The End of Time can be found in




ISFDB.org Magazine Entry




OUR human race, scientists tell us, is only a creature of his environment. As long as things go well, and nature is kind, he will progress. But if another ice age should come there is no assurance that he will not disappear and the supremacy of the earth pass on to the termite or the—cockroach!

But even granting that he can withstand the onslaughts of nature, he possibly carries within himself the seeds of his own doom. Just as an individual becomes mature, middle aged and then senile so it happens with u race and a species. Man is still now in the flush of his youth. But what will be the situation seven million years from now when his primitive strength is gone and he can no longer do such an elementary thing as bring children into the world? This fascinating story thrills by its vivid pictures of the human race AT THE END OF TIME.



I SAT up suddenly, startled out of a deep sleep by the unexplainable feeling that someone was very close to me, and that this individual, whoever he might he, had no right to enter my room in the dead of night. For a moment I allowed my eyes to become accustomed to the faintly luminous gloom of ii moonlit night in midsummer. My attention had been focused at once on a shadowy figure sealed in my armchair. I strained my eyes in that direction; then I reached my hand up tn the wall behind me and switched on the room lights.

As the face and figure of the man in my chair leaped suddenly into prominence in the bright light. I gasped in amazement.

"Brown!" I exclaimed. "What in the world—"

One of those mocking smiles which had always irritated me flitted across Mr. Brown's lips. He seemed to be enjoying my discomfiture.

"You who know me so well," he said, "should never be surprised at anything I may do. How I came here is of no importance. What concerns you is why I came here."

Instantly my mind flashed back across Lune to that terrible, that incredible adventure of ours in lost Atlantis, when Brown and I fought for our lives against men who had been dead ten thousand years! Of late months I had begun to doubt the whole amazing aflair; I had begun to doubt the very existence of Brown, since he had disappeared completely, he and his house and his laboratory; and not even the blue mark on my finger, or the half-empty' fire extinguisher on the wall could convince me that I had once actually saved his life by putting out a blaze in his abode. Those who have read my1 "Time Oscillator" will recall my undignified return to the world of today. When I picked myself up from the floor of my own laboratory the astounding Brown had vanished; and a man less scientific than I would have dismissed that fantastic journey backward into time as a freak of the imagination. All the weight of deliberate reason stamped the events as altogether outside the pale of probability. Ii I admitted to myself that such events had taken place, then I considered myself stark mad; and, naturally, I could not admit the latter assumption to be true.

1: December 1929 issue Science Wonder Stories

The reappearance of Brown—I had almost said the apparition of Brown—came, therefore, as a blow at my very reason. But I realized, once and for all, that I really had gone back to Atlantis, and that this man sitting quietly at my bedside, with that cynical smile of his, was the wizard who had taken me there.

"Awake, my friend," continued the master of time. Then he chuckled: "How typical! Mankind sleeps, while the stars gyrate in the heavens!"

Accustomed as I was to Brown's bitterness, I merely smiled, and then got out of bed and donned a dressing gown. Between Brown and myself there were none of the usual formalities of handshaking. Such was the power of this remarkable man that the empty months seemed to vanish, and it seemed as though I had seen him that very day, and that we were resuming a conversation begun in the twilight.

"I called upon you, in this rather informal fashion," began my friend, in his offhand manner, "because you are the only man on earth who knows me and trusts me. The truth is that I am about to embark on the most elaborate time-voyage I have ever undertaken. Before I go any farther I wish to know whether I can depend upon you as I have in the past—whether you are willing to accompany me on my greatest adventure."

Some of the old spirit of courage and daring, some of the old love for the bizarre, rose up in me, and I nodded.

"As my disciple," continued Brown, "I want you to share the dangers and joys of this adventure—and I warn you, there will be more danger than you have ever faced before. Compared to the trip upon which we are to launch ourselves, the journey to Atlantis was a mere visit next door, so to speak, and the dangers we faced were nothing. The dangers we are lo face you can imagine. But the joy of this adventure will lie in viewing what no man has ever viewed before—the ultimate wonders of the time dimension. Watson"—he paused to give emphasis to what he was about to say—"I intend to venture even to the end of the world! To the end of time!"

The terrific possibilities of what Brown mentioned staggered me for a moment; yet not for an instant did I disbelieve him. Why should I hesitate, I who had accompanied him before, especially since I knew how he yearned for human sympathy—a common weakness among great men?

"Brown," I answered, trying to keep the excitement out of my voice, "no matter what you do you can count on me—to the end!"

And so Brown came once again into my life. Against my better judgment I felt bound to this strange man, and if I believed in Destiny, as do the Mohammedans, I would say that I had been destined to follow him to the ends of time.

I had projected into the future in Brown's first time machine, the same one which had taken me back to the French Revolution, and which had nearly brought me to my death in lost Atlantis. It was a far cry from that block of crystal in Brown's laboratory to the stupendous creation I was privileged to see a few weeks after the lost inventor appeared in my room that night in midsummer.

In a far mountain retreat, hundreds of miles from my prosaic office, I met the man of the time machine. Without ceremony he led me to 1 cavern that ran into the side of n lofty cliff, and there, deep in the earth, I tame upon his laboratory.

"Brown", I said, with a smile, "you remind mo of a gnome who performs his wonders underground, away from the light of men. Vulcan worked his forge in the darkness. The magicians and the alchemists seemed to think that darkness was part of their stock-in-trade. Really—"

"Never mind all that," said Brown, waving his hand at the amazing machine which stood in a natural grotto. In no wise did I resemble the time machine of our first adventure. That incredible creation which introduced me to the possibilities of the time plane and initiated me into the mysteries of time travel was a great block of pure crystal, illuminated by myriads of lights within and without; a cube which appeared to have an infinite number of cubes within itself, one inside the other. In spite of its divisions it was an entity, a single device. Brown's new machine appeared to consist of three distinct parts.

The core of the mechanism—if it can be called a mechanism—was in the form of a small hollow pyramid, surrounded by a winding glass spiral. Around both pyramid and spiral glittered a spherical globe of brilliant, transparent crystal. As the crystal globe radiated the light of the glowing arcs that were focussed upon it—lights which gave the time machine its boundless energy—I could not help laughing aloud at the impression which struck me. I was reminded of nothing so much—as an ordinary goldfish globe, with a toy house in the center through which the fish could swim when they got tired of swimming around the bowl itself.

"You laugh," said Brown suspiciously. "Perhaps I should not have trusted you alter all."

I hastened to reassure him, and explained the cause of my ill-advised mirth.

"You smile," he repeated seriously, "at a magnificent new conception. You are looking with amusement at the three mathematical symbols typical of natural laws,—the curve, the spiral, the apex. Nowhere in creation is the straight line a part of nature."

"What about the level surface of a body of water?" I interjected. "This surface is a plane, and a plane consists of an infinite number of straight lines."

"I was not speaking of planes, but of lines in and by themselves," answered Brown. "By means of these three visible manifestations I hope to penetrate the earth plane to a point far distant in the unexplored future—to a point where animate life shall cease to exist. That will not be the end of time; but as far as conscious beings on the earth are concerned, it will be the end of time and the beginning of eternity."

"You mean—the end of evolution—the termination of processes which have been working themselves out for millions and millions of years? I don't believe it," I said, warmly. "I cannot conceive of the human race dying out unless some terrific natural catastrophe takes place—another glacial age, or the collision of the earth with some other heavenly body. And even then I believe man will he sufficiently advanced to turn back an advancing glacial period. Disease will be conquered by then—as a physician I predict it with confidence. Unless all the natural resources of the earth are exhausted, I cannot conceive of such a thing—and when they are exhausted, science will find a way to replace them.

"I have absolute faith in the future of man. I cannot understand how you expect to come to the end of the race unless you come to the end of the world as well—and in that case, it will be safer not to make the trip at all, for we will never return. Remember that in Atlantis we were nearly murdered by men who have been dead for a hundred centuries!"

To the End of Time

BROWN smiled wearily. "As I have never been to the end of time," he answered, "I cannot say with certainty when the human race will vanish, and when the earth will become a dead world; but this much I can tell you—that it will happen. You think of space as infinite, but space is curved. We can measure the curve. I 'believe in cycles. I believe the cycle of life on the earth has a definite limit."

