The original draft was written on an electric typewriter. It was a "fictionalization" of my earlier TRS-80 adventure game of the same name, which in turn was inspired in very small part by Arthur C. Clarke's The City and the Stars. All spellings, punctuation, capitalizations, etc. are as in the original.
"What's going on around here?!?" he said when he finally found his voice. The last thing he remembered was a blinding flash of greenish-white light, and now here he was lying prone on a dirt hill with a short iron rod in his left hand.
Oh yes, now it was all beginning to come back to him. On an impulse, he'd decided to investigate an old, abandoned strip mine somewhere in Arizona. As soon as he reached the place, he was caught up by his insatiable childhood urge to dig. He came across a few old bottle caps, some pieces of clear and green glass, a few ancient shards of metal, and finally an iron rod sticking straight out of the dirt wall. When he tried to dig it out, he discovered that it was lodged in a rather large, glowing green rock, too big to completely dig out around.
Suddenly, a single, emotionless sentence stabbed at his mind, which read much like printed instructions: "Pull rod to save the world." He had no idea where the message came from, and was not quite certain that his mind hadn't just let that particular thought surface. But wherever the idea came from, he decided to try it out by giving the rod a good hard yank.
The explosion that followed confirmed that the message had some meaning. Instantly, the remaining earth around the large boulder fell away, leaving the bare, glowing rock to cast its full energy upon the single person in front of it. Instinctively he shielded his eyes from the greenish-white glare, and quickly lost consciousness momentarily. Now, he was awake, lying prone on a dirt hill with a short iron rod in his left hand.
"Ok, Eric old boy," he told himself, "Get your bearings. You're on a dirt hill someplace now, so find out exactly where you are!"
With that, he managed to get to his feet. What he saw when he did froze him instantly. Far off beyond the hill in one direction was a writhing megalopolis such as he had never seen before except on the cover of an old science fiction magazine. It was a curving, twisting mass of self-supported thoroughfares and living quarters so large and so faintly outlined that they must have been several kilometers away.
When he turned his gaze in the opposite direction, he was even more stunned. Down the hill, easily within walking distance, was a castle just like in the medieval times. This, no doubt, would have to bear his investigation.
Before he left, however, there came his childhood duty. He was on a dirt hill, so - dig. He had gone no more than about a decimeter when he hit a rock, which he promptly pulled out - and found to be gold. His urge had finally paid off! He was the posessor of a genuine gold nugget!
Of course, there was the little problem that wherever he was, the place might be off the gold standard. Besides, what good would money be in a civilization where there was a futuristic city in one direction and a medieval castle in another? Nevertheless, he stowed the nugget in his right hand and, holding it on the right and the iron rod on the left, stalked off down the hill toward the castle.
The sky seemed to grow dusky even as he approached the construct on the low plain. He gazed skyward, and had no trouble at all sighting the first star (or planet or whatever). It was incredibly bright - too bright for this time of day, even with the thin atmosphere that he was now breathing.
When he reached the castle, he found something quite disturbing standing in front of it. An ordinary human, dressed in flowing, arcane robes, was standing there with an uneasy look of malevolence on its face. Whoever it was, Eric was certain that it wouldn't mind his exploring the castle.
Unfortunately, the person did. It stepped in front of him, and said, in plain English, "I'll let you pass - for a price."
It was not so much the person's mannerism that took Eric by surprise as it was the fact that he knew English. He was certainly not on the world as he knew it, or if he was on Earth, it was several centuries in the future. By that time, Eric was almost certain that the English language would be bred out. It must have been - why else would the stone have to transmit its message into his mind rather than print up a sign in the same words?
Then another disturbing thought hit him. He had made no hint of his intention to explore to this person, and yet it knew what he wanted to do, and stepped out of the way. For that matter, why did he have an affinity to think of it as an "it," rather than a "him" or a "her?" Was he a futuristic psychic, or what?
"No, no, you dummy!" said the person, whatever sex it was. "Haven't you figured it out? I'm a wizard! Now then, mundane one, either pay your passage or take leave!"
A wizard! This was just great; he was in a time of space ships and sorcery. Nevertheless, he had somehow developed a strong urge to visit the castle, and decisded to take a chance on the gold standard still being around. He lifted his right arm, and presented the wizard with his gold nugget.
The wizards eyes bugged out briefly, but promptly returned to normal as he said, "Yes, I think that will suffice!"
The wizard extended its left arm with its palm down, fingers open, and head sighting down it. Suddenly, the massive piece of aurium lept from Eric's hand, and was caught catcher-style by the wizard. Quickly, before another thing could be done, the mage stowed the nugget in one of its robe pouches, gestured slightly, and extended its arms to form its body into the shape of a Y. Scintillating energies began to form around its being, turning the humanoid figure into a varitable light show. Then, without warning, the wizard lept up into the air, swooping away out of sight with considerable speed, and shouting a completely alien word for anyone who cared to hear.
'Well,' he thought, 'At least that's out of the way. Now, about the castle —'
He never completed the thought. His mind was suddenly interrupted by a stabbing, subliminal message. 'Not again!' he thought as he cringed and put his hands to the sides of his head.
The message came through just as with the stone, but this time he understood, basically, how it was done. The message was "coded," so to speak, in the universal language of thought. Thus, he could not directly read its intent, he could only interpret it into an English message, written in a form that only his mind could say.
The message said: "What you are about to hear, you may never have guessed. The glowing boulder you found was actually a 'time bomb,' so to speak, that sent you a little less than two thousand years into your future. What you see before you is a second coming of the dark ages to mankind, although now it is a dark age of technology rather than superstition. We posess devices such as you have never dreamed of - the time bomb is only one of many. As I, who am speaking to you by means of your very thought, am only one of many.
"But however great our technology, we are threatened by a technology infinitely greater. The Aliens, as we have called them, know of a way to make matter so indelibly permanent that not even a thermonuclear blast can penetrate it. The only going theory on this matter is that the form of the object is set in the mold of a computer's memory bank, and so only if the computer changes the structure of the object within its memory bank will the object change. I believe you have heard a story to this effect, called 'The City and the Stars.'
"An object of this adamantine nature is currently in orbit around the Earth. If someone should get inside of it and destroy the computers, then theoretically the object, which we believe to be a space ship, would disappear.
