Read Like A Writer

There are two ways to learn how to write fiction: by reading it and by writing it. Yes, you can learn lots about writing stories in workshops, in writing classes and writing groups, at writers' conferences. You can learn technique and process by reading the dozens of books like this one on fiction writing and by reading articles in writers' magazines. But the best teachers of fiction are the great works of fiction themselves. You can learn more about the structure of a short story by reading Anton Chekhov's 'Heartache' than you can in a semester of Creative Writing 101. If you read like a writer, that is, which means you have to read everything twice, at least. When you read a story or novel the first time, just let it happen. Enjoy the journey. When you've finished, you know where the story took you, and now you can go back and reread, and this time notice how the writer reached that destination. Notice the choices he made at each chapter, each sentence, each word. (Every word is a choice.) You see now how the transitions work, how a character gets across a room. All this time you're learning. You loved the central character in the story, and now you can see how the writer presented the character and rendered her worthy of your love and attention. The first reading is creative—you collaborate with the writer in making the story. The second reading is critical.


John Dufresne, from his book, The Lie That Tells A Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction

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Friday, April 22, 2016

Survival Kit by Frederik Pohl


It wasn't fair—a smart but luckless man
like Mooney had to scrounge, while Harse
always made out just because he had a....

Survival Kit

By FREDERIK POHL

Illustrated by GAUGHAN

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Galaxy Science Fiction May 1957.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



I

Mooney looked out of his window, and the sky was white.

It was a sudden, bright, cold flare and it was gone again. It had no more features than a fog, at least not through the window that was showered with snow and patterned with spray from the windy sea.

Mooney blew on his hands and frowned at the window.

"Son of a gun," he said, and thought for a moment about phoning the Coast Guard station. Of course, that meant going a quarter of a mile in the storm to reach the only other house nearby that was occupied; the Hansons had a phone that worked, but a quarter of a mile was a long way in the face of a December gale. And it was all dark out there now. Less than twenty miles across the bay was New York, but this Jersey shore coast was harsh as the face of the Moon.

Mooney decided it was none of his business.

He shook the kettle, holding it with an old dish towel because it was sizzling hot. It was nearly empty, so he filled it again and put it back on the stove. He had all four top burners and the oven going, which made the kitchen tolerably warm—as long as he wore the scarf and the heavy quilted jacket and kept his hands in his pockets. And there was plenty of tea.

Uncle Lester had left that much behind him—plenty of tea, nearly a dozen boxes of assorted cookies and a few odds and ends of canned goods. And God's own quantity of sugar.

It wasn't exactly a balanced diet, but Mooney had lived on it for three weeks now—smoked turkey sausages for breakfast, and oatmeal cookies for lunch, and canned black olives for dinner. And always plenty of tea.


The wind screamed at him as he poured the dregs of his last cup of tea into the sink and spooned sugar into the cup for the next one. It was, he calculated, close to midnight. If the damn wind hadn't blown down the TV antenna, he could be watching the late movies now. It helped to pass the time; the last movie was off the air at two or three o'clock, and then he could go to bed and, with any luck, sleep till past noon.

And Uncle Lester had left a couple of decks of sticky, child-handled cards behind him, too, when the family went back to the city at the end of the summer. So what with four kinds of solitaire, and solo bridge, and television, and a few more naps, Mooney could get through to the next two or three A.M. again. If only the wind hadn't blown down the antenna!

But as it was, all he could get on the cheap little set his uncle had left behind was a faint gray herringbone pattern—

He straightened up with the kettle in his hand, listening.

It was almost as though somebody was knocking at the door.

"That's crazy," Mooney said out loud after a moment. He poured the water over the tea bag, tearing a little corner off the paper tag on the end of the string to mark the fact that this was the second cup he had made with the bag. He had found he could get three cups out of a single bag, but even loaded with sugar, the fourth cup was no longer very good. Still, he had carefully saved all the used, dried-out bags against the difficult future day when even the tea would be gone.

That was going to be one bad day for Howard Mooney.

Rap, tap. It really was someone at the door! Not knocking, exactly, but either kicking at it or striking it with a stick.

Mooney pulled his jacket tight around him and walked out into the frigid living room, not quite so frigid as his heart.

"Damn!" he said. "Damn, damn!"

What Mooney knew for sure was that nothing good could be coming in that door for him. It might be a policeman from Sea Bright, wondering about the light in the house; it might be a member of his uncle's family. It was even possible that one of the stockholders who had put up the money for that unfortunate venture into frozen-food club management had tracked him down as far as the Jersey shore. It could be almost anything or anybody, but it couldn't be good.

All the same, Mooney hadn't expected it to turn out to be a tall, lean man with angry pale eyes, wearing a silvery sort of leotard.


"I come in," said the angry man, and did.

Mooney slammed the door behind him. Too bad, but he couldn't keep it open, even if it was conceding a sort of moral right to enter to the stranger; he couldn't have all that cold air coming in to dilute his little bubble of warmth.

"What the devil do you want?" Mooney demanded.

The angry man looked about him with an expression of revulsion. He pointed to the kitchen. "It is warmer. In there?"

"I suppose so. What do—" But the stranger was already walking into the kitchen. Mooney scowled and started to follow, and stopped, and scowled even more. The stranger was leaving footprints behind him, or anyway some kind of marks that showed black on the faded summer rug. True, he was speckled with snow, but—that much snow? The man was drenched. It looked as though he had just come out of the ocean.

The stranger stood by the stove and glanced at Mooney warily. Mooney stood six feet, but this man was bigger. The silvery sort of thing he had on covered his legs as far as the feet, and he wore no shoes. It covered his body and his arms, and he had silvery gloves on his hands. It stopped at the neck, in a collar of what looked like pure silver, but could not have been because it gave with every breath the man took and every tensed muscle or tendon in his neck. His head was bare and his hair was black, cut very short.

He was carrying something flat and shiny by a molded handle. If it had been made of pigskin, it would have resembled a junior executive's briefcase.

The man said explosively: "You will help me."

Mooney cleared his throat. "Listen, I don't know what you want, but this is my house and—"

"You will help me," the man said positively. "I will pay you. Very well?"

He had a peculiar way of parting his sentences in the middle, but Mooney didn't care about that. He suddenly cared about one thing and that was the word "pay."

"What do you want me to do?"

The angry-eyed man ran his gloved hands across his head and sluiced drops of water onto the scuffed linoleum and the bedding of the cot Mooney had dragged into the kitchen. He said irritably: "I am a wayfarer who needs a. Guide? I will pay you for your assistance."

The question that rose to Mooney's lips was "How much?" but he fought it back. Instead, he asked, "Where do you want to go?"

"One moment." The stranger sat damply on the edge of Mooney's cot and, click-snap, the shiny sort of briefcase opened itself in his hands. He took out a flat round thing like a mirror and looked into it, squeezing it by the edges, and holding it this way and that.

Finally he said: "I must go to Wednesday, the twenty-sixth of December, at—" He tilted the little round thing again. "Brooklyn?" he finished triumphantly.

Mooney said, after a second: "That's a funny way to put it."

"Question?"

