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Ray Of Eternity


Vingie and Ron Sherman came down
into the valley searching for her father.
They found instead a terrible desolation,
and an incredible menace.

The Prophet

"LOOK!" Vingie Sherman seized Vingie and Ron Sherman came down info the valley searching for her father. They found instead a terrible desolation, and an incredible menace her young husband's arm so violently that his grip was dangerously shaken on the steering wheel. The big, black sedan was creeping in second down a winding, canyon-side trail above a yawning drop-off of several hundred feet.

Ron Sherman stamped on the brake pedal so abruptly that the big car bumped its own axle buffers. He didn't need to look twice. Vingie was pointing out the window like the charming youngest of Fate's three sisters.

Several hundred yards away and down from the raw bluff they were descending, in a clear space between irrigated trees, was a high, woven-wire fence, like a poultry run. Half a dozen or more dogs of indeterminate breeds milled around nervously inside the fence. A tall man in a wide-brimmed hat stood facing the dogs. He held something in front of him like a huge camera.

The two on the canyon trail had scarcely 'grasped the salient details of the scene, when they realized that something damnably uncanny was happening to' those dogs. The poor brute-s acted as if they had rabies. One howled piteously. Those dogs were stiffening somehow, staggering, swaying. Yes, they were actually shriveling, shrinking in size before their very eyes.

They were looking at dogs—gaunt specters of dogs—and then, in seconds, there was nothing but' the fence and a man with a _dull-finished box in his arms. Wavery streamers of mist floated up from the empty fence, quickly dissipating in the clear, still, desert air. Suddenly, the fence sagged and crumpled in On one side.

The man stood a moment inspecting the ruin he had evidently wrought, then turned with the instrument slung to his breast, and strode away through the trees. An orderly huddle of brownish mission adobes was partly visible in the distance; a deep-well watered rancho hidden away in this remote tributary of Arizona's Paradise Valley.

"It's Eli Martin's placel!" Vingie's voice quivered a little, her piquant face pale and strained.

Ron Sherman's square, cleft chin jutted stubbornly as his practical business-brain strove to reject the evidence his eyes had presented. His lazy, blue eyes were no longer lazy as he scanned the hostile rocks above him, the poison green of palo verdes in the ravine below. He had come out here to look for two missing men—one of them Vingie's father. He hadn't believed there was anything really wrong. Now he half wished he had brought a cordon of G-men.

With a mumbled imprecation he released the brakes, and once more they were rolling on impetuously along the stony road that horseshoed down and down toward watered fields—green plots of pasture, fragrant citrus, that now seemed the smiling mask of a stirring menace.

Ron Sherman wasn't a scientist, not even the blood relative of one as was his blonde and ultra-modern young wife. Ron was a very practical executive in charge of the thriving Sherman Aircraft Works. One of his fastest ships had brought him and Vingie from distant Ohio to the landing field at Phoenix, heart of the Southwest. When Vingie's father and his old partner, Adam Holt, had gone west to confer with an obscure inventor concerning an alleged sensational discovery, he'd thought little of it. Just another false alarm that would turn out impractical, he'd concluded. Now he swallowed an unpleasant lump that tightened his generous neck-band. Dogs that turned to smoke! A perfectly good fence collapsing in thin air!

"If this was California, I'd say it was a. movie stunt," he muttered as they leveled off at last at the foot of the cliff-side trail.

The ranch buildings were not visible at the lower elevation. Irrigation ditches, fringed with tall, rank grass, bordered the reddish 'brown gravel oi the road they turned into. Fig trees shed a dense, depressive shade in the hot stillness, oddly death-like as they saw no sign of fleshly life.

Then they saw it. Vingie gasped as Ron trod on the brake. Through the rich green of a. young citrus grove on the left stretched a triangular space of the most utter desolation they had ever seen. The scythe of an incredible demolition had cut through the field in a widening span, as if a branding iron of immense proportions had been impressed there by a Titan hand.

Ron started to speak, to stammer something about a plant disease, when they heard a rustling in the trees at the edge of the desolated strip. Vingie's shriek rang out as Ron instinctively recoiled from the ghastly apparition that tottered into view from the outer fringe of living trees. A man, an awful travesty of a man, so old that it seemed he must fall to pieces with every flexing of his skeletal joints. A bald, shriveled skull bulked abnormally large on thin, bent shoulders. Rags of garments flapped from the scarecrow form. In one withered hand he held a crooked staff of trimmed mesquite wood.

"Howdy, old timer," Ron called out, shakily. "Is—is this the right road to the Martin ranch?"

A wavery grin bared toothless gums in a face that might have belonged to an Egyptian mummy. Sound from the shriveled throat seemed a long while coming. Finally, the quavery, feeble voice reached them as if from another world:

"There's no-o tomorrow—n-o-o tomorrow!"

A haunting sadness racked the broken voice. It was as if the burden of a world's mourning had walled out at them from the roadside. One skinny arm wavered up as they stared. The patriarch of the blasted grove was beckoning palsiedly.

"Let's see what he wants," Ron cleared a phlegm from his throat. "Come along, but stay close to me."

Ron kept a suspicious eye on the old roan as they got out of the car. The animated skeleton was craning its neck jerkily, ogling down the road in the direction the car was headed. The transparent guile of an idiot was evinced in every twitch and flicker of the corpse-like features. The thing that once had been a. man was mortally afraid of something—more afraid of it than he was of strangers.

