The Project Gutenberg eBook of The call from beyond

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Title: The call from beyond

Author: Clifford D. Simak

Illustrator: Virgil Finlay

Release date: November 7, 2022 [eBook #69308]

Language: English

Original publication: United States: Popular Publications, Inc, 1950

Credits: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at




Alone, accursed, he set out on the
long, dark voyage to the forbidden gateway
to worlds beyond life itself—restless
forever with an ultimate knowledge,
possessing which no man could die!

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Super Science Stories May 1950.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


The Pyramid of Bottles

The pyramid was built of bottles, hundreds of bottles that flashed and glinted as if with living fire, picking up and breaking up the misty light that filtered from the distant sun and still more distant stars.

Frederick West took a slow step forward, away from the open port of his tiny ship. He shook his head and shut his eyes and opened them again and the pyramid was still there. So it was no figment, as he had feared, of his imagination, born in the darkness and the loneliness of his flight from Earth.

It was there and it was a crazy thing. Crazy because it should not be there, at all. There should be nothing here on this almost unknown slab of tumbling stone and metal.

For no one lived on Pluto's moon. No one ever visited Pluto's moon. Even he, himself, hadn't intended to until, circling it to have a look before going on to Pluto, he had seen that brief flash of light, as if someone might be signaling. It had been the pyramid, of course. He knew that now. The stacked-up bottles catching and reflecting light.

Behind the pyramid stood a space hut, squatted down among the jagged boulders. But there was no movement, no sign of life. No one was tumbling out of the entrance lock to welcome him. And that was strange, he thought. For visitors must be rare, if, indeed, they came at all.

Perhaps the pyramid really was a signaling device, although it would be a clumsy way of signaling. More likely a madman's caprice. Come to think of it, anyone who was sufficiently deranged to live on Pluto's moon would be a fitting architect for a pyramid of bottles.

The moon was so unimportant that it wasn't even named. The spacemen, on those rare occasions when they mentioned it at all, simply called it "Pluto's moon" and let it go at that.

No one came out to this sector of space any more. Which, West told himself parenthetically, is exactly why I came. For if you could slip through the space patrol you would be absolutely safe. No one would ever bother you.

No one bothered Pluto these days. Not since the ban had been slapped on it three years before, since the day the message had come through from the scientists in the cold laboratories which had been set up several years before that.

No one came to the planet now. Especially with the space patrol on guard ... although there were ways of slipping through. If one knew where the patrol ships would be at certain times and build up one's speed and shut off the engines, coasting on momentum in the shadow of the planet, one could get to Pluto.

West was near the pyramid now and he saw that it was built of whisky bottles. All empty, very empty, their labels fresh and clear.

West straightened up from staring at the bottles and advanced toward the hut. Locating the lock, he pressed the button. There was no response. He pressed it again. Slowly, almost reluctantly, the lock swung in its seat. Swiftly he stepped inside and swung over the lever that closed the outer lock, opened the inner one.

Dim light oozed from the interior of the hut and through his earphones West heard the dry rustle of tiny claws whispering across the floor. Then a gurgling, like water running down a pipe.

Heart in his mouth, thumb hooked close to the butt of his pistol, West stepped quickly across the threshold of the lock.

A man, clad in motheaten underwear, sat on the edge of the cot. His hair was long and untrimmed, his whiskers sprouted in black ferocity. From the mat of beard two eyes stared out, like animals brought to bay in caves. A bony hand thrust out a whisky bottle in a gesture of invitation.

The whiskers moved and a croak came from them. "Have a snort," it said.

West shook his head. "I don't drink."

"I do," the whiskers said. The hand tilted the bottle and the bottle gurgled.

West glanced swiftly around the room. No radio. That made it simpler. If there had been a radio he would have had to smash it. For, he realized now, it had been a silly thing to do, stopping on this moon. No one knew where he was ... and that was the way it should have stood.

West snapped his visor up.

"Drinking myself to death," the whiskers told him.

West stared, astounded at the utter poverty, at the absolute squalor of the place.

"Three years," said the man. "Not a single sober breath in three solid years." He hiccoughed. "Getting me," he said. His left hand came up and thumped his shrunken chest. Lint flew from the ragged underwear. The right hand still clutched the bottle.

"Earth years," the whiskers explained. "Three Earth years. Not Pluto years."

A thing that chattered came out of the shadows in one corner of the hut and leaped upon the bed. It hunched itself beside the man and stared leeringly at West, its mouth a slit that drooled across its face, its puckered hide a horror in the sickly light.

"Meet Annabelle," said the man. He whistled at the thing and it clambered to his shoulder, cuddling against his cheek.

West shivered at the sight.

"Just passing through?" the man inquired.

"My name is West," West told him. "Heading for Pluto."

"Ask them to show you the painting," said the man. "Yes, you must see the painting."

"The painting?"

"You deaf?" asked the man, belligerently. "I said a painting. You understand—a picture."

"I understand," said West. "But I didn't know there were any paintings there. Didn't even know there was anybody there."

"Sure there is," said the man. "There's Louis and—"

He lifted the bottle and took a snort.

"I got alcoholism," said the man. "Good thing, alcoholism. Keeps colds away. Can't catch a cold when you got alcoholism. Kills you quicker than a cold, though. Why, you might go on for years having colds—"

"Look," urged West, "you have to tell me about Pluto. About who's there. And the painting. How come you know about them?"

The eyes regarded him with drunken cunning.

"You'd have to do something for me. Couldn't give you information like that out of the goodness of my heart."

"Of course," agreed West. "Anything that you would like. You just name it."

"You got to take Annabelle out of here," the man told him. "Take her back where she belongs. It isn't any place for a girl like her. No fit life for her to lead. Living with a sodden wreck like me. Used to be a great man once ... yes, sir, a great man. It all came of looking for a bottle. One particular bottle. Had to sample all of them. Every last one. And when I sampled them, there was nothing else to do but drink them up. They'd spoil for sure if you let them stand around. And who wants a lot of spoiled liquor cluttering up the place?"

He took another shot.

"Been at it ever since," he explained. "Almost got them now. Ain't many of them left. Used to think that I'd find the right bottle before it was too late and then everything would be all right. Wouldn't do me no good to find it now, because I'm going to die. Enough left to last me, though. Aim to die plastered. Happy way to die."

"But what about those people on Pluto?" demanded West.

The whiskers snickered. "I fooled them. They gave me my choice. Take anything you want, they said. Big-hearted, you understand. Pals to the very last. So I took the whisky. Cases of it. They didn't know, you see. I tricked them."

