Accueil > A. E. van Vogt > THE 83 VAN VOGT STORIES ON THIS SITE > "Juggernaut" and other golden-age stories by A. E. van Vogt

"Juggernaut" and other golden-age stories by A. E. van Vogt

mardi 22 mai 2018, par A. E. van Vogt

1. JUGGERNAUT (1944) A wartime story inspired by the immense possibilities for both war and peace of new technological discoveries that were so rapidly reshaping the world in that crucial decade. [1] (3,700 words)

2. THE SHIP OF DARKNESS (1948) When you do a time-travel jump into 3,000,000 A.D. you are going to have problems ! But things might just work out in the end . . . [2] (6,600 words)

3. ROGUE SHIP (1950) IThe very wealthy and scientifically-minded hero learns that the spaceship that he had built to ship a colony to the Alpha Centauri star system six years ago has just come back to Earth ! But there’s no signal of life from the ship, so he forces a way into it only to discover that strange things indeed happen to people and objects when their velocity approaches the speed of light. [3] (16,300 words)

4. HAUNTED ATOMS (1951) Five hundred years after a mysterious disaster had destroyed an advanced but now-forgotten civilization, a farmer is killed when digging near a long-abandoned (atomic) powerhouse.
His house rapidly acquires a reputation for being haunted and uninhabitable until the farmer’s niece and her husband move in and manage to convince academics from a nearby university to explore the mysterious source of energy that has caused all the trouble. [4] (8,800 words)

5. THE STAR-SAINT (1951) A shipload of colonists is about to land on the far-away planet of Ariel when their captain announces that they will be left there on their own, as he has to rush off to investigate what happened to the previous colony there that had been somehow completely annihilated. Fortunately a rather special person has somehow just arrived on board who will play an important role in guiding the colonists through the dangers posed by the incredibly powerful Intelligence that controls all of the matter on this planet. [5] (8,800 words)

An e-book is available for downloading below.


From nowhere at all the little bar of metal came—a special, very,
very super steel. Made wonderful weapons. But there was, they
realized much too late, a catch to it. It spread—and it was too good !

The man—his name was Pete Creighton, though that doesn’t matter—saw the movement out of the corner of his eye as he sat reading his evening paper.
A hand reached out of the nothingness of the thin air about two feet above the rug. It seemed to grope, then drew back into nothingness. Almost instantly it reappeared, this time holding a small, dully glinting metal bar. The fingers let go of the bar, and drew out of sight, even as the metal thing started to fall towards the floor.
THUD ! The sound was vibrant.
It shook the room.
Creighton sat jerkily up in his chair, and lowered his paper. Then he remembered what he had seen. Automatically, his mind rejected the memory. But the fantastic idea of it brought him mentally further into the room.
He found himself staring at an ingot of iron about a foot long and two inches square. That was all. It lay there on the rug, defying his reason.
"Cripes !" said Creighton.
His wife, a sad-faced woman, came out of the kitchen. She stared at him gloomily. "What’s the matter now ?" she intoned.
"That iron bar !" Her husband, half-choked, pointed. "Who threw that in here ?"
"Bar ?" The woman looked at the ingot in surprise. Her face cleared. "Johnny must have brought it in from the outside."
She paused, frowned again ; then added : "Why all the fuss about a piece of scrap iron ?"
"It fell," Creighton babbled. "I saw it out of the corner of my eye. A hand dropped it right out of the—"
He stopped. Realization came of what he was saying. He swallowed hard. His eyes widened. He bent sideways in his chair, and grabbed convulsively for the metal bar.
It came up in his strong fingers. It was quite heavy. Its weight and its drab appearance dimmed his desire to examine it thoroughly. It was a solid ingot of iron, nothing more, nor less. His wife’s tired voice came again :
"Johnny must have stood it up on one end, and it fell over."
"Huh-uh !" said her husband.
He found himself anxious to accept the explanation. The curious sense of alien things faded before the normalness of it. He must have been daydreaming. He must have been crazy.
He put the bar down on the floor. "Give it to the next scrap drive !" he said gruffly.

Hour after hour, the Vulcan Steel & Iron Works roared and yammered at the undefended skies. The din was an unceasing dirge, lustily and horrendously sounding the doom of the Axis. It was a world of bedlam ; and not even an accident could stop that over-all bellowing of metal being smashed and tormented into new shapes.
The accident added a minor clamor to the dominating theme of stupendous sound. There was a screech from a cold roller machine, than a thumping and a sound of metal tearing.
One of the men operating the machine emitted some fanciful verbal sounds, and frantically manipulated the controls. The thumping and the tearing ceased. An assistant foreman came over.
"What’s wrong, Bill ?"
"That bar !" muttered Bill. "I was just starting to round it, and it bent one of the rollers."
"That bar !" echoed the assistant foreman incredulously.
He stared at the little thing. It was a big bar to be going through a roller. But compared to the sizable steel extrusions and moldings turned out by the Vulcan works, it was tiny.
It was six feet long, and it had originally been two inches square. About half of its length had been rolled once. At the point where the strength of the rollers had been bested, the metal of the bar looked exactly the same as that which had gone before. Except that it had refused to round.
The assistant foreman spluttered, and then fell back on a technicality. "I thought it was understood," he said, "that in the Vulcan plants nothing over an inch and a half is rounded by rollers."
"I have had dozens of ’em," said Bill. He added doggedly : "When they come, I do ’em."
There was nothing to do but accept the reality. Other firms, the assistant foreman knew, made a common practice of rolling two-inchers. He said :
"O. K., take your helper and report to Mr. Johnson. I’ll have a new roller put in here. The bent one and that bar go to the scrap heap."
He could not refrain from adding : "Hereafter send two-inch bars to the hammers."

The bar obediently went through the furnace again. A dozen things could have happened to it. It could have formed part of a large molding. It could have, along with other metal, endured an attempt to hammer it into sheer steel.
It would have been discovered then, its basic shape and hardness exposed.
But the wheels of chance spun—and up went a mechanical hammer, and down onto the long, narrow, extruded shape of which the original ingot was a part.
The hammer was set for one and one quarter inches, and it clanged with a curiously solid sound. It was a sound not unfamiliar to the attendant, but one which oughtn’t to be coming from the pummeling of white-hot metal.
It was his helper, however, who saw the dents in the base of the hammer. He uttered a cry, and pulled out the clutch. The older man jerked the bar clear, and stared at the havoc it had wrought.
"Yumpin’ yimminy !" he said. "Hey, Mr. Jenkins, come over here, and look at this."
Jenkins was a big, chubby man who had contributed fourteen ideas for labor-saving devices before and since he was made foreman. The significance of what he saw now was not lost on him.
"Ernie’s sick today," he said. "Take over his drill for a couple of hours, you two, while I look into this."
He phoned the engineering department ; and after ten minutes Boothby came down, and examined the hammer.
He was a lean-built, precise young man of thirty-five. On duty he wore horned-rimmed glasses, behind which gleamed a par of bright-blue eyes. He was a craftsman, a regular hound for precision work.
He measured the dents. They were a solid two inches wide : and the hammer and its base shared the depth equally.
In both, the two-inch wide, one-foot long gouge was exactly three eighths of an inch deep, a total for the two of three-quarters of an inch.
"Hm-m-m," said Boothby, "what have we got here . . . a super-super hard alloy, accidentally achieved ?"
"My mind jumped that way," said Mr. Jenkins modestly. "My name is Jenkins, Wilfred Jenkins."
Boothby grinned inwardly. He recognized that he was being told very quietly to whom the credit belonged for any possible discovery. He couldn’t help his reaction. He said :
"Who was on this machine ?" Jenkins’s heavy face looked unhappy. He hesitated.
"Some Swede," he said reluctantly. "I forget his name."
"Find it out," said Boothby. "His prompt action in calling you is very important. Now, let’s see if we can trace this bar back to its source."
He saw that Jenkins was happy again. "I’ve already done that," the foreman said. "It came out of a pot, all the metal of which was derived from shop scrap. Beyond that, of course, it’s untraceable."
Boothby found himself appreciating Jenkins a little more. It always made him feel good to see a man on his mental toes.
He had formed a habit of giving praise when it was deserved. He gave it now, briefly, then finished :
"Find out if any other department has recently run up against a very hard metal. No, wait, I’ll do that. You have this bar sent right up to the metallurgical lab."
"Sent up hot ?" asked Jenkins.
"Now !" said Boothby, "whatever its condition. "I’ll ring up Nadderly . . . er, Mr. Nadderly, and tell hint to expect it."
He was about to add : "And see that your men don’t make a mistake, and ship the wrong one."
He didn’t add it. There was a look on Jenkins’s face, an unmistakable look. It was the look of a man who strongly suspected that he was about to win his fifteenth bonus in two and a half years.
There would be no mistake.

A steel bar 2"x2"x12"—tossed out of hyper-space into the living room of one, Pete Creighton, who didn’t matter—
None of the individuals mattered. They were but pawns reacting according to a pattern, from which they could vary only if some impossible change took place in their characters. Impossible because they would have had to become either more or less than human.
When a machine in a factory breaks down, its operator naturally has to call attention to the fact. All the rest followed automatically out of the very nature of things. An alert foreman, and alert engineer, a skillful metallurgist ; these were normal Americans, normal Englishmen, normal—Germans !
No, the individuals mattered not. There was only the steel ingot, forming now a part of a long, narrow bar.
On the thirtieth day, Boothby addressed the monthly meeting of the Vulcan’s board of directors. He was first on the agenda, so he had had to hustle. But he was in a high good humor as he began :
"As you all know, obtaining information from a metallurgist"—he paused and grinned inoffensively at Nadderly, whom he had invited down—"is like obtaining blood from a turnip. Mr. Nadderly embodies in his character and his science all the caution of a Scotchman who realizes that it’s time he set up the drinks for everybody, but who is waiting for some of the gang to depart.
"I might as well warn you, gentlemen, that he is fully aware that any statement he has made on this metal might be used against him. One of his objections is that thirty days is a very brief period in the life of an alloy. There is an aluminum alloy, for instance, that requires forty days to age-harden.
"Mr. Nadderly wishes that stressed because the original hard alloy, which seems to have been a bar of about two inches square by a foot long, has in fifteen days imparted its hardness to the rest of the bar, of which it is a part.
"Gentlemen"—he looked earnestly over the faces—"the hardness of this metal cannot be stated or estimated. It is not just so many times harder than chromium or molybdenum steel. It is hard beyond all calculation.
"Once hardened, it cannot be machined, not even by tools made of itself. It won’t grind. Diamonds do not even scratch it. Cannon shells neither dent it nor scratch it. Chemicals have no effect. No heat we have been able to inflict on it has any softening effect.
"Two pieces welded together—other metal attaches to it readily—impart the hardness to the welding. Apparently, any metal, once hardened by contact with the hard metal, will impart the hardness to any metal with which it in turn comes into contact.
"The process is cumulative and endless, though, as I have said, it seems to require fifteen days. It is during this fortnight that the metal can be worked.
"Mr. Nadderly thinks that the hardness derives from atomic, not molecular processes, and that the impulse of hardness is imparted much as radium will affect metals with which it is placed in contact. It seems to be harmless, unlike radium, but—"
Boothby paused. He ran his gaze along the line of intent faces, down one side of the board table and up the other.
"The problem is this : Can we after only thirty days, long before we can be sure we know all its reactions, throw this metal into the balance against the Axis ?"

Boothby sat down. No one seemed to have expected such an abrupt ending, and it was nearly a minute before the chairman of the board cleared his throat and said :
"I have a telegram here from the Del-Air Corporation, which puzzled me when I received it last night, but which seems more understandable in the light of what Mr. Boothby has told us. The telegram is from the president of Del-Air. I will read it, if you please."
He read :
" ’We have received from the United States Air Command, European Theater, an enthusiastic account of some new engines which we dispatched overseas some thirteen days ago by air. Though repeatedly struck by cannon shells, the cylinder blocks of these engines sustained no damage, and continued in operation, These cylinders were bored from steel blocks sent from your plant twenty days ago. Please continue to send us this marvelous steel, which you have developed, and congratulations.’ "
The chairman looked up. "Well ?" he said.
"But it’s not probable," Boothby protested. "None of the alloy has been sent out. It’s up in the metallurgical lab right now."
He stopped, his eyes widening. "Gentlemen," he breathed, "is it possible that any metal, which has been in contact with the super-hard steel for however brief a period, goes through the process of age-hardening ? I am thinking of the fact that the original ingot has twice at least been through an arc furnace, and that it has touched various other machines."
He stopped again, went on shakily : "If that is so, then our problem answers itself. We have been sending out super-steel."
He finished quietly, but jubilantly : "We can, therefore, only accept the miracle, and try to see to it that no super-tanks or super-machines fall into the hands of our enemies."

After thirty days, the metal impulse was flowing like a streak. In thirty more days it had crossed the continent and the oceans myriad times.
What happens when every tool in a factory is turning out two hundred and ten thousand different parts, every tool is sharing with its product the gentle impulse of an atomically generated force ? And when a thousand, ten thousand factories are affected.
That’s what happened.
Limitless were the potentialities of that spread, yet there was a degree of confinement. The area between the battle forces in Europe was like an uncrossable moat.
The Germans retreated too steadily. It was the Allies who salvaged abandoned Nazi trucks and tanks, not the other way around. Bombing of cities had stopped. There were no cities.
The gigantic air fleets roared over the German lines, and shed their bombs like clouds of locusts. By the time anything was touched by the atomic flow, the battle line had advanced a mile or more ; and the Allies had the affected area.
Besides, far more than ninety percent of the bombs were from storerooms in that mighty munitions dump which was England. For years the millions of tons of matériel had been piling up underground. It was brought up only when needed, and almost immediately and irretrievably exploded.

The few affected bombs didn’t shatter. But no one, no German had time to dig them out of the ground.
Day after day after day, the impulse in the metal crept along the battle front, but couldn’t cross over.
During those first two months, the Vulcan office staff was busy. There were vital things to do. Every customer had to he advised that the metal must be "worked" within a certain set time. Before that paper job was completed, the first complaints had started to come in.
Boothby only grinned when he read them. "Metal too hard, breaking our tools—" That was the gist.
"They’ll learn," he told the third board meeting he attended. "I think we should concentrate our attention on the praises of the army and navy. After all, we are now as never before working hand-and-glove with the government. Some of these battle-front reports are almost too good to be true. I like particularly the frequent use of the word ’irresistible.’ "
It was two days after that that his mind, settling slowly to normalcy from the excitement of the previous ten weeks, gave birth to a thought. It was not a complete thought, not final. It was a doubt that brought a tiny bead of perspiration out on his brow, and it prompted him to sit down, a very shaken young man, and draw a diagrammatic tree.
The tree began with a line that pointed at the word "Vulcan." It branched out to "Factories," then to other factories. It branched again, and again and again, and again and again and again.
It raced along railway tracks. It bridged the seas in ships and planes. It moved along fences and into mines. It ceased to have a beginning and an end. There was no end.
There was no color in Boothby’s face now. His eyes behind their owlish spectacles had a glazed look. Like an old man, he swayed up finally from his chair, and, hatless, wandered out into the afternoon. He found his way home like a sick dog, and headed straight for his workroom.
He wrote letters to Nadderly, to the chairman of the board of Vulcan, and to the chief army and navy agent attached to the enormous steel and iron works. He staggered to the nearest mailbox with the letters, then returned to his work room, and headed straight for the drawer where he kept his revolver.
The bullet splashed his brain out over the floor.

Ogden Taft, chairman of the board, had just finished reading the letter from Boothby when the urgent call came for him to come to the smelter.
The letter and the call arriving so close upon one another confused him concerning the contents of the letter. Something about—
Startled, he hurried down to answer the urgent call. An array of plant engineers were there, waiting for him. They had cleared all workmen away from one of the electric arc furnaces. An executive engineer explained the disaster.
Fumbling Boothby’s letter, alternately stunned and dismayed, the chairman listened to the chilling account.
"But it’s impossible," he gasped finally. "How could the ore arrive here super-hard ? It came straight by lake boat from the ore piles at Iron Mountain."
None of the engineers was looking at him. And in the gathering silence, the first glimmer of understanding of what was here began to come to Ogden Tait. He remembered some of the phrases from Boothby’s letter : ". . . two million tons of steel and iron sent out in two and one half months . . . spread everywhere . . . no limit—"
His brain began to sway on its base, as the landslide of possibilities unreeled before it. New tracking, Boothby had mentioned, for the interior of the mines. Or new ore cars, or new—
Not only new. Newness didn’t matter. Contact was enough ; simple, momentary contact. The letter had gone on to say that—
In a blank dismay, he brought it up in his shaking fingers. When he had reread it, he looked up dully.
"Just what," he said vaguely, "in as few words as possible, will this mean ?"
The executive engineer said in a level voice :
"It means that in a few weeks not a steel or iron plant in the United Nations will be in operation. This is Juggernaut with a capital Hell."

It is the people who are not acquainted with all the facts who are extremists. In this group will be found the defeatists of 1940 and the super-optimists of 1943. Careless of logistics, indifferent to realities partially concealed for military reasons, they blunt their reasons and madden their minds with positivities.
In this group were Boothby and the engineers of the Vulcan Steel & Iron Works ; and, until he arrived in Washington, the day after sending a dozen terrified telegrams, in this group also was Ogden Tait, chairman of the Vulcan board.
His first amazement came when the members of the war-planning board greeted him cheerfully.
"The important thing," said the Great Man, who was chairman of that board, "is that there be no morale slump. I suggest that all the iron ore and metal that is still workable be turned into peace-time machinery, particularly machinery for farm use, which must be heavy as well as strong. There will always be a certain amount of unaffected ore and scrap ; and, since any machinery, once completed, will endure forever, it should not take long to supply all the more essential needs of the nation."
"But—but—but—" stammered Ogden Tait. "The w-war !"
He z saw, bewildered, that the men were smiling easily. A member glanced at the Great Man.
"May I tell him ?"
He was given permission. He turned to Ogden Tait.
"We have generously," he said, "decided to share our secret and wonderful metal with the Axis. Even now our planes are hovering over German and Japanese mines, ore piles, factories, dropping chunks of super-hard steel."
Ogden Tait waited, For the first time in his long, comfortable life, he had the feeling that he was not being very bright. It was a radical thought.
The member was continuing : "In a few months, what remains of the Axis steel industry, after our past bombings, will suspend operations."
He paused, smiling.
"But," Ogden Taft pointed out, "they’ll have had three months production while we—"
"Let them have their three months," the member said calmly. "Let them have six months, a year. What do you think we’ve been doing this last few years ? You bet we have. We’ve been building up supplies. Mountains, oceans, continents of supplies. We’ve got enough on hand to fight two years of continuous battle.
"The Germans, on the other hand, cannot get along for a single month without fresh munitions.
"The war is accordingly won."
The Great Man interjected at that point : "Whatever prank of fate wished this Juggernaut upon us has also solved the peace forever. If you will think about it for a moment, you will realize that, without steel, there can be no war—"
Whatever prank of fate ! . . . A hand reaching out of nothingness into Pete Creighton’s living room . . . deliberately dropping an ingot of steel.


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.



He was shocked but not surprised when he saw that the man was only a few inches thick…

What cosmic irony had brought the Hope of Man back to Earth, scant hours before the ship’s utter destruction ? What forces had twisted its crew into nightmare caricatures ? For the answers, Hewitt risked the future of the race, millenia distant—beyond the farthest star !

