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´╗┐Title: Dr. Kometevsky's Day
Author: Leiber, Fritz
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 "Dr. Kometevsky's Day" ***

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                         DR. KOMETEVSKY'S DAY

                            By FRITZ LEIBER

                      Illustrated by DAVID STONE

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                 Galaxy Science Fiction February 1952.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



             Before science, there was superstition. After
             science, there will be ... what? The biggest,
             most staggering, MOST FINAL fact of them all!


"But it's all predicted here! It even names this century for the next
reshuffling of the planets."

Celeste Wolver looked up unwillingly at the book her friend Madge
Carnap held aloft like a torch. She made out the ill-stamped title,
_The Dance of the Planets_. There was no mistaking the time of
its origin; only paper from the Twentieth Century aged to that
particularly nasty shade of brown. Indeed, the book seemed to Celeste
a brown old witch resurrected from the Last Age of Madness to confound
a world growing sane, and she couldn't help shrinking back a trifle
toward her husband Theodor.

He tried to come to her rescue. "Only predicted in the vaguest way. As
I understand it, Kometevsky claimed, on the basis of a lot of evidence
drawn from folklore, that the planets and their moons trade positions
every so often."

"As if they were playing Going to Jerusalem, or musical chairs,"
Celeste chimed in, but she couldn't make it sound funny.

"Jupiter was supposed to have started as the outermost planet, and is
to end up in the orbit of Mercury," Theodor continued. "Well, nothing
at all like that has happened."

"But it's begun," Madge said with conviction. "Phobos and Deimos have
disappeared. You can't argue away that stubborn little fact."

That was the trouble; you couldn't. Mars' two tiny moons had simply
vanished during a period when, as was generally the case, the eyes
of astronomy weren't on them. Just some hundred-odd cubic miles of
rock--the merest cosmic flyspecks--yet they had carried away with them
the security of a whole world.

       *       *       *       *       *

Looking at the lovely garden landscape around her, Celeste Wolver felt
that in a moment the shrubby hills would begin to roll like waves, the
charmingly aimless paths twist like snakes and sink in the green sea,
the sparsely placed skyscrapers dissolve into the misty clouds they
pierced.

_People must have felt like this_, she thought, _when Aristarches first
hinted and Copernicus told them that the solid Earth under their feet
was falling dizzily through space. Only it's worse for us, because they
couldn't see that anything had changed. We can._

"You need something to cling to," she heard Madge say. "Dr. Kometevsky
was the only person who ever had an inkling that anything like this
might happen. I was never a Kometevskyite before. Hadn't even heard of
the man."

She said it almost apologetically. In fact, standing there so frank and
anxious-eyed, Madge looked anything but a fanatic, which made it much
worse.

"Of course, there are several more convincing alternate
explanations...." Theodor began hesitantly, knowing very well that
there weren't. If Phobos and Deimos had suddenly disintegrated,
surely Mars Base would have noticed something. Of course there was the
Disordered Space Hypothesis, even if it was little more than the chance
phrase of a prominent physicist pounded upon by an eager journalist.
And in any case, what sense of security were you left with if you
admitted that moons and planets might explode, or drop through unseen
holes in space? So he ended up by taking a different tack: "Besides, if
Phobos and Deimos simply shot off somewhere, surely they'd have been
picked up by now by 'scope or radar."

"Two balls of rock just a few miles in diameter?" Madge questioned.
"Aren't they smaller than many of the asteroids? I'm no astronomer, but
I think' I'm right."

And of course she was.

She swung the book under her arm. "Whew, it's heavy," she observed,
adding in slightly scandalized tones, "Never been microfilmed." She
smiled nervously and looked them up and down. "Going to a party?" she
asked.

Theodor's scarlet cloak and Celeste's green culottes and silver jacket
justified the question, but they shook their heads.

"Just the normally flamboyant garb of the family," Celeste said,
while Theodor explained, "As it happens, we're bound on business
connected with the disappearance. We Wolvers practically constitute
a sub-committee of the Congress for the Discovery of New Purposes.
And since a lot of varied material comes to our attention, we're
going to see if any of it correlates with this bit of astronomical
sleight-of-hand."

Madge nodded. "Give you something to do, at any rate. Well, I must be
off. The Buddhist temple has lent us their place for a meeting." She
gave them a woeful grin. "See you when the Earth jumps."

Theodor said to Celeste, "Come on, dear. We'll be late."

