound—French, maybe."
"You’re not a Calonian, either!" he said, and stood up abruptly. She watched him walk off into the night, a great gloom-wrapped figure that vanished almost immediately.
She stopped short in the deserted night street. The sound that came was like a whisper touching her brain; a machine whirring somewhere with almost infinite softness. For the barest moment, her mind concentrated on the shadow vibrations; and then, somehow, they seemed to fade like figments of her imagination. Suddenly, there was only the street and the silent night.
The street was dimly lighted; and that brought doubt, sharp and tinged with a faint fear. She strained her eyes and traced the numbers in the shadow of the door: 322! That was it!
The place was dark. She peered at the signs that made up the window display:

"FIGHT FOR THE BRAVE CALONIANS" "THE CALONIANS ARE FIGHTING FREEDOM’S FIGHT—YOUR FIGHT!"
"IF YOU CAN PAY YOUR OWN WAY, IT WOULD BE APPRECIATED; OTHERWISE WE’LL GET YOU OVER!"

There were other signs, but they were essentially the same, all terribly honest and appealing, if you really thought about the desperate things that made up their grim background.
Illegal, of course. But the man had admitted that, too. With sudden end of doubt, she took the key from her purse.
There were two doorways, one on either side of the window. The one to the right led into the recruiting room. The one on the left—
The stairs were dimly lighted, and the apartment at the top was quite empty of human beings. The door had a bolt; she clicked it home, and then, wearily, headed for the bedroom.
And it was as she lay in the bed that she grew aware again of the incredibly faint whirring of a machine. The shadow of a shadow sound; and, queerly, it seemed to reach into her brain: the very last second before she drifted into sleep, the pulse of the vibration, remote as the park bench was a steady beat inside her.
All through the night that indescribably faint whirring was there. Only occasionally did it seem to be in her head; she was aware of turning twisting, curling, straightening and, in the fractional awakedness that accompanied each move, the tiniest vibrational tremors would sweep down along her nerves like infinitesimal currents of energy.

Spears of sunlight piercing brilliantly through the window brought her awake at last. She lay taut and strained for a moment, then relaxed, puzzled. There was not a sound from the maddening machine, only the noises of the raucous, awakening street.
There was food in the refrigerator and in the little pantry. The weariness of the night vanished swiftly before the revivifying power of breakfast. She thought in gathering interest: what did he look like, this strange-voiced man of night?
Relieved surprise flooded her when the key unlocked the door to the recruiting room, for there had been in her mind a little edged fear that this was all quite mad.
She shuddered the queer darkness out of her system. What was the matter with her, anyway? The world was sunlit and cheerful, not the black and gloomy abode of people with angular introversion of the mind.
She flushed at the memory of the words. There was no pleasure in knowing that the man’s enormously clever analysis of her was true. Still stinging, she examined the little room. There were four chairs, a bench, a long wooden counter and newspaper clippings of the Calonian War on the otherwise bare walls.
There was a back door to the place. Dimly curious, she tried the knob—once! It was locked, but there was something about the feel of it—
A tingling shock of surprise went through her. The door, in spite of its wooden appearance, was solid metal!
Momentarily, she felt chilled; finally she thought: "None of my business."
And then, before she could turn away, the door opened, and a gaunt man loomed on the threshold. He snapped harshly, almost into her face: "Oh, yes, it is your business!"
It was not fear that made her back away. The deeps of her mind registered the cold hardness of his voice, so different from the previous night. Vaguely she was aware of the ugly sneer on his face. But there was no real emotion in her brain, nothing but a blurred blankness.
It was not fear; it couldn’t be fear because all she had to do was run a few yards, and she’d be out on a busy street. And besides she had never been afraid of Negroes, and she wasn’t now.
That first impression was so sharp, so immensely surprising that the fast-following second impression seemed like a trick of her eyes. For the man wasn’t actually a Negro; he was—
She shook her head, trying to shake that trickiness out of her vision. But the picture wouldn’t change. He wasn’t a Negro, he wasn’t white, he wasn’t—anything!
Slowly her brain adjusted itself to his alienness. She saw that he had slant eyes like a Chinaman, his skin, though dark in texture, was dry with a white man’s dryness. The nose was sheer chiseled beauty, the most handsome, most normal part of his face; his mouth was thin-lipped, commanding; his chin bold and giving strength and power to the insolence of his steel-gray eyes. His sneer deepened as her eyes grew wider and wider.
"Oh, no," he said softly, "you’re not afraid of me, are you? Let me inform you that my purpose is to make you afraid. Last night I had the purpose of bringing you here. That required tact, understanding. My new purpose requires, among other things, the realization on your part that you are in my power beyond the control of your will or wish.
"I could have allowed you to discover gradually that this is not a Calonian recruiting station. But I prefer to get these early squirmings of the slaves over as soon as possible. The reaction to the power of the machine is always so similar and unutterably boring."
"I—don’t—understand!"
He answered coldly: "Let me be brief. You have been vaguely aware of a machine. That machine has attuned the rhythm of your body to itself, and through its actions I can control you against your desire. Naturally, I don’t expect you to believe me. Like the other women, you will test its mind-destroying power. Notice that I said women! We always hire women; for purely psychological reasons they are safer than men. You will discover what I mean if you should attempt to warn any applicant on the basis of what I have told you."
He finished swiftly: "Your duties are simple. There is a pad on the table made up of sheets with simple questions printed on them. Ask those questions, note the answers, then direct the applicants to me in the back room. I have—er—a medical examination to give them."
Out of all the things he had said, the one that briefly, searingly, dominated her whole mind had no connection with her personal fate: "But," she gasped, "if these men are not being sent to Calonia, where—"
He hissed her words short: "Here comes a man. Now, remember!"
He stepped back, to one side out of sight in the dimness of the back room. Behind her, there was the dismaying sound of the front door opening. A man’s baritone voice blurred a greeting into her ears.
Her fingers shook as she wrote down the man’s answers to the dozen questions. Name, address, next of kin— His face was a ruddy-cheeked blur against the shapeless shifting pattern of her racing thoughts.
"You can see," she heard herself mumbling, "that these questions are only a matter of identification. Now, if you’ll go into that back room—"
The sentence shattered into silence. She’d said it! The uncertainty in her mind, the unwillingness to take a definite stand until she had thought of some way out, had made her say the very thing she had intended avoid saying. The man said:
"What do I go in there for?"
She stared at him numbly. Her mind felt thick, useless. She needed time, calm. She said: "It’s a simple medical exam, entirely for your own protection."
Sickly, Norma watched his stocky form head briskly toward the rear door. He knocked; and the door opened. Surprisingly, it stayed open—surprisingly, because it was then, as the man disappeared from her line of vision, that she saw the machine.
The end of it that she could see reared up immense and darkly gleaming halfway to the ceiling, partially hiding a door that seemed to be a rear exit from the building.
She forgot the door, forgot the men. Her mind fastened on the great engine with abrupt intensity as swift memory came that this was the machine—
Unconsciously her body, her ears, her mind, strained for the whirring sound that she had heard in the night. But there was nothing, not the tiniest of tiny noises, not the vaguest stir of vibration, not a rustle, not a whisper. The machine crouched there, hugging the floor with its solidness, its clinging metal strength; and it was utterly dead, utterly motionless.
The doctor’s smooth, persuasive voice came to her: "I hope you don’t mind going out the back door, Mr. Barton. We ask applicants to use it because—well, our recruiting station here is illegal. As you probably know, we exist on sufferance and sympathy, but we don’t want to be too blatant about the success we’re having in getting young men to fight for our cause."
Norma waited. As soon as the man was gone she would force a showdown on this whole fantastic affair. If this was some distorted scheme of Calonia’s enemies, she would go to the police and—
The thought twisted into a curious swirling chaos of wonder. The machine—
Incredibly, the machine was coming alive, a monstrous, gorgeous, swift aliveness. It glowed with a soft, swelling white light; and then burst into enormous flame. A breaker of writhing tongues of fire, blue and red and green and yellow, stormed over that first glow, blotting it from view instantaneously. The fire sprayed and flashed like an intricately designed fountain, with a wild and violent beauty, a glittering blaze of unearthly glory.
And then—just like that—the flame faded. Briefly, grimly stubborn in its fight for life, the swarming, sparkling energy clung to the metal.
It was gone. The machine lay there, a dull, gleaming mass of metallic deadness, inert, motionless. The doctor appeared in the doorway.
"Sound chap!" he said, satisfaction in his tone. "Heart requires a bit of glandular adjustment to eradicate the effects of bad diet. Lungs will react swiftly to gas-immunization injections, and our surgeons should be able to patch that body up from almost anything except an atomic storm."
Norma licked dry lips. "What are you talking about?" she asked wildly. "W-what happened to that man?"
She was aware of him staring at her blandly. His voice was cool, faintly amused: "Why—he went out the back door."
"He did not. He—"
She realized the uselessness of words. Cold with the confusion of her thought, she emerged from behind the counter. She brushed past him, and then, as she reached the threshold of the door leading into the rear room, her knees wobbled. She grabbed at the door jamb for support, and knew that she didn’t dare go near that machine. With an effort, she said: "Will you go over there and open it?"
He did so, smiling. The door squealed slightly as it opened. When he closed it, it creaked audibly, and the automatic lock clicked loudly.
There had been no such sound. Norma felt the deepening whiteness in her cheeks. She asked, chilled:
"What is this machine?"
"Owned by the local electric company, I believe," he answered suavely, and his voice mocked her. "We just have permission to use the room, of course.”
"That’s not possible," she said thickly. "Electric companies don’t have machines in the back rooms of shabby buildings."
He shrugged. "Really," he said indifferently, "this is beginning to bore me. I have already told you that this is a very special machine. You have seen some of its powers, yet your mind persists in being practical after a twentieth century fashion. I will repeat merely that you are a slave of the machine, and that it will do you no good to go to the police, entirely aside from the fact that I saved you from drowning yourself, and gratitude alone should make you realize that you owe everything to me; nothing to the world you were prepared to desert. However, that is too much to expect. You will learn by experience."
Quite calmly, Norma walked across the room. She opened the door, and then, startled that he had made no move to stop her, turned to stare at him. He was still standing where she had left him. He was smiling.
"You must be quite mad," she said after a moment. "Perhaps you had some idea that your little trick, whatever it was, would put the fear of the unknown into me. Let me dispel that right now I’m going to the police—this very minute."
The picture that remained in her mind as she climbed aboard the bus was of him standing there, tall and casual and terrible in his contemptuous derision. The chill of that memory slowly mutilated the steady tenor of her forced calm.
The sense of nightmare vanished as she climbed off the streetcar in front of the imposing police building. Sunshine splashed vigorously on the pavement, cars honked; the life of the city swirled lustily around her and brought wave on wave of returning confidence.
The answer, now that she thought of it, was simplicity itself. Hypnotism! That was what had made her see a great, black, unused engine burst into mysterious flames.
And no hypnotist could force his will on a determined, definitely opposed mind.
Burning inwardly with abrupt anger at the way she had been tricked, she lifted her foot to step on the curb—and amazed shock stung into her brain.
The foot, instead of lifting springily, dragged; her muscles almost refused to carry the weight. She grew aware of a man less than a dozen feet from her, staring at her with popping eyes.
"Good heavens!" he gasped audibly. "I must be seeing things."
He walked off rapidly; and the part of her thoughts that registered his odd actions simply tucked them away. She felt too dulled, mentally and physically, even for curiosity.
With faltering steps she moved across the sidewalk. It was as if something was tearing at her strength, holding her with invisible but immense forces. The machine!—she thought—and panic blazed through her.
Will power kept her going. She reached the top of the steps and approached the big doors. It was then the first sick fear came that she couldn’t make it; and as she strained feebly against the stone-wall-like resistance of the door, a very fever of dismay grew hot and terrible inside her. What had happened to her? How could a machine reach over a distance, and strike unerringly at one particular individual with such enormous, vitality-draining power?
A shadow leaned over her. The booming voice of a policeman who had just come up the steps was the most glorious sound she had ever heard.
"Too much for you, eh, madam? Here, I’ll push that door for you."
"Thank you," she said; and her voice sounded so harsh and dry and weak and unnatural in her own ears that a new terror flared: in a few minutes she wouldn’t be able to speak above a whisper.
A slave of the machine," he had said; and she knew with a clear and burning logic that if she was ever to conquer, it was now She must get into this building. She must see someone in authority, and she must tell him—must—must— Somehow, she pumped strength into her brain and courage into her heart, and forced her legs to carry her across the threshold into the big modern building with its mirrored anteroom and its fine marble corridors. Inside, she knew suddenly that she had reached her limit.
She stood there on the hard floor, and felt her whole body shaking from the enormous effort it took simply to stay erect. Her knees felt dissolved and cold, like ice turning to strengthless liquid. She grew aware that the big policeman was hovering uncertainly beside her.
"Anything I can do, mother?" he asked heartily.
"Mother!" she echoed mentally with a queer sense of insanity. Her mind skittered off after the word. Did he really say that, or had she dreamed it? Why, she wasn’t a mother. She wasn’t even married. She—
She fought the thought off. She’d have to pull herself together, or there was madness here. No chance now of getting to an inspector or an officer. This big constable must be her confidant, her hope to defeat the mighty power that was striking at her across miles of city, an incredibly evil, terrible power whose ultimate purpose she could not begin to imagine. She—
There it was again, her mind pushing off into obscure, action-destroying, defeating thoughts! She turned to the policeman, started to part her lips in speech; and it was then she saw the mirror.
She saw a tall, thin, old, old woman standing beside the fresh-cheeked bulk of a blue-garbed policeman. It was such an abnormal trick of vision that it fascinated her. In some way, the mirror was missing her image, and reflecting instead the form of an old woman who must be close behind and slightly to one side of her. Queerest thing she had ever seen.
She half-lifted her red-gloved hand toward the policeman, to draw his attention to the distortion. Simultaneously, the red-gloved hand of the old woman in the mirror reached toward the policeman. Her own raised hand stiffened in midair; so did the old woman’s. Funny.
Puzzled, she drew her gaze from the mirror, and stared with briefly blank vision at that rigidly uplifted hand. A tiny, uneven bit of her wrist was visible between the end of the glove and the end of sleeve of her serge suit. Her skin wasn’t really as dark as—that!
Two things happened then. A tall man came softly through the door—Dr. Lell—and the big policeman’s hand touched her shoulder.
"Really, madam, at your age, you shouldn’t come here. A phone call would serve—"
And Dr. Lell was saying: "My poor old grandmother—"
Their voices went on, but the sense of them jangled in her brain as she jerked frantically to pull the glove off a hand wrinkled and shriveled by incredible age— Blackness pierced with agonized splinters of light reached mercifully into her brain. Her very last thought was that it must have happened just before she stepped onto the curb, when the man had stared at her pop-eyed and thought himself crazy. He must have seen the change taking place.
The pain faded; the blackness turned gray, then white. She was conscious of a car engine purring, and of forward movement. She opened her eyes—and her brain reeled from a surge of awful memory.
"Don’t be afraid!" said Dr. Lell, and his voice was as soothing and gentle as it had been hard and satirical at the recruiting station. "You are again yourself; in fact, approximately ten years younger."
He removed one hand from the steering wheel and flashed a mirror before her eyes. The brief glimpse she had of her image made her grab at the silvered glass as if it were the most precious thing in all the world.
One long, hungry look she took; and then her arm, holding the mirror collapsed from sheer, stupendous relief. She lay back against the cushions, tears sticky on her cheeks, weak and sick from dreadful reaction. At last she said steadily:
"Thanks for telling me right away. Otherwise I should have gone mad."
"That, of course, was why I told you," he said; and his voice was still soft, still calm. And she felt soothed, in spite of the dark terror just past in spite of the intellectual realization that this diabolical man used words and tones and human emotions as coldly as Pan himself piping his reed, sounding what stop he pleased. That quiet, deep voice went on:
"You see, you are now a valuable member of our twentieth-century staff, with a vested interest in the success of our purpose. You thoroughly understand the system of rewards and punishments for good or bad service. You will have food, a roof over your head, money to spend—and eternal youth! Woman, look at your face again, look hard, and rejoice for your good fortune! Weep for those who have nothing but old age and death as their future! Look hard, I say!"
It was like gazing at a marvelous photograph out of the past, except that she had been somewhat prettier in the actuality, her face more rounded, not so sharp, more girlish. She was twenty again, but different, more mature, leaner. She heard his voice go on dispassionately, a distant background to her own thoughts, feeding, feeding at the image in the mirror. He said:
"As you can see, you are not truly yourself as you were at twenty. This is because we could only manipulate the time tensions which influenced your thirty-year-old body according to the rigid mathematical laws governing the energies and forces involved. We could not undo the harm wrought these last rather prim, introvert years of your life because you have already lived them, and nothing can change that."
It came to her that he was talking to give her time to recover from the deadliest shock that had ever stabbed into a human brain. And for the first time she thought, not of herself, but of the incredible things implied by every action that had occurred, every word spoken.
"Who . . . are . . . you?"
He was silent; the car twisted in and out of the clamorous traffic; and she watched his face now, that lean, strange, dark, finely chiseled, evil face with its glittering dark eyes. For the moment she felt no repulsion, only a gathering storm of fascination at the way that strong chin tilted unconsciously as he said in a cold, proud, ringing voice:
"We are masters of time. We live at the farthest frontier of time itself, and all the ages belong to us. No words could begin to describe the vastness of our empire or the futility of opposing us. We—"
He stopped. Some of the fire faded from his dark eyes. His brows knit, his chin dropped, his lips clamped into a thin line, then parted as he snapped:
"I hope that any vague ideas you have had for further opposition will yield to the logic of events and of fact. Now you know why we hire women who have no friends."
"You—devil!" She half sobbed the words.
"Ah," he said softly, "I can see you understand a woman’s psychology. Two final points should clinch the argument I am trying to make: First, I can read your mind, every thought that comes into it, every vaguest emotion that moves it. And second, before establishing the machine in that particular building, we explored the years to come; and during all the time investigated, found the machine unharmed, its presence unsuspected by those in authority. Therefore, the future record is that you did—nothing! I think you will agree with me that this is convincing."
Norma nodded dully, her mirror forgotten. "Yes," she said, "yes, I suppose it is."

Miss Norma Matheson,
Calonian Recruiting Station,
322 Carlton Street,

Dear Norma:
I made a point of addressing the envelope of this letter to you c/o General Delivery, instead of the above address. I would not care to put you in any danger, however imaginary. I use the word imaginary deliberately for I cannot even begin to describe how grieved and astounded I was to receive such a letter from the girl I once loved—it’s eleven years since I proposed on graduation day, isn’t it?—and how amazed I was by your questions and statements re time travel.
I might say that if you are not already mentally unbalanced, you will be shortly unless you take hold of yourself. The very fact that you were nerving yourself to commit suicide when this man—Dr. Lell—hired you from a park bench to be clerk in the recruiting station at the foregoing address, is evidence of hysteria. You could have gone on city relief.
I see that you have lost none of your powers of expression in various mediums. Your letter, mad though it is in subject matter, is eminently coherent and well thought out. Your drawing of the face of Dr. Lell is quite a remarkable piece of work.
If it is a true resemblance, then I agree that he is definitely not—shall I say—Western. His eyes are distinctly slanting, Chinese-style. His skin you say is, and shown as, dark in texture, indicating a faint Negro strain. His nose is very fine and sensitive, strong in character.
This effect is incremented by his firm mouth, though those thin lips are much too arrogant—the whole effect is of an extraordinarily intelligent-looking man, a super-mongrel in appearance. Such bodies could very easily be produced in the far-Eastern provinces of Asia.
I pass without comment over your description of the machine which swallows up the unsuspecting recruits. The superman has apparently not objected to answering your questions since the police station episode; and so we have a new theory of time and space:
Time—he states—is the all, the only reality. Every unfolding instant the Earth and its life, the universe and all its galaxies are recreated by the titanic energy that is time—and always it is essentially the same pattern that is re-formed, because that is the easiest course.
He makes a comparison. According to Einstein, and in this he is correct, the Earth goes around the Sun, not because there is such a force as gravitation, but because it is easier for it to go around the Sun in exactly the way it does than to hurtle off into space.
It is easier for time to re-form the same pattern of rock, the same man, the same tree, the same earth. That is all, that is the law.
The rate of reproduction is approximately ten billion a second. During the past minute, therefore, six hundred billion replicas of myself have been created; and all of them are still there, each a separate body occupying its own space, completely unaware of the others. Not one has been destroyed. There is no purpose; it is simply easier to let them stay there, than to destroy them.
If those bodies ever met in the same space, that is if I should go back to shake hands with my twenty-year-old self, there would be a clash of similar patterns, and the interloper would be distorted out of memory and shape.
I have no criticism to make of this theory other than that it is utterly fantastic. However, it is very interesting in the vivid picture it draws of an eternity of human beings, breeding and living and dying in the quiet eddies of the time stream, while the great current flares on ahead in a fury of incredible creation.
I am puzzled by the detailed information you are seeking—you make it almost real—but I give the answers for what they are worth:
1. Time travel would naturally be based on the most rigid mechanical laws.
2. It seems plausible that they would be able to investigate your future actions.
3. Dr. Lell used phrases such as "atomic storm" and "gas immunization injections." The implication is that they are recruiting for an unimaginably great war.
4. I cannot see how the machine could act on you over a distance—unless there was some sort of radio-controlled intermediate. In your position, I would ask myself one question: Was there anything, any metal, anything, upon my person that might have been placed there by the enemy?
5. Some thoughts are so dimly held that they could not possibly be transmitted. Presumably, sharp, clear thoughts might be receivable. If you could keep your mind calm, as you say you did while deciding to write the letter—the letter itself is proof that you succeeded.
6. It is unwise to assume that here is greater basic intelligence, but rather greater development of the potential forces of the mind. If men ever learn to read minds, it will be because they train their innate capacity for mind reading; they will be cleverer only when new knowledge adds new techniques of training.
To become personal, I regret immeasurably having heard from you. I had a memory of a rather brave spirit, rejecting my proposal of marriage, determined to remain independent, ambitious for advancement in the important field of social services. Instead, I find a sorry ending, a soul disintegrated, a mind feeding on fantasia and a sense of incredible persecution. My advice is to go to a psychiatrist before it is too late, and to that end I enclose a money order for $200.00, and extend you my best wishes.

Yours in memory,
Jack Garson.

At least, there was no interference with her private life. No footsteps but her own ever mounted the dark, narrow flight of stairs that led to her tiny apartment. At night, after the recruiting shop closed, she walked the crowded streets; sometimes there was a movie that seemed to promise surcease from the deadly strain of living; sometimes a new book on her old love, the social sciences, held her for a brief hour.
But there was nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing, that could relax the burning pressure of the reality of the machine. It was there always like a steel band drawn tautly around her mind.
It was crazy funny to read about the war, and the victories and the defeats—when out there, somewhere, in the future another, greater war was being fought; a war so vast that all the ages were being ransacked for manpower.
And men came! Dark men, blond men, young men, grim men, hard men, and veterans of other wars—the stream of them made a steady flow into that dimly lighted back room. And one day she looked up from an intent, mindless study of the pattern of the stained, old counter—and there was Jack Garson!
It was as simple as that. There he stood, not much older-looking after ten years, a little leaner of face perhaps, and there were tired lines all around his dark-brown eyes. While she stared in dumb paralysis, he said:
"I had to come, of course. You were the first emotional tie I had, and also the last; when I wrote the letter, I didn’t realize how strong that emotion still was. What’s all this about?"
She thought with a flaming intensity: Often, in the past, Dr. Lell had vanished for brief periods during the day hours; once she had seen him disappear into the flamboyant embrace of the light shed by the machine. Twice, she had opened the door to speak to him, and found him gone!
All accidental observations! It meant he had stepped scores of times into his own world when she hadn’t seen him and—
Please let this be one of the times when he was away!
A second thought came, so fierce, so sharply focused that it made a stabbing pain inside her head: She must be calm. She must hold her mind away from giveaway thoughts, if it was not already ages too late.
Her voice came into the silence like a wounded, fluttering bird, briefly stricken by shock, then galvanized by agony:
"Quick! You must go—till after six! Hurry! Hurry!"
Her trembling hands struck at his chest, as if by those blows she would set him running for the door. But the thrust of her strength was lost on the muscles of his breast, defeated by the way he was leaning forward. His body did not even stagger.
Through a blur, she saw he was staring down at her with a grim, set smile. His voice was hard as chipped steel as he said:
"Somebody’s certainly thrown a devil of a scare into you. But don’t worry! I’ve got a revolver in my pocket. And don’t think I’m alone in this. I wired the Calonian embassy at Washington, then notified the police here of their answer: no knowledge of this place. The police will arrive in minutes. I came in first to see that you didn’t get hurt in the shuffle. Come on—outside with you, because—"
It was Norma’s eyes that must have warned him, her eyes glaring past him. She was aware of him whirling to face the dozen men who were trooping out of the back room. The men came stolidly, and she had time to see that they were short, squat, ugly creatures, more roughly built than the lean, finely molded Dr. Lell; and their faces were not so much evil as half dead with unintelligence.
A dozen pair of eyes lighted with brief, animal-like curiosity, as they stared at the scene outside the window; then they glanced indifferently at herself and Jack Garson and the revolver he was holding so steadily; finally, their interest fading visibly, their gazes reverted expectantly to Dr. Lell, who stood smiling laconically on the threshold of the doorway.
"Ah, yes, Professor Garson, you have a gun, haven’t you? And the police are coming. Fortunately, I have something here that may convince you of the uselessness of your puny plans.”
His right hand came from behind his back, where he had been half hiding it. A gasp escaped from Norma as she saw that in it he held a blazing ball, a globe of furious flame, a veritable ball of fire.
The thing burned there in his palm, crude and terrible in the illusion of incredible, destroying incandescence. The mockery in Dr. Lell’s voice was utterly convincing, as he said in measured tones at her:
"My dear Miss Matheson, I think you will agree that you will not offer further obstacles to our purpose, now that we have enlisted this valuable young man into the invincible armies of the Glorious—and, as for you, Garson, I suggest you drop that gun before it burns off your hand. It—"
His words were lost in the faint cry that came from Jack Garson. Amazed, Norma saw the gun fall to the floor, and lie there, burning with a white-hot, an abnormal violence.
"Good Heavens!" said Jack Garson; and Norma saw him stare at the weapon enthralled, mindless of danger, as it shrank visibly in that intense fire.
In seconds there was no weapon, no metal; the fire blinked out—and where it had been the floor was not even singed.
From Dr. Lell came a barked command, oddly twisted, foreignish words that nevertheless sounded like: "Grab him!"
She looked up, abruptly sick; but there was no fight. Jack Garson did not even resist, as the wave of beast men flowed around him. Dr. Lell said:
"So far, professor, you haven’t made a very good showing as a gallant rescuer. But I’m glad to see that you have already recognized the hopelessness of opposing us. It is possible that, if you remain reasonable, we will not have to destroy your personality. But now—"
Urgency sharpened his tone. "I had intended to wait and capture your burly policemen, but as they have not arrived at the proper moment—a tradition with them, I believe—I think we shall have to go without them. It’s just as well, I suppose."
He waved the hand that held the ball of fire, and the men carrying Jack Garson literally ran into the back room. Almost instantly, they were out of sight. Norma had a brief glimpse of the machine blazing into wondrous life and then there was only Dr. Lell striding forward, leaning over the bench, his eyes glaring pools of menace.
"Go upstairs instantly! I don’t think the police will recognize you—but if you make one false move, he will pay. Go—quickly!"
As she hurried past the window on semi-liquid legs, she saw his tall figure vanish through the door into the back room. Then she was climbing the stairs.
Halfway up, her movements slowed as if she had been struck. Her mirror told the story of her punishment. The lean face of a woman of fifty-five met her stunned gaze.
The disaster was complete. Cold, stiff, tearless, she waited for the police.

For Garson, the world of the future began as a long, dim corridor that kept blurring before his unsteady vision. Heavy hands held him erect as he walked and—a wave of blur blotted the uncertain picture—
When he could see again, the pressure of unpleasant hands was gone from him, and he was in a small room, sitting down. His first dim impression was that he was alone, yet when he shook himself, and his vision cleared, he saw the desk; and behind the desk, a man.
The sight of that lean, dark, saturnine figure shocked electrically along his nerves, instantly galvanized a measure of strength back into his body. He leaned forward, his attention gathered on the man; and that was like a signal. Dr. Lell said derisively:
"I know. You’ve decided to cooperate. It was in your mind even before we left the presence of . . . er . . . pardon the familiarity . . . of Norma, to whose rescue you came with such impetuous gallantry. Unfortunately it isn’t only a matter of making up your mind."
There was a quality of sneer in the man’s voice that sent an uneasy current through Garson. He shook himself mentally, trying to clear the remnants of weakness out of his system.
He thought, not coherently, not even chronologically: Lucky he was here in this room. Damned lucky they hadn’t sprung a complication of futuristic newness on him, and so disorganized his concentration. Now there was time to gather his thoughts, harden his mind to every conceivable development, discount surprises, and stay alive.
He said: "It’s quite simple. You’ve got Norma. You’ve got me in your power, here in your own age. I’d be a fool to resist."
Dr. Lell regarded him almost pityingly for a moment. And then—there was no doubt of the sneer as he spoke:
"My dear Professor Garson, discussion at this point would be utterly futile. My purpose is merely to discover if you are the type we can use in our laboratories. If you are not, the only alternative is the depersonalizing chamber. I can say this much: men of your character type have not, on the average, been successful in passing our tests."
That was real; every word like a penetrating edged thing. Actually, in spite of his sneers and his amused contempt—actually this man was indifferent to him. There was only the test, whatever that was; and his own conscious life at stake. The important thing was to stay calm, and to stick leechlike to this one tremendous subject. Before he could speak, Dr. Lell said in a curiously flat voice:
"We have a machine that tests human beings for degree of recalcitrancy. The Observer Machine will speak to you now!"
“What is your name?" said a voice out of the thin air beside Garson.
Garson jumped; his brain staggered, literally; and there was a terrible moment of unbalance. The dim, dismayed thought came that, in spite of determination, he had been caught off guard; and there was the still vaguer thought that, without his being aware of it, he had actually been in a state of dangerous tension.
With a terrific effort he caught himself. He saw that Dr. Lell was smiling again, and that helped! Trembling, he leaned back in his chair; and, after a moment, he was sufficiently recovered to feel a surge of anger at the way the chill clung to his body, and at the tiny quaver in his voice, as he began to answer:
"My name is John Bellmore Garson—age thirty-three—professor of physics at the University of—research scientist—blood type number—"
There were too many questions, an exhaustive drain of detail out of his mind, the history of his life, his aspirations. In the end, the deadly truth was a cold weight inside him. His life, his conscious life, was at stake now—this minute! Here was not even the shadow of comedy, but a precise, thorough, machinelike grilling. He must pass this test or—
"Dr. Lell!" The insistent voice of the machine broke in. "What is the state of this man’s mind at this moment?"
Dr. Lell said promptly, coolly: "A state of tremendous doubt. His subconscious is in a turmoil of uncertainty. I need hardly add that his subconscious knows his character."
Garson drew a deep breath. He felt utterly sick at the simple way he had been disintegrated. And by one newness! A machine that needed neither telephone nor radio—if it was a machine! His voice was a rasping thing in his own ears, as he snapped:
"My subconscious can go straight to hell! I’m a reasonable person. I’ve made up my mind. I play ball with your organization to the limit."
The silence that followed was unnaturally long; and when at last the machine spoke, his relief lasted only till its final words penetrated. The disembodied voice said coldly:
"I am pessimistic—but bring him over for the test after the usual preliminaries!"
Preliminaries! Was it possible that this mind-shaking test had been but the preliminary to the preliminary of the real test?
Rigid with dismay, he stood up to follow the bleakly smiling Dr. Lell out of the room.
He began to feel better, as he walked behind Dr. Lell along the gray-blue hallway. In a small way, he had won. Whatever these other tests were, how could they possibly ignore his determined conviction that he must co-operate? As for himself—
For himself, there was this colossal world of the future. Surely, he could resign himself to his lot for the duration of this silly war and lose himself in the amazing immensity of a science that included time machines, fireballs, and Observer Machines that judged men with a cold, remorseless logic and spoke out of thin air.
He frowned. There must be some trick to that, some "telephone" in the nearby wall. Damned if he’d believe that any force could focus sound without intermediary instruments, just as Norma couldn’t have been made older in the police station without—
The thought collapsed.
For a paralyzed moment, he stared down where the floor had been. It wasn’t there!
With a gasp, Garson grabbed at the opaque wall; and then, as a low laugh from the doctor, and the continued hardness beneath his feet, told the extent of the illusion, he controlled himself—and stared in utter fascination.
Below him was a section of a room, whose limits he could not see because the opaque walls barred his vision on either side. A milling pack of men filled every available foot of space that he could see. Men, oh—The ironic voice of Dr. Lell pierced his stunned senses, echoing his thoughts with brittle words:
"Men, yes, men! Recruits out of all times. Soldiers-to-be from the ages, and not yet do they know their destiny."
The voice ended, but the indescribable scene went on. Men squirmed, shoved, fought. Upturned faces showed stark puzzlement, anger, fear, amusement, and all the combinations of all the possible emotions. There were men in clothes that sparkled with every color of the rainbow; there were the drab-clothed, the in-betweens; there were—
Garson caught his flitting mind into an observant tightness. In spite of the radical difference in the dress styles of the men who floundered down there like sheep in a slaughterhouse pen, there was a sameness about them that could only mean one thing. They were all—
"You’re right!" It was that cool, taunting voice again. "They’re all Americans, all from this one city now called Delpa. From our several thousand machines located in the various ages of Delpa, we obtain about four thousand men an hour during the daylight hours. What you see below is the main receiving room.
"The recruits come sliding down the time chutes, and are promptly revived and shoved in there. Naturally at this stage there is a certain amount of confusion. But let us proceed further."
Garson scarcely noticed as the solid floor leaped into place beneath his feet. The vague thought did come that at no time had he seen Dr. Lell press a button or manipulate a control of any kind, neither when the Observer Machine spoke with ventriloquistic wizardry, nor when the floor was made invisible, nor now when it again became opaque. Possibly here was some form of mental control. His mind leaped to a personal danger:
What was the purpose of this—preliminary? Were they showing him horror, then watching his reactions? He felt abrupt rage. What did they expect from a man brought up in twentieth-century environment? Nothing here had anything to do with his intellectual conviction that he was caught and that therefore he must cooperate. But—four thousand men in one hour from one city! Why, it meant—
"And here," Dr. Lell said, and his voice was as calm as the placid waters of a pond, "we have one of several hundred smaller rooms that make a great circle around the primary time machine. You can see the confusion has diminished."
Truth, Garson thought, had never suffered greater understatement than those words. There was absolute absence of confusion. Men sat on chesterfields. Some were looking at books; others chatted like people in a silent movie; their lips moved, but no sound penetrated the illusive transparency of the floor.
"I didn’t," came that calm, smooth, confident voice, "show you the intermediate stage that leads up to this club-like atmosphere. A thousand frightened men confronted with danger could make trouble. But we winnow them down psychologically and physically till we have one man going through that door at the end of the room—ah, there’s one going now. Let us by all means follow him. You see, at this point we dispense with coddling and bring forth the naked reality."
The reality was a metal, boiler-shaped affair, with a furnace-like door; and four beast humans simply grabbed the startled newcomer and thrust him feet first into the door.
The man must have screamed; for, once, his face twisted upward, and the contorted fear, the almost idiotic gaping and working of the mouth came at Garson like some enormous physical blow. As from a great distance, he heard Dr. Lell say:
"It helps at this stage to disorganize the patient’s mind, for the depersonalizing machine can then do a better job."
Abruptly, the impersonalness went out of his voice. In an icily curt tone, he said: "It is useless continuing this little lecture tour. To my mind, your reactions have fully justified the pessimism of the Observer. There will be no further delay."
The deadly words scarcely touched him. He was drained of emotion, of hope; and that first blaze of scientific eagerness was a dull, aching ember.
After that incredible succession of blows, he accepted the failure verdict as—merited!
It was consciousness of the sardonic profile of his captor that brought the first emergence from that dark defeatism. Damn it, there was still the fact that he was logistically committed to this world. He’d have to harden himself, narrow his emotions down to a channel that would include only Norma and himself. If these people and their machine condemned on the basis of feelings, then he’d have to show them how stony-cold his intellect could be.
He braced himself. Where the devil was this all-knowing machine?
The corridor ended abruptly in a plain, black door, exactly like all the other doors, that held not the faintest promise of anything important beyond.
Amazingly, it opened onto a street!
A street of the city of the future!
Garson stiffened. His brain soared beyond contemplation of his own danger in a burning anticipation; and then, almost instantly, began to sag.
Puzzled, he stared at a scene that was utterly different from his expectations. In a vague way, mindful of the effects of war, he had pictured devastated magnificence. Instead—
Before his gaze stretched a depressingly narrow, unsightly street. Dark unwashed buildings lowered up to hide the sun. A trickle of the squat semi-human men and women, beast-like creatures, moved stolidly along narrow areas of pavement marked off by black lines, that constituted the only method of distinguishing the road from the sidewalk.
The street stretched away for miles; and it was all like that, as far as he could see clearly. Intensely disappointed, conscious even of disgust, Garson turned away—and grew aware that Dr. Lell was staring at him with a grim smile. The doctor said laconically:
"What you are looking for, Professor Garson, you will not find, not in this or similar cities of the ’Slaves’, but in the palace cities of the Glorious and the Planetarians—"
He stopped, as if his words had brought an incredibly unpleasant thought; to Garson’s amazement, his face twisted with rage; his voice almost choked, as he spat: "Those damnable Planetarians! When I think what their so-called ideals are bringing the world to, I—"
The spasm of fury passed; he said quietly: "Several hundred years ago, a mixed commission of Glorious and Planetarians surveyed the entire physical resources of the Solar System. Men had made themselves practically immortal; theoretically, this body of mine will last a million years, barring major accidents. It was decided available resources would maintain ten million men on Earth, ten million on Venus, five million on Mars and ten million altogether on the moons of Jupiter for one million years at the then existing high standard of consumption, roughly amounting to about four million dollars a year per person at 1941 values.
"If in the meantime Man conquered the stars, all these figures were subject to revision, though then, as now, the latter possibility was considered as remote as the stars themselves. Under examination, the problem, so apparently simple, has shown itself intricate beyond the scope of our mathematics."
He paused, and Garson ventured: "We had versions of planned states in our time, too, but they always broke down because of human nature. That seems to have happened again."
Not for a second had Garson considered his statement dangerous. The effect of his words was startling. The lean, handsome face became like frozen marble. Harshly, Dr. Lell said:
"Do not dare to compare your Naziism or Communism to—us! We are the rulers of all future time, and who in the past could ever stand against us if we chose to dominate? We shall win this war, in spite of being on the verge of defeat, for we are building the greatest time-energy barrier that has ever existed. With it, we shall destroy—or no one will win! We’ll teach those moralistic scum of the planets to prate about man’s rights and the freedom of the spirit. Blast them all!"
It was stunning. There was a passion of pride here, a violence of emotion altogether outside any possible anticipation. And yet—the fact remained that his own opinions were what they were, and he could not actually hope to conceal them from either Dr. Lell or the Observer; so—
He said: "I see an aristocratic hierarchy and a swarm of beast-men slaves. How do they fit into the picture, anyway? What about the resources they require? There certainly seem to be hundreds of thousands in this city alone."
The man was staring at him in rigid hostility, that brought a sudden chill to Garson’s spine. Genuinely, he hadn’t expected that any reasonable statement he might make would be used against him. Dr. Lell said too quietly:
"Basically, they do not use any resources. They live in cities of stone and brick, and eat the produce of the indefatigable soil."
His voice was suddenly as sharp as steel. "And now, Professor Garson, I assure you that you have already condemned yourself. The Observer is located in that metal building across the street because the strain of energy from the great primary time machine would affect its sensitive parts if it was any nearer. I can think of no other explanation that you require, and I certainly have no desire to remain in the company of a man who will be an automaton in half an hour. Come along!"
Briefly, there was no impulse in him to argue, nothing but awareness of this monstrous city. Here it was again, the old, old story of the aristocrat justifying his black crime against his fellow man. Originally, there must have been deliberate physical degradation, deliberate misuse of psychology. The very name by which these people called themselves, the Glorious, seemed a heritage from days when dastardly and enormous efforts must have been made to arouse hysterical hero worship in the masses.
Dr. Lell’s dry voice said: "Your disapproval of our slaves is shared by the Planetarians. They also oppose our methods of depersonalizing our recruits. It is easy to see that they and you have many things in common, and if only you could escape to their side—"
With an effort, Garson pulled himself out of his private world. He was being led on, not even skillfully; and it was only too apparent now that every word Dr. Lell spoke had the purpose of making him reveal himself. For a moment, he was conscious of genuine impatience; then puzzlement came.
"I don’t get it," he said. "What you’re doing cannot be bringing forth any new facts. I’m the product of my environment. You know what that environment is, and what type of normal human being it must inevitably produce. As I’ve said, my whole case rests on co-oper—"
It was the difference in the texture of the sky at the remote end of that street that snatched his attention. A faint, unnormal, scarlet tinge it was, like a mist, an unnatural, unearthly sunset, only it was hours yet before the sun would set.
Astoundingly, he felt himself taut, growing tauter. He said in a tense voice:
"What’s that?"
"That," Dr. Lell’s curt, amused voice came at him, "is the war."
Garson restrained a crazy impulse to burst out laughing. For weeks speculation about this gigantic war of the future had intertwined with his gathering anxiety about Norma. And now this—this red haze on the horizon of an otherwise undamaged city—the war!
The dark flash of inner laughter faded, as Dr. Lell said:
"It is not so funny as you think. Most of Delpa is intact because it is protected by a local time-energy barrier. Delpa is actually under siege, fifty miles inside enemy territory."
He must have caught the thought that came to Garson. He said good-humoredly: "You’re right. All you have to do is get out of Delpa, and you’ll be safe."
Garson said angrily: "It’s a thought that would occur naturally to any intelligent person. Don’t forget you have Miss Matheson."
Dr. Lell seemed not to have heard. "The red haze you see is the point where the enemy has neutralized our energy barrier. It is there that they attack us unceasingly day and night with an inexhaustible store of robot machines.
"We are unfortunate in not having the factory capacity in Delpa to build robot weapons, so we use a similar type manned by depersonalized humans. Unfortunately, again, the cost in lives is high: ninety-eight percent of recruits. Every day, too, we lose about forty feet of the city, and, of course, in the end, Delpa will fall."
He smiled, an almost gentle smile. Garson was amazed to notice that he seemed suddenly in high good humor. Dr. Lell said:
"You can see how effective even a small time-energy barrier is. When we complete the great barrier two years hence, our entire front line will be literally impregnable. And now, as for your cooperation argument, it’s worthless. Men are braver than they think, braver than reason. But let’s forget argument. In a minute, the machine will give us the truth of this matter—"
At first sight, the Observer Machine was a solid bank of flickering lights that steadied oddly, seemed almost to glare as they surveyed him. Carson stood quite still, scarcely breathing; a dim thought came that this—this wall of black metal machine and lights was utterly unimpressive.
He found himself analyzing the lack: It was too big and too stationary. If it had been small and possessed of shape, however ugly, and movement, there might have been a suggestion of abnormal personality.
But here was nothing, but a myriad of lights. As he watched, the lights began to wink again. Abruptly they blinked out, all except a little colored design of them at the bottom right-hand corner.
Behind him, the door opened, and Dr. Lell came into the silent room. "I’m glad," he said quietly, "that the result was what it was. We are desperately in need of good assistants.
"To illustrate," he went on, as they emerged into the brightness of the unpleasant street, "I am, for instance, in charge of the recruiting station in 1941, but I’m there only when an intertime alarm system has warned me. In the interim, I am employed on scientific duties of the second order—first order being work that, by its very nature, must continue without interruption."
They were back in the same great building from which he had come; and ahead stretched the same gray-blue, familiar corridor, only this time Dr. Lell opened the first of several doors. He bowed politely.
"After you, professor!"
A fraction too late, Carson’s fist flailed the air where that dark, strong face had been. They stared at each other, Carson tight-lipped, his brain like a steel bar. The superman said softly:
"You will always be that instant too slow, professor. It is a lack you cannot remedy. You know, of course, that my little speech was designed to keep you quiet during the trip back here, and that, actually, you failed the test. What you do not know is that you failed startlingly, with a recalcitrancy grading of 6, which is the very worst, and intelligence AA plus, almost the best. It is too bad because we genuinely need capable assistants. I regret—"
"Let me do the regretting!" Garson cut him off roughly. "If I remember rightly, it was just below here that your beast men were forcing a man into the depersonalizing machine. Perhaps, on the staircase going down, I can find some way of tripping you up, and knocking that little gun you’re palming right out of your hand."
There was something in the smile of the other that should have warned him—a hint of sly amusement. Not that it would have made any difference. Only—
He stepped through the open doorway toward the gray-blue, plainly visible stairway. Behind him, the door clicked with an odd finality. Ahead there was—
Amazingly, the staircase was gone. Where it had been was a large boiler-like case with a furnace-shaped door. Half a dozen beast men came forward—a moment later, they were shoving him toward that black hole of a door

The second day Norma took the risk. The windows of the recruiting station still showed the same blank interior; walls stripped by the police of Calonian slogans, and signs and newspaper clippings trampled all over the floor. The door to the back room was half closed—too dark to see the interior.
It was noon. With drummed-up courage, Norma walked swiftly to the front entrance. The lock clicked open smoothly, and she was inside—pushing at that back door.
The machine was not there. Great dents showed in the floor, where it had malignantly crouched for so many months. But it was gone, as completely as Dr. Lell, as completely as the creaturemen and Jack Garson.
Back in her rooms, she collapsed onto the bed, and lay quivering from the dreadful nervous reaction of that swift, illegal search.
On the afternoon of the fourth day, as she sat staring at the meaningless words of a book, there was an abrupt tingling in her body. Somewhere a machine—the machine—was vibrating softly.
She climbed to her feet, the book forgotten on the window sill, where, freakishly, it had fallen. But the sound was gone. Not a tremor touched her taut nerves. The thought came: imagination! The pressure was really beginning to get her.
As she stood there stiff, unable to relax, there came the thin squeal of a door opening downstairs. She recognized the sound instantly. It was the back door that led onto the vacant back lot, which her window overlooked. The back door opening and shutting!
She stared, fascinated, as Dr. Lell stalked into view. Her thought of awareness of him was so sharp that he must have caught it—but he did not turn. In half a minute he was gone, out of her line of vision.
On the fifth day, there was hammering downstairs, carpenters working. Several trucks came, and there was the mumbling sound of men talking. But it was evening before she dared venture downstairs. Through the window, then, she saw the beginning of the changes that were being wrought.
The old bench had been removed. The walls were being redone; there was no new furniture yet, but a rough, unfinished sign leaned against one wall. It read:

EMPLOYMENT BUREAU
MEN WANTED

Men wanted! So that was it. Another trap for men! Those ravenous armies of the Glorious must be kept glutted with fodder. The incredible war up there in that incredible future raged on. And she—
Quite dumbly, she watched as Dr. Lell came out of the back room. He walked toward the front door, and there was not even the impulse in her to run. She stood there, as he opened the door, came out, meticulously closed the door behind him, and then, after a moment, stood beside her, as silent as she, staring into the window. Finally:
"I see you’ve been admiring our new set-up!"
His voice was matter-of-fact, completely lacking in menace. She made no reply; he seemed to expect none, for he said almost immediately, in that same conversational tone:
"It’s just as well that it all happened as it did. Nothing I ever told you has been disproved. I said that investigation had shown the machine to be here several years hence. Naturally, we could not examine every day or week of that time. This little episode accordingly escaped our notice, but did not change the situation.
"As for the fact that it will be an employment bureau henceforth, that seemed natural at the period of our investigation because this war of your time was over then."
He paused, and still there was no word that she could think of saying. In the gathering darkness, he seemed to stare at her.
"I’m telling you all this because it would be annoying to have to train someone else for your position, and because you must realize the impossibility of further opposition.
"Accept your situation. We have thousands of machines similar to this, and the millions of men flowing through them are gradually turning the tide of battle in our favor. We must win; our cause is overwhelmingly just; we are Earth against all the planets; Earth protecting herself against the aggression of a combination of enemies armed as no powers in all time have ever been armed. We have the highest moral right to draw on the men of Earth of every century to defend their planet.
"However"—his voice lost its objectivity, grew colder—"if this logic does not move you, the following rewards for your good behavior should prove efficacious. We have Professor Garson; unfortunately, I was unable to save his personality. Definite tests proved that he would be a recalcitrant, so—
"Then there is your youth. It will be returned to you on a salary basis. Every three weeks you will become a year younger. In short, it will require two years for you to return to your version of twenty."
He finished on a note of command: "A week from today, this bureau will open for business. You will report at nine o’clock. This is your last chance. Good-by."
In the darkness, she watched his shape turn; he vanished into the gloom of the building.

She had a purpose. At first it was a tiny mind growth that she wouldn’t admit into her consciousness. But gradually embarrassment passed, and the whole world of her thought began to organize around it.
It began with the developing realization that resistance was useless. Not that she believed in the rightness of the cause of Dr. Lell and of this race that called itself the Glorious, although his story of Earth against the planets had put the first doubt into her brain. As—she knew—he had intended it should.
The whole affair was simpler than that. One woman had set herself against the men of the future—what a silly thing for one woman to do!
There remained Jack Garson!
If she could get him back, poor, broken, strange creature that he must be now with his personality destroyed—somehow she would make amends for having been responsible, but—
She thought: What madness to hope that they’d give him back to her, ever! She was the tiniest cog in a vast war machine. Nevertheless, the fact remained:
She must get him back!
The part of her brain that was educated, civilized, thought: What an elemental purpose, everything drained out of her but the basic of basics, one woman concentrating on the one man.
But the purpose was there, unquenchable!
The slow months dragged; and, once gone, seemed to have flashed by. Suddenly, the Great War was over—and swarms of returned soldiers made the streets both dangerous and alive.
One night she turned a corner and found herself on a street she hadn’t visited for some time. She stopped short, her body stiffening. The street ahead was thick with men—but their presence scarcely touched her mind.
Above all that confusion of sound, above the catcalls, above the roar of streetcars and automobiles, above the totality of the cacophonous combination, there was another sound, an incredibly softer sound—the whisper of a time machine.
She was miles from the employment bureau with its machine, but the tiny tremor along her nerves was unmistakable.
She pressed forward, blind to everything but the brilliantly lighted building that was the center of the attention of the men. A man tried to put his arm through hers. She jerked free automatically. Another man simply caught her in an embrace, and for brief seconds she was subjected to a steel-hard hug and a steel-hard kiss.
Purpose gave her strength. With scarcely an effort, she freed one arm and struck at his face. The man laughed good-humoredly, released her, but walked beside her.
"Clear the way for the lady!" he shouted.
Almost magically, there was a lane; and she was at the window. There was a sign that read:

WANTED
RETURNED SOLDIERS FOR DANGEROUS ADVENTURE
GOOD PAY!

No emotion came to the realization that here was another trap for men, in her brain, she had space only for impression.
The impression was of a large square room, with a dozen men in it. Only three of the men were recruits; of the other nine, one was an American soldier dressed in the uniform of World War I. He sat at a desk pounding a typewriter. Over him leaned a Roman legionnaire of the time of Julius Caesar, complete with toga and short sword. Beside the door, holding back the pressing throng of men, were two Greek soldiers of the time of Pericles.
The men and the times they represented were unmistakable to her, who had taken four years of university Latin and Greek, and acted in plays of both periods in the original languages.
There was another man in an ancient costume, but she was unable to place him. At the moment, he was at a short counter interviewing one of the three recruits.
Of the four remaining men, two wore uniforms that could have been developments of the late twentieth century: the cloth was a light-yellow texture, and both men had two pips on their shoulders. The rank of lieutenant was obviously still in style when they were commissioned.
The remaining two men were simply strange, not in face, but in the cloth of their uniforms. Their faces were of sensitive, normal construction; their uniforms consisted of breeches and neatly fitting coats all in blue, a blue that sparkled as from a million needle-like diamond points. In a quiet, blue, intense way, they shone.
One of the recruits was led to the back door, as she watched, her first awareness that there was a back door. The door opened; she had the briefest glimpse of a towering machine and a flashing picture of a man who was tall and dark of face, and who might have been Dr. Lell. Only he wasn’t. But the similarity of race was unmistakable.
The door closed, and one of the Greeks guarding the outer entrance said: "All right, two more of you fellows can come in!"
There was a struggle for position, brief but incredibly violent. And then the two victors, grinning and breathing heavily from their exertion, were inside. In the silence that followed, one of the Greeks turned to the other, and said in a tangy, almost incomprehensible version of ancient Greek:
"Sparta herself never had more willing fighters. This promises to be a good night’s catch!"
It was the rhythm of the words, and the colloquial gusto with which they were spoken that almost destroyed the meaning for her. After a moment, however, she made the mental translation. And now the truth was unmistakable. The men of Time had gone back even to old Greece, probably much farther back, for their recruits. And always they had used every version of bait, based on all the weaknesses and urgencies in the natures of men.
"Fight For Calonia"—an appeal to idealism! "Men wanted"—the most basic of all appeals, work for food, happiness, security. And now, the appeal variation was for returned soldiers—adventure—with pay!
Diabolical! And yet so effective that they could even use men who had formerly been caught on the same brand of fly paper as recruiting officers—These men must be of the recalcitrant type, who fitted themselves willingly into the war machine of the Glorious One.
Traitors!
Abruptly ablaze with hatred for all nonrecalcitrants, who still possessed their personalities, she whirled away from the window.
She was thinking: Thousands of such machines. The figures had been meaningless before, but now, with just one other machine as a tremendous example, the reality reared up into a monstrous thing.
To think that there was a time when she had actually set her slim body and single, inadequate mind against them!
There remained the problem of getting Jack Garson out of the hell of that titanic war of the future!
At night, she walked the streets, because there was always the fear that in the apartment her thoughts, her driving deadly thoughts, would be—tapped. And because to be enclosed in those narrow walls above the machine that had devoured so many thousands of men was—intolerable!
She thought as she walked—over and over she thought of the letter Jack Garson had written her before he came in person. Long destroyed, that letter, but every word was emblazoned on her brain; and of all the words of it, the one sentence that she always returned to was. "In your position, I would ask myself one question: Was there anything, any metal, anything, upon my person, that might have been placed there?"
One day, as she was wearily unlocking the door of her apartment, the answer came. Perhaps it was the extra weariness that brought her briefly closer to basic things. Perhaps her brain was simply tired of slipping over the same blind spot. Or perhaps the months of concentration had finally earned the long-delayed result.
Whatever the reason, she was putting the key back into her purse when the hard, metallic feel of it against her fingers brought wild, piercing realization.
The key, metal, the key, metal, the key—
Desperately, she stopped the mad repetition. The apartment door slammed behind her, and like some terrorized creature she fled down the dark stairs into the glare of the night streets.
Impossible to return till she had calmed the burning, raging chaos that was in her mind. Until she had—made sure!
After half an hour, the first flash of coherence came. In a drugstore, she bought a night bag and a few fill-ins to give it weight. A pair of small pliers, a pair of tweezers—in case the pliers were too large—and a small screwdriver completed her equipment. Then she went to a hotel.
The pliers and the tweezers were all she needed. The little bulbous cap of the skeleton-type key yielded to the first hard pressure. Her trembling fingers completed the unscrewing—and she found herself staring at a tiny, glowing point, like a red-hot needle protruding from the very center of the tube that was the inside of the key.
The needle vanished into an intricate design of spider-like wires, all visible in the glow that shed from them—
The vague thought came that there was probably terrific, communicable energies here. But somehow there came no sense of restraint from the idea. Only enough reality of danger struck her to make her wrap her flimsy lace handkerchief around the tweezers—and then she touched the shining, protruding needle point.
It yielded the slightest bit to her shaky touch. Nothing happened. It just glowed there.
Dissatisfied, she put the key down and stared at it. So tiny, so delicate a machine actually disturbed to the extent of one sixteenth of an inch displacement—and nothing happened. She—
A sudden thought sent her to the dresser mirror. A forty-year-old face stared back at her.
Months now since she had returned to twenty. And now, in a flash, she was forty. The little touch of the pin against the needle’s end, pushing, had aged her twenty years.
That explained what had happened at the police station. It meant—if she could only pull it back—She fought to steady her fingers, then applied the tweezers.
She was twenty again!
Abruptly weak, she lay down on the bed. She thought:
Somewhere in the world of time and space was the still-living body of the man that had been Jack Garson. But for him she could throw this key thing into the river three blocks away, take the first train East or West or South—anywhere—and the power of the machine would be futile against her. Dr. Lell would not even think of searching for her once she had lost herself in the swarm of humankind.
How simple it all really was. For three long years, their power over her had been the key and its one devastating ability to age her.
Or was that all?
Startled, she sat up. Did they count, perhaps, on their victims believing themselves safe enough to keep the key and its magic powers of rejuvenation? She, of course, because of Jack Garson, was bound to the key as if it was still the controller and not she. But the other incentive, now that she had thought of it, was enormous. And—
Her fingers shook as she picked up the dully gleaming key with its glowing, intricate interior. Incredible that they could have allowed so precious an instrument to pass so easily into the hands of an alien, when they must have known that the probability of discovery was not—improbable!
An idea came; and, with it, abrupt calm. With suddenly steady fingers, she picked up the tweezers, caught the protruding glow point of the key between the metal jaws, and, making no attempt to pull or push, twisted screw-wise.
There was a tiny, almost inaudible click. Her body twanged like a taut violin string, and she was falling—falling into dark, immeasurable distance.
Out of the night, a vaguely shining body drifted toward her, a body human yet not human; there was something about the head and the shoulders, something physically different that somehow eluded her slow thought; and in that strange, superhuman head were eyes that blazed like jewels, seemed literally to pierce her. The voice that came couldn’t have been sound, for it was inside her brain, and it said:
"With this great moment, you enter upon your power and your purpose. I say to you, the time-energy barrier must not be completed. It will destroy all the ages of the Solar System. The time-energy barrier must not, not, NOT be completed—"
The body faded, and was gone into remoteness. The very memory of it became a dim mind-shape. There remained the darkness, the jet, incredible darkness.
Abruptly, she was in a material world. She seemed to be half-slumped, half-kneeling, one leg folded under her in the exact position she had occupied on the bed. Only she must have drooped there unconscious for long moments; her knees ached and ached with the hard, pressing pain of position. And—beneath the silk of her stockings was, not the hotel bed, but—metal!

It was the combination of surprise, the aloneness, and the stark fact of the mind-destroying thing that was going to happen that unnerved Garson. Involuntarily, he started to squirm, then he was writhing, his face twisting in strange mental agony; and then the strength of those rough, stolid hands holding him seemed to flow somehow into his nerves.
Almost literally, he clenched his mind, and was safe from madness!
There were no hands touching him now. He lay, face downward on a flat, hard surface; and at first there was only the darkness and a slow return of the sense of aloneness.
Vague thoughts came, thoughts of Norma and of the coincidence that had molded his life, seemingly so free for so many years, yet destined to find its ending here in this black execution chamber—for he was being destroyed here, though his body might live on for a few brief mindless hours. Or days. Or weeks. It mattered not.
The thing was fantastic. This whole damned business was a nightmare, and in a minute he’d wake up and—
At first the sound was less than a whisper, a stealthy noise out of remoteness, that prodded with an odd insistence at Garson’s hearing. It quivered toward him in the blackness, edging out of inaudibility, a rasping presence that grew louder, louder—voices!
It exploded into a monstrous existence, a billion voices clamoring at his brain, a massive blare that pressed at him, pressed him!
Abruptly, the ferocity of the voices dimmed. They faded into distance, still insistent, somehow reluctant to leave, as if there was something still left unsaid.
The end of sound came, and briefly there was utter silence. Then—there was a click. Light flooded at him from an opening a scant foot from his head.
Garson twisted and stared, fascinated. Daylight! From his vantage point, he could see the edge of a brick-and-stone building, a wretchedly old, worn building, a street of Delpa.
It was over. Incredibly it was over.
And nothing had happened. No, that wasn’t it exactly. There were things in his mind, confusing things about the importance of loyalty to the Glorious, a sense of intimacy with his surroundings, pictures of ma­chines and—nothing clear, except—
A harsh voice broke his amazed blur of thought. "Come on out of there, you damned slow poke!"
A square, heavy, brutal face was peering into the open door, a big, square-built young man with a thick neck, a boxer’s flat nose, and unpleasant blue eyes.
Garson lay quite still. It was not that he intended to disobey. All his reason urged instant, automatic obedience until he could estimate the astounding things that had happened.
What held him there, every muscle stiff, was a new, tremendous fact that grew, not out of the meaning of the man’s words, but out of the words themselves.
The language was not English. Yet he had understood—every word!
The sudden squint of impatient rage that flushed the coarse face peering in at him brought life to Garson’s muscles. He scrambled forward, but it was the man’s truck-driver hands that actually pulled him clear and deposited him with a jarring casualness face downward on the paved road.
He lay there for an electric instant, tense with an anger that congealed reluctantly before the thought: He dare not get mad. Or act the fool!
The terrific reality was that something had gone wrong. Somehow the machine hadn’t worked all the way, and if he was crazy enough to wreck the great chance that offered—
He stood up slowly, wondering how an automaton, a depersonalized human being, should look and act.
"This way, damn you," said that bullying voice from behind him. "You’re in the army now."
Satisfaction came into the voice: "Well, you’re the last for me today. I’ll get you fellows to the front, and then—"
"This way" led to a dispirited-looking group of men, about a hundred of them, who stood in two rows alongside a great, gloomy, dirty building. He walked stolidly to the end of the rear line, and for the first time realized how surprisingly straight the formation of men were holding their lines, in spite of their dulled appearance.
"All right, all right," bellowed the square-jawed young man. "Let’s get going. You’ve got some hard fighting ahead of you before this day and night are over—"
The contemptuous thought came to Garson, as he stared at the leader: this, then, was the type they picked for nonrecalatrant training: the ignorant, blatant, amoral, sensual pigmen. No wonder he himself had been rejected by the Observer.
His eyes narrowed to slits as he watched the line of dead-alive men walk by him in perfect rhythm; he fell in step, his mind deliberately slow and ice-cold, cautiously exploring the strange knowledge in his brain that didn’t fit with his—freedom!
That didn’t fit with anything! A little group of sentences that kept repeating inside him:
"The great time-energy barrier is being built in Delpa. It must not be completed, for it will destroy the Universe. Prepare to do your part in its destruction; try to tell the Planetarians, but take no unnecessary risks. To stay alive, to tell the Planetarians: those are your immediate purposes. The time-energy barriers must not—NOT—"
Funny, he thought, funny! He squeezed the crazy thing out of his consciousness.
No trucks came gliding up to transport them; no streetcar whispered along in some superdevelopment of street-railway service; there was simply no machinery, nothing but those narrow avenues with their gray, sidewalk-less length, like back alleys.
They walked to war; and it was like being in a dead, old, deserted city—deserted except for the straggle of short, thick, slow, stolid men and women who plodded heavily by, unsmiling, without so much as a side glance. As if they were but the pitiful, primitive remnant of a once-great race, and this city the proud monument to— No!
Garson smiled wryly. Of all the fools, getting romantic about this monstrosity of a city. All too evident it was, even without Dr. Lell’s words as a reminder, that every narrow, dirty street, every squalid building had been erected—to be what it was.
And the sooner he got out of the place, and delivered to the Planetarians the queer, inexplicable message about the great time-energy barrier—
With a half shudder, with deliberate abruptness, he cut the thought. Damn it, he’d have to be careful. If one of the Glorious should happen to be around, and accidentally catch the free thought of what was supposed to be an automaton—next time there’d be no mistake.
Tramp, tramp, tramp! The pavement echoed with the strange lifeless hollowness of a ghost city; and the tremendous thought came that he was here centuries, perhaps millenniums, into the future. ’What an awful realization to think that Norma, poor, persecuted, enslaved Norma, whose despairing face he had seen little more than an hour ago, was actually dead and buried in the dim ages of the long ago.
And yet she was alive. Those six hundred billion bodies per minute of hers were somewhere in space and time, alive because the great time energy followed its casual, cosmic course of endless repetition, because life was but an accident as purposeless as the immeasurable energy that plunged grandly on into the unknown night that must be—somewhere!
Tramp, tramp— On and on, and his thought was a rhythm to the march— With an ugly start he came out of his reverie, and instantly grew abnormally aware of the nearness of the red haze in the sky ahead. Why, it wouldn’t take ten minutes now, and they’d be there!
Machines glinted in the slanting rays of the warm, golden, sinking sun; machines that moved and—fought! A sick thrill struck Garson, the first shock of realization that this—this tiny segment of the battle of the ages was real, and near, and deadly.
Up there, every minute men were dying miserably for a cause their depersonalized minds did not even comprehend. Up there, too, was infinitesimal victory for the Planetarians, and a small, stinging measure of defeat for the Glorious. Forty feet a day, Dr. Lell had said.
Forty feet of city conquered every day. What a murderous war of attrition, what a bankruptcy of strategy. Or was it the ultimate nullification of the role of military genius, in that each side knew and practiced every rule of military science without error?—and the forty feet was simply the inevitable mathematical outcome of the difference in the potential in striking power of the two forces.
Forty feet a day. In a blaze of wonder, Garson stood finally with his troop a hundred yards from that unnatural battle front. Like a robot he stood stiffly among those robot men, but his eyes and mind fed in undiminished fascination at the deadly mechanical routine that was the offense and defense.
The Planetarians had seven major machines, and there were at least half a hundred tiny, swift, glittering craft as escort for each of the great—battleships! That was it: battleships and destroyers.
Against them, the Glorious had only destroyers, a host of darting, shining, torpedo-shaped craft that hugged the ground, and fought in an endlessly repeated, complicated maneuver.
Maneuver against maneuver! An intricate chess game—it was a game, an incredibly involved game whose purpose and method seemed to quiver just beyond the reach of his reason.
Everything revolved around the battleships. In some way they must be protected from energy guns, because no attempt was made to use anything like that. Somehow, too, cannon must be useless against them. There was none in sight, no attempt to hurtle great gobs of metal either at the machines or—by the Planetarians at the more than a hundred troops like his own, who stood at stiff attention so close to the front, so bunched that a few superexplosive shells of the future would have smashed them all.
Nothing but the battleships and the destroyers!
The battleships moved forward and backward and forward and backward and in and out, intertwining among themselves; and the destroyers of the Glorious darted in when the battleships came forward, and hung back when the battleships retreated; and always the destroyers of the Planetarians were gliding in to intercept the destroyers of the Glorious; and as the sun sank in a blaze of red beyond the green hills to the west, the battleships in their farthest forward thrust were feet closer than they had been at the beginning; and the sharply delineated red line of haze, that must be the point where the time-energy barrier was neutralized, was no longer lying athwart a shattered slab of rock—but on the ground feet nearer.
That was it. The battleships somehow forced the time-energy barrier to be withdrawn. Obviously, it would only be withdrawn to save it from a worse fate, perhaps from a complete neutralization over a wide front. And so a city was being won, inch by inch, foot by foot, street by street—only the intricate evolution of the battle, the why of that almost immeasurably slow victory, was as great a mystery as ever.
The grim thought came: If the odd, tremendous message that had come into his brain in that out-of-order depersonalizing machine was true, then the final victory would never come in time. Long before the forty-foot-a-day conquerors had gained the prize that was Delpa, the secret, super, time-energy barrier would be completed; and the devilish spirit of war would at last have won its senseless goal—complete elimination of the human race and all its works.
Night fell, but a glare of searchlights replaced the sun, and that fantastic battle raged on. No one aimed a gun or a weapon at the lights; each side concentrated with that strange, deadly intentness on its part of that intricate, murderous game; and troop after troop dissolved into the ravenous, incredible conflagration.
Death came simply to the automatons. Each in turn crowded into one of the torpedo-shaped destroyers; and knowing—as he did—from the depersonalizing machine, that the tiny, man-sized tank was operated by thought control, flashed out into battle line.
Sometimes the end came swiftly, sometimes it was delayed, but sooner or later there was metallic contact with the enemy; and that was all that was needed. Instantly, the machine would twist and race toward the line of waiting men; the next victim would drag out the corpse, crawl in himself and—
There were variations. Machines clashed with the enemy and died with their drivers; or darted with frantic aimlessness, out of control. Always, swift, metallic scavengers raced from both sides to capture the prize; and sometimes the Planetarians succeeded, sometimes the Glorious.
Garson counted: one, two, three—less than four hundred men ahead of him—and the realization of how close his turn was brought the perspiration coldly to his face. Minutes! Damn it, damn it, he had to solve the rules of this battle, or go in there, without plan, without hope.
Seven battleships, scores of destroyers to each battleship and all acting as one unit in one involved maneuver and—
And, by heaven, he had a part of the answer. One unit. Not seven battleships out there, but one in the form of seven. One superneutralizing machine in its seven-dimensional maneuver. No wonder he had been unable to follow the intertwinings of those monsters with each other, the retreats, the advances. Mathematicians of the twentieth century could only solve easily problems with four equations. Here was a problem with seven; and the general staff of the Glorious could never be anything but a step behind in their solution—and that step cost them forty feet a day—
His turn! He crept into the casing of the torpedo cycle; and it was smaller even than he had thought. The machine fitted him almost like a glove. Effortlessly, it glided forward, too smoothly, too willingly, into that dazzle of searchlights, into that maelstrom of machines.
One contact, he thought, one contact with an enemy meant death; and his plan of breaking through was as vague as his understanding of how a seven-dimensional maneuver actually worked.
Amazed wonder came that he was even letting himself hope.

