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Serialized in Argosy, 11 Mar-15 April 1939

First US book edition: Fantasy Press, Pennylvania, 1949

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-01-21
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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Argosy, 11 March 1939, with first part of "Seven Out of Time"

Here is John March's amazing search for the girt he loved and had never seen; how, summoned by the whisper of a whirl of dust, he stepped beyond the boundaries of time and met the masters of the other world. Beginning a great new fantastic novel by the author of "Drink We Deep"




This vintage science fiction classic was originally published as a 6-part serial novel in Argosy in 1939. Each part began with an illustrated headpiece. Parts II, III, IV and V were preceded by a synopsis of the events described in the preceding parts; Part VI was printed without a synopsis.

This RGL edition of Seven Out of Time contains the text of the serial, the four synopses, the six illustrations printed in Argosy, and the covers of the issues of the magazine in which the novel appeared. Five of the illustrations have been moved to the places in the text to which they refer.

A revised edition of Seven Out of Time was published in book form by Fantasy Press, Pennylvania, in 1949. The revisions included textual changes and re-chapterisation. Whereas the serial consists of 27 chapters, the book contains 28, most of them renamed. Here are the two tables of contents for comparison.

Chapter Title in Serial Chapter Title in Book
I. The Graven Snake 1. Time Is of the Essence
II. Whispering Whirl of Dust 2. The Portrait of Evelyn Rand
III. The Portrait and the Guide 3. Safari to Brooklyn
IV. Address of a Mystery 4. Forman Street
V. Achronos Astaris 5. The Riddles of Achronos Astaris
VI. Colossus 6. A Sky Too Low, A Fear Too Great
VII. Shape of Men to Come 7. The Empty Shape of a Man
VIII. Summoned to Adalon 8. Adalon, City Of Dread
IX. "More Merciful the Gallows' Drop" 9. More Merciful Is the Gallows' Drop
X. House of the Planets 10. Some Incredible Otherwhere
XI. Evelyn Rand 11. The Scent of Dreams
XII. A Matter of Time 12. Walk Into My Parlor
XIII. Lottery of Doom 13. The Lottery of Doom
XIV. Excalibur's Defeat 14. A Deal With Disaster
To the Kintat 15. They Too Can Fear
XVI. Five of the Kintat 16. What Do You Want Of Us?
XVII. Man and Superman 17. Destiny
XVIII. Conquest Beyond Space 18. The Curtain Falls
XIX. Defy the Gods 19. The Will to Live and Kill
XX. Experiment in Love 20. Choice Between Death and Death
XXI. The Master Thief 21. Experiment in Love
XXII. Through the Glass See Clearly 22. The Death Cloud
XXIII. The Mother of All Living 23. The Mother of All Living
XXIV. Million to One Chance 24. The Magnificent Fools
XXV. The Room of the Matra 25. To Die Alone
XXVI. The Sacrifice 26. Vengeance
XXVII. The House On Cobblen Street 27. Dust Unto Dust
None 28. The Fork in Time's River

HTML and EPUB versions the book edition of Seven Out of Time are available in Roy Glashan's Libary.

— Roy Glashan, 20 January 2020


Headpiece from "Argosy"



"YOU have not found Evelyn Rand."

Pierpont Alton Sturdevant did not raise his eyes from the papers he had been examining when I entered his office and his voice was dry as the rustle of wind in fallen leaves.

"No sir," I was forced to admit. "I've—" His hand gestured for silence.

The room was enormous, the desk massive, but the head of the law firm of Sturdevant, Hamlin, Hamlin and Sturdevant dominated both. This was not because of any physical quality. P.A. was quite average in stature. His hair, deftly arranged to conceal its sparseness, was gray, but it did not have the patches of white at the temples which fiction writers and movie make-up men like to believe are the invariable mark of position in business or the professions. The skin of his beardless face was netted with fine wrinkles, and tightly drawn over a skull almost femininely delicate.

In contrast to the near baldness of his scalp, shaggy brows shadowed Sturdevant's eyes. His nose was hawk-like. About the thin, tight line of his mouth there was a sort of sexless austerity.

Looking at him from the chair to which, with a terse "Good morning," he had motioned me, I had the notion that Sturdevant was very like some Roman emperor on the throne from which he ruled the world. My chief was cloaked in the same consciousness of undisputed power, of patrician aloofness from the common herd.

A very junior attorney in the august firm over which he presided, I might, to continue the fancy, have been some young centurion returned from Ulterior Gaul and hailed before his emperor to report on his mission. I had, in fact, just come back to the city from the remotest reaches of Westchester and what I had to report was—failure.

"If you continue the search, how soon do you think you will be able to locate her?"

"I don't know." I didn't like that if. I didn't like it at all. "I haven't been able to unearth a single clue as to what happened to her. The girl just walked out of her Park Avenue apartment house that Sunday morning and vanished. The doorman was the last person to see her. He offered to call a taxi for her and she told him that she would walk to church. He watched her go down the block and around the corner, and that was the last anyone ever saw of her."

"I could not take my eyes off the lass" the grizzled attendant had told me, "though the 'phone buzzer was goin' like mad. She swung along freelike an' springy, as if the ould sod was under her feet an' not this gray concrete that chokes th' good dirt. I was minded o' the way my Kathleen used to walk up Balmorey Lane to meet me after th' work was done, longer ago than I care to think."

By the way he spoke and the look in his eyes, I knew I needed only to tell him what it would mean to Evelyn Rand if word of the fact that she had never returned became known, to keep him silent.

And so it was with the elevator boy who had brought her down from her penthouse home and with the servants she had there: Frank Stone, the granite-visaged butter, buxom Mary Fox the cook, the maid, Renée Bernos, black-haired, roving-eyed and vivacious. Each of these would go to prison for life sooner than say a single word that would harm her, nor was this simply because she was generous with her wages and her tips. One cannot buy love.

"You are exactly where you was two weeks ago," Sturdevant murmured, "except for this." He turned the paper he'd been studying so that I could see it and tapped it with a long, bony forefinger.

IT was a statement of account, headed:


Beneath this heading was written a list of items, thus:

1-27-47 ½ hr. P. A. Sturdevant, Esq.            @$400  $ 200.00

1-27-47-2/10/47 88¼ hrs. Mr. John March         @ $25  $2206.25

1-27-47 Disbursements and expenses to Mr. John March 
(acct. 2-10-47 attached)                        $  64.37 

Total                                           $2470.62 

"Two thousand four hundred seventy dollars and sixty-two cents"—Sturdevant's finger tapped the total—"up to last Saturday, and in addition there is the charge for this quarter hour of my time and yours, plus whatever you have spent over the weekend! Over two and a half thousand dollars, Mr. March," he repeated accusingly, "and no result."

He paused, giving me a chance to make excuses. But I wasn't having any. I bit my lip and waited for what I knew he was going to say next.

He said it. "As trustee of the estate of Darius Rand I cannot approve any further expenditure. You will return to your regular duties and I shall notify the police that Miss Rand has vanished."

That gave the signal to go ahead. "The hell you say!" I exclaimed, "You can't do that to her! You can't hand over her inheritance to charity." He wasn't the head of the firm to me then. He was a shriveled old curmudgeon for whom I didn't give a hoot in Hades. "You can't make that lovely girl who has always lived in a dreamland of her own, who has never been touched by the harsh realities of life, a penniless pauper. It would be murder, if not of a body, of a mind and a soul. You don't know what you're doing."

I stopped. I was out of breath, for one thing. For another, the calm cold way he was looking at me made me realize what a fool I was making of myself, getting all hot and bothered over the girl.

"I know exactly what I am doing," Sturdevant said when my silence gave him a chance to speak. "I know as well as you do that because of the embarrassment his actress wife caused him by trailing her escapades through the newspapers, Darius Rand in his will tied up his fortune in a trust fund. The income from it goes to his daughter Evelyn only as long as her name never appears, for any reason whatsoever, in the news columns of the public press.

"When she vanished, I determined, as chairman of her committee of guardians, to conceal the situation for a reasonable length of time, hoping that she would turn up or be found. That reasonable time has, to my opinion, expired. I can no longer justify my silence. Therefore, as trustee of—"

"The estate of Darius Rand," I broke in getting sore again. "You're measuring the happiness of someone against dollars and cents."

The faint shadow that drifted across Sturdevant's face might mean I'd gotten under his skin. But his answer didn't admit it. "No, Mr. March, I am measuring a sentimental attachment to someone over whose welfare I have watched for more than six years against the dictates of duty and conscience."

The old codger's weakening, I encouraged myself. "Aren't there times, sir, when one may forget duty and even conscience? Look here. Give me a week more. Just the week Itself. I'll take a leave of absence. I'll even resign, so you won't have to charge the estate for my time. I'll pay any necessary expenses out of my own pocket. All I want is for you to keep this thing away from the police and the papers for a week, and I'll find Evelyn before it's over, I'm as sure that I'll find her as that I'm standing here."

STURDEVANT'S eyebrows rose slightly. "You seem unduly perturbed over the young lady," he mused, "for one who has never seen her, for one who had never even heard of her fourteen days ago. Or am I mistaken?"

"No. Fourteen days ago I was not aware that such a person as Evelyn Rand existed. But today," I leaned forward, my palms pushing down hard on the desk-top, "I think I know her better than I know my own sister. I know her emotional makeup, how she would react in any conceivable situation. That's what I've been doing ever since I found there were no physical clues to what has become of her. I have literally steeped myself in her personality. I have spent hours in her home, her library, her bedroom. I have talked, on one pretext or another, to everyone who served her, her hairdresser, her dressmaker, I know that her hair is the color of honey and how she wears it. I know that she is fond of light blues and pastel tones of pink and of leaf- green. I even know the perfume she has specially compounded for her."

In his little shop on Sixty-third Street, the walrus- mustached old German in the long chemist's smock had looked long at me, perturbation in his china-blue eyes. "Ich weiss nicht," he muttered. "You say a friend from the Fräulein Rand you are and a bottle from her individual perfume you want to buy her for a present. Aber I don't know. Ven I say so ein schönes Mädchen many lovers must have, she laughs und says she has none. She says ven someone she finds who can say to her so true t'ings about her soul as I say in de perfume I make for her, then she will have found her sweetheart. But such a one she has not yet found."

"Look," I argued. "Would I know the formula number if she did not tell it to me?"

I had got it from Renée Bernos, but the German was convinced. When I opened the little bottle that had cost me enough to have fed a slum family a month, my dreary hotel room was filled with the redolence of spring; of arbutus and crocuses and hyacinths and the evasive scent of leaf-buds, and with another fainter redolence I could not name but that seemed the very essence of dreams. For a moment it seemed almost as if Evelyn Rand were there with me....

"Ah," Sturdevant breathed. "And what did you hope to accomplish by so strange a procedure?"

"I figured that if I could get inside her mind," I replied, "I should perhaps know what was in it when she walked down Park Avenue to Seventy-third Street, and turned the corner and never reached the church which she had set out for."

The arching of Sturdevant's shaggy brows was more pronounced this time. He was laughing at me, damn him, and he had every reason to.

"Yes?" he murmured. "Is that all you have done in two weeks?"

"This weekend I went out to Evelyn's country home, the house where she was born and where she spent her childhood. It was closed, of course, but I had obtained the keys from Miss Carter, your secretary. I spent most of Saturday in that house, and all of yesterday."

The other rooms had told me nothing about Evelyn Rand. They were the commonplace living quarters of a wealthy family, and that was all. But one dim and dusty chamber still held the personality of the child Evelyn Rand. That was the nursery.

I pulled out a bureau drawer too far, so that it fell to the floor and split, and that was how I found the thing. Only Evelyn Rand could know, if she were still alive and remembered, how long ago it had slipped between the side of that drawer end the edge of its warped bottom. At feast fourteen years ago, because, as I already had learned, when the girl was six and starting school the door of this room had been locked and never opened again.

As my fingers closed on the bit of carved stone that lay in a clutter of dolls' clothes, grimy picture books, battered blocks and mummified insects, something seemed to flow from it and into my blood, I was aware of a vague excitement and fear.

It was slightly smaller than a dime, approximately an eighth of an inch thick and roughly circular in outline, and there was, oddly enough, no dust upon it. It was black, a peculiar, glowing black that appeared to shimmer with a colorless iridescence. Almost it seemed as though I held in my palm a bit of black light strangely become solid. Too, it was incongruously heavy for its size, and when on impulse I tested it, I found it hard enough to scratch glass.

The latter circumstance made more remarkable the accomplishment of the artist who had fashioned the gem. For it was not a solid mass with a design etched seal-like upon it, but a filigree of ebony coils that rose to its surface and descended within its small compass and writhed again into view till the eye grew weary of following the windings.

On the window-sill to which I had taken the gem lay a magnifying glass. I wiped away the thick layer of dust that covered the lens and looked through it at the stone.

Now, sitting in the office with Sturdevant, I remembered clearly the amazement I had felt when I studied that stone under the glass.

Close-packed and intricate as were the thread-thin loops, they formed a single continuous line. True, two or three of the coils were interrupted at one point in the periphery by a wedge-shaped gap about an eighth of an inch deep, but the rough edges of the break made it obvious that this was the result of some later accident and not a part of the original intent.

Then I made another discovery: the coils were not smoothly polished as they appeared to the naked eye, but had traced upon them a myriad of microscopic scales, each perfect in outline and detail.

I could not bring myself to believe that any human could have had the skill and the infinite patience to have carved this out of a single piece of whatever the stone was. It must have been made in parts and cemented together. I bent closer, to see if I could find some seam, some evidence of jointure.

I saw none. But I saw the snake's head.

Tiny yet exquisitely fashioned, it lay midway between the gem's slightly convex surfaces, and at the hub of its perimeter, I could make out the lidless eyes, the nostrils, the muscles at the comers of the jaws, straining muscles because those jaws were widely distended.

To avoid any interruption of the design, the reptile had been graven as swallowing its own tail.

A strange toy for a little girl to have, I thought, and put it away in my vest pocket, meaning later to fathom out what it could tell me about Evelyn Rand.

"You seem to be making a good thing out of your assignment." Pierpont Alton Sturdevant remarked. "Using it to obtain a week-end in the country at the estate's expense."

I got pretty hot under the collar at that. It took an effort to remember that if I said what I wanted to, what faint chance there was of persuading him to permit me to continue investigating Evelyn's disappearance would be gone. At that, my voice had dropped a couple of notes in pitch when I went on.

"I also talked to the woman who was Evelyn Rand's nurse and her foster-mother after old Darius divorced his wife, the girl's constant companion till your committee sent her away to college."

"And what did you learn from Faith Corbett?" For the first time a faint hint of interest crept into Sturdevant's tone, though his face remained expressionless.

I hesitated. Could he possibly understand if I answered that question with complete honesty?


THERE was no sound in the office of Pierpont Alton Sturdevant except the almost inaudible burr of the electric clock on his desk. The long second hand of that clock could have swept hardly halfway around the dial before I made my decision.

"Nothing," I answered. "I learned nothing from her that I can put into words."

I had stopped at the door of the cottage and asked for a drink of water. Faith Corbett, shrunken and fragile as a withered leaf, had asked me in. Very willingly I accepted her invitation to have tea with her; and soon the little old lady was talking about Evelyn Rand.

"She was a dear child," the faded, tenuous voice mused as the scrubbed kitchen grew misty with winter's early dusk, "but sometimes she scared me. I would hear her prattling in the nursery and when I opened the door she would be quite alone, and no sign that anyone had been there. When I asked her who she'd been talking to she would look up at me with those great gray eyes of hers and gravely say a name, and it would be no name that I had ever heard.

"But it was something that happened the day before they took her away from me that upset me most of all," Faith Corbett said. "I didn't understand it and I will never forget it."

She took a nibble of her toast and a sip of her tea, but though I waited silently for her to go on, she did not. Her thoughts had wandered from what she had been saying, as old people's thoughts have a way of doing.

"What was it," I asked after awhile, "that happened the day before Evelyn went away to college?"

"I was packing her trunk," the old lady recommenced as if she had not paused at all. "I could not find her tennis shoes so I went downstairs to ask her what she had done with them. Evelyn was not in the house, but when I went out to the porch I saw her on the garden path. She was going toward the gate through the twilight, and there was an eagerness in the way she moved that was new to her. She walked as if she were going to meet a lover.

"I stood and watched, my heart fluttering in my breast for I knew there was no youngster about who had ever got so much as a second glance from my girl. She came to the gate and stopped there, taking hold of the pickets with her hands. Like a still white flame she was as she looked down the road.

"They had not put the macadam on it yet and the dust lay glimmering in the dimness. All of a sudden Evelyn got stiff-like and I looked to see who was coming."

The memory of that afternoon was still so vivid in my mind that I could hear again the little gasp the old lady made as she paused for an instant.

"The road was as empty and still as it had been before," she told me slowly.

"The air was smoky, kind of, the way it gets in the fall and there wasn't a leaf stirring. But there must have been a breath of wind on the road because I saw a little whirl of dust come drifting along it. When it came to the gate where Evelyn stood it almost stopped. But it whispered away and all at once it was gone.

"All the eagerness seemed to go out of Evelyn. I heard her sob and I ran down the path calling her name. She turned. There were tears on her cheeks. 'Not yet,' she sobbed. 'Oh, Faith! It isn't time yet.'

"'It isn't time for what?' I asked her, but she would say nothing more and I knew it was no use to ask again...."

Faith Corbett's voice went on and on, telling me that she had rented this cottage with the pension the estate granted her and that it was hard to live alone. But I heard her with only half an ear. I was thinking of how in that smoky fall twilight long ago it had seemed to Faith Corbett that Evelyn Rand must be going through the garden to meet her lover. I was recalling how the grizzled old doorman had said, 'I was minded o' the way my Kathleen used to walk up Balmorey Lane to meet me;' and large in my mind was the oddly frightening thought that perhaps when Evelyn Rand had turned the corner into Seventy-third Street a whirl of dust might have come whispering across the asphalt....

"YOU learned nothing at all from Evelyn's old nurse?" Pierpont Sturdevant demanded. "I cannot believe that."

"Well," I conceded, "she did make me certain that the girl was unhappy and lonely in that motherless home of hers. But, as an imaginative child will, she found ways of consoling herself."

"Such as?"

"Such as writing verse." I indicated the yellowed papers I had laid on Sturdevant's desk when I came in.

The only light left in the cottage kitchen had been the wavering radiance of the coal fire in the range. So much talking had tired Faith Corbett and she nodded in her chair, all but asleep.

"Thank you for the tea," I said rising. "I'll be going along now."

The old woman came awake with a start. "Wait," she exclaimed. "Wait! I have something to give you. Something nobody but me has ever seen before." She rose too and went out of the room, the sound of her feet on the clean boards like the patter of a child's feet except that it was slower. I stood waiting and wondering, and in a little while she was back with a number of yellowed papers in her hand, pencilled writing pale and smudged upon them.

"Here," she said, giving them to me. "Maybe these will help you find her."

The papers rustled in my hand. I had been very careful to conceal from Faith Corbett the object of my visit, and I wondered how she could possibly know Evelyn Rand had vanished.

"Verse?" Sturdevant peered at the sheets dubiously.

Eager as I was to pierce the dry husk of rectitude that he wore, I had sense enough to retreat from my intention of reading to him, in that great room with its drape-smothered windows and its walls lined by drab lawbooks, the lines a child once penned in a sun-bright garden. He would hear the limping rhythm and the faulty rhymes, but he never would understand the wistful imagery of the words, the nostalgia for some vaguely apprehended Otherland where all was different, and being different must be happier.

"Poems," I assented. "They have told me more than anything else exactly what Evelyn Rand is like."

"And so it has cost the estate two and a half thousand dollars to find out that Evelyn Rand once wrote poems. You haven't even located a photograph of her, so that I can give the authorities more to go by than a bare description."

As far as anyone knew Evelyn never had been photographed. "I've done better than that," I said triumphantly. "I've found out that a portrait of her is in existence, painted by—" I named a very famous artist. For reasons that will shortly appear I shall omit that name from this account.

"Indeed." Sturdevant's brows lifted. "Why did you not bring that here instead of this trash?" He flicked a contemptuous finger at the sheaf of old papers.

"Because it is in a gallery on Madison Avenue. I intend to go there as soon as you finish with me, and—"

His look checked me. "You seem to forget, Mr. March, that I have canceled your assignment to this matter."

There it was! I hadn't changed his decision in the least. "You—!"

I didn't get any further than that because the annunciator on his desk interrupted me with its metallic distortion of human speech. "Nine-thirty, Mr. Sturdevant," it said. "Mr. Holland of United States Steel is here for his appointment."

Sturdevant clicked up the switch key that transformed the device from a receiver to a transmitter. "Send him in, Miss Carter. And make a note of this, please. John March has been granted a leave of absence, without pay, for one week from date. This office will do nothing in the matter of Evelyn Rand until Monday the twenty-first."

He turned to me and I swear there was a twinkle in his eyes. "Remember," he said. "Time is of the essence of the contract."

I was to recall that warning, but in a sense far different than he intended.


ART lovers are not as a rule early risers, and so after I had purchased a catalogue from the drowsy attendant in the foyer and passed through the red-plush portières before which he sat, I had the high-ceiled exhibition room to myself.

Shaded, tubular lights washing the surfaces of the paintings on the walls accentuated the dimness that filled the reaches of the gallery. A decorous hush brooded there, the thick, soft carpeting muffling the sound of my feet, close-drawn window drapes smothering traffic noise from without. The atmosphere was thick and oppressive.

I passed a circular seat in the center of the floor and saw Evelyn Rand looking at me from the further wall.

I knew her at once, although I had never seen her pictured anywhere. So sure was I that this was the portrait I had come to seek that I did not look at the gray pamphlet I held but went right to it.

I was conscious only of her face at first, ethereal and somehow luminous against the dark amorphous background of the painting. It seemed to me that there was a message for me in the gray, frank eyes that met mine, a message somewhere beneath their surface. It seemed to me that the satin-soft red lips were on the point of speaking.

Those lips were touched with a wistful smile, and there was something sad about them. Somehow the painter had contrived to make very real the glow of youth in the cheeks and in the honeyed texture of the hair; but there was, too, something ageless about that face, and a yearning that woke a response within me.

Yes, this girl could have written the poems that were locked now in a drawer of my desk. Yes, she would be loved by everyone who had the good fortune to know her.

She must have been about sixteen at the time of the portrait. The body within the soft blue frock—a misty blue, like the sky when it is brushed across with cloud—was just budding into womanhood. The hollows at the base of the neck were not yet quite filled.

A fine gold chain circled that neck. Pendant from it was a black gem, round and a little smaller than a dime. I recognized it. It was a replica of the one I had found in the nursery. There had been two of the things then—

My forehead wrinkled. At the edge of the amulet there appeared a wedge-shaped break about an eighth of an inch deep.

That was odd. The pictured Evelyn Rand was, as I have said, certainly sixteen. I might be mistaken by a year, not more. When she had sat for that portrait the gem was lost, and locked behind a door that had not been opened for almost ten years. This must be another. I was mistaken in thinking that the break was at exactly the same point, shaped exactly the same.

There was one way of finding out. The carved black stone was in my vest-pocket. All I had to do was take it out and compare it with the one in the picture.

I fished the curious gem out of my vest-pocket and looked from it to the painting and back again. The pictured pendant and the stone in my fingers were the same. No accident could possibly have marred two different objects, no matter how similar, in precisely the same way.

Somewhere outside, a tower clock started chiming, the strokes coming dully into the room. Automatically I turned my wrist to check my watch. It was ten, right on the dot.

"An interesting bit." a low voice said. "Well worth the study you are giving to it."

I had thought myself alone in the gallery, yet now the voice did not startle me. I did, however, return the black stone to my pocket and button my coat over it as I agreed, "Yes. Very much so."

THE man was short, so short that the top of his head was at the level of my shoulder, and the first thing I noticed about him was that he was completely bald. The head seemed out of proportion, too large for the body it topped.

"Of course you have noticed," he went on, "how painstakingly every physical detail has been brought out. One has the impression that merely by reaching out one might feel the warmth of the girl's flesh, or straighten the fold in her frock a puff of wind has disarranged, or take that black pendant in one's fingers and examine it more closely."

Light reflected from the portrait of Evelyn Rand fell on the little man's face but left the rest of him obscure, so that his odd countenance seemed to hang disembodied in the gloom. It was round, no feature prominent enough to claim notice, but I did observe that brows and lashes were either absent or so light as to be imperceptible against the yellowish skin. The latter was of an odd lusterless texture, yet so smooth that I had a disquieting sense that it was artificial.

There was nothing artificial, however, about the tiny eyes; black eyes keener, more piercing, than any I had ever seen.

Their owner seemed unaware of my scrutiny. He was peering at the painting and his low, clear voice flowed on musingly, as though he were speaking his thoughts aloud, only half aware of my presence.

"How much of his subject's personality the artist has contrived to convey! She is not quite in tune with the world where she finds herself. All her life she has been lonely, because she does not quite belong. She has a sort of half- knowledge of matters hidden from others of her race and time, not altogether realized but sufficiently so that dimly she is aware of the peril which the full unveiling of that knowledge would bring upon her."

I studied the portrait. I couldn't see all that in it.

"She has learned now," the little man murmured, "what she only vaguely guessed at when that picture was painted."

That turned me to him. "What makes you say that?" I demanded, reaching to take hold of his upper arm.

I felt the roughness of fabric, the hardness of flesh beneath; then—though I was not conscious of any movement on his part—my fingers were closing on empty air and the fellow was standing beside me precisely as he had been, his speech a quiet, drowsy murmur.

"You know her." It was not a question but a statement. "You know how well the artist has done his work." Oddly enough, we both ignored the curious incident as one would a paradox in a dream.

"I know what she is," I replied. There was something puzzling here. "Though I have never met her, never spoken to her." Had something more than interest in a work of art brought this strange individual here? "What is the peril that threatens her?" I asked, to lead him on.

I expected either a plea of ignorance or an answer that would tie the little man to the vanishing of Evelyn Rand. I did not expect what he said.

"The artist sensed it. He put it on the canvas for us to see."

I looked back at the portrait. There was the girl's figure on it. There was the dark and formless background. There was nothing else.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I don't know what you mean."

"Look." I felt fingers brush across my eyes. He must have reached up and touched them, but I did not, as ordinarily I should have, resent the liberty. I forgot it as soon as it occurred.

For behind the figure of Evelyn Rand there was no longer formless shadow. I saw, instead, a desolate landscape informed with some quality, some eerie strangeness, that made me aware at once that it existed somewhere, but not on this planet. It inspired me with something of awe, that quality, and something of an inexplicable dread.

No living thing was visible to arouse that sense of apprehension. It seemed to come from the very pattern of the scene itself; from the sky that was too low and of a color no sky should have, and most of all from a monstrous monument that loomed against the close horizon. Black this enormous figure was, the same strangely living black as the stone in my vest pocket, and grotesquely shaped. There spread from it an adumbration of infinite threat of which Evelyn was as yet unaware—

I twisted around to the little man. "Where is that place?" I demanded. "Tell me where it is!"

"Not yet." The fellow peered at me with the detached interest of an entomologist observing an insect specimen, and somehow my momentary excitement cooled. "Not yet," he repeated. I became aware of how absurd was my thought that Evelyn was in some nameless danger from which only I could save her. "When it is time you will come to me. Here." He thrust a white oblong into my hand. I glanced down at the card.

There was not enough light to read it. I lifted it to catch the reflection from the portrait—and realized that the little man was no longer beside me.

He was nowhere in the room. I shrugged. He must have gone swiftly out, the carpeting making his footfalls soundless. Bon-n-ng. The tower clock was striking again. Bong. It was striking not the half-hour but the hour. It didn't seem that we had talked so long. Instinctively, I looked at my wrist watch.

It was ten o'clock. The watch hadn't stopped. The second hand was whirling merrily around its tiny circle, and the two longer hands insisted that the time was still ten o'clock.

They hadn't moved in all the time the little man had been speaking to me!

FOR a long minute the shadows of that hushed art gallery hid the Lord alone knew what shapes of dread. The painted faces leered at me from the walls—

All but one. The face of Evelyn Rand, its wistful smile unchanged, its gray eyes cool and frank and friendly, brought me back to reason. Her face, and the fact that behind her I could see no strange, unearthly landscape but a formless swirl of dark pigment, warm in tone and texture and altogether without meaning except to set off her slim and graceful shape.

I was still uneasy, but not because of any supernatural occurrence. A fellow who's never known a sick day in his life can be forgiven for being upset when he finds out there are limits to his endurance.

For two weeks I had been plugging away at my hunt for Evelyn Rand, and I hadn't been getting much sleep, worrying about her. I hadn't had any at all last night, returning from Westchester in a smoke-filled day-coach. I was just plain fagged out, and I'd had a waking dream between two strokes of the clock.

Dreams, I knew from the psychology course I once took to earn an easy three credits, can pass through one's mind in virtually no time. That I should have imagined Evelyn in some strange land, with some obscure menace overhanging her, only symbolized the mystery of her whereabouts and my fears for her. The little man represented my own personality, voicing my inchoate dreads and tantalizing me with the promise of a solution to the riddle, deferred to some indefinite future. "Not yet," he had said.

It was all simple and explicable enough, but it was disturbing that I should have undergone the experience. Maybe I ought to see a doctor. I bad a card somewhere.

A card—there was one in my hand! Fear returned to me swiftly. The card in my hand was the one I had dreamed that the little man had given me. And it was real! Objects in dreams do not remain real when one awakes....

But there was a rational explanation for this too. The card hadn't come out of the dream It had been in the dream because I already had the card in my hand. It must have been in the catalogue. Leafing the pamphlet as I was absorbed in contemplation of Evelyn's portrait, I had abstractedly taken it out, unaware that I was doing so.

I looked at it, expecting it to be the ad of some other gallery connected with this one, of some art school or teacher. But all the card bore was a name and an address:

Achronos Astaris
419 Cobbles Street, Brooklyn

I think it was the "Brooklyn" that finally banished my renewed uneasiness. There is something solid and utterly matter-of-fact about that Borough of Homes, something stodgy and unimaginative and comfortable about its very name. I stuffed the card among a number of others in my wallet and forgot about it.

I took a last, long look at the portrait of Evelyn Rand. My reconstruction of her personality was complete. All that was left was to find her.

All that was left! I laughed at myself as I turned to leave the exhibition room. I had hoped somehow, somewhere among the things she had touched, the people she had known, the scenes through which she had moved, to come upon a hint of where and how to look for her. I had found nothing. Worse, every new fact about her that had came to fight denied any rational explanation of her disappearance.

THERE was no man in whom she was enough interested to make the idea of an elopement even remotely possible. Apparently she had been content with her way of life—quiet, luxurious, interfered with not at all by the trustees of the estate. To conceive the sensitive, shy girl as stage-struck would be the height of absurdity.

No reason for her vanishing of her own will would fit into Evelyn's personalty as I knew it now.

The possibility of foul play was completely eliminated. Kidnappers would have made their demand for ransom by this time. Seventy-third Street had been crowded with church-goers that Sunday morning; no hit-and-run accident, with the driver carrying off his victim, could have occurred unobserved. The police and hospital records had offered no suggestion of any more ordinary casualty that might have involved her. The charities to receive the income from the estate had not yet been decided on, so that motivation—far-fetched anyway—was out. Finally, Evelyn Rand was the last person on earth to have an enemy, secret or otherwise.

The more I had learned about the girl, the less explicable her absence had become. Except for one thing—the whispering swirl of dust.

Angrily I told myself that it was absurd to attach any importance to that detail. In Faith Corbett's dim kitchen, with the old crone mumbling over her toast and tea, the ides had seemed almost reasonable. In the brittle winter sunshine that flooded Madison Avenue, with the roar of New York's traffic in my ears and the bustling throngs jostling me, I knew how fantastic it was.

I was licked. The best thing for me to do was to go back to the office and tell old Sturdevant to call in the police.

I'd be damned if I would! I'd fought like mad to get a week's grace for myself, and I would use that week. Something would turn up. Something must—

I stopped thinking. I stood stock-still, my heart hammering my ribs, and pulled another breath into my lungs. It was there, faint but unmistakable. The mingled scent of arbutus and crocuses and hyacinths, and the nameless redolence of dreams. The fragrance of spring—the perfume that was used by Evelyn Rand, and Evelyn Rand alone.

She was near—very near. She had passed this way minutes, seconds before, for the delicate scent could not have lived longer in the gasoline fumes and the reek of the city street.

I looked around. I saw a messenger boy lounging along, businessmen bustling briskly past, a rotund beldame in mink descending from a sleek limousine, someone's bright-eyed, chic stenographer on her way to the bank on the corner with a deposit book held tightly in her gloved little hand. A shabby-coated old man was poring over a tome at a second-hand bookstore's stall beside me. I was in the middle of the block and nowhere in its length was there anyone who possibly could be Evelyn Rand, even in disguise.

I must admit that I was considerably shaken. That dream I'd had in the art gallery hadn't helped my nerves, and now this whiff of Evelyn's perfume—I grinned lopsidedly. I was rapidly turning into a screwball. First I saw and heard things that didn't exist, and now I was taking to smelling things.

"You'd better start pulling yourself together," I muttered and turned to the book-stall to give myself an excuse for standing still and thinking things over. I picked up a volume at random. The blistered, water-soaked cover almost came away in my hands as I opened it. The paper of the title page was mildewed, powdery. I read the name of the book, casually at first—then with a shock of surprise. It was The Vanished.

Under the Old English type of the title there was a short paragraph in italics:

Here are the tales of a scant few of those who from the earliest dawn of history have vanished quietly from among the living yet are not numbered among the dead. Like so many whispering whorls of dust they went out of space and out of time, to what Otherwhere no one still among us knows, and none will ever know.

"Like so many whispering whorls of dust." Was that pure coincidence?

I TURNED the page and read the list of chapter headings: Elijah; Prophet in Israel. Arthur of Camelot. Tsar Alexander the First. John Orth; Archduke of Tuscany. François Villon; Thief. Lover and Poet. The Lost Dauphin. Those Who Sailed on the Marie Celeste. Ambrose Bierce Joins the Phantoms of his Pen. Judge Crater of New York. And, How Many Unrecorded Others?

That "How Many Unrecorded Others" gave me an idea. Not a reasonable one, I'll admit, but no less logical than the rest of what I'd been doing to find Evelyn Rand. The idea was that perhaps somewhere in this book I might find that hint, that suggestion of what might have happened to her, for which I'd been looking.

I shrugged. It wouldn't hurt to read the thing.

I went into the store, shadowed, musty with the peculiar aroma of old paper and rotted leather and dried glue found only in such establishments. A gray man in a long gray smock shuffled out of the dusk between high shelf-stacks.

"How much is this?" I inquired, holding the volume up. "I want it."

"Hey?" He peered at me with bleared, half-blind eyes. "Hey?"

"I want to buy this book," I repeated. "How much do you ask for it?"

"This?" He took it in his claw-like hands, brought it so close to his face I thought he would bruise his nose. "The Vanished? Hm-m-m." He pondered the matter of price. Finally he came out with it. "Thirty-five cents."

"Little enough." I shoved my hand in my pocket, discovered I had no small change. "But you'll have to break a five for me," I said, taking my wallet from my breast-pocket. "That's the smallest I have."

"You're a lucky man," the bookseller squeaked. "To have five dollars these days." His shrill, twittering laugh irritated me. I jerked the bill from the fold so hard that it brought out with it a card which fluttered to the floor.

The gray man took the greenback and shuffled off into the misty recesses beyond the shelving. I bent to retrieve the white card.

I didn't pick it up. I remained stooped, my fingers just touching it, my nostrils flaring once more to the scent of spring, the perfume of Evelyn Rand.

The sense of her presence was overpowering, but I knew, this time, that she was not near. The perfume came from that card on the floor, and the printed name on it was Achronos Astaris.

At last I knew where to look for Evelyn Rand.


"HEY, here's your change." I straightened, thrusting the card into the side-pocket of my coat. "Keep it," I told the gray man, grinning. "And keep the book too. I don't need it any more." I laughed out loud as I strode out of that musty store.

My exuberance didn't last long. The thing that dampened it was my sudden realization that I didn't know where Cobblen Street was, had no idea of how to get there. I was born on West Eighty- third Street and have lived in New York all my life, but Brooklyn is an unknown world to me as it is to most other Manhattanites. I always get lost when I cross the river.

I hate to ask directions. It seems to be a confession of incompetence. But I had to if I wanted to get out to 419 Cobblen Street. So when I caught sight of a policeman standing on the corner, I approached him with my question.

"Cobblen Street," he growled. "Never heard of it."

"It's in Brooklyn," I suggested.

"Oh! Brooklyn." Then we went through a procedure that seemed to me interminable. The cop got out his little red book and, after some stumbling, finally discovered Cobblen Street. Several moments later he located the number and read aloud a complicated series of directions involving the El, the subway and eventually a ferry. I clung to the subway instructions, a little dazed.

"Does that mean the station is four blocks west of Cobblen Street," I asked, "or that I walk four blocks west from the station?"

He took off his cap and scratched his head. Then he got a sudden inspiration. "Wait! I'll look in the front of the book."

I stopped him hurriedly. "Thanks for your trouble, but if it's as complicated as all that I'd better take a taxi."

I hailed one, gave the driver the address and climbed in. For the first time that day I felt like smoking. I got my pipe out, tamped its bowl with the mixture that after much experimentation I've found suits me exactly, puffed flame into it.

The bit was comfortable between my teeth, and the smoke was soothing. I became aware of how very tired I was. I moved over into a corner and leaned back, stretching my legs diagonally. I am well over average height and am invariably cramped in any kind of vehicle.

The change in my position brought my face into the rear-view mirror. There are two things that irk me about that physiognomy of mine. It is unconscionably young-looking in spite of the staid and serious mien I assume when I can remember to do so. I'm sure Miss Carter, or "Persimmon Puss" as the irreverent office boys refer to P.A. Sturdevant's secretary, considers my youthful appearance ill-suited to the dignity of Sturdevant, Hamlin, Hamlin and Sturdevant. Then too, my nose is slightly thickened, midway of the bridge, and there is a semicircular scar on my left cheek, mementoes of encounters with football cleats in my unregenerate days.