But Celeste didn't want to move too fast. "You know, Teddy," she said
uncomfortably, "all this reminds me of those old myths where too much
good fortune is a sure sign of coming disaster. It was just too much
luck, our great-grandparents missing World III and getting the World
Government started a thousand years ahead of schedule. Luck like that
couldn't last, evidently. Maybe we've gone too fast with a lot of
things, like space-flight and the Deep Shaft and--" she hesitated a
bit--"complex marriages. I'm a woman. I want complete security. Where
am I to find it?"

"In me," Theodor said promptly.

"In you?" Celeste questioned, walking slowly. "But you're just
one-third of my husband. Perhaps I should look for it in Edmund or
Ivan."

"You angry with me about something?"

"Of course not. But a woman wants her source of security whole. In a
crisis like this, it's disturbing to have it divided."

"Well, we are a whole and, I believe, indivisible family," Theodor
told her warmly. "You're not suggesting, are you, that we're going to
be punished for our polygamous sins by a cosmic catastrophe? Fire from
Heaven and all that?"

"Don't be silly. I just wanted to give you a picture of my feeling."
Celeste smiled. "I guess none of us realized how much we've come to
depend on the idea of unchanging scientific law. Knocks the props from
under you."

Theodor nodded emphatically. "All the more reason to get a line on
what's happening as quickly as possible. You know, it's fantastically
far-fetched, but I think the experience of persons with Extra-Sensory
Perception may give us a clue. During the past three or four days
there's been a remarkable similarity in the dreams of ESPs all over the
planet. I'm going to present the evidence at the meeting."

Celeste looked up at him. "So that's why Rosalind's bringing Frieda's
daughter?"

"Dotty is your daughter, too, and Rosalind's," Theodor reminded her.

"No, just Frieda's," Celeste said bitterly. "Of course you may be the
father. One-third of a chance."

Theodor looked at her sharply, but didn't comment. "Anyway, Dotty will
be there," he said. "Probably asleep by now. All the ESPs have suddenly
seemed to need more sleep."

As they talked, it had been growing darker, though the luminescence of
the path kept it from being bothersome. And now the cloud rack parted
to the east, showing a single red planet low on the horizon.

"Did you know," Theodor said suddenly, "that in _Gulliver's Travels_
Dean Swift predicted that better telescopes would show Mars to have two
moons? He got the sizes and distances and periods damned accurately,
too. One of the few really startling coincidences of reality and
literature."

"Stop being eerie," Celeste said sharply. But then she went on, "Those
names Phobos and Deimos--they're Greek, aren't they? What do they mean?"

Theodor lost a step. "Fear and Terror," he said unwillingly. "Now
don't go taking that for an omen. Most of the mythological names of
major and minor ancient gods had been taken--the bodies in the Solar
System are named that way, of course--and these were about all that
were available."

It was true, but it didn't comfort him much.

       *       *       *       *       *

_I am a God_, Dotty was dreaming, _and I want to be by myself and
think. I and my god-friends like to keep some of our thoughts secret,
but the other gods have forbidden us to._

A little smile flickered across the lips of the sleeping girl, and
the woman in gold tights and gold-spangled jacket leaned forward
thoughtfully. In her dignity and simplicity and straight-spined grace,
she was rather like a circus mother watching her sick child before she
went out for the trapeze act.

_I and my god-friends sail off in our great round silver boats_, Dotty
went on dreaming. _The other gods are angry and scared. They are
frightened of the thoughts we may think in secret. They follow us to
hunt us down. There are many more of them than of us._

       *       *       *       *       *

As Celeste and Theodor entered the committee room, Rosalind Wolver--a
glitter of platinum against darkness--came in through the opposite
door and softly shut it behind her. Frieda, a fair woman in blue robes,
got up from the round table.

Celeste turned away with outward casualness as Theodor kissed his two
other wives. She was pleased to note that Edmund seemed impatient too.
A figure in close-fitting black, unrelieved except for two red arrows
at the collar, he struck her as embodying very properly the serious,
fateful temper of the moment.

He took two briefcases from his vest pocket and tossed them down on the
table beside one of the microfilm projectors.

"I suggest we get started without waiting for Ivan," he said.

Frieda frowned anxiously. "It's ten minutes since he phoned from the
Deep Space Bar to say he was starting right away. And that's hardly a
two minutes walk."

Rosalind instantly started toward the outside door.

