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´╗┐Title: Man nth
Author: Fox, Gardner F. (Gardner Francis)
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 "Man nth" ***

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



                                MAN^Nth

                           By GARDNER F. FOX

              From strange and distant worlds the master
              beings came to Neeoorna, bringing with them
                the science of the Universe. One by one
               they fought the alien fire--and died. And
               now Jonathan Morgan, the Earthling, whose
             science was primitive compared to the others,
                found himself facing the black flames.

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                      Planet Stories Winter 1945.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


He stood alone in the laboratory, frightened, staring at the tiny motes
of dust that swirled lightly in the breeze. That dust had been a block
of solid lead a moment ago; before he had touched it, and concentrated.

Jonathan Morgan licked his lips with a dry tongue. Things like this
shouldn't happen to the assistant to the Chief of the National
Foundation for Physics Research. It went against every law he had
studied so absorbedly for the past twelve years, ever since he had
decided in high school to make physics his life work.

"I'm mad," he said to himself, knowing he was utterly sane; that was
what frightened, knowing his sanity.

He removed a glass test-tube from a wooden rack before him, grasped it
firmly and furrowed his brows over his clear black eyes. If this works,
he thought savagely, I can chuck every law of physics and organic
chemistry into the junk heap, and become a tramp riding the rods of the
first train out of town....

The glass in his hands stretched noticeably; grew and expanded to pint
size, to the size of a quart container.

"_God!_"

The glass shattered on the inlaid linoleum floor. Jonathan put out his
big hands and clung to the edge of the sandstone tabletop until his
muscles bunched in big ridges all along his hairy forearms.

"Dr. Wooden!" he shouted hoarsely. "Dr. Wooden!"

A big man came and stood in the doorway, staring at him, clad in white
smock with the sleeves rolled up to bare his wrists.

"Did you call--Jonathan! What's wrong?"

The Chief ran to him, his eyes intent in his white face, his features
tense.

"You've had a shock. Tell me, did the rays react as we'd hoped?"

"No, no. It isn't the rays. It's me. I--I'm _infinite_!"

Dr. Wooden smiled, saying, "Sit down, boy. You've been working too
hard. You need a rest. Forget all about the calcatryte and how to bend
the rays it emanates. You need a change. Perhaps the shore. Or my
mountain lodge in the Adirondacks."

Jonathan Morgan straightened, shaking his head, muttering, "No, no."
His brain was clearing, and he knew with a grim sureness that something
big had happened to him, for a reason. He lifted another block of lead,
and looked down at it.

"Watch it, Doctor. Watch the lead."

The lead block quivered strangely, undergoing some queer
transformation. Its outlines became blurred and vague. It shrank,
dissolved; became infinitesimal bits of dust in Morgan's palm. Jonathan
bent and blew on the dust and it fluttered away.

He looked at Doctor Wooden with a wry smile.

"I can do anything, Doctor. I can grow or become small. I can destroy
or I can--create!"

"Well," the Chief breathed gustily. "I almost believe you. Whew! Man,
do you realize the vast vistas that are opening for you? With power
such as that ... oh, my God! How trite I am after seeing--that!"

"Does sort of stun you," agreed Jonathan dryly. "Doctor, do you think
this gift was given to me for a--reason?"

The Chief glanced sharply at his assistant, then nodded slightly.

"Go on, Jonathan. Tell me what's on your mind."

       *       *       *       *       *

Jonathan Morgan stalked up and down the laboratory aisle, his tall
body graceful as the stalking panther, his great shoulders illy fitted
in the smeared lab smock. He was a big man. Conference football and
baseball had added lithe muscles to the frame that was his heritage
from a family of farmers. Black hair, cut crew above a high-cheeked,
tanned face, and coal black eyes that were alert as a watching cat,
added to his look of fitness.

"I've known of this power since last night," he said slowly. "We were
at Mrs. Gordon's bridge, remember? I was sitting there with that blamed
cup on my knees wishing I didn't have to drink it, when my mind went
blank. Absolutely blank.

"It was like being suspended in a dark vault, with someone working on
your mind. I could _feel_ what they--or _it_, was doing to me. Oh, it
didn't hurt. It was just a sense of--awareness. As though someone were
operating on me with instruments of telepathy. Knowing just what to do,
and going there and getting it over with, quickly. When the feeling
went away, I was still sitting there. I hadn't moved, and no one had
noticed anything. It had been accomplished in an incredibly short space
of time.

"I recall looking at the tea in the cup, and wishing with all my
heart it was a stiff drink. And when I put it to my lips, it was just
that--the best liquor I've ever tasted in my life.

"I needed that drink. Especially in view of the fact that it was a
drink. Then I thought I heard a voice, whispering to me from far away.
I sat still and listened. But the voice, or whatever it was, couldn't
get through to me. It tried desperately to tell me something, but the
connection was wrong. It gave up after a while."

Jonathan took the cigarette the doctor handed him and puffed in on it,
standing in a patch of sunlight, gazing down at the flooring.

"On the way home, I got to wondering about what had happened. I
thought, maybe somebody's made a present to me of terrific mental
powers. I looked up at the moon, and wondered about it.

"The idea came to me: why not concentrate on the moon, and see what
would happen. It was to be a test, you see.

"I concentrated, all right.

"The next thing I knew I was standing on it. And oh, boy! the Earth is
damn big, looking up, or down, at it."

The Chief choked on cigarette smoke. He gasped finally, "You mean to
tell me you were on the moon?"

"It was the moon, all right. I know. I scrambled right back here
on terra firma in a big hurry, too. There are some things on that
satellite of ours--

"This morning I tried destroying matter. You saw how it worked. I've
tried making things grow. That works, too. It's unlimited, this power.
Anything that is limitless is--infinite."

Doctor Wooden put his cigarette into a bowl of water. Jonathan flipped
his out the window, and watched it arc downwards. They stood silent,
frowning. Doctor Wooden roused himself slowly.

"You can turn this gift into the greatest benefit to mankind the world
has ever known, Jonathan. You can investigate scientific mysteries at
the source. You could find cures. You could--"

Jonathan waved a big hand.

"I know. I've thought of all that. But I'm worried. I've a feeling that
this power was given to me for a certain purpose. To enable me to do
something even bigger. No force we know could have done this to me. It
came from outside, beyond the Earth. It _must_ have. There is something
out there that needs--or wants--me. Maybe that voice did get in a few
subconscious suggestions, after all. Wherever it came from, I should
find that voice."

"You could explore the universe," murmured Dr. Wooden thoughtfully.

"I may have to. I'm going to search all space if need be. I can't hold
back. Perhaps the voice implanted that, too. An urge to go out there
among the stars and look for it. The wanderlust. It's a thing like
thirst and hunger, that is a part of you."

"When do you intend leaving?"

"Tonight. At once, perhaps. Why wait for night? Oh, God, I don't know
what to say, what to think. But I'm going."

Dr. Wooden caught him by the arm, drawing him into the next room. It
was a smaller laboratory, bare but for long chrome tables with metal
cradles hung from tripods resting on their tops. In each cradle was
pouched a block of crystalline rock formation, semi-transparent, with
fine veins of iridescent color interlacing with each other to form
weird patterns in the milky depths.

"You're young, Jonathan, and you're imaginative. I'm not trying to
dissuade you. I just want you to consider."

He put his hands on the rocks in the cradles. These stones were
calcatryte, dredged accidently in a scoop shovel off Great Barrier Reef
and sent to the National Foundation for testing.

Dr. Wooden bit his lips. Jonathan knew what restraint he was
exercising. This research institute was his heart's dream, with its
marble halls and linoleum lab floors, its chrome tables. He had two
things in his life: the Institute, and his theory. And Jonathan was
part of both.