"But the Aliens heard about this idea, and didn't want it to get carried out. So, they set up a barrier around the last teeming megalopolis through which no matter could pass. Now, the only ones outside the city, which I'm sure you've already seen, are a few of the great wizards, most of whom are just evil, the rest of whom don't give a darn either way about the intention of the Aliens. The only way we were going to be able to get someone outside the city was to send a time bomb back in time, at a location near to the castle. As you have already probably guessed, we placed it on top of that hill to ensure that it wouldn't get buried. I hope you, as far back as the 1930s, can get a grip on the situation, because you are possibly the only hope for mankind.
"It's up to you to save the world. I know very little of how you can do it, but I do know this much: The castle is the key. Go now."
Well, evidently whoever sent the time bomb back for him hadn't sent it high enough to ensure that it would be above ground. And it certainly wasn't sent back to the 1930s! Or, probably it was, but it wasn't uncovered until the 1960s strip mining operation. Then he just happened to stumble across it, and because he did, it was up to him to save the world.
He didn't want to save the world! All he had was an insatiable urge to dig, not to get involved. Well, his curiosity certainly got him in trouble this time; after all, he didn't have to obey the "Pull rod to save the world" message.
Now, then, he had to get going. The message said, "The Castle is the Key." There must be something about the castle he was standing next to that had to do with destroying the Alien's space craft. If we was going to find out what it was, he'd have to get into the castle first; and unfortunately, the castle had no visible entrance.
Well, if the entrance wasn't in plain sight, then it was probably hidden in some way. Eric walked over to the castle wall and began examining the structure. It seemed to be built exactly like the medieval castles he'd seen pictures of, using just mortar and stone blocks. The structure must have been ages old, due to the layers of deposit on the outside, and yet it seemed as strong as anything built in modern times. "Artificial aging" was the term to apply here.
It was then he noticed it. Around one of the blocks, the constructors of the place had neglected to put any mortar. Whatever their reason, it might be a possible entrance to anyone who happened by. and wanted to get in. He groped his fingers around the stone block in the rather large space provided by the no-mortar-gap, and began to pull with all his might. The stone came out ten times more easily than he'd expected.
Suddenly, the ground began to shake violently. He glanced around, and then looked up at the top of the castle, where he saw the entire upper structure begin to crack and crumble along the structural lines created by the block he'd just pulled out. For a split-second, he realized that he had removed the castle's all-important keystone.
He crouched down on the ground, covering his body with his arms and using the small keystone as a shield. In the background, he heard a thundrous sound as block after giant stone block came crashing down before him, none of them ever chancing to fall in his direction. When the sound finally subsided, he lifted his head up, and looked out upon the vast wasteland of crumbled stones, all lying in a great heap - while a single, giant, black staft stood proudly above it all, pointing steadily at an angle into the sky.
He immediately got to his feet, and for a moment stared in wonder at the angled cylinder at the center of the heap. Then, driven by natural curiosity, he walked into the rubble pile at a slow pace. Most of the stones were crushed down to the size of insignificant pebbles, but some of them were still big enough to be obstacles. It was after he had walked about two meters into the pile that his old childhood urge overtook him again, and he began to dig.
For the most part, he found absolutely nothing, but still continued digging, undaunted by the loss. After digging for some time in a slowly moving arc, he finally came upon something that was not part of the rubble, by any means. The exterior gleamed of polished chrome marred only by a few sparse scratches. It was only two-thirds of a meter or so tall, and at its top was a small, dark opening about two decimeters across. Beside the large structure of metal, Eric noticed, was a black-handled, four decimeter long lever. Almost without hesitation, Eric pulled it.
Instantly, a rumbling sound began to eminate from the chrome structure, and the opening began to glow with a pale orange light. He had expected something to happen when he pulled the lever, so the event didn't much take him by surprise. Without much careful examination, he was able to tell that the opening was giving off heat as well as glowing. Yet, it was a very dull kind of heat, the kind you get from highly efficient heat shielding. Inquisitively, he stuck his finger slowly through the opening.
As soon as the tip of his finger had just barely entered the opening, he yanked it back out again on a reflexive action. It was absolutely searingly hot in there! Evidently, there was an invisible heat shield between him and the interior so that the only thing that came through was an orange glow and a little bit of heat.
Heat. What would be the use of something that solely produced accessible, shielded heat? Well, a furnace of some kind would probably do that; but having the heat only on the inside, and searingly hot heat at that? The only kind of furnace he could think of that would do that would be a forging furnace. Well, then, that's probably what it was. So then, he thought, why not stick that old iron pole of yours in and find out?
He did just that. As the end of the rod passed through the intangible barrier of heat, it was lost amongst the misty orange coloration that was the internal heat of the device. Suddenly, he began to hear an odd sound emanating from the furnace which sounded like two pieces of slippery metal sliding against each other, amplified about ten times. Even through the coloration of heat, he could now see streaks of light playing at the end of the rod, pulling at it, shaping it, and dragging it along in their high-speed dance. When the light was gone, and the end of the rod was lost once more among the colorations, Eric pulled out the rod.
The very first impression he got was that he had stuck his rod into a metal-and-heat pencil sharpener. The end of the rod was now a perfect cone, coming to a point with a tip that was too sharp to see. Instictively, he tested the tip with his right index finger by applying a light pressure that was hardly noticeable. He stared at the blooded spot in astonishment.
"That thing drew blood!" he said to himself. "I hardly touched it, and it drew blood. I didn't even feel anything. It's only a small wound; in fact, I wouldn't even call it a cut. This thing must have a point so sharp it's only a few molecules in diameter. These people sure know their forging furnaces."
Speaking of which, he decided he'd better turn the thing off; he didn't wast to waste any of the power the people of this time had on hand. He tugged on the lever lightly, and watched the lever quickly return itself to an upright position, almost immediately afterwhich the roaring furnace died out.
Now that his urge to dig had bee satiated with his find, it was time for him to examine the shaft. It looked more like a wide-base column than a shaft, but it obviously had a terminating point farther below the rubble than was visible. In fact, when the castle was standing, it didn't show at all. As he stepped up to the shaft, and peered through the mysteriously human-sized portal, he could see the floor of the shaft, made of shiny metal, some meter-and-a-half below. He also noticed that the rocks, instead of piling through the doorway into the structure, abruptly ended at the sill of the door, as if whatever had piled in had been suddenly swept out.
