The Enterprise was empty.
Garr Symm looked doubtfully at the gray murkiness behind them. Although the Dog Star stood out there less than a quarter of a mile away, they couldn't see it through the murk.
"Where did they go?" Ramar Chind asked.
Symm waved vaguely behind them.
Chind and his men turned around.
Gritting his teeth against the fear which welled up like nausea from the pit of his stomach, Garr Symm went with them.
At that moment they all heard the music.
"You hear it?" Ramsey asked softly. His voice did not carry on the airless world, of course. But he spoke, and the words were understood, not merely by Margot, who could read his mind, but by Vardin as well.
"Music," said Margot. "Isn't it--beautiful?"
Ramsey nodded slowly. He could barely see Margot, although he held her hand. He could barely see Vardin although they stood hand in hand too. The music was un-Earthly, incapable of repetition, indescribably the loveliest sound he had ever heard. He wanted to sink down into the obscuring gray murk and weep and listen to the haunting, sad, lovely strains of sound forever.
"What can it possibly be?" Margot asked.
Surprisingly, it was Vardin who answered. "Music of the Spheres," she said. "It's a legend on Vega III, my world."
"And on Earth," Ramsey said.
Vardin told them: "On all worlds. And, like all such legends, it has a basis in reality. This is the basis."
That didn't sound like timid little Vardin at all. Ramsey listened in amazement. He thought he heard Vardin laugh.
Music. But didn't the notes need the medium of time in which to be heard? How could they hear music here at all? Or were they hearing it? Perhaps it merely impinged on their minds, their souls, just as they were able to hear one another's thoughts as words....
They'd never understand fully, Ramsey knew suddenly. Perhaps they could grasp a little of the nature of this place, a shadow here, the half-suggestion of the substance of reality there, a stillborn thought here, a note of celestial music there, the timeless legacy of proto-man, whatever proto-man was....
"The fog is lifting!" Vardin cried.
The fog was not lifting.
Then it was.
Ramsey would never forget that. Vardin had spoken while the dense gray murk enveloped them completely.
Then it began to grow tenuous.
As if Vardin's words had made it so. Little Vardin, shy, frightened Vardin, suddenly, inexplicably, the strongest, surest one among them....
The sky, white and dazzling, glistened. The gray murk glistened too, a hundred yards off in all directions, like a wall of polished glass surrounding them.
In the very middle of the bell-jar of visibility granted them all at once, stood a black rectangular object.
"The teleporter!" Margot cried. "The matter-transmitter! I know it is. I know it is!"
Ramsey stood waiting breathlessly.
No, he realized abruptly, not breathlessly. You couldn't say breathlessly.
For Ramsey had not breathed, not once, since they left the Enterprise.
You didn't breathe on a timeless world. You merely--somehow--existed.
"It's opening!" Margot cried.
The black rectangle, ominously coffin-shaped, was indeed opening.
"The matter transmitter," Margot said a second time. "The secret of proto-man, of our ancestors who colonized all the worlds of space with it, instantly, at the same cosmic moment. Think of what it means, Ramsey, can you? Instantaneous travel, anywhere, without the need for energy since energy cannot be used here, without the passage of time since time does not exist here." She stood transfixed, looking at the black box. The lid had lifted at right angles to the rest of the box.
Margot said, in the whisper of an awed thought: "Who controls it controls the galaxy...."
And she walked toward the box.
At that moment Ramsey had a vision. He saw--or thought he saw--Margot Dennison in the costume she had worn when they first met. She stood, eyes wide, fearful, expectant, before a chess-board. The pieces seemed to be spaceships. It was a perfectly clear vision, but it was the only such vision Ramsey had ever been vouchsafed in his life. He was no mystic. He did not know what to make of it.
Playing chess with Margot was--proto-man.
Ramsey only saw his hand.
A hand perhaps five million years old.
He blinked. The vision persisted, superimposed over Margot's figure as she walked toward the box.
A game, he thought. Because we don't understand it. Not that kind of power. Not the power a matter-transmitter would give. A cosmic game on a chess-board which wasn't quite a chess-board, with a creature who had never lived as we know life and so could never die....
With the future of the galaxy hanging in the balance. Life or death for man hanging on a slim thread, because man wasn't ready for matter-transmission, couldn't hope to use it wisely, would use it perhaps for war, transmitting lethal weapons, thermonuclear, world-destroying weapons, instantly through space, for delivery anywhere, negating time....
"Wait!" Ramsey called, and ran forward.
Just then five new figures, space-suited, appeared under the gleaming dome.
"Stop that woman!" a voice which Ramsey should not have been able to hear but which he somehow heard perfectly cried. "Stop her!"
M.g. guns were raised, fired.
Three of the spacesuited figures ran after Margot as the voice repeated: "Stop her! The box is mine, mine!"
