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Title: A Trace of Memory
Author: Laumer, Keith
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 "A Trace of Memory" ***

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                           A TRACE OF MEMORY

                             KEITH LAUMER

                                  TOR

                     A TOM DOHERTY ASSOCIATES BOOK

       This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events
       portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance
          to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

                           A TRACE OF MEMORY

                    Copyright 1963 by Keith Laumer

              All rights reserved, including the right to
         reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

          A short version of this novel appeared serially in
                _Amazing_, July-August-September, 1962.
           Copyright 1962 by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company.

                              A TOR Book

                 Published by Tom Doherty Associates,
                         8-10 West 36 Street,
                         New York, N.Y. 10018

                       Cover art by Bob Layzell

                   First TOR printing: November 1984

                          ISBN: O-812-54373-4
                        CAN. ED.: O-812-54374-2

                Printed in the United States of America

      [Transcriber's Note: Extensive research did not uncover any
  evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

       *       *       *       *       *

"Let's get out of here fast," I said. "We've probably set off an alarm
already."

As if in answer, a low chime cut across our talk. Pearly light sprang
up on a square panel. Foster and I stared at it.

"What do you make of it?" he said.

"I'm no expert on stone-age relics," I said. "But if that's not a radar
screen, I'll eat it."

I sat down in the single chair before the dusty control console, and
watched a red blip creep across the screen.

"That blip is either a mighty slow airplane--or it's at one hell of an
altitude." I sat upright, eyes on the screen. "Look at this, Foster,"
I snapped. A pattern of dots flashed across the screen, faded, flashed
again....

"I don't like that thing blinking at us," I said. "It makes me feel
conspicuous." I looked at the big red button beside the screen. "Maybe
if I pushed that...." Without waiting to think it over, I jabbed at it.

"I'm not sure you should have done that," Foster said.

"There _is_ room for doubt," I said in a strained voice. "It looks like
I've launched a bomb from the ship overhead."

A TRACE OF MEMORY


Look for these other TOR books by Keith Laumer:


    THE BREAKING EARTH
    THE GLORY GAME
    THE INFINITE CAGE
    KNIGHT OF DELUSIONS
    THE MONITORS
    THE HOUSE IN NOVEMBER AND THE OTHER SKY
    ONCE THERE WAS A GIANT
    PLANET RUN
    WORLDS OF THE IMPERIUM



A TRACE OF MEMORY



PROLOGUE


He awoke and lay for a moment looking up at a low ceiling, dimly
visible in a faint red glow, feeling the hard mat under his back. He
turned his head, saw a wall and a panel on which a red indicator light
glared.

He swung his legs over the side of the narrow couch and sat up. The
room was small, grey-painted, unadorned. Pain throbbed in his forearm.
He shook back the loose sleeve of the strange purple garment, saw a
pattern of tiny punctures in the skin. He recognized the mark of a
feeding Hunter.... Who would have dared?

A dark shape on the floor caught his eye. He slid from the couch, knelt
by the still body of a man in a purple tunic stained black with blood.
Gently he rolled the body onto its back.

Ammaerln!

He seized the limp wrist. There was a faint pulse. He rose--and saw a
second body and, near the door, two more. Quickly he went to each....

All three were dead, hideously slashed. Only Ammaerln still breathed,
faintly.

He went to the door, shouted into the darkness. The ranged shelves of
a library gave back a brief echo. He turned back to the grey-walled
room, noticed a recording monitor against a wall. He fitted the
neurodes to the dying man's temples. But for this gesture of recording
Ammaerln's life's memories, there was nothing he could do. He must get
him to a therapist--and quickly.

He crossed the library, found a great echoing hall beyond. This
was not the Sapphire Palace beside the Shallow Sea. The lines were
unmistakeable: he was aboard a ship, a far-voyager. Why? How? He stood
uncertain. The silence was absolute.

He crossed the Great Hall and entered the observation lounge. Here
lay another dead man, by his uniform a member of the crew. He touched
a knob and the great screens glowed blue. A giant crescent swam into
focus, locked; soft blue against the black of space. Beyond it a
smaller companion hung, gray-blotched, airless. What worlds were these?

       *       *       *       *       *

An hour later he had ranged the vast ship from end to end. In all,
seven corpses, cruelly slashed, peopled the silent vessel. In the
control sector the communicator lights glowed, but to his call there
was no answer from the strange world below.

He turned to the recording room. Ammaerln still breathed weakly. The
memory recording had been completed; all that the dying man remembered
of his long life was imprinted now in the silver cylinder. It remained
only to color-code the trace.

His eyes was caught by a small cylinder projecting from the aperture at
the side of the high couch where he had awakened his own memory-trace!
So he himself had undergone the Change. He took the color-banded
cylinder, thrust it into a pocket--then whirled at a sound. A nest of
Hunters, swarming globes of pale light, clustered at the door. Then
they were on him. They pressed close, humming in their eagerness.
Without the proper weapon he was helpless.

He caught up the limp body of Ammaerln. With the Hunters trailing in a
luminous stream he ran with his burden to the shuttle-boat bay.

Three shuttles lay in their cradles. He groped to a switch, his head
swimming with the sulphurous reek of the Hunters; light flooded the
bay, driving them back. He entered the lifeboat, placed the dying man
on a cushioned couch.

It had been long since he had manned the controls of a ship, but he had
not forgotten.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ammaerln was dead when the lifeboat reached the planetary surface. The
vessel settled gently and the lock cycled. He looked out at a vista of
ragged forest.

This was no civilized world. Only the landing ring and the clearing
around it showed the presence of man.

There was a hollow in the earth by a square marker block at the eastern
perimeter of the clearing. He hoisted the body of Ammaerln to his back
and moved heavily down the access ladder. Working bare-handed, he
deepened the hollow, placed the body in it, scraped earth over it. Then
he rose and turned back toward the shuttle boat.

Forty feet away, a dozen men, squat, bearded, wrapped in the shaggy
hides of beasts, stood between him and the access ladder. The tallest
among them shouted, raised a bronze sword threateningly. Behind these,
others clustered at the ladder. Motionless he watched as one scrambled
up, reached the top, disappeared into the boat. In a moment the savage
reappeared at the opening and hurled down handfuls of small bright
objects. Shouting, others clambered up to share the loot. The first man
again vanished within the boat. Before the foremost of the others had
gained the entry, the port closed, shutting off a terrified cry from
within.

Men dropped from the ladder as it swung up. The boat rose slowly,
angling toward the west, dwindling. The savages shrank back, awed.

The man watched until the tiny blue light was lost against the sky.



CHAPTER I


The ad read: _Soldier of fortune seeks companion in arms to share
unusual adventure. Foster, Box 19, Mayport._

I crumpled the newspaper and tossed it in the general direction of the
wire basket beside the park bench, pushed back a slightly frayed cuff,
and took a look at my bare wrist. It was just habit; the watch was in
a hock shop in Tupelo, Mississippi. It didn't matter. I didn't have to
know what time it was.

Across the park most of the store windows were dark along the side
street. There were no people in sight; they were all home now, having
dinner. As I watched, the lights blinked off in the drug store with the
bottles of colored water in the window; the left the candy and cigar
emporium at the end of the line. I fidgeted on the hard bench and felt
for a cigarette I didn't have. I wished the old boy back of the counter
would call it a day and go home. As soon as it was dark enough, I was
going to rob his store.

       *       *       *       *       *

I wasn't a full-time stick-up artist. Maybe that's why that nervous
feeling was playing around under my rib cage. There was really nothing
to it. The wooden door with the hardware counter lock that would open
almost as easily without a key as with one; the sardine-can metal box
with the day's receipts in it. I'd be on my way to the depot with fare
to Miami in my pocket ten minutes after I cracked the door. I'd learned
a lot harder tricks than petty larceny back when I had a big future
ahead with Army Intelligence. That was a long time ago, and I'd had a
lot of breaks since then--none good.

I got up and took another turn around the park. It was a warm evening,
and the mosquitoes were out. I caught a whiff of frying hamburger from
the Elite Cafe down the street. It reminded me that I hadn't eaten
lately. There were lights on at the Commercial Hotel and one in the
ticket office at the station. The local police force was still sitting
on a stool at the Rexall talking to the counter girl. I could see the
.38 revolver hanging down in a worn leather holster at his hip. All of
a sudden, I was in a hurry to get it over with.

I took another look at the lights. All the stores were dark now. There
was nothing to wait for. I crossed the street, sauntered past the cigar
store. There were dusty boxes of stogies in the window and piles of
homemade fudge stacked on plates with paper doilies under them. Behind
them, the interior of the store looked grim and dead. I looked around,
then turned down the side street toward the back door--

A black sedan eased around the corner and pulled in to the curb. A face
leaned over to look at me through lenses like the bottoms of tabasco
bottles. The hot evening air stirred, and I felt my damp shirt cold
against my back.

"Looking for anything in particular, Mister?" the cop said.

I just looked at him.

"Passing through town, are you?" he asked.

For some reason I shook my head.

"I've got a job here," I said. "I'm going to work--for Mr. Foster."

"What Mr. Foster?" The cop's voice was wheezy, but relentless; a voice
used to asking questions.

I remembered the ad--something about an adventure; Foster, Box 19. The
cop was still staring at me.

"Box nineteen," I said.

He looked me over some more, then reached across and opened the door.
"Better come on down to the station house with me, Mister," he said.

       *       *       *       *       *

At Police Headquarters, the cop motioned me to a chair, sat down behind
a desk, and pulled a phone to him. He dialed slowly, then swiveled his
back to me to talk. Insects danced around the bare light bulb. There
was an odor of leather and unwashed bedding. I sat and listened to a
radio in the distance wailing a sad song.

It was half an hour before I heard a car pull up outside. The man who
came through the door was wearing a light suit that was neither new
nor freshly pressed, but had that look of perfect fit and taste that
only the most expensive tailoring can achieve. He moved in a relaxed
way, but gave an impression of power held in reserve. At first glance I
thought he was in his middle thirties, but when he looked my way I saw
the fine lines around the blue eyes. I got to my feet. He came over to
me.

"I'm Foster," he said, and held out his hand. I shook it.

"My name is Legion," I said.

The desk sergeant spoke up. "This fellow says he come here to Mayport
to see you, Mr. Foster."

Foster looked at me steadily. "That's right, Sergeant. This gentleman
is considering a proposition I've made."

"Well, I didn't know, Mr. Foster," the cop said.

"I quite understand, Sergeant," Foster said. "We all feel better,
knowing you're on the job."

"Well, you know," the cop said.

"We may as well be on our way then," Foster said. "If you're ready, Mr.
Legion."

"Sure, I'm ready," I said. Mr. Foster said goodnight to the cop and we
went out. On the pavement in front of the building I stopped.

"Thanks, Mr. Foster," I said. "I'll comb myself out of your hair now."

Foster had his hand on the door of a deceptively modest-looking
cabriolet. I could smell the solid leather upholstery from where I
stood.

"Why not come along to my place, Legion," he said. "We might at least
discuss my proposition."

I shook my head. "I'm not the man for the job, Mr. Foster," I said. "If
you'd like to advance me a couple of bucks, I'll get myself a bite to
eat and fade right out of your life."

"What makes you so sure you're not interested?"

"Your ad said something about adventure. I've had my adventures. Now
I'm just looking for a hole to crawl into."

"I don't believe you, Legion." Foster smiled at me, a slow, calm smile.
"I think your adventures have hardly begun."

I thought about it. If I went along, I'd at least get a meal--and maybe
even a bed for the night. It was better than curling up under a tree.

"Well," I said, "a remark like that demands time for an explanation." I
got into the car and sank back in a seat that seemed to fit me the way
Foster's jacket fit him.

"I hope you won't mind if I drive fast," Foster said. "I want to be
home before dark." We started up and wheeled away from the curb like a
torpedo sliding out of the launching tube.

       *       *       *       *       *

I got out of the car in the drive at Foster's house, and looked around
at the wide clipped lawn, the flower beds that were vivid even by
moonlight, the line of tall poplars and the big white house.

"I wish I hadn't come," I said. "This kind of place reminds me of all
the things I haven't gotten out of life."

"Your life's still ahead of you," Foster said. He opened the slab of
mahogany that was the front door, and I followed him inside. At the end
of a short hall he flipped a switch that flooded the room before us
with soft light. I stared at an expanse of pale grey carpet about the
size of a tennis court, on which rested glowing Danish teak furniture
upholstered in rich colors. The walls were a rough-textured grey; here
and there were expensively framed abstractions. The air was cool with
the heavy coolness of air conditioning. Foster crossed to a bar that
looked modest in the setting, in spite of being bigger than those in
most of the places I'd seen lately.

"Would you care for a drink?" he said.

I looked down at my limp, stained suit and grimy cuffs.

"Look, Mr. Foster," I said. "I just realized something. If you've got a
stable, I'll go sleep in it--"

Foster laughed. "Come on; I'll show you the bath."

       *       *       *       *       *

I came downstairs, clean, showered, and wearing a set of Foster's
clothes. I found him sitting, sipping a drink and listening to music.

"The _Liebestodt_," I said. "A little gloomy, isn't it?"

"I read something else into it," Foster said. "Sit down and have a bite
to eat and a drink."

I sat in one of the big soft chairs and tried not to let my hand shake
as I reached for one of the sandwiches piled on the coffee table.

"Tell me something, Mr. Legion," Foster said. "Why did you come here,
mention my name--if you didn't intend to see me?"

I shook my head. "It just worked out that way."

"Tell me something about yourself," Foster said.

"It's not much of a story."

"Still, I'd like to hear it."

"Well, I was born, grew up, went to school----"

"What school?"

"University of Illinois."

"What was your major?"

"Music."

Foster looked at me, frowning slightly.

"It's the truth," I said. "I wanted to be a conductor. The army
had other ideas. I was in my last year when the draft got me. They
discovered I had what they considered an aptitude for intelligence
work. I didn't mind it. I had a pretty good time for a couple of years."

"Go on," Foster said. Well, I'd had a bath and a good meal. I owed him
something. If he wanted to hear my troubles, why not tell him?

"I was putting on a demonstration. A defective timer set off a charge
of H-E fifty seconds early on a one-minute setting. A student was
killed; I got off easy with a busted eardrum and a pound or two of
gravel imbedded in my back. When I got out of the hospital, the army
felt real bad about letting me go--but they did. My terminal leave pay
gave me a big weekend in San Francisco and set me up in business as a
private investigator.

"I had enough left over after the bankruptcy proceedings a few months
later to get me to Las Vegas. I lost what was left and took a job with
a casino operator named Gonino.

"I stayed with Gonino for nearly a year. Then one night a visiting bank
clerk lost his head and shot him eight times with a .22 target pistol.
I left town the same night.

"After that I sold used cars for a couple of months in Memphis; then I
made like a life guard at Daytona; baited hooks on a thirty-foot tuna
boat out of Key West; all the odd jobs with low pay and no future. I
spent a couple of years in Cuba; all I got out of that was two bullet
scars on the left leg, and a prominent position on a CIA blacklist.

"After that things got tough. A man in my trade can't really hope to
succeed in a big way without the little blue card in the plastic cover
to back his play. I was headed south for the winter, and I picked
Mayport to run out of money."

I stood up. "I sure enjoyed the bath, Mr. Foster, and the meal,
too--I'd like real well to get into that bed upstairs and have a
night's sleep just to make it complete; but I'm not interested in the
job." I turned away and started across the room.

"Legion," Foster said. I turned. A beer bottle was hanging in the air
in front of my face. I put a hand up fast and the bottle slapped my
palm.

"Not bad set of reflexes for a man whose adventures are all behind
him," Foster said.

I tossed the bottle aside. "If I'd missed, that would have knocked my
teeth out," I said angrily.

"You didn't miss--even though you're weaving a little from the beer.
And a man who can feel a pint or so of beer isn't an alcoholic--so
you're clean on that score."

"I didn't say I was ready for the rummy ward," I said. "I'm just not
interested in your proposition--whatever it is."

"Legion," Foster said, "maybe you have the idea I put that ad in the
paper last week on a whim. The fact is, I've been running it--in one
form or another--for over eight years."

I looked at him and waited.

"Not only locally--I've run it in the big-city papers, and in some of
the national weekly and monthly publications. All together, I've had
perhaps fifty responses."

Foster smiled wryly. "About three quarters of them were from women who
thought I wanted a playmate. Several more were from men with the same
idea. The few others were hopelessly unsuitable."

"That's surprising," I said. "I'd have thought you'd have brought half
the nuts in the country out of the woodwork by now."

Foster looked at me, not smiling. I realized suddenly that behind the
urbane façade there was a hint of tension, a trace of worry in the
level blue eyes.

"I'd like very much to interest you in what I have to say, Legion. I
think you lack only one thing--confidence in yourself."

I laughed shortly. "What are the qualifications you think I have? I'm a
jack of no trades----"

"Legion, you're a man of considerable intelligence and more than a
little culture; you've travelled widely and know how to handle yourself
in difficult situations--or you wouldn't have survived. I'm sure your
training includes techniques of entry and fact-gathering not known to
the average man; and perhaps most important, although you're an honest
man, you're capable of breaking the law--when necessary."

"So that's it," I said.

"No, I'm not forming a mob, Legion. As I said in the ad--this is an
unusual adventure. It may--probably will--involve infringing various
statutes and regulations of one sort or another. After you know the
full story I'll leave you to judge whether it's justifiable."

If Foster was trying to arouse my curiosity, he was succeeding. He was
dead serious about whatever it was he was planning. It sounded like
something no one with good sense would want to get involved in--but on
the other hand, Foster didn't look like the sort of man to do anything
foolish....

"Why don't you tell me what this is all about?" I said. "Why would a
man with all this--" I waved a hand at the luxurious room--"want to
pick a hobo like me out of the gutter and talk him into taking a job?"

"Your ego has taken a severe beating, Legion--that's obvious. I think
you're afraid that I'll expect too much of you--or that I'll be shocked
by some disclosure you may make. Perhaps if you'd forget yourself and
your problems for the moment, we could reach an understanding----"

"Yeah," I said. "Just forget my problems...."

"Chiefly money problems, of course. Most of the problems of this
society involve the abstraction of values that money represents."

"Okay," I said. "I've got my problems, you've got yours. Let's leave it
at that."

"You feel that because I have material comfort, my problems must of
necessity be trivial ones," Foster said. "Tell me, Mr. Legion: have you
ever known a man who suffered from amnesia?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Foster crossed the room to a small writing desk, took something from a
drawer, then looked at me.

"I'd like you to examine this," he said.

I went over and took the object from his hand. It was a small book,
with a cover of drab-colored plastic, unornamented except for an
embossed design of two concentric rings. I opened the cover. The pages
were as thin as tissue, but opaque, and covered with extremely fine
writing in strange foreign characters. The last dozen pages were in
English. I had to hold the book close to my eyes to read the minute
script:

_January 19, 1710. Having come nigh to calamity with the near lofs[1]
of the key, I will henceforth keep this journal in the English
tongue...._

[Footnote 1: Transcriber's Note: Sections of this text used "long s"
typeface. Text left as printed with the letter "f" substituted for the
"long s".]

"If this is an explanation of something, it's too subtle for me," I
said.

"Legion, how old would you say I am?"

"That's a hard one," I said. "When I first saw you I would have said
the late thirties, maybe. Now, frankly, you look closer to fifty."

"I can show you proof," Foster said, "that I spent the better part of a
year in a military hospital in France. I awakened in a ward, bandaged
to the eyes, and with no memories whatever of my life before that day.
According to the records made at the time, I appeared to be about
thirty years of age."

"Well," I said, "amnesia's not so unusual among war casualties, and you
seem to have done pretty well since."

Foster shook his head impatiently. "There's nothing difficult about
acquiring material wealth in this society, though the effort kept me
well occupied for a number of years--and diverted my thoughts from
the question of my past life. The time came, however, when I had the
leisure to pursue the matter. The clues I had were meagre enough; the
notebook I've shown you was found near me, and I had a ring on my
finger." Foster held out his hand. On the middle finger was a massive
signet, engraved with the same design of concentric circles I had seen
on the cover of the notebook.

"I was badly burned; my clothing was charred. Oddly enough, the
notebook was quite unharmed, though it was found among burned debris.
It's made of very tough stuff."

"What did you find out?"

"In a word--nothing. No military unit claimed me. I spoke English, from
which it was deduced that I was English or American----"

"They couldn't tell which, from your accent?"

"Apparently not; it appears I spoke a sort of hybrid dialect."

"Maybe you're lucky. I'd be happy to forget my first thirty years."

"I spent a considerable sum of money in my attempts to discover my
past," Foster went on. "And several years of time. In the end I gave it
up. And it wasn't until then that I found the first faint inkling."

"So you did find something," I said.

"Nothing I hadn't had all along. The notebook."

"I'd have thought you would have read that before you did anything
else," I said. "Don't tell me you put it in the bureau drawer and
forgot it."

"I read it, of course--what I could read of it. Only a relatively small
section is in English. The rest is a cipher. And what I read seemed
meaningless--quite unrelated to me. You've glanced through it; it's no
more than a journal, irregularly kept, and so cryptic as to be little
better than a code itself. And of course the dates; they range from the
early eighteenth century through the early twentieth."

"A sort of family record, maybe," I said. "Carried on generation after
generation. Didn't it mention any names, or places?"

"Look at it again, Legion," Foster said. "See if you notice anything
odd--other than what we've already discussed."

I thumbed through the book again. It was no more than an inch thick,
but it was heavy--surprisingly heavy. There were a lot of pages--I
shuffled through hundreds of closely written sheets, and yet the book
was less than half used. I read bits here and there:

_"May 4, 1746. The Voyage was not a Succefs. I must forsake this avenue
of Enquiry...._"

"_October 23, 1790. Builded the weft Barrier a cubit higher. Now
the fires burn every night. Is there no limit to their infernal
perfiftence?_"

"_January 19, 1831. I have great hopes for the Philadelphia enterprise.
My greatest foe is impatience. All preparations for the Change are
made, yet I confefs I am uneasy...._"

"There are plenty of oddities," I said. "Aside from the entries
themselves. This is supposed to be old--but the quality of the paper
and binding beats anything I've seen. And that handwriting is pretty
fancy for a quill pen----"

"There's a stylus clipped to the spine of the book," Foster said. "It
was written with that."

I looked, pulled out a slim pen, then looked at Foster. "Speaking of
odd," I said. "A genuine antique early colonial ball-point pen doesn't
turn up every day----"

"Suspend your judgement until you've seen it all," Foster said.

"And two hundred years on one refill--that's not bad." I riffled
through the pages, then I tossed the book onto the table. "Who's
kidding who, Foster?" I said.

"The book was described in detail in the official record, of which I
have copies. They mention the paper and binding, the stylus, even quote
some of the entries. The authorities worked over it pretty closely,
trying to identify me. They reached the same conclusion as you--that it
was the work of a crackpot; but they saw the same book you're looking
at now."

"So what? So it was faked up some time during the war--what does that
prove? I'm ready to concede it's forty years old----"

"You don't understand, Legion," Foster said. "I told you I woke up in
a military hospital in France. But it was an AEF hospital and the year
was 1918."



CHAPTER II


I glanced sideways at Foster. He didn't look like a nut....

"All I've got to say is," I said, "you're a hell of a spry-looking
ninety."

"You find my appearance strangely youthful. What would be your reaction
if I told you that I've aged greatly in the past few months? That
a year ago I could have passed as no older than thirty without the
slightest difficulty----"

"I don't think I'd believe you," I said. "And I'm sorry, Mr. Foster;
but I don't believe the bit about the 1918 hospital either. How can I?
It's----"

"I know. Fantastic. But let's go back a moment to the book itself. Look
closely at the paper; it's been examined by experts. They're baffled by
it. Attempts to analyze it chemically failed--they were unable to take
a sample. It's impervious to solvents----"

"They couldn't get a sample?" I said. "Why not just tear off the corner
of one of the sheets?"

"Try it," Foster said.

I picked up the book and plucked at the edge of one of the blank
sheets, then pinched harder and pulled. The paper held. I got a better
grip and pulled again. It was like fine, tough leather, except that it
didn't even stretch.

"It's tough, all right," I said. I took out my pocket knife and opened
it and worked on the edge of the paper. Nothing. I went over to the
bureau and put the paper flat against the top and sawed at it, putting
my weight on the knife. I raised the knife and brought it down hard. I
didn't so much as mark the sheet. I put the knife away.

"That's some paper, Mr. Foster," I said.

"Try to tear the binding," Foster said. "Put a match to it. Shoot at
it if you like. Nothing will make an impression on that material. Now,
you're a logical man, Legion. Is there something here outside ordinary
experience or is there not?"

I sat down, feeling for a cigarette. I still didn't have.

"What does it prove?" I said.

"Only that the book is not a simple fraud. You're facing something
which can't be dismissed as fancy. The book exists. That is our basic
point of departure."

"Where do we go from there?"

"There is a second factor to be considered," Foster went on. "At some
time in the past I seem to have made an enemy. Someone, or something,
is systematically hunting me."

I tried a laugh, but it felt out of place. "Why not sit still and let
it catch up with you? Maybe it could tell you what the whole thing is
about."

Foster shook his head. "It started almost thirty years ago," he said.
"I was driving south from Albany, New York, at night. It was a long
straight stretch of road, no houses. I noticed lights following me. Not
headlights--something that bobbed along, off in the fields along the
road. But they kept pace, gradually moving alongside. Then they closed
in ahead, keeping out of range of my headlights. I stopped the car. I
wasn't seriously alarmed, just curious. I wanted a better look, so I
switched on my spotlight and played it on the lights. They disappeared
as the light touched them. After half a dozen were gone, the rest began
closing in. I kept picking them off. There was a sound, too, a sort of
high-pitched humming. I caught a whiff of sulphur then, and suddenly
I was afraid--deathly afraid. I caught the last one in the beam no
more than ten feet from the car. I can't describe the horror of the
moment----"

"It sounds pretty weird," I said. "But what was there to be afraid of?
It must have been some kind of heat lightning."

"There is always the pat explanation," Foster said. "But no explanation
can rationalize the instinctive dread I felt. I started up the car
and drove on--right through the night and the next day. I sensed that
I must put distance between myself and whatever it was I had met. I
bought a home in California and tried to put the incident out of my
mind--with limited success. Then it happened again."

"The same thing? Lights?"

"It was more sophisticated the next time. It started with
interference--static--on my radio. Then it affected the wiring in the
house. All the lights began to glow weakly, even though they were
switched off. I could feel it--feel it in my bones--moving closer,
hemming me in. I tried the car; it wouldn't start. Fortunately, I kept
a few horses at that time. I mounted and rode into town--and at a fair
gallop, you may be sure. I saw the lights, but outdistanced them. I
caught a train and kept going."

"I don't see----"

"It happened again; four times in all. I thought perhaps I had
succeeded in eluding it at last. I was mistaken. I have had definite
indications that my time here is drawing to a close. I would have been
gone before now, but there were certain arrangements to be made."

"Look," I said. "This is all wrong. You need a psychiatrist, not an
ex-tough guy. Delusions of persecution----"

"It seemed obvious that the explanation was to be found somewhere in my
past life," Foster went on. "I turned to the notebook, my only link.
I copied it out, including the encrypted portion. I had photostatic
enlargements made of the initial section--the part written in
unfamiliar characters. None of the experts who have examined the script
have been able to identify it.

"I necessarily, therefore, concentrated my attention on the last
section--the only part written in English. I was immediately struck by
a curious fact I had ignored before. The writer made references to an
Enemy, a mysterious 'they', against which defensive measures had to be
taken."

"Maybe that's where you got the idea," I said. "When you first read the
book----"

"The writer of the log," Foster said, "was dogged by the same nemesis
that now follows me."

"It doesn't make any sense," I said.

"For the moment," Foster said, "stop looking for logic in the
situation. Look for a pattern instead."

"There's a pattern, all right," I said.

"The next thing that struck me," Foster went on, "was a reference to a
loss of memory--a second point of some familiarity to me. The writer
expresses frustration at the inability to remember certain facts which
would have been useful to him in his pursuit."

"What kind of pursuit?"

"Some sort of scientific project, as nearly as I can gather. The
journal bristles with tantalizing references to matters that are never
explained."

"And you think the man that wrote it had amnesia?"

"Not exactly amnesia, perhaps," Foster said. "But there were things he
was unable to remember."

"If that's amnesia, we've all got it," I said. "Nobody's got a perfect
memory."

"But these were matters of importance; not the kinds of thing that
simply slip one's mind."

"I can see how you'd want to believe the book had something to do with
your past, Mr. Foster," I said. "It must be a hard thing, not knowing
your own life story. But you're on the wrong track. Maybe the book is a
story you started to write--in code, so nobody would accidentally read
the stuff and kid you about it."

"Legion, what was it you planned to do when you got to Miami?"

The question caught me a little off-guard. "Well, I don't know," I
hedged. "I wanted to get south, where it's warm. I used to know a few
people----"

"In other words, nothing," Foster said. "Legion, I'll pay you well to
stay with me and see this thing through."

I shook my head. "Not me, Mr. Foster. The whole thing sounds--well,
the kindest word I can think of is 'nutty.'"

"Legion," Foster said, "do you really believe I'm insane?"

"Let's just say this all seems a little screwy to me, Mr. Foster."

"I'm not asking you just to work for me," Foster said. "I'm asking for
your help."

"You might as well look for your fortune in tea leaves," I said,
irritated. "There's nothing in what you've told me."

"There's more, Legion. Much more. I've recently made an important
discovery. When I know you're with me, I'll tell you. You know enough
now to accept the fact that this isn't entirely a figment of my
imagination."

"I don't know anything," I said. "So far it's all talk."

"If you're concerned about payment----"

"No, damn it," I barked. "Where are the papers you keep talking about?
I ought to have my head examined for sitting here humoring you. I've
got troubles enough----" I stopped talking and rubbed my hands over my
scalp. "I'm sorry, Mr. Foster," I said. "I guess what's really griping
me is that you've got everything I think I want--and you're not content
with it. It bothers me to see you off chasing fairies. If a man with
his health and plenty of money can't enjoy life, what the hell is there
for anybody?"

Foster looked at me thoughtfully. "Legion, if you could have anything
in life you wanted, what would you ask for?"

"Anything? I've wanted a lot of different things. Once I wanted to be
a hero. Later, I wanted to be smart, know all the answers. Then I had
the idea that a chance to do an honest job, one that needed doing, was
the big thing. I never found that job. I never got smart either, or
figured out how to tell a hero from a coward, without a program."

"In other words," Foster said, "you were looking for an abstraction
to believe in--in this case, Justice. But you won't find justice in
nature. It's a thing that only man expects or acknowledges."

"There are some good things in life; I'd like to get a piece of them."

"Don't lose your capacity for dreaming, in the process."

"Dreams?" I said. "Oh, I've got those. I want an island somewhere in
the sun, where I can spend my time fishing and watching the sea."

"You're speaking cynically--but you're still attempting to concretize
an abstraction," Foster said. "But no matter--materialism is simply
another form of idealism."

I looked at Foster. "But I know I'll never have those things--or that
Justice you were talking about, either. Once you really know you'll
never make it...."

"Perhaps unattainability is an essential element of any dream," Foster
said. "But hold onto your dream, whatever it is--don't ever give it up."

"So much for philosophy," I said. "Where is it getting us?"

"You'd like to see the papers," Foster said. He fished a key ring from
an inner pocket. "If you don't mind going out to the car," he said,
"and perhaps getting your hands dirty, there's a strong-box welded
to the frame. I keep photostats of everything there, along with my
passport, emergency funds and so on. I've learned to be ready to
travel on very short notice. Lift the floorboards; you'll see the box."

"It's not all that urgent," I said. "I'll take a look in the
morning--after I've caught up on some sleep. But don't get the wrong
idea--it's just my knot-headed curiosity."

"Very well," Foster said. He lay back, sighed. "I'm tired, Legion," he
said. "My mind is tired."

"Yeah," I said, "so is mine--not to mention other portions of my
anatomy."

"Get some sleep," Foster said. "We'll talk again in the morning."

       *       *       *       *       *

I pushed back the light blanket and slid out of bed. Underfoot, the rug
was as thick and soft as a working girl's mink. I went across to the
closet and pushed the button that made the door slide aside. My old
clothes were still lying on the floor where I had left them, but I had
the clean ones Foster had lent me. He wouldn't mind if I borrowed them
for a while longer--it would be cheaper for him in the long run. Foster
was as looney as a six-day bike racer, but there was no point in my
waiting around to tell him so.

The borrowed outfit didn't include a coat. I thought of putting my
old jacket on but it was warm outside and a grey pin-stripe with
grease spots wouldn't help the picture any. I transferred my personal
belongings from the grimy clothes on the floor, and eased the door open.

Downstairs, the curtains were drawn in the living room. I could vaguely
make out the outline of the bar. It wouldn't hurt to take along a bite
to eat. I groped my way behind the bar, felt along the shelves, found
a stack of small cans that rattled softly. Nuts, probably. I reached to
put a can on the bar and it clattered against something I couldn't see.
I swore silently, felt over the obstruction. It was bulky, with the
cold smoothness of metal, and there were small projections with sharp
corners. It felt for all the world like----

I leaned over it and squinted. With the faint gleam of moonlight from
a chink in the heavy curtains falling just so, I could almost make
out the shape; I crouched a little lower, and caught the glint of
light along the perforated jacket of a .30 calibre machine gun. My eye
followed the barrel, made out the darker square of the entrance hall,
and the tiny reflection of light off the polished brass doorknob at the
far end.

I stepped back, flattened against the wall, with a hollow feeling
inside. If I had tried to walk through that door....

Foster was crazy enough for two ordinary nuts. My eyes flicked around
the room. I had to get out quickly before he jumped out and said _Boo!_
and I died of heart failure. The windows, maybe. I came around the end
of the bar, got down and crawled under the barrel of the gun and over
to the heavy drapes, pushing them aside. Pale light glowed beyond the
glass. Not the soft light of the moon, but a milky, churning glow that
reminded me of the phosphorescence of sea water....

I dropped the curtain, ducked back under the gun into the hall, and
pushed through a swinging door into the kitchen. There was a faint
glow from the luminous handle of the refrigerator. I yanked it open,
spilling light on the floor, and looked around. Plenty of gleaming
white fixtures--but no door out. There was a window, almost obscured
by leaves. I eased it open and almost broke my fist on a wrought-iron
trellis.

Back in the hall, I tried two more doors, both locked. A third opened,
and I found myself looking down the cellar stairs. They were steep and
dark as cellar stairs always seem to be, but they might be the way out.
I felt for a light switch, flipped it on. A weak illumination showed me
a patch of damp-looking floor at the foot of the steps. It still wasn't
inviting, but I went down.

There was an oil furnace in the center of the room, with dusty
duct-work spidering out across the ceiling; some heavy packing cases
of rough wood were stacked along one wall, and at the far side of the
room, there was a boarded-up coal bin--but no cellar door.

I turned to go back up. Then I heard a sound and froze. Somewhere a
cockroach scuttled briefly. Then I heard the sound again, a faint
grinding of stone against stone. I peered through the cob-webbed
shadows, my mouth suddenly dry. There was nothing.

The thing for me to do was to get up the stairs fast, batter the iron
trellis out of the kitchen window, and run like hell. The trouble was,
I had to move to do it, and the sound of my own steps was so loud it
was paralyzing. Compared to this, the shock of stumbling over the gun
was just a mild kick, like finding a whistle in your Cracker-jacks.
Ordinarily I didn't believe in things that went bump in the night,
but this time I was hearing the bumps myself, and all I could think
about was Edgar Allen Poe and his cheery tales about people who got
themselves buried before they were thoroughly dead.

There was another sound, then a sharp snap, and I saw light spring up
from a crack that opened across the floor in the shadowy corner. That
was enough for me. I jumped for the stairs, took them three at a time,
and banged through the kitchen door. I grabbed up a chair, swung it
around and slammed it against the trellis. It bounced back and cracked
me across the mouth. I dropped it, tasting blood. Maybe that was what
I needed. The panic faded before a stronger emotion--anger. I turned
and barged along the dark hall to the living room--and lights suddenly
went on. I whirled and saw Foster standing in the hall doorway, fully
dressed.

"OK, Foster!" I yelled. "Just show me the way out of here."

Foster held my eyes, his face tense. "Calm yourself, Mr. Legion," he
said softly. "What's happened here?"

"Get over there to that gun," I snapped, nodding toward the .30 calibre
on the bar. "Disarm it, and then get the front door open. I'm leaving."

Foster's eyes flicked over the clothes I was wearing.

"So I see," he said. He looked me in the face again. "What is it that's
frightened you, Legion?"

"Don't act so innocent," I said. "Or am I supposed to get the idea the
brownies set up that booby trap while you were asleep?"

His eyes went to the gun and his expression tightened. "It's mine," he
said. "It's an automatic arrangement. Something's activated it--and
without sounding my alarm. You haven't been outside, have you?"

"How could I----"

"This is important, Legion," Foster rapped. "It would take more than
the sight of a machine gun to panic you. What have you seen?"

"I was looking for a back door," I said. "I went down to the cellar. I
didn't like it down there so I came back up."

"What did you see in the cellar?" Foster's face looked strained,
colorless.

"It looked like ..." I hesitated. "There was a crack in the floor,
noises, lights...."

"The floor," Foster said. "Certainly. That's the weak point." He seemed
to be talking to himself.

I jerked a thumb over my shoulder. "Something funny going on outside
your windows, too."

Foster looked toward the heavy hangings. "Listen carefully, Legion,"
he said. "We are in grave danger--both of us. It's fortunate you arose
when you did. This house, as you must have guessed by now, is something
of a fortress. At this moment, it is under attack. The walls are
protected by some rather formidable defenses. I can't say as much for
the cellar floor; it's merely three feet of ferro-concrete. We'll have
to go now--very swiftly, and very quietly."

"OK--show me," I said. Foster turned and went back along the hall to
one of the locked doors where he pressed something. The door opened and
I followed him inside a small room. He crossed to a blank wall, pressed
against it. A panel slid aside--and Foster jumped back.

"God's wounds!" he gasped. He threw himself at the wall and the panel
closed. I stood stock still; from somewhere there was a smell like
sulphur.

"What the hell goes on?" I said. My voice cracked, as it always does
when I'm scared.

"That odor," Foster said. "Quickly--the other way!"

I stepped back and Foster pushed past me and ran along the hall, with
me at his heels. I didn't look back to see what was at my own heels.
Foster took the stairs three at a time, pulled up short on the landing.
He went to his knees, shoved back an Isfahan rug as supple as sable,
and gripped a steel ring set in the floor. He looked at me, his face
white.

"Invoke thy gods," he said hoarsely, and heaved at the ring. A section
of floor swung up, showing the first step of a flight leading down into
a black hole. Foster didn't hesitate; he dropped his feet in, scrambled
down. I followed. The stairs went down about ten feet, ending on a
stone floor. There was the sound of a latch turning, and we stepped out
into a larger room. I saw moonlight through a row of high windows, and
smelled the fragrance of fresh night air.

"We're in the garage," Foster whispered. "Go around to the other side
of the car and get in--quietly." I touched the smooth flank of the
rakish cabriolet, felt my way around it, and eased the door open. I
slipped into the seat and closed the door gently. Beside me, Foster
touched a button and a green light glowed on the dash.

"Ready?" he said.

"Sure."

