Home > A. E. van Vogt > THE 83 VAN VOGT STORIES ON THIS SITE > "Dormant" - a great golden-age sci-fi story by A. E. van Vogt (1948)

"Dormant" - a great golden-age sci-fi story by A. E. van Vogt (1948)

Tuesday 21 July 2015, by A. E. van Vogt

This dramatic tale of the harrowing results of the discovery of a huge and very strange alien object on a remote Pacific island in the immediate post-WW2 years, told in typical and most effective van-Vogt-style from the “other’s” point of view, was first published in the November 1948 issue of Startling Stories, whose snappy cover here has surely not escaped your attention.

There was the following interesting comment by the editors in that rather splendid issue (198 large-format pages!!) about our favourite sci-fi author: “. . . we take considerable pride in the first appearance in the pages of STARTLING STORIES of A. E. van Vogt, perhaps the most celebrated of living sf authors, whose brilliant short story, DORMANT, graces these pages”.

We have republished here the original version of this particularly well-written text, with the Startling Stories graphics by an unnamed artist.

(6,300 words)

An e-book is available for downloading below.


OLD was that island. Even the thing that lay in the outer channel exposed to the rude wash of the open sea had never guessed, when it was alive a million years before, that here was a protuberance of primeval earth itself.
The island was roughly three miles long and, at its widest, half a mile across. It curved tensely around a blue lagoon and the thin shape of its rocky, foam-ridden arms and hands came down toward the toe of the island—like a gigantic man bending over, striving to reach his feet and not quite making it.
Through the channel made by that gap between the toes and the fingers came the sea.
The water resented the channel. With an endless patience it fought to break the wall of rock and the tumult of the waters was a special sound, a blend of all that was raucous and unseemly in the eternal quarrel between resisting land and encroaching wave.
At the very hub of the screaming waters lay Iilah, dead now almost forever, forgotten by time and the universe.
Early in 1941, Japanese ships came and ran the gauntlet of dangerous waters into the quiet lagoon. From the deck of one of the ships a pair of curious eyes pondered the thing, where it lay in the path of the rushing sea. But the owner of those eyes was the servant of a government that frowned on extra-military ventures of its personnel.
And so engineer Taku Onilo merely noted in his report that, "At the mouth of this channel there lies a solid shape of glittery rocklike substance about four hundred feet long and ninety feet wide."
The little yellow men built their underground gas and oil tanks and departed towards the setting sun. The water rose and fell, rose and fell again. The days and the years drifted by, and the hand of time was heavy. The seasonal rains arrived or their rough schedule and washed away the marks of man. Green growth sprouted where machines had exposed the raw earth.
The war ended. The underground tanks sagged a little in their beds of earth and cracks appeared in several main pipes. Slowly, the oil drained off and, for years, a yellow-green oil slick brightened the gleam of the lagoon waters.
In the reaches of Bikini Atoll, hundreds of miles away, first one explosion, then another, started in motion an intricate pattern of radioactivated waters. The first seepage of that potent energy reached the island in the early fall of 1946.
It was about six months later that a patient clerk, ransacking the records of the Imperial Japanese navy in Tokyo, reported the existence of the oil tanks. In due time—1948—the destroyer Coulson set forth on a routine voyage of examination.
The time of the nightmare was come.

