Let us travel forward into the Future, to 2007 A.D. ... and there, only sixty-five years hence, fight alongside the scientists of that age—as they battle to ward off the menace which threatens to destroy the earth!
By ROBERT H. LEITFRED
When the young scientist Aaron Carruthers finished computing the intricate problem before him on his desk, he closed his eyes as if to visualize the chaos these symbols denoted.
Thin beads of sweat formed on his high, intelligent forehead. Three times had he re-checked the problem to make certain there had been no error. He had even sent word to a colleague, George Vignot, to come to the laboratory and work out the problem in his own way just to make certain that there had been no mistake.
In a few minutes the big, bearded chemist, Vignot, would arrive. No chance that both would make the same mistake. And if Vignot's conclusions matched his own—well, the astounding and fearsome news would have to be sent out to the world on the Continental Television News panels.
Carruthers wiped his forehead. It was entirely possible that he was wrong. After all, he wasn't infallible. He tried to remember errors in calculations he had made in the past. But they were surprisingly few and were errors of haste rather than method. And there was no consolation in them.
Tiredness was upon him. He allowed his body to slump forward until his damp forehead rested in the crook of his arm. But he couldn't thrust the horror of the future from his mind. And while he tried to forget momentarily what he, alone in all the world knew, time kept ticking off its inexorable seconds and minutes. There was no stopping its remorseless march onward.
The year of time was 2007 as reckoned by the earth's new calendar, and was still the same world with its familiar continents and oceans as recorded by the historians of the twentieth century.
There had been wars, pestilence, famines and destruction undreamed of in the red decades following the rise of the dictator nations. Empires had spread their tentacles over most of the earth's surface—enslaving humans with their mephitic, bestial ideologies.
Then the people, as if inspired and guided by some soul-inspiring force outside their enslaved bodies, had risen in rebellion all over the world, thrown off their shackles, and annihilated their masters.
Scientifically and mechanically, the world had never stood still. There seemed to be no end to the inventive genius of mankind. But man, himself, had not changed—only the structures that housed him, and the mechanical marvels that surrounded him. He was still subject to greed, poverty and fear of the unknown.
In the world's largest city, New York, the month of Venus brought intolerable heat that drove people deep underground to ventilated caverns constructed when Venus had been known as the month of July. Those who were not in the caverns, or not working at daily tasks, were garnered before the Continental Television News panels where they watched rather than heard world news. Aside from the seasonal heat, there was nothing to mar the serenity of their daily lives.
Around them, as they stood watching the news flash across the panel from all parts of the globe, towered massive buildings. The tallest of these was the one where Aaron Carruthers' connecting laboratories covered the top floor of a hundred-story structure.
Looking from the quartz glass windows of these laboratories, one could see the steel control towers of New York's majestic transportation system—the four-speed sidewalk bands that extended north, south, east and west.
Subway and elevated trains no longer existed. Taxis and privately owned vehicles had been banished to the great open spaces known as the outlands.
This efficient transportation system, of escalator type, was high above the city streets, and extended north to Peekskill and west across the Hudson River into a teeming industrial center that had once been known as New Jersey.
The first band from the station platform moved quite slowly. The second, somewhat faster. By stepping from the slower to the faster-moving bands, passengers could easily control the speed they wished to travel.
There was little or no noise in this sprawling metropolitan area except the droning reverberations of turbines deep underground—turbines which supplied light, power and heat to all businesses, all families, rich and poor alike.
Even to this lonely, serious-faced young scientist there came moments of reflection when he marveled at the changes that had taken place during his own lifetime. But he wasn't thinking about them now. They had been crowded from his mind by gloomy forebodings of an insecure future. This precious, yet terrible knowledge weighed heavily, on his shoulders. He clenched his jaw and straightened to an upright position.
The red eyes of a golden Buddha on his desk glowed warningly. Someone was coming down the corridor to the entrance of his private laboratory.
Soundlessly the door opened. Through the opening came his friend and laboratory assistant, Karl Danzig. "Vignot's here," he stated, "and crusty as usual."
Carruthers nodded. He liked George Vignot in spite of the bearded chemist's sarcastic, blustering ways. "Show him into the west laboratory where our Time Projector—No. Wait a minute. Vignot's not yet ready for that experiment. Show him instead into the Thermo-cell laboratory. We'll work on our problem there."
The eyes of Karl Danzig held worried glints.
He hesitated a moment then said: "You—you aren't going to test out the new Time Projector Machine—?"
"It all depends," shrugged Carruthers, "on whether certain computations I have made are correct in assumption and ultimate result. Vignot's undoubtedly the foremost mathematician in the east. And I want him to re-check my calculations for possible error. If he arrives at the same answer as I have, we'll make the experiment—provided he is willing and not afraid."
Still, Danzig did not leave the room. "In some ways," he went on, "I wish you'd abandon the experiment, Aaron. It's not that I'm disloyal, but it seems to me that you're going to get entangled into something that—that the universal creator doesn't want mankind to know. Somehow, it doesn't seem right for man to probe into the mystery of what has not yet happened."
Carruthers placed a hand on his friend's shoulder. "I'm not questioning your loyalty, Karl, when you oppose the experiment I've got to go through with. But I know you'll stand by till the end. Perhaps I'm asking for death in trying to do somethink that transcends the physical impossibility of tampering with the element of time.
"Still, being the way I am, there seems no other course open—for me at least. So don't have any doubts. We've been mixed up in strange and fantastic experiences before, and have somehow survived. Let's keep the thought in mind that we'll survive this one."
Danzig nodded. "I understand all that, Aaron. But you've never gone through anything like the experiment you've planned with the Time Projector Machine. You still don't know what effect it will have on your physical body."
"I've tried it on mice and they came back alive."
"Mice aren't human beings. It scares me, Aaron. Things that have happened in the past are history, and they're static in most ways. Things that are happening in the present are understandable and real. They are things you and I can get a grip on. I can touch my skin, my hair and fingernails, and feel them. They are the result of growth that extends into the past, they are also the result of growth that is taking place this very second."
"That's quite true, Karl. The sum of our knowledge is based on what is happening now, and what has taken place in the past. That being true, would not our knowledge be astoundingly increased in the revealing awareness of what is going to happen in—say a year from now, or a decade of years for that matter? Could we not arrange to meet misfortune and disaster better if we knew what was to take place in the future?"
"You're getting into the realm of pre-destination, Aaron. And that is dangerous ground for man to invade. Suppose fate has willed that I am to die at eleven o'clock at night a year from today from coming in contact with fifty-thousand volts of electricity in this laboratory. Could you, by your foreknowledge of events that are yet to happen, cheat fate by having the current turned off so that I couldn't possibly be electrocuted?"
