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´╗┐Title: The Creature Inside
Author: Sharkey, Jack
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 "The Creature Inside" ***

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                          The Creature Inside

                            BY JACK SHARKEY

                          ILLUSTRATED BY WOOD

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                   Worlds of Tomorrow December 1963
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



                The room was small, but it held a whole
              universe--and Norcriss had no place in it!


I

"How much did they tell you about the fix we're in?" said Dr. Alan
Burgess to his visitor.

Lieutenant Jerry Norcriss shook his head. "They said you'd fill me in.
They said it was urgent."

Burgess paused, lighted a cigarette, then belatedly offered one to
Jerry, who declined. "Well," he said, interspersing his words with
short nervous puffs of smoke, "about a year ago, I stumbled on a
way to reverse the process of an electro-encephalograph, to play
pre-recorded thoughts and experiences to a man's mind. You zoologists,
with your Contact process for penetrating newly discovered fauna's
minds, will be familiar with the process. Luckily for us."

Jerry eyed him. "Go on."

"My development involves an infinitely selective feedback. We give the
subject a saturating dose of inflowing concepts. His mind is free
to choose among them and to link them. Take 'bigness, affluence and
danger' for an instance. The subject puts them together and fleshes
them out. He could experience a large, expensive fission bomb falling
onto him, or he could be sacrificed to an immense golden idol, or--Or
anything that his inner mind chose."

"I begin to understand," said Jerry. "The overlay influences all
the senses. The subject thinks he's _really_ undergoing whatever he
conjures up--and you use it for therapy, letting him work off his
aggressions and frustrations in what seems to him an actual universe."

"Correct, except for the tense," said Alan Burgess. "I _was_ doing
that until Monday of this week." He leaned forward across the desk.
"We screen the subjects carefully, because certain psychoses could be
disastrous to the subject in my device. Paranoia, for instance. The
man would be amid unutterable horrors, with danger on every side; he'd
emerge a gibbering idiot, if he didn't die of heart failure first."

"Emerge?" asked Jerry, frowning. "I'd assumed you used a helmet, such
as we do in Contact...."

Burgess sighed. "Unfortunately, I am paying the penalty of lone-wolf
experimentation. I wish I'd had the sense to route the input to the
brain through a helmet, but I didn't. Instead I installed the person in
an observation room. The influencing factor was nutrition. Intravenous
feedings wouldn't have served the purpose of the observer; sometimes
the subject's choice of foodstuffs is significant. He had to be let
move about, his mind in a make-believe world, but his body actually
moving about a room we could see into. So--I had an atomic duplicator
installed. The hospital got one last year for making radium, turning
cancerous growths into normal flesh, regrowing bone and the like.

"Should the subject then grow hungry, the duplicator would be triggered
by his conviction of eating. In his mind, he might be--hanging from
a branch by his tail, for instance. The duplicator's production of
bananas, coconuts or whatever would give us a further clue to his state
of mind. You see?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"So far, sound enough, Dr. Burgess," said Jerry. "So what went wrong? I
assume something did, or I wouldn't be here."

"We made a terrible error. We tried observing a man named Anthony
Mawson in our gadget. I'd diagnosed his case as simple inferiority
complex. My fault. Wrong diagnosis. Mawson has megalomania, a gorgeous
case of it ... of course, he's not the first such case to fool
psychiatrists. You see, his outward shyness, soft-spoken voice and
general gawkishness is due to feeling superior to others, not the
reverse. He feels smarter, stronger, braver, etcetera, than everybody
else in creation--but he also feels that nobody knows it but himself.
Hence his indrawing, his brooding, taciturn gentility."

Jerry Norcriss prodded. "What happened with Mawson when you put him in
your machine?"

"I don't know," said Burgess. "No one's been able to see into the
machine since he entered it on Monday."

"He couldn't have escaped?"

"No! I wish he had. Anthony Mawson is still in that room, in his own
private universe, and we can't get him out of it. We've tried cutting
the power to the machine; the opacity inside the room remains. We sent
two men in after him. They never came out."

"How could he possibly?" asked Jerry.

Burgess shook his head. "We can only guess. Our theory is that he's
used the duplicator to make the entire room self-sustaining. Normally
we could wait till he runs out of material to feed the duplicator,
but--we can't wait on the lives of those two men. Nor can we chance his
expanding his universe."

Norcriss frowned. "Expanding it?"

