The outside of Dillon looked remarkably like something made out of foam-rubber. Coburn touched it, insanely.
He heard his own voice saying flatly: "It's a sort of suit. A suit that looks like Dillon. He was in it. Something was! Something is playing the part of Dillon. Maybe it always was. Maybe there isn't any Dillon."
He felt a sort of hysterical composure. He opened the chest. It was patently artificial. There were such details on the inside as would be imagined in a container needed to fit something snugly. At the edges of the opening there were fastenings like the teeth of a zipper, but somehow different. Coburn knew that when this was fastened there would be no visible seam.
Whatever wore this suit-that-looked-like-Dillon could feel perfectly confident of passing for Dillon, clothed or otherwise. It could pass without any question for-- Coburn gagged.
It could pass without question for a human being.
Obviously, whatever was wearing this foam-rubber replica of Dillon was not human!
Coburn went back to where he had to climb down the cliffside again. He moved like a sleep-walker. He descended the fifty-foot cliff by the crevices and the single protruding rock-point that had helped him get up. It was much easier going down. In his state of mind it was also more dangerous. He moved in a sort of robot-like composure.
He moved toward the girl, trying to make words come out of his throat, when a small rock came clattering down the cliff. He looked up. Dillon was in the act of swinging to the first part of the descent. He came down, very confident and assured. He had two camera-cases slung from his shoulders. Coburn stared at him, utterly unable to believe what he'd seen ten minutes before.
Dillon reached solid ground and turned. He smiled wryly. His shirt was buttoned. His tie was tied.
"I hoped," he said ruefully to Janice Ames, "that the Bulgars would toddle off. But they left a guard in the village. We can't hope to take an easier trail. We'll have to go back the way you came. We'll get you safe to Salonika, though."
The girl smiled, uneasily but gratefully.
"And," added Dillon, "we'd better get started."
He gallantly helped the girl remount her donkey. At the sight, Coburn was shaken out of his numbness. He moved fiercely to intervene. But Janice settled herself in the saddle and Dillon confidently led the way. Coburn grimly walked beside her as she rode. He was convinced that he wouldn't leave her side while Dillon was around. But even as he knew that desperate certitude, he was filled with confusion and a panicky uncertainty.
When they'd traveled about half a mile, another frightening thought occurred to Coburn. Perhaps Dillon--passing for human--wasn't alone. Perhaps there were thousands like him.
Invaders! Usurpers, pretending to be men. Invaders, obviously, from space!
They made eight miles. At least one mile of that, added together, was climbing straight up. Another mile was straight down. The rest was boulder-strewn, twisting, donkey-wide, slanting, slippery stone. But there was no sign of anyone but themselves. The sky remained undisturbed. No planes. They saw no sign of the raiding force from across the border, and they heard no gunfire.
Coburn struggled against the stark impossibility of what he had seen. The most horrifying concept regarding invasion from space is that of creatures who are able to destroy or subjugate humanity. A part of that concept was in Coburn's mind now. Dillon marched on ahead, in every way convincingly human. But he wasn't. And to Coburn, his presence as a non-human invader of Earth made the border-crossing by the Bulgarians seem almost benevolent.
They went on. The next hill was long and steep. Then they were at the hill crest. They looked down into a village called Naousa. It was larger than Ardea, but not much larger. One of the houses burned untended. Figures moved about. There were tanks in sight, and many soldiers in the uniform that looked dark-gray at a distance. The route by which Dillon had traveled had plainly curved into the line-of-march of the Bulgarian raiding force.
But the moving figures were not soldiers. The soldiers were still. They lay down on the grass in irregular, sprawling windrows. The tanks were not in motion. There were two-wheeled carts in sight--reaching back along the invasion-route--and they were just as stationary as the men and the tanks. The horses had toppled in their shafts. They were motionless.
The movement was of civilians--men and women alike. They were Greek villagers, and they moved freely among the unmilitarily recumbent troops, and even from this distance their occupation was clear. They were happily picking the soldiers' pockets. But there was one figure which moved from one prone figure to another much too quickly to be looting. Coburn saw sunlight glitter on something in his hand.
