You are here Home page > A. E. van VOGT > "The Ship of Darkness" (1948) - a golden-age s-f/fantasy story by A. E. van (...)
Published 3 July

"The Ship of Darkness" (1948) - a golden-age s-f/fantasy story by A. E. van Vogt

The Ship of Darkness was first published as the cover story in the February 1948 issue of Fantasy Book, Vol. 1, Number 2, pictured here.

A. E. van Vogt had tried his hand at the fantasy vein with his (very) fantastic novel The World of Ptath, which first appeared in the October 1943 issue of the fantasy magazine Unknown Worlds, and then, somewhat revised, in hard-cover format in 1947 - perhaps with some assistance from his wife and fellow-Canadian and sometimes collaborator E. Mayne Hull, a specialist in the genre [1] and a distinguished writer on her own account: her superb story The Wishes We Make (1943) can be seen elsewhere on this site.

A. E. van Vogt also published a book of fantasy-oriented stories jointly with E. Mayne Hull, Out of the Unknown, later in 1948.

The Ship of Darkness (always later republished in various anthologies as Ship of Darkness, strangely enough) – set in the year 3,000,000 A.D. [2] – is a rather successful cross between s-f and fantasy. It was van Vogt’s last excursion into the fantasy vein before his lengthy departure (ca. 14 years) from the literary scene in the early fifties.

With the original Fantasy Book artwork by Charles Beaumont (aka C. McNutt), and the striking The Ship of Darkness cover illustration for that issue by Hunt.


e-book versions of this story are available for downloading (to your Kindle or iPad or PC or whatever) below.



THE SHIP OF DARKNESS

Conform or be exiled, that was the decree of the Iir . . .

IT WAS different, D’Ormand realized, deciding on Earth to do something. And actually doing it in intergalactic space. For six months, he had headed out from the solar system, away from the gigantic spiraled wheel that was the main galaxy. And now the moment had come to take his plunge into time.
A little shakily D’Ormand set the dials of the time machine for 3,000,000 A.D. And then, his hand on the activator, he hesitated. According to Hollay, the rigid laws that controlled the time flow on planets would be lax and easy to escape from, here in this sunless darkness. First of all, Hollay had said, accelerate the ship to maximum velocity, and so put the ultimate possible strain on the fabric of space. Then act.
Now! D’Ormand thought, sweating. And pushed the plunger hard. There was a sickening jar, a steely screeching of wrenched metal. And then again the steady feel of flight.
D’Ormand’s vision was swimming. But he was aware, as he shook the dizziness out of his head, that he would be able to see again in a moment. He smiled with the grim tenseness of a man who has risked his life successfully.
Sight came abruptly. Anxious, D’Ormand bent toward the time machine control board. And then drew back, shocked. It wasn’t there.
He looked around, incredulous. But his was no big ship, requiring detailed scrutiny. It was one room with an engine, a bunk, fuel tanks and a galley. Nothing could be hidden in it. The time machine wasn’t there.
That was the metal tearing sound he had heard, the machine wrenching itself off into time, leaving the ship behind. He had failed. He was still groaning inwardly when a movement caught the corner of his eyes. He turned with a painful jerk of his body. High in the viewing plate he saw the dark ship.
One look; and D’Ormand knew that, whatever the reason for the time machine’s departure, it had not failed.
The ship was close to him. So close that at first he thought it was the nearness which made it visible. And then, the eerie reality of its lightless state penetrated. He stared, and the first fascination roared into his mind, the realization that this must be a craft of the year 3,000,000 A.D.
Fascination faded before a thrill of doubt that gathered into a blank dismay. Abruptly, it wasn’t only the fact that he could see it that was unnatural. There was the ship itself.
Out of some nightmare that ship might have sailed. At least two miles long, half a mile wide, a foot thick, it was a craft fit only for such a darksome sea as space itself. It was a platform floating in the night of interstellar emptiness.
And on that broad deck, men and women stood. Naked they were, and nothing at all, no barrier however flimsy, protected their bodies from the cold of space. They couldn’t be breathing in that airless void. Yet they lived.
They lived, and they stood on that broad dark deck. And they looked up at him, and beckoned. And called. The strangest call it was that had ever come to a mortal man. It was not a thought, but something deeper, stronger, more moving. It was like a sudden body-realization of thirst or hunger. It grew like a craving for drugs.
He must land his spaceship on the platform. He must come down and be one of them. He must . . . primitive, unrestrained, terrible desire . . .
With a rush, the spaceship glided to a landing. Immediately, with the same terrible urge, his desire was for sleep.
D’Ormand had time for one desperate thought of his own. Got to fight, came that flash of inner warning. Got to leave, leave. At once. Sleep came in- the middle of horrendous fear.