Slowly the old man led them deeper into the desolated strip that scarred the grove. Presently he tottered to a stop at an odd-shaped mound so vaguely defined that it hadn't been noticeable from the road. There could be no doubt of it after a second, horrified look; that mound had the bloated outlines of a human figure!

They could say nothing as they stared down at the fearfully unnatural remains. The incarnate Father Time had hobbled away and was beckoning them to another human-shaped mound.

"Stay back! " Ron's voice was hoarse as he set himself for the worst.

"I'm not afraid," Vingie vowed with half a sob. "If it's dad, I want to know."

Then they were looking down together at what lay in the shadow of the living citrus trees. A withered mummy of a man! A few faded tatters of clothes still clung to the dried husk of a body. Workman's clothes. Ron could see a little light as he' stared down fascinatedly. This and the other mound were all that was left of laborers caught in the inexplicable catastrophe that had slashed a trail of annihilation through the grove. Evidently, this one had escaped the full effects of the awful blight.

Ron swung on their guide suddenly. For 2. moment he wanted to strangle the gibbering, old idiot. He seized the frail shoulders, shook them as hard as he dared.

"What's happened here?" he demanded. "Who are you anyway?"

An expression of woe unspeakable slowly contracted the shrunken features. Ron let go the shoulders in a wave of pity. Again the gaunt throat retched in the travail of speech as the crooked staff waggled upward, pointing to the sky:

"There's n-n-no tomorrow—n-no tomorrow."

They had hoped for something more, some clue at least to the explanation of it all. But it seemed useless to reason further with a mad man. Ron did not try to stop their guide as he started away at a tottery run, cackling a feeble laughter as he went. A little way off, the awesome prophet of the blasted grove stopped and looked back. His voice quavered eerily to their ears:

"There's n-no tomorrow—heh—heh—heh!"

Ron wheeled and started for the road. He seemed oblivious to Vingie, trotting at his side. Before he plumped down under the steering wheel, he reached under the seat, pulled out a black, snub-nosed automatic and slipped it into the side pocket of his palm-beach coat.

They drove on glumly at a snail's pace. They no longer noticed the broiling heat of the desert sun. N o sound attended them save the purr of the motor, the crunch of the tires. Not even a bird's flight stirred the air of menacing desertion that thralled the lonely road and empty fields.

At the end of a tamarack-shaded lane, they turned a corner and saw the ranch buildings before them. A rambling, flat-roofed hacienda, winged around a square Spanish patio. The other buildings with barred windows looked like tiny fortresses.

Ron stopped the car under the vine-smothered arbor at the end of the drive. His moist palm pressed the gun in his side pocket. Somehow, 'though, he derived little comfort from the feel of the weapon. His feet grated like an avalanche in the graveled drive as he stepped out. The crunch of quick, approaching steps arrested him. Vingie cried out startledly as a sinister figure strode out into the drive, confronting them with hostile suspicion in his hard, sullen eyes. The man they had seen at a distance undoubtedly, and suspended from his square, military shoulders was the cameralike machine they had seen trained on the dogs. But there was nothing cameralike about the thing on close inspection. More like a huge searchlight without a lens. Large perforations in the gunmetal housing revealed the green glimmer of radiating tubes and filaments. The round, quick-silvered reflector in front was covered with a coarse-meshed copper screen, through which a mass of cathodes peered out like the stamens of a carnivorous flower.

Ron Sherman was too practical-minded to accept miracles without adequate evidence. But as he looked into that poisonous bloom of metal, behind which long, tapering fingers toyed with knobs and levers, the sweat of reasonless terror poured from his face.

"Sir, would you mind turning that thing the other way?" he asked brittlely.

Greenish brown eyes in a high, fanatic's forehead darted from Ron to Vingie. The man spoke rapidly in a raspy tone with a faint trace of foreign accent:

"You have nothing to fear if your motives are friendly. I am Eli Martin and I've had all I can stand of interruptions. Who are you?—and your credentials had better be mighty good."

Ron introduced himself and Vingie with a gulp, went on to say what they had come for.... "We didn't want to notify the authorities," he concluded, "until we were sure there was something really wrong—"

Eli Martin interrupted with an impatient gesture. "You may be thankful you didn't notify the authorities, Sherman. I've been looking for Rand and Holt myself. But I wasn't too surprised when they failed to show up. Not when the ranch is being watched by two of the cleverest espionage organizations in the world. It's a. wonder that you and your wife got through without being stopped and questioned, if not murdered. Get out, Mrs. Sherman, and come in. You and your husband are perfectly safe as long as you accept the inevitable."

Vingie was very quietly observing as they entered the cool, rustic living room of the hacienda. Their host waved them to chairs, said formally, "I'll have some refreshments in a moment." He paused at the archway leading to the rear, looked back, then hurried on.

"I wish we knew what Martin looked like—before we met him," Ron said when the man was gone. "There's something phoney about that fellow."

"I happen to know," Vingie whispered, "that Eli Martin was a much older man. Be careful, Ron—that fellow is——"

But their host was gliding in with a tray of drinks. His thin lips were curled in a knowing smile. "These walls have ears, my friends," he chuckled "—very good ears; I made them myself—tiny radiophone transmitters.... It's a long story, but if you're considerate I might explain why Eli Martin looks years younger than his age."

Ron swore a silent oath as he met Vingie's startled glance. The horse's necks were tasteless to their mechanically sipping lips. Eli Martin still wore the harnessed instrument as he sat down across from them, surveyed them with insolent appraisal.