Otherwise my appearance is not really revolting. I have a thick shock of hair, a rather ruddy brown in color, eyes that almost match it in hue, and a squarish jaw which I like to think is strong and determined. I'll never take any beauty contests, but neither do I generally frighten people in the street.

We were on Fourth Avenue now for a few blocks, and then on Lafayette Street. Tombs Prison lifted its dingy bulk to my left, was succeeded by the white granite of the monumental structures surrounding Foley Square. The Municipal Building straddled Chambers Street like a modern Colossus of Rhodes and then the blare and hurly-burly of City Hall Park was raucous in my ears.

A truck-driver disputed the right of way with my cabby. "Where the hell do yeh t'ink yer goin?" he wanted to know.

Where did I think I was going? Why did I think I was going toward Evelyn Rand, when all the evidence I had of any connection between her and this Achronos Astaris was the faint hint of her perfume on his card? The card might never even have been near Cobblen Street. Hundreds of them must have been inserted between the leaves of the art gallery's catalogues, and that probably had been done at the printers. If the scent did cling only to this single one, it still might have been touched by her at some place Astaris never had even heard of.

Pessimism, a conviction that I was on a fool's errand, replaced the buoyant confidence with which I'd started out. That scent of spring and dreams had made me so sure that I was on the track at last; maybe it would restore my confidence.

I fished out the card, lifted it to my nostrils. All I smelled was paper and ink.

THE fragrance had not, then, come from this bit of pasteboard. But it had been there, without question, in the street outside that bookstore and inside it....

I had made a fool of myself. Just before I entered it, Evelyn had been in that store! I had missed her by seconds. I was running away from her, not toward her.

I grabbed the sill of the narrow window before me. "Turn around!" I ordered. "Turn around and go back to where we came from!"

"Nix, fella," the cabby grunted. "It's ten days suspension or my license if I turn here on th' bridge."

He was right. We were on the bridge and the traffic regulation is rigidly enforced there. We would have to go on to the Plaza at the Brooklyn end, and then return.

"All right," I said.

That was the longest, most chafing mile I have ever ridden. The noon rush was beginning and the roadway was jammed. But finally the taxi circled the curve of the open space where the bridge ends, and slowed. "Well," the hackman grunted to his windshield. "You change your mind again, or is it go back?"

I opened my mouth to tell him, "Back, of course," but the words died on my lips. He'd jerked around, his swarthy face startled.

"Boy!" he exclaimed. "The way you said 'Go on!' I t'ought you'd picked up a dame!" He turned again and the cab wheeled out of the Plaza, running down a narrow street in the direction of a traffic arrow that had painted on it, To Borough Halt.

The taxi's sudden burst of speed threw me back against the leather seat. I stayed like that, my teeth biting into the bit of my pipe.

Who was it that had spoken to the taxi-driver, telling him to go on to Cobblen Street?

Abruptly I chuckled. I had recalled a similar experience told me by a friend, and I had the answer. Some woman in a car passing alongside of my cab had said "Go on," to her own driver. Just the right cant of the other auto's windshield, perhaps aided by a puff of breeze, had carried her voice to my hackman's ear. Listening for a reply to his query, he had thought the words had come from within his own vehicle.

The explanation was simple and plausible and it satisfied me. It was with no sense of yielding to some guidance outside my own will that I decided to continue on and interview the oddly-named Achronos Astaris. I still clung, rather hopelessly, to my first notion that he might have something to do with Evelyn Rand, and so much time had now elapsed that an hour's more delay in returning to the Madison Avenue bookstore would make no difference.

Just as I came to this conclusion there was a mild fft from somewhere beneath me and a violent verbal explosion from the cabby. He veered the car to the curb and braked it, still luridly sounding off.

He ran out of breath at last, and subsided from oral eruption to more purposeful action, the first step of which was to reach over and snap up his flag.

"I got a flat, buddy," he informed me, quite unnecessarily, as he heaved out of his seat. "Take me five-six minutes to fix. That's Borough Hall ahead there. Mebbe if you'd ask a couple guys where this Cobblen Street is while I'm workin' it'll save time."

"I've got a better idea," I said. "I'll pay you off now and walk the rest of the way. According to the cop's book it's only four blocks from here." I paid him his fare and alighted.

ASKING questions was one thing, getting informative replies another. In turn a news-stand attendant, a brother attorney hurrying, briefcase in hand, toward the nearby courthouse, and a bearded derelict standing hopefully beside a little portable shine-box, shrugged doubtful shoulders and looked blank. Finally, I approached a policeman with some trepidation. If he produced a little red booklet— But he didn't. "Cobblen Street," he said. "That's over on the edge of Brooklyn Heights. Cross this here street and go past that there corner cigar-store and keep going and you'll walk right into it."

I heaved a sigh of relief—but relief was premature. My brisk pace slowed as I found myself in a maze of narrow, decorous streets labeled with such curious names as Orange, Cranberry, Pineapple. I entered a still narrower one called College Place and brought up facing a blank wall that forbade further progress. I extricated myself from that cul-de-sac, walked a little further and halted.

I had lost all sense of direction.

From not far off came the growl of city traffic, the honk of horns, the busy hum of urban life, but all of it seemed oddly alien to this street of low, gray-façaded houses with high stone stoops and windows shuttered against prying eyes. Years and the weather had spread over them a dark patina of age, yet there was about them a timeless quality, an aloofness from the flow of events, from the small affairs of the men and women whom they sheltered. The houses seemed to possess the street, so utterly that no one moved along the narrow sidewalks or appeared at the blinded windows, or let his voice be heard.

I was strangely alone in the heart of the city, strangely cloistered in drowsy quiet.

Into that quiet there came a low sonorous hoot, swelling till the air was vibrant with it, then fading away. The sound came again, and I knew what it was. A steamboat whistle. I recalled that we had not come far from the Bridge, that the East River must be very near. And I recalled, too, that the policeman had said that Cobblen Street was on the edge of Brooklyn Heights. It would overlook the river, then, and that whistle should give me the direction.

Then I spotted a drugstore on the corner, and headed for it. I'd get straightened out there.

The shop was small, low-ceiled, the shelving and showcases painted white and very clean. There was no soda fountain. Glass vases filled with colored water, red and green, stood at either end of a high, mirrored partition.

From behind this came the clink of a pestle in a Wedgwood mortar. The sound continued when I cleared my throat, loudly, but a tall, stooped man in a white coat came out through a curtained doorway, tugging at one drooping wing of a pair of walrus mustaches. He blinked genially at me through thick, silver-framed eyeglasses.

"Warm isn't it?"

"Very warm." I agreed, fumbling in my pocket for Astaris' card. "I hate to disturb you just to ask directions, but I've been wandering around this Brooklyn of yours till I'm nearly crazy. I'm looking for Cobblen Street. Four—" I read the number printed on the pasteboard. "Four-nineteen."

The druggist followed the direction of my gaze, and then he looked into my face, the smile gone from his. "Plum Street"—he gestured to his entrance— "runs into Cobblen, but"—he paused uncertainly—"but are you sure you want that number?"

"Of course," I answered, a bit puzzled by the change in his manner. "It's right here, on this card." I held it out to him.

He made no move to take it, or even to look at it. "Listen, old man." His hand was on my arm, solicitously. "Cobblen Street is very long and there might be an easier way for you to get to where you want to go than along Plum. Sit down here a minute," he led me to a bentwood chair in front of a showcase, "while I go in back and look up just where four-nineteen is."

I couldn't quite make him out, but he was being so decent to me that I couldn't argue with him. I sat down and watched him hurry back behind the partition to consult, as I supposed, another one of those little red guidebooks.

I was mistaken. I have exceptionally keen hearing and so I caught from behind that mirrored wall, something which I definitely wasn't supposed to hear. The pharmacist's whisper, suddenly excited: "Tom! Grab that 'phone and dial Dr. Pierce. I think that fellow out there is the patient that got away from his asylum last night."

Another whisper came back: "How do you figure that?"

"He just asked me for four-nineteen Cobblen. Four-nineteen, mind you. And he showed me what he said was a card with that number on it. But there wasn't any card in his hand. There was nothing in it at all."

"Maybe he is that nut," I heard the other whisper respond. "You go back out there and keep him talking and I'll get Pierce's keepers over here. Here, you'd better take this gun along in case he gets violent."

That got me up out of the chair and out of that store in a rush. I was a block away before I slowed and stopped.

NO card, huh, I thought. It was the druggist who was crazy, and not I. The card was still in my hand. I could see it, feel it, read the name and address on it. I had found it in the catalogue of the exhibit.

Then I realized that I didn't know I'd found it there. I'd decided that the card had been between the pages of that pamphlet because otherwise I would have had to believe that it had been handed to me during a space of time that occupied no time at all, by a man who did not exist. But if the card itself did not exist? Here it was between my thumb and fingers, white, crisp, unquestionable. Even if the mustached pharmacist hadn't seen it, others had. The gray bookseller. The policeman on Madison Avenue.

Had they? I had dropped it in the bookstore, had bent to pick it up, but the near-sighted dealer had said and done nothing to indicate that he was aware of what I reached for. Nor, I now recalled, had I shown it to the cop.

What if I had not? The card was real, couldn't be anything else but real. I had been meant to hear the druggist's whisper, saying that it was not. It was his perverted idea of a joke. The best thing to do about the incident was to forget it.

A sign projecting from a street-lamp told me I was on Plum Street. The sound of a steamboat whistle gave me the direction of the river. I got moving again.

This street was as deserted as those through which I had come. Yet I had an uneasy feeling that I was not alone in it, that someone was keeping ahead of me, just ahead, although I could see no one. Once I caught a flutter of blue, of a misty blue like the sky when it is brushed across with cloud. It was as if I had glimpsed something out of the corner of my eye, except that it was not to one side but before me.

The long block started to slope upward, curving. I went around the curve and ahead of me a vista opened.

The sidewalk climbed quite steeply to its end, about a hundred yards farther. Beyond was brightness, the brightness of the sky over water and, apparently suspended in that brightness, there was a white and gleaming mass, breathtakingly beautiful.

Stone and steel and glass, the gargantuan towers were gathered into a giants' city to which one must climb on some incredible bean-stalk. Each separate structure was distinct, yet all merged together in a jagged pyramid that soared high and ever higher till its topmost pinnacle seemed about to impale the sun.

Manhattan's skyscrapers these were, challenging the heavens.

After a while my gaze drifted downward to the base of that enormous pyramid, to the swirling, cloud-like haze that had obscured the foundations of the skyscrapers and made them seem to hang unsupported in mid-air. Odd, I was thinking, that so late in the day the mists should be still heavy on the Bay. But the obscurity was neither cloud nor mist, and it did not lie over the confluence of the Hudson and the East River. It was on the nearer shore.

What I had thought to be cloud was a low building toward which Plum Street ascended and against which it ended, a low, gable- roofed wooden house with a little green lawn in front of it. A gravel path went through the lawn to an oaken door that made a dark rectangle in the white, clapboard façade.

I halted at the end of the sidewalk. It came to the forefront of my mind that while my eyes had been lifted to the skyscrapers they had vaguely caught movement there ahead. Someone had gone up that path and through that door. That someone must be the same evanescent individual who had gone up Plum Street just ahead of me. Too bad, I thought, that I had just missed seeing her.

It did not seem strange, then, that I should be so sure there had been someone ahead of me, though I had seen or heard nothing substantial to tell me so.

It seemed no stranger than the presence of the gabled frame house here in the heart of New York. One comes upon just such relics of more gracious days in the most unlikely parts of Gotham. Mostly they are dilapidated, ramshackle, mouldering to ruins. This one, while it had a flavor of antiquity about it, was perfectly preserved—the pickets of the wrought-iron fence around its little lawn erect and unscarred by rust, its windows washed and gleaming, though darkened by blinds pulled down behind their panes.

From the center of the long roof a small, domed cupola rose. Around this ran a narrow, railed balcony.

Something of my school-days' history returned to me. I wondered if George Washington had not perhaps stood on that balcony, spyglass to eye, watching General Gates' redcoats filing into the row-boats that would bring them across the River for the Battle of Brooklyn Heights. Perhaps this building had been his headquarters during that momentous encounter. That would explain its preservation.

On either side of it was a four-storied, graystone house, each the beginning of a long row of similar ones. In front of the house on my left stood a tall lamp standard bearing a street sign, white letters on a blue background. I could read those letters from where I stood.

They formed the words, Cobblen Street.

On the third step of the high stoop behind that lamp-post was painted a number—415. I looked at the stoop of the stone house to the right of the wooden one and read, 423. I looked to make sure.

The low house, with its little lawn and its balconied cupola, was 419 Cobblen Street!


AS I went across to the house some errant breeze lifted a whirl of dust from the asphalt. It accompanied me across the opposite sidewalk and through the gate in the tall fence of hand-wrought iron. It whispered about me as I went up the path, and though I felt the gravel underfoot there was no sound in the hush except the soft hiss of the tiny, impalpable maelstrom.

The high portal, darkened by the years to the tone of old leather, opened smoothly, silently before me. Quite without hesitation, almost as though I were no longer master of my own movements. I stepped through the aperture into cool dimness.

The door thudded dully behind me. It shut out the city's low murmur, so familiar that I had not been aware of it till now it was gone. It was as if a barrier had come between me and the world I knew.

Passing from the bright winter sunshine to this semi-darkness, I was temporarily blinded. I halted, a bit bemused, waiting for sight to be restored.

I could make out no detail of the place. I could see only a gray, featureless blur. But I had an impression of spaciousness—of space itself. Of a vast, limitless space that could not possibly be confined within the four walls of a house, or within the four points of the compass.

Abruptly my thigh muscles were quivering and the nausea of vertigo was twisting within me. I seemed to be on the brink of a bottomless chasm. If I took another step I would hurtle down, forever down. The impulse seized me to take that step, to throw myself, plummeting, into that abyss—

Hold it! I told myself, voicelessly. Get a grip on yourself. This is only the hall of an old house. In a moment your pupils will adjust themselves and you will see it—walls papered with the weeping-willow design you've always liked, hooked rugs on a floor of adze-hewn planks, perhaps a graceful balustraded staircase....

Subconsciously I must already have been aware of all this, for the very foyer I described took shape now out of the formless blur. The design I remembered from the Early American exhibit of the Metropolitan Museum patterned the faded walls. Wide planks formed the floor, rutted with decades of treading feet and keyed together by tiny double wedges of wood, their dull sheen brightened by oval rugs whose colors were still glowing despite the years since patient hands had fashioned them. Directly ahead of me the wide staircase rose gently curving to obscurity above, its dark rails tenuous and graceful.

"Well," I said, turning to the person who had admitted me. "This is—" I never finished the sentence.

No one was there—no one at all.

Someone had opened the door for me, and no one had passed me, going away from it. But of course—whoever it was had slipped out as I entered. Was Brooklyn inhabited exclusively by practical jokers? This one wasn't going to get away with it. He couldn't have gone far. I grabbed the doorknob, determined to go after him.

The door didn't open. It was locked; I was locked in! That was going too far, much too far. I—

A silken rustle behind me twisted me around. I started to speak—my mouth remained open, the angry words dying unspoken.

DOWN the stairs from above were coming tiny feet, a froth of lace that could only be the hems of the multitudinous petticoats which women wore in the days when this house was built. The filmy blue of a wide hoopskirt descended into view, a pointed bodice tight on a waist that my one hand could span.

I shook my head, trying to shake the cobwebs out of it. What the devil was this?

The crinolined maiden paused on the stairs, a slim white hand to her startled bosom. For a moment the shadow of the ceiling was across her face, and then I saw it, somehow luminous against the dark background of the stairs.

It was the face of Evelyn Rand. The soft red mouth was tight with pain, the gray eyes peering down at me haunted with a strange dread; but it was the face that had looked out from the portrait on Madison Avenue.

"Evelyn!" I cried, leaping forward. My feet struck the bottom step, pounding upward—and were suddenly motionless.

She wasn't there any longer. She wasn't above me on the stairs. She hadn't retreated, startled by my cry. She had blinked out, in the instant it had taken me to get across the floor and three steps up. But something was left of her. A faint sweetness on the air—the scent of spring, the scent of dreams.

Of dreams. Had I only dreamed that I saw her?

"Not quite," a low, toneless voice said behind me. "She was not there, but neither did you dream that she was."

I wheeled, my breath caught in my throat.

Just below me, a shaft of vagrant light gleaming on the polished scalp of his too-large head, his lashless, disquieting eyes pinpoints of flame in the gloom, was the little man of the art gallery.

But that could not be. He was a figment of my imagination, an illusion that had appeared and vanished between two strokes of a clock. My fingers dug into the rail they had grasped to aid me up the stairs. That at least was firm and hard. That at least was real.

"Less real than I," said the little man who twice had apparently materialized out of nothingness. "That staircase exists only in accord with your concept of it, as do the walls about us and the floor on which we stand."

I had not spoken aloud the thought to which he thus responded. Was he reading my mind?

"A crude way of phrasing it," he answered. "But you could not comprehend the reality."

He was laughing at me, though that round face of his with its strangely artificial skin was still as a modeled mask. He was—wait! I made a last attempt to cling to the explicable. I was in that dream again, that confounded dream. What I thought I heard him say was merely the reply of one part of my brain to the thoughts of another. I was imagining the odd being as I had imagined Evelyn Rand—

"Wrong. It was I who projected her before you. I wanted to check your reaction to the sight of her, to ascertain if it would correspond with what I had already observed, if it were constant or a sporadic aberration."

I could not have dreamed those words, for I had not the least idea of what they meant. I was beginning to be afraid....

"The hell you say," I flung at him to conceal my growing fear. "What am I, some kind of guinea pig you're experimenting with?"

A faint, mocking smile brushed his fleshless lips. Or did it?

"Exactly," he murmured.

That enraged me. "Experiment with this," I yelled, and leaped down at him, my fist flailing straight for his round, unhuman face.

My fist whizzed through empty air. My feet pounded on the floor. The little man had vanished—

SOUND behind me whirled me around. The fellow was on the staircase, three steps up. He was exactly where I had been, an instant before. But how in the name of reason had he got there? He couldn't have passed me, he couldn't possibly have passed me. To get to where he was he would have had to go up the steps at the same time, by the same path, I had plunged down them.

"Matter can be in one place and then in another," he said in the slow, patient way of one explaining some complex idea to a child, "without ever having been anywhere between. Even you should know that. Or are you not acquainted with the observations on the behavior of electrons that already had been made in your time."

"In my time! What—?"

"The twentieth century, as you reckon it." I had the curious feeling that he was speaking of some period in the remote past. "I am certain our researches are correct on that point."

Mingled with my confused sense of wrongness about all this was a sort of baffled exasperation. Damn him! He was coldly amused by my bewilderment.

Yet no flicker of the muscles in his face, no changing light in his black and piercing eyes, revealed that to me. But I was as aware of his amusement as though he had laughed aloud.

Was I too, very dimly, beginning to learn to do without speech? Was I tapping some subtle current of communication that I had not even suspected to exist?

"Who are you?" I blurted out.

He was growing tired of this colloquy between us. "If you must think of me by a name, Achronos Astaris will do." He had stopped playing and was coming to the nub of his purpose with me.

"What, John March, is it that has impelled you to forget everything else in your desire to find Evelyn Rand? What is it that makes her a necessity to you, so that without her you are not complete? What is it that has made ambition, the anxiety for preferment, pride in the occupation you chose for your lifework, insignificant compared with the need you feel for her? What is it that draws you to her with a force greater than the attraction of gravity? What chemistry of the emotions has governed your actions since she became real to you?"

His dreadful, probing eyes demanded an answer. "I love her," I cried out. "God help me, I have fallen in love with her."

I had not known it till that moment, had not realized it. But it was true. I was in love with the girl for whom I had been searching so long, and never seen.

"Ahhh," Achronos Astaris breathed. "I know that the name of your reaction to her is love." For the first time I sensed a wavering in the clear, cold surety of him. "But what, precisely, does that mean?"

I stared at him, anger once more mounting within me.

"It is puzzling," he mused. I wasn't certain whether I heard Astaris say that, or whether I was reading his thoughts. "There is more than a physical chemistry to the emotion, although that is one of the factors. Plainly there is an urge—"

"Damn you," I shouted. Again rage drove caution from my mind. Blindly I leaped forward—and jarred against nothingness! Against a wall invisible, immaterial, but impenetrable as though a screen of inch-thick armor plate had risen instantaneously in my path.

Still senseless and unreasoning in my anger, I clubbed at that unseeable barrier with my fists. There was no sound of impact, but at once my knuckles were bruised and bleeding. I kicked, snarling, at empty air and saw the toes of my shoes buckle and split against nothing I could see. Exhausted, I shoved my palms against the wall and felt perdurable nothingness that was warm as though it were composed of animate flesh, that was vibrant, somehow, with a queer kind of life, but impenetrable as granite. I backed up and lunged at it shoulder first, and was stopped dead, seemingly in midair.

AT LAST I was aware of Achronos Astaris watching me with a cold, mildly interested detachment, as some scientist might watch a Siamese fighting fish batter its nose against glass of its aquarium.

When I gave up finally and hung, panting and weak, against the invisible partition, he sighed. "You learned quite quickly. There is a definite improvement in five hundred years."

I stared at him, too choked by anger to speak.

Inexplicably, though Astaris was still clear and distinct, the staircase, the ceiling and the walls had faded again into the gray, shapeless blur out of which they had formed. I glanced down, terror rising in me now. There was only grayness beneath me. I twisted around. Nothing was behind me but a gray vacancy. I was enclosed by it, suspended in it. Once more the great fear of height possessed me, the heart-stopping realization of an unfathomable abyss into which I must plunge when Achronos Astaris released me.

For, wheeling again, I had found his eyes upon me, pinpoints of black flame, and I knew that only his eyes held me where I was. There was an impalpable Force in those eyes that reached through the strange barrier I had struck and embraced me.

And those eyes were not only holding me there, suspended. They were dissecting me, probing far deeper than my flesh, into my spirit itself. Like lancets they bared the hidden psyche, searching—searching for something that was there but which they could not find.

Wrath they found, and quivering fear, and an awed bewilderment transcending fear, but not the thing they sought. Gradually they faltered, at a loss. And then I was aware that Astaris had given up his search, that he was sending a message out into the boundless ether, that he was waiting for a reply.

I do not understand even yet, how I knew all this. I know only that for a little while I had the power, and that I was soon to lose it. At the moment I write these lines I would give all my hope of salvation if I could regain it.

"No," the answer came. Not a voice. Not sound at all. Naked thought from an infinite distance. "Send him to us, but you must remain yet awhile."

Astaris did not like that. I was aware that he did not, but I was aware also that he would submit. And abruptly my baffled fear flared into terror.

For now Astaris' eyes released me! Astaris himself was obliterated by the sudden motion of the grayness; it swirled about me, a dizzy darkness.

Yet it was not darkness; rather an absence of form, of color, of reality itself. I was falling through nothingness. I was caught up in some vast maelstrom and whirling through some spaceless, timeless non-existence altogether beyond experience. I was rushing headlong through distances beyond comprehension, yet I knew myself to be completely motionless. The Universe had fallen away from me, was somewhere behind me, light-centuries behind me. I was beyond life. I was beyond death. I was beyond being itself.

And all about me was the soft, voiceless whisper of swirling dust.



Argosy, 18 March 1939, with second part of "Seven Out of Time"


COMMISSIONED to investigate the disappearance of Evelyn Rand, John March, who is telling the story, is faced with a peculiarly baffling mystery. Soon, too, he discovers something else, to his own amazement—that he has fallen in love with this beautiful and strangely unworldly girl whom he has never seen.

But he manages to collect some rather odd scraps of detail from her life. There is the tiny amulet he finds at her home, graven in the shape of a snake. And there is the puzzling tale of Evelyn's old nurse: of how the girl walked to the road one day with the eagerness of one about to meet her lover, and yet was met only by a whispering whirl of dust.

EVEN more inexplicable is March's experience at the gallery where a portrait of Evelyn hangs. Standing before the painting, he is joined suddenly by a queer little man who begins to discuss it with him. Then while the stranger speaks, it seems to John March that the background of the portrait assumes for an instant the immensity and the terror of all space. Deeply shaken, March turns to the old man—to find him vanished. But he has left something in March's hand—a card that bears the name Achronos Astaris and an address in Brooklyn. From that card there seems to come fleetingly a sweet, dream-like odor, the perfume which John March has learned was the particular favorite of Evelyn Rand.

At length March arrives at the address inscribed on the card. Inside the charming old house he believes himself to be alone—until he sees descending the stairs a girl dressed in the finery of two hundred years before. Her face is the face of Evelyn Rand. But before March can do more than cry out she disappears; in her place stands the strange little man from the art gallery.

HE is Achronos Astaris, and he speaks strangely, as if he dwelt in some future time and on another world. With baffling persistence he asks for the meaning of the word love. Too, he can read March's mind without effort; and at last, half-mad with terror, the latter attempts to attack him. But March is thrown back by a wall that is impalpable and yet impenetrable; for moments he is held a prisoner by the strange force in Astaris' eyes; and then John March is falling, swept through the great empty corridors of space, accompanied only by the whisper of a whirl of dust....


IT ended. That catapulting rush through unthinkable distances that were not distances at all, that headlong flight that was static as the stars, ended as it had begun; without jar, without transition.

There was solidity beneath my feet. There was sight once more in my eyes. The nightmare was over. I was John March again and I was back to reality.

Reality? This could not be real, this strange place where I was. I stood on a slight eminence in the center of a desolate plain, a jumble of shattered, great boulders that stretched toward a horizon strangely near. There was something grotesque in the very shape of the rocks, in the dim pastel hues of their fragmented surfaces. And in the aura of the place I was conscious of a grim foreboding; I was aware that somewhere near, concealed as yet, an imminent menace closed upon me.

Something vague and inescapable....

The sky was too low for any normal sky. Too low? It weighed upon me as might heavens pregnant with storm, but it was lucidly transparent, so that I was certain no cloud mass composed its lowering dome. And it was informed with a color no sky should have, an earthy, fathomless brown.

No sun hung in that ominous sky, no star nor moon, yet a pallid light seemed innate in the very air. Plain and rocks and the mound on which I stood, were bathed by a wan, shimmering luminance, the shadows vague-edged and formless.

The shadows were not black as shadows ought to be. They were a grayish purple. They made dark pools about the rocks that were piled helter-skelter one upon the other as though once they had formed monstrous colonnades running across the plain and then had been smashed by some tremendous cataclysm. The shadows filled with gray-purple murk the spaces between the rocks and the angular caves beneath them, and in those caves it seemed to me that there lurked Things so outrageous in shape that they had crawled into the deepest shadows for concealment.

A strange landscape. A landscape assuredly no human eye could have ever surveyed. And yet it was evasively familiar.

A sky too low? A feel of imminent threat? Fingers seemed to brush my eyes. In memory I saw a slim, graceful figure, and behind it—

This was the vista that momentarily I had seen, or thought I had seen, form out of the dark, amorphous background of the portrait of Evelyn Rand!

My pulses hammered in my wrists. Evelyn was somewhere here, somewhere in this gaunt, brooding land. Whatever had happened to me, however, I had been brought here, I had come nearer the girl whom I now knew I loved till love was a fever in my brain. I would find her now. Nothing could stop me.

But I must be cautious. Perhaps I was mistaken. After all I had glimpsed the scene in the portrait only for seconds. How sure was I that it was really this view? Rocks, after all, look very much alike, and rocks was all that I could see.

I recalled an unmistakable landmark. The immense monument that had risen from the pictured horizon. If that were here, I would be certain. Another like it could nowhere exist.

I turned slowly, searching—and found it.

IT LOOMED terrifically against this strange land's sky, an immensity seeming to have been hewn out of a starless night and somehow grown solid. Black and lusterless as basalt, it was unimaginably lofty. So vast that it blotted out a full quadrant of the horizon, it was jagged and rugged and deeply scarred, and breathtaking in its grandeur.

The shattered pillars, I now discerned, had once filed to it from every point of the compass. At the base of the bulk the place where all the colonnades had once joined together was now buried beneath a tumbled black detritus torn from the mountainous mass.

These fragments of rock were large as the houses of some country village, and yet so tremendous was the shape from which they had avalanched that its configuration had been altered only as weathering might alter some heroic statue.

A statue it was! The image—vast beyond my understanding—of some beast.

Or was it a beast? It was certainly not man-form. Its haunched body, on whose flanks the skin hung in pendulous folds, was not that of a man. Its legs, the hinder ones miles-long ridges folded under, the fore-limbs soaring towers, were those of an animal in contour and posture. But the head, a mountain itself in size, was not a beast's. Neither was it a man's.

It was sunk neckless between the spurs forming the figure's tremendous shoulders. It was wide-jawed, lean-jowled. And it was hooded.

The scalp-tight hood partly concealed the gargantuan face, yet somehow I was aware of the veiled eyes, was aware of the brooding in them, the waiting long as all the centuries, the patience endless as Time itself.

Impossible to describe the lineaments of that face whose very wrinkles were deep ravines. But impossible not to read there a knowledge that transcended the inner mysteries of the Universe, that reached beyond the limitations of space itself. There was power in that face, a power super-divine; and there was overwhelming majesty.

Depicted in that face was all Good. And yet—

Far below, where the outcurve of the sculptured fore-paws rose out of the jumbled shards, were the shattered outlines of another figure, modeled out of a pinkish stone, flesh-like in hue and almost flesh-like in substance. Prone was this smaller torso, and contorted by unbearable agony; monstrous claws were driven deep into it.

Good above, Evil below. Love above, Hate below. The knowledge written in the great brooding face was this: In the eternity- long progress of Life from its inchoate beginnings to its ultimate goal neither Good nor Evil matters at all.

How long I stood there immobile, scarcely breathing, possessed wholly by that wonder, I shall never know. How long I might have remained in the spell, dark formless thoughts crawling through the innermost recesses of my mind, I cannot tell. For abruptly I was torn from that fascinated contemplation by the rattle of small stones behind me—and a bestial bellow!

I whirled, snatching up a fist-size stone, the only available weapon with which I might defend myself.

THERE was no need for defense. The avid, triumphant roar was not directed at me. Near the base of my low hill a man was on the ground, rolling and scrabbling in frantic effort to regain his feet. And six yards beyond, a gorilla bounded toward him, roaring.

The man could never escape that hairy brute. I started running down the slope, yelling incoherently.

The creature halted momentarily, hearing my shouts. It was not a gorilla! In spite of the stiff brown fur shaggy on its big- thewed haunches, in spite of its chinless, flat-nosed face, its tiny, lurid eyes, it was human! A furry pelt was slung over its shoulder and torso. Its calloused, spatulate fingers clutched the wooden handle of a flint-headed axe. Clothing and a weapon—these are the marks that distinguish human from beast and the bellowing brute that had resumed its charge on its fallen prey was clothed and armed. It was a man, but a man from out of the dim dawn of the race, a Neanderthal man.

He reached his victim. A final bellow ululated from his black- lipped mouth. The axe lifted, flailed down—

Desperately I flung the stone in my hand. By sheer luck it struck the head of the stone axe squarely, jolted it from the anthropoid's grasp. Something tripped me. Unable to stop because of the momentum of my downhill run, stumbling blindly ahead, I rushed headlong into the Neanderthal man.

I managed to strike a single blow at the barrel-like chest. Then I was helpless in a crushing grip, my own arms pinned to my sides, my ribs cracking, his rank breath hot on my face.

The pressure increased. I couldn't breathe; I couldn't see. My skull was bursting with the blood forced into it by that awful pressure, my lungs tortured. There was a great roaring in my head—and then my consciousness snapped out....

I was on my knees on the ground. My dazed eyes were confronted by the shaggy mass of the Neanderthal man, a prostrate motionless heap. My chest throbbed with pain.

"I thank you," a thin, almost musical voice said.

My head weighed a ton, but I managed to lift it. The man almost done for me, and he was wiping blood from a long, slender poniard with a lacy but tattered handkerchief. It dawned on me that he had spoken in French and that he was thanking me for saving his life.

I squatted back on my haunches, my jaw dropping. He was almost as anachronistic a sight as the Neanderthal man.

He wore a sort of rough leather jacket gathered with a wide belt at the waist, its open collar revealing his meagre chest. Below the jacket his spindly legs were encased in tight hose; and a small leather cap sat jauntily upon his head, ornamented with a long feather.

His long, slim fingers sheathed the poniard in his belt as he bent to me, anxiety in his sharp-featured, predatory face. He spoke again in French, in a queer archaic French that oddly enough I had no difficulty in understanding. "You are seriously hurt, my friend?" was what he was asking.

"No." I let him help me to my feet. "No, I guess not." I was too dazed to speak in French, but he seemed to understand me as well as I did him, for he looked relieved. He swept his cap from his head, its draggled feather fluttering.

HE certainly was not a prepossessing individual. His black hair was streaked with gray, nearly white at the temples; but that seemed to lend him no dignity at all. The scar of an old slash gave a raffish twist to his upper lip. His cheeks, blued by a growth of stubble, were emaciated.

His head was cocked jauntily on his narrow shoulders, but the sidewise cant of his sly eyes seemed slinking and furtive. In those eyes was something beside shrewdness, a certain dark sparkle of unquenchable gaiety, and about his lank, bony figure there was a swaggering devil-be-damnedness altogether intriguing.

Carrying that queer hat to his breast, he bowed. He spoke again, in his curious French. "My life has many times been declared forfeit," he said, "but I am still vain enough to set upon it a certain value and so I am deeply grateful to you for preserving it."

"Hell," I managed to say. "I ought to thank you. I was a goner if it hadn't been for your work with that blade of yours."

"But no. Mon Dieu, no! You came to my rescue, careless of so great a danger! Such bravery, sir, I have not often met, and in the course of my life I have been familiar with peril and with courage." He bowed deeply. "I salute you. And if I may be permitted the honor of being made acquainted with your name...?" His penciled brows lifted inquiringly.

"John March."

"John March. I shall not forget it when once more I set about my Grant Testament. A villanelle dedicated to you in expression of my gratitude. I—"

"Your Grant Testament!" I blurted out. "A villanelle— Who are you? In the name of all that is holy, who are you?"

"There is very little that is holy about me, my friend." A bitter smile twisted the man's thin mouth. "Or so the abbot of Paris would assure you. A jailbird, a liar, a thief. A consort of slitpurses and doxies. A picklock, a runagate o' nights and a black-brained clerk by day. And—" He straightened, and drew pride around him like a cloak. "And a poet of sorts, I hope. My name—for what it is worth— is François Villon."

"Villon!" I gasped. "You're insane. François Villon died four hundred years ago."

"No." He shook his head. "Villon did not die. His sins overtaking him at last, he was banished from his beloved Paris. He trudged out through the Porte Sainte Jacques, all he possessed on his back and in a starveling packet under his arm. He plodded out on the Orleans road, weary of life, weary unto death. Though the day was breathless, a tiny swirl of dust whispered toward him, and so"—once more he bowed—"here you find François Villon. Not dead. Most assuredly not dead."

"But—" I still could not bring myself to believe him. "But four centuries. It is impossible!"

"Nothing, my friend," interrupted François Villon, "is impossible. Least of all in this land where Time..." He paused.


"In this land," he began again, "where Time is not."

"Where Time—what do you mean?"

"That, my friend, you will learn—too soon." Villon was once more furtive, his eyes sliding away from mine as he said, "Perhaps you will satisfy the curiosity that is ever a flame burning within me. You are from Britain?"

"No," I answered. "From America." I recalled that the Western Hemisphere had just been discovered in his day, that he might not know the name. "From the continent Columbus discovered—"

"Yes," he cut in. "I know. She has told me of it. The maiden with the hair of honey and the gray eyes that hide laughter and dreams."

I seized his arm, my fingers bruising the thin flesh. "You've seen her, talked with her!" I could hardly get the words out. "She's here?"

He smiled wryly.

"She is here indeed. I—" He stopped abruptly. He was looking over my shoulder, and his face was suddenly pallid.

"Where is she?" I demanded. "Take me to her."

"No," Villon responded, and his voice was hollow. "I cannot take you to the fair Evelyn. I cannot take you anywhere. For—our hosts appear. I had thought to escape them, but they have found me and they have found you, and now there is no longer any hope for us, or for Evelyn Rand, or for that pleasant world into which we were born and which we shall never see again."

The air burst into an infinitude of darting sparks, green and blue and yellow and scarlet. My skin prickled sharply. Somewhere a white orb blazed. It was the hub of the sparks that immediately whirled about it in countless threadlike circles of luminance and merged into a solid, shining disk. This drew in upon its dazzling center.

It was no longer light at all but a shape, a Thing grotesque and incredible, where there had been nothing seconds before.


FRANÇOIS VILLON was laughing. There was no amusement in his high, thin laugh, but a sort of wild despair and a sort of madness. Mad indeed was that which had materialized out of a whirl of coruscant light and poised now before us.

It was almost all head, three-quarters a huge ovoid head; yellow-gray skin naked of hair drawn tightly over a monstrous skull. Two enormous eyes, lidless and lashless, swam with an oily iridescence. The head's face had no nose, unless two black orifices just below its midpoint were nares. A round, tiny mouth beneath these putative nostrils was innocent of lips or teeth. Where ears should be, two circular areas of skin pulsed as though the brain within momentarily would burst through membranes too frail to restrain it.

The rest, invested by some dark-hued, horny integument, was a bulbous torso out of which grew two boneless tentacles each terminated by splayed and writhing branches—caricatures of hands. Legs there must have been also, and feet of sorts, for the apparition stood upright as a man stands.

"Voilà, John March," Villon chuckled. "He who calls himself Kass."

It was that chuckle, I think, the amazing effrontery of it, that set my thought processes going again. I did not really see this thing, I told myself. I was the victim of an hypnotic illusion, induced by the whirling lights and the white blaze at its center. It was not, it could not be real.

