8. Fantastic Journey
I don’t think I ever really meant to embark on that fantastic journey along the time axis. I helped carry Colonel Murray’s body down the dusty shaft but it was a nightmare I walked through, not a real experience. I knew at the bottom of the tunnel I’d wake up in my hotel in Rio.
At the foot of the shaft was a hollowed out room. Our flash-beams moved searchingly across the rough walls. We carried Murray into the cave and laid him down gently on a spot the scientist indicated, Dr. Essen immediately became busy with her patient. Presently she looked up and nodded reassuringly.
“There’s time,” she said.
But De Kalb waved his arm, sending light sliding erratically up the rock, and said, “Time—there is time here! This space and this air form one immutable axis upon which all the past and the future turn like a wheel.”
It was bombastic but it was impressive too. Dr. Essen and I were silent, trying to grasp that imponderable concept, trying perhaps to catch the sound of that vast turning. But De Kalb had moved into action.
“Now,” he said, kneeling beside the black suitcase Dr. Essen had set down. “Now you shall see. Murray is all right for a while? Then—” He snapped open the case and laid down its four sides so that the compact instruments within stood up alone, light catching in their steel surfaces.
He squatted down and began to unpack them, to set up from among part of the shining things a curious little structure like a tree of glass and blinking lights, fitting tiny jointed rods together, screwing bulbs like infinitesimal soap-bubbles into invisible sockets.
“Now, Letta,” he said presently, squinting up at her in the dusty flash-beams, “your turn.”
“Ira—” She hesitated, shrugged uneasily. “Very well.”
I held the light for them while they worked.
After what seemed a long while De Kalb grunted and sat back on his heels. There was a thin, very high singing noise and the tiny tree began to move. I let my flashlight sink upon my knee. De Kalb reached over and switched it off. Dr. Essen’s beam blinked out with a soft click. It was dark except for the slowly quickening spin of the tree, the flicker of its infinitesimal lights.
Very gradually it seemed to me that a gray brightness was beginning to dawn around us, almost as if the whirling tree threw off light that was tangible and accumulated in the dusty air, hanging there upon every mote of dust, spinning a web that grew and grew.
It was gathering in an egg-shaped oval that nearly filled the chamber.
By the gray luminous dimness I could see Dr. Essen with her hands on a flat thick sheet of metal which she held across her knees. There were raised bars of wire across its upper surface and she seemed almost to be playing it like a musical instrument as her fingers moved over the bars. There was no sound but the light slowly, very slowly, broadened around us.
“In theory,” Dr. Essen said, “this would have worked years ago. But in practice, only this very special type of space provides the conditions we need. I published some papers in Forty-one on special atomic structures and the maintenance of artificial matrix. But the displacement due to temporal movement made practical application impossible. Only at the time-axis would that displacement theory became invalid.
“I am creating a rigid framework of matter now. Call it a matrix, except that the vibratory period is automatically adaptive, so that it’s self-perpetuating and can’t be harmed. Really, the practical application would be something like this—if you were driving a car and saw another car—about to collide with you, your own vehicle could automatically adjust its structure and become intangible. So—”
“It isn’t necessary for Mr. Cortland to understand this,” De Kalb said, his voice suddenly almost gay. “Eager seeker after truth though he may be. There is still much I don’t understand. We go into terra incognita—but I think we will come to the Face in the end.
“Somehow, against apparent logic, we have managed to follow the rules of the game. Somehow events have arranged themselves—in an unlikely fashion—so that all four of us are entering the time axis where all four of us lie asleep—intangible, impalpable and invisible except under ultraviolet.
“Murray may die. But since the nekronic creature attacked through time, as I believe, then perhaps sympathetic medicine may cure the Colonel. Some poisons kill but cure in larger doses. I don’t know. Perhaps the long catalepsy outside time will enable Murray’s wound to heal—wherever it is. I suspect that the people of the Face may have foreseen all this. Are you getting drowsy, Mr. Cortland?”
I was. The softly whirling tree, the sweet, thin, monotonous sound of its turning were very effective hypnotics though I hadn’t realized it fully till now. I made a sudden convulsive effort to rise. On the very verge of the plunge I realized that my decision had been made for me.
I felt my nerve going. I didn’t want to embark on this crazy endeavor at all. A suicide must know this last instant of violent revulsion the moment after he has pulled the trigger or swallowed the poison. I put out every ounce of energy I had—and moved with infinite sluggishness, perhaps a quarter of an inch from where I sat.
De Kalb’s voice said, “No, no. The matrix has formed.” My head was ringing.
The gray light was like a web that sealed my eyes. Through it, dimly, remotedly, far off in space and time, I thought I could see motion stirring that was not our motion—and perhaps was—
And perhaps was ourselves, at the other end of the closing temporal circle, rising from sleep after adventures a million years in the future, a million years in the past. But that motion was wholly theirs. I could not stir.
Sealed in sleep, sealed in time, I felt my consciousness sinking down like a candleflame, like a sinking fountain, down and down to the levels below awareness.
The next thing I saw, I told myself out of that infinite drowsiness, would be the Face of Ea looking out over the red twilight of the world’s end. And then the flame went out, the fountain sank back upon the dark wellspring of its origin far below the surfaces of the mind.
“And now we wait,” De Kalb’s voice said, ghostly, infinities away. “Now we wait—a million years.”