"I don't know, Karl, any more than you do." The shadow of some inner disturbance crossed his serious young face. When he spoke again his voice was low and vibrant. "But the scientific urge to find the answer to your question and others of my own propounding is greater than my emotional will to resist that urge. I've got to find out, Karl. My mind won't rest, nor my body either, until the answer to the riddle comes to me out of the impalpable element of a time period that has not yet taken place. Go get Vignot now, and bring him to the Thermo-cell laboratory. And I'll want you with us, Karl, for reasons you'll discover for yourself."
Without another word he turned and walked down a tile corridor to a white, gleaming laboratory. A few minutes later Danzig, with George Vignot close behind him, entered the room.
George Vignot spread his feet wide and puffed out both checks. "So!" His voice had the booming quality of a deep organ note. "It isn't enough that I should be plagued by inconsequential classroom experiments I have performed a thousand—yes, a million times. No. I must fritter away my precious moments with arithmetic, with figures which you seemed to have forgotten—"
"Wait a minute, Vignot—"
"Ha. Wait? Always I'm waiting. Where is this Time Proj'ector? Speak up, for I have no time to waste on trivialities. Certainly it isn't in this room. It wouldn't be. You'd keep it hidden. I don't want to see it. I don't want anything to do with it. The last experience I had with your Neutronium exploration apparatus nearly drove me insane. I damned near starved to death, too. No. Count me out of any future experiments dealing with the unknown. I'll stick to my moronic classroom lectures—"
"I suppose," Carruthers broke in, "that I could easily persuade the noted bio-chemist, Haley, to assist me, or Professor Grange the metallurgist whose experiments and findings have lately startled the world. Not being concerned with petty classroom sessions, they'd undoubtedly—"
"Bah! Haley's a doddering fool. And Grange is afraid of his own shadow. Petty classroom sessions, eh? You brought that up, Aaron, just to goad me on into doing something I don't want—"
Carruthers shook his head. "I wouldn't urge you to do anything you don't want to do, or have your heart set on doing. Go back to your classroom. I'll find someone else."
Vignot's big body shook with gusty laughter. "Oh ho! I should go now after I'm already here. You should get rid of me like I'm an incompetent scullion who keeps dropping beakers and test tubes. I'm not so good as Haley or Grange. So now. What is that problem in arithmetic?"
"The arithmetic will come in a few minutes." He pointed to a marble-topped table. "First, I want you to check the readings on the tape from the Thermo-cell unit recordings."
"Hummm!" grunted Vignot, crossing the room to the table and bending over the intricate machine which indicated and traced the pattern of any electrical or metallic disturbances in the outer reaches of the sky.
Since he was familiar with the unit, he had no difficulty. "Solar disturbances as usual," he muttered, "but no radio signals or undiscovered mass formations—wait a second. Maybe I'm wrong. The indicator won't remain on the zero line. Ah! There is a disturbance caused by the presence of matter. It's center—let me calculate roughly—just as I thought— about seventeen degrees to the left of the planet Neptune."
"Well?" Carruthers' voice had a touch of impatience.
Vignot peered at a map of star constellations on the nearest wall. "You tell me, Aaron. There's nothing but bleak emptiness in that part of the sky. It's a place where time seems to stand still, where distances from one body to another are fixed at millions of miles. It's a vast immensity where there is no light, no heat, no sound, and nothing more substantial than occasional streamers of dark, gaseous clouds."
He turned to Carruthers and spread his hands, palms upward. "The disturbance is caused by a comet. Any astronomer could have told you that much. It's that simple."
"Not quite," said Carruthers. "I thought of comets. On the table beside the Thermo-cell unit you'll find charts. The top one was made in 1967, and based on figures and negatives furnished me by the Palomar Observatory. Plotted on this chart are the paths of various wanderers of the sky—meteors, asteroids and comets. None of them are to be found in the sky area on which the unit's detector beam is centered.
"On the second chart you'll find the periodic comets and their paths across the heavens. Biela's comet, first observed in 1772, returns every seven years. It isn't due again for five years. Rule that one out."
Vignot shrugged. "Go on," he urged.
"Following it is one discovered by Encke. Its period of visibility at a fixed point in the sky occurs every three years. Then Halley's comet comes along with a period of seventy-six years, followed by Donati's which appears at intervals several thousand years apart. None are due this year—or now."
George Vignot tugged thoughtfully at his beard. "I see," he nodded. "But all this talk about comets must mean something. What?"
Carruthers watched both men seat themselves in comfortable chairs but made no motion to follow their example. Instead he began to pace the floor. "I didn't say anything about comets. You brought them into our talk yourself. The thing that is causing the disturbance on the sensitive plates of the Thermo-cell unit might be a planet or a star, or a globe like our ownwith human beings.
"Or it may be nothing more than a sphere of black gas with a metallic core because it isn't yet visible. And it's out there in that bleak emptiness as, you call it, beyond the gravitational pull of Neptune. It's still impossible to correctly determine its size or structure. But if the Thermo-cell unit is accurate to within one tenth of a degree, that invisible body is headed toward our earth at a tremendous speed which will accelerate to an even greater velocity as its expanding gases drive it onward. And unless it meets with some other mass in the sky, it should be hurling itself in a mighty cataclysm against our earth—"
"Godd Lord," breathed Vignot. "When does all this take place?"
"That's the problem in arithmetic you so caustically referred to. We have its location in the sky. We have its speed—"
"Speed?" Vignot looked doubtful.
"That can be determined by examining the strength of the first disturbance signals on the cell plate recording tape. Each day they have grown stronger. By comparing this difference from day to day—"
"I know how to calculate speed, Aaron. The point I still don't understand is this. That Mass out in space may be pointed at our earth right now. But our earth isn't stationary. We're revolving around the sun once every three-hundred and sixty-five days. Also, in the course of a year, our whole planetary system is moving at an incredible speed away from where it is now. In other words, our earth after each journey around the sun never returns to the identical spot from which it started. The Mass should miss us by a million miles."
"That's possible," admitted Carruthers. "And I'd like to believe you. Since, however, I've figured it out mathematically, I've come to the conclusion that your theory is not justified. The collision takes place ten years from this summer or fall. And that will be the end of the world, and of the Moon, too. A collision of such catastrophic proportions is bound to draw our Lunar neighbor into the earth's attraction so that the Mass, Moon and Earth will come together and merge into a sphere of flaming whiteness."
Vignot scoffed. "Phooey! Where is your copy of Einstein's calculator of variable factors of time and space?"
From his pocket Carruthers removed a leather-bound book and handed it to his colleague. Then he sat down.
