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´╗┐Title: Point of Departure
Author: Shelton, Vaughan
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 "Point of Departure" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                          Point of Departure

                          By VAUGHAN SHELTON

                         Illustrated by WEISS

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                  Galaxy Science Fiction April 1956.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



                  As if Donner's troubles weren't bad
              enough--they were a repetition of something
             that had created chaos thousands of years ago!


"Halleck, for Pete's sake, sit down! You act as if you were ready to
attack Donner with your bare hands." The president of the Research
Foundation removed an expensive cigar from its plastic cocoon and lit
it from young Taplin's eagerly offered lighter.

Halleck sat down. "Sorry, G. W. This business has me on edge. I feel
responsible for Donner's activities--and for the missing $300,000, too.
The whole thing reeks of larceny."

"You _are_ responsible, Hal." The president's tone was crisp but not
accusing. "That's what a general manager gets paid for. Isn't it time
Donner showed up?"

"He's to be here at ten, Mr. Caples. The girl will buzz us as soon
as he comes in." Orville Taplin was a very good secretary, but his
eagerness to prove it sometimes irked his superiors. "Shall I order
some coffee sent up, Mr. Caples?"

"Not just now. Look, Hal, have you checked on this Simon Kane that
Donner mentions in his letter? He doesn't sound quite real. Do we know
if there is such a person?"

Taplin interrupted the general manager to answer the question.
"Yes, sir. There really is a Simon Kane. I talked to Dr. Reed by
transatlantic telephone last night. He said Kane was public relations
man on his first expedition to Egypt in 1958."

"Why the blazes didn't you let _me_ talk to him?" Halleck was on his
feet again, a sharp-faced, balding man with a temper that suggested
ulcers. "G. W., I--"

"Forget it, Hal! What else, young man?"

"Well, Dr. Reed said he fired him at the request of the Egyptian
government and sent him back to the States. He said it was a long story
and he didn't want to get into it on the phone."

       *       *       *       *       *

Leaning across the wide mahogany desk and tapping the blotter for
emphasis, Halleck said, "Look, G. W., Kane doesn't matter. He's just a
name. The Utah Flats plant is short $300,000. Let Donner explain it in
court. If Kane or anyone else was involved, let Donner prove it."

The buzzer wheezed and Orville Taplin's finger shot to the key. "Yes?"

"Mr. Donner is here."

G. W. Caples nodded to the question in the secretary's face. "Send him
in."

The man in the doorway was tall, sandy and rather stooped for early
middle age. His straight lined features looked competent, but the mouth
was compressed to a narrow hyphen, as if he had lived through this
ordeal many times in anticipation and always come out of it badly. His
gray business suit was wrinkled with travel.

"Good morning, Mr. Caples. Gentlemen."

Although he closed the door gently, the click of it sounded loud in the
silence. "I hope I'm not late."

"Right on the dot, Ray. Glad to see you. Pick a comfortable chair." The
president smoothed the crumpled letter in front of him on the desk and
waved the silent Halleck to a seat. "You can order that coffee now,
young man."

When Taplin had called for the coffee and started the recording
machine, G. W. Caples addressed the newcomer again with heavy,
executive affability. It was authentic enough to ease the watch-spring
tension in the room.

"Before we start, Ray, keep it in mind that this isn't a trial or
anything like that. I, for one, have an open mind. If your record
hadn't been beyond reproach, you wouldn't be a research plant manager
in the first place."

"Thank you."

"But your letter here mentions an unauthorized experiment that cost
$300,000, a missing man--two missing men, in fact--your fear of ugly
publicity and--well, various other details that leave me thoroughly
confused. Now, you're going to give us all the facts--not as a culprit,
but as a trusted official."

"I appreciate that, sir. Shall I begin at the beginning?"

"Yes. Forget the letter. Begin where you like."

"Well, first, you know Dr. Wilson Reed, the archeologist. Top man in
the field. He made the Yucatan discoveries and located the Poseidon
Tablets in the vaults under the Sphinx--the newspapers called him the
'Columbus of the Past.' But I don't need to tell you that. This all
began with a letter I had from Dr. Reed shortly after he left for his
second expedition to Egypt."

       *       *       *       *       *

Caples nodded. "I know his reputation, but I never met the man."

"That's one of the many things I don't understand, Mr. Caples." Raymond
Donner sat on the edge of the leather lounge chair and kneaded his
long, thin hands. "You see, the letter asked me to cooperate with Simon
Kane in every way and there was an interoffice memo from you enclosed,
instructing me to do so, written in your own handwriting."

