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Title: Warning from the Stars
Author: Cocking, Ron
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Warning from the Stars" ***

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               _Don't believe in flying saucers? Neither
                do we, but that doesn't necessarily mean
                that there can be no other way for Earth
                to get its last...._


 WARNING
 FROM THE STARS

 By RON COCKING

 ILLUSTRATOR SUMMERS


It was a beautifully machined container, shaped like a two pound
chocolate candy box, the color and texture of lead. The cover fitted so
accurately that it was difficult to see where it met the lip on the
base.

Yet when Forster lifted the container from the desk in the security
guards' office, he almost hit himself in the face with it, so light was
it.

He read the words clumsily etched by hand into the top surface with some
sharp instrument:

    TO BE OPENED ONLY BY:
    Dr. Richard Forster,
    Assistant Director,
    Air Force Special Research Center,
    Petersport, Md.

    CAUTION: Open not later than
    24 hours after receipt.

    DO NOT OPEN in atmosphere less
    than equivalent of 65,000 feet
    above M.S.L.

He turned the container over and over. It bore no other markings--no
express label or stamps, no file or reference number, no return address.

It was superbly machined, he saw.

Tentatively he pulled at the container cover, it was as firm as if it
had been welded on. But then, if the cover had been closed in the thin
atmosphere of 65,000 feet, it would be held on by the terrific pressure
of a column of air twelve miles high.

Forster looked up at the burly guard.

"Who left this here?"

"Your guess is as good as mine, sir." The man's voice was as close to
insolence as the difference in status would allow, and Forster
bristled.

"I just clocked in an hour ago. There was a thick fog came on all of a
sudden, and there was a bit of confusion when we were changing over.
They didn't say anything about the box when I relieved."

"Fog?" Forster queried. "How could fog form on a warm morning like
this?"

"You're the scientist, sir. You tell me. Went as fast as it came."

"Well--it looks like very sloppy security. The contents of this thing
must almost certainly be classified. Give me the book and I'll sign for
it. I'll phone you the file number when I find the covering
instructions."

       *       *       *       *       *

Forster was a nervous, over-conscientious little man, and his day was
already ruined, because any departure from strict administrative routine
worried and upset him. Only in his field of aviation medicine did he
feel competent, secure.

He knew that around the center they contemptuously called him
"Lilliput." The younger researchers were constantly trying to think up
new ways to play jokes on him, and annoy him.

Crawley Preston, the research center's director and his chief, had been
summoned to Washington the night before. Forster wished fervently that
he was around to deal with this matter. Now that relations between East
and West had reached the snapping point, the slightest deviation from
security regulations usually meant a full-scale inquiry.

He signed for the container, and carried it out to the car, still
seething impotently over the guard's insolence.

He placed it beside him on the front seat of his car and drove up to the
building which housed part of the labs and also his office.

He climbed out, then as he slammed the door he happened to glance into
the car again.

The seat covers were made of plastic in a maroon and blue plaid pattern.
But where the box had rested there was a dirty grey rectangular patch
that hadn't been there before.

Forster stared, then opened the door again. He rubbed his fingers over
the discolored spot; it felt no different than the rest of the fabric.
Then he placed the box over the area--it fitted perfectly.

He flopped down on the seat, his legs dangling out of the car, fighting
down a sudden irrational wave of panic. He pushed the container to the
other end of the seat.

_After all_, he rationalized, _plastics are notoriously unstable under
certain conditions. This is probably a new alloy Washington wants tested
for behavior under extreme conditions of temperature and pressure.
What's gotten into you?_

He took a deep breath, picked up the box again. Where it had rested
there was another discolored patch on the car seat covers.

Holding it away from him, Forster hurried into the office, then dumped
the box into a metal wastebasket. Then he went to a cabinet and pulled
out a Geiger counter, carried it over to the wastebasket. As he pointed
the probe at the box the familiar slow clicking reassured him, and
feeling a little foolish he put the instrument back on its shelf.

[Illustration: In his pressurized chamber, Forster read the startling
message.]

Hurriedly, he went through his mail; there was nothing in it referring
to the package. Then he called the classified filing section; nobody
there knew anything about it either.

For some reason he couldn't explain to himself, he wasn't even
surprised.