"Very well," announced Vignot. "We'll see." He sprawled across the marble-topped table and began his tabulations which he fitted into complicated equations. From time to time his forehead wrinkled with thought. Then pure concentration erased everything from his face except a hard, purposeful glow in his eyes.
An hour passed with no interruption from either Carruthers or Danzig. They sat relaxed in their chairs, waiting. Vignot's pencil covered scratch papers with numerals and symbols. Occasionally he blinked as the figures began to take on meaning. Finally he pushed the papers aside and looked up.
"Your calculations agree with mine, Aaron. We'll have ten years of worry, floods, earthquakes, cyclones—then absolute chaos."
Carruthers said nothing for the moment. Instead he got to his feet, crossed the room to the quartz glass windows and stared uneasily across the roofs of the great city. After a time he turned from the window, walked to the table and examined Vignot's tabulations.
"You used a different arrangement of symbols and calculation devices than those I used," he acknowledged. "But you arrived at the same answer—the year of 2017. It looks," he added, "like absolute annihilation—which means the end of the world."
"I wish," sighed the bearded chemist, "you hadn't sent for me." He blinked owlishly. "Absolute annihilation beyond a doubt ... unless ... unless the earth's air barrier should prove heavy enough to turn it from its course. His eyes stopped blinking. Instead, they stared straight into those of the young scientist. "You propose to do something about this collision, Aaron. What?"
"I'm still mortal, Vignot, and human as the next man. What can I do?"
Vignot wagged his head impatiently. "That's not exactly what I meant. You've got something on your mind that you haven't yet explained to me. I want to hear it—now."
"Even if it means death before the Mass strikes the earth?"
"Even if it means death within the next twenty-four hours," snapped the bearded chemist.
The voice of Aaron Carruthers became low and purposeful. "Ten years is a long time to wait for death especially when we know there is no way to avoid it. Yet, in those ten years, we will have ample time to erect our defenses and seek a way to destroy the Mass—if such a miracle is possible."
He paused as if searching for the right words. "Vignot," he continued. "Would you like to know today—now, just how fatal this coming catastrophe will be?"
"I don't quite understand."
"What I mean is this. Through the remarkable emanations of my Time Projector Machine, I can—"
"Don't do it." Karl Danzig was speaking for the first time. "You'd both be fools. There's nothing to be gained by submitting to such an experiment. You'd both be destroyed in the Thoridium Rays. I'm against the experiment utterly and completely."
"Quiet, Karl," advised Carruthers. "This is between Vignot and me."
"Ah!" sighed Vignot. "A difference of opinion. I never knew you two ever to disagree before. The prospect intrigues me. And since I don't expect, and don't want to live forever, I have little fear of death. Only I don't want to die by slow starvation. I want my meals regular. I want—Ummm. Go ahead, Aaron. And please don't interrupt him, Karl. I'll weigh my chances of survival after hearing a few facts, then I'll make my decision."
"My plan," said Carruthers, "is to project our bodies into the year of 2017—"
"Impossible!" Vignot scoffed.
"Suicidal," added Danzig. "Let's abandon the whole business."
Carruthers eased his lanky body from the chair. He didn't smile, but there was a forceful, inner gleam in his eyes that lighted his whole face.
"There is no other way out for me," he told them, "but to go ahead with my plan. And once I have closed and locked the door to the Time Projector laboratory, I don't expect either of you men to violate my aloneness in that room. Should I come out alive within the next twenty-four hours, I will have the answer to the earth's salvation in my head. Should I fail to return and unlock the door—the task of informing the world of its ultimate end lies with you both." He smiled then. "I guess that's all." With these words he left them and went swiftly down the corridor.
But Aaron Carruthers was not alone when he reached the door to the Projector laboratory. Vignot and Danzig were close behind.
"So!" boomed Vignot. "You want to get rid of me now I'm here and have checked on your arithmetic. You want to make your experiment alone and leave me and Karl behind. Nonsense. We're in this crazy experiment as much as you are. Your dangers will be our dangers."
"Vignot's right," agreed Danzig. "I won't say another word, Aaron. Let's get started."
"I'm grateful to you both," sighed Carruthers, opening the door. "Come in, please. The room is more or less upset, but the apparatus is in perfect working order."
"Hmmmm!" grunted the chemist. "What is this machine—an atom smasher?"
Carruthers nodded. "A variation of the main principle, but it goes much farther in its delving into the core of life. This ponderous machine, though much smaller than those giants in use at the government's research laboratories, has successfully bombarded that rare clement of Thoridium, atomic weight 319, "with heavy neutrons thereby stepping its weight up to 320. And since the even-numbered atoms are explosive, the Thoridium split into two parts creating the greatest energy ever produced by man."
He held up his hand as Vignot attempted to break in. "Wait a minute. Let me continue. This energy explosive and powerful though it is when harnessed to our new atomic motors, has produced a bi-product of weird potentialities. When I imprisoned this energy within a vacuum prism of Saigon's metallic glass, I became aware of a most singular phenomenon. This energy, when sealed in a vacuum, quickened the pulse of the universe, and shattered the world's yardstick of time. That is—the force of this newly-created energy is so potent, so far beyond anything man has yet dreamed of, that it moves faster than time itself. A paradox? Perhaps. But it is the sole actuating force of the Time Projector."
Vignot tugged at his beard. "These transparent walls around projector walls. What is their purpose?"
"Pure quartz. An outside as well as an inside wall with water between to keep the emanations from escaping. Karl, you'd better switch on our own power. I don't want to chance any fluctuation of the city current if I can help it. And phone the building engineer to start our basement dynamos."
A moment after Danzig had carried out these orders, the laboratory began to vibrate gently.
"There isn't much to be seen," explained Carruthers, "but the control board, the insulated chairs with their contact helmets, and the 21-inch circular prism of Saigon's metallic glass suspended between plastic posts which keeps the prism rigid."
He indicated the chairs. "Sit down, please, both of you. Karl, you take the chair near the power control station. Vignot, you sit in the center chair. And I'll take the one on the right which enables me to control and regulate the forces sealed within the Thoridium power plant which actuates the Time Projector. Is it all clear?"
"Not quite," said Vignot. "This metal helmet..."
"Place it over your head the same as I'm doing. And I'm warning you, Vignot, that you're going to be subject to some pain and bewildering sensations. Keep both palms on the metal handrests of the chair, and don't look at me, or at Danzig. Keep your eyes and mind focused on one point only—the Saigon prism."
He turned to the control panel beside him. "Now. I'll adjust the cycle of our explorations into the time period ten years in advance of this hour with an automatic shut-off just in case—"
"One more question," observed Vignot. "What part of us is it that goes forward in space?"
"All of us, and yet no part of us, for our bodies will actually remain here in these chairs. Always keep that in mind no matter what happens. We may be injured. We may be killed. But that will be in the future. And when the experiment has ended, we will find ourselves in these same chairs, neither injured or dead, but exactly as we are at this moment."
