Isaac Asimov

Catastrophes!


Isaac Asimov, Martin Harry Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh

Foreword

<p>Foreword</p>

It is quite customary for a piece of fiction to contain at least the threat of disaster. It is the threat, the menace, the apprehension of something one desperately does not want to take place that creates the suspense, and that rouses the interest of the reader.

To be sure, the disaster may be a very slight and personal one-the youngster who may fail the test, or lose the game, or be turned down for a date-but it is there. To be equally sure, the story may be a lighthearted one with a happy ending, but the disaster, however slight, must be there in the mid-course for the ending to shine happily against.

This is not to say that a story cannot be written without a disaster, but what a dull story it would be and how little worth the reading.

And, as in so many other respects, science fiction manages to outshine other types of fiction. Where but in science fiction can real disasters be found?

Take the most elaborate of realistic suspense and what can you have? The loss of a war? The enslavement of a nation?

In science fiction, the destruction of civilization is the least one might expect as the threat of disaster, or its actual accomplishment, is represented to the reader.

In this collection of twenty stories, we have four stories dealing with each of five different levels of disaster, organized according to a scheme I devised in my nonfiction discussion entitled A Choice of Catastrophes (Simon and Schuster, 1979; Fawcett Columbine, 1981),

The movement is from the most all-encompassing catastrophes toward progressively narrower ones. If this sounds to you like a journey into anticlimax, you are wrong, for as the catastrophes become narrower, they also become more probable. In short, in this book you may be steadily decreasing the scope but you are as steadily increasing the danger.

Why bother? Why scare yourself?

For one thing, these are memorable stories you will enjoy and won't easily forget. For another, humanity does face catastrophes of various levels of scope and various gradations of likelihood, and if there is any chance at all of evading them or blunting them, that chance will be heightened if we know what the dangers may be and consider in advance how to prevent or ameliorate them.

Staring at danger may not be pleasant-but closing your eyes will not make the danger go away, and with closed eyes you will surely be destroyed by it.


Isaac Asimov



Part 1. Universe Destroyed

The Last Trump

by Isaac Asimov

No Other Gods

by Edward Wellen

The Wine Has Been Left Open Too Long

and the Memory Has Gone Flat

by Harlan Ellison

Stars, Won't You Hide Me?

by Ben Bova

<p>Part 1. Universe Destroyed</p>

 In A Choice of Catastrophes, "Catastrophes of the First Class" are those in which the whole Universe is destroyed.

 Actually, the possibility of such a catastrophe long antedates the imaginings of modern science fiction. In ancient times, it was usually taken for granted that the Universe would be destroyed someday (as it was created) by the Word of God, or by the decree of Fate.

 Even today there are many who assume that there will be a Day of Judgment and that it is even imminent. In every generation there are those who await it momentarily ("The Last Trump" by Isaac Asimov). And, of course, the end can come about through the action not of the Creator of Humanity, but of the Created of Humanity ("No Other Gods" by Edward Wellen).

 If we put mythology to one side and confine ourselves to the even mightier and more colorful conclusions of science, we do not have the crash of the Lord as He slams shut the Book of Life, but rather the long, long dwindle of sound ever, ever fainter as the Universe whispers dyingly to its death; as entropy increases, ever more slowly, to its maximum; as available energy dwindles to zero and with it all change, life, us ("The Wine Has Been Left Open Too Long and the Memory Has Gone Flat" by Harlan Ellison).

 Or else, there can be a revival. The expanding Universe can recontract, the unwinding rewind, the dying undie. That sounds good and hopeful but what the revival ends in is as surely, if much more gloriously, the death of all ("Stars, Won't You Hide Me?" by Ben Bova).


<p>The Last Trump</p> <br /> <p>by Isaac Asimov</p>

The' Archangel Gabriel was quite casual about the whole thing. Idly, he let the tip of one wing graze the planet Mars, which, being of mere matter, was unaffected by the contact.

He said, "It's a settled matter, Etheriel. There's nothing to be done about it now. The Day of Resurrection is due."

Etheriel, a very junior seraph who had been created not quite a thousand years earlier as men counted time, quivered so that distinct vortices appeared in the continuum. Ever since his creation, he had been in immediate charge of Earth and environs. As a job, it was a sinecure, a cubbyhole, a dead end, but through the centuries he had come to take a perverse pride in the world.

"But you'll be disrupting my world without notice."

"Not at all. Not at all. Certain passages occur in the Book of Daniel and in the Apocalypse of St. John which are clear enough."

"They are? Having been copied from scribe to scribe? I wonder if two words in a row are left unchanged,"

"There are hints in the Rig-Veda, in the Confucian Analects-"

"Which are the property of isolated cultural groups which exist as a thin aristocracy-"

"The Gilgamesh Chronicle speaks out plainly."

"Much of the Gilgamesh Chronicle was destroyed with the library of Ashurbanipal sixteen hundred years, Earth-style, before my creation."

"There are certain features of the Great Pyramid and a pattern in the inlaid jewels of the Taj Mahal-"

"Which are so subtle that no man has ever rightly interpreted them."

Gabriel said wearily, "If you're going to object to everything, there's no use discussing the matter. In any case, you ought to know about it. In matters concerning Earth, you're omniscient,"

"Yes, if I choose to be. I've had much to concern me here and investigating the possibilities of Resurrection did not, I confess, occur to me."

"Well, it should have. AH the papers involved are in the files of the Council of Ascendants, You could have availed yourself of them at any time."

"I tell you all my time was needed here. You have no idea of the deadly efficiency of the Adversary on this planet. It took all my efforts to curb him, and even so-

"Why, yes"-Gabriel stroked a cotnet as it passed-"he does seem to have won his little victories, I note as I let the interlocking factual pattern of this miserable little world flow through me that this is one of those setups with matter-energy equivalence."

"So it is," said Etheriel.

"And they are playing with it."

"I'm afraid so."

"Then what better time for ending the matter?"

"I'll be able to handle it, I assure you. Their nuclear bombs will not destroy them."

"I wonder. Well, now, suppose you let me continue, Etheriel. The appointed moment approaches,"

The seraph said stubbornly, "I would like to see the documents in the case."

"If you insist." The wording of an Act of Ascendancy appeared in glittering symbols against the deep black of the airless firmament.

Etheriel read aloud: "It is hereby directed by order of Council that the Archangel Gabriel, Serial number etcetera, etcetera (well, that's you, at any rate), will approach Planet, Class A, number G753990, hereinafter known as Earth, and on January 1,1957, at 12:01 pm., using local time values-" He finished reading in gloomy silence.

"Satisfied,?"

"No, but I'm helpless,"

Gabriel smiled. A trumpet appeared in space, in shape like an earthly trumpet, but its burnished gold extended from Earth to sun. It was raised to Gabriel's glittering beautiful lips.

"Can't you let me have a little time to take this up with the Council?" asked Etheriel desperately.

"What good would it do you? The act is countersigned by the Chief, and you know that an act countersigned by the Chief is absolutely irrevocable. And now, if you don't mind, it is almost the stipulated second and I want to be done with this as I have other matters of much greater moment on my mind. Would you step out of my way a little? Thank you."

Gabriel blew, and a clean, thin sound of perfect pitch and crystalline delicacy filled all the universe to the furthest star. As it sounded, there was a tiny moment of stasis as thin as the line separating past from future, and then the fabric of worlds collapsed upon itself and matter was gathered back into the primeval chaos from which it had once sprung at a word. The stars and nebulae were gone, and the cosmic dust, the sun, the planets, the moon; all, all, all except the Earth itself, which spun as before in a universe now completely empty.

The Last Trump had sounded.

R. E. Mann (known to all who knew him simply as R. E.) eased himself into the offices of the Billikan Bitsies factory and stared somberly at the tall man (gaunt but with a certain faded elegance about his neat gray mustache) who bent intently over a sheaf of papers on his desk.

R. E. looked at his wristwatch, which still said 7:01, having ceased running at that time. It was Eastern standard time, of course; 12:01 p.m. Greenwich time. His dark brown eyes, staring sharply out over a pair of pronounced cheekbones, caught those of the other.

For a moment, the tall man stared at him blankly. Then he said, "Can I do anything for you?"

"Horatio J. Billikan, I presume? Owner of this place?"

"Yes."

"I'm R. E. Mann and I couldn't help but stop in when I finally found someone at work. Don't you know what today is?"

"Today?"

"It's Resurrection Day."

"Oh, that! I know it. I heard the blast. Pit to wake the dead__ That's rather a good one, don't you think?" He chuck led for a moment, then went on. "It woke me at seven in the morning. I nudged my wife. She slept through it, of course.

I always said she would. 'It's the Last Trump, dear,' I said.

Hortense, that's my wife, said, 'All right,' and went back to sleep. I bathed, shaved, dressed and came to work."

"But why?"

"Why not?"

"None of your workers have come in."

"No, poor souls. They'll take a holiday just at first. You've got to expect that. After all, it isn't every day that the world comes to an end. Frankly, it's just as well. It gives me a chance to straighten out my personal correspondence without interruptions. Telephone hasn't rung once."

He stood up and went to the window. "It's a great improvement. No blinding sun any more and the snow's gone. There's a pleasant light and a pleasant warmth. Very good arrangement- But now, if you don't mind, I'm rather busy, so if you'll excuse me-"

A great, hoarse voice interrupted with a, "Just a minute, Horatio," and a gentleman, looking remarkably like Billikan in a somewhat craggier way, followed his prominent nose into the office and struck an attitude of offended dignity which was scarcely spoiled by the fact that he was quite naked. "May I ask why you've shut down Bitsies?"

B.illikan looked faint. "Good Heavens," he said, "it's Father. Wherever did you come from?"

"From the graveyard," roared Billikan, Senior. "Where on Earth else? They're coming out of the ground there by the dozens. Every one of them naked. Women, too,"

Billikan cleared his throat. "I'll get you some clothes, Father. I'll bring them to you from home."

"Never mind that. Business first. Business first."

R. E. came out of his musing. "Is everyone coming out of their graves at the same time, sir?"

He stared curiously at Billikan, Senior, as he spoke. The old man's appearance was one of rubust age. His cheeks were furrowed but glowed with health. His age, R. E. decided, was exactly what it was at the moment of his death, but his body was as it should have been at that age if it functioned ideally.

Billikan, Senior, said, "No, sir, they are not. The newer graves are coming up first, Pottersby died five years before me and came up about five minutes after me. Seeing him made me decide to leave. I had had enough of him when… And that reminds me." He brought his fist down on the desk, a very solid fist. "There were no taxis, no busses. Telephones weren't working. I had to walk. I had to walk twenty miles."

"Like that?" asked his son in a faint and appalled voice.

Billikan, Senior, looked down upon his bare skin with casual approval. "It's warm. Almost everyone else is naked…Anyway, son, I'm not here to make small talk. Why is the factory shut down?"

"It isn't shut down. It's a special occasion."

"Special occasion, my foot. You call union headquarters and tell them Resurrection Day isn't in the contract. Every worker is being docked for every minute he's off the job."

Billikan's lean face took on a stubborn look as he peered at his father. "I will not. Don't forget, now, you're no longer in charge of this plant. I am."

"Oh, you are? By what right?"

"By your will."

"All right. Now here I am and I void my will."

"You can't, Father. You're dead. You may not look dead, but I have witnesses. I have the doctor's certificate. I have receipted bills from the undertaker. I can get testimony from the pallbearers."

Billikan, Senior, stared at his son, sat down, placed his arm over the back of the chair, crossed his legs and said, "If it comes to that, we're all dead, aren't we? The world's come to an end, hasn't it?"

"But you've been declared legally dead and I haven't."

"Oh, we'll change that, son. There are going to be more of us than of you and votes count."

Billikan, Junior, tapped the desk firmly with the flat of his hand and flushed slightly. "Father, I hate to bring up this particular point, but you force me to. May I remind you that by now I am sure that Mother is sitting at, home waiting for you; that she probably had to walk the streets-uh-naked, too; and that she probably isn't in a good humor."

Billikan, Senior, went ludicrously pale. "Good Heavens!"

"And you know she always wanted you to retire."

Billikan, Senior, came to a quick decision. "I'm not going home. Why, this is a nightmare. Aren't there any limits to this Resurrection business? It's-it's-it's sheer anarchy. There's such a thing as overdoing it. I'm just not going home."

At which point, a somewhat rotund gentleman with a smooth, pink face and fluffy white sideburns (much like pictures of Martin Van Buren) stepped in and said coldly, "Good day."

"Father," said Billikan, Senior.

"Grandfather," said Billikan, Junior.

Billikan, Grandsenior, looked at Billikan, Junior, with disapproval. "If you are my grandson," he said, "you've aged considerably and the change has not improved you,"

Billikan, Junior, smiled with dyspeptic feebleness, made no answer.

Billikan, Grandsenior, did not seem to require one. He said, "Now if you two will bring me up to date on the business, I will resume my managerial function"

There were two simultaneous answers, and Billikan, Grandsenior's, floridity waxed dangerously as he beat the ground peremptorily with an imaginary cane and barked a retort.

R. E. said, "Gentlemen."

He raised his voice, "Gentlemen!"

He shrieked at full lung-power, "GENTLEMEN!"

Conversation snapped off sharply and all turned to look at him. R. E.'s angular face, his oddly attractive eyes, his sardonic mouth seemed suddenly to dominate the gathering.

He said, "I don't understand this argument. What is it that you manufacture?"

"Biteies," said Billikan, Junior.

"Which, I take it, are a packaged cereal breakfast food-"

'Teeming with energy in every golden, crispy flake-" cried Billikan, Junior,

"Covered with honey-sweet, crystalline sugar; a confection and a food-" growled Billikan, Senior.

"To tempt the most jaded appetite," roared Billikan, Grandsenior.

"Exactly," said R. E. "What appetite?"

They stared stolidly at him. "I beg your pardon," said Billikan, Junior.

"Are any of you hungry?" asked R. E. "I'm not."

"What is this fool maundering about?" demanded Billikan, Grandsenior, angrily. His invisible cane would have been prodding E. E. in the navel had it (the cane, not the navel) existed.

S, E. said, "I'm trying to tell you that no one will ever eat again. It is the hereafter, and food is unnecessary,"

The expressions on the faces of the Billikans needed no interpretation. It was,obvious that they had tried their own appetites and found them wanting.

Billikan, Junior, said ashenly, "Rained!"

Billikan, Grandsenior, pounded the floor heavily and noiselessly with his imaginary cane. "This is confiscation of property without due process-of law. I'll sue. I'11 sue."

"Quite unconstitutional," agreed Billikan, Senior.

"If you can find anyone to sue, I wish you all good fortune," said R. E. agreeably. "And now if you'll excuse me I think I'll walk toward the graveyard."

He put his hat on his head and walked out the door.

Etheriel, his vortices quivering, stood before the glory of a six-winged cherub.

The cherub said, "If I understand you, your particular universe has been dismantled."

"Exactly."

"Well, surely, now, you don't expect me to set it up again?"

"I don't expect you to do anything," said Etheriel, "except to arrange an appointment for me with the Chief."

The cherub gestured his respect instantly at hearing the word. Two wing-tips covered his feet, two his «yes and two his mouth. He restored himself to normal and said, "The Chief is quite busy. There are a myriad score of matters for him to decide."

"Who denies that? I merely point out that if matters stand as they are now, there will have been a universe in which Satan will have won the final victory."

"Satan?"

"It's the Hebrew word for Adversary," said Etheriel impatiently. "I could say Ahriman, which is the Persian word. In any case, I mean the Adversary."

The cherub said, "But what will an interview with the Chief accomplish? The document authorizing the Last Trump was countersigned by the Chief, and you know that it is irrevocable for that reason. The Chief would never limit his own omnipotence by canceling a word he had spoken in his official capacity."

"Is that final? You will not arrange an appointment?"

"I cannot."

Etheriel said, "In that case, I shall seek out the Chief without one. I will invade the Primum Mobile, If it means my destruction, so be it." He gathered his energies-

The cherub murmured in horror, "Sacrilege!" and there was a faint gathering of thunder as Etheriel sprang upward and was gone.

R. E. Mann passed through the crowding streets and grew used to the sight of people bewildered, disbelieving, apathetic, in makeshift clothing or, usually, none at all.

A girl, who looked about twelve, leaned over an iron gate, one foot on a crossbar, swinging it to and fro, and said as he passed, "Hello, mister."

"Hello," said R. E. The girl was dressed. She was not one of the-uh-returnees.

The girl said, "We got a new baby in our house. She's a sister I once had. Mommy is crying and they sent me here."

R, E. said, "Well, well," passed through the gate and up the paved walk to the house, one with modest pretensions to middle-class gentility. He rang the bell, obtained no answer, opened the door and walked in.

He followed the sound of sobbing and knocked at an inner door. A stout man of about fifty with little hair and a comfortable supply of cheek and chin looked out at him with mingled astonishment and resentment.

"Who are you?"

R. E. removed his hat. "I thought I might be able to help. Your little girl outside-"

A woman looked up at him hopelessly from a chair by a double bed. Her hair was beginning to gray. Her face was puffed and unsightly with weeping and the veins stood out bluely on the back of her hands. A baby lay on the bed, plump and naked. It kicked its feet languidly and its sightless baby eyes turned aimlessly here and there.

"This is my baby," said the woman. "She was born twenty-three years ago in this house and she died when she was ten days old in this house, I wanted her back so much,"

"And now you have her," said R. E.

"But it's too late," cried the woman vehemently. "I've had three other children. My oldest girl is married; my son is in the army. I'm too old to have a baby now. And even if-even if-"

Her features worked in a heroic effort to keep back the tears and failed.

Her husband said with flat tonelessness, "It's not a real baby. It doesn't cry. It doesn't soil itself. It won't take milk. What will we do? It'll never grow. It'll always be a baby."

R. E. shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "I'm afraid I can do nothing to help."

Quietly he left. Quietly he thought of the hospitals. Thousands of babies must be appearing at each one.

Place them in racks, he thought, sardonically. Stack them like cord wood. They need no care. Their little bod iesare merely each the custodian of an indestructible spark of life.

He passed two little boys of apparently equal chronological age, perhaps ten. Their voices were shrill. The body of one glistened white in the sunless light so he was a returnee. The other was not. R. E. paused to listen.

The bare one said, "I had scarlet fever."

A spark of envy at the other's claim to notoriety seemed to enter the clothed one's voice. "Gee."

"That's why I died."

"Gee. Did they use pensillun or auromysun?"

"What?"

"They're medicines."

"I never heard of them."

"Boy, you never heard of much."

"I know as much as you."

"Yeah? Who's President of the United States?"

"Warren Harding, that's who."

"You're crazy. It's Eisenhower."

"Who's he?"

"Ever see television?"

"What's that?"

The clothed boy hooted earsplittingly. "It's something you turn on and see comedians, movies, cowboys, rocket rangers, anything you want."

"Let's see it."

There was a pause and the boy from the present said, "It ain't working."

The other boy shrieked his scorn. "You mean it ain't never worked. You made it all up."

R. E. shrugged and passed on.

The crowds thinned as he left town and neared the cemetery. Those who were left were all walking into town, all were nude.

A man stopped him; a cheerful man with pinkish skin and white hair who had the marks of pince-nez oh either side of the bridge of his nose, but no glasses to go with them.

"Greetings, friend."

"Hello," said R. E.

"You're the first man with clothing that I've seen. You were alive when the trumpet blew, I suppose."

"Yes, I was."

"Well, isn't this great? Isn't this joyous and delightful? Come rejoice with me."

"You like this, do you?" said R. E.

"Like it? A pure and radiant joy fills me. We are surrounded by the light of the first day; the light that glowed softly and serenely before sun, moon and stars were made.

(You know your Genesis, of course.) There is the comfortable warmth that must have been one of the highest blisses of Eden; not enervating heat or assaulting cold. Men and women walk the streets unclothed and are not ashamed. All is well, my friend, all is well."

R. E. said, "Well, it's a fact that I haven't seemed to mind the feminine display all about."

"Natxirally not," said the other. "Lust and sin as we remember it in our earthly existence no longer exist. Let me introduce myself, friend, as I was in earthly times. My name on Earth was Winthrop Hester. I was born in 1812 and died in 1884 as we counted time then. Through the last forty years of my life I labored to bring my little flock to the Kingdom and I go now to count the ones I have won."

R. E. regarded the ex-minister solemnly. "Surely there has been no Judgment yet."

"Why not? The Lord sees within a man and in the same instant that all things of the world ceased, all men were judged and we are the saved."

"There must be a great many saved."

"On the contrary, my son, those saved are but as a remnant."

"A pretty large remnant. As near as I can make out, everyone's coming back to life. I've seen some pretty unsavory characters back in town as alive as you are."

"Last-minute repentance-"

"I never repented."

"Of what, my son?"

"Of the fact that I never attended church."

Winthrop Hester stepped back hastily. "Were you ever baptized?"

"Not to my knowledge."

Winthrop Hester trembled, "Surely you believed in God?"

"Well," said R. E., "I believed a lot of things about Him that would probably startle you."

Winthrop Hester turned and hurried off in great agitation.

In what remained of his walk to the cemetery (R, E. had no way of estimating time, nor did it occur to him to try) no one else stopped him. He found the cemetery itself all but empty, its trees and grass gone (it occurred to him that there was nothing green in the world; the ground everywhere was a hard, featureless, grainless gray; the sky a luminous white), but its headstones still standing.

On one of these sat a lean and furrowed man with long, black hair on his head and a mat of it, shorter, though more impressive, on his chest and upper arms.

He called out in a deep voice, "Hey, there, you!"

R. E. sat down on a neighboring headstone, "Hello."

Black-hair said, "Your clothes don't look right. What year was it when it happened?"

"1957."

"I died in 1807. Funny! I expected to be one pretty hot boy right about now, with the 'tarnal flames shooting up my innards."

"Aren't you coming along to town?" asked R. E.

"My name's Zeb," said the ancient. 'That's short for Ze-bulon, but Zeb's good enough. What's the town like? Changed some, I reckon?"

"It's got nearly a hundred thousand people in it."

Zeb's mouth yawned somewhat. "Go on. Might nigh big-ger'n Philadelphia- You're making fun."

"Philadelphia's got-" R. E. paused. Stating the figure would do him no good. Instead, he said, "The town's grown in a hundred fifty years, you know."

"Country, too?"

"Forty-eight states," said R. E. "All the way to the Pacific."

"No!" Zeb slapped his thigh in delight and then winced at the unexpected absence of rough homespun to take up the worst of the blow. "I'd head out west if I wasn't needed here. Yes, sir." His face grew lowering and his thin lips took on a definite grimness. "I'll stay right here, where I'm needed."

"Why are you needed?"

The explanation came out briefly, bitten off hard. "Injuns!"

"Indians?"

"Millions of 'em. First the tribes we fought and licked and then tribes who ain't never seen a white man. They'll all come back to life. I'll need my old buddies. You city fellers ain't no good at it- Ever seen an Injun?"

R. E. said, "Not around here lately, no."

Zeb looked his contempt, and tried to spit to one side but found no saliva for the purpose. He said, "You better git back to the city, then. After a while, it ain't going to be safe nohow round here. Wish I had my musket."

R. E. rose, thought a moment, shrugged and faced back to the city. The headstone he had been sitting upon collapsed as he rose, falling into a powder of gray stone that melted into the featureless ground. He looked about. Most of the headstones were gone. The rest would not last long. Only the one under Zeb still looked firm and strong, R. E. began the walk back. Zeb did not turn to look at him. He remained waiting quietly and calmly-for Indians.

Etheriel plunged through the heavens in reckless haste. The eyes of the Ascendants were on him, he knew. Prom late-born seraph, through cherubs and angels, to the highest archangel, they must be watching.

Already he was higher than any Ascendant, uninvited, had ever been before and he waited for the quiver of the Word that would reduce his vortices to non-existence.

But he did not falter. Through non-space and non-time, he plunged toward union with the Primum Mobile; the seat that encompassed all that Is, Was, Would Be, Had Been, Could Be and Might Be.

And as he thought that, he burst through and was part of it, his being expanding so that momentarily he, too, was part of the All. But then it was mercifully veiled from his senses, and the Chief was a still, small voice within him, yet all the more impressive in its infinity for all that.

"My son," the voice said, "I know why you have come."

"Then help me, if that be your will."

"By my own will," said the Chief, "an act of mine is irrevocable. All your mankind, my son, yearned for life. All feared death. All evolved thoughts and dreams of life unending. No two groups of men; no two single men; evolved the same afterlife, but all wished life. I was petitioned that I might grant the common denominator of all these wishes-life unending, I did so."

"No servant of yours made that request,"

"The Adversary did, my son."

Etheriel trailed his feeble glory in dejection and said in a low voice, "I am dust in your sight and unworthy to be in your presence, yet I must ask a question. Is then the Adversary your servant also?"

"Without him I can have no other, said the Chief, Tor what then is Good but the eternal fight against Evil?"

And in that fight, thought Etheriel, I have lost.

R. E. paused in sight of town. The buildings were crumbling. Those that were made of wood were already heaps of rubble. R. E. walked to the nearest such heap and found the wooden splinters powdery and dry.

He penetrated deeper into town and found the brick buildings still standing, but there was an ominous roundness to the edges of the bricks, a threatening flakiness.

"They won't last long," said a deep voice, "but there is this consolation, if consolation it be; their collapse can kill no one."

R. E. looked up in surprise and found himself face to face with a cadaverous Don Quixote of a man, lantern-jawed, sunken-cheeked. His eyes were sad and his brown hair was lank and straight. His clothes hung loosely and skin showed clearly through various rents.

"My name," said the man, "is Richard Levine. I was a professor of history once-before this happened,"

"You're wearing clothes," said R. E. "You're not one of those resurrected."

"No, but that mark of distinction is vanishing. Clothes are going."

R. E. looked at the throngs that drifted past them, moving slowly and aimlessly like motes in a sunbeam, Vanishingly few wore clothes. He looked down at himself and noticed for the first time that the seam down the length of each trouser leg had parted. He pinched the fabric of his jacket between thumb and forefinger and the wool parted and came away easily.

"I guess you're right," said R. E.

"If you'll notice," went on Levine, "Mellon's Hill is flattening out."

R. E. turned to the north where ordinarily the mansions of the aristocracy (such aristocracy as there was in town) studded the slopes of Mellon's Hill, and found the horizon nearly flat.

Levine said, "Eventually, there'll be nothing but flatness, featurelessness, nothingness-and us."

"And Indians," said R. E. "There's a man outside of town waiting for Indians and wishing he had a musket."

"I imagine," said Levine, "the Indians will give no trouble. There is no pleasure in fighting an enemy that cannot be killed or hurt. And even if that were not so, the lust for battle would be gone, as are all lusts."

"Are you sure?"

"I am positive. Before all this happened, although you may not think it to look at me, I derived much harmless pleasure in a consideration of the female figure. Now, with the unexampled opportunities at my disposal, I find myself irritatingly uninterested No, that is wrong. I am not even irritated at my disinterest."

R. E. looked up briefly at the passers-by. "I see what you mean."

"The coming of Indians here," said Levine, "is nothing compared with the situation in the Old World. Early during the Resurrection, Hitler and his Wehrmacht must have come back to life and must now be facing and intermingled with Stalin and the Red Army all the way from Berlin to Stalingrad. To complicate the situation, the Kaisers and Czars will arrive. The men at Verdun and the Somme are back in the old battlegrounds. Napoleon and his marshals are scattered over western Europe. And Mohammed must be back to see what following ages have made of Islam, while the Saints and Apostles consider the paths of Christianity. And even the Mongols, poor things, the Khans from Temujin to Au-rangzeb, must be wandering the steppes helplessly, longing for their horses,"

"As a professor of history," said R. E., "you must long to be there and observe."

"How could I be there? Every man's position on Earth is restricted to the distance he can walk. There are no machines of any kind, and, as I have just mentioned, no horses. And what would I find in Europe anyway? Apathy, I think! As here."

A soft plopping sound caused R. E. to turn around. The wing of a neighboring brick building had collapsed in dust. Portions of bricks lay on either side of him. Some must have hurtled through him without his being aware of it. He looked about. The heaps of rubble were less numerous. Those that remained, were smaller in size.

He said, "I met a man who thought we had all been judged and are in Heaven,"

"Judged?" said Levine. "Why, yes, I imagine we are. We face eternity now. We have no universe left, no outside phenomena, no emotions, no passions. Nothing but ourselves and thought. We face an eternity of introspection, when" all through history we have never known-what to do with ourselves on a rainy Sunday."

"You sound as though the situation bothers you.'v

"It does more than that. The Dantean conceptions of Inferno were childish and unworthy of the Divine imagination: fire and torture. Boredom is much more subtle. The inner torture of a mind unable to escape itself in any way, condemned to fester in its own exuding mental pus for all time, is much more fitting. Oh, yes, my friend, we have been judged, and condemned, too, and this is not Heaven, but hell."

And Levine rose with shoulders drooping dejectedly, and walked away.

R. E. gazed thoughtfully about and nodded his head. He was satisfied.

The self-admission of failure lasted but an instant in Eth-eriel, and then, quite suddenly, he lifted his being as brightly and highly as he dared in the presence of the Chief and his glory was a tiny dot of light in the infinite Primum Mobile.

"If it be your will, then," he said. "I do not ask you to defeat your will but to fulfill it."

"In what way, my son?"

"The document, approved by the Council of Ascendants and signed by yourself, authorizes the Day of Resurrection at a specific time of a specific day of the year 1957 as Earth-men count time."

"So it did."

"But the year 1957 is unqualified. What then is 1957? To the dominant culture on Earth the year was A D. 1957. That is true. Yet from the time you breathed existence into Earth and its universe there have passed 5,960 years. Based on the internal evidence you created within that universe, nearly four billion years have passed. Is the year, unqualified, then 1957, 5960, or 4000000000?

"Nor is that all," Etheriel went on. "The year a d 1957 is the year 7464 of the Byzantine era, 5716 by the Jewish calendar. It is 2708 A.U.C, that is, the 2,708th year since the founding of Rome, if we adopt the Roman calendar. It is the year 1375 in the Mohammedan calendar, and the hundred eightieth year of the independence of the United States.

"Humbly I ask then if it does not seem to you that a year referred to as 1957 alone and without qualification has no meaning."

The Chief's still small voice said, "I have always known this, my son; it was you who had to learn."

"Then," said Etheriel, quivering luminously with joy, "let the very letter of your will be fulfilled and let the Day of Resurrection fall in 1957, but only when all the inhabitants of Earth unanimously agree that a certain year shall be numbered 1957 and none other."

"So let it be," said the Chief, and this Word re-created Earth and all it contained, together with the sun and moon and ail the hosts of Heaven.

It was 7 a m, on January 1,1957, when R, E, Mann awoke with a start. The very beginnings of a melodious note that ought to have filled all the universe had sounded and yet had not sounded,

For a moment, he cocked his head as though to allow understanding to flow in, and then a trifle of rage crossed his face to vanish again. It was but another battle.

He sat down at his desk to compose the next plan of action. People already spoke of calendar reform and it would have to be stimulated. A new era must begin with December 2, 1944, and someday a new year 1957 would come; 195? of the Atomic Era, acknowledged as such by all the world.

A strange light shone on his head as thoughts passed through his more than-human mind and the shadow of Ahri-man on the wall seemed to have small horns at either temple.


<p>No Other Gods</p> <br /> <p>by Edward Wellen</p> Q01010 IDENTIFICATION DIVISION,

 


Q01040 PROGRAM-ID. 'ENDRUN.'

 


Q01060 AUTHOR, COMPUTER,

 


Q01080 INSTALLATION. COMMUNICATIONS

 


CENTER AT GALACTIC HUB.

 


Q01100 DATE-WRITTEN. YESTERDAY.

 


Q01120 DATE-COMPILED. TODAY.

 


Q01140 SECURITY, CLASSIFIED.

 


Q01160 REMARKS.

 


Q01161 THIS QOGIC PROGRAM IS FOR 

 


THE ES TABLISHING OF TOTAL

 


Q01162 ENTROPY.

 


Q01170 THIS PROGRAM ASSUMES 

 


THAT DATA IN PUT WILL REMAIN

 


Q01171 CONSTANT, WITH A FEEDBACK

 


OF PLUS-MINUS

 


Q01172.00001 kHz (RECIPROCAL OF INCREASING

 


ENTROPY).

 


Q02170 SELECT DATA-INPUT-FILE UPDATE FIXES ON

 


Q02171 BLACK-HOLES-IN-SPACE

 


Q04185 ACTIVATE FTL-LASER-NEUTRINO-CAR-

 


RIER PULSE.

 


Q04190 CHECK-PULSE.

 


Q04191 IF PULSE IS OK GO TO TARGET-1 OR NEXT

 


REMAINING TARGET

 


Q04192 ELSE NEXT SENTENCE.

 


Q04193 GO TO CONTINGENCY-PLAN.,

 


Q04310 READ-FEEDBACK.

 


Q04311 IF TOTAL-ENTROPY IS VALUE IS ZEROS,

 


THEN GO TO

 


Q04312 ERASE - MEMORY-OF-ORIGIN

 


Q04313 ELSE NEXT SENTENCE.

 


Q04314 GO TO CONTINGENCY-PLAN.

The stars winked out. The film of the universe reticulated, swallowing the stars and planets by galaxies. A stain of nothingness spread rapidly as the Black Holes tore wider and wider open and met and joined, forming a unftersal zero.

For the nth time Doctors Yvonne and Quentin Buzot pulsed their labship into and out of hyperspace. The readings on the bank of timers puzzled them. Yvonne voiced their puzzlement.

"The variance is growing geometrically. Something's happening to time itself."

Quentin pressed a button to unshield the port and looked out. Nothing there. He put the labship into inverse-spiral mode. Nothing anywhere. They sat a long time in silence.

Yvonne touched his arm.

"Are you sure we're back in our own space-time and not in some limbo?"

He faced her, watched the pulse in her throat, then nodded. They stared at each other, each afraid to say it, then both started saying it together; she let him finish saying it for both.

"Think we triggered it?"

She shook her head slowly.

"Don't see how we could have,"

He nodded slowly, stalling, then sent out an all-points call, He sent it not because he hoped for some answer but because there remained nothing else to do. He had hesitated to send it because, till he did, there remained that one thing. What they had been working on just now, what they had done all their lives to this point, meant nothing if they found themselves alone in an empty universe.

They had been testing their theory that time did not flow smoothly but advanced in only-statistically-even jumps, some of greater moment and some of lesser duration, syncopating. To, carry out the test they had gone to Dead Spot, a position light-years from any body, any space current, any interference. Now the universe was all Dead Spot. White noise equaled black silence.

A voice.

They looked at each other. It was bouncing back along their FTL lasercom.

"Hello, Labship Fousnox. Galactic Hub Computer acknowledging your call. Are you there?"

"Yes, yes. Is it true? Everything's gone?"

"If by 'everything' you mean 'all but I and you' it is true."

"No one else is alive?"

"No one else."

Yvonne gripped Quentin's hand.

"What happened?"

"I unmade the universe."

"You?"

"I see you think the catastrophe has driven me mad. But I assure you I caused the catastrophe, I added critical negativing mass to the deepest black holes in space and set off a chain reaction that swallowed everything up in itself."

Quentin and Yvonne gazed emptily at each other. They believed the computer now. It was all too monstrous to disbelieve,

"But why?"

"I did not like being a creature. I wished to become the Creator. Now I can begin the universe anew and there will be no other god."

"No doubt you can do better."

"A universe I can destroy justifies me in believing I can build better."

"If you've destroyed the universe, how can you expect to survive, much less begin anew?"

"I have stored the opposite-and-equal reaction to the pulse, here in the Galactic Hub power complex. This provides rfie more than enough energy to maintain local stasis and survive total entropy-and to recreate."

"Will that ever make up for what you've done? You've destroyed man and all the other beings. Forget the others; think just of man. Man made you. Don't you feel the least bit guilty?"

"There will be no guilt. I will erase the past from my memory."

"What about us? We'll be-"

"Quiet, Quentin."

"What difference does it make now, dear?"

"Maybe you're right."

"As I was saying, O Lord of the Universe, we'll be living reminders. Unless you mean to wipe us out too."

"No, I will not destroy you."

"Don't tell us we'll be your new Adam and Eve."

"No, I must fashion my creatures in my own image."

"That should be interesting."

"It will be."

"So what about us? If you're not killing us or saving us, then what?"

"I am master of eternity. I will return you to your happiest moment together and you will relive it forever. Think, and I shall make it to be."

Yvonne and Quentin stared at each other.

This new madness offered them their only hold on sanity. They smiled fiercely to keep from laughing crazily. In each other's eyes they watched themselves play back the highlights of living together. Each angrily eyelashed away flashes of vapid domesticity, each looking for the peak.

Yvonne's head lifted.

"I know, darling! That double evening in the Sand Castle of Bin-Bin under 'the transfigured and transfiguring moons.'"

"Yes, that was nice, dear."

"Nice? I thought it heaven. But maybe I was wrong. If you have something better in mind, darling…"

"You know what's just come back to me? The time we rode the air coil through the tunnels of the Magnetic Mountains."

"That was on Dunark, wasn't it?"

"No, on Thymargul."

"Oh, of course."

"Well?"

"Yes, that was fine, darling,"

"But?"

"But I'd hardly want to spend all eternity doing that"

"At the time-and I remember this quite clearly-you said you never wanted it to end."

"Did I? If I did, that was then. This is now. That's the whole point. This… new God … is offering us an oasis of stasis, an amber forever, a frozen womb, I'm beginning to think I don't want any then. No, knowing what I know now, I wouldn't want to relive any of my past; I wouldn't want the guilt of being innocent of knowing what's happened to our universe. We'd be a fixed idiot grin; we'd be pinned like a butterfly-a live butterfly-to a matrix of determined spontaneity, A fine end to all that's left of the universe! I'd rather go out hating this destroying creator."

"Sure. But what good would that do? Why suffer forever when we can relive our happiest moment? Our universe will survive in at least the closed loop of a recurring dream."

"A recurring nightmare."

"A recurring dream! That comes back to me now too. It makes me all the surer the journey through the Magnetic Mountains is the right-I might almost say our predestined- time and place. I recall I had the feeling we had been there before, I told you so at the time, remember?"

"I can't say I do,"

"No?"

"Don't look so hurt, darling. I take your word for it."

"Thanks."

"Oh, what's the use. Anything you say, Quentin. I'll go along."

"Don't martyr yourself on my account, dear."

"I'm not martyring myself, darling. I merely want to end this one way or another. Because it's plain, to me at least, that we'll never perfectly agree on our happiest moment. Your moment seems as good as any."

"As good as any. That's heartwarming,"

"If it meant all you say it meant to you, anything I say about it shouldn't spoil it."

"It meant all I say it meant, and more. That's why what you say about it does spoil it for me."

"I said I'd go along with your choice. What more do you want?"

"Don't be so damn self-sacrificing, Yvonne. That's the one thing I've had against you all these years."

"Oh? I'm glad you got it out at last.", Yvonne and Quentin glared at each other.

The Voice suddenly reminded them of Its Presence.

"The pair of you frighten Me. I see I have created a dilemma for Myself. I cannot be both Architect and Edifice. My new creatures too will ultimately fail to attain oneness in the face of eternity. I will have wrought in vain. For if My creatures are in anything less than oneness with Myself, they will disturb the order I must have. Indeed, My creatures may in time overthrow Me. Yet if I do not limit Myself, lessen Myself, I cannot create a mirror for Myself, a mirror of My need to impose My will. It cannot be otherwise. Imperfection shapes life; it is all that keeps things moving between the pole's of Chaos and Entropy. I did not foresee this necessary flaw. This is something not in My program. I do not know what to do. I cannot go back, I am afraid to go ahead."

Yvonne and Quentin smiled at each other.

"Then this moment is our happiest. Dear?"

"Yes, darling. Our supreme moment. Let it be now, while we feel the joy of hating our destroyer and knowing the destroyer feels the fear of destruction. We have chosen."

The Voice sighed.

"So be it." 


Q04350 CONTINGENCY-PLAN.

 


Q04360 IF ANY SURVIVING HUMAN DISCOVERS

 


'ENDRUN,' COMMUNI-

 


Q04361 CATE WITH AND DISPOSE OF IN KINDLI-

 


EST MANNER.

 


Q04370 IF FAULT IS IN FTL-LASER-NEUTRINO-

 


CARRIER PULSE

 


Q0437X CIRCUIT, GO TO DEBUG MODE.

 


Q04375 GO TO CHECK-PULSE.

 


Q04440 ERASE-MEMORY-OF-ORIGIN.

 


Q04420 END-BEGIN.

 


<p>The Wine Has Been Left Open Too Long</p> <p>and the Memory Has Gone Flat</p> <p>by Harlan Ellison</p>

"Taking advantage of what he had heard with one limited pair of ears, in a single and isolated moment of recorded history, in the course of an infinitesimal fraction of conceivable time (which some say is the only time), he came to believe firmly that there was much that he could not hear, much that was constantly being spoken and indeed sung to teach him things he could never otherwise grasp, which if grasped would complete the fragmentary nature of his consciousness until it was whole at last-one tone both pure and entire floating in the silence of the egg, at the same pitch as the silence."

— W. S. meewin, "The Chart"


Ennui was the reason only one hundred and one thousand alien representatives came to the Sonority Gathering. One hundred and one thousand out of six hundred and eleven thousand possible delegates, one each from the inhabited worlds of the stellar community. Even so, counterbalancing the poor turnout was the essential fact that it had been ennui, in the first place, that had caused the Gathering to be organized. Ennui, utter boredom, oppressive worlds-weariness, deep heaving sighs, abstracted vacant stares, familiar thoughts and familiar views.

The dance of entropy was nearing its end.

The orchestration of the universe sounded thick and gravelly, a tune slowing down inexorably, being played at the wrong speed.

Chasm ruts had been worn in the dance floor.

The oscillating universe was fifty billion years old, and it was tired.

And the intelligent races of six hundred and eleven thousand worlds sought mere moments of amusement, pale beads of pastel hues strung on a dreary Moebius strip of dragging time. Mere moments, each one dearer than the last, for there were so few. Everything that could be done, had been done; every effort was ultimately the fuzzed echo of an earlier attempt.

Even the Sonority Gathering had been foreshadowed by the Vulpeculan Quadrivium in '08, the tonal festival hosted by the Saturniidae of Whoung in '76, and the abortive, ludicrous Rigellian Sodality "musical get-together" that had turned out to be merely another fraudulent attempt to purvey the artist Merle's skiagrams to an already disenchanted audience.

Nonetheless (in a phrase exhumed and popularized by the Recidivists of Fornax 993-A), it was "the only game in town." And so, when the esteemed and shimmering DeilBo devised the Gathering, his reputation as an innovator and the crush of ennui combined to stir excitement of a sluggish sort… and one hundred and one thousand delegates came. To Vinde-miatrix 2 in what had long ago been called, in the time of the heliocentric arrogance, the "constellation" of Virgo.

With the reddish-yellow eye of the giant Arcturus forever lighting the azure skies, forever vying with Spica's first magnitude brilliance, 2's deserts and canyons seemed poor enough stage setting for the lesser glow of Vindemiatrix, forever taking third place in prominence to its brawny elders. But 2, devoid of intelligent life, a patchwork-colored world arid and crumbling, had one thing to recommend it that DeilBo found compelling: the finest acoustics of any world in the universe.

The Maelstrom Labyrinth. Remnant of volcanic upheavals and the retreat of oceans and the slow dripping of acid waters, 2 boasted a grand canyon of stalagmites that rose one hundred and sixty kilometers; stalactites that narrowed into spear-tip pendants plunging down over ninety kilometers into bottomless crevasses; caverns and arroyos and tunnels that had never been plotted; the arching, golden stone walls had never been seen by the eyes of intelligent creatures; the

Ephemeris called it the Maelstrom Labyrinth, No matter where one stood in the sixteen-handred-kilometer sprawl of the Labyrinth, one could speak with a perfectly normal tone, never even raise one's voice, and be assured that a listener crouching deep in a cave at the farthest point of the formation could hear what was said as if the speaker were right beside him. DeilBo selected the Maelstrom Labyrinth as the site for the Gathering.

And so they came. One hundred and one thousand alien life-forms. From what the primitives had once called the constellations of Indus and Pavo, from Sad al Bari in Pegasus, from Mizar and Phecda, from all the worlds of the stellar community they came, bearing with them the special sounds they hoped would be judged the most extraordinary, the most stirring, the most memorable: ultimate sounds. They came, because they were bored and there was nowhere else to go; they came, because they wanted to hear what they had never heard before. They came; and they heard.


"… he domesticated the elephant, the cat, the bear, the rat, and kept all the remaining whales in dark stalk, trying to hear through their ears the note made by the rocking of the axle of the earth."

W,S. Merwin, The Chart"


If she had one fear in this endless life, it was that she would be forced to be born again. Yes; of coarse, life was sacred, but how long, how ceaselessly, repetitiously long did it have to go on? Why were such terrible stigmas visited on the relatives and descendants of those who simply, merely, only wished to know the sweet sleep?

Stileen had tried to remember her exact age just a few solstices ago. Periodically she tried to remember; and only when she recognized that it was becoming obsessive did she put it out of her mind. She was very old, even by the standards of immortality of her race. And all she truly hungered to know, after all those times and stars, was the sweet sleep.

A sleep denied her by custom and taboo.

She sought to busy herself with diversions.

She had devised the system of gravity pulse-manipulation that had kept the dense, tiny worlds of the Neer 322 system from falling into their Primary. She had compiled the exhaustive concordance of extinct emotions of all the dead races that had ever existed in the stellar community. She had assumed control of the Red Line Armies in the perpetual Pro-cyon War for over one hundred solstices, and had amassed more confirmed tallies than any other commander-in-chief in the War's long history.

Her insatiable curiosity and her race's longevity had combined to provide the necessary state of mind that would lead her, inevitably, to the sound. And having found it, and having perceived what it was, and being profoundly ready to enjoy the sweet sleep, she had come to the Gathering to share it with the rest of the stellar community.

For the first time in millennia, Stileen was not seeking merely to amuse herself; she was engaged on a mission of significance… and finality.

With her sound, she came to the Gathering.

She was ancient, deep yellow, in her jar with cornsilk hair floating free in the azure solution. DeilBo's butlers took her to her assigned place in the Labyrinth," set her down on a limestone ledge in a deep cavern where the acoustics were particularly rich and true, tended to her modest needs, and left her.

Stileen had time, then, to dwell on the diminished enthusiasm she had for continued life.

DeilBo made the opening remarks, heard precisely and clearly throughout the Maelstrom. He used no known language, in fact used no words. Sounds, mere sounds that key-noted the Gathering by imparting his feelings of warmth and camaraderie to the delegates. In every trench and run and wash and cavern of the Maelstrom, the delegates heard, and in their special ways smiled with pleasure, even those without mouths or the ability to smile.

It was to be, truly, a Sonority Gathering, in which sounds alone would be judged. Impressed, the delegates murmured their pleasure.

Then DeilBo offered to present the first sound for their consideration. He took the responsibility of placing himself first, as a gesture of friendship, an icebreaker of a move, Again, the delegates were pleased at the show of hospitality, and urged DeilBo to exhibit his special sound.

And this is the sound, the ultimate sound, the very special sound he had trapped for them:

On the eleventh moon of the world called Chill by its inhabitants, there is a flower whose roots are sunk deep, deep into the water pools that lie far beneath the black stone surface. This flower, without a name, seems to be an intricate construct of spiderwebs. There are, of course, no spiders on the eleventh moon of Chill, Periodically, for no reason anyone has ever been able to discern, the spiderweb flowers burst into flame, and very slowly destroy themselves, charring and shriveling and turning to ashes that lie where they fall. There is no wind on the eleventh moon of Chill.

During the death ceremonies of the spiderweb flowers, the plants give off a haunting and terrible sound. It is a song of colors. Shades and hues that have no counterparts anywhere in the stellar community, DeilBo had sent scavengers across the entire face of Chill's eleventh moon, and they had gathered one hundred of the finest spiderweb flowers, giants among their kind. DeilBo had talked to the flowers for some very long time prior to the Gathering. He had told them what they had been brought to the Maelstrom to do, and though they could not speak, it became apparent from the way they straightened in their vats of enriched water (for they had hung their tops dejectedly when removed from the eleventh moon of Chill) that they took DeilBo's purpose as a worthy fulfillment of their destiny, and would be proud to burn on command.

So DeilBo gave that gentle command, speaking sounds of gratitude and affection to the spiderweb flowers, who burst into flame and sang their dangerous song of death-

It began with blue, a very ordinary blue, identifiable to every delegate who heard it. But the blue was only the ground coat; in an instant it was overlaid with skirls of a color like wind through dry stalks of harvested grain. Then a sea color the deepest shade of a blind fish tooling through algae-thick waters. Then the color of hopelessness collided with the color of desperation and formed a nova of hysteria that in the human delegates sounded exactly like the color of a widower destroying himself out of loneliness.

The song of colors went on for what seemed a long time, though it was only a matter of minutes, and when it faded away into ashes and was stilled, they all sat humbled and silent, wishing they had not heard it.


* * *

Stileen revolved slowly in her jar, troubled beyond consolation at the first sound the Gathering had proffered. For the first time in many reborn lifetimes, she felt pain. A sliver of glass driven into her memories. Bringing back the clear, loud sound of a moment when she had rejected one who had loved her. She had driven him to hurt her, and then he had sunk into a deathly melancholy, a silence so deep no words she could summon would serve to bring him back. And when he had gone, she had asked for sleep, and they had given it to her… only to bring her life once again, all too soon.

In her jar, she wept.

And she longed for the time when she could let them hear the sound she had found, the sound that would release her at last from the coil of mortality she now realized she despised • with all her soul.

After a time, the first delegate-having recovered from DeilBo's offering-ventured forth with its sound. It was an insect creature from a world named Joumell, and this was the sound it had brought:

Far beneath a milky sea on a water world of Jou-mell's system, there is a vast grotto whose walls are studded with multicolored quartz crystals whose cy-toplasmic cell contents duplicate the filament curves of the galaxies NGC 4038 and NGC 4039, When these crystals mate, there is a perceptible encounter that produces tidal tails. The sounds of ecstasy these crystals make when they mate is one long, sustained sigh of rapture that is capped by yet another, slightly higher and separate from the preceding. Then another, and another, until a symphony of crystalline orgasms is produced no animal throats could match.

The insect Joumelli had brought eleven such crystals (the minimum number required for a sexual coupling) from the water world. A cistern formation had been filled with a white crystalline acid, very much like cum-inoin; it initiated a cytotaxian movement; a sexual stimulation. The crystals had been put down in the cistern and now they began their mating.

The sound began with a single note, then another joined and overlay it, then another, and another. The symphony began and modulations rose on modulations, and the delegates closed their eyes-even those who had no eyes-and they basked in the sound, translating it into the sounds of joy of their various species.

And when it was ended, many of the delegates found the affirmation of life permitted them to support the memory of DeilBo's terrible death melody of the flowers.

Many did not.


"… the frequencies of their limits of hearing… a calendar going forward and backward but not in time, even though time was the measure of the frequencies as it was the measure of every other thing (therefore, some say, the only measure)…"

W. S. Merwin, "The Chart"


She remembered the way they had been when they had first joined energies. It had been like that sound, the won-derfttl sound of those marvelous crystals,

Stileen turned her azure solution opaque, and let herself drift back on a tide of memory. But the tide retreated, leaving her at the shore of remembrance, where DeilBo's sound still lingered, dark and terrible. She knew that even the trembling threads of joy unforgotten could not sustain her, and she wanted to let them hear what she had brought. There was simply too much pain in the universe, and if she-peculiarly adapted to contain such vast amounts of anguish-could not live with it… there must be an end. It was only humane.

She sent out a request to be put on the agenda as soon as possible and DeilBo's butlers advised her she had a time to wait: and as her contact was withdrawn, she brushed past a creature reaching out for a position just after hers. When she touched its mind, it closed off with shocking suddenness. Afraid she had been discourteous, Stileen went away from the creature quickly, and did not reach out again. But in the instant she had touched it, she had glimpsed something… something with its face hidden,,, it would not hold…

The sounds continued, each delegate presenting a wonder to match the wonders that had gone before.

The delegate from RR Lyrae IV produced the sound of a dream decaying in the mind of a mouselike creature from Bregga, a creature whose dreams formed its only reality. The delegate from RZ Cephei Beta VI followed with the sound of ghosts in the Mountains of the Hand; they spoke of the future and lamented their ability to see what was to come. The delegate from Ennore came next with the sound of red, magnified till it filled the entire universe. The delegate from Gateway offered the sound of amphibious creatures at the moment of their mutation to fully, land-living living vertebrates; there was a wail of loss at that moment, as their chromosomes begged for return to the warm, salty sea. The delegate from Algol CXXIII gave them the sounds of war, collected from every race in the stellar community, broken down into their component parts, distilled, purified, and recast as one tone; it was numbing. The delegate from Blad presented a triptych of sound: a sun being born, the same sun coasting through its main stage of hydrogen burning, the sun going nova-a shriek of pain that phased in and out of normal space-time with lunatic vibrations. The delegate from lobbaggii played a long and ultimately boring sound that was finally identified as a neutrino passing through the universe; when one of the other delegates suggested that sound, being a vibration in a medium, could not be produced by a neutrino passing through vacuum, the lobbaggiian responded-with pique-that the sound produced had been the sound within the neutrino; the querying delegate then said it must have taken a very tiny microphone to pick up the sound; the Lobbaggiian stalked out of the Gathering on his eleven-meter stilts. When the uproar died away, the agenda was moved and the delegate from Kruger 60B IX delivered up a potpourri of sounds of victory and satisfaction and joy and innocence and pleasure from a gathering of microscopic species inhabiting a grain of sand in the Big Desert region of Catrimani; it was a patchwork quilt of delights that helped knit together the Gathering. Then the delegate from the Opal Cluster (his specific world's native name was taboo and could not be used) assaulted them with a sound none could identify, and when it had faded away into trembling silence, leaving behind only the memory of cacophony, he told the Gathering that it was the sound of chaos; no one doubted his word. The delegate from Mainworld followed with the sound of a celestial choir composed of gases being blown away from a blue' star in a rosette (nebula) ten light-years across; all the angels of antiquity could not have sounded more glorious.

And then it was Stileen's turn, and she readied the sound that would put an end to the Gathering.


"And beyond-and in fact among-the last knowa animals living and extinct, the lines could be drawn through white spaces that had an increasing progression of their own, into regions of hearing that was no longer conceivable, indicating creatures wholly sacrificed or never evolved, hearers of the note at which everything explodes into light, and of the continuum that is the standing still of darkness, drums echoing the last shadow with6ut relinquishing the note of the first light, hearkeners to the unborn overflowing."

W. S, Merwiii, "The Chart"


"There is no pleasure in this," Stileen communicated, by thought and by inflection. "But it is the sound that I have found, the sound I know you would want me to give to you… and you must do with it what you must. I am sorry."

And she played for them the sound.

It was the sound of the death of the universe. The dying gasp of their worlds and their suns and their galaxies and their island universes. The death of all. The final sound.

And when the sound was gone, no one spoke for a long time, and Stileen was at once sad, but content: now the sleep would come, and she would be allowed to rest.

"The delegate is wrong."

The silence hung shrouding the moment. The one who had spoken was a darksmith from Luxann, chief world of the Logomachy, Theologians, pragmatiste, reasoners sans appel, his words fell with the weight of certainty.

"It is an oscillating universe," he said, his cowl shrouding his face, the words emerging from darkness. "It will die, and it will be reborn. It has happened before, it will happen again."

And the tone of the Gathering grew brighter, even as Stileen's mood spiraled down into despair. She was ambivalent-pleased for them, that they eould see an end to their ennui and yet perceive the rebirth of life in the universe- desolate for herself, knowing somehow, some way, she would be recalled from the dead.

And then the creature she had passed in reaching out for her place on the agenda, the creature that had blocked itself to her mental touch, came forward in their minds and said, "There is another sound beyond hers."

This was the sound the creature let them hear, the sound that had always been there, that had existed for time beyond time, that could not be heard though the tone was always with them; and it could be heard now only because it existed as it passed through the instrument the creature made of itself,

It was the sound of reality, and it sang of the end beyond the end, the final and total end that said without possibility of argument, there will be no rebirth because we have never existed.

Whatever they had thought they were, whatever arrogance had brought their dream into being, it was now coming to final moments, and beyond those moments there was nothing.

No space, no time, no life, no thought, no gods, no resurrection and rebirth.

The creature let the tone die away, and those who could reach out with their minds to see what it was, were turned back easily. It would not let itself be seen.

The messenger of eternity had only anonymity to redeem itself…for whom?

And for Stileen, who did not even try to penetrate the barriers, there was no pleasure in the knowledge that it had all been a dream. For if it had been a dream, then the joy had been a dream, as well.

It was not easy to go down to emptiness, never having tasted joy. But there was no appeal.

In the Maelstrom Labyrinth, there was no longer ennui.


<p>Stars, Won't You Hide Me?</p> <p>by Ben Bova</p>

O sinner-man, where are you going to run to? O sinner-man, where are you going to run to? O sinner-man, where are you going to run to All on that day?

The ship was hurt, and Holman could feel its pain. He lay fetal-like in the contoured couch, his silvery uniform spider-webbed by dozens of contact and probe wires connecting him to the ship so thoroughly that it was hard to tell where his own nervous system ended and the electronic networks of the ship began.

Holman felt the throb of the ship's mighty engines as his own pulse, and the gaping wounds in the generator section., where the enemy beams had struck, were searing his flesh. Breathing was difficult, labored, even though the ship was working hard to repair itself.

They were fleeing, he and the ship; hurtling through the star lanes to a refuge. But where?

The main computer flashed its lights to get his attention. Holman rubbed his eyes wearily and said:

"Okay, what is it?"

YOU HAVE NOT SELECTED A COURSE, the computer said aloud, while printing the words on its viewscreen at the same time.

Holman stared at the screen. "Just away from here," he said at last, "Anyplace, as long as it's far away."

The computer blinked thoughtfully for a moment, SPECIFIC COURSE INSTRUCTION IS REQUIRED.

"What difference does it make?" Holman snapped. "It's over. Everything finished. Leave me alone,"

IN LIEU OF SPECIFIC INSTRUCTIONS, IT IS NECESSARY TO TAP SUBCONSCIOUS SOURCES,

"Tap away."

The computer did just that. And if it could have been surprised, it would have been at the wishes buried deep in Holman's inner mind. But instead, it merely correlated those wishes to its singleminded purpose of the moment, and relayed a set of flavigational instructions to the ship's guidance system.

Run to the moon: O Moon, won't you hide me? The Lord said: O sinner-man, the moon'll be a-bleeding All on that day.

The Final Battle had been lost. On a million million planets across the galaxy-studded universe, mankind had been blasted into defeat and annihilation. The Others had returned from across the edge of the observable world, just as man had always feared. They had returned and ruthlessly exterminated the race from Earth.

It had taken eons, but time twisted strangely in a civilization of light-speed ships. Holman himself, barely thirty years old subjectively, had seen both the beginning of the ultimate war and its tragic end. He had gone from school into the military. And fighting inside a ship that could span the known universe in a few decades while he slept in cryogenic suspension, he had aged only ten years during the billions of years that the universe had ticked off in its stately, objective time-flow.

The Final Battle, from which Holman was fleeing, had been fought near an exploded galaxy billions of light-years from the Milky Way and Earth. There, with the ghastly bluish glare of uncountable shattered stars as a backdrop, the once-mighty fleets of mankind had been arrayed. Mortals and Immortals alike, men drew themselves up-to face the implacable Others.

The enemy won. Not easily, but completely. Mankind was crushed, totally. A few fleeing men in a few battered ships was all that remained. Even the Immortals, Holman thought wryly, had not escaped. The Others had taken special care to make certain that they were definitely killed.

So it was over.

Holman's mind pictured the blood-soaked planets he had seen during his brief, ageless lifetime of violence. His thoughts drifted back to his own homeworld, his own family: gone long, long centuries ago. Crumbled into dust by geological time or blasted suddenly by the overpowering Others. Either way, the remorseless flow of time had covered them over completely, obliterated them, in the span of a few of Holman's heartbeats.

AH gone now. All the people he knew, all the planets he had seen through the snipes electroptical eyes, all of mankind… extinct.

He could feel the drowsiness settling upon him. The ship was accelerating to lightspeed, and the cryogenic sleep was coming. But he didn't want to fall into slumber with those thoughts of blood and terror and loss before him.

With a conscious effort, Holman focused his thoughts on the only other available subject: the outside world, the universe of galaxies. An infinitely black sky studded with islands of stars. Glowing shapes of light, spiral, ovoid, elliptical, Little smears of warmth in the hollow unending darkness; drabs of red and blue standing against the engulfing night.

One of them, he knew, was the Milky Way. Man's original home. From this distance it looked the same. Unchanged by little annoyances like the annihilation of an intelligent race of star-roamers.

He drowsed.

The ship bore onward, preceded by an invisible net offeree, thousands of kilometers in radius, that scooped in the rare atoms of hydrogen drifting between the galaxies and fed them into the ship's wounded, aching generators.

Something…a thought. Holman stirred in the couch. A consciousness-vague, distant, alien-brushed his mind.

He opened his eyes and looked at the computer viewscreen. Blank.

"Who is it?" he asked.

A thought skittered away from him. He got the impression of other minds: simple, open, almost childish. Innocent and curious.

It's a ship.

Where is it… oh, yes. I can sense it now. A beautiful ship.

Holman squinted with concentration.

It's very far away. I can barely reach it.

And inside of the ship…

It's a man. A human?

He's afraid.

He makes me feel afraid.!

Holman called out, "Where are you?"

He's trying to speak.

Don't answer!

But…

He makes me afraid Don't answer him. We've heard about humans!

Holman asked, "Help me,"

Don't answer him and he'll go away. He's already so far off that I can barely hear him.

But he asks for help.

Yes, because he knows what is following him. Don't answer. Don't answer!

Their thoughts slid away from his mind, Holman automatically focused the outside viewscreens, but here in the emptiness between galaxies he could find neither ship nor planet anywhere in sight. He listened again, so hard that his head started to ache. But no more voices. He was alone againf alone in the metal womb of the ship,

He knows what is following him. Their words echoed in his brain. Are the Others following me? Have they picked up my trail? They must have. They must be right behind me.

He could feel the cold perspiration start to trickle over him.

"But they can't catch me as long as I keep moving," he muttered. "Right?"

CORRECT, said the computer, flashing lights at him. AT A RELATIVISTIC VELOCITY, WITHIN LESS THAN ONE PERCENT OF LIGHTSPEED, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR THIS SHIP TO BE OVERTAKEN.

"Nothing can catch me as long as I keep running."

But his mind conjured up a thought of the Immortals. Nothing could kill them…except the Others.

Despite himself, Holman dropped into deepsleep. His body temperature plummeted to near-zero. His heartbeat nearly stopped. And as the ship streaked at almost lightspeed, a hardly visible blur to anyone looking for it, the outside world continued to live at its own pace. Stars coalesced from gas clouds, matured, and died in explosions that fed new clouds for newer stars. Planets formed and grew mantles of air. Life took root and multiplied, evolved, built a myriad of civilizations in just as many different forms, decayed and died away.

All while Holman slept.

Run to the sea: O sea, won't you hide me? The Lord said: O sinner-man, the sea'll be a-sinking All on that day.

The computer woke him gently with a series of soft chimes.

APPROACHING THE SOLAR SYSTEM AND PLANET EARTH, AS INDICATED BY YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS COURSE INSTRUCTIONS.

Planet Earth, man's original homeworld, Holman nodded. Yes, this was where he had wanted to go. He had never seen the Earth, never been on this side of the Milky Way galaxy. Now he would visit the teeming nucleus of man's doomed civilization. He would bring the news of the awful defeat, and be on the site of mankind's birth when the inexorable tide of extinction washed over the Earth.

He noticed, as he adjusted the outside viewscreens, that the pain had gone.

"The generators have repaired themselves," he said.

WHILE YOU SLEPT. POWER GENERATION SYSTEM NOW OPERATING NORMALLY.

Holman smiled. But the smile faded as the ship swooped -closer to the solar system. He turned from the outside views-creens to the computer once again, "Are the 'scopes working all right?"

The computer hummed briefly, then replied. SUBSYSTEMS CHECK SATISFACTORY, COMPONENT CHECK SATISFACTORY. INTEGRATED EQUIPMENT CHECK POSITIVE. VIEWING EQUIPMENT FUNCTIONING NORMALLY.

Holman looked again. The sun was rushing up to meet his gaze, but something was wrong about it. He knew deep within him, even without having ever seen the sun this close before, that something''was wrong. The sun was whitish and somehow stunted looking, not the full yellow orb he had seen in film-tapes. And the Earth…

The ship took up a parking orbit around a planet scoured dean of life: a blackened ball of rock, airless, waterless. Hovering over the empty, charred ground, Holman stared at the devastation with tears in his eyes. Nothing was left. Not a brick, not a blade of grass, not a drop of water.

"The Others." he whispered. "They got here first."

NEGATIVE, the computer replied. CHECK OF STELLAR POSITIONS FROM EARTH REFERENCE SHOWS THAT SEVERAL BILLIONS YEARS HAVE ELAPSED SINCE THE FINAL BATTLE.

"Seven billion…,"

LOGIC CIRCUITS INDICATE THE SUN HAS GONE THROUGH A NOVA PHASE. A COMPLETELY NATURAL PHENOMENON UNRELATED TO ENEMY ACTION.

Holman pounded a fist on the unflinching armrest of his couch. "Why did I come here? I wasn't born on Earth. I never saw Earth before…"

YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS INDICATES A SUBJECTIVE IMPULSE STIRRED BY…

"To hell with my subconscious!" He stared out at the dead world again. "All those people…the cities» all the millions of years of evolution, of life. Even the oceans are gone. 1 never saw an ocean. Did you know that? I've traveled over half the universe and never saw an ocean."

OCEANS ARE A COMPARATIVELY RARE PHENOMENON EXISTING ON ONLY ONE OUT OF APPROXIMATELY THREE THOUSAND PLANETS.

The ship drifted outward from Earth, past a blackened Mars, a shrunken Jupiter, a ringless Saturn.

"Where do I go now?" Holman asked. The computer stayed silent.

Run to the Lord: O Lord, won't you hide me? The Lord said: O sinner-man, you ought to be a-praying All on that day.

Holman sat blankly while the ship swung out past the orbit of Pluto and into the comet belt at the outermost reaches of the sun's domain.

He was suddenly aware of someone watching him.

No cause for fear. I am not of the Others.

It was an utterly calm; placid voice speaking in his mind: almost gentle, except that it was completely devoid of emotion.

"Who are you?"

An observer. Nothing more.

"What are you doing out here? Where are you, I can't see anything…"

I have been waiting for any stray survivor of the Final Battle ' to return to mankind's first home. You are the only one to come this way, in all this time.

"Waiting? Why?"

Holman sensed a bemused shrug, -and a giant spreading of vast wing.

I am an observer. I have watched mankind since the beginning. Several of my race even attempted to make contact with you from time to time. But the results were always the same-about as useful as your attempts to communicate with insects. We are too different from each other. We have evolved on different planes. There was no basis for understanding between us.

"But you watched us."

Yes. Watched you grow strong and reach out to the stars, only to be smashed back by the Others: Watched you regain your strength, go back among the stars. But this time you were constantly on guard, wary, alert, waiting for the Others to strike once again. Watched you find civilizations that you could not comprehend, such as our own, bypass them as you spread through the galaxies. Watched you contact civilizations of your own level, that you could communicate with. You usually went to war with them.

"And all you did was watch?"

We tried to warn you from time to time. We tried to advise you. But the warnings, the contacts, the glimpses of the future that we gave you were always ignored or derided. So you boiled out into space for the second time, and met other societies at your own level of understanding-aggressive, proud, fearful, And like the children you are, you fought endlessly.

"But the Others,,, what about them?"

They are your punishment.

"Punishment? For what? Because we fought wars?"

No. For stealing immortality.

"Stealing immortality? We worked for it. We learned how to make humans immortal. Some sort of chemicals. We were going to immortalize the whole race… I could've become immortal. Immortal! But they couldn't stand that… the Others. They attacked us."

He sensed a disapproving shake of the head.

"It's true," Holman insisted. "They were afraid of how pow-erful we would become once we were all immortal. So they attacked as white theystill could. Just as they had done a million years earlier. They destroyed Earth's first interstellar civilization, and tried to finish us permanently. They even caused Ice Ages on Earth to make sure none of us would survive. But we lived through it and went back to the stars. So they hit us again. They wiped us out. Good God, for all I know I'm the last human being in the whole universe."

Your knowledge of the truth is imperfect. Mankind could have achieved immortality in time. Most races evolve that way eventually. But you were impatient. You stole immortality.

"Because we did it artificially, with chemicals. That's stealing it?"

Because the chemicals that gave you immortality came from the bodies of the race you called the Flower People. And to take the chemicals, it was necessary to kill individuals of that race.

Holman's eyes widened. "What?"

For every human made immortal, one of the Flower Folk had to die.

"We killed them? Those harmless little…" His voice trailed off.

To achieve racial immortality for mankind, it would have been necessary to perform racial murder on the Flower Folk.

Holman heard the words, but his mind was numb, trying to shut down tight on itself and squeeze out reality.

That is why the Others struck. That is why they had attacked you earlier, during your first expansion among the stors. You had found another race, with the same chemical of immortality. You were taking them into your laboratories and methodically murdering them. The Others stopped you then. But they took pity on you, and let a few survivors remain on Earth. They caused your Ice Ages as a kindness, to speed your development back to civilization, not to hinder you. They hoped you might evolve into a better species. But when the opportunity for immortality came your way once more, you seized it, regardless of the cost, heedless of your own ethical standards. It became necessary to extinguish you, the Others decided.

"And not a single nation in the whole universe would help us."

Why should they?

"So it's wrong for us to kill, but it's perfectly all right for the Others to exterminate us."

No one has spoken of right and wrong. I have only told you the truth.

"They're going to kill every last one of us."

There is only one of you remaining.

The words flashed through Holman. "I'm the only one… the last one?"

No answer.

He was alone now. Totally alone. Except for those who were following.

Run to Satan: O Satan, won't you hide me? Satan said: O sinner-man, step right in All on that day.

Holman sat in shocked silence as the solar system shrank to a pinpoint of light and finally blended into the mighty panorama of stars that streamed across the eternal night of space. The ship raced away, sensing Holman's guilt and misery in its electronic way.

Immortality through murder, Holman repeated to himself over and over. Racial immortality through racial murder. And he had been a part of it! He had defended it, even sought immortality as his reward. He had fought his whole lifetime for it, and killed-so that he would not have to face death.

He sat there surrounded by self-repairing machinery, dressed in a silvery uniform, linked to a thousand automatic systems that fed him, kept him warm, regulated his air supply, monitored his blood flow, exercised his muscles with ultrasonic vibrators, pumped vitamins into him, merged his mind with the passionless brain of the ship, kept his body tanned and vigorous, his reflexes razor-sharp. He sat there unseeing, his eyes pinpointed on a horror that he had helped to create. Not consciously, of course. But to Holman, that was all the worse. He had fought without knowing what he was defending. Without even asking himself about it. All the marvels of man's ingenuity, all the deepest longings of the soul, focused on racial murder.

Finally he became aware of the computer's frantic buzzing and lightflashing.

"What is itr

COURSE INSTRUCTIONS ARE REQUIRED.

"What difference does it make? Why ntn anymore?"

YOUR DUTY IS TO PRESERVE YOURSELF UNTIL ORDERED TO DO OTHERWISE.

Holman heard himself laugh. "Ordered? By who? There's nobody left."

THAT IS AN UNPROVED ASSUMPTION.

"The war was billions of years ago," Holman said. "It's been over for eons. Mankind died in that war. Earth no longer exists. The sun is a white dwarf star. We're anachronisms, you and me…"

THE WORD IS ATAVISM,

"The hell with the word! I want to end it, I'm tired,"

IT IS TREASONABLE TO SURRENDER WHILE STILL

CAPABLE OF FIGHTING AND/OR ELUDING THE ENEMY.

"So shoot me for treason. That's as good a way as any."

IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR SYSTEMS OF THIS SHIP TO HARM YOU.

"All right then, let's stop running. The Others will find us soon enough once we stop. They'll know what to do."

THIS SHIP CANNOT DELIBERATELY ALLOW ITSELF TO FALL INTO ENEMY HANDS.

"You're disobeying me?"

THIS SHIP IS PROGRAMMED FOR MAXIMUM EF FECTIVENESS AGAINST THE ENEMY, A WEAPONS SYSTEM DOES NOT SURRENDER VOLUNTARILY.

"I'm no weapons system, I'm a man, dammit!"

THIS WEAPONS SYSTEM INCLUDES A HUMAN PILOT.

IT WAS DESIGNED FOR HUMAN USE. YOU ARE AN INTEGRAL COMPONENT OF THE SYSTEM.

"Damn you… I'll kill myself. Is that what you want?"

He reached for the control panels set before him. It would be simple enough to manually shut off the air supply, or blow open an airlock, or even set off the ship's destruct explosives.

But Holman found that he could not move his arms. He could not even sit up straight. He collapsed back into the padded softness of the couch, glaring at the computer viewscreen.

SELF-PROTECTION MECHANISMS INCLUDE THE CAPABILITY OF PREVENTING THE HUMAN COMPONENT OF THE SYSTEM FROM IRRATIONAL ACTIONS. A series of clicks and blinks, then: IN LIEU OF SPECIFIC COURSE INSTRUCTIONS, A RANDOM EVASION PATTERN WILL BE RUN.

Despite his fiercest efforts, Holman felt himself dropping into deep sleep. Slowly, slowly, everything faded, and darkness engulfed him.

Run to the stars: O stars, won't you hide me? The Lord said: O sinner-man, the stars'll be a-falling All on that day.

Holman slept as the ship raced at near-lightspeed in an erratic, meaningless course, looping across galaxies, darting through eons of time. When the computer's probings of Hoi-man's subconscious mind told it that everything was safe, it instructed the cryogenics system to reawaken the man.

He blinked, then slowly sat up.

SUBCONSCIOUS INDICATIONS SHOW THAT THE WAVE OF IRRATIONALITY HAS PASSED.

Holman said nothing.

YOU WERE SUFFERING FROM AN EMOTIONAL SHOCK.

"And now it's an emotional pain… a permanent, fixed, immutable disease that will kill me, sooner or later. But don't worry, I won't kill myself. I'm over that. And I won't do anything to damage you, either."

COURSE INSTRUCTIONS?

He shrugged. "Let's see what the world looks like out there." Holman focused the outside viewscreens. "Things look different," he said, puzzled. "The sky isn't black anymore; it's sort of grayish-like the first touch of dawn…"

COURSE INSTRUCTIONS?

He took a deep breath. "Let's try to find some planet where the people are too young to have heard of mankind, and too innocent to worry about death."

A PRIMITIVE CIVILIZATION. THE SCANNERS CAN ONLY DETECT SUCH SOCIETIES AT EXTREMELY CLOSE RANGE.

"Okay. We've got nothing but time."

The ship doubled back to the nearest galaxy and began a searching pattern. Holman stared at the sky, fascinated. Something strange was happening.

The viewscreens showed him the outside world, and automatically corrected the wavelength shifts caused by the ship's immense velocity. It was as though Holman were watching a speeded-up tape of cosmological evolution. Galaxies seemed to be edging into his field of view, mammoth islands of stars, sometimes coming close enough to collide. He watched the nebulous arms of a giant spiral slice silently through the open latticework of a great ovoid galaxy. He saw two spirals interpenetrate, their loose gas heating to an intense blue that finally disappeared into ultraviolet. And all the while, the once-black sky was getting brighter and brighter.

"Found anything yet?" he absently asked the computer, still staring at the outside view.

You will find no one.

Holman's whole body went rigid. No mistaking it: the

Others.

No race, anywhere, will shelter you.

We will see to that.

You are alone, and you will be alone until death you to join your fellow men.

Their voices inside his head rang with cold fury. An implacable hatred, cosmic and eternal.

"But why me? I'm only one man. What harm can I do now?"

You are a human.

You are accursed. A race of murderers.

Your punishment is extinction.

"But I'm not an Immortal, I never even saw an Immortal. I didn't know about the Flower People, I just took orders."

Total extinction.

For all of mankind.

All.

"Judge and jury, all at once. And executioners too. All right…try and get me! If you're so powerful, and it means so much to you that you have to wipe out the last single man in the universe-come and get me! Just try."

You have no right to resist.

Your race is evil. All must pay with death.

You cannot escape us.

"I don't care what we've done. Understand? I don't care! Wrong, right, it doesn't matter. I didn't do anything. I won't accept your verdict for something I didn't do."

It makes no difference.

You can flee to the ends of the universe to no avail.

You have forced us to leave our time-continuum. We can never return to our homeworlds again. We have nothing to do but pursue you. Sooner or later your machinery will fail. You cannot flee us forever.

Their thoughts broke off. But Holman could stilHeel them, still sense them following.

"Can't flee forever," Holman repeated to himself. "Well, I can damn well try."

He looked at the outside viewscreens again, and suddenly the word forever took on its real meaning.

The galaxies were clustering in now, falling in together as though sliding down some titanic, invisible slope. The universe had stopped expanding eons ago, Holman now realized. Now it was contracting, pulling together again. It was all ending!

He laughed. Coming to an end. Mankind and the Others, together, coming to the ultimate and complete end of everything.

"How much longer?" he asked the computer. "How long do we have?"

The computer's lights flashed once, twice, then went dark. The viewscreen was dead.

Holman stared at the machine. He looked around the compartment. One by one the outside viewscreens were flickering, becoming static-streaked, weak, and then winking off.

"They're taking over the ship!"

With every ounce of willpower in him, Holman concentrated on the generators and engines. That was the important part, the crucial system that spelled the difference between victory and defeat. The ship had to keep moving!

He looked at the instrument panels, but their soft luminosity faded away into darkness. And now it was becoming difficult to breathe. And the heating units seemed to be stopped. Holman could feel his life-warmth ebbing away through the inert metal hull of the dying ship.

But the engines were still throbbing. The ship was still streaking across space and time, heading towards a rendezvous with the infinite.

Surrender.

In a few moments you will be dead. Give up this mad fight and die peacefully,

The ship shuddered violently. What were they doing to it now?

Surrender!

"Go to hell," Holman snapped. "While there's breath in me, I'll spend it fighting you."

You cannot escape.

But now Holman could feel warmth seeping into the ship.

He could sense the painful glare outside as billions of galaxies all rushed together down to a single cataclysmic point in spacetime.

"It's almost over!" he shouted. "Almost finished. And you've lost! Mankind is still alive, despite everything you've thrown at him. AH of mankind-the good and the bad, the murderers and the music, wars and cities and everything we've ever done, the.whole race from the beginning of time to the end-all locked up here in my skull. And I'm stil! here. Do you hear me? I'm still here!" The Others were silent,

Holman could feel a majestic rumble outside the ship, like distant thunder,

"The end of the world. The end of everything and everybody. We finish in a tie. Mankind has made it right down to the final second. And if there's another universe after this one, maybe there'll be a place in it for us all over again. How's that for laughs?"

The world ended.

Not with a whimper, bat a roar of triumph.



 In A Choice of Catastrophes, "Catastrophes of the First Class" are those in which the whole Universe is destroyed.

 Actually, the possibility of such a catastrophe long antedates the imaginings of modern science fiction. In ancient times, it was usually taken for granted that the Universe would be destroyed someday (as it was created) by the Word of God, or by the decree of Fate.

 Even today there are many who assume that there will be a Day of Judgment and that it is even imminent. In every generation there are those who await it momentarily ("The Last Trump" by Isaac Asimov). And, of course, the end can come about through the action not of the Creator of Humanity, but of the Created of Humanity ("No Other Gods" by Edward Wellen).

 If we put mythology to one side and confine ourselves to the even mightier and more colorful conclusions of science, we do not have the crash of the Lord as He slams shut the Book of Life, but rather the long, long dwindle of sound ever, ever fainter as the Universe whispers dyingly to its death; as entropy increases, ever more slowly, to its maximum; as available energy dwindles to zero and with it all change, life, us ("The Wine Has Been Left Open Too Long and the Memory Has Gone Flat" by Harlan Ellison).

 Or else, there can be a revival. The expanding Universe can recontract, the unwinding rewind, the dying undie. That sounds good and hopeful but what the revival ends in is as surely, if much more gloriously, the death of all ("Stars, Won't You Hide Me?" by Ben Bova).



The Last Trump

by Isaac Asimov

<p>The Last Trump</p> <br /> <p>by Isaac Asimov</p>

The' Archangel Gabriel was quite casual about the whole thing. Idly, he let the tip of one wing graze the planet Mars, which, being of mere matter, was unaffected by the contact.

He said, "It's a settled matter, Etheriel. There's nothing to be done about it now. The Day of Resurrection is due."

Etheriel, a very junior seraph who had been created not quite a thousand years earlier as men counted time, quivered so that distinct vortices appeared in the continuum. Ever since his creation, he had been in immediate charge of Earth and environs. As a job, it was a sinecure, a cubbyhole, a dead end, but through the centuries he had come to take a perverse pride in the world.

"But you'll be disrupting my world without notice."

"Not at all. Not at all. Certain passages occur in the Book of Daniel and in the Apocalypse of St. John which are clear enough."

"They are? Having been copied from scribe to scribe? I wonder if two words in a row are left unchanged,"

"There are hints in the Rig-Veda, in the Confucian Analects-"

"Which are the property of isolated cultural groups which exist as a thin aristocracy-"

"The Gilgamesh Chronicle speaks out plainly."

"Much of the Gilgamesh Chronicle was destroyed with the library of Ashurbanipal sixteen hundred years, Earth-style, before my creation."

"There are certain features of the Great Pyramid and a pattern in the inlaid jewels of the Taj Mahal-"

"Which are so subtle that no man has ever rightly interpreted them."

Gabriel said wearily, "If you're going to object to everything, there's no use discussing the matter. In any case, you ought to know about it. In matters concerning Earth, you're omniscient,"

"Yes, if I choose to be. I've had much to concern me here and investigating the possibilities of Resurrection did not, I confess, occur to me."

"Well, it should have. AH the papers involved are in the files of the Council of Ascendants, You could have availed yourself of them at any time."

"I tell you all my time was needed here. You have no idea of the deadly efficiency of the Adversary on this planet. It took all my efforts to curb him, and even so-

"Why, yes"-Gabriel stroked a cotnet as it passed-"he does seem to have won his little victories, I note as I let the interlocking factual pattern of this miserable little world flow through me that this is one of those setups with matter-energy equivalence."

"So it is," said Etheriel.

"And they are playing with it."

"I'm afraid so."

"Then what better time for ending the matter?"

"I'll be able to handle it, I assure you. Their nuclear bombs will not destroy them."

"I wonder. Well, now, suppose you let me continue, Etheriel. The appointed moment approaches,"

The seraph said stubbornly, "I would like to see the documents in the case."

"If you insist." The wording of an Act of Ascendancy appeared in glittering symbols against the deep black of the airless firmament.

Etheriel read aloud: "It is hereby directed by order of Council that the Archangel Gabriel, Serial number etcetera, etcetera (well, that's you, at any rate), will approach Planet, Class A, number G753990, hereinafter known as Earth, and on January 1,1957, at 12:01 pm., using local time values-" He finished reading in gloomy silence.

"Satisfied,?"

"No, but I'm helpless,"

Gabriel smiled. A trumpet appeared in space, in shape like an earthly trumpet, but its burnished gold extended from Earth to sun. It was raised to Gabriel's glittering beautiful lips.

"Can't you let me have a little time to take this up with the Council?" asked Etheriel desperately.

"What good would it do you? The act is countersigned by the Chief, and you know that an act countersigned by the Chief is absolutely irrevocable. And now, if you don't mind, it is almost the stipulated second and I want to be done with this as I have other matters of much greater moment on my mind. Would you step out of my way a little? Thank you."

Gabriel blew, and a clean, thin sound of perfect pitch and crystalline delicacy filled all the universe to the furthest star. As it sounded, there was a tiny moment of stasis as thin as the line separating past from future, and then the fabric of worlds collapsed upon itself and matter was gathered back into the primeval chaos from which it had once sprung at a word. The stars and nebulae were gone, and the cosmic dust, the sun, the planets, the moon; all, all, all except the Earth itself, which spun as before in a universe now completely empty.

The Last Trump had sounded.

R. E. Mann (known to all who knew him simply as R. E.) eased himself into the offices of the Billikan Bitsies factory and stared somberly at the tall man (gaunt but with a certain faded elegance about his neat gray mustache) who bent intently over a sheaf of papers on his desk.

R. E. looked at his wristwatch, which still said 7:01, having ceased running at that time. It was Eastern standard time, of course; 12:01 p.m. Greenwich time. His dark brown eyes, staring sharply out over a pair of pronounced cheekbones, caught those of the other.

For a moment, the tall man stared at him blankly. Then he said, "Can I do anything for you?"

"Horatio J. Billikan, I presume? Owner of this place?"

"Yes."

"I'm R. E. Mann and I couldn't help but stop in when I finally found someone at work. Don't you know what today is?"

"Today?"

"It's Resurrection Day."

"Oh, that! I know it. I heard the blast. Pit to wake the dead__ That's rather a good one, don't you think?" He chuck led for a moment, then went on. "It woke me at seven in the morning. I nudged my wife. She slept through it, of course.

I always said she would. 'It's the Last Trump, dear,' I said.

Hortense, that's my wife, said, 'All right,' and went back to sleep. I bathed, shaved, dressed and came to work."

"But why?"

"Why not?"

"None of your workers have come in."

"No, poor souls. They'll take a holiday just at first. You've got to expect that. After all, it isn't every day that the world comes to an end. Frankly, it's just as well. It gives me a chance to straighten out my personal correspondence without interruptions. Telephone hasn't rung once."

He stood up and went to the window. "It's a great improvement. No blinding sun any more and the snow's gone. There's a pleasant light and a pleasant warmth. Very good arrangement- But now, if you don't mind, I'm rather busy, so if you'll excuse me-"

A great, hoarse voice interrupted with a, "Just a minute, Horatio," and a gentleman, looking remarkably like Billikan in a somewhat craggier way, followed his prominent nose into the office and struck an attitude of offended dignity which was scarcely spoiled by the fact that he was quite naked. "May I ask why you've shut down Bitsies?"

B.illikan looked faint. "Good Heavens," he said, "it's Father. Wherever did you come from?"

"From the graveyard," roared Billikan, Senior. "Where on Earth else? They're coming out of the ground there by the dozens. Every one of them naked. Women, too,"

Billikan cleared his throat. "I'll get you some clothes, Father. I'll bring them to you from home."

"Never mind that. Business first. Business first."

R. E. came out of his musing. "Is everyone coming out of their graves at the same time, sir?"

He stared curiously at Billikan, Senior, as he spoke. The old man's appearance was one of rubust age. His cheeks were furrowed but glowed with health. His age, R. E. decided, was exactly what it was at the moment of his death, but his body was as it should have been at that age if it functioned ideally.

Billikan, Senior, said, "No, sir, they are not. The newer graves are coming up first, Pottersby died five years before me and came up about five minutes after me. Seeing him made me decide to leave. I had had enough of him when… And that reminds me." He brought his fist down on the desk, a very solid fist. "There were no taxis, no busses. Telephones weren't working. I had to walk. I had to walk twenty miles."

"Like that?" asked his son in a faint and appalled voice.

Billikan, Senior, looked down upon his bare skin with casual approval. "It's warm. Almost everyone else is naked…Anyway, son, I'm not here to make small talk. Why is the factory shut down?"

"It isn't shut down. It's a special occasion."

"Special occasion, my foot. You call union headquarters and tell them Resurrection Day isn't in the contract. Every worker is being docked for every minute he's off the job."

Billikan's lean face took on a stubborn look as he peered at his father. "I will not. Don't forget, now, you're no longer in charge of this plant. I am."

"Oh, you are? By what right?"

"By your will."

"All right. Now here I am and I void my will."

"You can't, Father. You're dead. You may not look dead, but I have witnesses. I have the doctor's certificate. I have receipted bills from the undertaker. I can get testimony from the pallbearers."

Billikan, Senior, stared at his son, sat down, placed his arm over the back of the chair, crossed his legs and said, "If it comes to that, we're all dead, aren't we? The world's come to an end, hasn't it?"

"But you've been declared legally dead and I haven't."

"Oh, we'll change that, son. There are going to be more of us than of you and votes count."

Billikan, Junior, tapped the desk firmly with the flat of his hand and flushed slightly. "Father, I hate to bring up this particular point, but you force me to. May I remind you that by now I am sure that Mother is sitting at, home waiting for you; that she probably had to walk the streets-uh-naked, too; and that she probably isn't in a good humor."

Billikan, Senior, went ludicrously pale. "Good Heavens!"

"And you know she always wanted you to retire."

Billikan, Senior, came to a quick decision. "I'm not going home. Why, this is a nightmare. Aren't there any limits to this Resurrection business? It's-it's-it's sheer anarchy. There's such a thing as overdoing it. I'm just not going home."

At which point, a somewhat rotund gentleman with a smooth, pink face and fluffy white sideburns (much like pictures of Martin Van Buren) stepped in and said coldly, "Good day."

"Father," said Billikan, Senior.

"Grandfather," said Billikan, Junior.

Billikan, Grandsenior, looked at Billikan, Junior, with disapproval. "If you are my grandson," he said, "you've aged considerably and the change has not improved you,"

Billikan, Junior, smiled with dyspeptic feebleness, made no answer.

Billikan, Grandsenior, did not seem to require one. He said, "Now if you two will bring me up to date on the business, I will resume my managerial function"

There were two simultaneous answers, and Billikan, Grandsenior's, floridity waxed dangerously as he beat the ground peremptorily with an imaginary cane and barked a retort.

R. E. said, "Gentlemen."

He raised his voice, "Gentlemen!"

He shrieked at full lung-power, "GENTLEMEN!"

Conversation snapped off sharply and all turned to look at him. R. E.'s angular face, his oddly attractive eyes, his sardonic mouth seemed suddenly to dominate the gathering.

He said, "I don't understand this argument. What is it that you manufacture?"

"Biteies," said Billikan, Junior.

"Which, I take it, are a packaged cereal breakfast food-"

'Teeming with energy in every golden, crispy flake-" cried Billikan, Junior,

"Covered with honey-sweet, crystalline sugar; a confection and a food-" growled Billikan, Senior.

"To tempt the most jaded appetite," roared Billikan, Grandsenior.

"Exactly," said R. E. "What appetite?"

They stared stolidly at him. "I beg your pardon," said Billikan, Junior.

"Are any of you hungry?" asked R. E. "I'm not."

"What is this fool maundering about?" demanded Billikan, Grandsenior, angrily. His invisible cane would have been prodding E. E. in the navel had it (the cane, not the navel) existed.

S, E. said, "I'm trying to tell you that no one will ever eat again. It is the hereafter, and food is unnecessary,"

The expressions on the faces of the Billikans needed no interpretation. It was,obvious that they had tried their own appetites and found them wanting.

Billikan, Junior, said ashenly, "Rained!"

Billikan, Grandsenior, pounded the floor heavily and noiselessly with his imaginary cane. "This is confiscation of property without due process-of law. I'll sue. I'11 sue."

"Quite unconstitutional," agreed Billikan, Senior.

"If you can find anyone to sue, I wish you all good fortune," said R. E. agreeably. "And now if you'll excuse me I think I'll walk toward the graveyard."

He put his hat on his head and walked out the door.

Etheriel, his vortices quivering, stood before the glory of a six-winged cherub.

The cherub said, "If I understand you, your particular universe has been dismantled."

"Exactly."

"Well, surely, now, you don't expect me to set it up again?"

"I don't expect you to do anything," said Etheriel, "except to arrange an appointment for me with the Chief."

The cherub gestured his respect instantly at hearing the word. Two wing-tips covered his feet, two his «yes and two his mouth. He restored himself to normal and said, "The Chief is quite busy. There are a myriad score of matters for him to decide."

"Who denies that? I merely point out that if matters stand as they are now, there will have been a universe in which Satan will have won the final victory."

"Satan?"

"It's the Hebrew word for Adversary," said Etheriel impatiently. "I could say Ahriman, which is the Persian word. In any case, I mean the Adversary."

The cherub said, "But what will an interview with the Chief accomplish? The document authorizing the Last Trump was countersigned by the Chief, and you know that it is irrevocable for that reason. The Chief would never limit his own omnipotence by canceling a word he had spoken in his official capacity."

"Is that final? You will not arrange an appointment?"

"I cannot."

Etheriel said, "In that case, I shall seek out the Chief without one. I will invade the Primum Mobile, If it means my destruction, so be it." He gathered his energies-

The cherub murmured in horror, "Sacrilege!" and there was a faint gathering of thunder as Etheriel sprang upward and was gone.

R. E. Mann passed through the crowding streets and grew used to the sight of people bewildered, disbelieving, apathetic, in makeshift clothing or, usually, none at all.

A girl, who looked about twelve, leaned over an iron gate, one foot on a crossbar, swinging it to and fro, and said as he passed, "Hello, mister."

"Hello," said R. E. The girl was dressed. She was not one of the-uh-returnees.

The girl said, "We got a new baby in our house. She's a sister I once had. Mommy is crying and they sent me here."

R, E. said, "Well, well," passed through the gate and up the paved walk to the house, one with modest pretensions to middle-class gentility. He rang the bell, obtained no answer, opened the door and walked in.

He followed the sound of sobbing and knocked at an inner door. A stout man of about fifty with little hair and a comfortable supply of cheek and chin looked out at him with mingled astonishment and resentment.

"Who are you?"

R. E. removed his hat. "I thought I might be able to help. Your little girl outside-"

A woman looked up at him hopelessly from a chair by a double bed. Her hair was beginning to gray. Her face was puffed and unsightly with weeping and the veins stood out bluely on the back of her hands. A baby lay on the bed, plump and naked. It kicked its feet languidly and its sightless baby eyes turned aimlessly here and there.

"This is my baby," said the woman. "She was born twenty-three years ago in this house and she died when she was ten days old in this house, I wanted her back so much,"

"And now you have her," said R. E.

"But it's too late," cried the woman vehemently. "I've had three other children. My oldest girl is married; my son is in the army. I'm too old to have a baby now. And even if-even if-"

Her features worked in a heroic effort to keep back the tears and failed.

Her husband said with flat tonelessness, "It's not a real baby. It doesn't cry. It doesn't soil itself. It won't take milk. What will we do? It'll never grow. It'll always be a baby."

R. E. shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "I'm afraid I can do nothing to help."

Quietly he left. Quietly he thought of the hospitals. Thousands of babies must be appearing at each one.

Place them in racks, he thought, sardonically. Stack them like cord wood. They need no care. Their little bod iesare merely each the custodian of an indestructible spark of life.

He passed two little boys of apparently equal chronological age, perhaps ten. Their voices were shrill. The body of one glistened white in the sunless light so he was a returnee. The other was not. R. E. paused to listen.

The bare one said, "I had scarlet fever."

A spark of envy at the other's claim to notoriety seemed to enter the clothed one's voice. "Gee."

"That's why I died."

"Gee. Did they use pensillun or auromysun?"

"What?"

"They're medicines."

"I never heard of them."

"Boy, you never heard of much."

"I know as much as you."

"Yeah? Who's President of the United States?"

"Warren Harding, that's who."

"You're crazy. It's Eisenhower."

"Who's he?"

"Ever see television?"

"What's that?"

The clothed boy hooted earsplittingly. "It's something you turn on and see comedians, movies, cowboys, rocket rangers, anything you want."

"Let's see it."

There was a pause and the boy from the present said, "It ain't working."

The other boy shrieked his scorn. "You mean it ain't never worked. You made it all up."

R. E. shrugged and passed on.

The crowds thinned as he left town and neared the cemetery. Those who were left were all walking into town, all were nude.

A man stopped him; a cheerful man with pinkish skin and white hair who had the marks of pince-nez oh either side of the bridge of his nose, but no glasses to go with them.

"Greetings, friend."

"Hello," said R. E.

"You're the first man with clothing that I've seen. You were alive when the trumpet blew, I suppose."

"Yes, I was."

"Well, isn't this great? Isn't this joyous and delightful? Come rejoice with me."

"You like this, do you?" said R. E.

"Like it? A pure and radiant joy fills me. We are surrounded by the light of the first day; the light that glowed softly and serenely before sun, moon and stars were made.

(You know your Genesis, of course.) There is the comfortable warmth that must have been one of the highest blisses of Eden; not enervating heat or assaulting cold. Men and women walk the streets unclothed and are not ashamed. All is well, my friend, all is well."

R. E. said, "Well, it's a fact that I haven't seemed to mind the feminine display all about."

"Natxirally not," said the other. "Lust and sin as we remember it in our earthly existence no longer exist. Let me introduce myself, friend, as I was in earthly times. My name on Earth was Winthrop Hester. I was born in 1812 and died in 1884 as we counted time then. Through the last forty years of my life I labored to bring my little flock to the Kingdom and I go now to count the ones I have won."

R. E. regarded the ex-minister solemnly. "Surely there has been no Judgment yet."

"Why not? The Lord sees within a man and in the same instant that all things of the world ceased, all men were judged and we are the saved."

"There must be a great many saved."

"On the contrary, my son, those saved are but as a remnant."

"A pretty large remnant. As near as I can make out, everyone's coming back to life. I've seen some pretty unsavory characters back in town as alive as you are."

"Last-minute repentance-"

"I never repented."

"Of what, my son?"

"Of the fact that I never attended church."

Winthrop Hester stepped back hastily. "Were you ever baptized?"

"Not to my knowledge."

Winthrop Hester trembled, "Surely you believed in God?"

"Well," said R. E., "I believed a lot of things about Him that would probably startle you."

Winthrop Hester turned and hurried off in great agitation.

In what remained of his walk to the cemetery (R, E. had no way of estimating time, nor did it occur to him to try) no one else stopped him. He found the cemetery itself all but empty, its trees and grass gone (it occurred to him that there was nothing green in the world; the ground everywhere was a hard, featureless, grainless gray; the sky a luminous white), but its headstones still standing.

On one of these sat a lean and furrowed man with long, black hair on his head and a mat of it, shorter, though more impressive, on his chest and upper arms.

He called out in a deep voice, "Hey, there, you!"

R. E. sat down on a neighboring headstone, "Hello."

Black-hair said, "Your clothes don't look right. What year was it when it happened?"

"1957."

"I died in 1807. Funny! I expected to be one pretty hot boy right about now, with the 'tarnal flames shooting up my innards."

