When we published Carl Jacobi's last story we had no assurance he would be
with us so soon again. For when a uniquely gifted science-fantasy writer
becomes radio-active on the entertainment meter and goes voyaging into the
unknown, he may be gone from the world we know for as long as yesterday's
tomorrow. But Carl Jacobi has not only returned almost with the speed of
light—he has brought with him shining new nuggets of wonder and surmise.
by ... Carl Jacobi
The secret lay hidden at the end of nine landings,
and Medusa-dark was one man's search for it—in
the strangest journey ever made.
A soft gentle rain began to fall
as we emerged from the dark
woods and came out onto the shore.
There it was, the sea, stretching as
far as the eye could reach, gray and
sullen, and flecked with green-white
froth. The blue hensorr trees,
crowding close to the water's edge,
were bent backward as if frightened
by the bleakness before them. The
sand, visible under the clear patches
of water, was a bleached white like
the exposed surface of a huge bone.
We stood there a moment in silence.
Then Mason cleared his
"Well, here goes," he said.
"We'll soon see if we have any
He unslung the packsack from
his shoulders, removed its protective
outer shield and began to assemble
the organic surveyor, an
egg-shaped ball of white carponium
secured to a segmented forty-foot
rod. While Brandt and I raised the
rod with the aid of an electric fulcrum,
Mason carefully placed his
control cabinet on a piece of outcropping
rock and made a last adjustment.
The moment had come. Even
above the sound of the sea, you
could hear the strained breathing
of the men. Only Navigator Norris
appeared unconcerned. He stood
there calmly smoking his pipe, his
keen blue eyes squinting against the
Mason switched on the speaker.
Its high-frequency scream rose deafeningly
above us and was torn
away in unsteady gusts. He began
to turn its center dial, at first a
quarter circle, and then all the
way to the final backstop of the
calibration. All that resulted was
a continuation of that mournful
ululation like a wail out of eternity.
Mason tried again. With stiff
wrists he tuned while perspiration
stood out on his forehead, and the
rest of us crowded close.
"It's no use," he said. "This
pickup failure proves there isn't
a vestige of animal life on Stragella—on
this hemisphere of the planet,
Navigator Norris took his pipe
from his mouth and nodded. His
face was expressionless. There was
no indication in the man's voice
that he had suffered another great
disappointment, his sixth in less
than a year.
"We'll go back now," he said,
"and we'll try again. There must
be some planet in this system that's
inhabited. But it's going to be hard
to tell the women."
Mason let the surveyor rod down
with a crash. I could see the anger
and resentment that was gathering
in his eyes. Mason was the youngest
of our party and the leader of
the antagonistic group that was
slowly but steadily undermining the
authority of the Navigator.
This was our seventh exploratory
trip after our sixth landing since
entering the field of the sun Ponthis.
Ponthis with its sixteen equal-sized
planets, each with a single
satellite. First there had been Coulora;
then in swift succession, Jama,
Tenethon, Mokrell, and R-9. And
now Stragella. Strange names of
strange worlds, revolving about a
It was Navigator Norris who
told us the names of these planets
and traced their positions on a chart
for us. He alone of our group was
familiar with astrogation and cosmography.
He alone had sailed the
spaceways in the days before the
automatic pilots were installed and
locked and sealed on every ship.
A handsome man in his fortieth
year, he stood six feet three with
broad shoulders and a powerful
frame. His eyes were the eyes of
a scholar, dreamy yet alive with
depth and penetration. I had never
seen him lose his temper, and he
governed our company with an iron
He was not perfect, of course.
Like all Earthmen, he had his
faults. Months before he had joined
with that famed Martian scientist,
Ganeth-Klae, to invent that all-use
material, Indurate, the formula for
which had been stolen and which
therefore had never appeared on
the commercial market. Norris
would talk about that for hours. If
you inadvertently started him on
the subject a queer glint would
enter his eyes, and he would dig
around in his pocket for a chunk
of the black substance.
"Did I ever show you a piece
of this?" he would say. "Look at
it carefully. Notice the smooth
grainless texture—hard and yet not
brittle. You wouldn't think that it
was formed in a gaseous state, then
changed to a liquid and finally to
a clay-like material that could be
worked with ease. A thousand years
after your body has returned to
dust, that piece of Indurate will
still exist, unchanged, unworn.