"I'm sure you did," said West. Tiny, icy feet ran up and down his spine. For there was madness here, he knew, but madness with a pattern. Somewhere, somehow, this twisted talk would fall into a pattern that would make sense.

"But something went wrong," the man declared. "Something went wrong."

Silence whistled in the room.

"You see, Mr. Best," the man declared. "I—"

"West," said West. "Not Best. West."

The man did not seem to notice. "I'm going to die, you understand. Any minute, maybe. Got a liver and heart and either one could kill me. Drinking does that to you. Never used to drink. Got into the habit when I was sampling all these bottles. Got a taste for it. Then there wasn't anything to do—"

He hunched forward.

"Promise you will take Annabelle," he croaked.

Annabelle tittered at West, slobber drooling from her mouth.

"But I can't take her back," West protested, "unless I know where she came from. You have to tell me that."

The man waggled a finger. "From far away," he croaked, "and yet not so very far. Not so very far if you know the way."

West eyed Annabelle with the gorge rising in his throat.

"I will take her," he said. "But you have to tell me where."

"Thank you, Guest," said the man. He lifted the bottle and let it gurgle.

"Not Guest," said West, patiently. "My name is—"

The man toppled forward off the bed, sprawled across the floor. The bottle rolled crazily, spilling liquor in sporadic gushes.

West leaped forward, knelt beside the man and lifted him. The whiskers moved and a whisper came from their tangled depths, a gasping whisper that was scarcely more than a waning breath.

"Tell Louis that his painting—"

"Louis?" yelled West. "Louis who? What about—"

The whisper came again. "Tell him ... someday ... he'll paint a wrong place and then...."

Gently West laid the man back on the floor and stepped away. The whisky bottle still rocked to and fro beneath a chair where it had come to rest.

Something glinted at the head of the cot and West walked to where it hung. It was a watch, a shining watch, polished with years of care. It swung slowly from a leather thong tied to the rod that formed the cot's head, where a man could reach out in the dark and read it.

West took it in his hand and turned it over, saw the engraving that ran across its back. Bending low, he read the inscription in the feeble light.

To Walter J. Darling, from class of '16,
Mars Polytech.

West straightened, understanding and disbelief stirring in his mind.

Walter J. Darling, that huddle on the floor? Walter J. Darling, one of the solar system's greatest biologists, dead in this filthy hut? Darling, teacher for years at Mars Polytechnical Institute, that shrunken, liquor-sodden corpse in shoddy underwear?

West wiped his forehead with the back of his space-gloved hand. Darling had been a member of that mysterious government commission assigned to the cold laboratories on Pluto, sent there to develop artificial hormones aimed at controlled mutation of the human race. A mission that had been veiled in secrecy from the first because it was feared, and rightly so, that revelation of its purpose might lead to outraged protests from a humanity that could not imagine why it should be improved biologically.

A mission, thought West, that had set out in mystery and ended in mystery, mystery that had sent whispers winging through the solar system. Shuddery whispers.

Louis? That would be Louis Nevin, another member of the Pluto commission. He was the man Darling had tried to tell about just before he died.

And Nevin must still be out here on Pluto, must still be alive despite the message that had come to Earth.

But the painting didn't fit. Nevin wasn't an artist. He was a biologist, scarcely second to Darling.

The message of three years before had been a phony, then. There were men still on the planet.

And that meant, West told himself bitterly, that his own plan had gone awry. For Pluto was the only place in the Solar System where there would be food and shelter and to which no one would ever come.

He remembered how he had planned it all so carefully ... how it had seemed a perfect answer. There would be many years' supply of food stacked in the storerooms, there would be comfortable living quarters, and there would be tools and equipment should he ever need them. And, of course, the Thing, whatever it might be. The horror that had closed the planet, that had set the space patrol to guard the planet's loneliness.

But West had never been too concerned with what he might find on Pluto, for whatever it might be, it could be no worse than the bitterness that was his on Earth.

There was something going on at the Pluto laboratories. Something that the government didn't know about or that the government had suppressed along with that now infamous report of three years before.

Something that Darling could have told him had he wanted to ... or had he been able. But now Walter J. Darling was past all telling. West would have to find out by himself.

West stepped to where he lay, lifted him to the cot and covered him with a tattered blanket.

Perched on the cot head, Annabelle chattered and giggled and drooled.

"Come here, you," said West. "Come on over here."

Annabelle came, slowly and coyly. West lifted her squeamishly, thrust her into an outer pocket and zipped it shut. He started toward the doorway.

On the way out he picked the empty bottle from the floor, added it to the pyramid outside.


The White Singer

West's craft fled like a silvery shadow between the towering mountain peaks shielding the only valley on Pluto that had ever known the tread of Man.

Coasting in on silent motors in the shadow of the planet, he had eluded the patrol. Beyond the mountains he had thrown in the motors, had braked the plunging ship almost to a crawl, taking the chance the flare of the rockets might be seen by any of the patrol far out in space.

And now, speed reduced, dropping in a long slant toward the glass-smooth landing field, he huddled over the controls, keyed to a free-fall landing, always dangerous at best. But it would be as dangerous, he sensed, to advertise his coming with another rocket blast. The field was long and smooth. If he hit it right and not too far out, there would be plenty of room.

The almost nonexistent atmosphere was a point in favor. There were no eddies, no currents of air to deflect the ship, send it into a spin or a dangerous wobble.

Off to the right he caught a flash of light and his mind clicked the split-second answer that it must be the laboratory.

Then the ship was down, pancaking, hissing along the landing strip, friction gripping the hull. It stopped just short of a jumbled pile of rock and West let out his breath, felt his heart take up the beat again. A few feet more....

Locking the controls, he hung the key around his neck, pulled down the visor of his space gear and let himself out of the ship.

Across the field glowed the lights of the laboratory. He had not been mistaken, then. He had seen the lights ... and men were here. Or could he be mistaken? Those lights would have continued to function even without attention. The fact that they were shining in the building was no reason to conclude that men also were there.

At the far end of the field loomed a massive structure and West knew that it was the shops of the Alpha Centauri expedition, where men had labored for two years to make the Henderson space drive work. Somewhere, he knew, in the shadow of the star-lighted shops, was the ship itself, the Alpha Centauri, left behind when the crew had given up in despair and gone back to Earth. A ship designed to fly out to the stars, to quit the Solar System and go into the void, spanning light years as easily as an ordinary ship went from Earth to Mars.