Since it was impossible to argue on the point and get anywhere, I turned my attention once more to the marvellous new time machine. As I came under the glow of the battery of lights I felt the same abounding vigor race through me which had once before filled me with courage for a mad adventure. Undoubtedly, both machines had the same motive power. I mentioned this to Brown, who nodded. Then I explored the interior of the globe, so different from that cube in which we had visited the dim past.

As in the original time machine, I observed a camera obscura, a series of charts and electric controls, and a curious arrangement of mirrors. One piece of equipment especially attracted my attention. It resembled a portable searchlight—something like the powerful special lights on automobiles—and it was attached to what looked like a metallic helmet.

"What is this?" I asked? "I never saw it before."

"An atomic disintegrator," he replied. "One of my own inventions. It is more than likely we will need some deadly weapons where we are going, and since I couldn't take a battery of field guns I invented something better. This is a very effective weapon indeed. I have' a theory of my own about the future races of man. I rather imagine that man will not progress as far as we think he will; and that at some periods in his history he will not progress at all. The cycle idea again. In case we run foul of a race of throwbacks, we won't be defenseless. Automatic pistols were good enough in Atlantis, but the men of the future will laugh at them. And even this disintegrator will be no novelty—but it's nothing to laugh at!"

"It will be a bad day for humanity," I said, "when a man of our generation has to help kill off the last human beings on earth."

"Let's hope it never comes to that," answered Brown solemnly, yet with a trace of his usual disillusioned mockery.

"Are we to wear the wire mesh suits we used at Atlantis?" I asked.

"We won't be able to frighten anyone with electricity a million years from now," said Brown meditatively, as though he thought of it for the first lime, "but I've got them aboard. You never can tell what you'll need. For all I know we may run into a second Jurassic age, and we may be attacked by reptiles that will have to be taught to keep their distance. Yea, by all means we take the suits. And two automatics."

"What will we do," I asked, "if we find mat the seas have covered the continents-ls they did millions of years ago? Do you think we stand a chance cl getting back?"

"That's part of the adventure," responded Brown, his eyes lighting up. "We may find a race of human beings who have accustomed themselves to an amphibian existence—I believe it's possible. We came from the water—why can't we go back to it? What will actually happen if we should land in the middle of an ocean I can't say—and what's more, I don't like to think about it. But since you think of so many objections to this trip—perhaps you would rather not take the chance? There is still time for you to change your mind."

Deep in my heart I knew I was setting out on a mad enterprise; for, whereas on my first trip I believed in Brown implicitly, in this case I was firmly convinced that he was wrong in his original hypothesis. But my idiotic pride, or my vanity, kept me silent, and I followed Brown into the time machine.

Almost before I realized it, he had sealed the globe and turned the control. I recognized the blurring of the lights, the sense of flying upward, away from the world, into a new, boundless, element. I seemed to spiral into space as the mirrors revolved with incredible rapidity. Against my will I had been projected headlong into the future, and at terrific velocity I was approaching the end of time!

A LOW chuckle behind me made me turn on Brown in a fury. But the utter calm of his countenance, and the care-has smile which played around his lips made me remember myself in time. After all, he had never been wrong before, and it seemed as though I were fated to share with him one adventure more; the best, and, I hoped—the last.

"Now that you've got me here, you may as well show me how to operate this machine of yours," I said to Brown. "Alter all. something is liable to happen to you, considering the dangers we are to face, and I ought to have a chance to get back to my own world."

"Judging by your attitude," answered the omniscient Brown, with his bitter smile, "you wouldn't be sorry if something happened to me right now. I should have known better than to take you into my confidence a second time. You don't trust me any more; you think I'm crazy, and this time you think you have proof of it. Well, before this trip is over, I hope to convince you that I'm as sane as you are—and perhaps a lot saner."

"I'm sorry, Brown," I said, genuinely regretting by hasty conclusion. "Say no more about it. I'm with you here and I'll be with you to the end."

"That's the way to talk!" exclaimed the inventor enthusiastically. "And now that I know you won't try anything, I'll try to teach you how the machine works."

And for what appeared to be a long time, as the crystal globe tore through time to its inevitable destination, Brown instructed me in the intricate workings of his marvellous mechanism.

"I wonder if I can see that wonderful city again," I remarked. "You remember I saw one upon our first trip which seemed to be built of glass, and another that had a vast spinning globe in the center."

"We are far beyond those," said: Brown solemnly. "We are two million years in the future as we speak!"

I gasped, and then turned to the camera obscura and flashed off the interior lights. A vast panorama spread before us. It was night upon the world. A full moon shone coldly on a vast city of gleaming glass, shining like crystal in the white rays. It seemed more like a continent than a city; for when one looks down upon a city from the air, he can discern its boundaries. But here, as far as the eye could see, was that one vast dome of glass, beneath which the teeming life of a nation pulsed and seethed. Through the mighty arched roof, which seemed to cover the entire earth, flashed the myriad lights that turned night to day inside the magic structure. The entire city, or state, or nation—we could discern no distinguishing characteristics—was one immense chain of structures, all connected, like the apartment houses we had left behind two million years before. But these were of stupendous size, and it was quite evident that elevators were unnecessary, for any number of people rose from the glittering floor of the enclosure and apparently without effort, and in defiance of the laws of gravity, shot up to any ledge of apartments they wished to reach.

"They have conquered gravity," said Brown. "Apparently they use nullifiers. If I saw any wings I could explain the mechanism, but as it is, I rather think they have miniature atomic energy devices strapped to their backs, which drive them through the air." He adjusted the lens of the camera to obtain a clearer focus, and 'exclaimed, "I knew it! You can see they all carry some~ thing on their backs—something nature never put there."

"And I was right after all!" I joined in. "Didn't I say man would conquer the advancing glacial ages? Evidently this glass dome is used to protect the people from the elements. You can see the snow on parts of it. How they get their fresh air I don't know, but it's a pretty sure thing that human beings have learned to conquer the elements. I think you're wrong, Brown. Man will never die out!"

"You think so?" asked Brown. "Well, that remains to be seen."


CHAPTER II.

Into the Earth!

THE words had hardly left his mouth when he suddenly put his hand to his head, staggered, and fell. At the same moment the time machine gave a splintering crash and shuddered in every part.

I sprang to the controls to stop our flight through time. There was no need to do so. The machine had stopped of its own accord.

From the base of Brown's skull trickled a little stream of blood. Evidently he had been dazed by a sliver of crystal. With my medical skill and with my first-aid kit, it was a matter of a few moments to restore him to consciousness. He sat up and looked at me accusingly.

"We can't be at the end of our journey," he said. "I might have known better than to trust you with the controls. Henceforth you will leave the navigating to me, and take the controls only alter I am killed." He rubbed the back of his head ruefully. "A little farther down and you might have come to the last men bearing an unusual gift—a corpse!"

The inventor picked himself up and examined the controls. "I thought so," he said. "Smashed!"

"Does that mean—" I asked, feeling the blood leave my extremities and congeal around my heart.

"Does that mean that you are stranded out here in time?" mimicked Brown. "No, it does not. Your precious skin is safe. It means only that I must replace this delicate little mechanism with another—and I have only two. Thank heaven I exercised my usual foresight! Otherwise—but I am sure you can imagine the rest for yourself."

He opened a locker and from it carefully lifted a replica of the damaged control. "There is only one left," he said significantly, pointing to another in the locker. "You will please confine your activities to observation, not manipulation."

I was too angry to attempt to explain. Never in my life did I feel so impelled to express myself in blistering profanity. Brown's contemptuous treatment of me—as thought I were some specimen of imbecile émade me sorrier than ever that I had accompanied him. As the machine shuddered on its way I turned my back on him and walked to the camera obscura. Once more we were hurtling forward through centuries unborn, and as the glittering globe tore onward I gazed again into the future.

"You will probably notice," said Brown's mocking voice from behind me, "that the earth is growing colder and colder, and that the glacial areas are spreading. I am afraid we will soon come to the end of all life."

I glanced over my shoulder. Brown was not looking into the camera; yet he had predicted precisely what was happening before my eyes! As I watched I realized that the extinction of human life was inevitable; for even the glass cities I had seen could no longer protect man from the mortal chill of a cooling earth and a dying sun. Dying the sun might not be; and yet the earth was cooling, losing some of the solar heat, giving way to eternal ice and perpetual gloom. The sun shone down at noon no stronger than the moon I had observed. Perhaps, I thought, the earth had been drawn from its orbit by another body, and was as far from the sun as Mars. But whatever the cause, the effect was plain. Not a living thing was visible. Everywhere ice, gleaming, smooth, cold, implacable; nowhere the cheering sight of a solitary creature that drew breath. Involuntarily I shuddered and turned away.