Norma began to notice the difference, a strange, vibrant, flame-like quality within herself, a rich, warm aliveness, like an electric wire quiescent with latent force tremendous— It was utterly different, alien, as new as life returning to a dead body. Only it was added life to the life that had always existed within her.
Physically, she was still crouching there tautly, her legs twisted under her, vision still blinded; and the hard pain of the metal beneath her was an unchanged pressure against the bone and muscle of her knees. But—
Along every nerve that wonderful sense of well-being, of strange, abnormal power quivered and grew—and yielded abruptly to the violence of the thought that flashed into her mind:
Where was she? What had happened? What—
The thought snapped in the middle because, amazingly, an alienness intruded into it, another thought, not out of her own mind, not even directed at her, not—human!
"—Tentacle 2731 reporting to the Observer. A warning light has flashed on the . . . (meaningless) . . . xxxxx time machine. Action!"
The answer came instantly, coldly:
"An intruder—on top of the primary time machine. Warning from, and to, Dr. Lell’s section. Tentacle 2731, go at once—destroy intruder. Action!"
There were stunning immensities in those hard wisps of message and answering message, that echoed back along the dim corridors of her mind. The stupefying fact that she had effortlessly intercepted thought waves momentarily blotted out the immediacy of the greater fact that every chilling word of that death threat was meant for her. But then—
Before that colossal menace, even the knowledge of where she was came with a quiet unobtrusiveness, like a minor harmony in a clash of major discord. Her present location was only too obvious. Twisting the key the way she had, had sent her hurtling through time to the age of the Glorious, to the primary-time machine, where fantastic things called tentacles and observers guarded—
If only she could see! She must see, or she was lost before she could begin to hope.
Frantically, she strained against the blackness that lay so tight against her eyes and—
She could see!
It was as simple as that. One instant, blindness! The next, the urge to see. And then, sight complete, without preliminary blur, like opening her eyes after a quiet sleep.
The simplicity part of it was crowded out of her brain by a whirling confusion of impression. There were two swift thoughts that clung—the brief wonder at the way sight had come back to her, merely from the wish that it would—and a flashing memory of the face that had floated at her out of the blackness of time. With this great moment you enter upon your power and your purpose—
The picture, all connecting thoughts, fled. She saw that she was in a room, a vast domed room, and that she was on top of a gigantic machine. There were transparent walls! and beyond—
Her mind and vision leaped beyond the room, through the transparent walls. There was something out there, something tremendous! A shimmering, roseate fire, like a greater dome that covered the near sky and hid the night universe beyond.
The effort of staring tired her. Her gaze came down out of the sky; and, back in the room, she saw that all the transparent wall that faced her was broken into a senseless pattern of small balconies, each mounting glittering, strangely menacing machinery—weapons!
So many weapons—for what?
With a jar that shocked her brain, the thought disintegrated. She stared in blank horror at a long, thick, tube-shaped metal thing that floated up from below the rim of the time machine. A score of gleaming, insect-like facets seemed to glare at her.
"Tentacle 2731—destroy the intruder—"
"No!" It was her own desperate negation, product of pure devastating panic, product of newness, of a hideous, alien threat that wrecked on the instant all the bravery that had made her experiment with the key in the first place.
Her mind spun like a dizzily spinning wheel, her body shrank from the sudden, abnormal fear that this—metal—would spray her with some incredible flame weapon before she could think, before she could turn or run, or even move!
Of all her pride and accumulated courage, there remained only enough to bring a spasm of shame at the words that burst senselessly from her lips:
"No! No! You can’t! Go away—go back—where you came from! Go—"
She stopped, blinked, and stared wildly. The thing was gone!
The reality of that had scarcely touched her when a crash sounded. It came from beyond and below the rim of the machine. Quite instinctively, Norma ran forward to peer down.
The hundred-foot, precipice-like slope of metal time machine that greeted her startled gaze made her draw back with a gasp, but instantly she was creeping forward again, more cautiously, but with utter fascination to see again what that first brief glimpse had revealed.
And there it was, on the distant floor, the tube-shaped thing. Even as she watched, hope building up in her, there came a weak impulse of alien thought:
"Tentacle 2731 reporting—difficulty. Female human using Insel mind rays—power 100—no further action possible by this unit—incapacitation 74 mechanical—"
Hope grew gigantic, and there was a wild burst of surmise and a desperate, wondering half belief in the miracle that was taking place. She was doing this; her wish had brought instant return of sight, her despairing thought had sent the tentacle thing crashing to mechanical ruin. Insel mind rays, power 100! Why, it meant—it could mean—The leaping thought sagged. One of a series of doors in the wall facing her opened, and a tall man emerged hurriedly. Quite automatically, she pressed back, tried to lie flat on the metal, out of sight; but it seemed to her those familiar, sardonic eyes were staring straight up at her. Dr. Lell’s hard, tight, superbly confident thought came then like a succession of battering blows against the crumbling structure of her hope:
"This is a repetition of the x time and space manipulation. Fortunately, the transformation center this seventeenth time is a Miss Norma Matheson, who is utterly incapable, mathematically, of using the power at her disposal. She must be kept confused, kept on the run. The solution to her swift destruction is a concentration of forces of the third order, non-mechanical, according to Plan A4. Action!"
"Action immediate!" came the cold, distinctive thought of the Observer.
That was like death itself. Hope abandoned her; she lay flat on that flat metal, her mind blank, and not a quiver of strength in her body.
A minute passed; and that seemed an immense time. So much that the swift form of her thought had time to change, to harden. Fear faded like a dream; and then came returning awareness of that curious, wonderful sense of power.
She stood up, and the way her legs trembled with the effort brought the automatic memory of the way she had regained her vision. She thought tensely, consciously:
"No more physical weakness. Every muscle, every nerve, every organ of my body must function perfectly from now on and—"
A queer thrill cut the thought. It seemed to start at her toes, and sweep up, a delicious sense of warmth, like an all-over blush.
And the weakness was gone.
She stood for a moment, fascinated, utterly absorbed by this—toy! And hesitated to try it too far. Yet—
She thought: "No more mental weakness, no confusion; my brain must function with all the logic of which I am capable!"
It was strange, and not altogether satisfactory, what happened then. Her mind seemed to come to a dead stop. For an instant the blankness was complete; and then, a single, simple idea came into it:
Danger! For her there was nothing but danger and the getting out of that danger. Find the key. Go back to 1944. Get out of this world of Dr. Lell, and gain time to solve the secrets of the mighty power centralized in her.
She jerked, as a lean, yard-long flame struck the metal beside her, and caromed away toward the ceiling. She watched it bounce from the ceiling, out of sight beyond the precipice-like edge of the machine. It must have struck the floor, but instantly it was in sight again, leaping toward the ceiling with undiminished ardor.
Up, down, up, down, up, it went as she watched; then abruptly it lost momentum, and collapsed like an empty flaming sack toward the floor, out of her line of vision.
A second streamer of flame soared up from where Dr. Lell had been heading when last she saw him. It struck the ceiling, and like an elongated billiard ball, darted down—and this time she was ready for it. Her brain reached out: Stop! Whatever the energy that drives you, it is powerless against me. Stop!
The flame missed her right hand by inches, and soared on up to the ceiling; and from below, strong and clear and satirical, came the voice, or was it the thought of Dr. Lell:
"My dear Miss Matheson, that’s the first of the third-order energies, quite beyond your control. And have you noticed that your mind isn’t quite so cool as you ordered it to be. The truth is that, though you have power unlimited, you can only use it when you understand the forces involved, either consciously or unconsciously. Most people have a reasonably clear picture of their bodily processes, which is why your body reacted so favorably, but your brain—its secrets are largely beyond your understanding.
"As for the key"—there was laughter in the words—"you seem to have forgotten it is geared to the time machine. The Observer’s first act was to switch it back to 1944. Accordingly, I can promise you death—"
Her brain remained calm; her body steady, unaffected. No blood surged to her head; there was the barest quickening of her heartbeat; her hands clenched with the tense knowledge that she must act faster, think faster—
If only Jack Garson were here, with his science, his swift, logical brain—
Strangely, then, she could feel her mind slipping out of her control, like sand between her fingers. Her body remained untroubled, untouched, but her mind was suddenly gliding down, down, into dark depths.
Terror came abruptly, as a score of flame streamers leaped into sight toward the ceiling, bounced and—
"Jack, Jack, help me! I need you! Oh, Jack, come—" The slow seconds brought no answer; and the urgency of her need brought no answer; and the urgency of her need could brook no waiting. "Back home," she thought. "I’ve got to get back home, back to 1944, back—"
Her body twanged. There was blackness, and a horrible sensation of falling.
The blow of the fall was not hard; and that unaffected, almost indestructible body of hers took the shock in a flash of pain-absorbing power. Awareness came of a floor with a rug on it. A vague light directly in front of her lost its distortion and became—a window!
Her own apartment! Like a young tigress she scrambled to her feet; and then poised motionless with dismay as the old, familiar, subtle vibration thrilled its intimate way along her nerves. The machine! The machine was in the room below and working!
Her will to safety had sent her back to her own time, but her call to Jack Garson had passed unheeded, unheard; and here she was, alone with only a strange unwieldy power to help her against the gathering might of the enemy.
And that was her hope, that it was only gathering! Even Dr. Lell must have time to transport his forces. If she could get out of this building, use her power to carry her, as it had already borne her from the time and space of the future—
Carry her where? There was only one other place she could think of: To the hotel! To the hotel room from where she had launched herself with the key.
It wasn’t death that came then, but a blow so hard that she was sobbing bitterly with the pain even as her mind yielded reluctantly to unconsciousness; even as she was realizing in stark dismay that she had struck the wall of her apartment and this power she possessed had been betrayed once again by her inability to handle it. And now Dr. Lell would have time to do everything necessary—
Blackness came—

There was a memory in Garson of the night, and of the rushing machine that had carried him, the wonderful little metal thing that darted and twisted far to the left, as close to the red haze of the time-energy barrier as he dared to go—and not a machine had followed him. In seconds he was through the blazing gap, out of Delpa, safe from Dr. Lell—only something had struck at him then, a crushing blow—
He came out of sleep without pain, and with no sense of urgency. Drowsily, he lay, parading before his mind the things that had happened and the comfortable realization came that he must be safe or he wouldn’t be—like this!
There were things to do, of course. He must transmit the information to the Planetarians that they must conquer Delpa more swiftly, that final victory waited nowhere but in Delpa. And then, somehow, he must persuade them to let him return to 1941, to Norma and—
For a while he lay peacefully, his eyes open, gazing thoughtfully at a gray ceiling. From nearby, a man’s voice said:
"There’s no use expecting it."
Garson turned his head, his first alert movement. A row of hospital-like cots stretched there, other rows beyond. From the nearest bed, a pair of fine, bright, cheerful eyes stared at him. The man lay with his head crotched in a bunched, badly rumpled pillow. He said:
"Expecting to feel surprised, I mean. You won’t. You’ve been conditioned into recovering on a gradual scale, no excitement, no hysteria, nothing that will upset you. The doctors, though Planetarian trained, are all men of the past; and up to a day ago, they pronounced you—"
Quite amazingly, the man paused; his brown eyes darkened in frown, then he smiled with an equally amazing grimness:
"I nearly said too much there. Actually you may be strong enough to stand any shock now, conditioning or no. But the fact is you’ll learn the hard truths of your predicament soon enough, without getting yourself into a nervous state now. Here’s a preliminary warning: Toughen your mind for bad news."
Strangely, he felt only the dimmest curiosity, and no sense of alarm at all. After what Dr. Lell had said directly and by implication of the Planetarians, no danger here could surpass what he had already been through. The only emotion he could sense within himself had to do with his double purpose of rescuing Norma from the recruiting station and—
He said aloud: "If I should be asleep the next time a doctor or Planetarian comes in, will you waken me? I’ve got something to tell them."
The odd, mirthless smile of the other made Garson frown. His voice was almost sharp, as he asked:
"What’s the matter?"
The stranger shook his head half pityingly: "I’ve been twenty-seven days in this stage, and I’ve never seen a Planetarian. As for telling anyone on the Planetarian side anything, I’ve already told you to expect bad news. I know you have a message to deliver. I even know from Dra Derrel what it is, but don’t ask me how he found out. All I can say is, you’ll have to forget about delivering any message to anyone. Incidentally, my name is Mairphy—Edard Mairphy."
Garson lay quite still. For the moment he wasn’t interested in names or the mystery of how they knew his message. There was a vague thrill of worry in the back of his mind. Every word this gentle-faced, gentle-voiced young man had spoken was packed with dark, tremendous implications.
He stared at Mairphy, but there was only the frank, open face, the friendly, half-grim smile, the careless wisp of bright, brown hair coming down over one temple—nothing at all of danger.
Besides, where could any danger be coming from? From the Planetarians?
That was ridiculous. Regardless of their shortcomings, the Planetarians were the one race of this "time" that must be supported. They might have curious, even difficult habits, but the other side was evil almost beyond imagination. Between them, there was no question of choice.
His course was simple. As soon as he was allowed to get up—and he felt perfectly well now—he would set out to make contact with a Planetarian in a reasonable, persistent manner. The whole affair was beginning to show unpleasant, puzzling aspects, but—
He grew aware of Mairphy’s voice: "The warning is all I’ll say on that subject for the time being. There’s something else, though. Do you think you’ll be able to get up in about an hour? I mean, do you feel all right?"
Garson nodded, puzzled: "I think so. Why?"
"We’ll be passing the Moon about then, and I understand it’s a sight worth—"
"What?"
Mairphy was staring at him. He said slowly: "I forgot. I was so busy not telling you about our main danger, it didn’t occur to me that you were unconscious when we started."
He shrugged. "Well, we’re on our way to Venus; and even if there was nothing else, the cards would be stacked against you by that fact alone. There are no Planetarians aboard this ship, only human beings out of the past and tentacles of the Observer. There’s not a chance in the world of you speaking to any of them because—"
He stopped; then: "There I nearly went again, damn it! I’ll let out the devilish truth yet, before you ought to hear it."
Garson scarcely heard. The shock wouldn’t go away. He lay in a daze of wonder, overwhelmed by the incredible fact that he was in space. In space!
He felt suddenly outmaneuvered. Even the events he knew about were abruptly a million miles ahead of his plans.
At first, the very idea was incredibly shocking. Pain pulsed in his temples from the wave of blood that charged there. He sat, rigidly, awkwardly, in the bed; and, finally, in a chocked voice he said:
"How long will it take to get to Venus?"
"Ten days, I believe!"
Very cautiously, Garson allowed the figures to penetrate. Hope surged through him. It wasn’t so bad as his first despairing thought had pictured it. Ten days to get there, ten days to persuade someone to let a Planetarian have a glimpse of his mind, ten days to get back to Earth.
A month! He frowned. Actually, that wasn’t so good. Wars had been lost, great empires collapsed in less time than that. Yet, how could be deliver his message—on a spaceship. Venus-bound? Courses of initial action suggested themselves, but—
He said in a troubled tone. "If I was back in 1941, at this point I would try to see the captain of the ship. But you’ve made me doubt that normal procedures apply on a Planetarian space liner. Frankly, what are my chances?"
He saw that the young man was grim. "Exactly none!" Mairphy replied. "This is no joke, Garson. As I said before, Derrel knows and is interested in your message, don’t ask me how or what or when. He was a political leader in his own age, and he’s a marvel at mechanics, but, according to him, he knows only the normal, everyday things of his life. You’ll have to get used to the idea of being in with a bunch of men from past ages, some queer ducks among them, Derrel the queerest of them all.
"But forget that! Just remember that you’re on a spaceship in an age so far ahead of your own that there’s not even a record of your time in the history books and—"
Abruptly, that was what got him. Garson lay back, breathlessly still, dazzled once again by his strange, tremendous environment, straining for impression. But there was no sense of movement, no abnormality at all. The world was quiet; the room seemed like an unusually large dormitory in a hospital.
After a moment of tenseness, he allowed his body to relax, and the full, rich flood of thought to flow in. In that eager tide, the danger to which Mairphy had referred was like a figment of imagination, a dim, darkling shadow in remoteness.
There was only the wonder, only Venus and—this silent, swift-plunging spaceship.
Venus! He let the word roll around in his mind, and it was like rich, intellectual food, luscious beyond reason to a mind shaped and trained as was his.
Venus—For ages the dreams of men had reached longingly into the skies, immeasurably fascinated by the mind-staggering fact of other worlds as vast as their own; continents, seas, rivers, treasure beyond estimate.
And now for him there was to be glittering reality. Before that fact, other urgencies faded. Norma must be rescued, of course; the strange message delivered; but if it was to be his destiny to remain in this world till the end of war, then he could ask nothing more of those years than this glowing sense of adventure, this shining opportunity to learn and see and know in a scientist’s heaven.
He grew aware that Mairphy was speaking: "You know"—the young man’s voice was thoughtful—"it’s just possible that it might he a good idea if you did try to see the captain. I’ll have to speak to Derrel before any further action is taken and—"
Garson sighed wearily. He felt suddenly genuinely exhausted, mentally and physically, by the twisting courses of events.
"Look," he said, "a minute ago you stated it was absolutely impossible for me to see the captain; now it seems it might be a good idea and so the impossible becomes poss—"
A sound interrupted his words, a curious hissing sound that seemed to press at him. With a start he saw that men were climbing out of bed, groups that had been standing in quiet conversation were breaking up. In a minute, except for some three dozen who had not stirred from their beds, the manpower of that great room had emptied through a far door. As the door closed, Morphy’s tense voice stabbed at him:
"Quick! Help me out of bed and into my wheel chair. Damn this game leg of mine, but I’ve got to see Derrel. The attack must not take place until you’ve tried to see the captain. Quick, man!"
"Attack!" Garson began, then with an effort, caught himself. Forcing coolness through the shock that was gathering in his system, he lay back; he said in a voice that teetered on the edge of tremble:
"I’ll help you when you tell me what all this is about. Start talking! Fast!"
Mairphy sighed: "The whole thing’s really very simple. They herded together a bunch of skeptics—that’s us; it means simply men who know they are in another age, and aren’t superstitious about it, always potentially explosive, as the Planetarians well understood. But what they didn’t realize was that Derrel was what he was.
"The mutiny was only partially successful. We got the control room, the engine room, but only one of the arsenals. The worst thing was that one of the tentacles escaped our trap, which means that the Observer Machine has been informed, and that battleships have already been dispatched after us.
"Unless we can gain full control fast, we’ll be crushed; and the whole hunch of us will be executed out of hand."
Mairphy finished with a bleak smile: "That includes you and every person in this room, lame, sick or innocent. The Planetarians leave the details of running their world in the hands of a monster machine called the Observer; and the Observer is mercilessly logical.
"That’s what I meant by bad news. All of us are committed to victory or to death—and now, quick, let me get to Derrel, and stop this attack!"
His mind felt a swollen, painful thing with the questions that quivered there: skeptics—tentacles—mutiny— Good heavens!
It was not until after Mairphy’s power-driven wheel chair had vanished through the door that had swallowed the men that he realized how weary he was. He lay down on the bed, and there didn’t seem to be a drop of emotion in him. He was thinking, a slow, flat, gray thought, of the part of the message that had come to him in the depersonalizing machine, the solemn admonishment: "—Take no unnecessary risks—stay alive!"
What a chance!
The Moon floated majestically against the backdrop of black space, a great globe of light that grew and grew. For a solid hour it clung to size, but at last it began to retreat into distance.
It was the gathering immensity of that distance that brought to Garson a sudden empty sense, a dark consciousness that he was again a tiny pawn in this gigantic struggle of gigantic forces.
He watched until the glowing sphere of Moon was a shadowy, pea-sized light half hidden by the dominating ball of fire that was the Earth. His immediate purpose was already a waxing shape in his mind, as he turned to stare down at Mairphy in his wheel chair; it struck him there were lines of fatigue around the other’s eyes; he said:
"And now that the attack has been called off, I’d like to meet this mysterious Derrel. After which you’d better go straight to sleep."
The younger man drooped. "Help me to my bed, will you?"
From the bed, Mairphy smiled wanly. "Apparently, I’m the invalid, not you. The paralyzer certainly did you no real harm, but the energy chopper made a pretty job of my right leg. By the way, I’ll introduce you to Derrel when I wake up."
His slow, deep breathing came as a distinct shock to Garson. He felt deserted, at a loss for action, and finally annoyed at the way he had come to depend on the company of another man.
For a while, he wandered around the room, half aimlessly, half in search of the extraordinary Derrel. But gradually his mind was drawn from that undetermined purpose, as the men, the incredible men, grew into his consciousness.
They swaggered, these chaps. When they stood, they leaned with casual grace, thumbs nonchalantly tucked into belts or into the armpits of strangely designed vests. Not more than half a dozen of that bold, vigorous-looking crew seemed to be the introvert, studious type.
Here were men of the past, adventurers, soldiers of fortune, who had mutinied as easily as, under slightly different circumstances, they might have decided to fight for, instead of against, their captors.
Bad psychology on the part of the Planetarians?
Impossible because they were perfectionists in the art.
The explanation, of course, was that an intelligence and ability as great as their own, or nearly as great, had entered the scene unknown to them, and easily duped the men of the past who operated the spaceship.
Derrel!
The whole thing was strangely, breathlessly exciting, a glittering facet of the full, violent aliveness of the life that had raged over the Earth through the ages; here were men come full grown out of their own times, loving life, yet by their casual, desperate attempt at mutiny proving that they were not remotely afraid of death.
One man was the responsible, the activating force and—
Three times Garson was sure that he had picked out Derrel, but each time he changed his mind before actually approaching the stranger.
It was only gradually that he grew aware of a lank man. The first coherent picture he had was of a tall, gawky man with a long face that was hollow-cheeked. The fellow was dressed casually in a gray shirt and gray trousers. Except for the cleanness of the clothes, he could have stepped out of a 1936 dust-bowl farmhouse.
The man half stood, half leaned, awkwardly against the side of one of the hospital-type beds, and he said nothing. Yet, somehow, he was the center of the group that surrounded him. The leader!
After a moment Garson saw that the other was surreptitiously studying him; and that was all he needed. Quite frankly, quite boldly, he surveyed the man. Before that searching gaze, the deceptive, farmerish appearance of the other dissolved like dark fog in a bright sun.
The hollow cheeks showed suddenly as a natural strength that distorted the almost abnormal strength of that face. The line of jaw ceased to be merely framework supporting the chin, showed instead in all its grim hardness, like the blunt edge of an anvil, not too prominently thrust forward. The nose—
At that point somebody addressed the man as Mr. Derrel; and it was as if Derrel had been waiting for the words as for a signal.
He stepped forward; be said in the calmest voice Garson had ever heard: "Professor Garson, do you mind if I speak to you"—he motioned forcefully yet vaguely—"over there?"
Garson was amazed to find himself hesitating. For nearly an hour he had had the purpose of finding this man, but now—it was simply not in his nature to yield readily to the leadership of others. It struck him sharply that even to agree to Derrel’s simple request was to place himself, somehow, subtly under the man’s domination.
Their eyes met, his own hard with thought, Derrel’s at first expressionless, then smiling. The smile touched his face and lighted it in astounding fashion. His entire countenance seemed to change; briefly, his personality was like a flame that burned away opposition.
Garson was startled to hear himself say: "Why, yes, what is it you wish?"
The answer was cool and tremendous: "You have received a warning message, but you need look no further for its source. I am Dra Derrel of the Wizard race of Lin. My people are fighting under great difficulties to save a universe threatened by a war whose weapons are based on the time energy itself "
"Just a minute!" Garson’s voice was harsh in his own ears. "Are you trying to tell me you . . . your people sent that message?"
"I am!" The man’s face was almost gray-steel in color. "And to explain that our position is now so dangerous that your own suggestion that you see Captain Gurradin has become the most important necessity and the best plan—"
Strangely, it was that on which his mind fastened, not the revelation but the mind picture of himself leaving the placid security of this room, delivering himself into the ruthless clutches of men of some other, more merciless past than his own—and to tentacles—
Like a monstrous shadow overhanging every other emotion, the dark realization came that the law of averages would not permit him to face death again without—death!
Slowly, the other thought—Derrel’s revelation—began to intrude. He examined it, at first half puzzled that it continued to exist in his mind; somehow, it wasn’t really adequate, and certainly far from satisfactory as an explanation of all that had happened.
—A message delivered into the black narrowness of a Glorious depersonalizing machine, hurtled across distance, through a web of Glorious defenses from—
Derrel!
Garson frowned, his dissatisfaction growing by the second. He stared at the man from slitted eyes; and saw that the other was standing in that peculiar easy-awkward posture of his, gazing at him coolly as if—the impression was a distinct one—as if waiting patiently for his considered reaction. That was oddly reassuring, but it was far, far from being enough. Garson said:
"I can see I’ve got to be frank, or this thing’s going to be all wrong. My angle goes like this: I’ve been building a picture in my mind, an impossible picture I can see now, of beings with tremendous powers. I thought of them as possibly acting from the future of this future, but, whatever their origin, I had the uttermost confidence that they were super-human, super-Glorious and—"
He stopped because the long-faced man was smiling in twisted fashion. "And now," Derrel said wryly, "the reality does not come up to your expectations. An ordinary man stands before you, and your dreams of god-power interfering in the affairs of men becomes what it always was basically: wishful hallucination!"
"And in its place—what?" Garson questioned coolly.
Derrel took up the words steadily: "In its place is a man who failed to take over a spaceship, and now faces a sordid death himself."
Garson parted his lips to speak, then closed them again, puzzled. There was nothing so far but honesty almost excessive. Still—confession was far from being satisfactory explanation.
Derrel’s voice, rich with the first hint of passion the man had shown, beat at him: "Are you sure it was such a great failure? One man manipulating strangers who had no reason to fight—many of them invalids—and winning a partial success against the highly trained crew of a completely mechanized space cruiser, a crew supported by no less than four tentacles of the omniscient Observer."
Stripped as the account was, it brought a vivid fascinating flash of what the reality of that fight must have been. Flesh-and-blood men charging forward in the face of—energy—weapons, dealing and receiving desperate wounds, overwhelming the alert and abundant staff of an armored ship, and four tentacles, whatever they were. Tentacle—a potent, ugly word, inhuman— Nevertheless—
"If you’re going to use logic on this," Garson said slowly, "you’ll have to put up with my brand for another minute. Why did you go in for mutiny in the first place under such difficult conditions?"
Amazingly, the man’s eyes flashed with contemptuous fire. When he spoke, his voice was thick with passion: "Can you reasonably ask for more than the reality, which is that our position is desperate because we took risks? We took risks because"—he paused, as if gathering himself; then his words flamed on—"because I am of the race of Wizards; and we were masters of the Earth of our time because we were bold. As was ever the way with the Wizards, I chose the difficult, the dangerous path; and I tell you that victory with all that it means is not yet beyond our grasp. I—"
In the queerest fashion, the glowing voice died. An intent expression crept into the man’s eyes; he tilled his head, as if listening for a remote sound. Garson shook the odd impression out of his mind, and returned to the thoughts that had been gathering while the other was speaking; he said coolly:
"Unfortunately, for all that emotion, I was trained to be a scientist; and I was never taught to accept justification as a substitute for explanation. I—"
It was his turn to fall silent. With startled gaze, he watched the tall, gawky figure stride at top speed along the wall. The Wizard man halted as swiftly as he had started, but now his fingers were working with a strangely frantic speed at a section of the wall.
As Garson came up, the wall slid free; and Derrel, half lowered, half dropped it to the floor. In the hollow space revealed, wires gleamed; and a silver, shining glow point showed. Unhesitatingly, Derrel grasped at the white-hot-looking thing, and jerked. There was a faint flash of fire; and when his hand came away the glow was gone.
Derrel stared at Garson grimly: "Those seeming wires are not wires at all, but a pure energy web, an electron mold that, over a period of about an hour, can mold a weapon where nothing existed before. Tentacles can focus that type of mold anywhere; and the mold itself is indestructible, but up to a certain stage the molded thing can be destroyed."
Garson braced himself instinctively, as the other faced him squarely Derrel said:
"You can see that, without my special ability to sense energy formations there would have been surprise tragedy."
"Without you," Garson interjected, "there would have been no mutiny. I’m sorry, but I’ve got the kind of mind that worries about explanations. So—"
The man gazed at him without hostility; he said finally earnestly: "I know your doubts, but you can see yourself that I must go around examining our rather large territory for further electron-mold manifestations. Briefly, we Wizards are a race of the past who developed a science that enabled us to tap the time ways of the Glorious, though we cannot yet build a time machine. In many ways, we are the superiors of either Planetarians or Glorious. Our mathematics showed us that the time energy could not stand strains beyond a certain point; accordingly we have taken and are taking every possible action to save the Universe, the first and most important necessity being that of establishing a base of operations, preferably a spaceship."
He finished quietly: "For the rest, for the time being you must have faith. Regardless of your doubts, you must go to see the captain; we must win this ship before we are overwhelmed. I leave you now to think it over.
He whirled and strode off; and behind him he left half conviction, half confidence, but—Garson thought wryly—no facts!
What a vague, unsatisfactory basis on which to risk the only life he had!
He found himself straining for sounds, but there was no movement, nothing but a straggle of words that came at him from the other men. The ship itself, the wondrous ship, was quiet. It seemed to be suspended in this remote coign of the Universe; and it at least was not restless. It flashed on in tireless, stupendous flight, but basically it was unhurried, isolated from mechanical necessities, knowing neither doubt nor hope, nor fear nor courage.
Doubt! His brain was a dark: opaque mass flecked with the moving lights of thoughts, heavy with the gathering pall of his doubt, knowing finally only one certainty:
With so much at stake, he must find out more about the so-called Wizard of Lin. It would be utterly ridiculous to make some move against the Planetarians, the hope of this war, on the glib say-so of—anyone! But what to do? Where to find out?
The urgent minutes fled. There was the black, incredible vista of space—but no answers offered there. There was lying in bed and staring at the gray ceiling; that was worse. Finally, there was the discovery of the library in a room adjoining the long dormitory; and that held such an immense promise that, for a brief hour, even the sense of urgency faded out of him.
Only gradually did awareness come that the books were a carefully selected collection. At any other time, every word of every page would have held him in thrall, but not now For a while, with grim good humor, he examined volume after volume to verify his discovery. At last, weary with frustration, he returned to his bed—and saw that Mairphy was awake.
His mind leaped; then he hesitated. It was possible he would have to approach the subject of Derrel warily. He said finally:
"I suppose you’ve been through the library."
Mairphy shook his head, brown eyes slightly sardonic. "Not that one. But on the basis of the two I have seen, I’ll venture to guess they’re elementary scientific books, travel books about the planets, but no histories, and nowhere is there a reference to what year this is. They’re not even letting us skeptics know that."
Garson cut in almost harshly: "These Planetarians are not such good angels as I thought. In an entirely different, perhaps cleverer way, this ship is organized to press us into their mold just as the Glorious used the deperson—"
He stopped, startled by the hard tenor of his thoughts. Good heavens! At this rate he’d soon work himself into an anti-Planetary fury. Deliberately, he tightened his mind. His job was not to hate, but to ask careful questions about Derrel—and stay alive!
He parted his lips, but before he could speak, Mairphy said: "Oh, the Planetarians are all right. If we hadn’t gone in for this damned mutiny, we’d have been treated all right in the long run, provided we kept our mouths shut and conformed."
Garson’s mind literally wrenched itself from thought of Derrel. "Mouths shut!" he said. "What do you mean?"
Mairphy laughed mirthlessly: "We’re the skeptics who, in a general way, know where we are. The great majority of recruits don’t know anything except that it’s a strange place. For psychological reasons, they’ve got to feel that they’re in perfectly rational surroundings. Their own superstitions provide the solutions.
"A slew of ancient Greeks think they’re fighting on the side of Jupiter in the battle of the gods. Religious folks from about four hundred different ignorant ages think for reasons of their own that everything is as it should be. The Lerdite Moralists from the thirtieth century believe this is the war of the Great Machine to control its dissident elements. And the Nelorian Dissenter of the year 7643 to 7699 who— What’s the matter?"
Garson couldn’t help it. The shock was physical rather than mental. He hadn’t, somehow, thought of it when Derrel talked of the Wizards of Lin, but now— His nerves shivered from that casual, stunning array of words. He said finally, shakily:
"Don’t mind me. It’s those damned dates you’ve been handing out. I suppose it’s really silly to think of time as being a past and a future. It’s all there, spread out, six hundred billion earths and universes created every minute."
He drew a deep breath. Damn it, he’d stalled long enough. Any minute Derrel would be coming back and—
He said stiffly: "What about the Wizards of Lin? I heard somebody use the phrase, and it intrigued me."
"Interesting race," Mairphy commented; and Garson sighed with relief. The man suspected no ulterior motive. He waited tensely, as Mairphy went on: "The Wizards discovered some connection between sex and the mind, which gave them superintellect including mental telepathy. Ruled the Earth for about three hundred years, just before the age of Endless Peace set in. Power politics and all that, violence, great on mechanics, built the first spaceship which, according to description, was as good as any that has ever existed since. Most of their secrets were lost. Those that weren’t became the property of a special priest clique whose final destruction is a long story and—"
He paused, frowning thoughtfully, while Garson wondered bleakly how he ought to be taking all this. So far, Derrel’s story was substantiated practically word for word. Mairphy’s voice cut into his indecision:
"There’s a pretty story about how the spaceship was invented. In their final struggle for power, a defeated leader, mad with anxiety about his beautiful wife who had been taken as a mistress by the conqueror, disappeared, returned with the ship, got his wife and his power back; and the Derrel dynasty ruled for a hundred years after that—"
"Derrel!" Garson said. "The Derrel dynasty!"
And that, simply yet devastatingly, was that.
The echo of the shock yielded to time and familiarity, and died— They talked about it in low tones; and their hushed baritones formed a queer, deep-throated background to the measured beat of Garson’s thoughts.
He stepped back, finally, as Mairphy eagerly called other men. With bleak detachment, he listened while Mairphy’s voice recast itself over and over into the same shape, the same story, though the words and even the tone varied with each telling. Always, however, the reaction of the men was the same—joy! Joy at the certainty of victory! And what did it matter what age they went to afterward?
Garson grew abruptly aware that Mairphy was staring at him sharply. Mairphy said: "What’s the matter?"
He felt the weight of other gazes on him, as he shrugged and said:
"All this offers little hope for me. History records that we won this ship. But I have still to confront the captain; and history is silent as to whether I lived or died— Frankly, I consider the message that I received in the Glorious depersonalizing machine more important than ever, and accordingly my life is of more importance than that of anyone else on this ship.
"I repeat, our only certainty is that Derrel escaped with the spaceship. Who else lived, we don’t know. Derrel—"
"Yes!" said the calm voice of Derrel behind him. "Yes, Professor Garson."
Garson turned slowly. He had no fixed plan; there was the vaguest intention to undermine Derrel’s position; and that had made him stress the uncertainty of any of the men escaping. But it wasn’t a plan because—there was the unalterable fact that the ship had gotten away; Derrel had won.
No plan— The only factors in his situation were his own tremendous necessities and the inimical environment in which they existed.
For a long moment, he stared at the gangling body, studied the faint triumph that gleamed in the abnormally long yet distinctive face of the Wizard man. Garson said:
"You can read minds. So it’s unnecessary to tell you what’s going on. What are your intentions?"
Derrel smiled, the glowing, magnetic smile that Garson had already seen. His agate eyes shone, as he surveyed the circle of men; then he began to speak in a strong, resonant voice. There was command in that voice, and a rich, powerful personality behind it, the voice of a man who had won:
"My first intention is to tell everyone here that we are going to an age that is a treasure house of spoils for bold men. Women, palaces, wealth, power for every man who follows me to the death. You know yourself what a damned, barren world we’re in now. No women, never anything for us but the prospect of facing death fighting the Glorious still entrenched on Venus or Earth! And a damned bunch of moralists fighting a war to the finish over some queer idea that men ought or ought not to have birth control. Are you with me?"
It was a stirring, a ringing appeal to basic impulses; and the answer could not have been more satisfactory. A roar of voices, cheers; and finally: "What are we waiting for? Let’s get going!"
The faint triumph deepened on Derrel’s face as he turned back to Garson. He said softly:
"I’m sorry I lied to you, professor, but it never occurred to me that Mairphy or anybody aboard would know my history. I told you what I did because I had read in your mind some of the purposes that moved your actions. Naturally, I applied the first law of persuasion, and encouraged your hopes and desires."
Garson smiled grimly. The little speech Derrel had just given to the men was a supreme example of the encouragement of hopes and desires, obviously opportunistic, insincere and—reliable only if it served the other’s future purposes.
He saw that Derrel was staring at him, and he said:
"You know what’s in my mind. Perhaps you can give me some of that easy encouragement you dispense. But, remember, it’s got to be based on logic. That includes convincing me that, if I go to the captain, it is to your self-interest to set me down near a Planetarian stronghold, and that furthermore—"
The words, all the air in his lungs, hissed out of his body. There was a hideous sense of pressure. He was jerked off his feet; and he had the flashing, uncomprehending vision of two beds passing by beneath him. Then he was falling.
Instinctively, he put out his hand—and took the desperate blow of the crash onto a third bed. He sprawled there, stunned, dismayed, but unhurt and safe.
Safe from what?
He clawed himself erect, and stood swaying, watching other men pick themselves up, becoming aware for the first time of groans, cries of pain and—
A voice exploded into the room from some unseen source: "Control room speaking! Derrel—the damndest thing has happened. A minute ago, we were thirty million miles from Venus. Now, the planet’s just ahead, less than two million miles, plainly visible. What’s happened?"
Garson saw Derrel then. The man was lying on his back on the floor, his eyes open, an intent expression on his face. The Wizard man waved aside his extended hands.
"Wait!" Derrel said sharply. "The tentacle aboard this ship has just reported to the Observer on Venus; and is receiving a reply, an explanation of what happened. I’m trying to get it."
His voice changed, became a monotone: "—the seventeenth x space and time manipulations . . . taking place somewhere in the future . . . several years from now. Your spaceship either by accident or design caught in the eddying current in the resulting time storm— Still not the faintest clue to the origin of the mighty powers being exercised. That is all . . . except that battleships are on the way from Venus to help you—"
Derrel stood up; he said quietly: "About what you were saying, Garson, there is no method by which I can prove that I will do anything for you. History records that I lived out my full span of life. Therefore, no self-interest, no danger to the Universe can affect my existence in the past. You’ll have to act on the chance that the opportunity offers for us to give you assistance later, and there’s no other guarantee I can give."
That at least was straightforward. Only—to the opportunist, even truth was but a means to an end, a means of lulling suspicion. There remained the hard fact that he must take the risks.
He said: "Give me five minutes to think it over. You believe, I can see, that I will go."
Derrel nodded: "Both your conscious and subconscious minds are beginning to accept the idea."
There was utterly no premonition in him of the fantastic thing that was going to happen. He thought, a gray, cold thought:
So he was going! In five minutes.
He stood finally at the wall visiplate, staring out at the burnished silver immensity of Venus. The planet, already cast, was expanding visibly, like a balloon being blown up. Only it didn’t stop expanding and, unlike an overgrown balloon, it didn’t explode.
The tight silence was broken by the tallest of the three handsome Ganellians. The man’s words echoed, not Garson’s thoughts, but the tenor, the dark mood of them:
"So much beauty proves once again that war is the most completely futile act of man. And the worst of it is that, somewhere in the future of this ’future’ there are people who know who won this war; and they’re doing nothing—damn them!"
His impulse was to say something, to add once more his own few facts to that fascinating subject. But instead he held his thought hard on the reality of what he must do—in a minute!
Besides, Mairphy had described the Ganellians as emotional weaklings, who had concentrated on beauty, and with whom it was useless to discuss anything. True, he himself had given quite a few passable displays of emotionalism. Nevertheless—
The thought ended, as Mairphy said almost impatiently: "We’ve discussed all that before, and we’re agreed that either the people of the future do not exist at all—which means the Universe was blown up in due course by the Glorious time-energy barrier—or, on the other hand, if the people of the future exist, they’re simply older versions of the million-year-old bodies of the Planetarians or Glorious. If they exist, then the Universe was not destroyed, so why should they interfere in the war?
"Finally, we’re agreed that it’s impossible that the people of the future, whatever their form, are responsible for the message that came through to Professor Garson. If they can get through a message at all, why pick Garson? Why not contact the Planetarians direct? Or even warn the Glorious of the danger!"
Garson said: "Derrel, what is your plan of attack?"
The reply was cool: "I’m not going to tell you that. Reason: at close range a tentacle can read an unwary mind. I want you to concentrate on the thought that your purpose is aboveboard, don’t even think of an attack in connection with it. Wait—don’t reply! I’m going to speak to Captain Gurradin!"
"Eh!" Garson began, and stopped.
The Wizard man’s eyes were closed, his body rigid. He said, half to Garson, half to the others: "A lot of this stuff here works by mind control—" His voice changed: "Captain Gurradin!"
There was a tense silence; then a steel-hard voice literally spat into the room: "Yes!"
Derrel said: "We have an important communication to make. Professor Garson, one of the men who was unconscious when—"
"I know whom you mean!" interrupted that curt voice. "For God’s sake get on with your communication!"
"Not later than the twenty-fourth century," Mairphy whispered to Garson. "Note his reference to God. God was expunged from the dictionary in the 2300s. And is he boiling at this mutiny and what it’s done to his prestige!"
It wasn’t funny. For all this was going to he real to him. The thought drained; Mairphy became a vague background figure. There was only Derrel and Captain Gurradin; Derrel saying:
"Professor Garson has just become conscious; and he has the answer to the phenomena that carried this spaceship thirty million miles in thirty seconds. He feels that he must see you immediately and communicate his message to the Planetarians at once."
There was a wave of chill laughter: "What fools we’d be to let any of you come here until after the battleships arrive! And that’s my answer: He’ll have to wait till the battleships arrive."
"His message," said Derrel, "cannot wait. He’s coming down now, alone."
"He will be shot on sight."
"I can well imagine," Derrel said scathingly, "what the Planetarians would do to you if he is shot. This has nothing to do with the rest of us. He’s coming because he must deliver that message. That is all."
Before Garson could speak, Mairphy said in a distinct voice: "I’m opposed to it. I admit it was my idea in the first place, but I couldn’t favor it under such circumstances."
The Wizard man whirled on him. His vibrant voice was a drumming thing as he raged:
"That was a stab in the back to all of us. Here is a man trying to make up his mind on a dangerous mission, and you project a weakening thought. You have said that you come from the stormy period following the 13000 years of Endless Peace. That was after my time, and I know nothing about the age, but it is evident that the softness of the peace period still corroded your people. As a cripple, a weakling, who is not going to do any of the fighting, you will kindly refrain from further advice—to men!"
It could have been devastating, but Mairphy simply shrugged, smiled gently, unaffectedly, at Garson, and said: "I withdraw from the conversation." He finished: "Good luck, friend!"
Derrel, steely-eyed and cold-voiced, said to Garson: "I want to point out one thing. History says we conquered this ship. The only plan we have left revolves around you. Therefore you went to see the captain."
To Garson, to whom logic was the great prime mover, that thought had already come. Besides, his mind had been made up for five minutes.
The second corridor was empty, too; and that strained his tightening nerves to the breaking point. Garson paused stiffly, and wiped the thin line of perspiration from his brow.
And still there was no premonition in him of the incredible ending that was coming—for him; nothing but the deadly actuality of his penetration into the depths of a ship that seemed of endless length, and grew vaster with each step that he took.
A door yielded to his touch; and he peered into a great storeroom, piled with freight, thousands of tons, silent and lifeless as the corridors ahead— He walked on, his mind blanker now, held steady far from the thought of Derrel’s intended attack.
He thought vaguely: If Norma could keep from Dr. Lell her action of writing a letter to him, then he could keep any thought from anything and—
He was so intent that he didn’t see the side corridor till the men burst from it—and had him before he could think of fighting. Not that he intended to fight—
"Bring him in here!" said a hard, familiar voice; and after a moment of peering into the shadows of the receding corridor, be saw a slender man in uniform standing beside—
A tentacle!
That thick, pipe-shaped thing could be nothing else— It rolled forward, as if wheels held it up, and its faceted eyes glared at him. It spoke abruptly in a clear, passionless voice:
"I can catch no thoughts, which is unusual. It presupposes schooling, preparation for mind-reading attempts. The Observer advises execution—"
The hard, young man’s voice said impatiently: "To hell with the Observer. We can always execute. Bring him in here!"
A door opened; and light splashed out. The door closed behind him; and he saw that the room was no more than a small anteroom to some vaster, darkened room beyond.
But he scarcely noticed that. He was thinking with a stinging shock of fury: The logical Observer advising executions without a hearing. Why, that wasn’t reasonable. Damn the stupid Observer!
His fury faded into vast surprise, as he stared at the captain. His first impression had been that the other was a young man, but at this closer view, he looked years older, immeasurably more mature. And, somehow, in his keyed-up state, that observation brought immense astonishment. Amazement ended, as his mind registered the blazing question in Captain Gurradin’s eyes. Quite automatically, he launched into his story.
When he had finished, the commander turned his hard face to the tentacle: "Well?" he said.
The tentacle’s voice came instantly, coldly: "The Observer recalls to your memory its earlier analysis of this entire situation: The destruction of Tentacles 1601, 2 and 3 and the neutralization of electron molds could only have been accomplished with the assistance of a mind reader. Accordingly, unknown to us, a mind reader was aboard.
"Four races in history solved the secret of the training essential to mental telepathy. Of these, only the Wizards of Lin possessed surpassing mechanical ability—"
It was the eeriness that held his whole mind—at first—the fantastic reality of this thing talking and reasoning like a human being. The Observer Machine of the Glorious that he had seen was simply a vast machine, too big to grasp mentally; like some gigantic number, it was there, and that was all. But this—this long, tubular monstrosity with its human voice and—
Eeriness ended in hard, dismaying realization that a creature that could analyze Derrel’s identity might actually prove that death was his own logical lot, and that all else was illusion— The dispassionate voice went on:
"Wizard men are bold, cunning and remorseless, and they take no action in an emergency that is not related to their purpose. Therefore, this man’s appearance is part of a plot. Therefore destroy him and withdraw from the ship. The battleships will take all further action necessary, without further loss of life."
That was stunning. With a sudden, desperate fear, Garson saw that Captain Gurradin was hesitating. The commander said unhappily: "Damn it, I hate to admit defeat."
"Don’t be tedious!" said the tentacle. "Your forces might win, but the battleships will win."
Decision came abruptly. "Very well," said the captain curtly, "Willant, de-energize this prisoner and—"
Garson said in a voice that he scarcely recognized, an abnormally steady voice: "What about my story?"
Strangely, there was a moment of silence.
"Your story," the tentacle said finally—and Garson’s mind jumped at the realization that it was the tentacle, and not the captain who answered— "your story is rejected by the Observer as illogical. It is impossible that anything went wrong with a Glorious depersonalizing machine. The fact that you were repersonalized after the usual manner on reaching our lines is evidence of your condition, because the repersonalizing machine reported nothing unusual in your case.
"Furthermore, even if it was true, the message you received was stupid, because no known power or military knowledge could force the surrender of Delpa one minute sooner. It is impossible to neutralize a time-energy barrier at more than one point at one time without destroying the neutralizing machine. Consequently, the attack can only be made at one point; the military maneuver being used is the ultimate development of dimensional warfare in a given area of space. And so—"
The words scarcely penetrated, though all the sense strained through, somehow. His mind was like an enormous weight, dragging at one thought, one hope. He said, fighting for calmness now:
"Commander, by your manner to this tentacle and its master, I can see that you have long ago ceased to follow its conclusions literally. Why: because it’s inhuman; the Observer is a great reservoir of facts that can be coordinated on any subject, but it is limited by the facts it knows. It’s a machine, and, while it may be logical to destroy me before you leave the ship, you know and I know that it is neither necessary nor just, and what is overwhelmingly more important, it can do no harm to hold me prisoner, and make arrangements for a Planetarian to examine the origin of the message that came to me."
He finished in a quiet, confident tone: "Captain, from what one of the men told me, you’re from the 2000s A. D. I’ll wager that they still had horse races in your day. I’ll wager furthermore that no machine could ever understand a man getting a hunch and betting his bottom dollar on a dark horse. You’ve already been illogical in not shooting me at sight, as you threatened on the communicator; in not leaving the ship as the Observer advised; in letting me talk on here even as the attack on your enemies is beginning—for there is an attack of some kind, and it’s got the best brain on this ship behind it. But that’s unimportant because you’re going to abandon ship.
"What is important is this: You must carry your illogic to its logical conclusion. Retrieve your prestige, depend for once in this barren life here on luck and luck alone—"
The hard eyes did not weaken by a single gleam, but the hard voice spoke words that sounded like purest music:
"Willant, take this prisoner into the lifeboat and—"
It was at that moment it happened. With victory in his hands, the knowledge that more than two years remained before the time-energy barrier would be threatening the Universe, the whole, rich, tremendous joy that he had won—everything. All of that, and unutterable relief, and more, was in his brain when—
A voice came into his mind, strong and clear and as irresistible as living fire, a woman’s voice—Norma’s!
"Jack! Jack! Help me! I need you! Oh, Jack, come—"
The Universe spun. Abruptly, there was no ship; and he was pitching into a gulf of blackness. Inconceivable distance fell behind him and—just like that—the fall ended.
There was no ship, no earth, no light—
Time must have passed; for slow thought was in him; and the night remained.
No, not night. He could realize that now, for there was time to realize. It was not night; it was—emptiness. Nothingness!
Briefly, the scientist part of his brain grasped at the idea; the possibility of exploring, of examining this nonspace. But there was nothing to examine, nothing in him to examine with, no senses that could record comprehend—nothingness!

Dismay came, a black tidal wave that surged in wild confusion through his being; his brain shrank from the sheer, terrible strain of impression. But, somehow, time passed; the flood of despair streamed out of him. There remained nothingness!
Change came abruptly. One instant there was that complete isolation; the next—
A man’s voice said matter-of-factly: "This one is a problem. How the devil did he get into the configuration of the upper arc? You’d think he fell in."
"No report of any planes passing over Delpa!" said a second voice. "Better ask the Observer if there’s any way of getting him out."
Figuratively, gravely, his mind nodded in agreement to that. He’d have to get out, of course, and—
His brain paused. Out of where? Nothingness?
For a long, tense moment, his thought poised over that tremendous question, striving to penetrate the obscure depths of it, that seemed to waver just beyond the reach of his reason. There had been familiar words spoken—
Delpa! An ugly thrill chased through his mind. He wasn’t in Delpa, or—he felt abruptly, horribly, sick—or was he?
The sickness faded into a hopeless weariness, almost a chaotic dissolution: what did it matter where he was? Once more, he was a complete prisoner of a powerful, dominating environment, prey to forces beyond his lightest control, unable to help Norma, unable to help himself and—
Norma! He frowned mentally, empty of any emotion, unresponsive even to the thought that what had happened implied some enormous and deadly danger—for Norma! There was only the curious, almost incredible way that she had called him; and nightmarishly he had fallen—toward Delpa! Fallen into an insane region called the configuration of the upper arc—
With a start, he realized that the Observer’s voice had been speaking for some seconds:
"—it can be finally stated that no plane, no machine of any kind, has flown over Delpa since the seventeenth time and space manipulation four weeks ago. Therefore the man you have discovered in the upper arc is an enigma, whose identity must be solved without delay. Call your commander."
He waited, for there was nothing to think about—at least not at first. Memory came finally that the spaceship had been pulled a million miles a second by the mysterious seventeenth manipulation of time and space; only Derrel had distinctly described it as a repercussion from several years in the future. Now, the Observer talked as if it had happened four weeks ago. Funny!
"Nothing funny about it!" said a fourth voice, a voice so finely pitched, directed into the stream of his thought that he wondered briefly, blankly, whether he had thought the words, or spoken them himself; then:
"Professor Garson, you are identified. The voice you are hearing is that of a Planetarian who can read your mind."
A Planetarian! Wave on wave of relief made a chaos of his brain. With a dreadful effort, he tried to speak, but there was not even a sense of tongue, or lips, or body, nothing but his mind there in that—emptiness; his mind revolving swiftly, ever more swiftly around the host of things he simply had to know. It was the voice, the cool, sane voice, and the stupendous things it was saying, that gradually quieted the turmoil that racked him:
"The answer to what worries you most is that Miss Matheson was the center of the seventeenth space and time manipulation, the first time a human being has been used.
"The manipulation consisted of withdrawing one unit of the entire Solar System from the main stream without affecting the continuity of the main system; one out of the ten billion a second was swung clear in such a fashion that the time energy with its senseless, limitless power began to recreate it, carrying on two with the same superlative ease as formerly with only one.
"Actually, there are now eighteen solar systems existing roughly parallel to each other—seventeen manipulated creations and the original. My body, however, exists in only two of these because none of the previous sixteen manipulations occurred in my lifetime. Naturally, these two bodies of mine exist in separate worlds and will never again have contact with each other.
"Because she was the center of activity, Norma Matheson has her being in the main solar system only. The reason your physical elements responded to her call is that she now possesses the Insel mind power. Her call merely drew you toward her and not to her, because she lacks both the intelligence and the knowledge necessary to a competent employment of her power. As she did not protect you from intermediate dangers, you fell straight into the local time energy barrier surrounding the city of Delpa, which promptly precipitated you into the time emptiness where you now exist.
"Because of the angle of your fall, it will require an indefinite period for the machines to solve the equation that will release you. Until then, have patience!"
"Wait!" Garson thought urgently. "The great time-energy barrier! It should be completed about now!"
"In two weeks at most," came the cool reply. "We received your story, all right, and transmitted the startling extent of the danger to the Glorious. In their pride and awful determination, they see it merely as a threat to make us surrender—or else! To us, however, the rigidly controlled world they envision means another form of death—a worse form. No blackmail will make us yield, and we have the knowledge that people of the future sent the warning. Therefore—we won!"
There was no time to think that over carefully. Carson projected his next question hurriedly: "Suppose they’re not of the future, not of this seventeenth, or is it eighteenth, solar system? What will happen to me if this solar system explodes out of existence?"
The answer was cooler still: "Your position is as unique as that of Miss Matheson. You fell out of the past into the future; you missed the manipulation. Therefore you exist, not in two solar systems, but only where you are, attached in a general way to us. Miss Matheson exists only in the main system. There is no way in my knowledge that you two can ever come together again. Accustom yourself to that idea."
That was all. His next thought remained unanswered. Time passed; and his restless spirit drooped. Life grew dim within him. He lay without thought on the great, black deep.
Immense, immeasurable time passed; and he waited, but no voices came to disturb his cosmic grave. Twice, forces tugged at him. The first time he thought painfully:
The time-energy barrier of the Glorious had been completed, and the pressure, the tugging was all he felt of the resulting destruction.
If that had happened, nothing, no one would ever come to save him!
That first tugging, and the thought that went with it, faded into remoteness, succumbed to the weight of the centuries, was lost in the trackless waste of the aeons that slid by. And finally, when it was completely forgotten, when every thought had been repeated uncountable times, when every plan of action, every theory, every hope and despair—everything had been explored to the nth degree—the second tug of pressure came.
A probing sensation it was, as if he was being examined; and finally a flaming, devastatingly powerful thought came at him from—outside!
"I judge it an extrusion from a previous universe, a very low form of life, intelligence .007, unworthy of our attention. It must be registered for its infinitesimal influence and interference with energy flowage—and cast adrift."

Returning consciousness stirred in her body. She felt the sigh that breathed from her lips, as dim awareness came that she must leave this place. But there was not yet enough life in her nerves, no quickening of the coordination, the concentration, so necessary to the strange, masochistic power she had been given.
She thought drearily: If only she had gone to a window instead of projecting her weak flesh against an impenetrable wall.
She must get to the breakfast-nook window that overlooked the roof.
She stood at the window, weary with pain, vaguely startled by the swift reaction to her thought. Hope came violently, and the thought that she had been briefly crushed by the hard reality of the wall revived—"Pain—No pain can touch me—"
Behind her, footsteps and other—stranger—sounds crashed on the stairway; behind her, the outer door blinked into ravenous flame; ahead—was the dark, lonely night.
She scrambled to the sill— In her ears was the sound of the things that were swarming into her apartment, forcing her to swift will. From the edge of the roof she could see the milling beast men on the sidewalk below, and she could see the street corner a hundred yards away.
Instantly, she was at the corner, standing lightly, painlessly, on the pavement. But there were too many cars for further "power" travel, cars that would make devastatingly hard walls.
As she stood in a passion of uncertainty, one of the cars slowed to a stop; and it was the simplest thing to run forward, open the door and climb in, just as it started forward again. There was a small man crouching in the dimness behind the steering wheel. To him, she said, almost matter-of-factly:
"Those men! They’re chasing me!"
A swarm of the beast men wallowed awkwardly into the revealing glow of the corner light, squat, apelike, frightening things. Her driver yelped shrilly: "Good God!" The car accelerated.
Almost instantly, the man was babbling: "Get out! Get out! I can’t afford to get mixed up in a thing like this! I’ve got a family—wife—children—waiting for me this instant at home. Get out!"
He shoved at her with one hand, as if he would somehow push her through the closed door. And, because her brain was utterly pliant, utterly geared to flight, she felt scarcely a quiver of resistance. A neon light a block away caught her gaze, her attention, and fitted completely into her automatic yielding to this man’s desire. She said:
"There’s a taxi stand. Let me off there—"
By the time she climbed out, tentacles were glittering shapes in the air above the dim street behind her. She struck at them with her mind, but they only sagged back, like recoiling snakes, still under control, obviously prepared now for her power.
In the taxi, her mind reverted briefly in astounded thought: That mouse of a man! Had she actually let him control her, instead of forcing the little pipsqueak of a human to her mighty will—
Will! She must use her will. No tentacle can come within—within— She’d have to be practical. How far had they retreated from her power—half a mile? No tentacle can come within half a mile of this car—
Eagerly, she stared out of the rear window, and her eyes widened as she saw they were a hundred yards away and coming closer. What was wrong? In brief, shrinking expectation she waited for the devastating fire of third-order energies; and when it did not come, she thought: This car it must be made to go faster!
There were other cars ahead, and some passing, but altogether not many. There was room for terrible speeds if she had courage, didn’t lose control and if the power would work.
"Through there," she directed, “and through there and around that corner—"
She heard shrill yells from the driver, but for a time the very extent of his dismay brought encouragement—that faded bleakly as the tentacles continued their glittering course behind her, sometimes close, sometimes far away, but always relentlessly on her trail, unshakably astute in frustrating every twist of her thought, every turn of the car, every hope, only—Why didn’t they attack?
There was no answer to that, as the long night of flight dragged on, minute by slow minute. Finally, pity touched her for the almost mad driver, who half sat, half swooned behind the steering wheel, held to consciousness and to sanity—she could see in his mind—only by the desperate knowledge that this car was his sole means of livelihood, and nothing else mattered besides that, not even death.
Let him go, she thought. It was sheer cruelty to include him in the fate that was gathering out of the night for her. Let him go, but not yet.
At first, she couldn’t have told what the purpose was that quivered in her mind. But it was there, deep and chill and like death itself, and she kept directing the car without knowing exactly where she was going.
Conscious understanding of her unconscious will to death came finally, as she climbed to the ground and saw the glint of river through the trees of a park. She thought then, quite simply:
Here in this park, beside this river, where nearly four years before she had come starving and hopeless to commit suicide—here she would make her last stand!
She watched the tentacles floating toward her through the trees, catching little flashing glimpses of them, as the dim, electric lights of the park shimmered against their metallic bodies; and the vast wonder came, untainted by fear:
Was this real? Was it possible that these living, miasmatic-like emanations from the most dreadful nightmare conceivable were actually surrounding her, and that in all this great world of 1944 there was no one, no weapon, no combination of air, land and sea forces, nothing that could offer her even a husk of protection?
In a sudden, wild exasperation, she thrust her power at the nearest glint—and laughed a curt, futile laugh when the thing did not even quiver. So far as the tentacles were concerned, her power had been nullified. The implications were ultimate: when Dr. Lell arrived, he would bring swift death with him, unless—
She scrambled down the steep bank to the dark edge of the sullen river; and the intellectual mood that had brought her here to this park where once she had wanted death filled her being. She stood taut, striving for a return of the emotion, for the thought of it was not enough.
If only she could recapture the black, emotional mood of that other dark night!
A cool, damp breeze whisked her cheeks—but there was not a fraction of real desire to taste those ugly waters. She wanted, not death, nor power, nor the devastation of third-order energies, but marriage, a home with green grass and a flower garden; she wanted life, contentment, Garson!
Garson!
It was more of a prayer than a command that rose from her lips in that second call for help, an appeal from the depths of her need to the only man who in all these long, deadly years had been in her thoughts:
"Jack, wherever you are, come to me here on Earth, come through the emptiness of time, come safely without pain, without body hurt or damage, and with mind clear. Come now!"
With a dreadful start, she jerked back. For a man stood beside her there by the dark waters!
The breeze came stronger. It brought a richer, more tangy smell of river stingingly into her nostrils. But it wasn’t physical revival she needed. It was her mind again that was slow to move, her mind that had never yet reacted favorably to her power, her mind lying now like a cold weight inside her.
For the figure stood with stone-like stolidity, like a lump of dark, roughly shaped clay given a gruesome half-life; she thought in a ghastly dismay: Had she recalled from the dead into dreadful existence a body that may have been lying in its grave for generations?
The thing stirred and became a man. Garson said in a voice that sounded hesitant and huskily unnatural in his own ears:
"I’ve come—but my mind is only clearing now. And speech comes hard after a quadrillion years." He shuddered with the thought of the countless ages he had spent in eternity; then: "I don’t know what happened, I don’t know what danger made you call me a second time or whether any exists; but, whatever the situation, I’ve thought it all out.
"You and I are being used by the mysterious universe manipulators because, according to their history, we were used. They would not have allowed us to get into such desperate straits if they could come to us physically, and yet it is obvious that everything will fail for them, for us, unless they can make some direct physical contact and show us how to use the vast power you have been endowed with.
"They must be able to come only through some outside force; and only yours exists in our lives. Therefore, call them, call them in any words, for they must need only the slightest assistance. Call them, and afterward we can talk and plan and hope."
Thought began to come to her, and questions, all the questions that had ever puzzled her: Why had Dr. Lell kept repeating that she had made no trouble, according to the Glorious historical record of her, when trouble was all she had ever given? Why had she been able to defeat the first tentacle, and yet now her power that had called the man from some remote time was futile against them? And where was Dr. Lell?
With an effort she finally roused her brain from its slough of pondering over paradox. What words she used then, she could not have repeated for no memory of them remained a moment after they were spoken. In her mind was only a fascinated horror of expectation that grew and grew, as a sound came from the water near her feet.
The water stirred; it sighed as if yielding to some body that pressed its dark elements; it gurgled with a queer, obscene horror; and a body blacker than itself, and bigger than any man made a glinting, ugly rill of foam—
It was Jack Garson’s fingers, strong and unflinching, grasping her, and his hard, determined voice that prevented her from uttering the panicky words of demon exorcise that quivered at the verge of her mind.
"Wait!" he said. "It’s victory, not defeat. Wait!"
"Thank you, Professor Garson!" The voice that came out of the darkness held a strange, inhuman quality that kept her taut and uneasy. It went on: "For your sakes, I could approach in no other way. We of the four hundred and ninetieth century A. D. are human in name only. There is a dreadful irony in the thought that war, the destroyer of men, finally changed man into a beast-like creature. One solace remains: We saved our minds and our souls at the expense of our bodies.
"Your analysis was right, Professor Garson, as far as it went. The reason we cannot use so much as a single time machine from our age is that our whole period will be in a state of abnormal unbalance for hundreds of thousands of years; even the tiniest misuse of energy could cause unforeseeable changes in the fabric of time energy, which is so utterly indifferent to the fate of men. Our method could only be the indirect and partially successful one of isolating the explosion on one of eighteen solar systems, and drawing all the others together to withstand the shock. This was not so difficult as it sounds, for time yields easily to simple pressures.
"Miss Matheson, the reason the tentacles could trail you is that you were being subjected to psychological terrors. The tentacles that have been following you through the night were not real but third-order light projections of tentacles, designed to keep you occupied till Dr. Lell could bring his destroyer machines to bear. Actually, you have escaped all their designs. How? I have said time yields easily to proper pressures. Such a pressure existed as you stood by the river’s edge trying to recall the black mood of suicide. It was easier for you who have power to slip through time to that period nearly four years ago than for you to recapture an unwanted lust for self-inflicted death."
"Good heavens!" Garson gasped. "Are you trying to tell us that this is the night of 1941, and that a few minutes from now Dr. Lell will come along and hire a desperate girl sitting on a park bench to be a front for a fake Calonian recruiting station?"
"And this time," said that inhuman voice, "the history of the Glorious will be fulfilled. She will make no trouble."
Garson had the sudden desperate sensation of being beyond his depth. He literally fought for words. "What . . . what about our bodies that existed then? I thought two bodies of the same person couldn’t exist in the same time and space."
"They can’t!"
"But—"
The firm, alien voice cut him off, cut off, too, Norma’s sudden, startled intention to speak. "There are no paradoxes in time. I have said that, in order to resist the destruction of the isolated eighteenth solar system, the other seventeen were brought together into one—this one! The only one that now exists! But the others were, and in some form you were in them, but now you are here; and this is the real and only world.
"I leave you to think that over, for now you must act. History says that you two took out a marriage license—tomorrow. History says Norma Garson had no difficulty leading the double life of wife of Professor Garson and slave of Dr. Lell; and that, under my direction, she learned to use her power until the day came to destroy the great energy barrier of Delpa and help the Planetarians to their rightful victory."
Garson was himself again. "Rightful?" he said. "I’m not so convinced of that. They were the ones who precipitated the war by breaking the agreement for population curtailment."
"Rightful," said the voice firmly, "because they first denounced the agreement on the grounds that it would atrophy the human spirit and mind; they fought the war on a noble plane, and offered compromise until the last moment. No automatons on their side; and all the men they directly recruited from the past were plainly told they were wanted for dangerous work. Most of them were unemployed veterans of past wars."
Norma found her voice: "That second recruiting station I saw, with the Greeks and the Romans—"
"Exactly. But now you must receive your first lesson in the intricate process of mind and thought control, enough to fool Dr. Lell—"
The odd part of it was that, in spite of all the words that had been spoken, the warm glow of genuine belief in—everything—didn’t come to her until she sat in the dim light on the bench, and watched the gaunt body of Dr. Lell stalking out of the shadowed path. Poor, unsuspecting superman!

5. CO-OPERATE OR ELSE!



As the spaceship vanished into the steamy mists of Eristan II, Professor Jamieson drew his gun. He felt physically sick, battered, by the way he had been carried for so many long moments in the furious wind stream of the great ship. But the sense of danger held him tense there in the harness that was attached by metal cables to the now gently swaying antigravity plate above him. With narrowed eyes, he stared up at the ezwal which was peering cautiously down at him over the edge of the antigravity plate.
Its three-in-line eyes, gray as dully polished steel, gazed at him, unwinking; its massive blue head poised there alertly and—Jamieson knew—ready to jerk back the instant it read in his thoughts an intention of shooting.
"Well," said Jamieson harshly, "here we are, both of us about a hundred thousand years from our respective home planets. And we’re falling down into a primitive jungle hell that you, with only your isolated life on Carson’s Planet to judge by, cannot begin to imagine despite your ability to read my thoughts. Even a six-thousand pound ezwal hasn’t got a chance down there—alone!"
A great, long fingered, claw-studded paw edged gingerly over the side of the raft, flicked down at one of the four metal cables that supported Jamieson’s harness. There was a bright, steely ping. The cable parted like rotted twine before the ferocity of that one cutting paw below.
Like a streak of blurred light, the enormous arm jerked back out of sight; and then there was only the great head and the calm, unwinking eyes peering down at him. Finally, a thought penetrated to Jamieson, a thought cool and unhurried:
"You and I, Professor Jamieson, understand each other very well. Of the hundred-odd men on your ship, only you remain alive. Out of all the human race, therefore, only you know that the ezwals of what you call Carson’s Planet are not senseless beasts, but intelligent beings.
"I could have stayed on the ship, and so eventually reached home. But rather than take the slightest risk of your escaping the jungle dangers below, I took the desperate chance of jumping on top of this antigravity raft just as you were launching yourself out of the lock.
"What I cannot clearly understand is why you didn’t escape while I was still battering down the control room door. There is a blurred fear-picture in your mind, but—"
Jamieson was laughing, a jarring sound in his own ears, but there was genuine amusement in the grim thoughts that accompanied it. "You poor fool!" he choked at last. "You still don’t realize what you’re falling down to. While you were hammering away at that door, the ship was flying over the biggest ocean on this planet. All those glints of water down there are really continuation of the ocean, and every pool is swarming with malignant beasts.
"And, somewhere ahead of us, are the Demon Straits, a body of water about fifty miles wide that separates this ocean-jungle from the mainland beyond. Our ship will crash somewhere on that mainland, about a thousand miles from here, I should say. To reach it, we’ve got to cross that fifty miles of thing-infested sea. Now you know why I was waiting, and why you had a chance to jump onto that antigravity plate. I . . ."
His voice collapsed in an "ugh" of amazement as, with the speed of a striking snake, the ezwal twisted up, a rearing, monstrous blue shape of frightful fangs and claws that reached with hideous power at the gigantic bird that dived straight down at the shining surface of the antigravity raft.
The bird did not swoop aside. Jamieson had a brief, terrible glimpse of its merciless, protruding, glassy eyes, and of the massive, hooked, pitchfork-long claws, tensing for the thrust at the ezwal; and then . . .
The crash set the raft tossing like a chip in stormy waters. Jamieson swung with a mad, dizzy, jerky speed from side to side. The roar of the wind from the smashing power of those mighty wings was like thunder that stunned his brain with its fury. With a gasp, he raised his gun. The red flame of it reached with blazing hunger at one of those wings. The wing turned a streaky black, collapsed; and, simultaneously, the bird was literally flung from the raft by the raging strength of the ezwal.
It plunged down, down, became a blurred dot in the mist, and was lost against the dark background of ground.
Above Jamieson, the ezwal, dangerously off balance, hung poised over the edge of the raft. Four of its combination leg-arms pawed the air uselessly; the remaining two fought with bitter effort at the metal bars on top of the raft . . . and won. The great body drew back, until, once again, only the massive blue head was visible. Jamieson lowered his gun in grim good humor.
"You see," he said, "even a bird was almost too much for us—and I could have burned your belly open. I didn’t because maybe it’s beginning to penetrate your head that we’ve got to postpone our private quarrel, and fight together if we ever hope to get out of the hell of jungle and swamp below."
The answering thought was as cold as the sleet-gray eyes that stared down at him so steadily:
"Professor Jamieson, what you could have done was unimportant to me who knew what you would do. As for your kind offer to ally yourself with me, I repeat that I am here to see you dead, not to protect your pitiful body. You will, therefore, refrain from further desperate appeals, and meet your fate with the dignity becoming a scientist."
Jamieson was silent. A thin, warm, wet wind breathed against his body, bringing the first faint, obscene odors from below. The raft was still at an immense height, but the steamy mists that clung with a limp, yet obscuring strength to this primeval land had yielded some of their opaqueness. Patches of jungle and sea that, a few minutes before, had been blurred by that all-pervading fog, showed clearer now, a terrible, pattern-less sprawl of dark trees alternating with water that shone and flashed in the probing sunlight.
Fantastic, incredible scene. As far as the eye could see into the remote mists to the north, there was steaming jungle and foggy, glittering ocean—the endless, deadly reality that was Eristan II. And, somewhere out there, somewhere in the dimness beyond the concealing weight of steam, those apparently interminable jungles ended abruptly in the dark, ugly swell of water that was the Demon Straits!
"So," said Jamieson at last, softly, "you think you’re going to get through. All your long life, all the long generations of your ancestors, you and your kind have depended entirely on your magnificent bodies for survival. While men herded fearfully in their caves, discovering fire as a partial protection, desperately creating weapons that had never before existed, always a bare jump ahead of violent death—all those millions of years, the ezwal of Carson’s Planet roamed his great, fertile continents, unafraid, matchless in strength as in intellect, needing no homes, no fires, no clothing, no weapons, no—"
"You will agree," the ezwal interrupted coolly, "that adaption to a difficult environment must be one of the goals of the superior being. Human beings have created what they call civilization, which is actually merely a material barrier between themselves and their environment, so vast and unwieldy that keeping it going occupies the entire existence of the race.
Individually, man is a frivolous, fragile, inconsequential slave, who tugs his mite at the wheel, and dies wretchedly of some flaw in his disease-ridden body.
"Unfortunately, the monstrous, built-up weakling with his power lusts and murderous instincts is the greatest danger extant to the sane, healthy races of the universe. He must be prevented from contaminating his betters."
Jamieson laughed curtly. "But you will agree, I hope, that there is something wonderful about an insignificant, fearful jetsam of life fighting successfully against all odds, aspiring to all knowledge, finally attaining the very stars!"
"Nonsense!" The answer held overtones of brittle impatience. "Man and his thoughts constitute a disease. As proof, during the past few minutes, you have been offering specious arguments, apparently unbiased, actually designed to lead one more to an appeal for my assistance, an intolerable form of dishonesty.
"As further evidence I need but anticipate intellectually the moment of our landing. Assuming that I make no attempt to harm you, nevertheless your pitiful body will be instantly, and thereafter continuously, in deadly danger, while I—you must admit that, though there are beasts below physically stronger than I, the difference is not so great that my intelligence, even if it took the form of cunning flight, would more than balance the weakness. You will admit further more—"
"I admit nothing!" Jamieson snapped. "Except that you’re going to get the surprise of your life. And you’re going to regret beyond all your present capacity for emotionalism the lack of those very artificialities you despise in man. I do not mean material weapons, but—"
"What you mean is unimportant. I can see that you intend to persist in this useless, mendacious type of reasoning, and you have convinced me that you will never emerge alive from that island jungle below. Therefore—"
The same, tremendous arm that a few minutes before had torn steel chain, flashed into sight and downward in one burst of madly swift gesture.
The two remaining cables attached to Jamieson’s harness parted like wet paper; and so great was the force of the blow that Jamieson was jerked a hundred feet parallel to the distant ground before his long, clenched body curved downward for its terrific fall.
A thought, cool with grim irony, struck after him:
"I notice that you are a very cautious man, professor, in that you have not only a packsack, but a parachute strapped to your back. This will enable you to reach ground safely, but your landing will be largely governed by chance. Your logical mind will doubtless enable you to visualize the situation. Goodbye and—bad luck!"
Jamieson strained at the thin, strong ropes of his parachute, his gaze narrowed on the scene below. Through the now almost transparent mist, and somewhat to the north, was a green brown blaze of jungle. If he could get there . . .
He tugged again at the ropes, and with icy speculation watched the effect, calculated the mathematical possibilities. He was falling slowly; that would be the effect of the heavy air of this planet: pressure eighteen pounds per square inch at sea level.
Sea level! He smiled wryly, without humor. Sea level was approximately where he would be in a very few minutes.
There was, he saw, no sea immediately beneath him. A few splotches of water, yes, and a straggle of trees. The rest was a sort of clearing, except that it wasn’t exactly. It had a strange, grayish, repellent appearance like . . .
The terrible shock of recognition drained the blood from his cheeks. His mind shrank as from an unthinkably lecherous thought. In panic he tore at the ropes, as if by sheer physical strength he would draw the tantalizingly near jungle to him. That jungle, that precious jungle! Horrors it might contain, but at least they were of the future, while that hellish stuff directly below held no future, nothing but a gray, quagmire trap, thick choking mud . . .
Abruptly, he saw that the solid mass of trees was beyond his reach. The parachute was less than five hundred feet above that deadly, unclean spread of mud. The jungle itself—stinking, horrible jungle, blatantly exuding the sharp, evil odors of rotting vegetation, yet suddenly the most desirable of places, was about the same distance to the northwest.
To make it would require a forty-five degree descent. Carefully, he manipulated the rope controls of the parachute. It caught the wind like a glider; the jungle drew closer, closer.
He landed triumphantly in a tiny straggle of trees, a little island separated from the main bulk of forest by less than a hundred and fifty feet.
The island was ten feet long by eight wide; four trees, the longest about fifty feet tall, maintained a precarious existence on its soggy, wet, comparatively firm base.
Four trees, representing a total of about a hundred and eighty feet. Definitely enough length. But his first glow of triumph began to fade. Without a crane to manipulate three of those trees into place, the knowledge that they represented safety was utterly useless.
Jamieson sat down, conscious for the first time of the dull ache in his shoulders, the strained tenseness of his whole body, a sense of depressing heat. He could see the sun, a white blob barely visible through the white mists that formed the atmosphere of this deadly, fantastic land.
The blur of sun seemed to fade into remoteness; a vague darkness formed in his mind; and then a sharp, conscious thought that he had been asleep.
He opened his eyes with a start. The sun was much lower in the eastern sky and . . .
His mind stopped from the sheer shock of discovery. Instantly, however, it came alive, steady, cool, despite the vast, first shock of his amazement.
What had happened was like some fantasy out of a fairy story. The four trees, with the tattered remains of his parachute still clinging to them, towered above him. But his plan for them had taken form while he slept.
A bridge of trees, thicker, more solid than any the little island could have produced, stretched straight and strong from the island to the mainland. There was no doubt, of course, as to who had performed that colossal feat: the ezwal was standing unconcernedly on two of its six legs, leaning man-like against the thick trunk of a gigantic tree. Its thought came:
"You need have no fear, Professor Jamieson. I have come to see your point of view. I am prepared to assist you to reach the mainland and to cooperate with you thereafter.
Jamieson’s deep, ungracious laughter cut off the thought. "You damned liar!" the scientist said finally. "What you mean is that you’ve run up against something you couldn’t handle.
Well, that’s all right with me. So long as we understand each other, we’ll get along."

The snake slid heavily out of the jungle, ten feet from the mainland end of the bridge of trees, thirty feet to the right of the ezwal. Jamieson, scraping cautiously toward the center of the bridge, saw the first violent swaying of the long, luscious jungle grass—and froze where he was as the vicious, fantastic head reared into sight, followed by the first twenty feet of that thick, menacing body.
Briefly, the great head, in its swaying movement, was turned directly at him. The little pig eyes seemed to glare straight into his own stunned, brown eyes. Shock held him, sheer, unadulterated shock at the incredibly bad luck that had allowed this deadly creature to find him in such an immeasurably helpless position.
His paralysis there, under those blazing eyes, was a living, agonizing thing. Tautness struck like fire into every muscle of his body; it was an instinctive straining for rigidity, abnormal and terrible—but it worked.
The fearsome head whipped aside, fixed in eager fascination on the ezwal, and took on a rigidity all its own.
Jamieson relaxed; his brief fear changed to brief, violent anger; he projected a scathing thought at the ezwal:
"I understood you could sense the approach of dangerous beasts by reading their minds."
No answering thought came into his brain. The giant snake flowed farther into the clearing; and before that towering, horned head rearing monstrously from the long, titanically powerful body, the ezwal backed slowly, yielding with a grim reluctance to the obvious conviction that it was no match for this vast creature.
Cool again, Jamieson directed an ironic at the ezwal:
"It may interest you to know that as chief scientist of the Interstellar Military Commission, I reported Eristan II unusable as a military base for our fleet; and there were two main reasons: one of the damnedest flesh-eating plants you ever saw, and this pretty little baby. There are millions of both of them. Each snake breeds hundreds in its lifetime, so they can’t be stamped out. They’re bisexual, attain a length of about a hundred and fifty feet and a weight of ten tons."
The ezwal, now some fifty feet away from the snake, stopped and, without looking at Jamieson, sent him a tight, swift thought:
"Its appearance did surprise me, but the reason is that its mind held only a vague curiosity about some sounds it had heard, no clear, sharp thought such as an intention to murder. But that’s unimportant. It’s here; it’s dangerous. It hasn’t seen you yet, so act accordingly. It doesn’t think it can get me, but it’s considering the situation. In spite of its desire for me, the problem remains essentially yours; the danger is all yours."
The ezwal concluded almost indifferently: "I am willing to give you limited aid in any plan you might have, but please don’t offer our interdependence. So far there’s been only one dependent. I think you know who it is."
Jamieson was grim. "Don’t be too sure that you’re not in danger. That fellow looks muscle bound, but when he starts moving, he’s like a steel spring for the first three or four hundred feet—and you haven’t got that much space behind you."
"What do you mean? I can run four hundred feet in three seconds, earth time."
Coldly, the scientist whipped out: "You could, if you had four hundred feet in which to run. But you haven’t. I’ve just been forming a mental picture of this edge of jungle, as I saw it just before I landed.
"There’s about a hundred and fifty feet of jungle, then a curving shore of mud plain, a continuation of this mud here. The curve swings back this way, and cuts you off neatly on this little outjutting of jungle. To get clear of the snake, you’ve got to dart past him. Roughly, your clearance is a hundred and fifty feet all around—and it isn’t enough! Interdependent? You’re damned right we are. Things like this will happen a thousand times a year on Eristan II."
There was startled silence; finally: "Why don’t you turn your atomic gun on it—burn it?"
"And have it come out here, while I’m helpless? These big snakes are born in this mud, and live half their lives in it. It would take five minutes to burn off that tough head. By that time I’d be swallowed and digested."
The brief seconds that passed then were vibrant with reluctant desperation. But there could be no delay; swiftly the grudging request came:
"Professor Jamieson, I am open to suggestions—and hurry!"

