"The Beast" - an early van Vogt novella now available for the first time since 1943
Sunday 15 September 2013, by
This golden-age novella by the author of The Monster and Black Destroyer, that appeared in the November 1943 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, has never been included in any anthology of van Vogt’s works , possibly because of its length: 22,000 words, the equivalent of some 65 paper-back pages.
An overview of this very imaginative war-time story, featuring rocket ships with atomic engines (!), a deadly world-wide Nazi conspiracy (the Nazis have lost the war but are actively preparing for the return match with their very superior technology), a lost civilization inside the moon, a mysterious teletransportation device that confers immortality on its subjects, an immensely powerful and intelligent Neanderthal man (!!), a sabre-toothed tiger and more – much more – can be seen elsewhere in this section by clicking here.
With the original Astounding artwork by Orban.
An e-book is available for downloading below.
Pendrake passed under the corner archway of the drugstore, emerged onto Fiftieth Street — and stopped short.
The twin aerogel towers across the street looked strangely bare and different. Pendrake stared blankly for a moment before he saw what was wrong : The plasto-glitter sign was gone, the sign that had read:
LAND SETTLEMENT PROJECT
Slightly more than two years had passed since that day in August, 1948, when he had found an atomic engine in the hillside near Crescentville, slightly less than two years since he had traced the marvelous machine to these turreted towers and to a group of scientists who were secretly operating spaceships to Venus, carrying emigrants to that fantastically lovely and fertile planet under an idealistic plan of their own.
Three times he had been to Venus himself after Eleanor and he resumed their badly shattered married life. But now for nearly a year Eleanor had required constant attention.
The baby was born dead. Eleanor in her intense fashion was still taking it hard ; and the doctor advised a change of scene. What better place than Venus : so here he was to make the arrangements. Funny if the scientists had suspended emigration to that glorious planet without advising him. From the moment of discovery they had treated him as one of themselves.
Frowning, Pendrake crossed the street and peered through the window. But the smaller sign that had once graced its interior, giving accurate yet carefully worded details to prospective emigrants — that sign was gone, too.
Beyond the window frame, considerably beyond, a woman sat at a desk. Her back was to him, but one glance showed that she was not Mona Grayson, the daughter of the inventor of the atomic engine.
Mona Grayson had been small, slight of build. This woman was broad in every beam right down to her thick ankles.
Shrugging, Pendrake went to the door. It opened at the barest touch of that strong hand of his.
"Bin dere anyting you vant ?"
The broad German accent was like a slap in the face. Pendrake halted, then slowly walked around to the front of the woman’s desk. He stood there staring at her.
She had a plump face, dark hair, dark eyes ; and after a moment the very grossness of her appearance, the very unvarnished quality of her guttural, broken English brought easement to his strained nerves.
She might be Jewish: and besides, what the devil, anyway ? There had been plenty of refugee scientists and their families. For all he knew, this was a member of such a family. He caught himself.
"Is Dr. Grayson in?"
"Vot name shall I gif ?"
Pendrake winced. "Pendrake," he said grudgingly. "Jim Pendrake."
"Vrom vere ?"
Pendrake made an impatient gesture with his single arm toward the closed door that led to the other tower. "Is he in there?"
"I vill send your name in if you vill tell me vere you are vrom ! Mr. Birdman vill explain everyt’ing to you."
"Mr. what ?"
"Vun moment, und I vill call him."
Pendrake tensed. There was something wrong, just what, wasn’t clear. And this comic-opera caricature of an information girl wasn’t helping matters. For some reason Grayson and the others had given up these towers as a center of interplanetary activity, and a bunch of Germans had taken over the building.
He looked up with abrupt decision. "Don’t bother to call anyone. I can see I’ve made a mistake. I —"
He paused, closed his eyes, then opened them again. The pearl-handled revolver was still peering at him over the edge of the woman’s desk.
"If you make vun moof," she said, "I vill shoot you mit dis noiseless gun."
A stocky man came into view. He had sandy hair, and freckles ; his gaze played swiftly over Pendrake, lingered momentarily on the latter’s empty right sleeve, then he said softly in perfectly colloquial American :
"Good work, Lena. I was just beginning to think we’d gathered up all the threads, and now here comes another. We’ll put him in a spacesuit, ship him by truck to Field A. There’s a plane due there in half an hour. We can quiz him later on. He must have a wife and maybe some friends —"
After an hour, the horrible, jarring ride was over ; the chains were taken off the suit that inclosed Pendrake. As he sat up dizzily, he saw a house and other buildings, and standing among them a small cabin-model, propellerless plane.
One of the truckmen motioned with a gun. "Get over there."
Three men were in the plane. They wore the same kind of metal-plastic suits as Pendrake had, and they said nothing as he was pushed aboard.
One of them indicated a seat ; the man at the controls pushed a lever and, soundlessly, the machine began to move forward — and up. The utter silence of the immensely potent movement was all Pendrake needed. Here was a Grayson atomic engine.
With startling suddenness the sky grew dark blue. The sun lost its roundness and became a shape of flaring fire in a universe of night.
Behind the plane the Earth began to show its roundness. Ahead glittered a growing orb of moon.
The phone lights misted : "Birdman speaking, excellency."
The ice-cold voice at the other end said : "You will be glad to know that after only three days we have all the necessary data on the man, Pendrake. As you know, it is imperative that we locate for questioning every person who might have some knowledge of the Grayson atomic engine, and do so without creating the slightest suspicion against ourselves. You will, therefore, carry out the following orders with respect to Mrs. Grayson —"
The misty light faded slowly ; and the stocky Birdman shook himself like an animal coming in out of drenching rain.
He walked swiftly to a cabinet in one corner of his office. It opened at his touch. Liquor bottles gleamed at him. Almost without looking he snatched one, and poured himself a glass of amber stuff — drained it at a gulp.
He shuddered as the violent concoction billowed inside him, and then slowly he returned to his desk. Funny, he thought, how the sound of his voice always affected him so strongly.
MANIAC KILLS SERVANTS, KIDNAPS WIFE. EX-AIRMAN JAMES PENDRAKE SLAYS FIVE. IS DRAMATICALLY ACCUSED IN NOTE WRITTEN BY DEAD SERVANT.
Crescentville, Aug. 23 — In a dramatic note, written by a maid servant as she lay dying, James Pendrake, one-armed former airman and husband of Eleanor Pendrake, was accused of murder and kidnapping. The story of the only other witness to the crime, Major Ned Hoskins, Washington patent attorney and friend of the Pendrakes, has not yet been released by Air Force authorities who —
"Major Hoskins," said the Air Force officer presiding, "just how far were you from the white house on the Pendrake estate when you first noticed something wrong?"
"About two hundred yards," Hoskins said quietly.
"Under what circumstances were you there ?"
"I had received a most confused phone call from Mrs. Pendrake. Her husband had been away three days without calling her, and her calls to his hotel in New York had produced the information that he hadn’t been in his room since the day of his arrival.
"She then, she informed me, called up several friends and — this is where my confusion comes in — the people involved were all dead or missing. She babbled something about an atomic engine, and an organization that was transporting emigrants to Venus."
"She was quite hysterical, was she?"
"I would say so, yes. I told her finally that I would fly up that afternoon to see her."
"Just what is your relation to the Pendrakes ?"
"Pendrake and I were in the same air squadron in China. However, we quarreled two years ago over something significantly related to what has happened here,"
"He came to my office two years ago and told me he had found a remarkable engine. However, it had been stolen from him by force, and he was anxious to trace the ownership. I took Air Commissioner Blakeley down to see him and he insulted Blakeley in such a fashion that I broke off our friendship. I suppose Blakeley and I should have realized there was more behind Pendrake’s refusal to talk than bad manners, but I must admit I was too furious to reason about it.
"I subsequently regretted my ill temper, but I didn’t quite know what I could do about it. You may check all this with Blakeley. I believe he is ill at the moment."
"Yes. At what time did you arrive in Crescentville ?"
"About half past three."
"What did you do ?"
"I couldn’t find a taxi. Walking along the main street, I suddenly noticed there was a LETSTOP meeting at the church. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my masks with me, but I went in and spent ten minutes describing what had happened to me in a Jap prison camp."
"It was after this meeting that you went to see Mrs. Pendrake?"
"You walked ?"
"It was less than a mile, and very pleasant, mostly under trees ; and I reached the little bridge which crosses Pendrake Creek about two hundred and fifty yards from the house at twenty-eight minutes after four. I know that was the time because I looked at my watch. A minute later I emerged from the shelter of the trees and there was the Puma cabin-plane drawn up on the road in front of the house, as I have already described in a written statement."
"I’m using that as a basis for my questioning. The sight of the plane surprised you ?"
"It did. I couldn’t see how it had landed. The road offered no runway to speak of. And then I saw that it had no propeller. That made me think it must have been there for quite a while.
"It is that propellerless part of your story I want to question you about. But first — what happened next ?"
"Horrible screaming of women followed by the clatter of machine guns." Hoskins shuddered. "I can just picture those women suddenly realizing they were going to be murdered."
"Four men came out, one of them carrying the limp body of a young woman."
"You recognized her as Mrs. Pendrake ?"
"No, it was too far to see faces. I only assume now that it was she."
"Ah! Enters the element of doubt. It was too far. You couldn’t recognize faces — or the presence of propellers?"
"I didn’t say that !" — sharply.
"All right, all right, let that pass. The four men emerged from the house, climbed into the plane with a woman and —"
"The plane made a run measurable in feet, then rose straight up into the air."
"Ah, yes, yes. But let’s skip that. too, for the moment and return to the men. Was one of the murderers a one-armed man?"
"I don’t think so."
"But you won’t swear it?"
"I am convinced I would have noticed. When I first learned two years ago that Pendrake had lost his right arm in a crash, it was a great shock to me. You may recall
that Pendrake was the Air Force’s Man of Steel. He was the greatest physical personality of the war. Knobs came off when he opened doors hastily. When he was excited, objects he was holding lost their shape. He —"
"But you won’t swear he wasn’t there ?"
"No-o !" reluctantly. "I was lying in the ditch in a very amazed frame of mind."
"In the ditch — you weren’t being very brave !"
"To the contrary, I felt no fear. I saw everything that happened with absolute clarity."
But you were in the ditch, safe ?"
"I was indeed. If I had been excited. I would probably have dashed forward to my death. As it is I am here alive, an earnest testimonialist to an astounding event. I saw a propellerless plane shoot up into the air like a bullet."
We’ll come to that. What did you do when the plane had departed ?"
"I rushed forward and into the house intending to phone Crescentville. In the hallway I stumbled over the body of the first woman. In quick succession I found the bodies of two men, a big Negress and a maid. It was the maid who was clutching the note, in which Pendrake is accused of the crime, an obvious frame-up because the girl didn’t have time to write anything."
"The frame-up is not so obvious to the rest of us. But let us go on. You —"
The stocky man reached the hotel through the secret entrance. He felt himself scrutinized, but finally the door swung open. He was led along a corridor. A few minutes later he was in the inner sanctum.
"Excellency !" He bowed.
The tall, gaunt man stared at him from eyes that were like shining holes in his head, so hard and bright were they.
"Herr Birdman, I have seen the newspapers. There was a witness."
The stocky man gurgled : "How could the men know ? The accident was as mindless as our discovery of all this. Hoskins’s presence at that moment —"
"I am not interested in reasons. However" — the cold voice thawed —"I have been reliably informed that Air Force higher-ups regard Hoskins’s story as fantastic. They favor the more rational explanation that Hoskins was not half so calm as he tried to make out. In any event they haven’t the faintest idea what to do.
"Major Hoskins remains a danger center. But killing him might kindle an interest in his story that he himself, living, cannot arouse.
"There are still a few problems. We must remain alert, prepared for drastic action. But on the whole I think we are justified in drinking to the successful conclusion of what might have been a dangerous incident."
Birdman accepted the proffered glass, and waited as the glittering eyes measured him. Finally, the man’s bony hand came up ; his voice rang out :
"To final victory — Heil Hitler !" "Heil Hitler !" Birdman echoed.
Afterward he babbled wanly : "I admit, when I saw there had been a witness, I was worried. There seemed a destiny in that which seemed to lead straight toward the Shaposhenko —"
He stopped short. The smoldering eyes were like pools of fire glaring at him. The stocky man shivered.
"Heil Hitler," he said hastily. "All I meant was —"
He was cut off, icily : "This fear of the Shaposhenko punishment," said the steely voice, "is one which I shall not tolerate. You may go."
He was lying in darkness.
Pendrake frowned. He remembered the fight with the three Nazis — silly fools, they hadn’t considered a one-armed man dangerous — and he remembered the crash landing on the Moon.
He hadn’t planned the crash. But things had happened swiftly ; and in the final issue there wasn’t time to learn exactly how the German controls of the space drive worked.
Yes, the crash and what preceded it was clear enough. It was the darkness that —
Pitch black it was ; and space hadn’t been like that. Space had been a velvet curtain pierced with tiny brilliants ; and the sun flashing and flaring through the portholes of the hurtling plane — Darkness, but not like this.
