Prison of Time can be found in Magazine Entry


When Barry Carver was shoot down in the Sahara, his urgent message undelivered, the dictator nations were about to crush the Allies. But that was before Barry found Shorraine, Land of the Mirage and the demon people of Phoryx, who schemed to enslave all Earthmen—and Sha-tahn, guiding power of all Dictators!



BARRY CARVER groaned. A great light pressed against his tortured eyelids. He opened them and winced. A torrent of sunlight stabbed into his eyes, blindingly. He rolled himself over, spitting sand from his mouth. He raised a hand to the tender lump on his head. How long had he been out? What had happened?

Memory stabbed into his mind, as the sunlight had stabbed into his eyes. The attack, by three enemy ships whose wings bore the black swastika! They had brought his lone ship down—

Carver raised his head and looked through the heat haze that lay over the mighty Sahara. The cloudless blue of sky was clear. They had left, satisfied that he could not have survived both the businesslike strafing of their machine-guns and the crash.

Barry Carver grinned. They were wrong. By a miracle he had come through unscathed. Not a bullet had touched him. He remembered nothing of the crash. Obviously his body had been thrown clear, onto the cushioning sand.

He looked around.

There his small ship lay, a twisted, shattered wreck that would never fly again. It had come down like a rock. The engine had buried itself out of sight. Rows of bullet-holes, neat and orderly, zigg-zagged across the crumpled wings. Gasoline soaked sand rapidly evaporated in the hot sun. By that he knew he had been unconscious only a few minutes. Why the plane hadn't burst into flame, toasted him to a corpse, was another miracle. Well, he must accept the little finger of fate.

He came to his knees, and suddenly found himself dizzy, almost nauseated. He fought off his weakness. No time now to be a weakling. He must carry on somehow, reach an Allied-held port, deliver his message. It was vital. More vital, perhaps, than any other phase of the Great War that had turned the entire world into an armed camp, in 1942. Scouting over western China, far from where the Japanese-American Front lay, he had spied a secret Japanese army marching southward. If they once smashed through to the coast of India, the Dictator Coalition would have driven its first wedge through the Allies' earth-girdling belt of continuity.

Barry Carver had decided this information must go directly to GHQ, in London. Radio was out of the question, because of the barrage of artificial static made by both sides in the attempt to hinder the other. So he would fiy, since he had a long-range scout ship fueled for 3,000 miles. He had had his choice—north or south route. North lay the enemy in full force; too risky. But south, via Arabia and the Sahara, then north to London—that was the safest route.

But of course, as chance would have it, the few of the enemy's devil-dogs patrolling northern Africa had seen him, given chase, shot him down....

VITAL information. Bravely, he set out on foot across the burning sands, equipped with one canteen of water, a pair of binoculars, an automatic and a compass. Young and strong, he refused to be pessimistic about his chances. He would soon find an oasis. Or run into a caravan. He plodded away from his wrecked plane, out into the ocean of sand that heaped endlessly to all horizons.

Three days later, Barry Carver was not so sure of himself. He sucked the last drop of carefully rationed water from his canteen and flung it away. Wearily, he raised the binoculars to his bloodshot eyes. Nothing but sand, sand in all directions. Bitter curses rasped from his parched throat. Vital information. Was he to die with it searing his brain?

That afternoon, under the pitiless sun, his mind began to wander. He fought against it, but hopelessly. He was going to die, out in this sandy hell! All else slipped from his mind, even the Great War that was blasting humanity. He moaned like a wild animal. His blistered feet, burning skin, aching throat were driving him mad, mad!

Then he saw it—the great, spired city ahead of him. He broke into a stumbling run, shouting hoarsely. Saved! The people of the city would give him water. How sweet it would taste! He stumbled on, but the distance was greater than it first seemed. To inspire his failing strength, he peered at it through the binoculars. How hazy it looked; it wavered! That must be his eyes. But there was water, great fountains of it cascading up in lush patches of greenery. There were even people on one of the balconies, staring at him. He waved, but they stared stonily. Why didn't they come out to help him?