LIEUTENANT Keith Maynard, a masochist of long experience, peered gloomily through his binoculars at the island. He was prepared to find something wrong but he expected a distracting monotony of sameness, not something radically different.
"Usual undergrowth," he muttered, "and a backbone of semi-mountain, running like a framework the length of the island, trees—"
He stopped there.
A broad swath had been cut through the palms on the near shoreline. They were not just down—they were crushed deep into a furrow that was already alive with grass and small growth. The furrow, which looked about a hundred feet wide, led upward from the beach to the side of a hill, to where a large rock lay half-buried near the top of the hill.
Puzzled, Maynard glanced down at the Japanese photographs of the island. Involuntarily, he turned towards his executive officer, Lieutenant Gerson.
"Good lord!" he said, "how did that rock get up there? It’s not on any photographs."
The moment he had spoken he regretted it. Gerson looked at him, with his usual faint antagonism, shrugged and said, "Maybe we’ve got the wrong island."
Maynard did not answer that. He considered Gerson a queer character. The man’s tongue dripped ceaselessly with irony.
"I’d say it weighs about two million tons. The Japs probably dragged it up there to confuse us."
Maynard said nothing. He was annoyed that he had ever made a comment—and particularly annoyed because, for a moment, he had actually thought of the Japs in connection with "the rock. The weight estimate, which he instantly recognized as fairly accurate, ended all his wilder thoughts.
If the Japs could move a rock weighing two million tons they had also won the war. Still, it was very curious and deserved investigation—afterwards.
They ran the channel without incident. It was wider and deeper than Maynard had understood from the Jap accounts, which made everything easy. Their midday meal was eaten in the shelter of the lagoon. Maynard noted the oil on the water and issued immediate warnings against throwing matches overboard. After a brief talk with the other officers, he decided that they would set fire to the oil, as soon as they had accomplished their mission and were out of the lagoon.
About one-thirty, boats were lowered and they made shore in quick order. In an hour, with the aid of transcribed Japanese blueprints, they located the four buried tanks. It took somewhat longer to assess the dimensions of the tanks and to discover that three of them were empty.
Only the smallest, containing high-octane gasoline, remained leak-proof and still full. The value of that was about seventeen thousand dollars, not worth the attention of the larger navy tankers that were still cruising around, picking up odd lots of Japanese and American materiel.
Maynard presumed that a lighter would eventually be dispatched for the gasoline, but that was none of his business.
In spite of the speed with which his job had been accomplished, Maynard climbed wearily up to the deck just as darkness was falling.
He must have overdone it a little because Gerson said too loudly, "Worn out, sir?"
Maynard stiffened. And it was that comment rather than any inclination that decided him not to postpone his exploration of the rock. As soon as possible after the evening meal he called for volunteers.
It was pitch dark as the boat, with seven men and Bosun’s Mate Yewell and himself, was beached on the sands under the towering palms.
The party headed inland.

THERE was no moon and the stars were scattered among remnant clouds of the rainy season just past. They walked in the furrow, where the trees had been literally ploughed into the ground. In the pale light of the flashlights the spectacle of numerous trees, burned and planed into a smoothed levelness with the soil, was unnatural.
Maynard heard one of the men mumble. "Must have been some freak of a typhoon did that."
Not only a typhoon, Maynard decided, but a ravenous fire followed by a monstrous wind, so monstrous that—his brain paused. He couldn’t imagine any storm big enough to lift a two-million-ton rock to the side of a hill a quarter of a mile long and four hundred feet above sea level.
From nearby, the rock looked like nothing more than rough granite. In the beam of the flashlights it glinted with innumerable streaks of pink. Maynard led his party alongside it and the vastness of it grew upon him as he climbed past its four hundred feet of length and peered up at gleaming walls, like cliffs looming above him.
The upper end, buried though it was deeper into the ground, rose at least fifty feet above his head.
The night had grown uncomfortably warm. Maynard was perspiring freely. He enjoyed a moment of weary pleasure in the thought that he was doing his duty under unpleasant circumstances. He stood uncertain, gloomily savoring the intense primitive silence of the night.
’Break off some samples here and there," he said finally. "Those pink streaks look interesting."
It was a few seconds later that a man’s scream of agony broke through the thrall of darkness.
Flashlights blinked on. They showed Seaman Hicks twisting on the ground beside the rock. In the bright flame of the lights, the man’s wrist showed as a smoldering, blackened husk with the entire hand completely burned off.
He had touched Iilah.
Maynard gave the miserable wretch morphine and they rushed him back to the ship. Radio contact was established with base and a consulting surgeon gave cut-by-cut instructions on the operation. It was agreed that a hospital plane would be dispatched for the patient.
There must have been some puzzlement at headquarters as to how the accident had occurred, because "further information" was requested about the "hot" rock. By morning the people at the other end were calling it a meteorite. Maynard, who did not normally question opinions offered by his superiors, frowned over the identification, and pointed out that this meteorite weighed two million tons and rested on the surface of the island.
"I’ll send the assistant engineer officer to take its temperature," he said.
An engine-room thermometer registered the rock’s surface temperature at eight hundred-odd degrees Fahrenheit. The answer to that was a question that shocked Maynard.
"Why, yes," he replied, "we’re getting mild radioactive reactions from the water but nothing else. And nothing serious. Under the circumstances we’ll withdraw from the lagoon at once and await the ships with the scientists."
He ended that conversation, pale arid shaken. Nine men, including himself, had walked along within a few yards of the rock, well within the deadly danger zone. In fact, even the Coulson, more than half a mile away, would have been affected.
But the gold leaves of the electroscope stood out stiff and the Geiger-Mueller counter clucked only when placed in the water and then only at long intervals.
Relieved, Maynard went down to have another look at Seaman Hicks. The injured man slept uneasily but he was not dead, which was a good sign. When the hospital plane arrived there was a doctor aboard, who attended Hicks and then gave everyone on the destroyer a blood-count test. He came up on deck, a cheerful young man, and reported to Maynard.
"Well, it can’t be what they suspect," he said. "Everybody’s okay, even Hicks, except for his hand. That burned awfully quick, if you ask me, for a temperature of only eight hundred."
"I think his hand stuck," said Maynard. And he shuddered. In his fashion he had mentally experienced the entire accident.
"So that’s the rock," said Dr. Clason. "Does seem odd how it got there."
They were still standing there five minutes later when a hideous screaming from below deck made a discordant sound on the still air of that remote island lagoon.