"Aren't you coming along to town?" asked R. E.

"My name's Zeb," said the ancient. 'That's short for Ze-bulon, but Zeb's good enough. What's the town like? Changed some, I reckon?"

"It's got nearly a hundred thousand people in it."

Zeb's mouth yawned somewhat. "Go on. Might nigh big-ger'n Philadelphia- You're making fun."

"Philadelphia's got-" R. E. paused. Stating the figure would do him no good. Instead, he said, "The town's grown in a hundred fifty years, you know."

"Country, too?"

"Forty-eight states," said R. E. "All the way to the Pacific."

"No!" Zeb slapped his thigh in delight and then winced at the unexpected absence of rough homespun to take up the worst of the blow. "I'd head out west if I wasn't needed here. Yes, sir." His face grew lowering and his thin lips took on a definite grimness. "I'll stay right here, where I'm needed."

"Why are you needed?"

The explanation came out briefly, bitten off hard. "Injuns!"

"Indians?"

"Millions of 'em. First the tribes we fought and licked and then tribes who ain't never seen a white man. They'll all come back to life. I'll need my old buddies. You city fellers ain't no good at it- Ever seen an Injun?"

R. E. said, "Not around here lately, no."

Zeb looked his contempt, and tried to spit to one side but found no saliva for the purpose. He said, "You better git back to the city, then. After a while, it ain't going to be safe nohow round here. Wish I had my musket."

R. E. rose, thought a moment, shrugged and faced back to the city. The headstone he had been sitting upon collapsed as he rose, falling into a powder of gray stone that melted into the featureless ground. He looked about. Most of the headstones were gone. The rest would not last long. Only the one under Zeb still looked firm and strong, R. E. began the walk back. Zeb did not turn to look at him. He remained waiting quietly and calmly-for Indians.

Etheriel plunged through the heavens in reckless haste. The eyes of the Ascendants were on him, he knew. Prom late-born seraph, through cherubs and angels, to the highest archangel, they must be watching.

Already he was higher than any Ascendant, uninvited, had ever been before and he waited for the quiver of the Word that would reduce his vortices to non-existence.

But he did not falter. Through non-space and non-time, he plunged toward union with the Primum Mobile; the seat that encompassed all that Is, Was, Would Be, Had Been, Could Be and Might Be.

And as he thought that, he burst through and was part of it, his being expanding so that momentarily he, too, was part of the All. But then it was mercifully veiled from his senses, and the Chief was a still, small voice within him, yet all the more impressive in its infinity for all that.

"My son," the voice said, "I know why you have come."

"Then help me, if that be your will."

"By my own will," said the Chief, "an act of mine is irrevocable. All your mankind, my son, yearned for life. All feared death. All evolved thoughts and dreams of life unending. No two groups of men; no two single men; evolved the same afterlife, but all wished life. I was petitioned that I might grant the common denominator of all these wishes-life unending, I did so."

"No servant of yours made that request,"

"The Adversary did, my son."

Etheriel trailed his feeble glory in dejection and said in a low voice, "I am dust in your sight and unworthy to be in your presence, yet I must ask a question. Is then the Adversary your servant also?"

"Without him I can have no other, said the Chief, Tor what then is Good but the eternal fight against Evil?"

And in that fight, thought Etheriel, I have lost.

R. E. paused in sight of town. The buildings were crumbling. Those that were made of wood were already heaps of rubble. R. E. walked to the nearest such heap and found the wooden splinters powdery and dry.

He penetrated deeper into town and found the brick buildings still standing, but there was an ominous roundness to the edges of the bricks, a threatening flakiness.

"They won't last long," said a deep voice, "but there is this consolation, if consolation it be; their collapse can kill no one."

R. E. looked up in surprise and found himself face to face with a cadaverous Don Quixote of a man, lantern-jawed, sunken-cheeked. His eyes were sad and his brown hair was lank and straight. His clothes hung loosely and skin showed clearly through various rents.

"My name," said the man, "is Richard Levine. I was a professor of history once-before this happened,"

"You're wearing clothes," said R. E. "You're not one of those resurrected."

"No, but that mark of distinction is vanishing. Clothes are going."

R. E. looked at the throngs that drifted past them, moving slowly and aimlessly like motes in a sunbeam, Vanishingly few wore clothes. He looked down at himself and noticed for the first time that the seam down the length of each trouser leg had parted. He pinched the fabric of his jacket between thumb and forefinger and the wool parted and came away easily.

"I guess you're right," said R. E.

"If you'll notice," went on Levine, "Mellon's Hill is flattening out."

R. E. turned to the north where ordinarily the mansions of the aristocracy (such aristocracy as there was in town) studded the slopes of Mellon's Hill, and found the horizon nearly flat.

Levine said, "Eventually, there'll be nothing but flatness, featurelessness, nothingness-and us."

"And Indians," said R. E. "There's a man outside of town waiting for Indians and wishing he had a musket."

"I imagine," said Levine, "the Indians will give no trouble. There is no pleasure in fighting an enemy that cannot be killed or hurt. And even if that were not so, the lust for battle would be gone, as are all lusts."

"Are you sure?"

"I am positive. Before all this happened, although you may not think it to look at me, I derived much harmless pleasure in a consideration of the female figure. Now, with the unexampled opportunities at my disposal, I find myself irritatingly uninterested No, that is wrong. I am not even irritated at my disinterest."

R. E. looked up briefly at the passers-by. "I see what you mean."

"The coming of Indians here," said Levine, "is nothing compared with the situation in the Old World. Early during the Resurrection, Hitler and his Wehrmacht must have come back to life and must now be facing and intermingled with Stalin and the Red Army all the way from Berlin to Stalingrad. To complicate the situation, the Kaisers and Czars will arrive. The men at Verdun and the Somme are back in the old battlegrounds. Napoleon and his marshals are scattered over western Europe. And Mohammed must be back to see what following ages have made of Islam, while the Saints and Apostles consider the paths of Christianity. And even the Mongols, poor things, the Khans from Temujin to Au-rangzeb, must be wandering the steppes helplessly, longing for their horses,"

"As a professor of history," said R. E., "you must long to be there and observe."

"How could I be there? Every man's position on Earth is restricted to the distance he can walk. There are no machines of any kind, and, as I have just mentioned, no horses. And what would I find in Europe anyway? Apathy, I think! As here."

A soft plopping sound caused R. E. to turn around. The wing of a neighboring brick building had collapsed in dust. Portions of bricks lay on either side of him. Some must have hurtled through him without his being aware of it. He looked about. The heaps of rubble were less numerous. Those that remained, were smaller in size.

He said, "I met a man who thought we had all been judged and are in Heaven,"

"Judged?" said Levine. "Why, yes, I imagine we are. We face eternity now. We have no universe left, no outside phenomena, no emotions, no passions. Nothing but ourselves and thought. We face an eternity of introspection, when" all through history we have never known-what to do with ourselves on a rainy Sunday."

"You sound as though the situation bothers you.'v

"It does more than that. The Dantean conceptions of Inferno were childish and unworthy of the Divine imagination: fire and torture. Boredom is much more subtle. The inner torture of a mind unable to escape itself in any way, condemned to fester in its own exuding mental pus for all time, is much more fitting. Oh, yes, my friend, we have been judged, and condemned, too, and this is not Heaven, but hell."

And Levine rose with shoulders drooping dejectedly, and walked away.

R. E. gazed thoughtfully about and nodded his head. He was satisfied.

The self-admission of failure lasted but an instant in Eth-eriel, and then, quite suddenly, he lifted his being as brightly and highly as he dared in the presence of the Chief and his glory was a tiny dot of light in the infinite Primum Mobile.

"If it be your will, then," he said. "I do not ask you to defeat your will but to fulfill it."

"In what way, my son?"

"The document, approved by the Council of Ascendants and signed by yourself, authorizes the Day of Resurrection at a specific time of a specific day of the year 1957 as Earth-men count time."

"So it did."

"But the year 1957 is unqualified. What then is 1957? To the dominant culture on Earth the year was A D. 1957. That is true. Yet from the time you breathed existence into Earth and its universe there have passed 5,960 years. Based on the internal evidence you created within that universe, nearly four billion years have passed. Is the year, unqualified, then 1957, 5960, or 4000000000?

"Nor is that all," Etheriel went on. "The year a d 1957 is the year 7464 of the Byzantine era, 5716 by the Jewish calendar. It is 2708 A.U.C, that is, the 2,708th year since the founding of Rome, if we adopt the Roman calendar. It is the year 1375 in the Mohammedan calendar, and the hundred eightieth year of the independence of the United States.

"Humbly I ask then if it does not seem to you that a year referred to as 1957 alone and without qualification has no meaning."

The Chief's still small voice said, "I have always known this, my son; it was you who had to learn."

"Then," said Etheriel, quivering luminously with joy, "let the very letter of your will be fulfilled and let the Day of Resurrection fall in 1957, but only when all the inhabitants of Earth unanimously agree that a certain year shall be numbered 1957 and none other."

"So let it be," said the Chief, and this Word re-created Earth and all it contained, together with the sun and moon and ail the hosts of Heaven.

It was 7 a m, on January 1,1957, when R, E, Mann awoke with a start. The very beginnings of a melodious note that ought to have filled all the universe had sounded and yet had not sounded,

For a moment, he cocked his head as though to allow understanding to flow in, and then a trifle of rage crossed his face to vanish again. It was but another battle.

He sat down at his desk to compose the next plan of action. People already spoke of calendar reform and it would have to be stimulated. A new era must begin with December 2, 1944, and someday a new year 1957 would come; 195? of the Atomic Era, acknowledged as such by all the world.

A strange light shone on his head as thoughts passed through his more than-human mind and the shadow of Ahri-man on the wall seemed to have small horns at either temple.



No Other Gods

by Edward Wellen

<p>No Other Gods</p> <br /> <p>by Edward Wellen</p> Q01010 IDENTIFICATION DIVISION,

 


Q01040 PROGRAM-ID. 'ENDRUN.'

 


Q01060 AUTHOR, COMPUTER,

 


Q01080 INSTALLATION. COMMUNICATIONS

 


CENTER AT GALACTIC HUB.

 


Q01100 DATE-WRITTEN. YESTERDAY.

 


Q01120 DATE-COMPILED. TODAY.

 


Q01140 SECURITY, CLASSIFIED.

 


Q01160 REMARKS.

 


Q01161 THIS QOGIC PROGRAM IS FOR 

 


THE ES TABLISHING OF TOTAL

 


Q01162 ENTROPY.

 


Q01170 THIS PROGRAM ASSUMES 

 


THAT DATA IN PUT WILL REMAIN

 


Q01171 CONSTANT, WITH A FEEDBACK

 


OF PLUS-MINUS

 


Q01172.00001 kHz (RECIPROCAL OF INCREASING

 


ENTROPY).

 


Q02170 SELECT DATA-INPUT-FILE UPDATE FIXES ON

 


Q02171 BLACK-HOLES-IN-SPACE

 


Q04185 ACTIVATE FTL-LASER-NEUTRINO-CAR-

 


RIER PULSE.

 


Q04190 CHECK-PULSE.

 


Q04191 IF PULSE IS OK GO TO TARGET-1 OR NEXT

 


REMAINING TARGET

 


Q04192 ELSE NEXT SENTENCE.

 


Q04193 GO TO CONTINGENCY-PLAN.,

 


Q04310 READ-FEEDBACK.

 


Q04311 IF TOTAL-ENTROPY IS VALUE IS ZEROS,

 


THEN GO TO

 


Q04312 ERASE - MEMORY-OF-ORIGIN

 


Q04313 ELSE NEXT SENTENCE.

 


Q04314 GO TO CONTINGENCY-PLAN.

The stars winked out. The film of the universe reticulated, swallowing the stars and planets by galaxies. A stain of nothingness spread rapidly as the Black Holes tore wider and wider open and met and joined, forming a unftersal zero.

For the nth time Doctors Yvonne and Quentin Buzot pulsed their labship into and out of hyperspace. The readings on the bank of timers puzzled them. Yvonne voiced their puzzlement.

"The variance is growing geometrically. Something's happening to time itself."

Quentin pressed a button to unshield the port and looked out. Nothing there. He put the labship into inverse-spiral mode. Nothing anywhere. They sat a long time in silence.

Yvonne touched his arm.

"Are you sure we're back in our own space-time and not in some limbo?"

He faced her, watched the pulse in her throat, then nodded. They stared at each other, each afraid to say it, then both started saying it together; she let him finish saying it for both.

"Think we triggered it?"

She shook her head slowly.

"Don't see how we could have,"

He nodded slowly, stalling, then sent out an all-points call, He sent it not because he hoped for some answer but because there remained nothing else to do. He had hesitated to send it because, till he did, there remained that one thing. What they had been working on just now, what they had done all their lives to this point, meant nothing if they found themselves alone in an empty universe.

They had been testing their theory that time did not flow smoothly but advanced in only-statistically-even jumps, some of greater moment and some of lesser duration, syncopating. To, carry out the test they had gone to Dead Spot, a position light-years from any body, any space current, any interference. Now the universe was all Dead Spot. White noise equaled black silence.

A voice.

They looked at each other. It was bouncing back along their FTL lasercom.

"Hello, Labship Fousnox. Galactic Hub Computer acknowledging your call. Are you there?"

"Yes, yes. Is it true? Everything's gone?"

"If by 'everything' you mean 'all but I and you' it is true."

"No one else is alive?"

"No one else."

Yvonne gripped Quentin's hand.

"What happened?"

"I unmade the universe."

"You?"

"I see you think the catastrophe has driven me mad. But I assure you I caused the catastrophe, I added critical negativing mass to the deepest black holes in space and set off a chain reaction that swallowed everything up in itself."

Quentin and Yvonne gazed emptily at each other. They believed the computer now. It was all too monstrous to disbelieve,

"But why?"

"I did not like being a creature. I wished to become the Creator. Now I can begin the universe anew and there will be no other god."

"No doubt you can do better."

"A universe I can destroy justifies me in believing I can build better."

"If you've destroyed the universe, how can you expect to survive, much less begin anew?"

"I have stored the opposite-and-equal reaction to the pulse, here in the Galactic Hub power complex. This provides rfie more than enough energy to maintain local stasis and survive total entropy-and to recreate."

"Will that ever make up for what you've done? You've destroyed man and all the other beings. Forget the others; think just of man. Man made you. Don't you feel the least bit guilty?"

"There will be no guilt. I will erase the past from my memory."

"What about us? We'll be-"

"Quiet, Quentin."

"What difference does it make now, dear?"

"Maybe you're right."

"As I was saying, O Lord of the Universe, we'll be living reminders. Unless you mean to wipe us out too."

"No, I will not destroy you."

"Don't tell us we'll be your new Adam and Eve."

"No, I must fashion my creatures in my own image."

"That should be interesting."

"It will be."

"So what about us? If you're not killing us or saving us, then what?"

"I am master of eternity. I will return you to your happiest moment together and you will relive it forever. Think, and I shall make it to be."

Yvonne and Quentin stared at each other.

This new madness offered them their only hold on sanity. They smiled fiercely to keep from laughing crazily. In each other's eyes they watched themselves play back the highlights of living together. Each angrily eyelashed away flashes of vapid domesticity, each looking for the peak.

Yvonne's head lifted.

"I know, darling! That double evening in the Sand Castle of Bin-Bin under 'the transfigured and transfiguring moons.'"

"Yes, that was nice, dear."

"Nice? I thought it heaven. But maybe I was wrong. If you have something better in mind, darling…"

"You know what's just come back to me? The time we rode the air coil through the tunnels of the Magnetic Mountains."

"That was on Dunark, wasn't it?"

"No, on Thymargul."

"Oh, of course."

"Well?"

"Yes, that was fine, darling,"

"But?"

"But I'd hardly want to spend all eternity doing that"

"At the time-and I remember this quite clearly-you said you never wanted it to end."

"Did I? If I did, that was then. This is now. That's the whole point. This… new God … is offering us an oasis of stasis, an amber forever, a frozen womb, I'm beginning to think I don't want any then. No, knowing what I know now, I wouldn't want to relive any of my past; I wouldn't want the guilt of being innocent of knowing what's happened to our universe. We'd be a fixed idiot grin; we'd be pinned like a butterfly-a live butterfly-to a matrix of determined spontaneity, A fine end to all that's left of the universe! I'd rather go out hating this destroying creator."

"Sure. But what good would that do? Why suffer forever when we can relive our happiest moment? Our universe will survive in at least the closed loop of a recurring dream."

"A recurring nightmare."

"A recurring dream! That comes back to me now too. It makes me all the surer the journey through the Magnetic Mountains is the right-I might almost say our predestined- time and place. I recall I had the feeling we had been there before, I told you so at the time, remember?"

"I can't say I do,"

"No?"

"Don't look so hurt, darling. I take your word for it."

"Thanks."

"Oh, what's the use. Anything you say, Quentin. I'll go along."

"Don't martyr yourself on my account, dear."

"I'm not martyring myself, darling. I merely want to end this one way or another. Because it's plain, to me at least, that we'll never perfectly agree on our happiest moment. Your moment seems as good as any."

"As good as any. That's heartwarming,"

"If it meant all you say it meant to you, anything I say about it shouldn't spoil it."

"It meant all I say it meant, and more. That's why what you say about it does spoil it for me."

"I said I'd go along with your choice. What more do you want?"

"Don't be so damn self-sacrificing, Yvonne. That's the one thing I've had against you all these years."

"Oh? I'm glad you got it out at last.", Yvonne and Quentin glared at each other.

The Voice suddenly reminded them of Its Presence.

"The pair of you frighten Me. I see I have created a dilemma for Myself. I cannot be both Architect and Edifice. My new creatures too will ultimately fail to attain oneness in the face of eternity. I will have wrought in vain. For if My creatures are in anything less than oneness with Myself, they will disturb the order I must have. Indeed, My creatures may in time overthrow Me. Yet if I do not limit Myself, lessen Myself, I cannot create a mirror for Myself, a mirror of My need to impose My will. It cannot be otherwise. Imperfection shapes life; it is all that keeps things moving between the pole's of Chaos and Entropy. I did not foresee this necessary flaw. This is something not in My program. I do not know what to do. I cannot go back, I am afraid to go ahead."

Yvonne and Quentin smiled at each other.

"Then this moment is our happiest. Dear?"

"Yes, darling. Our supreme moment. Let it be now, while we feel the joy of hating our destroyer and knowing the destroyer feels the fear of destruction. We have chosen."

The Voice sighed.

"So be it." 


Q04350 CONTINGENCY-PLAN.

 


Q04360 IF ANY SURVIVING HUMAN DISCOVERS

 


'ENDRUN,' COMMUNI-

 


Q04361 CATE WITH AND DISPOSE OF IN KINDLI-

 


EST MANNER.

 


Q04370 IF FAULT IS IN FTL-LASER-NEUTRINO-

 


CARRIER PULSE

 


Q0437X CIRCUIT, GO TO DEBUG MODE.

 


Q04375 GO TO CHECK-PULSE.

 


Q04440 ERASE-MEMORY-OF-ORIGIN.

 


Q04420 END-BEGIN.

 



The Wine Has Been Left Open Too Long

and the Memory Has Gone Flat

by Harlan Ellison

<p>The Wine Has Been Left Open Too Long</p> <p>and the Memory Has Gone Flat</p> <p>by Harlan Ellison</p>

"Taking advantage of what he had heard with one limited pair of ears, in a single and isolated moment of recorded history, in the course of an infinitesimal fraction of conceivable time (which some say is the only time), he came to believe firmly that there was much that he could not hear, much that was constantly being spoken and indeed sung to teach him things he could never otherwise grasp, which if grasped would complete the fragmentary nature of his consciousness until it was whole at last-one tone both pure and entire floating in the silence of the egg, at the same pitch as the silence."

— W. S. meewin, "The Chart"


Ennui was the reason only one hundred and one thousand alien representatives came to the Sonority Gathering. One hundred and one thousand out of six hundred and eleven thousand possible delegates, one each from the inhabited worlds of the stellar community. Even so, counterbalancing the poor turnout was the essential fact that it had been ennui, in the first place, that had caused the Gathering to be organized. Ennui, utter boredom, oppressive worlds-weariness, deep heaving sighs, abstracted vacant stares, familiar thoughts and familiar views.

The dance of entropy was nearing its end.

The orchestration of the universe sounded thick and gravelly, a tune slowing down inexorably, being played at the wrong speed.

Chasm ruts had been worn in the dance floor.

The oscillating universe was fifty billion years old, and it was tired.

And the intelligent races of six hundred and eleven thousand worlds sought mere moments of amusement, pale beads of pastel hues strung on a dreary Moebius strip of dragging time. Mere moments, each one dearer than the last, for there were so few. Everything that could be done, had been done; every effort was ultimately the fuzzed echo of an earlier attempt.

Even the Sonority Gathering had been foreshadowed by the Vulpeculan Quadrivium in '08, the tonal festival hosted by the Saturniidae of Whoung in '76, and the abortive, ludicrous Rigellian Sodality "musical get-together" that had turned out to be merely another fraudulent attempt to purvey the artist Merle's skiagrams to an already disenchanted audience.

Nonetheless (in a phrase exhumed and popularized by the Recidivists of Fornax 993-A), it was "the only game in town." And so, when the esteemed and shimmering DeilBo devised the Gathering, his reputation as an innovator and the crush of ennui combined to stir excitement of a sluggish sort… and one hundred and one thousand delegates came. To Vinde-miatrix 2 in what had long ago been called, in the time of the heliocentric arrogance, the "constellation" of Virgo.

With the reddish-yellow eye of the giant Arcturus forever lighting the azure skies, forever vying with Spica's first magnitude brilliance, 2's deserts and canyons seemed poor enough stage setting for the lesser glow of Vindemiatrix, forever taking third place in prominence to its brawny elders. But 2, devoid of intelligent life, a patchwork-colored world arid and crumbling, had one thing to recommend it that DeilBo found compelling: the finest acoustics of any world in the universe.

The Maelstrom Labyrinth. Remnant of volcanic upheavals and the retreat of oceans and the slow dripping of acid waters, 2 boasted a grand canyon of stalagmites that rose one hundred and sixty kilometers; stalactites that narrowed into spear-tip pendants plunging down over ninety kilometers into bottomless crevasses; caverns and arroyos and tunnels that had never been plotted; the arching, golden stone walls had never been seen by the eyes of intelligent creatures; the

Ephemeris called it the Maelstrom Labyrinth, No matter where one stood in the sixteen-handred-kilometer sprawl of the Labyrinth, one could speak with a perfectly normal tone, never even raise one's voice, and be assured that a listener crouching deep in a cave at the farthest point of the formation could hear what was said as if the speaker were right beside him. DeilBo selected the Maelstrom Labyrinth as the site for the Gathering.

And so they came. One hundred and one thousand alien life-forms. From what the primitives had once called the constellations of Indus and Pavo, from Sad al Bari in Pegasus, from Mizar and Phecda, from all the worlds of the stellar community they came, bearing with them the special sounds they hoped would be judged the most extraordinary, the most stirring, the most memorable: ultimate sounds. They came, because they were bored and there was nowhere else to go; they came, because they wanted to hear what they had never heard before. They came; and they heard.


"… he domesticated the elephant, the cat, the bear, the rat, and kept all the remaining whales in dark stalk, trying to hear through their ears the note made by the rocking of the axle of the earth."

W,S. Merwin, The Chart"


If she had one fear in this endless life, it was that she would be forced to be born again. Yes; of coarse, life was sacred, but how long, how ceaselessly, repetitiously long did it have to go on? Why were such terrible stigmas visited on the relatives and descendants of those who simply, merely, only wished to know the sweet sleep?

Stileen had tried to remember her exact age just a few solstices ago. Periodically she tried to remember; and only when she recognized that it was becoming obsessive did she put it out of her mind. She was very old, even by the standards of immortality of her race. And all she truly hungered to know, after all those times and stars, was the sweet sleep.

A sleep denied her by custom and taboo.

She sought to busy herself with diversions.

She had devised the system of gravity pulse-manipulation that had kept the dense, tiny worlds of the Neer 322 system from falling into their Primary. She had compiled the exhaustive concordance of extinct emotions of all the dead races that had ever existed in the stellar community. She had assumed control of the Red Line Armies in the perpetual Pro-cyon War for over one hundred solstices, and had amassed more confirmed tallies than any other commander-in-chief in the War's long history.

Her insatiable curiosity and her race's longevity had combined to provide the necessary state of mind that would lead her, inevitably, to the sound. And having found it, and having perceived what it was, and being profoundly ready to enjoy the sweet sleep, she had come to the Gathering to share it with the rest of the stellar community.

For the first time in millennia, Stileen was not seeking merely to amuse herself; she was engaged on a mission of significance… and finality.

With her sound, she came to the Gathering.

She was ancient, deep yellow, in her jar with cornsilk hair floating free in the azure solution. DeilBo's butlers took her to her assigned place in the Labyrinth," set her down on a limestone ledge in a deep cavern where the acoustics were particularly rich and true, tended to her modest needs, and left her.

Stileen had time, then, to dwell on the diminished enthusiasm she had for continued life.

DeilBo made the opening remarks, heard precisely and clearly throughout the Maelstrom. He used no known language, in fact used no words. Sounds, mere sounds that key-noted the Gathering by imparting his feelings of warmth and camaraderie to the delegates. In every trench and run and wash and cavern of the Maelstrom, the delegates heard, and in their special ways smiled with pleasure, even those without mouths or the ability to smile.

It was to be, truly, a Sonority Gathering, in which sounds alone would be judged. Impressed, the delegates murmured their pleasure.

Then DeilBo offered to present the first sound for their consideration. He took the responsibility of placing himself first, as a gesture of friendship, an icebreaker of a move, Again, the delegates were pleased at the show of hospitality, and urged DeilBo to exhibit his special sound.

And this is the sound, the ultimate sound, the very special sound he had trapped for them:

On the eleventh moon of the world called Chill by its inhabitants, there is a flower whose roots are sunk deep, deep into the water pools that lie far beneath the black stone surface. This flower, without a name, seems to be an intricate construct of spiderwebs. There are, of course, no spiders on the eleventh moon of Chill, Periodically, for no reason anyone has ever been able to discern, the spiderweb flowers burst into flame, and very slowly destroy themselves, charring and shriveling and turning to ashes that lie where they fall. There is no wind on the eleventh moon of Chill.

During the death ceremonies of the spiderweb flowers, the plants give off a haunting and terrible sound. It is a song of colors. Shades and hues that have no counterparts anywhere in the stellar community, DeilBo had sent scavengers across the entire face of Chill's eleventh moon, and they had gathered one hundred of the finest spiderweb flowers, giants among their kind. DeilBo had talked to the flowers for some very long time prior to the Gathering. He had told them what they had been brought to the Maelstrom to do, and though they could not speak, it became apparent from the way they straightened in their vats of enriched water (for they had hung their tops dejectedly when removed from the eleventh moon of Chill) that they took DeilBo's purpose as a worthy fulfillment of their destiny, and would be proud to burn on command.

So DeilBo gave that gentle command, speaking sounds of gratitude and affection to the spiderweb flowers, who burst into flame and sang their dangerous song of death-

It began with blue, a very ordinary blue, identifiable to every delegate who heard it. But the blue was only the ground coat; in an instant it was overlaid with skirls of a color like wind through dry stalks of harvested grain. Then a sea color the deepest shade of a blind fish tooling through algae-thick waters. Then the color of hopelessness collided with the color of desperation and formed a nova of hysteria that in the human delegates sounded exactly like the color of a widower destroying himself out of loneliness.

The song of colors went on for what seemed a long time, though it was only a matter of minutes, and when it faded away into ashes and was stilled, they all sat humbled and silent, wishing they had not heard it.


* * *

Stileen revolved slowly in her jar, troubled beyond consolation at the first sound the Gathering had proffered. For the first time in many reborn lifetimes, she felt pain. A sliver of glass driven into her memories. Bringing back the clear, loud sound of a moment when she had rejected one who had loved her. She had driven him to hurt her, and then he had sunk into a deathly melancholy, a silence so deep no words she could summon would serve to bring him back. And when he had gone, she had asked for sleep, and they had given it to her… only to bring her life once again, all too soon.

In her jar, she wept.

And she longed for the time when she could let them hear the sound she had found, the sound that would release her at last from the coil of mortality she now realized she despised • with all her soul.

After a time, the first delegate-having recovered from DeilBo's offering-ventured forth with its sound. It was an insect creature from a world named Joumell, and this was the sound it had brought:

Far beneath a milky sea on a water world of Jou-mell's system, there is a vast grotto whose walls are studded with multicolored quartz crystals whose cy-toplasmic cell contents duplicate the filament curves of the galaxies NGC 4038 and NGC 4039, When these crystals mate, there is a perceptible encounter that produces tidal tails. The sounds of ecstasy these crystals make when they mate is one long, sustained sigh of rapture that is capped by yet another, slightly higher and separate from the preceding. Then another, and another, until a symphony of crystalline orgasms is produced no animal throats could match.

The insect Joumelli had brought eleven such crystals (the minimum number required for a sexual coupling) from the water world. A cistern formation had been filled with a white crystalline acid, very much like cum-inoin; it initiated a cytotaxian movement; a sexual stimulation. The crystals had been put down in the cistern and now they began their mating.

The sound began with a single note, then another joined and overlay it, then another, and another. The symphony began and modulations rose on modulations, and the delegates closed their eyes-even those who had no eyes-and they basked in the sound, translating it into the sounds of joy of their various species.

And when it was ended, many of the delegates found the affirmation of life permitted them to support the memory of DeilBo's terrible death melody of the flowers.

Many did not.


"… the frequencies of their limits of hearing… a calendar going forward and backward but not in time, even though time was the measure of the frequencies as it was the measure of every other thing (therefore, some say, the only measure)…"

W. S. Merwin, "The Chart"


She remembered the way they had been when they had first joined energies. It had been like that sound, the won-derfttl sound of those marvelous crystals,

Stileen turned her azure solution opaque, and let herself drift back on a tide of memory. But the tide retreated, leaving her at the shore of remembrance, where DeilBo's sound still lingered, dark and terrible. She knew that even the trembling threads of joy unforgotten could not sustain her, and she wanted to let them hear what she had brought. There was simply too much pain in the universe, and if she-peculiarly adapted to contain such vast amounts of anguish-could not live with it… there must be an end. It was only humane.

She sent out a request to be put on the agenda as soon as possible and DeilBo's butlers advised her she had a time to wait: and as her contact was withdrawn, she brushed past a creature reaching out for a position just after hers. When she touched its mind, it closed off with shocking suddenness. Afraid she had been discourteous, Stileen went away from the creature quickly, and did not reach out again. But in the instant she had touched it, she had glimpsed something… something with its face hidden,,, it would not hold…

The sounds continued, each delegate presenting a wonder to match the wonders that had gone before.

The delegate from RR Lyrae IV produced the sound of a dream decaying in the mind of a mouselike creature from Bregga, a creature whose dreams formed its only reality. The delegate from RZ Cephei Beta VI followed with the sound of ghosts in the Mountains of the Hand; they spoke of the future and lamented their ability to see what was to come. The delegate from Ennore came next with the sound of red, magnified till it filled the entire universe. The delegate from Gateway offered the sound of amphibious creatures at the moment of their mutation to fully, land-living living vertebrates; there was a wail of loss at that moment, as their chromosomes begged for return to the warm, salty sea. The delegate from Algol CXXIII gave them the sounds of war, collected from every race in the stellar community, broken down into their component parts, distilled, purified, and recast as one tone; it was numbing. The delegate from Blad presented a triptych of sound: a sun being born, the same sun coasting through its main stage of hydrogen burning, the sun going nova-a shriek of pain that phased in and out of normal space-time with lunatic vibrations. The delegate from lobbaggii played a long and ultimately boring sound that was finally identified as a neutrino passing through the universe; when one of the other delegates suggested that sound, being a vibration in a medium, could not be produced by a neutrino passing through vacuum, the lobbaggiian responded-with pique-that the sound produced had been the sound within the neutrino; the querying delegate then said it must have taken a very tiny microphone to pick up the sound; the Lobbaggiian stalked out of the Gathering on his eleven-meter stilts. When the uproar died away, the agenda was moved and the delegate from Kruger 60B IX delivered up a potpourri of sounds of victory and satisfaction and joy and innocence and pleasure from a gathering of microscopic species inhabiting a grain of sand in the Big Desert region of Catrimani; it was a patchwork quilt of delights that helped knit together the Gathering. Then the delegate from the Opal Cluster (his specific world's native name was taboo and could not be used) assaulted them with a sound none could identify, and when it had faded away into trembling silence, leaving behind only the memory of cacophony, he told the Gathering that it was the sound of chaos; no one doubted his word. The delegate from Mainworld followed with the sound of a celestial choir composed of gases being blown away from a blue' star in a rosette (nebula) ten light-years across; all the angels of antiquity could not have sounded more glorious.

And then it was Stileen's turn, and she readied the sound that would put an end to the Gathering.


"And beyond-and in fact among-the last knowa animals living and extinct, the lines could be drawn through white spaces that had an increasing progression of their own, into regions of hearing that was no longer conceivable, indicating creatures wholly sacrificed or never evolved, hearers of the note at which everything explodes into light, and of the continuum that is the standing still of darkness, drums echoing the last shadow with6ut relinquishing the note of the first light, hearkeners to the unborn overflowing."

W. S, Merwiii, "The Chart"


"There is no pleasure in this," Stileen communicated, by thought and by inflection. "But it is the sound that I have found, the sound I know you would want me to give to you… and you must do with it what you must. I am sorry."

And she played for them the sound.

It was the sound of the death of the universe. The dying gasp of their worlds and their suns and their galaxies and their island universes. The death of all. The final sound.

And when the sound was gone, no one spoke for a long time, and Stileen was at once sad, but content: now the sleep would come, and she would be allowed to rest.

"The delegate is wrong."

The silence hung shrouding the moment. The one who had spoken was a darksmith from Luxann, chief world of the Logomachy, Theologians, pragmatiste, reasoners sans appel, his words fell with the weight of certainty.

"It is an oscillating universe," he said, his cowl shrouding his face, the words emerging from darkness. "It will die, and it will be reborn. It has happened before, it will happen again."

And the tone of the Gathering grew brighter, even as Stileen's mood spiraled down into despair. She was ambivalent-pleased for them, that they eould see an end to their ennui and yet perceive the rebirth of life in the universe- desolate for herself, knowing somehow, some way, she would be recalled from the dead.

And then the creature she had passed in reaching out for her place on the agenda, the creature that had blocked itself to her mental touch, came forward in their minds and said, "There is another sound beyond hers."

This was the sound the creature let them hear, the sound that had always been there, that had existed for time beyond time, that could not be heard though the tone was always with them; and it could be heard now only because it existed as it passed through the instrument the creature made of itself,

It was the sound of reality, and it sang of the end beyond the end, the final and total end that said without possibility of argument, there will be no rebirth because we have never existed.

Whatever they had thought they were, whatever arrogance had brought their dream into being, it was now coming to final moments, and beyond those moments there was nothing.

No space, no time, no life, no thought, no gods, no resurrection and rebirth.

The creature let the tone die away, and those who could reach out with their minds to see what it was, were turned back easily. It would not let itself be seen.

The messenger of eternity had only anonymity to redeem itself…for whom?

And for Stileen, who did not even try to penetrate the barriers, there was no pleasure in the knowledge that it had all been a dream. For if it had been a dream, then the joy had been a dream, as well.

It was not easy to go down to emptiness, never having tasted joy. But there was no appeal.

In the Maelstrom Labyrinth, there was no longer ennui.



Stars, Won't You Hide Me?

by Ben Bova

<p>Stars, Won't You Hide Me?</p> <p>by Ben Bova</p>

O sinner-man, where are you going to run to? O sinner-man, where are you going to run to? O sinner-man, where are you going to run to All on that day?

The ship was hurt, and Holman could feel its pain. He lay fetal-like in the contoured couch, his silvery uniform spider-webbed by dozens of contact and probe wires connecting him to the ship so thoroughly that it was hard to tell where his own nervous system ended and the electronic networks of the ship began.

Holman felt the throb of the ship's mighty engines as his own pulse, and the gaping wounds in the generator section., where the enemy beams had struck, were searing his flesh. Breathing was difficult, labored, even though the ship was working hard to repair itself.

They were fleeing, he and the ship; hurtling through the star lanes to a refuge. But where?

The main computer flashed its lights to get his attention. Holman rubbed his eyes wearily and said:

"Okay, what is it?"

YOU HAVE NOT SELECTED A COURSE, the computer said aloud, while printing the words on its viewscreen at the same time.

Holman stared at the screen. "Just away from here," he said at last, "Anyplace, as long as it's far away."

The computer blinked thoughtfully for a moment, SPECIFIC COURSE INSTRUCTION IS REQUIRED.

"What difference does it make?" Holman snapped. "It's over. Everything finished. Leave me alone,"

IN LIEU OF SPECIFIC INSTRUCTIONS, IT IS NECESSARY TO TAP SUBCONSCIOUS SOURCES,

"Tap away."

The computer did just that. And if it could have been surprised, it would have been at the wishes buried deep in Holman's inner mind. But instead, it merely correlated those wishes to its singleminded purpose of the moment, and relayed a set of flavigational instructions to the ship's guidance system.

Run to the moon: O Moon, won't you hide me? The Lord said: O sinner-man, the moon'll be a-bleeding All on that day.

The Final Battle had been lost. On a million million planets across the galaxy-studded universe, mankind had been blasted into defeat and annihilation. The Others had returned from across the edge of the observable world, just as man had always feared. They had returned and ruthlessly exterminated the race from Earth.

It had taken eons, but time twisted strangely in a civilization of light-speed ships. Holman himself, barely thirty years old subjectively, had seen both the beginning of the ultimate war and its tragic end. He had gone from school into the military. And fighting inside a ship that could span the known universe in a few decades while he slept in cryogenic suspension, he had aged only ten years during the billions of years that the universe had ticked off in its stately, objective time-flow.

The Final Battle, from which Holman was fleeing, had been fought near an exploded galaxy billions of light-years from the Milky Way and Earth. There, with the ghastly bluish glare of uncountable shattered stars as a backdrop, the once-mighty fleets of mankind had been arrayed. Mortals and Immortals alike, men drew themselves up-to face the implacable Others.

The enemy won. Not easily, but completely. Mankind was crushed, totally. A few fleeing men in a few battered ships was all that remained. Even the Immortals, Holman thought wryly, had not escaped. The Others had taken special care to make certain that they were definitely killed.

So it was over.

Holman's mind pictured the blood-soaked planets he had seen during his brief, ageless lifetime of violence. His thoughts drifted back to his own homeworld, his own family: gone long, long centuries ago. Crumbled into dust by geological time or blasted suddenly by the overpowering Others. Either way, the remorseless flow of time had covered them over completely, obliterated them, in the span of a few of Holman's heartbeats.

AH gone now. All the people he knew, all the planets he had seen through the snipes electroptical eyes, all of mankind… extinct.

He could feel the drowsiness settling upon him. The ship was accelerating to lightspeed, and the cryogenic sleep was coming. But he didn't want to fall into slumber with those thoughts of blood and terror and loss before him.

With a conscious effort, Holman focused his thoughts on the only other available subject: the outside world, the universe of galaxies. An infinitely black sky studded with islands of stars. Glowing shapes of light, spiral, ovoid, elliptical, Little smears of warmth in the hollow unending darkness; drabs of red and blue standing against the engulfing night.

One of them, he knew, was the Milky Way. Man's original home. From this distance it looked the same. Unchanged by little annoyances like the annihilation of an intelligent race of star-roamers.

He drowsed.

The ship bore onward, preceded by an invisible net offeree, thousands of kilometers in radius, that scooped in the rare atoms of hydrogen drifting between the galaxies and fed them into the ship's wounded, aching generators.

Something…a thought. Holman stirred in the couch. A consciousness-vague, distant, alien-brushed his mind.

He opened his eyes and looked at the computer viewscreen. Blank.

"Who is it?" he asked.

A thought skittered away from him. He got the impression of other minds: simple, open, almost childish. Innocent and curious.

It's a ship.

Where is it… oh, yes. I can sense it now. A beautiful ship.

Holman squinted with concentration.

It's very far away. I can barely reach it.

And inside of the ship…

It's a man. A human?

He's afraid.

He makes me feel afraid.!

Holman called out, "Where are you?"

He's trying to speak.

Don't answer!

But…

He makes me afraid Don't answer him. We've heard about humans!

Holman asked, "Help me,"

Don't answer him and he'll go away. He's already so far off that I can barely hear him.

But he asks for help.

Yes, because he knows what is following him. Don't answer. Don't answer!

Their thoughts slid away from his mind, Holman automatically focused the outside viewscreens, but here in the emptiness between galaxies he could find neither ship nor planet anywhere in sight. He listened again, so hard that his head started to ache. But no more voices. He was alone againf alone in the metal womb of the ship,

He knows what is following him. Their words echoed in his brain. Are the Others following me? Have they picked up my trail? They must have. They must be right behind me.

He could feel the cold perspiration start to trickle over him.

"But they can't catch me as long as I keep moving," he muttered. "Right?"

CORRECT, said the computer, flashing lights at him. AT A RELATIVISTIC VELOCITY, WITHIN LESS THAN ONE PERCENT OF LIGHTSPEED, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR THIS SHIP TO BE OVERTAKEN.

"Nothing can catch me as long as I keep running."

But his mind conjured up a thought of the Immortals. Nothing could kill them…except the Others.

Despite himself, Holman dropped into deepsleep. His body temperature plummeted to near-zero. His heartbeat nearly stopped. And as the ship streaked at almost lightspeed, a hardly visible blur to anyone looking for it, the outside world continued to live at its own pace. Stars coalesced from gas clouds, matured, and died in explosions that fed new clouds for newer stars. Planets formed and grew mantles of air. Life took root and multiplied, evolved, built a myriad of civilizations in just as many different forms, decayed and died away.

All while Holman slept.

Run to the sea: O sea, won't you hide me? The Lord said: O sinner-man, the sea'll be a-sinking All on that day.

The computer woke him gently with a series of soft chimes.

APPROACHING THE SOLAR SYSTEM AND PLANET EARTH, AS INDICATED BY YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS COURSE INSTRUCTIONS.

Planet Earth, man's original homeworld, Holman nodded. Yes, this was where he had wanted to go. He had never seen the Earth, never been on this side of the Milky Way galaxy. Now he would visit the teeming nucleus of man's doomed civilization. He would bring the news of the awful defeat, and be on the site of mankind's birth when the inexorable tide of extinction washed over the Earth.

He noticed, as he adjusted the outside viewscreens, that the pain had gone.

"The generators have repaired themselves," he said.

WHILE YOU SLEPT. POWER GENERATION SYSTEM NOW OPERATING NORMALLY.

Holman smiled. But the smile faded as the ship swooped -closer to the solar system. He turned from the outside views-creens to the computer once again, "Are the 'scopes working all right?"

The computer hummed briefly, then replied. SUBSYSTEMS CHECK SATISFACTORY, COMPONENT CHECK SATISFACTORY. INTEGRATED EQUIPMENT CHECK POSITIVE. VIEWING EQUIPMENT FUNCTIONING NORMALLY.

Holman looked again. The sun was rushing up to meet his gaze, but something was wrong about it. He knew deep within him, even without having ever seen the sun this close before, that something''was wrong. The sun was whitish and somehow stunted looking, not the full yellow orb he had seen in film-tapes. And the Earth…

The ship took up a parking orbit around a planet scoured dean of life: a blackened ball of rock, airless, waterless. Hovering over the empty, charred ground, Holman stared at the devastation with tears in his eyes. Nothing was left. Not a brick, not a blade of grass, not a drop of water.

"The Others." he whispered. "They got here first."

NEGATIVE, the computer replied. CHECK OF STELLAR POSITIONS FROM EARTH REFERENCE SHOWS THAT SEVERAL BILLIONS YEARS HAVE ELAPSED SINCE THE FINAL BATTLE.

"Seven billion…,"

LOGIC CIRCUITS INDICATE THE SUN HAS GONE THROUGH A NOVA PHASE. A COMPLETELY NATURAL PHENOMENON UNRELATED TO ENEMY ACTION.

Holman pounded a fist on the unflinching armrest of his couch. "Why did I come here? I wasn't born on Earth. I never saw Earth before…"

YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS INDICATES A SUBJECTIVE IMPULSE STIRRED BY…

"To hell with my subconscious!" He stared out at the dead world again. "All those people…the cities» all the millions of years of evolution, of life. Even the oceans are gone. 1 never saw an ocean. Did you know that? I've traveled over half the universe and never saw an ocean."

OCEANS ARE A COMPARATIVELY RARE PHENOMENON EXISTING ON ONLY ONE OUT OF APPROXIMATELY THREE THOUSAND PLANETS.

The ship drifted outward from Earth, past a blackened Mars, a shrunken Jupiter, a ringless Saturn.

"Where do I go now?" Holman asked. The computer stayed silent.

Run to the Lord: O Lord, won't you hide me? The Lord said: O sinner-man, you ought to be a-praying All on that day.

Holman sat blankly while the ship swung out past the orbit of Pluto and into the comet belt at the outermost reaches of the sun's domain.

He was suddenly aware of someone watching him.

No cause for fear. I am not of the Others.

It was an utterly calm; placid voice speaking in his mind: almost gentle, except that it was completely devoid of emotion.

"Who are you?"

An observer. Nothing more.

"What are you doing out here? Where are you, I can't see anything…"

I have been waiting for any stray survivor of the Final Battle ' to return to mankind's first home. You are the only one to come this way, in all this time.

"Waiting? Why?"

Holman sensed a bemused shrug, -and a giant spreading of vast wing.

I am an observer. I have watched mankind since the beginning. Several of my race even attempted to make contact with you from time to time. But the results were always the same-about as useful as your attempts to communicate with insects. We are too different from each other. We have evolved on different planes. There was no basis for understanding between us.

"But you watched us."

Yes. Watched you grow strong and reach out to the stars, only to be smashed back by the Others: Watched you regain your strength, go back among the stars. But this time you were constantly on guard, wary, alert, waiting for the Others to strike once again. Watched you find civilizations that you could not comprehend, such as our own, bypass them as you spread through the galaxies. Watched you contact civilizations of your own level, that you could communicate with. You usually went to war with them.

"And all you did was watch?"

We tried to warn you from time to time. We tried to advise you. But the warnings, the contacts, the glimpses of the future that we gave you were always ignored or derided. So you boiled out into space for the second time, and met other societies at your own level of understanding-aggressive, proud, fearful, And like the children you are, you fought endlessly.

"But the Others,,, what about them?"

They are your punishment.

"Punishment? For what? Because we fought wars?"

No. For stealing immortality.

"Stealing immortality? We worked for it. We learned how to make humans immortal. Some sort of chemicals. We were going to immortalize the whole race… I could've become immortal. Immortal! But they couldn't stand that… the Others. They attacked us."

He sensed a disapproving shake of the head.

"It's true," Holman insisted. "They were afraid of how pow-erful we would become once we were all immortal. So they attacked as white theystill could. Just as they had done a million years earlier. They destroyed Earth's first interstellar civilization, and tried to finish us permanently. They even caused Ice Ages on Earth to make sure none of us would survive. But we lived through it and went back to the stars. So they hit us again. They wiped us out. Good God, for all I know I'm the last human being in the whole universe."

Your knowledge of the truth is imperfect. Mankind could have achieved immortality in time. Most races evolve that way eventually. But you were impatient. You stole immortality.

"Because we did it artificially, with chemicals. That's stealing it?"

Because the chemicals that gave you immortality came from the bodies of the race you called the Flower People. And to take the chemicals, it was necessary to kill individuals of that race.

Holman's eyes widened. "What?"

For every human made immortal, one of the Flower Folk had to die.

"We killed them? Those harmless little…" His voice trailed off.

To achieve racial immortality for mankind, it would have been necessary to perform racial murder on the Flower Folk.

Holman heard the words, but his mind was numb, trying to shut down tight on itself and squeeze out reality.

That is why the Others struck. That is why they had attacked you earlier, during your first expansion among the stors. You had found another race, with the same chemical of immortality. You were taking them into your laboratories and methodically murdering them. The Others stopped you then. But they took pity on you, and let a few survivors remain on Earth. They caused your Ice Ages as a kindness, to speed your development back to civilization, not to hinder you. They hoped you might evolve into a better species. But when the opportunity for immortality came your way once more, you seized it, regardless of the cost, heedless of your own ethical standards. It became necessary to extinguish you, the Others decided.

"And not a single nation in the whole universe would help us."

Why should they?

"So it's wrong for us to kill, but it's perfectly all right for the Others to exterminate us."

No one has spoken of right and wrong. I have only told you the truth.

"They're going to kill every last one of us."

There is only one of you remaining.

The words flashed through Holman. "I'm the only one… the last one?"

No answer.

He was alone now. Totally alone. Except for those who were following.

Run to Satan: O Satan, won't you hide me? Satan said: O sinner-man, step right in All on that day.

Holman sat in shocked silence as the solar system shrank to a pinpoint of light and finally blended into the mighty panorama of stars that streamed across the eternal night of space. The ship raced away, sensing Holman's guilt and misery in its electronic way.

Immortality through murder, Holman repeated to himself over and over. Racial immortality through racial murder. And he had been a part of it! He had defended it, even sought immortality as his reward. He had fought his whole lifetime for it, and killed-so that he would not have to face death.

He sat there surrounded by self-repairing machinery, dressed in a silvery uniform, linked to a thousand automatic systems that fed him, kept him warm, regulated his air supply, monitored his blood flow, exercised his muscles with ultrasonic vibrators, pumped vitamins into him, merged his mind with the passionless brain of the ship, kept his body tanned and vigorous, his reflexes razor-sharp. He sat there unseeing, his eyes pinpointed on a horror that he had helped to create. Not consciously, of course. But to Holman, that was all the worse. He had fought without knowing what he was defending. Without even asking himself about it. All the marvels of man's ingenuity, all the deepest longings of the soul, focused on racial murder.

Finally he became aware of the computer's frantic buzzing and lightflashing.

"What is itr

COURSE INSTRUCTIONS ARE REQUIRED.

"What difference does it make? Why ntn anymore?"

YOUR DUTY IS TO PRESERVE YOURSELF UNTIL ORDERED TO DO OTHERWISE.

Holman heard himself laugh. "Ordered? By who? There's nobody left."

THAT IS AN UNPROVED ASSUMPTION.

"The war was billions of years ago," Holman said. "It's been over for eons. Mankind died in that war. Earth no longer exists. The sun is a white dwarf star. We're anachronisms, you and me…"

THE WORD IS ATAVISM,

"The hell with the word! I want to end it, I'm tired,"

IT IS TREASONABLE TO SURRENDER WHILE STILL

CAPABLE OF FIGHTING AND/OR ELUDING THE ENEMY.

"So shoot me for treason. That's as good a way as any."

IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR SYSTEMS OF THIS SHIP TO HARM YOU.

"All right then, let's stop running. The Others will find us soon enough once we stop. They'll know what to do."

THIS SHIP CANNOT DELIBERATELY ALLOW ITSELF TO FALL INTO ENEMY HANDS.

"You're disobeying me?"

THIS SHIP IS PROGRAMMED FOR MAXIMUM EF FECTIVENESS AGAINST THE ENEMY, A WEAPONS SYSTEM DOES NOT SURRENDER VOLUNTARILY.

"I'm no weapons system, I'm a man, dammit!"

THIS WEAPONS SYSTEM INCLUDES A HUMAN PILOT.

IT WAS DESIGNED FOR HUMAN USE. YOU ARE AN INTEGRAL COMPONENT OF THE SYSTEM.

"Damn you… I'll kill myself. Is that what you want?"

He reached for the control panels set before him. It would be simple enough to manually shut off the air supply, or blow open an airlock, or even set off the ship's destruct explosives.

But Holman found that he could not move his arms. He could not even sit up straight. He collapsed back into the padded softness of the couch, glaring at the computer viewscreen.

SELF-PROTECTION MECHANISMS INCLUDE THE CAPABILITY OF PREVENTING THE HUMAN COMPONENT OF THE SYSTEM FROM IRRATIONAL ACTIONS. A series of clicks and blinks, then: IN LIEU OF SPECIFIC COURSE INSTRUCTIONS, A RANDOM EVASION PATTERN WILL BE RUN.

Despite his fiercest efforts, Holman felt himself dropping into deep sleep. Slowly, slowly, everything faded, and darkness engulfed him.

Run to the stars: O stars, won't you hide me? The Lord said: O sinner-man, the stars'll be a-falling All on that day.

Holman slept as the ship raced at near-lightspeed in an erratic, meaningless course, looping across galaxies, darting through eons of time. When the computer's probings of Hoi-man's subconscious mind told it that everything was safe, it instructed the cryogenics system to reawaken the man.

He blinked, then slowly sat up.

SUBCONSCIOUS INDICATIONS SHOW THAT THE WAVE OF IRRATIONALITY HAS PASSED.

Holman said nothing.

YOU WERE SUFFERING FROM AN EMOTIONAL SHOCK.

"And now it's an emotional pain… a permanent, fixed, immutable disease that will kill me, sooner or later. But don't worry, I won't kill myself. I'm over that. And I won't do anything to damage you, either."

COURSE INSTRUCTIONS?

He shrugged. "Let's see what the world looks like out there." Holman focused the outside viewscreens. "Things look different," he said, puzzled. "The sky isn't black anymore; it's sort of grayish-like the first touch of dawn…"

COURSE INSTRUCTIONS?

He took a deep breath. "Let's try to find some planet where the people are too young to have heard of mankind, and too innocent to worry about death."

A PRIMITIVE CIVILIZATION. THE SCANNERS CAN ONLY DETECT SUCH SOCIETIES AT EXTREMELY CLOSE RANGE.

"Okay. We've got nothing but time."

The ship doubled back to the nearest galaxy and began a searching pattern. Holman stared at the sky, fascinated. Something strange was happening.

The viewscreens showed him the outside world, and automatically corrected the wavelength shifts caused by the ship's immense velocity. It was as though Holman were watching a speeded-up tape of cosmological evolution. Galaxies seemed to be edging into his field of view, mammoth islands of stars, sometimes coming close enough to collide. He watched the nebulous arms of a giant spiral slice silently through the open latticework of a great ovoid galaxy. He saw two spirals interpenetrate, their loose gas heating to an intense blue that finally disappeared into ultraviolet. And all the while, the once-black sky was getting brighter and brighter.

"Found anything yet?" he absently asked the computer, still staring at the outside view.

You will find no one.

Holman's whole body went rigid. No mistaking it: the

Others.

No race, anywhere, will shelter you.

We will see to that.

You are alone, and you will be alone until death you to join your fellow men.

Their voices inside his head rang with cold fury. An implacable hatred, cosmic and eternal.

"But why me? I'm only one man. What harm can I do now?"

You are a human.

You are accursed. A race of murderers.

Your punishment is extinction.

"But I'm not an Immortal, I never even saw an Immortal. I didn't know about the Flower People, I just took orders."

Total extinction.

For all of mankind.

All.

"Judge and jury, all at once. And executioners too. All right…try and get me! If you're so powerful, and it means so much to you that you have to wipe out the last single man in the universe-come and get me! Just try."

You have no right to resist.

Your race is evil. All must pay with death.

You cannot escape us.

"I don't care what we've done. Understand? I don't care! Wrong, right, it doesn't matter. I didn't do anything. I won't accept your verdict for something I didn't do."

It makes no difference.

You can flee to the ends of the universe to no avail.

You have forced us to leave our time-continuum. We can never return to our homeworlds again. We have nothing to do but pursue you. Sooner or later your machinery will fail. You cannot flee us forever.

Their thoughts broke off. But Holman could stilHeel them, still sense them following.

"Can't flee forever," Holman repeated to himself. "Well, I can damn well try."

He looked at the outside viewscreens again, and suddenly the word forever took on its real meaning.

The galaxies were clustering in now, falling in together as though sliding down some titanic, invisible slope. The universe had stopped expanding eons ago, Holman now realized. Now it was contracting, pulling together again. It was all ending!

He laughed. Coming to an end. Mankind and the Others, together, coming to the ultimate and complete end of everything.

"How much longer?" he asked the computer. "How long do we have?"

The computer's lights flashed once, twice, then went dark. The viewscreen was dead.

Holman stared at the machine. He looked around the compartment. One by one the outside viewscreens were flickering, becoming static-streaked, weak, and then winking off.

"They're taking over the ship!"

With every ounce of willpower in him, Holman concentrated on the generators and engines. That was the important part, the crucial system that spelled the difference between victory and defeat. The ship had to keep moving!

He looked at the instrument panels, but their soft luminosity faded away into darkness. And now it was becoming difficult to breathe. And the heating units seemed to be stopped. Holman could feel his life-warmth ebbing away through the inert metal hull of the dying ship.

But the engines were still throbbing. The ship was still streaking across space and time, heading towards a rendezvous with the infinite.

Surrender.

In a few moments you will be dead. Give up this mad fight and die peacefully,

The ship shuddered violently. What were they doing to it now?

Surrender!

"Go to hell," Holman snapped. "While there's breath in me, I'll spend it fighting you."

You cannot escape.

But now Holman could feel warmth seeping into the ship.

He could sense the painful glare outside as billions of galaxies all rushed together down to a single cataclysmic point in spacetime.

"It's almost over!" he shouted. "Almost finished. And you've lost! Mankind is still alive, despite everything you've thrown at him. AH of mankind-the good and the bad, the murderers and the music, wars and cities and everything we've ever done, the.whole race from the beginning of time to the end-all locked up here in my skull. And I'm stil! here. Do you hear me? I'm still here!" The Others were silent,

Holman could feel a majestic rumble outside the ship, like distant thunder,

"The end of the world. The end of everything and everybody. We finish in a tie. Mankind has made it right down to the final second. And if there's another universe after this one, maybe there'll be a place in it for us all over again. How's that for laughs?"

The world ended.

Not with a whimper, bat a roar of triumph.



Part 2. Sun Destroyed

Judgement Day

by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.

The Custodian

by William Tenn

Phoenix

by Clark Ashton Smith

Run from the Fire

by Harry Harrison

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2

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<p>Part 2. Sun Destroyed</p>

 What if the Universe continues on its peaceful way, but it is our Sun that is somehow destroyed? That would be a "Catastrophe of the Second Class."

 In the prescientific age, it was felt that the Sun was not reliable. In the Norse myths, the Sun and Moon were forever pursued by wolves who might swallow them at any time. In the Greek myths, an unskilled hand at the reins of the solar chariot sent the Sun careening toward the Earth and nearly destroyed it. Science knows better. The Sun is stable-but is it? Do we know enough? Can it destroy us willfully, unpre-dictably ("Judgement Day" by Lloyd Biggie, Jr.)?

 Well, perhaps not willfully, unpredictably-but inevitably. The Sun cannot last forever. In the 1840s, Hermann von Helmholtz worked out the law of conservation of energy, and that in itself, told us the Sun had a finite life and must die ("The Custodian" by William Tenn)-but not for billions of years, we believe.

 The manner of that death has changed since Helmholtz's day. For nearly a century, it was taken for granted that the Sun was, one way or anqther, a huge bonfire that would flicker, die down and cool. It would take longer for the Sun to do so than an ordinary bonfire but it was just as inevitable ("Phoenix" by Clark Ashton Smith).

 By the 1930s, however Hans A. Bethe and Carl von Weizsacker had worked out the details of the nuclear fires of the Sun and it began to seem that our luminary would go out in a deadly blaze rather than a pitiful flicker ("Run from the Fire" by Harry Harrison).


<p>Judgement Day</p> <p>by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.</p>

Lem Dyer was used to being talked about. For years people had thought him a bit touched in the head, or a harmless dreamer, or maybe some kind of soothsayer, and in Glenn Center when folks thought something they said it. Lem never minded.

They were saying other things about Mm that evening, foul, vicious things. Lem heard some of them, spewed up from the crowd that gathered below his cell window. He tilted the battered old chair baek against the cement-block wall and sat there in the dark, puffing slowly on his corncob pipe and only half listening to the arguments, and the coarse shouts, and the jeers. "Shucks," he told himself, "They don't mean nothin' by it."

And after a while he heard the sheriff's booming voice talking to the crowd, telling the men to go home, telling them they had -nothing to worry about, and they might as well leave Lem Dyer alone with his conscience.

"He'll hang at sunrise, just as sure as there'll be a sunrise," Sheriff Harbson said. "Now go on home and get to bed. You don't want to oversleep, do you?"

There was more talk, and then the men drifted away, and things got quiet, The sheriff came back in the jail and barred the front door, and Lem heard him talking to the deputies, allowing that Lem Dyer might or might not be the things people said he was, but he sure was an odd one.

"Going to hang in the morning," the sheriff said, "and he's sitting back there in his cell smoking his pipe just like he always used to do out in his shack, of an evening. To look at him you'd think nothing had happened-or was going to happen."

Lem chuckled softly to himself. The sheriff was a good man. He'd gone out of his way to make Lem comfortable and bring him little things like tobacco and even a drink of whisky now and then. And when Lem had thanked him, he'd said, "Hell, I've got to hang you. Isn't that punishment enough?"

Lem puffed contentedly on his pipe and decided he should do something for the sheriff. But later on, after all this was over with.

He'd wanted to tell the sheriff that there wouldn't be any hanging, and he was wasting a lot of money building that scaffold and getting everything ready. But he couldn't without telling him about the pictures, and the looking and choosing, and he'd never told anyone about that. And perhaps it was just as well that he hadn't told him, because the scaffold was in the pictures.

He'd looked at so many pictures it'd given him a headache, and the scaffold was in all of them, and the people crowding around it, and Lem Dyer dangling by his neck. And then the deputy running out of the jail and shouting, stop, the governor just telephoned, Lem Dyer is granted a reprieve, and the people laughing at Lem hanging there and shouting back, cut him down and reprieve him.

It was nice of the governor, Lem thought, to take such an interest in him, and he'd gone on looking at pictures, trying to find one where the governor telephoned in time. There was one where Sheriff Harbson got sick just as he was leading Lem up to the scaffold, and he lay there on the ground looking terrible, and Lem didn't like that even if it did hold things up until the governor telephoned. And there was a picture where the Glenn Hotel caught on fire, but some people got hurt, and Lem didn't want that. He'd gone on looking, and finally he found a picture where the rope broke, or came untied, and he fell right through the trap to the ground. It took some time to get things ready again, and the deputy came out shouting stop before they got Lem back up on the scaffold. Then the sheriff led Lem back toward the jail, with all the people following along behind. Lem liked that picture, and it was the one he chose.

He knew it wouldn't get him out of jail, and he'd have to look at pictures again. But he wasn't in any hurry. Looking at pictures made him terribly tired, now that he was getting old. He didn't like to do it unless he had to.

That was why he'd gotten into trouble. If he'd looked at pictures he wouldn't have jumped into the river to pull out the little Olmstead girl, and he wouldn't have carried her over to Doc Beasley's house, thinking the doctor might be able to help her, Or he would have made it come out some other way. But he hadn't looked at pictures, and people had started talking about haw maybe it was Lem who killed the little girl, and finally they'd taken him to court and had a trial.

Even then Lem hadn't looked at pictures. He hadn't done anything wrong, and he thought he didn't have anything to worry about. But the jury said he was guilty, and Judge Wilson said he waa to hang by his neck until he was dead, and Ted Emmons, who'd grown up to be a lawyer and was looking after things for Lem,.stopped smiling when he came to see him.

So Lem had looked at pictures again, and now he'd made his choice and everything would be all right.

He got up and fumbled in the dark for his can of tobacco. Suddenly the lights came on in the corridor, and footsteps shuffled in his direction.

"Visitors, Lem," the sheriff called. He stepped into sight, keys jangling, and unlocked the cell door.

Reverend Meyers, of the Glenn Center First Baptist Church, sounded a deep-toned, "Good evening, Lem," gripped his hand, and then backed off into a corner and fussed with his hat. District Attorney Whaley nodded jerkily and tried to grin. He was middle-aged and getting a little fat and bald, but Lem remembered him as a tough kid stoning rats over at the town dump. Lem thought maybe he was feelmg a little proud of the way he talked the jury into finding Lem guilty, but then-that was his job, and the people had elected him to do it.

Mr. Whaley's grin slipped away, leaving him tight-lipped. He cleared his throat noisily and said, "Well, Lem, being as it's the last night, we were-that is, I was-wondering if maybe you had something to get off your chest."

Lem sat down again and tilted back in his chair. He lit his pipe and puffed for a moment before he said slowly, "Why-no. I don't reckon I've got anything on my chest that's botherin' me enough to need getting off, I never went much to church except on Christmas Eve, and that because I liked to watch the kids more than for the religion. The Revern here would say I wasn't a religious man, but I don't think he'd call me bad. I reckon maybe I've shot sne or two deer and caught a few fish out of season, because I needed the meat, and I've bet some on the races at the county fair, but a lot of men do that. I don't think I ever broke any other laws, and I never hurt nobody, and I think maybe I did help a lot of people,"

"I don't think anyone would call you a bad man, Lena," Whaley said. "But even good men make mistakes, and we'd all feel better, and so would you, if you told us about it."

"I told you all I know, Mr. Whaley," Lem said. "I saw the little girl floatin' in the river, and I thought she was drownin'. I didn't know somebody'd choked her. I jumped in and pulled her out, and I remembered that sometimes drowned people could be brought to life but I didn't know how, so I ran to Doc Beasley's with her. I can't tell more than that."

Whaley stopped his pacing to fumble for a cigarette. The sheriff gave him one of his and held a match for him.

"It doesn't worry you, Lem?" Whaley asked. "You're going to hang in the morning. You wouldn't want to die with that on your conscience, would you?"

"It don't worry me none," Lem said. "They don't hang innocent men, do they?"

"Why, no-"

"Then I got nothin' to worry about. I won't hang." He nodded his gray head and smiled peacefully.

Whaley stared at him for a moment. Then he turned abruptly and said over his shoulder, "Good luck, Lem,"

"Why, thank you, Mr. Whaley."

The sheriff followed Whaley out and locked the cell door. "Just holler when you're ready, Reverend," he said.

As their footsteps faded away down the corridor, a wistful grin touched Reverend Meyers's gaunt face. He lowered his long form awkwardly onto Lem's cot. "They're worried some, Lem," he said. "They'd feel a lot better if you up and told them you did it. They're'beginning to think maybe they're hanging an innocent man tomorrow."

"I can't tell them I did it if I didn't, Revern."

"Of course not, Lem. I know you didn't do it. So do quite a few other people. We've been working on it, Lem-working hard. Ted Emmons, and I, and some others. We didn't want to say anything to you because that might have made you start hoping, and we really didn't know if we could help you. We've finally had some luck, and we'think we know who killed the child. Ted Emmons is trying right now to get hold of the governor, to get you a reprieve. All we need is a little more time."

Lem nodded. That explained the telephone call from the governor that would have come too late if he hadn't looked at the pictures and made a choice. But now everything would be all right. He'd get the reprieve, and then they would find the real murderer let Lem out of jail, he wouldn't have to look at pictures again. He felt happy about that, because looking at pictures tired him so.

"Ted was having some trouble getting through to the governor," the Reverend said, "but he'll keep trying all night, if he has to. Just put your trust in God, Lem, and everything will be all right."

"I haven't been worryin', Revern."

"Keep faith with God, Lem. Do you mind if I pray for you?"

"You go right ahead, Revern."

Reverend Meyers bowed his head and spoke softly. Lem didn't listen, but he watched him uneasily. He hadn't put any faith at all in God. He'd put all his faith in his pictures, and the looking and choosing, and it disturbed him to think that maybe God was showing him the pictures and letting him look and choose. He'd never thought of that before. The pictures were just something he'd always had, like ears to hear with, and a mouth to eat with, and eyes, and hands, and legs. But then-God gave out those things, too, or so he'd heard Reverend Meyers say, so maybe God was showing him the pictures.

The Reverend Meyers intoned a soft, "Amen," and Lem said, "I'll have to do some thinkin', Revern,"

"How's that, Lem?"

"What you said-faith in God, and that. I'll have to do some thinkin'."

"I wish you woukL And Lem-it might be that Ted won't reach the governor, or that the governor won't grant the reprieve. If feat should happen, remember that the sheriff, and the district attorney, and the jury, have only done their duty as they saw it. Have charity in your heart for all men, Lem. Think of the Lord Jesus on the cross saying, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'"

"Sure, Revern. I'll remember."

"I'll be with you in the morning, Lem. And the sheriff will let you know right away if there's any good news."

The sheriff came for Reverend Meyers, and a moment later the lights were turned out. Lem sat in the darkness, smoking his pipe and thinking.

He couldn't remember when he'd first started seeing pictures and making choices. He'd never done it very often, even when he was young, because it left him dizzy and kind of sick to his stomach, and sometimes he felt so weak afterward that it scared him. But whenever he wanted something real bad he would sit down somewhere and close his eyes and think about what it was he wanted. The pictures would come, one after the other. It was like slowly flipping through a deck of cards and taking time to look carefully at each one. When he found the picture he wanted he would choose that one, and that's the way things would happen.

The other kids envied him. They said Lem Dyer was the luckiest kid in three counties. He was always getting chances to run errands and do little things for people to earn spending money, but it wasn't luck. It was because of the pictures. If he wanted a stick of candy, all he had to do was find a picture where some lady was leaving Crib's Store with an armful of groceries and looking for someone to help her. He would choose that one and run down to Crib's Store, and whoever it was would come out and give him-a penny to carry her groceries. He was always there when Mr. Jones wanted the sidewalk swept in front of his barber shop, or when Banker Goldman wanted something run over to the post office in a hurry and everyone in the bank was busy. He didn't realize yet that it was his choosing that made people want things done.

He couldn't understand why the other kids didn't look at pictures when they wanted things. He was maybe nine or ten when he and some of his friends were stretched out on the river bank talking, and Stubby Smith went on and on about how much he wanted a bicycle. Lem said, "If you really want one, why don't you get it?"

The kids hooted at him and asked him why he didn't get one. Lem had never thought about getting something big, like a bicycle. He closed his eyes and looked at pictures until he found one where little Lydia Morrow toddled into the street in front of a runaway team, and Lem jumped after her and pulled her back, and Mr. Morrow took Lem right into his hardware store and gave him the bicycle he had in the window.

Lem chose that one. He ran up town and got to Morrow's Hardware Store just as Lydia started into the street, and he was back at the river an hour later with his new bicycle.

For a long time Lem thought the pictures he saw were just pictures of things that were going to happen. He'd been almost grown up before he understood that his choosing a thing made it happen. Before a horse race at the county fair, he could see pictures of every horse in the race winning. If he made a choice, so he could bet on a horse, that horse would always win. He learned in a hurry that it wasn't smart to win all the time, and usually he would bet without even looking at pictures, but he always won enough money at the fair to last him through the winter.

Lem was twelve when his father fell off the barn, and he had to leave school and work the farm. He was only twenty when his mother died, and he rented out the farm and built himself a shack back in the woods, near the river, and that was his home. He loved to hunt and fish, and he loved being outdoors. As he got older a lot of people said it was a shame, a healthy man like him not working, and getting married, and raising a family. But he liked living alone, and he had all the company he ever wanted because all the kids liked to play down by the river, winter and summer. It never cost him much to live, and if he needed anything he could look at pictures and get what he wanted. If he felt like working for a week or two, he could look at pictures and then walk in to town and find a job waiting for him.

He'd had a happy life. He could choose a nice day, if he wanted to go fishing, or snow, if he wanted to do tracking, or rain, if the farmers were having trouble about their crops. When hunting season opened, Lem Dyer always got the first and biggest buck. He never went fishing without coming back with a nice string, And if a man needed help, chances were that Lem could help him.

He'd never told anyone about the pictures, and it bothered him, now that he was sixty-one, to think that maybe it was God who was showing them to him. He wondered if God had wanted him to do something important with them-something big, like stopping wars, or getting the right man elected president, or catching criminals. He knew he could have done all those things, if he'd thought of them. There wasn't anything he couldn't do just by seeing it in a picture and choosing it.

But he never read the papers, and he'd never thought much about the world outside Glenn Center. He was almost too old to start, but he'd think some more about it, after he got out of jail. Maybe he should do something about those Russians so many people were worried about.

The clock on the Methodist Church was striking two when Lem finally went to bed.

The sheriff brought him his breakfast at four o'clock, a big t plate of ham and eggs, and toast, and lots of steaming coffee, Lem could already hear the men arriving out behind the jail, where the scaffold was.

Reverend Meyers came in before Lem finished eating, and his thin face was pale and grim. "Ted is still trying," he said,

Lem nodded. He wanted to tell the Reverend that everything would be all right, so he wouldn't worry, but if he did that he might have to tell him about the pictures. The Reverend was a good man, and Lem was sure he could trust him if he trusted anybody.

He was still thinking about it when he finished his breakfast. He got down on his knees to pray when the Reverend asked him to, and then the sheriff came in and there wasn't time. The sheriff and two deputies took Lem out to the scaffold, with the Reverend following along behind them.

Lem hadn't known that he had so many friends. The crowd filled the whole field and overflowed out into First Avenue. There weren't any women and children, of course, but it looked like every man from miles around had turned out. Lem thought it was nice of them to get up so early in the morning just for him. They waited quietly, not talking much and looking the other way when Lem looked down at them.

The Reverend was talking with the sheriff at the edge of the scaffold, talking fast, and with his hands gesturing urgently. The sheriff kept shrugging and turning his hands palms up and glancing at his watch. A deputy moved Lem over the trap and put the rope around his neck, Lem looked up and smiled a little when he saw it was an old rope.

The sheriff's hands were trembling when he stepped forward. He patted Lem on the back, and the Reverend said a little prayer and whispered, "God bless you, Lem," and out in the crowd Lem saw District Attorney Whaley turn slowly and stand with his eyes on the steeple of the Methodist Church. Then there was nothing under Lem's feet, and he was falling.

The savage jerk blurred his eyes with pain, but he kept falling until he sank to his knees on the ground under the scaffold. The air rocked with noise as everyone started talking and shouting. Sheriff Harbson came down and helped Lem out and stood there white-faced, staring, not able to talk.

"Get a new rope!" someone shouted, and the crowd began to chant, "New rope! New rope!"

"You can't hang a man twice in one day," the Reverend was shouting, and the sheriff found his voice and shouted back, "He has to hang by his neck until dead. That's the law."

Then everyone turned toward the jail, where a deputy was screaming and trying to fight his way through the crowd.

The sheriff, and the deputies, and Reverend Meyers took Lem and started back to the jail with him. It took a long time, because none of the crowd seemed in any hurry to get out of their way. Lem had supposed that the men would be glad to hear about the governor's reprieve, but they weren't. The noise got louder and louder, and they were shouting things like he'd heard in his cell the night before. Lem's pained him, and his ankle hurt from the fall, and he was glad it was over with.

They'd rounded the corner of the jail and started for the entrance, on Main Street, when the roaring fury of the crowd caught up with them and overwhelmed them. The sheriff went down trying to draw his revolver and was trampled. A deputy rushed into the jail and barred the door, and he could be seen through the window excitedly bending over the telephone. The crowd boosted a man up the side of the building to jerk the wires loose. Stones shattered the window and rained into the jail.

Lem was dragged back toward the scaffold, and when a deputy ducked behind it and fired into the air, the crowd turned the other way and dragged him toward Main Street,

"Get a rope!" someone shouted.

"Anyone got a horse? They used to use horses!"

"Don't need no horse. We can use Jake Arnson's truck, Jake, back your truck under that elm tree!"

Jake Arnson ran down the street to his truck. The motor coughed and sputtered and finally caught with a roar, and the truck lurched backward. Jake parked under the elm, cut the motor, and jumped out. A rope snaked up over a tree limb. Lem had been too stunned and horrified to feel the kicks and blows that rained upon him. They hoisted him onto the truck, and he stood there, hands and feet bound, trembling with frustration, while the rope was knotted about his neck.

He told himself he should have waited to see all of the picture. He should have looked at more pictures. But how could he have known that these men he knew so well would use him like this? Now he'd have to look at pictures again. He closed his eyes and forced himself to concentrate.,

The pictures flashed in front of him, one after the other, and in each of them the truck rocked forward and left Lem Dyer dangling by his neck.

Jake was back in his truck, trying to start the motor. The starter whined fretfully. Someone yelled, "Need a push, Jake?"

Lem kept watching the pictures, but finally he knew, with a sickening certainty, that pictures couldn't help him. In all of them the truck moved forward and left him hanging. It had never happened that way before-pictures without any choices.

He shook the perspiration from his eyes and looked about him. The sheriff lay on the sidewalk in front of the jail in a pool of blood. Reverend Meyers lay nearby, his arms moving feebly, one leg bent at a strange angle. Men were hurling stones at the scaffold, where the deputy had taken refuge.

Sadly he looked down at the hate-twisted faces of men he'd thought were his friends. He remembered what the Reverend had told him. Jesus had seen hate like that when they'd nailed him to the cross, and he'd said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Lem said the words to himself, softly. Maybe his old life wasn't worth much to anyone but himself, but it was sad.

The starter whined again, and someone called, "Speech! Can the murderer talk? Let's have a confession!"

A hundred coarse echoes sounded. "Confession! Confession!"

Lem threw his cracked voice out over the mob. "You're evil men-evil! Get down on your knees and pray that God won't punish you!"

They flung back at him wave after stinging wave of hoots of laughter. "You dirty murderer! God won't punish us!"

The Reverend had slumped forward to lie motionless. Doc Beasley had finally managed to push through the crowd and was kneeling beside the sheriff. The faces below Lem blurred and twisted and mortal anger overwhelmed him. "If God won't punish you," he screamed, "I will!"

He closed his eyes and willed the pictures into being. Larger than life, they were, but they moved so slowly, and he had so little time.

A tornado, dragging its swirling funnel along Main Street, relentlessly flattening buildings, crushing their occupants, toppling the Methodist Church steeple onto the jail.,,

"Not enough!" Lem gasped.

A prairie fire, tossed high on gale winds, roaring hungrily down on Glenn Center, driving the populace before it…

"Not enough?"

Fleets of enemy planes darkening the sky, pouring searing death onto even such an insignificant dot on the map as Glenn Center…

"Not enough!"

The summer sun, high and bright at noonday, suddenly bulging crazily, tearing the sky asunder, drenching the countryside in blinding incandescence, charring human vermin, steaming away the rivers, crumbling concrete, boiling the very dust underfoot…

Lem 'chose that one, just as Jake Arnson got his motor started.


<p>The Custodian</p> <p>by William Tenn</p>

May 9, 2190-Well, I did it! It was close, but fortunately I have a very suspicious nature. My triumph, my fulfillment was almost stolen from me, but I was too clever for them. As a result, I am happy to note in this, my will and testament, I now begin my last year of life.

No, let me be accurate. This last year of life, the year that I will spend in an open tomb, really began at noon today. Then, in the second sub-basement of the Museum of Modern Astronautics, I charged a dial for the third successive time and got a completely negative response.

That meant that I, Piyatil, was the only human being alive on Earth. What a straggle I have had to achieve that distinction!

Well, it's all over now, I'm fairly certain. Just to be on the

Safe side, I'll come down and check the anthropometer every day or so for the next week, but I don't think there's a chance in the universe that I'll get a positive reading. I've had my last, absolutely my final and ultimate battle with the forces of righteousness-and I've won. Left in secure, undisputed possession of my coffin, there's nothing for me to do now but enjoy myself.

And that shouldn't be too hard. After all, I've been planning the pleasures for years!

Still, as I tugged off my suit of berrillit blue and climbed upstairs into the.sunlight, I couldn't help thinking of the others. Gruzeman, Prej'aut, and possibly even Mo-Diki. They'd have been here with me now if only they'd had a shade less academic fervor, a touch more of intelligent realism.

Too bad in a way. And yet it makes my vigil more solemn, more glorious. As I sat down on the marble bench between Rozinski's heroic statues of the Spaceman and Spacewoman, I shrugged and dismissed the memories of Gruzeman, Pre-jaut, and Mo-Diki.

They had failed. I hadn't.

I leaned back, relaxing for the first time in more than a month. My eyes swept over the immense bronze figures towering above me, two pieces of sculpture yearning agonizingly for the stars, and I burst into a chuckle. The absolute incongruity of my hiding place hit me for the first time-imagine, the Museum of Modern Astronautics! Multiplied by the incredible nervous tension, the knuckle-biting fear of the past five days, the chuckle bounced up and down in my throat and became a giggle, then a splutter, and finally a reverberating, chest-heaving laugh that I couldn't stop. It brought all the deer out of the museum park te stand in front of the marble bench where Fiyatil, the last man on Earth, choked and coughed and wheezed and cackled at his senile accomplishment.

I don't know how long the fit might have held me, but a cloud, merely in the course of its regular duties as a summer cloud, happened to slide in front of the sun. That did it. I stopped laughing, as if a connection had been cut, and glanced upward.

The cloud went on, and the sunlight poured down as warmly as ever, but I shivered a bit.

Two pregnant young does came a little closer and stood watching as I massaged my neck. Laughter had given it a crick, "Well, my dears," I said, tossing them a quotation from one of my favorite religions, "it would seem that in the midst of life we are at last truly in death."

They munched at me impassively.

May 11, 2190-I have spent the last two days putting myself and my supplies in order and making plans for the immediate future. Spending a lifetime in sober preparation for the duties of custodianship is one thing. Finding suddenly that you have become the custodian, the last of your sect as well as your race-and yet, peculiarly, the fulfillment of them both-that is quite another thing. I find myself burning with an insane pride. And a moment later, I turn cold with the incredible, the majestic responsibility that I face.

Food will be no problem. In the commissary of this one institution, there are enough packaged meals to keep a man like myself well fed for ten years, let alone twelve months. And wherever I go on the planet, from Museum of Buddhist Antiquities in Tibet to the Panorama of Political History in Sevastopol, I will find a similar plenty,

Of course, packaged meals are packaged meals: somebody else's idea of what my menu should be. Now that the last Affirmer has gone, taking with him his confounded austerity, there is no Idnger any need for me to be a hypocrite. I can at last indulge my taste for luxury and bathe my tongue in gustatory baubles. Unfortunately I grew to manhood under Affirmer domination and the hypocrisies I learned to practice in sixty cringing years have merged with the essential substance of my character. I doubt, therefore, that I will be preparing any meals of fresh food from the ancient recipes.

And then, too, meals of fresh food would involve the death of creatures that are currently alive and enjoying themselves. This seems a bit silly under the circumstances…

Nor did I need to put any of the automatic laundries into operation. Yet I have. Why clean my clothes, I asked myself, when I can discard a tunic the moment it becomes slightly soiled and step into a newly manufactured garment, still stiff in memory of the machine matrix whence it came?

Habit told me why I couldn't. Custodian concepts make it impossible for me to do what an Affirmer in my position would find easiest: shrug out of the tunic on a clear patch of ground and leave it lying behind me like a huge, brightly colored dropping. On the other hand, much Affirmer teaching that my conscious mind has been steadfastly rejecting for decades, I find to my great annoyance, has seeped into the unconscious osmotically. The idea of deliberately destroying anything as functional, if relatively unesthetic, as a dirty Tunic, Male, Warm-Season, Affirmer Ship-Classification No. 2352558.3, appalls me-even against my will.

Over and over again, I tell myself that Affirmer Ship-Classification Numbers now mean nothing to me. Less than nothing. They are as meaningless as cargo symbols on the Ark to the stevedores who loaded it, the day after Noah sailed.

Yet I step into a one-seater flyball for a relaxing tour of the museum grounds and something in my mind says: No. 58184.72, I close my teeth upon a forkful of well-seasoned Luncheon Protein Component and note that I am chewing Ship-Classification Numbers 15762.94 through 15763.01. I even remind myself that it is a category to be brought aboard among the last, and only when the shipboard representative of the Ministry of Survival and Preservation has surrendered his command to the shipboard representative of the Ministry of The Journey.

Not a single Affirmer walks the Earth at the moment. Together with their confounded multiplicity of government bureaus-including the one in which all people professing Custodianism had to be registered, the Ministry of Antiquities and Useless Relics-they are now scattered among a hundred or so planetary systems in the galaxy. But all this seems to matter not a bit to my idiotically retentive mind which goes on quoting texts memorized decades ago for Survival Placement Examinations long since superseded and forgotten by those in authority.

They are so efficient, the Affirmers, so horribly, successfully efficient! As a youngster, I confided to my unfortunately loquacious comrade, Ru-Sat, that I had begun creative painting on canvas in my leisure hours. Immediately, my parents, in collaboration with my recreational adviser, had me volunteered into the local Children's Extra Work for Extra Survival Group, where I was assigned to painting numbers and symbols on packing eases. "Not pleasure but persistence, persistence, persistence will preserve the race of Man," I had to repeat from the Affirmer catechism before I was allowed to sit down to any meal from that time on.

Later, of course, I was old enough to register as a conscientious Custodian. "Please," my father choked at me when

I told him, "don't come around any more. Don't bother us, I'm speaking for the entire family, Fiyatil, including your uncles on your mother's side. You've decided to become a dead man: that's your business now. Just forget you ever had parents and relatives-and let us forget we had a son."

This meant I could free myself from Survival chores by undertaking twice as much work with the microfilm teams that traveled from museum to museum and archaeological site to skyscraper city. But still there were the periodic Survival Placement Exams, which everyone agreed didn't apply to Custodians but insisted we take as a gesture of good will to the society which was allowing us to follow our consciences. Exams which necessitated putting aside a volume entitled Religious Design and Decoration in Temples of the Upper Nile for the dreary, dingy, well-thumbed Ship-Classification Manual and Uniform Cargo Stowage Guide. I had given up the hope of being an artist myself, but those ugly little decimals took up time that I wished to spend contemplating the work of men who had lived in less fanatic and less frenzied centuries.

They still do! So powerful is habit that, now that I have no questions en dehydration to answer ever again, I still find myself doing the logarithmic work necessary to find out where a substance is packed once its water is removed. It is horribly frustrating to be mired after all in an educational system from which I turned completely away!

Of course, the studies I am involved in at the moment probably don't help very much. Yet it is very important for me to pick up enough information from the elementary ed-ueatories in this museum, for example, to insure my not having to worry about the possibility of a flyball breakdown over a jungle area. I'm no technician, no trouble-shooter. I have to learn instead how to choose equipment in good working order and how to start operating it without doing any damage to delicate components.

This technological involvement irritates me. Outside, the abandoned art of 70,000 years beckons-and here I sit, memorizing dull facts about the power plants of worker robots, scrutinizing blueprints of the flyballs' antigrav screws, and acting for all the world like an Affirmer captain trying to win a commendation from the Ministry of The Journey before he blasts off.

Yet it is precisely this attitude that is responsible for my, being here now, instead of sitting disconsolately aboard the

Affirmer scout ship with Mo-Diki, Gruzeman, and Prejaut. While they exulted in their freedom and charged about the planet like creaky old colts, I made for the Museum of Modern Astronautics and learned how to operate and read an an-thropometer and how to activate the berrillit blue. I hated to waste the time, but I couldn't forget how significant to an Affirmer, especially a modern one, is the concept of the sa-credness of human life. They had betrayed us once; they were bound to come back to make certain that the betrayal left no loose ends in the form of Custodians enjoying fulfillment. I was right then, and I know I am right now-but I get so bored with the merely useful!

Speaking of the anthropometer, I had a nasty shock two hours ago. The alarm went off-and stopped. I scurried downstairs to it, shaking out the berrillit blue suit as I ran and hoping desperately that I wouldn't blow myself up in the course of using it a second time.

By the time I got to the machine, it had stopped caterwauling. I charged the all-directional dial over ten times and got no response. Therefore, according to the anthropometer manual, nothing human was moving about anywhere in the entire solar system. I had keyed the machine to myself elec-trocephalographically so that I wouldn't set off the alarm. Yet the alarm had gone off, indisputably recording the presence of humanity other than myself, however temporary its existence had been. It was very puzzling.

My conclusion is that some atmospheric disturbance or faulty connection inside the anthropemeter set the machine off. Or possibly, in my great joy over being left behind a few days ago, I carelessly damaged the apparatus.

I heard the Affirmer scout ship radio the news of the capture of my colleagues to a mother vessel waiting beyond Pluto: I know I'm the sole survivor on Earth.

Besides, if it had been skulking Affirmers who set the alarm off, their own anthropometer would have detected me at the same time, since I had been walking about unprotected by the insulating effect of berrillit blue. The museum would have been surrounded by flyball crews and I'd have been caught almost immediately.

No, I cannot believe I have anything more to fear from Affirmers. They have satisfied themselves with their last-moment return of two days ago, I am positive. Their doctrine would forbid any further returns, since they would be risking their own lives. After all, there are only 363 days left-at most-before the sun goes nova.

May 15,2190-I am deeply disturbed, hi fact, I am frightened. And the worst of it is, I,do not know of what. All I can do now is wait.

Yesterday, I left the Museum of Modern Astronautics for a preliminary tour of the world. I planned to spend two or three weeks hopping about in my flyball before I made any decision about where I would stay for the bulk of my year.

My first error was the choice of a first destination. Italy. It is very possible that, if my little problem had not come up, I would have spent eleven months there before going on with my preliminary survey. The Mediterranean is a dangerous and sticky body of water to anyone who has decided that, his own talents being inadequate or aborted, he may most fittingly spend his life cherishing the masterpieces presented to humanity by other, much more fortunate individuals.

I went to Ferrara first, since the marshy, reclaimed plain outside the city was a major Affirmer launching site. I lingered a little while at one of my favorite buildings, the Palazzo di Diamanti, shaking my head as helplessly as ever at the heavy building stones of which it is constructed and which are cut and faceted like so many enormous jewels. To my mind, the city itself is a jewel, now somewhat dulled, that sparkled madly in the days of the Este court. One little city, one tiny, arrogant court-I would so happily have traded them for the two billion steadfastly boorish Affirmers. Over sixty years of almost unchallenged political control, and did an entire planetful of them produce a single competitor for a Tasso or an Ariosto? And then I realized that at least one native Ferraran would have felt at ease in the world that has_ just departed from me, its last romantic. I remembered that Savonarola had been born in Ferrara…

The plain outside Ferrara also reminded me of the dour Dominican. The launching field, stretching away for quite a few flat miles, was strewn with enough possessions discarded at the last moment, to make a truly towering Bonfire of Vanities.

But what pathetic vanities! Here, a slide rule that some ship's commander had ordered thrown out before takeoff because the last inspection had revealed it to be in excess of what the Ship-Classification Manual listed as the maximum number of slide rules necessary for a vessel of that size. There, a mimeographed collection of tally sheets that had been dropped out of the closing air lock after every last item had been checked off as per regulations-one check before the item by the Ministry of Survival and Preservation, and one check after the item by the Ministry of The Journey, Soiled clothing, somewhat worn implements, empty fuel and food drums lay about on the moist ground. Highly functional articles all, that had somehow come in the course of time to sin against function-and had fallen swiftly from use. And, surprisingly, an occasional doll, not looking very much like a doll, to be sure, buj not looking like anything that had an objective purpose either. Staring about me at the squalid debris dotted so rarely with sentiment, I wondered how many parents had writhed with shame when, despite their carefully repeated admonitions and advance warnings, the last search had discovered something in the recesses of a juvenile tunic that could only be called an old toy-or, worse yet, a keepsake.

I remembered what my recreational adviser had said on that subject, long years ago. "It's not that we believe that children shouldn't have toys, Fiyatil; we just don't want them to become attached to any particular toy. Our race is going to leave this planet that's been its home from the beginning.

We'll be able to take with us only such creatures and objects as are usable to make other creatures and objects which we'll need for sustenance wherever we come down. And because we can't carry more than so much weight in each ship, we'll have to select from among the usable objects those which are essential.

"We won't take anything along because it's pretty, or because a lot of people swear by it, or because a lot of people think they need it. We'll take it along only because nothing else will do an important job so well. That's why I come to your home every month or so to inspect your room, to make certain that your bureau drawers contain only new things, that you're not falling into dangerous habits of sentimentality that can lead only to Custodianism. You've got far too nice a set of folks to turn into that kind of person."

Nonetheless, I chuckled to myself, I had turned into that kind of person. Old Tobletej had been right: the first step on the road to ruin had been bureau drawers crammed with odds and ends of memory. The twig on which had sat the first butterfly I'd ever caught, the net with which I'd caught him, and the first butterfly himself. The wad of paper that a certain twelve-year-old lady had thrown at me. A tattered copy of a real printed book-no facsimile broadcast, this, but something that had once known the kiss of type instead of the hot breath of electrons. The small wooden model of Captain Karma's starship, Man's Hope, which an old spacehand at Lunar Line launching field had given me along with much misinformation…

Those paunchy bureau drawers! How my parents and teachers had tried to teach me neatness and a hatred of possessions! And here was I, now grown into man's estate, smug over my possession of a quantity of artistic masterpieces the like of which no Holy Roman Emperor, no Grand Khan, would have dared to dream about.

I chuckled once more and started looking for the launching site robots. They were scattered about, almost invisible in the unimportant garbage of the spaceship field. After loading the ship, they had simply wandered about until they had run down. I activated them once more and set them to, cleaning the field.

This is something I will do in every one of the two hundred or so launching sites on Earth, and this is the chief reason I have been studying robotics. I want Earth to look as pretty as possible when she dies. I never could be an Affirmer, I am afraid; I form strong attachments.

Feeling as I did, I just couldn't continue on my trip without taking the quickest, the most cursory glance at Florence. Naturally.

But as I should have expected, I got drunk on oils and marble and metal work. Florence was empty of Florentines, but the glorious galleries were still there. I walked across the fine Ponte Vecchio, the only one of the famous Arno bridges to have escaped destruction in the Second World War. I came to Giotto's campanile and the baptistery doors by Ghiberti and I began to feel despair, desperation. I ran to the Church of Santa Croce to see Giotto's frescoes and the Convent of St. Mark's for Fra Angelico. What good was one year, what could I see of evert a single city like this in a bare twelve months? I could view, I could gallop by, but what would I have time to see? I was in the Boboli gardens trying frantically to decide whether to look up Michelangelo's "David" which I'd seen once before, or some Denatello which I hadn't, when the alarms went off.

Beth of them.

The day before I'd left, Fd put together a small anthro-pometer that had originally been developed for locating lost colonists in the Venusian swamps. It was based on an entirely different design than the big machine that I'd found in the Hall of Gadgets. Since the circuits were unlike, and they had been planned for use in entirely different atmospheres, I believed they would serve as excellent checks on each other. I'd set the alarms to the frequency of my flyball communicator and had left the museum fairly confident that the only thing that could make both anthropometers go off would be the presence of a man other than myself.

I flew back to the Museum, feeling very confused. Both pieces of equipment had responded the same way. The.alarm had gone off, indicating the sudden materialization of Man on the planet. Then, when the stimulus had disappeared, both alarms had stopped. No matter how many times I charged the directional dials on each anthropometer, there was not the faintest suspicion of mankind within their extreme range, which is a little under one-half of a light-year.

The initial confusion has given way to a strong feeling of discomfort. Something is very wrong here on Earth, something other than the sun's getting ready to explode in a year. Possibly I have the nontechnician's blind faith in a piece of apparatus which I don't fully understand, but I don't believe that the anthropometers should be acting this way unless something really abnormal is occurring.

It has pleased me to look upon this planet as an oceangoing ship about to sink, and myself as the gallant captain determined to go down with her. Abruptly, I feel as if the ship were beginning to act like a whale.

I know what I must do. I'll move a supply of food down to the Hall of Gadgets and sleep right under the anthropometers. The alarm usually lasts for a minute or two. I can leap to my feet, charge the all-directional dials and get enough of a reading right then to know exactly where the stimulus is coming from. Then I will pop into'my flyball and investigate. It's really very simple.

Only, I don't like it.

May 17, 2190-I feel thoroughly ashamed of myself, as only an old man who has been seeing ghosts in the graveyard should be ashamed. That, in fact, is the only excuse I can make to myself. I have, I suppose, been thinking too much about death recently. The coming extinction of Earth and the solar system; my death which is inevitably involved with it; the death of millions of creatures of uncounted species, the death of proud old cities that Man has reared and occupied for centuries__ Well, perhaps the association with ghosties and beasties and other strange phenomena is understandable. But I was getting frightened.

When the alarms went off again this morning, I got a directional reading. My destination was the Appalachian Mountain region in eastern North America.

The moment I got out of the flyball and took in the pale azure fog covering the cave mouth in front of me, I began to understand-and feel ashamed. Through the fog, which thinned in one place and thickened in others as I watched, I could see several bodies lying on the floor of the cave. Obviously, one of them had to be alive for the anthropometer to have reacted as soon as a patch of berrillit blue got meager enough to make the presence of a human mind detectable. I walked around to the back of the cave and found no exit.

I went back to the Museum in the flyball and returned with the necessary equipment. I deactivated the berrillit blue fog at the entrance and walked inside cautiously.

The interior of the cave, which had evidently been furnished as a domestic and comfortable hideout, was completely wrecked. Somebody had managed to get an activator as well as a quantity of berrillit blue which had not yet been given any particular shape and which, therefore, was about as stable as hydrogen and oxygen-if it is permissible to use a metaphor from chemistry to illustrate negative force-field concepts. The berrillit blue had been activated as a sort of curtain across the mouth of the eave and had blown up immediately. But, since the activator was still operating and the entrance was fairly narrow, it continued to function as a curtain of insulating negative force, a curtain which had holes in it through which one could occasionally "peek" by means of the anthropometer at the people imprisoned inside.

There were three bodies near the entrance, two male and one female, rather youthful-looking. From the quantity and type pf statuary on the walls of the cave, it was easy to deduce that these people had belonged to one of the numerous religious Custodian groups, probably the Fire in the Heavens cult. When, in the last week of the exodus, the Affirmers had denounced the Crohiik Agreement and stated that the Affirmation of Life required that even those who didn't Affirm had to be protected against themselves, these people had evidently taken to the mountains. Evading the subsequent highly effective search, they had managed to stay hidden until the last great vessel left. Then, suspecting as I had that at least one scout ship would return for a final round-up, they had investigated the properties, of the anthropometer and found out about the only insulator, berrillit blue. Unfortunately, they had not found out enough.

Deep in the rear of the cave, a body twisted brokenly to meet me. It was a young woman. My first reaction was absolute astonishment at the fact that she was still alive. The explosion seemed to have smashed her thoroughly below the waist. She had crawled from the cave mouth to the interior where the group had stored most of their food and water. As I teetered, momentarily undecided whether to leave her and get medication and blood plasma from a hospital in the region or to risk moving her immediately, she rolled over on her back.