Caples leaned across the desk, startled. "A memo from _me_! Now see
here, Ray--Where is the memo? Where's the letter?"

"They're gone, Mr. Caples. They were stolen."

The buzzer sounded and a cheerful redhead brought in a tray with
four cups, cream and sugar bowls and a large aluminum coffee urn. It
remained untouched on the desk when she had gone.

"I see. They were stolen." The president's casual manner was gone and
the tension returned unchecked. "Go on."

"I'm sorry, sir. But the letter and memo were the keys to the whole
business. And I want to remind you at the beginning that I'm not a
scientist or an aviation engineer, but an administrative officer--"

"Maybe we should say you _were_."

"Shut up, Halleck! Let him go on."

The president glanced at the recorder spinning silently and drew short,
angry puffs on his cigar.

"And I want to remind you, too, gentlemen, that I'm here of my own
volition. My fears are for the Foundation's reputation, not for myself
alone. After all, there's no motive for murder and--"

"Murder!" The two executives looked frozen. Taplin, starting to reach
for the coffee, changed his mind.

"--and, to put it bluntly, no dead body. But let me take it from the
beginning."

       *       *       *       *       *

"As I said, the letter and memo came in May, just after Dr. Reed left
for Egypt again. A week after that, Simon Kane phoned from Salt Lake
City to make an appointment for the following afternoon.

"He turned out to be a dark-featured, very distinguished type in his
late forties. His eyes were an intense black, heavily browed and,
though he wasn't big, his voice was deep and arrestingly modulated.
Listening to him, it was easy to lose track of what he was saying. His
mouth was wide and--well, sympathetic.

"We talked for about an hour that first day, mostly about Dr. Reed's
marvelous discovery in Egypt. Kane said the Poseidon Tablets described
a magnificent civilization, scientifically advanced, that had
flourished on an equatorial continent until it was destroyed by the
Biblical Flood--around 10,700 B.C.

"He spoke of Dr. Reed as an intimate friend and said he had been
greatly impressed with you, Mr. Caples."

       *       *       *       *       *

The president scowled. "I've never heard of the man. But it seems
pretty strange that he should have turned up when Halleck was in Persia
and I was in Europe on atomic-inspection duty and Reed was off to
Egypt."

"Looking back at it, I agree with you," said Donner, taking out a
cigarette and lighting it. "But it didn't occur to me at the time."

"Well, get on with it."

       *       *       *       *       *

"If I could give you a better idea of Kane's remarkable voice, its
hypnotic quality--but I guess I can't. Maybe that's just an excuse. I
wish I'd thrown him out of the office the first day.

"When we got around to the reason for his call, he asked if there was
any chance of our being overheard. I assured him there wasn't and he
told me his weird story.

"It seemed Dr. Reed had found another series of fourteen tablets along
with the others, but these hadn't been publicized. A translation of the
first half dozen showed that they concerned an outstanding--perhaps the
ultimate--scientific achievement of the Poseidon civilization: a small
solar energy converter, able to deliver such fantastic power that it
made our nuclear sources look as primitive as the windmill.

"When I said the invention wouldn't be very welcome in a country where
the entire economy was geared to atomic power, Kane agreed and said
that explained the secrecy. He said you, Mr. Caples, and Dr. Reed felt
the device should be tested under wraps and then turned over to the
government, since private ownership of a dirt-cheap power source--if it
worked--might precipitate economic chaos."

       *       *       *       *       *

G. W. Caples sat stiffly in the same position. "The whole idea is pure
nonsense, the most transparent fraud. A child wouldn't swallow it."

"You may be right. It was my misfortune not to be a child."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Simon Kane made it sound completely plausible. He said two good
men could build the gadget in a month. He agreed to bring the
specifications to my office the next morning and I showed him out,
feeling very excited about the thing. I had a lot to learn about Mr.
Kane.

"In the morning, I called in Ruhl and Heiniger and told them they
were to work on a project involving 100% security. They agreed, of
course. The hush-hush jobs are usually the most interesting. Then Kane
came in with his sheets of specifications and gave them the details.
Their faces were--I was going to say like children viewing their first
Christmas tree.

"Since it was all Greek to me, I left the three of them to discuss the
project and went off about some other business. Kane was gone when
I got back and had left a note inviting me out to his house for a
cocktail or two that afternoon.

"When I could get away, I drove out to his place, a great, sprawling
ranchhouse he'd rented a few miles from the plant. No one else was
there, but Kane was an ingratiating host and a couple of hours passed
very pleasantly. I kept wondering why he wanted such a big place, way
out in the hills, just for himself.