The starter whined half a turn and the engine caught. Without waiting,
Foster gunned it, let in the clutch. The car leaped for the closed
doors, and I ducked, and then saw the doors snap aside as the low-slung
car roared out into the night. We took the first turn in the drive at
forty, and rounded onto the highway at sixty, tires screaming. I took a
look back and caught a glimpse of the house, its stately façade white
in the moonlight--and then we were out of sight over a rise.

"What's it all about?" I called over the rush of air. The needle
touched ninety, kept going.

"Later," Foster barked. I didn't feel like arguing. I watched in the
mirror for a few minutes, wondering where all the cops were tonight.
Then I settled down in the padded seat and watched the speedometer eat
up the miles.



CHAPTER III


It was nearly four-thirty and a tentative grey streak showed through
the palm fronds to the east before I broke the silence.

"By the way," I said. "What was the routine with the steel shutters,
and the bullet-proof glass in the kitchen, and the handy home-model
machine gun covering the front door? Mice bad around the place, are
they?"

"Those things were necessary--and more."

"Now that the short hairs along my spine have relaxed," I said, "the
whole thing looks pretty silly. We've run far enough now to be able to
stop and turn around and stick our tongues out."

"Not yet--not for a long while yet."

"Why don't we just go back home," I went on, "and----"

"No!" Foster said sharply. "I want your word on that, Legion. No matter
what--don't ever go near that house again."

"It'll be daylight soon," I said. "We'll feel pretty asinine about
this little trip after the sun comes up, but don't worry, I won't tell
anybody----"

"We've got to keep moving," Foster said. "At the next town, I'll
telephone for seats on a flight out of Miami."

"Hold on," I said. "You're raving. What about your house? We didn't
even stick around long enough to make sure the TV was turned off. And
what about passports, and money, and luggage? And what makes you think
I'm going with you?"

"I've kept myself in readiness for this emergency," Foster said. "There
are disposition instructions for the house on file with a legal firm
in Jacksonville. There is nothing to connect me with my former life,
once I've changed my name and disappeared. As for the rest--we can buy
luggage in the morning. My passport is in the car; perhaps we'd better
go first to Puerto Rico, until we can arrange for one for you."

"Look," I said. "I got spooked in the dark, that's all. Why not just
admit we made fools of ourselves?"

Foster shook his head. "The inherent inertia of the human mind," he
said. "How it fights to resist new ideas."

"The kind of new ideas you're talking about could get both of us locked
up in the chuckle ward," I said.

"Legion," Foster said, "I think you'd better write down what I'm going
to tell you. It's important--vitally important. I won't waste time with
preliminaries. The notebook I showed you--it's in my jacket. You must
read the English portion of it. Afterwards, what I'm about to say may
make more sense."

"I hope you don't feel your last will and testament coming on, Mr.
Foster," I said. "Not before you tell me what that was we were both so
eager to get away from."

"I'll be frank with you," Foster said flatly. "I don't know."

       *       *       *       *       *

Foster wheeled into the dark drive of a silent service station, eased
to a stop, set the brake and slumped back in the seat.

"Do you mind driving for a while, Legion?" he said. "I'm not feeling
very well."

"Sure I'll drive," I said. I opened the door and got out and went
around to his side. Foster sat limply, eyes closed, his face drawn and
strained. He looked older than he had last night--years older. The
night's experiences hadn't taken anything off my age, either.

Foster opened his eyes, looked at me blankly. He seemed to gather
himself with an effort. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm not myself."

He moved over and I got in the driver's seat. "If you're sick," I said,
"we'd better find a doctor."

"No, it's all right," he said blurrily. "Just keep going...."

"We're a hundred and fifty miles from Mayport now," I said.

Foster turned to me, started to say something--and slumped in a dead
faint. I grabbed for his pulse; it was strong and steady. I rolled up
an eyelid and a dilated pupil stared sightlessly. He was all right--I
hoped. But the thing to do was get him in bed and call a doctor. We
were at the edge of a small town. I let the brake off and drove slowly
into town, swung around a corner and pulled up in front of the sagging
marquee of a run-down hotel. Foster stirred as I cut the engine.

"Foster," I said. "I'm going to get you into a bed. Can you walk?" He
groaned softly and opened his eyes. They were glassy. I got out and got
him to the sidewalk. He was still half out. I walked him into the dingy
lobby and over to a reception counter where a dim bulb burned. I dinged
the bell. It was a minute before an old man shuffled out from where
he'd been sleeping. He yawned, eyed me suspiciously, looked at Foster.

"We don't want no drunks here," he said. "Respectable house."

"My friend is sick," I said. "Give me a double with bath. And call a
doctor."

"What's he got?" the old man said. "Ain't contagious, is it?"

"That's what I want a doctor to tell me."

"I can't get the doc 'fore in the morning. And we got no private
bathrooms."

I signed the register. We rode the open-cage elevator to the fourth
floor, went along a gloomy hall to a door painted a peeling brown. It
didn't look inviting; the room inside wasn't much better. There was
a lot of flowered wallpaper and an old-fashioned wash-stand and two
wide beds. I stretched Foster out on one. He lay relaxed, a serene
expression on his face--the kind undertakers try for but never quite
seem to manage. I sat down on the other bed and pulled off my shoes. It
was my turn to have a tired mind. I lay on the bed and let it sink down
like a grey stone into still water.

       *       *       *       *       *

I awoke from a dream in which I had just discovered the answer to the
riddle of life. I tried to hold onto it, but it slipped away; it always
does.

Grey daylight was filtering through the dusty windows. Foster lay
slackly on the broad sagging bed, a ceiling lamp with a faded fringed
shade casting a sickly yellow light over him. It didn't make things any
cheerier; I flipped it off.

Foster was lying on his back, arms spread wide, breathing heavily.
Maybe it was only exhaustion, and he didn't need a doctor after all.
He'd probably wake up in a little while, raring to go.

As for me, I was feeling hungry again. I'd have to have a buck or so
for sandwiches. I went over to the bed and called Foster's name. He
didn't move. If he was sleeping that soundly, maybe I wouldn't bother
him....

I eased his wallet out of his coat pocket, took it to the window and
checked it. It was fat. I took a ten, put the wallet on the table. I
remembered Foster had said something about money in the car. I had the
keys in my pocket. I got my shoes on and let myself out quietly. Foster
hadn't moved.

Down on the street I waited for a couple of yokels who were looking
over Foster's car to move on, then slid into the seat, leaned over, and
got the floor boards up. The strong-box was set into the channel of
the frame. I scraped the road dirt off the lock and opened it with a
key from Foster's key ring, took out the contents. There was a bundle
of stiffish papers, a passport, some maps--marked up--and a wad of
currency that made my mouth go dry. I riffled through it: fifty grand
if it was a buck.

I stuffed the papers, money, and passport back in the box and locked
it, and climbed out onto the sidewalk. A few doors down the street
there was a dirty window lettered MAE'S EAT. I went in, ordered
hamburgers and coffee to go, and sat at the counter with Foster's
keys in front of me, thinking about the car that went with them. The
passport only needed a little work on the picture to get me wherever I
wanted to go, and the money would buy me my choice of islands. Foster
would have a nice long nap, and then take a train home. With his dough,
he'd hardly miss what I took.

The counterman put a paper bag in front of me and I paid him and went
out. I stood by the car, jingling the keys on my palm and thinking. I
could be in Miami in an hour, and I knew where to go for the passport
job. Foster was a nice guy and I liked him--but I'd never have a break
like this again. I reached for the car door and a voice said, "Paper,
mister?"

I jumped and looked around. A dirty-faced kid was looking at me.
"Sure," I said. I gave him a single and took the paper, flipped it
open. A Mayport dateline caught my eye:

                          POLICE RAID HIDEOUT

    A surprise raid by local police led to the discovery here today of
    a secret gangland fortress. Chief Chesters of the Mayport Police
    stated that the raid came as an aftermath of the arrival in the
    city yesterday of a notorious northern gang member. A number of
    firearms, including army-type machine guns, were seized in the raid
    on a house 9 miles from Mayport on the Fernandina road. The raid
    was said by Chief Chesters to be the culmination of a lengthy
    investigation.

    C.R. Foster, 50, owner of the property, is missing and feared dead.
    Police are seeking the ex-convict who visited the house last night.
    It is feared that Foster may have been the victim of a gangland
    murder.

I banged through the door to the darkened room and stopped short. In
the gloom I could see Foster sitting on the edge of the bed, looking my
way.

"Look at this," I yelped, flapping the paper in his face. "Now the
cops are dragging the state for me--and on a murder rap at that! Get
on the phone and get this thing straightened out--if you can. You and
your little green men! The cops think they've stumbled on Al Capone's
arsenal. You'll have fun explaining that one...."

Foster looked at me interestedly. He smiled.

"What's funny about it, Foster?" I yelled. "Your dough may buy you out,
but what about me?"

"Forgive me for asking," Foster said pleasantly, "But--who are you?"

       *       *       *       *       *

There are times when I'm slow on the uptake, but this wasn't one of
them. The implications of what Foster had said hit me hard enough to
make my knees go weak.

"Oh, no, Mr. Foster," I said. "You can't lose your memory again--not
right now, not with the police looking for me. You're my alibi; you're
the one that has to explain all the business about the guns and the ad
in the paper. I just came to see about a job, remember?"

My voice was getting a little shrill. Foster sat looking at me, wearing
an expression between a frown and a smile, like a credit manager
turning down an application.

He shook his head slightly. "My name is not Foster."

"Look," I said. "Your name was Foster yesterday--that's all I care
about. You're the one that owns the house the cops are all upset about.
And you're the corpse I'm supposed to have knocked off. You've got to
go to the cops with me--right now--and tell them I'm just an innocent
bystander."

I went to the window and raised the shades to let some light into the
room, turned back to Foster.

"I'll explain to the cops about you thinking the little men were after
you--" I stopped talking and stared at Foster. For a wild moment I
thought I'd made a mistake--that I'd wandered into the wrong room. I
knew Foster's face, all right; the light was bright enough now to see
clearly; but the man I was talking to couldn't have been a day over
twenty years old.

       *       *       *       *       *

I went close to him, staring hard. There were the same cool blue eyes,
but the lines around them were gone. The black hair grew lower and
thicker than I remembered it, and the skin was clear.

I sat down hard on my bed. "_Mama mia_," I said.

"_¿Que es la dificultad?_" Foster said.

"Shut up," I moaned. "I'm confused enough in one language." I was
trying hard to think but I couldn't seem to get started. A few minutes
earlier I'd had the world by the tail--just before it turned around and
bit me. Cold sweat popped out on my forehead when I thought about how
close I had come to driving off in Foster's car; every cop in the state
would be looking for it by now--and if they found me in it, the jury
wouldn't be out ten minutes reaching a verdict of guilty.

Then another thought hit me--the kind that brings you bolt upright
with your teeth clenched and your heart hammering. It wouldn't be long
before the local hick cops would notice the car out front. They'd come
in after me, and I'd tell them it belonged to Foster. They'd take a
look at him and say, "nuts, the bird we want is fifty years old, and
where did you hide the body?"

I got up and started pacing. Foster had already told me there was
nothing to connect him with his house in Mayport; the locals there had
seen enough of him to know he was pushing middle age, at least. I could
kick and scream and tell them this twenty-year-old kid was Foster, but
I'd never make it stick. There was no way to prove my story; they'd
figure Foster was dead and that I'd killed him--and anybody who thinks
you need a _corpus_ to prove murder better read his Perry Mason again.

I glanced out of the window and did a double take. Two cops were
standing by Foster's car. One of them went around to the back and got
out a pad and took down the license number, then said something over
his shoulder and started across the street. The second cop planted
himself by the car, his eye on the front of the hotel.

I whirled on Foster. "Get your shoes on," I croked. "Let's get the hell
out of here."

We went down the stairs quietly and found a back door opening on an
alley. Nobody saw us go.

       *       *       *       *       *

An hour later, I sagged in a grimy coach seat and studied Foster,
sitting across from me--a middle-aged nut with the face of a young kid
and a mind like a blank slate. I had no choice but to drag him with me;
my only chance was to stick close and hope he got back enough of his
memory to get me off the hook.

It was time for me to be figuring my next move. I thought about the
fifty thousand dollars I had left behind in the car, and groaned.
Foster looked concerned.

"Are you in pain?" he said.

"And how I'm in pain," I said. "Before I met you I was a homeless bum,
broke and hungry. Now I can add a couple more items: the cops are after
me, and I've got a mental case to nursemaid."

"What law have you broken?" Foster said.

"None," I barked. "As a crook, I'm a washout. I've planned three
larcenies in the last twelve hours, and flunked out on all of them. And
now I'm wanted for murder."

"Whom did you kill?" Foster inquired courteously.

I leaned across so I could snarl in his face: "You!" Then, "Get this
through your head, Foster. The only crime I'm guilty of is stupidity. I
listened to your crazy story; because of you I'm in a mess I'll never
get straightened out." I leaned back. "And then there's the question of
old men that take a nap and wake up in their late teens; we'll go into
that later, after I've had my nervous breakdown."

"I'm sorry if I've been the cause of difficulty," Foster said. "I wish
that I could recall the things you've spoken of. Is there anything I
can do to assist you now?"

"And you were the one who wanted help," I said. "There is one thing;
let me have the money you've got on you; we'll need it."

Foster got out his wallet--after I told him where it was--and handed it
to me. I looked through it; there was nothing in it with a photo or
fingerprints. When Foster said he had arranged matters so that he could
disappear without a trace, he hadn't been kidding.

"We'll go to Miami," I said. "I know a place in the Cuban section
where we can lie low, cheap. Maybe if we wait a while, you'll start
remembering things."

"Yes," Foster said. "That would be pleasant."

"You haven't forgotten how to talk, at least," I said. "I wonder what
else you can do. Do you remember how you made all that money?"

"I can remember nothing of your economic system," Foster said. He
looked around. "This is a very primitive world, in many respects," he
said. "It should not be difficult to amass wealth here."

"I never had much luck at it," I said. "I haven't even been able to
amass the price of a meal."

"Food is exchanged for money?" Foster asked.

"Everything is exchanged for money," I said. "Including most of the
human virtues."

"This is a strange world," Foster said. "It will take me a long while
to become accustomed to it."

"Yeah, me, too," I said. "Maybe things would be better on Mars."

Foster nodded. "Perhaps," he said. "Perhaps we should go there."

I groaned, then caught myself. "No, I'm not in pain," I said. "But
don't take me so literally, Foster."

We rode along in silence for a while.

"Say, Foster," I said. "Have you still got that notebook of yours?"

Foster tried several pockets, came up with the book. He looked at it,
turned it over, frowning.

"You remember it?" I said, watching him.

He shook his head slowly, then ran his finger around the circles
embossed on the cover.

"This pattern," he said. "It signifies...."

"Go on, Foster," I said. "Signifies what?"

"I'm sorry," he said. "I don't remember."

I took the book and sat looking at it. I didn't really see it, though.
I was seeing my future. When Foster didn't turn up, they'd naturally
assume he was dead. I'd been with him just before his disappearance.
It wasn't hard to see why they'd want to talk to me--and my having
vanished too wouldn't help any. My picture would blossom out in post
offices all over the country; and even if they didn't catch me right
away, the murder charge would always be there, hanging over me.

It wouldn't do any good to turn myself in and tell them the whole
story; they wouldn't believe me, and I wouldn't blame them. I didn't
really believe it myself, and I'd lived through it. But then, maybe
I was just imagining that Foster looked younger. After all, a good
night's rest----

I looked at Foster, and almost groaned again. Twenty was stretching it;
eighteen was more like it. I was willing to swear he'd never shaved in
his life.

"Foster," I said. "It's got to be in this book; who you are, where you
came from----It's the only hope I've got."

"I suggest we read it, then," Foster said.

"A bright idea," I said. "Why didn't I think of that?" I thumbed
through the book to the section in English and read for an hour.
Starting with the entry dated January 19, 1710, the writer had
scribbled a few lines every few months. He seemed to be some kind of
pioneer in the Virginia Colony. He complained about prices, and the
Indians, and the ignorance of the other settlers and every now and then
threw in a remark about the Enemy. He often took long trips, and when
he got home, he complained about those, too.

"It's a funny thing, Foster," I said. "This is supposed to have been
written over a period of a couple of hundred years, but it's all in the
same hand. That's kind of odd, isn't it?"

"Why should a man's handwriting change?" Foster said.

"Well, it might get a little shaky there toward the last, don't you
agree?"

"Why is that?"

"I'll spell it out, Foster," I said. "Most people don't live that long.
A hundred years is stretching it, to say nothing of two."

"This must be a very violent world, then," Foster said.

"Skip it," I said. "You talk like you're just visiting. By the way; do
you remember how to write?"

Foster looked thoughtful. "Yes," he said. "I can write."

I handed him the book and the stylus. "Try it," I said. Foster opened
to a blank page, wrote, and handed the book back to me.

"Always and always and always," I read.

I looked at Foster. "What does that mean?" I looked at the words again,
then quickly flipped to the pages written in English. I was no expert
on penmanship, but this came up and cracked me right in the eye.

The book was written in Foster's hand.

       *       *       *       *       *

"It doesn't make sense," I was saying for the fortieth time. Foster
nodded sympathetic agreement.

"Why would you write out this junk yourself, and then spend all that
time and money trying to have it deciphered? You said experts worked
over it and couldn't break it. But," I went on, "you must have known
you wrote it; you knew your own handwriting. But on the other hand,
you had amnesia before; you had the idea you might have told something
about yourself in the book...."

I sighed, leaned back and tossed the book over to Foster. "Here, you
read a while," I said. "I'm arguing with myself and I can't tell who's
winning."

Foster looked the book over carefully.

"This is odd," he said.

"What's odd?"

"The book is made of khaff. It is a permanent material--and yet it
shows damage."

I sat perfectly still and waited.

"Here on the back cover," Foster said. "A scuffed area. Since this is
khaff, it cannot be an actual scar. It must have been placed there."

I grabbed the book and looked. There was a faint mark across the
back cover, as though the book had been scraped on something sharp.
I remembered how much luck I had had with a knife. The mark had been
put here, disguised as a casual nick in the finish. It had to mean
something.

"How do you know what the material is?" I asked.

Foster looked surprised. "In the same way that I know the window is of
glass," he said. "I simply know."

"Speaking of glass," I said. "Wait till I get my hands on a microscope.
Then maybe we'll begin to get some answers."



CHAPTER IV


The two-hundred pound señorita with the wart on her upper lip put a
pot of black Cuban coffee and a pitcher of salted milk down beside the
two chipped cups, leered at me in a way that might have been appealing
thirty years before, and waddled back to the kitchen. I poured a cup,
gulped half of it, and shuddered. In the street outside the cafe a
guitar cried _Estrellita_.

"Okay, Foster," I said. "Here's what I've got: The first half of the
book is in pot-hooks--I can't read that. But this middle section: the
part coded in regular letters--it's actually encrypted English. It's
a sort of résumé of what happened." I picked up the sheets of paper
on which I had transcribed my deciphering of the coded section of the
book, using the key that had been micro-engraved in the fake scratch on
the back cover.

I read:

    _For the first time, I am afraid. My attempt to construct the
    communicator called down the Hunters upon me. I made such a shield
    as I could contrive, and sought their nesting place._

    _I came there and it was in that place that I knew of old, and it
    was no hive, but a pit in the ground, built by men of the Two
    Worlds. And I would have come into it, but the Hunters swarmed in
    their multitudes. I fought them and killed many, but at last I fled
    away. I came to the western shore, and there I hired bold sailors
    and a poor craft, and set forth._

    _In forty-nine days we came to shore in this wilderness, and there
    were men as from the dawn of time, and I fought them, and when they
    had learned fear, I lived among them in peace, and the Hunters have
    not found this place. Now it may be that my saga ends here, but I
    will do what I am able._

    _The Change may soon come upon me; I must prepare for the stranger
    who will come after me. All that he must know is in these pages.
    And say I to him:_

    _Have patience, for the time of this race draws close. Venture not
    again on the Eastern continent, but wait, for soon the Northern
    sailors must come in numbers into this wilderness. Seek out their
    cleverest metal-workers, and when it may be, devise a shield, and
    only then return to the pit of the Hunters. It lies in the plain,
    50/10,000 parts of the girth of this(?) to the west of the Great
    Chalk Face, and 1470 parts north from the median line, as I reckon.
    The stones mark it well with the sign of the Two Worlds._

I looked across at Foster. "It goes on then with a blow-by-blow account
of dealings with aborigines. He was trying to get them civilized in a
hurry. They figured he was a god and he set them to work building roads
and cutting stone and learning mathematics and so on. He was doing all
he could to set things up so this stranger who was to follow him would
know the score, and carry on the good work."

Foster's eyes were on my face. "What is the nature of the Change he
speaks of?"

"He never says--but I suppose he's talking about death," I said. "I
don't know where the stranger is supposed to come from."

"Listen to me, Legion," Foster said. There was a hint of the old
anxious look in his eyes. "I think I know what the Change was. I think
he knew he would forget----"

"You've got amnesia on the brain, old buddy," I said.

"----and the stranger is--himself. A man without a memory."

I sat frowning at Foster. "Yeah, maybe," I said. "Go on."

"And he says that all that the stranger needs to know is there--in the
book."

"Not in the part I decoded," I said. "He describes how they're coming
along with the road-building job, and how the new mine panned out--but
there's nothing about what the Hunters are, or what had gone on before
he tangled with them the first time."

"It must be there, Legion; but in the first section, the part written
in alien symbols."

"Maybe," I said. "But why the hell didn't he give us a key to that
part?"

"I think he assumed that the stranger--himself--would remember the old
writing," Foster said. "How could he know that it would be forgotten
with the rest?"

"Your guess is as good as any," I said. "Maybe better; you know how it
feels to lose your memory."

"But we've learned a few things," Foster said. "The pit of the
Hunters--we have the location."

"If you call this 'ten thousand parts to the west of chalk face' a
location," I said.

"We know more than that," Foster said. "He mentions a plain; and it
must lie on a continent to the east----"

"If you assume that he sailed from Europe to America, then the
continent to the east would be Europe," I said. "But maybe he went from
Africa to South America, or----"

"The mention of Northern sailors--that suggests the Vikings----"

"You seem to know a little history, Foster," I said. "You've got a lot
of odd facts tucked away."

"We need maps," Foster said. "We'll look for a plain near the sea----"

"Not necessarily."

"----and with a formation called a chalk face to the east."

"What's this 'median line' business?" I said. "And the bit about ten
thousand parts of something?"

"I don't know. But we must have maps."

"I bought some this afternoon," I said. "I also got a dime-store globe.
I figured we might need them. Let's get out of this and back to the
room, where we can spread out. I know it's a grim prospect, but...." I
got to my feet, dropped some coins on the oilcloth-covered table, and
led the way out.

It was a short half block to the flea trap we called home. We kept out
of it as much as we could, holding our long daily conferences across
the street at the Novedades. The roaches scurried as we passed up the
dark stairway to our not much brighter room. I crossed to the bureau
and opened a drawer.

"The globe," Foster said, taking it in his hands. "I wonder if perhaps
he meant a ten-thousandth part of the circumference of the earth?"

"What would he know about----"

"Disregard the anachronistic aspect of it," Foster said. "The man
who wrote the book knew many things. We'll have to start with some
assumptions. Let's make the obvious ones: that we're looking for a
plain on the west coast of Europe, lying----" He pulled a chair up to
the scabrous table and riffled through to one of my scribbled sheets:
"50/10,000s of the circumference of the earth--that would be about 125
miles--west of a chalk formation, and 3675 miles north of a median
line...."

"Maybe," I said, "he means the Equator."

"Certainly. Why not? That would mean our plain lies on a line
through----" he studied the small globe "----Warsaw, and south of
Amsterdam."

"But this part about a rock outcropping," I said. "How do we find out
if there's any conspicuous chalk formation around there?"

"We can consult a geology text. There may be a library in this
neighborhood."

"The only chalk deposits I ever heard about," I said, "are the White
cliffs of Dover."

"White cliffs...."

We both reached for the globe at once.

"One hundred twenty-five miles west of the chalk cliffs," said Foster.
He ran a finger over the globe. "North of London, but south of
Birmingham. That puts us reasonably near the sea----"

"Where's the atlas?" I said. I rummaged, came up with a cheap tourists'
edition, flipped the pages.

"Here's England," I said. "Now we look for a plain."

Foster put a finger on the map. "Here," he said. "A large plain--called
Salisbury."

"Large is right," I said. "It would take years to find a stone cairn
on that. We're getting excited about nothing. We're looking for a hole
in the ground, hundreds of years old--if this lousy notebook means
anything--maybe marked with a few stones--in the middle of miles of
plain. And it's all guesswork anyway...." I took the atlas, turned the
page.

"I don't know what I expected to get out of decoding those pages," I
said. "But I was hoping for more than this."

"I think we should try, Legion," Foster said. "We can go there, search
over the ground. It would be costly, but not impossible. We can start
by gathering capital----"

"Wait a minute, Foster," I said. I was staring at a larger-scale map
showing southern England. Suddenly my heart was thudding. I put a
finger on a tiny dot in the center of Salisbury Plain.

"Six, two and even," I said. "There's your Pit of the Hunters...."

Foster leaned over, read the fine print.

"Stonehenge."

       *       *       *       *       *

I read from the encyclopedia page:

--_this great stone structure, lying on the Plain of Salisbury,
Wiltshire, England, is pre-eminent among megalithic monuments of the
ancient world. Within a circular ditch 300' in diameter, stones up to
22' in height are arranged in concentric circles. The central altar
stone, over 16' long, is approached from the northeast by a broad
roadway called the Avenue_--

"It is not an altar," said Foster.

"How do you know?"

"Because----" Foster frowned. "I know, that's all."

"The journal said the stones were arranged in the sign of the Two
Worlds," I said. "That means the concentric circles, I suppose; the
same thing that's stamped on the cover of the notebook."

"And the ring," Foster said.

"Let me read the rest: _A great sarsen stone stands upright in the
Avenue; the axis through the two stones, when erected, pointed directly
to the rising of the sun on Midsummer Day. Calculations based on this
observation indicate a date of approximately 1600 B.C._"

Foster took the book and I sat on the window sill and looked out at
a big Florida moon over the ragged line of roofs with a skinny royal
palm sticking up in silhouette. It didn't look much like the postcard
views of Miami. I lit a cigarette and thought about a man who long ago
had crossed the North Atlantic in a dragon boat to be a god among the
Indians. I wondered where he came from, and what it was he was looking
for, and what kept him going in spite of the hell that showed in the
spare lines of the journal he kept. If, I reminded myself, he had ever
existed....

Foster was poring over the book. "Look," I said. "Let's get back to
earth. We have things to think about, plans to make. The fairy tales
can wait until later."

"What do you suggest?" Foster said. "That we forget the things you've
told me, and the things we've read here, discard the journal, and
abandon the attempt to find the answers?"

"No," I said. "I'm no sorehead. Sure, there's some things here that
somebody ought to look into--some day. But right now what I want is the
cops off my neck. And I've been thinking. I'll dictate a letter; you
write it--your lawyers know your handwriting. Tell them you were on the
thin edge of a nervous breakdown--that's why all the artillery around
your house--and you made up your mind suddenly to get away from it all.
Tell them you don't want to be bothered, that's why you're travelling
incognito, and that the northern mobster that came to see you was just
stupid, not a killer. That ought to at least cool off the cops----"

Foster looked thoughtful. "That's an excellent suggestion," he said.
"Then we need merely to arrange for passage to England, and proceed
with the investigation."

"You don't get the idea," I said. "You can arrange things by mail so we
get our hands on that dough of yours----"

"Any such attempt would merely bring the police down on us," Foster
said. "You've already pointed out the unwisdom of attempting to pass
myself off as--myself."

"There ought to be a way...." I said.

"We have only one avenue of inquiry," Foster said. "We have no choice
but to explore it. We'll take passage on a ship to England----"

"What'll we use for money--and papers? It would cost hundreds.
Unless----" I added, "----we worked our way. But that's no good. We'd
still need passports--plus union cards and seamen's tickets."

"Your friend," Foster said. "The one who prepares passports. Can't he
produce the other papers as well?"

"Yeah," I said. "I guess so. But it will cost us."

"I'm sure we can find a way to pay," Foster said. "Will you see
him--early in the morning?"

I looked around the blowsy room. Hot night air stirred a geranium
wilting in a tin can on the window sill. An odor of bad cooking and
worse plumbing floated up from the street.

"At least," I said, "it would mean getting out of here."



CHAPTER V


It was almost sundown when Foster and I pushed through the door to the
saloon bar at the Ancient Sinner and found a corner table. I watched
Foster spread out his maps and papers. Behind us there was a murmur of
conversation and the thump of darts against a board.

"When are you going to give up and admit we're wasting our time?" I
said. "Two weeks of tramping over the same ground, and we end up in the
same place."

"We've hardly begun our investigation," Foster said mildly.

"You keep saying that," I said. "But if there ever was anything in that
rock-pile, it's long gone. The archaeologists have been digging over
the site for years, and they haven't come up with anything."

"They don't know what to look for," Foster said. "They were searching
for indications of religious significance, human sacrifice--that sort
of thing."

"We don't know what we're looking for either," I said. "Unless you
think maybe we'll meet the Hunters hiding under a loose stone."

"You say that sardonically," Foster said. "But I don't consider it
impossible."

"I know," I said. "You've convinced yourself that the Hunters were
after us back at Mayport when we ran off like a pair of idiots."

"From what you've told me of the circumstances--" Foster began.

"I know; you don't consider it impossible. That's the trouble with you;
you don't consider anything impossible. It would make life a lot easier
for me if you'd let me rule out a few items--like leprechauns who hang
out at Stonehenge."

Foster looked at me, half-smiling. It had only been a few weeks since
he woke up from a nap looking like a senior class president who hadn't
made up his mind whether to be a preacher or a movie star, but he had
already lost that mild, innocent air. He learned fast, and day by day I
had seen his old personality reemerge and--in spite of my attempts to
hold onto the ascendency--dominate our partnership.

"It's a failing of your culture," Foster said, "that hypothesis becomes
dogma almost overnight. You're too close to your Neolithic, when the
blind acceptance of tribal lore had survival value. Having learned
to evoke the fire god from sticks, by rote, you tend to extend the
principle to all 'established facts.'"

"Here's an established fact for you," I said. "We've got fifteen pounds
left--that's about forty dollars. It's time we figure out where to go
from here, before somebody starts checking up on those phoney papers of
ours."

Foster shook his head. "I'm not satisfied that we've exhausted the
possibilities here. I've been studying the geometric relationships
between the various structures; I have some ideas I want to check. I
think it might be a good idea to go out at night, when we can work
without the usual crowd of tourists observing every move."

I groaned. "My dogs are killing me," I said. "Let's hope you'll come up
with something better--or at least different."

"We'll have a bite to eat here, and wait until dark to start out,"
Foster said.

The publican brought us plates of cold meat and potato salad. I worked
on a thin but durable slice of ham and thought about all the people,
somewhere, who were sitting down now to gracious meals in the glitter
of crystal and silver. I'd had too many greasy French fries in too many
cheap dives the last few years. I could feel them all now, burning in
my stomach. I was getting farther from my island all the time--And it
was nobody's fault but mine.

"The Ancient Sinner," I said. "That's me."

Foster looked up. "Curious names these old pubs have," he said. "I
suppose in some cases the origins are lost in antiquity."

"Why don't they think up something cheery," I said. "Like 'The Paradise
Bar and Grill' or 'The Happy Hour Cafe'. Did you notice the sign
hanging outside?"

"No."

"A picture of a skeleton. He's holding one hand up like a Yankee
evangelist prophesying doom. You can see it through the window there."

Foster turned and looked out at the weathered sign creaking in the
evening wind. He looked at it for a long time. When he turned back,
there was a strange look around his eyes.

"What's the matter--?" I started.

Foster ignored me, waved to the proprietor, a short fat country man. He
came over to the table, wiping his hands on his apron.

"A very interesting old building," Foster said. "We've been admiring
it. When was it built?"

"Well, sir," the publican said, "This here house is a many a hundred
year old. It were built by the monks, they say, from the monastery what
used to stand nearby here. It were tore down by the King's men, Henry,
that was, what time he drove the papists out."

"That would be Henry the Eighth, I suppose?"

"Aye, it would that. And this house is all that were spared, it being
the brewing-house, as the king said were a worthwhile institution, and
he laid on a tithe, that two kegs of stout was to be laid by for the
king's use each brewing time."

"Very interesting," Foster said. "Is the custom still continued?"

The publican shook his head. "It were ended in my granfer's time, it
being that the Queen were a teetotaller."

"How did it acquire the curious name--'The Ancient Sinner?'"

"The tale is," the publican said, "that one day a lay brother of the
order were digging about yonder on the plain by the great stones, in
search of the Druid's treasure, albeit the Abbot had forbid him to go
nigh the heathen ground, and he come on the bones of a man, and being
of a kindly turn, he had the thought to give them Christian burial.
Now, knowing the Abbott would nae permit it, he set to work to dig a
grave by moonlight in holy ground, under the monastery walls. But the
Abbott, being wakeful, were abroad and come on the brother a-digging,
and when he asked the why of it, the lay brother having visions of
penances to burden him for many a day, he ups and tells the Abbott it
were a ale cellar he were about digging, and the Abbott, not being
without wisdom, clapped him on the back, and went on his way. And so it
was the ale-house got built, and blessed by the Abbott, and with it the
bones that was laid away under the floor beneath the ale-casks."

"So the ancient sinner is buried under the floor?"

"Aye, so the tale goes, though I've not dug for him meself. But the
house has been knowed by the name these four hundred years."

"Where was it you said the lay brother was digging?"

"On the plain, yonder, by the Druid's stones, what they call
Stonehenge," the publican said. He picked up the empty glasses. "What
about another, gentlemen?"

"Certainly," Foster said. He sat quietly across from me, his features
composed--but I could see there was tension under the surface calm.

"What's this all about?" I asked softly. "When did you get so
interested in local history?"

"Later," Foster murmured. "Keep looking bored."

"That'll be easy," I said. The publican came back and placed heavy
glass mugs before us.

"You were telling us about the lay brother's finding the bones," Foster
said. "You say they were buried in Stonehenge?"

The publican cleared his throat, glanced sideways at Foster.

"The gentlemen wouldna be from the University now, I suppose?" he said.

"Let's just say," Foster said easily, smiling, "that we have a great
interest in these bits of lore--an interest supported by modest funds,
of course."

The publican made a show of wiping at the rings on the table top.

"A costly business, I wager," he said. "Digging about in odd places and
all. Now, knowing where to dig; that's important, I'll be bound."

"Very important," Foster said. "Worth five pounds, easily."

"'Twere my granfer told me of the spot; took me out by moonlight, he
did, and showed me where his granfer had showed him. Told me it were
a fine great secret, the likes of which a simple man could well take
pride in."

"And an additional five pounds as a token of my personal esteem,"
Foster said.

The publican eyed me. "Well, a secret as was handed down father to
son...."

"And, of course, my associate wishes to express his esteem, too,"
Foster said. "Another five pounds worth."

"That's all the esteem the budget will bear, Mr. Foster," I said. I got
out the fifteen pounds and passed the money across to him. "I hope you
haven't forgotten those people back home who wanted to talk to us," I
said. "They'll be getting in touch with us any time now, I'll bet."

Foster rolled up the bills and held them in his hand. "That's true,
Mr. Legion," he said. "Perhaps we shouldn't take the time...."

"But being it's for the advancement of science," the publican said,
"I'm willing to make the sacrifice."

"We'll want to go out tonight," Foster said. "We have a very tight
schedule."

The landlord dickered with Foster for another five minutes before he
agreed to guide us to the spot where the skeleton had been found.

When he left, I began. "Now tell me."

"Look at the signboard again," Foster said. I looked. The skull smiled,
holding up a hand.

"I see it," I said. "But it doesn't explain why you handed over our
last buck----"

"Look at the hand. Look at the ring on the finger."

I looked again. A heavy ring was painted on the bony index finger, with
a pattern of concentric circles.

It was a duplicate of the one on Foster's finger.

       *       *       *       *       *

The publican pulled the battered Morris Minor to the side of the
highway and set the brake.

"This is as close as we best take the machine," he said. We got out,
looked across the rolling plain where the megaliths of Stonehenge
loomed against the last glow of sunset.

The publican rummaged in the boot, produced a ragged blanket and two
long four-cell flashlights, gave one to Foster and the other to me. "Do
nae use the electric torches until I tell ye," he said, "lest the whole
county see there's folks abroad here." We watched as he draped the
blanket over a barbed wire fence, clambered over, and started across
the barren field. Foster and I followed, not talking.

The plain was deserted. A few lonely lights showed on a distant slope.
It was a dark night with no moon. I could hardly see the ground ahead.
A car moved along a distant road, its headlights bobbing.

We moved past the outer ring of stones, skirting fallen slabs twenty
feet long.

"We'll break our necks," I said. "Let's have one of the flashlights."

"Not yet," Foster whispered.

Our guide paused; we came up to him.

"It were a mortal long time since I were last hereabouts," he said. "I
best take me bearings off the Friar's Heel...."

"What's that?"

"Yon great stone, standing alone in the Avenue." We squinted; it was
barely visible as a dark shape against the sky.

"The bones were buried there?" Foster asked.

"Nay, all by theirself, they was. Now it were twenty paces, granfer
said, him bein fifteen stone and long in the leg...." The publican
muttered to himself, pacing off distances.

"What's to keep him from just pointing to a spot after a while," I said
to Foster, "and saying 'This is it'?"

"We'll wait and see," Foster said.

"They were a hollow, as it were, in the earth," the publican said,
"with a bit of stone by it. I reckon it were fifty paces from here--"
he pointed, "--yonder."

"I don't see anything," I said.

"Let's take a closer look." Foster started off and I followed,
the publican trailing behind. I made out a dim shape, with a deep
depression in the earth before it.

"This could be the spot," Foster said. "Old graves often sink--"
Suddenly he grabbed my arm. "Look...!"

The surface of the ground before us seemed to tremble, then heave.
Foster snapped on his flashlight. The earth at the bottom of the hollow
rose, cracked open. A boiling mass of luminescence churned, and a
globe of light separated itself, rose, bumbling along the face of the
weathered stone.

"Saints preserve us," the publican said in a choked voice. Foster and
I stood, rooted to the spot, watching. The lone globe rose higher--and
abruptly shot straight toward us. Foster threw up an arm and ducked.
The ball of light veered, struck him a glancing blow, darted off a few
yards, hovered. In an instant, the air was alive with the spheres,
boiling up from the ground, and hurtling toward us, buzzing like a hive
of yellow-jackets. Foster's flashlight lanced out toward the swarm.

"Use your light, Legion!" he shouted hoarsely. I was still standing,
frozen. The globes rushed straight at Foster, ignoring me. Behind me, I
heard the publican turn and run. I fumbled with the flashlight switch,
snapped it on, swung the beam of white light on Foster. The globe at
his head vanished as the light touched it. More globes swarmed to
Foster--and popped like soap bubbles in the flashlight's glare--but
more swarmed to take their places. Foster reeled, fighting at them. He
swung the light--and I heard it smash against the stone behind him. In
the instant darkness, the globes clustered thick around his head.

"Foster," I yelled, "run!"

