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´╗┐Title: The Eyes of Thar
Author: Kuttner, Henry
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 Eyes of Thar" ***

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                           THE EYES OF THAR

                           By HENRY KUTTNER

             She spoke in a tongue dead a thousand years,
             and she had no memory for the man she faced.
              Yet he had held her tightly but a few short
            years before, had sworn eternal vengeance--when
            she died in his arms from an assassin's wounds.

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                       Planet Stories Fall 1944.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


He had come back, though he knew what to expect. He had always come
back to Klanvahr, since he had been hunted out of that ancient Martian
fortress so many years ago. Not often, and always warily, for there
was a price on Dantan's head, and those who governed the Dry Provinces
would have been glad to pay it. Now there was an excellent chance that
they might pay, and soon, he thought, as he walked doggedly through the
baking stillness of the night, his ears attuned to any dangerous sound
in the thin, dry air.

Even after dark it was hot here. The dead ground, parched and arid,
retained the heat, releasing it slowly as the double moons--the Eyes of
Thar, in Klanvahr mythology--swung across the blazing immensity of the
sky. Yet Samuel Dantan came back to this desolate land as he had come
before, drawn by love and by hatred.

The love was lost forever, but the hate could still be satiated. He had
not yet glutted his blood-thirst. When Dantan came back to Klanvahr,
men died, though if all the men of the Redhelm Tribe were slain, even
that could not satisfy the dull ache in Dantan's heart.

Now they were hunting him.

The girl--he had not thought of her for years; he did not want to
remember. He had been young when it happened. Of Earth stock, he had
during a great Martian drought become godson to an old shaman of
Klanvahr, one of the priests who still hoarded scraps of the forgotten
knowledge of the past, glorious days of Martian destiny, when bright
towers had fingered up triumphantly toward the Eyes of Thar.

Memories ... the solemn, antique dignity of the Undercities, in ruins
now ... the wrinkled shaman, intoning his rituals ... very old books,
and older stories ... raids by the Redhelm Tribe ... and a girl Samuel
Dantan had known. There was a raid, and the girl had died. Such things
had happened many times before; they would happen again. But to Dantan
this one death mattered very much.

Afterward, Dantan killed, first in red fury, then with a cool, quiet,
passionless satisfaction. And, since the Redhelms were well represented
in the corrupt Martian government, he had become outlaw.

The girl would not have known him now. He had gone out into the
spaceways, and the years had changed him. He was still thin, his eyes
still dark and opaque as shadowed tarn-water, but he was dry and sinewy
and hard, moving with the trained, dangerous swiftness of the predator
he was--and, as to morals, Dantan had none worth mentioning. He had
broken more than ten commandments. Between the planets, and in the
far-flung worlds bordering the outer dark, there are more than ten. But
Dantan had smashed them all.

In the end there was still the dull, sickening hopelessness, part
loneliness, part something less definable. Hunted, he came back to
Klanvahr, and when he came, men of the Redhelms died. They did not die
easily.

But this time it was they who hunted, not he. They had cut him off
from the aircar and they followed now like hounds upon his track. He
had almost been disarmed in that last battle. And the Redhelms would
not lose the trail; they had followed signs for generations across the
dying tundras of Mars.

He paused, flattening himself against an outcrop of rock, and looked
back. It was dark; the Eyes of Thar had not yet risen, and the blaze of
starlight cast a ghastly, leprous shine over the chaotic slope behind
him, great riven boulders and jutting monoliths, canyon-like, running
jagged toward the horizon, a scene of cosmic ruin that every old and
shrinking world must show. He could see nothing of his pursuers, but
they were coming. They were still far behind. But that did not matter;
he must circle--circle--

And first, he must regain a little strength. There was no water in
his canteen. His throat was dust-dry, and his tongue felt swollen and
leathery. Moving his shoulders uneasily, his dark face impassive,
Dantan found a pebble and put it in his mouth, though he knew that
would not help much. He had not tasted water for--how long? Too long,
anyhow.

       *       *       *       *       *

Staring around, he took stock of resources. He was alone--what was it
the old shaman had once told him? "You are never alone in Klanvahr. The
living shadows of the past are all around you. They cannot help, but
they watch, and their pride must not be humbled. You are never alone in
Klanvahr."