I dragged the side of my hand across my eyes, and looked again, and the great head was still there, its bulging eyes fixed upon me. In their gaze was the same hard, impersonal speculation I had so resented in Achronos Astaris. Somehow more dreadful it was not, for Astaris at least had been human, while this—

"I am human," Kass broke in. "A million years more human than you." He did not say it. The words were within my own mind, a thought perceived, not heard, but it must have come from him. I could not have formulated it.

Moreover, Villon heard the soundless message too. "A million years more human than you or I," he drawled to prove it, his accents slurred. "Look well, my friend. For you see before you what all mankind's aspirations, all mankind's strivings, shall bring us to in the end." My gaze shifted to him. A sardonic grin twisted those thin, scarred lips of his. "In truth there must be a God, for only God could play so bitter a jest."

What they were saying seemed so much grim nonsense, but before I had time to react to it I became aware that Kass's attention had swung to Villon, and I sensed that Kass was puzzled. Once more I was reminded of Astaris, of how when the strange little man had demanded from me the meaning of love his omniscience had seemed not quite complete, Of how I had felt him to be troubled by some queer urgency, by some driving need for a knowledge that was denied him.

"Why do you not fear me?" Kass was inquiring of the Frenchman. "There is the consciousness of utter defeat in you, and despair, but you do not fear me. Why?"

"Fear you?" Villon murmured, insolence in the cant of his narrow head, a fine contempt in the stance of his scrawny frame. "I? I who have made a ballade of love's betrayal and a villanelle of torture's rack? I who have metered a rondeau by the clatter of my best friend's bones swung from a gibbet, and flung a roundelay to the rabble with the hangman's knot under my own left ear? Fear you? I who have listened to the music of the Universe and dreamed the dreams of the angels and the damned?

"There is that within me which Lucifer cannot touch, which the God your existence blasphemes cannot destroy. I have gone up into a Heaven of my own devising and down into a Hell of my own imagining, and you can show me no terrors I have not known aforetime. Fear you? I am a poet."

He slapped Kass's face with his mocking laugh, and there was a hush that was not of sound alone. Or there may have been some reply, but I did not know of it, for in that instant the corner of my eye caught furtive movement among the rocks and my look slid to it, my head not turning.

I glimpsed them only for an eye-blink before the shadows hid them, but in that split-second I saw them clearly and I knew I could not be mistaken, though reason insisted I must be. Reason, even with the animate, tangible presence of François Villon to confute it, insisted that I could not have seen a knight in chain mail and a forester in the brilliant green of Sherwood Forest peering from behind a boulder's jagged edge, gesturing me to silence.

I DID something then that until that moment I should not have dreamed either possible or necessary. I deliberately blotted what I'd seen out of my consciousness, made myself think of something else at once; of the way the pallid and sourceless light glimmered on the round of Kass's skull, of how his monstrous shadow was a grayish-purple like no shadow I had elsewhere seen.

And I did this just in time, for once more he was reading me. "There will be matters stranger to you than the color of a shadow to wonder at," he remarked. "Before we are prepared to deal with you." It is difficult to convey the feeling of nakedness given one by the realization that one's most secret thoughts are exposed to another. "Come. The Council awaits me."

"Lead on, mister," I said, trying to get jauntiness into my tone. Villon had set me an example of courage I was ashamed not to emulate. "Whither thou goest I shall go." I rather suspected I wouldn't be very successful if I objected, and, too, I had a pretty good hunch that wherever he wanted to take me would bring me nearer Evelyn Rand.

No, all this weirdness into which I had been plunged had not driven the thought of her from my mind. Rather it had multiplied many times my anxiety for her. If she were here, and in the power of creatures like this....

A stinging prickle nettled my body. Kass's fingers were touching my shoulder; his other hand gripped Villon. "Come!"

It was as if abruptly I was at the heart of a maelstrom of some electric force. Panic swelled in me. I had felt this same sensation at the moment the grotesque being appeared. Was I about to dissolve into a whirl of flashing, multicolored sparks?

Nothing happened. Nothing except that the rocks about, the ground beneath, were abruptly flowing past us. We were motionless. It was the plain, the horizon, that moved—

A sharp, twanging sound came from my left. Kass's touch was gone and the speeding earth pulled my feet from beneath me. I pitched forward headlong. Falling. I twisted, saw the writhing fingers that had released me pluck something from the air. A feathered arrow!

My shoulder hit the now motionless dirt.

"Up, St. George!" a deep-chested voice bellowed, accompanied by the rattling of metal. "Have at thee, hell spawn!" The burly, mailed figure I had glimpsed lunged out from behind a rock, linked gauntlets sweeping a great two-handed sword down upon our captor's sickly-hued, immense skull.

"Die, caitiff!" someone else cried, and a lithe green figure leaped past Villon, also fallen, thrusting a wicked dagger at Kass's great eye.

The knight's broadsword shattered into a thousand clanging shards; the forester's knife, arrested in blank air, shivered as though it had jabbed into the trunk of an oak. Neither blade had touched Kass, though the latter had not moved by the tenth of an inch after he had snatched the winged arrow from mid-flight.

No one was moving now. All the fierce motion had stopped, the pounce of the ambushers from the covert which the flow of the landscape had brought to us, the skid of our momentum that had taken Villon and myself along the suddenly halted ground.

THE scene held long enough for me to take in its every detail: Kass, one tentacle lifted to grasp the arrow, the membranes on either side of his gargantuan eyes a little distended, no other sign of emotion about him; the knight, bladeless hilt clutched in chain-gloved fists, long-skirted cloak of shining iron mesh enveloping columnar legs straddled to give foundation to his futile blow, all his head but his swarthy, hate-darkened face swathed in metal fabric, all his immense strength congealed and impotent. The other, the forester....

He was a lithe and slender arc, fluid movement abruptly rigid. His shoes, of some soft, chamois-like leather and pointed of toe, were green. His taut legs were tightly sheathed to the waist in the emerald of May's leaves and his sleeveless leather jerkin repeated the hue, as did the fabric that puffed about his shoulders and enveloped his extended arm. In spite of a flame- colored beard his countenance was youthful and debonair, though contorted now by a furious desperation. The green, conical hat he wore sported a cocky, crimson feather.

Curious how one's mind works sometimes. There was in mine at that instant, not disappointment at the failure of the ambush I had anticipated and done my best not to betray, not consternation at the manner in which Kass had defeated it, but only a sort of dazed amazement at the figures assembled in that strange tableau.

The cut of his coat of mail dated the sword-wielder as from the twelfth century. It was in the fourteenth that the Lincolnshire lads prowled Sherwood Forest attired in the green the forester wore. François Villon's Paris was that of the fifteen hundreds, and I—my birth date was the year nineteen hundred and fifteen. Kass aside, we represented eight centuries of history. Eight hundred years! Absurd! They were masqueraders—

What of the Neanderthal man I had fought and Villon had slain? That slavering brute had been no actor. Abruptly I was cold with recollection of the Frenchman's words: "Nothing, my friend, is impossible in this land where Time is not."

And then I was cold with something more imminent; a sound, a toneless squeal so shrill that it was at the upper threshold of hearing; a high, thin whine that pierced my ears and set my teeth on edge. It came from the tiny, puckered mouth that seemed so ludicrously inept in the vast expanse of Kass's face, and it was the first actual sound I had heard him utter.

It went on and on, and it was like a wire pulling through my brain, a blue fine wire that was all edge, all wounding edge. It flickered out into the dull, desolate glow brooding over that plain of tumbled rock and ominous shadows, and somewhere out there it found a response. Somewhere from among the malformed boulders, from among the gray-purple shadows that lurked at their bases and filled the mouths of their caves with mystery— something was answering Kass.

I rolled, tried to find the source of that second thin whine. My straining eyes could discover nothing alive in all that dreary tumulus. I saw only vacant chaos, only the gaping empty maws of caverns.

The shadows were lengthening. That was queer, here where there was no sun to lower. Then I realized that only one of the shadows was lengthening. This was flowing like a dark cloud out of the mouth of a nearby cave. Like a gray-purple fog that somehow had more substance than a fog, it still was formless as drifting mist.

"Pater Noster in excelsis ..." I heard Villon mumble a Latin prayer. And then I heard him exclaim: "A drina! God preserve us! I had thought they were chained to their lairs by the light."

THE cloud parted from the shadow and was a shapeless blob about the size of a small auto, moving more and more swiftly toward us. The tenuous whine that answered Kass's call came from it. It was animate with a blind and groping sort of life, yet it had no shape. Or rather its shape was constantly changing as it billowed toward us—as once in a microscope I had seen the outlines of an amoeba change. Because of this it had no identity, but individuality it had full measure, and a terrible malevolence.

Kass's call rose shriller. The approach of that purple-gray mass grew swifter, and something in the sightless way it moved made me more certain that were it not for the strange sound Kass made it would not have appeared, or having appeared, would not know which way to move. I could see it more clearly, could see now that near its center there was a throbbing spot of deeper purple that did not change in shape, and I was afraid.

I was deathly afraid of the thing Villon had called a drina. I was afraid of it because, for all its formlessness, for all its blindness, I sensed intelligence within it, and I knew that intelligence was different in some terrible way from the intelligence of any creature I'd ever known.

Its shrill whine had an eager sound now. It went past me with a rush—two heart-stopping screams twisted me about.

Knight and forester hung high above the ground, each wrapped around the waist by one of Kass's pipe-stem tentacles. The two were puppets with jerking, boneless limbs, with white masks for faces, animated now by terror alone. The drina boiled toward them.

Kass flung them down in front of him, and the gray-purple mass rolled over them. Rolled over them and rolled past where they'd fallen, and they were no longer there. But I saw them. I saw them sprawled within that monstrous purple bulk, forms blurred and indistinct like shapes seen in a pea-soup fog. They were still alive— still moving. And then, as the pitch of Kass's cry changed, I saw them begin to melt.

The drina was scudding away toward the nearest shadow- pool; it reached it, merged with it. It was gone, and mailed knight and green-clad forester were gone, and there was only Kass, poised there, motionless and silent, to all appearances already oblivious of what had occurred.

On the ground between him and the cave into which the drina had vanished lay the bladeless hilt of a two-handed sword and a dagger. That was all....

Not quite. A little further away, caught on the jagged point of a small stone, a conical green hood flaunted a cocky, crimson feather.


"THEY were fools," I heard Villon murmur. "But they were brave fools. May God rest their troubled souls."

"Amen!" I managed to say.

Kass was gesturing for us to rise. I shoved shaking hands against the ground to obey, but I was sick, mentally and physically sick. I must have looked it, for the Frenchman, misunderstanding, said as he rose lithely, "There is nothing for you to fear, my friend. Not, at least, until you have served the purpose for which they have brought you here, or until, like those whose passing we have just looked upon, they have found you useless for that purpose."

"They!" I snapped. "Who are they? And what do they want from me?"

"He is one of them," Villon answered, nodding at the approaching Kass, "and the others are as like him as I am like you. They say they are men, as you have heard, and, they say that between them and us there stretches a million years and more of time. How that can be I do not know, yet neither do I know how it can be that we two are met, living and nearly of an age, though four centuries divide our natal days. If this smaller miracle can come to pass, why not the greater?"

Before I could answer that. Kass reached us. He laid his splayed hands on our shoulders. At once my body was again stung, with countless prickles, and the landscape was once more moving past us.

It started slowly but accelerated rapidly, till the plain and the rocks and the sky itself became nothing but a streaked, brownish blur whizzing past us. We were not moving at all; it was everything outside of us that moved.

I felt not the slightest intimation of that inner awareness of motion that the psychologists call the kinesthetic sense. There was nothing around me, nothing to protect me, yet there was no wind on my face. At this unguessable speed the air should have been a solid thing, driving the breath from my lungs, tearing the clothes from my back.

It was, I thought, as if somehow we were detached from the Earth and it were spinning beneath us.

"You are not upon Earth at all," Kass's soundless voice told me. "You are no longer in its space nor of its time."

"What do you mean?" I yelled. "What in hell do you mean?" I had lost my temper because I was frightened, because I was desperately afraid and hated myself for it.

"It shall be explained to you, if the Council so decides." Kass seemed to be coldly interested in my agitation, much in the way I might have been interested in watching a puppy growl at its image in a mirror. "You have, in what you already know, a foundation for comprehension such as is possessed by none of the others Astaris has sent us, except one. The female from your own generation."

Did he mean Evelyn? He must! The landscape about us was slowing. I made out that we were in a narrow, rugged ravine whose rocky walls were speeding past us. Abruptly these were gone, and then, before I could quite make out what happened, there was no longer any motion.

Some five hundred yards behind us was the towering tumulus that had sped past. Between it and us stretched a plain, level and uncluttered as a concrete highway at dawn.

Ahead, and too close for comfort, the ground ended sharply, so that I was staring across miles of sheer vacancy at the edge of another plateau. There was a shimmering, dreamlike quality about this—the result, I suddenly realized, of my seeing it through a peculiar quiver of the air, an odd vibration that rose from the curving edge of the chasm to the low, brooding sky. Like a vast, transparent curtain this was, intangible yet very real.

"Down, my friend," the Frenchman said softly. "Look down."

I STEPPED a little nearer the verge of the plateau to comply. I looked down—a thousand feet, two thousand. I saw nothing but rock, gently curving inward, glass-smooth rock glimmering with high polish. My sight slid down another thousand feet, another, to where that astounding wall curved and leveled out immensely far below, to become the bottom of a vast bowl, a mile deep and five miles, as I was to learn, across the diameter of its circling rim.

I have mentioned once, I think, the effect of height upon me. Now the illness seized me; my stomach went plummeting down into that yawning gulf. My muscles lost all strength. I toppled forward, right over the brink of that precipice....

I did not fall. I hung, arms sprawled out, a scream choked in my throat, my skin clammy with the sweat of terror. I hung above that sheer and terrible drop, and I was sustained by nothing I could feel or see.

I slid down, my legs rubber; and fury at my helpless weakness shook me back to normalcy.

"Whew!" I whistled, pulling erect. "That wasn't nice."

Kass seemed not to have noticed what had occurred. His bulging eyes were unfocussed, and he was motionless in an attitude of listening. He seemed to be absorbed in some weird sort of communication with someone I could not see. But Villon was beside me, his hand on my arm.

"You could not fall," he murmured. "You could not penetrate the Veil of Ishlak." He nodded at the vague, shimmering curtain that was no more substantial than the quiver of heated air above a railroad track in midsummer. "Unless it had parted for you. So look down, my friend, upon the strange city of Adalon while yet there is time for you to see what manner of place it is to which your fate has brought you."

I gritted my teeth and peered over that brink once more. I was still suffering from nausea, but because I knew now that I could not fall the vertigo did not blind me. I took it by easy stages, though, letting my eyes drift slowly down along that infernal wall.

My first impression of its smoothness was confirmed. The contour of the precipice was completely regular, too regular to be natural. That, tremendous pit had been quarried out of the solid rock. Yet there were no marks of tools or blasting. It seemed, rather, that the huge depression had been hollowed out by heat, by heat so great that the unwanted stone had boiled into vapor and steamed away.

This was, of course, manifestly impossible, but how otherwise the formation could be explained I did not know. My gaze reached the level floor of the bowl, and I saw the city of Adalon, dwarfed by height, laid out for me like a map.

ITS structures were of the same color and texture as the rock, and I had the feeling that they had not been built, but had grown or been moulded out of it. They were square and squat and ugly, no thought of anything but utility evident in their design.

One, at the very center of the circular area, dominated all the rest by reason of its vastly greater size, and differed from them also in having a domed roof instead of a flat one. There were eleven other buildings. They were of varying sizes and they were scattered about the bowl's floor at varying distances from the hub, yet I had a curious sense that they were located according to some definite plan, and that the plan had some, meaning for me.

"Are they not like a sow and its rooting piglets?" Villon murmured. "And see, some of the piglets themselves have their own offspring clinging close."

I saw what he meant. Except for the central building and the two nearest it, each of the structures of Adalon had other smaller ones very near to it. The third had only one, the fourth two, but there were nine about the fifth.

The sixth also had nine, but these were connected by a wide- topped circular wall in which they were embedded like scattered stones in a ring. A ring—Then suddenly I understood.

"Saturn," I exclaimed. "The ringed planet. The planet with nine satellites and a ring. The biggest building at the center is the Sun. Mercury, nearest it, and Venus, have no satellites. The Earth, third away, has one moon, Mars has two, and Jupiter nine. It works out! The three the other side of Saturn would be Uranus and Neptune and Pluto. Don't you see it, Villon? They've built their city in the pattern of the solar system, of the Sun and its planets."

He looked at me rather queerly. "The Sun and its planets," he whispered. "Aye, it seems to me that once I heard the rector of the university prate of this Mercury and Venus and Mars whereof you speak, and Jupiter too, as stars in the sky of nights, though those other names are strange to me. The Sun and its planets," he repeated. "Now is there some meaning here? I have wondered why they builded thus, in foolish confusion, when all else they do has a straight design serving its purpose and no more."

There were little flecks of light between his drooping lids. "Can it be," he whispered, "can it be that these men a million years older than us, to whom love and beauty and even awe of their Creator are things forgotten and unknown, have yet some sentiment left? A nostalgia, perchance, for the skies they have forsaken, for the orbs that gave them birth?"

He had some other thought, some thought that he was as carefully blotting out of his consciousness as I had blotted from mine the thought of the ambush that had failed so disastrously. He was attempting to conceal it. But what he did say was enough to make me grab his arm.

"Look here," I demanded. "Don't tell me you've swallowed all that stuff Kass has been spilling. That this isn't the Earth, that they're men of the future, and the rest of it."

Villon shrugged, his narrow face expressionless. "It is what they say and they do not lie. There is much about them I do not understand, but of one thing I am certain. To them nothing is sacred save the Truth, and it is divine."

I almost believed it all, in that moment. I almost believed that Kass and the others who had built Adalon were men of a million years from my own time, that this strange place was not on Earth, that it was beyond the solar system, perhaps beyond even our galaxy. But not quite. It was too much to ask a man to believe, too much to ask him even to conceive. All that one has been taught cannot be discarded in a single hour, no matter how crowded that hour has been with happenings that seem to controvert the very essentials of one's philosophy.

Something fluttered, far below, a bit of blue. I'd seen that same hint of blue on a Brooklyn street hours—or was it years—ago. It recalled to me what I had been after, going along that street.

"Listen, Villon," I explained. "Twice you have mentioned Evelyn Rand. You've seen her. Was it down there?"

"Yes," he answered. "She brightened the devil-city so that one did not quite so much miss the sun."

"Then," I growled, "devil-city or not, I'm going down there."

"Yes," Villon sighed. "I think that you are." He pointed a bony finger at the dome of the central building. In its great domed roof a hole was opening, iris-like. "And I think that you will not much like what you find there. Yet I would gladly give up all hope of salvation if I were awaited as you are in Adalon."


A SILVERY something leaped out of the aperture in the roof of the structure I'd likened to the Sun. It shot on a long, steep slant straight for us, and so fast was its flight I could see nothing of it but blurred light streaking the air.

In the next instant it was hanging before me, absolutely motionless, in midair. Long axis horizontal, it was cylindrical, one end blunt-tapered like the nose of a bullet, the other square-cut. It was nine or ten feet long, about five in diameter. It seemed to be made of some metal that was a little grayer than silver, and it hovered there without visible support of any kind.

The only man-made things I know of that might approximate this feat are the balloon and the helicopter. No balloon could have moved with anything like the speed this had, nor could one have been brought to a standstill with such abruptness. It was no helicopter either. It had no whirling windmill vanes. In fact, I could make out no protruding part of any kind. The thing simply and unequivocally defied gravity.

I had just about time to note this and to become aware of a curious whirr that seemed to come from the object, when at its nose there was a quick succession of crimson sparks. At once I heard a long, ripping sound, like silk tearing.

"The Veil has parted," Villon answered my startled look, gesturing to a still place in the curtain of shimmer, like an oil slick on water. The projectile leaped inward, hissed along the ground, was static again beside Kass, who seemed to be rousing from his absorption. The whirr cut off.

"They call it a stratcar," the Frenchman told me. "I went to my knees in prayer when first one sprang upon me." Impish amusement danced in his eyes, and he chuckled. "I was persuaded Lucifer in very person had arrived in it to claim my soul, so many times forfeit to him."

A pale inner glow wavered over the surface of the stratcar. This was like waves of luminosity fluctuating over the surface of superheated steel, yet within a long stride of it I felt no heat. A white line was stripping along its side, from truncated rear to where the taper of its prow began.

"The magic art," Villon continued, "by which they cause the ground itself to flow past them, miles in a heart's beat, appears to fail them at the brink of this chasm. To reach their Adalon from here they fly down to it in this iron contrivance. They fly, mark you. Now this indeed fills me with doubt of my own senses, for while magic is a proper matter recognized by all theologians and metaphysicians—for a man to build an engine that flies goes against Nature. Yet I swear to you, my John, that this stratcar is no uncouth bird but a thing wrought by men out of metal."

That naive astonishment of his at a machine that could fly did more than anything else to bring home to me the time-gulf between us.

But now the line that slashed the side of the stratcar was widening. The upper half of the curved skin was sliding up and around. I saw now that the thing was hollow. From within it, toward the front, projected the big head and bulbous upper body of a goggle-eyed individual who might be Kass's twin, except that the stuff covering his torso was a brilliant orange instead of a dark brown.

Kass's tentacles lifted in what was evidently a salute. The newcomer imitated him, perfunctorily. Then I realized that they were conversing, though I heard nothing, aurally or within my skull.

"Kass seems pretty respectful to this new one," I remarked. "Who is he?"

"He calls himself Daster," Villon replied. I thought I detected a puzzled note in his voice, and his eyes were narrowed. "The hue of his singlet marks him as a doctil, as that of Kass marks him a plebo. Daster is one of the Kintat, the Council of Five who rule this land, and that he should come to meet us is passing strange. Does it mean that something has occurred to disturb them from their throne-seats during my witless attempt at escape from them?"

I had observed that the membranes at the sides of the heads of the Adalonians were their sole features which might be said to have expression. These were vibrating rapidly in both, seeming to confirm the poet's idea that they were disturbed.

Their colloquy ended. Kass swung to us. "Go," he commanded, "into the stratcar."


The fantastic creature beckoned them into the stratcar.

Villon shrugged. "It appears that you are to have your wish, John." He started for the strange vehicle and I followed him. I can't say that I was very comfortable at that particular moment. I didn't like being ordered around, for one thing. And for another, Villon's warnings had convinced me that some extremely unpleasant experiences were waiting for me in the place to which I was evidently about to be taken.

But Evelyn Rand was down there and so I didn't even consider the possibility of refusal or resistance.

THERE were two seats inside the stratcar, very much like those of an auto. Daster occupied the front one. I got into that in the rear, alongside Villon. I was surprised that the conveyance did not roll as I pressed down on its side, climbing in. It should have, balanced as it was on its rounded bottom. But it was rigid as though that bottom lay flat against the ground.

I turned to see what would hold it steady when Kass got in, but he did not. His tentacles lifted in repetition of the salute with which he'd greeted Daster. The latter answered him, and then the plebo was moving away. We were moving away from him, rather, though in relation to the ground we were not moving at all. The mouth of the ravine across the plain swallowed him.

"Didn't he say that the Council was waiting for him?" I exclaimed.

"Yes," Villon breathed. "And that too is strange, for they do not easily change their plans. Something indeed is not as it should be in Adalon. Has it any meaning for us? Dare we hope—" He cut off, and I knew that once more he was veiling his thoughts.

Daster ignored us completely. He reached forward to a bank of buttons on the back of the stratcar's nose, that was a circle-edged wall in front of him. The vehicle's side-wall slid up from beyond Villon, slid over and came down on my side. We were at once in absolute darkness, a blackness that seemed to thumb my eyes with palpable weight.

The darkness lasted only a second. Daster's grotesque head was silhouetted against a greenish, spectral glow. The wall in front of him had become a luminous screen on which, about the level of my chest, rows of buttons were spots of scarlet. Above these vague blurs took form, became a picture in grays and blacks of the plain outside, the high, rocky cliff that edged it.

The doctil touched another button. The stratcar filled with the whirr I had heard before, as it hung in midair. Villon gasped and caught at my arm.

The whole structure was vibrating in correspondence with that whirr. I was thrown to the right, hard against the car-side, and Villon was shoved against my left side. The photo-like scene on the screen was whisking to the right. I realized that the stratcar was spinning around to point at the Veil through which it had come.

The pressure against my sides eased. The screen image was steady again. Past Daster's head the screen photoed space and beyond it the distant rim of the bowl within which Adalon lay. My ears seemed stuffed with that infernal whirring. It rose in pitch and I was forced against the back of the seat. Blankness flashed over the screen—was replaced at once by a picture of a vast, glass-smooth, curved precipice leaning precariously toward us. Then the screen shifted into a view of the bowl bottom lifted in a disturbing slant so that the buildings seemed about to slide off it.

Those buildings ballooned in size with breathtaking swiftness. It was we who were catapulting down to them, of course. The acceleration was a weight crushing me against the seat-back, crushing in my chest. Pluto flicked off the screen-edge. Uranus, Saturn. The screen showed only the immense rounded dome of the Sun building, a lustrous convexity against which we were going to smash.

A BLACK splotch spotted the exact center of that roof-image, widened to swallow it. I could breathe again. I was no longer crushed back in my seat. The whirr had ended. Light was coming into the stratcar, cutting horizontally across the right- hand wall, and widening rapidly. A bar of white sunlight, not the drab, oppressive glow out of which we had just come.

The stratcar's upper half slid over and down beyond my seat-mate. The poet's eyes were closed. He was slumped over, motionless and limp.

I grabbed for his shoulder. "Villon," I exclaimed. If something had happened to him... "François!" I realized how much his indomitable cheerfulness had endeared him to me in the short time I'd known him. If I was still sane it was because of his jauntiness, his gay fatalism. To face this delirium alone...

His eyelids fluttered open and a rueful grimace twisted his mocking lips. "Thus one must fall," he murmured, "when the gibbet-trap is sprung from beneath one's feet. But at the end of that drop is at least the mercy of oblivion, provided the executioner has rightly knotted his noose."

"You've got hanging on your mind a devil of a lot," I snapped, irritable with relief.

"And so would you, my John," he said, grinning, "if you had been condemned to the gallows as often as I."

I twisted to a touch on my shoulder. It was Daster's splayed hand. He had climbed out of the stratcar and he wanted me to do the same. We were in a huge, barn-like room, its floor fashioned apparently of the same fused and congealed rock that composed the sides of the bowl. The illumination was not sunlight, but came from a wide, shining band circling the walls just where the domed ceiling rested on them. Those walls seemed solid, without any sign of a door or window.

Our stratcar was one of many that stood in a straight row across the chamber. Three Adalonians were clustered about a machine whose nose had been stripped of its metal covering to reveal an intricate mass of gears that they seemed to be repairing. They were, judging by the color of their torso covering, plebos, but an orange-clad doctil was coming toward us.

HE reached us as I dismounted from the stratcar. "Gohret," Daster greeted* him, lifting his tentacles in salute. "This is John March, whom Astaris' last message concerned."

{* Note: I had by this time already become so accustomed to the Adalonians' mode of communication that I was no longer really conscious that it was not actual oral speech. Since, moreover, it is awkward continually to describe the peculiar inward sensing of their messages, I shall hereafter use in this respect the terms ordinarily applied to speech as we know it. —J.M.]

Gohret's great eyes rested on me very briefly, shifted to Villon who by now stood beside me. "And the other, of course, is the one who was lately found missing," he remarked. "I understand that the scanners located him near the entrance whorl."

"Exactly," Daster agreed. "And so Kass was able to pick up both at once, and bring them to the brink together."

"Have you determined how this Villon succeeded in penetrating the Veil of Ishlak?"

"No. Kass reported that he evidently has learned how to conceal his thoughts from us. We shall have to probe his memory in the observation cell."

"Which must be done at once. We must find and punish the plebo who assisted him. If it was a plebo." Seeing the two together in that bright light, I realized that there was a definite dissimilarity in their appearance, difficult to describe but differentiating them sufficiently for recognition. "I shall take charge of him and have the matter attended to immediately."

It seemed to me that Daster resented Gohret's dictatorial tone, but he conveyed nothing to confirm this impression. He merely gestured at the Frenchman, and moved nearer to me.

"Come along," Gohret commanded Villon. "Unless you wish to tell us now what we want to know."

François' lip curled scornfully. "I am too experienced a jailbird to be frightened into blabbing by your hints of torture."

"We are not compelled to resort to torture," Gohret responded, "to obtain information we desire. Our methods are more efficient."

Villon winced. In spite of your pretty speech about a poet not knowing fear, I thought, you're scared now, my friend. That's because you don't know what they're going to do to you and so your excellent imagination is working overtime.

"Come along," Gohret commanded again, reaching a long tentacle for François. The latter shrank back against the stratcar. The doctil's writhing limb wrapped around him, pinning his arms to his sides. Villon's mouth gaped in a soundless scream, agony graying his face. Then, driven by a furious anger, I swung a fist at the Adalonian.

Its knuckles sank into squashy, rot-soft flesh under Gohret's tiny mouth. My other fist, driving in, was caught in mid-arc, immobilized. I was jerked against Daster, his reptilian arms roping me, lifting me. I kicked back and my heels crunched the horny covering of his torso. Excruciating pain rayed through me, fire following the path of every nerve in my body. My muscles lost all power to function.

I hung from those terrible tentacles, paralyzed and half- blinded. The mechanic plebos had not even turned from their work to watch the unequal combat.

"Thank you, my friend," Villon called, his voice thin. "But you can do me no good, no good at all." Gohret's cursed tentacle was grooving into his scrawny chest, and down the back of his hand there was a thin trickle of blood that must be coming from the crushed flesh of his forearm. "You cannot help me."

He was visibly growing shorter! "None can help me now but myself." It was not that he was growing shorter, but that he, and Gohret with him, were sinking, down through the floor, a section of it descending with them.

"Farewell, John March," the poet cried. He was actually smiling. "Tell the fair Evelyn that though I go now into eternal darkness, I carry with me the memory of the gray-eyed Angel I met in Hell."


THE oval slab that had descended with François Villon rose back into place and the floor was once more solid. Daster set me down on my feet. The power of my muscles returned, and the agony in my nerves faded.

I was alone in that stratcar hangar with those strange beings that were so unhuman in appearance and yet so oddly human. I was alone and, I admit it without shame, I was afraid.

It was my turn now to be punished for striking Gohret, for kicking at Daster. I faced around to the remaining doctil, doing my best to stand straight, forcing myself to look into his gargoylesque, mucid eyes. They were coldly impersonal. They studied me for what seemed a long time, altogether without emotion. Astaris had looked at me like that, and Kass. A slow resentment welled up in me again at the sense of inferiority that steady, speculative gaze inflicted upon me.

Then Daster's arm lifted in a gesture, and I knew I was to go with him—somewhere.

We started moving across the hangar floor, myself a little ahead. The plebos to one side busied themselves with their task, not for one instant interrupted.

Where was I being taken? We were walking directly toward the opposite wall of that vaulted chamber, and there was nothing there but the blind face of the stone. It was so highly polished that it reflected us. There was no seam where it rounded into the floor. Floor and wall and dome were of one piece, like concrete that had been formed in a mould. But they were not concrete. They were rock. How could rock have been poured that way?

"All things are plastic," Daster answered me, "at some degree of heat."

"True enough." Aeons ago, I recalled my geology, the Earth itself was molten, shaped into an orb by the very speed of its spinning, bulging at the equator because there the centrifugal force was the greatest. "But the heat that melts rock is so great that it would be impossible for men to shape it, in such large masses at any rate."

"Nothing," the doctil answered, "is impossible to man."

"You—" I stopped short. I was face to face with my reflection in the wall, another half-step would bring me against it.

"Go on, John March." His hand on my back shoved me forward gently. I went into that rock—not against it, into it! It impeded me no more than so much air, but for a moment I was blinded by intangible grayness. Then there was light again and I was in a narrow corridor that spiraled downward, the pitch so steep that I had to lean back and dig heels to keep myself from going too fast.

"What—what the devil!" I couldn't help the exclamation. "How did that happen?"

"Matter is not really solid," Daster answered, "as you should know, but is composed of vibrating electrons separated by spaces compared to which their own sizes are minute. The rate of vibration of the wall-rock has been adjusted so that the electrons of which we are composed flowed through, between its particles."

"It's as simple as all that, is it?" I tried to be sarcastic. "Good thing the boys in Sing Sing don't know about it or they'd walk out some fine morning."

"Precisely. Except that the technique of changing the vibration rate of the prison walls would have been beyond the ability of even the most profound scientists of your time. That was not developed until some five hundred years after your period."

"Oh yeah?" I wasn't going to let myself be worked up again by the way these people kept tossing the centuries about, regardless. "Just a little matter of five hundred years." If I let myself believe that time had folded into itself, Daster and his friends might really be a million years beyond me in evolution. The inevitable implication of that would be that I was up against something I could have no hope of fighting. And I wasn't ready to admit that, not quite yet. "Just the day after tomorrow, the way you look at it."

"Quite," Daster agreed, dryly.

NOW what could I do about that except shut up? We kept on going down and around, and though my own footfalls echoed within the confines of that interminable spiral the Adalonian's movements were soundless. This, together with the fact that the passage was dimly lit, sent an eerie chill through me. A Latin tag came out of my forgotten high-school days—facile descensus Averni, "easy is the descent to Hades"—and the speculation trailed across my mind that perhaps I had died in that old house on Brooklyn Heights; that, a disembodied soul, I was wandering through some Afterland beyond death.

Abruptly the passage leveled out under my feet, straightened out. Far ahead there was a tiny oblong of the same curiously brownish light that had pervaded the plain above. It grew larger swiftly, although I was walking at an ordinary pace. I realized that all this time my footing had been moving, without vibration, and endless belt spiraling down from that lofty stratcar hangar.

The rectangle of light ahead became an opening at which the tunnel ended. I was through it, Daster's touch on my elbow keeping me from falling as I left the conveyor. I half-spun, saw that I'd emerged from an aperture in a blue-gray wall, lifted my look and saw that wall towering, windowless, tremendously above me.

So great was its height that it appeared to lean appallingly forward, to be about to hurtle down upon me. I whirled away from it, faced the wide expanse of the bowl floor down on which I had looked from the brink of the sheer, mile-high cliff that closed it in. Directly ahead, across a perfectly level stretch of fused rock, was a low building, blue-gray and windowless like the one out of which I had just come, but tiny in comparison to it. To my right and quite a distance farther off, there was another, somewhat larger, and to one side of it one about a quarter its size.

If I correctly recalled the layout of Adalon, as seen from above, the nearer structure was—

"The House of Mercury," Daster supplied. "Correct. And the farther one is the House of Earth, with its Moon. Mars is hidden behind the House of Sun. You are the first of our—guests—to perceive that Adalon is planned to portray the solar system." He seemed approving, and I could not help but being a little pleased with myself.

Everything else in this accursed place was so much more terrifying that I found I had almost gotten accustomed to having my thoughts understood, interrupted, and answered. I had ceased to feel it as any greater violation of my privacy than the comings and goings, without knocking, in a college fraternity house.

"You call the buildings after the planets they represent?" I noted.

"Yes," the doctil assented.

There were a few plebos about, grotesque caricatures of humanity with their tremendous heads, their bulbous bodies, their writhing, tentacular arms. They were moving briskly across the terrain in various directions, but they weren't walking. They were standing erect on little wheeled platforms of the same odd metal of which the stratcars were built, and these were rolling swiftly along the trackless pavement. I could see no steering wheels or other means of control. The peculiar vehicles stopped and started and changed directions almost as if they were endowed with some queer life of their own.

ONE, somewhat larger than the others, and unoccupied, was coming straight toward us. It was like a child's play-cart, except that it had no sides, but at the front end there was a box-like protuberance from which rods ran to either end of the forward axle. As it neared I heard a low burr of machinery. It came up to us, wheeled around and stopped.

"They're worked by remote radio control," I decided, remembering a demonstration I'd seen in New York's Museum of Science and Industry. "But I can't see the advantage. It must require an operator for each one and—"

"The rider of each rado is its operator," Daster interrupted, motioning for me to get on to the thing and doing so himself. We faced forward on it and it started rolling smoothly toward the House of Earth. "I summoned this one, for instance, and am directing it now." It deftly avoided collision with another, whose plebo rider lifted his tentacles in salute to Daster.

"Where's your sending set?" I challenged skeptically. I was getting more used to the doctil's weird appearance, more aware of him as an individual with whom I could talk naturally, whom I could question. "You haven't anything in your hands and certainly you can't be hiding it anywhere about you."

"My brain is the only sending set I need for the rado."

I stared at him hopelessly. "You don't expect me to believe that, do you?"

"I do. You have information and intelligence enough to understand it. Even in your time it was already becoming known that the processes of the brain and nervous system are essentially electrical in character. My control of the rado through what you would call 'Will' alone is merely a projection of the same manifestation of energy by which you wiggle your great toe."

"I get it," I exclaimed. "Just as radio is a development of telegraphing over wires. Then—then your means of communication, my hearing you without your speaking aloud, must be something similar.

"Precisely. Except that in that case your brain is acting as a receiving unit. It has not yet evolved sufficiently for it to be used efficiently as a transmitter, although our researches seem to indicate that some among you possessed even that power, in a rudimentary manner."

"There have been some experiments with it," I recalled. "At Duke University, for instance. They call it telepathy, extrasensory perception, and—" I broke off. We were being carried past the House of Mercury. Coming around from behind it and turning toward us was another rado like the one we rode. On this, beside a plebo, was a man like myself.