"You have stopped for a moment at two way stations on our journey," said Brown, with grim and almost inhuman humor, with an appalling callousness. "The next atop will be the last. Better get your baggage ready, because this is as far as we go."

"Why," I almost shouted, "you're mad! "You're a monster in human form! wish I had never seen you or heard of your infernal machine! I—." I stopped. Something had happened. The time machine cames to rest with a grinding jar. But still I felt it moving—in what direction, I could not tell. I dashed to the camera and dimmed the lights of the car; and before my eyes the various strata of the earth seemed to pass in rapid, in bewildering procession. We seemed to be sinking, down, down, into the very bowels of the earth; past the outer strata, the deposits of the fern age, the fossilized skeletons of fabulous monsters; down, until I noticed a perceptible increase in the temperature. Were we heading for the center of a dying planet?

"YOU didn't expect this," chuckled 'Brown. "Did it ever occur to you that human beings could live inside the earth, as well as on its surface? We've reached the end of life on the earth, my friend; we're on our way to the last remnants of it beneath the surface. This was the best surprise of all," he continued, unable to restrain his mirth, in spite of the horrible things he tossed off so casually. "Well—who's crazy now?"

"Brown," I said, my hatred and contempt drowned in sheer admiration, "you're the greatest genius the world has ever known—~ but I wish I had never met you, and I wish to heaven I had never made this horrible journey. The thought of what mankind is coming to, the idea that glorious man, with all his magnificent achievements, is coming to this refuge under the earth, the idea that the sun will go out of human life, and that only hideous cold and darkness will remain, is too much. It will haunt me the rest of my days. I would rather be an ignorant South Sea Islander, laughing at the sun, secure in the knowledge that my descendants will laugh in the sun for generations to come, than the greatest scientist in the world, working on with the realization that all my discoveries will come to naught, and that everything I do for mankind, and everything mankind has ever done, will some day disappear in the eternal ice of a dying planet."

"Bravo!" exclaimed Brown, smiling cynically and applauding at the same time. "Excellent! And now that you have delivered yourself of a sentiment such as the world has never heard before, you may as well realize that you will have very little time to be haunted by anything, least of all by an idea of what the world will come to in seven million years! Please realize that you are at the end this very minute! If you don't live to return to your own world, you won't have to worry about this. And what's gotten into you? I thought you were a man of science, an explorer in the abstract. I've been talking this way only because it seems you have been metamorphosed into a sentimental fool, rather than an alert man of science. Pull yourself together—there's enough to do right now without weakening. You were a strong man in Atlantis—don't fail me now!"

"Oh, so that's why you acted so strangely," I said, rather relieve at his outburst. "I was about to ask what had gotten into you, to change you so. However—.".... What I was about to say was obvious, but I never said it. As we stood facing each other, in the midst of the crystal globe, the walls of our time machine seemed to melt away into invisibility as s red glow all around the device grew stronger and stronger; and we found ourselves looking with amazement into a ring of venerable faces that gazed at us without surprise and without emotion.

"We have arrived!" exclaimed Brown, with his old laugh. And, gripping my arm as if to reassure me, he stepped boldly forward, and drew me after him into the enchanted circle.

"Wait a minute," I said. "We've forgotten the automatics and everything else. I don't fancy going among these ghosts empty-handed."

"Well, we can't go back for anything now. Don't forget for a moment this isn't Atlantis; it's the very opposite; and any false move on our part may result very unpleasantly—for us."

I east longing eyes at the atomic disin-'legrator; and somehow I didn't feel completely dressed without my holster and its deadly black burden. But. a number of expressionless pairs of eyes were upon me; they seemed peaceful enough, but I was taking no chances with the advanced science of the final product of human evolution.

Meanwhile, as at Atlantis, the time machine had vanished. Had I not known from past experience that it was still there, invisible, I would have given up all hope of ever returning to my own age. Brown, apparently oblivious of everything else, was studying the quiet figures before him. Into my mind flashed a thought which I am sure was duplicated in his: that these strange men were robed very like the ancient Greeks and Romans, in the toga; and that the similarity was heightened by the sandals they wore strapped to their feet and ankles. It was a most remarkable resemblance.

"Perhaps we've unwittingly gone back to the time of Plato," I whispered to Brown. "Or we may be in the presence of Cicero. These outfits are pretty familiar."

"Nonsense," he said, sharply. "No Greek or Roman ever had a head such as you see here."

And indeed he was right. No ancient, not Aristotle himself, could possibly have possessed the cranial development of these silent figures. And surely no one, in those times-of-sunlit paganism, appeared so inhuman, so free from passions and desires; no, not Plato himself, who is said never even to have lost his temper in eighty years of life. What was most curious, they had uttered not a single word since out arrival. As I had remarked to Brown, they were more like ghosts than men.

A World-Weary Race

AS if reading my thoughts, Brown suddenly exclaimed: "I have it! They don't Ned to talk—they have developed thought transference, and by this time they must have agreed among themselves as to who we are, where we come from, and to what species we belong. I feel as though I have been catalogued in a dozen different minds."

Always a good psychologist, Brown was willing to let the other side make the first move; and so he simply held up his right hand, palm outward, in the universal gesture of peace and friendliness. As this was evidently meant for them, the silent spectators raised their own finely moulded hands in a similar salute, and then slowly lowered them and remained looking at us in the same owlish silence.

I felt tempted to laugh. The situation was more than ludicrous—it was a perfect comic opera setting. There is nothing that can be so disconcerting, and at the same time so farcical, as a silent examination by a group of total strangers.

When the silence reached a point beyond the power of human beings to endure, I cast all discretion to the wind and announced, in a ringing voice: "Lafayette, we are here!"

Brown himself smiled; and an individual directly opposite me advanced immediately and seized my hand. A curious affinity seemed to spring up between us. Travelers who had been through India used to tell me of the remarkable feats of the Hindu jugglers. Some of these magicians can communicate, by genuine mental telepathy, with people hundreds of miles away, and deliver messages to them in that manner; but first they must be "in sympathy" with them—that is, they must have had physical contact. A clasp of the hand, for example, would be sufficient to establish the "rapport" between the juggler and the subject. So it was with me and this man of the last race of men. The moment our hands clasped, a subtle electrical connection seemed to be established between us; and I felt distinctly the influence of an extremely powerful intellect working on my own. Brown probably realized what was going on, but he merely watched me; evidently he wished to see what would happen before he himself submitted to the process.

Thought images were flowing into my mind, clear-cut and unmistakable; and though I could not translate them into words, I received the unmistakable impression that the man looking deep into my eyes with ancient, world-weary orbs was offering me welcome. I seemed, also, to catch the impression that a long wait had come to an end, and that Brown and I had appeared on the scene in time for something momentous.

"I think they're friendly," I reported to Brown, "but don't try to pose as a god again. They won't fall for your bluff."

Brown did not notice what I said—or he pretended not to. Instead, he displayed once more his amazing knowledge of root words, as he had done at Atlantis. Apparently he was asking a question. The men looked a trifle surprised; then one of them clasped his hand and it was obvious that my companion, also, was receiving thought images. I saw him nod; then he beckoned to me; and Brown and I and the welcoming committee moved off in the direction of a powerful light.

"It seems they have been expecting us," said Brown, "and before we go any farther they want us to undergo a treatment which will purge us of some of the taints of our gross twentieth-century bodies. Apparently they are afraid we will bring them some forgotten disease. I don't believe there's anything to be afraid oi."

Brown and I were delivered to the care of two attendants arrayed in curious protective garments, who conducted us into a small chamber in an edifice of some gleaming material unknown to me, and shut the door on us. Instantly we were conscious of the action of powerful, invisible rays. I felt as though a mild electric current were running through the body. I was filled with a sense of exalted physical vitality. The years seemed to fall away; it was as though I sloughed off my former skin and assumed a new one more easily than a snake sheds its old coat. As a physician, the process aroused my curiosity. Could I but carry the secret back with me—that is, it we ever found the time machine, which had disappeared—what a wonderful addition it would make to the medical lore of the twentieth century!

THEN we were forced to submit to a change of attire. I felt ill at ease in my fluttering toga; but Brown seemed to enjoy the experience, and, when he was completely clad in the curious garments, he looked remarkably like an Athenian of the golden age of Pericles. I had never noticed before how finely cut were his features, or how imposing the cast of his head.