But nothing stirred. Only a whisper of the dry, hot wind murmuring up
from the distance, sighing and soughing like muted harps. Ghosts of
the past riding the night, Dantan thought. How did those ghosts see
Klanvahr? Not as this desolate wasteland, perhaps. They saw it with the
eyes of memory, as the Mother of Empires which Klanvahr had once been,
so long ago that only the tales persisted, garbled and unbelievable.

A sighing whisper ... he stopped living for a second, his breath
halted, his eyes turned to emptiness. That meant something. A thermal,
a river of wind--a downdraft, perhaps. Sometimes these eon-old canyons
held lost rivers, changing and shifting their courses as Mars crumbled,
and such watercourses might be traced by sound.

Well--he knew Klanvahr.

A half mile farther he found the arroyo, not too deep--fifty feet or
less, with jagged walls easy to descend. He could hear the trickle of
water, though he could not see it, and his thirst became overpowering.
But caution made him clamber down the precipice warily. He did not
drink till he had reconnoitered and made sure that it was safe.

And that made Dantan's thin lips curl. Safety for a man hunted by the
Redhelms? The thought was sufficiently absurd. He would die--he must
die; but he did not mean to die alone. This time perhaps they had him,
but the kill would not be easy nor without cost. If he could find some
weapon, some ambush--prepare some trap for the hunters--

There might be possibilities in this canyon. The stream had only
lately been diverted into this channel; the signs of that were clear.
Thoughtfully Dantan worked his way upstream. He did not try to mask his
trail by water-tricks; the Redhelms were too wise for that. No, there
must be some other answer.

A mile or so farther along he found the reason for the diverted stream.
Landslide. Where water had chuckled and rustled along the left-hand
branch before, now it took the other route. Dantan followed the dry
canyon, finding the going easier now, since Phobos had risen ... an Eye
of Thar. "The Eyes of the god miss nothing. They move across the world,
and nothing can hide from Thar, or from his destiny."

Then Dantan saw rounded metal. Washed clean by the water that had run
here lately, a corroded, curved surface rose dome-shaped from the
stream bed.

The presence of an artifact in this place was curious enough. The
people of Klanvahr--the old race--had builded with some substance that
had not survived; plastic or something else that was not metal. Yet
this dome had the unmistakable dull sheen of steel. It was an alloy,
unusually strong or it could never have lasted this long, even though
protected by its covering of rocks and earth. A little nerve began
jumping in Dantan's cheek. He had paused briefly, but now he came
forward and with his booted foot kicked away some of the dirt about the
cryptic metal.

A curving line broke it. Scraping vigorously, Dantan discovered that
this marked the outline of an oval door, horizontal, and with a handle
of some sort, though it was caked and fixed in its socket with dirt.
Dantan's lips were very thin now, and his eyes glittering and bright.
An ambush--a weapon against the Redhelms--whatever might exist behind
this lost door, it was worth investigating, especially for a condemned
man.

With water from the brook and a sliver of sharp stone, he pried and
chiseled until the handle was fairly free from its heavy crust. It was
a hook, like a shepherd's crook, protruding from a small bowl-shaped
depression in the door. Dantan tested it. It would not move in any
direction. He braced himself, legs straddled, body half doubled, and
strained at the hook.

Blood beat against the back of his eyes. He heard drumming in his
temples and straightened suddenly, thinking it the footsteps of
Redhelms. Then, grinning sardonically, he bent to his work again, and
this time the handle moved.

Beneath him the door slid down and swung aside, and the darkness
below gave place to soft light. He saw a long tube stretching down
vertically, with pegs protruding from the metal walls at regular
intervals. It made a ladder. The bottom of the shaft was thirty feet
below; its diameter was little more than the breadth of a big man's
shoulders.

       *       *       *       *       *

He stood still for a moment, looking down, his mind almost swimming
with wonder and surmise. Old, very old it must be, for the stream
had cut its own bed out of the rock whose walls rose above him now.
Old--and yet these metal surfaces gleamed as brightly as they must have
gleamed on the day they were put together--for what purpose?

The wind sighed again down the canyon, and Dantan remembered the
Redhelms on his track. He looked around once more and then lowered
himself onto the ladder of metal pegs, testing them doubtfully before
he let his full weight come down. They held.