Not quite like myself. He was much taller, built in a heavier mould. His colossal frame was clothed in a flowing, dark robe down whose front flowed a luxuriant, silver-white beard. His massive features were swarthy, broadly sculptured, his nose wide- winged and bent-ridged, his brooding eyes sunken beneath shaggy white brows. I thought of Rodin's statue of Jehovah in the Metropolitan. There was about this man the same Semitic cast of countenance, the same consciousness of majesty, the same tremendous spiritual power.

His rado shot by us and ran swiftly toward the great building we'd just quitted, too swiftly for me, startled as I was, to call to him.

"Who is that?" I demanded, twisting to Daster, almost afraid of his answer. "Who is that man."

"His name is Elijah," was what the doctil responded. "He was known as a Prophet of Israel in the age to which he belongs."

"But—" I gasped. "But Elijah was taken up to Heaven in a chariot of fire."

"So it was reported by Elisha, his disciple, who saw him go. The way the sun struck through the whirlwind of desert dust that parted them gave it the appearance of flame, and when it was gone, Elijah too was gone." And then, quite simply, quite convincingly, Daster the doctil said, "I saw it. I was there."

François Villon! Elijah! ... A pattern, a faint and appalling pattern, was forming at the back of my brain. Elijah! Prophet in Israel. François Villon: Thief, Lover and Poet. I had read those names not very long before. On a yellowed, crumbling page they had been, part of a list headed, The Vanished. And on the page before that one in rubbed italics, had been words that now took on a terrifying significance:

Like so many whispering whorls of dust, they went out of space and out of time, to what Otherwhere no one still among us knows, and none will ever know.

"None will ever know." But I knew. I knew what had occurred to Elijah and to Villon and to me.

And to Evelyn Rand...

This, this Adalon, was that incredible Otherwhere, out of space and out of time!



Argosy, 25 March 1939, with third part of "Seven Out of Time"


SOON after he begins to investigate the disappearance of Evelyn Rand, John March realizes that this mystery cannot be explained in terms of ordinary experience. Friends of this beautiful girl speak strangely of her—of how she seemed to hold converse with voices from an Otherworld and how she went eagerly to trysts, to be met only by a whispering whirl of dust.

But John March does not glimpse the enormity of what has happened until he is lured by a series of baffling incidents to the house of one Achronos Astaris. This queer little man questions March on the meaning of the word love; he speaks as if he dwelt in some future time, immeasurably distant; and without effort he can read March's mind. At last, half-maddened by terror of this inexplicable creature, John March attacks him. But it is fruitless: March is caught by some impalpable force—swept through the empty corridors of space, conscious only of the whisper of a whirl of dust....

ON THE boundless wasteland where he awakes, John March comes face to face with figures who seem stolen from some crazy dream. A Neanderthal man attacks March, and his life is saved by the sword-work of a jaunty individual in leather cap and jacket who introduces himself with a flourish—as François Villon. And John March must believe him, for this man born four hundred years before once followed a whispering whirl of dust out of his own time. Now he is held a prisoner, he explains cryptically; a companion, in this strange misfortune, of Evelyn Rand.

John March's fervent desire to follow the girl he loves is soon satisfied. One of the fantastic beings who people this Otherworld captures him and Villon. These men dwelling outside of space and time are huge-headed creatures with enormous eyes and hands like tendrils; they communicate with each other by thought- transference alone. In the charge of one of these March and Villon are brought to the city of Adalon, a great metropolis moulded from living rock in the pattern of the solar system. There the two prisoners are separated; Villon is to suffer some unknown punishment.

IN Adalon John March sees conclusive evidence that his captors must be dwelling in the distant future of his own civilization. For he knows enough of science to realize that their wizardry—in telepathy, in a control of electrons that makes any substance penetrable—has already been forecast. March is convinced, too, that for some reason they have snatched human beings out of space and out of time. One great-bearded man he passes in the street is none other, his captor explains, than Elijah, Prophet of Israel. So, his mind whirling and yet determined to rescue Evelyn Rand, John March is brought to the building that houses the prisoners of Adalon....


THE rado rolled up to the gray-blue wall of the building called the House of Earth, stopped. Daster dismounted and I followed, my mind occupied with trying really to comprehend the conclusion it had finally reached.

There was an opening here like the exit from the gigantic central structure. The doctil waited for me to enter this before him. Inside there was a tunneled passage similar to the one in the House of Sun, lit similarly with a twilight glow. But the floor of this did not move. The corridor went in about five feet, turned sharply right. It did not rise as that other had but went straight on. I kept walking along it, too shaken to be fully aware of what I was doing, too shaken to be curious about my surroundings or my destination.

Up to the moment when Daster had told me the long-bearded man in the dark mantle was Elijah, and I had believed him, I had neither accepted nor rejected the actuality of any of my strange experiences. Perhaps I can best explain what I mean by an analogy. Once, doing some tumbling in the gym at the university, I slipped and gouged open the calf of my leg on the steel point of a vaulting pole some one had left lying around. I sat on the mat staring at the inch-deep gash in my flesh, at the blood welling out of it, and for minutes I had absolutely no emotion about the matter at all. I knew it was my leg that was sliced to the bone; I knew it was my blood that was pouring out; I knew it was hurting damnably; but none of this meant anything. Then someone yelled, "Look at Jack!" and visions smashed into my brain of that leg being chewed up so badly it would have to come off, of my going around on a crutch all the rest of my life....

Doc Carter had put a tourniquet on me in a hurry that time, and the fellows had picked me up and carried me to the infirmary, and the staff there had worked over that gash until my leg was good as new. But this thing I was up against now was different. Nobody was going to help me out of this mess. Nobody could help me out. It was strictly and entirely up to me.

That was a laugh! These people in whose power I was, these Adalonians, had demonstrated themselves to be masters of forces I could not even begin to conceive. They could read my thoughts at will, could sense them almost before I was aware of them myself. Against them I was far more at a disadvantage than the most benighted Australian aborigine had been against the invading white man equipped with all the knowledge and the tools of civilization. I was finished, kaput, done for. It was fantastic to imagine that I could do anything against them—anything at all.

If I behaved myself, did exactly as they told me, maybe they'd let me live for a while. That was the best I could hope for.

"You have come to a wise decision," I heard behind me. "You are quite helpless, and your realization of that will save you a great deal of difficulty." I actually heard someone say that. It was no echo inside my brain; it was sound, a voice, in my ears. I twisted around.

It wasn't the doctil I stared at, my jaw dropping. It was a man properly proportioned, properly clothed in a brown suit very much like my own. He was about my height too, but he was older than I. Gray-haired, with a high forehead, blinkingly near- sighted, he had a distinctly professorial air. He might have just stepped out of some university lecture hall.

"Who—?" I spluttered. "Who are you? Where did you come from?"

He smiled rather vaguely. "I am still Daster," he said in that thin, old man's voice. "I have merely assumed this appearance because I have found that my real form disturbs the normal reactions of the person we are about to join, and it is important that this should not occur at this moment. Now, if you'll step aside so that I can get to that door...."

There was a door, an honest-to-goodness wooden door with a knob of black glass, beside me where an instant before there had been only blank wall.

Daster stepped by me to the door. It is an index to my state of mind that I found more astonishing than his metamorphosis, more surprising than the sudden materialization of the door, the fact that he lifted his hand and knocked on it. The familiar, sharp rap of knuckles on wood was startling.

Someone inside said, "Come."

I KNEW that voice, though I'd never heard it before, and my breath caught in my throat. Daster's blue-veined hand was on the doorknob. He was turning it. It seemed to me I was watching a slow-motion film, of a knob turning, of a door swinging open. It swung outward toward me, so that it blocked my view of what was behind it. Daster went past its edge, was screened by it.

Very faint in my nostrils was the perfume of arbutus and crocuses and hyacinths, and the evasive scent of leaf-buds, the fragrance of spring in a countryside I could never hope to see again. And underlying this was the redolence that I could not name, the very breath of dreams. "I have brought you someone," I heard Daster say, "whom I know you will be happy to see." I realized that I was going past the edge of that door, that I was going into the room on which it had opened.

She was standing with her white fingers to the soft round of her breast, her lips half-parted. There was an attitude of expectancy about the poise of her slim, young body, a look in her cool gray eyes that seemed to say she had been waiting for me all the time I had searched for her. She was not beautiful. Even in that moment I knew that in the ordinary sense of the word she was not beautiful. Her features were too irregular for that, her mouth too generous. But her hair was a misty amber cloud, and the throbbing curve of her throat was a lilting line of melody. There was strength in her small blunt chin and in her face a great sweetness.

"John March," Daster's voice said, somewhere to one side. "And—"


"Yes," I said, "I know that this is Evelyn Rand."

"Evelyn Rand," I put in, deep-throated.

A smile touched her lips. "You know me, Mr. March? I don't recall our having met."

"We haven't. I have never seen you. But I know you. I am one of your guardian's junior attorneys and I've been hunting for you for all of two weeks."

"Two weeks?" Her little frown of puzzlement was intriguing. "I don't understand. If Mr. Sturdevant wanted to get in touch with me why didn't he call me up? He knows my number and I was home till yesterday morning."

"You were—" I stopped myself. Something queer here—something very queer. Daster was watching us. I didn't like the way he was watching us. His eyes were too glittering, too feverishly eager. "Of course you were," I said vaguely. "I—I confused you with another client. I—"

"I shall leave you," the Adalonian interrupted. "I have some matters to attend to." He was moving toward the door. "I shall return in a little while."

Turning to him, I became aware of the chamber. It held another surprise for me.

I was in a quietly furnished living room; rugs, furniture, very like those I was accustomed to all my life. Except for one thing. There were two other doors, but there was no window.

The door closed on Daster, and I was alone with Evelyn Rand.

She'd come close. Her fingers were on the back of my hand. "Tell me," she breathed. "What did you mean when you said you have been hunting for me for two weeks?" Her pupils were widening and the color was draining from her lips.

"I said that I was mistaken, didn't I?" It was clear that she was bewildered.

"You said that, but it isn't true. A veil dropped over your eyes when you said it." Her hand had closed on mine now, was clinging to it. I wanted to take her in my arms. I wanted to hold her tightly, to still the flutter of her pulse in her neck that was like the hurried beat of a frightened bird's heart. "Tell me what kind of place this is," she insisted. "Tell me who they are, in there." Her other hand jerked to one of the closed doors. "Tell me what's happened to me."

ALL the strength was running out of her, all the courage. She was on the verge of breaking. The Lord alone knew how long she'd been holding herself together by sheer will, how long she'd been facing down her fears. She'd been surrounded by a strangeness she could not understand and she'd held her terror of it tight within her. Now I'd come, someone she recognized to be her own kind, and abruptly the burden had become too great for her.

"Easy," I told her. "Take it easy." The truth would be better for her, kinder, than any lie that probably would be disproven at once. But what was the truth? "I don't know very much about it myself but I know there's nothing to be scared of. We're both in something of a mess, and we've got to be brave and sensible and figure out together just what it is and just how to get out of it."

The idea was to let her know that she had help, but also to make her feel that she had to take hold of herself and cooperate. It was like rescuing a drowning person. If you let them get hysterical on you they'll go down and drag you with them, but if you get across to them that they've got to do something for themselves you can manage them.

It worked. She let go of my hand, straightened and smiled wanly. "I—I'm all right now." But there was still dread under the surface of her eyes. "Are you a doctor?"

"A doctor? What makes you—" And then I got it. "Look here." I took hold of her shoulders. "Look into my eyes, and listen to me. I'm not a doctor and this is not a sanitarium and you're not crazy." I said that slowly, with all the conviction I could put into it. "You're as sane as algebra. Not only you, but the man who told you he is François Villon is sane, and the man who calls himself Elijah is sane. That is who they really are, unbelievable as it may seem."

I knew she'd spoken with Villon, and I guessed that she must have spoken with others out of time. It was quite natural for her to think them suffering from delusions. From what he had said she must have seen Daster in his real shape, and been convinced that she too was the victim of hallucinations. The only reasonable conclusion would be that this was a madhouse and she an inmate.

"You believe me," I went on. "You must believe me. Whatever else is wrong, you are not mad. Do you believe me?"

She nodded.

"Say it. Say it aloud. 'I know that I am sane. Whatever has happened, whatever is going to happen, I am sane.'"

"I know that I am sane." Her voice was just above a whisper, her lips tremulous. "Whatever has happened, whatever is going to happen, I am sane." But her eyes were more natural now, the fear was gone from them. "Thank you, John March.'

"Nothing to thank me for yet. Wait till I've gotten us out of this." I made myself sound brisk, confident. I was very far from either. About two minutes ago I'd decided that I hadn't the slightest chance of extricating myself from the predicament in which I'd found myself, had resigned myself to take whatever the Adalonians wanted to hand me. Nothing had changed since then. Nothing except that now I had Evelyn Rand to look out for. "Let's sit down and talk things over."

I put my hands in my trouser pockets and strolled over to the couch, giving a good imitation of nonchalance. Some coins jingled in the right-hand pocket, in the left I felt a wallet and a latch-key in its little leather case. Evelyn Rand was coming along beside me, her pale blue dress whispering against her long legs.

We might have been any boy and girl about to spend a pleasant evening in a New York living room. Except that there was no window in this parlor, and that not far beyond its walls a man named François Villon was suffering some unimaginable fate.

No. The twentieth century couple we most resembled was one in some Madrid parlor, pretending that all was right with the world, while all the time they were aware of horror outside, and the inevitable closing in of doom upon them. I could hear no rumbles of guns outside these, no shattering thunder of bombs, but I knew this was only a brief respite, a short moment of truce our captors were according us for some inscrutable reason of their own.

I kept my face averted from Evelyn till I was certain I had gained control of it, till I was certain she could not read from it the dread and the despair that were in my thoughts. If I had known then what there was to dread, what there was to despair of, I should not have been able to conceal those thoughts from her.


"SUPPOSE we begin," I said, when Evelyn Rand and I were seated, "with your story. You started out to go to church. You went around the corner—and then?"

"And then I had a curious feeling that I was about to meet someone who'd been waiting for me a long time." Just the tip of an ear showed from beneath the honey-colored cap of her hair. "The street was full of people with Sunday shining in their eyes, but it wasn't any of them. It was someone else. I'd had that same feeling, dreamlike but altogether actual, once before."

"In your garden in Westchester," I murmured, "the day before you went away to school."

"Yes." She didn't seem at all surprised that I knew. "That time I was sure Johnny, the boy I'd pretended to play with all the lonely years till he'd become very real and very dear, was about to meet me at the gate—Oh!" She broke off. "Your name is John, isn't it? And you've got reddish brown hair and eyes too, like my Johnny, and a cleft in your chin—"

"Wait," I cut in, a cold breath blowing on the base of my skull. "Wait. Let's not talk about me. Let's go back to your story."

"I was excited, though I kept telling myself I was being very silly." Her gaze stayed on my face, and her eyes were luminous. "Halfway down the block I stopped, because there was a strange little man in front of me, bowing to me with old fashioned courtesy.

"'You are Evelyn Rand,' he said, in a whispery sort of voice. I was startled. He'd popped up so suddenly, right there. He was so queer-looking too, bald, with a round face and tight, yellowish skin and a head a little too large for him."

"Achronos Astaris!" I exclaimed, under my breath.

"What? What did you say?"

"I've met your little man. And how! But go on."

"I admitted my name. I was a bit nervous, but I wasn't afraid. Not yet. There was something about him I didn't like, but nothing could happen to me there in the heart of New York, with crowds all around. 'And you are...', I asked.

"'A friend of Faith Corbett's,' he told me. 'Your old nurse. I've come from her for you.'

"'Faith's ill,' I cried. 'She's dying!'

"The little man shook his head. 'No. Not dying. But if you'll be good enough to come with me. It will not take long.' He put his hand on my elbow, as if to urge me, and a strange thing happened. The buildings, the street, everything, melted into grayness, everything but the little man's eyes. Those eyes got larger and larger. I seemed to plunge into them. The grayness seemed to be rushing by me at a terrible speed, and it was empty, most dreadfully empty. And then—and then—"

She stopped, her pupils widening again, the faint rose that had spread under her skin fading to a transparent pallor.

"Steady, Evelyn," I said softly. "Steady." My hand slid along the sofa till it reached hers. "Look. You don't have to go on. I can guess the rest."

"But I want to, Johnny. I want to tell you."

There was something about the touch of her hand, something about the way her icy fingers took hold of mine, quite simply and quite naturally....

"Go ahead." I couldn't trust myself to say any more, just then.

"The grayness got solid. I was standing among a lot of queer rocks. Beside me there was something out of a nightmare, a Thing with a tremendous head, and awful eyes, and—"

"Skip the rest. I've seen them."

"You have! Then it was real!"

"It's real enough," I answered dryly. "Too real to suit me. What happened next?"

"I don't know. I must have fainted. The next thing I knew I was in this room, lying on the sofa, and the man who brought you here was telling me that I was all right, that I must not be frightened. But I was. I was terrified, though I couldn't seem to do anything but lie here and stare at him. Mr. Daster kept on talking, low-voiced and very soothingly. I—it's funny, John—but I can't remember what he said. I can remember only that little by little my heart stopped pounding, and the iron band that seemed to be squeezing my brain was gone and I—I think I fell asleep."

They had been kinder to her than to me, I thought. Thank God for that.

"I WOKE up," Evelyn went on, "with the feeling that someone was in the room. Someone was, a girlish looking little boy about nine or ten years old, with the saddest eyes I've ever seen. He smiled shyly at me and spoke in beautiful French, apologizing for his intrusion. I asked him who he was, and, Johnny, he said he was Citizen Louis Charles, ci-devant Louis Bourbon, heir to the throne of France."

"The Lost Dauphin," I exclaimed. "It checks. By all that's holy, it checks. He was on the list too."

"What checks?" she demanded. "What list are you talking about?"

"Never mind. I'll tell you about it later." I had a pretty clear idea of what happened next, from what I'd seen and what I'd gathered from her manner. "When the boy said that, you were sure he was mad. Then you met others and each one told you he was someone else who couldn't possibly be alive, and you were certain that somehow you'd lost your mind and were in an asylum with a lot of other lunatics." I wanted to get her past that part. "Isn't that so?"

"Yes," she breathed. "What else could I think?"

"Certainly not the truth, the utterly incredible truth." That jittery look was in her eyes again. I realized that I should not let her go on. I'd learn the rest of what I needed to know later. "Look here, young lady, you've been talking long enough, it's about time you gave me a chance. One thing, though. You haven't been harmed, have you, or annoyed in any way?"

"No. But the time has been so long, so awfully long. I never knew a day and a night and half of another day could seem like eternity."

"A day and a night—" I checked myself. It was two weeks since she'd vanished. "Is that how long it is since you came here?" Did time run differently here? If it did that was proof, indubitable proof, that this was not some hidden-away place on Earth, as I still half-hoped. "Are you sure?"

She shrugged. "I'm not sure of anything. But I've only slept once, in the bedroom in there." She nodded at the door opposite to that to which she had pointed before. "And I've only eaten four meals. Why do you ask?"

Here was something else that I'd have to break to her carefully. "Because that fits in, too, to my idea of what this is all about. Listen to me, Evelyn. We're involved in something very strange, something uncanny. It's quite unbelievable, but we've got to believe it, because it's true. And because the only way we can get out of the predicament we're in is to understand it thoroughly. What's more, we've got to keep remembering, always, that we can and will find a way out, no matter who or what opposes us, no matter how impossible it seems."

I was talking for my own benefit as well as hers. I needed the confidence I was preaching.

"I understand." Her grave look was fixed on my face and I read utter trust there. "You'll find a way out, I know you will." I didn't deserve that, I was just a confused, bewildered man up against something I knew was too big for me. And I was altogether a stranger to her.

Or was I? There was that imaginary playmate of hers, who had my name, my features. There was the way she had become a very real, very intimate person to me long before I'd seen her, a person so real that I loved her before I set eyes on her.

"Now that we're together at last, Johnny," she said, "I'm not afraid any longer. I'm not afraid of anything at all."

"Thank you, Eve," was all that I said, but she understood. "Now let me tell you my experience."

I let her have it, lock, stock and barrel, the essentials of everything I'd been through from the time Astaris had shown up in the art gallery to when Daster had brought us together. No, not quite everything.

For no good reason I left out mention of the carved black stone I'd found in her nursery, the gem whose replica was so paradoxically painted into her portrait. Because that was so nerve-shaking I omitted the incident of the ambush, and the fate of the two who had attacked Kass. And I left out Villon's cryptic speculation about the arrangement of the buildings in Adalon for another very good reason, a reason that was sending ripples chasing up and down my spine and tightening my throat with helpless anger.

We were being spied on!

As we talked I had gradually become aware of this, I don't know how or why. We were alone in that room. The doors, without keyholes, were shut. There was no sign of a crack or peephole in the walls and nothing hung on them that might conceal one. I had heard nothing out of the way.

Perhaps I had become somewhat sensitized to the waves of nervous force of which Daster had spoken. Whatever it was, I was conscious, as distinctly as one is conscious of a stare on the back of one's neck, that our every word, our every thought, our every emotion, was being observed and noted.


THERE was nothing I could do about it. There was no point in alarming the girl by telling her about it, no point in undoing what I had accomplished in setting her at her ease. Moreover, there might be some advantage in concealing from the Adalonians my awareness of what they were up to. And so I went on.

"It all adds up to something like this, Evelyn. In some quite incomprehensible way, we have been carried off to a region that isn't on Earth at all, that in all likelihood isn't anywhere in the solar system. Tentatively, at least, we've got to assume that what's been hinted to me is true, that those who have done this, the people I've been calling the Adalonians for lack of a better name, come from Earth too, but from an Earth far, far older than that which we know. Whether this is so or not, they have a knowledge and powers far greater than we can conceive.

"One of these powers seems to be that of ranging backward and forward in time at will, for not only we but other individuals from a number of far separated periods in Earth's history have been gathered here by them. How they do this I can't even begin to think, but there is no question that they have done it, and done it with a definite purpose. That purpose seems to be the acquisition of some information from us, some knowledge that, omniscient as they seem, they lack."

"If you're right about them, what could we possibly know that they don't?"

I shook my head. "Don't ask me that. But you must remember that the knowledge of a race is not always cumulative. Mankind forgets, just as every man forgets. Haven't we often run across evidence that the ancients had skills, arts, of which all trace has been lost? To take a simple thing, the secret of Michaelangelo's pigments has been lost."

"And no one knows how Stradivarius got that wonderful tone in his violins," Evelyn put in.

"Exactly. But I have a notion that what the Adalonians want from us is something we don't know ourselves that we know." I was thinking of the questions that Astaris and Kass had put to me. "And even finding out what that is isn't quite as important as discovering why they need the information they're after, why they are so eager to get it. I don't think it's merely scientific curiosity; they're going to much too much trouble."

The uneasy sense of being watched, listened to, persisted. It was a creepy feeling, that of an unseen presence hovering over us, of a privacy invaded, of being helpless to resent it.

"Why is it important, Johnny?" Evelyn asked. "How would it help us to know all this?"

Her inquiry seemed to crystallize something that all this time had been at the back of my mind. "Because, Eve, if we know what they want and why they want it, we may be able to trade it for our release. We can't fight them, but I have an idea that we can dicker with them."

I DIDN'T say that for her. I said it for them, for whomever it was that was listening. And I waited for some indication that I had been heard, for some sign that my offer was accepted. As if she sensed what I was about, Evelyn waited too, her lips a little parted, her fingers tightening on my hand, tightening and trembling almost imperceptibly.

No hint came, not the slightest, slightest hint, that what I'd said had made any impression on the eavesdroppers. I was a fool to have hoped it. The Adalonians were too certain of their powers. They would squeeze us dry of what they wanted from us, and then toss us away like so much pulped orange. Toss us to the drina

"What is it, Johnny?" Evelyn exclaimed. "What's scared you?"

"Scared me?"

"Your face went white all of a sudden, your lips gray." Small wonder they had, with the vision flashing across my mind, of her graceful form swallowed within a gray-purple loathsome mass, of her lovely body blurring, melting away.

"White?" I laughed. "No wonder I'm white. I'm so hungry I'm carnivorous now, and in about a half an hour more I'll turn cannibalistic. If you don't look out I'm likely to be lunching on you."

Her laugh came quickly after mine. "I'm afraid you wouldn't lunch well, I'm all skin and bones." She broke off. "Remember when I said that last, Johnny? We were playing we were shipwrecked and we were arguing which one of us should eat the other. Do you remember?"

The queer thing was that I seemed to. Very dimly, as if it were something I'd dreamed.... But all kids play shipwreck some time or other. "How did it come out?" I asked. "Who ate whom?"

"You ate me, of course. I meant you to all the time."

"That must have been a pretty swell meal. But all kidding aside, is there any prospect of being fed around here?"

Get a grip on yourself chump, I was saying to myself. Keep your eye on the ball. "Or am I doomed to slow starvation?" Part of me was aching to take her in my arms, and never let her go. And another part of me was telling me that was just what I must not do. "A tenderloin about four inches thick, with the blood oozing out from under a blanket of mushrooms and onions, would do to start with."

She laughed again. "It's quite likely your life may be saved," she said, "very shortly." She glanced at her wrist, at a tiny dial no bigger than a fingernail, cased in crystal and held there by a bracelet braided from platinum strands. "It's almost noon!" She rose from the couch, "Come on. We'll go see."

As I got to my feet, I was thinking: almost noon! But it was almost noon when I started for Brooklyn, and that was a long time ago. "Are you sure that's the right time, Eve?" I asked aloud. "Isn't your watch stopped?"

"Of course not. I wound it this morning and it was going then." She was walking toward one of the doors and I was following her.

"How many times have you wound it since you left for church," I asked softly.

"Only that once, Johnny. Why?"

"Oh nothing. I thought anything as small as that would have to be wound every couple of hours or so."

But it was the indisputable proof that we were somewhere else than on Earth.

Evelyn might have been deceived as to elapsed time, but the little mechanism on her wrist could not be deceived. Measured by Earth time she had started for church more than two weeks ago, but she'd only had to wind her watch once since then, and it had not stopped. Time ran differently here, there could be no question of that and the rest followed inevitably.

EVELYN opened the door. A strange polyglot of voices came through to me. The room we entered was large, high-ceilinged. It was as windowless as the one from which we came. But that had been empty save for the two of us. There were a dozen or so men in this one.

And such men! The one I first set my eyes on was olive- skinned, his face angular. He wore a short-skirted robe diagonally striped in vivid coloring, and leather sandals whose thongs were crisscrossed about his muscular legs. His mop of black, kinky hair came down on either side of his head almost to the jaws and it was square cut. He might have stepped down from a mural in the Egyptian Room of the Museum.

He was conversing, more by signs than words, with a blonde giant dressed in skins, his yellow shock bristling with strange ornaments of bone. A Briton barbarian from long before the invasion of the Picts, or I missed my guess. Beyond them was a group whose members were a togaed Roman, an American Indian in full panoply of quill-embellished buckskin, and a fierce-eyed Mongolian jingling with hammered silver accoutrements who might well have been a lieutenant of Genghis Khan.

To describe all the occupants of that long chamber would be to make a catalogue of all the races of Man through five thousand years of history. It would require an etymologist to name all the languages they spoke. In speech, in customs, in origin, they were utterly different. But there was one thing they had in common, one thing I felt at once, the moment I entered among them.

That thing was betrayed by a tautness of the cords in their necks; by a continual shifting of their eyes to the door that I knew must open on the same corridor that had brought me to Evelyn; by a jerkiness of movement that could come only from some almost unendurable tension.

One of the elevator men in the building that houses the offices of Sturdevant, Hamlin, Hamlin and Sturdevant is a Russian aristocrat, an ex-baron. He'd been captured by the Bolsheviks during the Revolution, had been imprisoned for some years, had escaped by some fluke or other. We'd gotten friendly, and once he'd told me of the jails of the Cheka, of the rooms in which the prisoners were gathered, each one knowing that sooner or later he would be called out to be executed, none knowing when, whether he would be the next man or the last. Yet all knew that doom was certain, and all were waiting.

They were exactly like that, this strange assemblage, except that their case was worse because they did not know to what fate they were to be summoned. But they did know that it would be something less merciful than death.

"There's someone here I want you to meet, Johnny," Evelyn said. Her hand on my arm, she guided me to a corner where stood two men and a boy, the others in that room a little withdrawn from them.

THE boy was the one she had described to me already, the Lost Dauphin, son of Marie Antoinette and the ill-fated Louis XVI of France. His clothing was almost in rags, his toes thrust through the broken uppers of his shoes and there was a bruise on the side of his face.

That is the mark of some brutal jailer's blow, I thought, recalling that history's last certain glimpse of him was in a prison of the Terror. But young as he was, tattered as he was, with five years of such cruel treatment behind him, there was still something regal in his bearing, something that spoke of kingly blood.

One of the men he was with was a tall and stately Teuton, square-jawed. There was something of the military in his posture, but the long-fingered hand with which he seemed to be fumbling for a sword-hilt, was the sensitive hand of a musician, and his haggard countenance was too eloquent of thought to be a soldier's. I was afterward to learn that this was John Orth, Archduke of Tuscany, son of Princess Marguerite of the Two Sicilies and closest friend of that scion of the Emperor Franz Josef of Austria who died for love at Mayerling.

It was the last of that trio who interested me most.

He was shorter than his companion, broader of shoulder and chest. His powerful body was swathed in a cloak of dark purple, and if the little Dauphin's pose was kingly, this man's was imperial. His hair, his beard, were blond and silky, his eyes, fastened on me as we approached, were the deepest blue I'd ever seen, and keen as the thrust of a rapier. At one instant there was a sad sweetness about his mouth that made it almost effeminate, at the next it firmed, and I knew that here was a man to venerate and to fear.

He spoke as we came up to the group. "Ah, Maid Evelyn. Thou hast deprived us of thy sweet company too long." His voice, though low, was sonorous and it was mellow, and something inside of me thrilled to it. "And who is this thou bringest with thee?"

"Someone from my own time and age," Eve answered. "John March." I'll be damned if I didn't have the impulse to go down on one knee when the man turned to look at me.

"Johnny," Eve said to me. "This is King Arthur of Britain."

I gasped. Like a schoolboy being introduced to an All-American full-back, I gasped and gaped at Arthur of Camelot, and couldn't think of anything to say.

"John March," he lifted his hand. I didn't know whether to shake or kiss it, I was so bewildered. I did neither.

I did neither because in the next instant he was no longer paying any attention to me, nor I to him. Because there was another voice in that room, a rasping, imperative voice. The voice that all its occupants were waiting for, saying a name. Saying two names.

"John March. Evelyn Rand. You are wanted."

The lottery of doom had been drawn again, and it was our names that were drawn.


EVELYN stiffened beside me, her face drained of all color. "Us," she whispered. "Johnny. They have come for us."

Across the high-ceiled chamber the portal was slowly opening. The strip of secret blackness between its edge and its jamb widened with a fearful leisureliness.

"Chin up, Eve." My arm went around her waist and I pulled her quivering body against my side. "Head up." My voice was steady, though how I contrived to keep it so I still do not comprehend. "There's nothing to be afraid of. Nothing at all." My forehead was wet with a chill sweat.

The togaed Roman backed away from the widening door, his haughty, patrician features gray with terror. A mustached Tatar lurched against a wing-helmeted Viking from the Fjords.

"Don't let them take me," Eve moaned. "Don't let them—"

"And that we shall not, Maid Evelyn," King Arthur's deep- chested tones cut across her plea. "As long as there remains breath in our body and strength in our arms." He shoved past me to interpose himself between us and the grotesque beings who were entering.

John Orth was alongside of him. "Nor so long as I have weapons with which to defend you." His hand fumbled out from within his oddly-cut jacket and there was in it a long-barreled, dueling pistol with a silver butt. "Never has an archduke of Tuscany failed to answer the appeal of a lady in distress."

"Nor a Bourbon." This was the little Dauphin, whisking a stiletto from somewhere among his rags.

A wide space had cleared between our little group and the entrance. Advancing toward us across this space were two great- headed plebos, and Daster.

"Excalibur has not forgotten its skill," Arthur boomed, his purple cloak falling back from his arm to reveal a gleaming sword four feet in length, its hilt of yellow gold richly jeweled and engraved. "Nor its wielder his chivalry."

Set down in writing all this becomes mere rodomontade, but then it was rather splendid. Daster had resumed his real shape, and the advancing trio were apparitions of infinite menace. Those gigantic, hairless skulls held a knowledge which transcended that of the greatest scientists of our day. Those ogling eyes could read our every thought, our every intention almost before we ourselves were aware of them. Those boneless, writhing tentacles were capable of incalculably swift motion and possessed an amazing strength. They could squeeze a man to death. Against the Adalonians' strength, against their mastery of forces we could not even conceive, Arthur and Orth and Louis were altogether helpless.

I shoved forward to a place alongside them, my weaponless fists clenched, a curious exaltation pounding in my veins. The four of us screened Evelyn from the oncoming figures.

They neared, inexorably. "Stop!" Orth cried. "Stop there, or I fire." His raised pistol pointed at Daster. "Stop, I say!"

The Adalonian kept on coming. Orth's shot crashed deafeningly in my ears and orange-red flame lanced straight at Daster's head. The doctil came on, utterly unperturbed.

"Missed," the Austrian groaned.

"No!" I jabbed a forefinger at a silvery splash on the wall directly behind Daster. "Your bullet went right through him." An eerie prickle was brushing my spine.

I knew this was only one more manifestation of the Future Men's mastery over material vibrations, but still it was uncanny.

The Adalonians were within five feet of us. "Halt!" Arthur roared, his sword raised, a shining shaft in his powerful grip. "Halt, an ye do not wish to feel the bite of a blade that hath never known defeat."

Louis' eyes were blazing, his stiletto poised in slim fingers. Orth was feverishly reloading.

It was magnificent, their defiance of that menacing approach. It was magnificent, and it was as ridiculous as Don Quixote's tilt with a windmill, as Canute bidding the tide retreat from the beach. It was worse than ridiculous. They were killing what faint hope I had of saving Evelyn. I stepped in front of them.

"DASTER!" Abruptly I was quite calm, quite clear-minded. "Listen to me." The doctil's ear membranes pulsed and the three paused.

"What is it, John March?" I sensed Daster's question.

I drew a wheezing breath. Arthur and Orth were warriors and their weapons were futile against these strange beings who were our captors. I was a lawyer. My weapons were those of the weak against the strong—temporizing, compromise, stratagem.

"These men will fight you till you destroy them. You don't want to do that. You want them alive or you would not have brought them here in the first place."

"Exactly," the doctil responded. "But they are of no use to us as they are. They must be taught to submit to our will."

"Taught? How? Read them, Daster, as I know you can. Read them and decide if there is anything you can do, with all your powers, that will break their spirits."

His tremendous eyes moved to Arthur and Orth, and the frail, boyish Dauphin. For what seemed an endless time the room was breathless.

"No," the Adalonian sighed. "Even if we reduce them to their ultimate atoms they will still defy us." His thought message flicked to the plebos. He was giving them an order. "Feed them to the drina—"

"Wait," I cut in. "Wait, Daster. I can tell you how you may bend them to your purpose. Will you listen to me?"

"Wait," he told the plebos. Then to me, "What do you propose?"

"What you cannot accomplish by force, you may by reason. Be frank with us. Tell us what you want of us and why, then offer us in exchange our release, our return to our own place and time, unharmed, and we will do our best to give you what you want. You have nothing to lose. You have to gain that for which you have gone to the trouble of gathering us here."

I sensed abrupt interest in the doctil, then approval. "If the rest of the Kintat agree—" He sank into the same sort of listening trance that had enveloped Kass on the brink of the plateau overhanging Adalon, and I knew that he was in communication with his fellow doctils, was transmitting my proposition to them.

"By the Holy Rood!" King Arthur growled, his countenance darkening. "We mislike this traffic with sorcerers. Merlin hath placed an enchantment upon Excalibur that rendereth it puissant against all evil witcheries, and we fainer would—"

"You damn fool," I blurted. "They could wipe you out in the twinkling of an eye, and you want to fight them. You're a blithering infant—"

"Silence, knave!" he thundered. "Thou art insolent." His eyes flashed blue lightnings and his sword rose in a swift, shining arc. "For less have we slain a hundred caitiffs." The blade swept down, straight for my skull—swerved in the last instant to avoid Evelyn, who had leaped in front of me, her arms outspread.

"Arthur Pendragon!" she cried, "Aren't you ashamed of yourself? Johnny's just saved your life and you try to kill him. You ungrateful—"

He stared at her, his great brows beetling. "This," he growled, "is not to be borne. We—" Abruptly his face was lit by a twinkling smile. "Nay. We cannot be wroth with thee, fair maid, who hath made endurable these dreary hours of our imprisonment. For thy sake we shall be merciful. Let this bold dastard crave our pardon on bended knee and it will be accorded."

"I'll be blasted if I will," I burst out, hotly. "I'm free, white and Amer—"

A soft palm across my lips cut me off. "Johnny," Eve whispered, her eyes pleading. "Do what he wants. Can't you see he's nothing but a big baby and has to be humored."

There was, indeed, something of the overgrown kid dressed up about the king's purple trappings, something endearingly childish about the petulant scowl that had replaced his brief smile.

"Please," Eve begged. "Please, Johnny dear." Her hands tugged at my lapels.

"Oh well." I shrugged, and dropped to one knee. "I'm sorry I called you a fool, King Arthur," I said as graciously as I could manage.

"We grant thee our forgiveness." He held the back of his free hand to my lips. I might as well, I decided, make a complete ass of myself, so I kissed it.

I was rewarded by a beaming grin from the hulking king and the tingling touch of Evelyn's fingertips on my cheek. "All the same," I grunted, scrambling to my feet, "you'd better cut out any idea of scrapping with those people if you ever want to see Camelot again."

"Camelot," Arthur sighed. "We misdoubt that we desire very much to return there. All our brave company that used aforetime to gather about the Round Table is scattered and the gray winds howl over our desolate land. The banners of our gentil and parfait knights are mired in fraternal strife, their shields besmirched for they have broken their vows of fealty and fast friendship. All is gone, all the noble chivalry o'er which we reigned. Only Bedivere is left to us, Sir Bedivere the Faithful."