She had been covering a year-old infant with her body, evidently uncertain when the berrillit might blow again. And somehow, in spite of what must have been tremendous agony, she had been feeding the child.

I bent down and examined the baby. He was quite dirty and covered with his mother's blood, but otherwise unharmed. I picked him up and, in answer to the question in the woman's eyes, I nodded.

"He'll be all right," I said.

She started what may have been a nod in reply and stopped halfway through to die. I examined her carefully and, I will admit, a shade frantically. There was no pulse-no heartbeat.

I took the child back to the Museum and constructed a sort of play pen for him out of empty telescope sections. Then I went back to the cave with three robots and had the people buried. I admit the gesture was superfluous, but it wasn't only a matter of neatness. However fundamental our differences, we were all of Custodian persuasion, generally speaking. It somehow made me feel as if I were snapping my fingers in the face of the entire smug Affirmation to respect Fire-in-Heaven eccentricities in this fashion.

After the robots had completed their work, I placed a piece of the religious statuary (it was remarkably badly done, by the way) at the head of each grave and even said a short prayer, or rather a sermon. I developed the thought that I had suggested approximately a week earlier to some deer- to wit, that in the midst of life we are in death. I did not joke about it, however, but spoke seriously on the subject for several minutes. The robots who were my audience seemed even less excited by the intelligence than the deer had been.

May 21, 2190-I am annoyed. I am very, very annoyed and my great problem at the moment is that I lack an object on which to expend my annoyance.

The child has been an incredible amount of trouble.

I took him to the largest medical museum in the northern hemisphere and had him thoroughly examined by the best pediatric diagnostic machinery, He seems to be in excellent health, which is fortunate for both of us. And his dietary requirements, while not the same as mine, are fairly simple. I got a full tape on the kind of food he needs and, after a few readjustments in the commissary of the Museum of Modern Astronautics, I have arranged for this food to be prepared and delivered to him daily. Unfortunately, he does not seem to regard this arrangement, which took up an inordinate amount of my time, as wholly satisfactory.

For one thing, he will not accept food from the regular robot nursemaid which I have activated for him. This, I suspect, is because of his parents' odd beliefs: he probably has never encountered mechanical affection before. He will only eat when I feed him.

That situation alone is intolerable, but I have found it almost impossible to leave him guarded by the robot nursemaid. Though he does little more than crawl, he manages to do this at surprisingly fast pace and is always disappearing into dark corridors of the museum. Then an alarm is flashed to me and I have to break off my examination of the gigantic palace of the Dalai Lama, the Potala, and come scudding back from Lhasa halfway across the world to the Museum.

Even then it would take us hours to find him-and by "us" I mean every robot at my disposal-if I were not able to resort to the anthropometer. This admirable gadget points out his hiding place very swiftly; and so, pulling him out of the firing chamber of the Space Howitzer in the Hall of Weapons, I return him to his play pen. Then, if I dare, and if it is not time for him to be fed, I may return-briefly-to the Tibetan plateau.

I am at present engaged in constructing a sort of enormous cage for him, with automatic heating and toilet facilities and devices that will screen out undesirable animals, insects, and reptiles. Though this is taking up far too much of my time, it will be an excellent investment, I believe.

I don't know quite what to do about the feeding problem. The only solution I can find in any of the literature on the subject that offers promise is the one about letting him go hungry if he refuses food from normal sources. After a brief experiment, however, in which he seemed cheerfully resigned to starvation, I was forced to give in. I now handle every one of his meals.

The trouble is that I don't know whom to blame. Since I have been a Custodian from early manhood, I failed to see the need to reproduce. I have never been interested even slightly in children. I know very little about them and care less.

I have always felt that my attitude was admirably summed up by Socrates' comments in the Symposium: "Who, upon reflecting on Homer and Hesiod and other such great poets, would not rather have their children than ordinary human ones? Who would not like to emulate them in the creation of children such as theirs, which have preserved their memory and given them everlasting glory?… Many are the temples which have been raised in their honor for the sake of such children as they have had, which were never raised in honor of anyone for the sake of his mortal children."

Unfortunately, we are the only two humans alive on Earth, this child and I. We are going to our doom together; we ride the same round tumbril. And the treasures of the world, which were wholly mine less than a week ago, now belong at least partially to him. I wish we could discuss the matters at issue, not only to arrive at more equitable arrangements, but also for the sheer pleasure of the discussion. I have come to the conclusion that I began this journal out of unconscious terror when I discovered, after the Affirmers left, that I was completely alone.

I find myself getting very wistful for conversation, for ideas other than my own, for opinions against which mine might be measured. Yet according to the literature on the subject, while this child may begin talking any day now, we will be immersed in catastrophe long before he learns to argue with me. I find that sad, however inevitable.

How I wander! The fact is that once again I am being prevented from studying art as I would like". I am an old man and should have no responsibilities; I have all but laid down my life for the privilege of this study. It is extremely vexing.

And conversation. I can just imagine the kind of conversation I might be having with an Affirmer at the moment, were one to have been stranded here with me. What dullness, what single-minded biological idiocy! What crass refusal to look at, let alone admit, the beauty his species has been seventy millennia in the making! The most he might have learned if he is European, say, is a bit about the accepted artists of his culture. What would he know of Chinese paintings, for example, or cave art? Would he be able to understand that in each there were primitive periods followed by eras of lusty development, followed in turn by a consolidation of artistic gains and an increase in formalization, the whole to be rounded off by a decadent, inner-groping epoch which led almost invariably into another primitive and lusty period? That these have occurred again and again in the major cultures so that even the towering genius of a Michelangelo, a Shakespeare, a Beethoven will likely be repeated-in somewhat different terms-in another complete cycle? That there was a Michelangelo, Shakespeare, and Beethoven in each of several different flower periods in ancient Egyptian art? '

How, could an Affirmer understand such concepts when he lacks the basic information necessary to understanding? When their ships departed from the moribund solar system laden only with immediately usable artifacts? When they refused to let their offspring keep childhood treasures for fear of developing sentimentality, so that when they came to colonize Procyon XII there would be no tears for either the world that had died or the puppy that had been left behind?

And yet history plays such incredible jokes on Man! They who ran away from their museums, who kept nothing but a cold microfilm record of what lay in their investment houses of culture, will learn that Man's sentimentality is not to be frustrated. The bleak, efficient ships that brought them to these alien worlds will become museums of the past as they oxidize out of existence on the strange sands. Their cruelly functional lines will become the inspiration for temples and alcoholic tears.

What in the world is happening to me? How I run on! After all, I merely wanted to explain why I was annoyed.

May 29, 2190-I have made several decisions, I don't know if I will be able to implement the most important of them, but I will try. In order, however, to give myself what I need most at the moment-time-I will write much less in this journal, if I write any more at all. I will try very hard to be brief.

To begin with the least important decision: I have named the child Leonardo. Why I chose to name him after a man who, for all of his talents-in fact, because of his talents-I regard as the most spectacular failure in the history of art, I do not know. But Leonardo was a well-rounded man, something which the Affirmers are not-and something which I am beginning to admit I am not.

By the way, the child recognizes his name. He is not yet able to pronounce it, but it is positively miraculous the way he recognizes it. And he makes a sound which is very like mine. In fact, I might say-

Let me go on.

I have decided to attempt an escape from the Earth-with Leonardo. My reasons are many and complex, and I'm not certain that I understand them all, but one thing I do know: I have felt responsibility for a life other than my own and can no longer evade it.

This is not a tardy emergence into Affirmer doctrine, but in a very real sense my own ideas come to judgment. Since I believe in the reality of beauty, especially beauty made with the mind and hands of man, I can follow no other course.

I am an old man and will achieve little with the rest of my life. Leonardo is an infant: he represents raw potential; he might become anything. A song beyond Shakespeare's. A thought above Newton, above Einstein. Or an evil beyond Gilles de Retz, a horror past Hitler.

But the potential should be realized. I think, under my tutelage, it is less likely to be evil and there I have a potential to be realized.

In any case, even if Leonardo represents a zero personally, he may carry the germ-plasm of a Buddha, of a Euripides, of a Preud. And that potential must be realized…

There is a ship. Its name is Man's Hope and it was the first ship to reach the stars, almost a century ago when it had just been discovered that our sun would explode and become a nova in a little less than a hundred years. It was the ship that discovered for Man the heart-quickening fact that other stars have planets and that many of those planets are habitable to him.

It was a long time ago that Captain Karma brought his starship back down on the soil of Earth with the news that escape was possible. That was long before I was born, long before humanity divided unequally into Custodian and Affirmer and long, long before either group were the unwinking fanatics they had become five years ago.

The ship is in the Museum of Modern Astronautics. I know it has been kept in good condition, I also know that twenty years ago, before the Affirmers had developed the position that absolutely nothing might be taken physically from a museum, the ship was equipped with the latest Leugio Drive. The motive was that, if it were needed on Exodus Day, it might make the trip to a star in months instead of the years it had required originally.

The only thing that I do not know is whether I, Fiyatil, the Custodian of Custodians and art critic extraordinary, can learn to run it in the time that Leonardo and I have left.

But as one of my favorite comic characters remarked about the possibility of a man chopping his own head off: a man can try…

There is something else on my mind, even more exciting in a way, but this comes first. I find myself looking at the Sun a good deal these days. And very searchingly, too. Very.

November 11, 2190-1 can do it With the help of two robots which I will modify for the purpose, I can do it. Leonardo and I could leave immediately. But I have my other project to complete.

And this is my other project. I am going to use all the empty space in the ship. It was built originally for different motors and a very large crew, and I am going to use that space as a bureau drawer. Into that bureau drawer I will stuff the keepsakes of humanity, the treasures of its childhood and adolescence-at least as many as I can get in.

For weeks I have been collecting treasures from all over the world. Incredible pottery, breath-taking friezes, glorious statuary, and oil paintings almost beyond counting litter the corridors of the museum. Brueghel is piled on Bosch, Bosch on Durer, I am going to, bring a little of everything to that star toward which I point my ship, a little to show what the real things were like. I am including things like the holograph manuscripts of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Gogol's Dead Souls, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, and holographs of Dickens's tetters and Lincoln's speeches. There are many others, but I cannot take everything. Within responsible limits, I must please myself.

Therefore, I am not taking anything from the Sistine

Chapel ceiling. I have carved out two bits of the "Last Judgment" instead. They are my favorites: the soul that suddenly realizes that it is condemned, and the flayed skin on which Michelangelo painted his own portrait.

The only trouble is that fresco weighs so much! Weight, weight, weight-it is almost all I think about now. Even Leonardo follows me about and says "Weight, weight, weight!" He pronounces nothing else so well.

Still, what should I take of Picasso? A handful of oils, yes, but I must take the "Guernica." And there is more weight.

I have some wonderful Russian copper utensils and some Ming bronze bowls. I have a lime spatula from Eastern New Guinea made of oiled wood that has a delightfully carved handle (it was used in chewing betel nut and lime). I have a wonderful alabaster figure of a cow from ancient Sumer. I have an incredible silver Buddha from northern India. I have some Dahomean brass figures of a grace to shame Egypt and Greece. I have a carved ivory container from Benin, West Africa, showing a thoroughly Fifteenth Century European Christ on the cross. I have the "Venus" of Willendorf, Austria, the figure that was carved in the Aurignacian epoch of the paleolithic and which is part of the artistic tradition of the "Venus" art of prehistoric mankind.

I have miniatures by Hilliard and Holbein, satiric prints by Hogarth, a beautiful Kangra painting of the eighteenth century on paper that shows astonishingly little Mughal influence, Japanese prints by Takamaru and Hiroshige-and where may I stop? How may I choose?

I have pages from the Book of Kells, which is an illuminated hand-executed manuscript of almost unmatched beauty; and I have pages from the Gutenberg Bible, put together in the infancy of printing, which has illuminated pages to give the effect of a hand-copied manuscript, because the printers didn't want their invention discovered. I have a tughra of Sulaiman the Magnificent, a calligraphic emblem that formed headings for his imperial edicts; and I have a Hebrew Scroll of the Law whose calligraphy outshines the jewels which encrust the poles on which it is wound.

I have Coptic textiles of the sixth century and Alencon lace of the sixteenth. I have a magnificent red krater vase from one of Athens' maritime colonies and a wooden figurehead of a minister from a New England frigate. I have a Rubens nude and an Odalisque by Matisse.

In architecture-I am taking the Chinese Compendium of Architecture which I think has never been equaled as a text and a model of a Le Corbusier house built by him. I would love to take one building, the Taj Mahal, but I am taking the pearl that the Mogul gave to her for whom he built the ineffable tomb. It is a reddish pearl, shaped like a pear and about three and a half inches long; shortly after it was buried with her, it turned up in the possession of an Emperor of China who set it on gold leaves and surrounded it with jade and emeralds. At the turn of the nineteenth century, it was sold somewhere in the Near East for a tiny, ridiculous sum and ended in the Louvre.

And a too a small stone fistaxe, the first think known to have been made by human creatures.

All this I have collected near the ship. But I've sorted none of it. And I suddenly remember, I have collected as yet no furniture, no decorated weapons, no etched glass-

I must hurry, hurry!

November 2190-Shortly after I finished the-last entry, I glanced upward. There were green specks on the sun and strange orange streamers seemed to plume out to all points of the compass. Evidently there was not to be a year. These were the symptoms of death that the astronomers had predicted.

So there was an end to my collecting-and my sorting was done in less than a day. The one thing I suddenly found I had to do, when it became obvious that my sections of Michelangelo would be too heavy, was to go to the Sistine Chapel ceiling after all. This time I cat out a relatively tiny thing- the finger of the Creation as it stabs life into Adam. And I decided to take Da Vinci's "La Gioconda," even though his "Beatrice d'Este" is more to my taste: the Mona Lisa's smile belongs to the world.

All posters are represented by one Toulouse-Lautrec. I dropped the "Guernica"; Picasso is represented instead by an oil from his blue period and a single striking ceramic plate. I dropped Harold Paris's "The Eternal Judgment" because of its bulk; all I have of his now is the print Buchenwald #2, "Where Are We Going?" And somehow or other, in my last-minute haste, I seem to have selected a large number of Safavid bottles from Iran of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Let future historians and psychologists puzzle out the reasons for my choices: they are now irrevocable.

We are proceeding toward Alpha Centauri and should arrive in five months. How will we and all our treasures be received, I wonder? I suddenly feel insanely cheerful. I don't think it has anything to do with my rather belated realization that I, who have so little talent and have failed so miserably in the arts, will achieve a place in the history of art like no other man-a kind of esthetic Noah.

No, it is the fact that I am carrying both the future and the past to a rendezvous where they still have a chance to come to terms. A moment ago Leonardo bounced a ball against the visiplate and, looking at it, I observed that old Sol was expanding apoplectically. As I remarked to him then: "I find, to my astonishment, that in the midst of death, I am- at last, at last!-truly in life."


<p>Phoenix</p> <p>by Clark Ashton Smith</p>

Rodis and Hilar had climbed from their natal caverns to the top chamber of the high observatory tower. Pressed close together, for warmth as well as love, they stood at an eastern window looking forth on hills and valleys dim with perennial starlight. They had come up to watch the rising of the sun: that sun which they had never seen except as an orb of blackness, occluding the zodiacal stars in its course from horizon to horizon.

Thus their ancestors had seen it for millenniums. By some freak of cosmic law, unforeseen, and inexplicable to astronomers and physicists, the sun's cooling had been comparatively sudden, and the earth had not suffered the long-drawn complete desiccation of such planets as Mercury and Mars. Rivers, lakes, seas, had frozen solid; and the air itself had congealed, all in a term of years historic rather than geologic. Millions of the earth's inhabitants had perished, trapped by the glacial ice, the centigrade cold. The rest, armed with all the resources of science, had found time to entrench themselves against the cosmic night in a world of ramified caverns, dug by atomic excavators far below the surface,

Here, by the light of artificial orbs, and the heat drawn from the planet's still-molten depths, life went on much as it had done in the outer world. Trees, fruits, grasses, grains, vegetables, were grown in isotope-stimulated soil or hydro-panic gardens, affording food, renewing a breathable atmosphere. Domestic animals were kept; and birds flew; and insects crawled or fluttered. The rays considered necessary for life and health were afforded by the sunbright lamps that shone eternally in all the caverns.

Little of the old science was lost; but, on the other hand, there was now little advance. Existence had become the conserving of a fire menaced by inexorable night. Generation by generation a mysterious sterility had lessened the numbers of the race from millions to a few thousands. As time went on, a similar sterility began to affect animals; and even plants no longer flourished with their first abundance. No biologist could determine the cause with certainty.

Perhaps man, as well as other terrestrial life-forms, was past his prime, and had begun to undergo collectively the inevitable senility that comes to the individual. Or perhaps, having been a surface-dweller throughout most of his evolution, he was inadaptable to the cribbed and prisoned life, the caverned light and air; and was dying slowly from the deprivation of things he had almost forgotten.

Indeed, the world that had once flourished beneath a living sun was little more than a legend now, a tradition preserved by art and literature and history. Its beetling Babelian cities, its fecund hills and plains, were swathed impenetrably in snow and ice and solidified air. No living man had gazed upon it, except from the night-bound towers maintained as observatories.

Still, however, the dreams of men were often lit by primordial memories, in which the sun shone on rippling waters and waving trees and grass. And their waking hours were sometimes touched by an undying nostalgia for the lost earth…

Alarmed by the prospect of racial extinction, the most able and brilliant savants had conceived a project that was seemingly no less desperate than fantastic. The plan, if executed, might lead to failure or even to the planet's destruction. But all the necessary steps had now been taken toward its launching.

It was of this plan that Rodis and Hilar spoke, standing clasped in each other's arms, as they waited for the rising of the dead sun.

"And you must go?" said Rodis, with averted eyes and voice that quavered a little.

"Of course. It is a duty and an honor. I am regarded as the foremost of the younger atomicists. The actual placing and timing of the bombs will devolve largely upon me."

"But-are you sure of success? There are so many risks,. Hilar." The girl shuddered, clasping her lover with convulsive tightness.

"We are not sure of anything," Hilar admitted. "But, granting that our calculations are correct, the multiple charges of fissionable materials, including more than half the solar elements, should start chain-reactions that will restore the sun to its former incandescence. Of course, the explosion may be too sudden and too violent, involving the nearer planets in the formation of a nova. But we do not believe that this will happen-since an explosion of such magnitude would require instant disruption of all the sun's elements. Such disruption should not occur without a starter for each separate atomic structure. Science has never been able to break down all the known elements. If it had been, the earth itself would undoubtedly have suffered destruction in the old atomic wars."

Hilar paused, and his eyes dilated, kindling with a visionary fire.

"How glorious," he went on, "to use for a purpose of cosmic renovation the deadly projectiles designed by our forefathers only to blast and destroy. Stored in sealed caverns, they have not been used since men abandoned the earth's surface so many millenniums ago. Nor have the old spaceships been used either- An interstellar drive was never perfected; and our voyagings were always limited to the other worlds of our own system-none of which was inhabited, or inhabitable. Since the sun's cooling and darkening, there has been no object in visiting any of them. But the ships too were stored away. And the newest and speediest one, powered with anti-gravity magnets, has been made ready for our voyage to the sun."

Rodis listened silently, with an awe that seemed to have subdued her misgivings, while Hilar continued to speak of the tremendous project upon which he, with six other chosen technicians, was about to embark. In the meanwhile, the black sun rose slowly into heavens thronged with the cold ironic blazing of innumerable stare, among which no planet shone. It blotted out the sting of the Scorpion, poised at that hour above the eastern hills. It was smaller but nearer than the igneous orb of history and legend. In its center, like a Cyclopean eye, there burned a single spot of dusky red fire, believed to mark the eruption of some immense volcano amid the measureless and cinder-blackened landscape.

To one standing in the ice-bound valley below the observatory, it would have seemed that the tower's lighted window was a yellow eye that stared back from the dead earth to that crimson eye of the dead sun.

"Soon," said Hilar, "you will climb to this chamber-and see the morning that none has seen for a century of centuries. The thick- ice will thaw from the peaks and valleys, running in streams to re-molten lakes and oceans. The liquefied air will rise in clouds and vapors, touched with the spectrum-tinted splendor of the light. Again, across earth, will blow the winds of the four quarters; and grass and flowers will grow, and trees burgeon from tiny saplings. And man, the dweller in closed caves and abysses, will return to his proper heritage."

"How wonderful it all sounds," murmured Rodis. "But… you will come back to me?"

"I will come back to you… in the sunlight," said Hilar.

The space-vessel Phosphor lay in a huge cavern beneath that region which had once been known as the Atlas Mountains. The cavern's mile-thick roof had been partly blasted away by atomic disintegrators. A great circular shaft slanted upward to the surface, forming a mouth in the mountain-side through which the stars of the Zodiac were visible. The prow of the Phosphor pointed at the stars.

All was now ready for its launching. A score of dignitaries and. savants, looking like strange ungainly monsters in suits and helmets worn against the spatial'cold that had invaded the cavern, were present for the occasion. Hiiar and his six companions had already gone aboard the Phosphor and had closed its air-locks.

Inscrutable and silent behind their metalloid helmets, the watchers waited. There was no ceremony, no speaking or waving of farewells; nothing to indicate that a world's destiny impended on the mission of the vessel.

Like mouths of fire-belching dragons the stern-rockets flared, and the Phosphor, like a wingless bird, soared upward through the great shaft and vanished.

Hilar, gazing through a rear port, saw for a few moments the lamp-bright window of that tower in which he had stood so recently with Rodis. The window was a golden spark that swirled downward in abysses of devouring night-and was extinguished. Behind it, he knew, his beloved stood watching the Phosphor's departure. It was a symbol, he mused… a symbol of life, of memory… of the suns themselves… of all things that flash briefly and fall into oblivion.

But such thoughts, he felt, should be dismissed. They were unworthy of one whom his fellows had appointed as a light-bringer, a Prometheus who should rekindle the dead sun and re-lumine the dark world.

There were no days, only hours of eternal starlight, to measure the time in which they sped outward through the void. The rockets, used for initial propulsion, no longer flamed astern; and the vessel flew in darkness, except for the gleaming Argus eyes of its ports, drawn now by the mighty gravitational drag of the blind sun.

Test-flights had been considered unnecessary for the Phosphor. All its machinery was in perfect condition; and the mechanics involved were simple and easily mastered. None of its crew had ever been in extraterrestrial space before; but all were well-trained in astronomy, mathematics, and the various techniques essential to a voyage between worlds. There were two navigators; one rocket-engineer; and two engineers who would operate the powerful generators, charged with a negative magnetism reverse to that of gravity, with which they hoped to approach, circumnavigate, and eventually depart in safety from an orb enormously heavier than the system's nine planets merged into one. Hilar and his assistant, Hans Joas, completed the personnel. Their sole task was the timing, landing, and distribution of the bombs.

All were descendants of a mixed race with Latin, Semitic, Hamitic and negroid ancestry: a race that had dwelt, before the sun's cooling, in countries south of the Mediterranean, where the former deserts had been rendered fertile by a vast irrigation-system of lakes and canals.

This mixture, after so many centuries of cavern life, had produced a characteristically slender, well-knit type, of short or medium stature and pale olive complexion. The features were often of negroid softness; the general physique marked by a delicacy verging upon decadence.

To an extent surprising, in view of the vast intermediate eras of historic and geographic change, this people had preserved many pre-atomic traditions and even something of the old classic Mediterranean cultures. Their language bore distinct traces of Latin, Greek, Spanish and Arabic.

Remnants of other peoples, those of sub-equatorial Asia and America, had survived the universal glaciation by burrowing underground. Radio communication had been maintained with these peoples till within fairly recent times, and had then ceased. It was believed that they had died out, or had retrograded into savagery, losing the civilization to which they had once attained.

Hour after hour, intervaled only by sleep and eating, the Phosphor sped onward through the black unvarying void. To Hilar, it seemed at times that they flew merely through a darker and vaster cavern whose remote walls were spangled by the stars as if by radiant orbs. He had thought to feel the overwhelming vertigo of unbottomed and undirectioned space. Instead, there was a weird sense of circumscription by the ambient night and emptiness, together with a sense of cyclic repetition, as if all that was happening had happened many times before and must recur often through endless future kalpas.

Had he and his companions gone forth in former cycles to the relighting of former perished suns? Would they go forth again, to rekindle suns that would flame and die in some posterior universe? Had there always been, would ther,e always be, a Rodis who awaited his return?

Of these thoughts he spoke only to Han Joas, who shared something of his innate mysticism and his trend toward cosmic speculation, But mostly the two talked of the mysteries of the atom and its typhonic powers, and discussed the problems with which they would shortly be confronted.

The ship carried several hundred disruption bombs, many of untried potency: the unused heritage of ancient wars that had left chasm scars and lethal radioactive areas, some a thousand miles or more in extent, for the planetary glaciers to cover. There were bombs of iron, calcium, sodium, helium, hydrogen, sulphur, potassium, magnesium, copper, chromium, strontium, barium, zinc elements that had all been anciently revealed in the solar spectrum. Even at the apex of their madness, the warring nations had wisely refrained from employing more than a few such bombs at any one time. Chain-reactions had sometimes been started; but, fortunately, had died out.

Hilar and Han Joas hoped to distribute the bombs at intervals over the sun's entire circumference; preferably in large deposits of the same elements as those of which they were composed. The vessel was equipped with radar apparatus by which the various elements could be detected and located. The bombs would be timed to explode with as much simultaneity as possible. If all went well, the Phosphor would have fulfilled its mission and traveled most of the return distance to earth before the explosions occurred.

It had been conjectured that the sun's interior was composed of still-molten magma, covered by a relatively thin crust: a seething flux of matter that manifested itself in volcanic activities. Only one of the volcanoes was visible from earth to the naked eye; but numerous others had been revealed to telescopic study. Now, as the Phosphor drew near to its destination, these others flamed out on the huge, slowly rotating orb that had darkened a fourth of the ecliptic and had blotted Libra, Scorpio and Sagittarius wholly from view.

For a long time it had seemed to hang above the voyagers. Now, suddenly, as if through some prodigious legerdemain, it lay beneath them: a monstrous, ever-broadening disk of ebon, eyed with fiery craters, veined and spotted and blotched with unknown pallid radioactives. It was like the buckler of some macrocosmic giant of the night, who had entrenched himself in the abyss lying between the worlds.

The Phosphor plunged toward it like a steel splinter drawn by some tremendous lodestone.

Each member of the crew had been trained beforehand for the part he was to play; and everything had been timed with the utmost precision. Sybal and Samac, the engineers of the anti-gravity magnets, began to manipulate the switches that would build up resistance to the solar drag. The generators, bulking to the height of three men, with induction-coils that suggested some colossal Laocoon, could draw from cosmic space a negative force capable of counteracting many earth-gravities. In past ages they had defied easily the pull of Jupiter; and the ship had even coasted as near to the blazing sun as its insulation and refrigeration systems would safely permit. Therefore it seemed reasonable to expect that the voyagers could accomplish their purpose of approaching closely to the darkened globe; of circling it, and pulling away when the disruption-charges had all been planted.

A dull, subsonic vibration, felt rather than heard, began to emanate from the magnets. It shook the vessel, ached in the voyagers' tissues. Intently, with anxiety unbetrayed by their impassive features, they watched the slow, gradual building-up of power shown by gauge-dials on which giant needles crept like horologic hands, registering the reversed gravities one after one, till a drag equivalent to that of fifteen Earths had been neutralized. The clamp of the solar gravitation, drawing them on with projectile-like velocity, crushing them to their seats with relentless increase of weight, was loosened. The needles crept on… more slowly now… to sixteen… to seventeen… and stopped. The Phosphor's fall had been retarded but not arrested. And the switches stood at their last notch.

Sybal spoke, in answer to the unuttered questions of his companions.

"Something is wrong. Perhaps there has been some unforeseen deterioration of the coils, in whose composition strange and complex alloys were used. Some of the elements may have been unstable-or have developed instability through age. Or perhaps there is some interfering unknown force, born of the sun's decay. At any rate, it is impossible to build more power toward the twenty-seven anti-gravities we will require close to the solar surface."

Samac added: "The decelerative jets will increase our resistance to nineteen anti-gravities. It will still be far from enough, even at our present distance."

"How much time have we?" inquired Hilar, turning to the navigators, Calaf and Caramod.

The two conferred and calculated.

"By using the decelerative jets, it will be two hours before we reach the sun," announced Calaf finally,

As if his announcement had been an order, Eibano, the jet-engineer, promptly jerked the levers that fired to full power the reversing rockets banked in the Phosphor's nose and sides. There was a slight further deceleration of their descent, a further lightening of the grievous weight that oppressed them. But the Phosphor still plunged irreversibly sunward.

Hilar and Hah Joas exchanged a glance of understanding and agreement. They rose stiffly from their seats, and moved heavily toward the magazine, occupying fully half the ship's interior, in which the hundreds of disruption-bombs were racked. It was unnecessary to announce their purpose; and no one spoke either in approval or demur.

Hilar opened the magazine's door; and he and Han Joas paused on the threshold, looking back. They saw for the last time the faces of their fellow-voyagers; expressing no other emotion than resignation, vignetted, as it were, on the verge of destruction. Then they entered the magazine, closing its door behind them.

They set to work methodically, moving back to back along a narrow aisle between the racks in which the immense ovoid bombs were piled in strict order according to their respective elements. Because of the various coordinated dials and switches involved, it was a matter of minutes to prepare a single bomb for the explosion. Therefore, Hilar and Han Joas, in the time at their disposal, could do no more than set the timing and detonating mechanism of one bomb of each element. A great chronometer, ticking at the magazine's farther end, enabled them to accomplish this task with precision. The bombs were thus timed to explode simultaneously, detonating the others through chain-reaction, at the moment when the Phosphor should touch the sun's surface.

The solar pull, strengthening as the Phosphor fell to its doom, had now made their movements slow and difficult. It would, they feared, immobilize them before they could finish preparing a second series of bombs for detonation. Laboriously, beneath the burden of a weight already trebled, they made their way to seats that faced a reflector in which the external cosmos was imaged.

It was an awesome and stupendous scene on which they gazed. The sun's globe had broadened vastly, filling the nether heavens. Half-seen, a dim unhorizoned landscape, fitfully lit by the crimson far-sundered flares of volcanoes, by bluish zones and patches of strange radio-active minerals, it deepened beneath them abysmally disclosing mountains that would have made the Himalayas seem like' hillocks, revealing chasms that might have engulfed asteroids and planets.

At the center of this Cyclopean landscape burned the great volcano that had been called Hephaestus by astronomers. It was the same volcano watched by Hilar and Rodis from the observatory window. Tongues of flame a hundred miles in length arose and licked skyward from a crater that seemed the mouth of some ultramundane hell.

Hilar and Han Joas no longer heard the chronometer's portentous ticking, and had no eyes for the watching of its ominous hands. Such watching was needless now: there was nothing more to be done, and nothing before them but eternity. They measured their descent by the broadening of the dim solar plain, the leaping into salience of new mountains, the deepening of new chasms and gulfs in the globe that had now lost all semblance of a sphere.

It was plain now that the Phosphor would fall directly into the flaming and yawning crater of Hephaestus. Faster and faster it plunged, heavier grew the piled chains of gravity that giants could not have lifted-

At the very last, the reflector on which Hilar and Han Joas peered was filled entirely by the tongued volcanic.fires that enveloped the Phosphor,

Then, without eyes to see or ears to apprehend, they were part of the pyre from which the sun, like a Phoenix, was reborn.

Rodis, climbing to the tower, after a period of fitful sleep and troublous dreams, saw from its window the rising of the rekindled orb.

It dazzled her, though its glory was half-dimmed by rainbow-colored mists that fumed from the icy mountain-tops. It was a sight filled with marvel and with portent. Thin rills of downward threading water had already begun to fret the glacial armor on slopes and scarps; and later they would swell to cataracts, laying bare the buried soil and stone. Vapors, that seemed to flow and fluctuate on renascent winds, swam sunward from lakes of congealed air at the valley's bottom. It was a visible resumption of the elemental life and activity so long suspended in hibernal night. Even through the tower's insulating walls, Rodis felt the solar warmth that later would awaken the seeds and spores of plants that had lain dormant for cycles.

Her heart was stirred to wonder by the spectacle. But beneath the wonder was a great numbness and a sadness like unmelting ice. Hilar, she knew, would never return to her- except as a ray of the light, a spark of the vital heat, that he had helped to relumine. For the nonce, there was irony rather than comfort in the memory of his promise; "I will come back to you-in the sunlight."


<p>Run from the Fire</p> <p>by Harry Harrison</p>
<p>1</p>

"You can't go in there!" Heidi shrieked as the office door was suddenly thrown wide.

Mark Greenberg, deep in the tangled convolutions of a legal brief, looked up, startled at the interruption. His secretary came through the doorway, propelled by the two men who held her arms. Mark dropped the thick sheaf of papers, picked up the phone, and dialed the police.

"I want three minutes of your time," one of the men said, stepping forward. "Your girl would not let us in. It is important. I will pay. One hundred dollars a minute. Here is the money."

The bank notes were placed on the blotter, and the man stepped back. Mark finished dialing. The money was real enough. They released Heidi, who pushed their hands away. Beyond her was the empty outer office; there were no witnesses to the sudden intruders. The phone rang in his ears; then a deep voice spoke

"Police Department, Sergeant Vega."

Mark hung up the phone.

"Things have been very quiet around here. You have three minutes. There will also be a hundred-dollar fee for molesting my secretary."

If he had meant it as a joke, it was not taken that way. The man who had paid the money took another bill from the pocket of his dark suit and handed it to a startled Heidi, then waited in silence until she took it and left. They were a strange pair, Mark realized. The paymaster was draped in a rusty black suit, had a black patch over his right eye, and wore black gloves as well. A victim of some accident or other, for his face and neck were scarred, and one ear was missing. When he turned back, Mark realized that his hair was really a badly fitting wig. The remaining eye, lashless and browless, glared at him redly from its deepset socket, Mark glanced away from the burning stare to look at the other man, who seemed commonplace in every way. His akin had a shiny, waxy look; other than that and his unusual rigidity, he seemed normal enough.

"My name is Arinix, your name is Mark Greenberg," The scarred man bent over the card in his hand, reading quickly in a hoarse, emotionless voice. "You served in the United States Army as a captain in the adjutant general's office and as a military police officer. Is that correct?"

"Yes, but-"

The voice ground on, ignoring his interruption. "You were born in the state of Alabama and grew up in the city of Oneida, New York. You speak the language of the Iroquois, but you are not an Indian. Is that true?"

"It's pretty obvious. Is there any point to this questioning?"

"Yes. I paid for it. How is it that you speak this language?" He peered closely at the card as though looking for an answer that was not there.

"Simple enough. My father's store was right next to the Oneida reservation. Most of his customers were Indians, and I went to school with them. We were the only Jewish family in town, and they didn't seem to mind this, the way our Polish Catholic neighbors did. So we were friends; in minorities there is strength, you might say-"

"That is enough."

Arinix drew some crumpled bills from his side pocket, looked at them, and shoved them back. "Money," he said, turning to his silent companion. This man had a curious lizardlike quality for only his arm moved; the rest of his body was still, and his face fixed and-expressionless, as he took a thick bundle of bills from his side pocket and handed it over.

Arinix looked at it, top and bottom, then dropped it onto the desk.

"There is ten thousand dollars here. This is a fee for three days' work. I wish you to aid me. You will have to speak the Iroquois language. I can tell you no more."

"I'm afraid you will have to, Mr. Arinix. Or don't bother, it is the same to me. I am involved in a number of cases at the moment, and it would be difficult to take off the time. The offer is interesting, but I might lose that much in missed fees, Since your three minutes are up, I suggest you leave."

"Money," Arinix said again, receiving more and more bundies from his assistant, dropping them on Mark's desk. "Fifty thousand dollars. Good pay for three days. Now, come with us."

It was the man's calm arrogance that angered Mark, the complete lack of emotion, or even interest, in the large sums he was passing over.

"That's enough. Do you think money can buy everything?"

"Yes."

The answer was so sudden and humorless that Mark had to smile. "Well, you probably are right. If you keep raising the ante long enough, I suppose you will eventually reach a point where you can get anyone to listen. Would you pay me more than this?"

"Yes. How much?"

"You have enough here. Maybe Fm afraid to find out how high you will go. For a figure like this, I can take off three days. But you will have to tell me what is going to happen." Mark was intrigued, as much by the strange pair as by the money they offered.

"That is impossible. But I can tell you that within two hours you will know what you are to do. At that time you may refuse, and you will still keep the money. Is it agreed?"

A lawyer who is a bachelor tends to take on more cases than do his married associates-who like to see their families once in a while. Mark had a lot of work and a lot of money, far more than he had time to spend. It was the novelty of this encounter, not the unusual fee, that attracted him. And the memory of a solid two years of work without a single vacation. The combination proved irresistible.

"Agreed- Heidi," he called out, then handed her the money when she came into the office. "Deposit this in the number-two special account and then go home. A paid holiday. I'll see you on Monday."

She looked down at the thick bundle of bills, then up at the strangers as they waited while Mark took his overcoat from the closet. The three of them left together, and the door closed. That was the last time that she or anyone else ever saw Mark Greenberg.


<p>2</p>

It was a sunny January day, but an arctic wind that cut to the bone was blowing up from the direction of the Battery. As they walked west, it caught them at every cross street, wailing around the building corners. Although they wore only suit jackets, neither of the strange men seemed to notice it. Nor were they much on conversation. In cold and silent discomfort they walked west, a few blocks short of the river, where they entered an old warehouse building. The street door was unlocked, but Arinix now secured it behind them with a heavy bolt, then turned to the inner door at the end of the hall. It appeared to be made of thick steel plates riveted together like a ship's hull, and had a lock in each corner. Arinix took an unusual key from his pocket. It was made of dull, ridged metal, as thick as his finger and as long as a pencil. He inserted this in each of the four locks, giving it a sharp twist each time before removing it. When he was done, he stepped away, and his companion put his shoulder against the door and pushed hard. After a moment it slowly gave way and reluctantly swung open. Arinix waved Mark on, and he followed them into the room beyond.

It was completely commonplace. Walls, ceilings, and floor were painted the same drab tone of brown. Lighting came from a translucent strip in the ceiling; a metal bench was fixed to the far wall next to another door.

"Wait here," Arinix said, theo went out through the door.

The other man was a silent, unmoving presence. Mark looked at the bench, wondering if he should sit down, wondering too if he had been wise to get involved in this, when the door opened and Arinix returned.

"Here is what you must do" he said. "You will go out of here and will note this address, and then walk about the city. Return here at the end of an hour."

"No special place to go, nothing to do? Just walk around?"

"That is correct."

He pulled the heavy outer door open as he spoke, then led the way through it, down the three steps, and back along the hall. Mark followed him, then wheeled about and pointed back.

"These steps! They weren't there when we came in-no steps, I'll swear to it."

"One hour, no more, I will hold your topcoat here until you return."

Warm air rushed in, bright sunlight burned on the stained sidewalk outside. The wind still blew, though not as strongly, but now it was as hot as from an oven door. Mark hesitated on the doorstep, sweat already on his face, taking off the heavy coat.

"I don't understand. You must tell me what-"

Arinix took the coat, then pushed him suddenly in the back. He stumbled forward, gained his balance instantly, and turned just as the door slammed shut and the bolt ground into place. He pushed, but it did not move. He knew that calling out would be a waste of time. Instead, he turned, eyes slitted against the glare, and stared out at the suddenly changed world.

The street was empty, no cars passed, no pedestrians were on the sidewalk. When he stepped out of the shadowed doorway, the sun smote him like a golden fist. He took his jacket off and hung it over his arm, and then his necktie, but he still ran with sweat. The office buildings stared blank-eyed from their tiered windows; the gray factories were silent, Mark looked about numbly, trying to understand what had happened, trying to make sense of the unbelievable situation. Five minutes ago it had been midwinter, with the icy streets filled with hurrying people. Now it was… what?

In the distance the humming, rising drone of an engine could be heard, getting louder, going along a nearby street. He hurried to the corner and reached it just in time to see the car roar across the intersection a block away. It was just that, a car, and it had been going too fast for him to see who was in it. He jumped back at a sudden shrill scream, almost at his feet, and a large seagull hurled itself into the air and flapped away. It had been tearing at a man's body that lay crumpled in the gutter. Mark had seen enough corpses in Korea to recognize another one, to remember the never-forgotten smell of corrupted flesh. How was it possible for the corpse to remain here so long, days at least? What had happened to the city?

There was a growing knot of unreasoned panic rising within him, urging him to run, scream, escape. He fought it down and turned deliberately and started back toward the room where Arinix was waiting. He would spend the'rest of the hour waiting for that door to open, hoping he would have the control to prevent himself from beating upon it. Something had happened, to him or the world, he did not know which, but he did know that the only hope of salvation from the incredible events of the morning lay beyond that door. Screaming unreason wanted him to run; he walked slowly, noticing for the first time that the street he was walking down ended in the water. The buildings on each side sank into it as well, and there, at the" foot of the street, was the roof of a drowned wharf. All this seemed no more incredible than anything that had happened before, and he tried to ignore it. He fought so hard to close his mind and his thoughts that he did not hear the rumble of the truck motor or the squeal of brakes behind him.

"That man! What are you doing here?"

Mark spun about. A dusty, open-bodied truck had stopped at the curb, and a thin blond soldier was swinging down from the cab. He wore a khaki uniform without identifying marks and kept his hand near the large pistol in a polished leather holster that swung from his belt. The driver was watching him, as were three more uniformed men in the back of the truck, who were pointing heavy rifles in his direction. The driver and the soldiers were all black. The blond officer had drawn his pistol and was pointing it at Mark as well.

"Are you with the westenders? You know what happens to them, don't you?"

Sudden loud firing boomed in the street, and thinking he was being shot at, Mark dropped back against the wall. But no shots were aimed, in his direction. Even as they were turning, the soldiers in the truck dropped, felled by the bullets. Then the truck itself leaped and burst into flames as a grenade exploded. The officer had wheeled about and dropped to one knee and was firing his pistol at Arinix, who was sheltered in a doorway across the street, changing clips on the submachine gun he carried.

Running footsteps sounded, and the officer wheeled to face Arinix's companion, who was running rapidly toward him, empty-handed and cold-faced.

"Watch out!" Mark called as the officer fired.

The bullet caught the running man in the chest, spinning him about. He tottered but did not fall, then came on again. The second shot was to his head, but before the officer could fire again, Mark had jumped forward and chopped him across the wrist with the edge of his hand, so that the gun jumped from his fingers.

"Varken hand!" the man cried, and swung his good fist toward Mark.

Before it could connect, the runner was upon him, hurling him to the ground, kicking him in the head, again and again, with a heavy boot. Mark pulled at the attacker's arm, so that he lost balance and had to stagger back, turning about. The bullet had caught him full in the forehead, leaving a neat, dark hole. There was no blood. He looked stolidly at Mark, his features expressionless, his skin smooth and shiny.

"We must return quickly," Arinix said as he came up. He lowered the muzzle of the machine gun and would have shot the unconscious officer if Mark hadn't pushed the barrel aside.

"You can't kill him, not like that."

"I can. He is dead already."

"Explain that." He held firmly to the barrel. 'That and a lot more."

They struggled in silence for a second, until they were aware of an engine in the distance getting louder and closer. Arinix turned away from the man on the sidewalk and started back down the street. "He called for help on the radio. We must be gone before they arrive."

Gratefully Mark hurried after the other two, happy to run now, run to the door to escape this madness.


<p>3</p>

"A drink of water," Arinix said. Mark dropped onto the metal bench in the brown room and nodded, too exhausted to talk. Arinix had a tray with glasses of water, and he passed one to Mark, who drained it and took a second one. The air was cool here, feeling frigid after the street outside, and with the water, he was soon feeling better. More relaxed, at ease, almost ready to fall asleep. As his chin touched his chest, he jerked awake and jumped to his feet.

"You drugged the water," he said.

"Not a strong drug. Just something to relax you, to remove the tension. You will be better in a moment. You have been through an ordeal."

"I have… and you are going to explain it!"

"In a moment."

"No, now!"

Mark wanted to jump to his feet, to take this strange man by the -throat, to shake the truth from him. But he did nothing. The desire was there, but only in an abstract way. It did not seem important enough to pursue such an energetic chain of events. For the first time he noticed that Arinix had lost his hairpiece during the recent engagement. He was as hairless as an egg, and the same scars that crisscrossed his face also extended over his bare skull. Even this did not seem important enough to comment upon. Awareness struck through,

"Your drug seems to be working."

"The effect is almost instantaneous."

"Where are we?"

"In New York City."

"Yes, I know, but so changed. The water in the streets, those soldiers, and the heat. It can't be January-have we traveled in time?"

"No, it is still January, the same day, month, year it has always been. That cannot be changed, that is immutable."

"But something isn't; something has changed. What is it?"

"You have a very quick mind, you make correct conclusions. You must therefore free this quick mind of all theories of the nature of reality and of existence. There is no heaven, there is no hell, the past is gone forever, the unstoppable future sweeps toward us endlessly. We are fixed forever in the now, the inescapable present of our world line-"

"What is a world line?"

"See… the drug relaxes, but your brain is still lawyer-sharp. You live in a particular present because of what happened in the past. Columbus discovered America, the armies of the North won the Civil War, Einstein stated that E = MC2"

He stopped abruptly, and Mark waited for him to go on, but he did not. Why? Because he was waiting for Mark to finish for him. Mark nodded.

"What you are waiting for is for me to ask if there is a world line where Columbus died in infancy, where the South won, and so forth. Is that what you mean?"

"I do. Now, carry the analogy forward."

"If two or three world lines exist, why, more, any number, an infinity of world lines can exist. Infinitely different, eternally separate." Then he was on his feet, shaking despite the drug. "But they are not separate. We are in a different one right now. There is a different world line beyond that door, down those steps-because the ground here is at a different height. Is that true?"

"Yes."

"But why, how… I mean, what is going on out there, what terrible thing is happening?"

"The sun is in the early stages of a change. It is getting warmer, giving out more radiation, and the polar ice caps are beginning to melt. The sea level has risen, drowning the lowest parts of the city This is midwinter, and you saw how warm it is out there. You can imagine what the tropics are like. There has been a breakdown in government as people fled the drowning shorelines. Others have taken advantage of it. The Union of South Africa has capitalized on the deteriorating conditions, and using mercenary troops, has invaded the North American continent. They met little resistance."

"I don't understand-or rather, I do understand what is happening out there, and I believe you, because I saw it for myself. But what can I do about it? Why did you bring me here?"

"You can do nothing about it. I brought you here because we have discovered by experience that the quickest way that someone can be convinced of the multiplicity of worldliness is by bringing them physically to a different world line."

"It is also the best-and quickest-way to discover if they can accept this fact and not break down before this new awareness."

"You have divined the truth. We are, unfortunately, short of time, so wish to determine as soon as possible if recruits will be able to work with us."

"Who is we?"

"In a moment I will tell you. First, do you accept the idea of the multiplicity of world lines?"

"I'm afraid I must. Outside is an inescapable fact. That is not a stage constructed to confuse me. Those dead men are dead forever. How many world lines are there?"

"An infinite number; it is impossible to know. Some differ greatly, some so slightly that it is impossible to mark the difference. Imagine them, if you will, as close together as cards in a pack. If two-dimensional creatures, cluba and hearts, lived on each card, they would be unaware of the other cards and just as unable to reach them. Continue the analogy, drive a nail through all of the cards. Now the other cards can be reached. My people, the 'we' you asked about, are the ones who can do that. We have reached many world lines. Some we cannot reach-some we dare not reach."

"Why?"

"You ask why-after what you saw out there?" For the first time since they had met, Arinix lost his cold detachment. His single eye blazed with fury, and his fists were clenched as he paced the floor. "You saw the filthy things that happen, the death that comes before the absolute death. You see me, and I am typical of my people, maimed, killed, and scarred by a swollen sun that produces more and more hard radiation every year. We escaped our world line, seeking salvation in other world lines, only to discover the awful and ultimate secret. The rot is beginning, going faster and faster all the time. You saw what the world is like beyond that door. Do you understand what I am saying, do the words make any sense to you?

"The sun is going nova. It is the end."


<p>4</p>

"Water," Arinix called out hoarsely, slumping onto the metal bench, his single eye closed now. The inner door opened, and his companion appeared with a pitcher and refilled the glasses. He moved as smoothly as before and seemed ignorant of the black hole in his forehead.

"He is a Sixim," Arinix said, seeing the direction of Mark's gaze. He drank the water so greedily that it ran down his chin. "They are our helpers; we could not do without them. Not our invention. We borrow what we need. They are machines, fabrications of plastic and metal, though there is artificial flesh of some kind involved in their construction. I do not know the details. Their controlling apparatus is somewhere in the armored chest cavity; they are quite invulnerable."

Mark had to ask the question.

"The sun is going nova, you said. Everywhere, in every time line-in my time line?"

Arinix shook his head a weary no. "Not in every line; that is our only salvation. But in too many of them-and the pace is accelerating steadily. Your line-no, not as far as we know. The solar spectrum does not show the characteristic changes. Your line has enough problems as it is, and is one we use for much-needed supplies. There are few of us, always too few, and so much to be done. We must save whom we can and what we can, do it without telling why or how we operate. It is a great work that does not end, and is a most tiring one. But my people are driven, driven insane with hatred, at times, of that bloated, evil thing in the sky. We have survived for centuries in spite of it, maimed and mutated by the radiation it pours out. It was due to a successful mutation that we escaped even as we have, a man of genius who discovered the door between the world lines. But the unsuccessful outnumber a million to one the successful in mutations, and I will not attempt to describe the suffering in my world. You may think me maimed, but I am one of the lucky ones. We have escaped our world line but found the enemy waiting everywhere. We have tried to fight back. We started less than two hundred years ago, and our enemy started millions of years before us. From it we have learned to be ruthless in the war, and we will go on fighting it until we have done everything possible."

"You want me to do something in that world outside the door?"

"No, not there; they are dead. The destruction is too advanced. We can only watch. Closer to the end, we will save what art we can. Things have been noted. We know a culture by its art, don't we? We know a world that way as well. So many gone without record, so much to do."

He drank greedily at the water, slobbering. Perhaps he was mad, Mark thought, partly mad, at least. Hating the sun,trying to fight it, fighting an endlessly losing battle. But… wasn't it worth it? If lives, people, could be saved, wasn't that worth any price, any sacrifice? In his world line, men worked to save endangered species. Arinix and his people worked to save another species-their own.

"What can I do to help?" Mark asked.

"You must find out what happened to our field agent in one of our biggest operations. He is from your world line, the one we call Einstein because it is one of the very few where atomic energy has been released. He is now on Iroquois, which will begin going nova within the century. It is a strange line, with little technology and retarded by monolithic religions. Europe still lives in the dark ages. The Indians rule in North America, and the Six Nations are the most powerful of all. They are a brave and resourceful people, and we had hoped to use them to settle a desert world-we know of many of those. Imagine, if you can, the Earth where life never began, where the seas are empty, the land a desert of sand and rock. We have seeded many of them, and that is wonder to behold, with animal and plant life. Simple enough to introduce seeds of all kinds, and later, when they have been established, to transfer animals there. Mankind is not as easy to transfer. We had great hopes with the Iroquois, but our agent has been reported missing. I have taken time from my own projects to correct the matter. We used War Department records to find you."

"Who was your agent?"

"A man named Joseph Wing, a Mohawk, a steel worker here in the city in your own line."

"There has always been bad feeling between the Mohawk and other tribes of the nations."

"We know nothing about that, I will try to find his reports,, if any, if that will be of any assistance. The important thing is-will you help us? If you wish more money, you can have all you need. We have an endless supply. There is little geologic difference between many worlds. So we simply record where important minerals are on one world, things such as diamonds and gold, and see that it is mined on another. It is very easy."

Mark was beginning to have some idea of the immensity of the operation these people were engaged in. "Yes, I'll help, I'll do what I can."

"Good. We leave at once. Stay where you are. We go now to a world line that is called Home by some, Hatred by others."

"Your own?"

"Yes. You will perhaps understand a bit more what drives us. All of our geographical transportation is done on Hatred, for all of the original transit stations were set up there. Also, that is all it is really good for." He spat the words from his mouth as though they tasted bad.

Again there was no sensation, no awareness of change, Arinix left the room, returned a few seconds later.

"You wouldn't like to show me how you did that?" Mark asked.

"I would not. It is forbidden, unthinkable. It would be death for you to go through that door. The means of transit between the world lines is one we must keep secret from all other than ourselves. We may be partially or completely insane, but our hatred is of that thing that hangs in the sky above us. We favor no group, no race, no people, no species above the others. But think what would happen if one of your nationalistic or religious groups gained control of the means to move between world lines, think of the destruction that might follow."

"I grasp your meaning but do not agree completely."

"I do not ask you to. All else is open to you; we have no secrets. Only that room is forbidden. Come."

He opened the outer door, and Mark followed him through.

They were inside a cavernous building of some kind. Harsh lights high above sent long shadows from great stacks of containers and boxes. They stepped aside as a rolling platform approached laden with shining cylinders. It was driven by a Sixim, who was identical, other than the hole in the forehead, to the one with them. The door they had just closed behind them opened, and two more Sixim came out and began to carry the cylinders back into the room.

"This way," Arinix said, and led the way through the high stacks to a room where bales of clothing lay heaped on tables. "Go on to repair," he ordered the damaged Sixim that still followed them, then pointed at the gray clothing.

"These are radiation-resistant. We will change."

As bereft of shame as of any other emotion, Arinix stripped off his clothing and pulled on one of the coverall-type outfits. Mark did the same. It was soft but thick and sealed up high on the neck with what appeared to be a magnetic closure. There were heavy boots in an assortment of sizes, and he soon found a pair that fitted. While he did this, Arinix was making a call on a very ordinary-looking phone that was prominently stamped "Western Electric"-they would be surprised if they knew where their apparatus was being used- speaking a language rich in guttural sounds. They left the room by a different exit, into a wide corridor, where transportation was waiting for them. It was a vehicle the size of a large truck, a teardrop shape riding on six large, heavily tired wheels. It was made of metal the same color as their clothing, and appeared to have no windows. However, when they went inside, Mark saw that the solid nose was either transparent or composed of a large viewsereen of some kind. A single driver's seat faced the controls, and a curved, padded bench was fixed to the other three walls. They sat down, Arinix at the controls, and the machine started. There was no vibration or sound of any exhaust; it just surged forward silently at his touch.

"Electric power?" Mark asked.

"I have no idea. The cars run when needed."

Mark admired his singleness of purpose but did not envy him. There was only one thing in the man's life-to run from the solar fire and save what possibly could be saved from the flame. Were all of his'people like this?


<p>5</p>

Strong headlights glared on as they left the corridor and entered what appeared to be a tunnel mouth. The walls were rough and unfinished; only the roadway beneath was smooth, dropping away at a steep angle,

"Where are we going?" Mark asked.

"Under the river, so we can drive on the surface. The island above us-what is the name Einstein-?"

"Manhattan."

"Yes, Manhattan. It is covered by the sea now, which rises almost to the top of the cliffs across the river from it The polar caps melted many years ago here. Life is very harsh, you will see."

The tunnel ahead curved to the right and began to rise sharply. Arinix slowed the vehicle and stopped when a brilliant disk of light became visible ahead. He worked a control, and the scene darkened as though a filter had been slipped into place. Then, with the headlights switched off, he moved forward until the light could be seen as the glaring tunnel mouth, growing larger and brighter, until they were through it and back on the surface once more.

Mark could not look at the sun, or even in its direction, despite the protective filter. It burned like the open mouth of a celestial furnace, spewing out light and heat and radiation onto the world below. Here the plants grew, the only living creatures that could bear the torrent of fire from the sky, that welcomed it. Green on all sides, a jungle of growing, thriving, rising, reaching plants and trees, burgeoning under the caress of the exploding star. The road was the only visible manmade artifact, cutting a wide, straight slash through the wilderness of plant life, straining life that leaned over, grew to its very edge, and sent tendrils and runners across its barren surface. Arinix threw more switches, then rose from the driver's seat.

"It is on automatic control now. We may rest."

He grabbed for support as the car slowed suddenly; ahead, a great tree had crashed across the road, almost blocking it completely. There was a rattle of machinery from the front of the car, and a glow sprang out that rivaled the glare of the sun above. Then they moved again, slowly, and greasy smoke billowed up and was blown away.

'The machine will follow the road and clear it when it must," Arinix said. "A device, a heat generator of some sort, will burn away obstructions. I am told it is a variant of the machine that melted the soil and rock to form this road, a principle discovered while observing the repulsive sun that has caused this all, making heat in the same manner the sun makes heat. We will turn its own strengths back upon it."

He went to the seat in the rear, stretched out on it with his face to the cushions, and appeared to fall instantly asleep, Mark sat in the driver's chair, careful to touch nothing, both fascinated and repelled by the world outside. The car continued unerringly down the center of the road at a high speed, slowing only when it had to burn away obstructions. It must have utilized radar or other sensing devices, for a_ sudden heavy rainstorm did not reduce its speed in the slightest. Visibility was only a few feet in the intense tropical downpour, yet the car moved on, speed unabated. It did slow, but only to burn away obstructions, and smoke and steam obscured all vision. Then the storm stopped, as quickly as it began. Mark watched until he began to yawn, so then, like Arinix, he tried to rest. At first he thought he could not possibly sleep, then realized he had. Darkness had fallen outside, and the car still hurried silently through the night.

It was just before dawn when they reached their destination.

The building was as big as a fortress, which it resembled in more ways than one. Its walls- were high and dark, featureless, streaked with rain. Harsh lights on all sides lit the ground, which was nothing more than sodden ash. Apparently all plant life was burned before it could reach the building and undermine it. The road led directly to a high door that slid open automatically as they approached. Arinix stopped the vehicle a few hundred yards short of the entrance and rose from the controls.

"Come with me. This machine will enter by itself, but we shall walk. There is no solar radiation now, so you may, see my world and know what is in store for all the others."

They stepped out into the damp airlessness of the night. The car pulled away from them, and they were alone. Rivulets of wet ash streaked the road, disappearing in runnels at either side where the waiting plant life leaned close. The air was hot, muggy, hard to breathe, seemingly giving no substance to the lungs. Mark gasped and breathed deeply over and over again,

"Remember," Arinix said, turning away and starting for the entrance, "this is night, midwinter, before dawn, the coolest it will ever be here. Do not come in the summer."

Mark went after him, aware that he was already soaked with sweat, feeling the strength of the enemy in the sky above, which was already touching fire to the eastern horizon. Though he panted with the effort, he ran and staggered into the building and watched as the door ground shut behind him.

"Your work now begins;" Arinix said, leading the way into a now familiar brown room. Mark got his breath back and wiped his streaming face while they made their swift journey to the world line named Iroquois,

"I will leave you here and will return in twenty-four hours-for your report on the situation. We will then decide what must he -done." Arinix opened the outer door and pointed.

"Just a minute-I don't know anything that is happening here. You will have to brief me."

"I know nothing of this operation, other than what I have told you. The Sixim there should have complete records and will tell you what you need to know. Now, leave. I have my own work to do."

There was no point in arguing, Arinix gestured again impatiently, and Mark went through the door, which closed with a ponderous thud behind him. He was in darkness, cold darkness, and he shivered uncontrollably after the heat of the world he had just left.

"Sixim, are you there? Can you turn on some lights?"

There was the sudden flare of a match in answer, and in its light he could see an Indian lighting an ordinary kerosene lamp. He wore thong-wrapped fur leggings and a fringed deerskin jacket. Though his skin was dark, his features were Indo-European; once the lamp was lit, he stood by it, un-moving,

"You are the Sixim," Mark said.

"I am."

"What are you doing here?"

"Awaiting instructions."

These creatures were as literal-minded as computers- which is probably what their brains were. Mark realized he had to be more specific with his questions, but his teeth were chattering with cold, and he was shivering hard, which made it difficult to think.

"How long have you-been waiting?"

"Twelve days, fourteen hours, and-"

"That's precise enough. You have just been sitting here in the dark without heat all that time! Do you have a way of heating this place?"

"Yes."

"Then do it, and quickly… and let me have something to wrap around me before I freeze."

The buffalo-skin robe made a big difference, and while the Sixim lit a fire in a large stone fireplace, Mark looked around at the large room. The walls were of logs, with the bark still on, and the floor bare wide boards. Crates were piled at one end of the room, and a small mound of skins was at the other. Around the fire, it was more domestic, with a table and chairs, cooking pots, and cabinets. Mark pulled a wooden chair close and raised his hands to the crackling blaze. Once the fire was started, the Sixim waited stolidly again for more orders.

By patient questioning Mark extracted all that the machine man seemed to know about the situation. The agent, Joseph Wing, had been staying here and going out to talk to the Oneida. The work he did was unknown to the, Sixim." Wing had gone out and not returned. At the end of forty-eight hours, as instructed, the Sixim had reported him missing. How he had reported, he would not say; obviously there were questions it would not answer.

"You've been a help-but not very much," Mark said, "I'll just have to find out for myself what is going on out there. Did Joseph Wing leave any kind of papers, a diary, notes?"

"No."

"Thanks. Are there any weapons here?"

"In that box Do you wish me to unlock it?"

"I do."

The weapons consisted of about twenty well-worn, obviously surplus M-1 rifles, along with some boxes of ammunition. Mark tried the bolt on one-it worked smoothly- then put the rifle back in the box.

"Lock it up. I'm not looking for trouble, and if I find it, a single gun won't make that much difference. But a peace offering might be in order, particularly food in the middle of winter."

He carried the lantern over to the boxes and quickly found exactly what he needed. A case of large smoked hams. Picking one out, he held the label to the light, "Smithfield Ham," it read, "packed in New Chicago, weight 6.78 kilos." Not from his world line, obviously, but that didn't matter in the slightest.

And he would need warmer clothes, clothes that would be more acceptable here than gray coveralls. There were leggings and jackets-obviously used, from their smell-that would do nicely. He changed quickly in front of the fire, then, knowing it would be harder the longer he waited, tucked the ham under his arm and went to the door and pulled back on the large wooden bolt.

"Lock this behind me, and unlock it only for me."

"Yes."

The door opened onto an unmarked field of snow with a stand of green pines and taller bare-limbed oak trees beyond. Above, in the blue arch of the sky, a small and reasonable winter sun shed more light than heat. There was a path through the trees, and beyond them a thin trickle of smoke was dark against the sky. Mark went in that direction. When he reached the edge of the grove, a tall Indian stepped silently from behind a tree and blocked the path before him. He made no threatening moves, but the stone-headed club hung easily and ready from his hand. Mark stopped and looked at him, saying nothing, hoping he could remember Iroquois after all these years. It was the Indian who broke the silence and spoke first,

"I am called Great Hawk."

"I am called… Little-one-talks." He hadn't spoken that name in years; it was what the old men on the reservation called him when he first spoke their own language. Great Hawk seemed to be easier when he heard the words, for his club sank lower.

"I come in peace," Mark said, and held out the ham.

"Welcome in peace," Great Hawk said, tucking the club into his waist and taking the ham. He sniffed at it appreciatively.

"Have you seen the one named Joseph Wing?" Mark asked.

The ham dropped, half-burying itself silently in the snow; the club was clutched at the ready.

"Are you a friend of his?" Great Hawk asked.

"I have never met him. But I was told I would see him here."

Great Hawk considered this in silence for a long time, looked up as a blue jay flapped by overhead, calling out hoarsely, then examined with apparent great attention the tracks of a rabbit in the snow-through all of this not taking his eyes from Mark for more than a second,. Finally he spoke.

"Joseph Wing came here during the hunter's moon, before the first snow fell. Many said-he had much orenda, for there were strange lights and sounds here during a night, and no one would leave the long house, and in the morning his long house stands as you see it now. There is great orenda here. Then he came and spoke to us and told us many things. He said he would show the warriors a place where there was good hunting. Hunting is bad here, for the people of the Six Nations are many, and some go hungry. He said all these things, and what he showed us made us believe him. Some of us said we would go with him, even though some thought they would never return. Some said that he was Tehoron-hiawakhon, and he did not say it was not the truth. He said to my sister, Deer-runs, that he was indeed Tehoronhiawak-hon. He told her to come with him to his long house. She did not want to go with him. By force he took her to his long house."

Great Hawk stopped talking abruptly and looked attentively at Mark through half-closed eyes-. He did not finish, but the meaning was clear enough. The Oneida would have thought Joseph Wing possessed of much orenda after his sudden appearance, the principle of magic power that was inherent in every body or thing. Some had it more than others. A man who could build a building in a night must have great orenda. So much so that some would consider him to be Te-horonhiawakhon, the hero who watched over them, born of the gods, who lived as a man and who might return as a man. But no hero would take a maiden by force; the Indians were very practical on this point. Anyone who would do that would be killed by the girl's family; that was obvious. Her brother waited for Mark's answer.

"One who does that must die," Mark said. Defending the undoubtedly dead Joseph Wing would accomplish nothing; Mark was learning pragmatism from Arinix.

"He died. Come to the long house."

Great Hawk picked up the ham, turned his back, and led the way through the deep snow.


<p>6</p>

The Oneida warriors sat cross-legged around the fire while the women served them the thin gruel. Hunting must have been bad if this was all they had, for it was more water than anything else, with some pounded acorns and a few scraps of venison. After eating, they smoked, a rank leaf of some kind that was certainly not tobacco. Not until the ceremony was out of the way did they finally touch the topic that concerned them all.

"We have eaten elk," Great Hawk said, puffing at the pipe until his eyes grew red, "This is an elkskin robe I am wearing. They are large, and there is much meat upon them." He passed the pipe to Mark, then reached behind him under a tumbled hide and drew forth a bone, "This is the bone of the leg of an elk, brought to us by someone. We would eat well in winter with elk such as this to hunt."

Mark took it and looked at it as closely as he could in the dim light. It was a bone like any other, as far as he could tell, distinguished only by its great length-at least five feet from end to end. Comparing it with the length of his own femur, he could see that it came from a massive beast. Surely an elk or a cow would be smaller than this. What had this to do with the dead Joseph Wing? He must have brought it. But why, and where did he get it? If only there were some record of what he was supposed to be doing. Hunting, of course-that had to be it; food for these people who appeared too many for the limited hunting grounds. He held up the bone and spoke.

"Was it told to you that you would be able to hunt elk like this?"

There were nods and grunts in answer.

"What was told you?" After a silence, Great Hawk answered.

"Someone said that a hunting party could go to this land that was close by but far away. If hunting was good, a long house would be built for the others to follow. That was what was said."

It was simple enough. A hunting party taken to one of the seeded desert worlds, now stocked with game. If the trip was successful, the rest of the tribe would follow.

"I can also take you hunting in that land," Mark said,

"When will this be?"

"Come to me in the morning, and I will tell you,"

He left before they could ask any more questions. The sun was low on the horizon, sending long purple shadows across the white snow. Backtracking was easy, and the solid log walls of the building a welcome sight. When he was identified, the Sixim let him in. The fire was built even higher now, the large room was almost warmed up. Mark sat by the fire and stretched his hands to it gratefully; the Sixim was statuesque in the shadows,

"Joseph Wing was to take the Indians to another world line. Did you know that?"

"Yes."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"You did not ask."

"I would appreciate it if you would volunteer more information in the future."

"Which information do you wish me to volunteer?"

The Sixim took a lot of getting used to. Mark took the lantern and rummaged through the variety of goods in the boxes and on the loaded shelves. There were ranked bottles of unfamiliar shape and labeling that contained some thing called Kunbula Atashan from someplace that appeared to be named Carthagio-it was hard to read the letters, so he could not be sure, but when he opened one of them, it had a definite odor of strong alcoholic beverage. The flavor was unusual but fortifying, and he poured a mugful before he returned to the fire.

"Do you know whom I must contact to make arrangements for the transfer to the other world line?"

"Yes."

"Who?"

"Me."

It was just that simple. The Sixim would give no details of the operation, but he would operate the mechanism to take them to the correct world and return.

"In the morning, first thing, we'll go have a look."

They left soon after dawn. Mark took one of the rifles and some extra clips of ammunition; that had been a big elk, and he might be lucky enough to bag another. Once more the sensationless transfer was made and the heavy outer door pushed open. For the first time there was no other room or hallway beyond it, just a field of yellowed grass. Mark was astonished.

"But… is it winter? Where is the snow?" Because it was phrased as a question, the Sixim answered him.

"It is winter. But here in Sandstone the climate is warmer, due to the ocean-current differences."

Holding the rifle ready, Mark stepped through the door, which the Sixim closed behind him. Without being ordered, the Sixim locked the door with the long key. For the first time Mark saw the means of world-line transportation not concealed by an outer building. It was a large box, nothing more, constructed of riveted and rusty steel plates. Whatever apparatus powered it was inside, for it was completely featureless. He turned from it to look at the world named Sandstone.

The tall grass was everywhere; it must have been seeded first to stabilize the soil. It had done this, but it would take centuries to soften the bare rock contours of what had once been a worldwide desert. Harsh-edged crags pushed up in the distance where there should have been rounded hills; mounds of tumbled morain rose above the grass. Groves and patches of woods lay scattered about, while on one side a thick forest began and stretched away to the horizon. All of this had a very constructed air to it-and it obviously was. Mark recognized some of the trees; others were strange to him. This planet had been seeded in a hurry, and undoubtedly with a great variety of vegetation. As unusual as it looked now, this made ecological good sense, since complex ecological relationships increased the chance the ecosystem had of surviving. There would certainly be a variety of animal life as well- the large elk the Oneida knew about, and surely others as well. When he moved around the rusty building, he saw just what some of that life might be-and stopped still on the spot. No more than a few hundred yards away, there was a herd of elephants tearing at the leaves on the low trees. Large elephants with elegant swept-back tusks, thickly covered with hair.

"Hairy mammoth!" he said aloud, just as the nearest bull saw him appear and raised his trunk and screamed warning.

"That is correct," the Sixim said.

"Get your key, and let's get out of here," Mark said, backing quickly around the corner. "I don't think a thirty-caliber will make a dent in that thing."

With unhurried, steady motions the Sixim unlocked the door, one lock after another, while the thunder of pounding feet grew louder and closer. Then they were through the door and pushing it shut.

"I think the Oneida will enjoy the hunting," Mark said, grinning wryly, leaning against the thick wall with relief, "Let's go back and get them."

When he opened the outer wooden door in Iroquois, he saw Great Hawk and five other warriors standing patiently in the snow outside. They were dressed warmly, had what must be provision bags slung at their waists, and were armed with long bows and arrows as well as stone clubs and stone skinning knives. They were prepared for a hunting expedition, they knew not where, but they were prepared. When Mark waved them forward, they came at once. The only sign of the tension they must be feeling was in their manner of walking, more like stalking a chase than entering a building. They showed little interest in the outer room-they must have been here before-but were eyeing the heavy metal door with more than casual interest. The deceased Joseph Wing must have told them something about it, but Mark had already decided to ignore this and tell the truth as clearly as they could understand it.

"Through that door is a long house that will bear us to the place where we will hunt. How it will take us there I do not know, for it is beyond my comprehension. But it will take us there as safely as a mother carries a papoose on her back, as safely as a bark canoe carries us over the waters. Are you ready to go?"

"Will you take the noise stick that kills?" Great Hawk asked, pointing with his thumb at the rifle Mark still carried.

"Yes."

"It was one time said that the Oneida would be given noise sticks and taught the manner of their use."

Why not, Mark thought, there were no rules to all this, anything went that would save these people. "Yes, you may have them now if you wish, but I think until you can use them well, your bows will be better weapons."

"That is true. We will have them when we return."

The Sixim pulled the heavy door open, and without being urged, the Indians filed into the brightly lit room beyond. They remained silent but held their weapons ready as the door was closed and the Sixim went through the door to the operating room, only to emerge a moment later.

"The journey is over," Mark said. "Now we hunt."

Only when the outer door was opened onto the grassy sunlit plain did they believe him. They grunted with surprise as they left, calling out in wonder at the strange sights and the warm temperature. Mark looked around nervously, but the herd of mammoth was gone. There were more than enough other things to capture the Indians' attention. They saw animals where he saw only grass and trees and called attention to them with pleased shouts. Yet they were silent instantly when Great Hawk raised his hand for silence, then pointed.

"There, under those trees. It looks like a large pig."

Mark could see nothing in the shadows, but the other

Indians were apparently in agreement, for they were nocking arrows to their bows. When the dark, scuffling shape emerged into the sunlight, they were ready for it, A European boar, far larger than they had ever seen. The boar had never seen men before either; it was not afraid; The arrows whistled; more than one struck home, the boar wheeled about, squealing with pain, and crashed back into the undergrowth. Whooping with pleasure, the Oneida were instantly on its trail.

"Stay inside until we get back," Mark told the Sixim. "I want to be sure we can get back."

He ran swiftly after the others, who had already vanished under the trees. The trail was obvious, marked with the blood of the fleeing animal, well trampled by its pursuers. From ahead there came even louder squealing and shouts that ended in sudden silence. When Mark came up, it was all over; the boar was on its side, dead, its skull crushed in, while the victorious Indians prodded its flanks and hams happily.

The explosion shook the ground at that moment, a long, deep rumbling sound that hammered at their ears. It staggered them, it was so close and loud, frightening them because they did not know what it was. Mark did. He had heard this kind of noise before. He wheeled about and watched the large cloud of greasy black smoke roiling and spreading as it climbed up the sky. It rose from behind the trees in the direction of the building. Then he was running, slamming a cartridge in the chamber of the rifle at the same time, thumbing off the safety.

The scene was a disaster. He stumbled and almost fell as he emerged from beneath the trees.

Where the squat steel building had stood was now only a smoking, flame-licked ruin of torn and twisting plates. On the grass nearby, one leg ripped away and as torn himself, lay the Sixim.

The doorway between the worlds was closed.


<p>7</p>

Mark just stood there, motionless, even after the Indians came up and ranked themselves beside him, calling out in wonder at the devastation. They did not realize yet that they were exiled from their tribe and their own world. The Sixim raised its head and called out hoarsely; Mark ran to it. Much of its imitation flesh was gone, and metal shone through the gaps. Its face had suffered badly as well, but it could still talk.

"What happened?" Mark asked.

"There were strangers in the room, men with guns. This is not allowed. There are orders. I actuated the destruct mechanism and attempted to use the escape device."

Mark looked at the ruin and flames. "There is no way this room can be used again?" -

"No."

"Are there other rooms on this world?"

"One that I know of, perhaps more____________________ "

"One is enough! Where is it?"

"What is the name of your world line?"

"What difference does that make?… All right, it's called Einstein."

"The room is located on an island that is named Manhattan." '

"Of course! The original one I came through. But that must be at least two hundred miles away from here as the crow flies."

But what was two hundred miles as compared to the gap between the worlds? His boots were sound, he was a couple of pounds overweight, but otherwise in good condition. He had companions who were at home in the wilds and knew how to live off the land. If they would come with him… They had little other choice. If he could explain to them what had happened and what they must do…

It was not easy, but the existence of this world led them to believe anything he told them-if not believe it, at least not to doubt it too strongly. In the end they were almost eager to see what this new land had to offer, what other strange animals there were to hunt. While the others butchered and smoked the fresh-killed meat, Mark labored to explain to Great Hawk that they were physically at the same place in the world as the one they had left. The Indian worked hard to understand this but could not, since this was obviously a different place. Mark finally forced him to accept the fact on faith, to operate as if it were true even though he knew it wasn't.

When it came to finding the island of Manhattan, Great Hawk called a conference of all the Indians. They strolled over slowly, grease-smeared and happy, stomachs bulging with fresh meat. Mark could only listen as they explored the geography of New York State, as they knew it and as they had heard of it from others. In the end they agreed on the location of the island, at the mouth of the great river at the ocean nearby the long island. But they knew they could not get there from this place, then went back to their butchery. They fell asleep in the middle of this; it was late afternoon, so he gave up any hope of starting this day. He resigned himself to the delay and was eating some of the roasted meat himself when the Sixim appeared out of the forest. It had shaped a rough crutch from a branch, which it held under its arm as it walked. Arinix had said the creatures were almost indestructible, and it appeared he was right.

Mark questioned the Sixim, but it did not know how to get to Manhattan, nor did it have any knowledge of the geography of this world. When the sun set, Mark stretched out by the fire with the others and slept just as soundly as they did. He was up at first light, and as the sun rose in the east, he squinted at it and realized what he had to do. He would have to lead them out of here. He shook Great Hawk awake,

"We walk east toward the sun," he said, "When we reach the great river, we turn and follow it downstream to the south. Can we do that?" If there were a Hudson River on this world… and if the Indians would follow him,,, Great Hawk looked at him solemnly for a long moment, then sat,up.

"We leave now." He whistled shrilly, and the others stirred.

The Indians enjoyed the outing very much, chattering about the sights along the way and looking with amusement at what was obviously a happy hunting ground. Game was everywhere-creatures they knew and others that were completely strange. There was a herd of great oxlike creatures that resembled the beasts of the cave paintings in Altamira, aurochs perhaps, and they had a glimpse of a great cat stalking them that appeared to have immensely long tusks. A sabertooth tiger? All things were possible on this newly ripening desert world. They walked for five days through this strange landscape before they reached what could only be the Hudson River.

Except that, like the Colorado River, this river had cut an immense gorge through what had formerly been a barren landscape. They crept close to the high cliffs and peered over. There was no possible way to descend.

"South," Mark said, and turned along the edge, and the others followed him.

A day later they reached a spot where a tributary joined the Hudson and where the banks were lower and more graded. In addition, many seeds had been Sown or carried here, and strands of trees lined the shore. It took the Indians less than a day to assemble branches, trunks, and driftwood to make a sizable raft. Using strips of rawhide, they bound this firmly together, loaded their food aboard, then climbed aboard themselves. As the Indians poled and paddled, the clumsy craft left shore, was carried quickly out into the main current, and hurried south. Manhattan would be at the river's mouth.

This part of the trip was the easiest, and far swifter than Mark had realized. The landscape was so different from what he -knew of the valley, with alternate patches of vegetation and desert, that he found it hard to tell where they were. A number of fair-sized streams entered the river from the east, and there was no guarantee that the East River, which cut Manhattan off from the mainland, existed on this world. If it were there he thought it another tributary, for he never saw it. There were other high cliffs, so the Palisades were not that noticeable.

"This water is no good," Great Hawk said. He had scooped up a handful from the river, and he now spat it out. Mark dipped some himself. It was brackish, salty.

"The ocean, tidewater-we're near the mouth of the river! Pull to shore, quickly."

What he had thought was a promontory ahead showed nothing but wide water beyond it, the expanse of New York Harbor. They landed on- what would be the site of Battery Park on the southernmost tip of the island. The Indians worked in silence, unloading the raft, and when Mark started to speak, Great Hawk held his finger to his lips for silence, then leaned close to whisper in his ear.

"Men over this hill, very close. Smell them, smell the fire, they are cooking meat."

"Show me," Mark whispered in return.

He could not move as silently as the Oneida did; they vanished like smoke among the trees. Mark followed as quietly as he could, and a minute later Great Hawk was back to lead him. They crawled the last few yards on their stomachs under the bushes, hearing the sound of mumbled voices. The Indian moved a branch slowly aside, and Mark looked into the clearing.

Three khaki-clad soldiers were gathered around a fire over which a smoking carcass roasted. They had heavy rifles slung across their shoulders. A fourth, a sergeant with upside-down stripes, was stretched out asleep with his wide-brimmed hat over his face.

They spoke quietly in order not to waken him, a strangely familiar language deep in their throats.

It was Dutch-not Dutch, Afrikaans. But what were they doing here?

Mark crawled back to the others, and by the time he had reached them, the answer was clear-too clear, and frightening. But it was the only possibility. He must tell them.

"Those men are soldiers. I know them. Warriors with noise sticks. I think they are the ones who took over the room and destroyed it. They are here, which must mean they have taken over the room here. Without it we cannot return."

"What must we do?" Great Hawk asked. The answer was obvious, but Mark hesitated to say it. He was a lawyer, or had been a lawyer-a man of the law. But what was the law here?

"If we are to return, we will have to kill them, without any noise, then kill or capture the others at the room. If we don't do that, we will be trapped here, cut off from the tribe forever,"

The Indians, who lived by hunting, and were no strangers • to tribal warfare, were far less worried about the killing than was Mark. They conferred briefly, and Great Hawk and three others vanished silently back among the trees. Mark sat, staring.sightlessly at the ground, trying to equate this with his civilized conscience. For a moment he envied the battered Sixim, who stood by his side, unbothered by emotions or worries. An owl called and the remaining Indians stood and called Mark after them.

The clearing was the same, the meat still smoked on the spit, the sergeant's hat was still over his eyes. But an arrow stood out starkly from his side below his arm. The huddled forms of the other soldiers revealed the instant, silent death that had spoken from the forest. With no show of emotion, the Indians cut the valuable arrows free of the corpses, commenting only on the pallid skin of the men, then looted their weapons and supplies. The guns might be useful; the arrows certainly were. Great Hawk was scouting the clearing and found a-to him-clearly marked trail. The sun was behind the trees when they started down it.

The building was not far away. They looked at it from hiding, the now familiar rusted and riveted plates of its walls, the heavy sealed door. Only, this door was gaping open, and the building itself was surrounded by a palisade of thin trees and shrubs. A guard stood at the only gate, and the enclosure wds filled with troops. Mark could see heavy weapons and mortars there.

"It will be hard to kill all of these without being killed ourselves," Great Hawk said…"So we shall not try."


<p>8</p>

The Indians could not be convinced even to consider action. They lay about in the gathering darkness, chewing on the tough slabs of meat, ignoring all of-Mark's arguments. They were as realistic as any animal, and not interested in suicide. A mountain lion attacks a deer, a deer runs from a lion-it never happens the other way around. They would wait here until morning and watch the camp, then decide what to do. But it was obvious that the options did not include an attack. Would it end this way, defeat without battle… and a barren lifetime on a savage planet stretching ahead of them? More barren to Mark, who had a civilized man's imagination and despair. The Indians had no such complications in their lives. They chewed the meat, the matter dismissed and forgotten, and in low whispers discussed the hunting and the animals while darkness fell. Mark sat, silent with despair; the Sixim loomed silent as a tree beside him. The Sixim would follow orders, but the two of them were not going to capture this armed camp. Something might happen-he must make the Indians stay and watch and help him. He doubted if they would.

Something did happen, and far sooner than he had thought. Great Hawk, who had slipped away to watch the building, came back suddenly and waved the others to follow him. They went to the fringe of the trees once more and looked at the activity in the camp with astonishment.

The gate was standing open, and there was no guard upon it.

All of the soldiers had drawn up in a semicircle facing the open door of the building. Fires had been lit near it. All of the heavy weapons had been trained on the opening.

"Don't you see what has happened!" Mark said excitedly. "They may control this building and others like it in other lines, but they cannot possibly control them all. They must be expecting a counterattack. They can do nothing until the attackers appear except wait and be ready. Do you understand-this is our chance! They are not expecting trouble from this flank. Get close in the darkness. Wait. Wait until the attack. Then we take out the machine guns-they are the real danger-sow confusion. Taken from the front and rear at the same time, they cannot win. Sixim, can you fire a rifle? One of these we captured?"

"I can. I have examined their mechanism."

"How is your aim?" It was a foolish question to ask.

"I hit what I aim at, every time."

"Then let us get close and get into positions. This may be our only chance. If we don't do it this time, there will probably be no second chance. Once they know we are out here, the guns will face both ways. Come, we have to get close now."

He moved out toward the enclosure, the Sixim, rifle slung, limping at his side. The Indians stayed where they were. He turned back to them, but they were as solid and unmoving as rock in their silence. Nothing more could be done. This left only the two of them, man and machine man, to do their best.

They were almost too late, While they were still twenty yards' from the palisade, sudden fire erupted from inside the building; the South Africans guns roared in return. Mark ran, drawing ahead of the Sixim, running through the open gate, to fall prone in the darkness near the wall and to control his breathing. To squeeze off his shots carefully.

One gunner fell, then another. Tie Sixim was beside him, firing at target after target with machine regularity. Someone had seen the muzzle blast of their guns, because weapons were turned on them, bullets tearing into the earth beside them, soldiers running toward them. Mark's gun clicked out of battery, empty of cartridges. He tore the empty clip away, struggled to jam in a full one; the soldier was above him.

Falling to one side with an arrow in his chest. Darker shadows moved, just as a solid wave of Sixim erupted through the open doorway.

That was the beginning of the end. As soon as they were among the soldiers, the slaughter began, no mercy, no quarter. Mark called the Indians to him, to the protection of their own battered Sixim, before they were also cut down. The carnage was brief and complete, and when it was over, a familiar one-eyed figure emerged from the building,

"Arinix," Mark called out, and the man turned and came over, "How did all this happen?"

"They were suspicious; they had been watching us for a long time. That officer we did not kill led them to this building." He said it without malice or regret, a statement of fact. Mark had no answer.

"Is this the last of them? Is the way open now?"

"There are more, but they will be eliminated. You see what happens when others attempt to control the way between the worlds?" He started away, then turned back. "Have you solved the problem with the Indians? Will they settle this world?"

"I think so. I would like to stay with them longer, give them what help I can."

"You do not wish to return to Einstein?"

That was a hard one to answer. Back to New York and the pollution and the life as a lawyer. It suddenly seemed a good deal emptier than it had. "I don't know. Perhaps, perhaps not. Let me finish here first."

Arinix turned away instantly and was gone. Mark went to Great Hawk, who sat cross-legged on' the ground and watched the operation with a great deal of interest. '

"Why did you and the others come to help?" Mark asked.

"It seemed too good a fight to miss. Besides, you said you would show us how to use the noise sticks. You could not do that if you were dead."

The smoke from the dying fires rose up in thin veils against the bright stars in the sky above. In his nostrils the air was cold and clean, its purity emphasized by the smell of wood smoke. Somewhere, not too far away, a wolf howled long and mournfully. This world, so recently empty of life, now had it in abundance, and would soon have human settlers as well, Indians of the Six Nations who would be escaping the fire that would destroy their own world. What sort of world would they make of it?

He had the sudden desire to see what would happen here, even to help in the shaping of it. The cramped life of a lawyer in a crowded world was without appeal. He had friends that he would miss, but he knew that new friends waited for him in the multiplicity of worlds he would soon visit. Really, there was no choice.

Arinix was by the open door issuing orders to the attentive Sixim. Mark called out to him.

The decision had really been an easy one.



Judgement Day

by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.

 What if the Universe continues on its peaceful way, but it is our Sun that is somehow destroyed? That would be a "Catastrophe of the Second Class."

 In the prescientific age, it was felt that the Sun was not reliable. In the Norse myths, the Sun and Moon were forever pursued by wolves who might swallow them at any time. In the Greek myths, an unskilled hand at the reins of the solar chariot sent the Sun careening toward the Earth and nearly destroyed it. Science knows better. The Sun is stable-but is it? Do we know enough? Can it destroy us willfully, unpre-dictably ("Judgement Day" by Lloyd Biggie, Jr.)?

 Well, perhaps not willfully, unpredictably-but inevitably. The Sun cannot last forever. In the 1840s, Hermann von Helmholtz worked out the law of conservation of energy, and that in itself, told us the Sun had a finite life and must die ("The Custodian" by William Tenn)-but not for billions of years, we believe.

 The manner of that death has changed since Helmholtz's day. For nearly a century, it was taken for granted that the Sun was, one way or anqther, a huge bonfire that would flicker, die down and cool. It would take longer for the Sun to do so than an ordinary bonfire but it was just as inevitable ("Phoenix" by Clark Ashton Smith).

 By the 1930s, however Hans A. Bethe and Carl von Weizsacker had worked out the details of the nuclear fires of the Sun and it began to seem that our luminary would go out in a deadly blaze rather than a pitiful flicker ("Run from the Fire" by Harry Harrison).


<p>Judgement Day</p> <p>by Lloyd Biggle, Jr.</p>

Lem Dyer was used to being talked about. For years people had thought him a bit touched in the head, or a harmless dreamer, or maybe some kind of soothsayer, and in Glenn Center when folks thought something they said it. Lem never minded.

They were saying other things about Mm that evening, foul, vicious things. Lem heard some of them, spewed up from the crowd that gathered below his cell window. He tilted the battered old chair baek against the cement-block wall and sat there in the dark, puffing slowly on his corncob pipe and only half listening to the arguments, and the coarse shouts, and the jeers. "Shucks," he told himself, "They don't mean nothin' by it."

And after a while he heard the sheriff's booming voice talking to the crowd, telling the men to go home, telling them they had -nothing to worry about, and they might as well leave Lem Dyer alone with his conscience.

"He'll hang at sunrise, just as sure as there'll be a sunrise," Sheriff Harbson said. "Now go on home and get to bed. You don't want to oversleep, do you?"

There was more talk, and then the men drifted away, and things got quiet, The sheriff came back in the jail and barred the front door, and Lem heard him talking to the deputies, allowing that Lem Dyer might or might not be the things people said he was, but he sure was an odd one.

"Going to hang in the morning," the sheriff said, "and he's sitting back there in his cell smoking his pipe just like he always used to do out in his shack, of an evening. To look at him you'd think nothing had happened-or was going to happen."

Lem chuckled softly to himself. The sheriff was a good man. He'd gone out of his way to make Lem comfortable and bring him little things like tobacco and even a drink of whisky now and then. And when Lem had thanked him, he'd said, "Hell, I've got to hang you. Isn't that punishment enough?"

Lem puffed contentedly on his pipe and decided he should do something for the sheriff. But later on, after all this was over with.

He'd wanted to tell the sheriff that there wouldn't be any hanging, and he was wasting a lot of money building that scaffold and getting everything ready. But he couldn't without telling him about the pictures, and the looking and choosing, and he'd never told anyone about that. And perhaps it was just as well that he hadn't told him, because the scaffold was in the pictures.

He'd looked at so many pictures it'd given him a headache, and the scaffold was in all of them, and the people crowding around it, and Lem Dyer dangling by his neck. And then the deputy running out of the jail and shouting, stop, the governor just telephoned, Lem Dyer is granted a reprieve, and the people laughing at Lem hanging there and shouting back, cut him down and reprieve him.

It was nice of the governor, Lem thought, to take such an interest in him, and he'd gone on looking at pictures, trying to find one where the governor telephoned in time. There was one where Sheriff Harbson got sick just as he was leading Lem up to the scaffold, and he lay there on the ground looking terrible, and Lem didn't like that even if it did hold things up until the governor telephoned. And there was a picture where the Glenn Hotel caught on fire, but some people got hurt, and Lem didn't want that. He'd gone on looking, and finally he found a picture where the rope broke, or came untied, and he fell right through the trap to the ground. It took some time to get things ready again, and the deputy came out shouting stop before they got Lem back up on the scaffold. Then the sheriff led Lem back toward the jail, with all the people following along behind. Lem liked that picture, and it was the one he chose.

He knew it wouldn't get him out of jail, and he'd have to look at pictures again. But he wasn't in any hurry. Looking at pictures made him terribly tired, now that he was getting old. He didn't like to do it unless he had to.

That was why he'd gotten into trouble. If he'd looked at pictures he wouldn't have jumped into the river to pull out the little Olmstead girl, and he wouldn't have carried her over to Doc Beasley's house, thinking the doctor might be able to help her, Or he would have made it come out some other way. But he hadn't looked at pictures, and people had started talking about haw maybe it was Lem who killed the little girl, and finally they'd taken him to court and had a trial.

Even then Lem hadn't looked at pictures. He hadn't done anything wrong, and he thought he didn't have anything to worry about. But the jury said he was guilty, and Judge Wilson said he waa to hang by his neck until he was dead, and Ted Emmons, who'd grown up to be a lawyer and was looking after things for Lem,.stopped smiling when he came to see him.

So Lem had looked at pictures again, and now he'd made his choice and everything would be all right.

He got up and fumbled in the dark for his can of tobacco. Suddenly the lights came on in the corridor, and footsteps shuffled in his direction.

"Visitors, Lem," the sheriff called. He stepped into sight, keys jangling, and unlocked the cell door.

Reverend Meyers, of the Glenn Center First Baptist Church, sounded a deep-toned, "Good evening, Lem," gripped his hand, and then backed off into a corner and fussed with his hat. District Attorney Whaley nodded jerkily and tried to grin. He was middle-aged and getting a little fat and bald, but Lem remembered him as a tough kid stoning rats over at the town dump. Lem thought maybe he was feelmg a little proud of the way he talked the jury into finding Lem guilty, but then-that was his job, and the people had elected him to do it.

Mr. Whaley's grin slipped away, leaving him tight-lipped. He cleared his throat noisily and said, "Well, Lem, being as it's the last night, we were-that is, I was-wondering if maybe you had something to get off your chest."

Lem sat down again and tilted back in his chair. He lit his pipe and puffed for a moment before he said slowly, "Why-no. I don't reckon I've got anything on my chest that's botherin' me enough to need getting off, I never went much to church except on Christmas Eve, and that because I liked to watch the kids more than for the religion. The Revern here would say I wasn't a religious man, but I don't think he'd call me bad. I reckon maybe I've shot sne or two deer and caught a few fish out of season, because I needed the meat, and I've bet some on the races at the county fair, but a lot of men do that. I don't think I ever broke any other laws, and I never hurt nobody, and I think maybe I did help a lot of people,"

"I don't think anyone would call you a bad man, Lena," Whaley said. "But even good men make mistakes, and we'd all feel better, and so would you, if you told us about it."

"I told you all I know, Mr. Whaley," Lem said. "I saw the little girl floatin' in the river, and I thought she was drownin'. I didn't know somebody'd choked her. I jumped in and pulled her out, and I remembered that sometimes drowned people could be brought to life but I didn't know how, so I ran to Doc Beasley's with her. I can't tell more than that."

Whaley stopped his pacing to fumble for a cigarette. The sheriff gave him one of his and held a match for him.

"It doesn't worry you, Lem?" Whaley asked. "You're going to hang in the morning. You wouldn't want to die with that on your conscience, would you?"

"It don't worry me none," Lem said. "They don't hang innocent men, do they?"

"Why, no-"

"Then I got nothin' to worry about. I won't hang." He nodded his gray head and smiled peacefully.

Whaley stared at him for a moment. Then he turned abruptly and said over his shoulder, "Good luck, Lem,"

"Why, thank you, Mr. Whaley."

The sheriff followed Whaley out and locked the cell door. "Just holler when you're ready, Reverend," he said.

As their footsteps faded away down the corridor, a wistful grin touched Reverend Meyers's gaunt face. He lowered his long form awkwardly onto Lem's cot. "They're worried some, Lem," he said. "They'd feel a lot better if you up and told them you did it. They're'beginning to think maybe they're hanging an innocent man tomorrow."

"I can't tell them I did it if I didn't, Revern."

"Of course not, Lem. I know you didn't do it. So do quite a few other people. We've been working on it, Lem-working hard. Ted Emmons, and I, and some others. We didn't want to say anything to you because that might have made you start hoping, and we really didn't know if we could help you. We've finally had some luck, and we'think we know who killed the child. Ted Emmons is trying right now to get hold of the governor, to get you a reprieve. All we need is a little more time."

Lem nodded. That explained the telephone call from the governor that would have come too late if he hadn't looked at the pictures and made a choice. But now everything would be all right. He'd get the reprieve, and then they would find the real murderer let Lem out of jail, he wouldn't have to look at pictures again. He felt happy about that, because looking at pictures tired him so.

"Ted was having some trouble getting through to the governor," the Reverend said, "but he'll keep trying all night, if he has to. Just put your trust in God, Lem, and everything will be all right."

"I haven't been worryin', Revern."

"Keep faith with God, Lem. Do you mind if I pray for you?"

"You go right ahead, Revern."

Reverend Meyers bowed his head and spoke softly. Lem didn't listen, but he watched him uneasily. He hadn't put any faith at all in God. He'd put all his faith in his pictures, and the looking and choosing, and it disturbed him to think that maybe God was showing him the pictures and letting him look and choose. He'd never thought of that before. The pictures were just something he'd always had, like ears to hear with, and a mouth to eat with, and eyes, and hands, and legs. But then-God gave out those things, too, or so he'd heard Reverend Meyers say, so maybe God was showing him the pictures.

The Reverend Meyers intoned a soft, "Amen," and Lem said, "I'll have to do some thinkin', Revern,"

"How's that, Lem?"

"What you said-faith in God, and that. I'll have to do some thinkin'."

"I wish you woukL And Lem-it might be that Ted won't reach the governor, or that the governor won't grant the reprieve. If feat should happen, remember that the sheriff, and the district attorney, and the jury, have only done their duty as they saw it. Have charity in your heart for all men, Lem. Think of the Lord Jesus on the cross saying, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'"

"Sure, Revern. I'll remember."

"I'll be with you in the morning, Lem. And the sheriff will let you know right away if there's any good news."

The sheriff came for Reverend Meyers, and a moment later the lights were turned out. Lem sat in the darkness, smoking his pipe and thinking.

He couldn't remember when he'd first started seeing pictures and making choices. He'd never done it very often, even when he was young, because it left him dizzy and kind of sick to his stomach, and sometimes he felt so weak afterward that it scared him. But whenever he wanted something real bad he would sit down somewhere and close his eyes and think about what it was he wanted. The pictures would come, one after the other. It was like slowly flipping through a deck of cards and taking time to look carefully at each one. When he found the picture he wanted he would choose that one, and that's the way things would happen.

The other kids envied him. They said Lem Dyer was the luckiest kid in three counties. He was always getting chances to run errands and do little things for people to earn spending money, but it wasn't luck. It was because of the pictures. If he wanted a stick of candy, all he had to do was find a picture where some lady was leaving Crib's Store with an armful of groceries and looking for someone to help her. He would choose that one and run down to Crib's Store, and whoever it was would come out and give him-a penny to carry her groceries. He was always there when Mr. Jones wanted the sidewalk swept in front of his barber shop, or when Banker Goldman wanted something run over to the post office in a hurry and everyone in the bank was busy. He didn't realize yet that it was his choosing that made people want things done.

He couldn't understand why the other kids didn't look at pictures when they wanted things. He was maybe nine or ten when he and some of his friends were stretched out on the river bank talking, and Stubby Smith went on and on about how much he wanted a bicycle. Lem said, "If you really want one, why don't you get it?"

The kids hooted at him and asked him why he didn't get one. Lem had never thought about getting something big, like a bicycle. He closed his eyes and looked at pictures until he found one where little Lydia Morrow toddled into the street in front of a runaway team, and Lem jumped after her and pulled her back, and Mr. Morrow took Lem right into his hardware store and gave him the bicycle he had in the window.

Lem chose that one. He ran up town and got to Morrow's Hardware Store just as Lydia started into the street, and he was back at the river an hour later with his new bicycle.