"Around five, I phoned Ruhl at the plant. He's rather a stolid type
ordinarily, but he was stuttering with excitement. He said the power
unit was revolutionary and might change the course of history.

"Kane laughed when I repeated that to him. 'Maybe it already did,' he
said. 'A few thousand years ago.'"

"We shook hands at the door and agreed to meet the next morning and get
to work.

"As I was walking along the house toward the drive where my car stood,
a movement at one of the windows near the end of the building caught my
eye. I paused and looked up--into the face of one of the most beautiful
women I've ever seen.

"She was youngish, not over 27 or 28, pale in coloring with rich,
black hair piled up behind her neck. The large, dark eyes were looking
squarely into mine. I must have stopped and stared for several seconds,
for, in addition to her beauty, I thought I saw a great dread written
in the girl's face. Then she was gone.

"All the way home, I kept wondering why Simon Kane hadn't mentioned the
woman in his house. The silly thought that she was being held captive
there kept coming to me, no matter how often I dismissed it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Caples poured a cup of coffee and made a face when he sipped it.
"Donner, I don't know why you have to ornament this yarn with
hypnotic-voiced villains and captive girls. Can't you just tell us if
your expensive gadget worked?"

Halleck slumped glumly. Taplin fluttered over the cold coffee and
ordered some more.

       *       *       *       *       *

"The device _did_ work, Mr. Caples. I set Ruhl and Heiniger up in the
isolated shop at the west corner of the plant area and they had it
functioning in three weeks. We brought in a skilled glass-cutter to
form the big, faceted eye to receive the Sun's radiations. Naturally,
he didn't know what it was for.

"By the time the eye was ready, they'd assembled the conversion
elements. They rigged the thing to deliver electrical current through a
series of step-down transformers. The result was appalling. Until the
current was reduced to a tiny fraction of the potential, it blew out
every testing gauge they plugged into it.

"Up to this time, I think all three of us--Heiniger, Ruhl and
myself--had been kept hopped up by curiosity and Kane's infectious
confidence. Now it was evident that something incredible had been
produced. Think of it--two men could lift the converter between them,
yet its potential was as great as any atomic pile we have!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"It sounds crazy." Caples was getting restless. "Are you sure you
didn't dream all this, Donner?"

"That story will sound great in court--but it doesn't account for the
$300,000." Halleck's laugh was thin, with no amusement in it.

The buzzer sounded. "Here's your hot coffee, Mr. Caples," said Taplin.
When the girl had gone again, Donner continued patiently, speaking in
Halleck's direction without anger.

       *       *       *       *       *

"So far, we had spent less than three thousand dollars, including
salaries, materials, overhead, everything. The experiment seemed to be
finished. I wrote up my report and showed it to Kane before filing it
in the project folder with Reed's letter and the memo and everything
else concerned. I supposed Kane would be on his way east and I'd be
expected to verify his statement of the results. But he didn't come in
to say good-by.

"One morning, I stopped in at the isolated shop and found Heiniger
still working with the power unit. Naturally, I asked what he was doing.

"'Getting it ready to mount in the projectile, Mr. Donner,' he said.

"I said, '_What_ projectile?'

       *       *       *       *       *

"Then he explained how Kane (and I) had leased a surplus one-man
rocket from the White Sands Project and that he and Ruhl were to rig
the solar unit in it. Rather than let Heiniger know something was
wrong, though I felt like blowing my top, I asked him how on Earth an
electrical plant could power a rocket.

"'There's nothing to it,' he said. 'It's all in Mr. Kane's translations
of those tablets of his.'"

"I was beginning to wonder if this was really happening or if I _was_
dreaming. Heiniger described some sort of method for setting up a
magnetic field in _front_ of the rocket so that it could be _pulled_,
rather than pushed, at almost any speed through the atmosphere that the
pilot wished--five, ten, twelve thousand miles an hour--whatever the
pilot could take.

"It was hard to believe an experienced man like Heiniger would swallow
that. I said, 'It's ridiculous! The skin would melt!'

"'Oh, no,' said Heiniger. 'Mr. Kane has the formula for an alloy that
won't melt at any speed in atmosphere. His tablets tell how it was
used way back there for the same kind of flight. He's having a special
sheath of it made for the rocket in Santa Fe.'"

       *       *       *       *       *

President Caples stabbed his cigar into the ashtray. "Donner," he said,
"what do you take us for? You're making it almost impossible for the
Foundation to back you up, coming in here with such a fairy story."