"Go ahead," snapped the chemist. "This waiting has become intolerable."
"Contact, Karl. The energy tube series first, using the odd numbers. Then switch to the even ones with a ten-second interval between. First contact. Good. Careful now—three, four, five—not yet—seven, eight, nine—contact points of the even-numbered series—Close your switch!"
From somewhere inside the laboratory came a sputtering crack. And across their field of vision shot a serpentine streamer of deep-red flame. It impinged against the prism and flowed over it like red dye.
Within the metal walls of the Thoridium power plant there was a sound like an imprisoned gale escaping. Carruthers listened for a disturbed moment, then he brought his mind back to the prism.
He saw it glowing redly then change slowly to orange and through the orderly prismatic scheme of yellow and blue to violet. He braced himself for what lay beyond the violet. This was the breaking point between the present and the unknown future.
A gradual mistiness engulfed the laboratory, the prism and the Thoridium power plant.
The vibrations within the laboratory seemed to lessen in intensity. An eerie silence muffled all sounds. Almost imperceptibly the mist became denser. It enveloped the plastic posts like streamers of fog, then swirled around the glowing prism in a translucent, ghostly halo.
Its effect was hypnotic. He couldn't move his eyes. His mind lost its alertness and became sluggish. Slowly the violet glow faded into a color beyond the purple—a color he had never seen before.
This strange and unfamiliar hue distressed him, made him uneasy. He knew he was seeing something nature had never intended man to see, and in seeing it, he was being punished. Still, there was no way he could stop it. The experiment had passed beyond his control.
Restlessness crept over him in slimy coils of doubt. He felt light-headed and unstable as if his body was suspended over a deep abyss and would at any moment drop into black, terrifying silence that would last forever.
There were no thoughts in his mind of the other two men. The spell of the prism had erased them completely from his memory. He had even forgotten why he was sitting in the chair, staring at the scintillating, changing effulgence of the space-quickening prism.
It was then that lightness and darkness seemed to be struggling for supremacy. Dark would follow daylight. And daylight would follow dark. At first, these changes were slow and labored. Gradually, however, they quickened in tempo until the space between his eyes and the prism that held them in thralldom flickered with lights and shadows.
He sensed, somehow, that these flickerings were caused by the swift passage of days and nights. And he knew that he was moving forward into time.
How long he remained in this state of mind suspension he never knew. The end came following a torturous succession of sounds and sensations. He became aware of a monotonous ticking in his ears. Cold enveloped him that quickly changed to a devitalizing heat. Dimly, at first, he sensed a change in his surroundings. Things seemed to be the same, yet different. The prism suspended between the plastic posts was diminishing into space. To his ears, after the peculiar ticking had subsided, came strange sounds like the lament of thousands upon thousands of voices.
It was like a dirge of despair, of hope abandoned, of fear and anguish. It seemed purposeless and without meaning. Suddenly, and without warning, a ball of purple, eye-searing radiance exploded all around him.
The last link between the present and the future had snapped. In the vortex of the concussion some unseen force gripped him, and hurled his helpless body squarely into the core of this purple flame.
There was no pain, no sensation in this weird phenomenon. There was only forgetfulness and memory failure. He had successfully crossed the unknown abyss of ten years in less than seven earth minutes. And he never knew it.
Standing before the quartz glass windows, Aaron Carruthers watched the exodus of human beings from the great city. Never had he seen the four-speed transportation bands so jammed with people.
The sight of the continuous stampede made him sad. He knew why they were leaving the hot pavements of the city and fleeing to the seashore, lakes and rivers. He knew, also, that wherever they went, whatever they did, they could not escape. The world seemed doomed.
Each day the glowing Mass in the sky was drawing steadily nearer and increasing in size as it came closer. It was so bright that it could be seen by day. Its brilliance was like that of a small sun. And its heat more intense.
He turned from the window. As he reached his desk he noted the small calendar. The year of 2017 still had four months to go. Probably it would be the last year in the history of mankind. The door to the corridor was opening. Through it came Danzig and Vignot. Their faces were red and moist with sweat.
"It's what you might call warm outside," complained the chemist. "And it isn't going to get any cooler either. Everybody is leaving the city. As a matter of fact all the cities are being abandoned. Wherever there is a lake, river or any body of water, the populace is flocking toward these blessed spots. Any news?" he finished.
"None," said Carruthers, grimly, "but what you already know."
"How is your Annihilator progressing?"
"It's about finished—or it should be. I'm making an inspection trip in a few minutes. Better come with me."
"You think it will work?"
Carruthers shrugged, and his jaw tightened. "How can I be absolutely certain. It should work by all the laws of science. At any rate, it's too late to worry as to whether it'll work or not. If it succeeds, we'll live to know. If it doesn't, I don't know as it will matter. We'll be nothing but powdered ashes. If you're ready now, we'll go to Thunder Mountain at once."
They left the laboratory, went to the roof and there boarded a rocket ship which carried them north to the site of what might prove to be the world's last folly in scientific engineering.
From the air as the ship approached the landing field on top of Thunder Mountain towered a giant steel tube that at first glance seemed puny when viewed from the great heights of the air. But once the rocket ship had landed, and the men reached the workings, its monstrous size became apparent.
Through a new metallurgical process, the metal tube had been cast in a block without seams or rivets. It towered nearly three-hundred feet upwards from its base, and was roughly fifty feet in diameter. What the tube contained inside only a few men understood.
Its purpose—to annihilate the approaching Mass of vegetation and earth by a continuous bombardment of its metal core with a concentrated beam of heavy neutrons. People, including many famous scientists, had scoffed at the sheer audacity of the idea. It was preposterous and doomed to failure.
Yet, in spite of opposition from all quarters, Aaron Carruthers had gone ahead perfecting the Annihilator. It had taken him years to figure out the construction and beam control. First there had been a small model which hadn't worked. That was the first setback. The metal of which he had constructed the first tube wouldn't stand up under the terrific onslaught of neutrons pouring from the electro-carbonide rods. Even the best of the metallurgists had been unable to furnish him with the right kind of metal.
Quite by accident Carruthers discovered a formula he had once used to replace a Tungsten wire within a vacuum tube of an electronic oscillator resistor coil. Using this formula, he had constructed a second machine. The metal walls of the tube on this second machine not only took the beating from the neutrons, but also increased their power by keeping them into a solid beam that could be directed into space without endangering any metallic substance near at hand.
And this was the machine they had come to inspect. It had been erected on a high mountain away from any city. Its foundations were anchored deep in bedrock. Steel cables, their tension controlled by pneumatic shock absorbers, kept the metal tube from swaying in the high winds that constantly swept the mountain top.