For a long time Lem thought the pictures he saw were just pictures of things that were going to happen. He'd been almost grown up before he understood that his choosing a thing made it happen. Before a horse race at the county fair, he could see pictures of every horse in the race winning. If he made a choice, so he could bet on a horse, that horse would always win. He learned in a hurry that it wasn't smart to win all the time, and usually he would bet without even looking at pictures, but he always won enough money at the fair to last him through the winter.

Lem was twelve when his father fell off the barn, and he had to leave school and work the farm. He was only twenty when his mother died, and he rented out the farm and built himself a shack back in the woods, near the river, and that was his home. He loved to hunt and fish, and he loved being outdoors. As he got older a lot of people said it was a shame, a healthy man like him not working, and getting married, and raising a family. But he liked living alone, and he had all the company he ever wanted because all the kids liked to play down by the river, winter and summer. It never cost him much to live, and if he needed anything he could look at pictures and get what he wanted. If he felt like working for a week or two, he could look at pictures and then walk in to town and find a job waiting for him.

He'd had a happy life. He could choose a nice day, if he wanted to go fishing, or snow, if he wanted to do tracking, or rain, if the farmers were having trouble about their crops. When hunting season opened, Lem Dyer always got the first and biggest buck. He never went fishing without coming back with a nice string, And if a man needed help, chances were that Lem could help him.

He'd never told anyone about the pictures, and it bothered him, now that he was sixty-one, to think that maybe it was God who was showing them to him. He wondered if God had wanted him to do something important with them-something big, like stopping wars, or getting the right man elected president, or catching criminals. He knew he could have done all those things, if he'd thought of them. There wasn't anything he couldn't do just by seeing it in a picture and choosing it.

But he never read the papers, and he'd never thought much about the world outside Glenn Center. He was almost too old to start, but he'd think some more about it, after he got out of jail. Maybe he should do something about those Russians so many people were worried about.

The clock on the Methodist Church was striking two when Lem finally went to bed.

The sheriff brought him his breakfast at four o'clock, a big t plate of ham and eggs, and toast, and lots of steaming coffee, Lem could already hear the men arriving out behind the jail, where the scaffold was.

Reverend Meyers came in before Lem finished eating, and his thin face was pale and grim. "Ted is still trying," he said,

Lem nodded. He wanted to tell the Reverend that everything would be all right, so he wouldn't worry, but if he did that he might have to tell him about the pictures. The Reverend was a good man, and Lem was sure he could trust him if he trusted anybody.

He was still thinking about it when he finished his breakfast. He got down on his knees to pray when the Reverend asked him to, and then the sheriff came in and there wasn't time. The sheriff and two deputies took Lem out to the scaffold, with the Reverend following along behind them.

Lem hadn't known that he had so many friends. The crowd filled the whole field and overflowed out into First Avenue. There weren't any women and children, of course, but it looked like every man from miles around had turned out. Lem thought it was nice of them to get up so early in the morning just for him. They waited quietly, not talking much and looking the other way when Lem looked down at them.

The Reverend was talking with the sheriff at the edge of the scaffold, talking fast, and with his hands gesturing urgently. The sheriff kept shrugging and turning his hands palms up and glancing at his watch. A deputy moved Lem over the trap and put the rope around his neck, Lem looked up and smiled a little when he saw it was an old rope.

The sheriff's hands were trembling when he stepped forward. He patted Lem on the back, and the Reverend said a little prayer and whispered, "God bless you, Lem," and out in the crowd Lem saw District Attorney Whaley turn slowly and stand with his eyes on the steeple of the Methodist Church. Then there was nothing under Lem's feet, and he was falling.

The savage jerk blurred his eyes with pain, but he kept falling until he sank to his knees on the ground under the scaffold. The air rocked with noise as everyone started talking and shouting. Sheriff Harbson came down and helped Lem out and stood there white-faced, staring, not able to talk.

"Get a new rope!" someone shouted, and the crowd began to chant, "New rope! New rope!"

"You can't hang a man twice in one day," the Reverend was shouting, and the sheriff found his voice and shouted back, "He has to hang by his neck until dead. That's the law."

Then everyone turned toward the jail, where a deputy was screaming and trying to fight his way through the crowd.

The sheriff, and the deputies, and Reverend Meyers took Lem and started back to the jail with him. It took a long time, because none of the crowd seemed in any hurry to get out of their way. Lem had supposed that the men would be glad to hear about the governor's reprieve, but they weren't. The noise got louder and louder, and they were shouting things like he'd heard in his cell the night before. Lem's pained him, and his ankle hurt from the fall, and he was glad it was over with.

They'd rounded the corner of the jail and started for the entrance, on Main Street, when the roaring fury of the crowd caught up with them and overwhelmed them. The sheriff went down trying to draw his revolver and was trampled. A deputy rushed into the jail and barred the door, and he could be seen through the window excitedly bending over the telephone. The crowd boosted a man up the side of the building to jerk the wires loose. Stones shattered the window and rained into the jail.

Lem was dragged back toward the scaffold, and when a deputy ducked behind it and fired into the air, the crowd turned the other way and dragged him toward Main Street,

"Get a rope!" someone shouted.

"Anyone got a horse? They used to use horses!"

"Don't need no horse. We can use Jake Arnson's truck, Jake, back your truck under that elm tree!"

Jake Arnson ran down the street to his truck. The motor coughed and sputtered and finally caught with a roar, and the truck lurched backward. Jake parked under the elm, cut the motor, and jumped out. A rope snaked up over a tree limb. Lem had been too stunned and horrified to feel the kicks and blows that rained upon him. They hoisted him onto the truck, and he stood there, hands and feet bound, trembling with frustration, while the rope was knotted about his neck.

He told himself he should have waited to see all of the picture. He should have looked at more pictures. But how could he have known that these men he knew so well would use him like this? Now he'd have to look at pictures again. He closed his eyes and forced himself to concentrate.,

The pictures flashed in front of him, one after the other, and in each of them the truck rocked forward and left Lem Dyer dangling by his neck.

Jake was back in his truck, trying to start the motor. The starter whined fretfully. Someone yelled, "Need a push, Jake?"

Lem kept watching the pictures, but finally he knew, with a sickening certainty, that pictures couldn't help him. In all of them the truck moved forward and left him hanging. It had never happened that way before-pictures without any choices.

He shook the perspiration from his eyes and looked about him. The sheriff lay on the sidewalk in front of the jail in a pool of blood. Reverend Meyers lay nearby, his arms moving feebly, one leg bent at a strange angle. Men were hurling stones at the scaffold, where the deputy had taken refuge.

Sadly he looked down at the hate-twisted faces of men he'd thought were his friends. He remembered what the Reverend had told him. Jesus had seen hate like that when they'd nailed him to the cross, and he'd said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Lem said the words to himself, softly. Maybe his old life wasn't worth much to anyone but himself, but it was sad.

The starter whined again, and someone called, "Speech! Can the murderer talk? Let's have a confession!"

A hundred coarse echoes sounded. "Confession! Confession!"

Lem threw his cracked voice out over the mob. "You're evil men-evil! Get down on your knees and pray that God won't punish you!"

They flung back at him wave after stinging wave of hoots of laughter. "You dirty murderer! God won't punish us!"

The Reverend had slumped forward to lie motionless. Doc Beasley had finally managed to push through the crowd and was kneeling beside the sheriff. The faces below Lem blurred and twisted and mortal anger overwhelmed him. "If God won't punish you," he screamed, "I will!"

He closed his eyes and willed the pictures into being. Larger than life, they were, but they moved so slowly, and he had so little time.

A tornado, dragging its swirling funnel along Main Street, relentlessly flattening buildings, crushing their occupants, toppling the Methodist Church steeple onto the jail.,,

"Not enough!" Lem gasped.

A prairie fire, tossed high on gale winds, roaring hungrily down on Glenn Center, driving the populace before it…

"Not enough?"

Fleets of enemy planes darkening the sky, pouring searing death onto even such an insignificant dot on the map as Glenn Center…

"Not enough!"

The summer sun, high and bright at noonday, suddenly bulging crazily, tearing the sky asunder, drenching the countryside in blinding incandescence, charring human vermin, steaming away the rivers, crumbling concrete, boiling the very dust underfoot…

Lem 'chose that one, just as Jake Arnson got his motor started.



 What if the Universe continues on its peaceful way, but it is our Sun that is somehow destroyed? That would be a "Catastrophe of the Second Class."

 In the prescientific age, it was felt that the Sun was not reliable. In the Norse myths, the Sun and Moon were forever pursued by wolves who might swallow them at any time. In the Greek myths, an unskilled hand at the reins of the solar chariot sent the Sun careening toward the Earth and nearly destroyed it. Science knows better. The Sun is stable-but is it? Do we know enough? Can it destroy us willfully, unpre-dictably ("Judgement Day" by Lloyd Biggie, Jr.)?

 Well, perhaps not willfully, unpredictably-but inevitably. The Sun cannot last forever. In the 1840s, Hermann von Helmholtz worked out the law of conservation of energy, and that in itself, told us the Sun had a finite life and must die ("The Custodian" by William Tenn)-but not for billions of years, we believe.

 The manner of that death has changed since Helmholtz's day. For nearly a century, it was taken for granted that the Sun was, one way or anqther, a huge bonfire that would flicker, die down and cool. It would take longer for the Sun to do so than an ordinary bonfire but it was just as inevitable ("Phoenix" by Clark Ashton Smith).

 By the 1930s, however Hans A. Bethe and Carl von Weizsacker had worked out the details of the nuclear fires of the Sun and it began to seem that our luminary would go out in a deadly blaze rather than a pitiful flicker ("Run from the Fire" by Harry Harrison).



The Custodian

by William Tenn

<p>The Custodian</p> <p>by William Tenn</p>

May 9, 2190-Well, I did it! It was close, but fortunately I have a very suspicious nature. My triumph, my fulfillment was almost stolen from me, but I was too clever for them. As a result, I am happy to note in this, my will and testament, I now begin my last year of life.

No, let me be accurate. This last year of life, the year that I will spend in an open tomb, really began at noon today. Then, in the second sub-basement of the Museum of Modern Astronautics, I charged a dial for the third successive time and got a completely negative response.

That meant that I, Piyatil, was the only human being alive on Earth. What a straggle I have had to achieve that distinction!

Well, it's all over now, I'm fairly certain. Just to be on the

Safe side, I'll come down and check the anthropometer every day or so for the next week, but I don't think there's a chance in the universe that I'll get a positive reading. I've had my last, absolutely my final and ultimate battle with the forces of righteousness-and I've won. Left in secure, undisputed possession of my coffin, there's nothing for me to do now but enjoy myself.

And that shouldn't be too hard. After all, I've been planning the pleasures for years!

Still, as I tugged off my suit of berrillit blue and climbed upstairs into the.sunlight, I couldn't help thinking of the others. Gruzeman, Prej'aut, and possibly even Mo-Diki. They'd have been here with me now if only they'd had a shade less academic fervor, a touch more of intelligent realism.

Too bad in a way. And yet it makes my vigil more solemn, more glorious. As I sat down on the marble bench between Rozinski's heroic statues of the Spaceman and Spacewoman, I shrugged and dismissed the memories of Gruzeman, Pre-jaut, and Mo-Diki.

They had failed. I hadn't.

I leaned back, relaxing for the first time in more than a month. My eyes swept over the immense bronze figures towering above me, two pieces of sculpture yearning agonizingly for the stars, and I burst into a chuckle. The absolute incongruity of my hiding place hit me for the first time-imagine, the Museum of Modern Astronautics! Multiplied by the incredible nervous tension, the knuckle-biting fear of the past five days, the chuckle bounced up and down in my throat and became a giggle, then a splutter, and finally a reverberating, chest-heaving laugh that I couldn't stop. It brought all the deer out of the museum park te stand in front of the marble bench where Fiyatil, the last man on Earth, choked and coughed and wheezed and cackled at his senile accomplishment.

I don't know how long the fit might have held me, but a cloud, merely in the course of its regular duties as a summer cloud, happened to slide in front of the sun. That did it. I stopped laughing, as if a connection had been cut, and glanced upward.

The cloud went on, and the sunlight poured down as warmly as ever, but I shivered a bit.

Two pregnant young does came a little closer and stood watching as I massaged my neck. Laughter had given it a crick, "Well, my dears," I said, tossing them a quotation from one of my favorite religions, "it would seem that in the midst of life we are at last truly in death."

They munched at me impassively.

May 11, 2190-I have spent the last two days putting myself and my supplies in order and making plans for the immediate future. Spending a lifetime in sober preparation for the duties of custodianship is one thing. Finding suddenly that you have become the custodian, the last of your sect as well as your race-and yet, peculiarly, the fulfillment of them both-that is quite another thing. I find myself burning with an insane pride. And a moment later, I turn cold with the incredible, the majestic responsibility that I face.

Food will be no problem. In the commissary of this one institution, there are enough packaged meals to keep a man like myself well fed for ten years, let alone twelve months. And wherever I go on the planet, from Museum of Buddhist Antiquities in Tibet to the Panorama of Political History in Sevastopol, I will find a similar plenty,

Of course, packaged meals are packaged meals: somebody else's idea of what my menu should be. Now that the last Affirmer has gone, taking with him his confounded austerity, there is no Idnger any need for me to be a hypocrite. I can at last indulge my taste for luxury and bathe my tongue in gustatory baubles. Unfortunately I grew to manhood under Affirmer domination and the hypocrisies I learned to practice in sixty cringing years have merged with the essential substance of my character. I doubt, therefore, that I will be preparing any meals of fresh food from the ancient recipes.

And then, too, meals of fresh food would involve the death of creatures that are currently alive and enjoying themselves. This seems a bit silly under the circumstances…

Nor did I need to put any of the automatic laundries into operation. Yet I have. Why clean my clothes, I asked myself, when I can discard a tunic the moment it becomes slightly soiled and step into a newly manufactured garment, still stiff in memory of the machine matrix whence it came?

Habit told me why I couldn't. Custodian concepts make it impossible for me to do what an Affirmer in my position would find easiest: shrug out of the tunic on a clear patch of ground and leave it lying behind me like a huge, brightly colored dropping. On the other hand, much Affirmer teaching that my conscious mind has been steadfastly rejecting for decades, I find to my great annoyance, has seeped into the unconscious osmotically. The idea of deliberately destroying anything as functional, if relatively unesthetic, as a dirty Tunic, Male, Warm-Season, Affirmer Ship-Classification No. 2352558.3, appalls me-even against my will.

Over and over again, I tell myself that Affirmer Ship-Classification Numbers now mean nothing to me. Less than nothing. They are as meaningless as cargo symbols on the Ark to the stevedores who loaded it, the day after Noah sailed.

Yet I step into a one-seater flyball for a relaxing tour of the museum grounds and something in my mind says: No. 58184.72, I close my teeth upon a forkful of well-seasoned Luncheon Protein Component and note that I am chewing Ship-Classification Numbers 15762.94 through 15763.01. I even remind myself that it is a category to be brought aboard among the last, and only when the shipboard representative of the Ministry of Survival and Preservation has surrendered his command to the shipboard representative of the Ministry of The Journey.

Not a single Affirmer walks the Earth at the moment. Together with their confounded multiplicity of government bureaus-including the one in which all people professing Custodianism had to be registered, the Ministry of Antiquities and Useless Relics-they are now scattered among a hundred or so planetary systems in the galaxy. But all this seems to matter not a bit to my idiotically retentive mind which goes on quoting texts memorized decades ago for Survival Placement Examinations long since superseded and forgotten by those in authority.

They are so efficient, the Affirmers, so horribly, successfully efficient! As a youngster, I confided to my unfortunately loquacious comrade, Ru-Sat, that I had begun creative painting on canvas in my leisure hours. Immediately, my parents, in collaboration with my recreational adviser, had me volunteered into the local Children's Extra Work for Extra Survival Group, where I was assigned to painting numbers and symbols on packing eases. "Not pleasure but persistence, persistence, persistence will preserve the race of Man," I had to repeat from the Affirmer catechism before I was allowed to sit down to any meal from that time on.

Later, of course, I was old enough to register as a conscientious Custodian. "Please," my father choked at me when

I told him, "don't come around any more. Don't bother us, I'm speaking for the entire family, Fiyatil, including your uncles on your mother's side. You've decided to become a dead man: that's your business now. Just forget you ever had parents and relatives-and let us forget we had a son."

This meant I could free myself from Survival chores by undertaking twice as much work with the microfilm teams that traveled from museum to museum and archaeological site to skyscraper city. But still there were the periodic Survival Placement Exams, which everyone agreed didn't apply to Custodians but insisted we take as a gesture of good will to the society which was allowing us to follow our consciences. Exams which necessitated putting aside a volume entitled Religious Design and Decoration in Temples of the Upper Nile for the dreary, dingy, well-thumbed Ship-Classification Manual and Uniform Cargo Stowage Guide. I had given up the hope of being an artist myself, but those ugly little decimals took up time that I wished to spend contemplating the work of men who had lived in less fanatic and less frenzied centuries.

They still do! So powerful is habit that, now that I have no questions en dehydration to answer ever again, I still find myself doing the logarithmic work necessary to find out where a substance is packed once its water is removed. It is horribly frustrating to be mired after all in an educational system from which I turned completely away!

Of course, the studies I am involved in at the moment probably don't help very much. Yet it is very important for me to pick up enough information from the elementary ed-ueatories in this museum, for example, to insure my not having to worry about the possibility of a flyball breakdown over a jungle area. I'm no technician, no trouble-shooter. I have to learn instead how to choose equipment in good working order and how to start operating it without doing any damage to delicate components.

This technological involvement irritates me. Outside, the abandoned art of 70,000 years beckons-and here I sit, memorizing dull facts about the power plants of worker robots, scrutinizing blueprints of the flyballs' antigrav screws, and acting for all the world like an Affirmer captain trying to win a commendation from the Ministry of The Journey before he blasts off.

Yet it is precisely this attitude that is responsible for my, being here now, instead of sitting disconsolately aboard the

Affirmer scout ship with Mo-Diki, Gruzeman, and Prejaut. While they exulted in their freedom and charged about the planet like creaky old colts, I made for the Museum of Modern Astronautics and learned how to operate and read an an-thropometer and how to activate the berrillit blue. I hated to waste the time, but I couldn't forget how significant to an Affirmer, especially a modern one, is the concept of the sa-credness of human life. They had betrayed us once; they were bound to come back to make certain that the betrayal left no loose ends in the form of Custodians enjoying fulfillment. I was right then, and I know I am right now-but I get so bored with the merely useful!

Speaking of the anthropometer, I had a nasty shock two hours ago. The alarm went off-and stopped. I scurried downstairs to it, shaking out the berrillit blue suit as I ran and hoping desperately that I wouldn't blow myself up in the course of using it a second time.

By the time I got to the machine, it had stopped caterwauling. I charged the all-directional dial over ten times and got no response. Therefore, according to the anthropometer manual, nothing human was moving about anywhere in the entire solar system. I had keyed the machine to myself elec-trocephalographically so that I wouldn't set off the alarm. Yet the alarm had gone off, indisputably recording the presence of humanity other than myself, however temporary its existence had been. It was very puzzling.

My conclusion is that some atmospheric disturbance or faulty connection inside the anthropemeter set the machine off. Or possibly, in my great joy over being left behind a few days ago, I carelessly damaged the apparatus.

I heard the Affirmer scout ship radio the news of the capture of my colleagues to a mother vessel waiting beyond Pluto: I know I'm the sole survivor on Earth.

Besides, if it had been skulking Affirmers who set the alarm off, their own anthropometer would have detected me at the same time, since I had been walking about unprotected by the insulating effect of berrillit blue. The museum would have been surrounded by flyball crews and I'd have been caught almost immediately.

No, I cannot believe I have anything more to fear from Affirmers. They have satisfied themselves with their last-moment return of two days ago, I am positive. Their doctrine would forbid any further returns, since they would be risking their own lives. After all, there are only 363 days left-at most-before the sun goes nova.

May 15,2190-I am deeply disturbed, hi fact, I am frightened. And the worst of it is, I,do not know of what. All I can do now is wait.

Yesterday, I left the Museum of Modern Astronautics for a preliminary tour of the world. I planned to spend two or three weeks hopping about in my flyball before I made any decision about where I would stay for the bulk of my year.

My first error was the choice of a first destination. Italy. It is very possible that, if my little problem had not come up, I would have spent eleven months there before going on with my preliminary survey. The Mediterranean is a dangerous and sticky body of water to anyone who has decided that, his own talents being inadequate or aborted, he may most fittingly spend his life cherishing the masterpieces presented to humanity by other, much more fortunate individuals.

I went to Ferrara first, since the marshy, reclaimed plain outside the city was a major Affirmer launching site. I lingered a little while at one of my favorite buildings, the Palazzo di Diamanti, shaking my head as helplessly as ever at the heavy building stones of which it is constructed and which are cut and faceted like so many enormous jewels. To my mind, the city itself is a jewel, now somewhat dulled, that sparkled madly in the days of the Este court. One little city, one tiny, arrogant court-I would so happily have traded them for the two billion steadfastly boorish Affirmers. Over sixty years of almost unchallenged political control, and did an entire planetful of them produce a single competitor for a Tasso or an Ariosto? And then I realized that at least one native Ferraran would have felt at ease in the world that has_ just departed from me, its last romantic. I remembered that Savonarola had been born in Ferrara…

The plain outside Ferrara also reminded me of the dour Dominican. The launching field, stretching away for quite a few flat miles, was strewn with enough possessions discarded at the last moment, to make a truly towering Bonfire of Vanities.

But what pathetic vanities! Here, a slide rule that some ship's commander had ordered thrown out before takeoff because the last inspection had revealed it to be in excess of what the Ship-Classification Manual listed as the maximum number of slide rules necessary for a vessel of that size. There, a mimeographed collection of tally sheets that had been dropped out of the closing air lock after every last item had been checked off as per regulations-one check before the item by the Ministry of Survival and Preservation, and one check after the item by the Ministry of The Journey, Soiled clothing, somewhat worn implements, empty fuel and food drums lay about on the moist ground. Highly functional articles all, that had somehow come in the course of time to sin against function-and had fallen swiftly from use. And, surprisingly, an occasional doll, not looking very much like a doll, to be sure, buj not looking like anything that had an objective purpose either. Staring about me at the squalid debris dotted so rarely with sentiment, I wondered how many parents had writhed with shame when, despite their carefully repeated admonitions and advance warnings, the last search had discovered something in the recesses of a juvenile tunic that could only be called an old toy-or, worse yet, a keepsake.

I remembered what my recreational adviser had said on that subject, long years ago. "It's not that we believe that children shouldn't have toys, Fiyatil; we just don't want them to become attached to any particular toy. Our race is going to leave this planet that's been its home from the beginning.

We'll be able to take with us only such creatures and objects as are usable to make other creatures and objects which we'll need for sustenance wherever we come down. And because we can't carry more than so much weight in each ship, we'll have to select from among the usable objects those which are essential.

"We won't take anything along because it's pretty, or because a lot of people swear by it, or because a lot of people think they need it. We'll take it along only because nothing else will do an important job so well. That's why I come to your home every month or so to inspect your room, to make certain that your bureau drawers contain only new things, that you're not falling into dangerous habits of sentimentality that can lead only to Custodianism. You've got far too nice a set of folks to turn into that kind of person."

Nonetheless, I chuckled to myself, I had turned into that kind of person. Old Tobletej had been right: the first step on the road to ruin had been bureau drawers crammed with odds and ends of memory. The twig on which had sat the first butterfly I'd ever caught, the net with which I'd caught him, and the first butterfly himself. The wad of paper that a certain twelve-year-old lady had thrown at me. A tattered copy of a real printed book-no facsimile broadcast, this, but something that had once known the kiss of type instead of the hot breath of electrons. The small wooden model of Captain Karma's starship, Man's Hope, which an old spacehand at Lunar Line launching field had given me along with much misinformation…

Those paunchy bureau drawers! How my parents and teachers had tried to teach me neatness and a hatred of possessions! And here was I, now grown into man's estate, smug over my possession of a quantity of artistic masterpieces the like of which no Holy Roman Emperor, no Grand Khan, would have dared to dream about.

I chuckled once more and started looking for the launching site robots. They were scattered about, almost invisible in the unimportant garbage of the spaceship field. After loading the ship, they had simply wandered about until they had run down. I activated them once more and set them to, cleaning the field.

This is something I will do in every one of the two hundred or so launching sites on Earth, and this is the chief reason I have been studying robotics. I want Earth to look as pretty as possible when she dies. I never could be an Affirmer, I am afraid; I form strong attachments.

Feeling as I did, I just couldn't continue on my trip without taking the quickest, the most cursory glance at Florence. Naturally.

But as I should have expected, I got drunk on oils and marble and metal work. Florence was empty of Florentines, but the glorious galleries were still there. I walked across the fine Ponte Vecchio, the only one of the famous Arno bridges to have escaped destruction in the Second World War. I came to Giotto's campanile and the baptistery doors by Ghiberti and I began to feel despair, desperation. I ran to the Church of Santa Croce to see Giotto's frescoes and the Convent of St. Mark's for Fra Angelico. What good was one year, what could I see of evert a single city like this in a bare twelve months? I could view, I could gallop by, but what would I have time to see? I was in the Boboli gardens trying frantically to decide whether to look up Michelangelo's "David" which I'd seen once before, or some Denatello which I hadn't, when the alarms went off.

Beth of them.

The day before I'd left, Fd put together a small anthro-pometer that had originally been developed for locating lost colonists in the Venusian swamps. It was based on an entirely different design than the big machine that I'd found in the Hall of Gadgets. Since the circuits were unlike, and they had been planned for use in entirely different atmospheres, I believed they would serve as excellent checks on each other. I'd set the alarms to the frequency of my flyball communicator and had left the museum fairly confident that the only thing that could make both anthropometers go off would be the presence of a man other than myself.

I flew back to the Museum, feeling very confused. Both pieces of equipment had responded the same way. The.alarm had gone off, indicating the sudden materialization of Man on the planet. Then, when the stimulus had disappeared, both alarms had stopped. No matter how many times I charged the directional dials on each anthropometer, there was not the faintest suspicion of mankind within their extreme range, which is a little under one-half of a light-year.

The initial confusion has given way to a strong feeling of discomfort. Something is very wrong here on Earth, something other than the sun's getting ready to explode in a year. Possibly I have the nontechnician's blind faith in a piece of apparatus which I don't fully understand, but I don't believe that the anthropometers should be acting this way unless something really abnormal is occurring.

It has pleased me to look upon this planet as an oceangoing ship about to sink, and myself as the gallant captain determined to go down with her. Abruptly, I feel as if the ship were beginning to act like a whale.

I know what I must do. I'll move a supply of food down to the Hall of Gadgets and sleep right under the anthropometers. The alarm usually lasts for a minute or two. I can leap to my feet, charge the all-directional dials and get enough of a reading right then to know exactly where the stimulus is coming from. Then I will pop into'my flyball and investigate. It's really very simple.

Only, I don't like it.

May 17, 2190-I feel thoroughly ashamed of myself, as only an old man who has been seeing ghosts in the graveyard should be ashamed. That, in fact, is the only excuse I can make to myself. I have, I suppose, been thinking too much about death recently. The coming extinction of Earth and the solar system; my death which is inevitably involved with it; the death of millions of creatures of uncounted species, the death of proud old cities that Man has reared and occupied for centuries__ Well, perhaps the association with ghosties and beasties and other strange phenomena is understandable. But I was getting frightened.

When the alarms went off again this morning, I got a directional reading. My destination was the Appalachian Mountain region in eastern North America.

The moment I got out of the flyball and took in the pale azure fog covering the cave mouth in front of me, I began to understand-and feel ashamed. Through the fog, which thinned in one place and thickened in others as I watched, I could see several bodies lying on the floor of the cave. Obviously, one of them had to be alive for the anthropometer to have reacted as soon as a patch of berrillit blue got meager enough to make the presence of a human mind detectable. I walked around to the back of the cave and found no exit.

I went back to the Museum in the flyball and returned with the necessary equipment. I deactivated the berrillit blue fog at the entrance and walked inside cautiously.

The interior of the cave, which had evidently been furnished as a domestic and comfortable hideout, was completely wrecked. Somebody had managed to get an activator as well as a quantity of berrillit blue which had not yet been given any particular shape and which, therefore, was about as stable as hydrogen and oxygen-if it is permissible to use a metaphor from chemistry to illustrate negative force-field concepts. The berrillit blue had been activated as a sort of curtain across the mouth of the eave and had blown up immediately. But, since the activator was still operating and the entrance was fairly narrow, it continued to function as a curtain of insulating negative force, a curtain which had holes in it through which one could occasionally "peek" by means of the anthropometer at the people imprisoned inside.

There were three bodies near the entrance, two male and one female, rather youthful-looking. From the quantity and type pf statuary on the walls of the cave, it was easy to deduce that these people had belonged to one of the numerous religious Custodian groups, probably the Fire in the Heavens cult. When, in the last week of the exodus, the Affirmers had denounced the Crohiik Agreement and stated that the Affirmation of Life required that even those who didn't Affirm had to be protected against themselves, these people had evidently taken to the mountains. Evading the subsequent highly effective search, they had managed to stay hidden until the last great vessel left. Then, suspecting as I had that at least one scout ship would return for a final round-up, they had investigated the properties, of the anthropometer and found out about the only insulator, berrillit blue. Unfortunately, they had not found out enough.

Deep in the rear of the cave, a body twisted brokenly to meet me. It was a young woman. My first reaction was absolute astonishment at the fact that she was still alive. The explosion seemed to have smashed her thoroughly below the waist. She had crawled from the cave mouth to the interior where the group had stored most of their food and water. As I teetered, momentarily undecided whether to leave her and get medication and blood plasma from a hospital in the region or to risk moving her immediately, she rolled over on her back.

She had been covering a year-old infant with her body, evidently uncertain when the berrillit might blow again. And somehow, in spite of what must have been tremendous agony, she had been feeding the child.

I bent down and examined the baby. He was quite dirty and covered with his mother's blood, but otherwise unharmed. I picked him up and, in answer to the question in the woman's eyes, I nodded.

"He'll be all right," I said.

She started what may have been a nod in reply and stopped halfway through to die. I examined her carefully and, I will admit, a shade frantically. There was no pulse-no heartbeat.

I took the child back to the Museum and constructed a sort of play pen for him out of empty telescope sections. Then I went back to the cave with three robots and had the people buried. I admit the gesture was superfluous, but it wasn't only a matter of neatness. However fundamental our differences, we were all of Custodian persuasion, generally speaking. It somehow made me feel as if I were snapping my fingers in the face of the entire smug Affirmation to respect Fire-in-Heaven eccentricities in this fashion.

After the robots had completed their work, I placed a piece of the religious statuary (it was remarkably badly done, by the way) at the head of each grave and even said a short prayer, or rather a sermon. I developed the thought that I had suggested approximately a week earlier to some deer- to wit, that in the midst of life we are in death. I did not joke about it, however, but spoke seriously on the subject for several minutes. The robots who were my audience seemed even less excited by the intelligence than the deer had been.

May 21, 2190-I am annoyed. I am very, very annoyed and my great problem at the moment is that I lack an object on which to expend my annoyance.

The child has been an incredible amount of trouble.

I took him to the largest medical museum in the northern hemisphere and had him thoroughly examined by the best pediatric diagnostic machinery, He seems to be in excellent health, which is fortunate for both of us. And his dietary requirements, while not the same as mine, are fairly simple. I got a full tape on the kind of food he needs and, after a few readjustments in the commissary of the Museum of Modern Astronautics, I have arranged for this food to be prepared and delivered to him daily. Unfortunately, he does not seem to regard this arrangement, which took up an inordinate amount of my time, as wholly satisfactory.

For one thing, he will not accept food from the regular robot nursemaid which I have activated for him. This, I suspect, is because of his parents' odd beliefs: he probably has never encountered mechanical affection before. He will only eat when I feed him.

That situation alone is intolerable, but I have found it almost impossible to leave him guarded by the robot nursemaid. Though he does little more than crawl, he manages to do this at surprisingly fast pace and is always disappearing into dark corridors of the museum. Then an alarm is flashed to me and I have to break off my examination of the gigantic palace of the Dalai Lama, the Potala, and come scudding back from Lhasa halfway across the world to the Museum.

Even then it would take us hours to find him-and by "us" I mean every robot at my disposal-if I were not able to resort to the anthropometer. This admirable gadget points out his hiding place very swiftly; and so, pulling him out of the firing chamber of the Space Howitzer in the Hall of Weapons, I return him to his play pen. Then, if I dare, and if it is not time for him to be fed, I may return-briefly-to the Tibetan plateau.

I am at present engaged in constructing a sort of enormous cage for him, with automatic heating and toilet facilities and devices that will screen out undesirable animals, insects, and reptiles. Though this is taking up far too much of my time, it will be an excellent investment, I believe.

I don't know quite what to do about the feeding problem. The only solution I can find in any of the literature on the subject that offers promise is the one about letting him go hungry if he refuses food from normal sources. After a brief experiment, however, in which he seemed cheerfully resigned to starvation, I was forced to give in. I now handle every one of his meals.

The trouble is that I don't know whom to blame. Since I have been a Custodian from early manhood, I failed to see the need to reproduce. I have never been interested even slightly in children. I know very little about them and care less.

I have always felt that my attitude was admirably summed up by Socrates' comments in the Symposium: "Who, upon reflecting on Homer and Hesiod and other such great poets, would not rather have their children than ordinary human ones? Who would not like to emulate them in the creation of children such as theirs, which have preserved their memory and given them everlasting glory?… Many are the temples which have been raised in their honor for the sake of such children as they have had, which were never raised in honor of anyone for the sake of his mortal children."

Unfortunately, we are the only two humans alive on Earth, this child and I. We are going to our doom together; we ride the same round tumbril. And the treasures of the world, which were wholly mine less than a week ago, now belong at least partially to him. I wish we could discuss the matters at issue, not only to arrive at more equitable arrangements, but also for the sheer pleasure of the discussion. I have come to the conclusion that I began this journal out of unconscious terror when I discovered, after the Affirmers left, that I was completely alone.

I find myself getting very wistful for conversation, for ideas other than my own, for opinions against which mine might be measured. Yet according to the literature on the subject, while this child may begin talking any day now, we will be immersed in catastrophe long before he learns to argue with me. I find that sad, however inevitable.

How I wander! The fact is that once again I am being prevented from studying art as I would like". I am an old man and should have no responsibilities; I have all but laid down my life for the privilege of this study. It is extremely vexing.

And conversation. I can just imagine the kind of conversation I might be having with an Affirmer at the moment, were one to have been stranded here with me. What dullness, what single-minded biological idiocy! What crass refusal to look at, let alone admit, the beauty his species has been seventy millennia in the making! The most he might have learned if he is European, say, is a bit about the accepted artists of his culture. What would he know of Chinese paintings, for example, or cave art? Would he be able to understand that in each there were primitive periods followed by eras of lusty development, followed in turn by a consolidation of artistic gains and an increase in formalization, the whole to be rounded off by a decadent, inner-groping epoch which led almost invariably into another primitive and lusty period? That these have occurred again and again in the major cultures so that even the towering genius of a Michelangelo, a Shakespeare, a Beethoven will likely be repeated-in somewhat different terms-in another complete cycle? That there was a Michelangelo, Shakespeare, and Beethoven in each of several different flower periods in ancient Egyptian art? '

How, could an Affirmer understand such concepts when he lacks the basic information necessary to understanding? When their ships departed from the moribund solar system laden only with immediately usable artifacts? When they refused to let their offspring keep childhood treasures for fear of developing sentimentality, so that when they came to colonize Procyon XII there would be no tears for either the world that had died or the puppy that had been left behind?

And yet history plays such incredible jokes on Man! They who ran away from their museums, who kept nothing but a cold microfilm record of what lay in their investment houses of culture, will learn that Man's sentimentality is not to be frustrated. The bleak, efficient ships that brought them to these alien worlds will become museums of the past as they oxidize out of existence on the strange sands. Their cruelly functional lines will become the inspiration for temples and alcoholic tears.

What in the world is happening to me? How I run on! After all, I merely wanted to explain why I was annoyed.

May 29, 2190-I have made several decisions, I don't know if I will be able to implement the most important of them, but I will try. In order, however, to give myself what I need most at the moment-time-I will write much less in this journal, if I write any more at all. I will try very hard to be brief.

To begin with the least important decision: I have named the child Leonardo. Why I chose to name him after a man who, for all of his talents-in fact, because of his talents-I regard as the most spectacular failure in the history of art, I do not know. But Leonardo was a well-rounded man, something which the Affirmers are not-and something which I am beginning to admit I am not.

By the way, the child recognizes his name. He is not yet able to pronounce it, but it is positively miraculous the way he recognizes it. And he makes a sound which is very like mine. In fact, I might say-

Let me go on.

I have decided to attempt an escape from the Earth-with Leonardo. My reasons are many and complex, and I'm not certain that I understand them all, but one thing I do know: I have felt responsibility for a life other than my own and can no longer evade it.

This is not a tardy emergence into Affirmer doctrine, but in a very real sense my own ideas come to judgment. Since I believe in the reality of beauty, especially beauty made with the mind and hands of man, I can follow no other course.

I am an old man and will achieve little with the rest of my life. Leonardo is an infant: he represents raw potential; he might become anything. A song beyond Shakespeare's. A thought above Newton, above Einstein. Or an evil beyond Gilles de Retz, a horror past Hitler.

But the potential should be realized. I think, under my tutelage, it is less likely to be evil and there I have a potential to be realized.

In any case, even if Leonardo represents a zero personally, he may carry the germ-plasm of a Buddha, of a Euripides, of a Preud. And that potential must be realized…

There is a ship. Its name is Man's Hope and it was the first ship to reach the stars, almost a century ago when it had just been discovered that our sun would explode and become a nova in a little less than a hundred years. It was the ship that discovered for Man the heart-quickening fact that other stars have planets and that many of those planets are habitable to him.

It was a long time ago that Captain Karma brought his starship back down on the soil of Earth with the news that escape was possible. That was long before I was born, long before humanity divided unequally into Custodian and Affirmer and long, long before either group were the unwinking fanatics they had become five years ago.

The ship is in the Museum of Modern Astronautics. I know it has been kept in good condition, I also know that twenty years ago, before the Affirmers had developed the position that absolutely nothing might be taken physically from a museum, the ship was equipped with the latest Leugio Drive. The motive was that, if it were needed on Exodus Day, it might make the trip to a star in months instead of the years it had required originally.

The only thing that I do not know is whether I, Fiyatil, the Custodian of Custodians and art critic extraordinary, can learn to run it in the time that Leonardo and I have left.

But as one of my favorite comic characters remarked about the possibility of a man chopping his own head off: a man can try…

There is something else on my mind, even more exciting in a way, but this comes first. I find myself looking at the Sun a good deal these days. And very searchingly, too. Very.

November 11, 2190-1 can do it With the help of two robots which I will modify for the purpose, I can do it. Leonardo and I could leave immediately. But I have my other project to complete.

And this is my other project. I am going to use all the empty space in the ship. It was built originally for different motors and a very large crew, and I am going to use that space as a bureau drawer. Into that bureau drawer I will stuff the keepsakes of humanity, the treasures of its childhood and adolescence-at least as many as I can get in.

For weeks I have been collecting treasures from all over the world. Incredible pottery, breath-taking friezes, glorious statuary, and oil paintings almost beyond counting litter the corridors of the museum. Brueghel is piled on Bosch, Bosch on Durer, I am going to, bring a little of everything to that star toward which I point my ship, a little to show what the real things were like. I am including things like the holograph manuscripts of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Gogol's Dead Souls, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, and holographs of Dickens's tetters and Lincoln's speeches. There are many others, but I cannot take everything. Within responsible limits, I must please myself.

Therefore, I am not taking anything from the Sistine

Chapel ceiling. I have carved out two bits of the "Last Judgment" instead. They are my favorites: the soul that suddenly realizes that it is condemned, and the flayed skin on which Michelangelo painted his own portrait.

The only trouble is that fresco weighs so much! Weight, weight, weight-it is almost all I think about now. Even Leonardo follows me about and says "Weight, weight, weight!" He pronounces nothing else so well.

Still, what should I take of Picasso? A handful of oils, yes, but I must take the "Guernica." And there is more weight.

I have some wonderful Russian copper utensils and some Ming bronze bowls. I have a lime spatula from Eastern New Guinea made of oiled wood that has a delightfully carved handle (it was used in chewing betel nut and lime). I have a wonderful alabaster figure of a cow from ancient Sumer. I have an incredible silver Buddha from northern India. I have some Dahomean brass figures of a grace to shame Egypt and Greece. I have a carved ivory container from Benin, West Africa, showing a thoroughly Fifteenth Century European Christ on the cross. I have the "Venus" of Willendorf, Austria, the figure that was carved in the Aurignacian epoch of the paleolithic and which is part of the artistic tradition of the "Venus" art of prehistoric mankind.

I have miniatures by Hilliard and Holbein, satiric prints by Hogarth, a beautiful Kangra painting of the eighteenth century on paper that shows astonishingly little Mughal influence, Japanese prints by Takamaru and Hiroshige-and where may I stop? How may I choose?

I have pages from the Book of Kells, which is an illuminated hand-executed manuscript of almost unmatched beauty; and I have pages from the Gutenberg Bible, put together in the infancy of printing, which has illuminated pages to give the effect of a hand-copied manuscript, because the printers didn't want their invention discovered. I have a tughra of Sulaiman the Magnificent, a calligraphic emblem that formed headings for his imperial edicts; and I have a Hebrew Scroll of the Law whose calligraphy outshines the jewels which encrust the poles on which it is wound.

I have Coptic textiles of the sixth century and Alencon lace of the sixteenth. I have a magnificent red krater vase from one of Athens' maritime colonies and a wooden figurehead of a minister from a New England frigate. I have a Rubens nude and an Odalisque by Matisse.

In architecture-I am taking the Chinese Compendium of Architecture which I think has never been equaled as a text and a model of a Le Corbusier house built by him. I would love to take one building, the Taj Mahal, but I am taking the pearl that the Mogul gave to her for whom he built the ineffable tomb. It is a reddish pearl, shaped like a pear and about three and a half inches long; shortly after it was buried with her, it turned up in the possession of an Emperor of China who set it on gold leaves and surrounded it with jade and emeralds. At the turn of the nineteenth century, it was sold somewhere in the Near East for a tiny, ridiculous sum and ended in the Louvre.

And a too a small stone fistaxe, the first think known to have been made by human creatures.

All this I have collected near the ship. But I've sorted none of it. And I suddenly remember, I have collected as yet no furniture, no decorated weapons, no etched glass-

I must hurry, hurry!

November 2190-Shortly after I finished the-last entry, I glanced upward. There were green specks on the sun and strange orange streamers seemed to plume out to all points of the compass. Evidently there was not to be a year. These were the symptoms of death that the astronomers had predicted.

So there was an end to my collecting-and my sorting was done in less than a day. The one thing I suddenly found I had to do, when it became obvious that my sections of Michelangelo would be too heavy, was to go to the Sistine Chapel ceiling after all. This time I cat out a relatively tiny thing- the finger of the Creation as it stabs life into Adam. And I decided to take Da Vinci's "La Gioconda," even though his "Beatrice d'Este" is more to my taste: the Mona Lisa's smile belongs to the world.

All posters are represented by one Toulouse-Lautrec. I dropped the "Guernica"; Picasso is represented instead by an oil from his blue period and a single striking ceramic plate. I dropped Harold Paris's "The Eternal Judgment" because of its bulk; all I have of his now is the print Buchenwald #2, "Where Are We Going?" And somehow or other, in my last-minute haste, I seem to have selected a large number of Safavid bottles from Iran of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Let future historians and psychologists puzzle out the reasons for my choices: they are now irrevocable.

We are proceeding toward Alpha Centauri and should arrive in five months. How will we and all our treasures be received, I wonder? I suddenly feel insanely cheerful. I don't think it has anything to do with my rather belated realization that I, who have so little talent and have failed so miserably in the arts, will achieve a place in the history of art like no other man-a kind of esthetic Noah.

No, it is the fact that I am carrying both the future and the past to a rendezvous where they still have a chance to come to terms. A moment ago Leonardo bounced a ball against the visiplate and, looking at it, I observed that old Sol was expanding apoplectically. As I remarked to him then: "I find, to my astonishment, that in the midst of death, I am- at last, at last!-truly in life."



Phoenix

by Clark Ashton Smith

<p>Phoenix</p> <p>by Clark Ashton Smith</p>

Rodis and Hilar had climbed from their natal caverns to the top chamber of the high observatory tower. Pressed close together, for warmth as well as love, they stood at an eastern window looking forth on hills and valleys dim with perennial starlight. They had come up to watch the rising of the sun: that sun which they had never seen except as an orb of blackness, occluding the zodiacal stars in its course from horizon to horizon.

Thus their ancestors had seen it for millenniums. By some freak of cosmic law, unforeseen, and inexplicable to astronomers and physicists, the sun's cooling had been comparatively sudden, and the earth had not suffered the long-drawn complete desiccation of such planets as Mercury and Mars. Rivers, lakes, seas, had frozen solid; and the air itself had congealed, all in a term of years historic rather than geologic. Millions of the earth's inhabitants had perished, trapped by the glacial ice, the centigrade cold. The rest, armed with all the resources of science, had found time to entrench themselves against the cosmic night in a world of ramified caverns, dug by atomic excavators far below the surface,

Here, by the light of artificial orbs, and the heat drawn from the planet's still-molten depths, life went on much as it had done in the outer world. Trees, fruits, grasses, grains, vegetables, were grown in isotope-stimulated soil or hydro-panic gardens, affording food, renewing a breathable atmosphere. Domestic animals were kept; and birds flew; and insects crawled or fluttered. The rays considered necessary for life and health were afforded by the sunbright lamps that shone eternally in all the caverns.

Little of the old science was lost; but, on the other hand, there was now little advance. Existence had become the conserving of a fire menaced by inexorable night. Generation by generation a mysterious sterility had lessened the numbers of the race from millions to a few thousands. As time went on, a similar sterility began to affect animals; and even plants no longer flourished with their first abundance. No biologist could determine the cause with certainty.

Perhaps man, as well as other terrestrial life-forms, was past his prime, and had begun to undergo collectively the inevitable senility that comes to the individual. Or perhaps, having been a surface-dweller throughout most of his evolution, he was inadaptable to the cribbed and prisoned life, the caverned light and air; and was dying slowly from the deprivation of things he had almost forgotten.

Indeed, the world that had once flourished beneath a living sun was little more than a legend now, a tradition preserved by art and literature and history. Its beetling Babelian cities, its fecund hills and plains, were swathed impenetrably in snow and ice and solidified air. No living man had gazed upon it, except from the night-bound towers maintained as observatories.

Still, however, the dreams of men were often lit by primordial memories, in which the sun shone on rippling waters and waving trees and grass. And their waking hours were sometimes touched by an undying nostalgia for the lost earth…

Alarmed by the prospect of racial extinction, the most able and brilliant savants had conceived a project that was seemingly no less desperate than fantastic. The plan, if executed, might lead to failure or even to the planet's destruction. But all the necessary steps had now been taken toward its launching.

It was of this plan that Rodis and Hilar spoke, standing clasped in each other's arms, as they waited for the rising of the dead sun.

"And you must go?" said Rodis, with averted eyes and voice that quavered a little.

"Of course. It is a duty and an honor. I am regarded as the foremost of the younger atomicists. The actual placing and timing of the bombs will devolve largely upon me."

"But-are you sure of success? There are so many risks,. Hilar." The girl shuddered, clasping her lover with convulsive tightness.

"We are not sure of anything," Hilar admitted. "But, granting that our calculations are correct, the multiple charges of fissionable materials, including more than half the solar elements, should start chain-reactions that will restore the sun to its former incandescence. Of course, the explosion may be too sudden and too violent, involving the nearer planets in the formation of a nova. But we do not believe that this will happen-since an explosion of such magnitude would require instant disruption of all the sun's elements. Such disruption should not occur without a starter for each separate atomic structure. Science has never been able to break down all the known elements. If it had been, the earth itself would undoubtedly have suffered destruction in the old atomic wars."

Hilar paused, and his eyes dilated, kindling with a visionary fire.

"How glorious," he went on, "to use for a purpose of cosmic renovation the deadly projectiles designed by our forefathers only to blast and destroy. Stored in sealed caverns, they have not been used since men abandoned the earth's surface so many millenniums ago. Nor have the old spaceships been used either- An interstellar drive was never perfected; and our voyagings were always limited to the other worlds of our own system-none of which was inhabited, or inhabitable. Since the sun's cooling and darkening, there has been no object in visiting any of them. But the ships too were stored away. And the newest and speediest one, powered with anti-gravity magnets, has been made ready for our voyage to the sun."

Rodis listened silently, with an awe that seemed to have subdued her misgivings, while Hilar continued to speak of the tremendous project upon which he, with six other chosen technicians, was about to embark. In the meanwhile, the black sun rose slowly into heavens thronged with the cold ironic blazing of innumerable stare, among which no planet shone. It blotted out the sting of the Scorpion, poised at that hour above the eastern hills. It was smaller but nearer than the igneous orb of history and legend. In its center, like a Cyclopean eye, there burned a single spot of dusky red fire, believed to mark the eruption of some immense volcano amid the measureless and cinder-blackened landscape.

To one standing in the ice-bound valley below the observatory, it would have seemed that the tower's lighted window was a yellow eye that stared back from the dead earth to that crimson eye of the dead sun.

"Soon," said Hilar, "you will climb to this chamber-and see the morning that none has seen for a century of centuries. The thick- ice will thaw from the peaks and valleys, running in streams to re-molten lakes and oceans. The liquefied air will rise in clouds and vapors, touched with the spectrum-tinted splendor of the light. Again, across earth, will blow the winds of the four quarters; and grass and flowers will grow, and trees burgeon from tiny saplings. And man, the dweller in closed caves and abysses, will return to his proper heritage."

"How wonderful it all sounds," murmured Rodis. "But… you will come back to me?"

"I will come back to you… in the sunlight," said Hilar.

The space-vessel Phosphor lay in a huge cavern beneath that region which had once been known as the Atlas Mountains. The cavern's mile-thick roof had been partly blasted away by atomic disintegrators. A great circular shaft slanted upward to the surface, forming a mouth in the mountain-side through which the stars of the Zodiac were visible. The prow of the Phosphor pointed at the stars.

All was now ready for its launching. A score of dignitaries and. savants, looking like strange ungainly monsters in suits and helmets worn against the spatial'cold that had invaded the cavern, were present for the occasion. Hiiar and his six companions had already gone aboard the Phosphor and had closed its air-locks.

Inscrutable and silent behind their metalloid helmets, the watchers waited. There was no ceremony, no speaking or waving of farewells; nothing to indicate that a world's destiny impended on the mission of the vessel.

Like mouths of fire-belching dragons the stern-rockets flared, and the Phosphor, like a wingless bird, soared upward through the great shaft and vanished.

Hilar, gazing through a rear port, saw for a few moments the lamp-bright window of that tower in which he had stood so recently with Rodis. The window was a golden spark that swirled downward in abysses of devouring night-and was extinguished. Behind it, he knew, his beloved stood watching the Phosphor's departure. It was a symbol, he mused… a symbol of life, of memory… of the suns themselves… of all things that flash briefly and fall into oblivion.

But such thoughts, he felt, should be dismissed. They were unworthy of one whom his fellows had appointed as a light-bringer, a Prometheus who should rekindle the dead sun and re-lumine the dark world.

There were no days, only hours of eternal starlight, to measure the time in which they sped outward through the void. The rockets, used for initial propulsion, no longer flamed astern; and the vessel flew in darkness, except for the gleaming Argus eyes of its ports, drawn now by the mighty gravitational drag of the blind sun.

Test-flights had been considered unnecessary for the Phosphor. All its machinery was in perfect condition; and the mechanics involved were simple and easily mastered. None of its crew had ever been in extraterrestrial space before; but all were well-trained in astronomy, mathematics, and the various techniques essential to a voyage between worlds. There were two navigators; one rocket-engineer; and two engineers who would operate the powerful generators, charged with a negative magnetism reverse to that of gravity, with which they hoped to approach, circumnavigate, and eventually depart in safety from an orb enormously heavier than the system's nine planets merged into one. Hilar and his assistant, Hans Joas, completed the personnel. Their sole task was the timing, landing, and distribution of the bombs.

All were descendants of a mixed race with Latin, Semitic, Hamitic and negroid ancestry: a race that had dwelt, before the sun's cooling, in countries south of the Mediterranean, where the former deserts had been rendered fertile by a vast irrigation-system of lakes and canals.

This mixture, after so many centuries of cavern life, had produced a characteristically slender, well-knit type, of short or medium stature and pale olive complexion. The features were often of negroid softness; the general physique marked by a delicacy verging upon decadence.

To an extent surprising, in view of the vast intermediate eras of historic and geographic change, this people had preserved many pre-atomic traditions and even something of the old classic Mediterranean cultures. Their language bore distinct traces of Latin, Greek, Spanish and Arabic.

Remnants of other peoples, those of sub-equatorial Asia and America, had survived the universal glaciation by burrowing underground. Radio communication had been maintained with these peoples till within fairly recent times, and had then ceased. It was believed that they had died out, or had retrograded into savagery, losing the civilization to which they had once attained.

Hour after hour, intervaled only by sleep and eating, the Phosphor sped onward through the black unvarying void. To Hilar, it seemed at times that they flew merely through a darker and vaster cavern whose remote walls were spangled by the stars as if by radiant orbs. He had thought to feel the overwhelming vertigo of unbottomed and undirectioned space. Instead, there was a weird sense of circumscription by the ambient night and emptiness, together with a sense of cyclic repetition, as if all that was happening had happened many times before and must recur often through endless future kalpas.

Had he and his companions gone forth in former cycles to the relighting of former perished suns? Would they go forth again, to rekindle suns that would flame and die in some posterior universe? Had there always been, would ther,e always be, a Rodis who awaited his return?

Of these thoughts he spoke only to Han Joas, who shared something of his innate mysticism and his trend toward cosmic speculation, But mostly the two talked of the mysteries of the atom and its typhonic powers, and discussed the problems with which they would shortly be confronted.

The ship carried several hundred disruption bombs, many of untried potency: the unused heritage of ancient wars that had left chasm scars and lethal radioactive areas, some a thousand miles or more in extent, for the planetary glaciers to cover. There were bombs of iron, calcium, sodium, helium, hydrogen, sulphur, potassium, magnesium, copper, chromium, strontium, barium, zinc elements that had all been anciently revealed in the solar spectrum. Even at the apex of their madness, the warring nations had wisely refrained from employing more than a few such bombs at any one time. Chain-reactions had sometimes been started; but, fortunately, had died out.

Hilar and Han Joas hoped to distribute the bombs at intervals over the sun's entire circumference; preferably in large deposits of the same elements as those of which they were composed. The vessel was equipped with radar apparatus by which the various elements could be detected and located. The bombs would be timed to explode with as much simultaneity as possible. If all went well, the Phosphor would have fulfilled its mission and traveled most of the return distance to earth before the explosions occurred.

It had been conjectured that the sun's interior was composed of still-molten magma, covered by a relatively thin crust: a seething flux of matter that manifested itself in volcanic activities. Only one of the volcanoes was visible from earth to the naked eye; but numerous others had been revealed to telescopic study. Now, as the Phosphor drew near to its destination, these others flamed out on the huge, slowly rotating orb that had darkened a fourth of the ecliptic and had blotted Libra, Scorpio and Sagittarius wholly from view.

For a long time it had seemed to hang above the voyagers. Now, suddenly, as if through some prodigious legerdemain, it lay beneath them: a monstrous, ever-broadening disk of ebon, eyed with fiery craters, veined and spotted and blotched with unknown pallid radioactives. It was like the buckler of some macrocosmic giant of the night, who had entrenched himself in the abyss lying between the worlds.

The Phosphor plunged toward it like a steel splinter drawn by some tremendous lodestone.

Each member of the crew had been trained beforehand for the part he was to play; and everything had been timed with the utmost precision. Sybal and Samac, the engineers of the anti-gravity magnets, began to manipulate the switches that would build up resistance to the solar drag. The generators, bulking to the height of three men, with induction-coils that suggested some colossal Laocoon, could draw from cosmic space a negative force capable of counteracting many earth-gravities. In past ages they had defied easily the pull of Jupiter; and the ship had even coasted as near to the blazing sun as its insulation and refrigeration systems would safely permit. Therefore it seemed reasonable to expect that the voyagers could accomplish their purpose of approaching closely to the darkened globe; of circling it, and pulling away when the disruption-charges had all been planted.

A dull, subsonic vibration, felt rather than heard, began to emanate from the magnets. It shook the vessel, ached in the voyagers' tissues. Intently, with anxiety unbetrayed by their impassive features, they watched the slow, gradual building-up of power shown by gauge-dials on which giant needles crept like horologic hands, registering the reversed gravities one after one, till a drag equivalent to that of fifteen Earths had been neutralized. The clamp of the solar gravitation, drawing them on with projectile-like velocity, crushing them to their seats with relentless increase of weight, was loosened. The needles crept on… more slowly now… to sixteen… to seventeen… and stopped. The Phosphor's fall had been retarded but not arrested. And the switches stood at their last notch.

Sybal spoke, in answer to the unuttered questions of his companions.

"Something is wrong. Perhaps there has been some unforeseen deterioration of the coils, in whose composition strange and complex alloys were used. Some of the elements may have been unstable-or have developed instability through age. Or perhaps there is some interfering unknown force, born of the sun's decay. At any rate, it is impossible to build more power toward the twenty-seven anti-gravities we will require close to the solar surface."

Samac added: "The decelerative jets will increase our resistance to nineteen anti-gravities. It will still be far from enough, even at our present distance."

"How much time have we?" inquired Hilar, turning to the navigators, Calaf and Caramod.

The two conferred and calculated.

"By using the decelerative jets, it will be two hours before we reach the sun," announced Calaf finally,

As if his announcement had been an order, Eibano, the jet-engineer, promptly jerked the levers that fired to full power the reversing rockets banked in the Phosphor's nose and sides. There was a slight further deceleration of their descent, a further lightening of the grievous weight that oppressed them. But the Phosphor still plunged irreversibly sunward.

Hilar and Hah Joas exchanged a glance of understanding and agreement. They rose stiffly from their seats, and moved heavily toward the magazine, occupying fully half the ship's interior, in which the hundreds of disruption-bombs were racked. It was unnecessary to announce their purpose; and no one spoke either in approval or demur.

Hilar opened the magazine's door; and he and Han Joas paused on the threshold, looking back. They saw for the last time the faces of their fellow-voyagers; expressing no other emotion than resignation, vignetted, as it were, on the verge of destruction. Then they entered the magazine, closing its door behind them.

They set to work methodically, moving back to back along a narrow aisle between the racks in which the immense ovoid bombs were piled in strict order according to their respective elements. Because of the various coordinated dials and switches involved, it was a matter of minutes to prepare a single bomb for the explosion. Therefore, Hilar and Han Joas, in the time at their disposal, could do no more than set the timing and detonating mechanism of one bomb of each element. A great chronometer, ticking at the magazine's farther end, enabled them to accomplish this task with precision. The bombs were thus timed to explode simultaneously, detonating the others through chain-reaction, at the moment when the Phosphor should touch the sun's surface.

The solar pull, strengthening as the Phosphor fell to its doom, had now made their movements slow and difficult. It would, they feared, immobilize them before they could finish preparing a second series of bombs for detonation. Laboriously, beneath the burden of a weight already trebled, they made their way to seats that faced a reflector in which the external cosmos was imaged.

It was an awesome and stupendous scene on which they gazed. The sun's globe had broadened vastly, filling the nether heavens. Half-seen, a dim unhorizoned landscape, fitfully lit by the crimson far-sundered flares of volcanoes, by bluish zones and patches of strange radio-active minerals, it deepened beneath them abysmally disclosing mountains that would have made the Himalayas seem like' hillocks, revealing chasms that might have engulfed asteroids and planets.

At the center of this Cyclopean landscape burned the great volcano that had been called Hephaestus by astronomers. It was the same volcano watched by Hilar and Rodis from the observatory window. Tongues of flame a hundred miles in length arose and licked skyward from a crater that seemed the mouth of some ultramundane hell.

Hilar and Han Joas no longer heard the chronometer's portentous ticking, and had no eyes for the watching of its ominous hands. Such watching was needless now: there was nothing more to be done, and nothing before them but eternity. They measured their descent by the broadening of the dim solar plain, the leaping into salience of new mountains, the deepening of new chasms and gulfs in the globe that had now lost all semblance of a sphere.

It was plain now that the Phosphor would fall directly into the flaming and yawning crater of Hephaestus. Faster and faster it plunged, heavier grew the piled chains of gravity that giants could not have lifted-

At the very last, the reflector on which Hilar and Han Joas peered was filled entirely by the tongued volcanic.fires that enveloped the Phosphor,

Then, without eyes to see or ears to apprehend, they were part of the pyre from which the sun, like a Phoenix, was reborn.

Rodis, climbing to the tower, after a period of fitful sleep and troublous dreams, saw from its window the rising of the rekindled orb.

It dazzled her, though its glory was half-dimmed by rainbow-colored mists that fumed from the icy mountain-tops. It was a sight filled with marvel and with portent. Thin rills of downward threading water had already begun to fret the glacial armor on slopes and scarps; and later they would swell to cataracts, laying bare the buried soil and stone. Vapors, that seemed to flow and fluctuate on renascent winds, swam sunward from lakes of congealed air at the valley's bottom. It was a visible resumption of the elemental life and activity so long suspended in hibernal night. Even through the tower's insulating walls, Rodis felt the solar warmth that later would awaken the seeds and spores of plants that had lain dormant for cycles.

Her heart was stirred to wonder by the spectacle. But beneath the wonder was a great numbness and a sadness like unmelting ice. Hilar, she knew, would never return to her- except as a ray of the light, a spark of the vital heat, that he had helped to relumine. For the nonce, there was irony rather than comfort in the memory of his promise; "I will come back to you-in the sunlight."



Run from the Fire

by Harry Harrison

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<p>Run from the Fire</p> <p>by Harry Harrison</p>
<p>1</p>

"You can't go in there!" Heidi shrieked as the office door was suddenly thrown wide.

Mark Greenberg, deep in the tangled convolutions of a legal brief, looked up, startled at the interruption. His secretary came through the doorway, propelled by the two men who held her arms. Mark dropped the thick sheaf of papers, picked up the phone, and dialed the police.

"I want three minutes of your time," one of the men said, stepping forward. "Your girl would not let us in. It is important. I will pay. One hundred dollars a minute. Here is the money."

The bank notes were placed on the blotter, and the man stepped back. Mark finished dialing. The money was real enough. They released Heidi, who pushed their hands away. Beyond her was the empty outer office; there were no witnesses to the sudden intruders. The phone rang in his ears; then a deep voice spoke

"Police Department, Sergeant Vega."

Mark hung up the phone.

"Things have been very quiet around here. You have three minutes. There will also be a hundred-dollar fee for molesting my secretary."

If he had meant it as a joke, it was not taken that way. The man who had paid the money took another bill from the pocket of his dark suit and handed it to a startled Heidi, then waited in silence until she took it and left. They were a strange pair, Mark realized. The paymaster was draped in a rusty black suit, had a black patch over his right eye, and wore black gloves as well. A victim of some accident or other, for his face and neck were scarred, and one ear was missing. When he turned back, Mark realized that his hair was really a badly fitting wig. The remaining eye, lashless and browless, glared at him redly from its deepset socket, Mark glanced away from the burning stare to look at the other man, who seemed commonplace in every way. His akin had a shiny, waxy look; other than that and his unusual rigidity, he seemed normal enough.

"My name is Arinix, your name is Mark Greenberg," The scarred man bent over the card in his hand, reading quickly in a hoarse, emotionless voice. "You served in the United States Army as a captain in the adjutant general's office and as a military police officer. Is that correct?"

"Yes, but-"

The voice ground on, ignoring his interruption. "You were born in the state of Alabama and grew up in the city of Oneida, New York. You speak the language of the Iroquois, but you are not an Indian. Is that true?"

"It's pretty obvious. Is there any point to this questioning?"

"Yes. I paid for it. How is it that you speak this language?" He peered closely at the card as though looking for an answer that was not there.

"Simple enough. My father's store was right next to the Oneida reservation. Most of his customers were Indians, and I went to school with them. We were the only Jewish family in town, and they didn't seem to mind this, the way our Polish Catholic neighbors did. So we were friends; in minorities there is strength, you might say-"

"That is enough."

Arinix drew some crumpled bills from his side pocket, looked at them, and shoved them back. "Money," he said, turning to his silent companion. This man had a curious lizardlike quality for only his arm moved; the rest of his body was still, and his face fixed and-expressionless, as he took a thick bundle of bills from his side pocket and handed it over.

Arinix looked at it, top and bottom, then dropped it onto the desk.

"There is ten thousand dollars here. This is a fee for three days' work. I wish you to aid me. You will have to speak the Iroquois language. I can tell you no more."

"I'm afraid you will have to, Mr. Arinix. Or don't bother, it is the same to me. I am involved in a number of cases at the moment, and it would be difficult to take off the time. The offer is interesting, but I might lose that much in missed fees, Since your three minutes are up, I suggest you leave."

"Money," Arinix said again, receiving more and more bundies from his assistant, dropping them on Mark's desk. "Fifty thousand dollars. Good pay for three days. Now, come with us."

It was the man's calm arrogance that angered Mark, the complete lack of emotion, or even interest, in the large sums he was passing over.

"That's enough. Do you think money can buy everything?"

"Yes."

The answer was so sudden and humorless that Mark had to smile. "Well, you probably are right. If you keep raising the ante long enough, I suppose you will eventually reach a point where you can get anyone to listen. Would you pay me more than this?"

"Yes. How much?"

"You have enough here. Maybe Fm afraid to find out how high you will go. For a figure like this, I can take off three days. But you will have to tell me what is going to happen." Mark was intrigued, as much by the strange pair as by the money they offered.

"That is impossible. But I can tell you that within two hours you will know what you are to do. At that time you may refuse, and you will still keep the money. Is it agreed?"

A lawyer who is a bachelor tends to take on more cases than do his married associates-who like to see their families once in a while. Mark had a lot of work and a lot of money, far more than he had time to spend. It was the novelty of this encounter, not the unusual fee, that attracted him. And the memory of a solid two years of work without a single vacation. The combination proved irresistible.

"Agreed- Heidi," he called out, then handed her the money when she came into the office. "Deposit this in the number-two special account and then go home. A paid holiday. I'll see you on Monday."

She looked down at the thick bundle of bills, then up at the strangers as they waited while Mark took his overcoat from the closet. The three of them left together, and the door closed. That was the last time that she or anyone else ever saw Mark Greenberg.


<p>2</p>

It was a sunny January day, but an arctic wind that cut to the bone was blowing up from the direction of the Battery. As they walked west, it caught them at every cross street, wailing around the building corners. Although they wore only suit jackets, neither of the strange men seemed to notice it. Nor were they much on conversation. In cold and silent discomfort they walked west, a few blocks short of the river, where they entered an old warehouse building. The street door was unlocked, but Arinix now secured it behind them with a heavy bolt, then turned to the inner door at the end of the hall. It appeared to be made of thick steel plates riveted together like a ship's hull, and had a lock in each corner. Arinix took an unusual key from his pocket. It was made of dull, ridged metal, as thick as his finger and as long as a pencil. He inserted this in each of the four locks, giving it a sharp twist each time before removing it. When he was done, he stepped away, and his companion put his shoulder against the door and pushed hard. After a moment it slowly gave way and reluctantly swung open. Arinix waved Mark on, and he followed them into the room beyond.

It was completely commonplace. Walls, ceilings, and floor were painted the same drab tone of brown. Lighting came from a translucent strip in the ceiling; a metal bench was fixed to the far wall next to another door.

"Wait here," Arinix said, theo went out through the door.

The other man was a silent, unmoving presence. Mark looked at the bench, wondering if he should sit down, wondering too if he had been wise to get involved in this, when the door opened and Arinix returned.

"Here is what you must do" he said. "You will go out of here and will note this address, and then walk about the city. Return here at the end of an hour."

"No special place to go, nothing to do? Just walk around?"

"That is correct."

He pulled the heavy outer door open as he spoke, then led the way through it, down the three steps, and back along the hall. Mark followed him, then wheeled about and pointed back.

"These steps! They weren't there when we came in-no steps, I'll swear to it."

"One hour, no more, I will hold your topcoat here until you return."

Warm air rushed in, bright sunlight burned on the stained sidewalk outside. The wind still blew, though not as strongly, but now it was as hot as from an oven door. Mark hesitated on the doorstep, sweat already on his face, taking off the heavy coat.

"I don't understand. You must tell me what-"

Arinix took the coat, then pushed him suddenly in the back. He stumbled forward, gained his balance instantly, and turned just as the door slammed shut and the bolt ground into place. He pushed, but it did not move. He knew that calling out would be a waste of time. Instead, he turned, eyes slitted against the glare, and stared out at the suddenly changed world.

The street was empty, no cars passed, no pedestrians were on the sidewalk. When he stepped out of the shadowed doorway, the sun smote him like a golden fist. He took his jacket off and hung it over his arm, and then his necktie, but he still ran with sweat. The office buildings stared blank-eyed from their tiered windows; the gray factories were silent, Mark looked about numbly, trying to understand what had happened, trying to make sense of the unbelievable situation. Five minutes ago it had been midwinter, with the icy streets filled with hurrying people. Now it was… what?

In the distance the humming, rising drone of an engine could be heard, getting louder, going along a nearby street. He hurried to the corner and reached it just in time to see the car roar across the intersection a block away. It was just that, a car, and it had been going too fast for him to see who was in it. He jumped back at a sudden shrill scream, almost at his feet, and a large seagull hurled itself into the air and flapped away. It had been tearing at a man's body that lay crumpled in the gutter. Mark had seen enough corpses in Korea to recognize another one, to remember the never-forgotten smell of corrupted flesh. How was it possible for the corpse to remain here so long, days at least? What had happened to the city?

There was a growing knot of unreasoned panic rising within him, urging him to run, scream, escape. He fought it down and turned deliberately and started back toward the room where Arinix was waiting. He would spend the'rest of the hour waiting for that door to open, hoping he would have the control to prevent himself from beating upon it. Something had happened, to him or the world, he did not know which, but he did know that the only hope of salvation from the incredible events of the morning lay beyond that door. Screaming unreason wanted him to run; he walked slowly, noticing for the first time that the street he was walking down ended in the water. The buildings on each side sank into it as well, and there, at the" foot of the street, was the roof of a drowned wharf. All this seemed no more incredible than anything that had happened before, and he tried to ignore it. He fought so hard to close his mind and his thoughts that he did not hear the rumble of the truck motor or the squeal of brakes behind him.

"That man! What are you doing here?"

Mark spun about. A dusty, open-bodied truck had stopped at the curb, and a thin blond soldier was swinging down from the cab. He wore a khaki uniform without identifying marks and kept his hand near the large pistol in a polished leather holster that swung from his belt. The driver was watching him, as were three more uniformed men in the back of the truck, who were pointing heavy rifles in his direction. The driver and the soldiers were all black. The blond officer had drawn his pistol and was pointing it at Mark as well.

"Are you with the westenders? You know what happens to them, don't you?"

Sudden loud firing boomed in the street, and thinking he was being shot at, Mark dropped back against the wall. But no shots were aimed, in his direction. Even as they were turning, the soldiers in the truck dropped, felled by the bullets. Then the truck itself leaped and burst into flames as a grenade exploded. The officer had wheeled about and dropped to one knee and was firing his pistol at Arinix, who was sheltered in a doorway across the street, changing clips on the submachine gun he carried.

Running footsteps sounded, and the officer wheeled to face Arinix's companion, who was running rapidly toward him, empty-handed and cold-faced.

"Watch out!" Mark called as the officer fired.

The bullet caught the running man in the chest, spinning him about. He tottered but did not fall, then came on again. The second shot was to his head, but before the officer could fire again, Mark had jumped forward and chopped him across the wrist with the edge of his hand, so that the gun jumped from his fingers.

"Varken hand!" the man cried, and swung his good fist toward Mark.

Before it could connect, the runner was upon him, hurling him to the ground, kicking him in the head, again and again, with a heavy boot. Mark pulled at the attacker's arm, so that he lost balance and had to stagger back, turning about. The bullet had caught him full in the forehead, leaving a neat, dark hole. There was no blood. He looked stolidly at Mark, his features expressionless, his skin smooth and shiny.

"We must return quickly," Arinix said as he came up. He lowered the muzzle of the machine gun and would have shot the unconscious officer if Mark hadn't pushed the barrel aside.

"You can't kill him, not like that."

"I can. He is dead already."

"Explain that." He held firmly to the barrel. 'That and a lot more."

They struggled in silence for a second, until they were aware of an engine in the distance getting louder and closer. Arinix turned away from the man on the sidewalk and started back down the street. "He called for help on the radio. We must be gone before they arrive."

Gratefully Mark hurried after the other two, happy to run now, run to the door to escape this madness.


<p>3</p>

"A drink of water," Arinix said. Mark dropped onto the metal bench in the brown room and nodded, too exhausted to talk. Arinix had a tray with glasses of water, and he passed one to Mark, who drained it and took a second one. The air was cool here, feeling frigid after the street outside, and with the water, he was soon feeling better. More relaxed, at ease, almost ready to fall asleep. As his chin touched his chest, he jerked awake and jumped to his feet.

"You drugged the water," he said.

"Not a strong drug. Just something to relax you, to remove the tension. You will be better in a moment. You have been through an ordeal."

"I have… and you are going to explain it!"

"In a moment."

"No, now!"

Mark wanted to jump to his feet, to take this strange man by the -throat, to shake the truth from him. But he did nothing. The desire was there, but only in an abstract way. It did not seem important enough to pursue such an energetic chain of events. For the first time he noticed that Arinix had lost his hairpiece during the recent engagement. He was as hairless as an egg, and the same scars that crisscrossed his face also extended over his bare skull. Even this did not seem important enough to comment upon. Awareness struck through,

"Your drug seems to be working."

"The effect is almost instantaneous."

"Where are we?"

"In New York City."

"Yes, I know, but so changed. The water in the streets, those soldiers, and the heat. It can't be January-have we traveled in time?"

"No, it is still January, the same day, month, year it has always been. That cannot be changed, that is immutable."

"But something isn't; something has changed. What is it?"

"You have a very quick mind, you make correct conclusions. You must therefore free this quick mind of all theories of the nature of reality and of existence. There is no heaven, there is no hell, the past is gone forever, the unstoppable future sweeps toward us endlessly. We are fixed forever in the now, the inescapable present of our world line-"

"What is a world line?"

"See… the drug relaxes, but your brain is still lawyer-sharp. You live in a particular present because of what happened in the past. Columbus discovered America, the armies of the North won the Civil War, Einstein stated that E = MC2"

He stopped abruptly, and Mark waited for him to go on, but he did not. Why? Because he was waiting for Mark to finish for him. Mark nodded.

"What you are waiting for is for me to ask if there is a world line where Columbus died in infancy, where the South won, and so forth. Is that what you mean?"

"I do. Now, carry the analogy forward."

"If two or three world lines exist, why, more, any number, an infinity of world lines can exist. Infinitely different, eternally separate." Then he was on his feet, shaking despite the drug. "But they are not separate. We are in a different one right now. There is a different world line beyond that door, down those steps-because the ground here is at a different height. Is that true?"

"Yes."

"But why, how… I mean, what is going on out there, what terrible thing is happening?"

"The sun is in the early stages of a change. It is getting warmer, giving out more radiation, and the polar ice caps are beginning to melt. The sea level has risen, drowning the lowest parts of the city This is midwinter, and you saw how warm it is out there. You can imagine what the tropics are like. There has been a breakdown in government as people fled the drowning shorelines. Others have taken advantage of it. The Union of South Africa has capitalized on the deteriorating conditions, and using mercenary troops, has invaded the North American continent. They met little resistance."

"I don't understand-or rather, I do understand what is happening out there, and I believe you, because I saw it for myself. But what can I do about it? Why did you bring me here?"

"You can do nothing about it. I brought you here because we have discovered by experience that the quickest way that someone can be convinced of the multiplicity of worldliness is by bringing them physically to a different world line."

"It is also the best-and quickest-way to discover if they can accept this fact and not break down before this new awareness."

"You have divined the truth. We are, unfortunately, short of time, so wish to determine as soon as possible if recruits will be able to work with us."

"Who is we?"

"In a moment I will tell you. First, do you accept the idea of the multiplicity of world lines?"

"I'm afraid I must. Outside is an inescapable fact. That is not a stage constructed to confuse me. Those dead men are dead forever. How many world lines are there?"

"An infinite number; it is impossible to know. Some differ greatly, some so slightly that it is impossible to mark the difference. Imagine them, if you will, as close together as cards in a pack. If two-dimensional creatures, cluba and hearts, lived on each card, they would be unaware of the other cards and just as unable to reach them. Continue the analogy, drive a nail through all of the cards. Now the other cards can be reached. My people, the 'we' you asked about, are the ones who can do that. We have reached many world lines. Some we cannot reach-some we dare not reach."

"Why?"

"You ask why-after what you saw out there?" For the first time since they had met, Arinix lost his cold detachment. His single eye blazed with fury, and his fists were clenched as he paced the floor. "You saw the filthy things that happen, the death that comes before the absolute death. You see me, and I am typical of my people, maimed, killed, and scarred by a swollen sun that produces more and more hard radiation every year. We escaped our world line, seeking salvation in other world lines, only to discover the awful and ultimate secret. The rot is beginning, going faster and faster all the time. You saw what the world is like beyond that door. Do you understand what I am saying, do the words make any sense to you?

"The sun is going nova. It is the end."


<p>4</p>

"Water," Arinix called out hoarsely, slumping onto the metal bench, his single eye closed now. The inner door opened, and his companion appeared with a pitcher and refilled the glasses. He moved as smoothly as before and seemed ignorant of the black hole in his forehead.

"He is a Sixim," Arinix said, seeing the direction of Mark's gaze. He drank the water so greedily that it ran down his chin. "They are our helpers; we could not do without them. Not our invention. We borrow what we need. They are machines, fabrications of plastic and metal, though there is artificial flesh of some kind involved in their construction. I do not know the details. Their controlling apparatus is somewhere in the armored chest cavity; they are quite invulnerable."

Mark had to ask the question.

"The sun is going nova, you said. Everywhere, in every time line-in my time line?"

Arinix shook his head a weary no. "Not in every line; that is our only salvation. But in too many of them-and the pace is accelerating steadily. Your line-no, not as far as we know. The solar spectrum does not show the characteristic changes. Your line has enough problems as it is, and is one we use for much-needed supplies. There are few of us, always too few, and so much to be done. We must save whom we can and what we can, do it without telling why or how we operate. It is a great work that does not end, and is a most tiring one. But my people are driven, driven insane with hatred, at times, of that bloated, evil thing in the sky. We have survived for centuries in spite of it, maimed and mutated by the radiation it pours out. It was due to a successful mutation that we escaped even as we have, a man of genius who discovered the door between the world lines. But the unsuccessful outnumber a million to one the successful in mutations, and I will not attempt to describe the suffering in my world. You may think me maimed, but I am one of the lucky ones. We have escaped our world line but found the enemy waiting everywhere. We have tried to fight back. We started less than two hundred years ago, and our enemy started millions of years before us. From it we have learned to be ruthless in the war, and we will go on fighting it until we have done everything possible."

"You want me to do something in that world outside the door?"

"No, not there; they are dead. The destruction is too advanced. We can only watch. Closer to the end, we will save what art we can. Things have been noted. We know a culture by its art, don't we? We know a world that way as well. So many gone without record, so much to do."

He drank greedily at the water, slobbering. Perhaps he was mad, Mark thought, partly mad, at least. Hating the sun,trying to fight it, fighting an endlessly losing battle. But… wasn't it worth it? If lives, people, could be saved, wasn't that worth any price, any sacrifice? In his world line, men worked to save endangered species. Arinix and his people worked to save another species-their own.

"What can I do to help?" Mark asked.

"You must find out what happened to our field agent in one of our biggest operations. He is from your world line, the one we call Einstein because it is one of the very few where atomic energy has been released. He is now on Iroquois, which will begin going nova within the century. It is a strange line, with little technology and retarded by monolithic religions. Europe still lives in the dark ages. The Indians rule in North America, and the Six Nations are the most powerful of all. They are a brave and resourceful people, and we had hoped to use them to settle a desert world-we know of many of those. Imagine, if you can, the Earth where life never began, where the seas are empty, the land a desert of sand and rock. We have seeded many of them, and that is wonder to behold, with animal and plant life. Simple enough to introduce seeds of all kinds, and later, when they have been established, to transfer animals there. Mankind is not as easy to transfer. We had great hopes with the Iroquois, but our agent has been reported missing. I have taken time from my own projects to correct the matter. We used War Department records to find you."

"Who was your agent?"

"A man named Joseph Wing, a Mohawk, a steel worker here in the city in your own line."

"There has always been bad feeling between the Mohawk and other tribes of the nations."

"We know nothing about that, I will try to find his reports,, if any, if that will be of any assistance. The important thing is-will you help us? If you wish more money, you can have all you need. We have an endless supply. There is little geologic difference between many worlds. So we simply record where important minerals are on one world, things such as diamonds and gold, and see that it is mined on another. It is very easy."

Mark was beginning to have some idea of the immensity of the operation these people were engaged in. "Yes, I'll help, I'll do what I can."

"Good. We leave at once. Stay where you are. We go now to a world line that is called Home by some, Hatred by others."

"Your own?"

"Yes. You will perhaps understand a bit more what drives us. All of our geographical transportation is done on Hatred, for all of the original transit stations were set up there. Also, that is all it is really good for." He spat the words from his mouth as though they tasted bad.

Again there was no sensation, no awareness of change, Arinix left the room, returned a few seconds later.

"You wouldn't like to show me how you did that?" Mark asked.

"I would not. It is forbidden, unthinkable. It would be death for you to go through that door. The means of transit between the world lines is one we must keep secret from all other than ourselves. We may be partially or completely insane, but our hatred is of that thing that hangs in the sky above us. We favor no group, no race, no people, no species above the others. But think what would happen if one of your nationalistic or religious groups gained control of the means to move between world lines, think of the destruction that might follow."

"I grasp your meaning but do not agree completely."

"I do not ask you to. All else is open to you; we have no secrets. Only that room is forbidden. Come."

He opened the outer door, and Mark followed him through.

They were inside a cavernous building of some kind. Harsh lights high above sent long shadows from great stacks of containers and boxes. They stepped aside as a rolling platform approached laden with shining cylinders. It was driven by a Sixim, who was identical, other than the hole in the forehead, to the one with them. The door they had just closed behind them opened, and two more Sixim came out and began to carry the cylinders back into the room.

"This way," Arinix said, and led the way through the high stacks to a room where bales of clothing lay heaped on tables. "Go on to repair," he ordered the damaged Sixim that still followed them, then pointed at the gray clothing.

"These are radiation-resistant. We will change."

As bereft of shame as of any other emotion, Arinix stripped off his clothing and pulled on one of the coverall-type outfits. Mark did the same. It was soft but thick and sealed up high on the neck with what appeared to be a magnetic closure. There were heavy boots in an assortment of sizes, and he soon found a pair that fitted. While he did this, Arinix was making a call on a very ordinary-looking phone that was prominently stamped "Western Electric"-they would be surprised if they knew where their apparatus was being used- speaking a language rich in guttural sounds. They left the room by a different exit, into a wide corridor, where transportation was waiting for them. It was a vehicle the size of a large truck, a teardrop shape riding on six large, heavily tired wheels. It was made of metal the same color as their clothing, and appeared to have no windows. However, when they went inside, Mark saw that the solid nose was either transparent or composed of a large viewsereen of some kind. A single driver's seat faced the controls, and a curved, padded bench was fixed to the other three walls. They sat down, Arinix at the controls, and the machine started. There was no vibration or sound of any exhaust; it just surged forward silently at his touch.

"Electric power?" Mark asked.

"I have no idea. The cars run when needed."

Mark admired his singleness of purpose but did not envy him. There was only one thing in the man's life-to run from the solar fire and save what possibly could be saved from the flame. Were all of his'people like this?


<p>5</p>

Strong headlights glared on as they left the corridor and entered what appeared to be a tunnel mouth. The walls were rough and unfinished; only the roadway beneath was smooth, dropping away at a steep angle,

"Where are we going?" Mark asked.

"Under the river, so we can drive on the surface. The island above us-what is the name Einstein-?"

"Manhattan."

"Yes, Manhattan. It is covered by the sea now, which rises almost to the top of the cliffs across the river from it The polar caps melted many years ago here. Life is very harsh, you will see."

The tunnel ahead curved to the right and began to rise sharply. Arinix slowed the vehicle and stopped when a brilliant disk of light became visible ahead. He worked a control, and the scene darkened as though a filter had been slipped into place. Then, with the headlights switched off, he moved forward until the light could be seen as the glaring tunnel mouth, growing larger and brighter, until they were through it and back on the surface once more.

Mark could not look at the sun, or even in its direction, despite the protective filter. It burned like the open mouth of a celestial furnace, spewing out light and heat and radiation onto the world below. Here the plants grew, the only living creatures that could bear the torrent of fire from the sky, that welcomed it. Green on all sides, a jungle of growing, thriving, rising, reaching plants and trees, burgeoning under the caress of the exploding star. The road was the only visible manmade artifact, cutting a wide, straight slash through the wilderness of plant life, straining life that leaned over, grew to its very edge, and sent tendrils and runners across its barren surface. Arinix threw more switches, then rose from the driver's seat.

"It is on automatic control now. We may rest."

He grabbed for support as the car slowed suddenly; ahead, a great tree had crashed across the road, almost blocking it completely. There was a rattle of machinery from the front of the car, and a glow sprang out that rivaled the glare of the sun above. Then they moved again, slowly, and greasy smoke billowed up and was blown away.

'The machine will follow the road and clear it when it must," Arinix said. "A device, a heat generator of some sort, will burn away obstructions. I am told it is a variant of the machine that melted the soil and rock to form this road, a principle discovered while observing the repulsive sun that has caused this all, making heat in the same manner the sun makes heat. We will turn its own strengths back upon it."

He went to the seat in the rear, stretched out on it with his face to the cushions, and appeared to fall instantly asleep, Mark sat in the driver's chair, careful to touch nothing, both fascinated and repelled by the world outside. The car continued unerringly down the center of the road at a high speed, slowing only when it had to burn away obstructions. It must have utilized radar or other sensing devices, for a_ sudden heavy rainstorm did not reduce its speed in the slightest. Visibility was only a few feet in the intense tropical downpour, yet the car moved on, speed unabated. It did slow, but only to burn away obstructions, and smoke and steam obscured all vision. Then the storm stopped, as quickly as it began. Mark watched until he began to yawn, so then, like Arinix, he tried to rest. At first he thought he could not possibly sleep, then realized he had. Darkness had fallen outside, and the car still hurried silently through the night.

It was just before dawn when they reached their destination.

The building was as big as a fortress, which it resembled in more ways than one. Its walls- were high and dark, featureless, streaked with rain. Harsh lights on all sides lit the ground, which was nothing more than sodden ash. Apparently all plant life was burned before it could reach the building and undermine it. The road led directly to a high door that slid open automatically as they approached. Arinix stopped the vehicle a few hundred yards short of the entrance and rose from the controls.

"Come with me. This machine will enter by itself, but we shall walk. There is no solar radiation now, so you may, see my world and know what is in store for all the others."

They stepped out into the damp airlessness of the night. The car pulled away from them, and they were alone. Rivulets of wet ash streaked the road, disappearing in runnels at either side where the waiting plant life leaned close. The air was hot, muggy, hard to breathe, seemingly giving no substance to the lungs. Mark gasped and breathed deeply over and over again,

"Remember," Arinix said, turning away and starting for the entrance, "this is night, midwinter, before dawn, the coolest it will ever be here. Do not come in the summer."

Mark went after him, aware that he was already soaked with sweat, feeling the strength of the enemy in the sky above, which was already touching fire to the eastern horizon. Though he panted with the effort, he ran and staggered into the building and watched as the door ground shut behind him.

"Your work now begins;" Arinix said, leading the way into a now familiar brown room. Mark got his breath back and wiped his streaming face while they made their swift journey to the world line named Iroquois,

"I will leave you here and will return in twenty-four hours-for your report on the situation. We will then decide what must he -done." Arinix opened the outer door and pointed.

"Just a minute-I don't know anything that is happening here. You will have to brief me."

"I know nothing of this operation, other than what I have told you. The Sixim there should have complete records and will tell you what you need to know. Now, leave. I have my own work to do."

There was no point in arguing, Arinix gestured again impatiently, and Mark went through the door, which closed with a ponderous thud behind him. He was in darkness, cold darkness, and he shivered uncontrollably after the heat of the world he had just left.

"Sixim, are you there? Can you turn on some lights?"

There was the sudden flare of a match in answer, and in its light he could see an Indian lighting an ordinary kerosene lamp. He wore thong-wrapped fur leggings and a fringed deerskin jacket. Though his skin was dark, his features were Indo-European; once the lamp was lit, he stood by it, un-moving,

"You are the Sixim," Mark said.

"I am."

"What are you doing here?"

"Awaiting instructions."

These creatures were as literal-minded as computers- which is probably what their brains were. Mark realized he had to be more specific with his questions, but his teeth were chattering with cold, and he was shivering hard, which made it difficult to think.

"How long have you-been waiting?"

"Twelve days, fourteen hours, and-"

"That's precise enough. You have just been sitting here in the dark without heat all that time! Do you have a way of heating this place?"

"Yes."

"Then do it, and quickly… and let me have something to wrap around me before I freeze."

The buffalo-skin robe made a big difference, and while the Sixim lit a fire in a large stone fireplace, Mark looked around at the large room. The walls were of logs, with the bark still on, and the floor bare wide boards. Crates were piled at one end of the room, and a small mound of skins was at the other. Around the fire, it was more domestic, with a table and chairs, cooking pots, and cabinets. Mark pulled a wooden chair close and raised his hands to the crackling blaze. Once the fire was started, the Sixim waited stolidly again for more orders.

By patient questioning Mark extracted all that the machine man seemed to know about the situation. The agent, Joseph Wing, had been staying here and going out to talk to the Oneida. The work he did was unknown to the, Sixim." Wing had gone out and not returned. At the end of forty-eight hours, as instructed, the Sixim had reported him missing. How he had reported, he would not say; obviously there were questions it would not answer.

"You've been a help-but not very much," Mark said, "I'll just have to find out for myself what is going on out there. Did Joseph Wing leave any kind of papers, a diary, notes?"

"No."

"Thanks. Are there any weapons here?"

"In that box Do you wish me to unlock it?"

"I do."

The weapons consisted of about twenty well-worn, obviously surplus M-1 rifles, along with some boxes of ammunition. Mark tried the bolt on one-it worked smoothly- then put the rifle back in the box.

"Lock it up. I'm not looking for trouble, and if I find it, a single gun won't make that much difference. But a peace offering might be in order, particularly food in the middle of winter."

He carried the lantern over to the boxes and quickly found exactly what he needed. A case of large smoked hams. Picking one out, he held the label to the light, "Smithfield Ham," it read, "packed in New Chicago, weight 6.78 kilos." Not from his world line, obviously, but that didn't matter in the slightest.

And he would need warmer clothes, clothes that would be more acceptable here than gray coveralls. There were leggings and jackets-obviously used, from their smell-that would do nicely. He changed quickly in front of the fire, then, knowing it would be harder the longer he waited, tucked the ham under his arm and went to the door and pulled back on the large wooden bolt.

"Lock this behind me, and unlock it only for me."

"Yes."

The door opened onto an unmarked field of snow with a stand of green pines and taller bare-limbed oak trees beyond. Above, in the blue arch of the sky, a small and reasonable winter sun shed more light than heat. There was a path through the trees, and beyond them a thin trickle of smoke was dark against the sky. Mark went in that direction. When he reached the edge of the grove, a tall Indian stepped silently from behind a tree and blocked the path before him. He made no threatening moves, but the stone-headed club hung easily and ready from his hand. Mark stopped and looked at him, saying nothing, hoping he could remember Iroquois after all these years. It was the Indian who broke the silence and spoke first,

"I am called Great Hawk."

"I am called… Little-one-talks." He hadn't spoken that name in years; it was what the old men on the reservation called him when he first spoke their own language. Great Hawk seemed to be easier when he heard the words, for his club sank lower.

"I come in peace," Mark said, and held out the ham.

"Welcome in peace," Great Hawk said, tucking the club into his waist and taking the ham. He sniffed at it appreciatively.

"Have you seen the one named Joseph Wing?" Mark asked.

The ham dropped, half-burying itself silently in the snow; the club was clutched at the ready.

"Are you a friend of his?" Great Hawk asked.

"I have never met him. But I was told I would see him here."

Great Hawk considered this in silence for a long time, looked up as a blue jay flapped by overhead, calling out hoarsely, then examined with apparent great attention the tracks of a rabbit in the snow-through all of this not taking his eyes from Mark for more than a second,. Finally he spoke.

"Joseph Wing came here during the hunter's moon, before the first snow fell. Many said-he had much orenda, for there were strange lights and sounds here during a night, and no one would leave the long house, and in the morning his long house stands as you see it now. There is great orenda here. Then he came and spoke to us and told us many things. He said he would show the warriors a place where there was good hunting. Hunting is bad here, for the people of the Six Nations are many, and some go hungry. He said all these things, and what he showed us made us believe him. Some of us said we would go with him, even though some thought they would never return. Some said that he was Tehoron-hiawakhon, and he did not say it was not the truth. He said to my sister, Deer-runs, that he was indeed Tehoronhiawak-hon. He told her to come with him to his long house. She did not want to go with him. By force he took her to his long house."

Great Hawk stopped talking abruptly and looked attentively at Mark through half-closed eyes-. He did not finish, but the meaning was clear enough. The Oneida would have thought Joseph Wing possessed of much orenda after his sudden appearance, the principle of magic power that was inherent in every body or thing. Some had it more than others. A man who could build a building in a night must have great orenda. So much so that some would consider him to be Te-horonhiawakhon, the hero who watched over them, born of the gods, who lived as a man and who might return as a man. But no hero would take a maiden by force; the Indians were very practical on this point. Anyone who would do that would be killed by the girl's family; that was obvious. Her brother waited for Mark's answer.

"One who does that must die," Mark said. Defending the undoubtedly dead Joseph Wing would accomplish nothing; Mark was learning pragmatism from Arinix.

"He died. Come to the long house."

Great Hawk picked up the ham, turned his back, and led the way through the deep snow.


<p>6</p>

The Oneida warriors sat cross-legged around the fire while the women served them the thin gruel. Hunting must have been bad if this was all they had, for it was more water than anything else, with some pounded acorns and a few scraps of venison. After eating, they smoked, a rank leaf of some kind that was certainly not tobacco. Not until the ceremony was out of the way did they finally touch the topic that concerned them all.

"We have eaten elk," Great Hawk said, puffing at the pipe until his eyes grew red, "This is an elkskin robe I am wearing. They are large, and there is much meat upon them." He passed the pipe to Mark, then reached behind him under a tumbled hide and drew forth a bone, "This is the bone of the leg of an elk, brought to us by someone. We would eat well in winter with elk such as this to hunt."

Mark took it and looked at it as closely as he could in the dim light. It was a bone like any other, as far as he could tell, distinguished only by its great length-at least five feet from end to end. Comparing it with the length of his own femur, he could see that it came from a massive beast. Surely an elk or a cow would be smaller than this. What had this to do with the dead Joseph Wing? He must have brought it. But why, and where did he get it? If only there were some record of what he was supposed to be doing. Hunting, of course-that had to be it; food for these people who appeared too many for the limited hunting grounds. He held up the bone and spoke.

"Was it told to you that you would be able to hunt elk like this?"

There were nods and grunts in answer.

"What was told you?" After a silence, Great Hawk answered.

"Someone said that a hunting party could go to this land that was close by but far away. If hunting was good, a long house would be built for the others to follow. That was what was said."

It was simple enough. A hunting party taken to one of the seeded desert worlds, now stocked with game. If the trip was successful, the rest of the tribe would follow.

"I can also take you hunting in that land," Mark said,

"When will this be?"

"Come to me in the morning, and I will tell you,"

He left before they could ask any more questions. The sun was low on the horizon, sending long purple shadows across the white snow. Backtracking was easy, and the solid log walls of the building a welcome sight. When he was identified, the Sixim let him in. The fire was built even higher now, the large room was almost warmed up. Mark sat by the fire and stretched his hands to it gratefully; the Sixim was statuesque in the shadows,

"Joseph Wing was to take the Indians to another world line. Did you know that?"

"Yes."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"You did not ask."

"I would appreciate it if you would volunteer more information in the future."

"Which information do you wish me to volunteer?"

The Sixim took a lot of getting used to. Mark took the lantern and rummaged through the variety of goods in the boxes and on the loaded shelves. There were ranked bottles of unfamiliar shape and labeling that contained some thing called Kunbula Atashan from someplace that appeared to be named Carthagio-it was hard to read the letters, so he could not be sure, but when he opened one of them, it had a definite odor of strong alcoholic beverage. The flavor was unusual but fortifying, and he poured a mugful before he returned to the fire.

"Do you know whom I must contact to make arrangements for the transfer to the other world line?"

"Yes."

"Who?"

"Me."

It was just that simple. The Sixim would give no details of the operation, but he would operate the mechanism to take them to the correct world and return.

"In the morning, first thing, we'll go have a look."

They left soon after dawn. Mark took one of the rifles and some extra clips of ammunition; that had been a big elk, and he might be lucky enough to bag another. Once more the sensationless transfer was made and the heavy outer door pushed open. For the first time there was no other room or hallway beyond it, just a field of yellowed grass. Mark was astonished.

"But… is it winter? Where is the snow?" Because it was phrased as a question, the Sixim answered him.

"It is winter. But here in Sandstone the climate is warmer, due to the ocean-current differences."

Holding the rifle ready, Mark stepped through the door, which the Sixim closed behind him. Without being ordered, the Sixim locked the door with the long key. For the first time Mark saw the means of world-line transportation not concealed by an outer building. It was a large box, nothing more, constructed of riveted and rusty steel plates. Whatever apparatus powered it was inside, for it was completely featureless. He turned from it to look at the world named Sandstone.