There might be danger down below; there might not. There was certain
danger coming after him among the twisting canyons. He reached up,
investigated briefly, and swung the door back into place. There was a
lock, he saw, and after a moment discovered how to manipulate it. So
far, the results were satisfactory. He was temporarily safe from the
Redhelms, provided he did not suffocate. There was no air intake here
that he could see, but he breathed easily enough so far. He would worry
about that when the need arose. There might be other things to worry
about before lack of air began to distress him.

He descended.

At the bottom of the shaft was another door. Its handle yielded with
no resistance this time, and Dantan stepped across the threshold into
a large, square underground chamber, lit with pale radiance that came
from the floor itself, as though light had been poured into the molten
metal when it had first been made.

The room--

Faintly he heard a distant humming, like the after-resonance of a bell,
but it died away almost instantly. The room was large, and empty except
for some sort of machine standing against the farther wall. Dantan was
not a technician. He knew guns and ships; that was enough. But the
smooth, sleek functionalism of this machine gave him an almost sensuous
feeling of pleasure.

How long had it been here? Who had built it? And for what purpose? He
could not even guess. There was a great oval screen on the wall above
what seemed to be a control board, and there were other, more enigmatic
devices.

And the screen was black--dead black, with a darkness that ate up the
light in the room and gave back nothing.

Yet there was something--

"_Sanfel_," a voice said. "_Sanfel. Coth dr'gchang. Sanfel--sthan!_

"_Sanfel ... Sanfel ... have you returned, Sanfel? Answer!_"

It was a woman's voice ... the voice of a woman used to wielding
power, quiet, somehow proud as the voice of Lucifer or Lilith might
have been, and it spoke in a tongue that scarcely half a dozen living
men could understand.... A whole great race had spoken it once; only
the shamans remembered now, and the shamans who knew it were few.
Dantan's godfather had been one. And Dantan remembered the slurring
syllables of the rituals he had learned, well enough to know what the
proud, bodiless voice was saying.

The nape of his neck prickled. Here was something he could not
understand, and he did not like it. Like an animal scenting danger he
shrank into himself, not crouching, but withdrawing, so that a smaller
man seemed to stand there, ready and waiting for the next move. Only
his eyes were not motionless. They raked the room for the unseen
speaker--for some weapon to use when the time came for weapons.

His glance came back to the dark screen above the machine. And the
voice said again, in the tongue of ancient Klanvahr:

"I am not used to waiting, Sanfel! If you hear me, speak. And speak
quickly, for the time of peril comes close now. My Enemy is strong--"

Dantan said, "Can you hear me?" His eyes did not move from the screen.

Out of that blackness the girl's voice came, after a pause. It was
imperious, and a little wary.

"You are not Sanfel. Where is he? Who are you, Martian?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Dantan let himself relax a little. There would be a parley, at any
rate. But after that--

Words in the familiar, remembered old language came hesitantly to his
lips.

"I am no Martian. I am of Earth blood, and I do not know this Sanfel."

"Then how did you get into Sanfel's place?" The voice was haughty now.
"What are you doing there? Sanfel built his laboratory in a secret
place."

"It was hidden well enough," Dantan told her grimly. "Maybe for a
thousand years, or even ten thousand, for all I know. The door has been
buried under a stream--"

"There is no water there. Sanfel's home is on a mountain, and his
laboratory is built underground." The voice rang like a bell. "I think
you lie. I think you are an enemy--When I heard the signal summoning
me, I came swiftly, wondering why Sanfel had delayed so long. I must
find him, stranger. I must! If you are no enemy, bring me Sanfel!" This
time there was something almost like panic in the voice.

"If I could, I would," Dantan said. "But there's no one here except
me." He hesitated, wondering if the woman behind the voice could
be--mad? Speaking from some mysterious place beyond the screen, in
a language dead a thousand years, calling upon a man who must be
long-dead too, if one could judge by the length of time this hidden
room had lain buried.

He said after a moment, "This place has been buried for a long time.
And--no one has spoken the tongue of Klanvahr for many centuries. If
that was your Sanfel's language--" But he could not go on with that
thought. If Sanfel had spoken Klanvahr then he must have died long
ago. And the speaker beyond the screen--she who had known Sanfel, yet
spoke in a young, sweet, light voice that Dantan was beginning to think
sounded familiar.... He wondered if he could be mad too.