Pendrake frowned again. And with sudden will he tried to move his arm.
It moved reluctantly, as if quicksand was clinging to it. Or as if it were buried in sand —
His mind leaped in an immense comprehension. Powdered pumice stone ! He was lying in a "sea" of settled stone dust somewhere on the side of the Moon that eternally faced away from Earth ; and all he had to do —
He burst up out of the prison of dust and stood blinking in the ghastly glare of the sun. His heart sank. He was in a vast desert. A hundred yards to his left a plane wing protruded from the sand. To his right, about a third of a mile, was a long low ridge across which the sun’s rays fell slantwise, creating dense shadows.
The rest was desert. As far as his eyes could see was that dead level of pulverized pumice. Pendrake’s gaze returned to the exposed wing, and with a stark intensity he thought : "The engine !"
He began to run. His strides were long and bouncy, but he knew from past experience what low gravity was like. And after a moment, now that hope had come, even the consciousness of low weight became a dim force at the back of his mind.
For there was hope. Damage to the structure of this supership didn’t matter. Wings could be torn off, body smashed and bent. But so long as the engine and the drive shaft were intact and attached, the plane would fly.
It was the almost vertical tilt of the wing that fooled him. He used a loose metal plate and excavated doggedly for what must have been half an hour. And then he came to the torn end of the wing.
There was nothing below, no plane, no engine, no tail gear — nothing but pulverized pumice.
The wing poked up into the sky, a mute remnant of a plane that had somehow shed a part of itself, and then soared off into eternity. If the laws of chance meant anything, the plane and its engine would fly on forever through space.
But there was still a chance. Pendrake began to walk hurriedly toward the ridge. The slopes of the ridge were steeper than he had estimated; and they were buried in black shadows. Hard to see ; he kept sliding back, the loose-packed dust coming down in little rushes. After minutes of effort, he was still only halfway to the top of the two-hundred-foot hill.
And it was getting cold. At first the chill hardly touched him, but it swiftly became a biting cold that pressed against his skin, and began to steal inside clammily.
Within minutes his whole body was numbed, his teeth chattering. He thought in stark amazement : The suit, the damnable suit must be so constructed as to distribute evenly the direct and terrible heat of undiffused sunlight, with no allowance at all for cold.
He reached the top of the ridge, and stood with closed eyes facing into the full blaze of the low-hung sun ; sluggishly the warmth began to flow back into his veins ; he remembered his hope, and looked around, looked long and with a gathering desperation.
But the plane hadn’t merely dropped its wing, and then crashed at some near point. In all his scope of vision, the flat reach of pumice sea was unbroken except for seven craters that reared up bleakly in the far distance, like witches’ mouths sucking at the sky.
He had walked for over an hour toward them, the metal plate "shovel" still clutched in his fingers, before it came to Pendrake suddenly that the sun was lower in the sky than it had been.
Night was falling.
He was one man alone running from crater to crater while a fantastically flaring sun sank lower and lower in a sky that was darker than the midnight heavens of Earth. The extinct volcanoes were all small, the largest only about three hundred yards across.
The long shadows from the slanting rays of the sun fell across those crater bottoms; it was only by light reflections from the walls that Pendrake was able to see that here, too, the pumice ocean had spread its silent, enveloping waves of dust.
Two — four, five craters ; and still there was no sign of what he was looking for. As with the others, he climbed the sixth from the sunny side, and then stood sickly peering down into the black shadows of the shallow pit that spread before him.
Pumice, ragged edges of lava, protruding piles of rock that were darker than the shadows that engulfed them — it was all such a familiar pattern now that his eyes made automatic assessment and flashed on in a dull dismay.
His gaze was a hundred feet past the cave entrance on the far bottom before he realized that he had succeeded in his search.
He felt himself on the verge of eternity. The rim of the crater seemed sandwiched between the light-sprinkled blackness of space and the hard protrusions of the dead volcano. He raced on.
The sun was a blob of flame in a velvet sky. It seemed to quiver to his near right, as if balancing for the downward plunge. Its light cast shadows that seemed longer and more intense with each passing moment; every rill, every unevenness had its own bed of darkness.
Pendrake avoided the shadows. They were wells of cold that numbed his legs when he bounded into them. He thought finally, with utter desperation:
The suit couldn’t be as bad as this, suitable only for sunlight. It must have some arrangement for heating when there wasn’t any sun. It was made for space, for the Moon where darkness reigned supreme for two solid Earth weeks of every four.
Grayson and the scientists hadn’t had spacesuits. It was something the Nazis must have developed — forced by their difficulty to obtain the metal necessary to construct large spaceships, they were putting atomic engines into ordinary planes and the pilots into spacesuits. Clever !
But surely to heaven they had installed some kind of power unit in a spacesuit that actually worked in space. No mean feat of invention in itself as any airman knew who had ever worn a war-time stratosphere suit with all its imperfections.
There must be something. He could wait till he reached the cave entrance, and then —
And then he stood using his flexible metal and plastic arm with its equally flexible fingers, searching for some kind of heat switch.
But there was only the flashlight. He turned it on. The sun was a quarter wheel with streamers, an arc-like shape of light standing upright on the ground to his left. The Moon surface itself, except for the protruding craters, was in darkness, a pit-like, mind-shaking darkness.
Pendrake shuddered, and leaped down to the first level of the cavern. The beam of light from his headpiece showed the floor was pumice dust.
The frightful cold pressed in on him as he dug. Even violent movement wasn’t enough now, as it had been as long as part of the sun shone at him. The cold ate at his strength. The plate kept slipping from his numbing hand.
Like a tired old man he finally lay down in the shallow trench he had scraped in the dust. With a frantic will, he began laboriously to cover himself.
His last physical effort was an attempt to push his arm through the covering dust toward the flashlight switch in his headpiece. Mustn’t use up precious power, he thought vaguely.
The curious thing was that he pushed his arm halfway up, paused for a desperately needed rest — and forgot its purpose. There was something, it seemed to him, something. He gave it up, and lay there, his body like a cake of ice, his cheeks curving plates of cold.
The conviction came that he was in his grave.
But the life force in him was tenacious and unyielding. He grew warmer. The ice went out of his bones, his flesh began to tingle, his numbed hand grew fiery with pain, and his fingers thawed.
The animal heat of him spread through the suit, a rich, luxurious force. He couldn’t get as warm as he would have liked. The temperature was too low for that. After a long while it struck him that lying here was no solution to anything.
He must get deeper, deeper into the Moon’s pitted interior. It must be warmer farther down. Friction alone, the friction of semiviscid rock and metal, product of the Moon’s own tortuous writhings, would create a special higher temperature which would be held in by the insulating pumice and lava of the surface. There was, of course, the question of food, but —
Pendrake was struggling now to get out of his pumice grave ; and with a snap of his will he pushed the thought of food out of his mind. Climbing to his feet, he switched on his light, and began to work his way down.
The path was a twisted one, as if once the cave might have been the tubular tunnel of a live volcano — pulled out of shape by the shifting of the Moon’s crust.
Down, down, slantingly down. How many times he sought warmth in a bed of dust Pendrake had no memory. Twice he slept, for how long he had no idea at all. It could have been a minute’s doze ; it might have been hours each time.
The cave was timeless. A world of night through which the light from his helmet poked at intervals like a thin flame. He had no mercy on himself, but plunged down, often at a dead run, after a brief flicking on of his light to reveal possible dangers.
Other caves began to branch off from the main cavern. Sometimes they were plainly nothing but branches. But when a possibility of confusion existed, Pendrake forced himself to stop, to stand there while the hideous cold ate into him — stand there and clearly mark an arrow to indicate the direction from which he had come.
He slept again, and then again. Five days, he thought ; and knew that he might be fooling himself. A body so subjected to deathly cold must need more sleep than normal to recuperate. All his great strength could not ward off such a reaction of the human system.
But five sleeps — five days. Grimly he counted them in full, and added each sleep as one day — six, seven, eight, nine —
Gradually, it grew warmer. For a long, long time he didn’t notice that. But finally the consciousness penetrated that the intervals between those frantic burial parties of his were lengthening.
It was still bitterly cold on the tenth "day," but the chill was a slower pressure, not a biting, tearing thing. The warmth stayed longer inside him. For the first time he could walk along and clearly realize that he was a doomed man.
Other thoughts came, too. He ought to start back up again, back toward the surface where the sun would soon be shining. And once on the surface he could make a desperate two-weeks search for one of the Nazi camps.
In a way that purpose seemed silly, stupid. For — the question became a blank wonder in his mind — what would he do if he did find such a camp ? There was Eleanor, of course, but —
The very vagueness of his plans eroded his will, already long weakened from the pangs of hunger, and by a thirst so terrible that every minute seemed an hour, every second a bit of hell.
Turn around, his mind said. But his feet went on unheeding, down and down. He stumbled. He fell. And got up again. He made the narrow hairpin turn that led to the lighted corridor almost unseeing. And he was actually stepping across the entrance before the reality of it smashed at him.
With a single, mindless plunge, Pendrake dived behind a big up-jut of rock. He lay there quivering, so weak, so ill from reaction that for minutes his only thought was :
The end had come.
Recovery came hard. His nervous energy, that extraordinary reservoir of his great strength, was a worn and tattered thing.
But after a while his spirit surged once more into life. Cautiously, he peered over the needle of rock behind which his spacesuit-clad body slumped. He was crazy of course to think that he had seen moving shapes in the distance, but —
The corridor stretched before his gaze on a gradual downward slant. His first intense glance showed that it was empty of life. It took a long moment after that to grasp that it wasn’t lighted by electric bulbs, and that his initial impression, that light meant Nazis, was wrong.
He was alone in an old cave deep inside Earth’s satellite, like a worm that had crawled along a dried-out artery of somebody’s crumbling flesh.
Only no worm had ever suddenly run into a tunnel the walls of which shed a dull radiance.
The lighting was not even in texture, nor was it spaced according to any distinguishable pattern. As he walked cautiously forward, points and splashes of light shone at him. There was a long, trembly line on the right wall, and a rough crescent on the left, and other shapeless and meaningless forms glowed and blinked along the corridor as far as the eye could see.
Pendrake thought sharply : Some kind of radiant ore which might be harmful —
Harmful! His laughter echoed Homeric inside his headpiece, cut new cracks into his thirst-swollen lips, and ended abruptly as the pain grew unbearable. A man on the verge of death didn’t have to worry about new dangers.
He plunged on, for a while heedless. And then slowly the presence of the light penetrated anew. The truth burst upon him suddenly as he paused at a turning and found himself staring down a long slant at a corridor of light that faded into a point of distance.
The corridor was artificial!
And old ! Incredibly, fantastically old. So old the walls, that must have been as smooth as glass and harder than anything human beings had ever made, walls radiant in every element, had crumbled before the relentless pressure of ten, twenty, thirty million years. Crumbled and this sheltered, twisted, light-splotched tunnel was the result.
He stumbled on ; and the curious cunning thought came that the radiance would enable him to save his flashlight. For some obscure reason that seemed immensely important.
He began to giggle. It seemed suddenly irresistibly comic that he who was about to die had happened at this ultimate moment of his life upon an underground universe where beings had once lived.
His giggling became a wild, uncontrollable glee. Finally, however, it ended from sheer exhaustion, and he leaned weakly against the wall, staring down at the tiny river that washed across the cave, burbling out of a big crack in the rock and whirling out of sight into a hole in the opposite wall.
"I’ll just cross that stream," he told himself confidentially, "and then —"
Stream !!! His mind did a somersault so terrible in the nausea it brought, so physical that he staggered and fell like a stunned animal. The crash of metal and plastic on rock resounded in his ears ; and the shock, the clangor brought back a measure of his sanity.
He grew more alert, more conscious, came further out of his terrible stupor.
Water ! The surprise of its presence struck him more sharply. The thought, the comprehension grew so big that it projected clear through his brain and down into his muscles, and was still too big.
Water ! And running ! Come to think of it there hadn’t been any cold for a long time. Have to get his head free, air or no air. Somehow he’d survive if he got the water. It —
He climbed unsteadily to his feet, and saw the men coming toward him. He blinked at them, thought finally in a frowning astonishment : no armor, no headpieces ! Queerly dressed, though. Funny !
Before he could think further. there was a scramble of footsteps behind him. He whirled to see a dozen men bearing down from that direction. Instantly, knives flashed. A raucous voice yelled :
"Kill the dern critter. Dirty furrin’ spy !"
"Hey !" Pendrake breathed hoarsely.
His voice was lost in a chorus of bloodthirsty yells. He was shoved, flung ; and he hadn’t the strength even to lift his arm. At the very moment that the club struck him slantingly on the head, his amazement reached its peak ; amazement because –
His assailants were not German !
A missing ex-airman, his kidnapped wife, a curious two-year-old story about an atomic engine — those were the threads. In all those vital days there seemed nothing else.
But there was another thread.