"I'll check," she explained. "Oh, Frieda, I've set the mike so you'll
hear if Dotty calls."

Edmund threw up his hands. "Very well, then," he said and walked over,
switched on the picture and stared out moodily.

Theodor and Frieda got out their briefcases, switched on projectors,
and began silently checking through their material.

Celeste fiddled with the TV and got a newscast. But she found her eyes
didn't want to absorb the blocks of print that rather swiftly succeeded
each other, so, after a few moments, she shrugged impatiently and
switched to audio.

At the noise, the others looked around at her with surprise and some
irritation, but in a few moments they were also listening.

"The two rocket ships sent out from Mars Base to explore the orbital
positions of Phobos and Deimos--that is, the volume of space they'd be
occupying if their positions had remained normal--report finding masses
of dust and larger debris. The two masses of fine debris are moving
in the same orbits and at the same velocities as the two vanished
moons, and occupy roughly the same volumes of space, though the mass
of material is hardly a hundredth that of the moons. Physicists have
ventured no statements as to whether this constitutes a confirmation of
the Disintegration Hypothesis.

"However, we're mighty pleased at this news here. There's a marked
lessening of tension. The finding of the debris--solid, tangible
stuff--seems to lift the whole affair out of the supernatural miasma in
which some of us have been tempted to plunge it. One-hundredth of the
moons has been found.

"The rest will also be!"

Edmund had turned his back on the window. Frieda and Theodor had
switched off their projectors.

"Meanwhile, Earthlings are going about their business with a minimum
of commotion, meeting with considerable calm the strange threat to
the fabric of their Solar System. Many, of course, are assembled in
churches and humanist temples. Kometevskyites have staged helicopter
processions at Washington, Peking, Pretoria, and Christiana, demanding
that instant preparations be made for--and I quote--'Earth's coming
leap through space.' They have also formally challenged all astronomers
to produce an explanation other than the one contained in that strange
book so recently conjured from oblivion, _The Dance of the Planets_.

"That about winds up the story for the present. There are no new
reports from Interplanetary Radar, Astronomy, or the other rocket ships
searching in the extended Mars volume. Nor have any statements been
issued by the various groups working on the problem in Astrophysics,
Cosmic Ecology, the Congress for the Discovery of New Purposes, and so
forth. Meanwhile, however, we can take courage from the words of a poem
written even before Dr. Kometevsky's book:

    "This Earth is not the steadfast place
    We landsmen build upon;
    From deep to deep she varies pace,
    And while she comes is gone.
    Beneath my feet I feel
    Her smooth bulk heave and dip;
    With velvet plunge and soft upreel
    She swings and steadies to her keel
    Like a gallant, gallant ship."

       *       *       *       *       *

While the TV voice intoned the poem, growing richer as emotion caught
it up, Celeste looked around her at the others. Frieda, with her
touch of feminine helplessness showing more than ever through her
business-like poise. Theodor leaning forward from his scarlet cloak
thrown back, smiling the half-smile with which he seemed to face even
the unknown. Black Edmund, masking a deep uncertainty with a strong
show of decisiveness.

In short, her family. She knew their every quirk and foible. And yet
now they seemed to her a million miles away, figures seen through the
wrong end of a telescope.

Were they really a family? Strong sources of mutual strength and
security to each other? Or had they merely been playing family,
experimenting with their notions of complex marriage like a bunch of
silly adolescents? Butterflies taking advantage of good weather to
wing together in a glamorous, artificial dance--until outraged Nature
decided to wipe them out?

As the poem was ending, Celeste saw the door open and Rosalind come
slowly in. The Golden Woman's face was white as the paths she had been
treading.

Just then the TV voice quickened with shock. "News! Lunar Observatory
One reports that, although Jupiter is just about to pass behind the
Sun, a good coronagraph of the planet has been obtained. Checked and
rechecked, it admits of only one interpretation, which Lunar One
feels duty-bound to release. _Jupiter's fourteen moons are no longer
visible!_"

The chorus of remarks with which the Wolvers would otherwise have
received this was checked by one thing: the fact that Rosalind seemed
not to hear it. Whatever was on her mind prevented even that incredible
statement from penetrating.

She walked shakily to the table and put down a briefcase, one end of
which was smudged with dirt.

Without looking at them, she said, "Ivan left the Deep Space Bar
twenty minutes ago, said he was coming straight here. On my way back
I searched the path. Midway I found this half-buried in the dirt. I
had to tug to get it out--almost as if it had been cemented into the
ground. Do you feel how the dirt seems to be _in_ the leather, as if
it had lain for years in the grave?"

