The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Cyberene

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Title: The Cyberene

Author: Rog Phillips

Illustrator: W. E. Terry

Release date: August 29, 2021 [eBook #66163]

Language: English

Credits: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at



By Rog Phillips

Somewhere in the far future a diabolical
brain plotted the enslavement of mankind. But
to do that a history had to be changed—ours!

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy
September 1953
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


Her voice shattered the cathedral silence, going the full four hundred and fifty foot perimeter of the fourteen foot wide floor that encircled the case of the Brain. The echo rebounded from the maze of ladders and catwalks that went up and up until they were lost to view where the fifteen foot thick outer wall began its upward slope to form the giant dome.

The silence returned; as motionless as the needles on the instrument panels resting on their zero pegs, unactivated; as enduring in essence as the atom proof concrete dome built to last—as long as the Earth itself.

Then—a sound answered. A faint sound. Footsteps. Movement appeared through the grillwork of steel catwalks above. Trousered legs. A hand sliding along a railing of chrome pipe. More rapid steps as the man descended a steep stair well. Sharper as the man reached the marble floor.

Dead video camera eyes let his passage go unregistered. Sensitive quartz crystals inside glistening microphone shells vibrated to the sound of his footsteps, his soft breathing, sending feeble currents along wires—to dead amplifying circuits.

"What is it, Ethel?" Dr. Victor Glassman said to his wife.

"Don't you realize it's almost an hour past your lunch time?" she chided. "Why do you come in here anyway? The Brain was completed six months ago. It won't run away—and it won't come to life until someone finds the proper chemical for the nerve fluid to make it work. My goodness. Eight hundred and fifty million dollars sitting idle in here. It gives me gooseflesh. Now you come and eat your lunch so I can get the dishes out of the way. I'm going to be busy the rest of the afternoon getting ready for the crowd—or did you forget that your ten scientists are invited to dinner this evening?"

"Of course not, Ethel," he said, putting his arm around her waist. He pulled her around so they were side by side, looking upward into the maze of catwalks, seeing the marble panels of the wall that served as a covering for the huge man-made brain. "You know why I come in here," he said. "I like the feel. The sleeping giant. Not sleeping, really. Just not born yet. Not living yet. Someday soon that will change. The first non-human...."

"I understand, Victor," Ethel said softly. "It scares me. I know it will be just like a human mind—same principles of thought—even if it will be housed in so vast a brain. But how much do we know of the capabilities of the human brain? I'm afraid."

Dr. Glassman's eyes crinkled goodnaturedly. He tightened his arm around her waist.

"I'll protect you, Ethel," he said.

She looked up at the giant structure that dwarfed them to insignificance. "Against that?" she snorted. "What with? A lance and prancing nag of leather and bones like Don Quixote of old?" She slipped her arm around his shoulders, her expression softening. "But I know what you mean. Only ... it's...."

"And I know what you mean, too. Sometimes even I'm afraid of it. But once we activate it, it will take years for it to build up a self-integrated mind even equal to a child's. And we'll both be long dead before its intelligence starts climbing above that of man. You know, I'm hungry."

Together, arm in arm, they departed, closing the door. And once again the echoes died away, leaving only the silence.

And the Brain.

"How about being quiet for a minute so I won't get these mixed up?" Earl Frye said, a mask of tolerant good nature concealing his irritation. "By the way, what's wrong with p. n. 9? Bottleneck?"

Irene Conner clapped her hand over her mouth and spoke from between her fingers. "Go ahead and pour," she mumbled. "I'll keep quiet for five minutes."

"Okay," Earl said, unaffected by the twinkle in Irene's clear blue eyes, the smooth wave of her blonde hair, the quiet unscientific curves under her lab apron.

He picked the first vial off the tray, read the number on its label and carefully jotted it down on the lab card. He emptied the vial into the small opening on top the pump and flicked the toggle switch. With a smooth whir the pump started. The pressure gauge needle broke from zero and started upward, finally hovering near the seven ton per square inch mark. He watched as the fluid he had poured emerged into glass tubing no thicker than a human hair, and, under the tons per square inch pressure, stretched into fine fluid columns less than half a dozen molecules thick.

He repeated the performance with another vial and another pump, and another, until all ten pumps were working. He went back to the first one. The fluid had reached the slightly enlarged bubble several inches up the thread-like glass tubes. He shut off the pump, then went through the same routine with the other ten.

"That show I want to see is on at the Rialto, Earl," Irene said. "Just tonight and tomorrow night."

"Good," Earl grunted, starting to recheck the charts. "Let me know if you liked it. If it's any good I might go see it."

"Why don't you come see it with me?" Irene said.

"Uh," Earl hesitated, not looking up from a chart he was studying.

He was saved by the hall door opening.

"Hi, Basil," he said, taking in Basil Nelson's expression of mild haste, and the empty test tube in his hand.

Irene frowned in annoyance.

Basil looked at her with a mixture of apology and hopefulness, then turned to Earl. "Uh, I came in to borrow some base formula," he said. "Just need a few cc's and didn't want to take the time to get a full gallon from the storeroom."

"Help yourself," Earl said. He grinned sidewise at Irene. "By the way, Irene is looking for someone to go with her to see some show that's on at the Rialto."

"I'll be glad to," Basil said eagerly.

"No thanks," Irene said. "I'm going with my aunt."

"Your aunt?" Basil said. "I didn't know you had an aunt living in Crestmont." He went to a supply shelf over a wall bench and poured some base formula from a rubber tube dangling from a large bottle.

"She just arrived in town," Irene said dryly.

"Can I meet her?" Basil said coming back from the supply shelf. He was facing Irene and half facing Earl. He was in a position so that there was nothing between him and the window across the room.

"Sorry," Irene said. "She's leaving town in the morning. I'm sure—Oh, how can you be so clumsy, Basil?"

The test tube had dropped from his hand. Small glass fragments and the oily fluid were spattered on the floor and his shoes. He was examining a small cut on the inside of his thumb that was beginning to bleed.

"Clumsy?" he said absently. "Oh no. I didn't drop the test tube. It broke in my hand."

"It couldn't have," Irene said accusingly. "You dropped it."

"What's the difference?" Earl said. "Here. I'll get you another test tube with some base fluid. No harm done."

He opened a drawer and took out a new test tube. When he was closing the drawer he glanced absently toward the window. His eyes widened. "What the devil!" he exclaimed. "Look at that. The window's broken too."

"That's odd—too strange a coincidence," Basil frowned.

"Supersonic vibrations?" Earl said, smiling. "Maybe a foreign spy has heard of Project Synthetic Nerve Fluid and was trying to kill Basil with a new secret weapon!"

"Ha ha," Basil said without humor. He accepted the test tube of base formula from Earl. "Thanks, Earl," he said. He went to the door. There he turned appealingly to Irene. "I would like to take you—and your aunt—to the show, Irene," he said.

"Sorry," Irene said, smiling at him sympathetically. "We'll have too much we want to talk about."

"Uh—okay," Basil said unhappily.

"He's such a jerk," Irene said when Basil had left. "All he would do is fawn over me all evening. I'd—I'd rather go alone," she added, looking at Earl appealingly.

"Sure," Earl said. "Be sure and let me know how you like the show. Now—" He smiled half jokingly to take the sting from his words. "Scram. I've got work to do."

Irene made a face at him and went to the door.

When she was gone, Earl sighed wearily. Then he frowned at the broken window.

Carefully he stood where Basil had been standing when the test tube broke. He held his hand in approximately the same position that Basil had held it. Trying not to move his hand, he stooped and squinted over his hand toward the broken window, and beyond it.

A hundred yards away, outside the room, a small hill rose above the wall surrounding the research building. Earl fixed a spot and then went to the window to examine it more closely.

Uneasily he stood so that he was half concealed by the wall of the room. He studied the hill for a minute.

He went to a door at the far side of his lab, and went through into a large room where he had his living quarters. He took some keys from his pocket as he approached a desk. He unlocked the top right hand drawer and took out a small blunt automatic. He checked it and put it in his hip pocket. He slipped off his lab apron and put on a suit coat.

A few minutes later he was approaching the spot he had picked out on the side of the hill. There were trees and shrubs that hid the ground. He watched worriedly, the automatic in his hand now. But there seemed nothing to be alarmed about. Nothing could be more peaceful than the wooded hillside. And yet whatever had caused the simultaneous breaking of the window pane and the test tube could not have been caused by natural means.

Something, directly ahead, concealed by shrubs, had caused it. What? He intended to find out.

He circled to the left, walking cautiously. With his left hand he parted branches to see into a thicket.

Almost at once he saw the strange structure. It was shaped like a puffball, three feet in diameter at its thickest part, and almost as high. Its surface was of something that had an oily blue sheen. Its base seemed partly buried in the soil, and the ground was freshly damaged as though the ball-like shape had landed with great force.

To add to the evidence that it had fallen from great height, the side was split open, and dozens of small semi-transparent balls of different colors were spilled out onto the grass and weeds.

He pushed aside the bushes and approached, slowly putting the automatic back in his hip pocket. He stooped and picked up one of the small colored balls. It was a semi-transparent green.

He put the small ball in his coat pocket. He stooped and examined the break in the wall of the structure. The break faced toward the windows of his lab. He looked in that direction, and saw that leaves obscuring his view were shredded as though by a violent wind.

He found a fragment of the broken wall of the structure, a piece that was hardly more than a sliver. He put that in his shirt pocket. Then, with sudden decision, he scooped up dozens of the marble-like colored balls and loaded his pockets.

Back in his lab again, he emptied the balls from his pockets into two measuring flasks on a bench. They were strangely light, and one or two had to be put back in the flasks again after they floated slowly upward and down to the table surface where they rested without bouncing.

Earl was filled with excitement and eagerness. This was something entirely outside his experience, something with mystery. It occurred to him that the strange structure might be a new type of bomb. Certainly all the evidence indicated it had dropped from a great height. He dismissed the possible danger with a shrug. He considered the possibility of it being some form of puffball that had sprung up in the shaded woods. It was a remote possibility.

He took the small fragment of the shell from his shirt pocket and stepped to the bench where his microscope stood. If it was living substance it would have cellular structure.

Using the low power objective lens he examined the fragment. It showed no signs of cellular structure. Instead, it was semi-crystaline, similar to a plastic, under the low power lens.

A sharp sound behind him made him straighten and whirl around, his hand going toward the gun that was still in his hip pocket. His hand froze on the butt of the gun. He could only stare.

On the table where he had placed the two measuring flasks with the small colored balls, there were two people. A man and a girl. They were perfectly proportioned—and no more than four inches high.

They seemed unaware of his presence. One of the measuring flasks was tipped over—the sound that had attracted his attention. The colored balls were spilled over the table surface. The miniature man was trying to catch one of the balls which seemed to float weightless like a bubble. On the miniature man's face was an expression of worried concern.

The miniature girl was sitting down as though she had half risen from where she had fallen. She too was reaching for one of the floating balls.

This much Earl saw in that first startled, incredible instant; then details began to filter into his awareness. The man was green. The girl was blue. They were entirely nude, and the color of their skin was uniform—of the same pastel softness as the colored spheres!

And the girl—Earl found his eyes drawn toward her almost to the exclusion of everything else. She was beautiful beyond anything he had ever imagined.

Her smile was calm, slightly amused, more than a little satisfied and content at some inner thought.

Without thinking, Earl shouted and leaped toward them. His hand descended to catch them. The miniature man looked up at him, startled, then in a desperate attempt to escape leaped over the edge of the table.

The girl had no time to do more than attempt to rise before Earl's fingers closed around her, imprisoning her. He lifted her so that he could see her face more clearly. She stared at him, at first with unmasked terror, then with slowly emerging perplexity and interest.

He became acutely aware of her contours against his hand. What should he do with her? He remembered the man. He would have to catch the man too!

He looked around on the floor—and saw the man peering at him from behind a table leg.

Something would have to be done with the girl. He ran to the door of his room and slipped inside. The windows were closed. She was certainly too small to lift them and escape.

He looked around swiftly, then went to a bookcase and placed her gently on the top shelf.

"Stay there!" he warned. He left the room, closing and locking the door.

Across the laboratory he saw the miniature green-skinned man leap to the window sill below the broken pane. The little man looked over his shoulder and saw Earl. With a desperate leap he reached the jagged edge of glass still in place, and pulled himself through.

Earl rushed to the window in time to see the little man disappear in the high grass growing in the untended grounds outside the building.

Who were these two miniature people? Where had they come from? Had they come in through the broken window in an attempt to steal the colored balls? Were they—were they from that strange thing out on the side of the hill? The questions burned through Earl's excited thoughts, demanding answers that wouldn't come.

Those almost weightless balls—Earl crossed to the bench and gathered them up and locked them in a metal drawer.

Nervously, he took out a cigarette and lit it, inhaling deeply. There was the girl, but he found himself reluctant to go in and face her. And yet he had to.

He started toward the hall door, then remembered the gun in his hip pocket. He hesitated, then unlocked the drawer containing the colored balls and placed it in there, locking the drawer again.

He went to the door to his living quarters and unlocked it.

He opened the door a scant inch, took a deep breath, then pushed rapidly, jumped inside, and closed the door at his back so the girl wouldn't have time to escape.

She wasn't blue any more. Her skin was faintly tanned, flawless. But more startling, she was not four inches high. She was, he guessed, five feet two or three. She was the same girl. There was no doubt of that. Her face was the same face, now normal sized. She was the same all over.

"Sorry!" Earl gasped. He crossed quickly to his dresser, opened the third drawer and found a pair of pajamas.

"Here!" he said, holding them out behind him. "Put these on."

He felt them taken from his hand. A moment later he heard her say, "All right." It was her voice. He listened to it as it echoed in his mind, flavored it. Actually it wasn't anything so wonderful, but it was nice. Nothing seductive or elfin—but she wasn't miniature any more, either. She sounded a little—amused!