August ended. The Earth sighed as it turned on its axis ; and a thousand winds blew in their thousand directions. September 1st flashed across the international date line ; by the time it reached the eastern American seaboard, a northeaster was blowing ; and a score of meteorologists drawing their isobars noted laconically that winter would be early this year of Grace, nineteen hundred and fifty.
By mid-afternoon of September 1st the hidden thread was coming up into the open. Air Commissioner Blakeley recovered from a bad case of influenza, and returned to his office. In catching up on events, he came across the interview of Major Ned Hoskins, patent attorney, by one of his staff officers.
"Pendrake," he mused, then flushed with remembered humiliation. "That was the one-armed chap who threw me out of his house, then sometime afterward sent me a list of names and addresses of atomic scientists and —"
His thought stopped. A storm of blood hammered at his temples. "This could ruin me !" he thought.
After a little, very white, he sent for Pendrake’s file and reread the letter with its list of names : Dr. McClintock Grayson, Cyrus Lambton — come to think of it he’d read about the death of those men in an accident and — This thing looked bigger every instant.
Sweating, he read his own reply to Pendrake’s letter, "— Further correspondence would be useless —"
For a long minute he stared down at the damning document. Finally, his jaw stiffened. He reached for the telephone.
"Get me Cree Lipton of the Federal Bureau of Investigation."
The phone lights in the stocky man’s private office misted, then came bright and clear. He said thickly :
"Herr Birdman speaking, excellency. What do you —"
He was cut off : "I have just received word from our Washington agents that the F. B. I. has been called into the case. Carry out Plan D at once.
"Kill Hoskins," the steely voice went on. "I place you in full responsibility. Hoskins had been in Crescentville for nearly a week tracing Pendrake’s movements ; he has already discovered the hole in the hillside where the engine fell that originally brought Pendrake into the affair. And he has photographed the images in the electrons in the surrounding earth with excellent confirmatory results even after all this time.
"Now that action is being taken by the government, the reason for denying him death no longer exists. That is all."
There was a click.
It was the afternoon of September 2.
Ned Hoskins glanced at the placard on the announcement board of the Crescentville All-Denominational Church — and stopped short, settled his heels hard on the dusty cement of the sidewalk. He stood there under the glare of the mid-afternoon sun, a lean, fastidiously dressed young man. With bleak-eyed hostility, he reread the words on the placard :
LETSTOP (Let’s End the Shaposhenko Type of Punishment, Inc.)
PRESENTS A VIGOROUS SPEAKER
WHO WILL ASSAIL THIS INCREDIBLE BLOT ON THE CHRISTIAN WORLD
END HATRED OF EX-ENEMY NATIONS
THIS AFTERNOON AT 2:30
Hoskins’s watch showed twenty minutes after two. He scowled viciously. Damn these LETSTOP people. The second meeting within ten days. Well, this time he did have his masks. But —
it had turned hot after a cool morning, a close, dry heat that made his face tingle with tiny tremors of the old pain. There was still the extra edge of needling in his right cheek where the plastic surgeons had to cut deep, long ago now.
Hoskins fingered the pain spot ; and, narrow-eyed, watched the people trickling into the church. By ones and twos they came, mostly women, but there were some men, too —oldsters, one youth and a middle-aged businessman type.
Staring at them, he felt no sympathy at all ; and after a moment he shrugged with the knowledge that he couldn’t shirk what had to be done here. First this, then seek out the cool environs of his hotel room.
He hurried back to his hotel, took his two masks out of his suitcase, and put them on — first the mask that had been made of his face before the surgery, and then the mask of his face as it was now.
It seemed hotter inside the church, or maybe it was just that the masks closed his pores and stifled him ; and besides, there was the vest he was wearing. The speaker was in full frenzied voice when Hoskins slid into a seat near the front :
"— And I say to you that we are the ungodly, the cruel, the merciless, we who have supported this atrocity against fellow human beings —"
He was a small, well-built man with a husky, rather appealing voice that yet had a penetrating resonance:
"We have won the war ; we must now win the peace, The Captain Shaposhenko punishment is the vilest ever spawned by a hell-inspired, hate-inspired —"
At last the violent gestures slowed, the throaty voice sank to a skillful beseeching note :
"I have a petition form here — as soon as the question period is over. Any questions ?"
Hoskins stood up. As he turned to face the audience he saw the doors of the church open slightly and the snout of a machine gun poke through.
"And they’ve got me cornered here in this little town," he thought.
The first burst of bullets caught him squarely on the chest.
The blows were heart-wrenching, like hammers smashing at him. Hoskins had the brief, terrible fear that he was going to faint, but with a body-twisting jerk he managed to fling himself down between the benches.
The second burst of bullets sprayed where he had been.
From somewhere near came a woman’s high-pitched scream. Grasping his armor-lined bowler hat in a sweating hand, Hoskins rolled over and over beneath the benches. With frantic effort he kept tugging at the gun in the shoulder holster that was attached to his bulletproof vest.
Suddenly, the firing inside the church ceased. But there was firing now outside. Cautiously, Hoskins scrambled to his feet.
One lightning glance showed the machine gun was gone from the door. Instantly he raced along the aisle.
The outside shooting had stopped, too, but there was in its place the deep-throated roar of many engines. As Hoskins teetered to a halt at the top of the church steps he saw —
A half dozen black cars were drawn up blocking the road that led past the railway station. A long gray machine was swerving sharply, trying to turn ; it succeeded and came careening back down toward the church — just as other black cars pulled out of a side street and bore down upon it from the opposite direction.
The gray car slowed, hesitated ; and for the first time Hoskins grew aware that its engine was making no noise. With a hiss of indrawn breath he realized what was going to happen.
The gray sedan rose, like a thistledown it rose into the air and climbed straight up like a shooting star in reverse.
It became a dot in the sky and headed into the blue mists of immense heights. Just before it vanished, Hoskins had the curious impression that a long torpedo-shaped structure was waiting up there.
It was there ; and then it wasn’t. Gone, too, was the car. Hoskins shook his head, thinking hazily : It could have been a trick of his vision.
But he knew better. A torpedo-shaped spaceship was not at all out of place in the tremendous game that was being played here.
Abruptly, there was no time to think further. Shouts and cries were coming from the interior of the church behind him.
Someone was screaming : ’She’s dead — her face shot away !"
Hoskins felt cold and immune. He thought steadily : "I lost my soul in the war. I watched too many good men die to worry now about a LETSTOP sympathizer."
He stood staring moodily at the men who were debouching from the black cars. One of them, a knob-jawed giant, came racing up the steps.
"Hoskins !" he breathed, "you are Hoskins. And you’re alive." Hoskins said in a monotone :
"You unimaginative fools ! Why didn’t you have planes overhead? Corning here like a bunch of ground hogs ! If you could have shot down that auto with its engine —"
He stopped himself with an effort, shrugged grimly : "Not that planes would have done any good," he confessed slowly. "That car was armor-plated, a regular battle tank if I ever saw one."
The knob-jawed chap was rubbing his chin ruefully. "I’m afraid Hoskins, you’ve got the wrong slant on a peacetime United States. We came, automobiles and all, by the fastest big plane transport in the world, landed on the highway just outside of the town. But it’ll be another hour at least before fighter planes are tuned up and ready for flight."
The man’s deep voice quickened. "The important thing is, we didn’t wait for them, and you’re alive. Man, quick, tell me, what do you know ? Why did they want to silence you ? Here’s my identification Cree Lipton. F. B. I. Now tell me."
Hoskins stared at him wryly, he said finally : "I know that there’s a super-engine in existence."
"Yes, yes" — Lipton frowned at him —"we know that, too, now. But what else ? What did Pendrake tell you ?"
Hoskins drew a deep breath. "I know nothing else," he said.
"Eh !" Then slowly the shock faded from the F. B. I. agent’s face. "I see. We actually know more than you do. We’ve discovered that seventeen leading atomic scientists and their families have been murdered or are missing. It all happened about eight months ago, and the crimes were so thinly spread out over the country that only a few scientific journals commented on the deaths. In addition we’ve had this experience in every raid we’ve made —"
He took an envelope from his pocket, drew out a newspaper clipping and handed it to Hoskins, who read :
FIRE GUTS FIFTIETH STREET TOWERS
Sept. 2nd —The strange turreted towers, formerly occupied by the Cyrus Lambton Back-to-the-Land Project, more recently by the head offices of the trucking firm of Fred Birdman, was completely destroyed at noon today by a fire of undetermined origin. The twin towers, which were located at —
"Birdman has vanished utterly," Lipton said. "The question therefore is, what now ?"
Hoskins scarcely heard. He stood staring sardonically at the sign which had announced the LETSTOP meeting.
In the scramble it had somehow been knocked loose, and lay now face down in the dirt.
Where it belonged, he thought grimly.
The stocky man sighed with relief. Just what he had expected he couldn’t define exactly, but certainly not this — not this philosophical attitude on the part of the leader. Even the smoldering eyes seemed calmer, less feverish.
"It is the fortune of war, Herr Birdman," the tall man shrugged. "The enemy acted with admirable speed and decision, and he now knows that some American scientists invented an atomic engine, and operated spaceships from the very centers of their cities. He knows, too, that the so-called defeated Nazis now have the engine and are putting it to nefarious uses. There is a psychological value to us of such knowledge. It will revive the bolder spirits among our good German people to new hope. The young men will grow up expecting, waiting to be called. Meanwhile, safe in space, we shall develop until we are ready to strike."
He frowned thoughtfully at the floor. "There are certain precautions we must take here on Earth, beginning with the removal of doubtful elements. Particularly, we must be prepared for new restrictions in the Reich itself. I shall appoint a coordinating committee.
"As for the situation on the Moon, one of the engineers in Factory L, Herr Steulpnagle, to be exact —"
"A good worker for the Cause," Birdman nodded.
"Precisely," said the other coldly. "He has now requested permission to marry Mrs. Pendrake, and as you are leaving today for the Moon, I want you to instruct Mrs. Pendrake to prepare for marriage in a month’s time.
"As for Pendrake himself, we must not assume that he is dead. His trail from the shattered plane wing led to a cave in the crater. A cursory investigation showed that he was still alive at a depth of one mile, but that he was burying himself at intervals, and therefore had only discovered the auxiliary heating mechanism attached to the flashlight and not the main switch.
"To make sure of him, I think we must now be prepared to organize a military campaign against the cave dwellers ; we have tolerated their depredations long enough —"
Pendrake wakened to the sound of a melodious humming. It was somewhere off to his left, but for a moment the delicious weakness of his every nerve and muscle, the odd physical pleasure of just lying on something soft and comfortable, drained the inclination in him to turn his head and look at the man whose tuneful warbling had aroused him.
After a moment, it struck Pendrake with a sharper consciousness that he was alive ; and that that didn’t fit with what had gone before.
But still he lay there. And after a little he found himself frowning in amazement at a lighted cave roof that must have been a mile high. He closed his eyes, shook himself, then opened his eyes again. But that tremendous roof remained. What had been a narrow snake of a cave had somehow opened out, and here was an underground vastness.
The sight quickened his whole being. He grew aware of a thin breeze that touched his cheeks and brought a sweet scent of growing things, an odor of garden and trees in bloom.
Pendrake stirred in a gathering excitement. The movement brought his first awareness that he was no longer arrayed in the spacesuit.
The movement did something else. It ended the humming. Footsteps sounded. A young man’s voice said :
"Oh, you’re awake."
The speaker came into view. He was a slight-built young man with a thin face and bright eyes. He wore a curiously old-fashioned, threadbare coat, and his legs were encased in trousers that were strapped under his shoes. He said :
"You’ve been unconscious for four sleep periods. I’ve been squeezing water and fruit juices between your lips every little while. You must have been lost in the upper caves at least a month. My name’s Morrison, by the way."
"Lost only ten days !" Pendrake said; and then he blinked, for no words had come, nothing but a hoarse rasping sound.
"Better not try to speak yet," the young man counseled. "You’re still in a bad way. As soon as you’re strong enough you’re to be taken to Big Oaf for questioning — that’s why you’ve been kept alive!"
The words didn’t penetrate right away. Pendrake lay very still, thinking : He was insane to imagine that, because he had slept ten times, only ten days had passed. The cold, his terrible will to live, must have kept him going for days at a stretch.
Ridiculous to think that he had reached such a disastrous physical state in ten days when thousands of less strong men in the war had survived longer exposure in open boats, in trackless jungles, and on foodless plains and steppes. This fellow, Big Oaf —
Big what ?
He muttered his amazement, and this time managed a husky whisper. The young man grinned at him :
"That’s his name all right. Somebody called him that once, and he took a fancy to it ; and nobody’s ever dared to tell him the meaning. He’s Neanderthal, you know. Been here a million years, at least, almost as long as the devil-beast in the pit"
A startled look came over the young man’s face. "Oh !" he said in alarm, "I wasn’t supposed to tell you that."
His panic grew. Gasping, he came down beside Pendrake, clawed at his arm.
"For Heaven’s sake," he whispered hoarsely, "don’t tell anybody that I told you how old we are down here. I’ve done my best for you. I’ve brought you back to life ; I fed you. I was supposed to keep you locked up — I’m your guard, you know, and you’re in jail —but I brought you out here and —"
He broke off : "Please, don’t tell !"