AVERILL HEWITT hung up the phone, and repeated aloud the message he had just been given : "Your spaceship, Hope of Man, is entering the atmosphere of Earth."
The words echoed and re-echoed in his mind, a discordant repetition. He staggered to a couch and lay down.
Other words began to join the whirl­pool of meaning and implication that was the original message : After six years . . . the Hope of Man . . . after six years, just about the time it should be approaching one of the Centauri sun . . . re-entering the atmosphere of Earth . . .
Lying there, Hewitt thought : And for ten years I’ve lived with the knowledge that our sun is due to show some of the characteristics of a Cepheid Variable—within months now !
Momentarily, the memory distracted him. His mind went back over the ridi­cule that had been heaped on him. Scien­tists had rejected his evidence without giving him a hearing. When he had sent his new instruments to an observatory in a sealed crate, they had been sent back with the seal unbroken. A famous astron­omer commented that the sun was not a Cepheid Variable ; and with that icily withdrew from the controversy.
In reply, Hewitt had pointed out that he hadn’t said the sun was a Cepheid Variable. He had merely stated it would show some of its characteristics. Actually, the ultimate effect would be that of a baby nova.
The phrase captured the headlines, but only as a one-week wonder. Gradually, he’d realized that the human race could not imagine its own destruction. He de­cided to use his private fortune to send a ship with colonists to remote Alpha Centauri.
Thinking back to those days, Hewitt recalled his efforts to find people who would go.
The problem had been brand-new. The newly-invented atomic space drive, al­ready widely used for journeys among the planets, had yet to be tried on an interstellar trip.
Years ago, the Space Patrol had re­quested funds to make an exploratory journey, but the money had not even yet been appropriated.
Nobody actually put on much pressure. The prodigious task of exploiting the solar planets was barely begun.

THE first man who volunteered to go on the Hope of Man was Armand Tellier, a thin-faced young man with too-trans­parent skin and pale blue eyes.
He had majored in physics at the Sor­bonne. He had said, "My wife and I feel that if we give ten years to this trip, I’ll be an authority on Einsteinian physics when I get back."
He emphasized the "get back" ever so slightly.
Hewitt had pretended not to hear the qualification. It was enough for him if they were out of the solar system when the sun underwent the changes he had predicted.
Tellier was speaking again. "You un­derstand," he said, "I’m making this journey because you have had the finan­cial strength to install an atomic pile. That means acceleration can be continu­ous. But–" he paused to emphasize his point ; his eyelids flickered— "I must have authority to maintain acceleration to the halfway point. I must have an opportunity to make a study of what happens when our ship approaches the speed of light."
Hewitt frowned at the floor of his study. He knew what he intended to say in substance. At thirty-eight he still wor­ried about just how he should word it. In the end he was blunt. "You can have the authority, on one condition."
The pale blue eyes grew intent. "What is that ?"
"Your wife must be with child at the time of take-off."
There was a long pause ; then : "I’m sure," said Tellier in a formal voice, "that we are prepared to make even that sacri­fice to further my career."
He departed. In describing him to his wife that night, Hewitt called him a cold fish.
"Like you are now, Averill ?" she said.
She was a dark-haired beauty with eyes that had starry glints in them. The stars were hard and bright, as she looked at him across the dinner table.
Hewitt almost laughed. Then he stared at her more intently. Finally he sighed, and put down his knife and fork. "I’ve seen this coming," he said.
She said bitterly, "You’ve made a fool of all of us with this prediction of destruc­tion of the solar system. I can’t take it any longer."
Hewitt said wretchedly, "I’ll make a settlement, but I must have the children. I want to send them along."
She said in an uneven tone, "The chil­dren go with me. I’ll take a lower settle­ment."
"No !"
She was trembling. The stars in her eyes were dulled. "If you don’t let me have the children without a fight, I’ll take you to court. I’ll tie up your money by legal procedures. You won’t be able to finish building the ship."
Silence ; then : "You win, Joan."
She started to cry. He saw that she hadn’t expected him to choose the ship instead of her.
One newspaper reported the next day :
"BABY NOVA" MAN TO BE DIVORCED. But —the papers also described Tellier’s reasons for wanting to go on the journey. As a result seven young scientists and their wives were stimulated to make the "sacrifice." And then in one week three visionaries came from different parts of the country. Each separately described how he had had a vision of Sol flaring up and engulfing Earth. That was not the way it would be, but Hewitt refrained from enlightening them. In his presence the wives separately expressed themselves as willing to carry out their share of the bargain.
A youthful soldier of fortune turned up with a young blonde who purported to be his wife. Hewitt did not require a wedding certificate. A doctor, a member of a narrow sect, said that he and his wife had decided that a medical man ought to go along. "The moment," he said, "that we realized the need, I knew it was my duty to go."
When no experienced space crewmen volunteered for the journey, Hewitt ran want ads offering fabulous wages. Five young couples responded. They didn’t seem to realize the money would have no value where they were going.
There was only one reply to Hewitt’s ad for a licensed spaceship commander. A grizzled fifty-year-old came, bringing a young girl with him. He introduced himself as Mark Grayson, and the girl as his ward, Juanita Lord. His enthusiasm was tremendous. "I’ve dreamed all my life of commanding the first ship to another star. If you accept me I plan to marry Juanita. She’s very anxious to go, and of course she loves me very much. Isn’t that right, dear ?"
The girl nodded vigorously. Hewitt blinked at her, shocked in spite of himself. He started to protest, "But she’s only a—" He stopped, gulping. He said doubt­fully, "There’s the matter of legal age. I question whether any court would give you two permission under such circum­stances."
"I’m eighteen," said Juanita earnestly. She added plaintively, "I know I look young, but don’t think I’m not grown up."
She was a startlingly pretty girl. She looked twelve or fourteen, at most. Hewitt stiffened himself. He said slowly, "It would be inadvisable for publicity reasons, for—"
He stopped himself. He thought, What am I saying ? The future of the race is at stake. Besides, I’m actually saving her life.
Aloud, he said, "You’re hired."
The spaceship, Hope of Man, bound for Alpha Centauri, had lifted up from the soil of Earth on April 30th, 2072 A.D., with thirty-eight people aboard.
Hewitt had stayed behind. He had con­sidered that his fight was just begin­ning . . .

HIS BITTER reverie ended as the phone began to ring again. He climbed off the couch ; and as he went to answer, he thought, I’ll have to go aboard and try to persuade them. As soon as they land, I’ll—
This time his caller was an official of the Space Patrol. Hewitt listened shakily, trying to grasp the picture the other was presenting. It had proved impossible to communicate with those aboard, and the ship was now approaching the Earth ap­parently in a great descending spiral, be­cause of the Earth’s revolution, but actu­ally in a straight-line course.
"We’ve had men in spacesuits at both observation ports, Mr. Hewitt. Naturally, they couldn’t see in, since it’s one-way-vision material. But they pounded on the metal for well over an hour, and received no response."
Hewitt hesitated. He had no real com­ment to make.
He said finally, "How fast is the ship going ?"
"About a thousand miles an hour."
Hewitt scarcely heard the reply. His mind was working faster now. He said, "I authorize all expense necessary to get inside. I’ll be there myself in an hour."
As he headed for his private ship, he was thinking, If I can get inside, I’ll talk to them. I’ll convince them. I’ll force them to go back.
He felt remorseless. It seemed to him that, for the first time in the history of the human race, any means of compulsion was justified.

TWO hours later, he said, "You mean, the airlock won’t open ?"
He said it incredulously, while standing inside the rescue ship, Molly D., watching a huge magnet try to unscrew the outer hatch of the Hope of Man. Reluctantly, Hewitt drew his restless mind from his own private purpose. He thought, There must be something seriously wrong.
Instantly, he felt impatient, unwilling to accept the need to adjust to the possibility that there had been trouble aboard. He said urgently, "Keep trying ! It’s obvious­ly stuck. That lock was built to open in less than two minutes."
He was scarcely aware of how com­pletely the others had let him take control of rescue operations. In a way, it was natural enough. The Molly D. was a com­mercial salvage vessel, which had been commandeered by the Space Patrol. Now that Hewitt was aboard, the representa­tive of the Patrol, Lieutenant Commander Mardonell, had assumed the role of ob­server. And the permanent captain of the vessel took instructions, as a matter of course, from the man paying the bills.
More than an hour later, the giant magnet had turned the round lock-door just a little over one foot. Pale, tense and astounded, Hewitt held counsel with the two officers.
The altimeter of the Molly D. showed ninety-one miles. Lieutenant Commander Mardonell made the decisive comment about that. "We’ve come down about nine miles in sixty-eight minutes. At that rate we’ll strike some high landmark in ten hours."
It was evident that it would take much longer than that to unscrew the thirty-five yards of thread on the lock-door at one foot per hour.
Hewitt considered the situation angrily. He still thought of this whole boarding problem as a minor affair, an irritation. "We’ll have to get a big drill," he said. "Cut through the wall."
He radioed for one to be sent ahead. But, even with the full authority of the Space Patrol behind him, two and a half hours went by before it was in position. Hewitt gave the order to start the power­ful drill motor. He left instructions : "Call me when we’re about to penetrate."
He had been progressively aware of exhaustion, as much mental as physical. He retreated to one of the ship’s bunks and lay down.
He slept tensely, expecting to be called any moment. He turned and twisted, and, during his wakeful periods, his mind was wholly on the problem of what he would do when he got inside the ship.
He awoke suddenly and saw by his watch that more than five hours had gone by. He dressed with a sense of disaster. He was met by Mardonell.
The Space Patrol officer said, "I didn’t call you, Mr. Hewitt. Because when it became apparent that we weren’t going to get in, I contacted my headquarters. As a result we’ve been getting advice from some of the world’s greatest scientists." The man was quite pale, as he finished, "I’m afraid it’s no use. All the advice in the world hasn’t helped that drill."
"What do you mean ?"
"Better go take a look."
The drill was still turning as Hewitt approached. He ordered it shut off, and with his mind almost blank examined the metal wall of the Hope of Man. It was penetrated—he measured it—to a depth of three-quarters of a millimeter.
"But that’s ridiculous," Hewitt pro­tested. "This metal was cast right here on Earth eight years ago."
Mardonell said, "We’ve had two extra drills brought up. Diamonds don’t mean a thing to that metal."
He added, "It’s been calculated that she’ll crash somewhere in the higher foot­hills of the Rockies. We’ve been able to pin it down pretty accurately, and people have been warned."
Hewitt said, "What about those aboard ? What about—" He stopped. He had been intending to ask, "What about the human race ?" He didn’t say it. That was a spe­cial madness of his own, which would only irritate other people.
Trembling, he walked over to a port­hole of the rescue ship. He guessed they were about fifteen miles above the surface of the earth. Less than two hours before crashing.
When that time limit had dwindled to twenty minutes, Hewitt gave the order to cast off. The rescue ship withdrew slowly from the bigger host, climbing as she went. A little later, Hewitt stood watching with a sick look on his face, as the round ship made its first contact with the earth below, the side of a hill.
At just under a thousand miles an hour, horizontal velocity, it ploughed through the soil, creating a cloud of dust. From where Hewitt and his men watched, no sound was audible, but the impact must have been terrific.
"That did it," said Hewitt, swallowing. "If anybody was alive aboard, they died at that moment."
It needed no imagination to picture the colossal concussion. All human beings in­side would now be bloody splotches against a floor, ceiling or wall.
Somebody shouted, "She’s through the hill !"
Hewitt said, "My God !"
An improbable thing had happened. The hill, made of rock and packed soil, thicker than a hundred ships like the Hope of Man, was sheared in two. Through a cloud of dust, Hewitt made out the round ship skimming the high valley beyond. She struck the valley floor, and once again there was dust. The machine did not slow ; showed no reaction to the im­pact.
It continued at undiminished speed on into the earth.

THE DUST cleared slowly. There was a hole three hundred feet in diameter, slanting into the far hillside. It began to collapse. Tons of rock crashed down from the upper lip of that cave.
The rescue ship had sunk to a point nearer the ground, and Hewitt heard plainly the thunder of the falling debris.
Gradually, the surface turmoil subsided. The Molly D. landed. Hewitt began numbly to issue orders that would begin the job of fencing in the danger areas. He thought of the problem as one that would be resolved by excavation. The Hope of Man had buried itself. It would have to be dug up.
He had the vague thought that the hard metal of the walls could have withstood the shock, and that the vessel might be reparable.
Rock and soil were still falling when a radio report arrived. A mountain had collapsed fifty miles away. There was a new valley, and somebody had been killed. Three small earthquakes had shaken the neighborhood.
For twenty minutes, the reports piled up. The land was uneasy. Fourteen more earthquakes were recorded. Two of them were the most violent ever known in the affected areas. Great fissures had ap­peared. The ground jumped and trembled. The last one had taken place four hundred miles from the first ; and they all lined up with the course of the Hope of Man.
Abruptly, there came an electrifying message. The round ship had emerged in the desert, and was beginning to climb upward on a long, swift, shallow slant.
Less than three hours later, the salvage ship was again clinging to the side of the larger machine. Its huge magnets twisted stubbornly at the great lock-door. To the half-dozen government scientists who had come aboard, Hewitt said : "It took an hour to turn it one foot. It shouldn’t take more than a hundred and five hours to turn it thirty-five yards. Then, of course, we have the inner door, but that’s a dif­ferent problem." He broke off. "Gentle­men, shall we discuss the fantastic thing that has happened ?"
The discussion that followed arrived at no conclusion.

HEWITT said, "That does it !"
Through the thick asbesglas, they watched the huge magnet make its final turn on the inner door. As they watched from behind the transparent barrier, a thick metal arm was poked into the air­lock, and shoved at the door. After strain­ing with it for several seconds, its opera­tor turned and glanced at Hewitt. The latter turned on his walkie-talkie.
"Come on back inside the ship. We’ll put some air pressure in there. That’ll open the door."
He had to fight to keep his irritation out of his voice. The outer door had opened without trouble, once all the turns had been made. There seemed no reason why the inner door should not respond in the same way. The Hope of Man was persisting in being recalcitrant.
The captain of the salvage vessel looked doubtful when Hewitt transmitted the order to him. "If she’s stuck," he ob­jected, "you never can tell just how much pressure it’ll take to open her. Don’t forget we’re holding the two ships to­gether with magnets. It wouldn’t take much to push them apart."
Hewitt frowned over that. He said finally, "Maybe it won’t take a great deal. And if we do get pushed apart, well, we’ll just have to add more magnets." He added swiftly, Or maybe we can build a bulkhead into the lock itself, join the two ships with a steel framework."
It was decided to try a gradual increase in air pressure. Presently Hewitt was watching the pressure gauge as it slowly crept up. It registered in pounds and atmospheres. At a fraction over ninety-one atmospheres, the pressure started rapidly down. It went down to eighty-six in a few seconds, then steadied, and began to creep up again. The captain barked an order to the engine room, and the gauge stopped rising. The man turned to Hewitt.
"Well, that’s it. At ninety-one atmos­pheres, the rubber lining began to lose air, and didn’t seal up again till the pres­sure went down."
Hewitt shook his head in bewilderment. "I don’t understand it," he said. "That’s over twelve hundred pounds to the square inch."
Reluctantly, he radioed for the equip­ment that would be needed to brace the two ships together. While they waited, they tried several methods of using ma­chinery to push open the door. None of the methods worked. Hewitt was startled, and for the first time let into his fore-consciousness an idea that had been at the back of his mind now for several days.
It had to do with Armand Tellier. Tel­lier had been intending to do some ex­perimenting, he recalled, uneasily. Care­fully, one by one, he enumerated the fan­tastic things that had happened. He felt himself turn pale with excitement. On the basis of that first glimmering picture, he estimated that it would take nine hun­dred atmospheres of pressure to force open the inner lock door of the Hope of Man.

IT REQUIRED just under nine hun­dred and seventy-eight.
The door swung open grudgingly. Hewitt watched the air gauge, and waited for the needle to race downward. The air should be rushing through the open door, on into the Centauri ship, dissipating its terrific pressure in the enormous cubic area of the bigger machine. It could sweep through like a tornado, destroying everything in its path.
The pressure went down to nine hun­dred and seventy-three. There it stopped. There it stayed. Beside Hewitt, a govern­ment scientist said in a strangled tone, "But what’s happened ? It seems to be equalized at an impossible level. How can that be ? Thai’s over thirteen thousand pounds to the square inch."
Hewitt drew away from the asbesglas barrier. "I’ll have to get a specially de­signed suit," he said. "Nothing we have would hold that pressure for an instant."
It meant going down to Earth. Not that it would take a great deal of time. There were firms capable of building such a suit in two days. But be would have to he present in person to supervise its construction.
As he headed for a landing craft, Hew­itt thought, All I’ve got to do is get aboard, and start the ship back toward Centaurus. probably have to go along. But that’s immaterial now. It was too late to build more colonizing ships.
He was suddenly confident that the en­tire unusual affair would be resolved swiftly. He had no premonition.
It was morning at the steel city when he landed. The news of his coming had preceded him ; and when he emerged from the spacesuit factory shortly after noon, a group of reporters were waiting for him. Hewitt gave them some crumbs of information, but left them dissatisfied.
As he headed for his own craft, he noticed that several men in uniform were waiting for him. They wore the uniform of the federal police. As Hewitt ap­proached they sauntered casually toward him. Something in their attitude warned him. He turned, and started back toward the factory. A paralyzer beam flashed. He fell, twisting in anguish.
The papers reported that he had "re­sisted arrest."


