"There is a steady leak here, Doctor," he said. "I get a discharge in eleven minutes."
"Probably a result of his work in opening the hiding place for his submarine last night. Keep it charged, Jones."
"What did you say about the cathode ray, Doctor?" asked Carnes.
"The cathode ray? Oh, yes. I said that rays of that type were attracted by--Hello, look there!"
From a point a mile to the north a ball of red fire streaked up into the air. A moment later similar signals rose from other watchers in the line.
"It works, Carnes!" cried the doctor as he rushed for the car. "We've got him this time!"
The car raced along the road. At the first man who had signalled, it slackened speed. The doctor leaned out.
"What is your discharge rate?" he called.
"Eight minutes. Doctor."
The car rolled on. Dr. Bird repeated the question at the next post and was told that the electroscope there was losing its charge in seven minutes. The next man reported four minutes and the next man, one minute. The following station reported three minutes.
"It's right along here somewhere!" cried the doctor. "Summon everyone to this point and take up twenty-yard intervals."
From the north and south the cars came racing in. The instruments were spread out along a new line twenty yards apart. As the borer was located the intervals were decreased to fifteen feet. Dr. Bird thrust a long white rod into the ground.
"His path lies under here," he said. "Into the cars and go back a mile and test again."
The borer was making slow progress, and it was half an hour before Dr. Bird drove the second stake in the ground. With a transit he took the bearing of the path and laid it out on a large scale map.
"We'll stop him between Marr and Ritchie," he announced. "Jones, I am going back and set up my apparatus. Keep track of his movements. If he changes direction, let me know at once."
The doctor's car tore off to the west. Near Upper Marlboro, he met the convoy of trucks and led them to the selected spot. The trucks were unloaded and the apparatus laid out. Attached to a huge transformer were a dozen strange-looking projectors. What puzzled Carnes most was a huge built-up steel bar wound about with heavy cable. Dr. Bird had this bar erected on a truck and located it with great exactness. The projectors were set up in a battery just east of the bar.
"How about power?" asked the doctor.
"We'll have it in five minutes," replied one of the men. "A power transmission line carrying twenty-two thousand passes within two hundred yards of here. We are phoning now to have the power cut off. As soon as the line is dead we'll cut it and bring the ends here."
The electrician was good at his word. In five minutes the power line had been cut and cables spliced to the ends. The cables were brought to the doctor's apparatus and the main lines were rigged to the ends of the cable wound around the bar. In parallel on taps, the projectors were connected. Huge oil-switches were placed in both lines.
"All ready, Doctor," reported the electrician.
"Good work, Avent. He'll be here soon, I fancy."
A car whirled up and a man leaped out with a surveyor's rod. He set it up on the ground while a companion watched through binoculars. He moved it a hundred yards to the north and then back twenty. When he was satisfied he turned to Dr. Bird.
"The direction of movement has not changed," he said. "The path will pass under this stake."
Under the doctor's supervision, the truck carrying the bar moved forward until it stood over the surveyor's stake. The battery of projectors moved to a new location a few feet east of the rod. Other cars came racing up.
"He's less than half a mile away, Doctor!" cried Jones.
"Get your electroscopes out and spot him a hundred yards from this truck."
"Very well, Doctor."
The men with the instruments spread out along the path of the borer. Briskly they rubbed their sleeves with the rubber rods and charged their instruments. Almost as fast as they charged them, the tiny bits of gold-leaf collapsed together. Presently the man on the end of the line shouted.
"Maximum discharge!" he cried.
Dr. Bird looked around. Every man stood ready at his post. The next man signalled that the borer was under him. Carnes felt himself trembling. He did not know what the doctor was about to do, but he felt that the fate of America hung in the balance. Whether it remained free or became the slave of Soviet Russia would quickly be decided.
Slowly the borer made its way forward. With a pale face, Jones signalled the news that it had reached the point the doctor had indicated. Dr. Bird raised his hand.
"Power!" he cried.
The electrician closed a switch and power surged through the cables around the bar. The earth rocked and quivered. A hundred yards east of the bar a flash of intolerable red light sprang from the ground with a roar like that of Niagara. Toward the bar it moved with gathering momentum.
"Back, everyone!" roared Dr. Bird.
The men sprang back. The searing ray approached the bar. It touched it, and bar and truck disappeared into thin air. A splutter of sparks came from the severed ends of the wire. The ray disappeared. Carnes rubbed his eyes. Where the truck had rested on solid ground was now a gaping wound in the earth.
"Projector forward!" cried the doctor. "Hurry, men!"
The trucks bearing the battery of projectors moved forward until they were at the edge of the hole. Portable cranes swung the lamps out, and men swarmed over them. The projectors were pointed down the hole. Carnes joined the doctor in peering down. A hundred yards below them the terrible ray was blazing. As they watched, its end came in sight. The ray was being projected forward from the end of a black cigar-shaped machine which was slowly moving forward.
"That's your target, men!" cried the doctor. "Align on it and signal when you are ready!"