It hadn't gone, of course, but that didn't matter.

"A symbol," West said to himself.

That was what it was ... a symbol and a dream.

And something, too, now that he was here, now that he could admit it, that had lain in the back of his mind all the way from Earth.

West shucked his belt around so that the pistol hung handy to his fist.

If men were here ... or worse, if that message hadn't been a phony, he might need the pistol. Although it was unlikely that the sort of thing that he then would face would be vulnerable to a pistol.

Shivering, he remembered that terse, secret report reposing in the confidential archives back on Earth ... the transcription of the tense, rasping voice that had come over the radio from Pluto, a voice that told of dreadful things, of dying men and something that was loose. A voice that had screamed a warning, then had gurgled and died out.

It was after that that the ban had been put on the planet and the space patrol sent out to quarantine the place.

Mystery from the first, he thought ... beginning and the end. First because the commission was seeking a hormone to effect controlled mutations in the human race. And the race would resent such a thing, of course, so it had to be a mystery.

The human race, West thought bitterly, resents anything that deviates from the norm. It used to stone the leper from the towns and it smothered its madmen in deep featherbeds and it stares at a crippled thing and its pity is a burning insult. And its fear ... oh, yes, its fear!

Slowly, carefully, West made his way across the landing strip. The surface was smooth, so smooth that his space boots had little grip upon it.

On the rocky height above the field stood the laboratory, but West turned back and stared out into space, as if he might be taking final leave of someone that he knew.

Earth, he said. Earth, can you hear me now?

You need no longer fear me and you need not worry, for I shall not come back.

But the day will come when there are others like me. And there may be even now.

For you can't tell a mutant by the way he combs his hair, nor the way he walks or talks. He sprouts no horns and he grows no tail and there's no mark upon his forehead.

But when you spot one, you must watch him carefully. You must spy against him and set double-checks about him. And you must find a place to put him where you'll be safe from anything he does ... but you must not let him know. You must try him and sentence him and send him into exile without his ever knowing it.

Like, said West, you tried to do with me.

But, said West, talking to the Earth, I didn't like your exile, so I chose one of my own. Because I knew, you see. I knew when you began to watch me and about the double-checks and the conferences and the plan of action and there were times when I could hardly keep from laughing in your face.

He stood for a long moment, staring into space, out where the Earth swam somewhere in darkness around the star-like Sun.

Bitter? he asked himself. And answered: No, not bitter. Not exactly bitter.

For you must understand, he said, still talking to the Earth, that a man is human first and mutant after that. He is not a monster simply because he is a mutant ... he is just a little different. He is human in every way that you are human and it may be that he is human in more ways than you are. For the human race as it stands today is the history of long mutancy ... of men who were a little different, who thought a little clearer, who felt a deeper compassion, who held an attribute that was more human than the rest of their fellow men. And they passed that clearer thinking and that deeper compassion on to sons and daughters and the sons and daughters passed it on to some—not all—but some of their sons and daughters. Thus the race grew up from savagery, thus the human concept grew.

Perhaps, he thought, my father was a mutant, a mutant that no one suspected. Or it may have been my mother. And neither of them would have been suspected. For my father was a farmer and if his mutancy had made the crops grow a little better through his better understanding of the soil or through a deeper feeling for the art of growing things, who would there be to know that he was a mutant? He would simply have been a better farmer than his neighbors. And if at night, when he read the well-worn books that stood on the shelf in the dining room, he understood those books and the things they meant to say better than most other men, who was there to know?

But I, he said, I was noticed. That is the crime of mutancy, to be noticed. Like the Spartan boy whose crime of stealing a fox was no crime at all, but whose cries when the fox ripped out his guts were a crime indeed.

I rose too fast, he thought. I cut through too much red tape. I understood too well. And in governmental office you can not rise too fast nor cut red tape nor understand too well. You must be as mediocre as your fellow office-holders. You cannot point to a blueprint of a rocket motor and say, "There is the trouble," when men who are better trained than you cannot see the trouble. And you cannot devise a system of production that will turn out two rocket motors for the price of one in half the time. For that is not only being too efficient; it's downright blasphemy.

But most of all you cannot stand up in open meeting of government policy makers and point out that mutancy is no crime in itself ... that it only is a crime when it is wrongly used. Nor say that the world would be better off if it used its mutants instead of being frightened of them.

Of course, if one knew one was a mutant, one would never say a thing like that. And a mutant, knowing himself a mutant, never would point out a thing that was wrong with a rocket engine. For a mutant has to keep his mouth shut, has to act the mediocre man and arrive at the ends he wishes by complex indirection.

If I had only known, thought West. If I had only known in time. I could have fooled them, as I hope many others even now are fooling them.

But now he knew it was too late, too late to turn back to the life that he had rejected, to go back and accept the dead-end trap that had been fashioned for him ... a trap that would catch and hold him, where he would be safe. And where the human race would be safe from him.

West turned around and found the path that led up the rocky decline toward the laboratory.

A hulking figure stepped out of the shadows and challenged him.

"Where do you think you're going?"

West halted. "Just got in," he said. "Looking for a friend of mine. By the name of Nevin."

Inside the pocket of his suit, he felt Annabelle stirring restlessly. Probably she was getting cold.

"Nevin?" asked the man, a note of alarm chilling his voice. "What do you want of Nevin?"

"He's got a painting," West declared.

The man's voice turned silky and dangerous. "How much do you know about Nevin and his painting?"

"Not much," said West. "That's why I'm here. Wanted to talk with him about it."

Annabelle turned a somersault inside West's zippered pocket. The man's eyes caught the movement.

"What you got in there?" he demanded, suspiciously.

"Annabelle," said West. "She's—well, she's something like a skinned rat, partly, with a face that's almost human, except it's practically all mouth."

"You don't say. Where did you get her?"

"Found her," West told him.

Laughter gurgled in the man's throat. "So you found her, eh? Can you imagine that?"

He reached out and took West by the arm.

"Maybe we'll have a lot to talk about," he said. "We'll have to compare our notes."

Together they moved up the hillside, the man's gloved hand clutching West by the arm.

"You're Langdon," West hazarded, as casually as he could speak.

The man chuckled. "Not Langdon. Langdon got lost."

"That's tough," commented West. "Bad place to get lost on ... Pluto."

"Not Pluto," said the man. "Somewhere else."

"Maybe Darling, then ..." and he held his breath to hear the answer.