Erosion will have little effect upon
it. Beside it granite, steel are nothing.
If only I had the formula ..."
But he had only half the formula,
the half he himself had developed.
The other part was locked
in the brain of Ganeth-Klae, and
Ganeth-Klae had disappeared.
What had become of him was a
mystery. Norris perhaps had felt
the loss more than any one, and
he had offered the major part of
his savings as a reward for information
leading to the scientist's
Our party—eighteen couples and
Navigator Norris—had gathered
together and subsequently left
Earth in answer to a curious advertisement
that had appeared in the
Sunday edition of the London
WANTED: A group of married
men and women, young,
courageous, educated, tired of
political and social restrictions,
interested in extra-terrestrial colonization.
Financial resources no
After we had been weeded out,
interviewed and rigorously questioned,
Norris had taken us into the
hangar, waved a hand toward the
Marie Galante and explained the
The Marie Galante was a cruiser-type
ship, stripped down to essentials
to maintain speed, but equipped
with the latest of everything.
For a short run to Venus, for which
it was originally built, it would
accommodate a passenger list of
But Norris wasn't interested in
that kind of run. He had knocked
out bulkheads, reconverted music
room and ballroom into living
quarters. He had closed and sealed
all observation ports, so that only
in the bridge cuddy could one see
"We shall travel beyond the
orbit of the sun," he said. "There
will be no turning back; for the
search for a new world, a new life,
is not a task for cowards."
Aside to me, he said: "You're
to be the physician of this party,
Bagley. So I'm going to tell you
what to expect when we take off.
We're going to have some mighty
sick passengers aboard then."
"What do you mean, sir?" I said.
He pointed with his pipe toward
the stern of the vessel. "See that
... well, call it a booster. Ganeth-Klae
designed it just before he disappeared,
using the last lot of Indurate
in existence. It will increase
our take-off speed by five times,
and it will probably have a bad
effect on the passengers."
So we had left Earth, at night
from a field out in Essex. Without
orders, without clearance papers,
without an automatic pilot check.
Eighteen couples and one navigator—destination
unknown. If the Interstellar
Council had known what
Norris was up to, it would have
been a case for the Space-Time Commission.
Of that long initial lap of our
voyage, perhaps the less said the
better. As always is the case when
monotony begins to wear away the
veneer of civilization, character
quirks came to the surface, cliques
formed among the passengers, and
gossip and personalities became
matters of pre-eminent importance.
Rising to the foreground out of
our thirty-six, came Fielding Mason,
tall, taciturn, and handsome,
with a keen intellect and a sense of
values remarkable in so young a
man. Mason was a graduate of
Montape, the French outgrowth of
St. Cyr. But he had majored in
military tactics, psychology and
sociology and knew nothing at all
about astrogation or even elemental
astronomy. He too was a man
of good breeding and refinement.
Nevertheless conflict began to develop
between him and Navigator
Norris. That conflict began the day
we landed on Coulora.
Norris stepped out of the air
lock into the cold thin air, glanced
briefly about him and faced the
eighteen men assembled.
"We'll divide into three groups,"
he said. "Each group to carry an
organic surveyor and take a different
direction. Each group will so
regulate its marching as to be back
here without fail an hour before
darkness sets in. If you find no
sign of animal life, then we will
take off again immediately on your
Mason paused halfway in the act
of strapping on his packsack.
"What's that got to do with it?"
he demanded. "There's vegetation
here. That's all that seems to be
Norris lit his pipe. "If you find
no sign of animal life we will take
off immediately on your return,"
he said as if he hadn't heard.
But the strangeness of Coulora
tempered bad feelings then. The
blue hensorr trees were actually not
trees at all but a huge cat-tail-like
growth, the stalks of which were
quite transparent. In between the
stalks grew curious cabbage-like
plants that changed from red to
yellow as an intruder approached
and back to red again after he had
passed. Rock outcroppings were
everywhere, but all were eroded
and in places polished smooth as
There was a strange kind of dust
that acted as though endowed with
life. It quivered when trod upon,
and the outline of our footsteps
slowly rose into the air, so that
looking back I could see our trail
floating behind us in irregular
Above us the star that was this
planet's sun shown bright but faintly
red as if it were in the first stages
of dying. The air though thin was
fit to breathe, and we found it
unnecessary to wear space suits. We
marched down the corridors of
hensorr trees, until we came to an
open spot, a kind of glade. And
that was the first time Mason tuned
his organic surveyor and received
There was no animal life on
Within an hour we had blasted
off again. The forward-impact delivered
by the Ganeth-Klae booster
was terrific, and nausea and vertigo
struck us all simultaneously. But
again, with all ports and observation
shields sealed shut, Norris
held the secret of our destination.
