Thursday, April 21, 2011

"The Meteor Girl," by Jack Williamson (1931)

"The Meteor Girl"

(c) 1931 by Jack Williamson

"What's the good in Einstein, anyhow?"

I shot the question at lean young Charlie King. In a moment he looked up at me; I thought there was pain in the back of his clear brown eyes. Lips closed in a thin white line across his wind-tanned face; nervously he tapped his pipe on the metal cowling of the Golden Gull's cockpit.

"I know that space is curved, that there is really no space or time, but only space-time, that electricity and gravitation and magnetism are all the same. But how is that going to pay my grocery bill—or yours?"

"That's what Virginia wants to know."

"Virginia Randall!" I was astonished. "Why, I thought—"

"I know. We've been engaged a year. But she's called it off."

Charlie looked into my eyes for a long minute, his lips still compressed. We were leaning on the freshly painted, streamline fuselage of the Golden Gull, as neat a little amphibian monoplane as ever made three hundred miles an hour. She stood on the glistening white sand of our private landing field on the eastern Florida coast. Below us the green Atlantic was running in white foam on the rocks.

In the year that Charlie King and I had been out of the Institute of Technology, we had built the nucleus of a commercial airplane business. We had designed and built here in our own shops several very successful seaplanes and amphibians. Charlie's brilliant mathematical mind was of the greatest aid, except when he was too far lost in his abstruse speculations to descend to things commercial. Mathematics is painful enough to me when it is used in calculating the camber of an airplane wing. And pure mathematics, such as the theories of relativity and equivalence, I simply abhor.

I was amazed. Virginia Randall was a girl trim and beautiful as our shining Golden Gull. I had thought them devotedly in love, and had been looking forward to the wedding.

"But it isn't two weeks, since Virginia was out here! You took her up in our Western Gull IV!"

Nervously Charlie lit his pipe, drew quickly on it. His face, lean and drawn beneath the flying goggles pushed up on his forehead, sought mine anxiously.

"I know. I drove her back to the station. That was when—when we quarreled."

"But why? About Einstein? That's silly."

"She wanted me to give it up here, and go in with her father in his Wall Street brokerage business. The old gent is willing to take me, and make a business man of me."

"Why, I couldn't run the business without you, Charlie!"

"We talked about that, Hammond. I don't really do much of the work. Just play around with the mathematics, and leave the models and blueprints to you."

"Oh, Charlie, that's not quite—"

"It's the truth, right enough," he said, bitterly. "You design aircraft, and I play with Einstein. And as you say, a fellow can't eat equations."

"I'd hate to see you go."

"And I'd hate to give up you, and our business, and the math. Really no need of it. My tastes are simple enough. And old 'Iron-clad' Randall has made all one family needs. Virginia's not exactly a pauper, herself. Two or three millions, I think."

"And where did Virginia go?"

"She took the Valhalla yesterday at San Francisco. Going to join her father at Panama. He cruises about the world in his steam yacht, you know, and runs Wall Street by radio. I was to telegraph her if I'd changed my mind. I decided to stick to you, Hammond. I telegraphed a corsage of orchids, and sent her the message, 'Einstein forever!'"

"If I know Virginia, those were not very politic words."

"Well, a man—"

His words were cut short by a very unusual incident.

A thin, high scream came suddenly from above our neat stuccoed hangars at the edge of the white field. I looked up quickly, to catch a glimpse of a bright object hurtling through the air above our heads. The bellowing scream ended abruptly in a thunderous crash.  I felt a tremor of the ground underfoot.

"What—" I ejaculated.

"Look!" cried Charlie.

He pointed. I looked over the gleaming metal wing of the Golden Gull, to see a huge cloud of white sand rising like a fountain at the farther side of the level field. Deliberately the column of debris rose, spread, rained down, leaving a gaping crater in the earth.

"Something fell?"

"It sounded like a shell from a big gun, except that it didn't explode. Let's get over and see!"

We ran to where the thing had struck, three hundred yards across the field. We found a great funnel-shaped pit torn in the naked earth. It was a dozen yards across, fifteen feet deep, and surrounded with a powdery ring of white sand and pulverized rock.

"Something like a shell-hole," I observed.

"I've got it!" Charlie cried. "It was a meteor!"

"A meteor? So big?"

"Yes. Lucky for us it was no bigger. If it had been like the one that fell in Siberia a few years ago, or the one that made the Winslow crater in Arizona—we wouldn't have been talking about it. Probably we have a chunk of nickel-iron alloy here."

"I'll get some of the men out here with digging tools, and we'll see what we can find."

Our mechanics were already hurrying across the field. I shouted at them to bring picks and shovels. In a few minutes five of us were at work throwing sand and shattered rock out of the pit.

Suddenly I noticed a curious thing. A pale bluish mist hung in the bottom of the pit. It was easily transparent, no denser than tobacco smoke. Passing my spade through it did not seem to disturb it in the least.

I rubbed my eyes doubtfully, said to Charlie, "Do you see a sort of blue haze in the pit?"

He peered. "No. No.... Yes. Yes, I do! Funny thing. Kind of a blue fog. And the tools cut right through it without moving it! Queer! Must have something to do with the meteor!" He was very excited.

We dug more eagerly. An hour later we had opened the hole to a depth of twenty feet. Our shovels were clanging on the gray iron of the rock from space. The mist had grown thicker as the excavation deepened; we looked at the stone through a screen of motionless blue fog.

We had found the meteor. There were several queer things about it. The first man who touched it—a big Swede mechanic named Olson—was knocked cold as if by a nasty jolt of electricity. It took half an hour to bring him to consciousness.

As fast as the rugged iron side of the meteorite was uncovered, a white crust of frost formed over it.

"It was as cold as outer space, nearly at the absolute zero," Charlie explained. "And it was heated only superficially during its quick passage through the air. But how it comes to be charged with electricity—I can't say."

He hurried up to his laboratory behind the hangars, where he had equipment ranging from an astronomical telescope to a delicate seismograph. He brought back as much electrical equipment as he could carry. He had me touch an insulated wire to the frost-covered stone from space, while he put the other end to one post of a galvanometer.

I think he got a current that wrecked the instrument. At any rate, he grew very much excited.

"Something queer about that stone!" he cried. "This is the chance of a lifetime! I don't know that a meteor has ever been scientifically examined so soon after falling."

He hurried us all across to the laboratory. We came back with a truck load of coils and tubes and batteries and potentiometers and other assorted equipment. He had men with heavy robber gloves lift the frost-covered stone to a packing box on a bench. The thing was irregular in shape, about a foot long; it must have weighed two hundred pounds. He sent a man racing on a motorcycle to the drug store to get dry ice (solidified carbon dioxide) to keep the iron stone at its low temperature.

In a few hours he had a complete laboratory set up around the meteorite. He worked feverishly in the hot sunshine, reading the various instruments he had set up, and arranging more. He contrived to keep the stone cold by packing it in a box of dry ice.

The mechanics stopped for dinner, and I tried to get him to take time to eat.

"No, Hammond," he said. "This is something big! We were talking about Einstein. This rock seems energized with a new kind of force: all meteors are probably the same way, when they first plunge out of space. I think this will be to relativity what the falling apple is to gravity. This is a big thing."

He looked up at me, brown eyes flashing.

"This is my chance to make a name, Hammond. If I do something big enough—Virginia might reconsider her opinion."

Charlie worked steadily through the long hot afternoon. I spent most of the time helping him, or gazing in fascination at the curious haze of luminous blue mist that clung like a sphere of azure fog about the meteoric stone. I did not completely understand what he did; the reader who wants the details may consult the monograph he is preparing for the scientific press.

He had the men string up a line from our direct current generator in the shops, to supply power for his electrical instruments. He mounted a powerful electromagnet just below the meteorite, and set up an X-ray tube to bombard it with rays.

Night came, and the fire of the white sun faded from the sky. In the darkness, the curious haze about the stone became luminescent, distinct, a dim, motionless sphere of blue light. I fancied that I saw grotesque shapes flashing through it. A ball of blue fire, shimmering and ghost-like, shrouded the instruments.

Charlie's induction coil buzzed wickedly, with purple fire playing about the terminals. The X-ray tube flickered with a greenish glow. He manipulated the rheostat that controlled the current through the electromagnet, and continued to read his instruments.

"Look at that!" he cried.

The bluish haze about the stone grew brighter; it became a ball of sapphire flame, five feet thick, bright and motionless. A great sphere of shimmering azure fire! Wisps of pale, sparkling bluish mist ringed it. The stone in its box, the X-ray bulb and other apparatus were hidden. The end of the table stuck oddly from the ball of light.

I heard Charlie move a switch. The hum of the coils changed a note.

The ball of blue fire vanished abruptly. It became a hole, a window in space!

Through it, we saw another world!

The darkness of the night hung about us. Where the ball had been was a circle of misty blue flame, five feet across. Through that circle I could see a vast expanse of blue ocean, running in high, white-capped rollers, beneath a sky overcast with low gray clouds.

It was no flat picture like a movie screen. The scene had vast depth; I knew that we were really looking over an infinite expanse of stormy ocean. It was all perfectly clear, distinct, real!

Astounded, I turned to find Charlie standing back and looking into the ring of blue fire, with a curious mixture of surprise and delighted satisfaction.

"What—what—" I gasped.

"It's amazing! Wonderful! More than I had dared hope for! The complete vindication of my theory! If Virginia cares for scientific reputation—"

"But what is it?"

"It's hard to explain without mathematical language. You might say that we are looking through a hole in space. The new force in the meteorite, amplified by the X-rays and the magnetic field, is causing a distortion of space-time coordinates. You know that a gravitational field bends light; the light of a star is deflected in passing the sun. The field of this meteorite bends light through space-time, through the four-dimensional continuum. That scrap of ocean we can see may be on the other side of the earth."

I walked around the circle of luminous smoke with the marvelous picture in the center. It seemed that the window swung with me. I surveyed the whole angry surface of that slate-gray, storm-beaten sea, to the misty horizon. Nowhere was it broken by land or ship.

Charlie fell to adjusting his rheostat and switches.

It seemed that the gray ocean moved swiftly beyond the window. Vast stretches of it raced below our eyes. Faint black stains of steamer smoke appeared against the blue-gray horizon and swept past. Then land appeared—a long, green-gray line. We had a flash of a long coast that unreeled in endless panorama before us. It was such a view as one might get from a swift airplane—a plane flying thousands of miles per hour.

The Golden Gate flashed before us, with the familiar skyline of San Francisco rising on the hills behind it.

"San Francisco!" Charlie cried. "This is the Pacific we've been seeing. Let's find the Valhalla. We might be able to see Virginia!"

The coast-line vanished as he manipulated his instruments. Staring into the circle of shining blue mist, I saw the endless ocean racing below us again. We picked up a pleasure yacht, running under bare poles.

"I didn't know there was such a storm on," Charlie murmured.

Other vessels swam past below us, laboring against heavy seas.

Then we looked upon an ocean whipped into mighty white-crowned waves. Rain beat down in sheets from low dense clouds; vivid violet lightnings flashed before us. It seemed very strange to see such lightning and hear not the faintest whisper of thunder—but no sound came from anything we saw through the blue-rimmed window in space.

"I hope the Valhalla isn't in weather like this!" cried Charlie.

In a few minutes a dark form loomed through the wind-riven mist. Swiftly it swam nearer; became a black ship.

"Only a tramp," Charlie said, breathing a sigh of relief.

It was a dingy tramp steamer, her superstructure wrecked. Her fires seemed dead. She lay across the wind, rolling sluggishly, threatening to sink with every monstrous wave. We saw no living person aboard her; she seemed a sinking derelict. We made out the name Roma on her side.

Charlie moved his dials again.

In a few minutes the slender prow of another great steamer came through the sheets of rain. It was evidently a passenger vessel. She seemed limping along, half wrecked, with mighty waves breaking over her rail.

Charlie grew white with alarm. "The Valhalla!" he gasped. "And she's headed straight for that wreck!"

In a moment, as he brought the liner closer below our blue-rimmed window, I, too, made out the name. The wet, glistening decks were almost deserted. Here and there a man struggled futilely against the force of the storm.

In a few minutes the drifting wreck of the Roma came into our view, dead ahead of the limping liner. Through the mist and falling rain, the derelict could not have been in sight of the lookout of the passenger vessel until she was almost upon it.
We saw the white burst of steam as the siren was blown. We watched the desperate effort of the liner to check her way, to come about. But it was too much for the already crippled ship. Charlie cried out as a mighty wave drove the Valhalla down upon the sluggishly drifting wreck.

All the mad scene that ensued was strangely silent. We heard no crash when the collision occurred; heard no screams or shouts while the mob of desperate, white-faced passengers were fighting their way to the deck. The vain struggle to launch the boats was like a silent movie.

One boat was splintered while being lowered. Another, already filled with passengers, was lifted by a great ware and crushed against the side of the ship. Only shivered wood and red foam were left. The ship listed so rapidly that the boats on the lee side were useless. It was impossible to launch the others in that terrible, lashing sea.

"Virginia can swim." Charlie said hopefully. "You know she tried the Channel last year, and nearly made it, too."

He stopped to watch that terrible scene in white-faced, anxious silence.

The tramp went down before the steamer, drawing fragments of wrecked boats after it. The liner was evidently sinking rapidly. We saw dozens of hopeless, panic-stricken passengers diving off the lee side, trying to swim off far enough to avoid the tremendous suction.

Then, with a curious deliberation, the bow of the Valhalla dipped under green water; her stern rose in the air until the ship stood almost perpendicular. She slipped quickly down, out of sight.

Only a few swimming humans, and the wrecks of a few boats, were left on the rough gray sea. Charlie fumbled nervously with his dials, trying to get the scene near enough so that we could see the identity of the struggling swimmers.

A long boat, which must have been swept below by the suction of the ship, came plunging above the surface, upside down. It drifted swiftly among the swimmers, who struggled to reach it. I saw one person, evidently a girl, grasp it and drag herself upon it. It swept on past the few others still struggling.

The wrecked boat with the girl upon it seemed coming swiftly toward our blue-rimmed window. In a few minutes I saw something familiar about her.

"It's Virginia!" Charlie cried. "God! We've got to save her, somehow!"

The long rollers drove the over-turned boat swiftly along. Virginia Randall clung desperately to it, deluged in foam, whipped with flying spray, the wild wind tearing at her.

About us, the clear still night was deepening. The air was warm and still; the hot stars shone steadily. Quiet lighted houses were in sight above the beach. It was very strange to look through the fire-rimmed circle, to see a girl struggling for life, clinging to a wrecked boat in a stormy sea.

Charlie watched in an apathy of grief and horror, trembling and speechless doing nothing except move the controls to keep the floating girl in our sight.

Hours went by as we watched. Then Charlie cried out in sudden hope. "There's a chance! I might do it! I might be able to save her!"

"Might do what?"

"We are able to see what we do because the field of the meteor bends light through the four-dimensional continuum. The world line of a ray of light is a geodesic in the continuum. The field I have built distorts the continuum, so we see rays that originated at a distant point. Is that clear?"

"Clear as mud!"

"Well, anyhow, if the field were strong enough, we could bring physical objects through space-time, instead of mere visual images. We could pick Virginia up and bring her right here to the crater! I'm sure of it!"

"You mean you could move a girl through some four or five thousand miles of space!"

"You don't understand. She wouldn't come through space at all, but through space-time, through the continuum, which is a very different thing. She is four thousand miles away in our three-dimensional space, but in space-time, as you see, she is only a few yards away. She is only a few yards from us in the fourth dimension. If I can increase the field a little, she will be drawn right through!"

"You're a wizard if you can do it!"

"I've got to do it! She's a fine swimmer—that's the only reason she's still alive—but she'll never live to reach the shore. Not in a sea like that!"

Charlie fell to work at once, mounting another electromagnet beside the one he had set up, and rigging up two more X-ray bulbs beside the packing box which held the meteor. The motion of the boat in the fire-rimmed window kept drawing it swiftly away from us, and Charlie showed me how to move the dial of his rheostat to keep the girl in view.

Before he had completed his arrangements, a patch of white foam came into view just ahead of the drifting boat. In a moment I made out a cruel black rock, with the angry sea breaking into fleecy spray upon it. The boat was almost upon it, driving straight for it. Charlie saw it, and cried out in horror.

The long black hull of the splintered boat, floating keel upward, was only a few yards away. A great white-capped breaker lifted it and hurled it forward, with the girl clinging to it. She drew herself up and stared in terror at the black rock, while another long surging roller picked up the boat and swept it forward again.

I stood, paralyzed in horror, while the shattered boat was driven full upon the great rock. I could imagine the crash of it, but it was all as still as a silent picture. The boat, riding high on a crest of white foam, smashed against the rock and was shivered to splinters. Virginia was hurled forward against the slick wet stone. Desperately she scrambled to reach the top of the boulder. Her hands slipped on the polished rock; the wild sea dragged at her. At last she got out of reach of the angry gray water, though spume still deluged her.

I breathed a sigh of relief, though her position was still far from enviable.

"Virginia! Virginia! Why did I let you go?" Charlie cried.

Desperately he fell to work again, mounting the magnet and tubes. Another hour went by, while I watched the shivering girl on the rock. Bobbed hair, wet and glistening, was plastered close against her head, and her clothing was torn half off. She looked utterly exhausted; it seemed to take all her ebbing energy to cling to the rock against the force of the wind and the waves that dashed against her. She looked cold, blue and trembling.

The water stood higher.

"The tide is rising!" Charlie exclaimed. "It will cover the rock pretty soon. If I don't get her off in time—she's lost!"

He finished twisting his wires together.

"I've got it all ready," he said. "Now, I've got to find out exactly where she is, to know how to set it. Even then it's fearfully uncertain. I hate to try it, but it's the only chance.

"You can find out?"

"Yes. From the spectral shift and other factors. I'll have to get some other apparatus." He ran up to the laboratory, across the level field that lay black beneath the stars. He came back, panting, with spectrometer, terrestrial globe, and other articles.

"The tide is higher!" he cried as he looked through the blue-rimmed circle at the girl on the rock. "She'll be swept off before long!"

He mounted the spectrometer and fell to work with a will, taking observations through the telescope, adjusting prisms and diffraction gratings, reading electrometers and other apparatus, and stopping to make intricate calculations.

I helped him when I could, or stared through the ring of shining blue mist, where I could see the waves breaking higher about the exhausted girl who clung to the rock. Clouds of wind-whipped spray often hid her from sight. I knew that she would not have the strength to hold on much longer against the force of the rising sea.

Although driven almost to distraction by the horror of her predicament, he worked with a cool, swift efficiency. Only the pale, anxiety-drawn expression on his face showed how great was the strain. He finished the last spectrometer observation, snatched out a pad and fell to figuring furiously.