FOR TWENTY-FOUR hours, Hewitt lay in a jail bunk, and thought about incredible things.
The confinement seemed to have released his imagination, for his thoughts were on the wild side and partly, at least, unten­able. But he calmed down, and presently he was able to write his ideas in logical sequence. He told himself that he did so to clarify his own thinking. He made the following points :
The Hope of Man was not affected by the gravitational forces of Earth. It was moving through the solar system as an independent body.
Coming in from outer space the ship had intersected the path of the earth around the sun. In pursuing its straight course, it had passed through the outer rim of Earth, but it was Earth that moved away from it, not it away from Earth.
The tremendous hardness of the metal and the fact that the solid earth offered no obstacle whatever to its movement, sug­gested that the round ship had enormous mass. Hewitt hesitated at that point. He was beginning to think he might give the account to the press after all. He added : "The density is clearly out of all propor­tion to any known substance." He gave the air pressure as evidence. He hinted at matter density almost, though not quite, comparable to that found in the in­teriors of certain stars. He meant white dwarfs, like Sirius B. He meant neu­tronium. But now that he was consciously writing for publication, he did not say so.
He had a purpose in mind. It seemed to him that if he made this explanation properly, he would he freed to help in boarding the Hope of Man.
But now he had an unpleasant point to make. For a man who had predicted that the sun would destroy Earth, his next statement was loaded with dynamite—for himself. Nevertheless, he finally wrote firmly :
"If the robot control is responsible for the ship’s return, then it will still be in operation. It will accordingly start edging the Hope of Man over, so that the two bodies will presently meet again. We cannot reasonably expect that its passage will once more be limited to a shadow sur­face penetration. The ship may go down to the magma. I need hardly point out that an irresistible hundred-yards-in-dia­meter body may cause major planetary convulsions."
On reading that over, he realized it would shock the world. Other people would not take his attitude that, since such a disaster would happen later than the greater catastrophe of the baby Nova, it was a matter for concern because the ship might be destroyed. To them, the danger from the ship, not to it, would be important. Mobs might well try to lynch the owner of the vessel.
Shuddering, Hewitt tore up his account and burned it. He was still shivering at what he considered his narrow escape when his lawyer came. It seemed there would be due process of law. Meanwhile, habeas corpus, bail, freedom. The govern­ment, it seemed, wasn’t even certain it had a case against him. Somebody had acted hastily.
Several civil suits had been filed. People were suing him for damage to their property. Somebody had owned the moun­tain that had become a valley. Nearly a dozen people claimed to have been hurt. Hewitt ordered that all claims should be fought by every device of the law. Then he collected the specially-built spacesuit, and headed once more for the Molly D.
More than an hour was spent in test­ing. Rut at last a magnet drew shut the inner door of the Hope of Man. Then the air pressure in the connecting bulkhead was reduced to one atmosphere. Hewitt, arrayed in his new, motor-driven space­suit, was then lifted out of the salvage ship into the bulkhead by a crane.
The door locked tight behind him. Air was again pumped into space. Hewitt watched the suit’s air-pressure gauges carefully as the outside pressure was grad­ually increased to nine hundred and seven­ty-three atmospheres. When, after many minutes, the suit showed no signs of buckling, he edged it forward in low gear and gently pushed open the door of the big ship.
A few seconds later he was inside the Hope of Man.
The change had come at the instant he rolled into the ship. The difference was startling. From outside, the corridor had looked bright and normal.
He was in a ghastly gray-dark world. Several seconds went by as he peered into the gloom. Slowly, his eyes became accustomed to the dim lighting effect.
Six years had gone by since be had last been aboard the ship. Even in that half-night, he was struck by a sense of small­ness
He was in a corridor which he knew pointed into the heart of the ship. It was narrower than he remembered it. Not just a little narrower : a lot. It had been a broad arterial channel, especially constructed for large equipment. It was not broad any more.
Just how long it was he couldn’t see. Originally, it had been just under three hundred feet in length. He couldn’t see that far. Ahead, the corridor faded into impenetrable shadow.
It seemed not to have shrunk at all in height. It had been twenty feet high, and it still looked twenty.
But it was five feet wide instead of fifteen. It didn’t look as if it had been torn down and rebuilt. It seemed solid, and, besides, rebuilding was out of the ques­tion. The steel framework behind the facade of the wall was an integral part of the skeleton of the ship.
He had to make up his mind, then, whether he would continue into the ship. And there was no doubt of that. With his purposes, he had to.
He paused to close the airlock door. And there he received his second shock.
The door distorted as it moved. That was something else that had not been visi­ble from outside. As he swung it shut, its normal width of twelve feet narrowed to four.
The change was so monstrous that perspiration broke out on his face.
And the first, sharp, tremendous realiz­ation was in his mind. But that’s the Lorentz-Fitzgerald contraction theory effect !
His mind leaped on to an even more staggering thought : Why, that would mean this ship is traveling at near the speed of light.
He rejected the notion utterly. It seemed a meaningless concept.
There must be some other explanation.

CAUTIOUSLY, he started his ma­chine forward on its rubber wheels. The captain’s cabin was on this floor, and that was his first destination.
As he moved ahead, the shadows opened up reluctantly before him. Presently he made out the door of the cabin. When he was ten feet from it, he was able to see the ramp in the distance beyond.
The reappearance of things he remem­bered relieved him. What was more im­portant, they seemed to be at just about the right distance. First the airlock, then the captain’s cabin, then the ramp.
The corridor opened out at the ramp, then narrowed again ; and in the distance beyond was the second airlock.
Everything looked eerily cramped be­cause of the abnormal narrowing effect. But the length seemed to be right.
He expected the door of the captain’s cabin to be too narrow for his spacesuit to get into. However, as he came up to it, he saw that its width was as he re­membered it.
Hewitt nodded to himself. Of course, even by the Lorentz-Fitzgerald theory, that would be true. Contraction would be in the direction of flight.
Since the door was at right angles to the flight-line, the size of the doorway was not affected. The door jamb, how­ever, could probably be narrower.
The jamb was narrower. Hewitt had stopped his suit to start at it. Now, he felt himself pale with tension.
It doesn’t fit, he told himself. Like the Mall, it’s narrower only by a factor of three, whereas the air pressure varies nine hundred seventy-three to one.
Once more, he assured himself that the explanation could not possibly include the famous contraction theory. Speed was not a factor here. The Hope of Man was practically at rest, whatever its ve­locity might have been in the past.
He stopped that thought. I’m wasting time. I’ve got to get going.
Acutely conscious again that this was supposed to be a quick exploratory jour­ney, he shifted the softly spinning motor into gear, and moved forward through the doorway.
As he rolled all the way into it, he saw that Captain Mark Grayson sat at a long, extremely narrow desk. He seemed to be writing something.
The grizzled space veteran sat with un­natural steadiness. He did not look up as the machine rolled nearer, though he faced the door, and was in a position to catch the slightest movement from the tops of his eyes.
It was hard in that shadowy light to see what he was doing. His eyes seemed to be looking fixedly down at a sheet of paper. But his hand, holding the pen, did not move.
Slowly, watchfully, Hewitt rolled a­round the desk. He was shocked, but no longer so desperately surprised when he saw that the man was only a few inches thick. Seen in front view, he looked unchanged.
From the side, he was a tall man with a head and body that looked like a cari­cature of a human being, such as might be seen in a badly distorted circus mir­ror.
Right then and there, Hewitt suspended his judgment. Some of the phenomena suggested the Lorentz-Fitzgerald effect. Even the weird light could be the result of normally invisible radiation projected to visible frequency levels.
But that was as far as it went. Most of what he had seen could only be ex­plained if the ship were traveling simul­taneously at several different speeds.
He was beside, and slightly behind Grayson now. He had to strain his eyes to see what was on the paper. He read :

Tellier is exhilarated. He informed me that yesterday, according to the instruments, we had attained a velocity of 177,000 miles per second. Today, though the pile is even hotter, there has been no change in our registered speed. He admits he can only guess at what has happened.

Whatever had happened at that moment must have struck like a secret knife. Gray­son had no advance warning ; his writing had been cut off in mid-word. He sat here now, a mute witness to the reality that disaster could catch a man between heartbeats.
Hewitt began his retreat from the control room. His mind now was almost blank.
Nothing he could think of could compare with the fantastic reality.

AS HE raced his thick, tank-like suit along the corridor, Hewitt consciously braced himself, consciously accepted the abnormality of his environment. He grew more observant, more thoughtful —and more tense.
He came to the place where the corridor divided. He slowed. One side, he knew, curved up a spiral ramp to the living quarters of the crew. The other went down to the engine room, one of the storerooms and the apartments of the scientists.
There were no stairways or elevators in the Hope of Man. It had been intended that people should use their muscles for every necessary movement.
Hewitt headed down. As he reached the third floor down, and glanced along that corridor, he saw that a man was standing at one of the entrances in the lower store­room.
His posture was as unchanging as Cap­tain Grayson’s. Ills eyes were wide and staring : they seemed to glare straight at the motor-driven spacesuit. But neither the eyes nor the rest of the man’s body showed any reaction to Hewitt’s presence. His body, seen from the side, looked only inches in thickness. Because be was standing, he seemed even more inhuman than Grayson had been.
Hewitt recognized him as Draper, one of the scientists. Draper’s field was plant biology.
He found three more scientists standing in various postures at the entrance of the engine room. Since they did not all face in the direction of flight, they presented an amazing assortment.
One, seen from the front, was as thin as a post, a gaunt, incredible-looking crea­ture. Another was foreshortened from a side view. He simply seemed crippled. The third one resembled Captain Grayson and Draper ; his narrowness was through the thickness of his body.
Inside the engine room, Armand Tel­lier—a mere sliver of a man as seen from the side—was bending over a section of the instrument board. He stared down at it with unwinking eyes, and neither turned nor moved while Hewitt watched.
Dissatisfied, feeling he was missing something in this silent drama, Hewitt gave his attention to the engines. His first glance at the line of meters shocked him.
The pile was as hot as a hundred hells. The transformer needle was abnormally steady, for the colossal load it was bearing. The drive was carrying an energy flow of ninety out of a possible hundred.
The resistance to acceleration must be tremendous, for the accelerometer needle registered zero. As he glanced at the speedometer, Hewitt’s mind flashed back to what Captain Grayson had been writing in his logbook : “ . . . 177,000 miles per second . . . "
That was what the speedometer showed.
For the second time, Hewitt thought, "But surely that doesn’t mean it still—"
His mind refused to hold the thought.
Nevertheless, by the time he retreated from the engine room, his brain was be­ginning to relax. And part of the greater picture was forming there.
It would have to be discussed, thought about, clarified. Tremendously stimulated by the possibilities, but depressed by the death that was all around him, he started on what he intended to be a swift and routine round of the rest of the ship.
Mrs. Tellier sat in a chair with a child on her knee, a fixed smile on her face. Two scientists’ wives had been caught by immobility as they were taking dishes from the automatic dishwashing machine. They made an oddly life-like domestic tableau. The other children were in a large playpen, with several women sit­ting in chairs nearby, apparently watching them. All were distorted.
Upstairs, in the crew’s quarters, Hew­itt found not only the crewmen and their wives, but Warwick, the soldier of for­tune, Marie, his blonde wife, and Juanita Lord, the child bride of Captain Grayson. The girl looked older, and she had a sullen expression on her immobile face. War­wick had a gun in his hand, which he had evidently been cleaning. The shells were spilled out on his lap.
Despite the hideous distorting effect from the light and the one-third contrac­tion, the postures of those present were conventional. That puzzled Hewitt anew.
He had been trying to hold away from his consciousness the extent of the disas­ter that was here. Just for a moment it penetrated, in spite of himself. Just for an instant it hurt like fury. He had a brief but unnerving sense of guilt. From the corner of one eye, he saw a group of children. All were sitting or standing in the various positions that must have been the results of their final movements.
Hastily, not looking directly at the youngsters, Hewitt guided his machine out into the corridor. He was heading along it when he thought, One of those babies was in an extremely odd position.
He slowed down, disturbed. He oughtn’t to have been so squeamish. He should have taken a good look at the scene.
The only thing is, he told himself, I’ve got to get out of here. I can’t stop for a second look.
At the head of the ramp, he hesitated. He couldn’t go back without checking. Very pointed questions might be asked him. He’d better have the answers.


BACK he went to the crew’s quar­ters. The scene was unchanged. There were six children in one corner. They were all between two and three years old, he judged.
That was important because it gave some idea of how much time had actually gone by aboard the ship. At most, three and a half years. And yet the Hope of Man had been gone for six !
Unquestionably this ship had undergone some of the contraction effects pre­dicted by the Lorentz-Fitzgerald theory. Even time had been telescoped.
It was a point Hewitt noted only in passing. Something else, something far more important—or so it seemed—ab­sorbed him. Four of the children were sitting on the floor amid a wilderness of toys. One child stood flat-footed, in an awkward position. The sixth had been caught in the act of getting to his feet.
Hewitt stared at the boy in utter fasci­nation. The sense of urgency in him was tremendous. It was time he was out of here.
But the youngster, in getting up, had got himself into an unusual position. He was balanced on the tip of one toe and the outspread fingers of one chubby hand. There he had frozen.
Almost blankly, Hewitt realized the truth. He had not, he saw, let his mind carry him far enough. The difference in air pressure, the immense tensile strength of the metal—these things had been but part of a greater whole.
There was a time difference also. These people lived one second while he lived nine hundred and seventy-three seconds. From their point of view, he was making his entire inspection of their ship in less than one second of their time.
He thought, They’re alive ! But they’re living so slowly compared to me that, even if I had a chance to listen to their heartbeats, I wouldn’t hear anything.
The question was, how could contact be established ? And, when it was, what good would it do ?
The uncertainty was still in his mind as he raced back to the airlock, and the Molly D.

DURING Hewitt’s absence from the salvage vessel, a great man had come aboard. He listened with the others to Hewitt’s account, and then remained si­lent and thoughtful through most of the discussion that followed. His presence had a subduing effect on the younger government scientists aboard. No one had very much to say. The attitude seemed to be, "You stick your neck out first !"
As a result, the conversation remained "close to the ground." Phrases like "a natural explanation" abounded. When he had listened to all he could stand, Hewitt said impatiently, "After all, these things have happened. What do we mean by natural ?"
He was about to say more, when the great man cleared his throat and spoke for the first time since he had been intro­duced. "Gentlemen, I should like to try to clear away the debris that has accumulated at the beginning of this obstacle course."
He turned to Hewitt. "I want to con­gratulate you, Mr. Hewitt. For the first time in history, the mythical observer—that mathematical oddity—has come to life. You have seen phenomena that, till now, have never been more than a set of equations."
Without any further preliminary, he launched into an explanation for what had happened that was similar to what Hewitt had written—and destroyed—in jail. It differed in that he also offered a theory to account for the fact that the drive of the Hope of Man was nearly full on, and that apparently the ship was traveling at very near the speed of light in its own zone of existence, as he put it, "in a sort of parallel time to now, this minute, this second !"
Further knowledge might, among other things, account for one fact. How had this zone succeeded in bringing the Hope of Man back to Earth when the ship had accelerated in the opposite direction ?
He broke off. "However, the time has come for a practical solution. I offer the following."
Duplicates of a carefully-written letter must be placed in the hands of Armand Tellier and Captain Grayson. The cir­cumstances would be described, and the men would be urged to cut off both the drive and the robot pilot. If this were not done within a certain time—taking into account the difference in time rate—it would be assumed that the letter had been misunderstood. At that point Hewitt would go aboard, shut off the robot and reverse the drive.
As soon as the Hope of Man had slowed to a point below the critical speed, per­sonal contact could be established. Long before that, of course, the truth of the account in the letters would have been established to the satisfaction of everyone aboard.
Hewitt frowned over the suggestions. He could think of no reason why they shouldn’t work. And yet, having been aboard that foreshortened, eerie ship, with its pile operating to the very limit of safety, its lopsided passengers moveless as in death, he had a feeling that some factor was being neglected.
He said slowly, "I’ll have to take along food and water, if I have to do the shut­ting off. This time difference could be­come very involved."
It was also decided that the Molly D. would cast off as soon as the letters were delivered. If it was later necessary to put him aboard again, it would connect up just long enough to do so, then once more it would pull clear, and stand by.

HEWITT helped prepare the letter. Then once more he was put into the mobile spacesuit. And again he crossed the threshold of the Hope of Man. As he moved through the outer doorway, something caught at his heart. He swayed in momentary nausea.
The feeling passed as quickly as it had come. He noted the reactions, and then without further incident he delivered one copy of the letter to Grayson and another to Tellier. He was greatly stimulated to notice that Grayson had finished writing the word "happened" during his absence. He could see no change, however, in the position of Tellier.
He returned to the Molly D. but did not wait for them to cast off. He headed for Earth, and his doctor. After a com­plete examination, he was pronounced, as the doctor phrased it, "One hundred per cent physically fit."
Relieved that his brief nausea had had no pathological basis, Hewitt set about clearing up his affairs. It had been decided to give those aboard the Hope of Man fifteen minutes (their time) to react to the letters. That would be about ten days, normal time.
Among other things, Hewitt, after some hesitation, called up Joan, and asked her if he could call on her. She refused.
"It wouldn’t be fair to the children," she said. "They were just beginning to live down the first publicity, and now there it is again."
Hewitt knew what she meant. Other young people were cruel. They taunted. They asked such questions as, "When is your old man going to fall into the sun ?"
It was all very silly, but it was devastating too.
Yet he stayed on the phone. There was a purpose on his mind. Life without her had been bitter and empty. It was a lone­ly world for a man with his obsession.
Hesitantly, dreading her reaction, he explained what was in his heart. He would have three more spacesuits constructed.
"We can all go aboard together," he said urgently. "The whole thing is really very simple. As soon as we’re on, I’ll reverse the engines. It won’t take long before we’re at a one-to-one relationship with those aboard. It’s a matter of reducing speed."
"Joan, you can’t just say no. You’ve got to give the children their chance to escape the holocaust. Beside that, a little ridicule is nothing. And, anyway, once we’re on the way to Centaurus, we don’t have to worry about what people think. Try to look on it as a colonizing ven­ture—"
There was a click in his ear.
" Joan !" He spoke sharply.
There was no answer. With trembling fingers, he dialed her number again. The phone at the other end rang and rang. Convinced, finally, that she wouldn’t even speak to him, he hung up. What hurt particularly was that she didn’t seem to have realized that this was their good-by. They would never see each other again.
He could have justified her action, but he made no attempt to do so.
He put his affairs in order, as a man might who expected to die. Promptly on the tenth day, he reported back to the Molly D., which was again attached to the larger vessel.
He had few doubts. With his armored suit, and his time-ratio advantage, he could dominate the situation aboard un­til he had reduced the ship’s speed to the point where he and it were at unity.
First of all, he would lock up the ship’s arsenal. He intended to search every per­son aboard. Individuals like Warwick, who played with weapons in their spare time, would receive special attention.
I’m not, Hewitt told himself, taking the slightest chance. These people are going to Centaurus whether they like it or not.
As he crossed into the airlock of the Hope of Man, a knife-like spasm of pain stabbed through his heart. It was so sharp, so agonizing, he almost fainted with nau­sea.
The shock staggered him, but—as it had the first time—the feeling passed.
Shaken, Hewitt crossed the inner threshold, and closed and locked the door that looked so normal from the outside, and so lopsided from the inside.
He found himself in the dim, gray-black world of the ship’s interior.
As he turned to head along that un­naturally narrow corridor, something grabbed his body from behind and squeezed it mercilessly. The sensation of being caught by a giant hand was so realistic that he tried to turn back toward the door.
The great hand began to slip. He had the feeling then of being squirted from a space that was too small for him into something—vast.
That was the last thing he remembered before blackness closed over him.