His theory was this: that somewhere in the world there is an element, a
substance, that would emit _straight_ light as one of its properties.
Light that did not curve as all light did. Light that would, by its
very rigidity, cut through the atomic structure of other matter by
the sheer energy of its photons, cutting a path in a thing by ripping
electrons from their beds. A light to outmode all cutting and sawing
instruments; a ray that would be easy to handle, and inexpensive to
operate.

Many elements they had tested and tried; many tested, many thrown
aside. When the calcatryte had been brought in, they had not even
hoped. But _it_ gave off straight light.

"The credit is yours, Jonathan," the doctor was saying. "You've done
a lot. It was your discovery, the tungsten beam that heated the rocks
to the pitch high enough to rip those rays from it. Uncurvable rays. A
series of lines of unbendable light. I'll harness that light, soon."

"I know. But there's that urge in me. The wanderlust."

"You're giving up a lot. Fame. Maybe fortune."

Jonathan grinned a little, saying, "Maybe I've gotten a lot more in
exchange."

"Damn it, Jonathan. What the hell's the matter with me? I'm _jealous_,
boy. If I were in your boots, I'd kick the ribs out of any old codger
that tried to talk me out of the greatest experience in the history of
mankind!"

Jonathan put his big hand on the other's shoulder and squeezed it,
hard. The Chief took out his handkerchief and blew his nose.

"Let's go," he said hoarsely. "There's no sense in hanging around here
any longer. Not when you can go--where you're going."

It was a Saturday afternoon. There was no one in the great quadrangle
between the buildings. They walked along a path, smoking their
farewells together; headed toward the quad.

Jonathan stepped onto the lawn. He bent and undressed, and handed his
clothes and shoes to Dr. Wooden.

"I left a letter for you," he said. "And a power of attorney. I don't
know when I'll be back. Or--whether."

Jonathan turned, stood erect; sunlight glinted on the white tones of
his flesh, shading the ribs and the ridges of muscle on arms and legs,
on shoulder and belly. He lifted his arms, and his face grew hard with
his effort at concentration.

Watching, Dr. Wooden smothered a curse. Before his eyes the form of
Jonathan Morgan was expanding, growing. Its substance swelled and
rippled outward in a vast cloud of tiny motes of matter shimmering and
glittering with opalescent hues.

"He's turned his structure into gas," he muttered.

The gas that was a man swept upward and onward with the speed of
thought itself.


                                  II

Eternal night glimmered black and velvety, flecked with dots of pale
blue-white. All around lay the vast universe; silent, but alive with
glaring suns and great orbs that were the planets, known and unknown.
Here teemed life among the far reaches of vast space.

And like an immortal, living ether, Jonathan Morgan sped onward and
outward into that space. Black meteors went through him and harmed him
not. Somehow he found himself aware of them, knowing that they only
pushed the gaseous components of his form aside; that when they had
passed, his body resumed its former shape. He did know that they could
not hurt him; but why, he was unaware.

The infinitely tiny motes of matter that were Jonathan Morgan swelled
and grew and expanded. He fled upward and downward with the speed of
thought. He grew and towered, and the Earth dropped away below the mad
onrush of this strange, galactic giant.

He passed Mars swiftly, casting a curious glance at its canals, seeing
half-buried cities beneath ancient sea-bottoms. Beyond the asteroid
belt he found frozen Jupiter, and Saturn with its ring, and saw strange
forms of life that eked out existences on icy worlds.

In a moment he passed over Pluto and the dark planet beyond it. There
was life here, too, of a queer, alien sort. Not flesh, but another form
of matter. He thought idly that he would like to study it, but he had
not the time.

For the call that had been vague on Earth was now grown peremptory,
summoning.

In answer to that call, he fled onward in a rush of gas that seemed to
whisper as it sped through the cold voids of space.

In short seconds he was beyond the outermost limits of Sol's domain,
ever expanding....

Proxima, nearest star to Sol, glowed brilliant in his path. Beyond it
he could see Alpha Centauri, huge and bright. The other stars, too, he
recognized. For he was out among the star trails now, and Sol was a dot
behind him.

And ever as he flew onward, always as his height grew and grew until
he straddled a thousand worlds, the call came clearer. He _knew_ now
that he had been summoned from the Earth; knew that ahead of him was an
intelligence demanding his presence.

[Illustration: _They knew they had been summoned, that far ahead
something demanded their presence._]

Insanely he flung himself out and up, searching the odd and sometimes
terrible worlds that flitted past his eyes. Alien life, spawning on
planets so far from Earth that they were undreamed, lived and died
beneath his gaze as he shot by.

The call came clarion clear, at last.

       *       *       *       *       *

It said: "Creature of the Third Planet of the sun named Sol. Heed me.
You have done well to find me, very well. Turn your gaze this way,
Earthling. A little further. Yes, right there.

"The pale yellow planet. You see it? Then hasten, join us. For we have
need of every aid that the universe contains. Hurry, Earthling!"

He swirled downward toward the atmospheric belt of the amber orb
that swung lazily about a double sun. Even as he compressed his body
together, he caught a flicker of queer black lights off to one side in
the corners of his eyes. They quivered and throbbed, and almost touched
the yellow planet.

Then he was contracting, willing the motes and particles of his body
together, shooting downward toward a vast stretch of green sward and
rounded white buildings that sprawled gracefully over mile after mile
of land.

The black flames burned, forgotten.

He dropped lightly onto his feet on the smooth lawn, felt it give
beneath his feet.

"Congratulations," said a deep voice behind him, and Jonathan whirled.

A gigantic lizard faced him. It stood fifteen feet high, possessed of
powerful legs and massive, armoured body. The great reptilian head
swayed slightly in regarding him, and the eyes on either side of the
broad nostrils were alive with intelligence.

"You--you're a reptile!" Jonathan gasped.

"And you--a man," replied the creature.

Jonathan grinned and said, "I think I was prepared for any form of life
but yours. Even pure thought, or beings of non-carbon basic formation.
I--hmm. Strikes me we understand each other pretty well."

The reptile looked puzzled, then grunted.

"I forgot you came from Earth. Earth is a young planet.
Her--ah--inhabitants have not made the progress some of our other
neighbors have. That is why--why you were changed, a little. I'll tell
you of that, later.

"But now you must come with me and rest. While your body is
unaffected, your mind has been under a terrific concentrative strain.
It would cause a reaction unless rested. You see, you do not have
certain--ah--facilities as yet. Being as you are is too new."

"Just what am I? I understand your language, or your thoughts, and I've
done things I'd have said were impossible, two weeks ago."

"You will learn. Now you must rest."

       *       *       *       *       *

Jonathan walked with the lumbering being along a crushed stone walk
between hedges adroop with riotously colored fruits. Ahead of them
glimmered a building, translucently white in the hot beams of the great
double-sun now low on the horizon.

"Life forms vary," said the big reptile. "Here on Neeoorna the reptile
life that became extinct on Earth flourished. It evolved more swiftly,
due to atmospheric and other conditions. Its intelligence kept pace. In
other systems there are things of thought, there are beings with liquid
helium in their veins, there are certain others with no veins at all.

"And then, to cheer you, there are still others who might well be named
men. They are men, too. They are what you would call human. They have
bodies exactly similar to your own. You shall meet them. All manner of
beings live on Neeoorna these days."

His voice was heavy. Jonathan glanced quickly at him, sympathetic.

"Something wrong?"

The reptile shook his head soberly, saying, "You will learn, in time."

A thick glassine door slid noiselessly apart as Jonathan and the
Neeoornian neared it. They passed into cool halls of veined green
marble lighted so brilliantly that Jonathan remarked it.