He got no more than five yards before he staggered, went to his
knees. "Cover," he croaked. He fell on his face. I rushed the mass of
darting globes, took up a stance straddling his body. A sulphurous
reek hung around me. I coughed, concentrated on beaming the lights
around Foster's head. No more were rising from the crack in the earth
now. A suffocating cloud pressed around both of us, but it was Foster
they went for. I thought of the slab; if I could get my back to it,
I might have a chance. I stooped, got a grip on Foster's coat, and
started back, dragging him. The lights boiled around me. I swept the
beam of light and kept going until my back slammed against the stone. I
crouched against it. Now they could only come from the front.

I glanced at the cleft the lights had come from. It looked big enough
to get Foster into. That would give him some protection. I tumbled him
over the edge, then flattened my back against the slab and settled down
to fight in earnest.

I worked in a pattern, sweeping vertically, then horizontally. The
globes ignored me, drove toward the cleft, fighting to get at Foster,
and I swept them away as they came. The cloud around me was smaller
now, the attack less ravenous. I picked out individual globes, snuffed
them out. The hum became ragged, faltered. Then there were only a few
globes around me, milling wildly, disorganized. The last half dozen
fled, bumbling away across the plain.

I slumped against the rock, sweat running down into my eyes, my lungs
burning with the sulphur.

"Foster," I gasped. "Are you all right?"

He didn't answer. I flashed the light onto the cleft. It showed me damp
clay, a few pebbles.

Foster was gone.



CHAPTER VI


I scrambled to the edge of the pit and played the light around inside.
It shelved back at one side, and a dark mouth showed, sloping down into
the earth--the hiding place from which the globes had swarmed.

Foster was wedged in the opening. I scrambled down beside him, tugged
him back to the level ground. He was still breathing; that was
something.

I wondered if the pub owner would come back, now that the lights were
gone--or if he'd tell someone what had happened, bring out a search
party. Somehow, I doubted it. He didn't seem like the type to ask for
trouble with the ghosts of ancient sinners.

Foster groaned and opened his eyes. "Where are ... they?" he muttered.

"Take it easy, Foster," I said. "You're OK now."

"Legion," Foster said. He tried to sit up. "The Hunters...."

"OK, call 'em Hunters if you want to. I haven't got a better name for
them. I worked them over with the flashlights. They're gone."

"That means...."

"Let's not worry about what it means. Let's just get out of here."

"The Hunters--they burst out of the ground--from a cleft in the earth."

"That's right. You were halfway into the hole. I guess that's where
they were hiding."

"The Pit of the Hunters," Foster said.

"If you say so," I said. "Lucky you didn't go down it."

"Legion, give me the flashlight."

"I feel something coming on that I'm not going to like," I said. I
handed him the light and he flashed it into the tunnel mouth. I saw a
polished roof of black glass arching four feet over the rubble-strewn
bottom of the shaft. A stone, dislodged by my movement, clattered away
down the 30 slope.

"Hell, that tunnel's man-made," I said, peering into it. "And I don't
mean neolithic man."

"Legion, we'll have to see what's down there," Foster said.

"We could come back later, with ropes and big insurance policies," I
said.

"But we won't," said Foster. "We've found what we were looking for----"

"Sure," I said, "and it serves us right. Are you sure you feel good
enough to make like Alice and the White Rabbit?"

"I'm sure. Let's go."

Foster thrust his legs into the opening, slid over the edge and
disappeared. I followed him. I eased down a few feet, glanced back for
a last look at the night sky, then lost my grip and slid. I hit bottom
hard enough to knock the wind out of me. I got to my hands and knees on
a level, gravel-strewn floor.

"What is this place?" I dug the flashlight out of the rubble, flashed
it around. We were in a low-ceilinged room ten yards square. I saw
smooth walls, the dark bulks of massive shapes that made me think of
sarcophagi in Egyptian burial vaults--except that these threw back
highlights from dials and levers.

"For a couple of guys who get shy in the company of cops," I said,
"we've a talent for doing the wrong thing. This is some kind of Top
Secret military installation."

"Impossible," Foster replied. "This couldn't be a modern structure, at
the bottom of a rubble-filled shaft----"

"Let's get out of here fast," I said. "We've probably set off an alarm
already."

As if in answer, a low chime cut across our talk. Pearly light sprang
up on a square panel. I got to my feet, moved over to stare at it.
Foster came to my side.

"What do you make of it?" he said.

"I'm no expert on stone-age relics," I said. "But if that's not a radar
screen, I'll eat it."

I sat down in the single chair before the dusty control console, and
watched a red blip creep across the screen. Foster stood behind me.

"We owe a debt to that ancient sinner," he said. "Who would have
dreamed he'd lead us here?"

"Ancient sinner?" I said. "This place is as modern as next year's juke
box."

"Look at the symbols on the machines," Foster said. "They're identical
with those in the first section of the journal."

"All pot-hooks look alike to me," I said. "It's this screen that's got
me worried. If I've got it doped out correctly, that blip is either a
mighty slow airplane--or it's at one hell of an altitude."

"Modern aircraft operate at great heights," Foster said.

"Not at this height," I said. "Give me a few more minutes to study
these scales...."

"There are a number of controls here," Foster said, "obviously intended
to activate mechanisms--"

"Don't touch 'em," I said. "Unless you want to start World War III."

"I hardly think the results would be so drastic," Foster replied.
"Surely this installation has a simple purpose--unconnected with modern
wars--but very possibly connected with the mystery of the journal--and
of my own past."

"The less we know about this, the better," I said. "At least, if we
don't mess with anything, we can always claim we just stepped in here
to get out of the rain----"

"You're forgetting the Hunters," said Foster.

"Some new anti-personnel gimmick."

"They came out of this shaft, Legion. It was opened by the pressure of
the Hunters bursting out."

"Why did they pick that precise moment--just as we arrived?" I asked.

"I think they were aroused," said Foster. "I think they sensed the
presence of their ancient foe."

I swung around to look at him.

"I see the way your thoughts are running," I said. "You're their
Ancient Foe, now, huh? Just let me get this straight: that means
that umpteen hundred years ago, you personally had a fight with the
Hunters--here at Stonehenge. You killed a batch of them and ran. You
hired some kind of Viking ship and crossed the Atlantic. Later on, you
lost your memory, and started being a guy named Foster. A few weeks ago
you lost it again. Is that the picture?"

"More or less."

"And now we're a couple of hundred feet under Stonehenge--after a brush
with a crowd of luminous stinkbombs--and you're telling me you'll be
nine hundred on your next birthday."

"Remember the entry in the journal, Legion? 'I came to the place of the
Hunters, and it was a place I knew of old, and there was no hive, but a
Pit built by men of the Two Worlds....'"

"Okay," I said. "So you're pushing a thousand."

I glanced at the screen, got out a scrap of paper, and scribbled a
rapid calculation. "Here's another big number for you. That object on
the screen is at an altitude--give or take a few percent--of thirty
thousand miles."

I tossed the pencil aside, swung around to frown at Foster. "What are
we mixed up in, Foster? Not that I really want to know. I'm ready to go
to a nice clean jail now, and pay my debt to society--"

"Calm down, Legion," Foster said. "You're raving."

"OK," I said, turning back to the screen. "You're the boss. Do what you
like. It's just my reflexes wanting to run. I've got no place to run
to. At least with you I've always got the wild hope that maybe you're
not completely nuts, and that somehow----"

I sat upright, eyes on the screen. "Look at this, Foster," I snapped. A
pattern of dots flashed across the screen, faded, flashed again....

"Some kind of IFF," I said. "A recognition signal. I wonder what we're
supposed to do now."

Foster watched the screen, saying nothing.

"I don't like that thing blinking at us," I said. "It makes me feel
conspicuous." I looked at the big red button beside the screen. "Maybe
if I pushed that...." Without waiting to think it over, I jabbed at it.

A yellow light blinked on the control panel. On the screen, the pattern
of dots vanished. The red blip separated, a smaller blip moving off at
right angles to the main mass.

"I'm not sure you should have done that," Foster said.

"There _is_ room for doubt," I said in a strained voice. "It looks like
I've launched a bomb from the ship overhead."

       *       *       *       *       *

The climb back up the tunnel took three hours, and every foot of the
way I was listening to a refrain in my head: This may be it; this may
be it; this may be....

I crawled out of the tunnel mouth and lay on my back, breathing hard.
Foster groped his way out beside me.

"We'll have to get to the highway," I said, untying the ten-foot rope
of ripped garments that had linked us during the climb. "There's a
telephone at the pub; we'll notify the authorities...." I glanced up.

"Hold it!" I grabbed Foster's arm and pointed overhead. "What's that?"

Foster looked up. A brilliant point of blue light, brighter than a
star, grew perceptibly as we watched.

"Maybe we won't get to notify anybody after all," I said. "I think
that's our bomb--coming home to roost."

"That's illogical," Foster said. "The installation would hardly be
arranged merely to destroy itself in so complex a manner."

"Let's get out of here," I yelled.

"It's approaching us very rapidly," Foster said. "The distance we could
run in the next few minutes would be trivial by comparison with the
killing radius of a modern bomb. We'll be safer sheltered in the cleft
than on the open."

"We could slide down the tunnel," I said.

"And be buried?"

"You're right; I'd rather fry on the surface."

We crouched, watching the blue glare directly overhead, growing larger,
brighter. I could see Foster's face by its light now.

"That's no bomb," Foster said. "It's not falling; it's coming down
slowly ... like a----"

"Like a slowly falling bomb," I said. "And it's coming right down on
top of us. Goodbye, Foster. I can't claim it's been fun knowing you,
but it's been different. We'll feel the heat at any second now. I hope
it's fast."

The glaring disc was the size of the full moon now, unbearably bright.
It lit the plain like a pale blue sun. There was no sound. As it
dropped lower, the disc foreshortened and I could see a dark shape
above it, dimly lit by the glare thrown back from the ground.

"The thing is the size of a ferry boat," I said.

"It's going to miss us," Foster said. "It will come to ground several
hundred feet to the east of us."

We watched the slender shape float down with dreamlike slowness, now
five hundred feet above, now three hundred, then hovering just above
the giant stones.

"It's coming down smack on top of Stonehenge," I yelled.

We watched as the vessel settled into place dead center on the ancient
ring of stones. For a moment they were vividly silhouetted against the
flood of blue radiance; then abruptly, the glare faded and died.

"Foster," I said. "Do you think it's barely possible----"

A slit of yellow light appeared on the side of the hull, then it
widened to a square. A ladder extended itself, dropping down to touch
the ground.

"If somebody with tentacles starts down that ladder," I said, in an
unnaturally shrill voice, "I'm getting out of here."

"No one will emerge," Foster said quietly. "I think we'll find, Legion,
that this ship of space is at our disposal."

       *       *       *       *       *

"I'm not going aboard that thing," I said for the fifth time. "I'm not
sure of much in this world, but I'm sure of that."

"Legion," Foster said, "This is no twentieth century military vessel.
It obviously homed on the transmitter in the underground station,
which appears to be directly under the old monument--which is several
thousand years old----"

"And I'm supposed to believe the ship has been orbiting the earth
for the last few thousand years, waiting for someone to push the red
button? You call that logical?"

"Given permanent materials, such as those the notebook is made of,
it's not impossible--or even difficult."

"We got out of the tunnel alive. Let's settle for that."

"We're on the verge of solving a mystery that goes back through the
centuries," said Foster, "a mystery that I've pursued, if I understand
the journal, through many lifetimes----"

"One thing about losing your memory: you don't have any fixed ideas to
get in the way of your theories."

Foster smiled grimly. "The trail has brought us here. We must follow
it--wherever it leads."

I lay on the ground, staring up at the unbelievable shape across the
field, the beckoning square of light. "This ship--or whatever it is," I
said; "it drops down out of nowhere and opens its doors. And you want
to walk right into the cosy interior."

"Listen!" Foster cut in.

I heard a low rumbling then, a sound that rolled ominously, like
distant guns.

"More ships--" I started.

"Jet aircraft," Foster said. "From the bases in East Anglia probably.
Of course, they'll have tracked our ship in--"

"That's all for me," I yelled, getting to my feet. "The secret's out--"

"Get down, Legion," Foster shouted. The engines were a blanketing roar
now.

"What for? They--"

Two long lines of fire traced themselves across the sky, curving down--

I hit the dirt behind the stone in the same instant the rockets struck.
The shock wave slammed at the earth like a monster thunderclap, and I
saw the tunnel mouth collapse. I twisted, saw the red interior of the
jet tailpipe as the fighter hurtled past, rolling into a climbing turn.

"They're crazy," I yelled. "Firing on----"

A second barrage blasted across my indignation. I hugged the muck
and waited while nine salvoes shook the earth. Then the rumble died,
reluctantly. The air reeked of high explosives.

"We'd have been dead now if we'd tried the tunnel," I gasped spitting
dirt. "It caved at the first rocket. And if the ship was what you
thought, Foster, they've destroyed something----"

The sentence died unnoticed. The dust was settling and through it the
shape of the ship reared up, unchanged except that the square of light
was gone. As I watched, the door opened again and the ladder ran out
once more, invitingly.

"They'll try next time with nukes," I said. "That may be too much for
the ship's defenses--and it will sure be too much for us--"

"Listen," Foster cut in. A deeper rumble was building in the distance.

"To the ship!" Foster called. He was up and running, and I hesitated
just long enough to think about trying for the highway and being caught
in the open--and then I was running, too. Ahead, Foster stumbled
crossing the ground that had been ripped up by the rocket bursts, made
it to the ladder, and went up it fast. The growl of the approaching
bombers grew, a snarl of deadly hatred. I leaped a still-smoking stone
fragment, took the ladder in two jumps, plunged into the yellow-lit
interior. Behind me, the door smacked shut.

I was standing in a luxuriously fitted circular room. There was a
pedestal in the center of the floor, from which a polished bar
projected. The bones of a man lay beside it. While I stared, Foster
sprang forward, seized the bar, and pulled. It slid back easily. The
lights flickered and I had a moment of vertigo. Nothing else happened.

"Try it the other way," I yelled. "The bombs will fall any second--" I
went for it, hand outstretched. Foster thrust in front of me. "Look!"

I stared at the glowing panel he was pointing to--a duplicate of the
one in the underground chamber. It showed a curved white line, with a
red point ascending from it.

"We're clear," Foster said. "We've made a successful take-off."

"But we can't be moving--there's no acceleration. There must be
soundproofing--that's why we can't hear the bombers--"

"No soundproofing would help if we were at ground zero," Foster said.
"This ship is the product of an advanced science. We've left the
bombers far behind."

"Where are we going? Who's steering this thing?"

"It steers itself, I would judge," Foster said. "I don't know where
we're going, but we're well on the way."

I looked at him in amazement. "You like this, don't you, Foster? You're
having the time of your life."

"I can't deny that I'm delighted at this turn of events," Foster said.
"Don't you see? This vessel is a launch, or lifeboat, under automatic
control. And it's taking us to the mother ship."

"Okay, Foster," I said. I looked at the skeleton on the floor behind
him. "But I hope we have better luck than the last passenger."



CHAPTER VII


It was two hours later, and Foster and I stood silent before a ten-foot
screen that had glowed into life when I touched a silver button beside
it. It showed us a vast emptiness of bottomless black, set thick with
corruscating points of polychrome brilliance that hurt to look at. And
against that backdrop: a ship, vast beyond imagining, blotting out half
the titanic vista with its bulk----

But dead.

Even from the distance of miles, I could sense it. The great black
torpedo shape, dull moonlight glinting along the unbelievable length of
its sleek flank, drifted: a derelict. I wondered for how many centuries
it had waited here--and for what?

"I feel," said Foster, "somehow--I'm coming home." I tried to say
something, croaked, cleared my throat.

"If this is your jitney," I said, "I hope they didn't leave the meter
ticking on you. We're broke."

"We're closing rapidly," said Foster. "Another ten minutes, I'd
guess...."

"How do we go about heaving to, alongside? You didn't come across a
book of instructions, did you?"

"I think I can predict that the approach will be automatic."

"This is your big moment, isn't it?" I said. "I've got to hand it to
you, pal; you've won out by pluck, just like the Rover Boys."

The ship appeared to move smoothly closer, looming over us, fine golden
lines of decorative filigree work visible now against the black. A tiny
square of pale light appeared, grew into a huge bay door that swallowed
us.

The screen went dark, there was a gentle jar, then motionlessness. The
port opened, silently.

"We've arrived," Foster said. "Shall we step out and have a look?"

"I wouldn't think of going back without one," I said. I followed him
out and stopped dead, gaping. I had expected an empty hold, bare metal
walls. Instead, I found a vaulted cavern, shadowed, mysterious, rich
with a thousand colors. There was a hint of strange perfume in the air,
and I heard low music that muttered among stalagmite-like buttresses.
There were pools, playing fountains, waterfalls, dim vistas stretching
away, lit by slanting rays of muted sunlight.

"What kind of place is it?" I asked. "It's like a fairyland, or a
dream."

"It's not an earthly scheme of decoration," Foster said, "but I find it
strangely pleasing."

"Hey, look over there," I yelped suddenly, pointing. An empty-eyed
skull stared past me from the shadows at the base of a column.

Foster went over to the skull, stood looking down at it. "There was a
disaster here," he said. "That much is plain."

"It's creepy," I said. "Let's go back; I forgot to get film for my
Brownie."

"The long-dead pose no threat," said Foster. He was kneeling, looking
at the white bones. He picked up something, stared at it. "Look,
Legion."

I went over. Foster held up a ring.

"We're onto something hot, pal," I said. "It's the twin to yours."

"I wonder ... who he was."

I shook my head. "If we knew that--and who killed him--or what--"

"Let's go on. The answers must be here somewhere." Foster moved off
toward a corridor that reminded me of a sunny avenue lined with
chestnut trees--though there were no trees, and no sun. I followed,
gaping.

For hours we wandered, looking, touching, not saying much but saturated
in wonder, like kids in a toy factory. We came across another skeleton,
lying among towering engines. Finally we paused in a giant storeroom
stacked high with supplies.

"Have you stopped to think, Foster," I said, fingering a length
of rose-violet cloth as thin as woven spider webs. "This boat's a
treasure-house of salable items. Talk about the wealth of the Indies--"

"I seek only one thing here, my friend," Foster said; "my past."

"Sure," I said. "But just in case you don't find it, you might consider
the business angle. We can set up a regular shuttle run, hauling stuff
down--"

"You earthmen," sighed Foster. "For you every new experience is
immediately assessed in terms of its merchandising possibilities. Well,
I leave that to you."

"Okay, okay," I said. "You go on ahead and scout around down that way,
if you want--where the technical-looking stuff is. I want to browse
around here for a while."

"As you wish."

"We'll meet at this end of the big hall we passed back there. Okay?"

Foster nodded and went on. I turned to a bin filled with what looked
like unset emeralds the size of walnuts. I picked up a handful, juggled
them lovingly.

"Anyone for marbles?" I murmured to myself.

Hours later, I came along a corridor that was like a path through a
garden that was a forest, crossed a ballroom like a meadow floored
in fine-grained rust-red wood and shaded by giant ferns, and went
under an arch into the hall where Foster sat at a long table cut from
yellow marble. A light the color of sunrise gleamed through tall
pseudo-windows.

I dumped an armfull of books on the table. "Look at these," I said.
"All made from the same stuff as the journal. And the pictures...."

I flipped open one of the books, a heavy folio-sized volume, to a
double-page spread in color showing a group of bearded Arabs in dingy
white djellabas staring toward the camera, a flock of thin goats in the
background. It looked like the kind of picture the National Geographic
runs, except that the quality of the color and detail was equal to the
best color transparencies.

"I can't read the print," I said, "but I'm a whiz at looking at
pictures. Most of the books showed scenes like I hope I never see in
the flesh, but I found a few that were made on earth--God knows how
long ago."

"Travel books, perhaps," Foster said.

"Travel books that you could sell to any university on earth for their
next year's budget," I said, shuffling pages. "Take a look at this one."

Foster looked across at the panoramic shot of a procession of
shaven-headed men in white sarongs, carrying a miniature golden boat on
their shoulders, descending a long flight of white stone steps leading
from a colonnade of heroic human figures with folded arms and painted
faces. In the background, brick-red cliffs loomed up, baked in desert
heat.

"That's the temple of Hat-Shepsut in its prime," I said. "Which
makes this print close to four thousand years old. Here's another I
recognize." I turned to a smaller, aerial view, showing a gigantic
pyramid, its polished stone facing chipped in places and with a few
panels missing from the lower levels, revealing the cruder structure of
massive blocks beneath.

"That's one of the major pyramids, maybe Khufu's," I said. "It was
already a couple thousand years old, and falling into disrepair. And
look at this----" I opened another volume, showed Foster a vivid
photograph of a great shaggy elephant with a pinkish trunk upraised
between wide-curving yellow tusks.

"A mastodon," I said. "And there's a woolly rhino, and an ugly-looking
critter that must be a sabre-tooth. This book is _old_...."

"A lifetime of rummaging wouldn't exhaust the treasures aboard this
ship," said Foster.

"How about bones? Did you find any more?"

Foster nodded. "There was a disaster of some sort. Perhaps disease.
None of the bones was broken."

"I can't figure the one in the lifeboat," I said. "Why was he wearing
a necklace of bear's teeth?" I sat down across from Foster. "We've got
plenty of mysteries to solve, all right, but there are some other items
we'd better talk about. For instance: where's the kitchen? I'm getting
hungry."

Foster handed me a black rod from among several that lay on the table.
"I think this may be important," he said.

"What is it, a chop stick?"

"Touch it to your head, above the ear."

"What does it do--give you a massage?"

I pressed it to my temple....

_I was in a grey-walled room, facing a towering surface of ribbed
metal. I reached out, placed my hands over the proper perforations.
The housings opened. For apparent malfunction in the quaternary field
amplifiers, I knew, auto-inspection circuit override was necessary
before activation_----

I blinked, looked around at the yellow table, and piled books, the rod
in my hand.

"I was in some kind of powerhouse," I said. "There was something wrong
with--with...."

"The quaternary field amplifiers," Foster said.

"I seemed to be right there," I said. "I understood exactly what it was
all about."

"These are technical manuals," Foster said. "They'll tell us everything
we need to know about the ship."

"I was thinking about what I was getting ready to do," I said, "the
way you do when you're starting into a job; I was trouble-shooting the
quaternary whatzits--and I knew how...!"

Foster got to his feet and moved toward the doorway. "We'll have to
start at one end of the library and work our way through," he said.
"It will take us a while, but we'll get the facts we need. Then we can
plan."

       *       *       *       *       *

Foster picked a handful of briefing rods from the racks in the
comfortably furnished library and started in. The first thing we needed
was a clue as to where to look for food and beds, or for operating
instructions for the ship itself. I hoped we might find the equivalent
of a library card-catalog; then we could put our hands on what we
wanted in a hurry.

I went to the far end of the first rack and spotted a short row of
red rods that stood out vividly among the black ones. I took one out,
thought it over, decided it was unlikely that it was any more dangerous
than the others, and put it against my temple....

_As the bells rang, I applied neuro-vascular tension, suppressed
cortical areas upsilon-zeta and iota, and stood by for_----

I jerked the rod from my head, my ears still ringing with the
shrill alarm. The effect of the rods was like reality itself, but
intensified, all attention focused single-mindedly on the experience
at hand. I thought of the entertainment potentialities of the idea.
You could kill a tiger, ride an airplane down in flames, face the
heavyweight champion----I wondered about the stronger sensations, like
pain and fear. Would they seem as real as the impulse to check the
whatchamacallits or tighten up your cortical thingamajigs?

I tried another rod.

_At the sound of the apex-tone, I racked instruments, walked, not ran,
to the nearest transfer-channel_----

Another:

_Having assumed duty as Alert Officer, I reported first to coordination
Control via short-line, and confirmed rapport_--

These were routine SOP's covering simple situations aboard ship. I
skipped a few, tried again:

_Needing a xivometer, I keyed instruction-complex One, followed with
the code_--

Three rods further along, I got this:

_The situation falling outside my area of primary conditioning, I
reported in corpo to Technical Briefing, Level Nine, Section Four,
Sub-section Twelve, Preliminary. I recalled that it was now necessary
to supply my activity code ... my activity code ... my activity
code ... (A sensation of disorientation grew; confused images flickered
like vague background-noise; then a clear voice cut across the
confusion:)_

YOU HAVE SUFFERED PARTIAL PERSONALITY-FADE. DO NOT BE ALARMED.
SELECT A GENERAL BACKGROUND ORIENTATION ROD FROM THE NEAREST EMERGENCY
RACK. ITS LOCATION IS....

_I was moving along the stacks, to pause in front of a niche where a
U-shaped plastic strip was clamped to the wall. I removed it, fitted it
to my head--(Then:) I was moving along the stacks, to pause in front
of a niche_--

I was leaning against the wall, my head humming. The red stick lay on
the floor at my feet. That last bit had been potent: something about a
general background briefing--

"Hey, Foster!" I called, "I think I've got something...." He appeared
from the stacks.

       *       *       *       *       *

"As I see it," I said, "this background briefing should tell us all
we need to know about the ship; then we can plan our next move more
intelligently. We'll know what we're doing." I took the thing from the
wall, just as I had seemed to do in the phantom scene the red rod had
projected for me.

"These things make me dizzy," I said, handing it to Foster. "Anyway
you're the logical one to try it."

He took the plastic shape, went to the reclining seat at the near end
of the library hall, and settled himself. "I have an idea this one will
hit harder than the others," he said.

He fitted the clamp to his head and ... instantly his eyes glazed; he
slumped back, limp.

"Foster!" I yelled. I jumped forward, started to pull the plastic piece
from his head, then hesitated. Maybe Foster's abrupt reaction was
standard procedure--but I didn't like it much.

I went on reasoning with myself. After all, this was what the red rod
had indicated as normal procedure in a given emergency. Foster was
merely having his faded personality touched up. And his full-blown,
three-dimensional personality was what we needed to give us the answers
to a lot of the questions we'd been asking. Though the ship and
everything in it had lain unused and silent for forgotten millenia,
still the library should be good. The librarian was gone from his post
for forgotten centuries, and Foster was lying unconscious, and I was
thirty thousand miles from home--but I shouldn't let trifles like that
worry me....

I got up and prowled the room. There wasn't much to look at except
stacks and more stacks. The knowledge stored here was fantastic, both
in magnitude and character. If I ever get home with a load of these
rods....

I strolled through a door leading to another room. It was small,
functional, dimly lit. The middle of the room was occupied by a large
and elaborate divan with a cap-shaped fitting at one end. Other curious
accoutrements were ranked along the walls. There wasn't much in them to
thrill me. But bone-wise I had hit the jackpot.

Two skeletons lay near the door, in the final slump of death. Another
lay beside the fancy couch. There was a long-bladed dagger beside it.

I squatted beside the two near the door and examined them closely. As
far as I could tell, they were as human as I was. I wondered what kind
of men they had been, what kind of world they had come from, that could
build a ship like this and stock it as it was stocked.

The dagger that lay near the other bones was interesting: it seemed
to be made of a transparent orange metal, and its hilt was stamped in
a repeated pattern of the Two Worlds motif. It was the first clue as
to what had taken place among these men when they last lived: not a
complete clue, but a start.

I took a closer look at an apparatus like a dentist's chair parked
against the wall. There were spidery-looking metal arms mounted
above it, and a series of colored glass lenses. A row of dull silver
cylinders was racked against the wall. Another projected from a socket
at the side of the machine. I took it out and looked at it. It was a
plain pewter-colored plastic, heavy and smooth. I felt pretty sure it
was a close cousin to the chopsticks stored in the library. I wondered
what brand of information was recorded in it as I dropped it in my
pocket.

I lit a cigarette and went out to where Foster lay. He was still in the
same position as when I had left him. I sat down on the floor beside
the couch to wait.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was an hour before he stirred, heaved a sigh, and opened his eyes.
He reached up, pulled off the plastic headpiece, dropped it on the
floor.

"Are you okay?" I said. "Brother, I've been sweating...."

Foster looked at me, his eyes traveling up to my uncombed hair and down
to my scuffed shoes. His eyes narrowed in a faint frown. Then he said
something--in a language that seemed to be all Z's and Q's.

"Don't spring any surprises on me, Foster," I said hoarsely. "Talk
American."

A look of surprise crossed his face. He stared into my eyes again, then
glanced around the room.

"This is a ship's library," he said.

I heaved a sigh of relief. "You gave me a scare, Foster. I thought for
a second your memory was wandering again."

Foster was watching my face as I spoke. "What was it all about?" I
said. "What have you found out?"

"I know you," said Foster slowly. "Your name is Legion."

I nodded. I could feel myself getting tense again. "Sure, you know me.
Just take it easy pal. This is no time to lose your marbles." I put a
hand on his shoulder. "You remember, we were--"

He shook my hand off. "That is not the custom in Vallon," he said
coldly.

"Vallon?" I echoed. "What kind of routine is this, Foster? We were
friends when we walked into this room an hour ago. We were hot on the
trail of something, and I'm human enough to want to know how it turned
out."

"Where are the others?"

"There's a couple of 'others' in the next room," I snapped. "But
they've lost a lot of weight. I can find you several more, in the same
condition. Outside of them there's only me----"

Foster looked at me as if I wasn't there. "I remember Vallon," he said.
He put a hand to his head. "But I remember, too, a barbaric world,
brutal and primitive. You were there. We traveled in a crude rail-car,
and then in a barge that wallowed in the sea. There were narrow, ugly
rooms, evil odors, harsh noises."

"That's not a very flattering portrait of God's country," I said, "but
I'm afraid I recognize it."

"The people were the worst," Foster said. "Misshapen, diseased, with
swollen abdomens and wasted skin and withered limbs."

"Some of the boys don't get out enough," I said.

"The Hunters! We fled from them, Legion, you and I. And I remember a
landing-ring...." He paused. "Strange, it had lost its cap-stones and
fallen into ruin."

"Us natives call it Stonehenge."

"The Hunters burst out of the earth. We fought them. But why should the
Hunters seek me?"

"I was hoping you'd tell me," I said. "Do you know where this ship came
from? And why?"

"This is a ship of the Two Worlds," he replied. "But I know nothing of
how it came to be here."

"How about all that stuff in the journal? Maybe now you--"

"The journal!" Foster broke in. "Where is it?"

"In your coat pocket, I guess."

Foster felt through his jacket awkwardly, brought out the journal. He
opened it.

I moved around to look over his shoulder. He had the book open to the
first section, the part written in the curious alien characters that
nobody had been able to decipher.

And he was reading it.

       *       *       *       *       *

We sat at the library table of deep green, heavy, polished wood,
the journal open at its center. For hours I had waited while Foster
read. Now at last he leaned back in his chair, ran a hand through the
youthful black hair, and sighed.

"My name," he said, "was Qulqlan. And this," he laid his hand upon the
book, "is my story. This is one part of the past I was seeking. And I
remember none of it...."

"Tell me what the journal says," I asked. "Read it to me."

Foster picked it up, riffled the pages. "It seems that I awoke
once before, in a small room aboard this vessel. I was lying on a
memo-couch, by which circumstance I knew that I had suffered a Change--"

"You mean you'd lost your memory?"

"And regained it--on the couch. My memory-trace had been re-impressed
on my mind. I awoke knowing my identity, but not how I came to be
aboard this vessel. The journal says that my last memory was of a
building beside the Shallow Sea."

"Where's that?"

"On a far world--called Vallon."

"Yeah? And what next?"

"I looked around me and saw four men lying on the floor, slashed and
bloody. One was alive. I gave him what emergency treatment I could,
then searched the ship. I found three more men, dead; none living. Then
the Hunters attacked, swarming to me--"

"Our friends the fire-balls?"

"Yes; they would have sucked the life from me--and I had no shield of
light. I fled to the lifeboat, carrying the wounded man. I descended
to the planet below: your earth. The man died there. He had been my
friend, a man named Ammaerln. I buried him in a shallow depression in
the earth and marked the place with a stone."

"The ancient sinner," I said.

"Yes ... I suppose it was his bones the lay brother found."

"And we found out last night that the depression was the result of dirt
sifting into the ventilator shaft. But I guess you didn't know anything
about the underground installation, way back then. Doesn't the journal
say anything...?"

"No there is no mention made of it here." Foster shook his head. "How
curious to read of the affairs of this stranger--and know he is myself."

"How about the Hunters? How did they get to earth?"

"They are insubstantial creatures," said Foster, "yet they can endure
the vacuum of space. I can only surmise that they followed the lifeboat
down."

"They were tailing you?"

"Yes; but I have no idea why they pursued me. They're harmless
creatures in the natural state, used to seek out the rare fugitive
from justice on Vallon. They can be attuned to the individual;
thereafter, they follow him and mark him out for capture."

"Kind of like bloodhounds," I said. "Say, what were you: a big-time
racketeer on Vallon?"

"The journal is frustratingly silent as to my Vallonian career," said
Foster. "But this whole matter of the unexplained inter-galactic voyage
and the evidences of violence aboard the ship make me wonder whether I,
and perhaps others of my companions, were being exiled for crimes done
in the Two Worlds."

"Wow! So they sicced the Hunters on you!" I said. "But why did they
hang around at Stonehenge all this time?"

"There was a trickle of power feeding the screens," said Foster. "They
need a source of electrical energy to live; until a hundred years ago
it was the only one on the planet."

"How did they get down into the shaft without opening it up?"

"Given time, they pass easily through porous substances. But, of
course, last night, when I came on them after their long fast, they
simply burst through in their haste."

"Okay. What happened next--after you buried the man?"

"The journal tells that I was set upon by natives, men who wore the
hides of animals. One of their number entered the ship. He must have
moved the drive lever. It lifted, leaving me marooned."

"So those were his bones we found in the boat," I mused, "the ones with
the bear's-tooth necklace. I wonder why he didn't come into the ship."

"Undoubtedly he did. But remember the skeleton we found just inside the
landing port? That must have been a fairly fresh and rather gory corpse
at the time the savage stepped aboard. It probably seemed to him all
too clear an indication of what lay in store for himself if he ventured
further. In his terror he must have retreated to the boat to wait, and
there starved to death.

"He was stranded in your world, and you were stranded in his."

"Yes," said Foster. "And then, it seems, I lived among the brute-men
and came to be their king. I waited there by the landing ring through
many years in the hope of rescue. Because I did not age as the natives
did, I was worshipped as a god. I would have built a signalling device,
but there were no pure metals, nothing I could use. I tried to teach
them, but it was a work of centuries."

"I should think you could have set up a school, trained the smartest
ones," I said.

"There was no lack of intelligent minds," Foster said. "It is plain
that the savages were of the blood of the Two Worlds. This earth must
have been seeded long ago by some ancient castaways."

"But how could you go on living--for hundreds of years? Are your people
supermen that live forever?"

"The natural span of a human life is very great. Among your people,
there is a wasting disease from which you all die young."

"That's no disease," I said. "You just naturally get old and die."

"The human mind is a magnificent instrument," Foster said, "not meant
to wither quickly."

"I'll have to chew that one over," I said. "Why didn't you catch this
disease?"

"All Vallonians are innoculated against it."

"I'd like a shot of that," I said. "But let's get back to you."

Foster turned the pages of the journal. "I ruled many peoples, under
many names," he said. "I traveled in many lands, seeking for skilled
metal-workers, glass-blowers, wise men. But always I returned to the
landing-ring."

"It must have been tough," I said, "exiled on a strange world, living
out your life in a wilderness, century after century...."

"My life was not without interest," Foster said. "I watched my savage
people put aside their animal hides and learn the ways of civilization.
I taught them how to build, and keep herds, and till the land. I built
a great city, and I tried--foolishly--to teach their noble caste the
code of chivalry of the Two Worlds. But although they sat at a round
table like the great Ring-board at Okk-Hamiloth, they never really
understood. And then they grew too wise, and wondered at their king,
who never aged. I left them, and tried again to build a long-signaller.
The Hunters sensed it, and swarmed to me. I drove them off with fires,
and then I grew curious, and followed them back to their nest----"

"I know," I said. "'----and it was a place you knew of old: no hive but
a Pit built by men.'"

"They overwhelmed me; I barely escaped with my life. Starvation had
made the Hunters vicious. They would have drained my body of its
life-energy."

"And if you'd known the transmitter was there--but you didn't. So you
put an ocean between you and them."

"They found me even there. Each time I destroyed many of them, and
fled. But always a few lived to breed and seek me out again."

"But your signaller--didn't it work?"

"No. It was a hopeless attempt. Only a highly developed technology
could supply the raw materials. I could only teach what I knew,
encourage the development of the sciences, and wait. And then I began
to forget."

"Why?"

"A mind grows weary," Foster said. "It is the price of longevity. It
must renew itself. Shock and privation hasten the Change. I had held it
off for many centuries. Now I felt it coming on me.

"At home, on Vallon, a man would record his memory at such a time,
store it electronically in a recording device, and, after the Change,
use the memory-trace to restore, in his renewed body, his old
recollections in toto. But, marooned as I was, my memories, once lost,
were gone forever.

"I did what I could; I prepared a safe place, and wrote messages that I
would find when I awoke----"

"When you woke up in the hotel, you were young again, overnight. How
could it happen?"

"When the mind renews itself, erasing the scars of the years, the body,
too, regenerates. The skin forgets its wrinkles, and the muscles their
fatigue. They become again as they once were."

"When I first met you," I said, "you told me about waking up back in
1918, with no memory."

"Yours is a harsh world, Legion. I must have forgotten many times.
Somewhere, some time, I lost the vital link, forgot my quest. When the
Hunters came again, I fled, not understanding."

"You had a machine gun set up in the house at Mayport. What good was
that against the Hunters?"

"None, I suppose," Foster replied. "But I didn't know. I only knew that
I was--pursued."

"And by then you could have made a signaller," I said. "But you'd
forgotten how--or even that you needed one."

"But in the end I found it--with your help, Legion. But still there is
a mystery: What came to pass aboard this ship all those centuries ago?
Why was I here? And what killed the others?"

"Look," I said. "Here's a theory: there was a mutiny, while you were
in the machine having your memory fixed. You woke up and it was all
over--and the crew was dead."

"That hypothesis will serve," said Foster. "But one day I must learn
the truth of this matter."

"What I can't figure out is why somebody from Vallon didn't come after
this ship. It was right here in orbit."

"Consider the immensity of space, Legion. This is one tiny world, among
the stars."

"But there was a station here, fitted out for handling your ships.
That sounds like it was a regular port of call. And the books with
the pictures: they prove your people have been here off and on for
thousands of years. Why would they stop coming?"

"There are such beacons on a thousand worlds," said Foster. "Think
of it as a buoy marking a reef, a trailblaze in the wilderness. Ages
could pass before a wanderer chanced this way again. The fact that the
ventilator shaft at Stonehenge was choked with the debris of centuries
when I first landed there shows how seldom this world was visited."

I thought about it. Bit by bit Foster was putting together the jig-saw
pieces of his past. But he still had a long way to go before he had the
big picture, frame and all. I had an idea:

"Say, you said you were in the memory machine. You woke up there--and
you'd just had your memory restored. Why not do the same thing again,
now? That is, if your brain can take another pounding this soon."

"Yes," he said. He stood up abruptly. "There's just a chance. Come!"

I followed him out of the library into the room with the bones. He
moved over to look down at them curiously.

"Quite a fracas," I said. "Three of 'em."

"This would be the room where I awakened," said Foster. "These are the
men I saw dead."