Silence! He was lying with eyes closed in a world that was as still as—
D’Ormand couldn’t find a mental comparison. There wasn’t any. There wasn’t anything in his entire existence that could match the intense stillness, the utter absence of sound that pressed against him like— Once again there was no comparison. There was only the silence.
Strange, he thought; and the first remote impulse came to open his eyes. The impulse faded; and there remained in his mind the measured conviction that surely he, who had spent so many months alone in a spaceboat, must know the full meaning of silence.
Except that in the past there had been the faint sshhh sshhh of the inhalation and exhalation of his breathing, the occasional sucking sound of his lips on a tube of nourishing soup, and the movements of his body. This was—what?
His brain wouldn’t make a definition. D’Ormand opened his eyes. At first, sight offered the barest variation of impression. He was lying partly on his side, partly on his back. Nearby, blotting out the stars, was a torpedo-shaped blob about thirty feet long and twelve feet high. Aside from that there wasn’t anything in his line of vision but stars and the darkness of space.
Normal enough. He had no fear. His mind and its life seemed far away. Memory was an even remoter adjunct. But after a moment there trickled to the surface of his will the desire to place his physical position relative to his surroundings.
There had been, he remembered weightily, a dark ship. Then sleep. Now stars and interstellar night. He must still be sitting in the control chair gazing at the viewing plate and the vista of heavens it revealed.
But—D’Ormand frowned mentally—he wasn’t sitting. He was lying on his back, staring up, up . . . at a sky full of stars and at a blob of something that looked like another spaceboat.
With an owl-like detachment, his brain argued against that impression. Because his was the only Earth spaceship in that part of the universe. There couldn’t be a second ship. Just like that D’Ormand was on his feet. He had no consciousness of getting up. One instant he was sprawling on his back. Now he was standing, swaying . . .
He was standing on a broad deck beside his spaceboat. The deck, everything, was plainly visible in a dim fashion for its entire length and width. And all around him, near and far, were naked men and women standing, sitting, lying down, paying him not the slightest heed.
He was clawing—clawing with senseless fingers at the air lock of the spaceboat, striving to tear it open by strength alone.
After a mindless period of time, his spaceman’s training began to dictate those automatic, desperate movements of his body. He grew aware that he was studying the lock mechanism anxiously, tugging at it gingerly, testingly. Then he was stepping back, surveying the small ship as a whole.
Out of some unplumbed reserve of calm there came to. D’Ormand at last the will and the ability to walk quietly around the spaceboat and peer in at the portholes. The inside was a dim well of familiar mechanisms and metal shapes, the sight of which brought a spasm of returning frenzy, easier to fight this time.
He stood finally very still, holding his mind clear of extraneous ideas, thinking one simple, straightforward thought, a thought so big that all his brain was needed to hold it, to balance it, and comprehend the immense reality of it.
And it grew harder, not easier, to grasp that he was on the platform ship. His brain started to twist, to dart off in streaks of doubt and fear and disbelief. But always it came back. It had to. There was no sane elsewhere for it to go. And there was nothing, utterly nothing to do but wait here until his captors showed by action what further fate they intended for him.
He sat down. And waited.
An hour at least went by, an hour like no other in the history of his world: a man from 2975 A.D. watching a scene on a space liner of thirty thousand centuries later.
The only thing was, and it took the whole hour for the fact to sink in, there wasn’t anything to watch except the incredible basic scene itself. Nobody seemed to be remotely aware that he was on the ship. Occasionally in the dimness a man strolled by, a figure that moved against the low-hung stars, plainly visible as was the whole dark deck and its cargo of superhuman beings.
But no one came to satisfy his growing lust, his need for information. With a tingling shock the realization came finally to D’Ormand that he must make the approach himself, force the issue of personal action.
Abruptly, he felt astounded that he had half lain, half sat there while the precious minutes flowed by. He must have been completely dazed, and no wonder.
But that was over. In a burst of determination, he leaped to his feet. And then, shaking, he hesitated. Was he actually intending to approach one of the crew of this ship of night, and ask questions by thought transference?
It was the alienness that scared him. These people weren’t human. After three million years, their relation to him had no more meaning than that of the ape of his own day that shared his ancestry.

