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40000000 Years After







From: After London

Entering within the boundaries of the solar system, a long, dark,
pointed craft sped across the realms of space towards the tiny point of
light which marked the dull red ball of the dying sun which would some
day lie cold and dark forever. Like a huge meteor it flashed into the
solar system from another chain of planets far out in the illimitable
Universe of stars and worlds, heading towards the great red sun at an
inconceivable speed.

Within the interior of the space traveler, queer creatures of metal
labored at the controls of the space flyer which juggernauted on its way
towards the far-off solar luminary. Rapidly it crossed the orbits of
Neptune and Uranus and headed sunward. The bodies of these queer
creatures were square blocks of a metal closely resembling steel, while
for appendages, the metal cube was upheld by four jointed legs capable
of movement. A set of six tentacles, all metal, like the rest of the
body, curved outward from the upper half of the cubic body. Surmounting
it was a queer-shaped head rising to a peak in the center and equipped
with a circle of eyes all the way around the head. The creatures, with
their mechanical eyes equipped with metal shutters, could see in all
directions. A single eye pointed directly upward, being situated in the
space of the peaked head, resting in a slight depression of the cranium.

These were the Zoromes of the planet Zor which rotated on its way around
a star millions of light years distant from our solar system. The
Zoromes, several hundred thousand years before, had reached a stage in
science, where they searched for immortality and eternal relief from
bodily ills and various deficiencies of flesh and blood anatomy. They
had sought freedom from death, and had found it, but at the same time
they had destroyed the propensities for birth. And for several hundred
thousand years there had been no births and few deaths in the history of
the Zoromes.

This strange race of people had built their own mechanical bodies, and
by operation upon one another had removed their brains to the metal
heads from which they directed the functions and movements of their
inorganic anatomies. There had been no deaths due to worn-out bodies.
When one part of the mechanical men wore out, it was replaced by a new
part, and so the Zoromes continued living their immortal lives which saw
few casualties. It was true that, since the innovation of the machines,
there had been a few accidents which had seen the destruction of the
metal heads with their brains. These were irreparable. Such cases had
been few, however, and the population of Zor had decreased but little.
The machine men of Zor had no use for atmosphere, and had it not been
for the terrible coldness of space, could have just as well existed in
the ether void as upon some planet. Their metal bodies, especially their
metal-encased brains, did require a certain amount of heat even though
they were able to exist comfortably in temperatures which would
instantly have frozen to death a flesh-and-blood creature.

The most popular pastime among the machine men of Zor was the
exploration of the Universe. This afforded them a never ending source of
interest in the discovery of the variegated inhabitants and conditions
of the various planets on which they came to rest. Hundreds of space
ships were sent out in all directions, many of them being upon their
expeditions for hundreds of years before they returned once more to the
home planet of far-off Zor.

This particular space craft of the Zoromes had entered the solar system
whose planets were gradually circling in closer to the dull red ball of
the declining sun. Several of the machine men of the space craft's crew,
which numbered some fifty individuals, were examining the various
planets of this particular planetary system carefully through telescopes
possessing immense power.

These machine men had no names and were indexed according to letters and
numbers. They conversed by means of thought impulses, and were neither
capable of making a sound vocally nor of hearing one uttered.

"Where shall we go?" queried one of the men at the controls questioning
another who stood by his side examining a chart on the wall.

"They all appear to be dead worlds, 4R-3579," replied the one addressed,
"but the second planet from the sun appears to have an atmosphere which
might sustain a few living creatures, and the third planet may also
prove interesting for it has a satellite. We shall examine the inner
planets first of all, and explore the outer ones later if we decide it
is worth the time."

"Too much trouble for nothing," ventured 9G-721. "This system of planets
offers us little but what we have seen many times before in our travels.
The sun is so cooled that it cannot sustain the more common life on its
planets, the type of life forms we usually find in our travels. We
should have visited a planetary system with a brighter sun."

"You speak of common life," remarked 25X-987. "What of the uncommon
life? Have we not found life existent on cold, dead planets with no
sunlight and atmosphere at all?"

"Yes, we have," admitted 9G-721, "but such occasions are exceedingly
rare."

"The possibility exists, however, even in this case," reminded 4R-3579,
"and what if we do spend a bit of unprofitable time in this one
planetary system--haven't we all an endless lifetime before us? Eternity
is ours."

"We shall visit the second planet first of all," directed 25X-987, who
was in charge of this particular expedition of the Zoromes, "and on the
way there we shall cruise along near the third planet to see what we can
of the surface. We may be able to tell whether or not it holds anything
of interest to us. If it does, after visiting the second planet, we
shall then return to the third. The first world is not worth bothering
with."

* * * * *

The space ship from Zor raced on in a direction which would take it
several thousand miles above the earth and then on to the planet which
we know as Venus. As the space ship rapidly neared the earth, it
slackened its speed, so that the Zoromes might examine it closely with
their glasses as the ship passed the third planet.

Suddenly, one of the machine men ran excitedly into the room where
25X-987 stood watching the topography of the world beneath him.

"We have found something!" he exclaimed.

"What?"

"Another space ship!"

"Where?"

"But a short distance ahead of us on our course. Come into the foreport
of the ship and you can pick it up with the glass."

"Which is the way it's going?" asked 25X-987.

"It is behaving queerly," replied the machine man of Zor. "It appears to
be in the act of circling the planet."

"Do you suppose that there really is life on that dead
world--intelligent beings like ourselves, and that this is one of their
space craft?"

"Perhaps it is another exploration craft like our own from some other
world," was the suggestion.

"But not of ours," said 25X-987.

Together, the two Zoromes now hastened into the observation room of the
space ship where more of the machine men were excitedly examining the
mysterious space craft, their thought impulses flying thick and fast
like bodiless bullets.

"It is very small!"

"Its speed is slow!"

"The craft can hold but few men," observed one.

"We do not yet know of what size the creatures are," reminded another.
"Perhaps there are thousands of them in that space craft out there. They
may be of such a small size that it will be necessary to look twice
before finding one of them. Such beings are not unknown."

"We shall soon overtake it and see."

"I wonder if they have seen us?"

"Where do you suppose it came from?"

"From the world beneath us," was the suggestion.

"Perhaps."





Next: The Mysterious Space Craft

Previous: Prologue The Rocket Satellite



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