"They're still dead," I said. "But what about the machine?"

Foster walked across to the fancy couch, leaned down beside it, then
shook his head. "No," he said. "Of course it wouldn't be here...."

"What?"

"My memory-trace: the one that was used to restore my memory--that
other time."

Suddenly I recalled the cylinder I had pocketed hours before. With a
surprising flutter at my heart I held it up, like a kid in a classroom
who knows he's got the right answer. "This it?"

Foster glanced at it briefly. "No, that's an empty--like those you see
filed over there." He pointed to the rack of pewter-colored cylinders
on the opposite wall. "They would be used for emergency recordings.
Regular multi-life memory-traces would be key-coded with a pattern of
colored lines."

"It figures," I said. "That would have been too easy. We have to do
everything the hard way." I looked around. "It's a big bureau to look
for a collar button under, but I guess we can try."

"It doesn't matter, really. When I return to Vallon, I'll recover my
past. There are vaults where every citizen's trace is stored."

"But you had yours here with you."

"It could only have been a copy. The master trace is never removed from
Okk-Hamiloth."

"I guess you'll be eager to get back there," I said. "That'll be quite
a moment for you, getting back home after all these years. Speaking of
years: were you able to figure out how long you were marooned down on
earth?"

"I lost all record of dates long ago," said Foster. "I can only
estimate the time."

"About how long?" I persisted.

"Since I descended from this ship, Legion," he said, "three thousand
years have passed."

       *       *       *       *       *

"I hate to see the team split up," I said. "You know, I was kind of
getting used to being an apprentice nut. I'm going to miss you, Foster."

"Come with me to Vallon, Legion," he said.

We were standing in the observation lounge, looking out at the
bright-lit surface of the earth thirty thousand miles away. Beyond it,
the dead-white disk of the moon hung like a cardboard cutout.

"Thanks anyway, buddy," I said. "I'd like to see those other worlds
of yours but in the end I might regret it. It's no good giving an
Eskimo a television set. I'd just sit around on Vallon pining for home:
beat-up people, stinks, and all."

"You could return here some day."

"From what I understand about traveling in a ship like this," I said,
"a couple of hundred years would pass before I got back, even if it
only seemed like a few weeks en route. I want to live out my life
here--with the kind of people I know, in the world I grew up in. It has
its faults, but it's home."

"Then there is nothing I can do, Legion," Foster said, "to reward your
loyalty and express my gratitude."

"Well, ah," I said. "There is a little something. Let me take the
lifeboat, and stock it with a few goodies from the library, and some
of those marbles from the storeroom, and a couple of the smaller
mechanical gadgets. I think I know how to merchandise them in a way
that'll leave the economy on an even keel--and incidentally set me up
for life. As you said, I'm a materialist."

"As you wish," Foster said. "Take whatever you desire."

"One thing I'll have to do when I get back," I said, "is open the
tunnel at Stonehenge enough to sneak a thermite bomb down it--if they
haven't already found the beacon station."

"As I judge the temper of the local people," Foster said, "the secret
is safe for at least three generations."

"I'll bring the boat down in a blind spot where radar won't pick it
up," I said. "Our timing was good; in another few years, it wouldn't
have been possible."

"And this ship would soon have been discovered," Foster said. "In
spite of radar-negative screens."

I looked at the great smooth sphere hanging, haloed, against utter
black. The Pacific Ocean threw back a brilliant image of the sun.

"I think I see an island down there that will fill the bill perfectly,"
I said. "And if it doesn't, there are a million more to choose from."

"You've changed, Legion," Foster said. "You sound like a man with a
fair share of _joie de vivre_."

"I used to think I was a guy who never got the breaks," I said.
"There's something about standing here looking at the world that makes
that kind of thinking sound pretty dumb. There's everything down there
a man needs to make his own breaks--even without a stock of trade
goods."

"Every world has its rules of life," Foster said. "Some more complex
than others. To face your own reality--that's the challenge."

"Me against the universe," I said. "With those odds, even a loser can
look good." I turned to Foster. "We're in a ten-hour orbit," I said.
"We'd better get moving. I want to put the boat down in southern South
America. I know a place there where I can off-load without answering
too many questions."

"You have several hours before the most favorable launch time," Foster
said. "There's no hurry."

"Maybe not," I said. "But I've got a lot to do--" I took a last look
toward the majestic planet beyond the viewscreen, "--and I'm eager to
get started."



CHAPTER VIII


I sat on the terrace watching the sun go down into the sea and thinking
about Foster, somewhere out there beyond the purple palaces on the far
horizon, in the ship that had waited for him for three thousand years,
heading home at last. It was strange to reflect that for him, traveling
near the speed of light, only a few days had passed, while three years
went by for me--three fast years that I had made good use of.

The toughest part had been the first few months, after I put the
lifeboat down in a cañon in the desert country south of a little town
called Itzenca, in Peru. I waited by the boat for a week, to be sure
the vigilantes weren't going to show up, full of helpful suggestions
and embarassing questions; then I hiked to town, carrying a pack with
a few carefully selected items to start my new career. It took me two
weeks to work, lie, barter, and plead my way to the seaport town of
Callao and another week to line up passage home as a deck hand on a
banana scow. I disappeared over the side at Tampa, and made it to Miami
without attracting attention. As far as I could tell, the cops had
already lost interest in me.

My old friend, the heavyweight señorita, wasn't overjoyed to see me,
but she put me up, and I started in on my plan to turn my souvenirs
into money.

The items I had brought with me from the lifeboat were a pocketful
of little gray dominoes that were actually movie film, and a small
projector to go with them. I didn't offer them for sale, direct. I
made arrangements with an old acquaintance in the business of making
pictures with low costume budgets for private showings; I set up the
apparatus and projected my films, and he copied them in 35 mm. I told
him that I'd smuggled them in from East Germany. He didn't think much
of the Krauts, but he admitted you had to hand it to them technically;
the special effects were absolutely top-notch. His favorite was one I
called the Mammoth Hunt.

I had twelve pictures altogether; with a little judicious cutting and a
dubbed-in commentary, they made up into fast-moving twenty-minute short
subjects. He got in touch with a friend in the distribution end in New
York, and after a little cagy fencing over contract terms, we agreed on
a deal that paid a hundred thousand for the twelve, with an option on
another dozen at the same price.

Within a week after the pictures hit the neighborhood theatres around
Bayonne, New Jersey, in a cautious tryout, I had offers up to half a
million for my next consignment, no questions asked. I left my pal
Mickey to handle the details on a percentage basis, and headed back for
Itzenca.

The lifeboat was just as I'd left it; it would have been all right for
another fifty years, as far as the danger of anybody stumbling over it
was concerned. I explained to the crew I brought out with me that it
was a fake rocket ship, a prop I was using for a film I was making,
I let them wander all over it and get their curiosity out of their
systems. The concensus was that it wouldn't fool anybody; no tail fins,
no ray guns, and the instrument panel was a joke; but they figured that
it was my money, so they went to work setting up a system of camouflage
nets (part of the plot, I told them) and off-loading my cargo.

A year after my homecoming, I had my island--a square mile of perfect
climate, fifteen miles off the Peruvian coast--and a house that was
tailored to my every whim by a mind-reading architect who made a
fortune on the job--and earned it. The uppermost floor--almost a
tower--was a strong-room, and it was there that I had stored my stock
in trade. I had sold off the best of the hundred or so films I had
picked out before leaving Foster, but there were plenty of other items.
The projector itself was the big prize. The self-contained power unit
converted nuclear energy to light with 99 percent efficiency. It
scanned the "films", one molecular layer at a time, and projected a
continuous picture--no sixteen-frames-a-second flicker here. The color
and sound were absolutely life-like--with the result that I'd had a
few complaints from my distributor that the Technicolor was kind of
washed-out.

The principles involved in the projector were new, and--in theory, at
least--way over the heads of our local physicists. But the practical
application was nothing much. I figured that, with the right contacts
in scientific circles to help me introduce the system, I had a
billion-dollar industry up my sleeve. I had already fed a few little
gimmicks into the market; a tough paper, suitable for shirts and
underwear; a chemical that bleached teeth white as the driven snow;
an all-color pigment for artists. With the knowledge I had absorbed
from all the briefing rods I had studied, I had the techniques of a
hundred new industries at my fingertips--and I hadn't exhausted the
possibilities yet.

I spent most of a year roaming the world, discovering all the things
that a free hand with a dollar bill could do for a man. The next year I
put in fixing up the island, buying paintings and rugs and silver for
the house, and a concert grand piano. After the first big thrill of
economic freedom had worn off, I still enjoyed my music.

For six months I had a full-time physical instructor giving me a
twenty-four-hour-a-day routine of diet, sleep, and all the precision
body-building my metabolism could stand. At the end of the course I was
twice the man I'd ever been, the instructor was a physical wreck, and I
was looking around for a new hobby.

Now, after three years, it was beginning to get me: boredom, the
disease of the idle rich, that I had sworn would never touch me. But
thinking about wealth and having it on your hands are two different
things, and I was beginning to remember almost with nostalgia the tough
old times when every day was an adventure, full of cops and missed
meals and a thousand unappeased desires.

Not that I was really suffering. I was relaxed in a comfortable chair,
after a day of surf fishing and a modest dinner of Chateaubriand. I
was smoking a skinny cigar rolled by an expert from the world's finest
leaf, and listening to the best music a thousand-dollar hi-fi could
produce. And the view, though free, was worth a million dollars a
minute. After a while I would stroll down to the boathouse, start up
the Rolls-powered launch, and tool over to the mainland, transfer to
my Caddie convertible, and drive into town where a tall brunette from
Stockholm was waiting for me to take her to the movies. My steady gal
was a hard-working secretary for an electronics firm.

I finished up my stogie and leaned forward to drop it in a big silver
ashtray, when something caught my eye out across the red-painted water.
I sat squinting at it, then went inside and came out with a pair of
7x50 binoculars. I focused them and studied the dark speck that stood
out clearly now against the gaudy sky. It was a heavy-looking power
boat, heading dead toward my island.

I watched it come closer, swing off toward the hundred-foot concrete
jetty I had built below the sea-wall, and ease alongside in a murmur
of powerful engines. They died, and the boat sat in a sudden silence
dwarfing the pier. I studied the bluish-grey hull, the inconspicuous
flag aft. Two heavy deck guns were mounted on the foredeck, and there
were four torpedoes slung in launching cradles. The hardware didn't
make half as much impression on me as the ranks of helmeted men drawn
up on deck.

I sat and watched. The men shuffled off onto the pier, formed up into
two squads. I counted; forty-eight men, and a couple of officers. There
was the faint sound of orders being barked, and the column stepped
off, moving along the paved road that swung between the transplanted
royal palms and hibiscus, right up to the wide drive that curved off
to the house. They halted, did a left face, and stood at parade rest.
The two officers, wearing class A's, and a tubby civilian with a brief
case came up the drive, trying to look as casual as possible under the
circumstances. They paused at the foot of the broad flight of Tennessee
marble steps leading up to my perch.

The leading officer, a brigadier general, no less, looked up at me.

"May we come up, sir?" he said.

I looked across at the silent ranks waiting at the foot of the drive.

"If the boys want a drink of water, Sarge," I said, "tell 'em to come
on over."

"I am General Smale," the B.G. said. "This is Colonel Sanchez of the
Peruvian Army--" he indicated the other military type "--and Mr. Pruffy
of the American Embassy at Lima."

"Howdy, Mr. Pruffy," I said. "Howdy, Mr. Sanchez. Howdy--"

"This ... ah ... call is official in nature, Mr. Legion," the general
said. "It's a matter of great importance, involving the security of
your country."

"OK, General," I said. "Come on up. What's happened? You boys haven't
started another war, have you?"

They filed up onto the terrace, hesitated, then shook hands, and sat
down gingerly in the chairs. Pruffy held his briefcase in his lap.

"Put your sandwiches on the table, if you like, Mr. Pruffy," I said. He
blinked, gripped the briefcase tighter. I offered my hand-tooled cigars
around; Pruffy looked startled, Smale shook his head, and Sanchez took
three.

"I'm here," the general said, "to ask you a few questions, Mr. Legion.
Mr. Pruffy represents the Department of State in the matter, and
Colonel Sanchez--"

"Don't tell me," I said. "He represents the Peruvian government, which
is why I don't ask you what an armed American force is doing wandering
around on Peruvian soil."

"Here," Pruffy put in. "I hardly think--"

"I believe you," I said. "What's it all about, Smale?"

"I'll come directly to the point," he said. "For some time, the
investigative and security agencies of the US government have been
building a file on what for lack of a better name has been called 'The
Martians.'" Smale coughed apologetically.

"A little over three years ago," he went on, "an unidentified flying
object--"

"You interested in flying saucers, General?" I said.

"By no means," he snapped. "The object appeared on a number of radar
screens, descending from extreme altitude. It came to earth at ..." he
hesitated.

"Don't tell me you came all the way out here to tell me you can't tell
me," I said.

"--A site in England," Smale said. "American aircraft were dispatched
to investigate the object. Before they could make identification,
it rose again, accelerated at tremendous speed, and was lost at an
altitude of several hundred miles."

"I thought we had better radar than that," I said. "The satellite
program--"

"No such specialized equipment was available," Smale said. "An
intensive investigation turned up the fact that two strangers--possibly
Americans--had visited the site only a few hours before
the--ah--visitation."

I nodded. I was thinking about the close call I'd had when I went back
to see about lobbing a bomb down the shaft to obliterate the beacon
station. There were plainclothes men all over the place, like old maids
at a movie star's funeral. It was just as well; they never found it.
The rocket blasts had collapsed the tunnel, and apparently the whole
underground installation was made of non-metallic substances that
didn't show up in detecting equipment. I had an idea metal was passé
where Foster came from.

"Some months later," Smale went on, "a series of rather curious
short films went on exhibition in the United States. They showed
scenes representing conditions on other planets, as well as ancient
and prehistoric incidents here on earth. They were prefaced with
explanations that they merely represented the opinions of science
as to what was likely to be found on distant worlds. They attracted
wide interest, and with few exceptions, scientists praised their
verisimilitude."

"I admire a clever fake," I said. "With a topical subject like space
travel----"

"One item which was commented on as a surprising inaccuracy, in view of
the technical excellence of the other films," Smale said, "was the view
of our planet from space, showing the earth against the backdrop of
stars. A study of the constellations by astronomers quickly indicated
a 'date' approximately 7000 B.C. for the scene. Oddly, the north polar
cap was shown centered on Hudson's Bay. No south polar cap was in
evidence. The continent of Antarctica appeared to be at a latitude of
some 30 degrees, entirely free of ice."

I looked at him and waited.

"Now, studies made since that time indicate that nine thousand years
ago, the North Pole was indeed centered on Hudson's Bay," Smale said.
"And Antarctica was in fact ice-free."

"That idea's been around a long time," I said. "There was a theory----"

"Then there was the matter of the views of Mars," the general went on.
"The aerial shots of the 'canals' were regarded as very cleverly done."
He turned to Pruffy, who opened his briefcase and handed a couple of
photos across.

"This is a scene taken from the film," Smale said. It was an 8x10 color
shot, showing a row of mounds drifted with pinkish dust, against a
blue-black horizon.

Smale placed another photo beside the first. "This one," he said, "was
taken by automatic cameras in the successful Mars probe of last year."

I looked. The second shot was fuzzy, and the color was shifted badly
toward the blue, but there was no mistaking the scene. The mounds were
drifted a little deeper, and the angle was different, but they were the
same mounds.

"In the meantime," Smale bored on relentlessly, "a number of novel
products appeared on the market. Chemists and physicists alike were
dumfounded at the theoretical base implied by the techniques involved.
One of the products--a type of pigment--embodied a completely new
concept in crystallography."

"Progress," I said. "Why, when I was a boy----"

"It was an extremely tortuous trail we followed," Smale said. "But we
found that all these curious observations making up the 'Martians'
file had, in the end, only one factor in common. And that factor, Mr.
Legion, was you."



CHAPTER IX


It was a few minutes after sunrise, and Smale and I were back on the
terrace toying with the remains of ham steaks and honeydew.

"That's one advantage of being in jail in your own house--the food's
good," I commented.

"I can understand your feelings," Smale said. "Frankly, I didn't relish
this assignment. But it's clear that there are matters here which
require explanation. It was my hope that you'd see fit to cooperate
voluntarily."

"Take your army and sail off into the sunrise, General," I said. "Then
maybe I'll be in a position to do something voluntary."

"Your patriotism alone----"

"My patriotism keeps telling me that where I come from, a citizen has
certain legal rights," I said.

"This is a matter that transcends legal technicalities," Smale said.
"I'll tell you quite frankly, the presence of the task force here only
received _ex post facto_ approval by the Peruvian government. They were
faced with the _fait accompli_. I mention this only to indicate just
how strongly the government feels in this matter."

"Seeing you hit the beach with a platoon of infantry was enough of
a hint for me," I said. "You're lucky I didn't wipe you out with my
disintegrator rays."

Smale choked on a bite of melon.

"Just kidding," I said. "But I haven't given you any trouble. Why the
reinforcements?"

Small stared at me. "What reinforcements?"

I pointed with a fork. He turned, gazed out to sea. A conning tower
was breaking the surface, leaving a white wake behind. It rose higher,
water streaming off the deck. A hatch popped open, and men poured out,
lining up. Smale got to his feet, his napkin falling to the floor.

"Sergeant!" he yelled. I sat, open-mouthed, as Smale jumped to the
stair, went down it three steps at a time. I heard him bellowing, the
shouts of men and the clatter of rifles being unstacked, feet pounding.
I went to the marble banister and looked down. Pruffy was out on the
lawn in purple pajamas, yelping questions. Colonel Sanchez was pulling
at Smale's arm, also yelling. The Marines were forming up on the lawn.

"Let's watch those petunias, Sergeant," I yelled.

"Keep out of this, Legion," Smale shouted.

"Why should I be the only one not yelling," I yelled. "After all, I own
the place."

Smale bounded back up the stairs. "You're my prime responsibility,
Legion," he barked. "I'm getting you to a point of maximum security.
Where's the cellar?"

"I keep it downstairs," I said. "What's this all about? Interservice
rivalry? You afraid the sailors are going to steal the glory?"

"That's a nuclear-powered sub," Smale barked. "Gagarin class; it
belongs to the Soviet Navy."

       *       *       *       *       *

I stood there with my mouth open, looking at Smale without seeing him,
and trying hard to think fast. I hadn't been too startled when the
Marines showed up; I had gone over the legal aspects of my situation
months before, with a platoon of high-priced legal talent; I knew that
sooner or later somebody would come around to hit me for tax evasion,
draft dodging, or overtime parking; but I was in the clear. The
government might resent my knowing a lot of things it didn't, but no
one could ever prove I'd swiped them from Uncle Sam. In the end, they'd
have to let me go--and my account in a Swiss bank would last me, even
if they managed to suppress any new developments from my fabulous lab.
In a way, I was glad the showdown had come.

But I'd forgotten about the Russians. Naturally, they'd be interested,
and their spies were at least as good as the intrepid agents of the US
Secret Service. I should have realized that sooner or later, they'd pay
a call--and the legal niceties wouldn't slow them down. They'd slap me
into a brain laundry, and sweat every last secret out of me as casually
as I'd squeeze a lemon.

The sub was fully surfaced now, and I was looking down the barrels of
half a dozen five-inch rifles, any one of which could blast Smale's
navy out of the water with one salvo. There were a couple of hundred
men, I estimated, putting landing boats over the side and spilling
into them. Down on the lawn, the sergeant was snapping orders, and the
men were double-timing off to positions that must have been spotted in
advance. It looked like the Russians weren't entirely unexpected. This
was a game the big boys were playing, and I was just a pawn, caught
in the middle. My rosy picture of me confounding the bureaucrats was
fading fast. My island was about to become a battlefield, and whichever
way it turned out, I'd be the loser. I had one slim possibility; to get
lost in the shuffle.

Smale grabbed my arm. "Don't stand there, man!" he snapped. "Which
way--"

"Sorry, General," I said, and slammed a hard right to his stomach. He
folded, but still managed to lunge for me. I gave him a left to the
jaw, and he dropped. I jumped over him, plunged through the French
doors, and took the spiral glass stairway four at a time, whirled, and
slammed the strong-room door behind me. The armored walls would stand
anything short of a direct hit with a good-sized artillery shell, and
the boys down below were unlikely to use any heavy stuff for fear of
damaging the goods they'd been sent out to collect. I was safe for a
little while.

Now I had to do some fast, accurate thinking. I couldn't carry much
with me--when and if I made it off the island. A few briefing rods,
maybe; what was left of the movies. But I had already audited most of
the rods; I knew them as well as I know my tax bracket. One listen to
a rod gave you a fast picture of the subject; two or three repeats
engraved it on your brain. The only reason a man couldn't know
everything was that too much, too fast, would overload the mind--and
amnesia wiped the slate clean.

I didn't have time to use any more rods, and I couldn't carry anything.
But just to walk off and leave it all....

I rummaged through odds and ends, stuffing small items into my pockets.
I came across a dull silvery cylinder, three inches long, striped in
black and gold--a memory-trace. It reminded me of something....

That was an idea. I still had the U-shaped plastic headpiece that
Foster had used to acquire a background knowledge of his old home. I
had tried it once--for a moment. It had given me a headache in two
seconds flat, just pressed against my temple. It had been lying here
ever since. But maybe now was the time to try it again. Half the items
I had here in my strong-room were mysteries, like the silver cylinder
in my hand, but I knew exactly what the plastic headband could give me.
It contained all anyone needed to know about Vallon and the Two Worlds,
and all the marvels they possessed.

I glanced out the armor-glass window. Smale's Marines were trotting
across the lawn; the Russians were fanning out along the water's edge.
It looked like business all right. Still, it would take them a while
to get warmed up--and more time still to decide to blast me out of my
fort. It had taken an hour or so for Foster to soak up the briefing;
maybe I wouldn't be much longer at it.

I tossed the cylinder aside, tried a couple of drawers, found the
inconspicuous strip of plastic that encompassed a whole civilization.
I carried it across to a chair, settled myself, then hesitated. This
thing had been designed for an alien brain, not mine. Suppose it burnt
out my wiring, left me here gibbering, for Smale or the Ruskis to work
over?

But the alternative was to leave my island virtually empty-handed,
settle for what I might in time manage to salvage from my account--if
I could devise a way of withdrawing money without calling down the
Gestapo....

No, I wouldn't go back to poverty without a struggle. What I could
carry in my head would give me independence--even immunity from the
greed of nations. I could barter my knowledge for my freedom.

There were plenty of things wrong with this picture, but it was the
best I could do on short notice. Gingerly I fitted the U-shaped band to
my head. There was a feeling of pressure, then a sensation like warm
water rising about me. Panic tried to rise, faded. A voice seemed to
reassure me. I was among friends, I was safe, all was well....



CHAPTER X


_I lay in the dark, the memory of towers and trumpets and fountains of
fire in my mind. I put up my hand, felt a coarse garment. Had I but
dreamed...? I stirred. Light blazed in a widening band above my face.
Through narrowed eyes I saw a room, a mean chamber, dusty, littered
with ill-assorted rubbish. In a wall there was a window. I went to it,
stared out upon a green sward, a path that curved downward to a white
strand. It was a strange scene, and yet----_

_A wave of vertigo swept over me, faded. I blinked, tried to remember._

_I reached up, felt something clamped over my head. I pulled it off and
it fell to the floor with a faint clatter: a broad-spectrum briefing
device, of the type used to indoctrinate unidentified citizens who had
undergone a Change unprepared...._

Suddenly, like water pouring down a drain, the picture in my mind
faded, left me standing in my old familiar junk room, with a humming in
my head and a throb in my temples. I had been about to try the briefing
gimmick, and had wondered if it would work. It had--with a vengeance.
For a minute there I had stumbled around the room like a stranger,
yearning for dear old Vallon. I could remember the feeling--but it was
gone now. I was just me, in trouble as usual.

There were a lot of tantalizing ideas floating around in my mind,
right at the edge of consciousness. Later I'd have to sit down and go
over them carefully. Right now, I had my hands full. Two armies had
me cornered, and all the guns belonged to the opposition. That part
was okay; I didn't want to fight anybody. All I wanted out of this
situation was me.

A rattle of gunfire outside brought me to the window in a jump. It
was the same view as a few moments before, but it made more sense
now. There was the still smoking wreckage of the PT boat, sunk in
ten feet of water a few yards from the end of the jetty. Somebody
must have tried to make a run for it. The Russian sub was nowhere in
sight; probably it had landed the men and backed out of danger from
any unexpected quarter. Two or three corpses lay in view, down by the
water's edge. From where I stood I couldn't say whether they were good
guys or villains.

There were more shots, coming from somewhere off to the left. It looked
like the boys were fighting it out old style: hand to hand, with small
arms. It figured; after all, what they wanted was me and all my clever
ideas intact, not a smoking ruin.

I don't know whether it was my romantic streak or my cynical one that
had made me drive the architect nuts putting secret passages in the
walls of my chateau and tunnels under the lawn, but I was glad now I
had them. There was a narrow door in the west wall of the strong-room
that gave onto a tight spiral stair. From there I could take my choice:
the boathouse, the edge of the woods behind the house, or the beach a
hundred yards north of the jetty. All I had to do was----

The house trembled a split second ahead of a terrific blast that
slammed me to the floor. I felt blood start from my nose. Head ringing,
I scrambled to my feet, groped through the dust to my escape hatch.
Somebody outside was getting impatient. It wouldn't do to have my fancy
getaway route fall in before I had used it. I felt another shell hit
the house: mortars, I guessed, or rockets. I must have slept through
the preliminaries and wakened just in time for the main bout.

My fingers were on the sensitive pressure areas that worked the
concealed door. I took a last glance around the room, where the
dust was just settling from the last blast. My eyes fell on a plain
pewter-colored cylinder lying where I had tossed it an hour before--but
now I knew what it was. In one jump I was across the room and had
grabbed it up. I remembered finding it aboard the lifeboat when I
tidied up; it had lain concealed among the bones of the man with
the bear-tooth necklace. He must have come across it, admired its
pretty colors, and tucked it away in his fur pants. And now I, with
my Vallonian memories banked in my mind, could appreciate just how
precious an object it was. It was Foster's memory. It would be only a
copy, undoubtedly; still, I couldn't leave it behind.

A blast heavier than the last one rocked the house; a big chunk of
plaster fell. It was way past time to go. Snorting and coughing from
the dust, I got back to the emergency door, went through it, and
started down.

At the bottom I paused to think it over, and the earth jumped again.
I fell back, saw the roof of the beach tunnel collapse. That left
the woods and the boathouse. I didn't have much time to decide; the
tunnels might go any second. Apparently my architect had economized
on the tunnel shorings. But then, he hadn't figured on any major wars
happening in the front yard.

The fight was going on, as near as I could judge, to the south of the
house and behind it. Probably the woods were full of skirmishers,
taking advantage of the cover. The best bet was the boathouse, direct.
I'd have preferred to wait until dark, but the idea didn't seem
practical under the circumstances. I took a deep breath and started
into the tunnel. With a little luck I'd find my boat intact. I would
have to pull out under the noses of the combatants, but maybe the
element of surprise would give me a few hundred yards' start. I had
enough horses to beat anything afloat to the mainland--if I could make
a clean break.

The tunnel was dark but that didn't bother me. It ran dead straight
to the boathouse. I came to the wooden slat door and stood for a
moment, listening; everything was quiet. I eased it open and stepped
on to the ramp inside the building. In the gloom polished mahogany and
chrome-work threw back muted highlights. I circled, slipped the mooring
rope, and was about to step into the cockpit when I heard the bolt of
a rifle smack home. I whirled, threw myself flat. The deafening _bam!_
of a .30 calibre fired at close quarters laid a pattern of fine ripples
on the black water. I rolled, hit with a splash that drowned a second
shot, and dove deep. Three strokes took me under the door, out into the
green gloom of open water. I hugged the yellowish sand of the bottom,
angled off to the right, and kept going.

I had to get out of my jacket, and somehow I managed it, almost without
losing a stroke. And there went all the goodies I'd stashed away in
the pockets, down to the bottom of the drink. I still had Foster's
memory-trace; it was in my slacks and there wasn't time to get out of
them nor to kick off my tennis shoes. Ten strokes, fifteen, twenty. I
knew my limit: twenty-five good strokes on a full load of air; but I
had dived in a hurry....

Twenty-five ... and another ... and one more. And up above a man was
waiting, rifle aimed, for my head to break the surface.

Thirty strokes, and here I come, ready or not. I rolled on my back, got
my face above the surface. I got half a gulp of fresh air before the
shot slapped spray into my face and echoed off across the water. I sank
like a stone, kicked off, and made another twenty-five yards before I
had to come up. The rifleman was faster this time. The bullet crossed
my shoulder like a hot iron, and I was under water again. My kick-work
was weak now; the strength was draining from my arms fast. I had to
have air--but I could almost feel the solid smack of a steel-jacketed
bullet against my skull. I had to keep going. My chest was on fire and
there was a whirling blackness all around me. I felt consciousness
fading, but maybe just one more stroke....

       *       *       *       *       *

_As from a distance I observed the clumsy efforts of the swimmer,
watched the flounderings of the poor, untrained creature...._

_It was apparent that an override of the autonomic system was required.
With dispatch I activated cortical area omicron, re-routed the blood
supply, drew an emergency oxygen source from stored fats, diverting the
necessary energy to break the molecular bonds._

_Now, with the body drawing on internal sources, ample for six hundred
seconds at maximum demand, I stimulated areas upsilon and mu. I
channeled full survival-level energy to the muscle complexes involved,
increased power output to full skeletal tolerance, eliminated waste
motion._

_The body drove through the water with the fluid grace of a
sea-denizen...._

       *       *       *       *       *

I floated on my back, breathing in great surges of cool air and
blinking at the crimson sky. I had been under water, a few yards from
shore, drowning. Then there was an awareness, like a voice, telling me
what to do. From out of the mass of Vallionan knowledge I had acquired,
I had drawn what I needed. And now I was here, half a mile from the
beach, winded but intact. But there was no time now to wonder at
miracles....

I raised my head and glanced toward the house. A column of smoke rose
from a gaping cavity where the bedroom windows used to be. A man jumped
up, darted across the lawn, fell. I heard a shot a few seconds later,
floating lazily across the still sunset water. There was no visible
activity at the water's edge; the rifleman was gone. He probably
thought he'd finished me, especially if he had noticed blood in the
water.

I thought about sharks. I hadn't heard of any in this neighborhood, but
a little blood was just the thing to bait them in. I twisted, got a
look at the throbbing burn across my left shoulder where the rifleman's
bullet had grazed; it was nothing much, just a skin gouge. It didn't
seem to be bleeding. If it had been, there wasn't much I could do about
it. It was no time for worrying. I had to keep my mind on the problem
of getting to the mainland. It was a fifteen-mile swim, but if the boys
on shore could keep each other occupied, I ought to be able to make
it. I thought again about pulling off my pants and shoes but decided
against it; I'd be in awkward shape without them--if I made it.

I felt beat: as though I hadn't eaten all day--which wasn't too
strange, because I hadn't. Well, at least I wouldn't get stomach cramps
while circling the island. From there I'd strike out for shore. And the
first thing I would do when I got out of this would be to order the
biggest, rarest steak in South America.

I took a last look toward the house. I could see fire inside it now. I
guessed each side was rationalizing the destruction as denial to the
enemy. It had been a nice place and I'd miss it. Some day somebody was
going to pay for it.



CHAPTER XI


I sat at the kitchen table in Margareta's Lima apartment and gnawed
the last few shreds off the stripped T-bone, while my girl poured me
another cup of coffee.

"Now tell me about it," she said. "Why did they burn your house? And
how did you succeed in getting here?"

"They got so interested in the fight, they lost their heads," I said.
"That's the only explanation I can think of. I thought I'd be as safe
as a two-dollar watch at a pickpockets' convention: I figured they'd go
to some pains to avoid damaging me. I guessed wrong."

"But your own people...."

"Maybe they were right: they couldn't afford to let the Ruskis get
me. Funny--if they'd just thought to write me a letter and ask for my
co-operation...."

"But how did you get covered with mud? And the blood stains on your
back?"

"I had a nice long swim: five hours' worth. Then another hour getting
through a mangrove swamp. Lucky I had a moon. Then a three-hour
hike ... and here I am."

"I hope you're feeling better now that you've had something to eat. You
looked terrible."

"Another block and I wouldn't have made it. I felt sucked dry. The
scratch on my back is nothing, but maybe the shock ... I don't know."

"Lie down now and sleep," said Margareta. "What do you want me to do?"

"Get me some clothes," I said. "A grey suit, white shirt, black tie and
shoes. And go to my bank and draw some money, save five thousand. Oh
yeah, see if there's anything in the papers. If you see anybody hanging
around the lobby when you come back, don't come up; give me a call and
I'll meet you."

She stood up. "This is really awful," she said. "Can't your embassy----"

"Didn't I mention it? A Mr. Pruffy, of the Embassy, came along to
hold Smale's hand ... not to mention a Colonel Sanchez. I wouldn't be
surprised if the local cops weren't in the act by now ... unless they
all think I'm dead. That impression won't last long after you show up
with a nice fresh check on my account and spend part of it on a man's
suit. I'll get some sleep and light out as soon as you get back."

"Where will you go?"

"I'll get to the airport and play it by ear. I don't think they've
alerted everybody. It was a hush-hush deal, until it went sour; now
they're still picking up the pieces."

"The bank won't be open for hours yet," said Margareta. "Go to sleep
and don't worry. I'll take care of everything."

I made it to the bedroom and slid out on the big wide bed, and
consciousness slipped away like a silk curtain falling.

       *       *       *       *       *

I knew I wasn't alone as soon as I opened my eyes. I hadn't heard
anything, but I could feel someone in the room. I sat up slowly, looked
around.

He was sitting in the embroidered chair by the window: an
ordinary-looking fellow in a tan tropical suit, with an unlighted
cigarette in his mouth and no particular expression on his face.

"Go ahead, light up," I said. "Don't mind me."

"Thanks," he said, in a thin voice. He took a lighter from an inner
pocket, flipped it, held it to the cigarette.

I stood up. There was a blur of motion from my visitor, and the lighter
was gone and a short-nosed revolver was in its place.

"You've got the wrong scoop, mister," I said. "I don't bite."

"I'd rather you wouldn't move suddenly, Mr. Legion," he said. He
coughed, his eyes on mine. "My nerves aren't what they used to be." The
gun was still on me.

"Which side are you working for?" I said. "And can I put my shoes on,
or are you afraid I'll pull a gat out of my sock?"

He rested the pistol on his knee. "Get completely dressed, Mr. Legion."

"Sorry," I said. "No can do. No clothes."

He frowned slightly. "My jacket will be a little small for you," he
said. "But I think you can manage."

I was sitting on the bed again. "I'm going to get out a cigarette," I
said. "Try not to shoot me." I reached for a package on the table, lit
up. His eyes stayed on mine.

"How come you didn't figure I was dead?" I asked, blowing smoke at him.

"We checked the house," he said. "No body."

"Why, you incompetent asses. You were supposed to think I drowned."

"That possibility was considered. But we made the routine checks
anyway."

"Nice of you to let me sleep it out. How long have you been here?"

"Only a few minutes," he said. He glanced at his watch. "We'll have to
be going in another fifteen."

"What do you want with me?" I said. "You blew up everything you were
interested in."

"The Department wants to ask you a few questions."

"Look, I'm just a dumb guy," I whined. "I don't know nothing about all
that stuff. I was just the guy that peddled it, see?"

He took a drag on his cigarette, squinted at me through the smoke. "You
ran up an A average in college," he said, "including English."

"You boys really do your homework." I looked at the pistol. "I wonder
if you'd really shoot me," I mused.

"I'll try to make the position clear," he said. "Just to avoid any
unfortunate misunderstanding. My instructions are to bring you in,
alive--if possible. If it appears that you may evade arrest ... or fall
into the wrong hands, I'll be forced to use the gun."

I pulled my shoes on, thinking it over. My best chance to make a break
was now, while there was only one watchdog. But I had a feeling he was
telling the truth about shooting me. I had already seen the boys in
action at the house.

He got up. "Let's step into the living room, Mr. Legion." I moved past
him through the door. In the living room the clock on the mantel said
eleven. I'd been asleep for five or six hours. Margareta ought to be
getting back any minute....

"Put this on," he said. I took the light jacket, wedged myself into it,
looked at my reflection in the big rectangular mirror that occupied
most of a wall above the low divan.

"It's not the real me," I said. "I usually--"

The telephone rang.

I looked at my watchdog. He shook his head. We stood and listened to it
ring. After a while it stopped.

"We'd better be going now," he said. "Walk ahead of me, please. We'll
take the elevator to the basement and leave by the service entrance--"

He stopped talking, eyes on the door. There was the rattle of a key.
The gun came up.

"Hold it," I snapped. "It's the girl who owns the apartment." I moved
to face him, my back to the door.

"That was foolish of you, Legion," he said. "Don't move again."

I watched the door in the big mirror on the opposite wall. The knob
turned, the door swung in ... and a thin brown man in white shirt
and white pants slipped into the room. As he pushed the door back he
transferred a small automatic to his left hand. My keeper threw a lever
on the revolver that was aimed at my belt buckle.

"Stand absolutely still, Legion," he said. "If you have a chance,
that's it." He moved aside slightly, looked past me to the newcomer.
I watched in the mirror as the man in white behind me swiveled to keep
both of us covered.

"This is a fail-safe weapon," said my first owner to the new man.
"I think you know about them. We leaked the information to you. I'm
holding the trigger back; if my hand relaxes, it fires, so I'd be a
little careful about shooting, if I were you."

The thin man swallowed, a black leather bow tie bobbing against his
Adam's apple. He didn't say anything. He was having to make some tough
decisions. His instructions would be the same as my other friend's: to
bring me in alive, if possible.

"Who does this bird represent?" I asked my man. I noticed my voice was
pitched half an octave higher than usual.

"He's a Soviet agent."

I looked in the mirror at the man again. "Nuts," I said. "He looks like
a waiter in a chili joint. He probably came up to take our order."

"You talk too much when you're nervous," said my keeper between his
teeth. He held the gun on me steadily. I watched his trigger finger to
see if it looked like relaxing.

"I'd say it's a stalemate," I said. "Let's take it once more from the
top. Both of you go out and--"

"Shut up, Legion." My man licked his lips, glanced at my face. "I'm
sorry. It looks as though--"

"You don't want to shoot me," I blurted out loudly. In the mirror I had
seen the door, which was standing ajar, ease open an inch, two inches.
"You'll spoil this nice coat...." I kept on talking: "And anyway it
would be a big mistake, because everybody knows Russian agents are
stubby men with wide cheekbones and tight hats--"

Silently Margareta slipped into the room, took two quick steps, and
slammed a heavy handbag down on the slicked-back pompadour that went
with the Adam's apple. The man in white stumbled and fired a round into
the rug. The automatic dropped from his hand, and my pal in tan stepped
to him and hit him hard on the back of the head with his pistol. He
whirled toward me, hissed "Play it smart" just loud enough for me to
hear, then turned to Margareta. He slipped the gun into his pocket, but
I knew he could get it out again in a hurry.

"Very nicely done, Miss," he said. "I'll have this person removed from
your apartment. Mr. Legion and I were just going."