One by one the projector operators raised their hands in the signal of "ready." Still the doctor waited. Suddenly the forward movement of the black body ceased. The ray was stationary for a moment and then moved slowly upward. A terrific roaring came from the cavern.
"Projector switch!" roared the doctor, his heavy voice sounding over the tumult.
"Ready, sir!" a shrill voice answered.
From each of the projectors a dazzling green ray leaped forth as the switch was closed. There was a crash like all the thunder of the universe. Before the astonished eyes of the detective, the hole closed. Not only did it close but the earth piled up until the trucks were overturned and the green rays blazed in all directions.
"Power off!" roared the doctor.
The switch was opened and the ray died out. Before them was a huge mound where a moment before had been a hole.
"You see, Carnes," said Dr. Bird with a wan smile. "I made him bore his own hole, as I promised."
"I saw it, but I don't understand. How did you do it?"
"Magnetism. Rays of the cathode type are deflected from their course by a magnet. His ray proved unusually susceptible, and I drew it toward a huge electro-magnet which I improvised. When the magnet was destroyed, the ray dropped back ... to its original ... direction. That's the end ... of Saranoff. That is ... I hope ... it is."
Dr. Bird's voice had grown slower and less distinct as he talked. As he said the last words, he slumped gently to the ground. Carnes sprang forward with a cry of alarm and bent over him.
"What's the matter, Doctor?" he demanded anxiously, shaking the scientist. Dr. Bird rallied for a moment.
"Sleep, old dear," he murmured. "Four days--no sleep. Go 'way, I'm ... going ... to ... sleep...."
By Alan E. Nourse
It was nearly sundown when Ravdin eased the ship down into the last slow arc toward the Earth's surface. Stretching his arms and legs, he tried to relax and ease the tension in his tired muscles. Carefully, he tightened the seat belt for landing; below him he could see the vast, tangled expanse of Jungle-land spreading out to the horizon. Miles ahead was the bright circle of the landing field and the sparkling glow of the city beyond. Ravdin peered to the north of the city, hoping to catch a glimpse of the concert before his ship was swallowed by the brilliant landing lights.
A bell chimed softly in his ear. Ravdin forced his attention back to the landing operation. He was still numb and shaken from the Warp-passage, his mind still muddled by the abrupt and incredible change. Moments before, the sky had been a vast, starry blanket of black velvet; then, abruptly, he had been hovering over the city, sliding down toward warm friendly lights and music. He checked the proper switches, and felt the throbbing purr of the anti-grav motors as the ship slid in toward the landing slot. Tall spires of other ships rose to meet him, circle upon circle of silver needles pointing skyward. A little later they were blotted out as the ship was grappled into the berth from which it had risen days before.
With a sigh, Ravdin eased himself out of the seat, his heart pounding with excitement. Perhaps, he thought, he was too excited, too eager to be home, for his mind was still reeling from the fearful discovery of his journey.
The station was completely empty as Ravdin walked down the ramp to the shuttles. At the desk he checked in with the shiny punch-card robot, and walked swiftly across the polished floor. The wall panels pulsed a somber blue-green, broken sharply by brilliant flashes and overtones of scarlet, reflecting with subtle accuracy the tumult in his own mind. Not a sound was in the air, not a whisper nor sign of human habitation. Vaguely, uneasiness grew in his mind as he entered the shuttle station. Suddenly, the music caught him, a long, low chord of indescribable beauty, rising and falling in the wind, a distant whisper of life....
The concert, of course. Everyone would be at the concert tonight, and even from two miles away, the beauty of four hundred perfectly harmonized voices was carried on the breeze. Ravdin's uneasiness disappeared; he was eager to discharge his horrible news, get it off his mind and join the others in the great amphitheater set deep in the hillside outside the city. But he knew instinctively that Lord Nehmon, anticipating his return, would not be at the concert.
Riding the shuttle over the edges of Jungle-land toward the shining bright beauty of the city, Ravdin settled back, trying to clear his mind of the shock and horror he had encountered on his journey. The curves and spires of glowing plastic passed him, lighted with a million hues. He realized that his whole life was entangled in the very beauty of this wonderful city. Everything he had ever hoped or dreamed lay sheltered here in the ever-changing rhythm of colors and shapes and sounds. And now, he knew, he would soon see his beloved city burning once again, turning to flames and ashes in a heart-breaking memorial to the age-old fear of his people.
The little shuttle-car settled down softly on the green terrace near the center of the city. The building was a masterpiece of smoothly curving walls and tasteful lines, opening a full side to the south to catch the soft sunlight and warm breezes. Ravdin strode across the deep carpeting of the terrace. There was other music here, different music, a wilder, more intimate fantasy of whirling sound. An oval door opened for him, and he stopped short, staggered for a moment by the overpowering beauty in the vaulted room.
A girl with red hair the color of new flame was dancing with enthralling beauty and abandon, her body moving like ripples of wind to the music which filled the room with its throbbing cry. Her beauty was exquisite, every motion, every flowing turn a symphony of flawless perfection as she danced to the wild music.