He stared into the wastebasket. The clumsily etched instructions glinted
up at him: "_To be opened as soon as possible...._"

He picked up the phone and called the decompression chamber building.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was no valid reason why he should have been self-conscious as he
talked to the lab attendant in charge of the decompression tank. He used
it a dozen times a month for tests and experiments, yet when he gave his
instructions his voice was labored and strained.

"Some genius in Washington sent this thing down without any covering
instructions, but it has to be opened in a hurry in a thin atmosphere.
Er--I'd like you to stay on the intercom for a while in case it blows up
in my face or something." He tried to laugh, but all that came out was a
croak.

The attendant nodded indifferently, then helped Forster into the helmet
of his pressure suit. He climbed up the steps into the chamber, pulling
the airtight door shut behind him. He placed the box on the desk in
front of the instrument panel, then turned back to push the door clamps
into place.

For the first time in the hundreds of hours he'd spent in the tank, he
knew the meaning of claustrophobia.

Mechanically, he plugged in his intercom and air lines, went through the
other routine checks before ascent, tested communications with the lab
attendant, then flicked the exhaust motor switch.

Now there was little to do except wait. He stared at the box; in the
artificial light it seemed full of hidden menace, a knowing aliveness of
its own....

Forster shrugged his shoulders impatiently, as though to throw off the
vague blanket of uneasiness that was settling around him. So somebody
had forgotten to send a covering message with the container, or else it
had been mislaid--that could happen, although with security routine as
strict as it was, the possibility was remote. All the same, it could
happen. After all, what other explanation was there? What was it he was
afraid of? There was something about it--

He glanced at the altimeter. The needle showed only 10,000 feet, and
seemed to be crawling around the dial. He resolved not to look at it
for three minutes by the clock on the panel.

When he checked the altimeter again, it registered just over 30,000
feet. Not even half way yet.

As the pressure in the tank decreased, he began to be conscious of the
need for "reverse breathing"--and he concentrated on using his tongue to
check the flow of air into his lungs, then using the thoracic muscles to
exhale against the higher pressure inside the suit.

Time seemed to be passing in micro-seconds ... 25,000 feet ... 30,000
... 40,000 ... 50,000.

At 62,500 feet he gently tested the cover of the container again; it
lifted.

As the altimeter needle flickered on the 65,000-foot mark, he cut the
exhaust motor and picked up the box. The cover slipped off easily.

His feeling of anticlimax was almost ludicrous. As he looked in, all the
box contained was a flattened roll of some greyish material.

He took it out; despite its comparative bulk, it was feather-light. It
had the appearance of metal, but was as porous and pliable as a good
grade of bond paper. He could not feel its texture through his heavy
gloves. He took a good look.

It was new all right--no doubt Washington wanted some tests run on it,
although without covering instructions and data this trip was wasted.
But some heads would roll when he reported back on the way the container
had been shipped in.

       *       *       *       *       *

He started to unroll the material to get a better look at it, then he
saw that it was covered with cramped, closely spaced handwriting in a
purplish ink--handwriting that was elusively familiar.

Then he read the words written in neat capitals at the top, the name of
the man with the familiar handwriting, and fear came back, clamped cold
fingers around his throat:

_James Rawdon Bentley_

Dear Dick, the writing went on, Take a large economy-size grip on
yourself. I know this is going to sound like a voice from the dead, but
I'm very much alive and kicking--in the best of health in fact....

The writing blurred, and instinctively Forster put his fist up to rub
his eyes, only to meet the hard plastic of his helmet visor. James
Rawdon Bentley....

It was January 18, 1951, three years ago, and the jagged line of the
Australian coast stretched like a small-scale map to the black curve of
the horizon.

From the converted bomber that was his flying lab, Forster could see the
other American observation plane cruising on a parallel course, about
half a mile away, and beyond it downwind the fringe of the billowing
cloud dome of the super-secret British thermonuclear shot.

Then suddenly Bentley's voice from the other plane was crackling over
the earphones, sharp and urgent:

"Our Geigers and scintillometers are going crazy! We're getting out of
here! There's something coming inside ... a light...."

       *       *       *       *       *

Silence. Forster had watched in helpless horror as the other ship dipped
a silver wing, then nosed down ever so slowly, it seemed ... down ...
down ... in a dive that seemed to take hours as Forster's plane tracked
it, ending in a tiny splash like a pebble being thrown into a pond; then
the grimly beautiful iridescence of oil and gasoline spreading across
the glassy waters of the Timor Sea.