"I mean," said Mooney, "I know where Brooklyn is and I know when the twenty-sixth of December is—it's next week—but you have to admit that that's an odd way of putting it. I mean you don't go anywhere in time."

The wet man turned his pale eyes on Mooney. "Perhaps you are. Wrong?"


II

Mooney stared at his napping guest in a mood of wonder and fear and delight.

Time traveler! But it was hard to doubt the pale-eyed man. He had said he was from the future and he mentioned a date that made Mooney gasp. He had said: "When you speak to me, you must know that my. Name? Is Harse." And then he had curled up on the floor, surrounding his shiny briefcase like a mother cat around a kitten, and begun dozing alertly.

But not before he showed Mooney just what it was he proposed to pay him with.

Mooney sipped his cooling tea and forgot to shiver, though the drafts were fiercer and more biting than ever, now just before dawn. He was playing with what had looked at first like a string of steel ball-bearings, a child's necklace, half-inch spheres linked together in a strand a yard long.

Wampum! That was what Harse had called the spheres when he picked the string out of his little kit, and that was what they were.

Each ball-bearing was hollow. Open them up and out come the treasures of the crown. Pop, and one of the spheres splits neatly in half, and out spills a star sapphire, as big as the ball of your finger, glittering like the muted lights of hell. Pop, and another sphere drops a ball of yellow gold into your palm. Pop for a narwhal's tooth, pop for a cube of sugar; pop, pop, and there on the table before Harse sparkled diamonds and lumps of coal, a packet of heroin, a sphere of silver, pearls, beads of glass, machined pellets of tungsten, lumps of saffron and lumps of salt.

"It is," said Harse, "for your. Pay? No, no!" And he headed off Mooney's greedy fingers.

Click, click, click, and the little pellets of treasure and trash were back in the steel balls.

"No, no!" said Harse again, grinning, snapping the balls together like poppets in a string. "After you have guided me to Brooklyn and the December twenty-sixth. But I must say to you. This? That some of the balls contain plutonium and some radium. And I do not think that you can get them. Open? But if you did, you perhaps would die. Oh. Ho?" And, laughing, he began his taut nap.


Mooney swallowed the last of his icy tea. It was full daylight outside.

Very well, castaway, he said silently to the dozing pale-eyed man, I will guide you. Oh, there never was a guide like Mooney—not when a guide's fee can run so high. But when you are where you want to go, then we'll discuss the price....

A hacksaw, he schemed, and a Geiger counter. He had worn his fingers raw trying to find the little button or knob that Harse had used to open them. All right, he was licked there. But there were more ways than one to open a cat's eye.

A hacksaw. A Geiger counter. And, Mooney speculated drowsily, maybe a gun, if the pale-eyed man got tough.

Mooney fell asleep in joy and anticipation for the first time in more than a dozen years.


It was bright the next morning. Bright and very cold.

"Look alive!" Mooney said to the pale-eyed man, shivering. It had been a long walk from Uncle Lester's house to the bridge, in that ripping, shuddering wind that came in off the Atlantic.

Harse got up off his knees, from where he had been examining the asphalt pavement under the snow. He stood erect beside Mooney, while Mooney put on an egg-sucking smile and aimed his thumb down the road.

The station wagon he had spotted seemed to snarl and pick up speed as it whirled past them onto the bridge.

"I hope you skid into a ditch!" Mooney bawled into the icy air. He was in a fury. There was a bus line that went where they wanted to go. A warm, comfortable bus that would stop for them if they signaled, that would drop them just where they wanted to be, to convert one of Harse's ball-bearings into money. The gold one, Mooney planned. Not the diamond, not the pearl. Just a few dollars was all they wanted, in this Jersey shore area where the towns were small and the gossip big. Just the price of fare into New York, where they could make their way to Tiffany's.

But the bus cost thirty-five cents apiece. Total, seventy cents. Which they didn't have.

"Here comes another. Car?"

Mooney dragged back the corners of his lips into another smile and held out his thumb.

It was a panel truck, light blue, with the sides lettered: Chris's Delicatessen. Free Deliveries. The driver slowed up, looked them over and stopped. He leaned toward the right-hand window.

He called: "I can take you far's Red Ba—"

He got a good look at Mooney's companion then and swallowed. Harse had put on an overcoat because Mooney insisted on it and he wore a hat because Mooney had told him flatly there would be trouble and questions if he didn't. But he hadn't taken off his own silvery leotard, which peeped through between neck and hat and where the coat flapped open.

"—ank," finished the driver thoughtfully.

Mooney didn't give him a chance to change his mind. "Red Bank is just where we want to go. Come on!" Already he had his hand on the door. He jumped in, made room for Harse, reached over him and slammed the door.

"Thank you very much," he said chattily to the driver. "Cold morning, isn't it? And that was some storm last night. Say, we really do appreciate this. Anywhere in Red Bank will be all right to drop us, anywhere at all."

He leaned forward slightly, just enough to keep the driver from being able to get a really good look at his other passenger.

It would have gone all right, it really would, except that just past Fair Haven, Harse suddenly announced: "It is the time for me to. Eat?"


He snip-snapped something around the edges of the gleaming sort of dispatch case, which opened. Mooney, peering over his shoulder, caught glimpses of shiny things and spinning things and things that seemed to glow. So did the driver.

"Hey," he said, interested, "what've you got there?"

"My business," said Harse, calmly and crushingly.

The driver blinked. He opened his mouth, and then he shut it again, and his neck became rather red.

Mooney said rapidly: "Say, isn't there—uh—isn't there a lot of snow?" He feigned fascination with the snow on the road, leaning forward until his face was nearly at the frosty windshield. "My gosh, I've never seen the road so snowy!"

Beside him, Harse was methodically taking things out of other things. A little cylinder popped open and began to steam; he put it to his lips and drank. A cube the size of a fist opened up at one end and little pellets dropped out into a cup. Harse picked a couple up and began to chew them. A flat, round object the shape of a cafeteria pie flipped open and something gray and doughy appeared—

"Holy heaven!"

Mooney's face slammed into the windshield as the driver tramped on his brakes. Not that Mooney could really blame him. The smell from that doughy mass could hardly be believed; and what made it retchingly worse was that Harse was eating it with a pearly small spoon.

The driver said complainingly: "Out! Out, you guys! I don't mind giving you a lift, but I've got hard rolls in the back of the truck and that smell's going to—Out! You heard me!"

"Oh," said Harse, tasting happily. "No."

"No?" roared the driver. "Now listen! I don't have to take any lip from hitchhikers! I don't have to—"

"One moment," said Harse. "Please." Without hurry and without delay, beaming absently at the driver, he reached into the silvery case again. Snip, snippety-snap; a jointed metal thing wriggled and snicked into place. And Harse, still beaming, pointed it at the driver.

Pale blue light and a faint whine.

It was a good thing the truck was halted, because the whining blue light reached diffidently out and embraced the driver; and then there was no driver. There was nothing. He was gone, beyond the reach of any further lip from hitchhikers.


III

So there was Mooney, driving a stolen panel truck, Mooney the bankrupt, Mooney the ne'er-do-well, and now Mooney the accomplice murderer. Or so he thought, though the pale-eyed man had laughed like a panther when he'd asked.

