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The Eternal Wall

The Eternal Wall

From: The Eternal Wall

A scream of brakes, the splash
into icy waters, a long descent
into alkaline depths ... it was
death. But Ned Vince lived
again--a million years later!

"See you in half an hour, Betty," said Ned Vince over the party
telephone. "We'll be out at the Silver Basket before ten-thirty...."

Ned Vince was eager for the company of the girl he loved. That was why
he was in a hurry to get to the neighboring town of Hurley, where she
lived. His old car rattled and roared as he swung it recklessly around
Pit Bend.

There was where Death tapped him on the shoulder. Another car leaped
suddenly into view, its lights glaring blindingly past a high,
up-jutting mass of Jurassic rock at the turn of the road.

Dazzled, and befuddled by his own rash speed, Ned Vince had only swift
young reflexes to rely on to avoid a fearful, telescoping collision. He
flicked his wheel smoothly to the right; but the County Highway
Commission hadn't yet tarred the traffic-loosened gravel at the Bend.

minds of these creatures.]

Ned could scarcely have chosen a worse place to start sliding and
spinning. His car hit the white-painted wooden rail sideways, crashed
through, tumbled down a steep slope, struck a huge boulder, bounced up a
little, and arced outward, falling as gracefully as a swan-diver toward
the inky waters of the Pit, fifty feet beneath....

Ned Vince was still dimly conscious when that black, quiet pool geysered
around him in a mighty splash. He had only a dazing welt on his
forehead, and a gag of terror in his throat.

Movement was slower now, as he began to sink, trapped inside his wrecked
car. Nothing that he could imagine could mean doom more certainly than
this. The Pit was a tremendously deep pocket in the ground, spring-fed.
The edges of that almost bottomless pool were caked with a rim of
white--for the water, on which dead birds so often floated, was
surcharged with alkali. As that heavy, natronous liquid rushed up
through the openings and cracks beneath his feet, Ned Vince knew that
his friends and his family would never see his body again, lost beyond
recovery in this abyss.

The car was deeply submerged. The light had blinked out on the
dash-panel, leaving Ned in absolute darkness. A flood rushed in at the
shattered window. He clawed at the door, trying to open it, but it was
jammed in the crash-bent frame, and he couldn't fight against the force
of that incoming water. The welt, left by the blow he had received on
his forehead, put a thickening mist over his brain, so that he could not
think clearly. Presently, when he could no longer hold his breath,
bitter liquid was sucked into his lungs.

His last thoughts were those of a drowning man. The machine-shop he and
his dad had had in Harwich. Betty Moore, with the smiling Irish
eyes--like in the song. Betty and he had planned to go to the State
University this Fall. They'd planned to be married sometime.... Goodbye,
Betty ...

The ripples that had ruffled the surface waters in the Pit, quieted
again to glassy smoothness. The eternal stars shone calmly. The geologic
Dakota hills, which might have seen the dinosaurs, still bulked along
the highway. Time, the Brother of Death, and the Father of Change,
seemed to wait....

* * * * *

"Kaalleee! Tik!... Tik, tik, tik!... Kaalleee!..."

The excited cry, which no human throat could quite have duplicated
accurately, arose thinly from the depths of a powder-dry gulch,
water-scarred from an inconceivable antiquity. The noon-day Sun was red
and huge. The air was tenuous, dehydrated, chill.

"Kaalleee!... Tik, tik, tik!..."

At first there was only one voice uttering those weird, triumphant
sounds. Then other vocal organs took up that trilling wail, and those
short, sharp chuckles of eagerness. Other questioning, wondering notes
mixed with the cadence. Lacking qualities identifiable as human, the
disturbance was still like the babble of a group of workmen who have
discovered something remarkable.

The desolate expanse around the gulch, was all but without motion. The
icy breeze tore tiny puffs of dust from grotesque, angling drifts of
soil, nearly waterless for eons. Patches of drab lichen grew here and
there on the up-jutting rocks, but in the desert itself, no other life
was visible. Even the hills had sagged away, flattened by incalculable
ages of erosion.

* * * * *

At a mile distance, a crumbling heap of rubble arose. Once it had been a
building. A gigantic, jagged mass of detritus slanted upward from its
crest--red debris that had once been steel. A launching catapult for the
last space ships built by the gods in exodus, perhaps it was--half a
million years ago. Man was gone from the Earth. Glacial ages, war,
decadence, disease, and a final scattering of those ultimate superhumans
to newer worlds in other solar systems, had done that.