Current for the dynamos beneath the structure came from a power-station at the base of the mountain. Yet no one knew, even Carruthers himself, whether this mammoth tube, pouring forth a controlled stream of annihilating neutrons, would be of sufficient power to break up the Mass hurtling toward the earth. But the young scientist had gone too far with his preparations to abandon them for something equally unpredictable. The Mass must be destroyed.
Even in the light of day men all over the world could see that it was coming steadily nearer and nearer. Occasionally it would flare into a white brilliance as it crashed into a meteor or wandering planetoid. But these collisions did not turn it aside. It came on and on, never swerving never slowing up.
Its heat spread out before it, increasing each day, Now the glowing Mass was in the east, now in the west as the earth circled lazily around the sun. The temperature continued to rise steadily night and day from seventy, to ninety, to a hundred and three. On this day it had reached a hundred and seven.
As Carruthers walked swiftly toward the metal structure that was destined to play so important a part in the world's salvation, the construction engineer came to meet him.
"It's no use, Carruthers," he said, grimly. "We're near the end of the job, but not yet finished. All the men are quitting. It's too damned hot. They can't stand it."
"Hire more men," ordered Carruthers. "The work's got to go on. We can't stop now. Don't you understand the importance—?"
"I'm simply explaining' the facts." "Hire more men as I said, and work them three hours a day at double pay for a full day's work."
"I'll do the best I can," nodded the engineer, "but I make no promises that the work will continue according to schedule. It isn't that the men don't want—" He stopped abruptly and stared stupidly at the young scientist.
The earth was trembling. A sudden flash of bluish light struck the top of the mountain, swirled like a miniature cyclone, then vanished in a thunderous, splitting crack. The shock knocked every man down.
Carruthers scrambled to his feet. He had known this was coming. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, enormous tides and floods all over the world would be the natural result of the approaching Mass. And his heart began to pound with unknown fears. Yet there was no sign of fear on his face as he stood erect once more and then braced himself against the next ground upheaval. His eyes swerved upward. The steel tube was rocking perilously. One of the cables had come loose from its anchorage in the ground.
He raced toward its free end whipping crazily at the tube's base. But he never reached it. Something else claimed his attention. He kept on running to where the ground sloped away sharply, and checked suddenly on the raw edge of an earth crevasse six feet wide. He understood now why the cable had pulled loose from its anchorage. The earth had split in a wide seam, and from it began to roll thick clouds of brownish smoke.
Coughing, he stepped back and stumbled over a coil of rope. He gathered it up, fastened one end around the steel cable, and looped the free end around the base of a pine tree.
Hardly had he finished when the ground began to rock in a grinding movement from east to west. He dropped to his hands and knees. Smoke, pouring from the widening crevasse, enveloped him with noxious fumes.
His courage at that moment dropped to a low ebb. Was this to be the end of his years of patient and heart-breaking work? Was the world going to lose its one chance of survival because of an unpredictable eruption underground. He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. They were smarting from the fumes belching from the fissure.
Voices that were indistinct reached his ears. He closed his eyes against the smoke and staggered toward the sound. A hand closed around his arm and he heard Danzig speaking.
"We've got to get down from this mountain, Aaron. Some deep earthquake disturbance has almost split Thunder Mountain in two."
Carruthers continued to rub his eyes. "And leave the work of years unfinished, Karl?" He shook his head. "You can go if you want to. You're under no obligation to remain. But I'm staying right here. I've work to do—work that can no longer be delayed. I wasn't prepared to start the bombardment. There's still a great deal of equipment lacking. However, I have no choice. Leave me alone now. I'll carry on."
"But, Aaron. You can't. If these shocks continue, they'll cause the base of the Annihilator to disintegrate. It's almost ready to topple right now."
A gust of wind swirled across the mountain top driving the smoke away from the giant structure. "See?" pointed out the young scientist. "The tube is still standing. And as long as it stands, I believe there is hope. I'm starting right now to unleash the heavy neutrons. There can be no more delay."
"And I'm going to remain with you," promised Danzig. Turning, he ran toward the steel hatchway leading inside the metal tube.
Carruthers started to follow. Then his eyes wandered toward the smoking crevasse some distance away. Even as he watched it, the distance across its top continued to widen. The wind slackened, and smoke billowed around him. Groping blindly, he crashed into George Vignot. Together both men stumbled toward the opening in the metal tube.
Danzig slammed the metal door shut. "I think we're all three of us fools, Aaron. We ought to have gone with the others. No telling how long this mountain will remain in existence."
Carruthers seemed not to have heard. He went at once to the glittering panel of his ether-vision machine. Seating himself before it he kicked a switch forward with his foot, clicked two more with his right hand, and slowly began to revolve a dial. The silver surface of a magnetic vision screen became fogged and slightly agitated. This lasted but a few seconds until the space tubes warmed to their utmost efficiency. Then the silver of the magnetic screen faded slightly and turned to a greenish blue.
Noise flowed from the sound track, the crunch of running feet, of men gasping and panting. A second later the directional beam found them and reflected them on the screen. They were the workers, and they were fleeing down the mountain road to safety. Behind them crawled and billowed a dark, boiling liquid.
Carruthers reversed the scene until the directional beam slithered back up the mountain. He saw then the source of the dark liquid. It was flowing from the lower side of the crevasse halfway down the mountainside.
"Well," he sighed, "as long as nothing happens to the power lines, we'll be able to carry on. Check on all the mercury stabilizers, Karl, so that the floor will be perfectly level. Force more of the mercury into the cylinders with the auxiliary pressure pump if you have to. Then, if the walls of our tube start rocking, the floor will remain on a level keel."
With eyes still on the magnetic screen he turned the directional beam on all points of the compass to determine the extent of the earth split. Both ends of the crevasse seemed to have curved away from the plateau on top of the mountain, so there seemed no immediate danger of the base of the Annihilator crumpling.
"I hope," sighed Vignot, tugging aimlessly at his beard, "that the commissary in connection with this venture is well stocked."
"So far as I'm aware," announced Carruthers, "there isn't a crumb of food on this mountain top." He placed a special filter over the magnetic screen and sat down. Turning the directional beam slowly, he focused it on the sky. Into the panel swam the menacing sky Mass.
He watched it for several minutes as if contemplating something evil. It looked larger than when he had first seen it that day in his own laboratory. He decided to bring it closer. Without taking his eyes from the magnetic screen he switched on the current generated by the Class Y motors. Beneath the screen a battery of infra-red tubes began to glow. The Mass in the sky began to quiver and expand.
The directional beam continued to bore outward under the increased power. The Mass came closer. Carruthers calculated swiftly. It would take five, no seven minutes before its glowing reflection entirely covered the magnetic screen.