HE MUST have been unconscious only a few moments. When he opened his eyes, he saw that the suit was still in the process of turning toward the door.
In a moment it would smash against the hard metal of the lock.
He had an impression that something else was—different—but there was no time to notice what it was.
He grabbed hastily at the controls and applied the brakes. The suit stopped as if it had struck a brick wall. He reeled in his saddle, breathing hard, then re­covered his balance.
He thought tensely, It’s the effect of coming from normal space into the zone. The first time it didn’t bother me on the sense level. The second time I must still have been overbalanced from the first attempt, and so there was a moment of pain. This time—"
His mind poised. He felt his eyes grow large and round. With a kind of dreadful fascination, he stared at the closed airlock door.
It was no longer lopsided, but normal, just the way it would be if—
He whipped his machine around, and gazed wildly at the corridor. It was brightly lighted. The dim, eerie, shadowy effect was gone as if it had never been.
He noticed something else. The corridor was not narrow any more. He couldn’t tell exactly, but he guessed that it was fifteen feet wide, its original width.
The tremendous truth burst upon Hew­itt. He was no longer an observer of this scene.
He was part of it.
He also would now appear lopsided to another coming aboard for the first time. To himself, and to those caught as he was, he would be quite normal.
People affected by the Lorentz-Fitz­gerald phenomena were not aware of any difference in themselves. The contraction influenced their bodies and the light that came to their eyes—everything was equal­ly distorted.
Tensely, Hewitt remembered the sensation as of being squeezed. Readjustments within his body, unevenly distributed during the change. His front chang­ing faster than his back.
He shuddered with the memory of pain.
With an effort, Hewitt caught his scat­tered thoughts : I’ve got to get back on the Molly D. If I could get in here, I could also get out. I—
Out of the corner of one eye, he caught sight of the air-pressure gauges of his suit. The one that registered the inside pressure didn’t matter. It was at its norm of one atmosphere.
The gauge for outside pressure was also at one atmosphere.
The change was part and parcel of what had already happened. But actually see­ing it was a shock almost greater than anything that had yet occurred.
There was a sound farther along the corridor. Nine men debouched from the Captain’s cabin. Hewitt recognized War­wick among the group, and two members of the crew. He caught only a glimpse of their faces. They carried automatic pis­tols and paralyzers. They were intent on what they were doing, for none so much as glanced toward Hewitt.
They headed in a body towards the ramp. They were gone down it almost as they had come.
Behind them they left silence.
Hewitt was startled, and alarmed. So many weapons—for what ?
He had to get back to the Molly D. This situation was out of hand.
He turned anxiously, unlocked the in­ner door, and, using the hand-arm at­tachments of his suit, tried to pull it open.
It wouldn’t move. He strained at it, and pulled and twisted. But it wouldn’t budge.
Abruptly, he realized the truth. The time factor ! What had been a minute for him had been hours for the Molly D. Long ago, it had cast off. It would now be standing by, waiting to see what would happen.
He thought of launching himself in one of the lifeboats. He even turned to ma­nipulate the wall mechanism, started the ponderous outer door swinging and screwing shut. He was reaching with his mechanical hand for the valve that would let air into the airlock, and so equalize the pressure on the inner door. ’The moment the pressure was equal, the door would open.
At that point he stopped. He had a hideous thought : Now that I’m adjusted to this zone, I won’t necessarily go back to normal space. Where will I go ?
He couldn’t decide.
And besides, he thought, it’ll take time. Five minutes to close the outer door, and eight minutes to reverse the process, and launch the lifeboat.
That would be nearly nine days out­side.
He began to stiffen. For there was no turning back. He was committed to the big ship’s unnatural matter and energy state, irrevocably.


HEWITT grew calm and cool and grim. He was here to persuade a shipload of people to start again on the long journey to the Centauri suns. Or, if persuasion failed, to force them.
Or trick them.
The method was unimportant. Only the result counted.
I’ll have to hide, he told himself. I can’t reveal myself now, when I don’t know what’s going on. Besides, surprise might be an advantage in a crisis.
He knew just where to conceal himself. Having decided where he must go, he be­came conscious of the distance he had to cover. That made him anxious. Swiftly, he rolled along the corridor toward the ramp.
He was within a few yards of the captain’s cabin when it struck him that War­wick and the others must have been inside for a reason. They must have attacked Grayson before going down to the engine room.
There might be a guard inside, keep­ing an eye on the prisoner—and on the open doorway. He would have to run that gauntlet, or attack the guard.
Attack, he decided. He thought of it as an icy-cold logical decision. To be seen at this moment could be disastrous.
He manipulated the controls of one of the hand-arm attachments of the suit, raised it into striking position ; and paused to fix in his mind the arrangement of the cabin.
The pause also gave him time to re­member that a paralyzer could be used effectively against him even though he was in the suit. He pictured what it might do to the muscles of his eyes, cringed in anticipation ; and then put it out of his mind.
Attack, regardless.
Like a charging tank, the spacesuit raced forward. The tires squealed in pro­test, as he whipped it around and through the door. He was all the way inside be­fore he slowed. He was halfway across the room before he was able to stop.
He saw that Grayson was alone in the room. The captain lay on the floor, his hands and feet bound. His face was streaked with blood, and his clothes torn and twisted. His eyes were open. They stared at the spacesuit, widening.
Hastily, Hewitt backed out of the cabin and headed down the ramp. He reached the top balcony of the lower storeroom without incident. Quickly, he manipu­lated the release mechanism of the spacesuit.
The rubber separated with a wheezing sound. The two sections of the apparatus were driven apart to the limit of the bolts that connected them. Hewitt crawled out between two of the bolts, and a moment later stood on the floor on his own two feet.
He pushed the machine behind some packing cases, where it would not be vis­ible from the door. And then, without taking any other precautions, he swung out onto a section of the thick fence-type wire net that held different parts of the cargo in place.
The lower storeroom—like the upper one—was seven levels high. He had come in on the seventh balcony. Using the strong, woven fence, he climbed down to the floor ninety feet below.
Now what ?
He couldn’t wait. He realized that. Al­ready at least fifteen minutes had gone by since the change. Outside, that would be ten days.
All too swiftly, it would be twenty days, thirty, forty—many months. The time ration of 973-1 was no longer in his favor ; it was against him. The proportion was so monstrously great that even a few sec­onds might make the difference between success and catastrophe.
He lay near the door in the shelter of a big box. It was hot and stuffy. Very little air circulated among these piles of packing cases. Tense, anxious, bathed in perspiration, Hewitt examined his situ­ation.
It was not good. He had brought two paralyzers with him, but against a group of determined men, they wouldn’t be ef­fective. They couldn’t kill. They couldn’t even threaten death.
As his thought reached that point, a group of men walked noisily past the open doorway. Somebody was saying sav­agely, "Take these prisoners up to—" Hewitt wasn’t sure, but it sounded like Warwick’s voice. If that was so, then the prisoners were Tellier and the scien­tists who had remained loyal to him.
Hewitt came to his feet. He thought, I’ll give them half a minute to get started up the ramp. Then— He moved over to the door and peered out into the corri­dor.
A guard stood in front of the engine-room door.
Hewitt drew back hastily in dismay. The man’s head had been turned away, so he was still safe. But—a guard ! How could he ever hope to get near the en­gine room ?
Anger swelled inside him. What was the matter with Warwick ? His side had won, hadn’t it ? And as far as Warwick knew, the ship was light-years out in space. From whom did he expect trouble ? The man must he insane . . .
His fury died as swiftly as it had come, as the guard shouted something. Hewitt caught only part of what he said ; he was evidently speaking to someone inside the engine room : ". . . I don’t get it !"
Hewitt didn’t hear the answer. There was a pause ; then the guard spoke again, belligerently : "But I thought we were going to shut off the drive—"
A pause, then : ". . . letter ?"
Presently he added, "So we’re going to wait a few hours and see what’s going on—"
Silence, then grumpily, ". . . it doesn’t make sense to me !"
It made sense to Hewitt. Warwick had found the letter he had delivered to Tel­lier. The original purpose of the rebellion must have been to stop the ship and turn back to Earth ; but he had instantly guessed the possibilities of a much swifter return to the solar system.
Hewitt groaned inwardly. So he’s going to wait a few hours !
He felt stunned—because that was out of the question. There wasn’t that much time to play around with. One hour, pos­sibly. But not a second longer.
I’ve got to capture somebody, if possible win him to my side, and use him as a decoy to get near that guard.
He had to get into the engine room, and shut off that drive.
Galvanized, he edged out over the box­es, and began to climb up to the seventh balcony. It was harder going up than it had been coming down.
He reached the seventh balcony, and peered quickly out into the corridor, first one way, then the other. He didn’t really expect to see a sentry. But as he turned his head, he did see—
And was seen.
The guard was Juanita Grayson.

HEWITT’s first and greatest ad­vantage was that he was tensed, ready for action. He had told himself that, if he were seen, he would have no alternative but to attack.
He darted instantly out of his shelter. With paralyzer ready, eyes narrowed, lips compressed, he raced towards the girl.
He realized then that he had still an­other advantage. She was scared, and she had no training. Her eyes grew large with fright. Her hand, with the gun in it, came up shakily.
Hewitt stopped a dozen feet from her, and covered her. "Drop it !" he said. His voice was low but savage.
Her gun clattered to the floor.
She stood staring at him, and there was the incredulous beginning of recognition in her eyes. The fear changed. Stark un­belief replaced it.
She started to turn, started to run up the ramp. She staggered after three steps, and stopped. She looked back at his weapon with an expression of utter misery on her face. Slowly, she held up her hands. Standing there, she began to sway. Hewitt leaped forward and caught her as she fainted.
She was a dead weight in his arms, as he carried her rapidly back into the store­room.
He lowered her to the floor, and blew on her eyes and into her nostrils. Hurry ! he thought. His enormous anger was back. She would pass out on him at a time like this.
She stirred, and sighed like a tired child. For a few moments, then, she looked as she had when he had first seen her, not more than fourteen years old. She grew visibly older as she came awake. Her lips tightened ; her face hardened ; her expression grew sullen. She opened her eyes and stared up at him.
There was no fear in her now. She recognized him, and she didn’t expect to be hurt. She said, "That letter—it was true !"
What startled him was the fact that she had fainted. In spite of knowing about the letter, she had reacted to the sight of him as if his presence were a complete sur­prise.
He forgot that. He had his story ready, and that was all that mattered. Briefly, he described what had happened to the Hope of Man, how it had returned to Earth, and how in a few hours it would crash again into the planet, this time to be de­stroyed.
That last was true, but only in an oblique sense. Actually the sun was the danger. But she, like the others, didn’t believe in that. So she had to be frightened by something that she could believe in.
He saw that she was looking at him, her eyes ever so slightly narrowed. They were brown, he saw, and hostile. "You’re the person," she said in a low tone, "who made me marry an old man."
She flashed : "Don’t deny it. If it hadn’t been for you and your stupid ship, Mark would never have thought of marrying me."
There was some justice to her final accusation. But Hewitt had no time to discuss her problem. He cut her off. He said grimly, "Listen, the deadly thing about what I’ve told you is that we’ll only be able to rescue three people. You help me, and you’re one of them."
That caught her. Her eyes grew big. "What do you want me to do ?"
"We’ve got to shut off the drive," said Hewitt. "That’s first. If we don’t, the ship will crash. You’ve got to help me capture the guard at the entrance to the engine room."
Her eyes flashed with scorn. "I know who that is. One of those crackpots, al­ways spouting morality at you. But I’ll decoy him. He joined us, didn’t he ? That shows he’s no better than the rest of us."
It only showed that one of the religious visionaries had found the voyage drab. And so he had reinterpreted his dream about the sun destroying the earth, and fitted it in more closely with his current desires.
Hewitt helped the girl to her feet. "Let’s go !" he said. "You first."
As he followed her down the ramp, he wondered which of the three "crackpots" was on guard. For the life of him, he couldn’t recall what the sentry guarding the engine-room door had looked like. His one glance had been too quick for any identification. There had been a plump, genial individual named Mackarett, a younger, ascetic-looking man whose name was Rand, and a dark, intense person who called himself Andrew Sincere.
It turned out to be Mackarett, a little thinner, a little more sober-looking—and quite gullible. When Juanita shouted at him from the ramp, "Mr. Mackarett, quick—come !" he raced towards her.
When she turned and disappeared up the ramp, he followed her.
Hewitt was waiting around the first turn.

FOR a bare moment, the man acted as if he were going to fight, despite the gun that pointed straight at his face. His lips parted in a snarl. He start­ed to bring up his weapon.
Abruptly, his arm seemed to grow weak. His eyes glazed, and appeared to turn inward. He looked like a visionary seeing a very unpleasant vision. He mum­bled, "Mr. Hewitt, that letter—"
That was as far as he got. At that point, Hewitt stepped forward and deftly re­moved the automatic pistol from his nerve­less fingers. That seemed to shock Mack­arett even more. It was as if a momentary hallucination had come alive and touched him. The effect was out of all proportion to the reality. He collapsed to the floor, and lay there twisting and turning. Fi­nally, his mind must have started work­ing again. He looked up.
Before he could speak, Hewitt said, "Mackarett, there’s no time to waste. Listen !"
He told the same story he had told Juanita. Only three or four people could be taken off the ship immediately. The rest would have to stay aboard, wait for the ship to slow down, and then come back the long way.
He finished, "You’ve got to help me get into that engine room, and shut off the drive. Right away !"
Mackarett mumbled, "But Mr. Hewitt, Warwick is at one of the airlocks. He’s launching a lifeboat. He—"
"Now ?" said Hewitt.
"Yes, sir."
The first shock passed. Hewitt stiffened to an examination of the possibilities. With Warwick out of the way, his main opposition would be gone.
One thing seemed certain. Warwick would not find himself in normal space, adjusted to Earth. That process appeared to depend on a series of unbalancing ef­fects within the electronic and atomic structures of the affected object. A series, not just one ; it had taken three entrances to do the job for Hewitt.
He pictured Warwick forever caught into slow-time, and unaffected by the gravity of the Earth. He would have to use intricate machines to adjust his body to the complex velocity of Earth through space.
He couldn’t do it. He would die.
Hewitt was pale as he turned to Juanita. In a sense one man’s life didn’t matter. In a few months of outside time—hours here—the entire population of the planet of man’s origin would die in a holocaust of heat. Even the outer planets would be engulfed by waves of super-hot gases.
Believing that, he still hesitated. It was not easy to say, "This man must die, so that we can live !" Twice he parted his lips to say, "Damn Warwick !"
He didn’t say it. Instead, he asked, "Is anyone going with him ?"
Mackarett said, "Oh, he’s not going himself. He’s sending Tellier and one of the other scientists."
Hewitt swore.
That settled it. If he had hesitated about his enemy, he could not possibly be responsible for ensuring the death of a man who would be his ally.
"Juanita !"
"Yes ?"
"I want you to go upstairs, and see when they come back. Stay on the ramp, and just peek out, so you won’t be seen. The moment the lifeboat noses back into the airlock, rush down here and tell me !"
He added, "And if he isn’t back in fif­teen minutes after you get up there, come back and tell me anyway." At that time he would have to make up his mind. He ended, "Will you do that ?"
"Yes." But she did not move. Her face was white.
"What’s the matter ?"
"What are you going to do ?" she de­manded.
"Mackarett and I are going to seize the engine room."
Still she hesitated. There was misery in her eyes. Hewitt said, "Honey, please hurry . . . What’s the matter ?"
"Are you sure you’re going to take me ? I’m going to be one of those who gets taken off with you ?"
"You’re first," said Hewitt. "I swear it !"
Tears came to her eyes. "I’m ashamed !" she whispered. "I don’t want to be a de­serter. But I’ve got to get off this ship."
Hewitt said, "Hurry, please ! If we don’t make speed, nobody will get away !"
Her shame did not prevent her from starting off at a run.
To Mackarett, Hewitt said, "How many men are there in the engine room ?"
Hewitt broke open one of the auto­matics and, while Mackarett watched, removed all but one shell from the maga­zine. Silently, he handed the weapon over.
Mackarett accepted the gun warily. "Am I also going to be rescued ?" he asked.
Hewitt sighed. Ever since he had come aboard, he had felt as if he were moving in quicksand. It was the old story of human beings intent on themselves, resist­ing the larger purposes of others.
Men were hard indeed to save from disaster.
"Absolutely." He spoke the falsehood firmly.
"What about my wife and child ? Can I take them along ?"
Hewitt had been turning his mind away. The question caught him unprepared. Un­accustomed to lying, he was momentarily flustered. He had forgotten that a man would think of his family first.
For a fateful moment he hesitated, try­ing to think what this would do to his hastily fabricated story. He said at last, lamely, "Yes, they can come too."
Mackarett flashed, "You’re not sure. You didn’t answer fast enough."
Hewitt was beginning to recover. He said frankly, "You can see how I’ve been operating. I came aboard this ship, and found a revolution in full swing. I had to act fast, but I’m handicapped by the fact that I can offer rescue to three, possibly four people—I think four can be managed. I don’t really care who they are, but in each case it’s got to be someone who helps me. Now you come along and say, my wife and child, also. Let me be blunt. To me, only one thing matters. The drive has to be shut off."
He was feeling much more confident now. He went on, "Why not leave your wife and kid here ? They’ll be all right. But I need those two vacancies to offer as bribes to the men in the engine room."
Mackarett said, "If we can capture those two men, so that no promises are necessary, then can I take my family ?"
Under his breath, Hewitt cursed the man and his conditions. He had limited his lie as to how many could be rescued, because that was the only way he could put on the pressure. Now, he was being forced to use up his reserves faster than he had intended. But this was the critical moment.
He said, "Absolutely. I promise, on my word of honor."
He was sweating with anxiety. "For their sake, man ! We’re wasting time. You don’t realize how many hours are going by outside. Hurry, for heaven’s sake !"
Mackarett said, "I’ll take your word."


THE PLAN was for Mackarett to signal Hewitt when the crewmen were off guard. Before they could get over their surprise—or even be sure they were really threatened—Hewitt would rush in. Swiftly, the two men would be disarmed and tied up. And thus, in a few moments, the engine room would be conquered.
It was far indeed from being a perfect strategy. It involved risks—which he dis­missed even as he thought of them. Its great merit was surprise.
It’s got to work ! he told himself.
It did.
When the two crewmen—Pratt and Leichter—had been tied up, Mackarett took up his position as guard outside the door, and Hewitt set up the device that would automatically shut off the pile.
Presently, uneasily, he went to the door where he could see Mackarett. "No sign of her ?" he asked.
Mackarett shook his head.
Dissatisfied, Hewitt returned to his position at the pile. A dozen times, then, he fingered the lever that would begin to shut off the power. But each time he withdrew his hand.
He knew what it was. In spite of his conviction that all means were justified, actually he could not knowingly be re­sponsible for the death of another human being. The very extent of what he had done, and tried to do, during the past ten years, showed how strong was his motiva­tion in that direction.
He had an obsession to preserve life, not destroy it. He could lie, steal and cheat for that purpose, but he could not kill. The pressure of that was so powerful that even to think of fighting it was to realize how hopeless such a fight would be.
Restlessly, he went again to the door. Mackarett saw him and said, "What’s keeping that girl ? She’s driving me crazy !"
But he did not suggest that the pile be shut down, anyway. It struck Hewitt that this odd individual, who had come on the voyage because of some kind of hallucina­tory experience—this man also did not think of dealing death to others to gain his own ends.
Even Juanita, embittered though she was, still little more than a teen-ager, had suffered a qualm of conscience.
Thought of the girl reminded him that she had left Grayson. He shook his head, uneasily. It was unfortunate. She would have to make a choice between two men—Grayson and himself. Every woman on this tremendous journey would have to bear children.
Mackarett said, "Here she comes !"
Hewitt jumped, and went back to the in­strument board. He stood, waiting.
In a moment he would have to make up his mind. Tensely, he hoped that her news would be that Tellier was back.
He heard Mackarett speak to the girl. Then there was silence. Juanita said something Hewitt didn’t catch, her tone was so low. Then more silence.
Hewitt was astounded at the delay. Didn’t these two realize ? He turned toward the door, and shouted angrily, "Hurry up ! For heaven’s sake !"
At that, she came through the door. Her face was the color of lead. Hewitt, on the verge of yelling at her again, swallowed his anger. "What’s the matter ?" he asked.
There was a sound at the door. For a fateful moment, Hewitt glared over the girl’s shoulder at the men who were plung­ing into the room. Then, in a spasm of energy, he tried to do three things at once.
He started to turn back to the control board. He grabbed awkwardly with one hand for the lever that would shut off the drive. With the other hand, he clawed at his own weapon.
A paralyzer beam caught him in the shoulder, with all his actions still unfin­ished. He went down, cursing, his muscles twitching : He heard the clatter of his own paralyzer on the floor. Somebody kicked it out of his reach.
Through a blur, he saw Juanita Gray­son. "I’m so sorry !" she sobbed.
She was cut off by Warwick, harshly. "What are you sorry about ? You didn’t do anything." He turned to Hewitt with a sneer. "I saw her peeking around the corner of the ramp, and there was some­thing about her that made me suspicious. I got it out of her, by heaven !"
Hewitt groaned inwardly. It was an old, old story. Too many people were not just weak or strong of character. They wa­vered between the two. And it always showed.
As a result, his cause was lost, unless—

A FEW minutes later, Warwick said violently, "What do you mean only four can be rescued ? Do you take me for a simpleton ? If four, why not forty ? What are you trying to pull off ?"
He was a blond young giant with sea-blue eyes. His face was twisted with sus­picion as he went on : "Listen, Hewitt, I don’t get what’s going on. Tellier was out just now in the lifeboat. He practically had to use a telescope to see our sun. We’re just about half a light-year from Proxima Centauri. This ship must be in both places at once for you to have got aboard. Is that the explanation ?"
"It’s the zone—" Hewitt began. He broke off. "Proxima is that close ?"
Not for the first time since the Hope of Man had come back to the Earth’s at­mosphere, he felt staggered. His picture of the "zone," never very clear, suffered another change. He had found it difficult, if not impossible, to imagine a "zone" ac­tually traveling far in excess of the velocity of light. And yet, the indications were that the speed had been light-years in a day—which only made it more difficult to think of it as "speed" or "movement."
Most of the evidence seemed to be in now. According to Grayson’s logbook, the ship had ceased registering acceleration at 177,000 miles a second. That fitted with the one-to-three telescoping effect he had observed when he first came aboard.
It didn’t fit in with a 973-1 atmospheric pressure difference. It didn’t fit with the matter density that had enabled the ship to penetrate the Earth’s crust. Those more spectacular phenomena could only have occurred normally at a velocity so close to that of light-speed that the differ­ence would be hard to measure by any known methods.
Was it possible the Hope of Man had continued accelerating in the zone ? That might account for the fact that it was act­ing as if it were traveling at two different speeds at the same time.
On that basis, assuming the existence of the "zone," it was possible to conceive of the Hope of Man "simultaneously" oc­cupying a position in normal space near the Centauri suns, and, four light years away, another position in the zone.
It would not, of course, be in two places at the same time with respect to the same observer. According to Einsteinian physics, there was no such thing as identical instant of time for more than one observer. To Hewitt, the ship was—or had been—in the solar system. To the people aboard, it was out in space.
Hewitt shook his head wonderingly.
"But if that’s how it is," he said aloud, half to himself, "it would mean—"
He caught himself, and pleaded, "War­wick, shut off the drive ! Even as we talk here, hours are going by outside."
Warwick was cold. "You can’t fool me. It’ll be at least a year before the Earth’s orbit could again intersect the orbit of the ship. In the letter—which you swear to—you say the ship is only traveling at ten miles an hour. At that speed, it can’t catch up with the. Earth, which moves through space at around eighteen miles a second."
He ended angrily. "What have you got to say to that, Hewitt ?"
Hewitt said, "While you were talking, fifteen hours went by. Man, man, use your head."