Three million years, 16 x 10₁₀ minutes; and every few seconds of that inconceivable span of time, somebody had been born, somebody else had died, life had gone on in its tremendous, terrifying fashion until here, after unthinkable eons, was the ultimate man. Here was evolution carried to such limits that space itself had been conquered by some unguessable and stupendous development of biological adaptation—stupendous but so simple, that in a single sleep period he, a stranger, had been miraculously transformed into the same state.
D’Ormand’s thought paused there. He felt a sudden un­easiness, a sharp disturbing consciousness that he couldn’t possibly have the faintest idea how long he had been asleep. It could have been years, or centuries. Time did not exist for a man who slept.
It seemed abruptly more important than ever to discover what all this was about. His gaze came to rest on a man a hundred feet away, walking slowly.
He reached the moving figure; and then, at the last instant, he shrank back in dismay. Too late. His hand, thrusting forth, had touched the naked flesh.
The man turned, and looked at D’Ormand. With a contorted gesture, D’Ormand let go of that unresisting arm. He cringed from eyes that blazed at him like points of flame stabbing through slitted holes.
Curiously, it wasn’t the demoniac quality of the gaze itself that sent waves of fear surging along D’Ormand’s nerves. It was the soul that peered from those burning eyes—a strange, alien spirit that stared at him with an incomprehensible intensity.
Then the man turned, and walked on.
D’Ormand was trembling. But after a moment he knew that he couldn’t hold back. He didn’t let himself think about it, just walked forward and fell into step beside the tall, enigmatic stroller. They walked on, past groups of men and women. And now that he was moving among them, D’Ormand noticed a fact that had previously escaped him. The women outnumbered the men three to one. At least.
The wonder about that passed. He and his companion strolled on in that strangest of promenades. They skirted the edge of the ship. Forcing himself to be casual, D’Ormand stepped to one side, and stared down into an abyss that stretched a billion light-years deep.
He began to feel better. He ransacked his mind for some method of bridging the mental gulf between himself and the dark stranger. It must have been telepathy they had used to compel him to land his spaceship. If he concentrated on an idea now, he might receive an answer.
The train of thought ended because at that point he noticed, not for the first time, that he was still clothed. But suddenly he thought of it from the angle: they had left him dressed. What was the psychology?
He walked on, his mind blank, head bent, watching his trousered legs and, beside him, the naked legs of the thin man pumping along steadily.
Just when the first impressions began to steal into him, D’Ormand was only vaguely aware, so gradually they came. There was a thought about the hour of battle drawing near; and that he must prove himself worthy before then, and so live forever on the ship. Otherwise, he would suffer the exile.
It was like a quantum. One instant he was only dimly conscious of that alien blur of ideas. The next his mind made a frantic jump to the new comprehension of his position.
The effect of the warning grew stronger. In abrupt shock of fear, D’Ormand headed for his spaceboat. He was tugging at the impassive entrance before the realization penetrated with finality that it offered no means of escape. Exhausted, he sank down on the deck. He became amazed at the ex­tent of his fright. But there was no doubt of the cause. He had received information and a warning. A gelid, a bleak and steel-like warning: he must adjust to the ways of this ship before some fantastic battle was joined and, having proved worthy, live here forever.
. . . Forever! It was that part of the idea that had for solid minutes staggered the fulcrums of his reason. The mood yielded to the dark drift of minutes. It seemed suddenly impossible that he had understood correctly the tiny tide of ideas that had been directed at him. A battle coming up. That was senseless. Be worthy, or suffer exile! Suffer what? D’Ormand wracked his brain, but the meaning came again: exile! It could mean death, he decided finally with a cold logic.
He lay, his face twisted into a black frown. He felt violently angry at himself. What a stupid fool he had been, losing his nerve in the middle of a successful interview.
It had been successful. Information had been asked for, and given. He should have held his ground, and kept his mind clenched, concentrated on a hundred different questions in turn: Who were they? Where was the ship going? What was the drive mechanism of the great platform liner? Why were there three women to one man?
The thought trailed. In his intensity, he had jerked into a partial sitting position—and there not more than five feet away was a woman.
D’Ormand sank slowly back to the deck. He saw that the woman’s eyes were glowing at him unwinkingly. After a minute, uneasy, D’Ormand turned over on his back. He lay tense, staring up at the bright circle of the galaxy he had left so long ago now. The points of light that made up the glorious shining swirl seemed farther away than they had ever been.
The life he had known, of long swift trips to far planets, of pleasurable weeks spent in remote parts of space, was unreal now. And even farther away in spirit than it was in time and space.