Burgess nodded. "By, perhaps, feeding the duplicator with the room
itself. With a pickaxe, he can start hewing down the very walls, or
even have the duplicator build a robot that will take care of its
need for material to build with. Against this development, we have
surrounded the room completely with a force-shield, limiting his
outward progress to two feet of concrete in any direction. But the room
is approximately thirty feet square, and twenty feet high. With all
that mass he could exist in there for years."

"And my job is to get him out," said Jerry.

"Yes. The government feels that a Contact specialist's the only
kind of man to send into this madman's world. You men are used to
extra-somatic experiences--and you have learned to live with danger
without losing your heads."

"Well," said Jerry, getting up, "I guess that sums up the situation
sufficiently."

Burgess nodded, sadly. "Any further briefing is useless. Impossible,
really. I've told you the situation, and you can certainly imagine the
danger. But as for the solution, well.... You'll just have to feel your
way, and do whatever you think best."

Jerry paused beside Burgess at the door to the hall. "One thing,
though, Doctor; when _I_ get into the influence of the machine, what
kind of universe will I be in? Mine or Mawson's?"

"I can only theorize on that," said Burgess. "My guess would be that
you'll find both in there, one vying for supremacy over the other. This
fight won't be man to man. It will be universe against universe."


II

There had been no sensation at all as Jerry stepped through the flat
sheet of grayness in the doorway; no more physical awareness than
a blind man might feel when passing through the beam of a powerful
light. Perhaps there was a slight sensation of the mere presence of the
energies that kept the opacity in existence--but that sensation, Jerry
knew, was psychological, not actual.

"Although," he realized, as his world became an infinity of opalescent
gray, "in this place, a psychological awareness will be no different
from a genuine physical sensation. Better be careful what I think about
in this psychokinetic fog...."

The thought was barely formulated when the grayness changed. It became
moist against his flesh, and started swirling in tendrils about him.
"Damn it, be _careful_!" he belatedly cautioned his mind. "Now the
stuff _is_ fog!" Ahead of him in the swirling mist a brighter-than-gray
glow led his footsteps forward.

He found himself standing beneath an overhanging marquee. Its black
undersurface was runneled with condensed moisture amid the garish naked
bulbs that haloed the wet cement sidewalk.

A red-coated doorman, resplendent behind rows of bright brassy buttons,
gave him a smile as he pulled open the door that led to the club. Jerry
nodded and went inside.

Thick crimson carpet cushioned his footfalls as he moved cautiously
through an empty lobby, then down a white marble staircase toward the
ballroom. Dimly, he was aware that the band at the far end of the
mammoth room was playing music. What song he didn't know until a chance
chording reminded him of a popular song of the day ... at which point
that suddenly was the tune. The tables ringing the dance floor were
covered with bright linen and shining silver. The tables were empty
of patrons, however, until Jerry casually thought, "I should think
business would be better--"

Suddenly a horde of laughing couples appeared in the chairs, with
hurrying waiters bringing champagne, trays and menus to their guests.

The men wore tuxedos; the women were in evening dress. He looked
suddenly at himself, and saw that his uniform was now the official
dress uniform of the Space Corps. Before he could conquer it, his mind
voiced a quick wish that he shouldn't be dining alone; and then a girl
was rising from her place at a table beside the dance floor, hurrying
to greet him, hands outstretched.

Her fingers were small and strong and warm. She smiled up at him.
"Jerry, darling."

       *       *       *       *       *

Despite her being only arm's length from him, he could not see her
well at all. His impression was merely one of youth, loveliness and
girl-ness. But then, as he tried to ascertain precisely what she looked
like, hidden corners of his mind began to supply each detail an instant
before his conscious quest for it and Jerry, in a few moments, was
suddenly staggered with delighted shock.

Very few men are privileged to find a girl who lives up to all their
dreams of perfection in a woman.

Hair as soft as cobweb, as fluffy as dancing clouds, as golden as
flowing honey, cascaded down about a slender alabaster throat, and died
in golden ripples on smooth white shoulders. Eyes the rich brown of
raw chocolate gazed serenely at him from under red-gold brows and jet
lashes, their patrician serenity permeated with a touch of twinkling
impishness. Her lips were soft and not unlike berry-stained velvet,
sweet and warm and tempting; her mouth generous and tilted at the
corners into a smile of greeting--obviously the result of her subduing
a frank laugh of joy at seeing him. Geometrically perfect teeth flashed
white as porcelain between her lips. Her gown was a shimmering midnight
blue, highlighted with random sprinkles of brightly coruscating gems.