"Something queer here," he said presently, frowning. "A shift of the spectrum that I can't explain by distortion through three-dimensional space alone. I don't understand it."

We stared at the chilled and trembling girl on the rock.

"I'm almost afraid to try it. What if something went wrong?"

He turned to the terrestrial globe he had brought down and traced a line over it. He made a quick calculation on his pad, then made a fine dot on the globe with the pencil point.

"Here she is. On a rock some miles off Point Eugenia, on the coast of the Mexican State of Lower California. Most lonely spot in the world. No chance for a rescue. We must—

"My God!" he screamed in sudden horror. "Look!"

I looked through the blue-ringed window and saw the girl. Green water was surging about her waist. It seemed that each wave almost tore her off. Then I saw that she was struggling with something. A great coiling tentacle, black and leathery and glistening, was thrust up out of the green water. It wavered deliberately through the air and grasped at the girl. She seemed to scream, though we could hear nothing. She beat at the monster, weakly, vainly.

"She's gone!" cried Charlie.

"An octopus!" I said. "A giant cuttlefish!"

Virginia made a sudden fierce effort. With a strength that I had not thought her chilled limbs possessed, she tore away from the dreadful creature and clambered higher on the rock. But still a hideous black tentacle clung about her ankle, tugging at her, drawing her back despite her desperate struggle to break free.

"I've got to try it!" Charlie said, determination flashing in his eyes. "It's a chance!"

He closed a switch. His new coils sung out above the old one. X-ray tubes flickered beside the blue fire that ringed the window. He adjusted his rheostats and closed the circuit through the new magnet.

A curtain of blue flame was drawn quickly between us and the round, fire-rimmed window. A huge ball of blue fire hung, about the meteorite and the instruments. For minutes it hung there, while Charlie, perspiring, worked desperately with the apparatus. Then it expanded; became huge. It exploded noiselessly, in a great flash of sapphire flame, then vanished completely.

Meteor, bench, and apparatus were gone!

In the light of the stars we could make out the huge crater the meteorite had torn, with a few odds and ends of equipment scattered about it. But all the apparatus Charlie had set up, connected with the meteoric stone, had disappeared.

He was dumbfounded, staggered with disappointment.

"Virginia! Virginia!" he called out, in a hopeless tone. "No, she isn't here. It didn't draw her through. I've failed. And we can't even see her any more!"

Desperately I searched for consolation for him.

"Maybe the octopus won't hurt her," I offered. "They say that most of the stories of their ferocity are somewhat exaggerated."

"If the monster doesn't get her, the tide will!" he said bitterly. "I made a miserable failure of it! And I don't know why! I can't understand it!"

Apathetically, he picked up his pad and held it in the light of his electric lantern.

"Something funny about this equation. The shift of the spectrum lines can't be accounted for by distortion through space alone."

With wrinkled brow, he stared for many minutes at the bit of paper he held in the white circle of light.

Suddenly he seized a pencil and figured rapidly.

"I have it! The light was bent through time! I should have recognized these space-time coordinates."

He calculated again.

"Yes. The scene we saw in that circle of light was distant from us not only in space but in time. The Valhalla probably hasn't sunk yet at all. We were looking into the future!"

"But how can that be? Seeing things before they happen!"

I have the profoundest respect for Charlie King's mathematical genius. But when he said that I was frankly incredulous.

"Space and time are only relative terms. Our material universe is merely the intersection of tangled world lines of geodesics in a four-dimensional continuum. Space and time have no meaning independently of each other. Jeans says. 'A terrestrial astronomer may reckon that the outburst on Nova Persei occurred a century before the great fire of London, but an astronomer on the Nova may reckon with equal accuracy that the great fire occurred a century before the outburst on the Nova.' The field of this meteorite deflected light waves so that we saw them earlier, according to our conventional ideas of time, than they originated. We saw several hours into the future.

"And the amplified field of the magnet, though strong enough to move Virginia through space, was not sufficiently powerful to draw her back to us across time. Yet she must have felt the pull. Some dreadful thing may have happened. The problem is rather complicated."

He lifted his pencil again. In the glow of the little electric lantern I saw his lean young face tense with the fierce effort of his thought. His pencil raced across the little pad, setting down symbols that I could make nothing of.

My own thoughts were racing. Seeing into the future was a rather revolutionary idea to me. My mind is conservative; I have always been sceptical of the more fantastic ideas suggested by science. But Charlie seemed to know what he was talking about. In view of the marvelous things he had done that night, it seemed hardly fair to doubt him now. I decided to accept his astounding statement at face value and to follow the adventure through.

He lifted his pencil and consulted the luminous dial of his wrist watch.

"We saw that last scene some twelve hours and forty minutes before it happened—to put it in conventional language. The distortion of the time coordinates amounted to that."

In the light of dawn—for we had been all night at the meteor pit, and silver was coming in the east—he looked at me with fierce resolve in his eyes.

"Hammond, that gives us over twelve hours to get to Virginia!"

"You mean to go? But just twelve hours! That's better than the transcontinental record—to say nothing of the time it would take to find a little rock in the Pacific!"

"We have the Golden Gull! She's as fast as any ship we've ever flown."

"But we can't take the Gull! Those alterations haven't been made. And that new engine! A bear-cat for power, but it may go dead any second. The Gull can fly, but she isn't safe!"

"Safety be damned! I've got to get to Virginia, and get there in the next twelve hours!"

"The Gull will fly, but—"

"All right. Please help me get off!"

"Help you off? It's a fool thing to do! But if you go, I do!"

"Thanks, Hammond. Awfully!" He gripped my hand. "We've got to make it!"

With a last glance into the gaping pit from which we had dug the marvelous stone, we turned and ran across to the hangars. As we ran the sun came above the sea in the east: its first rays struck us like a fiery lance. The mechanics had not yet appeared. Charlie pushed the doors back, and we ran out the trim little Golden Gull, beautiful with her slender wing and her graceful, tapering lines.

I seized the starting crank and Charlie sprang into the cockpit. I cranked until the mechanism was droning dismally, and pulled the lever that engaged it with the engine. I had been in too much haste to get up the proper speed, and the powerful new engine failed to fire. Charlie almost cried with vexation while I was cranking again.

This time the motor coughed and fell into a steady, vibrant roar. With the wind from the propeller screaming about me, I disengaged the crank and stood waiting while the motor warmed. Charlie gave it scant time to do so before he motioned me to kick out the blocks. I tumbled into the enclosed cockpit beside him, he gave the ship the gun, and we roared across the field.

In five minutes we were flying west, at a speed just under three hundred miles per hour. Charlie was crouched over the stick, scanning the instrument board, and flying the Gull almost at her top speed. Again and again his eyes went to the little clock on the panel.

"Twelve hours and forty minutes," he said. "And an hour gone already! We're got to be there by five minutes after six."

We were flying over Louisiana when the oil line clogged. The engine heated dangerously. Reluctantly, Charlie cut off the ignition, and fell in a swift spiral to an open field.

"We're got to fix it!" he said. "Another hour gone! And we needed every minute!"

"This new engine! It's powerful enough, but we should have had time to overhaul it, and make those changes."

Charlie landed with his usual skill, and we fell to work in desperate haste. A grizzled farmer, a wad of tobacco in his cheek and three ragged urchins at his heels, stopped to watch us. He had just been to his mailbox, and had a morning paper in his hand. Charlie questioned him about the storm.

"Storm-center nears the American coast," he read in a nasal drawl. "Greatest storm of year drives shipping upon west coast. Six vessels reported lost. S. S. Valhalla, disabled, sends S. O. S.

"A thousand lives are the estimated toll to-night of the most terrific storm of the year, which is sweeping toward the Pacific coast, driving all shipping before it. Radiograms from the Valhalla at 5 P. M. report that she is disabled and in danger. It is doubtful that rescue vessels can reach her through the storm."

We got the engine repaired, took off again. Charlie looked at the little clock.

"Five minutes to ten. Eight hours and ten minutes left, and we've got a darn long ways to go."

We had to stop at San Antonio, Texas, to replenish gasoline and oil.

"Ten minutes lost!" Charlie complained as we took off. "And that monster—waiting in the future to drag Virginia to a hideous death!"

Two hours later the plane developed trouble in the ignition system. The motor was new, with several radical changes that we had introduced to increase power and lessen weight. As I had objected to Charlie, we had not done enough experimental work on it to perfect it.

We limped into the field at El Paso and spent another priceless half-hour at work. I got some sandwiches at a luncheon counter beside the field, and listened a moment to a radio loudspeaker there.

"Many thousands are dead," came the crisp, metallic voice of the announcer, "as a result of the storm now raging on the Pacific coast, the worst in several years. The storm-center is spending its force on the coastal regions to-day. Millions of dollars in damage are reported in cities from San Francisco to Manzanillo, Mexico.

"The greatest disaster of the storm is the loss of the passenger liner Valhalla, of the Red Star Line. It is believed to have collided with the abandoned hulk of an Italian-owned tramp freighter, the Roma, which was left by its crew yesterday in a sinking condition. Radiograms from the liner ceased three hours ago, when she was said to be sinking. The officers doubted that her boats could be launched in such a sea—"

I waited to hear no more. Charlie checked our route while we were stopped. And we took off; we crossed the Rio Grande and flew across the rocky, brush-scattered hills of Mexico, in a direct line for the rock in the sea.

"If anything happens so we have to land again—well, it's just too bad," Charlie said grimly. "But we've got to go this way. It's something over six hundred miles in a straight line. Fifteen minutes to four, now. We have to average nearly three hundred miles an hour to get there."

He was silent and intent over his maps and instruments as we flew on over the lofty Sierra Madre Range, and over a long slope down to the Gulf of California. Head-winds beset us as we were over the stretch of blue water, and we flew on into a storm.

"We had hardly time to make it, without the wind against us," Charlie said. "If it holds us back many miles—well, it just mustn't!"
Purple lightning flickered ominously in the mass of blue storm-clouds that hung above the mountainous peninsula of Lower California. I had a qualm about flying into it in our untested machine. But Charlie leaned tensely forward and sent the Golden Gull on at the limit of her speed. Gray vapor swirled about us, rent with livid streaks of lightning. Thunder crashed and rumbled above the roar of our racing engine. Wild winds screeched in the struts; rain and hail beat against us. The plane rose and fell; she was swirled about like a falling leaf. The stick struggled in Charlie's hands like a living thing. With lips tightened to a thin line, he fought silently, fiercely, desperately.

Suddenly we were sucked down until I had an uneasy feeling at the pit of my stomach. I saw the grim outline of a bare mountain peak dangerously close below us, shrouded in wind-whipped mist.

In sudden alarm I shouted, "We'd better get out of this, Charlie! We can't live in it long!"

In the roar of the storm he did not hear me, and I shouted again.

He turned to face me, after a glance at the clock. "We've less than an hour, Hammond. We've got to go on!"

I sank back in my seat. The plane rolled and tossed until I thanked my lucky stars for the safety strap. In nervous anxiety I watched Charlie bring the ship up again, and fight his way on through the storm. For an eternity, it seemed, we battled through a chaos of wind-driven mist, bright with purple lightning and shaken with crashing thunder.

Charlie struggled with the controls until he was dripping with perspiration. He must have been utterly worn out, after thirty-six hours of exhausting effort. A dozen times I despaired of life. The compass had gone to spinning crazily; we dived through the rain until we could pick up landmarks below. Three times a great bare peak loomed suddenly up ahead of us, and Charlie averted collision only by zooming suddenly upward.

Then slate-gray water was beneath us, running in white-crested mountains. I knew that we were at last out over the Pacific.

"We've passed Point Eugenia," Charlie said. "It can't be far, now. But we have only fifteen minutes left. Fifteen minutes to get to her—before the attraction of the meteor jerks her away, perhaps to a horrible fate."

We flew low and fast over the racing waves. Charlie looked over his charts and made a swift calculation. He changed our course a bit and we flew on at top speed. We scanned the vast, mad expanse of sea below the blue-gray clouds. Here and there were lines of white breakers, but nowhere did we see a rock with a girl upon it. Presently the green outline of an island appeared out of the wild water on our right.

"That's Del Tiburon," Charlie said. "We missed the rock."

He swung the plane about and we flew south over the hastening waves. I looked at the little clock. It showed two minutes to six. I turned to Charlie.

"Seven minutes!" he whispered grimly.

On and on we flew, in a wide circle. The motor roared loud. An endless expanse of racing waves unreeled below us. The little hand crawled around the dial. One minute past six. Only four minutes to go.

We saw a speck of white foam on the mad gray water. It was miles away, almost on the horizon. We plunged toward it, motor bellowing loud. Five miles a minute we flew. The white fleck became a black rock smothered in snowy foam. On we swept, and over the rock, with bullet-like speed.

As we plunged by, I saw Virginia's slender form, tattered, brine-soaked, straggling in the hideous tentacles of the monster octopus. It was the same terrible scene that we had viewed, through the amazing phenomenon of distortion of light through space-time, four thousand miles away and twelve hours before.

In a few minutes the time would come when Charlie had ended our view of the scene by his attempt to draw the girl through the fourth dimension to our apparatus in Florida. What terrible thing might happen then?

Charlie brought the ship about so quickly that we were flung against the sides. Down we came toward the mad waves in a swift glide. In sudden apprehension, I dropped my hand on his shoulder.

"Man, you can't land in a sea like that! It's suicide!"

Without a word, he shook off my hand and continued our steep glide toward the rock. I drew my breath in apprehension of a crash.

I do not blame Charlie for what happened. He is as skilful a pilot as I know. It was a mad freak of the sea that did the thing.

The gray waste of mountainous, white-crested waves rose swiftly up to meet us, with the rock with the girl clinging to it just to our right. The Golden Gull struck the crest of a wave, buried herself in the foam, and plunged down the long slope to the trough. We rose safely to the crest of the oncoming roller, and I saw the black outline of the rock not a dozen yards away.

Charlie had landed with all his skill. It was not his fault that the blustering wind caught the ship as she reached the crest of the wave and flung her sidewise toward the rock. It is no fault of his that the white-capped mountain of racing green water completed what the wind had begun and hurled the frail plane crashing on the rock.

I have a confused memory of the wild plunge at the mercy of the wave, of my despair as I realized that we were being wrecked. I must have been knocked unconscious when we struck. The next I remember I was opening my eyes to find myself on the rock, Charlie's strong arm on my shoulder. I was soaked with icy brine and my head was aching from a heavy blow.

Virginia, shivering and blue, was perched beside us. I could see no sign of the plane: the mighty sea had swept away what was left of it. Clinging to the lee side of the rock I saw the black tentacles of the giant octopus—waiting for a wave to dash us to its mercy.

"All right, Hammond?" Charlie inquired anxiously. "I'm afraid you got a pretty nasty bump on the head. About all I could do to fish you out before the Gull was swept away."

He helped me to a better position to withstand the force of the great roller that came plunging down upon us like a moving mountain. Virginia was in his arms, too exhausted to do more than cling to him.

"What can we do?" I sputtered, shaking water from my head.

"Not a thing! We're in a pretty bad fix, I imagine. In a few seconds we will feel the attraction of the meteor's field—the force with which I tried to draw Virginia to the crater through the fourth dimension. I don't know what will happen; we may be jerked out of space altogether. And if that doesn't get us, the tide and the octopus will!"

His voice was drowned in the roar of the coming wave. A mountain of water deluged us. Half drowned, I clung to the rock against the mad water.

Then blinding blue light flashed about me. A sharp crash rang in my ears, like splintering glass. I reeled, and felt myself falling headlong.

I brought up on soft sand.

I sat up, dumbfounded, and opened my eyes. I was sitting on the steep sandy tide of a conical pit. Charlie and Virginia were sprawled beside me, looking as astonished as I felt. Charlie got to his knees and lifted the limp form of the girl in his arms.

Something snapped in my brain. The sand-walled pit was suddenly familiar. I got to my feet and clambered out of it. I saw that we were on our own landing field.

Astonishingly, we were back in the meteor crater. Charlie's vanished apparatus was scattered about us. I saw the gray side of the rough iron meteorite itself, half-buried in the sand at the bottom of the pit.

"What—what happened?" I demanded of Charlie.

"Don't you see? Simple enough. I should have thought of it before. The field of the meteorite brought Virginia—and us—through to this point in space. But it could not bring us back through time; instead, the apparatus itself was jerked forward through time. That is why it vanished. We got here just twelve hours and forty minutes after I closed the switch, since we had been looking that far into the future. The mathematical explanation—"

"That's enough for me!" I said hastily. "We better see about a warm, dry bed for Virginia, and some hot soup or something."

Now the rough gray meteorite, in a neat glass case, rests above the mantel in the library of a beautiful home where I am a frequent guest. I was there one evening, a few days ago, when Charlie King fell silent in one of his fits of mathematical speculation.

"Einstein again?" I chaffingly inquired.

He raised his brown eyes and looked at me. "Hammond, since relativity enabled us to find the Meteor Girl, you ought to be convinced!"

Virginia—whom her husband calls the Meteor Girl—came laughingly to the rescue.

"Yes, Mr. Hammond, what do you think of Einstein now?"


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Review - "The Fulcrum" (Gwyneth Jones, 2005)

SF Story Review: "The Fulcrum,"

"The Fulcrum"
 2005 by Gwyneth Jones

(c) 2008, 2011 by Jordan S. Bassior

 I read this in Science Fiction: The Very Best of 2005 (ed. Jonathan Strahan) and was astounded by how little sense it made. Furthermore, it seemed to be (in its setting) copying a much better story by George R. R. Martin, which also made very little sense but whose superior style papered over the less egregious logical flaws.


The story is set on a manned Kuiper Belt outpost in the 24th century. Two oddly-sexed "extreme tourists" are visiting this outpost, ostensibly for the experience, in fact because they are hunting rumors of treasure.


Dubious Economics

Now, the first strange part of the setting is that this supposedly occurs in a future in which there has been no manned colonization of the Solar System. This is odd, because they appear to have manned spacecraft capable of reaching any part of the Solar System (as shown by the existence of the outpost). According to the author:

In the close to four hundred years since spaceflight got started, the human race had never got beyond orbital tourism, government science stations, and wretched, hand-to-mouth mining operations in the Belt ...

... and, as another character explains:

"... Eventually, yes, a few fools managed to scrape a living in the deep. But the gravity well defeated us. We could not become a new world. There was nothing to prime the pump, no spices, no gold: no new markets, never enough materials worth the freight."

As Gwyneth Jones clearly fails to grasp, the two statements are contradictory. If there is even orbital tourism, science stations, and mining operations, then there clearly is a market, which space-based producers could supply more cheaply than ground-based ones. This is because "the gravity well" is an obstacle to transit between Earth and other places; it is not an obstacle between (say) the Moon and the Asteroid Belt. The gravity wells of objects considerably smaller than the Earth are so shallow that it is easy to blast off from their surfaces and achieve Solar orbit, especially assuming nuclear-powered rockets (which they must have if they are planting outposts in the Kuiper Belt).