The tall grass was everywhere; it must have been seeded first to stabilize the soil. It had done this, but it would take centuries to soften the bare rock contours of what had once been a worldwide desert. Harsh-edged crags pushed up in the distance where there should have been rounded hills; mounds of tumbled morain rose above the grass. Groves and patches of woods lay scattered about, while on one side a thick forest began and stretched away to the horizon. All of this had a very constructed air to it-and it obviously was. Mark recognized some of the trees; others were strange to him. This planet had been seeded in a hurry, and undoubtedly with a great variety of vegetation. As unusual as it looked now, this made ecological good sense, since complex ecological relationships increased the chance the ecosystem had of surviving. There would certainly be a variety of animal life as well- the large elk the Oneida knew about, and surely others as well. When he moved around the rusty building, he saw just what some of that life might be-and stopped still on the spot. No more than a few hundred yards away, there was a herd of elephants tearing at the leaves on the low trees. Large elephants with elegant swept-back tusks, thickly covered with hair.

"Hairy mammoth!" he said aloud, just as the nearest bull saw him appear and raised his trunk and screamed warning.

"That is correct," the Sixim said.

"Get your key, and let's get out of here," Mark said, backing quickly around the corner. "I don't think a thirty-caliber will make a dent in that thing."

With unhurried, steady motions the Sixim unlocked the door, one lock after another, while the thunder of pounding feet grew louder and closer. Then they were through the door and pushing it shut.

"I think the Oneida will enjoy the hunting," Mark said, grinning wryly, leaning against the thick wall with relief, "Let's go back and get them."

When he opened the outer wooden door in Iroquois, he saw Great Hawk and five other warriors standing patiently in the snow outside. They were dressed warmly, had what must be provision bags slung at their waists, and were armed with long bows and arrows as well as stone clubs and stone skinning knives. They were prepared for a hunting expedition, they knew not where, but they were prepared. When Mark waved them forward, they came at once. The only sign of the tension they must be feeling was in their manner of walking, more like stalking a chase than entering a building. They showed little interest in the outer room-they must have been here before-but were eyeing the heavy metal door with more than casual interest. The deceased Joseph Wing must have told them something about it, but Mark had already decided to ignore this and tell the truth as clearly as they could understand it.

"Through that door is a long house that will bear us to the place where we will hunt. How it will take us there I do not know, for it is beyond my comprehension. But it will take us there as safely as a mother carries a papoose on her back, as safely as a bark canoe carries us over the waters. Are you ready to go?"

"Will you take the noise stick that kills?" Great Hawk asked, pointing with his thumb at the rifle Mark still carried.

"Yes."

"It was one time said that the Oneida would be given noise sticks and taught the manner of their use."

Why not, Mark thought, there were no rules to all this, anything went that would save these people. "Yes, you may have them now if you wish, but I think until you can use them well, your bows will be better weapons."

"That is true. We will have them when we return."

The Sixim pulled the heavy door open, and without being urged, the Indians filed into the brightly lit room beyond. They remained silent but held their weapons ready as the door was closed and the Sixim went through the door to the operating room, only to emerge a moment later.

"The journey is over," Mark said. "Now we hunt."

Only when the outer door was opened onto the grassy sunlit plain did they believe him. They grunted with surprise as they left, calling out in wonder at the strange sights and the warm temperature. Mark looked around nervously, but the herd of mammoth was gone. There were more than enough other things to capture the Indians' attention. They saw animals where he saw only grass and trees and called attention to them with pleased shouts. Yet they were silent instantly when Great Hawk raised his hand for silence, then pointed.

"There, under those trees. It looks like a large pig."

Mark could see nothing in the shadows, but the other

Indians were apparently in agreement, for they were nocking arrows to their bows. When the dark, scuffling shape emerged into the sunlight, they were ready for it, A European boar, far larger than they had ever seen. The boar had never seen men before either; it was not afraid; The arrows whistled; more than one struck home, the boar wheeled about, squealing with pain, and crashed back into the undergrowth. Whooping with pleasure, the Oneida were instantly on its trail.

"Stay inside until we get back," Mark told the Sixim. "I want to be sure we can get back."

He ran swiftly after the others, who had already vanished under the trees. The trail was obvious, marked with the blood of the fleeing animal, well trampled by its pursuers. From ahead there came even louder squealing and shouts that ended in sudden silence. When Mark came up, it was all over; the boar was on its side, dead, its skull crushed in, while the victorious Indians prodded its flanks and hams happily.

The explosion shook the ground at that moment, a long, deep rumbling sound that hammered at their ears. It staggered them, it was so close and loud, frightening them because they did not know what it was. Mark did. He had heard this kind of noise before. He wheeled about and watched the large cloud of greasy black smoke roiling and spreading as it climbed up the sky. It rose from behind the trees in the direction of the building. Then he was running, slamming a cartridge in the chamber of the rifle at the same time, thumbing off the safety.

The scene was a disaster. He stumbled and almost fell as he emerged from beneath the trees.

Where the squat steel building had stood was now only a smoking, flame-licked ruin of torn and twisting plates. On the grass nearby, one leg ripped away and as torn himself, lay the Sixim.

The doorway between the worlds was closed.


<p>7</p>

Mark just stood there, motionless, even after the Indians came up and ranked themselves beside him, calling out in wonder at the devastation. They did not realize yet that they were exiled from their tribe and their own world. The Sixim raised its head and called out hoarsely; Mark ran to it. Much of its imitation flesh was gone, and metal shone through the gaps. Its face had suffered badly as well, but it could still talk.

"What happened?" Mark asked.

"There were strangers in the room, men with guns. This is not allowed. There are orders. I actuated the destruct mechanism and attempted to use the escape device."

Mark looked at the ruin and flames. "There is no way this room can be used again?" -

"No."

"Are there other rooms on this world?"

"One that I know of, perhaps more____________________ "

"One is enough! Where is it?"

"What is the name of your world line?"

"What difference does that make?… All right, it's called Einstein."

"The room is located on an island that is named Manhattan." '

"Of course! The original one I came through. But that must be at least two hundred miles away from here as the crow flies."

But what was two hundred miles as compared to the gap between the worlds? His boots were sound, he was a couple of pounds overweight, but otherwise in good condition. He had companions who were at home in the wilds and knew how to live off the land. If they would come with him… They had little other choice. If he could explain to them what had happened and what they must do…

It was not easy, but the existence of this world led them to believe anything he told them-if not believe it, at least not to doubt it too strongly. In the end they were almost eager to see what this new land had to offer, what other strange animals there were to hunt. While the others butchered and smoked the fresh-killed meat, Mark labored to explain to Great Hawk that they were physically at the same place in the world as the one they had left. The Indian worked hard to understand this but could not, since this was obviously a different place. Mark finally forced him to accept the fact on faith, to operate as if it were true even though he knew it wasn't.

When it came to finding the island of Manhattan, Great Hawk called a conference of all the Indians. They strolled over slowly, grease-smeared and happy, stomachs bulging with fresh meat. Mark could only listen as they explored the geography of New York State, as they knew it and as they had heard of it from others. In the end they agreed on the location of the island, at the mouth of the great river at the ocean nearby the long island. But they knew they could not get there from this place, then went back to their butchery. They fell asleep in the middle of this; it was late afternoon, so he gave up any hope of starting this day. He resigned himself to the delay and was eating some of the roasted meat himself when the Sixim appeared out of the forest. It had shaped a rough crutch from a branch, which it held under its arm as it walked. Arinix had said the creatures were almost indestructible, and it appeared he was right.

Mark questioned the Sixim, but it did not know how to get to Manhattan, nor did it have any knowledge of the geography of this world. When the sun set, Mark stretched out by the fire with the others and slept just as soundly as they did. He was up at first light, and as the sun rose in the east, he squinted at it and realized what he had to do. He would have to lead them out of here. He shook Great Hawk awake,

"We walk east toward the sun," he said, "When we reach the great river, we turn and follow it downstream to the south. Can we do that?" If there were a Hudson River on this world… and if the Indians would follow him,,, Great Hawk looked at him solemnly for a long moment, then sat,up.

"We leave now." He whistled shrilly, and the others stirred.

The Indians enjoyed the outing very much, chattering about the sights along the way and looking with amusement at what was obviously a happy hunting ground. Game was everywhere-creatures they knew and others that were completely strange. There was a herd of great oxlike creatures that resembled the beasts of the cave paintings in Altamira, aurochs perhaps, and they had a glimpse of a great cat stalking them that appeared to have immensely long tusks. A sabertooth tiger? All things were possible on this newly ripening desert world. They walked for five days through this strange landscape before they reached what could only be the Hudson River.

Except that, like the Colorado River, this river had cut an immense gorge through what had formerly been a barren landscape. They crept close to the high cliffs and peered over. There was no possible way to descend.

"South," Mark said, and turned along the edge, and the others followed him.

A day later they reached a spot where a tributary joined the Hudson and where the banks were lower and more graded. In addition, many seeds had been Sown or carried here, and strands of trees lined the shore. It took the Indians less than a day to assemble branches, trunks, and driftwood to make a sizable raft. Using strips of rawhide, they bound this firmly together, loaded their food aboard, then climbed aboard themselves. As the Indians poled and paddled, the clumsy craft left shore, was carried quickly out into the main current, and hurried south. Manhattan would be at the river's mouth.

This part of the trip was the easiest, and far swifter than Mark had realized. The landscape was so different from what he -knew of the valley, with alternate patches of vegetation and desert, that he found it hard to tell where they were. A number of fair-sized streams entered the river from the east, and there was no guarantee that the East River, which cut Manhattan off from the mainland, existed on this world. If it were there he thought it another tributary, for he never saw it. There were other high cliffs, so the Palisades were not that noticeable.

"This water is no good," Great Hawk said. He had scooped up a handful from the river, and he now spat it out. Mark dipped some himself. It was brackish, salty.

"The ocean, tidewater-we're near the mouth of the river! Pull to shore, quickly."

What he had thought was a promontory ahead showed nothing but wide water beyond it, the expanse of New York Harbor. They landed on- what would be the site of Battery Park on the southernmost tip of the island. The Indians worked in silence, unloading the raft, and when Mark started to speak, Great Hawk held his finger to his lips for silence, then leaned close to whisper in his ear.

"Men over this hill, very close. Smell them, smell the fire, they are cooking meat."

"Show me," Mark whispered in return.

He could not move as silently as the Oneida did; they vanished like smoke among the trees. Mark followed as quietly as he could, and a minute later Great Hawk was back to lead him. They crawled the last few yards on their stomachs under the bushes, hearing the sound of mumbled voices. The Indian moved a branch slowly aside, and Mark looked into the clearing.

Three khaki-clad soldiers were gathered around a fire over which a smoking carcass roasted. They had heavy rifles slung across their shoulders. A fourth, a sergeant with upside-down stripes, was stretched out asleep with his wide-brimmed hat over his face.

They spoke quietly in order not to waken him, a strangely familiar language deep in their throats.

It was Dutch-not Dutch, Afrikaans. But what were they doing here?

Mark crawled back to the others, and by the time he had reached them, the answer was clear-too clear, and frightening. But it was the only possibility. He must tell them.

"Those men are soldiers. I know them. Warriors with noise sticks. I think they are the ones who took over the room and destroyed it. They are here, which must mean they have taken over the room here. Without it we cannot return."

"What must we do?" Great Hawk asked. The answer was obvious, but Mark hesitated to say it. He was a lawyer, or had been a lawyer-a man of the law. But what was the law here?

"If we are to return, we will have to kill them, without any noise, then kill or capture the others at the room. If we don't do that, we will be trapped here, cut off from the tribe forever,"

The Indians, who lived by hunting, and were no strangers • to tribal warfare, were far less worried about the killing than was Mark. They conferred briefly, and Great Hawk and three others vanished silently back among the trees. Mark sat, staring.sightlessly at the ground, trying to equate this with his civilized conscience. For a moment he envied the battered Sixim, who stood by his side, unbothered by emotions or worries. An owl called and the remaining Indians stood and called Mark after them.

The clearing was the same, the meat still smoked on the spit, the sergeant's hat was still over his eyes. But an arrow stood out starkly from his side below his arm. The huddled forms of the other soldiers revealed the instant, silent death that had spoken from the forest. With no show of emotion, the Indians cut the valuable arrows free of the corpses, commenting only on the pallid skin of the men, then looted their weapons and supplies. The guns might be useful; the arrows certainly were. Great Hawk was scouting the clearing and found a-to him-clearly marked trail. The sun was behind the trees when they started down it.

The building was not far away. They looked at it from hiding, the now familiar rusted and riveted plates of its walls, the heavy sealed door. Only, this door was gaping open, and the building itself was surrounded by a palisade of thin trees and shrubs. A guard stood at the only gate, and the enclosure wds filled with troops. Mark could see heavy weapons and mortars there.

"It will be hard to kill all of these without being killed ourselves," Great Hawk said…"So we shall not try."


<p>8</p>

The Indians could not be convinced even to consider action. They lay about in the gathering darkness, chewing on the tough slabs of meat, ignoring all of-Mark's arguments. They were as realistic as any animal, and not interested in suicide. A mountain lion attacks a deer, a deer runs from a lion-it never happens the other way around. They would wait here until morning and watch the camp, then decide what to do. But it was obvious that the options did not include an attack. Would it end this way, defeat without battle… and a barren lifetime on a savage planet stretching ahead of them? More barren to Mark, who had a civilized man's imagination and despair. The Indians had no such complications in their lives. They chewed the meat, the matter dismissed and forgotten, and in low whispers discussed the hunting and the animals while darkness fell. Mark sat, silent with despair; the Sixim loomed silent as a tree beside him. The Sixim would follow orders, but the two of them were not going to capture this armed camp. Something might happen-he must make the Indians stay and watch and help him. He doubted if they would.

Something did happen, and far sooner than he had thought. Great Hawk, who had slipped away to watch the building, came back suddenly and waved the others to follow him. They went to the fringe of the trees once more and looked at the activity in the camp with astonishment.

The gate was standing open, and there was no guard upon it.

All of the soldiers had drawn up in a semicircle facing the open door of the building. Fires had been lit near it. All of the heavy weapons had been trained on the opening.

"Don't you see what has happened!" Mark said excitedly. "They may control this building and others like it in other lines, but they cannot possibly control them all. They must be expecting a counterattack. They can do nothing until the attackers appear except wait and be ready. Do you understand-this is our chance! They are not expecting trouble from this flank. Get close in the darkness. Wait. Wait until the attack. Then we take out the machine guns-they are the real danger-sow confusion. Taken from the front and rear at the same time, they cannot win. Sixim, can you fire a rifle? One of these we captured?"

"I can. I have examined their mechanism."

"How is your aim?" It was a foolish question to ask.

"I hit what I aim at, every time."

"Then let us get close and get into positions. This may be our only chance. If we don't do it this time, there will probably be no second chance. Once they know we are out here, the guns will face both ways. Come, we have to get close now."

He moved out toward the enclosure, the Sixim, rifle slung, limping at his side. The Indians stayed where they were. He turned back to them, but they were as solid and unmoving as rock in their silence. Nothing more could be done. This left only the two of them, man and machine man, to do their best.

They were almost too late, While they were still twenty yards' from the palisade, sudden fire erupted from inside the building; the South Africans guns roared in return. Mark ran, drawing ahead of the Sixim, running through the open gate, to fall prone in the darkness near the wall and to control his breathing. To squeeze off his shots carefully.

One gunner fell, then another. Tie Sixim was beside him, firing at target after target with machine regularity. Someone had seen the muzzle blast of their guns, because weapons were turned on them, bullets tearing into the earth beside them, soldiers running toward them. Mark's gun clicked out of battery, empty of cartridges. He tore the empty clip away, struggled to jam in a full one; the soldier was above him.

Falling to one side with an arrow in his chest. Darker shadows moved, just as a solid wave of Sixim erupted through the open doorway.

That was the beginning of the end. As soon as they were among the soldiers, the slaughter began, no mercy, no quarter. Mark called the Indians to him, to the protection of their own battered Sixim, before they were also cut down. The carnage was brief and complete, and when it was over, a familiar one-eyed figure emerged from the building,

"Arinix," Mark called out, and the man turned and came over, "How did all this happen?"

"They were suspicious; they had been watching us for a long time. That officer we did not kill led them to this building." He said it without malice or regret, a statement of fact. Mark had no answer.

"Is this the last of them? Is the way open now?"

"There are more, but they will be eliminated. You see what happens when others attempt to control the way between the worlds?" He started away, then turned back. "Have you solved the problem with the Indians? Will they settle this world?"

"I think so. I would like to stay with them longer, give them what help I can."

"You do not wish to return to Einstein?"

That was a hard one to answer. Back to New York and the pollution and the life as a lawyer. It suddenly seemed a good deal emptier than it had. "I don't know. Perhaps, perhaps not. Let me finish here first."

Arinix turned away instantly and was gone. Mark went to Great Hawk, who sat cross-legged on' the ground and watched the operation with a great deal of interest. '

"Why did you and the others come to help?" Mark asked.

"It seemed too good a fight to miss. Besides, you said you would show us how to use the noise sticks. You could not do that if you were dead."

The smoke from the dying fires rose up in thin veils against the bright stars in the sky above. In his nostrils the air was cold and clean, its purity emphasized by the smell of wood smoke. Somewhere, not too far away, a wolf howled long and mournfully. This world, so recently empty of life, now had it in abundance, and would soon have human settlers as well, Indians of the Six Nations who would be escaping the fire that would destroy their own world. What sort of world would they make of it?

He had the sudden desire to see what would happen here, even to help in the shaping of it. The cramped life of a lawyer in a crowded world was without appeal. He had friends that he would miss, but he knew that new friends waited for him in the multiplicity of worlds he would soon visit. Really, there was no choice.

Arinix was by the open door issuing orders to the attentive Sixim. Mark called out to him.

The decision had really been an easy one.



1

<p>1</p>

"You can't go in there!" Heidi shrieked as the office door was suddenly thrown wide.

Mark Greenberg, deep in the tangled convolutions of a legal brief, looked up, startled at the interruption. His secretary came through the doorway, propelled by the two men who held her arms. Mark dropped the thick sheaf of papers, picked up the phone, and dialed the police.

"I want three minutes of your time," one of the men said, stepping forward. "Your girl would not let us in. It is important. I will pay. One hundred dollars a minute. Here is the money."

The bank notes were placed on the blotter, and the man stepped back. Mark finished dialing. The money was real enough. They released Heidi, who pushed their hands away. Beyond her was the empty outer office; there were no witnesses to the sudden intruders. The phone rang in his ears; then a deep voice spoke

"Police Department, Sergeant Vega."

Mark hung up the phone.

"Things have been very quiet around here. You have three minutes. There will also be a hundred-dollar fee for molesting my secretary."

If he had meant it as a joke, it was not taken that way. The man who had paid the money took another bill from the pocket of his dark suit and handed it to a startled Heidi, then waited in silence until she took it and left. They were a strange pair, Mark realized. The paymaster was draped in a rusty black suit, had a black patch over his right eye, and wore black gloves as well. A victim of some accident or other, for his face and neck were scarred, and one ear was missing. When he turned back, Mark realized that his hair was really a badly fitting wig. The remaining eye, lashless and browless, glared at him redly from its deepset socket, Mark glanced away from the burning stare to look at the other man, who seemed commonplace in every way. His akin had a shiny, waxy look; other than that and his unusual rigidity, he seemed normal enough.

"My name is Arinix, your name is Mark Greenberg," The scarred man bent over the card in his hand, reading quickly in a hoarse, emotionless voice. "You served in the United States Army as a captain in the adjutant general's office and as a military police officer. Is that correct?"

"Yes, but-"

The voice ground on, ignoring his interruption. "You were born in the state of Alabama and grew up in the city of Oneida, New York. You speak the language of the Iroquois, but you are not an Indian. Is that true?"

"It's pretty obvious. Is there any point to this questioning?"

"Yes. I paid for it. How is it that you speak this language?" He peered closely at the card as though looking for an answer that was not there.

"Simple enough. My father's store was right next to the Oneida reservation. Most of his customers were Indians, and I went to school with them. We were the only Jewish family in town, and they didn't seem to mind this, the way our Polish Catholic neighbors did. So we were friends; in minorities there is strength, you might say-"

"That is enough."

Arinix drew some crumpled bills from his side pocket, looked at them, and shoved them back. "Money," he said, turning to his silent companion. This man had a curious lizardlike quality for only his arm moved; the rest of his body was still, and his face fixed and-expressionless, as he took a thick bundle of bills from his side pocket and handed it over.

Arinix looked at it, top and bottom, then dropped it onto the desk.

"There is ten thousand dollars here. This is a fee for three days' work. I wish you to aid me. You will have to speak the Iroquois language. I can tell you no more."

"I'm afraid you will have to, Mr. Arinix. Or don't bother, it is the same to me. I am involved in a number of cases at the moment, and it would be difficult to take off the time. The offer is interesting, but I might lose that much in missed fees, Since your three minutes are up, I suggest you leave."

"Money," Arinix said again, receiving more and more bundies from his assistant, dropping them on Mark's desk. "Fifty thousand dollars. Good pay for three days. Now, come with us."

It was the man's calm arrogance that angered Mark, the complete lack of emotion, or even interest, in the large sums he was passing over.

"That's enough. Do you think money can buy everything?"

"Yes."

The answer was so sudden and humorless that Mark had to smile. "Well, you probably are right. If you keep raising the ante long enough, I suppose you will eventually reach a point where you can get anyone to listen. Would you pay me more than this?"

"Yes. How much?"

"You have enough here. Maybe Fm afraid to find out how high you will go. For a figure like this, I can take off three days. But you will have to tell me what is going to happen." Mark was intrigued, as much by the strange pair as by the money they offered.

"That is impossible. But I can tell you that within two hours you will know what you are to do. At that time you may refuse, and you will still keep the money. Is it agreed?"

A lawyer who is a bachelor tends to take on more cases than do his married associates-who like to see their families once in a while. Mark had a lot of work and a lot of money, far more than he had time to spend. It was the novelty of this encounter, not the unusual fee, that attracted him. And the memory of a solid two years of work without a single vacation. The combination proved irresistible.

"Agreed- Heidi," he called out, then handed her the money when she came into the office. "Deposit this in the number-two special account and then go home. A paid holiday. I'll see you on Monday."

She looked down at the thick bundle of bills, then up at the strangers as they waited while Mark took his overcoat from the closet. The three of them left together, and the door closed. That was the last time that she or anyone else ever saw Mark Greenberg.



2

<p>2</p>

It was a sunny January day, but an arctic wind that cut to the bone was blowing up from the direction of the Battery. As they walked west, it caught them at every cross street, wailing around the building corners. Although they wore only suit jackets, neither of the strange men seemed to notice it. Nor were they much on conversation. In cold and silent discomfort they walked west, a few blocks short of the river, where they entered an old warehouse building. The street door was unlocked, but Arinix now secured it behind them with a heavy bolt, then turned to the inner door at the end of the hall. It appeared to be made of thick steel plates riveted together like a ship's hull, and had a lock in each corner. Arinix took an unusual key from his pocket. It was made of dull, ridged metal, as thick as his finger and as long as a pencil. He inserted this in each of the four locks, giving it a sharp twist each time before removing it. When he was done, he stepped away, and his companion put his shoulder against the door and pushed hard. After a moment it slowly gave way and reluctantly swung open. Arinix waved Mark on, and he followed them into the room beyond.

It was completely commonplace. Walls, ceilings, and floor were painted the same drab tone of brown. Lighting came from a translucent strip in the ceiling; a metal bench was fixed to the far wall next to another door.

"Wait here," Arinix said, theo went out through the door.

The other man was a silent, unmoving presence. Mark looked at the bench, wondering if he should sit down, wondering too if he had been wise to get involved in this, when the door opened and Arinix returned.

"Here is what you must do" he said. "You will go out of here and will note this address, and then walk about the city. Return here at the end of an hour."

"No special place to go, nothing to do? Just walk around?"

"That is correct."

He pulled the heavy outer door open as he spoke, then led the way through it, down the three steps, and back along the hall. Mark followed him, then wheeled about and pointed back.

"These steps! They weren't there when we came in-no steps, I'll swear to it."

"One hour, no more, I will hold your topcoat here until you return."

Warm air rushed in, bright sunlight burned on the stained sidewalk outside. The wind still blew, though not as strongly, but now it was as hot as from an oven door. Mark hesitated on the doorstep, sweat already on his face, taking off the heavy coat.

"I don't understand. You must tell me what-"

Arinix took the coat, then pushed him suddenly in the back. He stumbled forward, gained his balance instantly, and turned just as the door slammed shut and the bolt ground into place. He pushed, but it did not move. He knew that calling out would be a waste of time. Instead, he turned, eyes slitted against the glare, and stared out at the suddenly changed world.

The street was empty, no cars passed, no pedestrians were on the sidewalk. When he stepped out of the shadowed doorway, the sun smote him like a golden fist. He took his jacket off and hung it over his arm, and then his necktie, but he still ran with sweat. The office buildings stared blank-eyed from their tiered windows; the gray factories were silent, Mark looked about numbly, trying to understand what had happened, trying to make sense of the unbelievable situation. Five minutes ago it had been midwinter, with the icy streets filled with hurrying people. Now it was… what?

In the distance the humming, rising drone of an engine could be heard, getting louder, going along a nearby street. He hurried to the corner and reached it just in time to see the car roar across the intersection a block away. It was just that, a car, and it had been going too fast for him to see who was in it. He jumped back at a sudden shrill scream, almost at his feet, and a large seagull hurled itself into the air and flapped away. It had been tearing at a man's body that lay crumpled in the gutter. Mark had seen enough corpses in Korea to recognize another one, to remember the never-forgotten smell of corrupted flesh. How was it possible for the corpse to remain here so long, days at least? What had happened to the city?

There was a growing knot of unreasoned panic rising within him, urging him to run, scream, escape. He fought it down and turned deliberately and started back toward the room where Arinix was waiting. He would spend the'rest of the hour waiting for that door to open, hoping he would have the control to prevent himself from beating upon it. Something had happened, to him or the world, he did not know which, but he did know that the only hope of salvation from the incredible events of the morning lay beyond that door. Screaming unreason wanted him to run; he walked slowly, noticing for the first time that the street he was walking down ended in the water. The buildings on each side sank into it as well, and there, at the" foot of the street, was the roof of a drowned wharf. All this seemed no more incredible than anything that had happened before, and he tried to ignore it. He fought so hard to close his mind and his thoughts that he did not hear the rumble of the truck motor or the squeal of brakes behind him.

"That man! What are you doing here?"

Mark spun about. A dusty, open-bodied truck had stopped at the curb, and a thin blond soldier was swinging down from the cab. He wore a khaki uniform without identifying marks and kept his hand near the large pistol in a polished leather holster that swung from his belt. The driver was watching him, as were three more uniformed men in the back of the truck, who were pointing heavy rifles in his direction. The driver and the soldiers were all black. The blond officer had drawn his pistol and was pointing it at Mark as well.

"Are you with the westenders? You know what happens to them, don't you?"

Sudden loud firing boomed in the street, and thinking he was being shot at, Mark dropped back against the wall. But no shots were aimed, in his direction. Even as they were turning, the soldiers in the truck dropped, felled by the bullets. Then the truck itself leaped and burst into flames as a grenade exploded. The officer had wheeled about and dropped to one knee and was firing his pistol at Arinix, who was sheltered in a doorway across the street, changing clips on the submachine gun he carried.

Running footsteps sounded, and the officer wheeled to face Arinix's companion, who was running rapidly toward him, empty-handed and cold-faced.

"Watch out!" Mark called as the officer fired.

The bullet caught the running man in the chest, spinning him about. He tottered but did not fall, then came on again. The second shot was to his head, but before the officer could fire again, Mark had jumped forward and chopped him across the wrist with the edge of his hand, so that the gun jumped from his fingers.

"Varken hand!" the man cried, and swung his good fist toward Mark.

Before it could connect, the runner was upon him, hurling him to the ground, kicking him in the head, again and again, with a heavy boot. Mark pulled at the attacker's arm, so that he lost balance and had to stagger back, turning about. The bullet had caught him full in the forehead, leaving a neat, dark hole. There was no blood. He looked stolidly at Mark, his features expressionless, his skin smooth and shiny.

"We must return quickly," Arinix said as he came up. He lowered the muzzle of the machine gun and would have shot the unconscious officer if Mark hadn't pushed the barrel aside.

"You can't kill him, not like that."

"I can. He is dead already."

"Explain that." He held firmly to the barrel. 'That and a lot more."

They struggled in silence for a second, until they were aware of an engine in the distance getting louder and closer. Arinix turned away from the man on the sidewalk and started back down the street. "He called for help on the radio. We must be gone before they arrive."

Gratefully Mark hurried after the other two, happy to run now, run to the door to escape this madness.



3

<p>3</p>

"A drink of water," Arinix said. Mark dropped onto the metal bench in the brown room and nodded, too exhausted to talk. Arinix had a tray with glasses of water, and he passed one to Mark, who drained it and took a second one. The air was cool here, feeling frigid after the street outside, and with the water, he was soon feeling better. More relaxed, at ease, almost ready to fall asleep. As his chin touched his chest, he jerked awake and jumped to his feet.

"You drugged the water," he said.

"Not a strong drug. Just something to relax you, to remove the tension. You will be better in a moment. You have been through an ordeal."

"I have… and you are going to explain it!"

"In a moment."

"No, now!"

Mark wanted to jump to his feet, to take this strange man by the -throat, to shake the truth from him. But he did nothing. The desire was there, but only in an abstract way. It did not seem important enough to pursue such an energetic chain of events. For the first time he noticed that Arinix had lost his hairpiece during the recent engagement. He was as hairless as an egg, and the same scars that crisscrossed his face also extended over his bare skull. Even this did not seem important enough to comment upon. Awareness struck through,

"Your drug seems to be working."

"The effect is almost instantaneous."

"Where are we?"

"In New York City."

"Yes, I know, but so changed. The water in the streets, those soldiers, and the heat. It can't be January-have we traveled in time?"

"No, it is still January, the same day, month, year it has always been. That cannot be changed, that is immutable."

"But something isn't; something has changed. What is it?"

"You have a very quick mind, you make correct conclusions. You must therefore free this quick mind of all theories of the nature of reality and of existence. There is no heaven, there is no hell, the past is gone forever, the unstoppable future sweeps toward us endlessly. We are fixed forever in the now, the inescapable present of our world line-"

"What is a world line?"

"See… the drug relaxes, but your brain is still lawyer-sharp. You live in a particular present because of what happened in the past. Columbus discovered America, the armies of the North won the Civil War, Einstein stated that E = MC2"

He stopped abruptly, and Mark waited for him to go on, but he did not. Why? Because he was waiting for Mark to finish for him. Mark nodded.

"What you are waiting for is for me to ask if there is a world line where Columbus died in infancy, where the South won, and so forth. Is that what you mean?"

"I do. Now, carry the analogy forward."

"If two or three world lines exist, why, more, any number, an infinity of world lines can exist. Infinitely different, eternally separate." Then he was on his feet, shaking despite the drug. "But they are not separate. We are in a different one right now. There is a different world line beyond that door, down those steps-because the ground here is at a different height. Is that true?"

"Yes."

"But why, how… I mean, what is going on out there, what terrible thing is happening?"

"The sun is in the early stages of a change. It is getting warmer, giving out more radiation, and the polar ice caps are beginning to melt. The sea level has risen, drowning the lowest parts of the city This is midwinter, and you saw how warm it is out there. You can imagine what the tropics are like. There has been a breakdown in government as people fled the drowning shorelines. Others have taken advantage of it. The Union of South Africa has capitalized on the deteriorating conditions, and using mercenary troops, has invaded the North American continent. They met little resistance."

"I don't understand-or rather, I do understand what is happening out there, and I believe you, because I saw it for myself. But what can I do about it? Why did you bring me here?"

"You can do nothing about it. I brought you here because we have discovered by experience that the quickest way that someone can be convinced of the multiplicity of worldliness is by bringing them physically to a different world line."

"It is also the best-and quickest-way to discover if they can accept this fact and not break down before this new awareness."

"You have divined the truth. We are, unfortunately, short of time, so wish to determine as soon as possible if recruits will be able to work with us."

"Who is we?"

"In a moment I will tell you. First, do you accept the idea of the multiplicity of world lines?"

"I'm afraid I must. Outside is an inescapable fact. That is not a stage constructed to confuse me. Those dead men are dead forever. How many world lines are there?"

"An infinite number; it is impossible to know. Some differ greatly, some so slightly that it is impossible to mark the difference. Imagine them, if you will, as close together as cards in a pack. If two-dimensional creatures, cluba and hearts, lived on each card, they would be unaware of the other cards and just as unable to reach them. Continue the analogy, drive a nail through all of the cards. Now the other cards can be reached. My people, the 'we' you asked about, are the ones who can do that. We have reached many world lines. Some we cannot reach-some we dare not reach."

"Why?"

"You ask why-after what you saw out there?" For the first time since they had met, Arinix lost his cold detachment. His single eye blazed with fury, and his fists were clenched as he paced the floor. "You saw the filthy things that happen, the death that comes before the absolute death. You see me, and I am typical of my people, maimed, killed, and scarred by a swollen sun that produces more and more hard radiation every year. We escaped our world line, seeking salvation in other world lines, only to discover the awful and ultimate secret. The rot is beginning, going faster and faster all the time. You saw what the world is like beyond that door. Do you understand what I am saying, do the words make any sense to you?

"The sun is going nova. It is the end."



4

<p>4</p>

"Water," Arinix called out hoarsely, slumping onto the metal bench, his single eye closed now. The inner door opened, and his companion appeared with a pitcher and refilled the glasses. He moved as smoothly as before and seemed ignorant of the black hole in his forehead.

"He is a Sixim," Arinix said, seeing the direction of Mark's gaze. He drank the water so greedily that it ran down his chin. "They are our helpers; we could not do without them. Not our invention. We borrow what we need. They are machines, fabrications of plastic and metal, though there is artificial flesh of some kind involved in their construction. I do not know the details. Their controlling apparatus is somewhere in the armored chest cavity; they are quite invulnerable."

Mark had to ask the question.

"The sun is going nova, you said. Everywhere, in every time line-in my time line?"

Arinix shook his head a weary no. "Not in every line; that is our only salvation. But in too many of them-and the pace is accelerating steadily. Your line-no, not as far as we know. The solar spectrum does not show the characteristic changes. Your line has enough problems as it is, and is one we use for much-needed supplies. There are few of us, always too few, and so much to be done. We must save whom we can and what we can, do it without telling why or how we operate. It is a great work that does not end, and is a most tiring one. But my people are driven, driven insane with hatred, at times, of that bloated, evil thing in the sky. We have survived for centuries in spite of it, maimed and mutated by the radiation it pours out. It was due to a successful mutation that we escaped even as we have, a man of genius who discovered the door between the world lines. But the unsuccessful outnumber a million to one the successful in mutations, and I will not attempt to describe the suffering in my world. You may think me maimed, but I am one of the lucky ones. We have escaped our world line but found the enemy waiting everywhere. We have tried to fight back. We started less than two hundred years ago, and our enemy started millions of years before us. From it we have learned to be ruthless in the war, and we will go on fighting it until we have done everything possible."

"You want me to do something in that world outside the door?"

"No, not there; they are dead. The destruction is too advanced. We can only watch. Closer to the end, we will save what art we can. Things have been noted. We know a culture by its art, don't we? We know a world that way as well. So many gone without record, so much to do."

He drank greedily at the water, slobbering. Perhaps he was mad, Mark thought, partly mad, at least. Hating the sun,trying to fight it, fighting an endlessly losing battle. But… wasn't it worth it? If lives, people, could be saved, wasn't that worth any price, any sacrifice? In his world line, men worked to save endangered species. Arinix and his people worked to save another species-their own.

"What can I do to help?" Mark asked.

"You must find out what happened to our field agent in one of our biggest operations. He is from your world line, the one we call Einstein because it is one of the very few where atomic energy has been released. He is now on Iroquois, which will begin going nova within the century. It is a strange line, with little technology and retarded by monolithic religions. Europe still lives in the dark ages. The Indians rule in North America, and the Six Nations are the most powerful of all. They are a brave and resourceful people, and we had hoped to use them to settle a desert world-we know of many of those. Imagine, if you can, the Earth where life never began, where the seas are empty, the land a desert of sand and rock. We have seeded many of them, and that is wonder to behold, with animal and plant life. Simple enough to introduce seeds of all kinds, and later, when they have been established, to transfer animals there. Mankind is not as easy to transfer. We had great hopes with the Iroquois, but our agent has been reported missing. I have taken time from my own projects to correct the matter. We used War Department records to find you."

"Who was your agent?"

"A man named Joseph Wing, a Mohawk, a steel worker here in the city in your own line."

"There has always been bad feeling between the Mohawk and other tribes of the nations."

"We know nothing about that, I will try to find his reports,, if any, if that will be of any assistance. The important thing is-will you help us? If you wish more money, you can have all you need. We have an endless supply. There is little geologic difference between many worlds. So we simply record where important minerals are on one world, things such as diamonds and gold, and see that it is mined on another. It is very easy."

Mark was beginning to have some idea of the immensity of the operation these people were engaged in. "Yes, I'll help, I'll do what I can."

"Good. We leave at once. Stay where you are. We go now to a world line that is called Home by some, Hatred by others."

"Your own?"

"Yes. You will perhaps understand a bit more what drives us. All of our geographical transportation is done on Hatred, for all of the original transit stations were set up there. Also, that is all it is really good for." He spat the words from his mouth as though they tasted bad.

Again there was no sensation, no awareness of change, Arinix left the room, returned a few seconds later.

"You wouldn't like to show me how you did that?" Mark asked.

"I would not. It is forbidden, unthinkable. It would be death for you to go through that door. The means of transit between the world lines is one we must keep secret from all other than ourselves. We may be partially or completely insane, but our hatred is of that thing that hangs in the sky above us. We favor no group, no race, no people, no species above the others. But think what would happen if one of your nationalistic or religious groups gained control of the means to move between world lines, think of the destruction that might follow."

"I grasp your meaning but do not agree completely."

"I do not ask you to. All else is open to you; we have no secrets. Only that room is forbidden. Come."

He opened the outer door, and Mark followed him through.

They were inside a cavernous building of some kind. Harsh lights high above sent long shadows from great stacks of containers and boxes. They stepped aside as a rolling platform approached laden with shining cylinders. It was driven by a Sixim, who was identical, other than the hole in the forehead, to the one with them. The door they had just closed behind them opened, and two more Sixim came out and began to carry the cylinders back into the room.

"This way," Arinix said, and led the way through the high stacks to a room where bales of clothing lay heaped on tables. "Go on to repair," he ordered the damaged Sixim that still followed them, then pointed at the gray clothing.

"These are radiation-resistant. We will change."

As bereft of shame as of any other emotion, Arinix stripped off his clothing and pulled on one of the coverall-type outfits. Mark did the same. It was soft but thick and sealed up high on the neck with what appeared to be a magnetic closure. There were heavy boots in an assortment of sizes, and he soon found a pair that fitted. While he did this, Arinix was making a call on a very ordinary-looking phone that was prominently stamped "Western Electric"-they would be surprised if they knew where their apparatus was being used- speaking a language rich in guttural sounds. They left the room by a different exit, into a wide corridor, where transportation was waiting for them. It was a vehicle the size of a large truck, a teardrop shape riding on six large, heavily tired wheels. It was made of metal the same color as their clothing, and appeared to have no windows. However, when they went inside, Mark saw that the solid nose was either transparent or composed of a large viewsereen of some kind. A single driver's seat faced the controls, and a curved, padded bench was fixed to the other three walls. They sat down, Arinix at the controls, and the machine started. There was no vibration or sound of any exhaust; it just surged forward silently at his touch.

"Electric power?" Mark asked.

"I have no idea. The cars run when needed."

Mark admired his singleness of purpose but did not envy him. There was only one thing in the man's life-to run from the solar fire and save what possibly could be saved from the flame. Were all of his'people like this?



5

<p>5</p>

Strong headlights glared on as they left the corridor and entered what appeared to be a tunnel mouth. The walls were rough and unfinished; only the roadway beneath was smooth, dropping away at a steep angle,

"Where are we going?" Mark asked.

"Under the river, so we can drive on the surface. The island above us-what is the name Einstein-?"

"Manhattan."

"Yes, Manhattan. It is covered by the sea now, which rises almost to the top of the cliffs across the river from it The polar caps melted many years ago here. Life is very harsh, you will see."

The tunnel ahead curved to the right and began to rise sharply. Arinix slowed the vehicle and stopped when a brilliant disk of light became visible ahead. He worked a control, and the scene darkened as though a filter had been slipped into place. Then, with the headlights switched off, he moved forward until the light could be seen as the glaring tunnel mouth, growing larger and brighter, until they were through it and back on the surface once more.

Mark could not look at the sun, or even in its direction, despite the protective filter. It burned like the open mouth of a celestial furnace, spewing out light and heat and radiation onto the world below. Here the plants grew, the only living creatures that could bear the torrent of fire from the sky, that welcomed it. Green on all sides, a jungle of growing, thriving, rising, reaching plants and trees, burgeoning under the caress of the exploding star. The road was the only visible manmade artifact, cutting a wide, straight slash through the wilderness of plant life, straining life that leaned over, grew to its very edge, and sent tendrils and runners across its barren surface. Arinix threw more switches, then rose from the driver's seat.

"It is on automatic control now. We may rest."

He grabbed for support as the car slowed suddenly; ahead, a great tree had crashed across the road, almost blocking it completely. There was a rattle of machinery from the front of the car, and a glow sprang out that rivaled the glare of the sun above. Then they moved again, slowly, and greasy smoke billowed up and was blown away.

'The machine will follow the road and clear it when it must," Arinix said. "A device, a heat generator of some sort, will burn away obstructions. I am told it is a variant of the machine that melted the soil and rock to form this road, a principle discovered while observing the repulsive sun that has caused this all, making heat in the same manner the sun makes heat. We will turn its own strengths back upon it."

He went to the seat in the rear, stretched out on it with his face to the cushions, and appeared to fall instantly asleep, Mark sat in the driver's chair, careful to touch nothing, both fascinated and repelled by the world outside. The car continued unerringly down the center of the road at a high speed, slowing only when it had to burn away obstructions. It must have utilized radar or other sensing devices, for a_ sudden heavy rainstorm did not reduce its speed in the slightest. Visibility was only a few feet in the intense tropical downpour, yet the car moved on, speed unabated. It did slow, but only to burn away obstructions, and smoke and steam obscured all vision. Then the storm stopped, as quickly as it began. Mark watched until he began to yawn, so then, like Arinix, he tried to rest. At first he thought he could not possibly sleep, then realized he had. Darkness had fallen outside, and the car still hurried silently through the night.

It was just before dawn when they reached their destination.

The building was as big as a fortress, which it resembled in more ways than one. Its walls- were high and dark, featureless, streaked with rain. Harsh lights on all sides lit the ground, which was nothing more than sodden ash. Apparently all plant life was burned before it could reach the building and undermine it. The road led directly to a high door that slid open automatically as they approached. Arinix stopped the vehicle a few hundred yards short of the entrance and rose from the controls.

"Come with me. This machine will enter by itself, but we shall walk. There is no solar radiation now, so you may, see my world and know what is in store for all the others."

They stepped out into the damp airlessness of the night. The car pulled away from them, and they were alone. Rivulets of wet ash streaked the road, disappearing in runnels at either side where the waiting plant life leaned close. The air was hot, muggy, hard to breathe, seemingly giving no substance to the lungs. Mark gasped and breathed deeply over and over again,

"Remember," Arinix said, turning away and starting for the entrance, "this is night, midwinter, before dawn, the coolest it will ever be here. Do not come in the summer."

Mark went after him, aware that he was already soaked with sweat, feeling the strength of the enemy in the sky above, which was already touching fire to the eastern horizon. Though he panted with the effort, he ran and staggered into the building and watched as the door ground shut behind him.

"Your work now begins;" Arinix said, leading the way into a now familiar brown room. Mark got his breath back and wiped his streaming face while they made their swift journey to the world line named Iroquois,

"I will leave you here and will return in twenty-four hours-for your report on the situation. We will then decide what must he -done." Arinix opened the outer door and pointed.

"Just a minute-I don't know anything that is happening here. You will have to brief me."

"I know nothing of this operation, other than what I have told you. The Sixim there should have complete records and will tell you what you need to know. Now, leave. I have my own work to do."

There was no point in arguing, Arinix gestured again impatiently, and Mark went through the door, which closed with a ponderous thud behind him. He was in darkness, cold darkness, and he shivered uncontrollably after the heat of the world he had just left.

"Sixim, are you there? Can you turn on some lights?"

There was the sudden flare of a match in answer, and in its light he could see an Indian lighting an ordinary kerosene lamp. He wore thong-wrapped fur leggings and a fringed deerskin jacket. Though his skin was dark, his features were Indo-European; once the lamp was lit, he stood by it, un-moving,

"You are the Sixim," Mark said.

"I am."

"What are you doing here?"

"Awaiting instructions."

These creatures were as literal-minded as computers- which is probably what their brains were. Mark realized he had to be more specific with his questions, but his teeth were chattering with cold, and he was shivering hard, which made it difficult to think.

"How long have you-been waiting?"

"Twelve days, fourteen hours, and-"

"That's precise enough. You have just been sitting here in the dark without heat all that time! Do you have a way of heating this place?"

"Yes."

"Then do it, and quickly… and let me have something to wrap around me before I freeze."

The buffalo-skin robe made a big difference, and while the Sixim lit a fire in a large stone fireplace, Mark looked around at the large room. The walls were of logs, with the bark still on, and the floor bare wide boards. Crates were piled at one end of the room, and a small mound of skins was at the other. Around the fire, it was more domestic, with a table and chairs, cooking pots, and cabinets. Mark pulled a wooden chair close and raised his hands to the crackling blaze. Once the fire was started, the Sixim waited stolidly again for more orders.

By patient questioning Mark extracted all that the machine man seemed to know about the situation. The agent, Joseph Wing, had been staying here and going out to talk to the Oneida. The work he did was unknown to the, Sixim." Wing had gone out and not returned. At the end of forty-eight hours, as instructed, the Sixim had reported him missing. How he had reported, he would not say; obviously there were questions it would not answer.

"You've been a help-but not very much," Mark said, "I'll just have to find out for myself what is going on out there. Did Joseph Wing leave any kind of papers, a diary, notes?"

"No."

"Thanks. Are there any weapons here?"

"In that box Do you wish me to unlock it?"

"I do."

The weapons consisted of about twenty well-worn, obviously surplus M-1 rifles, along with some boxes of ammunition. Mark tried the bolt on one-it worked smoothly- then put the rifle back in the box.

"Lock it up. I'm not looking for trouble, and if I find it, a single gun won't make that much difference. But a peace offering might be in order, particularly food in the middle of winter."

He carried the lantern over to the boxes and quickly found exactly what he needed. A case of large smoked hams. Picking one out, he held the label to the light, "Smithfield Ham," it read, "packed in New Chicago, weight 6.78 kilos." Not from his world line, obviously, but that didn't matter in the slightest.

And he would need warmer clothes, clothes that would be more acceptable here than gray coveralls. There were leggings and jackets-obviously used, from their smell-that would do nicely. He changed quickly in front of the fire, then, knowing it would be harder the longer he waited, tucked the ham under his arm and went to the door and pulled back on the large wooden bolt.

"Lock this behind me, and unlock it only for me."

"Yes."

The door opened onto an unmarked field of snow with a stand of green pines and taller bare-limbed oak trees beyond. Above, in the blue arch of the sky, a small and reasonable winter sun shed more light than heat. There was a path through the trees, and beyond them a thin trickle of smoke was dark against the sky. Mark went in that direction. When he reached the edge of the grove, a tall Indian stepped silently from behind a tree and blocked the path before him. He made no threatening moves, but the stone-headed club hung easily and ready from his hand. Mark stopped and looked at him, saying nothing, hoping he could remember Iroquois after all these years. It was the Indian who broke the silence and spoke first,

"I am called Great Hawk."

"I am called… Little-one-talks." He hadn't spoken that name in years; it was what the old men on the reservation called him when he first spoke their own language. Great Hawk seemed to be easier when he heard the words, for his club sank lower.

"I come in peace," Mark said, and held out the ham.

"Welcome in peace," Great Hawk said, tucking the club into his waist and taking the ham. He sniffed at it appreciatively.

"Have you seen the one named Joseph Wing?" Mark asked.

The ham dropped, half-burying itself silently in the snow; the club was clutched at the ready.

"Are you a friend of his?" Great Hawk asked.

"I have never met him. But I was told I would see him here."

Great Hawk considered this in silence for a long time, looked up as a blue jay flapped by overhead, calling out hoarsely, then examined with apparent great attention the tracks of a rabbit in the snow-through all of this not taking his eyes from Mark for more than a second,. Finally he spoke.

"Joseph Wing came here during the hunter's moon, before the first snow fell. Many said-he had much orenda, for there were strange lights and sounds here during a night, and no one would leave the long house, and in the morning his long house stands as you see it now. There is great orenda here. Then he came and spoke to us and told us many things. He said he would show the warriors a place where there was good hunting. Hunting is bad here, for the people of the Six Nations are many, and some go hungry. He said all these things, and what he showed us made us believe him. Some of us said we would go with him, even though some thought they would never return. Some said that he was Tehoron-hiawakhon, and he did not say it was not the truth. He said to my sister, Deer-runs, that he was indeed Tehoronhiawak-hon. He told her to come with him to his long house. She did not want to go with him. By force he took her to his long house."

Great Hawk stopped talking abruptly and looked attentively at Mark through half-closed eyes-. He did not finish, but the meaning was clear enough. The Oneida would have thought Joseph Wing possessed of much orenda after his sudden appearance, the principle of magic power that was inherent in every body or thing. Some had it more than others. A man who could build a building in a night must have great orenda. So much so that some would consider him to be Te-horonhiawakhon, the hero who watched over them, born of the gods, who lived as a man and who might return as a man. But no hero would take a maiden by force; the Indians were very practical on this point. Anyone who would do that would be killed by the girl's family; that was obvious. Her brother waited for Mark's answer.

"One who does that must die," Mark said. Defending the undoubtedly dead Joseph Wing would accomplish nothing; Mark was learning pragmatism from Arinix.

"He died. Come to the long house."

Great Hawk picked up the ham, turned his back, and led the way through the deep snow.



6

<p>6</p>

The Oneida warriors sat cross-legged around the fire while the women served them the thin gruel. Hunting must have been bad if this was all they had, for it was more water than anything else, with some pounded acorns and a few scraps of venison. After eating, they smoked, a rank leaf of some kind that was certainly not tobacco. Not until the ceremony was out of the way did they finally touch the topic that concerned them all.

"We have eaten elk," Great Hawk said, puffing at the pipe until his eyes grew red, "This is an elkskin robe I am wearing. They are large, and there is much meat upon them." He passed the pipe to Mark, then reached behind him under a tumbled hide and drew forth a bone, "This is the bone of the leg of an elk, brought to us by someone. We would eat well in winter with elk such as this to hunt."

Mark took it and looked at it as closely as he could in the dim light. It was a bone like any other, as far as he could tell, distinguished only by its great length-at least five feet from end to end. Comparing it with the length of his own femur, he could see that it came from a massive beast. Surely an elk or a cow would be smaller than this. What had this to do with the dead Joseph Wing? He must have brought it. But why, and where did he get it? If only there were some record of what he was supposed to be doing. Hunting, of course-that had to be it; food for these people who appeared too many for the limited hunting grounds. He held up the bone and spoke.

"Was it told to you that you would be able to hunt elk like this?"

There were nods and grunts in answer.

"What was told you?" After a silence, Great Hawk answered.

"Someone said that a hunting party could go to this land that was close by but far away. If hunting was good, a long house would be built for the others to follow. That was what was said."

It was simple enough. A hunting party taken to one of the seeded desert worlds, now stocked with game. If the trip was successful, the rest of the tribe would follow.

"I can also take you hunting in that land," Mark said,

"When will this be?"

"Come to me in the morning, and I will tell you,"

He left before they could ask any more questions. The sun was low on the horizon, sending long purple shadows across the white snow. Backtracking was easy, and the solid log walls of the building a welcome sight. When he was identified, the Sixim let him in. The fire was built even higher now, the large room was almost warmed up. Mark sat by the fire and stretched his hands to it gratefully; the Sixim was statuesque in the shadows,

"Joseph Wing was to take the Indians to another world line. Did you know that?"

"Yes."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"You did not ask."

"I would appreciate it if you would volunteer more information in the future."

"Which information do you wish me to volunteer?"

The Sixim took a lot of getting used to. Mark took the lantern and rummaged through the variety of goods in the boxes and on the loaded shelves. There were ranked bottles of unfamiliar shape and labeling that contained some thing called Kunbula Atashan from someplace that appeared to be named Carthagio-it was hard to read the letters, so he could not be sure, but when he opened one of them, it had a definite odor of strong alcoholic beverage. The flavor was unusual but fortifying, and he poured a mugful before he returned to the fire.

"Do you know whom I must contact to make arrangements for the transfer to the other world line?"

"Yes."

"Who?"

"Me."

It was just that simple. The Sixim would give no details of the operation, but he would operate the mechanism to take them to the correct world and return.

"In the morning, first thing, we'll go have a look."

They left soon after dawn. Mark took one of the rifles and some extra clips of ammunition; that had been a big elk, and he might be lucky enough to bag another. Once more the sensationless transfer was made and the heavy outer door pushed open. For the first time there was no other room or hallway beyond it, just a field of yellowed grass. Mark was astonished.

"But… is it winter? Where is the snow?" Because it was phrased as a question, the Sixim answered him.

"It is winter. But here in Sandstone the climate is warmer, due to the ocean-current differences."

Holding the rifle ready, Mark stepped through the door, which the Sixim closed behind him. Without being ordered, the Sixim locked the door with the long key. For the first time Mark saw the means of world-line transportation not concealed by an outer building. It was a large box, nothing more, constructed of riveted and rusty steel plates. Whatever apparatus powered it was inside, for it was completely featureless. He turned from it to look at the world named Sandstone.

The tall grass was everywhere; it must have been seeded first to stabilize the soil. It had done this, but it would take centuries to soften the bare rock contours of what had once been a worldwide desert. Harsh-edged crags pushed up in the distance where there should have been rounded hills; mounds of tumbled morain rose above the grass. Groves and patches of woods lay scattered about, while on one side a thick forest began and stretched away to the horizon. All of this had a very constructed air to it-and it obviously was. Mark recognized some of the trees; others were strange to him. This planet had been seeded in a hurry, and undoubtedly with a great variety of vegetation. As unusual as it looked now, this made ecological good sense, since complex ecological relationships increased the chance the ecosystem had of surviving. There would certainly be a variety of animal life as well- the large elk the Oneida knew about, and surely others as well. When he moved around the rusty building, he saw just what some of that life might be-and stopped still on the spot. No more than a few hundred yards away, there was a herd of elephants tearing at the leaves on the low trees. Large elephants with elegant swept-back tusks, thickly covered with hair.

"Hairy mammoth!" he said aloud, just as the nearest bull saw him appear and raised his trunk and screamed warning.

"That is correct," the Sixim said.

"Get your key, and let's get out of here," Mark said, backing quickly around the corner. "I don't think a thirty-caliber will make a dent in that thing."

With unhurried, steady motions the Sixim unlocked the door, one lock after another, while the thunder of pounding feet grew louder and closer. Then they were through the door and pushing it shut.

"I think the Oneida will enjoy the hunting," Mark said, grinning wryly, leaning against the thick wall with relief, "Let's go back and get them."

When he opened the outer wooden door in Iroquois, he saw Great Hawk and five other warriors standing patiently in the snow outside. They were dressed warmly, had what must be provision bags slung at their waists, and were armed with long bows and arrows as well as stone clubs and stone skinning knives. They were prepared for a hunting expedition, they knew not where, but they were prepared. When Mark waved them forward, they came at once. The only sign of the tension they must be feeling was in their manner of walking, more like stalking a chase than entering a building. They showed little interest in the outer room-they must have been here before-but were eyeing the heavy metal door with more than casual interest. The deceased Joseph Wing must have told them something about it, but Mark had already decided to ignore this and tell the truth as clearly as they could understand it.

"Through that door is a long house that will bear us to the place where we will hunt. How it will take us there I do not know, for it is beyond my comprehension. But it will take us there as safely as a mother carries a papoose on her back, as safely as a bark canoe carries us over the waters. Are you ready to go?"

"Will you take the noise stick that kills?" Great Hawk asked, pointing with his thumb at the rifle Mark still carried.

"Yes."

"It was one time said that the Oneida would be given noise sticks and taught the manner of their use."

Why not, Mark thought, there were no rules to all this, anything went that would save these people. "Yes, you may have them now if you wish, but I think until you can use them well, your bows will be better weapons."

"That is true. We will have them when we return."

The Sixim pulled the heavy door open, and without being urged, the Indians filed into the brightly lit room beyond. They remained silent but held their weapons ready as the door was closed and the Sixim went through the door to the operating room, only to emerge a moment later.

"The journey is over," Mark said. "Now we hunt."

Only when the outer door was opened onto the grassy sunlit plain did they believe him. They grunted with surprise as they left, calling out in wonder at the strange sights and the warm temperature. Mark looked around nervously, but the herd of mammoth was gone. There were more than enough other things to capture the Indians' attention. They saw animals where he saw only grass and trees and called attention to them with pleased shouts. Yet they were silent instantly when Great Hawk raised his hand for silence, then pointed.

"There, under those trees. It looks like a large pig."

Mark could see nothing in the shadows, but the other

Indians were apparently in agreement, for they were nocking arrows to their bows. When the dark, scuffling shape emerged into the sunlight, they were ready for it, A European boar, far larger than they had ever seen. The boar had never seen men before either; it was not afraid; The arrows whistled; more than one struck home, the boar wheeled about, squealing with pain, and crashed back into the undergrowth. Whooping with pleasure, the Oneida were instantly on its trail.

"Stay inside until we get back," Mark told the Sixim. "I want to be sure we can get back."

He ran swiftly after the others, who had already vanished under the trees. The trail was obvious, marked with the blood of the fleeing animal, well trampled by its pursuers. From ahead there came even louder squealing and shouts that ended in sudden silence. When Mark came up, it was all over; the boar was on its side, dead, its skull crushed in, while the victorious Indians prodded its flanks and hams happily.

The explosion shook the ground at that moment, a long, deep rumbling sound that hammered at their ears. It staggered them, it was so close and loud, frightening them because they did not know what it was. Mark did. He had heard this kind of noise before. He wheeled about and watched the large cloud of greasy black smoke roiling and spreading as it climbed up the sky. It rose from behind the trees in the direction of the building. Then he was running, slamming a cartridge in the chamber of the rifle at the same time, thumbing off the safety.

The scene was a disaster. He stumbled and almost fell as he emerged from beneath the trees.

Where the squat steel building had stood was now only a smoking, flame-licked ruin of torn and twisting plates. On the grass nearby, one leg ripped away and as torn himself, lay the Sixim.

The doorway between the worlds was closed.



7

<p>7</p>

Mark just stood there, motionless, even after the Indians came up and ranked themselves beside him, calling out in wonder at the devastation. They did not realize yet that they were exiled from their tribe and their own world. The Sixim raised its head and called out hoarsely; Mark ran to it. Much of its imitation flesh was gone, and metal shone through the gaps. Its face had suffered badly as well, but it could still talk.

"What happened?" Mark asked.

"There were strangers in the room, men with guns. This is not allowed. There are orders. I actuated the destruct mechanism and attempted to use the escape device."

Mark looked at the ruin and flames. "There is no way this room can be used again?" -

"No."

"Are there other rooms on this world?"

"One that I know of, perhaps more____________________ "

"One is enough! Where is it?"

"What is the name of your world line?"

"What difference does that make?… All right, it's called Einstein."

"The room is located on an island that is named Manhattan." '

"Of course! The original one I came through. But that must be at least two hundred miles away from here as the crow flies."

But what was two hundred miles as compared to the gap between the worlds? His boots were sound, he was a couple of pounds overweight, but otherwise in good condition. He had companions who were at home in the wilds and knew how to live off the land. If they would come with him… They had little other choice. If he could explain to them what had happened and what they must do…

It was not easy, but the existence of this world led them to believe anything he told them-if not believe it, at least not to doubt it too strongly. In the end they were almost eager to see what this new land had to offer, what other strange animals there were to hunt. While the others butchered and smoked the fresh-killed meat, Mark labored to explain to Great Hawk that they were physically at the same place in the world as the one they had left. The Indian worked hard to understand this but could not, since this was obviously a different place. Mark finally forced him to accept the fact on faith, to operate as if it were true even though he knew it wasn't.

When it came to finding the island of Manhattan, Great Hawk called a conference of all the Indians. They strolled over slowly, grease-smeared and happy, stomachs bulging with fresh meat. Mark could only listen as they explored the geography of New York State, as they knew it and as they had heard of it from others. In the end they agreed on the location of the island, at the mouth of the great river at the ocean nearby the long island. But they knew they could not get there from this place, then went back to their butchery. They fell asleep in the middle of this; it was late afternoon, so he gave up any hope of starting this day. He resigned himself to the delay and was eating some of the roasted meat himself when the Sixim appeared out of the forest. It had shaped a rough crutch from a branch, which it held under its arm as it walked. Arinix had said the creatures were almost indestructible, and it appeared he was right.

Mark questioned the Sixim, but it did not know how to get to Manhattan, nor did it have any knowledge of the geography of this world. When the sun set, Mark stretched out by the fire with the others and slept just as soundly as they did. He was up at first light, and as the sun rose in the east, he squinted at it and realized what he had to do. He would have to lead them out of here. He shook Great Hawk awake,

"We walk east toward the sun," he said, "When we reach the great river, we turn and follow it downstream to the south. Can we do that?" If there were a Hudson River on this world… and if the Indians would follow him,,, Great Hawk looked at him solemnly for a long moment, then sat,up.

"We leave now." He whistled shrilly, and the others stirred.

The Indians enjoyed the outing very much, chattering about the sights along the way and looking with amusement at what was obviously a happy hunting ground. Game was everywhere-creatures they knew and others that were completely strange. There was a herd of great oxlike creatures that resembled the beasts of the cave paintings in Altamira, aurochs perhaps, and they had a glimpse of a great cat stalking them that appeared to have immensely long tusks. A sabertooth tiger? All things were possible on this newly ripening desert world. They walked for five days through this strange landscape before they reached what could only be the Hudson River.

Except that, like the Colorado River, this river had cut an immense gorge through what had formerly been a barren landscape. They crept close to the high cliffs and peered over. There was no possible way to descend.

"South," Mark said, and turned along the edge, and the others followed him.

A day later they reached a spot where a tributary joined the Hudson and where the banks were lower and more graded. In addition, many seeds had been Sown or carried here, and strands of trees lined the shore. It took the Indians less than a day to assemble branches, trunks, and driftwood to make a sizable raft. Using strips of rawhide, they bound this firmly together, loaded their food aboard, then climbed aboard themselves. As the Indians poled and paddled, the clumsy craft left shore, was carried quickly out into the main current, and hurried south. Manhattan would be at the river's mouth.

This part of the trip was the easiest, and far swifter than Mark had realized. The landscape was so different from what he -knew of the valley, with alternate patches of vegetation and desert, that he found it hard to tell where they were. A number of fair-sized streams entered the river from the east, and there was no guarantee that the East River, which cut Manhattan off from the mainland, existed on this world. If it were there he thought it another tributary, for he never saw it. There were other high cliffs, so the Palisades were not that noticeable.

"This water is no good," Great Hawk said. He had scooped up a handful from the river, and he now spat it out. Mark dipped some himself. It was brackish, salty.

"The ocean, tidewater-we're near the mouth of the river! Pull to shore, quickly."

What he had thought was a promontory ahead showed nothing but wide water beyond it, the expanse of New York Harbor. They landed on- what would be the site of Battery Park on the southernmost tip of the island. The Indians worked in silence, unloading the raft, and when Mark started to speak, Great Hawk held his finger to his lips for silence, then leaned close to whisper in his ear.

"Men over this hill, very close. Smell them, smell the fire, they are cooking meat."

"Show me," Mark whispered in return.

He could not move as silently as the Oneida did; they vanished like smoke among the trees. Mark followed as quietly as he could, and a minute later Great Hawk was back to lead him. They crawled the last few yards on their stomachs under the bushes, hearing the sound of mumbled voices. The Indian moved a branch slowly aside, and Mark looked into the clearing.

Three khaki-clad soldiers were gathered around a fire over which a smoking carcass roasted. They had heavy rifles slung across their shoulders. A fourth, a sergeant with upside-down stripes, was stretched out asleep with his wide-brimmed hat over his face.

They spoke quietly in order not to waken him, a strangely familiar language deep in their throats.

It was Dutch-not Dutch, Afrikaans. But what were they doing here?

Mark crawled back to the others, and by the time he had reached them, the answer was clear-too clear, and frightening. But it was the only possibility. He must tell them.

"Those men are soldiers. I know them. Warriors with noise sticks. I think they are the ones who took over the room and destroyed it. They are here, which must mean they have taken over the room here. Without it we cannot return."

"What must we do?" Great Hawk asked. The answer was obvious, but Mark hesitated to say it. He was a lawyer, or had been a lawyer-a man of the law. But what was the law here?

"If we are to return, we will have to kill them, without any noise, then kill or capture the others at the room. If we don't do that, we will be trapped here, cut off from the tribe forever,"

The Indians, who lived by hunting, and were no strangers • to tribal warfare, were far less worried about the killing than was Mark. They conferred briefly, and Great Hawk and three others vanished silently back among the trees. Mark sat, staring.sightlessly at the ground, trying to equate this with his civilized conscience. For a moment he envied the battered Sixim, who stood by his side, unbothered by emotions or worries. An owl called and the remaining Indians stood and called Mark after them.

The clearing was the same, the meat still smoked on the spit, the sergeant's hat was still over his eyes. But an arrow stood out starkly from his side below his arm. The huddled forms of the other soldiers revealed the instant, silent death that had spoken from the forest. With no show of emotion, the Indians cut the valuable arrows free of the corpses, commenting only on the pallid skin of the men, then looted their weapons and supplies. The guns might be useful; the arrows certainly were. Great Hawk was scouting the clearing and found a-to him-clearly marked trail. The sun was behind the trees when they started down it.

The building was not far away. They looked at it from hiding, the now familiar rusted and riveted plates of its walls, the heavy sealed door. Only, this door was gaping open, and the building itself was surrounded by a palisade of thin trees and shrubs. A guard stood at the only gate, and the enclosure wds filled with troops. Mark could see heavy weapons and mortars there.

"It will be hard to kill all of these without being killed ourselves," Great Hawk said…"So we shall not try."



8

<p>8</p>

The Indians could not be convinced even to consider action. They lay about in the gathering darkness, chewing on the tough slabs of meat, ignoring all of-Mark's arguments. They were as realistic as any animal, and not interested in suicide. A mountain lion attacks a deer, a deer runs from a lion-it never happens the other way around. They would wait here until morning and watch the camp, then decide what to do. But it was obvious that the options did not include an attack. Would it end this way, defeat without battle… and a barren lifetime on a savage planet stretching ahead of them? More barren to Mark, who had a civilized man's imagination and despair. The Indians had no such complications in their lives. They chewed the meat, the matter dismissed and forgotten, and in low whispers discussed the hunting and the animals while darkness fell. Mark sat, silent with despair; the Sixim loomed silent as a tree beside him. The Sixim would follow orders, but the two of them were not going to capture this armed camp. Something might happen-he must make the Indians stay and watch and help him. He doubted if they would.

Something did happen, and far sooner than he had thought. Great Hawk, who had slipped away to watch the building, came back suddenly and waved the others to follow him. They went to the fringe of the trees once more and looked at the activity in the camp with astonishment.

The gate was standing open, and there was no guard upon it.

All of the soldiers had drawn up in a semicircle facing the open door of the building. Fires had been lit near it. All of the heavy weapons had been trained on the opening.

"Don't you see what has happened!" Mark said excitedly. "They may control this building and others like it in other lines, but they cannot possibly control them all. They must be expecting a counterattack. They can do nothing until the attackers appear except wait and be ready. Do you understand-this is our chance! They are not expecting trouble from this flank. Get close in the darkness. Wait. Wait until the attack. Then we take out the machine guns-they are the real danger-sow confusion. Taken from the front and rear at the same time, they cannot win. Sixim, can you fire a rifle? One of these we captured?"

"I can. I have examined their mechanism."

"How is your aim?" It was a foolish question to ask.

"I hit what I aim at, every time."

"Then let us get close and get into positions. This may be our only chance. If we don't do it this time, there will probably be no second chance. Once they know we are out here, the guns will face both ways. Come, we have to get close now."

He moved out toward the enclosure, the Sixim, rifle slung, limping at his side. The Indians stayed where they were. He turned back to them, but they were as solid and unmoving as rock in their silence. Nothing more could be done. This left only the two of them, man and machine man, to do their best.

They were almost too late, While they were still twenty yards' from the palisade, sudden fire erupted from inside the building; the South Africans guns roared in return. Mark ran, drawing ahead of the Sixim, running through the open gate, to fall prone in the darkness near the wall and to control his breathing. To squeeze off his shots carefully.

One gunner fell, then another. Tie Sixim was beside him, firing at target after target with machine regularity. Someone had seen the muzzle blast of their guns, because weapons were turned on them, bullets tearing into the earth beside them, soldiers running toward them. Mark's gun clicked out of battery, empty of cartridges. He tore the empty clip away, struggled to jam in a full one; the soldier was above him.

Falling to one side with an arrow in his chest. Darker shadows moved, just as a solid wave of Sixim erupted through the open doorway.

That was the beginning of the end. As soon as they were among the soldiers, the slaughter began, no mercy, no quarter. Mark called the Indians to him, to the protection of their own battered Sixim, before they were also cut down. The carnage was brief and complete, and when it was over, a familiar one-eyed figure emerged from the building,

"Arinix," Mark called out, and the man turned and came over, "How did all this happen?"

"They were suspicious; they had been watching us for a long time. That officer we did not kill led them to this building." He said it without malice or regret, a statement of fact. Mark had no answer.

"Is this the last of them? Is the way open now?"

"There are more, but they will be eliminated. You see what happens when others attempt to control the way between the worlds?" He started away, then turned back. "Have you solved the problem with the Indians? Will they settle this world?"

"I think so. I would like to stay with them longer, give them what help I can."

"You do not wish to return to Einstein?"

That was a hard one to answer. Back to New York and the pollution and the life as a lawyer. It suddenly seemed a good deal emptier than it had. "I don't know. Perhaps, perhaps not. Let me finish here first."

Arinix turned away instantly and was gone. Mark went to Great Hawk, who sat cross-legged on' the ground and watched the operation with a great deal of interest. '

"Why did you and the others come to help?" Mark asked.

"It seemed too good a fight to miss. Besides, you said you would show us how to use the noise sticks. You could not do that if you were dead."

The smoke from the dying fires rose up in thin veils against the bright stars in the sky above. In his nostrils the air was cold and clean, its purity emphasized by the smell of wood smoke. Somewhere, not too far away, a wolf howled long and mournfully. This world, so recently empty of life, now had it in abundance, and would soon have human settlers as well, Indians of the Six Nations who would be escaping the fire that would destroy their own world. What sort of world would they make of it?

He had the sudden desire to see what would happen here, even to help in the shaping of it. The cramped life of a lawyer in a crowded world was without appeal. He had friends that he would miss, but he knew that new friends waited for him in the multiplicity of worlds he would soon visit. Really, there was no choice.

Arinix was by the open door issuing orders to the attentive Sixim. Mark called out to him.

The decision had really been an easy one.



Part 3. Earth Destroyed

Requiem

by Edmond Hamilton

At the Core

by Larry Niven

A Pail of Air

by Fritz Leiber

King of the Hill

by Chad Oliver

<p>Part 3. Earth Destroyed</p>

 What if the Universe and Sun are essentially undisturbed, but Earth itself undergoes a battering in a "Catastrophe of the Third Class"?

 There have been dangers to Earth that were popular with science fiction writers in decades past but that have never really been in the astronomical cards. The planets of the solar system cannot be so perturbed in their movements that they begin a slow spiral into the Sun-not unless some method is provided for bleeding off their tremendous angular momentum. Nevertheless, it is a colorful possibility that sf hates to abandon ("Requiem" by Edmond Hamilton).

 Today the Universe has become much more violent than m the old, old days of thirty years ago. We have learned about not merely exploding stars, but the cores of galaxies-billions of stars-that go up in agony. We deal with collapses into pulsars and black holes and the incredibly luminous quasars, And all of this gives writers the opportunity for dramatic ends indeed to Earth for the violence gives rise to radiation and that- ("At the Core" by Larry Nivenj,

 The reverse is also dramatic. What if something happens to deprive us of our Sun altogether and we are threatened with ruin not through excess of energy but utter lack ("A Pail of Air" by Fritz Leiberi.

 Nor need we feel we are entirely at the mercy of outside influences. Such is the power of Homo sapiens for evil that we can (and very likely are) ruining ourselves by the simple process of fouling our nest ("'King of the Hill" by Chad Oliver).


<p>Requiem</p> <p>by Edmond Hamilton</p>

Kellon thought sourly that he wasn't commanding a star-ship, he was running a traveling circus. He had aboard telaudio men with tons of equipment, pontifical commentators who knew the answer to anything, beautiful females who were experts on the woman's angle, pompous bureaucrats after publicity, and entertainment stars who had come along for the same reason.

He had had a good ship and crew, one of the best in the Survey. Had had. They weren't any more. They had been taken off their proper job of pushing astrographical knowledge ever further into the remote regions of the galaxy, and had been sent off with this cargo of costly people on a totally unnecessary mission,

He said bitterly to himself, "Damn all sentimentalists."

He said aloud, "Does its position check with your calculated orbit, Mr. Riney?"

Riney, the Second, a young and serious man who had been fussing with instruments in the astrogation room, came out and said,

"Yes. Right on the nose. Shall we go in and land now?"

Kellon didn't answer for a moment, standing there in the front of the bridge, a middle-aged man, stocky, square-shouldered, and with his tanned, plain face showing none of the resentment he felt. He hated to give the order but he had to.

"All right, take her in."

He looked gloomily through -the filter-windows as they went in. In this fringe-spiral of the galaxy, stars were relatively infrequent, and there were only ragged drifts of them across the darkness. Full ahead shone a small, compact sun like a diamond. It was a white dwarf and had been so for two thousand years, giving forth so little warmth that the planets which circled it had been frozen and ice-locked all that time. They still were, all except the innermost world.

Kellon stared at that planet, a tawny blob. The ice that had sheathed it ever since its primary collapsed into a white dwarf had now melted. Months before, a dark wandering body had passed very close to this lifeless system. Its passing had perturbed the planetary orbits and the inner planets had started to spiral slowly in toward their sun, and the ice had begun to go.

Viresson, one of the junior officers, came into the bridge looking harassed. He said to Kellon,

"They want to see you down below, sir. Especially Mr. Borrodale. He says it's urgent."

Kellon thought wearily, Well, I might as well go down and face the pack of them. Herd's where they really begin.

He nodded to Viresson, and went do'wn below to the main cabin. The sight of it revolted him. Instead of his own men in it, relaxing or chinning, it held a small and noisy mob of overdressed, overloud men and women, all of whom seemed to be talking at once and uttering brittle, nervous laughter.

"Captain Kellon, I want to ask you-"

"Captain, if you please-"

He patiently nodded and smiled and plowed through them to Borrodale He had been given particular instructions to cooperate with Borrodale, the most famous tetaudio commentator in the Federation.

Borrodale was a slightly plump man with a round pink face and incongruously large and solemn black eyes. When he spoke, one recognized at once that deep, incredibly rich and meaningful voice.

"My first broadcast is set for thirty minutes from now, Captain. I shall want a view as we go in. If my men could take a mobile up to the bridge-"

Kellon nodded. "Of course. Mr. Viresson is up there and will assist them in any way."

"Thank you, Captain. Would you like to see the broadcast?"

"I would, yes, but-"

He was interrupted by Lorri Lee, whose glitteringly handsome face and figure and sophisticated drawl made her the idol of all female telaudio reporters.

"My broadcast is to be right after landing-remember? I'd like to do it alone, with just the emptiness of that world as background. Can you keep the others from spoiling the effect? Please?"

"We'll do what we can," Kellon mumbled. And as the rest of the pack converged on him he added hastily, "I'll talk to you later. Mr. Borrodale's broadcast-"

He got through them, following after Borrodale toward the cabin that had been set up as a telaudio-transmitter room. It had, Kellon thought bitterly, once served an honest purpose, holding the racks of soil and water and other samples from far worlds. But that had been when they were doing an honest Survey job, not chaperoning chattering fools on this sentimental pilgrimage.

The broadcasting set-up was beyond Kellon. He didn't want to hear this but it was better than the mob in the main cabin. He watched as Borrodale made a signal. The monitor-screen came alive.

It showed a dun-colored globe spinning in space, growing visibly larger as they swept toward it. Now straggling seas were identifiable upon it. Moments passed and Borrodale did not speak, just letting that picture go out. Then his deep voice spoke over the picture, with dramatic simplicity.

"You are looking at the Earth," he said.

Silence again, and the spinning brownish ball was bigger now, with white clouds ragged upon it. And then Borrodale spoke again.

"You who watch from many worlds in the galaxy-this is the homeland of our race. Speak its name to yourselves. The Earth."

Kellon felt a deepening distaste. This was all true, but still it was phony. What was Earth now to him, or to Borrodale, or his billions of listeners? But it was a story, a sentimental occasion, so they had to pump it up into something big.

"Some thirty-five hundred years ago," Borrodale was saying, "our ancestors lived on this world alone. That was when they first went into space. To these other planets first-but very soon, to other stars. And so our Federation began, our community of human civilization on many stars and worlds."

Now, in the monitor, the view of Earth's dun globe had been replaced by the face of Borrodale in close-up. He paused dramatically.

"Then, over two thousand years ago, it was discovered that the sun of Earth was about to collapse into a white dwarf. So those people who still remained on Earth left it forever and when the solar change came, it and the other planets became mantled in eternal ice. And now, within months, the final end of the old planet of our origin is at hand. It is slowly spiraling toward the sun and soon it will plunge into it as Mercury and Venus have already done. And when that occurs, the world of man's origin will he gone forever."

Again the pause, for just the right length of time, and then Borrodale continued in a voice expertly pitched in a lower key.

"We on this ship-we humble reporters and servants of the vast telaudio audience on all the worlds-have come here so that in these next weeks we can give you this last look at our ancestral world. We think-we hope-that you'll find interest in recalling a past that is almost legend."

And Kellon thought, The bastard has no more interest in this old planet than I have, but he surely is smooth.

As soon as the broadcast ended, Kellon found himself besieged once more by the clamoring crowd in the main cabin. He held up his hand in protest.

"Please, now now-we have a landing to make first. Will you come with me, Doctor Darnow?"

Darnow was from Historical Bureau, and was the titular head of the whole expedition, although no one paid him much attention. He was a sparrowy, elderly man who babbled excitedly as he went with Kellon to the bridge.

He at least, was sincere in his interest, Kellon thought. For that matter, so were all the dozen-odd scientists who were aboard. But they were far outnumbered by the fat cats and big brass out for publicity, the professional enthusers and sentimentalists. A real hell of a job the Survey had given him!

In the bridge, he glanced through the window at the dun-colored planet and its satellite. Then he asked Darnow, "You said something about a particular place where you wanted to land?"

The historiographer bobbed his head, and began unfolding a big, old-fashioned chart.

"See this continent here? Along its eastern coast were a lot of the biggest cities, like New York."

Kellon remembered that name, he'd learned it in school history, a long time ago.

Darnowls finger stabbed the chart. "If you could land there, right on the island-"

Kellon studied the relief features, then shook his head. "Too low. There'll be great tides as time goes on and we can't take chances. That higher ground back inland a bit should be all right, though."

Darnow looked disappointed. "Well. I suppose you're right."

Kellon told Riney to set up the landing-pattern. Then he asked Darnow skeptically,

"You surely don't expect to find much in those old cities now-not after they've had all that ice on them for two thousand years?"

"They'll be badly damaged, of course," Darnow admitted. "But there should be a vast number of relics. I could study here for years-"

"We haven't got years, we've got only a few months before this planet gets too close to the Sun," said Kellon. And he added mentally, "Thank God."

The ship went into its landing-pattern. Atmosphere whined outside its hull and then thick gray clouds boiled and raced around it. It went down through the cloud layer and moved above a dull brown landscape that had flecks of white in its deeper valleys. Far ahead there was the glint of a gray ocean. But the ship came down toward a rolling brown plain and settled there, and then there was the expected thunderclap of silence that always followed the shutting off of all machinery.

Kellon looked at Riney, who turned in a moment from the test-panel with a slight surprise on his face. "Pressure, oxygen, humidity, everything-all optimum." And then he said, "But of course. This place was optimum."

Kellon nodded. He said, "Doctor Darnow and I will have a look out first. Viresson, you keep our passengers in."

When he and Darnow went to the lower airlock he heard a buzzing clamor from the main cabin and he judged that Viresson was having his hands full. The people in there were not used to being said no to, and he could imagine their resentment.

Cold, damp air struck a chill in Kellon when they stepped down out of the airlock. They stood on muddy, gravelly ground that squashed a little under their boots as they trudged away from the ship. They stopped and looked around, shivering.

Under the low gray cloudy sky there stretched a sad, sunless brown landscape. Nothing broke the drab color of raw soil, except the shards of ice still lingering in low places, A heavy desultory wind stirred the raw air, and then it was still. There was not a sound except the clink-clinking of the ship's skin cooling and contracting, behind them. Kellon thought that no amount of sentimentality could make this anything but a dreary world,

But Darnow's eyes were shining. "We'll have to make every minute of the time count," he muttered, "Every minute."

Within two hours, the heavy broadcast equipment was being trundled away from the ship on two motor-tracs that headed eastward. On one of the tracs rode Lorri Lee, resplendent in lilac-colored costume of synthesilk.

Kellon, worried about the possibility of quicksands, went along for that first broadcast from the cliffs that looked down on the ruins of New York. He wished he hadn't, when it got under way.

For Lorri Lee, her blond head bright even in the dull light, turned loose all her practiced charming gestures for the broadcast cameras, as she gestured with pretty excitement down toward the ruins.

"It's so unbelievable!" she cried to a thousand worlds. "To be here on Earth, to see the old places again-it does something to you!"

It did something to Kellon. It made him feel sick at his stomach. He turned and went back to the ship, feeling at that moment that if Lorri Lee went into a quicksand on the way back, it would be no great loss.

But that first day was only the beginning. The big ship quickly became the center of multifarious and continuous broadcasts. It had been especially equipped to beam strongly to the nearest station in the Federation network and its transmitters were seldom quiet.

Kellon found that Darnow, who was supposed to coordinate all this programming, was completely useless. The little historian was living in a seventh heaven on this old planet which had been uncovered to view for the first time in millennia, and he was away most of the time on field trips of his own. It fell to his assistant, an earnest and worried and harassed young man, to try to reconcile the clashing claims and demands of the highly temperamental broadcasting stars.

Kellon felt an increasing boredom at having to stand around while all this tosh went out over the ether. These people were having a field-day but he didn't think much of them and of their broadcasts. Roy Quayle, the young male fashion designer, put on a semi-humorous, semi-nostalgic. display of the old Earth fashions, with the prettier girls wearing some of the ridiculous old costumes he had had duplicated. Harden, the famous teleplay producer, ran off ancient films of the old Earth dramas that had everyone in stitches. Jay Maxson, a rising politician in Federation Congress, discussed with Borrodale the governmental systems of the old days, in a way calculated to give his own Wide-Galaxy Party none the worst of it. The Arcturus Players, that brilliant group of young stage-folk, did readings of old Earth dramas and poems.

It was, Kellon thought disgustedly, just playing. Grown people, famous people, seizing the opportunity given by the accidental end of a forgotten planet to posture in the spotlight like smart-aleck children. There was real work to do in the galaxy, the work of the Survey, the endless and wearying but always-fascinating job of charting the wild systems and worlds. And instead of doing that job, he was condemned to spend weeks and months here with these phonies.

The scientists and historians he respected. They did few broadcasts and they did not fake their interest. It was one of them, Haller, the biologist, who excitedly showed Kellon a handful of damp soil a week after their arrival.

"Look at that!" he said proudly.

Kellon stared. "What?"

"Those seeds-they're common weed-grass seeds. Look at them."

Kellon looked, and now he saw that from each of the tiny seeds projected a new-looking hairlike tendril.

"They're sprouting?" he said unbelievingly.

Haller nodded happily. "I was hoping for it. You see, it was almost spring in the northern hemisphere, according to the records, when Sol collapsed suddenly into a white dwarf. Within hours the temperature plunged and the hydrosphere aad atmosphere began to freeze."

"But surely that would kill all plant-life?"

"Ne," said Haller. "The larger plants, trees, perennial shrubs, and so on, yes. But the seeds of the smaller annuals just froze into suspended animation. Now the warmth that melted them is causing germination."

"Then we'll have grass-small plants?"

"Very soon the way the warmth is increasing,"

It was, indeed, getting a little warmer all the time as these first weeks went by. The clouds lifted one day and there was brilliant, thin white sunshine from the little diamond sun. And there came a morning when they found the rolling landscape flushed with a pale tint of green.

Grass grew. Weeds grew, vines grew, all of them seeming to rush their growth as though they knew that this, their last season, would not be long. Soon the raw brown mud of the hills and valleys had been replaced by a green carpet, and everywhere taller growths were shooting ap, and flowers beginning to appear. Hepaticas, bluebells, dandelions, violets, bloomed once more.

Kellon took a long walk, now that he did not have to plow through mud. The chattering people around the ship, the constant tug and pull of clashing temperaments, the brittle, febrile voices, got him down. He felt better to get away by himself.

The grass and the flowers had come back but otherwise this was still an empty world. Yet there was a certain peace of mind'in tramping up and down the long green rolling slopes. The sun was bright and cheerful now, and white clouds dotted the sky, and the warm wind whispered as he sat upon a ridge and looked away westward where nobody was, or would ever be again.

Damned dull, he thought. But at least it's better than back with the gabblers.

He sat for a long time in the slanting sunshine, feeling his bristling nerves relax. The grass stirred about him, rippling in long waves, and the taller flowers nodded.

No other movement, no other life, A pity, he thought, that there were no birds for this last spring of the old planet-not even a butterfly. Well, it made no difference, all this wouldn't last long.

As Kellon tramped back through the dusk, he suddenly became aware of a shining bubble in the darkening sky. He st amp;pped and stared up at it and then remembered. Of course, it was the old planet's moon-during the cloudy nights he had forgotten all about it. He went on, with its vague light about him.

When he stepped back into the lighted main cabin of the ship, he was abruptly jarred out of his relaxed mood. A first-class squabble was going on, and everybody was either contributing to it or commenting on it. Lorri Lee, looking like a pretty child complaining of a hurt, was maintaining that she should have broadcast time next day for her special women's-interest feature, and somebody else disputed her claim, and young Vallely, Darnow's assistant, looked harried and upset. Kellon got by them without being noticed, locked the door of his cabin and poured himself a long drink, and damned Survey all over again for this assignment.

He took good care to get out of the ship early in the morning, before the storm of temperament blew up again. He left Viresson in charge of the ship, there being nothing for any of them to do now anyway, and legged it away over the green slopes before anyone could call him back.

They had five more weeks of this, Kellon thought. Then, thank God, Earth would be getting so near the sun that they must take the ship back into its proper element of space. Until that wished-for day arrived, he would stay out of sight as much as possible.

He walked miles each day. He stayed carefully away from the east and the ruins of old New York, where the others so often were. But he went north and west and south, over the grassy, flowering slopes of the empty world. At least it was peaceful, even though there was nothing at all to see.

But after a while, Kellon found that there were things to see if you looked for them. There was the way the sky changed, never seeming to look the same twice. Sometimes it was deep blue and white clouds sailed it like mighty ships. And then it would suddenly turn gray and miserable, and rain would drizzle on him, to be ended when a lance of sunlight shot through the clouds and slashed them to flying ribbons. And there was a time when, upon a ridge, he watched vast thunderheads boil up and darken in the west and black storm clouds marched across the land like an army with banners of lightning and drums of thunder.

The winds and the sunshine, the sweetness of the air and the look of the moonlight and the feel of the yielding grass under his feet, all seemed oddly right. Kellon had walked on many worlds under the glare of many-colored suns, and some of them he had liked much better than this one and some of them he had not liked at all, but never had he found a world that seemed so exactly attuned to his body as this outworn, empty planet.

He wondered vaguely what it had been like when there were trees and birds, and animals of many kinds, and roads and cities. He borrowed film-books from the reference library Darnow and the others had brought, and looked at them in his cabin of nights. He did not really care very much but at feast it kept him out of the broils and quarrels, and it had a certain interest.

Thereafter in his wandering strolls, Kellon tried to see the place as it would have been in the long ago. There would have been robins and bluebirds, and yellow-and-black bumblebees nosing the flowers, and tall trees with names that were equally strange to him, elms and willows and sycamores. And small furred animals, and humming clouds of insects, and fish and frogs in the pools and streams, a whole vast complex symphony of life, long gone, long forgotten.

But were all the men and women and children who had lived here less forgotten? Borrodale and the others talked much on their broadcasts about the people of old Earth, but that was just a faceless name, a term that meant nothing. Not one of those millions, surely, had ever thought of himself as part of a numberless multitude. Each one had been to himself, and to those close to him or her, an individual, unique and never to be exactly repeated, and what did the glib talkers know of all those individuals, what could anyone know?

Kellon found traces of them here and there, bits of flotsam that even the crash of the ice had spared. A twisted piece of steel, a girder or rail that someone had labored to make. A quarry with the tool-marks still on the rocks, where surely men had once sweated in the sun. The broken shards of concrete that stretched away in a ragged line to make a road upon which men and women had once traveled, hurrying upon missions of love or ambition, greed or fear.

He found more than that, a startling find that he made by purest chance. He followed a brook that ran down a very narrow valley, and at one point he leaped across it and as he landed he looked up and saw that there was a house.

Kellon thought at first that it was miraculously preserved whole and unbroken, and surely that could not be, But when he went closer he saw that this was only illusion and that destruction had been at work upon it too. Still, it remained, incredibly, a recognizable house.

It was a rambling stone cottage with low walls and a slate roof, set close against the steep green wall of the valley. One gable-end was smashed in, and part of that end wall. Studying the way it was embayed in the wall, Kellon decided that a chance natural arch of ice must have preserved it from the grinding pressure that had shattered almost all other structures.

The windows and doors were only gaping openings. He went inside and looked around the cold shadows of what had once been a room. There were some wrecked pieces of rotting furniture, and dried mud banked along one wall contained unrecognizable bits of rusted junk, but there was not much else. It was chill and oppressive in there, and he went out and sat on the little terrace in the sunshine.

He looked at the house. It could have been built no later than the Twentieth Century, he thought. A good many different people must have lived in it during the hundreds of years before the evacuation of Earth.

Kellon thought that it was strange that the airphoto surveys that Darnow's men had made in quest of relics had not discovered the place. But then it was not so strange, the stone walls were so grayly inconspicuous and it was set so deeply into the sheltering bay of the valley wall.

His eye fell on'eroded lettering on the cement side of the terrace, and he went and brushed the soil off that place. The words were time-eaten and faint but he could read them.

"Ross and Jennie-Their House."

Kellon smiled. Well, at least he knew now who once had lived here, who probably had built the place. He could imagine two young people happily scratching the words in the wet cement, exuberant with achievement. And who had Ross and Jennie been, and where were they now?

He walked around the place. To his surprise, there was a ragged flower-garden'at one side. A half-dozen kinds of brilliant little flowers, unlike the wild ones of the slopes, grew in patchy disorder here. Seeds of an old garden had been ready to germinate when the long winter of Earth came down, and had slept in suspended animation until the ice melted and the warm blooming time came at last. He did not know what kinds of flowers these were, but there was a brave jaun-tiness about them that he liked.

Starting back across the green land in the soft twilight, Kellon thought that he should tell Darnow about the place. But if he did, the gabbling pack in the ship would certainly stampede toward it. He could imagine the solemn and cute and precious broadcasts that Borrodale and the Lee woman and rest of them would stage from the old house.

No, he thought. The devil with them.

He didn't care anything himself about the old house, it was just that it was a refuge of quiet he had found and he didn't want to draw to it the noisy horde he was trying to escape.

Kellon was glad in the following days that he had not told. The house gave him a place to go to, to poke around and investigate, a focus for his interest in this waiting time. He spent hours there, and never told anyone at all.

Haller, the biologist, lent him a book on the flowers of Earth, and he brought it with him and used it to identify those in the ragged garden. Verbenas, pinks, morning glories, and the bold red and yellow ones called nasturtiums. Many of these, he read, did not do well on other worlds and had never been successfully transplanted. If that was so, this would be their last blooming anywhere at all.

He rooted around the interior of the house, trying to figure out how people had lived in it. It was strange, not at all like a modern metalloy house. Even the interior walls were thick beyond belief, and the windows seemed small and ppkey. The biggest room was obviously where they had lived most, and its window-openings looked out on the little garden and the green valley and brook beyond.

Kellon wondered what they had been like, the Ross and Jennie who had once sat here together and looked out these windows. What things had been important to them? What had hurt them, what had made them laugh? He himself had never married, the far-ranging captains of the Survey seldom did. But he wondered about this marriage of long ago, and what had come of it. Had they had children, did their blood still run on the far worlds? But even if it did, what was that now to those two of long ago?

There had been a poem about flowers at the end of the old book on flowers Halter had lent him, and he remembered some of it.

All are at one now, roses and lovers, Not known of the winds and the fields and the sea. Not a breath of the time that has been hovers In the air now soft with a summer to be.

Well, yes. Kellon thought, they were all at one row, the Bosses and the Jennies and the things they had done and the things they had thought, ail at one now in the dust of this old planet whose fiery final summer would be soon, very soon. Physically, everything that had been done, everyone who had lived, on Earth was still here in its atoms, excepting the tiny fraction of its matter that had sped to other worlds.

He thought of the names that were so famous still through all the galactic worlds, names of men and women and places. Shakespeare, Plato, Beethoven, Blake, and the splendor of Babylon and the bones of Angkor and the humble houses of his own ancestors, all here, all still here.

Kellon mentally shook himself. He didn't have enough to do, that was his trouble, to be brooding here on such shadowy things. He had seen all there was to this queer little old place, and there was no use in coming back to it.

But he came back. It was not, he told himself, as though he had any sentimental antiquarian interests in this old place. He had heard enough of that kind of gush from all the glittering phonies in the ship. He was a Survey man and all he wanted was to get back to his job, but while he was stuck here it was better to be roaming the green land or poking about this old relic than to have to listen to the endless babbling and quarreling of those others.

They were quarreling more and more, because they were tired of it here. It had seemed to them a fine thing to posture upon a galactic stage by helping to cover the end of Earth, but time dragged by and their flush of synthetic enthusiasm wore thin. They could not leave, the expedition must broadcast the final climax of the planet's end, but that was still weeks away. Darnow and his scholars and scientists, busy coming and going to many old sites, could have stayed here forever but the others were frankly bored.

But Kellon found in the old house enough interest to keep the waiting from being too oppressive. He had read a good bit now about the way things had been here in the good old days, and he sat long hours on the little terrace in the afternoon sunshine, trying to imagine what it had been like when the man and woman named Ross and Jennie had lived here.

So strange, so circumscribed, that old life seemed now! Most people had had ground-cars in those days, he had read, and had gone back and forth in them to the cities where they worked. Did both the man and woman go, or just the man? Did the woman stay in the house, perhaps with their children if they had any, and in the afternoons did she do things in the little flower garden where a few bright, ragged survivors still bloomed? Did they ever dream that some future day when they were long gone, their house would lie empty and silent with no visitor except a stranger from far-off stars? He remembered a line in one of the old plays the Arcturus Players had read. "Come like shadows, so depart."

No, Kellon thought, Ross and Jennie were shadows now but they had not been then. To them, and to all the other people he could visualize going and coming busily about the Earth in those days, it was he, the future, the man yet to come, who was the shadow. Alone here, sitting and trying to imagine the long ago, Kellon had an eerie feeling sometimes that his vivid imaginings of people and crowded cities and movement and laughter were the reality and that he himself was only a watching wraith.

Summer days came swiftly, hot and hotter. Now the white sun was larger in the heavens and pouring down such light and heat as Earth had not received for millennia. And all the green life across it seemed to respond with an exultant surge of final growth, an act of joyous affirmation that Kellon found infinitely touching. Now even the nights were warm, and the winds blew thrilling soft, and on the distant beaches the ocean leaped up in a laughter of spray and thunder, running in great solar tides.

With a shock as though awakened from dreaming, Kellon suddenly realized that only a few days were left. The spiral was closing in fast now and very quickly the heat would mount beyond all tolerance.

He would, he told himself, be very glad to leave. There would be the wait in space until it was all over, and then he could go back to his own work, his own life, and stop fussing over shadows because there was nothing else to do.

Yes. He would be glad.

Then when only a few days were left, Kellon walked out again to the old house and was musing over it when a voice spoke behind him. "Perfect," said Borrodale's voice. "A perfect relic."

Kellon turned, feeling somehow startled and dismayed. Borrodale's eyes were alight with interest as he surveyed the house, and then he turned to Kellon.

"I was walking when I saw you, Captain, and thought I'd catch up to you. Is this where you've been going so often?"

Kellon, a little guiltily, evaded. "I've been here a few times."

"But why in the world didn't you tell us about this?" exclaimed Borrodale. "Why, we can do a terrific final broadcast from here. A typical ancient home of Earth. Roy can put some of the Players in the old costumes, and we'll show them living here the way people did-"

Unexpectedly to himself, a violent reaction came up in Kellon. He said roughly,

"No."

Borrodale arched his eyebrows. "No?-But why not?"

Why not, indeed? What difference could it possibly make to him if they swarmed all over the old house, laughing at its ancientness and its inadequacies, posing grinning for the cameras in front of it, prancing about in old-fashioned costumes and making a show of it. What could that mean to him, who cared nothing about this forgotten planet or anything on it?

And yet something in him revolted at what they would do here, and he said,

"We might have to take off very suddenly, now. Having you all out here away from the ship could involve a dangerous delay."

"You said yourself we wouldn't take off for a few days yet!" exclaimed Borrodale. And he added firmly, "I don't know why you should want to obstruct us, Captain. But I can go over your head to higher authority."

He went away, and Kellon thought unhappily, He'll message back to Survey headquarters and I'll get my ears burned off, and why the devil did I do it anyway? I must be getting real planet-happy.