"Mr. Martin," Vingie's voice was tremulous, "is there nothing you can tell us about my father and Adam Holt?"

Martin shrugged indifferently. "I find it hard to be much concerned over the fate of two men with civilization hanging by a thread. I'll have to tell you that my own life is in great danger. As for you, I doubt that you can ever leave this ranch alive unless you are emissaries of Bordoni or Osaka. In that case I'll have to dispose of you. The future of the time screen means more to me than human life."

"The time screen!" Vingie echoed.

"Yes." Eli Martin's eyes blazed lustfully as he glanced down at the instrument in his lap. "This device I'm carrying is a portable model of the Martin time screen, which Rand and Holt were interested in for development by the Midwest Laboratories. My plans have changed, however. I have decided to operate alone with certain exceptions."

"But I can't see why my wife and I should be in danger," Ron put in. "We know nothing of this time screen."

"Of course you know nothing," their host laughed shortly. "But that won't prevent these armament scouts from snatching you and your wife, pumping you for information, and then murdering you to shut your mouths.

"As you've noticed, I've had to dispense with all my help. Couldn't trust them. I am one against the world, but I have the weapon to defend myself and more. And an airplane manufacturer dropping in was just a bit of manna from heaven—not to mention his charming wife. It has been lonely here."

Ron got up decisively, his lips curled with scorn. He tried to act as if he saw nothing alarming in the ruthless ardor of the man he faced.

"I'm afraid we can't accept your hospitality, Martin. For my wife's sake I must at least attempt to get back through the lines of these enemies of yours. If they are actually holding my wife's father and Adam Holt I may be able to arrange their release."

Eli Martin did not appear to be listening. Some noise outside seemed to have attracted his attention. "Just a moment," he interrupted curtly, and strode out the door.

Hot words were on the tip of Ron's tongue. Then he caught Vingie's warning glance and sat down stiffly. Before they could speak they heard the quick, grating strides of Martin's return. As the man came in he wore an air of feline satisfaction.

"I think you'll find my hospitality rather welcome now," he bowed mockly. "It's a long walk back to civilization."

Ron leaped up, ran to the door, looked out at the drive. A hoarse cry of dismay racked his lips as he saw a skeleton of moldering iron, rusted beams, where the car had stood.

I-Ie whirled back, fists clenched.

"I wouldn't if I were you," Eli Martin said softly. "Human flesh ages much faster than the iron bones of an automobile."

Ron's right hand hooked to draw the gun in his coat pocket. Eli Martin shook his head slowly. "One flick of my finger, Sherman, and that gun of yours will be even more useless than your primitive fists. Sit down and calm yourself. You and your wife have blundered into a hand in the greatest game ever played in the history of humanity. The stakes are world dictatorship—absolube power for the man who wins-and I do not intend to lose!"

Dream of Conquest

ELI MARTIN relaxed as Ron cautiously let fall his gun hand before the deadly calyx of metal over which nerveless fingers were poised.

"That's better, Sherman. And now some explanation may convince you and your wife that, willing or not, you must serve me. But first kindly tum over to me that antique toy in your pocket. It might cause me a slight inconvenience."

Ron remembered the vanishing dogs, the blasted grove, the ruined motor car. Slowly he took out his gun, extended it to Martin, butt foremost.

"Now we can discuss the future," Martin said as he pocketed the weapon carelessly. "Follow me and attempt no violence."

He turned abruptly to the door, not hesitating to walk ahead, though he glanced back frequently. They crossed the patio to the opposite wing. A heavy steel door swung open to the grate of a key. Lights were switched on in a long, elaborately furnished laboratory, the shades close drawn. At one end of the room were steel lockers like a row oi prison cells.

Across a miscellany of benches, sinks, cabinets, lathes, their attention was irresistibly drawn to a massive table, covered with a slab of glass or quartz. Over the table, in tier on tier of delicately prismatic layers, were a score or more reflectors of some fragile composition. A network of tenuous ?laments connected the reflectors, gradually converging into heavier, main cables, that in turn were attached to the aluminum bases of several specially designed and monstrous radio-active tubes.

"The original working model of the Martin time screen," their captor-host gestured grandiosely toward the glistening assemblies. "You may observe several points of similarity between it and the portable model I carry as a very efficient side-arm. No doubt you noticed as you drove in that there was no living thing on the ranch."

"With the exception of an old man—a very old man," Ron answered quickly, watching Martin intently.

The greenish eyes flickered with a crafty reserve. "Oh, yes—old Tombstone Danny. Harmless old idiot; pans a little gold now and then.... To return, let me repeat that life has disappeared from the ranch environs for a very significant reason. In perfecting the time screen as an annihilator of living flesh, I was forced to sacrifice all my livestock and most of the wild life near here. Since then I've been having some difficulty in obtaining living forms to experiment on. Just before you came I screened some stray dogs I had trapped in a fence with carrion bait."

"We saw it," Ron muttered, and Vingie nodded mutely.

"So much the better," Martin smiled one-sidedly. "You know what the screen will do to living flesh. To make sure you are convinced I'll demonstrate just what happened to those dogs, and incidentally part of the fence. I couldn't avoid that."

He turned to a screen-covered crock nearby. They heard a frantic scurrying as Martin drew on a tough leather glove and reached in. His hand came out with a squirming pack rat, gnashing viciously at the gloved fingers holding it.