To serve as a centuries-long obstacle to interplanetary colonization, there must be virtually no manned operations beyond Low Earth Orbit. If there are any, then these (originally subsidized) operations logically would perform the economic function of "priming the pump." Once you get a complex economy beyond our atmosphere, it builds on itself, in a virtuous circle.

For instance, the current boom in commercial spacecraft construction is feeding both on orbital tourism and on the desire to make money supplying the International Space Station and other scientific manned space ventures. The motive of the venture being supplied is irrelevant -- it may be scientific, military, or recreational, but its personnel and purposes will need supply, and it can much more be cheaply supplied by contracting from private suppliers whose operations are, ultimately, based near the subsidized venture. And, once enough such suppliers are in place, they can produce and sell to each other, and export some products even to the Earth.

Ironically, "gold," mentioned on her list as one thing not available, is one commodity likely to be present in bulk in the Belt. Along with lots of other precious and industrial metals, and rare earths. It would not be economical with current technology to export them to Earth, but with a technology capable of manned flight to the Kuiper Belt?

Back in the 1950's to mid 1970's, when science fiction writers had seen the immense aerospace advances of the period from 1903 to 1969, there was a tendency to assume very rapid expansion into space, far more rapid than 20th century rocketry actually could have supported. Gwyneth Jones is obviously making the opposite mistake, postulating a period of some 350 years without significant interplanetary colonization.

The Fulcrum

The Kuiper Belt station, "The Fulcrum," is located at a special point in spacetime from which it is possible to tunnel matter transmitter like hypertubes to other planets, which is why this station is maintained so far out from the Earth. Prospectors travel to these planets to try to find ones suitable for colonization. They can claim the planets themselves or sell the coordinates to developers. For no obvious reason, they can only transmit humans and what gear they can hold on them. It is in hope of buying and reselling the coordinates to an Earthlike planet that the weird couple (who call themselves "aliens" for no comprehensible reason) has come there.

Crime but no Punishment

They have spent months there without getting a bite. Then, for murky reasons connected to the plot, their exercise bike is stolen. They go to the station's security chief, Eddie, but he can do nothing. He is a coward, there is no effective law on The Fulcrum, and the real power is in the hands of two rival gangsters, one of whom has a gun, a knife, and a (very) few followers; the other of whom has a knife and a (very) few followers. The first gangster's possession of a gun is a major advantage for him, because it is illegal to bring guns onto the station.

Effective Gun Control?

Here the story runs into another gaping logical flaw. If there is no effective law on the station, and there is a considerable risk of lethal violence, why are guns so rare? Sure, the "world government" mentioned in the story could prohibit exporting guns from Earth to the station, but because there is no law on the station, they could not prevent the Deep Spacers on the station from making guns themselves.

The Fulrcum is only visited at months-long intervals by the Slingshot, a sort of space transport, which means that it must house extensive machine shops. Therefore, intelligent and technically-trained people could improvise guns, swords, body armor, etc. Yet for some reason, nobody thinks of this (including the space tourists, who go through all kinds of stupid convoluted actions rather than simply obtaining their own weapons and defying the gangsters). This seems like Euroweenie "gun control" elevated to the status of some physical law!

Hull Breach!

One apparent justification is given when it's pointed out that the knives the gangsters are carrying could puncture the station hull, and (by implication) heavier weapons would be Right Out. But this is just plain silly: first of all merely puncturing a station hull would not be lethal, assuming that in 400 years of space travel someone has invented and deployed patch kits (Jones seems not to realize just how long it would take a small puncture in a large compartment to evacuate the air in the compartment). Secondly, The Fulrcum as designed is big, and presumably contains numerous sealable airtight compartments (the reall ISS, far smaller and more primitive, certainly does).

Finally, how much would such considerations stop anyone who had real fear of deadly attack? I'd shoot the gangsters and patch the hull leaks when my foes were safely dead! So, I'm pretty sure, would most Americans.

The Point of It All

Anyway, it turns out that on the station there is a secret source of exotic matter, which could be used in some undefined way to build FTL starships, which would enable the Deep Spacers' dreams of large-scale interplanetary colonization to become a reality. This, and revenge, drives the whole rather silly film noir plot.


This was a potentially good idea that became a very bad idea because Gwyneth Jones had to bow in reverence to the gods of Only One Earth and Gun Control. C. L. Moore or Leigh Brackett would have done this so much better -- come to think of it, they basically did do this basic plot much better, more than once.

Oh, the specific story, with similar logic holes which worked better because George R. R. Martin was a better writer? "Starlady," which features wackily stupid ID verification procedures and a similar sort of "gun control" (everyone fights with vibroknives and stunsticks, but no better weapons for no obvious reason because the port is lawless), but which manages to work as a story, because Martin's style is so damn poetic.

Gwyneth Jones' style isn't.


A Really Elegant Aplogia For Transhumanism

"A Really Elegant Apologia For Transhumanism"

(c) 2007, 2011 by Jordan S. Bassior

It's here:

I advise anyone who has ever thought about this issue, from any perspective, to read the original post (and the comments are also fascinating), but to summarize:

The essential argument being made is that "transhumanism" is simply "humanism" (or humane-ness) extended to deal with new technological possibilities. One would, all other things being equal, rather save or improve life, rather than take or degrade it? In that case, then it is moral to apply new technologies (again, all other things being equal) to save and improve life as much as possible. There is no difference in essence between carrying someone out of the path of a train, giving them penecillin to treat an infection, employing gene therapy to cure a hereditary disease, or employing nanotechnology to render someone immortal. There is no set point of life or happiness at which the value of further life or happiness switches from positive to negative.

I have always believed this, intuitively: Mr. Yudkowsky has explained it logically, and put it better than could I.  The core of his argument is outlined here:

Transhumanism is simpler - requires fewer bits to specify - because it has no special cases. If you believe professional bioethicists (people who get paid to explain ethical judgments) then the rule “Life is good, death is bad; health is good, sickness is bad” holds only until some critical age, and then flips polarity. Why should it flip? Why not just keep on with life-is-good?


As far as a transhumanist is concerned, if you see someone in danger of dying, you should save them; if you can improve someone’s health, you should. There, you’re done. No special cases. You don’t have to ask anyone’s age.

You also don’t ask whether the remedy will involve only “primitive” technologies (like a stretcher to lift the six-year-old off the railroad tracks); or technologies invented less than a hundred years ago (like penicillin) which nonetheless seem ordinary because they were around when you were a kid; or technologies that seem scary and sexy and futuristic (like gene therapy) because they were invented after you turned 18; or technologies that seem absurd and implausible and sacrilegious (like nanotech) because they haven’t been invented yet. Your ethical dilemma report form doesn’t have a line where you write down the invention year of the technology. Can you save lives? Yes? Okay, go ahead. There, you’re done.

and he deals elegantly with the obvious objection from most people

But - you ask - where does it end? It may seem well and good to talk about extending life and health out to 150 years - but what about 200 years, or 300 years, or 500 years, or more? What about when - in the course of properly integrating all these new life experiences and expanding one’s mind accordingly over time - the equivalent of IQ must go to 140, or 180, or beyond human ranges?

Where does it end? It doesn’t. Why should it? Life is good, health is good, beauty and happiness and fun and laughter and challenge and learning are good. This does not change for arbitrarily large amounts of life and beauty. If there were an upper bound, it would be a special case, and that would be inelegant.

and he sums it up beautifully

So that is “transhumanism” - loving life without special exceptions and without upper bound.

Which was always my sense of things.  If it's ok for you to live at age 25, then it's ok for him to live at 50, or 100 or 200, or 400, or for that matter since the Big Bang until the heat-death of the Universe.  Life is of value, and it does not cease to be of value when it is extended.  If it is good to have the mind of a dog, then it is better to have the mind of an ape, and still better to have the mind of an average human, or an average genius, or average supergenius, or Transcendent being.  Intelligence is of value, and its value does not turn negative above a certain level.

As Yudkowsky points out, there may be physical limits to life extension or intellectual augmentation.  If so, that is simply the nature of the Universe.  But if we can extend a person's life or increase his intelligence, then (with the person's extent, of course) all other things being equal it is better to do than not to do it.

It's simple humanity to value transhumanity.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Selective Science for Mundane Fiction

Checking out the most recent Mundane SF Blog, we see a nice little rant which, to my mind, exemplifies the very selective use of "science" in Mundane science-fiction.  The author, frankh, is reviewing Welcome to the Greenhouse, an analogy of stories about global warming, and he says:

What a welcome relief from all the wish-fulfillment and thumb-twiddling bullshit that regularly gets published as SF -- never mind the straight fantasy that now dominates.

During the Golden Age of SF, there was a consensus that atomic power and rocketry were big things in our future. It was just a matter of how the science and society would play out. Well, that has all pretty much played out, and sorry, we do not have a libertarian space age with unlimited resources. Now, as then, we need to make do with scientific reality. That reality now includes "climate change."

He's arguing that "atomic power and rocketry" have both "pretty much played out," which is a rather silly thing to say given that controlled nuclear fusion hasn't yet been achieved, plain nuclear fission reactor designs are still being greatly improved, and we're very obviously at the start of a major boom in both manned and unmanned spaceflight, with a dozen major national and private players in the field and several new types of spacecraft being launched a year.  But, nope, despite all the evidence "scientific reality" decrees that both these fields are "played out," and we have to agree with him because he's all Mundane and literary, so why would we want to listen to a lot of nasty grotty investors and planners and engineers and (ugh) scientists on the issue?

Furthermore, we don't have "a libertarian space age" (it's telling that he appends the political label to a human movement that crosses many political boundaries -- were the Soviets being "libertarians" 50 years ago when they launched Yuri Gagarin into space?  Are the Chinese "libertarians" now when they launch taikonauts?) with "unlimited resources."  And if we don't have it by now, we won't have it ever, because -- ooh, look, shiny metaphors and irony, pay no attention to the scope of history!  So we're going to have to deal with real issues, such as "climate change," which apparently science-fiction has never dealt with before (1).

Of course, a stickler for physical scientific reality might point out that if we decide that "atomic power" has "played out," we might find "climate change" coming a bit sooner rather than later, and in the direction of the Paleocene climatic maximum, since barred by Mundane edict from gaining energy from a chemically-neutral process such as uranium fission, we will instead have to gain it from the combustion of coal, oil and methane, all of which put significant amounts of carbon dioxide (and nastier things) into our atmosphere as part of their normal operation.  But hey, then frankh can crow about how he was right all along.  What's a little drowned real estate compared to the joy of going "I told you so?"

The larger issue here, of course, is that the Mundane science-fiction "scientific reality" is based on a very selective subset of "science."  Atomic power and rocketry are verboten, for no real reason other than that the Mundaniacs say that they are (and, truth be told, the banning of atomic power as a topic for discussion was neither stated nor even implicit in the original Mundane Manifesto, which shows how this sort of negativism naturally expands to blot out all light and happiness in one's futures).  For that matter, the original Mundane Manifesto didn't try to ban spaceflight, merely limit it to the Solar System (I suspect it's expanded to anti-rocketry because some slightly more astute Mundaniacs realized that if we can cheaply access the whole Solar System then we don't have "limited resources" from the POV of anything but the very far future).

It's not about being scientifically-realistic, because if it was then the Mundaniacs would happily herald the aspects of scientific and technological progress which promise to bring us precisely the "libertarian future" of "unlimited resources" about which frankh is complaining.  It's about being depressing (2), which is why the Mundane science-fiction writers and fans carefully pick and choose only those aspects of scientific reality which are unpleasant, rejecting those which offer felicitious solutions.

So it is that we must give up fossil fuel power generation, but not adopt atomic energy in its place, because if we did then we'd have lots of cheap energy which would get cheaper and cheaper as we developed more and more advanced and capable reactors.  No, we have to choose between any number of cackbrained, impractical systems (3), so that our power is expensive and unreliable, the better for us to suffer and mourn the passing of the old days of plenty  (4).  "Of what use is a newborn infant," Benjamin Franklin famously said of electricity, and the Mundaniacs add "... if we cut off its arms and legs!"

So it is that, if chemical rocketry won't give us the stars (and it, in fact, won't -- one needs nuclear or antimatter rockets for interstellar travel) we must settle for Just One Earth, forever.  The other planets of our Solar System are mysteriously useless to us, even though in real life we're discovering more and more resources on them.  Furthermore, we can never have anything better than chemical rocketry, even though in real life we're developing various kinds of ion and plasma drives, nuclear power plants, and the superstrong materials required for space elevators.  These technologies will never ever get anywhere, no matter how many decades and centuries and millennia we work on them.

What's especially stupid and insulting about the Mundane Movement is its denial of anything but the shallowest sort of time.  They assume that anything that we can't build out of off-the-shelf components, right NOW, can never be built.  We actually have the science, and most of the technology, needed to colonize Luna and Mars, right now, but we just haven't deployed it yet in the form of actual spacecraft.  Thus, we never can in the future -- but if you read the Mundane Movement's "futures," you'll find that they are either (1) just a few decades into the future, or (2) set after civilization has permanently fallen to a lower level of technology.  These assumptions are necessary to the Mundane vision-- even a very slow level of technological and economic progress, compounded over (say) five centuries, would be enough for us to plant thriving human settlements all over the Inner System out to at least the Asteroid Belt, if not farther.

You'll notice this if you discuss the possibilities of space colonization with them.  They'll start off by saying something like "We will never ..." (colonize the Moon, colonize Mars, develop cheap orbital launchers, etc.), but if asked to explain now, they will proceed to produce arguments to the effect that we can't do so NOW (or at best, within a decade).  And if called on their sudden shift of tense, they will either ignore one's argument, or condescendingly explain that it's "unscientific" or "immature" to speculate about anything other than the deployment of existing technology, or technology very similar to existing technology.  Which, if true, would of course negate the whole point of science-fiction.

I've discussed this issue at greater length in my "The Fear of Boundlessness" and "The Promise of Boundlessness" on this blog, but I'm glad I located the Mundane Blog.

It gives me something to laugh at, and my audience can share in the general merriment :)


(1)  What, do you protest Last and First Men or Fallen Angels?  "Climate change" does not imply "soon" or "hotter," it just implies a changing climate, in some direction over some period of time.  Not being a Mundaniac, I'm able to think flexibly in terms of deep time.

(2) I won't dignify Mundane SF with the term "tragic," because "tragedy" should be reserved for unavoidable collisions between hubris and nemesis.  This isn't Achilles meeting his fate in battle, this is Achilles deciding to beat his head aganist a rock until he suffers irreversible brain damage, just "because."

(3) Some of which are perfectly practical as auxiliary power systems, granted.  It's just that they don't work well as primary grid sources, because they are either low-density, intermittent, or geographically very limited.  Which is why the Mundaniacs love them.  Brownouts are good for the soul!

(4) Think I'm exaggerating?  Here, from the wiki summary of the Manifesto: "
  • That this dream of abundance can encourage a wasteful attitude to the abundance that is here on Earth.
In other words, we must not even dream of "abundance," lest this tempt us to waste what we have.  Right.  And when you send a kid to college, you drum it into him that he's preparing for a minimum-wage job at McDonald's.  That will make him work hard and take like seriously, won't it?

Oh, and by "abundance that is here on Earth," they mean "sufficient for everyone to live like a Third Worlder, for at least a few centuries."  Apparently the future will consist of meals of Ramen noodles with vitamin supplements, forever.

Retro Review - The Monster-God of Mamurth (Edmond Hamilton, 1926)

"Retro Review - The Monster-God of Mamurth
(Edmond Hamilton, 1926)"

(c) 2007, 2011 by Jordan S. Bassior

Synopsis: The first-person narrator of the framing story, who is not named, and his partner Mitchell, are traders in the Sahara Desert of French North Africa. An unnamed archaeologist stumbles into their camp. He is suffering from the effects of extreme exposure (1).

The archaeologist tells them the central tale.

He set out a year ago (2) from Magador (3) and went deep into the Igidi Desert in search of lost Carthaginian ruins. He found a stela erected by Drabat of Carthage, which told of a city called Mamurth which had a temple which "the like of it is not on Earth elsewhere," where is an "evil god" who has "dwelt there since the beginning of time."

Understandably unaware that he is in a horror story, the archaeologist seeks out the lost city. After a difficult journey he finds the place, with ruins spread all about. But he cannot see the temple. He does, very sinisterly, see what looks like strange giant footprints being made in the sand right before him, though he cannot see the maker!

Eventually, he literally bumps into the temple, which is still standing. And invisible: apparently whoever built it had discovered how to make solid matter invisible. There is a (sadly mistaken) reference to X-rays making things invisible (4).

The archaeologist discovers the gate leading into the temple and spends some time wandering around inside. After a while, he discovers just why the city has remained "lost." It seems that the evil god mentioned on the stela is very real: and as invisible as its temple.

Our hero tries to flee the monster, but becomes understandably disoriented in the invisible building and winds up bumping into a lot of walls. Finally he manages to fling a great block of stone down on it as he retreats up a stairway, and he crushes it. In its "thin, purple" blood (5), which bathes its body, he can plainly perceive its nature:

"It was like a giant spider, with angled limbs that were yards long, and a hairy, repellant body."

The archaeologist then escapes the temple and flees the ruined city. By bad luck (in part due to his haste) he loses his water supplies when one camel stumbles and the containers burst. This causes him to suffer from dehydration, and he was almost dead when he saw their firelight (6).

Having completed his tale, he falls asleep, and dies the next morning (7).

Mitchell and the Narrator of the Framing Story send the dead archaeologist's effects back to the little New England village from which he came (8), and vow never to venture to the ruined city themselves.


This tale has some logical holes which I have pointed out, and a flaw which was to plague much of Hamilton's early work -- an overall lack of any strong characterization (9). The archaeologist is the only character of whose personality we get much sense, and he is a stereotypical driven scientist-adventurer. The background is also only sketched: it's obvious that Hamilton, at this point, didn't know much about Morocco or the Sahara Desert, save that it was hot and dry and a good place to use camels.

Having said that, the story is told with energy and the descriptions are good. For instance, when the archaeologist kills the spider-god, we get not only sight and sound but also smell -- "the intolerable odor of a crushed insect..." Hamilton also wisely does not tell too much -- the archaeologist never deciphers the mysterious inscriptions he finds, nor does he learn much more about the ruined city than what he found on the Carthaginian stela (10). Thus, Mamurth remains a terrifying enigma.

And here's why I'm willing to cut Hamilton more than a little slack ...

This was the FIRST story he ever sold. In fact, it may have been the first story he ever completed.