"Filaments of glass containing electrified carbon dioxide gases exuded
by specially reared plants. Carbon dioxide emits a light much like
ordinary daylight. We have perfected that until our inner and outer
light is the same."

A rounded chamber whose cool blue walls reflected heat and absorbed
moisture contained chairs and tables so similar to Earth products that
Jonathan started.

"They look like a futurist's dream, but they're remarkably like our
own," he acknowledged.

"This is the Court of Counsellors for bipeds. The other courts are
different, naturally, being suited to the individual needs of the
various visitors Neeoorna plays host to. Were you or a Zarathzan to
enter some of them, you would die instantly from cold and deadly gases,
or terrific heat. That is, unless you were forewarned as to what to
expect."

Jonathan puzzled over that for a moment. No amount of foreknowledge
made deadly cold any hotter, nor did it turn noxious fumes into pure
air. He shrugged. He must be tired, after all. Maybe a rest was what he
needed.

The reptile gestured Jonathan to a glassine couch covered with the
spotted fur of some jungle beast. It looked soft. It invited him,
dumbly. Jonathan dropped on it and stretched out his legs.

"Neeoornians call me Shar Bytu," said the reptile, gazing down at
him. "If you need aught, mention my name. Tell them you are the
representative of Earth."

Jonathan knew his eyelids were blotting out sight of the great lizard.
He tried to mumble thanks, but a gentle torpor crept about him,
embracing his brain, his tired, tired brain. He was _so_ tired....

A soft hand on his forearm awakened him; brought him up sharply,
alarmed, like a panther.

The girl who bent above him drew back in alarm, her violet eyes wide,
thin nostrils flared, a cry hovering on her wet red mouth. She looked
at Jonathan again and read the swift admiration in his eyes, and smiled.

"You frightened me," she accused softly, her lips undecided between a
pout and a smile. "You are so big, so strong--like a dappled claw-thing
of my native Zarathza."

So this was a Zarathzan. Jonathan found her good to look at. Her
skin was a pale lavender, so delicately flushed that it seemed some
strange, rare satin. Her hair was black, and coiled in coronas about
her intelligent, shapely head. Her deeply glowing eyes were bright with
laughter, and Jonathan thought her mouth would be perfect for kisses.

"We are not fighters, we Zarathzans. At least with our bodies, like you
Earthlings," she said, looking at him sidewise. "It has been long since
our kind were--beasts."

Jonathan grinned hugely.

"It's been a long time since a girl called me that. Must be something
about me."

"Oh," whispered the girl hurriedly, putting a soft hand to his arm, "I
do not mean to offend. Sometimes I admire the--beasts."

Well, he was getting on. He was keenly aware of her warm hand on his
forearm. The girl felt his thought; flushed a little and stood up.

"Shar Bytu sent me to you," she informed him.

"My thanks to Shar Bytu," replied Jonathan, throwing aside the fur and
rising. Someone had clothed him while he slept. He wore thin trousers
that clung to his ankles and bellied outward as they went up. A broad
leathern belt fitted snugly around his waist. His great chest was
naked. Fur sandals protected his feet.

The girl was likewise clad, with bare midriff and a halter of white fur
about her breasts.

"This is the universal garb for counsellors of our make," the girl
said. "Others wear different clothes. Still others wear none, having
no sex."

"I'm Jonathan Morgan. Do Zarathzans--er--have any names?"

"Silly. Of course. I'm Adatha Za."

Jonathan grinned and said, "Glad to know you. And now that
introductions are over, suppose you let me in on the big secret around
here. Just what am I doing on Neeoorna?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Adatha Za was startled.

"You do not know? Didn't Shar Bytu tell--but perhaps he left that to
me, seeing that I am not a--reptile."

Jonathan looked her over and laughed, "I'm mighty glad you're not," and
he noticed that Adatha Za--whose civilization was eons beyond that of
Earth--looked pleased.

They walked toward a balcony overlooking a bed of scarlet flowers
patterned between strips of green grass. Great lights beamed into the
blackness of the Neeoornian night from high on the parapets, lighting
the scene before them. And high in the heavens, black and moving
against the blue of the starry sky, strange shadows chased one another
between the stars.

Adatha Za lifted a bare arm and pointed to that great blotch in the
heavens. Her arm trembled against Jonathan even as she pointed, and he
read stark fear in her eyes and in the drooping corners of her scarlet
mouth.

"You see those black flames? No one knows what they are. They kill us,
one by one, when we attempt to fight them. They are growing. Already
they have eaten one of the moons of this planet. Soon they will reach
Neeoorna itself--indeed, they are past the fringe of the heavenside.
And after Neeoorna they will eat the twin suns, and other suns and
other planets. Zarathza and Earth, too. There will be nothing beyond
the black flames, Earthling. It will eat our entire universe!"

Jonathan was aware that his spine tingled, looking up. He felt deep
inside him, the _alienness_ of those dancing darknesses. They were not
of the known universe. They came from somewhere outside, from another
world. So different from Earth that their mere presence spelled doom
for anything normal to his world. Unhidden, they had emerged from some
deeper space, and were voyaging across his, advancing inexorably, like
flames of fire lapping across thin paper.

The girl's bare shoulder pressed his, trembling.

"I'm frightened, Earthman," she whispered. "When I think of Zarathza in
the path of that--those blights from hell, I--oh, I don't know how to
say it!"

"Yes," he answered soberly. "It isn't nice to think of Earth waiting
her turn, either. Not knowing. Happy until realization comes--"

Earth! It was so far away, so secure and homey. Unaware of this
danger growing millions of light years from it, a danger threatening
extinction to men and the pursuits of men, eating like a living monster
into the suns and planets. Jonathan put an arm around the girl; held
her against him. Lonely, they stood together, awed.

The girl lifted her head and smiled tremulously. She tossed her head
and her hair brushed her shoulders.

"Let's forget them," she brightened. "I succeed pretty well. It's
just--at times--that I feel low down."

"I feel low myself. Don't anyone know anything about them? Can't
somebody think of something?"

Adatha Za leaned back against the marble rail of the balcony and
looked at him and said, "You are big and strong. What would you do to
something that was threatening you?"

"I'd fight," he grunted.

"We fight, too. But our opponent always wins. And when we fight, we
always die."

Adatha Za sighed. Looking down at her, seeing the sweetly curved mouth
that not quite pouted and the straight thin nostrils and deep, dark
eyes fringed with long lashes, Jonathan realized she was a rarely
beautiful girl. He felt suddenly as though he had been jabbed sharply
under the ribs.

"Seeing you makes me want to fight something," he grinned, laughing a
little. "Funny, I haven't felt like this since I was in high school.
It's like the little boy who turns somersaults before the pretty little
girl who's just moved next door. I guess I never noticed the little
girl before."

Adatha Za looked at him, her dark eyes alight; but her thin brows
raised, faintly questioning.

"Some-somersaults? What is that?"

"Oh, just a way of showing off. Putting your head down and--here, I'll
show you."

He dropped to the tiled flooring of the balcony and tumbled. Halfway
over, he found himself looking upside-down at a tall figure who glared
down at him incredulously. Jonathan flushed hotly and landed hard.

He sat there and felt foolish.

Adatha Za started up, catching her breath in her throat.

Jonathan drew a deep breath. There was a strange malignancy in the eyes
of this man who stood in the arched entranceway and looked down at
him. Malignancy and contempt, and his thin lips sneered with the livid
disdain that moved him.

"You're just asking for trouble, mac," he said quietly, getting to his
feet. "I'm not used to being looked at like that."

The man stood straight and haughty, but his eyes blazed. Jonathan felt
as though he had been spat at. He started forward; felt Adatha Za's
hand on his arm, squeezing him hard.

"This is Morka Kar, Jonathan. He is from Zarathza. This is the
Earthling, Jonathan Morgan."