"Have you noticed," asked Brown, "how terribly old these men ares—how their eyes seem to be weary with the weight of centuries? I think we have fallen among people who realize they are the last men, and who have learned to prolong life indefinitely. One thing I have not noticed—have you seen any young person, or persons who might, by a stretch of the imagination be considered young?"

"No, I haven't," I answered. "We seem to have come down to a race which exists in a state of senile decay. In Atlantis there was youth, and beauty, and strife, and hatred, and war. This place reminds me of the more repulsive ideas of heaven I acquired many years ago. Every inhabitant of that blessed abode was venerable and saintly, but unless I'm very much mistaken, these old men are the very opposite of saintly. They eyed me as I myself might eye a culture of scarlet fever germs. And in more than one world-weary eye, as you term it, I rather think I detected a glitter which reminded me of a cat looking at a mouse."

"I got the same impression," agreed Brown, "but we must never allow them to realize that we know more of their characters—if they have any—than we did before we landed. Our best bet is to act gullible and innocent. Now that I've seen what the last men will look like, I want to find out just a little more about them before we go back."

"If we ever get that far," I amended. "And if we ever find the time machine again."

Brown suddenly smote his forehead. "By Jove! I thought I had forgotten something! They surrounded us so suddenly I didn't have a chance to mark the place! I laid stones in front of the machine in Atlantis. As far as I know, I didn't mark the spot here at all."

As Brown spoke, I felt myself growing pale. And while he realized the seriousness of our situation as well as I did, it was not his custom to give way to qualms and quakings. "We may find it again," he continued. "I have a pretty good idea where we left it, but of course, most places look alike down here. We may not need the weapons, but how will we ever get back tn where we came from?"

"Perhaps we can live here forever and let time catch up with us," I ventured, "I am convinced those rays are used to increase the lifespan. I should say that the fellows we have seen are centuries old—each one of them."

"Very probable," said Brown. "They remind me of changelings. You remember the story of the Irish woman whose infant was stolen by the fairies—Irish mythology is full of them. In place of the human child they left:1 fairy changeling which was its exact double. But the mother knew at once what it was simply because, out of its innocent face, looked malicious eyes that burned with the knowledge of fifteen centuries. Well, that's how our new friends appear to me. Their faces are innocent, but their eyes give them away. I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to experiment on us, just as we use frogs for vivisection."


CHAPTER III.

The Intercepted Message

OUR two attendants approached and Brown addressed them in English. They continued to stare, and he tried the other European languages with equal failure. Then he went back to his root words, the same he had used at Atlantis, and I detected a glimmer of recognition in the deep-set, tired eyes.

"You notice," said Brown to me. "that the fundamentals of language scarcely ever change." And, just as he had spoken to the men of the lost continent, so now he spoke to the survivors of the last race. As we walked toward what was apparently the council chamber of this underground race, he talked easily and surely with the amazed centenarians, whose answers, in low, flat monotones, seemed to please him immensely. I gathered from what he let drop at intervals that speech was not their usual method of communication, as they had developed thought transference to a degree unthought of in backward times like our own.

"I was right, after all," said Brown, between pauses. "It seems they have been expecting our arrival. I presume they, too, have mastered the mysteries of time. When the glacial age became so destructive to life—in spite of their cities of glass—the more enterprising members of the human race, with untold centuries of science at their command, turned to their last refuge. Some of them ventured to other planets—some to Venus, some to Mercury; but they were never heard from, and the great mass of the people were compelled, through force of circumstances, to follow the lead of their greatest scientists and delve beneath the earth for their only certain shelter against the advancing age of ice. We may hear a great deal more a little later. I have my own theory as to how they got here, how they live, and how old they really are. But one thing I cannot understand-why they should act as though they were expecting us, and why they should be so unusually happy to see us. It seems to me as though they were waiting for someone to put to their own uses."

The council chamber, if that is what it was, looked like any other immense room—except that it was equipped with devices I had never seen before; that it had an artificial heaven, in which glittered stars so realistic I had to rub my eyes before I realized we were not in the open air above the earth at night; and that at one end was an enormous astronomical device, something like the planetarium I had seen in Chicago in my own time. Through this I was to learn later that the earth had changed its course, and that the stars, constellations, and planets were not where I had been accustomed to look for them.

Some had changed their places entirely—that magnificent spectacle known as the Southern Cross was one of them—and others were obviously on their way to oblivion. I do not say the stars were dying; but perhaps the erratic course of the earth made it impossible for them to be seen.

More astounding still, the windows of the room looked forth on what appeared to be a wonderful garden of tropical foliage. It was more than a garden; it looked like a tiny jungle, with the trees and the flowers gone wild. I fancied the palms were stirred by a gentle breeze. But I felt sure that this vision was, like the starry heaven, an illusion. I did not believe it possible that any sort of plant life had survived the subarctic cold of the earth's surface. I was ready to admit that this world underground had ample light and moist, balmy air, all under perfect control, it appeared; but I saw here a flat contradiction to the science of my own day, which assumed that the lower orders of life could endure longer than the higher.

The entire display, I felt, was for artistic reasons; a nostalgia for the ancient heritage of man, lost long ago; the sun, the skies, the pure air, the winds, the seas, the sweet smell of young grass and budding flowers. And yet I knew these things had been denied them time out of mind; and again I wondered by how many centuries each man reckoned his age.

MEANWHILE Brown, as spokesman for the adventurers of a backward age (as the venerable inquisitors termed us) was speaking familiarly to the most impressive specimen of humanity I have ever seen. The ancient root words stood him in good stead; and where his language failed he seized the other's hand and they understood each other perfectly at once. Brown was so absorbed in his conversation that I deemed it wise to keep myself in the background; and after almost a half hour of palaver, during which the leader and several of his companions had addressed themselves to the time wizard, I saw Brown suddenly seize the right hand of the chief, and the left hand of the man who sat next to him.

I was mystified, and drew nearer my companion to be with him in case of trouble, although, unarmed as I was, my aid would have been in vain. Brown still retained the hands of these two men; and as he spoke, uttering words that he seemed to have memorized, I saw a look of amazement cross his face, and then a frown of perplexity.

The magnificent brows of the last men gleamed in the soft, cold light; their amazingly large crania, covered with silvery hair, nodded slowly and impressively at every pause. And still Brown held the hands of the two men as he talked into the air. These two seemed not to be listening to him, whereas the others appeared to pay attention.

As Brown stopped speaking—for lack of anything further to say, I imagine—the conclave rose. He dropped the hands he was holding and stepped back to where I had remained. "The plot thickens," he announced laconically. "These fossils are not as saintly as they look—not by a long shot. I rather admire their brains, though."

"What were you telling them?" I asked.

"Oh, the usual thing—that I come from another age, millions of years back—which they understand perfectly. They have been expecting someone for centuries, and they are surprised no one came before this, in view of the fact that they themselves know so much about time travel. When I asked them why they didn't travel back to a warmer age, they declared that, while they knew it was quite possible, their time expert had departed this life, and they confessed frankly that, with all their millions of years of science and with all their tremendous brain power, they were incapable of constructing an apparatus which would take them all to a milder period of history. Quite a compliment for me, I think."

"You should be flattered," I answered. "Did you offer the use of your own machine?"

"Am I insane?" asked Brown. "I want to get back some time myself—I want them to forget all about my own invention. They may decide to keep me here to build one for them, and I don't think I can do it."

"Then why did you suddenly become so affectionate as to grasp the hands of those two old fellows?"

"Ah," said Brown, with satisfaction. "This time I have put one over on them. I told them that I was honored beyond words to be the first to grasp the hands of the two leaders of a race so advanced. You may have noticed that I recited something I had memorized. And you may also have noticed that they paid very little attention to me. Allowing me to hold their hands was an act of diplomacy on their part. I must find other occasions for hand-holding. It's too bad there aren't any pretty girls here. I might have a legitimate excuse if there were."

"That reminds me," I said. "I haven't seen any women."

"Oh, they probably exist," said Brown. "But what I learned is of more importance. You know they communicate by telepathy, which in this place is an art and a science. Well, holding the hands of both of them, I intercepted their messages! And all the time they were pretending to listen to me, they were in reality deciding that you and I were to go on a long journey to some other race in this underground world—and unless I am very much mistaken, we are to go as hostages for something!"

