The blessed irregularity of the streets continued. They ran and ran until Jill's breath came in pantings. Lockley was drenched in sweat because he expected at any instant to smell the most loathesome of all possible combinations of odors, and then to see flashing lights originating in his own eyes, and sounds which would exist only in the nerves of his ears, and then to feel all his muscles knot in total and horrible paralysis.
They heard the truck motor rumble into life when they were many blocks away. They heard the clumsy vehicle move. It continued to growl, and they knew that it was moving about the streets with its occupants trying to sight fleeing figures under the darknesses which were trees.
"I hit—I hit the generator," panted Lockley. "I must have! Else they'd swing a beam on us!"
He stopped. Here they were in a district where many large homes pooled their lawns in block-long stretches of soft green. The street lights cast arbitrary patches of brightness against the houses, but their windows were blank and dark. This street, like most in this small town, was lined with trees on either side. There were the fragrances of flowers and grass.
"We aren't safe now," said Lockley, "but I just found out there may not be any safety anywhere."
Jill's teeth chattered.
"What will we do? What was that machinery? I felt—frightened because it wasn't what he said was back there. So I told you. But what was it?".
"At a guess," said Lockley, "a terror beam generator. The invaders must have human friends. To us they're spies. They're cooperating with the monsters. Apparently they're even trusted with terror beam projectors."
He stood still, thinking, while in the distance the trailer-truck ground and rumbled about the streets. It was not a very promising method for finding two fugitives. They could hide if it turned onto a street they used. It could not continue the search indefinitely. The most likely final course would be to leave some of the unknown number of men in its trailer to search the town on foot. Even that might not be successful. But it wouldn't be a good idea for Lockley and Jill to remain here, either.
"We look for two-car garages," said Lockley. "It's not a good chance, but it's all we've got. If somebody had two cars, they might have left one behind when they evacuated. I can jump an ignition switch if necessary. Meanwhile we'll be moving out of town, which is a good idea even if we do it on foot!"
They ceased to use the streets with their dramatic contrast of vivid lights with total shadows. They moved behind a row of what would be considered mansions in Serena, Colorado. Sometimes they stumbled over flower beds, and once there was a hose over which Jill tripped, and once Lockley barked his shin on a garden wheelbarrow. Most of the garages were empty or contained only tools and garden equipment.
Then something made Lockley look up. A slender, truss-braced, mastlike tower rose skyward. It began on the lawn of a house with wide porches. There was a two-car garage with one wide door open.
"A radio ham," said Lockley. "I wonder—"
But he looked first in the garage. There was a car. It looked all right. He climbed in and opened the door. The dome light came on. The key was still in the ignition. He turned it and the gauge showed that the gas tank was three-quarters full. This was unbelievable good fortune.
"They probably intended to use this and then changed their minds," said Lockley. "I'll get the door open and attempt a little burglary. Just one burglary with a prayer that he used a storage battery for his power!"
Breaking in was simple. He tried the windows opening on the main wide porch. One window slid up. He went inside, Jill following.
The ham radio outfit was in the cellar. Like most radio hams, this one had battery-powered equipment as a matter of public responsibility. In case of storm or disaster when power lines are down, the ham operators of the United States can function as emergency communication systems, working without outside power. This operator was equipped as membership in the organization required.
Lockley warmed up the tubes. He tuned to a general call frequency. He began to say, "May Day! May Day! May Day!" in a level voice. This emergency call has precedence over all other calls but S.O.S., which has an identical meaning. But "May Day" is more distinct and unmistakable when heard faintly.
There were answers within minutes. Lockley snapped for them to stay tuned while he called for others. He had half a dozen hams waiting curiously when he began to broadcast what he wanted the world to know.
He told it as briefly and as convincingly as he could. Then he said, "Over" and threw the reception switch for questions.
There were no questions. His broadcast had been jammed. Some other station or stations were transmitting pure static with deafening volume, evidently from somewhere nearby. Lockley could not tell when it had begun. It could have been from the instant he began to speak. It was very likely that not one really useful word had been heard anywhere.
But a direction finder could have betrayed his position.
It was a ticklish job getting the car out of the garage and into the street. Lockley was afraid that starting the motor would make a noise which in the silence of the town's absolute abandonment could be heard for a long way. The grinding of the starter, though, lasted only for seconds. It might make men listen, but they could hardly locate it before the motor caught and ran quietly. Also, the trailer-truck was still in motion and making its own noise. Of course it was probably posting watchers and listeners here and there to try to find Lockley and Jill.
So Lockley backed the car into the street as silently as was possible. He did not turn on the lights. He stopped, headed away from the area in which the truck rumbled. He sent the car forward at a crawl. Then an idea occurred to him and cold chills ran down his spine. It is possible to use a short wave receiver to pick up the ignition sparks of a car. Normally such sparkings are grounded so the car's own radio will work. But sometimes a radio is out of order. It was characteristic of Lockley's acquired distrust of luck and chance that he thought of so unlikely a disaster.
He eased the car into motion, straining his ears for any sign that the truck reacted. Then he moved the car slowly away from the business district. It required enormous self-control to go slowly. While among the lighted streets the urge to flee at top speed was strong. But he clenched his teeth. A car makes much less noise when barely in motion. He made it drift as silently as a wraith under the trees and the street lamps.
They got out of town. The last of the street lamps was behind them. There was only starlight ahead, and an unknown road with many turns and curves. Sometimes there were roadsigns, dimly visible as uninformative shapes beside the highway. They warned of curves and other driving hazards, but they could not be read because Lockley drove without lights. He left the car dark because any glare would have been visible to the men of the trailer-truck for a very long way.
Starlight is not good for fast driving, and when a road passes through a wooded space it is nerve-racking. Lockley drove with foreboding, every sense alert and every muscle tense. But just after a painful progress through a series of curves with high trees on either side which he managed by looking up at the sky and staying under the middle of the ribbon of stars he could see, Lockley touched the brake and stopped the car.
"What's the matter?" asked Jill, as he rummaged under the instrument panel.
"I think," said Lockley, "that I must have damaged something in that truck. Otherwise they'd have turned their beam on us just to get even.
"But maybe they'll be able to make a repair. In any case there are other beams. Those are probably stationary and the truck knows where they are and calls by truck radio to have them shut off when it wants to go by. That would work. Using the Wild Life truck was really very clever."
He wrenched at something. It gave. He pulled out a length of wire and started working on one end of it.
"If they guess we got a car," he observed, "they'll expect us to run into a road block beam that would wreck the car and paralyze us. I'm taking a small precaution against that. Here." He put the wire's end into her hand. "It's the lead-in from this car's radio antenna. It ought to warn us of beams across the road as my watch spring did in the hills. Hold it."
"I will," said Jill.
"One more item," he said. He got out of the car and closed the door quickly. He went to the back. There was the sound of breaking glass. He returned, saying, "No brake lights will go on now. I'll try to do something about that dome light." With a sharp blow he shattered it. "Now we could be as hard to trail as that Wild Life truck was the other night."
Jill groped as the car got into motion again.
"You mean it was—Oh!"
"Most likely," agreed Lockley, "it was the thing that went out of the park and occupied Maplewood, flinging terror beams in all directions. Some of the truck's crew would have had footgear to make hoofprints. They committed a token burglary or two. And there was the illusion of aliens studying these queer creatures, men."
They went on at not more than fifteen miles an hour. The car was almost soundless. They heard insects singing in the night. There was a steady, monotonous rumbling high above where Air Force planes patrolled outside the Park. After a time Jill said, "You seemed discouraged when you talked to that general."
"I was," said Lockley. "I am. He played it safe, refused to admit that anybody in authority over him could possibly be mistaken. That's sound policy, and I was contradicting the official opinion of his superiors. I've got to find somebody of much lower rank, or much higher. Maybe—"
Jill said in a strained voice, "Stop!"
He braked. She said unsteadily, "Holding the wire, I smell that horrible smell."
He put his hand on the wire's end. He shared the sensation.
"Terror beam across the highway," he said calmly. "Maybe on our account, maybe not. But there was a side road a little way back."
He backed the car. He'd smashed the backing lights, too. He guided himself by starlight. Presently he swung the wheel and faced the car about. He drove back the way he had come. A mile or so, and there was another hard-surface road branching off. He took it. Half an hour later Jill said quickly, "Brakes!"