He got up from before the ether-vision panel. "Open the hood at the top of the tube, Karl and set the angle of the annihilator beam at 29.97. That's where it should be at this hour and minute."
Dials on the mercury cylinders register zero all around," announced Danzig. "The element of error appearing is minus two degrees from the west. That should change the angle of the annihilator beam to 29.95. Right?"
"Right," nodded Carruthers. "Set it at that angle. Everything ready to start now?"
"Good. Come over here and sit down. Keep an eye on the Class Y motors. I don't want anything to happen to them. Otherwise we wouldn't be able to look so far out into space." He examined the reflection of the Mass on the magnetic screen. It filled nearly two-thirds of it by now. He waited until the reflection of the Mass covered the entire screen, then set the dial and locked it against accidental turning.
Time for the fireworks, Karl." His voice was grim. "Afraid, either of you?"
"I'm merely hungry," Vignot grinned.
"And you, Karl?"
"No," said Danzig. "Give the Annihilator everything it's had built into it. If it's too much, we'll never know. If it's not enough, we'll have something to worry about."
Carruthers smiled. "Here goes." He crossed the room, stared upward for a moment, then down at the insulating pad beneath his feet before the switchboard, took a deep breath and closed the circuit of the main switch.
Blinding violet light curved down from a spot high in the tube. He staggered back from the switchboard, stunned but otherwise unhurt. Temporary blindness assailed him. He stood still for a moment waiting for his eyes to adjust themselves to the unearthly radiance bathing the inside of the metal walls.
A screeching howl filled the interior of the tube. It lasted for perhaps five seconds. Abruptly it changed to a high, thin hum. He groped his way back to the chair, his heart beating wildly. The die was cast. From now on there could be no turning back.
Danzig thrust something in his hand. "Here. Put these on before you look up at the rods."
Carruthers adjusted the polaroid glasses to his eyes and looked upward into the flame-lashed vault of the tube. High above him glowed two electro-carbonide rods. They were tilted at an angle and their tips were ten inches apart. Across this gap poured streamers of violet fire. Where the flame points converged, there hung a ball of white, pulsating fire. Unless there had been some error in calculations, billions upon billions of heavy neutrons were flowing in a concentrated beam into the sky straight upon the Mass that moved on the earth.
"How much power in reserve?"
"Two million volts," said Danzig.
"Step it up five-hundred thousand."
Danzig bent forward. The whine of an unseen dynamo took on a swifter thrumming. "Five hundred thousand," he announced.
Carruthers watched the pulsing rays between the ends of the electro-carbonide rods, nodded approvingly, removed the polaroid glasses and walked to a small window set in what looked like a lead coffin. Inside this container was the heart of the Annihilator. Smoothly polished mirrors of the world's newest metal deflected the neutrons from their erratic courses and pointed them in a straight line toward the target they were supposed to hit and destroy.
There was no immediate way of knowing whether the neutrons were impinging against the metal core of the Mass, or whether they were wasting themselves in sky space millions of miles from the target. Astronomical observers had given Carruthers the exact angle in relation to the mountain top where the machine had been erected. Now there was nothing more to do but to keep blasting away at the target.
Minutes passed into hours. No one spoke. There seemed nothing anyone could do or say. As the earth turned on its axis, the stream of neutrons from the Annihilator was kept on the target by the automatic adjuster.
When the Mass reached the far western horizon and was no longer visible, Carruthers shut off the power. There was nothing more to be done until the Mass appeared in the eastern sky at dawn.
He turned to Danzig. "Karl, we have no electronic phones, nor have we any means of keeping in touch with the outer world save with our ether-vision machine. While we can see with this, we can't talk or act. Our success in carrying out this experiment depends solely on the current we are receiving from the power-station at the big dam near the base of the mountain. Go there at once. And don't let anyone shut off that power."
"That's all very well," boomed Vignot. "But you can't expect me to stay cooped up here. Surely there must be something I can do..."
"There is," said Carruthers, "much as I hate to have you leave. I would like to know the full extent of the disturbance that rocked this mountain and nearly split it in two. If there has been a ground shift of even a few degrees, it might well throw off all our calculations. I don't believe, however, that the slippage of earth has been upward. More than likely it has been downward so that its movement disturbed only surface soil and not the basic rock."
"It'll take time, Aaron. I'll have to walk until I can find some faster mode of travel. But I'll return as soon as I can."
The three men shook hands. Their eyes met. If they wondered whether they'd ever see each other alive again, they showed no signs of it. A moment later, Aaron Carruthers was alone in the giant metal tube on Thunder Mountain.
Morning found him at the controls again, a little haggard and more than a little worried. No one had come up the mountain with food. Meanwhile the temperature had risen to 115 degrees.
The glowing Mass swam in the eastern sky, climbing slowly to the zenith of the heavens. And all that first full day the Annihilator bombarded it with billions upon billions of neutrons apparently without noticeable effect. At night the Mass sank triumphantly beyond the western horizon.
It returned again at dawn of the second day. But Aaron Carruthers was waiting for it with renewed determination. Once more he released the annihilating beams of neutrons. At noon that day the heat had become almost unbearable. Sweat poured from the young scientist's forehead and into his eyes. He wrapped a handkerchief around it and remained stubbornly at the controls.
The afternoon dragged endlessly. His ears ached with the humming of the annihilator beams as they streamed across the gap between the ends of the electro-carbonide rods and sped toward the hot, glowing Mass.
By nightfall, when Danzig still hadn't returned, Carruthers searched for him with the directional beam of the ether-vision machine. He found him alone in the isolated power-station. The plant was deserted. All the workers had fled. By now the temperature had risen to 125 degrees Farenheit.
Carruthers moistened his lips, turned the directional beam on random spots of the country, and saw nothing but turmoil and unrest. In the south there was little to be seen but dense clouds of forest fire smoke. Wherever he looked he saw jammed highways, and deserted communities.
On the northeast seaboard of the Atlantic he saw immense upheavals of thunder clouds, sheets of lightning and swollen rivers. Still farther north, clear beyond Labrador, were muddy torrents that had long since overflowed their banks.
Westward and still farther north probed the ether-vision beam across the wilds of northern Canada to Alaska and beyond. Stark pinnacles of rock were thrusting their serried ranks through what had once been everlasting ice peaks. The age-old glaciers were being thrust back under the intense heat.
Throughout the night the young scientist checked every spot on earth and the answer was the same. Even the Moon had lost some of its coldness, and was covered with vapor. A new magnetic point had developed which threw shipping and air transports into a panic. One by one the great hydro-electric plants went dead, as dams, weakened by the tremendous pounding of flood waters, were rent asunder.