Dillon noticed the same thing Coburn did at the same instant. He bounded forward. He ran toward the village and its tumbled soldiers in great, impossible leaps. No man could make such leaps or travel so fast. He seemed almost to soar toward the village, shouting. Coburn and Janice saw him reach the village. They saw him rush toward the one man who had been going swiftly from one prone soldier to another. It was too far to see Dillon's action, but the sunlight glittered again on something bright, which this time flew through the air and dropped to the ground.
The villagers grouped about Dillon. There was no sign of a struggle.
"What's happened?" demanded Janice uneasily. "Those are soldiers on the ground."
Coburn's fright prevented his caution. He shouted furiously. "He's not a man! You saw it! No man can run so fast! You saw those jumps! He's not human! He's--something else!"
Janice jerked her eyes to Coburn in panic. "What did you say?"
Coburn panted: "Dillon's no man! He's a monster from somewhere in space! And he and his kind have killed those soldiers! Murdered them! And the soldiers are men! You stay here. I'll go down there and--"
"No!" said Janice, "I'm coming too."
He took the donkey's halter and led the animal down to the village, with Janice trembling a little in the saddle. He talked in a tight, taut, hysterical tone. He told what he'd found up on the cliffside. He described in detail the similitude of a man's body he'd found deflated beside a stunted bush.
He did not look at Janice as he talked. He moved doggedly toward the village, dragging at the donkey's head. They neared the houses very slowly, and Coburn considered that he walked into the probability of a group of other creatures from unthinkable other star systems, disguised as men. It did not occur to him that his sudden outburst about Dillon sounded desperately insane to Janice.
They reached the first of the fallen soldiers. Janice looked, shuddering. Then she said thinly: "He's breathing!"
He was. He was merely a boy. Twenty or thereabouts. He lay on his back, his eyes closed. His face was upturned like a dead man's. But his breast rose and fell rhythmically. He slept as if he were drugged.
But that was more incredible than if he'd been dead. Regiments of men fallen simultaneously asleep....
Coburn's flow of raging speech stopped short. He stared. He saw other fallen soldiers. Dozens of them. In coma-like slumber, the soldiers who had come to loot and murder lay like straws upon the ground. If they had been dead it would have been more believable. At least there are ways to kill men. But this ...
Dillon parted the group of villagers about him and came toward Coburn and Janice. He was frowning in a remarkably human fashion.
"Here's a mess!" he said irritably. "Those Bulgars came marching down out of the pass. The cavalry galloped on ahead and cut the villagers off so they couldn't run away. They started to loot the village. They weren't pleasant. Women began to scream, and there were shootings--all in a matter of minutes. And then the looters began to act strangely. They staggered around and sat down and went to sleep!"
He waved his hands in a helpless gesture, but Coburn was not deceived.
"The tanks arrived. And they stopped--and their crews went to sleep! Then the infantry appeared, staggering as it marched. The officers halted to see what was happening ahead, and the entire infantry dropped off to sleep right where it stood!
"It's bad! If it had happened a mile or so back ... The Greeks must have played a trick on them, but those cavalrymen raised the devil in the few minutes they were out of hand! They killed some villagers and then keeled over. And now the villagers aren't pleased. There was one man whose son was murdered, and he's been slitting the Bulgars' throats!"
He looked at Coburn, and Coburn said in a grating voice: "I see."
Dillon said distressedly: "One can't let them slit the throats of sleeping men! I'll have to stay here to keep them from going at it again. I say, Coburn, will you take one of their staff cars and run on down somewhere and tell the Greek government what's happened here? Something should be done about it! Soldiers should come to keep order and take charge of these chaps."
"Yes," said Coburn. "I'll do it. I'll take Janice along, too."
"Splendid!" Dillon nodded as if in relief. "She'd better get out of the mess entirely. I fancy there'd have been a full-scale massacre if we hadn't come along. The Greeks have no reason to love these chaps, and their intentions were hardly amiable. But one can't let them be murdered!"
Coburn had his hand on his revolver in his pocket. His finger was on the trigger. But if Dillon needed him to run an errand, then there obviously were no others of his own kind about.
Dillon turned his back. He gave orders in the barbarous dialect of the mountains. His voice was authoritative. Men obeyed him and dragged uniformed figures out of a light half-track that was plainly a staff car. Dillon beckoned, and Coburn moved toward him. The important thing as far as Coburn was concerned was to get Janice to safety. Then to report the full event.