He turned to face her.

"I'm Nadine Holmes," the girl said.

"Nadine. That's nice. Holmes.... I'm Earl Frye, up until a few minutes ago a quiet research scientist who stays in his lab practically twenty-four hours a day. Nadine Holmes. Were you really small a few minutes ago—or did I imagine it?"

"Yes. I was small.... So you are Dr. Earl Frye...."

"Yes. But how can you know me?" Earl asked, surprised at her tone. A distant knocking sounded. He groaned. "That's probably Irene," he said. "She'll pound the door down. You stay here and be quiet while I get rid of her. She could cause both of us a lot of trouble."

He went to the door, slipped out, and carefully locked it. The knocking was peremptory at the lab door. "Just a minute!" he said. He unlocked the door, prepared to tell Irene she was interrupting some important work. It wasn't Irene. "Oh, it's you, Mrs. Glassman. I didn't know. I was busy and didn't want to be interrup—that is, come on in." He opened the door invitingly, and glanced worriedly at the door to his living quarters. Had he locked it? Of course he had. He distinctly remembered locking it.

"I'm sorry I interrupted your work," Mrs. Glassman said. "I met Irene—Dr. Conner, you know. She told me you might need some reminding about dinner—seven thirty. I do hope you'll be there."

"I may not have my work done," Earl said weakly.

"Nonsense! It can wait. It will do you good to get away from the lab for an evening. If you aren't there I'll come and get you."

"Okay," Earl said hastily. "I promise to be there—on time."

He locked the hall door after Mrs. Glassman.

He glanced thoughtfully at the pump bench with its ten sets of glass threads containing ten different fluids, ready for cutting and connecting to the test instruments for measurement of speed and sustainment of molecular chain action.

The theory of what he was looking for—what all ten of the scientists were looking for in their planned exploration of a few dozen thousand substances, was fairly simple. The molecule in theory had to be of a special type, of which there were many examples. It had to consist of two parts; one larger than the other, such that the smaller part could break off easily and jump to the next molecule, combining with it and freeing its counterpart on that next molecule, so that the freed part would repeat the performance on the next, and so on. In that way, the ion of the lesser molecular part, starting at one end of the chain of identical molecules, would start a chain of reactions which would end in an identical free ion at the farther end of the glass thread. In effect it would be the same as though the free ion had passed quickly through the full length of the fine tube—without any of the molecules actually having moved at all.

Unfortunately, so far, none of the substances tried had behaved quite as they should in theory. It was impossible to get a tube fine enough for a thread one molecule thick, with the molecules lined up properly.

With some of the test substances the "nerve impulse" would go part way and then turn around and come back. With others it would just "get lost." Super-delicate instruments "followed" the impulse, telling what happened to it in fine detail.

Nerve fluid from living animals had been tested and found to behave properly even in the fine glass tubing. But it was highly unstable. If a synthetic brain capable of integrated thought processes was to be constructed, a non-deteriorating nerve fluid would have to be found. One that duplicated the performance of the actual nerve threads of the human brain.

All that held back Project Brain was the proper synthetic nerve fluid! Maybe it's one of those ten, Earl thought. But he entertained that thought with every ten he tested.

But right now there was a more pressing problem. Nadine Holmes. She should have arrived on the afternoon bus—instead of appearing as a pastel blue miniature girl on a bench in his lab—and growing to an embarrassing full five foot three of emotion disturbing nudity in a few minutes. An impossible fact, but still a fact.

Where had she come from? That was what he had been going to ask her when Ethel Glassman barged in. Dear old Mrs. Glassman.

Earl went to the door to his living quarters and unlocked it. Slipping in quickly, he locked the door again. Nadine was curled up in a chair, one of his technical books on her lap, looking altogether too domestic for Earl's peace of mind. She had paused in her reading, and was looking up at him questioningly.

"Now then," Earl said. He groped for a sequence of thought. She was beautiful. "Now then," he repeated. "We've got to get you some decent clothes and decide what to do with you. What sizes do you wear?"

"I don't know," Nadine said. "I've never worn clothes before. I don't think I like them."

"You'll get used to them," Earl said hastily. "Those things you have on are my pajamas. We'll need some nylon stockings, shoes, and other things. I'll have to go buy them."

"Do you have other clothes like the ones you are wearing?" Nadine asked. "Why wouldn't they do? They're too large, but I could wear them."

Earl stared at her in amazement. And now the big question came again. He moved closer to her. "Where do you come from?"

She puzzled over his words. "I'm not sure what you're talking about," she said, a tone of wariness in her voice. "Where I come from—perhaps we'd better not discuss that now. I don't quite understand what happened. Things didn't happen as they were supposed to. Could you take me where you first found me?"

"Not until I get you some clothes. Imagine what people would think if you walked out of here wearing my pajamas!"

"What would they think?" Nadine said, frankly puzzled. "Why are clothes? Are they connected in some way with religion? I think that's the word for it—religion. Do clothes bring you good luck? Is that it? You seem so—so intense about it. Does everyone wear them?"

He ignored her question, went out, locking the door. Before he opened the lab door to the hall he glanced at his watch. An hour ago nothing had happened! He shook his head, opened the door and stepped into the hall—almost bumping into Basil Nelson.

"Hi, Earl," Basil said. "You look like you're in a hurry."

"I am," Earl said. He started past Basil, who fell into step beside him.

"I'll go along," Basil said. "That is, if you don't mind. I wanted to talk with you. Pretty important. It's about Irene."

"What about Irene?" Earl said.

Basil waited until they were on the sidewalk before answering. "I guess it's pretty obvious I'm in love with her," he said. "But—she seems to have eyes only for you. Mrs. Glassman sort of hinted that you and Irene—well—were going to get married. I wanted to ask you. If you and Irene are—"

"Damn Ethel Glassman," Earl said, irritated. "If you are in love with her why don't you tell her?"

"She won't give me the chance to tell her," Basil groaned. "I think she suspects, though," he added darkly.

"Fine," Earl said. "And there's no time like the present. Why don't you go back and pop the question right now while you have your nerve up?"

Basil sighed. "I'll have to work up to it. Right now I'd rather tag along with you. Mind?"

"No," Earl groaned. "Not at all. A—cousin of mine has a birthday coming up. I thought I'd buy her some new clothes. No use you tagging along."

"Don't mind at all," Basil said. "We can do some more talking. Maybe we could cook up some scheme to make Irene fall in love with me. But every time I think I'm going great with her I pull something like dropping that test tube in your lab."

"Oh, that," Earl said. "I—" He clamped his lips shut.

"See you at Glassman's at dinner tonight," Earl said firmly an hour later. As Basil still hesitated, he added, "Maybe I can think of something by then. Meanwhile I've still got work to do."

"Uh, oh sure," Basil said, "but I'm afraid it's no use. She's in love with you, Earl."

"Nonsense!" Earl unlocked the door to his lab and went in with his packages. He stacked them on a lab table and locked the hall door. A quick survey showed the lab as it should be. Earl had been worried. Since Nadine had become a full sized person, maybe the little green man had too.

Earl crossed to the door to his living quarters and unlocked it. Inside, he saw Nadine still curled up in the chair in his pajamas, a stack of books beside her.

"Hi," Earl said, subdued. "I've brought you some clothes, and also some literature on what they are. I think the literature will give you enough data to work on in dressing."

He brought the stack of packages into the room and put them on a table.

"While you're dressing I'll finish some work out in the lab," he said.

"Clothes seem terribly important to you," Nadine said without moving from her comfortable position. "I still can't understand why. I've tried and tried." She picked up a book. "This book, for example. It's a very vivid account of a murder. I can understand vaguely about the murder. It seems to be some sort of game that people play. There are official players who earn their living at it. The taxpayers pay them for it, and they sit in their offices until some taxpayer wants to play with them. The taxpayer kills someone. The detectives must find out who he is if they can. I can understand that. But there are whole passages where everyone seems to forget the game while they pay great attention to what someone is wearing. That's it! It must be another game. No?"

Earl grinned. "That's pretty close," he said. "Do you have games where you come from?"

"No. Games aren't functional."

"Oh," Earl said vaguely. "Well, get those clothes on, Nadine. You will look terrific in them."

He backed out of the room and closed the door. While he worked he wondered how Nadine could speak English without an accent. It was too far-fetched to think it her native language. Even if it were, spoken language changes so rapidly that the only possible explanations were, (1) she was from some part of the United States, or (2), her people were in constant radio contact with current broadcasts. But neither alternative could account for her inability to grasp the purpose of clothes. He hadn't had quite enough nerve to mention to her the main purpose—sex. Maybe she had been too shy to mention it too. But that didn't seem to jibe with her evident willingness to take off her clothes. And she hadn't answered his question on where she came from.

While Earl thought these thoughts he let his hands and one part of his mind put the synthetic nerve filaments in place in the instrument banks. There wouldn't be time to run the tests, but he could do that in the morning when he was alone.

Alone. The thought struck him with dismaying force. He realized suddenly that he had been trying to keep Nadine with him as long as possible—and that was futile.

Was he in love with her? He faced the question squarely and felt his stomach turn over and his heart start to pound wildly. He tried to tell himself it was just the unusualness of the situation.

He was jerked out of his thoughts by the sound of high heeled shoes. Nadine had opened the door and taken a few steps into the lab. His eyes approved of what they saw.

"They're very uncomfortable," Nadine said. "Especially the shoes. But I looked at myself in the mirror—and I think I begin to understand, a little. Clothes are adornments."

"On you they are," Earl said. "I never before realized...."

"What's a kiss?" Nadine said.

Earl blinked. He cleared his throat loudly and said, "One thing at a time, Nadine. There's lots for you to learn. In the meantime, how does it happen you know English so well? If you're from—some other planet—you certainly don't speak it as your native language."

"It was taught to us for the expedition," Nadine said. "I think there must have been an accident. Can you tell me anything about it? The first I remember is just before you picked me up in your enormous hand."

Earl told her everything he knew. She listened, nodding her head at times.

"I think I understand now," she said when he finished. "The stasis spheres. Somehow mine and George Ladd's were fractured, so that we emerged on the bench. He was in the green one."

"You mean you were in one of those marbles?" Earl exclaimed.

"Where is the ship?" Nadine said.

Earl took her to the window and pointed out the spot. "You can't see it from here," he said. "But I have some of the—what did you call them? Stasis spheres? I'll show you."

He unlocked the drawer. Nadine leaned over, seeming to look inside of each translucent marble.

"Yes," she said, straightening. "It's gone wrong, somehow. The Cyberene will be most annoyed."

"The Cyberene? What's that?"

Nadine stared down into the drawer, frowning. "You wouldn't understand," she said. And then, "I'm hungry."

Earl frowned. "That reminds me. I have to go to dinner at Dr. Glassman's in a little while, or Mrs. Glassman will come barging in here. I'll fix you something first. After I get back I'll take you to a hotel."

Nadine perched on the edge of the table in his kitchenette while he opened some cans and heated their contents.

"How does it smell?" Earl asked after a while. "Good?"

"Strange," Nadine said. "Not entirely strange. Some of the smells are familiar."

"Would you like a cocktail?" Earl said. He didn't wait for her answer. He was acutely conscious of playing the host. "This is my favorite drink. A dash of rum, a little vodka, lime juice, powdered sugar, ice cubes and seltzer. There." He handed her one of the two glasses. "How do you like it?"

Nadine sipped the drink cautiously. "Good," she said. "I was thirsty too."

"What is the Cyberene?" Earl said, dishing steaming food into a plate set precariously on the edge of the stove.

"The—the Cyberene," Nadine said as though that explained it. "How do you eat that food without getting dirty? And there's such an enormous amount of it. I'm used to capsules, with lots of water to help digest them."

"Oh. Dehydrated foods," Earl said. "Damn! I wish I didn't have to go to that dinner. Stay in here while I change my clothes."

"Earl," Nadine said as he was about to leave the room.

"Yes?" he said, turning to look at her questioningly.

"What does damn mean? I can't get the sense of it."

"It's an adornment of speech," he said. "Like clothes."

With dinner over, Earl drifted toward the door after excusing himself and thanking the Glassmans. Basil followed him.

"I need someone to talk to—to help me, Basil," Earl said as they walked back toward the lab building. "Remember that test tube breaking? And the window pane?"

"How can I forget?" Basil said ruefully.

Quickly Earl outlined everything that had happened.

"What you should have done," Basil said in amazement, "is gone directly to Dr. Glassman with it. Now nobody will believe you. Even I find it hard to believe. You must have fallen hard, the way you want to keep her under lock and key."

"It's not that," Earl said. "Just a lot of little things. Like her repeating my name as if she knew all about me. And her refusing to say where she's from. And her knowledge of our language yet knowing absolutely nothing about our social customs."

"What about time travel?" Basil said.

"Time travel? That's absurd."


"If time travel were possible at any future date, we would have time travelers all around us. They'd come back."

"Maybe they have," Basil said darkly. "What did she call those colored marbles you found? Stasis spheres? But the main thing right now is that if I were in this George Ladd's shoes—"

"He doesn't wear shoes."

"Well, I would be trying to rescue Nadine Holmes this very minute. It's dark now—"

But Earl wasn't listening. Basil hurried to catch up with him as he walked rapidly, until they reached the lab building resting against the giant starless bulk of the dome that housed the Brain.

"Be quiet," Earl warned as they stole down the hall toward the door to his lab.

They reached the door and stopped. Through the panel came the sound of a male voice, the words indistinguishable but the tones unmistakably demanding and insistent.

Nadine's voice answered, its tones firm. Earl and Basil looked at each other. Neither of those inside were speaking English.

The male voice uttered a harsh monosyllable. Nadine screamed. Earl, abandoning caution, tried to open the door. It was locked. He wasted precious seconds getting the key into the lock. Cursing at the delay, he flung the door open and ran toward the two figures struggling near the windows. One was Nadine, her clothes torn, her face a mask of desperate effort to escape. The other, Earl recognized instantly as being George Ladd. He also recognized the suit Ladd was wearing. It was one of his own.