Margareta looked at me. I thought over two or three remarks but none of
them seemed to fit. I didn't intend to see her get hurt--or involved.
Apparently my FBI type was willing to leave her out of it, if I went
quietly. On the other hand, this was my last chance to get out of the
net before it closed for good. My keeper was watching, waiting for me
to try something, tip Margareta off....

"It's okay, honey," I said. "This is Mr. Smith ... of our Embassy.
We're old friends." I stepped past her, headed for the door. My hand
was on the knob when I heard a solid thunk behind me. I whirled in time
to clip the FBI on the jaw as he fell forward. Margareta looked at me,
wide-eyed.

"That handbag packs a wallop," I said. "Nice work, Maggie." I knelt,
pulled off the fellow's belt, and cinched his hands behind his back
with it. Margareta got the idea, did the same for the other man, who
was beginning to groan now.

"Who are these men?" she said. "What----"

"I'll tell you all about it later. Right now, I have to get to some
people I know, get this story on the wires, out in the open. State'll
be a little shy about gunning me down or locking me up without trial,
if I give the show enough publicity."

I reached in my pocket, handed her the black-and-gold-marked cylinder.
"Just to be on the safe side," I said, "mail this to me: John Jones--at
Itzenca, general delivery."

"All right," said Margareta. "And I have your things." She stepped into
the hall, came back with a shopping bag and a suit carton. She took a
wad of bills from her handbag and handed it to me.

I went to her and put my arms around her. "Listen, honey: as soon as
I leave, go to the bank and draw fifty grand. Get out of the country.
They haven't got anything on you except that you beaned a couple of
intruders in your apartment, but it'll be better if you disappear.
Leave an address care of Poste Restante, Basel, Switzerland. I'll get
in touch when I can."

She put up an argument but I made my point. Twenty minutes later I was
pushing through the big glass doors onto the sidewalk, clean-shaven,
dressed to the teeth, with five grand on one hip and a .32 on the
other. I'd had a good meal and a fair sleep, and against me the secret
services of two or three countries didn't have a chance.

I got as far as the corner before they nailed me.



CHAPTER XII


"You have a great deal to lose," General Smale was saying, "and nothing
to gain by your stubbornness. You're a young man, vigorous and, I'm
sure, intelligent. You have a fortune of some million and a quarter
dollars, which I assure you you'll be permitted to keep. As against
that prospect, so long as you refuse to cooperate, we must regard you
as no better than a traitorous criminal--and deal with you accordingly."

"What have you been feeding me?" I said. "My mouth tastes like
somebody's old gym shoes and my arm's purple to the elbow. Don't you
know it's illegal to administer drugs without a license?"

"The nation's security is at stake," snapped Smale.

"The funny thing is, it must not have worked, or you wouldn't be
begging me to tell all. I thought that scopolamine or whatever you're
using was the real goods."

"We've gotten nothing but gibberish," Smale said, "most of it in an
incomprehensible language. Who the devil are you, Legion? Where do you
come from?"

"You know everything," I said. "You told me yourself. I'm a guy named
Legion, from Mount Sterling, Illinois, population one thousand eight
hundred and ninety-two."

"I'm a humane man, Legion. But if necessary I'll beat it out of you."

"You?" I smiled, curling a lip. "You mean you'll call in a herd of
plug-uglies: real crooks, to do the dirty work. My only crime is
knowing something you politicians want, and you're willing to lie,
cheat, steal, torture, and kill to get it. You know that and so do I;
let's not kid each other. I know your measure as a man, Mr. General."

Smale had gone white. "I'm in a position to inflict agonies on you,
you insolent rotter," he grated. "I've refrained from doing so. You
might add that to your analysis of my character. I'm a soldier; I
know my duty. I'm prepared to give my life; if need be, my honor. I'm
even prepared to forego your good opinion--so long as I obtain for my
government the information you're withholding."

"Turn me loose; then ask me in a nice way. As far as I know, I haven't
got anything of military significance to tell you, but if I were
treated as a free citizen I might be inclined to let you be the judge
of that."

"Tell us now; then you'll go free."

"Sure," I said. "I invented a combination rocket ship and time machine.
I traveled around the solar system and made a few short trips back into
history. In my spare time I invented other gadgets. I'm planning to
take out patents, so naturally I don't intend to spill any secrets. Can
I go now?"

Smale got to his feet. "Until we can safely move you, you'll remain in
this room. You're on the sixty-third floor of the Yordano Building.
The windows are of unbreakable glass, in case you contemplate a
particularly untidy suicide. Your person has been stripped of all
potentially dangerous items, though I suppose you could still swallow
your tongue and suffocate. The door is of heavy construction, and
securely locked."

"I forgot to tell you," I said. "I mailed a letter to a friend, telling
him all about you. The sheriff will be here with a posse any minute
now, to spring me----"

"You mailed no letter," Smale said. "Unfortunately, we don't feel it
would be advisable to allow any furniture to remain here which you
might be foolish enough to dismantle for use as a weapon. It's rather
a drab room to spend your future in, but until you decide to cooperate
this will be your world."

I didn't say anything. I sat on the floor and watched him leave. I
caught a glimpse of two uniformed men outside the door. No doubt they'd
take turns looking through the peephole. I'd have solitude without
privacy. I wondered if Margareta had managed to mail the cylinder.

I stretched out on the floor, which was padded with a nice thick rug,
presumably so that I wouldn't beat my brains out against it just to
spite them. I was way behind on my sleep: being interrogated while
unconscious wasn't a very restful procedure. I wasn't too worried. In
spite of what Smale said, they couldn't keep me here forever. Maybe
Margareta had gotten clear and told the story to some newsmen; this
kind of thing couldn't stay hidden forever. Or could it?

I thought about what Smale had said about my talking gibberish under
the narcotics. That was an odd one....

Quite suddenly I got it. By means of the drugs they must have tapped a
level where the Vallonian background briefing was stored: they'd been
firing questions at a set of memories that didn't speak English. I
grinned, then laughed out loud. Luck was still in the saddle with me.

       *       *       *       *       *

The glass was in double panels, set in aluminum frames and sealed
with a plastic strip. The space between the two panels of glass was
evacuated of air, creating an insulating barrier against the heat of
the sun. I ran a finger over the aluminum. It was dural: good tough
stuff. If I had something to pry with, I might possibly lever the metal
away from the glass far enough to take a crack at the edge, the weak
point of armor-glass ... if I had something to hit it with.

Smale had done a good job of stripping the room--and me. I had my shirt
and pants and shoes, but no tie or belt. I still had my wallet--empty,
a pack of cigarettes with two wilted weeds in it, and a box of matches.
Smale had missed a bet: I might set fire to my hair and burn to the
ground. I might also stuff a sock down my throat and strangle, or hang
myself with a shoe lace--but I wasn't going to.

I looked at the window some more. The door was too tough to tackle, and
the heavies outside were probably hoping for an excuse to work me over.
They wouldn't expect me to go after the glass; after all, I was still
sixty-three stories up. What would I do if I did make it to the window
sill? But we could worry about that later, after I had smelled the
fresh air.

My forefinger found an irregularity in the smooth metal: a short
groove. I looked closer, saw a screw head set flush with the aluminum
surface. Maybe if the frame was bolted together----

No such luck; the screw I had found was the only one. What was it for?
Maybe if I removed it I'd find out. But I'd wait until dark to try it.
Smale hadn't left a light fixture in the room. After sundown I'd be
able to work unobserved.

A couple of hours went by and no one came to disturb my solitude, not
even to feed me. Maybe they planned to starve me out; or maybe they
weren't used to being jailers and had forgotten the animals had to be
fed.

I had a short scrap of metal I'd worked loose from my wallet. It was
mild steel, flimsy stuff, only about an inch long, but I was hoping the
screw might not be set too tight. Aluminum threads strip pretty easily,
so it probably wasn't cinched up too hard.

There was no point in theorizing. It was dark now; I'd give it a
try. I went to the window, fitted the edge of metal into the slotted
screw-head, and twisted. It turned, just like that. I backed it off ten
turns, twenty; it was a thick bolt with fine threads. It came free and
air whooshed into the hole. The screw apparently sealed the panel after
the air was evacuated.

I thought it over. If I could fill the space between the panels with
water and let it freeze ... quite a trick in the tropics. I might as
well plan to fill it with gin and set it on fire.

I was going in circles. Every idea I had started with 'if'. I needed
something I could manage with the materials at hand: cloth, a box of
matches, a few bits of paper.

I got out a cigarette, lit up, and while the match was burning examined
the hole from which I'd removed the plug. It was about three-sixteenths
of an inch in diameter and an inch deep, and there was a hole near the
bottom communicating with the air space between the glass panels. It
was an old-fashioned method of manufacture but it seemed to have worked
all right: the air was pumped out and the hole sealed with the screw.
It had at any rate the advantage of being easy to service if the panel
leaked. Now, with some way of pumping air _in_, I could blow out the
panels....

There was no pump on the premises but I did have some chemicals: the
match heads. They were old style too, like a lot of things in Peru: the
strike-once-and-throw-away kind.

I sat on the floor and started to work, chipping the heads off the
matchsticks, collecting the dry, purplish material on a scrap of
paper. Thirty-eight matches gave me a respectable sample. I packed it
together, rolled it in the paper, and crimped the ends. Then I tucked
the makeshift firecracker into the hole the screw had come from.

Using the metal scrap I scraped at the threads of the screw, burring
them. Then I started it in the hole, half a dozen turns, until it came
up against the match heads.

The shoes Margareta had bought me were the latest thing in Lima styles,
with thin soles, pointed toes, and built-up leather heels: Bad on the
feet, but just the thing to pound with. I thought about trying to work
loose a piece of rug to shield my face, but decided against it. I'd
have to stand aside and take my chances.

I took the shoe by the toe and hefted it: the flexible sole gave it a
good action, like a well-made sap. There were still a couple of 'if's'
in the equation, but a healthy crack on the screw ought to drive it
against the packed match-heads hard enough to detonate them, and the
expanding gasses from the explosion ought to exert enough pressure
against the glass panels to break them. I'd know in a second.

I flattened myself against the wall, brought the shoe up, and laid it
on the screw-head with everything I had....

There was a deafening boom, a blast of hot air, and a chemical stink,
then a gust of cool night wind--and I was on the sill, my back to the
street six hundred feet below, my fingers groping for a hold on the
ledge above the window. I found a grip, pulled up, reached higher, got
my feet on the muntin strip, paused to rest for three seconds, reached
again....

I pulled my feet above the window level and heard shouts in the room
below:

"--fool killed himself!"

"Get a light in here!"

I clung, breathing deep, and murmured thanks to the architect who had
stressed a strong horizontal element in his façade and arranged the
strip windows in bays set twelve inches from the face of the structure.
Now, if the boys below would keep their eyes on the street long enough
for me to get on the roof--

I looked up, to get an idea how far I'd have to go--and gripped the
ledge convulsively as the whole building leaned out, tilting me back....

Cold sweat ran into my eyes. I squeezed the stone until my knuckles
creaked, and held on. I laid my cheek against the rough plaster,
listening to my heart thump. Adrenalin and high hopes had gotten me
this far ... and now it had all drained out and left me, a frail
ground-loving animal, flattened against the cruel face of a tower, like
a fly on a ceiling, with nothing between me and the unyielding concrete
below but the feeble grip of fingers and toes. I started to yell for
help, and the words stuck in my dry throat. I breathed in shallow
gasps, feeling my muscles tightening, until I hung, rigid as a board,
afraid even to roll my eyeballs for fear of dislodging myself. I closed
my eyes, felt my hands going numb, and tried again to yell: only a thin
croak emerged.

A minute earlier I had had only one worry: that they'd look up and see
me. Now my worst fear was that they wouldn't.

This was the end. I'd been close before, but not like this. My fingers
could take the strain for maybe another minute, maybe even two; then
I'd let go, and the wind would whip at me for a few timeless seconds,
before I hit....

I had had a lot of big ideas but in the cosmic scheme I was a gnat on
a windshield. I thought I'd learned something, was a jump ahead of
most guys, and could play the meaningless game with a certain flair.
But my fancy philosophies were words written in smoke when they came
up against the raw power of blind instinct. My conscious mind had an
I.Q. of 148, but the idiot subconscious that had frozen me here hadn't
learned anything since the first ape that had owned it rode out a storm
in a tree-top and lived to be my ancestor.... I heard a sound and it
was me, whimpering. I was a poor weakling, out of his element, bleating
for mercy.

Down inside of me something didn't like the picture. A small defiance
flickered, found a foothold, burned brighter. I would die ... but that
would solve a lot of problems. And if I had to die, at least I could
die trying.

My mind moved in to take over from my body. It was the body that was
wasting my last strength on a precarious illusion of safety, numbing
my senses, paralyzing me. It was a tyranny I wouldn't accept. I needed
a cool head and a steady hand and an unimpaired sense of balance;
and if the imbecile body wouldn't cooperate the mind would take it by
the scruff of the neck and force it. I'd been feeding this hulk for
thirty-odd years; now it would do what I told it. First: loosen the
grip--

Yes! If it killed me: bend those fingers! Sure, I might fall--all the
way--and splatter when I hit, but did this lousy slab of meat expect to
live forever? I had news for it: time was short, any way you figured.

I was standing a little looser now, my hands resting flat, my legs
taking the load. I had a good wide ledge to stand on: nearly a foot,
and in a minute I was going to reach up and get a new hold and lift one
foot at a time ... and if I slipped, at least I'd have done it my way.

I let go, and the building leaned out, and to hell with it....

I felt for the next ledge, gripped it, pulled up, found a toe-hold.

Sure, I was dead. It was a long way to the top, and there was a fancy
cornice I'd never get over, but when the moment came and I started the
long ride down I'd thumb my nose at the old hag, Instinct, who hadn't
been as tough as she thought she was....

       *       *       *       *       *

I was under the cornice now, hanging on for a breather, and listening
to the hooting and hollering from the window far below. A couple of
heads had popped out and taken a look, but it was dark up where I was
and all the attention was centered down where the crowd had gathered
and lights were playing, looking for a mess. Pretty soon now they'd
begin to get the drift--so I'd better be going.

I looked up at the overhang ... and felt the old urge to clutch and
hang on. So I leaned outward a little further, just to show me who
was boss. It was a long reach, and I'd have to risk it all on one
lunge because, if I missed, there wasn't any net, and my fingers knew
it. I heard my nails rasp on the plaster. I grated my teeth together
and unhooked one hand: it was like a claw carved from wood. I took
a half-breath, bent my knees slightly; they were as responsive as a
couple of bumper-jacks bolted on to the hip. Tough; but it was now or
never....

I let go with both hands and stretched, leaning back....

My wooden hands bumped the edge, scrabbled, hooked on, as my legs
swung free, and I was hanging like an old-time sailor strung up by
the thumbs. A wind off the roof whipped at my face and now I was a
tissue-paper doll, fluttering in the breeze.

I had to pull now, pull hard, heave myself up and over the edge, but I
was tired, too tired. My crepe paper arms with the wooden hands seemed
to belong to someone else, someone who'd been dead a long time....

But the someone was me: death was an old story, one that I wrote
myself. This was something that had happened before, long ago, and the
palindrome of life was finished where it started, and a dark curtain
was falling....

Then from the darkness a voice was speaking in a strange language: a
confusion of strange thought symbols, but through them an ever more
insistent call:

_... dilate the secondary vascular complex, shunt full conductivity to
the upsilon neuro-channel. Now, stripping oxygen ions from fatty cell
masses, pour in electro-chemical energy to the sinews...._

With a smooth surge of power I pulled myself up, fell forward, rolled
onto my back, and lay on the flat roof, the beautiful flat roof, still
warm from the day's sun.

I was here, looking at the stars, safe; and later on when I had more
time I'd stop to think about it. But now I had to move, before they
had time to organize themselves, cordon off the building, and start a
floor-by-floor search.

Staggering from the exertion of the long climb I got to my feet, went
to the shed housing the entry to the service stair. The door was
locked. I didn't waste any time kicking at it; I got a leg up and stood
on the doorknob. Two jumps and it snapped off. I pushed the stub of the
shaft through and tickled the back edge of the locking tongue, eased it
out. The door opened.

A short flight of steps led down to a storeroom. There were dusty
boards, dried-up paint cans, odd tools. I picked up a five-foot length
of two-by-four and a hammer with one claw missing, and stepped out into
the hall. The street was a long way down and I didn't feel like wasting
time with stairs. I found the elevator, pushed the button, stood in
front of it whistling. A fat man in a drab suit came along, looked
at me distastefully, thought about telling me that workmen used the
freight elevator, then changed his mind and said nothing.

The elevator arrived. I stepped in jauntily. The fat man followed me,
pushed the button for the foyer. I smiled and nodded, went on whistling.

We stopped and the doors opened. I waited for the fat man to leave,
then glanced out, tightening my grip on the hammer, and followed.
I could see the lights in the street out front and in the distance
there was the wail of a siren, but nobody in the lobby looked my way.
I headed across toward the side exit, dumped the board at the door,
tucked the hammer in the waist band of my pants, and stepped out onto
the pavement. There were a lot of people hurrying past but this was
Lima: they didn't waste a glance on a barefooted carpenter.

I moved off, not hurrying. There was a lot of rough country between
me and Itzenca, the little town near which the life boat was hidden
in a cañon, but I aimed to cover it in a week. Some time between now
and tomorrow I'd have to figure out a way to equip myself with a few
necessities, but I wasn't worried. A man who had successfully taken up
human-fly work in middle life wouldn't have any trouble stealing a pair
of boots.

Foster had shoved off for home three years ago, local time, although to
him, aboard the ship, only a few weeks might have passed. My lifeboat
was a midge compared to the mother ship he rode, but it had plenty of
speed. Once aboard the lugger ... and maybe I could put a little space
between me and the big boys I was up against now.

I had used the best camouflage I knew of on the boat. The near-savage
native bearers who had done my unloading and carried my Vallonian
treasures across the desert to the nearest railhead were not the
gossipy type. If General Smale's boys had heard about the boat, they
hadn't mentioned it. And if they had: well, I'd solve that one when I
got to it. There were still quite a few 'if's' in the equation, but my
arithmetic was getting better all the time.



CHAPTER XIII


I took the precaution of sneaking up on the lifeboat in the dead of
night, but I could have saved myself a crawl. Except for the fact that
the camouflage nets had rotted away to shreds, the ship was just as I
had left it, doors sealed. Why Smale's team hadn't found it, I didn't
know; I'd think that one over when I was well away from Earth.

It had been a long tough trip from Lima to the cañon, but I had made
it without interference. I had swapped my platinum finger ring for a
beat-up .38 pistol, but I hadn't had to use it. In a shabby bar in
one of the villages I passed through I had heard a battered radio
sputtering news; there was no mention of the assault on the island, or
of my escape. It seemed that all parties were willing to cover it up
and pretend it hadn't happened.

I went into the post office at Itzenca and picked up the parcel
Margareta had mailed me with Foster's memory-trace in it. While I was
checking to see whether Uncle Sam's minions had intercepted the package
and substituted a carrot, I felt something rubbing against my shin.
I glanced down and saw a grey and white cat, reasonably clean and
obviously hungry. I don't know whether I'd ploughed through a field of
wild catnip the night before or if it was my way with a finger behind
the furry ears, but Kitty followed me out of Itzenca and right into the
bush. She kept pace with me, leading most of the time, as far as the
space boat, and was the first one aboard.

I didn't waste time with formalities. I had once audited a briefing
rod on the boat's operation--not that I had ever expected to use the
information for a take-off. Once aboard, I hit the controls and cut a
swathe through the atmosphere that must have sent fingers jumping for
panic buttons from Washington to Moscow.

I didn't know how many weeks or months of unsullied leisure stretched
ahead of me now. There would be time and to spare for exploring the
boat, working out a daily routine, chewing over the details of both my
memories, and laying plans for my arrival on Foster's world, Vallon.
But first I wanted to catch a show that was making a one-night stand
for me only: the awe-inspiring spectacle of the retreating earth.

I dropped into a seat opposite the screen and flipped into view the big
luminous ball of wool that was my home planet. I'd been hoping to get
a last look at my island, but I couldn't see it. The whole sphere was
blanketed in cloud: a thin worn blanket in places but still intact.
But the moon was a sight! An undipped Edam cheese with the markings of
Roquefort. For a quarter of an hour I watched it grow until it filled
my screen. It was too close for comfort. I dumped the tabby out of my
lap and adjusted a dial. The dead world swept past, and I had a brief
glimpse of burst bubbles of craters that became the eyes and mouth and
pock marks of a face on a head that swung away from me in disdain and
then the sibling planets dwindled and were gone forever.

The lifeboat was completely equipped, and I found comfortable quarters.
An ample food supply was available by the touch of a panel on the table
in the screen-room. That was a trick my predecessor with the dental
jewelery hadn't discovered, I guessed. During the courses of my first
journey earthward and on my visits to the boat for saleable playthings
while she lay in dry-dock, I had discovered most of the available
amenities aboard. Now I luxuriated in a steaming bath of recycled
water, sponged down with disposable towels packed in scented alcohol,
fed the cat and myself, and lay down to sleep for about two weeks.

By the third week I was reasonably refreshed and rested. The scars from
my recent brushes with what passed as the law were healed. I had gotten
over regretting the toys I'd left behind on my island and the money in
my banks in Lima and Switzerland, and even Margareta. I was headed for
a new world; there was no point in dragging along old attachments.

The cat was a godsend, I began to realize. I named her Itzenca, after
the village where she adopted me, and I talked to her by the hour. I
always had felt that there was a subtle difference between talking to
somebody else and talking to yourself. The latter gets a little tedious
after the first few days but you can keep the other up indefinitely. So
Itz got talked to plenty as we rode to the stars.

"Say, Itz," said I, "where would you like your sand box situated? Right
there in front of the TV screen? There's not much traffic there, since
we cleared the solar system. You'd have the place all to yourself."

No, said Itzenca by a flirt of her tail. And she walked over behind a
crate that had never been unloaded on earth.

I pulled out a box of junk and slid the sand box in its place. Itzenca
promptly lost interest and instead jumped up on the junk box which fell
off the bench and scattered small objects of khaff and metal in all
directions.

"Come back here, blast you," I said, "and help me pick up this stuff."

Itz bounded after a dull-gleaming silver object that was still rolling.
I was there almost as quick as she was and grabbed up the cylinder.
Suddenly the horsing around was over. This thing was somebody's memory.

I dropped onto a bench to examine it, my Vallonian-inspired pulse
pounding. "Where the heck did this come from, cat?" I said.

Itz jumped up into my lap and nosed the cylinder. I was trying to hark
back to those days three years before when I had loaded the lifeboat
with all the loot it would carry, for the trip back to earth.

"Listen, Itz, we've got to do some tall remembering. Let's see: there
was a whole rack of blanks in the memory-recharging section of the room
where we found the three skeletons. Yeah, now I remember: I pulled this
one out of the recorder set, which means it had been used, but not yet
color-coded. I showed it to Foster when he was hunting his own trace.
He didn't realize I'd pulled it out of the machine and he thought it
was an empty. But I'll bet you somebody had his mind taped, and then
left in a hurry, before the trace could be color-coded and filed.

"On the other hand, maybe it's a blank that had just been inserted
when somebody broke up the play-house.... But wasn't there something
Foster said ... about when he woke up, way back when, with a pile of
fresh corpses around him? He gave somebody emergency treatment and to a
Vallonian that would include a complete memory-transcription.... Do you
realize what I've got here in my hand, Itz?"

She looked up at me inquiringly.

"This is what's left of the guy that Foster buried: his pal, Ammaerln,
I think he called him. What's inside this cylinder used to be tucked
away in the skull of the ancient sinner. The guy's not so dead after
all. I'll bet his family will pay plenty for this trace, and be
grateful besides. That'll be an ace in the hole in case I get too
hungry on Vallon."

I got up and crossed the apartment; Itz followed me out to my sleeping
couch. I dropped the trace in a drawer beside Foster's own memory.

"Wonder how Foster's making out without his past, Itz? He claimed
the one I've got here would only be a copy of the original stored
at Okk-Hamiloth, but my briefing didn't say anything about copying
memories. He must be somebody pretty important to rate that service."

Suddenly my eyes were riveted to the markings on Foster's trace lying
in the drawer. "'Sblood! The royal colors!" I sat down on the bed with
a lurch. "Itzenca, old gal, it looks like we'll be entering Vallonian
society from the top. We've been consorting with a member of the
Vallonian nobility!"

During the days that followed, I tried again and again to raise Foster
on the communicator ... without result. I wondered how I'd find him
among the millions on the planet. My best bet would be to get settled
down in the Vallonian environment, then start making a few inquiries.

I would play it casually: act the part of a Vallonian who had merely
been travelling for a few hundred years--which wasn't unheard of--and
play my cards close to my gravy stains until I learned what the score
was. With my Vallonian briefing I ought to be able to carry it off. The
Vallonians might not like illegal immigrants any better than they did
back home, so I'd keep my interesting foreign background to myself.

I would need a new name. I thought over several possibilities and
selected "Drgon". It was as good a Vallonian jawbreaker as any.

I canvassed the emergency wardrobe that was standard equipment
on Far-Voyager lifeboats. There was everything from fur-lined
parka-type suits for outings on worlds like Pluto to sheer silk
one-man-air-conditioner balloon over-alls for stepping out on Venus. In
amongst them was a selection of dresses reminiscent of ancient Greece.
They had been the sharp style of Vallon when Foster left home. They
looked comfortable. I picked one in a sober color, then got busy with
the cutting and seaming unit to fit it to my frame. I didn't plan to
attract unnecessary attention with ill-fitting garments when I crossed
my first Vallonians.

Itzenca watched with interest. "What the heck am I going to do with you
on Vallon?" I asked her. "The only cat on the planet. You may have to
put up with an iggrfn for a boy friend," I said searching my Vallonian
memory. "They're about the nearest thing to you in size and shape ...
but they're kind of objectionable, personality wise."

I finished off my new duds, then dug through the handicrafts gear and
picked out a sheet of khaffite, a copper-like Vallonian alloy that
was supposed to have almost the durability of khaff without being so
hard to work. There were appropriate tools in the little workshop for
shaping it and adding decoration.

"Don't worry," I said to Itz. "You won't go ashore shabbily clad
either. You'll be a knockout in this item." I parked her on the
workbench and sat down to my tools. I clipped out an inch-wide strip
of the khaffite, shaped it in a circle, and fitted it with a slip-out
catch. After a leisurely meal I spent what passed for an evening
etching "ITZENCA" on the new collar with plenty of curlicues.
Then I fitted it on her; she didn't seem to mind a bit.

"There. All set to wow those Vallonians like they've never been wowed."
Itzenca purred.

We strolled into the observation lounge. Strange bright-hued star
systems glowed far away. "We'll be stepping out with our memories any
night now," I said.

       *       *       *       *       *

The proximity alarms were ringing. I watched the screen with its image
of a great green world rimmed on one edge with glaring white from the
distant giant sun, on the other flooded with a cool glow reflected
from the blue outer planet. The trip was almost over and my confidence
was beginning to fray around the edges. In a few minutes I would be
stepping into an unknown world, all set to find my old pal Foster and
see the sights. I didn't have a passport, but there was no reason to
anticipate trouble. All I had to do was let my natural identity take
a back seat and allow my Vallonian background to do the talking. And
yet....

Now Vallon spread out below us, a misty grey-green landscape, bright
under the glow of the immense moonlike sister world, Cinte. I had set
the landing monitor for Okk-Hamiloth, the capital city of Vallon. That
was where Foster would have headed, I guessed. Maybe I could pick up
the trail there.

The city was directly below: a vast network of blue-lit avenues. I
hadn't been contacted by Planetary Control. That was normal enough,
however. A small vessel coming in on auto could handle itself.

A little apprehensively I ran over my lines a last time: I was Drgon,
citizen of the Two Worlds, back from a longer-than-average season
of far-voyaging and in need of briefing rods to bring me up to date
on developments at home. I also required assignment of quarters. My
tailoring was impeccable, my command of the language a little rusty
from long non-use, and the only souvenirs I had to declare were a
tattered native costume from my last port of call, a quaint weapon from
the same, and a small animal I had taken a liking to.

       *       *       *       *       *

The landing ring was visible on the screen now, coming slowly up to
meet us. There was a gentle shock and then absolute stillness. I
watched the port cycle open; I went to it and looked out at the pale
city stretching away to the hills. I took a breath of the fragrant
night air spiced with a long-forgotten perfume, and the part of me that
was now Vallonian ached with the inexpressible emotion of homecoming.

I started to buckle on my pistol and gather up a few belongings, then
decided to wait until I'd met the welcoming committee. I whistled to
Itzenca and we stepped out and down. We crossed the clipped green,
luminous in the glow from the lights over the high-arched gate marking
the path that curved up toward the bright-lit terraces above. There
was no one in sight. Bright Cintelight showed me the gardens and walks
and, when I reached the terraces, the avenues beyond ... but no people.
I stood by a low wall of polished marble and thought about it. It was
about midnight, and the nights on Vallon lasted twenty-eight hours,
but there should have been some activity here. This was a busy port:
scheduled vessels, private yachts, official ships, all of them came and
went from Okk-Hamiloth. But not tonight.

The cat and I walked across the terrace, passed through the open arch
to a refreshment lounge. The low tables and cushioned couches stood
empty under the rosy light from the ceiling panels. My slippered feet
whispered on the polished floor.

I stood and listened: dead silence. There wasn't even the hum of a
mosquito; all such insect pests had been killed off long ago. The
lights glowed, the tables waited invitingly. How long had they waited?

I sat down at one of them and thought hard. I had made a lot of plans,
but I hadn't counted on a deserted spaceport. How was I going to ask
questions about Foster if there was no one to ask?

I got up and moved on through the empty lounge, past a wide arcade,
out onto a terraced lawn. A row of tall poplar-like trees made a
dark wall beyond a still pool, and behind them distant towers loomed,
colored lights sparkled. A broad avenue swept in a wide curve between
fountains, slanted away to the hills. A hundred yards from where I
stood a small vehicle was parked at the curb; I headed for it.

It was an open two-seater, low-slung, cushioned, finished in violet
inlays against bright chrome. I slid into the seat, looked over the
controls, while Itzenca skipped to a place beside me. There was a
simple lever arrangement: a steering tiller. It looked easy. I tried a
few pulls and pushes; lights blinked on the panel, the car quivered,
lifted a few inches, drifted slowly across the road. I moved the
tiller, twiddled things; the car moved off toward the towers. I didn't
like the controls; a wheel and a couple of foot pedals would have
suited me better; but it beat walking.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two hours later we had cruised the city ... and found nothing. It
hadn't changed from what my extra memory recalled--except that all the
people were gone. The parks and boulevards were trimmed, the fountains
and pools sparkled, the lights glowed ... but nothing moved. The
automatic dust precipitators and air filters would run forever, keeping
things clean and neat; but there was no one there to appreciate it. I
pulled over, sat watching the play of colored lights on a waterfall,
and considered. Maybe I'd find more of a clue inside one of the
buildings. I left the car and picked one at random: a tall slab of
pink crystal. Inside, I looked around at a great airy cavern full of
rose-colored light and listened to the purring of the cat and my own
breathing. There was nothing else to hear.

I picked a random corridor, went along it, passed through empty rooms.
It was all in the old Vallonian style: walls paneled in jade, brocades
hangings in iridescent colors, rugs like pools of fire. In one chamber
I picked up a cloak of semi-velvet and put it over my shoulders; I was
getting cold in my daytime street dress. Walking among the tangible
ghosts of the long past didn't warm me up any. We climbed a wide spiral
stair, passed from vacant room to vacant room. I thought of the people
who had once used them. Where were they now?

I found a clarinet-like musical instrument and blew a few notes on it.
It had a deep mellow tone that echoed along the deserted corridor. I
thought it sounded a lot like I felt: sad and forgotten. I went out
onto a lofty terrace overlooking gardens, leaned on a balustrade, and
looked up at the brilliant disc of Cinte. It loomed enormous, its
diameter four times that of the earthly moon.

"We've come a long way to find nothing," I said to Itzenca. She pushed
her way along my leg and flexed her tail in a gesture meant to console.
But it didn't help. After the long wait, the tension of expectation, I
felt suddenly as empty as the silent halls of the building.

I sat on the balustrade and leaned back against the polished pink
wall, took out the clarinet and blew some blue notes. That which once
had been was no more; remembering it, I played the _Pavane for a
Dead Princess_, and felt a forlorn nostalgia for a glory I had never
known....

I finished and looked up at a sound. Four tall men in grey cloaks and
a glitter of steel came toward me from the shadows.

       *       *       *       *       *

I had dropped the clarinet and was on my feet. I tried to back up but
the balustrade stopped me. The four spread out. The man in the lead
fingered a wicked-looking short club and spoke to me--in gibberish. I
blinked at him and tried to think of a snappy comeback.

He snapped his fingers and two of the others came up; they reached for
my arms. I started to square off, fist cocked, then relaxed; after all,
I was just a tourist, Drgon by name. Unfortunately, before I could get
my fist back, the man with the club swung it and caught me across the
forearm. I yelled, jumped back, found myself grappled by the others. My
arm felt dead to the shoulder. I tried a kick and regretted that too;
there was armor under the cloaks. The club wielder said something and
pointed at the cat....

It was time I wised up. I relaxed, tried to coax my _alter ego_ into
the foreground. I listened to the rhythm of the language: it was
Vallonian, badly warped by time, but I could understand it:

"----musician would be an Owner!" one of them said.

Laughter.

"Whose man are you, piper? What are your colors?"

I curled my tongue, tried to shape it around the sort of syllables
I heard them uttering; it seemed to me a gross debasement of the
Vallonian I knew. Still I managed an answer:

"I ... am a ... citizen ... of Vallon."

"A dog of a masterless renegade?" The man with the club hefted it,
glowered at me. "And what wretched dialect is that you speak?"

"I have ... been long a-voyaging," I stuttered. "I ask ... for briefing
rods ... and for a ... dwelling place."

"A dwelling place you'll have," the man said. "In the men's shed at
Rath-Gallion." He gestured, and handcuffs snapped on my wrists.

He turned and stalked away, and the others hustled me after him. Over
my shoulder I got a glimpse of a cat's tail disappearing over the
balustrade. Outside, a long grey air-car waited on the lawn. They
dumped me in the back seat, climbed aboard. I got a last look at the
spires of Okk-Hamiloth as we tilted, hurtled away across the low hills.

Somewhere in the shuffle I had lost my new cloak. I shivered. I
listened to the talk, and what I heard didn't make me feel any better.
The chain between my wrists kept up a faint jingling. I gathered I'd
be hearing a lot of that kind of music from now on. I had had an
idealistic notion of wanting to fit into this new world, find a place
in its society. I'd found a place all right: a job with security.

I was a slave.



CHAPTER XIV


It was banquet night at Rath-Gallion, and I gulped my soup in the
kitchen and ran over in my mind the latest batch of jingles I was
expected to perform. I had only been on the Estate a few weeks, but I
was already Owner Gope's favorite piper. If I kept on at this rate, I
would soon have a cell to myself in the slave pens.

Sime, the pastry cook, came over to me.

"Pipe us a merry tune, Drgon," he said, "and I'll reward you with a
frosting pot."

"With pleasure, good Sime," I said. I finished off the soup and got out
my clarinet. I had tried out half a dozen strange instruments, but I
still liked this one best. "What's your pleasure?"

"One of the outland tunes you learned far-voyaging," called Cagu, the
bodyguard.

I complied with the _Beer Barrel Polka_. They pounded the table and
hallooed when I finished, and I got my goody pan. Sime stood watching
me scrape at it.

"Why don't you claim the Chief Piper's place, Drgon?" Sime said. "You
pipe rings around the lout. Then you'd have freeman status, and could
sit among us in the kitchen almost as an equal."

I went after the last of the chocilla frosting, licked my fingers, and
laid the pot aside.

"I'd gladly be the equal of such a pastry cook as yourself, good Sime,"
I said. "But what can a slave-piper do?"

Sime blinked at me. "You can challenge the Chief Piper," he said.
"There's none can deny you're his master in all but name. Don't fear
the outcome of the Trial; you'll triumph sure." He glanced around at
the kitchen staff. "Is it not so, goodmen?"

"I'll warrant it," the soup-master said. "If you lose, I'll take your
stripes for you."

"You're going too fast for me, goodmen," I said. "How can I claim
another's place?"

Sime waved his arms. "You have far-voyaged long indeed, Piper Drgon.
Know you naught of how the world wags these days? One would take you
for a Cintean heretic."

"As I've said, goodmen: in my youth all men were free; and the High
King ruled at Okk-Hamiloth----"

"'Tis ill to speak of these things," said Sime in a low tone. "Only
Owners know their former lives ... though I've heard it said that long
ago no man was so mean but that he recorded his lives and kept them
safe. How you came by yours, I ask not; but do not speak of it. Owner
Gope is a jealous master. Though a most generous and worshipful lord,"
he added hastily, looking around.

"I won't speak of it then, good Sime," I said. "But I have been long
away. Even the language has changed, so that I wrench my tongue in the
speaking of it. Advise me, if you will."

Sime puffed out his cheeks, frowning at me. "I scarce know where
to start," he said. "All things belong to the Owners ... as is only
right." He looked around for confirmation. The others nodded. "Men of
low skill are likewise property; and 'tis well 'tis so; else would they
starve as masterless strays ... if the Greymen failed to find them
first." He made a sign and spat. So did everybody else.

"Now men of good skill are freemen, each earning rewards as befits his
ability. I am Chief Pastry Cook to the Lord Gope, with the perquisites
of that station, therefore that none other equals my talents." He
looked around truculently, saw no challengers. "And thus it is with us
all."

"And if some varlet claims the place of any man here," put in Cagu,
"then he gotta submit to the Trial."

"Then," said Sime, pulling at his apron agitatedly, "this upstart
pastry cook must cook against me; and all in the Hall will judge; and
he who prevails is the Chief Pastry Cook, and the other takes a dozen
lashes for his impertinence."

"But fear not, Drgon," spoke Cagu. "A Chief Piper ain't but a
five-stroke man. Only a tutor is lower down among freemen. And anyway,
the good Soup-master had promised to take the lash for you."

There was a bellow from the door, and I grabbed my clarinet and
scrambled after the page. Owner Gope didn't like to wait around for
piper-slaves. I saw him looming up at his place, as I darted through to
my assigned position within the huge circle of the viand-loaded table.
The Chief Piper had just squeezed his bagpipe-like instrument and
released a windy blast of discordant sound. He was a lean, squint-eyed
creature, fond of ordering the slave-pipers about. He pranced in an
intricate pattern, pumping away at his vari-colored bladders, until
I winced at the screech of it. Owner Gope noticed him about the same
time. He picked up a heavy brass mug and half-rose to peg it at the
Chief Piper, who saw it just in time to duck. The mug hit a swollen
air-bag; a yellow one with green tassels; it burst with a sour bleat.

"As sweet a note as has been played tonight," roared Owner Gope.
"Begone, lest you call up the hill devils----"

His eye fell on me. "Here's Dugon, or Digen," he cried. "Now here's a
true piper. Summon up a fair melody, Dgron, to clear the fumes of the
last performer from the air before the wine sours."

I bowed low, wet my lips, and launched into the _One O' Clock Jump_.
To judge from the roar that went up when I finished, they liked it. I
followed with _Little Brown Jug_ and _String of Pearls_. Gope pounded
and the table quieted down.