HE FELT hopeless. At this final hour, he was up against the wall of another man’s ignorance. Warwick’s training was so limited, it did not strike him that the ten-mile apparent speed was in addition to Earth’s orbital velocity. Explaining the details to War­wick could only lead to more questions. Nevertheless, Hewitt made the attempt.
When he had finished, Warwick said stubbornly, "I know what you’ve got on your mind. That stupid sun business, Well, don’t think we’re giving up our chance to get off this ship !"
It was the reaction Hewitt had ex­pected : unthinking, concerned only with the man’s own desires. Mentally, he gave Warwick up. No more scientific explana­tion. This fight was on a different level.
He said grimly, "Warwick, I’m the only man who knows how to get you off. I’ll do it when you cut off the drive, not a second before."
Warwick persisted, "But you admit there’s no immediate danger of plunging into the earth ?"
It would happen in two hours, ship time. But long before that—in little more than an hour—the sun horror would take place.
The impact of that made him raise his voice. Loudly, he called out to the others —both men and women—gathered in the corridor : "Stop this madman ! If you lis­ten to him, you’ll be dead in forty min­utes !"
That was a lie, but he had to have a few minutes leeway.
There was a stir. Several women looked uneasy, and tugged at the arms of their men. Hewitt saw Tellier under guard standing in the background. He called to the physicist in a piercing voice : "Tellier, when you were outside, you saw the Cen­tauri suns nearby. Is that right ?"
"Yes." The physicist spoke in a low tone.
"In your estimate how long will it take us to get there ?"
"It’ll take us about three months to slow down. Then a few weeks while we ma­neuver for a landing."
"That’s normal time. With the time-contraction effect, part of that slowing down will seem only a half or a third as long ?" That was only a guess.
Tellier hesitated. "That’s about right."
Hewitt whirled on the group. "Think," he said, "you’re only about two months from your destination. Surely after all this time, you won’t give up when there’s so little more time to go."
He saw that Warwick was about to speak. He rushed on : "Don’t give up now ! In less than eight weeks you’ll be landing on a planet that will belong to you. And all the stuff aboard this ship, millions of dollars worth of material—yours, if you land !"
Warwick yelled, "Folks, it’s the old sun-explosion nonsense that’s driving him ! If we slow down now, it’ll take us four years to get back to Earth !"
Hewitt said earnestly. "It isn’t as if this were an ordinary old-style colonizing expedition. We have tools and equipment, advanced machinery. Most of you will live better than you ever did on Earth !"
He went on before Warwick could speak : "What you don’t seem to realize is that you rebelled in order to stop the drive. You risked your lives to do that. Now, one man among you has decided to prevent you. Are you going to let him ? You have a right to make up your own minds. Don’t let one man dictate to you !"
He stopped. Warwick was drawing an automatic. The man had a twisted smile on his face. He faced the group squarely, a big, arrogant, determined man. He said flatly : "I tell you, the only danger that Hewitt has in mind is from the sun. He’s insane about that. You folks stick with me, and you’ll be on good old terra firma in less than a day."
He waved his gun menacingly. "And now, if anybody wants to make trouble just let him step forward—"
No one moved. Hewitt shouted, "Don’t let one man cow you. I tell you this is life and death—"’
A fist that seemed to be made of iron caught him in the mouth. He half fell, then recovered. Dizzily, he looked up into Warwick’s face. The big man spoke from between clenched teeth : "Any more troublemakers ?"
There were none. The tight smile was back on Warwick’s face. He said in a silken tone, "You’ll be living up in the crew’s quarters from now on. If we have to go back the long way, believe me, you won’t enjoy the trip. If you’re so much as seen down at this level, you’ll get a bullet where it’ll do you the least good."
He turned to Mackarett. "You, too !" he said.
The plump man started to protest, but Warwick cut him off. "Get !" he said.

AS THEY headed for the ramp, Hewitt was already bracing himself. ’The choice, it seemed to him, was perfectly simple : Die now, or an hour from now !
He turned to Tellier, who was just be­hind him. He asked tensely, "When you were out in the lifeboat, did you have a hard time keeping up with the Hope of Man ?"
The physicist shrugged. "It took all the power we had. Mr. Hewitt—" earnestly—"you cannot imagine against what resist­ance the Hope of Man is maintaining its velocity. And the lifeboat had to contend with the same resistance."
Hewitt, who had seen the relevant in­struments, could imagine only too well.
He saw that the ramp was only a score of feet away. He said hastily, "Which air­lock did you go out of ? One or Two ?"
Less than a dozen feet to go. He had the information he needed. But there were more questions in his mind.
"Tellier, what in your opinion will hap­pen when the drive is shut off ?"
The answer was prompt. "On the basis of what you said in the letter, and what I’ve heard you say, my opinion is that the ship will immediately revert to its posi­tion in normal space. That is, near Cen­taurus."
Hewitt drew a deep breath. "Tellier," he said, "why didn’t you shut off the drive, as we asked you to do in the letter ?"
The scientist stared at him. "You didn’t give us time," he said. "Why, I’d barely finished reading it when—"
He stopped. He had lost his audience. They were at the ramp.
The guard who had been ahead of them, stepped aside and partly blocked the ramp that led down. He motioned with his automatic. "Up !" he said curtly.
Hewitt started forward obediently, then turned and kicked the man in the stomach. It was the cruelest blow he had struck in his life. The guard doubled up with a cry.
Hewitt plunged down the ramp. A bul­let screamed past his ear, struck the wall. Then he was around the curve of the spiral, temporarily safe. Behind him, he heard Warwick shout : "Phone the engine room ! Shoot him in the legs !"
He wasn’t going to the engine room.
“ . . . damn you, Tellier ! Get out of the way !"
That was the last he heard, but it gave him a picture of Tellier blocking pursuit for just those vital few seconds.

HE REACHED the corridor on which was the entrance to the seventh balcony of the lower storeroom. At a dead run, he headed for it. If I can make it, he was thinking, with­out their seeing me, they’ll keep on going down—
He made it. And still he forced himself to new exertions. With every ounce of strength left in his body he ran towards the spacesuit, where he had left it a seeming age before. Panting, he crawled between the up-ended bolts and scrambled onto the saddle. His fingers trembled as lie pressed the button that started the upper section of the suit sliding down to join the lower. The two rubber linings squeezed together, and became air-tight.
He had a monster in his control now. Out into the corridor he raced, and to­wards the ramp. A crewman on the way down stopped, teetered on one leg, and then raised his automatic.
He fired one bullet. It jangled against the armored suit. The next second, with a yell of alarm, the man was flattening him­self against a wall. Hewitt maneuvered past him, and raced on up the ramp to the airlock corridor.
Amazingly, it was deserted. Women and other noncombatants must have been rushed up the ramp when the shooting started. And Warwick and his men had followed him down. They’d be back—long before he could do all that he had to do.
But for perhaps two minutes there would be no interference.
At top speed, Hewitt raced towards air­lock number two, the one Tether had used. He paused for seconds only. He took time for one action. He pressed the button that started the great outer door unscrewing.
He didn’t wait for the door to open, but wheeled around, and headed for air­lock number one.
And now he was where he wanted to be.

FIRST, he opened the door of the life­boat. Then he activated the mechanism that started the inner airlock unscrewing. At that point, three men appeared at the head of the ramp. One of them was War­wick, who shouted : "Hewitt, you can’t get away. We’ll blast you with paralyzers."
But it was an automatic he held in his own hand. And it was an automatic that each of the other men carried. Seeing them. Hewitt felt an almost insane sar­donic glee.
He guessed that these men had deliberately armed themselves with guns, be­cause bullets could kill. Paralyzers could only incapacitate.
And now, for possibly another minute, they could do nothing against him.
The inner door was still unscrewing.
It swung ponderously as he watched. Hewitt swung his suit into the lifeboat, and set in motion the launching mecha­nism.
Automatically, the lifeboat rotated down on its launching arms, and rolled forward on a long line of rubber rollers that lifted up from the floor. It was propelled for­ward and into the lock.
When it was all the way inside, the inner door swung shut behind it.
Everything was automatic now. The process could no longer be stopped.
The air sighed as it was sucked out of the lock. Even before that noise faded, there was another sound. The great outer door—which had, by normal time, taken them more than four days to open—began to unscrew. Within minutes, as it had been built to do (it would still, of course, be hours, relative to Earth), it swung gut and to one side.
The lifeboat radio clattered into life. "Hewitt," roared Warwick’s voice, "you can’t escape that way—you’ll have to come back as Tellier did. If you leave the ship, we won’t let you back in. You’ll be stranded !"
Hewitt set the controls so that the outer door would remain open, if it was not interfered with. Then he launched the lifeboat.
And still he was only at the beginning of what he had to do.
And all he had was a theory.
As the lifeboat emerged from the lock, he turned its nose in the direction of flight, and adjusted the pile to nine-tenths of its potential. The small boat seemed to freeze in space ; it held its position beside the yawning opening of the lock.
Carefully, he turned it around, and eased it back into the airlock.
Once !
For five seconds, by his watch, he let it rest there. Then he let the rollers launch it backwards.
That was easier. He could use the pow­erful backward thrust of the drive to edge it out. Almost the instant it was outside, he set the power.
Just in time. He felt a dizziness, an un­mistakable sensation. For a bare mo­ment he was not in control of the lifeboat. Then the feeling passed, and he pushed the boat’s nose back into the airlock.
"Twice !" He spoke the word aloud.
Again, he waited five seconds, and then once more launched the lifeboat. As it moved clear of the opening, the great outer door began to swing shut.
Involuntarily, Hewitt called out, "Warwick, don’t !"
There was a senseless series of sounds from the loudspeakers. With a sinking sen­sation, Hewitt realized the truth. Radio waves were already distorted. He had time to see that the door was too far shut for him to control, and then—
Two things happened at once. He applied power, so that the lifeboat would start to circle the big ship. As he was drawing clear of the controls, nausea struck him like a blow. The pain left him gasping, but it passed again almost as swiftly as it had come.
When he could see again, he thought, I’ve got about fifteen seconds before the second wave of pain. If I can get into air­lock number two before the final change takes place—
Through the forward porthole, he saw that he was high up above the Hope of Man. He saw something else. It distracted him—just for a moment it held him.
He saw three points of white light, and one red. Two of the points were like jewels held close to his eyes, pinpoints in size, but so bright they dazzled him.
He thought : The Centauri suns ! No longer did they look like one bright spot as seen from the southern hemisphere of Earth. They were separated now into four distinct bodies : Alpha, Beta and Gamma, and red Proxima.
Here they were, his hope for the future of man, the famous, nearest star system, only four and one-third light years from Earth.
So close, so wonderfully close . . . And then he shook his head in astonishment. For in some kind of a negaspatial zone, this ship was visible at "this" moment only a few thousand miles above the surface of Earth.
He forgot that. For there ahead and to one side was the opening of airlock number two.
And it was open.

HIS FORESIGHT was justified. They had seen him only at airlock one. And so they hadn’t suspected that he had also set in motion the opening mechanism of airlock two.
He guessed that he had seconds left. With utter concentration, he nosed his lifeboat into the lock, jabbed hard at the keys that started the outer door closing, and set in motion the whole process of entering.
Whatever he did now would save him hours—when the change came.
His good fortune, then, was that the outer door was actually beginning to screw shut, the air beginning to come into the lock, the inner door beginning to un­screw—when the blackout of the change struck him with all its terrible impact.
As a result, he only had to sit there thirty hours, before, with his 973-1 time-ratio advantage, he took full control of the Hope of Man.

AVERILL HEWITT stepped gingerly down to the soil of Earth from the pa­trol boat that had ferried him down from the Hope of Man. He had come back alone. Nearly ten years had gone by on Earth.
He started to push through the crowd of reporters assembled at the landing field. Then he realized he was not going to be allowed to escape.
He stopped, and smiled. He said, "I had the patrol boat commander radio ahead for old newspapers that would describe what happened to the sun. Did anybody bring one ?"
"Here ! Here !"
Several papers were held up, and passed forward.
Hewitt accepted them, and sat down on one of the landing-field benches. He said, "I’ll answer no questions till I’ve read this."
More than nine years before, about one week before his predicted Nova, the sun had suddenly increased in size about twen­ty per cent. Simultaneously, its tempera­ture had gone down more than three thousand degrees.
For fifteen hours its paler light shone upon an Earth that was scarcely affected. It was as if a mist had come up in the atmosphere, blocking off the heat, or as if a partial night had fallen. The planet remained warm inside its envelope of air. The great waters and the thick crust re­tained their heat, and so absorbed the ti­tanic shock of the sudden reduction in the sun’s temperature.
In time, of course, all that accumulated warmth would have drained. The oceans would have frozen, the land chilled ; and an ice-laden planet, virtually lifeless, would have resulted.
At the end of the fifteen hours, the sun began to shrink. The temperature went up. In six hours it was normal. There had been no change since.
Hewitt said, "It probably won’t happen again for millions of years."
He put the papers aside, stood up and went on, "I have learned a lot about the behavior of matter and energy. I think I can explain why the sun reacted otherwise than I predicted."
He paused, and took a deep breath. He had been intent on the newspapers. For the first time, he saw how vast was the crowd that had come out to meet him.
Radio microphones were closely grouped around him. Television cameras pointed at his face. It startled him a little to realize that he was famous now, not notorious. Something had happened to the sun—not what he had predicted—but something tremendous. It justified all that he had done, the expedition to Centaurus, the methods he had used aboard the ship—everything.
He might have saved the human race. Actually, the truth of what had happened was far more startling than they realized.
He began, "The universe is more complex than anything we previously dreamed. The solar system, in its movement through space, periodically enters spatial "zones" that differ one from the other. At the time I made my prediction, our system had apparently just entered such a zone. The imbalance that started then took years to reach a critical point. I predicted that point on the basis of mathematics that examined the functional behavior without being aware of the cause. I thought the changes applied only to the sun.
"They didn’t. The earth and all the other solar planets were affected also. And when the critical moment came, the earth —because it had entered the zone before the sun—was changed first.
"During that time, the sun did not cool.
"All the physical changes took place in your bodies and in the earth. And when the sun finally seemed to return to normal, it was actually flaring up as I origi­nally predicted it would.
"It was being affected by the zone, fifteen hours after the earth itself had entered the zone."
For a moment, when he had finished, he looked grimly around his audience. Then slowly, he began to relax.
He regretted nothing. No one was hap­pier than he over what had happened. During those years on Centaurus, he had struggled with the others to build the foundations of a great new civilization. He and Juanita, with their four children, had helped insure that man would survive any disaster that might now, or ever, strike the solar system.
Now that all was well, he was back for more colonists. Three planets, two passably hospitable, one a veritable paradise, waited for the pioneers.
Standing there, with the world listening, he launched into his sales talk.


The house might scare men stiff—but when
a woman wants anything... she usually gets it !

AT THE first attack more than five hundred years before, the seething stuff was cascaded into a dozen separate underground chambers. The bomb that fell gouged an entire valley out of the ground but didn’t quite reach the chambers.

A city was gone, and the radiant liquid forgotten. Each segment simmered with a mindless patience in its prison. The centuries ticked away, and finally a man probed into the resisting earth. Accidentally, he broke down the rotting barrier between two of the receptacles.
There was an instant, savage interchange of immensely potent energy.

John Roberts found himself perspiring. He climbed out of the hole and, pulling out his handkerchief, wiped his forehead. He was a middle-aged man with greying temples and a pioneer gleam in his eyes.
"Sure got hot all of a sudden," he surmised aloud to the empty yard. "Feel kind of faint."
He looked anxiously toward the house. It was about a hundred yards away and seemed to be receding. He staggered, felt amazed, nearly fell, and grew alarmed. He had taken ten steps when he began to realise that he wasn’t going to make it. He sobbed with a sharp awareness of the death that was coming.

A neighbouring farmer found his body lying quietly on the grass. And that night the haunt lights were first seen.
A local doctor noted the third-degree burns on the body, but since they were inexplicable he made out his certificate : "Heart failure." A legal official came down from Megalopolis and took possession of the farmhouse in the name of the new owner of the property, Mrs. Peter Nichols (née Janie Roberts), niece of the dead man. The official put up a "For Rent” sign, and took one of the rooms for the night.
At midnight, when the place was already glowing with visible lights that sparkled in every room, he was seen to emerge from the back door in his pyjamas, and leap hurriedly into his sky car. The machine took off with a hiss.

During the next three months, two families moved into the house for brief periods. When they were gone hastily, no more home seekers appeared. In the hole, the uranium 235 boiled and burned and bubbled, seeking freedom, releasing floods of energy upon the nearby house. Certain plastics sparkled with flame. Metals grew hot, and shone in the dark, and crackled, and made sounds no human car had heard for half a millennium.
The "haunt" lights were not dangerous. The materials involved were safety compounds, which resisted radioactivity with an almost helium-like inertness.
Gradually the vibrations of the bubbling brought down loose dirt and broken bits of the stuff which had formerly contained the uranium. After six months the energy was sealed in.