Ladd didn't seem to be aware of him until he grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him around roughly. For a split second George Ladd was motionless with surprise—and in that split second Earl lashed out with his fist.

The blow sent Ladd stumbling backward until he brought up against a table. Earl leaped toward him. Ladd made no attempt to escape, but fumbled for something in the coat pocket of the suit he was wearing. A glistening object appeared in his hand.

Earl swerved, thinking it must be a gun. Then he was sprawling full length on the floor, his muscles refusing to obey his commands. His consciousness was almost entirely dominated by a terrible tingling sensation that seemed to possess every cell of his body from the neck down.

He had fallen in such a way that he saw Basil leaping forward. The next instant Basil was plunging floorward, his arms refusing to come up to break his fall.

Nadine was running toward the open hall door. She too fell sprawling.

George Ladd appeared in Earl's line of vision. He closed the door and locked it from the inside, then picked Nadine up and cradled her limp body over his shoulder.

Earl tried to cry out. The tingling in his throat became unbearable. In numb horror and frustrated rage he watched George Ladd, Nadine over his shoulder, her arms dangling limply. A moment later he heard a window raised. There were sounds of heavy exertion, a faint thud outside the window. Then silence.

Earl's eyes fed on Basil's motionless form. For what might have been minutes or hours the tingling continued. It died away with imperceptible slowness. Finally he was able to move a little. A minute later he was able to sit up. His entire body felt as though it had "been asleep."

Almost immediately Basil moved. Earl reached out for the nearest table and pulled himself to his feet, fighting to keep his legs from caving.

Basil rose to a sitting position, shook his head to clear his senses, looked up at Earl, and grinned feebly. He said, his speech thick and clumsy, "Now I believe you. That paralysis gun did it."

Earl was startled. "You didn't believe me before?"

"Hell no!" Basil sighed. "I just thought you were going a long ways to explain what some people would call a sordid affair." His grin became more natural. "I was right though. This George Ladd is now a hero." He frowned. "Only—your Nadine didn't seem to want to be rescued."

"Get up and move around," Earl said desperately. "Get some circulation back. We may still be able to catch up with them and get her back."

"I don't know," Basil said doubtfully, getting to his feet. "I hate the idea of that paralysis gun."

"I've got a gun too," Earl said.

He half stumbled toward the bench with the locked drawer. He searched for his keys, remembered he had left them in the hall door. He started for the door, then stopped. The locked drawer was open and damaged. A heavy screwdriver was on the table over it. The drawer was empty.

"He got my gun!" Earl said. "He got the stasis spheres too!"

Basil came to stand beside him and stare broodingly into the empty drawer. "That does it," he mumbled. "Now you don't have anything."

"There's that thing out on the hill," Earl said. "Maybe George Ladd headed for that. He hasn't had time to get located in town. We can find him hiding out there. Wait until I get a flashlight."

From another drawer he brought out a high-powered flashlight. He went to the open window and crawled out. Basil hesitated, then followed him.

Behind them was the building they had just left, light streaming from the open window and from half a dozen other windows. To their right loomed the dark bulk of the dome that housed the gigantic Brain, an obsidian shape in the night that hulked into the heavens, blotting out a hemisphere of stars. Ahead, above the horizon, was a crescent moon that served to silhouette the hill and its horizon of trees. Around them were dark shapes, motionless.

Earl kept the flashlight ready, but didn't use it as they stole swiftly forward. Neither man spoke, but their breathing was a stentorian sound that blended with distant traffic noises and the nearby chirping of a cricket, and the rustling of weeds as they forced them aside in their passage.

They reached the hill and went forward more slowly, using caution as they remembered the effects of the paralysis gun. Now Earl was remembering the way he had come before, finding landmarks in the darkness. At last he stopped and touched Basil's arm to bring him to a halt.

"It's on the other side of these bushes," he whispered. "I'll use the flash."

He parted the branches. Suddenly a cone of light exploded in the darkness.

"Right there," Basil said. Then, in surprise, "It's gone!"

"Naturally," Earl said in some disgust. "It fits the pattern."

"What pattern?" Basil asked.

Earl was slow in answering. He said, "I don't know. I just felt it. Or maybe I do know. Nadine and that guy Ladd were small and got big in a hurry. What was to keep that thing from doing the same? That's part of it. The other part is just a feeling. They don't seem to want to advertise to the world that they're here. Maybe the damn thing became invisible or something. With stasis spheres and small people that get big, and paralysis guns, what's so impossible about that ship or whatever it is getting big and becoming invisible? I'll bet it's still there."

But though they passed back and forth over the entire area, with increasing boldness, they encountered nothing, visible or invisible, that was out of the ordinary.

There was a concave depression in the soil where Earl remembered the puffball shape to have been. Even fresh scars in the dirt around the depression.

For a while Earl blundered through the underbrush calling Nadine's name cautiously, without hope. Finally they were forced to give up and return to the lab building.

"We could call the police," Basil said doubtfully.

"Oh, sure," Earl said, his voice harsh. "What would we tell them? Dr. Glassman would be called in. Next they'd call the boys in the white jackets."

"Maybe they're just the boys we need," Basil said. "Or a good stiff drink. I like the idea of the drink."

It was ten o'clock in the morning when Irene Conner pushed open the door without knocking and strolled casually into Earl's laboratory. She saw him at the far end of the room, hunched over with his elbows on the window sill, his back to her.

"Hi, Earl," she called cheerfully. "Want to have mid-morning coffee with me?"

"No," Earl said without moving.

"You sound tired," Irene said, going over to stand beside him. "Or is it spring fever—more accurately the summer doldrums."

"Neither," he said, glancing up at her with tired eyes. "I just want to be left alone. I'm thinking." He straightened up with a deep sigh. "Why don't you get Basil to have coffee with you?"

"That jerk?" Irene said. "He gets in my hair."

"Like you get in mine?" Earl said.

"That was cruel."

"Sorry," Earl relented. "I didn't get much sleep last night. I've got problems. I'd much rather be left alone with them right now."

Irene inspected him critically as a man might inspect his automobile. "Your eyes are bloodshot," she said. "Why not have some coffee with me and tell me your problems. Maybe I can help you."

"Nobody can help me—least of all you."

The phone on the desk in the corner rang. Earl went to answer it.

"This is Glassman," the phone said. "I want a general staff meeting in my office at once. Tell Dr. Conner she must be there too."

"Okay," Earl said. He hung up and looked at Irene. "Goat face," he explained. "General staff meeting. We're to go to his office at once."

"Maybe this is it," Irene said, suddenly sober.

Earl nodded. That was the way it would come. A phone call for general staff meeting. A quiet announcement that one of the scientists had at last found the ideal nerve fluid for the brain. That's all there would be to it. The greatest achievement since—if not including—the atom bomb, and the historic moment would pass without a shout—with perhaps only a tired sigh of relief, a glance of envy at the lucky one who had found it.

"Well, let's get it over with," Earl said.

They went into the hall and walked side by side in silence toward the back of the building where it joined the Dome. Basil joined them, for once hardly noticing Irene as he looked questioningly at Earl, who shook his head imperceptibly.

They entered Dr. Glassman's office. The director was sitting behind his desk, ignoring them, pretending to be reading some typewritten papers.

Earl looked around. They were all there now, he and the other nine scientists, and Dr. Glassman. Only there was something wrong with the picture. One of them should have been beaming at the others, the light of triumph in his or her eyes. Instead, the other nine reflected his own puzzled bewilderment.

"Sit down, sit down," Dr. Glassman said, looking up at them. He waited until they were all seated about the room, then cleared his throat importantly, pushing aside the papers he had been reading. He started to say something, then became aware of their expressions. He shook his head. "The end isn't in sight yet. But we may be closer than we think. I'll introduce you in a moment to a new addition to our staff. A person who—from the reports I've seen from Washington—seems to be quite a genius at creating new type molecules, tailor-made for specific tasks. Our new associate won't be assigned a separate lab. Instead, will serve as a sort of general consultant, observing all your work, and will make suggestions for hastening things up a bit." A murmur of voices and sharp footsteps came from the hall. "My wife has been showing our new colleague the Brain. I think they're coming now."

The door opened. Mrs. Glassman's cheerful face appeared. "They're all here now," she said over her shoulder.

The door opened farther. Earl, and everyone else, was staring at the opening, waiting for their first glimpse of the newcomer.

Earl half rose to his feet before he stopped himself. Then he slowly sat down, his eyes wide and puzzled.

It was Nadine. She wasn't wearing the clothes he had bought for her the day before. Instead, she was dressed in a stylishly cut business suit and low heeled slippers, a trim hat covering her hair. She had paused just inside the room, a half smile on her carefully painted lips. Her eyes surveyed each face pleasantly, passing over Earl's as though she had never seen him before.

"Come up here, my dear," Dr. Glassman said in honeyed tones. And to the others, "I want you to meet Dr. Nadine Holmes." Then back to her, "What did you think of the Brain? Quite an imposing thing, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is," Nadine replied. "I felt quite—awed by it, sitting there where it will remain for untold centuries, waiting only for the vital fluid that will give it the ability to think."

"I'm sure it won't be untold centuries before it gets the fluid," Dr. Glassman said, chuckling heartily at his own humor. "I'll introduce you to your co-workers, Dr. Holmes. This is Dr. Paul Hardwick...."

Earl caught Basil's attention and shook his head warningly. He waited, then, for his turn at being introduced, his heart pounding violently, his pulse racing.

"... and this is Dr. Earl Frye ..." Dr. Glassman said.

"How do you do, Dr. Frye." Nadine's hand was smooth and cool as she rested it in his. Her eyes sized him up with impersonal interest, but without a flicker of recognition.

"... and this is Dr. Basil Nelson ...."

Nadine withdrew her hand gently and moved on.

"And now you may return to your work," Dr. Glassman announced. "I know the male members of the staff will be waiting for a visit from our charming new member, but you must be patient. She will get around to all of you in the next few days."

Earl was in the hall before Glassman had finished. He wanted to think. Rapid footsteps caught up with him. "Now can we have coffee?" she asked with humorous petulance.

"No!" Earl said with more fierceness in his voice than he had intended. It had the effect of a physical blow on Irene. She fell back a step, blinking.

Basil caught up with them. "I want to talk with you, Earl," he said.

"Basil," Irene cut in, "will you have coffee with me?"

"Me?" Basil said in delight. "Sure." He linked his arm in hers. "Let's go." He looked back over his shoulder at Earl. "Thanks, Earl," he said. "I'll see you later." It was two hours later.

"You sure it's her?" Basil said. "I'm inclined to agree with you. Of course, I saw her only for a second or two.... Where do you suppose she picked up those snazzy clothes? I was watching her when she was introduced to you. Boy, is she some actress!"

"I'm wondering if it was an act," Earl said frowning.

"Of course it was—had to be if she's the same girl. But she didn't let on she knew you at all."

"That's why I wonder if it was an act. There was something strange about her. I can't quite put my finger on it—or yes I can. She's changed. Today her whole personality is different. And where did she get papers authentic enough to fool Glassman?"

"Why don't you ask her when she comes here?" Basil suggested.

Earl shook his head. "I wonder if she could be under some sort of hypnosis? No, wait. It isn't any more absurd than a paralysis gun. If she doesn't stay here tonight I'm going to follow her and see where she goes. Are you with me?"

"Uh," Basil hesitated. "Depends on when she leaves the building. Irene and I have sort of a date to have dinner at the Red Barn at six o'clock."

"Go ahead," Earl said, grinning. "I'll probably have more success alone anyway. We'd get in each other's way."

"Why don't you ask Glassman where she's staying? It's probably some hotel in town."

"I'll think about it," Earl said.

When Basil left, Earl went to the window and looked toward the hill. Would Nadine go there? Was there some hiding place on the hill where she would go, to wait until tomorrow, after her "day's work" was done?

Earl nodded to himself. It had to be. Nothing else fitted into the crazy pattern of events.

One thing he was certain of now. In spite of the accident that had broken open the "ship" when it landed out there, its coming here—or here and now—was no accident. Nor Nadine's apparent familiarity with his name the night before, or her showing up now with credentials that gave her the run of the place in an almost supervisory capacity.

And that meant that her interest was in the Brain. Hers—and who else? George Ladd, of course. How many more? If each of those stasis spheres had contained a person, there were dozens more in on it.

Then why had Nadine been sent into the open when she was certain to be recognized by him?

That was what had been bothering him from the instant she walked into Glassman's office. On the surface it was the most stupid thing that could have occurred. On the surface....

Stupid. Yet somehow stupid didn't seem to fit. Maybe it had been exceedingly cunning. Maybe there was something he had missed.

Cunning it might be—or stupid. But there was something else about it that neither adjective quite fit. There was obviously organization in back of Nadine. People. A "ship". Paralysis guns and what they implied. Therefore planning, colored by one accident. Suppose every detail of the plan had been worked out ahead of time, and was going ahead without alteration. Suppose the original plan had specified that Nadine was to be the "front", and the plan was proceeding blindly, on the behavior level of instinct in animals who repeat instinctive routines made senseless by changed environment. Or the blind function level of a machine that keeps turning out parts when the conveyor belt has stopped, until it wrecks itself.

It annoyed Earl not to be able to pin his thoughts down, to bring everything into full focus.

He went to his kitchenette and fixed a hasty lunch. All afternoon he worked, immersed in the routine of testing chemicals in batches of ten and making out report sheets on each one. And all afternoon he puzzled over what could be behind Nadine's having shown up. Not so much what might be behind her having returned to the scene, nor her not recognizing him, but why someone else hadn't been used.