With an effort, D’Ormand roused himself. This was no time for nostalgia. He had to get it into his head that he faced a crisis. The woman hadn’t come merely to look at him. Issues were being forced, and he must meet them. With abrupt will, he rolled over and faced the woman again. For the first time, he appraised her.
She was rather pleasing to look at. Her face was youthful, shapely. Her hair was dark. It needed combing, but it wasn’t very thick, and the tousled effect was not unpretty. Her body—
D’Ormand sat up. Until that instant, he hadn’t noticed the difference between her and the others. She was dressed. She had on a long, dark, form-fitting gown, made incongruous by the way her bare feet protruded from the voluminous skirt.
Dressed! Now there could be no doubt. This was for him. But what was he expected to do?
Desperate, D’Ormand stared at the woman. Her eyes were like dead jewels staring back at him. He felt a sudden wonder: what incredible thoughts were going on behind those shining windows of her mind? They were like closed doors beyond which was a mental picture of a world three million years older than his own.
The idea was unsettling. Queer little twisting movements blurred along his nerves. He thought: woman was the nodal, man the anodal. All power grew out of their relationship, especially as the anodal could set up connections with three or more nodal.
D’Ormand forced his mind to pause there. Had he thought that? Never.
A jerky thrill made a circuit through him. For once more, the strange neural method of communication of these people had stolen upon him unawares. And this time he knew that one or four women could form a relationship with a man. Which seemed to explain why there were so many women.
His excitement began to drain. So what? It still didn’t explain why this woman was here so near him. Unless this was some fantastic offer of marriage. D’Ormand studied the woman again. There came to him finally the first sardonicism he had known in months. Because after twelve years of evading the enticements of marriageable young women, he was caught at last. There was no such thing as not verifying that this woman had come over to marry him.
The man’s threats had made preternaturally clear that he was working under a time limit. He crept over, took her in his arms, and kissed her. In crisis, he thought, action must be straightforward, unselfconscious, without guile.
After a moment he forgot that. The woman’s lips were soft and passive. There was no resistance in them, nor, on the other hand, was there any awareness of the meaning of the kisses. Putting his lips to hers was like caressing a small child; the same immeasurable innocence was there.
Her eyes, so near his own now, were lighted pools of uncomprehending non-resistance, of passivity so great that it was abnormal. Immensely clear it was that this young woman had never even heard of kisses. Her eyes glowed at him with an alien indifference—that ended.
Amazingly, it ended. Those pools of light widened, grew visibly startled. And she drew away, a quick, lithe movement that carried her in some effortless fashion all the way to her feet. Instantly, she tuned and walked off. She became a shadowy figure that did not look back.
D’Ormand stared after her uneasily. There was a part of him that wanted to take ironic satisfaction out of the rout he had inflicted. But the conviction that the defeat was his grew with each passing second. It was he who was working against time. And his first attempt to adjust to the life of the dark ship was a failure.
Uneasiness faded, but did not go away entirely. And D’Ormand made no effort to push it further. It was well to remember that he had had a warning. A warning that either meant something or didn’t. Folly to assume that it didn’t.
He lay back, his eyes closed. He was not reacting well. An entire period he had been within the pure life of Iir, and still he was not becoming attuned.
Eh! D’Ormand started. He hadn’t thought that.
He jerked up, opening his eyes. Then he shrank back. Fire-eyed men stood in a rough circle around him. He had no time to wonder how they had gathered so quickly.
They acted. One of them put out his hand. Out of nothingness a knife flashed into it, a knife that glowed in every element of its long blade. Simultaneously, the others leaped forward, grabbed D’Ormand and held him. Instantly, that living knife plunged down toward his breast.
He tried to shriek at them. His mouth, his face and throat-muscles worked in convulsive pantomime of speech, but no sounds came. The airless night of space mocked his human horror.
D’Ormand shrank in a stark anticipation of agony, as that blade ripped through his flesh and began to cut. There was no pain, not even sensation. It was like dying in a dream, except for the realism of his writhing and jerking, and at the same time, he watched with a dazed intensity the course of the knife.
They took out his heart; and D’Ormand glared at it like a madman as one of the demon-things held it in his hand, and seemed to be examining it.
Insanely, the heart lay in the monster’s palm, lay there beating with a slow, steady pulse.
D’Ormand ceased struggling. Like a bird fascinated by the beady eyes of a snake, he watched the vivisection of his own body.