"Darling left us," said the man. "I'm Cartwright. Burton Cartwright."

On the top of the tiny plateau in front of the laboratory, they stopped to catch their breath. The dim starlight painted the valley below with silver tracery.

West pointed. "That ship!"

Cartwright chuckled. "You recognize it, eh? The Alpha Centauri."

"They're still working on the drive, back on Earth," said West. "Someday they'll get it."

"I have no doubt of it," said Cartwright.

He swung back toward the laboratory. "Let's go in. Dinner will be ready soon."

The table was set with white cloth and shining silver that gleamed in the light of the flickering dinner tapers. Sparkling wine glasses stood in their proper places. The centerpiece was a bowl of fruit—but fruit such as West had never seen before.

Cartwright tilted a chair and dumped a thing that had been sleeping there onto the floor.

"Your place, Mr. West," he said.

The thing uncoiled itself and glared at West with an eye of fishy hatred, purred with lusty venom and slithered out of sight.

Across the table Louis Nevin apologized. "The damn things keep sneaking through all the time. I suppose, Mr. West, you have trouble with them, too."

"We tried rat traps," said Cartwright, "but they were too smart for that. So we get along with them the best we can."

West laughed to cover momentary confusion, but he found Nevin's eyes upon him.

"Annabelle," he said, "is the only one that ever bothered me."

"You're lucky," Nevin told him. "They get to be pests. There is one of them that insists on sleeping with me."

"Where's Belden?" Cartwright asked.

"He ate early," explained Nevin. "Said there were a few things he wanted to get done. Asked to be excused."

He said to West, "James Belden. Perhaps you've heard of him."

West nodded.

He pulled back his chair, started to sit down, then jerked erect.

A woman had appeared in the doorway, a woman with violet eyes and platinum hair and wrapped in an ermine opera cloak. She moved forward and the light from the flaring tapers fell across her face. West stiffened at the sight, felt the blood run cold as ice within his veins.

For the face was not a woman's face. It was like a furry skull, like a moth's face that had attempted to turn human and had stuck halfway.

Down at the end of the table, Cartwright was chuckling.

"You recognize her, Mr. West?"

West clutched the back of his chair so hard that his knuckles suddenly were white.

"Of course I do," he said. "The White Singer. But how did you bring her here?"

"So that's what they call her back on Earth," said Nevin.

"But her face," insisted West. "What's happened to her face?"

"There were two of them," said Nevin. "One of them we sent to Earth. We had to fix her up a bit. Plastic surgery, you know."

"She sings," said Cartwright.

"Yes, I know," said West. "I've heard her sing. Or, at least the other one ... the one you sent to Earth with the made-over face. She's driven practically everything else off the air. All the networks carry her."

Cartwright sighed. "I should like to hear her back on Earth," he said. "She would sing differently there, you know, than she sang here."

"They sing," interrupted Nevin, "only as they feel."

"Firelight on the wall," said Cartwright, "and she'd sing like firelight on the wall. Or the smell of lilacs in an April rain and her music would be like the perfume of lilacs and the mist of rain along the garden path."

"We don't have rain or lilacs here," said Nevin and he looked, for a moment, as if he were going to weep.

Crazy, thought West. Crazy as a pair of bedbugs. Crazy as the man who'd drunk himself to death out on Pluto's moon.

And yet, perhaps not so crazy.

"They have no mind," said Cartwright. "That is, no mind to speak of. Just a bundle of nervous reactions, probably without the type of sensory perceptions that we have, but more than likely with other totally different sensory perceptions to make up for it. Sensitive things. Music to them is an expression of sensory impressions. They can't help the way they sing any more than a moth can help killing himself against a candle-flame. And they're naturally telepathic. They pick up thoughts and pass them along. Retain none of the thought, you understand, just pass it along. Like old fashioned telephone wires. Thoughts that listeners, under the spell of music, would pick up and accept."

"And the beauty of it is," said Nevin, "is that if a listener ever became conscious of those thoughts afterward and wondered about them, he would be convinced that they were his own, that he had had them all the time."

"Clever, eh?" asked Cartwright.

West let out his breath. "Clever, yes. I didn't think you fellows had it in you."

West wanted to shiver and found he couldn't and the shiver built up and up until it seemed his tautened nerves would snap.

Cartwright was speaking. "So our Stella is doing all right."

"What's that?" asked West.

"Stella. The other one of them. The one with the face."

"Oh, I see," said West. "I didn't know her name was Stella. No one, in fact, knows anything about her. She suddenly appeared one night as a surprise feature on one of the networks. She was announced as a mystery singer, and then people began calling her the White Singer. She always sang in dim, blue light, you see, and no one ever saw her face too plainly, although everyone imagined, of course, that it was beautiful.

"The network made no bones about her being an alien being. She was represented as a member of a mystery race that Juston Lloyd had found in the Asteroids. You remember Lloyd, the New York press agent."

Nevin was leaning across the table. "And the people, the government, it does not suspect?"

West shook his head. "Why should it? Your Stella is a wonder. Everyone is batty over her. The newspapers went wild. The movie people—"

"And the cults?"

"The cults," said West, "are doing fine."

"And you?" asked Cartwright and in the man's rumbling voice West felt the challenge.

"I found out," he said, "I came here to get cut in."

"You know exactly what you are asking?"

"I do," said West, wishing that he did.

"A new philosophy," said Cartwright. "A new concept of life. New paths for progress. Secrets the human race never has suspected. Remaking the human civilization almost overnight."

"And you," said West, "right at the center, pulling all the strings."

"So," said Cartwright.

"I want a few to pull myself."

Nevin held up his hand. "Just a minute, Mr. West. We would like to know just how—"

Cartwright laughed at him. "Forget it, Louis. He knew about your painting. He had Annabelle. Where do you suppose he found out?"

"But—but—" said Nevin.

"Maybe he didn't use a painting," Cartwright declared. "Maybe he used other methods. After all, there are others, you know. Thousands of years ago men knew of the place we found. Mu, probably. Atlantis. Some other forgotten civilization. Just the fact that West had Annabelle is enough for me. He must have been there."

West smiled, relieved. "I used other methods," he told them.


The Painting

A robot came in, wheeling a tray with steaming dishes.

"Let's sit down," suggested Nevin.

"Just one thing," asked West. "How did you get Stella back to Earth? None of you could have taken her. You'd have been recognized."

Cartwright chuckled. "Robertson," he said. "We had one ship and he slipped out. As to the recognition, Belden is our physician. He also, if you remember, is a plastic surgeon of no mean ability."

