The Eternal Wall

: 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...."