"I ... I'm not sure ..." began Janice, her voice shaking.
"I'll prove what I said," raged Coburn in a low tone. "I'm not crazy, though I feel like it!"
Dillon beckoned again. Janice slipped off the donkey's back. She looked pitifully frightened and irresolute.
"I've located the chap who's the mayor of this village, or something like that. Take him along. They might not believe you, but they'll have to investigate when he turns up."
A white-bearded villager reluctantly climbed into the back of the car. Dillon pleasantly offered to assist Janice into the front seat. She climbed in, deathly white, frightened of Coburn and almost ashamed to admit that his vehement outburst had made her afraid of Dillon, too.
Dillon came around to Coburn's side of the vehicle. "Privately," he said with a confidential air, "I'd advise you to dump this mayor person where he can reach authority, and then go away quietly and say nothing of what happened up here. If the Greeks are using some contrivance that handles an affair like this, it will be top secret. They won't like civilians knowing about it."
Coburn's grip on his revolver was savage. It seemed likely, now, that Dillon was the only one of his extraordinary kind about.
"I think I know why you say that," he said harshly.
Dillon smiled. "Oh, come now!" he protested. "I'm quite unofficial!"
He was incredibly convincing at that moment. There was a wry half-smile on his face. He looked absolutely human; absolutely like the British correspondent Coburn had met in Salonika. He was too convincing. Coburn knew he would suspect his own sanity unless he made sure.
"You're not only unofficial," said Coburn grimly. His hand came up over the edge of the staff-car door. It had his revolver in it. It bore inexorably upon the very middle of Dillon's body. "You're not human, either! You're not a man! Your name isn't Dillon! You're--something I haven't a word for! But if you try anything fancy I'll see if a bullet through your middle will stop you!"
Dillon did not move. He said easily: "You're being absurd, my dear fellow. Put away that pistol."
"You slipped!" said Coburn thickly. "You said the Greeks played a trick on this raiding party. But you played it. At Ardea, when you climbed that cliff--no man could climb so fast. No man could run as you ran down into this village. And I saw that body you're wearing when you weren't in it! I followed you up the cliff when--" Coburn's voice was ragingly sarcastic--"when you were taking pictures!"
Dillon's face went impassive. Then he said: "Well?"
"Will you let me scratch your finger?" demanded Coburn almost hysterically. "If it bleeds, I'll apologize and freely admit I'm crazy! But if it doesn't ..."
The thing-that-was-not-Dillon raised its eyebrows. "It wouldn't," it said coolly. "You do know. What follows?"
"You're something from space," accused Coburn, "sneaking around Earth trying to find out how to conquer us! You're an Invader! You're trying out weapons. And you want me to keep my mouth shut so we Earth people won't patch up our own quarrels and join forces to hunt you down! But we'll do it! We'll do it!"
The thing-that-was-not-Dillon said gently: "No. My dear chap, no one will believe you."
"We'll see about that!" snapped Coburn. "Put those cameras in the car!"
The figure that looked so human hesitated a long instant, then obeyed. It lowered the two seeming cameras into the back part of the staff car.
Janice started to say, "I ... I ..."
The pseudo-Dillon smiled at her. "You think he's insane, and naturally you're scared," it said reassuringly. "But he's sane. He's quite right. I am from outer space. And I'm not humoring him either. Look!"
He took a knife from his pocket and snapped it open. He deliberately ran the point down the side of one of his fingers.
The skin parted. Something that looked exactly like foam-rubber was revealed. There were even bubbles in it.
The pseudo-Dillon said, "You see, you don't have to be afraid of him. He's sane, and quite human. You'll feel much better traveling with him." Then the figure turned to Coburn. "You won't believe it, but I really like you, Coburn. I like the way you've reacted. It's very ... human."
Coburn said to him: "It'll be human, too, when we start to hunt you down!" He let the staff car in gear. Dillon smiled at him. He let in the clutch, and the car leaped ahead.
In the two camera-cases Coburn was sure that he had the cryptic device that was responsible for the failure of a cold-war raid. He wouldn't have dared drive away from Dillon leaving these devices behind. If they were what he thought, they'd be absolute proof of the truth of his story, and they should furnish clues to the sort of science the Invaders possessed. Show the world that Invaders were upon it, and all the world would combine to defend Earth. The cold war would end.