By now the others were fingering the small case of microfilms they had
seen so many times in Ivan's competent hands. What Rosalind said was
true. It had a gritty, unwholesome feel to it. Also, it felt strangely
heavy.

"And see what's written on it," she added.

They turned it over. Scrawled with white pencil in big, hasty, frantic
letters were two words:

"Going down!"

       *       *       *       *       *

_The other gods_, Dotty dreamt, _are combing the whole Universe for us.
We have escaped them many times, but now our tricks are almost used up.
There are no doors going out of the Universe and our boats are silver
beacons to the hunters. So we decide to disguise them in the only way
they can be disguised. It is our last chance._

       *       *       *       *       *

Edmund rapped the table to gain the family's attention. "I'd say we've
done everything we can for the moment to find Ivan. We've made a
thorough local search. A wider one, which we can't conduct personally,
is in progress. All helpful agencies have been alerted and descriptions
are being broadcast. I suggest we get on with the business of the
evening--which may very well be connected with Ivan's disappearance."

One by one the others nodded and took their places at the round table.
Celeste made a great effort to throw off the feeling of unreality that
had engulfed her and focus attention on her microfilms.

"I'll take over Ivan's notes," she heard Edmund say. "They're mainly
about the Deep Shaft."

"How far have they got with that?" Frieda asked idly. "Twenty-five
miles?"

"Nearer thirty, I believe," Edmund answered, "and still going down."

At those last two words they all looked up quickly. Then their eyes
went toward Ivan's briefcase.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Our trick has succeeded_, Dotty dreamt. _The other gods have passed
our hiding place a dozen times without noticing. They search the
Universe for us many times in vain. They finally decide that we have
found a door going out of the Universe. Yet they fear us all the more.
They think of us as devils who will some day return through the door to
destroy them. So they watch everywhere. We lie quietly smiling in our
camouflaged boats, yet hardly daring to move or think, for fear that
the faintest echoes of our doings will give them a clue. Hundreds of
millions of years pass by. They seem to us no more than drugged hours
in a prison._

       *       *       *       *       *

Theodor rubbed his eyes and pushed his chair back from the table. "We
need a break."

Frieda agreed wearily. "We've gone through everything."

"Good idea," Edmund said briskly. "I think we've hit on several crucial
points along the way and half disentangled them from the great mass of
inconsequential material. I'll finish up that part of the job right now
and present my case when we're all a bit fresher. Say half an hour?"

Theodor nodded heavily, pushing up from his chair and hitching his
cloak over a shoulder.

"I'm going out for a drink," he informed them.

After several hesitant seconds, Rosalind quietly followed him. Frieda
stretched out on a couch and closed her eyes. Edmund scanned microfilms
tirelessly, every now and then setting one aside.

Celeste watched him for a minute, then sprang up and started toward the
room where Dotty was asleep. But midway she stopped.

_Not my child_, she thought bitterly. _Frieda's her mother, Rosalind
her nurse. I'm nothing at all. Just one of the husband's girl friends.
A lady of uneasy virtue in a dissolving world._

But then she straightened her shoulders and went on.

       *       *       *       *       *

Rosalind didn't catch up with Theodor. Her footsteps were silent and
he never looked back along the path whose feeble white glow rose only
knee-high, lighting a low strip of shrub and mossy tree trunk to either
side, no more.

It was a little chilly. She drew on her gloves, but she didn't hurry.
In fact, she fell farther and farther behind the dipping tail of
his scarlet cloak and his plodding red shoes, which seemed to move
disembodied, like those in the fairy tale.

When she reached the point where she had found Ivan's briefcase, she
stopped altogether.

A breeze rustled the leaves, and, moistly brushing her cheek, brought
forest scents of rot and mold. After a bit she began to hear the
furtive scurryings and scuttlings of forest creatures.

She looked around her half-heartedly, suddenly realizing the futility
of her quest. What clues could she hope to find in this knee-high
twilight? And they'd thoroughly combed the place earlier in the night.

Without warning, an eerie tingling went through her and she was seized
by a horror of the cold, grainy Earth underfoot--an ancestral terror
from the days when men shivered at ghost stories about graves and tombs.