They were, he saw at last with a measure of sanity, putting each organ back as soon as they had looked at it. Some they studied longer than others—and there was no doubt finally that improvements had been achieved.
Out of his body came knowledge. Even in that first moment, he had a dim understanding that the only drawback to perfect reception of the knowledge now was that he was translating it into thoughts. The information was all emotion. It tingled along his nerves, titillated with subtle inflections, promised a million strange joys of existence.
Slowly, like an interpreter who understands neither language, D’Ormand transformed that wondrous flow into mind-forms. It changed as he did so. The brilliance seemed to shed from it. It was like squeezing the life out of some lively little animal, and then staring disappointedly at the dead body.
But the facts, hard and stripped of beauty, poured into his brain: they were the Iir. This platform was not a ship; it was a force field. It moved where they willed it to go. To be one with the life energy: that was the greatest joy of existence, reserved by Nature Herself for men. The nodal power of women was necessary to the establishment of the field, but man, the anodal power, was the only center of the glorious energy.
The strength of the energy depended on the unity of purpose of every member of the ship; and as battle with another platform ship was imminent, it was vital that the Iir attain the greatest possible measure of union and purity of existence; for only thus would they be able to muster that extra reserve of energy necessary to victory.
He, D’Ormand, was the jarring factor. He had already rendered one woman temporarily useless as a nodal force. He must adjust—swiftly.
The wonder knife withdrew from his flesh, vanished into the nothingness from which it had been drawn; and the men withdrew like naked ghosts into the dimness.
D’Ormand made no attempt to follow their progress through the night. He felt exhausted, his brain battered by the cold-blooded violence of the action that had been taken against him.
He had no illusions. For a few minutes his staggered and overwhelmed mind had been so close to insanity that, even now, it was going to be touch and go. In all his life, he had never felt so depressed, which was a sure sign.
Thought came slowly to his staggered mind: surely, the ability to live in space was a product of the most radical evolution over a tremendous period of time. And yet the Iir had adjusted him, who had never gone through that evolution. Strange.
It didn’t matter. He was here in hell, and the logic of why it couldn’t be had no utility. He must adjust mentally. Right now!
D’Ormand leaped to his feet. The action, outgrowth of strong determination, brought a sudden awareness of something he hadn’t noticed before: gravity!
It was about one G, he estimated quickly. And it wasn’t that there was anything unusual about it in a physical sense. Artificial gravity had been common even in his own day. It was simply that, though the Iir might not realize it, its very existence showed their Earth origin. For why else should beings who lived in the darkest regions of space need anything like that? Why, when it came right down to it, did they need a ship?
D’Ormand allowed himself a grim smile at the evidence that human beings remained illogical after three million years, felt better for his brief humor—and put the paradox out of his mind.
He headed straight for the spaceboat. It wasn’t that there was any hope in him. It was just that, now that he was going to force every issue, explore every possibility, his spaceship could not be missed out.
But disappointment did come, a twisting tide of it. He tugged, and pulled determinedly, but the mechanism remained lifeless to his touch. He peered in, finally, at one of the portholes; and his brain banged inside his head, as he saw something that, in his previous more frantic surveys, he had missed because the instruments in question were edgewise to him. There was a glow; the power dials were shining in their faint fashion.
The power was on.
D’Ormand gripped the porthole so tightly that he had to force himself to relax before his mind could grasp at the tremendous thing that was here. The power was on. Somehow, in landing on the dark ship, perhaps in that last terrible will to escape, he had left the controls on. But then—a vast amazement struck D’Ormand— why hadn’t the machine raged off? It must still have a terrific latent velocity.
It could only mean that the gravity of the platform must have absolutely no relation to his original conception. One G for him, yes. But for a resisting, powered machine it must provide anything necessary.
The Iir weren’t responsible for keeping him out of his ship. For purest safety reasons, the air locks of these small spaceboats wouldn’t open while the power was on. They were built that way. As soon as the energy drained below a certain point, the door would again respond to simple manipulations.
All he had to do was stay alive till it would again open, then use the fullest application of his emergency power to blast away from the platform. Surely, the platform wouldn’t be able to hold him against the uttermost pressure of atomic drivers.
The hope was too great to let any doubt dissolve it. He had to believe that he could get away, and that in the meanwhile he would be able to find the young woman, placate her, and examine this anodal-universe energy business.
He must survive the battle.