There was silence from the screen. After many seconds the voice spoke
again, sadly and with an undernote of terror.

"I had not realized," it said, "that even time might be so different
between Sanfel's world and mine. The space-time continua--yes, a day
in my world might well be an age in yours. Time is elastic. In Zha I
had thought a few dozen--" she used a term Dantan did not understand,
"--had passed. But on Mars--centuries?"

"Tens of centuries," agreed Dantan, staring hard at the screen. "If
Sanfel lived in old Klanvahr his people are scarcely a memory now. And
Mars is dying. You--you're speaking from another world?"

"From another universe, yes. A very different universe from yours. It
was only through Sanfel that I had made contact, until now--What is
your name?"

"Dantan. Samuel Dantan."

"Not a Martian name. You are from--Earth, you say? What is that?"

"Another planet. Nearer the sun than Mars."

"We have no planets and no suns in Zha. This is a different universe
indeed. So different I find it hard to imagine what your world must be
like." The voice died.

       *       *       *       *       *

And it was a voice he knew. Dantan was nearly sure of that now, and
the certainty frightened him. When a man in the Martian desert begins
to see or hear impossibilities, he has reason to be frightened. As the
silence prolonged itself he began almost to hope that the voice--the
implausibly familiar voice--had been only imagination. Hesitantly he
said, "Are you still there?" and was a little relieved, after all, to
hear her say,

"Yes, I am here. I was thinking.... I need help. I need it desperately.
I wonder--has Sanfel's laboratory changed? Does the machine still
stand? But it must, or I could not speak to you now. If the other
things work, there may be chance.... Listen." Her voice grew urgent. "I
may have a use for you. Do you see a lever, scarlet, marked with the
Klanvahr symbol for 'sight'?"

"I see it," Dantan said.

"Push it forward. There is no harm in that, if you are careful. We can
see each other--that is all. But do not touch the lever with the 'door'
symbol on it. Be certain of that.... Wait!" Sudden urgency was in the
voice.

"Yes?" Dantan had not moved.

"I am forgetting. There _is_ danger if you are not protected from--from
certain vibration that you might see here. This is a different
universe, and your Martian physical laws do not hold good between our
worlds. Vibration ... light ... other things might harm you. There
should be armor in Sanfel's laboratory. Find it."

Dantan glanced around. There was a cabinet in one corner. He went over
to it slowly, his eyes wary. He had no intention of relaxing vigilance
here simply because that voice sounded familiar....

Inside the cabinet hung a suit of something like space armor, more
flexible and skin tight than any he had ever seen, and with a
transparent helmet through which vision seemed oddly distorted. He got
into the suit carefully, pulling up the rich shining folds over his
body, thinking strangely how long time had stood still in this small
room since the last time a man had worn it. The whole room looked
slightly different when he set the helmet into place. It must be
polarized, he decided, though that alone could not account for the
strange dimming and warping of vision that was evident.

"All ready," he said after a moment.

"Then throw the switch."

With his hand upon it Dantan hesitated for one last instant of
wariness. He was stepping into unknown territory now, and to him the
unknown meant the perilous. His mind went back briefly to the Redhelms
scouring the canyons above for him. He quieted his uneasy mind with the
thought that there might be some weapon in the world of the voice which
he could turn against them later. Certainly, without a weapon, he had
little to lose. But he knew that weapon or no weapon, danger or not, he
must see the face behind that sweet, familiar, imperious voice.

He pressed the lever forward. It hesitated, the weight of milleniums
behind its inertia. Then, groaning a little in its socket, it moved.

Across the screen above it a blaze of color raged like a sudden shining
deluge. Blinded by the glare, Dantan leaped back and swung an arm
across his eyes.

When he looked again the colors had cleared. Blinking, he stared--and
forgot to look away. For the screen was a window now, with the world of
Zha behind it.... And in the center of that window--a girl. He looked
once at her, and then closed his eyes. He had felt his heart move, and
a nerve jumped in his lean cheek.

He whispered a name.