"Kaalleee!... Tik, tik, tik!..." The sounds were not human. They were
more like the chatter and wail of small desert animals.

But there was a seeming paradox here in the depths of that gulch, too.
The glint of metal, sharp and burnished. The flat, streamlined bulk of a
flying machine, shiny and new. The bell-like muzzle of a strange
excavator-apparatus, which seemed to depend on a blast of atoms to clear
away rock and soil. Thus the gulch had been cleared of the accumulated
rubbish of antiquity. Man, it seemed, had a successor, as ruler of the

Loy Chuk had flown his geological expedition out from the far lowlands
to the east, out from the city of Kar-Rah. And he was very happy
now--flushed with a vast and unlooked-for success.

He crouched there on his haunches, at the dry bottom of the Pit. The
breeze rumpled his long, brown fur. He wasn't very different in
appearance from his ancestors. A foot tall, perhaps, as he squatted
there in that antique stance of his kind. His tail was short and furred,
his undersides creamy. White whiskers spread around his inquisitive,
pink-tipped snout.

But his cranium bulged up and forward between shrewd, beady eyes,
betraying the slow heritage of time, of survival of the fittest, of
evolution. He could think and dream and invent, and the civilization of
his kind was already far beyond that of the ancient Twentieth Century.

Loy Chuk and his fellow workers were gathered, tense and gleeful, around
the things their digging had exposed to the daylight. There was a gob of
junk--scarcely more than an irregular formation of flaky rust. But
imbedded in it was a huddled form, brown and hard as old wood. The dry
mud that had encased it like an airtight coffin, had by now been chipped
away by the tiny investigators; but soiled clothing still clung to it,
after perhaps a million years. Metal had gone into decay--yes. But not
this body. The answer to this was simple--alkali. A mineral saturation
that had held time and change in stasis. A perfect preservative for
organic tissue, aided probably during most of those passing eras by
desert dryness. The Dakotas had turned arid very swiftly. This body was
not a mere fossil. It was a mummy.

* * * * *

"Kaalleee!" Man, that meant. Not the star-conquering demi-gods, but the
ancestral stock that had built the first machines on Earth, and in the
early Twenty-first Century, the first interplanetary rockets. No wonder
Loy Chuk and his co-workers were happy in their paleontological
enthusiasm! A strange accident, happening in a legendary antiquity, had
aided them in their quest for knowledge.

At last Loy Chuk gave a soft, chirping signal. The chant of triumph
ended, while instruments flicked in his tiny hands. The final instrument
he used to test the mummy, looked like a miniature stereoscope, with
complicated details. He held it over his eyes. On the tiny screen
within, through the agency of focused X-rays, he saw magnified images of
the internal organs of this ancient human corpse.

What his probing gaze revealed to him, made his pleasure even greater
than before. In twittering, chattering sounds, he communicated his
further knowledge to his henchmen. Though devoid of moisture, the mummy
was perfectly preserved, even to its brain cells! Medical and biological
sciences were far advanced among Loy Chuk's kind. Perhaps, by the
application of principles long known to them, this long-dead body could
be made to live again! It might move, speak, remember its past! What a
marvelous subject for study it would make, back there in the museums of

"Tik, tik, tik!..."

But Loy silenced this fresh, eager chattering with a command. Work was
always more substantial than cheering.

* * * * *

With infinite care--small, sharp hand-tools were used, now--the mummy of
Ned Vince was disengaged from the worthless rust of his primitive
automobile. With infinite care it was crated in a metal case, and
hauled into the flying machine.

Flashing flame, the latter arose, bearing the entire hundred members of
the expedition. The craft shot eastward at bullet-like speed. The
spreading continental plateau of North America seemed to crawl backward,
beneath. A tremendous sand desert, marked with low, washed-down
mountains, and the vague, angular, geometric mounds of human cities that
were gone forever.

Beyond the eastern rim of the continent, the plain dipped downward
steeply. The white of dried salt was on the hills, but there was a
little green growth here, too. The dead sea-bottom of the vanished
Atlantic was not as dead as the highlands.