The depressing realization came to Jamieson that the ezwal was once more asking for his assistance, knowing that it would be given; and yet it itself was giving no promise in return.
And there was no time for bargaining. Curtly, he projected:
"It’s the purest case of our acting as a team. The snake has no real weakness—except possibly this:
"Before it attacks, its head will start swaying. That’s almost a universal snake method of hypnotizing victims into paralysis. Actually, the motion is also partially self-hypnotizing. At the earliest possible moment after it begins to sway, I’ll burn its eyes out—and you get on its back, and hang on. Its brain is located just behind that great horn. Claw your way there, and eat in while I burn—"
The thought scattered like chaff, as the tremendous head began to move. With a trembling jerk, Jamieson snatched his gun . . .
It was not so much, then, that the snake put up a fight, as that it wouldn’t die. Its smoking remains were still twisting half an hour later when Jamieson scrambled weakly from the bridge of trees and collapsed onto the ground.
When finally he climbed to his feet, the ezwal was sitting fifty feet away under a clump of trees, its middle legs also on the ground, its forelegs folded across its chest—and it was contemplating him.
It looked strangely sleek and beautiful in its blue coat and in the very massiveness of its form. And there was immeasurable comfort in the knowledge that, for the time being at least, the mighty muscles that rippled underneath that silk smooth skin were on his side.
Jamieson returned the ezwal’s stare steadily; finally he said:
"What happened to the antigravity raft?"
"I abandoned it thirty-five miles north of here."
Jamieson hesitated; then: "We’ll have to go to it. I practically depowered my gun on that snake. It needs metal for recharging; and that raft is the only metal in bulk that I know of."
He was silent again; then softly: "One thing more. I want your word of honor that you won’t even attempt to harm me until we are safely on the other side of the Demon Straits!"
"You’d accept my word?" The steel-gray, three-in-line eyes meditated on him curiously.
"Yes."
"Very well, I give it."
Jamieson shook his head, smiling darkly. "Oh, no, you don’t, not as easily as that."
"I thought you said you’d accept my word." Peevishly.
"I will, but in the following phraseology."
Jamieson stared with grim intentness at his mighty and deadly enemy. "I want you to swear by the sun that rises and by the green, fruitful earth, by the joys of the contemplative mind and the glory of immortal life—"
He paused. "Well?"
There was a gray fire in the ezwal’s gaze, and its thought held a ferocious quality when finally it replied:
"You are, Professor Jamieson, even more dangerous than I thought. It is clear there can be no compromise between us."
"But you’ll make the limited promise I ask for?"
The gray eyes dulled strangely; long, thin lips parted in a snarl that showed great, dark fangs.
"No!" Curtly.
"I thought," said Jamieson softly, "I ought to get that clear."
No answer. The ezwal simply sat there, its gaze fixed on him.
"Another thing," Jamieson went on, "stop pretending you can read all my thoughts. You didn’t know that I knew about your religion. I’ll wager you can only catch my sharpest idea-forms, and those particularly when my mind is focused on speech."
"I made no pretenses," the ezwal replied coolly. "I shall continue to keep you as much in the dark as possible."
"The doubt will, of course, harass my mind," said Jamieson, "but not too much. Once I accept a theory, I act accordingly. If I should prove wrong, there remains the final arbiter of my atomic gun against your strength. I wouldn’t bet on the victor.
"But now," he hunched his long body, and strode forward, "let’s get going. The swiftest method, I believe, would be for me to ride on your back. I could tie a rope from my parachute around your body just in front of your middle legs and by hanging onto the rope keep myself from falling off. My only qualification is that you must promise to let me off before making any hostile move. Agreeable?"
The ezwal hesitated, then nodded: "For the time being."
Jamieson was smiling, his long, spare, yet strong, face ironical.
"That leaves only one thing: What did you run up against that made you change your mind about killing me immediately? Could it have been something entirely beyond the isolated, static, aristocratic existence of the ezwal?"
"Get on my back!" came the snarling thought. "I desire no lectures, nor any further sounds from your rasping voice. I fear nothing on this planet. My reasons for coming back have no connection with any of your pitiful ideas; and it would not take much to make me change my mind. Take warning!"
Jamieson was silent, startled. It had not been his intention to provoke the ezwal. He’d have to be more cautious in the future, or this great animal, bigger than eight lions, deadlier than a hundred, might turn on him long before it itself intended.

It was an hour later that the long, fish-shaped spaceship swung out of the steamy mists that patrolled the skies of Eristan II. It coasted along less than a thousand feet up, cruel-looking as a swordfish with its finely pointed nose.
The explosive thought of the ezwal cut into Jamieson’s brain: "Professor Jamieson, if you make so much as a single effort at signaling, you die—"
Jamieson was silent, his mind held stiff and blank, after one mental leap. As he watched, the great, half-mile-long ship sank visibly lower and, as it vanished beyond the rim of the jungle ahead, there was no doubt that it was going to land.
And then, the ezwal’s thoughts came again, sly now, almost exultant:
"It’s no use trying to hide it—because now that the actuality is here, I remember that your dead companions had awareness of another spaceship in the back of their minds."
Jamieson swallowed the hard lump in his throat. There was a sickness in him, and a vast rage at the incredibly bad luck of this ship coming here—now!
Miserably, he gave himself to the demanding rhythm of the ezwal’s smooth gallop; and for a while there was only that odor-tainted wind, and the pad of six paws, a dull, flat flow of sound; and all around was the dark jungle, the occasional, queer lap, lap of treacherous, unseen waters. And it was all there, the strangeness, the terribleness of this wild ride of a man on the back of a blue-tinted, beast-like being that hated him—and knew about that ship.
At last, grudgingly, he yielded. He said snappishly, as if his words might yet snatch victory from defeat:
"Now I know, anyway, that your thought-reading ability is a damned sketchy thing. You didn’t begin to suspect why you were able to conquer my ship so easily."
"Why should I?" The ezwal was impatient. "I remember now there was a long period when I caught no thoughts, only an excess of energy tension, abnormally more than was customary from your engines. That must have been when you speeded up.
"Then I noticed the cage door was ajar—and forgot everything else."
The scientist nodded, gloom a sickish weight on him. "We received some awful buffeting, nothing palpable, of course, because the interstellars were full on. But, somewhere, there must have been a blow that knocked our innards out of alignment.
"Afterwards, we watched for dangers from outside; and so you, on the inside, got your chance to kill a hundred men, most of them sleeping . . ."
He tensed his body ever so carefully, eyes vaguely as possible on the limb of the tree just ahead, concentrating with enormous casualness on the idea of ducking under it. Somehow, his real purpose leaked from his straining brain.
In a single convulsion of movement, like a bucking horse, the ezwal reared. Shattering violence of movement! Like a shot from a gun, Jamieson was flung forward bang against that steel-hard back. Stunned, dizzy, he fought for balance—and then it was over.
The great animal plunged aside into a thick pattern of jungle, completely away from the protruding limb that had momentarily offered such sweet safety. It twisted skillfully between two giant trees, and emerged a moment later onto the beach of a long, glittering bay of ocean.
Fleet as the wind, it raced along the deserted sands, and then on into the thickening jungles beyond. No thought came from it, not a tendril of triumph, no indication of the tremendous victory it had just won.
Jamieson said sickly: "I made that attempt because I know what you’re going to do. I admit we had a running fight with that Rull cruiser. But you’re crazy if you think they mean advantage for you.
"Rulls are different. They come from another galaxy. They’re—"
"Professor!" The interrupting thought was like metal in the sheer, vibrating force of it. "Don’t dare try to draw your gun to kill yourself. One false move, and I’ll show you how violently and painfully a man can be disarmed."
"You promised," Jamieson almost mumbled, "to make no hostile move—"
"And I’ll keep that promise—to the letter, after man’s own fashion, in my own good time. But now—I gathered from your mind that you think these creatures landed because they detected the minute energy discharge of the antigravity raft."
"Pure deduction." Curtly. "There must be some logical reason, and unless you shut off the power as I did on the spaceship—"
"I didn’t. Therefore, that is why they landed. Their instruments probably also registered your use of the gun on the snake. Therefore they definitely know someone is here. My best bet, accordingly, is to head straight for them before they kill me accidentally. I have no doubt of the welcome I shall receive when they see me captive, and I tell them that I and my fellow ezwals are prepared to help drive man from Carson’s Planet. And you will have gotten off my back unharmed—thus my promise—"
The scientist licked dry lips. "That’s bestial," he said finally. "You know damned well from reading my mind that Rulls eat human beings. Earth is one of the eight planets in this galaxy whose flesh is palatable to these hell creatures—"
The ezwal said coldly: "I have seen men on Carson’s Planet eat ezwals with relish. Why shouldn’t men in turn be eaten by other beings?"
Jamieson was silent, a shocked silence at the hatred that was here. The flint-like thought of the other finished:
"You may not realize how important it is that no word of ezwal intelligence get back to earth during the next few months, but we ezwals know.
"I want you dead!"
And still there was hope in him. He recognized it for what it was: that mad, senseless hope of a man still alive, refusing to acknowledge death till its gray chill lay cold on his bones.
A crash of brush roused him out of himself. Great branches of greater trees broke with wheezing unwillingness. A monstrous reptile head peered at them over a tall tree.
Jamieson had a spine-cooling glimpse of a scaly, glittering body; eyes as red as fire blazed at him—and then that lumbering nightmare was far behind, as the ezwal raced on, contemptuous, terrible in its heeding strength.
And after a moment, then, in spite of hideous danger, in spite of his desperate conviction that he must convince the ezwal how wrong it was—admiration flared inside him, a wild, fascinated admiration.
"By God!" he exclaimed, "I wouldn’t be surprised if you really could evade the terrors of this world. In all my journeys through space, I’ve never seen such a perfect combination of mind and magnificent muscle."
"Save your praise," sneered the ezwal.
Jamieson hardly heard. He was frowning in genuine thoughtfulness:
"There’s a saber-toothed, furred creature about your size and speed that might damage you, but I think you can outrun or outfight all the other furred animals. Then there are the malignant plants, particularly a horrible, creepier affair—it’s not the only intelligent plant in the galaxy, but it’s the smartest. You’d need my gun if you got tangled up with one of those.
"You could evade them, of course, but that implies ability to recognize that one’s in the vicinity. There are signposts of their presence but," he held his mind as dim as possible, and smiled grimly, "I’ll leave that subject before you read the details in my brain.
"That leaves the great reptiles; they can probably catch you only in the water. That’s where the Demon Straits would be a mortal handicap."
"I can swim," the ezwal snapped, "fifty miles in three hours with you on my back."
"Go on!" The scientist’s voice was scathing. "If you could do all these things—if you could cross oceans and a thousand miles of jungle, why did you return for me, knowing, as you must now know, that I could never reach my ship alone? Why?"
"It’s dark where you’re going," the ezwal said impatiently, "and knowledge is not a requirement for death. All these fears of yours are but proof that man will yield to unfriendly environment where he would be unflinching in the face of intelligent opposition.
"And that is why your people must not learn of ezwal intelligence. Literally, we have created on Carson’s Planet a dumb, beast-like atmosphere where men would eventually feel that nature was too strong for them. The fact that you have refused to face the nature-environment of this jungle planet of Eristan II and that the psycho-friction on Carson’s Planet is already at the factual of point 135 is proof that—"
"Eh?" Jamieson stared at that gleaming, blue, rhythmically bobbing head, "you’re crazy. Why, 135 would mean—twenty-five—thirty million. The limit is point 38."
"Exactly," glowed the ezwal, "thirty million dead."
A gulf was opening before Jamieson’s brain, a black realization of where this—monstrous—creature’s thoughts were leading. He said violently:
"It’s a damned lie. My reports show—"
"Thirty million!" repeated the ezwal with a deadly satisfaction. "And I know exactly what that means in your terms of psycho-friction: point 135 as compared to a maximum safety-tension limit of point 38. That limit, of course, obtains when nature is the opponent. If your people discovered the cause of their agony was an intelligent race, the resistance would go up to point 184—and we’d lose. You didn’t know we’d studied your psychology so thoroughly."
White, shakily, Jamieson replied: "In five years, we’ll have a billion population on Carson’s Planet, and the few ezwals that will have escaped will be a small, scattered, demoralized—"
"In five months," interrupted the ezwal coldly, "man will figuratively explode from our planet. Revolution, a blind mob impulse to get into the interstellar transports at any cost, mad flight from intolerable dangers. And, added to everything, the sudden arrivals of the Rull warships to assist us. It will be the greatest disaster in the long, brutal history of conquering man."
With a terrible effort, Jamieson caught himself into a tight matter-of-factness: "Assuming all this, assuming that machines yield to muscles, what will you do with the Rulls after we’re gone?"
"Just let them dare remain!"
Jamieson’s brief, titanic effort at casualness collapsed into a wave of fury: "Why, you blasted fools, man beat the Rulls to Carson’s Planet by less than two years. While you stupid idiots interfered with us on the ground, we fought long, delaying actions in the deeps of space, protecting you from the most murderous, ruthless, unreasonable things that the universe ever spawned."
He stopped, fought for control, said finally with a grim effort at rational argument: "We’ve never been able to drive the Rull from any planet where he has established himself. And he drove us from three major bases before we realized the enormousness of the danger, and stood firm everywhere regardless of military losses."
He stopped again, conscious of the blank, obstinate, contemptuous wall that was the mind of this ezwal.
"Thirty million!" he said almost softly, half to himself. "Wives, husbands, children, lovers—"
A black anger blotted out his conscious thought. With a single lightning-swift jerk of his arm, he drew his atomic gun, pressed its muzzle hard against the great blue-ridged backbone.
"By heaven, at least you’re not going to get the Rulls in on anything that happens."
His finger closed hard on that yielding trigger; there was a white blaze of fire that—missed! Amazingly—it missed.
Instants passed before his brain grasped the startling fact that he was flying through the air, flung clear by one incredibly swift jerk of that vast, blue body.
He struck brush. Agonizing fingers of sticky jungle vine wrenched at his clothes, ripped his hands, and tore at the gun, that precious, all-valuable gun.
His clothes shredded, blood came in red, ugly streaks—everything yielded to that desperate environment but the one, all-important thing. With a bitter, enduring singleness of purpose, he clung to the gun.
He landed on his side, rolled over in a flash and twisted up his gun, finger once more on the trigger. Three feet from that deadly muzzle, the ezwal drew up with a hideous snarl of its great, square face—jumped thirty feet to one side, and vanished, a streak of amazing blue, behind a thick bole of steel-hard jungle fungi.
Shaky, almost ill, Jamieson sat up and surveyed the extent of his defeat, the limits of his victory.
All around was a curious, treeless jungle. Giant, ugly, yellow fungi towered thirty, fifty, eighty feet against a red brown green sky line of tangled brown vines, green lichens and bulbous, incredibly long, strong, reddish grass.
The ezwal had raged through other such dense matted wilderness with a solid, irresistible strength. For a man on foot, who dared not waste more than a fraction of the waning power of his gun, it was a pathless, major obstacle to the simplest progress—the last place in the world he would have chosen for a last-ditch fight against anything. And yet . . .
In losing his temper he had hit on the only possible method of drawing his gun without giving the ezwal advance warning thoughts. At least, he was not being borne helplessly along to a great warship loaded with slimy, white Rulls and . . .
Rulls!
With a gasp, Jamieson leaped to his feet. There was a treacherous sagging of the ground under his feet, but he simply, instinctively stepped onto a dead patch of fungi; and the harsh, urgent tones of his voice were loud in his ears, as he said swiftly:
"We’ve got to act fast. The discharge of my gun must have registered on Rull instruments, and they’ll be here in minutes. You’ve got to believe me when I tell you that your scheme of enlisting the Rulls as allies is madness.
"Listen to this: all the ships we sent into their galaxy reported that every planet of a hundred they visited was inhabited by Rulls. Nothing else, no other races. They must have destroyed every other living, intelligent creature.
"Man has forty-eight hundred and seventy-four nonhuman allies. I admit all have civilizations that are similar to man’s own; and that’s the devil of the type of history-less, building-less, ezwal culture. Ezwals cannot defend themselves against energies and machines. And, frankly, man will not leave Carson’s Planet till that overwhelmingly important defense question has been satisfactorily mastered.
"You and your revolution. True, the simple people in their agony may flee in mad panic, but the military will remain, a disciplined, undefeatable organization, a hundred battleships, a thousand cruisers, ten thousand destroyers for that one base alone. The ezwal plan is clever only in its grasp of human psychology and because it may well succeed in causing destruction and death. But in that plan is no conception of the vastness of interstellar civilization, the responsibilities and the duties of its members.
"The reason I was taking you to earth was to show you the complexities and honest problems of that civilization, to prove to you that we are not evil. I swear to you that man and his present grand civilization will solve the ezwal problem to ezwal satisfaction. What do you say?"
His last words boomed out eerily in the odd, deathly, late afternoon hush that had settled over the jungle world of Eristan II. He could see the blur of sun, a misty blob low in the eastern sky; and the hard realization came:
Even if he escaped the Rulls, in two hours at most the great fanged hunters and the reptilian flesh-eaters that haunted the slow nights of this remote, primeval planet would emerge ravenous from their stinking hideaways, and seek their terrible surcease.
He’d have to get away from this damned fungi, find a real tree with good, strong, high-growing branches and, somehow, stay there all night. Some kind of system of intertwining vines, properly rigged up, should warn him of any beast intruder—including ezwals.
He began to work forward, clinging carefully to the densest, most concealing brush. After fifty yards, the jungle seemed as impenetrable as ever, and his legs and arms ached from his effort. He stopped, and said:
"I tell you that man would never have gone into Carson’s Planet the way he did, if he had known it was inhabited by intelligent beings. There are strict laws that govern even under military necessity."
Quite abruptly, answer came: "Cease these squalling, lying appeals. Man possesses no less than five thousand planets formerly occupied by intelligent races. No totality of prevarication can cover up or ever excuse five thousand cosmic crimes—"
The ezwal’s thought broke off; then, almost casually: "Professor, I’ve just run across an animal that—"
Jamieson was saying: "Man’s crimes are as black as his noble works are white and wonderful. You must understand those two facets of his character—"
"This animal," persisted the ezwal, "is floating above me now, watching me, but I am unable to catch a single vibration of its thought—"
"More than three thousand of those races now have self-government. Man does not long deny to any basically good intelligence the liberty and freedom of action which he needs so much himself—"
"Professor!" The thought was like a knife piercing, utterly urgent. "This creature has a repellent, worm-shaped body, and it floats without wings. It has no brain that I can detect. It—"
Very carefully, very gently, Jamieson swung himself behind a pile of brush and raised his pistol. Then softly, swiftly, he said:
"Act like a beast, snarl at it, and run like hell into the thickest underbrush if it reaches with one of those tiny, worm-like hands toward any one of the half a dozen notches on either side of its body.
"If you cannot contact its mind—we never could get in touch with it in any way—you’ll have to depend on its character; as follows:
"The Rull hears only sounds between five hundred thousand and eight hundred thousand vibrations a second. That is why I can talk out loud without danger. That, also, suggests that its thought moves on a vastly different vibration level; it must hate and fear everything else, which must be why it is so remorselessly impelled on its course of destruction.
"The Rull does not kill for pleasure. It exterminates. It possibly considers the entire universe alien which, perhaps, is why it eliminates all important creatures on any planet it intends to occupy. There can be no intention of occupying this planet because our great base on Eristan I is only five thousand light-years or twenty-five hours away by warship. Therefore it will not harm you unless it has special suspicions. Therefore be all animal."
He finished tensely: "What’s it doing now?"
There was no answer.
The minutes dragged; and it wasn’t so much that there was silence. Queer, little noises came out of nearness and remoteness: the distant crack of wood under some heavy foot, faint snortings of creatures that were not exactly near—but too near for comfort.
A memory came that was more terrible than the gathering night, a living flame of remembrance of the one time he had seen a Rull feeding off a human being.
First, the clothes were stripped from the still-living victim, whose nervous system was then paralyzed partially by a stinger that was part of the Rull’s body. And then, the big, fat, white worm crawled into the body, and lay there in that abnormal, obscene embrace while thousands of little cup-like mouths fed . . .
Jamieson recoiled mentally and physically. Abrupt, desperate, panicky fear sent him burrowing deeper into the tangle of brush. It was quiet there, not a breath of air touched him. And he noticed, after a moment, that he was soaked with perspiration.
Other minutes passed; and because, in his years, courage had never been long absent from him, he stiffened with an abrupt anger at himself—and ventured into the hard, concentrated thought of attempted communication:
"If you have any questions, for heaven’s sake don’t waste time."
There must have been wind above his tight shelter of brush, for a fog heavily tainted with the smell of warm, slimy water drifted over him, blocking even the narrow view that remained.
Jamieson stirred uneasily. It was not fear; his mind was a clenched unit, like a fist ready to strike. It was that—suddenly—he felt without eyes in a world of terrible enemies. More urgently, he went on:
"Your very act of asking my assistance in identifying the Rull implied your recognition of our interdependence. Accordingly, I demand—"
"Very well!" The answering thought was dim and far away. "I admit my inability to get in touch with this worm ends my plans of establishing an anti-human alliance."
There was a time, such a short time ago, Jamieson thought drearily, when such an admission would have brought genuine intellectual joy. The poor devils on Carson’s Planet, at least, were not going to have to fight Rulls as well as their own madness—as well as ezwals.
He braced himself, vaguely amazed at the lowness of his morale. He said almost hopelessly:
"What about us?"
"I have already repaid your initial assistance in that, at this moment, I am leading the creature directly away from you."
"It’s still following you?"
"Yes! It seems to be studying me. Have you any suggestions?"
Weariness faded; Jamieson snapped: "Only on condition that you are willing to recognize that we are a unit, and that everything else, including what man and ezwal are going to do about Carson’s Planet must be discussed later. Agreed?"
The ezwal’s thought was scarcely more than a snarl: "You keep harping on that!"
Momentarily, the scientist felt all the exasperation, all the strain of the past hours a pressing, hurting force in his brain. Like a flame, it burst forth, a flare of raging thought:
"You damned scoundrel, you’ve forced every issue so far, and all of them were rooted in that problem. You make that promise—or just forget the whole thing."
The silence was a pregnant emotion, dark with bitter, formless thought. Around Jamieson, the mists were thinning, fading into the twilight of that thick jungle. Finally:
"I promise to help you safely across the Demon Straits; and I’ll be with you in minutes—if I don’t lose this thing first."
Jamieson retorted grimly: "Agreement satisfactory—but don’t expect to lose a Rull. They’ve got perfect antigravity, whereas that antigravity raft of ours was simply a superparachute. It would eventually have fallen under its own weight."
He paused tensely; then: "You’ve got everything clear? I’ll burn the Rull that’s following you, then we’ll beat it as fast as your legs can carry us."
"Get ready!" The answer was a cold, deadly wave. "I’ll be there in seconds."
There was no time for thought. Brush crashed. Through the mist, Jamieson caught one flashing glimpse of the ezwal with its six legs. At fifty feet, its slate-gray, three-in-line eyes were like pools of light. And then, as he pointed his gun in a desperate expectation . . .
"For your life!" came the ezwal’s thought, "don’t shoot, don’t move. There’re a dozen of them above me and—"
Queerly, shatteringly, that strong flow of thought ended in a chaotic jumble as energy flared out there, a glaring, white fire that blinked on, and then instantly off.
The mist rolled thicker, white gray, noxious stuff that hid what must be happening.
And hid him.
Jamieson lay stiff and cold—and waited. For a moment, so normal had mind-reading become in these hours, that he forgot he could only catch thoughts at the will of the ezwal, and he strained to penetrate the blackout of mind vibrations.
He thought finally, a tight, personal thought: The Rulls must have worked a psychosis on the ezwal. Nothing else could explain that incoherent termination of thought in so powerful a mind. And yet—psychosis was used mainly on animals and other uncivilized and primitive life forms, unaccustomed to that sudden interplay of dazzling lights.
He frowned bleakly. Actually, in spite of its potent brain, the ezwal was very much animal, very much uncivilized, and possibly extremely allergic to mechanical hypnosis.
Definitely, it was not death from a heavy mobile projector because there would have been sound from the weapon, and because there wouldn’t have been that instantaneous distortion of thought, that twisting . . .
He felt a moment’s sense of intense relief. It had been curiously unsettling to think of that mighty animal struck dead.
He caught his mind into a harder band: So the ezwal was captive, not corpse. So—what now?
Relief drained. It wasn’t, he thought blankly, as if he could do anything against a heavily armored, heavily manned cruiser . . .
Ten minutes passed, and then out of the deepening twilight came the thunderous roar of a solid bank of energy projectors. There was answering thunder on a smaller scale; and then, once again, though farther away now, the deep, unmistakable roar of a broadside of hundred-inch battleship projectors.
A battleship! A capital ship from the Eristan I base, either on patrol or investigating energy discharges. The Rulls would be lucky if they got away. As for himself—nothing!
Nothing but the night and its terrors. True, there would be no trouble now from the Rulls, but that was all. This wasn’t rescue, not even the hope of rescue. For days and days, the two great ships would maneuver in space; and, by the time the battleship reported again to its base, there wouldn’t be very much thought given to the why of the Rull cruiser’s presence on or near the ground.
Besides, the Rull would have detected its enemy before its own position would be accurately plotted. That first broadside had easily been fifty miles away.
The problem of ezwal and man, that had seemed such an intimate, soluble pattern when he and the great animal were alone, was losing its perspective. Against the immeasurably larger background of space, the design was twisting crazily.
It became a shapeless thing, utterly lost in the tangle of unseen obstacles that kept tripping him, as he plunged forward into the dimming reaches of jungle.
In half an hour it was pitch dark; and he hadn’t penetrated more than a few hundred yards. He would have blundered on into the black night, except that suddenly his fingers touched thick, carboniferous bark.
A tree!
Great beasts stamped below, as he clung to that precarious perch. Eyes of fire glared at him. Seven times in the first hour by his watch, monstrous things clambered up the tree, mewing and slavering in feral desire. Seven times his weakening gun flashed a thinner beam of destroying energy—and great, scale-armored carnivore whose approach shook the earth came to feed on the odorous flesh—and passed on.
One hour gone!
A hundred nights like this one, to be spent without sleep, to be defended against a new, ferocious enemy every ten minutes, and no power in his gun.
The terrible thing was that the ezwal had just agreed to work with him against the Rulls. Victory so near, then instantly snatched afar . . .
Something, a horrible something, slobbered at the foot of the tree. Great claws rasped on bark, and then two eyes, easily a foot apart, started with an astounding speed up toward him.
Jamieson snatched at his gun, hesitated, then began hastily to climb up into the thinner branches. Every second, as he scrambled higher, he had the awful feeling that a branch would break, and send him sliding down toward the thing; and there was the more dreadful conviction that great jaws were at his heels.
Actually, however, his determination to save his gun worked beyond his expectations. The beast was edging up into those thin branches after him when there was a hideous snarl below, and another greater creature started up the tree.
The fighting of animal against animal that started then was absolutely continuous. The tree shook, as saber-toothed beasts that mewed fought vast, grunting, roaring shapes. And every little while there would be a piercing, triumphant scream as a gigantic dinosaur-thing raged into the fight—and literally ate the struggling mass of killers.
Toward dawn, the continuous bellowing and snarling from near and far diminished notably, as if stomach after eager stomach gorged itself; and retired in enormous content to some cesspool of a bed.
At dawn he was still alive, completely weary, his body drooping with sleep desire, and in his mind only the will to live, but utterly no belief that he would survive the day.
If only, on the ship, he had not been cornered so swiftly in the control room by the ezwal, he could have taken anti-sleep pills, fuel capsules for his gun and—he laughed in sharp sardonicism as the futility of that line of reasoning penetrated—and a lifeboat which, of course, would by itself have enabled him to fly to safety.
At least there had been a few hundred food capsules in the control room—a month’s supply.
He sucked at one that was chocolate flavored, and slowly climbed to the bloodstained ground.

There was a sameness about the day, a mind-wearing sameness! Jungle and sea, different only in the designs of land shape and in the way the water lapped a curving, twisting shore. Always the substance was unchanged.
Jungle and sea . . .
Everything fought him—and until mid-afternoon he fought back. He had covered, he estimated, about three miles when he saw the tree—there was a kind of crotch high up in its towering form, where he could sleep without falling, if he tied himself with vines.
Three miles a day. Twelve hundred miles, counting what he still had to cover of this jungle ocean, counting the Demon Straits—twelve hundred miles at three miles a day.
Four hundred days!
He woke up with the beasts of the Eristan night coughing their lust at the base of his tree. He woke up with the memory of a nightmare in which he was swimming the Demon waters, pursued by millions of worms, who kept shouting something about the importance of solving the ezwal problem.
"What," they asked accusingly, "is man going to do with civilizations intellectually so advanced, but without a single building or weapon or—anything?"
Jamieson shook himself awake; and then: "To hell with ezwals!" he roared into the black, pressing, deadly night.
For a while, then, he sat shocked at the things that were happening to his mind, once so stable.
Stable! But that, of course, was long ago.

The fourth day dawned, a misty, muggy replica of the day before. And of the day before that. And before that. And—
"Stop it, you idiot!" said Professor Jamieson aloud, savagely.
He was struggling stubbornly toward what seemed a clearing when a gray mass of creepers to one side stirred as in a gentle wind, and started to grow toward him. Simultaneously, a queer, hesitant thought came into his mind from—outside!
"Got them all!" it said with a madly calm ferociousness. "Get this—two-legged thing—too. Send creepers through the ground."
It was such an alien thought form, so unsettlingly different, that his brain came up from the depths to which it had sunk, and poised with startled alertness abruptly, almost normally fascinated.
"Why, of course," he thought quite sanely, "we’ve always wondered how the Rytt killer plant could have evolved its high intelligence. It’s like the ezwal. It communicates by mental telepathy."
Excitement came, an intense, scientific absorption in all the terrifically important knowledge that he had accumulated—about ezwals, about Rulls, and the way he had caught the Rytt plant’s private vibrations. Beyond all doubt, the ezwal, in forcing its thoughts on him, had opened paths, and made it easier for him to receive all thoughts. Why, that could mean that he . . .
In a blaze of alertness, he cut the thought short; his gaze narrowed on the gray creepers edging toward him. He backed away, gun ready; it would be just like the Rytt to feint at him with a slow, open, apparently easily avoidable approach. Then strike like lightning from underground with its potent, needle-sharp root tendrils.
There was not the faintest intention in him to go back, or evade any crisis this creature might force. Go back where?—to what?
He skirted the visible creepers, broke through a fifty-foot wilderness of giant green ferns; and, because his control of himself was complete now, it was his military mind, the mind that accepted facts as they were, that took in the scene that spread before him.
In the near distance rested a two-hundred-foot Rull lifeboat. Near it, a dozen wanly white Rulls lay stiff and dead, each tangled in its own special bed of gray creepers. The creepers extended on into the open door of the lifeboat; and there was no doubt that it had "got them all!"
The atmosphere of lifelessness that hung over the ship, with all its promise of escape, brought a soaring joy, that was all the sweeter because of the despair of those days of hell—a joy that ended as the cool, hard thought of the ezwal struck into his brain:
"I’ve been expecting you, professor. The controls of this lifeboat are beyond my abilities to operate; so here I am waiting for you—"
From utter despair to utter joy to utter despair in minutes . . .
Cold, almost desolate, Jamieson searched for his great and determined enemy. But there was nothing moving in the world of jungle, no glimpse of dark, gleaming blue, nothing but the scatter of dead, white worms and the creeper-grown lifeboat to show that there ever had been movement.
He was only dimly aware of the ezwal’s thoughts continuing:
"This killer plant was here four days ago when I landed from the antigravity raft. It had moved farther up the island when these Rulls brought me back to this lifeboat. I had already thrown off the effects of the trick-mirror hypnotism they used on me; and so I heard the human battleship and the Rull cruiser start their fight. These things seemed unaware of what was wrong—I suppose because they didn’t hear the sounds—and so they laid themselves out on the wet, soggy ground.
"That was when I got into mental communication with the plant, and called it back this way—and so we had an example of the kind of cooperation which you’ve been stressing for so long with such passionate sincerity, only—"
The funny thing was that, in spite of all he had fought through, hope was finally dead. Every word the ezwal was projecting so matter-of-factly showed that, once again, this immensely capable being had proved its enormous capacity for taking care of itself.
Cooperation with a Rytt killer plant—the one thing on this primitive world that he had really counted on as a continuous threat to the ezwal.
No more; and if the two worked together against him . . . He held his gun poised, but the black thought went on: It was obvious that man would never really conquer the ezwal. Point 135 psycho-friction meant there would be a revolution on Carson’s Planet, followed by a long, bloody, futile struggle and . . . He grew aware that the ezwal was sending thoughts again:
"—only one fault with your reasoning. I’ve had four days to think over the menace of the Rulls, and of how time and again I had to cooperate with you. Had to!
"And don’t forget, in the Rytt-intelligence, I’ve had a perfect example of all the worst characteristics of ezwals. It, too, has mental telepathy. It, too, must develop a machine civilization before it can hope to hold its planet. It’s in an earlier stage of development, so it’s even more stubborn, more stupid—"
Jamieson was frowning in genuine stark puzzlement, scarcely daring to let his hope gather. He said violently:
"Don’t try to kid me. You’ve won all along the line. And now, of your own free will, you’re offering, in effect, to help me get back to Carson’s Planet in time to prevent a revolution favorable to the ezwals. Like hell you are!"
"Not my own free will, professor," came the laconic thought. "Everything I’ve done since we came to this planet has been forced on me. You were right in thinking I had been compelled to return for your aid. When I landed from the raft, this creeper-thing was spread across the entire peninsula here, and it wouldn’t let me pass, stubbornly refused to listen to reason.
"It’s completely ungrateful for the feast of worms I helped it get; and at this moment it has me cornered in a room of this ship.
"Professor, take your gun, and teach this damned creature the importance of cooperation!"

6. THE CHANGELING

CHAPTER 1

"IN THE four years since you’ve been here," said Nypers, "this firm has done very well."
Craig laughed. "You will have your joke, Nypers. What do you mean, in the four years since I’ve been here. Why, I’ve been here so long, I feel like a graybeard."
Nypers nodded his thin, wise head. "I know how it is, sir. Everything else grows vague and unreal. There’s a sense as if another personality has lived that past life." He turned away. "Well, I’ll leave the Winthrop contract with you."
Craig finally withdrew his astounded gaze from the impassive panels of the oak door beyond which the old clerk had vanished. He shook his head wonderingly, then in self-annoyance. But he grinned as he sat down at the desk.
Nypers must be feeling his oats this morning. First time the old fellow had attempted humor.
In the four years since you— let’s see now, how long had he been manager of the Nesbitt Company. Office boy at sixteen; that was in 1938, junior clerk at nineteen, then the war. He’d joined up in April, 1942, been wounded, hospitalized and sent home early in ’44. Back to the Nesbitt Company to become successively senior clerk in 1949, office manager in ’53, and general manager in ’60. Since then, well, the days in an office were pretty much alike. Time blew by like a steady north wind.
Here it was, 1972. Hm-m-m, thirty-four years with the firm, not counting the war; twelve as general manager. That made him exactly fifty this year.
Fifty?
With a cry, Craig leaped to his feet, and raced into the washroom adjoining his private office. There was a full-length mirror in the door of the glittering shower booth. He paused in front of it, breathlessly. The image that met his gaze was satisfyingly familiar. It was that of a tall, powerfully built young man about six feet tall and thirty-three or four years of age.
Craig recovered his calmness. One of those perpetual juvenile types, he told himself in amusement. Didn’t look a day over forty. Odd though, that it had never occurred to him that he was fifty. He allowed himself a glow of pleasure at the realization that he was holding up so well. Anrella, too, for that matter. If he didn’t look forty, she didn’t look thirty.
His mind faltered. He went back into the office and sat down heavily in his chair. In the four years since you’ve been with us— The words made a pattern in his mind. The action he took finally was semi-automatic. He pressed a button on his desk.
The door opened and a scrawny, white-faced woman of thirty-five or so came in.
"You called, Mr. Craig?"
Craig hesitated. He was beginning to feel foolish, and not a little amazed at his upset. "Miss Pearson," he said, "how long have you been with the Nesbitt Company?"
The woman looked at him sharply; and Craig remembered too late that in these days of aggressive feminine emancipation, an employer didn’t ask a female employee questions that might be construed as not being related to business.
After a moment, Miss Pearson’s eyes lost their hard, hostile gleam; and Craig breathed easier. "Nine years!" she said curtly.
"Who," Craig forced himself to say, "hired you?"
Miss Pearson shrugged, but the gesture must have been in connection with something in her own mind. Her voice was normal as she said, "Why, the then manager, Mr. Letstone."
"Oh!" said Craig.
He almost pointed out that he had been general manager for the past twelve years. He didn’t, mainly because the thought behind the words simply skittered off into vagueness. His mind poised blank, but relatively unconfused. The idea that came finally was logical and unblurred. He voiced it in a calm tone:
"Bring me the Personnel Accounts book for 1968, please."
"Yes, Mr. Craig."
She brought the book and laid it on his desk. When she had gone out, Craig opened the volume at SALARIES for the month of October. And there it was: "Lesley Craig, general manager, $1250."
September had the same entry. Impatient, he thumbed back to January. It read:
"Angus Letstone, general manager, $700."
There was no explanation for the lower pay. February, March, April were all Angus Letstone. All at $700 a month.
In May, the name of Lesley Craig appeared for the first time at $1250.
Four years! In the four years since you
The Winthrop contract lay unread on the great oak desk. Craig stood up, and went over and stared out of the vitreous glass windows that made a curving design at the corner of the room. A broad avenue spread below him, a tree-lined boulevard that glittered with marble buildings. Money had flowed into this street—and into this room. He thought of how often he had believed himself one of those fortunate men at the lower end of the big-income class, a man who had attained the top position in his company after years of toil.
Ruefully, Craig shook his head. The years of toil hadn’t occurred. The question therefore was: how had he got this excellent job with its pleasant salary, its exclusive clientele, its smoothly operating organization? Life had been as lovely and sweet as a drink of clear, cold water, an untroubled idyll, a simple design of happy living.
And now this!
How did a man find out what he had done during the first forty-six years of his life? Especially, how did he find it out when he didn’t look forty-six—let alone fifty—by more than a dozen years? There were a few simple facts that he could verify before taking any action. With abrupt decision he returned to his desk, picked up his dictaphone, and began:
"Records Department, War Office, Washington, D. C.
Dear Sir: Please send as soon as possible my record for World War II. I was in the—"
He explained in detail, gathering confidence as he went along. His memory was so very clear on the main facts. The actual army life, the battles, were vague and far away. But that was understandable. There was that trip Anrella and he had taken to Canada last year. It was a dim dream now, with only here and there flashes of mental pictures to verify that it had ever happened.
All life was a process of forgetting the past.
His second letter he addressed to Birth Record Statistics, Chicago, Illinois. "I was born," he dictated, "On June 1, 1922, in the town of Daren, Illinois. Please send my birth certificate as soon as possible."
He rang for Miss Pearson, and gave her the dictaphone record when she came in. "Verify those addresses," he instructed briskly. "I believe there’s some small charge involved. Find out what, inclose money orders and send both letters air mail."
He felt pleased with himself when she had gone out. No use getting excited about this business. After all, here he was, solid in his job, his mind as steady as a rock. There was no reason to let himself become upset, and even less cause for allowing others to discover his predicament. In due course the answers to his two letters would arrive. Time enough then to pursue the matter further.
He picked up the Winthrop contract and began to read it.
Twenty minutes later, it struck him with a shock that he had spent most of the time striving to remember just what he had been doing during May, 1968. That was the month the first rocket had reached the moon. Mentally, Craig pictured the newspaper headlines as he had seen them. And there was no doubt. He had seen them. They loomed in his mind, big and black. He could regard May, his first month with the Nesbitt Company—according to the salary records—as part of the continuity of his present existence.
What about April? In April there had been the internal squabble that had nearly split wide open the powerful union of women’s clubs. And the headlines had been—what? Craig strained to remember, but nothing came. He thought: what about May 1st? If April’s end and May’s beginning had been the dividing line, then May 1st should perhaps have some special quality of aliveness that would mark it as sharply as a lover’s first kiss. He had, he remembered vaguely, been sick about that time.
His mind wouldn’t pin down that first day of the month of May. Presumably he had had breakfast. Presumably he had gone to the office after receiving one of Anrella’s lingering good-by kisses. His mind poised in mid-flight like an animal that has been shot on the run. Anrella! he thought. She must have been there on April 30th and 29th and in March, February, January, and back and back.
There was not in his whole memory the suggestion, nor had there been in her actions during the vital month of May, that they hadn’t been married for years.
Therefore—Anrella knew!
It was a realization that had its emotional limitations. The curious dartings of his mind at the first sharp awareness of the idea were caught in the net of a quieter logic, and grew calm. So Anrella knew. Well, so she ought. He had obviously been around for many years. Any change that had occurred had taken place in his mind, not in hers.
Craig glanced at the wall clock: a quarter to twelve. He’d just have time to drive home for lunch. He usually had lunch in town, but the information he wanted couldn’t wait.
A number of good-looking women were standing in the hallway as he headed for the elevator. The impression that they stared at him sharply as he passed was so strong that Craig was torn out of his own tempestuous thoughts. He turned and glanced back.
One of the women was saying something into a little, shining device on her wrist. Craig thought, interested, "A magic jewel radio."
He was in the elevator then, and he forgot the incident during the space of the downward trip. There were women in the lobby as he emerged from the elevator, and still others in the entrance-way. At the curb stood half a dozen imposing black cars with a woman driver behind each steering wheel. In a few minutes the street would be swarming with the noon rush crowds. But now, except for the women, it was almost deserted.
"Mr. Craig?"
Craig turned. It was one of the young women who had been standing just outside the doorway, a brisk-looking woman with a strangely stern face.
Craig stared at her. "Uh!" he said.
You are Mr. Lesley Craig?"
Craig emerged further out of his half-reverie. "Why, yes, I . . . what—"
"O. K., girls," said the young woman.
Amazingly, guns appeared. They glittered metallically in the sun. Before Craig could more than blink at them hands caught his arms and propelled him toward one’ of the limousines. He could have resisted. But he didn’t. He had no sense of danger. In his brain was simply an enormous, paralyzing astonishment. He was inside the car, and the machine was moving, before his mind resumed its functioning.
"Say, look here!" he began.
"Please do not ask any questions, Mr. Craig." It was the young woman who had already spoken to him; she sat now at his right. "You are not going to be hurt—unless you misbehave."
As if to illustrate the threat, the two women who sat on small pull-down center seats facing him with drawn guns wiggled their shiny weapons meaningfully.
After a minute, it was still not a dream. Craig said, "Where are you taking me?"
"Ask no questions. Please!"
That brought impatience, a sense of being treated like a child. Grim, furious, Craig leaned back and with hostile eyes studied his captors. They were typical, short-skirted "new" women. The two gun-women looked well over forty, yet they were slenderly, lithely built. Their eyes had the very bright look of women who had taken the Equalizer—Makes you the Equal of a Man—drug treatment. The young leader, and the girl on Craig’s left, had the same bright-eyed appearance.
They all looked capable.
Before Craig could think further, the machine twisted around a corner and up a long, slanting incline of pavement. Craig had time to recognize that this was the garage entrance to the skyscraper McCandless Hotel, and then they were inside the garage and sweeping toward a distant door.
The car stopped. Without a word, Craig obeyed the pistols that motioned him out. He was led along a deserted corridor to a freight elevator. The elevator halted at the third floor. Surrounded by his all-women guard, Craig was herded slantwise across the gleaming corridor and through a door.
The room was large and lovely, and magnificently furnished. At the far end, on a green lounge, his back to an enormous window, sat a fine-looking, gray-haired man. To the man’s right, at a desk, sat a young woman. Craig scarcely glanced at the latter. Wide-eyed, he watched as the youthful leader of his guards approached the gray-haired man and said :
"As you requested, President Dayles, we have brought you Mr. Lesley Craig."
It was the name, so blandly spoken, that confirmed the identification. Incredulous, he had already recognized the much-photographed face. There was no further room for doubt. Here was Jefferson Dayles, President of the United States.
Anger gone, Craig stared at the great man. He was aware of the women who had escorted him leaving the room. Their departure pointed up the strangeness of this forced interview.
The man, he saw, was studying him narrowly. Craig noticed that, except for the gray eyes that glowed like ash-colored pearls, President Dayles looked his publicized age of fifty-nine. Newspaper photographs had suggested a youthful, unlined face. But it was clear, gazing at him from this short distance, that the strain of this second campaign was taking its toll of the man’s life-force.
Nevertheless, the president’s countenance was unmistakably strong, commanding and handsome, with a serenity of assurance. His voice, when he spoke, had all the glowing, resonant power that had contributed so much to his great success. He said with the faintest of sardonic smiles, "What do you think of my amazons?"
His laughter rolled homerically through the room. He obviously expected no answer, for his amusement ended abruptly and he went on without pause, "A very curious manifestation, these women. And, I think, a typically. American manifestation at that. Once taken, the drug cannot be counteracted; and I regard it as an evidence of the basic will-to-adventure of American girls that some thousands took the treatment. Unfortunately, it brought them to a dead end, left them futureless. Unequalized women dislike them, and men think they’re ’queer’, to use a colloquialism. Their existence did serve the purpose of galvanizing the women’s clubs into undertaking a presidential campaign. But as individuals, the amazons discovered that no employer would hire them, and no man would marry them.
"In desperation, their leaders approached me; and just before the situation reached the tragic stage, I arranged a skillful preliminary publicity, and hired them en masse for what is generally believed to be perfectly legitimate purposes. Actually, these women know their benefactor, and regard themselves as peculiarly my personal agents."
Jefferson Dayles paused, then went on blandly, "I hope, Mr. Craig, that this will explain to some extent the odd method by which you were brought before me. Miss Kay Whitewood"—he motioned to the young woman at the desk—"is their intellectual leader."
Craig did not let his gaze follow the gesturing hand. He stood like a stone, and was almost as blank mentally. He had listened to the brief history of the group of amazons with a fascinated sense of unreality. For the story explained nothing. It wasn’t the means, or the details of how he had been brought here that counted. It was why?
He saw that the fine eyes were smiling at him in amusement. Jefferson Dayles said quietly, "There is a possibility that you will wish to report what has happened to authorities or newspapers. Kay, give Mr. Craig the news item we have prepared to meet such an eventuality."
The young woman rose from the chair at the desk, and came around it toward Craig. Standing up, she looked older. She had blue eyes, and a very hard, pretty face. She handed Craig a sheet with typewritten lines on it. He read:

Big Town—July 9, 1972—An irritating incident disturbed President Jefferson Dayles’ motor drive from Middle City. What seemed like an attempt to ram the President’s car on the part of a young man in an electric automobile was frustrated by the prompt action of his guards. The young man was taken into custody, and later brought to the presidential hotel suite for questioning. His explanations were considered satisfactory. Accordingly, at President Dayles’s request, no charges were made, and he was released.

After a moment, Craig allowed himself a curt laugh. This doctored news item was, of course, final. He could no more engage in a newspaper duel with Jefferson Dayles than he could, well, ride up Main Street firing a six-shooter. Mentally, he pictured the shouting headlines:

OBSCURE BUSINESS MAN ACCUSES JEFFERSON DAYLES

Smear Campaign Against the President

Craig laughed again, more sardonically this time. There seemed little doubt. Whatever Jefferson Dayles’s reason for having him kidnapped—his mind poised there. Whatever his reason! What could be his reason? Bewildered, he shook his head. He could contain himself no longer. His gaze fixed on the gray, half-amused eyes of the executive. "All this," he marveled, "so much effort expended, such a dishonorable story deliberately prepared—for what?"
It seemed to him then, as he stared at the other, that the interview was about to get down to business.
The older man cleared his throat, and said, "Mr. Craig, can you name the major inventions perfected since the end of World War II?"
He stopped. Craig waited for him to go on. But the silence lengthened, and the president continued to look at him patiently. Craig was startled. It apparently was a genuine question, not just rhetoric. He shrugged, and said, "Well, there hasn’t been much. Of course, I’m not up on these things, but I would say the rocket to the moon, and a few developments of the radio tube and—" He broke off, blankly, "But see here, what is all this? What—"
The firm voice caught at one of his sentences. "There hasn’t been much, you say. That statement, Mr. Craig, is the most tragic commentary imaginable on the state of our world. There-hasn’t-been-much. You mention rockets. Man, we don’t dare tell the world that the rocket, except for minor details, was perfected during the war, and that it’s taken us thirty years to solve those minor details."
He had leaned forward, in the intensity of his argument. Now, he sank back with a sigh. "Mr. Craig, some people say that the cause of this incredible stagnation of the human mind is the direct result of the kind of world that came out of World War II. That, I think, is partly to blame. A bad moral atmosphere tires the mind in a curious, sustained fashion; it is hard to describe. It is as if the brain wears itself out fighting its intellectual environment."
He paused, and sat frowning, as if he was searching for a more definitive description. Craig had time to think in amazement: Why was he being given this intimate, detailed argument?
The executive looked up. He seemed to be unaware that he had paused. He went on, "But that is only part of the reason. You mentioned radio tubes." He repeated in an oddly helpless voice, "Radio tubes!" He smiled wearily. "Mr. Craig, one of my degrees is a B.Sc., and that has made me aware of the tremendous problem confronting modern technology, the problem of the impossibility of one man learning all there is to know about one science.
"But to get back to radio tubes—it is not generally known that for several years a number of famous laboratories have been picking up weak radio signals which are believed to originate on Mars. Six months ago, I determined to find out why no progress was being made towards amplifying these signals. I invited three of the greatest men in their special radio fields to explain to me what was wrong.
"One of these men designs tubes, another circuits, the third man tries to make the finished article out of the separate jobs of the other two. The trouble is this: tubes are a lifetime study. The tube designer cannot but be hazy on circuits because that, too, is a lifetime study. The circuit man has to take what tubes he can get because, having only a theoretical knowledge of tubes, he cannot specify or even imagine what a tube should do in order to fulfill the purpose he has in mind. Among them those three men have the knowledge to construct new and startlingly powerful radios. But over and over and over again they fail. They cannot conjoin their knowledge. They—"
He must have become aware of the expression on Craig’s face. He stopped, and with a faint smile, said, "Are you following me, Mr. Craig?"
Craig bowed before the ironical twist in the other’s smile. The long monologue had given him time to gather his thoughts. He said, "The picture I’m visualizing is this: A small business man has been forcibly picked up on the street and brought before the President of the United States. The President immediately launches into a lecture on radio tubes. Sir, it doesn’t make sense. What do you want from me?"
The answer came slowly, "For one thing, I wanted to have a look at you. For another—" Jefferson Dayles paused; then, "What is your blood type, Mr. Craig?"
"Why, I—" Craig caught himself, and stared at the man. "My what?"
"I want a sample of your blood," said the president. He turned to the girl, "Kay," he said, "obtain the sample, will you? I’m sure Mr. Craig will not resist."
Craig didn’t. He allowed his hand to be taken. The needle jabbed his thumb, bringing a faint stab of pain. He watched curiously as the red blood flowed up the narrow tube of the needle.
"That’s all," said the president. "Good-by, Mr. Craig. It was pleasant meeting you. Kay, will you please call Mabel and have her return Mr. Craig to his office."
Mabel was apparently the name of the leader of his escort, for it was she who came into the room, followed by the gunwomen. In a minute, Craig was out in the hall, and in the elevator.

After Craig had gone, the great man sat with a fixed smile on his face. He looked once over at the woman, but she was staring down at her desk. Slowly, Jefferson Dayles turned, and gazed at a screen that stood in the corner near the window behind him. He said quietly:
"All right, Mr. Nypers, you can come out."
Nypers must have been waiting for the signal. He appeared before the words were completed, and walked briskly over to the chair the president indicated. Jefferson Dayles waited: until the old man’s fingers lay idly on the ornamental metallic knobs of the chair arms; then softly:
"Mr. Nypers, you swear that what you have told us is the truth?"
"Every word." The old man spoke energetically. "Lesley Craig, though he has no knowledge of the fact, is due once more to enter his toti-potent stage. I came to you because you’re his blood type AB, or group IV by Jansky nomenclature. That is your blood type, is it not?"
Jefferson Dayles did not reply. His impulse was to close his eyes against brightness. But the brightness was in his brain, not outside; and he had the shaky conviction that it could burn out his mind if he was not careful. At last he managed to turn to Kay. Relieved, he saw that she was looking up from the lie detector register on her desk. The detector was connected to the ornamental knobs on the arm of the chair in which Nypers sat. As he looked at her, Kay nodded ever so slightly.
Jefferson Dayles froze. The brightness was like a white fire; and he had to fight, to sit there rigid, straining with his brain against the unnameable joy that was tearing at his reason. The desire came to rush over to Kay’s desk and glare down at the lie detector register and compel Nypers to repeat his words. But that, too, he fought off. He grew aware that Nypers was speaking again.
"Any further questions before I leave?"
"Yes." It was Kay. "What I’d like to know is, why are you doing this?"
The old man hesitated, then sighed. "I am not prepared to answer that. The reasons for a betrayal do not always sound nice when brought out into the open."
Kay’s flinty blue eyes flashed. "We are unshockable, I assure you."
Nypers shrugged. "Proceed to your next question, please."
"You won’t answer?"
"You have my reply."
There was silence. Jefferson Dayles saw that Kay was trying to catch his eye. He ignored the attempt. It was strange, but he felt no interest. The main fact was verified. The lie detector had proved all that was necessary. He wondered if this was so big a thing for him personally that he had already lost all objectivity in connection with it. He listened quietly as Kay said venomously:
"We could force an answer, Mr. Nypers."
The old man rose slowly to his feet. He had, Jefferson Dayles saw, an odd expression on his face. "Don’t you think," he said, "that President Dayles’s political situation is precarious enough without any dramatic developments?"
"What do you mean?"
It was a bad question for Kay to have asked, Jefferson Dayles realized. Nypers smiled, and said softly, "There are people who maintain that the United States twenty-five years ago suffered a moral disaster as a result of World War II. A president with dictatorial ambitions opposed by a woman candidate may or may not be a proof of that." His smile deepened into a sneer. "The real proof will be the next election. How many ballot boxes have you decided to stuff in order to insure President Dayles’s re-election?
"Wait!" His voice rose in pitch. "I expect you to refrain from torturing or threatening me, and to look after me according to our agreement. I expect it because I have prepared a very interesting account of this whole matter, which will come to light if anything should happen to me." He bowed, finished in a quieter voice, "I am sorry to have to be so blunt, but it is well to clarify the situation. And now, if you have no further objections, I shall depart."
This time Jefferson Dayles allowed Kay to catch his eye. He nodded, with a twisted smile. "Let him go, Kay."
At the door, Kay said to Nypers, "This toti-potent phase of Craig—what is he like when he is in it?"
"His condition varies," was the cool reply. "But"— Nypers showed gleaming white teeth—"I would not be here if he were dangerous."
"Which," said Kay savagely after the door had closed behind Nypers, "means exactly nothing. He’s holding back vital information. I’ll wager the group behind him know he came here. I’ll even go so far as to say that they sent him. What’s their game?"
Her eyes narrowed with calculation. Several times she seemed on the verge of speaking, but each time cut her words off by an odd trick of compressing her lips.
Jefferson Dayles watched the interplay of emotions on the intensely alive face, briefly absorbed by this curious woman who felt everything so violently. Finally, he shook his head; his voice was strong as he said:
"Kay, it doesn’t matter. Don’t you see that? Their game, as you call it, means nothing. No one, no individual, no group, can stand up against the commander-in-chief of the United States. Army, Navy and Air Force." He drew a deep, slow breath. "Don’t you realize, Kay, that the world is ours?"

CHAPTER 2

CRAIG SAT in a restaurant, eating. his hands with the fork and knife in them, or a piece of bread, or a cup, moved up and down, like synchronized robot attachments of his body. The food touched his lips, and there was an occasional thrill of taste pleasure.
The two events of the morning seesawed in Craig’s mind, each in turn struggling to his attention, gaining it, then yielding to the other. Gradually, the episode of Jefferson Dayles began to lose fascination. Because it meant nothing. It was like an accident happening to a man crossing a street, having no connection with the normal continuity of his life, and quickly forgotten once the shock and the pain were ended.
The rest, the problem of what had happened four years before, was different. It was still a part of his mind and his body. It was of him, not to be dismissed by the casual assumption that somebody must be crazy. Craig glanced at his wrist watch. It showed ten minutes to one. He pushed away his dessert and stood up. He had been heading home with the intention of obtaining explanations when the incident of Jefferson Dayles had interrupted. There was still time to go and question Anrella. But first, back to the office.
He went as far as the information desk. "Tell Mr. Nypers, when he comes in, that I’ll be later than usual."
The girl answered brightly, "Mr. Nypers said he wouldn’t be back before three, Mr. Craig."
"Very well, then, tell Mr. Carson."
His mind persisted in remaining blank during the trip. It was as he turned his electric automobile through the massive iron gates, and saw the mansion, that a new realization struck him. This, house had been here also, four years ago.
It was an amazingly expensive place, with an outdoor swimming pool and landscaped grounds that he had got, according to his memory, at the bargain price of ninety thousand dollars. It had not occurred to him before to wonder how he had saved ninety thousand dollars to pay for the house. The sum had somehow seemed within his means.
The residence grew from the ground. The architect must have been an earnest disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, for the skyline blended with the trees and land. There were sturdy chimneys, out-jutting wings that merged coherently with the central structure and a generous use of casement windows.
Anrella had always looked after the accounts from their joint bank control. The arrangement left him free to devote his spare time to his lust for reading, his occasional golf, his fishing and hunting trips, his private airfield with its electric plane. And, of course, it left him free for his job. But it failed to provide him with any real idea of where he stood financially.
Again, and stronger now, he realized how odd it was that he had never worried, or wondered, about the arrangement. He parked the car and walked into the house, thinking, "I’m a perfectly normal well-to-do business man who’s run up against something that doesn’t quite fit. I’m sane. I have nothing to win or lose physically by any inquiry. My life is ahead of me, and not behind me."
It wouldn’t, he told himself forcibly, matter whether he ever learned anything, or not. The past didn’t count. He could live the rest of his life with scarcely more than a twinge of curiosity—Where the devil was Nickson? Hat in hand, he stood in the great hallway waiting for the butler to acknowledge by his presence the sound of the door opening.
But no one came. Silence lay over the great house. He pressed buttons, but there was no answer. Craig tossed his hat onto a hall seat, peered into the deserted living room, and then headed for the kitchen.
"Sybil," he began irritably, "I want—"
He stopped. The reverberations of his voice echoed back at him from an empty kitchen. Nor was there any sign in the storeroom of the cook and the two pretty kitchen maids. A few minutes later Craig was climbing the main staircase when a sound of murmuring voices touched his ears.
The sound came from the upstairs drawing room. His hand was on the knob, when a spasmodic silence inside was broken by the clear voice of Anrella saying, "Really, the argument is quite useless. The time for the change has come, and it’s too late now to alter our plans. Objections should have been made at the last meeting because . . . tell them what you did this morning, Mr. Nypers."
Nypers! The shock almost burned Craig as it struck along his nerves. The old man’s dry voice came then, confirmingly, "I have done everything I was commissioned: to do at our last meeting. Unsettling Mr. Craig was simple enough, but the interview with President Dayles involved, as we suspected, a careful phrasing of answers to counteract a lie detector. I think I put it over, although I have no doubt they are suspicious of us all. I’m sorry I didn’t know there would be objections. But I sincerely think delay would not have been wise. The time to inform the president was while he was here on the spot, able to have Mr. Craig brought before him."
There was silence; then somebody said, "If it’s done, it’s done."
There followed a jumble of voices, of discussion, from which only occasional words emerged clearly: ". . . His great stage . . . the final chance . . . necessary to subject him to breaking pressures . . . think his way out of that . . . no limit—" Though the words made no joint sense, Craig recognized some of the voices: Peter Yerd, one of the millionaire customers of the Nesbitt Company, Nesbitt himself, a multimillionaire named Shore, Sybil the cook and—
Afterwards, Craig cursed himself for leaving at that point. But he couldn’t help it. Fear came like a blinding stab of darkness, the fear that he would be discovered here, now, before he could think about what he had heard. He slipped down the stairs like a ghost, snatched his hat— As he emerged into the open, he saw for the first time the half dozen cars parked at the far side of the house. He’d been too intent on himself to notice them when he came in.
The electric automobile started with a faint hum—thank Heaven the upstairs drawing room was on the other side of the mansion—and a few minutes later he was guiding the machine through the iron gates, and along the old farmer’s road to the city highway. He had a very strong conviction that it was going to be an afternoon of mental turmoil.
Actually, as it turned out, he was too busy to think much. And during his lax moments his mind kept going blank. For the first time in years, he would have welcomed an afternoon nap.
That night, the attendant of the building’s parking lot said to him, "A mechanic, a man named Gregory, came to work on your car this afternoon, Mr. Craig. I hope it was all right."
"Oh, yes, yes," Craig replied absently. He walked on, and climbed into his machine. As he drove off, his mind drew free of the welter of thoughts that were in it, and focused on the attendant’s words. After a moment, there was still nothing to think about them. If Jim Gregory had decided the car needed attention, then it did.
Click! said the car fifteen minutes later. The low, sustained humming of the engine changed its tune; the machine slowed and coasted to a halt. Craig frowned at the instrument board. Then he fingered the main switch. It was in, registering contact. He pressed the accelerator again. No response. Craig shook his head. This was the first time this had ever happened. After Gregory had gone over the engine too.
He thought about that a little harder; and slowly a chill crept over him. He sat then, remembering that Gregory was one of them. This car stalling here was no accident.
Uneasily, Craig examined his environment. He had left the highway ten minutes before, and was now in the tree-sheltered valley beyond One-mile. Hill. The outskirts of the city were about eight miles behind him, the city itself no longer visible. He was roughly five miles from home, and about a mile from the nearest farmhouse.
It must have been done with a purpose. Perhaps he was expected to do something. He climbed down into the road, and then stood indecisive. He knew nothing about electric motors. Or any other kind of motor. He frowned, and reluctantly lifted the hood. He stood: then, nonplussed, studying the long, narrow, streamlined shape that was under it.
There were no visible wires, and no electric motor, simply that gray metal tube about a foot and a half in diameter. Craig reached down gingerly and touched the metal. Instantly, he jerked his hand back—but forced it down again, touched the metal, even more swiftly this time. And there was no doubt. The metal was cold, cold. Unnaturally, icily cold! Freezingly, deathly cold.
Craig put down the hood, and stood there on that quiet road, stood very still and very tense. But it was only after a long blankness that he realized the truth. This was it. This was what they had wanted him to find out. Nypers had given him the first hint that something was wrong. This was supposed to be the second.
Actually, of course, he had already overheard, and guessed, much. But they didn’t know that.
For years he had believed his car had an electric motor powering it; and now they wanted him to know that the motor wasn’t electric at all. That instead it was—
What?
Gregory picked him up at the farm house about fifteen minutes after Craig phoned. He was a big, powerfully built young man with a placid face. He said easily, "I could have sworn there was something wrong with that car when you left this morning, Mr.. Craig. Ran into town special to have a look at it, but couldn’t find nothing. Guess I’ll have to unwind the armature."
Craig muttered something about leaving all that to you, Jim. He was silent on the way home. Silent and shocked and uncertain. It was one thing to think, as he had earlier, that Jim was a member of the gang. It was another to watch him drive up in the replica of the stalled car, and listen to his cheerful lying. To see him face to face, and listen to his lying.
The bitterness faded slowly before a thought that he had deliberately buried deep, but which now inexorably rose to the surface. The engine didn’t fit this picture. It had no more meaning than the action of Jefferson Dayles in having him kidnapped.
Craig found himself listening tautly to the humming sound of the motor. He had always taken for granted that the vague throb was that of an electric engine. It was similar. But it seemed to him suddenly that it was throatier. Could it be compressed air? But then why had they lied to him? He who knew nothing about either motive force would have accepted an air-pressure engine explanation with the same credulity that he had accepted the statement that the power was electric.
It would be different if the engine was something marvelous. But it wasn’t. It drove a plane at a cruising speed of ninety-five miles an hour and a car at a top speed of eighty. That was so, at least, according to the speedometer. He had never tested the capacity.
Inwardly, Craig groaned. The wretched thing about it all was, how was he expected to react? For some reason or other, they had not expected him to be so troubled that he would drive home for lunch. As a result, he knew more than they realized. It would be difficult under such circumstances to know what to say, even to Anrella.
Should he be bold? Cautious? Demanding? Secretive?
It was a problem.
Her kiss was sweet and prolonged. Her mouth was warm, her manner ardent. Her fingers brushed his cheeks in a caressing gesture, as she finally half-released him, half-withdrew from his responsive embrace. It was briefly hard to remember that he had heard her say in a resonant, resolute voice—what she had said to the people gathered in the drawing room that noon.
Anrella stared at him now, and said, "You look tired, darling. Come into the living room and lie down. I’m sorry you had the trouble with the car. I shall have to speak sharply to Gregory."
He watched her from the sofa with appraising eyes. And it shocked him to realize that she looked quite capable of speaking sharply to Gregory. Or to anybody else for that matter. She had eyes of deep blue, and a figure that was tall and, well, svelte. She was easy on the eyes, this wife of his; and it wasn’t that she looked cruel. She merely looked mature. Tremendously mature for one physically so young.
It was the kind of maturity you might expect from a matron of fifty. Young women were usually very careful of the way they exercised authority. Maids, gardeners, clerks, male or female, had a habit of quitting if a thirty-year-old woman was too bossy.
Somehow, Anrella carried it off. None of her help had ever quit for any reason. That is, quit for good. They simply took long holidays and, suddenly, there they were again, looking tanned and healthy, as if they had been to Palm Beach, or Miami, or somewhere. Craig paused on the idle thought, startled. Could they have been to Palm Beach?
He shook himself impatiently, but his almost closed eyes widened a little. He watched Anrella where she sat in a nearby chair glancing through the evening paper he had brought.
Palm Beach was improbable, of course. But where did they go? It was an angle that might be worth investigating. And there were other things. For instance, what wages did Anrella pay? In an outfit that included millionaires like Yerd but also Sybil the cook, and Gregory, it was just as well to gather a few facts before mentioning anything. He didn’t know enough. He—didn’t—know!
He watched Anrella from slitted eyes. How sleek she was, how beautifully dressed. She was like that mentally, too; always, hers had been a richly garbed mind, swift in response, and in a curious, hard yet intensely human and humane logic.
Whatever else happened, he must draw her safely clear.
If only he had the courage to question her. But, no!— decisively though imperceptibly, Craig shook his head. Not now. Wait! There would be time enough after he had a more solid base of information. Somehow, she had got entangled into a powerful organization, and the will to help her would never be enough. Not the will of a man who hadn’t the faintest real idea what his own past history was.
He must never forget that the tremendous gap in his mind had to come first. Astonishing as his other discoveries had been, they were yet not as important as the false past that had been impressed on his brain. He had to live with his mind. So long as it remained partially blank, his life would be an empty shell.
They knew, of course, that he knew something. Let them. Let them wonder how he was taking it, what he was doing and thinking. If he showed no sign, they would become puzzled, and wonder if perhaps he had not missed their cues. Further action on their part would then be inevitable. By playing dumb, but not too dumb, he might reach the point where he knew enough to act. The point, for instance, where he knew exactly how Jefferson Dayles fitted into the picture.
Somehow, all this was connected.

It wasn’t fear; Jefferson Dayles knew that. But he had to have, for the sake of his nerves and his conscience, had to have Craig safe.
This council of war had no other purpose. But for a while Jefferson Dayles temporized. He emphasized to the women, as he had in a previous meeting, that his re-election chances were dimming by the hour. As he stared out over the small pond of hard, bright, alarmed faces, he felt anew the close-knittedness of his relationship with these leaders of America’s equalized women.
They were his, body and soul, almost like personal possessions, or extensions of his own physique—his private army in a world where, since Hitler, there had been a strong prejudice against anyone in politics who gathered such a force around him. But no one suspected how completely they were his creatures. Not even his political opponents who, after careful prodding, announced acidly through the medium of Mrs. Janet Wake herself, that they would certainly not tolerate equalized women in the government service "if I am elected president".
His speech to them now was a preliminary, a building up to his main theme: Craig. He said:
"We are living in a curious age, an age where people jump this way, that way, without thought. Right now they are in the throes of an ecstatic will to give women equality by electing Janet Wake as the first woman president. It is an unreasoned determination because it is basically at odds with reality. If women as a body were prepared to take the equalizer drug, and if men could get over their instinctive dislike of women who have taken it, the problem might be resolved.
"But as you equalized women know from your personal experience, women are your worst enemies, and men won’t have anything to do with you. If normal women start running this country after a successful election, there will be chaos and riots, immense revulsions of feeling, rancor unprecedented—"
He believed every word of that. Preliminary though all this was, it was the essence of his convictions that was pressing out of his voice. Subtly, he shifted his line of argument, conscious that even these ostracized women had to be handled right, to make them forget they were women who, under normal conditions, would be vociferous supporters of a woman president.
"The mass of people, with their love of simple slogans, are almost completely unaware that the only reason why democracy is a good system is because it provides opportunities to eliminate bad and tyrannical governments. Democracy enables the people to knock out of office the most flagrant of two or more power grasping groups, thus exercising a wholesome restraint over their lusts.
"Actually, what democracy does is create a temporary benevolent dictatorship. The administration, with its special powers, is virtually a law unto itself during its term of office. The danger, the immense and deadly danger, where the dictatorship is not legally temporary, has been that sooner or later the good dictator has died, to be succeeded by a bloody, stupid tyrant with schemes for war and personal aggrandizement. I shall be a benevolent immortal dictator—"
Dayles believed that, too, the benevolent part. For years and years he had been, in spite of all his friends and colleagues, alone in the world. He had made the mistake in 1944 of taking Alice and the boys to London; and one bomb had blotted them from his life. It was all vague now. It was hard in these days to think with any sense of reality of the young woman who had been his wife. For nearly thirty years he had watched the changing shape of a badly mauled world, had watched science stagger blindly to a halt, shackled by the mortality of the poor, miserable human beings who learned just so much, then sank into their graves, taking their knowledge with them.
The blood of Lesley Craig, carefully allotted, would end all that. He knew what must be done, what could be done. Sometimes he admitted wryly that power was sweet in itself, and life precious. But, most often, he felt selfless.
He said, "In view of the necessity for ballot box stuffing on such a large scale, I have come to the conclusion that only the certainty of success would make it all justifiable. We must have Craig now, not as we originally planned, after the election. It’s risky; it will be personally dangerous for all of us. Discovery would ruin my re-election chances, and end our hopes. Nevertheless, there is no evading the issues.
"A dictator must convince the citizens of the country he rules that he is wonderful, unique, supra-normal. What greater wonder than if, at the end of my second term, the Hand of God seems to reach down and slough thirty years from my age? It will seem a blessing from heaven itself. The religious fervor that will sweep the land will jump the oceans and win us the whole world. I shall, if we plan well, automatically be accepted as the permanent president of the United States.
"But we must have the man who can make that possible. Even though it is months yet to the election, we must have Craig. I want arrangements made to insure his capture within a month."
Afterward, just before bedtime, he spoke briefly, privately to Kay. "Did you tell them what I asked you to?" he said.
She nodded a little stiffly. "I don’t think they have much hope. They can see all right that Craig can, during one thirty-year period, rejuvenate about three hundred people. But they don’t quite believe that any amount of scientific manipulation can benefit people who are not of his blood type."
Jefferson Dayles hesitated; then, "Suppose it couldn’t be done, what would you think personally?"
"There’s nothing to think about," was the harsh reply. "I’m not his or your blood type, whether they call it AB, Moss 1 or Jansky IV, and that’s all there is to it. Besides—"
"Yes?" He spoke softly.
"I’m only thirty-four. When I get older, I may start cursing fate. I don’t think about it very often." There was silence, then: "Good night, Kay."
"Good night."