"Hostages?"

"I only think so," said Brown. "We will find out very shortly. I have an idea I can worm some information from one of our guides. I will ask them to take me on a tour of the place, and if I find out what I imagine I'll find out—that is, unless they are too wary for me—then I'll know that I'm not making any mistake."

I found I was growing sleepy, and Brown, too, was wearied by the events of our journey. But nowhere in the spacious halls did we find anything approximating a bed. Brown soon learned from the attendants that sleep had been mastered thousands of years before, and that the last men required none of it. I suppose their ray treatments removed the poisons of fatigue. At any rate, Brown and I stretched out in the most convenient spot, and our guides, understanding perfectly what troubled us, withdrew and left us to our slumbers.

A Struggle For Existence

THE next morning—I call it morning simply because I'm used to it, although there was neither night nor day in that phantom land—we were Ied on capsules containing high-powered food content. I discovered that our hosts ate on an an average of twice a week, and as a physician I could understand the state to which they had brought themselves.

On our tour of inspection—on which Brown had insisted—my companion spoke easily and carelessly to the guides, leaving me to take my notes alone. And everywhere was ample evidence of the wonderful mind of man. The atmosphere was supplied as I had imagined—avast pumps, of a size and structure unknown in my own day, drew in the clean, cold, air at one opening in the earth's surface and expelled it at another under high pressure. Everywhere the illusion was preserved that the inhabitants of Ultima—as Brown termed it—were walking on the surface of the planet.

The earth enclosure was artfully disguised, giving the illusion of vast distance, even to the mirage of a horizon line, with trees and buildings standing out against the sky. How much labor must have been expended in the construction of this underground world staggered the imagination. I understood, however, the motive for all this: The last men, realizing that their hour had come, had devoted themselves to work, as the only means of keeping alive their spirit, the the only salvation from the maddening realization that with them the human race, the pride of the universe, had reached its last representatives. And so these inhabitants of a place which never knew the sun, fabricated for themselves cold light from myriad sources which replaced the blessed light to which I was accustomed; and in their planetaria they set suns which never ceased to throw their light on the surrounding planets.

The broad streets, designed obviously for air space, were almost deserted, in spite of the fact that once a populous race must have passed over them; people who walked from these thoroughfares into tunnels for quick transportation to other parts of the city. Evidently the last men had returned to the realization that walking was not an evil unmodified; for they encouraged this mild exercise on every occasion, and reserved incredibly swift mechanical transportation for long distances. Yes, the race was shrinking; for while I saw aged countenances everywhere, the faces of men who outlived Methuselah, nowhere did I see the erect figures and the radiant countenances that denoted youth.

Brown, observing all this, shook his head sadly. "It's a pity," he repeated, again and again. "It seems they are unable to reproduce. A race of young men, with the scientific knowledge of their ancestors, could yet make this planet the proud home of man."

"Have you discovered anything?" I asked. "Anything that concerns us, I mean?"

"Nothing that concerns us directly," he answered. "But I am putting two and two together, and I rather imagine the result will be four. I have learned that there is another race living underground here on the other side of the planet, as far away as possible from this one; an inferior race, regarded with contempt by the people among whom we have fallen; but a race which, of course, is far ahead of our own. These people, whom we have never seen, outnumber our kind hosts ten to one, and as Iar as I can gather, there is no love lost between them."

"Why can't they live together in amity?" I asked. "I should think that at the end of the world, all personal enmities would be forgotten in the struggle to maintain the race of man on or in the planet as long as possible. Why should there be any hostility between the last two races of man?"

"Why?" echoed Brown. "Well, I admit there shouldn't be. One would think the brotherhood of man would reach its highest point now, if ever. But I adhere to my cycle theory. I believe that as the circle closes, as the last point on the circle moves toward the first, differences are swept away, and the last men become like the first. Oh, I don't mean primitive; I mean that in spite of all the science of the ages, the essential nature of man has not changed, sad to say; and while all men may have been brothers a couple of million years ago, the spirit of nationalism—call it that for want of a better name—is still rampant.

"The superior race, instead of aiding and uplifting the inferior, despises it; the inferior race instead of trying to imitate the other, instead of working its way into its good graces, merely hates and fears. And so it stands. The same old situation all over again, from the moment one man showed his superiority over another—the same old enmity that existed between the Neanderthals and the Cro-Magnons. I think my cycle theory is right."

THE guides were beckoning to us again. "Drop behind," ordered Brown. "I've got to discover some more about our unseen friends on the other side of the world."

I walked slowly after him, trying to appear indifferent to what he was saying. My own attempts at conversation were carried on by telepathy, which was quite easy as long as I held the hand of the guide. I must have cut a ridiculous figure, walking hand-in-hand with this patriarch, like a child with its nurse.

After showing us around the outward battlements of the city, our guides escorted us to a building which seemed to contain nothing but elevators. We shot up at dizzy speed—miles, it seemed,—and emerged into the most splendidly-equipped observatory the human mind can imagine. The elevator had been run through a mountain peak, and this observatory, high above the surface of the earth, was the last point of contact with the outer world.

Here a few fortunates, protected from the intense cold by a great dome of crystal, so vast that the giant telescopes worked within it, and so clear that visibility was not interfered with in the least, surveyed the heavens. Instruments unheard of in my time noted and recorded the slightest variations in sidereal and stellar motions. For centuries this system had produced the most complete and minutely accurate system of star maps in existence; and so powerful were the telescopes that these men of the future had been able to study animate life on the nearest planets.

Mars, I noted, had sustained life of a high order long past my time-dimension. Venus supported a limited life cycle of a low type. But at the time I saw these charts, Mercury, the only planet suitable for anything like human habitation, in view of the waning' powers of the sun, had developed a system of life and evolution similar to what we know of the beginning of life on the earth.

Ten planets were listed in all—eight of which I had known; one had been discovered in my life-time; and as for the one unknown to me, I could not doubt its existence. It was to this observatory and its calculations that the planetaria beneath the earth's surface owed their superhuman accuracy. At any period, the marvellous mechanisms miles beneath this mountaintop contained exact replicas of what the astronomers recorded. Wireless telephony, television, and mental telepathy all combined to keep the lower astronomical stations accurate to the fraction of a minute. Through these recordings, also, I learned that my old friend the North Star no longer occupied his place as a cardinal point, but that he had been replaced millions of years before by another sun.

"What is the use of all this?" I asked Brown. "With the exception of the astronomers no one here ever sees the stars. Why, then, all this trouble to map the heavens day after day, when the race is dying off?"

"The will to live, probably," said Brown. "Even though they know the race is dying off, they still remain men, proud to the last. But they have one hope—they have a means to continue the race, if only they can lay hands on—or rather, if they can get enough of—a radioactive substance of unusual properties—a substance of which I never heard before."

"How can they use this to reproduce?

"Well, as I see it," answered Brown, "their females are too old and too sterile—through long habit—to be of any use in that respect; and as you saw, the men themselves are entirely too aged. But for centuries they used ectogenesis2—and this substance will either fertilize the females, unattractive as they are, or else it will react on, let us say, a uterus which has been separated from the body. In either case the result will be the same."

2: A Method or breeding children apart from the body of the mother.

"I heard something about that back in our own time," I answered thoughtfully, "but as a physician I could never understand how the offspring could develop away from the mother's body—without the necessary blood stream to nourish it."

"Apparently things have developed in medicine since your time," said Brown. "But the important thing—as far as we are concerned—is something else, something only remotely connected with this method of producing life. What I have discovered is that this radioactive element is used to manufacture the food capsules, and that only a certain amount of it is allowed for food and for use in the ray treatments."

"What do you mean by 'allowed'?" I queried. "Who can say how much or how little shall be taken?"

"Have you forgotten the other race I told you of?" asked Brown, with his irritating smile. "It appears that this radioactive deposit, while very large, and consisting of something I never heard of—Something indeed discovered only a thousand centuries ago—is the last of its kind in the earth. The Plutonic regions have been pretty well searched, and this is the last source of life. Well, the hostile race is afraid that if our old friends get an oversupply of this element, they will fertilize their females, or produce offspring in the other way I mentioned, and that will be directly contrary to their interim. You see, like all inferior races, the one lam speaking of fears an increase in the superior race. They are afraid—needlessly, perhaps,—that with an increase in the population, the greater race will fall upon them and exterminate them, taking for itself the radioactive deposits which are vital to both races. Even here the law of the primitive holds good. Self-preservation is said to be the first law of nature. Apparently, it is also the last."