Unhesitantly, he stepped in, and noticed for the first time that the walls of the place were dimly glowing. Scanning the place quickly with his eyes, he eventually managed to look up and see the large, clear lens covering the top of the shaft. It seemed to be aimed at something, something very bright and hanging in the sky. Then he realized what it was; the shaft was pointing directly at the star-like object he'd seen as the sky grew dark. Now, it was almost nighttime, and he had no trouble seeing the object. In fact, enhanced by the lense, the object seemed to take on some form - a sort of triangular form with apparent double-protuberances out of one of its sides. His logic told him immediately that this was the Aliens' space ship.
There were only two things the shaft could be - a telescope, or a transmitter. Most logically, it was a telescope, since otherwise it would have probably not been made to wield light. But then again, a telescope could also be a transmitter if light were sent through it - so possibly, he was interrupting somebody's or something's transmissions. He stepped across the floor, which he now presumed to be a mirror, and took a closer look at the walls. The glow was definitely coming from them. Maybe this was a transmitter, but now dormant, and waiting to send a message back up via the walls of the meter-and-a-half diameter place. Cautiously, he reached out his hand, and gently touched one fo the glowing surfaces.
It wasn't the sudden onslaught of light that stunned him so much as the instantaneous transition from total light to total darkness less than two seconds later. Between the time when he entered total darkness to when he could finally begin to see outside light, his body felt free, fluid - moving with unaccountable energy, as if he'd been transformed into something else temporarily. When his eyes could finally get a focus on the world around him, he was no longer in the shaft.
He was in a cylindrical room like the shaft, but it was transparent and much too small. The base was only about half a meter in diameter, and he was closed in by a mirror just ten feet over his head. He looked down, almost expecting to find what he did; there was a lens below him shaped exactly as the one on top of the cylinder. Through the lens, with what remained of the twilight's light, he could just barely make out meagre cloud formations that looked as if a small hole had been blasted through them quite recently. The cylinder had transported him up into the space ship.
The only things around him were a small, glowing panel set into the wall, a doorway that was only a little over a meter tall, and a good amount of pulverized rubble that led almost in a trail out of the doorway. The panel was obviously the way to transport back to Earth, the rubble was from when a batch of stones flowed into the cylinder and finally reached the walls, and the doorway was his means of getting out of there.
Almost without hesitation, he stepped out of the tube. He was in a moderately sized rectangular room with a single occupant other than himself: a humanoid with sickeningly green skin, clad in chartruse robes and brandishing a rather strange-looking rifle. He was certain that it was a rifle when the creature, probably one of the Aliens, noticed him, let out a rather shrill cry, brought his rifle up into a shooting position, and fired a single thin beam of red light which made a chirping sound as it cut through the air.
Fortunately, it missed Eric, who by now had dived out of the line of fire and was pinned against one of the walls. Before he could do anything more, however, the Alien aimed and fired again, this time missing him by only centimeters. He had to fight back against the thing from a rather long range, but how ... of course! He had a virtual spear in his hand!
Before the alien could let fly another shot, Eric drew back the spear, took quick aim, and threw with all his strength. The pointed rod intercepted the target before it could move out of the way, and the weapon practically melted half way into the creature. The alien stood shaking and writhing for about three seconds, then fell forward with a whump, presumably dead.
Eric jogged up to the lifeless form, examined it closely for a couple of seconds to make sure that it was dead, and then bent down and retrieved the rifle. The beam weapon was about two-thirds of a meter long, designed to be held in two hands while the hand in back pulled the trigger. Testing it, he aimed it at a spot on the wall and fired. Again, the air chirped and a line of red light was drawn along the line of fire. Yet, the wall seemed completely unharmed. Was this thing actually nothing more than a harmless low-powered laser?
He found out the truth to the contrary. On the dead Alien's body, the beam of red light made a charred penetration a decimeter deep and fifteen centimeters across. The scent of burning carbon also displayed that the weapon had considerable power. Then why wasn't the wall affected?
He walked over to where the shot should have marred the wall and examined it more closely. The wall was perfectly smooth, even where his shot had supposedly hit, and have no hint that anything had ever touched it. It was then he noticed the extreme dull flatness in the walls' color - it was such an unresonant shade of gray trat it almost made his eyes sleepy by looking at it. He hit the wall in an arbitrary place with a cautious fist. The wall didn't even make a "Thump;" all he heard was the faint ringing of the knuckles in his fist.
He puzzled over the wall quickly, and within a minute hit upon the answer: the walls were the first example of the adamantine permanency of the ship's internal computer. Now, it seemed obvious that if the Aliens and their computer decided to put up a wall in front of him, he wouldn't be able to get through it.
Fortunately, they had not decided to put a wall up yet. The one partal leading out of the room was laying wide open, if that expression can be applied to a portal with no door. Not wasting any more time, he dashed through the portal, surprised that a door didn't simply pop up in front of him and that he was able to make it through.
However, the next room was just as bad as the first. Standing in the middle of the room near a sealed off portal was another Alien, armed just like the first. The Alien wasted no time in taking aim at Eric, and firing a single beam of familiar red light. The beam hit Eric's gun square, knocking it completely out of his unprepared hand. Working instinctively, Eric dove immediately and blindly in the direction his gun had flown, ducking just low enough to avoid a nasty blow from the Alien's rifle. Moving faster than he thought he had any right to, Eric recovered the rifle, stood up, took rough aim, and fired twice. One of the shots hit the Alien, who dropped his rifle, reeled over, and fell flat on his back, presumably as dead as the first.
He breathed a sigh of relief as he lowered the rifle to his side and strolled over to the unmoving Alien's body. Aside from the rifle, there seemed to be a small piece of normal paper clutched in one of its five-fingered hands.
'Hey, wait a minute!' Eric thought. 'These things are of average human height, walk on two feet, cover their bodies in cloth, and have five fingers on each of their two hands! Something tells me that there's something wrong here ...'
The thought dwindled off to nothingness as Eric opened the Alien's hand to examine the paper. As he opened it up from its crumpled position, he could see that it was written on with strangely unrecognozeable symbols - five of them, in fact. They were dark disks, each about half a centimeter in diameter, wriggling across the pace in a sort-fo a zig-zag manner. Between theme were connecting lines, by which were written a number of tally marks. The marks read up two, down four, down twelve, and finally up seven.