CHAPTER 3

THE DAYS ran their swift course, and life went on. Every morning except Sunday, Craig climbed into his—not electric—runabout, and drove to work. Every evening except Sunday—and Saturday, when he left at one—he drove back again to the great house inside the iron fence.
It required a real effort of will not to change his hours or his route. Particularly his route. The more he thought about the way his car had stalled on that lonely farmer’s road in dense bush country a mile from the nearest farm, the more desirable the highway through Alcina seemed. But he didn’t dare change to it. It would be noticed. They’d know then that he had seen the engine.
Craig waited tensely for their reaction to his non-reaction. But nothing happened.
On the seventh morning, the letter arrived containing his birth certificate. Craig read it with satisfaction and, he admitted it frankly to himself, relief.
There it was in black and white: "Lesley Somers Craig. Born June 1, 1922, town of Daren, county of Goose Lake. Father: John Laidlaw Craig. Mother: Grace Rosemary Somers—"
He had been born. His memory had not played him false. The world was not completely upside down. There was a gap in his memory, not an abyss. His position had been that of someone balancing on one foot beside a chasm of unmeasurable immensity. Now he was like a man standing legs spread apart straddling a narrow though deep pit. It was true the pit had to be filled in, but even if it wasn’t, he could walk on without the horrible sensation of tottering in pitch darkness along the edge of a cliff.
A sharp weakness seized Craig as he sat there. He swayed, recovered himself, then lay back heavily against the back of the chair. The astounded thought came, "Why, I’m on the point of fainting."
The nausea went away. Carefully, Craig climbed to his feet and filled a glass with water. Back in his chair, he raised the glass to his lips—and saw that his hand was trembling. It startled him. He had, he realized seriously, really let his situation affect him. Thank God, the worst of the purely personal part was over; not entirely over, it was true. But at least he had his beginning established. As soon as his military record arrived he’d be solidly based up to the age of twenty-four. It was a pretty sound base, if you really thought it over. And since his conscious life had resumed at the age of forty-six, that left exactly twenty-two years to be accounted for.
The high confidence drained. Like a settling stone, Craig crouched in his chair. Twenty-two years! His real life-time. Growing up didn’t count. That was the animal stage, a sort of enormously prolonged marking time, the preliminary to the main event.
Twenty-two years! Oh, God!—
His military record arrived on the afternoon of the ninth day. It was a printed form, on which the answers were typed in blank spaces provided.
There was his name, his age . . . regiment . . . pre-war occupation—"Clerk". Well, that fitted. There was the name of his next of kin. Serious wounds or injuries: "Amputation of right leg necessitated by injury in fighter plane crash—"
Craig stared. But he still had his right leg, he thought with an owl-like gravity.
The gravity broke like a bomb-shattered dam; and again he stared at the unchanging print. At last he thought: There must be a mistake. Some fool up in the records office had typed the wrong information. Even as one part of his brain developed that argument, another part accepted everything, accepted and knew that there was no mistake, that there was nothing wrong with this form. The wrongness, the mistake, was not out there in some government department. It was here in him. He should have known the very instant that he tried to convince himself that he, with his thirty-four-year-old body, was fifty. He had known. The knowledge had been there in his mind like a sick thing fighting against the greatest force in the human ego: the will to have a positive identity. There was no fooling any more. He was not, never had been, Lesley Craig.
Accordingly, the time had come to confront those who knew who he was. Whatever their purpose in impressing upon him the belief that he was Lesley Craig, it must now be forced out into the open.
It was four o’clock by his wrist watch as he turned through the open twenty-foot-high gate, and guided his car along the driveway, in and out among the trees. He drove the machine into the garage. Gregory was there.
Gregory said, "Home early, Mr. Craig."
"Yep!" said Craig.
He walked out through the side door, and along the walk that led to the French windows. He was as calm, he thought, as he’d ever been. There was no reason to be otherwise. He knew exactly what he was going to say and what he wasn’t. No side issues. Just his own mental problem, his discovery of the gap in his memory, and the fact that he wasn’t Lesley Craig. The rest, the curious rest, didn’t matter now. He could go into that later. Now, there was only himself.
Anrella was arranging some flowers in the living room. She turned, said serenely, "Why, hello there, Les—home early."
In spite of his calmness, there must have been something in his face. Or perhaps—more likely—with her knowledge, she knew what was coming. "Les," she said sharply. "What’s the matter?"
Craig felt a brief, unexpected bitterness at the way she was acting it out. Then he said, "Sit down, Anrella. I’ve got something to tell you."
He began with Nypers’s casual remark. He omitted all suggestion that he knew the remark had not been casual, but deliberate. He made no reference to his return home that first day at lunch time and what he had overheard. Clearly, succinctly, he described his discoveries about his own mind.
When he had finished, Anrella said, "Oh, you poor darling. Oh, Les, I’m sorry you’ve found this out."
Craig saw that she was crying. The tears shone like jewels in her eyes, and then, no longer gem-like, trickled down her cheeks damply staining the powder that was there. Her eyes remained big and bright and crying.
"It’s really very simple, Les. You had a nervous breakdown, a very bad one involving loss of memory; and the present you is a built up personality, painstakingly built up. You mustn’t try to tear it down. Let it alone, Les. Forget what you’ve discovered. Just keep things as they are, for my sake and your own."
"But look here—" Craig began. He left the sentence dangling. Because it could be that. He sat stiffly staring at Anrella, fascinated by the explanation. It did explain, up to a point. His mind must have smashed and scattered like a spark struck from metal. Needing then to be refashioned into a coherent wholeness. For an instant, Craig had a mental image of what his mind must have been; an amorphous, groping thing, a blurred picture world, a vast—in a special sense of vastness—formless universe of half memories, of badly wrenched threads of personality, a frayed, tattered, incredible monstrosity of a semi-brain.
It was not a pleasant image to behold, but it braced him. It was the not knowing, he thought, the terrible and increasing uncertainty, that had unnerved him during this past week. Now he knew. The whole thing was resolved down to a simple pattern. He must find out a few more facts, clear his mind of the questions that tormented it, and then forget the whole matter.
He knew that he would be able to forget. They had done well, those great doctors who had rebuilt his mind. He felt the strength inside him, the boundless strength of a healthy mind that knew its sanity. Yes, they had done well.
His sense of easement faded. He shook himself. Just a minute! Just one minute! What about . . . and what about . . . and—
Craig leaned back, laughing inwardly, mirthlessly, at himself. She had nearly got him. But not quite. He stared at Anrella with hard, bright eyes, speculatively. She was probably not the first wife who had lied to her husband with a straight face.
The realization did not make the reality any easier to take.
She was not looking at him. She had taken out her handkerchief and was dabbing at her eyes. She put the handkerchief away finally, and Craig saw that it was time he said something, something that would not give away his disbelief, but which yet would carry on the farce. If he was careful, he might gain some valuable information.
The moment he spoke, however, he recognized that the grim train of his thought was going to be hard to conceal. His voice was sharp, almost harsh, as he said, "But I’m not Lesley Craig. Lesley Craig is a man fifty years old, who lost a leg in 1944."
She seemed not to notice the strained, unnatural tone of his voice. "Oh, you fool, Les," she said. "Don’t you understand? You’re a famous medical case. You were found wandering on a roadside without memory, with no knowledge of who you were. You were taken over by doctors of a wealthy foundation, given the identity of a patient who bequeathed his whole property to the foundation while you were there. The reason they gave you an older man’s identity was because they wanted you to feel older, to feel more responsible, to feel yourself somebody. I was your nurse, who fell in love with you. Several wealthy men, supporters of the foundation, grew interested in your case, and one of them—Mr. Nesbitt—agreed to give you your present job. Now please don’t ask any more questions. I’ve already told you too much. In fact," she stood up, "I won’t say another word until. I’ve talked to Dr. Bovard."
Craig watched her curiously as she walked over to the fireplace. She stood: there, head bent,, leaning against one of the ornamental protuberances of the mantel. It was disturbing that he could appraise her with such detached coolness. But the astonishing thing was that he was not even bothering to examine her story.
It was a plausible story. He had to admit that. It actually covered a lot of points that they didn’t know he knew, such as the fact that there were wealthy men like Peter Yerd and John Nesbitt in the background of his problem. It wasn’t even, Craig decided, that Anrella was doing a poor job of acting. She had cried at the right moment, her voice had held all the right inflections, and the moment of getting up and walking off was a beautifully timed bit of business.
In spite of it all, he didn’t believe her. Frankly, utterly, finally, he didn’t believe a word she had said. It was hard to put a mental finger on the reasons for his incredulity. There was what he had heard, about their having to go through with something because of Jefferson Dayles.
Craig grimaced hopelessly. Jefferson Dayles. There was a meaningless angle to a configuration that was already approaching the obscurity of a four-dimensional object. Beyond question, the story was far from complete. If what she had said was really true, why had they wanted him to know? It was the one method calculated to drive him crazy.
Craig felt the change of color in his face. He thought starkly: Was that it? For a moment, then, he fought the terrible suspicion. Because Anrella wouldn’t. She wouldn’t. Anger came, driving away doubt, flooding, boiling anger that washed caution out of him as if it had never been.
"Why, you incredible scoundrels!" he raged.
He was aware of Anrella turning, staring at him, white-faced. But his rage rode on, gathering force. He shouted, "I overheard what you said last week, do you understand? I listened in on the meeting that was held here nine days ago."
He had intended going on, stabbing at her with his words. But her reaction canceled that.
"You what?" she said in a piercing tone.
Craig was distinctly and amazedly conscious that he had lost the initiative. It was his turn to stare and feel startled. Her face, he saw, was shades whiter under its makeup. Twisted, strained face, distorted eyes. She came toward him with a curiously graceless walk. Her fingers caught his arm; and, like little stones, pressed into his flesh just above the wrist. She said in a caricature of her normal voice:
"What did you hear? What did you hear?"
The wildness of her scared him, shocked him. He said uneasily, "Not much. It was too hard to catch the words. But I heard enough to—"
"But you don’t know! You don’t know the truth?"
The rage was gone out of Craig. There was only impatience with her alarm. "Know what, Anrella!" he snapped. "I assure you, you’re in no danger from me."
She seemed not to hear. She let go of his arm, and ran in that graceless way to the phone. Craig watched her stupidly as she dialed a number, and listened thunderstruck as she cried, "Dr. Bovard, come over at once. He heard part of our meeting last week. Yes, yes, he came here to the house—"
She let the phone fall, as if she had forgotten that it had a cradle. On her feet again, she called in a strident voice, "Nickson—Nickson—Nickson—"
"Yes, yes, madam?" The tall, long-faced butler hurried through the alcove from the hall.
"Call Gregory. Tell him to lock the two gates, and put the gardeners to patrolling."
Crazily, the butler ran for the French windows. As the man rushed by, Craig had the impression that Nickson gave him a cool, appraising look. Then he was gone out of the windows. The turmoil was gone with him.
Silence settled. Anrella stood, head drooping, arms limp, near a chair. She looked at the uttermost end of nervous exhaustion. She walked slowly to the chair and slumped into it. She looked up finally, and said in a flat voice:
"I’m sorry, Les. I’m very, very sorry to have to tell you this. But you can’t leave these grounds now until"—she stopped, seemed to brace herself, and went on—"until you’re completely cured again."
She finished, "You realize, of course, that you are quite mad."
So that was to be the angle.

CHAPTER 4

HE HAD no plan. He was alone. the tall sapling growing beside the high fence brought the thoughts Suppose this fantastic imprisonment went on and on? Suppose he really wanted to get out of here some day!
Craig started to climb the fence, using the sapling as a brace. Alone, the upper part of the young tree would not have supported him. But by letting the metal poles of the fence carry his weight, and by using the tree as a support only, he reached the top in about three minutes. The speed of his ascent, the easy strength remaining to him, surprised him. It had never occurred to him to assess his physical capacity as anything but "fit".
It was more than that. He hadn’t really needed the tree at all. He balanced himself above the spears of the fence top and looked around him. The fence ran along for about a quarter of a mile in either direction. In the distance beyond a wooded meadow-land, he could see the church steeples of the three Alcina churches. Half a dozen planes were circling the town, as if they were searching for something. Trees hid the mansion behind him, and the main gate to the left was barely visible beyond a wavering hedge of mountain ash.
He was alone, briefly his own master. He could leave now, climb or jump down the outer side of the fence, head due west and cross the stream that meandered there, and by that roundabout course cross the countryside toward Alcina. The savings bank would still be open. He had a small account there that he had started on impulse one day when he found himself without funds. He had simply written a cheque on his city bank, deposited it; and he’d never been near the place since. They couldn’t possibly know about an action like that.
He would be able to leave—but where could he go? Well, there was a train due in about forty-five minutes that would take him to New York. Craig laughed softly, but with bitterness. It was not as easy as that. Physically, perhaps, but not spiritually. A man with his impulses, his instincts, didn’t just shoot off to some remote point, and begin life over again.
Damn it all, he was a settled man. He felt settled. Up to a month ago, he had been a happily married business executive, so content with his way of life that even the thought of change had never touched his mind.
There was another thing to remember. Leaving now would seriously diminish his chances of finding out who he was, and what all this was about.
They were waiting for something, or somebody. Craig stiffened with the memory of his analysis of the way, the expectant way they were waiting. Almost every day the moneyed men—Yerd and Nesbitt and Basil Shore and the others—came up, either by train to Alcina, or by car; and they would sit around talking in low tones that ended only when he came into the room, when they became jovial and friendly. But the overshadowing, almost exciting air of waiting for something to happen remained like a miasm of dark hopes.
He, too, must wait, for his own sake. He must know, for his own sake. Besides, there was. Anrella!
Clinging with tiring muscles to the metal fence, Craig thought grimly about Anrella. Except for the one astonishing outburst that day he had confronted her, three weeks ago now, she had tried very hard to get their relationship back on its old footing. She had come up behind him one day as he was reading, leaned over, and kissed him. He must have scowled at her. She must have considered it a mild reproof. For that night she came to his room. How she cried when he put her out. In the morning he found her sleeping on the rug outside his door. No doubt about it, there was Anrella.
The shaky conviction came to Craig that if she came again, he wouldn’t send her away.
After a moment, he glanced wryly along the fence he had climbed. Might as well get down and go back to the house, take another one of the sun baths his body seemed to be craving these days. A man who was having his kind of thoughts wasn’t leaving. Not yet.
As he twisted himself gingerly into position for the descent, the planes that had been remote points of thunder, swooped down over his head and skimmed the trees inside the fence. Craig craned his neck, and stared in amazement as they disappeared in the direction of his private landing field. The clattering engines took on the unmistakable, subdued throb of machines in the act of landing. There was the fading-into-silence sound of slowing propellers, then a rattle of smaller engines: Jeeps, Craig recognized with a start. Jeeps! Transported by planes. This was an air-borne attack.
And Anrella was at the house. He had been descending frantically before that lashing stream of thought. Now he reached the ground and began to run. He burst out of the brush into an open stretch of meadow, saw the Jeep roaring toward him; and stopped.
Instantly, he whirled and raced for the fence. Fool! He was thinking bitterly. He should have climbed over it in the first place. Men who wanted to save their wives should use a method that might actually save, and not yield to the first wild emotional impulse to fling themselves to the rescue. It was too late now.
The Jeep caught him when he was still twenty feet from the fence. The cool-eyed women who operated it pointed the steadiest pistols Craig had ever faced. A few minutes later, at the house, Craig saw that the whole gang had been rounded up: Anrella, Nesbitt, Yerd, Shore, Cathcott, Gregory, all the servants; altogether forty people were lined up before a regular arsenal of machine guns manned by about a hundred women.
"Les, you’re all right?"
Anrella’s blue eyes were anxious, her oval face wan and tired as she asked the question.
"Silence!" commanded a deep-voiced woman. But Craig nodded and smiled at Anrella reassuringly.
"That was he all right," reported the leader of the Jeep that had captured him. "I thought I saw somebody on the fence as we were coming in to land. There’s a tree there, very close to the fence."
"Cut it down," ordered the deep voice. "And remove other trees that might be used for escape. Put a guard on Lesley Craig night and day; only his wife can be permitted with him. All the others will be removed by plane to Kaggat prison. Action!"
An hour later, Craig was alone with Anrella. "Darling, what’s all this about?"
He felt a dark eagerness as he asked the question. In spite of everything that had happened, by far the most important reality was still the mystery behind this incredible business. What did it all mean? Now, at last, the information could no longer be denied him.
He watched her tensely, where she sat near the window in the great living room. He saw her gaze sweep beyond him to the guards at the doorway, then return and pause on his face. Then she shook her head. Amazingly, she shook her head.
The fury of reaction exploded in his brain. He was dimly aware as he leaped to his feet that the swiftness of his anger showed how raw his nerves had worn during these weeks. He forgot that. In two strides, he reached her chair, loomed over her.
"You’ve got to tell me," he raged. "How can I even think unless I know more? Don’t you see, Anrella—"
He stopped, helpless before her rigid-faced silence. The anger was still there when he spoke again, but controlled memory and purpose were now integral parts of the intricate pattern of his emotions. He said grimly:
"You know, I suppose, that no one but Jefferson Dayles could have sent these women thugs. If you do know that, and know why, tell me, so I can start figuring a way out."
There was a strained look on Anrella’s face suddenly. But she did not even glance at him. Craig pressed on, "When I overheard you at the meeting that day, you said something about a change being due. What did that mean? A change in what? In whom? In me?"
"It’s in you. I won’t tell you anything more than that."
He waved a hand at her, as if he was groping through darkness. "You’ve told me this much, why not tell me more?"
"I haven’t told you anything."
Her words stopped him at the edge of a cataclysm of new questions. After a moment, he realized bitterly that she was telling the truth. He still didn’t know anything that mattered. His bewilderment was greater than ever. He drew a deep breath, but before he could assail her again, she said:
"The change comes more quickly when you’re under strain. You can see yourself how important speed is. That’s all I’m going to tell you, Lesley. That’s final."
Grimly, Craig stared at her white, determined face. Then with a curt, hard laugh, he whirled and left the room. He was through with her, he thought, utterly through with her.

CHAPTER 5

CRAIG FINGERED the rock. he strove so hard for casualness that his hands shook. He grew alarmed, fearful that he might give himself away. He settled closer to the luscious grass on which he sprawled, surrounded by his seven women guards.
The rock was two inches in diameter, two inches of inert stone. Yet it contained in its tiny mass so much of his hope that he trembled in a brief funk. Gradually, however, he quieted down, and settled himself to wait for the boys. Every Saturday since school had started again a month before, he had heard their shrill voices at this time of the morning. The sound came from beyond the thick fringe of trees that hid from his gaze the iron fence which completely surrounded the estate that was his private penitentiary.
The trees and fence separated them from him, and him from all the world. He hadn’t dreamed that escape would take so much planning, such an intricate scheme, and two long months of otherwise uneventful waiting. During those months, he’d stopped wondering why no one came from the office to inquire about him; undoubtedly, someone else must be running the firm. He’d completely given up talking to Anrella. She was treating him like a child—an unforgivable action.
It was a bad situation. In minutes now, the boys would be going past here with their fishing rods, heading toward the deep pools farther upstream. And he had no plan to rely on but his own—what was that?
It was, he realized tensely, a sound, a faint vibration of boyish laughter, far away as yet.
But the time had come.
Craig lay still, tautly examining his chances. Two of the women lolled at ease on the ground a dozen feet to his right. Unless they altered their position radically before the moment of action, they would be the least able to interfere with his purpose. Three other women, also in slacks, lounged eight feet to his left, and somewhat behind him. They were too close for comfort, and they looked alert, athletic. One synchronized jump, and they’d bowl him over.
He had no inclination to underestimate them. He did not doubt but that he had been assigned guards strong enough to handle their weight in men. Of the two remaining women, one stood directly behind him at a distance of perhaps eight feet. The other loomed about six feet ahead, directly between him and the tall trees that hid the fence beyond which the boys would be passing. The smoky gray eyes of this powerful creature looked dull and unalert, as if her mind was far away. Craig knew better than that. She was a Jefferson Dayles machine; and she was the most dangerous thing on his horizon.
The medley of sound that preceded the boys was nearer.
Craig felt the throb of his temples, as he reached with a forced deliberateness into his pocket and slowly drew out a glass crystal. He held the little thing in his fingers, letting the rays of the morning sun lance its depths with fire. It blazed as he spun it into the air. As he caught it, snuffing its brilliant light, he was preternaturally conscious of eyes on him, the guards watching him, not with suspicion, but with awareness. Three times Craig flung the glass up several yards into the sky. And then, as if abruptly tiring of the game, threw it to the ground about an arm’s length from him. The crystal lay there, glittering in the sun, the brightest object in his vicinity.
He had given much thought to that glass crystal. It was obvious that no one of the guards could ever maintain a concentrated watch on him. Of the seven, he must assume that three were glancing at him with attention at one moment. When he finally moved, even these would have to look twice, because the reflected flame of the crystal would confuse their gaze and distort their mind pictures of what he was actually doing.
That was the theory—and the boys were nearer.
Their voices rose and fell, a happy babble, now boastful, now in agreement, now one dominating, now all speaking at once. It was impossible even to begin guessing how many there were. But they were there, physical realities, the presences he needed for his plan of escape.
Craig drew the book out of his left-side coat pocket. He opened it idly, not at the place marked but glancing here and there, wasting time, anything to give the women the necessary seconds to adjust their minds to the immensely normal fact that he was going to read. He waited until his nerves shrieked in protest, until his very muscles quivered from the prolonged strain of mummery. And then—he put the book down on the grass with its top edge pressing against the rock.
He opened the book boldly now, at the marker, which was a sheet of notepaper. To the guards, the letter must look exactly like the score of pieces of blank paper he had used in the past two months for taking notes. What was more, it was blank.
In spite of his determination to end an intolerable confinement, he actually had nothing to say to any local authorities. Until he knew what was involved in the whole wretched business, the problem was his. Once outside, he could handle it in his own way. He felt curiously, tremendously capable.
There was a stirring to his right. Craig did not look up, but his heart sank clammily. The two women from whom he expected minimum interference were beginning to show life. What damnable luck!
But there could be no delay now. His fingers touched the white missive; perspiring, he shoved it out over the edge of the book, and directly on top of the rock. The sheet, with all its carefully attached elastics, which needed only to be slipped over the little rock to clutch at it with dozens of tiny rubber strands, was quickly attached.
He could not begin to estimate the number of hours he had practiced that synchronized act in the privacy of his room. With a yell—that too was psychology—he lurched to his feet and, with all his strength, flung the stone and its white fluttering cargo.
He had no time to recover his balance or protect himself. Two bodies struck him simultaneously from different angles, flung him ten feet. Craig lay where he fell, dizzy from the blow, but conscious that he wasn’t hurt. He heard the leader, the big woman who had been standing in front of him, snapping commands : "Carla, Marion, Jane—back to the house—get Jeeps—cut those kids off from town. Quick! Rhoda, head for the gate, open it for them. Nancy, you and me will climb that fence, and chase after them, or hunt for that letter. Olive, you stay with Mr. Craig."
Craig heard the sound of footsteps as the guards raced off. He waited. Give them time. Give Nancy and the leader opportunity to climb the fence. And then—step two.
At the end of two minutes, he began to groan. He sat up. He saw that the woman was watching him. Olive was a handsome though rather big-boned woman with a thin mouth. She came over.
"Need help, Mr. Craig?"
Mr. Craig! These people with their polite solicitude were enough to drive anybody crazy. Once more he was being illegally imprisoned. Both sides had been equally ruthless there, and equally tender in the administration. The first group, however, had had the best of the tenderness. Up to three months ago, they had included among their kindnesses a fifteen-thousand-a-year job, a loving wife, a home and an estate on a grand style. What could possibly be behind it?
He intended to find out, but in his own way; not waiting here on somebody else’s say-so. And if he was ever going to escape, it had to be now. The trick for getting rid of his guards would not be repeatable. Physically and mentally, Craig stiffened himself. He made a struggle out of climbing onto one knee. Then knelt there, shaking his head as if he was still dazed. He muttered finally, "Give me a hand."
He didn’t really count on the woman actually assisting him, although even that was possible in view of their helpful attitude generally.
But she did. She came over and started to bend down. That was when Craig started up. There was no mercy in him in that moment as he struck. These women, with their guns and their ruthlessness, were asking for trouble. A lightning one-two, one-two to the jaw ended the engagement in the first round.
Olive went down like a log. With utter abandon, exactly as if he were attacking a man, Craig plunged on top of her, and rolled her over. In a single synchronized movement, he drew from his pocket the gag he had prepared. It took about a minute to tie it over her flabby mouth.
In a more leisurely fashion now, but without waste effort, Craig unstuffed his shirt tails, and began to unwind the tough laundry-rope from his waist. As the woman started to squirm weakly, he began his tying-up job.
It required a little over three minutes. He stood up then, shaky but calm. He wasted no further glance on his prisoner, but strode hurriedly off, keeping for a while parallel to the fence. He pushed through the trees finally, scrutinized the territory beyond the fence, and it was as he remembered it: thickly wooded. Satisfied, Craig approached the fence and began to climb it. As he had discovered in his first attempt more than two months before, the fence itself was not hard to climb. It was like, with some variations, shinnying up a rope.
He reached the top, and, eager now, hitched himself over the spear points of the fence. Afterwards, he realized that he had become too eager.
He slipped.
He made a second mistake, then; the instinctive mistake of trying blindly to save himself. As he fell, one of the spears jabbed his left forearm just below the elbow, and went through. He hung there, his arm skewered to that meat hook of a fence. The pain crashed and roared through his body, and something warm and salty and viscid spurted against his mouth and into his eyes, a choking, blinding horror.

For seconds there was nothing else.
He was lifting himself. That was the first thing Craig knew over and above the tearing agony. Lifting himself with his right arm and, simultaneously, trying to raise his left forearm clear of the dark, clumsy spear that had transfixed it.
Lifting! And succeeding! Succeeding! Gibbering, he fell twenty feet to the ground below.
He struck hard. The muscles of his body were pain-clenched cords without give in them. The blow of landing was a bone-jolting smash from the sixty-six million million billion ton battering ram that was Earth. His brain joggled in its cranium. He fell to his knees, then got up again like an animal, with only one impulse left to its shattered body. Get away! Get out of here. They’d: be coming, searching. Get out! Get going!
No other consciousness touched Craig until he reached the stream. The water was warm, but it was a late-October warmth. It soothed his burning lips; it brought sanity back to his feverish eyes. He washed his face, then struggled out of the left sleeve of his coat and soaked and washed his arm. The water turned red. The blood welled and bubbled from a wound so gaping and terrible that he swayed, and just in time flung himself backwards onto the grassy bank.
How long he lay there, he had no conception; but he thought finally, "Tourniquet, or die!" With an effort of will as much as strength he tore the damp and bloody shirt sleeve at the shoulder, and wound it around and around the upper part of his arm. He twisted it tight with a short, broken end of tree branch, so tight that it hurt his muscles. His arm began to tingle, a not unpleasant tingle. The bleeding stopped.
He staggered to his feet, and began to follow the stream. That had been his original intention, and now his body remembered. It was easier to follow a previously chosen route than to think out a new one. Time passed. Just when the idea came that it wouldn’t do to go straight to the savings bank, he had no conception. There was a vague memory of meeting someone and saying:
"Hurt my arm! Where does the nearest doctor live?"
There must have been an answer. Because after another lapse of inestimable time he was walking along a street thinly overhung with autumn foliage. He realized at intervals that he was looking for a plaque with a name on it. All feeling was long since gone out of his arm. It hung down, swinging as he walked, but it was the lifeless sway of an inanimate object.
He grew weaker, and weariness lay on him like a terrible weight. He kept touching the tourniquet to make sure it wasn’t loosening and permitting the blood that still remained to him to seep out. Then he was climbing steps on his knees.
"Christmas!" a man’s voice said. "What’s this?"
There was a gap, through which a voice penetrated at intervals; then he was in an automobile, with that same voice waxing and waning in his ears.
"You incredible fool, whoever you are. You’ve had that tourniquet on an hour at least. Didn’t you know—tourniquets must be loosened every fifteen minutes—to let the blood flow—arm must have more blood to stay alive. Nothing now but amputate!"

CHAPTER 6

CRAIG AWAKENED with a start, and stared dully at the stump of his arm. His whole shoulder was raised on some kind of a netted sling; and the arm was bare and plainly visible. An infrared lamp was pouring its heat on it, and the remnant felt cosy and comfortable, not at all painful.
It was not bleeding; and there was a growth from it, a curled, pink, fleshy thing that seemed like some torn part of the shattered arm, which for some reason had not been cut off.
Then he saw that it had a shape. He stared and stared; and there was a memory in him of a military record that had read: "Amputation of leg necessitated by—"
He slept.
Far away, a man’s voice was saying, "There’s no longer any doubt. It’s a new arm growing in place of the torn-off one. We’ve been doing a little surgical work—though, as I said to Pentry, I’m hanged if I don’t believe the growth is basically so healthy that it could get along without medical attention. It’ll be several days before he regains consciousness. Shock, you know."
The voice faded, then came back:
"Toti-potent ... toti-potent cells. We’ve always known, of course, that every human cell has latent in it the form of the whole body; somewhere in the remote past the body apparently took the easier course of simply repairing damaged tissues."
There was a pause. Craig had the distinct impression that someone was rubbing his hands together in satisfaction. A second man’s voice murmured something inaudible, then the first voice went resonantly on, "No clue yet to his identity. Dr. Philipson, who brought him here, never saw him before. Of course, a lot of people from both Big Town and Middle City live all through the Alcina district but . . . no, we’re not giving out any publicity. We want to watch further developments in that arm first. Yes, I’ll phone you."
The murmuring, second voice said something, and then there was the sound of a door closing.
He’d have to tell them, Craig thought. He’d have to tell these doctors, as soon as he felt a little less drowsy, about the imprisonment. Anrella had to be freed.
They knew, Anrella and the others, though why they hadn’t told him—and why they had taken all those precautions! The tense emotion dimmed. What was it Anrella had said that first noon when he had overheard her speaking to the others, about the time for the change having come?
This change! It must be a periodic transformation inside him. It must have happened before. But why hadn’t they told him? Why?
Sleep came like a soothing blanket of forgetfulness.
"Try!" the man was saying. "Try to remember!"
A trickle of sweat sagged down Craig’s face. All through his lean, strong body he felt the gathering tension of enormous effort, and there was a sudden high pain in his arm. In the vaguest way, he was aware of the white-starched figure of his nurse, and of another nurse sitting with pencil poised over a notebook, and of the dark night beyond the window.
He gritted the pain out of his mind; and, with the whole strength of that mind, strained to penetrate the mesh of waver and blur that lay like a cloud over his memory. Pictures took vague shape there, formless thoughts and shadow memories of days unutterly dim. It was not memory but memory of memory. He was isolated in a little island of impressions of the moment, and the terrible sea of blankness all around was sweeping closer, pushing harder every minute, every second.
With a gasp, he let the pressure of strength and strain slacken inside him. He stared helplessly at the doctor. "Useless," he said simply. "My name, I think, is ... is—" He stopped, and shook himself. "I can’t remember. There’s something about an iron fence and—what city is this? Maybe that will help."
"Middle City," said the doctor. His brown eyes watched Craig narrowly. But the latter shook his head.
"What about Big Town?" the doctor asked. "That’s a city about forty miles from here. Dr. Philipson brought you to Middle City from Alcina because he knows the hospitals here." He repeated it slowly: "Big Town!"
For a moment there seemed to be a fuzzy familiarity. And then Craig shook his head. He stopped the weary movement as an idea struck him. "Doctor, how is it that I can use the language, when everything else is so dim?"
The man stared at him unsmiling, grim, "You won’t be able to speak in a few days unless you spend every spare minute reading and talking just to keep those particular conditioned reflexes alive."
He was aware of the doctor half-turning from him, facing the two nurses. "I want a detailed, typewritten account prepared for the patient, giving the complete story of his case as far as we know it. Have a radio brought in here, and"—he turned back to the bed, smiling darkly —"you keep it on. Listen to the soap operas, if no one else is talking. When you’re not listening or sleeping, read, read aloud."
"What if I don’t?" His lips were ash-dry. "Why do I have to do this?"
The doctor’s voice was grave. "Because, if you don’t your brain will become almost as blank as a new born baby’s. There may be"—he hesitated—"other reactions, but we don’t know that. We do know that you are forgetting your past at an alarming rate. The reason for that is that ordinarily the cells in the human body and brain are in a continuous state of being used and being repaired. Every hour, every day, your billions of memory cells are undergoing that repair; and apparently, in the mending, the little wave of memory electrically stored away is not damaged, at least, not seriously damaged. In the long run, no doubt, the replacement of tissue diminishes the store of memory. Perhaps there lies the true explanation of why memories grow dimmer with the years. Now, with you, it’s different. You have at this instant toti-potent cells. Instead of being repaired, your cells have been replaced by brand new, healthy cells; and those new cells know nothing of the memory carried by the old, for memory is not hereditary. You have cells as potentially capable of storing memory as your old ones, but all you can store in them before they in turn are replaced will be the impressions gained by your mind in a period of, say, a week, perhaps a little longer."
The doctor finished briskly: "Your name, for the record, will be Peter Smith. Try to remember that, will you?"
He examined the name mentally: "Smith!" he said finally, aloud. He lay, listening to the rhythm of it go through his mind, then repeated: "Peter Smith."
"That’s right," said the doctor. "Now, any questions?"
"Yes. Why not take me to the town of Alcina? I have a conviction"—Smith paused, and a tenseness welled up inside of him—"that it’s very important."
"Impossible!" The doctor spoke sharply. "I assure you we are doing all we can to identify you. Tomorrow’s issue of the Alcina Weekly Herald will contain a story about you. But you can’t leave here now. Your arm was amputated only thirteen days ago!"
"But I feel all right."
He saw that the argument was useless. He lay back. The doctor said, "Just rest yourself. And do as I’ve said."
There was a sound at the door. An intern looked in. "Thought you might be interested," he said. "The word was just flashed on the radio. Jefferson Dayles is re-elected president by a majority of two million."
"Thank God!" said the doctor, sighing. "I felt sure neurotic America would elect that woman. I have no doubt she’s intellectually capable, and could handle the job. But it’s too fast, a passing whim of an unstable electorate. Reaction would be just as swift, and could easily destroy all the built-up progress of the last two centuries. Women must take over their share of political power gradually, not in one emotional spree."
"Oh, you men!" said one of the nurses in quiet fury. The second nurse snapped, "Don’t forget it was only two million majority. Next time—"
They went out. The silence of night settled. Twice, as he lay there, footsteps moved along the hallway, grew loud, and receded into distance. He lay quiet, completely awake.
He thought, "Have to get to Alcina. Can’t wait!"
He climbed out of bed. There was no sense of pain or dizziness. It did not occur to him that he was not dressed for outdoors. He knew better, though, than to leave by the door.
The window was hard to open. He found a metal fence beyond, and a narrow staircase leading down. He went down into the strange world of night. A chill wind was blowing, but the warmth of the bed was still in him, and the discomfort seemed unimportant. His bare feet began to hurt after he reached the ground, from the roughness that he kept stepping on. But he pressed forward grimly until he came to a hard, smooth surface.
Two lights in the distance of that dim-lit street attracted his attention, because they moved. And they made a roaring sound. The lights and the sound fascinated him. Intrigued, he stepped toward them out of the shadow of a tree. In a flash they were upon him. At the last instant, he saw that behind the lights was a large, black shape.
There was an unimaginably hard blow, then a faraway squealing sound, then distant voices, "We’re drunk, all of us. Nobody’ll believe he stepped into our path. It’s jail for sure. Quick, get him into the car, then first to Ned’s place to get some more gas, then we’ll dump the body a hundred miles from here. Hell, we’ve got to do it. We can’t afford—"
For a week, the thing that had been Lesley Craig lay in a ditch, very still, re-growing!

CHAPTER 7

JEFFERSON DAYLES studied the report of the scientists on the eve of inauguration. The first perusal left him blankly puzzled. Later, he thought, later when the excitement was over he would read it more carefully. But he took it to bed with him, and in the middle of the night rose and re-read sketchily the astounding document.

In the matter of the two so-called electric-engined automobiles and the so-called electric-engined plane turned over to us by your agents...
Electronic-engined would have been a better term. The motive power seems to be derived from a dark metal electronic tube which, when taken apart, proved too intricate for reassembly, in spite of all our careful notations on each phase of the process. (The suggestion has been made that this "tube" was drawing power from a distant power broadcasting station.)
As the failure resulted in spite of the fact that we took apart, not one, but two of the engines, we have determined not to dismantle the third and last engine until after a very careful and, we recommend in the event others are assigned to the investigation, a very exhaustive study of the parts of the two tubes already dismembered.
It is possible the secret of their reaction may lie in some subtle alloy combination of the construction materials. Even the welding compound must be examined and analyzed for its possible influence . . .
The surpassing importance of cautious development can best be gauged by our discovery that the power has other potentialities about which a report is being prepared.

Jefferson Dayles crawled back into bed, and lay in the darkness with closed eyes thinking: It was the old, old story: Too complicated for mortal minds.
As he took the oath for his second term, Jefferson Dayles thought: Three years, and no more. Three years to find him.
After that it might be too late.
Too late, too late—all that great day the words trampled through his mind, dulling his smiles, dimming his exultation, darkening all his, thought. Find Craig! Find the man whose blood could in one week strip the old age from his body, and, in so doing, immortalize his power and the mighty civilization he visualized.
The thought was like a sickness, a craving, that was still upon him six months later when they brought in the farmer. The man was big and rangy. As he sat listening to the fellow’s extremely colloquial account, one question quivered in Jefferson Dayles’s mind. The problem of how to phrase it engaged his attention as the farmer’s voice twanged on:
“. . . Like I was sayin’, he was at my place ten days, an’ old Doc Gillespie came twice to look at him, but he didn’t seem to need no medical attention, only food. Mind you, he did act queer. Wouldn’t tell me his name or nuthin’. Anyways, I finally took him to Carness and turned him over to the employment commission. I told the fellow in charge that his name was Bill Smith. He didn’t argue none about that, so that’s what they put him down as—Bill Smith. There was some labor job they sent him to, can’t just recollect what it was. Anything else you wanta know?"
Jefferson Dayles sat cold. But that was an outward covering for an inner excitement. Craig was alive. Discovered, so Kay had said, when an old news item was followed up, a news item which reported that on November 21, 1972, somebody had called the police department of the nearby city of Carness and reported a body in a roadside ditch.
Actually, this farmer had already found Craig when the phone call was received. So it was obvious that the person making the call must have been one of those responsible for leaving Craig in that icy gutter. Somebody became conscience-stricken, or perhaps simply anxious to get the whole affair over and forgotten. The exact psychology of it didn’t matter.
The toti-potent man was alive.
There was one question that remained, a verification: Craig’s arm! The one that had been re-growing. The farmer’s voice came again:
"There’s one more thing, Mr. President—"
Jefferson Dayles waited, involved in the preparation of his question. It was a hard sentence to utter because, well, you couldn’t ask if a human being’s arm had regrown. You couldn’t, although the very idea was fascinating and mind-staggering.
"The thing," said the farmer, "is this: when I picked him up, I coulda swore one o’ his arms was shorter’n t’other. Yet when he left, they wuz the same length. Now, am I crazy or—"
"Doesn’t make much sense, does it?" said Jefferson Dayles. He went on quietly, "Thank you for your assistance. My secretary will see to it that you are well paid for your trouble. You will, I hope, continue to regard silence about this interview as a duty to your country."
"You kin count on me," said the man with the quiet positivity of sublime and unquestioning patriotism. "An’ you kin forget about the money."
But Jefferson Dayles had his own conscience to assuage. He mustered a smile. "No," he said, "we mustn’t forget money. It’s a valuable aid to good living, so I’ve been told."

As a clerk Prowse rather fancied himself. He spent a large part of his money on clothes, and, in the beginning, he was always hurrying up and down the long aisles of the Workman’s Compensation Board offices, past the men who were really working, and not simply pretending.
Neat, natty little man, he nursed a tiny, obstinate mustache, and an attitude of coarse humor towards his superiors. They must have thought it showed an adult trend of mind for in seven years, which was literally no time at all in such a dead-level organization, he was chief of one section of the filing department, a sharp-tongued, fault-finding straw boss. Ossification of the brain set in at the ripe age of thirty-one, and his ephemerally youthful body began to dry up. At thirty-five, he was a little bespectacled runt with cold blue, suspicious eyes and a hatred of the world that, though he couldn’t figure out just how it had happened, had mistreated him.
To his desk in December, 1973, were brought two files under the names of Bill Smith and William Smith. Bill, according to the statements in the document, had had his left arm cut off at the elbow. And William had lost the fingers of his left hand at a somewhat later date. In both cases compensation was being paid at the full allowable rates, but that was only incidentally important. What interested Prowse was that Bill and William Smith both lived at Apartment N, 111 Hunt Street.
"Shall I combine the two files?" said the wan-voiced female slave who had discovered the similarity.
"Leave them on my desk," replied the pontiff.
He meditated over the problem during the next half hour. If the fingers had been lost before the forearm, the identification would have been simpler. But they hadn’t. And there were the doctors’ signatures, and all other necessary data.
It was a situation requiring all the curious and complicated skills of the head of a filing department, requiring moreover, a decision. Frowning, Prowse studied not only the files but the index cards in the cabinets. There were eleven blocks of "Smith" cards; and among them he found five other cards, one of them under the name of Bill. The others were, in alphabetical order, Frank, George, Milton and Tom. The seven Smiths possessed among other common denominators, according to their files, the fact that they all lived at Apartment N, 111 Hunt Street.
The new Bill had lost his right hand. Frank Smith had suffered severe head and shoulder injuries, George’s face had been smashed. Milton and Tom had each lost a left arm. In every case the name of the wife was given as Gracie Smith, and it was to her that the checks for compensation were made out.
"Naturally," Prowse finished his story to President Dayles, "we had him arrested."
He shook his head wonderingly. "He was a pretty smart chap, that fellow Smith. The woman had skipped with the money; and Smith just played dumb at the trial, never saying a word. Because of our inability to prove how it had been done the judge gave him only six months. He got out," Prowse finished, "four months ago."
Four months. It turned out to be four months too long. The trail ended at the prison gate. A guard recalled that a car had been waiting for Craig. It drove off into the oblivion of the vast land that was the United States.
Women won two-thirds of the contested seats in the mid-term elections. And went mad with hope. By the end of November every city had its daily parade, its line of sullen men watching, and other men cheering.
Jefferson Dayles had allowed the election to be honest because he was genuinely anxious to learn the exact situation and because of the sobering effect power might have.
"Women," he told Kay, "might as well discover before it’s too late that politics are a painful business for the physically weak. Men have fought to an uneasy balance, which has made for a false atmosphere of quiet and dignity. I firmly expect that the men who are now such ardent supporters of women in Congress will be in time their most violent enemies."
He smiled with a savage sardonicism. "Prepare the hospitals," he said, "for women with broken heads, and the jails for the men who break them—and find Craig, or we’ll be swamped by a sea of emotionalism."
The year ground heavily towards its end—and didn’t quite make it unscathed. On Christmas Eve, press wires hummed, radios broke off programs to announce: Los Angeles—A long line of women marching with placards—"HURRAH FOR THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN" "IN THE WORLD OF THE FUTURE MEN WILL DO THE PHYSICAL WORK, WOMEN THE ADMINISTRATIVE" "A JUST ORDERLY PEACEFUL WORLD ADMINISTERED BY WOMEN—"
A man’s interrupting shout: "Break it up, let’s break it up! They’re counting on us to respect them, while they make slaves of us. Come on!"
Men surged sullenly from the sidelines, and became a mob. When armored cars finally cleared the streets, twenty-four women lay dead, ninety-seven others were seriously injured, and more than four hundred required hospital treatment.
The pathological nature of the assault was revealed when four of the men accused of murder proved with the assistance of lie detectors that they had voted for women in the elections. They were unable to account for their violent change of heart, except for one who stated plaintively that he suddenly "saw that there would be hell to pay if women ever really got into power."
Three days before the date set for their execution, all of the seventeen men condemned for the parade killings staged a mass escape from the death house.
There were riots in a dozen cities, and mass delegations of women demanded punishment for the prison guards responsible, and that the escaped men be immediately recaptured and gassed.
It was a crisis of the kind that could win or lose five million votes; and Jefferson Dayles made a speech to the nation, promising all possible action would be taken.
On the second day following his speech, the letter arrived, the letter which read:

Cell 676, Kaggat Prison, January 27, 1975.
Dear Mr. President:
I have learned that my husband was one of the seventeen condemned men, and I know where he and they are. Speed is essential if his life is to be saved. Please hurry.
Anrella Craig.

The cell did not look as comfortable as he had originally ordered it should be. Jefferson Dayles made a mental note to deliver a sharp reprimand on the matter, then turned his attention to the pale creature that was Anrella Craig.
It was his first face-to-face contact. And in spite of her bleached appearance, he felt impressed. There was something about her eyes, a dignity and power, a maturity that was disturbing. After that first impression, the dullness of her voice surprised him. She sounded more beaten than she looked. Anrella Craig said:
"No, I want to tell you. Lesley is in hiding in the great California desert. The ranch is located about forty miles north of the village of Mountainside—" She broke off. "Please don’t ask me under what circumstances he did what he did. The important thing is to make sure when you find the hideout that he is not killed." She smiled wanly. "Our original belief was that, as a group, we could through him dominate world affairs. I’m afraid we overestimated our capabilities."
On the north-bound plane, Kay said: "I see no reason why either Mrs. Craig or any of the others should be released. Now that she has so foolishly revealed her ace in the hole, Craig’s identity as one of the parade killers, we owe her nothing."
There was an interruption. "A radiogram message, Mr. President, from Kaggat prison."
Jefferson Dayles read the long message with pursed lips, then handed it without a word to Kay.
"Escaped!" Kay cried. "The whole gang!" She sat very still. "Why, the little, white-faced actress, standing there pretending to be depressed to the point of nothing-else-matters-but-that-he-be-saved. But why did she tell us? Why—"
She stopped, and re-read the message, and whispered finally, "Did you see this? Ninety planes participated in the rescue. What an organization they must have. It means the escape could have been managed at any time. And yet they waited until now. Sir, this is very serious."
Jefferson Dayles felt curiously remote from his assistant’s half panic. His mood was exhilaration, and there was in him an intense and gathering will to victory. The situation was indeed serious; here, in fact, was the crisis. His voice lashed out a staccato of orders :
"Kay, you will take personal charge. Use at least five divisions, at least two of them armored, and as many planes as you need, not ninety, but nine hundred. Surround the desert. Check all traffic on land or in the air moving out of it. Use radar detectors, at night, searchlights, night fighters. I give you unlimited power to use all the available forces of the United States. Capture Craig!"
He was, he realized, literally fighting for life.

CHAPTER 8

CRAIG AWAKENED. It wasn’t anything to think about. Where there had been blackness was suddenly light. He lay very still. He had no consciousness that he had a name, or that there was anything unusual about the situation. He was here—the entity that was himself—lying down. Even the posture seemed normal, the very essence of life as it was lived. He was lying down, and aware of himself.
For a long, long time that was all there was. He had no purpose other than being where he was, no memory of anything else, not the faintest conception of movement. He lay, and he stared up at a ceiling that was light-blue in color. It was not the brightest region in his universe and so, after a while, his eyes were drawn to the window through which light blazed dazzlingly.
Like a child absorbed by shiningness, he brought up his arm, and reached towards the window. The intervening emptiness rebuffed him. Instantly that didn’t matter, because he became interested in his groping arm. He did realize that the arm was part of himself. The moment he ceased his instinctive reaching, the muscles that supported the arm in the air began to relax. The arm collapsed onto the bed. And because his gaze had followed its clumsy fall, for the first time he grew aware of the bed. He was still examining it, half sitting up the better to look at it, when the sound of footsteps intruded upon his attention.
The sound came nearer, but he did not wonder about it. It was there in his ears, as normal as everything else. The difference was, he was suddenly mentally divided into two sections. One part remained in the bed. The other stared out at the world through the eyes of a man who was coming through an adjoining room towards the door of the bedroom.
He knew the other entity was a man, and that the room-door and act of walking were what they were because, to the second part of his mind, those facts were casual realities of life. The second mind was aware of other things too; and so rapid, so completely absorbent was his own brain that, as the door opened, he swung his legs off the bed, and said:
"Bring my clothes, will you, Peters?"
Peters’s brain took the impact of the demand with complete acquiescence. He went out, and there was a satisfying mind picture of him fumbling in a clothes closet. He came back, and paused just inside the door, blinking with new thought. He was a little man in shirt sleeves, carrying a lot of clothing. And he peered over them, and said owlishly:
"Lordy, Bill, you can’t get up yet. You were still unconscious half an hour ago when we caught that dame in here." He broke off solicitously: "I’ll call the doc and bring you some hot soup. After the way you got us out of the death house, we’re taking no chances of anything going wrong with you. Lie back, will you?"
Craig, watching the other lay the clothes on a chair, hesitated. The argument seemed reasonable, yet somehow not quite applicable to him. After a moment he still hadn’t put a mental finger on the flaw. His hesitation ended. He drew his legs back under the quilt, and said:
"Maybe you’ve got something there. But the way that woman was captured right in this room started me worrying about our hideout here."
He stopped, with a frown. Flashing insight came that he hadn’t been worried until Peters appeared on the scene, and that in fact his mental state at the beginning had been—what?
The memory galvanized his thought. His mind twisted back to the moment of his regaining consciousness. It was amazingly hard to picture himself as he had been at that first instant, blank-brained, without memory. And then instantly absorbing the entire mind of Peters, with all Peters’ fears and emotional immaturities. What was utterly astounding was that his memory took in Peters’s mind and Peters’s knowledge. But nothing else. Nothing of himself.
He stared at the man. That profound but swift examination took in all Peters’s memory, and went back through the simple career of a chunky boy who wanted to be a mechanic. No particular reason existed why Peters should have joined the mob that attacked the parade of women. And the actual mob scene was blurred, the trial that followed a nightmare of twisting thought forms dominated by fears so terrible that not a single image came clear. The fear had faded into excited hope during the escape; and so there was a reasonably detailed remembrance of exactly how the prison break had been worked three days before the date set for the mass hanging.
"Did I really do all that?" Craig thought incredulously.
After a moment the fact was still there, a rigid part of Peters’s memory of the event. He had taken apart the radio in his cell and, with the addition of parts from radios handed to him from other cells, had manufactured a very pale white light that ate through concrete and steel as if they were insubstantial matter. A guard confronting them had screamed as his gun dissolved in his, hands, his clothes disintegrated from his body. The scream must have been pure hysteria, because that pale, intense fire had not harmed him.
The very nature of the weapon, and the mode of exit it provided, prevented the reinforcements brought by the scream from being effective. The police didn’t think of solid walls being breached. The cars were at the arranged rendezvous, and the planes, each with its pilot, were concealed beside the grass field across which they took off.
All this was in Peters’ memory, as well as the fact that the man known as Bill Smith had been hit by a machine-gun bullet as the cars raced away from the prison—the only casualty—carefully looked after. For ten days he had lain unconscious.
Craig pondered about it while Peters went for the soup. He decided, finally, that he was different. It needed only the simplest reflection to realize that reading thoughts, actually absorbing another’s mind, was unheard of in Peters’s lexicon of life.
He was slowly sipping his soup when Doc McLarg came in. Seen face to face, and not merely as a memory image of Peters’s transferred mind, the doctor was a spare-built man about thirty-five and possessed of shrewd brown eyes. The history behind that physical exterior was more complicated than that of Peters, but the relevant facts were simple. A public health officer, McLarg had been forced to resign because of careless work, and was replaced by a woman doctor. On Christmas Eve, in an advanced state of poverty and drunkenness, he had joined lustily in the attack on the parading women.
His examination was that of a nonplussed man. "It’s beyond me," he confessed finally. "Ten days ago, I cut a machine-gun bullet out of your chest, and for three days now there hasn’t been either an entrance or exit wound. If I didn’t know it was impossible, I’d guess you were perfectly well."
There seemed nothing to say to that. McLarg’s mind had slipped so gently into his, its knowledge so easily and naturally integrated with that derived from Peters that, even now it was hard to grasp that the information hadn’t been there all the time.
He thought about the woman later, frowningly. She had been in his room, bending over him. She had just walked in, she had said. Walked in unseen—into a den of alert, hunted outlaws!
It seemed ridiculous. Uncertain what to do with her, the men had finally locked her in one of the spare rooms of the hacienda. It was odd that, though the house blurred and wavered with thoughts as men went tensely to and fro, hers was not among them. Not once did he catch even a tendril of mind stuff that might belong to a woman. Surely a woman’s thoughts would be unmistakable.
Sleep found Craig still puzzling over the whole problem of her.

CHAPTER 9

HE AWAKENED with a start in pitch darkness, conscious that there was someone in the room.
"Quiet!" the woman’s voice whispered in his ear. "This is a gun."
The paralyzing thing was that he couldn’t catch a glimmer of her thought. His mind leaped to his earlier speculation on the subject, and then to a simple conclusion: He couldn’t read the minds of women!
"Huh!" he began blankly, "what—"
In the darkness he felt the metal pressing against his head, and his thought suffered a dreadful pause. The woman spoke again:
"Take your clothes—never mind dressing—and walk slowly to the door of your clothes closet. There is an open panel inside with steps leading down. Go down them!"
In a sweat of mental agony, he fumbled for his clothes. He was thinking: How could she have escaped from her room?
"I wish," he whispered hoarsely, "the others had killed you instead of just arguing about it, you—"
He stopped, because the gun was pressing against the back of his pajama coat, urging him along.
"Quiet!" came the peremptory whisper. "The truth is, Lesley, you’re to be given a few facts about yourself before the authorities close in, as they will do very shortly. Now, please hurry."
"What did you call me?"
"Move!"
He walked slowly, but his mind was like a clenched fist, tightening around the tremendous reality that was here. She knew him. This woman they had captured, this—what had she said her name was?—Anrella Craig knew his real identity.
He had had a vague plan of whirling on her in the darkness and grabbing her gun. But that was shattered by her words.
He had to squeeze through the panel; it was so narrow. The staircase was a winding affair that led steeply downward. After the first full turns, a series of tiny costobulbs began. Their misty ray made the passageway seem more alive, more real. For the first time, the fact of them made an impact on his brain. Here was an old ranch-house to which seventeen condemned murderers had fled turning out to be honey-combed with secret panels. It couldn’t possibly be an accident.
One swift grab at her legs, he decided.
"Lesley!" Her voice was a sigh from behind him. "I swear that this will not add one iota to the danger you are all in. When you consider that it is our organization that placed those cars and planes at your disposal when you escaped from the prison, you—"
"What?" He stopped, protested, "Listen, those cars and planes were given us by the friend of—"
"An individual giving four cars and two planes. Don’t be silly."
"But—"
He broke off, fascinated by her logic; then, "You keep calling me Lesley. Lesley what?"
"Lesley Craig."
"But your name is Anrella Craig."
"That’s right. You’re my husband. Now, move down those steps."
"If you’re my wife," Craig flashed, "you’ll prove it by giving me the gun, and trusting me. Give it to me."
The weapon was thrust so quickly past his shoulder that he blinked at it, then reached for it gingerly, half expecting it to be withdrawn.
It wasn’t. His fingers closed over it, hers released it. He stood with the gun, nonplussed by the easy victory, feeling stripped of all possibilities of violence.
"Please go down," her voice came.
"But who is Lesley Craig?"
"You will know in a few minutes. Now, please."
He went. Down, down, down. Twice they passed solid steel plates that pressed out to every wall of the staircase, like floors of protective battleship deck metal. The thickness of them made Craig stare. Eight inches. Each!
Here was a fortress.
The end came suddenly. A narrow corridor, a door, and then a blaze of lights, a great room filled with machines. There were doors leading to other rooms, tantalizing glimpses of gleaming staircases that went down—tantalizing because they suggested other great tiers of rooms below. The weight began to lift from his mind; the weight of conviction that had lain all afternoon on his brain and body, the conviction that he and Peters and the others had no chance of escape. Here, in this subterranean world, was safety!
His brain squeezed out of its prison of depression. It began to work faster. He felt the surge of new life. It was a sudden abnormal alertness, a glow diffusing his whole being. His gaze flashed the rounds of the machine room, questioningly. His mind strained to locate signs of human occupancy. He had time to notice keenly that even the thoughts of Peters and the others did not penetrate into these metallically-sealed depths.
A door opened in the wall to his right; three men emerged. The physical act of the emergence scarcely mattered. At the very instant of the door opening, their thoughts, their minds, darted out to him.
It was a veritable flood of thoughts about himself, his past, his life. Through that turmoil of impression, Craig heard one of the men whisper to the woman.
"Any trouble?"
"None. All the elaborate precautions were unnecessary. Their search was cursory in the extreme. They did talk half-heartedly about killing me, but I could have frustrated that at any time. Not once did anyone suggest examining the buttons of my clothes for secret gases . . . but sssh now, let him get what’s in your minds without interruption."
The man’s voice said, "He’s getting it all right."
The picture that came was limited in time. It began around the time that Nypers had first hinted to him something wrong. It showed him being picked up by an old farmer from the ditch where he had been tossed. Who had tossed him there was not clear, because they hadn’t located him until a week later. From that point on, however, he had never been out of their sight, although not once, until he was released from jail after being convicted of violating the Workman’s Compensation Act, had they interfered in his life. They had not even protected him from the amoral woman who had collected the compensation for his injuries.
They had taken him finally, however, to one of their headquarters. Immediately after the parade killings had rushed him to Los Angeles where they faked photographs implicating him in the attack. And they had a deadly plan.
Craig broke the silence in a strained, astounded voice, "Am I to understand that Peters, McLarg and I, Kelger, Rainey and the others, are going to be kept up there on the surface while the United States army and air force tries to capture us? And you’re going to stand by and watch us try to figure a way out, but do nothing to help us?"
He saw that his—wife—was nodding coolly.
Her eyes were bright and oddly sympathetic. "You’re in the spotlight, Lesley. You’ve got to do even better than when you escaped from the jail. You’ve got to lift yourself almost literally by your mental bootstraps, and become a superman. You see, you’re in the final phase of your final change. Whatever you raise yourself to now will be permanent. No more changes. You either become like the rest of us toti-potents or—"
Her eyes lighted. Her hands reached forward impulsively and caught his arm. "Lesley, don’t you see? Don’t you see! We owed it to you; we owe it to the poor, beaten, hopeless world, to give you this chance. Come over here and sit down. I must tell you in a few words. I must persuade you."
She tugged at him. And after a moment’s hesitation, Craig allowed himself to be led towards a chair. Her voice was a melodious sound-force that beat at him. "I’m going up there with you. None of us will survive if you fail. That we resolved long ago. Lesley, here below ground is a marvelous machine shop. In a few minutes the greatest male scientists in our organization will be brought in one by one—and you can take their minds, their massive knowledge, and make it your own. I’m sorry you can’t read the minds of women, because we have some wonderful women scientists. The whole of our Martian organization is built around the invention of Martha Eger—"
"Your what organization?" Craig gasped.
She seemed not to hear. She sat before him on the floor, looking up at him with eyes that were jewel bright and misty with the beginning of tears.
"Lesley, the world is a rotten mess. The United States has never recovered from the cold war that followed World War II. Individual and national moralities are delicate structures capable of withstanding great strains, but easily warped. Every time a rich man’s son or a nobleman’s heir gain special advantages because of their birth, less favored individuals everywhere shrink a little deeper into their inferiority complexes, seek a little harder for escape from the destroying realities around them. That, of course, is minor. People are too busy for the most part to be aware of what they are reacting to. But in a parallel and greater fashion nations which have shed enormous quantities of blood for a cause that somehow fails to win out are drained of strength. Cynicism breeds too easily, moralities collapse in an astounding way. Weeds grow easily where flowers bloomed a single season before.
"Human science, so marvelously adaptive during the war, never recovered from the restrictions of the cold war. The whole earth stagnates today in a negative futility of ten thousand purposes, all of them doomed to frustration because there is no clear, unifying thread running through them. Jefferson Dayles’s analysis of the world and the local situation is quite accurate. Men will vote women into power once. Within a few months they will want to plunge them back into a state of semi-servility far worse than anything prevailing now. The trouble is that women are demanding extreme power. Always it is the extremists who dominate, without any great resistance from those who follow them.
"Oh, I admit we have done things. But man must work out his own destiny. Nothing in all human history is truer than that the race from which we have sprung cannot survive if, for instance, we furnish them with new inventions and our great science. We’re a backwater, an accident. The thirty-five of us—that includes you—can furnish a quart of blood every few months to people of our blood type, and so give them youth, and so tie them to us with inhumanly strong bonds because at the end of thirty years they must again have the blood, or they die normally.
"Each of us can thus give temporary immortality to some three hundred people. But it ends there. The rest of the human race is excluded. Altogether, eighteen children have been born to the twenty women among us. One child was yours and mine, but it and the others had only a slightly greater toti-potent tendency than the average human being. Two gruesome experiments convinced us that toti-potency is not hereditary. So you see, we don’t belong to the main stream of human struggle.
"But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to help them, particularly when you consider that even the thirty-four failures among us have at least twice the average human brain capacity. Twenty times is possible. We know it is possible because some of us attained a great degree of it during those gray, unremembered months that make up a toti-potent period.
"Listen, here is my story, my little bit of evidence. I was born in 1896, became a nurse in the First World War, and had my right arm torn off by a high explosive shell. It must have been the mud that saved me from bleeding to death. For days I lay untended; and note this well: There is no record of anyone becoming toti-potent without such sustained pressure on them. A body given prompt medical attention does not become toti-potent. We have our people at all the medical information centers, and we get to a toti-potent case as soon as there is even a hint that such a case exists.
"But never mind that. My miracle is this: During my second phase I invented two little metal plates that, when fastened to the bottom of my shoes, enable me to walk on water. None of us know how those things work. We assume that I must have been in great danger from death by drowning, but we don’t know even that. We can’t duplicate them, although they appear to be constructed from the ordinary materials one might find aboard a ship. That is the real glory of it. This vast earth of ours, with its multitude of inventions apparently needs only a sharper mind to grasp at the facts that lie under our very eyes among the everyday things of life.
"Lesley, you know your task. Above ground you will find an assortment of machines. Engines, tools, electronic and electric instruments, something of almost everything. Those dozen outbuildings are full of what seems to be junk, but isn’t. Look them over. Let your mind try to create new combinations of those old forms. And the moment you have something, communicate with the men down here. They’ll build anything you want in a few hours.
"Lesley, what we want, what the world must have, is a leader. Our own experience, our own purposes tell us that there is nothing to fear from such a development. Lesley, you will either be that leader, or you will be Jefferson Dayles’s puppet, and the remaining thirty-four of us will be dead, because we would consider ourselves of no further value. Do you understand?"
As Craig was led to his bedroom, it seemed to him that their purpose couldn’t have been expressed more clearly.
He kept awakening in a sweat of fear. Twice, lying in a half doze, he told himself he had dreamed his visit into the fortress under the ranch-house. But each time a grimmer realization was there to chide his mind for its illusions. The day before, with the danger seemingly remote, he had dallied with the hope that they might actually be safe in this desert hideout. Now, he knew better. An army of tanks and planes would attack—and she and the others were determined to die if he failed to stop that attack, or if he was captured.
Craig jerked erect in bed. "Silly fool," he thought furiously, "they won’t do that; and yet I lapped it up."
The rage subsided as swiftly as it had come. He liked the woman. She had fire and an intense personality. And somehow—it had nothing to do with love—he couldn’t imagine her dead.
Besides, it wasn’t only she or the other toti-potents whose lives were at stake. There were the blood slaves of them all, the people down below, who would build the machines he planned, all of them his blood type, depending on him for their immortality. How beautifully clever it all was, and how logical. They’d work like mad to carry out his plans.
And then there were the condemned killers. Odd to feel responsible for keeping them alive. Actually, of course, they shouldn’t have been sentenced to death. People might hate the idea, but members of a mob were not first-degree murderers.
His mind twisted its uneven course through the long night. Once a wonder came: this twenty times average capacity of the human brain—it couldn’t be I.Q. Only an electronic thinking machine could have an I.Q. of 2000. There were other factors in the brain that might be affected. How was it, for instance, that a person with an I.Q. of 100 frequently had twice the personality and leadership qualities of some freak with an I.Q. 150? No, the 20-brain wouldn’t be I.Q. It would be—he couldn’t imagine.
He must have slept on the thought. When he awoke, it was still dark, but there was decision in him. He would try. He felt no different, no greatness, but he would try.

As dawn broke, Jefferson Dayles rose and stared through the eye-holes of his flesh mask out through the window of Mountainside Inn. It was the waiting, he thought. All that he could do had been done. The orders, the intricate planning, the details of insuring that no escape avenues remained open—all that, he had attended to personally. And now others must do the work while he paced helplessly to and fro in the confines of this small room—waiting.
The door behind him opened, but he did not turn.
The shadows lay heavy on the desert, but the mountains to the right were visible against the lightening sky. And to the left among the scatter of trees beyond the village, he could see the white tents of the awakening army.
Kay said from behind him, "I’ve brought your breakfast."
He had forgotten that someone had come in. He jumped from the impact of the voice. And then smiled grimly at himself. He turned and said, "Breakfast?"
He drank his orange juice, and ate the kidney on toast in silence. When he had finished, Kay spoke again.
"I’m pretty certain no one suspects your presence." She added after a moment, "We’ll start in about an hour. It will require at least three hours to cover the forty miles over the sand. Some of our scouts penetrated to within a few hundred yards of the house during the night without being challenged. However, they obeyed orders and made no attempt to invade the yard."
She finished, "I’m beginning to think our precautions have been ridiculous, but I agree that it’s better to be sure than sorry. There is no longer any doubt. We must have this man before we can even think of a third term."
No answer. Four hours, Jefferson Dayles was thinking, four hours before he would know his fate.

CHAPTER 10

AT THE ranch, the chill of the desert night faded into a cold dawn which slowly warmed that gray land. The men were up early. They ate breakfast almost in silence, offered no objections to Craig’s statement about the prisoner, and finally dispersed. Some went out to relieve the night watchers on the peaks that topped the gashed hills and uneven sand plains. Only one or two actually seemed busy.
The atmosphere was tense, nervous, expectant. As they closed the door of the third outhouse, Anrella said frowningly, "I certainly expected the men to object when you said that I would accompany you wherever you went today. It must have puzzled them."
Craig was silent. The mantle of leadership that had been yielded him puzzled him, too. Several times he had caught the beginning of opposition in the minds of the men, only to watch it fade away without being given expression. He grew aware that Anrella was speaking again, uneasily, "I wish I hadn’t advised you to go back to sleep. We wanted you to be fresh for your task. But we also wanted to time everything so that you would have at least half a day."
Curiously, just like that, her words irritated him. He said sharply, "My means to success are too limited. And I have a conviction I’m approaching this whole subject from the wrong angle. It’s the mechanical slant that’s not right. I could see several possibilities, for instance, in the electrical equipment in that last outhouse. The use of the 999 plus vacuum offers several opportunities when conjuncted with electric coils but—"
He stared at her darkly. "There is one fatal flaw in them all. They kill. They burn and destroy. Frankly, I’ll be hanged before I murder a bunch of poor soldiers doing their duty. And I might as well tell you right now I’m getting fed up. This whole business—" he waved his arm impotently—"is too silly for words. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m in my right mind." He scowled at her angrily. "Let me ask you a question. Is it possible for you to have a spaceship here in a short time to pick us all up and so save the lives of everyone above ground here?"
Anrella’s gaze was quiet, her manner tranquil. "It’s even simpler than that. We could take you below ground. But the spaceship is available, too. There’s one about twenty miles above us, a large model of what you used to think was an electric plane. I could call it down right now. But I won’t. This is the critical moment in a plan we have been maturing ever since we first found you."
Craig snapped, "I don’t believe your threat about killing yourselves. That’s merely another pressure trick."
Anrella said softly, "You’re tired, Lesley, and under great physical strain. I swear on my word of honor that what I have told you is the truth."
"What’s ordinary honor to a superwoman?"
She was calm. "If you’ll think about the implications of your refusal to kill the people who are coming to attack us, you will realize that what makes everything we do so right is that our intentions are honorable. And. Lesley—I’m going to tell you something. I hadn’t intended to. One of the two children with whom we experimented was—ours. Selection was by lot and—they cut off one of his legs and left him to become toti-potent. But instead, he died. The other one died, too. The reason we tried was because Martha Eger’s grandson returned from the war toti-potent. It seemed to suggest, and actually it proved, higher potentiality but—we know now that isn’t enough. Our blood will rejuvenate yet not ’start’ the recipient’s innate toti-potency.
"Lesley, I’ll be eighty years old this year. Physically, of course, I don’t feel it, but mentally I do. And so do the others. Seventeen of them are older than I am, twelve about the same age. It’s strange that so few toti-potents came out of the last war; perhaps the medical services were better . . . but never mind that. All of us have seen a lot, thought a lot. And we feel sincerely that we can only be a hindrance to the human race unless we can somehow influence them along the paths of progress. To that end, we must have stronger, abler leadership than anything we have so far managed ourselves. We—"
There was a tiny ting from her magic jewel wrist radio. She lifted it, so that he could hear, too. A small but clear voice came:
"A column of armored cars and several tanks are streaming along the road that leads to Arroyo Pass ten miles south of Mountainside. A number of planes have been passing over here since dawn. If you haven’t seen them, it must mean they’re keeping out of sight of the ranch. That’s all."
The minute ting repeated. And there was silence.
Anrella broke it in a strained voice, "I think," she said, "I think, Lesley, we had better get back to realities."
The shock grew. It wasn’t the child, Craig told himself. That was too vague, although he caught himself in horrible visualization of the fate of those two wretched children. The picture brought conviction, and, quite suddenly, he believed. Before he could speak, Anrella said anxiously:
"I’m beginning to think it’s important that we have a preliminary weapon that will hold off land armies and give you time to develop a major invention. We won’t have to worry about aerial bombing, because the last thing Jefferson Dayles desires is your destruction." She hesitated.
"What about that disintegrating ray which affects only inorganic matter?" Her blue eyes gave him a quick, questioning glance. "We’re willing to supply the wire to the nearest electric plug just as we did in the jail. Or even a mobile power plant." Once more she hesitated; then, "It would destroy their tanks, armored cars and would strip them to their birthday suits." She laughed nervously. "That would disorganize almost any army now in existence."
Craig shook his head. "I examined it just before breakfast. And it’s no go. It’s complete as is. I could reduce it to the size of a hand weapon and retain the same power. But an increase in bulk would add no energy. It all depends on one tube that—"
He shrugged. "All they have to do is verify that I’m not manning it, then keep their artillery beyond its quarter-mile range, and probe with high explosives. It’s possible," —he smiled savagely—"that one of the men would rather die that way than in a gas chamber. But you can see it’s no solution. What are you doing, Haines?"
They had come to where a well-set, unshaven young man was working on the engine of a car. The hood was up; and he was standing with one of the spark plugs in his fingers, brushing at its points. Actually, Craig’s question was unnecessary. Clearly delineated in the man’s mind was the intention to get the engine working, and leave the ranch.
Dan Haines was a bit-part actor, whose only reason for participating in the parade attack had been, as he had stated suddenly to the court, that he couldn’t stand a "world run by women" and that he had "got excited". And also that he was ready to take "what was coming to him." He had added nothing to the escape except the burden of his jittery presence. And now, in a jump of apprehension, his nerve had broken. He looked up guiltily. "Oh!" he said as he saw Anrella. Then, more casually, "Just fixing the bus. I want us to be able to make a run for it if we have to."
Craig stepped past him, and stared down curiously at the exposed engine. In his mind’s eye, he was visualizing the whole machine, first as a unit, then each separate function in detail. It was a lightning examination, and purely men-paused there, and went back: battery—
He said slowly, "What would happen, Haines, if all the power of a battery was discharged in a hundred-billionth of a second?"
"Huh!" said Haines blankly. "That couldn’t happen."
"It would," said Craig, "if the lead plate is electrically pre-hardened and if you use a pentagrid shielding tube, the type of tube that is used to control unwanted power. It—" He stopped, dazzled. The details stood sharp and clear in his mind. He made a mental calculation and then, looking up, saw Anrella’s shining eyes on him.
After a moment, her gaze darkened. She said hesitantly, "I think I see what you’re getting at. But wouldn’t the temperature be too great? The figures I get are unbelievable."
"We can use a miniature battery," Craig said quickly, "not a full-sized one. After all, it’s merely the percussion cap. The reason the temperature would be so high is that in the interior of a sun, there is no control tube, and so the right environment occurs only here and there through space, and we have a Nova-O sun.
"With a normal-sized battery the temperature would be too high. But I think we could strip off the four most dangerous oughts by using a small, short-lived dry cell, and so be safe." He turned away, frowning. Then paused, turned. "Don’t leave, Haines. Stay right here on the ranch."
"Yes, Mr. Craig."
Craig walked off thoughtfully; and then once more he stopped. "What," he thought, "was it the young man had said?"
Wide-eyed, he whirled and stared at Haines. The man had turned his back, but every mental contour of his brain was exposed. Craig stood there, comparing, remembering; and finally, satisfied, he faced Anrella and said quietly, "Let your people work on that at top speed. And work out, too, some refrigeration system for the ranch-house. I think the battery should be buried about ten feet in the sand three or four miles south of here. And I don’t see why it should take longer than three quarters of an hour. As for you and me—" He stared at her sardonically, "Order the spaceship down. We’re going to Mountainside."
"We’re what?" She looked at him, suddenly white. "Lesley, you know that doesn’t follow logically out of this invention."
He made no answer, simply stared at her; and after a moment, she faltered, "This is all wrong. I s-shouldn’t do it. I—" She shook her head, bewildered. Then without further protest, lifted her wrist radio.

By eight o’clock the old-timers were gathered on the porch at Mountainside Inn. Craig could see them looking slant-eyed at Anrella and himself and at the dozen very obvious secret service women who lounged in various positions around the door. The oldsters of Mountainside were not accustomed to having strangers intrude upon their privacy. But a danged lot of things had been happening lately. Their minds showed a mixture of excitement and irritation. Their conversation had a numbed quality.
It was about ten minutes after eight when one of them wiped the perspiration from his forehead and trotted to the thermometer beside the door. He came back. "Ninety-eight," he announced to his cronies. "Derned warm for Mountainside in February."
There was a brief, animated discussion on past heat records for the month. The cracked voices sagged slowly into an uncomfortable silence, as the hot breeze from the desert blew stronger. Once more an old-timer ambled to the thermometer. He came back, shaking his head. "Hundred and five," he said. "And it’s only twenty-five minutes after eight. Looks like it’s gonna be a scorcher."
Before Anrella could more than look startled, Craig walked over. "I’m a doctor," he said. "And sudden changes in temperature like this are pretty hard on older men. Go up to Mountain Lake. Make a day of it, a holiday. But go!"
When he came back to Anrella, they were already streaming off the veranda. They roared by a few minutes later in two old sedans. Anrella frowned at Craig. "The psychology of that was all wrong," she said. "Old desert rats don’t usually accept the advice of younger men."
"They’re not desert rats," said Craig. "They’re lungers. And to them a doctor is God." He smiled and added, "Let’s walk along the street a bit. I saw an old woman in a house there who ought to be advised to get into the hills."
The old woman was easily persuaded by a doctor to go on a picnic. She loaded some canned goods into a wheezy old car, and was off in a swirl of dust.
There was a meteorological station in a little white building fifty feet farther on. Craig opened the door and called to the perspiring man inside:
"What’s the temperature now?"
The plump, bespectacled man dragged himself over to the desk. "It’s 120," he moaned. ". . . Nightmare . . . The offices at Denver and Los Angeles are burning the wires asking me if I’m drunk. But"—he grimaced—"they’d better start redrawing their isobars, and warn their populations. By tonight the storm winds will be raising the seats of their pants."
Outside again, Anrella said wearily, "Lesley, please tell me what all this is about. If it gets any warmer, our flesh masks will float away on a river of perspiration."
Craig laughed grimly. It was going to get warmer, all right. He felt a sudden awe. A pinpoint of heat—he pictured it out there to the burning south—flashing eighteen million billion degrees Fahrenheit for one millionth of a second. The temperature here in Mountainside should go up to at least 135, and where the armored force was . . . 145 . . . 150. It wouldn’t kill. But the officers would surely order the army to turn back and race for the cool hills.
It was hotter as they headed back to the inn. And there were other cars moving towards the mountain highway, a long line of them. The heat shimmered above the sand and against the gray hillsides. There was a dry, baked scent in the air, a stifling odor, actually painful to the lungs. Anrella said unhappily, "Lesley, are you sure you know what you’re doing?"
"It’s very simple," Craig nodded brightly. "I consider we’ve got the equivalent of a good, roaring forest fire here. If you’ve ever seen a forest fire, and several of my memories include knowledge on the subject, you’ll know that they flush every type of game from cover. There is a mad rush toward cooler territories. Even the king of beasts condescends to run before such a conflagration. My guess was that we’d find a king here"—he finished smugly—"there he is now, out in the open, where I can make sure with a minimum of danger that I’m not fooling myself."
Craig nodded toward the inn door, from which a well-built man was emerging onto the veranda. The man’s face was that of a very ordinary middle-aged American, but his voice when he spoke was the commanding, resonant voice of Jefferson Dayles.
"Haven’t you got those motors going yet?" he asked irritably. "It seems strange, two cars getting out of order at the same moment."
There were mumbled exclamations of apology, and something about another car being along in a few minutes from the camp. Craig smiled, and whispered to Anrella:
"I see the pilot of your spaceship is still pouring down the interfering rays. O.K. Go ahead and issue the invitation."
"But he won’t come. I’m sure he won’t."
"If he doesn’t come, it will mean I’ve been kidding myself, and we’ll head straight back to the ranch."
"Kidding yourself about what? Lesley, this is life or death for us."
Craig looked at her. "What’s this?" he mocked. "You don’t like pressure? Maybe it will double your I.Q."
Without another word, she climbed the veranda steps.
He heard her disguised voice uttering the necessary words. As she finished, Craig called, "Yes, come. Your cars can follow."
The president and three secret agents followed Anrella down the steps. Anrella said steadily, "Do you think we can take four?"
"Oh, sure," said Craig. "One can squeeze in front here with us."
A minute later the car was in medium gear and purring up the first grade.
Craig said loudly, "You know, darling, I’ve been thinking about the Equalized women who make up the private army of President Dayles. The drug they took can be neutralized by a second dose, the chemical structure of which varies slightly from the original. The crystalline manganese element in the drug as it now is, is tied to the compound by four bars. That’s unstable. By removing two of the bars, and I know just how it can be done, the connection will be stiffened. This will—"
He broke off as, from the corner of his eye, he saw the strained look on Anrella’s face. From the rear seat, Jefferson Dayles said dryly, "Are you a chemist, Mr.— I didn’t get the name."
"Craig," said Craig amiably. "Lesley Craig." He went on, "No, not a chemist. You can call me a sort of universal solvent. You see, I have discovered that I have a curious quality of the mind." He paused. In the rear-view mirror he saw the guns that the two agents in the back seat had drawn. Jefferson Dayles’ voice came steadily:
"Go on, Mr. Craig."
"It is my determination," Craig said, "that President Dayles shall realize his ambitions; rejuvenation and continuation in the presidency until there has been come reintegration of national and international morality on a much higher level than has ever prevailed. I favor, too, a progressively greater sharing of administrative power with women. This will require an educational program designed to—"
The stricken look on Anrella’s face brought his first qualm of pity. But there was no such thing as explaining in the presence of the others.
Haines’s instant acceptance of his command had provided the clue. The rest—memory of how every command of determination he had expressed had been immediately acquiesced in—was confirmatory evidence. First, Peters bringing his clothes, and only afterwards questioning the act. Later, Anrella handing over the gun, and ordering the spaceship down, and the old men and old woman going into the mountains—proved both men and women were subject.
It had nothing to do with the conscious mind. Not once had there been awareness. It went deeper. It affected some great basic nerve structure in the brain. It must seem to the obedient ones—their own logic.
An important angle, that last. Later, he would tell Anrella; now—there were commands to give that must sound like suggestions. He must make sure, for instance, that the army was recalled from its hell. Insure also that the agents put away their guns. And prepare for the storms that would be blowing down from the mountains to balance an unnatural cataclysm of weather.
Instant by instant, the future seemed brighter, more promising.
Craig gave the necessary orders as the car bowled down into a brief valley, and then up into the high, cool, sweet hills beyond.