He again took up his tottering lope, cursing at the loose sand that dragged at his feet.

Suddenly, through the fog of his mind, a terrible thought pierced. A mirage—it might be that! No, it couldn't be—mustn't be!

Yet what was such a great spired city doing out in these wastes? Doubts trooped through his agonized mind. It shimmered, that city. It wavered and floated over the sand. It wasn't real. It was a phenomenon of refraction, an image cast across miles of desert. A diabolical vision sent to torture him in his last hour of life.

Barry Carver's mind was paradoxically shocked to calm and sanity by the dread realization. His poor burned feet automatically propelled him toward the wonderful vision, his whole body straining forward. But his mind, clear and rational, told him he was chasing a chimera.

Another hour and it would be over. He would sink, drained of strength, to the hot sands. His information would die with him; the Great War go on without him. Perhaps some day a wandering desert tribe would find his bleached bones. His epitaph would be written in the drifting sands.

Stumbling on, refusing to lie down and wait for death, Barry Carver's eyes appraised the city of the mirage with almost philosophical detachment. How real it looked, and yet how unreal. Distorted by heat waves, it seemed like no city ever seen on Earth. Its towers and spires had a slim grace unknown to ordinary architecture. It stretched right and left and back interminably. Yet beyond it, through it, he could see plainly the hateful dunes and ridges of the vast desert.

Just a mirage. No, maybe it wasn't! Maybe it was real. He would find out—Lord! Madness stealing over him again. His right hand brought up his automatic. Sweaty fingers gripping the stock, aiming for his temple. Better the quick death by bullet than the tortures of nightmarish insanity.

He flung the gun away, suddenly.

MADNESS overwhelmed his seething mind. The great city's gates were opening, massive steel halves that swung silently apart on cleverly-devised gymbals. He could see now down into the wide avenues, row on row of buildings. The people were beckoning to him, urging him on! Water! A beautiful, splashing fountain of it. . . .

With voiceless shrieks from his burning throat. the half-dead creature whose name was Barry Carver lurched forward. He fell to his knees and began crawling forward inch by inch toward the mirage-city that seemed to dance tantalizingly just beyond his reach.

Now here was one side of the giant portals. He clutched at the pitted stone. but it was empty air. He pitched on his face and his groveling fingers found only sand, sand. . . . And in a last moment of calm before a black wave blotted out his mind, Barry Carver welcomed death.

It was strange, the awakening.

He was aware of physical lightness. and a queer sense of unreality. But then he opened his eyes and saw substantial things. He was in a bed, under soft, silken coverlets. The room around him was white-walled, curving to a domed ceiling. There were sylvan pictures of haunting beauty, long flowing drapes spectrum colored, carven furniture inlaid with gold, silver and ivory. Somehow, the motif of the room was Oriental—or ageless.

Soft sunlight, not the harsh desert glare, streamed in a window of crystal clear glass. Carver's eyes were arrested suddenly by what he saw over the foot of the bed. A woman, a girl at second glance, seated at a table, writing. Her bronze-gold hair glinted in the sunlight.

Carver essayed a call of attention that came out as a feeble croak. The girl came forward, instantly, smiling. She wore a rich silken blouse, rainbow hued, tucked in at the belt of baggy trousers gathered at the ankles. Oriental costume, Carver reflected, in keeping with the room's furnishings.

But she herself wasn't Oriental. Blue eyes, rose-white skin, oval cheeks—they were quite Caucasian features. Strongly Irish, in fact. The contrast with her clothing was startling. And her smile was friendly and open, not inscrutable and half-apologetic, as with Oriental women.

"Cairo?" guessed Carver, concerned first of all with where he was. "How was I rescued—caravan?"

"Cairo?" The girl looked puzzled.

Carver repeated his question in his indifferent French, hoping this would be understood.