Think about the first story you ever completed, Gentle Readers, and you'll probably admit that "The Monster-God of Mamurth" is a lot more readable.

Sure, one reason why it's still read today is the curiosity that it was Hamilton's first effort, and Hamilton would go on to far better things. But compare it with Lovecraft's early work, and it holds up rather well. Even the characterization is better than in early Lovecraft.

Hamilton, interestingly, said that he was primarily influenced by A. Merrit, rather than by Lovecraft. In 1926, of course, Lovecraft's better stories were yet to be written, while Merrit had already produced several works of enduring value. "Monster-God" is, however, more horrific than wondrous, and hence reminds me more of a Lovecraft tale (11).

Interestingly, this story was clearly an inspiration for one that Lovecraft was to write later in his career. He moved the location to Venus. I'm talking, of course, about "In the Walls of Eryx" (1936) which is about a man who finds himself in a similarly invisible building, though this one is more of a labyrinth.

Conclusion: This is a strong, well-written story which, despite its defects, is an indication of the great science-fiction writer that Edmond Hamilton was to become.

(1) -
 Yet, oddly, he is able to tell a long, coherent, and brilliantly descriptive tale. Hamilton really shouldn't be blamed for this: it was as much a convention of the pulps of the day as were the long written manuscripts that characters were able to write while shivering in terror in a huanted house with the Unnamable Thing right outside the door.  Really, neither is at all likely.

(2) - 1924 or 1925, assuming that the setting is contemporary to Hamilton's writing of the tale.

(3) - In Morocco. This name is now spelled "Mogador" and the city now officially called "Essaouira"

(4) - Of course, X-rays do not make solid matter invisible. It's simply that most substances are translucent to an X-ray beam, and thus X-rays can be used to image through less dense solids to see denser ones. Keep in mind that X-ray technology was as new in 1926 as the personal computer is today, and hence was a fertile field for speculation.

(5) - If its blood is visible when outside its body, why is it invisible within its body? This sounds less like the monster is transparent than that it has some sort of light-deflector field around its body -- which, now, we know to be actually possible! Of course, no one in 1926 would have known this.

(6) - This is a seriously verisimilitude-shattering moment if you think on it ... consider that one highly noticable effect of extreme dehydration is that its victims are almost speechless owing to the dessication of the tongue and larynx!

(7) - It's not really obvious why. Though it is possible -- who knows what his condition was, or what he might have been exposed to in the ruined city. He was very close to the spider-god too, more than once.  The thing might have been chemically or radioactively toxic, for all we know.

(8) -  I strongly suspect it was in Lovecraft Country ;-)

(9) - This was however common to most fantasy and science fiction written from 1920-40: the few authors who were able to do characters well (such as C. L. Moore or L. Sprague de Camp) shone in contrast.

(10) - Contrast with H. P. Lovecraft, who would have gone into detail about the city's history and just how it happened to have an invisible temple and a giant invisible spider-god.

(11) - There is also a notable absence of any Love Interest. There was almost always a beautiful, often unearthly, woman in Merrit's work, but never in Lovecraft's -- all his strong female characters are monsters in disguise. I mean that -- look at Asenath Waite, or the bride that Obed Marsh brought back from Ponape.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

"An Adventure in Futurity" (1931) by Clark Ashton Smith, with Commentary by Jordan S. Bassior


"An Adventure in Futurity"

(c) 1931 by Clark Ashton Smith

A survior from the lost continents of Mu or Atlantis, appearing on our modern streets, would have seemed no stranger, no more different from others, than the man who called himself Conrad Elkins. And yet I have always found it difficult to define, even in my own thoughts, the many elements which served to constitute this strangeness.

It would seem (since we think mainly in words and are often dependent upon them for the clarification of our ideas) that the adjectives which would fitly describe Elkins were as yet non-existent in our vocabulary; that they could be found only in some unimaginably subtle, complex and refined language, such as might be developed through long cycles of elaborating culture and civilization on an older and riper planet than ours.

Even at first sight I was greatly struck — not to say startled — by the man's personality. Perhaps the thing which arrested me more than all else was the impossibility of assigning him to any known ethnic stock (1). It is my theory that no human being is so individual that he does not possess obvious ear-marks which place him immediately among the tribes of mankind; and I am prone to pride myself on a sedulously cultivated gift for analyzing off-hand the nationality and racial affiliations of any given person.

But Elkins baffled me: his extreme pallor, his fine hair and clear-cut lineaments were, in a general sense, indicative of Caucasian origin (2); yet I could not find the distinguishing features of any American, European or Asiatic branch of the white race. Also, I could not have told his age: he seemed young, when one considered the smoothness of his face; and yet there was a hint of something incalculably old in his expression.

His garb was modish and well-tailored, with nothing in the least unusual or eccentric. In this, as in all other things, he gave always the subtle impression of desiring to avoid notice. He was a little under medium height and of strangely delicate build; and his features, considered by themselves, were almost effeminate, apart from the great brow of uncorrugated ivory, which resembled the one that we see in the portraits of Edgar Allan Poe.

The small, intricately convoluted ears, the short, deeply curved lips, and the queer exotic molding of the sensitive nostrils all seemed to bespeak the possession of more highly developed senses than are normal to mankind. His eyes were very large and luminous, of an indescribable purplish color, and did not flinch, as I had occasion to observe, before the most intense light. His hands too were quite remarkable: in their extreme fineness, flexibility and vigor, they were the hands of a super-surgeon or a super-artist.

The man's habitual expression was wholly enigmatic. No one could have read his mind, and this not from any lack of mobility or expressiveness in the lineaments themselves, but rather, I felt sure, from the unknown character of his ideas and motivations. About him there was an aura of remote, recondite knowledge, of profound wisdom and aesthetic refinement. Assuredly he was a mystery from all angles; and any one who has gone into chemistry as I have is almost inevitably a lover of mysteries. I made up my mind to learn all that I could concerning him,

I had seen Elkins a number of times, on the streets and in libraries and museums, before the beginning of our actual acquaintance. Indeed, the frequency of our meetings in the multitudinous babel of New York was so phenomenal that I soon decided that he must have lodgings near mine and was perhaps engaged in similar studies. I made inquiries regarding him from librarians and curators, but learned nothing more than his name and the fact that he had been reading the works of Havelock Ellis and other modern authorities on sex, as well as many books in biology, chemistry and physics.

The motives which prompted his visits to the Natural History and other museums were seemingly of a general nature. But evidently he was seeking to familiarize himself with certain branches of modern science as well as archaeology. Being myself a student of chemistry, who had given nearly a decade of collegiate and post-graduate effort to the subject, and also several years of independent work and experimentation in my laboratory on Washington Square, my curiosity was touched with fraternal interest when I learned of Elkins' studies.

Others than myself, I found, had been struck by the man's appearance; but no one really knew anything about him. He was extremely taciturn, volunteering no information whatever regarding himself, though impeccably polite in all his dealings with others. Apparently he desired to avoid making friends or acquaintances — a far-from-difficult procedure in any large city. Yet oddly enough I did not find it hard to know him — which, as I later learned, was due to the fact that Elkins had somehow conceived an interest in me and also was well aware of my interest.

I came upon him one May afternoon as he was standing in the Natural History Museum before a case of artifacts from the Mounds of the Mississippi Valley. To all appearance he was deeply absorbed. I had made up my mind to address him on some pretext or another, when suddenly he forestalled me.

"Has it ever occurred to you," he said in a grave, finely modulated voice, "how many civilizations have been irretrievably lost, how many have been buried by deluge, glacial action and geological cataclysm, and also by profound social upheavals with their subsequent reversions to savagery?

"And do you ever think that present-day New York will some time be as fragmentary and fabulous as Troy or Zimbabwe? That archaeologists may delve in its ruins, beneath the sevenfold increment of later cities, and find a few rusting mechanisms of disputed use, and potteries of doubtful date, and inscriptions which no one can decipher?

"I assure you, this is not only probable but certain. The very history of America, in some future epoch, will become more or less legendary; and it would surprise you to know the theories and beliefs regarding the current civilization which will some day be prevalent."

"You speak as if you had some inside information on the subject," I replied half-jestingly.

Elkins gave me a quick, inscrutable glance.

"I am interested in all such things," he said. "And by the same token, Mr. Pastor, I believe you are something of a speculative thinker yourself, along different lines. I have read your little thesis on the cosmic rays. Your idea, that these rays might become a source of illimitable power through concentration, appeals to me. I can safely say that the idea is quite ultra-modern."

I was surprised that he knew my name; but obviously he had made inquiries similar to mine. Also, of course, I was pleased by his familiarity with a treatise that was generally looked upon as being rather advanced, not to say fantastic, in its theories.

The ice being thus broken, the growth of our acquaintance was rapid. Elkins came to my rooms and laboratory many times; and I in turn was admitted to his own modest lodgings, which as I had surmised were only a few blocks away from mine on the same street.

A score of meetings, and the development of a quasi-friendship, left me as fundamentally ignorant concerning Elkins as I had been at first. I do not know why he liked me — perhaps it was the universal human need of a friend, inescapable at all times and in all places. But somehow the half-affectionate air which he soon adopted toward me did not make it any easier to ask the personal questions that seethed within me.

The more I came to know him, the more I was overcome by a sense of impossible seniority on his part — by the feeling that he must be older, and intellectually more evolved than myself, in a fashion that could not be measured by tabulated or classified knowledge. Strangely — since such a feeling has been unique in my experience — I was almost like a child before him, and grew to regard him with something of the awe which a child conceives toward an elder who is seemingly omniscient. Nor was the awe conditioned at first by anything which he actually said or did.

The furnishings of his rooms were as noncommittal as the man himself. There was nothing to seize upon as indicating his nationality and antecedents. However, I saw at once that he was a linguist, for there were books in at least four modern languages. One, which he told me he had just been reading, was a recent and voluminous German work on the physiology of sex.

"Are you really much interested in that stuff?" I ventured to ask. "There is, it seems to me, overmuch discussion and all too little knowledge regarding such matters."

"I agree with you," he rejoined. "One hears of special knowledge, but it fails to materialize on investigation. I thought that I had an object in studying this branch of twentieth century science; but now I doubt greatly if there is anything of value to be learned."

I was struck by the tone of intellectual impersonality which he maintained in all our discussions, no matter what the subject. His range of information was obviously vast, and he gave the impression of boundless reserves, though there were certain avenues of science, generally looked upon as important in our day, to which he seemed to have given only a somewhat cursory and negligent attention.

I gathered that he did not think much of current medicine and surgery; and he startled me more than once by pronouncements on electricity and astronomy that were widely at variance with accepted ideas (3). Somehow, at most times he made me feel that he was discreetly curbing the full expression of his thoughts. He spoke of Einstein with respect and seemed to regard him as the one real thinker of the age, mentioning more than once with great approval his theories concerning time and space.

Elkins showed a tactful interest in my own chemical researches; but somehow I felt that he looked upon them as being rather elementary. Once in an unguarded manner, he spoke of the transmutation of metals as if it were already an accomplished everyday fact; explaining the reference, when I questioned him, as a rhetorical flight of imagination in which he had lost himself for the moment.

The late spring and early summer passed, and the mystery which had drawn me to Elkins was still unsolved. I did indeed learn from a casual remark that he was a native of North America — which failed to render his ethnic distinction any the less baffling. I decided that he must represent a reversion to some type whose lineaments have not been preserved in history, or must be one of those rare individuals who anticipate in themselves a whole era of the future evolution of the race. I will not deny that the truth occurred to me more than once; but how was I to know that the truth was a thing so utterly improbable?

Much as I had grown to admire and even revere him, Elkins was to me the most incomprehensible and alien being on earth; and I sensed in him a thousand differences of thought and emotion, and a world of unfamiliar knowledge which for some reason he was trying to withhold from my apprehension.

One day, toward the end of the summer, he said to me:

"I must leave New York before long, Hugh."

I was startled, since hitherto he had made no reference to leaving or to the duration of his stay.

"You are returning home, perhaps? I hope it will at least be possible for us to keep in touch with each other."

He gave me a long, unreadable glance.

"Yes, I am going home. But, odd as it may seem to you, there will be no possibility of future communication between us. We part for all time — unless you should care to accompany me."

My curiosity seethed anew at his cryptic words. Yet somehow I was still unable to ask the questions that arose to my lips.

"If you mean that as an invitation," I said, "I shall be glad to accept and pay you a visit sometime."

"Yes, it is an invitation," he rejoined gravely. "But before accepting, would you not prefer to know where you are going? Perhaps, when you hear the truth, you will not care to accept. And perhaps you will not even believe me.

For once, my inquisitiveness was stronger than my respect.

"Do you live on Mars or Saturn, then ?" He smiled. "No, I am a denizen of the Earth; though it may surprise you, in the present infantile condition of astronautics, to learn that I have made more than one voyage to Mars. I realize your natural curiosity concerning me; and an explanation is now necessary. If, when you have learned the truth, you still care to accompany me as my guest, I shall be overjoyed to take you with me and to offer you my hospitality for as long as you wish to remain."

He paused a moment. "The mystery that has troubled you will be fully explained when I tell you that I am not a man of your own era, but have come from a period far in the future — or what is known to you as the future. According to your notation, my proper time is about 15,000 A. D. My real name is Kronous Alkon — I have assumed the vaguely analogous one of Conrad Elkins, as well as the speech and garb of your time, for reasons which will be fairly obvious.

"At present I shall give you only a brief summary of the causes which prompted my visit to the twentieth century. It would require a long discourse to even offer you an adequate sketch of our social anatomy and problems; and I speak merely of one aspect.

"Humanity in our age is menaced with gradual extinction through an increasing overpreponderance of male children; and a method of sex-control, which would restore in some degree the balance of nature, is urgently desired.

"Your age, the first great mechanistic era, is a well-nigh mythical period to us, and less known even than certain earlier periods, because of the all-engulfing savagery to which man reverted at its end. There ensued long dark ages, through which only the most fragmentary records survived, along with a legendry of vast, uncouth machines which the superstition of peoples identified with avenging demons. Perhaps they were not without reason, since the abuse of machinery was one of the main causes of your débâcle.

"Also, there remained a widespread popular belief, accepted even now by many of our scientists, that the people of the twentieth century could determine at will the sex of their offspring; and that the secret of this determination was lost in the ensuing barbarism, along with certain minor secrets of chemistry and metallurgy which no later civilization has ever re-discovered (4).

"The former belief has no doubt arisen because the sexes are well known to have been numerically equal in your time; and because they have not been equal since. For many thousands of years after the rebuilding of an enlightened civilization on the ruins of yours, girl-children predominated; and the whole world became a matriarchy.

"The period known as the Amazonian wars, which were the most sanguinary and merciless wars in history, put an end to the matriarchy by wiping out all but a few hundred thousand of the human race. These reverted to the most primitive conditions: there were more dark ages, and then, slowly, the evolution of our present cycle of renewed culture, in which the male predominates both numerically and intellectually (5). But our difficulties were not over.

"It was to recover the fabled secret of sex-determination that I came back through the ages, and have lived among you for a full year of twentieth century time. It has been a fascinating experience, and I have learned many things regarding the antique world which are altogether unknown and unverifiable to my fellows.

"Your crude, cumbrous machines and buildings are not unimpressive in their way; and your science is not without a few inklings of our later discoveries. But obviously you know even less regarding the mysterious laws of biology and sex than we do (6); your supposed method of determination is truly fabulous, and I have no reason for tarrying any longer in an alien epoch.

"Now to become personal. Hugh, you are the only friend I have cared to make in the epoch. Your mind is in some respects beyond the age; and though everything will seem different to you in our time, and much will be incomprehensible, I am sure you will find a surpassing interest in the world of 15,000 A. D. I shall of course provide you with a safe means of return to your own era whenever you wish. Will you go with me, Hugh ?"

I could not reply for a moment. I was awed, astonished, bewildered even to stupefaction by the remarkable things that my friend had just told me. His statements were no less than miraculous — yet somehow they were not incredible. I did not doubt his veracity for an instant. After all, it was the only logical explanation of everything that puzzled me in Conrad Elkins.

"Of course I'll go with you," I cried, overcome and dazzled by the strange opportunity which he offered me.

There were a hundred obvious questions that I wanted to ask Elkins. Anticipating certain of these, he said:

"The machine in which I traveled through time is a vessel commonly used among us for space-travel. I will explain to you later the modification of the original mechanism which rendered possible a journey in that fourth-dimensional space known as time. I have reason to believe that the invention is wholly unique and has never been duplicated.

"I had nurtured for many years my project for visiting your period; and in preparation for this, I made a prolonged study of all available historic data bearing thereon, as well as the archaeological and literary remains of antique America. As I have said, the remains are fragmentary; but the language, being the root-stock of our own tongue, is fairly well-known to our scholars.

"I took pains to master it as far as possible; though I have since found that some of our pronunciations and definitions are erroneous; also, that the vocabulary is much ampler than we had supposed.

"I studied likewise the costumes of your period, of which a few plates are still extant, and made for myself habiliments which would enable me to pass unnoticed upon my arrival."

Elkins paused, and went to his clothes-closet. He opened it and brought out a suit of some soft brown fabric. It was not badly tailored, though the cut was unfamiliar. Later, I found that the actual plate from which it had been designed belonged to the year 1940, ten years in advance of our own date.

Elkins went on. "My departure was carefully planned, and I am supposed to have gone on a voyage to the asteroids, several of which, notably Pallas, Vesta and Ceres, have been colonized by human beings for hundreds of years past (7).

"I made the actual time-journey in a state of unconsciousness. This, as you will soon learn, was inevitable because of the temporary abstraction from everything that creates or contributes to what we know as consciousness. I was prepared for it, and had made all the necessary calculations and adjustments beforehand, and had carefully synchronized the movement of the vessel in the time-dimension with the movement of the earth and the solar system in space. Geographically speaking, I would not move an inch during the entire trip (8).

"Rising to an elevation of thirty thousand feet above the earth, I started the time-mechanism. There was a period of absolute oblivion (a second or a million years would have seemed the same) and then, with the ceasing of the time-flight, I recovered my senses. Knowing that I was now in the twentieth century, if my calculations were correct, and not choosing to advertise my strangeness, I sought for a place where I could land quietly and without detection.

"The place which I selected after much circumnavigation and study was an inaccessible cliff in the Catskill Mountains, far from any settlement. There I descended at night and left my machine, whose presence was indetectible either from below or above. I finished my descent of the cliff by the use of an anti-gravitational device, and made my way from the wilderness.

"The next day I was in New York, where, for the most part, I have remained ever since and have carried on unobtrusively my studies of your civilization. For monetary needs, I had brought with me some disinterred coins of your period, and also a few small ingots of chemically wrought gold." (9).