The road was blocked once more by an invisible terror beam, into which any car moving at reasonable speed must move before its driver could receive warning.
"This isn't good," he said coldly. "They may have picked some good places to block. We have to go almost at random, just picking roads that head away from the Park. I don't know how thoroughly they can cage us in, though."
There was a flicker of light in the sky. Lockley jerked his head around. It flashed again. Lightning. The sky was clouding up.
"It's getting worse," he said in a strained voice. "I've been taking every turn that ought to lead us away from the Park, but I've had to use the stars for direction. I didn't think that soldiers would keep us from getting away from here. I was almost confident. But what will I do without the stars?"
He drove on. The clouds piled up, blotting out the heavens. Once Lockley saw a faint glow in the sky and clenched his teeth. He turned away from it at the first opportunity. The glow could be Serena, and he could have been forced back toward it by the windings of the highway he'd followed without lights. Twice Jill warned him of beams across the highway. Once, driven by his increasing anxiety, his brakes almost failed to stop him in time. When the car did stop, he was aware of faint tinglings on his skin. There were erratic flashings in his eyes, too, and a discordant composite of sounds which by association with past suffering made him nauseated. Perhaps this extra leakage from the terror beam was through the metal of the car.
When he got out of that terror beam the sky was three-quarters blacked out and before he was well away from the spot there was only a tiny patch of stars well down toward the horizon. There were lightning flickers overhead. After a time he depended on them to show him the road.
Then the rain came. The lightning increased. The road twisted and turned. Twice the car veered off onto the road's shoulders, but each time he righted it. As time passed conditions grew worse. It was urgent that he get as far as possible from Serena, because of the Wild Life truck which could seize Jill and himself if its beam generators were repaired, and whose occupants could murder them if they weren't. But it was most urgent that he get away beyond the military cordon to find men who would listen to his information and see that use was made of it. Yet in driving rain and darkness, without car lights and daring to drive only at a crawl, he might be completely turned around.
"I think," he said at last, "I'll turn in at the next farm gate the lightning shows us. I'll try to get the car into a barn so it won't show up at daybreak. We might be heading straight back into the Park!"
He did turn, the next time a lightning flash showed him a turn-off beside a rural free delivery mailbox. There was a house at the end of a lane. There was a barn. He got out and was soaked instantly, but he explored the open space behind the wide, open doors. He backed the car in.
"So," he explained to Jill, "if we have a chance to move we won't have to back around first."
They sat in the car and looked out at the rain-filled darkness. There was no light anywhere except when lightning glittered on the rain. In such illuminations they made out the farmhouse, dripping floods of water from its eaves. There was a chicken house. There were fences. They could not see to the gate or the highway through the falling water, but there had been solid woodland where they turned off into the lane.
"We'll wait," said Lockley distastefully, "to see if we are in a tight spot in the morning. If we're well away—and I've no real idea where we are—we'll go on. If not, we'll hide till dark and hope for stars to steer by when we go."
Jill said confidently, "We'll make it. But where to?"
"To any place away from Boulder Lake Park, and where I'm a human being instead of a crackpot civilian. To where I can explain some things to people who'll listen, if it isn't too late."
"It's not," said Jill with as much assurance as before.
There was a pause. The rain poured down. Lightning flashed. Thunder roared.
"I didn't know," said Jill tentatively, "that you believed the invaders—the monsters—had people helping them."
"The overall picture isn't a human one," he told her. "But there's a design that shows somebody knows us. For instance, nobody's been killed. At least not publicly. That was arranged by somebody who understood that if there was a massacre, we'd fight to the end of our lives and teach our children to fight after us."
She thought it over. "You'd be that way," she said presently. "But not everybody. Some people will do anything to stay alive. But you wouldn't."
The rain made drumming sounds on the barn roof. Lockley said, "But what's happened isn't altogether what humans would devise. Humans who planned a conquest would know they couldn't make us surrender to them. If this was a sort of Pearl Harbor attack by human enemies—and you can guess who it might be—they might as well start killing us on the largest possible scale at the beginning. If monsters with no information about us landed, they might perpetrate some massacres with the entirely foolish idea of cowing us. But there haven't been any massacres. So it's neither a cold war trick nor an unadvised landing of monsters. There's another angle in it somewhere. Monster-human cooperation is only a guess. I'm not satisfied, but it's the best answer so far."
Jill was silent for a long time. Then she said irrelevantly, "You must have been a good friend of ... of...."
"Vale?" Lockley said. "No. I knew him, but that's all. He only joined the Survey a few months ago. I don't suppose I've talked to him a dozen times, and four of those times he was with you. Why'd you think we were close friends?"
"What you've done for me," she said in the darkness.
He waited for a lightning flash to show him her expression. She was looking at him.
"I didn't do it for Vale," said Lockley.
"I'd have done it for anyone," said Lockley ungraciously.
In a way it was true, of course. But he wouldn't have gone up to the construction camp to make sure that anyone hadn't been left behind. The idea wouldn't have occurred to him.
"I don't think that's true," said Jill.
He did not answer. If Vale was alive, Jill was engaged to him; although if matters worked out, Lockley would not be such a fool as to play the gentleman and let her marry Vale by default. On the other hand, if Vale was dead, he wouldn't be the kind of fool who'd try to win her for himself before she'd faced and recovered from Vale's death. A girl could forgive herself for breaking her engagement to a living man, but not for disloyalty to a dead one.
"I think," said Lockley deliberately, "that we should change the subject. I will talk about why I went to the Lake after you when everything has settled down. I had reasons. I still have them. I will express them, eventually, whether Vale likes it or not. But not now."
There was a long silence, while rain fell with heavy drumming noises and the world was only a deep curtain of lightning-lighted droplets of falling water.
"Thanks," said Jill very quietly. "I'm glad."
And then they sat in silence while the long hours went by. Eventually they dozed. Lockley was awakened by the ending of the rain. It was then just the beginning of gray dawn. The sky was still filled with clouds. The ground was soaked. There were puddles here and there in the barnyard, and water dripped from the barn's eaves, and from the now vaguely visible house, and from the two or three trees beside it.
Lockley opened the car door and got out quietly. Jill did not waken. He visited the chicken house, and horrendous squawkings came out of it. He found eggs. He went to the house, stepping gingerly from grass patch to grass patch, avoiding the puddles between them. He found bread, jars of preserves and cans of food. He inspected the lane. The car's tracks had been washed out. He nodded to himself.
He went back to the barn. There was still only dusky half-light. He pulled the doors almost shut behind him, leaving only a four-inch gap to see through. Now the car was safely out of sight and there was no sign that any living being was near.
"You closed the doors," said Jill. "Why?"
He said reluctantly, "I'm afraid we're as badly off as we were at the beginning. Unless I'm mistaken, we got turned around in that rainstorm on those twisty roads, and the Park begins nearby. This isn't the highway I drove up on to find you, the one where my car's wrecked. This is another one. I don't think we're more than twenty miles from the Lake, here. And that's something I didn't intend!"
He began to unload his pockets.
"I got something for us to eat. We'll just have to lie low until night and fumble our way out toward the cordon, with the stars to guide us."
There was silence, save for the lessened dripping of water. Lockley was filled with a sort of baffled impatience with himself. He felt that he'd acted like an idiot in trying to escape the evacuated area by car. But there'd been nothing else to do. Before that he'd stupidly been unsuspicious when the Wild Life truck came down a highway that he'd known was blocked by a terror beam. And perhaps he'd been a fool to refuse to discuss why he'd gone up to the construction camp to see to her safety when by all the rules of reason it was none of his business.
The gray light paled a little. Through the gap between the barn doors, he could see past the house. Then he could see the length of the lane and the trees on the far side of the highway.
He was laying out the food when suddenly he froze, listening. The stillness of just-before-dawn was broken by the distant rumble of an internal-combustion engine. It was a familiar kind of rumbling. It drew nearer. Except for the singularly distinct impacts of drippings from leaves and roof to the ground below, it was the only sound in all the world.
It became louder. Jill clenched her hands unconsciously.