No parachutes had opened on the long journey down. An Australian air sea
rescue launch and helicopter were at the scene of the crash in minutes,
but neither bodies nor survivors had been found, then or later....

"Everything okay, Doctor Forster?"

"Yes," he said hoarsely. "Yes ... everything's okay ... just routine."

Forster focussed his eyes on the writing again. There was no doubt at
all that it was Bentley's. They had roomed and studied together for four
years at MIT, and then there had been a couple of years' post-graduate
work after that. During all that time they had used each other's notes
constantly.

But Bentley was dead.

Forster read on, stunned:

First, you'll want to know what happened over the Timor Sea after the
shot. Put very simply, I, the rest of the technicians, and the crew of
the B-29 were transhipped to another vehicle--without any damage to
ourselves. How, I'm not allowed to explain at this stage. Actually, they
only wanted me, but it wasn't feasible to collect me and leave the rest
behind, so they're all here, safe and well.

Who are "they," and where am I? The second question I can't answer--not
allowed to. "They," roughly translated, are "The Shining Ones," which
doesn't tell you anything, of course. Briefly, they're a couple of
light-years ahead of Earth in evolution--mentally, morally, and
physically, although I use the last word loosely. Too bad that English
is a commercial language, it's so hard to discuss really abstract ideas.

Why am I here? The whole reason for this message is wrapped up in the
answer to that.

As you probably know, Project Longfall, which I was heading up was
delayed about a year due to my removal. That was the sole purpose,
although I and the rest of us are getting special instruction to keep us
occupied.

About the same time, they also took several other key people from
Britain, Russia, and the United States. Others were already here.

The idea then was _delay_--to delay more test shots of atomic weapons,
in the hope that East and West would come to some agreement. Now,
because of the growing volume of tests, and the critical tension which
prevails, delay will no longer suffice, and far more drastic steps are
to be taken.

I wish you could be here for only a few minutes to see what happens
after a multi-megaton thermonuclear test shot is set off on Earth.

       *       *       *       *       *

I can't describe it in terms which would have any relation to your
present knowledge of physics. All I can say is that life here is
intimately bound up with the higher laws of electro-magnetism which at
present are only being guessed at on your level. It's not the
radioactivity which you know as such which causes the trouble--there are
neutralizing devices throughout the planetary system to take care of
that. The damage is caused by an ultra-ultra-short wave radiation which
not even the most sensitive scintillometer you have can pick up, a very
subtle by-product of every chain reaction.

It doesn't have too much immediate effect on the lower forms of
life--including human beings, if you'll pardon the expression. But here,
it causes a ghastly carnage, so ghastly it sickens me even to think
about it for a second.

The incredible thing is that the people here could stop Earth from
firing another shot if they wished to, and at 24 hours' notice, but
their philosophy is totally opposed to force, even when it means their
own destruction. That will give you an idea of the kind of people they
are.

(Here they say that Einstein was on the fringe of discovering the theory
involved when he died, but was having trouble with the mathematics.
Remember how Einstein always complained that he was really a poor
mathematician?)

But with atomic warfare threatening to break out on Earth at any minute,
they have got to do something.

This is what they plan to do--this is what they _are going to do_.

Starting within a few hours after you receive this message, a mass
removal of key scientists will begin. They will take 20, 30, or
40--roughly equal numbers from both sides--every few hours as technical
conditions allow. That will go on until East and West agree to drop this
whole mad weapons race. It will be done quietly, peacefully. Nobody will
be hurt except by a fluke. But if needs be, they will lift every major
scientific brain off the face of Earth to stop the present drift to
disaster for everybody. There are no weapons, no devices that you have
at present, which can stop this plan going into effect. There it
is--it's as simple as that.

If you knew what you were really headed for, it would need no steps
from here to make both sides on Earth stop this horrible foolishness in
a moment.

       *       *       *       *       *

The lesson of Mars is part of the orientation course here. (I'm _not_ on
Mars). I'm using up space, so I'll go into note form for a bit. Martians
had an atomic war--forgot they had to breathe ... destroyed 60 per cent
of their atmosphere ... canals on Mars aren't ... they're closely-spaced
line of shafts leading to underground cities ... view from Earth
telescopes, shaft mouths appear as dots which run together into lines
due to eye-fatigue ... British Royal Astronomical Society figured that
out 30 years ago at least ... see papers on their proceedings ...
photographs here show monsters created by wholesale mutations ... lasted
about four generations before reproduction failed ... now only
vegetation on Mars ... saw pictures of last survivors ... horrible ... I
was ill for days after ... imagine having to take 40 separate breaths
after making a single step!