His face was a twisted mask of fear — that changed. Changed to cunning, then to ferocity. Abruptly he jerked at the knife that Pendrake saw for the first time was in a sheath under his coat.
"If you don’t promise," he threatened wildly, "I’ll have to pretend that you tried to escape, and that I had to kill you !"
Pendrake found his voice. "Of course I promise," he whispered hoarsely.
He saw instantly in the distorted eyes above him that no simple promise could soothe the terrified creature who crouched over him. Danger made his whisper louder, stronger, as he said swiftly :
"Don’t you see, if I know something they don’t want me to know, they’ll kill me out of hand. It’s to my own interest to keep information to myself. You see that, don’t you ?"
Slowly, the fear died out of the young man’s eyes. He climbed shakily to his feet, then he began to whistle softly. Finally he said :
"They’re going to toss you to the devil-beast anyway, they take no chances except with the women. But keep my name out of it, that’s all, and anything I’ve said."
Pendrake whispered the word, and mustered the form of a smile, but he was thinking grimly : Sleep lightly. Watch out for a knife — in my sleep.
He must have slept while that thought was still forming in his mind.
His first, intense thought when he wakened the second time was : A man named Morrison — in the center of the Moon.
He had the abrupt conviction : Got to find out more about the whole business. Those men came from Earth, and have been here a long time.
There was a sound beside him. A thin, familiar face bent over him.
"Uh !" said Morrison, "you’re awake again. I’ve been waiting, listening to you talking in your sleep. You talked a lot. I’m supposed to report everything you say."
Pendrake started to nod half to himself, his mind merely taking in the words; and then the greater meaning of them, the mental picture of someone — out there — someone named Big Oaf giving orders, cunningly receiving the reports of spies. granting temporary stays of execution — abruptly he felt outraged.
He sat up. "Look here," he began, "who the devil —"
His voice was clear and strong,but it wasn’t that returned strength that stopped him short.
Below him was a town set in a garden of trees and flowers. There were broad streets, and he could see men and — queer ! — uniformed women.
He forgot the people of the town. His gaze soared from horizon to horizon. There was a green meadow on the far side of the town where cattle grazed. Beyond, the ceiling of the cave swept down to a junction with the ground at some point below the cliff, a point invisible from where he sat.
It held him for a moment, that line where a radiant cave sky met a cave horizon.
Then his gaze came back to the town, to the gorgeous town. A hundred yards away it began. First there was a line of tall trees heavily laden with large, gray fruit. The trees sheltered the nearest of many buildings. The structure was small, delicate-looking. It seemed to have been built of some shell-like substance.
It glowed as if light was inside it, shining through its translucent walls its design was more that of a shapely bee’s nest than of a sea shell, but the resemblance to the shell was there, too.
The other buildings that glinted tantalizingly through the trees differed widely in details, but the central architectural motif, and the basic glow-material was ever present.
"The town’s been like that." Morrison’s voice said, "since I came in 1853, and Big Oaf says it was like that when he —"
Pendrake turned. The mention of dates was staggering, but he caught at the wedge they offered. "And he’s been around a million years, you said."
The thin face twisted uneasily. The man looked hastily around. His hand crept toward his knife. Then he caught Pendrake’s eye, and he let go of the hilt. He was trembling.
"Don’t repeat that," he whispered desperately. "I was mad to tell you, but it just came out, that’s all. It just came out."
There was no mistaking the fear. It was real, and it made everything else real, the million years, Big Oaf, the eternal town below. For a long second Pendrake stared at the way the weakling’s face was working, then he said :
"I won’t say a word, but I do want to know what it’s all about. How did you get here onto the Moon ?"
Morrison shifted. A bead of sweat ran down his cheeks ; Pendrake felt a stark incredulity that any man could be so frightened.
"I can’t tell you," Morrison said in a panicky voice. "They’ll throw me to the beast, too. Big Oaf’s been saying that there’s too many of us here ever since we abducted those German girls."
"German girls !" Pendrake ejaculated; and stopped himself short, his eyes narrowed to pin points. That accounted for the women in uniform he had seen in the streets. But what a hornet’s nest these cave dwellers were stirring up for themselves — Morrison was continuing in his sharp tone :
"Big Oaf and his cronies are mad for women. Big Oaf’s got five wives now, not counting the two that killed themselves, and he sent another kidnapping expedition out. When they get back — well — he’s just waiting for a chance to kill off all the decent men."
The picture was clearer now ; the missing details fundamentally unimportant. Pendrake sat grim and cold, seeing the cataclysm that had brought hell to the Moon’s garden of Eden. The stupid fools, Morrison and the others, he thought furiously, waiting like a bunch of frightened sheep for the slaughter, even humming happily during mindless moments.
He parted his lips to speak — and was cut off by a bull voice behind him, roaring :
"What’s this, Morrison? The prisoner strong enough to sit up, and you haven’t reported it. Get going, stranger. I’m taking you to Big Oaf."
For a moment Pendrake sat as still as death. The needle-sharp thought that came finally was : He was too sick, too weak. The crisis had come too soon, far, far too soon.
Thoughtful, alert, Pendrake walked along the street of the village. That he could walk at all was exhilarating. He couldn’t dare try anything involving strength yet, but he simply must survive a few "days" longer — gain time to observe, correlate, organize the demoralized anti-Big Oafs.
His Air Force and science training stood him in good stead. He wasted scarcely a glance at the houses and the motley assortment of raggedly dressed men and the sullen women in their Nazi woman’s corps uniforms barely touched the outer fringes of his thought. His mind, his whole being concentrated on control centers.
With abrupt understanding of the gestapo-like regulation of vital supplies that was here, he noted that two half-naked men with blue skins and broad flat noses stood guard over a stream of water that gushed from a wall and gurgled out of sight through a hole in the ground. There were other places being guarded, particularly four large buildings, but the reasons for protecting them were not apparent at first glance.
Pendrake moved forward a few yards, then stopped. And stared. In almost the exact center of the town, half hidden by a growth of trees, was a stockade.
It was made of tree boles, lashed together. Tall it stood, presenting a hundred-and-fifty-foot front, fifty feet high, with a massive gate around which loitered a dozen men with spears, long bows and drawn knives. The structure looked obscene, ugly, utterly incongruous among the delicate hued, shell-like houses. But there was no doubt at all that here in this monstrous fort dwelt the central authority of his fantastic world.
The thought ended as one of the guards, a raggedly dressed individual who wore spurs on high boots and looked like a bad caricature of a cowboy, challenged :
"Takin’ this feller in to see Big Oaf, Troger ?"
"Yep !" Pendrake’s bearded, bull-voiced escort answered. "You better search him, though."
"What about Morrison ? Does he go in, too ?" asked a black-eyed man in a shiny tattered remnant of what must once have been a black suit of some kind. It struck Pendrake with a start, as fingers poked eagerly through his pockets that this second guard resembled with startling fidelity a motion picture version he had seen of a gambler of the old West.
Pendrake felt a sudden, sharp fascination. In spite of himself, in spite of his will to waste not one glance on anything that might confuse, he grew more aware of the men.
They had been blurs to his vision ; now they came into sharp focus : Men of all the periods of the West. an astounding assortment, even some that didn’t seem to fit at all. But Pendrake felt not a shadow of doubt :
They were all Western American. It was as if in some incredible fashion a net had been cast from the Moon, and into that net had fallen men from every age of the western United States and then the catch had been gathered here and, like this immortal village, kept immune from the ravages of time.
There were about a hundred men visible from where he stood at the gate of the stockade. Seven of them were Indians in loin cloths, red of skin, tall, arrow-backed. They fitted. And so did all the roughly-dressed men in open-necked shirts and belted, narrow-legged trousers ; and so did the ragged cowboys.
Morrison didn’t fit, not quite, though there must have been clerkish types like him in Western towns. There were some short, ugly men and some very fine big, dark- brown men who didn’t fit either ; and there was another one of the half-naked, blue-skinned, flat-nosed men, but —
Whoever had collected this crew had gotten hold of some of the toughest characters that the old, hard West had ever bred.
A big hand grabbed his collar, pushed him physically and mentally out of his mood of appraisal.
"Get in there !" said the voice of Troger.
Pendrake’s reaction was automatic. If he had thought, if he hadn’t had to come so far out of his dark speculations, he would have controlled himself in time.
But the insult of being grabbed came too suddenly. His response was as violent as it was involuntary. His arm came up ; his fingers caught the offending wrist ; and for one brief instant every tired nerve in his body pumped power with the lightning speed that alone makes for tiger strength.
There was a roar of pain, and a hard thud, as Troger described a cartwheel in the air and landed twenty feet away. The man bounced up instantly, raging :
"I’ll beat your brains out. No one-armed guy can —"
He stopped ; his gaze fastened on somebody behind Pendrake, and his whole body grew rigid. Pendrake, trembling from the nauseation produced by his effort and stunned at his utter stupidity in revealing how strong he could be, turned dizzily.
A creature stood in the gate ; and one glance was enough to identify it : Here was Big Oaf, Neanderthal monstrosity.
He was a man ; he had a roughly human shape, a head with eyes, nose and mouth. But at that point the physical resemblance to anything human ended.
His figure was five foot four in height, and about three feet wide in the chest. His arms hung below his knees. His face was — beast ; the teeth far too long, and projecting from between enormously thick lips.
He stood there like some nightmare out of hell, naked and hairy except for a black fur that hung from a strap around his belly. He stood slouching, and it took a long moment for Pendrake to grasp that the creature’s pig-like eyes were studying him shrewdly. Even as realization came, the thing parted those tremendous lips and said in throaty but unmistakable English :
"Bring the feller inside ! I’ll talk to him from my throne. Let about fifty people in."
The inside of the stockade was ordinary. There was a big, glowing, shell-like house, a little river of gurgling water, fruit trees, a vegetable garden, and a wooden dais on which stood a huge wooden chair.
The wooden chair was the throne, and it was obvious to the grim Pendrake that whoever had given Big Oaf the idea of kingship hadn’t had too clear an idea of regal splendor.
But Big Oaf seated himself with assurance and said :
"What’s your handle ?"
It was no time for resistance. Pendrake gave his name quietly.
Big Oaf whirled in his chair, pointed with a thick hairy finger at a tall, gray-eyed man in a faded black suit.
"What kind of a handle is that, Macintosh ?"
The tall man shrugged. "English."
"Oh !" The pig eyes turned back to Pendrake, stared speculatively. The beast said : "Better talk fast, stranger."
It was the Western twang of speech that made it almost impossible for Pendrake to grasp that he was on trial. A psychological hurdle it was that he had to force his mind over. But finally, with gathering consciousness that he was talking for his life, Pendrake began his explanation. He finished with a rush, twisting on his heel and facing straight toward the thin-faced young man who had been his jailer, saying in a ringing voice ;
"And Morrison, here, will bear out every word. He says I talked in my delirium about what I’d been through. Isn’t that right, Morrison ?"
Pendrake stared at the young man’s face and felt a brief, icy sardonicism at the petrified expression that was there. Morrison’s eyes grew wide and then Morrison was gulping :.
"Yup, that’s right, Big Oaf. You ’member you told me to listen, and that’s what he said. He —"
"Shurrup !" said Big Oaf ; and Morrison collapsed into silence like a pricked balloon.
To Pendrake came a brief compassion for the frightened young man, but there was no regret at all that he had put pressure on the little coward. He saw that the monster was studying him intently ; and there was something in the expression — Pendrake forgot Morrison as Big Oaf said in a strangely gentle voice :
"Hit him a little, guys ; I like to see how a feller takes punishment."
After a minute he said : "All right, that’ll do."
Pendrake climbed groggily to his feet ; and it wasn’t all acting. In the excitement of the — trial — he had forgotten that he was a sick man. He stood shakily, and heard the beast man say :
"Well, fellers, what’ll we do with him?"
"Kill him !" It was a raucous cry from several throats. "Throw him to the devil-beast. We ain’t had a show for a long time."
"That ain’t no reason to kill anybody," said a thick-faced man in the back of the crowd. "If these fellers had their way, they’d have a show every week, and we’d all be dead soon."
"Yah, Chris Devlin," a man snarled, "and that’s just where you’ll be one of these days."
"Just start something !" Devlin snapped back. "We’re waitin’ for ya."
"That’ll do !" It was Big Oaf. "The stranger lives. You can stay with Morrison for a while. And listen, Pendrake, I wanna talk to you after you’ve had another sleep. Hear that, you guys, let him in when he comes. Now, beat it, all of you."
Pendrake was outside the stockade almost before he realized that he had been granted life.
Pendrake ate and slept, then ate and slept again. He awakened from his third sleep with the thought wedged tight in his mind that he dared not delay any longer his visit to Big Oaf.
But he lay for a few minutes. It was not that his bedroom was particularly comfortable. The sparkling light from the walls was too sustained for human eyes that needed darkness. The bed, while soft, was concave. So were the two long backless chairs. The door that led to the adjoining room was two feet high, like an igloo entrance.