He went and sat down on the terrace, and watched until the sunset deepened into dusk. The moon came up white and brilliant, but the air was not quiet tonight. A hot, dry wind had begun to blow, and the stir of the tall grass made the slopes and plains seem vaguely alive. It was as though a queer pulse had come into the air and the ground, as the sun called its child homeward and Earth strained to answer. The house dreamed in the silver light, and the flowers in the garden rustled.

Borrodale came back, a dark pudgy figure in the moonlight. He said triumphantly,

"I got through to your headquarters. They've ordered your full cooperation. We'll want to make our first broadcast here tomorrow."

Kellon stood up. "No."

"You can't ignore an order-"

"We won't be here tomorrow," said Kellon. "It is my responsibility to get the ship off Earth in ample time for safety. We take off in the morning."

Borrodale was silent for a moment, and when he spoke his voice had a puzzled quality.

"You're advancing things just to block our broadcast, of course. I just can't understand your attitude."

Well, Keilon thought, he couldn't quite understand it himself, so how could he explain it? He remained silent, and Borrodale looked at him and then at the old house.

"Yet maybe I do understand," Borrodale said thoughtfully, after a moment. "You've come here often, by yourself. A man can get too friendly with ghosts-"

Kellon said roughly, "Don't talk nonsense. We'd better get back to the ship, there's plenty to do before takeoff."

Borrodale did not speak as they went back out of the moonlit valley. He looked back once, but Kellon did not look back.

They took the ship off twelve hours later, in a morning made dull and ominous by racing clouds. Kellon felt a sharp relief when they cleared atmosphere and were out in the depthless, starry blackness. He knew where he was, in space. It was the place where a spaceman belonged. He'd get a stiff reprimand for this later, but he was not sorry.

They put the ship into a calculated orbit, and waited. Days, many of them, must pass before the end came to Earth. It seemed quite near the white sun now, and its moon had slid away from it on a new distorted orbit, but even so it would be a while before they could broadcast to a watching galaxy the end of its ancestral world.

Kellon stayed much of that time in his cabin. The gush that was going out over the broadcasts now, as the grand finale approached, made him sick. He wished the whole thing was over. It was, he told himself, getting to be a bore-

An hour and twenty minutes to E-time, and he supposed he must go up to the bridge and watch it. The mobile camera had been set up there and Borrodale and as many others of them as could crowd in were there. Borrodale had been given the last hour's broadcast, and it seemed that the others resented this.

"Why must you have the whole last hour?" Lorri Lee was saying bitterly to Borrodale. "It's not fair."

Quayle nodded angrily. "There'll be the biggest audience in history, and we should all have a chance to speak."

Borrodale answered them, and the voices rose and bickered, and Kellon saw the broadcast technicians looking worried. Beyond them through the filter-window he could see the dark dot of the planet closing on the white star. The sun called, and it seemed that with quickened eagerness Earth moved on the last steps of its long road. And the clamoring, bickering voices in his ears suddenly brought rage to Kellon.

"Listen," he said to the broadcast men. "Shut off all sound transmission. You can keep the picture on, but no sound."

That shocked them all into silence. The Lee woman finally protested, "Captain Kellon, you can't!"

"I'm in full command when in space, and I can, and do," he said.

"But the broadcast, the commentary-"

Kellon said wearily, "Oh, for Christ's sake all of you shut up, and let the planet die in peace."

He turned his back on them. He did not hear their resentful voices, did not even hear when they fell silent and watched through the dark filter-windows as he was watching, as the camera and the galaxy was watching. '

And what was there to see but a dark dot almost engulfed in the shining veils of the Sun? The thought that already the stones of the old house must be beginning to vaporize. And now the veils of light and fire almost concealed the little planet, as the star gathered in its own.

All the atoms of old Earth, Kellon thought, in this moment bursting free to mingle with the solar being, all that had been Ross and Jennie, all that had been Shakespeare and Schubert, gay flowers and running streams, oceans and rocks and the wind of the air, received into the brightness that had given them life.

They watched in silence, but there was nothing more to see, nothing at all. Silently the camera was turned off.

Kellon gave an order, and presently the ship was pulling out of orbit, starting on the long voyage back. By that time the others had gone, all but Borrodale. He said to Borrodale, without turning,

"Now go ahead and send your complaint to headquarters."

Borrodale shook his head. "Silence can be the best requiem of all. There'll be no complaint. I'm glad now, Captain."

"Glad?"

"Yes," said Borrodale. "I'm glad that Earth had one true mourner, at the last."

<p>At the Core</p> <p>by Larry Niven</p>

I couldn't decide whether to call it a painting, a relief mural, a sculpture, or a hash; but it was the prize exhibit in the Art Section of the Institute of Knowledge on Jinx, The Kdatlyno must have strange eyes, I thought. My own were watering. The longer I looked at "FTLSPACE," the more blurred it got.

I'd tentatively decided that it was supposed to look blurred when a set of toothy jaws clamped gently on my arm. I jumped a foot in the air. A soft, thrilling contralto voice said, "Beowulf Shaeffer, you are a spendthrift."

That voice would have made a singer's fortune. And I thought I recognized it-but it couldn't be; that one was on We Made It, light-years distant. I turned.

The puppeteer had released my arm. It went ob: "And what do you think of Hrodenu?"

"He's ruining my eyes."

"Naturally. The Kdatlyno are blind to all but radar. 'FTLSPACE' is not meant to be seen but to be touched. Run your tongue over it."

"My tongue? No, thanks." I tried running my hand over it. If you want to know what it felt like, hop a ship for Jinx; the thing's still there. I flatly refuse to describe the sensation.

The puppeteer cocked its head dubiously. "I'm sure your tongue is more sensitive. No guards are nearby."

"Forget it. You know, you sound just like the regional president of General Products on We Made It."

"It was he who sent me your dossier, Beowulf Shaeffer. No doubt we had the same English teacher, I am the regional president on Jinx, as you no doubt recognized from my mane,"

Well, not quite. The auburn mop over the brain case between the two necks is supposed to show caste once you learn to discount variations of mere style. To do that, you have to be a puppeteer. Instead of admitting my ignorance, I asked, "Did that dossier.say I was a spendthrift?"

"You have spent more than a million stars in the past four years."

"And loved it."

"Yes. You will shortly be in debt again. Have you thought of doing more writing? I admired your article on the neutron star BVS-1. 'The pointy bottom of a gravity well…' 'Blue starlight fell on me like intangible sleet…' Lovely."

"Thanks. It paid well, too. But I'm mainly a spaceship pilot."

"It is fortunate, our meeting here. I had thought of having you found. Do you wish a job?"

That was a loaded question. The last and only time I took a job from a puppeteer, the puppeteer blackmailed me into it, knowing it would probably kill me. It almost did. I didn't hold that against the regional president of We Made It, but to let them have another crack at me-? "I'll give you a conditional 'Maybe.' Do you have the idea I'm a professional suicide pilot?"

"Not at all. If I show details, do you agree that the information shall be confidential?"

"I do," I said formally, knowing it would commit me. A verbal contract is as binding as the tape it's recorded on.

"Good. Come." He pranced toward a transfer booth.

The transfer booth let us out somewhere in Jinx's vacuum regions. It was night. High in the sky, Sirius B was a painfully bright pinpoint casting vivid blue moonlight on a ragged lunar landscape. I looked up and didn't see Binary, Jinx's bloated orange companion planet, so we must have been in the Farside End.

But there was something hanging over us.

A No. 4 General Products hull is a transparent sphere a thousand-odd feet in diameter. No bigger ship has been built anywhere in the known galaxy. It takes a government to buy one, and they are used for colonization projects only. But this one could never have been so used; it was all machinery. Our transfer booth stood between two of the landing legs, so that the swelling flank of the ship looked down on us as an owl looks down at a mouse. An access tube ran through the vacuum from the booth to the airlock.

I said, "Does General Products build complete spacecraft nowadays?"

"We are thinking of branching out. But there are problems."

From the viewpoint of the puppeteer-owned company, it must have seemed high time. General Products makes the hulls for ninety-five percent of all ships in space, mainly because nobody else knows how to build an indestructible hull. But they'd made a bad start with this ship. The only room I could see for crew, cargo, or passengers was a few cubic yards of empty space right at the bottom, just above the airlock, and just big enough for a pilot.

"You'd have a' hard time selling that," I said.

"True. Do you notice anything else?"

"Well…" The hardware that filled the transparent hull was very tightly packed. The effect was as if a race of ten-mile-tall giants had striven to achieve miniaturization. I saw no sign of access tubes; hence there could be no m-space repairs. Four reaction motors poked their appropriately huge nostrils through the hull, angled outward from the bottom. No small attitude jets; hence, oversized gyros inside. Otherwise… "Most of it looks like hyperdrive motors. But that's silly. Unless you've thought of a good reason for moving moons around?"

“At one time you were a commercial pilot for Nakamura Lines. How long was the run from Jinx to We Made It?”

"Twelve days if nothing broke down." Just long enough to get to know the prettiest passenger aboard, while the autopilot did everything for me but wear my uniform.

"Sirius to Procyon is a distance of four light-years. Our ship would make the trip in five minutes."

"You've lost your mind."

"No."

But that was almost a light-year per minute! I couldn't visualize it. Then suddenly I did visualize it, and my mouth fell open, for what I saw was the galaxy opening before me. We know so little beyond our own small neighborhood of the galaxy. But with a ship like that-

"That's goddam fast."

"As you say. But the equipment is bulky, as you note. It cost seven billion stars to build that ship, discounting centuries of research, but it will only move one man. As is, the ship is a failure. Shall we go inside?"

The lifesystem was two circular rooms, one above the other, with a small airlock to one side. The lower room was the control room, with banks of switches and dials and blinking lights dominated by a huge spherical mass pointer. The upper room was bare walls, transparent, through which I could see air- and food-producing equipment.

"This will be the relaxroom," said the puppeteer. "We decided to let the pilot decorate it himself."

"Why me?"

"Let me further explain the problem." The puppeteer began to pace the floor. I hunkered down against the wall and watched. Watching a puppeteer move is a pleasure. Even in Jinx's gravity the deerlike body seemed weightless, the tiny hooves tapping the floor at random. "The human sphere of colonization is some thirty light-years across, is it not?"

"Maximum. It's not exactly a sphere-"

"The puppeteer region is much smaller. The Kdatlyno sphere is half the size of yours, and the Kzinti is fractionally larger. These are the important space-traveling species. We must discount the Outsiders since they do not use ships. Some spheres coincide, naturally. Travel from one sphere to another is nearly nil except for ourselves, since our sphere of influence extends to all who buy our hulls. But add all these regions, and you have a region sixty light-years across. This ship could cross it in seventy-five minutes. Allow six hours for takeoff and six for landing, assuming no traffic snarls near the world of destination, and we have a ship which can go anywhere in thirteen hours but nowhere in less than twelve, carrying one pilot and no cargo, costing seven billion stars."

"How about exploration?"

"We puppeteers have no taste for abstract knowledge. And how should we explore?" Meaning that whatever race flew the ship would gain the advantages thereby. A puppeteer wouldn't risk his necks by flying it himself. "What we need is a great deal of money and a gathering of intelligences, to design something which may go slower but must be less bulky. General Products (Joes not wish to spend so much on something that may fail. We will require the best minds of each sentient species and the richest investors. Beowulf Shaeffer, we need to attract attention."

"A publicity stunt?"

"Yes. We wish to send a pilot to the center of the galaxy and back."

"Ye…gods! Will it go that fast?"

"It would require some twenty-five days to reach the center and an equal time to-return. You can see the reasoning behind-"

"It's perfect. You don't need to spell it out. Why me?"

"We wish you to make the trip and then write of it. I have a list of pilots who write. Those I have approached have been reluctant. They say that writing on the ground is safer than testing unknown ships. I follow their reasoning."

"Me too."

"Will you go?"

"What am I offered?"

"One hundred thousand stars for the trip. Fifty thousand to write the story, in addition to what you sell it for."

"Sold."

From then on, my only worry was that my new boss would find out that someone had ghost-written that neutron star article.

Oh, I wondered at first why General Products was willing to trust, me. The first time I worked for them I tried to steal their ship, for reasons which seemed good at the time. But the ship I now called Long Shot really wasn't worth stealing… Any potential buyer would know it was hot; and what good would it be to him? Long Shot could have explored a globular cluster; but her only other use was publicity.

Sending her to the Core was a masterpiece of promotion.

Look: It was twelve days from We Made It to Jinx by conventional craft, and twelve hours by Long Shot. What's the difference? You spent twelve years saving for the trip. But the Core! Ignoring refueling and reprovisioning problems, my old ship could have reached the galaxy's core in three hundred years. No known species had ever seen the Core! It hid behind layer on layer of tenuous gas and dust clouds. You can find libraries of literature on those central stars, but they all consist of generalities and educated guesses based on observation of other galaxies, like Andromeda.

Three centuries dropped to less than a month! There's something anyone can grasp. And with pictures!

The lifesystem was finished in a couple of weeks. I had them leave the control-room walls transparent and paint the relaxroom solid blue, no windows. When they finished, I had entertainment tapes and everything it takes to keep a man sane for seven weeks in a room the size of a large closet.

On the last day the puppeteer and I spoke the final version of my contract. I had four months to reach the galaxy's center and return. The outside cameras would run constantly; I was not to interfere with them. Jf the ship suffered a mechanical failure, I could return before reaching the center; otherwise, no. There were penalties. I took a copy of the tape to leave with a lawyer.

"There is a thing you should know," the puppeteer said afterward. "The direction of thrust opposes the direction of hyperdrive." "I don't get it."

The puppeteer groped for words. "If you turned on the reaction motors and the hyperdrive together, the flames would precede your ship through hyperspace."

I got the picture then. Ass backward into the unknown. With the control room at the ship's bottom, it made sense. To a puppeteer, it made sense.


And I was off.

I went up under two standard gees because I like my comfort. For twelve hours I used only the reaction motors. It wouldn't do to be too deep in a gravity well when 1 used a hyperdrive, especially an experimental one. Pilots who do that never leave hyperspace. The relaxroom kept me entertained until the bell rang. I slipped down to the control room, netted myself down against free fall, turned off the motors, rubbed my hands briskly together, and turned on the hyper-drive.

It wasn't quite as I'd expected.

I couldn't see out, of course. When the hyperdrive goes on, it's like your blind spot expanding to take in all the windows, It's not just that you don't see anything; you forget that there's anything to see. If there's a window between the kitchen control bank and your print of Dali's "Spam," your eye and mind will put the picture right next to the kitchen bank, obliterating the space between. It takes getting ased to, in fact it has driven people insane, but that wasn't what bothered me. I've spent thousands of man-hours in hyper-space. I kept my eye on the mass pointer.

The mass pointer is a big transparent sphere with a number of blue lines radiating from the center. The direction of the line is the direction of a star; its length shows the star's mass. We wouldn't need pilots if the mass pointer could be hooked into an autopilot, but it can't. Dependable as it is, accurate as it is, the mass pointer is a psionic device. It needs a mind to work it. I'd been using mass pointers for so long that those lines were like real stars.

A star came toward me, and I dodged around it. I thought that another line that didn't point quite straight ahead was long enough to show dangerous mass, so I dodged. That put a blue dwarf right in front of me. I shifted fast and looked for a throttle. I wanted to slow down.

Repeat, Iwanted to slow down.

Of course there was no throttle. Part of the puppeteer research project would be designing a throttle. A long fuzzy line reached for me: a protosun-

Put it this way: Imagine one of Earth's freeways. You must have seen pictures of them from space, a tangle of twisting concrete ribbons, empty and abandoned but never torn down. Some lie broken; others are covered with houses. People use the later rubberized ones for horseback riding. Imagine the way one of these must have looked about six o'clock on a week night in, say, nineteen seventy. Groundcars from end to end.

Now, let's take all those cars and remove the brakes. Further, let's put governors on the accelerators, so that the maximum speeds are between sixty and seventy miles per hour, not all the same. Let something go wrong with all the governors at once, so that the maximum speed also becomes the minimum. You'll begin to see signs of panic.

Eeady? Okay. Get a radar installed in your car, paint your windshield and windows jet black, and get out on that freeway.

It was like that.

It didn't seem so bad at first. The stars kept coming at me, and I kept dodging, and after a while it settled down to a kind of routine. From experience I could tell at a glance whether a star was heavy enough and close enough to wreck me. But in Nakamura Lines I'd only had to take that glance every six hours or so. Here I didn't dare look away. As I grew tired, the near-misses came closer and closer. After three hours of it I had to drop out.

The stars had a subtly unfamiliar look. With a sudden jar I realized that I was entirely out of known space. Sirius, Antares-I'd never recognize them from here; I wasn't even sure they were visible. I shook it off and called home.

"Long Shot calling General Products, Long Shot calling-"

"Beowulf Shaeffer?"

"Have I ever told you what a lovely, sexy voice you have?"

"No. Is everything going well?"

"I'm afraid not. In fact, I'm not going to make it."

A pause. "Why not?"

"I can't keep dodging these stars forever. One of them's going to get me if I keep on much longer. The ship's just too goddam fast."

"Yes. We must design a slower ship."

"I hate to give up that good pay, but my eyes feel like peeled onions. I ache all over. I'm turning back."

"Shall I play your contract for you?"

"No. Why?"

"Your only legal reason for returning is a mechanical failure. Otherwise you forfeit twice your pay."

I said, "Mechanical failure?" There was a tool box somewhere in the ship, with a hammer in it…

"I did not mention it before, since it did not seem polite, but two of the cameras are in the lifesystem. We had thought to use films of you for purposes of publicity, but-"

"I see. Tell me one thing, just one thing. When the regional president of We Made It sent you my name, did he mention that I'd discovered your planet has no moon?"

"Yes, he did mention that matter. You accepted one million stars for your silence. He naturally has a recording of the bargain."

"I see." So that's why they'd picked Beowulf Shaeffer, well-known author. "The trip'll take longer than I thought."

"You must pay a penalty for every extra day over four months. Two thousand stars per day late."

"Your voice has acquired an unpleasant grating sound. Good-bye."

I went on in. Every hour I shifted to normal space for a ten-minute coffee break. I dropped out for meals, and I dropped out for sleep. Twelve hours per ship's day I spent traveling, and twelve trying to recover. It was a losing battle.

By the end of day two I knew I wasn't going to make the four-month limit. I might do it in six months, forfeiting one hundred and twenty thousand stars, leaving me almost where I started. Serve me right for trusting a puppeteer!

Stars were all around me, shining through the floor and between the banked instruments. I sucked coffee, trying not to think. The milky way shone ghostly pale between my feet. The stars were thick now; they'd get thicker as I approached the Core, until finally one got me.

An idea! And about time, too.

The golden voice answered immediately. "Beowulf Shaef-fer?"

"There's nobody else here, honey. Look, I've thought of something. Would you send-"

''Is one of your instruments malfunctioning, Beowulf Shaeffer?"

"No, they all work fine, as far as they go. Look-"

"Then what could you possibly have to say that would require my attention?"

"Honey, now is the time to decide. Do you want revenge, or do you want your ship back?"

A small silence. Then, "You may speak."

"I can reach the Core much faster if I first get into one of the spaces between the arms. Do we know enough about the galaxy to know where our arm ends?"

"I will send to the Institute of Knowledge to find out."

"Good."

Four hours later I was dragged from a deathlike sleep by the ringing of the hyperphone. It was not the president, but some flunky, I remembered calling the puppeteer "honey" last night, tricked by my own exhaustion and that seductive voice, and wondered if I'd hurt his puppeteer feelings. "He" might be a male; a puppeteer's is one of his little secrets. The flunky gave me a bearing and distance for the nearest gap between stars.

It took me another day to get there. When the stars began to thin out, I could hardly believe it. I turned off the hyper-drive, and it was true. The stars were tens and hundreds of light-years apart. I could see part of the Core peeking in a bright rim above the dim flat cloud of mixed dust and stars.

From then on, it was better, f was safe if I glanced at the mass pointer every ten minutes or so. I could forget the rest breaks, eat meals and do isometrics while watching the pointers. For eight hours a day I slept, but during the other sixteen I moved. The gap swept toward the Core in a narrowing curve, and I followed it.

As a voyage of exploration the trip would have been a fiasco. I saw nothing. I stayed well away from anything worth seeing. Stars and dust, anomalous wispy clusters shining in the dark of the gap, invisible indications that might have been stars-my cameras picked them up from a nice safe distance, showing tiny blobs of light. In three weeks I moved almost seventeen thousand light-years toward the Core.

The end of those three weeks was the end of the gap. Before me was an uninteresting wash of stars backed by a wall of opaque dust clouds. I still had thirteen thousand light-years to go before I reached the center of the galaxy.

I took some pictures and moved in.

Ten-minute breaks, mealtimes that grew longer and longer for the rest they gave, sleep periods that left my eyes red and burning. The stars were thick and the dust was thicker, so that the mass pointer showed a blur of blue broken by sharp blue lines. The lines began to get less sharp. I took breaks every half hour-

Three days of that.

It was getting near lunchtime on the fourth day. I sat watching the mass pointer, noting the fluctuations in the blue blur which showed the changing density of the dust around me. Suddenly it faded out completely. Great! Wouldn't it be nice if the mass pointer went out on me? But the sharp " starlines were still there, ten or twenty of them pointing in all directions. I went back to steering. The clock chimed to indicate a rest period. I sighed happily and dropped into normal space.

The clock showed I had half an hour to wait for lunch, i thought about eating anyway, decided againsf it. The routine was all that kept me going. I wondered what the sky looked like, reflexively looked up so I wouldn't have to look down at the transparent floor. That big an expanse of hyperspace is hard even on trained eyes. I remembered I wasn't in hyperspace and looked down.

For a time I jus? stared. Then, without taking my eyes off the floor, I reached for the hyperphone,-

"Beowulf Shaeffer?"

"No, this is Albert Einstein. I stowed away when the Long Shot took off, and I've decided to turn myself in for the reward."

"Giving misinformation is an implicit violation of contract. Why have you called?"

"I can see the Core;"

"That is not a reason to call. It was implicit in your eon-tract that you would see the Core."

"Dammit, don't you care? Don't you want to know what it looks like?"

"If you wish to describe it now, as a precaution against accident, I will switch you to a dictaphone. However, if your mission is not totally successful, we cannot use your recording."

I was thinking up a really searing answer when I heard the click. Great, my boss had hooked me into a dictaphone. I said one short sentence and hung up.

The Core.

Gone were the obscuring masses of dust and gas. A billion years ago they must have been swept up for fuel by the hungry, crowded stars. The Core lay before me like a great jeweled sphere. I'd expected it to be a gradual thing, a thick mass of stars thinning out into the arms. There was nothing gradual about it. A clear ball of multicolored light five or six thousand light-years across nestled in the heart of the galaxy, sharply bounded by the last of the dust clouds. I was ten thousand four hundred light-years from the center.

The red stars were the biggest and brightest. I could actually pick some of them out as individuals. The rest was a finger painting in fluorescent green and blue. But those red stars…they would have sent Aldebaran back to kindergarten.

It was all so bright. I needed the telescope to see black between the stars.

I'll show you how bright it was.

Is it night where you are? Step outside and look at the stars. What color are they? Antares may show red, if your near enough; in the System, so will Mars. Sirius may ahow bluish. But all the rest are white pinpoints. Why? Because it's dark. Your day vision is in color, but at night you see black-and-white, like a dog.

The Core suns were bright enough for color vision.

I'd pick a planet here! Not in the Core itself, but right out here, with the Core on one side and on the other the dimly starred dust clouds forming their strange convoluted curtain. Man, what a view! Imagine that flaming jeweled sphere rising in the east, hundreds of times as big as Binary shows on Jinx; but without the constant feeling Binary gives you, the fear that the orange world will fall on you; for the vast, twinkling Core is only starlight, lovely and harmless. I'd pick my world now and stake a claim. When the puppeteers got their drive fixed up, I'd have the finest piece of real estate in the known universe! If I could only find a habitable planet.

If only I could find it twice.

Hell, I'd be lucky to find my way home from here. I shifted into hyperspace and went back to work.


An hour and fifty minutes, one lunch break and two rest breaks, and fifty light-years later, I noticed something peculiar in the Core,

It was even clearer then, if not much bigger; I'd passed through the almost transparent wisps of the last dust cloud. Not too near the center of the sphere was a patch of white, bright enough to make the green and blue and red look dull around it. I looked for it again at the neyt break, and it was a little brighter. It was brighter again at the next break-

"Beowulf Shaeffer?"

"Yah. I-"

"Why did you use the dictaphone to call me a cowardly two-headed monster?"

"You were off the line. I had to use the dictaphone."

"That is sensible. Yes. We puppeteers have never understood your attitude toward a natural caution." My boss was peeved, though you couldn't tell from his voice.

"I'll go into that if you like, but it's not why I called."

"Explain, please."

"I'm all for caution. Discretion is the better part of valor, and like that. You can even be good businessmen, because it's easier to survive with lots of money. But you're so damn concerned with various kinds of survival that you aren't even interested in something that isn't a threat. Nobody but a puppeteer would have turned down my offer to describe the Core."

"You forget the Kzinti,"

"Oh, the Kzinti." Who expects rational behavior from Kzinti? You whip them when they attack; you reluctantly decide not to exterminate them; you wait till they build up their strength; and when they attack, you whip 'em again. Meanwhile you sell them foodstuffs and buy their metals and employ them where you need good games theorists. It's not as if they were a real threat. They'll always attack before they're ready.

"The Kzinti are carnivores. Where we are interested in survival, carnivores are interested in meat alone. They conquer because subject peoples can supply them with food, They cannot do menial work. Animal husbandry is alien to them. They must have slaves or be barbarians roaming the forests for meat. Why should they be interested in what you call abstract knowledge? Why should any thinking being, if the knowledge has no chance of showing a profit? In practice, your description Of the Core would attract only an omnivore."

"You'd make a good case if it were not for the fact that most sentient races are omnivores."

"We have thought long and hard on that."

Ye cats. I was going to have to think long and hard on that.

"Why did you call, Beowulf Shaeffer?"

Oh, yeah, "Look, I know you don't want to know what the Core looks like, but I see something that might represent personal danger. You have access to information I don't. May I proceed?"

"You may,"

Hah! I was learning to think like a puppeteer. Was that good? I told my boss about the blazing, strangely shaped white patch in the Core. "When I turned the telescope en it, it nearly blinded me. Grade two sunglasses don't give any details at all. It's just a shapeless white patch, but so bright that the stare m front look like black dots with colored rims, I'd like to know what's causing it."

"It sounds very unusual," Pause. 'Is the white color uniform? Is the brightness uniform?"

"Just a sec." I used the scope again. "The color is, but the brightness isn't. I see dimmer areas inside the patch, I think the center is fading out."

"Use the telescope to find a nova star. There ought to be several in such a large mass of stars."

I tried it. Presently I found something: a blazing disk of a peculiar blue-white color with a dimmer, somewhat smaller red disk half in front of it. That had to be a nova. In the core of Andromeda galaxy, and in what I'd seen of our own Core, the red stars were the biggest and brightest.

"I've found one."

"Comment."

A moment more and I saw what he meant. "It's the same color as the patch. Something like the same brightness, too. But what could make a patch of supernovas go off all at once?"

"You have studied the Core. The stars of the Core are an average of half a light-year apart. They are even closer near the center, and no dust clouds dim their brightness. When stars are that close, they shed enough light on each other to increase materially each other's temperature. Stars burn faster and age faster in the Core."

"I see that,"

"Since the Core stars age faster, a much greater portion are near the supernova stage than in the arms. Also, all are hotter considering their respective ages. If a star were a few millennia from the supernova stage, and a supernova exploded half a light-year away, estimate the probabilities."

"They might both blow. Then the two could set off a third, and the three might take a couple more…"

"Yes. Since a supernova lasts-on the order of one human standard year, the chain reaction would soon die out. Your patch of light must have occurred in this way."

"That's a relief. Knowing what did it, I mean. I'll take pictures going in,"

"As you say." Click.

The patch kept expanding as I went in, still with no more shape than a veil nebula, getting brighter and bigger. It hardly seemed fair, what I was doing. The light which the patch novas had taken fifty years to put out, I covered in an hour, moving down the beam at a speed which made the universe itself seem unreal. At the fourth rest period I dropped out of hyperspace, looked down through the floor while the cameras took their pictures, glanced away from the patch for a moment, and found myself blinded by tangerine afterimages. I had to put on a pair of grade one sunglasses, out of the packet of twenty which every pilot carries for working near suns during takeoff and landing.

It made me shiver to think that the patch was stil! nearly ten thousand light-years away. Already the radiation must have killed all life in the Core if there ever had been life there. My instruments on the hull showed radiation like a solar flare.

At the next stop I needed grade two sunglasses. Somewhat later, grade three. Then four. The patch became a great bright amoeba reaching twisting tentacles of fusion fire deep into the vitals of the Core. In hyperspace the sky was jammed bumper to bumper, so to speak, but I never thought of stopping. As the Core came closer, the patch grew like something alive, something needing ever more food. I think I knew, even then.

Night came. The control room was a blaze of light. I slept in the relaxroom, to the tune of the laboring temperature control. Morning, and I was off again. The radiation meter snarled its death-song, louder during each rest break. If I'd been planning to go outside, J would have dropped that plan. Radiation Couldn't get through a General Products hull. Nothing else can, either, except visible light.

I spent a bad half hour trying to remember whether one of the puppeteers' customers saw X-rays. I was afraid to call up and ask.

The mass pointer began to show a faint blue blur. Gases thrown outward from the patch. I had to keep changing sunglasses..,.

Sometime during the morning of the next day I stopped. There was no point in going farther.

"Beowulf Shaeffer, have you become attached to the sound of my voice? I have other work than supervising your progress."

"I would like to deliver a lecture on abstract knowledge,"

"Surely it can wait until your return."

"The galaxy is exploding."

There was a strange noise. Then: "Repeat, please."

"Have I got your attention?"

"Yes."

"Good. I think I know the reason so many sentient races are omnivores. Interest in abstract knowledge is a symptom of pure curiosity. Curiosity must be a survival trait."

"Must we discuss this? Very well. You may well be right.

Others have made the same suggestion, including puppeteers. But how has our species survived at all?"

"You must have some substitute for curiosity. Increased intelligence, maybe. You've been around long enough to develop it. Our hands can't compare with your mouths for tool-building. If a watchmaker had taste and smell in his hands, he still wouldn't have the strength of your jaws or the delicacy of those knobs around your lips. When I want to know how old a sentient race is, I watch what he uses for hands and feet."

"Yes. Human feet are still adapting to their task of keeping you erect. You propose, then, that our intelligence has grown sufficiently to ensure our survival without depending on your hit-or-miss method of learning everything you can for the sheer pleasure of learning."

"Not quite. Our method is better. If you hadn't sent me to the Core for publicity, you'd never have known about this."

"You say the galaxy is exploding?"

"Rather, it finished exploding some nine thousand years ago. I'm wearing grade twenty sunglasses, and it's still too bright. A third of the Core is gone already. The patch is spreading at nearly the speed of light. I don't see that anything can stop it until it hits the gas clouds beyond the Core,"

There was no comment. I went on. "A lot of the inside of the patch has gone out, but all of the surface is new novas. And remember, the light I'm seeing is nine thousand years old. Now, I'm going to read you a few instruments. Radiation, two hundred and ten. Cabin temperature normal, but you can hear the whine of the temperature control. The mass indicator shows nothing but a blur ahead. I'm turning back."

"Radiation two hundred and ten? How far are you from the edge of the Core?"

"About four thousand light-years, I think. I can see plumes of incandescent gas starting to form in the near side of the patch, moving toward galactic north and south. It reminds me of something. Aren't there pictures of exploding galaxies in the Institute?"

"Many. Yes, it has happened before. Beowulf Shaeffer, this is bad news. When the radiation from the Core reaches our worlds, it will sterilize them. We puppeteers will soon need considerable amounts of money. Shall I release you from your contract, paying you nothing?"

I laughed. I was too surprised even to get mad. "No,"

"Surely you do not intend to enter the Core?"

"No. Look, why do you-"

"Then by the conditions of our contract, you forfeit."

"Wrong again. I'll take pictures of these instruments. When a court sees the readings on the radiation meter and the blue blur in the mass indicator, they'll know wrong with them."

"Nonsense. Under evidence drugs you will explain the readings."

"Sure. And the court will know you tried to get me to go right to the center of that holocaust. You know what they'll say to that?"

"But how can a court of law find against a recorded contract?"

"The point is they'll want to. Maybe they'll decide that we're both lying and the instruments really did go haywire. Maybe they'll find a way, to say the contract was illegal. But they'll find against you. Want to make a side bet?"

"No. You have won. Come back."


The Core was a lovely multicolored jewel when it disappeared below the lens of the galaxy, I'd have liked to visit it someday, but there aren't any time machines,

I'd penetrated nearly to the Core in something like a month. I took my time coming home, going straight up along galactic north and flying above the lens where there were no stars to bother me, and still made it in two. All the way I wondered why the puppeteer had tried to cheat me at the last. Long Shot's publicity would have been better than ever; yet the regional president had been willing to throw it away just to leave me broke. I couldn't ask why, because nobody was answering my hyperphone. Nothing I knew about puppeteers could tell me. I felt persecuted.

My come-hither brought me down at the base in the Far-side End. Nobody was there. I took the transfer booth back to Sirius Mater, Jinx's biggest city, figuring to contact General Products, turn over the ship, and pick up my pay.

More surprises awaited me.

1) General Products had paid one hundred and fifty thousand stars into my account in the Bank of Jinx. A personal note stated that whether or not I wrote my article was solely up to me.

2) General Products has disappeared. They are selling no more spacecraft hulls. Companies with contracts have had their penalty clauses paid off. It all happened two months ago, simultaneously on all known worlds.

3) The bar I'm in is on the roof of the tallest building in Sirius Mater, more than a mile above the streets. Even from here I can hear the stock market crashing. It started with the collapse of spacecraft companies with no hulls to build ships. Hundreds of others have followed. It takes a long time for an interstellar market to come apart at the seams, but, as with the Core novas, I don't see anything that can stop the chain reaction.

4) The secret of the indestructible General Products hull is being advertised for sale. General Products' human rep resentatives will collect bids for one year, no bid to be less than one trillion stars. Get in on the ground floor, folks.

5) Nobody knows anything. That's what's causing most of the panic. It's been a month since a puppeteer was seen on any known world. Why did they drop so suddenly out of interstellar affairs?

I know.

In twenty thousand years a flood of radiation will wash over this region of space. Thirty thousand light-years may seem a long, safe distance, but it isn't, not with this big an explosion. I've asked. The Core explosion will make this galaxy uninhabitable to any known form of life.

Twenty thousand years is a long time. It's four times as long as human written history. We'll all be less than dust before things get dangerous, and I for one am not going to worry about it.

But the puppeteers are different. They're scared. They're getting out right now. Paying off their penalty clauses and buying motors and other equipment to put in their indestructible hulls will take so much money that even confiscating my puny salary would have been a step to the good. Interstellar business can go to hell; from now on, the puppeteers will have no time for anything but running.

Where will they go? Well, the galaxy is surrounded by a halo of small globular clusters. The ones near the rim might be safe. Or the puppeteers may even go as far as Andromeda. They have the Long Shot for exploring if they come back for it, and they can build more. Outside the galaxy is space empty enough even for a puppeteer pilot, if he thinks his species is threatened.

It's a pity. This galaxy will be dull without puppeteers, Those two-headed monsters were not only the most dependable faction in interstellar business; they were like water in a wasteland of more-or-less humanoids. It's too bad they aren't brave, like us.

But is it?

I never heard of a puppeteer refusing to face a problem. He may merely be deciding how fast to run, but he'll never pretend the problem isn't there. Sometime within the next twenty millennia we humans will have to move a. population that already numbers forty-three billion. How? To where? When should we start thinking about this? When the glow of the Core begins to shine through the dust clouds?

Maybe men are the cowards-at the core.


<p>A Pail of Air</p> <p>by Fritz Leiber</p>

Pa had sent me out to get an extra pail of air. I'd just about scooped it full and most of the warmth had leaked from my fingers when I saw the thing.

You know, at first I thought it was a young lady. Yes, a beautiful young lady's face all glowing in the dark and looking at me from the fifth floor of the opposite apartment, which hereabouts is the floor just above the white blanket of frozen air. I'd never seen a live young lady before, except in the old magazines-Sis is just a kid and Ma is pretty sick and miserable-and it gave me such a start that I dropped the pail. Who wouldn't, knowing everyone on Earth was dead except Pa and Ma and Sis and you?

Even at that, I don't suppose I should have been surprised. We all see things now and then. Ma has some pretty bad ones, to judge from the way she bugs her eyes at nothing and just screams and screams and huddles back back against the blankets hanging around the Nest. Pa says it is natural we should react like that sometimes.

When I'd recovered the pail and could look again at the opposite apartment, I got an idea of what Ma might be feeling at those times, for I saw it wasn't a young lady at all but simply a light-a tiny light that moved stealthily from window to window, just as if one of the cruel little stars had come down out of the airless sky to investigate why the Earth had gone away from the Sun, and maybe to hunt down something to torment or terrify, now that the Earth didn't have the Sun's protection.

I tell you, the thought of it gave me the creeps, I just stood there shaking, and almost froze my feet and did frost my helmet so solid on the inside that I couldn't have seen the light even if it had come out of one of the windows to get me. Then I had the wit to go back inside.

Pretty soon I was feeling my familiar way through the thirty or so blankets and rugs Pa has got hung around to slow down the escape of air from the Nest, and I wasn't quite so scared. I began to hear the tick-ticking of the clocks in the Nest and knew I was getting back into air, because there's no sound outside in the vacuum, of course. But my mind was still crawly and uneasy as I pushed through the last blankets-Pa's got them faced with aluminum foil to hold in the heat-and came into the Nest.

Let me tell you about the Nest. It's low and snug, just room for the four of us and our things. The floor is covered with thick woolly rugs. Three of the sides are blankets, and the blankets roofing it touch Pa's head. He tells me it's inside a much bigger room, but I've never seen the real walls or ceiling.

Against one of the blanket-walls is a big set of shelves, with tools and books and other stuff, and on top of it a whole row of clocks. Pa's very fussy about keeping them wound. He says we must never forget time, and without a sun or moon, that would be easy to do.

The fourth wall has blankets all over except around the fireplace, in which there is a fire that must never go out. It keeps us from freezing and does a lot more besides. One of us must always watch it. Some of the clocks are alarm and we can use them to remind us. In the early days there was only Ma to take turns with Pa-I think of that when she gets difficult-but now there's me to help, and Sis too.

It's Pa who is the chief guardian of the fire, though. I always think of him that way: a tall man sitting cross-legged, frowning anxiously at the fire, his lined face golden in its light, and every so often carefully placing on it a piece of coal from the big heap beside it. Pa tells me there used to be guardians of the fire sometimes in the very old days-vestal virgins, he calls them-although there was unfrozen air all around then and you didn't really need one,

He was sitting just that way now, though he got up quick to take the pail from me and bawl me out for loitering-he'd spotted my frozen helmet right off. That roused Ma and she joined in picking on me. She's always trying to get the load off her feelings, Pa explains. He shut her up pretty fast. Sis let off a couple of silly squeals too.

Yet it's that glimmery white stuff in the pail that keeps us alive. It slowly melts and vanishes and refreshes the Nest and feeds the fire. The blankets keep it from escaping too fast. Pa'd like to seal the whole place, but he can't-building's too earthquake-twisted, and besides he has to leave the chimney open for smoke,

Pa says air is tiny molecules that fly away like a flash if there isn't something to stop them. We have to watch not to let the air run low. Pa always keeps a big reserve supply of it ib buckets behind the first blankets, along with extra coal and cans of food and other things, such as pails of snow to melt for water. We have to go way down to the bottom floor for that stuff, which is a mean trip, and get it through a door to outside.

You see, when the Earth got cold, all the water in the air froze first and made a blanket ten feet thick or so everywhere, and then down on top of that dropped the crystals of frozen air, making another white blanket sixty or seventy feet thick maybe.

Of course, all the parts of the air didn't freeze and snow down at the same time.

First to drop out was the carbon dioxide-when you're shoveling for water, you have to make sure you don't go too high and get any of that stuff mixed in, for it would put you to sleep, maybe for good, and make the fire go out. Next there's the nitrogen, which doesn't count one way or the other, though it's the biggest part of the blanket. On top of that and easy to get at, which is lucky for us, there's the oxygen that keeps us alive. Pa says we live better than kings ever did, breathing pure oxygen, but we're used to it and don't notice. Finally, at the very top, there's a slick of liquid helium, which is funny stuff. All of these gases in neat separate layers. Like a pussy caffay, Pa laughingly says, whatever that is.

I was busting to tell them all about what I'd seen, and so as soon as I'd ducked out of my helmet and while I was still climbing out of my suit, I cut loose. Right away Ma got nervous and began making eyes at the entry-slit in the blankets and wringing her hands together-the hand where she'd lost three fingers from frostbite inside the good one, as usual. I could tell that Pa was annoyed at me scaring her and wanted to explain it all away quickly, yet could see I wasn't fooling.

"And you watched this light for some time, son?" he asked when I finished.

I hadn't said anything about first thinking it was a young lady's face. Somehow that part embarrassed me.

"Long enough for it to pass five windows and go to the next floor."

"And it didn't look like stray electricity or crawling liquid or starlight focused by a growing crystal, or anything like that?"

He wasn't just making up those ideas. Odd things happen in a world that's about as cold as can be, and just when you think matter would be frozen dead, it takes on a strange new life. A slimy stuff comes crawling toward the Nest, just like an animal snuffing for heat-that's the liquid helium. And once, when I was little, a bolt of lightning-not even Pa could figure where it came from-hit the nearby steeple and crawled up and down it for weeks, until the glow finally died.

"Not like anything I ever saw," I told him.

He stood for a moment frowning. Then, "I'll go out with you, and you show it to me," he said.

Ma raised a howl at the idea of being left alone, and Sis Joined in, too, but Pa quieted them. We started climbing into our outside clothes-mine had been warming by the fire. Pa made them. They have plastic headpieces that were once big double-duty transparent food cans, but they keep heat and air in and can replace the air for a little while, long enough for our trips for water and coal and food and so on.

Ma started moaning again, "I've always known there was something outside there, waiting to get us. I've felt it for years-something that's part of the cold and hates all warmth and wants to destroy the Nest. It's been watching us all this time, and now it's coming after us. It'll get you and then come for me. Don't go, Harry!"

Pa had everything on but his helmet. He knelt by the fireplace and reached in and shook the long metal rod that goes up the chimney and knocks off the ice that keeps trying to clog it. Once a week he goes up on the roof to check if it's working all right. That's our worst trip and Pa won't let me make it alone.

"Sis," Pa said quietly, "come watch the fire. Keep an eye on the air, too. If it gets low or doesn't seem to be boiling fast enough, fetch another bucket from behind the blanket. But mind your hands. Use the cloth to pick up the bucket."

Sis quit helping Ma be frightened and came over and did as she was told. Ma quieted down pretty suddenly, though her eyes were still kind of wild as she watched Pa fix on his helmet tight and pick up a pail and the two of us go out.

Pa led the way and I took hold of his belt. It's a funny thing, but when Pa's along I always want to hold on to him. Habit, I guess, and then there's no denying that this time I was a bit scared.

You see, it's this way. We know that everything is dead out there. Pa heard the last radio voices fade away years ago, and had seen some of the last folks die who weren't as lucky or well-protected as us. So we knew that if there was something groping around out there, it couldn't be anything human or friendly.

Besides that, there's a feeling that comes with it always being night, cold night. Pa says there used to be some of that feeling even in the old days, but then every morning the Sun would come and chase it away. I have to take his word for that, not ever remembering the Sun as being anything more than a star. You see, I hadn't been born when the dark star snatched us away from the Sun, and by now it's dragged us out beyond the orbit of the planet Pluto, Pa says, and taking us farther out all the time.

I found myself wondering whether there mightn't be something on the dark star that wanted us, and if that was why it had captured the Earth. Just then we came to the end of the corridor and I followed Pa out on the balcony.

I don't know what the city looked like in the old days, but now it's beautiful. The starlight lets you see it pretty well- there's quite a bit of light in those steady points speckling the blackness above. (Pa says the stars used to twinkle once, but that was because there was air.) We are on a hill and the shimmery plain drops away from us and then flattens out, cut up into neat squares by the troughs that used to be streets. I sometimes make my mashed potatoes look like it, before I pour on the gravy.

Some taller buildings push up out of the feathery plain, topped by rounded caps of air crystals, like the fur hood Ma wears, only whiter. On these buildings you can see the darker squares of windows, underlined by white dashes of air crystals. Some of them are on a slant, for many of the buildings are pretty badly twisted by the quakes and all the rest that happened when the dark star captured the Earth.

Here and there a few icicles hang, water icicles from the first days of the cold, other icicles of frozen air that melted on the roofs and dripped and froze again. Sometimes one of those icicles will catch the light of a star and send it to you so brightly you think the star has swooped into the city. That was one of the things Pa had been thinking of when I told him about the light, but I had thought of it myself first and known it wasn't so.

He touched his helmet to mine so we could talk easier and he asked me to point out the windows to him. But there wasn't any light moving around inside them now, or anywhere else. To my surprise, Pa didn't bawl me out and tell me I'd been seeing things. He looked all around quite a while after filling his pail, and just as we were going inside he whipped around without warning, as if to take some peeping thing off guard.

I could feel it, too. The old peace was gone. There was something lurking out there, watching, waiting, getting ready.

Inside, he said to me, touching helmets, "If you see something like that again, son, don't tell the others. Your Ma's sort of nervous these days and we owe her all the feeling of safety we can give her. Once-it was when your sister was born-I was ready to give up and die, but your Mother kept me trying Another time she kept the fire going a whole week all by herself when I was sick. Nursed me and took care of the two of you, too.

"You know that game we sometimes play, sitting in a square in the Nest, tossing a ball around? Courage is like a ball, son. A person can hold it only so long, and then he's got to toss it to someone else. When it's tossed your way, you've got to catch it and hold it tight-and hope there'll be someone else to toss it to when you get tired of being brave."

His talking to me that way made me feel grown-up and good. But it didn't wipe away the thing outside from the back of my mind-or the fact that Pa took it seriously.

It's hard to hide your feelings about sach a thing. When we got back in the Nest and took off our outside clothes, Pa laughed about it and told them it was nothing and kidded me for having such an imagination, but his words fell flat. He didn't convince Ma and Sis any more than he did me. It looked for a minute like we were all fumbling the courage-ball. Something had to be done, and almost before I knew what I was going to say, I heard myself asking Pa to tell us about the old days, and how it all happened.

He sometimes doesn't mind telling that story, and Sis and I sure like to listen to it, and he got my idea. So we were all settled around the fire in a wink, and Ma pushed up some cans to thaw for supper, and Pa began. Before he did, though, I noticed him casually get a hammer from the shelf and lay it down beside him.

It was the same old story as always-I think I could recite the main thread of it in my sleep-though Pa always puts in a new detail or two and keeps improving it in spots.

He told us how the Earth had been swinging around the Sun ever so steady and warm, and the people an it fixing to make money and wars and have a good time and get power and treat each other right or wrong, when without warning there comes charging out of space this dead star, this burned-out sun, and upsets everything.

You know, I find it hard to believe in the way those people felt, any more than I can believe in the swarming number of them. Imagine people getting ready for the horrible sort of war they were cooking up. Wanting it even, or at least wishing it were over so as to end their nervousness. As if all folks didn't have to hang together and pool every bit of warmth just to keep alive. And how can they have hoped to end danger, any more then we can hope to end the cold?

Sometimes I think Pa exaggerates and makes things out too black. He's cross with us once in a while and was probably cross with all those folks. Still some of the things I read in the old magazines sound pretty wild. He may be right.

The dark star, as Pa went on telling it, rushed in pretty fast and there wasn't much time to get ready. At the beginning they tried to keep it a secret from most people, but then the truth came out, what with the earthquakes and floods- imagine, oceans of unfrozen water!-and people seeing stars blotted out by something on a clear night. First off they thought it would hit the Sun, and then they thought it would hit the Earth. There was even the start of a rush to get to a place called China, because people thought the star would hit on the other side. But then they found it wasn't going to hit either side, but was going to come very close to the Earth.

Most of the other planets were on the other side of the Sun and didn't get involved. The Sun and the newcomer fought over the Earth for a little while-pulling it this way and that, like two dogs growling over a bone, Pa described it this time- and then the newcomer won and carried us off. The Sun got a consolation prize, though. At the last minute he managed to hold on to the Moon.

That was the time of the monster earthquakes and floods, twenty times worse than anything before. It was also the., time of the Big Jerk, as Pa calls it, when all Earth got yanked suddenly, just as Pa has done to me once or twice, grabbing me by the collar to do it, when I've been sitting too far from the fire.

You see, the dark star was going through space faster than the Sun, and in the opposite direction, and it had to wrench the world considerably in order to take it away.

The Big Jerk didn't last long. It was over as soon as the Earth was settled down in its new orbit around the dark star. But it was pretty terrible while it lasted. Pa says that all sorts of cliffs and buildings toppled, oceans slopped over, swamps and sandy deserts gave great sliding surges that buried nearby lands. Earth was almost jerked out of its atmosphere blanket and the air got so thin in spots that people keeled over and fainted-though of course, at the same time they were getting knocked down by the Big Jerk and maybe their bones broke or skulls cracked.

We've often asked Pa how people acted during that time, whether they were scared or brave or crazy or stunned, or all four, but he's sort of leery of the subject, and he was again tonight. He says he was mostly too busy to notice.

You see, Pa and some scientist friends of his had figured out part of what was going to happen-they'd known we'd get captured and our air would freeze-and they'd been working like mad to fix up a place with airtight walls and doors, and insulation against the cold, and big supplies of food and fuel and water and bottled air. But the place got smashed in the last earthquakes and all Pa's friends were killed then and in the Big Jerk. So he had to start over and throw the

Nest together quick without any advantages, just using any stuff he could lay his hands on.

I guess he's telling pretty much the truth when he says he didn't have any time to keep an eye on how other folks behaved, either then or in the Big Freeze that followed- followed very quick, you know, both because the dark star was pulling us away very fast and because Earth's rotation had been slowed in the tug-of-war, so that the nights were ten old nights long.

Still, I've got an idea of some of the things that happened from the frozen folk Fve seen, a few of them in other rooms in our building, others clustered around the furnaces in the basements where we go for coal.

In one of the rooms, an old man sits stiff m a chair, with an arm and a leg in splints. In another, a man and woman are huddled together in a bed with heaps of covers over them. You can just see their heads peeking out, close together. And m another a beautiful young lady is sitting with a pile of wraps huddled around her, looking hopefully toward the door, as if waiting for someone who never came back with warmth and food. They're all still and stiff as statues, of course, but lust like life.

Pa showed them to me once in quick winks of his flashlight, when he still had a fair supply of batteries aad could afford to waste a little light. They scared me pretty bad and made my heart pound, especially the young lady.

Now, with Pa telling his story for the umpteenth time to take our minds off another scare, I got to thinking of the frozen folk again. All of a sudden I got an idea that scared me worse than anything yet. You see, I'd just remembered the face I'd thought I'd seen in the window. I'd forgotten about that on account of trying to hide it from the others.

What, I asked myself, if the frozen folk were coming to life? What if they were like the liquid helium that got a new lease on life and started crawling toward the heat just when you thought its molecules ought to freeze solid forever? Or like the electricity that moves endlessly when it's just about as cold as that? What if the ever-growing cold, with the temperature creeping down the last few degrees to the last zero, had mysteriously wakened the frozen folk to life-not warmblooded life, but something icy and horrible?

That was a worse idea than the one about something coming down from the dark star to get us.

Or maybe, I thought, both ideas might be true. Something coming down from the dark star and making the frozen folk move, using them to do its work. That would fit with both things I'd seen-the beautiful young lady and the moving, starlike light.

The frozen folk with minds from the dark star behind their unwinkling eyes, creeping, crawling, snuffing their way, following the heat to the Nest.

I tell you, that thought gave me a very bad turn and I wanted very badly to tell the others my fears, but I remembered what Pa had said and clenched my teeth and didn't speak.

We were all sitting very still. Even the fire was burning silently. There was just the sound of Pa's voice and the clocks.

And then, from beyond the blankets, I thought I heard a tiny noise. My skin tightened all over me.

Pa was telling about the early years in the Nest and had come to the place where he philosophizes.

"So I asked myself then," he said, "what's the use of going on? What's the use of dragging it out for a few years? Why prolong a doomed existence of hard work and cold and loneliness? The human race is done. The Earth is done. Why not give up, I asked myself-and all of a sudden I got the answer."

Again I heard the noise, louder this time, a kind of uncertain shuffling tread, coming closer. I couldn't breathe.

"Life's always been a business of working hard and fighting the cold," Pa was saying. "The Earth's always been a lonely place, millions of miles from the next planet. And no matter how long the human race might have lived, the end would have come some night. Those things don't matter. What matters is that life is good. It has a lovely texture, like some rich cloth or fur, or the petals of flowers-you've seen pictures of those, but I can't describe how they feel-or the fire's glow. It makes everything else worthwhile. And that's as true for the last man as the first."

And still the steps kept shuffling closer. It seemed to me that the inmost blanket trembled and bulged a little. Just as if they were burned into my imagination, I kept seeing those peering, frozen eyes.

"So right then and there," Pa went on, and now I could tell that he heard the steps, too, and was talking loud so we maybe wouldn't hear them, "right then and there I told myself that I was going on as if we had all eternity ahead of us. I'd have children and teach them all I could. I'd get them to read books. I'd plan for the future, try to enlarge and seal the Nest.

I'd do what I could to keep everything beautiful and growing. I'd keep alive my feeling of wonder even at the cold and the dark and the distant stars."

But then the blanket actually did move and lift. And there was a bright light somewhere behind it. Pa's voice stopped and his eyes turned to the widening slit and his hand went out until it touched and gripped the handle of the hammer beside him.

In through the blanket stepped the beautiful young lady.

She stood there looking at us the strangest way, and she carried something bright and unwinking in her hand. And two other faces peered over her shoulders-men's faces, white and staring.

Well, my heart couldn't have been stopped for more than four or five beats before I realized she was wearing a suit and helmet like Pa's homemade ones, only fancier, and that the men were, too-and that the frozen folk certainly wouldn't be wearing those. Also, I noticed that the bright thing in her hand was just a kind of flashlight.

The silence kept on while I swallowed hard a couple of times, and after that there was all sorts of jabbering and commotion.

They were simply people, you see. We hadn't been the only ones to survive; we'd just thought so, for natural enough reasons. These three people had survived, and quite a few others with them. And when we found out how they'd survived, Pa let out the biggest whoop of joy.

They were from Los Alamos and they were getting their heat and power from atomic energy. Just using the uranium and plutonium intended for bombs, they had enough to go on for thousands of years. They had a regular little airtight city, with airlocks and all. They even generated electric light and grew plants and animals by it. (At this Pa let out a second whoop, waking Ma from her faint.)

But if we were flabbergasted at them, they were double-flabbergasted at us.

One of the men kept saying, "But it's impossible, I tell you. You can't maintain an air supply without hermetic seal-ing. It's simply impossible."

That was after he had got his helmet off and was using our air. Meanwhile, the young lady kept looking around at us as if we were saints, and telling us we'd done something amazing, and suddenly she broke down and cried.

They'd been scouting around for survivors, but thev never expected to find any in a place like this. They had rocket ships at Los Alamos and plenty of chemical fuel. As for liquid oxygen, all you had to do was go out and shovel the air blanket at the top level. So after they'd got things going smoothly at Los Alamos, which had taken years, they'd decided to make some trips to likely places where there might be other survivors. No good trying long-distance radio signals, of course, since there was no atmosphere to carry them around the curve of the Earth.

Well, they'd found other colonies at Argonne and Brook-haven and way around the world at Harwell and Tanna Tuva. And now they'd been giving our city a look, not really expecting to find anything. But they had an instrument that noticed the faintest heat waves and it had told them there was something warm down here, so they'd landed to investigate. Of course we hadn't heard them land, since there was no air to carry the sound, and they'd had to investigate around quite a while before finding us. Their instruments had given them a wrong steer and they'd wasted some time in the building across the street.

By now, all five adults were talking like sixty. Pa was demonstrating to the men how he worked the fire and got rid of the ice in the chimney and all that. Ma had perked up wonderfully and was showing the young lady her cooking and sewing stuff, and even asking about how the women dressed at Los Alamos. The strangers marveled at everything and praised it to the skies. I could tell from the way they wrinkled their noses that they found the Nest a bit smelly, but they never mentioned that at all and just asked bushels of questions.

In fact, there was so much talking and excitement that Pa forgot about things, and it wasn't until they were all getting groggy that he looked around and found the air had all boiled away in the pail. He got another bucket of air quick from behind the blankets. Of course that started them all laughing and jabbering again. The newcomers even got a little drunk. They weren't used to so much oxygen.

Funny thing, though-I didn't do much talking at all and Sis hung on to Ma all the time and hid her face when anybody looked at her. I felt pretty uncomfortable and disturbed myself, even about the young lady. Glimpsing her outside there, I'd had all sorts of mushy thoughts, but now I was just embarrassed and scared of her, even though she tried to be nice as anything to me.

I sort of wished they'd all quit crowding the Nest and let us be alone and get our feelings straightened out.

And when the newcomers began to talk about our all going to Los Alamos, as if that were taken for granted, I could see that something of the same feeling struck Pa and Ma, too," Pa got very silent all of a sudden and Ma kept telling the young lady, "But I wouldn't know how to act there and I haven't any clothes."

The strangers were puzzled like anything at first, but then they got the idea. As Pa kept saying, "It just doesn't seem right to let this fire go out."

Well, the strangers are gone, but they're coming back. It hasn't been decided yet just what will happen. Maybe the Nest will be kept up as what one of the strangers called a "survival school." Or maybe we will join the pioneers who are going to try to establish a new colony at the uranium mines at Great Slave Lake or in the Congo.

Of course, now that the strangers are gone, I've been thinking a lot about Los Alamos and those other tremendous colonies. I have a hankering to see them for myself.

You ask me, Pa wants to see them, too. He's been getting pretty thoughtful, watching Ma and Sis perk up.

"It's different, now that we know others are alive," he explains to me. "Your mother doesn't feel so hopeless arty more. Neither do I, for that matter, not having to carry the whole responsibility for keeping the human race going, so to speak It scares a person."

I looked around at the blanket walls and the fire and the pails of air boiling away and Ma and Sis sleeping in the warmth and the flickering light.

"It's not going to be easy to leave the Nest," I said, wanting to cry, kind of. "It's so small and there's just the four of us. I get scared at the idea of big places and a lot of strangers."

He nodded and put another piece of coal on the fire. Then he looked at the little pile and grinned suddenly and put a couple of handfuls on, just as if it was one of our birthdays or Christmas.

"You'll quickly get over that feeling son," he said. "The trouble with the world was that it kept getting smaller and smaller, till it ended with just the Nest. Now it'll be good to have a real huge world again, the way it was in the beginning."

I guess he's right. You think the beautiful young lady will wait for me till I grow up? I'll be twenty in only ten years.


<p>King of the Hill</p> <p>by Chad Oliver</p>

She floated there in the great nothing, still warm and soft and blue-green if you could eyeball her from a few thousand miles out, still kissed under blankets of clouds.

Mama Earth, Getting old now, tired, her blankets soiled with her own secretions, her body bruised and torn by a billion forgotten passions.

Like many a mother before her, she had given birth to a monster. Me was not old, not as planets measure time, and there had been other children. But he was old enough. He had taken over.

His name?

You know it: there are no surprises left. Man. Big Daddy of the primates. The ape that walks like a chicken. Homo sap. Ah, the tool-maker, flapper of tongues, builder of fires, sex fiend, dreamer, destroyer, creator of garbage…

You know me, Al.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall-

Ant is the name, anthill is the game.

There were many men, too many men. They have names.

Try this one on for size: Sam Gregg. Don't like it? Rings no bells? Not elegant enough? Wrong ethnic affiliation?

Few among the manswarm, if any, cared for Sam Gregg. One or two, possibly, gave a damn about his name. A billion or so knew his name.

Mostly, they hated his guts-and envied him.

He was there, Sam Gregg, big as life and twice as ugly.

He stuck out.

A rock in the sandpile.

They were after him again.

Sam Gregg felt the pressure. There had been a time when he had thrived on it; the adrenaline had flowed and the juices bubbled. Sure, and there had been a time when dinosaurs had walked the earth. Sam had been born in the year that men had first walked on the moon. (It had tickled him, when he was old enough to savor it. A man with the unlikely name of Armstrong, no less. And his faithful sidekick, Buzz. And good old Mike holding the fort, Jesus.) That made him nearly a century old. His doctors were good, the best. It was no miracle to live a hundred years, not these days. But he wasn't a kid anymore, as he demonstrated occasionally with Lois.

The attacks were not particularly subtle, but they were civilized. That meant that nobody called you a son of a bitch to your face, and the assassins carried statistics and plati-tudes instead of knives and strangling cords.

Item. A bill had been introduced in Washington by good old Senator Raleigh, millionaire defender of the poor. Stripped of its stumbling oratorical flourishes, it argued that undersea development was now routine and therefore that there should be no tax dodges for phony risk capital investment. That little arrow was aimed straight at one of Sam's companies- at several of them, in fact, although the somewhat dim-witted Raleigh probably did not know that. Sam.could beat the bill, but it would cost him money. That annoyed him. He had an expensive hobby.

Item. Sam retained a covey of bright boys whose only job it was to keep his name out of the communications media. They weren't entirely successful; your name is not known to a billion people on a word-of-mouth basis. Still, he had not been subjected to one of those full-scale, no-holds-barred, dynamic, daring personal close-ups for nearly a year now. One was coming up, on Worldwide. The mystery man-revealed! The richest man in the world-exposed! The hermit-trapped by fearless reporters! Sam was not amused. The earth was sick, blotched by hungry and desperate people from pole to shining pole. There had never been an uglier joke than pinning man's future on birth control. A sick world needs a target for its anger. Sam's only hope was to be inconspicuous. He had failed in that, and it would get him in the end. Still, he only needed a little more time...

Item. The U.N. delegate from the Arctic Republic had charged that Arctic citizens of Eskimo descent were being passed over for high administrative positions in franchises licensed to operate in the Republic. "We must not and will not allow," he said, "the well-known technical abilities of oar people to serve as a pretext for modern-day colonial exploitation." The accusation was so much rancid blubber, of course; Sam happened to like Eskimos as well as he liked anybody, and in any event he was always very careful about such things. No matter. There would be a hearing, facts would have to be tortured by the computers, stories would have to be planted, money would be spent. The root of all evil pro-duced a popular shrub.

There were other items, most of them routine. Sam did not deal with them himself, and had not done so for fifty years. ("Mr. Gregg never does anything personally," as one aide had put it in a famous interview.) Sam routed the problems down to subordinates; that was what they were for. Nevertheless, he kept in touch. A ruler who does not know what is going on in his empire can expect the early arrival of the goon squad that escorts him into oblivion. There were the usual appeals to support Worthy Causes, to contribute to Charity, to help out Old Friends. Sam denied them all without a qualm and without doing anything; his lieutenants had their orders. A penny saved…

Sam was not really worried; at worst he was harassed, which was the chronic complaint of executives. They were not on to him yet. There was no slightest hint of a leak where it counted. If that one ever hit the air cleaner there would be a stink they could smell in the moon labs.

Still, he felt the pressure. He was human, at least in his own estimation. There was a classic cure for pressure, known to students of language as getting away from it all. It was a cure that was no longer possible for the vast majority of once-human beings, for the simple reason that there was nowhere to go.

("To what do you attribute your long and successful life, Mr. Gregg?'" "Well, I pension off my wives so that I always have a young one, and I see to it that she talks very little. I drink a lot of good booze, but I never get drunk. I don't eat meat. I count my money when I get depressed. If I feel tense, I knock about the estate until I feel better. I try to break at least three laws every day. I owe it all to being a completely evil man.")

Sam Gregg could take the cure, and he did.

He did not have to leave his own land, of course. Sam never left his Estate. (Well, hardly ever.) He took the private tube down from his suite in the tower and stepped outside. That was the way he thought of it, but it was not precisely true. There was a miniature life-support; pod that arched over a thousand acres of his property. It was a high price to pay for clean air, but it was the only way. Sam needed it and so did the animals.

There were two laws that he broke every day. In a world so strangled by countless tons of human meat that land per capita was measured in square feet, Sam Gregg owned more than a thousand acres. Moreover, he did nothing useful with that supremely illegal land. He kept animals on it. Even dogs and cats had been outlawed for a quarter of a century, and what passed for meat was grown in factory vats. When people are starving, wasting food on pets is a criminal act, (Who says so? Why, people do.) Most of the zoos were gone now, and parks and forests and meadows were things of the past.

Sam took a deep breath, drinking in the air. It was just right, and not completely artificial either. Cool it was, and fragrant with living smells: trees and wet-green grass and water that glided over rocks and earth that was soft and thick.

This was all that was left, a fact that Sam fully appreciated.

This was the world as it once had been, lost now and forever.

Man had come, mighty man. Oh, he was smart, he was clever. He had turned the seas into cesspools, the air into sludge, the mountains into shrieking cities. Someone had once said that one chimpanzee was no chimpanzee. It was true; they were social animals. But how about ten thousand chimpanzees caged in a square mile? That was no chimpanzee also-that was crazy meat on a fanny farm.

Oh, man was clever. He raped a world until he could not live with it, and then he screamed for help.

Don't call me, AI. Ill call you.

Sam shook his head. It was no good thinking about it. He could not ride to the rescue, not with all of his billions. He had no great admiration for his fellow men, and it would not matter if he had.

There was only one thing left to try.

Sam tried to close his mind to it. He had to stay alive a little longer. He had to relax, value, enjoy-

He walked along an unpaved trail, very likely the last one left on the planet. He breathed clean air, he felt the warmth of the sun glowing through the pod, he absorbed…

There were squirrels chattering in the trees, rabbits busy at rabbit-business in the brush. He saw a deer, a beautiful buck with moss on his horns; the buck ran when he spotted Sam. He knew who the enemy was. He saw a thin raccoon, a female that stared at him from behind her bandit's mask. She had three young ones with her and they were bold, but Mama herded them up into an oak and out of danger. He could see the three little masks peering down at him from the branches.

The trail wound along a stream of cold, fast water. Sam watched the dark olive shadows lurking in the pools. Trout, of course. Sam drew the line at bass and carp,

He came out of the trees and into a field of tall grass. There were yellow flowers and insects buzzed in the air. He sensed the closeness of shapes and forms, but he could not see them in the breeze-swept grass. There was life here, and death, and life again.

But not for long.

He turned and retraced his steps. He felt a little better.

The raccoons were still in the oak.

Sam went back inside. Back to the salt mine.

He worked hard until dinner.

"What was the exact hour?" Lois asked him, absently stroking one of her remarkable legs. (She had two of them.)

"I don't remember," Sam said. "I was very young."

"Come on, Sam. I'm not stupid. You can't tell me that with all the resources of your mysterious enterprises you can't find out the exact time."

"I am telling you. I don't know." Sam looked at her, which was always pleasant in a tense sort of way. Lois was sensual but there was no softness in her. She had a lacquered surface stretched like a drumhead over taut springs. She always looked perfect, but even her casual clothes were somehow formal. She never forgot herself. She was a challenge, which was fine once in a while. Sam was old enough to decline most challenges without dishonor.

Lois did not have to remind Sam that she had a brain. Sam never made that mistake. Her little reference to "mysterious enterprises" was an effective threat. At thirty, she had climbed the highest pinnacle on her scale of values: she was the wife of the richest man in the world. She didn't want a settlement. She wanted it all. Sam had no children.

Bright, yes. Cunning, yes. Skilled, certainly. Faithful with her body, yes-Lois took no needless risks. But that fine-boned head enclosed a brain that was all output; not much of significance ever went in. The hard violet eyes looked out from jelly that had been molded in Neolithic times.

She would have made a dandy witch.

She spent her days puttering with expensive clothing and obscure cosmetics. She had a library of real books, thus proving her intellectual capacity. They were all about reincarnation and astrology. She considered herself something of an expert with horoscopes. A pun had frequently occurred to Sam in this connection, but he had refrained. He was not a cruel man.

"I want to do it for you," she «aid. "You have decisions to make. It would help. Really, Sam."

She was quite sincere, like all fanatics. It was a gift she could give him, and that was important to her. It was an ancient problem for women like Lois: what do you give to a man who has everything? The gag presents get pretty thin very quickly, and Sam was not a man who was easily convulsed.

He sipped his drink, enjoying it. He always drank Scotch; the labs could create nothing better. "Well," he said, "I haven't a clue about the minute of my birth. I'd just as soon forget my birthday."

Lois was patient. "It would be so simple to find out."

"But I don't give a damn."

"I give a damn. What about me? It's a small thing. I know the day, of course. But if the moons of Saturn were in the right position…"

Sam raised his eyebrows and took a large swallow of Scotch before he answered. "They are always in the right position," he said carefully, 'That's the way moons are."

"Oh, Sam." She did not cry; she had learned some things,

Sam Gregg stood up to refill his glass. He did not like to have obtrusive robots around the house. Self-reliance and all that.

He was not unaware of himself. He did not look his age. He was a tall, angular man. There was still strength in him. His hair was gray, not white. His craggy face was lined but there was no flab on him. His brown eyes were sharp, like dirty ice,

Sam sometimes thought of himself as a vampire in one of the still-popular epics. ("Ah, my dear, velcome to Castle Mor-dar. A moment while I adjust my dentures.") Splendid-looking chap, distinguished even. But then, suddinkly, at the worst possible moment, he dissolves into a puff of primeval dust…

"Let's go beddy-bye," Sam said, draining his glass. "Maybe I can remember."

"I'll help you," Lois said, reporting for duty.

"You'll have to," Sam agreed.

Sam worked very hard the next few weeks. He even found time to check the hour and the minute of his birth. He was being very careful indeed, trying to think of everything.

Lois was delighted. She retreated to her mystic stewpott consulted her illustrated charts, talked it over with several dead Indians, and informed Sam that he was thinking about a long, long journey.

Sam didn't explode into laughter.

His work was difficult because so much of it involved waiting. There were many programs to consider, all of them set in motion years ago. They had to mesh perfectly. They all depended on the work of other men. And they all had to be masked.

It wasn't easy. How, for instance, do you hide a couple of spaceships? Particularly when they keep taking off and landing with all the stealth of trumpeting elephants?

("Spaceship? I don't see any spaceship. Do you see a spaceship?")

Answer: You don't hide them. You account for them. For all practical purposes, Sam owned the space station that orbited the Earth. He controlled it through a mosaic of interlocking companies, domestic and foreign. It was only natural for him to operate a few shuttle ships. A man has a right to keep his finger in his own pie.

Owned the space station, Daddy?

Yes, Junior. Listen, my son, and you shall hear…

The great space dream had been a bust. A colossal fizzle. A thumping anticlimax.

The trails blazed by the space pioneers led-quite literally-Nowhere.

Fortunately or otherwise, Mighty Man could not create the solar system in his own image. The solar system was one hell of a place, and not just on Pluto. There were no conveniently verdant worlds. There were just rocks and craters, heat and cold, lifeless dust and frozen chemicals.

There were other suns, other planets. Big deal. There were no handy space warps, no faster-than-light drives. Unmanned survey ships took a very long time to report, and their news produced no dancing in the streets: rocks, craters, desolation. Who would spend a lifetime to visit Nothing?

Would you? (Naw, I'd rather go see Grandma.)

Scientific bases had been established on Luna, and they survived. They survived with enormous expense, with highly trained personnel, with iron discipline. Even the scientific teams had to be replaced at short intervals.

Radiation, you know. Puts funny kinks in the old chromosomes.

The Mars Colony of half a century ago, widely advertised as a solution to the population crisis, was a solution only in the grim sense of a Final Solution. Even with the life-support pods-Sam had lost a fortune on the early models, but he had learned a few things-it was no go. Five thousand human beings had gone to Mars to start the New Life. (A drop in the bucket, to be sure. But there was much talk about Beginnings, and Heroic Ancestors, and First Steps.) A few of them had gotten back. Most had died or gone mad or both. Some of them were still there, although this was not generally known. They -were no longer human.

The problem was that it was perfectly possible to set up a scientific base on Mars, or even a military base if there had been any need for one. But soldiers on Mars are a joke, and appropriations committees had long since stopped playing the old game: Can You Top This? Scientists could do little on Mars that they could not do on Luna. And people-plain, ordinary people, the kind that swarmed the Earth and scratched for a living, the kind that had to go-could not exist on Mars.

And so?

And so, kiddies, what was left of the space program was taken over by what was referred to as the Private Sector of the Economy. Got your decoder badges ready? It works out to S-a-m G-r-e-g-g. Governments could not continue to pour billions into space when there was no earthly reason for doing so. But with existing hardware and accumulated expertise it was not prohibitively expensive for Sam Gregg to keep a few things going. There was the matter of motive, of course. Sam Gregg had one, and he made money besides.

There were other projects to conceal, but they were easier than spaceships. Genetics research? Well, cancer was still a killer and everyone wanted to live forever. Such work was downright humanitarian, and therefore admirable. Ecological studies? The whole wretched planet was fouled by its own ecology-a solution had to be found. (There was no solution at this late date, but so what? It was a Good Thing. Everyone said so.) Computers, robots, cybernetics? Certainly they were beyond reproach. Hadn't they ushered in the Golden Age? Well, hadn't they?

Sam Gregg had his faults-ask anyone-but wishful thinking was not among them. He knew that he could succeed if he just had time. He could succeed if they didn't get him first. He could succeed because he had the resources and because the problem was essentially one of technology. No matter how complex they are, technological problems can be solved unless they involve flat impossibilities. You can build a suspension bridge, send a man to Mars or wherever, construct cities beneath the sea.

There are other problems, human problems. How do you build a bridge between people? How do you, send a better man to Mars? How do you construct an anthill city that is not a bughouse? Money will not solve those problems. Rhetoric will not solve them. Technology will not solve them.

Therefore, Sam did not fool with them. He used them for protective coloration, but he did not kid himself.

He stuck to the art of the possible.

Oh yes, he had a dream.

There was justice in it, of a sort. But human beings care nothing for justice. They look out for Number One.

Number One?

Sam permitted himself a brief, cold smile.

They would tear him apart if they knew, all those billions of Number Ones…

A day came when all the bits and pieces fell into place. The data came back, coded across the empty hundreds of millions of miles. The columns added up. The light turned green.

Sam was exultant, in a quiet sort of way. He had expected it to work, of course. He had checked it all out countless times. But that was theory, and Sam was a skeptic about theories.

This was fact.

It was ready. Not perfect, no-but that too had been anticipated.

Ain't science wunnerful?

He could not stay inside, not when he was this close. He had to get outside, taste what was left of freedom. At times like these, it was not enough to know that it was there. He had to see it.

He walked on the Estate.

Lois joined him, which was a pain in the clavicle but Sam did not allow her presence to destroy his mood. Lois had on one of her cunning Outdoor Suits. She always professed to adore what she called Nature, but she walked as though every blade of grass were poison ivy.

(Poison ivy had been extinct for decades, Lois would soon follow suit.)

"It's so peaceful," Lois said. She usually said that here.

Rather to his own surprise, Sam answered her. He wanted to talk to somebody, to celebrate. Failing that, he talked to Lois. "No," he said. "Not really. It only seems peaceful because we are observers, not part of it. And it is controlled, to some extent."

Lois looked at him sharply. It had been one of his longer speeches.

"See that cedar?" Sam pointed to it, knowing that she did not know a cedar from a cottonwood. "Tough little tree. It'll grow in poor soil, it doesn't take much water. See how the roots come up near the surface? It's brittle, though. Won't last long. That oak is crowding it, and it's got a century or two to play with. See that little willow-there, the droopy one? It needs too much water and the drainage is wrong. It'll never make it. Am I boring you?"

"No," Lois said truthfully. She was too amazed to be bored.

"See the bunny rabbit?" Sam's voice lapsed into parody. "See bunny run? He'd better run. Lots of things eat bunny rabbits. Hawks, bobcats, wolves. Snakes eat little bunnies-"

"Oh, Sam."

As if to prove his point, a beagle hound stuck his wet nose out of the brush. His white-tipped tail wagged tentatively. His liquid eyes were pools of adoration, (Beagles were originally bred as hunters. Remember?)

Sam turned his back on the dog, "Man's best friend. The supreme opportunist. He figured the odds twenty thousand years ago and threw in with us. K-9, Secret Agent. Con. Fink. Surplus now. Dear old pal."

"I don't understand you sometimes," Lois said with rare perception.

Idon't understand them, either, Sam thought. Animals, not women. Little Forest Friends Nobody understands them. We were too busy. There wasn't even a decent field study of the chimpanzee until around 1930. Seventy years later there were no chimpanzees. We didn't bother with the animals that were not like men; who cared? We learned exactly nothing about kudus and bears, coons and possums, badgers and buffalo. Too late now. They are gone or going, and so is their world.

Sam Gregg was not a sentimental man. He was a realist. Still, the facts bothered him. It was hard not to know. He would never know, and that was that. There was no way.

They walked along the trail together. (Arm in arm, lovely couple, backbone of empire.) Sam was a little nervous. It had been a long fight and-as they used to say-victory was at hand.

He felt a little like God and a lot like an old man.

From the branches of a gnarled oak, a masked mother and three small bandits watched them pass.

There were ancient raccoon thoughts in the air.

You are ready.

So do it. Don't wobble.

Sam did it.

Sound dramatic?

It was (in the very long run) and it wasn't (here and now). An extremely well-balanced, insulated, innocuous conveyor left the main lab and hissed gently to the spaceport. A large gray metallic box was loaded into a shuttle ship and locked into place. The box was ten feet square, and it was heavy. It could have been much smaller and lighter-about the size of a jigger glass-except for the refrigeration units, the electronic circuits, the separation cubicles, and the protective layers.

The shuttle lifted to the space station. Strictly routine.

The gray cube of metal was transferred very gingerly to a larger ship. She (that was surely the proper pronoun) was a special ship, a swimmer of deep space. She was crammed with expensive gear. Say, a billion dollars' worth. Maybe more.

She took off. She was completely automated, controlled by computers, powered by atomics.

There were no men on board.

The ship was never corning back.

Sam?

He stayed home.

There was nowhere for him to go.

Remember?

It is curious how a small gesture will offend some people.

There was no more capital punishment, unless living on earth was it, but good men and true were willing to make an exception in Sam's case.

"So you sunk twenty billion into it over a ten-year period," his chief lawyer said. He said it the same way he might have asked, "So you think you're a kumquat, eh?"

"Give or take a few million. Of course, some of the basic research goes back more than ten years. If you figure all that in, it might go to twenty-two billion. Maybe twenty-three."

"Never mind that." The lawyer groaned. He really did.

Lois was not happy and developed a case of severe frigidity. She was not only married to a man confronting bankruptcy, but she was also the wife of a Master Criminal. It does imperil one's social position.

(There was no way to keep it quiet, naturally, Sam had known that. Too many people were involved.)

They had a great time, the venom-spewers: senators and editorialists, presidents and kings, cops and commissions, professors and assorted hotshots. All the Good People.

Sam had. to put it mildly, violated a public trust. (Translation: he hadn't spent his money on what they wanted.)

He was guilty of a crime against humanity. (Judge and jury, definer of crime? Humanity. All heart.)

It did not matter in the least that twenty billion dollars (or twenty-two, or twenty-three, or a hundred) could not have saved the earth. Earth was finished, smothered by her most illustrious spawn. It would take a few years yet, while she gasped for breath and filled the bedpan. But she was through.

Man had never cared overmuch for facts.

He believed what he wanted to believe.

("Things may be bad, but they are getting better. All we have to do is like be relevant, you know? Enforce the Law. Consult the swami Have a hearing. Salvation through architecture. When the going gets tough the tough get going. All problems have solutions.")

There was one other thing that made Sam's sin inexcusable.

You see, animals have no votes.

The defense?

It was clear, simple, correct, and beyond dispute. It was therefore doomed.

("We'll give him a fair trial, then hang him.")

Way down deep where convictions solidify, Big Man had expected to meet his counterpart on other worlds. ("Ah, Earthling, you surprise I speak your language so good.") He had failed. He had found only barren rocks at the end of the road.

From this, he had drawn a characteristically modest conclusion.

Man, he decided, was alone in the accessible universe.

This was a slight error. There were primitive men who would not have made it, but there were no more primitive men.

The plain truth was that it was Earth that was unique and alone. Earth had produced life. Not just self-styled Number One, not just Superprimate. No. He was a late arrival, the final guest.

("All these goodies just for me!")

Alone? Man?

Well, not quite.

There were a million different species of insects. (Get the spray-gun, Henry.) Twenty thousand kinds of fish. (I got one, I got one!) Nine thousand types of birds. (You can still see a stuffed owl in a museum.) Fifteen thousand species of mammals. (You take this arrow, see, and fit the string into the notch…)

Alone? Sure, except for the kangaroos and bandicoots, shrews and skunks, bats and elephants, armadillos and rabbits, pigs and foxes, raccoons and whales, beavers and lions, moose and mice, oryx and otter and opossum-

Oh well, them.

Yes.

They too had come from the earth. Incredible, each of them. Important? Only if you happened to think that the only known life in the universe was important.

Man didn't think so. Not him.

Not the old perfected end-product of evolution.

He didn't kill them all, of course. He hadn't been around that long. The dinosaurs had managed to become extinct without his help. There were others.

He did pretty well, though. He could be efficient, give him that.

He started early. Remember the ground sloth, the mam-moth, the mastodon? You don't? Odd.

He kept at it. He was remarkably objective about it, really. He murdered his own kin as readily as the others. The orang had gone down the tube when Sam was a boy, the gorilla and the chimp and the gibbon a little later.

Sorry about that, gang.

In time, he got them all. It was better than in the old days. He took no risks, dug no traps, fired no guns. He simply crowded them out. When there were billions upon billions of naked apes stacked in layers over the earth, there was no room for anything else.

Goodbye, Old Paint,

So long. Rover.

Farewell, Kitty-cat,

Nothing personal, you understand.

All in the name of humanity. What higher motive can there be?

This is a defense?

What in hell did Sam do?

In hell, he did this:

Sam Gregg decided that mankind could not be saved. Not should not (although Sam, it must be confessed, did not get all choked up at the thought of human flesh) but could not, It was too late, too late when Sam was born. Man had poisoned his world and there were no fresh Earths,

Man could not survive on other planets, not without drastic genetic modifications.

And man would not change, not voluntarily.

After all, he was perfect, wasn't he?

That left the animals. Earth's other children, the ones pushed aside. The dumb ones. The losers. The powerless.

You might call it the art of the possible.

Did they matter? If they were the only life in the universe? Who knew? Who decided?

Well, there was Sam, A nut, probably. Still, he could play God as well as the next man. He had the money.

Pick a world, then. Not Mars. Too close, and there were still those ex-human beings running around there. Don't want to interfere with them.

Sam chose Titan, the sixth moon of Saturn. It was plenty big enough; it had a diameter of 3650 miles. It had an atmosphere of sorts, mostly methane. He liked the name.

Besides, think of the view.

It was beyond human engineering skill to convert Titan into a replica of Mother Earth in her better days. Tough, but that's the way the spheroid rebounds.

However, with atomic power generated on Titan a great deal could be done. It was, in fact, titanic.

The life-support pods-enormous energy shields-made it possible to create pockets in which breathable air could be born. It just required heat and water and chemical triggers and doctored plants-

A few little things.

A bit of the old technological razzle-dazzle.

Men could not live there, even under the pods. Neither could the animals that had once roamed the earth.

Sam's animals were different, though. He cut them to fit. That was one thing about genetics. When you knew enough about it, you couldmake alterations. Not many, perhaps. But enough.

Getting the picture?

Sam did not line the critters up two by two and load them into the Ark. (Noah, indeed.) He could not save them all. Some were totally gone, some were too delicate, some were outside the range of Sam's compassion. (Who needs a million kinds of bugs?) He did what he could, within the time he had.

He sent sex cells, sperm and ova, one hundred sets for each species. (Was that what was in the box? Yes, Junior.) Animals learn some things, some more than others, but most of what they do is born into them. Instinct, if you like. There was a staggering amount of information in that little box.

The problem was to get it out.

Parents have their uses, sometimes.

But robots will do, if you build them right. You can build a long, long program into a computer. You can stockpile food for a few years.

So-get the joint ready. Then bring down the ship and reseal the pods. Activate-the mechanisms. Fertilize the eggs Subdivide the zygotes. Put out the incubators. Pill the pens.

And turn 'em loose.

Look out, world.

That was what Sam Gregg did with his money.

They didn't actually execute him, the good people of Earth. There was not even a formal trial. They just confiscated what was left of his money and put him away in a Nice Place with the other crazies.

It would be pleasant to report that Sam died happy and that his dust was peaceful in its urn. In fact, Sam was sorry to go and he was even a little bitter.

If he could have known somehow, he might-or might not-have been more pleased.

Millions of lonely miles from the dead earth, she floated there in the great nothing. Beneath the shimmering pods that would last for thousands of years, a part of her was cool rather than cold, softer than the naked rocks, flashed with green.

Saturn hovered near the horizon, white and frozen and moonlike.

The ancient lifeways acted out their tiny dramas, strange under an alien sky. They had changed little, most of them.

There was one exception,

It might have been the radiation.

Then again, the raccoon had always been a clever animal. He had adroit hands, and he could use them. He had alert eyes, a quick intelligence. He could learn things, and on occasion he could pass on what he knew.

Within ten generations, he had fashioned a crude chopping tool out of flaked stone.

Within twenty, he had built a fire.

That beat man's record by a considerable margin, and the point was not lost on those who watched.

A short time later, the dog showed up, out in the shadows cast by the firelight. He whined. He thumped his shaggy tail. He oozed friendship.

The raccoons ignored him for a few nights. They huddled together, dimply proud of what they had done. They thought it over.

Eventually, one of the raccoons threw him a bloody bone, and the dog came in.

Don't like the ending?

A trifle stark?

Is there no way we can communicate with them from out of the past? Can't we say something, a few words, now that we are finished?

Ah, man. Ever the wishful thinker.

Still talking.

Sam had tried. He was human; he made the gesture.

There was a small plaque still visible on the outside of the silent ship that had brought them here. It was traditional in spaceflights, but Sam had done it anyhow.

It could not be read, of course.

It could not be deciphered, ever.

But it was there.

It said the only words that had seemed appropriate to Sam:

Good luck, old friends.



Requiem

by Edmond Hamilton

 What if the Universe and Sun are essentially undisturbed, but Earth itself undergoes a battering in a "Catastrophe of the Third Class"?

 There have been dangers to Earth that were popular with science fiction writers in decades past but that have never really been in the astronomical cards. The planets of the solar system cannot be so perturbed in their movements that they begin a slow spiral into the Sun-not unless some method is provided for bleeding off their tremendous angular momentum. Nevertheless, it is a colorful possibility that sf hates to abandon ("Requiem" by Edmond Hamilton).

 Today the Universe has become much more violent than m the old, old days of thirty years ago. We have learned about not merely exploding stars, but the cores of galaxies-billions of stars-that go up in agony. We deal with collapses into pulsars and black holes and the incredibly luminous quasars, And all of this gives writers the opportunity for dramatic ends indeed to Earth for the violence gives rise to radiation and that- ("At the Core" by Larry Nivenj,

 The reverse is also dramatic. What if something happens to deprive us of our Sun altogether and we are threatened with ruin not through excess of energy but utter lack ("A Pail of Air" by Fritz Leiberi.

 Nor need we feel we are entirely at the mercy of outside influences. Such is the power of Homo sapiens for evil that we can (and very likely are) ruining ourselves by the simple process of fouling our nest ("'King of the Hill" by Chad Oliver).


<p>Requiem</p> <p>by Edmond Hamilton</p>

Kellon thought sourly that he wasn't commanding a star-ship, he was running a traveling circus. He had aboard telaudio men with tons of equipment, pontifical commentators who knew the answer to anything, beautiful females who were experts on the woman's angle, pompous bureaucrats after publicity, and entertainment stars who had come along for the same reason.

He had had a good ship and crew, one of the best in the Survey. Had had. They weren't any more. They had been taken off their proper job of pushing astrographical knowledge ever further into the remote regions of the galaxy, and had been sent off with this cargo of costly people on a totally unnecessary mission,

He said bitterly to himself, "Damn all sentimentalists."

He said aloud, "Does its position check with your calculated orbit, Mr. Riney?"

Riney, the Second, a young and serious man who had been fussing with instruments in the astrogation room, came out and said,

"Yes. Right on the nose. Shall we go in and land now?"

Kellon didn't answer for a moment, standing there in the front of the bridge, a middle-aged man, stocky, square-shouldered, and with his tanned, plain face showing none of the resentment he felt. He hated to give the order but he had to.

"All right, take her in."

He looked gloomily through -the filter-windows as they went in. In this fringe-spiral of the galaxy, stars were relatively infrequent, and there were only ragged drifts of them across the darkness. Full ahead shone a small, compact sun like a diamond. It was a white dwarf and had been so for two thousand years, giving forth so little warmth that the planets which circled it had been frozen and ice-locked all that time. They still were, all except the innermost world.

Kellon stared at that planet, a tawny blob. The ice that had sheathed it ever since its primary collapsed into a white dwarf had now melted. Months before, a dark wandering body had passed very close to this lifeless system. Its passing had perturbed the planetary orbits and the inner planets had started to spiral slowly in toward their sun, and the ice had begun to go.

Viresson, one of the junior officers, came into the bridge looking harassed. He said to Kellon,

"They want to see you down below, sir. Especially Mr. Borrodale. He says it's urgent."

Kellon thought wearily, Well, I might as well go down and face the pack of them. Herd's where they really begin.

He nodded to Viresson, and went do'wn below to the main cabin. The sight of it revolted him. Instead of his own men in it, relaxing or chinning, it held a small and noisy mob of overdressed, overloud men and women, all of whom seemed to be talking at once and uttering brittle, nervous laughter.

"Captain Kellon, I want to ask you-"

"Captain, if you please-"

He patiently nodded and smiled and plowed through them to Borrodale He had been given particular instructions to cooperate with Borrodale, the most famous tetaudio commentator in the Federation.

Borrodale was a slightly plump man with a round pink face and incongruously large and solemn black eyes. When he spoke, one recognized at once that deep, incredibly rich and meaningful voice.

"My first broadcast is set for thirty minutes from now, Captain. I shall want a view as we go in. If my men could take a mobile up to the bridge-"

Kellon nodded. "Of course. Mr. Viresson is up there and will assist them in any way."

"Thank you, Captain. Would you like to see the broadcast?"

"I would, yes, but-"

He was interrupted by Lorri Lee, whose glitteringly handsome face and figure and sophisticated drawl made her the idol of all female telaudio reporters.

"My broadcast is to be right after landing-remember? I'd like to do it alone, with just the emptiness of that world as background. Can you keep the others from spoiling the effect? Please?"

"We'll do what we can," Kellon mumbled. And as the rest of the pack converged on him he added hastily, "I'll talk to you later. Mr. Borrodale's broadcast-"

He got through them, following after Borrodale toward the cabin that had been set up as a telaudio-transmitter room. It had, Kellon thought bitterly, once served an honest purpose, holding the racks of soil and water and other samples from far worlds. But that had been when they were doing an honest Survey job, not chaperoning chattering fools on this sentimental pilgrimage.

The broadcasting set-up was beyond Kellon. He didn't want to hear this but it was better than the mob in the main cabin. He watched as Borrodale made a signal. The monitor-screen came alive.

It showed a dun-colored globe spinning in space, growing visibly larger as they swept toward it. Now straggling seas were identifiable upon it. Moments passed and Borrodale did not speak, just letting that picture go out. Then his deep voice spoke over the picture, with dramatic simplicity.

"You are looking at the Earth," he said.

Silence again, and the spinning brownish ball was bigger now, with white clouds ragged upon it. And then Borrodale spoke again.

"You who watch from many worlds in the galaxy-this is the homeland of our race. Speak its name to yourselves. The Earth."

Kellon felt a deepening distaste. This was all true, but still it was phony. What was Earth now to him, or to Borrodale, or his billions of listeners? But it was a story, a sentimental occasion, so they had to pump it up into something big.

"Some thirty-five hundred years ago," Borrodale was saying, "our ancestors lived on this world alone. That was when they first went into space. To these other planets first-but very soon, to other stars. And so our Federation began, our community of human civilization on many stars and worlds."

Now, in the monitor, the view of Earth's dun globe had been replaced by the face of Borrodale in close-up. He paused dramatically.

"Then, over two thousand years ago, it was discovered that the sun of Earth was about to collapse into a white dwarf. So those people who still remained on Earth left it forever and when the solar change came, it and the other planets became mantled in eternal ice. And now, within months, the final end of the old planet of our origin is at hand. It is slowly spiraling toward the sun and soon it will plunge into it as Mercury and Venus have already done. And when that occurs, the world of man's origin will he gone forever."

Again the pause, for just the right length of time, and then Borrodale continued in a voice expertly pitched in a lower key.

"We on this ship-we humble reporters and servants of the vast telaudio audience on all the worlds-have come here so that in these next weeks we can give you this last look at our ancestral world. We think-we hope-that you'll find interest in recalling a past that is almost legend."

And Kellon thought, The bastard has no more interest in this old planet than I have, but he surely is smooth.

As soon as the broadcast ended, Kellon found himself besieged once more by the clamoring crowd in the main cabin. He held up his hand in protest.

"Please, now now-we have a landing to make first. Will you come with me, Doctor Darnow?"

Darnow was from Historical Bureau, and was the titular head of the whole expedition, although no one paid him much attention. He was a sparrowy, elderly man who babbled excitedly as he went with Kellon to the bridge.

He at least, was sincere in his interest, Kellon thought. For that matter, so were all the dozen-odd scientists who were aboard. But they were far outnumbered by the fat cats and big brass out for publicity, the professional enthusers and sentimentalists. A real hell of a job the Survey had given him!

In the bridge, he glanced through the window at the dun-colored planet and its satellite. Then he asked Darnow, "You said something about a particular place where you wanted to land?"

The historiographer bobbed his head, and began unfolding a big, old-fashioned chart.

"See this continent here? Along its eastern coast were a lot of the biggest cities, like New York."

Kellon remembered that name, he'd learned it in school history, a long time ago.

Darnowls finger stabbed the chart. "If you could land there, right on the island-"

Kellon studied the relief features, then shook his head. "Too low. There'll be great tides as time goes on and we can't take chances. That higher ground back inland a bit should be all right, though."

Darnow looked disappointed. "Well. I suppose you're right."

Kellon told Riney to set up the landing-pattern. Then he asked Darnow skeptically,

"You surely don't expect to find much in those old cities now-not after they've had all that ice on them for two thousand years?"

"They'll be badly damaged, of course," Darnow admitted. "But there should be a vast number of relics. I could study here for years-"

"We haven't got years, we've got only a few months before this planet gets too close to the Sun," said Kellon. And he added mentally, "Thank God."

The ship went into its landing-pattern. Atmosphere whined outside its hull and then thick gray clouds boiled and raced around it. It went down through the cloud layer and moved above a dull brown landscape that had flecks of white in its deeper valleys. Far ahead there was the glint of a gray ocean. But the ship came down toward a rolling brown plain and settled there, and then there was the expected thunderclap of silence that always followed the shutting off of all machinery.

Kellon looked at Riney, who turned in a moment from the test-panel with a slight surprise on his face. "Pressure, oxygen, humidity, everything-all optimum." And then he said, "But of course. This place was optimum."

Kellon nodded. He said, "Doctor Darnow and I will have a look out first. Viresson, you keep our passengers in."

When he and Darnow went to the lower airlock he heard a buzzing clamor from the main cabin and he judged that Viresson was having his hands full. The people in there were not used to being said no to, and he could imagine their resentment.

Cold, damp air struck a chill in Kellon when they stepped down out of the airlock. They stood on muddy, gravelly ground that squashed a little under their boots as they trudged away from the ship. They stopped and looked around, shivering.

Under the low gray cloudy sky there stretched a sad, sunless brown landscape. Nothing broke the drab color of raw soil, except the shards of ice still lingering in low places, A heavy desultory wind stirred the raw air, and then it was still. There was not a sound except the clink-clinking of the ship's skin cooling and contracting, behind them. Kellon thought that no amount of sentimentality could make this anything but a dreary world,

But Darnow's eyes were shining. "We'll have to make every minute of the time count," he muttered, "Every minute."

Within two hours, the heavy broadcast equipment was being trundled away from the ship on two motor-tracs that headed eastward. On one of the tracs rode Lorri Lee, resplendent in lilac-colored costume of synthesilk.

Kellon, worried about the possibility of quicksands, went along for that first broadcast from the cliffs that looked down on the ruins of New York. He wished he hadn't, when it got under way.

For Lorri Lee, her blond head bright even in the dull light, turned loose all her practiced charming gestures for the broadcast cameras, as she gestured with pretty excitement down toward the ruins.

"It's so unbelievable!" she cried to a thousand worlds. "To be here on Earth, to see the old places again-it does something to you!"

It did something to Kellon. It made him feel sick at his stomach. He turned and went back to the ship, feeling at that moment that if Lorri Lee went into a quicksand on the way back, it would be no great loss.

But that first day was only the beginning. The big ship quickly became the center of multifarious and continuous broadcasts. It had been especially equipped to beam strongly to the nearest station in the Federation network and its transmitters were seldom quiet.

Kellon found that Darnow, who was supposed to coordinate all this programming, was completely useless. The little historian was living in a seventh heaven on this old planet which had been uncovered to view for the first time in millennia, and he was away most of the time on field trips of his own. It fell to his assistant, an earnest and worried and harassed young man, to try to reconcile the clashing claims and demands of the highly temperamental broadcasting stars.

Kellon felt an increasing boredom at having to stand around while all this tosh went out over the ether. These people were having a field-day but he didn't think much of them and of their broadcasts. Roy Quayle, the young male fashion designer, put on a semi-humorous, semi-nostalgic. display of the old Earth fashions, with the prettier girls wearing some of the ridiculous old costumes he had had duplicated. Harden, the famous teleplay producer, ran off ancient films of the old Earth dramas that had everyone in stitches. Jay Maxson, a rising politician in Federation Congress, discussed with Borrodale the governmental systems of the old days, in a way calculated to give his own Wide-Galaxy Party none the worst of it. The Arcturus Players, that brilliant group of young stage-folk, did readings of old Earth dramas and poems.