Time passed. He was a night-clothed figure in that world of darkness, wandering, searching for the young woman he had kissed, while above him the bright galaxy visibly changed its position.
Failure made him desperate. Twice, D’Ormand sank down beside groups composed of a man and several women. He waited beside them for a communication, or for the offer of another woman. But no information came. No woman so much as looked at him.
D’Ormand could only think of one explanation for their utter indifference: they must know he was now willing to conform. And that satisfied them.
Determined to be encouraged, D’Ormand returned to his lifeboat. He tugged tentatively at the mechanism of the air lock. When it did not react, he lay down on the hard deck, just as the platform swerved sharply.
There was no pain, but the jar must have been of enormous proportions. He was sliding along the deck, ten . . . twenty . . . a hundred feet. It was all very blurred and swift; and he was still lying there, gathering his startled mind into a coherent whole, when he saw the second ship.
The ship was a platform that looked about the same size as the one he was on. It filled the whole sky to his right. It was coming down at a slant; and that must be why the Iir ship had turned so violently—to meet its opponent on a more level basis.
D’Ormand’s mind was throbbing like an engine, his nerves shaking. This was madness, nightmare. What was happening couldn’t be real. Utterly excited, he half rose, the better to see the great spectacle.
Beneath him, the Iir platform turned again. This time there was a faint shock. He was flung prostrate, but his hands broke his fall. Instantly, he was up again, staring in a fever of interest.
He saw that the huge platforms had been brought to a dead level, one with the other. They were pressed deck to deck. On the vast expanse of the second ship were men and women, naked, indistinguishable from the Iir; and the tactical purpose of the initial maneuvers was now, it seemed to D’Ormand, clear.
It was to be an old-fashioned, piratical, immeasurably bloody boarding party.
. . . Force himself, D’Ormand thought. Under no circumstances must he be a jarring factor in the great events that were about to burst upon the unoffending heavens.
Trembling with excitement, he sat down. The action was like a cue. Out of the night the young woman bore down upon him. She came at a run. She still had on the dark gown. It was a hindrance of which she seemed but dimly aware. She flung herself on the deck in front of him. Her eyes glowed like large ovals of amber, so bright they were with excitement and—D’Ormand felt a shock—dread.
The next instant his nerves tingled and quivered with the weight and intensity of the emotion-forms that projected from her. She was being given another chance. If he would use her successfully now to make himself an anodal center, it would help to win the great victory; and she would not suffer exile. She had bedimmed the forces of purity by liking what he had done to her.
There was more. But it was at that point that D’Ormand’s mind ceased translating. He sat amazed. It hadn’t really struck him before, but he remembered suddenly the men had said he had already ruined one woman temporarily as a nodal center.
With one kiss!
The old, old relationship of man and woman had, then, not lost its potency. He had a sudden vision of himself racing around like a thief in the night stealing kisses from every woman he could find, thoroughly disorganizing the dark ship.
With convulsive mental effort, he forced the idea out of his head. Silly, stupid fool! he raved at himself. Even having thoughts like that when every element in his body should be concentrating on the supremely important task of cooperating with these people, and staying alive. He would make himself live up to their demands.
The young woman pushed at him violently. D’Ormand returned to reality. For an instant, he resisted. Then her purpose penetrated: sit crossed-legged, hold her hands, and lose his mind . . .
Physically, D’Ormand complied. He watched her take up a kneeling position facing him. She took his hands finally in her own, and closed her eyes. She looked as if she were praying.
Everywhere, he saw, men and women were forming into groups where the man sat cross-legged and the women knelt. At first, because of the dimness, it was difficult to see exactly how two or more women and one man managed it. But almost immediately he saw such a group to his left. The four simply formed a small circle, a chain of linked hands.
D’Ormand’s mind and gaze plunged off toward the second ship. There, too, men and women were sitting holding hands.
The stars looked down in that hour, it seemed to D’Ormand’s straining senses, on a sight they were never meant to see, the ultimate in prayerful preliminary to battle. With a bleak and terrible cynicism, he waited for the purifying sessions to end, waited for the glowing knives to flash out of empty space, and come alive in the eager hands that were probably even now itching for action.
Cynicism . . . the ultimately depressing fact that after thirty hundred thousand years . . . there was still war. War completely changed, but war!
It was at that black moment that he became an anodal center. There was a stirring in his body, something pulsing. It was an electric shock, no agony of burning. It was a singing flame that grew in intensity. And grew. And grew. It became an exultation, and took on a kaleidoscope of physical forms.
Space grew visibly brighter. The galaxy flared toward him. Suns that had been blurred points in the immense sky billowed into monstrous size as his glance touched them, sinking back to point size as his gaze swept on.
Distance dissolved. All space grew small, yielding to the supernal ken that was his. A billion galaxies, quadrillion planets reeled their manifold secrets before his awful vision.
He saw nameless things before his colossal mind came back from that inconceivable plunge into infinity. Back at the dark ship at last, it saw, in its unlimited fashion, the purpose of the battle that was proceeding. It was a battle of minds, not bodies; and the victor would be that ship whose members succeeded in using the power of both ships to merge themselves with the universal force.
Self-immolation was the high goal of each crew. To be one with the Great Cause, forever and ever to bathe one’s spirit in the eternal energy, to—
To what?
The quaver of revulsion came from deep, deep inside D’Ormand. And the ecstasy ended. It was as swift as that. He had a quick vivid comprehension that, in his wild horror of the destiny the Iir regarded as victory, he had let go the girl’s hands, broken the contact with the universal energy. And now he was sitting here in darkness.
D’Ormand closed his eyes, and shook in every nerve, fighting the renewal of that hideous shock. What a diabolical, incredible fate, the most terrifying aspect of which was the narrowness of his escape.
Because the Iir had been winning. The destiny of the dissolution they craved was to be theirs . . . D’Ormand thought finally, wanly: That anodal stuff wasn’t bad in itself. But he wasn’t spiritually ready to merge with the great forces of darkness.
Darkness? His mind poised. For the first time he grew conscious of something that, in the intensity of his emotional relief, he hadn’t previously noticed. He was no longer sitting on the deck of the Iir ship. There wasn’t any deck.
And it was damned dark.
In a contortion of movement, D’Ormand twisted—and saw the second dark ship. It was high in the heavens, withdrawing into distance. It vanished even as he was looking at it.
Then the battle was over. But what?
Darkness! All around! And instantly certainty came of what was here: the Iir had won. They were now in their glory, ecstatic portions of the universal energy itself. With its creators gone, the platform had returned to a more elemental energy state, and become nonexistent. But what about his spaceboat?
Panic poured in waves through D’Ormand. For a moment, he strove desperately to see in all directions at once, straining his vision against the enveloping night. In vain. Comprehension of what had happened came in the very midst of his search.
The spaceship must have departed the instant the platform ship dissolved. With its enormous latent velocity, with power still on, the machine had shot away at ninety million miles a second.
He was alone in the vast night, floating in intergalactic space.
This was exile.