The Zarathzan did not incline his head. He flashed an irritated look at
Adatha Za, then looked back at Jonathan.

"The guests of Shar Bytu have gathered to meet the barbarian," he
snapped. "He sent me to see if he were awake. I see he is. Be good
enough to show him the Temple, Adatha Za."

He swung on his heel and walked away. Jonathan quivered and took a step
after him, but the girl beside him tugged on his arm, saying, "It is
always his way. He is abrupt, and so self-controlled that anything like
gaiety annoys him."

Jonathan grunted. His lips that had been hard, slowly softened.

"That baby was just begging for a left hook," he growled. "And
something tells me he'll get it, too."

"Morka Kar is a great scientist. I came in his retinue from Zarathza,
to help fight the flames."

"I still don't like him!" Jonathan drew a deep breath and asked,
"He--he isn't your husband? Mate, I mean. Or--your fiance?"

Adatha Za laughed.

"You use quaint expressions. But I follow your thoughts. No, he is not
my husband, nor my engaged. But he _does_ want me. You see, on Zarathza
I am _tapu_. Sworn to science research, forbidden to wed a Zarathzan."

Jonathan reflected on that for a moment. He glanced sidewise at her and
grinned, "What about an--Earthman?"

Adatha Za pinched his arm and laughed, "Strictly, there's nothing
against it. Zarathza never even heard of Earth until recently!"


                                  III

The Temple of Embassy gleamed in ethereal beauty under the beams of
Neeoorna's five moons. Its ivory pillars lifted slender fingers to the
black basalt dome. About its periphery an arched court circled to the
entrance where its massive metal gates were embossed with crouching
griffins.

Jonathan and Adatha Za passed along the magnificently marbled corridors
and entered a deep council room tiered with seats. He paused in the
doorway and stared.

On saltwhite benches the representatives of a thousand worlds turned
and looked at him. There were reptiles from Neeoorna, lavendar-tinted
Zarathzans, blobous creatures from distant Sarboola, thought things of
far galaxies, ethereal Tartulians, and queer black beasts that had the
intelligence of genius. Against one wall glass enclosures held beings
from planets so cold they needed artificial refrigeration to live here.
Near the opposite side of the chamber, steamy glass vases held other
life forms whose structure needed tremendous heat to exist.

There was a tall round rostrum of some glimmering metal raised like a
throne in the center of the room. There stood Shar Bytu, towering over
the assembled hundreds. There was a flash of his greenish forearm, and
Jonathan stepped forward.

"Approach us, Jonathan Morgan," Shar Bytu called. "We of Neeoorna and
the worlds of our universes have waited for you. You are the only Earth
creature we could contact, though we tried many. Come, join us."

As he went down the aisle, Jonathan cast sidewise glances at the
utterly alien beings that stood and looked at him. Here and there,
though, he saw others like himself and the Zarathzans. Humans. Men with
two arms and two legs. Women with lissome figures and soft red mouths.
He felt a little warmer, and held his head higher, after seeing them.

He came up the steps and stood beside Shar Bytu. The reptile nodded,
smiling somewhat.

"We had set great hopes on you. Earthling. Before your eyes you see
creatures of bafflement and wonder tinged with a near-despair. The
shadowy flames are a mystery and a menace to us. We had hoped--we had
hoped strongly, that you might bring the solution to their strange
deadliness. I know now they are as queer to you as to us."

"There's more than those flames that's queer to me," replied Jonathan
grimly. "First on the list is how I ever managed to get here at all.
Where I got all those tricky powers from--"

"That," deprecated Shar Bytu by a gesture of his six-clawed hand. "That
is but a simple explanation. You will understand it when I point it
out. You are merely the ultimate goal of evolution."

"Oh," nodded Jonathan, and wondered if he looked blank.

"What is the ultimate goal of evolution but perfection?" resumed the
reptile. "On Earth Nature has experimented with the dinosaur, the bird,
the fish. One by one she discarded them because they were not fit to
survive their environment. But all the while Nature was learning. It
was making strides. It tested and discarded. The reptile and the early
forms of bird and fish and insect life were tossed into the discard.
Nature knew there was something lacking.

"She made man. She gave man the inherent ability to fit himself to any
environment. She gave man a brain, a brain that gave off energy in the
form of thought. Measured energy. Electrical energy. Energy that can
be measured and graphed. But Nature, prodigal in her gifts, was also
prodigal with man's mind. She gave man nine million brain cells--far
more than he ever used. Only a great genius used one percent of those
cells!

"Then why was Nature so lavish? In man she had reached her absolute
ultimate. There only remained for man to perfect the tremendous,
unguessed power of his brain. By thought! By sending out beams of sheer
solid thought, by dipping into those millions of brain cells for the
ultimate power, the power that would make man--perfect!"

Jonathan closed his eyes, shuddering. He opened his eyes and looked at
Shar Bytu.

"How do you know all this?" he whispered.

       *       *       *       *       *

He thought in the frightened core of him of changes in the space-time
continuum, that unguessable eons may have rolled past since last he
left the Earth. That Earth was old beyond thought--

Shar Bytu chuckled, "No, I do not have the gift of prophecy, nor am
I repeating history. Except by analogy. For as Nature has treated
us of a hundred and sixteen suns, so Nature will treat man. Nature
and evolution are inexorable, being linked with time. And so she
will produce the perfect man--the man absolutely adapted to his own
environment.

"We of Neeoorna did this to you, by certain--ah--methods. We operated
on you by means known to our scientists for ages. When we have an
atavar in our clinics, we open his mind fully to enable him to throw
off all connection with past ages. So it was with you. It was not
difficult.

"As a result, you are a man immune to harm. You have absolute control
over your body, over inanimate objects that exist about you. Once you
are aware of what danger threatens, you may avert it by so arranging
the electronic groupings within your body either to merge and blend
with the danger, or harden into a shield of antidote or corrective.

"Of course, as your brain evolved, it needed the body to feed it, to
give it energy. Thus the body became an essential part of it. But the
body changed, too, the body will respond to any environment, as a
necessary corollary of the brain.

"In short, you are the ultimate evolution. It became the perfect tool
of the mind. It did _anything_ the mind ordered it to. So of the third
planet of the Sun Duryu. Or Sol."

       *       *       *       *       *

Jonathan drew a deep breath. He knew with deepest conviction that he
had heard truth, bizarre as it was. He was not a man any more. He knew
that, within himself. He was as far beyond man, or would be now, with
study, as men were above the Neanderthals. He was ultimate man. Man in
his final stage. Man multiplied by all the powers that be. Man to the
_n_th degree.

Man n_th_!

"Now that I'm here, I've failed you," he grunted hoarsely.

"Not yet. Oh, no. Many of us have failed. They are no longer--here. We
still hope that you may, out of your experiences on Earth, construct us
an edifice upon which our scientists may find some clue, some hint. All
we ask is some idea as to what it is we face. Just a thought. One tiny
clue.

"But now you must see how we fight ourselves."

A gigantic, bulbous being, a fishbelly-white due to the heavy cloud
formation that sheathed its native planet five light years from
Neeoorna, rose to his feet. He turned his many-faceted eyes to the
rostrum.

"Shar Bytu," he intoned sonorously, "I ask the right of test for us of
the planet Moratoyo. We would seek to cast a shower of atoms at the
flames. We have made recent improvements over our former weapon--"

Shar Bytu nodded, and his clawed hand brought an ebony mallet upon the
rosewood pulpit where he stood.

"So granted. Session adjourned. The guests of Neeoorna will meet at the
proving grounds."

In silence the scientists filed from their seats. Jonathan caught sight
of Adatha Za among the Zarathzan delegates, and ran to her. Her hand
nestled warmly in his. She flashed her dark eyes at him and smiled.