Ron and Vingie watched fascinatedly as the rat was quickly anestheticized. Martin laid the inert body in the middle of the quartz table and turned to them.

"The rat is still very much alive," he said, pointedly. "Now, watch, as I move this overhead switch to the very lowest calibration. And whatever you do, stand back. The screen is focused just inside the edges of the table. Your hands would drop off your wrists in a cloud of cosmic dust if they had endured an infinite fraction of the aging that table top has passed through during scores of experiments."

Eli Martin stood back cautiously, reached overhead deftly. A beam of pale green light rayed down on the table and the rat. For an instant the body of the rat grew in size—a skinny, malnutritioned, bony growth. Then the brown hairs turned wiry and harsh, grayed, withered. The hair fell away from the shriveling skin and vanished in whiffs of vapor. ' They were staring at the frizzling skin, and then they saw only the bones of a very old rat. An instant the bones held ?rm, then they, too, were heaps of skeletal contours—dust of decay that turned to nebulous mist and vanished.

Vingie gasped as Martin shut off the switch. Ron's face was grim and hard.

"That is what happened to the dogs," Martin's harsh voice boomed hollowly in the still room. "Your car stood up a little better. Hard materials aren't so easily destroyed, but what is most important, a single flash of the time screen projection renders any mechanism absolutely useless, just as if it had dried out and rusted in a junk yard. Living flesh may recover from a flash projection, as the cells rebuild themselves, but dead matter never recovers even from a flash exposure to the screen."

"But how—what is the principle of this terrible process?" Vingie breathed the flash vanished in whiffs of vapor, leaving only the bones of an old mi in an awe that was half feigned. Ron knew she was stalling for time, and desperately he racked his brain for a way to overpower or escape this half-mad inventor whose weapon was like the magic of the gods.

Martin's eyes gleamed unnaturally bright, with an almost gloating relish for his theme. "The principle of the time screen isn't easy to explain to the lay intelligence, madam. Like most cosmic forces, man can harness them, use t h e m, but he can't explain them. However, I can clarify the action of the time screen to some extent by outlining my theory.

"You think of time as seconds, minutes, hours. Time isn't that any more than an inch or a foot is actually distance. Distance is absolutely unaware that it is composed of inches, and so time is unaware that we compute it in hours and eons. Actually, time to us is nothing more nor less than the visible manifestations o f processes—the processes of evolutionary change in material forms. In terms of cosmology, what we call 'time' is nothing more nor less than the universal force that governs the rate of change from one state to another.

"It was while studying the cosmic rays with a super-fluoroscope of my own invention that I discovered amazing evidence of a vastly more important ray. I did not dream at the time that what I had stumbled upon was the 'time' ray, the universal governor of evolution. Then, by concentrating the very rays I was investigating, I generated a negative force which neutralized the time ray within the radius of projection. When half my laboratory was destroyed by the negating screen I was forcibly impressed with the stunning magnitude of my discovery.

"The ray I had discovered was the cosmic stabilizer of all phenomena of change in the processes of creation and de-creation, birth, growth, death. With the soundless and almost invisible power of the time screen I had goaded the governors of evolution to a frenzy of speed. Growth and death were almost instantaneous. In fact, at maximum expulsion, the time screen could revert matter to the invisible, etheric stage which precedes the nebula in the cycle of world building."

Eli Martin's enthusiasm had risen to fever pitch as he rounded out his exposition. He seemed oblivious of his audience, though the portable screen was still trained on them.... "I, Eli Martin, had within my grasp the most terrible weapon that human imagination could conceive. I was in truth, the master of time and destiny. Armies, cities, air fleets, battleships would turn to dust before the projection of the screen. No power could withstand me. All that remained to be done to realize a world dictatorship was to construct a projector generator large enough to screen several hundred miles of territory. It was then that I—"

"It was then that you called on my father and Adam Holt," Vingie interrupted tautly. "You believed they would be able to build that generator. You thought you could force them to assist you in realizing your tyrannical dream. You—"

"Very logical, madam," Martin's plunge from dream heights left him the personification of a sneer. "That is near enough to the truth for the present. Now that your husband can supply air transports for shipment of the needed materials, I can command the Midwest Laboratories to ?ll my orders." He turned to Ron. "I think you can see now, Sherman, that whatever your sentiments as regards my plans, you can do nothing better for yourself than serve me unstintedly. A usurper of world power can offer rewards that the gods would envy. What do you say? Is it truce or force?"

Ron's jaws were granite gray as he answered: "I never realized before how patriotic I was, Martin. N0 man but a cruel and selfish devil would prostitute his powers to such an end. Sherman Aircraft will play no part in your schemes, and I think my wife is with me."

Ron had been prepared for almost any recalcitration to his scornful rejection of Eli Martin's terms. But the enigmatic dreamer of world conquest seemed in no hurry. He turned suddenly and strode over to a small electric cooker under a built-in cupboard.

"Maybe a little material food will soften your martyric sentiments," Martin chuckled, as he drew out a folding table, and began efficiently setting out dinner for three. "While I'm serving you might do all of us a favor by taking a look through those eyepieces in that black box near the window. It's a periscope. By turning the knob on the side you get a telescopic panorama of the grounds. If you see anything that looks like a Jap let me know. I'd like to fertilize the cosmos with Osaka and his apes. I hardly think I'll be lucky enough to get Bordoni." He added the last softly.