He rehearsed little speeches all the day down U.S. One, Mooney did, and they all began: "Your Honor, I didn't know—"

Well, he hadn't. How could a man like Mooney know that Harse was so bereft of human compassion as to snuff out a life for the sake of finishing his lunch in peace? And what could Mooney have done about it, without drawing the diffident blue glow to himself? No, Your Honor, really, Your Honor, he took me by surprise....

But by the time they ditched the stolen car, nearly dry of gas, at the Hoboken ferry, Mooney had begun to get his nerve back. In fact, he was beginning to perceive that in that glittering silvery dispatch case that Harse hugged to him were treasures that might do wonders for a smart man unjustly dogged by hard times. The wampum alone! But beyond the wampum, the other good things that might in time be worth more than any amount of mere money.

There was that weapon. Mooney cast a glance at Harse, blank-eyed and relaxed, very much disinterested in the crowds of commuters on the ferry.

Nobody in all that crowd would believe that Harse could pull out a little jointed metal thing and push a button and make any one of them cease to exist. Nobody would believe it—not even a jury. Corpus delicti, body of evidence—why, there would be no evidence! It was a simple, workable, foolproof way of getting any desired number of people out of the way without fuss, muss or bother—and couldn't a smart but misfortunate man like Mooney do wonders by selectively removing those persons who stood as obstacles in his path?

And there would be more, much, much more. The thing to do, Mooney schemed, was to find out just what Harse had in that kit and how to work it; and then—who could know, perhaps Harse would himself find the diffident blue light reaching out for him before the intersection of Brooklyn and December twenty-sixth?

Mooney probed.

"Ah," laughed Harse. "Ho! I perceive what you want. You think perhaps there is something you can use in my survival kit."

"All right, Harse," Mooney said submissively, but he did have reservations.

First, it was important to find out just what was in the kit. After that—

Well, even a man from the future had to sleep.


Mooney was in a roaring rage. How dared the Government stick its bureaucratic nose into a simple transaction of citizens! But it turned out to be astonishingly hard to turn Harse's wampum into money. The first jeweler asked crudely threatening questions about an emerald the size of the ball of his thumb; the second quoted chapter and verse on the laws governing possession of gold. Finally they found a pawnbroker, who knowingly accepted a diamond that might have been worth a fortune; and when they took his first offer of a thousand dollars, the pawnbroker's suspicions were confirmed. Mooney dragged Harse away from there fast.

But they did have a thousand dollars.

As the cab took them across town, Mooney simmered down; and by the time they reached the other side, he was entirely content. What was a fortune more or less to a man who very nearly owned some of the secrets of the future?

He sat up, lit a cigarette, waved an arm and said expansively to Harse: "Our new home."

The pale-eyed man took a glowing little affair with eyepieces away from in front of his eyes.

"Ah," he said. "So."

It was quite an attractive hotel, Mooney thought judiciously. It did a lot to take away the sting of those sordidly avaricious jewelers. The lobby was an impressively close approximation of a cathedral and the bellboys looked smart and able.

Harse made an asthmatic sound. "What is. That?" He was pointing at a group of men standing in jovial amusement around the entrance to the hotel's grand ballroom, just off the lobby. They wore purple harem pants and floppy green hats, and every one of them carried a silver-paper imitation of a scimitar.

Mooney chuckled in a superior way. "You aren't up on our local customs, are you? That's a convention, Harse. They dress up that way because they belong to a lodge. A lodge is a kind of fraternal organization. A fraternal organization is—"

Harse said abruptly: "I want."

Mooney began to feel alarm. "What?"

"I want one for a. Specimen? Wait, I think I take the big one there."

"Harse! Wait a minute!" Mooney clutched at him. "Hold everything, man! You can't do that."

Harse stared at him. "Why?"

"Because it would upset everything, that's why! You want to get to your rendezvous, don't you? Well, if you do anything like that, we'll never get there!"

"Why not?"

"Please," Mooney said, "please take my word for it. You hear me? I'll explain later!"

Harse looked by no means convinced, but he stopped opening the silvery metal case. Mooney kept an eye on him while registering. Harse continued to watch the conventioneers, but he went no further. Mooney began to breathe again.

"Thank you, sir," said the desk clerk—not every guest, even in this hotel, went for a corner suite with two baths. "Front!"


A smart-looking bellboy stepped forward, briskly took the key from the clerk, briskly nodded at Mooney and Harse. With the automatic reflex of any hotel bellhop, he reached for Harse's silvery case. Baggage was baggage, however funny it looked.

But Harse was not just any old guest. The bellboy got the bag away from him, all right, but his victory was purely transitory. He yelled, dropped the bag, grabbed his fist with the other hand.

"Hey! It shocked me! What kind of tricks are you trying to do with electric suitcases?"

Mooney moaned softly. The whole lobby was looking at them—even the conventioneers at the entrance to the ballroom; even the men in mufti mingling with the conventioneers, carrying cameras and flash guns; even the very doorman, the whole lobby away. That was bad. What was worse was that Harse was obviously getting angry.

"Wait, wait!" Mooney stepped between them in a hurry. "I can explain everything. My friend is, uh, an inventor. There's some very important material in that briefcase, believe me!"

He winked, patted the bellhop on the shoulder, took his hand with friendly concern and left in it a folded bill.

"Now," he said confidentially, "we don't want any disturbance. I'm sure you understand how it is, son. Don't you? My friend can't take any chances with his, uh, confidential material, you see? Right. Well, let's say no more about it. Now if you'll show us to our room—"

The bellhop, still stiff-backed, glanced down at the bill and the stiffness disappeared as fast as any truck-driver bathed in Harse's pale blue haze. He looked up again and grinned.

"Sorry, sir—" he began.

But he didn't finish. Mooney had let Harse get out of his sight a moment too long.

The first warning he had was when there was a sudden commotion among the lodge brothers. Mooney turned, much too late. There was Harse; he had wandered over there, curious and interested and—Harse. He had stared them up and down, but he hadn't been content to stare. He had opened the little silvery dispatch-case and taken out of it the thing that looked like a film viewer; and maybe it was a camera, too, because he was looking through it at the conventioneers. He was covering them as Dixie is covered by the dew, up and down, back and forth, heels to head.

And it was causing a certain amount of attention. Even one of the photographers thought maybe this funny-looking guy with the funny-looking opera glasses was curious enough to be worth a shot. After all, that was what the photographer was there for. He aimed and popped a flash gun.

There was an abrupt thin squeal from the box. Black fog sprayed out of it in a greasy jet. It billowed toward Harse. It collected around him, swirled high. Now all the flashguns were popping....

It was a clear waste of a twenty-dollar bill, Mooney told himself aggrievedly out on the sidewalk. There had been no point in buttering up the bellhop as long as Harse was going to get them thrown out anyway.


On the other side of the East River, in a hotel that fell considerably below Mooney's recent, brief standards of excellence, Mooney cautiously tipped a bellboy, ushered him out, locked the door behind him and, utterly exhausted, flopped on one of the twin beds.

Harse glanced at him briefly, then wandered over to the window and stared incuriously at the soiled snow outside.

"You were fine, Harse," said Mooney without spirit. "You didn't do anything wrong at all."