There was a scraping sound, a head poked through the doorway, and a stocky man crawled through and stood up. It took a moment for Pendrake to recognize Chris Devlin, the fellow who had objected to his being killed.
Devlin said: "I’m being watched. So my coming here puts you under suspicion."
"Good!" said Pendrake.
"Eh!" The man stared at him; and Pendrake returned his gaze coolly. Devlin went on slowly : "You’ve been thinking things over, I see !"
"Plenty," said Pendrake.
Devlin seated himself in one of the concave chairs. "Say-y-y," he said, "you’re a man after my own heart. I’d like to ask you a question: The way you handled Troger — was that an accident ?"
"I could do that," said Pendrake flatly, "to Big Oaf."
He saw that Devlin was impressed and smiled wryly at the effectiveness of the psychology he had used — the psychology of deliberate positivity.
"It’s too bad," said Devlin, "that a man with your spirit has only got one arm."
Pendrake winced. The problem of his one arm was not one which he had omitted in his calculations. He said quickly :
"Forget my lost arm. It’s no handicap. The important thing is, how many men can you count on ?"
"About a hundred. Two hundred more would shift over if they dared, but they’ll wait till the tide has turned. That leaves two hundred solidly against us, and they can probably dragoon another hundred into fighting for them."
"A hundred is enough," said Pendrake. "The world is run by small groups of men. Two hundred thousand determined men overthrew the Czarist regime in a Russia of a hundred and fifty million people. Hitler took control of Germany with a comparatively small body of active followers. But here’s some advice, Devlin."
"Take the water source. Take the places that are guarded, and hold them at all costs. Kill every one of the two hundred who are solidly for Big Oaf, even if they beg for mercy. On Earth we have the Shaposhenko punishment for their kind with its careful gradations, but that’s impossible here." Pendrake paused, then : "How many wives have you got, Devlin?"
The man started, changed color. He said at last, violently : "We’d better leave the women out of this, Pendrake. Our men have been so long without women that — we’d lose all our followers."
"How many wives ?" said Pendrake steadily.
Devlin stared at him. He was pale now, his voice harsher. "Big Oaf’s been clever," he admitted. "When we captured those German women he gave every one of his hundred most determined enemies two wives."
"Tell your men," said Pendrake, "to choose the one they prefer, and leave the other alone. Do you understand ?"
Devlin was on his feet. "Pendrake," he said in a thick voice, "I’m warning you, leave this subject be. It’s dynamite."
"You fool !" Pendrake snapped at him. "Don’t you see that you’ve got to start right ? The human mind is a deadly instrument that gets into certain habits. If the habits are wrong — and the very idea of two wives makes chattel out of women and it’s therefore utterly wrong — I repeat, if the habits are wrong you can’t just start refashioning the mind. You’ve got to break that matrix by death and begin with a fresh one."
He broke off : "Besides, you people haven’t any choice. You’re all slated to be killed, and those wives are designed to keep you quiet until the right opportunity occurs. You know that, don’t you ?"
Devlin nodded reluctantly. "I guess you’re right."
"You bet I’m right," said Pendrake coldly. "And I might as well make my position clear : Either this game is played my way, or it’s played without me" — he stood up with a swift, gliding movement, his voice grim as he finished — "and I pity those who tackle Big Oaf without this arm of mine to hold him off. Well, what do you say ?"
Devlin was standing frowning at the floor. At last he looked up, a wan smile on his face.
"You win, Pendrake. I don’t promise results, but do my derndest. Our boys are good fellers at heart — and at least they’ll know they’re dealing with a right guy. But now you’d better be on your way to Big Oaf. Yell loud if he starts anything."
"Any idea," asked Pendrake, what he wants me for ?"
"Nary a one," was the reply ; and Pendrake was halfway to the stockade before it occurred to him that he still didn’t know how these old West men had gotten to the Moon, and that he had forgotten to ask Devlin if the cave dwellers had had the wit to make plans to protect themselves from German retaliation for their depredations.
So quickly had he become absorbed by the immediate danger, and forgetful of the greater, more remote one.
Big Oaf crawled out of the door of his house, and stood up.
"You took your time," he growled.
"I’m a sick man," Pendrake explained, "and this Moon gravity makes it possible to walk where you’d be flat on your back on Earth. That beating your men handed me didn’t help any, either."
The monster’s answer was a grunt, and Pendrake stared at him cautiously. They were alone inside the stockade ; and the effect was of isolation from the universe, a curious, empty feeling of being cut off in an unnatural world.
He saw with a start that the creature’s pig-like eyes were studying him. Big Oaf broke the silence:
"I been here a long time, Pendrake, a long time. I was kinda dumb when I first came — like these other guys are ; but my brain somehow grew up over the years, and now I got the sense to worry about things they never even think about, like those Germans f’r instance."
He paused, and looked at Pendrake. Pendrake hesitated, said finally:
"You’d better worry about them, and worry hard."
Big Oaf waved an apelike arm, and shrugged his massive shoulders. "I merely mentioned that as a f’r instance. I got my plans laid for those fellers. What I mean is, when you look at me, think of somebody who’s got a brain with sense in it like your own, and never mind the body. How about it, uh ?"
Pendrake blinked. The appeal was so unexpected, so remarkable in the picture it brought of a sensitive mind aware of its beast-like body, that he was touched in spite of himself. Then he remembered the five wives, and the two other women who had killed themselves. He said slowly :
"What other worries have you got, Big Oaf ?"
It seemed to him, as he spoke the noncommittal words that the barest hint of disappointment flickered over the hairy face. Then Big Oaf said :
"I was walkin’ along a trail on Earth, ’n’ all of a sudden I was here."
"What’s that !" Pendrake gasped.
Incredulous, his mind hurtled back over the ape man’s words, and again the shock came. It took him a long moment to grasp coherently that he had been told the secret of how these people had arrived on the Moon. Big Oaf was continuing :
"It was the same with the others. ’N’ from the way they describe it, they were coming down the same trail — that scares me, Pendrake."
Pendrake frowned. "What do you mean ?"
"There’s something down there on Earth, nothing you can see, but at this end you come out of a machine. Pendrake, we gotta shut that machine off somehow. We can’t live here, not knowing who or what’s gonna barge along that trail and through the machine."
"I see what you mean," said Pendrake slowly.
It was the calmness of his own words that shocked him this time. For he was quivering in every nerve, his whole body cold, then hot, then cold again. A machine — A machine that transported objects unharmed — focused on a trail in the western United States, a machine through which an army could come and attack the Nazi strongholds on the Moon, capture an engine, everything —
With a start, Pendrake saw that the Neanderthal was glaring at him. The man had been sitting against the edge of the wooden platform on which the throne chair stood ; now he leaned forward ; the great muscles of his chest stood out like anchor ropes.
"Stranger," he said, and he almost hissed the words, "get this straight, this place is fenced-in territory. There ain’t never a lot of people gonna come down here. The world’d go mad if it was ever found out that there was a town in the Moon where it’s possible to live forever. Now, do you see why we’ve got to shut off that machine, and cut ourselves off from the outside? We got somethin’ down here that people’d commit murder to have.
"Wait" — his voice beat at Pendrake — "I’m gonna show you what happens to guys who get any other kind of idea. Come along."
Pendrake came. Big Oaf ran along the street straight into the open country, and Pendrake, bounding along behind, saw after a moment where he was heading : the cliff.
Big Oaf reached it first. He pointed down. "Look !" he cried hoarsely.
Pendrake approached the edge of the abyss cautiously, and peered over. He found himself staring down a wall of cliff that descended smooth and straight for a distance of about five hundred feet. There was brush at the bottom and a grassy plain and —
Pendrake gasped. Then he felt faint. He swayed dizzily — and then with a terrible effort caught his whirling mind. And looked again, trembling.
The yellow-green-blue-red beast in the pit was sitting on its haunches. It looked as big as a horse. Its head was tilted, its baleful eyes glaring up at the two men. And the hideously long teeth that protruded from its jowls confirmed Pendrake’s first mind-shaking comprehension :
The devil-beast was a saber-toothed tiger.
Slowly, his breathing returned to normal, his pounding heart slowed. The great wonder came:
How many aeons that machine must have been focused on that trail there on Earth, to have caught such a prehistoric monster. And how tremendously long ago the people who had built the machine and the village must have died.
The thought passed. With narrowed eyes he stared at Big Oaf. The creature-man was kneeling at the abyss edge a dozen feet away, watching him intently. Pendrake said softly :
"It must have been fed, it must have been kept alive on purpose."
Blue-gray eyes that were slate-hard, met his own. "At first," said Big Oaf, "I kept it alive for company. I used to sit on the cliff and shout at it. Then when the blue men came with a bunch of buffalo, I got the idea that maybe it would come in handy. It knows me now."
He finished darkly : "There’s plenty of men inside it, and there’ll be more. Better not be one of ’em, Pendrake."
Pendrake said steadily, slowly: "I’m beginning to see the light. All this attention you’re lavishing on me — you said something about shutting off the machine — and I’m the only man who ever came here who knows anything about machinery. Am I getting warm, Big Oaf?"
Big Oaf climbed to his feet ; and Pendrake did the same. They backed away from the cliff’s edge step by step, staring at each other. It was Big Oaf who said finally:
"Pendrake, I’m gonna offer you half of everything. You and me’ll be the bosses here, with first choice of the women and all the good things. You know we can’t let the world in on this place. It just ain’t possible. We’ll live here forever, and maybe if you ever get all the machines on this place workin’, we can step out and get what we want from anywhere."
"Heil Hitler," said Pendrake sardonically. "Big Oaf, have you ever heard of an election?"
"Uh !" The pig eyes stared at him suspiciously. "What’s that?"
Pendrake explained ; and the hairy beast gaped at him incredulously.
"You mean," he exploded, "if those lame-brains don’t like the way I run things they could kick me out ?"
"That’s it," said Pendrake. "And it’s the only way I’ll play ball."
"To hell with that," was the snarling response. And on the way back to the town Big Oaf said in an ugly tone : "Somebody told me you’ve been talkin’ to Devlin, Pendrake. You —"
He broke off. The anger died from him as if he had cut it out with a surgical knife, cleanly. As Pendrake watched the transformation in narrow-eyed astonishment, a grin spread over the apish face :
"Just lissen to me gettin’ mad," Big Oaf said, "a feller that’s lived a million years and is gonna live another million if he plays his cards straight."
Pendrake was silent, conscious of the man eying him. He was startled, too, thoughtful. In every way Big Oaf was showing himself to be an immensely dangerous "feller."
"I got all the aces, Pendrake," Big Oaf’s voice projected softly across his brief reverie, "and a royal flush up my sleeve. I can’t get killed ’less a rock falls down from the roof —" He glanced up toward the height above, then looked at Pendrake, his grin broader. "It happened once to a guy."
They had stopped. They stood in a little valley under a spread of trees. The town was beyond the rim of the hill. But for the moment there was not a sound of raucous laughter, not a whisper of voices. They were alone in a queer universe, man and semi-man facing each other. Pendrake broke the thrall :
"I’m not going to count on it happening to you."
Big Oaf guffawed. "Now you’re smart. I thought you’d catch on quick. Lissen, Pendrake, you can’t buck me, so think over what I’ve told you. Meantime, I want your promise you won’t mix up with anybody. Is that fair ?"
"Absolutely," said Pendrake.
He felt no compunction about the swift promise. It was clear that he had gone to the very edge of the abyss in his opposition ; and he wasn’t ready. If there was one thing the years of fighting had taught every sane human being on Earth, it was that death came easily to those who fought fair against those who didn’t. Big Oaf was continuing :
"Maybe we could even work together on a couple of things. like those Germans. Maybe I’d even let you look that machine over after the next sleep. Say-y-y —"
"Yes ?" Pendrake stared at him warily.
"Didn’t you tell me your wife was a prisoner of the Germans ? How’d you like to spend a coupla weeks leadin’ an expedition to see if you could rescue her ?"
Pendrake’s brain thrummed. It became a pain that extended down into his body, and then he saw that the other’s small, shrewd eyes were contemplating him sharply.
Excitement puffed out of him. Eleanor had to be rescued fast — but he couldn’t see himself bringing her down here until he had consolidated his position with Devlin and the others. Couldn’t see himself at all on an expedition of which the large purpose would be mass woman-stealing.
Compromise plus his own desperate necessity was going to make for complication.
"It’s time to get up !"
Morrison came into the bedroom the next morning with the announcement.
’Time?" Pendrake stared at the slim young fellow. "Isn’t all time down here the same? Why shouldn’t I just stay here until I get hungry ?"
To his surprise, Morrison shook his head doggedly. "You’ve been sick, but that’s over. Now, you’ve got to fit into the routine. Big Oaf says so."
Pendrake studied the other’s lean face. The thought that was in his mind had to do with Morrison as a spy on his activities. It hadn’t really struck him before how much of a Big Oaf follower the clerkish little fellow was.