A tiny detail persisted in bulking larger and larger in her mind--the
unnaturalness of the way the Earth had impregnated the corner of Ivan's
briefcase, almost as if dirt and leather co-existed in the same space.
She remembered the queer way the partly buried briefcase had resisted
her first tug, like a rooted plant.

She felt cowed by the mysterious night about her, and literally
dwarfed, as if she had grown several inches shorter. She roused herself
and started forward.

Something held her feet.

They were ankle-deep in the path. While she looked in fright and
horror, they began to sink still lower into the ground.

She plunged frantically, trying to jerk loose. She couldn't. She had
the panicky feeling that the Earth had not only trapped but invaded
her; that its molecules were creeping up between the molecules of her
flesh; that the two were becoming one.

And she was sinking faster. Now knee-deep, thigh-deep, hip-deep,
waist-deep. She beat at the powdery path with her hands and threw her
body from side to side in agonized frenzy like some sinner frozen in
the ice of the innermost circle of the ancients' hell. And always the
sense of the dark, grainy tide rose inside as well as around her.

She thought, _he'd just have had time to scribble that note on his
briefcase and toss it away._ She jerked off a glove, leaned out as
far as she could, and made a frantic effort to drive its fingers into
the powdery path. Then the Earth mounted to her chin, her nose, and
covered her eyes.

She expected blackness, but it was as if the light of the path stayed
with her, making a little glow all around. She saw roots, pebbles,
black rot, worn tunnels, worms. Tier on tier of them, her vision
penetrating the solid ground. And at the same time, the knowledge that
these same sorts of things were coursing up through her.

       *       *       *       *       *

And still she continued to sink at a speed that increased, as if the
law of gravitation applied to her in a diminished way. She dropped from
black soil through gray clay and into pale limestone.

Her tortured, rock-permeated lungs sucked at rock and drew in air. She
wondered madly if a volume of air were falling with her through the
stone.

A glitter of quartz. The momentary openness of a foot-high cavern
with a trickle of water. And then she was sliding down a black basalt
column, half inside it, half inside gold-flecked ore. Then just black
basalt. And always faster.

It grew hot, then hotter, as if she were approaching the mythical
eternal fires.

       *       *       *       *       *

At first glance Theodor thought the Deep Space Bar was empty. Then he
saw a figure hunched monkeylike on the last stool, almost lost in the
blue shadows, while behind the bar, her crystal dress blending with the
tiers of sparkling glasses, stood a grave-eyed young girl who could
hardly have been fifteen.

The TV was saying, "... in addition, a number of mysterious
disappearances of high-rating individuals have been reported. These
are thought to be cases of misunderstanding, illusory apprehension,
and impulse traveling--a result of the unusual stresses of the time.
Finally, a few suggestible individuals in various parts of the globe,
especially the Indian Peninsula, have declared themselves to be 'gods'
and in some way responsible for current events.

"It is thought--"

The girl switched off the TV and took Theodor's order, explaining
casually, "Joe wanted to go to a Kometevskyite meeting, so I took over
for him." When she had prepared Theodor's highball, she announced,
"I'll have a drink with you gentlemen," and squeezed herself a glass of
pomegranate juice.

The monkeylike figure muttered, "Scotch-and-soda," then turned toward
Edmund and asked, "And what is your reaction to all this, sir?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Theodor recognized the shrunken wrinkle-seamed face. It was Colonel
Fortescue, a military antique long retired from the Peace Patrol and
reputed to have seen actual fighting in the Last Age of Madness. Now,
for some reason, the face sported a knowing smile.

Theodor shrugged. Just then the TV "big news" light blinked blue and
the girl switched on audio. The Colonel winked at Theodor.

"... confirming the disappearance of Jupiter's moons. But two other
utterly fantastic reports have just been received. First, Lunar
Observatory One says that it is visually tracking fourteen small bodies
which it believes may be the lost moons of Jupiter. They are moving
outward from the Solar System at an incredible velocity and are already
beyond the orbit of Saturn!"

The Colonel said, "Ah!"

"Second, Palomar reports a large number of dark bodies approaching the
Solar System at an equally incredible velocity. They are at about twice
the distance of Pluto, but closing in fast! We will be on the air with
further details as soon as possible."

The Colonel said, "Ah-ha!"

Theodor stared at him. The old man's self-satisfied poise was almost
amusing.

"Are you a Kometevskyite?" Theodor asked him.

The Colonel laughed. "Of course not, my boy. Those poor people are
fumbling in the dark. Don't you see what's happened?"