"Ah," said Harse without turning. "So?"

Mooney sat up, reached for the phone, demanded setups and a bottle from room service and hung up.

"Oh, well," he said, beginning to revive, "at least we're in Brooklyn now. Maybe it's just as well."

"As well. What?"

"I mean this is where you wanted to be. Now we just have to wait four days, until the twenty-sixth. We'll have to raise some more money, of course," he added experimentally.

Harse turned and looked at him with the pale eyes. "One thousand dollars you have. Is not enough?"

"Oh, no, Harse," Mooney assured him. "Why, that won't be nearly enough. The room rent in this hotel alone is likely to use that up. Besides all the extras, of course."

"Ah." Harse, looking bored, sat down in the chair near Mooney, opened his kit, took out the thing that looked like a film viewer and put it to his eyes.

"We'll have to sell some more of those things. After all—" Mooney winked and dug at the pale-eyed man's ribs with his elbow—"we'll be needing some, well, entertainment."

Harse took the viewer away from his eyes. He glanced thoughtfully at the elbow and then at Mooney. "So," he said.

Mooney coughed and changed the subject. "One thing, though," he begged. "Don't get me in any more trouble like you did in that hotel lobby—or with that guy in the truck. Please? I mean, after all, you're making it hard for me to carry out my job."

Harse was thoughtfully silent.

"Promise?" Mooney urged.

Harse said, after some more consideration: "It is not altogether me. That is to say, it is a matter of defense. My picture should not be. Photographed? So the survival kit insures that it is not. You understand?"

Mooney leaned back. "You mean—" The bellboy with the drinks interrupted him; he took the bottle, signed the chit, tipped the boy and mixed himself a reasonably stiff but not quite stupefying highball, thinking hard.

"Did you say 'survival kit'?" he asked at last.

Harse was deep in the viewer again, but he looked away from it irritably. "Naturally, survival kit. So that I can. Survive?" He went back to the viewer.

Mooney took a long, thoughtful slug of the drink.


Survival kit. Why, that made sense. When the Air Force boys went out and raided the islands in the Pacific during the war, sometimes they got shot down—and it was enemy territory, or what passed for it. Those islands were mostly held by Japanese, though their populations hardly knew it. All the aboriginals knew was that strange birds crossed the sky and sometimes men came from them. The politics of the situation didn't interest the headhunters. What really interested them was heads.

But for a palatable second choice, they would settle for trade goods—cloth, mirrors, beads. And so the bomber pilots were equipped with survival kits—maps, trade goods, rations, weapons, instructions for proceeding to a point where, God willing, a friendly submarine might put ashore a rubber dinghy to take them off.

Mooney said persuasively: "Harse. I'm sorry to bother you, but we have to talk." The man with the pale eyes took them away from the viewer again and stared at Mooney. "Harse, were you shot down like an airplane pilot?"


Harse frowned—not in anger, or at least not at Mooney. It was the effort to make himself understood. He said at last: "Yes. Call it that."

"And—and this place you want to go to—is that where you will be rescued?"

"Yes."

Aha, thought Mooney, and the glimmerings of a new idea began to kick and stretch its fetal limbs inside him. He put it aside, to bear and coddle in private. He said: "Tell me more. Is there any particular part of Brooklyn you have to go to?"

"Ah. The Nexus Point?" Harse put down the viewer and, snap-snap, opened the gleaming kit. He took out the little round thing he had consulted in the house by the cold Jersey sea. He tilted it this way and that, frowned, consulted a small square sparkly thing that came from another part of the case, tilted the round gadget again.

"Correcting for local time," he said, "the Nexus Point is one hour and one minute after midnight at what is called. The Vale of Cashmere?"

Mooney scratched his ear. "The Vale of Cashmere? Where the devil is that—somewhere in Pakistan?"

"Brooklyn," said Harse with an imp's grimace. "You are the guide and you do not know where you are guiding me to?"

Mooney said hastily: "All right, Harse, all right. I'll find it. But tell me one thing, will you? Just suppose—suppose, I said—that for some reason or other, we don't make it to the what-you-call, Nexus Point. Then what happens?"

Harse for once neither laughed nor scowled. The pale eyes opened wide and glanced around the room, at the machine-made candlewick spreads on the beds, at the dusty red curtains that made a "suite" out of a long room, at the dog-eared Bible that lay on the night table.

"Suh," he stammered, "suh—suh—seventeen years until there is another Nexus Point!"


IV

Mooney dreamed miraculous dreams and not entirely because of the empty bottle that had been full that afternoon. There never was a time, never will be a time, like the future Mooney dreamed of—Mooney-owned, houri-inhabited, a fair domain for a live-wire Emperor of the Eons....

He woke up with a splitting head.

Even a man from the future had to sleep, so Mooney had thought, and it had been in his mind that, even this first night, it might pay to stay awake a little longer than Harse, just in case it might then seem like a good idea to—well, to bash him over the head and grab the bag. But the whiskey had played him dirty and he had passed out—drunk, blind drunk, or at least he hoped so. He hoped that he hadn't seen what he thought he had seen sober.

He woke up and wondered what was wrong. Little tinkling ice spiders were moving around him. He could hear their tiny crystal sounds and feel their chill legs, so lightly, on him. It was still a dream—wasn't it?

Or was he awake? The thing was, he couldn't tell. If he was awake, it was the middle of the night, because there was no light whatever; and besides, he didn't seem to be able to move.

Thought Mooney with anger and desperation: I'm dead. And: What a time to die!

But second thoughts changed his mind; there was no heaven and no hell, in all the theologies he had investigated, that included being walked over by tiny spiders of ice. He felt them. There was no doubt about it.

It was Harse, of course—had to be. Whatever he was up to, Mooney couldn't say, but as he lay there sweating cold sweat and feeling the crawling little feet, he knew that it was something Harse had made happen.

Little by little, he began to be able to see—not much, but enough to see that there really was something crawling. Whatever the things were, they had a faint, tenuous glow, like the face of a watch just before dawn. He couldn't make out shapes, but he could tell the size—not much bigger than a man's hand—and he could tell the number, and there were dozens of them.

He couldn't turn his head, but on the walls, on his chest, on his face, even on the ceiling, he could see faint moving patches of fox-fire light.


He took a deep breath. "Harse!" he started to call; wake him up, make him stop this! But he couldn't. He got no further than the first huff of the aspirate when the scurrying cold feet were on his lips. Something cold and damp lay across them and it stuck. Like spider silk, but stronger—he couldn't speak, couldn't move his lips, though he almost tore the flesh.

Oh, he could make a noise, all right. He started to do so, to snort and hum through his nose. But Mooney was not slow of thought and he had a sudden clear picture of that same cold ribbon crossing his nostrils, and what would be the use of all of time's treasures then, when it was no longer possible to breathe at all?

It was quite apparent that he was not to make a noise.

He had patience—the kind of patience that grows with a diet of thrice-used tea bags and soggy crackers. He waited.

It wasn't the middle of the night after all, he perceived, though it was still utterly dark except for the moving blobs. He could hear sounds in the hotel corridor outside—faintly, though: the sound of a vacuum cleaner, and it might have been a city block away; the tiniest whisper of someone laughing.