That massively moulded countenance of his darkened and his lips twitched with pain. "But yestere'en, dying on the field of the Last Great Battle in the West, we gave him Excalibur to cast in the Lake whence it came, and—" He broke off, staring at the storied sword he had named. "But we still have it! Now how—?"

"The legends say that a hand appeared out of the Lake and caught Excalibur from Bedivere, King Arthur." A thrill ran through me as I recalled the ancient tale. "And the legends, say also that you did not die, which is the truth, as we can see. But the story of your passing that has come down to us tells that three queens bore you away from that misted battlefield on a black-swathed barge, and that I know to be false. Wasn't it in a whorl of dust that you vanished?"

"A whispering whorl of dust!" His deep blue eye fastened on my face, and in them was wonder and a growing awe. "Aye. Out of the drab fog it came, out of the dun veil that shrouded the moans of the wounded, the throat-rattles of the dying. Out of the battle that knew no victory it stole, and made us part of it, and then—Now indeed this is such a matter of clairvoyance as is worthy of Merlin himself. How know you this, John March?"

"I know it, and I know many things that are beyond your understanding, Arthur Pendragon," I pressed my sudden advantage. "Which ought to convince you that you'd better take my advice, as you used to take Merlin's. You may be a grand fighter, but—"

"Johnny!" Eve broke in. "He's coming out of his trance!"

I whipped around to Daster. His great orbs were focused on me again. He was about to give me the Kintat's answer to my proposition. I seemed to fall away inside, to become a cold, shivering shell—

"You will come with me," I heard. "John March and Evelyn Rand. And you also, Louis Capet, John Orth, and Arthur Pendragon."

I had won!

It was not to be long before I learned how hollow a triumph it was.


EVELYN stayed close to me as, led by Daster and shepherded by the two plebos, we emerged from the strange, windowless House of Earth. A tightening of her fingers on my hand, a sharp inhalation, reminded me that this was her first sight of Adalon.

"The city's built on a rather interesting-plan," I remarked, in an easy, conversational tone, "if you notice." I wanted to get her thoughts off what lay ahead of us. She was trying hard to be brave, but her face was dreadfully white and her chin was quivering. "Look at that enormous building in the center, these eight others scattered around."

For some reason Daster was not using rados for us. We were walking across the plaza towards the domed, enormous House of Sun.

"Scattered is right, Johnny." Eve smiled wanly. "I can't see what you mean by a plan."

"You can't? Look..." I pointed out how the pattern of the city was that of the solar system. The others listened as attentively as Eve, though to Arthur what I was saying must have been the sheerest doubletalk. "I don't even think that it is by coincidence that our prison is the building corresponding to Earth. I think—"

"Pardonnez, Monsieur March," the Dauphin interrupted. "Will you tell me, please, what the great tower is over there?" The lad's face was alive with a boyish, eager interest as he asked me what it was that rose where he pointed, beyond the House of Mercury.

It was a lacy erection of crisscrossed, metallic beams, a spindling tower some five hundred feet high. "Jove!" I exclaimed. "They work fast, these Adalonians. There wasn't a sign of that when I passed here before, and that can't be more than an hour ago."

"It is not yet completed," Orth put in, in his too precisely enunciated English. "See there, Herr March, what goes on."

I made out what he referred to. At the top of the tower and at its base were machines, gears turning and piston arms shuttling in a complex frenzy of movement. From the distant House of Pluto, clear across the plaza, a stream of silvery girders was flowing to the device on the ground. This swallowed them, champed on them a moment, disgorged them at the top changed in shape and studded with what looked like rivets.

An endless belt seized the product of that lower machine and carried the fabricated girders up the height of the tower to the machine at its summit. This, I now realized, was steadily moving upward. With the material it was receiving it was building the tower—and there was no single being anywhere near to supervise the process!

"Where are the operators?" Eve demanded. "Those machines can't be simply working all by themselves!"

"Oh," I said airily, conscious of the need to keep Arthur convinced of my omniscience. "An Adalonian somewhere out of sight is directing them by thought waves."

"No," Daster corrected me. "They were set for their task by a stenciled pattern inserted into them. They will need no further supervision until the tower is finished."

"Of course," I made a quick recovery. "Just like our own looms for weaving intricately designed rugs and laces—"

That was lost on Louis. "How high will it be?" he asked the doctil in that beautiful French of his.

"Its apex will be level with the lip of the encircling precipice."

"Whew!" I whistled. "That's a mile, five times the height of the Empire State—"

"What is its purpose," Orth inquired. "And why is it being built in such haste?"

Daster didn't answer him, not intelligibly. But the Austrian paled, his black eyes flashing, his hand straying to the sword- hilt that was not at his waist.

"Easy, mister," I said softly, realizing that he had been rebuffed in no uncertain manner and that his resentment was on the point of causing an act that might undo all I had accomplished. "Easy. They've got a right to their secrets."

Nevertheless, the incident held a meaning I would have given a lot to fathom.

I LOOKED around the expanse we were crossing, wondering if there were any other significant changes I had failed to notice. It seemed to me that there were fewer plebos than before darting about on their rados. Though they paid not the slightest attention to us, none failed to manifest a keen interest in the swiftly mounting tower and I had the impression that this interest was born of some pressing anxiety.

Eve got it too. "There's worry in the air here," she whispered. "Fear almost. That thing's being built to protect them against something, and they won't feel safe until it's finished."

Just then one of the plebos accompanying us glanced upward, and I caught the beginning of a quick thought-flash between him and Daster, curtained from me at once. I followed the direction of the Adalonian's gaze.

At the brink of the cliff, a gray-purple shadow was flattened against the shimmering Veil of Ishlak. I saw it momentarily, and then it was gone, but the way it oozed away told me it was a drina.

Had it been spying on Adalon? I wasn't sure whether that was my own speculation or whether I was intercepting some communication among the Future Men. But somehow I had a vision of a vast horde of the formless creatures bursting through the Veil, flowing down the immense, rocky ramparts, filling the bowl and swallowing every living being within it. So vivid was the illusion that my nerves drew taut. "By our halidom!" King Arthur's exclamation broke in. "So bright a bird we have never seen!"

It wasn't a bird that leaped from the Sun dome. It was a stratcar. It zoomed with blurring speed straight for the spot where the drina had peered down at us. It hovered there for a split second, then dived through the Veil.

Was the drina the cause for this apprehension I felt in Adalon? I recalled how, when Kass was sent back to the wilderness of the rocky tableland out of which he had just brought us, Villon had mused, "Something is not as it should be among them. Dare we hope—?"

I must blot that line of thought before Daster tuned in on it. Poor François! He was himself undoubtedly beyond hope by this time. His audacity that a dozen times had saved him from hanging would be futile against the Future Men. His luck had run out. Decidedly it had run out when Gohret took him—

"Look out, Johnny!" Eve's tug pulled me to a stop. "You almost walked into the wall."

Daster and the plebos were shooing us into the corridor in the House of Sun out of which I had come not so long ago. Or was it the same? The passage we entered went straight into the depths of the structure. Nowhere was there any sign of the spiral ramp by which I had descended from the stratcar hangar. The doorway through which we had come was the same and there had been only that single opening on this side of the great building. -

BUT here, within, was a hall different in direction, in contour. A little while ago, in the House of Earth, a door had appeared in a blank wall beside me where an instant before there had been no door. In that same instant the great-headed, tentacular Daster had become a nearsighted, professorial human.

This impermanence of things apparently substantial was the most disquieting of all the phenomena of Adalon. Villon first, then Arthur and Orth and the Dauphin, had proved so altogether human that I had grown to accept, not through logic alone but with an inner conviction, the fact that our little company was assembled out of fifteen different centuries. Once oriented to such a telescoping of Time, I could also comprehend that Daster and the other Adalonians were beings out of a remote Future.

But that flesh and bone, that solid stone, should be subject to an unpredictable flux in shape and appearance was still uncanny.

It was, I had come to realize, this very flavor of unreality, menacing though it might be, that had enabled me to carry on. One may know utter, stifling terror in a nightmare, but in a nightmare one never quite despairs. One keeps on battling the unconquerable apparitions of delirium, because far down in the subconscious one somehow is still aware that awakening will come in the end. I knew that this was no dream. I knew that the ghastly dilemma with which I was confronted would not be solved by a merciful awakening. And yet, because so much that had happened had the quality of a nightmare, I did not quite despair—

"By Heaven!" King Arthur exclaimed abruptly, halting. Eve's fingers dug painfully into my arm. I saw little Louis' narrow face go white. Orth's jaw ridged and my own throat was dry.

We were, with no gradation, with no warning of any kind, within a chamber so vast that it dwarfed us to inconsiderable midges. Its walls were so immensely distant that they were mere misty limits to our sight, its ceiling so far above that it was a cloudy, indefinable dome. Only the floor beneath was definite, and this was a level expanse black as space itself. A gleaming, polished black it was, so that it seemed to have no substance and we appeared to be suspended in a featureless void, balanced sole to sole on our own inverted images.

In this gargantuan cavern there were only the five of us. Daster and the plebos had vanished.

As a vaulted Gothic cathedral seems to hold the spirit of God within it, so this unimaginable nave held some awesome Presence. It laid upon us, upon our hushed and crouching souls, a dark shadow of apprehension that transcended fear. It silenced us and held us motionless, held us peering wordlessly into endless, empty reaches.

Far off there was movement. Something was coming toward us.



Argosy, 1 April 1939, with fourth part of "Seven Out of Time"


INVESTIGATING the disappearance of Evelyn Rand, John March soon realizes that this mystery cannot he explained in terms of ordinary experience. One baffling incident follows another until March finds himself in the power of one named Achronos Astaris. This strange creature can read March's mind and speaks as though he dwelt in some Otherworld. At last, half- maddened, March attacks him; but he is caught by some impalpable force—swept through the empty corridors of space, conscious only of the whisper of a whorl of dust....

On the boundless wasteland where he awakes John March is taken prisoner by the fantastic creatures who dwell outside of space and time. They are huge-headed, with enormous eyes and hands like tendrils; they communicate with each other by thought transference alone. Their city, to which March is brought, is Adalon, a vast metropolis moulded from living rock into the pattern of the solar system.

In Adalon John March joins that incredible array of prisoners which is held there. All are celebrated figures who supposedly died centuries before: François Villon, King Arthur of Camelot. Prophet Isiah of Israel, John Orth of Tuscany, Louis Capet, ill- fated child of Louis XVI. These are men of flesh and blood, each lured out of his own age by a whispering whorl of dust. And one more prisoner John March finds in Adalon—Evelyn Rand, the girl he loves.

March becomes convinced that the rulers of Adalon are actually the men of the future. Somehow they have managed to transcend time; and he realizes that their amazing scientific skill, their use of telepathy and command over all in matter, has been forecast by the scientists of the twentieth century. The Adalonians have snatched men from every age in the world's history for some reason; and March thinks that if he can discover what these Future Men seek from their prisoners, perhaps he can give it in exchange for the freedom of Evelyn Rand and himself. That is his single, faint hope.

FINALLY John March, Evelyn Rand, King Arthur, the Dauphin and John Orth are commanded to appear before the Kintat, the ruling council of Adalon. In the charge of several plebos, as the creatures are called, the five are led through the streets, and there March senses a tension, a kind of fear among the inhabitants. A new building is being swiftly constructed, and he thinks that it may be intended for defense against the drina, hideous and lethal monsters which roam the wastes outside the city. But now John March must nerve himself to barter with the high command of Adalon for the liberty of his companions and himself....


IT was, at first, a speck moving jerkily across that gleaming black expanse. There was no point of reference against which to measure the speed of its approach, but I knew that it did approach because very gradually it grew larger.

I heard King Arthur's sword slide from its scabbard. I heard the click of John Orth's pistol as he cocked it. I didn't bother to remind them how futile their weapons were. My own muscles were tautening in my shoulders and my thighs. For seconds I held my breath.

Abruptly Evelyn's hushed voice was in my ears. "They're men, Johnny. They're two men, like us, not like the Adalonians."

Her eyesight must have been far keener than mine, because it wasn't until after that that I made out the tiny forms. There was infinite weariness about the way they approached, a desperate fatigue that carried somehow across the distance between us. Once one of them fell, and it took a long time for the other to lift him to his feet.

And then, quite suddenly, they were near enough for us to see who they are.

"Villon!" the Dauphin exclaimed. "And the Prophet Elijah!" He broke away from us, was scampering toward them, excited and eager as a ten-year-old boy might be expected to be, and reckless of any precaution.

In the next instant the rest of us were streaming after him, our feet curiously making no sound on that marble-hard floor.

With a strange swiftness we had reached the two, were crowding around them. I had eyes for Villon alone. He held himself erect, but I could see that it was with tremendous effort that he did so. He was clothed as he had been when I had last seen him. There was no wound visible about him, but all his jauntiness was gone. He was drained, somehow, of his spirit and his indomitable courage.

"François!" I exclaimed, grabbing his arm. "What have they done to you? What have they done to you, man?"

He looked at me out of eyes that were like soot marks smudged in hollow sockets. A pathetic shadow of his mocking smile crossed his scarred lips.

"What have they done to me, my old friend?" A long shudder ran through him. "I know not. I know only that they have torn from my breast matters I kept secret from God Himself, though they laid not a hand upon me. I know only that I have babbled to them every thought I have had since I was a squawling child, though not a single word crossed my lips. Yet still they did not learn what they wished, for I was about to be cast to the drina when some message came to them and I found myself here instead, the ancient Jew leading me across this floor of midnight."

"But you must have seen something, heard something."

"Light only, John Marsh. A blaze of white light about me and within me, and eyes in the light, the terrible eyes of our captors. Light that possessed me utterly and eyes that read my very soul. But I read theirs too and—" He pulled the back of his hand across his seamed brow. In his eyes there was such horror as I hope never to see again in the eyes of any man.

"And what, François?" It was inflicting torture on him to ask, but I had to know.

He stared at me. "What—?" His long-fingered hands went out from his sides, palms toward me, in a baffled gesture. "Why—I have forgotten, John. I remember that it was very terrible, but what it was I have forgotten."

"Don't lie to me, François," I cried hoarsely. "The lives of all of us depend on what you've learned."

"More, far more than the lives of us seven is in balance," the poet answered, and his face was like a man's who has died and been reborn. "That much I know and the knowledge is a cloud of terror about my mind. But I swear to you by the Crown of Thorns that more I cannot remember."

"MAY Jehovah scourge them with the whips of His lightnings!" The interruption was in rolling, sonorous Hebrew. "And crush them with the bolts of His thunders!" I understood it, though I had not till that moment heard the language spoken. "May He smite the sight from their eyes and the reason from their brains! May the plagues He sent upon Egypt rot them and their sons, and their sons' sons unto the twentieth generation."

It was, of course, Elijah who intoned that curse. He stood straight and tall and vibrant with rage, his gnarled hand lifted high above his majestic head, his eyes blazing. "May oblivion swallow them and their names be an abomination even unto the end of Eternity!"

Written on his face was the memory of that same experience that had emptied Villon of his spirit; yet the memory seemed to have inflamed the gaunt old man with anger, rather than left him terrified. He was, as I have said, majestic in his wrath.

"Your God, old man," François Villon said, turning to the prophet, "and ours, has forsaken us. There are only we seven here, and none else, and if we are to be saved we must save ourselves."

Did I say that his courage was drained out of him? I was mistaken.

"But how?" Evelyn's voice was thin with the new dread that their appearance had brought to all of us. "How, François?" Her hands were thrown out to him, appealingly, and they were trembling.

Villon turned swiftly to her. He swept to his breast his jaunty cap, its bedraggled feather fluttering. "Nay, Evelyn of the honeyed hair, I must indeed be bemused that I have not yet observed your presence. I know now that we have naught to fear, for not even Lucifer could be so evil as to harm one so fair."

I didn't like that. I didn't like the bold admiration that had come into his look, in spite of what he'd just passed through, in spite of the threat hovering over us. And I didn't like the way Eve had turned to him for help, nor the tender smile on her lips now.

"Please," she murmured. "Please, François, answer me. How are we to save ourselves?"

He shrugged bony shoulders. "That, sweet maiden, is not for me to know. You have at your service a prophet of Israel, a king and a princeling, a duke, and a barrister at the law. Apt these are in the art of arms and the more subtle skills of tongue and brain, and surely so brave a company will devise ways to defeat our enemies. To myself, rhymster that I am, is left the more difficult task of essaying to enshrine your beauty in a ballade of gray eyes. Hmm."

He laid a finger against the side of his rascally nose. "Let me see. Let me see..." He winked at me with the eye that was thus hidden from Evelyn.

That wink said, as clearly as though he had spoken: "Don't worry, my friend. I'm putting on this act to calm her. The only thing that will make her forget her terror is a bit of skilled love-making."

"You might leave that to me," I thought, but I grinned at his Gallic effrontery, my heart warming again to the fellow. And then the grin was wiped from my face and I felt my eyes widening.

THE wall beyond my companions had swirled forward till it loomed over us, black and shining as the floor—and indescribably menacing. High up, a long, arch-roofed niche opened in it, a niche filled with a golden, luminous vapor.

For an instant this aureate cloud billowed in upon itself, vibrant and somehow alive—somehow the very essence of life. As we stared at it, gaping and silent, it seemed to become more solid, to coalesce and to divide into five nuclei. Abruptly there was no longer any vapor in that recess, but instead a golden light etching it sharply against its dark background. Bathed by that radiance five figures gazed down at us.

Whether by some trick of perspective or in actuality, they were gigantic apparitions high in some ebony sky, godlike rather than mortal. But they had the bulbous bodies, the tentacles, and the enormous heads of the Future Men.

I recognized Daster at one end of their rank, and Gohret at the other, and I knew the five to be the Kintat of Adalon. Some psychic effluvium emanated from them, and now there was nothing grotesque about those misshapen bodies, those tremendous heads.

It was we who were grotesque, we with our tiny brain-pans, our clumsy hands, our groping, purblind eyes, depending on inept physical sense for our small acquaintance with the world about us. We were only by courtesy human. They were human and they were more than human. They had progressed immeasurably farther beyond us than we beyond our simian ancestors who not so long ago roamed chattering in the jungle treetops. Our only right to existence was that we might be of service to them, and to be of service to them was high privilege.

I think that I might have actually gone to my knees had not Evelyn's cold fingers crept into the palm of my hand.

That silent appeal of Eve's restored my manhood. I straightened and managed to rid myself of some of that awed humility. Gohret's head-membranes pulsed once, and I knew that by grace of what existed between Evelyn and myself I had won the first skirmish in a duel just beginning.

They were my opponents; that they were my masters was yet to be proved. So now I tried to make a swift estimation of them. Gohret was ruthless, cruel and implacable. Daster, at the other extremity of the line, still had the modicum of kindliness, the trace of benevolence, that I had sensed in him before.

The doctil next to Daster... oddly, there was something familiar about him. Not in appearance, though like all the Adalonians he had indefinable characteristics that made him individual. It was rather a matter of stance, of tiny tricks of expression—abruptly I recognized him. He was Astaris, the little man who had appeared to me in the Madison Avenue art gallery, the emissary who had plucked me, and Evelyn, out of our time and space.

He was the only one of the five whose brooding gaze was not general and unfocussed. He had singled out Eve for his attention, and there was a peculiar quiver about his tiny mouth.

"John March!"

THE same demanding summons that had sounded in the House of Earth; it was the voice, not of any one of the Kintat, but of all five. It pulled me out in front of our little group. Eve clung to my hand and came with me, but I was scarcely aware of it.

"Yes?" My own voice was a hoarse croak.

"You have offered to yield to us that which we require of you, in return for your safe release. You have prevailed upon Arthur Pendragon, John Orth, Louis Capet and Evelyn Rand to accede to the treaty. We require that Elijah of Israel and François Villon signify their assent to it before we proceed."

"Now indeed they are most gracious," I heard Villon mutter behind me. "Can it be that they have found prophet and poet more obdurate than they deemed possible?"

I was reminded of the horror in his eyes, the horror of something he had learned but could not recall. Were the Adalonians tricking us into some promise we might have reason to regret?

"One moment," I objected. "My words, as I remember, were, 'Tell us what you want of us, and why. Offer us then our return to our own place and time, unharmed, and we will do our best to give you what you want.' That was my proposition, that was the proposition to which my friends agreed, and it is the one on which we stand."

"A Daniel," Elijah's murmur approved. "A very Daniel." But it was not so much this as another throb of Gohret's membrane, seeming to betray disappointment, that made me glad I'd said it. I was certain now that we had something to trade, something which they would go to any length to obtain.

"We must know," I repeated, my tone even firmer, "what you want of us, and why."

"What we want of you?" It was like a vast sigh filling all that enormous vault. Then there were no more words in my brain, but only an indescribable something beating upon it—

Who was I to demand anything of those beings so superior to me? They were all wise, all-powerful. I was presumptuous. I must withdraw... Fingers were tightening on my hand. They were Eve's fingers. Against my shoulder, on the other side, was the pressure of Villon's shoulder. Behind me there was a rustle of moving feet. Arthur, Elijah, the other two, were crowding close.

"Precisely." A voice that was mine, yet somehow unwilled by me, sounded in my ears. It was not only my voice but the voice of all seven of us. "What do you want of us?" I demanded.

I was answered by silence, a throbbing silence behind whose veil I sensed that there was communication among the five high above us in that aureate niche. And then the voice of the Kintat was replying.

"Of you, Elijah," I sensed it to say, "we desire the secret of Faith. We want to know what it was that sustained your race through centuries of oppression, that moved a certain Man to pay with agony for the sins of generations yet unborn. We want to know what it was, beyond reason and logic and science, that taught the people of your era how to live with one another and with themselves, and how to meet death without fear.

"Of you, François Villon, we desire the secret of Beauty. We want to know how, with words laid together in a certain order, with sound vibrations combined in certain simple relations, with color and with shape, some men could translate their own ecstasy to others born long afterward. We want to know the nature of that ecstasy.

"Of you, Arthur Pendragon, we desire the secret of Obligation. We want to know why you inspired in those you ruled a devotion that transcended all selfish motives. We want to know why, having the power that this devotion gave you, employed that power for the welfare and the happiness of your people, rather than for your own ends.

"Of you, John Orth, we desire the secret of Loyalty. We want to know why, when your prince and friend had slain himself at Mayerling, you gave up all the honors and the luxuries that were yours to carry to some undivulged destination a casket which he had entrusted to you, for some purpose you never learned. Because of something you called loyalty you became a wanderer on the face of the earth. What is there in you that made it impossible for you to do otherwise?"

As I have said, the voice we heard was the voice of all the Kintat; yet, in some way that I did not quite understand, each of the divisions of this long speech seemed to be the contribution of a different doctil. It had been the one in the center—I later learned he was called Bolar—who had spoken of Faith, Daster of Beauty, Gohret of Obligation. Favril, between Gohret and Bolar, had been the one to address Orth concerning Loyalty. Now it was the turn of Astaris, and his demand was simply put.

"Of you, John March and Evelyn, we want the secret of Love."

I HEARD Eve gasp at that, and then I felt her press even closer to me. My arm was already about her. Beside us there was a soft chuckle that could come only from Villon. It would amuse a Frenchman, that!

In the next instant my attention was back to the voice, and now it was once more the voice of the whole Kintat. "We have attained all knowledge. There is not one law of the Universe which we have not mastered. We know the rules that govern the interaction of galaxy with nebula, of proton with neutron, and the interplay of all the vast range of entities between. We know the laws that bind all into one organic whole. Nothing in Nature has any mystery for us, and we have learned that everything in Nature exists and is governed by rigid, immutable laws. We know all—"

"You know not the Eternal, O Benighted!" Elijah's great voice broke in. "You know not God, and without you know Him, you know nothing."

"Precisely, prophet. The rules which govern these five things we do not yet know: Faith, Beauty, Obligation, Loyalty and Love. But their nature also we intend to learn, in the same manner that we have learned all else, by studying those entities which manifest them. We have found them neither in the stars nor in the ultimate atom, but in you we find them, and you shall give us their key."

"When," I amended, quietly, "we know why you are so anxious to find out about them."

"But that speaks for itself, Monsieur Marsh," Louis' boyish tones broke in. "Is it not true that the more learning a savant acquires, the greater is his thirst to learn more? These creatures here have knowledge of all but these small fragments and it is their nature to not rest till they have fitted the final bits into their picture. There," he finished proudly. "I have solved for you the problem."

I groaned. With one impetuous speech the youngster had ruined my plans. He had supplied the Kintat with a good, a sufficient reason for their demands.

"Remember, my friend," Villon whispered. "Truth is their religion. They cannot lie."

"Thank you," I said huskily. And then, "Is that true, Doctils of the Kintat? Is it merely the desire to fill out the last gaps in your knowledge of the Universe that inspires your demands?"

The response was long in coming. But it came at last. "No, John March. We have a definite need for understanding of Faith, Beauty, Obligation, Loyalty and Love."

"What is it then? Why do you want these secrets from us?"

Once more I sensed their reluctance, to answer, and once more I realized exultantly that I had won my point.

"We shall answer you. But it would take too long to set the answer forth in words. Therefore, we shall show it to you."

Swiftly the golden light in the lofty niche above us faded. Utter black possessed the wall, that whole vast space, and us—a blackness that was like a great weight upon me.

It was the blackness of non-being. And yet within it there was a stir as of huge masses moving, and the rush of great winds, and the rumbling thunders of many waters.

"I'm afraid," Eve quavered, close to my ear. "Oh, Johnny, I'm terribly afraid."


A FLECK of light flowered in the heart of that blackness. Then the light was the Sun, and about the shining orb danced midge-like the spheres of its planets, and the backdrop for them was the whole vast, gold-speckled panoply of the heavens.

Now you must remember that we had no scale of distance or direction by which to measure the tremendous drama now beginning. To say that we viewed it is really incorrect. Experienced is more nearly the proper term, though this too does not quite convey the manner by which it became part of our consciousness.

Perhaps it progressed on a screen before us. Perhaps it moved wholly within our brains, as a dream does. Perhaps, within the plasma of our component cells, ancestral memories were awakened, and pre-memories (I know no better word) of events yet to be, events implicit in each cell of ours as they were implicit in the microscopic protoplasm that first blindly stirred with life. However it was, I know only that we seemed to be of that which passed, though not as individuals but as the race itself.

This is as clear an explanation as I can make. It is as clear as it was to me and the others when the final terrible realization burst upon us, and once more we were ourselves. Only the dreadful thing we had learned was clear then, not how we had learned it.

At any rate, there was the Sun, and there its wheeling planets, and we looked upon them as a god might. The next instant a sea, warm and gray and limitless, heaved sluggishly along a green-scummed shore, and out upon that shore crawled a fish that had somehow gained the ability to breathe.

Hot was the sun, and steamy the air with vapors, and the great, fronded ferns everlastingly dripped moisture on the oozy slime. So like our own native brine was that climate that we flourished and multiplied.

The land heaved as the sea heaved. Red-glowing rock split its covering of lush black mud, here to be cooled by the air, there to flow—moving landscapes of molten fire—into the hissing waters. Many of us perished, but some survived when at last the land froze in the shape it was to hold for aeons.

Legless, scaled creatures we were then, but within us there were mute, inchoate strivings. These gave us blurred sight and a sort of hearing and the power to make small, peeping sounds. Some of us thrust out limbs, and some of us learned to carry our progeny within our bodies till they were miniature replicas of ourselves and more fitted to survive in the savage world.

Now it was cold that threatened our existence, great moving mountains of ice that crept down upon us, imprisoning us between their tremendous, groaning walls. Only in a narrow zone was life possible, and there only in a sluggish, dormant way. But at last the ice retreated, and those of us who were left reawakened and the changes in our form resumed, adapting us to the changes in our habitat. We were furred now, and toothed. Some of us rose erect, the shapes of our fore-limbs so altered that we could swing chattering from limb to limb in the tops of the trees that had sprung up from the earth.

We learned that with sticks we could lengthen our reach. We learned that when the arching green did not shield us from the rains we could find shelter in the caves. We learned that we could soften the rocky floors of the caves and fashion many needed things out of the reeds and out of the mud of the swamps.

In the swamps were monstrous beasts that stalked us for food as we stalked other beasts smaller than ourselves. When we saw the fearful creatures looming upon us, terror wrenched sounds from us and these sounds were always the same. When we heard them we knew they meant danger, and we would flee. After a while we would make these sounds intentionally, as warning of danger to others.

This worked so well that we set other meanings to other sounds, and no longer had we to rely on gestures alone to convey our groping thoughts.

BECAUSE of our own hunting, and because of the hunting of the beasts greater than we, the small creatures upon which we lived grew sparse. It became a question of which would survive, the giant beasts or us; and since we were so puny we seemed to be doomed. But it dawned on us that though singly we were helpless against them, if we fought against them in hordes we were often triumphant.

To help us in our fight against the giant beasts we devised nets of the vines that everywhere grew luxuriant, and shaped stones and fastened them to the ends of sticks. Yet were we still inept and clumsy in our endeavors, interfering with one another, till we ceded to one, the strongest and the wisest, command over us in our raids.

Hunting together, we came to dwell together, and it was natural to obey the chief huntsman in all things. Because he was the greatest among us, his was the right to first choice of meat and the driest cave and the most desirable among our females.

Sometimes among us one disputed the right of another to be chief, and the horde would divide, some cleaving to the one, some to the other. Then would we tear and rend one another with fang and with claw, with our axes and knives of sharpened flint, till only one of the parties remained. Thus the dispute was settled.

Sometimes there would be poor hunting, and it would be decided to find some other land to dwell in. But, like as not, that other land would be inhabited by another clan who did not wish to give it up, and so it would be necessary to fight with them till they were slain or enslaved. If our own land was most desirable, it was as natural that other tribes should covet it and attempt to wrest it from us. Thus we learned that any men who were different in appearance from us, or whose speech-sounds were not the same as ours, were by these very signs our enemies, to be destroyed if we were in greater force than they, to be fled from if they were the more numerous or the more subtle.

There were these enemies to fear, and also the beasts, the sabre-toothed tiger, the great snakes of the jungle. But there were things in the world more greatly to be feared than these. There was the great maw that nightly swallowed the sun and some morning might not disgorge it. There was the recurring winter- death of the world from which we were never sure it would awaken. There were unknown creatures who rumbled monstrously in the skies and hurled jagged spears of blue fire down upon us. And there were the unseen wraiths of the dark who made men's limbs like water, and heated their blood till it was liquid flame in their veins, and stole away their minds.

Luckily some among us could hold converse with these dread beings and could placate them. More powerful than the chiefs were the medicine men, for they could call upon the unseen to destroy the chiefs, and the chiefs feared them.

We learned many things. We learned how to make fire, and how to use it to warm us, to make more palatable our foods and to melt certain stones so that they became at once malleable and hard. From them we could fashion weapons for ourselves and tools and vessels for cooking and storage. We learned how to go upon the waters, and to journey far from sight of the land, and we found other lands and other peoples to conquer. Our tribes became nations; our chiefs, kings; our medicine men, priests.

Our ways changed, but one way did not change. If men differed from us in language or appearance, they were our enemies and it was our right to take from them whatever they possessed and we desired, though we had to destroy or enslave them.

Our knowledge and our skills grew. We changed the face of the earth to suit our desires. We harnessed the lightning to our purpose and laced the continents with roads of stone and of steel. We builded ourselves magnificent cities. We conquered the air and projected our sight and our thought into the farthermost reaches of the heavens. We shifted the atoms at will, making new and ever new compounds.

We bickered and fought among ourselves as we had when we wore skins for clothing and prowled the lush jungle. The wealth that we had created we destroyed with a passion and a savagery transcending that of the jungle-men we once were, as the weapons we now used transcended our ancient flint-axes.

Where once a war had involved two tribes or two nations and a few hundred square miles of territory, it raged now over a continent, over half a hemisphere.

Battle lines no longer set the boundaries of war; bombs and gases spread death swiftly and without mercy to the helpless.

Triumph for one side or the other, or exhaustion, would end a war, and such was our indomitable spirit that we would turn back at once to the arts of peace. Science all but conquered disease and began even to find ways and means of combating the slow deterioration of old age, so that our life span grew always longer.

THROUGH the ravages of war and our careless treatment of natural resources, the area of tillable land kept lessening. But biologists discovered how to grow our vegetable foods with their roots in liquid plasma of inorganic salts. The vegetables flourished in great trays that were piled high in gigantic tiered structures.

Domestic animals, too, were bred in factories, in huge sheds of steel, miles long. One end housed the bawling cattle and the cackling hens and at the other were the slaughtering and dressing machines, thundering without cease, pouring forth the products of an agriculture that had become a mechanized industry.

These agricoles were built near the cities whose population they fed; and so, there being no longer need for any of us to live separated from our fellows, we gathered together in the cities. These grew infinitely vaster than we could have conceived in the twentieth century; but where there were no cities the wilderness reclaimed its own, cloaking with tangled greenery the unpeopled land.

Mile upon mile the cities stretched, monsters of concrete and steel. Many-leveled they were, protected from the elements by shells, lighted no longer by the Sun but by an artificial light that never lessened and never brightened.

The cities breathed air held to an even temperature, moistened to the optimum degree, dustless and germless. Within them were the teeming warrens where we dwelt; the throbbing, thunderous factories where we labored; arenas for such sports as our thinning blood permitted us to partake in; theaters and music- halls. Threading the cities in soaring arabesques were the street-ways—trafficless because their paving itself moved, slowly at the outer margins, swifter and more swiftly toward the center. Always the ways were crowded, for there was no longer day or night for us but only the staggered periods of work and rest that the aristos decreed.

The aristos were the brain of our body politic, the leaders and masters of men. Obsolete as the chiefs of the ancient clans were kings and presidents; outmoded as the fire-centered tribal councils were parliaments and congresses. Forgotten was the antique delusion that the State exists to serve its people, a contention as fantastic as that a human body exists to serve the cells of which it is composed.

The State, we had learned, was the be-all and end-all of life, each citizen subordinate to its weal. Each contributed to the State the best that he was able; each received from the State a recompense measured by what he contributed.

Centuries of leadership had endowed the aristos with an extraordinary skill in governing. They were the incarnation of the State; their decrees its laws; their will, its will. They regulated every act of ours, set every task, dictated every thought, ruled all the minutiae of our lives.

It was their due, was it not, that they should be rewarded with every luxury the civilization they created could produce? Was it not their right to have first choice, even though the plebos were by millions the more numerous?

The plebos carried out the behests of the aristos, serving the State and grateful that they could earn the right to live at all. Cast by birth in a grosser mould, they were fit only to give to the State their labor in time of peace, their bodies in time of war.

Not that the labor was long or arduous. For this we had to thank the doctors of learning, the doctils.

A caste apart were the doctils. They were like the plebos, the servants of the aristos, but they were rewarded so richly that they lived almost in the manner of the masters themselves.

Magnificent were their contributions to the State, in machines that did all the world's work under the control of the plebos, in knowledge that probed the Universe for new ways to exalt the State. They gave us stratcars that shuttled above Earth's atmosphere and brought the furthest distant of our cities within a six hours' journey. They gave us flaming rocketships that visited Mars and Venus and fetched for us new and strange elements. They fashioned our brave, new world.

It was the doctils who had made the State the efficient mechanism it had become. Take, for instance, the matter of human procreation.

BY the old, biological process, a full half of the plebos were incapacitated for their usual employment during the recurring periods of gestation. This was, of course, a direct loss to the common weal, but the disturbance to the State's economy did not end with that. Since the only limits to life were those set by war and infrequent accident, there were times when no additions to our population were required, others when great numbers of plebos were badly needed.

Now, utterly obedient to the decrees of the aristos as they were in all else, the plebos could not be regimented in their mating habits. This situation seriously threatened the meticulous balance of work and workers that had been set up and posed economic problems which not even the genius of the aristos could solve.

The scientists changed all that by a single brilliant stroke. They devised a method by which ova were removed from the human body, artificially fertilized, and kept in a state of suspended animation until such time as an addition to the population was required. When the need arose, by ingenious nutrient baths the maturation of the stored eggs was brought about at twenty times the previous rate, so that within one year exactly the desired number of new plebos at the efficient age were produced.

Thus it became possible to sterilize all male plebos, and all but the comparatively small number of females required to supply the basic ova. Thereafter, by certain treatment of the growing embryos, only neuter plebos were generated, except for the few females, matras, required to replace those who for one reason or another ceased to function.

The aristos directed that the doctils apply the process to their own class as well as to the plebos, but exempted themselves from it. Their superior self-discipline, they announced, rendered it needless as far as they were concerned.

Oddly enough, the doctils argued against this decree, maintaining that they did not fall behind the aristos in self-discipline. But their appeal was denied, and there was nothing for them but to obey, since all the weapons they had invented—the disintegrating rays, the cosmic annihilators, the sonic vibrators that changed the frequency of nervous impulses till those upon whom they were focussed became insane—all these were entirely in the hands of the aristos, and none knew better than the scientists how futile opposition to them would be.

So dreadful, indeed, were these weapons, that no city dared to make war upon another, and we knew that peace had at last come to Earth.

For some centuries we occupied ourselves peacefully with the business of living. To the plebos it was a dreary business because they were cogs in machines that ran smoothly, and without apparent purpose, except to provide luxury for the aristos.

The doctils occupied themselves with the pursuit of ultimate knowledge. They experimented, for example, with changes in our form that would better adapt us to our tasks. The aristos were amused by the results of these trials and mildly interested in the discoveries which the doctils made in the infinite and infinitesimal, but mostly they were engrossed in their own sybaritic pleasures—pleasures which doctils and plebos could no longer even understand.

How could the sexless understand dalliance between male and female? How could those whose very bodies had been changed so that they were fit only for their assigned functions in the economy of the State understand beauty of sound or color or form? How could those whose every act was connected with the acts of others in rigid cooperation understand the joy of competitive sport?