Impassively the girl looked down at him from the screen. There was no
change, no light of recognition upon that familiar, beloved face. The
face of the girl who had died at the Redhelm hands, long ago, in the
fortress of Klanvahr.... For her sake he had hunted the Redhelms all
these dangerous years. For her sake he had taken to the spaceways and
the outlaw life. In a way, for her sake the Redhelms hunted him now
through the canyons overhead. But here in the screen, she did not know
him.

He knew that this was not possible. Some outrageous trick of vision
made the face and the slender body of a woman from another universe
seem the counterpart of that remembered woman. But he knew it must be
an illusion, for in a world as different as Zha surely there could be
no human creatures at all, certainly no human who wore the same face as
the girl he remembered.

       *       *       *       *       *

Aside from the girl herself, there was nothing to see. The screen was
blank, except for vague shapes--outlines--The helmet, he thought,
filtered out more than light. He sensed, somehow, that beyond her
stretched the world of Zha, but he could see nothing except the
shifting, ever-changing colors of the background.

She looked down at him without expression. Obviously the sight of him
had wakened in her no such deep-reaching echoes of emotion as her face
woke in him. She said, her voice almost unbearably familiar; a voice
sounding from the silence of death over many chilly years,

"Dantan. Samuel Dantan. Earthly language is as harsh as the Klanvahr I
learned from Sanfel. Yet my name may seem strange to you. I am Quiana."

He said hoarsely, "What do you want? What did you want with Sanfel?"

"Help," Quiana said. "A weapon. Sanfel had promised me a weapon. He
was working very hard to make one, risking much ... and now time has
eaten him up--that strange, capricious time that varies so much between
your world and mine. To me it was only yesterday--and I still need the
weapon."

Dantan's laugh was harsh with jealousy of that unknown and long-dead
Martian.

"Then I'm the wrong man," he said roughly. "I've no weapon. I've men
tracking me down to kill me, now."

She leaned forward a little, gesturing.

"Can you escape? You are hidden here, you know."

"They'll find the same way I found, up above."

"The laboratory door can be locked, at the top of the shaft."

"I know. I locked it. But there's no food or water here.... No, if I
had any weapons I wouldn't be here now."

"Would you not?" she asked in a curious voice. "In old Klanvahr, Sanfel
once told me, they had a saying that none could hide from his destiny."

Dantan gave her a keen, inquiring look. Did she mean--herself? That
same face and voice and body, so cruelly come back from death to waken
the old grief anew? Or did she know whose likeness she wore--or could
it be only his imagination, after all? For if Sanfel had known her too,
and if Sanfel had died as long ago as he must have died, then this same
lovely image had lived centuries and milleniums before the girl at
Klanvahr Fortress....

"I remember," said Dantan briefly.

"My world," she went on, oblivious to the turmoil in his mind, "my
world is too different to offer you any shelter, though I suppose you
could enter it for a little while, in that protective armor that Sanfel
made. But not to stay. We spring from soil too alien to one another's
worlds.... Even this communication is not easy. And there is no safety
here in Zha either, now. Now that Sanfel has failed me."

"I--I'd help you if I could." He said it with difficulty, trying to
force the remembrance upon himself that this was a stranger.... "Tell
me what's wrong."

She shrugged with a poignantly familiar motion.

"I have an Enemy. One of a lower race. And he--it--there is no
word!--has cut me off from my people here in a part of Zha that
is--well, dangerous--I can't describe to you the conditions here. We
have no common terms to use in speaking of them. But there is great
danger, and the Enemy is coming closer--and I am alone. If there were
another of my people here to divide the peril I think I could destroy
him. He has a weapon of his own, and it is stronger than my power,
though not stronger than the power two of my race together can wield.
It--it _pulls_. It destroys, in a way I can find no word to say. I had
hoped from Sanfel something to divert him until he could be killed. I
told him how to forge such a weapon, but--time would not let him do it.
The teeth of time ground him into dust, as my Enemy's weapon will grind
me soon."

She shrugged again.

"If I could get you a gun," Dantan said. "A force-ray--"

"What are they?"

He described the weapons of his day. But Quiana's smile was a little
scornful when he finished.