"I don't think there are any car tracks at the turn-off where we came in," said Lockley in a level voice. "The rain should have washed them out. It's not likely they're looking for us here anyhow. But I've only got three bullets left in the pistol. Maybe you'd better go off and hide in the cornfield. Then if things go wrong they'll believe I left you somewhere."
"No," said Jill composedly, "I'd leave tracks in the ploughed ground. They'd find me."
Lockley ground his teeth. He got out the pistol he'd taken from the truck driver in the lighted room in Serena. He looked at it grimly. It would be useless, but....
Jill came and stood beside him, watching his face.
The rumbling of the truck was still nearer and louder. It diminished for a moment where a curve in the road took the vehicle behind some trees that deadened its noise. But then the sound increased suddenly. It was very loud and frighteningly near.
Lockley watched through the gap between the barn doors. He stayed well back lest his face be seen.
The trailer-truck with the Wild Life Control markings on it rumbled past. It growled and roared. The noise seemed thunderous. Its wheels splashed as they went through a puddle close by the gate.
It went away into the distance. Jill took a deep breath of relief. Lockley made a warning gesture.
He listened. The noise went on steadily for what he guessed to be a mile or more. Then they heard it stop. Only by straining his ears could Lockley pick up the sound of an idling motor. Maybe that was imagination. Certainly at any other less silent time he could not possibly have heard it. Jill whispered, "Do you think—"
He gestured for silence again. The distant heavy engine continued to idle. One minute. Two. Three. Then the grinding of gears and the roar of the engine once more. The truck went on. Its sound diminished. It faded away altogether.
"They got to a place where the road's blocked with a terror beam," said Lockley evenly. "They stopped and called by short wave and the beam was cut off, then they went past the block-point and undoubtedly the beam was turned on again."
He debated a decision.
"We'll have breakfast," he said shortly. "We'll have to eat the eggs raw, but we need to eat. Then we'll figure things out. It may be that we'd be sensible to forget about cars and try to get to the cordon on foot, robbing farmhouses of food on the way. There can't be too many ... collaborators. And we could keep out of sight."
He opened a jar of preserves.
"But it would be better for you to be travelling by car, if tonight's clear and there's starlight to drive by."
Jill said practically, "There might be some news...."
Her hands shook as she put the pocket radio on the hood of the car. Lockley noticed it. He felt, himself, the strain of their long march through the wilderness with danger in every breath they drew. And he was shaken in a different way by the proof that humans were cooperating fully with the invading monsters. It was unthinkable that anybody could be a traitor not only to his own country but to all the human race. He felt incredulous. It couldn't be true! But it obviously was.
The radio made noises. Lockley turned it in another direction. There was music. Jill's face worked. She struggled not to show how she felt.
The radio said, "Special news bulletin! Special news bulletin! The Pentagon announces that for the first time there has been practically complete success in duplicating the terror beam used by the space invaders at Boulder Lake! Working around the clock, teams of foreign and American scientists have built a projector of what is an entirely new type of electronic radiation which produces every one of the physiological effects of the alien terror beam! It is low-power, so far, and has not produced complete paralysis in experimental animals. Volunteers have submitted themselves to it, however, and report that it produces the sensations experienced by members of the military cordon around Boulder Lake. A crash program for the development of the projector is already under way. At the same time a crash program to develop a counter to it is already showing promising results. The authorities are entirely confident that a complete defense against the no longer mysterious weapon will be found. There is no longer any reason to fear that earth will be unable to defend itself against the invaders now present on earth, or any reinforcements they may receive!"
The newscast stopped and a commercial called the attention of listeners to the virtues of an anti-allergy pill. Jill watched Lockley's face. He did not relax.
The broadcast resumed. With this full and certain hope of a defense against the invasion weapon, said the announcer, it remained important not to destroy the alien ship if it could be captured for study. The use of atom bombs was, therefore, again postponed. But they would be used if necessary. Meanwhile, against such an emergency, the areas of evacuation would be enlarged. People would be removed from additional territory so if bombs were used there would be no humans near to be harmed.
Another commercial. Lockley turned off the radio.
"What do you think?" asked Jill.
"I wish they hadn't made that broadcast," said Lockley. "If there were only monsters involved and they didn't understand English, it would be all right. But with humans helping them, it sets a deadline. If we're going to counter their weapon, they have to use it before we finish the job."
After a moment he said bitterly, "There was a time, right after the last big war, when we had the bomb and nobody else did. There couldn't be a cold war then! There were years when we could destroy others and they couldn't have fought back. Now somebody else is in that position. They can destroy us and we can't do a thing. It'll be that way for a week, or maybe two, or even three. It'll be strange if they don't take advantage of their opportunity."
Jill tried to eat the food Lockley had laid out. She couldn't. She began to cry quietly. Lockley swore at himself for telling her the worst, which it was always his instinct to see. He said urgently, "Hold it! That's the worst that could happen. But it's not the most likely!"
She tried to control her tears.
"We're in a fix, yes!" he said insistently. "It does look like there may be a flock of other space ship landings within days. But the monsters don't want to kill people. They want a world with people working for them, not dead. They've proved it. They'll avoid massacres. They won't let the humans who're their allies destroy the people they want alive and useful."
Jill clenched her fists. "But it would be better to be dead than like that!"
"But wait!" protested Lockley. "We've duplicated the terror beam. Do you think they'll leave it at that? The men who know how to do it will be scattered to a dozen or a hundred places, so they can't possibly all be found, and they'll keep on secretly working until they've made the beams and a protection against them and then something more deadly still! We humans can't be conquered! We'll fight to the end of time!"
"But you yourself," said Jill desperately, "you said there couldn't be a defense against the beam! You said it!"
"I was discouraged," he protested. "I wasn't thinking straight. Look! With no equipment at all, I found out how to detect the stuff before it was strong enough to paralyze us. You know that. The scientists will have equipment and instruments, and now that they've got the beam they'll be able to try things. They'll do better than I did. They can try heterodyning the beam. They can try for interference effects. They may find something to reflect it, or they can try refraction."
He paused anxiously. She sobbed, once. "But other weapons—"
"There may not be any. And there's bound to be some trick of refraction that'll help. It thins out at the edges now. That's how we get warning of it. It's refracted by ions in the air. That's why it isn't a completely tight beam. Ions in the air act like drops of mist; they refract sunshine and make rainbows after rain. And we got the smell-effect first. That proves there's refraction."
He watched her face. She swallowed. What he'd said was largely without meaning. Actually, it wasn't even right. The evidence so far was that the nerves of smell were more sensitive than the optic nerves or the auditory ones, while nerves to bundles of muscle were less sensitive still. But Lockley wasn't concerned with accuracy just now. He wanted to reassure Jill.
Then his eyes widened suddenly and he stared past her. He'd been speaking feverishly out of emotion, while a part of his mind stood aside and listened. And that detached part of his mind had heard him say something worth noting.
He stood stock-still for seconds, staring blankly. Then he said very quietly, "You made me think, then. I don't know why I didn't, before. The terror beam does scatter a little, like a searchlight beam in thin mist. It's scattered by ions, like light by mist-droplets. That's right!"
He stopped, thinking ahead. Jill said challengingly, "Go on!" Again what he'd said had little meaning to her, but she could see that he believed it important.
"Why, a searchlight beam is stopped by a cloud, which is many mist-droplets in one place. It's scattered until it simply doesn't penetrate!" Lockley suddenly seemed indignant at his own failure to see something that had been so obvious all along. "If we could make a cloud of ions, it should stop the terror beam as clouds stop light! We could—"
Again he stopped short, and Jill's expression changed. She looked confident again. She even looked proud as she watched Lockley wrestling with his problem, unconsciously snapping his fingers.
"Vale and I," he said jerkily, "had electronic base-measuring instruments. Some of their elements had to be buried in plastic because otherwise they ionized the air and leaked current like a short. If I had that instrument now—No. I'd have to take the plastic away and it couldn't be done without smashing things."
"What would happen," asked Jill, "if you made what you're thinking about?"
"I might," said Lockley. "I just possibly might make a gadget that would create a cloud of ions around the person who carried it. And it might reflect some of the terror beam and refract the rest so none got through to the man!"
Jill said hopefully, "Then tonight we go into a deserted town and steal the things you need...."