On the night that the owner and her husband moved into the house, the radiant fire was already settled—if not disturbed-for another five hundred years of virtual frustration.
No one, of course, knew that.

THIS is silly," said Janie.
The house loomed up in the darkness, as they slowly climbed out of the car. Peter shook off her words as if they were leaves that had fallen on him from the dying tree under which he had parked. Far off to the right, he could see the light of another house.
It was a cloudless night, and the stars were like points of varicoloured light in a sky of blue ink. The pale cup of a moon seemed neither to add to nor subtract from the darkness.
He hesitated, then turned to his wife. "Now, look," he said firmly, "let’s not start getting jittery. We’ve figured this thing out on a cold commercial basis. You inherited this property, and we darn well need to get some rent money out of it. But the only way we’ll ever rent it is to live in it for a while, give parties, have week-end guests and so, gradually, persuade the stupid local people that it isn’t haunted. Meanwhile, we rent our town house, and get a little financial breathing spell. Remember ?"
He paused, then gruffly : "It’s your own fault, leaving everything to the last minute. I intended us to get here this afternoon. It doesn’t really matter though. The agent said it was all ready, nuclearicity connected and everything. Actually, nothing to worry about, is there ?"
"No." Janie spoke faintly.
He took her arm. “Come along,” he said.
The key rattled in the lock, and the door opened with the faintest of squeals. Then there was silence.

Intense silence. The silence of an isolated country house. Peter found himself straining against the darkness, as if there were sounds in it beyond the range of human hearing. He cursed under his breath as he realised what he was doing, and began to probe the hallway with his flashlight. Abruptly, he found the nuclearic switch.
The flood of brightness brought a sigh from Janie’s lips. In a few minutes they had turned on every light in the house, upstairs and down. The agent had done a good job. The furniture was uncovered and arranged, rugs were on the floor and the place was clean. The cleaning woman, who, for double pay, had come in during the daylight hours of the past week, must have tried to wash away all the evil spirits. Every room in the house smelled fresh and clean.
In the master bedroom, Peter stretched lazily on the large double bed, and studied the tinted wallpaper. "Which way is the old place ?" he asked.
"Over there." She pointed towards the south wall. "I showed you when we were here last week."
"That was daytime, and I have trouble with directions anyway."
After a moment he climbed to his feet, made a part of the south wall transparent, and peered out into the darkness. The light reflections from behind him kept the night opaque at first, but gradually his vision cleared. He could see the shadowy shapes a hundred yards away.
"What did you say those things used to be ?"
"An atomic powerhouse."
He snorted. "My God," he said. "That kind of nonsense really gets on my nerves. Lord knows I’m a credulous person ; I’ll believe almost anything. But this atomic stuff is the last straw. For three hundred years there’s been a blurred mythology about a wonderful atomic age. If it was so wonderful, what’s happened to it ?"
"I admit,” he went on, drawing the blind again, and turning back into the room, that this is a decadent era we’re living in, but I’m getting awfully tired of superstition."
He sat down on the bed. "Now, look," he said, "I can see you’re still tense. Please sit down in that chair." He waited till she had complied, then : "Janie, for heaven’s sake, relax. There, that’s a little better."
He sprawled back on the bed. "How old is this house ?"
"A—about seventy-five years."
He nodded smugly. "And that—that atomic powerhouse, how old is it supposed to be ?"
"They say— " She hesitated. "Oh Peter, this is all so silly. I admit it."
He was determined. “How old is it supposed to be ?"
"Well, they say— " She shrugged "they say it was still in operation five hundred years ago."
"Who are they ?" She made a vague gesture with one hand,
"And how long," Peter persisted, "did the so-called golden age last before that ?
"A thousand years." Her tone was defiant. "Now, Peter, you know that there must be something in it. There are books in the museums, which science can’t explain in any other way than that there was once a mighty civilization on Earth."
"Science !" He spoke in a derogatory tone. Then he frowned. "But let’s use your figures, and see where they leave us."
She sighed resignedly. “Darling, you’ve said all this before."
"It didn’t sink in," he accused, or you wouldn’t be acting the way you are." He yawned. "I don’t want you to spend the night in shuddering wakefulness. You said a thousand years, didn’t you ?"
"You know I did."
He ignored her sharp tone. "Then another five hundred years since that atomic plant stopped working. By the way, what made it stop working ?"
His wife was annoyed now, very definitely. "Peter, you know perfectly well that’s a period of history nothing much is known about. There are old-wives tales about a war that blotted out civilization, but history knows nothing about that. Our written history begins about three hundred years ago."
"Yeah," he said, and he tried successfully to make the word an insult to all historians.
"All right, all right," he said finally. "Let’s get back to the figures. The glorious, wonderful super-civilization lasted a thousand years, then four hundred and twenty-five years passed during which it was all forgotten, then this house was built, and people lived in it for generations. About three years ago, your uncle was found dead near a tunnel he had dug under this so-called powerhouse and the place has been haunted ever since. That’s the picture, isn’t it ?"
His wife nodded reluctantly.
"Now, I ask you," said Peter triumphantly, how can anything reach across five hundred years of time and kill a man ?"
"There were burns on his body that were never explained."
"But what was the doctor’s verdict ?"
Janie hesitated.
"It was heart failure, wasn’t it ?" Peter said.
His wife stood up. "Oh, please, darling, stop driving home so many points. You’re not cheering me up. You’re depressing me. I know everything you can possibly say. Only— "
"Only what ?"
"I wish people hadn’t suddenly started seeing lights in the house three years ago, and hearing sounds, and getting themselves burned by fires that no one can see."
"It’s all in the imagination."
"Yes," she said wearily, yes, I know, darling. But let’s get undressed and go to bed."
He grunted as he removed his shirt. "I can understand nuclearicity. You turn a switch, and it works. You turn it again and it goes off. That’s the end. It’s finished. It doesn’t reach across five hundred years of time and space and make a light shine. The same thing goes for nucleonite. It operates an engine according to a simple principle, and it doesn’t reach across—“
Janie finished the sentence hastily, "I know—five hundred years."
"But this atomic power stuff," said Peter. "That gets me. People use the word, and then look blank when you ask them what it means. I’m tired of it, frankly."
"So am I," she said. "Right now."
Peter mumbled something about being married to a woman who never let him finish a thought, then : "Shall I sleep with you," he asked, "or take one of the guest rooms ?"
"With me."
He grinned at her. "What’s this ?" he said. "Young Mrs. Got-to-have-room-of-her-own getting dependent ?"
She did not reply, and presently, when she was under the covers, he turned out the lights and crept in beside her. Silence settled.

MORNING. Peter yawned, then climbed out of bed. Janie was still sleeping. He grinned down at her, remembering her ceaseless plaint about a separate bedroom because it was impossible for her to sleep with anyone else in the room.
Downstairs, he punched out a menu for breakfast, slow-timed it for fifteen minutes, and went outside. The car was parked where he had left it, under the whatchamacallit tree. It bobbed a little in the breeze, which startled him. He had left the power on. He walked over and switched it off, then stood gazing towards the line of low mounds that began a hundred yards to the south.
"I’ll go over there one of these days," he decided, "and see if we can’t clear that junk away."
When he returned to the house, Janie was taking a shower. Over the breakfast table, he explained his plan. She looked at him, blue eyes pitying.
"You poor dunce," she said, “and who are you going to get to do the work ?”
Peter hadn’t thought of that. "I suppose," he said disconsolately, these superstitious country folk couldn’t be persuaded to earn a little money."
Besides," said Janie practically, "where would you get the money ?"
"Then I guess I’ll have to do the work myself."
"You and uncle," said Janie.
"My gosh, you’re helpful." Peter complained, and let the matter drop. He had momentarily forgotten her dead uncle.

On the way to town, Peter had another idea. "As soon as we can afford it, I’ll have an expert from the university come and look at the mounds."
Janie screwed up her small face. "Darling," she said. "you bother me. When’ll we be able to afford an expert in any foreseeable period ? Answer me that."
Peter shrugged, then sneered, "Little Mrs. Braveheart is talking awfully big now that the daylight has come again." He broke off impatiently, "Look, baby, I’m doing this for you, understand. Y-O-U. You’re the one that’s going to be seeing the lights, and hearing the sounds, and I imagine in a crisis you might even develop some pretty good burns."
"It was the first night that I was afraid of," Janie said complacently. "I slept like a log, didn’t I ?" She touched his arm with a jerk. "Heavens, darling, is that Megalopolis ?"
Peter nodded. "I was trying to see how fast we could do it in a pinch. Five hundred and eighty-one miles in thirteen minutes and— " He glanced at the eye level dashboard— “and eight seconds," he finished cosily. "Not bad for this old bus."

He let Janie off at their town —there were things to do before the new tenants took over— and then drove up to the roof of the office building where he worked. When he picked her up at four she was aglow with excitement.
"Sweetheart, I’ve pulled a major coup. I was introduced to Mrs. Leard—you know the physicist’s wife—this afternoon, and I invited them out for this week-end. And, darling, they’re going to come.”
"What makes you think," said Peter, “that Professor Leard will be interested in digging in our back yard ?"
Janie was smug. "My dear, how do you think I got them to come out ? I told his wife the place was haunted by atomic energy."
"What did she say ?"
"She said she thought her husband would just love that. Apparently there’s been talk around the cloistered walls of the university the last couple of years, and it’s no longer regarded as a myth. Some old duck has been looking at the sun, and has come out with the theory that it is possible for energy to exist in a—whatchamacallit—“
Peter was aware of her eyes studying him expectantly. "Don’t look at me," he said hastily. "I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about."
"—in a raw state," Janie finished uncertainly. "Does that seem to make sense ?
Peter shrugged. "Only energies I know about are nuclearicity and nucleonite."
"How do they work ?”
"They work by transference.”
"That’s awfully clear," said Janie.
"I mean," said Peter, “you get a block of the compound ready, then put it in with a block that’s already charged. A week later you take it out, and both of them are ready. You can pick it up with your hands or anything. It won’t operate until it’s fitted into an engine, or whatever it’s supposed to work with. Absolutely foolproof. I thought all energy was like that."
"Who made the first one ?"
Peter shrugged irritably. "You can think of the hardest questions."
"Those," said Janie, "are the kind of questions they’re beginning to ask at the university. You’d better be smart, and pretend you thought of things like that long ago, and maybe—“
"Maybe what ?"
"Don’t be such a dope. Maybe Professor Leard will arrange to have all the work of removing the mounds done at the expense of the university."
Peter grabbed her. “My gosh, darling, you’re a genius."
Janie rearranged her hair. "I’m not bad," she said with a simple self-assurance.

WE’LL DIG here," said Professor Leard.
Janie went to the car. "Peter," she called, "we’ve got some shopping to do if we’re going to feed all these wonderful people."
Up in the air, she sank back in her seat and fanned herself. "Phew !" she said. "I’m glad we’re away from there." She was silent, then : "Do you think they’ll blow up the Earth ?"
"Huh !" He stared at her. "My gosh what goes on in that brain of yours ?" He went on in a complaining tone, "You’ve got what you wanted, haven’t you ? Scientists are cleaning up our property for nothing."
"Scientists my eye !" Janie retorted. "They don’t know any more about the stuff than I do."
"Well, I’ll be a— " Peter sagged back helplessly. "Look, my little lovey bunch, do you mean to sit there and tell me that you think Professor Leard and the others are going to melt into little blobs of hot liquid or something, and yet you pushed this business through."
His wife shrugged. “Somebody’s got to do it. If you monkeyed with it, people would say you were just another idiot like uncle—when you got killed, that is. If they melt like you said, why that’s another sacrifice on the altar of science. You’d be just one more dumb nut, but they’re heroes— What’re you doing ?”
"We’re going back."
Janie grabbed at the wheel and jerked them back on their original course. Peter, white-faced, snatched her hand, felt the tense determination in it, and hesitated.
"Peter, don’t you dare hit me !"
He was outraged by the charge. "I wasn’t going to hit you."
"You were so ! I know that look in your eye."
“What look ? Have I ever so much as touched you ?”
"You know better than that. I’d have you up in court so fast "
"You’re getting away from the subject," he snarled. "You’re the one that will be arrested."
"For heaven’s sake, Peter, listen to reason."
“Reason—from a little murderess."
"Don’t be so stuffy."
"Stuffy. To sit there, calmly waiting for an entire staff of a university to blow up."
"Don’t exaggerate. Peter, listen. You admit they’re among the Earth’s experts on this stuff ?”
Peter sighed. "I suppose so."
"If anybody’s going to dig in there, it has to be somebody like that ?"
"I guess so."
"Just because we can’t afford to pay them doesn’t mean anything. They get paid in fame."
"That’ll be nice for them when they’re dead." Sourly.
Janie stroked his arm. *There, there, darling, I know your conscience is going to bother you all the rest of your life. But at least it’ll be around to be bothered, not melted into blobs. Listen, honey, here’s my plan. We shop in a leisurely fashion. When it’s almost time for dinner, you phone up Professor Leard and ask him how things are going—“
"I will not."
"Then I’ll do it. But you can see now that I’m only being sensible. Can’t you ?"
"Oh, I suppose so."
Janie sighed, but as Peter expected, she pressed her victory : “And you will make the phone call, won’t you ?"
Peter supposed that he would.
It was late afternoon when he made the call. He turned away from the video plate, pale. “No answer," be said.
"But that’s impossible," Janie quavered. "Give me that phone."
The plate remained lifeless.
"Oh, my heaven," she moaned, "what have I done ? What’re you doing ?"
"Turning on the news."
The news failed to mention anything unusual. Peter guided the car into a speed channel. Janie said tremulously : “W-where are we going ?"
"We’ll have to go and look, won’t we ?"

The place, as they circled around it in the dim light of twilight, had a deserted look. Janie began to cry.
"They’re probably all blobs," she whimpered.
Peter put his arm around her. "It’s not your fault. After all, Professor Leard did take precautions. He knew what he was doing."
"Now, you’re giving me back my own arguments. I feel a-awful."
"Look, darling, the ground is absolutely level. There’s not a mound in sight. You know what I’m going to do ?"
"W-what ?"
"I’m going to call Professor Leard up at the university."

The professor’s smooth face came on the video after about ten seconds. He was apologetic.
"After we got the stuff up," he explained, "I thought we’d better get it into larger safety containers as soon as possible." He grew enthusiastic. "I want to take this opportunity on behalf of the university to thank you for a valuable contribution to science."
Janie leaned across Peter. "Professor," she glowed. "Is it the stuff ? Is it a source of raw energy ?"
The smooth face on the video took on a cautious look. "Possibly. We might even— " He hesitated— "be able to make it explode . . . This is a great day for science."
Peter said practically, "What about the house ? Will it be haunted again ?
The professor shook his head. "We did a good job of cleaning up. I doubt if there’ll be any stray radiation."
Janie, who had been thinking, said, "Has it any value ?"
"I was coming to that," said the professor in a subdued voice. "Naturally, we have no desire to have you young people feel as if you have been taken advantage of. So if you will sign a release, we will pay you five thousand dollars. So far as the university is concerned, that is purely a matter of clearing up the title."
Janie said, “Thank you, Professor, we’ll take it. Good-bye." She broke the connection.
Peter grabbed at her fingers. "Darling, you don’t just hang up on a man like Professor Leard."
"We’re through with him," Janie said, faintly. "And besides I was just about to faint." She caught his arm. "Honey, will you please land instantly ? We’ve barely time. The new tenants are due to move into our town house tomorrow."
He brought the car down, protesting. "What’s the idea ?"
Janie raced into the house, and emerged triumphantly with the sign. She slipped it into the slot on the terrace. "There," she said, "it’s for rent again."
"Quick now," she said as she climbed back into the car. "We’ve got to take possession of the town place."
"Are you nuts ? We’ve a lease."
"We’ll refuse to let them in. We’ll tell them they can have this place, or go jump in a lake.
"To heck," she said, "with living in the country. It’s too dull."


Metal screeched . . . men shrieked in dismayed agony . . .

Mark Rogon could travel the airless Void without spaceships.
He would answer an appeal for help from anywhere in the
Galaxy—if it interested him. And he had a strange talent
for dealing with alien life-forms, such as the terrible, invicible
Destroyer that stalked eight-hundred colonists on far-Ariel
. . .

AS HE PASSED THE TWO women in the corridor of the spaceship COLONIST 12, Leonard Hanley heard one of them say :
"He was on the far side of the galaxy, and came here when he heard about our trouble. He doesn’t need spaceships to travel, you know . . ."
Hanley walked on, cynical and annoyed. As leader of the colonists, he’d been advised two hours before by Captain Cranston that Mark Rogan had arrived. The commanding officer’s memo had stated, among other things :
"Since we will reach the planet Ariel, our destination, within half an Earth-day, we are fortunate that the Space Patrol’s great alien communications expert was available to help us. Mr. Rogan’s presence means that you and your people can make your landing at once, regardless of what may have happened to the first settlement . . . and the ship can leave."
The reference to the ship departing immediately made Hanley grim. "Oh, no, you don’t, Captain," he thought. "You’re not leaving till we found out what’s happened down there”.
He continued along the corridor to the radio room, looked in through the window, and saw that the operator on duty was a young man named Farde. « Anything new ? » Hanley asked.
The operator turned lazily. His manner had just enough insolence in it to be irritating, and just enough deference to make it difficult to take offense.
« Same old repetition of our messages, » he said.

HANLEY hesitated. Time had been when he had tried to break down this barrier between crew and passengers. He’d felt that, in a long, two-year voyage, there shouldn’t be constraint or hostility. Yet, in the end, he’d given up. To the crew members, the eight hundred colonists— men, women and children—were "emigrants." They had no lower term applicable to human beings.
Hanley, who was an engineer, and who had been a university professor, had often thought the crew members were not a prepossessing lot.
Once more, he hesitated, remembering the two women who had gossiped in the corridor about the mysterious Mark Rogan. He said casually : "We were lucky to get hold of Mark Rogan."
"When," asked Hanley, "did he first get in touch with you ?"
"Oh, that wouldn’t be through here, sir."
"How do you mean ?" Sharply. "Don’t you get all radio messages here ?"
"Well—yes, in a sense." The operator hesitated. "Fact is, Mr. Rogan doesn’t answer regular calls. You broadcast your problem. He comes only if he’s interested."
"He just arrives, is that it ?"
"That’s correct."
"Thanks," said Hanley in a subdued voice.
He was quietly furious as he walked on. The set-up shrieked of the phoniness of a man who allowed people to believe that he was supernormal. So he didn’t use spaceships to travel through space ! And he helped only if something interested him !
Hanley’s anger subsided abruptly. It struck him with a shock that Rogan’s coming had sinister significance. Because he had come.
Hanley reached his own apartment ; and Eleanora, his wife, was serving lunch to himself and the two children when a wall communicator switched on, and a voice announced :
"Attention, all passengers and crew. We are entering the atmosphere of Ariel. Captain Cranston has called a meeting in the auditorium for one hour from now to discuss the landing."