Getting back to the others here ... a regular U. N. Remember O'Connor
and Walters in our class? They're here. Check, you'll find that O'Connor
is "detached" from Oak Ridge and Walters from Aiken for "special duty."
That's Central Intelligence's story for their disappearance.

Remember those top German boys the Russians were supposed to have gotten
to before the Allies could reach them after the Nazi collapse? _They're
here too!_ And Kamalnikov, and Pretchkin of the Russian Academy.

Believe me (the style and the writing was a little less urgent again
now), I've had all the intellectual stuffing knocked out of me here.

We all have had, for that matter. We're supposed to be the cream of the
crop, but imagine sitting down to instruction from people whose I.Q.s
start where yours leaves off!

But what has really made most of us here feel pretty humble is the way
they have demolished Earth's so-called "scientific method"--and used the
method itself to prove that it doesn't stand up!

You know how we've always been taught to observe, collect data, then
erect a theory to fit the data, a theory which has to be modified when
other data came along which don't fit into it.

Here they work the opposite way--they say: "Know the fundamental
principles governing the operation of the universe and then all the
pieces fit together inside this final Truth."

I understand now why so many of the Oak Ridge boys turned to religion
after they had been exposed to the electron microscope for a while--they
realized they had gone as far as their "scientific" training would ever
take them.

Time and space are running out. I know all this must sound confused and
incredible, Dick; I'm still confused myself. But I want you to think
about what I've written, then take the action you think best. I know it
won't be easy for you.

If you think this is some maniac's idea of a joke, you'll have proof
very soon that it isn't, because _one of the people at your Center is
due to leave for here any time now_.

You're wondering why I used this weird and wonderful means of
communication. The problem was to find a writing material which would
stand up in Earth's atmosphere--oddly enough, it's not the oxygen which
causes the trouble, but the so-called "inert" nitrogen. The container
will probably not disintegrate for a couple of days at sea level
atmospheric pressure, but this material I'm writing on would not last
more than a few seconds. That's one reason they picked you--most people
just don't have a spare decompression chamber up in the attic! The other
reason was that with your photographic memory, you'll know this is my
handwriting, beyond the shadow of a doubt, I hope.

I'm sure you've sat in that pressure suit long enough. But remember, if
you want to take another look at this, you'll have to put it back in the
container before you go "down."

Wishing you all you would wish for yourself,

                                                  Jim.

Forster examined the signature. That was the way Bentley made the
capital J--it looked almost like a T, with just a faint hook on the
bottom of the down-stroke. Then the way it joined the--

"Hey, Doc--are you going to tie up the tank all day? I've got work to
do."

       *       *       *       *       *

Forster recognized the voice on the intercom as Tom Summerford's.
Summerford was one of the crop of recent graduates to join the
Center--brash, noisy, irresponsible like the rest of them. He knew
Forster hated being called "Doc," so he never lost an opportunity to use
the word. True, he was gifted and well-trained, but he was a ringleader
in playing the practical jokes on Forster which might have been funny in
college, but which only wasted a research team's time in these critical
days.

Practical joke.

Anger flooded over him.

Yes, this was all a macabre game cooked up by Summerford, with the help
of some of his pals. Probably they were all out there now, snickering
among themselves, waiting to see his face when he came out of the
decompression chamber ... waiting to gloat....

"Hey Doc! You still with us?"

"I'll be out very shortly," Forster said grimly. "Just wait right
there."

He spun the air inlet controls; impatiently, he watched as the
altimeter needle began its anti-clockwise movement.

He'd call a staff meeting right away, find the culprits and suspend them
from duty. Preston would have to back him up. If Summerford proved to be
the ringleader, he would insist on his dismissal, Forster decided. And
he would see to it that the young punk had trouble getting another post.

The fantastic waste of time involved in such an elaborate forgery ...
Forster trembled with indignation. And using the name of a dead man,
above all a scientist who had died in the interests of research, leaving
behind him a mystery which still troubled the Atomic Energy Commission,
because nobody had ever been able to explain that sudden dive in a plane
which was apparently functioning perfectly, and flown by a veteran
crew....