"The rarest slave in all Rath-Gallion, I swear it," he bellowed. "Were
he not a slave, I'd drink his health."

"By your leave, Owner?" I said.

Gope stared, then nodded indulgently. "Speak then, Dugong," he said.

"I claim the place of Chief Piper. I----"

Yells rang out; Gope grinned widely.

"So be it," he said. "Shall the vote be taken now, or must we submit
to more of the vile bladderings ere we proclaim our good Dagron Chief
Piper?"

"Proclaim him!" somebody shouted.

"There must be a Trial," another offered dubiously.

Gope slammed a huge hand against the table. "Bring Lylk, the Chief
Piper, before me," he yelled. "He of the wretched air-skins."

The Piper reappeared, fingering his bladders nervously.

"The place of the Chief Piper is declared vacant," Gope said loudly.
The piper pinched a pink bladder, which emitted a thin squeak.

"----since the former Chief Piper has been advanced in degree to a new
office," continued Gope. A blue bladder moaned, lost amid yells and
cheers.

"Let these air-bags be punctured," Gope cried. "I banish their rancid
squeals forever from Rath-Gallion. Now, let all know: this former piper
is now Chief Fool to this household. Let him wear the broken bladders
as a sign of his office." There was a roar of laughter, glad cries,
whistles. Volunteers leaped to rip the colored air-bags; they died in
a final flurry of trills and flutters. A fool-slave tied the draggled
instrument to the ex-piper's head.

I gave them _Mairzy Doats_ and the former piper capered gingerly. Owner
Gope roared with laughter. I followed with _The Dipsy Doodle_ and the
new fool, encouraged by success, leaped and grimaced, pirouetted,
strutted, bladders bobbing; the crowd laughed until the tears flowed.

"A great day for Rath-Gallion," Gope shouted. "By the horns of the
sea-god, I have gained a prince of pipers and a king of fools! I
proclaim them to be ten-lash men, and both shall have places at table
henceforth!"

The Fool and I followed up with three more numbers, then Gope let us
squeeze into a space on a hard bench at the far side of the table. A
table slave put loaded plates before us.

"Well done, good Drgon," he whispered. "Do not forget us slaves in your
new honor."

"Don't worry," I said, sniffling the aroma of a big slab of roast beef.
"I'll be sneaking down for a snack every night about Cinte-rise."

I looked around the barbarically decorated hall, seeing things in
a new way. There's nothing like a little slavery to make a man
appreciate even a modest portion of freedom. Everything I had thought
I knew about Vallon had been wrong: the centuries that had passed had
changed things--and not for the better. The old society that Foster
knew was dead and buried. The old palaces and villas lay deserted,
the spaceports unused. And the old system of memory-recording that
Foster described was lost and forgotten. I didn't know what kind of a
cataclysm could have plunged the seat of a galactic empire back into
feudal darkness--but it had happened.

So far I hadn't found a trace of Foster. My questions had gotten me
nothing but blank stares. Maybe Foster hadn't made it; there could have
been an accident in space. Or perhaps he was somewhere on the opposite
side of the world. Vallon was a big planet and communications were
poor. Maybe Foster was dead. I could live out a long life here and
never find the answers.

I remembered my own disappointment at the breakdown of my illusions
that night at Okk-Hamiloth. How much more heartbreaking must have been
Foster's experience when and if he had arrived back here. And now we
were both in the same boat: with our memories of the old Vallon and the
dreary spectacle of the new providing plenty of food for bitterness.

And Foster's memory that I had been bringing him for a keepsake: what
a laugh that was! Far from being a superfluous duplicate of a master
trace to which he had expected easy access, my copy of the trace was
now, with the vaults at Okk-Hamiloth sealed and forbidden, of the
greatest possible importance to Foster--and there wasn't a machine left
on the planet to play it on.

Well, I still meant to find Foster if it took me----

Owner Gope was humming loudly and tunelessly to himself. I knew the
sign. I got ready to play again. Being Chief Piper probably wasn't
going to be just one big bowl of cherries, but at least I wasn't a
slave now. I had a long way to go, but I was making progress.

       *       *       *       *       *

Owner Gope and I got along well. He was a shrewd old duck and he
liked having such an unusual piper on hand. He had heard from the
Greymen, the free-lance police force, how I had landed at the deserted
port. He warned me, in an oblique way, not to let word get out that
I knew anything about old times in Vallon. The whole subject was
tabu--especially the old capital city and the royal palaces themselves.
Small wonder that my trespassing there had brought the Greymen down on
me in doublequick time.

Gope took me with him everywhere he went: by air-car, ground-car, or
formal river barge. There were still a lot of vehicles around, though
few people seemed to know how to use them, simple as they were to
operate. The air-cars were more useful, since they required no roads,
but Gope preferred the ground cars. I think he liked the sensation of
speed you got barrelling along a ninety or a hundred on one of the
still-perfect roads that had originally been intended merely as scenic
drives.

One afternoon several months after my promotion I dropped in at the
kitchen. I was due to shove off with Owner Gope and his usual retinue
for a visit to Bar-Ponderone, a big estate a hundred miles north of
Rath-Gallion in the direction of Okk-Hamiloth. Sime and my other old
cronies fixed me up with a healthy lunch, and warned me that it would
be a rough trip; the stretch of road we'd be using was a favorite
hang-out of road pirates.

"What I don't understand," I said, "is why Gope doesn't mount a couple
of guns on the car and blast his way through the raiders. Every time he
goes off the Estate he's taking his life in his hands."

The boys were shocked. "Even piratical renegades would never dream of
taking a man's life, good Drgon," Sime said. "Every Owner, far and
near, would band together to hunt such miscreants down. And their own
fellows would abet the hunters! Nay, none is so low as to steal all a
man's lives."

"The corsairs themselves know full well that in their next life they
may be simple goodmen--even slaves," the Chief Wine-Pourer put in. "For
you know, good Drgon, that when a member of a pirate band suffers the
Change the others lead the newman to an Estate, that he may find his
place...."

"How often do these Changes come along?" I asked.

"It varies greatly. Some men, of great strength and moral power, have
been known to go on unchanged for three or four hundred years. But
the ordinary man lives a life of eighty to one hundred years." Sime
paused. "Or it may be less. A life of travail and strife can age one
sooner than one of peace and retirement. Or unusual vicissitudes can
shorten a life remarkably. A cousin of mine, who was marooned on the
Great Stony Place in the southern half-world and who wandered for three
weeks without more to eat or drink than a small bag of wine, underwent
the Change after only fourteen years. When he was found his face was
lined and his hair had greyed, in the way that presages the Change. And
it was not long before he fell in a fit, as one does, and slept for
a night and a day. When he awoke he was a newman: young and knowing
nothing."

"Didn't you tell him who he was?"

"Nay!" Sime lowered his voice. "You are much favored of Owner Gope,
good Drgon, and rightly. Still, there are matters a man talks not
of----"

"A newman takes a name and sets out to learn whatever trade he can,"
put in the Carver of Roasts. "By his own skills he can rise ... as you
have risen, good Drgon."

"Don't you have memory machines--or briefing rods?" I persisted.
"Little black sticks: you touch them to your head and----"

Sime made a motion in the air. "I have heard of these wands: a
forbidden relic of the Black Arts----"

"Nuts," I said. "You don't believe in magic, do you, Sime? The rods are
nothing but a scientific development by your own people. How you've
managed to lose all knowledge of your own past----"

Sime raised his hands in distress. "Good Drgon, press us not in these
matters. Such things are forbidden."

"Okay, boys. I guess I'm just nosy."

I went on out to the car and climbed in to wait for Owner Gope. Trying
to learn anything about Vallon's history was about like questioning a
village of Eskimos about the great trek over from Asia: they didn't
know anything.

I had reached a few tentative conclusions on my own, however. My theory
was that some sudden social cataclysm had broken down the system
of personality reinforcement and memory recording that had given
continuity to the culture. Vallonian society, based as it was on the
techniques of memory preservation, had gradually disintegrated. Vallon
was plunged into a feudal state resembling its ancient social pattern
of fifty thousand years earlier, prior to the development of memory
recording.

The people, huddled together on Estates for protection from real or
imagined perils and shunning the old villas and cities as tabu--except
for those included in Estates--knew nothing of space travel and ancient
history. Like Sime, they had no wish even to speak of such matters.

I might have better luck with my detective work on a big Estate like
Bar-Ponderone. I was looking forward to today's trip. I was cramped on
Rath-Gallion. It was a small, poor Estate, covering only about twenty
square miles, with half a dozen villages of farmers and craftsmen and
the big house of Owner Gope. I had seen all of it--and it was a dead
end.

Gope appeared, with Cagu and two other bodyguards, four dancing girls,
and an extra-large gift hamper. They took their places and the
driver started up and wheeled the heavy car out onto the highroad.
I felt a pulse of excitement as we accelerated in the direction of
Bar-Ponderone. Maybe at the big Estate I'd get news of Foster.

We were doing about fifty down a winding mountain road. I was in the
front seat beside the driver, fiddling with my clarinet, and watching
the road from the corner of my eye. I was wishing the driver's knuckles
didn't show white on the speed control lever. He drove like a drunken
spinster, fast but nervous. It wasn't entirely his fault: Gope insisted
on plenty of speed. I was grateful for the auto steer mechanism; at
least we couldn't drive over a cliff.

We rounded a curve, the wheels screeching from the driver's awkward,
too-fast swing into the turn, and saw another car in the road a quarter
of a mile ahead, not moving but parked--sideways. The driver hit the
brakes.

Behind us Owner Gope yelled "Pirates! Don't slacken your pace, driver."

"But, but, Owner Gope----" the driver gasped.

"Ram the blackguards, if you must!" Gope shouted. "But don't stop!"

The girls in the back yelped in alarm. The flunkies set up a wail. The
driver rolled his eyes, almost lost control, then gritted his teeth,
reached out to switch off the anti-collision circuit and slam the speed
control lever against the dash. I watched for two long heartbeats
as we roared straight for the blockading car, then I slid over and
grabbed for the controls. The driver held on, frozen. I reared back
and clipped him on the jaw. He crumpled into his corner, mouth open
and eyes screwed shut, as I hit the auto-steer override and worked the
tiller. It was an awkward position for steering, but I preferred it to
hammering in at ninety per.

The car ahead was still sitting tight, now a hundred yards away, now
fifty. I cut hard to the right, toward the rising cliff face; the car
backed to block me. At the last instant I whipped to the left, barreled
past with half an inch to spare, rocketed along the ragged edge with
the left wheel rolling on air, then whipped back into the center of the
road.

"Well done!" yelled Cagu.

"But they'll give chase!" Gope shouted. "Assassins! Masterless swine!"

The driver had his eyes open now. "Crawl over me!" I barked. He mumbled
and clambered past me and I slid into his seat, still clinging to
the accelerator lever and putting up the speed. Another curve was
coming up. I grabbed a quick look in the rear-viewer: the pirates were
swinging around to follow us.

"Press on!" commanded Gope. "We're close to Bar-Ponderone; it's no more
than five miles----"

"What kind of speed have they got?" I called back.

"They'll beat us easy," said Cagu cheerfully.

"What's the road like ahead?"

"A fair road, straight and true, now that we've descended the
mountain," answered Gope.

We squealed through the turn and hit a straightaway. A curving road
branched off ahead. "What's that?" I snapped.

"A winding trail," gasped the driver. "It comes on Bar-Ponderone, but
by a longer way."

I gauged my speed, braked minutely, and cut hard. We howled up the
steep slope, into a turn between hills.

Gope shouted, "What madness is this? Are you in league with the
villains...?"

"We haven't got a chance on the straightaway," I called back. "Not in a
straight speed contest." I whipped the tiller over, then back the other
way, following the tight S-curves. We flashed past magnificent vistas
of rugged peaks and rolling plains, but I didn't have time to admire
the view. There were squeals from the odalisques in the rear seats,
a gabble of excited talk. I caught a glimpse of our pursuers, just
heading into the side road behind us.

"Any way they can head us off?" I yelled.

"Not unless they have confederates stationed ahead," said Gope, "but
these pariahs work alone."

I worked the brake and speed levers, handled the tiller. We swung
right, then left, higher and higher, then down a steep grade and up
again. The pirate car rounded a turn, only a few hundred yards behind
now. I scanned the road ahead, followed its winding course along the
mountainside, through a tunnel, then out again to swing around the
shoulder of the next peak.

"Pitch something out when we go through the tunnel!" I yelled.
"Anything!"

"My cloak," cried Gope. "And the gift hamper."

One of the flunkies started to moan. The girls caught the fever, joined
in with shrill lamentations.

"Silence!" roared Gope. "Lend a hand here, or by the sea-devil's beard
you'll be jettisoned with the rest!"

We roared into the tunnel mouth. There was a blast of air as the rear
deck cover opened. Gope and Cagu hefted the heavy gift hamper, tumbled
it out, followed it with a cloak, a wine jug, assorted sandals,
bracelets, fruit. Then we were back in the sunlight and I was fighting
the curve. In the rear-viewer I saw the pirates burst from the tunnel
mouth, Gope's black and yellow cloak spread over the canopy, smashed
fruit spattered over it, the remains of the hamper dragging under the
chassis. The car rocked and a corner of the cloak lifted, clearing the
driver's view barely in time.

"Tough luck," I said. "We've got a long straight stretch ahead, and I'm
fresh out of ideas...."

The other car gained. I held the speed bar against the dash but we were
up against a faster car; it was a hundred yards behind us, then fifty,
then pulling out to go alongside. I slowed imperceptibly, let him get
his front wheels past us, then cut sharply. There was a clash of wheel
fairings, and I fought the tiller as we rebounded from the heavier car.
He crept forward, almost alongside again; shoulder to shoulder we raced
at ninety-five down the steep grade....

I hit the brakes and cut hard to the left, slapped his right rear
wheel, slid back. He braked too; that was a mistake. The heavy car lost
traction, sliding. In slow motion, off-balanced in a skid, it rose on
its nose, ploughing up a cloud of dust. The hamper whirled away, the
cloak fluttered and was gone, then the pirate car seemed to float for
an instant in air, before it dropped, wheels up, out of sight over the
sheer cliff. We raced alone down the slope and out onto the wooded
plain toward the towers of Bar-Ponderone.

A shout went up; Owner Gope leaned forward to pound my back. "By the
nine eyes of the Hill Devil!" he bellowed, "masterfully executed!
The prince of Pipers is a prince of Drivers too! This night you'll
sit by my side at the ring-board at Bar-Ponderone in the rank of a
hundred-lash Chief Driver, I swear it!"

"Compared with making a left turn off the Outer Drive at 5:15 on a
Friday, that was nothing," I said. I held onto the tiller and tried
breathing again. I'd been a fool to try to flip a heavier car--but it
had worked. And now I'd gotten another promotion. I was doing okay.

"And let no man raise a charge of Assassination," Gope went on. "I'll
not see so clever a Driver-Piper immured. I charge you all: say nothing
of this! We'll consider that the rascals merely outdid themselves in
their villainy."

That was the first I'd thought of that angle. To take a human life was
still the one unthinkable crime in this world of immortals--because you
took not just one, but all a man's lives. The punishment was walling
up for life ... but just one life. In my case one would be enough; I
didn't have any spares. I had taken a bigger chance with Gope than I
had with the pirates.

Life here was a series of gambles, but it looked like the chance-takers
got ahead fast. My best bet was to stay on the make and calculate the
odds when it was over.

       *       *       *       *       *

I spent the first day at Bar-Ponderone rubber-necking the tall
buildings and keeping an eye open for Foster, on the off chance that I
might pass him on the street. It was about as likely as running into an
old high school chum from Perth Amboy among the body servants of the
Shah of Afghanistan, but I kept looking.

By sunset I was no wiser than before. Dressed in the latest in
Vallonian cape and ruffles, I was sitting with my buddy Cagu, Chief
Bodyguard to Owner Gope, at a small table on the first terrace at the
Palace of Merrymaking, Bar-Ponderone's biggest community feasting hall.
It looked like a Hollywood producer's idea of a twenty-first century
night club, complete with nine dance floors on five levels, indoor
pools, fountains, two thousand tables, musicians, girls, noise, colored
lights, and food fit for an Owner. It was open to all fifty-lash
goodmen of the Estate and to guests of equivalent rank. After the
back-country life at Rath-Gallion it looked like the big time to me.

Cagu was a morose-looking old cuss, but good-hearted. His face was cut
and scarred from a thousand encounters with other bodyguards and his
nose had been broken so often that it was invisible in profile.

"Where do you manage to get in all the fights, Cagu?" I asked him.
"I've known you for three months, and I haven't seen a blow struck in
anger yet."

"Here." He grinned, showing me some broken front teeth. "Swell places,
these big Estates, good Drgon; lotsa action."

"What do you do, get in street fights?"

"Nah. The boys show up down here, tank up, cruise around, you know."

"They start fights here in the dining room?"

"Sure. Good crowd here; lotsa laughs."

I picked up my drink, raised it to Cagu--and got it in my lap as
somebody jostled my arm. I looked up. A battle-scarred thug stood over
me.

"Who'sa punk, Cagu?" he said in a hoarse whisper. He probed at a back
tooth with a silver pick, rolled his eyes from me to my partner.

Cagu stood up, and threw a punch to the other plug-ugly's paunch. He
_oof!_ed, clinched, eyed me resentfully over Cagu's shoulder. Cagu
pushed him away, held him at arm's length.

"Howsa boy, Mull?" he said. "Lay offa my sidekick; greatest little
piper ina business, and a top driver too."

Mull rubbed his stomach, sat down beside me. "Ya losin' your punch,
Cagu." He looked at me. "Sorry about that. I thought you was one of the
guys." He signaled a passing waiter-slave. "Bring my friend a new suit.
Make it snappy."

"Don't the customers kind of resent it when you birds stage a
heavyweight bout in the aisle?" I asked. "A drink in the lap is
routine. It could happen in any joint in Manhattan. But a seven-course
meal would be overdoing it."

"Nah; we move down inta the Spot." He waved a thumb in the general
direction of somewhere else. He looked me over. "Where ya been, Piper?
Your first time ina Palace?"

"Drgon's been travelling," said Cagu. "He's okay. Lemme tell ya the
time these pirates pull one, see...."

Cagu and Mull swapped lies while I worked on my drinking. Although I
hadn't learned anything on my day's looking around at Bar-Ponderone,
it was still a better spot for snooping than Rath-Gallion. There were
two major cities on the Estate and scores of villages. Somewhere among
the population I might have better luck finding someone to talk history
with ... or someone who knew Foster.

"Hey!" growled Mull. "Look who's comin'."

I followed his gaze. Three thick-set thugs swaggered up to the table.
One of them, a long-armed gorilla at least seven feet tall, reached
out, took Cagu and Mull by the backs of their necks, and cracked their
skulls together. I jumped up, ducked a hoof-like fist ... and saw a
beautiful burst of fireworks followed by soothing darkness.

       *       *       *       *       *

I fumbled in the dark with the lengths of cloth entangling my legs, sat
up, cracked my head----

I groaned, freed a leg from the chair rungs, groped my way out from
under the table. A Waiter-slave helped me up, dusted me off. The
seven-foot lout lolling in a chair glanced my way, nodded.

"You shouldn't hang out with lugs like that Mull," he said. "Cagu told
me you was just a piper, but the way you come outa that chair--" He
shrugged, turned back to whatever he was watching.

I checked a few elbow and knee joints, worked my jaw, tried my neck:
all okay.

"You the one that slugged me?" I asked.

"Huh? Yeah."

I stepped over to his chair, picked a spot, and cleared my throat.
"Hey, you," I said. He turned, and I put everything I had behind a
straight right to the point of the jaw. He went over, feet in the air,
flipped a rail, and crashed down between two tables below. I leaned
over the rail. A party of indignant Tally-clerks stared up at me.

"Sorry, folks," I said. "He slipped."

A shout went up from the floor some distance away. I looked. In a
cleared circle two levels below a pair of heavy-shouldered men were
slugging it out. One of them was Cagu. I watched, saw his opponent
fall. Another man stepped in to take his place. I turned and made my
way down to the ring-side.

Cagu exchanged haymakers with two more opponents before he folded and
was hauled from the ring. I propped him up in a chair, fitted a drink
into his fist, and watched the boys pound each other. It was easy to
see why the scarred face was the sign of their craft; there was no
defensive fighting whatever. They stood toe-to-toe and hit as hard as
they could, until one collapsed. It wasn't fancy, but the fans loved
it. Cagu came to after a while and filled me in on the fighters'
backgrounds.

"So they're all top boys," he said. "But it ain't like in the old days
when I was in my prime. I could've took any three of these bums. The
only one maybe I woulda had a little trouble with is Torbu."

"Which one is he?"

"He ain't down there yet; he'll show to take on the last boys on their
feet."

More gladiators pushed their way to the Spot, pulled off
gaily-patterned cloaks and weskits, and waded in. Others folded, were
dragged clear, revived to down another and shot cheer on the fray.

After an hour the waiting line had dwindled away to nothing. The two
battlers on the Spot slugged, clinched, breathed hard, swung and
missed; the crowd booed.

"Where's Torbu?" Cagu wondered.

"Maybe he didn't come tonight," I said.

"Sure, you met him; he knocked you under the table."

"Oh, him?"

"Where'd he go?"

"The last I saw he was asleep on the floor," I said.

"Hozzat?"

"I didn't much like him slugging me. I clobbered him one."

"Hey!" yelped Cagu. His face lit up. He got to his feet.

"Hold it," I said. "What's--?"

Cagu pushed his way through to the Spot, took aim, and floored the
closest fighter, turned and laid out the other. He raised both hands
above his head.

"Rath-Gallion gotta Champion," he bellowed. "Rath-Gallion takes on all
comers." He turned, waved to me. "Our boy, Drgon, he--"

There was a bellow behind me, even louder than Cagu's. I turned, saw
Torbu, his hair mussed, his face purple, pushing through the crowd.

"Jussa crummy minute," he yelled. "I'm the Champion around here--" He
aimed a haymaker at Cagu; Cagu ducked.

"Our boy, Drgon, laid you out cold, right?" he shouted. "So now he's
the champion."

"I wasn't set," bawled Torbu. "A lucky punch." He turned to the fans.
"I'm tying my shoelace, see? And this guy--"

"Come on down, Drgon," Cagu called, waving to me again. "We'll show--"
Torbu turned and slammed a roundhouse right to the side of Cagu's jaw;
the old fighter hit the floor hard, skidded, lay still. I got to my
feet. They pulled him to the nearest table, hoisted him into a chair.
I made my way down to the little clearing in the crowd. A man bending
over Cagu straightened, face white. I pushed him aside, grabbed the
bodyguard's wrist. There was no pulse. Cagu was dead.

Torbu stood in the center of the Spot, mouth open. "What...?" he
started. I pushed between two fans, went for him. He saw me, crouched,
swung.

I ducked, uppercut him. He staggered back. I pressed him, threw lefts
and rights to the body, ducked under his wild swings, then rocked his
head left and right. He stood, knees together, eyes glazed, hands down.
I measured him, right-crossed his jaw; he dropped like a log.

Panting, I looked across at Cagu. His scarred face, white as wax, was
strangely altered now; it looked peaceful. Somebody helped Torbu to his
feet, walked him to the ring-side. It had been a big evening. Now all I
had to do was take the body home....

I went over to where Cagu was laid out on the floor. Shocked people
stood staring. Torbu was beside the body. A tear ran down his nose,
dripped on Cagu's face. Torbu wiped it away with a big scarred hand.

"I'm sorry, old friend," he said. "I didn't mean it."

I picked Cagu up and got him over my shoulder, and all the way to the
far exit it was so quiet in the Palace of Merrymaking that I could hear
my own heavy breathing and the tinkle of fountains and the squeak of my
fancy yellow plastic shoes.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the bodyguards' quarters I laid Cagu out on a bunk, then faced the
dozen scowling bruisers who stared down at the still body.

"Cagu was a good man," I said. "Now he's dead. He died like an
animal ... for nothing. That ended all his lives, didn't it, boys?
How do you like it?"

Mull glowered at me. "You talk like we was to blame," he said. "Cagu
was my compeer too."

"Whose pal was he a thousand years ago?" I snapped. "What was
he--once? What were you? Vallon wasn't always like this. There was a
time when every man was his own Owner--"

"Look, you ain't of the Brotherhood--" one thug started.

"So that's what you call it? But it's just another name for an old
racket. A big shot sets himself up as dictator--"

"We got our Code," Mull said. "Our job is to stick up for the Owner ...
and that don't mean standing around listening to some japester callin'
names."

"I'm not calling names," I snapped. "I'm talking rebellion. You boys
have all the muscle and most of the guts in this organization. Why
do you sit on your tails and let the boss live off the fat while you
murder each other for the amusement of the patrons? I say let's pay him
a call--right now. You had a birthright ... once. But it's up to you to
collect it ... before some more of you go the way Cagu did."

There was an angry mutter. Torbu came in, face swollen. I backed up to
a table, ready for trouble.

"Hold it, you birds," Torbu said. "What's goin' on?"

"This guy! He's talkin' revolt and treason," somebody said.

"He wants we should pull some rough stuff--on Owner Qohey hisself."

Torbu came up to me. "You're a stranger around Bar-Ponderone. Cagu said
you was okay. You worked me over pretty good ... and I got no hard
feelin's; that's the breaks. But don't try to start no trouble here. We
got our Code and our Brotherhood. We look out for each other; that's
good enough for us. Owner Qohey ain't no worse than any other
Owner ... and by the Code, we'll stand by him!"

"Listen to me," I said. "I know the history of Vallon: I know what
you were once and what you could be again. All you have to do is take
over the power. I can lead you to the ship I came here in. There are
briefing rods aboard, enough to show you--"

"That's enough," Torbu broke in. He made a cabalistic sign in the air.
"We ain't gettin' mixed up in no tabu ghost-boats or takin' on no
magicians and demons--"

"Hogwash! That tabu routine is just a gag to keep you away from the
cities so you won't discover what you're missing--"

"I don't wanna hafta take you to the Greymen, Drgon," Torbu growled.
"Leave it lay."

"These cities," I ploughed on. "They're standing there, empty, as
perfect as the day they were built. And you live in these flea-bitten
quarters, jammed inside the town walls, so the Greymen and renegades
won't get you."

"You wanna run things here?" Mull put in. "Go see Qohey."

"Let's all go see Qohey!" I said.

"That's something you'll have to do alone," said Torbu. "You better
move on, Drgon. I ain't turnin' you in; I know how you felt about Cagu
gettin' killed and all--but don't push it too far."

I knew I was licked. They were as stubborn as a team of mules--and just
about as smart.

Torbu motioned; I followed him outside.

"You wanna turn things upside-down, don't you? I know how it is; you
ain't the first guy to get ideas. We can't help you. Sure, things ain't
like they used to be here--and prob'ly they never were. But we got a
legend: someday the Rthr will come back ... and then the Good Time will
come back too."

"What's the Rthr?" I said.

"Kinda like a big-shot Owner. There ain't no Rthr now. But a long time
ago, back when our first lives started, there was a Rthr that was Owner
of all Vallon, and everybody lived high, and had all their lives...."
Torbu stopped, eyed me warily.

"Don't say nothing to nobody," he went on, "about what I been tellin'
you. That's a secret of the Brotherhood. But it's kind of like a hope
we got--that's what we're waitin' for, through all our lives. We got to
do the best we can, and keep true to the Code and the Brotherhood ...
and someday the Rthr will come back ... maybe."

"Okay," I said. "Dream on, big boy. And while you're treasuring your
rosy dreams you'll get your brains kicked out, like Cagu." I turned
away.

"Listen, Drgon. It's no good buckin' the system: it's too big for one
guy ... or even a bunch of guys ... but--"

I looked up. "Yeah?"

"... if you gotta stick your neck out--see Owner Gope." Abruptly Torbu
turned and pushed back through the door.

See Owner Gope, huh? Okay, what did I have to lose? I headed back along
the corridor toward Owners' country.

       *       *       *       *       *

I stood in the middle of the deep-pile carpet in Gope's suite, trying
to keep my temper hot enough to supply the gall I needed to bust in on
an Owner in the middle of the night. He sat in his ceremonial chair and
stared at me impassively.

"With your help or without it," I said, "I'm going to find the answers."

"Yes, good Drgon," he said, not bellowing for once. "I understand. But
there are matters you know not of--"

"Just get me back into the spaceport, noble Gope. I have enough
briefing rods aboard to prove my point--and a few other little items to
boot."

"It's forbidden. Do you not understand--"

"I understand too much," I snapped.

He straightened, eyed me with a touch of the old ferocity. "Mind your
tone, Drgon! I'm Owner--"

I broke in. "Do you remember Cagu? Maybe you remember him as a newman,
young, handsome, like a god out of some old legend. You've seen him
live his life. Was it a good life? Did the promise of youth ever get
paid off?"

Gope closed his eyes. "Stop," he said. "This is bad, bad...."

"'And the deaths they died I have watched beside, and the lives they
led were mine,'" I quoted. "Are you proud of them? And what about
yourself? Don't you ever wonder what you might have been ... back in
the Good Time?"

"Who are you?" asked Gope, his eyes fixed on mine. "You speak Old
Vallonian, you rake up the forbidden knowledge, and challenge the very
Powers...." He got to his feet. "I could have you immured, Drgon. I
could hand you to the Greymen, for a fate I shudder to name." He turned
and walked the length of the room restlessly, then turned back to me
and stopped.

"Matters stand ill with this fair world," he said. "Legend tells us
that once men lived as the High Gods on Vallon. There was a mighty
Owner, Rthr of all Vallon. It is whispered that he will come again--"

"Your legends are all true. You can take my word for that! But that
doesn't mean some supernatural sugar daddy is going to come along and
bail you out. And don't get the idea I think I'm the fabled answer to
prayers. All I mean is that once upon a time Vallon was a good place
to live and it could be again. Right now, it's like a land under an
enchantment--and you sleeping beauties need waking up. Your cities and
roads and ships are still here, intact. But nobody knows how to run
them and you're all afraid to try. Who scared you off? Who started the
rumors? What broke down the memory recording system? Why can't we all
go to Okk-Hamiloth and use the Archives to give everybody back what
he's lost--"

"These are dread words," said Gope.

"There must be somebody behind it. Or there was once. Who is he?"

Gope thought. "There is one man pre-eminent among us: the Great Owner,
Owner of Owners: Ommodurad by name. Where he dwells I know not. This is
a secret possessed only by his intimates."

"What does he look like? How do I get to see him?"

Gope shook his head. "I have seen him but once, closely cowled. He is
a tall man, and silent. 'Tis said--" Gope lowered his voice, "--by his
black arts he possesses all his lives. An aura of dread hangs about
him--"

"Never mind that jazz," I said. "He's a man, like other men. Stick a
knife between his ribs and you put an end to him, aura and all."

"I do not like this talk of death. Let the doer of evil deeds be
immured; it is sufficient."

"First let's find him. How can I get close to him?"

"There are those Owners who are his confidants," said Gope, "his
trusted agents. It is through them that we small Owners learn of his
will."

"Can we enlist one of them?"

"Never. They are bound to him by ties of darkness, spells and
incantations."

"I'm a fast man with a pair of loaded dice myself. It's all done with
mirrors. Let's stick to the point, noble Gope. How can I work into a
spot with one of these big shots?"

"Nothing easier. A Driver and Piper of such skills as your own can
claim what place he chooses."

"How about bodyguarding? Suppose I could take a heavy named Torbu;
would that set me in better with a new Owner?"

"Such is no place for a man of your abilities, good Drgon," Gope
exclaimed. "True, 'tis a place most close to an Owner, but there is
much danger in it. The challenge to a bodyguard involves the most
bloody hand-to-hand combat, second only to the rigors of a challenge to
an Owner himself."

"What's that?" I snapped. "Challenge an Owner?"

"Be calm, good Drgon," said Gope, staring at me incredulously. "No
common man with his wits about him will challenge an Owner."

"But I could if I wanted to?"

"In sooth ... if you have tired of life--of all your lives; 'tis as
good a way to end them as another. But you must know, good Drgon: an
Owner is a warrior trained in the skills of battle. None less than
another such may hope to prevail."

I smacked my fist into my palm. "I should have thought of this sooner!
The cooks cook for their places, the pipers pipe ... and the best man
wins. It figures that the Owners would use the same system. But what's
the procedure, noble Gope? How do you get your chance to prove who can
own the best?"

"It is a contest with naked steel. It is the measure and glory of an
Owner that he alone stands ready to prove his quality against the peril
of death itself." Gope drew himself up with pride.

"What about the bodyguards?" I asked. "They fight--"

"With their hands, good Drgon. And they lack skill with those. A death
such as you described tonight--that is a rare and sorry accident."

"It showed up this whole grubby farce in its true colors. A
civilization like that of Vallon--reduced to this."

"Still, it is sweet to live--by whatever rules----"

"I don't believe that ... and neither do you. What Owner can I
challenge? How do I go about it?"

"Give up this course, good Drgon--"

"Where's the nearest buddy of the Big Owner?"

Gope threw up his hands. "Here, at Bar-Ponderone. Owner Qohey. But--"

"And how do I call his bluff?"

Gope put a hand on my shoulder. "It is no bluff, good Drgon. It is long
now since last Owner Qohey stood to his blade to protect his place, but
you may be sure he has lost none of his skill. Thus it was he won his
way to Bar-Ponderone, while lesser knights, such as myself, contented
themselves with meaner fiefs."

"I'm not bluffing either, noble Gope," I said, stretching a point. "I
was no harness-maker in the Good Time."

"It is your death--"

"Tell me how I offer the challenge ... or I'll twist his nose in the
main banqueting salon tomorrow night."

Gope sat down heavily, raised his hand, and let them fall. "If I tell
you not, another will. But I will not soon find another Piper of your
worth."



CHAPTER XV


Gaudy hangings of purple cut the light of the sun to a rich gloom in
the enormous, high-vaulted Audience Hall. A rustling murmur was audible
in the room as uneasy courtiers and supplicants fidgeted, waiting for
the appearance of the Owner.

It had been two months since Gope had explained to me how a formal
challenge to an Owner was conducted, and, as he pointed out, this was
the only kind of challenge that would help. If I waylaid the man and
cut him down, even in a fair fight, his bodyguards would repay the
favor before I could establish the claim that I was their legitimate
new boss.

I had spent three hours every day in the armory at Rath-Gallion,
trading buffets with Gope and a couple of the bodyguards. The
thirty-pound slab of edged steel had felt right at home in my hand that
first day--for about a minute. I had the borrowed knowledge to give
me all the technique I needed, but the muscle power for putting the
knowledge into practice was another matter. After five minutes I was
slumped against the wall, gulping air, while Gope whistled his sticker
around my head and talked.

"You laid on like no piper, good Drgon. Yet have you much to learn in
the matter of endurance."

--And he was at me again. I spent the afternoon back-pedaling and
making wild two-handed swings and finally fell down--pooped. I couldn't
have moved if Gope had had at me with a hot poker.

Gope and the others laughed til they cried, then hauled me away to my
room and let me sleep. They rolled me out the next morning to go at it
again.

As Gope said, there was no time to waste ... and after two months of it
I felt ready for anything. Gope had warned me that Owner Qohey was a
big fellow, but that didn't bother me. The bigger they came, the bigger
the target....

There was a murmur in a different key in the Audience Hall and tall
gilt doors opened at the far side of the room. A couple of liveried
flunkies scampered into view, then a seven-foot man-eater stalked into
the hall, made his way to the dias, turned to face the crowd....

He was enormous: his neck was as thick as my thigh, his features
chipped out of granite, the grey variety. He threw back his brilliant
purple cloak from his shoulders and reached out an arm like an oak
root for the ceremonial sword one of the flunkies was struggling with.
He took the sword with its sheath, sat down, and stood it between his
feet, his arms folded on top.

"Who has a grievance?" he spoke. The voice reverberated like the old
Wurlitzer at the Rialto back home.

This was my cue. There he was, just asking for it. All I had to do was
speak up. Owner Qohey would gladly oblige me. The fact that next to him
Primo Carnera would look dainty shouldn't slow me down.

I cleared my throat with a thin squeak, and edged forward, not very far.

"I have one little item--" I started.

Nobody was listening. Up front a big fellow in a black toga was pushing
through the crowd. Everybody turned to stare at him: there was a
craning of necks. The crowd drew back from the dias leaving an opening.
The man in black stepped into the clear, flung back the flapping
garment from his right arm, and whipped out a long polished length of
razor-edged iron. It was beginning to look like somebody had beaten me
to the punch.

The newcomer stood there in front of Qohey with the naked blade making
all the threat that was needed. Qohey stared at him for a long moment,
then stood, gestured to a flunky. The flunky turned, cleared his throat.

"The place of Bar-Ponderone has been claimed!" he recited in a shrill
voice. "Let the issue be joined!" He skittered out of the way and Qohey
rose, threw aside his purple cloak and cowl, and stepped down. I pushed
forward to get a better look.

The challenger in black tossed his loose garment aside, stood facing
Qohey in a skin-tight jerkin and hose; heavy moccasins of soft leather
were laced up the calf. He was magnificently muscled but Qohey towered
over him like a tree, with a build that would have taken the Mr. Muscle
Beach title any time he cared to try for it.

I didn't know whether to be glad or sad that the initiative had been
taken out from under me. If the man in black won, I wondered would I
then be able to step in in turn and take him on? He was a lot smaller
than Qohey but there was always the chance....

Qohey unsheathed his fancy iron and whirled it like it was a lady's
putter. I felt sorry for the smaller man, who was just standing,
watching him. He really didn't have a chance.

I had got through to the fore rank by now. The challenger turned and I
saw his face. I stopped dead, while fire bells clanged in my head.

The man in black was Foster.

       *       *       *       *       *

In dead silence Qohey and Foster squared off, touched their sword
points to the floor in some kind of salute ... and Qohey's slicer
whipped up in a vicious cut. Foster leaned aside, just far enough, then
countered with a flick that made Qohey jump back. I let out a long
breath and tried swallowing. Foster was like a terrier up against a
bull, but it didn't seem to bother him--only me. I had come light years
to find him, just in time to see him get his head lopped off.

Qohey's blade flashed, cutting at Foster's head. Foster hardly moved.
Almost effortlessly, it seemed, he interposed his heavy weapon between
the attacking steel and himself. _Clash, clang!_ Qohey hacked and
chopped ... and Foster played with him. Then Foster's arm flashed out
and there was blood on Qohey's wrist. A gasp went up from the crowd.
Now Foster took a step forward, struck ... and faltered! In an instant
Qohey was on him and the two men were locked, chest to chest. For a
moment Foster held, then Qohey's weight told, and Foster reeled back.
He tried to bring up the sword, seemed to struggle, then Qohey lashed
out again. Foster twisted, took the blow awkwardly just above the hand
guard, stumbled ... and fell.

Qohey leaped to him, raised the sword--

I hauled mine half way out of its sheath and pushed forward.

"Let the man be put away from my sight," rumbled Qohey. He lowered his
immense sword, turned, pushed aside a flunky who had bustled up with
a wad of bandages. As he strode from the room a swarm of bodyguards
fanned out between the crowd and Foster. I could see him clumsily
struggling to rise, then I was shoved back, still craning for a
glimpse. There was something wrong here; Foster had acted like a man
suddenly half-paralyzed. Had Qohey doped him in some way?