SOMEWHERE in these centuries the doctils learned how to transmute energy into matter, so that no longer was it needful for our rocket ships to ply space, for our stratcars to dart across the skies in trade between the cities.

This was a consummation welcomed by us. The people of each city were of different races, speaking different languages, varying more or less greatly in color, in cephalic formation, in bony structure, and so were natural enemies. As long as we had been mutually interdependent, we had maintained more or less peaceful relations. Now the need for this was gone; the city shells were permanently sealed against all entrance or exit.

Each city was completely a world unto itself, completely self- sufficient. And man was self-sufficient, wholly independent of Nature, assured in his own power. Two million years after that first lunged fish had crawled out of a steamy sea, mankind had reached its apogee....

"But they deny God!" a sonorous voice thundered across the heavens. "They spurn the eternal. Behold, the face of Yahveh is turned from them, and so they must perish."

IT was Elijah's voice that had broken into the moving drama of Man's destiny.

I was vaguely aware of him, and of the others who participated with me in this strange experience. Someone was missing—

"There is neither nobility nor chivalry among them," Arthur's voice was dim, like something heard half-dreaming, half-waking. "Their rulers govern only for themselves, without sense of obligation to their benighted subjects."

It was all flickering and vague and unreal, but quite distinctly there were only six of us, not seven.... Orth's deep accents said, "Nothing but machines they are, and like machines they work only as long as they are ordered. If they were not watched they would stop. There is not one who is loyal to another, not one."

Evelyn was pale and wraithlike, but phantasmal as she was her whisper thrilled me. "How terrible it all is, Johnny, how very terrible. There is no love in that world, no one to love."

They were shimmering back into the blackness that surrounded us—Elijah, Arthur, Louis, Orth, Evelyn. Where was Villon? He had not spoken of the absence of Beauty from that drear world of Earth's future. He was nowhere among us!

He was gone. Was he only the first to go? Were we to vanish, one by one, while those who remained were engrossed in that tremendous pageant? Panic ran chill through my veins as I contrived to grasp Eve's arm, and to draw her phantasmal form close to me.

She would not vanish again, I swore, without my knowing it.

The blackness became absolute again, and again we were a part of the drama of Man's destiny. It was drama no longer. It was a cosmic tragedy moving swiftly and inevitably to its appalling final scene.


MAN had attained the ultimate. Within the sealed shells of the cities we had achieved perfection. Between the cities spread a dark and whispering wilderness. Through the gloomy forest aisles of the wastelands prowled wild beasts that had changed but little from those that we had hunted and feared in the dim and shadowed past. Out there the winds still seethed through rustling leaves, streams still babbled down to an untracked sea, and the sun still shone. None of this had any meaning for us.

Till, in Moska, farthest north of the cities, the plebos in charge of the climate machines noted that these were speeding up beyond any rate known before, in their effort to warm to the thermostatically predetermined degree the air that was drawn through immense ducts from outside the shell.

In accordance with regulations, this curious circumstance was reported to the aristos of Moska. These ordered the doctils to investigate and went back to their effete pleasures.

The doctils checked the climate machines and found nothing wrong with them. The peculiar performance must be due to an unprecedented drop in the temperature of the wasteland air. The drop was continuing. The scientists made some adjustments in the machines and requested permission of the aristos to break the seals of the city shell, so that they might determine just what changes were occurring outside.

This permission the aristos denied. The doctils, they argued, were trying to cover up some mistake of their own, or perhaps were even involved in some conspiracy against the State. This accusation they held proven when the scientists took the unprecedented step of persisting in their plea, daring even to hint that the aristos were something less than all- wise. The matter was settled out of hand by a mass execution of all the doctils of Moska. They were, after all, no longer needed, since Man had attained perfection.

The aristos returned to their pleasures. The plebos continued functioning in the rhythmic routine of their labors. Nothing had changed. Nothing except that the climate machines continued speeding up.

Then the enclosing shell of Moska commenced to groan under some inexplicable pressure from without.

For the first time in memory, the plebos were aware of an emotion—that of apprehension. But habit confined them inexorably to their routine, and it was the aristos, themselves breaking the seals, who discovered that Moska was doomed.

Mountains of ice were moving down from the Pole to swamp the city. It was possible that doctils might have devised some means of dissipating the ice or forcing it back, but there were no longer any doctils in Moska. As matters stood, there was no recourse but to abandon the city before its human occupants were ground to pulp in the ruin of its soaring structures.

The advance of the glacier, inevitable though it was, was infinitely slow and the shell was very strong, so there was time to prepare an orderly evacuation. This was ordered, while messengers were dispatched in stratcars to arrange for accommodation in the cities of Berl, Par and Lond, Moska's nearest neighbors.

Meantime, the far southern city of Melbour was commencing to have difficulties with its own climate machines. These were as yet, however, not serious enough to be alarming.

THERE was a great deal of confusion in Moska. The plebos, wrenched from their accustomed tasks, were bewildered. The aristos, deprived of the guidance of the doctils, were not at all certain as to just what should be done, or how. There was, however, nothing approaching panic until the stratcars returned with their reports.

They were all three alike. Each had had trouble in penetrating the shells of the cities to which they had been sent. When the messengers had succeeded in this, and delivered their plea, the answer had been immediate and incontinent refusal.

"Moska's predicament is no concern of ours," the aristos of Lond, for example, had replied. "We see no reason to upset the balanced economy of our State in behalf of strangers."

The news was received with consternation that was followed by boiling wrath, and then a grim determination. "What they will not give us," was the decision, "we shall take."

A rending crash, the first crack of the shell, emphasized the need for haste. Before the glacier had advanced another millimeter, the sky was darkened with a vast cloud of stratcars and rocketships, crewed with plebos, captained by aristos.

The destruction of Moska was earth-shaking thunder in the north as the fleets of stratcars swept toward Berl and Par and Lond.

But these were not taken by surprise. They had sent out spies on the trail of the homing Moskvites to verify the truth of their tales, and the warning had been sounded. Up from the threatened cities leaped their own fleets, and the enemies met, fifty miles high over the wastelands.

Across the heavens the prodigious battle raged, and the heavens were a sheet of flame out of which rained blackened soot that had been men, and white-glowing embers that moments before had been proud rocketships and fleet stratcars. The forests received this dust-hail of destruction, and the heat of the disrupted atoms set fire to the trees. Flame from the forests rose to meet the flame in the sky.

For a little space the remnants of those mighty fleets still fought, and that time was efficient to complete a contagion of disaster. While the darting ion-lances of the cosmic annihilators and the beams of the disintegrators obeyed the laws of ethereal vibration and glanced off into outer space, the maddening shrills of the sonic vibrators followed the curve of Earth's surface, conducted by the atmosphere. Thus these vibrations were carried to cities not as yet involved in the explosion. They penetrated the shells of Madri and of Byzant, of Ning and Tok and Nyork, and wherever they reached aristos and doctils and plebos were stricken insane.

The madness seized upon all who heard those sounds, and none of us escaped. We were stripped of all that the centuries had taught us. There was left to us only that which we had learned in the steamy jungles in whose treetops we had swung chattering, in the caves where we had shivered with fear of beasts and men. Now we knew only that alien men were seeking to conquer us. The hordes were on the move! The enemy hordes were swooping down upon us! If we did not kill them, they would kill us.

From Losan and Washton, from Alexan and Buenos and Capetin cycloned our fleets to rush across the world, seeking those of alien speech and alien countenance who because they were different from us needs must be our enemies.

We found one another in the screaming empyrean, we found those who sought us as we sought them, and we shattered together with the crash of our vibrators, and the lightnings of our disintegrators and the shriek of our sonic sirens.

Now the skies were a fury of battle, and the face of the Earth was a seething conflagration. There were no victors in that last war of all, and there were no vanquished, for when the fires had burned themselves out Earth was a dead planet, its flesh of soil blasted and torn and blackened, its bones of rock melted into a tortured skeleton.


Below the rocketship a world was shattered to chaos.

There could be no life left on such an Earth, but all Earth- life was not extinct.

IF, some centuries back, the aristos had not included the doctils in the law of controlled procreation, if they had not enforced that decree by the very weapons with which the scientists had furnished them, the story of mankind would now be ended.

Although they had ventured some feeble protest, the doctils of the world had accepted the edict—except for a certain one in Moska. This Roya had been perhaps the last human alive who did not altogether subscribe to the doctrine of the State supreme and to the omniscience and omnipotence of the Masters.

Roya resented the aristos' act, resented even more his fellow scientists' acquiescence to it. He became definitely non- social.

Thereafter, Roya decided, he would share his accomplishments with no one. He would moreover, direct his researches toward the discovery of hitherto unknown natural laws, and new applications of natural laws, that would enable him eventually to gain control of Moska, and then of the world.

In his research, Roya forged far ahead of the rest of the fellowship of the doctils. He learned that beyond the identity of matter and energy there was a more fundamental identity of pure thought with both, and that this was the true reality. He learned the nature of Time, that the Past and the Future coexist with the Present, and he learned how to move back along Time's flux. But he did not quite solve the problem of how to take himself forward in it. He discovered how to warp Space at will, so that he could locate himself instantaneously at any point in its infinity.

So many avenues of speculation did his discoveries open up that even Roya's great brain faltered at the task of exploring them all. He required aid. But he dared not communicate his knowledge and his intentions to any man. They would, he was sure, be reported at once to the aristos, who would swiftly eliminate him. He was not yet quite ready for a test of his powers, not yet quite sure that single-handed he could defeat a world.

His dilemma Roya solved thus: He brought about an accident in which a score or so of plebos were killed. When the maturation of a sufficient number of fertilized ova to replace them was commenced, Roya managed to be assigned to the task and contrived to abstract from the storage trays five additional eggs. The nutrient baths in which these were placed he secretly adjusted so that they would mature as doctils possessed of all his own store of knowledge and with his own non-social psychology.

In a year Roya would have help in his great project, five doctils upon whom he could rely, and who would not betray him. But Roya did not quite see the end of that year. He was one of the scientists liquidated when the first premonition of the glacier brought about the famous dispute between them and the aristos.

The time between that incident and the departure of the Moskvite fleets for their attack on their neighboring cities was just about sufficient for the five doctils to reach their full growth. Completely armed with their foster-father's knowledge, they understood at once the implications of what was happening and knew instantly what there was to be done. The surrounding confusion made it easy for them to seize Moska's largest rocketship, destroy its aristos officers, and get it safely away from Earth before the sonic vibrators commenced spreading their contagion of madness.

WE five new-fledged doctils were now the sole remnant of Man, together with our crew of a hundred plebos and a single female matra that by good fortune had been included in the cargo of the rocketship.

Included also was a complete assortment of the various devices our civilization had produced, so that our vessel was a sort of minute city—self-sufficient. In a manner that Roya could not have foreseen, we who owed our existence to him had absolute dominion over the destiny of our race.

"It is," Bolar thought to us, "as if this ship were the germinal cell from which a new and greater civilization will evolve."

"Aye," sighed Daster. "But where? Earth is now a whirling cinder, heated by the fires of its immolation."

"It will cool," Favril reminded him.

"It will cool," Astaris agreed. "And then the ice will form again at the Poles, and creep down once more over the blackened desolation till the grinding masses meet at the Equator. A thousand years and more it will be before they once more retreat. A thousand years—do we wish to wait that long before we rebuild our home?"

Favril had a suggestion. "There are the other planets, brothers. Mars, perhaps, or Venus—"

"Neither," Gohret interrupted, "will support life in the form we know it."

"Then we can change the form of life," Favril argued, "to meet the conditions on either." But he himself was half-hearted in advancing the idea, and none thought it necessary to voice the veto all agreed upon.

We seemed to be faced with defeat. In the brains of more than one of us there flickered the thought that it might be best to drive our ship and all it contained into oblivion. But there is a natural law that compels every living entity to cling to the preservation of its own kind.

It was Daster who ended that despair. "I have it! There is no place for us in the solar system, nor in the galaxy of which it is a part. But somewhere among the myriads of planetary bodies that fill Space, somewhere between infinity and infinity, must exist another orb where the conditions are something like the Earth's and where we could find shelter. Let us seek that place, brothers!"

"Let us find it!" Our electrified minds took up the cry, and at once we were projecting ourselves through the endless reaches of the Universe in such a search as even Roya could not have conceived.

Beyond Pluto, beyond Andromeda, beyond Suns whose lights would have taken a billion years to reach us, went the tentacles of our thought. Not in actuality. That monumental exploration of ours carried no physical part of us beyond the walls of our rocketship. It was mathematical, our hunt for a home; it depended on countless formulae, the tracing of countless curves, upon innumerable calculations drawn from the knowledge bequeathed to us by Roya.

And when it was ended, the result was this. That nowhere was there any orb duplicating exactly the conditions on Earth. That only one planet, a million galaxies away, would support life in anything like the form we wished to preserve.

It was Bolar whose calculations lit upon this. We checked, rechecked, his figures and found them faultless.

"We know where we want to go," Gohret summed it up. "Let us go there." But yet we hesitated, gazing upon devastated Earth; upon white blazing Sun, its attendant planets wheeling about it; upon the golden constellations that we were about to leave forever. Though in point of personal life we were but hours old, compact within us was the history and the memories of our race. These whirling orbs, these spangled skies, were the very warp and woof of our being.

Something held us there, some wordless nostalgia unworthy of creatures of perfect science, of perfect mind, such as we were.

"Let us go," Gohret the implacable recalled us to our task.

NONE of us had actually warped space to translate himself across it, but we knew how it must be done. There was one way alone, or else we would suffer that most terrible disaster of all—a timeless, spaceless state of being.

Five of us there were, and a hundred plebos and one matra, and we were all that was left of Man. One minute error in what we were about to do would end humankind forever.

We set the proper forces at work in the proper manner. Then—

Grayness. Non-being absolute. Non-knowledge. Only a terrible fear, a terrible certainty, that the error had been made and we were doomed eternally to this oblivion.

Our rocketship, the hundred and six of us within it, hung motionless at the upper limit of a sunless, brown sky such as no man had ever viewed. Below was a quarter-sphere of the planet which we had traversed the galaxies to seek, and we knew at once that life was possible upon it, because there was life upon it.

What we could see of the world below was a level plain from over whose horizon stretched colonnades of pastel-hued, immense pillars converging at last on a mountain as black and lusterless as the starless wastes between the nebula. The wide paths which these roofless palisades set off were alive with marching human beings; each file of them moved like a straight dark river toward the huge black mountain. From those marching myriads a wave of cadenced sound welled up to us.

A chorus of countless voices, the paean was yet a single, harmonious whole. There was solemnity and deep awe in it, but there was also fervent ecstasy.

We could not read the meaning of that hymn. The meaning was not thought but an emotion that held those thousands upon thousands in a single thrall, and Earth-man had so long discarded emotion that its very nature was forgotten. But we knew that it was inspired by the monstrous black mountain.

Now we saw that the mountain was carved into a stupendous image of a hooded Being neither man nor beast but transcending both.

It was not to the image itself that this world's song was directed but to the meaning of the image, to the attributes it symbolized. This much, gazing upon it, we could understand, but what those attributes were we could not comprehend, nor how any living race could worship them as this one did.

Curiously enough, we were aware that if we held our attention upon that monument for more than a brief instant or longer permitted ourselves to hear the organ tones rising to us, we would be unable to do that which had to be done. So at once we ordered our plebos to the armament of our ship, and loosed our bolts upon the singing masses below.

Down through the brown sky seethed the violet lancings of our disintegrators, the blue lightning-lashes of our vibrators, that no matter could withstand.

The plain heaved in a vast shattering. The splendid, tall pillars collapsed upon the worshipers who screamed now their terror at the sudden destruction that came upon them without warning. No hymn now, but the shrieks of the dying and the rending of rocks that were being smashed into atoms. It was the clamor of a world disrupted.

A cloud of dust rose from the slaughter and enveloped the fated orb. The cloud was luminous with the greens and scarlets and blinding blues of our weapons, and it was black with the agony it concealed....

"CRUEL. Oh, cruel." Eve's horrified whisper came to me. "They are not men, they're beasts, Johnny. It can't be that this is what the years will make of people like you and me!"

Enough of my own personality had returned to me that I might have answered her, but I did not. I could only have reminded her of fiery destruction raining from twentieth century skies on screaming women and children, on humans, unawares and unarmed, kneeling at prayer in the cathedrals of their faith....

IT was not our intention to destroy that race entirely, not at least until we could determine whether they might in some manner be of use to us, and so we ordered our weapons shut off while still there was some evidence of life below. One disintegrator, throttled to minimum power, we used to sweep the vapors out of the atmosphere.

The plain was a vast tumulus of rocky shards piled helter- skelter. Most of the singing thousands were dissipated into their primal atoms, but here and there gray-purple masses heaved in aimless movement.

The great black monument rose from that desert, its configuration altered hardly at all. Its miles-long body was still haunched as it had been, its great head still poised on gargantuan shoulders.

But it did not appear quite as it had before. Perhaps because some fragments had been riven from it, it seemed to have moved slightly, so that the hooded eyes were now directed upward toward us.

There was a sudden coldness within us, an incomprehensible something that might have been fear. And yet we sensed no anger in that veiled, quiet glance—no menace. Only a brooding waiting, endlessly patient.

Strange, then, that in our moment of triumph, in the moment that we had proved ourselves masters of the universe and of all Life, we should be afflicted by curious unease.


A THOUGHT-WAVE of hostility reached us from the remaining drina, of hate, and an undefeated determination to resist their unknown attackers. We could not tolerate this, for it would render them useless to us. We wanted slaves, but we wanted slaves altogether subservient to us.

And we had at hand the means to make the drina such slaves. We had not thus far used our sonic vibrator, that device for producing the sound-waves that had spread madness on the Earth. We stepped up its frequency vibrations till they were a whistle and projected those vibrations down on the remnants of that conquered race.

They writhed momentarily; then were quiescent. We shut off the sound projector. We knew that they were mindless now, drained of whatever intelligence they had possessed. They were ours to command, as surely as were the plebos we had brought with us.

We zoomed downward to take possession of our new home.

Our attack upon the planet had blasted its surface into a wilderness of tumbled rock and had destroyed all evidence of the drina's civilization, but these circumstances exactly suited our purpose. We could fashion a city here that would equal or surpass any that had existed on Earth, and we could people it with exactly the form of humanity we desired. We could develop a new race from the ova with which our matra would supply us.

We decided to plan carefully and without haste. We would, for the present, merely construct a temporary abode, and having recuperated from the tremendous drain on our vitality, would design a super-State.

Pursuant to this decision, we hollowed out for ourselves a smooth pit as distant from the disturbing black image as we could go. From the molten rock with which our disintegrators supplied us, we moulded a number of structures temporarily to house us, the freight of our rocketship, the plebos and the matra. For some reason that we did not clearly understand ourselves, we designed Adalon on the plan of the solar system we had abandoned forever.

As precautions we surrounded the bowl with the Veil of Ishlak, a wall of force impenetrable unless it is opened by controls from within, and assigned certain of the plebos to roam the lands beyond the Veil, keeping watch on the drina we had enslaved.

Having thus set matters in order, we rested and refreshed ourselves for a space, and then called the first council of our Kintat of doctils.

"I AM aware of a curious feeling of dissatisfaction," Favril said, opening the council. "Although when I proposed that we remain within the confines of our system, I was compelled to acknowledge that your arguments against it were very cogent, I still feel I was not altogether wrong. In spite of the fact that Bolar's calculations have proved to be correct and we find here a temperature and humidity, a gravity, a range of elements, sufficiently like those of Earth to make it possible for our form of life to exist, I still sense in this environment some intangible hostility to Mankind that makes me doubt the success of our experiment."

"What would you have?" Gohret demanded. "A world ready made for us?"

"Precisely," Daster responded. "We abandoned Earth because it is a denuded, distorted sphere. Have we anything better here? Is not the same amount of labor required to make this planet tenable as would have been required had we returned to Earth? And there we would have been where we belong—"

"That is it!" Favril exclaimed. "That is what troubles me. We do not belong here. We are resented by the very ground, by the very rocks. We have vanquished the drina, but the planet itself rejects us. It is because of this, vaguely realized, that we built Adalon as we did, to comfort us."

Gohret's answer to that was a sneer. "Earth, too, rejected us. Man's folly completed the catastrophe that ended Man's life on Earth, but a natural phenomenon, the coming of a new Glacial Age, was the spark that initiated the cataclysm. Had Lond and Par and Berl taken us in, still would the ice have advanced, crushing us between its wall, till we should have been obliterated."

"Not so," Daster objected. "Had we not shut ourselves away from Nature, had we kept in touch with it, we should have found a way to avoid disaster. The genius of Man was unconquerable as long as Man cooperated with Nature and did not war against it."

"The mistake was made," Bolar offered, "when the city shells were sealed—"

"No," Favril cut in. "When the law of controlled procreation was decreed and Man became a designed creation of Man himself—"

"We started to go wrong long before that," Bolar interrupted. "I think it was when the agricoles were perfected and men abandoned the good ground for the cities. That was when we definitely turned our back upon natural evolution and—"

"You are all right, and you are all wrong," Astaris said softly. "All you mention was done because Man had become altogether a thinking machine, had forgotten certain basic urges not susceptible to reason but very necessary to his happiness. Only their names are left to us, their meaningless names: Love, Loyalty, Obligation, Beauty, and Faith. Faith above all—"

"All this is futile," Gohret said harshly. "What is done is done. Only what is to be done concerns us. Our future lies on this planet. We cannot return to the solar system, to Earth—"

"Ah, but we can," Astaris answered. "We can go back to Earth, and to an Earth renewed and vigorous, fully fitted for the super- civilization we intend to erect. We can correct all the errors our predecessors have made."


"By returning not only in Space but in Time to our native sphere. Here is what I propose. Let us consolidate our position here but only temporarily. Let us scout all history for those among our ancestors in whom the traits I have mentioned were best developed, bring them here, and probe them for the secrets of those emotions. Having found them, let us adjust the nurture of the new race we are founding to include those traits. This having been done, we can—"

"Select the period of Earth's geological evolution," Gohret exclaimed, "when natural conditions were most favorable—"

"I've calculated it," Bolar put in. "The twentieth century."

"So long ago!" Favril exclaimed.

"So long ago. That was when the interrelation of Man and Nature was at its height, and that was when Man began to attain that ascendency over Nature that eventually led to his undoing."

"Good!" Gohret took back the current of thought. "We'll try Astaris' project. When it is successfully terminated, or we find it futile, as I think more probable, we shall return to Earth of the twentieth century. We shall take possession of it in the same manner as we have taken possession of this planet, destroy or enslave its denizens, repopulate it with the beings we shall create from the ova our matra bears within her. With our limitless knowledge, our inheritance of two million years of evolution, what wonders shall we not bring to pass! Done, brothers?"

They chorused their response:


BLACKNESS blotted out that momentous conference of the Kintat, blackness absolute. Within that blackness I was rigid, all my bodily warmth gone, unable to think, aware only that I had heard pronounced the doom of my world, that I had heard sentence passed on it of destruction, immediate and terrible.

I was no longer Man in general, living the history of mankind through the ages. I was once more John March, lawyer, born, June twelfth, nineteen hundred and eleven, into a good, green world I loved. It was my New York, my America, that these ruthless beings intended to seize for their own. It was the boys and girls with whom I had grown up that they were going to destroy or enslave. It was the fellows who'd sweated over our studies with me, who'd chased a pigskin up and down the field beside me. It was the news-dealers on the corner and the people who jostled me in the subway, it was Pierpont Alton Sturdevant and Mary, the pert-nosed telephone girl in the reception room, and the cop who'd yesterday handed me a ticket for speeding, whom they would treat as they had treated the drina hymning their God!

Eve was forming out of the blackness, straight and slender, a horror akin to my own graven on her face. Arthur and Orth were real again, straddle-legged, their fists clenched on their useless weapons.

Elijah's right hand was raised above the shaggy, silver crown of his great head, and his face was upturned to the high, vaulted roof of the vast nave. His lips were moving in prayer to the Jehovah who was not there above him, nor anywhere in this space or this time. I heard him. I heard the eternal plaint of his people from his lips, the plaint that was now for me the plaint of all the people of my world and my time.

"My God," the sonorous Hebrew rolled from those lips. "My God. Why hast thou forsaken us?"

I looked for François Villon. He was not there—

"John March!" It was the inner voice of the Future Man that called my name. "John March!" The golden-lighted niche was visible again in the ebony wall, and within it there was, not the five doctils of the Kintat, but only one—Achronos Astaris! "We have told you what we want of you, and we have shown you why. We have shown you that we had no need to make a bargain with you, and yet, having made it, we have kept it. Now we call upon you and your companions to yield to us that which we desire, promising in exchange to return you to the location in Time and Space from which we brought you."

Somehow I found my voice. "So that we may be destroyed along with the rest?"

"Only you and Evelyn Rand are of the twentieth century. The others will live out their span, all memory of their adventure here blotted from their minds."

"And we two?"

"Will also recall nothing, but will die or be enslaved as chance may dictate, when we descend upon your age."

My neck corded, so that for a moment my defiant reply was choked within my throat. In that moment, Eve's hand was on my arm, her taut voice in my ear.

"Our choice is only between death and death, Johnny, and as long as we die together I don't care at all. But the others have a real choice. Let them answer."

She was right. I turned to them.

"What is your answer?" the doctil demanded, and there was a curious impatience in the way he did so.

It was Louis' high pipe that sounded first, the thin voice of a little boy. "For myself the answer is—No!"

"And for me," Orth's deep tones echoed him. "No!"

"Satan and all his fiends take you," King Arthur boomed. "Rather than live as poltroons, we choose to die as men!"

The Hebrew prophet was the last, statuesque in his white robes. His bearded lips moved. "Ye have abandoned God. Can I give God back to you?"



Argosy, 8 April 1939, with fifth part of "Seven Out of Time"


THIS is the incredible story of John March who was lifted out of space and out of time into a world immeasurably distant in the future. With the lovely Evelyn Rand he finds himself a prisoner of the Future Men, huge-headed creatures with amazing scientific skill, dwelling in the city of Adalon. There John and Evelyn join a strange company of captives: Prophet Elijah of Israel, King Arthur of Camelot, François Villon. John Orth of Tuscany, and the child Dauphin of France. Each of these has been stolen out of his own time, that the Adalonians may study certain of the deepest motives behind man's behavior. From John March and Evelyn Rand they seek to learn the secret of love.

At length the five doctils who rule this Otherworld explain to the prisoners why they must have this knowledge. All the laws of matter lie at their command now, yet they have lost the capacity to feel, to understand human emotions. And this the doctils must regain—for they plan to return to Earth, defying the boundaries of time, to enter the twentieth century. With their death rays they will conquer the world that they left aeons before and make its people their slaves. But first the doctils must learn from their captives the meaning of love and loyalty and the other great forces which motivate mankind. In exchange for this knowledge they will give back freedom to the seven stolen out of time.

Only March and Evelyn need go back to an age that is doomed.

Yet, though some unimaginable death awaits them, the seven prisoners refuse to barter, to betray mankind to these creatures of the future...



THERE was a great admiration in me for these men, and a surge of pride that I was of one blood with them.

They had their faults, each of them—the faults of the times and the kinds of humans they represented. Elijah was the prophet of a creed that could be cruel and relentless. Underlying the magnificent pageantry of King Arthur's age of chivalry were thousands of the disinherited; rags for their clothing, straw for their beds, bones to gnaw for food, and unremitting, hopeless toil for their way of life. The Dauphin was the last of a dynasty that had oppressed a nation without conscience and without mercy. John Orth was bred in an imperial court whose intrigue and chicanery and diplomacy of exploitation was to bring about the first world war and its grim aftermaths.

Yes, they had their faults. Astaris had offered them life, the living out of their lives as those lives were meant to be lived, instead of a terrible death. Their world would never have been able to know and to reproach them, if these men had bartered for their freedom, yet they had the courage and the integrity to refuse Astaris.

When I turned back to him I sensed that he shared my admiration for them. I sensed, too, a certain sadness, a certain disappointment.

"Consider again," he insisted. "Consider that whether or not you give us what we ask, we shall nevertheless possess ourselves of Earth of the twentieth century. With or without the knowledge we seek from you, we shall carry out our plan. You cannot stop us."

What I said in reply was inane and without meaning and vainglorious. But I am not sorry I said it.

"We can try, Astaris. We can try our damnedest."

Our damnedest would be little indeed against him and his mates, who were masters of a knowledge I could not even attempt to comprehend; but I had to fling that defiance at him, and I felt more of a man for having done so.

"Give us strength, O Eternal," I heard Elijah behind me, "to endure what it is Thy will we shall endure."

Then King Arthur's voice was booming, "Have at him brothers. Take him for hostage!" And the huge, purple-robed form was surging past me. Excalibur flashing above its flowing blond locks. Orth pounded beside Arthur, and beside Orth the boy ran, lithe and panther-like.

And I had joined them. It might work! If we could make Astaris our prisoner— "Down, Orth," I cried. "Down on your hands and knees to make a springboard for us."

He went down as I said, at the base of the wall, and Arthur was leaping from his back for the niche, and had made it. Louis bounded high, reached the recess. My own feet felt John Orth's back. My own knees bent, straightened, threw me in such a leap as I'd never yet made to join the two others.

Arthur's sword-arm was caught helpless in the coils of Astaris' one tentacle. The other wrapped Louis' waist and held his kicking, flailing body too far from the doctil to reach him with his dagger. Elijah, miraculously there, sprang with me in between the two, the prophet's gnarled hands clawing out and my fists flailing.

MY fists never landed. Something caught my arms, pinned them; a dark tentacle squeezed my chest, numbing me. Had Astaris sprouted another? No. A plebo held Elijah in a similar grip. I twisted my head and saw that it was a plebo who held me. Others came through the back-wall of the niche, wrested away Arthur's sword, plucked the Dauphin's weapon from his fingers. Astaris released Arthur and the youngster to other plebos, who held them helpless.

A scream, shrill and terror-filled, cut through to me. It was Eve's scream, and it gave me strength to struggle madly to get loose. I staggered my captor, wrestled him around, but could not break free from him. The crowding, bulbous forms of the doctils' bodyguard hid Eve from me. Her scream had choked off.

I tried to call to her, but a splayed hand was clamped over my mouth. I could see neither Astaris nor my companions in the attack on him. There was around me only the plebos' great, goggling eyes, their tiny mouths, their pulsing head-membranes. The golden light was fading. The explosion of strength Eve's cry had aroused in me was gone. I slumped, nerveless with fear for Evelyn, emptied of strength and hope.

The crowd of Future Men seemed somehow thinner. I heard Arthur, below, say, "Nay, there is no need to keep tight hold of me. I have yielded." I heard Eve ask, "Have they hurt you, Johnny?"

And I heard a reply. "No, dear. I'm all right." In timbre and accent, it was my voice. But I had not spoken!

I lifted my head. The niche was black now, but the blocking plebos were gone and there was light enough out in the vast vault so that I could look out and down to its floor. The group down there was moving away. Guarded by three plebos, I saw Elijah's majestic form and Arthur's. I saw Orth, the Dauphin, Eve—

Someone walked beside Eve, his arm thrown protectively across her shoulders. Had Villon returned? No. The man was taller than the poet, more heavily built. He was dressed in a modern brown suit. His hair was a reddish brown, and something about the poise of his head was familiar.

He turned as if to answer some remark of Evelyn's. I made out very clearly, a semi-circular scar on his left cheek. I made out his profile.

It was mine, unmistakably. It was I who walked beside Eve, talked to her. It was I against whom she shrank, finding courage in the pressure of my arm, strength in my nearness to meet whatever fate the plebos planned for her.

How could I be there, and here too?

"Eve!" I shouted. "Eve. That's not—"

I checked, realizing that the plebo's palm on my lips muffled my cry. I kicked backward, felt my heel crunch against the pipe-stem leg of my captor, lurched forward. I went over the edge and thudded on the floor below. A weight smothered me and something pounded the side of my head, pounded me down into oblivion.

I LAY on the bosom of a shoreless, turgid tide that heaved beneath me. My throat was parched. My head seemed to have ballooned to quadruple its normal size. This was the dean of all hangovers, all right. I couldn't remember where I'd accumulated it, though I recalled very vividly the nightmare I'd just had, filled weirdly with Future Men and men out of the past; I recalled something about a terrible doom that overhung the world. Evelyn Rand had been in the dream, of course. I'd found her and had fallen in love with her and she with me, but the dream had wound up with me watching myself walk away from myself, having stolen my girl from me.

Well, better get up and fix myself a Prairie Oyster and try to get into shape. Old Persimmon Puss would give me the fish-eye if I came strolling into the office late, and the Head would be sure to hear that I displayed every evidence of having had a hard night out.

My eyelids seemed to be glued shut. Without opening them I groaned and sat up. Gingerly balancing on my shoulders that grossly enlarged head of mine, I wiggled a leg sidewise to get it down off the edge of the bed.

It wouldn't go down. That frightened me because I thought I must be paralyzed, and I began struggling to open my eyes. The bed I sat on seemed strangely hard.

I went to work on the left eye first. It opened a bit finally. And then the right flew open, and I was jumping to my feet.

I hadn't been able to get my leg down because it was already down. The bed was so hard because it was the stone floor of a small, cell-like chamber, whose walls of polished, blue-gray rock had neither window nor door, nor opening of any kind. I glanced up. The blue-gray ceiling was solid as the walls.

It was no eerie dream I'd been having. It was stark, incredible reality. I was a prisoner of the doctils, in the land where time is not.

Was Eve already out on the upper plateau, prey to the drina? Why had she and the others been taken off, and I left behind? It was I who'd led the fight against the doctils, I who had engaged in an unequal battle of wits with them. Then suddenly I remembered seeing myself marched off with the others, brown suit, scarred cheek... But that could not have been I out on the black floor. Even the doctils, with all their million years advantage over the science I knew, couldn't make two of me, each complete.

I stood rigid in the center of that cell, trembling a little as I tried to recall every detail of what had occurred. There had been our attack on Astaris, the incursion of the plebos to frustrate it. Fighting uselessly with the one who'd seized me, I'd lost sight of my companions, of Astaris. When that futile fight was over, I'd glimpsed the men of my own time again, and Eve. But—I was certain of it now—nowhere had I seen Astaris.

While that fight was going on, Eve had been hidden from me by the crowding plebos, and I must have been hidden from her. I still had been hidden from her when it was over, but she'd spoken to me.

Then it wasn't of me she had asked that, but of my double. And it was my double who had replied, in a perfect imitation of my voice. Arthur had already been taken down out of the niche, for I'd heard him, and so probably had the others. I should have been taken down out of it too, unless there was a definite reason against it.

Was it by accident that the plebos had crowded around me, hiding me from my friends? Hiding me from Eve?

I RECALLED how Astaris had projected Eve's presence, her personality, before me in that Brooklyn house. I recalled how, in the House of Earth, Daster had taken on the exact appearance of a professor of my own time.

If I had been building up a case in court, I could have established no better one to confirm the startling hypothesis I had not yet dared to put into words. Opportunity: A fight in which I'd been concealed from view. Ability: Demonstrated.

My double was Astaris! He had assumed my shape, my voice; he had become me.

The caress in his voice, his arm tender across Eve's shoulder, betrayed his motive. By spying, by threats, by persuasion, the doctil had failed to wring from Eve and me the secret of the love that lay between us. But he had not given up; he was trying another method now. Somewhere, in his wandering through the ages, he had heard the theory that love begets love. He knew that Eve loved me. By becoming me he would become the recipient of her love, and perhaps it would arouse that emotion in him so that he could study it by introspection.

"Damn him!" I cried aloud. "Oh, damn him!" I was shaken by a burst of helpless anger. And then I realized that I should be grateful, instead, that the doctil had evolved this scheme.

As long as he still thought that it might work, Eve was safe. It was a greater protection than any I could give her.

For what protection could I give her against the Future Men? Physically, I was no match for them, and they had out-maneuvered my every attempt to match wits with them. But there was no shame in that. Not Einstein, not Michelson or Compton, not all of the outstanding intellects of my age, pitted against the doctils, would make a better showing than an infant prattling in its crib.

In truth, the great scientists of the twentieth century might very soon be in conflict with the Future Men.

The full and terrible implication of their plans, its promise of disaster to the glorious civilization out of which I'd been snatched, swept down on me. I had flung defiance at them, but that defiance had been meaningless as the hiss of a week-old kitten at a Great Dane.

I stared at the seamless stone wall of my prison, stared at visions of New York's towers shattering down on crowds that fled to safety where there was no safety. I seemed to see the rays knifing from the sky and to hear that terrible high sound that once more would spread madness across the world. I imagined the mindless remnants of my race enslaved by these huge-headed creatures who claimed to be men.

"John!" A voice penetrated these appalling mental pictures. "It is you, my brave companion. It is really you."

His velvet doublet more ragged than ever, the lace at his wrists and his throat more dingy, but with the same jaunty swagger to his meager form, the same mocking smile on his thin, scarred lips, François Villon stood beside me.


"FRANÇOIS!" I gasped. "Where—how did you get in here? Where have you been?" I trailed off in a series of choked exclamations.

"Softly!" Villon had laid a long finger beside his hawk-like nose. "Softly, my old friend. If you will permit me to answer one question before you stab me with another—I entered this cell in the House of Sun by the same route as you, through its wall. You, of course, were brought here unconscious."

"Through! Then there's a secret door—"

"But no, John! They are of solid stone, all four walls, floor and ceiling. It is through the solid stone I came, as they do, by help of this." There was in the hand he held out to me a tiny mechanism of what seemed like platinum wiring and glass or fused quartz.

"The doctils need little beside the power of their brains to perform their magic, but the plebos are of lesser mould. They require this—key, shall we name it for want of a better term—to translate themselves through matter without door or aperture. It is of a plebo I had it, the one I saw carrying you off when I returned to join you in the hall of miracles and followed. He did not hear me follow him, nor will he miss what I have taken from him."

He touched, delicately, the hilt of his poniard, and I saw at the throat of its scabbard an edging of red.