His plan to spend the next few days in an intensive sizing up of everything and everybody in this strange land might as well begin here and now. Not that Morrison was dangerous as an individual. The man would always be a supporter of the regime that was in.
"Big Oaf," said Morrison, "has got everything organized. Twelve hours for sleep, four hours for eating and so on — you don’t have to eat or sleep of course. You can do anything you want so long as you’re ready to do your eight hours a day work."
Morrison explained "There’s guard duty ; the cows have to be milked twice a day. Then there’s the gardens to look after, and we kill several steers a week. It’s all work."
He pointed with a sweep of his arm, vaguely. "The gardens are over there beyond some trees, in the opposite direction from the pit where the beast is."
He finished : "Big Oaf wants to know what you can do."
Pendrake smiled wryly. So the apeman was letting him know what life would be like if he was not one of the bosses.
It wasn’t the work but the sudden vivid picture of the tight system of a law-and-order hierarchy behind it, that was unsettling. Pendrake frowned, said finally :
"Tell Big Oaf that I can milk cows, work in gardens, do guard duty and a couple of other things."
But there were no work orders for him that day. Or the next. He wandered around the town. Some of the men rebuffed his approaches, others were so uneasy that talking to them was a hopeless chore, still others including men who were stanch supporters of Big Oaf were curious about Earth. Some of these had the idea that he was going to be one of them.
In the course of the conversations, Pendrake learned the case histories of miners, gamblers, cowboys. His composite picture grew clearer. The main group of them belonged to a period between 1825 and 1875. He placed the trail where the transport machine was focused to be within twenty miles of an old frontier settlement called Canyon Town,
On the third morning Devlin crawled into Pendrake’s bedroom Just as he was getting up.
"I noticed Morrison going to the stockade," the man said, "so I sneaked over. We’re ready, Pendrake."
Pendrake jumped a little, and then settled down onto the bed. He sat there grimly wondering what these men with their complete inexperience of a really planned war considered adequate readiness. He listened, trying to picture everything in scenes, as Devlin began :
"The central idea is to take the stockade and force surrender. The men don’t fancy a lot of bloodshed. The details are —"
Pendrake listened to the childish thing, conscious of a great weariness. All his advice had been ignored. The ruthless surprise attack that alone would make for a quick victory, bloodless for the attacker, shelved for a vague scheme to get the enemy cornered in the stockade and —
"Listen, Devlin," he said finally, "look at me. For two days I’ve been doing nothing. You’d think I didn’t have a care in the world. Yet my wife’s in the hands of the damnedest, most murderous bunch of gangsters that ever lived on Earth. My country is in a danger that it doesn’t even know about.
"Furthermore, three days ago, Big Oaf asked me if I’d like to lead an attack against the Germans on the chance that they have my wife here on the Moon. It’s obvious also that such an attack might enable us to capture an atomic engine.
"Why am I not rushing forward when I’m nearly crazy with anxiety? Because defeat is ten times as easy as victory and more final. Because all the will in the world isn’t enough if the strategy is bungled. As for bloodshed — you don’t seem to realize you’re dealing with a man who won’t hesitate a second to order a general massacre if his position is ever threatened.
"You don’t seem to realize how skillfully this place is organized. The outward appearance is deceptive. Unless you work fast, you’ll have all the doubtful men against you, and they’ll fight twice as hard to prove to Big Oaf that they were with him all the time.
"Now, let’s organize for battle, not a game. Tell me, what’s in those guarded buildings?"
"Guns in one of them, spears and bows and arrows in another, tools in a third —everything that ever came through from Earth Big Oaf took possession of."
"Where’s the ammunition for the guns ?"
"Only Big Oaf knows — Say, I’m beginning to see what you mean. If he ever. gets those guns going — we’ve got to capture them."
"If," said Pendrake, "the first arrow fired by every man could kill or disable one of them, our little war would be over in ten minutes, but —"
There was a scrambling sound at the doorway. Morrison crawled through. He was breathing hard, as if he had been running.
"Big Oaf," he gasped, "wants to show you the transport machine. Shall I tell him you’re coming?"
The transport machine stood inside a high, timber stockade five feet from the edge of the cliff. II was made of a dark, almost a drab metal, and its base was a solid gray rock.
Pausing on the wooden platform that ran around the upper edge of the stockade, Pendrake frowned down at the unbeautiful structure. In spite of all his will, he was excited, because if he could get this marvelous instrument to work, if he could focus it anywhere, say into the German prison where Eleanor was, or into American military headquarters or —
Or simply learn how to reverse it !
Shakily, he forced the hope out of his mind. Thirty feet long, he estimated, twelve high and eighteen wide. Big enough for almost anything except a locomotive.
He walked along the platform, and paused finally where it twisted around the edge that overlooked the abyss. The distance that stretched below shocked him. His body did not succumb easily to dizziness, but it wasn’t necessary to take the risk merely to get a down look at the mouth of the machine.
He drew back. He faced Big Oaf who had been sitting watching him with expressionless eyes.
"How do you get into the stockade ?" Pendrake asked.
"There’s a door at the other side."
There was. Padlocked. Big Oaf fumbled down into the fur that was strapped around his great belly, and produced a key. As the creature swung open the heavy door, Pendrake extended his hand.
"How about letting me have the lock ? I don’t think I could climb up those walls if I happened to get left inside."
He spoke deliberately. He had done a lot of thinking of what his face-to-face policy to Big Oaf should be; and it seemed even now in the speaking that open distrust expressed without rancor was psychologically correct.
Big Oaf grimaced. "That place ain’t fer you. I built it strong and high like that so nobody nor nuthin’ could come through from Earth and catch me by surprise."
"Nevertheless," Pendrake insisted, "I wouldn’t be able to concentrate properly if I had even the feeling that maybe —"
Big Oaf grunted. "Look," he said, "maybe you’d like to lock me in."
Pendrake pointed. "See that hill over there, about a hundred yards ?" "Yaah?"
"Throw it over there?"
Big Oaf stared at him surlily, then he cursed. "Like hell ! Suppose you got somebody over there to pick her up, and lock us both in ? Then they put an arrow in me, and let you out."
In spite of his tenseness, Pendrake smiled. "You’re one ahead of me," he confessed.
He frowned finally. It wasn’t that he had any real fear of Big Oaf at this stage. The man didn’t have to use trickery, not yet. And it might be a good idea, now that his protest had been made, to let the beast win. Not too fast, though.
"Ever leave anybody in there?" he asked.
The squat man hesitated. "Yaah," he said. "Two funny-lookin’ guys all dressed up in metal. They had a damn queer gun, all kinds of fine wires on it, and the whole thing shining with a blue light.
"I used to have a scar on my shoulder where they burned me with it. I was scared stiff they’d burn down the stockade, but I guess it didn’t work on wood."
He sighed hoarsely with regret. "I’d sure like to have had that gun. But they took it with ’em when they jumped over the cliff."
Big Oaf explained : "There’s another door that opens onto the cliff side. I opened it fer ’em, when they went mad. All this," he finished, "was long ago, maybe half the time that I was here."
Human beings with heat guns and metal suits five hundred thousand years ago —locked up with the machine for weeks. He tried to picture them caught in this towering horror of a cage, with an ape-thing looking down at them.
The picture grew so vivid that, for a moment, he could almost see the men staggering from thirst and hunger and insanity leaping down to the merciful death below.
The vastness of the elapsed time — and a crowding thought — abruptly dimmed the horrible vision. The interrupting thought grew enormous. He said at last, wearily :
"You must be a sap, Big Oaf. If men who could make and understand guns like that, couldn’t make the machine reverse itself, how do you expect me to ? In their deadly desperation, they must have tried everything."
"Huh !" said Big Oaf. Then he cursed his comprehension of the defeat that was here.
All Pendrake said was : "I’ll have a look, anyway."
But there was nothing. The trouble was, the machine had no knobs or dials, or any levers. It lay hard on the rock, an expanse of smooth metal, with a deep indentation where it functioned.
The indentation was a regular cave. Pendrake walked in without much hope, and his pessimism was justified. The active wall was pierced with tens of thousands, millions of tiny, needle-sized holes.
He took out his lighter, and, holding the flickering flame in front of his master eye, tried to peer through the flame into one of the holes. Something glittered back at him. Shrugging, Pendrake came out of the chamber.
"The control room must be elsewhere," he said with decision. "In fact it has to be. There must be some kind of television control board from which they aim the machine."
He stood, studying the rock. "Or perhaps we ought to try our hand at drilling under the machine. Might be some connecting cables." He glanced up at Big Oaf. "You said something about other machines —"
He left the question hanging. A scowl was gathering on the beast man’s hairy face. Big Oaf said curtly :
"You ain’t seem’ no other machines till we make a deal. And just in case you figger you got lots of time to lie around here gettin’ all set with Devlin to knock me off my perch — that expedition is leavin’ tomorrow for some more women.
"I wasn’t gonna send it till t’other one got back, but I gotta hunch it’s time we start pullin’ down the caves between us and them Germans. You can go or not, any way it suits your play, but you better make up your mind fast. Now, come on, let’s get back to town."
There was a tight silence between them as they walked. Pendrake’s mind was seething. So Big Oaf was forcing issues, taking no chances.
He studied the waddling creature out of the corner of his eye, trying to read in the heavy, brutish countenance something of the purpose behind it. But impassivity was a norm of that facial structure. Only the implacable physical strength of the man stabbed forth in every movement, every writhing muscle.
Pendrake said finally : "How do you get up to the surface? There’s no air or warmth up there, is there?"
He added before Big Oaf could speak : "What kind of quarters have the Germans made for themselves ?"
A minute dragged. He thought :
"He’s not going to answer." But abruptly the other grunted :
"It’s the lighted passages that’s warm and got air in ’em. A whole bunch of ’ern got right to the surface, some of ’ern hidden damn smart by doors that look like rock or dirt. That’s how we fooled the Germans so far. We just rush out of a new door and —"
A shout cut off his words. A man burst over the near hill, and ran toward them. Pendrake recognized him as a Big Oaf hanger-on. The fellow came up breathing hard.
"They’re back with women. The men are going wild."
"They’d better watch out l" Big Oaf growled. "They know what they’ll get if they touch any of ’em before I see ’em."
There were about thirty women huddled, and the motley throng gathered around them ; set up a wild yelling as Big Oaf arrived ; lusting voices squealed with demand and counter-demand :
"I’ve only got one wife ; I got a right to another." "It’s my turn," "Big Oaf, you gotta," "I’ve earned —"
The silence was instantaneous and deafening, and was broken finally by a bull-necked man who came up to Big Oaf and said :
"I guess that’s the last woman rustlin’ we do, boss. Those blankety-blank Germans were ready for us, and they seem to have explored all the cave approaches to their place. They followed us like a bunch of vigilantes, and we escaped only by knocking down that narrow cut-off at —"
"I know the one. How many dead ?"
Big Oaf was silent for a moment, frowning, finally : "Well, let’s get to the pickin’. I’m takin’ one for myself and —"
Pendrake had been listening grimly to the conversation. Now, he spun on his heel, and stared wildly at a lithely built young woman who was running toward him, crying as she ran. She flung herself into his enfolding arm, and lay against him in a dead faint.
Over her limp, dark head, Pendrake gazed straight into Big Oaf’s grinning face.
"Somebody you know ?" the monster smirked.
"My wife !" Pendrake said ; and there was a terrible sinking sensation in him. He found himself looking around for Devlin, but the man didn’t seem to be in the crowd, "The Germans —"
He was vaguely aware as he talked that Big Oaf was looking beyond him. Now, suddenly, the hideous head nodded; simultaneously, a warning voice yelled:
"Watch out !"
Pendrake came to, his head aching, and stared dizzily up at the heavy, anxious face of Devlin.
"What happened ?" he muttered; and then in a surge of returning consciousness: "Where is she?"
Devlin said : "He’s just taken her inside the stockade. Look, Pendrake, we’re all ready to make the attack. Here’s a knife —"
Pendrake grabbed it, and slipped it to his pocket. He said incisively "Launch the attack when I’ve been inside the stockade about five minutes.’"
"But how are you going to get in ?" Devlin gasped.
"Don’t worry about that," Pendrake flung over his shoulder. To the guards he said : "Tell Big Oaf that I’m ready to talk business —"
Big Oaf came grinning out of his house. "I thought you’d see sense," he said — and then he grunted as the knife Pendrake threw buried itself seven inches in his great chest.
He tore the bloody thing out of his flesh, and grimacing, flung it to the ground.
"You get the pit for that," he said. I’ll just tie you up and —".
He came forward and — just like that — a chill raced up Pendrake’s back. Monstrous head bent low, animal arms spread out, the abnormal strength of the man showed in all its hideous power. In a single rush of terrible realization, Pendrake’s confidence collapsed before the mighty thought that —
No man born in the last hundred thousand years could begin to have the superhuman strength necessary to defeat this hairy, titanic beast.
The whining winds of an early winter started to blow steadily in mid-September. On the thirtieth, snow fell ; and nearly all New York State and Pennsylvania awoke on the morning of the first day of October to a world that was white and pure and peaceful.
