The Enigma was five light years away.
It hung in space, black and quivering, filling every last inch of his screen. No man knew what the Enigma was, only that it was there, and that it had swallowed two space-fleets sent to quest through its eternal darkness, seeking out any planets that lay inside its titanic bulk.
What ten thousand men had failed to do, one man was being sent to accomplish. The fact did not sit comfortably on the neatly uniformed chest of Commander John Craig. He did not show his discomfort, he was too well-trained in the officer mechanics of the elite Corps, United Worlds Space Fleets. His white and gold uniform was unrumpled, as Smooth and neat as if he expected inspection patrol at any moment. Only a tic at the corner of his left eye betrayed his anxiety.
One man against-the-unknown. One man, with five thousand tons of electronic monster to cradle his body through space and hyperspace, armed by the latest weapons rigged up by Ordnance against necessity. They hung on their racks at this moment, behind him, waiting for his hands when he should need them.
Commander Craig had the worried feeling that no weapon ever devised by man could help him against that black blotch. It had swallowed twenty fighting ships fitted out with cam-ray cannon and protonic disintegrators. It would devour him just as easily.
Two weeks ago, he had been back on Revere planet.
Unsuspecting. Even—happy. . . .
The music from the orchestra floating a hundred feet above his head in the vast dining chamber was almost tangible about him and the woman he held in his arms in the stately dance of Erogonie. His skin was sensitive to its rhythmic vibrations, its harmonious chords.
Elva Marlowe felt the music, too. Her soft body in the gold lamé gown so daringly slit at sides and back moved with subtle provocation against him. In this seventy-fifth century, the minds that made miracles had perfected music to an art never dreamed of by Bach or Wagner: with every note, a sub-electronic impulse was emitted that sent its message of pleasure and delight to the brains of those who listened.
To move on this little dancing space that also held his eating table, fifty feet above the floor of the dining compound, was an unalloyed happiness. The music plucked at the pleasure centers of his mind as it did at those of the woman in his arms. It whispered to them both, brought them into a psychic harmony that was the forerunner of the physical pleasure which was to follow.
Commander Craig had come off duty six hours ago, vaning down on Revere planet at the Interstellar Aeroport, exhausted from six months in the jungle world of Lyrosia. War was not a pretty thing on a world such as Lyrosia, where the beasts were intelligent and with a queer rapacity that sent cold chills down the spine. they were like shadows, and their intelligent minds could interfere with the thinking processes of a human brain. It had been his job to find a way to guard against that encelophonic interference.
He had succeeded, after twenty-odd weeks of hell. Laboratory tests—after he had been four months in the field—had shown him that tiny euxenite crystals blanked out those mental waves. A string of euxenite crystals—the way a necklace of garlic bulbs was said to have kept witches away long ago—actually worked.