He remembered one of his drunken fantasies of the night before—little robot mice, or so they seemed, spinning a curtain across the window; and he shuddered, because that had been no fantasy. The window was curtained. And it was mid-morning, at the earliest, because the chambermaids were cleaning the halls.

Why couldn't he move? He flexed the muscles of his arms and legs, but nothing happened. He could feel the muscles straining, he could feel his toes and fingers twitch, but he was restrained by what seemed a web of Gulliver's cords....

There was a tap at the door. A pause, the scratching of a key, and the room was flooded with light from the hall.

Out of the straining corner of his eye, Mooney saw a woman in a gray cotton uniform, carrying fresh sheets, standing in the doorway, and her mouth was hanging slack. No wonder, for in the light from the hall, Mooney could see the room festooned with silver, with darting silvery shapes moving about. Mooney himself wore a cocoon of silver, and on the bed next to him, where Harse slept, there was a fantastic silver hood, like the basketwork of a baby's bassinet, surrounding his head.



It was a fairyland scene and it lasted only a second. For Harse cried out and leaped to his feet. Quick as an adder, he scooped up something from the table beside his bed and gestured with it at the door. It was, Mooney half perceived, the silvery, jointed thing he had used in the truck; and he used it again.

Pale blue light streamed out.

It faded and the chambermaid, popping eyes and all, was gone.


It didn't hurt as much the second time.

Mooney finally attracted Harse's attention, and Harse, with a Masonic pass over one of the little silvery things, set it to loosening and removing the silver bonds. The things were like toy tanks with jointed legs; as they spun the silver webs, they could also suck them in. In moments, the webs that held Mooney down were gone.

He got up, aching in his tired muscles and his head, but this time the panic that had filled him in the truck was gone. Well, one victim more or less—what did it matter? And besides, he clung to the fact that Harse had not exactly said the victims were dead.

So it didn't hurt as much the second time.

Mooney planned. He shut the door and sat on the edge of the bed. "Shut up—you put us in a lousy fix and I have to think a way out of it," he rasped at Harse when Harse started to speak; and the man from the future looked at him with opaque pale eyes, and silently opened one of the flat canisters and began to eat.

"All right," said Mooney at last. "Harse, get rid of all this stuff."

"This. Stuff?"

"The stuff on the walls. What your little spiders have been spinning, understand? Can't you get it off the walls?"

Harse leaned forward and touched the kit. The little spider-things that had been aimlessly roving now began to digest what they had created, as the ones that had held Mooney had already done. It was quick—Mooney hoped it would be quick enough. There were over a dozen of the things, more than Mooney would have believed the little kit could hold; and he had seen no sign of them before.

The silvery silk on the walls, in aimless tracing, disappeared. The thick silvery coat over the window disappeared. Harse's bassinet-hood disappeared. A construction that haloed the door disappeared—and as it dwindled, the noises from the corridor grew louder; some sort of sound-absorbing contrivance, Mooney thought, wondering.

There was an elaborate silvery erector-set affair on the floor between the beds; it whirled and spun silently and the little machines took it apart again and swallowed it. Mooney had no notion of its purpose. When it was gone, he could see no change, but Harse shuddered and shifted his position uncomfortably.

"All right," said Mooney when everything was back in the kit. "Now you just keep your mouth shut. I won't ask you to lie—they'll have enough trouble understanding you if you tell the truth. Hear me?"

Harse merely stared, but that was good enough. Mooney put his hand on the phone. He took a deep breath and held it until his head began to tingle and his face turned red. Then he picked up the phone and, when he spoke, there was authentic rage and distress in his voice.

"Operator," he snarled, "give me the manager. And hurry up—I want to report a thief!"


When the manager had gone—along with the assistant manager, the house detective and the ancient shrew-faced head housekeeper—Mooney extracted a promise from Harse and left him. He carefully hung a "Do Not Disturb" card from the doorknob, crossed his fingers and took the elevator downstairs.

The fact seemed to be that Harse didn't care about aboriginals. Mooney had arranged a system of taps on the door which, he thought, Harse would abide by, so that Mooney could get back in. Just the same, Mooney vowed to be extremely careful about how he opened that door. Whatever the pale blue light was, Mooney wanted no part of it directed at him.

The elevator operator greeted him respectfully—a part of the management's policy of making amends, no doubt. Mooney returned the greeting with a barely civil nod. Sure, it had worked; he'd told the manager that he'd caught the chambermaid trying to steal something valuable that belonged to that celebrated proprietor of valuable secrets, Mr. Harse; the chambermaid had fled; how dared they employ a person like that?

And he had made very sure that the manager and the house dick and all the rest had plenty of opportunity to snoop apologetically in every closet and under the beds, just so there would be no suspicion in their minds that a dismembered chambermaid-torso was littering some dark corner of the room. What could they do but accept the story? The chambermaid wasn't there to defend herself, and though they might wonder how she had got out of the hotel without being noticed, it was their problem to figure it out, not Mooney's to explain it.

They had even been grateful when Mooney offered handsomely to refrain from notifying the police.

"Lobby, sir," sang out the elevator operator, and Mooney stepped out, nodded to the manager, stared down the house detective and walked out into the street.

So far, so good.

Now that the animal necessities of clothes and food and a place to live were taken care of, Mooney had a chance to operate. It was a field in which he had always had a good deal of talent—the making of deals, the locating of contacts, the arranging of transactions that were better conducted in private.

And he had a good deal of business to transact. Harse had accepted without question his statement that they would have to raise more money.

"Try heroin or Platinum?" he had suggested, and gone back to his viewer.

"I will," Mooney assured him, and he did; he tried them both, and more besides.


Not only was it good that he had such valuable commodities to vend, but it was a useful item in his total of knowledge concerning Harse that the man from the future seemed to have no idea of the value of money in the 20th Century, chez U.S.A.

Mooney found a buyer for the drugs; and there was a few thousand dollars there, which helped, for although the quantity was not large, the drugs were chemically pure. He found a fence to handle the jewels and precious metals; and he unloaded all the ones of moderate value—not the other diamond, not the rubies, not the star sapphire.

He arranged to keep those without mentioning it to Harse. No point in selling them now, not when they had several thousand dollars above any conceivable expenses, not when some future date would do as well, just in case Harse should get away with the balance of the kit.

Having concluded his business, Mooney undertook a brief but expensive shopping tour of his own and found a reasonably satisfactory place to eat. After a pleasantly stimulating cocktail and the best meal he had had in some years—doubly good, for there was no reek from Harse's nauseating concoctions to spoil it—he called for coffee, for brandy, for the day's papers.

The disappearance of the truck driver made hardly a ripple. There were a couple of stories, but small and far in the back—amnesia, said one; an underworld kidnaping, suggested another; but the story had nothing to feed on and it would die.

Good enough, thought Mooney, waving for another glass of that enjoyable brandy; and then he turned back to the front page and saw his own face.

There was the hotel lobby of the previous day, and a pillar of churning black smoke that Mooney knew was Harse, and there in the background, mouth agape, expression worried, was Howard Mooney himself.

He read it all very, very carefully.