Lockley interrupted in a relieved voice, "No-o-o-o. What I need, I think, is a cheese grater and the pocket radio. And there should be a cheese grater in the house."
He listened at the barn door gap, and then went out. Presently he was back. He had not only a cheese grater but also a nutmeg grater. Both were made of thin sheet metal in which many tiny holes had been punched, so that sharp bits of torn metal stood out to make the grating surface. Lockley knew that sharp points, when charged electrically, make tiny jets of ionized air which will deflect a candle flame. Here there were thousands of such points.
He set to work on the car seat, pushing the pistol with its three remaining bullets out of the way. The pistol was reserved for Jill in case of untoward events, when it would be of little or no practical value.
He operated on the tiny radio with his pocket-knife to establish a circuit which should oscillate when the battery was turned on. There was induction, to raise the voltage at the peaks and troughs of the oscillations. A transistor acted as a valve to make the oscillations repeated surges of current of one sign in the innumerable sharp points of the graters. And there was an effect he did not anticipate. The ion-forming points were of minutely different lengths and patterns, so the radiation inevitably accompanying the ion clouds was of minutely varying wave lengths. The consequence of using the two graters was, of course, that rather astonishing peaks of energy manifested themselves in ultra-microscopic packages for a considerable distance from the device. But Lockley did not plan that. It happened because of the materials he had to use in lieu of something better.
When it was finished he told Jill, "I can only check ion production here. If it works, it ought to make a lighter-flame flicker when near the points. If it does that, I'll go up the road to where the trailer-truck stopped. I've a pretty good idea that the road's blocked by a terror beam there."
Absorbed, he threw the switch. And instantly there was a racking, deafening explosion. The pistol on the car seat blew itself to bits, smashing the windshield and ripping the cushion open. The three cartridges in its cylinder had exploded simultaneously.
Lockley seized a pitchfork. He stood savagely, ready for anything. Powder smoke drifted through the barn. Nothing else happened.
After long, tense moments, Lockley said slowly, "That could be another weapon the monsters have turned on. It's been imagined. They could be using a broadcast or a beam we haven't suspected to disarm the troops of the cordon. They could have a detonator beam that sets off explosives at a distance. It's possible. And if that's what they're turning on they only have to sweep the sky and the bombers aloft will be wiped out."
But there were no sounds other than the slowly diminishing drip of water from the barn roof, and the house eaves, and the few trees in the barnyard.
"Anyhow they've ruined our only weapon," said Lockley coldly. "It would be a detonation beam setting off the cartridges. That would be a perfect protection against atomic bombs, if the chemical explosive that makes them go off could be triggered from a distance. Clever people, these monsters!"
Then he said abruptly, "Come on! It's ten times more necessary for us to get to where somebody can make use of our information!"
"Go where?" asked Jill, shaken once more.
"We take to the woods until dark," said Lockley, "and meanwhile I'll check this supposedly promising gadget—though it looks pretty feeble if the monsters have a detonating beam—against the road blocking beam up yonder. Come on!"
He stuffed his pockets with food. He led the way.
The morning had now arrived. The sun was visible, red at the eastern horizon.
"Walk on the grass!" commanded Lockley.
There was no point in leaving footprints, though there was no reason to believe the explosion on the car seat had been heard. Lockley, indeed, considered that if the aliens had just used a previously undisclosed weapon, there would be explosions of greater or lesser violence all over the evacuated territory and all other areas within its range. There wouldn't be many farmhouses without a shotgun put away somewhere. There would be shotgun shells, too. If the aliens had a detonator beam as well as one that produced the terror beam's effects, then all hope of resistance was probably gone.
They crossed to the house and moved alongside it. They went with instinctive furtiveness out of the lane and quickly into the woodland on the farther side. They were soaked almost immediately. Fallen leaves clung to their shoes. Drooping branches smeared them with wetness. Lockley went barely out of sight of the highway and then trudged doggedly in the direction the Wild Life Control trailer-truck had taken. He handed Jill the ribbon of bronze that had been the mainspring of his watch.
"We might pick up the beam from the wetness underfoot," he said, "but we'll play it safe and use this too."
They went on for a long way. Lockley fumed, "I don't like this! We ought to be there—"
"I think," said Jill, "I smell it."
"I'll try it," said Lockley.
He detected the jungle smell and its concomitant revolting odors. He led Jill back.
"Wait here, by this big tree stump. I'll be able to find you and you're safe enough from the beam."
He turned away. Jill said pleadingly, "Please be careful!"
"A little while ago," he told her gloomily, "I felt that I had too much useful information to take any chances with my life, let alone yours. I'm not so sure of my importance now. But I think you still need somebody else around."
"I do!" said Jill. "And you know it! I'd much rather—"
"I'll be back," he repeated.
He went away, trailing the watch spring.
He was extra cautious now. The smell recurred and grew stronger. He began to feel the first faint flashes of light in his eyes. It was the symptom which followed the smell when approaching a terror beam. Then a faint, discordant murmur, originating in his own ears. He turned on the device made of two graters and the elements of a pocket radio. The smell ceased. The faint flashes of light stopped. There was no longer a raucous sound.
He turned off the ion producing device. The symptoms returned. He turned it on and off. He took a step forward. He tested again. The cloud of ions from the innumerable jagged points was invisible, but somehow it refracted or reflected—in any case, neutralized—the weapon of the beings at Boulder Lake. He went on and presently he felt the very faintest possible tingling of his skin and heard the barest whisper of a sound, and smelled the jungle reek as something so diluted that he was hardly sure he smelled it.
He went on, and those faint sensations ceased. Presently, impatient of his own timorousness, he turned the device off again. He had walked through the terror beam.
He started back with the device turned on once more and at the point where he'd felt the beam's manifestations faintly, he stopped to savor his now seemingly useless triumph. If the monsters had a detonating beam this meant nothing. Yet it could have meant everything. He paid close attention and distinctly but weakly experienced the effect of the terror beam.
Then he didn't. Not at all. The sensations were cut off.
He heard Jill cry out shrilly. He plunged toward the place where he had left her. He raced. He leaped. Once he fell, and frantically swore at the wet stuff that had caused him to slip. He reached the tree stump and Jill was not there. He saw the saucer-sized tracks her feet had made on the saturated fallen leaves. They led toward the road.
He heard a car door slam and a motor roar. He plunged onward more desperately than before.
The motor raced away. And Lockley got out on the highway only in time to see the rear of a brown-painted, military-marked car some three hundred yards away. It swept around a curve of the highway and was gone. It was going through the space where the road was blocked by a terror beam, headed obviously for Boulder Lake.
What had happened was self-evident. From her place beside the huge stump she'd seen a military car approaching. And she and Lockley had been trying to reach the cordon of troops around Boulder Lake. There was no reason to distrust men in uniform or in a military car. She'd run to flag it down. She had. By a coincidence, it was undoubtedly where a carload of collaborating humans would have stopped to have the road-blocking beam cut off by their monster allies. She'd approached the stopped car. And something frightened her. She screamed.
But she'd been pulled into the car, which went on before the beam could come on again to stop it.
It was very likely that at that moment Lockley despised himself more bitterly than any other man alive. He blamed himself absolutely for Jill's capture. If there were humans acting with the alien invaders, her fate would unquestionably be more horrible than at the hands of the monsters alone. After all, there was one nation most likely to deal with extra-terrestrial creatures to help them in the conquest of earth, and its troops were not notorious for their kindly behavior to civilians.
And Jill was their captive. He'd been carried past the place where a terror beam blocked the road. The military markings might mean the car was stolen, or that its markings and paint were counterfeit. It seemed certain that Jill had gone up to it in confidence that there could only be American soldiers in such a car, and when near it found out her mistake too late.
These were not things that Lockley thought out in detail at the beginning. He ran after the car like a mad man, unable to feel anything but horror and so terrible a fury that it should have killed its objects by sheer intensity.
Presently he heard hoarse, gasping sounds. He realized that the sounds were the breath going in and out of his own throat, while Jill was carried farther and farther away from him in a car which traveled ten yards to his one. He sobbed then, and suddenly he was strangely and unnaturally calm. He was able to think quite coolly. The only difference between this and normal thinking was that now he could only think about one thing—full and complete and terrible revenge for the crimes committed and to be committed against Jill. She would be taken to Boulder Lake. So he would go to Boulder Lake, and somehow, in some manner, he would destroy utterly all living beings there and every trace of their coming.