"The poet," Villon said, smiling slyly, "is also a master thief."

And a Paris apache, I thought, recalling what I had read of this strangest character in all literature. "Where did they take Eve and the others?" I asked him.

"Nay, that I do not know. They were out of sight. Perhaps, if I had returned a moment sooner—" He shrugged his bony shoulders.

"Returned from where? When I saw you were gone I thought they had taken you—"

"They did not take me. I went of my own accord, and they did not know it. I—"

"They did not know! But they can read our thoughts."

"You drive one to madness with your questions! They read our thoughts only when they bend their minds upon ours. To cast those scenes upon the screen of the wall, to make us a part of them, required all the power of their minds. To watch required the full attention of your minds. But I shut out from mine that shadow- play and watched the doctils themselves, hoping that in an unguarded moment I might see something that might be of aid to us."

"And you did?"

He shrugged again, and though he still smiled, I thought there was a flicker of fear in his eyes. "I saw something, but whether it gives us hope or is the death of all hope for us, I do not yet know. A long space of time I saw only five shapes in a high niche from which the golden light had faded, five monstrous shapes wholly intent on seizing our senses to make them toys of their wills, and, fighting that intent, I sweated like a whipped coach- horse. Then there was a stir among them. The strain upon me loosened, and meseemed some distracting word had come to them. I recall that there was a stir among you others also, as though their grip upon you had grown less strong."

"We came to ourselves," I interrupted, "for a moment or so. I wonder if it was then."

"Aye," Villon nodded. "It may well have been, for methought I heard Elijah cry out something about denying God. But four of the five doctils were hastening away and I did not turn for I was skulking after them and I feared to lose sight of the four in the dimness."

ONE had remained behind. It had taken the whole Kintat to hypnotize us so that we seemed to relive the evolution of civilization and its destruction, but once we were under that hypnotic control, Astaris had been able to hold us there alone.

"They went out of that hall of magic," Villon continued, "and out of this House of Sun. I dared not emerge in the open, for fear that I might be spied."

"You stopped!" I exclaimed. "You let them get away from you!"

"By the chains of the gibbet, will you let me tell my tale? What I saw, I saw, and if you have no wish to learn what that was, I am content to remain silent."

"I'm sorry, Villon," I apologized. "I'll keep still. What did you see?"

"Nothing, at first, for a white glare filled the Bowl of Adalon, and it blinded my eyes that were used to the dimness. There was a vast hissing in the sky, like a thousand flying serpents in great anger. I peered on high, striving to make out whence came that monstrous reptilian sound.

"The white light streamed from the top of the tower we saw building, that top ablaze as though it impaled the sun. The glare roofed the pit, from rampart to rampart of the cliffs that form it. It was only stray beams from it that dazzled me below; up there it was a very white hell of light in which nothing could live.

"Adown the walls of the bowl dribbled streamlets, gray-purple and slow, as though at the brink of the cliffs the light from the tower melted something gray-purple, as fire melts wax. And this indeed was the case, as I descried when my aching sight became more accustomed to the glare.

"Circling the verge of the Bowl a dark cloud lay against the Veil of Ishlak, a heaving cloud that was not a cloud at all but thousands upon thousands of those weird creatures that people the plains where we found each other, you and I. The drina. The Veil, or so it seemed to me, was a little rent here and there; and where it was rent the gray-purple flesh of the drina oozed through, striving to rend the Veil still further; and there that flesh was melting in the white blaze from the tower, and running in slow streamlets down the cliffs."

"I thought the Veil was impenetrable," I broke in again, "unless the Future Men opened it themselves from some control down here."

"So it is," François agreed. "Behind each opening in it the drina masses boiled about a stratcar—its shining plates torn apart, its form crushed. The Veil had been opened in each of those places to let a stratcar through, and some of the drina had blocked its closing again and were now writhing through. Their fellows swamped the flying machines that had been sent to hold them off while the tower was being completed. As fast as the drina writhed through, the blaze from the tower, now completed, was melting them and yet still they came, an implacable dark tide of hate."

"My God," I whispered. "They're brave. No human army—"

"Not brave," Villon denied, "but mad. The drina know no fear, my John, because they are without minds to know fear. They are animated only by hate and the lust to kill. Now indeed such an enemy is the most terrible of all, for only by complete destruction can they be defeated. Against thinking beings like us, against all the armies which our world could muster, the Future Men would be invincible. When we saw that our weapons were powerless against them, panic would turn our blood to water, and we would be undone. But these mad monsters—"

"Haven't sense enough to know when they're licked. By all that's holy, François, the doctils may have beaten themselves." I was recalling how they'd deliberately destroyed the minds of this planet's natives, had deliberately made them the imbecile things they were. "But go on. Is that battle still on?"

"Yes—and no. The Veil is whole again, and no drina has achieved the Bowl. The plebos, it seems, were able only to obey instructions. They had been directed to delay the gray hosts with the stratcars till the tower was finished, to destroy them with the white rays from the tower. This they did, but when the combat raged too evenly for comfort, they had summoned the Kintat.

"Now, with the advent of the doctils, the battle reached a new phase. I saw a great scurrying about. I saw plebos swarm up the tower bearing new devices. And then the light that seethed from it was no longer white. Crackling streamers of blue and scarlet and yellow flashed overhead, seeking the rents in the Veil. The flesh of the attackers no longer melted but whiffed into nothingness. The breaches in the shimmering barrier were repaired, and the blaze at the tower-top sputtered out."

The excitement that had made me forget my despair left me then. "So the Future Men have won. Why did you let me think—"

"They have not altogether conquered, my friend. The Veil of Ishlak is whole again, and in the Bowl they are safe. But against the Veil still billows the gray-purple mass of the drina, and beyond the Veil the Future Men dare not venture. They are prisoners in Adalon, our captors, till they devise some means to destroy their besiegers."

"We mustn't let them do that." My fingers dug into the poet's scrawny arm. "We've got to find a way to keep them from doing that, Villon. We've got to find a way to let the drina get through the Veil and come down into the Bowl—"

"John!" He pulled back from me, his eyes widening. "Have you gone mad? Do you not realize that if the drina gain Adalon we too, all of us, will die with the plebos and the doctils? Those loathsome masses will swarm over us, my friend, and we will be taken up within them, and their acids will rot us—"

"Let them. So long as the Future Men are wiped out, let the drina wipe us out too. All of us."

"All, John?" François studied my face. "Even Evelyn?"

A shudder ran through me. "Even Evelyn, François, if I cannot kill her with my own hand before that happens. If she were here, she would tell you the same."

"No," the poet sighed. "There is no madness in your eyes. But why then—"

I told him. I told him, briefly, what we had seen, and what we had learned that the Kintat planned. "You agree with me, François?" I asked when I had finished. "You agree with me that they must be wiped out, even if we have to be wiped out with them?"

There was no smile on his lips, and his countenance was gray under its blue stubble. "Aye, John," he answered. "No matter how terrible a death it be, our death in the bowels of the drina would be a cheap price to pay for the destruction of these demons."

"Cheap enough." I laughed curtly. "I'd set the value of our lives, right now, at two dozen for a nickel, and that's too high if we hang around in here much longer. You say that thing you've got there is a key to this cell. If it is, let's go. Let's get out of here.... What's the matter?"

Villon was looking at the involved device in his palm, and something like dismay was in his face "It is a key," he said slowly. "And yet it is no key. It passed me, singly, in through the stone but will it take two of us out?"

"The only way to find out is to try. Look, when we left the stratcar hangar through its wall, Daster had his hand on my back. When the plain rushed past us as we came to Adalon, Kass had his hands on the two of us. Maybe I ought to be touching you while you try to use that."

"Of a surety you must touch me." François's smile was wan. "Thus, if the magic of this thing avails to carry us into the stone but not through it, we shall at least be consoled by the touch of a comrade as we journey into oblivion."

That was what he was afraid of—that the power of the key might be enough to get us into the rock, yet not sufficient to take both of us all the way through it. I admit the idea was not exactly pleasant.

"Well," I said, putting my arm around his narrow shoulders, "it will be an interesting experiment." I could feel the shudder that was running through him. "Come on." I'd hate to be cursed with your imagination, I thought, aware that he was picturing himself caught within the rock, entombed there forever.

I have a pretty good imagination too.

"Come on, old man," I urged him. "Let's get it over with." I pressed him toward the wall through which he'd come.

A muscle twitched in his sallow cheek. He lifted his hand, placed the key against the bluish, perdurable rock. "It was done thus," he murmured, "as I watched. And then the plebo pressed—this." His thumb moved.

There was no change in the appearance of the wall. "Damn!" I muttered. "It doesn't work." I struck the stone with my free hand—and my fist went into it. I stepped forward, pressed Villon ahead with me.


THE world blanked out. I felt nothing, saw nothing but featureless grayness. I seemed to be still moving forward, but the grayness pressed in on me, held me. Then, after one fearful instant, the grayness was gone, and I was in a dim corridor and François was beside me. The floor of the hall pitched steeply down to the left, and curved upward to the left, but just here it was level.

Neither of us said anything for a long minute. Neither of us could have said anything if our lives had depended on it.

"It's done," I heard Villon say at last, and he was jaunty again when I turned to him, his black eyes sparkling with triumph. "We are through."

"Yes," I agreed, "we're through." I wasn't as happy over that as I might have been. I had spied an unmoving form sprawled at our feet and the skin on my back was crawling. Alive, a plebo is not a pretty sight. Dead—imagine a dead spider big as a man, all glazed, fishy eyes.

Villon was looking at it too. "He died easily," he murmured, "for so ungainly a creature."

"I don't like leaving him here." I tried to imitate my companion's nonchalance. "Anyone coming along this passage will at once know something's gone wrong, and it may mean the loss of precious minutes for us. I wish there was somewhere we could hide him."

"There is," François responded. "Right at hand."

"Where?" I glanced around, puzzled, saw nothing but bare walls.

"In here." The poet laid his palm against the wall we'd just penetrated. "If they do not find him till they come for you, we shall have lost none of those jeweled minutes of which you speak."

There was no argument as to that, but could it be done? "I suppose one of us might carry the corpse in," I ventured. "But I'd rather not take the chance of your key failing to work."

"Nor I," Villon said. "But perhaps our friend need not be borne in. There is strength in those muscles of yours, my friend, and I suspect that whether he goes all the way through or not will not matter to him."

I got his idea. "All right, Well try it." I bent and lifted the dead plebo while François placed the key against the wall. The cadaver was lighter than I'd expected. Dangling from my grasp, it seemed almost boneless. "Ready?"

Villon's thumb pressed, and I threw the corpse at the wall. Threw it through the wall. It went into the blue stone as though that stone were merely an opaque fog.

There was no evidence left of the plebo, out here in the corridor, except a small, dark stain on the floor.

"I should like to be there," François chuckled, "when they discover him in that cell, and you gone. Will they think, I wonder, that we are masters of a magic they do not know?"

"They'll know damned well what's happened, and they'll be after us like a shot. The only reason I can figure out for their not having missed you yet is that they're busy with strengthening their defenses against the drina. If we're to accomplish anything we've got to get going."

"You have right," he agreed. "And which way shall we be going, up or down?"

I wanted to say down. That way would lead out of the House of Sun to the House of Earth. They must have taken the others there, back to the room where humans from all the centuries awaited the dreaded summons. They must have taken Eve there, and Astaris, posing as me. My blood was hot again with anger at the thought of the doctil receiving the tenderness intended for me. I understood how a man could kill and have no compunction at killing.

"Which way, my John?" Villon asked again.

"Up!" I answered. "When the Veil opened to let through the stratcar which Kass summoned, I noticed a flash near the top of this building. The control for the Veil must be somewhere above, and if we can get to that—"

"We may be able to raise the Veil and let the drina down into the Bowl!" Villon finished for me. "You are right; up it is."

And so we climbed upward along the steep spiral of that passage, while with me went the thought of Eve and Astaris. It doesn't matter, I tried to tell myself; it doesn't matter at all. Before Eve discovers that the man to whose caresses she gives herself is not John March, he will be dead and she will be dead, and the only living things left in the Bowl of Adalon will be the mindless creatures they call the drina.

WE seemed to have been climbing eternally, the curving of the passage hiding what was behind us and what was ahead. "Like the living of life this is," Villon murmured. "A blind and toilsome mounting whose aim we do not know. And when the end is attained, we find it to be—nothing."

"There's something at the top of this climb," I growled. "There's got to be."

The spiral leveled out for a distance of about ten feet. Ahead it started climbing again, but suddenly Villon's clutch on my arm brought me to a halt. "Hearken," he whispered, his long, grimy forefinger stabbing toward the slope.

I heard what he meant. A faint whisper of movement, far ahead, far above. Vague sounds brought to us by the resonance of the tunnel.

"Some of them are up there," I murmured. "In the passage, and coming this way. We've got to go back before they spy us."

"We'll not go back," François murmured, low-toned. "Hearken once more, my poor friend."

There were faint sounds behind us now, behind and below. Our retreat was cut off.

The poet's laugh was soundless, but in his eyes there was bitterness and despair. "They play with us, my friend," he whispered. "They play with us as a cat with a mouse, or as a certain jailer of Paris with his prisoners, permitting that they escape from their dungeon only to attain, after much travail, another more foul and noisome." His poniard slid from its sheath. "But they shall not take me alive." The dagger, stained with the blood of the plebo he'd killed, flashed to his breast.

I caught his wrist before the point had more than pricked the velvet. "No, you fool," I grunted. "We're not caught yet. The passage is level here, the way it was outside my cell. That may mean we're just at another story of the building and that behind one of these walls there's a chamber in which we can hide."

"It may. It well may." His eyes were sparkling again. "And those we hear coming may be proceeding on their own affairs, not hunting us. But behind which wall lies safety?"

"Nothing like finding out. This side's my guess. It's this side the cell was on. Where's that key? Quick, they're a lot nearer."

I grabbed Villon's arm and his hand went up to the wall I'd indicated.... I was going through the grayness again, but I was getting quite used to that. What bothered me was whether there was a room on the other side of the wall, or whether it had become the outside wall of the building and, once through, we'd go hurtling down.

We didn't. We came out smoothly, safely, on the other side. I crouched, forcing François down with me, my pulses pounding.

The space into which we had come was low-ceiled but long and wide. It was bare as the cell from which Villon had rescued me, but it was occupied.

At one end King Arthur and Orth and Louis were seated on the floor, Elijah erect not far from them. Ahead, perhaps fifteen feet, not more, was Evelyn Rand, myself strolling beside her.

Not myself, of course—Achronos Astaris. And the doctil who had stolen my shape, my personality, was looking straight at us.

FRANÇOIS VILLON gasped. "Now what manner of magic is this," I heard him mutter. "John is there, and he is here—" My palm against his mouth muffled the rest. "Be quiet," I whispered. Queer—Astaris seemed not to see us. His brown hand clasped Eve's, and they were walking slowly, as a couple might stroll under the moon, and on her face there was a look of dreamy content.

"Johnny," she murmured, "are you sure it wasn't all something we dreamed? What we've gone through can't be real, and this too. This garden, and you here with me— it's all just as I pictured it all those lonely years."

"Why worry," I heard my own low voice answer, from the lips of that other who was so like me I might be looking in a mirror. "This is real, for now, this loveliness. Don't think of anything else. Think of me. Think of how much you love me, and of how—" He hesitated.

"Yes, Johnny?"

"And of how I love you." He was looking down at her now, with a curious eagerness. "Tell me, my dear, how I love you, and why."

They were only a pace from us now, and yet there was no hint that either was aware of our presence. I felt Villon quiver, under my restraining hand.

"Why don't you tell me these things?" They turned, as though following a path where I could see only naked floor. "They are what a girl wants to hear from her love." They were walking parallel to the wall against which we crouched, about a yard from it.

"Are they? I wouldn't know, Eve. I don't know how a lover should speak and act. Will you teach me?"

"Doesn't your own heart teach you— Oh look!" She stopped, half turning to the wall. "Isn't this forsythia lovely?" Her slim hand reached out into empty air, but her fingers seemed to be touching something that wasn't there. "It's just like the bush near the gate of our fence, where I waited for you, years ago."

I got it! Eve saw a garden, shrubbery, where there was nothing at all but blue-gray rock. The others.... I threw a swift glance at them, saw Orth's fingers trail along the floor as one trails his fingers through sod, saw Louis gesture as though he picked up a twig and threw it from him. They were victims of the same illusion. It was just one more instance of the mass hypnotism, the capture of our minds by minds infinitely more powerful and better trained, that I had already experienced more than once. Its purpose this time was clear.

Astaris had set a romantic setting for his laboratory experiment in romance.

Villon and I were not affected by the illusion because the doctil did not know of our presence. That must mean Astaris also saw this bare space as a lovely garden, that to him also appeared to be shrubbery here where we crouched, concealing us.

Was this because he was himself the real subject of the experiment, and so deliberately was exposing himself to its conditions; or because, assuming my eyes, my brain, he had also assumed my susceptibility to the mass hypnosis? It didn't matter. What mattered was that we were hidden from him by those illusory bushes.

"Don't move," I muttered in François' ear. "Don't make a sound." And then I was moving away from him, crouched low, was creeping stealthily toward Eve and her companion, whose backs were still toward me.

I HAD to guess where that invisible shrubbery extended. I had to take the chance that my very real body would not rustle those unreal leaves. All I could do was to make no sound on the corporeal rock across which I stole.

I got within a yard of the two and sprang. My fist struck the jointure of spine and brain-case where a blow is certain to stun a man. My victim thudded to the floor.

Eve whirled, screaming. Her scream was cut off, and only a gasp came from her throat. There was no color in her face; her pupils were dilated.

A strangled shout came from behind me.

"The garden—where—?" There was the trample of feet running toward us. There was Arthur's bellow, "Ho, varlet!"

"Eve!" My arms went out to her, my hands found her shoulders. "Eve! Don't look at me like that. I'm real. I'm your Johnny. He wasn't—" Fingers bruised my own shoulder, twisted me around. I saw Orth's furious countenance and King Arthur's.

"John!" the latter exclaimed. "John March. Thou art he indeed. But then who—"

"Astaris," I told him. "One of the doctils. He took my shape. He made you all think he was I."

The king pulled the edge of his hand across his eyes, his face ghastly. "Magicked again. A moment ago we were stretched on greensward, beside a purling stream. Now—these walls, this footing and ceil of bare stone—"

"Wait." It was Orth who had grabbed me, and he had not let me go. "How do we know this one is March and not—" He cut off. He was gaping down at the floor and his face was dead white. "Ach Gott!"

I twisted as far as his hold on me would permit and looked to see what had affected him so. It wasn't my double that lay unconscious at Eve's feet. It was Astaris in his proper shape, tentacular limbs, bulbous small body clothed in its orange integument, enormous head, all complete. The huge eyes were sightless, staring.

"Now you know which one of us is the real John March," I said, jerking free from the archduke's clutch. "Get him tied up with your belts, with everything you've got that can be made into ropes, before he comes to."

"He must not be permitted to come to, John," Villon's quiet voice said. "Tie him as we may, we cannot prevent him from sending a mental message to his fellows." The poet dropped to his knees beside Astaris, and his poniard was in his fingers.

"No!" I cried. "No, François!" He looked up at me, his shaggy brows quizzical, his smile mocking. "Oh, I haven't any compunctions about killing him," I said, "but we thought Arthur's idea of holding him as a hostage was a good one, and it still may be. We'll tie him up, and we'll keep him stunned. We'll watch him every minute, and the instant he shows signs of regaining consciousness, we'll conk him again."


"No, don't kill him!" I seized Villon's arm.

"He is right, Villon," Orth supported me. "It may do us some good or not, but to keep him alive yet awhile cannot do harm."

The Frenchman shrugged. "Perhaps. Yet I would fear him less if he were dead."

"We approve of our John's advice." Arthur put an end to the discussion. "The creature shall be bound, and we, in proper person, will make it our charge that he remains asleep."

I LEFT the others to tie up the doctil and went to the girl's side. "Eve!" She was rigid, her face still and pallid. "Eve! What's wrong?" My arm was around her, I was drawing her close to me.

Her mouth twisted. "I—I kissed him, Johnny. I kissed that—Thing."

"It was me you gave that kiss to, darling," I murmured. "You thought it was me you were giving it to, and that makes it all right. Or it will, as soon as you correct the misdelivery."

"Will it, Johnny?" That tight mouth of hers broke into a tremulous smile. "Will it?"

It seemed to. At any rate the tenseness went out of her, and she was very sweet, very warm, in my arms.

We were reminded that we were not alone by Louis' boyishly plaintive voice. "I wish someone would tell me where the garden went to. I liked it. It was the first time I had seen grass and flowers since I was a very little boy."

"Oh, you poor kid," Eve exclaimed. Pulling free of me, she ran to him and put her arm around him. "You poor child. They put you in prison when you were only nine years old, didn't they?"

"The garden wasn't real, Louis," I told him. "Astaris made you all see it, and when I knocked him out, he couldn't make you see it any longer."

"There will be no gardens anywhere, John," Villon drawled, "if we spend our time on lovers' prattle. Have you forgotten the mission on which we set out?"

"What mission?" Orth demanded. I told them about the drina's attack, about our plan to attempt to lift the Veil of Ishlak and let them into the Bowl. "There is no doubt in my mind that if the creatures are powerful enough to keep the Veil from closing, they will be able to tear down every building in Adalon," I ended. "And so there will be no safety from the drina for anyone in Adalon, for plebos or doctils—or us. Villon and I made that decision for you, my friends, when you were not there to ask, because we felt that is how you would want it. Were we right?"

Elijah was the first to answer me. "Gladly would I embrace the Angel of Death, knew I that in the same dark flight he would bear off those heathen who have denied their Creator and would destroy His work." Looking into the faces of the others, I read confirmation in their gravity, their level gaze. I turned last to Eve.

"I could not love you," she said quietly, "if I thought you would consider saving my life at the cost of letting them carry out their dreadful plan. I am not afraid to die, Johnny—now."

"All right," I said, a little hoarsely because my throat was tight with emotion. "We'll go ahead with it then, if we can. I'd give a lot to know what's going on out there. If they've already driven the drina away or destroyed them, there would be no use in our trying to find the place from which the Veil is controlled. But as that is impossible, I—"

"Monsieur Marsh!" Louis interrupted. "I think that perhaps you can do that. When first we were left alone in this garden I saw you—this doctil who pretended to be you—gazing into something that appeared like a mirror, thinking himself unobserved. I wondered then what he saw in it that made him look afraid and angry, both at once. Perhaps this thing he looked into wasn't a mirror at all, but—"

"Some device like television," I finished for him. "In taking my form he seems to have lost much of his great mental power, and he'd want to keep in touch... If we can find it—" I turned to Astaris' bound form, and saw that Villon was already kneeling beside it.

"This that he wears is skin-tight as the costumes of the tumblers who amuse the rabble on the Seine's bank of a feast- day," the poet reported. "It gives no space for the concealment— Ah!" he broke off. His hand came out from under the body, and there was a gleaming plate in it, circular and about the size of a woman's hand-glass. "It lay beneath him. Your clothing on him has vanished, but this remains."

"I hope he hasn't put it out of commission." I reached for it. "Let me see."

The thing looked very much like the toilet article to which I've compared it, except that it had no handle. It was somewhat thicker too and the edge of the disk was serried with tiny protuberances.

The mirror itself was oddly milky, so that in it the reflections of my face and Eve's and the others crowding about me to peer into it were vague and wraithlike.

"Dost thou see aught?" King Arthur demanded. I glanced up. He was watching the recumbent doctil, his scabbarded sword held club-like in his big hands. He wasn't allowing curiosity to distract him from his self-delegated task of guarding our hostage. "What dost thou see?"

"Nothing," I answered, my voice flat with disappointment. "It's a washout."

"Johnny!" Eve exclaimed. "Those bumps on the edge look like push-buttons. Why don't you try pressing them?"

"Good girl!" The bumps were indeed movable. I squeezed them.

The misty reflections vanished from the glass. It was clear, abruptly, and glowing. But it showed only a meaningless jumble: broken shapes of stone, corners, canted walls, a disjointed tentacle, a single great eye—like the confused pieces of a jig-saw puzzle or a surrealist's nightmare.

"Damn!" I grunted. "It's television all right. But I can't make head or tail—"

"He held it like this." The Dauphin grabbed the rim of the disk, tugged at it till I was holding it vertically. The chaos slid beneath its surface as it moved, and changed kaleidoscopically, but it was still a chaos.

"Oh," Eve stamped her foot. "It's exasperating—"

"Hell," I grunted. "I'm like a kid with a toy piano, banging all the keys at once." I let all except one of the buttons come up. "That does it!"

Etched crystal-clear in the mirror was a picture of the corridor where Villon and I almost had been caught. "The buttons control the distance the thing sees," I said, and by pressing all of them I was superimposing layer after layer of this building upon one another, like a dozen transparent pictures. "I saw a plebo go by, descending, some peculiarly shaped instrument in his hand. Another followed him. They're looking for us."

"I doubt that," Orth said. "These people if they search for you and Herr Villon have better ways of finding you than running around like chickens with the heads chopped off. For example, they must possess more than one of these glasses and with one they could scan the whole of Adalon."

"He is right, John," François agreed. "Meseems they hasten to the defence of their city. Perchance the drina once more have pierced the Veil."

"We'll soon see. Louis! Which way was Astaris facing when you saw him use this?"

The youngster showed me, and then I was pressing buttons in rotation as room after room of the House of Sun appeared on the screen and flickered off. I should have liked to examine each one, but it was more important to determine what the situation was outside.

The last button brought a vista of the Bowl of Adalon into the round glass.

There wasn't much change in the aspect of its level floor from when we'd crossed it, shepherded by Daster, except that no girders any longer flowed across it to the tower, and that the tower was finished. A number of plebos were clustered around its base. I could make out Favril and Bolar among them. The tower had risen even with the rim of the Bowl. It was surmounted by a wide platform, on which more plebos crowded about a number of machines whose nature I could not make out.

Daster was on the platform. He and the plebos were all looking outward. I moved the television glass to see what it was they watched, brought the brink of the surrounding cliff into its circle.

A purple-gray cloud darkened that precipice edge, heaving with life, grim and ominous. A cloud more menacing than any thunderhead, for it was not storm that it held, but hate and the lust to kill. Nor was it vapor, but a myriad pulsing bodies of the creatures whom the builders of Adalon had made mindless, and only the shimmer of force that was the Veil of Ishlak kept them from pouring down upon Adalon.

That cloud was a dark and terrible death brooding over the city, and the men of the future who had built the city were tense with fear of that death. Once the Veil parted, not all their weapons could hold back the ravening hosts that would cataract into the Bowl.

I was determined to lift that Veil and loose that flood.

"Mother of All Living!" John Orth exclaimed. "This is terror—"

"Wait!" My interjection was a shout. "That's it! By all that's holy, that's it!" Something, a glimmer of an idea that had lain beneath the surface of my mind all this time, became clear now. "Maybe we don't all have to die after all, friends. Maybe we can save the world from the doctils without all of us dying."


"WHAT?"... "How?"... "Johnny, what do you mean? ..." A tumult of questions beat at me, but I paid them no attention as I feverishly thumbed the button of the television disk that I'd first pressed, at the same time moving the device to focus again on the corridor just outside this chamber. The plan that had sprung into my mind was breathtaking in its simplicity, but there were many things I had to know before I could attempt it.

The level part of the passage was now empty of life. I moved the disk so as to follow the descending spiral and catch up with the last of the hurrying plebos I'd glimpsed. The thing he carried seemed to be a miniature replica of one of the machines on the tower-top.

"Yes," I muttered, "that must be it. They're being called together to guard something or someone tremendously important. Pray, Elijah. If you have any influence with your God, pray that it's in this building."

"I think, March," Orth said, "that we have a right to know what you are doing. What are you looking for?"

The plebo had reached another of the level places in the ramp. He halted, turned to the blank wall.

"You named it yourself, Orth," I answered. "You gave me the idea."

The plebo melted into the stone wall. He hadn't used anything like that which François called a key. The way was prepared for him. I manipulated buttons to follow him.

"I named it!" Orth exclaimed. "I don't recollect naming anyone—"

The room in the disk was walled with sheets of some silvery metal. It was as large as the one we were in, and there were ten plebos in it, each armed with a weapon similar to the one the newcomer bore. They stood in a circle, facing outward. Within that circle was the doctil Gohret, on a raised platform. He was poised above a case of what might be glass or some other transparent crystal, and within it, couched on billows of some white, silkily gleaming material lay—

"The Mother of All Living," I murmured. "That was what you cried out. Look at her, Orth. There she is. The Mother of All the Living whom the doctils mean shall inherit our Earth when they have conquered it."

She was far greater in size than any woman we had ever seen, but she was formed like the women we knew, and not like the grotesque beings who guarded her. Her skin was white as the fabric on which she was stretched, and lustrous. Great-bosomed she was, and huge-limbed, and tremendously wide of hip. Her eyes were closed in a deep slumber that somehow I knew was something other than sleep. The contours of her face had an almost unearthly beauty, yet she wore, like a mask, an expression of bovine placidity, of mindless calm, that made her somewhat less than human.

"The matra," I heard Eve breathe.

"Yes, Eve, she is a matra, a breeder of ova for the Future Men, and she is the only one of her kind left to them. From her they expect to get the seed for the race of super-humans of which they dream, and without her their dream cannot be fulfilled. Without her they will be five doctils and a hundred plebos, and never any more. Without her there would be no point in their depopulating our Earth of our race and our generation, for without her they could never re-people it again.

"That is why they will guard her to the last. If only one doctil is left alive, with her, he can recreate his race. If all of them escape the drina, but she dies—they are beaten."

"You mean to slay her," Villon said quickly, "if you can."

"You mustn't do it, Johnny." There was horror in Eve's voice. "She is a woman, a mother. It would be an unspeakable crime."

I turned to her. "I don't like the thought any more than you do, my dear, but the crime was committed when womanhood was degraded to the level of a breeding machine. You call that matra a mother, but is she?

"Doesn't it take love to make a mother, and years of fostering care? Why, this poor thing will never know her offspring, never even see them. She is no more a mother than a hen whose eggs are taken from her as soon as they are laid and placed in an incubator to hatch. Remember, Eve, millions upon millions of real mothers on the Earth of our time will die, horribly as you saw the mothers of this planet die, if the matra lives. If she lives, they will die, and their children will die. It is the matra's life against the life of those real mothers, one against millions."

I WAS justifying my intention not only to her but to myself. For I could not forget how, in the twentieth century which I was fighting to protect, bombs rained from the sky upon women, upon mothers.

"The matra is not even a woman, Fräulein Evelyn," Orth put in, "but a mindless machine in the shape of a woman. Look how in that so beautiful face there is no hint of a soul, no semblance of thought. Were she a woman, if she knew what she is and what is done with her, she would embrace death as a mercy, as a blessed release."

"She—she is asleep," Eve objected weakly. "Maybe if she were awake—"

"That isn't sleep, darling," I interrupted. "Look, that case is hermetically sealed. There is no way for air to get into it, let alone food. She is in a state of suspended animation, a sort of living death. She is to all intents, already dead. It is only a tiny spark of life that would be extinguished if she were killed."

The girl made a little, halting gesture with her hand. "You are right, Johnny, and I am wrong." And then she smiled tremulously and put her hand on my arm. "But look. If you can take her away from them and not kill her, they'd give anything to get her back. Promise me you won't kill her unless you have to. Please, Johnny, promise me that."

"I promise, Eve."

The touch of her fingertips on my cheek was thanks enough.

"You promise much, John, and talk much about seizing the matra and of slaying her," François said softly. "But of how it is to be done you say nothing. Will you enter that room, bow, and say prettily, 'Messieurs, I have come to slay her whom you guard, though you are armed with weapons against which I have no means of attack. Pray stand aside while I slice her gullet?"

He was right. I looked again into the disk, saw again the quiet, confident circle of plebos around that gleaming casket, saw Gohret beside it, one splayed hand resting on its top. Of all the Kintat this one was the most implacable. What strength did we have, what strategy could we evolve, that could have any hope of success against him?

"Have faith in the Eternal, my son," Elijah intoned. "The most Holy arms the righteous with the lightnings of his wrath. Jehovah casts the cloak of His omnipotence about them who go forth to battle against His enemies."

"I fear me, sage," Villon said, still softly, "that your Jehovah has forsaken this land and all who people it. I seem to recall that its inhabitants were in the very act of worshiping Him, or someone very like Him, when disaster fell upon them."

"Silence!" Arthur ordered. "We will not have this squabbling while our John March meditates upon the means to defeat the heathen."

And Louis said, "You'll win over them, Monsieur March. You will, I'm sure of it."

Whether I wished it or not, I had assumed the leadership of the little band. I had to justify their faith in me.

"I'll work out some way of getting at the matra," I told them, pretending a confidence I didn't feel. "But we ought to have two strings to our bow. Suppose we see what chance there is of our carrying out our original idea, to lift the Veil of Ishlak and let the drina down into the Bowl, if they're still waiting. Let's make sure."

I MOVED the disk, pressed the proper button. The scene outside flashed into the glass once more—the strange structures that were arranged as the planets of the solar system are arranged. We saw the defending tower with the cluster of Future Men about its base and on the platform at its top. We could sense their tenseness from the slow throb of their ear-membranes; we could feel the brooding fear that filled the Bowl of Adalon.

Rimming that Bowl with a heaving, dark threat, the gray-purple mass of the drina pressed against the Veil. Those ominous creatures waited. They'd wait there till the end of time if need be. Hate would keep them there, the hate that was the last remnant of mentality the conquerors of their world had left them. There seemed in this a grim justice.

My throat tightened. One of those who crowded around me to look into the disk may have jolted my arm, or perhaps some obscure impulse had made me tip it a little, so that I was looking over the cloud of the drina and beyond it.

At any rate, silhouetted against the low brown sky, I saw something that had not been there before, that could not, I swear, have been seen before from within the Bowl. Black, and so vast as to blot out a full quadrant of the sky in which it hung, I saw the statue that was my first memory of this Otherworld. The haunched body, the soaring legs, the hooded, awesome head of a being that was neither man nor beast.

Or was it the statue? Immense as it was, it seemed to have a fluidity, a quality of life, that the great monument had not possessed. Was this because it was a mirage? Or was it—

Reason rejected the other hypothesis. And yet—the tremendous apparition was not quite the same as the monument that had so astounded me. Its hood seemed lifted a little. The eyes still hidden within that hood seemed to be gazing down on the hosts of the drina. And something in the poise of that vast head, in the very lines of that monstrous body, seemed to speak of pity, and sorrow, and also of a patience that was reaching its end.

The others saw it too, they must have seen it. For I heard Elijah's great voice: "Oh little man of little faith! The Eternal is infinite and all-present. Nor in the uttermost reaches of the Firmament, nor in the ultimate end of Time, is there limit to Him. For His own inscrutable purpose He may permit His people to suffer, but never, in the end, does He forsake them."



Argosy, 15 April 1939, with sixth part of "Seven Out of Time"


THE stupendous presence in the brown sky faded, was gone. It must after all, I told myself, have been a mirage. But I was not quite able to rid myself of a certain awe; as though I had seen something few men have been privileged to see through all the ages; and the despair, the empty feeling of helplessness that weighed me down, was curiously lessened.

I returned to a scrutiny of the tower. I counted the plebos under Daster's command on the high platform. Twenty-six. It was more difficult to count those below, but I saw there were certainly in the near neighborhood of fifty. Ten were with Gohret, guarding the matra and one was dead. Originally, I recalled, there had been a hundred.

That left only a handful unaccounted for, not more than fifteen certainly. Where were these?

Blurred movement at the edge of the disk seemed to offer an answer. I shifted it to bring the movement near its center.

"Good Lord!" I exclaimed. "Look at that."

The movement I'd glimpsed was at the entrance aperture to the House of Earth. But these figures were not plebos; the giant Norseman was coming out, light glinting from his winged metal casque, and with him the blond Briton. Streaming after them came the Roman in his toga, the vividly garmented Egyptian, the Mongol lieutenant of Genghis Khan, all the humans who'd congregated in the room from which Daster had called me and my companions.

They started running—toward the Future Men at the base of tower. Something flashed through the air ahead of them and a plebo on the fringe of the cluster nearest them toppled, an arrow quivering in the back of his enormous head. The Indian who'd dispatched that arrow fitted another to his bow. The bare, muscular arm of a Greek swept back to launch a javelin.

"They're attacking!" someone cried. "They're charging the Future Men!"

Little Louis gasped.

"If they capture and destroy the tower—"

The Viking came on with great bounds, swinging a two-handed sword broader even than Excalibur. The Roman's weapon close beside him, was a short blade, little more than a knife, but wicked-looking. The Greek's javelin made a swift arc over their heads, found its mark in another plebo's eye—

Passed right through and left the plebo standing unharmed!

"Damn!" I grunted. "Now that the Future Men know they're coming those things will do no more harm to them than Orth's bullet did to Daster."

The Indian's second arrow swept harmlessly through the defenders of the tower. A stone axe hurled by a pelt-clothed Pict might have been thrown at shadows, for all the effect it had. The plebos were facing the charge, their weapons in their hands now, weapons like those carried by the guards of the matra. The very calmness with which they awaited the attack gave proof of how little they feared it. But the Norseman came on, waving his sword, his walrus mustaches drooped on either side of a mouth that opened now to vent a bellow of defiance I could not hear. The attacking column rushed toward the menace of the plebos' mysterious weapons, and not one of this motley band fell back.

"They're fools," I heard Villon. "But what courageous fools!"

A pulse beat swiftly in my temple. Why were the plebos holding their fire? Was their menace a bluff? Did the charging men have a chance? If they did, if that tower came down....

I gasped suddenly for the Norseman's head had been struck off! The sword-arm was sheared from the shoulder of the Roman, and then he was legless, his torso flopping on the rocky floor, life not yet extinct in it. The Indian, split in twain, thudded down.