"He did the job," said Nevin, "for both Robertson and Stella."

"Nearly skinned us alive," grumbled Cartwright, "to get enough to do the work, I'll always think that he took more than he really needed, just for spite. He's a moody beggar."

Nevin changed the subject. "Shall we have Rosie sit with us?"

"Rosie?" asked West.

"Rosie is Stella's sister. We don't know the exact relationship, but we call her that for convenience."

"There are times," explained Cartwright, "when we forget her face and let her sit at the table's head, as if she were one of us. As if she were our hostess. She looks remarkably like a woman, you know. Those wings of hers are like an ermine cape, and that platinum hair. She lends something to the table ... a sort of—"

"An illusion of gentility," said Nevin.

"Perhaps we'd better not tonight," decided Cartwright. "Mr. West is not used to her. After he's been here awhile—"

He stopped and looked aghast.

"We've forgotten something," he announced.

He rose and strode around the table to the imitation fireplace and took down a bottle that stood on the mantelpiece—a bottle with a black silk bow tied around its neck. Ceremoniously, he set it in the center of the table, beside the bowl of fruit.

"It's a little joke we have," said Nevin.

"Scarcely a joke," contradicted Cartwright.

West looked puzzled. "A bottle of whisky?"

"But a special bottle," Cartwright said. "A very special bottle. Back in the old days we formed a last man's club, jokingly. This bottle was to be the one the last man would drink. It made us feel so adventuresome and brave and we laughed about it while we labored to find hormones. For, you see, none of us thought it would ever come to pass."

"But now," said Nevin, "there are only three of us."

"You are wrong," Cartwright reminded him. "There are four."

Both of them looked at West.

"Of course," decided Nevin. "There are four of us."

Cartwright spread the napkin in his lap. "Perhaps, Louis, we might as well let Mr. West see the painting."

Nevin hesitated. "I'm not quite satisfied, Cartwright...."

Cartwright clucked his tongue. "You're too suspicious, Louis. He had the creature, didn't he? He knew about your painting. There was only one way that he could have learned."

Nevin considered. "I suppose you're right," he said.

"And if Mr. West should, by any chance, turn out to be an impostor," said Cartwright, cheerfully, "we can always take the proper steps."

Nevin said to West: "I hope you understand."

"Perfectly," said West.

"We must be very careful," Nevin pointed out. "So few would understand."

"So very few," said West.

Nevin stepped across the room and pulled a cord that hung along the wall. One of the tapestries rolled smoothly back, fold on heavy fold. West, watching, held his breath at what he saw.

A tree stood in the foreground, laden with golden fruit, fruit that looked exactly like some of that in the bowl upon the table. As if someone had just stepped into the painting and picked it fresh for dinner.

Under the tree ran a path, coming up to the very edge of the canvas in such detail that even the tiny pebbles strewn upon it were clear to the eye. And from the tree the path ran back against a sweep of background, climbing into wooded hills.

For the flicker of a passing second, West could have sworn that he heard the whisper of wind in the leaves of the fruit-laden tree, that he saw the leaves tremble in the wind, that he smelled the fragrance of little flowers that bloomed along the path.

"Well, Mr. West?" Nevin asked, triumphantly.

"Why," said West, ears still cocked for the sound of wind in leaves again. "Why, it almost seems as if one could step over and walk straight down that path."

Nevin sucked in his breath with a sound that was neither gasp nor sigh, but somewhere in between. Down at the end of the table, Cartwright was choking on his wine, chuckling laughter bubbling out between his lips despite all his efforts to keep it bottled up.

"Nevin," asked West, "have you ever thought of making another painting?"

"Perhaps," said Nevin. "Why do you ask?"

West smiled. Through his brain words were drumming, words that he remembered, words a man had whispered just before he died.

"I was just thinking," said West, "of what might happen if you should paint the wrong place sometime."

"By Lord," yelled Cartwright, "he's got you there, Nevin. The exact words I've been telling you."

Nevin started to rise from the table, and even as he did the rustling whisper of music filled the room. Music that relaxed Nevin's hands from their grip upon the table's edge, music that swept the sudden chill from between West's shoulderblades.

Music that told of keen-toothed space and the blaze of stars. Music that had the whisper of rockets and the quietness of the void and the somber arches of eternal night.

Rosie was singing.

West sat on the edge of his bed and knew that he had been lucky to break away before there could be more questions asked. So far, he was certain, he'd answered those they asked without arousing too much suspicion, but the longer a thing like that went on the more likely a man was to make some slight mistake.

Now he would have time to think, time to try to untangle and put together some of the facts as they now appeared.

One of the minor monstrosities that infested the place climbed the bedpost and perched upon it, wrapping its long tail about it many times. It chittered at West and West looked at it and shuddered, wondering if it were making a face at him or if it really looked that way.

These slithery, chittering things ... he'd heard of them somewhere before. He knew that. He'd even seen pictures of them at some time. Some other time and place, very long ago. Things like Annabelle and the creature Cartwright had dumped off the chair and the little satanic being that perched upon the bedstead.

That was funny, the thing Nevin had said about them ... they keep sneaking through ... not sneaking in, but through.

Nothing added up. Not even Nevin and Cartwright. For there was about them some subtle tinge of character not human in its texture.

They had been working with hormones when something had happened that occasioned the warning sent to Earth. Or had there been a warning? Had the warning been a fake? Was there something going on here the Solar government didn't want anyone to know?

Why had they sent Stella to Earth? Why were they so pleased that she was so well received? What was it Nevin had asked ... and the government, it does not suspect? Why should the government suspect? What was there for it to suspect? Just a mindless creature that sang like the bells of heaven.

That hormone business, now. Hormones did funny things to people.

I should know, said West, talking to himself.

A little faster and a little quicker. A mental shortcut here and there. And you scarcely know, yourself, that you are any different. That's how the race develops. A mutation here and another there and in a thousand years or two a certain percentage of the race is not what the race had been a thousand years before.

Maybe it was a mutation back in the Old Stone Age who struck two flints together and made himself a fire. Maybe another mutant who dreamed up a wheel and took a stoneboat and changed it to a wagon.

Slowly, he said, it would have to be slowly. Just a little at a time. For if it were too much, if it were noticeable, the other humans would kill off each mutation as it became apparent. For the human race cannot tolerate divergence from the norm, even though mutation is the process by which the race develops.