Which, of course, was both natural and unreasonable. But reason would have been unnatural at such a time as this.
He moved along the highway in a passion of ultimate resolve. In the rest of the world, time passed without knowledge of his emotional state. The rest of the world was suffering emotional agonies of its own.
The United States had become popular among peoples who disliked all things American except those they were given free, and who continued to dislike the givers. Now though, the United States had been invaded from space by creatures using weapons of unprecedented type and effect. If the United States were conquered, there was no other nation likely to remain free. So a great deal of anti-Americanism faded under pressure of an ardent desire for America to be successful in its self-defense.
Moreover, anticipating other alien landings which could take place anywhere, the United States offered to share its stock of atom bombs with any nation so invaded. American popularity increased. The fact that the USSR made no such proposal also had its effect. The United States invited scientists of every country to help in solving the menace of the terror beam, and committed itself to share any discoveries for defense against it with all the world. Again there was an improvement in the public image of the United States abroad.
But Lockley knew nothing of this. His pocket radio no longer existed to give him news. It had been rebuilt into something else, whose most conspicuous parts were cheese and nutmeg graters, slung over his shoulder as he marched. But if he had known of changes in the popularity of his country, he wouldn't have been interested. He could fix his mind only on one subject and matters related to it.
He tramped along the highway, possessed by a cold demon of hatred. He was on foot for lack of a car. He was unarmed. At the moment he believed that all the rest of humanity was disarmed, in effect if not in fact. So he had no plans, only an infinite hatred.
But because he would have to pass through terror beams to get at those he meant to destroy, he realized that it was necessary to make sure that he would be able to pass through them, that his equipment for reaching Boulder Lake was in good order. It was still turned on. He turned it off to be economical of its batteries. He went on, thinking of only one subject, examining every possibility for revenge with a passionate patience, undiscouraged because one idea after another was plainly impossible, but continuing obsessively to think of others.
He smelled the foetid odor, which cut through his absorption because of its connotations. He turned on his device and went doggedly ahead. He knew he had entered a terror beam by the faint perceptions which came through the cloud of ions his instrument produced. Then they ceased. He knew that the beam had been cut off. He heard a motor rev up. A car or truck had stopped beyond the road-blocking beam and waited for it to be cut off, as it had been.
Lockley stepped into the woods hating the vehicle bitterly as it approached, but wanting to save destruction for those where Jill had been taken.
He was hidden when the car appeared. It was a perfectly commonplace car with a whip aerial at its rear. It came confidently along the highway. A hundred yards from him, there were explosions. Smoke came out of the open windows. The engine stopped and the car bucked crazily and went into the ditch beside the highway. A man plunged out, slapping at his leg. A revolver in its holster had exploded all its shells. The leather holster had saved him from serious injury, but his clothing was on fire. Other men, two of them, got out hastily. Things had exploded in the back of the car, too. The three men swore agitatedly.
Then one of them said something which stimulated the others to frantic flight down the highway away from the ditched car. The third man limped anxiously after the faster-moving two.
Lockley, watching and hating with undivided attention, knew when the terror beam came on again. He felt it, very faint because of his protection, but quite distinct. The explosions had taken place when the car was in the area now covered again by the terror beam. The men in the car, astonished and scorched, had fled because the beam was due to come back on and they didn't want to be caught in it.
Lockley noted that the human confederates of the monsters had no protection against the beam to match his own. Perhaps the monsters themselves were protected only near the projectors. This was an item affecting his plans of revenge for Jill. He stored it away in his mind. Then he realized that the weapons in the car had exploded just like the pistol on his own seat cushion. The explosion was not associated with the terror beam. There'd been no beam in action when his own pistol blew up. It did not seem reasonable that if the monsters possessed a detonation beam that they'd turn it on their own confederates.
No. Rational beings would do nothing so self-contradictory.
Then Lockley looked down at the cheese grater-pocket radio device of his own manufacture. He considered the fact that his own pistol had exploded the instant he'd turned the gadget on. The weapons in the other car detonated when that car was near him.
He plodded onward thinking very clearly and precisely about the matter. He even remembered to turn off his gadget because he would need it to avenge Jill. But when he tried to think of any subject unconnected with revenge, his mind became confused and agitated.
Two miles along the highway, which had not yet turned to head in toward Boulder Lake, there was a farmhouse. Lockley walked heavily to the abandoned building. He found the door locked. Without conscious thought, he forced it. He searched the closets. He found a shotgun and half a box of shells. He considered them, then left the gun and all the shells but three. He went out. Presently he laid a shotgun shell down on the road. He paced off twenty-five yards and dropped another. He dropped a third twenty-five yards farther on, and then carefully counted off three hundred feet. The car had been just about that far away when the explosions came.
He turned on his device. Two of the three shells exploded smokily. The farthest away did not explode.
He did not rejoice. He went on without elation, but it became a part of his painstaking search for vengeance that he knew he could set off explosives within a hundred and twenty-five yards of himself. There was something about the device he'd constructed which made explosives detonate, up to a distance of a little over one hundred yards. He felt no curiosity about it, though it was simple enough. The heterodyning of extremely saw-toothed waves produced peaks of energy until the saw-teeth began to smooth out. There were infinitesimal spots in which, for infinitesimal lengths of time, energy conditions comparable to sparks existed. This had not been worked out in advance, but the reason was clear.
He came to the place where the main highway to Boulder Lake branched off from the road he was following. He turned into it, walking doggedly.
Three miles toward the lake, an engine sounded from behind him. He got off the highway and turned the switch. A half-ton truck came trundling openly along the road. It came closer and closer.
Small-arm ammunition exploded. The engine stopped and the light truck toppled over onto its side. Lockley did not approach it. Its driver might not be dead, and he would not find it possible to leave any man alive who was associated with Jill's captors. He passed the truck and went on up the highway.
Seven miles up the road a truck came down from Boulder Lake. Lockley placed himself discreetly out of sight. He turned on his instrument. A gun flew to pieces with a thunderous detonation. The truck crashed. It was interesting to Lockley that automobile engines invariably went dead at about the time that explosives went off. The fact was, of course, that ionized air is more or less conductive. In an ion cloud the spark plugs shorted and did not fire in the cylinders.
There were two other vehicles which essayed to pass Lockley as he went on up the long way to the lake. Both came from the interior of the Park. He left them wrecked beside the highway. Between times, he walked with a dogged grimness toward the place where Vale had been the first to report a thing come down from the sky. That had been how many days ago? Three? Four?
Then Lockley had been a quiet and well-conducted citizen inclined to pessimism about future events, but duly considerate of the rights of others. Now he'd changed. He felt only one emotion, which was hatred such as he'd never imagined before. He had only one motive, which was to take total and annihilating vengeance for what had been done to Jill.
He plodded on and on. He had to make a march of not less than twenty miles from the Park's beginning. He journeyed on foot because there were terror beams to pass and automobile engines did not run when his protective device operated. He could not arm himself from the cars that ditched, because all chemical explosive weapons and their ammunition blew at the same time. He was a minute figure among the mountains, marching alone upon a winding highway, moving resolutely to destroy—alone—the invaders from outer space and the men who worked with them for the conquest of earth. For his purpose he carried the strangest of equipment, a device made of a pocket radio and a cheese grater.
He had food in his pockets, but he could not eat. During the afternoon he became impatient of its weight and threw it away. But he thirsted often. More than once he drank from small streams over which the highway builders had made small concrete bridges.
At three in the afternoon a truck came up from behind. Here he trudged between steep cliffs which made him seem almost a midget. The highway went through a crevice between adjoining mountainsides. There was no place for him to conceal himself. When he heard the engine, he stopped and faced it. The truck had picked up many men from wrecked cars along its route. There were scorched and scratched and wounded men, hurt by the explosion of their firearms. The truck brought them along and overtook Lockley.
He waited very calmly since it did not seem likely that they would realize that one man had caused the crashes. The driver of the truck with the picked-up men did not even think of such a thing. Lockley seemed much more likely the victim of still another wreck.