7. THE PURPOSE


VIRGINIA MENTION’S presence was quite accidental. She came out of a restaurant, and there were the fire trucks, and the smoke pouring out of the open door of a one-story building.
Virginia walked over, her reporter’s instinct vaguely roused. Fires were long since out of her reportorial field, except that she was on the scene of this one. She visualized he tiny stick she would write:

Fire of so and so origin broke out this morning on the premises of thingumajerk. Slight damage.

The sign that hung out in front of the building read:

FUTURIAN SCIENTIFIC
LABORATORIES
NEUROLOGICAL AND
ORGANICOLOGICAL
RESEARCH

She wrote that down, and the number, 411 Wainworth Avenue. When she had finished, the firemen were stamping out of the door. Virginia grabbed the chief by the arm.
"I’m from the Herald. I happened to be passing. Anything important?"
The chief was a big, clumsy man, slow of speech.
"Naw. Outer office furniture. Boss not in. Fire seems to have started in a wastepaper basket from a cigarette stub."
He went on, grinning: "The receptionist in there is a queer young drip. Never saw anybody so scared in my life. He was gobbling like a turkey when I left. Didn’t speak a single understandable word."
He chuckled callously. "If that’s the way he feels now, I can imagine what he’ll be like when the boss arrives. Well, so long."
He walked off to his car.
Virginia Mention hesitated. Actually, she had all the information she wanted. But there was such a thing as personal curiosity. She walked over to the still open door.
It was a small office that she peered into. It contained three chairs and a streamlined counter in blue and white. That is, it had been blue and white. Now, it was a half charred mass, made uglier by the water that had been ruthlessly poured on it. Behind the counter was an electric adding machine of some kind.
Behind the counter, also, was the receptionist.
Virginia’s mind suffered a considerable pause. The young man was tall and very thin, and he wore clothes that were too short for him in length and too wide for him in width. His face was hollow-cheeked and colorless. His chin, his forehead and his neck were covered with pimples, and he had an Adam’s apple that kept moving and bobbing.
The apparition stared at her out of big, brown, terrified eyes. Its lips parted and spluttered gibberish at her. At least it would have been gibberish to anyone unaccustomed to the mumblings of editors and interviewees.
Virginia Mention translated aloud, transposing the pronoun: "What do I want? I’m a reporter. What’s the value of the furniture?"
"Ubble dubble dow," said the young man.
"Don’t know. Hmm, looks like a pretty complete mess, except for that comptometer, or whatever it is you’ve got behind the counter. I think I’ll just put down: ’Damage to office furniture.’ "
She wrote, then closed her book with a snap. "Well, be seeing you."
She intended to turn away and leave. But there was an interruption. A buzzer sounded. A man’s deep, quiet voice said from some indeterminate point in the wall behind the young man:
"Edgar Gray, press button seventy-four."
The young man galvanized. For a moment, he seemed to be all arms and long legs, leaping behind the counter. Somehow he untangled himself. One of his long bony fingers touched a button on the "comptometer."
He stood then, eyes closed, pressing it down. Virginia had thought his face was as colorless as it could possibly be. But now it blanched, and visibly grew paler. A curious darkness seemed to creep over it finally, as if the half-life of the young man’s body was suffering a great defeat.
The effect, the impression, was unnaturally sharp. Virginia stared blankly.
A minute passed; and then slowly the ungainly creature drew a deep breath. He took his hand away from the button. He opened his eyes. He saw Virginia. A vague flush of returning color stabbed at the lines of his cheekbones.
Virginia Mention found her voice. "What on earth was that?"
She saw that Edgar Gray was too far gone even to gibber. He stared at her glassily, and she had the impression that he was going to faint. With an audible gasp, he sank down in the charred chair.
He slumped there, looking like a sick dog.
Virginia said in a kindly voice, "Look, Edgar, the moment your boss gets here, you go home and lie down. And why not try eating something once in a while. It’s good for the health."
She turned and went out. And forgot about him.

She had been gone about five minutes when a woman’s clear, vibrant, yet low-pitched voice said from the wall, "Edgar!"
The gangling youth looked startled. Then, agitated, he stood up. The woman’s voice said insistently: "Edgar, draw the blinds, shut the door, and turn on the lights."
Like an automaton, the young man carried out the commands. But his hands were shaking when he paused finally, and stared wide-eyed at the door which separated the rear of the building from the front.
There was a stirring there, a vague flickering of pinpoints of light. The door did not open, but a woman stepped through it.
Through it!
Daemonic woman! Her form was indistinct, insubstantial. She wore a white gown of a flimsy, transparent material. For a moment, the door was visible beyond her, through her.
She stood there as if in some strange and unearthly fashion waiting for physical completion.
Abruptly, she was no longer transparent. But whole. Real. She walked forward. Her hand came up and slapped his face, hard.
He half staggered, but managed to keep his balance. He began to whimper, tears of chagrin and hate.
"Edgar, you were told not to smoke."
Again, the hand came up. Again the resounding slap.
"You will remain here your usual time, and perform your duties. Do you understand?"
The woman stared at him bleakly. "Fortunately, I arrived in time to see that woman reporter. That is well for you. I was minded to use the whip."
She turned and walked toward the inner door, paused for a moment, and then stepped through it, and was gone.

Accidents begin, and human nature carries on. Before the fire, Virginia had passed the Futurian Science Laboratories a hundred times without ever noticing that it was there. Yet now she was aware of it.
Two days and a morning after the fire, she emerged from the same restaurant with her husband. She watched him stride off toward the university, then turned and went her own way. As she came to the Futurian sign, she paused with a sudden memory. She peered through the great plate glass window.
"Hmm!" she said.
There was a new counter in place of the half burnt one, and a new chair. In the chair sat Edgar Gray, reading a magazine.
She could see his blotched face, and she had a clear profile of his Adam’s apple. An empty box lunch stood on the counter beside him.
It was a thoroughly normal scene; and she didn’t give it a second thought. But that night at eight-ten, when her husband was escorting her to the theater, she glanced out of the taxi, as it passed Futurian.
The enormous window glowed from the reflections of a spotlight behind the counter. Under the spot sat Edgar reading.
"He keeps long hours," said Virginia out loud.
"Did you speak?" asked Professor Mention.
"It’s nothing, Norman."
A week later, coming home from a party at a quarter after eleven at night, their car passed Futurian. And there was Edgar under his light, reading.
"Well, of all things," exploded Virginia. "Whoever owns that joint sure has got hold of a sucker."
Her husband grinned at her. "Working on a newspaper has certainly enriched your vocabulary, sweet."
Virginia gave him briefly the sequence of her experience with Futurian. She watched his face crinkle, his fine eyes narrow with thought. But in the end he only shrugged.
"Maybe it’s Edgar’s turn to be on the night shift. Since the war and the absorption of returned men into the planetary services, there’s been a tremendous shortage of ordinary help, as witness the fact that you are compelled by law to work; and we have to eat vitamin-less food in restaurants because you can’t work and cook too." He grimaced. "Restaurants, wagh!"
Virginia laughed; then soberly: "There may be a manpower shortage, but the people who are available are treated like tin gods."
"Uh, I suppose you’re right. I’m afraid I can’t help you then. As a lecturer on practical psychology, my city contacts are becoming less every day. Why not ask Old Cridley in your office? He’s supposed to be a good man."
Cridley, the science editor, stroked his beard. "Futurian Science Laboratories," he said. "No, I can’t say that I’ve heard of them. Let me see."
He drew a commercial register across the desk toward him, opened it. "Hmm," he said. "Yes, here it is. . . . Research. . . . Doesn’t tell you much, but"—he looked up—"they’re legal."
He added with a sardonic smile, "I somehow had the impression you thought they weren’t"
Virginia said, "There was a vague idea in the back of my mind that they might be worth a story for the magazine section."
In a way that was true—Old Cridley was reaching for the phone. "I’ll ring up Dr. Blair, the only neurologist on my list. Perhaps he can give us some information."
The phone conversation was prolonged. Virginia had time to smoke a cigarette. At last the old man clicked down the receiver. He looked up.
"Well," he said. "You’ve run into something."
"You mean the place is phony."
He grinned. "No, no, the other way around. It’s big. It’s a ten, twenty, thirty billion dollar concern."
"That little place!" said Virginia.
"It seems," said Old Cridley, "there are duplicates of that little place right around the world. There’s one on some main avenue of every city of two hundred thousand or more in the entire world. There’s one at Canalis Majoris on Mars, and one each on the two principal islands of Venus."
"But what do they do?"
"Ostensibly, they do research work. But actually it’s a high-pressure organization to get people to put up money for research. Some lame attempts have been made to investigate the outfit, but so far every attempt has died while still in the embryo stage.
"Dr. Dorial Cranston, the founder, used to be quite a man in his field. But about fifteen years ago, he went money mad, and developed this beautiful system of milking gold from soft-hearted dopes who want to help science. The key moochers are men and women whose personalities are plus and then some. They shine like jewels in a crowd. You know the type. You’ve got a long start in the direction of that kind of personality yourself."
Virginia let the compliment pass. "But have they ever made any worthwhile research?"
"Not that I know of."
Virginia frowned. "Funny we haven’t heard more about them. I think I’ll look into it further."

It began to rain shortly after five o’clock. Virginia Mention retreated deeper into the doorway of Sam’s Haberdashery, and stared miserably up at the sullen skies.
The idea was just beginning to penetrate that she was in for a night. Oddly, she had no intention of giving up. Logic said that Edgar ought to be watched over the supper hour.
He was going to be watched.
At seven the rain petered out. Virginia oozed out of her doorway, and paced up and down glaring at the office across the street. A light had flicked on, the same shaded counter lamp she had previously observed. Under it sat Edgar Gray reading a magazine.
"The little coward!" Virginia Mention raged silently. "Hasn’t he got guts enough to stand up for his rights? I know he was in there this morning."
The fury faded with the minutes, yielded to the passing of the hours. At ten minutes after ten, she dashed hurriedly into the restaurant, gulped a cup of coffee, and phoned her husband.
Professor Mention’s chuckle on the phone, as she described her vigil, made her feel better. "Personally," he said when she had finished, "I’m going to bed in another hour. I’ll see you in the morning."
"I’ve got to hurry," Virginia breathed. "I’m scared silly he’ll leave while I’m in here."
But the light was still there when she got outside. And so was Edgar.
He was reading a magazine.
It was funny, but suddenly she began to picture him there in terms of years. Day after day after day, she thought, Edgar Gray coming to work in the morning and remaining until a tremendously late hour at night. And no one cared; no one even knew, apparently. For surely self-consciousness such as Edgar carried around with him could not exist if he had a normal home life.
She began to feel sorry for Edgar as well as for herself. What a life he was leading, what an incredible inhuman life.
She watched him jump to his feet, and press down one of the "comptometer" keys.
Virginia Mention shook her head, bewildered. This business made less sense every second. Eleven o’clock came and passed. Eleven thirty. At eleven-thirty-two, the light blinked out abruptly, and after a minute Edgar emerged from the front door.
It was a quarter after eight the next morning when Virginia Mention staggered up the single flight of stairs to her apartment.
"Don’t," she murmured to her husband, "ask me any questions. I’ve been up all night. I’ll tell you everything about a month from now when I wake up. Phone the office, will you, that I won’t be in?"
She did muster the energy to undress, and get into her pajamas, and crawl into bed.
When she wakened, her wristwatch said four thirty—and a woman in a white evening dress was sitting in the chair beside her vanity.
The woman had, Virginia Mention saw after a blank moment, blue eyes and a very lovely face. That is, it would have been lovely if it hadn’t been so hard, so cold. Her body was long and slim, like Virginia’s own. In one of her finely shaped hands, she fingered a knife with a thin, cruelly long blade.
The woman broke the silence softly:
"Now that you have started your investigation of us, you must also bear the consequences, the rewards of zealousness. We’re all very glad you’re a woman. Women weigh less."
She paused. She smiled a fleeting, enigmatic smile, and watched alertly as Virginia slowly sat up in the bed. Virginia had time to think that she had seen this creature somewhere; and then the woman went on:
"Women also arouse more sympathy. . . . My dear, you’ve come into something you won’t forget for"—she lingered over the phrase caressingly—"the rest of your life."
At last Virginia found voice. "How did you get in here?"
Except for the sense of recognition, that was actually as far as her mind had gotten. The woman’s words, the enormous threat in them, would catch up to her only gradually. Her voice was shriller, as she repeated, "How . . . into my apartment?"
The blonde woman smiled, showing her teeth. "Through the wall of course."
It sounded like very unveiled satire. It roused Virginia Mention as nothing else could. She drew a deep breath—and was herself.
Narrow-eyed, conscious suddenly of the eerie quality of this meeting, she stared at the other. Her gaze lighted on the devilish knife and, just like that, fear came.
She pictured Norman coming in, and finding her stabbed to death. She pictured being dead, while he was still alive. She pictured herself in a coffin.
She began to feel warm with terror.
Her gaze flashed up to the woman’s face—and terror sagged.
"Why," she said aloud, wonderingly, "I know now who you are. You’re the wife of the local electrical tycoon, Phil Patterson. I’ve seen your picture in the society pages."
Fear was fading fast now. She couldn’t have explained the psychology, except that people you knew, and people of importance, didn’t commit murder. Murderers were strangers, unhuman creatures who emerged briefly from a mass of meaningless faces, after the police had caught them, and, once executed, retreated into the depths of your memory, never again to be recognized.
Virginia found her voice again. "So," she said, "you’re one of the Futurian Science Laboratories crowd."
The woman nodded brightly. "That’s right. That’s the crowd I belong to. And now"—she sat up a little straighter; her voice was as resonant as a bell—"I really mustn’t waste any more time in idle chatter."
Virginia said in a level voice, "What have you done to Edgar Gray? He’s a thing, not a human being."
The woman seemed not to hear. She was hesitating. At last, cryptically: "I must be sure you know enough. Have you ever heard of Dorial Cranston?"
There must have been a look in Virginia’s face, for the woman said, "Ah, I see you’ve got that far. Thank you very much. You could have been very dangerous."
She broke off. She stood up. She said in an oddly drab voice, "That’s really all I need to know. It is silly to give information to people who are about to die."
She was at the bed before Virginia could grasp the deadly intent behind the words. The knife, which Virginia had almost forgotten, flashed up in the woman’s hand, then down at Virginia’s left breast.
There was a pain like fire, a tearing sensation at her flesh. She had time to see the knife hilt protruding from just above her heart.
Blackness came, blotting out the unbearable agony.

Professor Norman Mention was whistling happily under his breath as he entered the apartment. The hands of the hall clock were poised just over the seven. By the time he had deposited his hat, coat and cane in the empty living room and kitchen, the minute hand had moved in stately fashion to five after seven.
He noticed, while hanging up his coat, that Virginia’s current coat and hat and things were all there.
Still whistling, but more softly now, he walked over to the door of her room, and knocked.
No sound came from inside. Rather hastily, he retreated to the living room, and took up the copy of the Evening Herald that he had bought on his way home.
He was a highly trained reader, with a capacity of just under twelve hundred words a minute, but the effect of the enormous speed was partially canceled by the fact that he read everything but the society columns.
It was half past eight before he folded the paper.
He sat, frowning. He thought irritably that if Virginia had been sleeping since that morning, then she ought to be roused. And besides, it was time she satisfied his curiosity as to the results of her vigil before the Futurian Science Laboratories the night before.
He knocked at the bedroom door, and, when there was no answer, opened it, and went inside.
The room was empty.
Professor Mention was not nonplussed. He stared ruefully at the unmade bed, and then shook his head, and smiled. After twelve years of being married to Virginia, he was well aware of the intricate maneuverings of women newspaper reporters.
It was not like Virginia to leave her room untidy, but it had happened at least twice before, and each time he had done what he did now: He made the bed, ran the carpet sweeper over the rug and mapped the floor.
When he was making the bed, he noticed a bloodstain on the sheet.
"Darn it," Professor Mention muttered irritably, "Virginia oughtn’t to go out when her nose is bleeding, and without her coat, too."
He went finally back to the living room, and tuned in a comedy team, whose popular appeal he had for some weeks vainly tried to analyze.
The failure was repeated this night. He laughed hollowly once. When the ordeal was over he clicked off the radio, and began to whistle softly under his breath.
After a while his watch said that it was eleven. Perhaps, if he phoned the Herald office— No, that wouldn’t do. She was supposed to be sick.
He picked up a detective novel he had been intending to read for a month. At twelve o’clock he finished it, and looked at his watch.
He had felt the worry creeping up on him for some time. It tingled in the back of his mind all the while that he was reading the story. The ending, the act of closing the book, was like a cue.
Professor Mention stood up. He swore aloud. He told himself he was very angry with Virginia: She oughtn’t to go off like that, and then not phone him.
He decided to go to bed. He woke up with a start. The dials of his watch showed eight o’clock, and the sun was peering through the window. Unnerved, he climbed from under the cozy quilts, and went into Virginia’s room.
It was unchanged.
The important thing, Professor Mention told himself precisely, was to be logical. Suppose he did go to the police—after, of course, duly verifying that she was not at the office or at a few other places he could think of.
The police would ask questions. Description? Well, she was strikingly good-looking, five feet six inches tall, sort of redheaded though not exactly. There was an odd glint in her hair that—
Mention stopped that thought with a conscious effort. This was no time for romantic touches. "Redhead," he said aloud, firmly, "and she was wearing—"
He paused grimly. At this point at least, scientific accuracy was possible.
Resolutely he headed for her clothes closet. For ten minutes he fumbled with increasing gloom among some four dozen dresses striving to picture which one was missing. The amazing thing was the number of dresses that he couldn’t remember ever having seen before.
At the end of ten minutes, he knew himself defeated. He turned back into the bedroom—just as the hazy figure of a man stepped through the wall of the room.
He stood there for a moment, like a motion picture image focused on a cloud. The insubstantial form of him began to thicken. It became a man in evening clothes, a man with arrogant, sardonic eyes, who bowed coolly, and said, "Don’t go to the police. Don’t do anything foolish. Perform your normal duties, and make reasonable excuses for your wife’s absence. After that, wait. Just wait."
He turned. His body changed, became transparent. He stepped into the wall. And was gone.

There seemed nothing else to do. There seemed nothing to do. Yet during the war he had learned the habit of decision.
Mention hesitated. Then slowly he went into his room, and removed the Luger automatic from the back of the drawer where he had kept it for years. It was a war trophy; and because he had won the medal it required no license.
He stood fingering it with a gathering skepticism. But finally, conscious of its symbolic importance to his morale, he put it into his coat pocket, and started out into the morning.
He was halfway to the university before it struck him that it was Saturday. Mention stopped short in the street, laughed harshly. To think that he had imagined he was taking it calmly.
He stood undecided, grim, thinking with a sudden dismay: a man who could walk through solid walls! What had Virginia run across?
His brain sagged before the implications. He felt strangely boneless, and dry inside, as if his body was all shriveled up by an intense inner heat. His fingers, when he raised them to his burning forehead, were moistless, almost abrasive.
He looked at them, startled. Then hurried into a corner drugstore.
"Give me an injection of blood plasma," he said. "I’ve just narrowly escaped being run over, and I feel dizzy."
It was only partly a lie. There was no question but that he was suffering from shock, and in no mild form either.
"That’ll be one dollar," said the druggist a minute later.
Mention paid it gratefully, and strode out. His brain was working again; and his body had lost the drab sense of approaching unconsciousness. What he needed now above everything else was to appraise his situation.
He thought drably: the facts were: Futurian Science Laboratories—Edgar Gray—Dr. Dorial Cranston—a strange cold-faced man who walked through walls.
He stopped there. Once more he felt himself change color. He whispered huskily, "It’s impossible. I must have dreamed it. The human body is a structure evolved from a more primitive type. Therefore, unless—"
Higden’s thesis! Only if a man, had once been innately capable of passing through substance, could outside energy help him do it now. Higden’s thesis that present day man was a degenerate from a higher form must be correct.
Mention laughed curtly. He lashed at himself. "Am I having an academic argument with myself when Virginia is—"
His mind faltered. He felt the strain coming back. He saw another drugstore sign ahead. He went in and bought his second and last plasma injection.
Afterward, physically buoyed but mentally depressed, he seated himself in one of the booths. An hour later, the reality was still the same.
He was a badly frightened man. And since the fear was not for himself, there was nothing he could do about it but what the stranger had suggested:
Wait!

SUNDAY: At eleven A.M., he went downtown and peered through the plate glass window of the Futurian Science Laboratories. Edgar was there, a long skinny monstrosity, absorbed in a magazine.
After ten minutes, Edgar hadn’t moved except to turn over pages. Mention went back to the apartment.

MONDAY: He had one period without a class. There were three other professors in the recreation room. Mention turned the subject to the Futurian Science Laboratories.
Troubridge, physics professor, jumped at the use of the name, then laughed with the others.
Cassidy, assistant professor of English, said, "It sounds straight out of Tommy Rocket, the new comic sensation." The third man changed the subject.

TUESDAY: He had no free periods. During the noon hour he went into the library, and asked for books by and about Dr. Dorial Cranston.
There were two by the doctor, and one about him by a Dr. Thomas Torrance. The first published of Cranston’s two volumes was entitled Physical Affinity of the Human Race. Astonishingly, it was a tract on pacifism, a ringing condemnation of international slaughter, an hysterical document against war, in which the worthy doctor enlarged emotionally upon the theme that men were brothers under the skin. He advocated the extension of the handshake as a symbol of friendship, urged the adoption of promiscuous kissing among men and women alike, and spoke highly of the Eskimo custom of rubbing noses.
"Alien peoples," he wrote, "are electrically charged against each other, and only sustained physical contact will resolve the difference in their potential. A white co-ed, for instance, who allows herself to be kissed by a Chinese student will find that the hundredth kiss is far from repulsive. In the interval the man has become for her a human being in some fashion which she cannot analyze. The next step, marriage, comes into her thoughts; and what began as a desire for exotic thrills has, through contact, attained a more honorable status. We see these marriages taking place all around us, and, unless we have ourselves established similar contacts, we cannot begin to comprehend how they ever happened."
Basically, stripped of its pacifistic ranting, that was the book. The lunch hour was over when Mention finished his perusal. He took the other two out, resolved to read them that night at home.
The second Cranston book was a repetition, in even more violent and dogmatic language, of the first. The man was obviously a bug on his subject; and it required a real effort for Mention to read the second volume to the end.
He picked up the Torrance biography of Cranston, flipped it open at chapter one, and read:

Dr. Dorial Cranston, pacifist, neurologist extraordinary, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in—

Mention closed the book wearily. He was willing to concede that physical contact would do wonders for human relations. But it was already clear that the reading of old books about Cranston had no connection with the present reality.

WEDNESDAY: He had no new thoughts.

THURSDAY: Professor Troubridge fell into step beside Mention, as the latter started home.
"Norman," he said, "about your reference the other day to Futurian Science Laboratories. If they’ve approached you, don’t hesitate. They can do what they claim."
For a moment, the words sounded as if they had been created at random by a mechanical machine. But there was meaning finally. Meaning so important that Mention fought doggedly to prevent himself from blathering questions that would reveal his ignorance. He gulped, paused disastrously, and then was saved, as Troubridge went on:
"Three years ago, my physician, Dr. Hoxwell, told me that my heart wouldn’t last six months. I went to the Mayo Clinic. They confirmed the diagnosis. It was a month after that, when I was already despairing, that I was approached by the Futurian people, and informed that I could be furnished with a new heart for ten thousand dollars. They showed me a heart in a glass case, beating. It was a living heart, Norman, and they said it made no difference what organ I needed at any time, they could supply it, provided I had the money."
Mention said, "I thought organic transplantations were impossible because—"
He stopped. Realization came that that wasn’t really the thought in his mind. There was something else, a picture, a question that roared through his brain with the clamor of a tidal wave. As from a great distance, he heard Troubridge say:
"They can do it because they’ve discovered a new principle in organic electricity."
The thought that had come to Mention dominated the whole universe of his mind now. In a dead voice, he uttered the terrible words: "Where do they get their live replacement organs?"
"Eh!" said Troubridge. His eyes widened. A stunned expression crept over his face as he whispered, "I never thought of that."
By the time Mention reached the empty apartment, he didn’t want to think of it either.

There came purpose.
He paced the living room of the apartment that night in a fury at himself for having waited so long. And yet the problem was still: what should he do, what could he do that would be effective?
Co to the police?
He felt immensely reluctant, because there was still a chance. They wouldn’t have told him not to go to the authorities merely to keep him quiet for a week—if at the end of that time he went anyway.
He could mail a letter to his bank to put into his safety deposit box, which would be opened if something happened to him . . . Yes, he would do that.
He wrote the letter, then sat at his desk striving to think. After a long period during which nothing would come, he began heavily to write down a list of possibilities, item by item:

Virginia accidentally runs across Futurian Labs. She disappears.
I am warned by a man who walks through walls. I discover that:
(1) Dr. Dorial Cranston, founder of Futurian, is a fanatic pacifist as well as a neurologist.
(2) That Futurian sells human organs on a mass scale to rich men. (This is probably their purely commercial enterprise, their source of income.)
(3) The ability to walk through walls is obviously a means of power, and they are not sharing that with anyone. Yet they seem unworried by the fact that I know about it.
(4) Cridley, science editor of the Herald, told Virginia that several attempts to investigate Futurian were stifled in embryo stage, proof that they have influence in high places.
(5) There is absolutely no reason why they should treat Virginia any differently than they do the other—sources—of their live organs.

Mention wrote the last sentence grimly, then stared down at the list, dissatisfied. It seemed to offer no lead that he could follow with even the vaguest possibility that he would find Virginia.
After a moment, he wrote slowly:

If I went to the police, and they arrested Dr. Cranston and Edgar Gray, Cranston would walk out through the walls of the prison, and Edgar would—

Mention lifted his pen and stared with a sudden heady surmise at what he had written. Edgar! If it was true that there were Futurian shops in all the large cities, then there were hundreds of Edgars all over the world acting as receptionists. But—Edgar!
Virginia had disappeared after a night of investigating Edgar.
What had she discovered?
Excitement touched his mind, then flared through his body. He looked at the mantel clock. It showed one minute to ten. If he hurried, he could get downtown just about the time that Virginia had phoned the night she followed Edgar.
He might be trailed of course, as she must have been.
Edgar was still there. Mention parked his car a little way along the street, but at a point from which he could see Edgar plainly, where he sat under his spotlight.
Edgar was reading a magazine. At eleven thirty, Edgar rose, put on his hat, switched out the light, and came out of the door. He locked the door behind him.
He did not look around him but headed straight for the restaurant where Mention had often eaten with Virginia. Mention climbed out of the car, and walked over to the restaurant window.
Edgar was at the counter, wolfing a piece of pie and a cup of coffee. He put some money on the counter; and Mention had time only to turn his back, as Edgar emerged from the door.
Edgar hurried off down the street. After five minutes he turned into the dimly lighted foyer of an all-night theater. Mention debouched from his car again, bought his ticket a little breathlessly—and a minute after that watched Edgar sink into a seat well down in the front of the theater. He edged into the third row behind Edgar.
At three o’clock Edgar was still in the show, goggling bright-eyed at the screen. It was shortly after that that Mention fell asleep.
He wakened with a start. His watch said six forty-five. Edgar was hunched down in his seat, his legs over the back of the seat ahead. But he wasn’t sleeping.
At seven forty, he got up abruptly, and hurried out of the theater. Straight for the restaurant he headed, with Mention following a hundred feet behind. It took four minutes for Edgar’s meal to be served, three for him to eat it. At the counter the girl handed him two of their made-up box lunches; and then he was outside.
He paused in a drugstore to purchase four magazines.
At one minute to eight he unlocked the door of the Futurian Science Laboratories. and settled himself in the chair behind the counter. He picked up one of the magazines and began to read.
Apparently, his long day was about to repeat itself.
Now what?

Back in the apartment, Mention wakened himself with a cold shower, hurried through a breakfast of toast and coffee, and then set out for the university. His first class was not until twenty to ten; and so he had a reasonable amount of time to ponder his findings.
Actually, what had he discovered? Nothing except another facet of the neurological research of Dr. Cranston. The man was undoubtedly a genius. Perhaps he had passed over the books by and about Cranston too hastily.
There was nothing to do about that until night. Then he took down from the shelf, where he had put it unread, the biography of Dr. Dorial Cranston by Thomas Torrance, Ph.D.
As he opened the volume, he saw that there was a picture in the frontispiece, a photograph of a man standing on the terrace of a swanky house.
Mention jumped as he saw the picture, then stared and stared at the cold, sardonic face and powerful body. The caption underneath read:

The author, Dr. Thomas Torrance, at his palatial home in New Dellafield, Massachusetts.

There was no mistaking the identity. Torrence was the man who had stepped through a solid wall, and warned him not to call the authorities.
He couldn’t think. The sleep he had missed the night before, the sheer nervous exhaustion of the past week, took their toll of his bran now, when he needed strength to examine the potentialities of his great discovery.
His last thought before he finally allowed the sleep to engulf him was: Whatever had happened to Virginia had happened during her sleep that day. Perhaps he too—
He woke up annoyed that he was safe, and then, slowly, he grew aware of a purpose. His watch said eleven fifteen. He stood up and headed straight for the phone.
Considering that his call was from California, it went through swiftly. After fifteen minutes the phone rang.
"Your party, sir," said the operator.
Mention drew a deep breath; then tensely, "Hello!" he said.
There was the sound of the operator hanging up, a pause, and then a familiar voice said quietly:
"What’s on your mind, professor?"
Mention gulped. The words were all wrong; and the confident implications of the quiet tone in which they were uttered, stunned him. Incredibly, he felt ridiculous, as he said:
"Torrance, unless my wife is returned, at once, I shall take action."
There was a little silence, then a half chuckle.
"I’m curious," said the voice, "just what kind of action you have in mind."
The arrogance was almost palpable now. Mention was conscious of a distinct emptiness inside him. He fought off the feeling. He said thickly, "First of all, I shall go to the newspapers."
"Nope, won’t do!" said Torrance in an oddly judicial tone. "We’ve had every newspaper owner in the country in our organic wards. And, just in case you have other ideas, that also goes for state governors, lieutenant governors, state attorneys, cabinet ministers and a few others."
"That must be a lie," said Mention. He felt suddenly colder, more sure of himself. "It’s against the law of averages that every one of those men could have had something wrong with him."
Torrance’s laughter peeled over the receiver.
"I’m afraid," he said, "we’d be waiting yet if we had depended on Nature." His voice tightened. "Our main base of operations, Mention, is on North America, so we couldn’t take chances with men like that. We went after them, and they’re now, I assure you, solidly in our clutches."
He ground on, without pause.
"I won’t explain the how of that, professor. Just take my word for it. You could of course go to the local police. We never bother with small fry until they bother us. Then we neutralize them. I hope I have made everything clear. And now, if you don’t mind, I shall—"
Rage came so abruptly to Mention that he had no time to fight it.
"Torrance," he shouted. "What have you done with my wife?"
The reply was cool: "My dear fellow, this will surprise you. But we haven’t got your wife. Goodbye."
There was a distinct click.
Doggedly, Mention put a call through to the small-city residence of the author.
"Hello," he said, when the connection was finally made. "Is that you, Dr. Cranston?"
There was a chuckle over the receiver. "My, my," said the voice of Thomas Torrance, "but you are persistent."
Mention replaced the phone on its cradle without another word. Just how a call to New Jersey could be switched to Massachusetts was not clear. But he accepted the fact of what he had heard.
He was turning blankly toward the living room—when Virginia, a hazy figure, stepped through the wall of the hallway.
She was wearing pajamas; and the insubstantial form of her—thickened—before his eyes. For a long moment she stood there staring at him with anguished eyes.
She began to cry. Tears streamed down her cheeks. Her face grew wet. She ran towards him. Her arms clutched him with the strength of panic-stricken terror.
"Oh, darling, darling," she sobbed. "They’ve killed me. They’ve killed me!"

She moaned and cried in those minutes before full awakening. The horror of what she had last seen—the knife in her heart—was strong in her mind, like acid burning.
She wakened with a start.
She was lying in a large, curious room. It took a long moment to grasp that she was stretched out on a table; and a full minute must have passed before she grasped dazedly that the knife was no longer protruding from just below her breast.
With a shock like fire, it struck her that there was no pain, and that she was alive.
Alive! She sat up shakily. And instantly sagged back at the sharp splinter of pain that jabbed at her left breast.
The pain subsided. But the fact that it had come at all left her weak with fear. She lay, not daring to move.
She grew more aware of her surroundings.
The room she was in was about a hundred feet square. It was almost completely filled with little glass cases. The cases lined the walls, and stood on the floors, with only narrow aisles between them; and each case was divided into compartments about two feet square.
By turning her head, Virginia could see plainly the inside of the compartments against the wall to her right and left.
Each one contained what looked like a human heart, suspended from a small machine in the ceiling of the compartment.
She stared at them blankly; and she was on the point of turning away when the realization struck with a terrible force: the hearts were beating.
Strongly, steadily, they expanded and contracted. There was no pause in that quiet movement. The sustained quality of it calmed her, quieted her over-strained nerves. After five minutes, consciousness came that she ought to examine her personal situation again.
Cautiously, almost without fear this time, she lifted her head. For the first time, now, she saw what she had missed before:
A square of cloth had been cut out of her silk pajamas. There was a clean, white bandage carefully taped where the knife had penetrated.
Curiously, it was the pure whiteness of the bandage that braced her. It suggested that she was being looked after. The death that had so violently threatened her was frustrated.
She began to think of herself as being in the private surgery of some neighborhood doctor. She must have been rushed to him for emergency attention.
She was alive, but it seemed odd that no one was attending her. Surely, she wasn’t going to be left here on this table.
Just like that, anger came. And because fear was still a wavering, dark curtain in the back of her mind, the anger was unnaturally violent and unreasonable.
Anger faded before the passing of the minutes. If she had been in a bed, she would have lain quietly, and awaited events. But it was impossible to remain on this flat, hard table.
She had allowed her head to sink back to the surface; now she raised it again. Carefully, putting most of her weight on her right arm, she raised herself to a sitting position.
Nothing happened. No pain, not a twinge of the anguish that had struck at her a little while before. Evidently, the important thing was not to move too rapidly.
She sat for a minute on the edge of the table, her legs dangling, looking around at the fantastic total of human hearts all around her.
She began to be afraid. It was unreal, that row on row of quietly beating hearts, each in its compartment, each functioning with a steady lifeness.
Most disturbing of all was the complete absence of human beings. Except for its unnatural furniture, the room seemed utterly empty; it unnerved her.
Trembling, Virginia lowered herself to the floor. She stood very still, letting the strength flow back into her body.
It was pleasantly surprising to realize that there was strength.
She walked along an aisle, glancing only fleetingly at the double line of hearts. The number of them made her uneasy again. There was a door at the far end of the room. One of the hinges, and the lock, were badly smashed. It opened easily, however, onto a stairway that led upward to another door.
She climbed with a sense of urgency, a conviction that she must get away from those phalanxes of soundlessly beating hearts.
The second door was metal. But its lock too had been roughly handled, though there was a key in the shattered keyhole.
She opened the door, eager now; and stepped out onto a jungle pathway. A brilliant sun was shining down on a hilltop clearing a few feet away. She climbed toward it, reached it, and stood briefly paralyzed by what she saw.

Virginia Mention paused in her recount of what had happened. Her husband had laid her down on the bed; and from that prostrate position she looked up at him. He was staring down at her with a grim tenderness.
"But you’re not dead. You’re here with me, alive and safe."
She said hopelessly, "You don’t understand, sweetheart. You . . . don’t . . . understand."
Professor Mention replied quietly, "Go on, my dear. What did you see that startled you?"

She was on an island, an atoll green with jungle, and surrounded by a blue ocean that extended on every side as far as the eye could see.
The sun, though still high in the heavens, was well past midday. The heat was blasting; it made her feel ill.
Dizzy, she turned to look at the door through which she had come. She expected to see a building, but there wasn’t one.
Undergrowth spread in a thick tangle all around where the building should have been. Even the open door was half hidden by lichens that intertwined cunningly all over the exposed metal face of the door.
There was a strong odor of dying vegetation.
To Virginia, standing there under that lonely brilliant sky, came at unreasoning fear that the door would close, and shut her forever out in this empty world.
She stared down toward the door. She had taken only three steps when a thin, screaming sound touched her eardrums. The sound came from the remote sky to her right. It was faint and faraway at first, but grew louder and louder.
After a moment of worried puzzlement, she recognized with relief the origin of the sound: a jet-propelled plane.
It came into sight, a black point in the blue heavens. It took on size. It was a twenty-jet machine about two hundred feet long, wingless except for the upward bending wing struts supporting its vertical jet fuselages.
It flashed past, unaware of her frantically waving arm, a passenger express plane bound from beyond the eastern horizon toward the setting sun.
She watched it till it disappeared into the sun-fire, hope dying gradually. The return of silence startled her. Shocked, and enormously depressed, she remembered again her fear of the door closing upon her.
She entered it hastily, closing it behind her, but not locking it. Before, she hadn’t noticed how cool and comfortable the "weather" was in the great room, nor had she been aware of the indirect lighting. Now her attention fastened eagerly on the evidences of mechanization. There must, she thought anxiously, be a basement, perhaps other underground floors. The electric power must have a source.
For a timeless period she searched for a second door, but succeeded only in tiring herself. She lay down on a couch which she discovered at one end of the room; and she was resting there when her darting gaze brought her awareness for the first time that each transparent compartment of the showcases had a little placard attached to it. A name was printed on the first one she examined; it read:

Morrison, John Laurance
257 Carrigut Street,
New York City.

The second one also had name, and nothing else. Virginia walked slowly along the line of compartments. She was at the N’s before it struck her that the compartments were ticketed in alphabetical order.
Her mind made a fantastic jump; and she rushed over to the P’s. She found the name she wanted instantly; and, having discovered it, stared at it blankly:

Patterson, Mrs. Philip
(Cecilia Dorothy)
Suite 2, Mayfair Apts.,
Crest City, California.

The blankness ended abruptly. With a gasp, she hurried over to the Grays. But Edgar wasn’t there. The only person with anything like his name was:

Grey, Percival Winfield,
3 Huntington Court,
West Tuttenham,
London, England.

Briefly calm, Virginia stood watching Percival’s heart as it beat on quietly. She was thinking:
But of course! Edgar was not one of them. He was a slave, held somehow in a thrall that included an utter inability to sleep.
After a little there seemed nothing to think about that. But another thought came, a thought so tremendous that her mind rejected it three times as she ran back toward the M section. But each time it came back stronger and more terrible.
She found the compartment she sought. The heart in it was slightly different from the others. It was beating steadily, but it had a small neat bandage over a portion of the flesh wall facing her. The placard on the glass was equally unmistakable:

Mention, Mrs. Norman (Virginia) . . .

Virginia Mention stared at the thing with avid eyes, like a bird fascinated by a monstrous reptile. A sound came from behind her, but she heard it only vaguely. It came again, and this time it snatched at her attention.
It was the sound of a man clearing his throat. A slow, quiet voice said, "Dr. Dorial Cranston at your service, madam."
Virginia had no memory of turning. Nor did she so much as think of the fact that she was in pajamas in front of a strange man.
The man standing before her was old; and he wasn’t at all what she had expected. Just what she had expected she couldn’t have said, but not a gentle face. Not a sad-looking, old, old man with tired blue eyes, who bowed gracefully, and spoke again, in the same oddly matter-of-fact way:
"The problem of keeping organs alive outside of the body was solved in various countries before, during and after the second great war. But the best work was done in Russia. I like particularly the various mechanical addenda, such as the autojector, which they brought to a high degree of perfection. Of course, in the preservation of the organs, I merely used the discoveries of the Russians and of the scientists of other nations. I’m a nerve man myself. I—"
It was at that point that Virginia found her voice. She had been standing staring glassily, but with her courage coming back instant by instant, her eyes brightening before the mildness, the obvious harmlessness of this old man. Yet, in spite of terrible relief, there was a tenseness in her, a need to know, unlike anything she had ever experienced in her life.
In a piercing voice, she cried, "But if this is my heart"—she jerked her arm with automatic stiffness toward the living flesh behind the glass—"what’s inside me now? What?"
The harmless old man looked suddenly cool and unfriendly. He said in a frigid voice:
"You were stabbed to death, weren’t you? Yet now you’re here talking to me. Don’t worry about what’s inside you. I took out a lot more than just your heart. Don’t bother searching for more operation cuts. I don’t work that way. Come over here."
Without waiting to see if she would follow, he turned and walked with the sedate bent-knees movement of age toward the back of the room. He touched something embedded in a narrow stretch of bare wall. A door swung noiselessly open, revealing a set of stairs leading downward.
The room below was as large as the one above; and it too was completely filled with glass cases. The contents of the compartments were various: hearts, lungs, liver-like organs; there was even a pancreas and a few pairs of kidneys.
All of the organs seemed alive. The lungs were definitely so. They expanded and contracted gently but with unmistakable strength and sureness.
The old man paused before a compartment containing a pair of lungs. He motioned wordlessly toward the placard attached to it. Virginia braced herself, as she stepped forward. The bracing helped. It was her own name.
Slowly she faced him. Her mind was clearer, fear a fading force. The reality was that she was alive. Beside that fact, all this had no meaning. She laughed harshly.
"Please stop playing games. What do you want, all of you?"
She had thought herself calm, but there was enough hysteria in her voice to shock her. That woman, she thought, that terrible woman had scared her. She found her voice again.
"Dr. Cranston," she said earnestly, "you look honest. What is all this? What has happened?"
The old man shrugged. "I’m afraid I don’t dare tell you anything but that these are your lungs, and the heart upstairs is your heart. An organ removed in its entirety does not involve serious damage to the nervous system of the body except at one or two key points, and those are easy to fix."
He looked at her. "I suppose you’ve been outside. I was prevented from coming back here as soon as I intended, so you’ve had time. I’m sorry about that. I’ve never been able to fix locks on those doors. They were smashed by a man whom I saved as I have you and who—" He paused. "Never mind.
"About the organs," he said. "After they killed you, I could do nothing but take them out. Your brain"—he turned to a nearby case—"is here. Mrs. Patterson was very thorough. After she had stabbed you to death, she used a long needle to pierce your brain through your ear, and she also pricked at your lungs.’ Her intention was to make certain that you would not be brought back to life in any normal fashion. She, and the others, have an idea that if I am forced to make replicas of themselves that I automatically create a recruit for them. So far"—he smiled grimly—"they have proved right."
He frowned, then reached briskly into his pocket, and produced a necklace with an intricate pendant suspended from it. He held it out.
"Here is your radio device. Whenever you want power, touch this little lever, and say into the pendant: ’Press button 243.’ That’s your number. Two four three. Don’t forget it. I’ll call it for you this time, so that you can get home."
He fastened the pendant around her neck, touched a tiny lever, and said: "Press button 243."
There was a pause; and then—she began to burn inside. It was so sharp, such a flame of agony that she cried out. Her breath came in quick gasps. She twisted. She started to run. But there was nowhere to run. The pain went with her, like a moving directed fire.
The conviction came that she was really dead; and that all that had gone before was a dream, a flashing kaleidoscope of unreality born out of the hideous pain of dying. Through a blur, Dr. Cranston’s voice came to her:
“. . . Very painful the first few times. But remember that your brain controls the power. When you think yourself insubstantial, that is how you will be. The moment you let go of the thought, you return automatically to a state of solidity. The power to do that wears off after a few hours, and requires recharging. I shall come with you as far as the outer walls of your apartment."

Virginia was in the apartment, and for long minutes babbling away to her husband, before realization finally came that she was not dead. That actually her situation was worse than that.
She must have been unconscious for a week, to have memory of only a few hours of waking.
By noon they were no further than that. She couldn’t stop talking. Twice, Mention persuaded her into bed, but each time when he went into the kitchen to mix her a drug, she was out from under the quilts and following him.
After the second time, the knowledge penetrated that he had a mentally sick woman on his hands. Above everything else, she needed rest, time to calm down.
He managed finally to give her the protein sleep drug, cadorin. But it was not until he lay down beside her that her voice grew drowsy; and she fell into a restless sleep.
He had time to wonder what he ought to do, now that she was back. He was still utterly divided two hours later, when she wakened tense and terrified.
"That woman," she began thickly. "She put a needle through my ear into my brain, and she pricked my lungs. She—"
"Many people have pierced eardrums," Mention suggested. "The important thing is she didn’t disfigure you."
The phrase had proved briefly magical a half dozen times before. It proved so now. The funny, mad look went out of her eyes. She lay quiet for a long time. So long that Professor Mention got worried.
He glanced at her cautiously. Her eyes were open, but staring, and narrowed with thought. For a minute, unobtrusively, he watched her. Then, slowly, he said:
"Apparently, what we have here is a gang, remorseless, murderous, infinitely evil. It was founded as the result of a neurological discovery of Dr. Dorial Cranston, but he himself is not one of the gang. Its political and material power seems indestructible. It’s too big; like a gigantic octopus it sprawls over the earth. But Cranston goes around trying within the pitiful limits of an old man’s strength to undo the damage done by the monsters he has created."
"Norman!"
The tone of her voice indicated to Mention that she had not heard a word he had said.
He spoke softly, "Yes, dear?"
"Norman, Dr. Cranston won’t live much longer. Do you realize that?"
He knew there must be a deeper meaning behind her words than just the fact. After a moment he thought he had it. He said, "You mean, then there will be no check on those devils."
Once again, she seemed oblivious to his words. Her tone was more urgent, intent.
"Norman, if he’s the only one who knows where that island is, then what will happen to my heart, and the hearts and organs of those others, after he dies? Surely, they won’t go on beating, living, without attention."
It was odd, but for a moment the words meant nothing to Mention, but that here was one more fear to soothe out of her tortured mind. He actually formed the calming words on his lips; and then he stopped himself.
He lay very still, mentally transfixed. That’s it! he thought. That’s their fear. They must be desperate. They’ll stop at nothing.
His mind leaped out over the possibilities. By evening he had still to come to a decision. It was amazingly hard to know what to do, what could be done, against such a vast organization.
The days strode by while he stood moveless in his mental valley of indecision. Each day Mention told himself, Surely, today something will happen. They’ll do something, show in some way why they did all this to us.
Virginia returned to work. A whole month passed. It was a week after that that Mention walked into the apartment one afternoon—just as Virginia stepped through the wall and materialized in the hallway.
She was radiant. She glowed. There were times in the past when he had seen her alive and excited. But never like this. Her body was vibrant; it seemed to cast off an aura inhuman in its power. Almost literally, her face glowed.
Mention stared at her; and slowly her richly tinted cheeks lost their natural color. It was their day for eating in. Without a word Virginia turned, and hurried into the kitchen.
Two hours later, when the radiance of her had faded to normal intensity, Mention looked up from the newspaper, and said quietly, "Virginia."
She jumped; then, "Yes?"
"How often have you done that?"
She was visibly agitated. It struck Mention with a shock that, in some curious way, she had hoped he wouldn’t refer to what had happened. Her lips twitched. She said finally in a low voice:
"That was the first time."
She was not, he thought, used to lying. So that the lie was as transparent as a child’s. He felt sick; then in automatic defense of her, told himself that she had never recovered from her experience.
He said gently, "Why did you do it?"
She seemed relieved that he had accepted her statement. She began eagerly:
"I wanted to see how it worked, partly because being able to do it might prove a defense against them; and I couldn’t remember what it had been like the first time. I was too excited then, and besides it hurt terribly."
"And this time?" Steadily.
"It didn’t hurt. I felt alive, warm, wonderful. After a while I wished myself insubstantial, and it was so; then I stepped through the wall, simultaneously wishing myself in the alley behind the Herald office—and there I was. I felt no sensation. The movement through space was instantaneous."
Her eyes were wide as they gazed into his. Briefly, all fear was gone out of them.
"Norman, it’s miraculous, godlike. It’s—"
"Why not try, Mention said, "to wish yourself on the island? I’d like to have a talk with Dr. Cranston."
Virginia shook her head vigorously. "It’s impossible. I don’t mean I tried to go there. But I made several attempts to go to places I’d never been; and nothing happened. You have to know the direction and you have to be able to visualize the place. You have to know where it is you’re going."
Mention nodded slowly. "I see," he said.
He let the subject drop, but he thought wearily, This is what they’re waiting for: to let the reality of her situation sink into her. To allow her time to grasp that she is in the same box as they are.
But why? What did they want of her? They had started off by killing her because she had made some minor discoveries about them. Then, when Cranston interfered with the finality of their murder, they had warned Virginia’s husband not to go to the police. They wanted something; and now that they had gotten Virginia to experimenting with the power they had given her, it shouldn’t take long before they showed their hand.
He glanced up at Virginia. She was sitting, gazing into space, her eyes half closed. Mention felt a sudden, enormous unease.

It was ten o’clock that night when the doorbell rang jarringly. Mention glanced at Virginia, and then stood up.
"We won’t be getting friendly visitors at this hour," he said. "Better call Edgar, and tell him to press button 243. No use taking chances."
He waited until she had spoken into the wrist radio, then slipped the Luger into his pocket, and went to the door. It was a messenger boy with a letter. The letter read:

Wednesday the 23rd.
Will Professor and Mrs. Mention come Friday evening at seven to a dinner party in the main dining room at the Grand York Hotel? Give your name to the maitre d’hôtel.
Cecilia Patterson.

There was one thought that dominated all others in Mention’s mind, as he read the letter: action was beginning. If ever he intended to do something not of their choosing, the time had come.
He spent the night thinking, straining for a clue. He was in the middle of a lecture the next morning when comprehension came as easily and quietly as life to a newborn puppy.
He stood very still, staring at the class, but seeing only a blur of faces.
Why, he thought in a great wonder, it’s been there before our eyes ever since Virginia came back. What blind fools we’ve been not to realize.
Not until he was on his way home did he realize what he must do about it.

He left his bedroom window open.
He waited until the illuminated dials of his watch pointed at two. He dressed silently, shoes and all, then waited until a streetcar moaned past along a nearby street. He let the outside sound clothe any sounds he might make in moving to the window.
The drop from the second story window jarred his bones, but the softness of the earth in the flower garden below saved him from injury.
There was a twenty-four hour U-Drive-It garage three blocks away. Half an hour after leaving his room, Mention slipped into the theater seat beside Edgar Gray.
"All right, Edgar," he said quietly. "You’re wanted. Come along."
"Glug goo?" said Edgar in a whispered fear.
"Come along!" hissed Mention threateningly. And flashed his Luger.
Edgar came. Mention drove out into the country, and parked finally in an open stretch of farmer’s roadway, off the main highway.
He didn’t switch off the motor, and he left the gear in second, and kept his foot on the clutch—just in case. But he knew he was safe. Even they couldn’t be everywhere.
The idea of using Edgar for his purpose seemed cleverer every minute that passed. There were two problems in connection with him: one was to get him to talk in an understandable fashion; the other was to see to it that Edgar told no one of this meeting and its results.
It was the first problem that proved difficult. But after half an hour it began to solve itself. Mention found that he was beginning to understand Edgar’s gloppings. Behind all his incoherent glugs and glibbers, Edgar spoke English.
Mention expected little from the questioning phase of the interview; and that was exactly what he got.
The mind of Edgar was a misty region, but the darkness lacked depth. If a human brain could be compared to a book, then Edgar’s was a magazine of the more lurid sort. But he was almost completely lacking in personal experiences.
An orphan from babyhood, he had spent the first fifteen years of his life within the walls and behind the fences of an institution. At fifteen, they had picked him up, and put him behind the enormous glass window of the Futurian Scientific Laboratories, and he had been there ever since.
"But," asked Mention, puzzled, "you have been treated, so that you don’t need sleep. When was that done?"
"When they took out my heart," Edgar mumbled, "and my lungs and my brain and other things, they said I wouldn’t need sleep anymore. They do that to people they want to control.’
"Yet," Mention thought precisely, "Virginia sleeps normally. There are variations and variations to this business."
Edgar finished simply: "I was scared at first but"—his voice tightened with hate—"the woman whipped me a couple of times, and then I didn’t dare not do as they wanted."
It was the suppressed fury in Edgar’s voice whenever he talked of "the woman" that solved the second problem.
"Listen, Edgar," Mention said earnestly. "I’m on your side against that woman. When I get through with her, she’ll never whip you again; and you’ll have a chance to do all the things you’ve ever wanted to do."
That last was important. A youth who read as much escapist literature as Edgar must be absolutely maddened with the desire to go places and do things.
"Listen," said Mention, "here’s what I want you to do. Tomorrow night at twelve o’clock, a jet plane leaves here for Los Angeles. At one thirty A.M. a rocket ship leaves Los Angeles. I want you to be on that jet and make the connection with the rocket."
"Me on a rocket ship," gurgled Edgar ecstatically.
"You’ll be back in time for work; so don’t worry about that. Here’s some money, and a notebook containing exact instructions as to, what you are to do. I’ve even left spaces for the answers I want you to write down."
He handed over the notebook and the money, and watched Edgar slip the former into his breast pocket, the latter into a billfold. Edgar’s fingers shook with excitement.
Mention trembled too, but it was not excitement. He felt cold and hot by turns as he thought of Edgar having that notebook all day long. If they ever got hold of it—
Mention shivered, and drew his gun. He made his voice hard and cold.
"Edgar, take one last look at this. If you fail me in any way; if you don’t do this job, and do it right, I’ll use this gun on you. Understand!"
In the dim light of the dashboard, Edgar’s eyes glowed with understanding.
"Glug goo!" gulped Edgar.

Mention taught at the university as usual the next day. It was during the noon hour that he put through his phone call.
"Tell her," he curtly informed the male servant who answered, "that it’s Professor Mention."
A minute later, a woman’s voice glowed on the phone. Mention said, "Mrs. Patterson, I wish to change the hour of our dinner from seven to midnight. I believe the Grand York holds late dances every night, so there will be no difficulty about getting the service.”
“The reason?"
Mention laughed curtly. "Do I have to give one? All I’ll say is, my wife and I won’t come unless you agree. You do! Very well."
He felt grimly pleased, as he hung up. It was risky; it would make them suspicious. But Edgar’s movements would now be as free from watchful eyes as the precautions of one man could make them. There were only three dangers now:
First, that it didn’t matter what he did. Second, that he was not really fooling them at all. Third—
Nitwit Edgar himself.

They were led to a table where four men, one of them Torrance, and five women, one of them blonde Mrs. Patterson, were already seated. The men stood up. The women ceased their animated talking, and looked them over curiously.
Their faces shone with unmistakable extra life. All nine, men and women both, almost literally glittered with power. The table was the center of attraction. People kept glancing over from nearby tables in fascinated awareness.
Mention felt drab and lifeless beside them, as he sank into one of the two empty chairs, but it was a physical feeling only. Mentally, he had never been more alive, more determined.
Convince Virginia, he thought, that she had nothing in common with these creatures. Gain information. And give Edgar time to get safely started on his long, swift trip. Those were his purposes.
The anxious hope came that Edgar had not been drained of strength to provide the glittering life that these people now paraded.
It was worrying. Picturing the possibilities made eating his fruit cocktail an effort. In the end he could not contain himself. It was Torrance who answered his carefully worded question:
"No, the Edgars in our power centers are not ’batteries.’ They’re transmitters. The word negative is the key. Every time somebody passes the great plate window behind which Edgar sits, there is a tiny flow from them to him, but he can’t use it. Where Edgar’s internal organs—and mine and your wife’s—used to be, are now electronic impulsors largely made from tantalum. One difference is that Edgar is negative. Your wife and the others and myself are positive. Is that clear?"
It sounded like Yogi mouthings. But apparently he was going to be given information. He flashed his next question. Torrance answered promptly.
"There are two hundred forty-three of us including your wife. Of course," he went on, "we’re only the executive central. We own immense property, and have tens of thousands of employees, including the people we have had watching you and your wife."
He laughed. But Mention was not amused. The personal words had come so unexpectedly that he swallowed hard. He forced his tense nerves to relax. Only what he had done last night mattered, he told himself unsteadily. And because of his precautions, no one, absolutely no one, had followed him. He was sure of that.
It was clear, though, that the man was playing with him: It startled him. It brought awareness of how tremendous was the power these people must believe themselves to possess.
He felt shocked into studying for the first time the faces around the table.
He had thought the four men were handsome, and the five women regular streamlined beauties. In a way that first impression was not wrong.. Even now, examined intently, all nine, men and women alike, showed themselves to be well formed physically, a quality enhanced by the fact that they were marvelously well dressed and marvelously well groomed.
At that point the beauty ended like a road snapped off by the gap in a bombed-out bridge.
Those finely formed faces were chiseled masks of hardness. Merciless, inhuman hardness. Here was an innate cruelty that only Death personified could equal. Their eyes were slate-blue and slate-gray and slate-brown. Their lips were uniformly thin and compressed.
That was the under-layer. Superimposed, dominating, crowning each countenance was arrogance, supreme and terrible arrogance.
There was no question at all. They did believe in their power.
Mention ate his soup course, fighting for calm. He stole a glance at Virginia, but she was staring down at her plate. She had, he saw, taken very few spoonfuls.
He thought darkly, in surprise, that nobody was saying anything. The only words they had spoken so far had been in answer to his questions.
He saw that Torrance was smiling enigmatically.
Stronger grew Mention’s conviction that he was being toyed with. And yet, up to now, he had lost nothing, had actually gained information.
That course couldn’t be dangerous. He asked his next question. As before, it was Torrance who answered, and with the same promptness, the same apparent honesty.
"You’re right, there wasn’t much about Cranston’s discovery in his books, mainly because he hadn’t discovered very much when he wrote them. And my biography of him was written to kid him along at a time when we were building up our organization."
He paused. "Don’t forget, in thinking of Cranston and his work, that he’s a nut. For instance, it was not until he discovered that his idea of spreading good will by universal physical contacts was not going to be given a trial that he conceived the idea that artificially magnified nervous energy might do what he required—without contact.
"Never did a theory of a man fall on a smoother, rounder surface. That ball is rolling yet.
"Within the short space of one year, Dr. Cranston had found that an interflow of energy took place every time two or more human beings came near each other. It was a genuine transference of life force, but it needed magnification before it would have the same effect as physical contact. Accordingly, he engaged a first-rate electronic engineer—myself—to develop a tube and a circuit which not only magnified the organic energy, as he called it, but which could tune each individual’s wavelength at will.
"An improvised version of that original circuit is now inside your wife keeping her—connected—to the hearts, lungs and brains in Dr. Cranston’s secret laboratory."
He gazed earnestly at Mention. "Cranston has never explained to me why it is necessary for the organs to be outside the body, except to say that there must be a flow over distance. Yet at the same time there is no distance. The blood, the nervous energy, every breath of air we take is pumped, flows and is purified by the organs in those glass cases of his. If anything happens to those organs, we’ll die.."
Mention hadn’t intended to speak. But this was what he had wanted to know. All his doubts had writhed around the one point of those human organs in Dr. Cranston’s island laboratory.
And they were connected. They were. Nut, the old fanatic might be. But he had these Machiavellians in the palms of his two hands.
But why—the wonder was a savage force—why hadn’t Cranston used his control and destroyed the whole lustful crew?
That was the question that burst from Mention’s lips. And Torrance, his eyes like gray-diamond drills, answered from between clenched teeth:
"Because he can’t bring himself to kill. Because he’s a bug on pacifism as no one ever has been. Think! His whole discovery, this tremendous discovery, is based upon his emotional desire to find a practical method of spreading good will.
"That emotionalism is our deadly danger. It makes it possible for him to fool himself. It’s true he can’t bring himself to kill us. But he’s seventy-eight years old. Not old as ages go nowadays, yet well over the average life expectancy.
"He could, literally, die any day. He stubbornly refuses to recognize that possibility. He won’t permit our doctors to examine him. In some queer way, he’s convinced himself that if he dies, and we don’t find our organs in time, then he won’t really be responsible for our deaths.
"How did he get them in the first place? Man, who’d ever suspect that an old fool like that would be so cunning. He performed all the operations except his own. And somehow he must have become suspicious of us."
Torrance was utterly intent now, his gray gaze so concentrated that Mention had the impression of two blazing lights shining at his face.
"Mention, we must locate that laboratory. We must gain control of our vital organs.
"That is where your wife comes in."
Torrance paused.
There was no question but that he had come to his point.
"You see, professor," he went on softly, "every time we discover that someone suitable to our purpose is investigating us, we wait until we think they know enough to take the shock of revival. It is amazing how little knowledge is required, and yet how important it is; dozens of people whom we simply picked up on the street went insane on us.
"Anyway, we kill the investigator at the right moment, then transport the dead body to Dr. Cranston’s home.
"Here again, care is necessary. The old man tires quickly these days. And when he is tired his emotional mind convinces itself easily that there is nothing he can do.
"So we found it was useless to bring him too many bodies.
"Under normal circumstances, however, the poor old fool can’t stand to see people dead when he knows he can do something for them. He is particularly partial to"—smilingly, Torrance bowed at Virginia—"to beautiful women. And, even though he is aware of our purpose in bringing the corpses to him, he has reached a state of mind where he doesn’t care. He feels hopeless, defeated by our enormous organization.
"Accordingly, over a period of time, we have built up a picture of the surroundings of his hiding place. We know that it is on an island, somewhere in a tropical zone. Your wife, we hope, will be able to tell us some little point more. Since her own life is at stake, she will, I am sure, be glad to tell us all she can."
Torrance stopped. He looked at Virginia, then at Mention with a strange imperturbability.
"Is everything clear now?" he finished.
"Yes," said Mention.
He felt a relentless rage. It was not the host of murders that did it, though the probable number of them did blurring things to his mind. It was not even Virginia. Thought of her predicament only made him feel cold and sick and afraid. It was the old man, the use being made of an old man and his idealism.
The ruination of an old man’s wonderful crazy dream shook the very life within him. Mention felt abruptly fortified to the depths of his soul. And, just like that, he knew with an implacable determination exactly what he must do to these people, if ever the opportunity came.,
Funny how long it had taken him to realize that, quite by chance, Virginia possessed all the clues to the location of the island.
They couldn’t know yet the extent of her knowledge.
They mustn’t know.
Mention said in his steadiest voice, "My wife woke up in Cranston’s laboratory and Cranston was there. She had no time to look around, because he brought her straight home. And that, if you don’t mind, is where she and I will start for now."
He pushed his chair away from the table, then hesitated, glancing at Virginia.
There was a brief silence; and then one of the blondes, not Mrs. Patterson, laughed harshly. "I notice, Professor Mention, that your wife is not making any move to follow you. Is it something she intends to remember having seen something?"
It was a possibility that had already occurred to Mention.
It was up to her.
Slowly, Mention gathered his forces. He looked at Virginia, and saw that her face was sheet-white. Her lips trembled, as her glance met his—and then she looked away.
Mention said urgently, "Virginia!"
Once more, she looked at him. There were tears in her eyes.
"Virginia, you’ve heard what these people have to say. And it isn’t what you know or don’t that’s at stake at all. It’s, are you going to become one of them, or are you not?
"Don’t make your decision now.
"There must be things we can do. Surely Dr. Cranston can be reached, if we persevere. I’m certain, if we could talk to him, that he’d finally make up his mind to kill these creatures. He’s been isolated. He must be made to see that his life’s work can yet be rescued from these human rats, these mass killers, these—"
He paused. He whirled on Torrance. "How many," he rasped, "how many human beings do you kill every year for their internal organs?"
"About five thousand," said Torrance without hesitation. "Mostly orphans, poor people who move around a lot, and families without relatives."
"Uh!" blinked Mention.
He hadn’t expected an answer. He had flung the question to point up a grim aspect of these people’s activities. Now, he felt torn from his train of thought.
"Five thousand!" he echoed.
The total was bigger than he had ever thought. It shocked him. He had believed himself hardened to anything that might come out in this deadly interview. And he wasn’t.
He felt nausea. With a titanic effort, he caught hold of himself. Realization came that there was nothing he could say that would add any emphasis to the sum itself.
He did speak, however. He said wanly, "The defense rests." He looked at Virginia—and she smiled at him through tears. It was a dreary smile. But a smile!
"Oh, you poor fool," she said. "You don’t have to argue with me. You don’t have to prove anything to me. There’s evil here, beyond description. Evil of that curious advanced kind, which is only amused by the word and the realization. Look at them!"
She waved one hand, futilely. Mention had already looked. The nine faces were twisted in nine variations of sardonic amusement. Virginia’s voice burned on:
"It’s become like the evil of the universe, beyond the power of individuals to resist, with one exception. Only Dr. Frankenstein can destroy the monster he has created.
"The rest of us can but try to save our loved ones from the deadly elements. Oh, Norman, don’t you see—"
"I see," said Mention harshly, "that you’re thinking of giving in."
"Norman," she said whitely, "they’ve been too frank. They’ve told us so much that it’s obvious they don’t care what we know. Don’t you see what that means?"
"You’re thinking of yourself when you say that," Mention said.
"Am I?" She looked at Torrance. "Am I?"
Torrance said, "Your wife is smarter tonight than you are, Mention. You see, she is safe. Cranston will somehow see to it that no harm befalls the few of us he thinks worth saving."
He turned toward Virginia. "If you start talking before two minutes have passed, you and your husband can go home. You will never again be bothered by us. And if we gain control of the organs, we guarantee that no harm shall befall yours. Naturally, we prefer that everybody with power should join us."
He looked down at his watch. "We do not make promises lightly, having no need for lies. It is now seventeen minutes to one. You have two minutes."
Virginia parted her lips as if to speak, and then she caught Mention’s gaze. And closed them again.
She sat staring at him like a hypnotized bird.
"Don’t you dare," Mention almost hissed. "In the war, we discovered that there’s no compromising with such things as these. Their word isn’t worth the uttering. If you have any information we’ll use it to destroy them."
Even now, he mustn’t let them guess that they did have the information.
Torrance said drably, "The two minutes is up."
He whirled on Virginia. "You fool!" he said coldly. "You’ve let him condemn himself to death. At this moment," he went on icily, "you may consider that your husband has one year to live. A minute from now, it will be fifty-one weeks, and so on. If at the end of fifty-two minutes you still haven’t started talking, we shall kill him within the next few days.
"In any event he’s a dead man. You can save him fora year. That’s final. Mrs. Mention, start talking."
Mention climbed to his feet. "Virginia," he said roughly, "let’s go."
Torrance reached up, and caught his arm. "Sit down, you idiot."
Mention smashed him in the face.
He felt incredulous the moment he had done it, astounded at his foolishness. But by then, the uproar had begun.
The waiters who carried Mention outside were not gentle. Nor were they slow. Mention succeeded in shouting once, "Virginia, don’t you dare!" And then he struck the sidewalk with a hard plop.
After ten minutes, Virginia had still not come out.
The minutes dragged. Twice mention tried to go in. But the doormen were on the watch for him.
"Not tonight, Mac," one of them said. "You’ve had one too many."
It was Torrance who brought Virginia out. The man looked triumphant.
"The West Indies!" he exulted. "What luck that she went out just as one of the rare twenty-jet planes passed, and that she noticed it was mid-afternoon there, but nearly noon when she got back to California. The continental time differences work in beautifully. We’ve got the old scoundrel at last."
He looked at Mention coolly. "It’s too bad you’re a returned man. We’re really indifferent as to whether you live or die, but we’ve discovered that men who were officers in the army, navy or air force do not cooperate with us even to the extent of just minding their own business."
He finished: "Your wife talked after twenty-five minutes, and she didn’t start to tell the truth till we took her upstairs to a lie detector. You’ll be feeling a knife at the end of the allotted time—after which we’ll force your wife to join us. Goodbye."
He walked back into the hotel, with Mention’s Luger pointing at him all the way. At last, gloomily, Mention took his hand out of the gun pocket.
"I don’t dare," he said. "Killing one wouldn’t do any good. Besides, I can’t afford to spend the night in jail."
Beside him, Virginia said dully, "I’m sorry, Norman."
"I’m sorry, too," Mention replied gently, "for what I said to you before."
She spoke again, but this time he didn’t hear. There was a clock above the ornate entrance of the hotel. Its hands showed twenty minutes to two. Mention stared at them, and calculated.
The Los Angeles-Miami rocket was only ten minutes out from its glitteringly showy launching run. It would be thirty-five minutes yet before Edgar arrived in Miami and started his inquiries.
By then, Torrance and the others, having flashed the "nerve power" way to Florida, would be on their way to the island by the fastest jet plane available.

He made sure they weren’t followed, by taking three different taxis to the airport.
They were on the three thirty rocket from Los Angeles to Miami. There was one chance, Mention realized, as he sank deeper into the cushions from the enormous acceleration. One chance.
Virginia had been to the island. Torrance and those eight veterans of the organization who had attended the dinner hadn’t.
When he told Virginia his plan, she stared at him somberly. She said bleakly, "Suppose Edgar started home on the quarter to three, Los Angeles time, rocket."
"I don’t believe it," Mention said flatly. "For years Edgar has palpitated for adventure. He’ll stay till a quarter to five L. A. time, as I advised him to. But he won’t go far afield. He’s not that bold, not yet."
They found Edgar in one corner of the waiting room, reading a magazine.
He handed over the notebook. There were four twenty-jet planes a day in the West Indies, he gobbled, all on the same route, every six hours in both directions.
He led the way to an enormous wall map of the West Indies.
The route was marked in a white line in bold relief; and there was a tiny island shown at the probable time point.
In the city directory, Mention located the Miami Futurian Science Laboratories. A taxi took Virginia, Edgar and himself there. A brick cracked the glass, then sent it shattering to the sidewalk.
"Get in there, Edgar!" Mention urged. "Press button 243. And then beat it back to the airport."
Two minutes later, as the early morning sun burst through a fleecy bank of low clouds, Mention drew a radiantly powered Virginia into a doorway.
"Darling!" he said. "This is it!"
He went on doggedly: "It must work. They transported you to Cranston’s home when you were just a dead body. And Cranston took you to the island in the same way. That radio impulsor inside you must build a force field all around you when you’re ’charged.’ If they could move you, then you can take me along now."
He saw the expression on her face. He said earnestly, "Don’t forget, you’ve been there. And you know the way at last." He pointed eastward. "The island is over there. Visualize the hill you stood on that day when you came out of Dr. Cranston’s underground laboratory. You can. I know you can."
He felt her stiffen with decision. "Hold me close!" she whispered. He felt her vibrant body press against his, responsively.
Somewhere nearby an Irishman began to curse in annoyance, something about a window having been broken on his beat, b’gorra.
The officer’s voice was cut off curiously. There was a sudden tingling inside Mention, thrillingly sharp. And sustained.
The sensation ended. He was standing in a room lined with glass cases, staring at an old man, who confronted them with an ax in one hand and a revolver in the other.
"I have a little system," Dr. Cranston said in a queer, tired voice. "I phone Torrance up. If I can’t get in touch with him, I come here, just in case he’s up to something."
He lowered the gun wearily. "Just when I’d half convinced myself that I would kill the first person who came in here, in barge two innocent people."
Mention did not hesitate. This was the man who could fool himself about things like responsibility for death.
He was going to have the chance.
Mention stepped forward and took the gun from the old man’s unresisting hand.
"I’d like you," he said, "to hand me the ax of your own free will."
Dr. Cranston shrugged wearily. "There’s nothing else I can do."
He handed over the ax. He looked suddenly cheerful. "I suppose there’s nothing I can say that will prevent you from doing what you have in mind?"
"You can," said Mention grimly, "indicate those cases which you think can be left intact. And don’t indicate too many." When Mention finally put the ax aside, twenty-three compartments remained unshattered.

8. THE CHRONICLER


CHAPTER I.

BEFORE THE CORONER’S JURY
STATEMENT OF THOMAS BARRON

MY NAME is Thomas Barron. For nine years I have been a partner in the brokerage firm of Slade & Barron. I never suspected Michael Slade was abnormal. He was a strong character, and I always thought him rather a superior individual.
I saw him a dozen times after the car accident that precipitated events, mostly in connection with my purchase of his share of the business. He gave me no inkling of anything wrong, and I have no idea what actually happened.

The crash was over, the car neatly turned on its top. Slade sprawled dizzily on his back, conscious that he had lost his glasses. Something warm trickled from his forehead into his left eye.
He wiped it away, and saw with a start that it was blood. He mustered a smile for his wife, who was sitting up. He said:
"Well, we survived. I don’t know what happened. The steering gear broke, I think."
He stopped, Miriam was close enough for his nearsighted eyes, even without glasses, to see that she was gazing at him in mixed horror and alarm.
"Michael, your forehead—the soft spot! It’s torn, bleeding, and—Michael, it’s an eye."
Slade felt blank. Almost automatically, he bent towards the rear-view mirror, tilting it upwards to catch his head. The skin was torn raggedly starting about an inch from the hairline, and coming down about two inches.
A third eye was plainly visible.
The eyelid of it was closed by a surplus of sticky matter, but abruptly he grew aware that it was pulsing with a vague perception of light.
It began to hurt.

LOCAL MAN HAS THREE EYES

A car accident, which tore a layer of skin from the forehead of Michael Slade yesterday revealed that the young business executive has three eyes. Mr. Slade, when interviewed in the hospital, where he was taken by a passing motorist, seemed in good spirits, but could offer no reason for his possession of a third eye. "I always had that soft spot in my forehead," he said. "The eye itself seems to be a thoroughly useless appendage. I can’t imagine Nature’s purpose."
He admitted that it was very likely that he would have the skin grafted into place again. "People," he said, "go to sideshows to see freaks. Otherwise they don’t like to look at them."
The discovery of a three-eyed man in this small city caused a buzz of interest in local scientific circles. At Technical High, Mr. Arthur Trainor, biology teacher, suggested that it was either a mutation, or else that a third eye was once common to human beings, and this is a retrogression. He felt, however, that the latter possibility was controverted by the fact that two eyes were normal throughout the entire animal world. There was, of course, the gland known as the pineal eye.
Dr. Joseph McIver, eye specialist, thought that it would be an interesting experiment to bring all three eyes back to perfect vision. He agreed that this would be difficult, since Mr. Slade’s third eye has a bare perception of light, and also because the famous eye training systems now in existence have a hard enough time getting two imperfect eyes back to focus together and work perfectly.
"Nevertheless," Dr. McIver concluded, "the human brain is a strange and wonderful machine. When it is relaxed, everything balances. But when it is tensed for any reason, eye, ear, stomach and other organic troubles begin."
Mrs. Slade, whom our reporter tried to interview, could not be reached.