He showed me one of the coins — a silver dollar that was stained almost beyond recognition, like an ancient obolus, by the oxidation of untold centuries. Then he brought out another garment from the clothes-closet — a short flaring tunic of dull red with a long graceful mantle that could be detached at will, since it was fastened to the shoulders by two clasps of carven silver. The fabric, as well as the garment itself, was strange to me. Kronous also brought out a pair of sandals, vaguely resembling those of the ancients, though they were not made of leather but of some stiff, indestructible cloth (10).

"This," he said, "is the raiment in which I left Akameria, the America of 15,000 A. D. I will have a similar tunic made for you by some costume-tailor here in New York — and also sandals, though I suppose the sandals will have to be made of leather, since the material used in these is a chemical product of my own time. I am planning to leave the day after tomorrow, and I hope that will not be too soon for you.

"Indeed it won't," I replied. "I haven't many preparations to make — there's nothing to do but lock up the laboratory and phone a few friends that I am leaving for a world-tour of indefinite length. I don't imagine there'll be any search-parties."

Two days later, with an hour of daylight still before us, Elkins and I had reached the base of the unsurmountable cliff on which the time-machine was hidden. The last four hours of our journey had been on foot. We were in the wildest section of the Catskills; and staring up at the terrible mountain-wall, I felt an increased awe of my strange companion, who seemed to have no doubt whatever of his ability to scale it.

He opened a small satchel, whose contents he had not hitherto revealed to me, and took out the anti-gravitational device of which he had spoken. The thing was a hollow disk of some dull, unidentifiable metal, with chains of an equally ambiguous material which secured it to the body. Elkins showed me the simple operation of the mechanism which, he said, was electronic in its nature. Then he strapped it to his chest, set the apparatus running, and rose slowly in air till he reached the top of the precipice. There he disappeared from view; but a few moments later, the metal disk was lowered at the end of a long cord for my use in surmounting the cliff.

Following directions, I proceeded to adjust the mechanism and start it going. The feeling of utter weightlessness as I floated upward was a most unique experience. It was as if I were a feather wafted on an imperceptible air-current. Being unused to the apparatus, I did not understand the finer technique of movement beneath its influence; and when I came to the cliff-edge I would have continued to drift skyward if my companion had not reached out and stopped me.

I found myself standing beside him on a broad ledge overhung by another cliff which rose immediately above it. Certainly Elkins could not have chosen a safer hiding-place for this time-machine.

The vessel itself, whose door he now proceeded to unlock, was a long, spindle-shaped affair, evidently designed for swift movement in air or ether. It could not have carried more than three people. Inside, it was lined with lockers and machinery, and three great slings or cradles in which the driver and passengers were immovably suspended. This of course, was requisite during the loss of gravity and normal weight in ether-flight. Elkins said that he had found it equally convenient to strap himself into one of the slings during his voyage in time (11).

Both of us were still dressed in twentieth century attire. Elkins now donned the tunic and sandals of his own age (12), which he had brought along in the satchel together with the duplicates that had been made for me by a somewhat mystified costumer. These Elkins directed me to put on. I obeyed, feeling like a masquerader in the odd garb.

"That is the last of Conrad Elkins," said my companion, pointing to his discarded suit. "Henceforth you must call me Kronous Alkon. Your name will seem pretty outlandish among us; so I think I will introduce you as Huno Paskon, a young colonial born on Pallas."

Kronous Alkon now busied himself with the machinery of the vessel. This, to my untrained eye, was awesomely intricate. He adjusted a series of movable rods that were set in a notched board, and seemed to be winding up a clock-like apparatus with a numbered dial and three hands. There were hundreds — perhaps thousands — of figures on the dial.

"That," he said, "is to control within precise limits the extent of our forward movement in the time-dimension. We are all set for the proper year, month and day."

He now fastened me, and then himself, in the complicated slings, and turned to a small key-board with many knobs and levers, which seemed to be distinct from the rest of the machinery.

"These," he said, "are the controls for atmosphere and ether-flight. Before turning on the time-power, I shall rise to a higher altitude and fly south for about fifty miles."

He turned one of the knobs. There was a low, drumming sound; but I would not have been conscious of any movement, if a sudden sunset glow through the vessel's ports had not shown that we were rising above the level of the cliffs.

After a few minutes, Kronous Alkon moved one of the levers; and the drumming ceased. "The power of space-flight," he said, "is provided by atomic disintegration. Now, for the time-flight, I shall make use of a very different kind of power — a strange, complex energy derived from the repercussion of cosmic rays, which will transport us into what, for lack of a better name, is called the fourth dimension (13).

"Properly speaking, we will be outside of space, and, from a mundane view-point, will be non-existent. I assure you however that there is no danger. When the time-power shuts off automatically in 15,000 A.D., you and I will awaken as if from a deep sleep. The sensation of dropping off may prove rather terrific, but no more so than the taking of certain anaesthetics. Simply let yourself go and realize that there is nothing to fear."

He seized a large rod and gave it a powerful jerk. I felt as if I had received an electric shock that was tearing all my tissues apart and disintegrating me into my ultimate cells and molecules. In spite of the reassurance of Kronous Alkon, I was overwhelmed by an unspeakably confusing terror. I had the sensation of being divided into a million selves, all of which were whirling madly downward in the maelstrom of a darkening gulf. They seemed to go out one by one like sparks as they reached a certain level; till soon all were gone, and there was nothing anywhere but darkness and unconsciousness . . . . (14)

I came to myself in a manner which was like the direct reversal of my descent into oblivion. First, there was that sense of remote and spark-like entities, which increased to a multitude, all of them drifting upward in cosmic gloom from an ultimate nadir; and then the gradual merging of these entities into one, as the interior of the time-machine resumed coherent outline around me (15). Then I saw before me the figure of Kronous Alkon, who had twisted about in his sling, and was smiling as he met my gaze. It seemed to me that I had slept for a long, long time.

My companion pressed a knob, and I had the feeling of one who descends in an elevator. It was not necessary for Kronous Alkon to tell me that we were sinking earthward. In less than a minute, trees and buildings were visible through the ports, and there was a slight jar as we landed.

"Now," said Kronous, "we are on my country estate near Djarma, the present capital of Akameria. Djarma is built on the ruins of the city of New York, but is hundreds of miles inland, since there have been extensive geologic changes during the past 13,000 years. You will find that the climate is different too, for it is now sub-tropical. Weather conditions are pretty much under human control, and we have even reduced by artificial means the permanent areas of ice and snow at the poles." (16)

He had unstrapped himself and was performing the same service for me. Then he opened the door of the vessel and motioned me to precede him. I was met by wafts of warm, perfume-laden air as I stepped out on a stone platform adjoining a sort of aerodrome — a great, shining edifice in which were housed various air-craft of unfamiliar types.

Not far away was another building, marked by a light, graceful architecture, with many tiers of open galleries, and high, fantastic, Eiffel-like towers. There were extensive gardens around this building; and broad fields of vegetables that I did not recognize ran away on each side of the distance. Somewhat apart, there stood a group of long, one-storied houses (17).

"My home," said Kronous. "I trust that everything is well. I left the estate in charge of my two cousins, Altus and Oron. Also, there is Trogh the Martian overseer, and a barracoon of Venusian slaves, who do all the agricultural labor. All our necessary menial and industrial tasks are performed by such slaves, who have been imported to earth for many generations, and are now becoming a problem in themselves. I hope there has not been any trouble during my absence." (18)

I noticed that Kronous had taken from an inner pocket of his tunic a small rod, vaguely resembling a flash-light and having a ball of red glass or crystal at one end. This he was carrying in his hand.

"An electronic projector," he explained. "The current paralyzes, but does not kill, at any distance up to fifty yards (19). Sometimes we have to use such weapons when the slaves are recalcitrant. The Venusians are a low, vicious type and require careful handling.

We started toward the house, whose lower stories were half-concealed by tall trees and massed shrubbery. No sign of life was manifest, as we followed a winding path among fountains of colored marble, and palms and rhododendrons, and baroque, unearthly-looking plants and flowers that would have baffled a present-day botanist. Kronous told me that some of these latter were importations from Venus. The hot, humid air was saturated with odors which I found oppressive, but which Kronous appeared to inhale with delight.

Rounding a sharp turn in the path, we came to an open lawn immediately in front of the house. Here an unexpected and terrific scene revealed itself (20). Two men, attired like Kronous, and a huge, barrel-chested, spindle-legged being with an ugly head like that of a hydrocephalous frog, were fronting a horde of bestial creatures who would have made the Neanderthal man look like an example of classic beauty in comparison.

There must have been a score of these beings, many of whom were armed with clubs and stones, which they were hurling at the three who opposed them. Their brown-black bodies were clothed only with patches and tufts of coarse, purple hair; and perhaps half of their number were adorned with thick, bifurcated tails. These I learned later, were the females — the males, for some obscure evolutionary reason, being undistinguished in this respect (21).

"The slaves!" cried Kronous, as he ran forward with his projector leveled. Following him, I saw the fall of one of the two men beneath the impact of a large stone. A dozen of the slaves were lying senseless on the lawn; and I could see that the persons they were attacking were armed with projectors (22).

Our approach had not been noticed; and Kronous made deadly use of his weapon at close range, stretching slave after slave on the ground. Turning, and apparently recognizing their master, the remainder began to disperse sullenly. Their rout was completed by the heavy-chested giant, who hurled after them with his catapult-like arms much of the ammunition which they had dropped on beholding Kronous.

"I fear that Altus is badly hurt," said Kronous as we joined the little group on the lawn. The other man, whom Kronous now introduced to me as his cousin Oron, was stooping over the fallen figure and examining a hidden wound from which blood was streaming heavily amid the fine black hair. Oron, who acknowledged the introduction with a courteous nod, had himself been cut and bruised by several missiles (23).

The introduction had been made in English. Kronous and Oron now began to talk in a language that I could not understand. Apparently some explanation was being made regarding myself, for Oron gave me a quick, curious glance. The giant had ceased hurling stones and clubs after the departing Venusians, and now came to join us.

"That is Trogh, the Martian overseer," said Kronous to me. "Like all of his race he is extremely intelligent. They are an old people with an immemorial civilization that has followed a different trend from ours but is not therefore necessarily inferior; and we of earth have learned much from them, though they are highly reserved and secretive." (24)

The reddish-yellow body of the Martian was attired only in a black loin-cloth. His squat, toad-like features, under the high, bulging, knobby head, were impossible to read; and I was chilled by the sense of an unbridgeable evolutionary gulf as I looked into his icy green eyes.

Culture, wisdom, power, were manifest behind his gaze, but in forms that no human being was properly fitted to understand. He spoke in a harsh, guttural voice, evidently using human language, though the words were difficult to recognize as being in any way related to those employed by Kronous and Oron, because of an odd prolongation of the vowels and consonants (25).

Carrying among us the still unconscious form of Altus, Oron, Kronous, Trogh and myself entered the portico of the nearby house. Both the architecture and the material of this building were the most beautiful I had ever seen. Much use was made of arabesque arches and light decorative pillars. The material, which resembled a very translucent onyx, was, as Kronous told me, in reality a synthetic substance prepared by atomic transmutation (26).

Within, there were many couches covered with unknown opulent fabrics of superb design. The rooms were large, with lofty, vaulted ceilings; and in many cases were divided only by rows of pillars, or by tapestries. The furniture was of much beauty, with light, curving lines that conformed to the architecture; and some of it was made from gem-like materials and gorgeous metals that I could not name. There were scores of paintings and statues, mainly of the most bizarre and fantastic nature, and testifying to supreme technical skill. I learned that some of the paintings were first-hand depictions of scenes on alien planets (27).

We laid Altus on a couch. The man was indeed severely injured, and his breathing was slow and faint. In all likelihood he had suffered some degree of brain-concussion.

Kronous brought out a bulb-shaped mechanism ending in a hollow cone, which, he explained to me, was the generator of a force known as osc — a super-electric energy used in the treatment of wounds as well as of illness in general. It was of sovereign power in restoring the normal processes of health, no matter what the cause of derangement might be (28).

When the generator was set in action by Kronous, I saw the emission of a green light from the hollow end, falling on the head of the wounded man. The pulse of Altus became stronger and he stirred a little, but did not awaken as yet. When Kronous turned off the green ray after a few minutes, he asked me to examine the wound; and I found that it was already beginning to heal.

"Altus will be perfectly well in two or three days," said Kronous.

"The real problem," he went on, "is the Venusians — and not only for me but for everyone else. It was a dreadful mistake to bring them to earth in the beginning; they are not only ferocious and intractable, but they breed with the most appalling fecundity, in opposition to the dwindling numbers of the human race. Already they outnumber us five to one; and in spite of our superior knowledge and weapons, I believe that they constitute our worst menace. All that they require is a little organization"  (29).

Evening had now fallen. Trogh had retired to his own quarters, presided over by his Martian wife, at some distance from the house. A meal consisting mainly of delicious fruit and vegetables, most of which were new to me, was served by Oron. I learned that one of the vegetables was a species of truffle imported from Venus. After we had eaten, a strong, delicately flavored liqueur, made from a fruit that vaguely resembled both the peach and the pineapple, was brought out in deep, slender glasses of crystal.

Kronous now spoke at some length. He told me that he had already confided the truth concerning his time-voyage and myself to Oron. "The reason I did not want my trip to be known," he said, "is because of the mechanical principle involved, which might be stolen or duplicated by some other inventor. And I am dubious of its value to mankind in general.

"We of the present era have learned not to abuse mechanical devices in the gross manner of earlier generations; but even so, it is not well that man should know too much. We have conquered space, and the conquest has entailed new perils. On the whole, I think it would be better if the conquest of time should remain an isolated exploit (30). I can trust Oron, and also Altus, to keep the secret."

He went on to speak of various things which he felt that it was necessary for me to know. "You will find," he soliloquized, "that our world is motivated by desires and ambitions very different from those which are most prevalent in your own. The mere struggle for existence, for wealth and power, is almost alien to our comprehension. Crime is extremely rare among us, and we have few problems of administration or government. When such occur, they are submitted to the arbitration of a board of scientists.

"We have infinite leisure; and our aspirations are toward the conquest of remote knowledge, the creation of rare art-forms, and the enjoyment of varied intellectual and aesthetic sensations, aided by the long life-span, averaging three or four hundred years, which our mastery of disease has made possible. (I myself am 150 years old, as it may surprise you to learn.)

"I am not sure, however, that this mode of life has been wholly to our advantage. Perhaps through the very lack of struggle, of hardship, of difficulty, we are becoming effete and effeminate. But I think we will be put to a severe test before long.

"Coming as you have from a commercial age," he went on, "it will no doubt interest you to be told that half of our own commerce is interplanetary. There are whole fleets of ether-craft that ply between the earth, Mars, Venus, the moon and the asteroids. However, we are on the whole not a commercial people. Apart from those of us who have chosen to live in cities, the remainder are mostly the owners of large plantations where everything necessary is produced or manufactured by slave-labor. It is, of course, only our dwindling numbers that have made this system possible (31).

"We possess the power, if we so desire, of manufacturing everything through a mode of chemical synthesis. However, we find that natural food-stuffs are preferable to the synthetic kind; and we make less use of our knowledge in this regard than you might suppose. Perhaps the chief use of our mastery of atomic conversion is in the making of fabrics and building-materials (32).

"There is much more that I might tell you; but you will see and learn for yourself. Tomorrow morning, Oron and myself will begin to instruct you in our language."

Thus began several quiet weeks of life on Kronous' estate. I made rapid progress in the language, which bore about the same relation to English that English bears to Latin. I was given access to a fine and extensive library filled with the latest scientific works, with fiction and poetry of the latter-day world, and also a few rare items dating from periods which, though long subsequent to our own time, were nevertheless buried in the dust of antiquity. On several occasions Kronous took me through his laboratory, in which he could perform the most incredible marvels of atomic transformation, and feats of microscopic analysis that revealed a whole world in the electron. I realized that the science of our time was child's-play compared with that of the era into which I had been transported.

One day Kronous showed me a cabinet full of objects that had been recovered from the ruins of New York and other antique cities. Among them were porcelain dinner-plates, Masonic emblems, pearl necklaces, China door-knobs, twenty dollar gold-pieces, and spark-plugs. The sight of them, and the realization of their extreme age, combined with their homely familiarity, aroused in me the most violent nostalgia — an intolerably desperate homesickness for my own period. This feeling lasted for days; and Kronous did not show me any more ancient relics.

Altus had recovered fully from his wound; and I heard of no more insubordination from the slaves of Kronous. However, I could not forget the terrible scene which had formed my initiation into life on the estate. I saw many times the savage-looking Venusians, who went about their agricultural labors with a sullen air of mindless brooding (33); and I was told much concerning them.

Their ancestors were inhabitants of the deep and noisomely luxuriant jungles of Venus, where they lived under the most primitive conditions, in perpetual conflict with terrible animals and insects, and also with each other. They were cannibalistic by nature, and their habits in this respect had proven hard to curb. Every now and then on the plantation one of their number would disappear surreptitiously.

The slave-trade had flourished for several centuries, but had languished of late years, since those brought to earth had now multiplied in excess of the required quota. The original Venusian slaves were mostly, though not all, the captives of tribal raids and wars; and they had been purchased very cheaply by terrestrial traders in exchange for alcoholic liquors and edged weapons.

However, the Venusians had been willing to sell even members of their own tribes. Apparently there was little attachment or loyalty among them; and their instincts were those of wolves and tigers (34).

The Martians had come to earth mainly as traders; though their services were sometimes procurable for such positions as the one held by Trogh. They were taciturn and aloof; but they had permitted certain of their chemical and astronomical discoveries to be utilized by human beings.

They were a philosophical race, much given to dreaming, and were universally addicted to the use of a strange drug, known as gnultan, the juice of a Martian weed. This drug was more powerful than opium or hashish, and gave rise to even wilder visions, but its effects were physically harmless. Its use had spread among human beings, till a law was passed forbidding its importation. It was still smuggled both by Martians and Terrestrials, in spite of all the efforts made to stop it; and addiction to the drug was still fairly common among humanity (35).

By means of radio and television, both of which were now employed in vastly simplified and improved forms, Kronous and his cousins were in hourly touch with the whole world of their time, and even with the earth-stations on Mars, Venus, the moon and the larger asteroids. I was privileged to see in their televisors many scenes that would have appeared like the maddest visions of delirium back in 1930 (36).

We were posted on all the news of the world; and with my growing mastery of the language, I soon came to the point where I no longer required the interpretation of Kronous to understand the announcements. Much of this news was not reassuring, but served to confirm the prophetic fears that had been voiced by my host.
There were daily outbreaks on the part of Venusian slaves all over the planet; and in many cases much damage was inflicted before they could be subdued. Also, these outbreaks were beginning to display a mysterious concertion and a degree of mentality of which the Venusians had not hitherto been believed capable.