"I'm more out of place here than an Atheist in church," he said. "Stick
to me. I still have to get my bearings."

Her fingers tensed on his, squeezing. He heard her whispered, "I will."

The proving grounds lay semi-circular behind a great green spread
of lawn. At the north end of the vast field an arc of white marble
terraces lifted rosy columns to the sky. Below the pillars stretched
marble benches, now rapidly filling with emissaries.

The Moratoyons marched to a gleaming gun set in concrete in the center
of the dusty field behind the lawn. The gun shone a queer white, with
two red domes surmounting its breech, and fitted on either side with
knobs and levers. It quivered and gleamed in the heat haze that shifted
over the proving sands.

Jonathan felt Adatha Za press against him with thigh and shoulder.
She choked a whisper to his ears, "It is their atom-gun. It cannot be
compared with some others we have seen, but if they've improved it--"
her voice broke with a soundless sob. "We hope it may work. But we
are--afraid."

Jonathan could almost feel the anxiety and hope around him like a
living thing. From the somewhat transparent thought beings of Sallarsee
to the robotmen of Kankang, each sat watchful; grim, intent. Those who
had lips tensed them to thin lines. Those who had eyes narrowed them
expectantly. The others floated or stood, quiescent.

The Moratoyons on the field moved swiftly. They clamped brakes and
levers down and locked them; spun wheels and twisted dials. From the
steel and cement cradle where it rested, the great cylinder of dull
white metal lifted its blunt nose slowly, almost cautiously, and aimed
it at the sky.

"It shoots atoms supercharged with light-photons," whispered Adatha Za.

The chief scientist of all Moratoyo paused and looked at Shar Bytu, who
nodded. The Moratoyon whirled, shouting harshly, watching his men leap
for the firing dials.

One after another the dials spun.

The firing pin was punched.

"God!" choked Jonathan hoarsely, staring in numb horror.

Where once the gun stood bright and shining there was a faint red mist
that hung close to earth, beating bloodily in the flood of the arc
carbon-dioxide lamps as though welling with life. Then it began to
dissipate as a faint breeze wafted across the field.

There was a little hole in the ground, where the gun had been.

Jonathan became aware slowly of Adatha Za's hand that clung like a
vise about his left wrist. He looked at her, saw her eyes convulsively
closed; saw two tears trickling from beneath her long dark lashes.

Her moist red mouth trembled as she whispered, "They all fail. All of
them. Like that. One moment they are here. Then they are gone. It is
almost as if they destroyed themselves."

Jonathan put an arm around her naked shoulders and hugged her against
his chest.

"Buck up," he grated. "We aren't licked yet. Why, hell! We haven't
started to fight, yet!"

He saw Morka Kar sneering at him from two stadium seats away, his thin
mouth curling in fanatical contempt. He felt the hate beat redly from
the man's eyes. Jonathan bared his teeth in answer to that fierce,
unspoken taunt.

He said, loud enough for the Zarathzan to hear, "One of us will find a
way. We're bound to. There's a key to that riddle. There has to be. The
universe can't end--not like this--"

"Perhaps," said Morka Kar loudly, "the Earthling might amuse the
shadows by--tumbling?"

Jonathan didn't know until later that Adatha Za put out a hand to
restrain him. He was away like a sprinter, and his big left fist was
lifting, swiftly. His fist hit Morka Kar, a little to one side of his
jaw.

It snapped the Zarathzan's head around and backwards, and lifted him
off his feet, and dropped him three seats below.

       *       *       *       *       *

Morka Kar lay there outstretched, unmoving. Jonathan grinned hugely
and rubbed his knuckles. It began to penetrate after a while that the
others were staring at him in complete horror.

Adatha Za gasped and sobbed, then came and stood silently beside him,
her soft hand reaching for his fist. She held her dark head high, and
her eyes glared defiance.

"A beast--"

"--useless to expect help from things still ruled by emotion--"

"--a mistake. Shar Bytu should not--"

He heard the murmurs and the whispers, but Adatha Za was speaking,
saying, "Morka Kar insulted him before the assembly was called. He is
not like us, this Earthling. He fights when he is attacked!"

Shar Bytu waddled forward, his reptilian face grave. He blinked a
little curious, at Jonathan.

"We cannot have disturbances among ourselves," he said. "We need
scientific and philosophic calm to meet the shadow menace."

"It wasn't what he said," Jonathan said softly. "It was the way he said
it. He was asking for it."

"Asking for what?" puzzled Shar Bytu, looking about.

The reptile, moving his ponderous head in looking for what Morka Kar
had asked, struck Jonathan as unconsciously funny. He grinned, and was
buoyed up.

He said, "I'm sorry. I don't want to break up any gathering like this.
Apparently my action strikes you as something primitive. I don't look
at it that way at all. I didn't ask to be brought here, or to be given
the powers to make the trip. Now that I'm here, however, I'll do
everything I can to help. Naturally. But no Zarathzan's going to walk
all over me whenever he feels like it."

A snarl answered him. Morka Kar was climbing unsteadily to his feet,
aided by two Goqualian metallic robotmen.

"Shar Bytu," fumed the Zarathzan, shaking off the hands that held him.
"It has been long since a being of my standing indulged in personal
combat, but I wish to meet this Earthling. Just the two of us. Face to
face, mind to mind, in mental monomachy!"

Adatha Za went white. Shar Bytu looked gravely unhappy.

Shar Bytu whispered, "I had hoped to learn something from the Earth
man--"

Jonathan interrupted, "You're all conceding victory to Morka Kar. Maybe
so, maybe not. That isn't just what I want to say, though. The main
thing that occupies us is the problem of the flames, or shadows.

"Much as I hate to admit it, I'm afraid I'm not much help against
them. You see, when you gave me the powers of ultimate evolution, my
scientific and other knowledge didn't keep pace with them. There are
thousands of Earth men who would have made better ambassadors than
I. Apparently I was more psychic, perhaps more malleable in brain
structure, than they. I don't presume to know the whys and wherefores
of that. I'm here and I'm glad I'm here. If I can help, I will.

"But--much as I hate to admit it, I'm out of my depth. Those shadows,
or whatever it is out there in space, is beyond me. So if you lose
me--which I hope you don't--you aren't losing too much."

Jonathan took a deep breath; went on, "A poet on Earth once said
something about not loving a woman loved he not honor more. Well, I
love the universe, but I'm not hiding behind any danger to it when a
man wants to fight me for a woman I--love."

He heard Adatha Za's quickened breathing; felt her hand touch his arm
and squeeze. He stood there with her hand on his arm and looked about
him, at the thought beings and the robotmen and the reptiles. On a few
faces, on the faces of those who looked most like men, he read a grave
applause. On the features of the others, a blank attention, as though
he spoke of geology to a monkey. They just couldn't get his viewpoint
at all.

But Morka Kar did, and he snarled. His sullen mouth writhed and his
eyes glowed fiercely as he glanced from Adatha Za to Jonathan.

"Another thing," grated Jonathan, and he looked Morka Kar full in
the eyes, "I may be an animal, but I know others who possess animal
characteristics--no matter what they mistakenly call themselves."

Morka Kar fought in the metal arms of the robotmen who flanked him.
Shar Bytu turned and fixed him with a cold eye.

"You will be still, Zarathzan," he whispered icily. "I have long heard
your taunts to one or another of our group. As yet the deputation from
Zarathza has not attempted the flames, though I have heard many words
spoken by them of it."

Morka Kar quieted swiftly.

"The mental monomachy will occur tomorrow at this place. Until then I
forbid Morka Kar and the Earthling to meet. If harm befalls either of
them, the other shall pay with his life. See to it."