SOMETHING stirred in the depths of Iilah’s awareness of himself, something that he had intended to do—he couldn’t remember what.
That was the first real thought he had in late 1946, when he felt the impact of outside energy. And stirred with returning life.
The outside flow waxed and waned. It was abnormally, abysmally dim. The crust of the planet that he knew had palpitated with the ebbing but potent energies of a world not yet cooled from its sun state.
It was only slowly that Iilah realized the extent of the disaster that was his environment. At first he was inwardly inclined, too pallidly alive to be interested in externals.
He forced himself to become more conscious of his environment. He looked forth with his radar vision out upon a strange world.
He was lying on a shallow plateau near the top of a mountain. The scene was desolate beyond his memory. There was not a glint nor pressure of atomic fire—not a bubble of boiling rock nor a swirl of energy heaved skyward by some vast interior explosion.
He did not think of what he saw as an island surrounded by an apparently limitless ocean. He saw the land below the water as well as above it.
His vision, based as it was on ultra-ultra short waves, could not see water.
He recognized that he was on an old and dying planet, where life had long since become extinct.
Alone and dying on a forgotten planet—if he could only find the source of the energy that had revived him.
By a process of simple logic he started down the mountain in the direction from which the current of atomic energy seemed to be coming. Somehow, he found himself below it and had to levitate himself heavily back up. Once started upward, he headed for the nearest peak, with the intention of seeing what was on the other side.
As he propelled himself out of the invisible, unsensed waters of the lagoon, two diametrically opposite phenomena affected him. He lost all contact with the water-borne current of atomic energy. And, simultaneously, the water ceased to inhibit the neutron and deuteron activity of his body.
His life took on an increased intensity. The tendency to slow stiflement ended. His great form became a self-sustaining pile, capable of surviving for the normal radioactive lifespan of the elements that composed it—still on an immensely less than normal activity level for him.
Iilah thought, "There was something I was going do."
The flow of electrons through a score of gigantic cells as he strained to remember increased, then slowed gradually when no memory came.
The fractional increase of his life energy brought with it a wider, more exact understanding of his situation. Wave on wave of perceptive radaric forces flowed from him to the Moon, to Mars, to all the planets of the Solar System—and the echoes that came back were examined with an alarmed awareness that out there, too, were dead bodies.
He was caught in the confines of a dead system, prisoned until the relentless exhaustion of his material structure brought him once more to rapport with the dead mass of the planet on which he was marooned.
He realized now that he had been dead. Just how it had happened he could not recall, except that explosively violent, frustrating substance had belched around him, buried him and snuffed out his life processes. The atomic chemistry involved must eventually have converted the stuff into a harmless form, no longer capable of hindering him. But he was dead by then.
Now he was alive again, but in so dim a fashion that there was nothing to do but wail for the end. He waited . . .
In 1948 he watched the destroyer float towards him through the sky. Long before it slowed and stopped just below him, he had discovered that it was not a life-form related to him. It manufactured a dull internal heat and, through its exterior walls, he could set the vague glow of fires.