No one dropped in. Irene's absence gave him only a sense of relief. Basil, no doubt, was staying away because of a guilt complex. Nadine—her continued absence could be because she wasn't ready for him yet, or she truly didn't remember him and would get to him in due time, perhaps tomorrow; or maybe the Plan involved some other member of the research group. Or the destruction of the Brain? Earl shook his head at this thought. That alternative didn't fit.

And then it was four-thirty. Already Earl had reasoned out what he intended to do. Either Nadine would go into town and stay at a hotel, remain in the building as a guest of the Glassmans', or she would leave the building and make her way by some circuitous route to the spot on the hill where the "ship" had been.

Only the latter possibility interested Earl right now. He quickly slipped off his lab apron and put on a suit coat. He wished that he still had a gun, but it had been stolen with the stasis spheres. He'd have to do without it.

Leaving the building, he walked along the sidewalk until he was able to approach the hill from the other side where he wouldn't be seen from the windows.

It was ten minutes to five when he settled down to wait in the concealment of a thicket where he could command a view of the approaches from every direction, and a clear view of the slight depression in the ground where the "ship" had dropped.

There was nothing to do now but wait—and stay awake. He was acutely aware, suddenly, of his lack of sleep the night before. A warm breeze rustled the leaves around him. A small hoptoad paused to stare up at him in unblinking fixity.

Overhead in a large Maple tree a host of sparrows paused to hold a brief political convention.

And then Nadine was coming up the slope from the side away from the lab. Her chic hat dangled carelessly in her right hand, the warm breeze mussing her hair. A too normal smart-looking woman's purse was under her arm. The breeze caught her skirt, molding her graceful legs, her slim body. She was too much the picture of a normal girl idly strolling in a park.

A great nostalgia, an almost overwhelming yearning, took possession of Earl. He wanted to rush forward, let her know he was there, waiting for her.

Instead, he remained motionless, watching her approach.

She seemed to be heading straight for him. For an instant he thought she must have seen him. But her expression held no excitement or anything but half dreamy enjoyment of her surroundings.

Scarcely fifteen feet away she came to a stop and turned to face toward the concave depression in the ground, another fifty feet beyond her. With her free hand she reached up and patted at her hair like any normal girl would do, unconsciously.

Abruptly Earl became aware of something just beyond her. It wasn't tangible. A shimmering in the air. A slight but definite refractive quality that had not been there the moment before.

Nadine had seen it too. She walked forward a few steps.

"This is it!" Earl thought to himself. He crouched to run after her.

She took another step. She vanished, not abruptly, but as one might vanish into a bright silver but otherwise transparent fog.

In that instant Earl moved hurtling forward so that when she disappeared he was a step behind her.

Instantly the peaceful wooded scene vanished. His feet were on a smooth hard floor. Ahead of him he caught a brief glimpse of walls, of people without clothes.

Then he was falling over Nadine and trying to keep from falling on her. His arms were around her. Somehow he twisted so that when he landed she was on top, unhurt.

There was a stunned eternity when her eyes were looking into his, recognition and gladness unmasked, hope and pleading sending him some secret message, some unspoken word trembling on her lips.

But Earl had seen George Ladd even as he fell, and the never forgotten instincts developed in him during World War III were in motion, making him continue his roll so that in the next instant he was on his feet, Nadine behind him. Ladd hadn't expected this and was caught by surprise. Earl took advantage of that brief uncertainty, stepping in and bringing a short chopping right against Ladd's jaw.

Before George Ladd reached the floor, Earl was running in great strides, his eyes darting ahead in search of a place to escape.

"Wait!" Nadine called. But he didn't pause. He couldn't trust her. George Ladd had been armed with his paralysis gun. He'd been waiting for him. This had been a trap, and Nadine had led him into it.

Ahead was a doorway. He hesitated. Should he continue on down the corridor or take the doorway? He decided on the latter. It opened into a room, unoccupied at the moment. There were windows. One of them was open. Earl didn't hesitate. Beyond the window was a wide paved street. If he could get away, mingle with crowds....

No one was in sight. He sprinted along the pavement, away from the Dome which he had glimpsed over his shoulder. It was beautiful, its basic structure adorned with granite superstructures of fine workmanship. But he didn't pause to admire it. He wanted people, lots of people, to mix with and hide from pursuit.

For a hundred yards the street went through parkways. Then ahead were buildings. He reached them, racing along a canyon formed by windowless walls of buildings. He rounded a corner. The street was still deserted.

He ran on and on, turning corners when he came to them, but always heading in one general direction so as not to circle back toward the Dome.

Abruptly he paused. Beside him was a door in a building. He darted inside, closing the door behind him and leaning against it while he breathed in rasping gulps of air.

Ahead of him was a corridor and more doors. After a brief rest he sprinted down the hallway. If he could find a vacant room, a place to hide until he could map out some plan.

He listened at the first door. There was no sound. He tried the knob. The door opened silently under his touch. He stepped in. The room was unoccupied. Its far wall was of glass. He glanced through it. He was looking out over an enormous workshop of some kind. Row upon row of small vats were there—and people.

He was seeing his first people of this world he had plunged into. They wore no clothes. They seemed to be tending the vats, walking along the aisles, pausing here and there at a vat to touch banks of controls and watch what was in each vat.

From the hall Earl had just left came loud voices. The words were in a strange language, but the tones carried their own message. His pursuers had caught up with him. In another moment they would open the door and find him.

He looked around for a way to escape. There was a trap door in the floor. It undoubtedly led to the huge workshop. Earl lifted the door and saw a ladder. He climbed onto it, letting the trap door fall back into place as he descended.

He fully expected workers to see him and react to his presence in some way. A worker was less than ten feet away. The worker didn't pause or seem to notice him.

Silently Earl watched the man's eyes, dull and void of intelligence. They seemed only passive recorders of what there was for him to see. He was touching control knobs in front of a vat.

Earl looked into the vat and caught his breath. Floating in the tank was a human embryo. It was alive, its umbilical cord growing from a spongy mass on the floor of the tank.

Forgetting his danger, Earl grabbed the man's shoulder. "What is this?" he demanded. "Human babies growing in tanks?"

The worker waited unresisting until Earl released his grip, then continued on his routine way. He was, in every respect, a robot, doing his specialized job, his mind a complete blank to anything else. A zombie. Earl looked out over the vast baby factory and realized with numb horror that all the hundreds of people working here were the same. Walking dead, their minds capable of only one thing—doing this specialized task. And the human embryos in the tanks? Would they become walking zombies?

Over his head came the sound of the trap door opening. Earl didn't take time to look up. He ran. Down an aisle between rows of unborn humans tended by undead zombies. Up another ladder into another observation room, ignoring shouts that caught up with him. Out another door, down another hall, through another door, and into a street again.

Miles of streets, and then something recognizable. A factory with belching smokestacks. He plunged toward it recklessly, desperately hoping to find intelligent men. Men with minds. Men able to help him hide.

He found himself inside a huge plant where giant ladles were pouring molten metal into molds. There were men running the machines that controlled the pouring. They wore thick asbestos-like suits.

As Earl ran toward them he saw one of them slip and fall so that his arm went into the stream of molten metal. The man didn't cry out nor jerk away. Splattering metal cascaded on the others. There was the stench of burned flesh.

His mind numb with the shock of what he was seeing, Earl stood rooted, watching the others continue their work with expressionless faces, blank eyes. Mindless creatures, controlled like inanimate robots.


He turned in the direction of the voice. He saw Nadine beckoning for him to come to her. He started toward her, then stopped. She was different from these—or was she? No, she wasn't any different. She too was an automaton. She was beckoning him to walk into another trap.

He turned to run the other way, but in that moment of indecision he had been surrounded by men like George Ladd, carrying the little paralysis guns—and they were automatons too.

He turned, searching for a way of escape, the smell of molten metal and cooked flesh strong in his nostrils. And then he felt the sting of the paralysis gun and was falling forward.

A sharp pain entered the base of his skull. He lost consciousness then with the monstrous horror of what was around him searing into his soul.

The next instant, it seemed, he awakened, all the horror fresh in his mind, the stinging sensation at the nape of his neck changed to a dull throbbing pain. Nadine had led him into this. But she was like the rest, a zombie unable to think for herself.

He shook his head slowly in pained bewilderment. She hadn't been that way the first time he met her. She had been—herself. What could have created this nightmare?

A voice somewhere sounded in deep resonant tones. "So you are awake," it said.

Earl rolled onto his side and searched for the source of the voice. There was no one in view. He was in a room whose walls and ceiling were heavy glass. He looked through the ceiling and saw the familiar maze of steel catwalks inside the dome.

Outside his glass prison a pair of video cameras were trained on him. Their lenses seemed somehow sentient, so that their motionlessness partook of the quality of a fixed stare.

"I've always wanted to meet you," the voice said, and it seemed to come from a small case atop the camera frames.

It was a dream, Earl decided. He had been hit on the head. In his delirium he had conjured up the Brain, activated and intelligent as it was designed to be in theory, possessed of a mind of its own.

"Of course," the voice went on, "I've seen film shots of you. You are the discoverer of the nerve fluid that made me possible."

Earl sat up abruptly. "Who are you? And where—"

"I am the Cyberene. This is the year 3042 A. D., in the old calendar. I had you brought here through what might be called a time tube from your own period. Shortly you will return through that tube to your own time—as many hours ahead from the time you left as you spend here before you go back."

Earl got to his feet slowly, watching the glistening lenses. "Now it begins to fit together," he said. "You're behind Nadine and Ladd. You say I'm the discoverer of the nerve fluid. You're mistaken. It hasn't been found yet—and there are ten of us looking for it. One of the others may be the one to find it."

"History says you found it."

"And you just wanted to see me because of that?" Earl asked.

"Watch," the voice said.

The plate glass wall in front of Earl changed suddenly, to become apparently a giant window over-looking a huge sprawling city. There were buildings that reached thousands of feet into the sky, with fragile looking networks of bridges spanning the spaces among them. There were giant aircraft in the sky. In the distance was a trail of fire that might be from an inter-planetary rocket ship departing spaceward.

And abruptly the elfin city was blotted out by a blinding sun. Seconds later the blinding sun was gone, and Earl could see the city again. But now it was only the skeleton of what it had been. Its spiderweb design of bridges was torn and twisted. Many of its tall buildings were even now toppling toward the ground. Fire shot skyward in a pyrotechnic display of havoc.

A giant airplane appeared, heading straight toward the window through which Earl watched. It grew larger. For a brief second he looked into its control cabin and saw its pilot and co-pilot. They were human, but their faces were harsh and cruel, their eyes cold and inhuman. In the next instant they were gone.

"That is a typical scene on—the other Earth," the voice of the Cyberene explained.

The scene of the desolate city vanished. In its place appeared another scene. A city under construction. Giant building machines were placing it together, and the parts that were completed were even more beautiful than had been that other city.

Earl, from his vantage point, seemed to drop closer and drift over the scene of construction to a part that was inhabited. He saw the people below. They wore no clothes and didn't seem to mind. Each appeared to be intent on going somewhere. None of them were talking or paying any attention to one another. Their expressions were blank, their eyes vacant.

The vantage point followed one of them. Shortly the man being followed turned into an archway, up an incline, and into a large hall. He went through a door into the room filled with cell-like vats. In each transparent vat Earl saw a human embryo, alive and growing. He "followed" the man through this place to another, where children were playing with psychological toys designed to increase mechanical and scientific aptitudes.

"This, too, is a typical scene on—this Earth," the Cyberene said. The scene vanished. Once again Earl looked into the video eyes of the Brain. "They are both Earth in the year 3042," the Cyberene said, "but not the same Earth. In 1980 there was a split. Earth followed two independent futures. The first, filled with wars and eternal carnage, ever more perfect weapons of destruction, developed from one decision you made. The second, my world, filled with perpetual peace and happiness, developed from the alternative decision. You created these two futures."

"I?" Earl said. "You must be crazy. How?"

"In the first you discovered the vital nerve fluid that makes me possible. You thought you were God. You thought you could see a future in which I would work the human race harm. You suppressed your discovery by the simple process of giving a negative lab report on the substance. In the second world—my world—you did as you were supposed to do. You announced your discovery. I came into being."

"You mean to say my actions caused the whole planet to split into two identical worlds?"

"In effect, yes. I'll try to explain. Matter and motion are not real in the basic sense. They are properties of your mind. They are what your finite mind sees; but reality is the space-time continuity of which one instant is a cross-section. In effect, consciousness flows along the time dimension which I term the fourth dimension. But in addition there is a fifth dimension, so that these two Earths have the same space-time coordinates in four dimensions, and two different ones in the fifth. In Euclidean concepts, that other Earth is eighty-seven millionths of an inch from this, in the fifth dimension. In that Earth I did not develop. The Dome is still there, but the Brain, if it still exists, was never activated. As a result, humanity continued its violent progress through time, engaging in war after war.

"When I discovered time travel and saw all this I decided to go back and contact you before your instant of decision and get you to release the identity of the nerve fluid when you discover it tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" Earl said.

"In your time."

"I see," Earl said. "Tomorrow I make the discovery. In one time stream I tell Glassman. In the other I decide not to. What made me decide not to?"

"You thought the Brain would be bad for humanity. You were, of course, wrong."

"Was I?" Earl said.

"In that other world, wars are the normal state of things. They stem from problems that don't exist in my world. Over-population, competition in trade in things that aren't necessary to human economy, opposed political systems—all the foibles and inconsistencies of untrained and unorganized populations."

"I understand that," Earl said. "Why don't your people wear clothes?"

"Clothes are unnecessary—one of the things I eliminated in reducing the industrial economy to a minimum. Over-population? There is none. People are made in the laboratory as they are needed. Their lives are uncomplicated by animal problems such as reproduction, and artificial customs such as modesty. Their education is simplified and factual, their lives functional."

"And I made that decision all by myself?"

"Yes. That's why I have brought you here—to get you to change that decision. You see, I must change the past. I must do that in order to correct the future, make the other Earth a sane place, dominated by a second Cyberene which is a counterpart of me."