"Frankly, no."

The Colonel leaned toward Theodor and whispered gruffly, "The Divine
Plan. God is a military strategist, naturally."

Then he lifted the scotch-and-soda in his clawlike hand and took a
satisfying swallow.

"I knew it all along, of course," he went on musingly, "but this last
news makes it as plain as a rocket blast, at least to anyone who knows
military strategy. Look here, my boy, suppose you were commanding a
fleet and got wind of the enemy's approach--what would you do? Why,
you'd send your scouts and destroyers fanning out toward them. Behind
that screen you'd mass your heavy ships. Then--"

"You don't mean to imply--" Theodor interrupted.

The girl behind the bar looked at them both cryptically.

"Of course I do!" the Colonel cut in sharply. "It's a war between the
forces of good and evil. The bright suns and planets are on one side,
the dark on the other. The moons are the destroyers, Jupiter and
Saturn are the big battleships, while we're on a heavy cruiser, I'm
proud to say. We'll probably go into action soon. Be a corking fight,
what? And all by divine strategy!"

He chuckled and took another big drink. Theodor looked at him sourly.
The girl behind the bar polished a glass and said nothing.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dotty suddenly began to turn and toss, and a look of terror came over
her sleeping face. Celeste leaned forward apprehensively.

The child's lips worked and Celeste made out the sleepy-fuzzy words:
"They've found out where we're hiding. They're coming to get us. No!
Please, no!"

Celeste's reactions were mixed. She felt worried about Dotty and at
the same time almost in terror of her, as if the little girl were an
agent of supernatural forces. She told herself that this fear was an
expression of her own hostility, yet she didn't really believe it. She
touched the child's hand.

Dotty's eyes opened without making Celeste feel she had quite come
awake. After a bit she looked at Celeste and her little lips parted in
a smile.

"Hello," she said sleepily. "I've been having such funny dreams." Then,
after a pause, frowning, "I really am a god, you know. It feels very
queer."

"Yes, dear?" Celeste prompted uneasily. "Shall I call Frieda?"

The smile left Dotty's lips. "Why do you act so nervous around me?" she
asked. "Don't you love me, Mummy?"

Celeste started at the word. Her throat closed. Then, very slowly, her
face broke into a radiant smile. "Of course I do, darling. I love you
very much."

Dotty nodded happily, her eyes already closed again.

There was a sudden flurry of excited voices beyond the door. Celeste
heard her name called. She stood up.

"I'm going to have to go out and talk with the others," she said. "If
you want me, dear, just call."

"Yes, Mummy."

       *       *       *       *       *

Edmund rapped for attention. Celeste, Frieda, and Theodor glanced
around at him. He looked more frightfully strained, they realized, than
even they felt. His expression was a study in suppressed excitement,
but there were also signs of a knowledge that was almost too
overpowering for a human being to bear.

His voice was clipped, rapid. "I think it's about time we stopped
worrying about our own affairs and thought of those of the Solar
System, partly because I think they have a direct bearing on the
disappearances of Ivan end Rosalind. As I told you, I've been sorting
out the crucial items from the material we've been presenting. There
are roughly four of those items, as I see it. It's rather like a
mystery story. I wonder if, hearing those four clues, you will come to
the same conclusion I have."

The others nodded.

"First, there are the latest reports from Deep Shaft, which, as
you know, has been sunk to investigate deep-Earth conditions. At
approximately twenty-nine miles below the surface, the delvers have
encountered a metallic obstruction which they have tentatively named
the durasphere. It resists their hardest drills, their strongest
corrosives. They have extended a side-tunnel at that level for a
quarter of a mile. Delicate measurements, made possible by the
mirror-smooth metal surface, show that the durasphere has a slight
curvature that is almost exactly equal to the curvature of the Earth
itself. The suggestion is that deep borings made anywhere in the world
would encounter the durasphere at the same depth.

"Second, the movements of the moons of Mars and Jupiter, and
particularly the debris left behind by the moons of Mars. Granting
Phobos and Deimos had duraspheres proportional in size to that of
Earth, then the debris would roughly equal in amount the material in
those two duraspheres' rocky envelopes. The suggestion is that the
two duraspheres suddenly burst from their envelopes with such titanic
velocity as to leave those disrupted envelopes behind."

It was deadly quiet in the committee room.