On July twenty-second, the ship
gave that sickening lurch and came
once again to a standstill.
"Same procedure as before,"
Norris said, stepping out of the
airlock. "Those of you who desire
to have their wives accompany you
may do so. Mason, you'll make a
final correlation on the organic surveyors.
If there is no trace of animal
life return here before dark."
Once our group was out of sight
of the ship, Mason threw down his
packsack, sat down on a boulder
and lighted a cigarette.
"Bagley," he said to me, "has
the Old Man gone loco?"
"I think not," I said, frowning.
"He's one of the most evenly balanced
persons I know."
"Then he's hiding something,"
Mason said. "Why else should he
be so concerned with finding animal
"You know the answer to that,"
I said. "We're here to colonize, to
start a new life. We can't very
well do that on a desert."
"That's poppycock," Mason replied,
flinging away his cigarette.
"When the Albertson expedition
first landed on Mars, there was no
animal life on the red planet. Now
look at it. Same thing was true
when Breslauer first settled Pluto.
The colonies there got along. I
tell you Norris has got something
up his sleeve, and I don't like it."
Later, after Mason had taken
his negative surveyor reading, the
flame of trouble reached the end
of its fuse!
Norris had given orders to return
to the Marie Galante, and the
rest of us were sullenly making
ready to start the back trail. Mason,
however, deliberately seized his
pick and began chopping a hole in
the rock surface, preparatory apparently
to erecting his plastic tent.
"We'll make temporary camp
here," he said calmly. "Brandt, you
can go back to the ship and bring
back the rest of the women." He
turned and smiled sardonically at
Norris quietly knocked the ashes
from his pipe and placed it in his
pocket. He strode forward, took
the pick from Mason's hands and
flung it away. Then he seized Mason
by the coat, whipped him
around and drove his fist hard
against the younger man's jaw.
"When you signed on for this
voyage, you agreed to obey my
orders," he said, not raising his
voice. "You'll do just that."
Mason picked himself up, and
there was an ugly glint in his eyes.
He could have smashed Norris to
a pulp, and none knew it better
than the Navigator. For a brief instant
the younger man swayed
there on the balls of his feet, fists
clenched. Then he let his hands
drop, walked over and began to put
on his packsack.
But I had seen Mason's face, and
I knew he had not given in as
easily as it appeared. Meanwhile
he began to circulate among the
passengers, making no offers, yet
subtly enlisting backers for a policy,
the significance of which grew on
me slowly. It was mutiny he was
plotting! And with his personal
charm and magnetism he had little
trouble in winning over converts.
I came upon him arguing before
a group of the women one day,
among them his own wife, Estelle.
He was standing close to her.
"We have clothing and equipment
and food concentrate," Mason
said. "Enough to last two generations.
We have brains and intelligence,
and we certainly should
be able to establish ourselves without
the aid of other vertebrate
forms of life.
"Coulora, Jama, Tenethon, Mokrell,
R-9, and Stragella. We could
have settled on any one of those
planets, and apparently we should
have, for conditions have grown
steadily worse at each landing. But
always the answer is no. Why? Because
Norris says we must go on
until we find animal life."
He cleared his throat and gazed
at the feminine faces before him.
"Go where? What makes Norris
so sure he'll find life on any planet
in this system? And incidentally
where in the cosmos is this system?"
One of the women, a tall blonde,
stirred uneasily. "What do you
mean?" she said.
"I mean we don't know if our
last landing was on Stragella or
Coulora. I mean we don't know
where we are or where we're going,
and I don't think Norris does
either. We're lost!"