"We of Zha have passed beyond the use of missile weapons--even such
missiles as bullets or rays. Nor could they touch my Enemy. No, we can
destroy in ways that require no--no beams or explosives. No, Dantan,
you speak in terms of your own universe. We have no common ground. It
is a pity that time eddied between Sanfel and me, but eddy it did, and
I am helpless now. And the Enemy will be upon me soon. Very soon."

       *       *       *       *       *

She let her shoulders sag and resignation dimmed the remembered
vividness of her face. Dantan looked up at her grimly, muscles riding
his set jaw. It was almost intolerable, this facing her again in need,
and again helpless, and himself without power to aid. It had been bad
enough that first time, to learn long afterward that she had died at
enemy hands while he was too far away to protect her. But to see it all
take place again before his very eyes!

"There must be a way," he said, and his hand gripped the lever marked
"door" in the ancient tongue.

"Wait!" Quiana's voice was urgent.

"What would happen?"

"The door would open. I could enter your world, and you mine."

"Why can't you leave, then, and wait until it's safe to go back?"

"I have tried that," Quiana said. "It will never be safe. The Enemy
waited too. No, it must come, in the end, to a battle--and I shall not
win that fight. I shall not see my own people or my own land again,
and I suppose I must face that knowledge. But I did hope, when I heard
Sanfel's signal sound again...." She smiled a little. "I know you would
help me if you could, Dantan. But there is nothing to be done now."

"I'll come in," he said doggedly. "Maybe there's something I could do."

"You could not touch him. Even now there's danger. He was very close
when I heard that signal. This is his territory. When I heard the bell
and thought Sanfel had returned with a weapon for me, I dared greatly
in coming here." Her voice died away; a withdrawn look veiled her eyes
from him.

After a long silence she said, "The Enemy is coming. Turn off the
screen, Dantan. And goodbye."

"No," he said. "Wait!" But she shook her head and turned away from him,
her thin robe swirling, and moved off like a pale shadow into the dim,
shadowless emptiness of the background. He stood watching helplessly,
feeling all the old despair wash over him a second time as the girl he
loved went alone into danger he could not share. Sometimes as she moved
away she was eclipsed by objects he could not see--trees, he thought,
or rocks, that did not impinge upon his eyes through the protective
helmet. A strange world indeed Zha must be, whose very rocks and trees
were too alien for human eyes to look upon in safety.... Only Quiana
grew smaller and smaller upon the screen, and it seemed to Dantan as
though a cord stretched between them, pulling thinner and thinner as
she receded into danger and distance.

It was unbearable to think that the cord might break--break a second
time....

Far away something moved in the cloudy world of Zha. Tiny in the
distance though it was, it was unmistakably not human. Dantan
lost sight of Quiana. Had she found some hiding place behind some
unimaginable outcropping of Zha's terrain?

The Enemy came forward.

It was huge and scaled and terrible, human, but not a human; tailed,
but no beast; intelligent, but diabolic. He never saw it too clearly,
and he was grateful to his helmet for that. The polarized glass seemed
to translate a little, as well as to blot out. He felt sure that this
creature which he saw--or almost saw--did not look precisely as it
seemed to him upon the screen. Yet it was easy to believe that such a
being had sprung from the alien soil of Zha. There was nothing remotely
like it on any of the worlds he knew. And it was hateful. Every line of
it made his hackles bristle.

It carried a coil of brightly colored tubing slung over one grotesque
shoulder, and its monstrous head swung from side to side as it paced
forward into the screen like some strange and terrible mechanical toy.
It made no sound, and its progress was horrible in its sheer relentless
monotony.

       *       *       *       *       *

Abruptly it paused. He thought it had sensed the girl's presence,
somewhere in hiding. It reached for the coil of tubing with one
malformed--hand?

"Quiana," it said--its voice as gentle as a child's.

Silence. Dantan's breathing was loud in the emptiness.

"Quiana?" The tone was querulous now.

"Quiana," the monster crooned, and swung about with sudden, unexpected
agility. Moving with smooth speed, it vanished into the clouds of the
background, as the girl had vanished. For an eternity Dantan watched
colored emptiness, trying to keep himself from trembling.