Even as his lips parted to ask her name, Jerry knew it and spoke it
softly. "Carol."

"Listen," she said softly, tilting her head toward where the band had
begun a new song. Swift, urgent and rapturous, it floated through the
room, surrounded the two of them, took possession of them. Then Carol
was in his arms, and Jerry was dancing out onto the floor with her. The
other couples were a blur of forgotten figures that swayed.

Jerry knew the melody. It was their song, their own private love
song, the one that had been playing on the night when they both knew,
suddenly, that there could be no one else for either of them but the
other....

As they returned to their table, Jerry realized that Carol was now
garbed in a white peasant blouse and bright flowered flaring skirt, and
that her hair was drawn back at the temples to expose her ears, now
adorned with golden hoops. The table was in a lattice-backed booth,
covered with a red-and-white checkered cloth. The inner surface of the
table held salt, pepper, grated cheese and breadsticks, matching cruets
of pale olive oil and dark vinegar. The band was now a five-man gypsy
ensemble.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Remember the first time we came here, Jerry?" asked Carol, her eyes at
once upon his face and distant, dreamy....

As she smiled, Jerry noticed with dull horror that one of her eyes was
perceptibly lower than the other.

The teeth she flashed his way were mottled with brown stains. She took
hold of his fingers with her own.

"Carol!" he said shakily, staring at the knuckly, red-raw hands that
clutched at his. "What's happening?"

"Happening?" she said, her voice a raucous croak of amusement.
"_Nothing's_ happening! In fact, you're probably one of the dullest
guys I ever got stuck with." She tossed her head petulantly. Coarse,
straw-colored hair flipped away from her thick neck. Her breath was
sour with wine and miasmic with garlic.

"Carol!" he cried.

"Don't whine!" she snapped, viciously. "I hate a guy who whines!" With
that, she shoved out of the booth, and waddled toward the rear of the
coffeehouse, one hand scratching at a bulge of flesh that overhung
the too-tight girdle. Her black leotards were twisted and dull as she
passed the flashing rainbow lights of the brassy jukebox.

Jerry shoved away from the table, overturning his coffee in its cracked
china cup, and he wove his way through the reek and smoke toward the
door through which she'd vanished.

When he got there, the door was a peeling poster on a bare brick wall,
advertising some long-forgotten show. His fingers scrabbled on rough
mortar for a moment. Then he turned and paced back to his cot, where he
flopped on his back in the long shadows of the bars.

"Norcriss!" said the guard, coming into the cell. "This is it!" The
brass uniform buttons flashed brightly.

Strong hands were lifting him from the cot, dragging him down a long
corridor toward a steel door. As they got there, the door opened wide,
and Jerry saw the gaping maw of hungry steel gears, while behind him a
man's voice droned prayers.

Then, before the guard could shove Jerry forward into that waiting
mechanical mouth, Jerry noticed the odd shimmer of grayness that lay
between himself and the waiting teeth, and he remembered that he was in
a world of illusion.

At precisely that moment he knew beyond a doubt that those waiting
jaws were illusion in form only. An atomic duplicator does not have to
chew its intake. It merely dissolves the atomic bonds with the rays
that flash between its power plates on either side of the disruption
platform. The waiting mouth and teeth were mere symbols in Jerry's mind
of what was about to occur.

They were unreal--but they could be fatal.

       *       *       *       *       *

He shut his eyes, shoved backward with his feet, and thought of Carol
as he'd first glimpsed her.

When he opened his eyes once more, she was standing before him in her
ballroom gown again, and the band was just beginning to play their
song once more.

"Jerry," she said, taking his arm. "Dance with me."

"No. We're in danger here. Come on, I'll get your coat. We've got to go
away quickly."

A spark of alarm showed briefly in her eyes. Then she nodded wordlessly
and hurried up the marble staircase with him to the lobby. Jerry got
her coat from the check-room--a marvelous silvery fur that covered
her from neck to waist--and then they were heading out into the fog
together.

"Good evening to you, sir," said the doorman, eyes and buttons bright.

Jerry grunted and led Carol off down the street into the fog.

"Where are we going?" she asked, breathlessly trying to keep pace.