Something, plus two, minus four, minus twelve, plus seven. Maybe it was a mathematical calculation of some kind, but he doubted it; the symbols just didn't seem right for it. Then, his subconscious recognized it, and the logical left brain side made certain that the subconscious had the right case. What he was reading was printed music! It was a series of even notes, starting at an arbitrary point and moving up and down in a peculiar pattern of what he supposed were half-steps. If that was the case, then the notes read: do, re, diminished ti - no, maybe that wasn't the right place to start off. Eric tried again: re, mi, do, low do, low sol. Yes, the pattern seemed to fit.
He thought this combination of notes out in his mind, and finally came to the conclusion that it was an all too familiar tune. He lowered the paper, and sang the five notes where it was comfortable for his voice: "Re-mi-do-do-sol."
'Wow,' he thought as he began to get convinced that this would be of absolutely no help where he was standing. He heard no metallic clanks, no grinding that represents something sliding somewhere, no whoosh of rushing air; not even an indescrete bang. As his eyes began to circumnavigate the room, however, he suddenly came to realize, with a start, that the song had done something - the portal that lay on one wall of the room was no longer sealed off.
Proudly, Eric laid down the music on top of the dead Alien's body. Abruptly, the look of pride vanished from his face as he noticed the almost invisible bulge in one part of the Alien's robes. He bent down and folded the robe to where he could determine the nature of the bulge. There, as he folded away a robe, was a pocket just like any other he'd seen, containing a brass-framed pair of extremely dark glasses.
He pulled this out of the Alien's pocket cautiously, and began to examine it. From what he could tell, no light was coming through them, so he assumed it was safe to put them on. As he looked out onto the room, he could see nothing but complete blackness through which no light penetrated except for the purplish glare around the outside of his glasses.
Then, he decided to look down at his own body, and practically jumped a foot back. His entire body was glowing! And not only was it glowing, but it was glowing with all sorts of odd and purple-tinted colors ranging from blue to almost an ultraviolet shade. Startled, he removed the glasses, and looked through them once more, from a distance, at himself. Indeed, he was glowing!
He had a strange hunch about this. He donned the glasses once more, and concentrated on the body of the Alien. Sure enough, a dim, almost greenish glow was radiating from it, although he had to stare for almost a minute to detect it, due to the heat the body had lost since it was killed. Yes, he figured, these are infra-red detecting glasses.
He removed them and placed them in a still-functional shirt pocket. They may have some use to him in the future, but for now they only let him see his body. It was then the color of the room finally came to his attention. The walls were grayish, but the entire ship, as far as he'd explored, was lit up by a purplish light. And what's more, the light apparently came from no source! It was as if the entire place was lit up by indirect light in the highest sense of it. The light, as far as he was concerned, was simply being created in midair.
He turned his attention back to the now-open portal, and without hesitation, began walking through it. On the other side of the portal, he found himself in a rectangular room similar to the other two except for the fact that on one wall was a rectangular screen, displaying a picture of what he first assumed was the surrounding space. He came up to the viewscreen, and peered at it intently.
Within the space of only a fraction of a second, he was aware of a message trying to touch his mind. It was not a stabbing, like the message he had received from the glowing "time bomb" or what the psychic had done, but rather a more refined form of communication that entered his mind more quickly and with no mental pain. As he put the thought into comprehensible words, it read, "This is our fleet, which is currently approaching Earth at several thousand times the speed of light. They will arrive within sixteen minutes."
He peered closely at the screen, and was aware, as before, that he could see no such ships as the message implied. Then, right before his eyes, they materialized, along with another mental message: "You cannot see them, because they are not wholly in this universe right now, but these images represent where they would be if you could see them. You had better believe that their mission is not a peaceful one...."
Eric took a step back from the screen in horror. He really did have to save the world! With only sixteen minutes to the end of the Earth, how was he going to destroy an entire Alien fleet?
But wait ... there was a part of the last message which his mind did not quite directly decipher. It was something about the ship he was in.... Aha! Now his mind had a hold on it. This ship was the fleet's flagship, so to speak; its harbinger that would give the final command to wipe out an entire world. If the fleet arrived without the ship to greet it ... then they'd be forced to leave, because they would have no proof that this was the world they had to destroy!
Now, Eric didn't feel nearly so absolutely helpless. In fact, he felt as if he really had a chance to do it. According to what the psychic said, the entire ship's structure would be stored inside a gigantic memory bank within a computer. If he could destroy or even disable that particular computer, the ship's structure would be lost, and most likely the space ship itself would cease to exist. Somehow, he had to find and destroy the ship's main computer, but as he expected, that would probably be easier thought than done.
To his left, the particular room he was in did not even have a wall. He turned, and quickly ran into the next room.
He found himself in a room that was quite a bit larger than the rest he had entered. Beside one wall was a humanoid statue that was twenty feet high and which consisted of everything from the chest up. Against the far wall was another portal, this time flanked by a small panel of shiny metal. Finally, on the ground, was a round hatch made of the same stuff as the walls.
He came up to the statue and examined it closely. The head had a single eye, made of what was apparently ruby. At the very base of the statue was a blank plaque that should've been where the name of the statue, or its dedication, or something, was located. As soon as he stared at the blank plaque, his mind was again touched by a message, as he had almost expected. It said, simply: "The Master."
That was probably not his real name, he thought, but chances were that The Master was some great being, or even possibly the one in charge. The statue didn't look too much like a surrealistic demon or the like, but in fact looked almost exactly like the Aliens themselves. Perhaps this was their messiah, like what's-his-name was on Earth - no, there would be no place for a statue of a messiah on a warship such as this. It was, his mind decided, probably the one in charge.
Presently, his mind returned to the situation at hand. The portal at the far side of the room probably led him closer to the Master, or even closer to the central computer; or maybe the hatch led him closer and the prtal let nowhere. He would have to try both, so he settled on the portal. The panel probably had something to do with it, being where it was, right next to the door. He took aim with his beam rifle, and shot at the shiny panel.
The chirping beam of red light simply bounced off, hit the ceiling, and was absorbed. It was a stupid idea anyway; everything in here was adamantine in the first place!
Hold on ... the walls and the hatch and such were a dull gray which absorbed the beams that came from the rifle. The panel was of a shiny metal that deflected the beam. It was a thin lead, but the panel might not have been of adamantine matter!
He rushed to the other side of the room, and began tearing harshly at the panel. Even if it wasn't adamantine, it was much too strong to be ripped of by his bare hands. And it was too shiny to shoot at. It seemed that he had reached a stalemate.