Acts of sabotage, as well as personal assaults, were increasingly common; and the sabotage in particular often showed a rational intelligence. Even at this early date, there were those who suspected that the Venusians were being aided and incited by the Martians; but there was no tangible proof of such abetting at the time.

One day, from Djarma, there came the news of that bizarre minerals plague known as the Black Rot. One by one the buildings in the suburbs of Djarma were being attacked by this novel disease, which caused their synthetic stone and metal to dissolve inch by inch in a fine black powder. The Rot was the work of a micro-organism which must some how have been introduced from Venus, where its ravages had been noted in certain mountain-ranges. Its appearance on earth was a mystery, but had all the air of another act of sabotage. It was capable of devouring half the elements known to chemistry; and off-hand, nothing could be discovered to arrest its progress, though all the Akamerian chemists were at work on the problem.
Kronous and I watched in the televisor the working of the Black Rot. Somehow, it was inexpressibly terrifying to see the slowly spreading area of silent and utter devastation, the crumbled or half-eaten buildings from which the occupants had fled. The thing had started on the outskirts of Djarma, and was steadily devouring the city in an ever-broadening arc (37).

All the best-known scientists of Akameria were summoned in conclave at Djarma to study the Rot and devise if possible a means of retardation. Kronous, who was a renowned chemist and microscopist, was among those called upon. He offered to take me with him, and of course I accepted with the utmost eagerness.

The trip was a matter of no more than forty miles, and we made it in a light air-vessel belonging to Kronous — a sort of monoplane run by atomic power.

Though I had already familiarized myself with many of the scenes of Djarma by television, the city was a source of absorbing fascination to me. It was far smaller than New York and was widely spaced, with many gardens and exuberant semi-tropical parks meandering through its whole extent. The architecture was nearly all of the same open, aerial type that I had seen in Kronous' home. The streets were broad and spacious and there were comparatively few large buildings. The whole effect was one of supreme grace and beauty.

The streets were not overcrowded with people, and no one ever seemed to be in a hurry. It was strange to see the grotesque Martians and bestial Venusians mingling everywhere with humans of the same type as Kronous. The stature and build of Kronous were above the average and it was rare to see a man who was taller than five feet six inches. I, of course, with my five feet eleven, was very conspicuous and attracted much attention.

The conclave of savants was being held in a large edifice, built expressly for such meetings, at the heart of Djarma. Entering, we found that about two hundred men, some of whom were extremely old and venerable, had already gathered in the council chamber. Much general discussion was going on; and those who had ideas to suggest were listened to in respectful silence. Kronous and I took seats amid the gathering. So intent were all these men on the problem to be solved, that few of them even vouchsafed me a curious glance.
Peering at the faces about me, I was awed by an impression of supreme intellectuality and wisdom — the garnered lore of incalculable ages. Also, on many of these countenances I perceived the marks of a world-old ennui, and the stamp of a vague sterility, an incipient decadence.

For some time, Kronous and I listened to the discussion that was in progress. Pondering the various data brought forward, I was struck by the fact that all the elements assailed by the Black Rot belonged at the opposite end of the scale from radium in regard to their atomic activity and explosiveness.

Sotto voce, I commented on this to Kronous. "Is it not possible," I suggested, "that radium might be of some use in combatting the plague? I believe you have told me that radium, like any other element, is easily manufacturable nowadays." (38)

"That is a striking inspiration," said Kronous thoughtfully. "And it might be worth trying. With our chemical mastery we can make all the radium we need at will in our laboratories. With your permission I am going to broach the idea."

He arose and spoke briefly amid the attentive silence of the assembly. "Credit for the idea," he announced as he ended, "must be given to Huno Paskon, a young colonial from Pallas, whom I have brought to earth as my guest."

I felt myself abashed by the grave, unanimous gaze of these erudite and revered savants, who all eyed me in a manner that I could not fathom. Somehow, it seemed unthinkably presumptuous to have made any suggestion in their presence.

However, there appeared to me much serious debate going on — a widespread discussion in which the proposed use of radium was manifestly meeting with great favor. At last a venerable savant named Argo Kan, who was spokesman of the assembly, rose and said:

"I vote for an immediate trial of the method suggested by Kronous Alkon and Huno Paskon."

Others, one by one, stood up and cast similar verbal votes, till the motion had been approved by nearly everyone present.

The meeting then dispersed, and I learned from Kronous that work was being immediately begun in local laboratories for the preparation of radium on a large scale and its utilization in the most effective form.

In less than an hour, several chemists were ready to visit the area of destruction with portable machines in which radium was disintegrated and used as a fine spray. It was magical in arresting the Black Rot which had been eating its way continuously into the city, creeping from house to house along the crumbling pavements. The whole affected area, which now covered several square miles, was soon surrounded by a cordon of men equipped with the radium-machines; and, to the vast relief of the people of Djarma and Akameria, the plague was pronounced under control (40).

During our stay in Djarma, Kronous and I were guests in a fine building set apart for the use of visiting scientists. I was amazed at the sybaritic luxury developed by this people — a luxury which, though illimitably and unimaginably resourceful, was at no time in excess of the bounds of good taste.

There were baths that would have been the envy of a Roman emperor, and beds that would have reduced Cleopatra to beggary. We were lulled by rich, aerial music from no visible source, and were served with food and with all other necessities as if by intangible hands, at the mere verbal expression of a wish.
Of course, there was a mechanical secret to such wonders; but the secret was cleverly hidden, and the means never obtruded itself (40). Humbly I realized how far ahead of ourselves were these men of 15,000 A.D., with their quiet and consummate mastery of natural laws — a mastery which none of them seemed to regard as being of any great value or importance.

I was somewhat embarrassed by the honor paid to myself as the originator of a means of retarding the Black Rot, and could only feel that my inspiration had been merely a fortunate accident. Compliments, both written and verbal, were showered upon me by scientific dignitaries; and it was only through the intercession of Kronous, who explained my aversion to publicity, that I was able to avoid numerous invitations.

Finding that he had certain business to transact, Kronous was not ready to return to his estate for several days. Since he could not devote all of his time to me, I formed the habit of going for long walks on the streets of Djarma and through its environs.

Walking slowly amid the changing scenes of a metropolis has always been a source of unending fascination for me. And of course, in this unfamiliar city of the future, where all was new and different, the lure of such wanderings was more than doubled. And the sensations of knowing that I trod above the ruins of New York, separated from my own period by 13,000 years with their inconceivable historic and telluric vicissitudes, was about the weirdest feeling that I had ever experienced.

It was a strange spectacle through which I sauntered. Vehicles were used, of a light, noiseless, gliding type without visible means of propulsion; and there were many air-vessels which flew deftly and silently overhead and discharged their passengers on the roofs or balconies of the high buildings (41). And the landing or departure of great, shinning ether-ships was an hourly occurrence. However, it was the throng of foot-passengers which engaged my attention most.

Both sexes and all ages were attired in gaily colored costumes. I was impressed by the practical absence of noise, tumult and hurry; all was orderly, tranquil, unconfused. From the scarcity of women in the crowd, I realized how true were the racial fears expressed by Kronous. The women whom I saw were seldom beautiful or attractive according to 20th Century standards; in fact, there was something almost lifeless and mechanical about them, almost sexless.

It was as if the sex had long reached the limit of its evolutionary development and was now in a state of stagnation or virtual retrogression. Such, I learned from Kronous, was indeed the case. But these women, because of their rarity and their value to the race were shielded and protected with great care. Polyandry was prevalent; and romantic love, or even strong passion, were unknown things in this latter-day world (42).

A horrible homesickness came over me at times as I roamed amid this alien throng and peered into shop-windows where outlandish food-stuffs and curiously wrought fabrics from foreign planets were often displayed. And the feeling would increase whenever I approached the Martian quarter, where dwelt a considerable colony of these mysterious outsiders.

Some of them had transported their own many-angled and asymmetrical architecture to earth. Their houses defied the rules of geometry — one might almost say those of gravity; and the streets about them were full of exotic odors, among which the stupefying reek of the drug gnultan was predominant. The place allured me, even though it disturbed me; and I strolled often through the tortuous alleys, beyond which I would reach the open country and wander among luxuriant fields and palmy woods that were no less baffling and unfamiliar than the scenes of the City (43).

One afternoon I started out later than usual. As I passed through the city, I noticed that there were few Venusians in the throng and overheard rumours of fresh revolts. However, I paid little attention to these at the time.

Twilight had overtaken me when I turned back from the open country toward the Martian quarter. The sylvan wilderness, in which I had never met many people, was quieter than usual. I was following a narrow path bordered with thick shrubbery and palmettoes; and I began to hurry with a vague apprehensiveness, remembering the rumors I had heard. Heretofore I had been unafraid; but now in the thickening twilight I was aware of some indefinible menace; and I remembered that I had foolishly forgotten to arm myself with the electronic projector which Kronous had given me to carry in my wanderings.

I had not seen anyone in the neighborhood. But now, as I went along, I scrutinized the deepening shadows of the shrubbery on each side of the path. Suddenly I heard a sound behind me that was like the scuffling of heavy naked feet; and turning saw that seven or eight Venusians, several of them armed with clubs, were closing in upon me. They must have been crouching amid the leafage as I passed.

Their eyes gleamed like those of ravenous wolves in the twilight; and they uttered low, snarling, animal noises as they hurled themselves upon me. I avoided the viciously swinging weapons of the foremost and laid him out with a neat upper-cut; but the others were at me in a moment, using indiscriminately their clubs and dirty talons. I was aware of claws that tore my clothing and slashed my flesh; and then something descended upon my head with a dull crash, and I went down through reeling flame and whirling darkness to utter insensibility.

When I came to myself I was conscious at first only of my pain-racked head and limbs. The crown of my head was throbbing violently from the blow I had received. Then I heard a mutter of thick unhuman voices, and opening my eyes, beheld the flame-lit faces and bodies of a score of Venusians who were dancing around a great fire. I was lying on my back; and it required only a tentative effort at movement to tell me that my hands and feet were bound. Another man, similarly bound and perhaps dead or dying, was stretched on the ground beside me.

I lay still, deeming it inadvisable to let the Venusians know that I had recovered consciousness, and watched the lurid scene. It was something out of Dante's Inferno, with the red reflection that ran bloodily on the uncouth, hairy limbs and hideous, demoniacal features of the interplanetary slaves. Their movements, though they had a semblance of some rude, horrible rhythm, were nearer to the capering of animals than they were to the dancing of even the lowest terrestrial savages; and I could not help but wonder that such beings had mastered the art of lighting a fire.

The use of fire, I was told, had been unknown to them in their own world till the advent of men. I remembered hearing also that they sometimes employed it nowadays in their cannibalistic revels, having acquired a taste for cooked meat. Likewise it was rumored of late that they were not averse to human flesh and that more than one unfortunate had fallen a victim to their practices.

Such reflections were not conducive to my peace of mind. Also, I was oddly disturbed by a large sheet of metal grating, lying near the fire and having a grotesque resemblance to a giant gridiron, which was visible at intervals between the whirling figures. At second glance I recognized it as a sort of perforated tray which was used in the dehydration of various fruits. It was about eight feet in length by four in width.

Suddenly I heard a whisper from the man beside me, whom I had supposed unconscious.

"They are waiting for the fire to die down," he said, almost inaudibly. "Then they will broil us alive over the coals on that sheet of metal.

I shuddered, though the information was far from novel or unexpected.

"How did they get you ?" I enquired, in a tone as low as that of my interlocutor.

"I am, or was, the owner of these slaves," he answered. "They caught me unaware this time; but I believe, or hope, that my family has escaped. I made the mistake of thinking the slaves were thoroughly cowed from punishments that I inflicted not long ago. I gather that there has been a concerted revolt this afternoon, from what the savages themselves (whose speech I understand) have let drop. They are not so unintelligent as most people believe them to be; and I have a theory that the terrestrial climate has served to stimulate their mentality (44).

"They possess secret means of communication among themselves over the most unbelievable distances that are no less efficient than radio. I have long suspected, too, that they have a tacit understanding with the Martians, who are covertly abetting them. The micro-organism that caused the Black Rot was no doubt smuggled from Venus by the Martians in their ether-vessels; and there is no telling what sort of plague they will loose next. There are some queer and frightful things on those alien planets — things that are deadly to terrestrials though harmless enough to the natives. I fear that the end of human supremacy is near at hand."

We conversed in this fashion for some time; and I learned that the name of my fellow-captive was Jos Talar. In spite of our dire and seemingly hopeless predicament, he showed no evidence of fear; and the abstract, philosophical manner in which he viewed and discussed the situation was truly remarkable. But this, as I had occasion to observe, was characteristic of the temper of mankind in that era (45).

A full half hour must have passed, as we lay there bound and helpless. Then we saw that the huge fire was beginning to die down, revealing a vast bed of glowing coals. The light grew dimmer on the antic figures around it and the beast-like faces of the Venusians were more loathsome than ever in the lowering gloom.

The dancing ceased, as if at an unspoken signal; and several of the dancers left the circle and came to where Jos Talar and myself were lying. We could see the gloating of their obscene eyes and the slavering of their greedy mouths, as they dug their filthy talons into our flesh and dragged us roughly toward the fire.

In the meanwhile others had stretched the huge metal tray upon the bed of coals. All of them were eyeing us with a hyena-like avidity that made me shiver with sickness and repulsion.

I will not pretend that I was able to regard with any degree of complacency the prospect of becoming in the near future a Venusian pièce de résistance. But I nerved myself to the inevitable, reflecting that the agony would soon be over. Even if they did not knock us on the head beforehand, there would be a swift though terrible death on the bed of coals.

Our captors had now seized us by our feet and shoulders, as if they were about to fling us upon the improvised gridiron. There was an awful moment of suspense; and I wondered why the Venusians did not complete the expected action. Then I heard from their lips a low snarling, with an unmistakable note of alarm, and saw that all of them were watching the starlit heavens. They must have possessed keener senses than those of humanity, for at first I could neither see nor hear anything to justify their attention. Then, far-off among the stars, I perceived a moving light such as was carried by the Akamerian air-vessels (46).

At first I did not connect the light with any idea of possible rescue; and I wondered at the perturbation of the slaves. Then I realized that the light was flying very low and was descending straight toward the fire. It drew near with meteoric rapidity, till Jos Talar and myself and the cowering savages were illuminated by the full beams of the bluish searchlight. The vessel itself, like all of its kind, was almost noiseless; and it slid to earth and landed with preternatural speed and dexterity, within twenty paces of the fire.

Several men emerged from its dim bulk and ran toward us. The slaves had loosened their hold on Jos Talar and myself; and growling ferociously, they crouched as if ready to leap upon the advancing figures.

The men were all armed with tubular objects, which I supposed were the usual electronic projectors. They levelled them at the Venusians; and thin rays of flame, like those from acetylene torches, issued from them and stabbed across the gloom. Several of the savages screamed with agony and fell writhing to the ground.

One of them dropped among the coals and howled for a few instants like a demon who has been taken in some pitfall prepared for the damned. The others began to run but were followed by long slender beams that searched them out in their flight, dropping several more. Soon the survivors had disappeared from view in the darkness, and the fallen had ceased to writhe.

As our rescuers approached, and the glow of the dying fire illumed their faces, I saw that the foremost was Kronous Alkon. Some of the others I recognized as scientists whom I had met in Djarma.

Kronous Alkon knelt beside me and severed my bonds with a sharp knife, while someone else performed a like service for Jos Talar.

"Are you hurt ?" asked Kronous.

"Not severely," I replied. "But you certainly came just in the proverbial nick of time. A moment more, and they would have thrown us upon the fire. Your coming is a miracle — I cannot imagine how it happened."

"That is easily explained," said Kronous as he helped me to my feet "When you did not return this evening, I became alarmed; and knowing the usual directions of your wanderings I studied this part of the environs of Djarma very closely with a nocturnal televiser, which renders plainly visible the details of the darkest landscape (47).

"I soon located the Venusians and their fire and recognized one of the bound figures as being yourself. After that, it required only a few minutes for me to collect several companions, arm them, charter an air-vessel, and seek the spot indicated by the televisor. I am more than thankful that we arrived in time.

"There has been," he went on, "a world-wide revolt of the slave during the past few hours. Two of the continents, Asia and Australia, are already in their hands; and a desperate struggle is going on throughout Akameria. We are no longer using the electronic projectors, which merely stun. The weapons we used tonight are heat-ray generators, which kill (48). But come — we must return to Djarma. I will tell you more afterwards."

Our flight to Djarma was uneventful; and Kronous and I were landed by our companions on the roof of the building in which we had been housed. Here we said good-by to Jos Talar, who went on with the rescuing scientists to find certain relatives and to learn if possible the fate of his family.

Kronous and I descended to our rooms, where we found Altus,who had just arrived from the estate. He told us that Oron had been killed in a terrific combat with the slaves that afternoon. Trogh had mysteriously disappeared; and Altus himself had been compelled to flee in one of the air-vessels belonging to Kronous. A truly horrible state of affairs.

My bruised head and lacerated body required attention, and Kronous gave an application of the green ray, which marvelously relieved all my pain and soreness. Altus, miraculously, had escaped injury this time in his hand-to-hand fighting with the slaves.

We sat for hours while Kronous told us the events of the day and while fresh reports continued to arrive. The world-situation had indeed become serious; and apart from the universal revolt of the slaves, many new and unlooked-for perils had disclosed themselves.

In the actual conflict the Venusians had suffered more heavily than the Terrestrials, and thousands of them had been slain and others compelled to flee before the superior weapons of mankind. But to counterbalance this, a number of new and baffling plagues had been loosed by the savages, who, it was now universally felt, were being assisted in this regard by the Martians. In the western part of Akameria great clouds of a vicious and deadly Martian insect had appeared — an insect which multiplied with the most damnable rapidity.
In other sections gases had been freed in the air that were harmless to both Venusians and Martians but deleterious to human beings. Vegetable moulds from Venus, which fed like malignant parasites on all terrene plant-forms, had also been introduced in a hundred places; and no one knew what else the morrow would reveal in the way of extra-planetary pests and dangers. I thought of the prophecy of Jos Talar (49).

"At this rate," said Kronous, "the world will soon be rendered unhabitable for man. With our heat-rays and other weapons we might wipe out the revolutionists in time; but the plagues they have brought in are a different problem." (50)

There was little sleep for any of us that night. We rose at early dawn, to learn the appalling news that the whole of Europe was now subject to the interplanetary slaves. The bacteria of a score of awful Martian and Venusian diseases, to which the outsiders had developed more or less immunity, were decimating the human population, and those who survived were unable to cope with their conquerors. Similar diseases were appearing in Akameria; and all the other plagues were spreading with malign celerity.