He turned and waddled away. Morka Kar seethed a glance at Jonathan,
then followed the reptile. The others split into groups, silently
transmitting puzzled thoughts.

       *       *       *       *       *

Adatha Za sat on the stone bench and looked up at him, and her red
mouth was rueful. Her eyes beneath the dark fringes of her lashes
accused him.

"I had hoped that some day you would visit Zarathza with me," she said
softly. "Now you--"

"Now nothing has changed," grinned Jonathan, dropping beside her and
taking her soft hands between his. "Shar Bytu made me infinite, didn't
he? How can Morka Kar hurt me?"

Her eyes widened in concern. "But Morka Kar is also infinite, as you
put it. He will fight your mind. You do not know the sciences that
Morka Kar knows. Not knowing what he can do against you, you will be
helpless. He will stun your brain, drive it mad, then--destroy it."

"If I can't think as fast as that bullying windbag, I'm willing to be
destroyed."

Adatha Za sounded annoyed. "It is not a question of thinking _fast_,
although that does enter into it. It is more a matter of knowing how to
oppose the weapons that Morka Kar will create to fight you."

"--that he will _create_?"

"Certainly. Of old on Zarathza, men carried swords and shields. Later
they used percussion guns, still later, atomic disintegrators. But as
the years passed into eons, and as life on Zarathza evolved, it was
discovered that these weapons were of no use against a trained mind
that could shoot a bolt of mental force against the weapon to destroy
it. So men went naked into combat and there they thought up their
weapons swiftly, through force of mind alone. Their opponents met their
mental creations with defenses and weapons of their own. The more
unusual the weapon, the easier it was to decide the victor."

Jonathan whistled.

"My ideas on weapons stop about at a .45 caliber automatic. A sword is
useless. So's a bow and arrows. Or a spear. You say Zarathza had atomic
disintegrators a long time ago, eh?"

The girl shivered.

"Atomic disintegrators are seen only in museums today," she whispered.
"And you of Earth do not even have them. Lallista! You are a dead man
walking around."

"Hey," chuckled Jonathan, grabbing her arms and pulling her around to
face him. "Chin up. I may not know much about weapons, but I'll bet
I've still got a trick or two up my sleeve. I'll show that windbag
where he gets off. You wait. You'll see."

Her eyes begged his for reassurance. She lay close against him and her
mouth quivered into a smile.

"You were--joking me, then? You do know of weapons that you haven't
mentioned?"

"Sure," he boasted gaily. "Lots of them. Brass knuckles. Galloping
dominoes. A ginrickey. A mickey finn. The Brooklyn Dodgers."

"I am so glad," she whispered. "That makes me feel so much better."

She did not see his frown as she walked with him across the white
composition walk toward their guest quarters. He wasn't thinking of
himself. He was wondering what Morka Kar would do to her--after he got
through with him.

"Just the same," the girl was saying, "I think that I will show you
some of the weapons Morka Kar may use. Those, at least, that I know. We
will go and sit together beneath the moons, and I will teach them to
you, one after the other."

Jonathan looked at her red mouth and grinned, "I'll show you a weapon,
too. On Earth we call it a--kiss."

The night was warm and the moons that hurtled across the Neeoornian sky
shed a pale lustre on the gardens where Adatha Za and Jonathan Morgan
sat. Between her legs lay a box filled with strips of queerly colored
metals, vials of shining dull and iridescent chemicals, containers and
compartments of tubes and alloys.

"It is from these that Morka Kar will fashion his weapons," she said,
fingering the objects before her. "From the mints provided by the
monomachy coffer, he will be enabled to throw weapon after weapon at
you. For instance, this--from this he will make a molecular magnetizer
that will cause the molecules that make up your body so to attract each
other that your body will shrink in upon itself--assume the density
of a dwarf star--fall through the earth to the center of this planet!
Or with this he could form a ray that is hot as the hottest sun in
the universe. He may not use that. It is a weapon that even Morka Kar
fears. It is too deadly. Were it to escape his mental control, it could
blow up the entire planet. Now from this tube--"

Jonathan listened dutifully. He was in this away over his head, and no
amount of last minute cramming would help. To assimilate this knowledge
would require years. He wasn't quitting, but he realized that if he did
win, it would be by some method purely Earthian, and not by a study of
Zarathzan weaponry.

He looked at Adatha Za. He put his hands on her soft shoulders and
turned her toward him. Her eyes were questioning.

"We have a weapon on Earth, too," he whispered. "It's a kiss. Do you
Zarathzans have the kiss?"

With arched brows the girl followed his thought, then shook her head a
little disdainfully, saying, "No. That does not seem to be any sort of
armament I know. Is it a good weapon?"

"The best there is on a night like this--with a girl like you."

       *       *       *       *       *

Her mouth was warm and soft and moist beneath his. His lips held hers
for a long time before he let her go. She opened her long-lashed eyes
slowly, staring at him.

"That is no weapon," she accused softly. She put her arms up and drew
his head down again, whispering, "--but I like it. I should really
study it some more."

This time it was the girl whose lips clung.

Jonathan laughed, "For a Zarathzan you catch on pretty quickly."

"I'm a scientist," she retorted.

Nestled in his arms, with her hair flooding his chest and shoulder,
Adatha Za said, "I wish--I wish that you and I could go back to
Zarathza together, Jonathan Morgan. In my villa beside the Jaralayan
Sea I would love to study this kiss-weapon of yours. It is such a nice
weapon, even though it does frighten me a little."

She gasped suddenly and tried to sit up, but Jonathan's long arms held
her.

"Now what's eating you?" he wanted to know.

"That kiss--how many times have you experimented with that weapon on
Earth?"

Jonathan chuckled, "Next thing you'll be telling me I do it like an
expert!"

Head to one side, Adatha Za surveyed him. At last she nodded pertly,
laughing a little.

"Yes, I think you do. And no one ever became perfect without practice!"

"Don't forget. Shar Bytu made me a perfectionist."

Adatha Za sighed as she nestled back into his arms, and whispered,
"There are some things, Jonathan Morgan, that even evolution can't do."


                                  IV

Adatha Za came for him the next day, to go with him to the Arena. Her
eyes were dark and sunken, her soft red mouth quivering. Her hair hung
loose, uncoiffed. She came into his arms and kissed him; drew back to
look up into his face, trembling.

"I am glad for last night," she whispered. "Though I did have
hopes--some day in my villa over the Jaralayan Sea--"

She buried her face against his chest, moving it slowly from side to
side, distrait.

"Hey," yelped Jonathan, lifting her face with a finger beneath her
chin. "Why the gloom? I thought we'd decided last night that I had a
chance."

"You did--last night. Today ... today Shar Bytu announced that the
winner of the mental monomachy is to attempt the black shadows! So--"

"Oof," Jonathan grunted, "that sort of knocks the stilts out from
under a guy. No matter who wins, both will die, unless--no, the age of
miracles passed a long time ago. What does Morka Kar say to that?"

"Oh, he raved and swore, but he dared do nothing to disobey. After all,
he is a scientist, and he is here to fight those flames. Even he cannot
hope to fight all the scientists on Neeoorna right now. I--I think he
will temporize. Have the monomachy declared a draw. That will allow him
to save face and his life at the same time."

"I'm going to win if I can," Jonathan said slowly. "I just don't
cotton to that guy."

Her long fingernails bit into the flesh of his wrists. Her voice was
hoarse, desperate, "By Lallista's brood, Jonathan! Do not anger him.
Your one chance is in Morka Kar's willingness to spare you that he may
spare his own self. If he loses that temper of his--Jonathan, I want
you alive."

He patted her bare shoulder, smiling.

"I'll still see that villa on the sea, honey. Don't fret your lovely
head about it. But it's time to go, now. I don't want this affair
called off on a forfeit."