The race doesn't kill the mutants any more. It confines them to mental institutions or it forces them into such dead-ends of expression as art or music, or it finds nice friendly exiles for them, where they will be comfortable and have a job to do and where, the normal humans hope, they'll never know what they are.

It's harder to be different now, he thought, harder to be a mutant and escape detection, what with the medical boards and the psychiatrists and all the other scientific mumbo-jumbo the humans have set up to guard their peace of mind.

Five hundred years ago, thought West, they would not have found me out. Five hundred years ago I might not have realized the fact myself.

Controlled mutation? Now that was something different. That was the thing the government had in mind when it sent the commission here to Pluto, taking advantage of the cold conditions to develop hormones that might mutate the race. Hormones that might make a better race, that might develop latent talents or even add entirely new characteristics calculated to bring out the best that was in humanity.

Controlled mutations, those were all right. It was only the wild mutations that the government would fear.

What if the members of the commission had developed a hormone and tried it on themselves?

His thought stopped short, pleased with the idea, with the possible solution.

Upon the bedpost the little monstrosity fingered its mouth, slobbering gleefully.

A knock came on the door.

"Come in," called West.

The door opened and a man came in.

"I'm Belden," said the man. "Jim Belden. They told me you were here."

"I'm glad to know you, Belden."

"What's the game?" asked Belden.

"No game," said West.

"You got those two downstairs sold on you," Belden said. "They think you're another great mind that has discovered the outside."

"So they do," said West. "I'm very glad to know it."

"They pointed out Annabelle to me," said Belden. "Said that was proof you were one of us. But I recognized Annabelle. They didn't, but I did. She's the one that Darling took along. You got her from Darling."

West stayed silent. There was no use in playing innocent with Belden, for Belden had guessed too close to the truth.

Belden lowered his voice. "You have the same hunch as I have. You figure Darling's hormone is worth more than all this mummery going on downstairs. And you're here to find it. I told Nevin that Darling's hormone was the thing for us to find instead of messing around outside, but he didn't think so. After we took Darling to the moon, Nevin smashed the ship's controls. He was afraid I might get away, you see. He didn't trust me and he couldn't afford to let me get away."

"I'll trade with you," West told him quietly.

"We'll go to the moon in your ship and see Darling," said Belden. "We'll beat it out of him."

West grinned wryly. "Darling's dead," he said.

"Did you search the hut?" asked Belden.

"Of course not. Why should I have searched it?"

"It's there, then," said Belden, grimly. "Hidden in the hut somewhere. I've turned this place upside down and I'm sure it isn't here. Neither the formula nor the hormones themselves. Not unless Darling was trickier than I thought he was."

"You know what this hormone is," said West smoothly, trying to make it sound as if he himself might know it.

"No," said Belden shortly. "Darling didn't trust us. He was angry at what Nevin was trying to do. And once he made a crack that the man who had it could rule the Solar System. Darling wasn't kidding, West. He knew more about hormones than all the rest of us put together."

"Seems to me," West said drily, "that you would have wanted to keep a man like that here. You certainly could have used him."

"Nevin again," Belden told him. "Darling wouldn't go along with the program that Nevin planned. Even threatened to expose him if he ever had the chance. Nevin wanted to kill him, but Cartwright thought up a joke ... he's jovial, Cartwright is."

"I've noticed that," said West.

"Cartwright thought up the exile business," Belden said. "Offered Darling any one thing he wished to take along. One thing, you understand. Just one thing. That's where the joke came in. Cartwright expected Darling to go through agonies trying to make up his mind. But there wasn't a moment's hesitation. Darling took the whisky."

"He drank himself to death," said West.

"Darling wasn't a drinking man," Belden told him, sharply.

"It was suicide," said West. "Darling took you fellows down the line, neatly, all the way. He was away ahead of you."

A soft sound like the brushing of a bird's wing swung West around.

Rosie was coming through the door, her wings half-raised, exposing the hideousness of the furry, splotched body beneath the furry, death's-head face.

"No!" screamed Belden. "No! I wasn't going to do anything. I wasn't—"

He backed away, arms outthrust to ward off the thing that walked toward him, mouth still working, but no sound coming out.

Rosie brushed West to one side with a flip of a furry wing and then the wings spread wider and shielded Belden from West's view. The wings clapped shut and from behind them came the muffled scream of the man. Then nothing; silence.

West's hand dropped to the holster and his gun came sliding out. His thumb slammed down the activator and the gun purred like a well-contented cat.

The ermine of Rosie's wings turned black and she crumpled to the floor. A sickening odor filled the room.

"Belden!" cried West. He leaped forward, kicked the charred Rosie to one side. Belden lay on the floor and West turned away retching.

For a moment West stood in indecision, then swiftly he knew what he must do.

Showdown. He had hoped that it could be put off a little longer, until he knew a little more, but the incident of Belden and Rosie had settled it. There was nothing else to do.

He strode through the door and down the winding staircase toward the darkened room below.

The painting, he saw, was lighted ... lighted as if from within itself. As if the source of light lay within the painting, as if some other sun shone upon the landscape that lay upon the canvas. The picture was lighted, but the rest of the room was dark and the light did not come out of the painting, but stayed there, imprisoned in the canvas.

Something scuttled between West's feet and scuttered down the stairs. It squeaked and its claws beat a tattoo on the steps.

As West reached the bottom of the stairway a voice came out of the darkness:

"Are you looking for something, Mr. West?"

"Yes, Cartwright," said West. "I am looking for you."

"You must not be too concerned with what Rosie did," Cartwright said. "Don't let it upset you. Belden had it coming to him for a long time. He was scarcely one of us, really, never one of us. He pretended to go along with us because it was the only way that he could save his life. And life is such a small thing to consider. Don't you think so, Mr. West?"


The Last Man

West stood silently at the bottom of the stairs. The room was too dark to see anything, but the voice was coming from somewhere near the table's end, close to the lighted painting.

I may have to kill him, West was thinking, and I must know where he is. For the first shot has to do it, there'll be no time for a second.

"Rosie had no mind," the voice said out in the darkness. "That is, no mind to speak of. But she was telepathic. Her brain picked up thoughts and passed them on. And she could obey simple commands. Very simple commands. And killing a man is so simple, Mr. West.

"Rosie stood here beside me and I knew every word that you and Belden said. I did not blame you, West, for you had no way of knowing what you did. But I did blame Belden and I sent Rosie up to get him.

"There's only one thing, West, that I hold against you. You should not have killed Rosie. That was a great mistake, West, a very great mistake."