That same day far, far to the south, Hoskins and Cree Lipton took off from the bulge of Brazil, and headed for Germany via Dakar, Algiers and Vichy.
The converted Hotel Adlon on Unter den Linden, Berlin, was a beehive of United Nations officers. In the great thick-carpeted Red Room on the second floor, the general officer commanding Occupation Forces showed them around :
"Now this," he said, "is what we call our murder map. And in view of the watch we’ve been keeping for you the past two weeks, this is an amazingly interesting document."
The map was thirty feet long and covered with colored pins — hardly a "document," Hoskins thought dryly. But he said nothing, simply watched and listened with an anxious will to hear the end result.
"Two weeks ago to the day," the general said, "we sent out the trucks all over what was formerly occupied Europe with the posters asking for information about the engine ; the poster having been worded according to your cabled instructions."
He pulled out a package of cigarettes, offered them to the two men ; Hoskins refused with a tiny inclination of his head, and waited impatiently while the others lit up. The officer went on :
"Now, before I tell you the extent and limitations of our success, I think it is necessary to describe briefly the situation that exists in Germany today. As you know, Hitler’s method was to put a party man into every conceivable controlling position in every community.
"Naturally, we deposed all these petty fuehrers, replacing them with the stanchest pre-war democrats we could find. At this point we ran into a difficulty.
"The Nazis had anticipated us. In every district a secret Nazi cell had been built up with a secret leader under whose command were young, stone-hearted men specially trained to commit murder and to defeat all attempts to reconstitute democracy. The leaders we appointed hardly dare to make a move for fear of displeasing these hidden Nazi zone chiefs.
"It will straighten out in time, of course. As the Nazi youth go into their thirties, get married, their zest for danger will fade ; and the new, younger generation is being trained our way.
"Nevertheless, political creeds, like pretensions to thrones, die hard. And right now these people are committing about a thousand murders a week in Germany itself ; about eight hundred more in the rest of Europe."
"How does this affect the finding of information about the engine and about the seven missing scientists whose bodies and whose families we couldn’t find in the U.S.A.?" asked the heavy-jawed Lipton.
"We made a murder graph of every district in Europe," was the reply, "and as the appeal for information spread, watched day by day for any upswing in murders, the assumption being that great precautions would be taken by the Nazis in districts where information existed."
He faced the two men, a grim smile on his face.
"I report accordingly with mixed feelings, that the number of murders in two widely separated territories, one in Hohnstein in Saxony, the other in the town of Latzky, Bulgaria, increased out of all normal proportion."
"Bulgaria?" It was Lipton, his tone puzzled.
Hoskins said quickly : "After all, our closest watch has always been on Germany proper. They must have found it easier to set up interplanetary bases among certain sympathetic people."
The general looked at him from shrewd brown eyes.
"Exactly. We’ve made a very careful, cautious survey of those two districts. On the third day of our search we found a luxuriously furnished mine shaft at Hohnstein that evidently had been hastily abandoned.
"Questioning among townsmen," the officer went on, "elicited the information that a strange, zeppelin-like machine had been seen at night in the vicinity of the abandoned shaft."
"Good Heaven !"
Hoskins was scarcely aware that he had uttered the exclamation. He realized after a blank moment that he had been listening to the general with a vague impatience, and anxiety to have an end of words and to get actively on with the search. And now —
It was all done. The search was over ; or almost over. All preliminaries were successfully concluded.
"Sir," he said warmly, "you are a remarkable man."
"Let me finish," the officer smiled broadly. "I’m not through yet."
He went on in a precise tone :
We have received altogether three — out of thousands — letters that are unmistakably genuine and relevant. The third, and most important, from a Frau Kreigmeier, wife of the man who has been Nazi party leader in Latzky for three years, arrived last night when I had already received word that you were on your way.
"Gentlemen" — his voice was quiet but confident — "by the end of the week you will have all the information that is still available on this continent.
"Naturally," he finished, and his careful phrasing of his promise had already brought the first shock to Hoskins, "the Nazis will have made every effort to insure that nothing vital is available. Nevertheless —"
By noon of October 4th they had the bodies. Seven older men, nine women, two girls and twelve youths lay side by side on the cold ground. Silently, they were loaded onto a line of hearses, and started on the journey to the coast from whence they would be shipped to America for more fitting burial.
After the hearses had disappeared down the road, Hoskins stood with the others in the little clump of bushes where they had been led by the plump husband of Frau Kreigmeier. A cold north wind was blowing, and the men in the armored cars that had escorted them were beating their hands together for warmth.
In spite of the cold, Hoskins noted ferociously, Herr Kreigmeier was sweating profusely. "If ever a man deserved the Shaposhenko punishment —" he thought.
But they had promised ; the posters had promised — money, safe removal to any second-degree United Nations Mandate, and unlimited police protection.
The general came up : "The shovel men will finish up here," he said. "Let’s go. I crave the warmth of a hotel room. You can mull over the successes and " — he looked quickly at Hoskins — "the failures."
There wasn’t much. Silently, Hoskins sat in his chair before a roaring grate fire, and reread the translation of the single note they had resurrected :
Movement of anything requires a reverse movement, a cancellation, a balancing. A body moving between two points in space uses energy, which is another word for — reverse movement.
The science of reverse movement involves in its greatest functions a relationship between the micro-cosmos and the macro-cosmos, between the infinitely small and the infinitely large. When a balance is established between two forces of the macro-cosmos, one loses what the other gains. Engines puff noisily, organic creatures laboriously perform their duties. Life seems infinitely hard.
However, when a reverse movement is created in the micro-cosmos for a movement occurring in the macro-cosmos, then the ultimate in energy relations is obtained. There is also a complete balancing result ; the law that movement is equal to reverse movement holds as rigidly as before —
"I’d hate," said Hoskins wearily; "to ask any patent office to grant a patent on that. I’m afraid we’ve reached the end of the engine trail ; and that means my hope for quick action that would rescue Pendrake and his wife is gone. The rest of this stuff" — he flicked the typewritten sheets — "consists of notes on elementary radium reactions. There’s a big gap somewhere, and I guess it’s the hole in the empty sack we’re holding."
He looked up. "Anything new from Hohnstein, Saxony, the other murder center ?"
"Nothing," said Cree Lipton. "It was obviously only one of their ports of call for spaceships, hastily evacuated during our search. They’ve got their main equipment, all their secrets, on Mars or Venus —"
Hoskins cut in : "The Moon ! Make no mistake about it. Mars and Venus are too far away even at their closest. And besides, they wouldn’t dare let their young men and women see the kind of planet that Venus must be if you can believe the report of what the Lambton Land Project promised its settlers. It’s blood and iron the leaders who escaped the Shaposhenko punishment have in mind for their Herren-volk, and so they’ll keep them going on a diet of hard work and hard environment.
"Furthermore, they’ve only had eight months, and they can’t have the quantity production necessary to cover longer routes.
"We’ll have to locate all the supply centers like the ones at Hohnstein and Latzky, and force them to mine their own material with their limited means. Then when we attack —"
"When we what ?"
Hoskins smiled savagely at Lipton’s amazement, said with a blazing steadiness "You don’t think, Lipton, that just because we can’t duplicate the engine they’ve stolen, that we’re going to sit helplessly down here while they gather their strength on the Moon ?"
"But what —"
"The idea came to me last night," Hoskins said, "and I could have kicked myself for not thinking of it before. You see, Lipton, space was actually conquered many years ago. Only we were blind fools."
The knob-jawed giant was on his feet, staring at him. "You’re crazy !" he shouted:
Two quick strides brought him looming over the slighter man. "Quick," he said hoarsely, "what is it ? Don’t keep me here sweating."
As Hoskins told him quietly, the big man’s jaw began to sag. He stood finally, a stunned look on his face. His voice was a whisper as he said :
"You’ve got it. Oh, man, you’ve it!" He started for the door. Let’s go — back to Washington. "There’s no time to waste."
Pendrake backed, warily now. His first horror of the muscled colossus that was lumbering toward him was past. But the conviction that he must wait a favorable opening was an ugly surging along his nerves, a high, sustained thrill unlike anything he had ever known.
Unashamed of his reluctance, yet desperate in the need for haste, he waited for the attack that Devlin and his men were to launch — anything that would distract the beast’s attention.
When the attack came, with an abrupt roaring of men’s voices, Pendrake flung himself forward, straight at the hairy man.
A bearlike arm reached out to grab him. He knocked it aside with one thrust of his hand and for a fleeting second had his opportunity.
The blow against that massive jaw nearly broke his fist. Even then all would have been well if the smash had accomplished its purpose.
It didn’t. The monster did not as much as stagger ; and instead of standing stunned for that instant of leeway that Pendrake had counted on to get away, Big Oaf plunged forward. His cable-thick arms closed like the jaws of a steam shovel.
The Neanderthal bellowed with triumph "Gotcha!"
As the creature started his terrible squeeze, Pendrake jerked free his imprisoned arm, jabbed his fingers at Big Oaf’s pig eyes, shoved hard — and tore his body from that deadly embrace.
It was his turn to cry out with the wild glee of a man in the full grip of battle lust : "You’re licked, Big Oaf ! You’re through. You —"
With a hoarse cry, the hairy man leaped toward him. Laughing harshly, Pendrake danced back and — .
Too late, he noticed the throne platform directly behind. His retreat, made easy by the Moon’s gravity, was too swift for sudden halt. With a crash he fell flat on his back onto the platform.
It was over as swiftly as that. On his feet he could have won ; in that one test of strength he had lost all doubt of that. But with Big Oaf kneeling on top of him, striking at him with body-breaking fists — in a minute Pendrake was clinging to his senses by the barest thread of consciousness. He was only dimly aware of being roughly and abruptly tied.
Slowly, his mind crept further out of the darkness, into fuller comprehension of the disaster that had befallen him. He said finally, thickly :
"You fool ! Do you hear that fighting out there ? It means you’re through, no matter what you do to me. Better make a deal, Big Oaf, while there’s still a chance.
One look into those creature eyes brought the sick knowledge that he had flung his tiny stone of hope into a shadowed world. All the beast in the man was to the fore. The enormous lips were drawn back ; teeth protruded like fangs ; Big Oaf snarled with little grunts of indescribable fury ; he blazed finally with a guttural hoarseness :
"I’ll just bar the gate from this side. That’ll make my men fight harder ’cause they won’t be able to retreat in here. And it’ll make sure that you and me have our little show all to ourselves."
He lumbered massively out of Pendrake’s line of vision. There was the sound of timber crashing into position. Then the hairy thing came into sight again, grinning now. But when he spoke it was like a carnivore spitting rage :
"I’m gonna live here a million years, Pendrake, ’n’ all that time your wife’s gonna be one of my women."
Pendrake gritted "You mad idiot, even if you win now, you’ll die fast enough when the Germans come. And don’t think they won’t, either. You’re just a bunch of bandits to them, a nuisance that they won’t put up with for very long."
The words seemed not to touch the mind of the other. The man was, astonishingly, tugging at the throne platform. Pendrake watched, puzzled, as Big Oaf strained with all his enormous strength at the wooden thing.
Abruptly, the structure lifted. It came up ; and reeled over with a crash as Big Oaf flung it away from him. Where its timbered sides had been lay the entrance to a cave.
"Those fools," Big Oaf said, with a withering contempt, "thought I had this platform here, and this stockade, because I wanted to play king. The blue men know the truth, but they won’t learn any language but their own, so they can’t tell even if they want to, which they don’t."
He was bending over Pendrake as he finished. With a grunt, he heaved him to his shoulder, and jumped down into the lighted cave.
It was a twenty-foot drop. At the bottom, he tossed his prisoner unceremoniously to the cave floor, and climbed back to the surface.
"Don’t get anxious," he called lack mockingly, "I’m just gonna let the platform down into place."
He landed with a thud a minute later, and picked Pendrake up
"This cave," he said then. grinning, "leads straight to the pit. I’m gonna lower you down to my ole pal. the devil beast, and watch the fun.
"It’ll be some fun, feller, uh !"
The cave sloped gently downwards, and presently began to widen. It opened abruptly into a vast room filled with metal shapes.
Machines ! They shone in the reflected light of the cave walls and ceilings. They stood there, silent, secret witnesses to the glory of a people who had attained — not quite immortality, for they were dead — but a measure of greatness probably unequaled in the Solar System before or since and —
"You could have had those machines to find out how they worked," Big Oaf taunted, "and you could have had your wife. But now wait until some other guy comes along who knows about machines, and ain’t so fussy.
"Maybe give your wife to him, too," he added as an afterthought, and bellowed with laughter.
Pendrake remained silent. They were out of the machine room now ; once more the cave was narrowing. But he scarcely noticed those facts.
His mind was rocking back and forth like a swing swaying higher and more wildly with each surge. And every minute the load on that careening brain grew heavier. There was the engine, the unsuspecting Earth, Eleanor —
The thought ended as if it had been cut, out of his brain with a knife. The blood drained from his cheeks. The muscles of his solar plexus drew so tight that it was like an acute appendix pain for — he saw the end of the cave.