Well, he thought, at least they didn't get our names. The story was all about the Loyal and Beneficent Order of Exalted Eagles, and the only reference to the picture was a brief line about a disturbance outside the meeting hall. Nonetheless, the second glass of brandy tasted nowhere near as good as the first.


Time passed. Mooney found a man who explained what was meant by the Vale of Cashmere. In Brooklyn, there is a very large park—the name is Prospect Park—and in it is a little planted valley, with a brook and a pool; and the name of it on the maps of Prospect Park is the Vale of Cashmere. Mooney sent out for a map, memorized it; and that was that.

However, Mooney didn't really want to go to the Vale of Cashmere with Harse. What he wanted was that survival kit. Wonders kept popping out of it, and each day's supply made Mooney covet the huger store that was still inside. There had been, he guessed, something like a hundred separate items that had somehow come out of that tiny box. There simply was no room for them all; but that was not a matter that Mooney concerned himself with. They were there, possible or not, because he had seen them.

Mooney laid traps.

The trouble was that Harse did not care for conversation. He spent endless hours with his film viewer, and when he said anything at all to Mooney, it was to complain. All he wanted was to exist for four days—nothing else.

Mooney laid conversational traps, tried to draw him out, and there was no luck. Harse would turn his blank, pale stare on him, and refuse to be drawn.

At night, however hard Mooney tried, Harse was always awake past him; and in his sleep, always and always, the little metal guardians strapped Mooney tight. Survival kit? But how did the little metal things know that Mooney was a threat?

It was maddening and time was passing. There were four days, then only three, then only two. Mooney made arrangements of his own.

He found two girls—lovely girls, the best that money could buy, and he brought them to the suite with a wink and a snigger. "A little relaxation, eh, Harse? The red-haired one is named Ginger and she's partial to men with light-colored eyes."

Ginger smiled a rehearsed and lovely smile. "I certainly am, Mr. Harse. Say, want to dance?"

But it came to nothing, though the house detective knocked deferentially on the door to ask if they could be a little more quiet, please. It wasn't the sound of celebration that the neighbors were objecting to. It was the shrill, violent noise of Harse's laughter. First he had seemed not to understand, and then he looked as astonished as Mooney had ever seen him. And then the laughter.

Girls didn't work. Mooney got rid of the girls.

All right, Mooney was a man of infinite resource and sagacity—hadn't he proved that many a time? He excused himself to Harse, made sure his fat new pigskin wallet was in his pocket, and took a cab to a place on Brooklyn's waterfront where cabs seldom go. The bartender had arms like beer kegs and a blue chin.

"Beer," said Mooney, and made sure he paid for it with a twenty-dollar bill—thumbing through a thick wad of fifties and hundreds to find the smallest. He retired to a booth and nursed his beer.

After about ten minutes, a man stood beside him, blue-chinned and muscular enough to be the bartender's brother—which, Mooney found, he was.

"Well," said Mooney, "it took you long enough. Sit down. You don't have to roll me; you can earn this."

Girls didn't work? Okay, if not girls, then try boys ... well, not boys exactly. Hoodlums. Try hoodlums and see what Harse might do against the toughest inhabitants of the area around the Gowanus Canal.


Harse, sloshing heedlessly through melted snow, spattering Mooney, grumbled: "I do not see why we. Must? Wander endlessly across the face of this wretched slum."

Mooney said soothingly: "We have to make sure, Harse. We have to be sure it's the right place."

"Huff," said Harse, but he went along. They were in Prospect Park and it was nearly dark.

"Hey, look," said Mooney desperately, "look at those kids on sleds!"

Harse glanced angrily at the kids on sleds and even more angrily at Mooney. Still, he wasn't refusing to come and that was something. It had been possible that Harse would sit tight in the hotel room and it had taken all of the persuasive powers Mooney prided himself on to get him out. But Mooney was able to paint a horrible picture of getting to the wrong place, missing the Nexus Point, seventeen long years of waiting for the next one.

They crossed the Sheep Meadow, crossed the walk, crossed an old covered bridge; and they were at the head of a flight of shallow steps.

"The Vale of Cashmere!" cried Mooney, as though he were announcing a miracle.

Harse said nothing.

Mooney licked his lips, glancing at the kit Harse carried under an arm, glancing around. No one was in sight.

Mooney coughed. "Uh. You're sure this is the place you mean?"

"If it is the Vale of Cashmere." Harse looked once more down the steps, then turned.

"No, wait!" said Mooney frantically. "I mean—well, where in the Vale of Cashmere is the Nexus Point? This is a big place!"

Harse's pale eyes stared at him for a moment. "No. Not big."

"Oh, fairly big. After all—"

Harse said positively: "Come."

Mooney swore under his breath and vowed never to trust anyone again, especially a bartender's brother; but just then it happened. Out of the snowy bushes stepped a man in a red bandanna, holding a gun. "This is a stickup! Gimme that bag!"

Mooney exulted.

There was no chance for Harse now. The man was leaping toward him; there would be no time for him to open the bag, take out the weapon....

But he didn't have to. There was a thin, singing, whining sound from the bag. It leaped out of Harse's hand, leaped free as though it had invisible wings, and flew at the man in the red bandanna. The man stumbled and jumped aside, the eyes incredulous over the mask. The silvery flat metal kit spun round him, whining. It circled him once, spiraled up. Behind it, like a smoke trail from a destroyer, a pale blue mist streamed backward. It surrounded the man and hid him.

The bag flew back into Harse's hand.

The violet mist thinned and disappeared.

And the man was gone, as utterly and as finally as any chambermaid or driver of a truck.

There was a moment of silence. Mooney stared without belief at the snow sifting down from the bushes that the man had hid in.

Harse looked opaquely at Mooney. "It seems," he said, "that in these slums are many. Dangers?"


Mooney was very quiet on the way back to the hotel. Harse, for once, was not gazing into his viewer. He sat erect and silent beside Mooney, glancing at him from time to time. Mooney did not relish the attention.

The situation had deteriorated.

It deteriorated even more when they entered the lobby of the hotel. The desk clerk called to Mooney.

Mooney hesitated, then said to Harse: "You go ahead. I'll be up in a minute. And listen—don't forget about my knock."

Harse inclined his head and strode into the elevator. Mooney sighed.

"There's a gentleman to see you, Mr. Mooney," the desk clerk said civilly.

Mooney swallowed. "A—a gentleman? To see me?"

The clerk nodded toward the writing room. "In there, sir. A gentleman who says he knows you."

Mooney pursed his lips.

In the writing room? Well, that was an advantage. The writing room was off the main lobby; it would give Mooney a chance to peek in before whoever it was could see him. He approached the entrance cautiously....

"Howard!" cried an accusing familiar voice behind him.

Mooney turned. A small man with curly red hair was coming out of a door, marked "Men."

"Why—why, Uncle Lester!" said Mooney. "What a p-pleasant surprise!"

Lester, all of five feet tall, wispy red hair surrounding his red plump face, looked up at him belligerently.

"No doubt!" he snapped. "I've been waiting all day, Howard. Took the afternoon off from work to come here. And I wouldn't have been here at all if I hadn't seen this."