They walked slowly, hand in hand, along the pebbled path to the great
white Amphitheatre. It rose tall and grim, brooding over the lovely
square that fronted its entrance. The square was deserted. Their
footfalls sounded loud in their ears.

They went up the steps and through the oval doorway. Alone, they went
down the black corridor toward the arena.

The seats were filled, inside the arena room. The batteries of ten
thousand eyes gloomed at Jonathan as he walked toward the great ivory
chair set on the sanded field. He knew Morka Kar watched him from the
ebony throne opposite the ivory chair, but he'd be damned before he'd
glance his way!

Jonathan settled himself in the seat before he looked at his opponent.
Morka Kar sat facing him, both arms resting on the ebony arms. His thin
mouth was twisted in a sardonic grin. His red-shot eyes glistened with
hate.

Adatha Za came forward with an oblong coffer, ornate with jewels.
Dropping to her knees, she unlocked the cover, and threw it open.
Inside, row on row, glittered vials and retorts of liquids and powders,
and long metal bars and needles.

Above Adatha Za's naked shoulders, Jonathan watched a three-legged
Paravian dance-walk its way to Morka Kar. The Paravian also carried a
monomachy casket.

Adatha Za spoke swiftly: "As you see his weapon form, combat it. Use
the antidote. Not knowing that," she was choking now, almost sobbing,
"not knowing that, attack the weapon with your mind. It has existence,
but it is a mentally energized existence. Mental energy may dissipate
it if strong enough. It is not considered good form--but it is safe."

The dark eyes shimmered through tears as she looked up at him.

"Farewell," she whispered.

And turned and fled.

Morka Kar stretched out a foot and kicked shut the cover of the coffer
before his throne. The _clunk_ of the closing lid sounded loud in the
high chamber, merging with the breathless gasp that shook the throng.
Only a mathless monomachy fighter scorned the help of the box.

Jonathan looked at Morka Kar and grinned.

He put out his own foot and slammed the cover down. Dimly he caught,
in some remote recess of his brain, the amaze that held the onlookers.
They didn't know, as did Adatha Za, that the contents of that box were
as much a mystery to Jonathan as were the black shadows. He'd be better
off without it. It gave him less to think about, and he needed all his
powers of thought.

Morka Kar snarled. His eyes blazed right at Jonathan--

Purple balls hung in the air before the Zarathzan!

They shimmered and glittered, filled with opalescent mists of green
and red and white and purple. They danced eerily, as though drunk, as
though to the music of some alien piper. They bounced and swayed on
invisible strings in a wild and eerie saraband. They swung outward,
circling.

Then darted straight at Jonathan.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jonathan threw every bit of mental power at his control into his
defense, but the first bubble did not break before it got within three
feet of him. The others fell apart easily after that.

Jonathan frowned, and an automatic hung in the air before him. It
turned to grey mists and faded, struck by a bolt of liquid fire.

Morka Kar rasped laughter, "Do better Earthling. We of Zarathza have
forgotten weapons such as that."

A haze of colorless hue quivered in front of the Zarathzan. It seemed
only a heat haze; but when he saw the sandy waste inside the shimmer,
when he saw grey and rolling ocean instead of the sand, and saw ocean
turn to roaring flames, he knew he looked on a weapon utterly foreign
to Earth thought.

His knuckles bulged until the skin over them whitened in the fury of
his concentration. Gasping, he saw the shimmer fade.

He cast a beam of radio-waves; saw them strike a beam of like power and
shatter, useless. He hurled acid. It met an alkali. He threw a bullet
and watched it melt in a shield of heat that turned the lead to smoke.

All the while the Zarathzan taunted him, shrilling, "Ape. Go back to
the steamy jungles of your planet, ape. We do not need a loose-brain
here. Go back, ape!"

A red triangle formed in the air before Morka Kar even as he spoke. It
glowed and burned with green hell-fires. Jonathan dropped water on it
and the green fires raged and grew and expanded, feeding on the water.

Jonathan shuddered when he finally extinguished them. Beads of cold
sweat rose on his forehead. He was growing weaker. His brain could not
stand this punishment. He had been subjecting it to too much. It would
give, soon. It was not conditioned, as was the Zarathzan's.

He thought fleetingly of last night, with Adatha Za's mouth burning
beneath his. Never to know that mouth again! She had trusted in his
strength, in his boasts. She had told him of her villa above the sea.
Now he was to fail her. He had bragged of a mickey finn. Of brass
knuckles. What a crude jest. He had even mentioned--

Jonathan sat upright. He thought.

When Morka Kar saw the club in his hands, he hooted.

"A club! The ape has found a club with which to kill. Lallista! He
jests."

Jonathan swung the wood in his hands with easy familiarity. He lifted
it above his shoulders, then brought it about viciously. There was a
sudden _splat_.

Morka Kar, still laughing his derision, crumpled and toppled from the
ebony seat.

Jonathan discovered his knees shaking. He sat down quickly.

Adatha Za came running, sobbing, laughter.

"You beat him. You beat him. What a strange weapon. What was it? Morka
Kar thought it but a club. He did not deign to spend his mental forces
on it. But you fooled him!"

Jonathan held up the wood and shook it, laughing, "This is known in
America as a baseball bat. A Louisville slugger. The old hickory, the
ash. And the thing that hit Morka Kar was a baseball. Gods! A jest, he
called it."

Shar Bytu looked from Morka Kar to Jonathan, saying, "You must destroy
him. It is the great rule of mental monomachy."

But Jonathan shook his head, wearily.

Shar Bytu looked down at the Zarathzan. He almost seemed to relish what
he did. But it was over in an instant. A few grains of dust settled
groundwards. Jonathan felt sick.

The others gathered around him. Their voices were excited.

"A new weapon to fight the flames."

"The Earthling has solved our problem."

"If it baffled a monomachy fighter like Morka Kar, it might work on the
flames."

Jonathan tried to explain, looking down at their faces.

"No, no," he cried out, talking down their thoughts. "It isn't a
weapon. It's a sport we play back on Earth. I--it--the bat is used to
hit a ball. Morka Kar didn't know that. He thought it just a club.

"Luckily, I could call my shot. A straight fast ball. Not a curve. A
straight--"

Jonathan blinked. He stopped, choking; eyes wide.

"Maybe," he whispered. "Maybe--"

The others grew quiet, watching. They felt his intense excitement, saw
his hands quiver, and the way his lips twitched. Adatha Za clung to his
arm and her eyes were pools of purple hunger.

It wasn't too fantastic--yet.

It all depended on straight lines and curves, and whether a straight
line can ever be curved. The shortest distance between two points. If
the straight line could be moved to turn, then he was wrong.

But if he were right! If this type of straightness _could not_ curve,
then it might conceivably eat its way through a universe which was
based on something that should curve: light.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Wooden and he had made strides in their experiments on light rays
derived from calcatryte. They had explored the quantum theory, had
forced homogenous light against a metal plate and seen the electrons it
extracted from it. This light energy had been partially turned into the
kinetic energy of the bombarded electrons of metal.

From this it had been a step upward in discovering that calcatryte
yielded a photon shower of such terrific concentration that it ate
right through the metal plate; had given no evidence of stopping until
they had constructed the plasticite screen: pure black, coated with a
fine dust of calcatryte itself.

They had no way of knowing whether the rays stopped at the screen,
exactly. They might go on and on. And if they ate through metal,
releasing the electrons that composed it--they might eat through the
universe!

Jonathan shuddered and looked around him.

He knew his course, now. But to prove it--

He had to go through the flames!

"You proclaimed that the winner of the mental monomachy would
go through the flames, Shar Bytu," he said. "As winner, and as
representative of Earth, I claim that right."