The lone watcher's heart beat with compassion whenever the directional beam picked up groups of humans in attitudes of prayer. No longer did sweat pour into his eyes. His body ached, and his skin was dry as parchment. He searched around outside and found a corrugated iron can filled with warm water. From it he drank and sloshed his head and face with the blessed moisture.
Somehow, he got through the night, rational and sane.
The third day of his silent battle dawned redly. He saw the Mass the moment it rose above the eastern horizon and into the magnetic-screen of the ether-vision panel.
Definitely the Mass had lost some of its energy. Its white-yellow radiance was turning to a cherry red. Hope surged in the heart of the young scientist. He switched on the current to the electro-carbonide rods. The interior of the annihilator housing crackled with violet flames as the heavy neutrons were shot outward in sky space. He was almost certain now that the Mass was undergoing a process of disintegration.
He examined the thermometer. One hundred and thirty degrees. Was the Mass actually turning red, or were his eyes failing him? He looked sharply at different points within the metal structure. No tinge of red obscured his vision.
Logic came tardily to his rescue. Though the Mass was definitely cooler than on the first day, its heat was still great for it had approached hundreds of thousands of miles closer to the earth.
At noon, when it was directly above the Annihilator, Carruthers switched on the maximum power which he had hesitated on using before. The increased humming of the tortured rods was more than his eardrums could stand. He packed his ears with small pieces of linen torn from his handkerchief.
Continued tension forced him to get up and move around. He went outside and bathed his face with warm water. Afterwards he went back to the ether-vision machine to see what was now happening in the world around him. Since he hadn't changed the directional beam, the first thing to appear on the magnetic screen was the image of the thing which menaced the earth.
As Carruthers stared at it he became aware of something that had lately happened. Running from the north to its southern axis across the face of the Mass was a blackish line. It had the appearance of a split in the Mass surface structure. As he tried to bring out details in sharper relief he heard the door open and close behind him. Vignot had returned.
"Ha!" chuckled the bearded chemist. "Thought I wasn't coming back, didn't you? Well, I thought the same thing several times. I've had to walk most of the time. Every vehicle that could be charted has been pressed into service by other people."
He mopped his forehead. "The situation is unchanged as far as my mission is concerned. I couldn't discover a thing. I've gone to three different seismograpic locations where the science of earthquake phenomena is studied and traced, and found instruments and laboratories deserted and desolate with emptiness. You've no conception how panicky this world has become. Then my practical nature asserted itself and I managed to purchase some food capsules."
He extended a handful of the capsules to the young scientist. "I've been living on them since this morning. Until something happens either for good or evil, this is all we're going to eat. The base of this mountain is flooded with a thick, tenacious substance known as pitch. The road is blocked with it. I had to scramble over a great many boulders to get across the barrier. And that's all the bad news I can think of."
"It's quite enough," shrugged Carruthers, "and it's not important. Take a look at the magnetic screen." Then, as if aware for the first time of the food capsules Vignot had given him, he began to eat them slowly and thankfully. Almost at once new strength began to tingle throughout his tired body.
George Vignot studied the reflected image of the Mass for a considerable period before speaking. "Definitely," he stated, "the Mass has undergone some violent changes since I saw it last. It's actually cooling off. That much is apparent from the change in color. And judging from the dark line running from top to bottom, I'd say that it has already begun to crack up from the bombardment."
"The line is widening fast," said Carruthers. "We should know definitely what is happening in a short time."
As both men watched speechlessly, the black line began to widen. The Mass lost its roundness. Its sides began to expand until it assumed the form of a rubber ball that was being pressed from the top downward.
Carruthers leaned forward, concentrated the directional beam on the dark path and stepped up the power so that he could see better what that darkness signified.
As the expanding dark line flowed into the screen, the outer edges of the Mass became invisible, for the screen wasn't large enough to produce the full image.
For a few minutes there was nothing visible. Then, as the powerful beam of the ether-vision machine penetrated the shadows, they saw a pin-point of light in the very center of the blackness. And suddenly the darkness rolled back. Through it shot a ball of what looked like cloudy vapor.
The heat of the Mass dissipated it slightly, but not altogether. It kept rolling outward with gathering momentum until it was no longer a part of the Mass. but separate from it and moving through space at a tremendous speed. So swiftly did it come forward that its size filled the magnetic screen with what seemed like glittering moisture.
Carruthers adjusted the beam at a different angle. When the cloud of vapor was visible again, it was far from the parent Mass.
"Look, Vignot!" he gasped. "The Mass has opened up and disgorged something, and it's breaking into two indefinite sections which are fading into dust. The Mass is disintegrating!"
"But the vapor cloud," breathed Vignot, also leaning forward. "Keep it in sight every minute. Better shut off the flow of neutrons. They won't be needed any longer."
Carruthers pulled the switch. The electro-carbonide rods cooled and turned black. When he reached the control panel of the ether-vision machine again, the vapor cloud had vanished.
He angled the directional beam for a long time before picking it up again. When he did finally overtake it, the cloud was really getting close to the earth. As they watched it, they saw a number of tiny bright specks slanting out of the vapor which by now was almost dissipated.
Light from the sun struck against them. They glittered like molten fire as they fell toward the earth.
"God!" breathed Vignot. "What are they?"
"Metal or glass cylinders at first glance," guessed Carruthers. "Too far away yet to know definitely. But they'll never reach the earth. They'll be burned up when they pass into the air barrier above our globe. I've counted them. There must be twenty in all." He cringed as a bright burst of flame enveloped the lowest of the cylinders.
"There goes the first one. Burned to nothing in the friction..."
"Wait a second, Aaron. You knew about the new additional magnetic attraction that's affecting compasses all over the world. Well, I think I've solved the mystery. Its this machine of yours. The magnetic field forms when the neutrons start shooting into space. Turn on your electro-carbonide rods again. But shoot the neutrons off to the east so they won't destroy those shining things falling to earth. And if they're made of metal as they seem to be, the magnetic attraction may pull them toward this mountain.
"A good point." Carruthers nodded approval, lowered the intensity of the current flowing through the rods and switched on the Annihilator. Carefully he changed the angle so that the discharge was activated to the east. Almost at once the shining things responded to the pull. Instead of falling vertically downward, they twisted slightly so that the points of their metal bodies were aimed toward the magnetic field set up by the annihilator beam.
Those that were slow in responding were destroyed by friction within the earth's air barrier. Three of them, however, got through the barrier. An hour before sunset these three shining things moved down upon the earth. No longer was it necessary to follow their course with the ether-vision machine. Both men moved out into the open and stared into the sky at the shining things that had come out of the sky's vast immensity.