ALL that first day, Iilah waited for the creature to show awareness of him. But not a wave of life emanated from it. And yet it floated in the sky above the plateau, an impossible phenomenon, utterly outside al his experience.
To Iilah, who had no means of sensing water, who could not even imagine air and whose ultra waves passed through human beings as if they did not exist, the reaction could only mean one thing—here was an alien life form that had adapted itself to the dead world around him.
Gradually, Iilah grew excited. The thing could move freely above the surface of the planet. It would know if any source of atomic energy remained anywhere. The problem was, to get into communication with it.
The sun was high on the meridian of another day when Iilah directed the first questioning pattern of thought towards the destroyer. He aimed straight at the vaguely glowing fires in the engine room, where, he reasoned, would be the intelligence of the alien creature.
The thirty-four men who died in the spaces in and around the engine room and the fire room were buried on shore. Their surviving comrades, including all officers, moved half a mile up the east coast. And at first they expected to stay there until the abandoned Coulson ceased to give off dangerous radioactive energies.
On the seventh day, when transport planes were already dumping scientific equipment and personnel, three of the men fell sick and their blood count showed a fateful decrease in the number of red corpuscles. Although no orders had arrived, Maynard took alarm and ordered the entire crew shipped for observation to Hawaii.
He allowed the officers to make their own choice, but advised the second engineer officer, the first gunnery officer and several ensigns who had helped hoist the dead men up to deck, to take no chances, but to grab space on the first planes.
Although all were ordered to leave, several crew members asked permission to remain. And, after a careful questioning by Gerson, a dozen men who could prove that they had not been near the affected area, were finally permitted to stay.
Maynard would have preferred to see Gerson himself depart, but in this he was disappointed. Of the officers who had been aboard the destroyer at the time of the disaster, Lieutenants Gerson, Lausson and Haury, the latter two being gunnery officers, and Ensigns McPelty, Roberts and Manchioff, remained on the beach.
Among the higher ratings remaining behind were the chief commissary steward, Jenkins, and chief bosun’s mate Yewell.
The navy group was ignored except that several times requests were made that they move their tents out of the way. Finally, when it seemed evident that they would be crowded out once more, Maynard in annoyance ordered the canvas moved well down the coast, where the palms opened up to form a grassy meadow.
Maynard grew puzzled, then grim, as the weeks passed and no orders arrived concerning the disposal of his command. In one of the Stateside papers that began to follow the scientists, the bulldozers and cement mixers onto the island he read an item in an "inside" column, that gave him his first inkling.
According to the columnist, there had been a squabble between navy bigwigs and the civilian members of the Atomic Control Board over control of the investigation. With the result that the navy had been ordered to "stay out."

MAYNARD read the account with mixed feelings and a dawning understanding that he was the navy representative on the island. The realization included a thrilling mental visualization of himself rising to the rank of admiral—if he handled the situation right. Just what would be right, aside from keeping a sharp eye on everything, he couldn’t decide.
It was an especially exquisite form of self-torture.
He couldn’t sleep. He spent his days wandering as unobtrusively as possible through the ever vaster encampment of the army of scientists and their assistants. At night he had several hiding places from which he watched the brilliantly lighted beach.
It was a fabulous oasis of brightness in the dark vaulting vastness of a Pacific night. For a full mile string upon string of lights spread along the whispering waters. They silhouetted and spotlighted the long, thick, back-curving, cement-like walls that reared up eerily, starting at the rim of the hill. Protective walls that were already soaring up around the rock itself, striving to block it off from all outside contact.
Always, at midnight, the bulldozers ceased their roarings, the cement mixing trucks dumped their last loads and scurried down the makeshift beach road and so to silence. The entire, already intricate organization settled into an uneasy slumber—and Maynard waited with the painful patience of a man doing more than his duty, usually until around one o’clock, when he too would make his way to his bed.
The secret habit paid off. He was the only man who actually witnessed the rock climb to the top of the hill.
It was a stupendous event. The time was about a quarter to one and Maynard was on the point of calling it a day when he heard the sound. It was like a truck emptying a load of gravel. For a bare moment he thought of it entirely in relation to his hiding place.
His night-spying activities were going to be found out.
An instant after that the rock reared up into the brilliance of the lights.
There was a roaring now of cement barriers, crumbling before that irresistible movement. Fifty, sixty, then ninety feet of monster rock loomed up above the hill, and slid with a heavy power over the crown.
And stopped.
For two months Iilah had watched the freighters breast the channel. Just why they followed that route interested him. And he wondered if there was some limitation on them, that kept them at such an exact level.
What was more interesting by far, however, was that in every case the aliens would slide around the island, and disappear behind a high promontory that was the beginning of the east shore. In every case, after they had been gone for a few days, they would slide into view again, glide through the channel, and gradually move off through the sky.
During those months, Iilah caught tantalizing glimpses of small but much faster winged ships that shot down from a great height—and disappeared behind the crest of the hill to the east.
Always to the east. His curiosity grew enormous, but he was reluctant to waste energy. And it was not until he grew aware of a night-time haze of lights that brightened the eastern sky at night, that he finally set off the more violent explosions on his lower surface, that made directive motion possible.
He climbed the last seventy or so feet to the top of the hill. And regretted it immediately.
One ship lay a short distance offshore. The haze of light along the eastern slope seemed to have no source. As he watched, scores of trucks and bulldozers raced around, some of them coming quite close to him.
Just what they wanted, or what they were doing he could not make out. He sent several questioning thought waves at various of the objects, but there was no response.
He gave it up as a bad job.

THE rock was still resting on the top of the hill the next morning, poised so that both sides of the island were threatened by the stray bursts of energy that it gave off so erratically.
Maynard heard his first account of the damage done from Jenkins, the chief commissary steward. Seven truck drivers and two bulldozer men dead, a dozen men suffering from glancing burns—and two months labor wrecked.
There must have been a conference among the scientists, for, shortly after noon, trucks and bulldozers, loaded with equipment, began to stream past the navy camp. A seaman, dispatched to follow them, reported that they were setting up camp on the point at the lower end of the island.
Just before dark a notable event took place in the social history of the island. The director of the Project, together with four executive scientists, walked into the lighted area and asked for Maynard.
The group was smiling and friendly. There was handshaking all around. Maynard introduced Gerson, who unfortunately (so far as Maynard was concerned) was in the camp at the moment. And then the visiting delegation got down to business.
"As you know," said the director, "the Coulson is only partially radioactive. The rear gun turret is quite unaffected, and we accordingly request that you cooperate with us and fire on the rock until it is broken into sections."
"Huh!" said Maynard.
It took only a moment for him to recover from his astonishment, and to know what he would answer to that.
At no time, during the next few days, did Maynard question the belief of the scientists that the rock should be broken up and so rendered harmless. He refused their request and then doggedly continued to refuse it.
It was not until the third day that he thought of a reason.
"Your precautions, gentlemen," he said, "are not sufficient. I do not consider that moving the camp out to the point is a sufficient safeguard in the event that the rock should blow up. Now, of course, if I should receive a command from a naval authority to do as you wish . . ."
He left that sentence dangling—and saw from their disappointed faces that there must have been a feverish exchange of radio messages with their own headquarters. The arrival of a Kwajalein paper on the fourth day quoted a "high" Washington naval officer as saying that, "any such decisions must be left to the judgment of the naval commander on the island."
And that, if a properly channeled request were made, the navy would be glad to send an atomic expert of its own to the scene.
It was obvious to Maynard that he was handling the situation exactly as his superiors desired. The only thing was that, even as he finished reading the account, the silence was broken by the unmistakable bark of a destroyer’s five-inch guns, that sharpest of all gunfire sounds.
Unsteadily Maynard climbed to his feet. An awful suspicion was on him. A swift glance around the camp showed that Gerson and his crony, gunnery officer Haury, were nowhere in sight.
His anger was instantly personal. He began to climb to the nearest height. Before he reached it the second shattering roar came from the other side of the lagoon, and once again an ear-splitting explosion echoed from the vicinity of the rock.
Maynard reached his vantage point and, through his binoculars, saw about a dozen men scurrying over the aft deck in and about the rear gun turret. It was impossible to make out if Gerson and Haury were among those aboard. There seemed to be no uniforms.
His first terrible suspicion faded. A new and grimmer fury came, this time against the camp director, and a determination to assure himself that every man assisting on the destroyer was arrested for malicious and dangerous trespass.
A vague thought came that it was a sorry day indeed when inter-bureau squabbles could cause such open defiance of the armed forces, as if nothing more was involved than struggle for power. But that thought faded as swiftly as it came.
He waited for the third firing, then hurried down the hill to his camp. Swift commands to the men and officers sent eight of them to positions along the shore of the island, where they could watch boats trying to land.
With the rest Maynard headed towards the nearest navy boat. He had to take the long way around, by way of the point, and there must have been radio communication between the point and those on the ship, for a motor boat was just disappearing around the far end of the island when Maynard approached the now silent and deserted Coulson.
He hesitated. Should he give chase? A careful study of the rock proved it to be apparently unbroken. The failure cheered him, but it also made him cautious. It wouldn’t do for his superiors to discover that he had not taken the necessary precautions to prevent the destroyer being boarded.
He was still pondering the problem when Iilah started down the hill, straight towards the destroyer.

IILAH saw the first bright puff from the destroyer’s guns. And then he had a moment during which he observed an object flash towards him. In the old, old times he had developed defenses against hurtling objects. Quite automatically now, he tensed for the blow of this one.
The object, instead of merely striking him with its hardness, exploded. The impact was stupendous. His protective crust cracked. The concussion blurred and distorted the flow from every electronic plate in his great mass.
Instantly the automatic stabilizing "tubes" sent out balancing impulses. The hot, internal, partly-rigid, partly-fluid matter that made up the greater portion of his body, grew hotter, more fluidic.
The weaknesses induced by that tremendous concussion accepted the natural union of a liquid—and hardened instantly under enormous pressures.
Sane again, Iilah considered what had happened. An attempt at communication?
The possibility excited him. Instead of closing the gap in his outer wall he hardened the matter immediately behind it, thus cutting off wasteful radiation.
He waited.
Again, the hurtling object, and the enormously potent blow, as it struck him . . . After a dozen blows, each with its resulting disaster to his protective shell, Iilah writhed with doubts.
If these were messages he could not receive them or understand. He began reluctantly to allow the chemical reactions that sealed the protective barrier. Faster than he could seal the holes the hurtling objects breached his defenses.
And still he did not think of what had happened as an attack.
In all his previous existence he had never been attacked in such a fashion. Just what methods had been used against him, Iilah could not remember. But certainly nothing so purely molecular.
The conviction that it was an attack came reluctantly and he felt no anger. The reflex of defense in him was logical, not emotional. He studied the destroyer and it seemed to him that his purpose must be to drive it away.
And he must drive away every similar creature that tried to come near him. All the scurrying objects he had seen when he mounted the crest of the hill—all that must depart. Everything eventually, but first the destroyer.
He started down the hill.
The creature floating above the plateau had ceased exuding flame. As Iilah eased himself near it, the only sign of life was a smaller object that darted alongside it.
There was a moment then when Iilah entered the water. That was a shock. He had almost forgotten that there was a level of this desolate mountain below which his life forces were affected.
He hesitated.
Then, slowly, he slid further down into the depressing area, conscious that he had attained a level of strength that he could maintain against such a purely negative pressure.
The destroyer began to fire at him. The shells, delivered at point-blank range, poked deep holes into the ninety-foot cliff with which Iilah faced his enemy.
As that wall of rock touched the destroyer the firing stopped. (Maynard and his men, having defended the Coulson as long as possible, tumbled over the far side into their boat and raced away as fast as possible.)
Iilah shoved. The pain that he felt from those titanic blows was the pain that comes to all living creatures experiencing partial dissolution.
Laboriously, his body repaired itself. And with anger and hatred and fear now he shoved. In a few minutes he had tangled the curiously unwieldy structure in the rocks that rose up, to form the edge of the plateau. Beyond was the sharp declining slope of the mountain.

A CURIOUS thing happened. Once among the rocks, the creature started to shudder and shake, as if caught by some inner destructive force. It fell over on its side and lay there like some wounded thing, quivering and breaking up.
It was an amazing spectacle. Iilah withdrew from the water, reclimbed the mountain, and plunged down into the sea on the other side, where a freighter was just getting under way. It swung around the promontory, and successfully floated through the channel and out, coasting along high above the bleak valley that fell away beyond the breakers. It moved along for several miles, then slowed and stopped.
Iilah would have liked to chase it further, but he was limited to ground movement. And so, the moment the freighter had stopped, he turned and headed towards the point, where all the small objects were cluttered.
He did not notice the men who plunged into the shallows near the shore and from that comparative safety watched the destruction of their equipment. Iilah left a wake of burning and crushed vehicles. The few drivers who tried to get their machines away became splotches of flesh and blood inside and on the metal of their machines.
There was a fantastic amount of stupidity and panic. Iilah moved at a speed of about eight miles an hour. Three hundred and seventeen men were caught in scores of individual traps and crushed by a monster that did not even know they existed.
Each man must have felt himself personally pursued.
Afterward Iilah climbed to the nearest peak and studied the sky for further interlopers.
Only the freighter remained, a shadowy threat some four miles away.
Darkness cloaked the island, slowly. Maynard moved cautiously through the grass, flashing his flashlight directly in front of him on a sharp downwards slant.
Every little while he called out, "Anybody around?"
It had been like that for hours now. Through the fading day they had searched for survivors, each time loading them aboard their boat and ferrying them through the channel and out to where the freighter waited.
The orders had come through by radio. They had forty-eight hours to get clear of the island. After that the bomb run would be made by a drone plane.
Maynard pictured himself walking alone on this monster-inhabited, night-enveloped island. And the shuddery thrill that came was almost pure unadulterated pleasure. He felt himself pale with a joyous terror.
It was like the time when his ship had been among those shelling a Jap-held beach. He had been gloomy until, suddenly, he had pictured himself out there on the beach on the receiving end of the shells.
He began to torture himself with the possibility that, somehow, he might be left behind when the freighter finally withdrew.
A moan from the near darkness ended that thought. In the glow of the flashlight, Maynard saw a vaguely familiar face. The man had been smashed by a falling tree.
As executive officer Gerson came forward and administered morphine, Maynard bent closer to the injured man and peered at him anxiously.
It was one of the world-famous scientists on the island. Ever since the disaster the radio messages had been asking for him. There was not a scientific body on the globe that cared to commit itself to the Navy’s bombing plan until he had given his opinion.
"Sir," began Maynard, "what do you think about—"
He stopped. He settled mentally back on his heels.
Just for a moment he had forgotten that the naval authorities had already ordered the atomic bomb dropped, after being given governmental authority to do as they saw fit.
The scientist stirred. "Maynard," he croaked, "there’s something funny about that creature. Don’t let them do any—"
His eyes grew bright with pain. His voice trailed.
It was time to push questions. The great man would soon be deep in a doped sleep and he would be kept that way. In a moment it would be too late.
The moment passed.
Lieutenant Gerson climbed to his feet. "There, that ought to do it, captain." He turned to the seamen carrying the stretchers. "Two of you take this man back to the boat. Careful. I’ve put him asleep."
Maynard followed the stretcher without a word. He had a sense of having been saved from the necessity of making a decision rather than of having made one.
The night dragged on.

THE morning dawned grayly. Shortly after the sun came up a tropical shower stormed across the island and rushed off eastward.
The sky grew amazingly blue and the world of water all around seemed motionless, so calm did the sea become.
Out of the blue distance, casting a swiftly moving shadow on that still ocean, flew the drone plane.
Long before it came in sight, Iilah sensed the load it carried. He quivered through his mass. Enormous electron tubes waxed and waned with expectancy and, for a brief while, he thought it was one of his own kind coming near.
As the plant drew closer he sent cautious thoughts towards it. Several planes, to which he had directed his thought waves, had twisted jerkily in mid-air and tumbled down out of control.
This one did not deviate from its course. When it was almost directly overhead a large object dropped from it, turned lazily over and over as it curved towards Iilah. It was set to explode about a hundred feet above the target.
The timing was perfect, the explosion titanic.
As soon as the blurring effects of so much new energy had passed, the now fully alive Iilah thought in a quiet though rather startled comprehension, "Why, of course, that’s what I was trying to remember. That’s what I was supposed to do."
He was puzzled that he could have forgotten. He had been sent during the course of an interstellar war—which apparently was still going on. He had been dropped on the planet under enormous difficulties and had been instantly snuffed out by enemy frustrators.
Now, he was ready to do his job.
He took test sightings on the sun and on the planets that were within reach of his radar signals. Then he set in motion an orderly process that would dissolve all the shields inside his own body.
He gathered his pressure forces for the fined thrust that would bring the vital elements hard together at exactly the calculated moment.
The explosion that knocked a planet out of its orbit was recorded on every seismograph on the globe.
It would be some time, however, before astronomers would discover that earth was falling into the sun.
And no man would live to see Sol flare into Nova brightness, and burn up the Solar System before gradually sinking back into a dim G state.
Even if Iilah had known that it was not the same war that had raged ten thousand million centuries before, he would have had no choice but to do as he did.
Robot atom bombs do not make up their own minds.