BEFORE THE CORONER’S JURY
STATEMENT OF MRS. M. SLADE

My name is Miriam, Leona Crenshaw. I am the former Mrs. Michael Slade. I divorced Mr. Slade and have legal right to use my maiden name. I met Michael Slade about six years ago, and had no suspicion that he was anything but a normal individual.
I saw my husband only twice after the car accident that revealed his abnormality. The first time it was to plead with him to change his mind about keeping all his three eyes visible. But he had been profoundly influenced by a comment in the press by a local eye specialist concerning the possibility that he might recover the vision of his three eyes. And he felt that publicity had then been so widespread that any attempt at deception was useless.
This determination was the sole reason for our separation, and it was to sign the separation papers that I saw him the second time.
I know nothing special of subsequent events. I did not even look at the body. Its crushed condition having been described to me, I refused to view it.

Slade sat palming and glancing at the Snellen charts, waiting for the eye specialist.
The sun was shining down on the chart, but he himself was in shadow, and comfortably ensconced in an easy-chair. Relaxation, that was the secret.
Only, after nearly three months of doing it on his own from books, his progress had been comparatively tiny.
Footsteps crunched on the walk. Slade looked up at the eye specialist curiously. Dr. McIver was a tall gray-haired man of fifty-five or so; that much was visible to Slade without glasses.
The doctor said: "Your man told me I would find you here."
He did not wait for a reply, but stood at ease, looking across the lawn at the three charts, respectively five, ten and twenty feet from the chair in which Slade sat.
"Well," he said, "I see you’re familiar with the principles of eye training. I wish a billion more people would realize how satisfactory it is to have a light of ten thousand candlepower shining from the sky into their back yards. I think," he confided, "before I die I shall become a sun worshiper!"
Slade found himself warming to the man. He had been a little doubtful, when he had phoned Dr. McIver, about inviting even a specialist into his problem. But his doubts began to fade.
He explained his trouble. After nearly three months his third eye could see the ten-foot line at one foot, but with each additional foot that he drew back from the chart, its vision became worse out of all proportion to the extra distance. At three feet he could barely see the two-hundred-foot C.
"In other words," Dr. McIver said, "it’s largely mental now. Your mind is suppressing images with which it is familiar, and you can be almost certain that it is suppressing them because it has been in the habit of doing so."
He turned, and began to unpack his bag. "Let’s see," he said confidently, "if we can’t persuade it to give in."
Slade could literally feel himself relaxing before the glowing positivities of this man. This was what he needed. For long now, tensions must have been building up inside him. Unconsciously he must be resenting his slow progress.
"A few questions first," said Dr. McIver, straightening with a retinoscope in his hand: "Have you been reading fine print every day? Can you ’swing’ the letters? Have you accustomed your eyes to direct sunlight? O.K.! Let’s begin with the right eye without palming."
Slade was able to read at twenty feet the line that should have been visible at fifty. He was aware of McIver standing eight feet away studying his eye through the retinoscope. The eye specialist nodded finally.
"Vision of right eye 20/50. Astigmatism of two diopters." He added; "Do you practice looking at dominoes?"
Slade nodded. Up to a point he had made considerable progress with the muscle imbalance that caused the astigmatism which affected all three of his eyes.
"Left eye next," said Dr. McIver. And a little later: "Vision 20/70, astigmatism of 3 diopters."
"Center eye, vision 3/200, astigmatism of 11 diopters. Now palm."
Palming produced long flashes of 20/20 vision in his right and left eyes, and a bare instant of 5/70 vision in his center eye.
"I think," said Dr. McIver, "we shall start by trying for a better illusion of black. What you see may seem black to your imagination, but you’re fooling yourself. Afterwards, we’ll do some whipping and shifting, and bounce a few tennis balls."
He fumbled in his bag, and came up with a roll of black materials. Slade recognized a black fur piece, black wool, black cotton, a square of black cardboard, black silk, a piece of black metal, a hand-engraved ebony ornament, and a variety of familiar black items including a plastic fountain pen, a bow tie, and a small book with a black cover.
"Look them over," McIver said. "The mind cannot remember any shade of black more than a few seconds. Palm, and switch your imagination from one to the other of these items."

After half an hour, Slade had improved noticeably the vision of each eye. He could see the large C with his third eye at twenty feet, and the R and B below it were recognizable blurs. But perfect vision was still a long, long way off.
"Again, palm," said Dr. McIver. This time he went on talking softly as Slade closed his eyes. "Black is black is black. There is no black but black. Black, pure, unadulterated black is black black."
It was nonsense with a pattern of reason in it. Slade found himself smiling, as he visualized the black in the various articles that McIver had placed on his lap. Black, he thought, black, wherefore art thou, black?
As simply as that it came. Black as black as the black of a moonless, starless night, black as printer’s ink, black as all the black that the mind of man ever conceived. The black.
He opened his center eye, and saw the ten line on the twenty-foot chart. He blinked, but it was still there as bright and black as the print itself. Startled, he opened the other two eyes. And still there was no blurring. With 20/10 vision in all three of his eyes he looked around his back yard.
He saw!

At first, the fence and the other residences and the charts and all the shrubbery remained as a part of the scene. It was like looking at two pictures, with one super-imposed upon the other, like two images coming through two different sets of eyes. But images of different scenes.
The familiar one—his own back yard, and the hill to the right and the rooftops of his neighbors that made up his horizon—had the effect of blurring the other, stranger scene.
Gradually, however, its outlines pushed through. To his left, where the house fell away into a large shallow depression, was an enormous expanse of marsh, thick with brilliant growth. To his right, where the hill had always hidden his view, were scores of caves with fires burning at their openings.
The smoke from the fires rose up in curling tongues of black and gray, and intensified the blur that already half hid the Morton and Gladwander mansions, which dominated the hill. They kept fading, fading. And now, Slade saw that the hill with the caves was somewhat higher and steeper than the hill with the houses. There was a wide ledge that ran along in front of the caves. And it was on this ledge that he suddenly noticed something else.
Human beings! They moved around, now bending over pots that hung above the fires, now adding wood to the fires, or disappearing into the caves, and then emerging again. There were not many, and most of them had long hair characteristic of woman, or else they were small and childlike. Their primitive clothes—clearly visible even at this distance—made the reality of them unnatural.
Slade sat there. He had a remote impulse to get up, but it was too soon yet for reaction or even understanding. At last memory came that this was happening as a result of improvement in his vision; and the lightning thought followed: What in the name of sanity had happened?
It was too vague as yet, the tugging amazement, and besides there was still the scene of the cave dwellers becoming clearer and clearer to his vision. The houses and his own yard were just shimmering images, like fading mirages, like things dimly seen through an all-enveloping haze.
For the first time Slade realized that his eyes had been straining to hold those two scenes, but that the strain was lessening, as the second one took stronger and stronger hold of his attention.
The paralysis left him. Quite automatically, he stood up.
He noted, with enormous and developing interest, that, where the marsh ended, a rolling meadow began, spotted here and there with bright splashes of gigantic flowering shrubs, and in the distance trees that looked amazingly tall.
Everything was as clear and bright as a summer sun could make it. A warm, glowing wilderness, almost untouched by man, spread before him. It was like a fairy land, and he stared and stared.
At last, with wondering delight, he turned to look at the other horizon—and the girl must have started the same instant around the tree that was there.
She was tall and very straight. She must have been intending to swim in the stream that babbled into the marsh a few yards away because, except for a rather ornamental silvery belt around her waist, she had no clothes on.
She had three eyes, and all three of them appraised Slade with amazement but without a shade of embarrassment. There was something else in her manner that was not so prepossessing, even a little repellent. It was the dominating look of a woman accustomed to think only of herself. He had time to realize that she was older than she looked.
The woman’s eyes were narrowing. She spoke in a violin-toned contralto, meaningless words, but offensively sharp in tone.
She began to fade. The trees, the great marsh, the hill, partly visible to his left now, faded perceptibly. A house showed through her body, and all around, the earth as he had known it for years took swift form.
Suddenly, there was the yard, and himself standing beside his chair. There was Dr. McIver, his back to Slade, peering around the corner of the house. The eye specialist turned, and his face lighted as he saw Slade.
"Where did you go?" he asked. "I turn my back, and you’re off without a word."
Slade made no immediate reply. The pain in his eyes was like a fire.
It burned and burned.

BEFORE THE CORONER’S JURY
STATEMENT OF DR. McIVER

I had personal contact with Michael Slade over a period of about two and a half months. For an hour a day I assisted him with his eye training. It was a slow process, as, after apparently recovering the first day, he had an unusually sharp retrogression.
When I asked him about any particular effects he had observed during his brief spell of good vision he hesitated a long time, and then shook his head.
At the end of ten weeks his third eye had a normal vision of only 10/400. He decided then that he was going to take a holiday on his farm at Canonville, in the hope that his childhood surroundings would relax his mind, and so effect a cure.
I understand he later returned to his home, but I did not see him again until I was called to identify his smashed body in the morgue.

CHAPTER II.

THE FIRST day on the farm! It was distinctly cooler. A September breeze was blowing over the pasture, when Slade settled down with his eye charts. He glanced at the sun, already low in the west, for he had arrived late. And he sighed. The day was almost gone.
It had to be today. That feeling was strong in him. This afternoon he was still convinced that it would be easy to recall the relaxed days of his childhood on the farm. By tomorrow, if he failed today, the tension of doubt would have set in.
Then, too, there had been the anxious feeling way in the back of his mind about the cave dwellers. He was just a little reluctant to appear within a stone’s throw of a primitive tribe. Here, on this prairie, it was different. It was very unlikely that any inhabitants of that obviously sparsely settled world would be anywhere in the vicinity.
What the mind wants to see, Slade thought, it will see if it is there to see. He was creating conditions where his mind would again want to see.
He palmed, and then looked at the chart with his center eye. He could see the big C at twenty feet; the R and B below it were a blur, and the T F P a blotch of gray. As an improvement it was practically worthless.
He palmed again. The eyeball, according to the eye training theorists, was a round organ, which elongated for near vision, and flattened for distance vision. Some of the practitioners were willing to concede the possibility that the ciliary muscles did, in addition, change to some extent the shape of the lens.
But whatever the explanation behind the reality that the system worked, if the muscles pulled disproportionately, vision was poor. The fact that those muscles were controlled by the imagination, a difficult part of the mind to train, made the problem all the more intricate for people who had long worn glasses or had eye trouble.
The solution, Slade thought, is in me. I have got rid of all the astigmatism in my right or left eye, yet my center eye persists in being astigmatic, sometimes to the point of blindness.
It was of the mind, his trouble. His eye had proved that it was able to function normally.
About an hour before sundown, his brain was still refusing to work with the third eye.
Perhaps, Slade thought, if I went to the various spots, of which I have particularly vivid childhood memories, I’d be able to recapture the mood and—
First, the creek beside which he had hidden so often in the brush, and watched the cars go by to their remote and wonderful destinations.
The grass had grown deep where he had once worn it down with his small body. He knelt, and the scent was a tang in his nostrils. He pressed his face to the cool, green softness of it, and he lay quiet, conscious of his weariness and of the sustained effort he had made during the past months.
Am I a fool? he wondered. Did I turn my wife against me, break off with my friends, all in order to follow a will-o’-the-wisp?
And had he really seen that other world, or was that some fantastic illusion which his mind had experienced during a profound organic readjustment?
His mood of depression intensified. The sun went down, and twilight was yielding to darkness when he finally started back along the bank of the creek towards the farmhouse.
In the darkness he couldn’t find the path, and so he struck across the pasture, stumbling once in a while through thicker patches of grass. He could see the light of the end window of the farmhouse, but it seemed farther away than he remembered. The first alarm came with that realization, but it wasn’t until five minutes later that a far more telling fear struck into him. The fence! He should have come to the fence long ago.
The light seemed to be only a few hundred feet from where he stopped short.

Slade sank slowly down onto the grass. He swallowed hard, and then he thought: This is ridiculous. I’m imagining things.
But there was an empty sensation in the pit of his stomach, as he strove to penetrate the intense darkness all around him. There was no moon, and clouds must have been heavy overhead, for not a single star showed. The light in the near distance glowed with a hazy but bright steadiness. It failed, however, to illuminate the building from which it came.
Slade blinked at it with a gathering fascination, his tenseness draining before the consciousness that it would probably be easy to get back to Earth. After all, he had thought himself here. He should be able to get back without too much trouble.
He climbed to his feet, and began to walk forward. As the light drew nearer, it seemed to him that it was coming from inside a doorway. Vaguely, he could make out that the doorway was inset under a curving sweep of metal, that bulged far out. The metal gleamed dully, and, then merged with the general blackness without leaving a hint of the shape of the whole structure.
Slade hesitated about a hundred feet from the entrance. He was even more fascinated than he had been, but his desire to investigate was dwindling. Not now, in this dark night of a strange plane of existence. Wait till morning. And yet he had the uneasy conviction that before dawn the tensions would have reasserted in his mind.
One knock at the door, he thought, one look inside. And then off into the darkness. The door was metal, and so solid that his knuckles made only the vaguest sound. He had some silver coins in his pocket, and they tinged with a sharp sound as he used them. Instantly, he stepped back, and waited.
The silence grew tremendous, like a pall pushing at him. Dark and silent night in a primitive land inhabited by cavemen and—
And what? This was no caveman’s residence. Was it possible he had come to a plane of Earth entirely separate from that of the nude girl he had seen?
He retreated into the shadows away from the light. 11c stumbled, barking his shins. On one knee, he felt the object over which he had nearly fallen. Metal. That brought a thrill of real interest. Cautiously, he pressed the button of his flashlight, but it wouldn’t light. Slade cursed under his breath, and tugged at the metal thing in the ground. That was the trouble. It was in the ground. And held hard.
It seemed to be a wheel attached to a boxing of some kind. He was still fumbling over it, tugging tentatively, when it began to rain. That sent him to the nearest brush for cover. But the rain grew heavier, until finally the bush poured water on him. Slade accepted his fate, and headed back for the doorway. He tried the latch, and pushed. The door opened immediately.
The interior was brightly lighted, a long, high wide corridor of dully shining metal. About a hundred feet away, the massive hallway ended in a cross corridor. There were three doorways on each side of the corridor.
He tried the doors one after another. The first one opened into a long, narrow room that was all shiny blue mirror. At least it looked like a mirror. Then he grew aware that stars were shining in its depth.
Slade closed the door hastily. It wasn’t that he felt fear. But his mind had hesitated, unable to interpret what it was seeing. Its hold on this world was far too precarious for him to subject it to incomprehensible strangeness.
He moved across the hall to the first door on his left. It opened onto a long, narrow room half filled with case on case of goods. Some of them were open, their contents spilled out on the floor. Instruments glittered up at him, a quantity array of miscellaneous gadgets of all sizes. Some of the boxes were haphazardly pulled aside, as if a searcher had been looking for some specific item.
Slade closed that door too, puzzled but without any threatening strain this time. A storeroom was a recognizable thing, and his mind accepted it without there being any necessity for him to identify what was in the boxes.
The two middle doors revealed identical interiors. Massive machines that towered three quarters of the way to the ceiling. In spite of their size Slade recognized them for what they were. For more than a year American papers and magazines had shown pictures of the atomic engine developed at the University of Chicago for rocket ships. The design was slightly different, but the general tenor was unmistakable.
Slade closed each door in turn, hastily. And stood in the hallway, dissatisfied with the situation. A spaceship settled on a lonely moor in an alien plane of existence brilliantly lighted inside, and a solitary light outside like a beacon in the night beckoning to wanderers like himself, offering surcease from the darkness—was that the reality?
Slade doubted it, and a grisly feeling came that he had willed himself into a nightmare, and that any instant he would wake up, perspiring, in his bed.
But the instants passed, and there was no waking. Gradually, his mind accepted the silence, the brief panic faded, and he tried the fifth door.
It opened into darkness. Slade stepped back hastily. His eyes grew accustomed to the shadows, and so after scant seconds he saw the shape. It was pressed against the darkest wall, and it watched him alertly from three eyes that gleamed brightly in the vaguely reflected light. One swift look Slade had, and then his mind refused the vision.
Instantly, the ship, the light, vanished. He fell about three feet to a grassy embankment. Half a mile away was a yellow glowing light. It turned out to be his own farmhouse.
He was back on Earth.
Slade remained on the farm, undecided. The vision of all three of his eyes had deteriorated this time, and besides he was a badly shaken man. It couldn’t have been the same woman, he told himself. Standing there in the shadows of a corridor of an old, seemingly deserted spaceship, the same young woman—watching him.
And yet, the resemblance to the nude cave girl had been so apparent to his brain that he had instantly been under an abnormal strain. His mind proved that it recognized her by the speed with which it rejected the logic of her presence.
The question was, should he continue his exercises? For a whole month he walked the reaches of the farm, unable to make up his mind. And the main reason for his decision was his realization that his return to the two-eyed world had not been absolutely necessary.
Normal vision was a product of many balancing factors, not only mental but physical. Muscles weakened by glasses or by disuse lacked the endurance to resist the shudderingly swift impulses of the mind. Properly strengthened, they would withstand far greater shocks than he had experienced.
A demonic woman, he thought, standing in the shadows of a shadow ship in a shadow land. He was no longer sure he wanted to commit himself to that other plane of existence—to a woman who was aware of him, and who was trying to lure him.
After a month, the first snowfall whitened the foothills. Still undecided, Slade returned to the city.

STATEMENT OF PROFESSOR GRAY

My name is Ernest Gray, and I am a professor of languages. Some time ago—I cannot remember the exact date—I received a visit from Michael Slade. It seems that he had been away on his farm, and that, on returning to his city home, he learned that, in his absence, a three-eyed woman had visited his home.
From the account Mr. Slade gave me, I understand that his manservant admitted the woman to the house—she seems to have been a very assured and dominating individual—and permitted her to remain five days as a guest. At the end of that time, the day before Mr. Slade’s return, she departed leaving behind her nearly a score of phonograph records and a letter. Mr. Slade showed me the letter. Although it is to be shown to the jury as a separate exhibit, I am herewith including it in my statement to clarify my own account. The letter read as follows:

Dear Mr. Slade:
I want you to use the phonograph records to learn the language of Naze. The key record will dissolve in about two weeks after it is first played, but during that time it should have helped you to gain complete mastery of Nazia.
The situation on Naze is very simple, as you will discover, but it is also very dangerous. Here is what you must do. As soon as you have learned the language, drive to the plateau two miles west of the city of Smailes, and park your car beside an abandoned granary several hundred yards from the road at midnight of any night.
In all your ventures on Naze, beware of Geean and the hunters of the city.
Leear.

By the time Mr. Slade brought the records to me, the key record had dissolved, but after listening to those that remained I am able to say without qualification that the language is a fraud, possibly an artificial creation of the three-eyed people for secret intercommunication.
I am assuming, now that a three-eyed woman has turned up, that there is more than one three-eyed freak in the world. My first reaction was that the name, Naze, might have some connection to the Nazi party, but the pronunciation of the word as given in the records, rhymes with faze and daze.
It is unfortunate that the key record was destroyed. Without such a key there can be no translation of a language which, in the ultimate issue, is nothing but a product of the imagination of three-eyed neurotics.
I am told that Mr. Slade’s body was found near the city of Smailes, about a mile from the granary outhouse referred to in the letter of the woman Leear. But I know nothing about that, and did not myself see the body.

CHAPTER III.

AT FIRST Slade sat in the car. But as midnight drew near, he climbed out and examined the granary with the probing beam of his flashlight. The bare, unpainted interior was as empty as it had been in the afternoon when he had driven out for an exploratory look.
The stubble field stretched off into darkness beyond the farthest ray of his flash. A quarter moon rode the eastern sky, and the stars shone with a pale radiance, but the resulting light failed to make his surroundings visible.
Slade glanced at his watch. And though he had known the hour was near, he felt a shock. 11:55. In five minutes, he thought shakily, she would come.
Not for the first time, he regretted his presence. Was he a fool, he wondered, to come here— risk himself on an abandoned farm, where his loudest shouts for help would merely echo mockingly from the near hills? He had a gun of course, but he knew that he would hesitate to use it.
He shook himself. She had been cunning, had the woman Leear, not naming a date for him to come. Any midnight, she had said. She must have known that that would work and work on the mind of the only three-eyed man of Earth. If she had named a time as well as a place, he could have made up his mind against it.
The indefiniteness nullified his resistance. Each day that passed brought the same problem: Would he go tonight? Or wouldn’t he? Each day, the pro and con, with all its emotional overtone, racked his mind and body. And in the end he decided that she wouldn’t have taught him the language of Naze in order to harm him in the night that he came to keep their rendezvous.
She was interested in him. What she wanted was something thing else again, but being what he was, a three-eyed man, he could not but be interested in her. If talking to her tonight would bring him information, then the risk was more than justified.
Here he was, for better or worse.
Slade put away his flash, and glanced at the illuminated dials of his watch. Once again, but even more tinglingly, the shock ran down his spine. It was exactly midnight.
The silence was intense. Not a sound penetrated the night. He had turned off the headlights of his car. Now, abruptly, it seemed to him that he had made a mistake. The lights should be on.
He started toward the car, and then stopped. What was the matter with him? This was no time to desert the shelter of the granary. He backed slowly until his body touched the wall. He stood there fingering his gun. He waited.
The sound that came to him there was almost not a sound at all. The air, which had been quiet, was suddenly gently agitated. But the breeze was not normal. It came from above.
From above! With a jerk, Slade looked up. But he saw nothing. Not a movement was visible against the dark dark-blue of the sky. He felt a thrill akin to fire, a sense of the unknown stronger than anything he had ever experienced, and then—
"The important thing, Michael Slade," said the resonant, familiar voice of Leear from the air almost directly above him, "is for you to stay alive during the next twenty-four hours while you are in the city of Naze. Be cautious, sensible, and make no unnecessary admissions about what you do or do not know. Good luck."
There was a dazzling flash of light from about a dozen feet above. Slade blinked, and snatched his gun. Then he stood tensed, and looked around wildly.
The granary was gone, and his car, and the stubble field. He was on a city street. Buildings loomed darkly all around him, spire-like shapes that reared up towards a haze of violet light which half-hid the night sky beyond. The light spread like a great curving dome from an enormously high spire in the distance.
Slade saw those details in one flashing glance. Even as he looked, understanding came of what had happened. He had been transported to the city of Naze.

At first the street seemed deserted, the silence utter. But then, swiftly, his senses began to adjust. He heard a vague sound, as if somebody had whispered to somebody else. Far along the street, a shadowed figure raced across the road, and vanished into the darkness beside a spire.
It struck Slade with a pang that his position here in the center of the street put him at a disadvantage. He began to edge carefully towards the sidewalk to the right. The roadbed was uneven, and twice he stumbled and almost fell. The greater darkness under a tree enveloped him, and he had barely reached it when there was a human screech about fifty yards away.
The sound was jarring. With a spasmodic movement, Slade flung himself onto the ground, simultaneously raising his gun. He lay very still. He waited.
It took a moment for his brain to gather together. And several seconds passed before he could locate the direction of what was now a noisy struggle. Cries and groans and muffled shouts came from the darkness. They ended abruptly, and there followed a curious silence. It was as if the assailants had been worn out by their struggle and were now resting. Or—what was more likely—they were silently and greedily engaged in searching their victim.
Slade’s brain had time to catch up with his reflexes His first thought had in it a blank, amazed quality. What had he run into? He lay quiet, clutching his automatic tightly, and after a moment the second thought came So this was the city of Naze.
Briefly, then, he felt overwhelmed. He thought, How did she do it? How did she transfer me here? Then had been, he remembered, a flash of light. And instantly he was in Naze.
She must have used the same mechanical means as she had employed to transfer to the Earth plane. An instrument the light of which somehow affected the visual center behind each eye. There seemed no other logical explanation, and that logic, with the spaceship as an additional example, pointed to a highly developed science, that included a thorough understanding of the human nervous system.
The question was, would the effect of the light be permanent? Or would it wear off?
His thought was interrupted by a cry of rage. "Give us our share of the blood, you dirty—"
The words were shouted in the language of Naze. and Slade understood them all except the last one. Ii was that instantaneous, easy comprehension that thrilled him for a moment. Then the meaning penetrated also. Blood. Share of the blood.
Lying there, it seemed to Slade that he must have misunderstood. His doubt ended as another, even more furious cry came, this time from a second voice:
"The thief has a double-sized container. He got twice as much blood as the rest of us."
A third voice, obviously that of the accused, shouted, "It’s a lie." The man must have recognized that his denial would not be accepted. Footsteps came racing along the street. A tall man, breathing hard, flung himself past Slade. Rushing after him, and strung out behind him, came four other men, all smaller than the first.
They charged past where Slade was lying, vague, manlike shapes that quickly vanished into the night.
For nearly a minute he could hear the noise their feet made, and once there was a loud curse.
The sound, faded as had the sight. There was silence. Slade did not move. He was realizing the full import of what he had seen and heard. A dead man, drained of blood, must be lying on the street a few hundred feet away. Realizing—Naze at night was a city of vampires.

A minute, two minutes, dragged by. The thought came to Slade, But what am I supposed to do? What am I here for?
He recalled what the woman Leear had told him just before she flashed the light at him. "The important thing, Michael Slade, is for you to remain alive during the next twenty-four hours while you are in the city of Naze."
Twenty-four hours! Slade felt a chill. Was he expected to remain in Naze for an entire day and night with no other instructions but that he remain alive? No purpose, no place to go, nothing but—this!
If only there were street lights. But he could see none in any direction. Not that it was pitch dark. An alien shiningness glowed at him, different from the night-lit cities of Earth. The sky glowed palely where the violet haze trailed down from the central tower, and lights flickered from the slitted windows of a dozen spires that he could see.
It was definitely not pitch dark, and in a way that might be to his advantage. It seemed clear that he couldn’t just continue to lie where he was. And darkness would provide protection for an uneasy explorer.
He climbed to his feet, and he was about to step from under the tree when a woman called softly to him from across the street:
"Mr. Slade."
Slade froze. Then he half turned. And then he recognized that he had been addressed by name. His relief left him weak.
"Here!" he whispered loudly. "Here!"
The woman came across the street. "I’m sorry I’m late," she whispered breathlessly, "but there are so many blood seekers abroad. Follow me." Her three eyes gleamed at him. Then she turned, and headed rapidly up the street. And it was not until Slade was swinging along behind her that the startling realization came to him that this woman was not Leear.
Swiftly, he and his guide headed deeper into the city.

They climbed one of the darkest stairways Slade had ever seen, then paused before a door. The girl knocked, a measured knock. Three times slow, two fast, and then after a short interval, one.
The pause was long. While they waited, the girl said:
"Mr. Slade, we all want to thank you for coming—for the risks you are taking. We will do our best to familiarize you with Naze. Let us hope that this time the ship will be able to destroy the city."
"Uh!" said Slade.
The exclamation could have been a giveaway, but at the last instant he had an awareness of the danger of his surprise. He choked the sound down to a contorted whisper.
There was the click of a lock. The door creaked open. Light poured out into the hallway. It revealed a heavily built woman slowly making her way to a chair.
Inside, Slade examined his surroundings. The room was both long and wide. For its size, it was scantily furnished. There were three settees and two lounges, end tables, tables, chairs and rugs. The drapes could once have belonged to his divorced wife, Miriam.
Once? A very long time ago, Slade decided after a second glance. They looked as if they had originally cost a great deal. They were so shabby now that they actually seemed out of place.
Slade let the room recede into the background of his tired mind. He walked over, and sat down in a chair, facing the older woman; but it was the younger woman he looked at.
She had paused a few feet away, and was now standing smiling at him. She was a lean, olive-complexioned girl with a proud smile.
Slade said: "Thank you for the risks you took."
The girl shook her head with an easy smile. "You’ll be wanting to go to bed. But first I want you to meet
Caldra, the Planner. Caldra, this is Slade of the ship."
There it was, definite, stated. Of the ship. He, Michael Slade! Leear was certainly taking a great deal for granted.
The older woman was looking at him with strange, slow eyes. The impression of slowness was so distinct that Slade looked at her sharply for the first time. Her eyes were the color of lead, her face colorless, pasty, unnatural. Lusterless, almost lifeless, she stared at him. And said in a dead slow voice:
"Mr. Slade, it is a pleasure."
It was not a pleasure to Slade. He had to strain to keep the repelled look off his face. Once, perhaps twice, before in his life, people had affected him like this, but neither of the other two had matched this creature for the unpleasant sensation they made him feel.
Slow thyroid, he analyzed. The identification made her presence more palatable to his soul. It freed his mind. Memory came of what the girl had called the other. His brain paused. Caldra, the Planner.
He relaxed slowly, and made a conscious concession. She might be very good at that. Slow brains could be extremely thorough.
His interest began to sink. The strain of his experiences weighed suddenly on him. In his teens and early twenties, he had been a night hound, a haunter of cocktail bars and clubs. At thirty he had started to go to bed at ten o’clock, much to Miriam’s disgust. Midnight usually found him yawning and sleepy. And here it was—he glanced at his watch—five minutes to one. He glanced at the girl. He said:
"I can use that bed."
As the girl led him towards a corridor door, the older woman mumbled:
"Things are shaping up. Soon, the hour of decision will be upon us." Just as Slade went out the door, she said something else with the faintest suggestion of a laugh. It sounded like, "Don’t get too near him, Amor. I felt it, too."
The words seemed meaningless. But he was surprised, the girl opened the bedroom door, to notice that the color in her cheeks was high. But all she said was:
"You’re reasonably safe here. There is a very large group of us who believe in the destruction of Naze, and this is our part of the city."
In spite of his weariness, a gathering excitement kept Slade awake. He had been too tense to realize his situation. The thoughts that had come were simply the first unfoldings of his mind. But now, in bed, slowly relaxing, the tremendousness of what was happening penetrated.
He was in Naze. Outside the walls of this building was a fantastic city of another plane of existence. And tomorrow he would see that city in all its strangeness. Tomorrow!
He slept.

CHAPTER IV

NAZE seen under a brilliant morning sun was a jarring spectacle. Slade walked beside Amor along a wide street. Shabby city, he thought, distressed. And old, oh, old!
He had realized the night before that Naze was ancient and decadent. But he hadn’t grasped the extent of the disaster that had befallen the city. The buildings that he saw looked older than all his imaginings. Five hundred, perhaps even a thousand years had dragged by since those buildings were built.
For hundreds of thousands of days and nights, the city had rotated under its sun. Its streets and sidewalks had borne the load of daily living. The strangest building materials could not but be worn out after such a lapse of time. And they were.
The sidewalks were almost uniformly rubble, with only here and there a patch of smooth hardness to show what the original had been like. The streets were a little better, but they, too, were largely dust packed down by the pressures that had been put on them.
Not a single vehicle was visible anywhere, only people, people and more people. Evidently, all wheel machines had long ago been worn out.
What had happened? What could have happened? There was, of course, the war between the city and the ship—but why? He half-turned to the girl to ask the question, then abruptly remembered that it would be unwise to show ignorance. Leear had warned him to make no admissions.
The city that surrounded him, so obvious a relic of an ancient culture, drained the fever of that fire out of him. Never anywhere had he seen so many people on the streets of a metropolis. With this difference. These people weren’t going anywhere. Men and women sat on the curbs, on the sidewalks and on the roads. They seemed unmindful of individuals who brushed past them. They sat, staring vaguely into nothingness. The mindlessness of it was awful to see.
A beggar fell into step beside Slade. He held up a metal cup:
"A few drops of your blood, mister," he whined. "I’ll slit your throat if you don’t give it to me."
Amor’s whip lashed out, and struck the ghoulish thing in the face. The blow raised a welt on the man’s face. Blood trickled from the welt.
"Drink your own blood!" the girl snapped.
Her color was high, Slade noticed, her face twisted with almost unnatural hatred.
"Those beasts," she said in a low, intense voice, "lurk in alleyways at night in gangs, and attack anybody who comes along. But, of course," she broke off, "you know all about that."
Slade made no comment. It was true that he knew of the night gangs, but what he didn’t know would fill a book.
The continuing reality tore his mind from that very personal problem. The streets swarmed with people who had nothing to do. And again, and again and again, fingers plucked at Slade’s sleeve, and avid voices whimpered:
"Your blood is strong, mister. You can spare a little, or else—"
Often and often, it was a woman’s face that leered up at him.
Slade was silent. He was so appalled he could have spoken only with difficulty. He looked down side street after street, boiling with lecherous beings; and he saw for the first time in his life what utter depravity was possible to the human animal.
This city must not continue to exist. It was clear now why Leear had lured him into the city. She wanted him to see, and she must believe the actuality would end any doubts in his mind. Doubts, for instance, about the reasons for the immeasurably horrible conditions—unquestionably due to the war between the ship and the city. Understanding the origin of a plague was a side issue.
The plague itself must be wiped out.
He had no doubts; so great was his horror. He felt sick with an absolute dismay. This, he thought, going on day after day, year after year, through centuries. It mustn’t. The girl was speaking:
"For a while we thought if we could get the chemicalized cups away from them, we could end the blood craze. But—"
She stopped; she shrugged; finished: "Of course you know all about that. Except in rare cases, depravity only sinks to new depths; it does not rise."
There was nothing to say to that. It was easy to see that his NOT knowing "all about that" was going to be a handicap to his understanding of the details of hell. He didn’t really need the details though; the overall hell was enough.
End it! Destroy it! Help the ship if he could, help these fifth columnists. But destroy Naze.
He grew calmer. He analyzed her words. Chemicalized cups! Then it wasn’t the blood itself, but some chemical in the metal of the cup, that made it so intoxicatingly attractive.
Removal of the cup apparently had channeled the craving into something worse. What? Well, he was supposed to know.
Slade smiled wearily. "Let’s go back," he said. "I’ve had enough for today."
The early part of the lunch was eaten in silence. Slade ate, thinking about the city, the ship and the cavemen, and of his own part in the affair. In a way he now knew the essentials of the situation. He had seen the ship, and he was seeing the city.
The question was, just what was he supposed to do?
He realized abruptly that Caldra, the slow, was about to speak.
The woman was laying down her fork. That movement alone required many seconds. Then she lifted her head. It seemed to Slade that it took her eyes an unnaturally long time to focus upon him.
The next step was even more prolonged. She opened her mouth, sat considering her first sentence, and finally began to articulate the syllables. Over a period that seemed longer than it was, she said:
"Tonight, we raid Geean’s central palace. Our forces can guarantee to get you to the fortieth level as agreed. The apparatus Leear asked for is already there, ready to ease you out of the window, so that you can focus your dissembler onto the controls of the barrier. You no doubt saw for yourself when you were out this morning that they are located at about the ninetieth level.
"We assume, of course, that the ship will rush in the moment the barrier is down."
Long before her measured words reached their end, Slade had grasped their import. He sat motionless, eyes half closed, startled. Tonight. But that was ridiculous. He couldn’t be expected to rush into an attack as blindly as that.
His opinion of Leear went down a million miles. What was a dissembler anyway? Surely, he wasn’t expected to learn how to operate an intricate mechanism during the heat of a battle. His consternation reached a peak as Caldra fell silent, and looked at him expectantly. Amor, too, he saw, was watching him with eager anticipation.
Slade parted his lips, and then closed them again, as another, greater realization struck him. The realization that he had been given an immense amount of information. It was all by implication, but the import was unmistakable.
The haze of light he had seen the night before, radiating from the skyscraper central tower—and which he recalled suddenly had been vaguely visible during his morning walk as a faint mist—that was the barrier. What kind of a barrier? Apparently, a barrier strong enough to keep the spaceship at bay. A barrier of energies potent beyond anything on Earth.
But that meant the city was under siege, and—judging from the decay—had been for hundreds of years.
Slade’s mind poised. "This," he told himself, "is ridiculous. How would they live? Where would they get their food? They can’t possibly be living on each other’s blood."
He stared down at his plate, but there was very little left. The remnant looked like a vegetable, though it was covered by a sauce or gravy that hid the details. He looked up, a question about the food quivering in his throat—and realized that this was no time for such things. If he was going to prevent a major disaster, he had better say something, and fast. Before he could speak, Amor said:
"One bold surprise attack and"—she smiled with savage excitement—"finish!"
For a moment, the play of emotions across her face held Slade’s attention. She was quite a deadly creature herself, this tall girl who carried a whip for the vampires of Naze. It was the old story of environment, of course. The mind shaped by its physical climate, and in turn shaping the body and the expression of the face, and setting fast the capabilities of the senses.
For the first time it struck him that, if he committed himself to this plane of Earth, here was a sample of the kind of girl he would eventually marry. He looked at her with interest, prepared to pursue the thought further. And then, once more he realized that his mind was striving to escape from its only immediate problem, the attack. Tonight! He said:
"I’m sorry to have to tell you that the ship will not be here tonight."
Amor was on her feet, her eyes widening. "But all our plans!" she gasped.
She seemed overcome. She sat down. Beside her, Caldra emerged from her stupor, and showed that Slade’s words had finally penetrated. "No ship!"
Slade said, "The ship was to signal me this morning." He felt as if he were sweating, but it was a mental sensation, not a physical one. He went on, "There was no signal."
It was not bad, he realized, for ad lib. He relaxed, in spite of not having solved his basic problem. He watched Armor head for the door. She paused on the threshold.
"I’ll have to call off the attack."
The door banged behind her, leaving, after a moment, silence.
Armor having failed to turn up, Caldra and Slade ate dinner shortly before dark.
It was late when Amor came in. She slumped into her chair, and began to pick absently at the food that Caldra set before her. Several times Slade caught her looking at him from under her lashes with speculation. And with something else. He couldn’t quite decide what.
Slade decided not to let that disturb him. He walked over to the great window of the living room. He was aware of Amor joining him after a while, but she said nothing; and so he, too, held his peace. He looked out at Naze.
Shadowed Naze, night enveloped. Seen from the spire window, the city drifted quietly into darkness. It seemed almost to glide into the shadows that crept in from the cast.
Slade gazed and gazed. At last except for the flickering lights and the almost invisible barrier, the darkness was complete.
Realizations came: His was surely the strangest adventure in the history of the human nervous system. Born in the foothills of western United States, brought up on a farm, quickly successful as a broker in a small western city. And now here! Here in this dark, doomed city of a planet, the civilization of which was in desperate straits.
And yet it was not an alien planet; simply another plane revealed to his brain and body because he had three eyes instead of two.
The thrill of excitement that came was connected with his companion. She stood beside him, a woman of that world, young and strong, perhaps still unspoken for by any man.
It was possible. He was sure of that. The marriage state was almost meaningless under present conditions.
It was some time since he had given serious thought to the subject of women. Now, he was fairly easy prey. During the afternoon he had thought of Amor in a very possessive fashion, and his previous realization—that IF he stayed, he would have to marry a girl of this world—had sharpened.
It was possible that there would be other women on this plane of existence more attractive than she was, but they were far away.
Slade said: "Amor."
No answer.
"Amor, what are you planning to do afterwards?"
The girl stirred. "I shall live in a cave, of course. That is what we must all do."
Slade hesitated, torn from his line of approach by the implications of her words—Must all do! Why? It had not struck him before that Amor and her group accepted the idea of a primitive existence.
He remembered that in a kind of a way, he was trying to make a girl.
"Amor."
"Slade."
She seemed not to have heard him, for her tone was not an answer, and showed no awareness that he had spoken.
Slade said, "What is it?"
"This will sound terrible to you, but I was once a blood drinker."
It seemed a futile confession. It brought no picture at first; the words themselves made him uneasy, however.
"And so was Caldra. And everybody. I don’t think I’m exaggerating. There’s never been anything like it."
A picture began to come. And thoughts. Slade licked his suddenly dry lips, repelled.
And still he had no idea what she was getting at.
"It was easier for me to break off," the girl said, "and to stay off—until today . . . last night. Slade," her voice
was tiny, "you have strong blood. I felt it all day." Abruptly, he knew where she was heading. He thought of the men and women she had lashed with her whip that morning. In a twisted fashion, those blows had been aimed at her own craving.
"You can’t imagine," Amor was saying, "what a shock it was to Caldra and me when you said the attack was not tonight. It meant you would be around at least another day. Slade, that was terribly unfair. Leear knew our situation only too well."
The repulsion was greater. It seemed to Slade that in another moment he would be sick. He said in a low voice:
"You want some of my blood."
"Just a little." Her tone had the faintest whine in it. Enough to make vivid a picture of her begging on the streets. Slade felt mentally nauseated.
The thought came that he had no business making any remarks. But he was emotionally past that stage of common sense. This was the girl he had tentatively intended to offer marriage. He said harshly: "And you were the one who used a whip on the others this morning.”
In the darkness of the room, he heard the sharp intake of her breath. There was a long silence. Then she turned, and her body was a slim, shadowed shape that disappeared into a corridor towards her bedroom.
And so the night that was to be long began.

CHAPTER V

AFTER SEVERAL hours, Slade still couldn’t sleep. He had been unfair to somebody he liked; and it was disturbing.
She had rescued him from almost death, restored his health; and, surely, surely, he could spare her a little of his blood. Out of all the people in this fantastic city, she and her group had fought hardest against the craving that had destroyed the soul of Naze.
It must have been a fight to make the very gods take pity. But he had had none. He, super-moralist Michael Slade, the perfect man, had cast stones and created pain.
Actually, the true explanation was worse than that, rooted as it was in his own physical desires. And, besides, it was possible that his blood did feel stronger to people who were aware of such things.
In the morning, he would give Amor AND Caldra a half cup of blood. And then, somehow, he must get out of this city, back to Earth if possible, but out in some way. It was already after midnight, and clear, therefore, that the end of the twenty-four hour period, which Leear had mentioned, would not automatically return him to the vicinity of his car, near the city of Smailes.
Why, if it meant nothing, had she mentioned a time limit? He dozed, still thinking about that. And wakened to the realization that someone was in the room.
He lay rigid, striving to penetrate the darkness. The fear that pressed on him was the ancient fear of a man in a hostile land being stalked in the blackness. His straining eyes caught a movement against the silhouetting wall, a shadowy figure.
A woman. Amor. The identification brought a measure of pity.
Poor girl! What deadly hunger that desire for blood was. In a blurred fashion, he had had in the back of his mind an intention of using a cup to taste his own blood. But her coming under such desperate, circumstances ended that intention for the time being. He was only a normal human being. He couldn’t afford to be caught in the toils of so potent a drug.
He made an effort to sit up. And couldn’t. He was held down by straps.
He lay back, the first annoyance sharpening his temper. It was all very well to feel sorry for her, but this was a pretty raw stunt she was pulling.
He parted his lips to say something scathing. He didn’t say it. Memory came that this girl was in a bad way. Let her have her blood.
He wouldn’t say a word. In the morning he would pretend that nothing had happened. The determination gave him a temporary satisfaction.
In the darkness, the vague movement continued. The girl seemed to be in no hurry. Just as Slade’s impatience reached the vanishing point, a thin needle of light pointed down at his left arm. Almost simultaneously a hand came into view. It held a syringe, which it inserted deftly into the largest visible vein. Slade watched, interested, as the blood drew up darkly into the transparent body of the instrument.
The seconds slid by, and still the avid needle strained at him. Slade thought of the eeriness of what was happening, an Earthman in a strange world being bled by a likable vampire girl in the secret dead of the night.
The picture faded with the passing seconds, too many seconds. Slade said gently:
"Don’t you think that’s enough?"

For several moments after his words broke the silence, the syringe held steady; and there was no sound. At last, the hand and the syringe jerked slightly in surprise.
It was the time gap between his speech and her reaction that brought to Slade his first understanding of the truth. His gaze fixed for the first time on the hand holding the instrument. It was hard to see in the reflections from that narrow band of light. But seeable it was. And recognizable.
It was a woman’s hand. Slade sighed as he stared at it. Here was one more proof that the mind created its own illusions. He, who had had so much experience with that reality, whose very presence in the universe of the three-eyed was a living evidence of the importance of mind over matter, still continued to be fooled.
His mind had jumped to the conclusion that it was Amor who had come to his room. When the hand had first come into the light minutes ago, he had noticed nothing unusual. Now he did.
It was a woman’s hand all right, but rather worn. And not young looking at all. How he could have mistaken it even in the reflected light, was a puzzle.
This was Caldra the mysterious, Caldra the Planner, Caldra who, apparently, was now breaking her blood fast. The realization came to Slade that he was participating in a personal tragedy. A woman whose craving for blood had once nearly destroyed her was drinking blood again.
He was aware of the syringe being withdrawn from his arm. The light winked out. A pause. The sound of thick liquid squirting heavily into a container came next, and then once more silence.
Slade pictured the hand slowly raising the cup towards the fumbling lips. His timing was perfect. As his mental picture of her hand reached her lips, there came an audible gulping.
The sound made Slade a little sick. But pity came too. The emotion died, as fingers touched the bed. He thought with a scowl: More?
But it was the straps that let go their constricting hold on his chest and arms. Footsteps shuffled towards the door, which closed softly.
Silence settled. After a little, Slade slept. When he wakened, a great paw was pressing down on his mouth, and a beast as big as a bear, but with oddly catlike features, was looming over him. Its strong, big, hairy body was illumined by a light held by men in uniform.
Other uniformed men were holding Slade’s arms and legs. And he had a dismaying glimpse of still more men in the corridor outside the bedroom.
The animal’s great paw withdrew from his face. He was lifted, and carried. There was a light in the living room. He saw Caldra lying face down on the floor, a knife driven to the hilt into her back.
Slade had a horrible, empty sensation. Amor! What about Amor?
It was that thought that must have done it. Under him, the floor dissolved as if it were made of nothingness. He fell about fifteen feet, and struck hard. He lay dizzily for more than a minute before understanding came.
He raised himself slowly, scratching his hands on the frozen stubble of a wheat field. About two miles to the west the lights of the city of Smailes blazoned the night sky. Slade climbed to his feet, and headed for the granary where he had left his car. It was still there, silent and lightless.
He waited a few minutes, but there was no sign of Leear. Tired though he was, he drove all the rest of that night, and part of the next morning. It was 11:00 a.m. when he turned up his private drive.
A letter was in the mailbox, in the familiar, masculine handwriting of Leear. Slade frowned at it, then tore it open. It read:

Dear Michael Slade:
Now you know. You have seen Naze. You must have wondered why nothing happened at the exact end of the twenty-four hours. Nothing could happen until after that time, and then only if you received a sufficiently strong shock.
This shock, of course, was provided when one of the women came in and attempted to obtain some of your blood. It was regrettable that such a situation had to be forced, but there was no alternative.
It was unfortunate, too, that I had to let the group in Naze think that there would be an attack. They have no conception of the kind of man they are fighting. Against the immortal Geean, any plan of theirs would fail automatically, Their inability to understand the nature and strength of the enemy is proved by the fact that they accepted without question that the barrier could be destroyed by an attack with a so-called dissembler on a protuberance at the ninetieth floor of the central tower of Geean.
There is no such instrument as a dissembler, and the protuberance on the tower is a radiator. Geean will never be defeated except by an attack into the heart of his stronghold. Such an attack cannot be made without your help, and this time you must come by yourself, as the device which I used beside the granary has only temporary effects.
Do not wait too long.
Leear.

In the daytime, he read and remained within the limits of his yard. At night, hat pulled low over his third eye, head hunched down into the collar of his overcoat, he walked the frozen streets. Slowly, the fever went out of him, and he became grimly sardonic in his attitude to what had happened.
"I am not," he decided, "the stuff of which heroes are made. And I have no desire to get killed in the war between Naze and the ship."
He had better adjust himself to the idea of remaining on this earth.
The half decision made it possible for him to consider Leear’s letter from a less emotional viewpoint than when he had first read it. The rereading after three weeks was even more interesting than he had expected, now that his lips did not tighten with anger at the ruthless way Leear had precipitated him into Naze, and so, callously, caused the death of Amor and Caldra.
The letter was basically far less irritating than he had thought. And it certainly lacked the commanding tone that he somehow expected from her. In addition, her frank admission that his help was necessary mollified Slade tremendously.
He was vaguely pleased, too, that she had underestimated him. Her analysis of the kind of shock that would send him back to Earth had been wrong. Caldra coming for blood had scarcely ruffled his nerves. And it had taken the sight of her dead body and a mental picture of Amor similarly murdered to affect him.
After three weeks, he felt himself immune to shock. Caldra and Amor begin to seem just a little unreal, like figments of a dream. Slade knew that he had come a long way out of a dangerous mental state when he could think of Amor and feel satiric about his impulse to ask her to marry him.
He did not feel contemptuous of the emotions involved. They were human basics, and it struck him that it might be a sound idea to marry again right here on Earth. If he could persuade Miriam to come and live with him again, that would be a decisive act not easily overthrown by any sudden impulse to rush off to that other plane of existence.
He must resume old relationships, return to a normal Earth existence.
It was easier decided than done. One night, while he was still planning the proper approach to make to Miriam, he met two friends of his business days. They nodded and hurried past, and stopped only when he turned and called after them. The conversation that followed was one of those lame, horrible affairs, but Slade was persistent. It seemed to him in his dogged frame of mind that if he was going to live on Earth, he had to have friends and a wife. Those were the concomitants of a sane existence, and he knew better than even to attempt to do without them.
Slade did not enjoy the conversation any more than the two men. They were by turns uneasy, jocular, unhappily silent, eager to impart information, and finally, they hurried off with a "Glad to have met you, Mike, but we’re late now for an engagement. Be seeing you."
Slade walked home his lips curling ironically, but there was a vague chill in his backbone. He had learned, among other things, that Miriam had had a "new" boy friend for several months, and there was something strangely final about that fact. As if his last escape route was closing inexorably.
He did not give up so easily. He phoned Miriam the next day, and the day after that, and each day for the week following. Each time her maid said, "Who is calling?" Then, "Miss Crenshaw does not care to speak to you."
Slade wrote her a letter, in which he said, "After all I can have the eye covered with grafted skin." He followed up the letter with a personal visit. But Miriam was "out."
It was fairly ultimate. Particularly when a detective called the next day, and asked him to cease his "persecution" of his former wife. The officer was considerably impressed by the beautiful residence, but he was a man who knew his duty. "We have received a complaint, y’understand. We’ll have to take action if it continues, y’understand?"
Slade understood. His little dream was over.

STATEMENT MADE TO CORONER’S JURY BY WILFRED STANTON

I was first employed by Michael Slade as a houseman about five years ago. I was with him, with only a brief holiday, throughout the past year.
My employer was away from home several times during that period. He always seemed in an upset condition after each such absence, but he did not take me into his confidence. Before his final departure, I noticed a new air of decisiveness about him, as if he had finally made up his mind about something after a long uncertainty. He bought a second automatic, a match to the one he already had, and a great deal of ammunition for both weapons. He also purchased other items, but I did not see what was in the packages that arrived for him. He read almost continuously. I remember one book dealt with metallurgy, another was a volume on physics, and a third about the new rocket ships.
All this time, too, he was sitting out in the yard with his eye charts. These exercises were unusual in that he wore a light durable hunting suit made of waterproof materials, which he had had made. In addition he carried two automatics, a hunting knife and a pouch of ammunition. His pocket’s also seemed to be stuffed, but I don’t know what was in them.
Mr. Slade was aware of my awareness of the unusualness of this get-up, and he seemed amused at my anxiety. One day, he told me not to be alarmed if he went away without warning.
It was the day after that that I called him for lunch, and he was gone. His disappearance was unusual in that the chair and the charts were just as he had left them, and particularly unusual in that there was snow on the ground, and his tracks should have been visible leading out of, the yard. I saw no tracks that would indicate a departure.
I can only say that I was not surprised when Mr. Slade’s dead body was discovered last week two hundred miles from here. He was obviously expecting something to happen. And it did.

CHAPTER VI



THE CHANGE this time was like the click of a camera shutter, He felt his eye working, then his house vanished, and then—
It was raining, a warm but heavy rain. The water came down on the marsh near the caves in a multitude of slanting drops, like millions of tiny knives cutting the surface. Under that blurring curtain of water, the landscape looked wilder, less civilized. Its very green lusciousness made it primitive, but the green was there, ornamental and gorgeous.
Slade, who had started to mull over the problem of rain in one plane of existence and snow in another, under the same sun, felt a warm, wet trickle of water run down inside the collar of his waterproof suit. It didn’t bother him, but it took his mind off of the why of the rain. He stepped automatically under the overhanging branch of a nearby tree, and from its uncertain shelter—the water poured from it—peered up at the ledge.
Some of the excitement died out of him. The hill looked. lifeless. All the fires were out, and not a human being was in sight. It was the rain, of course. They’d be inside the caves.
Since he had no intention of climbing to the ledge until he had been discovered—spears and knives might flash just a little too swiftly if he surprised them in their caves—his problem was to find shelter. He constructed himself a crude house of dead branches overlaid with large, fronded leaves. Then he scraped away a heavy layer of dead wet leaves, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the ground underneath was comparatively dry.
He slept fitfully throughout the afternoon and evening. During the night he was awake for a long time. Just before he finally slept, he thought sharply, "I’ll have to wake up before they do."
When he opened his eyes, the sun was shining from a blue sky. And several three-eyed men were kneeling around the open end of his shelter. Beyond them were other men, and in the farther background, women and children.
Very slowly, Slade sat up. He pushed the shelter over on its side, and climbed to his feet, but that too, was an automatic movement. The convulsive thought came that the strain inside his head and in his muscles would produce organic tensions strong enough to precipitate him back to the United States.
But nothing happened. The people and the marsh and the cave hill remained in his vision as steady as sanity itself. He was welded to this plane of existence as if he had been born here.
It was not until that thought had come and gone that he noticed none of the men carried arms of any description. The relief that came was almost as tremendous as had been the first shock. Before he could speak, one of the men nearest him said gently:
"Careful. You’re not completely stable yet."
The man reached forward and placed his palm over Slade’s center eye. The movement was too unexpected for it to be resisted. The delayed reaction, when it finally came, was half-hearted. Slade started to take a step backwards, and then, realizing the meaning of what was happening, he stopped in amazement.
These people knew that he was not of this plane. And they knew why. The next thought followed hard on the first:
The cave dwellers were NOT primitives.
It was too big an idea to grasp all in one instant, particularly as the man who had touched his forehead now stepped back with a smile, and said:
"I think you will be all right."
Slade hadn’t noticed the fellow’s voice before. Now, he did. It was calm and melodic, without harshness, the words so easily spoken that they were like a flow of music produced by a master.
That fact, also, held his mind only a moment. He stood looking around him at the men and at the women, and his relief grew second by second. They were smiling, friendly; they were good-looking and alert, a high physical and mental type. Slade allowed himself a flashing memory of the degenerate blood addicts of the city of Naze, and comprehended with finality that, whatever was the basic reason for the deadly siege of the city by the ship of Leear, these clean and decent-looking cave dwellers were evidence in favor of the ship.
He realized that it was time he said something. He said, "Thank you. I am a friend. My name is Michael Slade."
The tall, eagle-eyed man who had already spoken nodded. "My name," he said, "is Danbar."
They shook hands. It was so simply, so generously done that Slade was not sure then or ever afterwards as to whether shaking hands was a common custom among these people. Or whether Danbar had instantaneously and without hesitation responded to the habits of a stranger.
As their hands separated, Slade noted for the first time that the man was inches taller than himself, and marvelously strong-looking. He had a lean, handsome face. Except for his extra eye, he would have been good-looking in any group of two-eyed human beings. He seemed about thirty years old.
He smiled. He took Slade’s arm, and led him to another man, a splendid-looking chap who had been watching the proceedings from the background.
Danbar indicated the other, "Malenkens," he said.
The way he said it made it sound a distinctive and important name. And, looking at the man, Slade did not doubt but that he was being introduced to one of the leaders of the tribe. With Malenkens, too, the handshake was warm, but his smile was sterner, more aloof.
Danbar said, "You can meet the others later. Now, let us return to the ledge for breakfast."
Contact was established as easy as that.

The winding path that led up to the caves was made of cement steps flanked by ornamental shrubs. A cement sidewalk ran along the entire length of the ledge, with smaller sidewalks leading into the caves. In between the sidewalks, green, velvety grass grew in neat plots that could only have been planned by skillful gardeners.
Slade, pausing before the first cave, peered into an interior at least as uncavelike as what he had already seen. The floor was of cement, but it was covered with throw rugs. The walls and ceiling were plastered over a base of cement. The chairs, tables and bunks that he could see were of unpainted wood, but they were well-designed and had been sandpapered to a smooth polish. The overall result was astonishingly modern.
Danbar touched Slade’s arm, and motioned him to follow Malenkens, who was proceeding along the ledge. As he walked, Slade found himself surreptitiously looking for Leear. He was not greatly surprised when he failed to locate her, but neither did he accept her absence as final. She had been here once. There was no reason why she should not come back. And, besides, she must know that this would be his point of entry into the three-eyed world.
Malenkens stopped, and spoke for the first time. "In here," he said.
The cave was a structural duplicate of the one into which Slade had peered. The three men sat down in chairs, and Malenkens spoke again.
"Slade," he said, "we have been estimating your situation from the time you wakened, and in my judgment it will take about six years to adjust the rhythm of your life to our group. That takes into account your untrained resistance, and the fact that it will probably require several months for you to help Leear destroy the barrier of Naze and Geean. And, of course, it assumes that you will not be killed or dangerously injured."
He added, "I am not trying to alarm you. I am merely stating the facts as I see them. Now, Danbar will take over."
Danbar did not move, but continued to sit in his chair. He looked at Slade speculatively. "You will be wondering," he said, "what Malenkens was talking about. Watch."
He vanished.

For a minute, Slade sat where he was. He had no particular thoughts, though the memory came that, when Leear had hovered above him near the granary, he had not been able to see her against the stars. She, too, must have been invisible.
At the end of the minute, it struck him that perhaps he was expected to do something. He stood up, bent over Danbar’s chair, and gingerly moved his arm through the space where Danbar had been sitting. There was no resistance to the movement. He glanced over at Malenkens, but the man did not look up.
Slade sat down again, heavily this time, trembling a little. There was no reason at all why Danbar, having rendered himself invisible, had not climbed to his feet and walked in a leisurely fashion to the cave entrance, or perhaps he was standing beside his chair, watching his guest’s reaction. There was no reason why he shouldn’t have done one of those things, but Slade had the vaguely sinking conviction that Danbar had done nothing of the kind, and that in fact he was still sitting in the chair.
Primitives, Slade thought. And I believed they were primitives.
These people had learned the innermost secrets of the human nervous system. They were so far ahead of their two-eyed cousins that comparison seemed almost ridiculous. Or wait a minute—what was it Malenkens had said? ". . . It will take you about six years to adjust the rhythm of your life to our group—"
The first burning excitement stirred Slade. Did he mean that at the end of six years, he, too, might be able to render himself invisible at will? Or did he mean—?
Slade pressed the thought back into his mind He forced himself to lean back in his chair. He parted his lips to speak to Malenkens, then closed them again. The man was looking the other way. The moments dragged, and there was no sign of Danbar. His absence began to be disturbing. For the second time the possibility occurred to Slade that he was expected to do something.
He stood up uncertainly. On a sudden impulse he seated himself in Danbar’s chair. That didn’t last long. The thought came that it would be a very humorless situation if the man chose to materialize in the chair.
Slade walked to the entrance of the cave on the doubtful expectation that Danbar would be outside. The ledge was a veritable hive of activity, fires burning brightly, women stirring caldrons, children already becoming nuisances with their games and noise. But of Danbar there was no sign.
Slade stood for a moment peering out over the marsh. The view was gorgeous beyond all imagination. The water gleamed in the sun, and it was alive with colorful growth. Far out, he caught a glimpse of birds fluttering, and he thought with a thrill: Three-eyed birds! In the distance beyond the marsh trees reared to amazing heights, and he could see the haze of mounting hills beyond. Everywhere was the green of perpetual summer.
Slade turned back into the cavern, quivering inside. What a wonderful plane of Earth he was on. Never, surely, would he have the slightest desire to return whence he had come.
There was, of course, the problem of Naze— That brought Slade back to reality with a start. He saw that Danbar had still not rematerialized. He thought, "Invisibility? If I had to figure out some way of making myself invisible, knowing what I do now about the art of seeing, I would try to disturb in some way the vision centers of those who were looking at me. Perfect vision is possible only when the mind is relaxed. Therefore I would try to tense their minds in some way."
The rationalization brought a sudden startled thought. Why, of course. He was expected to do something. He drew a deep, slow breath, and let it out with a sighing sound, simultaneously letting all his muscles go lax. The eye specialist, Dr. McIver, had always maintained that the human body could relax with one breath.
In that instant Slade proved it. As he started to draw his second breath, Danbar reappeared in his chair. The man looked up earnestly at Slade.
"Very good, my friend. I was hoping that you would manage to figure that out for yourself." He went on, "You have experienced for yourself one of the basic truths of the human nervous system. During the next few months you will be taught the ultimate secrets of relaxation, relaxation so complete that, even in the final issue, there is no limit to the control that can be exercised over it. But now—"
He stood up, smiling. "Let us," he said, "take our chairs outside and have breakfast."
Slade followed the two men out into the brilliant sun.

CHAPTER VII

On the thirty-second day of his stay with the tribe, Slade lay at ease on a knoll above the marsh. From his position, he could see the caves about a mile away. It was a marvelous day. It had rained a little in the morning, but now the sky was as clear and blue as could be. Before him, in a garden-like vista, the green, green grass and shrubbery still sparkled with raindrops that hung heavy on every blade and sprig and leaf and branch.
The whole world around him was as wonderful as ever, and yet Slade was conscious of dissatisfaction. "I’m an active person," he thought. "My nerves are still afflicted with the neurotic desire to do things."
He even had an impulse pushing at him. That odd metal device that he had found half-buried in the ground near his farm the night he had seen Leear in a shadowed corridor of an old spaceship—it would be interesting to go and get it, and examine it.
He did not move. He had to admit that the previous month had, in its way, been exciting. The world of relaxation was an inward world of unending discovery. His knowledge began with the muscles, lectures about and exercises with. Exercises? It was not exactly the right word for what he was doing, Slade had decided, but he continued to use it for want of a better. Exercise suggested physical activity, but the relaxation exercises were inhalation and exhalation as effortlessly as possible. They were long minutes of lying upon carefully arranged pillows while the mind concentrated gently upon certain muscles, and always the message his brain sent was: "Let go, let go, let go."
Gradually, over the weeks, he learned the basic philosophy behind the relaxation. A correct posture, and good breathing habits. When at fault, those two things alone caused tension repercussions that affected the entire body. Tension made for bad vision and poor hearing. Tension was responsible for quick fatigue, for lack of strength and for narcotic cravings. Tension caused the kidneys to inject a fluid into the blood which caused high blood pressure, melancholy and a negative attitude towards life. Tension subtly changed the acid content of the digestive fluids. Tension was literally, the devil of the nervous system, but getting rid of it was merely the first, preliminary step to the control of the body.
The second phase was normalization of the nerves. Every nerve, individually and collectively, was capable of a positive or negative action. It could pass an impulse to seek another path to the brain. It was doubtful if more than five percent of an ordinary person’s nerve impulses followed direct routes. It was true, of course, that many of the detours were used over and over again, but it was no justification for a bad habit to point out that it was repeated endlessly, particularly when the cumulative results were unsanity, early old age and a confused mind.
The entire ninety-five percent of misdirected nervous energy had to be re-channeled along direct routes and this was done by concentrating on key nerve paths. In every case, positive training was necessary. As with muscular relaxation, one could not just seek out a lazy environment and take it easy. Definite things had to be done. Muscles consistently relaxed by a system eventually stayed relaxed. Nerves repeatedly told to establish a direct channel, with a picture of that channel clearly visualized, did eventually make the exact channel demanded.
Nerve control led to the third or molecular phase, about which, when Slade had asked him, Danbar merely said, "You will see. You will see."
Lying there on the knoll above the marsh, it seemed to Slade that he knew the muscular relaxation exercises sufficiently well to be able to do them for a short time without an instructor standing by. He should be able to walk to the area where his farm existed on the Earth plane, and get the machine buried in the ground there.
He climbed to his feet with sudden decision. I’ll ask Danbar or Malenkens, he thought.
Danbar, to whom Slade made the request, after the evening exercises, looked disturbed. Then he glanced questioningly at Malenkens. It was the latter who said:
"Leear told us you would be restless." He paused, frowning. Then he looked at Slade from under lowered lashes. "I’ve decided to be fairly frank with you, Slade.. We are training you to help Leear against Naze. You must not think that we are parties to her plan. We merely exercise certain restraints upon her. You may wonder what that means, so I will explain.
"It is Leear’s intention," he went on, "to involve you again in Naze. We have no power to prevent her from doing that, nor actually do we want to. Somehow, Geean must be killed, and the people of Naze freed. According to Leear, only you can do this, how she has never explained.
"What we did was to delay her plans until you could be given at least preliminary training in our marvelous system."
He finished quietly, "I think you will agree that, under these circumstances, you would be wise not to involve yourself in minor side issues."
Slade was shocked. The more he thought about it the greater grew his shock. It was curious but, though he had not for a minute forgotten Leear or Naze—incredible Naze—somehow the long sweet month of pastoral existence had blurred the darker potentialities of that memory.
Now, here it was, plainly stated. On occasion in his past life, he had had a reputation for facing facts with a brutal honesty, and his comparisons had startled his business associates. That was the way he finally looked at his present position. The comparison that occurred to him was that he was like a pig being fattened for the slaughter.
He spent the night, narrow-eyed, sleeping fitfully, and in a fury every time he woke up. By morning his mind was made up.
So Malenkens and the others had only persuaded Leear with difficulty to delay putting him immediately in jeopardy. Well, that was just fine. He owed her nothing anyway but a punch in the nose for being indirectly responsible for the death of Amor and Caldra.
Since her intention was to use him without so much as a by-your-leave, his purpose could only be to prevent her by every possible means from involving him.
The determination gave him considerable satisfaction until near morning, when it occurred to him that it might not be any too easy to prevent her machinations. The trouble was he knew so little, so desperately little. He had not the faintest idea what methods, might be available to these people who knew the innermost secrets of the human nervous system, and in addition had a spaceship loaded with gadgets, one at least of which was capable of transmitting material objects from this plane to the Earth plane and back again.
The new possibilities calmed him. He would have to be very clever indeed, to ensure that she didn’t get him into Naze again. And anger would be his poorest asset in carrying out that purpose.
At breakfast time, he emerged from his cave, seated himself beside Malenkens, and said:
"I think it’s time that I find out something about the history behind the war between the ship and the city."
Malenkens said, "I see that you have been thinking of what I told you last night." Slade waited, and Malenkens went on, "I do not regret having said it, but I cannot say more. We promised Leear that we would let her tell you the entire story."
"Then tell me," said Slade savagely, "who is Leear?"
"She is one of the silver belts."
"One of the what?"
Malenkens was grave. "Her personal plans for you would suffer a psychological defeat if I told you more. You must wait. I can say this. If you survive the destruction of Naze, the universe will be yours for the taking."
Temporarily that silenced Slade. Coming from Malenkens, those were momentous words. They brought his first sense of exhilaration at the greatness of the adventure into which his destiny had brought him.
The exhilaration was brief. The tremendousness of the reward implied by Malenkens suggested an enormous compensating sacrifice. Slade stiffened slowly. He disliked the thought of being on an unfriendly basis with these kindly people, but it was time he stated his position without equivocation.
He did so, pretty much as he had already decided. No co-operation with Leear until he was good and ready. It was ridiculous for her to assume that a man could be shoved blindly into a situation, again and again, and told to get out as best he could, each time without having more than a sketchy idea as to what was going on. He for one refused to have anything to do with such a plan. And if he ever went in, it would be on the basis of full information with his eyes wide open.
"You will have to kill a man," said Malenkens in a strangely drab voice. "You have never killed a human being. It is Leear’s unalterable conviction that you could not bring yourself to commit a cold-blooded murder, and that only under the stress of violent danger could you be nerved to kill. Such is her opinion, and, having observed you for an entire moon period, I agree with her."
"Thanks," said Slade dryly. "I’m still not interested."
He finished his meal in silence. He felt uncertain as to just what his position was with the tribe, but he decided in the end that what had happened was not a breakup. He would remain for a while at least, and make his plans on the basis of careful thought. There was no use rushing off, half cocked.
He attended his morning relaxation exercises as usual.
During the second month, the tempo of his life seemed faster to Slade. He realized what it was. He was more alert, more wary, eager to learn things. He kept a watchful eye on the men, and slept with a gun under his pillow.
Towards the end of the month, it struck him that no one in the tribe had ever seen the automatics in action. And that it might be a good idea to fire one of his precious bullets as a sort of a deterrent. He hesitated about that, because even one bullet might be important in a crisis. And yet, it seemed clear that Leear would never get him into Naze against his will unless male members of the tribe trussed him up and gave him into her power.
It was a month of several discoveries. He had been wondering about the animal life of this plane, "It’s there," Malenkens assured him, with an odd smile. "It all depends on whether they decide to find out your reaction to seeing them."
That didn’t quite make sense, but over a period of four weeks he had glimpses. And, finally, every time, the glimpse revealed the animal watching him. There was a tiny, dark creature too fast for a clear picture to form of its shape. A long, slim, spotted beast, too thin to be well muscled, and resembling a dog, trotted off disdainfully into the brush, after looking Slade over with an aloof eye. There was a horse-like beast that peered at him thoughtfully for several seconds, and then galloped off snorting. And then, finally, there was a. really shocking meeting with an animal.
Slade was walking along in a pathless valley adjoining the valley of the caves when a chance glance to the rear revealed a beast bigger than himself trotting along not more than ten yards behind him. It had a head that had both cat and bear features, and its body was long, and sleek, and grayish-brown.
It was the same type of beast that had bent over him that night in Caldra’s and Amor’s apartment.
Slade felt a thrill as sharp as fear, and snatched at his automatic. The animal’s teeth glinted like knives as it snarled at him. Its great paws came up. It whirled, and dived into concealing brush.
A nith, Danbar told him, and then was silent when Slade described what had happened in the apartment in Naze. Later, Slade saw him talking earnestly to Malenkens. The two men fell silent as Slade approached, so he was pretty certain they had been talking about him.
It was startling, that sudden discovery that he was being discussed. It emphasized the unsatisfactoriness of his position, and made immediately necessary, it seemed to Slade, a demonstration of his powerful weapons.
He had been thinking about the best method for doing that, and finally it seemed to him that he had it. A bird. For two months he had watched birds with gray plumage frisking through the foliage over and around the marsh. Wary were those birds. He could spend an hour crawling towards a flock. And then, just before he got close enough for a good look, the birds would take off towards a remote destination. Gradually, his desire to have a close look at a winged creature with three eyes became almost an obsession.
It seemed to him, now that if he could shoot one from the ledge, he would, figuratively, kill two birds with one stone.
On the following morning, he brought a chair out of his cave, laid one of his automatics on his lap, and sat watching the brush below. After ten minutes, he noted that people were glancing at him from the corner of their eyes. A few minutes after that, Danbar pulled up a chair and sat down beside him.
"What makes you think," he asked, "that your weapon will fire in this plane of existence?"
"Eh!" said Slade.
After a moment, the possibilities stunned him. He took careful aim at a distant flock of birds. He paused to say, "This gun makes a loud noise, so prepare yourself." Then he squeezed the trigger.
Click!
It was an empty sound. It left Slade with the chilled feeling that he was naked and helpless. The sun was as warm as ever, but for two months his two automatics had given him confidence and courage. They buttressed his spirit every time he thought of how easily the several dozen tribesmen could overpower him and give him to Leear.
Now, that buttress was gone.
For a moment, Slade sat quite still, then he ejected the cartridge into his palm, and began to pry out the bullet. He spilled the powder onto the cement sidewalk in a little pile, and then walked over to the nearest fire and picked up a burning faggot. He touched the flame to the powder. It burned with a slow sputter, like thick paper. Beside him Danbar said:
"The chemical combination will have to be slightly different. I have no doubt it could be made to work."
Slade had no intention of waiting to find out. His protection was gone. Without a word, he entered his cave, strapped on his second automatic, stuffed into his pockets the smaller articles he had brought from Earth—and returned to the outside. Danbar fell into step beside him.
"You are leaving us, Slade?"
Slade said, "Where is Malenkens?"
"He’s gone."
That was the second great shock. "Gone! Where to?"
He saw that Danbar was looking at him oddly. "Malenkens is not one of us, Slade. He visits us occasionally. He is one of the . . . silver belts."
Slade was silent. He realized what had happened. He had been handed over to one of the Leear’s hierarchy. For the first time it struck him how consistently Malenkens had been in the foreground of his tribal life. Danbar was speaking again:
"Do not blame us too severely, Slade, for anything that happens. None of us here have attained further than the molecular phase of body control. We are helpless in this struggle between the ship and the city, and so long as the city exists we can never attain the final stage of self-control.
"It is a jarring factor. Its existence prevents certain basic rhythms. The thought that people like ourselves are caught behind its barrier, forever unable to escape—and that is the main purpose of the barrier—to keep those people there under Geean’s control—weighs upon our spirit, and makes it impossible for us to realize our potentialities. And the result of that is that we, too, are at the mercy of Geean."
Slade had the impression that he was listening to an apology. It thawed him. "Thank you," he said, "I have nothing but friendship for your people here."
Danbar said, "Go with luck, my friend."
It took more than an hour before the cave ledge was finally out of sight.