Ron went over to the periscope. It was easy to operate and afforded a remarkably inclusive view of the fields and gardens surrounding the hacienda. Slowly he turned the mirrored lenses Somewhere on the roof above. The sun was setting out there in a world of freedom that seemed very far away and unattainable. On the second turn his fingers stiffened on the rotator. A dark, skeletal silhouette had risen against the molten glare of sunset. The scarecrow head and torso of a man stood out above a Chaparral hedge. With a tingling thrill Ron recognized the forlorn, yet somehow sinister figure. Elijah of the blasted grove! The man Martin had referred to as Tombstone Danny.

"See anything?" Martin asked.

Ron turned the rotator again slowly, called over his shoulder blandly: "Not a living thing."

When he turned back to the spot where he had seen the old man watching the house, the figure was gone. He couldn't believe that human wreck could be of any help to him and Vingie. Yet he had no desire to see that pitiable old ruin swept into eternity by the time screen. And by this time he was certain that Martin intended to dispose of "Tombstone Danny."

Martin sat down to the spread he had set out expertly. He waved them to chairs, helped himself. Ron and Vingie discovered a healthy appetite that defied their growing despair. They ate silently, faced by a mockingly expansive host, who presided with the eye of millennial doom perched on his lap.

"All mankind's tomorrows belong to me," Martin talked as he ate. "I'm in no hurry to use them. I have sufficient provisions to last me several months if I must be isolated that long. There will be no mistakes. One battle—one war must decide the issue in my favor. It will be the greatest epoch in history—probably the last epoch."

"But I understood that Eli Martin was a humanitarian," Vingie murmured.

"Eli Martin was a philanthropic fool," their host laughed brutally. "Ambitions change when the god of power goes berserk. However, according to my views, Earth will be the only ideal paradise for mankind when my work is done. You know, my friends, all great civilizations of the past have been destroyed by the invasion of barbarians when progress had grown overripe. I've often wondered Where the barbarians would come from to purge our modern rottenness. I might have known the purge would come through science itself. Now I am the instrument of destiny. One man shall play the role of the Hun."

"And after you die?" Ron queried.

"If the reversal process of the time screen can be perfected as I believe it can, I will never die. And those who serve me faithfully now will live forever—like gods who stay the hand of man from the dead sea fruit of knowledge."

Ron hitched his chair around from the table. "Turn on the heat any time," he growled. "Pm ready."

Vingie did not seem to notice Ron's action. She Was coolly mistress of her emotions as she said: "May I see your plans for the giant generator? I'm interested."

Pawns of Destiny

ELI MARTIN did not seem surprised by Vingie Sherman's apparent surrender. He got up quickly from the remains of the meal, stepped over to the periscope for an observation that was evidently satisfactory, then beckoned them to a drafting desk near the row of lockers at the far end of the lab. Again he faced them across the table top, the time screen menacingly focused.

"Here are the plans," he said, shifting a sheet of drafting paper from a heap of other designs. "And here is the list of materials required. The Midwest Laboratories is one of the few sources for such quantities of rare metals." He glanced at Vingie. "In case your father may have been killed by these spies, no doubt you can order the materials as his heiress. And of course you can prevail your husband's foolish scruples as to providing transportation."

Ron was staring grimly at the wall, trying not to listen. Vingie's eyes were glued to the blueprints in widening fascination.

"But even after the giant projector is installed," she was speaking almost breathlessly—"what is to prevent our dying of starvation here—cut off from all the world?"

Martin laughed. "As soon as the installation is complete I will project to maximum, destroying everything within a radius of approximately six hundred miles. After that crushing blow I'll radio an ultimatum to the world. Undoubtedly, combined armaments will be promptly concentrated on the screened zone. Before they realize their impotence, I'll dissolve their fighting equipment to mist. After that, I anticipate unconditional surrender.

My demands will bring the wealth of the world in caravans to this base of operations, through lanes freed of the screen. I'll call in my brothers of the faith, equip them with portable screens. We will ?ash the minimum, paralyzing projection on whatever helpers we need, making practically living robots of them. In a short time this isolated ranch will become a walled city, a vast oasis of every so-called comfort necessary to the reason-diseased mind. We will expand operations, build other walled cities, and the generations of savages born of the remnants of the race we permit to live will look upon us as gods."

"It is too terrible," Vingie spoke as one awakening from a dream. Something in her voice, the fearless challenge of her gaze, brought a scowl of threat to Eli Martin's ego-flaming face.

"You—have changed your mind?" he sneered.

"No," said Vingie. "I haven't changed my mind. At last I'm ready to speak it. I may die with my husband as the first to fall to your egotistical whims—but it will be easier now that I know certainly that you are not the man who really invented the time screen."

She pointed to the desk and scattered papers. "The plans of the giant generator are yours—but the other papers are the work of the real Eli Martin. His initials are on some of them. You are—Mandel Bordoni!"

"Madam," the green-brown eyes were glowing with mock admiration—"you are splendid! I can use you in my little world—my ivory tower in the wilderness. What a consort you'll make for the Emperor of Earth!"

Vingie's slim shoulders squared. "You will have no use for me," her voice quivered. "I wanted to be sure who you were before I spoke my mind. You posed as Eli Martin because you thought you could get our willing aid to your diabolic plans. You knew Martin wasn't well-known, that we couldn't recognize you. And the reversed time screen could account for your younger appearance. You have killed or imprisoned the real Eli Martin, and I think you know exactly what has happened to my father and Adam Holt!"

