Helplessly we looked at each other. Then called forth perhaps by what she saw in Drake’s eyes, perhaps by another thought, Ruth’s cheeks crimsoned, her head drooped; the web of her hair hid the warm rose of her face, the frozen pallor of Ventnor’s.
Abruptly, she sprang to her feet. “Walter! Dick! Something’s happening to Martin!”
Before she had ceased we were beside her; bending over Ventnor. His mouth was opening, slowly, slowly — with an effort agonizing to watch. Then his voice came through lips that scarcely moved; faint, faint as though it floated from infinite distances, a ghost of a voice whispering with phantom breath out of a dead throat.
“Hard — hard! So hard!” the whispering complained. “Don’t know how long I can keep connection — with voice.
“Was fool to shoot. Sorry — might have gotten you in worse trouble — but crazy with fear for Ruth — thought, too, might be worth chance. Sorry — not my usual line —”
The thin thread of sound ceased. I felt my eyes fill with tears; it was like Ventnor to flay himself like this for what he thought stupidity, like him to make this effort to admit his supposed fault and crave forgiveness — as like him as that mad attack upon the flaming Disk in its own temple, surrounded by its ministers, had been so bafflingly unlike his usual cool, collected self.
“Martin,” I called, bending closer, “it’s nothing, old friend. No one blames you. Try to rouse yourself.”
“Dear,” it was Ruth, passionately tender, “it’s me. Can you hear me?”
“Only speck of consciousness and motionless in the void,” the whisper began again. “Terribly alive, terribly alone. Seem outside space yet — still in body. Can’t see, hear, feel — short-circuited from every sense — but in some strange way realize you — Ruth, Walter, Drake.
“See without seeing — here floating in darkness that is also light — black light — indescribable. In touch, too, with these —”
Again the voice trailed into silence; returned, word and phrase pouring forth disconnected, with a curious and turbulent rhythm, like rushing wave crests linked by half-seen threads of the spindrift, vocal fragments of thought swiftly assembled by some subtle faculty of the mind as they fell into a coherent, incredible message.
“Group consciousness — gigantic — operating within our sphere — operating also in spheres of vibration, energy, force — above, below one to which humanity reacts — perception, command forces known to us — but in greater degree — cognizant, manipulate unknown energies — senses known to us — unknown — can’t realize them fully — impossible cover, only impinge on contact points akin to our senses, forces — even these profoundly modified by additional ones — metallic, crystalline, magnetic, electric — inorganic with every power of organic — consciousness basically same as ours — profoundly changed by differences in mechanism through which it finds expression — difference our bodies — theirs.
“Conscious, mobile — inexorable, invulnerable. Getting clearer — see more clearly — see —” the voice shrilled out in a shuddering, thin lash of despair —“No! No — oh, God — no!”
Then clearly and solemnly:
“And God said: let us make men in our image, after our likeness, and let them have dominion over all the earth, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
A silence; we bent closer, listening; the still, small voice took up the thread once more — but clearly further on. Something we had missed between that text from Genesis and what we were now hearing; something that even as he had warned us, he had not been able to articulate. The whisper broke through clearly in the middle of a sentence.
“Nor is Jehovah the God of myriads of millions who through those same centuries, and centuries upon centuries before them, found earth a garden and grave — and all these countless gods and goddesses only phantom barriers raised by man to stand between him and the eternal forces man’s instinct has always warned him are ever in readiness to destroy. That do destroy him as soon as his vigilance relaxes, his resistance weakens — the eternal, ruthless law that will annihilate humanity the instant it runs counter to that law and turns its will and strength against itself —”
A little pause; then came these singular sentences:
“Weaklings praying for miracles to make easy the path their own wills should clear. Beggars who whine for alms from dreams. Shirkers each struggling to place upon his god the burden whose carrying and whose carrying alone can give him strength to walk free and unafraid, himself godlike among the stars.”
And now distinctly, unfalteringly, the voice went on:
“Dominion over all the earth? Yes — as long as man is fit to rule; no longer. Science has warned us. Where was the mammal when the giant reptiles reigned? Slinking hidden and afraid in the dark and secret places. Yet man sprang from these skulking beasts.
“For how long a time in the history of earth has man been master of it? For a breath — for a cloud’s passing. And will remain master only until something grown stronger wrests mastery from him — even as he wrested it from his ravening kind — as they took it from the reptiles — as did the reptiles from the giant saurians — which snatched it from the nightmare rulers of the Triassic — and so down to whatever held sway in the murk of earth dawn.
“Life! Life! Life! Life everywhere struggling for completion!
“Life crowding other life aside, battling for its moment of supremacy, gaining it, holding it for one rise and fall of the wings of time beating through eternity — and then — hurled down, trampled under the feet of another straining life whose hour has struck.
“Life crowding outside every barred threshold in a million circling worlds, yes, in a million rushing universes; pressing against the doors, bursting them down, overwhelming, forcing out those dwellers who had thought themselves so secure.
“And these — these —” the voice suddenly dropped, became thickly, vibrantly resonant, “over the Threshold, within the House of Man — nor does he even dream that his doors are down. These — Things of metal whose brains are thinking crystals — Things that suck their strength from the sun and whose blood is the lightning.
“The sun! The sun!” he cried. “There lies their weakness!”
The voice rose in pitch, grew strident.
“Go back to the city! Go back to the city! Walter — Drake. They are not invulnerable. No! The sun — strike them through the sun! Go into the city — not invulnerable — the Keeper of the Cones — strike at the Cones when — the Keeper of the Cones — ah-h-h-ah —”
We shrank back appalled, for from the parted, scarcely moving lips in the unchanging face a gust of laughter, mad, mocking, terrifying, racked its way.
“Vulnerable — under the law — even as we! The Cones!
“Go!” he gasped. A tremor shook him; slowly the mouth closed.
“Martin! Brother,” wept Ruth. I thrust my hand into his breast; felt the heart beating, with a curious suggestion of stubborn, unshakable strength, as though every vital force had concentrated there as in a beleaguered citadel.
But Ventnor himself, the consciousness that was Ventnor was gone; had withdrawn into that subjective void in which he had said he floated — a lonely sentient atom, his one line of communication with us cut; severed from us as completely as though he were, as he had described it, outside space.
And Drake and I looked at each other’s eyes, neither daring to be first to break the silence of which the muffled sobbing of the girl seemed to be the sorrowful soul.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11