He was holding a copy of the paper with Mooney's picture, behind the pillar of black fog. "Your aunt wrapped my lunch in it, Howard. Otherwise I might have missed it. Went right to the hotel. You weren't there. The doorman helped, though. Found a cab driver. Told me where he'd taken you. Here I am."

"That's nice," lied Mooney.

"No, it isn't. Howard, what in the world are you up to? Do you know the Monmouth County police are looking for you? Said there was somebody missing. Want to talk to you." The little man shook his head angrily. "Knew I shouldn't let you stay at my place. Your aunt warned me, too. Why do you make trouble for me?"

"Police?" Mooney asked faintly.

"At my age! Police coming to the house. Who was that fella who's missing, Howard? Where did he go? Why doesn't he go home? His wife's half crazy. He shouldn't worry her like that."


Mooney clutched his uncle's shoulder. "Do the police know where I am? You didn't tell them?"

"Tell them? How could I tell them? Only I saw your picture while I was eating my sandwich, so I went to the hotel and—"

"Uncle Lester, listen. What did they come to see you for?"

"Because I was stupid enough to let you stay in my house, that's what for," Lester said bitterly. "Two days ago. Knocking on my door, hardly eight o'clock in the morning. They said there's a man missing, driving a truck, found the truck empty. Man from the Coast Guard station knows him, saw him picking up a couple of hitchhikers at a bridge someplace, recognized one of the hitchhikers. Said the hitchhiker'd been staying at my house. That's you, Howard. Don't lie; he described you. Pudgy, kind of a squinty look in the eyes, dressed like a bum—oh, it was you, all right."

"Wait a minute. Nobody knows you've come here, right? Not even Auntie?"

"No, course not. She didn't see the picture, so how would she know? Would've said something if she had. Now come on, Howard, we've got to go to the police and—"

"Uncle Lester!"

The little man paused and looked at him suspiciously. But that was all right; Mooney began to feel confidence flow back into him. It wasn't all over yet, not by a long shot.

"Uncle Lester," he said, his voice low-pitched and persuasive, "I have to ask you a very important question. Think before you answer, please. This is the question: Have you ever belonged to any Communist organization?"

The old man blinked. After a moment, he exploded. "Now what are you up to, Howard? You know I never—"

"Think, Uncle Lester! Please. Way back when you were a boy—anything like that?"

"Of course not!"

"You're sure? Because I'm warning you, Uncle Lester, you're going to have to take the strictest security check anybody ever took. You've stumbled onto something important. You'll have to prove you can be trusted or—well, I can't answer for the consequences. You see, this involves—" he looked around him furtively—"Schenectady Project."

"Schenec—"

"Schenectady Project." Mooney nodded. "You've heard of the atom bomb? Uncle Lester, this is bigger!"

"Bigger than the at—"

"Bigger. It's the molecule bomb. There aren't seventy-five men in the country that know what that so-called driver in the truck was up to, and now you're one of them."

Mooney nodded soberly, feeling his power. The old man was hooked, tied and delivered. He could tell by the look in the eyes, by the quivering of the lips. Now was the time to slip the contract in his hand; or, in the present instance, to—

"I'll tell you what to do," whispered Mooney. "Here's my key. You go up to my room. Don't knock—we don't want to attract attention. Walk right in. You'll see a man there and he'll explain everything. Understand?"

"Why—why, sure, Howard. But why don't you come with me?"

Mooney raised a hand warningly. "You might be followed. I'll have to keep a lookout."

Five minutes later, when Mooney tapped on the door of the room—three taps, pause, three taps—and cautiously pushed it open, the pale blue mist was just disappearing. Harse was standing angrily in the center of the room with the jointed metal thing thrust out ominously before him.

And of Uncle Lester, there was no trace at all.


V

Time passed; and then time was all gone, and it was midnight, nearly the Nexus Point.

In front of the hotel, a drowsy cab-driver gave them an argument. "The Public Liberry? Listen, the Liberry ain't open this time of night. I ought to—Oh, thanks. Hop in." He folded the five-dollar bill and put the cab in gear.

Harse said ominously: "Liberry, Mooney? Why do you instruct him to take us to the Liberry?"

Mooney whispered: "There's a law against being in the Park at night. We'll have to sneak in. The Library's right across the street."

Harse stared, with his luminous pale eyes. But it was true; there was such a law, for the parks of the city lately had become fields of honor where rival gangs contended with bottle shards and zip guns, where a passerby was odds-on to be mugged.

"High Command must know this," Harse grumbled. "Must proceed, they say, to Nexus Point. But then one finds the aboriginals have made laws! Oh, I shall make a report!"

"Sure you will," Mooney soothed; but in his heart, he was prepared to bet heavily against it.

Because he had a new strategy. Clearly he couldn't get the survival kit from Harse. He had tried that and there was no luck; his arm still tingled as the bellboy's had, from having seemingly absent-mindedly taken the handle to help Harse. But there was a way.

Get rid of this clown from the future, he thought contentedly; meet the Nexus Point instead of Harse and there was the future, ripe for the taking! He knew where the rescuers would be—and, above all, he knew how to talk. Every man has one talent and Mooney's was salesmanship.

All the years wasted on peddling dime-store schemes like frozen-food plans! But this was the big time at last, so maybe the years of seasoning were not wasted, after all.

"That for you, Uncle Lester," he muttered. Harse looked up from his viewer angrily and Mooney cleared his throat. "I said," he explained hastily, "we're almost at the—the Nexus Point."


Snow was drifting down. The cab-driver glanced at the black, quiet library, shook his head and pulled away, leaving black, wet tracks in the thin snow.

The pale-eyed man looked about him irritably. "You!" he cried, waking Mooney from a dream of possessing the next ten years of stock-market reports. "You! Where is this Vale of Cashmere?"

"Right this way, Harse, right this way," said Mooney placatingly.

There was a wide sort of traffic circle—Grand Army Plaza was the name of it—and there were a few cars going around it. But not many, and none of them looked like police cars. Mooney looked up and down the broad, quiet streets.

"Across here," he ordered, and led the time traveler toward the edge of the park. "We can't go in the main entrance. There might be cops."

"Cops?"

"Policemen. Law-enforcement officers. We'll just walk down here a way and then hop over the wall. Trust me," said Mooney, in the voice that had put frozen-food lockers into so many suburban homes.

The look from those pale eyes was anything but a look of trust, but Harse didn't say anything. He stared about with an expression of detached horror, like an Alabama gentlewoman condemned to walk through Harlem.

"Now!" whispered Mooney urgently.

And over the wall they went.

They were in a thicket of shrubs and brush, snow-laden, the snow sifting down into Mooney's neck every time he touched a branch, which was always; he couldn't avoid it. They crossed a path and then a road—long, curving, broad, white, empty. Down a hill, onto another path. Mooney paused, glancing around.

"You know where you are. Going?"

"I think so. I'm looking for cops." None in sight. Mooney frowned. What the devil did the police think they were up to? They passed laws; why weren't they around to enforce them?

Mooney had his landmarks well in mind. There was the Drive, and there was the fork he was supposed to be looking for. It wouldn't be hard to find the path to the Vale. The only thing was, it was kind of important to Mooney's hope of future prosperity that he find a policeman first. And time was running out.

