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24. Battling the Nekron

The gusts of thought blew thicker and faster around us as we were drawn up the spiral. Our minds linked in impossible chords and discords as impossible ideas struck responses from us all.

Then the light failed us. Perhaps our sight failed us. I think we were drawn through a rather long space of solid wall, like a locked doorway which only this vortex could open for material things.

When we could see again we were in a bare and empty room. The shape of it was indescribable because of the extensions along which it reached. I was reminded a little of the corridor down which Belem had guided me toward the Subterrane of the middle future. Geometry, blindingly confused in patterns of inverted planes.

And then the room around us spoke directly, in the very air that pressed upon our minds. The Face of Ea spoke.

I had heard that voice before, if voice you could call it The Man-Machine who guarded our age-long slumbers had said, Sleepsleep, in this same voice, growing deeper, calmer, less human as the eons passed. Now it was the voice and the mind of the Man-Machine but immeasurably altered, incomprehensibly more complex.

You have seen my first beginning, the Face of Ea said. You and I have come together to this place at the end of our planets life. I have watched over your sleep for a purpose. You are my weapons now.

The nekron can never be destroyed. But with your help it can be excised out of normal space, normal time. For that I summoned you. For that I guided your journeying in time. Think and you will understand.

I believe the same knowledge flowed through the minds of my companions in the moment of timeless revelation that came to me. In a series of small, clear pictures I saw the manlike, killing creature that was the nekron, touching me as it swooped through oscillating time, becoming part human by the touch, running rampant through the worlds of humanity.

Because of its release and its attacks, the voice of Ea said, it is part human now. You have learned to fight it. To save yourselves and us you must finish the fight. The nekron cannot be touchedexcept by you. But we must somehow excise it out of the universe, not only in space but in time. We must cut back through time, so that we divide and alter the past as well as the present.

Pictures flashed again through our minds but I at least was able to understand. I saw the worlds of the galaxy turning on their axis and, more cloudily, I saw time turning also, linked to the turning worlds each by its own axis as tangible as the planets themselves to that inner vision. Very dimly I saw something that flashed a little as Belems severing lights had flashed when the two electronic matrices split in duplicates from the original.

I need a wedge, a blade, to split the nekronic infection from normal space and time, the voice went on. You are my weapons. Do you understand the task before us?

Belem learned the way, through the linkage of the knowledge of two eras. Now, on an infinitely larger scale, we must accomplish the same cleaving of two spheres. And each must remain equal in every way to the one original or the balance of the universe will be destroyed.

They will differif we prevailin one way only. One will be nekronic matter, one will be normal. Never in contact anywhere through all time and space. Do you understand your tasks?

You must fight as my weapons against the nekronic universe. Together we must cleave the universe itself in two.

If you can imagine a sharp tool made sentient, you may guess a little of how what followed seemed to us, who were so integral a part of the tremendous conflict, the ultimate destruction.

First, the voice died.

Then there was movement past me and the room seemed to slip into darknessor was if I that moved? Those corners of non-Euclidian shape were vortices that swept us apart. We four were the component parts of an exploding nova that shot outward through space, through time. Around me I saw stars, moving very swiftly, and I was alone and there was an inexplicable changing everywhere.

I knew then that I was moving through time, not a continuous movement but an oscillation, a vibration that swung me back and forth like a pendulum through a period of a few seconds. As the nekronic being moved.

There was further motionnot my ownaround me. I could see only the vibrating stars but I knew through senses without name that my companions were not far away now. Paynter was a strong harsh relentless ego within reach of my mind, though all I could see was stars beyond stars, flaring into sight as my vision penetrated farther.

Belem was De Kalb and De Kalb was Belem, strongly egocentric, brilliant as the stars, a double mind that had shared a single body and learned to work with a single purpose in the dark levels below the conscious will. Topaz was Letta Essen, doubled and doubly armed.

There was a rushing shadow before me. Swifter and swifter, larger and larger, rushing upon me as I swept forward through the stars. I saw it, and then it was upon me in the same instant. The gap was bridged, the leap made. And II changed in size. I was as large as the shadow.

I touched it.