There were no flashes from the things in the plebos' hands. There was no evidence that they did anything but stand there with their weapons and wait for the charge to reach them. But that charge would never reach them. It was systematically being disintegrated, out there in front of them, as though invisible knives were slicing human bodies into fragments. There was nothing left of those who had advanced so courageously but those fragments, disjointed limbs and heads, dismembered torsos, scattered over the rocky plain.


In that strange television disk we saw the carnage.

Some of them still quivered, but there was no blood. It seemed especially horrible that they did not bleed.

"Take them, O Eternal," Elijah droned. "Take their bright souls to Thy bosom and give them eternal rest."

"Amen," I whispered, and I heard a whispered amen from Orth and Louis, from Arthur and Eve. None of us could possibly have spoken above a whisper, for a long moment.

The throbbing silence was broken by Villon. "And that, my friend," he said slowly, "is what awaits us in the chamber where the matra lies."

I knew that the muscles along my jaw were knotted. "Nevertheless, poet," I growled, "I'm going to have a try at making our friends of the future pay for what they've just done out there."

"You were going to find the controls for the Veil," Eve's soft voice reminded me.

That brought me back a little to myself. I blotted out the scene outside the House of Sun, drew the probing rays of the television disk within it, started scanning its every nook and cranny.

IT was a vast labyrinth of passages, a warren of rooms large and small. Some of the rooms were empty, some piled to the ceiling with all kinds of things that I should have liked to have examined more closely. I went on and on, grimly searching for the vulnerable heart of Adalon's defence.

I had begun at the lowermost level of the immense structure, and now my search had reached the base of the dome that surmounted it, and as yet I had not found that for which I hunted. The great stratcar hangar appeared in the disk.

Only one of the silvery flyers remained there; all the rest, I guessed, had gone out to fight the drina, and had been wrecked. I tried to recall how many there had been. About a dozen. Each of the missing ones must have been ridden by at least one plebo. There were still four or five to be located. They must be somewhere.

The disk moved slowly in my hand. It was grayed by a momentary blankness, and I knew that the beam, or whatever it was, was passing through a wall. And then I was looking at a vaulted room fully as large as that where the stratcars had been.

This, however, was not hollow and empty like the hangar. It was packed with a maze of gleaming metal, of glowing tubes and coiling cables, the whole of which vibrated continuously, so that I could almost hear the hum of leashed energy that flowed from it.

"This is it," I said hoarsely. "This is their powerhouse."

Here, for the first time anywhere in the House of Sun except the room where the matra slept, I found life. A single plebo paced here, his enormous eyes intent.

"One," Villon murmured. "There is only one."

From the corner of my eye I saw that he was fingering the hilt of his poniard "Wait," I said. "Wait, Villon." And my attention returned to the power room.

At one end of the plexus of polished steel and copper the cables were collected in a tremendous coil, something like the intricate induction coils of a radio except that this was perhaps a hundred yards in diameter. No conductor left this. All the energy that was being created here was being fed into this, and apparently remained there.

That was queer, I thought, and then I recalled what Daster had told me of how the Future Men used their own brains as electrical machines. It dawned on me that they mentally tapped this reservoir of power, directed it to where it was needed.

My heart sank. I was still as far from locating the controls of the Veil of Ishlak as ever... Then suddenly I realized that I didn't have to locate them. The power that created that curtain of energy flowed from here. If we could reach this room, put the huge machine out of commission, the Veil would collapse.

ONCE more I went cold with realization of what that would mean. The descent of the drina, the death of the Future Men and the destruction of their city—and our own death.

For myself I ceased to care. But there was Eve. Was there no possibility of saving her?

As I blanked the disk, my thoughts returned to the room where Gohret and his squad kept watch over the matra.

To dream of a frontal attack on them was the height of folly, and it was equally ridiculous to think of reaching the matra by stealth. Her case was in the very center of the chamber. An unbroken circle of armed plebos surrounded it, facing outward, and Gohret stood beside the glass casket.

That was the worst of all. Although Villon had sneaked up behind a plebo and killed him, that did not mean the doctils were vulnerable. The plebos simply were not as finely attuned to mental vibrations, as acutely adjusted, as the members of the Kintat. Our futile attack on Astaris had proved how useless it was to attempt to take a doctil by surprise.

I turned to stare at the one who was our prisoner, as if by some alchemy of thought transference he could solve my problem for me. Now, I thought, if I could as easily assume his form as he had mine...

If I could assume his form... Perhaps that wasn't necessary. Perhaps...

"It's worth a try," I said aloud.

"What's worth a try, Johnny?" Eve asked. "What's your idea?"

I stared at her for several moments silently. I had come to a decision, and whether I succeeded or failed in what I had to do, I had only a brief time to capture an image of her to take with me into oblivion.

"Johnny." Her hand was in mine. "Why don't you answer me? You've figured out something. Why don't you tell us what it is?"

"Yes, dear. I've figured out a way of getting at the matra that has a one in a million chance of coming off. But before I talk about that, I want to arrange for the second string to our bow, the lifting of the Veil. I'm sure now that it can be done. I know how."

The others were looking at me now, their eyes questioning.

"François," I said, "you were watching the disk as closely as I was. Do you think you can find that last room?"

"Of a surety, my cockerel. That is very simple for one who used to travel the roofs of the Faubourg St. Germain on nights when even the squawling cats were blind, and in all that warren of rooms find the one where slept the maiden to whom his current fancy drew him."

"Fine. Because I want you to lead them there, Elijah and Orth and Louis, and Eve. Arthur too, carrying Astaris with him. When you get near it, you will leave the others and sneak into that place and— use your poniard on the plebo in there."

A crooked grin crossed the Frenchman's face. "Understood."

"When you've disposed of him, call in the others. And wait."

"Wait? For what?"

"You'll know. Because I'm going to give you this television disk to take along—here Louis, you'd better carry it—and in it you will watch the room of the matra. What you see there will tell you how long to wait, and whether you are to do what you have gone to that power room to do, or not."

"And what is that?"

I turned to Orth and Arthur. "That will be your job. When and if Villon gives the word, you will smash the bulbs that you will see lighted at various points about the machine there. If you are discovered, don't stop to fight—but smash those bulbs! Because when those bulbs are smashed the power will be shut off from the Veil of Ishlak. There will be no more Veil, and the drina will be pouring down into the Bowl."

"But where will you be, Johnny?" Eve demanded. "Why won't you be there to tell us what to do?"

I didn't answer her. "Louis, it will be your job to act as lookout, to warn the others of any approaching plebos. To warn them, my boy, of the approach of the drina, after the tubes have been smashed. And—François my friend, when Louis gives you that warning, there is one thing more I want you to do for me, only one, because you will not have time to do any more."

His brows lifted quizzically. "Yes, John?"

"I want you to kill Eve, before the drina can reach her."

Villon blinked, and then he was sweeping his feathered hat from his black hair, was bowing low to me. "John, my friend," he murmured. "I have received the accolades of counts and dukes, of a king and a pope, but never in my misspent life have I been honored as thus, at its end, you honor me." He ended his bow, and I thought he stood a little more erect, a little more proudly, than before.

"Orth."—I don't think I saw the man, I don't think I saw anything just then— "I want you to give me that gun of yours. François! After we get out into the corridor I want you to give me the thing you got from the plebo, the key as you called it. I shall need it, and you won't. The place you are going to has an opening from the corridor, but I shall have to go through a wall."

I felt the butt of the archduke's ancient pistol in my palm, and then I felt Eve's hand on me. "Johnny," she whispered, "what are you going to do?"

I could see her now, too clearly I could see what I was giving up forever. "I am going to the room where the matra is, and I am going to try to kill her. The chances are a million to one against my being able to do that, but if I can't do it, you will have a chance to live."

"And you?"

"Oh, I'll make out all right. I'll have a better chance of getting off than the rest of you."

I lied. There wasn't even that million to one chance of my living. I knew that whether I killed the matra or not, I would certainly die.

And, as it turned out, Eve knew that too.


A PECULIAR soft thud turned me to King Arthur. His sheathed sword lifting from Astaris' enormous head, "He stirred a little," Arthur explained, "and we had to quiet him."

I stared at the doctil, grotesque, malignant even lying there bound and unconscious. If in that instant of dawning consciousness he had managed to send out one syllable of a cry for help, my million to one chance of getting to the matra, and gaining for Eve a slim hope of survival, was gone.

There was no way of telling whether he had sent out that appeal.

Villon's arm was across my shoulder. "John," his low voice murmured. "Indeed there is peril for all of us, but for the task of greatest peril you have appointed yourself. You are young. You have the love of that sweet maiden to live for. For me, even were I to return to my land and my epoch, there is nothing left but a dreary exile, poverty, the haunted skulking of an outcast. Let me take your place, and you mine."

"Thank you, François," I answered. "But it isn't any melodramatic heroism that motivates me. If what I'm going to try to do can be done at all, only I can do it. I'm the only one who can possibly hope to get into that room and near the matra. We're wasting time. Come, let's get started."

Before we turned to the others our hands met. It was acknowledgment of a feeling for one another, that handclasp, that Villon did not put into words, and I could not. And it was a final farewell.

We were fairly sure that the key would take two at a time through the wall, and we didn't want to risk experimenting with more. Our exodus to the corridor, therefore, took longer than I liked, Villon ferrying us through one by one. Each time he vanished into the stone, I wondered whether he would return, and I wondered whether before he returned we would see a squad of plebos hurrying toward us. My palms were wet with cold sweat by the time Arthur appeared with the doctil across his shoulder, and I took the key from him and went back to bring François out.

I dropped it into my vest pocket when we were in the corridor again, and saluted the men. They moved away, rounded the curve of the corridor where it lifted upward to continue its long spiral. They passed from sight. I was alone with Eve, for the last time.

I dared take only a minute for that farewell, dared not trust myself to speak. Nor was it with words that she told me that my love for her was no greater than hers for me.

Then Evelyn Rand was going away from me, to join the others who were waiting for her, and I was really alone. I turned, started down the long, winding incline toward where, as surely as though I myself had drawn the plans of the House of Sun, I knew I would find the cell of the matra and those who waited with death in their hands for any enemy who might try to approach her.

I wasn't afraid of what lay ahead. One is not afraid any more, when one knows that death is imminent and inevitable.

I WENT over what I had planned. I would have to rehearse my every act, my every movement, so that they would follow one another with mechanical precision. If I had to pause, even for an instant, I would fail.

Swiftly my hand reached for Orth's gun and I whirled around, for there had been a footfall behind me.

"Eve!" I burst out. "My God, Eve. What—"

She slipped her fingers into the crook of my elbow. "You didn't think I would let you go alone, Johnny?" she asked, smiling. "You didn't really think I would let you die, without me at your side to die with you?" There was a glint of mischief in her eyes, a mischievous twist at the corners of her mouth. "I waited till I was sure you had gone too far to send me back, and then I came after you."

"You little fool. You dear little fool. You'll ruin every—" I checked. Her being with me wouldn't ruin my plan. It might even help it.

"What are we going to do, Johnny?" she asked. "What's your plan?"

I had to tell her. I had to be sure that she understood it in every detail. "It's very simple, my dear. I'm going to pretend to be Astaris."

"Astaris! But you can't make yourself look like him."

"I don't have to. He made himself look like me. Gohret knows that, doesn't know he's changed back, or at least that's what I hope. He doesn't know that I've got hold of one of the instruments that enable the plebos to go through the walls. When I come through the wall into that room, he'll be almost certain, in the first instant, to think I'm Astaris."

"In the first instant. But he can read our thoughts, Johnny. He'll read yours, and since you know that you're really John March, he'll know it too at once."

"That's the weakest point of my scheme. But I think I can get past it."


"By being Astaris. By convincing myself that I am Astaris, the way an actor convinces himself that he is the character he portrays, so that every unconscious gesture of his is that character's and not his own. I've got to do that, Eve, and I will."

"I know you will, Johnny." Her quiet trust in me gave me renewed confidence. "I know you will. But, Astaris, why should you keep your disguise as March when you're going to Gohret?"

"Wait a minute, Eve! You don't know that I'm Astaris. You still think I'm John March. You've asked a question that was bothering me till you showed up. Your being with me answers it. Here's the story. I assumed John March's personality, his whole make-up, in the hope that your love would evoke a corresponding emotion in me. You see, I can't conceive that it is anything but a physical or chemical reaction, requiring only a duplication of conditions to be produced. Well, I've succeeded; I've learned the nature of love. Under normal conditions I would bring you before the whole Kintat to confirm it, but because the others are occupied with the defense against the drina, I'm taking you to Gohret alone.

"If I changed back to my real form, you would be terrified, and the experiment ruined. Perhaps, even I might lose the effect it has had on me. That's why I'm still posing as John March. See?"

Her brow wrinkled. "It's a little complicated. You're Astaris, and you want Gohret to know that, but you want me to think that you're Johnny."

"Exactly. I'm posing as Astaris posing as me. I am Astaris posing as John March. Your part is easy. You know I'm John March, and you're in love with me. You don't understand what I'm up to but you trust me implicitly."

"In other words I'm just to be myself."

"Exactly. You can even be scared as you please of Gohret and the plebos. You have only to be careful to forget what happened in that garden back there."

"You mean when you—"

"Hold it, darling. I kissed you in the garden, and we were very happy with our love, so that you almost forgot all the strange things that have been happening. Then I asked you to come somewhere with me, and you answered that you would go anywhere as long as it was with me, anywhere in the world or out of it.

"You're a little startled because you have suddenly found yourself in this corridor. You'll be somewhat more startled when I've taken you into the room of the matra, and you'll be terrified of Gohret, but you will depend on me to take care of you. Come on, my dear. We've got only a little farther to go. And trust me."

Her smile was a blessing.

"Yes, Johnny, dear. I trust you always and forever."

She has no suspicion that I am Astaris, I thought. She trusts me, and she loves me. Queer—this feeling I have toward her, drawing me to her, thrilling me at the very touch of her. Something electrical in its nature, something chemical. I can't quite analyze it, using March's brain. If I could use my own... I'd better not just yet, I don't have to. Gohret will examine us, both of us, and he'll know exactly what change she has made in me.

Ah, we're here, outside the room of the matra. I hope that her terror at what she'll see in it won't mask her love reactions from Gohret. Well, that's a chance I have to take. But I'll try to prepare her for what awaits her. I'll make her see a door here.

"We're going through this door, dear,"

I said aloud. "There will be things inside you won't understand, but trust me, no harm is going to come to you."

"I'm not afraid, Johnny," she answered. "As long as I'm with you. But kiss me, before you open that door."

I took her in my arms, the way I'd seen the men of the past, in so many different centuries, embrace women, and I pressed my lips against hers. Her body was trembling in the circle of my arms, and her lips were cold on mine. Mine were cold too, and there was a tightness around my brow. That was because this was the crucial moment of my experiment, and I was really quite worried lest it fail. Strange how this love made one susceptible to other emotions too, how it disturbed one's philosophical attitude to all the phenomena of nature.

I took her arms tenderly from about my neck. "We've got to go in, darling," I said. I took her hand in mine. My fingers slid into my vest pocket, and, standing close to the wall, I pressed the key against it. We were going through it. We were in the room of the matra. The guards circled the crystal case, and Gohret stood above it, thinking how much depended on the white, sleeping form that lay within it.

The plebos were startled. Their hands came up. "Gohret!" I sent the thought to my brother doctil, proud of my triumph. "My experiment has succeeded. I want you to examine the change in me, but be careful not to disturb the female."

Aloud, I said, as Evelyn Rand might expect John March to say, "You sent for us. What do you want?" And I kept moving toward the center of the room.

We were moving straight toward the lifted weapons of the plebos. The fools I thought. They look uncertain. They are about to loose their rays. Is my pose as John March too well done? Don't they, doesn't Gohret believe that I am Astaris?

The moment was an eon.

John March's hand closed on the butt of the gun in the pocket of his jacket, and his fingers curled over its trigger.

EVELYN RAND'S feet dragged. There was no color in her face and her eyes were dark and large. Gohret's thoughts were unformed, puzzled, as he stood motionless above the bed of the matra and watched us come toward him.

Then I was aware of his thoughts: "Something wrong, something blurred, in the way he communicates with me. I do not recognize Astaris' mind."

"That is because my mind uses the cells of March's brain," I answered him, silently. "I am surprised that you do not comprehend it." I was beginning to be a little angry at his stupidity, at the insolence of the plebos who stood steadfast, blocking me. A doctil! They were blocking my way no longer. Two had moved aside to let us pass.

We were on the platform. We were within a long pace of the matra's case. John March's gun moved slightly to aim at the form within it.

Gohret's right tentacle lashed forward. March's finger squeezed the trigger!

The doctil grabbed my arm in that exact moment. I saw the case smash into splinters, a red splotch appear on the matra's temple. "Goodbye, Eve!" I gasped, as the plebos whirled to cut us down—

Then darkness filled the room—utter, impenetrable darkness.

Gohret's reaching arm found me, and I pounded it with the butt of the gun.

"The power!" I sensed his startled thought. "All power's off!"

All about me the plebos were in a jumble of panic. I knew they were trying to strike me with their rays, but nothing was happening. Nothing was happening because their weapons were no longer tapping the energy that would have sliced Eve and me to pieces.

Keeping tight hold of Eve, I was lurching toward the wall, was using Orth's gun as a club to batter the unseen plebos out of my way. Confused, they were blundering into one another, into us. Gohret's mind was searching for us, but we were screened from it by the terror of the plebos, by their silent shouts, "The Veil. The Veil of Ishlak is gone. The drina are coming."

Abruptly I was through their heaving mass, was staggering across a free space, Eve still in the circle of my arm.

"It wasn't any use," I gasped. "We've killed the matra, but Villon has smashed the machines." We brought up against something hard, vertical. "We've saved our world, but we're through. The drina will destroy us."

"We've saved our world, Johnny," I heard Eve answer. "And we can die happy." Her lips moved across my cheek, found mine and clung to them.

"No." I pulled my head back from hers. "Maybe the books are shut on us, but we aren't dead yet." I was fishing in my vest pocket. "We're not giving up. If we're going to die, we'll die trying."

I didn't have any hope the key would get us through the wall now, with no energy flux for it to tap, but I was going to try it. "The drina haven't gotten us yet."

There were two small objects in my pocket, and I brought them both out. One of them was the key. The other, I realized, was the strange black gem that I'd found in Eve's room in Westchester, and that had been in my pocket ever since my first meeting with Astaris.

"Put your arm around my waist, Eve," I directed. I identified the key by touch, but somehow I couldn't throw away the gem. It was so intimately connected with Eve. I held it in my left hand while I put the little instrument against the vertical rock and squeezed it.

Nothing happened. Well, I had expected that. We were done for. We'd stay here till the drina found us...

We wouldn't be alive when the drina found us—for Gohret was coming toward us now. In the same curious manner that I'd been able to hear their unspoken words. I knew that he'd succeeded in quieting the plebos, had located us, and was coming to take revenge on us for the death of the matra. He was no longer the cold, intellectual man of the future. He was filled with a great anger, and he wasn't going to leave us for the drina. I half turned to meet him—and got no further.

THE floor heaved, threw me against the wall. I shoved both hands against it to save myself from falling. The black stone in my left hand clicked on the rock, and there was a sharp, tearing sound. Dim, brownish light jagged the blackness of the wall and there was dust in my nostrils. The break in the facade widened, and I half-fell through it, Eve coming with me.

We were in the spiral corridor. Its floor was heaving beneath us. I spun to meet the doctil—was just in time to see the cleft in the wall closed by rock fragments tumbling into it, to see them crush Gohret's skull. Eve's little fists were pounding me.

"The drina, Johnny," she screamed above a shrill vibration of sound that till now I had been unaware of. "Look."

The brownish light came in through the aperture at the end of the long ramp, out of which Daster, long ago, had led me from the House of Sun. That aperture was jagged-edged now, growing wider as I looked at it. It was being widened by amorphous, purple-gray tendrils tearing at its rocky frame, tearing the stone from it in great chunks. A tremendous purple-gray sea surged out there beyond it, and it was from this sea the shrill, ear-piercing whistle rose.

"Good Lord!" I muttered. "The projectors on the tower were useless when the power was cut off, and there was nothing at all to hold back the drina. They've swallowed all the Future Men out there, and now they're tearing this building apart to get at the few left inside here—and at us. That's why it's shaking so, as if it were in the grip of an earthquake. We're caught—"

"Not yet, Johnny," Eve cried. "Their tearing at the building was what broke the cleft in the wall and saved us from Gohret. Don't you get some hope from that?"

"I don't see—"

"Johnny!" She shook me. "You said we'd die trying."

"Yes. But what's there left to try? Look, they're coming through." The aperture large enough, a purple-gray mass was oozing through it. "And they're tearing the whole building down over our heads. Wait! They can't tear the whole building down all at once, it's too huge. It will take them a long time. Eve, there is one thing we can still try. If we can get to the top ahead of them, if the stratcar can still fly... Come on!"

We were running up that steep, winding incline. We were running endlessly. Behind us and below there was the shrill and terrible whistle of the drina, and the thud of falling stone. Abruptly, there was a great silent scream in my mind, a soundless scream that I knew to be the death cry of the plebos whom we'd left behind in the room of the matra.

And then the scream was ended, and there was only the shrill whistle of the drina, and that was fading. The shuddering of the floor under our feet had diminished to an almost imperceptible vibration. We were running, endlessly running in the dark, circling and climbing.

My legs ached, every muscle, every sinew a separate agony. An iron band about my chest constricted my lungs, and my temples pounded.

Eve wasn't running beside me any longer.

I halted, turned back. "Eve!" I gasped. "Eve!"

No answer. No sight of her in that absolute darkness.

I started back, groping. "Eve!" I mustn't pass her in the dark. "Eve!" I staggered from side to side of the passage to make sure I would not pass her. "Eve darling." My foot touched something soft, and I went to my knees. My hands felt the softness of her body.

"Johnny." It was barely audible. "I can't... run... any longer. Kiss me... Johnny... and go."

I bent forward and kissed her. Then I was working my arms under her, to lift her. I couldn't. I no longer had the strength. I couldn't carry her to safety.

There was no escape and this was as good a place as any to die. I settled down, her warm body in my arms, the softness of her against my chest, my lips on hers.

Very faintly I began to hear the drina's shrill whistle. They were coming. They were coming up the black spiral. Very slowly they were coming, and they had a long way to come, but they'd get here.

I was tired, too tired to be afraid....


SOMETHING seized me, tore me from Eve, and lifted me. I cried out some unintelligible gibberish and struck feebly at whatever had taken hold of me.

"'Tis he, by my halidom," a familiar voice boomed. "'Tis our John March." King Arthur's great voice. John Orth's guttural tones answered him. "And the Fräulein Evelyn I have here."

"Arthur," I managed to whisper. "What—"

"We essay to sortie from this castle, the archduke and I," he answered. "The other three preferred to wait Fortune's chance above."

"You can't get out, Arthur. You'll have to go back. Listen, do you hear that whistling sound?" It was a little louder, a little nearer. "The drina make that, and they're coming up the passage. You can't get past them."

"Back it is, then." He started off, carrying me. "Follow, Duke Orth."

"Let me down," I said feebly. "I can walk."

"Nay, John. Thou art but hardly able to make thyself heard. Thou hast not strength to make this exceeding great climb, but we have the strength for both. Lie still, and let thy king carry thee."

There wasn't any use in arguing with him, though I felt a bit foolish. "What happened, Arthur? Why did you smash the machinery? Didn't you see in the television disk that we'd gotten into the room of the matra? Why didn't you give me a few seconds more?"

"Nay, and that we would, had we been able. The Frenchman had slain the single guard, and we were gathered in the chamber where the magical contrivances buzzed like an hundred hives of bees, all but the lad, Louis, who watched outside as thou hadst instructed. We watched thee in that Satan's glass, marveled that the demons permitted thee to pass through their ranks, that the orange-clad ogre seemed to greet thee amicably. In that instant the lad cried out, 'Plebos! 'Ware Plebos!' and instanter, I with Excalibur, the duke and the Jew and the Frenchman with their bare hands, shattered the witch lights that shone there.

"In a sudden night we leaped upon the gray demons, already within the chamber. Then, indeed, Excalibur proved its worth. The unequal combat was over and done with in a trice. No quarter was asked in that fray, and none given."

"They must have been the ones left to watch the controls of the Veil," I muttered. "I suppose they sensed your presence.... How about Astaris?"

"He remaineth our prisoner."

I would have asked more, but just then the passage curved and leveled out, and I saw ahead a wavering yellow light, silhouetting Elijah's tall, bearded form and casting a wavering glimmer on the faces of Villon and the Dauphin. The youngster seemed absorbed in something the poet was telling him.

The light came from a small, extremely smoky fire on the floor. "We each gave some article of our apparel," Arthur explained. "And Orth set flame to them with fire-dust he beareth with him."

"Powder for that gun of mine," the Austrian explained.

"Let me down," I told Arthur. "I'm all right now." This time he took my word for it, and so I was on my own feet when Villon spied me.

"John!" He bounded toward me, and before I could prevent him, had kissed me on the cheeks. "John! I mourned you for dead, was indeed composing an elegy for you. And Eve,"—he turned to her—"the white flower of all man's dreams! Now indeed, my bearded rabbi, I begin to have some credence in the efficacy of your heathen prayers."

"We still need those prayers, Elijah. Listen." I lifted my hand. The whistle of the drina came clearly from the passage that had led us here. I told them what it was. "We've got just about five minutes to find some way out of here, and I don't know what that could be, unless the stratcar's still working." Eve had regained most of her strength. Orth set her down and she came to me. "Is there any way we can get in to the hangar?" I asked them.

"We've searched; its walls are solid. But you have the key, John!"

"I have it." Somehow I'd held on to it all this time. "But it isn't any good." I held it out to him. "Want it for a souvenir—" It was my left hand I had held out. The black thing on its palm was not the key, but the carved gem.

"HOW came you by this?" It was Elijah who demanded that, staring down at the thing. There was something of surprise, something almost of awe in his face. "How came you by it?"

"Why?" I asked. "What is it?"

"The very basis of the Kabala," the prophet answered me. "The very essence of all its philosophy. Look you." He pointed at it. "The Snake of Life, swallowing its own tail, and therefore without beginning and without end. His coils winding in and out upon itself, in symbol that the spirit of the Godhead, no matter how twisted, no matter through how many planes of existence it passes, returns always upon itself, and is always of one nature, one being. Israel possessed it before my time, and before my time it was lost. How came you by it, John March?"

I shrugged. "You'll have to ask Eve that. I found it in her room."

Elijah turned to her, and she said: "You gave it to me, Johnny." "What!"

She smiled wanly. "I mean the play-friend I called Johnny gave it to me. At least, I found it on my dresser one day after he'd gone. I don't know where it could have come from."

"It was I who left it there." No voice this, but the brain- echo I knew must come from a Future Man. From Astaris, the only Future Man left alive. I turned. He was standing beside me, and his broken bonds lay at his feet. "I found it on this planet, and I left it with you when you were a child to mark you so that I should know you again when you were grown old enough to be taken here. I replaced it when I had taken you, so that it would mark for me the man you were destined to love."

"You found it on this planet," I repeated, "and yet Elijah recognizes it as a religious symbol from ancient Earth, a symbol of the creed that was the first among men to proclaim the oneness of God." I felt a great awe, deeper than amazement or fear. The gem was a representation of the unity of the Godhead. It was of the same material as the image the drina worshiped, the great image that I'd seen in the brown heavens, hovering above the host of its vengeance. There was meaning upon meaning in the carved gem.... Was it only by accident that the wall of the room of the matra had opened just where the gem struck it?

"Messieurs!" the Dauphin's cry cut off those thoughts. "The drina. They are close upon us." And then I heard the shrill whistling of the purple-gray monsters, loud now from the spiral tunnel, and the slither of their bodies against its walls.

The first terrible tentacle oozed into the room as I twisted to its entrance. Arthur sprang toward it. Excalibur lifted and slashed down. The great blade sliced through the quivering dark mass, and it retreated a little. The jelly-like stuff quivered momentarily in the doorway.

Villon pushed Eve into my arms. "Take her," he cried. "Retreat with her behind these metal masses. We'll defend you two as long as we may," Then he was beside the king, was hacking with his poniard at a renewed surge of the drina. Elijah joined them. Somehow the bearded sage had found a huge bar. He was pounding it into the purple-gray mass. Orth thrust a little paper twist of gunpowder and a bullet, into my hand. Then, with another bar, he had joined the others in that splendid fight that was foredoomed to failure.

I knew what Orth meant for me to do with the powder and bullet. I reloaded his pistol feverishly. As I did so a surge of the dark, protoplasmic flesh caught the Austrian, enveloped him. Elijah and Villon gave back a step.

The gun was loaded. I turned to Eve. She was struggling with the Dauphin. He was trying to get away from her, not to flee from the drina but to fight them. I lifted the gun, took careful aim at the honey-colored hair that had been so fragrant in my nostrils. I had only one shot, and it must not miss.

"Farewell, my John," I heard Villon cry. "Fare—" There wasn't any more. I knew he too was engulfed by the awful thing he fought. Elijah was droning a prayer, and somehow I knew it was the prayer a Hebrew makes when he is about to die. I gritted my teeth for the pull on the trigger that would give Eve a clean death.

"No!" Astaris' voice in my brain forbade the shot. "No, John March. I can save you. I can send you back—"

I swung around to face the great-headed creature. Then, with a startling clarity, his silent message came into my mind. "I can send you back, John March, you and Evelyn Rand. And I will save you from death—"

In that instant I knew the truth, yet it seemed too incredible to believe. But there was something strangely different in this message I had just received from Astaris; there was a new quality and instinctively I realized that it was emotion, never present before in the thought messages of the doctils. Because I sensed that, I realized the truth about Astaris even before he sent the silent words to me.

"Yes, John March, you have guessed. The experiment was successful. I have learned the meaning of love, and I have learned to love Evelyn Rand. I have learned so well that, knowing she would never return my love, I must send her back to her own world, and you with her to assure her happiness. I must because of this new thing that I have learned."

He stopped, and then he must have read the question that rose out of the turmoil in my mind, for he answered it:

"I shall die. There is no place for me alone on your Earth or in any time, and so I shall die by the drina, as the other doctils have already died. I could accomplish little without them. But first you and Evelyn Rand will be given your freedom."

As his message ended I understood something else—that Astaris had learned the meaning of sacrifice as well as love. I stared at him, too deeply moved to speak, for this was no longer a fantastic creature of another world. He was a man going to his death to save Evelyn Rand and myself.

In the next instant I was enveloped by a dizzy darkness. Yet not darkness; rather, an absence of form, of color, of reality itself. I was falling through nothingness. I was caught up in some vast maelstrom, whirling through a spaceless, timeless nonexistence.

All about me was a soft whisper of whirling dust.


A WHORL of dust was swirling away from me down a country road. It seemed luminous in the dusk, almost wraithlike. It faded into the gray, quiet twilight.

Cicadas were beginning their shrill piping. Somewhere a frog honked. The evening star twinkled in the sky's darkening blue. I turned to Eve. I knew she would be there, the other side of the gate in the fence, though I hadn't yet seen her.

"We're home, Eve." I murmured. "We're home again, dear heart. In our own time. In our own world."

"Home, Johnny." She opened the gate and I went through it. I took her into my arms.

"Eve," a faded, tenuous voice called to us out of the dusk. "Eve, my dear. Come in and bring your young man with you. Come in; I have been waiting a long time for you."

The voice came from the porch of a great house that glimmered whitely in the dusk. It was Faith Corbett, so shrunken and fragile that it seemed a not too high wind must blow her away, who called from the door of the house. The door was open and it was a rectangle of yellow light, warm and welcoming. Eve and I went up the path to the house where Evelyn Rand bad played with the Johnny of her dreams. But it was not only Evelyn Rand who was coming home.

There was supper, piping hot, waiting for us on the table in the dining room that was walled with a dark, lustrous oak. There was a fire on the hearth in the parlor, and a cushioned sofa where I could sit and hold Eve in my arms. Faith Corbett would not tell us how she knew that we were coming home, how she knew to prepare that dinner for us, to light that fire.

"I knew." She smiled faintly. "I knew, my dears, when you would come. I knew John would find you, and that he would bring you here a month to the day after he'd been to see me in my little cottage near the village. But how I knew I cannot tell you."

"A month! Is it a month, Faith, since then?"

"Aye," her thin voice said. "A month to the day." And then she went rustling out of that quiet room, so bent and shrunken and old that she seemed almost a ghost herself, and she left us to the red leap of the fire, and to the peace of our being together with no fear brooding at our hearts, with no doom overhanging us.

Eve stirred in my arms after a while. "Johnny," she murmured. "It—it was all a dream, wasn't it? Say I dreamed it."

"No, dear heart. You didn't dream it. It was very real. It—" my brow puckered. "I—I'm not so sure. It's getting so vague now. It does seem as though I dreamed it. But we couldn't both have had the same dream. That isn't possible."

"How do we know it was the same dream, Johnny?" Eve asked. The scent of her was in my nostrils, the redolence of spring and the evasive fragrance of dreams. "Suppose we tell each other what we remember, and then we'll know whether it was the same—the same nightmare we both had."

"No, darling. We won't talk about it any more. Not tonight. But I'll write it all out, and you'll read what I've written and tell me whether it checks with your memories."

And so, when at last we went up to the rooms Faith Corbett had prepared for us, I did not go to sleep but sat down at an old desk to write what I could remember. This that you have read is what I wrote that night, and all the next day, and all the next night, and when I read it over after I'd finished, it was all quite as new to me as it was to you.

And Eve had no memory of any of her part in the narrative.

NOW, this might prove that it was all a marvelously vivid nightmare I had, except for a number of things. The most important, and the only one I need mention here, is this. I walked out of the office of Sturdevant, Hamlin and Sturdevant on the fourteenth of February, 1938, and disappeared. No trace of me could be found from that day till the sixteenth of March, although the private detectives that P.A. Sturdevant hired searched for me diligently.

Yes, they did unearth four men who'd seen me after I walked out of that office. The caretaker of a certain art gallery on Madison Avenue, the owner of a second-hand bookstore on that same thoroughfare, a policeman who was on duty outside the bookstore, all on the fourteenth. And a taxicab driver who'd taken me out to Brooklyn.

All four of these men told a story of my queer behavior, and that behavior was exactly as has been set down in this narrative, even to the woman's voice that told the driver to proceed to Cobblen Street, just off the Brooklyn Bridge Plaza....

I have looked up whatever is known about the other five of us seven who were taken out of time. There is no question as to the inexplicable vanishing of François Villon and John Orth. The incident of Elijah and the pillar of fire is in the Old Testament, of Arthur's passing in the Morte d'Arthur, and in Tennyson's beautiful poem. There are legends that the Dauphin escaped from Paris, lived to old age on Long Island. But then, while my narrative is not very clear on this, it is possible that Astaris sent the Dauphin back to his own time, as he did Eve and me to ours.

All these circumstances seem to confirm the truth of my strange tale. There is another concerning which I cannot make up my mind as to whether it verifies or casts doubt on it.

One day, not very long ago, Eve and I decided to make a pilgrimage to Cobblen Street and examine the curious old house at four-nineteen. We took a taxi, and I dismissed it exactly where I had left the other.

Now that, to my certain knowledge, was the only previous time I'd ever been in this section of Brooklyn, yet I threaded the maze of those quiet streets with the curious names of Orange, Pineapple, Cranberry, with absolute certitude, and found Plum Street without any trouble.

We walked past the drugstore where I had had a weird experience with a card that no one could see but I, started climbing the slope at whose end was the brightness of a blue sky over the water of the bay.

I remember the sound of our footsteps ringing out on the pavement. Perhaps unintentionally, we were walking very close together, our steps in perfect rhythm. Eve took my hand. She pressed it and I smiled at her.

The glorious massing of white towers at the end of Manhattan Island rose slowly above the summit of that ascent. "The house is right at the end of this vista," I told Eve. "We'll see it in a moment."

But we didn't. We came to the end of the sidewalk, at Cobblen Street. Along that waterfront thoroughfare ran the rows of four- storied, graystone houses I recalled, exactly as I recalled them. The one to our left had the number 415 painted on the third step of its high stoop. The one to our right was number 423.

Between them was an iron fence edging a green lawn. The emerald velvet ran to the edge of the retaining wall that keeps Cobblen Street from tumbling into the East River, and there was no house upon it. None at all.

There was no four nineteen Cobblen Street. There never had been.

I HOPE this means that the adventure I have related is some strange illusion, that Eve's disappearance for six weeks, mine for four, has some other explanation. For otherwise there is this disquieting thought to haunt me.

The Kintat of doctils who will conquer the planet of the drina a million years from now, will believe themselves, their plebos and their matra, to be the sole remnant of mankind. But suppose they are not. Suppose that from among the people of some other Earth city other doctils, another matra, will survive the catastrophe. Suppose that these will plan just such a return to the Earth of what to them will be the dim past as Astaris and his fellows will. Suppose that, right now, they are somewhere among us, spying on us. Suppose that man in the subway this morning, that man with the strangely yellow skin and the weird, veiled eyes...

"But, Johnny," Eve interrupts. She has been reading that last paragraph as I write it. It's a cute trick of hers just now, but I'll have to make her stop that sort of thing as soon as our honeymoon is over.

"If everything you've written really happened, we know the course of history for a million years, and we know that no race of Future Men will come back to conquer us, in this century or any other."

"We know nothing, my dear. We know nothing about the nature of Time, as yet. It might well be that Time is a great river with many forks down all of which the great pageant of history is swept. Are we certain that mankind has only one destiny, the one we saw in the great Hall of Miracles? Can we say with any surety that there is only one future? Is there anything we can say with any surety?"

"Yes, Johnny," Eve murmurs. "There is one."

Her fingers touched my cheek. "What is it?"

"Elijah phrased it better than I can. 'The Eternal is infinite, and all-present. Nor in the uttermost reaches of the firmament, nor in the ultimate end of Time, is there limit to Him, nor let to His majesty!"


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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