Moving with moderately quick speed to the center of the room, he began to pull at the hatch. This, he realized, was even more futile than trying to tear away the panel by the door. The hatch was obviously adamantine, and would probably stay there unless the computer ordered it to do otherwise.
He stood up and sang "re-mi-do-do-sol," once at the hatch and once more at the portal, but neither attempt did anything. He inhaled and exhaled heavily in a sigh of defeat.
There was only one choice left, and it was a slim chance at that; he would have to work one of the doors from the statue of the Master, if that had anything to do with it.
The statue was of rough-cut stone with several crevaces in the approximate locations for footholds. He strode over to the statue, grabbed one of the footholds in one hand, stepped on top of the plaque, and began climbing. He reached the top in less than fifteen seconds, and immediately sat down on its head.
The sattue was of the same rough-cut stone everyplace. Most likely, since it was probably not adamantine, his beam rifle would at least mar the surface, but chances were that that would do little or no good. He looked out from his stony perch and studied the portal for a few seconds, then the floor hatch for the same amount of time, then gave it up as futile. He would see nothing new from up there that he hadn't seen up close.
Then, on an impulse, he looked down, and the answer immediately came to him. The statue's ruby eye! It was sticking out to him like a radioactive molecule would amongst stable atoms. He reached down and grabbed the ruby around its edges. The ruby was round, so - turn it. Instantly, the floor hatch pulled back with some sound.
'That was strange,' he came to when he thought about it. 'Why didn't the floor hatch disappear just like the first portal did? Possibly it's driven by an adamantine motor or something not directly controlled by the computer. So the ruby is an extra-computeral link.'
That made him light up with excitement. Suppose that moving things, like the hatch for instance, weren't hooked up directly to the main computer. If that was true of more things - the portal, for instance - then he might be able to override them without disabling the main computer. The Alien's defenses were considerable, but not impossible to overcome.
He practically lept off of the statue before dashing to the center of the room and lowering himself through the hatch. Where the artificial gravity of the space ship came from, he was not quite certain, nor was he concerned with it so long as it didn't inhibit him. When he came through, and landed on the ground twelve feet below, he was rather disappointed to find that the hatch did not lead closer to the computer or the Master, but rather to a small storage room some twenty feet on a side. On one side of the room were two space suits, one made of the same adamantine stuff as the walls, and another made of normal, twentieth-century space suit material, both of which were hanging on hooks. Scattered on the floor were a thing that vaguely resembled a flashlight, an odd-looking black cylinder, and of all things a wooden fireplace log.
His mind was not quite ready to grasp the fireplace lof as of then, so he began by examining the adamantine space suit. It seemed about the right size to fit his body, or possibly one a bit larger, and had all the features from airtight insulation to tinted glass on the helmet. Without hesitation, he took it off its hook and wore the entire system, including the helmet. The second space suit, which had its helmet attached to it just like the first, had in addition to the features of the first a small rocket pack on its back activated by a large yellow button in the middle of its front. The rockets might be useful some time in the future, so he decided to take the space suit with him.
As soon as he retrieved the black-colored cylinder, another message touched his mind. It said: "Throwing charge," with the implication that it was a hand-grenade type device. Whatever a conventional hand grenade would do in an adamantine space ship, he couldn't possibly guess.
Then, he turned a sarcastic gaze to the log. No, it was just too much for him to grasp. Impulsively, he raised his rifle, and shot at the log. The cylindrical piece of wood burst into flame, burnt rapidly for a few seconds, then died out and left a pile of ashes in its wake.
He suddenly came back to his senses, wondering why in the cosmos he did what he had done. Maybe he could've used the log as a battering ram against the shiny panel by the door. No, when he came to think about it, the log was too small and probably had too low a specific gravity to be able to affect a large metal plate. Now what could a pile of ashes do that was so much better? Get the panel sooty?
Get the panel sooty. He turned this idea over and over in his mind for no apparent reason at first, until he hit upon a plan. He clapped his hand, yelled out, "Yeah!" and ran over to the pile of ashes with the black cylinder, flashlight, and dark glasses in various pockets of the non-adamantine space suit. He carefully scooped the ashes into the space suit's attached helmet, then stood up and strolled over to the hole in the ceiling, staring at the hatch all the while on his trip there.
Suddenly, he remembered the lack of time, and at the same time remembered that he had a watch on when he pulled the rod out of the stone. He looked at the watch, figuring that about four minutes had gone by since the message from the viewscreen had informed him of the time remaining. His watch read 2:43 pm; that meant that he had until 2:55 to destroy the space ship.
Temporarily forgetting his physical limitations, he jumped up as high as he could possibly go, swung his rifle over his head, and caught the edge of the hatch with the rifle's trigger handle. Then, before his mind had a chance to react in the ache of a strain, he yanked himself up and over the edge of the hatch with the one arm that was holding the gun. He came to rest in a good fraction of a second from the foot-and-a-half drop that followed. It was becoming obvious to him that he was in considerably less than one Earth gravity - possibly less than one-half of a G. He wouldn't have even noticed, thanks ot the cylindrical transport he used to get aboard, if it weren't for the jumping he'd just done.
He ran the short distance across the room to the portal on one side, scooped up some of the ashes out of the normal suit's helmet, and smeared them all over the shiny panel. 'Now,' he thought, 'I'm not going to get any more light reflection from this thing.'
He stepped back a few paces, aimed the beam-rifle at the panel, and pulled the trigger. There was the soft "chirp" of the rifle's red beam, followed by a loud "thunk" as the beam penetrated the metal panel. Then, the slightly exposed area behind the panel let out a brief and innocuous spark shower, and the portal disappeared.
He lowered the rifle slowly as his face curved into a grin. At last, he could push further into the heart of the space ship, and closer toward the Master, or the computer. He took a quick glance through the portal before stepping through; and it was a good thing he did. Beyond the portal, there was about two feet of dim, purple light which promptly faded into utter blackness. Thinking quickly, he removed the infra-red glasses from their respective pocket, put them on, and stared through the portal once more. The glasses helped little, if any, giving him only a dimmed view of the floor in an uncomfortable shade of blue.