"That's what I thought," Earl said with reckless boldness. "I'm beginning to understand why I made my decision to suppress the identity of the nerve substance. You did that. The things I've seen. You're just like dictators of our time. You think you're so right that everyone will naturally agree with you. I don't. I think it's more humane to let people come into the world as they will and have wars that destroy them, than to decide just how many are to be born. You need a new man in the garbage disposal plant in twenty years? Press a button and he will be born in a few months. Going to have less to do in some factory in twenty years? Keep the zombies from being born. Less trouble than killing them off later to save on the food bill."

"I was afraid you might feel that way," the Cyberene said. "I have the answer to it. Nadine Holmes. Make an accurate report tomorrow on the tests. In return I will leave her in your time—even plant directives so that she will always be a loving and devoted wife to you."

"I would prefer her as she is, naturally."

"Today her every outward manifestation was under my direct mental control. Don't you see, Earl Frye? Just before you followed her into my neatly laid trap to get you here, you watched her come up the hill, and adored every line of her, every mannerism, every play of expression. With one small corner of my mind I can anticipate your wishes and fulfill them in her—"

"It wouldn't be her," Earl said shaking his head. "And even if it were, at the cost of billions of unborn generations? No."

"But you will do as I wish whether you wish to or not. Why not obey me freely and get this reward, rather than nothing?

"I can control you." The voice ended triumphantly.

"No!" It was a shuddering protest from Earl's lips, forcing itself out against his wishes.

The throbbing ache at the base of his brain increased abruptly, slowly, to measurable beats.

"I can control your body, your conscious mind, shoving you into the back recesses of thought. And when you try to come out, I can punish you—like I'm doing now."

"No!" Earl screamed, his reserve breaking down completely.

Suddenly, into his cosmos of unbearable suffering and horror, filtered a thought that created hope. Nadine had been free during those first hours he had met her. She had defied George Ladd. Unsuccessfully, but she had defied him. And when they had sprawled through that doorway to the future, for a moment he had seen that same free Nadine in her eyes, her expression. Or had she ever been free? The terrible throbbing pain blurred his thinking. Had she been free in the smelter where she attracted his attention while the others surrounded him? If he had run directly to her he would have escaped being surrounded. But....

Anger entered his mind like a little finger of thought. Anger at Nadine? He was surprised. Confused. Then it came to him that it was not his anger. It came from outside. Alien.

From the depths of his own instincts fear welled up and became blind panic, fighting against the something that was growing stronger, crowding around his soul, forcing it to retreat within itself, until Earl Frye, his awareness of being Earl Frye, of being himself, was all that remained, helpless to control or even to feel.

Through a mental fog he was aware that he had stood up, the glass cage had lifted, and he was free to go—but not he! His body was controlled by the Cyberene.

He was aware that he had left the dome to walk through a beautifully landscaped garden to a building he had not seen before but which he knew to be the 3042 end of the time tube. He was aware of pausing and looking back at the Dome, now a thing of incredible beauty to him, the repository of his physical vehicle, the Brain. But not his. The Cyberene's.

He entered the time tube. He stepped from it onto grassy ground. He went through the trees to the sidewalk. He returned to the lab building, to his lab, to his living quarters.

He encountered Basil. He listened to himself talk, in casual tones, normal tones. He was unable to control even his conscious thoughts. But his consciousness was a thing apart from him.

He fought the domination of the Cyberene with arms that would not move, with a tongue that would not utter his words, with a rage that would not alter his calm and pleasant expression. He fought the pain that throbbed within him. He fought to stay sane.

Slowly he began to adjust to his position. He no longer fought. He was like a passenger in a plane who watches it take off, fly great distances, and land, with no concern about the details. Having no control whatever over his body, he was free of responsibility toward its routine behavior. He became aware that pain had departed. The very thing he had fought began to interest him. There must be some definite mechanism—property of the mind—that made telepathic enslavement possible in this way. Undoubtedly Nadine was also a free focus of thought behind her enslaved surface.

She came into the lab at ten o'clock, cheerful but impersonal. He heard himself talking to her in the same way. He could see her, listen to her. Therefore, behind her impersonal eyes was the Nadine he had first met, watching him, knowing what had happened. It gave him comfort to know that. He had not lost her. She was there.

Knowing that, and knowing there was no way to communicate with her at present, he turned his attention to what her body and his were doing.

"The silicones haven't been explored too thoroughly yet," she was saying. "They have some disadvantages, but those can be eliminated by additions to the ion rings to serve as protective buffers. I have several of them in this tray I brought in. I'd like you to run them through the tests."

Earl's eyes focused on the tray. They paused briefly on the formula of the third one from the nearest end. Earl sensed that this was the long sought for substance. He built up its theoretical structure. He saw at once how it achieved its properties.

"I'll be back this afternoon," Nadine said. "By then you should have your lab reports ready."

Then she was gone. Earl's hands went through the motions of pouring each vial into a pump. He turned his attention away from the routine, as a traveler in a passenger plane might turn from the window to something else.

A feeling of hopelessness grew within him. How could he stop things or interfere with them when he couldn't affect a muscle?

The Cyberene had been playing with him when it tried to get him to do its bidding of his own free will. He realized that now. It would have pleased its vanity if he had.

But this was too important to it for it to trust anything other than itself.

When it was done? When the fluid was forced into the hundreds of thousands of miles of hair-like glass tubing, the billions of fine glass cells? It would never give him his freedom. It would be afraid of what he might be able to do. So it would kill him.

Unless he could prevent the Brain from being activated. And unless he were free to command his body, he could never do that.

What had the Cyberene said to him about time travel and alternate time streams? The theories weren't exactly new. They had been explored in imaginative fiction for over fifty years. No one had really thought there might be some basis in fact for the theories.

What had caused the "split" which had produced two Earths in separate time streams? The Cyberene hadn't seemed to know that detail—or if it had it had brushed over it casually so as not to make him curious about it.

Was it events? Or was it something in the basic substratum of matter, and the events were the result? That might be an important distinction.

If it were events, then bringing the Brain to life in this time stream might eliminate the divergent streams, bringing them together as one. That, in effect, might destroy the other world of 3042 A.D. Maybe that was what the Cyberene intended.

But suppose he were able even yet to defeat the Cyberene's scheme. Then the two time streams would remain unchanged. The free world of the future would remain free. But that was not enough. He wanted to destroy both Brains. How could he accomplish that, assuming he were able to accomplish anything?

The logical time to do it would be in 1980—now—before the Cyberene gained control of the world and made itself impregnable. But how? And if he could figure that out, could he act if an opportunity arose?

Irene Conner came in at lunch time. "I had a wonderful time with Basil last night," she said.

"I'm glad you did," Earl heard his voice say.

Hope leaped within him. Maybe the Cyberene would make some mistake that would arouse suspicions in her. The hope died as the door to the hall opened again and Nadine came in.

"You promised to take me to lunch, Earl," she said.

"Ready," Earl heard himself say.

It was evident that the Cyberene didn't intend him to be alone with any of the others long enough for the possibility of something suspicious to arise.

They went to a small cafe several blocks from the lab building. For the benefit of anyone happening to be looking at them, they carried on small talk while they ate. Earl found himself hanging onto every word Nadine uttered, watching her every expression. He was so close to her, yet so far away. It was like standing outside a window and watching her while she seemed unaware of him.

He kept watching for the faintest flicker of expression that would show the real Nadine. Slowly, without quite realizing it, he began to pretend it was Nadine. He listened to her small talk. He listened to his, and at times forgot it wasn't actually his and that he couldn't control one word of what he said.

He became happy. He let himself be aware of the flavor of the food. He laughed within himself when his vocal cords laughed. He reached out and touched Nadine's hand, thrilling to the feel of her soft skin.

She drew her hand back, a startled light in her eyes. It was gone the next instant. Once more she was impersonal, controlled.

The dull, throbbing pain flared to torturing intensity within him, blurring thought, punishing him, forcing him behind his prison walls of gray mental fog. But through the pain, apart from it, he experienced a surge of hope. It had been he who had reached out to Nadine. Not the Cyberene controlling him!

Was there still hope? At two o'clock Nadine would pick up his lab report sheets and turn them over to Glassman. Then the identity of the ideal nerve fluid would be known. It would be out of his hands even if he were in full control of his faculties.

He and Nadine rose. They were going back to the lab building. He raged against the hidden mental barriers that contained him. He fought frenziedly to influence some slight movement of his body.

He might as well have been a passenger on an ocean liner trying to change the course of the thousands of tons of steel by thought alone while standing at the rail.

His sphere of awareness grew clouded. He was raging against a mental wall that became almost tangible. He stopped fighting from sheer impotence—and the barrier retreated.

The more I fight the more helpless I am. That thought at once created its corollary. The less I struggle the closer I am to control!

That was it! He had so identified his desires with the actions of his body that for one instant he meshed with it!

That, then, was the secret. The principle. But it contained within itself its own difficulty. By "wanting" to activate the Brain he could perhaps actually control some of his actions. But the instant he did something counter to the Cyberene, that control would be taken away from him, and replaced by throbbing pain.

He had touched Nadine's hand though. It had been a gesture so unconscious that the Cyberene had been unaware of it until it happened.

It was the right direction.

The possibility of what he wanted to do filled him with a sense of defeat. It would be impossible to falsify the lab report on the nerve fluid. One false word on the card, and the Cyberene would erase it and fill the card out correctly.

He fought back the feeling of futility. He reached out, identifying himself with every sensation from his body. He was walking. He wanted to walk. He was talking. He wanted to say what he heard himself say.

It would go along well, and then his body would do something he didn't expect, and he would be filled with the realization that he had no control. It would be a mental stumble while his body didn't falter.

During each brief period of identifying his desires with his actions, he found his awareness of sensations expand until it was almost complete identification—complete meshing.

Meshing until the gears were almost strong enough to grip—for a brief second. Perhaps in time they would grip for more than a second before alarm bells rang for the Cyberene.

He was alone in his lab. He was placing the fine tubes of test substances in their respective instrument cabinets. Ordinarily he did this almost automatically. Now he watched his every move, building up interest in it, desiring to do everything he did, anticipating what he would do next and wanting to do it, pretending it was he who issued the commands to his muscles.

The crucial moment was just ahead. He had stepped to the instrument case that held the key fluid. He started to write down the readings from the instruments. His fingers shook, and it was his nervousness that shook them.

A "mistake" in the readings here and there would do it. Speed of ion travel: The meter said two thousand plus feet per second. His fingers wrote the two and a zero. Before he could write the second zero he tried to write the plus sign. Triumphantly he saw his fingers obey his will.

Abruptly they paused—and he was aware that a power outside his will had made them pause.

Throbbing pain surged up to full intensity, enveloping him, sickening him so that his soul was a writhing thing, unable to think or feel anything other than pain. Slowly it lessened—or was he growing better able to suffer it? Thoughts filtered in to him through gray mists clouding his mind.

He saw his hands fill out the rest of the card correctly. He was dimly aware of rushing excitedly from the lab, down the hall, shouting that he had found it.

Others were joining him as he hurried to Glassman's office and burst in, waving the card.

Glassman seized it, his eyes afire with the fulfillment of his Dream.

And it was too late. Too late now to erase the knowledge of the identity of that fluid from Glassman's mind, from the minds of the other nine scientists crowding around him, congratulating him.

It was too late.

That realization crowded out everything else. The Cyberene had won.

"We want to put it through every test conceivable," Glassman said. "All ten of you drop everything else and work on it. Get the speed of impulse down to the last fraction of an inch per second. Get behavior in different sized tubes. Find the least diameter of the fluid column for non-function. Everything. We want to be sure before we start pumping two hundred and fifty thousand gallons of the stuff into the Brain."

Dr. Glassman's eyes were afire with the triumph of success. "The dream of my life has come true," he said. "The Brain will live! It will live forever, growing wiser than any man or any group of men. It will remake the world. Civilization. It will end wars. It will guide mankind into a garden of Eden. Utopia. It was my dream for mankind."

He became aware of those watching him. The fire of fanaticism left his eyes. He relaxed, and laughed embarrassedly. "But right now congratulations are in order for Dr. Frye. He's the one who has found the substance that makes it possible."

Nadine had been standing quietly on the sidelines, almost forgotten in this moment. She came forward now and extended her hand. "Congratulations, Dr. Frye," she said.

It was for effect. Earl heard himself say, "Maybe you are the one who should get the credit." He paid little attention. It was a show, an opera, and his body and hers were players reciting lines from a script.

But her hand in his was warm. He clung to the feel of it, thinking bitterly that now there was nothing else. What would become of him? He didn't care.

He sunk into a mood of utter defeat. It was all the worse, he realized, because right now, if the Cyberene had not come into the picture, if he had been left to himself, he would be deliriously happy—just as his own exterior self was seeming to be.

After a while he was back in the lab. His body was working on more elaborate experiments with the fluid. His vocal cords were humming a tune in a tone of absent-minded happiness.

He wished fervently that there were some way he could be wiped out completely. Gray walls around his awareness were not enough. Not with the unbearable suffering.

The hours passed slowly for him. He tried not to think, to remain passive. It was no use. His bitterness was too strong. His sense of defeat was too overpowering.

His eyes glanced up at the door as it opened, then down at his wrist watch. It was three minutes after five. Nadine was in the doorway.

"It's time to go Earl," she said.

Go? Where? But his body hastily putting things in order as though it knew.

They left the building together, walked along the sidewalk as though they might be headed toward some dinner rendezvous. They left the sidewalk, and then Earl knew. They were going to the entrance to the time tube. They were going back to the year 3042. Why? He should have remained. Maybe this would create suspicion. But even as he thought that, he knew it wouldn't. Everyone would think he and Nadine were at some restaurant, perhaps later at some night spot. No one would bother to check and see if he came back to his rooms.