Then he heard the voice again, gentle no longer, but ringing like a
bell with terrible triumph, "_Quiana!_"

And out of the swirling clouds he saw Quiana break, despair upon her
face, her sheer garments streaming behind her. After her came the
Enemy. It had unslung the tube it wore over its shoulder, and as it
lifted the weapon Quiana swerved desperately aside. Then from the coil
of tubing blind lightning ravened.

Shattering the patternless obscurity, the blaze of its color burst out,
catching Quiana in a cone of expanding, shifting brilliance. And the
despair in her eyes was suddenly more than Dantan could endure.

His hand struck out at the lever marked "door"; he swung it far over
and the veil that had masked the screen was gone. He vaulted up over
its low threshold, not seeing anything but the face and the terror of
Quiana. But it was not Quiana's name he called as he leaped.

He lunged through the Door onto soft, yielding substance that was
unlike anything he had ever felt underfoot before. He scarcely knew it.
He flung himself forward, fists clenched, ready to drive futile blows
into the monstrous mask of the Enemy. It loomed over him like a tower,
tremendous, scarcely seen through the shelter of his helmet--and then
the glare of the light-cone caught him.

It was tangible light. It flung him back with a piledriver punch that
knocked the breath from his body. And the blow was psychic as well as
physical. Shaking and reeling from the shock, Dantan shut his eyes and
fought forward, as though against a steady current too strong to breast
very long. He felt Quiana beside him, caught in the same dreadful
stream. And beyond the source of the light the Enemy stood up in stark,
inhuman silhouette.

He never saw Quiana's world. The light was too blinding. And yet, in a
subtle sense, it was not blinding to the eyes, but to the mind. Nor
was it light, Dantan thought, with some sane part of his mind. Too late
he remembered Quiana's warning that the world of Zha was not Mars or
Earth, that in Zha even light was different.

Cold and heat mingled, indescribably bewildering, shook him hard. And
beyond these were--other things. The light from the Enemy's weapon was
not born in Dantan's universe, and it had properties that light should
not have. He felt bare, emptied, a hollow shell through which radiance
streamed.

For suddenly, every cell of his body was an eye. The glaring
brilliance, the intolerable vision beat at the foundations of his
sanity. Through him the glow went pouring, washing him, nerves, bone,
flesh, brain, in floods of color that were not color, sound that was
not sound, vibration that was spawned in the shaking hells of worlds
beyond imagination.

It inundated him like a tide, and for a long, long, timeless while he
stood helpless in its surge, moving within his body and without it,
and within his mind and soul as well. The color of stars thundered in
his brain. The crawling foulness of unspeakable hues writhed along his
nerves so monstrously that he felt he could never cleanse himself of
that obscenity.

And nothing else existed--only the light that was not light, but
blasphemy.

Then it began to ebb ... faded ... grew lesser and lesser,
until--Beside him he could see Quiana now. She was no longer stumbling
in the cone of light, no longer shuddering and wavering in its
violence, but standing erect and facing the Enemy, and from her
eyes--something--poured.

Steadily the cone of brilliance waned. But still its glittering,
shining foulness poured through Dantan. He felt himself weakening, his
senses fading, as the tide of dark horror mounted through his brain.

And covered him up with its blanketing immensity.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was back in the laboratory, leaning against the wall and breathing
in deep, shuddering draughts. He did not remember stumbling through
the Door again, but he was no longer in Zha. Quiana stood beside him,
here upon the Martian soil of the laboratory. She was watching him
with a strange, quizzical look in her eyes as he slowly fought back to
normal, his heart quieting by degrees, his breath becoming evener. He
felt drained, exhausted, his emotions cleansed and purified as though
by baths of flame.

Presently he reached for the clasp that fastened his clumsy armor.
Quiana put out a quick hand, shaking her head.

"No," she said, and then stared at him again for a long moment without
speaking. Finally, "I had not known--I did not think this could be
done. Another of my own race--yes. But you, from Mars--I would not have
believed that you could stand against the Enemy for a moment, even with
your armor."

"I'm from Earth, not Mars. And I didn't stand long."

"Long enough." She smiled faintly. "You see now what happened? We of
Zha can destroy without weapons, using only the power inherent in our
bodies. Those like the Enemy have a little of that power too, but they
need mechanical devices to amplify it. And so when you diverted the
Enemy's attention and forced him to divide his attack between us--the
pressure upon me was relieved, and I could destroy him. But I would not
have believed it possible."