The overtaking truck slowed down. There would be no strangers in Boulder Lake Park. There would only be the task force aiding the monsters, as Lockley reasoned it out. So the truck slowed, preparatory to taking Lockley aboard.
At a hundred and twenty-five yards from Lockley, weapons in the truck cab blew themselves violently apart. The engine, stopped in gear, acted as a violently applied brake. The truck swerved off the highway. It turned over and was still.
Lockley turned and walked on. He considered coldly that it was perfectly safe for him to go on. There were no weapons left behind him. The men themselves were shaken up. They would attempt to make no trouble beyond a report of their situation and a plea for help. The report could be made by the radio, which was not smashed.
Half an hour later, Lockley felt the tingling which meant that his instrument was protecting him from a terror beam. The tingling lasted only a short time, but fifteen minutes later it came back. Then it returned at odd intervals. Five minutes—eight—ten—three—six—one. Each time the terror beam should have paralyzed him and caused intense suffering. A man with no protective device would have had his nerves shattered by torment coming so violently at unpredictable intervals.
Lockley tried to reason out why this nerve-wracking application of the terror beam hadn't been used before. To an unprotected man it would be worse than continuous pain. No living man could remain able to resist any demand if exposed to such torture.
The beam was evidently swung at random intervals, and the phenomenon lasted for an hour and a half. Anyone but Lockley behind a cloud of ions would have been reduced to shivering hysteria. Then, suddenly, the beamings stopped. But Lockley left his device in operation.
Half an hour later still—close to five o'clock—it appeared that the invaders assumed that any enemy should have been softened up for capture. They sent an expedition to find out what had happened to their trucks and cars.
Lockley saw four cars and a light truck in close formation moving toward him from the Lake. They were close, as if for mutual protection. They moved steadily, as if inviting the fate that had overtaken others. The short wave reports from smashed trucks seemed improbable to them, but the expedition was equipped to investigate even such unlikely happenings.
The four cars in the lead contained five men each. Each man was armed with a rifle containing a single cartridge in its chamber and none in its magazine. The rifles pointed straight up. There was more ammunition in the light truck behind, and it was in clips ready for use, but the truck body was of iron. If that ammunition detonated, it could do no harm. If it did not, it would be available for use against the single man mentioned by the driver of the last truck to be wrecked.
But Lockley saw them coming. They came sedately down a long straight stretch of road. He climbed a rocky wall beside the highway to a little ravine that led away from the road. He posted himself where he was extremely unlikely to be seen. Then he waited.
The cavalcade of cars appeared. It drove briskly toward Lockley at something like thirty miles an hour. Perhaps ten yards separated the lead car from the second. The truck was a trifle closer to the four man-carrying vehicles. They swept along, every man alert. They would pass forty feet below Lockley.
He did nothing. His device was already turned on. He watched in detached calm.
The lead car stopped as if it had run into a brick wall, while rifles inside it blew holes in its top. The second car crashed into it, rifles detonating. The third car. The fourth. The truck piled into the others with a gigantic flare and furious report, each separate brass cartridge case exploding in the same instant. The truck became scrap iron.
Lockley went away along the small ravine. From now on he would avoid the highway. He estimated that he would arrive at Boulder Lake itself about half an hour after dark. It occurred to him that then Jill would have been a prisoner of the invaders for something more than twelve hours, at least ten of them at their headquarters.
Before he began the climb that would take him to the invaders, Lockley stopped at a small stream.
He drank thirstily.
There was a three-day-old moon in the sky when the last colors faded in the west. When darkness fell it was already low. It gave little light; not much more than the stars alone. It did help Lockley while it lasted however. He knew the terrain about Boulder Lake but not in detail. And it would not be wise for him to move openly to wreak destruction on the enemies of his nation.
He used the moonlight for his approach by the least practical route to the lake. When it dimmed and went behind the mountains, he continued to climb, sliding dangerously, then descend and climb again as the rough going demanded. His mind was absorbed with reflections upon what he meant to do. The wrecks on the highway would have given notice to the invaders that he could do damage. They would take every possible precaution against him.
It was typical of Lockley that he painstakingly imagined every obstacle that might be put in his way. During the last half hour of his scrambling travel, for example, he was tormented by a measure his enemies might have used to make him advertise his presence. If they simply laid rifle cartridges on the ground at intervals of twenty-five or fifty yards, he could not cross that line with his device in operation without blowing up those shells. It was a possible countermeasure that caused him to sweat with worry.
But it wasn't thought of by anyone else. To contrive it, a man would have to know how the detonation field worked and how far it extended. Nobody but Lockley knew. Therefore no one could contrive this defense against him.
He worked his way to Boulder Lake's back door through brushwood and over boulders. Presently he looked down upon his destination. To his right and left rocky masses were silhouetted against the starry sky. He gazed down on the lake and the shoreline where the hotel would be built, and the places where roads came out of the wilderness.
There were changes since the time he'd looked down from Vale's survey post and before the terror beam captured him. He catalogued them mentally, but the sight before him was intolerable. Everything he saw, here where space monsters were believed to hold sway, was in reality the work of men. Rage filled him at the sight. Hatred. Fury....
In the rest of the world an entirely different sort of emotion was felt about the subject of the invaders. The United States had announced to all the world that American and other scientists, working together, had solved the mystery of the alien weapon. They had produced a duplicate of the terror beam. It was no less effective and no less an absolute weapon than the invaders'. And a defense had been found which was complete. It was being rushed into production. The experimental counter beam generators would be moved into position to frustrate and defeat the monsters who had landed upon earth. Military detachments, protected by the counter generators, would move upon Boulder Lake at dawn. By sunset tomorrow the aliens would be dead or captive, and their ship would undoubtedly be in the hands of scientists for study.
Moreover, the United States would provide counter weapons for other nations. In no more than months every continent and nation on earth would be equipped to defy any alien landing that might take place. The world would be able to defend itself. It would be equipped to do so. And this was the resolve of the United States because the world could not exist half free and half enslaved by creatures from a distant planet. The news poured out from all sources. The alien weapon was understood and now could be defied. Soon all the world would be provided with counter weapons. It was necessary for all the world to be prepared and prepared it would be.
This was the information which made all the world rejoice, though not yet at ease because aliens still occupied a tiny part of the earth. But all the world was eager for confirmation of the news it had just received.
Lockley had no such soothing anticipations. He shook with fury because what he saw before him was so appalling as to be almost unbelievable.
It was not dark in the space he looked down upon. There were bright floodlights placed here and there to drench a large area with light. There were few figures in sight. But what the floodlights showed made Lockley quiver with hatred.
The floodlights were of typically human type. There were vehicles parked on a level grassy space. They were of human manufacture. There was no space ship in the lake, but there was a three-stage rocket set up, ready for firing. It was of the kind used by humans to put artificial satellites into orbit. Lockley even knew its designation, and that it used the new solid fuels for propulsion.
In the lair of the creatures from outer space there was nothing from outer space. There was nothing in view which was alien or unearthly or extra-terrestrial. And Lockley made inarticulate growling sounds because he saw with absolute clarity and certainty that there never had been anything from outer space at this spot.
There were no monsters. There never had been. And the truth was more horribly enraging than the deception had been.
Because this could mean the death of the world. This was an attempt to fight the last war on earth in disguise. Humans had posed as non-human beings so that America would fight against phantoms while its great military rival pretended to help and actually stabbed from behind.
It was completely logical, of course. An admitted attack by terror beams in the form of death rays would involve retaliation by America. Against a human enemy great, roaring missiles could circle earth to plunge down upon that enemy's cities to turn them and their inhabitants into incandescent gas. An attack known to be by humans and upon humans must touch off the world's last war in which every living thing might die. No conceivable success at the beginning could prevent full retaliation. But if the attack were believed to be from space, then American weapons and valor would be spent against creatures which were no more than ghosts.
Lockley moved forward. Only he could know the situation as it presented itself here. Even vengeance for Jill should be put aside, if it called for action irrelevant to this state of things. But it did not. A full and terrible revenge for her required exactly the action the coolest of cold-blooded resolutions would suggest be taken now. And Lockley moved on and downward to take it.
