Read chapter Three from The Hunter Out of Time

Chapter III

Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library
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  The Council troopers were at my elbow, one of them bowing slightly, asking me to accompany him and his men.  I think he would have been horrified had I refused, so accustomed was he to obedience. I nodded, but I was watching Glynna.  She was my sole hope. Without her I could never operate a Timeler well enough to escape the pursuit that would come after me.

And Glynna was regarding me with dismay.

Her mind must have told her I was right: only by running away together would we be safe.  Yet her reason, however much she boasted about it, would not permit her to offset the rigid training of a lifetime.  The Council was supreme on the Federation worlds. No one disobeyed it, for its commands were delivered with the good of the majority in mind.  Glynna Sarn would not disobey either.

Her eyes were sad as they told me we must accept the fate which the Tribunal would mete out.  I must go and be examined, and she must remain behind to face whatever judgment the Council would inflict on her.  There was nothing either of us could do. Accept it as I accept it, her eyes told me.

I shrugged and inclined my head.  “Farewell the, Chronomad Sarn,” I said.  There was no sense in arguing with her, even assuming I could have done so while the Council troopers waited.

The troopers took me with them, out of the council chamber and along a brightly lighted corridor into a shaft filled with a great metal tube.  There was a door in the tube. The officer gestured me through it.

I found myself in a circular room, one curving wall of which was of glass that permitted me to observe the men and women who passed by on the shaft way platform.  Contour furniture, chairs and couches and tables holding books and magazines, a thick rug on the floor, and radiant light from the walls, made a pleasant harmony.

“These will be your quarters,” the officer told me.  “Takeoff time is in less than an hour.”

“Takeoff time?”

His lips twitched angrily and contemptuously, but he conquered whatever feeling was in him.  “We are aboard a mooner, Chan Dahl. Five hours from now we will drop down on Luna. You are free to occupy your time as you like.”

I asked, “Would it be possible to eat?”

He seemed faintly startled.  “Of course! Most certainly. Forgive me, I didn’t realize—no one explained…”

I grinned, “I haven’t eaten in over a thousand centuries.”

He did not smile; he merely nodded, and went away to see to it that I was served.

I chose a comfortable lounge chair and sank into it, reaching for a handful of magazines.  I expected difficulty when it came to reading the printed word: my tongue was familiar enough with the spoken language, thanks to the treatment by the encephalometer, but the written version might be an entirely different matter.  To my delight, I found that I could understand the articles and the captions beneath the vivid tri-dimensional pictures. I did not know what process had been used in the printing, but every picture was a window opening onto reality.

I saw the vast red deserts of ancient Mars and studied the strange ruins which the first explorers had found there; they lay before me in a sprawling wonderland of ruined walls and partially restored city squares and fountains, with here and there a bit of mosaic stonework as a floor.  The article spoke of the long work and careful planning that had brought about this miracle. As an archaeologist I envied these futuristic brethren of min in the incredibly sensitive instruments with which they measured age and texture and put together dead history from the blips of machines much as a paleontologist reconstructed a dinosaur in my time from a few bones.

Every schoolboy learned the history of Earth and Mars before he was out of the fifth grade.  He was fed this knowledge while he slept at night under hypnosis; his mind absorbed it as his body absorbed food, without his own conscious awareness of the fact.  What I was reading was a summary, a casual evaluation of the latest bits and scraps of information which would be added to the whole. I lost myself in the article.  More than any other thing, it brought home to me the fact that I was worlds away from my own era, that in the year 121,345 I was really no more than the ‘animal’ Glynna had named me.  My ignorance was abysmal.

And—

Only by being accepted as the traitor Chan Dahl would I be permitted—if I were sentenced to a lifetime of imprisonment, and not summarily executed—to study this fascinating universe of knowledge the magazine opened before my eyes.  As a state prisoner, I would be allowed time for study and relaxation.

But if I were found to be Kevin Cord, I would be taken back to my own time, placed down in front of my cottage at exactly the same moment that the Timeler with Glynna Sarn and myself in it had risen to the Time Flow.  After having been granted a taste of this miraculous future, it would be snatched away from me.

I wondered what the machines on Luna would find out about me, and whether I could still maintain I was Chan Dahl despite all their punched cards and taped recordings.  If I could, I might save Glynna Sarn and remain in the future.