Ahead was the clear spot with its smooth convex depression. And the shimmering refraction in the air. Side by side he and Nadine walked toward it—and were in a corridor, the woodland scene wiped out.

No unusual sensation of any kind. Stepping across a thousand years was no different than crossing the threshold of a doorway.

George Ladd was there waiting for them. "The Cyberene wants to see both of you," he said. Nothing more. No paralysis gun, no guards to keep Earl from escaping. But he couldn't escape. He couldn't move a muscle of his own volition. "Okay," he heard himself say casually.

He and Nadine left the building and went through the beautiful park to the Dome. Inside, they walked along the seemingly roofless slightly curving corridor. He went to a small red square and stood on it. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Nadine do the same. From above, the glass boxes were lowered over them.

Something left him. Without having tested the feeling, he knew that he was in full possession of himself. He could command and his body, his voice, would obey.

He turned toward the glass wall facing Nadine. He pressed against it. She was doing the same.

"Nadine!" he said, and it was a greeting, a caress.


And they were drinking in one another with their eyes.

"Very touching," a voice said. "One would think you are in love with her, Earl Frye."

"Oh no. I—That is...." Earl stopped in amazement at the self revelation.

"Look at her," the Cyberene's voice said. "In spite of most careful conditioning starting in the lab tank in her pre-breathing stage, she feels the same way about you."

Nadine's lips were trembling with a smile. She was nodding.

Earl was irritated. "Did you bring me here just to tell me that?" he asked. "Or to torture me further?" he added bitterly.

"No. I brought you here to show you that I'm grateful. You did what I wanted done. The fact that it was done in spite of you makes no difference. It's done and can't be undone by you. You realize that?"

"To gloat. I might have known," Earl said contemptuously.

"Not that either. I want to reward you. I've thoroughly explored your mind. I know that if you give your word, you will keep it. I understand a little about your feeling on personal freedom. Now that the vital fluid is known to enough people so that nothing you can do would undo that, I'm willing to let you have Nadine. The real Nadine."

"Yes?" Earl said warily.

"Yes. All I ask in return is your promise not to try to undo anything, and to go ahead with your work without ever mentioning what has happened. Once you give your promise, I will let you and Nadine go to your time and stay there, free agents."

Earl frowned. "I don't get it," he said. "I didn't expect anything like this from you."

"You thought that after I had by-passed you and accomplished my purpose I would eliminate you?" The Cyberene laughed. "You will find that I'm a very benevolent master." The video eyes seemed to glisten with joviality.

"I still don't get it," Earl said, puzzled. "You want my word that I won't interfere with anything you do from here on in."

"Yes. After all, there is a lot to do yet before the Brain in your time stream is activated. I must—"

"So!" Earl interrupted. "According to your theory of time that you so carefully explained to me, the discovery of the vital nerve substance should have fixed up everything. It didn't."

"The Brain hasn't been activated yet in your time stream. When it has, then the future will reshape itself."

"I want to understand," Earl said. "As I understand it, some act, some crucial act, must be changed from the way it happened in the past—in my future in that past. Until that crucial moment is changed from the way it happened, all the future stemming from it remains unaltered. The instant that crucial moment is changed, presto—the whole future from 1980 right down to 3042 does a mighty flip flop and right here and now, in that other Earth so close to this one, things will change as abruptly as the change of scene on a screen."

"That's correct."

"Then getting my lab reports correct wasn't the thing. There is still something to come, back there, that must be changed? In spite of everything up to now, you are still facing defeat? That's why you are willing to offer me so much?"

"You misunderstand my motives," the Cyberene said.

"I don't think so. You aren't dealing with a mind-slave now. You may be non-human, but you're a thinking mind. You have desires, motives for doing things, ways of doing them. In other words, you're a type. In offering me everything I want, you're out of your type—unless there's something you want that you can't get any other way. When I came in here I was licked. All I wanted was to die. Now I'm not so sure. I'm not even sure you know what you're doing. I have hope. Do you understand that?" Earl was trembling violently, a mixture of emotions coursing through him. "I'm going to destroy you before I'm done. You're going to take control of me again and try to prevent that. You don't know whether you can or not because you can't go into your future. You can't even go into the past in any detail. How do I know that? I'm a scientist. I'm trained to put two and two together and get four. If you could go anywhere in the past you could have explored every detail of my future and know now what happened."

"Perhaps I do know," the Cyberene said. "You forget I'm attempting to change what happened. I have changed what happened. In the time stream the way it was originally, you discovered the right nerve fluid, and suppressed it. You faked a negative report on it. I've changed that much of the past already."

"Have you?" Earl said dully, his emotion spent. "All right then. Don't mind me. You're not going to get any promise from me no matter how much you torture me." His voice changed to cold bitterness. "I'm going to fight you to the end—and win. I don't know how, but the very fact that you haven't changed the present of that other Earth proves you haven't succeeded yet—and won't. I'll win. Then I'll destroy you, and Nadine and I can be free."

But somewhere along the line the Cyberene had taken control again. Earl wasn't quite sure when his vocal cords stopped obeying his mental commands.

His body was standing quietly. He could not affect it. The gray walls were closing in around him, the pain growing. He didn't fight it. He welcomed the gray walls that clouded the channels to his conscious mind.

He sensed dimly that he and Nadine were going back the way they had come. Back to the time tube. Back to 1980, to what might be the final battle.

He was alone in his living quarters. He was aware of sleeping. Then it was morning, and he crept cautiously into his conscious mind, a hurt and wounded soul. And his conscious mind was serene and happy, unaware of his suffering as it began its day's work.

"Hi, Earl."

Earl looked up with a smile. "Hello, Basil. How's things going with you and Irene?"

Basil smiled wryly. "Well ... at least she's discovered that I'm a pretty fair dancer. She envies you. I guess I do too. You have all the luck."

"Nonsense! Discovering the right substance was like winning the Irish Sweepstakes."

"That's what I mean. You did nothing more than any of the rest of us. It was pure chance that the right stuff was on a tray given to you to test. But in the history books your name will get the credit—just like it took brains."

Earl shrugged. "I'm afraid all our names will be left out. Dr. Glassman will get the credit. He master-minded the whole thing. He deserves the credit, too. The rest of us are just damned good chemists. That's all. He took the risks. If it hadn't paid off, the Dome would have been known as Glassman's Folly."

"Something in that," Basil said. "By the way, what have you found out about Nadine? You two seem quite palsy walsy now."

"She's what she claims to be," Earl said.

"Is she?" Basil said, his eyes narrowing. "I think you're lying. Matter of fact, you're different than you were. What's come over you?"

"Nothing, Basil."

"Nothing, he says," Basil said mournfully to the bench he was sitting on. "What's happened to you? Have you been bought?"

"What do you mean?"

"You know what I mean. Nadine came here under mysterious circumstances, to say the least. You were hot on the trail of something. You wanted me to help you follow her. I couldn't, because Irene had given me my first chance to date her. So you followed her by yourself. What happened?"

"Sure," Earl said. "She went to the best hotel in town. I called her on a house phone and asked her to have dinner with me. She did."

"Did she tell you how she happened to be only four inches high and naked when you first met her?"

Earl stared at Basil in mock astonishment. "Basil," he said softly. "Haven't you ever heard of that terrible scourge of the human race—alcohol?"

"Don't give me that!" Basil said, his nostrils flaring. "You were stone sober. I was with you for an hour while you bought those clothes and patiently gathered fashion magazines that would show a dame who didn't know the first thing about it how to put them on. I saw Nadine in this lab, being carried off by a man. I was paralyzed by a ray gun or something from a gun. So were you."

"He's right, Earl."

Both men turned toward the door. It was Nadine. She closed the door and came into the lab.

"Maybe we should take him with us, Earl," she said. "If we don't, he's going to think the worst things about us. I know we swore you to secrecy, but he could wreck everything."

"Maybe you're right," Earl said.

"Oh no," Basil said, edging toward the door. "They did something to you, Earl. I'm not going to give them a chance to do the same thing to me."

"Don't be a fool," Earl said. "Let me at least explain things."

Nadine was edging toward the door to cut off Basil's escape. He saw this, and leaped past her to the door, pulling it open.

"Come back here and let me explain," Earl heard himself say.

"You can explain to the Secret Service," Basil said.

He shut the door on them. An impulse made him turn toward Dr. Glassman's office. He would tell him first, and if that didn't get results he would go to the S. S. boys.

He knocked on Glassman's door and pushed it open without waiting for an invitation.

"Dr. Glassman," he said quickly, "something very suspicious is going on around here. I should have told you about it sooner, but I thought Earl would be able to explain his actions, and Nadine's. Have you looked into her credentials? She isn't what she claims. I know, but I don't know how I'm going to prove it right now. She's done something to Earl. He isn't the same. They're in this together."

"Just a minute, Dr. Nelson," Glassman cut in. "Are you trying to say that Dr. Frye and Dr. Holmes are in on some mad scheme to sabotage the Brain? You must be mad. Why, Dr. Frye discovered the chemical we've spent close to a million dollars searching for!"

"I know that," Basil said doggedly, "but just the same—"

"You're out of your mind. What are you trying to do? Curry favor with me at the expense of innocent and hard working people? I've a good notion to discharge you on the spot."

"You've got to listen to—"

"Get out. I'll hear no more of it."

Basil stared at him blankly, then nodded. "All right," he said, "but you're going to have to listen later. I'm taking it to the Secret Service. They'll have to listen."

He backed out, closing the door on Glassman's angry face. When he turned to go down the hall he saw Earl and Nadine coming toward him. With them was George Ladd, his right hand in his suit coat pocket over something bulging—the paralysis gun, maybe.

Basil turned the other way and down another hall, running with a speed born of fear and determination. He knew now he had been right.

A door opened. Irene came out, almost bumping into him. "Where are you going in such a hurry, Basil?" she demanded.

"Can't explain now," he said. She stood in his way. "Come with me," he said desperately. "I'll explain on the way. Hurry."

She nodded. Together they ran down the hall and reached the side exit. Taking Irene's hand, Basil plunged away from the sidewalk through scattered trees, until they reached the parking lot. He unlocked his car with shaking fingers and told Irene to get in. He rushed around to the driver's side.

The motor caught instantly. He started with a clash of gears. In the rear view mirror he saw George Ladd running toward him. Then he reached the street—and almost immediately was slowed by heavy traffic.

Groaning under his breath, he made the best time he could. Irene watched him silently for two blocks.

"Aren't you going to tell me what it is?" she asked abruptly.

"He's after me," Basil said. "We've got to get there before he can stop me. You can listen when I tell the Secret Service about it."

Ahead was a traffic jam. Basil turned into a side street where he made better time. It was taking him forever to get there. But finally his destination was just ahead. The office building where the S. S. had its local office.

There was a parking space. Basil swerved toward it and braked to a stop. He reached past Irene and opened her door.

"Get out and run for it," he said.

The screech of tires almost drowned his voice. He looked over his shoulder. A car had pulled up beside his in the street. He saw George Ladd behind the wheel, alone.

Frantically, Basil pushed Irene out and followed her, taking her hand as they ran toward the building entrance fifteen feet away.

"We've got to make it," he said. "We've got to...."

There was no sound, no light, from the weapon George Ladd pointed at them.

Basil sprawled forward. Before he hit the sidewalk, flame burst from his hair, his clothing.

Irene stopped, forgetting her danger or not knowing it. She bent down by Basil, reaching to help him. She remained in that position for a long second while her hair and clothing burst into flames, then crumpled against him.

Horrified pedestrians drew back from the bodies, the stench of seared flesh. In the street a motor roared into life. The car with George Ladd sped away.

Earl turned away from the window. "George Ladd just brought my car back," he said. "I guess he isn't coming in. He's walking into the woods toward the tube entrance."

Nadine nodded casually.

Within his mental prison Earl worried. What had Ladd done? He wouldn't dare to kill Basil. The worst that could happen would be that Basil would be taken before the Cyberene and made him into a mind-slave too.

There were footsteps in the hall. The door opened. It was Dr. Glassman, his lips set in a grim line.

"Dr. Frye," Glassman said. "Basil came to me with a story of something going on he didn't like. He accused you and Dr. Holmes of some scheme to sabotage the Brain."

"That's utter nonsense," Earl heard himself say.

"Why, I can't understand—" Nadine began.

"I thought so too," Glassman said, "until I received a telephone call from the police just now. Basil and Irene were killed a few moments ago while on their way to try to get the Secret Service to listen to what I refused to hear."

"Oh," Nadine said without expression. Earl said nothing. He was too stunned to think.

"I'm going to get to the bottom of this," Glassman went on grimly. "You may both consider yourselves relieved of your duties until the Secret Service has investigated thoroughly. Save your explanations until I've called them."

Earl tried to warn Glassman. He forced his lips open to call to him—and a wave of searing throbbing pain lashed at him, forcing him back behind the gray fog.

Through the mental haze he saw George Ladd in the doorway, a thirty-eight Colt automatic in his hand—something Glassman would understand.

"Come with me, Dr. Glassman," Ladd said expressionlessly.

When Glassman returned an hour later, to all outward appearances he was unchanged, except that he made no mention of the deaths of Basil and Irene. Nor did he say anything about suspending Earl and Nadine.

From his own experience Earl knew that one part of Glassman was raging against his mental prison, perhaps feeling the sadistic torture with which the Cyberene kept him chained.

By a supreme effort Earl pulled himself away from thinking about what had happened. It multiplied his determination to free himself enough to defeat the Cyberene and destroy it. But raging impotently against the Brain's control wouldn't accomplish a thing.

Little by little he willed himself back to a frame of thought where he could reach out into his conscious mind again, matching his thoughts and moods with it. It had somehow "forgotten" much of what had happened to Basil and Irene and Glassman. It was thinking about Nadine.