"We must go to my estate immediately and retrieve the time machine, which I left in the aerodrome," said Kronous to me. "You can then return to your own age — it is not fair to ask you to stay longer in a world that is nearing ultimate ruin and chaos. We, the last remnants of mankind, will fight it out as best we can; but the war is not yours." (51)

I protested that I had no desire to leave him; that I would remain to the end; and also that I had implicit faith in the power of humanity to overcome its extra-terrestrial foes.

Kronous smiled, a little sadly. "Nevertheless," he persisted, "we must recover the time-machine. Thus your means of escape will be assured, no matter what happens. Will you go with me? I intend to make the trip this very forenoon."

Of course, I could not object to this; and I was eager to accompany him. Apart from any use which I myself might make of it, the time-machine was too rare and valuable a thing to be left at the mercy of Venusian vandals, who might well destroy it in their campaign of nation-wide sabotage.

Kronous, Altus and myself made the brief trip in the same light air-vessel that had been used for the journey to Djarma. The fertile, luxuriant countryside with fronded woods and tall, airy spires of embowered mansions above which we had flown less than a week before was now patched and blotched with devastation. Many of the houses had been gutted by fire; and the ravages of the vegetable mould from Venus had blighted many fields and forests, whose grass and foliage rotted beneath it to a nauseous grey slime.

Approaching the estate of Kronous, we saw that we should arrive none too soon. The Venusians had fired the house, and even their own quarters, and columns of smoke were arising from the doomed edifices. A dozen slaves were nearing the aerodrome with the obvious intention of trying to set it on fire, or of destroying or damaging the vessels which it contained (52).

The features of Kronous were deadly pale with anger. He said nothing as he steered the atomic monoplane directly toward the slaves, who had now seen us and were running headlong in a futile effort to escape. Several of them had been carrying lighted torches, which they now dropped. We swooped upon them, flying only a few feet above the ground in the open space that surrounded the aerodrome.

Two of the slaves were caught and mangled by the sharp prow of the flier; and Altus and myself, using heat-ray projectors, accounted for five more as we passed them. Only three remained; and wheeling the vessels around in a sharp curve, and steering with one hand, Kronous himself dispatched them with his heat-ray.
We landed near the entrance of the aerodrome. Kronous went in; and a minute later, the time-vessel flew gently forth and settled on the platform. Kronous opened the door and called to me.

"You and I, Hugh, will return to Djarma in the time-ship; and Altus will take charge of the monoplane."

No more of the Venusians were in sight; though we saw enough of their handiwork as we circled above the plantation before starting for Djarma. Kronous sighed at the ruin that had been wrought, but otherwise gave no evidence of emotion, and maintained a stoical silence.

Half an hour later we were back in our apartments at Djarma; and the time-machine was securely housed in an aerodrome nearby. Since it had all the appearance of a small interplanetary flier, no one but ourselves ever dreamt of its real nature and use.

Every hour brought fresh news of the national damage inflicted by the planetary aliens and their plagues. The Martians had now declared open hostility. Their first movement had been to destroy all the human embassies and trading-stations on Mars and to seize a vast amount of ether-shipping; but before these overt actions were generally known, they had also assumed the offensive everywhere on earth.

They possessed a frightful weapon, the zero-ray, which could penetrate animal tissue in an instant with fatal frost-bite. This weapon had been kept a secret; its invention and mode of operation were obscure to human scientists; and it was no less lethal and effective than the heat-ray. A battle was now going on in the Martian quarter of Djarma; and the Martians were holding their own.

Air-vessels had tried dropping explosives on the quarter; but this was found to be more dangerous to humanity than to the Martians; for the latter were using some sort of unknown ray which detonated the explosives in mid-air, or even while they were still on board the air-vessels (53).

I was forced to marvel at the equanimity shown by the people of Akameria in the face of all these dire problems and dangers. Everywhere, scientists were coolly endeavoring to combat the new pests and were seeking to devise more efficacious weapons for use against the outsiders. No fear or alarm was exhibited by anyone. Probably the secret of this calm, impertubable attitude lay in the lofty mental evolution and philosophic detachment that had been universally attained by the human race through the past ages.

Knowing how insecure and impermanent was their tenure of existence among the inimical forces of the cosmos, men were prepared to meet their doom with resignation and dignity. Also, the race had grown old; and many, perhaps, were tired of the quotidian sameness of life and were ready to welcome anything, no matter how hazardous, in the nature of change.

Djarma was now full of refugees from the outlying plantations; and more were arriving hourly. But, gazing on the calm, unhurried throng, no one could have guessed the parlousness of the general situation. There was no evidence of strife or peril or apprehension; and even the war in the Martian quarter was conducted silently, since the weapons employed were all noiseless. Some of the Martian buildings, however had been fired by heat-rays; and a pall of black smoke was rising and mushrooming above the ruddy flames.

Djarma had suffered less, so far, than most of the other Akameriaian centers. The whole country was in disorder, and all communication was becoming seriously deranged. However, a few hours after the return of Kronous, Altus, and myself, there came from southern Akameria the warning of a new and more lethal plague than any which hitherto appeared.

A tiny venusian micro-organism, a sort of aerial algae, which spread and increased with phenomenal celerity, had been turned loose and was rendering the air unbreathable for human beings over a vast and ever growing area. It was harmless to the Venusians themselves, for the thick, vaporous air of their native jungles was full of it; and though it was deleterious to the Martians, the latter had prepared themselves beforehand and were all equipped with respiratory masks and atmospheric alters.

But men were dying of slow asphyxiation, marked by the most painful pneumonic symptoms, wherever overtaken by the strange pest. It was visible in the air, which displayed a saffron color when invaded by the organism. For this reason, it soon became known as the Yellow Death (54).

Beyond the manufacture and distribution of air-masks on a large scale, nothing could be done by savants to combat the new plague. The saffron cloud was rolling northward hour by hour — a noiseless and irresistible doom; and the situation was indeed desperate. A conclave of scientists was called; and it was soon decided that humanity must evacuate the regions menaced by the deadly aerial scourge. The only resource was for men to retreat toward the Arctic circle and entrench themselves in dominions where the organism could not penetrate, since it thrived only in warm, tropical air (55).

"This," said Kronous to me, sorrowfully, "is a preparatory step toward our final abandonment of the earth. The planetary aliens have conquered, as I knew they would. The cycle of human domination has completed itself; and the future belongs to the Venusians and Martians. I venture to predict, however, that the Martians will soon enslave the Venusians and rule them with a far stricter hand than we humans." (56)

He went on. "Hugh, the hour of our parting will soon arrive. You could leave us at any rate, as you know; but perhaps you will wish to see the drama to its end."

I pressed his hand but could say nothing. There was a tragic pathos in the swift doom which threatened the final remnant of the race. Remote and alien as these people were in many of their customs and ideas and feelings, they were still human. I admired their stoical courage in the face of irretrievable disaster; and for Kronous himself, after our long association and mutual vicissitudes, I had conceived a real affection (57).

All of Djarma was now astir with preparations for the northward flight. Every air-vessel or space-craft available was mustered for use; and more were being built with miraculous expedition. There were great air-liners and freighters in which personal belongings, food-supplies and laboratory equipment were transported; and the skies were thronged with their departure and their return for new cargoes. Perfect order and organization prevailed, and there was no trace of hurry or confusion anywhere.

Kronous, Altus and myself were among the last to leave. An immense bank of smoke was looming above the Martian quarter, and the weird, hydrocephalous inhabitants were being driven forth by the flames and were invading the deserted streets of the human section when we rose above the city in the time-vessel and steered northward. Far to the south, we could see a saffron cloud that had covered the horizon — the micro-organic plague that was smothering the whole of Akameria.

Beneath the guidance of Kronous, our vessel rose to a lofty elevation where more than the ordinary atmospheric speed was possible. Flying at seven hundred miles per hour (58), we soon neared the realms of perpetual winter and saw the sheeted ice of the polar regions glittering far below us.

Here humanity had already entrenched itself; and whole cities were being reared as if by magic amid the eternal wastes of snow. Laboratories and foundries were erected, where synthetic foods and fabrics and metals were prepared in immense quantities. The polar domains, however, were too inhospitable, and the climate too rigorous for a warmth-loving race, to form more than a way-station in the flight of humanity.

It was decided that the larger asteroids, which had long been successfully colonized by man, would form the most suitable cosmic refuge. A great fleet of space-vessels was soon assembled in readiness for departure; more were built amid the ice and snow; and each day was marked by the arrival of ships from mid-ether, plying among the planets, which had been warned by radio of existing terrestrial conditions and had come to assist in the universal Hegira (59).

In those days, before the ultimate farewell, I came to know Kronous better than at any previous time. His altruism and imperturbable fortitude aroused my deepest admiration. Of course he had cast in his lot with the people of his own era, and official posts on one of the ether-liners had already been assigned to Altus and himself. Those who displayed any interest in the matter were informed by Kronous that I, Huno Paskon, intended to return alone in a small ether-vessel to Pallas my supposedly natal asteroid. Even between ourselves, we seldom mentioned the real nature of my journey.

Kronous gave me careful instruction regarding the mechanism, both spatial and chronological, of the time-machine; but to avoid any error, he himself arranged all the controls in preparation for my flight through backward time. All that I would have to do was to turn on the power of the cosmic rays; and the machine would land me in 1930. Then after it landed, an automatic device would shoot it back to his own day.

The day of departure came, when vessels were ready for the inter-cosmic transportation of the world's remaining people. It was an awful and solemn moment. Ship by ship and fleet by fleet, from the ice-founded platforms on which they had been resting, the long bulks of glittering metal upon the Aurora Borealis and disappeared in the chill, dreadful gulfs of outer space. The ship to which Kronous had been assigned was one of the last to leave; and he and I stood for a long while beside the time-vessel and watched the soaring of those skyward flocks Altus had already said a farewell to me and had gone aboard the great ether-liner.

For me, the hour was full of infinite sorrow and a strange excitement, in the realization that man was abandoning his immemorial home and would henceforward be an exile among the worlds. But the face of Kronous was a marble mask; and I could not surmise his thoughts and feelings.

At last he turned to me and smiled with an odd wistfulness. "It is time for me to go — and time for you also," he said. "Good by, Hugh — we shall not meet again. Remember me sometimes, and remember the final fate of the human race, when you are back in your own epoch."

He pressed my hand briefly and then climbed aboard the spaceliner; and he and Altus waved to me through the thick crystal of a sealed port as the huge vessel rose in air for its flight upon the interplanetary void. Sadly, regretting almost that I had not insisted upon accompanying them, I locked myself in the time-vessel and pulled the lever which would begin my own flight across the ages.


Notes, (c) 2011 Jordan S. Bassior


(1) - Smith correctly grasps that a man from thirteen thousand years hence would not likely be of any known ethnic group.

(2) - Hugh's assumption that "Conrad Elkins" is Caucasian is reasonable given that he doesn't yet know that Kronous was actually born c. A.D. 15,000.  In point of fact, it is very likely (given the periods of global transportation between 1930 and 15000, that Kronous has some ancestry from every major race existing on 20th-century Earth, and that his appearance represents some later racial divergences, perhaps caused by the "long dark ages" during which intercontinental commerce probably broke down.

(3) - This tells us that Kronous' world has advanced particularly in medicine and surgery (despite a relative retardation in genetics!), electricity and astronomy.  But then, they have space travel and the biota of at least three life-bearing worlds to study, which would help them greatly.

(4) - Kronous' world may have lost much more than "minor secrets" of chemistry and metallurgy, not to mention biology (we, today in OTL's 2011, could easily prevent an imbalanced male-female birth ratio if it became important).  It is important to remember through the whole story that Kronous' people are, and probably were meant by the author to be seen as, rather arrogant.

(5) - The assumption that whichever sex were in the majority would dominate is a curious one, which I see repeated to this present day.  Economics suggests the opposite conclusion, namely that the sex in the minority would have scarcity-value and hence enjoy higher social status.  There would be strong cultural-evolutionary pressures toward such an outcome.

On the other hand, ideology could create a society in which the high value of the minority sex led to members of that sex being treated as (highly-treasured) property, and certainly members of the minority sex would be discouraged from risking their lives, which could in time lead to a situation in which they were honored but also restrained from any open social activity.  Other factors could propel a society holding this view to dominance despite this handicap.

Kronous also misses something in his tale, which is the extreme likelihood that the skew both to the numerical female dominance of the Matriarchy and the male numerical dominance of his own culture were artificially-imposed upon humanity.  It seems to me as if what happened was that humans blamed males for the age of war of which the 20th century was a part, and some faction genetically-modified the human race so that only enough males to propagate the species (which, given a polygynous culture, would be far less than 1 male for every female) would be born.  Then, during the Amazonian Wars, someone had the idea of bringing back lots of men to serve as warriors, and skewed things too far in the other direction.

The level of destruction of the Amazonian Wars, which left only a few hundred thousand alive out of a presumed pre-war population of a billion or so, means that something like 99.5 percent or more of the human race was wiped out.  This would be more than adequate to shatter the culture of the remaining survivors, and result in only vague legends of the world before surviving.

(6) - Kronous implies here that his culture knows nothing of DNA and genetic engineering (as indeed Clark Ashton Smith would have known nothing of them in 1931), and the irony then is that he came just a few decades too early -- assuming that the timeline of this story is at all similar to ours past 1930.  In the mid-20th century we discovered the structure of DNA and by the year 2000 mapped the human genome to the point of rendering genetic engineering possible.

(7) - These are the three largest asteroids.  Ceres is big and volatile-rich, Vesta is relatively-dense and hence metal rich, Pallas is just reasonably large.  All are likely candidates for important Belt colonies in reality.

(8) - Presumably by nuclear processes.  We could do this today, but the cost of doing so would be far greater than the value of the gold.  However, it is possible that the Akamerians have developed a chemically-catalyzed "cold fusion" process of elemental transmutation, in which case it would be much more practical. 

(9) - Smith grasped the important point that the Earth moves through space and that, absent such synchronization, the time machine would emerge where the Earth was at the time of departure, rather than where it would be at the time of arrival.

(10) - We would today imagine these clothes to be made of artificial carbon- or silicon-fiber based materials, though, really, the Akamerians might have some utterly different process.  I only bring this up because Hugh is a chemist.

(11) - Note that, although this story isn't primarily about space travel, Smith realized the key point that the occupants of a spaceship in free fall or under unpredictable acceleration would require harnessing against the lack of stable gravity if they meant to perform any work.

(12) - The concept of neo-Classical attire reappearing in a future utopia was common in the science fiction of the 1930's, and reappears with particular visual force in the last third of H. G. Wells' Things to Come, in which this is the normal mode of dress for the people of Everytown in 2040.

(13) - It's not surprising that the spaceship is nuclear-powered.  As for the time-drive, "the repercussions of cosmic rays" is basically technobabble:  it could mean anything, and really means nothing.  One could imagine that it's taking advantage of high-frequency superstring resonance, which is essentially the modern technobabblish equivalent :)

(14) - The sensation of time travel described in this story implies that at the moment of transition Hugh's consciousness is being flung down a different worldline than it would have traversed absent the time machine, and that Hugh is dimly aware of this on some psychic level.  It actually sounds unnatural and painful.

(15) - ... and re-entry into normal spacetime involves a re-knitting of the worldline of the time traveler with the worldlines of the other people and objects, perhaps including his alternate selves.  I shudder to think of what would happen if the time machine didn't re-emerge -- it sounds as if one's soul would be lost forever in the sort of hyperspace traversed by Keziah Mason.

(16) - Weather control would most logically be by means of sunshades and mirrors, though Smith never gets specific about it and it might be by means of pulp-sf weather rays and the like.  A "reduction" of polar ice and snow implies stablization at a globally-warmed but not climatic maximum point, which means that habitable territory has been increased, but sea levels were not permitted to rise a full 100 meters.  If the right techniques were used, it is possible that the sub-Arctic was made temperate without the tropics being heated.

We have no idea from what "natural" climatic state the climate was altered, because periods such as the Matriarchial Utopia, the Amazonian Wars, and the Long Dark Age might have seen climatic excursions in all directions, including a Global Warming Summer or an Ice Age.  Literally anything could have happened, short of a full-on Snowball Earth or Venusian (of OTL) Summer.

However, the fact that Djarma is built "on the ruins of New York, but hundreds of miles inland" implies that there was a phase of sea level rise, and consequently that the present-day Hudson River Valley is now a great strait.  Smith didn't have access to modern climate science, but he knew what happened when you melt ice and he could read a relief map, so he probably assumed sea level rises for much the same reasons that I would given the same information.

In the described situation, the Hudson Strait and St. Lawrence Strait would separate New England from the main body of the North American continent, and a city built at the location described would be in a position of strategic importance, since it would have maritime access to the Atlantic via two channels and to the Carribean via the Great Lakes and Missouri-Mississippi Seaway.  Such a city would also be well-positioned to trade with Europe, Africa and South America, so it's not surprising that it might become the Akamerian capital.

(17) - Basically a plantation's Big House on a scale dwarfing the Palace of Versailles.  This is quite plausible given that Kronous is of the elite in a slaveholding society possessing atomic energy, antigravity, and interplanetary travel capabilities.

(18) - Hugh does not seem even slightly dismayed or shocked that Akamerian society is based on the institution of chattel slavery.  It's obvious why, if he did, it would be a bad idea for him to express such sentiments to his friend and host, but Hugh doesn't seem to be upset by this even in internal monologue.  This is one of the reasons why I suspect that Clark Ashton Smith was in this story expressing the belief that the enslavement of "inferior" by "superior" races is only natural. 

(19) - We would call this an electrolaser, though of course in 1930 such weapons were purely science-fictional.  Smith's description of the "projector" is reasonable given the knowledge of his own day, including the limited range (caused by the fact that the charge tends to dissipate rapidly with distance).  It warms the cockles of my fannish heart to know that stunguns have now become practical weapons.

(20) - Note the conveniently rapid move into action.  What's the chance that Kronous would come back to his plantation just in time to see this tense scene?  Of course, given what's really going on, it's possible that this was no accident, but rather an attempted assassination which was blown because the plotters didn't expect Hugh to be accompanying Kronous.

(21) - By the standards of c. 1930 evolutionary concepts, this is all reasonable.  They believed that planets were formed by gravitational extrusion from stars during close passages, hence were incredibly hot when originally expelled, and that they cooled from the outside of the system in.  So of the three planets Mars, Earth and Venus, Mars would have evolved life first and hence that life be more advanced (thus, more intelligent) than was the case on Earth, while Venus would have evolved life last and hence that life be less advanced (and intelligent) than was the case on Earth.  This is why in so much science fiction from the late Victorian through late Classic Era (c. 1890-1950) Martians are shown as being super-intellectuals on a dying world, while Venusians are savages living in jungles and swamps haunted by dinosaurs.