But a bitter doubt came to him. Would they? Or would they offer zestfully to be viceroys and overseers for the Invaders, betraying the rest of mankind for the privilege of ruling them even under unhuman masters?
Janice swayed against his shoulder. He cast a swift glance at her. Her face was like marble.
"What's the matter?"
She shook her head. "I'm trying not to faint," she said unsteadily. "When you told me he was from another world I ... thought you were crazy. But when he admitted it ... when he proved it ..."
Coburn growled. The trail twisted and dived down a steep slope. It twisted again and ran across a rushing, frothing stream. Coburn drove into the rivulet. Water reared up in wing-like sheets on either side. The staff car climbed out, rocking, on the farther side. Coburn put it to the ascent beyond. The trail turned and climbed and descended as the stony masses of the hills required.
"He's--from another world!" repeated Janice. Her teeth chattered. "What do they want--creatures like him? How--how many of them are there? Anybody could be one of them! What do they want?"
"This is a pretty good world," said Coburn fiercely. "And his kind will want it. We're merely the natives, the aborigines, to them. Maybe they plan to wipe us out, or enslave us. But they won't! We can spot them now! They don't bleed. Scratch one and you find--foam-rubber. X-rays will spot them. We'll learn to pick them out--and when some specialists look over those things that look like cameras we'll know more still! Enough to do something!"
"Then you think it's an invasion from space?"
"What else?" snapped Coburn.
His stomach was a tight cramped knot now. He drove the car hard!
In air miles the distance to be covered was relatively short. In road miles it seemed interminable. The road was bad and curving beyond belief. It went many miles east and many miles west for every mile of southward gain. The hour grew late. Coburn had fled Ardea at sunrise, but they'd reached Naousa after midday and he drove frantically over incredible mountain roads until dusk. Despite sheer recklessness, however, he could not average thirty miles an hour. There were times when even the half-track had to crawl or it would overturn. The sun set, and he went on up steep grades and down steeper ones in the twilight. Night fell and the headlights glared ahead, and the staff car clanked and clanked and grumbled and roared on through the darkness.
They probably passed through villages--the headlights showed stone hovels once or twice--but no lights appeared. It was midnight before they saw a moving yellow spot of brightness with a glare as of fire upon steam above it. There were other small lights in a row behind it, and they saw that all the lights moved.
"A railroad!" said Coburn. "We're getting somewhere!"
It was a railroad train on the other side of a valley, but they did not reach the track. The highway curved away from it.
At two o'clock in the morning they saw electric lights. The highway became suddenly passable. Presently they ran into the still, silent streets of a slumbering town--Serrai--an administrative center for this part of Greece. They threaded its ways while Coburn watched for a proper place to stop. Once a curiously-hatted policeman stared blankly at them under an arc lamp as the staff car clanked and rumbled past him. They saw a great pile of stone which was a church. They saw a railroad station.
Not far away there was a building in which there were lights. A man in uniform came out of its door.
Coburn stopped a block away. There were uneasy stirrings, and the white-bearded passenger from the village said incomprehensible things in a feeble voice. Coburn got Janice out of the car first. She was stiff and dizzy when she tried to walk. The Greek was in worse condition still. He clung to the side of the staff car.
"We tell the truth," said Coburn curtly, "when we talk to the police. We tell the whole truth--except about Dillon. That sounds too crazy. We tell it to top-level officials only, after they realize that something they don't know anything about has really taken place. Talk of Invaders from space would either get us locked up as lunatics or would create a panic. This man will tell what happened up there, and they'll investigate. But we take these so-called cameras to Salonika, and get to an American battleship."
He lifted Dillon's two cameras by the carrying-straps. And the straps pulled free. They'd held the cases safely enough during a long journey on foot across the mountains. But they pulled clear now.
Coburn had a bitter thought. He struck a match. He saw the leather cases on the floor of the staff car. He picked up one of them. He took it to the light of the headlights, standing there in the resonant darkness of a street in a city of stone houses.
The leather was brittle. It was friable, as if it had been in a fire. Coburn plucked it open, and it came apart in his hands. Inside there was the smell of scorched things. There was a gritty metallic powder. Nothing else. The other carrying-case was in exactly the same condition.