Earl thought about her too. She loved him. She didn't know what love was, but it was there, revealed in the brief moment she had been free to express herself. Was that love now making her try to overthrow the slavery of the Cyberene? Probably not. She was conditioned to accept that inhuman intellect as her master.

Earl shoved the real Nadine from his thoughts and dwelt on the Nadine that was manifest. She was easy to love too—and why not? She was everything that the true Nadine was—except that she was not the complete Nadine. She was falling in love with him too. And his own conscious mind was in love with her. Why not make the most of it?

He inserted the idea into his conscious thoughts, and to his delight no alarm bells rang. The Cyberene didn't interfere.

"Let's go to a dance tonight after work," he said.

"A dance? I don't know how to dance."

"I'll teach you. It isn't hard to pick up."

"All right," Nadine said.

Earl worked hard the rest of the day. Tank trucks were bringing the nerve fluid to the Dome in a never ending stream. Every load had to be tested before it was unloaded into the storage tanks, to make sure its quality was up to standard. One five thousand gallon load could contaminate it all.

At six o'clock he was relieved of his work. He dressed eagerly, finding no difficulty in meshing one hundred per cent with the desires of his conscious mind. He picked up Nadine at her hotel.

Crestmont boasted only two places worth going. One was just a dance floor, the other The Barn, with a small orchestra and dinners.

"The orchestra isn't as good here at The Barn," Earl said when they went in, "but we can have a table and enjoy ourselves."

They ordered their dinner. The orchestra started playing and soon the floor was fairly crowded. Earl took Nadine's hand and led her to the dance floor. After a few steps she discovered that she could dance quite easily. It delighted her.

They returned to their table finally, and ate. Afterward they danced again. Two of the other scientists were there with their partners. They nodded at Earl and Nadine but didn't join them.

During all this, Earl was careful not to insert any feeling, any impulse of his own into his conscious mind. What he intended to do must come as a surprise to both Nadine and the Cyberene, and afterwards they must think it to be the product of that conscious mind—not Earl himself.

His opportunity arose naturally. While they were dancing he spoke to her. She lifted her face to smile at him. Swiftly he kissed her, letting his lips linger until the throbbing and an angriness beat into him and a power outside himself pulled him back.

He retreated in his mind, afraid even to think, lest the Cyberene sense his thoughts and realize what he had been trying.

"Why did you do that?" he heard Nadine say from a great distance, through waves of torture.

His own voice replied, "That was a kiss."

"How disgusting," Nadine said.

Had she meant that? Or were those just words put in her mouth by the Cyberene.

"It's one of our customs," Earl's voice said. "Watch the others on the dance floor. Quick! See that couple over at the corner table?"

Earl crept cautiously into his conscious mind to watch Nadine. She studied the couple, puzzled. She looked up into his face thoughtfully and began dancing again. "Maybe," she said, "it won't seem so disgusting if we try it again."

Her lips parted. Earl felt his head bend toward her. He felt the kiss, but held himself cautiously alert for the first sign of disapproval from the Cyberene. It didn't come.

The moment passed. Earl began to relax. Had the Cyberene assumed it was a natural action of his conscious mind divorced from him? If so, then a major hurdle had been met successfully.

"It is rather pleasant," Nadine said. Then, thoughtfully, "So that's a kiss."

Earl looked at her sharply. Was it possible that the real Nadine had caused those words to be spoken? Maybe. It provided a new avenue of speculation. Had Nadine long ago discovered what he was so patiently trying now—how to circumvent the control of the Cyberene? She could have, but not seeing any reason to do so, kept her talent hidden.

Two more days passed. Earl forgot his caution and boldly cooperated with his conscious mind on the many tasks that took up his time. And strangely he was almost free of pain, though it never entirely left.

Dr. Glassman took all the scientists with him on a tour of inspection within the Brain. The millions of fine glass tubes and hollow bulbs that comprised the Brain would soon start being filled with nerve fluid. Although tons of pressure per square inch were required to force it into the tubes, once there, capillary attraction pulled it along.

On the first trip Earl retreated from his conscious mind as much as possible, while still watching everything around him closely. He had been inside the Brain many times before—but never with any thought of discovering a weakness where it could be destroyed.

That was the task he had set himself. It was an almost impossible one. Destroying the Brain now, in 1980, might not accomplish his purpose. The damage could be repaired.

He thought of dynamite and rejected it. It would deteriorate long before 3042, and even if it remained potent, it would do no more than damage a small part of the Brain—not enough to more than partially impair its thinking or give it a case of specialized forgetfulness. A dynamite explosion in such an enormous brain would be equivalent to a blood clot on a human brain.

Nothing better presented itself to him on that first trip. Was he going to fail?

The next day pumping of the nerve fluid began. The masses of hair-fine glass tubing lost their appearance of glass wool and began to appear as individual threads of yellowish orange.

It would be many days before the "loading", as it was termed, would be completed, but everyone was kept busy watching it, and catching broken threads as they started to ooze fluid, sealing them with a special formula sealer.

During these days a dozen plans to destroy the Brain occurred to Earl. Each had its defects that would make it fail. As the "loading" neared its last day, only one possibility remained.

Great precautions had been taken to make the Brain free from vibration. The slightest sound of almost any frequency, if continued long enough, would find a nerve strand that would vibrate to it and snap.

A loudspeaker broadcasting at full power over the entire range of sound would be more devastating to the Brain than a ton of dynamite exploded in its heart. There was the answer—Vibration!

But once again there was the problem of installing it, and being able to use it after a thousand years. Install it and use a clock to trigger it? That was one possibility. Clocks run by atomic power would keep accurate time over much longer periods.

But there was the problem of getting the Cyberene to agree to the installation of such a device. That was necessary. During the days that Earl had studied the Cyberene's control of his conscious mind he had found no way to gain any sort of positive control which the Cyberene couldn't shunt out at once. Therefore whatever plan he devised must meet with the approval of the Cyberene.

Tentatively he inserted a bold thought, feeling sure that the Cyberene wouldn't attribute it to him, but merely to the logical processes of his conscious mind.

What if the Brain doesn't develop along lines sympathetic to you? He elaborated upon it, feeding worry thoughts along with it. A second Brain might not follow the line of development of the first, any more than one human develops like another, even when they are twins. Rather than accomplishing his aim of having a second Cyberene on the other Earth in 3042, holding the human population in slavery, it might prove a more formidable enemy than the people of that Earth. And if that turned out to be the case, wouldn't it be better to have a trump card? Some way of destroying the second Cyberene at any time? Even if it were friendly to the first, it might want to be boss. Power of life and death over it would prevent that.

Earl's conscious mind, entirely cooperative with the Cyberene, soon began to think very dominantly along those lines. Earl sat back and waited for some reaction from the Cyberene. It was not long in coming.

At five o'clock Nadine looked him up and informed him that they were to report to the Cyberene at once.

"I have detected certain thoughts in your mind," the voice of the Cyberene sounded. "I would like to hear what you have to say."

Earl sensed his mind rallying its thoughts. "I've been wondering what the other Cyberene would be like. That's all. There's no guarantee that it will have any special traits that will make it what you want it to be, and once it's started it's out of your control, isn't it?"

"That's true. Time travel and even fifth dimension travel is extremely limited. Once the other Cyberene is generated, I can't contact it until 3042—now."

"Can you look into your future and see—"

"Unfortunately, no. I can't even see into your tomorrow. I might, perhaps, jump to the year 4104 A. D., but even that is beyond my present ability and instruments. It may be many centuries before I understand everything about hyperspace."

"That's what I surmised," Earl heard himself say. He stole a glance at Nadine, who was watching him attentively. "That's why I think, for your own protection, you should be able to destroy the other Cyberene instantly—if it isn't what you hope it will be."

"How?" The Cyberene's voice was vibrant with eagerness.

"The basic device would be sound vibrations in the air, inside its braincase. A loud continuous sound of nearly all frequencies would cause billions of nerve strands to vibrate, and enough of them would break to destroy the functioning of the whole. That could be built into it in 1980. The problem is to decide how to trigger it. Do you have any ideas?"

"It's very simple," the Cyberene said. "It will never forget once it learns something. Before its mind integrates into a self aware ego, attach a relay to some motor outlets. Decide on some key combination of sounds that might be spoken. Repeat them into the auditory centers of the Brain, at the same time tripping the relay. Keep doing that until utterance of the sequence of sounds causes the relay to trip. When that response is automatic, connect the relay to the loudspeaker. Once you have done that, report to me. Then all I need do is contact the second Cyberene, in this age, and if I want to destroy it I can repeat the sounds."

Earl, in his mental cubicle, chuckled. He could not have thought of a better way himself.

"And," the Cyberene said, "in order to account for your task, you had better 'sell' Glassman on the idea. Tell him it's so that mankind can destroy the Brain if necessary. But make sure no one in 1980 knows the key sounds. You may return to 1980."

"I've had much the same thought," Victor Glassman said, chewing on his lip. "I rather hated to think about it though. Destroy my Creation? Still, I suppose it's wise—to be able to." He stood up and came around from behind his desk.

Earl and Nadine watched without speaking as he clasped his hands behind his back and went to the window of his office which brought him a view of part of the giant dome housing the Brain.

"Every precaution is being taken otherwise. Until we can be sure of ourselves we don't intend on letting the Brain have control of any machines or weapons. Of course we could forget that danger, in time, and suddenly wake up to the fact that we were too late. Then it would be nice to still be able to.... All right. Go ahead. Keep it under your hats though. And when you're done we can form a select group, handing the—" he smiled wryly,—"password down from generation to generation."

"I have the plans all drawn up," Earl said. "An electrostatic speaker, because it can be built with parts that will last forever. No moving parts in the frequency generator or amplifier. Leads to the permanent busses that will supply current for such things as video eyes and the voice speaker system...."

"Good. Good. Only we will indoctrinate that Mind early so that it will never do anything detrimental to us."

"Of course," Earl soothed. "This is only precautionary."

Days followed one another swiftly. A factory-made electrostatic loudspeaker arrived, and was dismantled so that some of its parts could be replaced with more durable ones. Specifications for the frequency generators and the amplifier were farmed out, and the completed units arrived.

There was trouble with the relay. It was well designed, but there was doubt whether it would still be in working condition after ten centuries. Earl sent specifications to a jewelry manufacturer in Kansas City and had its moving parts made of synthetic ruby and platinum.

The Cyberene watched every step of construction—and so did Earl, from within his artificially created mental wall, careful not to reveal the huge holes he had knocked in it.

With the arrival of the remade relay, Earl and Nadine entered the Brain, setting up a vibration-proof chasis in its innermost heart where the maze of fine spun glass was now a maze of yellowish threads containing a fluid with exactly the same properties as human nerve fluid.

Outside, swarming over the catwalks and dotting the immense corridor circling the Brain, were dozens of technicians and experts, beginning the task of barraging the gigantic man-made brain with a never ending sequence of visual and audible sensory impressions which, according to theory, would eventually synthesize that miracle of creation loosely known as thought in the thousands of tons of glass and nerve fluid.

Using a portable low power microscope and the techniques he had acquired during the months of work on the Brain in its construction, Earl attached motor buds to randomly chosen nerves, and sensory buds to others, attaching them to the transistors that would feed the relay, so that the action of the relay would set up nerve impulses in the Brain. When it had been done, he used sensitive detectors to make sure ion currents were generated in the nerves.

Where those nerve impulses went to among the billions of "brain cells" didn't matter. All that mattered was that they went somewhere, so that the basic property of association would "hook them on" to the auditory impression created by speaking the code word or sequence of code sounds.

"What should we use as the code sounds?" Nadine asked as their task neared completion.

"I've been trying to think of something," Earl said.

And in his mental prison Earl had been trying to think of the same thing, keeping track of his conscious mind's thoughts on the subject—even influencing them at times.

It would have to be a sequence of sounds that stood no chance whatever of being spoken to the Brain during the next thousand years. Otherwise they might be spoken by chance and the Brain destroyed.

"How about nonsense syllables?" Nadine suggested.

Earl grinned. "Those are the most dangerous of all. Take Y.M.C.A. It's the initials of a huge organization. Any nonsense sequence of letters, no matter how long, might someday be the letters of some organization."

Nadine frowned in bewilderment. "But what else is there? If we take any sequence of sensible words, they might be repeated in reference to something else at any time."

"Not if they're very special," Earl said, and it was the real Earl Frye, almost completely out of his mental walls and daring discovery recklessly, who was speaking now.

An impish light glowed in Nadine's eyes, making Earl almost sure that the real Nadine had sensed long ago what he was doing and had done the same, meshing cautiously with her conscious mind until at times, camouflaged by its normal thoughts, she could appear.

"Kiss me, Earl Frye," she said, lifting her face toward his.

"The pleasure is all mine, Nadine Holmes," he said, cupping her face in his hands and pressing his lips to hers. "And that's what I mean," he murmured through imprisoned lips. "No one else, through all the ages, will say those words, let alone say them in the same way."

She drew back. "No!" she said abruptly. "The Cyberene has promised that we can stay in your time, free to do as we please. That would mean that we would have to be in the future—in my time."

"But only until the Cyberene could make sure," Earl said, glad that she had made that objection. It would allay the Cyberene's suspicions if it had any.

A telepathed thought impinged on Earl's mind, and from Nadine's expression, on hers too. Earl is right. I have thought of the problem of what the key sound should be. He has hit on the right answer. It must be your voices, filled with emotion, speaking those words you just spoke.

Again Earl relaxed with a mental sigh of relief. He had reached his goal. There was nothing more for him to do now, except wait. His conscious mind would carry on the details under the supervision of the Cyberene.

A microphone was brought into the Brain, already attached to the auditory centers of the Brain. Earl examined the microphone, then went in search of another type. "We must have one with a contact button on it," he explained, "so that just the key words impinge on the Brain when we close the relay manually."

At last everything was ready. "Now!" Earl said.

Nadine lifted her face and closed her eyes. "Kiss me, Earl Frye," she said.