The cordon stopped pushing, turned their backs to the crowd. I tugged
at the arm of the man beside me.

"Did you see anything strange there?" I started.

He pulled free. "Strange? Yea, the mercy of our Lord Qohey! Instead of
meting out death on the spot, our Owner was generous--"

"I mean about the fight." I grabbed his arm again to keep him from
moving off.

"That the impudent rascal would dare to claim the place of Owner at
Bar-Ponderone: there's wonder enough for any man," he snapped. "Unhand
me, fellow!"

I unhanded him and tried to collect my wits. What now? I tapped a
bodyguard on the shoulder. He whirled, club in hand.

"What's to be the fate of the man?" I asked.

"Like the Boss said: they're gonna immure the bum for his pains."

"You mean wall him up?"

"Yeah. Just a peep hole to pass chow in every day ... so's he don't
starve, see?" The bodyguard chuckled.

"How long--?"

"He'll last; don't worry. After the Change, Owner Qohey's got a
newman--"

"Shut up," another bruiser said.

The crowd was slowly thinning. The bodyguards were relaxing, standing
in pairs, talking. Two servants moved about where the fight had taken
place, making mystical motions in the air above the floor. I edged
forward, watching them. They seemed to be plucking imaginary flowers.
Strange....

I moved even farther forward to take a closer look, then saw a tiny
glint.... A servant hurried across, made gestures. I pushed him aside,
groped ... and my fingers encountered a delicate filament of wire.
I pulled it in, swept up more. The servants had stopped and stood
watching me, muttering. The whole area of the combat was covered with
the invisible wires, looping up in coils two feet high.

No wonder Foster had stumbled, had trouble raising his sword. He had
been netted, encased in a mesh of incredibly fine tough wire ... and
in the dim light even the crowd twenty feet away hadn't seen it. Owner
Qohey was a good man with the chopper but he didn't rely on that alone
to hold onto his job.

I put my hand on my sword hilt, chewed my lower lip. I had found
Foster ... but it wouldn't do me--or Vallon--much good. He was on
his way to the dungeons, to be walled up until the next Change. And
it would be three months before I could legally make another try for
Qohey's place. After seeing him in action I was glad I hadn't tried
today. He wouldn't have needed any net to handle me.

I would have to spend the next three months working on my swordplay,
and hope Foster could hold out. Maybe I could sneak a message--

A heavy blow on the back sent me spinning. Four bodyguards moved to
ring me in, clubs in hand. They were strangers to me, but across the
room I saw Torbu looming, looking my way....

"I saw him; he started to pull that fancy sword," said one of the
guards.

"He was asking me questions--"

"Unbuckle it and drop it," another ordered me. "Don't try anything!"

"What's this all about?" I said. "I have a right to wear a Ceremonial
Sword at an Audience--"

"Move in, boys!" The four men stepped toward me, the clubs came up.
I warded off a smashing blow with my left arm, took a blinding crack
across the face, felt myself going down--another blow, and another:
killing ones....

Then I was aware of being dragged, endlessly, of voices barking sharp
questions, of pain.... After a long time it was dark, and silent, and I
slept.

       *       *       *       *       *

I groaned and the sound was dead, muffled. I put out a hand and touched
stone on my right. My left elbow touched stone. I made an instinctive
move to sit up and smacked my head against more stone. My new room was
confining. Gingerly I felt my face ... and winced at the touch. The
bridge of my nose felt different: it was lower than it used to be,
in spite of the swelling. I lay back and traced the pattern of pain.
There was the nose--smashed flat--with secondary aches around the eyes.
They'd be beautiful shiners, if I could see them. Now the left arm: it
was curled close to my side and when I moved it I saw why: it wasn't
broken, but the shoulder wasn't right, and there was a deep bruise
above the elbow. My knees and shin, as far as I could reach, were caked
with dried blood. That figured: I remembered being dragged.

I tried deep-breathing; my chest seemed to be okay. My hands worked. My
teeth were in place. Maybe I wasn't as sick as I felt.

But where the hell was I? The floor was hard, cold. I needed a big soft
bed and a little soft nurse and a hot meal and a cold drink....

Foster! I cracked my head again and flopped back, groaned some more. It
still sounded pretty dead.

I swallowed, licked my lips, felt a nice split that ran well into the
bristles. I had attended the Audience clean-shaven. Quite a few hours
must have passed since then. They had taken Foster away to immure him,
somebody said. Then the guards had tapped me, worked me over....

Immured! I got a third crack on the head. Suddenly it was hard to
breathe. I was walled up, sealed away from the light, buried under the
foundations of the giant towers of Bar-Ponderone. I felt their crushing
weight....

I forced myself to relax, breathe deep. Being immured wasn't the
same as being buried alive--not exactly. This was the method these
latter-day Vallonians had figured out to end a man's life
effectively ... without ending all his lives. They figured to keep
me neatly packaged here until my next Change, thus acquiring another
healthy newman for the kitchen or the stables. They didn't know the
only Change that would happen to me was death.

They'd have to feed me; that meant a hole. I ran my fingers along the
rough stone, found an eight-inch square opening on the left wall, just
under the ceiling. I reached through it, felt nothing but the solidness
of its thick sides. How thick the wall was I had no way of determining.

I was feeling dizzy. I lay back and tried to think....

       *       *       *       *       *

I was awake again. There had been a sound. I moved, and felt something
hit my chest.

I groped for it; it was a small loaf of hard bread. I heard the sound
again and a second object thumped against me.

"Hey!" I yelled, "listen to me! I'll die in here. I'm not like the rest
of you; I won't go through a Change. I'll rot here till I die...!"

I listened. The silence was absolute.

"Answer me!" I screamed. "You're making a mistake...!"

I gave up when my throat got raw. The people who dropped the bread
through the little holes to the prisoners had heard a lot of yelling
in their time. They didn't listen any more. I felt for the other item
that had been pushed in to me. It was a water bottle made of tough
plastic. I fumbled the cap off, took a swallow. It wasn't good. I tried
the bread; it was tough, tasteless. I lay and chewed, and wondered what
I was supposed to do about toilet facilities; it was an interesting
problem. I could see it was going to be a great life, while it lasted.
I laughed: a weak snort of despair.

As a world-saver I was a bust. I hadn't even been able to get around
to bailing out my pal Foster after Qohey had booby-trapped him. I
wondered where he was now. Sealed up in the next cubby-hole probably.
But he hadn't answered my yells.

Yeah, mine had been a great idea, but it hadn't worked out. I had come
a long, long way and now I was going to die in this reeking hole. I had
a sudden vision of steaks uneaten, and life unlived. I would have been
good for another few decades anyway--

And then I had another thought: if I never had them was it going to be
because I hadn't tried? Abruptly I was planning. I would keep calm and
use my head. I wouldn't wear myself out with screams and struggles. I'd
figure the angles, use everything I had to make the best try I could.

First, to explore the tomb-like cell. It hurt to move, but that
didn't matter. I felt over the walls, estimating size. My chamber was
three feet wide, two feet high, and seven feet long. The walls were
relatively smooth, except for a few mortar joints. The stones were big:
eighteen inches or so by a couple of feet. I scratched at the mortar;
it was rock hard.

I wondered how they'd gotten me in. Some of the stones must be newly
placed ... or else there was a door. I couldn't feel anything as far as
my hands would reach. Maybe at the other end....

I tried to twist around: no go. The people who had built the cage knew
just how to dimension it to keep the occupant oriented the way they
wanted him. He was supposed to just lie quietly and wait for the bread
and water to fall through the hole above his chest.

That was reason enough to change positions. If they wanted me to stay
put I'd at least have the pleasure of defying the rules. And there
just might be a reason why they didn't want me moving around.

I turned on my side, pulled my legs up, hugged them to my chest, worked
my way down ... and jammed. My skinned knees and shins didn't help any.
I inched them higher, wincing at the pain, then braced my hands against
the floor and roof and forced my torso toward my feet....

Still no go. The rough stone was shredding my back. I moved my knees
apart; that eased the pressure a little. I made another inch.

I rested, tried to get some air. It wasn't easy: my chest was crushed
between my thighs and the stone wall at my back. I breathed shallowly,
wondering whether I should go back or try to push on. I tried to move
my legs; they didn't like the idea. I might as well go on. It would
be no fun either way and if I waited I'd stiffen up, while inactivity
and no food and loss of blood would weaken me further every moment. I
wouldn't do better next time--not even as well. This was the time. Now.

I set myself, pushed again. I didn't move. I pushed harder, scraping my
palms raw against the stone. I was stuck--good. I went limp suddenly.
Then I panicked, in the grip of claustrophobia. I snarled, rammed
my hands hard against the floor and wall, and heaved--and felt my
lacerated back slip along the stone, sliding on a lubricating film of
blood. I pushed again, my back curved, doubled; my knees were forced
up beside my ears. I couldn't breathe at all now and my spine was
breaking. It didn't matter. I might as well break it, rip off all the
hide, bleed to death; I had nothing to lose. I shoved again, felt the
back of my head grate; my neck bent, creaking ... then I was through,
stretching out to flop on my back, gasping, my head where my feet had
been. Score one for our side.

       *       *       *       *       *

It took a long time to get my breath back and sort out my various
abrasions. My back was worst then my legs and hands. There was a messy
spot on the back of my head and sharp pains shot down my spine, and I
was getting tired of breathing through my mouth instead of my smashed
nose. Other than that I'd never felt better in my life. I had plenty of
room to relax in, I could breathe. All I had to do was rest, and after
a while they'd drop some more nice bread and water in to me....

I shook myself awake. There was something about the absolute darkness
and silence that made my mind want to curl up and sleep, but there was
no time for that. If there had been a stone freshly set in mortar to
seal the chamber after I had been stuffed inside, this was the time to
find it--before it set too hard. I ran my hands over the wall, found
the joints. The mortar was dry and hard in the first; in the next ...
under my fingernail soft mortar crumbled away. I traced the joint;
it ran around a twelve-by-eighteen-inch stone. I raised myself on my
elbows, settled down to scratching at it.

Half an hour later I had ten bloody tips and a half-inch groove dug
out around the stone. It was slow work and I couldn't go much farther
without a tool of some sort. I felt for the water bottle, took off the
cap, tried to crush it. It wouldn't crush. There was nothing else in
the cell.

Maybe the stone would move, mortar and all, if I shoved hard enough.
I set my feet against the end wall, my hands against the block, and
strained until the blood roared in my ears. No use. It was planted as
solid as a mother-in-law in the spare bedroom.

I was lying there, just thinking about it, when I became aware
of something. It wasn't a noise, exactly. It was more like a
fourth-dimensional sound heard inside the brain ... or the memory of
one.

But my next sensation was perfectly real. I felt four little feet
walking gravely up my belly toward my chin.

It was my cat, Itzenca.



CHAPTER XVI


For a while I toyed with the idea of just chalking it up as a miracle.
Then I decided it would be a nice problem in probabilities. It had
been seven months since we had parted company on the pink terrace at
Okk-Hamiloth. Where would I have gone if I had been a cat? And how
could I have found me--my old pal from earth?

Itzenca exhaled a snuffle in my ear.

"Come to think of it, the stink is pretty strong, isn't it? I guess
there's nobody on Vallon with quite the same heady fragrance. And what
with the close quarters here, the concentration of sweat, blood, and
you-name-it must be pretty penetrating."

Itz didn't seem to care. She marched around my head and back again, now
and then laid a tentative paw on my nose or chin, and kept up a steady
rumbling purr. The feeling of affection I had for that cat right then
was close to being one of my life's grand passions. My hands roamed
over her scrawny frame, fingered again the khaffite collar I had whiled
away an hour in fashioning for her aboard the lifeboat--

My head hit the stone wall with a crack I didn't even notice. In
ten seconds I had released the collar clasp, pulled the collar from
Itzenca's neck, thumbed the stiff khaffite out into a blade about ten
inches long, and was scraping at the mortar beyond my head at fever
heat.

       *       *       *       *       *

They had fed me three times by the time the groove was nine inches
deep on all sides of the block; and the mortar had hardened. But I was
nearly through, I figured. I took a rest, then made another try at
loosening the block. I thrust the blade into the slot, levered gently
at the stone. If it was only supported on one edge now, as it would be
if it were a little less than a foot thick, it should be about ready to
go. I couldn't tell.

I put down my scraper, got into position, and pushed. I wasn't as
strong as I had been; there wasn't much force in the push. Again I
rested and again I tried. Maybe there was only a thin crust of mortar
still holding; maybe one more ounce of pressure would do it. I took a
deep breath, strained ... and felt the block shift minutely.

Now! I heaved again, teeth gritted, drew back my feet, and thrust hard.
The stone slid out with a grating sound, dropped half an inch. I paused
to listen: all quiet. I shoved again, and the stone dropped with a
heavy thud to the floor outside. With no loss of time I pushed through
behind it, felt a breath of cooler air, got my shoulders free, pulled
my legs through ... and stood, for the first time in how many days....

I had already figured my next move. As soon as Itzenca had stepped
out I reached back in, groped for the water bottle, the dry crusts I
had been saving, and the wad of bread paste I had made up. I reached
a second time for a handful of the powdered mortar I had produced,
then lifted the stone. I settled it in place, using the hard bread
as supports, then packed the open joint with gummy bread. I dusted it
over with dry mortar, then carefully swept up the debris--as well as I
could in the total darkness. The bread-and-water man would have a light
and he was due in half an hour or so--as closely as I had been able
to estimate the time of his regular round. I didn't want him to see
anything out of the ordinary. I was counting on finding Foster filed
away somewhere in the stacks, and I'd need time to try to release him.

I moved along the corridor, counting my steps, one hand full of
breadcrumbs and stone dust, the other feeling the wall. There were
narrow side branches every few feet: the access ways to the feeding
holes. Forty-one paces from my slot I came to a wooden door. It wasn't
locked, but I didn't open it. I wasn't ready to use it yet.

I went back, passed my hole, continued nine paces to a blank wall. Then
I tried the side branches. They were all seven-foot stubs, dead ends;
each had the eight-inch holes on either side. I called Foster's name
softly at each hole ... but there was no answer. I heard no signs of
life, no yells or heavy breathing. Was I the only one here? That wasn't
what I had figured on. Foster had to be in one of these delightful
bedrooms. I had come across the universe to see him and I wasn't going
to leave Bar-Ponderone without him.

It was time to get ready for the bread man. I had a choice of trying
to get back into my hole and replacing the block, or of hiding in one
of the side branches. I thought it over for a couple of microseconds
and decided against getting back in my tomb. If there were as many
vacancies here as I guessed, I'd be safe in any one of the side
passages but my own.

I groped my way into a convenient hidey-hole, Itzenca at my heels.
With half a year's experience at dodging humans behind her, she could
be trusted not to show at the crucial moment, I figured. I had just
jettisoned my handful of trash in the backmost corner of the passage
when there was a soft grating sound from the door. I flattened myself
against the wall. I'd know in a second or two how observant the keeper
was.

A light splashed on the floor; it must have been dim but seemed to my
eyes like the blaze of noon. Soft footsteps sounded. I held my breath.
A man in bodyguard's trappings, basket in hand, moved past the entry
of the branch where I stood, went on. I breathed again. Now all I had
to do was keep an eye on the feeder, watch where he stopped. I stepped
to the corridor, risked a glance, saw him entering a branch far down
the corridor. As he disappeared I made it three branches farther along,
ducked out of sight.

I heard him coming back. I flattened myself. He went by me, opened the
door. It closed behind him and the darkness and silence settled down
once more. I stood where I was, feeling like a guy who's just showed up
for a party ... on the wrong day.

The bread man had stopped at one cell only--mine. Foster wasn't here.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a long wait for the next feeding but I put the time to use.
First I had a good nap; I hadn't been getting my rest while I scratched
my way out of my nest. I woke up feeling better and started thinking
about the next move. The bodyguard who brought the food was the first
item: I had had to get a set of clothes somewhere and he'd be the
easiest source to tap. If my mental clock was right it was about time--

The door creaked, and I did a fast fade down a side branch. The guard
shuffled into view; now was the time. I moved out--quietly, I thought,
and he whirled, dropped the load and bottle, and fumbled at his club
hilt. I didn't have a club to slow me down. I went at him, threw a
beautiful right, square to the mouth. He went over backwards, with me
on top. I heard his head hit with a sound like a length of rubber hose
slapping a grapefruit. He didn't move.

I pulled the clothes off him, struggled into them. They didn't fit too
well and they probably smelled gamey to anybody who hadn't spent a week
where I had, but details like those didn't count anymore. I tore his
sash into strips and tied him. He wasn't dead--quite, but I had reason
to know that any yelling he did was unlikely to attract much attention.
I hoped he'd enjoy the rest and quiet until the next feeding time. By
then I expected to be long gone. I lifted the door open and stepped out
into a dimly-lit corridor.

With Itzenca abreast of me I moved along in absolute stillness, passed
a side corridor, came to a heavy door: locked. We retraced our steps,
went down the side hall, found a flight of worn steps, followed them up
two flights, and emerged in a dark room. A line of light showed around
a door. I went to it, peered through the crack. Two men in stained
kitchen-slave tunics fussed over a boiling cauldron. I pushed through
the door.

The two looked up, startled. I rounded a littered table, grabbed up a
heavy soup ladle, and skulled the nearest cook just as he opened up to
yell. The other one, a big fellow, went for a cleaver. I caught him in
two jumps, laid him out cold beside his pal.

I found an apron, ripped it up, and tied and gagged the two slaves,
then hauled them into a storeroom. I was stacking Vallonians away like
a squirrel storing nuts.

I came back into the kitchen. It was silent now. The room reeked of
sour soup. A stack of unpleasantly familiar loaves stood by the oven.
I gave them a kick that collapsed the pile as I passed to pick up a
knife. I hacked tough slices from a cold haunch of Vallonian mutton,
threw one to Itzenca across the table, and sat and gnawed the meat
while I tried to think through my plans.

Owner Qohey was a big man to tackle but he was the one with the
answers. If I could make my way to his apartment and if I wasn't
stopped before I'd forced the truth out of him, then I might get to
Foster and tell him that if he had the memory playback machine I had
the memory, if it hadn't been filched from the bottom of a knapsack
aboard a lifeboat parked at Okk-Hamiloth.

Four 'if's' and a 'might'--but it was something to shoot at. My first
move would be to locate Qohey's quarters, somewhere here in the Palace,
and get inside. My bodyguard's outfit was as good a disguise as any for
the attempt.

I finished off my share of the meat and got to my feet. I'd have to
find a place to clean myself up, shave--

The rear door banged open and two bodyguards came through it, talking
loudly, laughing.

"Hey, cook! Set out meat for--"

The heavy in the lead stopped short, gaping at me. I gaped back. It was
Torbu.

"Drgon! How did you...?" He trailed off.

The other bodyguard came past him, looked me over. "You're no Brother
of the Guard--" he started.

I reached for the cleaver the kitchen-slave had left on the table,
backed against a tall wall cupboard. The bodyguard unlimbered his club.

"Hold it, Blon," said Torbu. "Drgon's okay." He looked at me. "I kind
of figured you for done for, Drgon. The boys worked you over pretty
good."

"Yeah," I returned, "and thanks for your help in stopping it."

"This is the miscreant we immured!" Blon burst out. "Take him!"

Torbu shifted. "Hold it a minute," he said. He looked uncomfortable.

"Listen, you two!" I said. "You claim to believe in the system around
here. You think it's a great life, all fair play and no holds barred
and plenty of goodies for the winner. I know, it was tough about Cagu,
but that's life, isn't it? But what about the business I saw in that
Audience Hall? You guys try not to think about that angle, is that it?"

"The noble Owner's gotta right--" Blon started.

"I didn't like the caper with the wires, Blon," said Torbu. "You didn't
either; neither did most of the boys--"

"And I don't remember getting much of a show myself," I said. "There
are a couple of your buddies I plan to look up when I have some free
time--"

"I didn't lay a hand on you, Drgon," said Torbu. "I didn't want no part
of that."

"It was the Owner's orders," said Blon. "What was I gonna go, tell
him----"

"Never mind," I said. "I'll tell him myself. That's all I want: just a
short interview with the Owner--minus the wire nets."

"Wow ..." drawled Torbu, "yeah, that'd be a bout." He turned to Blon.
"This guy's got a punch, Blon. He don't look so hot but he could swap
buffets with the Fire Drgon he's named after. If he's that good with a
long blade--"

"Just lend me one," I said, "and show me the way to his apartment."

"The noble Owner'll cut this clown to ribbons in two minutes flat,"
said Blon.

"Let's get the boys."

"How could we explain it afterwards to the noble Owner?" said Blon. "He
ain't gonna think much of guys he thought was immured nice and safe
turnin' up in his bedchamber ... armed."

"We're Brothers of the Guard," said Torbu. "We ain't got much but we
got our Code. It don't say nothing about wires. If we don't back up our
oath to the Brotherhood we ain't no better than slaves." He turned to
me. "Come on, Drgon. We'll take you to the Guardroom so you can clean
up and put on a good blade. If you're gonna lose all your lives at
once, you wanna do it right."

       *       *       *       *       *

Torbu watched as the boys belted and strapped me into a guardsman's
fighting outfit. I had made him uneasy, maybe even started him
thinking. If I could last--just those 'two minutes flat'--before Owner
Qohey killed me, then he'd collect his bet, I'd be out of his hair,
and he could go back to being Torbu, a plain tough guy with a Code he
could still believe in. And if I won....

I felt better in the clean trappings of tough leather and steel. Torbu
led the way and fifteen bodyguards followed, like a herd of trolls.
There were few palace servants out at this hour; those who saw us gaped
from a safe distance and went on about their business. We crossed the
empty Audience Hall, climbed a wide staircase, went along a spacious
corridor hung with rich brocades and carpeted in deep-pile silk, with
soft lights glowing around ornate doors.

We stopped before a great double door. Two guards in dress purple
sauntered over to see what it was all about. Torbu clued them in. They
hesitated, looked us over....

"We're goin' in, rookie," said Torbu. "Open up." They did.

I pushed past Torbu into a room whose splendor made Gope's state
apartment look like a four-dollar motel. Bright Cintelight streamed
through tall windows, showed me a wide bed and somebody in it. I went
to it, grabbed the bedclothes, and hauled them off onto the floor.
Owner Qohey sat up slowly--seven feet of muscle. He looked at me,
glanced past me to the foremost of my escort....

He was out of the bed like a tiger, coming straight for me. There
was no time to fumble with the sword. I went to meet him, threw all
my weight into a right haymaker and felt it connect. I plunged past,
whirled.

Qohey was staggering ... but still on his feet. I had hit him with
everything I had, nearly broken my fist ... and he was still standing.
I couldn't let him rest. I was after him, slammed a hard punch to the
kidneys, caught him across the jaw as he turned, drove a left and right
into his stomach----

A girder fell from the top of the Golden Gate Bridge and shattered
every bone in my body. There was a booming like heavy surf, and I was
floating in it, dead. Then I was in Hell, being prodded by red-hot
tridents.... I blinked my eyes. The roaring was fading now. I saw
Qohey, leaning against the foot of the bed, breathing heavily. I had to
get him.

I got my feet under me, stood up. My chest was caved in and my left
arm belonged to somebody else. Okay; I still had my right. I made it
over to Qohey, maneuvered into position. He didn't look at me; he
seemed to be having trouble breathing; those gut punches had gotten to
him. I picked a spot just behind the right ear, reared back, and threw
a trip-hammer punch with my shoulder and legs behind it. I felt the
jaw go. Qohey jumped the foot-board and piled onto the floor like a
hundred-car freight hitting an open switch. I sat down on the edge of
the bed and sucked in air and tried to ignore the whirling lights that
were closing in.

After awhile I noticed Torbu standing in front of me with the cat under
one arm. Both of them were grinning at me. "Any orders, Owner Drgon?"

I found my voice. "Wake him up and prop him in a chair. I want to talk
to him."

Ex-Owner Qohey didn't much like the idea but after Torbu and a couple
of other strong-arm lads had explained the situation to him in sign
language he decided to cooperate.

"Get off his head, Mull," Torbu said. "And untwist that rope, Blon.
Owner Drgon wants him in a conversational mood. You guys are gonna
make him feel self-conscious."

I had been feeling over my ribs, trying to count how many were broken
and how many just bent. Qohey's punch was a lot like the kick of a
two-ton ostrich. He was looking at me now, eyes wild.

"Qohey, I want to ask you a few questions. If I don't like the answers,
I'll see if I can't find quarters for you in the basement annex. I just
left a cozy room there myself. There's no view to speak of but it's
peaceful."

Qohey grunted something. He was having trouble talking around his
broken jaw.

"The fellow in black," I said, "the one who claimed your place as
Owner. You netted him and had your bully boys haul him off somewhere. I
want to know where."

Qohey grunted again.

"Hit him, Torbu," I said. "It will help his enunciation." Torbu kicked
the former Owner in the shin. Qohey jumped and glowered at him.

"Call off your dogs," he mumbled. "You'll not find the upstart you seek
here."

"Why not?"

"I sent him away."

"Where?"

"To that place from which you and your turncoat crew will never fetch
him back."

"Be more specific."

Qohey spat.

"Torbu didn't much like that crack about turncoats," I said. "He's
eager to show you how little. I advise you to talk fast and plain,
before you lose a whole raft of lives."

"Even these swine would never dare--" I took out the needle-pointed
knife I was wearing as part of my get-up. I put the point against
Qohey's throat and pushed gently until a trickle of crimson ran down
the thick neck.

"Talk," I said quietly, "or I'll cut your throat myself."

Qohey had shrunk back as far as he could in the heavy chair.

"Seek him then, assassin," he sneered. "Seek him in the dungeons of the
Owner of Owners."

"Keep talking," I prompted.

"The Great Owner commanded that the slave be brought to him ... at the
Palace of Sapphires by the Shallow Sea."

"Has this Owners' Owner got a name? How'd he hear about him?"

"Lord Ommodurad," Qohey's voice grated out. He was watching Torbu's
foot. "There was that about the person of the stranger that led me to
inform him."

"When did he go?"

"Yesterday."

"You know this Sapphire Palace, Torbu?"

"Sure," he answered. "But the place is tabu; it's crawlin' with demons
and warlocks. The word is, there's a curse on the--"

"Then I'll go in alone," I said. I put the knife away. "But first I've
got a call to make at the spaceport at Okk-Hamiloth."

"Sure, Owner Drgon. The port's easy. Some say it's kind of haunted too
but that's just a gag; the Greymen hang out there."

"We can take care of the Greymen," I said. "Get fifty of your best men
together and line up some air-cars. I want the outfit ready to move
out in half an hour."

"What about this chiseler?" asked Torbu.

"Seal him up until I get back. If I don't make it, I know he'll
understand."



CHAPTER XVII


It was not quite dawn when my task force settled down on the smooth
landing pad beside the lifeboat that had brought me to Vallon. It stood
as I had left it seven earth-months before: the port open, the access
ladder extended, the interior lights lit. There weren't any spooks
aboard but they had kept visitors away as effectively as if there had
been. Even the Greymen didn't mess with ghost-boats. Somebody had done
a thorough job of indoctrination on Vallon.

"You ain't gonna go inside that accursed vessel, are you, Owner Drgon?"
asked Torbu, making his cabalistic sign in the air. "It's manned by
gobblins--"

"That's just propaganda. Where my cat can go, I can go. Look."

Itzenca scampered up the ladder, and had disappeared inside the boat
by the time I took the first rung. The guards gawked from below as I
stepped into the softly lit lounge. The black-and-gold cylinder that
was Foster's memory lay in the bag I had packed and left behind, months
before; with it was the other, plain one: Ammaerln's memory. Somewhere
in Okk-Hamiloth must be the machine that would give these meaning.
Together Foster and I would find it.

I found the .38 automatic lying where I had left it. I picked up the
worn belt, strapped it around me. My Vallonian career to date suggested
it would be a bright idea to bring it along. The Vallonians had never
developed any personal armament to equal it. In a society of immortals
knives were considered lethal enough for all ordinary purposes.

"Come on, cat," I said. "There's nothing more here we need."

Back on the ramp I beckoned my platoon leaders over.

"I'm going to the Sapphire Palace," I said. "Anybody that doesn't want
to go can check out now. Pass the word."

Torbu stood silent for a long moment, staring straight ahead.

"I don't like it much, Owner," he said. "But I'll go. And so will the
rest of 'em."

"There'll be no backing out, once we shove off," I said. "And by the
way--" I jacked a round into the chamber of the pistol, raised it, and
fired the shot into the air. They all jumped. "If you ever hear that
sound, come a-running."

The men nodded, turned to their cars. I picked up the cat and piled
into the lead vehicle next to Torbu.

"It's a half-hour run," he said. "We might run into a little Greyman
action on the way. We can handle 'em."

We lifted, swung to the east, barrelled along at low altitude.

"What do we do when we get there, boss?" said Torbu.

"We play it by ear. Let's see how far we can get on pure gall before
Ommodurad drops the hanky."

       *       *       *       *       *

The palace lay below us, rearing blue towers to the twilit sky like
a royal residence in the Munchkin country. Beyond it, sunset colors
reflected from the silky surface of the Shallow Sea. The timeless
stones and still waters looked much as they had when Foster set out
to lose his identity on earth, three thousand years before. But its
magnificence was lost on these people. The hulking crew around me
never paused to wonder about the marvels wrought by their immortal
ancestors--themselves. Stolidly, they lived their feudal lives in
dismal contrast with the monuments all about them.

I turned to my cohort of hoodlums. "You boys claim it's the demons and
warlocks that keep the whole of Vallon at arm's length from this place.
In that case there's no protocol for a new Owner's reception at the
Blue Palace. A guy with a little luck and even less of a memory than
usual could skip the goblins and play it good-natured but dumb: show up
at the Palace grounds, out of common politeness to the Top Dog, to pay
his respects. Anything wrong with that?"

"What if they rush us first ... before we got time to go into the act?"
said somebody in the mob.

"That's where the luck comes in," I said. "Anybody else?"

Torbu looked around at his henchmen. There was some shrugging of
shoulders, a few grunts. He looked at me. "You do the figurin', Owner,"
he said. "The boys will back your play."

We were dropping toward the wide lawns now and still no opposition
showed itself. Then the towering blue spires were looming over us, and
we saw men forming up behind the blue-stained steel gates of the Great
Pavilion.

"A reception committee," I said. "Hold tight, fellas. Don't start
anything. The further in we get peaceably, the less that leaves to do
the hard way."

The cars settled down gently, well-grouped, and Torbu and I climbed
out. As quickly as the other boats disgorged their men, ranks were
closed, and we moved off toward the gates. Itzenca, as mascot, brought
up the rear. Still no excitement, no rush by the Palace guards. Had too
many centuries of calm made them lackadaisical, or did Ommodurad use a
brand of visitor-repellent we couldn't see from here?

We made it to the gate ... and it opened.

"In we go," I said, "but be ready...."

The uniformed men inside the compound, obviously chosen for their beef
content, kept their distance, looked at us questioningly. We pulled
up on a broad blue-paved drive and waited for the next move. About
now somebody should stride up to us and offer the key to the city--or
something. But there seemed to be a hitch. It was understandable. After
all there hadn't been any callers dropping cards here for about 2900
years.

It was a long five minutes before a hard case in a beetle-backed
carapace of armor and a puffy pink cape bustled down the palace steps
and came up to us.

"Who comes in force to the Sapphire Palace?" he demanded, glancing past
me at my team-mates.

"I'm Owner Drgon, fellow," I barked. "These are my honor guard. What
provincial welcome is this, from the Great Owner to a loyal liege-man?"

That punctured his pomposity a little. He apologized--in a half-hearted
way--mumbled something about arrangements, and beckoned over a couple
of side-men. One of them came over and spoke to Torbu, who looked my
way, hand on dagger hilt.

"What's this?" I said. "Where I go, my men go."

"There is the matter of caste," said my pink-caped greeter. "Packs
of retainers are not ushered _en masse_ into the presence of Lord
Ommodurad, Owner of Owners."

I thought that one over and failed to come up with a plausible loophole.

"Okay, Torbu," I said. "Keep the boys together and behave yourselves.
I'll see you in an hour. Oh, and see that Itzenca gets made comfy."

The beetle man snapped a few orders, then waved me toward the palace
with the slightest bow I ever saw. A six-man guard kept me company up
the steps and into the Great Pavilion.

I guess I expected the usual velvet-draped audience chamber or
barbarically splendid Hall, complete with pipers, fools, and ceremonial
guards. What I got was an office, about sixteen by eighteen,
blue-carpeted and tasteful ... but bare-looking. I stopped in front
of a block of blue-veined grey marble with a couple of quill pens in
a crystal holder and, underneath, leg room for a behemoth, who was
sitting behind the desk.

He got to his feet with all the ponderous mass of Nero Wolfe but a lot
more agility and grace. "You wish?" he rumbled.

"I'm Owner Drgon, ah ... Great Owner," I said. I'd planned to give my
host the friendly-but-dumb routine. I was going to find the second part
of the act easy. There was something about Ommodurad that made me
feel like a mouse who'd just changed his mind about the cheese. Qohey
had been big, but this guy could crush skulls as most men pinch peanut
hulls, and in his eyes was the kind of remote look that came of three
millenia of not even having to mention the power he asserted.

"You ignore superstition," observed the Big Owner. He didn't waste many
words, it seemed. Gope had said he was the silent type. It wasn't a bad
lead; I decided to follow it.

"Don't believe in 'em," I said.

"To your business then," he continued. "Why?"

"Just been chosen Owner at Bar-Ponderone," I said. "Felt it was only
fitting that I come and do obeisance before Your Grace."

"That expression is not used."

"Oh." This fellow had a disconcerting way of not getting sucked in.
"Lord Ommodurad?"

He nodded just perceptibly, then turned to the foremost of the herd who
had brought me in. "Quarters for the guest and his retinue." His eyes
had already withdrawn, like the head of a Galapagos turtle into its
enormous shell, in contemplation of eternal verities. I piped up again.

"Ah, pardon me...." The piercing stare of Ommodurad's eyes was on
me again. "There was a friend of mine--," I gulped, "swell guy, but
impulsive. It seems he challenged the former Owner of Bar-Ponderone...."

Ommodurad did no more than twitch an eye-brow but suddenly the air was
electric. His stare didn't waver by a millimeter but the lazy slouch
of the six guards had altered to sprung steel. They hadn't moved but
I felt them now all around me and not a foot away. I had a sinking
feeling that I'd gone too far.

"--so I thought maybe I'd crave Your Excellency's help, if possible,
to locate my pal," I finished weakly. For an interminable minute the
Owner of Owners bored into me with his eyes. Then he raised a finger a
quarter of an inch. The guards relaxed.

"Quarters for the guest and his retinue," repeated Ommodurad. He
withdrew then ... without moving. I was dismissed.

I went quietly, attended by my hulking escort.

I tried hard not to let my expression show any excitement, but I was
feeling plenty.

Ommodurad was close-mouthed for a reason. I was willing to bet that he
had his memories of the Good Time intact.

Instead of the debased modern dialect that I'd heard everywhere since
my arrival, Ommodurad spoke flawless Old Vallonian.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was 27 o'clock and the Palace of Sapphires was silent. I was alone
in the ornate bed chamber the Great Owner had assigned me. It was a
nice room but I wouldn't learn anything staying in it. Nobody had said
I was confined to quarters. I'd do a little scouting and see what I
could pick up, if anything. I slung on the holster and .38 and slid
out of the darkened chamber into the scarcely lighter corridor beyond.
I saw a guard at the far end; he ignored me. I headed in the opposite
direction.

None of the rooms was locked. There was no arsenal at the Palace and no
archives that lesser folk than the Great Owner could use with profit.
Everything was easy of access. I guessed that Ommodurad rightly counted
on indifference to keep snoopers away. Here and there guards eyed me
as I passed along but they said nothing.

I saw again by Cintelight the office where Ommodurad had received me,
and near it an ostentatious hall with black onyx floor and ceiling,
gold hangings, and ceremonial ring-board. But the center of attraction
was the familiar motif of the concentric circles of the Two Worlds,
sketched in beaten gold across the broad wall of black marble behind
the throne. Here the idea had been elaborated on. Outward from both the
inner and outer circles flamed the waving lines of a sunburst. At dead
center, a boss, like a sword hilt in form, chased in black and gold,
erupted a foot from the wall. It was the first time I'd seen the symbol
since I'd arrived on Vallon. I found it strangely exciting--like a
footprint in the sand.

I went on, toured the laundry and inspected pantries large and small
and caught a whiff of stables. The palace was asleep; few of its
occupants noticed me, and those who did hung back, silent. It looked as
if the Great Owner had given orders to let me roam freely. Somehow I
didn't find that comforting.

Then I came into a purple-vaulted hall and saw a squad of guards, the
same six who'd kept me such close company earlier in the day. They were
drawn up at parade rest, three on each side of a massive ivory door.
Somebody lived in safety and splendor on the other side.

Six sets of hard eyes turned my way. It was too late to duck back out
of sight. I trotted up to the first of the row of guards. "Say, fella,"
I stage-whispered, "where's the ah--you know."

"Every bed chamber is equipped," he said gruffly, raising his sword
and fingering its tip lovingly.

"Yeah? I never noticed." I moved off, looking chastened. If they
thought I was a kewpie, so much the better. I was a mouse in cat
country here and I wasn't ready to fake a _meow_--not yet.

On the ground floor I found Torbu and his cohort quartered in a
barrack-room off the main entry hall.

"We're still in enemy territory," I reminded Torbu. "I want every man
ready."

"No fear, boss," said Torbu. "All my bullies got an eye on the door and
a hand on a knife-hilt."

"Have you seen or heard anything useful?"

"Naw. These local dullards fall dumb at the first query."

"Keep your ears cocked. I want at least two men awake and on the alert
all night."

"You bet, noble Drgon."

I judged distances carefully as I went back up the two flights to my
own room. Inside I dropped into a brocaded easy chair and tried to add
up what I'd seen.

First: Ommodurad's apartment, as nearly as I could judge, was directly
over my own, two floors up. That was a break--or maybe I was where I
was for easier surveillance. I'd skip that angle, I decided. It tended
to discourage me and I needed all the enthusiasm I could generate.

Second: I wasn't going to learn anything useful trotting around
corridors. Ommodurad wasn't the kind to leave traces of skullduggery
lying around where the guests would see them.

And third: I should have known better than to hit this fortress with
two squads and a .38 in the first place. Foster was here; Qohey had
said so and the Great Owner's reaction to my mention of him confirmed
it. What was it about Foster, anyway, that made him so interesting to
these Top People? I'd have to ask him that one when I found him. But to
do that I'd have to leave the beaten track.

I went to the wide double window and looked up. A cloud swept from
the great three-quarters face of Cinte, blue in the southern sky, and
I could see an elaborately carved façade ranging up past a row of
windows above my own to a railed balcony bathed in a pale light from
the apartment within. If my calculations were correct that would be
Ommodurad's digs. The front door was guarded like an octogenarian's
harem but the back way looked like a breeze.

I pulled my head back in and thought about it. It was risky ... but
it had that element of the unexpected that just might let me get away
with it. Tomorrow the Owner of Owners might have thought it through
and switched me to another room ... or to a cell in the basement. Then
too, wall-scaling didn't occur to these Vallonians as readily as it did
to a short-timer from earth. They had too much to lose to risk it on a
chancey climb.