"And you say this alien race outnumbers the greater at least ten to one?"

Brown nodded.

"Then it requires ten times the amount of the clement that this one requires?"

"Your reasoning," said Brown, "would do credit to a Newton. "Such, indeed, is the case."

"Then why doesn't this lower species exterminate the higher and keep all the mineral for itself?"

"Ah," said Brown, "there you have it. Our friends run the earth—what is left of it. Without their science, I doubt whether the other race would survive very long. Our guide has informed me that we are going to see something more wonderful still. I imagine that the scientific work done here keeps their enemies from falling on them. As far as I can judge, the matter was fought out not very long ago—only a few centuries ago—and both sides realize the futility of further loss of life. The superior weapons of this side just about balance the superior number on the other. A sort of armed neutrality exists. An increase in the population here would mean war, and the final destruction of one side or the other. And so the circle goes, one point leading to another, and all leading back to the beginning."

"But where do we come in to act as hostages, as you said?"

"That," said Brown, "I haven't thought out yet, hut I have a pretty good idea. I'll know it before long."


CHAPTER IV.

Hostages!

ON our way down in the elevator I thought it prudent to change the subject. Wherever I went, I felt the cold eyes of my guide upon me. It was as though he were looking through me into my inmost being.

"Did you notice the two planets with rings around them?" I asked Brown, as we shot earthward.

"Yes," he answered, "and one of them is the earth! At this moment the earth has a ring like Saturn, and the moon has vanished from the heavens. You probably know that the moon receded from the earth, and then approached it, and that at a critical point the gravity of the earth and the gravity of the sun, acting upon it, split it apart, and its fragments formed an orbit around this planet. Shapley was right, after all."

The elevator had reached the underworld; but instead of stopping, it continued downward, until the heat became almost unbearable. And there, perhaps, was the ultimate achievement of man, the tapping of the incalculable supply of heat still remaining in the depths of the earthcore. What had been a great dream in my own day was an everyday reality here. In an enormous cavern illuminated with cold light—a cavern beyond the black confines of which red tongues of flame writhed and roared as they had in the imagination of Dante—gigantic, polished, engines throbbed to the terrific power pulsing even then, through the center of the icy planet. What a contrast!

What purpose the power generated was put to, I did not imagine at the moment, unless it was for driving the vast air pumps and for assisting in the manufacture of the artificial, moistened, atmosphere. But I noted that whatever work was necessary was performed by robots of superbly ingenious construction, working in heat which no human being could long endure. And then we were shown one of the most amazing feats of engineering in the entire underground world. It seemed incredible that Brown could be talking of his own unimportant affairs when he viewed the magnificence of the achievements of the last men.

I had long known that the earth, as it rushed through space, generated millions of volts of electrical power, and that this power flowed around it in a great stream. To harness this intangible and yet tremendous force would have seemed out of the question; and yet, as their supreme achievement, the last men had done just that.

Brown and I were shown seven immense helices of tightly wound wire that extended upward, it seemed, for an infinite distance. These were the bases of seven mighty hills that, in happier days, had been wrapped in the copper coils—wires of a nature to excite the magnetic fields induced by the fields of the sun. That immense and perfect dynamo, the earth, the nearest approximation to perpetual motion, had been harnessed to keep alive the men who had vanished from its surface. The incalculable electrical energy derived from the rotation of the earth was put to working the machines that tapped the earth's heat, and these, in turn, giving power to so many other devices, in reality made life possible. And so at the very end, man had cheated the earth which had cheated him of life on its surface my making its very vitals serve his needs. One thing alone he could not do—and that was reproduce his own kind. The most elementary function of nature he could not perform!

When Brown and I returned to the council chamber, we were informed that our education was not yet complete; that we were to take a journey to the people on the other side of the world, and that we would remain there for some time. Brown winked at me. I began to get the drift of the arrangement.

As I understood from what Brown translated for me, we were to be shot through a long, straight tunnel in a magnetic car drawn forward with incredible rapidity, by powerful electric currents. Although the world under ground had been pretty well hollowed out, making it possible for one race to attack another in deadly combat, rapid transportation was still carried on through tunnels. I understood that one tunnel led directly to the deposit of radioactive material, and that at regular intervals both races sent out cars for supplies. These times were agreed upon in advance; and as an evidence of the absolute trust the last two races of men reposed in each other, the deposit was protected by an array of photoelectric cells and television devices, making it impossible for one party to carry away the element without the other knowing of it. This, then, was what prevented my hosts from stealing enough of the mineral to cause reproduction. But something told me that was not enough.

"I see it all now," said Brown, "and I must say it's devilishly clever. Our old people here must send two of their members every period as hostages, with the understanding that if they try to abstract any of the stuff, the hostages will be put to death. The old Roman idea all over again. The only reason they don't go hack on these two victims is that human life here is so terribly precious, it isn't worth the risk to cause the death of a great scientist simply to bring about the birth of a lot of potential scientists."

"Then that means...." I began.

"Exactly," said Brown. "With these robes, and with the benefit of the ray treatments, we resemble them to an amazing degree. These enemies of theirs will never know the difference. Our good friends can steal all the stuff they want, and you and I will pay the price! Capital! I wonder whether that was why they welcomed us so eagerly!"

"This is what comes," I said bitterly, "of trying to put your wits against creatures millions of years in advance of you. What are we to do now? We can't escape to the time machine because we don't know where it is; and even if we did know, I doubt whether we could get away. I never dreamed that I was to die seven million years after my time!"

"Oh, I'll find a way out," said Brown easily, with superb self-confidence. "It would be easy enough if we had our weapons, but this adds a little more fun to the adventure. Imagine escaping from the future and returning to the past!"

"You're only saying this to keep up my spirits," I answered, gloomily. "You don't believe it yourself."

"I don't, eh?" asked Brown, with his contemptuous smile. "Then look at this!"

From beneath the folds of his toga he drew a long sliver of crystal, strong as steel and sharp as a needle. "You don't think I let myself go unprepared, do you?" he sneered. "Those who accompany us are going to get the surprise of their lives. I don't suppose anyone has been stabbed down here for ages, but I intend to introduce an innovation."

"Put it away," I ordered, looking hastily around. "You won't get anywhere with that. You haven't a chance in the world." "Now you listen to me," said Brown, "and listen closely. "When we get in that car we're as good as dead, unless we can convince the people at the other end of the earth who we are, and what sort of a trick is being played on them. I have an idea that they're not such a bad sort after all. But I don't want to do that. I've seen as much of the last men as I want to, and I'm satisfied. I don't mind not seeing the other race—I can imagine what it's like. My only desire is to get back to our own century, and I'll get back there if I have to kill off every man in Ultima!"

Already our diplomatic hosts were approaching us, laden with curious objects. "Timeo Danaos et dona fenentes," chuckled Brown.

"What?" I asked.

"Don't you remember your Latin?" asked Brown, in amusement. "I fear the Greeks—even when they come bearing gifts.' If these fellows don't look like Greeks bearing gifts, then I don't know anything. If they were besieging a town, I would expect to see a wooden horse!"

Our ancient friends led us to the mouth of a large tunnel, and indicated to us a curiously shaped car, completely enclosed on top by a covering of crystal, which reminded me faintly of the torpedo-shaped racing cars favored by Barney Oldfield, of revered memory. The car stood on a shining metal track, like a monorail affair. It was apparent that a large wheel beneath the center of the vehicle was the only means of propelling it; and while I sought for a rocket attachment, I saw none.

ALREADY two of the Ultimates had taken their places in the machine. Brown and I, in the face of a score of ancients, who looked remarkably vigorous for their age, and who undoubtedly had weapons concealed under their flowing robes, thought it the part of wisdom to enter also. Into our hands they thrust curious vessels of a metal like beaten gold—probably peace offerings to distinguish the hostages from their conductors.

Brown, sitting next to one of the guides, watched intently as his companion pressed down a lever. The car seemed to spring forward. There was none of the backward pull of inertia, in spite of the fact that the pull of gravity was greater, because we were closer to the center of the earth than are the trains of my own generation. I could not realize the speed at which we were traveling; first, because there was no noise, second because there was no vibration, and third because, whenever I looked through the windows, the blackness outside remained uniform—I could see nothing rushing past. The car, I judged, was balanced by gyroscopic control which derived its power from the track.