The dancer threw back her head sharply, eyes wide, her body frozen in mid-air, and then, abruptly, she was gone, leaving only the barest flickering image of her fiery hair. The music slowed, singing softly, and Ravdin could see the old man waiting in the room. Nehmon rose, his gaunt face and graying hair belying the youthful movement of his body. Smiling, he came forward, clapped Ravdin on the shoulder, and took his hand warmly. "You're too late for the concert--it's a shame. Mischana is the master tonight, and the whole city is there."
Ravdin's throat tightened as he tried to smile. "I had to let you know," he said. "They're coming, Nehmon! I saw them, hours ago."
The last overtones of the music broke abruptly, like a glass shattered on stone. The room was deathly still. Lord Nehmon searched the young man's face. Then he turned away, not quite concealing the sadness and pain in his eyes. "You're certain? You couldn't be mistaken?"
"No chance. I found signs of their passing in a dozen places. Then I saw them, their whole fleet. There were hundreds. They're coming, I saw them."
"Did they see you?" Nehmon's voice was sharp.
"No, no. The Warp is a wonderful thing. With it I could come and go in the twinkling of an eye. But I could see them in the twinkling of an eye."
"And it couldn't have been anyone else?"
"Could anyone else build ships like the Hunters?"
Nehmon sighed wearily. "No one that we know." He glanced up at the young man. "Sit down, son, sit down. I--I'll just have to rearrange my thinking a little. Where were they? How far?"
"Seven light years," Ravdin said. "Can you imagine it? Just seven, and moving straight this way. They know where we are, and they are coming quickly." His eyes filled with fear. "They couldn't have found us so soon, unless they too have discovered the Warp and how to use it to travel."
The older man's breath cut off sharply, and there was real alarm in his eyes. "You're right," he said softly. "Six months ago it was eight hundred light years away, in an area completely remote from us. Now just seven. In six months they have come so close."
The scout looked up at Nehmon in desperation. "But what can we do? We have only weeks, maybe days, before they're here. We have no time to plan, no time to prepare for them. What can we do?"
The room was silent. Finally the aged leader stood up, wearily, some fraction of his six hundred years of life showing in his face for the first time in centuries. "We can do once again what we always have done before when the Hunters came," he said sadly. "We can run away."
The bright street below the oval window was empty and quiet. Not a breath of air stirred in the city. Ravdin stared out in bitter silence. "Yes, we can run away. Just as we always have before. After we have worked so hard, accomplished so much here, we must burn the city and flee again." His voice trailed off to silence. He stared at Nehmon, seeking in the old man's face some answer, some reassurance. But he found no answer there, only sadness. "Think of the concerts. It's taken so long, but at last we've come so close to the ultimate goal." He gestured toward the thought-sensitive sounding boards lining the walls, the panels which had made the dancer-illusion possible. "Think of the beauty and peace we've found here."
"I know. How well I know."
"Yet now the Hunters come again, and again we must run away." Ravdin stared at the old man, his eyes suddenly bright. "Nehmon, when I saw those ships I began thinking."
"I've spent many years thinking, my son."
"Not what I've been thinking." Ravdin sat down, clasping his hands in excitement. "The Hunters come and we run away, Nehmon. Think about that for a moment. We run, and we run, and we run. From what? We run from the Hunters. They're hunting us, these Hunters. They've never quite found us, because we've always already run. We're clever, we're fortunate, and we have a way of life that they do not, so whenever they have come close to finding us, we have run."
Nehmon nodded slowly. "For thousands of years."
Ravdin's eyes were bright. "Yes, we flee, we cringe, we hide under stones, we break up our lives and uproot our families, running like frightened animals in the shadows of night and secrecy." He gulped a breath, and his eyes sought Nehmon's angrily. "Why do we run, my lord?"
Nehmon's eyes widened. "Because we have no choice," he said. "We must run or be killed. You know that. You've seen the records, you've been taught."
"Oh, yes, I know what I've been taught. I've been taught that eons ago our remote ancestors fought the Hunters, and lost, and fled, and were pursued. But why do we keep running? Time after time we've been cornered, and we've turned and fled. Why? Even animals know that when they're cornered they must turn and fight."
"We are not animals." Nehmon's voice cut the air like a whiplash.
"But we could fight."
"Animals fight. We do not. We fought once, like animals, and now we must run from the Hunters who continue to fight like animals. So be it. Let the Hunters fight."
Ravdin shook his head. "Do you mean that the Hunters are not men like us?" he said. "That's what you're saying, that they are animals. All right. We kill animals for our food, isn't that true? We kill the tiger-beasts in the Jungle to protect ourselves, why not kill the Hunters to protect ourselves?"
Nehmon sighed, and reached out a hand to the young man. "I'm sorry," he said gently. "It seems logical, but it's false logic. The Hunters are men just like you and me. Their lives are different, their culture is different, but they are men. And human life is sacred, to us, above all else. This is the fundamental basis of our very existence. Without it we would be Hunters, too. If we fight, we are dead even if we live. That's why we must run away now, and always. Because we know that we must not kill men."