Too much thinking is never a good idea when your pulse is telling you
it's time for action. I rolled a heavy armoire fairly soundlessly over
the deep-pile carpet and lodged it against the door. That might slow
down a casual caller. I slipped the magazine out of the automatic,
fitted nine greasy brass cartridges into it, slammed it home, dropped
the pistol back in the holster. It had a comforting weight. I buttoned
the strap over it and went back to the window.

The clouds were back across Cinte's floodlight; that would help. I
stepped out. The deep carving gave me easy handholds and I made it to
the next windowsill without even working up a light sweat. Compared
with my last climb, back in Lima, this was a cinch.

I rested a moment, then clambered around the dark window--just in case
there was an insomniac on the other side of the glass--and went on up.
I reached the balcony, had a hairy moment as I groped outward for a
hold on the smooth floor-tiling above ... and then I was pulling up and
over the ornamental iron work.

The balcony was narrow, about twenty feet long, giving on half a dozen
tall glass doors. Three showed light behind heavy draperies, three
were dark. I moved close, tried to see something past the edge of the
draperies. No go. I put an ear to the glass, thought maybe I heard a
sound, like a distant volcano. That would be Ommodurad's bass rumble.
The bear was in his cave.

I went along to the dark doors and on impulse tried a handle. It
turned and the door swung in soundlessly. I felt my pulse pick up
a double-time beat. I stood peering past the edge of the door into
the ink-black interior. It didn't look inviting. In fact it looked
repellent. Even a country boy like me could see that to step into the
dragon's den without even a Zippo to spot the footstools with would be
the act of a nitwit.

I swallowed hard, got a firm grip on my pistol, and went in.

A soft fold of drapery brushed my face and I had the pistol out and
my back to the wall with a speed that would have made Earp faint with
envy. My adrenals gave a couple of wild jumps and my nervous system
followed with a variety of sensations, none pleasant.

It took me a minute to get my Adam's apple swallowed again and remind
myself that I was a rough tough son-of-a-gun from the planet earth who
had parlayed one short life into more trouble than most Vallonians
managed in half of eternity, and I was on my way to get my pal Foster
out of a tight spot, hand him back his memory, and set the Two Worlds
back on the rails they had fallen off of about six hundred years before
Alexander started looking around for his first rumble.

I stopped before I got so confident I charged into the next room and
challenged Ommodurad to wrestle, two falls out of three. I could hear
his voice better now, muttering beyond the partition. If I could make
out what he was saying....

I edged along the wall, found a heavy door, closed and locked. No help
there. I felt my way further, found another door. Delicately I tried
the handle, eased it open a crack.

A closet, half filled with racked garments. But I could hear more
clearly now. Maybe it was a double closet with communicating doors both
to the room I was in and to the next one where the Great Owner was
still rambling on. Apparently something had overcome his aversion to
talking. There were pauses that must have been filled in by the replies
of somebody else who didn't have the vocal timbre Ommodurad did.

I felt my way through the hanging clothing, felt over the closet walls.
I was out of luck: there was no other door. I put an ear to the wall. I
could catch an occasional word:

"... ring ... Okk-Hamiloth ... vaults...."

It sounded like something I'd like to hear more about. How could I get
closer? On impulse I reached up, touched a low ceiling ... and felt a
ridge like the trim around an access panel to a crawl space.

I crossed my fingers, stood on tip-toe to push at the panel. Nothing
moved. I felt around in the dark, encountered a low shelf covered with
shoes. I investigated; it was movable. I eased it aside a foot or two,
piled the shoes on the floor, and stepped up.

The panel was two feet long on a side, with no discernible hinges or
catch. I pushed some more, then gritted my teeth and heaved. There
was a startlingly loud _crack!_ and the panel lifted. I blinked away
the dust that settled in my eyes, reached to feel around within the
opening, touched nothing but rough floor boards.

This would be an excellent time, I reflected, to back out of here, get
a few hours' sleep, and tomorrow bid Ommodurad a hearty farewell. Then
in a few months, after I had had time to organize my new Estate and
align a few supporting Owners I could come back in force.

I cocked my head, listening. Ommodurad had stopped talking and another
voice said something. Then there was a heavy thump, the clump of feet,
and a metallic sound. After a moment the Great Owner's voice came
again ... and the other voice answered.

I stretched, grabbed the edge of the opening, and pulled myself up. I
leaned forward, got a leg up, and rolled silently onto the rough floor.
Feeling my way, I crawled, felt a wall rising, followed it, turned a
corner.... The voices were louder, quite suddenly. I saw why: there was
a ventilating register ahead, gridded light gleaming through it. I
crept along to the opening, lay flat, peered through it and saw three
men.

Ommodurad was standing with his back to me, a giant figure swathed to
the eyes in purple robes. Beside him a lean redhead with a leg that had
been broken and badly set stood round-shouldered, teeth bared in an
eager grimace, clutching a rod of office. The third man was Foster.

       *       *       *       *       *

Foster stood, legs braced apart as though to withstand an earthquake,
hands manacled before him. He looked steadily at the redhead, like a
man marking a tree for cutting.

"I know nothing of these crimes," he said.

Ommodurad turned, swept out of sight. The redhead motioned. Foster
turned away, moving stiffly, passed from my view. I heard a door
open and close. I lay where I was and tried to sort out half a dozen
conflicting impulses that clamored for attention. A few were easy: it
wouldn't help matters to yell "Stop, thief!" or to fall through the
register and chase after Foster with loud cries of joy. It wouldn't
be much better to scramble out, dash downstairs, and turn out my
bodyguards to raid Ommodurad's apartment.

What might do some good was to gather more information. It had been bad
luck that I had arrived at my peephole a few minutes too late to hear
what the interview had been all about. But I might still make use of my
advantage.

I felt over the register, found fasteners at the corners. They lifted
easily and the metal grating tilted back into my hands. I laid it
aside, poked my head out. The room was empty, as far as I could see.
It was time to take a few chances. I reversed my position, let my legs
through the opening, and dropped softly to the floor. I reached back up
and managed to prop the grating in position--just in case.

It was a fancy chamber, hung in purple and furnished for a king. I
poked through the pigeonholes of a secretary, opened a few cupboards,
peered under the bed. It looked like I wasn't going to find any useful
clues lying around loose.

I went to the glass doors to the balcony, unlocked one and left it
ajar--in case I wanted to leave in a hurry. There was another door
across the room. I went over and tried it: locked.

That gave me something definite to look for: a key. I rummaged some
more in the secretary, then tried the drawer in a small table beside a
broad couch and came up with a nice little steel key that looked like
maybe....

I tried it. It was. Luck was still coming my way. I pushed open the
door, saw a dark room beyond. I felt for a light switch, flicked it on,
pushed the door shut behind me.

The room looked like the popular idea of a necromancer's study. The
windowless walls were lined with shelves packed closely with books. The
high black-draped ceiling hung like a hovering bat above the ramparted
floor of bare, dark-polished wood. Narrow tables choked with books and
instruments stood along a side of the chamber and at the far end I saw
a deep-cushioned couch with a heavy dome-shaped apparatus like a beauty
shop hair-dryer mounted at one end. I recognized it: it was a memory
reinforcing machine, the first I had seen on Vallon.

I crossed the room and examined it. The last one I had seen--on the
Far-Voyager in the room near the library--had been a stark utility
model. This was a deluxe job, with soft upholstery and bright metal
fittings and more dials and idiot lights than a late model Detroit
status symbol. This solved one of the problems that had been hovering
around the edge of my mind. I had fetched Foster's memory back to him,
but without a machine to use it in it was just a tantalizing souvenir.
Now all I had to do was sneak him away from Ommodurad, make it back
here....

All of a sudden I felt tired, vulnerable, helpless, and all alone. I
had been taking wild chances, setting my head more and more brazenly
into the kind of iron noose the Big Owner would arrange for his
enemies ... and without the ghost of a plan, without even an idea of
what was going on. What was Ommodurad's interest in Foster? Why did he
hide away here, keeping the rest of Vallon away with rumors of magic
and spells? What connection did he have with the disaster that had
befallen the Two Worlds--now reduced to One, and a poor one at that.

And why was I, a plain Joe named Legion, mixed up in it right to the
eyebrows, when I could be sitting safe at home in a clean federal pen?

The answer to that last one wasn't too hard to recite: I had had a pal
once, a smooth character named Foster, who had pulled me back from
the ragged edge just when I was about to make a bigger mistake than
usual. He had been a gentleman in the best sense of the word, and he
had treated me like one. Together we had shared a strange adventure
that had made me rich and had showed me that it was never too late to
straighten your back and take on whatever the Fates handed out.

I had come running his way when trouble got too thick back home. And
I'd found him in a worse spot that I was in. He had come back, after
the most agonizing exile a man had ever suffered, to find his world
fallen back into savagery, and his memory still eluding him. Now he was
in chains, without friends and without hope ... but still not broken,
still standing on his own two feet....

But he was wrong on one point: he had one little hope. Not much: just
a hard-luck guy with a penchant for bad decisions, but I was here and
I was free. I had my pistol on my hip and a neat back way into the
Owner's bedroom, and if I played it right and watched my timing and had
maybe just a little luck, say about the amount it took to hit the Irish
Sweepstakes, I might bring it off yet.

Right now it was time to return to my crawl-space. Ommodurad might come
back and talk some more, tip me off to a vulnerable spot in the armor
of his fortress. I went to the door, flicked off the light, turned the
handle ... and went rigid.

Ommodurad was back. He pulled off the purple cloak, tossed it aside,
strode to a wall bar. I clung to the crack of the door, not daring to
move even to close it.

"But my lord," the voice of the redhead said, "I know he remembers--"

"Not so," Ommodurad's voice rumbled. "On the morrow I strip his mind to
the bare clean jelly...."

"Let me, dread lord. With my steel I'll have the truth from him."

"Such a one as he your steel has never known!" the bass voice snarled.

"Great Owner, I crave but one hour ... tomorrow, in the Ceremonial
Chamber. I shall environ him with the emblems of the past--"

"Enough!" Ommodurad's fist slammed against the bar, made glasses jump.
"On such starveling lackwits as you a mighty empire hangs. It is a
crime before the Gods and on his head I lay it." The Owner tossed off a
glass, jerked his head at the cowering man. "Still, I grant thy boon.
Now begone, babbler of folly."

The redhead ducked, grinning, disappeared. Ommodurad muttered to
himself, strode up and down the room, stood staring out into the night.
He noticed the open balcony door, pulled it shut with a curse. I held
my breath but no general check of doors followed.

The big man threw off his clothes then. He clambered up on the wide
couch, touched a switch somewhere, and the room was dark. Within five
minutes I heard the heavy breathing of deep sleep.

I had found out one thing anyway: tomorrow was Foster's last day. One
way or another Ommodurad and the redhead between them would destroy
him. That didn't leave much time. But since the project was already
hopeless it didn't make much difference.

I had a choice of moves now: I could tip-toe across to the register and
try to wiggle through it without waking up the brontosaurus on the
bed ... or I could try for the balcony door a foot from where he
slept ... or I could stay put and wait him out. The last idea had the
virtue of requiring no immediate daring adventures. I could just curl
up on the floor, or, better still, on the padded couch....

A weird idea was taking shape in my mind like a genie rising from a
bottle. I felt in my pocket, pulled out the two small cylinders that
represented two men's memories of hundreds of years of living. One
belonged to Foster, the one with the black and golden bands; but the
other was the property of a stranger who had died three thousand years
ago, out in space....

This cylinder, barely three inches long, held all the memories of a man
who had been Foster's confidant when he was Qulqlan, a man who knew
what had happened aboard the ship, what the purpose of the expedition
had been, and what conditions they had left behind on Vallon.

I needed that knowledge. I needed any knowledge I could get, to add a
feather-weight to my side of the balance when the showdown came. The
cylinder would tell me plenty, including, possibly, the reason for
Ommodurad's interest in Foster.

It was simple to use. I merely placed the cylinder in the receptacle
in the side of the machine, took my place, lowered the helmet into
position ... and in an hour or so I would awaken with another man's
memories stored in my brain, to use as I saw fit.

It would be a crime to waste the opportunity. The machine I had found
here was probably the only one still in existence on Vallon. I had
blundered my way into the one room in the palace that could help me in
what I had to do; I had been lucky; I couldn't waste that luck.

I went across to the soft-cushioned chair, spotted the recess in its
side, and thrust the plain cylinder into it; it seated with a click.

I sat on the couch, lay back, reached up to pull the headpiece down
into position against my skull....

There was an instant of pain--like a pre-frontal lobotomy performed
without anesthetic.

Then blackness.



CHAPTER XVIII


_I stood beside the royal couch where Qulqlan the Rthr lay and I saw
that this was the hour for which I had waited long, for the Change was
on him...._

_The time-scale stood at the third hour of the Death watch; all aboard
slept save myself alone. I must move swiftly and at the Dawn watch show
them the deed well done._

_I shook the sleeping man; him who had once been the Rthr--king no
more, by the law of the Change. He wakened slowly, looked about him,
with the clear eyes of the newborn._

_"Rise," I commanded. And the king obeyed._

_"Follow me," I said. He made to question me, after the manner of those
newly awakened from their Change. I bade him be silent. Like a lamb he
came and I led him through shadowed ways to the cage of the Hunters.
They rose, keen in their hunger, to my coming, as I had trained them._

_I took the arm of Qulqlan and thrust it into the cage. The Hunters
clustered, taking the mark of their prey. He watched, innocent eyes
wide._

_"That which you feel is pain, mindless one," I spoke. "It is a thing
of which you will learn much in the time before you." Then they had
done, and I set the time catch._

_In my chambers I cloaked the innocent in a plain purple robe and
afterward led him to the cradle where the lifeboat lay...._

_And by virtue of the curse of the Gods which is upon me one was there
before me. I waited not, but moved as the haik strikes and took him
fair in the back with my dagger. I dragged the body into hiding behind
the flared foot of a column. But no sooner was he hidden well away
than others came from the shadows, summoned by some device I know not
of. They asked of the Rthr wherefore he walked by night, robed in the
colors of Ammaerln of Bros-Ilyond. And I knew black despair, that my
grand design foundered thus in the shallows of their zeal._

_Yet I spoke forth, with a great show of anger, that I, Ammaerln,
vizier and companion to the Rthr, did but walk and speak in confidence
with my liege lord._

_But they persisted, Gholad foremost among them. And then one saw the
hidden corse and in an instant they ringed me in:_

_Then did I draw the long blade and hold it at the throat of Qulqlan.
"Press me not; or your king will surely die," I said. And they feared
me and shrank back._

_"Do you dream that I, Ammaerln, wisest of the wise, have come here
for the love of Far-Voyaging?" I raged. "Long have I plotted against
this hour, to lure the king a-voyaging in this his princely yacht, his
faithful vizier at his side, that the Change might come to him far from
his court. Then would the ancient wrong be redressed._

_"There are those men born to rule, as the dream-tree seeks the
sun--and such a one am I! Long has this one, now mindless, denied to
me my destiny. But behold: I, with a stroke, shall set things aright._

_"Below us lies a green world, peopled by savages. Not one am I to take
blood vengeance on a man newborn from the Change. Instead I shall set
him free to take up his life there below. May the Fates lead him again
to royal state if that be their will--"_

_But there were naught but fools among them and they drew steel. I
cried out to them that all, all should share!_

_But they heeded me not but rushed upon me. Then did I turn to Qulqlan
and drive the long blade at his throat, but Gholad threw himself before
him and fell in his place. Then they pressed me and I did strike out
against three who hemmed me close, and though they took many wounds
they persisted in their madness, one leaping in to strike and another
at my back, so that I whirled and slashed at shadows who danced away._

_In the end I hunted them down in those corners whither they had
dragged themselves and each did I put to the sword. And I turned at
last to find the Rthr gone and some few with them, and madness took me
that I had been gulled like a tinker by common men._

_In the chamber of the memory couch would I find them. There they would
seek to give back to the mindless one that memory of past glories which
I had schemed so long to deny him. Almost I wept to see such cunning
wasted. Terrible in my wrath I came upon them there. There were but two
and, though they stood shoulder to shoulder in the entry way, their
poor dirks were no match for my long blade. I struck them dead and went
to the couch, to lay my hand on the cylinder marked with the vile gold
and black of Qulqlan, that I might destroy it and with it the Rthr,
forever--_

_And I heard a sound and whirled about. A hideous figure staggered to
me from the gloom and for an instant I saw the flash of steel in the
bloody hand of the accursed Gholad whom I had left for dead. Then I
knew cold agony between my ribs...._

       *       *       *       *       *

_Gholad lay slumped against the wall, his face greenish above the
blood-soaked tunic. When he spoke air whistled through his slashed
throat._

_"Have done, traitor who once was honored of the king," he whispered.
"Have you no pity for him who once ruled in justice and splendor at
High Okk-Hamiloth?"_

_"Had you not robbed me of my destiny, murderous dog," I croaked, "that
splendor would have been mine."_

_"You came upon him helpless," gasped Gholad. "Make some amends now for
your shame. Let the Rthr have his mind, which is more precious than his
life."_

_"I but rest to gather strength. Soon will I rise and turn him from the
couch. Then will I die content."_

_"Once you were his friend," Gholad whispered. "By his side you fought,
when both of you were young. Remember that ... and have pity. To leave
him here, in this ship of death, mindless and alone...."_

_"I have loosed the Hunters!" I shrieked in triumph. "With them will
the Rthr share this tomb until the end of time!"_

_Then I searched within me and found a last terrible strength and I
rose up ... and even as my hand reached out to pluck away the mind
trace of the king I felt the bloody fingers of Gholad on my ankle, and
then my strength was gone. And I was falling headlong into that dark
well of death from which there is no returning...._

       *       *       *       *       *

I woke up and lay for a long time in the dark without moving, trying
to remember the fragments of a strange dream of violence and death.
I could still taste the lingering dregs of some bitter emotion. But
I had more important things to think about than dreams. For just a
moment I couldn't remember what it was I had to do; then with a start
I remembered where I was. I had lain down on the couch and pulled the
headpiece into place--

It hadn't worked.

I thought hard, tried to tap a new reservoir of memories, drew a blank.
Maybe my earth-mind was too alien for the Vallonian memory-trace to
affect. It was another good idea that hadn't worked out. But at least
I had had a good rest. Now it was time to get moving. First--to see if
Ommodurad was still asleep. I started to sit up--

Nothing happened.

I had a moment of vertigo, as my inner ear tried to accommodate to
having stayed in the same place after automatically adjusting to my
intention of rising. I lay perfectly still and tried to think it
through.

I had tried to move ... and hadn't so much as twitched a muscle. I
was paralyzed ... or tied up ... or maybe, if I was lucky, imagining
things. I could try it again and next time--

I was afraid to try. Suppose I tried and nothing happened--again? It
was better to lie here and tell myself it was all a mistake. Maybe I
should go back to sleep and wake up later and try it again....

This was ridiculous. All I had to do was sit up. I--

Nothing. I lay in the dark and tried to will an arm to move, my head
to turn. It was as though I had no arm, no head--just a mind--alone
in the dark. I strained to sense the ropes that held me down: still
nothing. No ropes, no arms, no body. There was no pressure against me
from the couch, no vagrant itch or cramp, no physical sensation. I was
a disembodied brain, lying nestled in a great bed of pitchblack cotton
wool.

Then, abruptly, I was aware of myself--not the gross mechanism of bone
and muscle, but the neuro-electric field generated within a brain alive
with flashing currents and a lightning interplay of molecular forces. A
sense of orientation grew. I occupied a block of cells ... here in the
left hemisphere. The mass of neural tissue loomed over me, gigantic.
And "I" ... "I" was reduced to the elemental ego, who possessed as a
material appurtenance "my" arms and legs, "my" body, "my" brain....
Relieved of outside stimuli, I was able now to conceptualize myself
as I actually was: an insubstantial state existing in an immaterial
continuum, created by the action of neural currents within the
cerebrum, as a magnetic field is created in space by the flow of
electricity.

And I knew what had happened. I had opened my mind to invasion by alien
memories. The other mind had seized upon the sensory centers and driven
me to this dark corner. I was a fugitive within my own skull.

For a timeless time I lay stunned, immured now as the massive stones
of Bar-Ponderone had never confined me. My basic self-awareness still
survived, out was shunted aside, cut off from any contact with the body
itself.

With shadowy fingers of imagination I clawed at the walls surrounding
me, fought for a glimpse of light, for a way out.

And found none.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then, at last, I began again to think.

I must analyze my awareness of my surroundings, seek out channels
through which impulses from sensory nerves flowed, and tap them.

I tried cautiously; an extension of my self-concept reached out with
ultimate delicacy. There were the ranked infinities of cells, there
the rushing torrents of gross fluid, there the taut cables of the
interconnecting web, and there--

Barrier! Blank and impregnable, the wall reared up. My questing tendril
of self-stuff raced over the surface like an ant over a melon, and
found no tiniest fissure. It loomed alien, inscrutable: the invader who
had stolen my brain.

I withdrew. To dissipate my force was senseless. I must select a point
of attack, hurl against it all the power of my surviving
identity ... before it too dwindled away and the abstraction that was
Legion vanished forevermore.

The last of the phantom emotions that had clung--for how long?--to the
incorporeal mind field had faded now, leaving me with no more than
an intellectual determination to reassert myself. Dimly I recognized
this sign of my waning sense of identity but there was no surge of
instinctive fear. Instead I coolly assessed my resources--and almost at
once stumbled into an unused channel, here within my own self-field.
For a moment I recoiled from the outré configuration of the stored
patterns ... and then I remembered.

I had been in the water, struggling, while the Red soldier waited,
rifle aimed. And then: a flood of data, flowing with cold, impersonal
precision. And I had deftly marshalled the forces of my body to survive.

And once more: as I hung by numbed fingers under the cornice of the
Yordano Building, the cold voice had spoken.

And I had forgotten. The miracle had been pushed back, rejected by
the conscious mind. But now I knew: this was the knowledge that I had
received from the background briefing device that I had used in my
island strong-room before I fled. This was the survival data known to
all Old Vallonians of the days of the Two Worlds. It had lain here,
unused, the secrets of superhuman strength and endurance ... buried by
the imbecile of censor-self's aversion to the alien.

But the ego alone remained now, stripped of the burden of neurosis,
freed from subconscious pressures. The levels of the mind were laid
bare, and I saw close at hand the regions where dreams were born, the
barren sources of instinctive fear-patterns, the linkages to blinding
emotions; and all lay now under my overt control.

Without further hesitation I tapped the stored Vallonian knowledge,
encompassed it, made it mine. Then again I approached the barrier,
spread out across it, probed in vain--

"_... vile primitive...._"

The thought thundered out with crushing force. I recoiled, then renewed
my attack, alert now. I knew what to do.

I sought and found a line of synaptic weakness, burrowed at it--

"_... intolerable ... vestigial ... erasure...._"

I struck instantly, slipped past the shield, laid firm hold on an optic
receptor bank. The alien mind threw itself against me, but too late. I
held secure and the assault faded, withdrew. Cautiously I extended my
interpretive receptivity. There was a pattern of pulses, oscillations
in the lambda/mu range. I tuned, focussed--

Abruptly I was seeing. For a moment my fragile equilibrium tottered,
as I strove to integrate the flow of external stimuli into my bodiless
self-concept. Then a balance was struck: I held my ground and stared
through the one eye I had recaptured from the usurper.

And I reeled again!

Bright daylight blazed in the chamber of Ommodurad. The scene shifted
as the body moved about, crossing the room, turning.... I had assumed
that the body still lay in the dark but instead, it walked, without my
knowledge, propelled by a stranger.

The field of vision flashed across the couch. Ommodurad was gone.

I sensed that the entire left lobe, disoriented by the loss of the
eye, had slipped now to secondary awareness, its defenses weakened. I
retreated momentarily from my optic outpost, laid a temporary traumatic
block across the access nerves to keep the intruder from reasserting
possession, and concentrated my force in an attack on the auricular
channels. It was an easy rout. Instantly my eye coordinated its
impressions with those coming in along the aural nerves ... and heard
my voice mouth a curse.

The body was standing beside a bare wall with a hand laid upon it. In
the wall a recess partly obscured by a sliding panel stood empty.

The body turned, strode to a doorway, emerged into a gloomy
violet-shadowed corridor. The glance flicked from the face of one guard
to another. They stared in open-mouthed surprise, brought weapons up.

"You dare to bar the path to the Lord Ammaerln?" My voice slashed at
the men. "Stand aside, as you value your lives."

And the body pushed past them, striding off along the corridor. It
passed through a great archway, descended a flight of marble stairs,
came along a hall I had seen on my tour of the Palace of Sapphires and
into the Onyx Chamber with the great golden sunburst that covered the
high black wall.

In the Great Owner's chair at the ring-board Ommodurad sat scowling at
the lame courtier whose red hair was hidden now under a black cowl.
Between them Foster stood, the heavy manacles dragging at his wrists.
Ommodurad turned; his face paled, then flushed darkly. He rose, teeth
bared.

The gaze of my eye fixed on Foster. Foster stared back, a look of
incredulity growing on his face.

"My Lord Rthr," I heard my voice say. The eye swept down and fixed on
the manacles. The body drew back a step, as if in horror.

"You overreach yourself, Ommodurad!" my voice cried harshly.

Ommodurad stepped toward me, his immense arm raised.

"Lay not a hand on me, dog of a usurper!" my voice roared out. "By the
Gods, would you take me for common clay?"

And, unbelievably, Ommodurad paused, stared in my face.

"I know you as the upstart Drgon, petty Owner," he rumbled. "But I know
I see another there behind your pale eyes."

"Foul was the crime that brought me to this pass," my voice said.
"But ... know that your master, Ammaerln, stands before you, in the
body of a primitive!"

"Ammaerln...!" Ommodurad jerked as though he had been struck.

My body turned, dismissing him. The eye rested on Foster.

"My liege," my voice said unctuously. "I swear the dog dies for this
treason----"

"It is a mindless one, intruder," Ommodurad broke in. "Seek no favor
with the Rthr for he that was Rthr is no more. You deal with me now."

My body whirled on Ommodurad. "Give a thought to your tone, lest your
ambitions prove your death!"

Ommodurad put a hand to his dagger. "Ammaerln of Bros-Ilyond you may
be, or a changeling from dark regions I know not of. But know that this
day I hold all power in Vallon."

"And what of this one who was once Qulqlan? What consort do you
hold with him you say is mindless?" I saw my hand sweep out in a
contemptuous gesture at Foster.

"An end to patience!" the Great Owner roared. "Shall I stand in my
inner citadel and give account of myself to a madman?" He started
toward my body.

"Does the fool, Ommodurad, forget the power of the great Ammaerln?"
my voice said softly. And the towering figure hesitated once more,
searching my face. "The Rthr's hour is past ... and yours, bungler
and fool," my voice went on. "Your months--or is it years?--of
self-delusion are ended." My voice rose in a bellow: "Know that I ...
Ammaerln, the great ... have returned to rule at High Okk-Hamiloth."

"Months?" rumbled Ommodurad. "Indeed, I believe the tales of the
Greymen are true and that an evil spirit has returned to haunt me. You
speak of months?" He threw back his head, laughed a choked throaty
laugh that was half sob.

"Know, demon, or madman, or ancient prince of evil: for thirty
centuries have I brooded alone, sealed from an empire by a single key!"

I felt the shock rack through and through the invader mind. This was
the opportunity I had hoped for. Quick as thought I moved, slashed at
the wavering shield, and was past it----

I grappled onto the foul mind-matrix, scanned its symbolisms: a miasma
of twisted concepts like great webs, asquirm with bristling nodes like
crouching spiders--and through it all a yammering torrent of deformed
thought-shapes.

In my eagerness I was careless. The invader mind, recovering, struck
back. Too late I felt it slip into my awareness, flick over the stored
information. I leaped to protect one fact ... and lost my gains. With
only a single tenuous line of rapport with the alien mind still open,
I clung, shaken--but hugging precious patterns of stolen data. My raid
had been no more than an irritation to the other mind ... but I had
fetched away a mass of information. I interpreted it, integrated it,
matched it to known patterns. A complex structure of relationships
evolved, growing into a new awareness.

Upon the mind-picture of Foster's face was now super-imposed another:
that of Qulqlan, Rthr of all Vallon, ruler of the Two Worlds!

And other pictures, snatched from the intruder mind, were present now
in the earth-consciousness of me, Legion.

The Vaults, deep in the rock under the fabled city of Okk-Hamiloth,
where the mind-trace of every citizen was stored, sealed by the Rthr
and keyed to his mind alone.

Ammaerln, urging the king to embark on a Far-Voyage, stressing the
burden of government, tempting him to bring with him the royal
mind-trace; Qulqlan's acquiescence and Ammaerln's secret joy at the
advancement of his scheme; the coming of the Change for the Rthr,
aboard ship, far out in space--and the vizier's bold stroke;
and then the fools who found him at the lifeboat ... and the loss of
all, all....

There my own memories took up the tale: the awakening of Foster,
unsuspecting, and his recording of the mind of the dying Ammaerlin;
the flight from the Hunters; the memory-trace of the king that lay for
three millenia among neolithic bones until I, a primitive, plucked
it from its place; and the pocket of a coarse fibre garment where
the cylinder lay now--on the hip of the body I inhabited but as
inaccessible to me as if it had been a million miles away.

But there was a second memory-trace--Ammaerln's. I had crossed a galaxy
to come to Foster, and with me, locked in an unmarked pewter cylinder,
I had brought Foster's ancient nemesis.

I had given it life, and a body.

Foster, once Rthr, had survived against all logic and had come back,
back from the dead: the last hope of a golden age....

To meet his fate at my hands.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Three thousand years," I heard my voice saying. "Three thousand years
have the men of Vallon lived mindless, with the glory that was Vallon
locked away in a vault without a key."

"I, alone," said Ommodurad, "have borne the curse of knowledge. Long
ago, in the days of the Rthr, I took my mind-trace from the vaults in
anticipation of the day of days when he should fall. Little joy has it
brought me."

"And now," my voice said, "you think to force this mind--that is no
mind--to unseal the vault?"

"I know it for a hopeless task," Ommodurad said. "At first I
thought--since he speaks the tongue of old Vallon--that he dissembled.
But he knows nothing. This is but the dry husk of the Rthr ... and I
sicken of the sight. I would fain kill him now and let the long farce
end."

"Not so!" my voice cut in. "Once I decreed exile to the mindless one.
So be it!"

The face of Ommodurad twisted in its rage. "Your witless chatterings
too! I tire of them."

"Wait!" my voice snarled. "Would you put aside the key?"

There was a silence as Ommodurad stared at my face. I saw my hand rise
into view. Gripped in it was Foster's memory-trace.

"The Two Worlds lie in my hand," my voice spoke. "Observe well the
black and golden bands of the royal memory-trace. Who holds this key
is all-powerful. As for the mindless body yonder, let it be destroyed."

Ommodurad locked eyes with mine. Then, "Let the deed be done," he said.

The redhead drew a long stiletto from under his cloak, smiling. I could
wait no longer....

Along the link I had kept through the intruder's barrier I poured the
last of the stored energy of my mind. I felt the enemy recoil, then
strike back with crushing force. But I was past the shield.

As the invader reached out to encircle me I shattered my unified
forward impulse into myriad nervous streamlets that flowed on, under,
over and around the opposing force; I spread myself through and through
the inner all-mass, drawing new power from the trunk sources.

I caught a vicious blast of pure wrath that rocked me and then I
grappled, shield to shield, with the alien. And he was stronger.

Like a corrosive fluid the massive personality-gestalt shredded my
extended self-field. I drew back, slowly, reluctantly. I caught a
shadowy impression of the body, standing rigid, eyes blank, and sensed
a rumbling voice that spoke: "Quick! The intruder!"

Now! I struck for the right optic center, clamped down with a death
grip.

The enemy mind went mad as the darkness closed in. I heard my voice
scream and I saw in vivid pantomime the vision that threatened the
invader: the redhead darting to me, the stiletto flashing----

And then the invading mind broke, swirled into chaos, and was gone....

I reeled, shocked and alone inside my skull. The brain loomed, dark
and untenanted now. I began to move, crept along the major nerve paths,
reoccupied the cortex----

Agony! I twisted, felt again with a massive return of sensation my
arms, my legs, opened both eyes to see blurred figures moving. And in
my chest a hideous pain....

I was sprawled on the floor, gasping. Sudden understanding came: the
redhead had struck ... and the other mind, in full rapport with the
pain centers, had broken under the shock, left the stricken brain to me
alone.

As through a red veil I saw the giant figure of Ommodurad loom, stoop
over me, rise with the royal cylinder in his hand. And beyond, Foster,
strained backward, the chain between his wrists garroting the redhead.
Ommodurad turned, took a step, flicked the man from Foster's grasp and
hurled him aside. He drew his dagger. Quick as a hunting cat Foster
leaped, struck with the manacles ... and the knife clattered across the
floor. Ommodurad backed away with a curse, while the redhead seized
the stiletto he had let fall and moved in. Foster turned to meet him,
staggering, and raised heavy arms.

I fought to move, got my hand as far as my side, fumbled with the
leather strap. The alien mind had stolen from my brain the knowledge of
the cylinder but I had kept from it the fact of the pistol. I had my
hand on its butt now. Painfully I drew it, dragged my arm up, struggled
to raise the weapon, centered it on the back of the mop of red hair,
free now of the cowl ... and fired.

Ommodurad had found his dagger. He turned back from the corner where
Foster had sent it spinning. Spattered with the blood of the redhead,
Foster retreated until his back was at the wall: a haggard figure
against the gaudy golden sunburst. The flames of beaten metal shimmered
and flared before my dimming vision. The great gold circles of the Two
Worlds seemed to revolve, while waves of darkness rolled over me.

But there was a thought: something I had found among the patterns in
the intruder's mind. At the center of the sunburst rose a boss, in
black and gold, erupting a foot from the wall, like a sword-hilt....

The thought came from far away. The sword of the Rthr, used once, in
the dawn of a world, by a warrior king--but laid away now, locked in
its sheath of stone, keyed to the mind-pattern of the Rthr, that none
other might ever draw it to some ignoble end.

A sword, keyed to the basic mind-pattern of the king....

I drew a last breath, blinked back the darkness. Ommodurad stepped past
me, knife in hand, toward the unarmed man.

"Foster," I croaked. "The sword...."

Foster's head came up. I had spoken in English; the syllables rang
strangely in that outworld setting. Ommodurad ignored the unknown words.

"Draw ... the sword ... from the stone!... You're ... Qulqlan ...
Rthr ... of Vallon."

I saw him reach out, grasp the ornate hilt. Ommodurad, with a cry,
leaped toward him--

The sword slid out smoothly, four feet of glittering steel. Ommodurad
stopped, stared at the manacled hands gripping the hilt of the fabled
blade. Slowly he sank to his knees, bent his neck.

"I yield, Qulqlan," he said. "I crave the mercy of the Rthr."

Behind me I heard thundering feet. Dimly I was aware of Torbu raising
my head, of Foster leaning over me. They were saying something but I
couldn't hear. My feet were cold, and the coldness crept higher.

I felt hands touch me and the cool smoothness of metal against my
temples. I wanted to say something, tell Foster that I had found the
answer, the one that had always eluded me before. I wanted to tell him
that all lives are the same length when viewed from the foreshortened
perspective of death, and that life, like music, requires no meaning
but only a certain symmetry.

But it was too hard. I tried to cling to the thought, to carry it with
me into the cold void toward which I moved, but it slipped away and
there was only my self-awareness, alone in emptiness, and the winds
that swept through eternity blew away the last shred of ego and I was
one with darkness....



EPILOGUE


I awoke to a light like that of a morning when the world was young.
Gossamer curtains fluttered at tall windows, through which I saw a
squadron of trim white clouds riding in a high blue sky.

I turned my head, and Foster stood beside me, dressed in a short white
tunic.

"That's a crazy set of threads, Foster," I said, "but on your build it
looks good. But you've aged; you look twenty-five if you look a day."

Foster smiled. "Welcome to Vallon, my friend," he said in English. I
noticed that he faltered a bit over the words, as if he hadn't used
them for a long time.

"Vallon," I said. "Then it wasn't all a dream?"

"Regard it as a dream, Legion. Your life begins today."

"There was something," I said, "something I had to do. But it doesn't
seem to matter. I feel relaxed inside...."

Someone came forward from behind Foster.

"Gope," I said. Then I hesitated. "You are Gope, aren't you?" I said in
Vallonian.

He laughed. "I was known by that name once," he said, "but my true name
is Gwanne."

My eyes fell on my legs. I saw that I was wearing a tunic like Foster's
except that mine was pale blue.

"Who put the dress on me?" I asked. "And where's my pants?"

"This garment suits you better," said Gope. "Come. Look in the glass."

I got to my feet, stepped to a long mirror, glanced at the reflection.
"It's not the real me, boys," I started----Then I stared, open-mouthed.
A Hercules, black-haired and clean-limbed, stared back. I shut my
mouth ... and his mouth shut. I moved an arm and he did likewise. I
whirled on Foster.

"What ... how ... who...?"

"The mortal body that was Legion died of its wounds," he said, "but the
mind that was the man was recorded. We have waited many years to give
that mind life again."

I turned back to the mirror, gaped. The young giant gaped back. "I
remember," I said. "I remember ... a knife in my guts ... and a
redheaded man ... and the Great Owner, and...."

"For his crimes," told Gope, "he went to a place of exile until the
Change should come on him. Long have we waited."

I looked again and now I saw two faces in the mirror and both of them
were young. One was low down, just above my ankles, and it belonged to
a cat I had known as Itzenca. The other, higher up, was that of a man I
had known as Ommodurad. But this was a clear-eyed Ommodurad, just under
twenty-one.

"Onto the blank slate we traced your mind," said Gope.

"He owed you a life, Legion," Foster said. "His own was forfeit."

"I guess I ought to kick and scream and demand my original ugly puss
back," I said slowly, studying my reflection, "but the fact is, I like
looking like Mr. Universe."

"Your earthly body was infected with the germs of old age," said
Foster. "Now you can look forward to a great span of life."

"But come," said Gope. "All Vallon waits to honor you." He led the way
to the tall window.

"Your place is by my side at the great ring-board," said Foster. "And
afterwards: all of the Two Worlds lie before you."

I looked past the open window and saw a carpet of velvet green that
curved over foothills to the rim of a forest. Down the long sward I
saw a procession of bright knights and ladies come riding on animals,
some black, some golden palomino, that looked for all the world like
unicorns.

My eyes traveled upward to where the light of a great white sun flashed
on blue towers. And somewhere trumpets sounded.

"It looks like a pretty fair offer," I said. "I'll take it."

       *       *       *       *       *

                           A TRACE OF MEMORY

Help wanted: Soldier of fortune seeks companion in arms to share
unusual adventure. Foster, Box 19.

Legion was desperate--but not that desperate. Even petty larceny seemed
preferable to that kind of proposal. But fate stepped in, and now he
is on the run, pursued by cops, the CIA and a few not-so-friendly
acquaintances of Foster. And Foster has lost his memory--not to mention
about thirty years of his age!

The key to Legion's dilemma, and to Foster's forgotten past, is in a
row of metal cylinders aboard a spaceship that has been orbiting Earth
for thousands of years. And Legion's troubles have really only begun....

                     A Tom Doherty Associates Book





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