He glanced down at the roll.

Was it his imagination, or had the purplish ink begun to fade? He ran a
length of it through his fingers, and then he saw that in places there
were gaps where the writing had disappeared altogether. He glanced up at
the altimeter needle, which was sliding by the 24,000-foot mark.

He looked back at his hands again, just in time to see the roll part in
two places, leaving only the narrow strip he held between his gloved
fingers.

He put the strip on the desk, and bent clumsily in his suit to retrieve
the other pieces from the floor. But wherever he grabbed it, it fell
apart. Now it seemed to be melting before his eyes. In a few seconds
there was nothing.

He straightened up. The strip he had left on the desk had disappeared,
too. No ash, no residue. Nothing.

His thought processes seemed to freeze. He glanced mechanically at the
altimeter. It read 2,500 feet.

He grabbed at the two pieces of the container. They still felt as rigid
as ever. He fitted them together carefully, gaining a crumb of security
from the act.

He realized vaguely that the altimeter needle was resting on zero, but
he had no idea how long he had been sitting there, trying to find a
thread of logic in the confused welter of thoughts, when he heard the
scrape of metal on metal as somebody wrestled with the door clamps from
the outside.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was certain of only one thing. His memory told him that the signature
that was no longer a signature had been written by Jim Rawdon, who
couldn't possibly have survived that crash into the Timor Sea....

From behind, somebody was fumbling with his helmet connections, then
fresh air and familiar sounds rushed in on him as the helmet was taken
away.

Summerford's thin, intelligent face was opposite his.

"Doc! Are you all right?" he was asking sharply. For once, there was no
superciliousness in his voice.

"I'm fine," Forster said heavily. "I--I've got a headache. Stayed in
here too long, I suppose."

"What's in the box?" Summerford asked.

The way he asked told Forster at once that the youngster knew nothing
about it.

"Er--just some half-baked idea out of the Pentagon. Some colonel trying
to justify his existence." He clutched the box to him as though
Summerford might try to take it away. "The tank's all yours."

He turned and clambered out of the chamber. He put the box down on the
concrete floor, and climbed out of the pressure suit, watching the box
all the time. It seemed to gleam up at him, as though it had eyes, full
of silent menace.

He realized vaguely that Summerford was standing in front of him again,
looking anxious.

"Are you quite sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine," Forster said, hardly recognizing his own voice.

He picked up the box and stumbled out, heading for his office.

When he walked in, his secretary was answering the line fitted with a
scrambler, which connected directly with the Pentagon.

"General Morganson," she said, handing him the receiver.

Forster took the receiver, sat down at his desk and took a deep breath,
fighting hard to regain his self control.

"Forster," he said into the mouthpiece when the office door closed
behind the girl.

"Forster! What the dickens has happened to Preston? My driver met the
train here this morning, but there was no sign of him. But the Pullman
porter checked him in last night, and we found all his gear and papers
in his compartment!"

"He left here in plenty of time to catch the train, General," Forster
heard himself say. "He took the train to get a night's rest." He
realized how irrelevant the last statement was only after he had made
it.

The General was talking again ... important meeting with the Joint
Chiefs ... whole briefing team was being held up ... he'd reported it to
the C.I.A. as a precautionary measure....

       *       *       *       *       *

Forster could see the words on the roll, the roll that wasn't, as though
they were engraved on his eye-retinas: _As a beginning, and to prove
this isn't just a bit of hocus-pocus, one of the people at your Center
is due to leave for here any time now._

"General," Forster broke in hoarsely. "I've got some very important
information which you must have. I'll leave by heliplane right away."

He replaced the phone receiver in its cradle, wondering how convincing
he would be able to make his story. At least, even if he didn't have
Bentley's letter, he had the container. That should help.

But when he looked across the desk, he saw that it too had disappeared,
without a trace.

       *       *       *       *       *

General Morganson was the newest product of the Atomic Age, half
soldier, half scientist--shrewd and perceptive, an intellectual giant.

He listened carefully, without comment or change of expression, as
Forster doggedly went through his story in chronological order.

Half way through, he held up his hand and started pushing buttons on the
console built into his desk. Within a few moments men began filing into
the room, and sat down around Forster.

Then the general motioned to the clerk seated in the corner by a tape
recorder.

"Gentlemen, listen to this playback and then I'll have Dr. Forster here
go on from there."