"Away, I hope," he said. Even their movement from the ballroom could
be sheer illusion. Jerry tried moving from the club entrance in the
exact reverse of the motion in which he'd first approached it, trying
to achieve the real doorway that led from the experimental room into
the antiseptic hospital corridor where Burgess waited. But the fog
continued to be fog. It would not take on the form of that intangible
gray shimmering that guarded the entrance to Anthony Mawson's
megalomaniac universe.

"If I could only see where--" he began.

Then every tendril of fog was gone.

Before him lay the cold blackness of outer space, pinpointed with
hard, unwinking stars. Jerry recoiled from the viewplate, shaken, and
turned around to see Carol. Her eyes were wide and startled as she
glanced about at the metal confines of the control cabin. Jerry had
just time enough to think how incongruous she looked in her fur jacket
and long blueblack gown ... and then she was clothed in the neat gray
uniform of the WASP, trim short-sleeved shirt and sharply creased
shorts.

"Jerry," said Carol. She slipped her arm through his, staring at the
infinite stars in the viewplate. "What are we running from?"

He tried to think, but could not remember. "There's--some danger behind
us. We have to get away from it, Carol. It means complete destruction
if we're caught."

Carol stared helplessly at the stars in the viewplate. "But where are
we running to?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Jerry shook his head. "Impossible to tell. Not without the help of a
good astrogator. Out in space, stars shift and magnitudes change. I'm
not even qualified to guess--"

"Sire," said the astrogator, handing a clipboard to Jerry, "we can
reach any of these seven stars in a few hours. Just tell me where you'd
prefer to go."

Jerry turned to the man, resplendent in his neat Space Corps uniform,
jacket bright with brass buttons. When he tried to focus upon the man's
features he could detect nothing.

"We'd better choose the quickest trip," Jerry said, after a moment's
indecision. "No telling how much fuel we have left."

The astrogator nodded. "I'm afraid that's out of my department, all
right, sir. But if _you'd_ care to check the tanks?" Without waiting
for a reply, the man turned and began to pick his way carefully toward
the rear of the spaceship, stepping from girder to girder. The floor,
Jerry noticed idly as he followed, was exposed to open space between
the curving ribs of steel that formed the framework of the ship.

"Careful, now," he said, helping Carol along from one to the other.
"That's vacuum out there. We don't want to fall through."

Ahead of Jerry, the implacable man with the brass buttons was nearly to
the steel door masking the blast chamber where the components of fuel
were mingled and ignited. Jerry, giddly aware of every hazardous step
over the squares of star-speckled blackness, kept one hand on Carol's
arm, the other on her chessboard.

"Don't spill any of the men!" she cautioned, as the diminutive plastic
figures danced and rattled on the board. "I don't intend to search the
whole cosmos for a pawn."

"Here you go, sir," said the politely insistent astrogator, opening the
steel door. Before Jerry yawned an oval of intense white flame, the
radiating heat crisping against his skin and hair.

"The fission rate," Jerry mumbled, consulting his wristwatch. "I've got
to time it, or I won't be able to calculate the amount of fuel still in
the bulkheads."

"Count it by steps, sir," suggested the astrogator.

"One," said Jerry, stepping out toward that blinding coruscation of
heat. "Two," he said, feeling carefully for the next girder.

Then the toe of his boot slipped from the metal, and he realized,
with a horrible lancing of adrenalin through his abdomen, that he was
falling out the opening between the girders. The only salvation would
be a shove with his still-braced rear foot, but that would carry him
directly into the inferno of burning fuel. An eternity of falling
through icy vacuum against an instant of intolerable searing pain....

"The fire--" gasped Jerry, toppling in inexorable slow motion toward
starry darkness, a cloud of twirling chess pieces orbiting about his
head. "I've got to make it into the fire...."

He tensed the muscles of the laggard leg for the spring that would
carry him to destruction, and then he saw that the chess pieces were
shimmering gray, and the oval frame of the doorway to the flaming fuel
was shimmering gray, and even what had seemed hot white burning was
cold gray waiting mist, and with a yell of remembrance, Jerry clamped
shut his eyes and let himself plunge downward into nothingness....


III

"Are you all right, Norcriss?" Jerry blinked slowly, then focused on
the face of Dr. Alan Burgess. He found himself lying on a narrow,
white-sheeted cart, in the corridor outside the room where all the
trouble had begun. "Mawson," he said groggily. "Is he--?"