It was, Kellon thought disgustedly, just playing. Grown people, famous people, seizing the opportunity given by the accidental end of a forgotten planet to posture in the spotlight like smart-aleck children. There was real work to do in the galaxy, the work of the Survey, the endless and wearying but always-fascinating job of charting the wild systems and worlds. And instead of doing that job, he was condemned to spend weeks and months here with these phonies.

The scientists and historians he respected. They did few broadcasts and they did not fake their interest. It was one of them, Haller, the biologist, who excitedly showed Kellon a handful of damp soil a week after their arrival.

"Look at that!" he said proudly.

Kellon stared. "What?"

"Those seeds-they're common weed-grass seeds. Look at them."

Kellon looked, and now he saw that from each of the tiny seeds projected a new-looking hairlike tendril.

"They're sprouting?" he said unbelievingly.

Haller nodded happily. "I was hoping for it. You see, it was almost spring in the northern hemisphere, according to the records, when Sol collapsed suddenly into a white dwarf. Within hours the temperature plunged and the hydrosphere aad atmosphere began to freeze."

"But surely that would kill all plant-life?"

"Ne," said Haller. "The larger plants, trees, perennial shrubs, and so on, yes. But the seeds of the smaller annuals just froze into suspended animation. Now the warmth that melted them is causing germination."

"Then we'll have grass-small plants?"

"Very soon the way the warmth is increasing,"

It was, indeed, getting a little warmer all the time as these first weeks went by. The clouds lifted one day and there was brilliant, thin white sunshine from the little diamond sun. And there came a morning when they found the rolling landscape flushed with a pale tint of green.

Grass grew. Weeds grew, vines grew, all of them seeming to rush their growth as though they knew that this, their last season, would not be long. Soon the raw brown mud of the hills and valleys had been replaced by a green carpet, and everywhere taller growths were shooting ap, and flowers beginning to appear. Hepaticas, bluebells, dandelions, violets, bloomed once more.

Kellon took a long walk, now that he did not have to plow through mud. The chattering people around the ship, the constant tug and pull of clashing temperaments, the brittle, febrile voices, got him down. He felt better to get away by himself.

The grass and the flowers had come back but otherwise this was still an empty world. Yet there was a certain peace of mind'in tramping up and down the long green rolling slopes. The sun was bright and cheerful now, and white clouds dotted the sky, and the warm wind whispered as he sat upon a ridge and looked away westward where nobody was, or would ever be again.

Damned dull, he thought. But at least it's better than back with the gabblers.

He sat for a long time in the slanting sunshine, feeling his bristling nerves relax. The grass stirred about him, rippling in long waves, and the taller flowers nodded.

No other movement, no other life, A pity, he thought, that there were no birds for this last spring of the old planet-not even a butterfly. Well, it made no difference, all this wouldn't last long.

As Kellon tramped back through the dusk, he suddenly became aware of a shining bubble in the darkening sky. He st amp;pped and stared up at it and then remembered. Of course, it was the old planet's moon-during the cloudy nights he had forgotten all about it. He went on, with its vague light about him.

When he stepped back into the lighted main cabin of the ship, he was abruptly jarred out of his relaxed mood. A first-class squabble was going on, and everybody was either contributing to it or commenting on it. Lorri Lee, looking like a pretty child complaining of a hurt, was maintaining that she should have broadcast time next day for her special women's-interest feature, and somebody else disputed her claim, and young Vallely, Darnow's assistant, looked harried and upset. Kellon got by them without being noticed, locked the door of his cabin and poured himself a long drink, and damned Survey all over again for this assignment.

He took good care to get out of the ship early in the morning, before the storm of temperament blew up again. He left Viresson in charge of the ship, there being nothing for any of them to do now anyway, and legged it away over the green slopes before anyone could call him back.

They had five more weeks of this, Kellon thought. Then, thank God, Earth would be getting so near the sun that they must take the ship back into its proper element of space. Until that wished-for day arrived, he would stay out of sight as much as possible.

He walked miles each day. He stayed carefully away from the east and the ruins of old New York, where the others so often were. But he went north and west and south, over the grassy, flowering slopes of the empty world. At least it was peaceful, even though there was nothing at all to see.

But after a while, Kellon found that there were things to see if you looked for them. There was the way the sky changed, never seeming to look the same twice. Sometimes it was deep blue and white clouds sailed it like mighty ships. And then it would suddenly turn gray and miserable, and rain would drizzle on him, to be ended when a lance of sunlight shot through the clouds and slashed them to flying ribbons. And there was a time when, upon a ridge, he watched vast thunderheads boil up and darken in the west and black storm clouds marched across the land like an army with banners of lightning and drums of thunder.

The winds and the sunshine, the sweetness of the air and the look of the moonlight and the feel of the yielding grass under his feet, all seemed oddly right. Kellon had walked on many worlds under the glare of many-colored suns, and some of them he had liked much better than this one and some of them he had not liked at all, but never had he found a world that seemed so exactly attuned to his body as this outworn, empty planet.

He wondered vaguely what it had been like when there were trees and birds, and animals of many kinds, and roads and cities. He borrowed film-books from the reference library Darnow and the others had brought, and looked at them in his cabin of nights. He did not really care very much but at feast it kept him out of the broils and quarrels, and it had a certain interest.

Thereafter in his wandering strolls, Kellon tried to see the place as it would have been in the long ago. There would have been robins and bluebirds, and yellow-and-black bumblebees nosing the flowers, and tall trees with names that were equally strange to him, elms and willows and sycamores. And small furred animals, and humming clouds of insects, and fish and frogs in the pools and streams, a whole vast complex symphony of life, long gone, long forgotten.

But were all the men and women and children who had lived here less forgotten? Borrodale and the others talked much on their broadcasts about the people of old Earth, but that was just a faceless name, a term that meant nothing. Not one of those millions, surely, had ever thought of himself as part of a numberless multitude. Each one had been to himself, and to those close to him or her, an individual, unique and never to be exactly repeated, and what did the glib talkers know of all those individuals, what could anyone know?

Kellon found traces of them here and there, bits of flotsam that even the crash of the ice had spared. A twisted piece of steel, a girder or rail that someone had labored to make. A quarry with the tool-marks still on the rocks, where surely men had once sweated in the sun. The broken shards of concrete that stretched away in a ragged line to make a road upon which men and women had once traveled, hurrying upon missions of love or ambition, greed or fear.

He found more than that, a startling find that he made by purest chance. He followed a brook that ran down a very narrow valley, and at one point he leaped across it and as he landed he looked up and saw that there was a house.

Kellon thought at first that it was miraculously preserved whole and unbroken, and surely that could not be, But when he went closer he saw that this was only illusion and that destruction had been at work upon it too. Still, it remained, incredibly, a recognizable house.

It was a rambling stone cottage with low walls and a slate roof, set close against the steep green wall of the valley. One gable-end was smashed in, and part of that end wall. Studying the way it was embayed in the wall, Kellon decided that a chance natural arch of ice must have preserved it from the grinding pressure that had shattered almost all other structures.

The windows and doors were only gaping openings. He went inside and looked around the cold shadows of what had once been a room. There were some wrecked pieces of rotting furniture, and dried mud banked along one wall contained unrecognizable bits of rusted junk, but there was not much else. It was chill and oppressive in there, and he went out and sat on the little terrace in the sunshine.

He looked at the house. It could have been built no later than the Twentieth Century, he thought. A good many different people must have lived in it during the hundreds of years before the evacuation of Earth.

Kellon thought that it was strange that the airphoto surveys that Darnow's men had made in quest of relics had not discovered the place. But then it was not so strange, the stone walls were so grayly inconspicuous and it was set so deeply into the sheltering bay of the valley wall.

His eye fell on'eroded lettering on the cement side of the terrace, and he went and brushed the soil off that place. The words were time-eaten and faint but he could read them.

"Ross and Jennie-Their House."

Kellon smiled. Well, at least he knew now who once had lived here, who probably had built the place. He could imagine two young people happily scratching the words in the wet cement, exuberant with achievement. And who had Ross and Jennie been, and where were they now?

He walked around the place. To his surprise, there was a ragged flower-garden'at one side. A half-dozen kinds of brilliant little flowers, unlike the wild ones of the slopes, grew in patchy disorder here. Seeds of an old garden had been ready to germinate when the long winter of Earth came down, and had slept in suspended animation until the ice melted and the warm blooming time came at last. He did not know what kinds of flowers these were, but there was a brave jaun-tiness about them that he liked.

Starting back across the green land in the soft twilight, Kellon thought that he should tell Darnow about the place. But if he did, the gabbling pack in the ship would certainly stampede toward it. He could imagine the solemn and cute and precious broadcasts that Borrodale and the Lee woman and rest of them would stage from the old house.

No, he thought. The devil with them.

He didn't care anything himself about the old house, it was just that it was a refuge of quiet he had found and he didn't want to draw to it the noisy horde he was trying to escape.

Kellon was glad in the following days that he had not told. The house gave him a place to go to, to poke around and investigate, a focus for his interest in this waiting time. He spent hours there, and never told anyone at all.

Haller, the biologist, lent him a book on the flowers of Earth, and he brought it with him and used it to identify those in the ragged garden. Verbenas, pinks, morning glories, and the bold red and yellow ones called nasturtiums. Many of these, he read, did not do well on other worlds and had never been successfully transplanted. If that was so, this would be their last blooming anywhere at all.

He rooted around the interior of the house, trying to figure out how people had lived in it. It was strange, not at all like a modern metalloy house. Even the interior walls were thick beyond belief, and the windows seemed small and ppkey. The biggest room was obviously where they had lived most, and its window-openings looked out on the little garden and the green valley and brook beyond.

Kellon wondered what they had been like, the Ross and Jennie who had once sat here together and looked out these windows. What things had been important to them? What had hurt them, what had made them laugh? He himself had never married, the far-ranging captains of the Survey seldom did. But he wondered about this marriage of long ago, and what had come of it. Had they had children, did their blood still run on the far worlds? But even if it did, what was that now to those two of long ago?

There had been a poem about flowers at the end of the old book on flowers Halter had lent him, and he remembered some of it.

All are at one now, roses and lovers, Not known of the winds and the fields and the sea. Not a breath of the time that has been hovers In the air now soft with a summer to be.

Well, yes. Kellon thought, they were all at one row, the Bosses and the Jennies and the things they had done and the things they had thought, ail at one now in the dust of this old planet whose fiery final summer would be soon, very soon. Physically, everything that had been done, everyone who had lived, on Earth was still here in its atoms, excepting the tiny fraction of its matter that had sped to other worlds.

He thought of the names that were so famous still through all the galactic worlds, names of men and women and places. Shakespeare, Plato, Beethoven, Blake, and the splendor of Babylon and the bones of Angkor and the humble houses of his own ancestors, all here, all still here.

Kellon mentally shook himself. He didn't have enough to do, that was his trouble, to be brooding here on such shadowy things. He had seen all there was to this queer little old place, and there was no use in coming back to it.

But he came back. It was not, he told himself, as though he had any sentimental antiquarian interests in this old place. He had heard enough of that kind of gush from all the glittering phonies in the ship. He was a Survey man and all he wanted was to get back to his job, but while he was stuck here it was better to be roaming the green land or poking about this old relic than to have to listen to the endless babbling and quarreling of those others.

They were quarreling more and more, because they were tired of it here. It had seemed to them a fine thing to posture upon a galactic stage by helping to cover the end of Earth, but time dragged by and their flush of synthetic enthusiasm wore thin. They could not leave, the expedition must broadcast the final climax of the planet's end, but that was still weeks away. Darnow and his scholars and scientists, busy coming and going to many old sites, could have stayed here forever but the others were frankly bored.

But Kellon found in the old house enough interest to keep the waiting from being too oppressive. He had read a good bit now about the way things had been here in the good old days, and he sat long hours on the little terrace in the afternoon sunshine, trying to imagine what it had been like when the man and woman named Ross and Jennie had lived here.

So strange, so circumscribed, that old life seemed now! Most people had had ground-cars in those days, he had read, and had gone back and forth in them to the cities where they worked. Did both the man and woman go, or just the man? Did the woman stay in the house, perhaps with their children if they had any, and in the afternoons did she do things in the little flower garden where a few bright, ragged survivors still bloomed? Did they ever dream that some future day when they were long gone, their house would lie empty and silent with no visitor except a stranger from far-off stars? He remembered a line in one of the old plays the Arcturus Players had read. "Come like shadows, so depart."

No, Kellon thought, Ross and Jennie were shadows now but they had not been then. To them, and to all the other people he could visualize going and coming busily about the Earth in those days, it was he, the future, the man yet to come, who was the shadow. Alone here, sitting and trying to imagine the long ago, Kellon had an eerie feeling sometimes that his vivid imaginings of people and crowded cities and movement and laughter were the reality and that he himself was only a watching wraith.

Summer days came swiftly, hot and hotter. Now the white sun was larger in the heavens and pouring down such light and heat as Earth had not received for millennia. And all the green life across it seemed to respond with an exultant surge of final growth, an act of joyous affirmation that Kellon found infinitely touching. Now even the nights were warm, and the winds blew thrilling soft, and on the distant beaches the ocean leaped up in a laughter of spray and thunder, running in great solar tides.

With a shock as though awakened from dreaming, Kellon suddenly realized that only a few days were left. The spiral was closing in fast now and very quickly the heat would mount beyond all tolerance.

He would, he told himself, be very glad to leave. There would be the wait in space until it was all over, and then he could go back to his own work, his own life, and stop fussing over shadows because there was nothing else to do.

Yes. He would be glad.

Then when only a few days were left, Kellon walked out again to the old house and was musing over it when a voice spoke behind him. "Perfect," said Borrodale's voice. "A perfect relic."

Kellon turned, feeling somehow startled and dismayed. Borrodale's eyes were alight with interest as he surveyed the house, and then he turned to Kellon.

"I was walking when I saw you, Captain, and thought I'd catch up to you. Is this where you've been going so often?"

Kellon, a little guiltily, evaded. "I've been here a few times."

"But why in the world didn't you tell us about this?" exclaimed Borrodale. "Why, we can do a terrific final broadcast from here. A typical ancient home of Earth. Roy can put some of the Players in the old costumes, and we'll show them living here the way people did-"

Unexpectedly to himself, a violent reaction came up in Kellon. He said roughly,

"No."

Borrodale arched his eyebrows. "No?-But why not?"

Why not, indeed? What difference could it possibly make to him if they swarmed all over the old house, laughing at its ancientness and its inadequacies, posing grinning for the cameras in front of it, prancing about in old-fashioned costumes and making a show of it. What could that mean to him, who cared nothing about this forgotten planet or anything on it?

And yet something in him revolted at what they would do here, and he said,

"We might have to take off very suddenly, now. Having you all out here away from the ship could involve a dangerous delay."

"You said yourself we wouldn't take off for a few days yet!" exclaimed Borrodale. And he added firmly, "I don't know why you should want to obstruct us, Captain. But I can go over your head to higher authority."

He went away, and Kellon thought unhappily, He'll message back to Survey headquarters and I'll get my ears burned off, and why the devil did I do it anyway? I must be getting real planet-happy.

He went and sat down on the terrace, and watched until the sunset deepened into dusk. The moon came up white and brilliant, but the air was not quiet tonight. A hot, dry wind had begun to blow, and the stir of the tall grass made the slopes and plains seem vaguely alive. It was as though a queer pulse had come into the air and the ground, as the sun called its child homeward and Earth strained to answer. The house dreamed in the silver light, and the flowers in the garden rustled.

Borrodale came back, a dark pudgy figure in the moonlight. He said triumphantly,

"I got through to your headquarters. They've ordered your full cooperation. We'll want to make our first broadcast here tomorrow."

Kellon stood up. "No."

"You can't ignore an order-"

"We won't be here tomorrow," said Kellon. "It is my responsibility to get the ship off Earth in ample time for safety. We take off in the morning."

Borrodale was silent for a moment, and when he spoke his voice had a puzzled quality.

"You're advancing things just to block our broadcast, of course. I just can't understand your attitude."

Well, Keilon thought, he couldn't quite understand it himself, so how could he explain it? He remained silent, and Borrodale looked at him and then at the old house.

"Yet maybe I do understand," Borrodale said thoughtfully, after a moment. "You've come here often, by yourself. A man can get too friendly with ghosts-"

Kellon said roughly, "Don't talk nonsense. We'd better get back to the ship, there's plenty to do before takeoff."

Borrodale did not speak as they went back out of the moonlit valley. He looked back once, but Kellon did not look back.

They took the ship off twelve hours later, in a morning made dull and ominous by racing clouds. Kellon felt a sharp relief when they cleared atmosphere and were out in the depthless, starry blackness. He knew where he was, in space. It was the place where a spaceman belonged. He'd get a stiff reprimand for this later, but he was not sorry.

They put the ship into a calculated orbit, and waited. Days, many of them, must pass before the end came to Earth. It seemed quite near the white sun now, and its moon had slid away from it on a new distorted orbit, but even so it would be a while before they could broadcast to a watching galaxy the end of its ancestral world.

Kellon stayed much of that time in his cabin. The gush that was going out over the broadcasts now, as the grand finale approached, made him sick. He wished the whole thing was over. It was, he told himself, getting to be a bore-

An hour and twenty minutes to E-time, and he supposed he must go up to the bridge and watch it. The mobile camera had been set up there and Borrodale and as many others of them as could crowd in were there. Borrodale had been given the last hour's broadcast, and it seemed that the others resented this.

"Why must you have the whole last hour?" Lorri Lee was saying bitterly to Borrodale. "It's not fair."

Quayle nodded angrily. "There'll be the biggest audience in history, and we should all have a chance to speak."

Borrodale answered them, and the voices rose and bickered, and Kellon saw the broadcast technicians looking worried. Beyond them through the filter-window he could see the dark dot of the planet closing on the white star. The sun called, and it seemed that with quickened eagerness Earth moved on the last steps of its long road. And the clamoring, bickering voices in his ears suddenly brought rage to Kellon.

"Listen," he said to the broadcast men. "Shut off all sound transmission. You can keep the picture on, but no sound."

That shocked them all into silence. The Lee woman finally protested, "Captain Kellon, you can't!"

"I'm in full command when in space, and I can, and do," he said.

"But the broadcast, the commentary-"

Kellon said wearily, "Oh, for Christ's sake all of you shut up, and let the planet die in peace."

He turned his back on them. He did not hear their resentful voices, did not even hear when they fell silent and watched through the dark filter-windows as he was watching, as the camera and the galaxy was watching. '

And what was there to see but a dark dot almost engulfed in the shining veils of the Sun? The thought that already the stones of the old house must be beginning to vaporize. And now the veils of light and fire almost concealed the little planet, as the star gathered in its own.

All the atoms of old Earth, Kellon thought, in this moment bursting free to mingle with the solar being, all that had been Ross and Jennie, all that had been Shakespeare and Schubert, gay flowers and running streams, oceans and rocks and the wind of the air, received into the brightness that had given them life.

They watched in silence, but there was nothing more to see, nothing at all. Silently the camera was turned off.

Kellon gave an order, and presently the ship was pulling out of orbit, starting on the long voyage back. By that time the others had gone, all but Borrodale. He said to Borrodale, without turning,

"Now go ahead and send your complaint to headquarters."

Borrodale shook his head. "Silence can be the best requiem of all. There'll be no complaint. I'm glad now, Captain."

"Glad?"

"Yes," said Borrodale. "I'm glad that Earth had one true mourner, at the last."


 What if the Universe and Sun are essentially undisturbed, but Earth itself undergoes a battering in a "Catastrophe of the Third Class"?

 There have been dangers to Earth that were popular with science fiction writers in decades past but that have never really been in the astronomical cards. The planets of the solar system cannot be so perturbed in their movements that they begin a slow spiral into the Sun-not unless some method is provided for bleeding off their tremendous angular momentum. Nevertheless, it is a colorful possibility that sf hates to abandon ("Requiem" by Edmond Hamilton).

 Today the Universe has become much more violent than m the old, old days of thirty years ago. We have learned about not merely exploding stars, but the cores of galaxies-billions of stars-that go up in agony. We deal with collapses into pulsars and black holes and the incredibly luminous quasars, And all of this gives writers the opportunity for dramatic ends indeed to Earth for the violence gives rise to radiation and that- ("At the Core" by Larry Nivenj,

 The reverse is also dramatic. What if something happens to deprive us of our Sun altogether and we are threatened with ruin not through excess of energy but utter lack ("A Pail of Air" by Fritz Leiberi.

 Nor need we feel we are entirely at the mercy of outside influences. Such is the power of Homo sapiens for evil that we can (and very likely are) ruining ourselves by the simple process of fouling our nest ("'King of the Hill" by Chad Oliver).



At the Core

by Larry Niven

<p>At the Core</p> <p>by Larry Niven</p>

I couldn't decide whether to call it a painting, a relief mural, a sculpture, or a hash; but it was the prize exhibit in the Art Section of the Institute of Knowledge on Jinx, The Kdatlyno must have strange eyes, I thought. My own were watering. The longer I looked at "FTLSPACE," the more blurred it got.

I'd tentatively decided that it was supposed to look blurred when a set of toothy jaws clamped gently on my arm. I jumped a foot in the air. A soft, thrilling contralto voice said, "Beowulf Shaeffer, you are a spendthrift."

That voice would have made a singer's fortune. And I thought I recognized it-but it couldn't be; that one was on We Made It, light-years distant. I turned.

The puppeteer had released my arm. It went ob: "And what do you think of Hrodenu?"

"He's ruining my eyes."

"Naturally. The Kdatlyno are blind to all but radar. 'FTLSPACE' is not meant to be seen but to be touched. Run your tongue over it."

"My tongue? No, thanks." I tried running my hand over it. If you want to know what it felt like, hop a ship for Jinx; the thing's still there. I flatly refuse to describe the sensation.

The puppeteer cocked its head dubiously. "I'm sure your tongue is more sensitive. No guards are nearby."

"Forget it. You know, you sound just like the regional president of General Products on We Made It."

"It was he who sent me your dossier, Beowulf Shaeffer. No doubt we had the same English teacher, I am the regional president on Jinx, as you no doubt recognized from my mane,"

Well, not quite. The auburn mop over the brain case between the two necks is supposed to show caste once you learn to discount variations of mere style. To do that, you have to be a puppeteer. Instead of admitting my ignorance, I asked, "Did that dossier.say I was a spendthrift?"

"You have spent more than a million stars in the past four years."

"And loved it."

"Yes. You will shortly be in debt again. Have you thought of doing more writing? I admired your article on the neutron star BVS-1. 'The pointy bottom of a gravity well…' 'Blue starlight fell on me like intangible sleet…' Lovely."

"Thanks. It paid well, too. But I'm mainly a spaceship pilot."

"It is fortunate, our meeting here. I had thought of having you found. Do you wish a job?"

That was a loaded question. The last and only time I took a job from a puppeteer, the puppeteer blackmailed me into it, knowing it would probably kill me. It almost did. I didn't hold that against the regional president of We Made It, but to let them have another crack at me-? "I'll give you a conditional 'Maybe.' Do you have the idea I'm a professional suicide pilot?"

"Not at all. If I show details, do you agree that the information shall be confidential?"

"I do," I said formally, knowing it would commit me. A verbal contract is as binding as the tape it's recorded on.

"Good. Come." He pranced toward a transfer booth.

The transfer booth let us out somewhere in Jinx's vacuum regions. It was night. High in the sky, Sirius B was a painfully bright pinpoint casting vivid blue moonlight on a ragged lunar landscape. I looked up and didn't see Binary, Jinx's bloated orange companion planet, so we must have been in the Farside End.

But there was something hanging over us.

A No. 4 General Products hull is a transparent sphere a thousand-odd feet in diameter. No bigger ship has been built anywhere in the known galaxy. It takes a government to buy one, and they are used for colonization projects only. But this one could never have been so used; it was all machinery. Our transfer booth stood between two of the landing legs, so that the swelling flank of the ship looked down on us as an owl looks down at a mouse. An access tube ran through the vacuum from the booth to the airlock.

I said, "Does General Products build complete spacecraft nowadays?"

"We are thinking of branching out. But there are problems."

From the viewpoint of the puppeteer-owned company, it must have seemed high time. General Products makes the hulls for ninety-five percent of all ships in space, mainly because nobody else knows how to build an indestructible hull. But they'd made a bad start with this ship. The only room I could see for crew, cargo, or passengers was a few cubic yards of empty space right at the bottom, just above the airlock, and just big enough for a pilot.

"You'd have a' hard time selling that," I said.

"True. Do you notice anything else?"

"Well…" The hardware that filled the transparent hull was very tightly packed. The effect was as if a race of ten-mile-tall giants had striven to achieve miniaturization. I saw no sign of access tubes; hence there could be no m-space repairs. Four reaction motors poked their appropriately huge nostrils through the hull, angled outward from the bottom. No small attitude jets; hence, oversized gyros inside. Otherwise… "Most of it looks like hyperdrive motors. But that's silly. Unless you've thought of a good reason for moving moons around?"

“At one time you were a commercial pilot for Nakamura Lines. How long was the run from Jinx to We Made It?”

"Twelve days if nothing broke down." Just long enough to get to know the prettiest passenger aboard, while the autopilot did everything for me but wear my uniform.

"Sirius to Procyon is a distance of four light-years. Our ship would make the trip in five minutes."

"You've lost your mind."

"No."

But that was almost a light-year per minute! I couldn't visualize it. Then suddenly I did visualize it, and my mouth fell open, for what I saw was the galaxy opening before me. We know so little beyond our own small neighborhood of the galaxy. But with a ship like that-

"That's goddam fast."

"As you say. But the equipment is bulky, as you note. It cost seven billion stars to build that ship, discounting centuries of research, but it will only move one man. As is, the ship is a failure. Shall we go inside?"

The lifesystem was two circular rooms, one above the other, with a small airlock to one side. The lower room was the control room, with banks of switches and dials and blinking lights dominated by a huge spherical mass pointer. The upper room was bare walls, transparent, through which I could see air- and food-producing equipment.

"This will be the relaxroom," said the puppeteer. "We decided to let the pilot decorate it himself."

"Why me?"

"Let me further explain the problem." The puppeteer began to pace the floor. I hunkered down against the wall and watched. Watching a puppeteer move is a pleasure. Even in Jinx's gravity the deerlike body seemed weightless, the tiny hooves tapping the floor at random. "The human sphere of colonization is some thirty light-years across, is it not?"

"Maximum. It's not exactly a sphere-"

"The puppeteer region is much smaller. The Kdatlyno sphere is half the size of yours, and the Kzinti is fractionally larger. These are the important space-traveling species. We must discount the Outsiders since they do not use ships. Some spheres coincide, naturally. Travel from one sphere to another is nearly nil except for ourselves, since our sphere of influence extends to all who buy our hulls. But add all these regions, and you have a region sixty light-years across. This ship could cross it in seventy-five minutes. Allow six hours for takeoff and six for landing, assuming no traffic snarls near the world of destination, and we have a ship which can go anywhere in thirteen hours but nowhere in less than twelve, carrying one pilot and no cargo, costing seven billion stars."

"How about exploration?"

"We puppeteers have no taste for abstract knowledge. And how should we explore?" Meaning that whatever race flew the ship would gain the advantages thereby. A puppeteer wouldn't risk his necks by flying it himself. "What we need is a great deal of money and a gathering of intelligences, to design something which may go slower but must be less bulky. General Products (Joes not wish to spend so much on something that may fail. We will require the best minds of each sentient species and the richest investors. Beowulf Shaeffer, we need to attract attention."

"A publicity stunt?"

"Yes. We wish to send a pilot to the center of the galaxy and back."

"Ye…gods! Will it go that fast?"

"It would require some twenty-five days to reach the center and an equal time to-return. You can see the reasoning behind-"

"It's perfect. You don't need to spell it out. Why me?"

"We wish you to make the trip and then write of it. I have a list of pilots who write. Those I have approached have been reluctant. They say that writing on the ground is safer than testing unknown ships. I follow their reasoning."

"Me too."

"Will you go?"

"What am I offered?"

"One hundred thousand stars for the trip. Fifty thousand to write the story, in addition to what you sell it for."

"Sold."

From then on, my only worry was that my new boss would find out that someone had ghost-written that neutron star article.

Oh, I wondered at first why General Products was willing to trust, me. The first time I worked for them I tried to steal their ship, for reasons which seemed good at the time. But the ship I now called Long Shot really wasn't worth stealing… Any potential buyer would know it was hot; and what good would it be to him? Long Shot could have explored a globular cluster; but her only other use was publicity.

Sending her to the Core was a masterpiece of promotion.

Look: It was twelve days from We Made It to Jinx by conventional craft, and twelve hours by Long Shot. What's the difference? You spent twelve years saving for the trip. But the Core! Ignoring refueling and reprovisioning problems, my old ship could have reached the galaxy's core in three hundred years. No known species had ever seen the Core! It hid behind layer on layer of tenuous gas and dust clouds. You can find libraries of literature on those central stars, but they all consist of generalities and educated guesses based on observation of other galaxies, like Andromeda.

Three centuries dropped to less than a month! There's something anyone can grasp. And with pictures!

The lifesystem was finished in a couple of weeks. I had them leave the control-room walls transparent and paint the relaxroom solid blue, no windows. When they finished, I had entertainment tapes and everything it takes to keep a man sane for seven weeks in a room the size of a large closet.

On the last day the puppeteer and I spoke the final version of my contract. I had four months to reach the galaxy's center and return. The outside cameras would run constantly; I was not to interfere with them. Jf the ship suffered a mechanical failure, I could return before reaching the center; otherwise, no. There were penalties. I took a copy of the tape to leave with a lawyer.

"There is a thing you should know," the puppeteer said afterward. "The direction of thrust opposes the direction of hyperdrive." "I don't get it."

The puppeteer groped for words. "If you turned on the reaction motors and the hyperdrive together, the flames would precede your ship through hyperspace."

I got the picture then. Ass backward into the unknown. With the control room at the ship's bottom, it made sense. To a puppeteer, it made sense.


And I was off.

I went up under two standard gees because I like my comfort. For twelve hours I used only the reaction motors. It wouldn't do to be too deep in a gravity well when 1 used a hyperdrive, especially an experimental one. Pilots who do that never leave hyperspace. The relaxroom kept me entertained until the bell rang. I slipped down to the control room, netted myself down against free fall, turned off the motors, rubbed my hands briskly together, and turned on the hyper-drive.

It wasn't quite as I'd expected.

I couldn't see out, of course. When the hyperdrive goes on, it's like your blind spot expanding to take in all the windows, It's not just that you don't see anything; you forget that there's anything to see. If there's a window between the kitchen control bank and your print of Dali's "Spam," your eye and mind will put the picture right next to the kitchen bank, obliterating the space between. It takes getting ased to, in fact it has driven people insane, but that wasn't what bothered me. I've spent thousands of man-hours in hyper-space. I kept my eye on the mass pointer.

The mass pointer is a big transparent sphere with a number of blue lines radiating from the center. The direction of the line is the direction of a star; its length shows the star's mass. We wouldn't need pilots if the mass pointer could be hooked into an autopilot, but it can't. Dependable as it is, accurate as it is, the mass pointer is a psionic device. It needs a mind to work it. I'd been using mass pointers for so long that those lines were like real stars.

A star came toward me, and I dodged around it. I thought that another line that didn't point quite straight ahead was long enough to show dangerous mass, so I dodged. That put a blue dwarf right in front of me. I shifted fast and looked for a throttle. I wanted to slow down.

Repeat, Iwanted to slow down.

Of course there was no throttle. Part of the puppeteer research project would be designing a throttle. A long fuzzy line reached for me: a protosun-

Put it this way: Imagine one of Earth's freeways. You must have seen pictures of them from space, a tangle of twisting concrete ribbons, empty and abandoned but never torn down. Some lie broken; others are covered with houses. People use the later rubberized ones for horseback riding. Imagine the way one of these must have looked about six o'clock on a week night in, say, nineteen seventy. Groundcars from end to end.

Now, let's take all those cars and remove the brakes. Further, let's put governors on the accelerators, so that the maximum speeds are between sixty and seventy miles per hour, not all the same. Let something go wrong with all the governors at once, so that the maximum speed also becomes the minimum. You'll begin to see signs of panic.

Eeady? Okay. Get a radar installed in your car, paint your windshield and windows jet black, and get out on that freeway.

It was like that.

It didn't seem so bad at first. The stars kept coming at me, and I kept dodging, and after a while it settled down to a kind of routine. From experience I could tell at a glance whether a star was heavy enough and close enough to wreck me. But in Nakamura Lines I'd only had to take that glance every six hours or so. Here I didn't dare look away. As I grew tired, the near-misses came closer and closer. After three hours of it I had to drop out.

The stars had a subtly unfamiliar look. With a sudden jar I realized that I was entirely out of known space. Sirius, Antares-I'd never recognize them from here; I wasn't even sure they were visible. I shook it off and called home.

"Long Shot calling General Products, Long Shot calling-"

"Beowulf Shaeffer?"

"Have I ever told you what a lovely, sexy voice you have?"

"No. Is everything going well?"

"I'm afraid not. In fact, I'm not going to make it."

A pause. "Why not?"

"I can't keep dodging these stars forever. One of them's going to get me if I keep on much longer. The ship's just too goddam fast."

"Yes. We must design a slower ship."

"I hate to give up that good pay, but my eyes feel like peeled onions. I ache all over. I'm turning back."

"Shall I play your contract for you?"

"No. Why?"

"Your only legal reason for returning is a mechanical failure. Otherwise you forfeit twice your pay."

I said, "Mechanical failure?" There was a tool box somewhere in the ship, with a hammer in it…

"I did not mention it before, since it did not seem polite, but two of the cameras are in the lifesystem. We had thought to use films of you for purposes of publicity, but-"

"I see. Tell me one thing, just one thing. When the regional president of We Made It sent you my name, did he mention that I'd discovered your planet has no moon?"

"Yes, he did mention that matter. You accepted one million stars for your silence. He naturally has a recording of the bargain."

"I see." So that's why they'd picked Beowulf Shaeffer, well-known author. "The trip'll take longer than I thought."

"You must pay a penalty for every extra day over four months. Two thousand stars per day late."

"Your voice has acquired an unpleasant grating sound. Good-bye."

I went on in. Every hour I shifted to normal space for a ten-minute coffee break. I dropped out for meals, and I dropped out for sleep. Twelve hours per ship's day I spent traveling, and twelve trying to recover. It was a losing battle.

By the end of day two I knew I wasn't going to make the four-month limit. I might do it in six months, forfeiting one hundred and twenty thousand stars, leaving me almost where I started. Serve me right for trusting a puppeteer!

Stars were all around me, shining through the floor and between the banked instruments. I sucked coffee, trying not to think. The milky way shone ghostly pale between my feet. The stars were thick now; they'd get thicker as I approached the Core, until finally one got me.

An idea! And about time, too.

The golden voice answered immediately. "Beowulf Shaef-fer?"

"There's nobody else here, honey. Look, I've thought of something. Would you send-"

''Is one of your instruments malfunctioning, Beowulf Shaeffer?"

"No, they all work fine, as far as they go. Look-"

"Then what could you possibly have to say that would require my attention?"

"Honey, now is the time to decide. Do you want revenge, or do you want your ship back?"

A small silence. Then, "You may speak."

"I can reach the Core much faster if I first get into one of the spaces between the arms. Do we know enough about the galaxy to know where our arm ends?"

"I will send to the Institute of Knowledge to find out."

"Good."

Four hours later I was dragged from a deathlike sleep by the ringing of the hyperphone. It was not the president, but some flunky, I remembered calling the puppeteer "honey" last night, tricked by my own exhaustion and that seductive voice, and wondered if I'd hurt his puppeteer feelings. "He" might be a male; a puppeteer's is one of his little secrets. The flunky gave me a bearing and distance for the nearest gap between stars.

It took me another day to get there. When the stars began to thin out, I could hardly believe it. I turned off the hyper-drive, and it was true. The stars were tens and hundreds of light-years apart. I could see part of the Core peeking in a bright rim above the dim flat cloud of mixed dust and stars.

From then on, it was better, f was safe if I glanced at the mass pointer every ten minutes or so. I could forget the rest breaks, eat meals and do isometrics while watching the pointers. For eight hours a day I slept, but during the other sixteen I moved. The gap swept toward the Core in a narrowing curve, and I followed it.

As a voyage of exploration the trip would have been a fiasco. I saw nothing. I stayed well away from anything worth seeing. Stars and dust, anomalous wispy clusters shining in the dark of the gap, invisible indications that might have been stars-my cameras picked them up from a nice safe distance, showing tiny blobs of light. In three weeks I moved almost seventeen thousand light-years toward the Core.

The end of those three weeks was the end of the gap. Before me was an uninteresting wash of stars backed by a wall of opaque dust clouds. I still had thirteen thousand light-years to go before I reached the center of the galaxy.

I took some pictures and moved in.

Ten-minute breaks, mealtimes that grew longer and longer for the rest they gave, sleep periods that left my eyes red and burning. The stars were thick and the dust was thicker, so that the mass pointer showed a blur of blue broken by sharp blue lines. The lines began to get less sharp. I took breaks every half hour-

Three days of that.

It was getting near lunchtime on the fourth day. I sat watching the mass pointer, noting the fluctuations in the blue blur which showed the changing density of the dust around me. Suddenly it faded out completely. Great! Wouldn't it be nice if the mass pointer went out on me? But the sharp " starlines were still there, ten or twenty of them pointing in all directions. I went back to steering. The clock chimed to indicate a rest period. I sighed happily and dropped into normal space.

The clock showed I had half an hour to wait for lunch, i thought about eating anyway, decided againsf it. The routine was all that kept me going. I wondered what the sky looked like, reflexively looked up so I wouldn't have to look down at the transparent floor. That big an expanse of hyperspace is hard even on trained eyes. I remembered I wasn't in hyperspace and looked down.

For a time I jus? stared. Then, without taking my eyes off the floor, I reached for the hyperphone,-

"Beowulf Shaeffer?"

"No, this is Albert Einstein. I stowed away when the Long Shot took off, and I've decided to turn myself in for the reward."

"Giving misinformation is an implicit violation of contract. Why have you called?"

"I can see the Core;"

"That is not a reason to call. It was implicit in your eon-tract that you would see the Core."

"Dammit, don't you care? Don't you want to know what it looks like?"

"If you wish to describe it now, as a precaution against accident, I will switch you to a dictaphone. However, if your mission is not totally successful, we cannot use your recording."

I was thinking up a really searing answer when I heard the click. Great, my boss had hooked me into a dictaphone. I said one short sentence and hung up.

The Core.

Gone were the obscuring masses of dust and gas. A billion years ago they must have been swept up for fuel by the hungry, crowded stars. The Core lay before me like a great jeweled sphere. I'd expected it to be a gradual thing, a thick mass of stars thinning out into the arms. There was nothing gradual about it. A clear ball of multicolored light five or six thousand light-years across nestled in the heart of the galaxy, sharply bounded by the last of the dust clouds. I was ten thousand four hundred light-years from the center.

The red stars were the biggest and brightest. I could actually pick some of them out as individuals. The rest was a finger painting in fluorescent green and blue. But those red stars…they would have sent Aldebaran back to kindergarten.

It was all so bright. I needed the telescope to see black between the stars.

I'll show you how bright it was.

Is it night where you are? Step outside and look at the stars. What color are they? Antares may show red, if your near enough; in the System, so will Mars. Sirius may ahow bluish. But all the rest are white pinpoints. Why? Because it's dark. Your day vision is in color, but at night you see black-and-white, like a dog.

The Core suns were bright enough for color vision.

I'd pick a planet here! Not in the Core itself, but right out here, with the Core on one side and on the other the dimly starred dust clouds forming their strange convoluted curtain. Man, what a view! Imagine that flaming jeweled sphere rising in the east, hundreds of times as big as Binary shows on Jinx; but without the constant feeling Binary gives you, the fear that the orange world will fall on you; for the vast, twinkling Core is only starlight, lovely and harmless. I'd pick my world now and stake a claim. When the puppeteers got their drive fixed up, I'd have the finest piece of real estate in the known universe! If I could only find a habitable planet.

If only I could find it twice.

Hell, I'd be lucky to find my way home from here. I shifted into hyperspace and went back to work.


An hour and fifty minutes, one lunch break and two rest breaks, and fifty light-years later, I noticed something peculiar in the Core,

It was even clearer then, if not much bigger; I'd passed through the almost transparent wisps of the last dust cloud. Not too near the center of the sphere was a patch of white, bright enough to make the green and blue and red look dull around it. I looked for it again at the neyt break, and it was a little brighter. It was brighter again at the next break-

"Beowulf Shaeffer?"

"Yah. I-"

"Why did you use the dictaphone to call me a cowardly two-headed monster?"

"You were off the line. I had to use the dictaphone."

"That is sensible. Yes. We puppeteers have never understood your attitude toward a natural caution." My boss was peeved, though you couldn't tell from his voice.

"I'll go into that if you like, but it's not why I called."

"Explain, please."

"I'm all for caution. Discretion is the better part of valor, and like that. You can even be good businessmen, because it's easier to survive with lots of money. But you're so damn concerned with various kinds of survival that you aren't even interested in something that isn't a threat. Nobody but a puppeteer would have turned down my offer to describe the Core."

"You forget the Kzinti,"

"Oh, the Kzinti." Who expects rational behavior from Kzinti? You whip them when they attack; you reluctantly decide not to exterminate them; you wait till they build up their strength; and when they attack, you whip 'em again. Meanwhile you sell them foodstuffs and buy their metals and employ them where you need good games theorists. It's not as if they were a real threat. They'll always attack before they're ready.

"The Kzinti are carnivores. Where we are interested in survival, carnivores are interested in meat alone. They conquer because subject peoples can supply them with food, They cannot do menial work. Animal husbandry is alien to them. They must have slaves or be barbarians roaming the forests for meat. Why should they be interested in what you call abstract knowledge? Why should any thinking being, if the knowledge has no chance of showing a profit? In practice, your description Of the Core would attract only an omnivore."

"You'd make a good case if it were not for the fact that most sentient races are omnivores."

"We have thought long and hard on that."

Ye cats. I was going to have to think long and hard on that.

"Why did you call, Beowulf Shaeffer?"

Oh, yeah, "Look, I know you don't want to know what the Core looks like, but I see something that might represent personal danger. You have access to information I don't. May I proceed?"

"You may,"

Hah! I was learning to think like a puppeteer. Was that good? I told my boss about the blazing, strangely shaped white patch in the Core. "When I turned the telescope en it, it nearly blinded me. Grade two sunglasses don't give any details at all. It's just a shapeless white patch, but so bright that the stare m front look like black dots with colored rims, I'd like to know what's causing it."

"It sounds very unusual," Pause. 'Is the white color uniform? Is the brightness uniform?"

"Just a sec." I used the scope again. "The color is, but the brightness isn't. I see dimmer areas inside the patch, I think the center is fading out."

"Use the telescope to find a nova star. There ought to be several in such a large mass of stars."

I tried it. Presently I found something: a blazing disk of a peculiar blue-white color with a dimmer, somewhat smaller red disk half in front of it. That had to be a nova. In the core of Andromeda galaxy, and in what I'd seen of our own Core, the red stars were the biggest and brightest.

"I've found one."

"Comment."

A moment more and I saw what he meant. "It's the same color as the patch. Something like the same brightness, too. But what could make a patch of supernovas go off all at once?"

"You have studied the Core. The stars of the Core are an average of half a light-year apart. They are even closer near the center, and no dust clouds dim their brightness. When stars are that close, they shed enough light on each other to increase materially each other's temperature. Stars burn faster and age faster in the Core."

"I see that,"

"Since the Core stars age faster, a much greater portion are near the supernova stage than in the arms. Also, all are hotter considering their respective ages. If a star were a few millennia from the supernova stage, and a supernova exploded half a light-year away, estimate the probabilities."

"They might both blow. Then the two could set off a third, and the three might take a couple more…"

"Yes. Since a supernova lasts-on the order of one human standard year, the chain reaction would soon die out. Your patch of light must have occurred in this way."

"That's a relief. Knowing what did it, I mean. I'll take pictures going in,"

"As you say." Click.

The patch kept expanding as I went in, still with no more shape than a veil nebula, getting brighter and bigger. It hardly seemed fair, what I was doing. The light which the patch novas had taken fifty years to put out, I covered in an hour, moving down the beam at a speed which made the universe itself seem unreal. At the fourth rest period I dropped out of hyperspace, looked down through the floor while the cameras took their pictures, glanced away from the patch for a moment, and found myself blinded by tangerine afterimages. I had to put on a pair of grade one sunglasses, out of the packet of twenty which every pilot carries for working near suns during takeoff and landing.

It made me shiver to think that the patch was stil! nearly ten thousand light-years away. Already the radiation must have killed all life in the Core if there ever had been life there. My instruments on the hull showed radiation like a solar flare.

At the next stop I needed grade two sunglasses. Somewhat later, grade three. Then four. The patch became a great bright amoeba reaching twisting tentacles of fusion fire deep into the vitals of the Core. In hyperspace the sky was jammed bumper to bumper, so to speak, but I never thought of stopping. As the Core came closer, the patch grew like something alive, something needing ever more food. I think I knew, even then.

Night came. The control room was a blaze of light. I slept in the relaxroom, to the tune of the laboring temperature control. Morning, and I was off again. The radiation meter snarled its death-song, louder during each rest break. If I'd been planning to go outside, J would have dropped that plan. Radiation Couldn't get through a General Products hull. Nothing else can, either, except visible light.

I spent a bad half hour trying to remember whether one of the puppeteers' customers saw X-rays. I was afraid to call up and ask.

The mass pointer began to show a faint blue blur. Gases thrown outward from the patch. I had to keep changing sunglasses..,.

Sometime during the morning of the next day I stopped. There was no point in going farther.

"Beowulf Shaeffer, have you become attached to the sound of my voice? I have other work than supervising your progress."

"I would like to deliver a lecture on abstract knowledge,"

"Surely it can wait until your return."

"The galaxy is exploding."

There was a strange noise. Then: "Repeat, please."

"Have I got your attention?"

"Yes."

"Good. I think I know the reason so many sentient races are omnivores. Interest in abstract knowledge is a symptom of pure curiosity. Curiosity must be a survival trait."

"Must we discuss this? Very well. You may well be right.

Others have made the same suggestion, including puppeteers. But how has our species survived at all?"

"You must have some substitute for curiosity. Increased intelligence, maybe. You've been around long enough to develop it. Our hands can't compare with your mouths for tool-building. If a watchmaker had taste and smell in his hands, he still wouldn't have the strength of your jaws or the delicacy of those knobs around your lips. When I want to know how old a sentient race is, I watch what he uses for hands and feet."

"Yes. Human feet are still adapting to their task of keeping you erect. You propose, then, that our intelligence has grown sufficiently to ensure our survival without depending on your hit-or-miss method of learning everything you can for the sheer pleasure of learning."

"Not quite. Our method is better. If you hadn't sent me to the Core for publicity, you'd never have known about this."

"You say the galaxy is exploding?"

"Rather, it finished exploding some nine thousand years ago. I'm wearing grade twenty sunglasses, and it's still too bright. A third of the Core is gone already. The patch is spreading at nearly the speed of light. I don't see that anything can stop it until it hits the gas clouds beyond the Core,"

There was no comment. I went on. "A lot of the inside of the patch has gone out, but all of the surface is new novas. And remember, the light I'm seeing is nine thousand years old. Now, I'm going to read you a few instruments. Radiation, two hundred and ten. Cabin temperature normal, but you can hear the whine of the temperature control. The mass indicator shows nothing but a blur ahead. I'm turning back."

"Radiation two hundred and ten? How far are you from the edge of the Core?"

"About four thousand light-years, I think. I can see plumes of incandescent gas starting to form in the near side of the patch, moving toward galactic north and south. It reminds me of something. Aren't there pictures of exploding galaxies in the Institute?"

"Many. Yes, it has happened before. Beowulf Shaeffer, this is bad news. When the radiation from the Core reaches our worlds, it will sterilize them. We puppeteers will soon need considerable amounts of money. Shall I release you from your contract, paying you nothing?"

I laughed. I was too surprised even to get mad. "No,"

"Surely you do not intend to enter the Core?"

"No. Look, why do you-"

"Then by the conditions of our contract, you forfeit."

"Wrong again. I'll take pictures of these instruments. When a court sees the readings on the radiation meter and the blue blur in the mass indicator, they'll know wrong with them."

"Nonsense. Under evidence drugs you will explain the readings."

"Sure. And the court will know you tried to get me to go right to the center of that holocaust. You know what they'll say to that?"

"But how can a court of law find against a recorded contract?"

"The point is they'll want to. Maybe they'll decide that we're both lying and the instruments really did go haywire. Maybe they'll find a way, to say the contract was illegal. But they'll find against you. Want to make a side bet?"

"No. You have won. Come back."


The Core was a lovely multicolored jewel when it disappeared below the lens of the galaxy, I'd have liked to visit it someday, but there aren't any time machines,

I'd penetrated nearly to the Core in something like a month. I took my time coming home, going straight up along galactic north and flying above the lens where there were no stars to bother me, and still made it in two. All the way I wondered why the puppeteer had tried to cheat me at the last. Long Shot's publicity would have been better than ever; yet the regional president had been willing to throw it away just to leave me broke. I couldn't ask why, because nobody was answering my hyperphone. Nothing I knew about puppeteers could tell me. I felt persecuted.

My come-hither brought me down at the base in the Far-side End. Nobody was there. I took the transfer booth back to Sirius Mater, Jinx's biggest city, figuring to contact General Products, turn over the ship, and pick up my pay.

More surprises awaited me.

1) General Products had paid one hundred and fifty thousand stars into my account in the Bank of Jinx. A personal note stated that whether or not I wrote my article was solely up to me.

2) General Products has disappeared. They are selling no more spacecraft hulls. Companies with contracts have had their penalty clauses paid off. It all happened two months ago, simultaneously on all known worlds.

3) The bar I'm in is on the roof of the tallest building in Sirius Mater, more than a mile above the streets. Even from here I can hear the stock market crashing. It started with the collapse of spacecraft companies with no hulls to build ships. Hundreds of others have followed. It takes a long time for an interstellar market to come apart at the seams, but, as with the Core novas, I don't see anything that can stop the chain reaction.

4) The secret of the indestructible General Products hull is being advertised for sale. General Products' human rep resentatives will collect bids for one year, no bid to be less than one trillion stars. Get in on the ground floor, folks.

5) Nobody knows anything. That's what's causing most of the panic. It's been a month since a puppeteer was seen on any known world. Why did they drop so suddenly out of interstellar affairs?

I know.

In twenty thousand years a flood of radiation will wash over this region of space. Thirty thousand light-years may seem a long, safe distance, but it isn't, not with this big an explosion. I've asked. The Core explosion will make this galaxy uninhabitable to any known form of life.

Twenty thousand years is a long time. It's four times as long as human written history. We'll all be less than dust before things get dangerous, and I for one am not going to worry about it.

But the puppeteers are different. They're scared. They're getting out right now. Paying off their penalty clauses and buying motors and other equipment to put in their indestructible hulls will take so much money that even confiscating my puny salary would have been a step to the good. Interstellar business can go to hell; from now on, the puppeteers will have no time for anything but running.

Where will they go? Well, the galaxy is surrounded by a halo of small globular clusters. The ones near the rim might be safe. Or the puppeteers may even go as far as Andromeda. They have the Long Shot for exploring if they come back for it, and they can build more. Outside the galaxy is space empty enough even for a puppeteer pilot, if he thinks his species is threatened.

It's a pity. This galaxy will be dull without puppeteers, Those two-headed monsters were not only the most dependable faction in interstellar business; they were like water in a wasteland of more-or-less humanoids. It's too bad they aren't brave, like us.

But is it?

I never heard of a puppeteer refusing to face a problem. He may merely be deciding how fast to run, but he'll never pretend the problem isn't there. Sometime within the next twenty millennia we humans will have to move a. population that already numbers forty-three billion. How? To where? When should we start thinking about this? When the glow of the Core begins to shine through the dust clouds?

Maybe men are the cowards-at the core.



A Pail of Air

by Fritz Leiber

<p>A Pail of Air</p> <p>by Fritz Leiber</p>

Pa had sent me out to get an extra pail of air. I'd just about scooped it full and most of the warmth had leaked from my fingers when I saw the thing.

You know, at first I thought it was a young lady. Yes, a beautiful young lady's face all glowing in the dark and looking at me from the fifth floor of the opposite apartment, which hereabouts is the floor just above the white blanket of frozen air. I'd never seen a live young lady before, except in the old magazines-Sis is just a kid and Ma is pretty sick and miserable-and it gave me such a start that I dropped the pail. Who wouldn't, knowing everyone on Earth was dead except Pa and Ma and Sis and you?

Even at that, I don't suppose I should have been surprised. We all see things now and then. Ma has some pretty bad ones, to judge from the way she bugs her eyes at nothing and just screams and screams and huddles back back against the blankets hanging around the Nest. Pa says it is natural we should react like that sometimes.

When I'd recovered the pail and could look again at the opposite apartment, I got an idea of what Ma might be feeling at those times, for I saw it wasn't a young lady at all but simply a light-a tiny light that moved stealthily from window to window, just as if one of the cruel little stars had come down out of the airless sky to investigate why the Earth had gone away from the Sun, and maybe to hunt down something to torment or terrify, now that the Earth didn't have the Sun's protection.

I tell you, the thought of it gave me the creeps, I just stood there shaking, and almost froze my feet and did frost my helmet so solid on the inside that I couldn't have seen the light even if it had come out of one of the windows to get me. Then I had the wit to go back inside.

Pretty soon I was feeling my familiar way through the thirty or so blankets and rugs Pa has got hung around to slow down the escape of air from the Nest, and I wasn't quite so scared. I began to hear the tick-ticking of the clocks in the Nest and knew I was getting back into air, because there's no sound outside in the vacuum, of course. But my mind was still crawly and uneasy as I pushed through the last blankets-Pa's got them faced with aluminum foil to hold in the heat-and came into the Nest.

Let me tell you about the Nest. It's low and snug, just room for the four of us and our things. The floor is covered with thick woolly rugs. Three of the sides are blankets, and the blankets roofing it touch Pa's head. He tells me it's inside a much bigger room, but I've never seen the real walls or ceiling.

Against one of the blanket-walls is a big set of shelves, with tools and books and other stuff, and on top of it a whole row of clocks. Pa's very fussy about keeping them wound. He says we must never forget time, and without a sun or moon, that would be easy to do.

The fourth wall has blankets all over except around the fireplace, in which there is a fire that must never go out. It keeps us from freezing and does a lot more besides. One of us must always watch it. Some of the clocks are alarm and we can use them to remind us. In the early days there was only Ma to take turns with Pa-I think of that when she gets difficult-but now there's me to help, and Sis too.

It's Pa who is the chief guardian of the fire, though. I always think of him that way: a tall man sitting cross-legged, frowning anxiously at the fire, his lined face golden in its light, and every so often carefully placing on it a piece of coal from the big heap beside it. Pa tells me there used to be guardians of the fire sometimes in the very old days-vestal virgins, he calls them-although there was unfrozen air all around then and you didn't really need one,

He was sitting just that way now, though he got up quick to take the pail from me and bawl me out for loitering-he'd spotted my frozen helmet right off. That roused Ma and she joined in picking on me. She's always trying to get the load off her feelings, Pa explains. He shut her up pretty fast. Sis let off a couple of silly squeals too.

Yet it's that glimmery white stuff in the pail that keeps us alive. It slowly melts and vanishes and refreshes the Nest and feeds the fire. The blankets keep it from escaping too fast. Pa'd like to seal the whole place, but he can't-building's too earthquake-twisted, and besides he has to leave the chimney open for smoke,

Pa says air is tiny molecules that fly away like a flash if there isn't something to stop them. We have to watch not to let the air run low. Pa always keeps a big reserve supply of it ib buckets behind the first blankets, along with extra coal and cans of food and other things, such as pails of snow to melt for water. We have to go way down to the bottom floor for that stuff, which is a mean trip, and get it through a door to outside.

You see, when the Earth got cold, all the water in the air froze first and made a blanket ten feet thick or so everywhere, and then down on top of that dropped the crystals of frozen air, making another white blanket sixty or seventy feet thick maybe.

Of course, all the parts of the air didn't freeze and snow down at the same time.

First to drop out was the carbon dioxide-when you're shoveling for water, you have to make sure you don't go too high and get any of that stuff mixed in, for it would put you to sleep, maybe for good, and make the fire go out. Next there's the nitrogen, which doesn't count one way or the other, though it's the biggest part of the blanket. On top of that and easy to get at, which is lucky for us, there's the oxygen that keeps us alive. Pa says we live better than kings ever did, breathing pure oxygen, but we're used to it and don't notice. Finally, at the very top, there's a slick of liquid helium, which is funny stuff. All of these gases in neat separate layers. Like a pussy caffay, Pa laughingly says, whatever that is.

I was busting to tell them all about what I'd seen, and so as soon as I'd ducked out of my helmet and while I was still climbing out of my suit, I cut loose. Right away Ma got nervous and began making eyes at the entry-slit in the blankets and wringing her hands together-the hand where she'd lost three fingers from frostbite inside the good one, as usual. I could tell that Pa was annoyed at me scaring her and wanted to explain it all away quickly, yet could see I wasn't fooling.

"And you watched this light for some time, son?" he asked when I finished.

I hadn't said anything about first thinking it was a young lady's face. Somehow that part embarrassed me.

"Long enough for it to pass five windows and go to the next floor."

"And it didn't look like stray electricity or crawling liquid or starlight focused by a growing crystal, or anything like that?"

He wasn't just making up those ideas. Odd things happen in a world that's about as cold as can be, and just when you think matter would be frozen dead, it takes on a strange new life. A slimy stuff comes crawling toward the Nest, just like an animal snuffing for heat-that's the liquid helium. And once, when I was little, a bolt of lightning-not even Pa could figure where it came from-hit the nearby steeple and crawled up and down it for weeks, until the glow finally died.

"Not like anything I ever saw," I told him.

He stood for a moment frowning. Then, "I'll go out with you, and you show it to me," he said.

Ma raised a howl at the idea of being left alone, and Sis Joined in, too, but Pa quieted them. We started climbing into our outside clothes-mine had been warming by the fire. Pa made them. They have plastic headpieces that were once big double-duty transparent food cans, but they keep heat and air in and can replace the air for a little while, long enough for our trips for water and coal and food and so on.

Ma started moaning again, "I've always known there was something outside there, waiting to get us. I've felt it for years-something that's part of the cold and hates all warmth and wants to destroy the Nest. It's been watching us all this time, and now it's coming after us. It'll get you and then come for me. Don't go, Harry!"

Pa had everything on but his helmet. He knelt by the fireplace and reached in and shook the long metal rod that goes up the chimney and knocks off the ice that keeps trying to clog it. Once a week he goes up on the roof to check if it's working all right. That's our worst trip and Pa won't let me make it alone.

"Sis," Pa said quietly, "come watch the fire. Keep an eye on the air, too. If it gets low or doesn't seem to be boiling fast enough, fetch another bucket from behind the blanket. But mind your hands. Use the cloth to pick up the bucket."

Sis quit helping Ma be frightened and came over and did as she was told. Ma quieted down pretty suddenly, though her eyes were still kind of wild as she watched Pa fix on his helmet tight and pick up a pail and the two of us go out.

Pa led the way and I took hold of his belt. It's a funny thing, but when Pa's along I always want to hold on to him. Habit, I guess, and then there's no denying that this time I was a bit scared.

You see, it's this way. We know that everything is dead out there. Pa heard the last radio voices fade away years ago, and had seen some of the last folks die who weren't as lucky or well-protected as us. So we knew that if there was something groping around out there, it couldn't be anything human or friendly.

Besides that, there's a feeling that comes with it always being night, cold night. Pa says there used to be some of that feeling even in the old days, but then every morning the Sun would come and chase it away. I have to take his word for that, not ever remembering the Sun as being anything more than a star. You see, I hadn't been born when the dark star snatched us away from the Sun, and by now it's dragged us out beyond the orbit of the planet Pluto, Pa says, and taking us farther out all the time.

I found myself wondering whether there mightn't be something on the dark star that wanted us, and if that was why it had captured the Earth. Just then we came to the end of the corridor and I followed Pa out on the balcony.

I don't know what the city looked like in the old days, but now it's beautiful. The starlight lets you see it pretty well- there's quite a bit of light in those steady points speckling the blackness above. (Pa says the stars used to twinkle once, but that was because there was air.) We are on a hill and the shimmery plain drops away from us and then flattens out, cut up into neat squares by the troughs that used to be streets. I sometimes make my mashed potatoes look like it, before I pour on the gravy.

Some taller buildings push up out of the feathery plain, topped by rounded caps of air crystals, like the fur hood Ma wears, only whiter. On these buildings you can see the darker squares of windows, underlined by white dashes of air crystals. Some of them are on a slant, for many of the buildings are pretty badly twisted by the quakes and all the rest that happened when the dark star captured the Earth.

Here and there a few icicles hang, water icicles from the first days of the cold, other icicles of frozen air that melted on the roofs and dripped and froze again. Sometimes one of those icicles will catch the light of a star and send it to you so brightly you think the star has swooped into the city. That was one of the things Pa had been thinking of when I told him about the light, but I had thought of it myself first and known it wasn't so.

He touched his helmet to mine so we could talk easier and he asked me to point out the windows to him. But there wasn't any light moving around inside them now, or anywhere else. To my surprise, Pa didn't bawl me out and tell me I'd been seeing things. He looked all around quite a while after filling his pail, and just as we were going inside he whipped around without warning, as if to take some peeping thing off guard.

I could feel it, too. The old peace was gone. There was something lurking out there, watching, waiting, getting ready.

Inside, he said to me, touching helmets, "If you see something like that again, son, don't tell the others. Your Ma's sort of nervous these days and we owe her all the feeling of safety we can give her. Once-it was when your sister was born-I was ready to give up and die, but your Mother kept me trying Another time she kept the fire going a whole week all by herself when I was sick. Nursed me and took care of the two of you, too.

"You know that game we sometimes play, sitting in a square in the Nest, tossing a ball around? Courage is like a ball, son. A person can hold it only so long, and then he's got to toss it to someone else. When it's tossed your way, you've got to catch it and hold it tight-and hope there'll be someone else to toss it to when you get tired of being brave."

His talking to me that way made me feel grown-up and good. But it didn't wipe away the thing outside from the back of my mind-or the fact that Pa took it seriously.

It's hard to hide your feelings about sach a thing. When we got back in the Nest and took off our outside clothes, Pa laughed about it and told them it was nothing and kidded me for having such an imagination, but his words fell flat. He didn't convince Ma and Sis any more than he did me. It looked for a minute like we were all fumbling the courage-ball. Something had to be done, and almost before I knew what I was going to say, I heard myself asking Pa to tell us about the old days, and how it all happened.

He sometimes doesn't mind telling that story, and Sis and I sure like to listen to it, and he got my idea. So we were all settled around the fire in a wink, and Ma pushed up some cans to thaw for supper, and Pa began. Before he did, though, I noticed him casually get a hammer from the shelf and lay it down beside him.

It was the same old story as always-I think I could recite the main thread of it in my sleep-though Pa always puts in a new detail or two and keeps improving it in spots.

He told us how the Earth had been swinging around the Sun ever so steady and warm, and the people an it fixing to make money and wars and have a good time and get power and treat each other right or wrong, when without warning there comes charging out of space this dead star, this burned-out sun, and upsets everything.

You know, I find it hard to believe in the way those people felt, any more than I can believe in the swarming number of them. Imagine people getting ready for the horrible sort of war they were cooking up. Wanting it even, or at least wishing it were over so as to end their nervousness. As if all folks didn't have to hang together and pool every bit of warmth just to keep alive. And how can they have hoped to end danger, any more then we can hope to end the cold?

Sometimes I think Pa exaggerates and makes things out too black. He's cross with us once in a while and was probably cross with all those folks. Still some of the things I read in the old magazines sound pretty wild. He may be right.

The dark star, as Pa went on telling it, rushed in pretty fast and there wasn't much time to get ready. At the beginning they tried to keep it a secret from most people, but then the truth came out, what with the earthquakes and floods- imagine, oceans of unfrozen water!-and people seeing stars blotted out by something on a clear night. First off they thought it would hit the Sun, and then they thought it would hit the Earth. There was even the start of a rush to get to a place called China, because people thought the star would hit on the other side. But then they found it wasn't going to hit either side, but was going to come very close to the Earth.

Most of the other planets were on the other side of the Sun and didn't get involved. The Sun and the newcomer fought over the Earth for a little while-pulling it this way and that, like two dogs growling over a bone, Pa described it this time- and then the newcomer won and carried us off. The Sun got a consolation prize, though. At the last minute he managed to hold on to the Moon.

That was the time of the monster earthquakes and floods, twenty times worse than anything before. It was also the., time of the Big Jerk, as Pa calls it, when all Earth got yanked suddenly, just as Pa has done to me once or twice, grabbing me by the collar to do it, when I've been sitting too far from the fire.

You see, the dark star was going through space faster than the Sun, and in the opposite direction, and it had to wrench the world considerably in order to take it away.

The Big Jerk didn't last long. It was over as soon as the Earth was settled down in its new orbit around the dark star. But it was pretty terrible while it lasted. Pa says that all sorts of cliffs and buildings toppled, oceans slopped over, swamps and sandy deserts gave great sliding surges that buried nearby lands. Earth was almost jerked out of its atmosphere blanket and the air got so thin in spots that people keeled over and fainted-though of course, at the same time they were getting knocked down by the Big Jerk and maybe their bones broke or skulls cracked.

We've often asked Pa how people acted during that time, whether they were scared or brave or crazy or stunned, or all four, but he's sort of leery of the subject, and he was again tonight. He says he was mostly too busy to notice.

You see, Pa and some scientist friends of his had figured out part of what was going to happen-they'd known we'd get captured and our air would freeze-and they'd been working like mad to fix up a place with airtight walls and doors, and insulation against the cold, and big supplies of food and fuel and water and bottled air. But the place got smashed in the last earthquakes and all Pa's friends were killed then and in the Big Jerk. So he had to start over and throw the

Nest together quick without any advantages, just using any stuff he could lay his hands on.

I guess he's telling pretty much the truth when he says he didn't have any time to keep an eye on how other folks behaved, either then or in the Big Freeze that followed- followed very quick, you know, both because the dark star was pulling us away very fast and because Earth's rotation had been slowed in the tug-of-war, so that the nights were ten old nights long.

Still, I've got an idea of some of the things that happened from the frozen folk Fve seen, a few of them in other rooms in our building, others clustered around the furnaces in the basements where we go for coal.

In one of the rooms, an old man sits stiff m a chair, with an arm and a leg in splints. In another, a man and woman are huddled together in a bed with heaps of covers over them. You can just see their heads peeking out, close together. And m another a beautiful young lady is sitting with a pile of wraps huddled around her, looking hopefully toward the door, as if waiting for someone who never came back with warmth and food. They're all still and stiff as statues, of course, but lust like life.

Pa showed them to me once in quick winks of his flashlight, when he still had a fair supply of batteries aad could afford to waste a little light. They scared me pretty bad and made my heart pound, especially the young lady.

Now, with Pa telling his story for the umpteenth time to take our minds off another scare, I got to thinking of the frozen folk again. All of a sudden I got an idea that scared me worse than anything yet. You see, I'd just remembered the face I'd thought I'd seen in the window. I'd forgotten about that on account of trying to hide it from the others.

What, I asked myself, if the frozen folk were coming to life? What if they were like the liquid helium that got a new lease on life and started crawling toward the heat just when you thought its molecules ought to freeze solid forever? Or like the electricity that moves endlessly when it's just about as cold as that? What if the ever-growing cold, with the temperature creeping down the last few degrees to the last zero, had mysteriously wakened the frozen folk to life-not warmblooded life, but something icy and horrible?

That was a worse idea than the one about something coming down from the dark star to get us.

Or maybe, I thought, both ideas might be true. Something coming down from the dark star and making the frozen folk move, using them to do its work. That would fit with both things I'd seen-the beautiful young lady and the moving, starlike light.

The frozen folk with minds from the dark star behind their unwinkling eyes, creeping, crawling, snuffing their way, following the heat to the Nest.

I tell you, that thought gave me a very bad turn and I wanted very badly to tell the others my fears, but I remembered what Pa had said and clenched my teeth and didn't speak.

We were all sitting very still. Even the fire was burning silently. There was just the sound of Pa's voice and the clocks.

And then, from beyond the blankets, I thought I heard a tiny noise. My skin tightened all over me.

Pa was telling about the early years in the Nest and had come to the place where he philosophizes.

"So I asked myself then," he said, "what's the use of going on? What's the use of dragging it out for a few years? Why prolong a doomed existence of hard work and cold and loneliness? The human race is done. The Earth is done. Why not give up, I asked myself-and all of a sudden I got the answer."

Again I heard the noise, louder this time, a kind of uncertain shuffling tread, coming closer. I couldn't breathe.

"Life's always been a business of working hard and fighting the cold," Pa was saying. "The Earth's always been a lonely place, millions of miles from the next planet. And no matter how long the human race might have lived, the end would have come some night. Those things don't matter. What matters is that life is good. It has a lovely texture, like some rich cloth or fur, or the petals of flowers-you've seen pictures of those, but I can't describe how they feel-or the fire's glow. It makes everything else worthwhile. And that's as true for the last man as the first."

And still the steps kept shuffling closer. It seemed to me that the inmost blanket trembled and bulged a little. Just as if they were burned into my imagination, I kept seeing those peering, frozen eyes.

"So right then and there," Pa went on, and now I could tell that he heard the steps, too, and was talking loud so we maybe wouldn't hear them, "right then and there I told myself that I was going on as if we had all eternity ahead of us. I'd have children and teach them all I could. I'd get them to read books. I'd plan for the future, try to enlarge and seal the Nest.

I'd do what I could to keep everything beautiful and growing. I'd keep alive my feeling of wonder even at the cold and the dark and the distant stars."

But then the blanket actually did move and lift. And there was a bright light somewhere behind it. Pa's voice stopped and his eyes turned to the widening slit and his hand went out until it touched and gripped the handle of the hammer beside him.

In through the blanket stepped the beautiful young lady.

She stood there looking at us the strangest way, and she carried something bright and unwinking in her hand. And two other faces peered over her shoulders-men's faces, white and staring.

Well, my heart couldn't have been stopped for more than four or five beats before I realized she was wearing a suit and helmet like Pa's homemade ones, only fancier, and that the men were, too-and that the frozen folk certainly wouldn't be wearing those. Also, I noticed that the bright thing in her hand was just a kind of flashlight.

The silence kept on while I swallowed hard a couple of times, and after that there was all sorts of jabbering and commotion.

They were simply people, you see. We hadn't been the only ones to survive; we'd just thought so, for natural enough reasons. These three people had survived, and quite a few others with them. And when we found out how they'd survived, Pa let out the biggest whoop of joy.

They were from Los Alamos and they were getting their heat and power from atomic energy. Just using the uranium and plutonium intended for bombs, they had enough to go on for thousands of years. They had a regular little airtight city, with airlocks and all. They even generated electric light and grew plants and animals by it. (At this Pa let out a second whoop, waking Ma from her faint.)

But if we were flabbergasted at them, they were double-flabbergasted at us.

One of the men kept saying, "But it's impossible, I tell you. You can't maintain an air supply without hermetic seal-ing. It's simply impossible."

That was after he had got his helmet off and was using our air. Meanwhile, the young lady kept looking around at us as if we were saints, and telling us we'd done something amazing, and suddenly she broke down and cried.

They'd been scouting around for survivors, but thev never expected to find any in a place like this. They had rocket ships at Los Alamos and plenty of chemical fuel. As for liquid oxygen, all you had to do was go out and shovel the air blanket at the top level. So after they'd got things going smoothly at Los Alamos, which had taken years, they'd decided to make some trips to likely places where there might be other survivors. No good trying long-distance radio signals, of course, since there was no atmosphere to carry them around the curve of the Earth.

Well, they'd found other colonies at Argonne and Brook-haven and way around the world at Harwell and Tanna Tuva. And now they'd been giving our city a look, not really expecting to find anything. But they had an instrument that noticed the faintest heat waves and it had told them there was something warm down here, so they'd landed to investigate. Of course we hadn't heard them land, since there was no air to carry the sound, and they'd had to investigate around quite a while before finding us. Their instruments had given them a wrong steer and they'd wasted some time in the building across the street.

By now, all five adults were talking like sixty. Pa was demonstrating to the men how he worked the fire and got rid of the ice in the chimney and all that. Ma had perked up wonderfully and was showing the young lady her cooking and sewing stuff, and even asking about how the women dressed at Los Alamos. The strangers marveled at everything and praised it to the skies. I could tell from the way they wrinkled their noses that they found the Nest a bit smelly, but they never mentioned that at all and just asked bushels of questions.

In fact, there was so much talking and excitement that Pa forgot about things, and it wasn't until they were all getting groggy that he looked around and found the air had all boiled away in the pail. He got another bucket of air quick from behind the blankets. Of course that started them all laughing and jabbering again. The newcomers even got a little drunk. They weren't used to so much oxygen.

Funny thing, though-I didn't do much talking at all and Sis hung on to Ma all the time and hid her face when anybody looked at her. I felt pretty uncomfortable and disturbed myself, even about the young lady. Glimpsing her outside there, I'd had all sorts of mushy thoughts, but now I was just embarrassed and scared of her, even though she tried to be nice as anything to me.

I sort of wished they'd all quit crowding the Nest and let us be alone and get our feelings straightened out.

And when the newcomers began to talk about our all going to Los Alamos, as if that were taken for granted, I could see that something of the same feeling struck Pa and Ma, too," Pa got very silent all of a sudden and Ma kept telling the young lady, "But I wouldn't know how to act there and I haven't any clothes."

The strangers were puzzled like anything at first, but then they got the idea. As Pa kept saying, "It just doesn't seem right to let this fire go out."

Well, the strangers are gone, but they're coming back. It hasn't been decided yet just what will happen. Maybe the Nest will be kept up as what one of the strangers called a "survival school." Or maybe we will join the pioneers who are going to try to establish a new colony at the uranium mines at Great Slave Lake or in the Congo.

Of course, now that the strangers are gone, I've been thinking a lot about Los Alamos and those other tremendous colonies. I have a hankering to see them for myself.

You ask me, Pa wants to see them, too. He's been getting pretty thoughtful, watching Ma and Sis perk up.

"It's different, now that we know others are alive," he explains to me. "Your mother doesn't feel so hopeless arty more. Neither do I, for that matter, not having to carry the whole responsibility for keeping the human race going, so to speak It scares a person."

I looked around at the blanket walls and the fire and the pails of air boiling away and Ma and Sis sleeping in the warmth and the flickering light.

"It's not going to be easy to leave the Nest," I said, wanting to cry, kind of. "It's so small and there's just the four of us. I get scared at the idea of big places and a lot of strangers."

He nodded and put another piece of coal on the fire. Then he looked at the little pile and grinned suddenly and put a couple of handfuls on, just as if it was one of our birthdays or Christmas.

"You'll quickly get over that feeling son," he said. "The trouble with the world was that it kept getting smaller and smaller, till it ended with just the Nest. Now it'll be good to have a real huge world again, the way it was in the beginning."

I guess he's right. You think the beautiful young lady will wait for me till I grow up? I'll be twenty in only ten years.



King of the Hill

by Chad Oliver

<p>King of the Hill</p> <p>by Chad Oliver</p>

She floated there in the great nothing, still warm and soft and blue-green if you could eyeball her from a few thousand miles out, still kissed under blankets of clouds.

Mama Earth, Getting old now, tired, her blankets soiled with her own secretions, her body bruised and torn by a billion forgotten passions.

Like many a mother before her, she had given birth to a monster. Me was not old, not as planets measure time, and there had been other children. But he was old enough. He had taken over.

His name?

You know it: there are no surprises left. Man. Big Daddy of the primates. The ape that walks like a chicken. Homo sap. Ah, the tool-maker, flapper of tongues, builder of fires, sex fiend, dreamer, destroyer, creator of garbage…

You know me, Al.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall-

Ant is the name, anthill is the game.

There were many men, too many men. They have names.

Try this one on for size: Sam Gregg. Don't like it? Rings no bells? Not elegant enough? Wrong ethnic affiliation?

Few among the manswarm, if any, cared for Sam Gregg. One or two, possibly, gave a damn about his name. A billion or so knew his name.

Mostly, they hated his guts-and envied him.

He was there, Sam Gregg, big as life and twice as ugly.

He stuck out.

A rock in the sandpile.

They were after him again.

Sam Gregg felt the pressure. There had been a time when he had thrived on it; the adrenaline had flowed and the juices bubbled. Sure, and there had been a time when dinosaurs had walked the earth. Sam had been born in the year that men had first walked on the moon. (It had tickled him, when he was old enough to savor it. A man with the unlikely name of Armstrong, no less. And his faithful sidekick, Buzz. And good old Mike holding the fort, Jesus.) That made him nearly a century old. His doctors were good, the best. It was no miracle to live a hundred years, not these days. But he wasn't a kid anymore, as he demonstrated occasionally with Lois.

The attacks were not particularly subtle, but they were civilized. That meant that nobody called you a son of a bitch to your face, and the assassins carried statistics and plati-tudes instead of knives and strangling cords.

Item. A bill had been introduced in Washington by good old Senator Raleigh, millionaire defender of the poor. Stripped of its stumbling oratorical flourishes, it argued that undersea development was now routine and therefore that there should be no tax dodges for phony risk capital investment. That little arrow was aimed straight at one of Sam's companies- at several of them, in fact, although the somewhat dim-witted Raleigh probably did not know that. Sam.could beat the bill, but it would cost him money. That annoyed him. He had an expensive hobby.

Item. Sam retained a covey of bright boys whose only job it was to keep his name out of the communications media. They weren't entirely successful; your name is not known to a billion people on a word-of-mouth basis. Still, he had not been subjected to one of those full-scale, no-holds-barred, dynamic, daring personal close-ups for nearly a year now. One was coming up, on Worldwide. The mystery man-revealed! The richest man in the world-exposed! The hermit-trapped by fearless reporters! Sam was not amused. The earth was sick, blotched by hungry and desperate people from pole to shining pole. There had never been an uglier joke than pinning man's future on birth control. A sick world needs a target for its anger. Sam's only hope was to be inconspicuous. He had failed in that, and it would get him in the end. Still, he only needed a little more time...

Item. The U.N. delegate from the Arctic Republic had charged that Arctic citizens of Eskimo descent were being passed over for high administrative positions in franchises licensed to operate in the Republic. "We must not and will not allow," he said, "the well-known technical abilities of oar people to serve as a pretext for modern-day colonial exploitation." The accusation was so much rancid blubber, of course; Sam happened to like Eskimos as well as he liked anybody, and in any event he was always very careful about such things. No matter. There would be a hearing, facts would have to be tortured by the computers, stories would have to be planted, money would be spent. The root of all evil pro-duced a popular shrub.

There were other items, most of them routine. Sam did not deal with them himself, and had not done so for fifty years. ("Mr. Gregg never does anything personally," as one aide had put it in a famous interview.) Sam routed the problems down to subordinates; that was what they were for. Nevertheless, he kept in touch. A ruler who does not know what is going on in his empire can expect the early arrival of the goon squad that escorts him into oblivion. There were the usual appeals to support Worthy Causes, to contribute to Charity, to help out Old Friends. Sam denied them all without a qualm and without doing anything; his lieutenants had their orders. A penny saved…

Sam was not really worried; at worst he was harassed, which was the chronic complaint of executives. They were not on to him yet. There was no slightest hint of a leak where it counted. If that one ever hit the air cleaner there would be a stink they could smell in the moon labs.

Still, he felt the pressure. He was human, at least in his own estimation. There was a classic cure for pressure, known to students of language as getting away from it all. It was a cure that was no longer possible for the vast majority of once-human beings, for the simple reason that there was nowhere to go.

("To what do you attribute your long and successful life, Mr. Gregg?'" "Well, I pension off my wives so that I always have a young one, and I see to it that she talks very little. I drink a lot of good booze, but I never get drunk. I don't eat meat. I count my money when I get depressed. If I feel tense, I knock about the estate until I feel better. I try to break at least three laws every day. I owe it all to being a completely evil man.")

Sam Gregg could take the cure, and he did.

He did not have to leave his own land, of course. Sam never left his Estate. (Well, hardly ever.) He took the private tube down from his suite in the tower and stepped outside. That was the way he thought of it, but it was not precisely true. There was a miniature life-support; pod that arched over a thousand acres of his property. It was a high price to pay for clean air, but it was the only way. Sam needed it and so did the animals.

There were two laws that he broke every day. In a world so strangled by countless tons of human meat that land per capita was measured in square feet, Sam Gregg owned more than a thousand acres. Moreover, he did nothing useful with that supremely illegal land. He kept animals on it. Even dogs and cats had been outlawed for a quarter of a century, and what passed for meat was grown in factory vats. When people are starving, wasting food on pets is a criminal act, (Who says so? Why, people do.) Most of the zoos were gone now, and parks and forests and meadows were things of the past.

Sam took a deep breath, drinking in the air. It was just right, and not completely artificial either. Cool it was, and fragrant with living smells: trees and wet-green grass and water that glided over rocks and earth that was soft and thick.

This was all that was left, a fact that Sam fully appreciated.

This was the world as it once had been, lost now and forever.

Man had come, mighty man. Oh, he was smart, he was clever. He had turned the seas into cesspools, the air into sludge, the mountains into shrieking cities. Someone had once said that one chimpanzee was no chimpanzee. It was true; they were social animals. But how about ten thousand chimpanzees caged in a square mile? That was no chimpanzee also-that was crazy meat on a fanny farm.

Oh, man was clever. He raped a world until he could not live with it, and then he screamed for help.

Don't call me, AI. Ill call you.

Sam shook his head. It was no good thinking about it. He could not ride to the rescue, not with all of his billions. He had no great admiration for his fellow men, and it would not matter if he had.

There was only one thing left to try.

Sam tried to close his mind to it. He had to stay alive a little longer. He had to relax, value, enjoy-

He walked along an unpaved trail, very likely the last one left on the planet. He breathed clean air, he felt the warmth of the sun glowing through the pod, he absorbed…

There were squirrels chattering in the trees, rabbits busy at rabbit-business in the brush. He saw a deer, a beautiful buck with moss on his horns; the buck ran when he spotted Sam. He knew who the enemy was. He saw a thin raccoon, a female that stared at him from behind her bandit's mask. She had three young ones with her and they were bold, but Mama herded them up into an oak and out of danger. He could see the three little masks peering down at him from the branches.

The trail wound along a stream of cold, fast water. Sam watched the dark olive shadows lurking in the pools. Trout, of course. Sam drew the line at bass and carp,

He came out of the trees and into a field of tall grass. There were yellow flowers and insects buzzed in the air. He sensed the closeness of shapes and forms, but he could not see them in the breeze-swept grass. There was life here, and death, and life again.

But not for long.

He turned and retraced his steps. He felt a little better.

The raccoons were still in the oak.

Sam went back inside. Back to the salt mine.

He worked hard until dinner.

"What was the exact hour?" Lois asked him, absently stroking one of her remarkable legs. (She had two of them.)

"I don't remember," Sam said. "I was very young."

"Come on, Sam. I'm not stupid. You can't tell me that with all the resources of your mysterious enterprises you can't find out the exact time."

"I am telling you. I don't know." Sam looked at her, which was always pleasant in a tense sort of way. Lois was sensual but there was no softness in her. She had a lacquered surface stretched like a drumhead over taut springs. She always looked perfect, but even her casual clothes were somehow formal. She never forgot herself. She was a challenge, which was fine once in a while. Sam was old enough to decline most challenges without dishonor.

Lois did not have to remind Sam that she had a brain. Sam never made that mistake. Her little reference to "mysterious enterprises" was an effective threat. At thirty, she had climbed the highest pinnacle on her scale of values: she was the wife of the richest man in the world. She didn't want a settlement. She wanted it all. Sam had no children.

Bright, yes. Cunning, yes. Skilled, certainly. Faithful with her body, yes-Lois took no needless risks. But that fine-boned head enclosed a brain that was all output; not much of significance ever went in. The hard violet eyes looked out from jelly that had been molded in Neolithic times.

She would have made a dandy witch.

She spent her days puttering with expensive clothing and obscure cosmetics. She had a library of real books, thus proving her intellectual capacity. They were all about reincarnation and astrology. She considered herself something of an expert with horoscopes. A pun had frequently occurred to Sam in this connection, but he had refrained. He was not a cruel man.

"I want to do it for you," she «aid. "You have decisions to make. It would help. Really, Sam."

She was quite sincere, like all fanatics. It was a gift she could give him, and that was important to her. It was an ancient problem for women like Lois: what do you give to a man who has everything? The gag presents get pretty thin very quickly, and Sam was not a man who was easily convulsed.

He sipped his drink, enjoying it. He always drank Scotch; the labs could create nothing better. "Well," he said, "I haven't a clue about the minute of my birth. I'd just as soon forget my birthday."

Lois was patient. "It would be so simple to find out."

"But I don't give a damn."

"I give a damn. What about me? It's a small thing. I know the day, of course. But if the moons of Saturn were in the right position…"

Sam raised his eyebrows and took a large swallow of Scotch before he answered. "They are always in the right position," he said carefully, 'That's the way moons are."

"Oh, Sam." She did not cry; she had learned some things,

Sam Gregg stood up to refill his glass. He did not like to have obtrusive robots around the house. Self-reliance and all that.

He was not unaware of himself. He did not look his age. He was a tall, angular man. There was still strength in him. His hair was gray, not white. His craggy face was lined but there was no flab on him. His brown eyes were sharp, like dirty ice,

Sam sometimes thought of himself as a vampire in one of the still-popular epics. ("Ah, my dear, velcome to Castle Mor-dar. A moment while I adjust my dentures.") Splendid-looking chap, distinguished even. But then, suddinkly, at the worst possible moment, he dissolves into a puff of primeval dust…

"Let's go beddy-bye," Sam said, draining his glass. "Maybe I can remember."

"I'll help you," Lois said, reporting for duty.

"You'll have to," Sam agreed.

Sam worked very hard the next few weeks. He even found time to check the hour and the minute of his birth. He was being very careful indeed, trying to think of everything.

Lois was delighted. She retreated to her mystic stewpott consulted her illustrated charts, talked it over with several dead Indians, and informed Sam that he was thinking about a long, long journey.

Sam didn't explode into laughter.

His work was difficult because so much of it involved waiting. There were many programs to consider, all of them set in motion years ago. They had to mesh perfectly. They all depended on the work of other men. And they all had to be masked.

It wasn't easy. How, for instance, do you hide a couple of spaceships? Particularly when they keep taking off and landing with all the stealth of trumpeting elephants?

("Spaceship? I don't see any spaceship. Do you see a spaceship?")

Answer: You don't hide them. You account for them. For all practical purposes, Sam owned the space station that orbited the Earth. He controlled it through a mosaic of interlocking companies, domestic and foreign. It was only natural for him to operate a few shuttle ships. A man has a right to keep his finger in his own pie.

Owned the space station, Daddy?

Yes, Junior. Listen, my son, and you shall hear…

The great space dream had been a bust. A colossal fizzle. A thumping anticlimax.

The trails blazed by the space pioneers led-quite literally-Nowhere.

Fortunately or otherwise, Mighty Man could not create the solar system in his own image. The solar system was one hell of a place, and not just on Pluto. There were no conveniently verdant worlds. There were just rocks and craters, heat and cold, lifeless dust and frozen chemicals.

There were other suns, other planets. Big deal. There were no handy space warps, no faster-than-light drives. Unmanned survey ships took a very long time to report, and their news produced no dancing in the streets: rocks, craters, desolation. Who would spend a lifetime to visit Nothing?

Would you? (Naw, I'd rather go see Grandma.)

Scientific bases had been established on Luna, and they survived. They survived with enormous expense, with highly trained personnel, with iron discipline. Even the scientific teams had to be replaced at short intervals.

Radiation, you know. Puts funny kinks in the old chromosomes.

The Mars Colony of half a century ago, widely advertised as a solution to the population crisis, was a solution only in the grim sense of a Final Solution. Even with the life-support pods-Sam had lost a fortune on the early models, but he had learned a few things-it was no go. Five thousand human beings had gone to Mars to start the New Life. (A drop in the bucket, to be sure. But there was much talk about Beginnings, and Heroic Ancestors, and First Steps.) A few of them had gotten back. Most had died or gone mad or both. Some of them were still there, although this was not generally known. They -were no longer human.

The problem was that it was perfectly possible to set up a scientific base on Mars, or even a military base if there had been any need for one. But soldiers on Mars are a joke, and appropriations committees had long since stopped playing the old game: Can You Top This? Scientists could do little on Mars that they could not do on Luna. And people-plain, ordinary people, the kind that swarmed the Earth and scratched for a living, the kind that had to go-could not exist on Mars.

And so?

And so, kiddies, what was left of the space program was taken over by what was referred to as the Private Sector of the Economy. Got your decoder badges ready? It works out to S-a-m G-r-e-g-g. Governments could not continue to pour billions into space when there was no earthly reason for doing so. But with existing hardware and accumulated expertise it was not prohibitively expensive for Sam Gregg to keep a few things going. There was the matter of motive, of course. Sam Gregg had one, and he made money besides.

There were other projects to conceal, but they were easier than spaceships. Genetics research? Well, cancer was still a killer and everyone wanted to live forever. Such work was downright humanitarian, and therefore admirable. Ecological studies? The whole wretched planet was fouled by its own ecology-a solution had to be found. (There was no solution at this late date, but so what? It was a Good Thing. Everyone said so.) Computers, robots, cybernetics? Certainly they were beyond reproach. Hadn't they ushered in the Golden Age? Well, hadn't they?

Sam Gregg had his faults-ask anyone-but wishful thinking was not among them. He knew that he could succeed if he just had time. He could succeed if they didn't get him first. He could succeed because he had the resources and because the problem was essentially one of technology. No matter how complex they are, technological problems can be solved unless they involve flat impossibilities. You can build a suspension bridge, send a man to Mars or wherever, construct cities beneath the sea.

There are other problems, human problems. How do you build a bridge between people? How do you, send a better man to Mars? How do you construct an anthill city that is not a bughouse? Money will not solve those problems. Rhetoric will not solve them. Technology will not solve them.

Therefore, Sam did not fool with them. He used them for protective coloration, but he did not kid himself.

He stuck to the art of the possible.

Oh yes, he had a dream.

There was justice in it, of a sort. But human beings care nothing for justice. They look out for Number One.

Number One?

Sam permitted himself a brief, cold smile.

They would tear him apart if they knew, all those billions of Number Ones…

A day came when all the bits and pieces fell into place. The data came back, coded across the empty hundreds of millions of miles. The columns added up. The light turned green.

Sam was exultant, in a quiet sort of way. He had expected it to work, of course. He had checked it all out countless times. But that was theory, and Sam was a skeptic about theories.

This was fact.

It was ready. Not perfect, no-but that too had been anticipated.

Ain't science wunnerful?

He could not stay inside, not when he was this close. He had to get outside, taste what was left of freedom. At times like these, it was not enough to know that it was there. He had to see it.

He walked on the Estate.

Lois joined him, which was a pain in the clavicle but Sam did not allow her presence to destroy his mood. Lois had on one of her cunning Outdoor Suits. She always professed to adore what she called Nature, but she walked as though every blade of grass were poison ivy.

(Poison ivy had been extinct for decades, Lois would soon follow suit.)

"It's so peaceful," Lois said. She usually said that here.

Rather to his own surprise, Sam answered her. He wanted to talk to somebody, to celebrate. Failing that, he talked to Lois. "No," he said. "Not really. It only seems peaceful because we are observers, not part of it. And it is controlled, to some extent."

Lois looked at him sharply. It had been one of his longer speeches.

"See that cedar?" Sam pointed to it, knowing that she did not know a cedar from a cottonwood. "Tough little tree. It'll grow in poor soil, it doesn't take much water. See how the roots come up near the surface? It's brittle, though. Won't last long. That oak is crowding it, and it's got a century or two to play with. See that little willow-there, the droopy one? It needs too much water and the drainage is wrong. It'll never make it. Am I boring you?"

"No," Lois said truthfully. She was too amazed to be bored.

"See the bunny rabbit?" Sam's voice lapsed into parody. "See bunny run? He'd better run. Lots of things eat bunny rabbits. Hawks, bobcats, wolves. Snakes eat little bunnies-"

"Oh, Sam."

As if to prove his point, a beagle hound stuck his wet nose out of the brush. His white-tipped tail wagged tentatively. His liquid eyes were pools of adoration, (Beagles were originally bred as hunters. Remember?)

Sam turned his back on the dog, "Man's best friend. The supreme opportunist. He figured the odds twenty thousand years ago and threw in with us. K-9, Secret Agent. Con. Fink. Surplus now. Dear old pal."

"I don't understand you sometimes," Lois said with rare perception.

Idon't understand them, either, Sam thought. Animals, not women. Little Forest Friends Nobody understands them. We were too busy. There wasn't even a decent field study of the chimpanzee until around 1930. Seventy years later there were no chimpanzees. We didn't bother with the animals that were not like men; who cared? We learned exactly nothing about kudus and bears, coons and possums, badgers and buffalo. Too late now. They are gone or going, and so is their world.

Sam Gregg was not a sentimental man. He was a realist. Still, the facts bothered him. It was hard not to know. He would never know, and that was that. There was no way.

They walked along the trail together. (Arm in arm, lovely couple, backbone of empire.) Sam was a little nervous. It had been a long fight and-as they used to say-victory was at hand.

He felt a little like God and a lot like an old man.

From the branches of a gnarled oak, a masked mother and three small bandits watched them pass.

There were ancient raccoon thoughts in the air.

You are ready.

So do it. Don't wobble.

Sam did it.

Sound dramatic?

It was (in the very long run) and it wasn't (here and now). An extremely well-balanced, insulated, innocuous conveyor left the main lab and hissed gently to the spaceport. A large gray metallic box was loaded into a shuttle ship and locked into place. The box was ten feet square, and it was heavy. It could have been much smaller and lighter-about the size of a jigger glass-except for the refrigeration units, the electronic circuits, the separation cubicles, and the protective layers.

The shuttle lifted to the space station. Strictly routine.

The gray cube of metal was transferred very gingerly to a larger ship. She (that was surely the proper pronoun) was a special ship, a swimmer of deep space. She was crammed with expensive gear. Say, a billion dollars' worth. Maybe more.

She took off. She was completely automated, controlled by computers, powered by atomics.

There were no men on board.

The ship was never corning back.

Sam?

He stayed home.

There was nowhere for him to go.

Remember?

It is curious how a small gesture will offend some people.

There was no more capital punishment, unless living on earth was it, but good men and true were willing to make an exception in Sam's case.

"So you sunk twenty billion into it over a ten-year period," his chief lawyer said. He said it the same way he might have asked, "So you think you're a kumquat, eh?"

"Give or take a few million. Of course, some of the basic research goes back more than ten years. If you figure all that in, it might go to twenty-two billion. Maybe twenty-three."

"Never mind that." The lawyer groaned. He really did.

Lois was not happy and developed a case of severe frigidity. She was not only married to a man confronting bankruptcy, but she was also the wife of a Master Criminal. It does imperil one's social position.

(There was no way to keep it quiet, naturally, Sam had known that. Too many people were involved.)

They had a great time, the venom-spewers: senators and editorialists, presidents and kings, cops and commissions, professors and assorted hotshots. All the Good People.

Sam had. to put it mildly, violated a public trust. (Translation: he hadn't spent his money on what they wanted.)

He was guilty of a crime against humanity. (Judge and jury, definer of crime? Humanity. All heart.)

It did not matter in the least that twenty billion dollars (or twenty-two, or twenty-three, or a hundred) could not have saved the earth. Earth was finished, smothered by her most illustrious spawn. It would take a few years yet, while she gasped for breath and filled the bedpan. But she was through.

Man had never cared overmuch for facts.

He believed what he wanted to believe.

("Things may be bad, but they are getting better. All we have to do is like be relevant, you know? Enforce the Law. Consult the swami Have a hearing. Salvation through architecture. When the going gets tough the tough get going. All problems have solutions.")

There was one other thing that made Sam's sin inexcusable.

You see, animals have no votes.

The defense?

It was clear, simple, correct, and beyond dispute. It was therefore doomed.

("We'll give him a fair trial, then hang him.")

Way down deep where convictions solidify, Big Man had expected to meet his counterpart on other worlds. ("Ah, Earthling, you surprise I speak your language so good.") He had failed. He had found only barren rocks at the end of the road.

From this, he had drawn a characteristically modest conclusion.

Man, he decided, was alone in the accessible universe.

This was a slight error. There were primitive men who would not have made it, but there were no more primitive men.

The plain truth was that it was Earth that was unique and alone. Earth had produced life. Not just self-styled Number One, not just Superprimate. No. He was a late arrival, the final guest.

("All these goodies just for me!")

Alone? Man?

Well, not quite.

There were a million different species of insects. (Get the spray-gun, Henry.) Twenty thousand kinds of fish. (I got one, I got one!) Nine thousand types of birds. (You can still see a stuffed owl in a museum.) Fifteen thousand species of mammals. (You take this arrow, see, and fit the string into the notch…)

Alone? Sure, except for the kangaroos and bandicoots, shrews and skunks, bats and elephants, armadillos and rabbits, pigs and foxes, raccoons and whales, beavers and lions, moose and mice, oryx and otter and opossum-

Oh well, them.

Yes.

They too had come from the earth. Incredible, each of them. Important? Only if you happened to think that the only known life in the universe was important.

Man didn't think so. Not him.

Not the old perfected end-product of evolution.

He didn't kill them all, of course. He hadn't been around that long. The dinosaurs had managed to become extinct without his help. There were others.

He did pretty well, though. He could be efficient, give him that.

He started early. Remember the ground sloth, the mam-moth, the mastodon? You don't? Odd.

He kept at it. He was remarkably objective about it, really. He murdered his own kin as readily as the others. The orang had gone down the tube when Sam was a boy, the gorilla and the chimp and the gibbon a little later.

Sorry about that, gang.

In time, he got them all. It was better than in the old days. He took no risks, dug no traps, fired no guns. He simply crowded them out. When there were billions upon billions of naked apes stacked in layers over the earth, there was no room for anything else.

Goodbye, Old Paint,

So long. Rover.

Farewell, Kitty-cat,

Nothing personal, you understand.

All in the name of humanity. What higher motive can there be?

This is a defense?

What in hell did Sam do?