It was Garr Symm's voice.
Ramsey did not know if he should stop Margot himself, or fight Symm's men. Although they couldn't use their weapons on this world, they could still hurt--possibly even kill--Margot. Ramsey turned and waited for them.
The strange, mystic vision was gone. He saw only three space-suited figures, saw Margot walking steadily toward the box. Either she was moving very slowly or the box retreated or it was further away than it had looked at first. For she hadn't reached it yet.
Ramsey met the space-suited figures head-on.
There were three of them, but they were awkward in their suits, cumbersome, incapable of quick responses.
Ramsey hit the first one in the belly and darted back. His fist felt contact with the soft bulk of the insulined suit, then with the harder bulk of the man. He struck again, harder this time.
The scaly green face of the Irwadi within the space-suit grimaced with pain. He doubled over and fell, his helmet shattering against the ground at Ramsey's feet.
Then an incredible thing happened. The Irwadi opened his mouth to scream. His face froze. He lost his air. His face bloated.
And he died.
Ramsey couldn't believe his eyes.
It was not possible to die from lack of air or from cold on a world without the time continuum. Ramsey, Vardin and Margot had proved that by venturing out without protection.
But the Irwadi had died.
Because he thought he would die?
Because that was the only way you could perish on a world lacking in the time dimension--by your own thoughts?
The second space-suited figure closed with Ramsey awkwardly. Ramsey hit him. The man of Irwadi fell, his helmet cracked, he tried to scream--and died.
The third man fled.
Ramsey ran after Margot. "Wait!" he cried. He couldn't talk to her about his fantastic vision. It was personal. She wouldn't understand. Mystic experience always is like that. And yet, with the conviction that only a mystic can have--although he certainly was no mystic--Ramsey knew the galaxy would be in grave trouble if mankind were given the secret of matter-transmission.
A voice said: "You are right."
It was Vardin's voice, and Vardin went on: "Ramsey, stop her. I can't stop her. It is only granted that I observe--and convince, if I can. I am not a Vegan girl. I am--"
Ramsey said it. "Proto-man!"
"There aren't many of us left. We discovered matter-transmission. We used it once, to people the worlds of the galaxy. It was our final creative effort. We merely observe now, unable to destroy our creation, trying to keep it out of mankind's hands. You see--"
"Then back on Irwadi you knew all along we would come here!"
"I was vouchsafed the vision, yes. Even as you--stop her, Ramsey. You must stop her!"
Ramsey sprinted forward. Margot was nearing the black coffin now.
Ramsey ran at her, and tackled her.
They went down together, the girl fighting like a tigress, tooth and nail, wildly, sobbing, striking out at Ramsey with small impotent fists, until he subdued her. Panting, they glared at each other.
And could not stop Garr Symm from running past them, eyes rapt behind the plastiglass of his helmet, and jumping into the black box.
"To the end of the universe and back!" he cried. "Take me there and back. Instantly. Prove to me that you work! Now...." His voice trailed off. He had addressed the black rectangle almost as if it were something alive.
Ramsey thought he heard a growl from the box. He stood before it, looking in. The hackles rose on his neck.
"You see," Vardin said. "My ancestors and yours discovered the power of a god--and did not understand it. We were incorporeal. We created life--your ancestors. We patterned it to fit the evolution of the three thousand worlds. Human life. Millions of them, colonists for the worlds of normal space. We were tampering in our tragic pride, Ramsey, with forces we would never comprehend.
"We colonized the worlds, deciding that physical existence, along with the mental prowess we had, was the ideal state. A few of us, like myself, or my ancestors if you wish, although the purely mental lives continuously--a few of us stayed behind and saw--the loss of a million years!"
Ramsey's eyes still could not pierce the darkness inside the box.
"What do you mean?" he asked in an awed voice.
"We sent out god-like men. We did not understand our discovery. The god-like men--but look at Garr Symm."
The spacesuited figure got up slowly. It blinked at Ramsey. It growled. It had a recognizably green, scale-skinned face. But it was not the face of Garr Symm. It was the face of Garr Symm's caveman ancestors, a million years ago....
"This is what happened to my people," Vardin said.
She looked at Ramar Chind and Chind, responding, went to Garr Symm and led him quietly back toward the Dog Star. Chind never said a word. Garr Symm growled.
"Take the Earthgirl and go," Vardin told Ramsey.
"But I--you--aren't you coming?"
"My work is finished," Vardin told him. "For now."
"I am a guardian. When I am needed again--" She shrugged her slim blue shoulders.
"But Margot will never be content now," Ramsey protested. "Not when she's come so close."
"She'll understand. Just as you understand. You'll be good for each other, Ramsey, you and the girl. She's had only her fierce pride and her dreams of power. She has room for love. She needs love."