That was in August. By the last
of September we had landed on
two more planets, to which Norris
gave the simple names of R-12 and
R-14. Each had crude forms of
vegetable life, represented principally
by the blue hensorr trees, but
in neither case did the organic surveyor
reveal the slightest traces of
There was, however, a considerable
difference in physical appearance
between R-12 and R-14, and
for a time that fact excited Norris
tremendously. Up to then, each
successive planet, although similar
in size, had exhibited signs of
greater age than its predecessor.
But on R-12 there were definite
manifestations of younger geologic
Several pieces of shale lay exposed
under a fold of igneous rock.
Two of those pieces contained
fossils of highly developed ganoids,
similar to those found on Venus.
They were perfectly preserved.
It meant that animal life had
existed on R-12, even if it didn't
now. It meant that R-12, though a
much older planet than Earth, was
still younger than Stragella or the
For a while Norris was almost
beside himself. He cut out rock
samples and carried them back to
the ship. He personally supervised
the tuning of the surveyors. And
when he finally gave orders to take
off, he was almost friendly to Mason,
whereas before his attitude
toward him had been one of cold
But when we reached R-14, our
eighth landing, all that passed. For
R-14 was old again, older than any
of the others.
And then, on October sixteenth,
Mason opened the door of the
locked cabin. It happened quite by
accident. One of the arelium-thaxide
conduits broke in the Marie
Galante's central passageway, and
the resulting explosion grounded
the central feed line of the instrument
equipment. In a trice the
passageway was a sheet of flame,
rapidly filling with smoke from
Norris, of course, was in the
bridge cuddy with locked doors between
us and him, and now with
the wiring burned through there
was no way of signalling him he
was wanted for an emergency. In
his absence Mason took command.
That passageway ran the full
length of the ship. Midway down
it was the door leading to the
women's lounge. The explosion
had jammed that door shut, and
smoke was pouring forth from under
the sill. All at once one of the
women rushed forward to announce
hysterically that Mason's wife,
Estelle, was in the lounge.
Adjoining the lounge was a small
cabin which since the beginning
of our voyage had remained locked.
Norris had given strict orders that
that cabin was not to be disturbed.
We all had taken it as a matter of
course that it contained various
kinds of precision instruments.
Now, however, Mason realized
that the only way into the lounge
was by way of that locked cabin.
If he used a heat blaster on the
lounge door there was no telling
what would happen to the woman
He ripped the emergency blaster
from its wall mounting, pressed it
to the magnetic latch of the sealed
cabin door and pressed the stud.
An instant later he was leading
his frightened wife, Estelle, out
through the smoke.
The fire was quickly extinguished
after that and the wiring spliced.
Then when the others had drifted
off, Mason called Brandt and me
"We've been wondering for a
long time what happened to
Ganeth-Klae, the Martian inventor
who worked with Norris to invent
Indurate," he said very quietly.
"Well, we don't need to wonder
any more. He's in there."
Brandt and I stepped forward
over the sill—and drew up short.
Ganeth-Klae was there all right,
but he would never trouble himself
about making a voyage in a locked
cabin. His rigid body was encased
in a transparent block of amber-colored
solidifex, the after-death
preservative used by all Martians.
Both of us recognized his still
features at once, and in addition
his name-tattoo, required by Martian
law, was clearly visible on his
For a brief instant the discovery
stunned us. Klae dead? Klae whose
IQ had become a measuring guide
for the entire system, whose Martian
head held more ordinary horse
sense, in addition to radical postulations
on theoretical physics, than
anyone on the planets. It wasn't
And what was the significance of
his body on Norris' ship? Why had
Norris kept its presence a secret
and why had he given out the story
of Klae's disappearance?
Mason's face was cold as ice.
"Come with me, you two," he
said. "We're going to get the answer
to this right now."
We went along the passage to
the circular staircase. We climbed
the steps, passed through the scuttle
and came to the door of the
bridge cuddy. Mason drew the bar
and we passed in. Norris was
bent over the chart table. He looked
up sharply at the sound of our
"What is the meaning of this
intrusion?" he said.
It didn't take Mason long to
explain. When he had finished, he
stood there, jaw set, eyes smouldering.
Norris paled. Then quickly he
got control of himself, and his old
bland smile returned.