The first vaulting passion of his fears folded back, layer on layer, into his body. The accompanying thoughts ran their gamuts, and passed wearily to a storeroom of forgotten things somewhere in his brain.
There would be a lot of that, D’Ormand reflected grimly. What was left of his sane future would be an endless series of feelings and thoughts, each in its turn fading with the hours. Mind pictures would come of the young woman.
D’Ormand’s thought jumbled. He frowned in a frantic surmise, and jerked his head this way, that way. He saw the shape of her finally, faintly silhouetted against a remote hazy galaxy.
She was quite near, he estimated after a blank, frenzied movement, not more than twelve feet. They would gradually drift toward each other, and begin to spin in the manner of greater bodies, but the orbit would be exceedingly close.
It would be close enough for instance for them to establish a nodal-anodal circuit. With that Olympian, all-embracing power, he would locate his spaceship, flash toward and into it, instantaneously.
Thus did night and aloneness end.
Inside the spaceboat, D’Ormand busied himself with plotting his position. He was acutely aware of the young woman hovering around him, but the work demanded all his attention. First, he must locate by patient hit and miss methods the new galactic latitude and longitude of the great beacon of the skies, Antares. From that it would be simple to find the 3,000,000 A.D. position of glorious Mira.
Mira wasn’t there.
D’Ormand flexed his fingers in puzzlement; then he shrugged. Betelgeuse would do just as well.
But Betelgeuse didn’t. There was a big red star of its dimensions more than 103 light-years short of where the super-giant should have been. But that was ridiculous. Such a thing would require a reversal of his figures.
D’Ormand began to tremble. With wavering pen, he plotted the position of Sol according to the devastating possibility that had just smashed at him.
He had not gone into the future at all, but into the past. And the time machine must have wrenched itself badly out of alignment, for it had sent him to approximately 37,000 B.C.
D’Ormand’s normal thought processes suffered a great pause. Men then?
With an effort, D’Ormand turned to the young woman. He seated himself cross-legged on the floor, and beckoned her to kneel and take his hands. One instant of anodal power would take the ship and its contents to Earth, and prove everything.
He saw with sharp surprise that the girl was making no move toward him. Her eyes, gently brown in the suffused light, stared at him coolly.
She didn’t seem to understand. D’Ormand climbed to his feet, walked over, pulled at her arm, and motioned her down to the floor.
She jerked away. D’Ormand gazed at her, shocked. Even as the realization penetrated that she had determined never again to be a nodal auxiliary, she came forward, put her arms around him, and kissed him.
D’Ormand flung her off. Then, astounded at his brutality, patted her arm. Very slowly, he returned to the control chair. He began to figure out orbits, the braking strengths of the nearest suns, and the quantity of power remaining for his drivers. It would take seven months, he reasoned, long enough to teach the girl the rudiments of speech . . .
Her first coherent word was her own version of his name. She called him Idorm, a distortion that rocked D’Ormand back on his mental heels. It decided him on the name he would give her.
By the time they landed on a vast, virgin planet alive with green forests, the earnest sound of her halting voice had largely dispelled her alienness.
It was easier by then to think of her as Eve, the mother of all men.