"It was no mistake," said West. "I did it on purpose."

"Take it easy, Mr. West," said Cartwright. "Don't do anything that might make me pull the trigger. Because I have a gun on you. Dead center on you, West, and I never miss."

"I'll give you odds," said West, "that I can get you before you can pull the trigger."

"Now, Mr. West," said Cartwright, "let's not get hot-headed about this. Sure, you pulled a fast one on us. You tried to muscle in and you almost sold us, although eventually we would have tripped you up. And I admire your guts. Maybe we can work it out so no one will get killed."

"Start talking," West told him.

"It was too bad about Rosie," said Cartwright, "and I really hold that against you, West, for we could have used Rosie to good advantage. But after all, the work is started on the other planets and we still have Stella. Our students are well grounded ... they can get along without instructions for a little while and maybe by the time we need to get in contact with them again we can find another one to replace our Rosie."

"Quit wandering around," said West. "Let's hear what you have in mind."

"Well," said Cartwright, "we're getting awfully short-handed. Belden's dead and Darling's dead and if Robertson isn't dead by now he will be very shortly. For after he took Stella to Earth, he tried to desert, tried to run away. And that would never do, of course. He might tell folks about us and we can't let anyone do that. For we are dead, you see...."

He chuckled, the chuckle rolling through the darkness.

"It was a masterpiece, West, that broadcast. I was the last man alive and I told them what had happened. I told them the spacetime continuum had ruptured and things were coming through. And I gurgled ... I gurgled just before I died."

"You didn't really die, of course," West said, innocently.

"Hell, no. But they think I did. And they still wake up screaming, thinking how I must have died."

Ham, thought West. Pure, unadulterated ham. A jokester who would maroon a man to die on a lonely moon. A man who held a gun in his fist while he bragged about the things he'd done ... about how he had outwitted Earth.

"You see," said Cartwright, "I had to make them believe that it really happened. I had to make it so horrible that the government would never make it public, so horrible they'd close the planet with an iron-tight ban."

"You had to be alone," said West.

"That's right, West. We had to be alone."

"Well," said West. "You've almost got it now. There's only two of you alive."

"The two of us," Cartwright said, "and you."

"You forget, Cartwright," said West. "You're going to kill me. You've got a gun pointed at me and you're all set to pull the trigger."

"Not necessarily," said Cartwright. "We might make a deal."

I've got him now, thought West. I know exactly where he is. I can't see him, but I know where he is. And the pay-off is in a minute. It'll be one of us or the other.

"You aren't much use to us," said Cartwright, "but we might need you later. You remember Langdon?"

"The one that got lost," said West.

Cartwright chuckled. "That's it, West. But he wasn't lost. We gave him away. You see there was a—a—well, something, that could use him for a pet and so we made it a present of Langdon."

He chuckled again. "Langdon didn't like the idea too well, but what were we to do?"

"Cartwright," West said, evenly, "I'm going for my gun."

"What's that—" said Cartwright, but the other words were blotted out by the hissing of his gun, firing even as he talked.

The beam hissed into the wall at the foot of the staircase, a spot that had been covered only a split second before by West's head.

But West had dropped to a crouch almost as he spoke and now his own gun was in his fist, tilting up, solid in his hand. His thumb pressed the activator and then slid off.

Something dragged itself with heavy thumps across the floor and in the stillness between the bumps, West heard the rasp of heavy breaths.

"Damn you, West," said Cartwright. "Damn you...."

"It's an old trick, Cartwright," said West, "that business of talking to a man just before you kill him. Throwing him off guard, practically ambushing him."

Came a sound of cloth dragging over cloth, the whistling of painful breath, the thump of knees and elbows on the floor.

Then there was silence.

And a moment later something in some far corner squeaked and ran on pattering, rat-sounding feet. Then the silence again.

The rat-feet were still, but there was another sound, a faint shout as if someone far away were shouting ... from somewhere outside the building, from somewhere outside ... from outside.

West crouched close against the floor, huddling there, the muzzle of the gun resting on the carpet.

Outside ... outside ... outside....

The words hammered in his head.

Outside of what, he asked, but he knew the answer now. He knew where he had seen the picture of the thing that had slept in the chair and the other thing that squatted on the bedpost. And he knew the sound of chirping and of chittering and of running feet.

Outside ... outside ... outside....

Outside this world, of course.

He raised his head and looked at the painting, and the tree still glowed softly with its inner light, and from within it came a sound, a faint thudding sound, the sound of running feet.

The shout came again and the man was running down the path inside the painting. A man who ran and waved his arms and shouted.

The man was Nevin.

Nevin was in the painting, running down the path, his padding feet raising little puffs of dust along the pebbled path.

West raised the pistol and his hand was trembling so that the muzzle weaved back and forth and then described a circle.

"Buck fever," said West.

He said it through chattering teeth.

For now he knew ... no he knew the answer.

He put up his other hand and grasped the wrist of the hand that held the gun and the muzzle steadied. West gritted his teeth together to stop their chattering.

His thumb went down against the activator and held it there and the flame from the gun's muzzle spat out and mushroomed upon the painting. Mushroomed until the entire canvas was a maelstrom of blue brilliance that hissed and roared and licked with hungry tongues.

Slowly the tree ran together, as if one's eyes might have blurred and gone slightly out of focus. The landscape dimmed and jigged and ran in little wavering lines. And through the wavering lines could be seen a twisted and distorted man whose mouth seemed open in a howl of rage. But there was no sound of howling, just the purring of the gun.

With a tired little puff the mushrooming brilliance and the painting were gone and the gun's pencil of flame was hissing through an empty steel frame still filled with tiny glowing wires, spattering against the wall behind it.

West lifted his thumb and silence clamped down upon him, clamped down and held the room ... as it held leagues of space stretching on all sides.

"No painting," said West.

An echo seemed to run all around the room.

"No painting," the echo said, but West knew it was no echo, just his brain clicking off endlessly the words his lips had said.

"No painting," the echo said, but West was in some other world, some other place, some otherwhere. A machine that broke down the spacetime continuum or whatever it was that separated Man's universe from other, stranger universes.

No wonder the fruit upon the tree had looked like the fruit upon the table. No wonder he had thought that he heard the wind in the leaves.

West stood up and moved to the wall behind him. He found a tumbler and thumbed it up and the lights came on.

In the light the smashed other-world machine was a sagging piece of wreckage. Cartwright's body lay in the center of the room. A chittering thing ran across the floor and ducked into the dark beneath a table. A grinning face peeped out from behind a chair and squalled at West in cold-boned savagery.

