He reached into his coat pocket and touched the rose. It was no more than a stem and a handful of petals now, but its reality could not be denied. But roses do not bloom in autumn, and green roses do not bloom at all-- "Ruf!"
He had turned into the new highway some time ago, and was driving along it at a brisk sixty-five. Now, disbelievingly, he slowed, and pulled over onto the shoulder. Sure enough, he had a stowaway in the back seat--a tawny-haired stowaway with golden eyes, over-sized ears, and a restless, white-tipped tail. "Zarathustra!" he gasped. "How in the dickens did you get in there?"
"Ruf," Zarathustra replied.
Philip groaned. Now he would have to go all the way back to Valleyview. Now he would have to see Judith Darrow again. Now he would have to--He paused in midthought, astonished at the abrupt acceleration of his heartbeat. "Well I'll be damned!" he said, and without further preamble transferred Zarathustra to the front seat, U-turned, and started back.
The gasoline lantern had been moved out of the living-room window, but a light still showed beyond the panes. He pulled over to the curb and turned off the ignition. He gave one of Zarathustra's over-sized ears a playful tug, absently noting a series of small nodules along its lower extremity. "Come on, Zarathustra," he said. "I may as well deliver you personally while I'm at it."
After locking the car, he started up the walk, Zarathustra at his heels. He knocked on the front door. Presently he knocked again. The door creaked, swung partially open. He frowned. Had she forgotten to latch it? he wondered. Or had she deliberately left it unlatched so that Zarathustra could get in? Zarathustra himself lent plausibility to the latter conjecture by rising up on his hind legs and pushing the door the rest of the way open with his forepaws, after which he trotted into the hall and disappeared.
Philip pounded on the panels. "Miss Darrow!" he called. "Judith!"
No answer. He called again. Still no answer.
A summer breeze came traipsing out of the house and engulfed him in the scent of roses. What kind of roses? he wondered. Green ones?
He stepped into the hall and closed the door behind him. He made his way into the living room. The two chairs were gone, and so was the coffee table. He walked through the living room and into the library; through the library and into the dining room. The gasoline lantern burned brightly on the dining-room table, its harsh white light bathing bare floors and naked walls.
The breeze was stronger here, the scent of roses almost cloying. He saw then that the double door that had thwarted him that morning was open, and he moved toward it across the room. As he had suspected, it gave access to the kitchen. Pausing on the threshold, he peered inside. It was an ordinary enough kitchen. Some of the appliances were gone, but the stove and the refrigerator were still there. The back doorway had an odd bluish cast that caused the framework to shimmer. The door itself was open, and he could see starlight lying softly on fields and trees.
Wonderingly he walked across the room and stepped outside. There was a faint sputtering sound, as though live wires had been crossed, and for a fleeting second the scene before him seemed to waver. Then, abruptly, it grew still.
He grew still, too--immobile in the strange, yet peaceful, summer night. He was standing on a grassy plain, and the plain spread out on either hand to promontories of little trees. Before him, the land sloped gently upward, and was covered with multicolored flowers that twinkled like microcosmic stars. In the distance, the lights of a village showed. To his right, a riotous green-rose bush bloomed, and beneath it Zarathustra sat, wagging his tail.
Philip took two steps forward, stopped and looked up at the sky. It was wrong somehow. For one thing, Cassiopeia had changed position, and for another, Orion was awry. For still another, there were no clouds for the moon to hide behind, and yet the moon had disappeared.
Zarathustra trotted over to where he was standing, gazed up at him with golden eyes, then headed in the direction of the lights. Philip took a deep breath, and followed him. He would have visited the village anyway, Zarathustra or no Zarathustra. Was it Pfleugersville? He knew suddenly that it was.
He had not gone far before he saw a highway. A pair of headlights appeared suddenly in the direction of the village and resolved rapidly into a moving van. To his consternation, the van turned off the thoroughfare and headed in his direction. He ducked into a coppice, Zarathustra at his heels, and watched the heavy vehicle bounce by. There were two men in the cab, and painted on the paneling of the truckbed were the words, PFLEUGERSVILLE MOVERS, INC.
The van continued on in the direction from which he had come, and presently he guessed its destination. Judith, clearly, was in the midst of moving out the furniture she had been too sentimental to sell. The only trouble was, her house had disappeared. So had the village of Valleyview.