Far out in a deep valley, Kar-Rah, the city of the rodents, came into
view--a crystalline maze of low, bubble-like structures, glinting in the
red sunshine. But this was only its surface aspect. Loy Chuk's people
had built their homes mostly underground, since the beginning of their
foggy evolution. Besides, in this latter day, the nights were very cold,
the shelter of subterranean passages and rooms was welcome.

The mummy was taken to Loy Chuk's laboratory, a short distance below the
surface. Here at once, the scientist began his work. The body of the
ancient man was put in a large vat. Fluids submerged it, slowly soaking
from that hardened flesh the alkali that had preserved it for so long.
The fluid was changed often, until woody muscles and other tissues
became pliable once more.

Then the more delicate processes began. Still submerged in liquid, the
corpse was submitted to a flow of restorative energy, passing between
complicated electrodes. The cells of antique flesh and brain gradually
took on a chemical composition nearer to that of the life that they had
once known.

* * * * *

At last the final liquid was drained away, and the mummy lay there, a
mummy no more, but a pale, silent figure in its tatters of clothing. Loy
Chuk put an odd, metal-fabric helmet on its head, and a second, much
smaller helmet on his own. Connected with this arrangement, was a black
box of many uses. For hours he worked with his apparatus, studying, and
guiding the recording instruments. The time passed swiftly.

At last, eager and ready for whatever might happen now, Loy Chuk pushed
another switch. With a cold, rosy flare, energy blazed around that
moveless form.

For Ned Vince, timeless eternity ended like a gradual fading mist. When
he could see clearly again, he experienced that inevitable shock of vast
change around him. Though it had been dehydrated, his brain had been
kept perfectly intact through the ages, and now it was restored. So his
memories were as vivid as yesterday.

Yet, through that crystalline vat in which he lay, he could see a broad,
low room, in which he could barely have stood erect. He saw instruments
and equipment whose weird shapes suggested alienness, and knowledge
beyond the era he had known! The walls were lavender and phosphorescent.
Fossil bone-fragments were mounted in shallow cases. Dinosaur bones,
some of them seemed, from their size. But there was a complete skeleton
of a dog, too, and the skeleton of a man, and a second man-skeleton that
was not quite human. Its neck-vertebrae were very thick and solid, its
shoulders were wide, and its skull was gigantic.

All this weirdness had a violent effect on Ned Vince--a sudden,
nostalgic panic. Something was fearfully wrong!

The nervous terror of the unknown was on him. Feeble and dizzy after his
weird resurrection, which he could not understand, remembering as he did
that moment of sinking to certain death in the pool at Pit Bend, he
caught the edge of the transparent vat, and pulled himself to a sitting
posture. There was a muffled murmur around him, as of some vast,
un-Earthly metropolis.

"Take it easy, Ned Vince...."

The words themselves, and the way they were assembled, were old,
familiar friends. But the tone was wrong. It was high, shrill,
parrot-like, and mechanical. Ned's gaze searched for the source of the
voice--located the black box just outside of his crystal vat. From that
box the voice seemed to have originated. Before it crouched a small,
brownish animal with a bulging head. The animal's tiny-fingered
paws--hands they were, really--were touching rows of keys.

To Ned Vince, it was all utterly insane and incomprehensible. A rodent,
looking like a prairie dog, a little; but plainly possessing a high
order of intelligence. And a voice whose soothingly familiar words were
more repugnant somehow, simply because they could never belong in a
place as eerie as this.

Ned Vince did not know how Loy Chuk had probed his brain, with the aid
of a pair of helmets, and the black box apparatus. He did not know that
in the latter, his language, taken from his own revitalized mind, was
recorded, and that Loy Chuk had only to press certain buttons to make
the instrument express his thoughts in common, long-dead English. Loy,
whose vocal organs were not human, would have had great difficulty
speaking English words, anyway.

Ned's dark hair was wildly awry. His gaunt, young face held befuddled
terror. He gasped in the thin atmosphere. "I've gone nuts," he
pronounced with a curious calm. "Stark--starin'--nuts...."

* * * * *

Loy's box, with its recorded English words and its sonic detectors,
could translate for its master, too. As the man spoke, Loy read the
illuminated symbols in his own language, flashed on a frosted crystal
plate before him. Thus he knew what Ned Vince was saying.

Loy Chuk pressed more keys, and the box reproduced his answer: "No, Ned,
not nuts. Not a bit of it! There are just a lot of things that you've
got to get used to, that's all. You drowned about a million years ago. I
discovered your body. I brought you back to life. We have science that
can do that. I'm Loy Chuk...."