And it was nothing new, for he had seen those faces before. Pictures of them in old books and in magazines that published tales of soul-shaking horror, tales of things that come from beyond, of entities that broke in from outside.

He had seen those faces before ... things that came from beyond, entities that broke in from the outside....

Just tales to send one shivering to bed. Just stories that should not be read at midnight. Stories that made one a little nervous when a tree squeaked in the wind outside the window or the rain walked along the shingles.

It had taken the wizardry of the Solar System's best band of scientists to open the door that led into the world beyond.

And yet people in unknown, savage ages had talked of things like these ... of goblin and incubus and imp. Perhaps men in Atlantis might have found the way, even as Nevin and Cartwright had found the way. In that long-gone day letting loose upon the world a flood of things that for ages after had lived in chimney-corner stories to chill one to the marrow.

And the pictures he had seen?

Ancestral memory, perhaps. Or a weird imaging that happened to be true. Or had the writers of those stories, the painters of those pictures....

West shuddered from the thought.

What was it Cartwright had said? The work is started on the other planets.

The work of passing along the knowledge, the principles, the psychology of the alien things of otherwhere. Education by remote control ... involuntary education. Stella, the telepathic Stella, singing back on Earth, darling of the airways. And she was an agent for these things ... she passed along the knowledge and a man would think it was his own.

That was it, of course, the thing that Nevin and Cartwright had planned. Remake the world, they'd said. Sitting out on Pluto and pulling strings that would remake the world.

Superstitions once. Hard facts now. Stories once to make the blood run cold. And now—

With the source dried up, with the screen empty, with the Pluto gang wiped out, the cults would die and Stella would sing on, but there would come a time when the listeners would turn away from Stella, when her novelty wore off, when the strangeness and the alienness of her had lost their appeal.

The Solar System would go on thinking imp and incubus were no more than shuddery imagery from the days when men crouched in caves and saw a supernatural threat in every moving shadow.

But it had been a narrow squeak.

From a dark corner a thing mouthed at West in a shrill sing-song of hate.

So this was it, thought West. Here he was, at the end of the Solar System's trail, in an empty house. And it was, finally, as he had hoped it would be. No one around. A storehouse full of food. Adequate shelter. A shop where he could work. A place guarded by the patrol against unwelcome callers.

Just the place for a man who might be hiding. Just the place for a fugitive from the human race.

There were things to do ... later on. Two bodies to be given burial. A screen to be cleaned up and thrown on a junk heap. A few chittering things to be hunted down and killed.

Then he could settle down.

There were robots, of course. One had brought in the dinner.

Later on, he said.

But there was something else to do ... something to do immediately, if he could just remember.

He stood and looked around the room, cataloguing its contents.

Chairs, drapes, a desk, the table, the imitation fireplace....

That was it, the fireplace.

He walked across the room to stand in front of it. Reaching up, he took down the bottle from the mantel, the bottle with the black silk bow tied around its neck. The bottle for the last man's club.

And he was the last man, there was no doubt of it. The very last of all.

He had not been in the pact, of course, but he would carry out the pact. It was melodrama, undoubtedly, but there are times, he told himself, when a little melodrama may be excusable.

He uncorked the bottle and swung around to face the room. He raised the bottle in salute—salute to the gaping, blackened frame that had held the painting, to the dead man on the floor, to the thing that mewed in a far, dark corner.

He tried to think of a word to say, but couldn't. And there had to be a word to say, there simply had to be.

"Mud in your eye," he said and it wasn't any good, but it would have to do.

He put the bottle to his lips and tipped it up and tilted back his head.

Gagging, he snatched the bottle from his lips.

It wasn't whisky and it was awful. It was gall and vinegar and quinine, all rolled into one. It was a brew straight from the Pit. It was all the bad medicine he had taken as a boy, it was sulphur and molasses, it was castor oil, it was—

"Good God," said Frederick West.

For suddenly he remembered the location of a knife he had lost twenty years before. He saw it where he had left it, just as plain as day.

He knew an equation he'd never known before, and what was more, he knew what it was for and how it could be used.

Unbidden, he visualized, in one comprehensive picture, just how a rocket motor worked ... every detail, every piece, every control, like a chart laid out before his eyes.

He could capture and hold seven fence posts in his mental eye and four was the best any human ever had been able to see mentally before.

He whooshed out his breath to air his mouth and stared at the bottle.

Suddenly he was able to recite, word for word, the first page from a book he had read ten years ago.

"The hormones," he whispered. "Darling's hormones!"

Hormones that did something to his brain. Speeded it up, made it work better, made more of it work than had ever worked before. Made it think cleaner and clearer than it had ever thought before.

"Good Lord," he said.

A head start to begin with. And now this!

The man who has it could rule the Solar System. That was what Belden had said about it.

Belden had hunted for it. Had torn this place apart. And Darling had hunted for it, too. Darling, who had thought he had it, who had played a trick on Nevin and Cartwright so he could be sure he had it, who had drank himself to death trying to find the bottle he had it in.

And all these years the hormones had been in this bottle on the mantel!

Someone else had played a trick on all of them. Langdon, maybe. Langdon, who had been given away as a pet to a thing so monstrous that even Cartwright had shrunk from naming it.

With shaking hand, West put the bottle back on the mantel, placed the cork beside it. For a moment he stood there, hands against the mantel, gripping it, staring out the vision port beside the fireplace. Staring down into the valley where a shadowy cylinder tilted upward from the rocky planet, as if striving for the stars.

The Alpha Centauri—the ship with the space drive that wouldn't work. Something wrong ... something wrong....

A sob rose in West's throat and his hands tightened on the mantel with a grip that hurt.

He knew what was wrong!

He had studied blueprints of the drive back on Earth.

And now it was as if the blueprints were before his eyes again, for he remembered them, each line, each symbol as if they were etched upon his brain.

He saw the trouble, the simple adjustment that would make the space drive work. Ten minutes ... ten minutes would be all he needed. So simple. So simple. So simple that it seemed beyond belief it had not been found before, that all the great minds which had worked upon it should not have seen it long ago.

There had been a dream—a thing that he had not even dared to say aloud, not even to himself. A thing he had not dared even to think about.

West straightened from the mantel and faced the room again. He took the bottle and for a second time raised it in salute.

But this time he had a toast for the dead men and the thing that whimpered in the corner.

"To the stars," he said.

And he drank without gagging.