CHAPTER VIII

THE SCENE grew wilder by the hour. He saw no animals, but birds by the hundreds squawked in the brush and in the trees, on average a very different type of bird than those that had been in the vicinity of the caves. They were less wary. Frequently, he could walk right past them without disturbing them. Towards evening, he picked up a stick and knocked two pigeon-like creatures out of a low shrub, and had his first three-eyed birds.
In that dusk, with his fire sputtering defiance at the gathering darkness, with the cries of night birds all around, he ate fresh fruit and pigeon roasted over a spit.
After eating, Slade pondered the problem of two-eyed and three-eyed creatures, and the worlds they lived in. There must be common ancestry. The human form would not have repeated easily. Way back, various creatures of the two-eyed world had developed a third eye, and had gone automatically, without their even being aware of it, into this special universe.
Actually, like sight and sense itself, the explanation probably went to the very roots of reality. What didn’t exist for the mind, the senses ignored. And in some intricate fashion, the object or objects ceased to affect the body as a whole.
It was not a new idea. But the old formulation expressed by the phrase, "Is the cat sleeping under the stove while I’m not around?" failed to take into account the certainties of the human mind. The absolute conviction that the cat was there whether the observer was present or not. Blind folk acquired certainties from hearing and touch.
The mind alone counted.
As the night wore on, Slade began to think, in the uneasy periods between dozes, of guns that wouldn’t shoot. It was a thought that was to occur again and again during the days that followed. It almost but not quite altered his plans.
He had intended to get the metal device, then turn sharply southward, and so walk entirely out of the territory of Naze and Leear. It was an unheroic role that he proposed for himself and it made him a little defensive, a little ashamed.
Here am I, he thought, in the strangest adventure a man ever got into, and I’m playing it cautious.
There were men, he knew, who would not hesitate a minute about plunging deep into the affair. Such men would now be on their way to Naze with the intention of bearding Geean in his great central tower.
Lying in the darkness, Slade’s lips tightened. It was no use kidding himself. Not for him was the bold course. The important thing was that he do not let caution send him southward without the metal object. It might prove without value. But it was a clue, and who could tell, it might still be in a workable condition. He couldn’t leave it behind him.
The forests were quiet, the valleys long, the hills gradually higher. A great, virgin continent spread before his footsteps, but the amazing realization was the sensational familiarity of the route. There was a slight difference in the depth of the canyons and the height of the hills. The extensive marshes, the trees and the forests of shrubs were absolutely different. But the general contours were the same. And he had made the hundred mile trip to his farm so often that he wasn’t lost for a minute. It was a wonderful feeling.
He came finally on the sixth morning to the long, hilly plain at the end of which—on the Earth plane—was his farm. Very cautiously, using every possible cover, he approached the point where the spaceship had been that night. From afar, he saw that it was not there, but his caution did not relax for a minute.
Within ten minutes of reaching the area, he found the machine. He used a sturdy branch he had picked up en route as a crowbar to pry it out of the ground. It was deeply embedded, and it took considerable perspiration and twenty minutes to loosen it.
It came up finally, and showed its shape. A boxlike affair, with a wheel attached to one end. It was not too small in size, but its lightness was amazing. Pure magnesium, or even lithium, might have matched it, but little else.
He estimated the weight of the box and the wheel together at something less than thirty pounds. It glittered in the sun, untarnished by its long exposure. Slade made no effort to examine it immediately.
All that day, he carried it on first one shoulder, then another. About an hour before dusk he came to a burbling creek, and decided to stay there for the night. It was rather exposed, but he was tired, and the nearest forest looked many miles away.
He ate hurriedly, then, his curiosity as strong as ever, he bent over the machine. Atomic and magnetic power, Malenkens had told him once, were the energy sources of old Naze. "Naturally," the man had pointed out, "they will work a little differently here than where you came from."
After his experience with his automatics, Slade could appreciate that. Nevertheless, he decided that he preferred this one to be magnetic.
He studied the machine intently.
It was the wheel that puzzled him. Only one wheel. And so large, too. The metal box, into which the shaft of the wheel disappeared, was only about a foot cube. The wheel was a little over two feet in diameter, and it curved out from the shaft like a flower with long petals that formed a cup shape. It was big enough to be a small cornucopia. It could have acted easily as a small mixer, so spacious was it.
"Hm-m-m!" said Slade.
Perhaps the angle was not to think of it as a wheel just because it rotated easily on a shaft.
Still, it looked like a wheel.
He spun it. It whirled and finally came to a stop. Nothing else happened.
He fumbled over the box, searching for a control device. In a way he had done that before. Now, however, he was thorough. But there was nothing.
He noticed three brighter spots on one shiny side of the machine. They looked like dents made in the hard substance. But there were no dents. His probing fingers sensed not the slightest depression.
Puzzled, Slade examined the brightnesses. He brought them close to his eyes. Glitter, glitter, glitter, he thought. Wonder what—
Something caught at his eyes.
He jerked back, letting the machine drop.
lt didn’t drop. It hung a foot from his face, the wheel facing up, the three bright spots like tiny blazing fires poking at his three eyes.
He closed them, then blinked rapidly. The blaze points pierced through his eyelids. In a panic, Slade shoved at the box.
The machine glided a hundred feet through the air, and came to a stop. The three bright spots poured fire towards his eyes, as bright as if he was still a foot away. The extra distance made no difference.
Slade raced towards the machine. Have to turn it away from him, or the thing would destroy his vision. He caught it with trembling hands. And turned it upside down.
It spun around without resistance. And its mind-frightening connection with his eyes broken, it wafted gently, almost balloon-like, to the ground. Slade hid it in the brush beside the creek. Then, still shaking from his experience, lay down on the grassy bank. It was only slowly that he realized that nothing damaging had happened. His vision was as good as ever. His eyes felt cool and rested, and quite untensed.
He slept dreamlessly and without wakening all night. When he opened his eyes, the sun was just coming up. He busied himself gathering fruit from the nearby trees, and he had just finished eating when a thin whistling sound rent the air to one side of him.
Slade jumped a foot as something struck the grass where he had been.

CHAPTER IX

HE WHIRLED, and stared at the object. A noose made of metal looking rope. It was alive in a mechanical fashion. It shuddered and narrowed, tightening as he watched it. Its two ends withdrew into a little metal box.
Before Slade could examine it further, there was another hissing sound. The second noose struck his shoulder, as he twisted aside. It bounded away like a rubber ball, almost hitting a nearby tree.
"What the—" said Slade. And dived behind a shrub. By the time he reached it, two more nooses were lying on the grass, writhing shut. Slade slid his gaze around the horizon—and saw their source.
Flying things! They were too far away to be clearly visible. They seemed to have legs but no wings. He caught a glint of scarlet, then dazzling silver, then green, and of human-like arms clinging to something that shimmered above them. It was the shimmering objects that flew. The creatures merely hung on.
And every little while, though the motion that caused it was lost in the distance, one of the creatures would send a noose hissing towards Slade’s head.
He felt a horrid thrill. What was this? With an absolutely gruesome fascination, he remembered the girl’s letter. Geean and the hunters of the city.
But the hunters were keeping their distance.
A thousand yards, he estimated shakily. Even if they had worked, his automatics would have been useless at that distance. He looked around frantically for a way of escape. But the nearest forest was about ten miles behind him. There was brush, there were shrubs, and by heaven, there was no reason to lose hope until he was actually caught.
Five nooses sprang around him while he observed and had the thought. He began to gather them up frantically. They were probably accustomed to retrieving them, and they couldn’t have too many.
He darted behind a shrub. From its shelter he flicked his gaze calculatingly towards every horizon, counting the creatures. One, two . . . seven.
Slade thought jerkily, "If I can keep them off till dark."
A glance towards the sun showed that it hadn’t moved a fraction of an inch, seemingly, from its position low above the eastern horizon.
Night was a long, long way off.
His lips tightened. Some of the fever went out of him. His body grew calm with determination. Straight ahead. There was no reason why, with a show of bravado, he shouldn’t be able to make it—straight ahead to that distant forest.
As he twisted towards a second shrub, a noose came down from the sky, ringed him, spun a little as it struck his shoulders. And then settled down over his arms, tightening with irresistible strength.
Slade grabbed for his sheathed knife. But his hands were pressed too tightly against his body. He jerked at the snare, and stumbled over a stone, fell hard, rolling over and over.
The noose was like a steel spring. It cut into his flesh with a strength that made Slade gasp. There must be a releasing catch— Have to release it.
He strained to get his fingers up to it, but its hold was too cunning for him. As he struggled, Slade caught a movement in the near sky. It was hard to see through the pain tears that had started into his eyes. But he blinked the tears aside, and, after a moment, he saw the silver-clad hunters clearly. They were about a hundred feet away, and swooping closer.
He ceased his hopeless fight.
The seven hunters of the city dropped from their flying devices twenty feet away. Slade looked them over briefly, wondering if Geean was among them. It seemed unlikely. Swiftly, he forgot the men. It was the reddish flying instruments that snatched all his attention. They clung for a minute to the air above the men. And then, like slowly deflating balloons, they collapsed to the ground. One man carried a spare flyer.
Each instrument was a red-frosted, glass-like extrusion about three inches in diameter and three feet long. There was a sling attached to it, and at the end of the sling some handgrips.
Nothing else. No machinery, no apparent source of energy—Slade had an impulse to make it a closer examination. He repressed it, partly because the noose held him as tightly as ever. And partly because he had his first close look at the men.
The day he had seen the soldiers of Geean in Caldra’s and Amor’s apartment, he hadn’t really had time to note character. Now, with these henchmen, he did.
They were intent faces, dissipated looking, very light in color. They bent over him, and two of them were smiling sardonically. One of the men said something; and there was a quick general laughter, that ended, and left the faces intent again. Slade didn’t catch the words.
Slade felt the automatics taken from the holsters, and other articles removed from his pockets. Each item was swiftly scanned, then stuffed into a canvas-like bag. Before the search was finished, one of the men fumbled at the noose. It loosened promptly, and came up easily over his head.
And, again, there was speed. Even as Slade climbed to his feet and started to rub the numbness out of his arms, another man shoved the handgrips of the spare flier into his fingers, and pointed at a third, who was just picking one of the fliers off the ground.
"Watch him," he said curtly.
As Slade watched, the third man swung the bar up in front of him with an easy rhythmic swing. And, simultaneously, with dexterity, leaped into the air.
The glass-like bar caught at something. It stiffened, straightened, and pointed like an arrow from a bow. It began to glide forward with the man clinging to the handgrips—as the man beside Slade said curtly, "Now, you."
He expected the thing to come crashing down on his head. And, simultaneously, paradoxically, he expected his arms would be half torn out of their sockets when the device caught "onto" the air.
But it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t like that at all. It didn’t fall. There was no tug, no jerk. Something, a current, a—lightness—saturated his body. And it was that current, and not the machine, that lifted him. Lifted him like thistledown borne on a climbing breeze.
Strong as metal, the flying device rode above him. But it was only a catalytic agent, affecting his body not transporting it. His body flew with the machine, was of the machine. The two became one. He remembered how the bars had dropped a few minutes before, after the hunters let go, and it was clear that neither could remain airborn without the other.
A great basic force welded a union between his nervous system and the machine. And the dead weight of gravity let go of him. It was like the wheel machine, he recalled with a start. He glanced back towards where he had hidden the machine, but it was not visible from the air.
The relief that came had mixed in it a great wonder. What incredible secrets of the nervous system had these people discovered, both natural and mechanical? He saw that the other six hunters were swooping up to him. They clustered around him, clinging to their fliers effortlessly. And somehow the sweep of their machines became the direction and speed of his. It was as if his flier was guided by a sympathetic union with the other machines.
They soared low over the land and over a whole series of marshes, in and out along valleys and through forests. Slade noticed that the fliers had a tendency to remain near the ground. Not once was there a real attempt to climb high. They avoided the towering, snow-capped mountains that flanked their course. Like a river, they flowed along the easiest course, and in the end he decided that the motive power was derived from the magnetic currents of Earth. Nothing else, in view of what he knew, could explain the evenness of their course, and the type of transportation.
In a surprisingly short time, the clustered group of them came within sight of a city of shining spires. Slade stared at it with glistening eyes because it was one thing to have seen it from inside, quite another to view it like this. It was about four miles wide at the mouth of a widening valley. He couldn’t see how long it was. The fliers were too low, and the city stood on a plateau.
Its towers and roofs glinted in the brilliant rising sun. Clearly now, its design was apparent. The whole city sloped up towards the central tower of Geean, that reared like a pylon into the lower heavens. The height of that pylon seemed greater than he remembered it. It rivaled the near mountain peaks, and from its silvery eminence a hazy, violet glow spread like a mist covering the whole city. The color was remarkably sharp seen from this angle. It was a mist of light that curved like a carefully worn robe onto the grass a mile from every outskirt of the city.
The fliers poised before the barrier. For a moment only. A signal flashed mirror-bright from the distant tower, and the red-frosted devices flowed forward and through the barrier like so many knives cutting through thin gauze.
They almost grazed the rooftops of low built homes. They evaded several spires, and then they began to swoop lower. They were twenty feet, then ten feet from the ground. A man reached over and grasped one handle of Slade’s machine.
"Let go," he said curtly. "Drop."
Slade looked at him, amazed and uncomprehending. The surly face, so close to his own was venomous. "Drop!"
Slade glanced down. A cobbled street was below. He hesitated, then let go. The instant return of weight made a thrill in his nervous system. He struck the ground harder than he liked. Twice, he rolled over, and then he was up. The fliers were already disappearing around a nearby spire.
Abruptly, he was alone.

STATEMENT TO THE CORONER’S JURY
By John Alden, Farmer,
Smailes County

It is my custom to arise at 5 a.m. every morning. On the morning of the 19th I got up at my usual hour, and I was doing my chores when I observed what seemed to me a strange spectacle.
A woman and a large bearlike beast were walking in a westerly direction across my stubble field. Since bears are frequently dangerous, the fear came to me that the woman did not know she was being followed by so large and formidable an animal.
I ran and procured my gun, but though I was inside only a minute, and there was no place where anybody could have gone to in such a short time, when I came out of the house, there was no sign of either woman or beast. Almost literally they disappeared into thin air.
It was a little after noon that same day that the smashed body of Michael Slade was discovered in the high valley two miles from my place. According to the doctor, he had died about half an hour before he was round. So it is very likely his death had no connection with the woman and the bear, whom I saw earlier.
But I report the incident for what it is worth in clearing up the mystery of the three-eyed man.
Except for the foregoing, I had never seen Michael Slade until his dead body was brought to my farm by the doctor.
One more thing: When the police from Smailes County and I examined the tracks of the woman and the animal, we discovered that they ended abruptly in the middle of the field.
I am not prepared to offer an explanation for this.

CHAPTER X

SLADE WALKED slowly along, examining his position. His automatics were gone, but his knife was still in its holster. His handkerchief had been left in his pocket as well as a small case of fishing tackle and a box of morphine tablets, which he had brought along in the event of a violent accident befalling him.
Abruptly, he discovered that the side street he was on was not quite so deserted as it had first appeared. An old woman sidled hurriedly out of an alleyway, and muttered:
"Blood! or I’ll murder you tonight." Slade brushed her aside, thinking: Why had they released him? What did they expect him to do? Do! That was it of course. Geean thought he knew about the plotting that was going on, and somehow the great man of Naze expected him to lead his forces to the plotters.
Slade laughed grimly. There was a great deal of cunning, common sense in Geean’s plan, but it had a basic fault. Geean was wrong in his belief that Slade knew anything.
But that didn’t matter now. His purpose before the fall of night must be to find the apartment that had once been occupied by Caldra and Amor. And since Geean was aware of its location, he didn’t have to be the slightest bit stealthy about it.
He must assume for the moment that he couldn’t escape from Naze, and that Geean would arrest him whenever it pleased him.
The sun was high in the heavens when he reached the fifth-columnist part of the city. He recognized a street, then another, then he realized that he was near the apartment. As he hurried eagerly forward, a young woman’s familiar voice whined:
"Your blood, mister."
Slade was walking on, when a gasp escaped the girl. He whirled, and stared at her. Her face was already stiffening to the encounter.
"Well," she said with a faint sneer, "if it isn’t the man who was going to destroy Naze."
Slade said, "Amor!" Then he remembered Geean, and that his movements were probably being observed. "Quick," he said, "meet me at Caldra’s apartment. I’ll give you some blood then. But now—slap my face as if you’re mad at me."
She was quick. Her hand came up and dealt him a stinging blow on the cheek. She swaggered away, and he walked on, for the first time beginning to realize the implications of what had happened. Amor—on the streets.
He had a sudden sense of personal degradation. Then anger against Leear. She was responsible for this.
He wondered bleakly if the girl would turn up at the apartment.
She was there ahead of him. She opened the door for him, and began to talk even as he crossed the threshold. She chattered with a mad speed. Her face was flushed, her eyes wide and staring. Her hands shook. She looked on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
She had escaped death the night Caldra was killed because she was not in the apartment. She had spent the night with a girl friend.
"I was afraid that I would go to your room if I stayed."
The feverish way in which the words were spoken reminded Slade. He climbed to his feet, and went into her bedroom. The syringe and the cup lay on the table beside her bed.
He thought sickly: To such depths can the potential Homo Superior sink.
He took the syringe into the kitchen, boiled some water on one of the curious energy elements, and then sterilized the syringe needle. He inserted the needle into a vein in his left arm. The blood glittered darkly as it flowed into the transparent syringe. When it was full he squirted it into the cup. The liquid hissed a little as it touched the metal, but there was no other reaction. With a steady hand, he set the cup down on the table beside her.
The girl licked her lips, but she did not look at the cup. Her face was stiff, her body rigid. Her eyes were looking fixedly at the floor. She said in a monotone:
"Why have you come back to the city?"
So she was beginning to think things over. It was a good sign. Slade began to talk. He was completely frank, though brief. When he had finished, Amor’s eyes were gleaming. She stood up. She was suddenly enormously excited.
"This is it," she said. "This is it!" She looked at him, wide-eyed. "Don’t you see, it’s not an accident your being here. Everybody’s being terribly clever but determined. Geean has let himself fall into the trap. Why? Because he feels safe behind his silver belt, but he’s desperately anxious to find out how Leear thinks she can use you to destroy him. And in his bold fashion, he’ll take risks now so that he’ll know in the future."
She had started pacing the floor, as she talked. Now, she stopped, directly in front of Slade. She said in an intense voice:
"Go straight to him. That will baffle him. He’s expecting you to do something. He’s expecting somebody to tell you to do something. Very well, I’ll tell you. Leear has said that only you can kill Geean. That means that nothing can happen until you are present.
"That means that you, under the present circumstances, have to seek him out. You can’t escape it in the long run anyway. There is no escape from Naze except through Leear. And you may be sure that she’ll keep you here now until you do what she wants. Besides, Geean will have you brought before him sooner or later anyway and—Here!"
She had raced off across the room. She came racing back carrying the cup of blood. She held it out to him. She said in feverish tone:
"Take a sip of this. It will give you courage. The effect of a sip won’t last longer than an hour."
Slade took the cup curiously. He felt overwhelmed. He had always intended to taste the stuff, though the idea of drinking his own blood was repellent. Nevertheless, he was not going to be rushed so swiftly into putting himself into the clutches of Geean. His impulse was to temporize.
He brought the cup to his lips, hesitated. And then he took a little swallow—
"Get in there," the officer of the tower guard said insolently. "If his excellency Geean decides to speak to you, he’ll let you know."
The door shut with a bang.
Slade staggered as he moved farther into the room. The sense of ecstatic, almost unbearable pleasure that had burst along his nervous system within seconds of his swallowing the blood, was gone now. What remained was a blurred memory of mad pleasure-dreams, and a gathering fury.
That little wretch, he thought, that scoundrel, Amor. She knew what would happen.
A sort of hypnotism it had been, driving him resistlessly through a mist of streets on wings of joyous excitement straight to the central tower of Geean. Blood drinkers must give their brain directional thoughts just before they drank. His directions had been to go to Geean, and here he was.
Still dizzy, Slade looked around the room. There was a bed in one corner, and a large window slashed across the opposite wall. Slade peered shakily out of the window, and blinked. He was looking down into a depth of distance. He estimated seventy stories, and he was leaning forward to verify the height when the realization struck into his brain that he was able to lean forward.
There was no glass in the window.
He retreated back into the room, shocked by his menial condition, that had made it possible, however briefly, for him to be unaware that the window was a hazard. Better lie down, he thought shakily.
He dreamed a miserable after-drug type dream. In the dream, his body was flung out of an open window, to fall seventy stories to the ground below. He awakened, shivering, and then grew rigid:
A nith was standing beside his bed, its long powerful head projecting above him. Its three eyes staring down at him were pools of unnatural light. It saw that he was awake, but made no effort to move away. It said:
"Who told you to come here?"
It stood there waiting.
Vagueness. Slade’s brain had been tensed for almost anything. But not language, not speech. The surprise was too great for ordinary adjustment. Caught completely off guard, his conscious mind, temporarily suspended function.
It was not funny. His metabolism was affected. There was a rush of loose nervous energy through his body. Nausea came, followed by an inability to perform certain normal releasing reflexes like swallowing and blinking. The blood seemed to congeal behind his eyes, and his vision blurred sharply.
He had an acute conviction, not a thought but a fear, that he was going to be precipitated back to the other earth. The fear grew so monstrous that his first thought was able to come through. His dream— He would fall seventy stories if he was knocked out of this plane. The picturization of that fall almost petrified his reason.
But the seconds passed, and nothing happened. His confidence returned. The nith’s bear-cat head was only a foot away from his face, as it said:
"What is the plan to destroy Geean?"
There were several things about the speech that almost got Slade going again. It was not a speech. There was no sound at all. The creature was thinking at him. This was mental telepathy.
Slade lay stiff, striving to grasp the implications of a beast that had a better than human system of communication. Memory came of the wild animals that had watched him, and the wariness of the birds near the caves. Was it possible that they were all mind readers?
The thought ended. The nith was snarling threateningly. A great paw came up.
"What is the plan?"
In a synchronized jerk, Slade flung himself to the far side of the bed, and snatched his knife. Horribly afraid, he tumbled off the bed. Then he was on his feet, knife ready, backing towards the nearest wall.
"Careful," he said, "I’ll sink this knife into you six inches at least."
Afterwards, Slade was not clear as to what happened then. He was partly facing the window when a second nith walked in from the empty air of seventy stories above ground. It carried a foot-thick transparent weapon, which cast a pale reddish radiance towards the first nith. The beast must have died instantly, but it took more than a minute for the radiance to dissolve its great body into nothingness. The newcomer looked at Slade. It thought at him urgently:
"A traitor. We’ve been waiting patiently for Leear to give the word to kill him. But now, there’s no time to waste. First, I’d better get rid of this—" Slade didn’t get the word it used to describe the weapon.
He watched as the animal dexterously split the instrument in two. Inside was a simple set-up built around a loose strip of metal about an inch by three inches by four. The nith’s paw clutched the small object.
"Quick," it said, "put this in your pocket. Like this."
It was not something about which Slade had any say. The animal bounded towards him. Before he could decide whether he was going to resist, it had slipped the metal strip into his left coat pocket. Slade watched as it jammed the two sections of what remained of the weapon under the bed.
It came erect with a jerk. "They’re coming for you," it said tensely. "Remember, there’s no victory yet. What we have done so far we could have done years ago.
"This is the crisis."
The door opened, and half a dozen soldiers came in. Without a word they led Slade out into a long, dim corridor and into an elevator. The nith followed. The elevator creaked upward about ten floors. Another corridor, then a door that opened into a spacious apartment.
A tall thin man with a powerful physique was standing looking out of a glassless window. He was dressed in the silver shining clothes of a hunter of Naze, and until he turned Slade had no sense of familiarity. It was that that made terrific the shock of recognition.
Geean was Malenkens.

CHAPTER XI


IT WAS a morning of devastating shocks for Slade. He was aware of the great man watching him with a faint smile, and it was the contemptuous texture of that smile that finally pulled Slade out of his desperate turmoil.
In a burst of thought, he saw the picture. Danbar’s apology. Explained now. Geean’s nith that night at Caldra’s apartment must have read his mind, and on the basis of the information it secured, Geean had been enabled to lay in wait for him at the cave village. There, without asking any questions, he had learned from Slade the detailed story of what had happened.
Bloodthirsty threats must have been used to silence so completely men like Danbar.
The other’s smile was more satiric. "You’re quite right," Geean said. "That is what happened."
The words, so accurately reflecting his thoughts, startled Slade. He looked at the nith, and its mind touched his instantly:
"Naturally, I am giving Geean a censored version of your thoughts. That is why he used the traitor nith. He had to have somebody who could read minds, and I was selected as a substitute because of my overall resemblance to the dead-one. But now, you must be on the alert."
It went on with ill-concealed haste: "Geean is not as calm as he appears. He has a tremendous respect for Leear, and something has already happened to make him realize that this is the crisis. If he should suddenly become afraid, he will kill you instantly.
"You must accordingly be prepared to act on a flash thought from me."
"But what am I supposed to do?"
There was no answer to that intensely thought question. Slade licked dry lips, as the realization penetrated how completely he was, involved in the moment by moment developments. He thought, "I’ve got to convince Geean, persuade him that I’m no danger." Before he could speak, Geean said:
"Slade, you are alive at this moment because I am undecided. A woman"—his voice grew savage—"named Leear, the only other silver belt immortal, has claimed that she can use you to kill me. I could murder you out of hand, but she would soon be able to produce another person like you with which to threaten me, and the next time perhaps I might not find out about it in advance. This is the time I must take any attendant risks. You are the man who benefits for the moment. Slade, I must find out what her method is. To me, nothing in the world matters as much."
It was impressive. Geean’s face had changed as he talked. Earnestness was in every line. The man was fascinated to the core of his soul by the threat to himself. He, who was immortal, was suddenly menaced, and the startling thing must be the vagueness, the lack of detail of that all-embracing menace. Hundreds of years had probably passed since Geean had experienced such an excitement of interest.
Slade’s private thoughts ended, for Geean was continuing, his voice harder, his manner more intent:
"Slade, it is clear to me that you are an unwilling pawn in this affair. But I can do nothing about that. Here you are. The issue has been forced despite all my warnings to Leear. At this moment, and there is no question that it is her doing, an atomic fire is raging on the fortieth level of the tower. It will not be long before it reaches us up here."
Briefly, Slade’s attention wandered. He stood, startled. An atomic fire. Why, that meant the tower would be destroyed, the barrier would come down forever. Naze was already doomed.
In his mind’s eye, he visualized that fire of fires. He began to tremble. The others undoubtedly had methods of escape, but what about him. The implacable voice of Geean went on:
"It has always been possible for Leear to start such an uncontrollable atomic reaction among the machinery of the barrier, but long ago"—his tone grew remote—"long ago, I warned her that if she ever did I would murder every human being on the planet."
His eyes, as cold as glass, fixed Slade. The change in the man absolutely astounded Slade. At the beginning, he had had something in him of the stern kindly appearance of Malenkens. All gone now. His face was transformed. It was like a mask, so deadly, so cruel that Slade was taken aback. In the space of a few minutes Dr. Jekyll had become Mr. Hyde. Geean said in an infinitely savage voice:
"At all times Leear has known that if she destroyed the barrier I destroyed the race. She has made her choice. So it shall be."
The words were so ultimately meaningful that they did not immediately make sense. Slade was thinking that the spectacle of Geean changing had been like being in the presence of a man who was drinking himself into a pig-like state, like having a sudden glimpse of sewer, like being compelled to watch an obscene picture. Slade shivered with repulsion, and then, abruptly, his absorption with physical things passed. In one jump, the immense meaning of the man’s words penetrated.
He felt half paralyzed, and then, stronger than before the realization came that he must convince Geean, must persuade him that Michael Slade would do nothing to injure him. He parted his lips to speak—and closed them again.
A shape was walking into the window behind Geean. It was a woman’s shape, momentarily insubstantial. The nith must have warned Geean, for he turned mustering a grimace of a smile. The smile became a broad sneer as Leear came into the room.
Slade looked at her stiffly. He had an idea that his life was hanging in the balance. Now that Leear had arrived, Geean must be tensing to the necessity of dealing swift death to the one man who was supposed to be able to kill him. The nith’s tremendously anxious thought impinged upon his mind.
"Relax, man, for your sake and ours. Surely, you have enough experience now with the nature of the nervous system to realize that an unrelaxed man is at a terrible disadvantage. I assure you that I will give you some warning. So be calm, and face this deadly situation."
Relax! Slade clutched at the hope. Relaxation should be easy to him now. The hope went deeper, farther. What a tremendous and terrible joke on Geean was the presence of this nith.
Slade looked at the animal in a great wonder. There it sat on its haunches, a gigantic cat bear, reading everybody’s thoughts, passing on to each person a censored version of what it saw. And Geean believed—stood there, cold and confident, and believed—that it was his nith.
If he was really unkillable, then that delusion meant nothing. But if Leear had a method of killing him, if there was a weakness in his impregnability, then Geean had made the mistake of his career.
Slade drew a long, deep breath, and let it out—long.
Relaxation was as swift as that. Standing there, he had his first good look at Leear.
It was a different Leear than he remembered from his brief glimpses. She had been nude beside the marsh, and little more than a shadow inside the spaceship. Somehow, he had taken it for granted that she wore the rough and ready clothes of the cave dwellers.
He was mistaken. No cavewoman was here. Her hair was a braided marvel, not a loose fringe, not a straggling curl. And it glowed with a lacquer-like luster. She wore a silkish garment that seemed brand new. And it must have been designed for her. It showed off her figure with an almost demure good taste. Even her dominating attitude was softened, for she sent a quick warm smile at Slade, and then, as she faced Geean squarely, the smile faded. If she intended to speak, she was too slow. Geean it was who broke the silence:
"All decked out in your bridal finery," he sneered. He began to laugh. It was a loud, insulting laughter. He stopped finally, and turned grinning to Slade. "You will he interested to know, my friend, that you are the last hope of this ten thousand year old spinster. It is a little difficult to explain, but the cavemen, by very reason of their type of nerve training, are adversely affected by the aura of a woman who gains her nerve power by mechanical means. Accordingly, she cannot get a husband for herself among them. That leaves my blood drinkers out there"—he waved a hand towards the window—"and you."
The grin was wider. "For reasons of morality, she is not interested in a man who has formed the blood drinking habit, which of course narrows the field down to you. Amusing, isn’t it?"
The grin faded. Abruptly savage, the man whirled on Leear. "And you, my dear," he said scathingly, "will be interested to know that Slade is on my side, not yours. The nith has just informed me that he is desperately anxious to convince me that I have nothing to fear from him. Since it will inform me when and if he changes his mind, I find myself in a unique bargaining situation."
He didn’t realize. It was amazing, it was almost staggering to see him standing there accepting what the nith was telling him. Not that it had told a lie about Slade’s intentions and desires but the fact that it was quite coolly giving him real facts emphasized in a curious fashion how completely at its mercy he was for information.
For his own sake Geean had better be unkillable. Otherwise, he was right behind the eight ball.
"We want to show you," the nith’s thought came. "If Geean will let us, we want to show you what is behind this fight of the ship and the city. That is why I told him about your determination not to kill him."
It went on swiftly, "It will be a postponement only. You cannot escape the necessity of choosing between the two worlds at war here, the two people standing before you. I can tell you this much. When the moment comes your choice will be free, but only in the sense that anything in this universe is free.
"But now, we must persuade Geean to let you hear a brief history of Naze."
Geean was quite willing. He looked genuinely amused. "So it’s really come down to persuading Slade to do something. I think I ought to warn you that at the moment I am the one who is the most likely to win him over. I’ve just been remembering some of the things he told me about his country. Only a few years ago they dropped atomic bombs on major cities of some enemies of theirs. The parallel to our own case is most interesting, and augurs so ill for you that I would suggest you simply open your mind to the nith, and so get the whole affair over with as swiftly as possible. All I want to know is, how did you plan to use him to kill me?"
He smiled. "You won’t do it? Very well, let’s get it over with. It always amuses me to hear biased accounts of events in which I have participated."
He walked over to a couch, and sat down. And waited. Leear turned towards Slade. "I shall be quick," she said.
It was not a long story that she told them. But it was the picture of the end of a civilization that had attained mechanical perfection. The immortal inhabitants of Naze were indestructible by virtue of their silver belts, which gave them nerve control. There were machines for every purpose, and all worked on the same principle— control of the human nervous system by means of inorganic energies.
As the slow years passed, the very perfection began to pall. It was discovered that individuals were beginning to commit suicide. Boredom settled like a vast doom over that ultimate materialistic civilization, and with each passing day men and women sought surcease in voluntary death.
It became a mass tendency. In the beginning, the planet had been well-populated, almost overcrowded. At the end a handful of millions lived in eighteen cities. It was into this impasse that new discoveries about the human nervous system projected a whole new outlook on the future of man.
Experiments were performed on animals and birds. In an amazingly short time various breeds were able to read minds, something which man, with all his machines, had never been able to accomplish. They reacted marvelously in other ways also, and so a plebiscite was held, and it was decided by an overwhelming vote to put aside artificial immortality and give the new wonderful science a chance.
Leear paused and looked at Slade gravely. "There could be no half measures. It was all or nothing, no volunteer system could be permitted, no exceptions. The new discoveries proved that man, in his primitive simplicity, had followed the wrong road to civilization, and and that he must retrace his steps and make a new beginning. He must go back, and back away from the materialistic gods he had followed so long, away from his cities and his machines. You yourself have seen what men like Danbar can do, and he has attained only a part of the third or molecular phase of control. The final, electronic phase, impossible of attainment so long as the city of Naze exists, goes completely beyond anything that has ever been envisaged by man. With our mechanical belts, our silver belts, we have had tantalizing glimpses, but that is all. Men will be as gods, almost omnipotent, and naturally immortal.
"Do you hear me? Naturally immortal! In your world laid my own, long ago, thousands of generations of human. beings have died unnecessarily. All of them had within their own bodies the power of powers, the innate capacity to realize their every desire."
The picture had been growing on Slade, as she talked. The existence of the cavemen was explained. Odd pieces in the jigsaw puzzle of this world were beginning to fit into place, and he had a sudden dazzling vision of what she was getting at.
Leear was continuing, swiftly: "Think of your own experience," she said in an intense voice. "You came from one plane of existence into another because your mind suddenly accepted a new reality. And then there is a comparison that shows how completely wrong appearances can be. Light. The people of the two-eyed world must have a definition of light as something materialistic, something external."
She stared at him so demandingly that Slade nodded, and gave the wave and corpuscular theories of light.
"Light," said Leear triumphantly, "is a perception of the reactor, not an activity of the actor. Out there in space is a great body we know as the sun. We and every object in this room, whether organic or inorganic, are aware of the presence of that sun. We all react to its presence, just as it reacts to ours. But it sends us no heat, no light, nothing. The awareness is inside ourselves, inside the molecules of this table and that chair. To us, that awareness manifests as a perception which we call light. Now, do you see, now do you realize that primitive man, unaided, followed the wrong course. He had no way of understanding the true nature of his world."
Slade hadn’t expected to grasp her meaning. But he did. Only a few months before, he had attended a lecture by a disciple of Einstein. And in a distorted fashion, this was the famous scientist’s latest theory of light. He had forgotten all about it.
He was frowning over the visualization, when he happened to glance at Geean. That brought him back with a start to an entirely different kind of reality. He said:
"Where does Geean fit into all this?"
Geean said dryly, "I was just going to ask that question myself."
Leear was silent for a moment. Then, in a low voice: "There was opposition, of course, to the great plan.
All silver belts had been destroyed except those of myself and my companion who had been chosen by lot to man the ship which you saw, to watch over the experiment, to chronicle its progress, and—"
She stopped. "There was opposition," she said, flatly. "A small, selfish minority led by Geean—"
Again, she stopped. This time Geean laughed, but the laughter ended abruptly. He said somberly:
"They had no idea how far I had decided to go."
Something of the remorselessness of the decision he had carried out then came into his face, and into his voice, as he went on:
"My forces struck one night at the seventeen cities, and wiped them out with atomic bombs. By a trick we secured the belt of Leear’s companion, and killed him. That is the belt I now wear. We had planned also to destroy the ship, but by pure accident Leear had taken it from its berth."
He breathed heavily with the memory of what must have been the shock of shocks of his long, ruthless life. His eyes were narrowed to slits, his body tense.
"She attacked our storehouse in Naze. By the time we got the barrier up, she had destroyed all chance of our ever making more belts."
Geean gave a final reminiscent shudder, and then straightened slowly. He looked around belligerently. "Enough of this," he said. "I can’t quite imagine a stranger lo this world getting so heated over something that happened more than a thousand years ago, that he will risk his life to avenge it."
So quickly did the conversation sink to practical verities.

CHAPTER XII

IT WAS TOO LONG, Slade thought gayly. Too many centuries had passed since that colossal crime had been Perpetrated. And yet, in spite of the vast time gap, something of the horror of it reached across the years and touched him.
For the problem was still here. Here, in this room. The struggle for ascendancy between the ship and the city. That collective entity the ship was going to defeat the entity that was the city. But Geean would survive; and, by that very survival, he would retain the power of death over all the defenseless people of this plane.
But life centered in the individual. A man must save himself.
"You are wrong," thought the nith. "Life is the race. The individual must sacrifice himself."
That was too deep for Slade. He grew aware that Geean was still speaking, at him now:
"My mind-reading animal," he said, "has been keeping me in touch with your thoughts. I’m happy to note that you dismiss Leear’s arguments as so much impractical metaphysics. It’s possible," he went on, "that you and I are closer together mentally than I have suspected. The nith has also told me of the arguments you are marshaling to convince me that I ought to keep you alive. Frankly, I hadn’t really thought about your ability to go to your earth as being valuable to me, but I can see how it might be."
Slade, who hadn’t even thought of any arguments to save himself, stared at the nith in amazement, It was startling to realize that the beast had been using a skillful psychology to save his life.
"I told you," the nith thought into his mind, "that, when the moment came, your choice would be personally free. He has decided that, if no crisis occurs, he will let you live."
Slade’s answering thought was grim. "But how am I going to get down to the ground?"
"That," flashed the nith, "comes under the heading of what I said before. No choice in this universe is absolutely free. You can trust yourself on our side, or you can make arrangements with Geean."
So that was it. They thought they were going to force him to take one risk to avoid another. And when you got right down to it, they pretty well had him. Slade thought savagely:
"What do you want me to do?"
"Geean must die. Only you can kill him."
"I’ve heard that all before." Impatiently. "What I mean is—"
He stopped. For weeks he had known that this was what would be required of him. The realization had lain there in the back of his mind, to be occasionally brought forward and pondered in an unreal fashion. It was altogether different to think suddenly, "This is the moment."
He who had never killed a man must now kill Geean. How?
You have in your left hand pocket an instrument. Turn slowly until your left side is pointing at Geean. Put your hand surreptitiously into your pocket and press the button that you will find right at the top of the device.
That instrument has now had time to integrate itself to your nervous system, a nervous system which, as you know, is not yet completely stabilized in this plane. When you press the button, it will transmit to Geean in a very concentrated form your present instability. He will be instantly projected to the two-eyed plane of existence, and will fall eighty stories to the ground. Just as your bullets would not work when you first came here, so his silver belt will be valueless there.

Slade could feel himself changing color. He was vaguely aware that Leear and Geean were talking sharply to each other, but his mind couldn’t begin to focus on them. Do that, he was thinking, to anybody.
He remembered his own fear of such a fall. And suddenly a horror came.
Just a minute. If I’m involved in this process of transferring from one plane to another, then I’ll fall too.
No, you won’t.
He didn’t believe it. With a hot terror he saw the whole picture. This was what all that stuff about sacrificing the individual for the race had been leading up to. In his mind, he saw the bodies of Geean and himself hurtling down and down. And it built a curious kinship between himself and the man.
"I swear," said the nith, "that you will not die." Utter disbelief came.
And utter dismay.
The nith was desperate. "You are forcing us to extremes. Leear has decided that either she or Geean dies here today. If you do not kill Geean, then, unless he wins a complete victory, he will carry out his threat to destroy every man and woman and child on the planet. You can see that Leear cannot permit that to happen. Accordingly, the choice is yours. What you do will determine finally whether the people of this planet shall become slaves of Geean or whether they will have the opportunity to realize their natural potentialities."
Slade thought hesitantly, "You mean Leear is going to kill herself."
The nith was satirical. "Please do not concern yourself about Leear. Concern about her is a moral characteristic, shall we say a racial as distinct from an individual, think-only-of-oneself characteristic. It is purely in your mind, having no external reality. What does it really matter if this woman and all that she stands for dies, provided you live?"
It must have despaired of convincing him in time. It must have projected a thought towards the woman. For she turned even as Geean, narrow-eyed with suspicion, was saying, "Unless you leave here this minute, I shall have to revise my decision about not killing Slade." She turned, and she said to Slade:
"Please, my friend, think of the generations that have been imprisoned in this city. Think of Amor, of—"
She stopped hopelessly. "You force me," she said, "to the final sacrifice."
Her hands moved to her waist, and disappeared under her blouse. They came out again instantly dragging a thin belt. She flung it viciously. It flashed with a silvery metallic fire as it fell to the rug.
"Your silver belt!"
It was Geean who shouted the words, piercingly. Never in his life had Slade heard such a yell of mixed triumph and unbelief. The man literally staggered forward and snatched up the belt. His eyes were glassy and, briefly, quite myopic with ultimate pleasure. He began to run towards the wall to Slade’s left. There was a cone-shaped gadget in the near corner. With trembling fingers Geean stuffed the belt into it. It flared with a vivid fire, and was consumed in one puff.
Slowly, then, the man’s sanity came back. He shook himself. He faced the room, and looked from Leear to Slade, and his face showed a mounting consciousness of the extent of his victory.
"Ah," he said ecstatically, "I am at last in a position to decide what I’m really going to—"
Slade never learned what Geean was in a position to decide. He was shocked to the core of his being. Actually, Leear’s appeal on Amor’s behalf had convinced him. The memory of Amor’s degradation had brought a vivid picture of a people held down by a devil-like egotist.
He had turned automatically to follow the man’s movements. His hand was in his pocket, and his left side towards Geean. He was thinking that under certain circumstances a man’s free choice must include the possibility of personal death.
With a tiny pressure, he pressed the activating button of the gadget in his pocket.

STATEMENT TO THE CORONER’S JURY
By DETECTIVE LIEUTENANT JIM MURPHY

When the body of Michael Slade was discovered last week in the foothills near the city of Smailes, I was dispatched to the scene. It was at my request that the inquest hearing was transferred to Mr. Slade’s home city, where most of the witnesses lived.
About these witnesses, I wish to say that all of them, without exception, were doubtful about identifying the deceased as Michael Slade when they were first shown the body. Later, on the stand, they were more positive, having apparently resolved their earlier doubts on the basis of "The dead man is three-eyed. Therefore it must he Michael Slade."
One of my reasons for going to Smailes was to make some attempt to find out where Michael Slade had been during the past few months.
I have considerable experience at locating missing persons, but my usual methods produced no results whatever. While the time elapsed since Mr. Slade’s death has been very short, I am almost prepared to say that
further search will only emphasize the following fact:
Michael Slade walked out of his own back yard in this city several months ago, and his body was discovered last week near the city of Smailes. There is no record of his whereabouts during the interval.

They climbed towards the top of the spire ahead of the ominous hum and crackle of the fire. The direction worried Slade. How were they going to get down, with flames barring the lower levels? And suppose that the fire ate through the main walls, and the upper part of the immense building toppled to the ground far below.
There was a possibility, of course, that she and the nith could get down as easily as they had come in through the windows. But Leear shook her head when Slade asked if that was to be the way.
She had stopped near a window. "We came," she said, "by means of my silver belt. I’ve been hoping to run into a storeroom of fliers. If we don’t find any, then you are our only hope."
"Me?" Slade was startled.
She said, "Tell me, can you visualize in your mind the wheel machine which you hid in the brush near where you were captured by the hunters of Naze?"
Slade gave her an astounded look. So she had known about that. At last, he said, "I think so."
She persisted, "Including the three bright spots?" This time he merely nodded, for he was beginning to remember what it could do.
"Then be quick," said Leear. "It’s top speed is limited, something under two hundred miles an hour. It will take several minutes to get here."
Slade stared at her, and swallowed hard. But he walked with her to the window, closed his eyes, and pictured the wheel machine. The memory was blurred for a moment, then it came sharp and clear.
Standing beside him, Leear said softly, "Blink slowly, and don’t strain to hold the picture of it. Let it wax and wane. All this is unimportant in a way, because, during the next six years, both you and I must learn the natural ways."
That pulled him. That caught at his brain. That tore him from his concentration. He pictured himself as he might be six years hence— it was her gentle, almost hypnotic voice that pressed him back.
"Hold it," she said quickly, "hold it! It will sink to Earth if you don’t, and there is no time to waste. Any minute now the main barrier machinery will be reached; and then the barrier will go down. After that even the tough materials of the spire will not stand long."
Her words steadied Slade. Away in the back of his mind was a memory of what Geean had said about bridal finery. An edge of worry shadowed his mind. Because, when you came right down to it, a man did not marry a woman ten thousand years older than himself. Amor, yes. Her failings were human, normal, forgivable. He had a feeling the girl would be willing to become his companion. He would certainly ask her.
He was so intent on the wheel machine that he missed entirely a little byplay beside him. The nith informed Leear of what Slade was thinking. The woman hesitated, then her features began to change. Her face was taking on a startling resemblance to the face of Amor when a fierce thought from the nith arrested the process:
"Don’t be a fool," it said sharply. "At the moment he will not take kindly to the idea that you were Amor. You assumed that role in order to give him a sympathetic picture of a girl of Naze. He would have been shocked by the character of a real blood-drinking girl. At the moment he might blame you for the death of Caldra, even though you had gone away expecting that Caldra would try to take blood from him, and so precipitate him back to his own plane.
"Another thing," the nith went on, "I have noticed in your mind that you are responsible for his having been born a three-eyed mutation in a two-eyed world. Do not tell him that immediately either. Let him discover later that you have controlled his life from an early embryo stage. Let him find out later that you can be all woman—"
The woman was hesitating. Abruptly, she became Leear again. She saw the wavering of the purple carrier. She let out a very feminine-like squeal. "The barrier," she cried, "it’s down."
Her words were like a cue. There was a flash of metallic brightness in the distance. The wheel machine came through the open window, and jerked to a stop in front of Slade’s eyes.
"The nith first," said Leear urgently. "Then me, then you. And don’t worry. It floats swiftly."
It was almost not swift enough. The last time he brought it towards his eyes the roar of the fire was a hideous sound in his ears. He climbed into the flower-shaped wheel, shoved hard—and hung on.
The sun was a bright glory almost directly overhead. There were many people below, but as Slade drew near to the ground, he could still see no sign of either Leear or the nith. A tall, slim young woman put up her arms towards him, and with a start Slade recognized Amor. He shouted at her, and she waved back, frantically.
He came down presently into a city that was already quaveringly conscious of its destiny.

THE VERDICT OF THE CORONER’S JURY

It is the unanimous decision of the jury that there can be no doubt that the dead body is that of Michael Slade. The unusual clothes cannot be regarded as important, and the jury therefore finds that Michael Slade met his death as a result of a fall from a height, very possibly from an airplane. There is no evidence of foul play or murder.

9. THE RULL


Professor Jamieson saw the other space boat out of the corner of one eye. He was sitting in a hollow about a dozen yards from the edge of the precipice, and some score of feet from the doorway of his own lifeboat. He had been intent on his survey book, annotating a comment beside the voice graph, to the effect that Laertes III was so close to the invisible dividing line between Earth-controlled and Rull-controlled space that its prior discovery by man was in itself a major victory in the Rull-human war.
He wrote: "The fact that ships based on this planet could strike at several of the most densely populated areas of the galaxy, Rull or human, gives it an AA priority on all available military equipment. Preliminary defense units should be set up on Mount Monolith, where I am now, within three we—"
It was at that point that he saw the other boat, above and somewhat to his left, approaching the tableland. He glanced up at it—and froze where he was, torn between two opposing purposes.
His first impulse, to run for the lifeboat, yielded to the realization that the movement would be seen instantly by the electronic reflexes of the other ship. For a moment, then, he had the dim hope that, if he remained quiet enough, neither he nor his ship would be observed.
Even as he sat there, perspiring with indecision, his tensed eyes noted the Rull markings and the rakish design of the other vessel. His vast knowledge of things Rull enabled him to catalogue it instantly as a survey craft.
A survey craft. The Runs had discovered the Laertes sun.
The terrible potentiality was that, behind this small craft, might be fleets of battleships, whereas he was alone. His own lifeboat had been dropped by the Orion nearly a parsec away, while the big ship was proceeding at antigravity speeds. That was to insure that Rull energy tracers did not record its passage through this area of space.
The Orion was to head for the nearest base, load up with planetary defense equipment, and return. She was due in ten days.
Ten days. Jamieson groaned in­wardly, and drew his legs under him and clenched his survey book in the fingers of one hand. But still the possibility his ship, par­tially hidden under a clump of trees. might escape notice if he remained quiet, held him there in the open. His head tilted up, his eyes glared at the alien, and his brain willed it to turn aside.

Once more, flashingly, while lie waited, the implications of the dis­aster that could be here, struck deep. In all the universe there had never been so dangerous an intel­ligence as the Rull. At once remorseless and immune to all attempts at establishing communi­cation, Rulls killed human beings on sight. A human-manned warship that ventured into Rull-patrolled space was attacked until it withdrew or was destroyed. Rull ships that entered Earth-controlled space never withdrew once they were at­tacked. In the beginning, man had been reluctant to engage in a death struggle for the galaxy. But the inexorable enemy had forced him finally to match in every respect the tenacious and murderous poli­cies of the Rull.
The thought ended. The Rull ship was a hundred yards away, and showed no signs of changing its course. In seconds, it would cross the clump of trees, which half-hid the lifeboat.
In a spasm of a movement, Jamieson launched himself from his chair. Like a shot from a gun, with utter abandon, he dived for the open doorway of his machine. As the door clanged behind him, the boat shook as if it had been struck by a giant. Part of the ceiling sagged: the floor staggered towards him, and the air grew hot and suffocating.
Gasping, Jamieson slid into the control chair, and struck at the main emergency switch. The rapid-fire blasters huzzaed into automatic fir­ing positions, and let go with a hum and deep-throated ping. The re­frigerators whined with power; a cold blast of air blew at his body. The relief was so quick that a second passed before Jamieson rea­lized that the atomic engines had failed to respond. And that the lifeboat, which should already have been sliding into the air, was still lying inert in an exposed position.
Tense, he stared into the visi­plates. It took a moment to locate the Rull ship. It was at the lower edge of one plate, tumbling slowly out of sight beyond a clump of trees a quarter of a mile away. As he watched, it disappeared; and then the crash of the, landing came clear and unmistakable from the sound board in front of him.
The relief that came was weighted with an awful reaction. Jamieson sank back into the cushions of the control chair, weak from the nar­rowness of his escape. The weak­ness ended abruptly as a thought struck him. There had been a sedateness about the way the enemy ship fell. The crash hadn’t killed the Runs aboard.
He was alone in a damaged life­boat on an impassable mountain with one or more of the most remorseless creatures ever spawned. For ten days, he must fight in the hope that man would still be able to seize the most valuable planet discovered in a century.
He saw in his visiplate that it was growing darker outside.

Jamieson opened the door, and went out onto the tableland. He was still trembling with reaction, but there was no time to waste.
He walked swiftly to the top of the nearest hillock a hundred feet away, taking the last few feet on his hands and knees. Cautiously, he peered over the rim.
Most of the mountain top was visible. It was a rough oval some eight hundred yards wide at its narrowest, a wilderness of scraggly brush and upjutting rock, dominated here and there by clumps of trees. There was not a movement to be seen, and not a sign of the Rull ship. Over everything lay an at­mosphere of desolation, and the utter silence of uninhabited wasteland.
The twilight was deeper, now that the sun had sunk below the southwest precipice. And the deadly part was that, to the Rulls, with their wider vision and more com­plete sensory equipment, the darkness would mean nothing. All night long, he would have to be on the defensive against beings whose nerv­ous systems outmatched his in every function except, possibly, intelligence. On that level, and that alone, human beings claimed equality.
The very comparison made him realize how desperate his situation was. He needed an advantage. If he could get to the Rull wreck and cause them some kind of damage before it got pitch dark, before they recovered from the shock of the crash, that alone might make the difference between life and death for him.
It was a chance he had to take.
Hurriedly, Jamieson backed down the hillock, and, climbing to his feet, started to run along a shallow wash. The ground was rough with stones and projecting edges of rock and the gnarled roots and tangle of hardy growth. Twice, he fell, the first time gashing his right hand, the second time his right foot.
It slowed him mentally and physi­cally.. He had never before tried to make speed over the pathless wil­derness of the tableland. He saw that in ten minutes he had covered a distance of just under seventy-five yards.
Jamieson stopped. It was one thing to be bold on the chance of making a vital gain. It was quite another to throw away his life on a reckless gamble. The defeat would not be his alone, but man’s.
As he stood there, he grew aware of how icy cold it had become. A chilling wind from the east had sprung up, By midnight, the tem­perature would be zero. For it was autumn on Laertes III. Soon, snow would be stinging down on an ever more barren land, and then winter would settle for eight long months. The original exploratory party had extracted from the flora and the fauna, and the soil and the rocks the cyclic secrets of the planet’s existence. And in their two years stay they had mapped the gyrations of every wind, cold and heat source on its uneven sur­face.
Jamieson began to retreat. There were several defenses to rig up be­fore night fell; and he had better hurry. An hour later, when the moonless darkness. lay heavily over the mountain of mountains, Jamie­son sat tensely before his visiplates.
It was going to be a long night for a man who dared not sleep.
It was shortly after midnight—Laertes III had a twenty-six hour, sidereal time, day—when Jamieson saw a movement at the remote perimeter of his all-wave vision plate. Finger on blaster control, he waited for the object to come into sharper focus.
It never did. The cold dawn found him weary but still alertly watching for an enemy that was acting as cautiously as he himself.
He began to wonder if he had actually seen anything.

Jamieson took another anti-sleep pill and made a more definitive ex­amination of the atomic motors. It didn’t take long to verify his earlier diagnosis. The basic graviton pile had been thoroughly frustrated. Until it could be reactivated on the Orion, the motors were useless.
The conclusive examination braced Jamieson. He was committed irrevocably to the battle of the tableland, with all its intricate possibilities. The idea that had been turning over in his mind dur­ing the prolonged night took on new meaning. This was the first time in his knowledge that a Rull and a human being had faced each other on a limited field of action, where neither was a prisoner. The great battles in space were ship against ship and fleet against fleet. Sur­vivors either escaped or were picked up by overwhelming forces. Actually, both humans and Rulls, cap­tured or facing capture, were conditioned to kill themselves. Rulls did it by a mental willing that had never been circumvented. Men had to use mechanical methods, and in some cases that had proved im­possible. The result was that Rulls had had occasional opportunities to experiment on living, conscious men.
Unless he was bested, before he could get organized, here was a priceless opportunity to try some tests on Rulls—and without delay. Every moment of daylight must be utilized to the uttermost limit.
Jamieson put on his special "de­fensive" belts, and went outside.
The dawn was brightening minute by minute; and the vistas that re­vealed themselves with each increment of light power held him, even as he tensed his body for the fight ahead. Why, he thought, in a sharp, excited wonder, all this is happening on the strangest mountain ever known.
Mount Monolith, discovered at the same time as the planet, two years before, had been named in the first words spoken about it. "Look at that monolith down there!" On a level plain that column stood, and reared up pre­cipitously to a height of eight thou­sand two hundred feet. The most majestic pillar in the known uni­verse, it easily qualified as one of the hundred natural wonders of the galaxy.
Standing there, Jamieson felt, not for the first time, the greatness of man’s destiny. Defender and ally of thousands of life-forms, chief enemy of the encroaching Rull menace—In his eighteen years of military service he had gazed on many alien scenes. He had walked the soil of planets two hundred thousand light-years from Earth. As head of the fleet’s science divi­sion, he had been absolute commander—under law and regulation —of ships so powerful that whole groups of inhabited worlds were helpless before their irresistible might—ships that flashed from the eternal night into the blazing bright­ness of suns red and suns blue, suns yellow and white and orange and violet, suns so wonderful and different that no previous imagin­ings could match the reality.
Yet, despite the greatness of his rank, here he stood on a mountain on far Laertes, one man compelled by circumstance to pit his cunning against one or more of the su­premely intelligent Rull enemy. The information about the discovery of the Laertes planet had been relayed to him through the usual routine channels. Instantly he had seen what the others had missed, that it would be a key base against either galactic hemisphere. Since battleships did not normally carry the type of planetary oryc­tologist who could make a co-ordi­nated survey, he had not hesitated to step into the breach.
Even as it was, the first great advantage was already lost.
Jamieson shook himself grimly. It was time to launch his attack—and discover the opposition that could be mustered against him.
That was Step One, and the im­portant point about it was to insure that it wasn’t also Step Last.

By the time the Laertes sun peered palely over the horizon that was the northeast cliff’s edge, the assault was under way. The auto­matic defensors, which he had set up the night before, moved slowly from point to point ahead of the mobile blaster.
Jamieson cautiously saw to it that one of the three defensors also brought up his rear. He augmented that basic protection by crawling from one projecting rock after an­other. The machines he manipulated from a tiny hand control, which was connected to the visiplates that poked out from his headgear just above his eyes. With tensed eyes, he watched the wavering needles that would indicate movement or that the defensor screens were be­ing subjected to energy opposition.
Nothing happened.
As he came within sight of the Rull craft, Jamieson stalled his at­tack, while he seriously pondered the problem of no resistance. He didn’t like it. It was possible that all the Rulls aboard had been killed, but he doubted it mightily. Rulls were almost boneless. Except for half a dozen strategically linked cartilages, they were all muscle.
With bleak eyes Jamieson studied the wreck through the telescopic eyes of one of the defensors. It lay in a shallow indentation, its nose buried in a wall of gravel. Its lower plates were collapsed versions of the original. His single energy blast the evening before, completely automatic though it had been, had really dealt a smashing blow to the Rull ship.
The over-all effect was of utter lifelessness. If it was a trick, then it was a very skillful one. Fortunately, there were tests he could make, not absolutely final but evi­dential and indicative.
He made them.
The echo-less height of the most unique mountain ever discovered hummed with the fire-sound of the mobile blaster. The noise grew to a roar as the unit’s pile warmed to its task, and developed its maximum kilo-curie activity.
Under that barrage, the hull of the enemy craft trembled a little and changed color slightly, but that was all. After ten minutes, Jamie­son cut the power, and sat baffled and indecisive.
The defensive screens of the Rull ship were full on. Had they gone on automatically after his first shot of the evening before? Or had they been put up deliberately to nullify just such an attack as this?
He couldn’t be sure. That was the trouble; he had no positive knowledge. The Rull could be ly­ing inside dead. (Odd, how he was beginning to think in terms of one rather than several, but he had a conviction that two live Rulls would not be cautious in dealing with one human being—of course, they couldn’t be absolutely sure there was only one.) It could be wounded and incapable of doing anything against him. It could have spent the night marking up the tableland with elled nerve control lines—he’d have to make sure he never looked directly at the ground—or it could simply be waiting for the arrival of the greater ship that had dropped it onto the planet.

Jamieson refused to consider the last possibility. That way was death, without qualification or hope.
Frowningly, he studied the visible damage he had done the ship. All the hard metals had held together, so far as he could see, but the whole bottom of the ship was dented to a depth that varied from one to four feet. Some radiation must have got in, and the question was, what would it have damaged?
He had examined dozens of cap­tured Rull survey craft, and if this one ran to the pattern, then in the front would be the control center, with a sealed off blaster chamber. In the rear the engine room, two storerooms, one for fuel and equip­ment, the other for food and—
For food. Jamieson jumped, and then with wide eyes noted how the food section had suffered greater damage than any other part of the ship.
Surely, surely, some radiation must have got into it, poisoning it, ruining it, and instantly putting the Rull, with his swift digestive sys­tem, into a deadly position.
Jamieson sighed with the inten­sity of his hope, and prepared to retreat. As he turned away, quite incidentally, accidentally, he glanced at the rock behind which he had shielded himself from possible direct fire.
Glanced at it, and saw the elled lines in it. Intricate lines, based on a profound and inhuman study of the human nervous system. Jamieson recognized them, and stiffened in horror. He thought in anguish: Where, where am I sup­posed to fall? Which cliff?
With a desperate will, with all his strength, he fought to retain his senses a moment longer. He strove to see the lines again. He saw, briefly, flashingly, five vertical and above them three lines that pointed east with their wavering ends.
The pressure built up, up, up inside him, but still he fought to keep his thoughts moving. Fought to remember if there were any wide ledges near the top of the east cliff.
There were. He recalled them in a final agony of hope. There, he thought. That one, that one, let me fall on that one. He strained to hold the ledge image he wanted, and to repeat, repeat the command that might save his life. His last, dreary thought was that here was the answer to his doubts. The Ru11 was alive.
Blackness came like a curtain of pure essence of night.

From the far galaxy had he come, a cold, remorseless leader of leaders, the yeli, Meeesh, the Iiin of Ria, the high Aaish of the Yeell. And other titles, and other positions, and power. Oh, the power that he had, the power of death, the power of life and the power of the Leard ships.
He came in his great anger to discover what was wrong. A thousand years before the command had been given: Expand into the Second galaxy. Why were they-who-could­not-be-more-perfect so slow in carrying out these instructions? What was the nature of the two-legged creatures whose multitudinous ships, impregnable planetary bases and numerous allies had fought those-who-possessed-Na­ture’s-supreme-nervous-system to an impasse ?
"Bring me a live human being!" The command echoed to the ends of Riatic space.
It produced a dull survivor of an Earth cruiser, a sailor of low degree with an I.Q. of ninety-six, and a fear index of two hundred and seven. The creature made vague efforts to kill himself, and squirmed on the laboratory tables, and finally escaped into death when the scien­tists were still in the beginning of the experiments which he had ordered to be performed before his own eyes.
"Surely, this is not the enemy."
"Sire, we capture so few that are alive. Just as we have con­ditioned our own loved-ones, so do they seem to be conditioned to kill themselves in case of capture."
"The environment is wrong. We must create a situation where the captured does not know himself to be prisoner. Are there any possi­bilities ?"
"The problem will be investi­gated."
He had come, as the one who will conduct the experiment, to the sun where a man had been observed seven periods before—"in a small craft that fell from a point in space, obviously dropped by a warship. And so we have a new base possi­bility.
"No landings have yet been made, as you instructed; no traces of our presence. It may be assumed that there was an earlier human landing on the third planet. A curious mountain top. Will be an ideal area for our purposes."
A battle group patrolled the space around the sun. But he came down in a small ship; and because he had contempt for his enemy, he flew in over the mountain, fired his disabling blast at the ship on the ground—and then was struck by a surprisingly potent return blast, that sent his machine spinning to a crash.
Almost, in those seconds, death came. But he crawled out of his control chair, shocked but still alive. With thoughtful eyes, he assessed the extent of the disaster that had befallen him.
He had issued commands that he would call when he needed help. But he could not call. The radio was shattered beyond repair. He had a strange, empty sensation when he discovered that his food was poisoned.
Swiftly, he stiffened to the neces­sities of the situation.
The experiment would go on, with one proviso. When the need for food became imperative, he would kill the man, and so survive until the commanders of the ships grew alarmed, and came down to see what had happened.
Part of the sunless period he spent exploring the cliff’s edge. Then he hovered on the perimeter of the man’s defensor energies, studying the lifeboat, and pondering the possible actions the other might take against him.
Finally, with a tireless patience he examined the approaches to his own ship. At key points, he drew the lines that-could-seize-the-minds-of-­men. There was satisfaction, shortly after the sun came up, in seeing the enemy "caught" and "compelled". The satisfaction had but one drawback.
He could not take the advantage of the situation that he wanted.
The difficulty was that the man’s blaster had been left focused on his main air lock. It was not emitting energy, but the Ru11 did not doubt that it would fire automatically if the door opened.
What made the situation serious was that, when he tried the emer­gency exit, it was jammed.
It hadn’t been. With the fore­thought of his kind, he had tested it immediately after the crash. Then it opened.
Now, it didn’t. The ship, he decided, must have settled while he was out during the sunless period. Actually, the reason for what had happened didn’t matter. What counted was that he was locked in just when he wanted to be outside.
It wasn’t as if he had definitely decided to destroy the man imme­diately. If capturing him meant gaining control of his food supply, then it would be unnecessary to give him death. It was important to be able to make the decision, how­ever, while the man was helpless; and the further possibility that the elled fall might kill him made the yeli grim. He didn’t like accidents to disturb his plans.

From the beginning the affair had taken a sinister turn. He had been caught up by forces beyond his control, by elements of space and time which he had always taken into account as being theoretically possible, but he had never consid­ered them as having personal appli­cation.
That was for the deeps of space where the Leard ships fought to extend the frontiers of the perfect ones. Out there lived alien crea­tures that had been spawned by Nature before the ultimate nervous system was achieved. All those aliens must die because they were now unnecessary, and because, existing, they might accidentally dis­cover means of upsetting the balance of Yeellian life. In civilized Ria accidents were forbidden.
The Rull drew his mind clear of such weakening thoughts.
He decided against trying to open the emergency door. Instead, he turned his blaster against a crack in the hard floor. The frustrators blew their gases across the area where he had worked, and the suction pumps caught the swirling radioactive stuff and drew it into a special chamber. But the lack of an open door as a safety valve made the work dangerous. Many times he .paused while the air was cleansed, and the counter needles shook themselves toward zero, so that he could come out again from the frustrating chamber to which he retreated whenever the heat made his nerves tingle—a more reliable guide than any instrument that had to be watched.
The sun was past the meridian when the metal plate finally lifted clear, and gave him an opening into the gravel and. rock underneath. The problem of tunneling out into the open was easy except that it took time and physical effort. Dusty and angry and hungry, the Rull emerged from the hole near the center of the clump of trees beside which his craft had fallen.
His plan to conduct an experi­ment had lost its attraction. He had obstinate qualities in his nature, but he reasoned that this situation could be reproduced for him on a more civilized level. No need to take risks or to be uncomfortable. Kill the man and use him as food until the ships came down to rescue him.
With hungry gaze, he searched the ragged, uneven-cast cliff, peer­ing down at the ledges, crawling swiftly along until he had virtually circumvented the tableland. He found nothing he could be sure about. In one or two places the ground looked lacerated as by the passage of a body, but the most intensive examination failed to es­tablish that anyone had actually been there.
Somberly, the Rull glided towards the man’s lifeboat. From a safe distance, he examined it. The defense screens were up, but he couldn’t be sure they had been put up before the attack of the morning, or had been raised since then, or had come on automatically at his approach.
He couldn’t be sure. That was the trouble. Everywhere, on the tableland around him, was a barrenness, a desolation unlike anything else he had ever known. The man could be dead, his smashed body lying at the remote bottom of the mountain. He could be inside the ship badly injured; he had, unfortunately, had time to get back to the safety of his craft. Or he could be waiting inside, alert, aggressive, and conscious of his enemy’s uncertainty, determined to take full advantage of that uncertainty.
The Rull set up a watching device that would apprise him when the door opened. Then he returned to the tunnel that led into his ship, laboriously crawled through it, and settled himself to wait out the emergency.
The hunger in him was an ex­panding force, hourly taking on a greater urgency. It was time to stop moving around. He would need all his energy for the crisis.
The days passed.

Jamieson stirred in an effluvium of pain. At first it seemed all-enveloping, a mist of anguish that bathed him in sweat from head to toe. Gradually, then, it localized in the region of his lower left leg.
The pulse of the pain made a rhythm in his nerves. The minutes lengthened into an hour, and then he finally thought: Why, I’ve got a sprained ankle! He had more than that, of course. The pressure that had driven him here clung like a gravitonic plate. How long he lay there, partly conscious, was not clear, but when he finally opened his eyes, the sun was still shining on him, though it was almost directly overhead.
He watched it with the mind­lessness of a dreamer as it withdrew slowly past the edge of the overhanging precipice. It was not until the shadow of the cliff suddenly plopped across his face that he started to full consciousness with a sudden memory of deadly danger.
It took a while to shake the rem­nants of the elled "take" from his brain. And, even as it was fading, he sized up, to some extent, the difficulties of his position. He saw that he had tumbled over the edge of a cliff to a steep slope. The angle of descent of the slope was a sharp fifty-five degrees, and what had saved him was that his body had been caught in the tangled growth near the edge of the greater precipice beyond.
His foot must have twisted in those roots, and sprained.
As he finally realized the nature of his injuries, Jamieson braced up. He was safe. In spite of having suffered an accidental defeat of major proportions, his intense con­centration on this slope, his desper­ate will to make this the place where he must fall, had worked out.
He began to climb. It was easy enough on the slope, steep as it was; the ground was rough, rocky and scraggly with brush. It was when he came to the ten-foot overhanging cliff that his ankle proved what an obstacle it could be.
Four times he slid back, reluc­tantly: and then, on the fifth try, his fingers, groping desperately over the top of the cliff, caught an unbreakable root. Triumphantly, he dragge
d himself to the safety of the tableland.
Now that the sound of his scrap­ing and struggling was gone, only his heavy breathing broke the silence of the emptiness. His anxious eyes studied the uneven terrain. The tableland spread before him with not a sign of a moving figure anywhere.
To one side, he could see his lifeboat. Jamieson began to crawl toward it, taking care to stay on rock as much as possible. What had happened to the Rull he did not know. And since, for several days, his ankle would keep him inside his ship, he might as well keep his enemy guessing during that time.

Professor Jamieson lay in his bunk, thinking. He could hear the beating of his heart. There were the occasional sounds when he dragged himself out of bed. But that was almost all. The radio, when he turned it on, was dead. No static, not even the fading in and out of a wave. At this colossal distance, even subspace radio was impossible.
He listened on all the more active Rull wave lengths. But the silence was there, too. Not that they would be broadcasting if they were in the vicinity.
He was cut off here in this tiny ship on an uninhabited planet, with useless motors.
He tried not to think of it like that. "Here," he told himself, "is the opportunity of a lifetime for an experiment."
He warmed to the idea as a moth to flame. Live Rulls were hard to get hold of. About one a year was captured in the unconscious state, and these were regarded as price­less treasures. But here was an even more ideal situation.
We’re prisoners, both of us. That was the way he tried to picture it. Prisoners of an environment, and, therefore, in a curious fashion, prisoners of each other. Only each was free of the conditioned need to kill himself.
There were things a man might discover. The great mysteries—as far as men were concerned—that motivated Rull actions. Why did they want to destroy other races totally? Why did they needlessly sacrifice valuable ships in attacking Earth machines that ventured into their sectors of space—when they knew that the intruders would leave in a few weeks anyway? And why did prisoners who could kill themselves at will commit suicide without waiting to find out what fate was intended for them? Some times they were merely wanted as messengers.
Was it possible the Rulls were trying to conceal a terrible weak­ness in their make-up of which man had not yet found an inkling?
The potentialities of this fight of man against Rull on a lonely mountain exhilarated Jamieson as he lay on his bunk, scheming, turn­ing the problem over in his mind.
There were times during those dog days when he crawled over to the control chair, and peered for an hour at a stretch into the visi­plates. He saw the tableland and the vista of distance beyond it. He saw the sky of Laertes III, bluish pink sky, silent and lifeless.
He saw the prison. Caught here, he thought bleakly. Professor Jamieson, whose appearance on an inhabited planet would bring out unwieldy crowds, whose quiet voice in the council chambers of Earth’s galactic empire spoke with final authority—that Jamieson was here, alone, lying in a bunk, waiting for a leg to heal, so that he might con­duct an experiment with a Rull.
It seemed incredible. But he grew to believe it as the days passed.
On the third day, he was able to move around sufficiently to handle a few heavy objects. He began work immediately on the mental screen. On the fifth day it was finished. Then the story had to be recorded. That was easy. Each sequence had been so carefully worked out in bed that it flowed from his mind onto the visiwire. He set it up about two hundred yards from the lifeboat, behind a screening of trees. He tossed a can of food a dozen feet to one side of the screen.
The rest of the day dragged. It was the sixth day since the arrival of the Rull, the fifth since he had sprained his ankle.
Came the night.

A gliding shadow, undulating under the starlight of Laertes III, the Rull approached the screen the man had set up. How bright it was, shining in the darkness of the table­land, a blob of light in a black universe of uneven ground and dwarf shrubbery.
When he was a hundred feet from the light, he sensed the food—and realized that here was a trap.
For the Rull, six days without food had meant a stupendous loss of energy. visual blackouts on a dozen color levels, a dimness of life-force that fitted with the shadows, not the sun. That inner world of disjointed nervous system was like a run-down battery, with a score of organic "instruments" disconnecting one by one as the energy level fell. The yeli recog­nized dimly, but with a savage anxiety, that only a part of that nervous system would ever be restored to complete usage. And, even for that, speed was essential. A few more steps downward, and then the old, old conditioning of mandatory self-inflicted death would apply even to the high Aaish of the Yeell.
The worm body grew quiet. The visual center behind each eye ac­cepted light on a narrow band from the screen. From beginning to end, he watched the story as it un­folded, and then watched it again, craving repetition with all the ardor of a primitive.
The picture began in deep space with the man’s lifeboat being dropped from a launching lock of a battleship. It showed the battle­ship going on to a military base, and there taking on supplies and acquiring a vast fleet of reinforcements, and then starting on the return journey. The scene switched to the lifeboat dropping down on Laertes III, showed everything that had subsequently happened, suggested the situation was danger­ous to them both—and pointed out the only safe solution.
The final sequence of each show­ing of the story was of the Rull approaching the can, to the left of the screen, and opening it. The method was shown in detail, as was the visualization of the Rull busily eating the food inside.
Each time that sequence drew near, a tenseness came over the Rull, a will to make the story real. But it was not until the seventh showing had run its course that he glided forward, closing the last gap between himself and the can. It was a trap, he knew, perhaps even death—it didn’t matter. To live, he had to take the chalice. Only by this means, by risking what was in the can, could he hope to remain alive for the necessary time.
How long it would take for the commanders cruising up there in the black of space in their myriad ships—how long it would be before they would decide to supersede his command, he didn’t know. But they would come. Even if they waited until the enemy ships arrived before they dared to act against his strict orders, they would come.
At that point they could come down without fear of suffering from his ire.
Until then he would need all the food he could get.
Gingerly, he extended a sucker, and activated the automatic opener of the can.

It was shortly after four in the morning when Professor Jamieson awakened to the sound of an alarm ringing softly. It was still pitch dark outside—the Laertes day was twenty-six sidereal hours long; he had set his clocks the first day to co-ordinate—and at this season dawn was still three hours away.
Jamieson did not get up at once. The alarm had been activated by the opening of the can of food. It continued to ring for a full fifteen minutes, which was just about per­fect. The alarm was tuned to the electronic pattern emitted by the can, once it was opened, and so long as any food remained in it. The lapse of time involved fitted with the capacity of one of the Rull’s suckers in absorbing three pounds of pork.
For fifteen minutes, accordingly, a member of the Rull race, man’s mortal enemy, had been subjected to a pattern of mental vibrations corresponding to its own thoughts. It was a pattern to which the nervous systems of other Rulls had responded in laboratory experi­ments. Unfortunately, those others had killed themselves on awakening, and so no definite results had been proved. But it had been established by the ecphoriometer that the "un­conscious" and not the "conscious" mind was affected.
Jamieson lay in bed, smiling quietly to himself. He turned over finally to go back to sleep, and then he realized how excited he was.
The greatest moment in the his­tory of Rull-human warfare. Surely, he wasn’t going to let it pass un­remarked. He climbed out of bed, and poured himself a drink.
The attempt of the Rull to at­tack him through his unconscious mind had emphasized his own pos­sible actions in that direction. Each race had discovered some of the weaknesses of the other.
Rulls used their knowledge to exterminate. Man tried for com­munication, and hoped for associa­tion. Both were. ruthless, mur­derous, pitiless, in their methods. Outsiders sometimes had difficulty distinguishing one from the other.
But the difference in purpose was as great as the difference between black and white, the absence as compared to the presence of light.
There was only one trouble with the immediate situation. Now, that the Rull had food, he might develop a few plans of his own.
Jamieson returned to bed, and lay staring into the darkness. He did not underrate the resources of the Rull, but since he had decided to conduct an experiment, no chance must be considered too great.
He turned over finally, and slept the sleep of a man determined that things were working in his favor.

Morning. Jamieson put on bis cold-proof clothes, and went out into the chilly dawn. Again, he savored the silence and the atmosphere of isolated grandeur. A strong wind was blowing from the east, and there was an iciness in it that stung his face. Snow? He wondered.
He forgot that. He had things to do on this morning of mornings. He would do them with his usual caution.
Paced by defensors and the mo­bile blaster, he headed for the mental screen. It stood in open high ground, where it would be visible from a dozen different hiding places, and so far as he could see it was undamaged. He tested the automatic mechanism, and for good measure ran the picture through one showing.
He had already tossed another can of food in the grass near the screen, and he was turning away when he thought: That’s odd. The metal framework looks as if it’s been polished.
He studied the phenomena in a de-energizing mirror, and saw that the metal had been varnished with a clear, varnish-like substance. He felt sick as he recognized it.
He decided in agony, If the cue is not to fire at all. I won’t do it. I’ll fire even if the blaster turns on me.
He scraped some of the "varnish" into a receptacle, and began his retreat to the lifeboat. He was thinking violently :
Where does he get all this stuff? That isn’t part of the equipment of a survey craft.
The first deadly suspicion was on him, that what was happening was not just an accident. He was pondering the vast implications of that, narrow-eyed, when, off to one side, he saw the Rull.
For the first time, in his many days on the tableland, he saw the Rull.
What’s the cue!