Shar Bytu looked at him and his eyes were like flecks of cold
moonlight. Suddenly, they twinkled.

"The right is yours, Earthling. And something tells me that you may,
at long last, be the one to succeed. I read it in your mind. Yes,
your theory is a good one. To think that menace came from Earth. From
little, uncivilized, barbaric Earth."

He waddled away, his ponderous reptilian head moving from side to side.

Adatha Za pressed her hot cheeks against Jonathan's chest. Her voice
was low, troubled: "How will you fight the flames, Jonathan? What
weapon is there that can destroy them?"

"No weapon under all the stars and all the suns can destroy the
shadows, Adatha Za. They are alien. The only hope there is--is to shut
them off."

He shot up rapidly from the sanded floor of the Arena. Beneath him
for one long instant, he saw Adatha Za with her lovely face upturned:
hands clasped between her breasts, red mouth bitten until it swelled,
dark eyes misted. Shar Bytu stood beside her, his scaly hide brushing
her naked arm. The others were grouped in twos and threes: silent and
motionless, watching him.

How long they stood there, Jonathan never knew. His mind was fully
occupied in a furious effort of incredible concentrative power: forcing
his body into the rigid and alien pattern that his mind knew would
alone spell safety from disaster.

Light that never deviated from its straight and ruthless path. Light
that would absorb matter, that would shower a stream of electrons from
it, releasing the electrons in a blast of power that fed upon the stuff
it touched. Such were the black shadows!

And as he hurtled onward into the flames, he forced his body into beams
of light, rigid and unbending. He had to merge with the flames, or be
destroyed.

He hurtled onward, toward the ebony maw that shook and glistened and
bellied against the dark of space like a translucent blob of jelly.

He held out his hands like a diver, going into the shadows. The
movement helped him concentrate on straightness. The wind and the
blackness was about him, licking at his lighteous form. Along his chest
and thighs the flames touched, caressing.

The blackness was himself, now; part of him, a segment of his mind, a
portion of his body.

And he went on swiftly.

Toward his goal.

On the planet, Neeoorna, Adatha Za knew the salt taste of her tears.
Her red lips were puffed by the teethmarks driven deeply into their
softness. Her breasts rose swiftly.

The others stood about her, and their minds were blank.

At that moment they comprehended, but joy and awe were stronger than
mere knowledge.

The black shadows winked once. They winked again, fleetingly.

Then they disappeared.


                                   V

Dr. Wooden stood silent as Jonathan Morgan drew his hand from the
switch that drove a bath of heat at the blocks of calcatryte set in
their metallic cradles. The humming of motors stopped. The blackish
screen in the background went silent, dead.

"Well," said Dr. Wooden, straightening. "Hello."

Jonathan sat down and put out a trembling hand, drew an open pack of
cigarettes toward him.

"I've been far away," he said slowly. "To the other side of the
universe. Billions of miles away, and yet--in your own backyard."

Dr. Wooden grinned and sat on the edge of the sandstone tabletop. He
lighted a cigarette himself, saying, "Tell me."

Jonathan told him. And then he said, "It seems understandable
enough, really. Those powers I possess. What are they but an innate
adaptability to environment. And isn't that the true goal of Nature?

"The environment is what destroys, is what weakens, is what kills.
Call it a blast furnace. Call it disease. Call it a clawing tiger. It
is, nevertheless, our environment: temporary or permanent. To survive
that, man must be immortal, in a physical sense. In the sense that he
possesses _in himself_ all the necessary attributes to enable him to
overcome that environment. That way lies immortality."

Dr. Wooden regarded the glowing tip of his cigarette. He said, "That's
clear enough. It is fantastic, but who knows what changes one million
or two million years will bring in man. Lord knows, it brought a lot of
changes on Earth itself! Now, about the flames--"

Jonathan crushed out his cigarette.

"They were the emanations from the calcatryte. I realized that
eventually. It stood to reason. It had to be something alien to a
universe where light curves. Something that either ate up matter or
made it invisible or opened a door for it to leak out somewhere, into
nothingness.

"Calcatryte gives off straight light, so powerful that it eats through
metal. It could as easily eat through dirt and rock, through the moon
of a planet, through a planet itself. Through the universe, in short.
In a universe based on curving light, that unbendable light was an
anomaly. It ate up our universe, or started to."

"Again, clear enough. It's reasonable, and possible. But when you
went into the shadows and passed through them--you emerged here in my
laboratory. But my laboratory is billions upon billions of miles from
Neeoorna."

Jonathan grunted, "In terms of ordinary space, yes. I passed through
hyperspace."

"That's a mathematical concept."

"I know. But we--you have proved it exists. It has been proven
mathematically."

Dr. Wooden looked dubious. Jonathan picked up a pencil and pressed down
with the point on a slip of graph paper.

"That black mark, that dot, is one-dimensional. Extend a line from that
point to another dot. The line is also one-dimensional. Let us put
the pencil on the line, supersede the line with the pencil. Since the
pencil has three dimensions, so does the line--for the pencil is the
line.

"Suppose an _n_-dimensional object. Supersede the pencil with the
_n_-dimensional object and we have an _n_-dimensional line. It is
an _n_-dimensional space of _n_-dimensional points, instead of our
original definition of a line as a single dimensioned space of points
set in a row.

"Ordinary space is called three-dimensional because it is occupied
by three-dimensional things. Planes, for instance. But if we speak
of lines of spheres or circles, we can easily step into the realm of
_n_-dimensionality.

"The drawback is that we can't see it. We can't envision
_n_-dimensionality.

"Consequently, we have always been intrigued by many-dimensionality
because we can't picture it to ourselves. But the calcatryte rays
weren't hindered by a lack of imagination. They just zoomed off into
an _n_-dimensional space, and wound up near Neeoorna. They were lines,
remember, straight lines. And lines can be _n_-dimensional."

Dr. Wooden rubbed his chin and said, "Could be, could be. But how does
hyperspace solve your problem?"

"A dot inside a circle can go outside that circle without crossing its
circumference. Likewise, I could pass from the inside to the outside
of a sphere without going through the surface of a four-dimensional
object.

"Those calcatryte rays beamed out from your lab into hyperspace,
passing through ordinary space without touching it, and appeared
billions of miles away. When I entered the shadows, I followed their
course."

Dr. Wooden drew a deep breath, saying, "If I hadn't seen you
materialize out of thin air--" and broke off, laughing.

"Seeing does enter it, doesn't it? But the attempts that were made
to fight the shadows! Why were the attackers always destroyed?
Unless--unless their weapons backfired on them--"

"That's my thought. They were shooting three-dimensional objects at an
n-dimensional space. The three-dimensional objects never got anywhere.
They didn't even leave their source. They expended their frightful
energy right where they began."

"Well," muttered Dr. Wooden. "You could talk for hours and not _prove_
anything."

       *       *       *       *       *

He broke off, looking at Jonathan. He lifted a wooden mallet and held
it out to him.

"Destroy it," he said simply. "If it's that much of a danger to the
universe, it deserves obliteration."

Jonathan put out his hand, brushed the mallet aside.

He bent over the table, setting both hands on it, partially supporting
his weight.

The calcatryte in the metal cradles began to quiver as though made of
soluble, moving liquid. Their veins ran into channels of color, red and
green and blue and yellow. The blocks hazed over, writhing.

The calcatryte was fading, bit by bit.

Jonathan stood up. He looked worn, but his lips smiled.

"It's done," he whispered.

"You won't stay?"

A smile came and dwelt on Jonathan's lips.

"No," he said. "No, I won't stay. I am going back to Neeoorna, and then
to Zarathza--to look at a sunrise coming up over the waters of the
Jaralayan Sea."

He went out, and the door closed behind him, softly.





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