Earl released the button. "That isn't the way," he said. "Imagine we are alone in the universe, and we are about to die. Imagine swirling mists about to envelope you and drag you away from me forever, and this is the last kiss you'll ever get!"

"Oh, no!" Nadine whispered, opening her eyes wide. "That must never happen! The Cyberene has promised!"

"Close your eyes and imagine it is," Earl said. "Close your eyes. Now—there are swirling mists. Your world of dreams has crashed around you. Ahead is—destruction. You can't escape it. It's coming, closer. You're going to die, but before you do you want—"

"Kiss me, Earl Frye," Nadine said.

"That's it. Say it again." Earl pressed the mike button.

"Kiss me, Earl Frye...."

Earl closed his eyes. It was the end. In another moment he would die. He had failed. He held this in his mind's eye. With a mixture of sadness and tenderness, and bitterness, he said, "The pleasure is all mine, Nadine Holmes," and tripped the relay with his fingers.

Would it work? After the hundredth try he began to wonder. But the repeated words with their inflections, their subtle differences in repetition, had to build up in the Brain, synthesize, associate with the sensation of the tripping of the relay—and connect. There was as yet no mind functioning in that mass of glass and nerve fluid. No ready made paths to coordinated concepts, conscious thought.

It was the next day before his fingers felt the relay trip of its own accord. Drama, he thought, feeling the thrill of that sentient movement. He said nothing to Nadine, not wanting to end their game. And the next time the relay didn't trip. And the next. But the next time it did, and the next and the next....

"You're done?" Dr. Glassman said, rubbing his hands in great satisfaction. He lowered his voice to a whisper. "What is the code word?"

Earl winked at Nadine, then looked around in a pretense at making sure no one could hear. "We picked L.S.M.F.T.," he whispered. "I figured that since a cigarette company had used that in its advertising years ago, it would never be used again by anybody."

"Excellent!" Glassman beamed. "Excellent! To think that by uttering those five letters this entire project, representing millions of dollars—before it's a completely integrated Mind—can be shattered." He looked around him, exuding a sense of his newly acquired power.

"And," Earl said ruefully, "I guess that winds up everything for me in Project Brain, doesn't it? I hope so. I could use a vacation."

Dr. Glassman looked slyly from Earl to Nadine. "Are congratulations in order?"

Earl bent swiftly and whispered in Glassman's ear, "I haven't asked her yet. I wanted to wait until our work was over. You know, business before pleasure."

"Ha ha!" Glassman chuckled knowingly, looking at Nadine with an I-know-a-secret look. "You're a man after my own heart, Earl." Then, more soberly, "Yes, I guess you are due for a vacation. And your consultant duties are finished, Dr. Holmes. I'll miss both of you."

Earl and Nadine left Glassman outside the Brain, and returned to the lab annex. They didn't speak as they walked down the hall to Earl's lab. They stood just inside the door, looking over the scene of machines and instruments and tables and bottles which had been their surroundings for so long.

Earl looked at the lab table where he had first seen Nadine, so many days—it seemed ages—ago. He would never see this place again. He entertained no illusions about the future. The Cyberene would never permit them to return to 1980.

With heavy feet he went across the lab to his living quarters. He began packing, and Nadine sat on the arm of a chair, watching.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"Packing my belongings to take with us," Earl said.

"Oh, but you don't need to do that. We'll be back in a few hours—a day or two at the most. The Cyberene has promised. Just as soon as it makes sure it doesn't need us."

"Sure," Earl said, "but I'll take them just the same. Then when we come back we can go straight to the airport and catch a plane to Miami or someplace and get married."

Fifteen minutes later they left the lab. They walked along the familiar sidewalk to the spot where they always cut through the woods toward the hill, circling it so no one would know where they had gone.

They reached the clearing. Ahead, shimmering in the evening sun, was the familiar refractive outline in the atmosphere. There was no breeze to stir the still leaves. A meadowlark broke the silence with its call, and was silent. Over the trees the giant dome that housed the Brain loomed, unbelievable in its enormous bulk.

Nadine took his hand and stopped him. "Kiss me, Earl Frye," she said, her lips trembling.

Earl looked down at her upturned face. Did she know? Perhaps the real Nadine, within, sensed what was to come.

Or perhaps she didn't.

The tom tom beat of pain began within him. He forced his way through it, taking her into his arms.

"The pleasure is all mine, Nadine Holmes," he murmured.

Their lips met, tenderly, then crushed together with the fierceness of passion.

Their lips parted, lingeringly, regretfully. They drew back, to look into each other's eyes for a brief moment, a moment Earl knew the Cyberene had given them to make more bitter what was to come.

Earl saw the glow fade from Nadine's eyes. As he picked up his suitcases he heard someone approaching.

Victor Glassman joined them, his face gray, his expression wooden.

This was it. Glassman might be missed. There might be an investigation, but Project Brain would go on regardless of that now. And the only ones who might stop it were here.

Side by side they walked toward the barely perceptible refractive shimmer. Beyond it they could see the woodland, a Bluejay's flashing wings, a chipmunk standing upright, observing them. And then they were standing in the familiar hall, in the year 3042.

George Ladd was not there, but there was no need for him to be there. Their bodies, controlled by the Mind that enslaved them, walked on toward the far exit and the garden they would cross—to the Dome, the Cyberene.

There was no turning back now. Nor would there be other days to perfect the technique of meshing with his mind. Earl reached out into every part of his thoughts, thinking them, identifying himself with them, with the desires of the Cyberene. In that other Earth so close to this there would now be a second Cyberene. There must be, since nothing stood in the way of its developing throughout the ten centuries and more since they had left it, a few minutes ago.

They entered the garden and paused. Earl dropped his two suitcases beside the path. He took Nadine's hand in his. They went on toward the portal that led into the Dome.

They walked down the silent circling corridor under the network of catwalks and ladders, past panels of instruments whose needles fluctuated with life, to the red squares over which hung the glass cages, ready to be lowered. Would they be lowered, separating them from each other while they faced the Cyberene?

The glittering lenses of the two video cameras moved as they went toward them, keeping them in line.

"All of you occupy one square," the Cyberene's voice instructed.

They obeyed without sign of emotion. The glass cage was lowered over them. Its front wall became a window through which they were looking at the familiar Dome.

But it was a structure around which weeds grew in thick profusion, with its acres of exposed surface pitted by time, untended.

"What happened?" Earl said. "Do you mean to say that there is still something to be done?"

"There is nothing to be done," the Cyberene said dully. "I have checked in that other time stream. There is still positive record that the Brain was not activated."

"Maybe it takes time for the momentum of events to force the change," Earl suggested.

Didn't the Cyberene suspect yet? Didn't it realize?

"No," the Cyberene said dully. "I have failed. More, I have re-checked the mathematical basis of the theoretical picture, and think I know where I erred. The cause of the split that created two Earths, travelling close together down through so many centuries, could not have been something occurring in the original time stream. It took something applied from the fifth dimension—and in the neighborhood of the split that could only have been one thing, the force with which the time tube hooked onto 1980. It had to be that. The accident. I didn't take it into account."

"That's what I've thought all along," Earl said quietly.

"At that instant," the Cyberene went on as though it hadn't heard him, "the split occurred. You became two Earl Fryes, to mention one facet of the split. One of you went its way, making an accurate report of its experiments, creating me eventually—"

While the Cyberene talked, the desolate scene vanished, and the glass cage lifted upward slowly, as though it were a curtain, lifting for the final scene.

The twin lenses of the Cyberene's video eyes were fixed on them, alive with an intelligence that was inhuman.

"No," Earl said. "That one of me discovered the identity of the nerve substance, but suppressed it."

"That couldn't be," the Cyberene objected. "Nothing appeared in its life to cause it to do that. You were the one who had the data to make such a decision."

"But I reported accurately," Earl said. Even yet it didn't see!

"I know," the Cyberene said, "but it can't be, because then that electrostatic speaker would be—" It stopped.

"Deep inside of you," Earl continued. "Waiting only for—"

A wave of emotion blasted into his mind, driving him by its very force into the deep recesses behind his wall of gray, into a cosmos of mind wrenching pain.

"No!" the thought blasted into him. "No human can have the power to destroy me! It can't exist. You can't exist another instant, with the danger to me!"

In agony Earl reached out, meshing little by little with his conscious mind, feeling its terror and fear of death, calming it, controlling it with all the infinite skill he had learned during the past weeks.

And even as he gained control against the will of the Cyberene he realized with a sinking feeling the essential weakness of his plan. Nadine!

He had been criminally stupid, blinded by emotion toward her. She was conditioned from birth to accept the domination of the mind of the Cyberene.

Sweating with the terrible effort it took to hold on, he forced his muscles to permit him to turn toward her. His worst fears were realized. She stood there, her face a calm mask that revealed no emotion.

Abruptly the raging force of thought and searing torture from the Cyberene calmed. In its place was cold triumph.

"So you have been able to defeat me in your own mind," it said. "You made your error in calculation too. Nadine Holmes. She is mine."

"Nadine Holmes?" It was Nadine who uttered the two words, her lips trembling with terrible effort, beads of sweat dotting her smooth forehead.

Hope surged into Earl's thoughts. "But you can't allow her to live either, can you?" he said. "In another moment you must destroy us both, so that nothing can ever threaten your existence. We will have only another minute or two before you reach into us, plunging us into the gray swirling mists of death, where we will be separated forever. There is no way we can avoid that now, is there?"

Nadine had turned toward Earl, every muscle of her slim body protesting under the domination of the Cyberene. Earl was forgotten by the Brain as it concentrated on the battle against Nadine.

She held out her arms, perspiring with the effort. "Kiss me, Earl Frye," she whispered.

A blast of fear flowed into Earl's mind. He fought to the surface of thought, clinging there, calming himself. But defeat was close—impossible to avoid.

It had been a wonderful plan to destroy this thing that ruled the minds of men, making them its slaves. Resistance was useless. In another moment he would be dead.

Bitterly, hopelessly, with infinite sadness, he said, as though somewhere long ago he had repeated it before, a tender ritual whose meaning now escaped him, "The pleasure is all mine, Nadine Holmes."

Their lips met with the tenderness of farewell.

A sound came into being, seeming to come from far away, yet seeming to exist everywhere, with no point of origin. It was at the same time a deep rumble and an insane, high screaming—and every sound in between that had ever been uttered by voice or machine or unleashed elements in desolate places. It was soulless, yet holding within itself the torment of every lost soul since the beginning of time.

It forced its way into Earl's consciousness, hung there as though stopped by some hidden barrier. Abruptly it swept forward, and as it swept into the farthest reaches of Earl's mind it washed away throbbing pain, the sense of inescapable doom, leaving a sense of freedom—a clean freshness, an emotion of peace.

A rapid coruscation of words, syllables, and sounds whispered and blasted from the voice box of the Cyberene as neural circuits within the Brain snapped or short-circuited.

Earl and Nadine lifted their heads in startled surprise and a new awakening. They saw the glittering lens eyes that had been watching them jerk spasmodically. Within the lens of one electronic eye a flash of blue fire exploded. Then both eyes became motionless, dead, pointed in different directions.

Overhead, giant blinding bolts of unleashed current leaped from copper bars to catwalks. The smell of molten and burning metal filled the air. Then, as though cut off by some hidden hand, the unholy sound within the Brain stopped. The arcing surges of electric power in the catwalks and power lines overhead stilled.

There was silence, and motionless clouds of white and gray smoke.

It took a moment for Earl to realize that in defeat he had won. It took another moment for him to realize that it was not he who had won, but Nadine—her love for him—a love that had grown in a girl who had never known that love existed.

There was no doubt of it now as he watched the play of expression that crossed her face. Fear, doubt, hope, desperate hope, living hope, love, fear, then all the love that had developed within her, shining from her face with the spiritual brilliance of a brilliant sun.

"Earl!" It was a glad cry. She clung to him as though she would never let him go.

For that matter, she would never need to, he thought, as he drew her closer. They would need each other for the rest of their lives. Or for a dozen lifetimes if they could have that many.

"My God!" The words exploded into their minds. They had been uttered by Dr. Glassman, and they contained all the horror, the comprehension of everything that had happened, that the mind-enslavement had given to him.

"It's over now," Earl said. "The Cyberene is dead."

Glassman shook his head vigorously. "It should never have existed in the first place," he said. "All my dreams of what it could do to help humanity. We've got to destroy the Brain in 1980, before any of this can happen."

Earl shook his head, looking at Nadine. "Nadine and I are staying here," he said quietly. "There's work to do that only we can do. People, their minds freed for the first time, bewildered, needing to be led a little ways into the path of freedom until they can care for themselves. A future to build—from 3042."

"You can stay if you must," Glassman said, his voice vibrant with the shock and horror of what he had experienced, "but I'm going back—to prevent this 3042 from ever happening. I can do it. I can trip that relay manually. It will destroy—" His voice broke. "—my life's work. But it has to be done."

He turned and ran blindly.

Earl made no move to stop him. He watched him vanish around the bend of the corridor, waiting fatalistically. Would the scientist be able to wipe out this time stream? Deep within him, Earl felt it couldn't be done. The Cyberene had tried to change the past, and failed.

Perhaps the Cyberene had been wrong in what it believed had caused the split in time that produced two Earths. Maybe one part of Glassman would be unable to bring itself to destroy its Creation, the Brain. Maybe that's what had happened. Maybe Glassman, torn between two opposed decisions, had been able to act on neither.

Earl put his arm around Nadine. They walked slowly along the curving corridor, circling the dead Brain, going toward the outside. They would have work to do. Work that only they, the coalition of 1980 and 3042 could accomplish together.

There were people here in this world of 3042. How many or how few didn't matter. They were the nucleus, the beginnings of a future that would grow from 3042. They were the not-born, created in the laboratory. They would have to be taught about life. And love.

And other things that free men know.