He began to crawl downhill toward the lights, unaware that there were some gaps in his picture of the total scene. For example, these lights could be detected by aircraft overhead. The fact did not occur to Lockley. He was not given pause by the relaxation of the enemy's disguise so far as air observation was concerned. He didn't think of it. He moved on.
He drew near the lighted area. He did not walk, he crawled. He began to listen with fury-sharpened ears. If he could get close to that huge rocket, close enough to detonate its solid fuel stores....
That would be at once revenge and expedience. If the rocket's fuel blew up instead of burning as intended, it would annihilate the camp. It would wipe out every living creature present. But there would be fragments left by the explosion. There would be corpses. There would be wreckage. And that wreckage and those corpses would be unmistakably human. The last war on earth might not be avoided, but at the worst it would be fought against America's actual enemy and not against imaginary monsters.
It was worth dying to accomplish even that. But Jill....
Lockley's progress was infinitely slow, but he needed to take the greatest pains. He listened carefully.
He heard the faint high roaring of the planes overhead. They were far away. There were sounds of insects, and the cries of night birds, and the rustling of leaves and foliage.
There was another sound. A new sound. It was inexplicable. It was a strange and intermittent muttering. There was a certain irregular rhythm to it, a familiar rhythm.
He crawled on.
There was movement suddenly, off to his left. Then it stopped. It could be a man on watch against him simply shifting his position. Lockley froze, and then went on with even greater caution. He felt the ground before him for small twigs that might crack under his weight.
The muttering continued. Presently Lockley realized that it was a human voice. It was resonant and with many overtones, but still too faint for him to distinguish words.
He crossed a slight rise that had much brushwood. The brushwood grew in clumps and he circled them with a patient caution foreign to his feelings.
The muttering changed and went on. Lockley pressed himself to the ground. Men went past him a hundred feet away. He saw them in outline against the illuminated parked cars and trucks and in the space around the huge rocket. They carried no rifles, probably no firearms at all. Lockley's march up the highway had warned them of the uselessness of guns, at least at short range. They were watching for him now. Perhaps these men were relieving other watchers on the hillside.
He saw other men. They seemed to move restlessly around the lighted area.
The muttering was louder now. He could almost catch the words. He made another hundred yards toward the rocket and the voice changed again. Then he was dazed. The voice was speaking to him! Calling him by name!
"Lockley! Lockley! Don't do anything crazy! Everything can be explained! You'll recognize my voice. You talked to me on the telephone from Serena!"
Lockley did recognize the voice. It was that of the general who'd sounded pompous and indignant as he refused to listen to Lockley's statements. Now, coming out of many loudspeakers and echoing hollowly from cliffs, it was the same voice but with an intonation that was persuasive and forthright.
"You startled me," said the voice crisply. "You'd found out there were humans involved in this business. It was important that the fact be suppressed. I tried to browbeat you, which was a mistake. While I was talking to you your suspicion was reported on short wave by the Wild Life driver. I tried to overawe you. You're the wrong kind of man for that. But everything can be explained. Everything! Here's Vale to prove it!"
There was only an instant's pause. Then Vale's voice came out of the loudspeakers spread all about.
"Lockley, this is Vale. The whole thing's faked. There's a good reason for it, but you stumbled on the facts. They had to be kept secret. I didn't even tell Jill. This isn't treason, Lockley. We aren't traitors! Come out and I'll explain everything. Here's Sattell."
And Sattell's voice boomed against the hills.
"Vale's right, Lockley! I didn't know what was up. I was fooled as much as anybody. But it's all right! It's perfectly all right! When you understand you'll realize that you had to be deceived just as I was. Come on out and everything will be explained to your satisfaction. I promise!"
Lockley grimaced. How did Sattell get up here? And the general in command of the cordon? More than that, why did they call his name instead of simply trying to kill him? Why post watchers on the hillsides if they were anxious to explain and not to murder? How could they hope to deceive him after Jill....
There was a pause, and then what was evidently considered a decisive message came. It was Jill's voice, weary and desperate. It said, "Please come out and listen! Please come and let them explain everything. They can do it. I understand and I believe them. It's true. It's not treason. I—I beg you to come out and let them tell you why all this has happened...."
Her voice trailed off. It had trembled. It was tense. It was strained. And Lockley cursed softly, shaking with rage. Then the first voice returned, "Lockley! Lockley! Don't do anything crazy! Everything can be explained. You'll recognize my voice. You talked to me on the telephone from Serena."
This voice repeated, word for word and intonation for intonation, exactly what it had said before. The other voices followed in the same order. They were taped.
In Lockley's state of mind, the taping took away all authority from the voices. Jill, in particular, sounded as she might have if torture had been used to break her will and force her to say what her captors wished. She could not put any warning into it, because she could have been forced to repeat and repeat the message until her captors were satisfied.
That would all be avenged now. All of it. And Jill would be grateful to Lockley even if they never saw each other again; grateful for the monstrous blast that would wipe this place clean of living creatures.
Lockley suddenly saw a way by which his vengeance could be increased by just a little. It could be made even more satisfying and just. Hiding under brushwood while the voices tirelessly repeated their recorded persuasion, he made a very simple device. It switched onto the instrument he carried. If his hand clenched, it would go on. If his hand relaxed, it would go on. So if he could get within a hundred and twenty-five yards of the rocket he could show himself and let them know what waited for them, and why.
With infinite patience he got to a place almost near the circle of unarmed guards about the rocket. He waited. The guards were tense. They did not like trying to protect something with no weapons. They were jumpy. The endlessly repeated messages booming into the night frayed their nerves. They were plainly on edge.
Their tenseness made the oldest trick in the world serve Lockley's purpose. He threw a stone from an especially dark shadow. It struck and bounced upon another stone, and it created a rustling of brushwood at a place distant from Lockley. And the unarmed guards plunged for that place to seize whatever or whoever had made the disturbance.
They were too eager. They stumbled upon each other.
And Lockley ran, and a voice cried out in terror. And then Lockley stood with his back to the rocket's lower parts, and he waved the cheese grater derisively and shouted.
Then there was stillness. Only the booming voice from the speakers went on. It happened to be Sattell's voice.
" ... all right. It's perfectly all right. When you understand you'll realize that you had to be deceived as I was. It was necessary. Come out and everything—"
Somebody cut off the recorder. There was a moment of blank indecision, and then a man in uniform with two general's stars on his shoulders came out of somewhere and walked to face Lockley.
"Ah, Lockley!" he said briskly. "That's the thing you smash cars and explode ammunition with, eh? Do you think it will blow the rocket?"
"I'm going to try it!" said Lockley. "Listen." He showed how anything that could be done to him would close the switch one way or the other. "I wanted you to know before I blow it!" he said fiercely. "Where's Jill? Jill Holmes? One of your cars picked her up and brought her here. Where is she?"
"We sent her," said the general, "over to the construction camp, in case you managed to get in the exact situation you're in. In other words, she's safe. She'll be coming shortly, though. She was to be notified the instant you appeared—if the rocket didn't blast as your greeting."
Lockley ground his teeth.
"We'll have this settled before she gets here!"
Vale appeared. He walked forward and stood beside the general.
"We did a job that was several times too good, Lockley," he said ruefully. "I'd rehearsed my song-and-dance until we thought it was perfect. What made you suspicious, Lockley? Did you notice we kept the communicator aimed right so you'd hear through to the end? A fine point, that. We worried about it."
The headlights of a car moved against a mountainside.
"You see," said Vale, "the thing had to be done this way! Sattell swore a blue streak when it was explained to him. He felt he'd been made a fool of. But there are some things that can't be handled forthrightly!"
Lockley felt physically ill. Jill had been—still was—engaged to Vale. She'd been anxious about him. She'd been loyal to him. And he was helping the invaders! He opened his mouth to speak bitterly, when Sattell appeared. He lined up beside the general and Vale.
"They fooled me too, Lockley," he said wryly. "But it's all right. They had to. They thought you were fooled. Those three men in the box with you the other day, they said you were fooled, too. And they're sharp secret service men!"
"You're very convincing, aren't you?" he raged. "But—"
"You believe," said Sattell, "I've joined up with spies and traitors. You believe...."
He outlined, with precision, exactly what Lockley did believe; that phantom monsters were to be credited with waging war against America while another nation actually murdered Americans. It was a remarkably accurate picture of Lockley's state of mind.