Raymond Donner seemed to shrink in his clothes and he slumped deep
in his chair. "I _know_ how it sounds. I'm a fool--I admit it. But
Heiniger isn't, nor Ruhl. They were convinced they were working on the
modern world's first practical spaceship."

       *       *       *       *       *

"I left the plant with my head spinning and drove out to Simon Kane's
place. I was determined not to go any farther with this without
authority from you, even if I had to chase you all over Europe.

"When I reached the house, Kane's car was in the driveway. He met me on
the patio and pushed me inside before I could say my piece. There was a
young man in the drawing room whom he introduced as Porter Hays. He was
a handsome chap in his middle twenties with cropped, blond hair and an
engaging candor about him. I guessed he was a flier by the recklessness
about his mouth and eyes. He seemed very excited.

"They took me to a table spread with photographs and typed sheets and,
for the first time, I saw pictures of the original tablets. The typed
sheets were translations.

"'Porter has agreed to fly the ship,' said Kane, as if I knew all about
that. 'He's with the Pan-Columbian Project and has flown all the other
types that have been developed so far.'

"'But this is the one that will make history, Mr. Donner!' I looked at
Hays closely and saw that he meant it. 'This will fly anywhere in our
solar system--and probably clear out to most others--without carrying a
fuel supply. And the best thing about it is the absolute guarantee of a
return trip. Those geniuses down at Pan-Columbia have plenty of ideas
for getting you out there, but very few for getting you back.'

"I realized the Simon Kane magic had been at work on the young man. He
was sold completely and--considering the possibilities and that he was
willing to risk his life on them--the objections I intended to make
seemed rather puny at the time. Still, I was about to ask Kane to see
me in private when the young pilot spoke up.

"He said, 'Say, Mr. Kane, where's the last tablet? There are only
photos of thirteen here.'

"'Why, that's right,' Kane said. 'I forgot to mention it. The first
thirteen take us through the construction of the unit and the ship and
the inventor's successful trial flights. Number fourteen hasn't been
translated yet--it takes about a month to decipher each tablet.'

"Porter Hays had a disarming way of asking anything he wanted to know.
'And who does it? Do you, Mr. Kane?'

"'No. That is, it's a special gift, takes years of study--'

"'Then who _does_ decipher them?'

"'Well, you see--' It was the first time I'd seen Simon Kane uneasy and
at a loss for words. 'My wife does it. She's Egyptian, a scholar in her
own right, daughter of one of Egypt's foremost antiquarians.'

       *       *       *       *       *

"Hays insisted upon meeting her and, although Kane tried every evasion,
he finally left the room and was gone quite a while. During the wait, I
talked with young Hays and confirmed my high opinion of him. I wondered
how he'd react to Mrs. Kane if she turned out to be the beautiful girl
I'd seen in the window a few weeks earlier.

"I soon found out, for Kane came back leading the girl by the hand.
I might have said 'dragging,' but it wasn't quite that obvious. At
closer view, wearing a sort of chiton-draped white dress, she was even
more lovely than I'd thought. The long lashes veiled her eyes, except
when she acknowledged Kane's introductions with a quick glance and a
murmured, 'How do you do.' Her name was Nalja.

"Hays was obviously impressed and, in his uninhibited way, said, 'Good
Lord, Kane! If I had a dream like this at home, I wouldn't hide her.
I'd keep her out on display to make the other guys jealous.'

"The girl gave him a grateful look and just a flicker of a smile, but
said nothing.

"Simon Kane's reaction was curious. The color drained from his face
and hostile was the only word for his expression. Then he seemed to
get under control and became his genial self. 'My dear,' he said to
his wife, 'we thought you could give a hint about the text of the
fourteenth tablet. Are you far enough along?'

"Her voice was low and throaty, with a slight British accent. 'I'm
sorry. I have only just started.'

"'Have you no idea what it's about?'

"'Only that it seems to be some sort of testimonial. The language
symbols are a little different than the others and it's difficult to
read.'

"Then she was gone and Porter Hays stood looking at the door through
which she had passed, as if he had just seen a vision."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Wait a minute, Donner," Caples cut in. "How's that tape holding out,
young man?"

"Fine, Mr. Caples. At least an hour more to go."

"All right. Go ahead, Donner. Can't you leave out some of the side
issues and get to the finish of this?"

"They're all related to the outcome of the matter, Mr. Caples. It
wouldn't make any sense at all without them."