"Thirdly, the disappearances of Ivan and Rosalind, and especially
the baffling hint--from Ivan's message in one case and Rosalind's
downward-pointing glove in the other--that they were both somehow drawn
into the depths of the Earth.

"Finally, the dreams of the ESPs, which agree overwhelmingly in the
following points: A group of beings separate themselves from a godlike
and telepathic race because they insist on maintaining a degree of
mental privacy. They flee in great boats or ships of some sort. They
are pursued on such a scale that there is no hiding place for them
anywhere in the universe. In some manner they successfully camouflage
their ships. Eons pass and their still-fanatical pursuers do not
penetrate their secret. Then, suddenly, they are detected."

Edmund waited. "Do you see what I'm driving at?" he asked hoarsely.

       *       *       *       *       *

He could tell from their looks that the others did, but couldn't bring
themselves to put it into words.

"I suppose it's the time-scale and the value-scale that are so hard for
us to accept," he said softly. "Much more, even, than the size-scale.
The thought that there are creatures in the Universe to whom the whole
career of Man--in fact, the whole career of life--is no more than a few
thousand or hundred thousand years. And to whom Man is no more than a
minor stage property--a trifling part of a clever job of camouflage."

This time he went on, "Fantasy writers have at times hinted all sorts
of odd things about the Earth--that it might even be a kind of single
living creature, or honeycombed with inhabited caverns, and so on.
But I don't know that any of them have ever suggested that the Earth,
together with all the planets and moons of the Solar System, might
be...."

In a whisper, Frieda finished for him, "... a camouflaged fleet of
gigantic spherical spaceships."

"_Your guess happens to be the precise truth._"

At that familiar, yet dreadly unfamiliar voice, all four of them swung
toward the inner door. Dotty was standing there, a sleep-stupefied
little girl with a blanket caught up around her and dragging behind.
Their own daughter. But in her eyes was a look from which they cringed.

She said, "I am a creature somewhat older than what your geologists
call the Archeozoic Era. I am speaking to you through a number of
telepathically sensitive individuals among your kind. In each case my
thoughts suit themselves to your level of comprehension. I inhabit the
disguised and jetless spaceship which is your Earth."

Celeste swayed a step forward. "Baby...." she implored.

Dotty went on, without giving her a glance, "It is true that we planted
the seeds of life on some of these planets simply as part of our
camouflage, just as we gave them a suitable environment for each. And
it is true that now we must let most of that life be destroyed. Our
hiding place has been discovered, our pursuers are upon us, and we must
make one last effort to escape or do battle, since we firmly believe
that the principle of mental privacy to which we have devoted our
existence is perhaps the greatest good in the whole Universe.

"But it is not true that we look with contempt upon you. Our whole race
is deeply devoted to life, wherever it may come into being, and it is
our rule never to interfere with its development. That was one of
the reasons we made life a part of our camouflage--it would make our
pursuers reluctant to examine these planets too closely.

"Yes, we have always cherished you and watched your evolution with
interest from our hidden lairs. We may even unconsciously have shaped
your development in certain ways, trying constantly to educate you away
from war and finally succeeding--which may have given the betraying
clue to our pursuers.

"Your planets must be burst asunder--this particular planet in the
area of the Pacific--so that we may have our last chance to escape.
Even if we did not move, our pursuers would destroy you with us. We
cannot invite you inside our ships--not for lack of space, but because
you could never survive the vast accelerations to which you would be
subjected. You would, you see, need very special accommodations, of
which we have enough only for a few.

"Those few we will take with us, as the seed from which a new human
race may--if we ourselves somehow survive--be born."

       *       *       *       *       *

Rosalind and Ivan stared dumbly at each other across the egg-shaped
silver room, without apparent entrance or exit, in which they were
sprawled. But their thoughts were no longer of thirty-odd mile
journeys down through solid earth, or of how cool it was after the
heat of the passage, or of how grotesque it was to be trapped here,
the fragment of a marriage. They were both listening to the voice that
spoke inside their minds.

"In a few minutes your bodies will be separated into layers one atom
thick, capable of being shelved or stored in such a way as to endure
almost infinite accelerations. Single cells will cover acres of space.
But do not be alarmed. The process will be painless and each particle
will be catalogued for future assembly. Your consciousness will endure
throughout the process."

Rosalind looked at her gold-shod toes. She was wondering, _will they go
first, or my head? Or will I be peeled like an apple?_

She looked at Ivan and knew he was thinking the same thing.