Burgess nodded wearily. "Still in there, in full control of his one-man
universe. What happened, Norcriss? You came tumbling out that door like
a wild man, clawing the air and yelling. Then you went into shock.
You've been unconscious for two hours."

"I--I thought I was falling," Jerry admitted. "The last thing I
remember is stepping through the open space between a spaceship's
supporting girders."

"What open space?" said Burgess, frowning curiously.

Jerry shook his head. "There isn't any such thing. But something
happens to logic in that room. It's like having a dream, Doctor. Things
that would startle you in everyday life seem correct. Even familiar.
But there's a kind of pattern to events. At first, I'm in my universe,
and mostly in control. Then little fragments of my pseudo-reality start
slipping, changing into other things. The changes seem perfectly normal
to me. Then, all at once, the guy with the brass buttons turns up--and
I've managed in the nick of time, twice, to realize that I was about to
be sent or led between the disrupting plates of your atomic duplicator."

"The man with the brass buttons," Burgess said slowly. "Do you think
it's Mawson?"

"Either him or a robot he's made to keep his machine fed." When Burgess
scowled, Jerry shrugged and appended, "It is his machine, for all
practical purposes. He's the boss of that hungry electronic monster,
Doctor, however the hospital feels about it."

"This Carol. Is she a real woman, or a figment of your imagination,
wishful thinking?"

"She's real enough," Jerry sighed. "She's the personal secretary of the
entire Space zoology program. I take her out sometimes. There's nothing
special between us."

"But you wish there were," said Burgess.

Jerry stared at him. "What makes you think that?"

Burgess tilted his head toward the room where Mawson still maintained
control. "Your visions in there. You must think a lot of her. You can
kid yourself consciously; but nearly all you underwent in there came
straight from your subconscious. And a subconscious just doesn't know
how to lie."

Jerry changed the subject, "What's our next move? How soon can I go
back after Mawson?"

"You can't. Mawson's knowledge of this Carol can easily be turned to
your disadvantage. He can use her to lead you to dissolution in there.
No, it's much too risky. You're lucky you got out when you did."

"But what about Mawson, then?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Burgess tried to look confident. He failed. "We can ring up your
headquarters and ask for another man. Or, if worse comes to worse, we
can partition off this part of the hospital, and just sit it out until
Mawson runs out of atomic building blocks."

"Which may take years," Jerry reminded him.

Burgess turned his palms upward. "What else can we do?"

"Send me again," said Jerry. "I know the score pretty well, now. I know
what to watch out for. I'm sure that with one more try I can get Mawson
out of there."

"Sorry," Burgess said, shaking his head. "As a medical man, I cannot
permit it. You've had a bad shock. We'll try someone else, if your
outfit will send someone, and see what happens. If he fails, or if they
won't supply us with any more men, then--well, you can try again in a
few weeks, if you're still game. But not now."

"Doctor, in a few weeks, Mawson will be so well in control of that
universe that he may find a way to block the entrance. Have you thought
of that?"

"His universe is not a real one--" Burgess began.

"But that duplicator is real enough. It can make anything he decides he
needs. And at any time he may get the bright idea of simply mounting
his machine right at the entrance, so anyone stepping into that gray
field will be powdered into atoms, instantly."

"That's true enough," admitted Burgess. "But my diagnosis still
stands. For now, you are off this assignment. When I feel you're
ready--assuming nothing else has succeeded meantime--I'll contact you
at the base."

"How do you know I won't be off on some other planet by then?" asked
Jerry bitterly.

"I don't," said Burgess. "I hope you are not, but there isn't anything
further I can do about it. I'm sorry."

"And what do I do in the meantime?"

Burgess grinned. "Call up this Carol and go out on the town."

Jerry shook his head at the last part. "No thanks. I prefer Carol to
know nothing about it."

Burgess shrugged and gave it up. "All right, Norcriss. Rest here till
you feel stronger, then you're free to go." Then he was striding off
down the corridor.

After a bit, Jerry sat up cautiously, let the slight giddiness subside,
then swung his legs off the side of the cart and got down.

Behind him, the door to Mawson's universe stood open on its wall of
grayness. Jerry stared thoughtfully at it, then saw that the two
internes who were guarding the opposite ends of this section of the
hospital corridor were hesitantly half-starting toward him. Jerry knew
he could be through that doorway and into the grayness before they got
within ten feet of him....