He glanced at the luminous dial of his watch—self-winding, shockproof, non-magnetic; the man in the hotel's jewelry shop had assured him only yesterday that he could depend on its time-keeping as on the beating of his heart. It was nearly a quarter of one.

"Come along, come along!" grumbled Harse.

Mooney stalled: "I—I think we'd better go along this way. It ought to be down there—"

He cursed himself. Why hadn't he gone in the main entrance, where there was sure to be a cop? Harse would never have known the difference. But there was the artist in him that wanted the thing done perfectly, and so he had held to the pretense of avoiding police, had skulked and hidden. And now—

"Look!" he whispered, pointing.

Harse spat soundlessly and turned his eyes where Mooney was pointing.

Yes. Under a distant light, a moving figure, swinging a nightstick.

Mooney took a deep breath and planted a hand between Harse's shoulder blades.

"Run!" he yelled at the top of his voice, and shoved. He sounded so real, he almost convinced himself. "We'll have to split up—I'll meet you there. Now run!"


VI

Oh, clever Mooney! He crouched under a snowy tree, watching the man from the future speed effortlessly away ... in the wrong direction.

The cop was hailing him; clever cop! All it had taken was a couple of full-throated yells and at once the cop had perceived that someone was in the park. But cleverer than any cop was Mooney.

Men from the future. Why, thought Mooney contentedly, no Mrs. Meyerhauser of the suburbs would have let me get away with a trick like that to sell her a freezer. There's going to be no problem at all. I don't have to worry about a thing. Mooney can take care of himself!

By then, he had caught his breath—and time was passing, passing.

He heard a distant confused yelling. Harse and the cop? But it didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was getting to the Nexus Point at one minute past one.

He took a deep breath and began to trot. Slipping in the snow, panting heavily, he went down the path, around the little glade, across the covered bridge.

He found the shallow steps that led down to the Vale.

And there it was below him: a broad space where walks joined, and in the space a thing shaped like a dinosaur egg, rounded and huge. It glowed with a silvery sheen.



Confidently, Mooney started down the steps toward the egg and the moving figures that flitted soundlessly around it. Harse was not the only time traveler, Mooney saw. Good, that might make it all the simpler. Should he change his plan and feign amnesia, pass himself off as one of their own men?

Or—

A movement made him look over his shoulder.

Somebody was standing at the top of the steps. "Hell's fire," whispered Mooney. He'd forgotten all about that aboriginal law; and here above him stood a man in a policeman's uniform, staring down with pale eyes.

No, not a policeman. The face was—Harse's.

Mooney swallowed and stood rooted.

"You!" Harse's savage voice came growling. "You are to stand. Still?"

Mooney didn't need the order; he couldn't move. No twentieth-century cop was a match for Harse, that was clear; Harse had bested him, taken his uniform away from him for camouflage—and here he was.

Unfortunately, so was Howard Mooney.

The figures below were looking up, pointing and talking; Harse from above was coming down. Mooney could only stand, and wish—wish that he were back in Sea Bright, living on cookies and stale tea, wish he had planned things with more intelligence, more skill—perhaps even with more honesty. But it was too late for wishing.

Harse came down the steps, paused a yard from Mooney, scowled a withering scowl—and passed on.

He reached the bottom of the steps and joined the others waiting about the egg. They all went inside.

The glowing silvery colors winked and went out. The egg flamed purple, faded, turned transparent and disappeared.

Mooney stared and, yelling a demand for payment, ran stumbling down the steps to where it had been. There was a round thawed spot, a trampled patch—nothing else.

They were gone....

Almost gone. Because there was a sudden bright wash of flame from overhead—cold silvery flame. He looked up, dazzled. Over him, the egg was visible as thin smoke, hovering. A smoky, half-transparent hand reached out of a port. A thin, reedy voice cried: "I promised you. Pay?"

And the silvery dispatch-case sort of thing, the survival kit, dropped soundlessly to the snow beside Mooney.

When he looked up again, the egg was gone for good.


He was clear back to the hotel before he got a grip on himself—and then he was drunk with delight. Honest Harse! Splendidly trustable Harse! Why, all this time, Mooney had been so worried, had worked so hard—and the whole survival kit was his, after all!

He had touched it gingerly before picking it up but it didn't shock him; clearly the protective devices, whatever they were, were off.

He sweated over it for an hour and a half, looking for levers, buttons, a slit that he might pry wider with the blade of a knife. At last he kicked it and yelled, past endurance: "Open up, damn you!"

It opened wide on the floor before him.

"Oh, bless your heart!" cried Mooney, falling to his knees to drag out the string of wampum, the little mechanical mice, the viewing-machine sort of thing. Treasures like those were beyond price; each one might fetch a fortune, if only in the wondrous new inventions he could patent if he could discover just how they worked.

But where were they?

Gone! The wampum was gone. The goggles were gone. Everything was gone—the little flat canisters, the map instruments, everything but one thing.

There was, in a corner of the case, a squarish, sharp-edged thing that Mooney stared at blindly for a long moment before he recognized it. It was a part—only a part—of the jointed construction that Harse had used to rid himself of undesirables by bathing them in blue light.

What a filthy trick! Mooney all but sobbed to himself.

He picked up the squarish thing bitterly. Probably it wouldn't even work, he thought, the world a ruin around him. It wasn't even the whole complete weapon.

Still—

There was a grooved, saddle-shaped affair that was clearly a sort of trigger; it could move forward or it could move back. Mooney thought deeply for a while.

Then he sat up, held the thing carefully away from him with the pointed part toward the wall and pressed, ever so gently pressed forward on the saddle-shaped thumb-trigger.

The pale blue haze leaped out, swirled around and, not finding anything alive in its range, dwindled and died.


Aha, thought Mooney, not everything is lost yet! Surely a bright young man could find some use for a weapon like this which removed, if it did not kill, which prevented any nastiness about a corpse turning up, or a messy job of disposal.

Why not see what happened if the thumb-piece was moved backward?

Well, why not? Mooney held the thing away from him, hesitated, and slid it back.

There was a sudden shivering tingle in his thumb, in the gadget he was holding, running all up and down his arm. A violet haze, very unlike the blue one, licked soundlessly forth—not burning, but destroying as surely as flame ever destroyed; for where the haze touched the gadget itself, the kit, everything that had to do with the man from the future, it seared and shattered. The gadget fell into white crystalline powder in Mooney's hand and the case itself became a rectangular shape traced in white powder ridges on the rug.

Oh, no! thought Mooney, even before the haze had gone. It can't be!

The flame danced away like a cloud, spreading and rising. While Mooney stared, it faded away, but not without leaving something behind.

Mooney threw his taut body backward, almost under the bed. What he saw, he didn't believe; what he believed filled him with panic.

No wonder Harse had laughed so when Mooney asked if its victims were dead. For there they were, all of them. Like djinn out of a jar, human figures jelled and solidified where the cloud of violet flame had not at all diffidently rolled.

They were alive, as big as life, and beginning to move—and so many of them! Three—five—six:

The truck-driver, yes, and a man in long red flannel underwear who must have been the policeman, and Uncle Lester, and the bartender's brother, and the chambermaid, and a man Mooney didn't know.

They were there, all of them; and they came toward him, and oh! but they were angry!

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