The girl laughed. "No, I speak English," she said. "I was puzzled because you mentioned Cairo."

"Well, where am I then?" pursued Carver. "Khartoum? Or maybe"—he frowned—"north coast—Tripoli or Tunis, in the enemy's hands. But in that case, how would you, a white girl—" He stopped, wonderingly.

The girl's face had become grave. "I see you don't realize you're in Shorraine," she said slowly. "Well, neither did I, at first."

"Shorraine?" echoed Carver. "Never heard of it. What part of Africa?" The girl shook her head. "Not Africa, nor any other continent. Shorraine is the—City of the Mirage!"

Carver gasped. He stared at her silently for a moment. What reason would she have for lying. Or was she lying?" Do you mean that city I saw the mirage—the big gate—" He finished explosively; "I don't believe it!"

"You will see, soon," returned the girl calmly. "I'll see now," grunted Carver. He tried to struggle up on his elbow, ignoring the girl's plea to lie quiet.

"You're weak. You must rest."

But Carver didn't have to be told as a sudden wave of weakness turned his muscles to rubber. He slumped back and a tide of darkness again buried him.

WHEN next he awoke, hunger gnawed within Barry Carver. The girl was again there, and turned at his call. "I'm hungry," he told her without preamble. "Incidentally, I'm Barry Carver, of the United States air-force."

"I'm Helene Ward, also of the United States," she smiled. "But you still insist this is the City of the Mirage?" he said half mockingly. "Right out in the middle of the Sahara? A dream city that floats, ghostlike!"

She turned from a cupped wall instrument into which she had whispered a few words. "I won't try to explain now. After you've eaten, put on those clothes over the chair. I'll meet you outside and—show you."

The door opened and Carver gave a start that shook his whole bed. The figure that entered, hearing a silver tray loaded with steaming dishes, was squat and hulking shouldered, with thick bowed stumps of legs. His abbreviated costume of sleeveless shirt and kirtle revealed an apelike hairness. The features were brutal—thick, flaring nose, protruding lips, receding brow.

But docile-like, without a sound. he set the tray down on a taboret beside the bed and retreated, with a brief bow of his thick neck toward the girl.

"Good Lord!" breathed Carver. "I don't know much anthropology, but that was a Neanderthal Man! What—"

"I'll meet you outside," said the girl, slipping out. The tempting odors arising from the tray clipped short Carver's amazed conjectures. He sat up, finding himself considerably stronger than the other time, and satisfied his inner cravings.

The food was exotic, strangely spiced, but tasty. He recognized no single ingredient of it. But that it was nourishing he had no doubt. He could feel new strength pulsing through his veins. At last, he reflected, he was no wraith, if this was the City of the Mirage. But he hadn't made up his mind about that. It would require indubitable proof for belief. Yet, if it were some Oriental earth city, what was a perfectly natural white girl doing here? And that Neanderthal Man!

Barry Carver put the dishes aside hurriedly, eager to get the mystery over with. As he swung his feet out of the bed, he noticed they were cleanly healed of any sign of his terrible trek across the desert. Either he had been unconscious a long time, or had had expert medical care. Probably both. He tasted faintly a drug that might have kept him asleep.

The costume fitted his stalwart frame perfectly. An ornate sleeveless coat narrowed trimly at the hips. A broad leather belt held up baggy trousers similar to the girl's. For his feet there were sandals of some soft hide. He stepped before a full-length mirror, chuckling whimsically at the bizarre contrast to his blond, wavy hair, light grey eyes and typically occidental face. Yet he had the swarthy skin of an Oriental, burned almost mahogany by the three days of fierce Sahara sun.

On a small table he found his binoculars, automatic and compass. He picked up the gun and tucked it into his belt, somehow feeling better for it. He found a pocket for the compass. He carried the binoculars in his hand.