* * * * *

It took only a moment for the box to tell the full story in clear, bold,
friendly terms. Thus Loy sought, with calm, human logic, to make his
charge feel at home. Probably, though, he was a fool, to suppose that he
could succeed, thus.

Vince started to mutter, struggling desperately to reason it out. "A
prairie dog," he said. "Speaking to me. One million years. Evolution.
The scientists say that people grew up from fishes in the sea. Prairie
dogs are smart. So maybe super-prairie-dogs could come from them. A lot
easier than men from fish...."

It was all sound logic. Even Ned Vince knew that. Still, his mind, tuned
to ordinary, simple things, couldn't quite realize all the vast things
that had happened to himself, and to the world. The scope of it all was
too staggeringly big. One million years. God!...

Ned Vince made a last effort to control himself. His knuckles tightened
on the edge of the vat. "I don't know what you've been talking about,"
he grated wildly. "But I want to get out of here! I want to go back
where I came from! Do you understand--whoever, or whatever you are?"

Loy Chuk pressed more keys. "But you can't go back to the Twentieth
Century," said the box. "Nor is there any better place for you to be
now, than Kar-Rah. You are the only man left on Earth. Those men that
exist in other star systems are not really your kind anymore, though
their forefathers originated on this planet. They have gone far beyond
you in evolution. To them you would be only a senseless curiosity. You
are much better off with my people--our minds are much more like yours.
We will take care of you, and make you comfortable...."

But Ned Vince wasn't listening, now. "You are the only man left on
Earth." That had been enough for him to hear. He didn't more than half
believe it. His mind was too confused for conviction about anything.
Everything he saw and felt and heard might be some kind of nightmare.
But then it might all be real instead, and that was abysmal horror. Ned
was no coward--death and danger of any ordinary Earthly kind, he could
have faced bravely. But the loneliness here, and the utter strangeness,
were hideous like being stranded alone on another world!

His heart was pounding heavily, and his eyes were wide. He looked across
this eerie room. There was a ramp there at the other side, leading
upward instead of a stairway. Fierce impulse to escape this nameless
lair, to try to learn the facts for himself, possessed him. He bounded
out of the vat, and with head down, dashed for the ramp.

* * * * *

He had to go most of the way on his hands and knees, for the up-slanting
passage was low. Excited animal chucklings around him, and the
occasional touch of a furry body, hurried his feverish scrambling. But
he emerged at last at the surface.

He stood there panting in that frigid, rarefied air. It was night. The
Moon was a gigantic, pock-marked bulk. The constellations were
unrecognizable. The rodent city was a glowing expanse of shallow,
crystalline domes, set among odd, scrub trees and bushes. The crags
loomed on all sides, all their jaggedness lost after a million years of
erosion under an ocean that was gone. In that ghastly moonlight, the
ground glistened with dry salt.

"Well, I guess it's all true, huh?" Ned Vince muttered in a flat tone.

Behind him he heard an excited, squeaky chattering. Rodents in pursuit.
Looking back, he saw the pinpoint gleams of countless little eyes. Yes,
he might as well be an exile on another planet--so changed had the Earth

A wave of intolerable homesickness came over him as he sensed the
distances of time that had passed--those inconceivable eons, separating
himself from his friends, from Betty, from almost everything that was
familiar. He started to run, away from those glittering rodent eyes. He
sensed death in that cold sea-bottom, but what of it? What reason did he
have left to live? He'd be only a museum piece here, a thing to be caged
and studied....

Prison or a madhouse would be far better. He tried to get hold of his
courage. But what was there to inspire it? Nothing! He laughed harshly
as he ran, welcoming that bitter, killing cold. Nostalgia had him in its
clutch, and there was no answer in his hell-world, lost beyond the
barrier of the years....

* * * * *

Loy Chuk and his followers presently came upon Ned Vince's unconscious
form, a mile from the city of Kar-Rah. In a flying machine they took him
back, and applied stimulants. He came to, in the same laboratory room as
before. But he was firmly strapped to a low platform this time, so that
he could not escape again. There he lay, helpless, until presently an
idea occurred to him. It gave him a few crumbs of hope.

"Hey, somebody!" he called.

"You'd better get some rest, Ned Vince," came the answer from the black
box. It was Loy Chuk speaking again.