"Nor with them," said Halleck sourly, staring out the window.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Kane was to drive Hays back to Salt Lake, so I only had a moment alone
with him. When I told him I wanted to hold up everything until I'd
checked with my superiors, he just laughed it off. He said that you,
Mr. Caples, had seen all thirteen translations and your memo covered
the whole works. I'm sorry to say this convinced me.

"Next day, a carload of equipment came in for testing and I didn't
see Simon Kane for about a week, though I learned things weren't
going so well. There was some trouble with the alloy. The rocket was
shipped in, though, and turned out to be a very recent model with the
latest developments in shock and pressure compensation, oxygen plant,
homing-beam navigation and all that. The credit to White Sands was only
$32,000, including insurance, so I authorized it without misgivings,
figuring that the persuasive Kane had swung a good deal.

"Ruhl got back from Santa Fe and said they'd licked the alloy problem,
though it had been hard to avoid publicity. The metal could only be
worked in a molten state, so the fabricator was casting the nose
sheath and three overlapping girdles with rivet holes, also rivets and
fin shields of the same stuff. It sounded heavy to me, but Ruhl said
that would eliminate all possibility of vibration. This metal casting
accounted for most of the $300,000.

"During the next two weeks, I was too busy with other things to worry
much about the project, but two incidents happened that had a bearing
on it.

"On a visit to Salt Lake, I was dining at the Pioneer Arms one evening
and spotted Porter Hays at a table across the room. He was with a young
lady who looked familiar to me, even from the back. They were deep in
conversation. Hays looked up and saw me just as the waiter brought my
dinner. His expression was far from friendly. When the waiter moved out
of the way, I looked over and saw that Hays and the girl were gone.

"A little later, a bellboy brought me a note. It read, 'I expect you'll
be guided by your own ideas of honor in a case like this. But if you
can conscientiously keep your goddam mouth shut, you may help to
correct a great injustice. Hays.'"

       *       *       *       *       *

Caples had joined Halleck at the window. Now he interrupted. "I suppose
this note and the bill of lading on the rocket were stolen, too?"

"I tore up that note myself, Mr. Caples. The bill of lading,
though--the second incident concerns it."

Young Taplin had begun to fidget.

       *       *       *       *       *

"On July 19, Kane telephoned and said the airship was all rigged
and ready to go. He had chosen a spot in the desert for the test
and had scheduled it for the next morning. He'd engaged an expert
communications man--a friend of Ruhl's--and the ship and all ground
equipment were loaded on a trailer under canvas, ready to leave at
nightfall. Ruhl, Heiniger and the radio man would ride out there
together in the trailer.

"I was irked not to have been consulted on the arrangements. Kane
wanted me to pick up Porter Hays and follow the trailer out, saying
he'd be delayed, but would be there at dawn. I told him I had an
appointment for dinner--some government brass--but would be there in
time for the test.

"Kane seemed to become furious at this. He railed about the lack of
cooperation and how he'd had to work out the details of the project
almost single-handed, in spite of a clear directive from my superiors.
It ended by my hanging up on him.

"Driving home around eleven that night, I passed the plant and noticed
a light burning in the darkened office building. Before I reached the
gate, it struck me that the light was from my own office. The guard
at the gate had just come on duty, but his clip-board had no incoming
signatures on it. So I went to take a look. I turned the knob of my
office door and Kane was standing by the desk with his briefcase in one
hand and his hat in the other.

"I was shocked at the change in him. His eyes were sunken and deeply
rimmed with shadow. He looked ten years older than the last time I'd
seen him.

"But he wasn't at all abashed. He walked around the desk and took my
hand, saying, 'Raymond, I've been waiting here an hour. Felt sure you'd
stop by. Wanted to apologize in private for my disgraceful performance
this afternoon.'

"Kane must have seen I wasn't satisfied. 'The strain of this
undertaking has been greater than you realize,' he added. 'So much is
at stake, such a great responsibility to Dr. Reed, your foundation, the
whole world--'

"I mumbled something about forget it and told him to come along to my
place for a bracer and we'd ride out to the site together. But he said
he had a couple of matters to attend to and we parted at the plant
gate."

       *       *       *       *       *

Halleck came back and sat down. Caples took his seat at the desk.
"I have a feeling," he said, "that we are about to learn if this
prehistoric spaceship of yours ever got off the ground."

"Shall I order some more coffee, Mr. Caples?" asked Taplin eagerly.

"No. Just shut up, you idiot! Are you too young to appreciate this
breathless, _undocumented_ melodrama Mr. Donner's describing for us?
This last incident explains the lack of documentation, doesn't it,
Donner?"