       *       *       *       *       *

Up in the committee room, the other Wolvers slumped around the table.
Only little Dotty sat straight and staring, speechless and unanswering,
quite beyond their reach, like a telephone off the hook and with the
connection open, but no voice from the other end.

They had just switched off the TV after listening to a confused
medley of denials, prayers, Kometevskyite chatterings, and a few
astonishingly realistic comments on the possibility of survival.

These last pointed out that, on the side of the Earth opposite the
Pacific, the convulsions would come slowly when the entombed spaceship
burst forth--provided, as seemed the case, that it moved without jets
or reaction.

It would be as if the Earth's vast core simply vanished. Gravity would
diminish abruptly to a fraction of its former value. The empty envelope
of rock and water and air would slowly fall together, though at the
same time the air would begin to escape from the debris because there
would no longer be the mass required to hold it.

However, there might be definite chances of temporary and even
prolonged survival for individuals in strong, hermetically sealed
structures, such as submarines and spaceships. The few spaceships on
Earth were reported to have blasted off, or be preparing to leave, with
as many passengers as could be carried.

But most persons, apparently, could not contemplate action of any sort.
They could only sit and think, like the Wolvers.

A faint smile relaxed Celeste's face. She was thinking, _how beautiful!
It means the death of the Solar System, which is a horrifying
subjective concept. Objectively, though, it would be a more awesome
sight than any human being has ever seen or ever could see. It's an
absurd and even brutal thing to wish--but I wish I could see the whole
cataclysm from beginning to end. It would make death seem very small, a
tiny personal event._

Dotty's face was losing its blank expression, becoming intent and
alarmed.

"We are in contact with our pursuers," she said in the
familiar-unfamiliar voice. "Negotiations are now going on. There
seems to be--there _is_ a change in them. Where they were harsh and
vindictive before, they now are gentle and conciliatory." She paused,
the alarm on her childish features pinching into anxious uncertainty.
"Our pursuers have always been shrewd. The change in them may be false,
intended merely to lull us into allowing them to come close enough to
destroy us. We must not fall into the trap by growing hopeful...."

They leaned forward, clutching hands, watching the little face as
though it were a television screen. Celeste had the wild feeling that
she was listening to a communique from a war so unthinkably vast and
violent, between opponents so astronomically huge and nearly immortal,
that she felt like no more than a reasoning ameba ... and then realized
with an explosive urge to laugh that that was exactly the situation.

"No!" said Dotty. Her eyes began to glow. "They _have_ changed! During
the eons in which we lay sealed away and hidden from them, knowing
nothing of them, they have rebelled against the tyranny of a communal
mind to which no thoughts are private ... the tyranny that we ourselves
fled to escape. They come not to destroy us, but to welcome us back to
a society that we and they can make truly great!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Frieda collapsed to a chair, trembling between laughter and hysterical
weeping. Theodor looked as blank as Dotty had while waiting for words
to speak. Edmund sprang to the picture window, Celeste toward the TV
set.

Climbing shakily out of the chair, Frieda stumbled to the picture
window and peered out beside Edmund. She saw lights bobbing along the
paths with a wild excitement.

On the TV screen, Celeste watched two brightly lit ships spinning in
the sky--whether human spaceships or Phobos and Deimos come to help
Earth rejoice, she couldn't tell.

Dotty spoke again, the joy in her strange voice forcing them to turn.
"And you, dear children, creatures of our camouflage, we welcome
you--whatever your future career on these planets or like ones--into
the society of enlightened worlds! You need not feel small and alone
and helpless ever again, for we shall always be with you!"

The outer door opened. Ivan and Rosalind reeled in, drunkenly smiling,
arm in arm.

"Like rockets," Rosalind blurted happily. "We came through the
durasphere and solid rock ... shot up right to the surface."

"They didn't have to take us along," Ivan added with a bleary grin.
"But you know that already, don't you? They're too good to let you live
in fear, so they must have told you by now."

"Yes, we know," said Theodor. "They must be almost godlike in their
goodness. I feel ... calm."

Edmund nodded soberly. "Calmer than I ever felt before. It's knowing, I
suppose, that--well, we're not alone."

Dotty blinked and looked around and smiled at them all with a wholly
little-girl smile.

"Oh, Mummy," she said, and it was impossible to tell whether she spoke
to Frieda or Rosalind or Celeste, "I've just had the funniest dream."

"No, darling," said Rosalind gently, "it's we who had the dream. We've
just awakened."





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