IV

Then his shoulders slumped, and he turned and walked toward the
elevators. Burgess was right. He felt worn out, and uninclined to make
grandstand plays. Besides, he thought, thumbing the elevator button,
it would be nice to see the _real_ Carol again, after her nebulous
pseudo-self. He wanted very much to put his arms around a girl who
wouldn't suddenly turn into something horrible in his embrace.

The steel doors slid open before him, and the elevator boy leaned out
to check the corridor for other passengers. "Down," he said. Jerry
nodded and started into the elevator.

Then he hesitated, and looked back toward the room where Mawson reigned
supreme, then back at the elevator boy. "Say," he said, uncertainly,
"that's a strange outfit for an elevator attendant in a hospital. I'd
have expected an orderly in an all-white getup."

The boy glanced down at his uniform, the bright blue pants, shined
black shoes, and scarlet jacket bright with twin rows of brass buttons.
"I suppose it is," he said. "But I don't usually run this elevator. I'm
from the hotel next door. I'm just doing this while the regular guy
takes his coffee break."

Jerry hesitated, then stepped toward the waiting elevator with its
pale gray walls. And stopped again. His hand went to his forehead,
bewilderedly. "There's something--" he said.

Then Carol was beside him, slipping her arm through his. "Come on,
Jerry," she said urgently. "We'll be late for our date."

Jerry looked at her, then at the hotel corridor behind her, then again
at the waiting elevator.

"I have the oddest feeling something's wrong," he said. "I--I don't
remember coming over here for you."

"You didn't," she said promptly. "I came for you, Jerry. This is your
hotel, remember? Doctor Burgess said you'd had a bad shock, but I
didn't know how bad till now."

"Shock?" said Jerry. "What shock? What was bothering me?"

Carol smiled tightly. "Nothing. Nothing at all. Come on, Jerry,
darling." Again she drew him toward the elevator.

"If I could only remember," he said, uneasily, on the brink of that
open cube of bright grayness. Then his eyes focused upon the brass
buttons fronting the boy's jacket, and at his own shadow as it passed
across those glowing hemispheres. As the shadow crossed a button, the
color would die, and the button would be dull crystal, and then glow
bright and brassy again when the shadow had passed.

"Photoelectric cells!" said Jerry. "Light-sensitive cells. Those aren't
buttons, they're eyes! Multiple robot eyes!" He staggered away from the
boy. Carol stopped him.

The elevator boy, suddenly half again Jerry's height, was towering
over him, long steel arms extending like hooked telescopes toward him.
"Get in, Jerry, get _in_!" cried Carol, struggling to push him forward
toward those invincible metal clamps.

In a fury of fear, Jerry fought her, grappled with her, twisted to
avoid those extending robot hands that would drag him to destruction.
And suddenly Carol was screaming his name, and her eyes were pools
of terror and betrayal, and the leaping metal fingers had buried
themselves in the soft flesh of her shoulders and dragged her back into
grayness.

Incredible energies came alive about her, and then there was only a
shimmer of dusty crystalline winds, and she was gone.

Jerry found himself standing before the still-warm plates of the atomic
duplicator, in the room where Mawson had had his short-lived universe.
Beside the machine, a squat cubic box dangled limp steel arms, its rows
of photo-electric cells losing their golden glow.

And then, as Burgess came hurrying in through the door, he toppled over
in a dead faint.

       *       *       *       *       *

"So there is no such person as Carol?" said Burgess, standing at
the foot of the hospital bed. "She was only the figment of your
imagination?"

"Yes," said Jerry dully. "And all along, it was Mawson I was really
with. He was clever, all right. She was certainly the last occupant of
that crazy place I was likely to attack. If he had not tried attacking
me himself--I might be atom dust by now. A little longer, and she--he,
I mean--might have _talked_ me into that elevator."

"Well," said Burgess, "I'm sorry this thing ended with Mawson's
dissolution, but that can't be helped. You did your job well,
Lieutenant."

"Thanks," said Jerry, expressionlessly.

"To come so near death so many times--" Burgess shuddered. "You have
a remarkable constitution, not to have cracked under such a strain.
Lieutenant, you're a lucky man."

And Jerry, his mind still filled with a vision of golden hair, soft
brown eyes and warm, eager lips, could only echo wearily, "Very lucky."


END





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