Memory of purpose came to the Rull shortly after he had eaten. It was dim at first, but it grew stronger.
It was not the only sensation of his returning energy.
His visual centers interpreted more light. The star-lit tableland grew brighter, not as bright as it could be for him, by a very large percentage but the direction was up instead of down. It would never again be normal. Vision was in the mind, and that part of his mind no longer had the power of interpretation.
He felt unutterably fortunate that it was no worse.
He had been gliding along the edge of the precipice. Now, he paused to peer down. Even with his partial night vision, the view was breathtaking. There was distance below and distance afar. From a spaceship, the height was almost minimum. But gazing down that wall of gravel into those depths was a different experience. It emphasized how completely he had been caught by an accident. And it reminded him of what he had been doing before the hunger.
He turned instantly away from the cliff, and hurried to where the wreckage of his ship had gathered dust for days. Bent and twisted wreckage, half-buried in the hard ground of Laertes III. He glided over the dented plates inside to one in which he had the day before sensed a quiver of antigravity oscillation. Tiny, potent, tremendous minutiae of oscillation, capable of being influenced.
The Rull worked with intensity and purposefulness. The plate was still firmly attached to the frame of the ship. And the first job, the heartbreakingly difficult job, was to tear it completely free. The hours passed.
R-r-i-i-i-pp! The hard plate yielded to the slight rearrangement of its nucleonic structure. The shift was infinitesimal, partly be­cause the directing nervous energy of his body was not at norm, and partly because it had better be in­finitesimal. There was such a thing as releasing energy enough to blow up a mountain.
Not, he discovered finally, that there was danger in this plate. He found that out the moment he crawled onto it. The sensation of power that aura-ed out of it was so dim that, briefly, he doubted if it would lift from the ground.
But it did. The test run lasted seven feet, and gave him his meas­urement of the limited force he had available. Enough for an attack only.
He had no doubts in his mind. The experiment was over. His only purpose must be to kill the man, and the question was, how could he insure that the man did not kill him while he was doing it? The varnish!
He applied it painstakingly, dried it with a drier, and then, picking up the plate again, he carried it on his back to the hiding place he wanted.
When he had buried it and himself under the dead leaves of a clump of brush, he grew calmer. He recognized that the veneer of his civilization was off. It shocked him, but he did not regret it.
In giving him the food, the two-legged being was obviously doing something to him. Something dangerous. The only answer to the entire problem of the experiment of the tableland was to deal death without delay.
He lay tense, ferocious; beyond the power of any vagrant thoughts, waiting for the man to come.

It looked as desperate a venture as Jamieson had seen in Service. Normally, he would have handled it effortlessly. But he was watching intently—intently—for the paraly­sis to strike him, the negation that was of the varnish.
And so, it was the unexpected normal quality that nearly ruined him. The Rull flew out of a clump of trees mounted on an antigravity plate. The surprise of that was so great that it almost succeeded. The plates had been drained of all such energies, according to his tests the first morning. Yet here was one alive again and light again with the special antigravity lightness which Rull scientists had brought to the peak of perfection.
The action of movement through space toward him was, of course, based on the motion of the planet as it turned on its axis. The speed of the attack, starting as it did from zero, did not come near the eight hundred mile an hour velocity of the spinning planet, but it was swift enough.
The apparition of metal and six-foot worm charged at him through the air. And even as he drew his weapon and fired at it, he had a choice to make, a restraint to exer­cise: Do not kill!
That was hard, oh, hard. The necessity exercised his capacity for integration and imposed so stern a limitation that during the second it took him to adjust the Rull came to within ten feet of him.
What saved him was the pres­sure of the air on the metal plate. The air tilted it like a wing of a plane becoming airborne. At the bottom of that metal he fired his irresistible weapon, seared it, burned it, deflected it to a crash-landing in a clump of bushes twenty feet to his right.
Jamieson was deliberately slow in following up his success. When he reached the bushes, the Rull was fifty feet beyond it gliding on its multiple suckers over the top of a hillock. It disappeared into a clump of trees.
He did not pursue it or fire a second time. Instead, he gingerly pulled the Rull antigravity plate out of the brush and examined it. The question was, how had the Rull de-gravitized it without the elab­orate machinery necessary? And if it was capable of creating such a "parachute" for itself why hadn’t it floated down to the forest land far below where food would be available and where it would be safe from its human enemy?
One question was answered the moment he lifted the plate. It was "normal" weight, its energy apparently exhausted after traveling less than a hundred feet. It had obviously never been capable of making the mile and a half trip to the forest and plain below.
Jamieson took no chances. He dropped the plate over the nearest precipice, and watched it fall into distance. He was back in the life­boat, when he remembered the "varnish".
Why, there had been no cue, not yet.
He tested the scraping he had brought with him. Chemically, it turned out to be a simple resin, used to make varnishes. Atomic­ally, it was stabilized. Electronic­ally, it transformed light into energy on the vibration level of human thought.
It was alive all right. But what was the recording?
Jamieson made a graph of every material and energy level, for com­parison purposes. As soon as he had established that it had been altered on the electronic level—which had been obvious, but which, still, had to be proved—he recorded the images on a visiwire. The re­sult was a hodgepodge of dream­like fantasies.
Symbols. He took down his book, "Symbol Interpretations of the Unconscious," and found the cross reference: "Inhibitions, Men­tal."
On the referred page and line, he read: "Do not kill!"
"Well, I’ll be—" Jamieson said aloud into the silence of the life‑boat interior. "That’s what hap­pened."
He was relieved, and then not so relieved. It had been his personal intention not to kill at this stage. But the Rull hadn’t known that. By working such a subtle inhibition, it had dominated the attack even in defeat.
That was the trouble. So far he had got out of situations, but had created no successful ones in retaliation. He had a hope but that wasn’t enough.
He must take no more risks. Even his final experiment must wait until the day the Orion was due to arrive.
Human beings were just a little too weak in certain directions. Their very life cells had impulses which could be stirred by the cun­ning and the remorseless.
He did, not doubt that, in the final. issue, the Rull would try to stir.

On the ninth night, the day before the Orion was due, Jamieson re­frained from putting out a can of food. The following morning he spent half an hour at the radio, trying to contact the battleship. He made a point of broadcasting a detailed account of what had hap­pened so far, and he described what his plans were, including his in­tention of testing the Rull to see if it had suffered any injury from its period of hunger.
Subspace was as silent as death. Not a single pulse of vibration an­swered his call.
He finally abandoned the attempt to establish contact, and went outside. Swiftly, he set up the instruments he would need for his ex­periment. The tableland had the air of a deserted wilderness. He tested his equipment, then looked at his watch. It showed eleven minutes of noon. Suddenly jittery, he decided not to wait the extra minutes.
He walked over, hesitated, and then pressed a button. From a source near the screen, a rhythm on a very high energy level was being broadcast. It was a variation of the rhythm pattern to which the Rull had been subjected for four nights.
Slowly, Jamieson retreated to­ward the lifeboat. He wanted to try again to contact the Orion. Looking back, he saw the Rull glide into the clearing, and head straight for the source of the vibration.
As Jamieson paused involuntarily, fascinated, the main alarm system of the lifeboat went off with a roar. The sound echoed with an alien eeriness on the wings of the icy wind that was blowing, and it acted like a cue. His wrist radio snapped on, synchronizing auto­matically with the powerful radio in the lifeboat. A voice said urg­ently:
"Professor Jamieson, this is the battleship Orion. We heard your earlier calls but refrained from answering. An entire Rull fleet is cruising in the vicinity of the Laertes sun.
"In approximately five minutes, an attempt will be made to pick you up. Meanwhile—drop everything."
Jamieson dropped, it was a physical movement, not a mental one. Out of the corner of one eye, even as he heard his own radio, he saw a movement in the sky. Two dark blobs, that resolved into vast shapes. There was a roar as the Rull super-battleships flashed by overhead. A cyclone followed their passage, that nearly tore him from the ground, where he clung desperately to the roots of intertwining brush.
At top speed, obviously traveling under gravitonic power, the enemy warships turned a sharp somersault, and came back toward the tableland. Expecting death, and begin­ning to realize some of the truth of the situation on the tableland, Jamieson quailed. But the fire flashed past him, not at him. the thunder of the shot rolled toward Jamieson, a colossal sound, that yet did not blot out his sense aware­ness of what had happened. His lifeboat. They had fired at his lifeboat.
He groaned as he pictured it destroyed in one burst of intoler­able flame. And then, for a moment, there was no time for thought or anguish.
A third warship came into view, but, as Jamieson strained to make out its contours, it turned and fled. His wrist radio clicked on :
"Cannot help you now. Save yourself. Our four accompanying battleships and attendant squadrons will engage the Rull fleet, and try to draw them toward our great battle group cruising near the star Bianca, and then re—"
A flash of vivid fire in the distant sky ended the message. It was a full minute before the cold air of Laertes III echoed to the remote thunder of the broadside. The sound died slowly, reluctantly, as if endless little overtones of it were clinging to each molecule of air.
The silence that settled finally was, strangely, not peaceful. But like the calm before a storm, a fateful, quiescent stillness, alive with unmeasurable threat.
Shakily, Jamieson climbed to his feet. It was time to assess the immediate danger that had befallen him. The greater danger he dared not even think about.

Jamieson headed first for his lifeboat. He didn’t have to go all the way. The entire section of the cliff had been sheared away. Of the ship there was no sign.
It pulled him up short. He had expected it, but the shock of the reality was terrific.
He crouched like an animal, and stared up into the sky, into the menacing limits of the sky. It was empty of machines. Not a move­ment was there, not a sound came out of it, except the sound of the east wind. He was alone in a universe between heaven and earth, a mind poised at the edge of an abyss.
Into his mind, tensely waiting, pierced a sharp understanding. The Rull ships had flown once over the mountain to size up the situation on the tableland, and then had tried to destroy him.
Who was the Rull here with him, that super-battleships should roar down to insure that no danger remained for it on the tableland?
Well, they hadn’t quite succeeded. Jamieson showed his teeth into the wind. Not quite. But he’d have to hurry. At any moment, they might risk one of their destroyers in a rescue landing.
As he ran, he felt himself one with the wind. He knew that feel­ing, that sense of returning primitiveness during moments of excite­ment. It was like that in battles, and the important thing was to yield one’s whole body and soul to it. There was no such thing as fighting efficiently with half your mind or half your body. All, all, was demanded.
He expected falls, and he had them. Each time he got up, almost unconscious of the pain, and ran on again. He arrived bleeding—but he arrived.
The sky was silent.
From the shelter of a line of brush, he peered at the Rull.
The captive Rull, his Rull to do with as he pleased. To watch, to force, to educate—the fastest education in the history of the world. There wasn’t any time for a lei­surely exchange of information.
From where he lay, he manipu­lated the controls of the screen.
The Rull had been moving back and forth in front of the screen. Now, it speeded up, then slowed, then speeded up again, according to his will.

Some thousands of years before, in the Twentieth Century, the classic and timeless investigation had been made of which this was one end result. A man called Pavlov fed a laboratory dog at regular intervals, to the accompaniment of the ringing of a bell. Soon, the dog’s digestive system responded as readily to the ringing of the bell without the food as to the food and the bell together.
Pavlov himself never did realize the most important reality behind his conditioning process. But what began on that remote day ended with a science that could control animals and aliens—and men—al­most at will. Only the Rulls baffled the master experimenters in the later centuries when it was an exact science. Defeated by the will to death of all Rull captives, the scien­tists foresaw the doom of Earth’s galactic empire unless some be­ginning could be made in pene­trating the minds of Rulls.
It was his desperate bad luck that he had no time for real pene­trations.
There was death here for those who lingered.
But even what he had to do, the bare minimum of what he had to do, would take precious time. Back and forth, back and forth; the rhythm of obedience had to be es­tablished.
The image of the Rull on the screen was as lifelike as the original. It was three-dimensional, and its movements were like an automaton. The challenger was actually irre­sistible. Basic nerve centers were affected. The Rull could no more help falling into step than it could resist the call of the food impulse.
After it had followed that mind­less pattern for fifteen minutes, changing pace at his direction, Jamieson started the Rull and its image climbing trees. Up, then down again, half a dozen times. At that point, Jamieson introduced an image of himself.
Tensely, with one eye on. the sky and one on the scene before him, he watched the reactions of the Rull—watched them with narrowed eyes and a sharp understanding of Rull responses to the presence of human beings. Rulls were diges­tively stimulated by the odor of man. It showed in the way their suckers opened and closed. When a few minutes later, he substituted himself for his image, he was satis­fied that this Rull had temporarily lost its normal automatic hunger when it saw a human being:
And now that he had reached the stage of final control, he hesi­tated. It was time to make his tests. Could he afford the time?
He realized that he had to. This opportunity might not occur again in a hundred years.
When he finished the tests twenty-five minutes later, he was pale with excitement. He thought: This is it. We’ve got it.
He spent ten precious minutes broadcasting his discovery by means of his wrist radio—hoping that the transmitter on his lifeboat had sur­vived its fall down the mountain, and was picking up the thready message of the smaller instrument, and sending it out through sub­space.
During the entire ten minutes, there was not a single answer to his call.
Aware that he had done what he could, Jamieson headed for the cliff’s edge he had selected at a starting point. He looked down, and shuddered, then remembered what the Orion had said: "An entire Rull fleet cruising—"
Hurry!
He lowered the Rull to the first ledge. A moment later he fastened the harness around his own body, and stepped into space. Sedately, with easy strength, the Rull gripped the other end of the rope, and lowered him down to the ledge beside it.
They continued on down and down. It was hard work although they used a very simple system.
A long plastic "rope" spanned the spaces for them. A metal "climb­ing" rod, used to scale the smooth vastness of a spaceship’s side, held position after position while the rope did its work.

On each ledge, Jamieson burned the rod at a downward slant into solid rock. The rope slid through an arrangement of pulleys in the metal as the Rull and he, in turn, lowered each other to ledges farther down.
The moment they were both safely in the clear of one ledge, Jamieson would explode the rod out of the rock, and it would drop down ready for use again.
The day sank towards darkness like a restless man into sleep, slowly, wearily. Jamieson grew hot and tired, and filled with the melancholy of the fatigue that dragged at his muscles.
He could see that the Rull was growing more aware of him. It still co-operated, but it watched him with intent eyes each time it swung him down.
The conditioned state was ending. The Rull was emerging from its trance. The process should complete before night.
There was a time, then, when Jamieson despaired of ever getting down before the shadows fell. He had chosen the western, sunny side for that fantastic descent down a black-brown cliff the like of which did not exist elsewhere in the known worlds of space. He found him­self watching the Rull with quick, nervous glances. When it swung him down onto a ledge beside it, he watched its blue eyes, its staring blue eyes, come closer and closer to him, and then as his legs swung be­low the level of those strange eyes, they twisted to follow him.
The intent eyes of the other re­minded Jamieson of his discovery. He felt a fury at himself that he had never reasoned it out before. For centuries man had known that his own effort to see dearly required a good twenty-five per cent of the energy of his whole body. Human scientists should have guessed that the vast wave-compass of Rull eyes was the product of a balancing of glandular activity on a fantastically high energy level. A balancing which, if disturbed, would surely affect the mind itself either tem­porarily or permanently.
He had discovered that the im­pairment was permanent.
What would a prolonged period of starvation diet do to such a nervous system?
The possibilities altered the nature of the war. It explained why Rull ships had never attacked human food sources or supply lines; they didn’t want to risk retaliation. It explained why Rull ships fought so remorselessly against Earth ships that intruded into their sectors of the galaxy. It explained their ruthless destruction of other races. They lived in terror that their ter­rible weakness would be found out.
Jamieson smiled with a savage anticipation. If his message had got through, or if he escaped, Rulls would soon feel the pinch of hunger. Earth ships would concentrate on that one basic form of attack in the future. The food supplies of entire planetary groups would be poisoned, convoys would be raided without regard for casualties. Everywhere at once the attack would be pressed without let-up and without mercy.
It shouldn’t be long before the Rull began his retreat to his own galaxy. That was the only solution that would be acceptable. The invader must be driven back and back, forced to give up his conquests of a thousand years.
4:00 p.m. Jamieson had to pause again for a rest. He walked to the side of the ledge away from the Rull, and sank down on the rock. The sky was a brassy blue, silent and windless now, a curtain drawn across the black space above, concealing what must already be the greatest Rull-human battle in ten years.
It was a tribute to the five Earth battleships and their escort that no Rull ship had yet attempted to res­cue the Rull on the tableland.
Possibly, of course, they didn’t want to give away the presence of one of their own kind.
Jamieson gave up the futile spec­ulation. Wearily, he compared the height of the cliff above with the depth that remained below. He estimated they had come two-thirds of the distance. He saw that the Rull was staring out over the val­ley: Jamieson turned and gazed with it.
The scene which they took in with their different eyes and different brains was fairly drab and very familiar, yet withal strange and wonderful. The forest began a quarter of a mile from the bottom of the cliff, and it almost literally had no end. It rolled tip over the hills and down into the shallow valleys. It faltered at the edge of a broad river, then billowed out again, and climbed the slopes of mountains that sprawled mistily in distance.
His watch showed 4:15. Time to get going again.
At twenty-five minutes after six, they reached a ledge a hundred and fifty feet above the uneven plain. The distance strained the capacity of the rope, but the initial operation of lowering the Rull to freedom and safety was achieved without inci­dent. Jamieson gazed down curi­ously at the worm. What would it do now that it was in the clear?
It looked up at him and waited.
That made him grim. Because this was a chance he was not taking. Jamieson waved imperatively at the Rull, and took out his blaster. The Rull backed away, but only into the safety of a gigantic rock. Blood-red, the suit was sinking behind the mountains. Darkness moved over the land. Jamieson ate his dinner. It was as he was finishing it that he saw a movement below.
He watched, as the Rull glided along close to the edge of the preci­pice.
It disappeared beyond an outjut of the cliff.

Jamieson waited briefly, then swung out on the rope. The de­scent drained his strength, but there was solid ground at the bottom. Three quarters of the way down, he cut his finger on a section of the rope that was unexpectedly rough.
When he reached the ground, he noticed that his finger was turning an odd gray. In the dimness, it looked strange and unhealthy.
As Jamieson stared at it, the color drained from his face. He thought in a bitter anger: The Rull must have smeared it on the rope on his way down.
A pang went through his body. It was knife-sharp, and it was fol­lowed instantly by a stiffness. With a gasp, he grabbed at his blaster, to kill himself. His hand froze in midair. He fell to the ground. The stiffness held him there, froze him there, moveless.
The will to death is in all life. Every organic cell ecphorizes the in­herited engrams of its inorganic origin. The pulse of life is a squamous film superimposed on an un­derlying matter so intricate, in its delicate balancing of different ener­gies that life itself is but a brief, vain straining against that balance.
For an instant of eternity, a pat­tern is attempted. It takes many forms, but these are apparent. The real shape is always a time and not a space shape. And that shape is a curve. Up and then down. Up from the darkness into the light, then down again into the blackness.
The male salmon sprays his mist of milt onto the eggs of the female. And instantly he is seized with a mortal melancholy. The male bee collapses from the embrace of the queen he has won, back into that inorganic mold from which he climbed for one single moment of ecstasy. In man, the fateful pattern is repressed into quadrillions of individual cells.
But the pattern is there. Wait­ing.
Long before, the sharp-minded Rull scientists, probing for chemical substances that would shock man’s system into its primitive forms, found the special secret of man’s will to death.
The yeli, Meeesh, gliding back towards Jamieson did not think of the process. He had been waiting for the opportunity. It had oc­curred. He was intent on his own purposes.
Briskly, he removed the man’s blaster, then he searched for the key to the lifeboat. And then he carried Jamieson a quarter of a mile around the base of the cliff to where the man’s ship had been catapulted by the blast from the Rull warship.
Five minutes later, the powerful radio inside was broadcasting on Rull wave lengths, an imperative command to the Rull fleet.

Dimness. Inside and outside his skin. He felt himself at the bottom of a well, peering out of night into twilight. As he lay, a pressure of something swelled around him, lifted him higher and higher, and nearer to the mouth of the well.
He struggled the last few feet, a distinct mental effort, and looked over the edge. Consciousness.
He was lying on a raised table inside a room which had several large mouse-like openings at the floor level, openings that led to other chambers. Doors, he identified, odd-shaped, alien, unhuman. Jamie­son cringed with the stunning shock of recognition.
He was inside a Rull warship.
There was a slithering of move­ment behind him. He turned his head, and rolled his eyes in their sockets.
In the shadows, three Rulls were gliding across the floor towards a bank of instruments that reared up behind and to one side of him. They pirouetted up an inclined plane and poised above him. Their pale eyes, shiny in the dusk of that un­natural chamber, peered down at him.
Jamieson tried to move. His body writhed in the confines of the bonds that held him. That brought a sharp remembrance of the death-will chemical that the Rull had used. Relief came surging. He was not dead. Not dead. NOT DEAD. The Rull must have helped him, forced him to move, and so had broken the downward curve of his descent to dust.
He was alive—for what?
The thought slowed his joy. His hope snuffed out like a flame. His brain froze into a tensed, terrible mask of anticipation.
As he watched with staring eyes, expecting pain, one of the Rulls pressed a button. Part of the table on which Jamieson was lying, lifted. He was raised to a sitting position.
What now?
He couldn’t see the Rulls. He tried to turn, but two head shields clamped into the side of his head, and held him firmly.
He saw that there was a square of silvery sheen on the wall which he faced. A light sprang onto it, awl then a picture. It was a curiously familiar picture, but at first because there was a reversal of position Jamieson couldn’t place the familiarity.
Abruptly, he realized.
It was a twisted version of the picture that he had shown the Rull, first when he was feeding it, and then with more weighty arguments after he discovered the vulnerability of man’s mortal enemy.
He had shown how the Rull race would be destroyed unless it agreed to peace.
In the picture he was being shown it was the Rull that urged co-operation between the two races. They seemed unaware that he had not yet definitely transmitted his knowledge to other human beings. Or perhaps that fact was blurred by the conditioning he had given to the Rull when he fed it and controlled it.
As he glared at the screen, the picture ended—and then started again. By the time it had finished a second time, there was no doubt, Jamieson collapsed back against the table. They would not show him such a picture unless he was to be used as a messenger.
He would be returned home to carry the message that man had wanted to hear for a thousand years. He would also carry the informa­tion that would give meaning to the offer.
The Rull-human war was over.

10. THE GREEN FOREST



’HERE!’ said Marenson.
He put the point of his pencil down in the center of a splotch of green. His eyes focused on the wiry man opposite him.
’Right here, Mr Clugy,’ he said, ’is where the camp will he built.’
Clugy leaned forward and glanced at the spot. Then he looked up; and Marenson was aware of the spaceman’s slate-grey eyes studying him. Clugy drew slowly back into his chair, and said in a monotone:
’Why that particular spot?’
’Oh,’ said Marenson, ’I have a feeling we’ll get more juice from there.’
’A feeling!’ The words came explosively. Clugy swallowed hard, and said quietly: ’Mr Marenson, that’s dangerous jungle country.’ He stood up, and bent over the map of the Mira sun planet. ’Now, here,’ he said briskly, ’in this mountain country it’s bad enough, but the animal and plant life can be fought off, and the climate is bearable.’
Marenson shook his head, and put his pencil back to the green splotch. ’Here,’ he said with finality.
Clugy went back to his chair and sat down. He was a lean man with the tan of many suns on his face. Marenson was aware of the spaceman’s hard eyes studying him. The other seemed to be tensing himself for a violent verbal battle. Abruptly, he must have decided against a head-on clash with his superior.
’But why ?’ he said in a perplexed tone. ’After all, the problem is very simple. A big ship is being built, and we need the organic juice from the progeny of these Mira beasts.’
’Exactly,’ said Marenson, ’so we locate our camp in the forest which is their main habitat.’
’Why not,’ Clugy persisted, ’leave the job of selecting the camp site to the field men — the hunters?’
Marenson put his pencil down deliberately. He was accustomed to dealing with people who opposed his plans. He thought of himself as a calm man whose patience was exhausted.
There were times when he gave detailed reasons for his actions, and there were times when he didn’t. This was one of the times when he didn’t; under the rulings, actually, he couldn’t. A glance at the wall clock showed that it was ten to four. Tomorrow at this hour he would be clearing his desk preliminary to leaving on a month’s vacation with Janet. Between now and then be had a score of vital things to do. It was time to break off the interview. He said in a formal voice:
’I take full responsibility for my decision. And now, Mr Clugy—’
He stopped, conscious that be had said the wrong thing. It was not often that there were scenes in this sumptuous office with its hundred-story view of the capital of the galaxy. Usually the deep space men who came in here were properly impressed by Ancil Marenson and his resonant baritone voice. But he took one look now at Clugy’s face, and realized he had handled the other in a wrong fashion.
Clugy hunched himself forward angrily. And it was the stupendousness of the emotional jump he made then that startled Marenson — from mildness, without any gradations, to unqualified anger.
’Easy talk,’ he said now in a harsh, steely voice, ’from a man in the penguin division of the service.’
Marenson blinked He parted his lips to speak, then closed them tight. He started to smile, but changed his mind. He had such a long space career behind him that he had never thought of himself as being in the armchair brigade. He cleared his throat.
’Mr Clugy,’ he said mildly, ’I’m surprised that you introduce personalities into this purely governmental affair.’
Clugy’s stare was unflinching. ’Mr Marenson,’ he said with chilling politeness, ’a man who sends others into dangerous situations on a mere whim has already introduced the personal element. You’re making a life-and-death decision involving several thousand brave men. What you don’t seem to understand is that the Mira planet forest is a green hell. There’s nothing else like it in the universe we know — unless the Yevd have something similar in their section of the galaxy. The year round it swarms with the progeny of the lymph beast. What puzzles me is why don’t I get up and punch you one right in that handsome face of yours?’

It was the reference to the Yevd that gave Marenson the opening he’d been looking for. ’If you don’t mind,’ he said coldly, ’I’m going to have you tested for light illusion. I’m having endless trouble on all our supply lines from Yevd interference. There’s something funny about a man who’s fighting as hard as you are to prevent lymph juice from being delivered to the navy.’
Clugy smiled, showing his teeth. ’That’s right,’ he said. ’Attack is the best defense, isn’t it? So now I’m a Yevd using my mastery of light and illusion to make you believe I’m a human being.’
He stood up. Before he could continue, Marenson said in a savage voice: ’It’s a good thing that there are men like me in the background. Field people have a tendency to slack on the job, and take all the easy ways. My job is to deliver lymph juice to The Yards. Deliver it, understand. No excuses. No explaining that the hunters find it more convenient to commute from the mountains. I have to get the juice to the factories, or resign in favor of someone who can. Mr Clugy, I make a hundred thousand a year because I know what decisions to make.’
Clugy said: ’We’ll get the juice.’
’You haven’t been.’
’We’re just starting.’ He leaned over the desk. His gray eyes were steely. ’My penguin friend,’ he said softly, ’you’ve got yourself into a little neurotic corner, fancying the hard decision is always the right one. Well, I don’t give a care about your job conditioning. I’m telling you this: When the order comes to me, it had better read, "Mountain camp", or you’ll know the reason why.’
’Then I’ll know the reason why.’
’Is that final ?’
’That’s final.’
Without a word, Clugy turned and headed for the door. It closed behind him with a crash.
Marenson hesitated, then called his wife. She came on the visiplate in her jaunty fashion, a slim, healthy young woman of thirty-five. She smiled when she saw who it was. Marenson explained what had happened, finished:
’So you see I’ve got to stay down here and figure out ways and means to prevent him from getting back at me. I’ll be late, I expect.’
’All right. ’Bye.’
Marenson worked fast. In the early, friendly part of his conversation with Clugy he had mentioned his vacation. Now, he called Government Messenger Service, and sent the spaceship tickets for the trip to the Paradise Planet offices for validation. While he waited for the messenger to return, he checked on Clugy.
The man was registered with his son in a suite at the Spacemen’s Club. Son? Marenson’s eyes narrowed. If Clugy got rough, the boy might be the best method of striking back at him.
During the next hour, he discovered that Clugy had important ’connections’ in high government circles, that he had killed four men, juris ultima thule beyond the law of the uttermost limit – and that he was known as a man who liked to do a job his own way.
The tickets were returned as he reached that point. He grinned down at the union stamp of ’validation’ on them. If the spacemen’s organization repudiated that, they would be open to a court suit for triple damages.
Round one, accordingly, was his.
His grin faded. It was a minor victory against a man who had killed four times.
’The important thing,’ Marenson decided, ’is to stay out of trouble until Janet and I are aboard the Paradise liner tomorrow. That will give me a month.’
He realized he was perspiring. He shook his head sadly. `I’m not the man I used to be.’ He looked down at his long, strong body. ’I’m getting soft. I couldn’t take a really bad beating up, even with hypnotic anaesthesia.’ He felt better for the admission. ’Now, I’m getting down to realities.’
The phone rang, Marenson jumped, then answered it. The man whose face came on the video said: ’Mr Clugy is just leaving the Spacemen’s Club. He was in his room for about fifteen minutes.’
’Do you know where he’s going ?’
’He is now entering a taxigyro. There goes his destination up on the meter. Just a moment, I can hardly see it . . . Y—A . . . I got it. The Yards.’
Marenson nodded gloomily. Clugy returning to The Yards could, of course, mean many things. They were long and had many points of interest.
’Shall we beat him up, sir ?’
Marenson hesitated. Ten years ago he would have said yes. Beat your opponent to the punch. That was the first principle of war between two spacemen. But he wasn’t a spaceman any more. He couldn’t define it, but it had something to do with prestige. If he was hurt, it was news. In that sense Clugy had an advantage over him. Because if he was caught doing anything against the man, the powerful spacemen’s union would ruin him. Whereas if Clugy took action against him, his union would probably defend him on the grounds that he was acting for the best interests of his men.
Marenson’s hesitation ended. ’Follow him,’ he ordered, ’and report to me.’
He recognized the action of a half measure. But, then, a man couldn’t risk his career on the basis of one incident. He closed his desk, and headed for home.
He found Janet still packing. She listened to his account of what he had done, a faraway expression in her eyes, and finally said: ’You surely don’t expect to win that way.’
There was a tone in her voice that stung. Marenson defended himself, finishing: ’So you see, I just can’t take the risks I used to take.’
’It’s not a matter of risks,’ she said. ’It’s a matter of thoroughness.’ She frowned. ’My father used to say that no man today could afford to let down his standards.’
Marenson was silent. Her father had been a fleet admiral in his day, and she regarded him as a final authority in most matters. On this occasion he was half inclined to agree with her, and yet there was another factor.
’The important thing,’ he said, ’is that we get away tomorrow evening on the Paradise liner. If I do anything directly against Clugy, I might have an injunction slapped on me, or a union official may order me to appear before an investigating committee — the whole setup is dangerous.’
’Is that really the best way to get lymph juice — the way you ordered it ?’
Marenson nodded vigorously. ’Yes, it is. The, records go back just over three hundred years. There have been five major periods of big ship building during that time. And on each occasion the men who actually had to do the hunting have kicked up a row. Every method was tried, and the statistics show the method of living in the forest to be a full seventy-five per cent more effective than any other system.
’Did you tell that to Clugy?’
’No.’ Marenson shook his head grimly.
’Why not ?’
’Two generations ago, a union lawyer got a smart decision rendered against the government. The Supreme Court ruled that new techniques of hunting could nullify all past experience. No basically new methods of hunting had or have been developed, you understand. But, having made that statement, they then went on to draw their conclusion as if the new methods actually existed. They held that, since new techniques could nullify past experience, therefore to mention the past was to engage in unfair tactics. The government, they said, meaning the navy, was the stronger party in the dispute, and there was always danger accordingly that the interests of the men would be ignored. Therefore, the past cannot be considered. Therefore, mention of the past must be regarded as an unfair tactic. Such a tactic would automatically mean that the navy would lose the dispute.’
Marenson smiled. ’Clugy was probably waiting to pounce on me if I used that argument. Of course I may be doing him an injustice. He may not know about the ruling.’
’Are these lymph beasts really dangerous ?’
He said solemnly: ’The progeny are in their own special fashion probably the deadliest creatures ever developed by Nature.’
’What are they like ?’
Marenson told her. When he had finished, Janet frowned and said: ’But why are they so important? Why do we need them?’
Marenson grinned at her. ’If I told you that,’ he said, ’the next time I was tested for loyalty I would not only automatically lose my job but at the very least I would be imprisoned for the rest of my life. I might be executed for treason. No, thank you, Mrs Marenson.’
There was silence for a while; and Marenson discovered that his words had chilled him just a little. He had an empty feeling in the pit of his stomach. It was so easy, working in an office, to concentrate on the details of a job, and forget the deadlier reasons for that job.
More than two hundred years before, the Yevd had come from the region of the dark obscuring matter in the center of the galaxy. Their ability to control light with the cells of their bodies was not suspected until one day a ’man’ was blasted while rifling the safe of the Research Council. As the human image dissolved into a rectangular cube-like shape with numerous reticulated legs and arms, human beings had their first inkling of the fantastic danger that threatened.
The fleet was mobilized, armed helicars flew along every street, using radar to silhouette the true shapes of the Yevd. It was afterwards discovered that by a more difficult control of energy, the Yevd could guard themselves against radar. But apparently in their contempt of man’s defense systems, they had not bothered to do so. On Earth and on other systems inhabited by men, altogether thirty-seven million of the enemy were killed.
Thereafter, human and Yevd ships fought each other on sight. The intensity of the war waxed and waned, but a few years before, the Yevd had occupied a planetary system near to the solar system. When they refused to leave, the United Governments started the construction of the biggest ship ever planned. Already, though it was only half finished, the great machine towered into the lower heavens.
The Yevd were a carbon-hydrogen-oxygen-fluorine life form, tough of skin and muscle, and almost immune to chemicals and bacteria that affected men. The great compelling problem for man had been to find an organism in his own part of the galaxy that would enable him to experiment for bacteriological warfare.
The progeny of the lymph beast was that organism. And more! The lymph juice, when chemically separated, yielded a high percentage of heavy water.
It was believed that if the Yevd ever discovered how tremendously man was depending on the lymph beasts, they would launch a suicidal attack on the entire Mira system. There were other sources of heavy water, but no other fluorine-metabolism creature that could be used against the Yevd had yet been discovered.
The heavy water was the surface secret. It was hoped that that was what the Yevd would uncover if they ever began to study the problem.
Janet broke the silence with a sigh. ’Life has certainly become complicated.’ She made no further comment As soon as dinner was over, she retired to her bedroom to finish her packing. When Marenson glanced in later, her light was out and she was in bed. He closed the door softly.
At ten o’clock there was still no call from Detective Jerred. Marenson went to bed, and he must have slept, because he woke with a start to the sound of his visiphone buzzing. A glance at the night clock showed that it was a few minutes after midnight, and a glance at the plate, when he had turned it on, that it was the detective calling him at last.
’I’m back at the club,’ said Jerred. ’Here’s what’s been happening.’
On his arrival at The Yards, Clugy had gone directly to union headquarters, and a union court sat immediately on his appeal for a reversal of the decision. His petition was refused within three hours, on the grounds that the problem involved was supervisory, and did not concern the union.
Apparently, Clugy accepted the decision. For he did not request a full dress trial, which would have required the presence of Marenson as a witness. Instead, he returned to his club where he and his son had dinner in their room. Clugy went to a show by himself, and returned about half an hour ago. He was scheduled to have breakfast at the club, and then at eleven board the freighter that would drop him off at Mira 92, a few days later.
Jerred ended: ’Looks as if he made the appeal to satisfy any protests the men might make, then let it go.’
Marenson could see how that might be. He had run up against opposition before, and for the most part it was a simple matter of legal procedure. This seemed now to be in the same category.
Clugy would have to act fast if he hoped to change the camp order before his ship departed for Mira.
Marenson said: ’Keep somebody watching him till he leaves.’
He slept well, and he must have relaxed his vigilance. As he headed for his gyro on the roof after breakfast, he was only vaguely aware of the two men who came toward him.
’Mr Marenson ?’ one asked.
Marenson looked up. They were well-dressed, young, strong looking. ’Why, yes,’ he said, ’What —’
A gas gun exploded in his face.

Marenson woke up mad. He could feel that fury tensing his body as he came slowly up out of the darkness. And just as he was about to become fully conscious, he recognized the anger for what it was. The anger of fear.
He stayed where he was, eyes closed, body very still, forcing his breath into the slow, deep pattern of a sleeper. He was lying on something that felt like a canvas cot. It sagged in the middle, but it was reasonably comfortable.
A faint breeze blew against his cheek, and it brought a thick rancid odor to his nostrils. Jungle, he thought. Rotting vegetation intermingled with the tangy scent of innumerable growing things. The mustiness of the damp earth and something else – an acridness in the air itself, an alien atmosphere that registered on human nostrils with an almost sulphurous sharpness.
He was in a jungle on a planet that was not Earth.
He remembered the two young men who had come out of the stairway entrance as he walked toward his gyro. Marenson groaned inwardly. Gassed, by heaven, he thought. Caught by a simple trick like that. But why? Was it personal – or Yevd?
Involuntarily, at that final possibility, Marenson cringed. The anger faded out of him completely, and only a cold fear remained. He lay then for a while simulating deep sleep. But slowly his spirit revived, and his mind began to work again. His thoughts became analytical. He remembered Clugy, but realized he couldn’t be sure. As head of the procurement division for the Ship, he had in his time offended many bold and dangerous individuals.
That was one aspect, one possibility.
The other one was that the Yevd enemy of man was using him in one of their intricate games to slow down the construction of the Ship. If the Yevd were responsible, it would be complicated. The masters of light had devious minds, and took it for granted that any simple scheme would be quickly suspected.
Marenson began to breathe more easily. He was still alive, his hands were not tied; and the biggest question was: What would happen when he opened his eyes?
He opened them.

He was staring up through dense foliage at a reddish glowing sky. The sky looked hot, and that gave him a sudden awareness that he was perspiring furiously. And, oddly, now that he knew about it, the heat almost smothered him. He shrank from the flame-like intensity, then slowly climbed to his feet.
It was as if he had given a signal. From his right, beyond a line of bushes, he heard the sounds of a large camp suddenly coming to life.
For the first time, Marenson noticed that he was dressed in a light mesh unit that encased him from head to foot. The material was transparent, and even covered his boots. The clothing shocked him. For it was the kind of hunting outfit used on primitive planets that swarmed with hostile life of every description.
Which planet, and why? He began to think now with more conviction that his predicament was Clugy’s doing, and that this was the famous Mira world where the lymph beast lived.
He started off in the direction of the sounds. The line of brush that had barred his view was, he discovered, about twenty feet thick, and the moment he was through it, he saw that it was not on the outskirts of the camp, but near the center. And now he noticed that the reddish sky was something of an illusion. It was part of a barrier that had been electronically raised around the camp. An energy screen. The red effect was merely the screen’s method of reacting to the light of the particular sun that was shining down upon it.
Marenson began to breathe easier. All around were men and machines – men by the hundreds. Even the most cunning group of Yevd wouldn’t try to create so massive an illusion. And, besides, their great skill in the use of light was personal to each individual, and not a mass phenomenon.
A clearing was being created out of a tangle of growth. There was so much movement it was hard to know what any individual was doing. Marenson’s eye for such things was ten years out of practice, but in a few moments he had oriented himself. The plastic huts were going up to his left. Those at the right were merely waiting their turn to be moved into place. Clugy’s office would be in the permanent part of the encampment.

Grimly, Marenson started towards the but village. Twice ’digger’ machines harumphed past him, sowing their insect poison, and he had to step gingerly over the loose earth; in its early stages the poison was as unfriendly to human beings as to anything else. The upturned soil glittered with long, black, shiny worms writhing feebly, with the famous red Mira bugs that shocked their victims with electric currents, and with other things that he did not recognize.
He reached the huts, walked on, and came presently to a sign which read:

PRODUCTION SUPERINTENDENT
Ira Clugy

A youth of fifteen or sixteen lolled in an easy-chair behind the counter inside. He looked up with the lazy, insolent eyes of a clerk whose boss is absent. Then he turned his back.
Marenson went through the gate, and reached for the scruff of the kid’s neck. There must have been a preliminary warning, for the neck twisted away, and like a cat the boy was on his feet. He came around with a snarl on his face.
Baffled and furious, Marenson retreated into words. `Where’s Clugy?’
’I’ll have you broken for this!’ the boy snapped.
’My father —’
Marenson cut him off. ’Look, Mr Big Shot, I’m Marenson from Administration. I’m not the kind that’s broken. I break. You’d better start talking, and fast. Is Clugy your father ?’
The boy stood stiff, then nodded.
’Where is he ?’
’Out in the jungle.’
’How long will he be gone?’
The boy hesitated. ’Probably be in for lunch—sir.’
’I see.’ Marenson pondered the information. He was surprised that Clugy had chosen to absent himself, and so leave Ancil Marenson temporarily in full control of the camp. But from his own point of view that was all to the good. Even as he made his plans, his mind reached to another thought. He asked: ’When’s the next ship due ?’
’In twenty days.’
Marenson nodded. It seemed to him that he was beginning to understand. Clugy had known he was due to leave on his vacation, and so he had decided to inconvenience him. Instead of pleasure on Paradise Planet, he’d spend his vacation on primitive and dangerous Mira 92. Having no other method of countering his order, Clugy was repaying him with personal discomfort.
Marenson’s lips tightened. Then he said: ’What’s your name ?’
’Peter.’
’Well, Peter,’ said Marenson grimly, ’I’ve got some work for you to do. So let’s get busy.’

For a while, then, it was a case of ’Where’s that, Peter ?’ And, ’Peter, how about the stamp for this kind of document?’ Altogether, in one hour he wrote out five orders. He assigned himself a Model A hut. He authorized himself to make visiradio calls to Earth. He assigned himself to Clugy’s food unit. And he requisitioned two blasters, the use of a helicar and a pilot to operate it.
While Peter raced around delivering four of the orders to the proper departments, Marenson wrote out a news item for the editor of the camp newspaper. When that also was delivered, and Peter was back, Marenson felt better. What could be done on the scene was done. And since he’d have to remain for twenty days, the men in the camp might as well believe he was here on an inspection tour. The newspaper account would see to that.
Frowning, but partially satisfied, he started for the radio hut. His requisition was not questioned. He sat down and waited while the long and involved connection was put through.
Outside, men and machines were forcing a malignant stretch of jungle to be temporarily friendly to the hothouse needs of human flesh. Inside, surrounded by embanked instrument boards, Marenson pondered his next move. He had no evidence. His presence here against his will was not transparently the fault of Clugy. He had a lot of obscure back trails to investigate.
’Here’s your connection,’ said the radio man at last. ’Booth Three.’
’Thank you.’
Marenson talked first to his lawyer. ’I want a court order,’ he said after he had described his situation, ’authorizing the camp magistrate to question Clugy by means of a lie detector, and authorizing complete amnesia afterwards. That’s for my protection during the rest of the time I’ll have to spend in the camp with him. Can do ?’
’Can,’ said the lawyer, ’by tomorrow.’
Next, Marenson connected with Jerred, head of his protective staff. The detective’s face lighted as he saw who it was. ’Man,’ he demanded, ’where have you been ?’
His listened soberly to Marenson’s account, then nodded. ’The outrage has one favorable aspect,’ he said, ’it puts us into a better legal position. Perhaps now we can find out who the woman was that called Clugy’s room at eleven o’clock the night before you were kidnapped. Apparently, his son answered, and must have communicated the message to him.
’Woman ?’ said Marenson.
Jerred shrugged. don’t know who it was. My agent didn’t report to me till the following morning. He had no opportunity to listen in.’
Marenson nodded, and said: ’Try to see if there were any eyewitnesses to my kidnapping, then we’ll get a court order and find out from Clugy and his son who the woman was.’
’You can count on us to do everything possible,’ said the detective heartily.
’I expect results,’ said Marenson, and broke the connection.
His next call was to his apartment. The visiplate did not brighten, and after the proper length of time, a recorder sighed at him:
’Mr and Mrs Marenson have gone to Paradise Planet until August 26th. Do you wish to leave a message ?’
Marenson hung up, shaken, and went quietly out of the hut.

The fear that had come faded before his determination not to be alarmed. There must be a rational explanation for Janet’s departure. He couldn’t quite see how the Yevd could be involved.
He was annoyed that his mind had leaped instantly to that possibility.
A minute later, wearily, he unlocked the door of the hut. Inside, he removed his boots and sprawled on the bed. But he was too restless to relax. After less than five minutes, he got up with the intention of going to Clugy’s office, and waiting there for the man to return. He had a lot of hard things to say to Ira Clugy.
Outside, he stopped short. Climbing up to his hut, he hadn’t realized what a vantage point he had. The hill reared up a hundred feet above the jungle and the main part of the camp. It gave him an unsurpassed view of a green splendor, of the endless, shining forest. Clugy had chosen his camp site well. Lacking the higher mountains hundreds of miles to the south, he had nevertheless found in the hilly jungle country a sizeable semi-mountain that sloped gradually up until it was about eight hundred feet above the main jungle. The hill where Marenson stood was the final peak of the long, jungle-robed slope.
Marenson saw the glint of rivers, the sparkling color of strange trees; and, as he looked, something of his old feeling for this universe of planets beyond Earth stirred within him. He glanced up at the famous and wonderful Mira sun, and the thrill that came ended only when he thought of his situation and his purpose. Grimly, he started down the hill.
Both Clugy and his son were in the office when Marenson entered it a few minutes later. The spaceman stood up. He seemed curious rather than friendly. ’Peter was telling me about you being here,’ he said. ’So you thought you’d come and look the territory over personally, eh?’
Marenson ignored the comment. Coldly, he made his accusation. He finished, ’You may think you’re going to get away with this trick, but I assure you that you aren’t.’
Clugy gazed at him in astonishment. ’What’s all this nonsense?’ the spaceman demanded.
’Do you deny you had me kidnapped ?’
’Why, certainly, I deny it.’ Clugy was indignant. ’I wouldn’t pull a fool stunt like that in these days of authorized lie detector tests. Besides, I don’t work that way.’
He sounded so sincere that for a moment Marenson was taken aback. He recovered swiftly. ’If you’re so positive,’ he said, ’how about coming down right now to the camp magistrate’s office, and taking an immediate test.’
Clugy frowned at him. He seemed puzzled. ’I’ll do just that,’ he said. He spoke quietly. ’And you’d better be prepared to take such a test yourself. There’s something funny about this whole business.’
’Come along!’ Marenson said.
Clugy paused at the door. ’Peter, keep an eye on the office till I get back.’
’Sure, Pop.’

The man’s swift acceptance of the challenge was in itself convincing, Marenson thought as he walked along at Clugy’s side. It seemed to prove that he actually had accepted the ruling of his union. His part in this affair must have ended the very night of their argument.
But then, who had seized on the situation? Who was trying to take advantage of the quarrel? Yevd? There was no indication of it. But then who?
The two tests required slightly less than an hour and a half. And Clugy was telling the truth. And Marenson was telling the truth. Convinced, the two men gazed at each other in baffled amazement. It was Marenson who broke the silence.
’What about the woman who called up your son the night before you left Earth ?’
’What woman ?’
Marenson groaned. ’You mean to tell me you don’t know anything about that either ?’ He broke off with a frown. ’Just a minute,’ he said, ’how come Peter didn’t tell you ?’
His mind leaped to a fantastic possibility. He said in a hushed voice: ’I think we’d better surround your hut.’
But the superintendent’s office, when they finally closed in on it, was empty. Nor was Peter discoverable at any of his usual haunts.
’Obviously,’ said Clugy, his face the color of lead, ’when he heard me agree to a lie detector test, he realized the game was up.’
’We’ve got to trace this whole thing back,’ Marenson said slowly. ’Somewhere along the line a Yevd was substituted for your son. He came with you to Solar City, and took no chances on being caught by one of the several traps we have around The Yards to catch Yevd spies. I mean by that, he stayed in his room, and apparently communicated with other Yevd agents by visiradio. That woman who called the Yevd who was impersonating your son was probably another Yevd, and there’s still another one of them impersonating me —’
He stopped. Because that other one was with Janet. Marenson started hastily for the radio hut. ’I’ve got to contact Earth,’ he called over his shoulder to Clugy.

The radio but was a shambles. On the floor, with his head blown off, was a man – Marenson couldn’t be sure it was the operator. There was blood splattered on dozens of instruments, and the whole intricate machinery of an interstellar radio system had been burned by innumerable crisscrosses of energy from a powerful blaster.
Marenson did not linger in the radio hut. Back in Clugy’s office, he paused only long enough to find out from that distracted man that the nearest radio station was in a settlement some nine hundred miles to the south.
It’s all right,’ he said to Clugy’s offer of a requisition for a helicar and pilot. ’I signed one myself this morning.’
A few minutes later he was in the air.
The speed of the machine gradually soothed Marenson. The tenseness went out of his muscles, and his mind began to work smoothly again. He stared out over the green world of the jungle, and thought: The purpose of the Yevd is to slow down procurement of lymph juice. That’s the important thing to remember. They must have struck first at the source of the juice, and did an easy imitation of a boy. That was their usual tactic of interference at the production level. Then a new factor came into the situation. They discovered that Ancil Marenson, head of the procurement department, could be fitted into an enlarged version of their sabotage plan. Accordingly, two Yevd who looked like human beings gassed him and put him aboard the Mira freighter.
At the same time, a Yevd image of Marenson must have continued on to the office, and later that day the duplicate and Janet had probably departed together for Paradise Planet.
But why did they let me live? Marenson wondered. Why not get me completely out of the way?
There was only one reasonable explanation. They wanted to make further use of him. First of all, he must establish his presence, and his authority, and then – and not till then –he would be killed. And another Marenson image would order Clugy to transfer his camp to the distant mountain. In that fashion they would convince the willing Clugy that Marenson, having come to see for himself, had recognized the justice of Clugy’s arguments.
Marenson felt himself change color — because that stage had arrived. All they needed from him was his signature on the order to Clugy. And even that could possibly be dispensed with, if they had managed to obtain some copy of his signature in the time available to them. But how would the attempt on him be made?
Uneasily, Marenson gazed out of the small helicar. He felt unprotected. He had been hasty in leaving the camp. In his anxiety to secure the safety of Janet he had exposed himself in a small ship which could be destroyed all too easily. I’d better go back, he decided.
He called to the pilot, ’Turn back!’
’Back?’ said the man. He sounded surprised.
Marenson waved and pointed. The man seemed to hesitate, and then — he turned the machine upside down. With a crash, Marenson was flung to the ceiling of the craft. As he scrambled and fought for balance, the machine was spun once again. This time he had bold of a crossbar, and he came down more easily. He struggled to pull out a blaster.
The helicar was plummeting down towards the jungle now, and the pilot was jerking it violently to and fro. Marenson guessed his purpose and his identity, and felt ill. What a fool he had been to rush so blindly into this trap. The Yevd, knowing that he would try to send a radio message, must have killed the regular pilot — and simply waited for that simpleton Ancil Marenson to do what it expected him to do.
Marenson had a glimpse of trees terribly near. And realized the enemy’s plan. A crash landing. The weak human being would be knocked unconscious, or killed. The Yevd, a carbon-hydrogen-oxygen-fluorine life form, would survive.

The next moment, there was a thump that shook his bones. During the seconds that followed, he seemed to be continuously conscious. He was even aware that the branches of strong trees had broken the fall of the ship, and so possibly saved his life. More vaguely, he knew when his blasters were taken from him. The only period of blur occurred when he was dropped to the ground from the helicar.
When his vision cleared again, he was in time to see another helicar come down in a nearby open space among the trees. The image of young Peter Clugy stepped out of it, and joined the image of the pilot. The two Yevd stood looking down at him.
Marenson braced himself. He was as good as dead, but the will to meet death standing up and fighting made him try to climb to his feet. He couldn’t. His hands were tied to his legs.
He lay back weakly. He had no memory of having been tied. Which meant that he was wrong in believing that he had not been unconscious. It didn’t matter, of course. With sick eyes he gazed up at his captors.
’What happened to the real Peter Clugy?’ he asked finally.
The two Yevd merely continued to look at him, bleakly. Not that an answer was needed. Somewhere along the line of their moves to this point, Clugy’s son had been murdered. It was possible that these two individuals did not even know the details of the killing.
Marenson changed the subject, and said with a boldness he did not feel: ’I see I made a slight personal error. Well, I’ll make a bargain with you. You release me, and I’ll see to it that you get safely off the planet.’
The two images wavered ever so slightly, an indication that the Yevd were talking to each other by means of light waves above the human vision level. Finally, one of them said:
’We’re in no danger. We’ll get off this planet in our own good time.’
Marenson laughed curtly. The laugh sounded unconvincing in his own ears, but the fact that they had answered him at all was encouraging. He said savagely: ’The whole game is up. When I called Earth, the merest suspicion that Yevd were involved set in motion a far-flung defense organization. And, actually, my call was not necessary. The discovery that Yevd were involved was made in connection with my wife, Janet.’
It was a shot in the dark, but he was desperately anxious to find out if Janet were all right. Once more, there was the faint unsteadiness in the human images, that indicated conversation. Then the Yevd who was imitating Peter Clugy said :
’That’s impossible. The person who accompanied your wife to Paradise Planet had instructions to destroy her if she showed the faintest sign of suspicion.’
Marenson shrugged. ’You’d better believe me,’ he said.
He was tingling. His own analysis had been confirmed. Janet had gone off on her vacation with someone she thought was her husband. It was a characteristic of Yevd imitating human beings that they liked to be with a real woman or man who would be able to do things for them. There were so many things that a Yevd could do only with great difficulty, so many places where it was dangerous for an individual Yevd to go. Thus the image of Peter Clugy had taken the risk of living with the real Peter’s father, and the image of Ancil Marenson had gone along with the real Janet.
The pilot Yevd said : ’We don’t have to worry too much about any small group of human beings. Long-married couples are not demonstrative with each other. Days go by without kissing. In other words, the person imitating you is protected from discovery by contact for at least a week. Our plan will be accomplished by then.’
Marenson said : ’Don’t be a couple of fools. I can see you’re going to be stupid and make us all die. That’s where this kind of stuff is so depressing. We three will die. And no one will care. It’s not as if we’ll be heroes, any of us. You’ll be burned, trying to escape, and I —’ He broke off. ’What’s your plan for me?’
’First,’ said young Clugy’s image, ’we want you to sign a paper.’
He paused; and Marenson sighed. His analysis of the situation had been so completely right — too late.
’And if I don’t ?’ he asked. His voice trembled the faintest bit.
’Your signature,’ was the reply, ’would merely make things easier for us. In doing what we have done, we had to act swiftly, and so none of our people capable of imitating a signature is available on this planet. That can be rectified in a few days, but fortunately for you, we want quicker action. Accordingly, we are in a position to offer you the choice of signing or not signing.’
’O.K.,’ said Marenson ironically. ’My choice is — I don’t sign.’
’If you sign,’ the Yevd went on in an inexorable tone, `we’ll kill you mercifully.’
’And if I don’t ?’
’We leave you here.’
Marenson blinked. For an instant it seemed a meaningless threat. And then:
’Yes,’ said Peter’s image with satisfaction, ’leave you here for the lymph beast’s progeny. I understand they like to burrow into the flesh of anybody they catch — a very weight-reducing experience.’
He laughed. It was a human laugh, a remarkable reproduction considering that it was done by light wave activation of a sound box it carried in its abdomen
Marenson did not answer immediately. Until this instant, he had taken it for granted that the Yevd knew as much about the habits of those deadly dangerous creatures as did men. Apparently, their information was vague, accurate as far as it went, but —
’Of course,’ said Peter Clugy’s image, ’we won’t really go away. We’ll just go over to the ship and watch. And when you’ve had enough, we’ll get your signature. Does that meet with your approval?’
Marenson had caught a movement out of the corner of one eye. It seemed a little more than a series of shadows very close to the ground, more like a quiver in the soil than anything substantial. But the perspiration broke out on his forehead. Dark forest of Mira, he thought, alive with the young of the lymph beast — He held himself very still, looking neither to the right nor to the left, neither at the Yevd nor at the shadow things.
’Well’ – it was the Yevd image of the pilot – ’we’ll stick around and have a look at some of these creatures we’ve been hearing so much about.’
They were moving away as the speaker reached that point. But Marenson did not turn, did not look. He heard a jerky movement, and then bright flashes lit up the dark corridor under the trees. But Marenson did not even roll his eyes. He lay still as death, silent as a log. A thing slithered across his chest, paused while he grew half-paralyzed with fright —and then moved on with a gliding movement.
The lights flashed more brilliantly now, and more erratically. And there were thumping sounds as if heavy bodies were frantically flinging themselves around. Marenson didn’t have to look to realize that the enemy pair were in their death throes.
Two more Yevd were discovering the hard way that human beings were interested in the brainless lymph things because they were as dangerous to man’s cunning opponent as to man himself.
For Marenson, the effort to remain quiet was a special agony, but he held himself there until the light was as spasmodic as a guttering candle, and as dim. When the glow had completely died, and when there had been silence for more than a minute, Marenson permitted himself the exquisite luxury of turning his head slightly.
Only one of the Yevd was in his line of vision. It lay on the ground, a long, almost black, rectangular shape, with a whole series of reticulated arms and legs. Except for the appendages, it looked more like a contorted bar of metal than a thing of flesh. Here and there over its surface, the body glittered with a black, glassy sheen, evidence that some of the light-controlling cells were still alive.
In that one look, Marenson saw no less than seven discolored gashes in the part of the Yevd body that he could see — which meant that at least seven of the young lymph beasts had crawled inside. Being mindless, they would be quite unaware that they had killed anything or that there had been a struggle.
They lived to eat, and they attacked any object that moved. If it ceased moving before they reached it, they forgot about it instantly. Utterly indiscriminate, they attacked leaves drifting in the wind, the waving branch of a tree, even moving water. Millions of the tiny snake-like things died every month making insensate attacks on inanimate objects that had moved for one reason or another. Only a very small percentage survived the first two months of their existence, and changed into their final form.
In the development of the lymph beast, Nature had achieved one of her most fantastic balancing acts. The ultimate shape of the lymph beast was a hard-shelled beehive-like construction that could not move. It was difficult to go far into the Mira jungle without stumbling across one of these structures. They were everywhere, on the ground and in trees, on hillsides and in valleys – wherever the young monster happened to be at the moment of the change, there the ’adult’ settled. The final stage was short but prolific. The ’hive’ lived entirely on the food it had stored up as a youngster. Being bisexual, it spent its brief existence in a sustained ecstasy of procreation. The young, however, were not discharged from the body. They incubated inside it, and when the shell died ate what was left of the parent. They also ate each other, but there were thousands of them, and the process of birth was so rapid that a fairly large proportion simply ate themselves to comparative safety outside.
On rare occasions, the outer shell failed to soften quickly enough for the progeny to escape their own savage appetites. At such times, the total ’born’ was greatly reduced.
Marenson had no trouble. As soon as he had carefully examined his surroundings, he climbed to his feet — and stood silent and cautious while he made another prolonged investigation. In that fashion, step by step, he moved toward the helicar that stood in the little open space just beyond where the first machine had crashed.
He reached it and a few minutes later was back at the camp. Clugy warned, and the entire camp finally on the alert, he took another pilot-guide — this time after both he and the pilot were tested for humanness — and flew to the distant pleasure town. News awaited him there.
The Yevd gang was caught. Janet had become suspicious of the Marenson image, and had skillfully aided in its capture. That put the security police on the trail, and it was a simple matter of following the back track of the persons involved.
It took another hour before Marenson was able to contact Janet on Paradise Planet. He sighed with relief when her face came onto the visiplate. ’I was sure worried,’ he said, ’when the Yevd here told me that my image was counting on the habits of old married couples. They evidently didn’t realize why we were taking the trip.’
Janet was anxious. ’A police ship will be calling at Mira tomorrow,’ she said, ’be sure to get on it, and come here as fast as you can.’
She finished, ’I want to spend at least part of my second honeymoon with my husband.’

11. FINAL COMMAND



Barr stood on the hill—which overlooked Star, capitol of the human-controlled galaxy—and tried to make up his mind.
He was aware of his single robot guard standing somewhere in the darkness to his left. A man and a woman came along the crest of the hill, paused for a kiss, and then started down. Barr scarcely glanced at them. His problem embraced the whole civilization of man and robot, not individuals.
Even the escape of the alien enemy prisoner, a few hours before, had been an incident, when compared to the larger issues. True, he had seen it as a major event, and had ordered robot troops from distant cities to come to the capitol and aid in the search. But he had still to make the decision, which would fit those separate actions into a unified, driving purpose.
Behind him, there was a thud. Barr turned. He saw that an accident had taken place. The man and woman, evidently intent on each other, had bumped into the robot guard. The guard, caught off balance, was now sprawled on the ground. The man bent down to help him up.
"I beg your pardon," he said, "I didn’t—" He stopped. Finger contact with the clothes that covered the padding that, in turn, concealed the basic crystalline structure, must have apprised him of the other’s identity. "Oh, you’re a robot!"
He straightened without helping the guard to his feet. He said irritably: "I thought robots could see in the dark."
The guard climbed to his feet. "I’m sorry. My attention was elsewhere."
"Watch yourself!" said the man curtly.
That was all there was to the incident. It was a typical interchange between a robot and a human being. The man and the girl continued on down the hill. Presently, the lights of a car blinked on. They moved out of sight behind brush.
Barr walked over to the guard. What had happened was directly connected with the tremendous decision he had to make. He asked: "What was your feeling about that?" He decided he was not making himself clear. "Did you mind his taking the attitude that you were to blame?"
"Yes, I did." The guard had been brushing himself off. Now, he straightened. "After all, he was the one who was moving."
Barr persisted: "Did you have any impulse to rebel?" He regretted that question; it was too pointed. He said quickly: "Did you have any desire to talk back?"
The guard’s reply was slow. "No! I had a sense of being involved in an emotional incident."
"But isn’t it hard to come into contact with human beings on any but an emotional basis. Human beings are impatient, angry, generous, thoughtful, thoughtless." Barr paused. "I could go on."
"I suppose you’re right, sir."
Thoughtfully, Barr turned to look again at the great city that spread below him. The star effect, which gave the capitol its name, was gained at night by a design of street lights. All the main centers had been deliberately grouped, so that by building and light concentration, the desired effect was achieved. Barr said finally, without looking around:
"Suppose that I, in my capacity of Director of the Council, ordered you to destroy yourself—" He hesitated. For him, the question he had in mind merely touched the surface of his greater problem. For the guard, it would be basic. Nevertheless, he said finally, "What would your reaction be?"
The guard said: "First I’d check to see if you were actually giving the order in your official capacity"
"And then?" Barr added, "I mean, would that be sufficient?"
"Your authority derives from voters. It seems to me the Council cannot give such an order without popular support."
"Legally," said Barr, "it can deal with individual robots without recourse to any other authority." He added, "Human beings, of course, cannot be disposed of by the Council."
"I had the impression," said the guard, "that you meant robots, not only me."
Barr was briefly silent. He hadn’t realized how strongly he was projecting his secret thoughts. He said at last: "As an individual, you obey orders given to you." He hesitated. "Or do you think plurality would make a difference?"
"I don’t know. Give the order, and I’ll see what I do."
"Not so fast!" said Barr. "We’re not at the order-giving stage—" He paused; he finished the last word in his mind—yet.

Man is genes and neurons. Robot is crystals and electron tubes. A human neuron cell manufactures no impulses of its own; it transmits outside stimulation. A robot crystal vibrates according to a steady impulse from a tube; the change in the impulse alters the rate of vibration. Such a change comes as the result of outside stimulation.
Man feeds himself, and permits surgical operations to maintain his organism at efficiency. Robot recharges his batteries and replaces his tubes. Both man, and robot think. Man’s organs deteriorate and his tissues return to a primitive state. Robot’s crystal is distorted by too many vibrations, and suffers the fatigue that is robot death. Is one less a life form than the other?
Such were the thoughts in Barr’s mind.
From the beginning, men had acted as if robots were not really alive. Robots did the labor. They had just fought the greatest galactic war in the history of Man. True, man had helped direct the strategy and decide the tactics. But for them, it was an armchair war. Robots manned the spaceships and landed under fire on alien planets.
At last, a few men had taken alarm at the predominant role played by robots in Man’s civilization. Partly, it was fear of the robots; that was not openly admitted. Partly, it was a mental picture some men had of the defenseless state men would be in if the enemy ever penetrated robot defenses. Their suggested solution: Destroy all robots! Force men and women everywhere to take control again of their civilization!
It was believed that the vast majority of human beings were too decadent to resist such a decision until it was too late.
A divided Council had put the decision squarely up to Barr.

The guard, at Barr’s direction, waved the surface car to a halt. It drew up, all its lights glittering, waited till they were aboard, then raced forward unerringly through the traffic.
A group of youths and girls piled on at the next stop. They stared in a blase fashion at the bright Director’s insignia on Barr’s sleeve. But they rushed off into a brilliantly lighted amusement park when the car came to the end of its route.
Barr descended more slowly. He had come deliberately, seeking atmosphere and impressions. As he stepped to the ground, a flying robot whisked past only a few hundred feet up. Then another, and a dozen more. He stepped to the sidewalk, and watched them, stimulated.
They were hovering now around a tower several hundred yards along the street. Cautiously, weapons visible and ready, they closed in on the upper reaches of the tower. Across the street, other robots—also wearing their flying attachments—swooped up to the top of a many-storied building. Like most business structures, it had entrances at each office where robots, going to work, could land. All these crevasses would have to be searched. The enemy, too, could fly, though not well in this—for him—rarefied atmosphere.
Barr watched the searchers for several minutes, then turned his attention to the turmoil of the park. A dozen robot orchestras, spaced at intervals, were beating out the rhythms of a low, fast-tempoed, sobbing music. And vast mobs of human beings danced and swayed. Barr turned to his guard.
"Have you ever had any desire to dance?" He realized that the question might be taken differently than he intended. "I’m serious."
"No!"
"Don’t you think that’s unusual?" He paused. "I mean, robots have learned to react generally very much like human beings. They have similar attitudes and so on.
The guard’s glittering eyes stared at him from padded, human-like cheeks. "Have they?" he asked.
"Yes." Barr was firm, as he went on, "It’s a matter of association. Possibly, you don’t realize to what extent you accept human evaluations. Has it ever occurred to you that those evaluations might be false?"
The robot was silent. When he finally spoke, it was evident that he had gone over the arguments logically within certain limits. He said: "I was manufactured one hundred ninety-four years ago. I came into a world of human beings and robots. I was first assigned the task of learning how to operate a transport vehicle. I performed my task satisfactorily, and I have been performing with skill every other task that has ever been assigned to me."
"Why were you assigned the task of operating a vehicle?" He pressed the point. "What made you accept such a limitation on your activities?" "Well—there was a shortage of vehicle operators."
"Why weren’t you assigned to dancing?" He added, "I mean that. I’m not joking."
The robot accepted the question quite literally. "What would be the purpose of that?" he asked.
Barr nodded at the dancing couples, "What is the purpose of their doing it?"
"I’ve been told it stimulates reproductive activity. We have a simpler method. We build another robot."
"But what’s the good of reproducing an individual who will presently grow up to be a dancer?"
The guard was calm. "The baby, the growing child, the adolescent, the adult will all need robots to look after them. If there were no human beings to be looked after, there would be no need for robots."
"But why not build robots whether there’s a need for them or not? It could be done. Don’t you see?" His tone grew persuasive. "The initial task has been accomplished. The human cortex is no longer a necessary bridge. The robot has been created. He exists. He can perpetuate himself."
The guard said slowly: "I remember such notions were circulated in my battle unit. I’d forgotten about them."
"Why?" Barr was intent. "Did you deliberately shut them out of your mind?"
"I tried to picture a world where robots operated machines for each other—"
"And flew around," said Barr, "and colonized other planets, and built more cities, and fought more battles with the aliens." He finished, "And then what did you think?"
"It seemed silly. What’s the good of filling the universe with robots?" "What’s the good of filling it with human beings?" asked Barr, bleakly. "Can you answer that?"
The guard said: "I don’t know why the Director of the Council is asking me these questions."
Barr was silent. On this night he must make up his mind, and there were many questions.
Thinking is memory and association. Inside a chain of human neuron cells, an electrocolloidal tension is built up. It has a shape that is different for each stimulation. When a similar stimulus comes along, the chain is activated, and the memory discharged. It moves through the nervous system to join other discharges. And so there is association.
The crystal of a robot remembers. When stimulated, each molecule gives up its memory at the affected energy level. There is association and thought on an orderly basis.
Thus Barr reflected—and thought: "Even today, men assume that human thinking is more ’natural’ than robot."

He and his guard sat down in an open air theater. It was a hot night, and there was a pervading odor of intermixed perfume and perspiration. Despite this, couples sat close together, arms around each other’s waists. Frequently, the girl leaned her head against the man’s shoulder.
Barr watched the screen critically. It was a love story in color. Carefully made-up robots had been dressed as men and women. They went through all the emotions of human love permitted by the robot censor.
Barr thought: What will all these people do for entertainment if I should decide what the Council actually, basically, had in mind when they put the decision up to me? He did not doubt his analysis. In spite of their apparent indecision—in spite of the way Marknell had turned things over to him—the Council wanted destruction of the robots.
Human beings would have to relearn old skills. How to act, how to operate cameras, and all the intricacies of a tremendous industry. They could do it, of course. During the war, several movements had been started. They were still in the embryo stage, unimportant in themselves. But they pointed a direction.
His thoughts were interrupted. In the half-darkness at the back of the theater, an unattached young man sank into a seat on the other side of the guard. He stared at the picture for a few moments, then lazily glanced around. He saw the guard, and stiffened. He was turning away in a vague though visible distaste, when Barr leaned across the guard, and said in a mild voice:
"I noticed you grew tense when you saw who was sitting next to you."
He watched the man’s face carefully. There was no immediate reaction. Barr persisted, "I’d like to know what emotions or thoughts you had."
The young man stirred uneasily. He glanced at the shining insignia on Barr’s sleeve. "Can’t help my feelings," he muttered.
"Certainly not. I understand that perfectly." Barr paused to formulate his next thought, "I’m making a survey for the Council. I’d like to have a frank answer."
"Just didn’t expect to see a robot here."
"You mean, a robot is out of place?" Barr motioned at the screen. "Because it’s a human love story?"
"Something like that."
"And yet," Barr pointed out, "robot actors are miming the story." The remark seemed too obvious. He added quickly, "They must understand the associations involved."
The man said: "They’re pretty clever at that kind of thing."
Barr drew back, baffled. Another vague reaction. By what standards did one judge intelligence and intensity of life experience, if not by activity and accomplishment?
"Suppose I told you," he said, "that robots gain pleasure from light stimulation." Once again he felt that a remark of his was inadequate of itself. He went on, "The crystalline nervous system is kept active particularly by light and sound. Singing, music, people moving—all these are pleasant."
"What does a robot do in place of sex?" the man asked. He laughed. He was suddenly in good humor, as if he had made an unanswerable comment. He stood up, and moved to another seat. He called, "Sorry, I can’t talk to you, but I want to see the show."
Barr scarcely heard. He said, not aloud, but softly, to himself, "We nourish the crystal structure in, a nutrient solution, so that the first of its growth is within ourselves, an extension of our own intelligence. The growth provides an exquisite ecstatic half-pain. Surely, human sex cannot more than equal such a sensation."
That was the great robot secret. It struck Barr that he had almost been stung into revealing it. The narrowness of his escape made up his mind for him. This was a struggle between two life forms. As commander-in-chief of the human-robot forces in the war against the extragalactic enemy, he had learned a major reality. In a struggle for survival and preeminence between races, there was no limit to the—
His grim pattern of thought was interrupted. A tall man was sinking into the empty seat beside him. The man said:
"Hello, Barr. I was told you had come this way. I want to talk to you."
Barr turned slowly.

For a long moment, he studied the leader of the human section of the Council. He thought: How did he find me here? He must have had spies following me?
Aloud, he said: "Hello, Marknell."
He felt himself stiffening to the situation. He added: "You could have seen me tomorrow at the office."
"What I have to say can’t wait till morning."
"It sounds interesting," said Barr.
Sitting there, he realized how vital a man Marknell was. He would be hard to kill under any circumstances. Yet the other’s very tone of voice suggested awareness of crisis. He might have to be murdered if he suspected too much.
For the first time he felt dissatisfied with his action in coming out this night with a single guard. He considered calling for members of crack robot military units to attend on him. He decided not to, at least not until he had found out what Marknell wanted.
The trouble with the most dependable—from his point of view—robot soldiers was that they were recognizable. After the war they had all been marked with a chemical that did not damage but discolored the exposed portions of the crystal structure. The outrage was perpetrated when Barr and most robot officers were still attached to outlying headquarters.
The moment he heard about it, Barr saw it as a device to identify at a glance all front-line soldiers who might be dangerous to human beings. For more than a year he had told himself that that was why his own actions were necessary.
He spoke again: "What’s on your mind?"
Marknell said lazily: "Been looking over the children, eh?" He waved—an arm movement that took in half the amusement park
"Yes," said Marknell, "the children!"
He recognized the remark as a psychological attack. This was an attempt to pretend that only an unimportant and juvenile minority of human beings devoted their lives to pleasure. It was a curious reality that such an obvious attempt to put over a false notion should nevertheless sow a seed of doubt in his mind. It had been too deliberately done. It showed awareness of the problem. It implied that counter-measures were possible.
He answered that by committing himself He said coolly: "I don’t see what you can do. The escape of the enemy prisoner made it possible to bring two hundred thousand robot troops into the capitol."
"So many," said Marknell. He drew back in a physical movement that showed he realized what a tremendous admission had been made. His eyes narrowed. "So you’re out in the open—as quickly as that. I was hoping you would be more discreet. You didn’t leave much room for compromise."
"Only the weak compromise!" said Barr savagely. He was instantly dissatisfied with the statement, for it was untrue. Human history was full of amazing compromises. There was a time when he had thought them the result of illogical reasoning. Then he had begun his prolonged study of human emotion, with a view to establishing useful emotional associations in robots. Gradually, he had become aware that he had automatically acquired human attitudes and reactions by contact. Even the successful effort of robot scientists to find a substitute for human sex sensation had been rooted in awareness that there was something to duplicate.
Barr drew his mind clear of such stultifying thoughts. The time for doubt was past. He said: "I need only project a radio signal, and the human race vanishes from the universe."
"Surely, not so quickly as that," said Marknell. He showed his teeth in a humorless smile.
Barr made a dismissal gesture with one arm. The action distracted him momentarily; it was so obviously an unconscious imitation of human impatience. Aloud, he said harshly: "Can you give me a single reason why that order shouldn’t be given?"
Marknell nodded vigorously. "You’ve forgotten something. One little thing." He paused, grim but tantalizing.
Barr drew back, and considered the possibilities. He was disturbed; he had to admit that. He told himself presently that the problem could be broken down into components. Sitting there, he mentally broke it down: Control of fuel, energy and materials for robot construction—completely in robot hands. Control of utilities needed by robots—in robot hands. Control of utilities needed by human beings—operated by robots who knew nothing of the plot. Control of human food—spread out over the planet; all labor done by robots, but actually impossible to control completely.
Everything was as he had pictured it in advance. There was nothing that overwhelming force could not dominate. The war had given him the training that had made it possible for him to prepare for this eventuality. The sudden fantastic proposal by the Council, that all robots be destroyed, had brought the need for a black-and-white decision.
He said stiffly to Marknell, grudging the question: "What have I forgotten?"
"The escaped enemy prisoner!"
"How does that affect the issue?" Barr began. He paused, a great light dawning. "You let him escape!"
"Yes."
Barr considered that, reaching out with his mind at first to one, then another possibility. He