He strode to the window, but couldn't see much because of a high sill. He turned to the door. It opened magically at his approach and as he went past he detected the faint photoelectric eye at the side. In a short hall stood the girl, Helene. Smiling, she led him to another door that gave access to an open balcony hanging like a crow's nest from the tower. From this vantage, Carver saw the full sweep and extent of the incredible city.

SHEER depth greeted him that took his breath away. He was very high in some tower, nestled among a forest of similar spires. Far below lay lower, flatter buildings and moving figures in winding avenues. Dotting the expanse of metal and stone were numerous areas of green sward, parks whose meandering lanes were bordered with trees and flowers.

Barry Carver knew there had never been such a city on Earth, save in tales of the Arabian Nights. Was the girl right? Was this the City of the Mirage?

"But it's so solid. so real!" he objected aloud, as though they had argued. "The mirage I saw was shimmering, ghostlike—as unsubstantial as an air-castle!"

"Shorraine exists in a different dimension," explained the girl. "In this dimension, Shorraine is real and Earth is ghostly. Look!" She grasped his arm and turned him part way around. "Squint your eyes and stare straight out."

He did. Back of him, the surfs brilliant shafts speared through the city. And suddenly he saw a quivering, unreal scene of endless hills of sand hovering below and all around. It was like a superimposed view, the desert faintly occupying the space the city lay in. He opened his eyes wide and the illusion vanished. Shorraine reared solidly around him.

Carver felt shaken at the weird optical effect. An axiom of physics rose in his mind. "Two things cannot occupy the same space at the same time," he stated flatly. "How do you explain that?"

"I can't," Helene admitted simply. "They tried to explain to me, but I understood very little of it."

"Who's 'they'?"

"The ones who rule this city." The girl shook her head at his open mouth, ready to issue further questions. "You'll meet them later. I'll tell what I can. The huge front gate to Shorraine encloses the 'spot' at which Earth and this world contact. When anything of Earth reaches the Spot, it passes on through to this dimension."

At his wry smile, she said sharply: "I'm trying to be as clear as I can. You approached the Spot, attracted by the vision of Shorraine. We saw you, dimly, as you saw us."

"Then there were people waving, beckoning to me!" interposed Carver, remembering.

"Yes. We opened the gates for you. You stumbled at the end, but fell within the influence of the Spot. You had entered our dimension. We picked you up, unconscious from your experiences," she explained.

The girl looked at him sympathetically. "You must have suffered a great deal. Your feet were masses of blisters. You were feverish. Your throat was so constricted we feared you would choke to death, lying senseless. But Shorraine has miraculous medicines. You were quickly treated and brought to this tower for rest."

"How long has it been since I arrived?"

"Two days. You were kept in a drugged sleep, to hasten your recovery."

"Two days!" echoed Carver. He looked down at his healed feet again, reflecting that the medicines of Shorraine must indeed be efficacious. And the vigor that flowed through his body, when so recently he had been a half-mad, racked creature more alive than dead! It had been a toss-up, probably, whether he would fall within the gates of Shorraine, or through death's doors.

HELENE Ward was watching him. "Do you believe now—about Shorraine?"

"What choice have I?" sighed Carver. "Though it's all like a fairy tale. A city in a mirage—another dimension—a Neanderthal Man—complete cures in two days!" He shook his head. Then he swung on the girl. "And you—you're a mystery. Tell me about yourself."

She blushed a little, at his stare. "There isn't much to tell. My father led an archeological expedition west from Khartoum, and never returned. That was a year ago." Her face was grave now, saddened. "I set out in search of him, in an airplane. It cracked up—bad air currents. The pilot was killed, in the crash. A miracle saved me. I was alone, then, and set out across the desert."

She shuddered. "It was terrible! Finally I saw the mirage—Shorraine. The gates opened for me, too. I've been here a year."

"A year?" Carver looked at her. "You like it here? You've never tried to leave?" Before the girl could answer, there was an interruption. A young, eager-faced man strode from the door of the tower. He nodded to Helene, and gripped Carver's hand warmly.