"I'm afraid it does. I discovered later that the folder with all the
papers relating to the project was missing from my files, but I have
other evidence to offer--a witness." He glanced at his wristwatch. "If
my witness is prompt, I'll just have time to finish this."

"Please do! Does the next scene take place at the launching site?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Yes. I got there a little late--missed the turn off the highway and
went a long way past it. When I found the place, everything was ready
and they were waiting for me.

"The aircraft lay on its side, looking fat and very ungainly, I
thought, because of its increased girth. Porter Hays seemed tense, but
eager to get on with it. He wore no flight garb except his helmet with
the earphones. Standing there in slacks and sweater, smoking a final
cigarette, he didn't look theatrical enough for such an occasion. I
thought of telling him I'd kept my goddam mouth shut, but didn't get a
chance.

"The plan was to take the ship up a few hundred feet and jockey around
to test everything. If the equipment and ship were all right, Hays
would whip her up a few hundred miles and cruise at his discretion.
There was to be no long flight that day. Since we were far out of the
traffic lanes, we didn't expect to attract any attention.

"At last the Sun came up full, there was a final conference, and Hays
climbed into the ship's rotating cabin by the door at the rear. He
waved and shut the door. He could see out with his tele-view of course,
but we couldn't see him.

"While the radio man checked the ship-to-ground contact, the rest of us
moved back out of habit, though there would be no blast here.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Very slowly, the ship raised itself to a vertical position. It rose
gradually to about ten feet, stopped, then shot up a couple of hundred
and stopped again. It was incredible!

"'Give me the phone,' said Kane. He was as white as paste and his eyes
were fever-bright. 'How's it doing, Hays? Looked good from here. Is she
powering right?'

"The answer must have been gratifying because Simon Kane's white teeth
flashed when he heard it.

"After that, the ship bobbed around in swift dashes, stopping, then
darting upward till it was only a dot, reaching unbelievable speeds.
All this time, Kane was talking with Hays on the phone, asking
questions, suggesting new maneuvers. Though he was trembling with
excitement, his voice was calm, controlled and persuasive. I realized
later that he was egging Hays on to try more and more spectacular tests
of the ship.

"Suddenly it shot away in a steep climb toward the west and was out of
sight in a matter of seconds. Kane laid down the telephone and turned
to me.

"'He's satisfied the craft works perfectly,' he said. 'He's going to
take it straight out for four or five hours and then come back.'

"We all stared at him, for Hays wasn't to have stayed up over an hour.
I said, 'He can't do that. There's too much he doesn't know about the
ship. Tell him to come back!'

"Kane didn't look at me. 'The boy knows his business. Leave him alone.
He's making history.'

"'But the first time--'

"'I'm going down the road a few miles to get some breakfast. Take turns
talking to him, why don't you?'

"He got in his car and drove off."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Exit the villain! Donner, you've got a talent, but you're in the wrong
line of work." G. W. Caples dug a chubby fore-finger under his collar
and worked the tie knot loose. "This scenario is worth every single
cent of $300,000."

Raymond Donner's mouth pressed a little tighter and his tongue pushed
through to moisten his gray dry lips.

"He never came back," he said hoarsely. "And neither did Hays."

Something in the man's voice stopped the president from going on with
his sarcastic attack.

"Did the ship crash?" he asked more soberly.

"No. It just flew away and never came back."

The silence hung like a shroud. All three of them--even the
self-conscious Taplin--stared at Donner.

"We talked to Porter Hays in turns. We begged him to come back. But he
just laughed and said he was having the ride of his life. After about
two hours, his voice faded out suddenly--and that was the end of it."

"How long ago was this?"

"Four days."

"Have you notified the authorities, the police or--well, anyone?"

"No. I've been putting it off. You see, Hays gave us no hint of any
trouble. The others are still sitting out there in the desert waiting
for him, trying to make radio contact. The ship carried a standard
survival kit with seven days' rations and water. If he's had no
operational trouble, Hays could stay out at least a week."

"And what about Simon Kane?" demanded Caples.

       *       *       *       *       *

"When Kane didn't come back by noon, I went to look for him.

"On the way to his home, I stopped at the office, on a hunch, and
discovered the records were missing. At last it began to penetrate that
there was something rotten in Denmark.

"Dusk had fallen and there were no lights in the Kane house when I got
there. No one answered the doorbell. I called and pounded and finally
climbed in a window to look for signs that the Kanes had packed and
left. There were none. Everything was in order.