He stared at where the houses should have been, saw nothing at first except a continuation of the starlit plain. Then he noticed an upright rectangle of pale light hovering just above the ground, and presently he identified it as Judith's back doorway. He could see through it into the kitchen, and by straining his eyes, he could even see the stove and the refrigerator.
Gradually he made out other upright rectangles hovering just above the ground, some of them on a line with Judith's. All of them, however, while outlined in the same shimmering blue that outlined hers, lacked lighted interiors.
As he stood there staring, the van came to a halt, turned around and backed up to the brightest rectangle, hiding it from view. The two men got out of the cab and walked around to the rear of the truckbed. "We'll put the stove on first," Philip heard one of them say. And then, "Wonder why she wants to hang onto junk like this?"
The other man's voice was fainter, but his words were unmistakable enough: "Grass widows who turn into old maids have funny notions sometimes."
Judith Darrow wasn't really moving out of Valleyview after all. She only thought she was.
Philip went on. The breeze was all around him. It blew through his hair, kissed his cheeks and caressed his forehead. The stars shone palely down. Some of the land was under cultivation, and he could see green things growing in the starlight, and the breeze carried their green breath to his nostrils. He reached the highway and began walking along it. He saw no further sign of vehicles till he came opposite a large brick building with bright light spilling through its windows. In front of it were parked a dozen automobiles of a make that he was unfamiliar with.
He heard the whir of machinery and the pounding of hammers, and he went over and peered through one of the windows. The building proved to be a furniture factory. Most of the work was being done by machines, but there were enough tasks left over to keep the owners of the parked cars busily occupied. The main manual task was upholstering. The machines cut and sewed and trimmed and planed and doweled and assembled, but apparently none of them was up to the fine art of spitting tacks.
Philip returned to the highway and went on. He came to other buildings and peered into each. One was a small automobile-assembly plant, another was a dairy, a third was a long greenhouse. In the first two the preponderance of the work was being performed by machines. In the third, however, machines were conspicuously absent. Clearly it was one thing to build a machine with a superhuman work potential, but quite another to build one with a green thumb.
He passed a pasture, and saw animals that looked like cows sleeping in the starlight. He passed a field of newly-sprouted corn. He passed a power plant, and heard the whine of a generator. Finally he came to the outskirts of Pfleugersville.
There was a big illuminated sign by the side of the road. It stopped him in his tracks, and he stood there staring at its embossed letters: PFLEUGERSVILLE, SIRIUS XXI Discovered April 1, 1962 Incorporated September 11, 1962 Philip wiped his forehead.
Zarathustra had trotted on ahead. Now he stopped and looked back. Come on, he seemed to say. Now that you've seen this much, you might as well see the rest.
So Philip entered Pfleugersville ... and fell in love-- Fell in love with the lovely houses, and the darling trees in summer bloom. With the parterres of twinkling star-flowers and the expanses of verdant lawns. With the trellised green roses that tapestried every porch. With the hydrangealike blooms that garnished every corner. With Pfleugersville itself.
Obviously the hour was late, for, other than himself, there was no one on the streets, although lights burned in the windows of some of the houses, and dogs of the same breed and size as Zarathustra occasionally trotted by. And yet according to his watch the time was 10:51. Maybe, though, Pfleugersville was on different time. Maybe, here in Pfleugersville, it was the middle of the night.
The farther he progressed into the village, the more enchanted he became. He simply couldn't get over the houses. The difference between them and the houses he was familiar with was subtle, but it was there. It was the difference that exists between good- and not-quite-good taste. Here were no standardized patios, but little marble aprons that were as much a part of the over-all architecture as a glen is a part of a woods. Here were no stereotyped picture windows, but walls that blended imperceptibly into pleasing patterns of transparency. Here were no four-square back yards, but rambling star-flowered playgrounds with swings and seesaws and shaded swimming holes; with exquisite doghouses good enough for little girls' dolls to live in.
He passed a school that seemed to grow out of the very ground it stood on. He passed a library that had been built around a huge tree, the branches of which had intertwined their foliage into a living roof. He passed a block-long supermarket built of tinted glass. Finally he came to the park.
He gasped then. Gasped at the delicate trees and the little blue-eyed lakes; at the fairy-fountains and the winding, pebbled paths. Star-flowers shed their multicolored radiance everywhere, and starlight poured prodigally down from the sky. He chose a path at random and walked along it in the twofold radiance till he came to the cynosure.