"But that's all wrong!" insisted Sattell. "This is a quick trick by our own people for our own safety. For the benefit of all the world. It's a trick to forestall just what I described!"
The far away headlights drew nearer. But no car could have come from the construction camp as quickly as this.
"The fact is," said the general, "that our spies tell us that another very great nation has developed this beam we've been demonstrating to all the world. So did we. And we couldn't use it, but they would! If they didn't use it against us, they'd use it for any sort of emergency dirty trick. So we made up this invasion to persuade every country on earth to arm itself against this particular weapon. Nothing less than monsters in space would justify arming, in the eyes of some politicians! Of course, they'll arm against us as well as—anybody else."
He spoke matter-of-factly. A glance at Lockley's face would have told him that persuasiveness would not work.
"This trick, with the defense we intended to reveal," the general added, "should mean that a very nasty weapon won't ever be used, either to start or end a war. Maybe the war won't occur because we've said there are monsters who fly around in space ships."
Lockley had a confused impression that he was dreaming this. It was not the way things should happen! This was not true! When he squeezed or released the improvised switch in his hand, the rocket behind him would disappear in a monstrous flame, and he and the three men who faced him would, vanish, and there would be an explosion crater here and a shattered mass of wrecked cars—
"It was an interesting job," said Vale. "The Army dumped a hundred tons of high explosive into the lake. The two radars that reported a ship in space were arranged to be operated by two special men, who got their orders directly from the President. We picked a day with full cloud cover; the radar operators inserted their faked tapes and made their reports; and the Army set off the hundred-ton explosion in the lake. From there on, it was just a matter of using the terror beam."
"I mention," said the general mildly, "that not one human being has been killed by anything we've done. Would you expect traitors to be so careful? Or spies?"
Lockley said thickly, "You stand there arguing. You're trying to make me believe you. But there's Jill! What's happened to her? How did you make her record that tape? Where's Jill? She won't tell me it's all right!"
Headlights swept up to the floodlit space. The car stopped.
Jill came into view. She saw Lockley, standing against the rocket's base. She ran.
She stood beside the general and Vale and Sattell. She looked worn and desperately anxious.
"What have they done to you?" demanded Lockley fiercely.
She shook her head.
"N-nothing. I couldn't stay at the camp when I was so sure you'd come to try to help me. So I came here. I don't know what they've told you yet, but it's all right. We were fooled as the world has to be. Believe it! Please believe it!"
"What have they done to you?" he repeated terribly.
"What have they done to the world?" demanded Jill. "They've made every nation look to us as the defender of their freedom. And we are! They've made everybody ready to fight against more monsters if they come, and to fight against men if they try to enslave them with the terror beam or anything else! Would traitors have done that?"
Lockley knew that he had to decide. It was an unbearable responsibility. He was not convinced, even by Jill. But he was no longer certain that he'd been right.
"Why didn't you kill me?" he demanded. "I could have been shot down from a distance. You didn't have to come close to talk to me. If the rocket blew, what would it matter?"
"You've got a protection against the terror beam," said the general matter-of-factly. "So have we. But ours weighs two tons. Yours can be carried without being a burden. And—" his eyes went to the unlikely cheese grater over Lockley's shoulder—"and yours detonates explosives. If we can equip the world with those, Lockley, we'll have peace!"
Lockley thought of a decisive test. He grimaced.
"You want me to risk being a traitor! All right, what's in it for me? What am I offered?"
The general shrugged, his eyes hardening. Vale spread out his hands. Sattell snorted. Jill moistened her lips. Lockley turned upon her.
"You want me to believe," he said harshly. "What do you offer if I turn over the thing to these men you say are honest men and neither spies or traitors. What do you offer?"
She stared at him. Then she said quietly, "Nothing."
Lockley hesitated once more, for a long instant. But that was the right answer. Nobody who'd been bought or bribed or frightened into being a traitor would have thought of it.
"That," said Lockley, "by a strange coincidence happens to be my price."
He ripped away a wire. He flung the queer combination of pocket radio and cheese and nutmeg graters to the general.
"I'll explain later how it works," he said wearily, "—if I haven't made a mistake."
* * * * *
After a suitable time the general came to him. Lockley was convinced, now. The reaction of the men who'd been guards and truck drivers and the like was conclusive. They regarded him with a certain cordial respect which was not the reaction of either traitors or invaders.
"We've been checking that little device, Lockley," said the general happily. "It's perfect for our purposes! So much better than a two-ton generator to interfere with and cancel the terror beams! Marvelous! And do you know what it means? With all the world believing we've been attacked from space, and with our great show of taking back Boulder Lake—"
"How will you manage that?" asked Lockley, without too much interest.
"The rocket," said the general, beaming. "When troops start into the Park, the rocket takes off. It heads for empty space. And we explain that the aliens went away when they found their weapon useless and we started to get rough with them!"
"Oh," said Lockley listlessly.
"But the really beautiful thing," the general told him, "is your gadget! They can be made by millions. Ridiculously cheap, they tell me. Everybody in the world will want one, and we'll pass them out. No government could stop that! Not even Russia! But—d'you see, Lockley?"
Lockley shook his head. He always had a tendency to look on the dark side of future events. The future did not look bright to him.
"Don't you see?" demanded the general, chuckling. "They detonate explosives, those little gadgets! There's no harm in that! Where explosives are used in industry you've only to make sure that nobody turns one on too close. In nine-tenths of the world, anyhow, civilians aren't allowed to have guns. But think of the consequences there!"
Lockley was weary. He was dejected. The general grinned from ear to ear.
"Why, when these are distributed, even the secret police can't go armed! What price dictators then? For that matter, what price soldiers? The cold war ends, Lockley, because there couldn't be a conquering army in the modern sense. The tanks wouldn't run. The cars would stall. And the guns—An invasion would have to be made with horse-drawn transport and the troops armed with bows and spears. That amounts to disarmament, Lockley! A consummation devoutly to be wished! I'm going to look forward to a ripe old age now. I never could before!"
* * * * *
Presently Lockley talked to Jill. She was constrained. She seemed uneasy. Lockley felt that there wasn't much to say, now that Vale was alive and well and there was no more danger for her. He offered his hand to say good-bye.
"I think," she said with a little difficulty, "I think I should tell you I'm not—engaged any longer. I—told him I—wouldn't want to be married to someone whose work made him keep secrets from me."
Lockley tensed. He said incredulously, "You're not going to marry Vale?"
She said nervously.
"No-o-o. I've told him."
"What did he say?"
"He—didn't like it," said Jill. "But he understood. I explained things. He said—he said to congratulate you."
Lockley made an appropriate movement. She wept quietly, held close in his arms.
"I was so afraid you didn't—you wouldn't—"
Lockley took appropriate measures to comfort her and to assure her that he did and he would, forever and ever. A very long time later he asked interestedly, "What did you say to Vale when he asked you to congratulate me?"
"I said," said Jill comfortably, "that I would if things worked out all right. And they have. I congratulate you, darling. Now how about congratulating me?"
* * * * *
The rocket took off and went away into emptiness. This was near dawn, when military announcements of the reoccupation of Boulder Lake were being passed out to the news media. As much of the public as was awake was informed that the monstrous aliens had fled from earth, their intentions frustrated by the work of scientists. It wasn't necessary for a large force to march in. A special detail took over at the lake itself. Curiously enough, it seemed to be already there when the question arose. It would report a regrettable absence of alien artifacts by which the monsters might be kept in mind.
But there would be reminders. Later bulletins would report that the United States was putting into quantity production the small, individual protective devices which defied the terror beam and would supply them to all the world. There could not be greater friendship than that! The United States also proposed a world wide alliance for defense against future attacks by space monsters, with pooled armament and completely cooperative governments.
The world, obviously, would unite against monsters. And people in a posture of defense against enemies from the stars obviously wouldn't fight each other.
And there were some people who were pleased. They knew about the possibilities of the small gadgets, brought down in production to the size of a pack of cigarettes. Knowing what they could do, they waited very interestedly to see what would happen in certain nations when secret police couldn't carry firearms and soldiers could only be armed with spears.
They expected it to be very interesting indeed.