"They may be rocket cylinders," said Carruthers, shading his eyes against the setting sun, "except for the fact that they're pointed on both ends. Certainly, they're man-made."
"They certainly are," agreed Vignot. "But made by what race of men? Aaron, this is the most astounding and fabulous..."
"They're falling this way," Carruthers broke in. "The magnetic attraction is... Oh! They're out of it. And now they're falling vertically."
They waited and watched with fear-expanded eyes. One of the shining things disappeared into the lake behind the power-station dam. A second nosed hissingly into the still smoldering crevasse down the mountainside.
A miracle preserved the third and last from destruction. It struck the tops of a dense growth of pine trees glancingly. Their great, arching trunks bent but did not break. Small branches snapped. Needles showered to the ground. But the force of the metal object's speed had been slowed to such an extent that it remained intact and scarcely dented when it finally slithered through the branches to the ground less than a hundred feet from where the two men stood watching it.
They raced toward it. The shining thing, a metallic cylinder at least eight feet in length, gleamed and sparkled in the fading sunlight. But before they reached it something happened that checked their impetuousness. Carruthers felt his breath snag deep down into his throat.
A section of the cylinder was opening slowly as if on hinges. The last, lingering rays of the setting sun revealed what at first seemed a dazzling apparition—an angel without wings, crowned with a golden aura of flame. And then the goddess from another world stepped from the cylinder.
Out of the dim recesses of his mind, from some memory cells that seemed to have been dormant for a thousand years, arose a cloudy picture that Carruthers knew had always been there. This girl was no stranger. He had seen her before. She was a part of some past experience as elusive as dancing shadows. Within his heart stirred a lively breeze. It was as though the creator had returned to him something he had loved and lost in the mouldy centuries of another existence.
She stood for a time on the daintiest slippered feet, clothed in soft, transparent clinging garments that followed every curve of her splendid, unashamed body. Her golden hair was gathered into a knot at the nape of her bare neck. Her eyes, indefinite as to color, were startled as a fawn's. She seemed poised for instant flight as she stood just outside the door to the cylinder.
Neither man made any motion to come closer to her for they did not want to frighten her. Never had Aaron Carruthers been so stirred emotionally by any earth being as he was by this exquisite creature from outer space. His eyes were grave as he searched her face for some sign that she was the one he had known in the dim, ageless past. He smiled reassuringly, but he could not recall when and where he had known her.
Fear had vanished from her eyes. She had glanced only casually at the bearded chemist. Her attention was centered wholly on the other earth being. Long and searchingly she watched him. noting his shoulders, his chin, his deep-set eyes, and the high, intelligent forehead.
Suddenly her chin quivered. She raised both hands to her mouth. For a moment she seemed undecided as to what to do. Some poignant memory was shining in her eyes. She took a slow, uncertain step forward, then broke into a run, both arms outstretched.
Carruthers was conscious of but one thing as her arms encircled him and he felt the warmth of her body pressed close to his own. This girl was no figment of his imagination. He had known and loved her in the post. She was his—she would always be his. She was real. She was as real as the sun's afterglow glinting on her hair, and the quickening beat of his heart that matched the beat of her own.
She raised her face to his and he kissed her tenderly. But her face was troubled. She pointed upward and spoke in a tongue that was strange to his ears.
He ahook his head. He didn't know how to explain to her what had happened to the rest of the cylinders that had been ejected from the Mass. He pointed toward the spot where the sun had vanished. "Sun," he explained. He indicated the wide sweep of heavens. "Sky." Downward he pointed. "Earth." Then, pointing at himself: "Aaron."
"Ar—ron," she repeated. Her eyes brightened responsively. "Ishtar," she added in a musical voice.
His eyes were bewildered.
She pointed at herself as she had seen him do and seemed afraid that he would not understand. But his smile reassured her. She backed from his arms, her eyes once more straying aloft into the sky as if searching for something in the red sunset. After a moment they clouded with disappointment and tears.
Carruthers again held out his arms. She came into them sobbing and trembling in her grief. And he held her tightly, possessively.
"Bah!" rumbled the bearded chemist.
And the sound seemed to set the mountain tumbling and crashing about the young scientist's ears in a splitting orgy of sound and confusions. Violet lightnings stabbed his brain, numbing it with soothing anaesthesia.
He could feel himself falling—falling—falling!
The white walls of the laboratory reappeared before his eyes. Against this background he could see the Time Projector whose potent power had carried him ten years into the future. He removed the metal helmet from his head. Vignot and Danzig had likewise recovered and were following his example.
Carruthers, himself, broke the first silence. "Do either of you remember all that happened?"
"Only the last three days," said Danzig. "I was working alone in a strange power-station which had been abandoned. That's all I seem to remember."
"And you, Vignot?"
"My memory is cloudy. I recall seeing a calendar dated 2017. Also I had an interest in seismographic disturbances. I also recall that I was hungry, that I could obtain only food capsules, and that I was very uncomfortable during those last few days."
"And nothing else?"
"Oh yes. The Mass was destroyed by a bombardment of heavy neutrons. It disintegrated completely."
"And you can't recall any details of the annihilator machine?"
"It was your invention."
"I seem to have forgotten."
"But you haven't forgotten that the Mass was destroyed, and the world saved from a fate that hung over it for ten years?"
"Or the shining things that come showering down from the sky?"
George Vignot snorted and rumpled his hair. "You've got ten years in which to perfect that annihilator machine again. And you'll do it. Can't help it. You've already done it. That much is settled even if we can't prove it. I'm going back to my classes. When you need help, call on me and I'll come. But don't expect too much. I'm only a messy chemist. I'm not a miracle worker."
He left the laboratory and was shortly followed by Danzig, leaving the young scientist to solve the problems that were to face him in the future.
Carruthers walked to the quartz-glass window and stared into the twilight encompassing the city. But his mind was not on the problem of destroying the Mass that would eventually threaten the earth. He was thinking of those last, precious minutes on Thunder Mountain.
"Ten years," he breathed, as if talking to someone far off in space, "is a long time to wait for you again, Ishtar—a long time to await your second coming since you first appeared out of the void of outer space. Where are you now, and what are you doing?"
He waited patiently, but no answer came out of the present. It lay in the future—ten years of research and toil.
The lights winked on in the teeming caverns of city streets one hundred floors below his window. The throb of the underground turbines beat familiarly against his ears as if to bring him back to a more normal way of life.
But nothing would ever be normal from now on. Nothing would ever be quite the same. Nothing would ever erase the memory of her from his mind. For he knew that no matter what might happen during the next decade, the pattern of his life would flow on to its ultimate conclusion. That Ishtar, the girl from outer space, would come rocketing down from the sky in the shining thing. And he would hold her again in his arms. This was his Alpha and Omega. The beginning, and the end.