"You're safe now," Dantan said, with no expression in voice or face.

"Yes. I can return."

"And you will?"

"Of course I shall."

"We are more alike than you had realized."

She looked up toward the colored curtain of the screen. "That is true.
It is not the complete truth, Dantan."

He said, "I love you--Quiana." This time he called her by name.

Neither of them moved. Minutes went by silently.

Quiana said, as if she had not heard him, "Those who followed you are
here. I have been listening to them for some time now. They are trying
to break through the door at the top of the shaft."

He took her hand in his gloved grasp. "Stay here. Or let me go back to
Zha with you. Why not?"

"You could not live there without your armor."

"Then stay."

Quiana looked away, her eyes troubled. As Dantan moved to slip off his
helmet her hand came up again to stop him.

"Don't."

"Why not?"

For answer she rose, beckoning for him to follow. She stepped across
the threshold into the shaft and swiftly began to climb the pegs toward
the surface and the hammering of the Redhelms up above. Dantan, at her
gesture, followed.

Over her shoulder she said briefly,

"We are of two very different worlds. Watch--but be careful." And she
touched the device that locked the oval door.

It slipped down and swung aside.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dantan caught one swift glimpse of Redhelm heads dodging back to
safety. They did not know, of course, that he was unarmed. He reached
up desperately, trying to pull Quiana back but she slipped aside and
sprang lightly out of the shaft into the cool gray light of the Martian
morning.

Forgetting her warning, Dantan pulled himself up behind her. But as his
head and shoulders emerged from the shaft he stopped, frozen. For the
Redhelms were falling. There was no mark upon them, yet they fell....

She did not stir, even when the last man had stiffened into rigid
immobility. Then Dantan clambered up and without looking at Quiana went
to the nearest body and turned it over. He could find no mark. Yet the
Redhelm was dead.

"That is why you had to wear the armor," she told him gently. "We are
of different worlds, you and I."

He took her in his arms--and the soft resilience of her was lost
against the stiffness of the protective suit. He would never even know
how her body felt, because of the armor between them.... He could not
even kiss her--again. He had taken his last kiss of the mouth so like
Quiana's mouth, long years ago, and he would never kiss it again. The
barrier was too high between them.

"You can't go back," he told her in a rough, uneven voice. "We _are_ of
the same world, no matter what--no matter how--You're no stranger to
me, Quiana!"

She looked up at him with troubled eyes, shaking her head, regret in
her voice.

"Do you think I don't know why you fought for me, Dantan?" she asked in
a clear voice. "Did you ever stop to wonder why Sanfel risked so much
for me, too?"

He stared down at her, his brain spinning, almost afraid to hear what
she would say next. He did not want to hear. But her voice went on
inexorably.

"I cheated you, Dantan. I cheated Sanfel yesterday--a thousand years
ago. My need was very great, you see--and our ways are not yours. I
knew that no man would fight for a stranger as I needed a man to fight
for me."

He held her tightly in gloved hands that could feel only a firm body
in their grasp, not what that body was really like, nothing about it
except its firmness. He caught his breath to interrupt, but she went on
with a rush.

"I have no way of knowing how you see me, Dantan," she said
relentlessly. "I don't know how Sanfel saw me. To each of you--because
I needed your help--I wore the shape to which you owed help most.
I could reach into your minds deeply enough for that--to mould a
remembered body for your eyes. My own shape is--different. You will
never know it." She sighed. "You were a brave man, Dantan. Braver and
stronger than I ever dreamed an alien could be. I wish--I wonder--Oh,
let me go! Let me go!"

She whirled out of his grasp with sudden vehemence, turning her face
away so that he could not see her eyes. Without glancing at him again
she bent over the shaft and found the topmost pegs, and in a moment was
gone.

Dantan stood there, waiting. Presently he heard the muffled humming of
a muted bell, as though sounding from another world. Then he knew that
there was no one in the ancient laboratory beneath his feet.

He shut the door carefully and scraped soil over it. He did not mark
the place. The dim red spot of the sun was rising above the canyon
wall. His face set, Dantan began walking toward the distant cavern
where his aircar was hidden. It was many miles away, but there was no
one to stop him, now.

He did not look back.





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