Attachments

Notes

[1in this February 1948 issue of Fantasy Book there is the following rather interesting review of The Book of Ptath by E. Mayne Hull:

THE BOOK OF PTATH by A. E. Van Vogt
Fantasy Press $3.00
It is not often that the wife and, to some extent, the collaborator of the author of a book is asked to review it. The request imposes a more than normal requirement of fairness upon me. I remember THE BOOK OF PTATH extremely well. I read it in its early versions, and there were six of them, before it was printed. I read it in the magazine, and when it was being revised for book publi­cation. I typed both the original and the book manuscripts, and then I read the proofs and the book.
THE BOOK OF PTATH was originally printed in Unknown Worlds, and at the time was a complete break from the traditional fantasy of the magazine. This break from pattern undoubtedly disturbed those readers who like their stories not too different, and so it is only.in the slightly revised book version that the full im­pact of the novel is felt, free of its magazine associations.
It is easily the most imaginative work so far written by this author. The jacket copy says of it, in part, "It is fantasy, pure—and not so simple, a strange brew concocted of dreams and star dust, human intrigue and emotions, superhuman personalities and powers ... The scene is the Earth—but a world so remote from our own that intervening time has lost all meaning. Seas have disappeared. New continents have arisen. New and strange geo­logic formations exist—a river of boiling mud, a land of volcanoes, continents of tremendous size—and all of it a stage for the three to whom has been given god power."
For the benefit of the curious, the "P" in Ptath is silent, and the "a" is broad as in father. That is Tawth. The book has been beautifully manufactured, with a particularly excellent jacket illus­tration.
E. Mayne Hull

[2which becomes, erroneously, 300,000,000 A.D. at one point in the story in later republications in various anthologies!