"Heard you were up and about. I'm Tom Tyson, of the good old U.S.A. air squadron. By the look of the togs you arrived in, I'd say you're an airman yourself?"

Carver's eyes lighted. He introduced himself and went on: "What Front were you on? Jap, European, or South American?"

"Hold on!" Tyson stared at him queerly. "There was only one main Front in my time—Flander's Field."

"You mean—" Carver choked on the words.

"World War," nodded Tyson. "Strangest thing, how I got down here. I was doing scout duty with a fast ship and plenty of gas. Fog came up at night; compass went wrong. l saw water below once or twice and figured it was the English Channel. Next thing I knew, at dawn, I was over the damned desert. I had crossed the Mediterranean!"

"You did a Douglas Corrigan," smiled Carver briefly.

"Exactly," agreed Tyson. "Anyway, I ran out of gas over the desert, with no idea where I was. Forced landing. Then the mirage, the gates opening, and here I am in Shorraine. Been here since 1918."

"But you're just a young man—about twenty!" blurted out Carver, as the astounding thought struck him.

Helene and Tyson glanced at one another. Tyson spoke. "I guess you've heard so many mysteries, one more won't hurt. People don't age in Shorraine!" He was about to say more, but compressed his lips instead.

Carver stared helplessly. Could this be some mad dream from which he would eventually awake?

"I was nineteen when I came to Shorraine," continued Tyson. "I'm still nineteen, physically. But I know what's been going on since then. I know about your war. What's the latest development?"

The thought of the war suddenly swept all other considerations out of Carver's confused mind. "The latest development," he muttered, "is a move on the enemy's part—a secret Jap army trying to cut through to the Indian Ocean. And I think I'm the only one knows about it. If they succeed, they'll sever our overland connection between the European and Japanese Fronts."

HE drew himself up. "I haven't time to waste. All these mysteries by the board, I have to leave Shorraine. Get back to—civilization. Warn headquarters of the Jap move. Do you suppose I can get some help here, to cross the desert?" Carver saw again a look exchanged between the two and wondered what it was this time. His heart sank in anticipation, even before Helene spoke.

"You can't leave Shorraine," she said softly. "Why not?" snapped Carver impatiently. "Nobody can stop me. If I came in the Spot, I can go out again."

The girl looked at him as though warning him to prepare for the greatest shock of all.

"Remember when you were staggering into the city gates?" she said. "You must have wondered why we didn't come out to help you. You saw us watching. We couldn't come out. The Spot only works one way!"

Tom Tyson nodded soberly. "You can come in from the Earth side easily enough, but going back is impossible. It doesn't work. Or else I'd have left here long ago."

"Good Lord!" groaned Carver. "You mean there's no way back? And I have priceless information for headquarters! It should he delivered soon. In another month, that Jap army—"

"There's no way back!" murmured Tyson.

Carver grasped at straws. "Is there any way of communicating with the outside world. Radio, for instance?" Tyson shook his head. "Radio also works just one way—into Shorraine. We know much of what goes on in the world by radio. But no radio waves can go the other way, to Earth."

Carver bit his lip. What a mad, impossible situation! Trapped in a mysterious "dimension" from which there was no return. A dismayed feeling clutched his heart, and not only at the thought of his untransmitted information. He must continue to live here in Shorraine, in a strange, almost alien environment. In a city of witchcraft, to judge by what he had heard and seen so far.

Barry Carver whirled suddenly. "Listen, there must be a way back to Earth," he protested. "Have you ever tried the Spot?"

"Well, no." admitted Tyson. "But they've told us—"

"They've told you! " Carver mocked. "Why not try it?" He had never taken anybodys word for anything, when the issue at stake was vital.

"All right," agreed Tyson. "We'll try it right now."

He led the way off the balcony into the short hallway, at the end of which was an elevator that took them dow...

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