HANLEY sat awkwardly in a chair on the auditorium platform, and uneasily watched the angry colonists. It seemed hard to believe right now that they had elected him their leader. For he realized they must land regardless of the danger on the planet below ; and that was a reality that most of the colonists did not seem to be facing.
They were shouting furiously, shaking their fists at Captain Cranston, who stood at the front of the platform. The roar of their voices filled the small room, and echoed from the halls beyond, where other people crowded, listening to the loudspeaker.
Despite his own tension, Hanley kept being distracted by the stranger who sat in the chair beside him. Rogan, he guessed. It could be no other on this ship, where everyone knew everyone else.
Even without his foreknowledge, there would have been reasons for noticing the man. Rogan was slim of build, about five feet ten inches tall ; and Hanley had heard him say something to Captain Cranston in a voice so soft, so gentle, that he had felt a thickening of dislike in his throat. The stranger had eyes as green as emeralds, an unusual color for a human being.
With a faint distaste, Hanley turned away from the man and studied the viewing plate at the rear of the platform. It was quite a large plate, and a sizable area of the ground below was visible on it.
The picture was not clear at this height, yet it was sharp enough to show green vegetation. To the left was the silvery gleam of a winding river. To the right were the ruins of the first human settlement on the planet Ariel.
Hanley studied the scene unhappily. As a scientist and administrator, he felt no personal fear at anything that might develop below. But when he thought of Eleanora and the children, his feelings about the landing became mixed up.
The audience quieted at last. At the front of the stage, Captain Cranston said : "I admit an unfortunate situation has arisen. I cannot explain how, on an apparently uninhabited planet, a human colony has been destroyed. But I must land you. We haven’t enough food to take back such a large group. I regret it, but here you are and here you must remain. But now—" he half turned— "I want to introduce you to a man who came aboard ship today. Mark Rogan, one of the great men of the Space Patrol, is here to help you. Mr. Rogan, will you come over here to be introduced. And you, also, Mr. Hanley."
As Rogan came up, the officer said, "Mr. Rogan, please say a few words to these unhappy people."
Rogan looked at them, for a moment, then smiled, and said in the same gentle voice Hanley had already heard :
"Folks, everything will be all right. Have no fear. I’ve listened to these radio repetitions, and I feel confident that in a day or so I’ll be able to give you the signal that means safe landings."

HE STEPPED BACK. There was a dead silence ; and then all over the auditorium women sighed. Hanley, who had listened in amazement to the sugary reassurance, stared at the audience, baffled. Anxious, too. He had heard Mark Rogan had an unsavory reputation where women were concerned.
Captain Cranston was speaking again, conversationally : "Len, I want you to meet Mark Rogan." To Rogan, he said : "Mr. Hanley is leader of the colonists."
The vividly green eyes seemed to study Hanley’s face. Rogan smiled finally, and held out a slender hand. Hanley grasped it grudgingly, and instinctively squeezed hard on the long, tapering fingers.
Rogan’s smile sharpened slightly, and he returned the pressure. Hanley felt as though his hand had been caught in a vise. He turned pale with the pain of it. In agony, he let go. Instantly, the other’s grip relaxed also. Momentarily, thoughtfully now, the green eyes examined him again. Hanley had the unhappy conviction that his enmity had been evaluated, and that he had lost the first round.
Captain Cranston was facing the audience. "Ladies and gentlemen, the exploratory landings will be made by armed craft under the joint command of Mr. Rogan and Mr. Hanley. There’s still time for a descent today, so let’s make our preparations."

* * *

Into the crewboat Hanley loaded a walkie-talkie, a Geiger-counter, a ground radar instrument, and a gadget that could make vibrations all the way from sound waves through the ultra-sonic range on up to short wave radio.
From the corner of one eye, he saw Rogan coming along the corridor. He turned away hastily, then—as quickly—looked again. And his first impression was right. The man wore slacks and a shirt that was open at the neck. His pockets did not bulge with gadgets. His hands were empty. He carried no visible equipment.
Rogan nodded a greeting which Hanley curtly acknowledged. As Rogan stepped into the crewboat, Hanley thought satirically :
"At least he’s condescending to travel by ordinary transportation.”
It was about ten minutes later that the small craft came to rest in the middle of the desolation that had been a settlement of one thousand people.
As Hanley climbed shakily to the ground, one of the crew members said : "The place looks as if it’d been worked over by a bulldozer."
Hanley had to swallow as he stared at the shambles. Somebody, or something, had gone to a lot of trouble. The buildings, which had been made of fieldstone, were so thoroughly demolished that even the individual stones had been scattered. Here and there, grass was beginning to grow again. Except for that, and except for a few large trees, as far as he could see, the land had been ploughed raw as if by a gigantic scraper.

HANLEY strode forward, stumbled over something, looked down, and drew back hastily. He had stepped on what was left of a human being. The flesh and bone had been ground into the soil.
He saw now that there were bodies all over among the wreckage. It was not always easy to make them out. Many of them seemed a part of the ground, so completely had they been smashed, and pushed in, and covered with dirt.
Frank Stratton, a young colonist, came over and stood beside him. Hanley turned and called to Rogan :
"I think we should take a quick look over this territory, Mr. Rogan. How about you and me walking down by the river, while Mr. Stratton and—" he named a colonist technician— "go into those hills. The others can pair up to suit themselves. No directives to anyone. Just report what you see, and turn back in two hours or less."
Hanley didn’t wait for agreement, but hurried over to the crewboat. It would be unusual for the two leaders of a group to go off together, but he was determined to see an alien communications expert at work. In the back of his mind he had already decided to try to solve the problem himself, without help from the "expert."
He lifted his pack of instruments out of the boat, and slung it over his shoulder. The weight of the load made him stagger, but he leaned into it ; and presently Rogan and he were walking away from the shattered remnants of the settlement. Hanley was surprised that the other had yielded so readily to his suggestion. He noticed that Rogan kept looking into the sky, and only once or twice paused to study the ground.
The hard, gravelly soil gave way to smooth, lawn-like grass. The stones and boulders that had been everywhere around the destroyed village, disappeared. They came to the first considerable grove of trees. Some bore fruit. Others were blossom-filled. A sweet fragrance permeated the clear, warm air.
They reached the river, a wide stream that flowed with an oily slickness suggesting depth and speed. They followed a natural pathway along the foot of an ever-steeper shore till finally the bank was a hundred foot high overhanging cliff. From ahead, now, came the roaring sound of water tumbling over falls.
Rogan, who was slightly ahead, paused ; and Hanley chose the opportunity to lower his heavy pack and set up his instruments. The Geiger-counter had not clicked once, so he laid it on the ground out of the way. He spoke briefly into the walkie-talkie, and it roared back at him a babble of signals.
It was not a pleasant feeling, listening to that confusion of calls. Aboard ship, the effect had been eerie. Here several miles from the village, it gave Hanley a queasy sensation.
He was suddenly dissatisfied with their position. "Mr. Rogan," he called, "don’t you think we’re in a rather vulnerable spot ?"
Rogan did not turn, nor did he show in any way that he had heard the question. Hanley flushed and, abruptly furious, walked over to him. "We’ll have this out right now !" he thought.

AS HE CAME UP, he saw that the other was staring down at a small area of sand. It reminded Hanley that Rogan had paused twice previously, and both times had looked at similar patches of sand.
The discovery briefly drained Hanley’s anger. He had been looking for a pattern in Rogan’s activity : and here it was. He stopped, and studied the area. It looked like ordinary sand, a grayish yellow-brown in color, quite unassuming, and about as unlikely a source of life as anything he had ever seen.
Hanley hesitated. He wanted to ask questions, but the man was so discourteous that he hesitated to expose himself to further insults. He half-turned away—and then saw that Rogan was looking at him. Rogan said in his soft voice :
"Mr. Hanley, I sense in your attitude that you spoke to me a short time ago, and that you are incensed because I did not answer. Is that correct ?"
Hanley nodded, not trusting himself to speak. The wording seemed to imply—he couldn’t decide, but it re-stimulated his anger. "Sense in your attitude," indeed. Was Rogan trying to suggest that he had not heard the words ? Hanley waited, fuming.
Rogan went on, "I find myself in this situation so often that, for the most part, I do not bother to explain it any more." His green eyes glowed as with a light of their own. "However, since it may be necessary for us to cooperate in the coming crisis, I ask you to believe me when I say that I do not hear when I am concentrating. I shut off all extraneous phenomena." He finished gently, "If that statement violates your sense of reality, I’m sorry."
Hanley said grudgingly, "I’ve heard of such things. Hypnosis."
"If you need a label," said Rogan, and his tone was almost indifferent, "that’s as good as any. But, actually, it is not the answer."
Belatedly, it struck Hanley that the other had made an effort to be friendly. He said quickly, "Thank you, Mr. Rogan, I appreciate the explanation. But would you mind telling me, what are you looking for in that sand ?"
"Life." Rogan was turning away. "Life in so simple a state that it is generally not even thought of as such. You see, Mr. Hanley, every planet has its own initial life-process, the state where inorganic matter and organic are almost indistinguishable. This process goes on continuously ; and it is the building block of all subsequent life on that particular world. I cannot prove this to you. There is no instrument I know of except my own brain for detecting its existence. You will not immediately realize to what extent that fact rules my actions. And so, I suggest that you do not start feeling friendly toward me because I have made this rather involved explanation. You’ll probably regret it."
Hanley, who was already disposed to be more friendly, felt uneasy. It seemed clear that Rogan meant exactly what he had said.
He saw that the man was looking at the sand. Hanley turned, and strode back to his instruments. He thought "After all, I ought to be able to locate the larger life forms without knowing anything about the building blocks—and in that department mechanical equipment may be very useful."
He set up his ground radar device, and began to send signals straight down. He aimed the signals in various directions and, once, obtained a reaction which indicated the existence of a tiny cave—it was a mere pocket, and unimportant.
He repacked the radar instrument, and began to tune the vibration machine. The response needle leaped suddenly. There was a shout from Rogan : "Hanley—jump —this way !"
Hanley heard a crashing sound above him, and involuntarily looked up. He yelled hoarsely as he saw the rock, only feet away. He tried to duck—and there was a stunning blow, an instant of unbearable pain, and blackness.

PAIN. His head ached and ached. With a groan, Hanley opened his eyes. He was lying beneath the overhanging edge of the rocky cliff, a few feet from where he had been when the rock struck him.
The sound of the nearby waterfall was loud in his ears. Instinctively, before he remembered that it was still out of sight, he strained to locate it. He succeeded only in getting a better view of the visible part of the ledge, where Rogan had been before the rock struck him.
Rogan was not in sight.
Hanley climbed to his feet. His equipment was lying to his left, the radar device on its side, smashed. Ignoring it, he walked along the ledge past it to where there was a sharp turn. That gave him a view of nearly a mile of the river’s curving bank. There was not a movement anywhere that he could see.
Puzzled, and beginning to be angry, Hanley walked in the other direction nearly two hundred yards. He saw the falls suddenly around a bend. The water dropped more than a hundred feet to the beginning of a great valley. A forest came down to the river’s edge, and stretched away into the distance, a green and brown vista.
Nowhere was there a sign of Rogan.
Hanley returned to get his things, undecided as to what his next move should be. He felt impelled to go on. And yet, unquestionably, the rock had missed killing him by millimeters. There was caked blood on the side of his head, and his cheek burned where the skin had been scraped off.
He was momentarily relieved to discover a note stuck in the handle of the Geiger-counter. "The guy’s human after all," he thought.
Then he read the note. It said : "Go back to the ship ! I’ll be gone for a day or two."
Hanley compressed his lips, and the flush that mounted to his cheeks was not all fever from his wound. Yet, once more, his anger died away. Rogan was not responsible for him ; and his job on this planet did not require that he look after injured people.
Hanley switched on the walkie-talkie ; The earphones were alive with sound. His own voice, in jumbled messages that he’d sent from the ship more than a week before, was part of the crescendo of noise. Half a dozen times, he tried to send an S. O. S., giving his position. The appeal was taken up, and lost among the rest.
There was nothing to do but start along the trail back . . . He reached the village just before dark, and was immediately taken up to the ship. Both doctors insisted that he spend the night in the hospital ward, though they reported reassuringly that he would probably be all right in the morning.
Hanley slept fitfully. Once, he waked up and thought : "At least he’s a courageous man. He’s down there alone, at night."
It justified to some extent his own lie to the others. He had told them that Rogan had gone on only after assuring himself that Hanley was not seriously hurt. Rogan had done nothing of the kind. But it was essential that the colonists continue to trust him.
Some time during the night Hanley’s strength and energy came back. About dawn, he opened his eyes in tense excitement. That rock ! Its fall had been no accident. Somebody or something had shoved it down upon him.
"I’ll go out there in the morning," he decided.

HE WAS DRESSING when his wife came in, about nine o’clock. She walked over to a chair, and sank into it. Her fine gray eyes looked tired. Her long blonde hair had not been properly arranged. There were lines in her face.
"I’ve been worried," she said drably.
"I’m all right." Hanley spoke reassuringly. "I was only bruised a little, and shaken."
She seemed not to hear. "When I think of him down there with the fate of the whole colony depending on his remaining alive—"
Briefly, it shocked Hanley to realize that her anxiety was for Rogan, not himself. She looked up unhappily.
"Len, do you think it was wise of you to let him go on alone ?"
Hanley stared at her In amazement but made no reply. It seemed to him that there was no adequate comment to make to that. Nevertheless, as he ate breakfast, he felt more determined than ever to solve this problem before Rogan.
A few minutes later, with Frank Stratton at the controls of the crewboat, he set out once more for the river. His plan of action was simplicity itself : If there was life here, it would show itself in some way. An observant man should be able to find it without having a special type of brain.

* * *

They came down in a meadow half a mile from the river and about a mile from the waterfall. It seemed a sufficiently central position from which to examine the rock-throwing episode.
Young Stratton, who had been silent during the flight, said suddenly, "Pretty country—if it weren’t for the stones."
Hanley nodded absently. He climbed down to the ground, and then paused for another survey of the countryside. Trees, miles of green grass, gaily colored flowers, the silvery gleam of the waterfall, and the great forested valley beyond it—here was natural beauty in abundance.
True, as Stratton had pointed out, there were small rocks in plenty, but they could be removed. Hanley walked to the nearest one, and picked it up. It was about the size of a large melon, and unexpectedly light in weight. He stood holding it, watching the sunlight flash over its surface.
At first glance, it seemed to be granite, the bright reflecting surfaces suggesting mica specks. On closer examination, Hanley wasn’t so sure. He saw that his fingers were already stained yellow. Sulphur, he guessed. And in rather free form.
Behind him, Stratton said sullenly, "This fellow, Rogan—who is he ? I mean, is there some special reason why the women have to go silly over him ? Dorothy kept me awake half the night worrying about his being down here alone."
Intent though he had been on the stone, Hanley recalled the similar reaction of Eleanora, and half turned. "He’s the only one of his kind," he began, "except for—" He stopped. For the rest was rumor only. He went on slowly, "According to reports, his parents were wrecked on some uninhabited planet, and he was born there while they were repairing the ship. He was still a child when they took him away, and by the time they began to suspect he was different, it was too late."
"Too late for what ?"
"They had no idea where the planet was on which they’d been wrecked."
“Oh !" The blonde youth was silent. Hanley was about to return his attention to the stone when Stratton said, "What’s this story about his having children all over the galaxy ?"
"Another rumor."
Hanley spoke curtly. It gave him no pleasure to defend Mark Rogan, especially when his own mind was uneasy with the same suspicions as Stratton was experiencing,
"What’s he trying to do ?" asked the young man grimly. "Produce a bunch of freaks like himself ?"
That was so exactly the way he had originally heard it that Hanley swallowed. In spite of himself, he said sarcastically, "Maybe he believes his wild talent for dealing with non-human races should be spread as widely as possible. Particularly, I imagine, he feels that when his services have been called for, the women of the new colony should be only too willing to provide perceptive children and so secure the future of the human race on that planet. It—"
He came to an abrupt stop, startled. He had intended to be ironic, but abruptly the notion sounded plausible. And necessary.
"My God !" he thought, "if he ever comes near Eleanora, I’ll—"
In abrupt tension, he raised the rock in his hands above his head, and flung it down upon another one nearby. There was loud, cracking sound. Both stones shattered, and a chance wind blew a cloud of yellowish dust into his face. The smell of sulphur was momentarily unbearably strong. Hanley coughed, almost choked, and then he had backed out into fresher air.
He was about to bend down over the broken pieces of the two stones, when Stratton let out a yell. "Mr. Hanley—the rocks—they’re moving !"

IN THAT FIRST MOMENT of mental confusion, Hanley had several fantastic impressions. Unquestionably, stones all over the meadow were beginning to roll towards them, slowly, as if they were not exactly sure of their direction—but they were rolling. Simultaneously, the wind that had been merely a series of gusts until then, began to blow at gale proportions. Dead leaves whirled into his face. Small pieces of grit stung his cheeks.
Hanley’s eyes began to water. Through a blur, he made his way to the crewboat, and fumbled for the steps that led to the deck. The wind was so strong now that he had to bend into it to remain on his feet. From above him, young Stratton yelled : "This way—quick !"
A hand caught Hanley’s shoulder, guiding him. A moment later he was scrambling up the steps, and had flung himself prostrate beside his companion. He lay there for a minute, gasping. Then he saw Stratton wriggling towards the controls.
Hanley shouted at him, "Frank—wait !"
The blonde youth turned, and said earnestly : "Mr. Hanley, we’d better get out of here. We might be blown over on our side."
His words were tossed by the wind, distorted, and delivered finally half-faded, but still comprehensible. Hanley shook his head stubbornly.
"Can’t you see ?" he shouted. "These stones are the life-form ! We’ve got to stay and find out things about them. If we can get enough information we won’t need Rogan.’’
It stopped the young man. He turned a contorted face towards Hanley. "By heaven," he said, "We’ll show that—"
His whole body twisted with eagerness. Hanley called to him, "Turn on the radio ! Let’s see what’s coming over."
The radio was alive with voices. Wherever Stratton turned the dial, he produced uproar that was loud and continuous. Hanley listened grimly for a minute, and then glanced over the side of the boat.
He winced as he saw that the stones were piling up against the side of the small vessel, one on top of the other. The pile, at its highest point, was about three feet from the ground. It sloped back to a thin line of pebbles some twelve to fifteen feet from the bigger stones at the front. Hanley estimated that there were several hundred stones already in the pile.
More were coming. He flinched, but kept on looking. As far as he could see over that wind-swept meadow, stones were rolling towards the crewboat. Their speed seemed to vary according to their size. He judged that the medium-sized ones were traveling two or three miles per hour, whereas several that were almost two feet in diameter were moving at nearer five miles per hour.
The pile grew even as he watched. Hanley turned uneasily toward Stratton. And saw that the young man was pushing with a stick at something that seemed to be threatening him from the other side of the small craft.
Stratton turned, "The stones !" he yelled hoarsely. They’ve piled up. They’ll be spilling on top of us in a minute."
Hanley hesitated. It seemed to him that by remaining they had learned how the enemy attacked. Perhaps, if they stayed just a bit longer—
His thought was interrupted by another shout from young Stratton : "Mr. Hanley—look !"

HANLEY followed the young man’s pointing hand. A giant rock was lifting itself out of the ground a hundred feet away. It was at least ten feet in diameter, and it was poising now, turning, as if trying by means of some alien senses to decide its direction. In a moment it would be bearing down on them.
Hanley gulped, and then in a loud yet calm voice said, "All right—lift her up !"’
As Stratton manipulated the drive control lever, there was a surge of power that sent a vibratory impulse through the rigid, metals of the ship. The deck throbbed under Hanley, and he could almost feel the engines straining to lift the craft.
"Mr. Hanley, something is holding us down !"
Hanley thought blankly "We’ll have to get out and run. But where to ?"
He was about to say, "Try again !" when he saw that the huge rock was starting to move. Straight at the ship it came, gathering speed each time it turned over.
Hanley shouted, "Frank—the big rock —come this way !"
He didn’t wait to see if the young man obeyed. With a convulsive effort, he flung himself far out over the side of the craft. He landed on the rock he had aimed at, and, using it as a springboard, leaped again.
Behind him, there was a crash, a squealing of metal and the shriek of a human being in mortal agony,
And silence.