Ron had gathered himself for a desperate break. With a sudden heave he tipped the table into that sneering, egomaniacal face. He lunged to the right; Vingie swerved to the left», to dodge in and get their master from that side. It was one mad chance to elude the deadly force of the time screen, get the man behind it before he could bring the thing into play. One clutching hand Ron thrust toward a braced leg, then a stunning shock stopped him. He saw Vingie reel and fall, moaning, as he strove to command himself and failed.

"Yes—I'm Bordoni!" the man behind the table leaped out agilely over Vingie's twisting form. "And that was just a minimum flash I gave you of the deadliest weapon in the universe. You can get up all right—to serve me, not yourselves. You will come out of it in a few hours, then I'll flash you again. You are slaves of the screen, pawns of my destiny. I hoped to delude you until the giant generator was constructed. But slaves will have to serve the purpose, weaklings though you are!"

Ron and Vingie tottered to their feet, faces drawn, pinched and gray. Their hands quivered as with palsy of great age. Each movement was slow and feeble. Living robots, Bordoni had said—with small resistance to the master mind.

Bordoni stepped to the lockers, flung open a steel door. A grizzled head and stocky figure reeled weakly out of the locker.

"Father!" Vingie's lips formed the word thickly.

Mortimer Rand's lips were closed with an adhesive gag, hands and feet bound with tape. He struggled to his knees, suffering eyes meeting Vingie's in mute agony.

Bordoni laughed like a rampant Satan as he stepped to a second locker door, wrenched it open. A thin, stooped, gray-haired form, gagged and bound, slid to its knees, tumbled out to the laboratory floor.

"Behold!" Bordoni cried—"the real Eli Martin! The philanthropic fool who believed he could end all war by furnishing each and every nation with the plans and specifications of the time screen. Yes, he has been telling me a good deal about his invention. He'll tell more. You'll all serve your separate purposes as slaves of the screen—and then—"

He swung on Mortimer Rand, seized a dissecting knife from a table, slashed the scientist's bonds.

"Now, Rand, let's see if you are so stubborn about signing those orders for material. I've already given you a minimum ?ash. But it won't be nice to see your daughter turned into a shriveled old hag in a few seconds."

He turned to Ron. "You, Sherman, will command your air transports to my will for the same reason—t0 save your Wife from the horror of a brief living death."

Bordoni seized the overturned table, righted it. Rand and Ron made no resistance as they were shoved into the chairs like feeble children. Bordoni whirled to Vingie, flung her against the wall, faced her with screen focused.... "Write!" he cried. "Write—or watch her live a hundred years in ten seconds!"

"Don't—" Vingie's gray lips faintly formed the word. But Bordoni was chuckling his glee as he heard the rustle of fountain pens writing finis to the works of the world.

Ron was last to finish his share of Vingie's ransom. He slumped back in his chair with dull eyes. Bordoni inspected the orders with satisfaction. Ron tried futilely to clench a fist, drive it up into Bordoni's face. The mere effort of will left him weak as a newborn infant.

Sweat was streaming from Mortimer Rand's lacklustre face. His lips quivered with speech that came slowly, haltingly:

"You will never succeed, Bordoni. You will only destroy yourself."

"My pilots will suspect," Ron seconded, laboredly. "You'll be bombed long before the giant generator can be built."

"Nonsense!" Bordoni scoffed. "Who could suspect the miracle of the time screen? Pm more afraid of Osaka and his apes. But I'll get them all before long."

He sealed the orders, addressed them, turned to Ron:

"Tomorrow, after you have recovered somewhat from the effects of the minimum ?ash, you will get your private pilot by telephone, command him to land here on the level desert south of the ranch. We'll meet him with these letters. To avert suspicion you'll introduce me as Eli Martin. Meanwhile—" he jerked around to face Eli Martin, whose big, sensitive eyes stared up from the floor as if in mute prayer "—meanwhile, Martin, I'll force you to finish your plans for the reversal process of the time screen."

Eli Martin's head rolled slowly to and fro in a weary negative.


A sudden sound at the window brought Bordoni around to face a drawn shade, his words clipped off in his throat. It was as if someone had thrown a handful of gravel at the outer glass. The time screen was focused on the window as Bordoni crept forward. Then, eerily wild and high, came a querulous, phophetic wail from without:

"There's n-no tomorrow!"

With a smothered curse Bordoni flashed the screen. The window shade fell in curling tatters of dry rot. The walls around the window crumbled to dust that pattered to the floor. Ron groaned as it seemed that no living thing outside could escape. The window crumpled outward, bars and all, glass smashing in a shower. Through a gaping rent in the wall where the window had been Bordoni leaped, the pale green fan of the screen streaming ahead of him into the desert night.

"It was Tombstone Danny!" Ron's laboring throat achieved a hopeful cry. Mortimer Rand mopped his sweating face with a shaking hand. "There is no Tombstone Danny, Ron," he said, hoarsely. "That was all that is left of Adam Holt."

"Adam Holt!" Ron stared.

Rand shuddered, spoke haltingly: "The time screen ages without wear and tear on the system. Without the stresses and strains of normal aging, a man can live two hundred years or more. Bordoni was in control before we arrived. He flashed me and tried to screen Adam to death, but Adam got away in time. Bordoni's been trying to finish him ever since. But Adam's too smart—smart like the insane. One idea—a fixation."