A fiery burning flared out around us and died instantly and the creature flashed into clear outline. Outline only, for it had no features and never did have, only the vague likeness to humanity it had drawn from the minds of its human hosts. Perhaps it was my own will, perhaps the will of the godlike hand that wielded me, that made me close with that solid shadow.

Where and how I gripped it I do not know. Perhaps I never really touched it at all. Perhaps it was merely will against will. All I could feel now was a furious deadly pressure against which I must exert the utmost of my strength in a direction I could not understand. Mental energy, pure will, perhaps simply the maintenance of temporal realityhow does the chisel know what force it exerts?

Somewhere I felt the enemy give backnot at any point where I met him. He weakened briefly far off inspace-time? How can I even guess? Perhaps we were hemming him in all around, temporally as well as physically, for some other human tool, De Kalb or Paynter, Letta Essen or Belemhad cut deeply into the resisting substance that was the nekronic universe.

The dark was a flashing, coruscating whirl of suns that blazed white. Tracks of fire burned in curves as stars rolled across that white vault. I knew how swiftly I must be moving in time.

With a jolt I was halted, pressed back. The blind, featureless face of the Adversary loomed larger, blotting out half the white heavens. Back and back I fell

And then suddenly there was support all around me, a merging of familiar minds with mine. It was deeper than the nearness I had felt before. We were drawn together, we four. Our minds touched and blended and became a single larger entity, a whole that yet preserved the individuality of us all. The cold clear thoughts of Belem and De Kalb lighted my mind like the facets of brilliance shot from a diamond. The blind white-hot violence of Murray and Paynter, the infinite resource that was Topaz and Letta Essen.

Now the Adversary shifted its grip. I felt it give a little before our combined pressure. And we seemed to be viewing it from several points at oncein time. Cross-bearings in time itself. But how?

I knew the answer very clearly, in one flash.

We were the chosen weapons, the doubly sharpened blade. That was why my own body and the bodies of the rest had crumbled into dust when the time-axis chamber was shattered. Two identical matrices can not exist in the same space-time, but two identical matrices had been necessary to forge this weapon that was ourselves.

No mind fixed and conditioned to one sector in time could pin down the nekron. It took a larger concept, a binocular view from two points in time. And the Face of Ea had doubled our striking power when it doubled our minds in bodies that were basically identical with the ones we wore when we were born.

We had fought this battle before in miniature. In the world of the middle future we had been tempered to this final task. The nekron was fixed and trapped hereit could no longer evade us through time. Our strangely multiple mind could fix and focus upon it.

But the battle was yet to come.

With reckless, single-minded violence that multiple mind smashed out at the nekronic Adversary. As Paynter had driven the metal ram no harder than he drove himself against the fortress barrier, as Harrison Murray had so often hurled himself in stubborn, blind fury against foes tangible and intangibleso the weapon that was ourselves crashed against the black nekronic force striving to destroy us.

Somehow, somewhere, in some hidden weakness of ourselves, it sought and found a flaw. It drove us back. Its own incredible power smashed through warping channels of space and time at our welded minds.

If a single one of those inconceivable bolts of destruction had struck us it might have been the finish for us all. But none struck. For Topaz was part of the weapon which was ourselves and all Topazs memories of infinite cleverness, infinitely adaptable lifewith Letta Essens cool, watchful mind to guide her.

Oh, Topaz was adaptablethat had been her purpose and her goal in society. She had incredible mental, emotional, muscular control and she reached instinctively, automatically to any outside threat. Now I saw her talents ultimate extension assomehow, in a black star-blazing gulf that yet embodied the whole universewe dodged and whirled and shifted so that none of those nekronic assaults quite smashed home.

Then, abruptly, we were falling. There was neither up nor down, but a frightful, abysmal vertigo that sucked us with impossible acceleration into the deeps below the universe itself. We were drawn into the black nighted heart of the nekronits soul and centerand life itself receded to a point of infinity and was shut wholly out, away from us. If we had size it must have changed. If we had warmth and life it must have frozen instantly in all minds. In its last defense the nekron itself absorbed us.

23. The Face | The Time Axis | 25. Return Voyage