* * *

He was running, with a dying wind lending wings to his feet. Hanley finally slowed from exhaustion, and looked back. He had gone about two hundred and fifty yards ; and there were several trees and much shrubbery between him and the crewboat. But he could see that the rock was still lying on top of the smashed craft. He noticed no movement anywhere. Even the stones were still.
The great wind blew in gusts only now. It was spent. Already, the incident had a dream-like quality. It seemed incredible that Frank Stratton was lying dead or desperately injured in the wreck of the boat. Hanley thought distractedly : "I’ve got to go back."
A hundred feet from him, a small stone stirred, lifted itself out of its hole, and started hesitantly toward him. Simultaneously, there was other movement. Scores of stones began to move in his direction.
Hanley retreated. He had an empty feeling about what had happened to his companion. But far more important was the fact that he had found the hostile life-form on this planet. He had to get back to the ship with that vital information.
He headed on a course parallel to the river toward the village, which he judged was three or four miles away. In a few minutes he had outdistanced the moving stones. "They’re slow," he thought exultantly. "It takes a little while for them to decide that somebody is around."
He began to picture the life of the colonists on this frontier planet. They’d have to clear rocks from whole areas. Ato-guns with their thousand-unit explosive charges to a loading would be standard equipment for men and women alike. It was even possible to visualize a time when the curious rock-life would be of museum interest only. They must have a very slow growth, and so could probably be eliminated from all except the most remote territories in a measurable time.
He was still considering the possibilities he saw a solid glitter of stones ahead.

HANLEY STOPPED, chilled. Hastily, he turned from the river. And stopped again. The stony glitter was in that direction, also.
Swallowing, he headed for the river.
His eyes searched for stones in that direction. A few moving objects were visible among the shrubbery, but there was so much brush and scrubwood that it seemed evident that small rocks would have difficulty in making progress. That became his hope, instantly.
He hurried past several large trees, sizing them up for girth as he went by. The largest tree in the vicinity he found less than two hundred feet from the cliff’s edge.
One section of its huge trunk sloped up from the ground at so gradual a slant that he’d be able to run up it swiftly, scramble up to another thick branch, and from there go almost to the top of the main trunk which towered majestically above any other tree in the neighborhood.
Hanley hurried to the edge of the cliff overlooking the river. The water was nearly fifty feet below, and the wall of the cliff ran sheerly down. It even slanted inward slightly ; and there was no possibility of climbing down with a ladder. One look convinced Hanley that the river did not offer a way of escape.
As he headed back toward the tree, he saw uneasily that more than a score of stones had rolled between him and the safety of the trunk. He walked straight toward one of them. It kept rolling in the same direction after he had stepped over it, and did not stop until he had gone past two more of the blind things. Then it halted, and began hesitantly to move towards him again.
His fear faded even more. He took a quick look around to make sure that he was not being hemmed in. Then he waited for the stone to come up to him. As it approached, he studied it anxiously for a sign of intelligence. There was nothing but the smoothly porous, rock-like substance.
It rolled right up against his foot, touched his boot—and attached itself.
He kicked at it, but it clung as if it were glued to the boot. It weighed at least five pounds, and when he moved his foot he felt the drag of it, the need to strain his muscles in order to lift it, the sharp fear that he wouldn’t be able to get rid of it.
Other stones were approaching him.
Alarmed, Hanley retreated to the tree trunk, and, bending down, removed the boot to which the rock had attached itself. He shook the boot, vainly. With abrupt determination, he raised it above his head, and flung it, boot and stone together, straight down on another stone.
The two rocks dissolved ; there was a gust of wind that blew the sulphurous dust into his face. Hanley coughed furiously. When he could see again through his tear-filled eyes, he was first attracted to a gleaming crystal that lay in the pile of debris. He studied it, then hastily he recovered his boot, and started up the trunk.
It was time. As far as the eye could see, the land glittered with the movement of stones converging towards him.
His day in the tree passed uneventfully.
Just before dark, Hanley climbed to a higher branch and found himself a reasonably comfortable crotch for the night. He spent the early hours of darkness wide awake, alert to sounds below. About midnight, he dozed.
He awakened with a start. The sun was just coming up over the horizon—and a crewboat was speeding toward him, following the course of the river. He jumped hastily to his feet, almost fell out of the tree as a thick branch broke like so much dead wood. And then, safely balanced again, he tore off his coat and shirt.
He began to wave the shirt frantically . . .

AS ELEANORA served him breakfast Hanley learned that Mark Rogan had returned to the ship the evening before, spent the night aboard, and departed at dawn. He stopped eating, and considered the news. Finally :
"Did he have anything to say ? Had he solved the problem ?"
He waited, jealous of his own discovery, anxious not to have been out-done. Eleanora sighed ; then :
"I don’t think so. Of course, he talked mostly to the men. Perhaps he gave them, private information."
Hanley doubted it. And so, by the simple process of going out and looking, an ordinary man had bested the famous communications expert.
He was about to resume eating when the odd tone in which his wife had spoken made him look up. "He talked mostly to the men ?" he echoed.
There was a flush on her face. She said, "I had him to dinner." She added quickly, "I expected you back. It didn’t occur to me that you—"
She sounded so defensive that he felt compelled to interrupt : "It’s all right, my dear. I understand. I understand."
He wasn’t sure that he did. As he continued to eat, he studied her unobtrusively, shaken by his thoughts. Once he almost said : "Are you sure that he didn’t also spend night ?” The insult of the thought was so outrageous that he cringed, and felt angry at himself.
But it decided him. He had been intending to wait, and learn what Rogan had discovered ; the problem of dealing with the rock-life was by no means solved. But he found himself suddenly less amenable to that kind of reasoning.
He discovered that the other leaders, once they heard the detailed account of his experience, were equally reluctant to wait.
"Our women have gone crazy about that man," one individual said angrily. "Do you know what my wife suggested when she heard that Frank Stratton was dead ? She thought his widow ought to marry Rogan right away, before he went away. Of course, from all accounts, he’s not the marrying kind. But just imagine having such an idea instantly."
"It’s a survival instinct," said another man. "History is full of stories of women who have wanted their children to be fathered by famous men. In this case, with Rogan’s special ability—"
"Not so special," somebody interrupted. "Our own leader, Leonard Hanley, discovered the enemy without any help from the famous man."
Hanley ended the somewhat heated discussion finally by saying, "It will take us most of today to get our main equipment down. If Mr. Rogan condescends to turn up before we’re ready to disembark the women and children, he can offer his views at that time. Otherwise—"
Mark Rogan, as it happened, did not condescend to turn up.

THE LANDINGS were made in open areas along the river bank in the forested valley below the falls. By noon, everybody was on the ground. Hanley had a final consultation with Captain Cranston, and was informed that the COLONIST 12 would leave immediately.
"We’ve already been far too long on this trip," the officer said in justification. "The owners will be furious."
Hanley could feel no sympathy for the gentlemen, but he recognized that he and the others would experience the grimmer effects of that commercialism. He tried to thing of something that would delay the ship’s departure, but all that occurred to him finally was :
"What about Mr. Rogan ? Aren’t you going to wait for him ?"
Captain Cranston shrugged. "A patrol ship will probably pick him up. Well, good-bye."
As they shook hands, Hanley thought cynically that there was no suggestion now that Rogan could travel through space without spaceships. It seemed amazing that anyone could have believed such nonsense.

Mid-afternoon. Out of the corner of one eye, Hanley saw Eleanora—who had been working beside the tent—snatch a compact from a pocket of her slacks, and hastily start to powder her face. Hanley glanced in the direction she had been gazing, and winced. Mark Rogan was coming toward him along the river bank.
The Patrolman said nothing until he was less than half a dozen feet from Hanley. Then : "Where’s the ship ? Mr. Hanley, did you order this landing ?"
His voice was as soft as it had always been, but there was an edge of suppressed anger in it that chilled Hanley despite his confidence. The thought came : "Have I possibly made a mistake ?"
Aloud, he said, "Yes, I ordered the landing. It lust happens, Mr. Rogan—" he was beginning to feel sure of himself again— "that I discovered the nature of the hostile life on this planet, and we have taken all necessary precautions."
Twice, Rogan seemed about to speak, but finally he stepped back. There was an enigmatic smile on his face as he looked around at the busy colonists. Several trees had been chopped down, and they were now in the process of being converted to plastic.
Silently, Rogan walked over to the complex machinery, and watched the bubbling up of the sap in the wood as it was sawed, and then the swift chemical action that neutralized the resinous substance.
He came back to Hanley, and his vividly green eyes seemed to glow with irony, as he said, "What did you discover ?"
He listened with his head slightly tilted to one side, as if he were hearing more than the words. And his eyes had a faraway look in them ; he seemed to be gazing at a scene that was in his mind. He said finally, "You think then that the crystal you saw in the rock after you had smashed it was possibly the ’brain’ ?"
Hanley hesitated ; then defensively, "The piezoelectric crystal is the heart of radio and television engineering, and in a certain sense crystals grow, and—"
He got no further. Eleanora had run forward and grasped Rogan by the arm. "Please," she begged, "what’s wrong ? What’s the matter ?"
Rogan released himself gently from her fingers. "Mrs. Hanley," he said quietly, "your husband has made a deadly dangerous error. The stone activity is merely a product of the scientific control which the ruling intelligence of this planet exercises over its environment."
He turned, to the stricken Hanley. "Was there a strong wind at any time while you were being attacked ?"
Hanley nodded mutely.
Rogan said, "Another manifestation."
He looked at his watch, and said, "It’s a little more than two hours till dark. If we take only essentials, we can be out of this valley before the sun sets."
He paused. His green eyes fixed on Hanley’s wavering gaze with a bleak intensity. He said curtly, "Give the command !"
"B-but—" Hanley stammered his reaction, then pulled himself together, "It’s impossible. Besides, we’ve got to make our stand somewhere. We—"
He stopped hopelessly, already convinced, but too miserable to go on.
Rogan said, "Give the order, and I’ll explain—"

SHORTLY after night fell, a gale wind sprang up. It blew for an hour, sand-filled, stinging their faces as they walked behind the long rows of caterpillar tractors. All the younger children were taken up in the six crewboats. When the storm was past, several of the healthier children were brought down, and their places in the boats taken by women who could no longer remain awake.
About midnight, the attack of the stones began. Rocks twenty and thirty feet in diameter thundered out of the darkness into the range of the groping searchlight beams, which were mounted on the tractors. Before the extent of the assault could be gauged, two of the tractors were crushed. Metal screeched, men shrieked in dismayed agony—and mounted ato-guns pulverized the rocks before any more damage could be done.
Several people had to be rescued from small stones that attached themselves to shoes and boots, and prevented all except the most awkward movement. When that was over, Hanley had to walk among the weary men and women, and insist that Rogan’s directive to "keep moving" be obeyed.
Just before dawn, the ground under them began to heave and shake. Great fissures opened, and individuals had terrifying experiences before they were pulled to safety out of suddenly created abysses.
As the faint light of day broke through the blackness of the horizon, Hanley mumbled to Rogan, "You mean—they can cause sustained earthquakes of that proportion ?"
Rogan said, "I don’t think that will happen very often. I think it requires great courage for them to penetrate hot rock areas where such phenomena can be stirred up.”
He broke off, thoughtfully : "I see this as an ally arrangement, with the onus being on man to prove that he can be helpful. Of course, it will take a while—after this unfortunate beginning—to persuade the Intelligence to consider such an arrangement.
It doesn’t think in human terms."
Hanley was intent. "Let me get this clear. You’re taking us to a flat plain north of here. You want us to build concrete huts there while we wait for you to persuade the Intelligence that we mean no harm. Is that right ?"
Rogan said, "It’d be better if you kept moving. But of course that would be very difficult . . . with women . . . children." He seemed to be arguing with himself.
Hanley persisted, "But we’ll be reasonably safe on such a barren plain ?"
"Safe !" Rogan stared at him. "Man, you don’t seem to understand. Despite the similarity to Earth appearance, this planet has a different life process. You’re going to learn what that means."

HANLEY felt too humble to ask any more questions. An hour later, he watched as Rogan commandeered one of the crewboats, and flew off into the morning mists. About noon, Hanley dispatched the other crewboats to rescue some of the equipment they had abandoned the night before.
The boats came back about dark with a weird report. A barrel of salt meat had rolled away from them, and had evaded all their efforts to capture it. An atomic jet proved a hazard. It would start up, and lift itself into the air, and then shut off and fall back to the ground, only to repeat the process. It almost wrecked a crewboat before a magnetic crane mounted on another boat lifted it permanently clear of the ground. Thereafter it remained lifeless.
Hanley guessed unhappily : "Tentative experiments."
The colony spent the night on a level grassy plain. Guards patrolled the perimeter of the encampment. Tractor motors hummed and pulsed. Searchlights peered into the darkness, and all the grown-ups took turns at performing some necessary duty.
Hanley was awakened shortly after midnight by Eleanora. "Len—my shoes."
He examined them sleepily. The surface was all bumpy, with tiny knobs protruding through the polish. Hanley felt a grisly thrill as he realized that they were growing. He asked, "Where did you keep them ?"
“Beside me.”
“On the ground ?"
"You should have kept them on," said Hanley, "the way I did mine."
"Leonard Hanley, I wouldn’t wear shoes while I’m sleeping if it’s the last—" She stopped, said in a subdued tone, "I’ll put them on, see if they still fit."
Later, at breakfast, he saw her limping around, tears in her eyes, but without complaint.

THAT AFTERNOON one of the tractors exploded without warning, killing its driver. A flying segment tore off the arm of a five-year-old boy nearby. The women cried. The doctors eased the pain with drugs, and kept him alive. There were angry mutterings among the men. One man came over to Hanley.
"We’re not going to stand for this much 1onger," he said. "We’ve got a right to fight back."
Rogan turned up just before dark, and listened in silence to the account of what had happened. He said finally, "There’ll be more."
Hanley said grimly, "I can’t understand why we don’t set fire to every forest in this part of the planet, and clear the damned things from this whole area."
Rogan, who had been turning away, faced slowly about. His eyes were almost yellow in the fading light. He said, "Damn you, Hanley, you talk like so many scamps I’ve run into in my business. I tell you, you can’t defeat this tree intelligence with fire, even though fire is the one thing it’s afraid of. Its fear and its partial vulnerability is man’s opportunity, not to destroy, but to help.”
Hanley said helplessly, "But how does it operate ? How does it control stones, and make winds and—"
“Those phenomena," said Rogan, “derive from the fact that its life-energy flows many times faster than ours. A nerve impulse in you and me moves approximately 300 feet a second. On this planet, it’s just under 400,000. And so, even rocks have a primitive life-possibility.
Crystals form easily, and can be stimulated to imitate any vibrations that affect them. Far more important, there is a constant flow of life-energy through the ground itself. The result is that everything can be affected and controlled to some extent. Divert the energy to the ground surface through grass-roots and sand ; and great winds rush in to cool off the ’hot’ surfaces. Divert it through one of our tractors and—"
"But," said Hanley, who had been frowning, "why didn’t that tree I was on for a whole day and night—why didn’t it try to kill me ?"
"And call attention to itself !" said Rogan with that tight smile of his. "It might have tried something against you that would appear accidental—like the breaking of a branch that could make you fall—but nothing overt."
He broke off, firmly, "Mr. Hanley, there is no method but cooperation. Here is what you’ll probably have to be prepared to do."
He outlined the steps, coolly, succinctly. No encroachment for several years on an area where there were trees. Definitely no use of lumber for any purpose, except such dying wood as Rogan might, by arrangement with the forest, assign to be cut. Establishment of fire-fighting equipment to help all forests in the vicinity of the colony against spontaneous fires, the pattern later to be extended over the entire planet.
When Rogan had finished, Hanley considered the plan, and found one flaw in it. He protested, "What I’d like to know is, how are we going to maintain contact with this Intelligence after you’re gone ?"
As he finished speaking, he saw that Eleanora had come up beside him. In the fading light, it seemed to Hanley that she was bending forward, as if straining for Rogan’s answer.
Rogan shrugged. "Time alone," he said, "can resolve that problem."

THEY BUILT the village of New Earth beside a brook. There were no trees anywhere in sight. According to Rogan, the small shrubs that lined the banks of the stream were but distantly related to the greater tree-life, and could be used for any purpose.
There were no less than eighteen rock attacks during the next eleven days. In one of them, a stone one hundred and ninety feet in diameter roared across the plain toward them. It smashed two houses, plunged on for a mile across the plain, and then turned back. Crewboats with ato-guns successfully exploded it before it was able to return to the village.
And then one night nothing at all happened. At dawn, Mark Rogan turned up, pale and weary looking, but smiling. "It’s all right," he said. "You get your chance."
Men cheered hoarsely. Women wept and tried to touch his hand. Hanley stood back, and thought : "It’s too soon to tell."
But the days passed, and there were no more manifestations. The guards began to sleep at their posts, and finally were no longer posted. At dusk on the eighth straight day of peace, there was a knock on the door of Hanley’s house. Eleanora answered, and Hanley heard her talking to someone in a low tone. The softness of the other voice made him abruptly suspicious, and he was about to get up from his chair, when the door shut, and Eleanora came back in. She was breathless.
"He’s leaving !" she said.
Hanley didn’t ask who. He hurried outside, and saw that Rogan was already at the outskirts of the village, a vague figure in the gathering darkness. A week later, there was still no sign of him. Among the rank and file of the colonists, the whisper was that he had gone in his fashion to some other part of the galaxy. Hanley ridiculed the story, but when he heard it soberly stated in a gathering of technicians, he realized gloomily that the legend of Mark Rogan would survive all his denials.
Two months passed. Hanley awoke one morning to find that Eleanora had slipped into the bed beside him. "I wish to report to my lord and master," she said airily, "that there’s going to be an addition to the Hanley clan."
After he had kissed her, Hanley lay silent, thinking : "If it has green eyes and jet black hair, I’ll—I’ll—"
He couldn’t imagine what he’d do. He groaned inwardly in his terrible jealousy. But already at the back of his mind was the realization that the race of man would survive on one more alien planet.

Juggernaut and other golden-age stories (e-book)

[1Juggernaut was first published in the August 1944 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, with illustrations by Kramer and cover artwork by Timmins.

[2The Ship of Darkness was first published as the cover story in the February 1948 issue of Fantasy Book, vol. 1, number 2.

[3Rogue Ship was first published in the March 1950 issue of the magazine Super Science Stories.
– It was renamed The Twisted Men for the publication of an anthology of the same name in 1964, and parts of the story were also incorporated by van Vogt into the (very different) “fix-up” novel also called Rogue Ship that he put together from various bits and pieces in 1965.

[4Haunted Atoms was first published in the Spring 1951 issue of the quarterly sci-fi magazine Fantasy.
 republished in two other sci-fi magazines in the fifties, it’s one of the rare golden-age van Vogt stories never to have been published in any hardcover or pocketbook anthology since then.
 with the original artwork by Fischer.

[5The Star-Saint was first published in the March 1951 issue of Planet Stories.