"Listen!" Ron struggled up, fighting the dragging paralysis of the screen.

Some one was at the patio entrance to the lab, some one trying to pick the lock with frantic haste. Bordoni was still outside in pursuit of the wailing prophet of doom. Whoever was at that door knew that Bordoni had gone out.

"It must be Osaka," Mortimer Rand's voice faltered. "Let him in. Better the Japs than Bordoni."

Ron started to leap to the door, but his numb legs failed him. He toppled forward, stunned as his wooden arms failed to break his fall. Slowly he dragged himself to the door, turned the key shakily. Dimly, he was aware that the noise at the lock had ceased. He heard an angry shout, a scream of death agony, as the door came open. Then he slumped down in the doorway, staring out into the starlit patio upon a tableau of fury.

Fury Leased

THE light from the laboratory door spread a fan of radiance over three knotted figures. Bordoni, caught from behind by two burly Japanese in laborer's coveralls. Frantically, they were holding him, pinning his arms to keep his hands from the screen, that rayed its poison pall across the driveway. And something else Ron saw—part of a man—the upper part of a man on a twisted husk of naked legs and abdomen. Bordoni had screened that one before the others caught him from behind.

"Hold him!" Ron cried, hoarsely. "Don't let him turn that thing this way."

Vingie's weak call from the lab turned Ron from the door.

"Osaka's got him," he gasped as he reeled back into the room. "But if that screen ever turns this way—"

Eli Martin was writhing up, his expressive eyes almost speaking aloud. Ron cursed the stupefying shock of the screen as he realized what Martin wanted—to be cut loose, ungagged. He took the knife Bordoni had used to free Rand. Vingie was holding it out to him feebly.

Ron was fighting off the effects of the screen better than the others. He got the knife in both hands, sawed the tape that bound Eli Martin. The old man stripped the adhesive from his lips as he pulled himself up.

"We must get away—quickly—" Eli Martin's voice was shrill with anxiety. "Even if Osaka gets the screen he'll kill us. We are witnesses to his acts. I am weak—Bordoni screened me yesterday, but I've recovered a little. Oh, my poor unfortunate friends—what have I done?" He moaned and pressed his head with clenching hands.

"We can get out the same way Bordoni did, through that gap in the wall he made. They're in the patio. They won't see us leave," Ron cried.

"Yes!" Martin was rallying desperately. "That is the way—follow me. There's a flood-lock channel just west of the rock garden. It will give us cover—hurry!"

Ron groaned as he pushed Vingie ahead of him, saw her father totter through the ragged gap in the wall where the window had been.

Vingie's leaden legs would scarcely carry her. Twice she fell and Ron struggled to help her up. Then they saw Eli Martin drop from sight just ahead, Rand falling after him. The flood-lock channel! Already, the old inventor was crawling along the dry bottom of the irrigating trench.

"Don't show so much as your heads!" Martin pleaded. "If they suspect where we are they'll project this way."

"But we can't let them have that thing," Ron whispered. "It means death to millions—the last war."

"In our condition it is madness to try," Martin's voice was breaking. "If we live we may notify the war department in time. God, what was I thinking of to loose this hell upon my fellow men?"

They had reached the driveway, were turning sharply into a deeper channel. Ron thought of Lot's wife as he turned back, looked over the flood-lock gates at the turn of the trench. In vain, Martin whispered for him to come on.

"They can't see me," he husked. "And I might be able to do something."

He could see into the patio. The light from the laboratory door still rayed across that arena of death. Bordoni was down to his knees. The time screen had been cut loose from his shoulders. It sat like a witch's jack-01 lantern a few feet from the two who still fought for possession of it. Another of the japs had fallen, half withered where Bordoni had winged him somehow in his struggles to focus the screen.

Ron thought wildly of making a break for the screen, getting it away from both of them. But he knew he could never do it in his stunned condition.

He felt Vingie tugging at him. He started to turn away, when something arrested him. A shadowy form was stealing out of the dense gloom under the trees opposite the patio. It moved jerkily, yet with uncanny stealth. It was following the edge of that greenish glow of destruction raying from the motionless time screen. Then the light from the laboratory etched the figure in a ghostly halo. Adam Holt! The mad prophet of the grove was stealing in be~ hind the time screen.

Ron's hand crushed on Vingie's with a painless strength. Unformed words gurgled in his throat. Nearer, nearer, Adam Holt was stealing toward the rear of the glowing projector.

The Jap broke suddenly from Bordoni, leaped toward the screen. But Bordoni had him again in a lunging tackle for the legs.... Adam Holt tottered on like a corpse from the grave. He crouched lower, darted in. He had the screen!

A wild, triumphant cry warned the two in the patio too late. Ron's flesh crawled as Adam Holt's wild scream rang in his ears:

"There's no tomorrow!"

Bordoni and the Jap broke, whirled to meet their common foe. The leprous pall of the screen bathed them eerily. An instant they were men, then two shrinking, mummied dead tottered down. Two crackling thuds marked the fall of the mummies Adam Holt had made.

"Adam—Adam's got the screen!" Ron found voice. "He's turning both of them to dust."

But Eli Martin's knotty hands were hauling at Ron's shoulders desperately, pulling him away from the ghastly scene.... "Adam is mad, stark mad," Martin was weeping. "He'll destroy us all and himself, too. In the name of God, come away with us, while there is a breath of life to help us on."