The Martians are "barrel-chested" because the prevailing scientific opinion was that Mars had a thin but breathable atmosphere, so native Martians would be just as dependent on oxygen as us, but require bigger chests in order to breathe more energetically, an adaptation actually seen among Andean and Himalayan peoples on Earth.  They are "spindle-legged," of course, due to the lesser Martian gravity (which begs the question of just why they are so strong and agile on Earth, but then they've been here a while).

The Venusians resemble primitive humans because evolution is assumed to follow similar, semi-destined paths on similar worlds:  their Neanderthaloid appearance signifies that Venus is a younger world than Earth and hence life at an earlier stage.  That "primitiveness" would be readily apparent in the facial features and expressions of the product of a wholly-different evolutionary line would have been simply taken for granted by most 1920's and 1930's science-fiction writers.

The females having tails while the males have none is a neat little idea.  Smith probably knew enough about actual evolutionary theory to see both possible reasons, but he doesn't show his work here.  The two reasons are (1) egg management, if the tail is at all prehensile, and (2) sexual selection, which sounds modern but is actually one of Darwin's original ideas.  Smith wrote aliens well by the standards of the Interwar Era, and in his more horror-fantasy oriented work always remembered that any "monsters" who were simply of a different species (rather than supernatural demons) were creatures with their own biological history and psychologies.  In this he was a worthy heir of Lovecraft.

(22) - The slaveowners use non-lethal weapons to subdue their slaves because killing or crippling one's own chattel slaves is something one does only at last resort:  slaves are valuable personal property.

(23) - All very antebellum-Southern-gentlemanly, which makes sense given that their society has a similar economic basis and these people are from the Akamerian upper classes.

 (24) - Clumsy exposition here, as Kronous is talking in anything but a natural style even for someone explaining things to an outsider.  Note however that Kronous immediately couches matters in terms of relative intellectual and social status, which makes perfect sense for an aristocratic slaveowner.  Slave systems have to use some such excuse to justify their own actions.

(25) - Sinister, isn't he?  Smith's point about the Martian having trouble pronouncing an Earthly language is well-considered, as given the description of his mouth one could see that his vocal apparatus might be rather different from ours.

(26) - Thinking about it, I believe that the Akamerians must have discovered a "cold transmutation" process, because otherwise the amounts of energy they would be expending to build that palace would be ridiculous.  Of course Smith, writing in 1930, would have had no way to realize the magnitude of the problem.

(27) - As a chemist, Hugh is fascinated by the strange materials.   Clark Ashton Smith was himself an artist, who worked in several media and liked to depict aliens and alien environments:  the chance to personally view a collection like that in Kronous' house must have been one of Smith's own dearest dreams.

(28) - The notion of an elan vital as the source of life was still very much assumed to be true even by biologists during the early 20th century.  The actual nature of life processes on the level of internal cellular machinery and chemical heredity were as yet unknown.  So the "osc" ray makes perfect sense from the point of view of the science of 1931, while being utter technobabble from that of today.

(29) - Substitue "Negroes" for "Venusians" and "America" for "Earth." and most white Americans c. 1931 would have nodded in agreement.  I think the analogy was completely intentional on Smith's part.

(30) - This is an interesting statement, especially coming from an aristocrat belonging to a civilization far more advanced than that of the Earth of 1931, and in many ways than that of the Earth of 2011.  It's rather alien to our present-day point-of-view, but it was common in Lovecraft's circle -- a lot of them felt that "mechanistic" civilization was alienating and that a really advanced civilization would abandon a lot of the "unnecessary" uses of mechanical technology.  You can see this very strongly in Lovecraft's portrayal of the civilizations of K'n-yan in "The Mound," and of the Elder Things in "At the Mountains of Madness."

Note that both those civilizations were also based on forms of slavery.

It is true that, as a technology advances, it tends to be less obtrusive and obviously mechanical.  Compare getting power from an in-house steam engine c. 1850 with getting power from a electric socket c. 1900, for instance.  But Kronous is going beyond this:  he is flat-out stating that "there are some things that Man was not meant to know."  This is a rather decadent point of view, but then in important respects both Clark Ashton Smith and H. P. Lovecraft were decadents, much as Lovecraft might have hated the personal application of the term.

And then, in the very next paragraphs, Kronous pretty much admits that his civilization  may be a bit decadent in the bad sense of the term.  Though he's blind to the worst of it.

(31) - This description could be of the self-image of the antebellum American South -- or of the Greco-Roman aristocracy of the Pax Romanum.  In both cases, the leisure of the upper classes was based solidly on slavery -- the forcibly-extorted labor of lower classes.  In the Akamerian case, all but the slaves have it far better than anyone in any earlier civilization, because of the high technology which permits centuries-long lifespans and lives of incredible comfort and luxury to anyone not of a legally-lower status.

(32) - Super-scientific alchemy, basically, what I called "cold transmutation."  Of course they can eat mostly natural foodstuffs:  they have a declining master population supported by a growing slave population.  One wonders how well the slaves dine, though.

(33) - "A sullen air of mindless brooding" is literally impossible -- one cannot "brood" if one is "mindless."  The Akamerians of course would view it this way and not see the contradiction.  Hugh doesn't see it either.  I wonder if Clark Ashton Smith did?

(34) - This is, word for word, what the white supremacists imagined to have been the background of the black Africans held as slaves in America.

(35) - This makes an analogy between the Martians and the (c. 1930 white American concept of) Orientals, especially the Chinese.  As a Californian born in 1893 and writing in 1930, Smith would have been very familiar with, and probably a believer in, conspiratorial theories regarding East Asian immigration into the United States of America.  However ... well, you'll see.

(36) - I wonder whether this worked more like modern TV networks, or the Internet.  I must confess a desire to see the LOLcats of this far-future Earth!

(37) - This sounds like silicon-based life, or nanotechnology.  Maybe both.  Whichever it is, the concept of inorganics-targeted biological warfare was certainly an innovative one in 1931, and one for which Clark Ashton Smith deserves considerable credit.

(38) - Once again, the Man From Our World has the key idea which the people of the strange world to which he's traveled have missed, having huge consequences.  This was totally normal in the 1930's pulps, and such later stories as Raymond Z. Gallun's "The Eternal Wall" (1942) and Poul Anderson's "The Man Who Came Early," (1956) in which the Man From Our World accomplishes practically nothing, due to his alienation from the strange world were deliberately Subverting the Trope.

(39) - As we know, but the people of 1930 didn't, radium is a radiological poison.  Applying it as a "fine spray" would be a very bad idea, because this would guarantee its inhalation by humans, thus maximizing its effects (radiological poisons are much more harmful if small dust particles lodge in one's organs than if they merely pass through one's system).  Back in 1930, radium was thought of as at probably benign, or at worst neutral, in its effects on life.

OTOH, we may choose to assume that the radium is much more toxic to the Rot than it is to Earth life, and hence it was applied in sufficiently tiny quantities that this wasn't a problem.  This is especially reasonable given that the osc-rays available to Akamerian doctors might render radiation sickness and even cancers mere inconveniences.

(40) - As I said, truly advanced technologies are inobtrusive.

(41) - Since they have both small atomic engines and anti-gravity, it would be easy for the Akamerians to design "light" and "noiseless" aircraft without "visible means of propulsion."

(42) - This is both an example of the old concept of "racial senescence" in the evolutionary sense (the Akamerians have become so civilized they're becoming less capable of breeding) and something of a parody of the Old Southern concept of "the flower of womanhood":  the Akamerian women are respected and sheltered, courted by many because of their rarity, and yet curiously sexless despite their polyandry.  Smith may also have been thinking of the inability of the Imperial Roman aristocracy to maintain their numbers, though female Roman aristocrats were famously anything but "sexless."

There was and still is to some degree a popular link between barbarism and fertility, civilization and sterility, with more "barbaric" invaders or immigrants seen as able to breed prolifically while the more civilized native lines die out.  This may be to some degree Truth in Television, because by definition immigrants or invaders tend to be more aggressive, enterprising and vital people -- they are self-selected from the elements of their own population too ambitious to remain at home.  Of course, many in the Interwar Era (and today!) put more sinister connotations on this phenomenon.

(43) - Think "Chinatown," or any distinctively-ethnic neighborhood, really.  The Akamerian culture may have become rather homogenized by centuries, perhaps millennia of intercontinental travel and electronic communications, so the humans of 15,000 A.D. may not have that many ethnic differences.  Conversely, Hugh may not be noticing them, since it's all almost equally exotic from his 20th-century point of view.

(44) - Ah, Physiocracy! This theory originated c. 1750 and argued that human societies derived directly from the climate and other environmental factors.  By that logic, the Venusians -- living in a tropical environment -- would have obtained their food easily and hence had little intellectual stimulation compared to Earthlings.  By logical extension, the Martians, living in a cold and arid environment, would have had a (literally) harder row to hoe and hence would wind up more intelligent than Earthlings.

This theory was historically applied to Negroes, Caucasians and Mongoloids.  Interestingly, though whites were eager to argue that blacks were stupider than whites owing to the supposed easier environment in Africa, they were not so eager to follow this logic as it applied to the Mongoloids, whose anatomy in fact appeared to meet the challenges of living on a cold steppe, where it was harder to get food than in most of Europe (the present-day East Asians are mostly descended from peoples who lived in and to the north of what is today Northern China). 

Wonder why?  Well no, actually I have a very good idea as to "why."  In any case, the hostile white stereotype regarding "Orientals" a century ago was not that they were "stupid", but rather "devilishly cunning," to the point of decadence.  Which perfectly fits the nature of the Martians in this story.

Note how superior intelligence can be seen as disqualifying the possessor from sympathy, given the proper prejudice!

(45) - The Akamerians may also simply have had a different style of courage.  Compare, in the real world c. 2011, the behavior of Islamist fighters and of the US Armed Forces.  The Islamists behave in a much more showy fashion, maknig pompous boasts and firing off weapons into the air at random.  The US troops calmly and methodically get the job done.  Courage is no less real for being understated:  from the Akamerian point of view, 20th- and 21st-century Americans might seem to be barbarians.

And we might be.  Aside from the slavery issue, of course.

(46) - Hugh assumes that the Venusians have "keener" (and implicitly more "bestial") senses, but they might just have been more familiar with what Akamerian aircraft look and sound like when flying by night.  Being rebels, they'd have a professional interest in such knowledge.  And remember that Hugh's point of comparison for "almost noiseless" flight is the unmuffled racket of a c. 1930 piston aero engine driving a propellor, so the Akamerian aircraft need not be that silent by c. 2011 standards!

(47) - Thermal imaging and/or ambient light enhancement, technologies which the real world developed and deployed in World War II to the Vietnam War era.  But the "televisor" Kronous used either doesn't need a transmitter, or the transmitter is mounted on a spy satellite.  Smith probably meant "doesn't need a transmitter," since "spy-rays" were common Interwar science-fictional gadgets, and spy satellites weren't.

(48) - Based on the effects described, either infra-red to optical lasers or ion-path-confined plasma guns.  My guess would be the former, because the beams seem too precise to be plasma streams.

(49) - In this one paragraph Smith describes not merely biological and chemical warfare, but also ecological warfare.  Surprisingly, considering that's Smith's main reputation is as a fantasist, this is a very well-realized science-fictional vision of asymmetrical future war -- he thought of a lot of nasty things that an attacker could do to a realm he had already penetrated.

(50) - The difference between strategic and grand-strategic warfare is touched on here.  Strategically, the Earthmen might be able to kill every Martian and Venusian on Earth, but the economic base for the Earth civilization and military machine is being cut out from underneath  those institutions, and if any Martians and Venusians survive, they will be able to colonize Earth faster than the Earthmen can recolonize the planet.  Remember, also, that the Akamerian birth-rate is abysmally low:  it will take them centuries to make up losses the Venusians can make up in decades.

The obvious flaw in the Martian strategy is that Earth has a counter, which is to switch to a campaign of deliberate mass destruction against all three planets, leaving them uninhabitable for anyone, retreating to the Belt, and then returning to terraform.  However, the Martians are doubtless (and perhaps correctly) assuming that the ultra-civilized Earth society is incapable of such ruthlessness (it would among other things mean accepting, and to some extent causing, the loss of most of the human civilian population).

(51) - This is very decent of Kronous, but then his original motivation for bringing Hugh to his time seems to have been "I like this primitive.  He deserves to enjoy the benefits of a truly civilized age."  Obviously, if Hugh instead is going to suffering and death, that spoils Kronous' original plan.

(52) - The Venusians seem (to Hugh and Kronous) to be incapable of thinking in terms of conquest, but rather only destruction -- they wreck all that they capture.  On the other hand, they are fighting as guerillas, who cannot hope yet to hold anything that they take, and every resource (such as a Versailles-sized Big House and town-sized outbuilding complex) which they destroy is one less resource available to the Earth.  When one considers that it is the Martians who are formulating the actual strategic plan -- and presumably for the benefit of their own race, this tactic makes even greater sense.

(53) - The anti-explosives ray might work by electromagnetic resonance with the organic molecules of the explosvies, but the "zero ray" sounds purely impossible.  Limited temporal stasis, maybe?  Interwar SF had a tendency to assume that there were a whole bunch of undiscovered natural forces from which "rays" could be devised:  they were even semi-correct, as neither the strong nor the weak nuclear forces had yet been discovered or understood.

(54) - This wins the prize for the absolutely most terrifying alien attack in this story which actually succeeds (note that the Black Rot, if successful, would have worked with the Yellow Death, by corroding away atmospheric shelters).

(55) - And might not the Martians occupy the colder and higher parts of the Earth?

(56) - With reference to the most obvious foreign threat to America in 1930, the Soviet Union, it is certainly true that if the Soviets had managed to subvert America's lower classes (black or white) to revolt, enabling a Communist takeover, the Communists would have ruled said lower clases "with a far stricter hand" than had the former native upper clases, a proposition which within 15-20 years to be proven true in Eastern Europe and China.

(57) - There is a curiously homo-erotic feel to Hugh's emotions in this story, though I do not think it was meant by the author, and I do not mean to imply that all strong male friendships must be partly sexual.  While there is no reason to assume that Hugh and Kronous are lovers in the physical sense, they clearly feel a powerful attraction of at least friendship, and it is interesting that Kronous (a high-status Akamerian male) is unmarried, while Hugh seems utterly unattracted to any of the Akamerian women.  It is certainly at least suggested by the observable facts that either or both men have homosexual tendencies.

The sex-ratio of the Akamerians -- several men for every women -- would certainly be a situation likely to encourage homosexuality.  Only the most high-status Akamerians would ever have the chance at the unrivalled love of a woman, while barring strong prejudice there would be no obvious difficulty in attracting the unrivalled love of a man.  Furthermore, since the women are polyandrous, the men might be tempted to polyamory due to emotional neglect by their mates, which might take the form of love for their wife's other husbands, or love outside the marital relationship.  One would also imagine that many Akamerian men never wed at all, and in that case probably seek love in the arms of other men.

The usual outlet for this sort of lack -- female prostitution -- is probably quite rare in Akameria.  Given the sex-ratio, even the most ugly and unfriendly Akamerian woman could almost certainly find some husband or husbands, so there would be few Akamerian women willing to degrade themselves by becoming prostitutes.  Male prostitution, on the other hand, including transvestite male prostitution (because it would appeal to desperate hetrosexual Akamerian men), would seem extremely likely.  Though it is of course possible that such behavior is simply beneath the ultra-civilized Akamerians.

(58) - Which is to say that the time-ship is limited to roughly the speed of sound at sea level in atmosphere -- probably, it would be damaged by higher-speed flight.  Clark Ashton Smith obviously knew that air resistance lessens and hence maximum aircraft speed increases with altitude, which was something known mainly to aircrew and aeronautical engineers in his era.  This is, of course, why in 2011 jetliners fly above most of the atmosphere.

(59) - There seems to be no plan for a reconquest of Earth, though this is one obvious future possibility.
Ideological and Historical Perspective:

The most likely reason why this story has rarely (if ever) been reprinted is its strongly anti-black racist theme:  to wit, Smith is making a clear analogy here with black slavery in the Old South and is arguing by implication that blacks were best off as slaves under whites and that they were goaded to revolt primarily by external influences.  The Venusians here are the blacks and the Martians the "external influences."

Smith certainly did not originate this idea.  It was invented in the South long before the Civil War, by way of excusing the otherwise obviously-evil practice of black slavery, with the "external influences" being Northern Abolitionists who (the Southern Democrats claimed) did not "understand" the mentalities of the slaves.  The notion continued during and after the war, and rose to power in the South with the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan and the end of Reconstruction, which locked-in segregation and one-party rule maintained by the use and threat of force for a century after the end of the Civil War.

The 1910's and 1920's saw a strong return of racist sentiments in America, led by President Woodrow Wilson, who was a deep admirer of the Old South.  The Ku Klux Klan, which in its first incarnation had been purely a Southern Democratic party militia and terrorist organization, was reborn and gained influence far north of the Mason-Dixon Line, including in states (such as Illinois and Minnesota) which had been staunchly Union.  Central to this was the concept of black freedom as being tantamount to anarchy, and the Southern Democrats (and Klan) as being the defenders of civilized values against black savagery.

By this time, of course, the nature of the "outside influences" had changed.  There were very real threats to American civilization, first Imperial Germany and then the Soviet Union, both of which carried out campaigns of subversion, sabotage and terrorism on American soil (Germany from 1915-18, and the Soviets thererafter).  The Soviets sought to exploit any weaknesses in the structure of American society, and one very obvious weakness was the whole system of white supremacy, especially in the South, because it created a constituency naturally in favor of a social revolution.

This created the curious situation in which many black intellectuals, seeing their people badly-treated by American whites, sympathized with Soviet Communism, which would of course have treated American blacks worse had it ever come to power.  This situation intensified under the stress of the Great Depression in the 1930's, and the Cold War in the late 1940's and after.  Indeed, it was to some extent due to the fear of Soviet subversion that much of the American Establishment eventually came to favor the cause of black civil rights in America -- they correctly saw the maintenance of white supremacy as a weakness exploitable by our foes.

Clark Ashton Smith,  from this story, at least in 1931 may have sincerely believed that blacks were better off under white supremacy, and were only moved to revolt by outside agitators.  So he modeled the political situation in his futurity on this scenario.  Since he lived thirty more years after writing this story, it is quite possible that Smith came to regret his former racist beliefs, which may have made him less than eager to see it reprinted.

Nevertheless, it's a fine tale, and deserves to be read again.  But one should take what both Hugh and Kronous have to say regarding the society of A.D. 15,000 with more than a grain of salt -- though Smith may not have meant them to be, they are clearly "unreliable narrators" -- Kronous in particular takes for granted the right of the Earthmen to use the Venusians as slaves, a practice which proves in the story itself  to be disastrous.

Comments would be extremely welcome on this one.