"Then, as I was leaving, I heard a knocking sound from the end of the
building and traced it to the last room on the west side, a sort of
study. The knocking came from a locked closet. The key was gone, so I
had to smash the door.

"Nalja Kane was sitting on the floor, staring at me without seeming to
see me. She looked frightful, with her hair awry and her eyes red and
glassy.

"She sort of moaned as I helped her up. 'Did it happen? Did he fly the
ship?'

"I said, 'Yes, but something's wrong. Where is your husband?'

"The girl seemed to go all to pieces, turning her head from side to
side and repeating, 'Oh, no! Oh, no!' Then she collapsed.

"I drove her to the hotel in the nearest town and called a doctor I
knew. He said she had emotional exhaustion, needed rest rather than
hospital care, and gave her a strong sedative. When I got home, I
stayed awake long enough to write that letter to you and then fell into
bed.

"The phone woke me around ten the next morning. It was Ruhl, calling
from a gas station on the highway. He said Hays wasn't back yet and
promised to call again at five.

"I mulled the whole thing over all day, trying to sort out the facts,
but they just wouldn't add up to anything. When Ruhl called again with
the same bad news, I decided to come on east and get it off my chest.
It's all beyond me. I don't know what to do."

       *       *       *       *       *

Donner searched in his pockets and pulled out a cigarette pack. It was
empty and he crumpled it absently. Halleck patted his own pockets but
couldn't find any.

"Now take it easy, Ray," said Caples, walking around the desk with the
humidor and holding it open. "This is the weirdest thing I've ever
heard--yet I think I believe you. Leave it to you solid types to foul
up on a grand scale! How about this witness you mentioned?"

"On the train--I wanted more time to think, so I didn't fly here--it
occurred to me how flimsy this would all sound, without your memo or
anything else to back it up. I couldn't even prove the tablets ever
existed. In Chicago, I phoned Nalja Kane. She was much better and quite
calm. When I told her the spot I was in, she agreed to take a plane in
the morning and try to be here at 11:30 today."

Taplin's finger darted to the key panel, but Caples brushed him aside
and opened the circuit himself. "This is Mr. Caples. Is there a lady in
the outer office?"

"Yes, sir. Mrs. Simon Kane."

"Ask her to step in, please."

The four men rose before the door opened--Donner, slowly, with great
weariness. She stood a moment, looking from one face to another, cool
and regal in summer white with a small flowered hat. Faint purple
circles gave her black eyes a brilliance.

Raymond Donner took her hand and led her to a chair. "Thank you for
coming, Mrs. Kane. May I present Mr. Caples and Mr. Halleck, my
superiors--and Mr. Taplin."

When they were seated, she spoke first in her low, passionate voice,
without waiting for questions. "I will tell you what I know of Simon
Kane, gentlemen, though it may be less than you would expect from a
wife. In return, I ask you to use all your influence to find him and
bring him to justice. He is a monster and a murderer!"

"You have my word on it, Mrs. Kane," said Caples, "if you can supply
the evidence that crimes have been committed. Taplin--the recorder.
Move it closer."

As she began to speak, an occasional small break in her voice hinted at
the emotional turbulence the girl was holding in tight rein.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I married Simon Kane in Egypt in 1958. We met through my father, who
represented the Egyptian government on Dr. Reed's excavation project.
At first, Simon was charming and devoted. We left Egypt almost at once
and entered upon a very pleasant, if secluded, life in this country.
The only discordant note was my father's obvious dislike for Simon. His
letters were stiff and infrequent, and finally stopped altogether.

"One day, after we had lived here about three years, my husband brought
home two heavy cases and called me in when he opened them. These cases
contained the fourteen tablets that Mr. Donner has probably mentioned.
Simon told me Dr. Reed had turned them over to him to be deciphered.

"I knew at once that this was not true, since Dr. Reed is one of the
world's foremost students of ancient writings and would have prized the
tablets too highly to let my husband carry them around in his car. When
Simon asked me to make the translations, I refused.

"He became nearly insane with rage and finally told me he had persuaded
my father to help him steal them a few weeks before our wedding. If I
did not agree to translate them, he threatened to expose my father and
disgrace him before the world. So I did as Simon demanded and it killed
my love for him.

"In his twisted, possessive way, I think my husband continued to love
me. Once the translation was under way, he tried very hard to win my
voluntary cooperation. He said the device described in the tablets
would upset the economy of the entire world. The government and
industry, he claimed, would pay any price he asked for suppressing it,
once it was tested and proved. We would live like royalty. But I told
him that, if not for my father, I would expose him without the least
hesitation.