I began speaking to Brown in the most natural way in the world, taking care not to touch my guide, and hoping I would not be understood.

"Suppose we overpower these two birds and make them take our places?': I asked. "Then we could bring »the car back ourselves with some sort of story."

"I thought of that," said Brown, "but I have a better plan. I don't think I can get the other people to attack our friends; they wouldn't believe me, and they would only imagine I was drawing them into a trap. With men of superior intellect it doesn't pay to attempt ordinary means. I want to get hold of some of the weapons our hosts have hidden, and I think I know a way to do it. This isn't Atlantis, don't forget; here it's brain against brain, and mine is the second best, by a long shot."

I remained silent, and Brown engaged his companion in conversation, pressing one line of questions. The other stooped and drew from beneath the seat two peculiar objects. I had never seen their like before, except in museums. They resembled nothing so much as the corselets the knights used to wear when they went forth to kill dragons and to knock their opponents from their horses. But I knew very well that these devices were something different. Brown seemed to be intensely interested; he toyed with it, examined it, and finally tried it on. It covered him from throat to waist.

"This is used to ward off the peculiar bullets they use down here," he explained to me. "It will be handy to have around when things start popping. I understand that our not-so-distant enemies have weapons like pistols from which they can shoot devastating rays—some sort of concentrated cathode ray, I imagine. These rays are effective at a distance, and when they don't kill they exert a paralyzing effect. These protectors turn the rays aside. They neutralize them. My guide tells me that the rays of our enemies are not as deadly as the explosive bullets of those we thought were our friends. I must get hold of the latter weapons—they'll be very important to us.

"Meanwhile, I must say I am terribly disappointed—I really expected something unusual in the way of a deadly device. Why, even in our own backward day men had learned to kill each other on the mass production principle! I really don't know what the world is coming to!"

On Brown's face was his most cynical smile. He seemed to enjoy his grim jest. I took heart at his attitude; it always presaged that he had found a way out of our difficulties.

How long we were traveling I do not know; it may have been an hour, or it may have been two, or three; but the car halted as suddenly as it had started, as we rolled into an illuminated open space. A group of men, looking more vigorous and a great deal younger than our late hosts, stood awaiting our arrival. I noted that they were all armed—another graceful tribute to international amity—and that in their midst were two men of the race I had just visited. Evidently these were the hostages that were to be returned—in exchange for us.

Brown turned to me with a smile. "Be ready to leap into this car at any moment," he said, in the most matter-of-fact way. "This is the most exciting game of chess I was ever in."


CHAPTER V.

Cornered

WE alighted from the vehicle and approached the group of soldiers, who in turn advanced to us. Our guides addressed them in their own language; Brown handed over the gold vessels; and the two former hostages prepared to take our places in the car. As I stood on one side, I was amazed to see one soldier and then another crumple silently to the ground and lie still!

It was all over before I could realize what had happened. They fell like ninepins, tumbling over each other in grotesque heaps, and I could swear I detected a look of astonishment on their faces! The last man standing faced Brown and reached for his ray pistol. Brown laughed as the man's hand closed over an empty holster. The next moment he, too, lay on the ground, and before our astounded friends could say a word, they, also, had joined the platoon of the silent and the prostrate.

Brown surveyed his achievement with evident pleasure—nay, with relish. He played with the ray pistol he had abstracted from the soldier's belt as the gifts were handed over. "Well," he asked, with his quizzical smile, "how does it strike you?"

"Speechless," I answered. "Are they all dead?"

"I hope not," he answered, "but if they are, their blood is on their own heads. Well, we're going back."

"What?" I exclaimed. "Back where we came from?"

"Certainly. Do you want to remain here and get caught? Hop in."

We climbed into the car, after we had provided ourselves with a holster and pistol apiece. Brown ordered me to don one of the protective garments, as he did; and rumaging under the seat he found head-protectors, like close-fitting helmets, which we saved for emergency.

Brown stepped on the lever, and the car darted back on the path it had come. As we sped back to Ultima the time master outlined his plan to me. Making sure the corselets were carefully concealed under our robes, he battered the inside of the car with the butt of his weapon, chipped the crystal, dented the outside; then he held out his robe and put a few holes through it where they would be immediately noticed. I followed suit, wondering at the audicity which had carried him alive from Atlantis, and which was now to lead him into conflict with men even million years ahead of him in the scale of evolution! It was like a man of the old stone age fighting a modern soldier; but then Brown was so far ahead of his own generation that he could not really be said to belong to any age.

As we dashed into the illuminated circle we had left a few hours before, Brown stood up, his hair disheveled, his aspect wild, and shouted again and again in the tongue of the last race. If ever I beheld astonishment on those impassive faces, this was the moment. "We are being attacked!" he oratorized, in his most effective manner. At least that is what he told me he said; I, for one, could not understand him.

"They killed our friends before our very eyes!" he continued. "They are bent on destroying you and keeping the planet for themselves! No longer do they need you! You are doomed! Even at this moment your lives are approaching their ends!"

With resignation on their faces, but without haste, and without apparent fear, the Ultimates made a concerted move for a building which stood apart. "That's what I wanted to know," whispered Brown. "That's where they keep their arms. I rather thought they would rush for them!"

With the basest ingratitude, the ancient warriors forgot us entirely—at least, they forgot to supply us with weapons. Perhaps they considered us incapable of using them. Strangely glittering sidearms dangled at the sides of venerable scientists; every man carried on his shoulder enough power to decimate an army. In an incredibly short space of time, the entire city had been surrounded with protective photoelectric devices arranged to explode mines of terrific power outside its gates. Detachments went below, down into the earth itself, to watch over the precious machinery that gave the 'underground world its breath of life. Others went up into the observatory, to defend to the last the noblest pursuit of mankind. But on every face was a look of utter resignation, as though this were the end, indeed; but on every face, also, I noted the stony determination to preserve the highest achievements and aspirations of the human race to the very last.

IN the general bustle and excitement Brown and I were unnoticed. We had failed in our destined function, and these men had no further use for us.

"I think I know where we left the time machine," said Brown. "If we can get there unobserved, it will be easier than I expected. After all, why should they want us to remain here?"

We moved in the direction indicated. Our way lay directly past the great elevators which connected the ground with the observatory. Unnoticed, we paused at our car to pick up the helmets we had found. As we repassed the elevators, one of the lightning-fast cars descended, and the chief of the council chamber stepped forth. He looked at us curiously. Suddenly he stepped forward and caught my hand in his, and looked deep into my eyes. I tried to struggle away from him, but it was too late. In that moment he had read what was in my mind; he saw, clear as day, the deceit and the trickery. With a dramatic movement he tore open my robe, and as the enemy pistol met his gaze, he raised his voice in command to his subordinates.

He started to speak; then he suddenly sank to the ground, a burning hole in his forehead. "Run for it," said Brown, holding his pistol. "He's told them we are enemies within their gates, in league with the enemies without; and the discovery of that enemy pistol spilled the beans. Put on your helmet, and follow me."

As we adjusted the protective metal and hacked away, he said: "I could shoot up in an elevator and smash the dome of the observatory, and let in the cold to kill them all; but it'll probably kill us before we find the time machine, and I don't dare take the chance."

Something struck me in the chest—some thing that exploded and emitted poisonous fumes. "Lucky we have these armor plates!" said Brown, turning his ray gun on our pursuers.

Instead of falling, they continued to advance, slowly, methodically, knowing that we were trapped, and enjoying the cat-and-mouse situation. Their own protective corselets and helmets were more than sufficient to ward off the rays.

"Aim for their legs!" ordered Brown, firing over his shoulder as he turned and ran at full speed in the direction of a rosy glow.

I turned once to fire as he had ordered. The leader of the party wavered and fell on his face, struggling to rise; and then I, too, ran in the direction of the glow.

Explosive bullets scorched us through the projectors; a score of times my helmet withstood the impact of a projectile. At intervals Brown and I stopped for a fraction of a second to fire another round; but whenever we did, our erstwhile friends threw themselves flat on the ground, and presented nothing vulnerable. It became a game of tag, more grim than anything I had ever imagined.

Suddenly Brown screamed. A bullet better aimed than the rest, had glanced off his unprotected left arm, and the explosion, while it did not tear off the unfortunate member, disabled it at once. Still we ran, toward the strengthening glow. and Brown staggered and would have fallen had I not caught him. We held our arms before our bodies now, firing only at intervals. A bullet struck an inch behind my heel, and the flame burned like the fires of hell. Limping as I was, I had to support the almost unconscious Brown, more seriously wounded than I was.