"But listen!" Ned protested. "You know a lot more than we did in the
Twentieth Century. And--well--there's that thing called time-travel,
that I used to read about. Maybe you know how to make it work! Maybe you
could send me back to my own time after all!"

Little Loy Chuk was in a black, discouraged mood, himself. He could
understand the utter, sick dejection of this giant from the past, lost
from his own kind. Probably insanity looming. In far less extreme
circumstances than this, death from homesickness had come.

Loy Chuk was a scientist. In common with all real scientists, regardless
of the species from which they spring, he loved the subjects of his
researches. He wanted this ancient man to live and to be happy. Or this
creature would be of scant value for study.

So Loy considered carefully what Ned Vince had suggested. Time-travel.
Almost a legend. An assault upon an intangible wall that had baffled far
keener wits than Loy's. But he was bent, now, on the well-being of this
anachronism he had so miraculously resurrected--this human, this

Loy jabbed buttons on the black box. "Yes, Ned Vince," said the sonic
apparatus. "Time-travel. Perhaps that is the only thing to do--to send
you back to your own period of history. For I see that you will never be
yourself, here. It will be hard to accomplish, but we'll try. Now I
shall put you under an anesthetic...."

Ned felt better immediately, for there was real hope now, where there
had been none before. Maybe he'd be back in his home-town of Harwich
again. Maybe he'd see the old machine-shop, there. And the trees
greening out in Spring. Maybe he'd be seeing Betty Moore in Hurley,
soon.... Ned relaxed, as a tiny hypo-needle bit into his arm....

As soon as Ned Vince passed into unconsciousness, Loy Chuk went to work
once more, using that pair of brain-helmets again, exploring carefully
the man's mind. After hours of research, he proceeded to prepare his
plans. The government of Kar-Rah was a scientific oligarchy, of which
Loy was a prime member. It would be easy to get the help he needed.

A horde of small, grey-furred beings and their machines, toiled for many

* * * * *

Ned Vince's mind swam gradually out of the blur that had enveloped it.
He was wandering aimlessly about in a familiar room. The girders of the
roof above were of red-painted steel. His tool-benches were there,
greasy and littered with metal filings, just as they had always been. He
had a tractor to repair, and a seed-drill. Outside of the machine-shop,
the old, familiar yellow sun was shining. Across the street was the
small brown house, where he lived.

With a sudden startlement, he saw Betty Moore in the doorway. She wore a
blue dress, and a mischievous smile curved her lips. As though she had
succeeded in creeping up on him, for a surprise.

"Why, Ned," she chuckled. "You look as though you've been dreaming, and
just woke up!"

He grimaced ruefully as she approached. With a kind of fierce gratitude,
he took her in his arms. Yes, she was just like always.

"I guess I was dreaming, Betty," he whispered, feeling that mighty
sense of relief. "I must have fallen asleep at the bench, here, and had
a nightmare. I thought I had an accident at Pit Bend--and that a lot of
worse things happened.... But it wasn't true ..."

Ned Vince's mind, over which there was still an elusive fog that he did
not try to shake off, accepted apparent facts simply.

He did not know anything about the invisible radiations beating down
upon him, soothing and dimming his brain, so that it would never
question or doubt, or observe too closely the incongruous circumstances
that must often appear. The lack of traffic in the street without, for
instance--and the lack of people besides himself and Betty.

He didn't know that this machine-shop was built from his own memories of
the original. He didn't know that this Betty was of the same origin--a
miraculous fabrication of metal and energy-units and soft plastic. The
trees outside were only lantern-slide illusions.

It was all built inside a great, opaque dome. But there were hidden
television systems, too. Thus Loy Chuk's kind could study this ancient
man--this Kaalleee. Thus, their motives were mostly selfish.

Loy, though, was not observing, now. He had wandered far out into cold,
sad sea-bottom, to ponder. He squeaked and chatted to himself,
contemplating the magnificent, inexorable march of the ages. He
remembered the ancient ruins, left by the final supermen.

"The Kaalleee believes himself home," Loy was thinking. "He will survive
and be happy. But there was no other way. Time is an Eternal Wall. Our
archeological researches among the cities of the supermen show the
truth. Even they, who once ruled Earth, never escaped from the present
by so much as an instant...."

Next: After A Few Words

Previous: A Transmutation Of Muddles

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