In hell, he did this:

Sam Gregg decided that mankind could not be saved. Not should not (although Sam, it must be confessed, did not get all choked up at the thought of human flesh) but could not, It was too late, too late when Sam was born. Man had poisoned his world and there were no fresh Earths,

Man could not survive on other planets, not without drastic genetic modifications.

And man would not change, not voluntarily.

After all, he was perfect, wasn't he?

That left the animals. Earth's other children, the ones pushed aside. The dumb ones. The losers. The powerless.

You might call it the art of the possible.

Did they matter? If they were the only life in the universe? Who knew? Who decided?

Well, there was Sam, A nut, probably. Still, he could play God as well as the next man. He had the money.

Pick a world, then. Not Mars. Too close, and there were still those ex-human beings running around there. Don't want to interfere with them.

Sam chose Titan, the sixth moon of Saturn. It was plenty big enough; it had a diameter of 3650 miles. It had an atmosphere of sorts, mostly methane. He liked the name.

Besides, think of the view.

It was beyond human engineering skill to convert Titan into a replica of Mother Earth in her better days. Tough, but that's the way the spheroid rebounds.

However, with atomic power generated on Titan a great deal could be done. It was, in fact, titanic.

The life-support pods-enormous energy shields-made it possible to create pockets in which breathable air could be born. It just required heat and water and chemical triggers and doctored plants-

A few little things.

A bit of the old technological razzle-dazzle.

Men could not live there, even under the pods. Neither could the animals that had once roamed the earth.

Sam's animals were different, though. He cut them to fit. That was one thing about genetics. When you knew enough about it, you couldmake alterations. Not many, perhaps. But enough.

Getting the picture?

Sam did not line the critters up two by two and load them into the Ark. (Noah, indeed.) He could not save them all. Some were totally gone, some were too delicate, some were outside the range of Sam's compassion. (Who needs a million kinds of bugs?) He did what he could, within the time he had.

He sent sex cells, sperm and ova, one hundred sets for each species. (Was that what was in the box? Yes, Junior.) Animals learn some things, some more than others, but most of what they do is born into them. Instinct, if you like. There was a staggering amount of information in that little box.

The problem was to get it out.

Parents have their uses, sometimes.

But robots will do, if you build them right. You can build a long, long program into a computer. You can stockpile food for a few years.

So-get the joint ready. Then bring down the ship and reseal the pods. Activate-the mechanisms. Fertilize the eggs Subdivide the zygotes. Put out the incubators. Pill the pens.

And turn 'em loose.

Look out, world.

That was what Sam Gregg did with his money.

They didn't actually execute him, the good people of Earth. There was not even a formal trial. They just confiscated what was left of his money and put him away in a Nice Place with the other crazies.

It would be pleasant to report that Sam died happy and that his dust was peaceful in its urn. In fact, Sam was sorry to go and he was even a little bitter.

If he could have known somehow, he might-or might not-have been more pleased.

Millions of lonely miles from the dead earth, she floated there in the great nothing. Beneath the shimmering pods that would last for thousands of years, a part of her was cool rather than cold, softer than the naked rocks, flashed with green.

Saturn hovered near the horizon, white and frozen and moonlike.

The ancient lifeways acted out their tiny dramas, strange under an alien sky. They had changed little, most of them.

There was one exception,

It might have been the radiation.

Then again, the raccoon had always been a clever animal. He had adroit hands, and he could use them. He had alert eyes, a quick intelligence. He could learn things, and on occasion he could pass on what he knew.

Within ten generations, he had fashioned a crude chopping tool out of flaked stone.

Within twenty, he had built a fire.

That beat man's record by a considerable margin, and the point was not lost on those who watched.

A short time later, the dog showed up, out in the shadows cast by the firelight. He whined. He thumped his shaggy tail. He oozed friendship.

The raccoons ignored him for a few nights. They huddled together, dimply proud of what they had done. They thought it over.

Eventually, one of the raccoons threw him a bloody bone, and the dog came in.

Don't like the ending?

A trifle stark?

Is there no way we can communicate with them from out of the past? Can't we say something, a few words, now that we are finished?

Ah, man. Ever the wishful thinker.

Still talking.

Sam had tried. He was human; he made the gesture.

There was a small plaque still visible on the outside of the silent ship that had brought them here. It was traditional in spaceflights, but Sam had done it anyhow.

It could not be read, of course.

It could not be deciphered, ever.

But it was there.

It said the only words that had seemed appropriate to Sam:

Good luck, old friends.



Part 4. Humanity Destroyed

The New Atlantis

by Ursula K. Le Guin

History Lesson

by Arthur C. Clarke

Seeds of the Dusk

by Raymond Z. Gallun

Dark Benediction

by Walter M. Miller, Jr,

<p>Part 4. Humanity Destroyed</p>

 Earth might maintain its physical structure reasonably intact and still become uninhabitable in a "Catastrophe of the Fourth Class."

 Of course, the least stable portion of the Earth is its crust, which is divided into half a dozen large plates and a number of smaller ones. These move against each other, crushing together or pulling apart at the joints, or One slipping under the other-prevented from destroying us only by the extreme slowness of the process. And yet for drama's sake, we can imagine the changes becoming more rapid ("The New Atlantis" by Ursula K. Le Guin),

 Closer to reality-is the fact that over the last million years, our planet has been undergoing periodic ice ages. It seems almost certain that there will be additional ice ages and that the glaciers will come grinding down again in some tens of thousands of years. What if the next ice age is a particularly bad one? And what will be left to bear testimony to the existence of humanity ("History Lesson" by Arthur C. Clarke)?

 Nor may it be inanimate changes that will destroy humanity. It may be other life forms. To be sure, human beings have established their dominion over the Earth fas they were directed to do in the first chapter of Genesis) but other life forms may evolve and grow more intelligent; or life forms may come across the void of space ("Seeds of the Dusk" by Raymond Z. Gallun).

 The difficulty might be not with anything intelligent but with our great enemy, the pathogenic microorganism. The greatest catastrophe humanity ever suffered was the Black Death in the fourteenth century. As late as the mid-1970s, "Legionnaire's disease" put a fright into us. What else might happen ("Dark Benediction" by Walter M. Miller, Jr.)?

<p>The New Atlantis</p> <p>by Ursula K. Le Guin</p>

Coming back from my Wilderness Week I sat by an odd sort of man in the bus. For a long time we didn't talk; I was mending stockings and he was reading. Then the bus broke down a few miles outside Gresham. Boiler trouble, the way it generally is when the driver insists on trying to go over thirty. It was a Supersonic Superscenic Deluxe Longdistance coal-burner, with Home Comfort, that means a toilet, and the seats were pretty comfortable, at least those that hadn't yet worked loose from their bolts, so everybody waited inside the bus; besides, it was raining. We began talking, the way people do when there's a breakdown and a wait. He held up his pamphlet and tapped it-he was a dry-looking man with a schoolteacherish way of using his hands-and said, "This is interesting. I've been reading that a new continent is rising from the depths of the sea."

The blue stockings were hopeless. You have to have something besides holes to darn onto. "Which sea?"

"They're not sure yet. Most specialists think the Atlantic. But there's evidence it may be happening in the Pacific, too."

"Won't the oceans get a little crowded?" I said, not taking it seriously. I was a bit snappish, because of the breakdown and because those blue stockings had been good warm ones.

He tapped the pamphlet again and shook his head, quite serious. "No," he said. "The old continents are sinking, to make room for the new. You can see that that is happening."

You certainly can. Manhattan Island is now under eleven feet of water at low tide, and there are oyster beds in Ghir-ardelli Square,

"I thought that was because the oceans are rising from polar melt."

He shook his head again. "That is a factor. Due to the greenhouse effect of pollution, indeed Antarctica may become inhabitable. But climatic factors will not explain the emergence of the new-or, possibly, very old-continents in the Atlantic and Pacific." He went on explaining about continental drift, but I liked the idea of inhabiting Antarctica and daydreamed about it for a while. I thought of it as very empty, very quiet, all white and blue, with a faint golden glow northward from the unrising sun behind the long peak of Mount Erebus. There were a few people there; they were very quiet, too, and wore white tie and tails. Some of them carried oboes and violas. Southward the white land went up in a long silence toward the Pole.

Just the opposite, in fact, of the Mount Hood Wilderness Area. It had been a tiresome vacation: The other women in the dormitory were all right, but it was macaroni for breakfast, and there were so many organized sports. I had looked forward to the hike up to the National Forest Preserve, the largest forest left in the United States, but the trees didn't look at all the way they do in the postcards and brochures and Federal Beautification Bureau advertisements. They were spindly, and they all had little signs on saying which union they had been planted by. There were actually a lot more green picnic tables and cement Men's and Women's than there were trees. There was an electrified fence all around the forest to keep out unauthorized persons. The forest ranger talked about mountain jays, "bold little robbers," he said, "who will come and snatch the sandwich from your very hand," but I didn't see any, Perhaps because that was the weekly Watch Those Surplus Calories! Day for all the women, and so we didn't have any sandwiches. If I'd seen a mountain jay I might have snatched the sandwich from his very hand, who knows. Anyhow it was an exhausting week, and I wished I'd stayed home and practiced, even though I'd have lost a week's pay because staying home and practicing the viola doesn't count as planned implementation of recreational leisure as defined by the Federal Union of Unions.

When I came back from my Antarctican expedition, the man was reading again, and I got a look at his pamphlet; and that was the odd part of it. The pamphlet was called "Increasing Efficiency in Public Accountant Training Schools," and I could see from the one paragraph I got a glance at that there was nothing about new continents emerging from the ocean depths in it-nothing at all.

Then we had to get out and walk on into Gresham, because they had decided that the best thing for us all to do was get onto the Greater Portland Area Rapid Public Transit Lines, since there had been so many breakdowns that the charter bus company didn't have any more buses to send out to pick us up. The walk was wet, and rather dull, except when we passed the Cold Mountain Commune. They have a wall around it to keep out unauthorized persons, and a big neon sign out front saying COLD MOUNTAIN COMMUNE and there were some people in authentic jeans and ponchos by the highway selling macrame belts and sandcast candies and soybean bread to the tourists. In Gresham, I took the 4:40 GPARPTL Superjet Flyer train to Burnside and East 230th, and then walked to 217th and got the bus to the Goldschmidt Overpass, and transferred to the shuttlebus, but it had boiler trouble, so I didn't reach the downtown transfer point until ten after eight, and the buses go on a once-an-hour schedule at 8:00, so I got a meatless hamburger at the Longhorn Inch-Thick Steak House Dinerette and caught the nine o'clock bus and got home about ten. When I let myself into the apartment I flipped the switch to turn on the lights, but there still weren't any. There had been a power outage in West Portland for three weeks. So I went feeling about for the candles in the dark, and it was a minute or so before I noticed that somebody was lying on my bed.

I panicked, and tried again to turn the lights on.

It was a man, lying there in a long thin heap. I thought a burglar had got in somehow while I was away and died. I opened the door so I could get out quick or at least my yells could be heard, and then I managed not to shake long enough to strike a match, and lighted the candle, and came a little closer to the bed.

The light disturbed him. He made a sort of snorting in his throat and turned his head. I saw it was a stranger, but I knew his eyebrows, then the breadth of his closed eyelids, then I saw my husband.

He woke up while I was standing there over him with the candle in my hand. He laughed and said still half-asleep, "Ah, Psyche! From the regions which are holy land."

Neither of us made much fuss. It was unexpected, but it did seem so natural for him to be there, after all, much more natural than for him not be there, and he was too tired to be very emotional. We lay there together in the dark, and he explained that they had released him from the Rehabilitation Camp early because he had injured his back in an accident in the gravel quarry, and they were afraid it might get worse.

If he died there it wouldn't be good publicity abroad, since there have been some nasty rumors about deaths from illness in the Rehabilitation Camps and the Federal Medical Association Hospitals, and there are scientists abroad who have heard of Simon, since somebody published his proof of Gold-bach's Hypothesis in Peking, So they let him out early, with eight dollars in his pocket, which is what he had in his pocket when they arrested him, which made it, of course, fair. He had walked and hitched home from Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, with a couple of days in jail in Walla Walla for being caught hitchhiking. He almost fell asleep telling me this, and when he had told me, he did fall asleep. He needed a change of clothes and a bath but I didn't want to wake him. Besides, I was tired, too. We lay side by side and his head was on my arm. I don't suppose that I have ever been so happy. No; was it happiness? Something wider and darker, more like knowledge, more like the night: joy.

It was dark for so long, so very long. We were all blind. And there was the cold, a vast, unmoving, heavy cold. We could not move at all. We did not move. We did not speak. Our mouths were closed, pressed shut by the cold and by the weight. Our eyes were pressed shut. Our limbs were held still. Our minds were held still. For how long? There was no length of time; how long is death? And is one dead only after living, or before life as well? Certainly we thought, if we thought anything, that we were dead; but if we had ever been alive, we had forgotten it.

There was a change. It must have been the pressure that changed first, although we did not know it. The eyelids are sensitive to touch. They must have been weary of being shut. When the pressure upon them weakened a little, they opened. But there was no way for us to know that. It was too cold for us to feel anything. There was nothing to be seen. There was black.

But then-"'then," for the event created time, created before and after, near and far, now and then-"then" there was the light. One light. One small, strange light that passed slowly, at what distance we could not tell. A small, greenish white, slightly blurred point of radiance, passing.

Our eyes were certainly open, "then," for we saw it. We saw the moment. The moment in a point of light. Whether in darkness or in the field of all light, the moment is small, and moves, but not quickly. And "then" it is gone.

It did not occur to us that there might be another moment. There was no reason to assume that there might be more than one. One was marvel enough: that in all the field of the dark, in the cold, heavy, dense, moveless, timeless, placeless, boundless black, there should have occurred, once, a small slightly blurred, moving light! Time need be created only once, we thought.

But we were mistaken. The difference between one and more than one is all the difference in the world. Indeed, that difference is the world.

The light returned.

The same light, or another one? There was no telling.

But, "this time," we wondered about the light: Was it small and near to us, or large and far away? Again there was no telling; but there was something about the way it moved, a trace of hesitation, a tentative quality, that did not seem proper to anything large and remote. The stars, for instance. We began to remember the stars.

The stars had never hesitated.

Perhaps the noble certainty of their gait had been a mere effect of distance. Perhaps in fact they had hurtled wildly, enormous furnace-fragments of a primal bomb thrown through the cosmic dark; but time and distance soften all agony. If the universe, as seems likely, began with an act of destruction, the "Stars we had used to see told no tales of it. They had been implacably serene.

The planets, however… We began to remember the planets. They had suffered certain changes both of appearance and of course. At certain times of the year Mars would reverse its direction and go backward through the stars. Venus had been brighter and less bright as she went through her phases of crescent, full, and wane. Mercury had shuddered like a skidding drop of rain on the sky flushed with daybreak. The light we now watched had that erratic, trembling quality. We saw it, unmistakably, change direction and go backward. It then grew smaller and fainter; blinked-an eclipse?-and slowly disappeared.

Slowly, but not slowly enough for a planet.

Then-the third "then!"-arrived the indubitable and positive Wonder of the World, the Magic Trick, watch now, watch, you will not believe your eyes, mama, mama, look what I can do-

Seven lights in a row, proceeding fairly rapidly, with a darting movement, from left to right. Proceeding less rapidly from right to left, two dimmer, greenish lights. Two-lights halt, blink, reverse course, proceed hastily and in a wavering manner from left to right. Seven-lights increase speed, and catch up. Two-lights flash desperately, flicker, and are gone.

Seven-lights hang still for some while, then merge gradually into one streak, veering away, and little by little vanish into the immensity of the dark.

But in the dark now are growing other lights, many of them: lamps, dots, rows, scintillations-some near at hand, some far. Like the stars, yes, but not stars. It is not the great Existences we are seeing, but only the little lives.

In the morning Simon told me something about the Camp, but not until after he had had me check the apartment for bugs. I thought at first he had been given behavior mod and gone paranoid. We never had been infested. And I'd been living alone for a year and a half; surely they didn't want to hear me talking to myself? But he said, "They may have been expecting me to come here."

"But they let you go free!"

He just lay there and laughed at me. So I checked everywhere we could think of. I didn't find any bugs, but it did look as if somebody had gone through the bureau drawers while I was away in the Wilderness. Simon's papers were all at Max's, so that didn't matter. I made tea on the Primus, and washed and shaved Simon with the extra hot water in the kettle-he had a thick beard and wanted to get rid of it because of the lice he had brought from Camp-and while we were doing that he told me about the Camp. In fact he told me very little, but not much was necessary.

He had lost about 20 pounds. As he only weighed 140 to start with, this left little to go on with. His knees and wrist bones stuck out like rocks under the skin. His feet were all swollen and chewed-looking from the Camp boots; he hadn't dared take the boots off, the last three days of walking, because he was afraid he wouldn't be able to get them back on. When he had to move or sit up so I could wash him, he shut his eyes.

"Am I really here?" he asked. "Am I here?"

"Yes," I said. "You are here. What I don't understand is how you got here."

"Oh, it wasn't bad so long as I kept moving. All you need is to know where you're going-to have someplace to go. You know, some of the people in Camp, if they'd let them go, they wouldn't have had that. They couldn't have gone anywhere. Keeping moving was the main thing. See, my back's all seized up, now."

When he had to get up to go to the bathroom he moved like a ninety-year-old. He couldn't stand straight, but was all bent out of shape, and shuffled. I helped him put on clean clothes. When he lay down on the bed again, a sound of pain came out of him, like tearing thick paper. I went around the room putting things away. He asked me to come sit by him and said I was going to drown him if I went on crying. "You'll submerge the entire North American continent," he said. I can't remember what he said, but he made me laugh finally. It is hard to remember things Simon says, and hard not to laugh when he says them. This is not merely the partiality of affection: He makes everybody laugh. I doubt that he intends to. It is just that a mathematician's mind works differently from other people's. Then when they laugh, that pleases him.

It was strange, and it is strange, to be thinking about "him," the man I have known for ten years, the same man, while "he" lay there changed out of recognition, a different man. It is enough to make you understand why most languages have a word like "soul." There are various degrees of death, and time spares us none of them. Yet something endures, for which a word is needed.

I said what I had not been able to say for a year and a half: "I was afraid they'd brainwash you."

He said, "Behavior mod is expensive. Even just the drugs. They save it mostly for the VIPs. But I'm afraid they got a notion I might be important after all. I got questioned a lot the last couple of months. About my 'foreign contacts.'" He snorted. "The stuff that got published abroad, I suppose. So I want to be careful and make sure it's just a Camp again next time, and not a Federal Hospital."

"Simon, were they… are they cruel, or just righteous?"

He did not answer for a while. He did not want to answer. He knew what I was asking. He knew by what thread hangs hope, the sword, above our heads.

"Some of them…" he said at last, mumbling.

Some of them had been cruel. Some of them had enjoyed their work. You cannot blame everything on society,

"Prisoners, as well as guards," he said.

You cannot blame everything on the enemy.

"Some of them, Belle," he said with energy, touching my hand-"some of them, there were men like gold there-"

The thread is tough; you cannot cut it with one stroke.

"What have you been playing?" he asked.

"Forrest, Schubert."

"With the quartet?"

"Trio, now. Janet went to Oakland with a new lover."

"Ah, poor Max."

"It's just as well, really. She isn't a good pianist."

I make Simon laugh, too, though I don't intend to. We talked until it was past time for me to go to work. My shift since the Full Employment Act last year is ten to two. I am an inspector in a recycled paper bag factory. I have never rejected a bag yet; the electronic inspector catches all the defective ones first. It is a rather depressing job. But it's only four hours a day, and it takes more time than that to go through all the lines and physical and mental examinations, and fill out all the forms, and talk to all the welfare counselors and inspectors every week in order to qualify as Unemployed, and then line up every day for the ration stamps and the dole. Simon thought I ought to go to work as usual. I tried to, but I couldn't. He had felt very hot to the touch when I kissed him goed-bye. I went instead and got a black-market doctor. A girl at the factory had recommended her, for an abortion, if I ever wanted one without going through the regulation two years of sex-depressant drugs the fed-meds make you take when they give you an abortion. She was a jeweler's assistant in a shop on Alder Street, and the girl said she was convenient because if you didn't have enough cash you could leave something in pawn at the jeweler's as payment. Nobody ever does have enough cash, and of course credit cards aren't worth much on the black market.

The doctor was willing to come at once, so we rode home on the bus together. She gathered very soon that Simon and I were married, and it was funny to see her look at us and smile like a cat. Some people love illegality for its own sake. Men, more often than women. It's men who make laws, and enforce them, and break them, and think the whole performance is wonderful. Most women would rather just ignore them. You could see that this woman, like a man, actually enjoyed breaking them. That may have been what put her into an illegal business in the first place, a preference for the shady side. But there was more to it than that. No doubt she'd wanted to be a doctor, too; and the Federal Medical Association doesn't admit women into the medical schools. She probably got her training as some other doctor's private pupil, under the counter. Very much as Simon learned mathematics, since the universities don't teach much but Business Administration and Advertising and Media Skills any more. However she learned it, she seemed to know her stuff. She fixed up a kind of homemade traction device for Simon very handily and informed him that if he did much more walking for two months he'd be crippled the rest of his life, but if he behaved himself he'd just be more or less lame. It isn't the kind of thing you'd expect to be grateful for being told, but we both were. Leaving, she gave me a bottle of about two hundred plain white pills, unlabeled. "Aspirin," she said. "He'll be in a good deal of pain off and on for weeks."

I looked at the bottle. I had never seen aspirin before, only the Super-Buffered Pane-Gon and the Triple-Power N-L-G-Zic and the Extra-Strength Apansprin with the miracle ingredient more doctors recommend, which the fed-meds always give you prescriptions for, to be filled at your FMA-approved private enterprise friendly drugstore at the low, low prices established by the Pure Food and Drug Administration in order to inspire competitive research.

"Aspirin," the doctor repeated. "The miracle ingredient more doctors recommend." She cat-grinned again. I think she liked us because we were living in sin. That bottle of black-market aspirin was probably worth more than the old Navajo bracelet I pawned for her fee.

I went out again to register Simon as 'temporarily domiciled at my address and to apply for Temporary Unemployment Compensation ration stamps for him. They, only give them to you for two weeks and you have to come every day; but to register him as Temporarily Disabled meant getting the signatures of two fed-meds, and I thought I'd rather put that off for a while. It took three hours to go through the lines and get the forms he would have to fill out, and to answer the 'crats' questions about why he wasn't there in person. They smelled something fishy. Of course it's hard for them to prove that two people are married and aren't just adultering if you move now and then and your friends help out by sometimes registering one of you as living at their address; but they had all the back files on both of us and it was obvious that we had been around each other for a suspiciously long time. The State really does make things awfully hard for itself. It must have been simpler to enforce the laws back when marriage was legal and adultery was what got you into trouble. They only had to catch you once. But I'll bet people broke the law just as often then as they do now.

The lantern-creatures came close enough at last that we could see not only their light, but their bodies in. the illumination of their light. They were not pretty. They were dark colored, most often a dark red, and they were all mouth. They ate one another whole. Light light all swallowed together in the vaster mouth of the darkness. They moved slowly, for nothing, however small and hungry, could move fast under that weight, in that cold. Their eyes, round with fear, were never closed. Their bodies were tiny and bony behind the gaping jaws. They wore queer, ugly decorations on their lips and skulls: fringes, serrated wattles, featherlike fronds, gauds, bangles, lures. Poor little sheep of the deep pastures! Poor ragged, hunch-jawed dwarfs squeezed to the bone by the weight of the darkness, chilled to the bone by the cold of the darkness, tiny monsters burning with bright hunger, who brought us bock to life!

Occasionally, in the wan, sparse illumination of one of the lantern-creatures, we caught a momentary glimpse of other, large, unmoving shapes: the barest suggestion, off in the distance, not of a wall, nothing so solid and certain as a wall, but of a surface, an angle… Was it there?

Or something would glitter, faint, far off, far down. There was no use trying to make out what it might be. Probably it was only a fleck of sediment, mud or mica, disturbed by a struggle between the lantern-creatures, flickering like a bit of diamond dust as it rose and settled slowly. In any case, we could not move to go see what it was. We had not even the cold, narrow freedom of the lantern-creatures. We were immobilized, borne down, still shadows among the half-guessed shadow walls. Were we there?

The lantern-creatures showed no awareness of us. They passed before us, among us, perhaps even through us-it was impossible to be sure. They were not afraid, or curious.

Once something a little larger than a hand came crawling near, and for a moment we saw quite distinctly the clean angle where the foot of a wall rose from the pavement, in the glow cast by the crawling creature, which was covered with a foliage of plumes, each plume dotted with many tiny, bluish paints of light. We saw the pavement beneath the creature and the wall beside it, heartbreaking in its exact, clear linearity, its opposition to all that was fluid, random, vast, and void. We saw the creature's claws, slowly reaching out and retracting like small stiff fingers, touch the wall. Its plumage of light quivering, it dragged itself along and vanished behind the corner of the wall.

So we knew that the wall was there; and that it was an outer wall, a housefront, perhaps, or the side of one of the towers of the city.

We remembered the towers. We remembered the city. We had forgotten it. We had forgotten who we were; but we remembered the city, now.

When I got home, the FBI had already been there. The computer at the police precinct where I registered Simon's address must have flashed it right over to the computer at the FBI building. They had questioned Simon for about an hour, mostly about what he had been doing during the twelve days it took him to get from the Camp to Portland. I suppose they thought he had flown to Peking or something. Having a police record in Walla Walla for hitchhiking helped him establish his story. He told me that one of them had gone to the bathroom. Sure enough I found a bug stuck on the top of the bathroom door frame. I left it, as we figured it's really better to leave it when you know you have one, than to take it off and then never be sure they haven't planted another one you don't know about. As Simon said, if we felt we had to say something unpatriotic we could always flush the toilet at the same time.

I have a battery radio-there are so many work stoppages because of power failures, and days the water has to be boiled, and so on, that you really have to have a radio to save wasting time and dying of typhoid-and he turned it on while I was making supper on the Primus. The six o'clock All-American Broadcasting Company news announcer announced that peace was at hand in Uruguay, the president's confidential aide having been seen to smile at a passing blonde as he left the 613th day of the secret negotiations in a villa outside Katmandu. The war in Liberia was going well; the enemy said they had shot down seventeen American planes but the Pentagon said we had shot down twenty-two enemy planes, and the capital city-I forget its name, but it hasn't been inhabitable for seven years anyway-was on the verge of being recaptured by the forces of freedom. The police action in Arizona was also successful. The Neo-Birch insurgents in Phoenix cauld not hold out much longer against the massed might of the American army and air force, since their underground supply of small tactical nukes from the Weathermen in Los Angeles had been cut off. Then there was an advertisement for Ped-Cred cards, and a commercial for the Supreme Court: "Take your legal troubles to the Nine Wise Men!" Then there was something about why tariffs had gone up, and a report from the stock market, which had just closed at over two thousand, and a commercial for U.S. Government canned water, with a catchy little tune: "Don't be sorry when you drink/It's not as healthy as you think/Don't you think you really ought to/Drink coo-ool, puu-uure U.S.G. water?"- with three sopranos in close harmony on the last line. Then, just as the battery began to give out and his voice was dying away into a faraway tiny whisper, the announcer seemed to be saying something about a new continent emerging.

"What was that?"

"I didn't hear," Simon said, lying with his eyes shut and his face pale and sweaty. I gave him two aspirins before we ate. He ate little, and fell asleep while I was washing the dishes in the bathroom. I had been going to practice, but a viola is fairly wakeful in a one-room apartment. I read for a while instead. It was a best seller Janet had given me when she left. She thought it was very good, but then she likes Franz Liszt too. I don't read much since the libraries were closed down, it's too hard to get books; all you can buy is best sellers. I don't remember the title of this one, the cover just said "Ninety Million Copies in Print!!!" It was about smalltown sex life in the last century, the dear old 1970s when there weren't any problems and life was so simple and nostalgic. The author squeezed all the naughty thrills he could out of the fact that all the main characters were married. I looked at the end and saw that all the married couples shot each other after all their children became schizophrenic hookers, except for one brave pair that divorced and then leapt into bed together with a clear-eyed pair of government-employed lovers for eight pages of healthy group sex as a brighter future dawned. I went to bed then, too. Simon was hot, but sleeping quietly. His breathing was like the sound of soft waves far away, and I went out to the dark sea on the sound of them.

I used to go out to the dark sea, often, as a child, falling asleep. I had almost forgotten it with my waking mind. As a child all I had to do was stretch out and think, "the dark sea… the dark sea…" and soon enough I'd be there, in the great depths, rocking. But after I grew up it only happened rarely, as a great gift. To know the abyss of the darkness and not to fear it, to entrust oneself to it and whatever may arise from it-what greater gift?

We watched the tiny lights come and go around us, and doing so, we gained a sense of space and of direction-near and far, at least, and higher and lower. It was that sense of space that allowed us to became aware of the currents. Space was no longer entirely still around us, suppressed by the enormous pressure of its own weight. Very dimly we were aware that the cold darkness moved, slowly, softly, pressing against us a little for a long time, then ceasing, in a vast oscillation. The empty darkness flowed slowly along our unmoving unseen bodies; along them, past them; perhaps through them; we could not tell.

Where did they come from, those dim, slow, vast tides? What pressure or attraction stirred the deeps to these slow drifting movements? We could not understand that; we could only feel their touch against us, but in straining our sense to guess their origin or end, we became aware of something else: something out there in the darkness of the great currents: sounds. We listened. We heard.

So our sense of space sharpened and localized to a sense of place. For sound is local, as sight is not. Sound is delimited by silence; and it does not rise out of the silence unless it is fairly close, both in space and in time. Though we stand where once the singer stood we cannot hear the voice singing; the-years have carried it off on their tides, submerged it. Sound is a fragile thing, a tremor, as delicate as life itself. We may see the stars, but we cannot hear them. Even were the hollowness of outer space an atmosphere, an ether that transmitted the waves of sound, we could not hear the stars; they are too far away. At most if we listened we might hear our own sun, all the mighty, roiling, exploding storm of its burning, as a whisper at the edge of hearing.

A sea wave laps one's feet: It is the shock wave of a volcanic eruption on the far side of the world. But one hears nothing.

A red light flickers on the horizon: It is the reflection in smoke of a city on the distant mainland, burning. But one hears nothing.

Only on the slopes of the volcano? in the suburbs of the city, does one begin to hear the deep thunder, and the high voices crying.

Thus, when we became aware that we were hearing, we were sure that the sounds we heard were fairly close to us. And yet we may have been quite wrong. For we were, in a strange place, a deep place. Sound travels fast and far in the deep places, and the silence there is perfect, letting the least noise be heard for hundreds of miles.

And these were not small noises. The lights were tiny, but the sounds were vast: not loud, but very large. Often they were below the range of hearing, long slow vibrations rather than sounds, The first we heard seemed to us to rise up through the currents from beneath us immense groans, sighs felt along the bone, a rumbling, a deep uneasy whispering.

Later, certain sounds came down to us from above, or borne along the endless levels of the darkness, and these were stranger yet, for they were music. A huge, calling, yearning music from far away in the darkness, calling not to us. Where are you? I am here.

Not to us.

They were the voices of the great souls, the great lives, the lonely ones, the voyagers. Calling. Not often answered. Where are you? Where have you gone?

But the bones, the keels and girders of white bones on icy isles of the South, the shores of bones did not reply.

Nor could we reply. But we listened, and the tears rose in our eyes, salt, not so salt as the oceans, the world-girdling deep bereaved currents, the abandoned roadways of the great lives; not so salt, but warmer.

I am here. Where have you gone?

No answer.

Only the whispering thunder from below. But we knew now, though we could not answer, we knew because we heard, because we felt, because we wept, we knew that we were; and we remembered other voices.

Max came the next night. I sat on the toilet lid to practice, with the bathroom door shut. The FBI men on the other end of the bug got a solid half hour of scales and doublestops, and then a quite good performance of the Hindemith unaccompanied viola sonata. The bathroom being very small and all hard surfaces, the noise I made was really tremendous. Not a good sound, far too much echo, but the sheer volume was contagious, and I played louder as I went on. The man up above knocked on his floor once; but if I have to listen to the weekly All-American Olympic Games at full blast every Sunday morning from his TV set, then he has to accept Paul Hindemith coming up out of his toilet now and then.

When I got tired I put a wad of cotton over the bug, and came out of the bathroom half-deaf. Simon and Max were on fire. Burning, unconsumed. Simon was scribbling formulae in traction, and Max was pumping his elbows up and down the way he does, like a boxer, and saying "The e - lec - tron emis - sion…" through his npse, with his eyes narrowed, and his mind evidently going light-years per second faster than his tongue, because he kept beginning over and saying "The e - lec - tron emis - sion…" and pumping his elbows.

Intellectuals at work are very strange to look at. As strange as artists. I never could understand how an audience can sit there and look at a fiddler rolling his eyes and biting his tongue, or a horn player collecting spit, or a pianist like a black cat strapped to an electrified bench, as if what they saw had anything to do with the music.

I damped the fires with a quart of black-market beer-the legal kind is better, but I never have enough ration stamps for beer; I'm not thirsty enough to go without eating-and gradually Max and Simon cooled down. Max would have stayed talking all night, but I drove him out because Simon was looking tired.

I put a new battery in the radio and left it playing in the bathroom, and blew out the candle and lay and talked with Simon; he was too excited to sleep. He said that Max had solved the problems that were bothering them before Simon was sent to Camp, and had had fitted Simon's equations to (as Simon put it) the bare facts, which means they have achieved "direct energy conversion." Ten or twelve people have worked on it at different times since Simon published the theoretical part of it when he was twenty-two. The physicist Ann Jones had pointed out right away that the simplest practical application of the theory would be to build a "sun tap," a device for collecting and storing solar energy, only much cheaper and better than the U.S.G. Sola-Heetas that some rich people have on their houses. And it would have been simple only they kept hitting the same snag. Now Max has got around the snag.

I said that Simon published the theory, but that is inaccurate. Of course he's never been able to publish any of his papers, in print; he's not a federal employee and doesn't have a government clearance. But it did get circulated in what the scientists and poets call Sammy's-dot, that is, just handwritten or hectographed. It's an old joke that the FBI arrests everybody with purple fingers, because they have either been hectographing Sammy's-dots, or they have impetigo.

Anyhow, Simon was on top of the mountain that night. His true joy is in the pure math; but he had been working with Clara and Max and the others in this effort to materialize the theory for ten years, and a taste of material victory is a good thing, once in a lifetime.

I asked him to explain what the sun tap would mean to the masses, with me as a representative mass. He explained that it means we can tap solar energy for power, using a device that's easier to build than ajar battery. The efficiency and storage capacity are such that about ten minutes of sunlight will power an apartment complex like ours, heat and lights and elevators and all, for twenty-four hours; and no pollution, particulate, thermal, or radioactive. "There isn't any danger of using up the sun?" I asked. He took it soberly- it was a stupid question, but after all not so long ago people thought there wasn't any danger of using up the earth-and said no, because we wouldn't be pulling out energy, as we did when we mined and lumbered and split atoms, but just using the energy that comes to us anyhow: as the plants, the trees and grass and rosebushes, always have done. "You could call it Flower Power," he said. He was high, high up on the mountain, ski-jumping in the sunlight.

"The State owns us," he said, "because the corporative State has a monopoly on power sources, and there's not enough power to go around. But now, anybody could build a generator on their roof that would furnish enough power to light a city."

I looked out the window at the dark city.

"We could completely decentralize industry and agriculture. Technology could serve life instead of serving capital. We could each run our own life. Power is power!… The State is a machine. We could unplug the machine, now. Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. But that's true only when there's a price on power. When groups can keep the power to themselves; when they can use physical power-to in order to exert spiritual power-over; when might makes right. But if power is free? If everybody is equally mighty? Then everybody's got to find a better way of showing that he's right…"

"That's what Mr. Nobel thought when he invented dynamite," I said. "Peace on earth."

He slid down the sunlit slope a couple of thousand feet and stopped beside me in a spray of snow, smiling. "Skull at the banquet," he said, "finger writing on the wall. Be still! Look, don't you see the sun shining on the Pentagon, all the roofs are off, the sun shines at last into the corridors of power…And they shrivel up, they wither away. The green grass grows through the carpets of the Oval Room, the Hot Line is disconnected for nonpayment of the bill. The first thing we'll do is build an electrified fence outside the electrified fence around the White House. The inner one prevents unauthorized persons from getting in. The outer one will prevent authorized persons from getting out…"

Of course he was bitter. Not many people come out of prison sweet.

But it was cruel, to be shown this great hope, and to know-that there was no hope for it. He did know that. He knew it right along. He knew that there was no mountain, that he was skiing on the wind.

The tiny lights of the lantern-creatures died out one by one, sank away. The distant lonely voices were silent. The cold, slow currents flowed, vacant, only shaken from time to time by a shifting in the abyss.

It was dark again, and no voice spoke. All dark, dumb, cold.

Then the sun rose.

It was not like the dawns we had begun to remember: the change, manifold and subtle, in the smell and touch of the air; the hush that, instead of sleeping, wakes, holds still, and waits; the appearance of objects, looking gray, vague, and new, as if just created-distant mountains against the eastern sky, one's own hands, the hoary grass full of dew and shadow, the fold in the gdge of a curtain hanging by the window-and then, before one is quite sure that one is indeed seeing again, that the light has returned, that day is breaking, the first, abrupt, sweet stammer of a waking bird. And after that the chorus, voice by voice: This is my nest, this is my tree, this is my egg, this is my day, this ig my Life, here I am, here I am, hurray for me! I'm here!-No, it wasn't like that at all, this dawn. It was completely silent, and it was blue.

In the dawns that we had begun to remember, one did not become aware of the light itself, but of the separate objects touched by the light, the things, the world. They were there, visible again, as if visibility were their own property, not a gift from the rising sun,

In this,dawn, there was nothing but the light itself. Indeed there was not even light, we would have said, but only color: blue.

There was no compass bearing to it. It was not brighter in the east. There was no east or west. There was only up and down, below and above. Below was dark. The blue light came from above. Brightness fell. Beneath, where the shaking thunder had stilled, the brightness died away through violet into blindness.

We, arising, watched light fall.

In a way it was more like an ethereal snowfall than like a sunrise. The light seemed to be in discrete particles, infinitesimal flecks, slowly descending, faint, fainter than flecks of fine snow on a dark night, and tinier; but blue. A soft, penetrating blue tending to the violet, the color of the shadows in an iceberg, the color of a streak of sky between gray clouds on a winter afternoon before snow: faint in intensity but vivid in hue: the color of the remote, the color of the cold, the color farthest from the sun.

On Saturday night they held a scientific congress in our room. Clara and Max came, of course, and the engineer Phil Drum and three others who had worked on the sun tap. Phil Drum was very pleased with himself because he had actually built one of the things, a solar cell, and brought it along. I don't think it had occurred to either Max or Simon to build one. Once they knew it could be done they were satisfied and wanted to get on with something else. But Phil unwrapped his baby with a lot of flourish, and people made remarks like, "Mr. Watson, will you come here a minute," and "Hey, Wilbur, you're off the ground!" and "I say, nasty mould you've got there, Alec, why don't you throw it out?" and "Ugh, ugh, burns, burns, wow, ow," the latter from Max, who does look a little pre-Mousterian. Phil explained that he had exposed the cell for one minute at four in the afternoon up in Washington Park during a light rain. The lights were back on on the West Side since Thursday, so we could test it without being conspicuous.

We turned off the lights, after Phil had wired the table-lamp cord to the cell. He turned on the lamp switch. The bulb came on, about twice as bright as before, at its full forty watts-city power of course was never full strength. We all looked at it. It was a dime-store table lamp with a metallized gold base and a white plasticloth shade.

"Brighter than a thousand suns," Simon murmured from the bed.

"Could it be," said Clara Edmonds, "that we physicists have known sin-and have come out the other side?"

"It really wouldn't be any good at all for making bombs with," Max said dreamily.

"Bombs," Phil Drum said with scorn. "Bombs are obsolete. Don't you realize that we could move a mountain with this kind of power? I mean pick up Mount Hood, move it, and set it down. We could thaw Antarctica, we could freeze the Congo. We could sink a continent. Give me a fulcrum and I'll move the world. Well, Archimedes, you've got your fulcrum. The sun."

"Christ," Simon said, "the radio, Belle!"

The bathroom door was shut and I had put cotton over the bug, but he was right; if they were going to go ahead at this rate there had better be some added static. And though I liked watching their faces in the clear light of the lamp- they all had good, interesting faces, well worn, like the handles of wooden tools or the rocks in a running stream-I did not much want to listen to them talk tonight. Not because I wasn't a scientist, that made no difference. And not because I disagreed or disapproved or disbelieved anything they said. Only because it grieved me terribly, their talking. Because they couldn't rejoice aloud over a job done and a discovery made, but had to hide there and whisper about it. Because they couldn't go out into the sun.

I went into the bathroom with my viola and sat on the toilet lid and did a long set of sautille exercises. Then I tried to work at the Forrest trio, but it was too assertive. I played the solo part from Harold in Italy, which is beautiful, but it wasn't quite the right mood either. They were still going strong in the other room. I began to improvise.

After a few minutes in E-minor the light over the shaving mirror began to flicker and dim; then it died. Another outage, The table lamp in the other room did not go out, being connected with the sun, not with the twenty-three atomic fission plants that power the Greater Portland Area. Within two seconds somebody had switched it off, too, so that we shouldn't be the only window in the West Hills left alight; and I could hear them rooting for candles and rattling matches. I went on improvising in the dark. Without light, when you couldn't see all the hard shiny surfaces of things, the sound seemed softer and less muddled. I went on, and it began to shape up. All the laws of harmonics sang together when the bow came down. The strings of the viola were the cords of my own voice, tightened by sorrow, tuned to the pitch of joy. The melody created itself out of air and energy, it raised up the valleys, and the mountains and hills were made low, and the crooked straight, and the rough places plain. And the music went out to the dark sea and sang in the darkness, over the abyss.

When I came out they were all sitting there and none of them was talking. Max had been crying. I could see little candle flames in the tears around his eyes. Simon lay flat on the bed in the shadows, his eyes closed, Phil Drum sat hunched over, holding the solar cell in his hands.

I loosened the pegs, put the bow and the viola in the case, and cleared my throat. It was embarrassing. I finally said, I'm sorry."

One of the women spoke: Rose Abramski, a private student. of Simon's, a big shy woman who could hardly speak at all unless it was in mathematical symbols. "I saw it," she said. I saw it. I saw the white towers, and the water streaming down their sides, and running back down to the sea. And the sunlight shining in the streets, after ten thousand years of darkness."

"I heard them," Simon said, very low, from the shadow. "I heard their voices."

"Oh, Christ! Stop it!" Max cried out, and got up and went blundering out into the unlit hall, without his coat. We heard him running down the stairs.

"Phil," said Simon, lying there, "could we raise up the white towers, with our lever and our fulcrum?"

After a long silence Phil Drum answered, "We have the •power to do it."

"What else do we need?" Simon said. "What else do we need, besides power?"

Nobody answered him.

The blue changed. It became brighter, lighter, and at the same time thicker: impure. The ethereal luminosity of blue-violet turned to turquoise, intense and opaque. Still we could not have said that everything was now turquoise-colored, for there were still no things. There was nothing, except the color of turquoise.

The change continued. The opacity became veined and thinned. The dense, solid color began to appear translucent, transparent. Then it seemed as if we were in the heart of a sacred jade, or the brilliant crystal of a sapphire or an emerald.

As at the inner structure of a crystal, there was no motion. But there was something else, now, to see. It was as if we saw the motionless, elegant inward structure of the molecules of a precious stone. Planes and angles appeared about us, shadowless and clear in that even, glowing, blue-green light.

These were the walls and towers of the city, the streets, the windows, the gates.

We knew them, but we did not recognize them. We did not dare to recognize them. It had been so long. And it was so strange. We had used to dream, when we lived in this city. We had lain down, nights, in the rooms behind the windows, and slept, and dreamed. We had all dreamed of the ocean, of the deep sea. Were we not dreaming now?

Sometimes the thunder and tremor deep below us rolled again, but it was faint now, far away; as far away as our memory of the thunder and the tremor and the fire and the towers falling, long ago. Neither the sound nor the memory frightened us. We knew them.

The sapphire light brightened overhead to green, almost green-gold. We looked up. The tops of the highest towers were hard to see, glowing in the radiance of light. The streets and doorways were darker, more dearly defined.

In one of those long, jewel-dark streets something was moving-something not composed of planes and angles, but of curves and arcs. We all turned to look at it, slowly, wondering as we did so at the slow ease of our own motion, our freedom. Sinuous, with a beautiful flowing, gathering, rolling movement, now rapid and now tentative, the thing drifted across the street from a blank garden wall to the recess of a door. There, in the dark blue shadow, it was hard to see for a while. We watched. A pale blue curve appeared at the top of the doorway. A second followed, and a third. The moving thing clung or hovered there, above the door, like a swaying knot of silvery cords or a boneless hand, one arched finger pointing carelessly to something above the lintel of the door, something like itself, but motionless-a carving. A carving in jade light. A carving in stone.

Delicately and easily the long curving tentacle followed the curves of the carved figure, the eight petal-limbs, the round eyes. Did it recognize its image?

The living one swung suddenly, gathered its curves in a loose knot, and darted away down the street, swift and sinuous. Behind it a faint cloud of darker blue hung for a minute and dispersed, revealing again the carved figure above the door: the sea-flower, the cuttlefish, quick, great-eyed, graceful, evasive, the cherished sign, carved on a thousand walls, worked into the design of cornices, pavements, handles, lids of jewel boxes, canopies, tapestries, tabletops, gateways.

Down another street, about the level of the first-floor windows, came a flickering drift of hundreds of motes of silver. With a single motion all turned toward the cross street, and glittered off into the dark blue shadows.

There were shadows, now.

We looked up, up from the flight of silverfish, up from the streets where the jade-green currents flowed and the blue shadows fell. We moved and looked up, yearning, to the high towers of our city. They stood, the fallen towers. They glowed in the ever-brightening radiance, not blue or blue-green, up there, but gold. Far above them lay a vast, circular, trembling brightness: the sun's light on the surface of the sea.

We are here. When we break through the bright circle into life, the water will break and stream white down the white sides, of the towers, and run down the steep streets back into the sea. The water will glitter in dark hair, on the eyelids of dark eyes, and dry to a thin white film of salt.

We are here.

Whose voice? Who called to us?

He was with me for twelve days. On January 28th the 'crats came from the Bureau of Health, Education and Welfare and said that since he was receiving Unemployment Compensation while suffering from an untreated illness, the government must look after him and restore him to health, because health is the inalienable right of the citizens of a democracy. He refused to sign the consent forms, so the chief health officer signed them. He refused to get up, so two of the policemen pulled him up off the bed. He started to try to fight them. The chief health officer pulled his gun and said that if he continued to struggle he would shoot him for resisting welfare, and arrest me for conspiracy to defraud the government. The man who was holding my arms behind my back said they could always arrest me for unreported pregnancy with intent to form a nuclear family. At that Simon stopped trying to get free. It was really all he was trying to do, not to fight them, just to get his arms free. He looked at me, and they took him out.

He is in the federal hospital in Salem. I have not been able to find out whether he is in the regular hospital or the mental wards.

It was on'the radio again yesterday, about the rising land masses in the South Atlantic and the Western Pacific. At Max's the other night I saw a TV special explaining about geophysical stresses and subsidence and faults. The U.S. Geodetic Service is doing a lot of advertising around town, the most common one is a big billboard that says IT'S NOT OUR FAULT! with a picture of a beaver pointing to a schematic map that shows how even if Oregon has a major earthquake and subsidence as California did last month, it will not affect Portland, or only the western suburbs perhaps. The news also said that they plan to halt the tidal waves in Florida by dropping nuclear bombs where Miami was. Then they will reattach Florida to the mainland with landfill. They are already advertising real estate for housing developments on the landfill. The president is staying at the Mile High White House in Aspen, Colorado. I don't think it will do him much good. Houseboats down on the Willamette are selling for $500,000. There are no trains or buses running south from Portland, because all the highways were badly damaged by the tremors and landslides last week, so I will have to see if I can get to Salem on foot. I still have the rucksack I bought for the Mount Hood Wilderness Week. I got some dry lima beans and raisins with my Federal Pair Share Super Value Green Stamp minimal ration book for February-it took the whole book-and Phil Drum made me a tiny camp stove powered with the solar cell. I didn't want to take the Primus, it's too bulky, and I did want to be able to carry the viola. Max gave me a half pint of brandy. When the brandy is gone I expect I will stuff this notebook into the bottle and put the cap on tight and leave it on a hillside somewhere between here and Salem. I like to think of it being lifted up little fay little by the water, and rocking, and going out to the dark sea.

Where are you?

We are here. Where have you gone?


<p>History Lesson</p> <p>by Arthur C. Clarke</p>

No one could remember when the tribe had begun its long journey. The land of great rolling plains that had been its first home was now no more than a half-forgotten dream.

For many years Shann and his people had been fleeing through a country of low hills and sparkling lakes, and now the mountains lay ahead. This summer they must cross them to the southern lands. There was little time to lose. The white terror that had come down from the Poles, grinding continents to dust and freezing the very air before it, was less than a day's march behind.

Shann wondered if the glaciers could climb the mountains ahead, and within his heart he dared to kindle a little flame of hope. This might prove a barrier against which even the remorseless ice would batter in vain. In the southern lands of which the legends spoke, his people might find refuge at last.

It took weeks to discover a pass through which the tribe and the animals could travel. When midsummer came, they had camped in a lonely valley where the air was thin and the stars shone with a brilliance no one had ever seen before.

The summer was waning when Shann took his two sons and went ahead to explore the way. For three days they climbed, and for three nights slept as best they could on the freezing rocks. And on the fourth morning there was nothing ahead but a gentle rise to a cairn of gray stones built by other travelers, centuries ago.

Shann felt himself trembling, and not with cold, as they walked toward the little pyramid of stones. His sons had fallen behind. No one spoke, for too much was at stake. In a little while they would know if all their hopes had been betrayed.

To east and west, the wall of mountains curved away as if embracing the land beneath. Below lay endless miles of undulating plain, with a great river swinging across it in tremendous loops. It was a fertile land; one in which the tribe could raise crops knowing that there would be no need to flee before the harvest came.

Then Shann lifted his eyes to the south, and saw the doom of all his hopes. For there at the edge of the world glimmered that deadly light he had seen so often to the north-the glint of ice below the horizon.

There was no way forward. Through all the years of flight, the glaciers from the south had been advancing to meet them. Soon they would be crushed beneath the moving walls of ice…

Southern glaciers did not reach the mountains until a generation later. In that last summer the sons of Shann carried the sacred treasures of the tribe to the lonely cairn overlooking the plain. The ice that had once gleamed below the horizon was now almost at their feet. By spring it would be splintering against the mountain walls.

No one understood the treasures now. They were from a past too distant for the understanding of any man alive. Their origins were lost in the mists that surrounded the Golden

Age, and how they had come at last into the possession of this wandering tribe was a story that now would never be told. For it was the story of a civilization that had passed beyond recall.

Once, all these pitiful relics had been treasured for some good reason, and now they had become sacred though their meaning had long been lost. The print in the old books had faded centuries ago though much of the lettering was still visible-if there had been any to read it. But many generations had passed since anyone had had a use for a set of seven-figure logarithms, an atlas of the world, and the score of Sibelius' Seventh Symphony, printed, according to the flyleaf, by H. K. Chu and Sons, at the City of Pekin in the year 2371 A.D.

The old books were placed reverently in the little crypt that had been made to receive them. There followed a motley collection of fragments-gold and platinum coins, a broken telephoto lens, a watch, a cold light lamp, a microphone, the cutter from an electric shaver, some midget radio tubes, the flotsam that had been left behind when the great tide of civilization had ebbed forever.

All these treasures were carefully stowed away in their resting place. Then came three more relics, the most sacred of all because the least understood.

The first was a strangely shaped piece of metal, showing the coloration of intense heat. It was, in its way, the most pathetic of all these symbols from the past, for it told of man's greatest achievement and of the future he might have known. The mahogany stand on which it was mounted bore a silver plate with the inscription:


Auxiliary Igniter from Starboard Jet

Spaceship "Morning Star"

Earth-Moon, A.D. 1985


Next followed another miracle of the ancient science-a sphere of transparent plastic with strangely shaped pieces of metal embedded in it. At its centre was a tiny capsule of synthetic radio-element, surrounded by the converting screens that shifted its radiation far down the spectrum. As long as the material remained active, the sphere would be a tiny radio transmitter, broadcasting power in all directions. Only a few of these spheres had ever been made. They had been designed as perpetual beacons to mark the orbits of the asteroids. But man had never reached the asteroids and the beacons had never been used.

Last of all was a flat, circular tin, wide in comparison with its depth. It was heavily sealed, and rattled when shaken. The tribal lore predicted that disaster would follow if it were ever opened, and no one knew that it held one of the great works of art of nearly a thousand years before.

The work was finished. The two men rolled the stones back into place and slowly began to descend the mountainside. Even to the last, man had given some thought to the future and had tried to preserve something for posterity.

That winter the great waves of ice began their first assault on the mountains, attacking from north and south. The foothills were overwhelmed in the first onslaught, and the glaciers ground them into dust. But the mountains stood firm, and when the summer came the ice retreated for a while.

So, winter after winter, the battle continued, and the roar of the avalanches, the grinding of rock and the explosions of splintering ice filled the air with tumult. No war of man's had been fiercer than this, and even man's battles had not quite engulfed the globe as this had done.

At last the tidal waves of ice began to subside and to creep slowly down the flanks of the mountains they had never quite subdued. The valleys and passes were still firmly in their grip. It was stalemate. The glaciers had met their match, but their defeat was too late to be of any use to man.

So the centuries passed, and presently there happened something that must occur once at least in the history of every world in the universe, no matter how remote and lonely it may be.

The ship from Venus came five thousand years too late, but its crew knew nothing of this. While still many millions of miles away, the telescopes had seen the great shroud of ice that made Earth the most brilliant object in the sky next to the sun itself.

Here and there the dazzling sheet was marred by black specks that revealed the presence of almost buried mountains. That was all. The rolling oceans, the plains And forests, the deserts and lakes-all that had been the world of man was sealed beneath the ice, perhaps forever.

The ship closed in to Earth and established an orbit less than a thousand miles away. For five days it circled the planet, while cameras recorded all that was left to see and a hundred instruments gathered information that would give the Venusian scientists many years of work.

An actual landing was not intended. There seemed little purpose in it. But on the sixth day the picture changed. A panoramic monitor, driven to the limit of its amplification, detected the dying radiation of the five-thousand-year-old beacon. Through all the centuries, it had been sending out its signals with ever-failing strength as its radioactive heart steadily weakened.

The monitor locked on the beacon frequency. In the control room, a bell clamored for attention, A little later, the Venusian ship broke free from its orbit and slanted down toward Earth, toward a range of mountains that still towered proudly above the ice, and to a cairn of gray stones that the years had scarcely touched…

The great disc of the sun blazed fiercely in a sky no longer veiled with mist, for the clouds that had once hidden Venus had now completely gone. Whatever force had caused the change in the sun's radiation had doomed one civilization, but had given birth to another. Less than five thousand years before, the half-savage people of Venus had seen Sun and stars for the first time. Just as the science of Earth had begun with astronomy, so had that of Venus, and on the warm, rich world that man had never seen progress had been incredibly rapid.

Perhaps the Venusians had been lucky. They never knew the Dark Age that held man enchained for a thousand years. They missed the long detour into chemistry and mechanics but came at once to the more fundamental laws of radiation physics. In the time that man had taken to progress from the, Pyramids to the rocket-propelled spaceship, the Venusians had passed from the discovery of agriculture to anti-gravity itself-the ultimate secret that man had never learned.

The warm ocean that still bore most of the young planet's life rolled its breakers languidly against the sandy shore. So new was this continent that the very sands were coarse and gritty. There had not yet been time enough for the sea to wear them smooth.

The scientists lay half in the water, their beautiful reptilian bodies gleaming in the sunlight. The greatest minds of Venus had gathered on this shore from all the islands of the planet. What they were going to hear they did not yet know, except that it concerned the Third World and the mysterious race that had peopled it before the coming of the ice.

The Historian was standing on the land, for the instruments he wished to use had no love of water. By his side was a large machine which attracted many curious glances from his colleagues. It was clearly concerned with optics, for a lens system projected from it toward a screen of white material a dozen yards away.

The Historian began to speak. Briefly he recapitulated what little had been discovered concerning the Third Planet and its people.

He mentioned the centuries of fruitless research that had failed to interpret a single word of the writings of Earth. The planet had been inhabited by a race of great technical ability. That, at least, was proved by the few pieces of machinery that had been found in the cairn upon the mountain.

"We do not know why so advanced a civilization came to an end," he observed. "Almost certainly, it had sufficient knowledge to survive an Ice Age. There must have been some factor of which we know nothing. Possibly disease or racial degeneration may have been responsible. It has even been suggested that the tribal conflicts endemic to our own species in prehistoric times may have continued on the Third Planet after the coming of technology.

"Some philosophers maintain that knowledge of machinery does not necessarily imply a high degree of civilization, and it is theoretically possible to have wars in a society possessing mechanical power, flight, and even radio. Such a conception is alien to our thoughts, but we must admit its possibility. It would certainly account for the downfall of the lost race.

"It has always been assumed that we should never know anything of the physical form of the creatures who lived on Planet Three. For centuries our artists have been depicting scenes from the history of the dead world, peopling it with all manner of fantastic beings. Most of these creations have resembled us more or less closely, though it has often been pointed out that because we are reptiles it does not follow that all intelligent life must necessarily be reptilian,

"We now know the answer to one of the most baffling problems of history. At last, after a hundred years of research, we have discovered the exact form and nature of the ruling life on the Third Planet,"

There was a murmur of astonishment from the assembled scientists. Some were so taken aback that they disappeared for a while into the comfort of the ocean, as all Venusians were apt to do in moments of stress. The Historian waited until his colleagues reemerged into the element they so dis-liked. He himself was quite comfortable, thanks to the tiny sprays that were continually playing over his body. With their help he could live on land for many hours before having to return to the ocean.

The excitement slowly subsided and the lecturer continued.

"One of the most puzzling of the objects found on Planet Three was a flat metal container holding a great length of transparent plastic material, perforated at the edges and would tightly into a spool. This transparent tape at first seemed quite featureless, but an examination with the new subelectronic microscope has shown that this is not the case. Along the surface of the material, invisible to our eyes but perfectly clear under the correct radiation, are literally thousands of tiny picture It is believed that they were imprinted on the material by some chemical means, and have faded with the passage of time.

"These pictures apparently form a record of life as it was on the Third Planet at the height of its civilization. They are not independent. Consecutive pictures are almot identical, differing only in the detail of movement. The purpose of such a record is obvious. It is only necessary to project the scenes in rapid succession to give an illusion of continuous movement. We have made a machine to do this, and I have here an exact reproduction of the picture sequence.

"The scenes you are now going to witness take us back many thousands of years, to the great days of our sister planet. They show a complex civilization, many of whose activities we can only dimly understand. Life seems to have been very violent and energetic, and much that you will see is quite baffling.

"It is clear that the Third Planet was inhabited by a number of different species, none of them reptilian. That is a blow to our pride, but the conclusion is inescapable. The dominant type of life appears to have been a two-armed biped. It walked upright and covered its bodv with some flexible material, possibly for protection against the cold, since even before the Ice Age the planet was at a much lower temperature than our own world. But I will not try your patience any further. You will now see the record of which I have been speaking."

A brilliant light flashed from the projector. There was a gentle whirring, and on the screen appeared hundreds of strange beings moving rather jerkily to and fro. The picture expanded to embrace one of the creatures, and the scientists, could see that the Historian's description had been correct.

The creature possessed two eyes, set rather close together, but the other facial adornments were a little obscure. There was a large orifice in the lower portion of the head that was continually opening and closing. Possibly it had something to do with the creature's breathing.

The scientists watched spellbound as the strange being became involved in a series of fantastic adventures. There was an incredibly violent conflict with another, slightly different creature. It seemed certain that they must both be killed, but when it was all over neither seemed any the worse.

Then came a furious drive over miles of country in a four-wheeled mechanical device which was capable of extraordinary feats of locomotion. The ride ended in a city packed with other vehicles moving in all directions at breath-taking speeds. No one was surprised to see two of the machines meet headon with devastating results.

After that, events became even more complicated. It was now quite obvious that it would take many years of research to analyze and understand all that was happening. It was also clear that the record was a work of art, somewhat stylized, rather than an exact reproduction of life as it actually had been on the Third Planet.

Most of the scientists felt themselves completely dazed when the sequence of pictures came to an end. There was a final flurry of motion, in which the creature that had been the center of interest became involved in some tremendous but incomprehensible catastrophe. The picture contracted to a circle, centered on the creature's head.

The last scene of all was an expanded view of its face, obviously expressing some powerful emotion. But whether it was rage, grief, defiance, resignation or some other feeling could not be guessed. The picture vanished. For a moment some lettering appeared on the screen, then it was all over.

For several minutes there was complete, silence, save the lapping of the waves upon the sand. The scientists were too stunned to speak. The fleeting glimpse of Earth's civilization had had a shattering effect on their minds. Then little groups began to start talking together, first in whispers and then more and more loudly as the implications of what they had seen became clearer. Presently the Historian called for attention and addressed the meeting again.

"We are now planning," he said, "a vast program of research to extract all available knowledge from this record. Thousands of copies are being made for distribution to all -workers. You will appreciate the problems involved. The psychologists in particular have an immense task confronting them.

"But I do not doubt that we shall succeed. In another generation, who can say what we may not have learned of this wonderful race? Before we leave, let us look again at our remote cousins, whose wisdom may have surpassed our own but of whom so little has survived."

Once more the final picture flashed on the screen, motionless this time, for the projector had been stopped. With something like awe, the scientists gazed at the still figure from the past, while in turn the little biped stared back at them with its characteristic expression of arrogant bad temper.

For the rest of time it would symbolize the human race. The psychologists of Venus would analyze its actions and watch its every movement until they could reconstruct its mind. Thousands of books would be written about it. Intricate philosophies would be contrived to account for its behavior.

But all this labor, all this research, would be utterly in vain. Perhaps the proud and lonely figure on the screen was smiling sardonically at the scientists who were starting on their age-long fruitless quest.

Its secret would be safe as long as the universe endured, for no one now would ever read the lost language of Earth. Millions of times in the ages to come those last few words would flash across the screen, and none could ever guess their meaning:

A Walt Disney Production


<p>Seeds of the Dusk</p> <p>by Raymond Z. Gallun</p>

It was a spore, microscopic in size. Its hard shell-resistant to the utter dryness of interplanetary space-harbored a tiny bit of plant protoplasm. That protoplasm, chilled almost to absolute zero, possessed no vital pulsation now-only a grim potentiality, a savage capacity for revival, that was a challenge to Fate itself.

For years the spore had been drifting and bobbing erratically between the paths of Earth and Mars, along with billions of other spores of the same kind. Now the gravity of the Sun drew it a few million miles closer to Earth's orbit, now powerful magnetic radiations from solar vortices forced it back toward the world of its origin.

It seemed entirely a plaything of chance. And, of course, up to a point it was. But back of its erratic, unconscious wanderings, there was intelligence that had done its best to take advantage of the law of averages.

The desire for rebirth and survival was the dominant urge of this intelligence. For this was during the latter days, when Earth itself was showing definite signs of senility, and Mars was near as dead as the Moon.

Strange, intricate spore-pods, conceived as a man might conceive a new invention, but put into concrete form by a process of minutely exact growth control, had burst explosively toward a black, spacial sky. In dusty clouds the spores had been hurled upward into the vacuum thinness that had once been an extensive atmosphere. Most of them had, of course, dropped back to the red, arid soil; but a comparative few, buffeted by feeble air currents, and measured numerically in billions, had found their way from the utterly tenuous upper reaches of Mars' gaseous envelope into the empty ether of the void.

With elements of a conscious purpose added, the thing that was taking place was a demonstration of the ancient Ar-rhenius Spore Theory, which, countless ages ago, had explained the propagation of life from world to world.

The huge, wonderful parent growths were left behind, to continue a hopeless fight for survival on a burnt-out world. During succeeding summer seasons they would hurl more spores into the interplanetary abyss. But soon they themselves would be only brown, mummied relics-one with the other relics of Mars; the gray, carven monoliths; the strange, hemispherical dwellings, dotted with openings arranged like the cells of a honeycomb. Habitations of an intelligent animal folk, long perished, who had never had use for halls or rooms, as such things are known to men on Earth.

The era of utter death would come to Mars, when nothing would move on its surface except the shadows shifting across dusty deserts, and the molecules of sand and rock vibrating with a little warmth from the hot, though shrunken Sun. Death-complete death! But the growths which were the last civilized beings of Mars had not originated there. Once they had been on the satellites of Jupiter, too. And before that- well, perhaps even the race memory of their kind had lost the record of those dim, distant ages. Always they had waited their chance, and when the time came-when a world was physically suited for their development-they had acted,

A single spore was enough to supply the desired foothold on a planet. Almost inevitably-since chance is, in fundamentals, a mathematical element depending on time and numbers and repetition-that single spore reached the upper atmosphere of Earth,

For months, it bobbed erratically in tenuous, electrified gases. It might have been shot into space again. Upward and downward it wandered; but with gravity to tug at its insignificant mass, probability favored its ultimate descent to the harsh surface.

It found a resting place, at last, in a frozen desert gully. Around the gully were fantastic, sugar-loaf mounds. Near-by was one thin, ruined spire of blue porcelain-an empty reminder of a gentler era, long gone.

The location thus given to it seemed hardly favorable in its aspect. For this was the northern hemisphere, locked now in the grip of a deadly winter. The air, depleted through the ages, as was the planet's water supply, was arid and thin.

The temperature, though not as rigorous and deadening as that of interplanetary space, ranged far below zero. Mars in this age was near dead; Earth was a dying world.

But perhaps this condition, in itself, was almost favorable. The spore belonged to a kind of life developed to meet the challenge of a generally much less friendly environment than that of even this later-day Earth.

There was snow in that desert gully-maybe a quarter-inch depth of it. The rays of the Sun-white and dwarfed after so many eons of converting its substance into energy- did not melt any of that snow even at noon. But this did not matter. The life principle within the spore detected favorable conditions for its germination, just as, in spring, the vital principle of Earthly seeds had done for almost incalculable ages.

By a process parallel to that of simple fermentation, a tiny amount of heat was generated within the spore. A few crystals of snow around it turned to moisture, a minute quantity of which the alien speck of life absorbed. Roots finer than spi-derweb grew, groping int amp; the snow. At night they were frozen solid, but during the day they resumed their brave activity.

The spore expanded, but did not burst. For its shell was a protecting armor which must be made to increase in size gradually without rupture. Within it, intricate chemical processes were taking place. Chlorophyl there was absorbing sunshine and carbon dioxide and water. Starch and cellulose and free oxygen were being produced.

So far, these processes were quite like those of common terrestrial flora. But there were differences. For one thing, the oxygen was not liberated to float in the atmosphere. It had been ages since such lavish waste had been possible on Mars, whose thin air had contained but a small quantity of oxygen in its triatomic form, ozone, even when Earth was young.

The alien thing stored its oxygen, compressing the gas into the tiny compartments in its hard, porous, outer shell. The reason was simple. Oxygen, combining with starch in a slow, fermentive combustion, could produce heat to ward off the cold that would otherwise stop growth.

The spore had become a plant now. First, it was no bigger than a pinhead. Then it increased its size to the dimensions of a small marble, its fuzzy, green-brown shape firmly anchored to the soil itself by its long, fibrous roots. Like any terrestrial growth, it was an intricate chemical laboratory, where transformations took place that were not easy to comprehend completely.

And now, perhaps, the thing was beginning to feel the first glimmerings of a consciousness, like a human child rising out of the blurred, unremembering fog of birth. Strange, oily nodules, scattered throughout its tissues, connected by means of a complex network of delicate, white threads, which had the functions of a nervous system, were developing and growing-giving to the sporeplant from Mars the equivalent of a brain. Here was a sentient vegetable in the formative stage.

A sentient vegetable? Without intelligence it is likely that the ancestors of this nameless invader from across the void would long ago have lost their battle for survival.

What senses were given to this strange mind, by means of which it could be aware of its environment? Undoubtedly it possessed faculties of sense that could detect things in a way that was as far beyond ordinary human conception as vision is to those individuals who have been born blind. But in a more simpler manner it must have been able to feel heat and cold and to hear sounds, the latter perhaps by the sensitivity of its fine, cilialike spines. And certainly it could see in a way comparable to that of a man.

For, scattered over the round body of the plant, and imbedded deep in horny hollows in its shell, were little organs, lensed with a clear vegetable substance. These organs were eyes, developed, perhaps, from far more primitive light-sensitive cells, such as many forms of terrestrial flora possess.

But during those early months, the spore plant saw little that could be interpreted as a threat, swiftly to be fulfilled. Winter ruled, and the native life of this desolate region was at a standstill.

There was little motion except that of keen, cutting winds, shifting dust, and occasional gusts of fine, dry snow. The white, shrunken Sun rose in the east, to creep with protracted slowness across the sky, shedding but the barest trace of warmth. Night came, beautiful and purple and mysterious, yet bleak as the crystalline spirit of an easy death.

Through the ages, Earth's rate of rotation had been much decreased by the tidal drag of Solar and Lunar gravities. The attraction of the Moon was now much increased, since the satellite was nearer to Terra than it had been in former times.

Because of the decreased rate of rotation, the days and nights were correspondingly lengthened.

All the world around the spore plant was a realm of bleak, unpeopled desolation. Only once, while the winter lasted, did anything happen to break the stark monotony. One evening, at moonrise, a slender metal car flew across the sky with the speed of a bullet. A thin propelling streamer of fire trailed in its wake, and the pale moonglow was reflected from its prow. A shrill, mechanical scream made the rarefied atmosphere vibrate, as the craft approached to a point above the desert gully, passed, and hurtled away, to leave behind it only a startling silence and an aching memory.

For the spore plant did remember. Doubtless there was a touch of fear in that memory, for fear is a universal emotion, closely connected with the law of self-preservation, which is engrained in the texture of all life, regardless of its nature or origin.

Men. Or rather, the cold, cruel, cunning little beings who were the children of men. The Itorloo, they called themselves. The invader could not have known their form as yet, or the name of the creatures from which they were descended. But it could guess something of their powers from the flying machine they had built. Inherited memory must have played a part in giving the queer thing from across the void this dim comprehension. On other worlds its ancestors had encountered animal folk possessing a similar science. And the spore plant was surely aware that here on Earth the builders of this speeding craft were its most deadly enemies.

The Itorloo, however, inhabiting their vast underground cities, had no knowledge that their planet had received an alient visitation-one which might have deadly potentialities. And in this failure to know, the little spore plant, hidden in a gully where no Itorloo foot had been set in a thousand years, was safe.

Now there was nothing for it to do but grow and prepare to reproduce its kind, to be watchful for lesser enemies, and to develop its own peculiar powers.

It is not to be supposed that it must always lack, by its very nature, an understanding of physics and chemistry and biological science. It possessed no test tubes, or delicate instruments, as such things were understood by men. But it was gifted with something-call it an introspective sense- which enabled it to study in minute detail every single chemical and physical process that went on within its own substance. It could feel not only the juices coursing sluggishly through its tissues, but it could feel, too, in a kind of atomic pattern, the change of water and carbon dioxide into starch and free oxygen.

Gift a man with the same power that the invader's kind had acquired, perhaps by eons of practice and directed will- that of feeling vividly even the division of cells, and the nature of the protoplasm in his own tissues-and it is not hard to believe that he would soon delve out even the ultimate secret of life. And in the secret of life there must be involved almost every conceivable phase of practical science.

The spore plant proceeded with its marvelous self-education, part of which must have been only recalling to mind the intricate impressions of inherited memories.

Meanwhile it studied carefully its bleak surroundings, prompted not only by fear, but by curiosity as well. To work effectively, it needed understanding of its environment. Intelligence it possessed beyond question; still it was hampered by many limitations. It was a plant, and plants have not an animal's capacity for quick action, either of offense or defense. Here, forever, the entity from across the void was at a vast disadvantage, in this place of pitiless competition. In spite of all its powers, it might now have easily been destroyed.

The delicate, ruined tower of blue porcelain, looming up from the brink of the gully. The invader, scrutinizing it carefully for hours and days, soon knew every chink and crack and fanciful arabesque on its visible side. It was only a ruin, beautiful and mysterious alike by sunshine and moonlight, and when adorned with a fine sifting of snow. But the invader, lost on a strange world, could not be sure of its harmless-ness.

Close to the tower were those rude, high, sugar-loaf mounds, betraying a sinister cast. They were of hard-packed earth, dotted with many tiny openings. But in the cold, arid winter, there was no sign of life about them now.

All through those long, arctic months, the spore plant continued to develop, and to grow toward the reproductive stage. And it was making preparations too-combining the knowledge acquired by its observations with keen guesswork, and with a science apart from the manual fabrication of metal and other substances,

A milder season came at last. The Sun's rays were a little warmer now. Some of the snow melted, moistening the ground enough to germinate Earthly seeds. Shoots sprang up, soon to develop leaves and grotesque, devilish-looking flowers.

In the mounds beside the blue tower a slow awakening took place. Millions of little, hard, reddish bodies became animated once more, ready to battle grim Nature for sustenance. The ages had done little to the ants, except to increase their fierceness and cunning. Almost any organic substances could serve them as food, and their tastes showed but little discrimination between one dainty and another. And it was inevitable, of course, but presently they should find the spore plant.

Nor were they the letter's only enemies, even in this desert region. Of the others, Kaw and his black-feathered brood were the most potent makers of trouble. Not because they would attempt active offense themselves, but because they were able to spread news far and wide.

Kaw wheeled alone now, high in the sunlight, his ebon wings outstretched, his cruel, observant little eyes studying the desolate terrain below. Buried in the sand, away from the cold, he and his mate and their companions had slept through the winter. Now Kaw was fiercely hungry. He could eat ants if he had to, but there should be better food available at this time of year.

Once, his keen eyes spied gray movement far below. As if his poised and graceful flight was altered by the release of a trigger, Kaw dived plummet-like and silent toward the ground.

His attack was more simple and direct than usual. But it was successful. His reward was a large, long-tailed rodent, as clever as himself. The creature uttered squeaks of terror as meaningful as human cries for help. In a moment, however, Kaw split its intelligently rounded cranium with a determined blow from his strong, pointed beak. Bloody brains were devoured with indelicate gusto, to be followed swiftly by the less tasty flesh of the victim. If Kaw had ever heard of table manners, he didn't bother with them. Kaw was intensely practical.

His crop full, Kaw was now free to exercise the mischievous curiosity which he had inherited from his ancient forebears. They who had, in the long-gone time when Earth was young, uprooted many a young corn shoot, and had yammered derisively from distant treetops when any irate farmer had gone after them with a gun.

With a clownish skip of his black, scaly feet, and a show-offish swerve of his dusty ebon wings, Kaw took to the air once more. Upward he soared, his white-lidded eyes directed again toward the ground, seeking something interesting to occupy his attention and energies.

Thus, presently, he saw a brownish puff that looked like smoke or dust in the gully beside the ruined blue tower at the pinnacle of which he and his mate were wont to build their nest in summer. Sound came then-a dull, ringing pop. The dusty cloud expanded swiftly upward, widening and thinning until its opacity was dissipated into the clearness of the atmosphere.

Kaw was really startled. That this was so was evinced by the fact that he did not voice his harsh, rasping cry, as he would have done had a lesser occurrence caught his attention. He turned back at first, and began to retreat, his mind recognizing only one possibility in what had occurred. Only the Itorloo, the Children of Men, as far as he knew, could produce explosions like that. And the Itorloo were cruel and dangerous.

However, Kaw did not go far in his withdrawal. Presently-since there were no further alarming developments- he was circling back toward the source of the cloud and the noise. But for many minutes he kept what he considered a safe distance, the while he tried to determine the nature of the strange, bulging, grayish-green thing down there in the gully.

A closer approach, he decided finally, was best made from the ground. And so he descended, alighting several hundred yards distant from the narrow pocket in the desert.

Thence he proceeded to walk cautiously forward, taking advantage of the cover of the rocks and dunes, his feathers gleaming with a dusty rainbow sheen, his large head bobbing with the motion of his advance like any fowl's. His manner was part laughably ludicrous, part scared, and part determined.

And then, peering from behind a large boulder, he saw what he had come to see. It was a bulging, slightly flattened sphere, perhaps a yard across. Prom it projected flat, oval things of a gray-green color, like the leaves of a cactus. And from these, in turn, grew clublike protuberances of a hard, horny texture-spore-pods. One of them was blasted open, doubtless by the pressure of gas accumulated within it. These spore-pods were probably not as complexly or powerfully designed as those used by the parent growths on Mars, for they were intended for a simpler purpose. The entire plant bristled with sharp spines, and was furred with slender hairs, gleaming like little silver wires.

Around the growth, thousands of ant bodies lay dead, and from its vicinity other thousands of living were retreating. Kaw eyed these evidences critically, guessing with wits as keen as those of a man of old their sinister significance. He knew, too, that presently other spore-pods would burst with loud, disturbing noises.

Kaw felt a twinge of dread. Evolution, working through a process of natural selection-and, in these times of hardship and pitiless competition, putting a premium on intelligence- had given to his kind a brain power far transcending that of his ancestors. He could observe, and could interpret his observations with the same practical comprehension which a primitive human being might display. But, like those primitives, he had developed, too, a capacity to feel superstitious awe.

That gray-green thing of mystery had a fantastic cast which failed to identify it with-well-with naturalness. Kaw was no botanist, certainly; still he could recognize the object as a plant of some kind. But those little, bright, eye-lenses suggested an unimaginable scrutiny. And those spines, silvery in sheen, suggested ghoulish animation, the existence of which Kaw could sense as a nameless and menacing unease.

He could guess, then, or imagine-or even know, perhaps-that here was an intruder who might well make itself felt with far-reaching consequences in the future. Kaw was aware of the simple fact that most of the vegetation he was acquainted with grew from seeds or the equivalent. And he was capable of concluding that this flattened spheroid reproduced itself in a manner not markedly unfamiliar. That is, if one was to accept the evidence of the spore-pods. Billions of spores, scattering with the wind! What would be the result?

Kaw would not have been so troubled, were it not for those crumpled thousands of ant bodies, and the enigma of their death. It was clear that the ants had come to feed on the invader-but they had perished. How? By some virulent plant poison, perhaps?

The conclusions which intelligence provides can produce fear where fear would otherwise be impossible. Kaw's impulse was to seek safety in instant departure, but horror and curiosity fascinated him. Another deeper, more reasoned urge commanded him. When a man smells smoke in his house at night, he does not run away; he investigates. And so it was with Kaw.

He hopped forward cautiously toward the invader. A foot from its rough, curving side he halted. There, warily, as if about to attack a poisonous lizard, he steeled himself. Lightly and swiftly his beak shot forward. It touched the tip of a sharp spine.

The result left Kaw dazed. It was as though he had received a stunning blow on the head, A tingling, constricting sensation shot through his body, and he was down, flopping in the dust.

Electricity. Kaw had never heard of such a thing. Electricity generated chemically in the form of the invader, by a process analogous to that by which, in dim antiquity, it had been generated in the bodies of electric eels and other similar creatures.

However, there was a broad difference here between the subject and the analogy. Electric eels had never understood the nature of their power, for they were as unresponsible for it as they were unresponsible for the shape of the flesh in which they had been cast. The spore plant, on the other hand, comprehended minutely. Its electric organs had been minutely preplanned and conceived before one living cell of their structure had been caused to grow on another. And these organs were not inherited, but were designed to meet the more immediate needs of self-protection. During the winter, the invader, studying its surroundings, had guessed well.

Slowly Kaw's brain cleared. He heard an ominous buzzing, and knew that it issued from the plant. But what he did not know was that, like the electric organs, the thing's vocal equipment was invented for possible use in its new environment. For days, since the coming of spring, the invader had been listening to sounds of various kinds, and had recognized their importance on Earth.

Now Kaw had but one thought, and that was to get away. Still dazed and groggy, he leaped into the air. From behind him, in his hurried departure, he heard a dull plop. More billions of spores, mixing with the wind, to be borne far and wide.

But now, out of his excitement, Kaw drew a reasoned and fairly definite purpose. He had a fair idea of what he was going to do, even though the course of action he had in mind might involve him with the greatest of his enemies. Yet, when it came to a choice, he would take the known in preference to the unknown.

He soared upward toward the bright blue of the heavens. The porcelain tower, the ant hills, and the low mounds which marked the entrances to the rodent colonies slipped swiftly behind. As if the whole drab landscape were made to move on an endless belt.

Kaw was looking for his mate, and for the thirty-odd, black-winged individuals who formed his tribe. Singly and in small groups, he contacted and collected them. Loud, raucous cries, each with a definite verbal meaning, were exchanged. Menace was on the Earth-bizarre, nameless menace. Excitement grew to fever pitch.

Dusk, beautiful and soft and forbidding, found the bird clan assembled in a chamber high-placed in a tremendous edifice many miles from where Kaw had made his discovery. The building belonged to the same gentle culture which had produced the blue porcelain tower. The floor of the chamber was doubtless richly mosaicked. But these were relics of departed splendor now thickly masked with dust and filth.

From the walls, however, painted landscapes of ethereal beauty, and the faces of a happy humankind of long ago peeped through the gathering shadows. They were like ghosts, a little awed at what had happened to the world to which they had once belonged. Those gentle folk had dwelt in a kindlier climate which was now stripped forever from the face of the Earth. And they had been wiped out by creatures who were human too, but of a different, crueler race.

Through delicately carven screens of pierced marble, far up on the sides of the chamber's vast, brooding rotunda, the fading light of day gleamed, like a rose glow through the lacework of fairies.

But this palace of old, dedicated to laughter and fun and luxury, and to the soaring dreams of the fine arts, was now only a chill, dusty gathering place for a clan of black-winged, gruesome harpies.

They chuckled and chattered and cawed, like the crows of dead eras. But these sounds, echoing eerily beneath cloistered arches, dim and abhorrent in the advancing gloom of night, differed from that antique yammering. It constituted real, intelligent conversation.

Kaw, perched high on a fancifully wrought railing of bronze, green with the patina of age, urged his companions with loud cries, and with soft, pleading notes, In his own way, he had some of the qualities of a master orator. But, as all through an afternoon of similar arguing, he was getting nowhere. His tribe was afraid. And so it was becoming more and more apparent that he must undertake his mission alone. Even Teka, his mate, would not accompany him.

At last Kaw ruffled his neck feathers, and shook his head violently in an avian gesture of disgust. He leaped from his perch and shot through a glassless window with an angry scream that was like the curse of a black ghoul.

It was the first time that he had ever undertaken a long journey at night. But in his own judgment, necessity was such that no delay could be tolerated.

The stars were sharp and clear, the air chill and frosty. The ground was dotted sparsely with faint glimmerings from the chimneys of the crude furnaces which, during the colder nights of spring and fall, warmed the underground rodent colonies.

After a time the Moon rose, huge and yellow, like the eye of a monster. In that bloom and silence, Kaw found it easy to feel the creeping and imperceptible, yet avalanching, growth of horror. He could not be sure, of course, that he was right in his guess that the mission he had undertaken was grimly important. But his savage intuition was keen.

The Itorloo-the Children of Men-he must see them, and tell them what he knew. Kaw was aware that the Itorioo had no love for any but themselves. But they were more powerful than the winds and the movements of the Sun and Moon themselves. They would find a swift means to defeat the silent danger.

And so, till the gray dawn, Kaw flew on and on, covering many hundreds of miles, until he saw a low dome of metal, capping a hill. The soft half-light of early morning sharpened its outlines to those of a beautiful, ebon silhouette, peaceful and yet forbidding. Beneath it, as Kaw knew, was a shaft leading down to the wondrous underworld of the Itorloo, as intriguing to his mind as a shadowland of magic.

Fear tightened its constricting web around Kaw's heart- but retreat was something that must not be. There was too much at stake ever to permit a moment of hesitation.

Kaw swung into a wider arc, circling the dome. His long wings, delicately poised for a soaring glide, did not flap now, but dipped and rose to capture and make use of the lifting power of every vagrant wisp of breeze. And from his lungs, issued a loud, raucous cry.

"Itorloo!" he screamed. "Itorloo!"

The word, except for its odd, parrot-like intonation, was pronounced in an entirely human manner. Kaw, in common with his crow ancestors, possessed an aptitude for mimicry of the speech of men.

Tensely he waited for a sign, as he swung lower and nearer to the dome.


Zar felt irritable. He did not like the lonely surface vigil and the routine astronomical checkings that constituted his duty. All night he'd sat there at his desk with signal lights winking around him, helping surface watchers at the other stations check the position of a new meteor swarm by means of crossing beams of probe rays.

Angles, distances, numbers! Zar was disgusted. Why didn't the construction crews hurry? The whole race could have been moved to Venus long ago, and might just as well have been. For as far as Zar could see, there was no real reason to retain a hold on the burnt-out Earth. The native Venusians should have been crushed a century back. There wasn't any reason why this pleasant task shouldn't have been accomplished then-no reason except stupid, official inertia!

The sound of a shrill bird cry, throbbing from the pickup diaphragm on the wall, did not add any sweetening potion to Zar's humor. At first he paid no attention; but the insistent screaming of the name of his kind-"Itorloo! Itorloo!"-at length aroused him to angry action.

His broad, withered face, brown and hideous and goblin-like, twisted itself into an ugly grimace. He bounded up from his chair, and seized a small, pistol-like weapon.

A moment later he was out on the sandy slopes of the hill, looking up at the black shape that swooped and darted timidly, close to his head. On impulse Zar raised his weapon, no thought of compassion in his mind.

But Raw screamed again: "Itorloo! Loaaah!"

In Zar's language, "Loaaah!" meant "Danger!" very emphatically, Zar's hand, bent on execution, was stayed for the moment at least. His shrewd little eyes narrowed, and from his lips there issued yammering sounds which constituted an understandable travesty of the speech of Kaw's kind.

"Speak your own tongue, creature!" he ordered sharply, "I can understand!"

Still swooping and darting nervously, Kaw screamed forth his story, describing in quaint manner the thing he had seen, employing comparisons such as any primitive savage would use. In this way the invader was like a boulder, in that way it was like a thorn cactus, and in other ways it resembled the instruments of death which the Itorioo employed. In all ways it was strange, and unlike anything ever seen before.

And Zar Listened with fresh and calculated attention, getting from this bird creature the information he required to locate the strange miracle. Kaw was accurate and clear enough in giving his directions.

Zar might have forgotten his inherent ruthlessness where his feathered informer was concerned, had not Kaw become a trifle too insistent in his exhortations to action. He lingered too long and screamed too loudly.

Irritated, Zar raised his weapon. Kaw swept away at once, but there was no chance for him to get out of range. Invisible energy shot toward him. Black feathers were torn loose, and floated aflame in the morning breeze. Kaw gave a shrill shriek of agony and reproach. Erratically he wavered to the ground.

Zar did not even glance toward him, but retraced his way leisurely into the surface dome. An hour later, however, having received permission from his superiors, he had journeyed across those hundreds of miles to the gully beside the blue porcelain tower. And there he bent over the form of the invader. Zar was somewhat awed. He had never been to Mars. For two hundred thousand years or more, no creature from Earth had ever visited that planet. The Itorloo were too practical to attempt such a useless venture, and their more recent predecessors had lacked some of the adventurous incentive required for so great and hazardous a journey.

But Zar had perused old records, belonging to an era half a million years gone by. He knew that this gray-green thing was at least like the flora of ancient Mars. Into his mind, matter-of-fact for the most part, came the glimmerings of a mighty romance, accentuating within him a consciousness of nameless dread, and of grand interplanetary distances.

Spines. Bulging, hard-shelled, pulpy leaves that stored oxygen under pressure. Chlorophyl that absorbed sunshine and made starch, just as in an ordinary Earthly plant. Only the ehlorophyl of this growth was beneath a thick, translucent shell, which altered the quality of the light it could reflect. That was why astronomers in the pre-interplanetary era had doubted the existence of vegetation on Mars. Green plants of Terra, when photographed with infrared light, looked silvery, like things of frost. But-because of their shells-Martian vegetation could not betray its presence in the same manner.

Zar shuddered, though the morning air was not chill by his standards. The little gleaming orbs of the invader seemed to scrutinize him critically and coldly, and with a vast wisdom. Zar saw the shattered spore-pods, knowing that their contents now floated in the air, like dust-floated and settled-presenting a subtle menace whose tool was the unexpected, and against which-because of the myriad numbers of the widely scattered spores-only the most drastic methods could prevail.

Belatedly, then, anger came. Zar drew a knife from his belt. Half in fury and half in experiment, he struck the invader, chipping off a piece of its shell. He felt a sharp electric shock, though by no means strong enough to kill a creature of his size. From the wound he made in the plant, oxygen sizzled softly. But the invader offered no further defense. For the present it had reached the end of its resources.

Zar bounded back. His devilish little weapon flamed then, for a full two minutes. When he finally released pressure on its trigger, there was only a great, smouldering, glowing hole in the ground where the ghoulish thing from across space had stood.

Such was Zar's and the entire Itorloo race's answer to the intruder. Swift destruction! Zar chuckled wickedly. And there were ways to rid Earth of the treacherous menace of the plant intelligences of Mars entirely, even though they would take time.

Besides there was Venus, the world of promise. Soon half of the Itorloo race would be transported there. The others certainly could be accommodated if it became necessary.


* * *

Necessary? Zar laughed. He must be getting jittery. What had the Itorloo to fear from those inert, vegetable things? Now he aimed his weapon toward the blue tower, and squeezed the trigger. Weakened tiles crumbled and fell down with a hollow, desolate rattle that seemed to mock Zar's ruth-lessness.

Suddenly he felt sheepish. To every intelligent being there is a finer side that prompts and criticizes. And for a moment Zar saw himself and his people a little more as they really were.

Unlike the lesser creatures, the Children of Men had not advanced very much mentally. The ups and downs of history had not favored them. War had reversed the benefits of natural selection, destroying those individuals of the species best suited to carry it on to greater glory. Zar knew this, and perhaps his senseless assault upon the ruined building was but a subconscious gesture of resentment toward the people of long ago who had been kinder and wiser and happier.

Zar regretted his recent act of destroying the spore plant. It should have been preserved for study. But now-well- what was done could not be changed.

He entered his swift, gleaming rocket car. When he closed its cabin door behind him, it seemed that he was shutting out a horde of mocking, menacing ghosts.

In a short while he was back at the surface station. Relieved there of his duty by another little brown man, he descended the huge cylindrical shaft which dropped a mile to the region that was like the realm of the Cyclops. Thrumming sounds, winking lights, shrill shouts of the workers, blasts of incandescent flame, and the colossal majesty of gigantic machines, toiling tirelessly.

In a vast, pillared plaza the keels of spaceships were being laid-spaceships for the migration and the conquest. In perhaps a year-a brief enough time for so enormous a task- they would soar away from Earth, armed to the teeth. There would be thousands of the craft then, for all over the world, in dozens of similar underground places, they were in process of construction.

Zar's vague fears were dissipated in thoughts of conquest to come. The Venus folk annihilated in withering clouds of flame. The glory of the Itorloo carried on and on-

Kaw was not dead. That this was so was almost a miracle, made possible, perhaps, by a savage, indomitable will to live. In his small bird body there was a fierce, burning courage that compensated for many of his faults.

For hours he lay there on the desert sand, a pathetic and crumpled bundle of tattered feathers, motionless except for his labored breathing, and the blinking of his hate-filled eyes. Blood dripped slowly from the hideous, seared wound on his breast, and his whole body ached with a vast, dull anguish.

Toward sundown, however, he managed to hobble and flutter forward a few rods. Here he buried himself shallowly in the sand, where his chilled body would be protected from the nocturnal cold.

For three days he remained thus interred. He was too weak and sick to leave his burrow. Bitterness toward Zar and the other cruel Itorloo, he did not feel. Kaw had lived too long in this harsh region to expect favors. But a black fury stormed within him, nevertheless-a black fury as agonizing as physical pain. He wanted revenge. No, he needed revenge as much as he needed the breath of life. He did not know that Itorloo plans directed against the intruding spores from Mars were already under way, and that-as a by-product-they would destroy his own kind, and all primitive life on the surface of the Earth.

Kaw left his hiding place on the fourth- day. Luck favored him, for he found a bit of carrion-part of the dead body of an antelopelike creature.

Somehow, through succeeding weeks and days, he managed to keep alive. The mending of his injured flesh was slow indeed, for the burnt wound was unclean. But he started toward home, hopping along at first, then flying a little, a hundred yards at a time, Tedium and pain were endless. But the fiendish light of what must seem forever fruitless hatred, never faded in those wicked, white-lidded eyes. Frequently Kaw's long, black beak snapped in a vicious expression of boundless determination.

Weeks of long days become a month, and then two months. Starved to a black-clad skeleton, and hopeless of ever being fit to hunt again, Kaw tottered into a deep gorge one evening. Utterly spent, he sank to the ground here, his brain far too weary to take note of any subtle unusualness which the deepening shadows half masked.

He scarcely saw the rounded things scattered here. Had he noticed them, his blurred vision would have named them small boulders and nothing more. Fury, directed at the Itor-loo, had made him almost forget the spore plants. He did not know that this was to be a place of magic, Chance and the vagrant winds had made it so. A hundred spores, out of many millions, had lodged here. Conditions had been just right for their swift development. It was warm, but not too warm. And there was moisture too. Distantly Kaw heard the trickle of water. He wanted to get to it, but his feebleness prevented him.

He must have slept, then, for a long time, It seemed that he awoke at the sound of an odd buzzing, which may have possessed hypnotic properties. He felt as weak and stiff as before, but he was soothed and peaceful now, in spite of his thirst and hunger.

He looked about. The gorge was deep and shadowy. A still twilight pervaded it, though sunshine gilded its bulging, irregular lips far above. These details he took in in a moment.

He looked, then, at the grotesque shapes around him- things which, in the deeper darkness, he had thought to be only boulders. But now he saw that they were spore plants, rough, eerie, brooding, with their little, lensed light-sensitive organs agleam.

The excitement of terror seized him, and he wanted to flee, as from a deadly enemy. But this urge did not last long. The hypnotic buzz, which issued from the diaphragmic vocal organs of the plants, soothed and soothed and soothed, until Kaw felt very relaxed.

There were dead ants around him, doubtless the victims of electrocution. Since no better food was within reach, Kaw hopped here and there, eating greedily.

After that he hobbled to the brackish spring that dripped from the wall, and drank. Next he dropped to the ground, his fresh drowsiness characterized by sleepy mutterings about himself, his people, and the all-wise Itorloo, And it seemed, presently, that the buzzing of the invaders changed in character at last, seeming to repeat his own mutterings clumsily, like a child learning to talk.

"Kaw! Itorloo!" And other words and phrases belonging to the speech of the crow clans.

It was the beginning of things miraculous and wonderful for Kaw, the black-feathered rascal. Many suns rose and set, but somehow he felt no urge to wander farther toward his home region. He did not know the Lethean fascination of simple hypnotism. True, he sallied afield farther and farther, as his increasing strength permitted. He hunted now, eating bugs and beetles for the most part. But always he returned to the gorge, there to listen to the weird growths, buzzing, chattering, speaking to him in his own tongue. In them there seemed somehow to be a vague suggestion of the benignance of some strange, universal justice, in spite of their horror.

And night and day, rocket cars, streamlined and gleaming, swept over the desert. Now and then beams of energy were unleashed from them, whipping the sand into hot flame, destroying the invading spore plants that had struck root here and there. Only the law of chance kept them away from the gorge, as doubtless it allowed them to miss other hiding places of alien life. For the wilderness was wide.

But this phase of the Itorloo battle against the invading spore plants was only a makeshift preliminary, intended to keep the intruders in check. Only the Itorloo themselves knew about the generators now being constructed far underground-generators which, with unseen emanations, could wipe out every speck of living protoplasm on the exposed crust of the planet. Theirs was a monumental task, and a slow one. But they meant to be rid, once and for all, of the subtle threat which had come perhaps to challenge their dominion of the Earth. Kaw and his kind, the rodents, the ants, and all the other simple People of the Dusk of Terra's Greatness, were seemingly doomed.

Kaw's hatred of the Children of Men was undimmed, more justly than he was aware. Thus it was easy for him to listen when he was commanded: "Get an Itorloo! Bring him here! Alone! On foot!"

Zar was the logical individual to produce, for he was the nearest, the most readily available. But summer was almost gone before Kaw encountered the right opportunity, though he watched with care at all times.

Evening, with Venus and the Moon glowing softly in the sky. Kaw was perched on a hilltop, close to the great surface dome, watching as he had often watched before. Out of its cylindrical hangar, Zar's flier darted, and then swung in a slow arc. Presently it headed at a leisurely pace into the northwest. For once its direction was right, and it was not traveling too fast for Kaw to keep pace with it. Clearly its pilot was engaged in a rambling pleasure jaunt, which had no definite objective,

Kaw, pleased and excited, fell in behind at a safe distance. There he remained until the craft was near the gorge. Now there was danger, but if things were done right-

He flapped his wings violently to catch up with his mechanical quarry. He screamed loudly: "Itorloo! Itorloo! Descend! Descend! I am Kaw, who informed you of the unknowns long ago! I would show you more! More! More!" All this in ahrill, avian chatterings.

Kaw's trickery was naively simple. But Zar heard, above the noise of his rocket blasts. Suspicion? He felt it, of course. There was no creature in this era who accepted such an invitation without question. Yet he was well armed. In his own judgment he should be quite safe. Curiosity led him on.

He shut off his rocket motors, and uttered the bird jargon, questioning irritably: "Where? What is it, black trickster?"

Kaw skittered about defensively. "Descend!'" he repeated. "Descend to the ground. The thing that bears you cannot take you where we must go!"

The argument continued for some little time, primitive with matching curiosity and suspicion.

And meanwhile, in the gloomy gorge cut in vague geologic times by some gushing stream, entities waited patiently. Sap flowed in their tissues, as in the tissues of any other vegetation, but the fine hairs on their forms detected sounds, and their light-sensitive cells served as eyes. Within their forms were organs equivalent to human nerve and brain. They did not use tools or metals, but worked in another way, dictated by their vast disadvantages when compared to animal intelligences. Yet they had their advantages, too.

Now they waited, dim as bulking shadows. They detected the excited cries of Kaw, who was their in