Suddenly I realized why none of our shots took effect. The pistols had been discharged; the limited amount of energy was gone!

In a fit of fury I turned, ignored all danger, and hurled the weapon full at the oncoming Ultimates. The heavy pistol, flung with the desperation of insanity, thudded with a satisfying crunch against the kneecap of a leader; and if I am any sort of physician. it was a smashed knee that brought him crashing to the ground. And then, as we hurried forward, Brown and I received a crushing blow from before ~us, something that sent us reeling back!

"Quick!" he gasped. "We must have run into the time machine!" I pressed forward cautiously, found the door of the invisible mechanism, and shoved him through it, just as a bullet whistled over his head, struck the delicate controls, and demolished them with a blinding flash!

"Curse you!" I shouted, following Brown into the machine and shutting the door. My friend lay on the floor, a bloody sight, heaving convulsively. "Brown," I said, "can you still work the disintegrator?"

Something like a smile appeared on his face. I lifted off his helmet and replaced it with the helmet of the deadly atomic weapon. Then I seized one of my substantial automatics, opened the door, and fired. The heavy slug ploughed through the armor as through silk; it was a pleasure to see the honest lead crumple up a soldier who was aiming at the invisible time machine something I had not noticed before—a field piece which would have blown us, and the great crystal globe, to atoms!

Hitting the Mark!

MY automatic spurted flame and death B among the last men of the world. Behind the eyepieces of their helmets I could imagine their deep eyes wide with amazement at the efficiency of a forgotten weapon. As I reached for the other loaded gun, I heard a terrific roar, and the ground shook beneath us. Brown, laughing weakly, lay prone on the floor. And where a host of enemies had stood, was nothing but a gaping hole in the earth, and the reek of burning flesh; and, here and there, a fragment of a body, a piece of armor plate, a shred of clothing, a length of rifle!

"Better than I thought," gasped Brown with a chuckle, as he lapsed into unconsciousness. "I could have—blown the whole—damn—nation—to hell!"

l slammed the door shut and pulled the unconscious Brown into a corner. For a few moments, at least, we were safe from further attack. I darted for the locker that contained the last set of controls. I knocked off the damaged mechanisms, cleaned the horizontal plates, set the new controls on them, and turned the lever. Nothing happened. Were we to he stranded forever here in time?

Looking round wildly, I glanced at Brown. He was too far gone to be revived in a moment. To my practised eye, his condition seemed to he serious. Then my mind flashed back to the time he had rebuked me. Had I seen a key? Was it not true that he had distrusted me to the extent of taking the key from the controls?

I felt around his neck. There was a chain; on the chain was a peculiar key. I jammed it into the lock on the control board, moved the lever, and listened. There was a faint vibration. The lights above me shed a flood of strengthening radiance. And then, looking down, I discovered I was naked! And Brown, lying on the floor, his left" arm bleeding and swelling, the flesh charred and horrible to see, was as unclad as a satyr in the far-away, pagan days of classic myth.

As in ancient Atlantis, whatever we took with us disappeared as soon as we were in another time dimension. In that case we took with us things long since turned to dust, which vanished; and here we wore garments which had as yet no real existence! But I was more concerned with Brown; and after setting the control for our own century, I shut off the camera obscura, which had been left in operation—so as not to he distracted—and gave all my attention to the unconscious wizard.

Brown's arm was fractured at the elbow. I washed the wound with antiseptic solution from my medical kit, taped the broken skin, and improvised a splint for the burned and shattered hone. As far as I judged, the work consumed the better part of an hour. Brown was still unconscious, probably from the terrific shock of an explosive bullet; and I deemed it wisest to leave him in merciful oblivion. I prepared a hypodermic to deaden his pain when he came to himself. In order to keep up his strength I forced between his lips a little hot concentrated soup we had brought in vacuum bottles.

Then I cleaned myself up as well as I could, patched up my scorched heel, swallowed a few cups of the strengthening liquid, and rummaged in the inexhaustible locker for decent apparel. No matter where we came, we could never emerge in our embarrassing state, and Brown might die for lack of prompt hospital attention. In the locker I found three pairs of ancient trousers, such as men love to go fishing in. Brown had his human side, after all. I slipped into one of the garments myself, pulled the other up over Brown's limbs, and felt once more like a human being. The locker yielded one flannel shirt, which I appropriated for myself. I judged it better for Brown to leave his injured arm free.

Then, and then only, did I flash on the camera obscura. But what I saw convinced me that we had still a long way to go, hundreds of thousands of years: and I inspected the controls, put my faith in Brown's machine, and stretched myself out on the floor for a little rest.

Presently I began to grow drowsy. The machine vibrated onward, through century after century, hurtling invisible through the fourth dimension to an age long past. Under the glowing roof lights I felt invigorated and refreshed, and basked in them as I would in a flood of sunshine. The sun! How long was it since I had seen the sun the one I knew and loved, not the sickly, dying dwarf star of the Ultimates?

AND then the vibration died down and stopped. The machine, I sensed, gently came to rest. As in the time when I visited the dungeons of the French Revolution, I stood in another room; I stood invisible, but I grasped the controls, so as not to lose myself.

The room in which I stood, and in which lay the unconscious Brown, was vaguely familiar. It had the musty look peculiar to parliamentary chambers, and by the fixtures I knew that I had seen it before in pictures. I had even visited its modern counterpart. Rows of chairs were placed facing a dais, row on row, one above the other, as in a theatre. To one side sat a man with a gavel, dressed in the long frock coat, the stiff-bosomed shirt, the open collar and the soft black silk necktie of another generation. And in the center of the room stood another man, dressed like the chairman; a tall, heavy-set, severe-looking individual, with u brow like the dome of Saint Peter's, and the jaw of a mastiff. The man was speaking in a rich, sonorous, voice, slowly, distinctly. The" audience paid him the tribute of hushed attention.

"In this respect, sir," he was saying, with a note of satire in his mellow, resonant, voice, "I have a great advantage over the honorable gentleman. There is nothing here, sir"—and he placed his hand over his heart—"which gives me the slightest uneasiness; neither fear, nor anger, nor that which is sometimes more troublesome than either, the consciousness of having been in the wrong—"

And so it went on, this stately, courteous debate of a bygone day. There was something familiar about the speaker's face and words. I recognized the old senate chamber, pictures of which I had studied; and then it all came to me in a flash.

"My God!" I exclaimed. "It's Webster beginning his reply to Hayne!" I knew the opening words, which I had studied years before, in which the great orator laid special emphasis upon Hayne's use of the word "here"—with its accompanying gesture of indicating the heart.

I was standing listening to the beginning of the greatest extemporaneous speech ever made in the United States. And then suddenly I remember something else. "Webster spoke steadily for twenty-four hours!" I said to myself. "I must get out of here before Brown regains consciousness and kills me with contempt!"

Slowly my historical knowledge came back to me. The reply to Hayne was delivered at the end of January, 1830. I had overshot my mark by exactly one century! "Not so bad for an amateur, in a space of seven million years," I said aloud, as I turned the control and the senate chamber and the majestic speaker faded from view. To come to my own century, my own year, was the work of a fraction of a moment. As the familiar cavern formed itself around the crystal globe, as the lights stopped glowing, and the vibration ceased, I breathed a prayer of gratitude to the destiny which had brought me safely back to my own world and my own time.

I held a vial of smelling salts under Brown's nose. He moved his head feebly in an effort to avoid the pungent odor, and opened his eyes. "All out," I quoted, taking unfair advantage of a wounded man, "this is as far as we go."

I dragged him from the machine and out into the cavern. He looked around, noted the familiar surroundings, and thanked me with a look. "Well," I said, "can I operate that machine, or not? Where would you be without me? Do you realize you've been unconscious since we left—that is, for seven million years?"

In spite of his pain, Brown smiled faintly. "You're all right," he whispered. And that was the greatest compliment I ever received from the master of time.

Many a time I was tempted to tell him I had seen and heard Daniel Webster, a man whom he had never seen and never heard. But that would have made me subject again to his satirical remarks on my abilities. And after all, how do I know he has never seen and heard Webster? With a man like Brown one can never be sure of anything-unless it be the certainty of adventure such as the world has never known.

THE END