Ron tore himself away, crawled on. They heard the throaty rumble of a falling wall behind; the screen reducing the hacienda to primordial dusts. They saw the pale flicker of projection wheel across the sky as mad Adam changed the focus. Then they reached the end of the irrigating trench, staggered out into a pasture.

"Run if you can!" Eli Martin panted. "The maximum range of the portable is two thousand yards. It's at short range now. If he doesn't find out how to adjust for maximum range we have a chance. For his own sake, I hope he destroys himself or the screen."

Falling, crawling, they crossed the pasture, rolled under a fence, into a grove of citrus. Behind, they could hear shrill shrieks of insane delight growing fainter. A musty, ashy stench gnawed at their nostrils. Far overhead, a trembling radiance flickered, passed on, as they instinctively ducked their heads.

"That was maximum expulsion," Eli Martin groaned. "God help us—we can't do a thing to save ourselves if he chances to sweep us before we are out of range."

Ron looked back. Pearly clouds of vaporous dust were rising over the spot where Adam Holt danced his macaber victory dance. Choking odors of decay stole around them as they staggered on through the grove.

"The bluff where the road comes in," Eli Martin gasped. "If we can make it we'll be safe—out of range—unless he follows us."

"He'll think he got us in the laboratory," Ron said.

The stars had dimmed and vanished under the cosmic ash that drifted up from the screen as Adam Holt played it with deadly thoroughness over the ranch. Only Eli Martin seemed to know by instinct the way to the bluff. Now and then, the wavering pallor of the screen deatomized a briefly clear rent, in the canopy of ash. Yet luck seemed with them, for Adam seemed concentrating his attack on the ranch itself thus far.

At last the bluff, and clearer air as they climbed with the last gasps of waning energy.

"We are safe here if he doesn't come this way," Eli Martin said as they flung themselves down exhausted at the top. "We must rest and keep watch. If the beam moves nearer, we can go on. Tomorrow—if there is a tomorrow—we must find a way to stop Adam, if he still lives."

Ron was strongest of the screen's slaves. He kept first watch from the rimrock. Towers of dust rose in tier on tier against the stars. Adam Holt was building himself a tower of awful splendor—the splendor of infinite ruin.

An hour—two hours, Ron watched while the others slept in exhaustion. The beam never came nearer their place of refuge. Gradually its gyrations faltered, grew intermittent, and then the beam stopped moving....

In the gray of dawn they stood on rimrock, looking down into a lake of pearly mist where the ranch had been.

"-The screen is still projecting," Martin said, wearily. "But the focus is in the ground. Adam Holt must surely be dead. As soon as the air clears a little we'll go down."

"How did it all happen?" Ron asked as Vingie pressed nearer in the shelter of his arms.

"Bordoni surprised me a few days before Rand and Holt were due to arrive for our conference," Eli Martin spoke gropingly. "I had been prepared for trouble of that sort, but did not expect it so soon. I wanted to arrange through Midwest Laboratories to present simultaneously to all nations the plans of the Martin time screen. I believed war would be unthinkable after that. Now I am afraid I was mistaken.... Bordoni locked me in the main laboratory, took possession of the portable screen. He told me his plans. I realized that I was the only man in the world who could save civilization. I hit on a desperate plan. I bad theories of a reversal of the time screen, which Bordoni correctly outlined to you and your wife, Mr. Sherman. However, Bordoni did not know that I had concluded the reversal process was impossible. I led him on to believe I hadn't perfected it yet.

"Then Rand and Holt came. Bordoni needed Rand to order the materials for the giant generator. He did not need Adam Holt. He screened Adam, thought he had killed him, but Adam found the strength to crawl away and hide. Naturally, he was a senile idiot—and he had a hate-fixation concerning the apparatus that had made him what he um. I cannot blame him."

"And that weird battle cry of his," Ron shuddered "—where did he get it?"

Eli Martin smiled wanly. "Bordoni himself was responsible. It was what he said when he screened Adam. Adam said something about what they could do about it 'tomorrow.' Bordoni snarled, 'There's no tomorrow for you, old man!' Apparently that was all Adam could remember when he came to—or so he led us to believe in his insane obsession for revenge."

A little later they climbed down the bluff, fairly recovered from the numbing effects of the screen. Through the fog oi vaporous smoke that hung over the valley-, they approached the screen, whose area and direction of projection was plainly indicated by the towers of airy dust. Here and there a few adobe bricks still retained form and consistency, yet no casual observer would have believed that human habitation could have stood there since the age of the cliff dwellers. Eli Martin's fertile fields had reverted to desert sands.

At the apex of the geysering mist, they found the body of Adam Holt, dead of overexertion at an incredible age, they could not doubt. Eli Martin switched off the screen, before which a gaping hole had formed, with tons of fine sand trembling on the verge of avalanche. The inventor's skilled fingers worked at the mechanism a moment, partly dismantling it. Suddenly, he lifted the projector, threw it into the hole it had formed during the night. A swish and rumble followed as the edges of the chasm collapsed.

Eli Martin did not speak for a time. He stood with gray head bared as one mourning at the grave.... "I could build again, but I will not," he finally said. "Dust unto dust—it was the work of the devil." He turned to them commandingly, like a prophet of old.... "Adam Holt died of thirst, lost on a prospecting venture. My ranch was destroyed by a. frightful explosion of chemicals during my absence. The time screen never existed—never will exist. Swear it—all of you—and I swear that the secret of it shall die with me."

Solemnly they raised right hands, chorused, "I swear!"