As it turned out, and as he was only going to even guess at later, the "blue" shade coming from the infra-red glasses was only refracted infra-red bouncing off the floor. The floor and the walls themselves, technically, had no temperature, thanks to the permanency circuits. However, they had no way to be cold, since "cold" could only be felt if something absorbed heat, which these things couldn't do because of the truly infinite restraint of the permanency. They could reflect, but they could not absorb anything. Or even if they could, it would be radiated completely out of the ship instantly by the computer.
Nevertheless, he had to press forward. He stepped through the portal, walked about ten feet, and was suddenly frightened stiff in mid-step by a gigantic image of a head suddenly appearing in front of him and an overaweing mental message, which thundered through his mind, saying: "Bow in silent praise before The Master! Come no farther, or you will be destroyed utterly at the single command of my thoughts!"
It was an impressive show, true, but it was not quite convincing enough. Through the infra-red glasses, he could easily see that the Master's face was no more than a projected image. "It's a nice light show," he said through a sarcastic smirk, "But you've got to do better than that to keep me from saving the world!"
'That was easier said than done!' he thought as he suddenly realized how far the floor stretched out in front and to both sides of him. If this room did have an exit, it would take him the better part of an hour to find it, and by that time, the Earth would be ... it would be whatever these Aliens turned it into. More likely, the room didn't even have an exit leading to the computer room, the Aliens having the proper protection they should have.
'Okay,' he thought, 'Compose yourself. You can't find an exit because there's no light. So all you have to do is cast some light on the far wall, wherever that is ... but with what?' In a split-second, he had it. He'd found a flashlight-like object back in the storage hold; maybe it was a flashlight, what with the Aliens having so many similarities to humans. Quickly, he reached into the pocket containing the flashlight, pulled it out, found a switch on one side, turned it on, and aimed it at his right hand. Through the glasses, he could see a brilliant purple glow, almost climbing up into the ultra-violet spectrum. On his hand, he could feel the dry warmth of what now seemed to be a heat lamp.
For one more check, he shined the light directly at the glasses and into his eyes. He was shocked momentarily to find that he could see nothing coming from the lamp. Then he realized that he was seeing something - something that was invisible - ultra-violet rays. The glasses were designed to compress the wavelength of light into a spectrum set a couple octaves above human sight. Before he thought about anything else, he turned the light away from him, and aimed it in what appeared to be the direction of the far wall.
Yes, indeed, he could see a violet-colored, dim circle of light strike the far wall. It apparently had no doors or other exits in the area it covered, so he slowly began to move the flashlight's beam in order to scan the entire wall. As he moved it to the left until it finally reached the corner of the room, he saw his exit: a rectangular doorway about five feet tall and two feet wide, dwarfed to nothingness against the size of the whole room.
Still aiming his heat-lamp in the same spot, he dashed for the doorway, thinking about how much time he had left. When he went through, he saw another room, much smaller than the first, yet enveloped in the impenetrable visible-spectrum darkness just the same.
At this point, he dared lift up his glasses and push an illumination button on his non-luminous wristwatch. The time was now 2:49, and he thought, panickingly, that he only had six minutes to go. Quickly, he lowered his glasses, and shined the beam of the flashlight sweepingly around the room. Directly to the left of the way he had entered, a five foot by five foot chunk of wall had been removed about two feet above the ground. As quickly as he could manage, he lunged forward, and lept through the hole with the gracelessness of an overgrown hog, a feat which only panic would make him do.
The next room was almost exactly the same size as the previous one; in other words, cramped. In this room, there was also an exit, to the right of his path, but unfortunately a closed portal. Centered near the top of the portal was a blank rectangle, similar to the one the statue of the Master had at its base. He stared at the plaque for a couple of seconds, and then, as he anticipated, his mind received the message: "This is the Master's chamber. DO NOT ENTER!!"
'Well, at last we meet,' he thought.
He quickly cleared his throat, and sang the five note phrase, "re-mi-do-do-sol." The portal didn't even shimmer a little, let alone disappear. Naturally, the normal password, or in this case, pass-song, would never activate a door mentally marked with the message, "DO NOT ENTER;" the security would be much too high for that. In addition, there was no panel beside it to default any memory; this portal was obviously controlled by the main computer.
His brain dwelled on the door for well over a second. His firm control, which had already begun to merge with panic, was slipping fast. In the space of a few seconds, his brain suddenly snapped, and logic was no more. The left side of his brain that had governed him so well throughout his life had finally given in to the no-win situation he was now faced with.
Meanwhile, his previously suppressed right brain was finally getting its chance to prove itself. He didn't need logic - what he needed was action, trying all available possibilities and impossibilities, and his right brain would let him do that. He quickly examined the pockets of the normal space suit, and found what he didn't even know he was looking for; the black cylinder that said, "Throwing charge." He looked for a pin or the equivalent, found there to be none, stepped back, pulled the arm with the cylinder behind his head, threw the object at the door, and hurled himself to the ground.
As he looked back, he could see the explosion. It was extremely repercussive, yet emitted hardly any light and had none of the smell of burnt ash. When the explosion cleared a fraction of an instant later, the door was no longer there, and in its place was a buzzing, glowing, highly-charged energy field.
Not even thinking about it, or so he believed, he got to his feet and dashed through the field. The area he found himself in on the opposite side of the field was filled with light that he could tell was visible, since it came through the edges of his glasses without the lenses themselves creating any light visible to him. Coming around to his senses again, but only weakly, he removed his glasses and put both them and the heat-lamp in their respective suit pockets.
He found himself on a small adamantine ledge overlooking a vast room bathed in bluish-purple light, this time coming from an obvious source on the ceiling of the domed arena. When he looked down, what he saw made about three or four different thoughts pass through his head all at once. Laid out on the floor below him were row after row of ten foot high, white paneled devices that emitted red light out of their fronts in abstract patterns; he had found the main computer.
His first thought was that at last he had found what he had been searching for. His second thought was that somehow he had to destroy all the computer terminals. And finally, his third and most disturbing thought, was that he had found the computer behind a door that should have led to this Master person, whoever he was.
... or whatever it was. There and then it came to him; the computer was the Master! The entire ploy about the Master watching over you and making you bow before him was the same as the age-old standard of Big Brother; it was only. a scare trick. To think that a race this advanced would have to make a fictitious religion just to keep their people in like gave Eric a mild sense of pride for the human race. Even though they had at that very moment gone into a second medieval period, at least they hadn't stooped to the Big Brother level. He hoped.