What was left of Forster's confidence leaked away as he heard his own
diffident voice filling the room again. It was like being awake in the
middle of a weird dream.

But when the tape recorder hissed into silence, he went on, staring
straight ahead of him in quiet desperation.

When he ended his story, there was silence for a moment. Everyone sat
motionless.

Then Morganson looked up and around.

"Well gentlemen? Mr. Bates, C.I.A. first."

This was no longer a story told by one man; it had become a problem, a
situation to be evaluated objectively.

"Well, sir ... the only part of the thing I can comment on at this point
is the stuff about O'Connor and Walters. That checks. They both
disappeared without a trace. It was treated as a maximum security
situation, and we did give out the story they had been assigned to
special duty." He glanced briefly at Forster. "Up until now, we assumed
that only the directors at Aiken and Oak Ridge knew the real
situation--outside of the Atomic Energy Commission and C.I.A., of
course. This represents a very serious leak--or...." His voice trailed
away.

"Colonel Barfield, Intelligence?"

The young colonel tried to sound flippant, unsuccessfully.

"General, acting on the assumption the story is true, it would answer
about two hundred question marks in our files. Maybe more, with further
study."

The C.I.A. man cleared his throat and raised a finger.

"For everybody's information," he said, "a preliminary field check shows
that Dr. Preston's train was stopped for ten minutes by fog last night.
The train's radar installation failed simultaneously. There wouldn't be
anything odd about that except the temperature at the time was about 65
degrees, and the humidity was only 55 per cent. Consider that,
gentlemen.

"Theoretically, fog can't form under such conditions. Similar local fog
occurred on the occasions when O'Connor and Walters were reported
missing. The Met. people couldn't explain that, either. That's all."

Morganson sat up straight, as though he had suddenly made a decision.

"I don't think there's any value in further discussion at this point.
You will all have transcripts of Dr. Forster's statement within a few
minutes. According to that statement, we are due to lose a number of key
men in the next few hours. I'll have Code One emergency precautions
instituted at all research establishments, and I think the chairman of
the Joint Chiefs should hear from me right away. Colonel Barfield, I'd
like you to ask Colonel Malinowski, the Russian military attaché to see
me here not later than an hour from now. We'll have a full dress
conference here at 8 o'clock tomorrow morning, with written evaluation
reports in detail from all branches. Dr. Forster, consider yourself
assigned to Pentagon duty as of now, and until further notice."

       *       *       *       *       *

Forster sat, dazed, until he realized that the others had left, and the
general was standing in front of him.

"Go get some rest, Forster," the other man said with surprising
gentleness. "You've had a tough day."

As Forster slept that early summer night, weathermen across the world
were marking their weather maps with thousands of observations--feathery
wind arrows, temperatures, barometric pressures and relative humidities.

Then, as they drew their isobars, the pattern for the northern
hemisphere emerged. A giant high pressure system with its center in
northern Oklahoma promised warm fair weather across America. Another,
centered east of the Ural Mountains, forecast clear weather for most of
Europe and northern Asia.

A low pressure trough between was dropping light warm rain on the green
fields of England, but from Seattle to Washington, D. C, from Stettin to
Vladivostock the sun was rising or setting in clear skies.

Then about 9 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, a thickening mist descended
over warm and drowsy southwest South Carolina. It was a fog that was not
a fog, observers said afterwards, because there was no damp, no
coldness--just a steady loss of visibility until a man couldn't see his
hand held up in front of his face, even though a bright moon was
shining. Most of the reporting night shift at the Aiken hydrogen bomb
plant never reached the tightly-guarded gates. Those who did were not
allowed in.

At the same hour, across the world at the newly-built underground heavy
water factory of Rossilovskigorsk, west of the southern tip of Lake
Baikal, the late morning sun cast deep shadows into the gaping holes in
the hillside which marked the plant entrances and exits. Deep below,
miles of filtration chambers hissed quietly as they prepared their
deadly concentrate.

Then, without warning, the sun grew watery and paled, and within a few
minutes a haze began to form at ground level. It grew thicker and
thicker; the sun became a dim orange sphere, then was blotted out. Total
darkness enveloped the area.

And at the same hour, the watchers manning the lonely circle of probing
radar domes, facing each other across the frozen wastes of the Arctic,
cursed softly in Russian and English as their scopes sweeping the upper
air first went blank and then dark.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were shaken men at the meeting in General Morganson's office the
next morning.