The cynosure was a statue--a statue of a buck-toothed, wall-eyed youth gazing steadfastly up into the heavens. In one hand the youth held a Phillips screw driver, in the other a six-inch crescent wrench. Standing several yards away and staring raptly up into the statue's face was the youth himself, and so immobile was he that if it hadn't been for the pedestal on which the statue rested, Philip would have been unable to distinguish one from the other.
There was an inscription on the pedestal. He walked over and read it in the light cast by a nearby parterre of star-flowers: FRANCIS FARNSWORTH PFLEUGER, DISCOVERER OF PFLEUGERSVILLE.
Born: May 5. 1941. Died: ---- Profession Inventor. On the first day of April of the year of our Lord, 1962, Francis Farnsworth Pfleuger brought into being a Mobius coincidence field and established multiple contact with the twenty-first satellite of the star Sirius, thereby giving the people of Valleyview access, via their back doorways, to a New World. Here we have come to live. Here we have come to raise our children. Here, in this idyllic village, which the noble race that once inhabited this fair planet left behind them when they migrated to the Greater Magellanic Cloud, we have settled down to create a new and better Way of Life. Here, thanks to Francis Farnsworth Pfleuger, we shall know happiness prosperity and freedom from fear.
FRANCIS FARNSWORTH PFLEUGER, WE, THE NEW INHABITANTS OF SIRIUS XXI, SALUTE YOU!.
Philip wiped his forehead again.
Presently he noticed that the flesh-and-blood Francis Pfleuger was looking in his direction. "Me," the flesh-and-blood Francis Pfleuger said, pointing proudly at the statue. "Me."
"So I gather," Philip said dryly. And then. "Zarathustra--come back here!"
The little dog had started down one of the paths that converged on the statue. At Philip's command, he stopped but did not turn; instead he remained where he was, as though waiting for someone to come down the path. After a moment, someone did--Judith Darrow.
She was wearing a simple white dress, reminiscent both in design and decor of a Grecian tunic. A wide gilt belt augmented the effect, and her delicate sandals did nothing to mar it. In the radiance of the star-flowers, her eyes were more gray than green. There were shadows under them, Philip noticed, and the lids were faintly red.
She halted a few feet from him and looked at him without saying a word. "I ... I brought your dog back," he said lamely. "I found him in the back seat of my car."
"Thank you. I've been looking all over Pfleugersville for him. I left my Valleyview doors open, hoping he'd come home of his own accord, but I guess he had other ideas. Now that you've discovered our secret, Mr. Myles, what do you think of our brave new world?"
"I think it's lovely," Philip said, "but I don't believe it's where you seem to think it is."
"Don't you?" she asked. "Then suppose you show me the full moon that rose over Valleyview tonight. Or better yet, suppose I show you something else." She pointed to a region of the heavens just to the left of the statue's turned-up nose. "You can't see them from here," she said, "but around that insignificant yellow star, nine planets are in orbit. One of them is Earth."
"But that's impossible!" he objected. "Consider the--"
"Distance? In the sort of space we're dealing with, Mr. Myles, distance is not a factor. In Mobius space--as we have come to call it for lack of a better term--any two given points are coincidental, regardless of how far apart they may be in non-Mobius space. But this becomes manifest only when a Mobius coincidence-field is established. As you probably know by now, Francis Pfleuger created such a field."
At the mention of his name, Francis Pfleuger came hurrying over to where they were standing. "E," he declared, "equals mc."
"Thank you, Francis," Judith said. Then, to Philip, "Shall we walk?"
They started down one of the converging paths, Zarathustra bringing up the rear. Behind them, Francis returned to his Narcissistic study of himself in stone. "We were neighbors back in Valleyview," Judith said, "but I never dreamed he thought quite so much of himself. Ever since we put up that statue last week, he's been staring at it night and day. Sometimes he even brings his lunch with him."
"He seems to be familiar with Einstein."
"He's not really, though. He memorized the energy-mass equation in an attempt to justify his new status in life, but he hasn't the remotest notion of what it means. It's ironic in a way that Pfleugersville should have been discovered by someone with an IQ of less than seventy-five."
"No one with an IQ of less than seventy-five could create the sort of field you were talking about."
"He didn't create it deliberately--he brought it into being accidentally by means of a machine he was building to tie knots with. Or at least that's what he says. But we do know that there was such a machine because we saw its fused parts in his kitchen, and there's no question but what it was the source of the field. Francis, though, can't remember how he made the parts or how he put them together. As a matter of fact, to this day he still doesn't understand what happened--though I have a feeling that he knows more than he lets on."