"I expected you to blunder into
Klae's body one of these days," he
said. "The explanation is quite
simple. Klae had been ill for many
months, and he knew his time was
up. His one desire in life was to
go on this expedition with me, and
he made me promise to bury him
at the site of our new colony. The
pact was between him and me, and
I've followed it to the letter, telling
Mason's lips curled in a sneer.
"And just what makes you think
we're going to believe that story?"
Norris lit a cigar. "It's entirely
immaterial to me whether you believe
it or not."
But the story was believed, especially
by the women, to whom the
romantic angle appealed and Mason's
embryonic mutiny died without
being born, and the Marie
Galante sailed on through uncharted
space toward her ninth and last
As the days dragged by and no
word came from the bridge cuddy,
restlessness began to grow amongst
us. Rumor succeeded rumor, each
story wilder and more incredible
than the rest. Then just as the
tension had mounted to fever pitch,
there came the sickening lurch and
grinding vibration of another landing.
Norris dispensed with his usual
talk before marching out from the
ship. After testing the atmosphere
with the ozonometer, he passed out
the heat pistols and distributed the
various instruments for computing
radioactivity and cosmic radiation.
"This is the planet Nizar," he
said shortly. "Largest in the field
of the sun Ponthis. You will make
your survey as one group this time.
I will remain here."
He stood watching us as we
marched off down the cliff side.
Then the blue hensorr trees rose
up to swallow him from view. Mason
swung along at the head of
our column, eyes bright, a figure
of aggressive action. We had gone
but a hundred yards when it became
apparent that, as a planet,
Nizar was entirely different from
its predecessors. There was considerable
top soil, and here grew a
tall reed-shaped plant that gave off
varying chords of sound when the
It was as if we were progressing
through the nave of a mighty
church with a muted organ in the
distance. There was animal life too,
a strange lizard-like bird that rose
up in flocks ahead of us and flew
"I don't exactly like it, Bagley,"
he said. "There's something unwholesome
about this planet. The
evolution is obviously in an early
state of development, but I get the
impression that it has gone backward;
that the planet is really old
and has reverted to its earlier life."
Above us the sky was heavily
overcast, and a tenuous white mist
rising up from the hensorr trees
formed curious shapes and designs.
In the distance I could hear the
swashing of waves on a beach.
Suddenly Mason stopped.
"Look!" he said.
Below us stretched the shore of
a great sea. But it was the structure
rising up from that shore that drew
a sharp exclamation from me.
Shaped in a rough ellipse, yet
mounted high toward a common
point, was a large building of
multiple hues and colors. The upper
portion was eroded to crumbling
ruins, the lower part studded with
many bas-reliefs and triangular
"Let's go," Mason said, breaking
out into a fast loping run.
The building was farther away
than we had thought, but when we
finally came up to it, we saw that
it was even more of a ruin than
it had at first appeared. It was
only a shell with but two walls
standing, alone and forlorn. Whatever
race had lived here, they had
come and gone.
We prowled about the ruins for
more than an hour. The carvings
on the walls were in the form of
geometric designs and cabalistic
symbols, giving no clue to the city's
former occupants' identity.
And then Mason found the stairs
leading to the lower crypts. He
switched on his ato-flash and led
the way down cautiously. Level one
... level two ... three ... we
descended lower and lower. Here
water from the nearby sea oozed in
little rivulets that glittered in the
light of the flash.
We emerged at length on a wide
underground plaisance, a kind of
amphitheater, with tier on tier of
seats surrounding it and extending
back into the shadows.
"Judging from what we've seen,"
Mason said, "I would say that the
race that built this place had
reached approximately a grade C-5
of civilization, according to the
Mokart scale. This apparently was
their council chamber."
"What are those rectangular
stone blocks depending from the
ceiling?" I said.
Mason turned the light beam upward.
"I don't know," he said.
"But my guess is that they are
burial vaults. Perhaps the creatures
Away from the flash the floor of
the plaisance appeared to be a
great mirror that caught our reflections
and distorted them fantastically
and horribly. We saw
then that it was a form of living
mold, composed of millions of tiny
plants, each with an eye-like iris
at its center. Those eyes seemed to
be watching us, and as we strode
forward, a great sigh rose up, as
if in resentment at our intrusion.