A moment later Big Oaf trumpeted "Here we are !"
He tossed Pendrake to the floor and stood over him, smirking down at him; there was no doubt at all that he was in the throes of sadistic joy.
"This opening over the pit," he grinned, catlike, "is nearly three hundred feet farther down than the surface, and about a quarter of a mile from where I showed you the devil beast. The only guys who’ve ever seen this cave are the ones that came too fast out of the machine from Earth.
"You saw," he confided gloatingly, "the way the machine’s only a few feet from the edge of the cliff. There was a time when everything that came through ran right over the edge. I was just walkin’, so I was able to jump back, but the devil beast and a lot of the animals it lived on until I came must have been runnin’ down that trail on Earth.
"After I built the corral, and saved all the deer and buffalo and cattle that came through, I fed the beast the leavings ; always I fed it myself, until now it knows my call. Lissen !"
He stepped abruptly to the cliff’s edge, ten feet away, and uttered a low, piercing cry. For a long moment, then, he stood staring down, facing away from Pendrake, stood crouching, slightly bow-legged, a squat, hairy, inhuman shape, a man thing spawned at the dawn of prehistory, a creature out of a hideous, an impossible dream.
But — facing away ! Shaking in every nerve, shedding tiny rivers of perspiration, Pendrake slid forward on his back. His wrist was tied to one ankle, but his other leg was free.
Free to kick, free to —
Big Oaf turned. "He’s comin’," he said. He seemed not to notice the strained body, the strained expression of his captive. He said in a matter-of-fact tone that was more terrible than all the passion and fury that had gone before :
"I’m gonna let you slide down on a rope, untyin’ the bonds around your wrist just before I lower you over the edge. That way you’ll be able to do a little runnin’ when you get down. The beast likes that ; it gives him exercise."
There was a rope neatly coiled at one side of the cave. As he picked it up and tossed one end over the abyss, Big Oaf explained precisely :
"I keep this here handy. You ain’t the first, you know, who’s gone over secret like this. Notice how one end’s tied to a fence post."
He waddled over to Pendrake, knelt beside him and started to untie the cord that bound him.
"Funny," he philosophized, "the kind of stuff the men have brought with ’ern from Earth : Rope, a wagon load of tools, rifles, revolvers — I got ’em all. Some of it, mostly ammunition, is hidden in this cave; and the rest in other caves they don’t know about that I closed up.
"I’m gonna use those guns if Devlin wins. It don’t take long to kill a hundred men from ambush if you’ve got bullets.
’You see," he finished with a grin, "I’ve got it all figgered. It —"
On Earth it wouldn’t have worked. A three-hundred-pound body not quite in position for a good shove would have staggered back a couple of feet, then regained balance.
The Moon was different. The body weighed only fifty pounds, and the leg that shoved it strove desperately to act with all the force of a stick of exploding dynamite.
Big Oaf stumbled back, fighting for balance. If there had been one more step behind him, he might have made it.
But that step he took into the abyss.
It took minutes to wriggle out of the half-untied but clinging bonds. And then there was another more timeless period while the blood tingled back into the numbed members and while he lay almost sick with reaction.
Finally, with a desperate will, Pendrake scrambled to the edge of cliff and looked down.
Big Oaf was just getting to his feet on the grass below, and the sabre-toothed tiger was circling him.
"Hitler !" The cry rang out over the valley. "Hitler, how does it feel ?"
Pendrake thought : "Did I shout that?"
His mind must have been turned by those minutes on the cliff’s edge.
Because even now that he recognized that it had been his voice, no shame came, nothing but a sense of the utter rightness of every mad syllable.
It fitted. How it fitted !
"Big Oaf," he screamed, "have you ever heard of the Shaposhenko punishment ? There’s an article in the beginning of it that says : — he who evokes the Beast in Man, and feeds the Beast with cunning purpose, let him suffer from the Beast according to his measure. Let —’"
Pendrake stopped. Then he stared. Below him, Big Oaf was on his feet, backing away, from the tiger. That was normal enough.
It was the saber-tooth that was unnormal. The great animal was whining in unmistakable puzzlement — and backing away from the hairy man !
Backing away — It couldn’t be fear. Nothing alive on Earth in the last ten million years could have brought one tremor of fear to that savage heart.
Big Oaf was shaking his head like a stunned ox ; and Pendrake’s attention concentrated on the man, and forgot the devil beast, even as the animal darted out of sight.
He saw that the Neanderthal was heading for the rope that hung down from the cave.
With a gasp, he snatched the rope out of his reach, thinking for the first time : "He fell seventy yards, and lived. That would be about forty feet on Earth. Could be —"
The squat body was directly below. The unsightly head glanced fearfully toward where the tiger had disappeared ; then :
"Pendrake, it recognized me as its feeder, but it’ll be back. Pendrake, let that rope down."
Pendrake felt no mercy. His body was as cold as ice itself with the freezing thoughts that were in his mind. His whole being throbbed with the bleak yet utterly intense words that poured from his lips :
"Go to all the hells you’ve ever sent other men to. Go and lie in the belly of the beast you’ve nurtured with the blood of your victims. May the god who made you have pity on you ; I have none."
"I’ll promise anything !"
His rage lessened not, but grew. A picture came of the women who must have shuddered at the very sight, let alone the touch of the monstrosity that was now pleading with a human voice for a quality of mercy it had never shown to anyone. He thought of Eleanor —
And his heart steeled ; his mind chilled to a new depth of deadly will.
"Promises," he mocked ; and his laughter rang out demoniacally over that ancient valley of the long dead Moon. "Now we’re back to Hitler, when he finally started to run : all the promises, the compromises, the deals he offered — and he never understood how hopeless it was. He —"
There was a flicker of yellow-red-blue-green in the brush a hundred yards to the right. A moment before, Pendrake had longed for the return of the mighty killer. But now —revulsion came swift to emotions that had been plucked raw.
Horror flashed in waves along his nerves. "I’m mad," he thought. "One man can’t administer justice. Letting another human being go to a death like this. After all, it wasn’t a true parallel. It —"
Frantically, he began to lower the rope. "Quick," he cried, "we can talk when you’re out of reach of —"
The rope sagged with weight. Glassily, Pendrake watched the desperate man in his fight for life, watched the tiger.
The animal paced wildly up and down in an obvious fever of excitement. It kept looking up with eyes of yellow fire, roaring uneasily, and with an unmistakable gathering awareness of escaping food. Suddenly, whatever tie had held it back, whatever tie of fantastically ancient companionship had bound it to the man, snapped.
It ran back, then turned toward the cliff again, and became a streak of blazing color against the gray-brown walls. A hundred, a hundred and fifty, a hundred and eighty feet it raced up that perpendicular wall. And had its prey. The two bodies went down with a crash.
After a minute, the squealing died. There was a crunching of bones and a slavering sound so horrible that Pendrake drew back nauseated.
And then someone was yelling "Pendrake ! We heard your voice. Pendrake, where are you?
The Germans are coming. Pendrake —"
The winter clung. The snow seemed determined to stay forever. When it finally dissipated, the new glistening all-plastic Interplanetary Building was opened with a triumphant fanfare ; and the great appointment had already come to Hoskins : Commissioner — Chairman —
"It is absolutely unfair," he said to Cree Lipton, "that I should have this. There are a hundred men who laid the groundwork and fought in obscurity. Frankly, I accepted only when I heard that the notorious ex-Governor Cartwright, who was defeated in the last elect:ions, was gunning for the job as a sort of pension for services rendered to the party —"
"I wouldn’t worry about it," Lipton said. "You can help those chaps more than they could ever help themselves. By the way, did you see the announcement about Venus ? Recognition for the Lambton colony there as a United Nations first-degree Mandate, with Venusian citizenship already given a special first-class status. Professor Grayson and the other scientists and their families didn’t die in vain."
Hoskins nodded. "It’s a great victory, but the danger of important inventions held secret by well-meaning individuals being stolen and misused —"
He was interrupted : "Listen, Ned, what I really came to see you about — put on your hat, come with me."
Hoskins shook his head, smiling. "Can’t be did, old man. The reports from our successful expedition to the Moon are just reaching the flood stage. There’s one really curious item —"
He took a folder from a drawer, and flipped over several pages of foolscap. " ’The Nazi prisoners claim’ " he read, ’that they were captured easily because their military forces had for months been engaged in digging along collapsed tunnels trying to root out some creatures who live inside the Moon. They claim that these beings are human. Our own investigations have found only caves that sooner or later come to a dead end —’ "
He saw that Lipton was looking at his watch. The F. B. I. agent caught his glance, and apologized :
"I’m sorry to break in on you, but the zero hour is approaching, and we shall just have time to fly to New York and be in at the kill."
Hoskins gasped : "You don’t mean — He leaped to his feet, grabbed his hat and coat. "Come on. Let’s go !"
When the uproar started, the stocky man glanced sharply at the leader.
"Excellency —" he began.
He stopped as he saw that the gaunt man was sitting with the phone still in his fingers, staring straight ahead of him. Uneasily, Birdman watched as the receiver dropped finally from the other’s fingers, watched as the man sat there his face like a dark, lifeless mask.
Birdman ventured : "Excellency, you were saying just before the phone lights came on that now that our positions on the Moon and nearly all our engines have been captured, we would use those that escaped as a nucleus for piratical depredations on the interplanetary highways that will now be opened up. We would become, you said, the pirates of the twenty-first and twenty-second centuries. We —"
He stopped, froze in horror. The long, bony fingers of the other were groping into a desk drawer. They came out holding a Mauser automatic.
As Lipton and Hoskins and a dozen other men burst into the room, the stocky man was on his feet facing the spare-built man at the desk, who was raising a revolver up to his forehead.
"Excellency," Birdman was crying wildly, "you lied. You are afraid of the "Shaposhenko punishment."
The pistol blared ; and the gaunt man twisted in his brief agony, and slid to the floor. Birdman stood over him with a numb terror ; he felt but dimly the presence of the intruders.
As he was led away, there was in him only wave after wave of utter disillusionment.
They were still perspiring. The cave where they had been frantically trying to bring down the roof was too narrow for so many men ; and Pendrake, who was gasping with the rest for his share of the oxygen-depleted air, was just thinking "Have to order the crew back —"
At that moment the messenger arrived. Pendrake listened in a stark wonder at the man who had come from Devlin : "A German prisoner, who died, says their camps are being attacked by American armies. Whatever the reason, the Nazis are withdrawing toward the surface —"
Pendrake said : "Impossible ! "It’s a trick. Nobody on Earth even knows about the Nazis being here, and besides, how did they get to the Moon so swiftly. There couldn’t be another engine lying in a hillside — and the Nazis wouldn’t give up after all these months of digging after us, Where’s Devlin ?"
But an hour later there was no doubt. Whatever the reason, the fight was over. "We’ll have to send a patrol to find out what happened !" Pendrake said.
He saw with a start that Devlin was staring at him queerly. "Look, boss," the man said diffidently, "I’ll lead that patrol. As for you — well — the men have been wonderin’ what you and your wife are going to do now.
"Wait !" he went on in a violent tone, although Pendrake had made no attempt to interrupt. "This is a serious business. We’re all pretty well agreed that this place oughtn’t to get known. We’ve got something here that can’t he shared with a billion people, at least not until somebody figures out how it works.
"What I mean is, go and talk things over with your wife and — what’s the matter ?"
Pendrake was smiling. "My wife and I have already talked things over. You may remember that I told you that our first child was born dead."
"What I didn’t tell you is that she can’t have any more children. That’s what she was taking so hard. Our blood dies forever with us. We’ve got to be personally immortal.
"What we have in mind," he went on swiftly, "will mean bringing a few carefully selected teachers from Earth, and equipment. If we can get agreement on it, we’ll start a system of education down here that will take full advantage of the gradual increase in everybody’s intelligence. Big Oaf was proof that such an increase does take place. I’ve even got an idea for the tiger for some time in the future when we get these Lunar machines working —"
"Listen," said Devlin, "what I get of these words is that you’re staying. Am I right ?"
They grinned at each other. Then they shook hands. Pendrake said finally :
"We’d better get going. I want us, if possible, to get one of the atomic engines, and I’ve got to see those American forces with my own eyes —"
Four days later he saw — swarms of ships with great streaks of red fire flaring from tubes in the rear. Pendrake took one long startled look, and gasped :
"Rocket ships !"
It was a spring morning fifty years later. Len Christopher, assistant keeper, New York Greater Zoological Gardens, walked slowly along the line of big cat cages. Suddenly, he stopped and stared at a vast, metal-barred structure that glittered in the rays of the rising sun.
"Funny," he muttered, "I swear that wasn’t there last night. Wonder when it arri —"
He stopped. The top of his head made a valiant effort to unfasten from the rest of him. For a moment he stood gaping at the blue-green-yellow-red nightmare that loomed colossal behind the four-inch metal bars. And then —
Then he was running, yelling, for the superintendent’s office.
 although it was integrated, along with other texts and with considerable cuts and extensions, into the (very wild) 1963 fix-up novel of the same name.