"What did happen?" Philip asked.
For a while Judith was silent. Then, "All of us promised solemnly not to divulge our secret to an outsider unless he was first accepted by the group as a whole," she said. "But thanks to my negligence, you know most of it already, so I suppose you're entitled to know the rest." She sighed. "Very well--I'll try to explain...."
When Francis Pfleuger's field had come into being, something had happened to the back doors of Valleyview that caused them to open upon a planet which one of the local star-gazers promptly identified as Sirius XXI. The good folk of Valleyview had no idea of how such a state of affairs could exist, to say nothing of how it could have come about, till one of the scientists whom they asked to join them as a part of the plan which they presently devised to make their forthcoming utopia self-sufficient, came up with a theory that explained everything.
According to his theory, the round-trip distance between any two planetary or stella bodies was curved in the manner of a Mobius strip--i.e., a strip of paper given a half-twist before bringing the two ends together. In this case, the strip represented the round-trip distance from Earth to Sirius XXI. Earth was represented on the strip by one dot, and Sirius XXI by another, and, quite naturally, the two dots were an equal distance--or approximately 8.8 light years--apart. This brought them directly opposite one another--one on one side of the strip, the other on the other side; but since a Mobius strip has only one surface--or side--the two dots were actually occupying the same space at the same time. In "Mobius space", then, Earth and Sirius XXI were "coincidental".
Philip looked over his shoulder at the little yellow sun twinkling in the sky. "Common sense," he said, "tells me differently."
"Common sense is a liar of the first magnitude," Judith said. "It has misled man ever since he first climbed down from the trees. It was common sense that inspired Ptolemy's theory of cosmogony. It was common sense that inspired the burning of Giordano Bruno...."
The fact that common sense indicated that 8.8 light years separated Earth and Sirius XXI in common-sense reality didn't prove that 8.8 light years separated them in a form of reality that was outside common-sense's dominion--i.e., Mobius space--and Francis Pfleuger's field had demonstrated as much. The back-door nodal areas which it had established, however, were merely limited manifestations of that reality--in other words, the field had merely provided limited access to a form of space that had been in existence all along.
"Though why," Judith concluded, "our back doors should have been affected rather than our front doors, for example, is inexplicable--unless it was because Francis built the machine in his kitchen. In any event, when they did become nodal areas, they manifested themselves on Sirius XXI, and the dogs in the immediate vicinity associated them with the doorways of their departed masters and began whining to be let in."
"Their departed masters?"
"The race that built this village. The race that built the factories and developed the encompassing farms. A year ago, according to the records they left behind them, they migrated to the Greater Magellanic Cloud."
Philip was indignant. "Why didn't they take their dogs with them?"
"They couldn't. After all, they had to leave their cars and their furniture behind them too, not to mention almost unbelievable stockpiles of every metal imaginable that will last us for centuries. The logistics of space travel make taking even an extra handkerchief along a calculated risk. Anyway, when their dogs 'found' us, they were overjoyed, and as for us, we fell in love with them at first sight. Our own dogs, though, didn't take to them at all, and every one of them ran away."
"This can't be the only village," Philip said. "There must be others somewhere."
"Undoubtedly there are. All we know is that the people who built this one were the last to leave."
The park was behind them now, and they were walking down a pleasant street. "And when you and your neighbors discovered the village, did you decide to become expatriates right then and there?" Philip asked.
She nodded. "Do you blame us? You've seen for yourself what a lovely place it is. But it's far more than that. In Valleyview, we had unemployment. Here, there is work for everyone, and a corresponding feeling of wantedness and togetherness. True, most of the work is farmwork, but what of that? We have every conceivable kind of machine to help us in our tasks. Indeed, I think that the only machine the Sirians lacked was one that could manufacture food out of whole cloth. But consider the most important advantage of all: when we go to bed at night we can do so without being afraid that sometime during our sleep a thermonuclear missile will descend out of the sky and devour us in one huge incandescent bite. If we've made a culture hero out of our village idiot, it's no more than right, for unwittingly or not, he opened up the gates of paradise."
"And you immediately saw to it that no one besides yourselves and a chosen few would pass through them."