There was a small triangular dais
in the center of the chamber, and
in the middle of it stood an irregular
black object. As we drew
nearer, I saw that it had been
carved roughly in the shape of this
central building and that it was in
a perfect state of preservation.
Mason walked around this carving
several times, examining it
"Odd," he said. "It looks to be
an object of religious veneration,
but I never heard before of a race
worshipping a replica of their own
Suddenly his voice died off. He
bent closer to the black stone,
studying it in the light of the
powerful ato-flash. He got a small
magnifying glass out of his pocket
and focused it on one of the miniature
bas-reliefs midway toward the
top of the stone. Unfastening his
geologic hammer from his belt, he
managed, with a sharp, swinging
blow, to break off a small protruding
He drew in his breath sharply,
and I saw his face go pale. I stared
at him in alarm.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
He motioned that I follow and
led the way silently past the others
toward the stair shaft. Climbing to
the top level was a heart-pounding
task, but Mason almost ran up
those steps. At the surface he
leaned against a pillar, his lips
"Tell me I'm sane, Bagley," he
said huskily. "Or rather, don't say
anything until we've seen Norris.
Come on. We've got to see Norris."
All the way back to the Marie
Galante, I sought to soothe him,
but he was a man possessed. He
rushed up the ship's gangway, burst
into central quarters and drew up
before Navigator Norris like a
runner stopping at the tape.
"You damned lying hypocrite!"
Norris looked at him in his quiet
way. "Take it easy, Mason," he
said. "Sit down and explain yourself."
But Mason didn't sit down. He
thrust his hand in his pocket, pulled
out the piece of black stone he
had chipped off the image in the
cavern and handed it to Norris.
"Take a look at that!" he demanded.
Norris took the stone, glanced
at it and laid it down on his desk.
His face was emotionless. "I expected
this sooner or later," he
said. "Yes, it's Indurate all right.
Is that what you want me to say?"
There was a dangerous fanatical
glint in Mason's eyes now. With
a sudden quick motion he pulled
out his heat pistol.
"So you tricked us!" he snarled.
"Why? I want to know why."
I stepped forward and seized
Mason's gun hand. "Don't be a
fool," I said. "It can't be that important."
Mason threw back his head and
burst into an hysterical peal of
laughter. "Important!" he cried.
"Tell him how important it is,
Norris. Tell him."
Quietly the Navigator filled and
lighted his pipe. "I'm afraid Mason
is right," he said. "I did trick
you. Not purposely, however. And
in the beginning I had no intention
of telling anything but the truth.
Actually we're here because of a
dead man's vengeance."
Norris took his pipe from his
lips and stared at it absently.
"You'll remember that Ganeth-Klae,
the Martian, and I worked
together to invent Indurate. But
whereas I was interested in the
commercial aspects of that product,
Klae was absorbed only in the experimental
angle of it. He had
some crazy idea that it should not
be given to the general public at
once, but rather should be allocated
for the first few years to a select
group of scientific organizations.
You see, Indurate was such a departure
from all known materials
that Ganeth-Klae feared it would
be utilized for military purposes.
"I took him for a dreamer and
a fool. Actually he was neither.
How was I to know that his keen
penetrating brain had seen through
my motive to get control of all
commercial marketing of Indurate?
I had laid my plans carefully, and
I had expected to reap a nice harvest.
Klae must have been aware
of my innermost thoughts, but
Martian-like he said nothing."
Norris paused to wet his lips and
lean against the desk. "I didn't
kill Ganeth-Klae," he continued,
"though I suppose in a court of
law I would be judged responsible
for his death. The manufacture of
Indurate required some ticklish
work. As you know, we produced
our halves of the formula separately.
Physical contact with my half
over a long period of time would
prove fatal, I knew, and I simply
neglected to so inform Ganeth-Klae.
"But his ultimate death was a
boomerang. With Klae gone, I
could find no trace of his half of
the formula. I was almost beside
myself for a time. Then I thought
of something. Klae had once said
that the secret of his half of the
formula lay in himself. A vague
statement, to say the least. But I
took the words at their face value
and gambled that he meant them
literally; that is, that his body itself
contained the formula.
"I tried everything: X-ray, chemical
analysis of the skin. I even removed
the cranial cap and examined
the brain microscopically. All
without result. Meanwhile the
police were beginning to direct
their suspicions toward me in the
matter of Klae's disappearance.