He quickly snapped himself out of the self-induced state of human-esteem when he remembered that his mission was not quite over yet. He straddled his legs over the ledge and began to lower himself down to the plateau on which the hundreds of computers rested. He hit the ground with a lowered-gravity "clack."
He was about ten feet away from one of the computers. From this distance, he could see that the psychedic pattern of red light on the front of the computer was even stranger than he'd expected. He approached the computer until he was less than a foot away from the red screen that dominated the entire front of the refrigerator-shaped unit. Even from this point-blank distance, the resolution on the screen was so fine that he couldn't make out the individual red dots that were the components of the patterns. No television screen on Earth, as far as he knew, had this fine a definition of its picture, even if its picture meant absolutely nothing.
Although the patterns were wonderfully strange, or even slightly hypnotic, he still remembered the time limit of his mission. Instinctively, he glanced at his watch, which read 2:51. The bond which his left brain helf over his body was still very weak, and within the space of a few seconds, it was severed.
He raised his gun, took aim at the apparently thin plastic film covering the display, and fired three times. None of the beams had any effect over the computer. Evidently, this entire room was sealed off in a lingering field of adamantine permanency. There had to be some way to get through its defenses; after all, what if one of the computers required repair work?
Yes - that was it! If the computer thought that he was a member of a maintenance crew, it would have to let its permanency down to let him fix it! His right brain was really cooking now. He began to yell, at the top of his lungs, "Maintenance! Maintenance!" while at the same time, he thought of the very same word with all the mental energy he could dig up - the word "maintenance," and all its implications, were the only things that occupied his mind.
Suddenly, a message thrust itself into his mind; a message so intense that he would have had to have been dead to miss it. It said, as clearly as anything, "Permanency deactivated."
'Now,' he thought using the creative right side of his brain only, 'You're gonna be destroyed.' He hesitated, then placed both hands on the computer in front of him, and shoved with all his might. The computer toppled over as though it had never been connected to the base at all; after all, with the power of permanency, who needs to be secured to the floor?
Hundreds of sparks flew from the bottom of the computer whose vital connecting wires were being ripped apart by the force of the massive computer's inertia. As the computer finally gave out and fell backward, it struck the two behind it, pushing them down like a column of dominoes. And the series continued....
He would never have noticed it if he had not swung his arm in front of himself in joy. As he glanced down at the completely bare arm, he suddenly realized what must have happened to the adamantine space suit. Along with everything in the ship, the space suit existed only in the memory of the computers, and had now ceased its existence. Frantically, he opened up the normal space suit he had kept with him to store things in, and climbed inside, feet first.
Already, parts of the space ship around him were beginning to vanish. The very ledge he had entered the computer area with was no more, and the highly charged energy field he had stepped through had also ceased to exist, along with the wall that had once surrounded it. Fortunately, his right brain had chosen the computer that rested at the very corner of the room as the one to topple over first. This ensured that every other computer in the complex would be in the wake of its domino effect, and that not a single part of the ship would remain.
He had already managed to shove his legs into the legs of the space suit, and was working on the left-side airtight zipper. Soon, as he feared, the entire space ship would disappear, leaving him out in the vacuum of space. If he didn't get his space suit on in time, the depressurization would rip him apart. There was no time to lose.
He saw portions of the walls pop out of existence as he put his right arm in its respective sleeve and began working on the left arm. Unfortunately, the space suit was designed for someone of slightly smaller build than himself, so the work into the suit was rather time-consuming, a fact which was extremely lethal in his situation.
He could feel the seconds tick by as he fastened the collar securely around his neck. He was in an absolutely advanced state of panic as he watched, to his horror, the walls of the entire room disappear, revealing what remained of the rapidly dwindling space ship. His hands figeted for an agonizing second, then regained the control they needed and at the last possible instant pulled the helmet down over his head.
Air began to circulate through the suit at a moderately comfortable rate; and not a moment too soon. Less than a second after his helmet had locked into place, the last computer toppled over, destroying irrevocably the last remnants of the most advanced space ship that human eyes had ever seen. Eric breathed in deeply, then let out a slow, vocal sigh of relief as panic faded and his left brain took control once more. He had done it.
But he was not to be left as alone as he would have liked. Amid the cloud of rapidly scattering debris which were once the non-adamantine components of the space ship, three titanic shapes materialized apparently out of nowhere. Violet and invisible ultra-violet light, nearly blinding in intensity, leapt from the three triangular Alien ships, illuminating himself, a small portion of the Earth's upper atmosphere, and every piece of debris around him. After about ten seconds, the light ceased, the three craft turned about fourty degrees, and in a flash of nearly perfect white light, were gone.
Eric's mind suddenly became alert once more, only this time it was the logical left half that was doing the thinking. First, there was this little matter of the adamantine space suit. Why didn't the Aliens use this as a form of body armor? It would certainly keep out any normal physical attacks; even a machine gun wouldn't be able to put a dent in it! And it fit so well....
Their bodies! He had passively thought about this while he was aboard the craft, but now it required his full attention. The aliens were sickeningly humanoid! They had two arms, two legs, the same sensory organs in the same places; it was too much of a chance for parallel evolution. Well, after all, there were old science fiction stories around about aliens who disguised themselves as humans so that they wouldn't alarm anyone. But they were so frail, and such terrible shots! It was almost as if they were letting him destroy the computer. Hmmm ... maybe they had some sort of hatred toward the Master.
He banished the thought instantly when he thought of how many chances the computer itself had of stopping him. It could have sealed the place off so that not even an Alien could push that far into the complex. It could have sucked all the air out of the apparently empty corridors. It could have raised or lowered the temperature a few dozen degrees celsius. But it didn't do anything of the sort. It set up obstacles, but not any which couldn't be overcome.
Then, it came to him. "This was a test," he said in a faint voice in his helmet, then again, louder: "This was a test!" It became so obvious now. The Aliens had set up a nearly impossible situation for the intelligent inhabitants of Earth, and were seeing if one of us could make it through. Well, he thought gallantly, one of us had made it through.
But what stakes there were! If he hadn't made it, the three ships would have commenced what might have been the destruction of the entire human race, or even of all life on Earth. Some kind of "test" that was! It must have been made by an arrogant, emotionless race who thought only of themselves, and used every other race, no matter how intelligent, as duel-to-the-death gunea pigs.