Judith paused beside a white gate. "Yes, that's true," she said. "To keep our secret, we lived in our old houses while we were settling our affairs, closing down our few industries and setting up a new monetary system. In fact, we even kept our ... the children in the dark for fear that they would talk at school. Suppose, however, we had publicized our utopia. Can't you imagine the mockery opportunists would have made out of it? The village we found was large enough to accommodate ourselves and the few friends, relatives and specialists we asked to join us, but no larger; and we did, after all, find it in our own back yard." She placed her hand on the white gate. "This is where I live."
He looked at the house, and it was enchanting. Slightly less enchanting, but delightful in its own right, was the much smaller house beside it. Judith pointed toward the latter dwelling and looked at Zarathustra. "It's almost morning, Zarathustra," she said sternly. "Go to bed this minute!" She opened the gate so that the little dog could pass through and raised her eyes to Philip. "Our time is different here," she explained. And then, "I'm afraid you'll have to hurry if you expect to make it to my back door before the field dies out."
He felt suddenly empty. "Dies out?" he repeated numbly.
"Yes. We don't know why, but it's been diminishing in strength ever since it first came into being, and our 'Mobius-strip scientist' has predicted that it will cease to exist during the next twenty-four hours. I guess I don't need to remind you that you have important business on Earth."
"No," he said, "I guess you don't." His emptiness bowed out before a wave of bitterness. He had rested his hand on the gate, as close to hers as he had dared. Now he saw that while it was inches away from hers in one sense, it was light years away in another. He removed it angrily. "Business always comes first with you, doesn't it?"
"Yes. Business never lets you down."
"Do you know what I think?" Philip said. "I think that you were the one who did the selling out, not your husband. I think you sold him out for a law practice."
Her face turned white as though he had slapped it, and in a sense, he had. "Good-by," she said, and this time he was certain that if he were to reach out and touch her, she would shatter into a million pieces. "Give my love to the planet Earth," she added icily.
"Good-by," Philip said, his anger gone now, and the emptiness rushing back. "Don't sell us short, though--we'll make a big splash in your sky one of these days when we blow ourselves up."
He turned and walked away. Walked out of the enchanting village and down the highway and across the flower-pulsing plain to Judith's back doorway. It was unlighted now, and he had trouble distinguishing it from the others. Its shimmering blue framework was flickering. Judith had not lied then: the field was dying out.
He locked the back door behind him, walked sadly through the dark and empty house and let himself out the front door. He locked the front door behind him, too, and went down the walk and climbed into his car. He had thought he had locked it, but apparently he hadn't. He drove out of town and down the road to the highway, and down the highway toward the big bright bonfire of the city.
Dawn was exploring the eastern sky with pale pink fingers when at last he parked his car in the garage behind his apartment building. He reached into the back seat for his brief case and the manila envelopes. His brief case had hair on it. It was soft and warm. "Ruf," it barked. "Ruf-ruf!"
He knew then that everything was all right. Just because no one had invited him to the party didn't mean that he couldn't invite himself. He would have to hurry, though--he had a lot of things to do, and time was running out.
Noon found him on the highway again, his business transacted, his affairs settled, Zarathustra sitting beside him on the seat. One o'clock found him driving into Valleyview; two-five found him turning down a familiar street. He would have to leave his car behind him, but that was all right. Leaving it to rust away in a ghost town was better than selling it to some opportunistic dealer for a sum he would have no use for anyway. He parked it by the curb, and after getting his suitcase out of the trunk, walked up to the front door of Number 23. He unlocked and opened the door, and after Zarathustra followed him inside, closed and locked it behind him. He strode through the house to the kitchen. He unlocked and opened the back door. He stepped eagerly across the threshold--and stopped dead still.
There were boards beneath his feet instead of grass. Instead of a flower-pied plain, he saw a series of unkempt back yards. Beside him on an unpainted trellis, Virginia creeper rattled in an October wind.
Zarathustra came out behind him, descended the back-porch steps and ran around the side of the house. Looking for the green-rose bush probably.
Zarathustra had returned and was looking up at him from the bottom step. On the top step he had placed an offering.
The offering was a green rose.
Philip bent down and picked it up. It was fresh, and its fragrance epitomized the very essence of Sirius XXI. "Zarathustra," he gasped, "where did you get it?"
"Ruf!" said Zarathustra, and ran around the side of the house.
Philip followed, rounded the corner just in time to see the white-tipped tail disappear into the ancient dog house. Disappointment numbed him. That was where the rose had been then--stored away for safe-keeping like an old and worthless bone.
But the rose was fresh, he reminded himself.
Did dog houses have back doorways?