"You know the rest. It was
necessary that I leave Earth at once
and go beyond our system, beyond
the jurisdiction of the planetary
police. So I arranged this voyage
with a sufficient complement of
passengers to lessen the danger and
hardship of a new life on a new
world. I was still positive, however,
that Klae's secret lay in his dead
body. I took that body along, encased
in the Martian preservative,
"It was my idea that I could
continue my examination once we
were safe on a strange planet But
I had reckoned without Ganeth-Klae."
"What do you mean?" I said
"I said Klae was no fool. But I
didn't know that with Martian
stoicism he suspected the worst and
took his own ironic means of combating
it. He used the last lot of
Indurate to make that booster, a
device which he said would increase
our take-off speed. He mounted it
on the Marie Galante.
"Mason, that device was no
booster. It was a time machine, so
devised as to catapult the ship not
into outer space, but into the space-time
continuum. It was a mechanism
designed to throw the Marie
Galante forward into the future."
A cloud of fear began to well
over me. "What do you mean?"
I said again.
Navigator Norris paced around
his desk. "I mean that the Marie
Galante has not once left Earth,
has not in fact left the spot of its
moorings but has merely gone forward
in time. I mean that the nine
'landings' we made were not stops
on some other planets but halting
stages of a journey into the future."
Had a bombshell burst over my
head the effect could have been no
greater. Cold perspiration began
to ooze out on my forehead. In
a flash I saw the significance of the
entire situation. That was why
Norris had been so insistent that
we always return to the ship before
dark. He didn't want us to see the
night sky and the constellations
there for fear we would guess the
truth. That was why he had never
permitted any of us in the bridge
cuddy and why he had kept all
ports and observation shields closed.
"But the names of the planets
... Coulora, Stragella, and the
others and their positions on the
chart...?" I objected.
Norris smiled grimly. "All words
created out of my imagination. Like
the rest of you, I knew nothing of
the true action of the booster. It
was only gradually that truth
dawned on me. But by the time we
had made our first 'landing' I
had guessed. That was why I demanded
we always take organic
surveyor readings. I knew we had
traveled far into future time, far
beyond the life period of man on
Earth. But I wasn't sure how far
we had gone, and I lived with the
hope that Klae's booster might reverse
itself and start carrying us
backwards down the centuries."
For a long time I stood there
in silence, a thousand mad speculations
racing through my mind.
"How about that piece of Indurate?"
I said at length. "It was
chipped off an image in the ruins
of a great building a mile or so
"An image?" repeated Norris.
A faint glow of interest slowly
rose in his eyes. Then it died. "I
don't know," he said. "It would
seem to presuppose that the formula,
both parts of it, was known
by Klae and that he left it for
posterity to discover."
All this time Mason had been
standing there, eyes smouldering,
lips an ugly line. Now abruptly he
took a step forward.
"I've wanted to return this for
a long time," he said.
He doubled back his arm and
brought his fist smashing onto
Norris' jaw. The Navigator's head
snapped backward; he gave a low
groan and slumped to the floor.
And that is where, by all logic,
this tale should end. But, as you
may have guessed, there is an anticlimax—what
story-tellers call a
Mason, Brandt, and I worked,
and worked alone, on the theory
that the secret of the Indurate formula
would be the answer to our
return down the time trail. We removed
the body of Ganeth-Klae
from its solidifex envelope and
treated it with every chemical process
we knew. By sheer luck the
fortieth trial worked. A paste of
carbo-genethon mixed with the
crushed seeds of the Martian iron-flower
was spread over Klae's chest
And there, in easily decipherable
code, was not only the formula,
but the working principles of the
ship's booster—or rather, time-catapult.
After that, it was a simple
matter to reverse the principle
and throw us backward in the time
We are heading back as I write
these lines. If they reach print and
you read them, it will mean our
escape was successful and that we
returned to our proper slot in the
epilogue of human events.
There remains, however, one
matter to trouble me. Navigator
Norris. I like the man. I like him
tremendously, in spite of his cold-blooded
confession, and past record.
He must be punished, of
course. But I, for one, would hate
to see him given the death penalty.
It is a serious problem.
This etext was produced from Fantastic Universe September 1955. Extensive
research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed.