Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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Whose was the mummy that rested on the altar of this barbaric temple far in the future? What was the fascination that drove Richardson to risk death for it?
"I'VE got to know!" exclaimed Richardson. "I've got to know why that—that thing fascinates me so!"
He stared wildly around the laboratory; at the intricate apparatus that lay all about him.
"I'll devise a way to get the answer—or this machine will remain a secret!"
Richardson had grown pale and gaunt in these last two weeks. But when a man can sleep only fitfully, and is forced to push aside most of the food that is brought him, and can think of only one thing, constantly, ceaselessly, endlessly, he is bound to suffer physically.
And so it was with Richardson. They brought him the food he sent for by telephone, but he ate only enough to keep the heart in him beating. He tried to sleep. Every man who labors as Richardson was laboring must have some sleep. But Richardson's eyes were never closed for more than a half hour.
And then he resumed work in his laboratory—where he had confined himself—and continued his driving, brainsapping toil.
Two weeks before, Richardson's machine had been perfected. Two weeks before, Richardson himself had made the first test in it. He had traveled through Time. Traveled far beyond the realm or ken of man—centuries into the future.
Richardson's time machine had taken him to a vastly different world, had dropped him inside a huge, crude temple. A temple with a great altar. An altar enshrining a Thing in a Case.
And as Richardson had looked upon the Thing in the Case for the first time, it had seemed to reach out toward him, to pull him irresistibly forward. Actually, however, it didn't move at all. For it was nothing but a body. A charred, mummified body inside a glass case.
It was quite dead, Richardson had realized as he stood trembling before it. And he realized, too, from the signs of human habitation around the temple, that this was an idol, a thing of worship, for the curious, savage people of this future world.
But there was something about the damnable Thing, something beckoning, sinister, that made his blood run cold. And then the drums had started pounding outside the temple. Drums; and wild, weird, barbaric chanting that had forced Richardson to tear his gaze from the faceless head of the Thing. He had turned then, and ran to the safety of his time machine, returning through the centuries, across the gulf of Time, until he was at last back in his laboratory.
But in Richardson's brain, stamped deeply as though by a searing brand, there was the memory of the Thing in the Case. It beckoned, with a grim and ghastly persuasion against which he was powerless.
Four times after that, Richardson had returned to that wild world of the future, returned to the Thing in the Case. And each time, as he stood fascinated before it, the savage drums had taken up cadence, and wild chanting had forced him to flee back across Time.
IT had been Richardson's intention to announce his startling invention to the world immediately upon his return from his first trip into Time. He knew that then he would be equipped with positive proof with which to confront a scoffing world. But now his first journey into Time was two weeks old, and there had been four other journeys besides that. Yet he still withheld his discovery from the men of science, keeping in the sheltered secrecy of his laboratory and delaying the inevitable hour of triumph that would be his reward.
Richardson himself could not explain why.
He knew only that now he was again making delicate adjustments on his machine, so that he could again enter the strange, incredible, terrifying world of the future. So that he could again stand before the ghastly idol in that barbaric temple of centuries to come. By now he was helpless, hopelessly enslaved to his invention—and the irresistible lure of the Thing in the Case.
Richardson's eyes burned fever-bright as he stepped back after making the last adjustment on the time machine.
"I'll return from that temple only if I discover the fascination, the hold, of that damnable Thing in the Case," he told himself feverishly. And the winking lights on the board of the time machine seemed to flicker in sardonic agreement, as Richardson stepped into the machine.
AS on the previous occasions, Richardson came out of the blackness of space and time to find himself standing alone in the rude barbaric temple of the future. As before, the savage scent of earth and flesh was strong in his nostrils. And as before, Richardson looked up toward the huge altar on which the Thing in the Case reposed. His heart hammering heavily, Richardson advanced slowly toward the altar. The very presence of the Thing seemed enough, this time, to make his temples throb with the hot blood of excitement. He could feel its pull even more greatly than before. And he walked as if he were scarcely conscious of doing so, as if some unseen force were guiding his footsteps.
Sweat broke out afresh over Richardson's body as he advanced slowly, inexorably, toward the altar. And then he was standing before the Thing in the Case.
It hadn't changed, charred and shrunken, lying grotesquely rigid. But Richardson's palms were damp, and his breathing came faster. He was like the rabbit before the cobra—powerless, spellbound.
Desperately, he tried to fight off the grip of the Thing. Desperately, he forced his mind to a comparative calm, trying to sweep in every last detail of the Thing coldly, appraisingly, scientifically. He must find out. He had to find out—!
Around the charred neckbone of the Thing there was a circle of steel, as if some wire ornament, a primitive necklace, had been worn there during the life of the Thing. One of the hands, the left, charred and almost beyond recognition as such, was reaching up toward that neckpiece. The pose was like the unconscious gesture of a woman idly toying with a necklace.
Had this, then, been a woman? Some primitive of the future? Who had she—?
Richardson's thoughts were ebbing swiftly away, as though some horrible power were sapping them, drawing them forcibly from his brain. Again he felt the awful hypnosis of the Thing in the Case taking hold. Again there was a violent, trembling, physical weakness.
Richardson was trying with every last atom of soul and will to fight this damnable drowsiness, this insidious hypnotism that was creeping over his very being, drawing him closer, closer, to the Thing in the Case.
And suddenly, Richardson heard the drums throbbing.
ABOVE the barbaric cadence of the drums, a brutal chanting had risen.
Richardson had heard the drums and the chanting before, but never had they sounded as they did now.
Richardson tried to wheel, for the drums and the chanting were drawing closer and closer to the temple. Soon these strange people would be filing into their place of worship, and Richardson didn't care to think of what his fate would be were he found standing there before their idol.
But Richardson found himself powerless to move.
Louder grew the sound of the drums and the chanting, and Richardson, frozen there in fear and sudden sickness, could discern the flares of their torchlights bobbing down the tangled path that led to the temple door.
Richardson looked once into the death-mask face of the Thing in the Case. Looked once and screamed wildly, for it seemed to be grinning at him, evilly, sardonically!
And Richardson's own voice, ringing forth, broke the spell that had held him motionless. He turned now, sobbing hysterically, and dashed down the steps of the altar. Twenty yards away, twenty yards across the blood-stained earth of the temple, lay his only chance of escape—the time machine.
Richardson ran, and twice in that short stretch he fell sprawling. He had risen for the second time, sobbing, half-screaming, when a sudden, vast swelling of noise told him that the barbaric procession had entered the temple!
Wildly, Richardson grabbed for the levers of his machine, not daring to look back over his shoulder. The drums and the chanting had stopped abruptly, and Richardson heard a hoarse voice bellow something stridently, the sound ringing loudly through the silence in the temple. He had been seen. He knew that, even as he worked frantically in adjusting the mechanism on his machine!
"I've got to get out of here!" he gasped.
His hand was on the lever when a screaming, whip-like whistling shrieked through the air. Something caught Richardson around the neck, wrapped around tightly, stranglingly.
He tore at it with frantic fingers of his left hand, while his right pressed down the lever that would send the time machine back into the past of this future world.
The hurled band of steel was choking him, and a loose end of it fell across the control panel. He realized the danger instantly. A short now would be disastrous. He'd be marooned in time; trapped here in the future.
He was conscious of the fact that he was already hurtling back in time, and the temple and the priests had vanished. In their place was a vague gray blur.
But his instinctive motion to prevent the metal band from contacting the control panel was too late. Orange sheets of flame burst from the winking lights on the board. Orange splashes enveloped him in angry flame. Electrical energy seared his body horribly, blackening his skin.
Richardson tried to scream as blackness curtained in toward him. He was conscious now that the machine had stopped. Around him once more were the gloomy confines of the temple, but this time it seemed different; a newer, less ancient building, whose walls were not so blackened with time as the place where the Thing in the Case lay enshrined on its ghastly altar.
And before darkness closed in completely, Richardson saw the altar, saw that on it was no case, no charred mummy, no fetish that was a god to those who worshipped here.
And as he died he realized the truth. He knew how the Thing had gotten upon the altar; how the priests had gotten their "god." It had come to them in flame—in the ruins of the time machine; his time machine.
He was the Thing in the Case!