'Well,' he thought at last, 'That was it. Now I can return to Earth a real hero.' Looking down at the front of his space suit, he aimed his body toward the shining blue globe below and pressed the yellow button on his upper abdomen. He felt the tiny rockets on the back of the suit rumble into life as he began to accelerate toward the sun-bathed planet. By now, the medieval city must be at about a midnight position, so he would have to navigate around to the far side of the planet.
He found steering himself to be easier done than said, what with only the mass of his body to worry about and the myriad of muscles all over to guide it easily on an exact path. He was astonished to find that the rockets presumably still had an ample fuel supply even after five minutes of flying.
When he was about half way across the night side of the planet, he felt a familiar twinge come about his head. It was the old psychic's crude mind-stab, which was the only way he knew how to communicate with Eric. The message said: "Eric, you have done very well - far better, in fact, than I had imagined. Not only have you defeated the Aliens and saved us for the time being, but you have given us the new theory of 'Throwing charge'."
'What?' thought Eric with all his mental strength. 'You mean that little hand grenade the Aliens used in their test?'
'But I used that against one of their portals! It no longer exists!'
"But it does exist - in your mind it does! From the imprint the Throwing charge left on your very thoughts, we will be able to create the same force. At last, we have control over adamantine permanent matter!"
'Wow,' Eric thought, this time to himself. 'They can reconstruct a hand grenade just from the way I remembered it! That's pretty impressive.'
'Say,' he thought to the psychic, 'How's that about "control over adamantine matter"?'
"Very simple. You remember the portal you destroyed? Well, it was adamantine! And yet, it was destroyed, and not by deactivating the computer! Do you see? There is a way to destroy matter enveloped in a field of permanency, and Throwing charge is the way to do it!"
'How about that,' he thought to himself once more. 'Now, if those Aliens try to "test" us again, we'll have a little surprise in store!'
And then, imperceptibly at first, a force grabbed onto him, changing his course to one that would directly intercept the city hundreds of kilometers below. The rockets would accelerate him there during the first part of the journey, afterwhich they would act as an air-brake to slow his rate of descent. With what he could see of the Earth enveloped in the darkness of night, he was aware that the world was slowly moving up on himself, slowly at first, then with increasing speed.
The force that had first grabbed him flipped him over at the exact time to allow for a soft landing. He was still several thousand meters in the air, but he was slowing down, and at a fixed rate which nothing he did would change.
Inside the city, the old psychic that was dragging him in was feeling his years. Long ago, an act like this would be child's play, but now his weary old mind was beginning to lose its grip over the physical world. He was receiving the thoughts of the young man loud and clear, almost as strained, though, as when he had been in space. 'At last,' they were saying, 'A whole new society to be a part of. There will be so much new technology to find out about, so much new knowledge to acquire, and so many customs to get used to. I hope I like it here.'
"Hope no longer," thought the psychic, and there was sadness in his mind. "You would not like it here, for you do not belong here. You belong in your own time - oh dear. I see we were a little off in our calculations as to where to place the time bomb. You're from the 1960s!
"Oh well, it doesn't really matter. You don't belong in this medieval, backward world, and we must send you back to your own time."
Eric was so close to the city he could almost touch it. 'No!' echoed his thoughts. 'I want to stay here, to find out about what is to come. Maybe then I'll go back, but not until then. I'm staying, and there's nothing you can do about it.'
The old psychic slowly turned to one of his most beloved assistants. "Greela," he said in his native language, "Ready the Time Blaster."
"Yes, psychic." Greela did as she had been instructed. The time bombs were nothing compared to the renowned Time Blaster. Only the Blaster could actually send things backward into time, a feat which meant leaving the known universe and, perhaps, creating a new one at the same time. Centuries of technological knowledge had been poured into the Time Blaster, and the result was not in the least bit disappointing.
Greela typed in the command that locked the Time Blaster onto Eric's falling body. All she had to do was enter the correct command, and Eric would be sent back to the time from whence he came - no, actually he would be sent to his own time plus two minutes, to allow for any uncertainty. The Blaster was a beautiful device, but it was not completely flawless.
"Now!" came the psychic's command.
One instant, Eric's eyes were adjusting to the impenetrable darkness of night, lit up only by the dim lights of the city. The next, the only thing he was aware of was a green rectangle, expanding to fill his entire field of vision in less time than his eye had to show movement. The light grew intensely brighter for a couple of seconds, then flashed into total darkness.
He was not even sure why the darkness was there. The light could have been replaced by darkness, but he doubted that. He felt like the light had been so intense that it had instantly blinded him. Or maybe he still was seeing, but there was more light around him than his mind could comprehend, so it only appeared as darkness.
Whatever the cause, he felt extremely light-headed and very numb. And then, in a flash, all his senses came back to him in an agonizing surge. He was practically knocked out when he hit the ground a fraction of a second later.
The blurred landscape around him finally came into focus. He was in the old abandoned Arizona strip mine. His watch, when he managed to pull his arm into position, read 3:34, but the sky portrayed the fact that it was about noon. His ears were still ringing when he got his upper body supported on his limp hands and arms.
"Hey!" came a familiar voice through the ringing. "Hey, what happened to you? I was a bit worried."
He looked about ninety degrees to the side of where he was looking. Ah, he remembered, it was his old friend Steve who'd come here with him to explore the strip mine. Steve was reluctant to come, but now he was glad that he did.
He worked his vocal chords into place, and finally managed to spit out, "Huh?" Even though it was his friend's voice, he had not communicated in English for quite some time, and was not used to hearing any words but his own.
"Are you all right?" came the voice once more. "You look dazed."
"I am dazed. What happened?"
"Well, I lost track of you for about two minutes, and then I heard a loud 'thump,' and there you were, just as you are now."
"Hoo boy," he said as he attempted to sit up. "You won't believe what happened to me!"
"Yes, I would. I heard the explosion too. What happened; were you tossed so high in the air that you didn't come down for two minutes?"
"Maybe," he said, and said nothing more as he got to his feet and started to walk away with Steve.
Who knows? he thought. Maybe the medieval society won't even happen. Maybe the Aliens won't come down to Earth - maybe that was just one of the many possible futures for the planet.
It wasn't a dream - he knew that too well. A dream doesn't leave you with little constriction marks from where you'd been wearing a space suit. He wasn't sure what was going to happen next, but he did know that in at least one of the possible futures for this world, he would have a part.