"When we moved to Utah, Simon found an isolated house for us and I was
virtually a prisoner."

       *       *       *       *       *

Nalja Kane stopped. The danger signals of emotion breaking through
showed in the swift, anxious breathing. The four men studied her
helplessly and then it was Taplin who got the glass of water that
bridged a difficult moment. She went on.

"The first day you came to our house, Mr. Donner, I wrote a note of
warning. I intended to hand it to you through the window, but Simon
came into the room behind me and I couldn't."

"I'm so sorry, Mrs. Kane. You were obviously in trouble. I should
have--"

"Perhaps it was better. It might have cost you your life to cross Simon
at that point."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Anyway, Porter Hays stopped by one day. My husband was out and I
answered the door. He was a fine man, sensitive and kind, considering
his adventurous temperament. He could see I was nervous--you know the
disarming way he had of asking the most personal questions.

"I was afraid to talk there and asked him to drive me to Salt Lake.
On the way, I told him the whole story. He was very sympathetic and
promised to help--beginning by trying to contact my father. I hoped
he would refuse to fly the ship when he knew about Simon. But he had
absolute confidence in it and no fear at all. His plan was to complete
the test and then ask you, Mr. Donner, to impound the ship and all the
records on it.

"The day before the test flight, I put in the time completing the
translation of the fourteenth tablet.

"Simon had shown no interest in this, believing it to be a summary of
the others. As the sense of it began to emerge, I was horrified. By
midnight, I had finished it and I sat down in the drawing room with a
typed copy in my hand, waiting for my husband. I waited all night and
must have fallen asleep around dawn.

"The door chime wakened me. It was a messenger with a note from
Porter--Mr. Hays. A newspaper friend of his in Cairo had been
checking and discovered that my father had been dead six months.
The circumstances of his death were curious and Mr. Hays suggested
contacting the Cairo police as soon as the flight was over.

"This news was a terrible blow, but the moment I read it, I was free of
Simon Kane. I went to the phone and asked the operator for the police.
While I was waiting for the connection, there was a slight sound behind
me. I turned and Simon was crossing the room. He was in his dressing
gown. He must have come in while I was dozing. I ran for the door, but
he caught me and pushed me into a chair.

       *       *       *       *       *

"When he had hung up the phone, he read Mr. Hays' note without saying a
word. His face was terrible and I knew I was in danger. Then I saw that
the typed copy of the fourteenth tablet was gone.

"'You read it--the last tablet,' I said. 'And you know you've done all
this evil for nothing. The flight can't take place. If you--if you stop
me from telling the police, Porter will tell them. He knows everything.'

"He took my wrist and dragged me to the studio and forced me into the
closet and locked the door. I could hear him crumpling and burning
papers for a long time.

"At last he came close to the door and said, 'There, my dear! Try to
prove that the tablets ever existed!'

"When he was gone, I screamed and pounded on the door until I was
exhausted. A frightful thing was going to happen and there was nothing
I could do to stop it.

"Only once--only one time since this all began have I opposed my
husband successfully. And it had no effect on the outcome. When I typed
up the text of the last tablet, I made a carbon copy and put it in my
handbag. I have it here. I believe it will be evidence enough to prove
that Simon Kane is a murderer."

       *       *       *       *       *

Nalja Kane reached in her flat beaded bag and found a folded sheet,
which she handed to Donner. He smoothed it on his knees with hands that
trembled a little.

"May he read it aloud, Mrs. Kane?" asked Caples.

"Certainly, if he wishes. But the first part is technical data on a
flight by an inventor named Axtel. The two last paragraphs contain the
evidence I am offering you."

       *       *       *       *       *

Donner nodded and ran his finger down the sheet. He read:

"'The foregoing record is accurate and we acknowledge Axtel's
superlative contribution to science. But we must admit that his
greatest contribution is in the proving of an axiom: Where ultimate
force is involved, it is better to know _none_ of the laws than to know
_most_ of them.

"'On the fourth day, the aircraft returned from far space to the point
of its departure. It was in excellent condition--but empty. Nothing
remained of Axtel but merely his clothing and his ring.'"

Nalja Kane covered her face with both hands and sobbed noiselessly.

The four men all gazed at the paper as it rustled in Donner's quivering
hand.

Presently the buzzer ripped the silence like the tearing of a shroud.

After the second sharp buzz, G. W. Caples tripped the switch and
croaked, "Yes?"

The girl's voice, bright and businesslike, answered, "There's a
long-distance call from Utah for Mr. Donner. It's a Mr. Ruhl. He says
it's urgent."





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