"Over 30 key men gone from Aiken," Morganson was saying. "In terms of
goals, it means that our 1960 program now cannot possibly be fulfilled
until 1965. If the situation develops as forecast in Dr. Forster's
statement, our entire nuclear weapons program will grind to a halt
within two weeks. If we drain men from civilian research, it will cause
a total breakdown in the civilian atomic power production program. As
you all know, the nation's entire economic expansion program is based on
the availability of that power. Without it, industry will be forced into
a deep freeze. That in turn means we might as well run up a white flag
on the White House lawn."

He smiled thinly. "I would be a lot more worried than I am except we
have the first indications that the other side is in the same boat. I
broke every regulation in the book last night when I talked to
Malinowski. I took the liberty of warning him, on the basis that there
was nothing to lose. His reaction then was that it was all a Wall
Street-capitalist plot--'psychological warfare,' he called it.

"He phoned me an hour ago. Sounded as though he'd just seen a ghost. He
said the Russian ambassador had asked for an appointment with the
Secretary of State this morning...."

Forster, bewildered and out of his depth in these global problems, let
the flood of words pour over him.

Then he realized that Morganson was staring at him over the telephone
receiver at his ear, and that the room was very quiet.

Then Morganson said respectfully: "Very well, Mr. President. We'll have
Doctor Forster there."

Forster was relegated to the sidelines after his interview with the
grave-faced man in the White House. Events were moving swiftly--events
which Forster could read behind the blurred black headlines of the
newspapers.

The Russian ambassador was closeted with the Secretary of State for a
record six-hour talk. Then the Soviet Foreign Minister took off for
Washington at 30 minutes' notice, and another record was made when he
spent all day with the President. The Washington columnists began to
hint of lessening tension in the cold war, and the wire services carried
reports of Russian radio broadcasts talking of a new era of cooperation
between East and West.

Only fragments of the broadcasts could be monitored, because radio
reception had suddenly deteriorated right across the world. The reports
could not be confirmed because Russia had cut all phone communication
with the outside world. There was no possible mode of contact.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, in the United States, television reception was blacking out
for hours at a time, with no explanation available. The Civil
Aeronautics Administration and the Air Force banned all plane movements
under instrument flight conditions, because radar navigational equipment
had become so unreliable as to be useless.

Newspapers across the nation were reporting sudden fogs of short
duration which baffled local weathermen. The U. S. Weather Bureau in
Washington refused to comment.

For the first time in the history of an East-West conference, there was
no haggling, no propaganda speeches. Hour after hour, even as the talks
went on, the cream of the world's scientific brains quietly continued to
disappear, it was revealed later.

In three days, the major powers accomplished what they had failed to do
in the previous 15 years. Just 4 days and 21 hours after Forster had
first talked to General Morganson at the Pentagon, a treaty was signed
ending the world atomic weapons race.

And it had all happened, was over and done, before the people of the
globe could realize what was happening, before they could rise in mass
panic in the face of the incredible unknown.

Almost immediately after the announcement, radio and radar
communications suddenly returned to normal, and reports of the
mysterious fogs ceased.

Back at the Center, as he walked down the floodlit ramp of the heliport
towards his car, Forster found himself thinking of the experimental work
on the dream state which he had performed as a graduate student. He knew
that a dream which might take half an hour to recount took only a
fraction of a second to occur in the sub-conscious of the sleeper as he
awoke.

It was the same way with the events of the last five days; already
details were becoming fuzzy and blurred as though they had happened
five years ago.

He opened the car door, and the soft glow of the dome light filled the
interior.

Then he saw again the neat rectangular discoloration on the seat covers,
and the jolt back to reality was almost a physical thing. Relief,
overwhelming, flooded over him.

He looked up into the indigo-velvet sky. Above him was the enormous
triangle formed by Deneb, Vega, and Altair. Framed within it were a
thousand other dimmer stars, but all, he knew, far, far bigger than the
speck of solidified gases called Earth.

Somewhere out there, living, thinking, breathing was Bentley.

"Good night," Forster said out loud.

And somehow, he was sure he wasn't talking into thin air.


THE END



Transcriber's Note

This etext was produced from _Amazing Science Fiction Stories_ April
1959. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
typographical errors have been corrected without note.





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