The great metal tube quivered, then quieted.  So faintly that it seemed only my imagination, there was the slightest of vibrations, as if the mooner had come alive.  There was no sensation of lift, but the great windows along one wall of my room went bright with sunlight. I gave a little cry and rose to my feet, hurrying toward the window.

The glass was fully ten feet high.  It was affixed to the metal flooring just under the thick carpeting and it was as if I stood on the rim of emptiness.  Below me the Earth fell away into a slanting curve. My eye pricked up the continental land mass, all greens and dark purples in the distance, and the deeper hues of the Atlantic Ocean.

The tube and I were moon-bound.

Behind me a door opened and the officer in the gold and white Council-trooper uniform stepped in, a tall, gangling young man at his elbow with a tray in his hands.  The officer directed him to put the tray on a small wooden serving table and to set the serving table before the window.

“Since you seem to be so taken with the view,”  he added in an aside to me, with a wry twist of his mouth.  His stare told me I didn’t fool him, that my pretense of not being Chan Dahl was so much hogwash; he was on to me, but since it was not his place to advise the Council, he was ready to follow orders.

“I’ve never seen it before,” I said, smiling offhandedly.

Even if I had been Chan Dahl, this might have been the truth.  Chan Dahl had been a Chronomad, not a spaceman. It might be that my alter ego had never been in space.  I was reasonably confident that the officer did not know Chan Dahl personally, as Glynna Sarn had.

They left me to my view and my meal, a sizzling steak and fried vegetable, tossed green salad and iced drink.  The steak might have been from an animal born and bred on a star world, but it tasted like the finest mignon. I was hungry and I ate swiftly, and always my eyes ranged out across the rim of space and the first faint stars shining through the blackness.

Millions upon millions of human beings had seen what I was now seeing, but I doubted whether any of them had felt the sense of triumph that surged through me at the knowledge that man had conquered space, that I was one of them, in a sense.  I was the cave man who thought fleetingly of a bow and arrow and was given the opportunity to see a ray-gun in action. I was the first man who paddled a log out onto flowing water, blessed with the chance to travel in an ocean liner. His eyes would have bulged as mine did now, hearing no sound, knowing no sensation but that of perfect ease and comfort as the gravitic plates lifted the metal tube upward and outward toward the moon.  Behind and below me was the Earth. Its horizon disappeared as the great ball that was the planet receded below us in the backdrop of space.

My eyes caught sight of a slender black needle lifting out of the sun-haze on the other side of the world.  Another tube Luna-bound? Or was this some star craft headed outward across unguessable gulfs of space by traveling in the hyper spatial universe that bordered it?

The black needle was coming straight for the moon tube.

It was a black ship, with no visible means of propulsion.  No rockets flared behind it. It moved easily and silently through these first beginnings of space, a great black bullet headed straight on course for the moon tube.  Rushing nearer by the second, nearer. Nearer, until I could make out a glass band on it that was the viewing screen.

And then—

Somewhere in the moon-ship, a gong clanged.

The noise it made half lifted me out of my chair.  It made my hair stand up on end and stabbed uneasiness right through my flesh and bones.  It was not so much the noise as the special pitch of the clang. No man could have slept through that sound—even to a waking man it was pulse-stabbing.

A thin shimmer of heat haze leaped from the black ship.  It hit the moon tube and spread across the hull. I felt nothing, but—the compartment door burst open and the officer in the gold and white Council uniform staggered in, gasping, shuddering.  He took two jerky steps toward me, then fell face-down on the thick carpet.

I dived to my knees beside him.

“Don’t know—what it is,” he gasped.  “No time to sound—alert to the Council.  I—”

His eyes widened a little as they stared up at me.  “Don’t you feel anything?” he whispered. “A paralysis—all over your body?”

I shook my head.  His hand fumbled at the white leather holster strapped to his belt.  “Rayer. Maybe you can—get a couple of them.”

His lips quivered as he fought the sluggish helplessness washing across his body.  I bent down and pried the metal and ebony rayer from his fingers. It fitted my hand as if it had been carved especially for my grip.

When he saw me holding the weapon, the officer went rigid, as if his last strength had been expended in seeing to it that I had something with which to protect myself.  All over the ship there was silence. Every other man probably lay in this same coma of paralysis. The moon-tube was defenseless, except for myself.

Outside the huge window, the black ship loomed gigantic.  From its side a covered tube was protruding to make contact with the hull hatch of the mooner and permit an entry.  I had no way of knowing what the attackers might be after; perhaps the tube carried rare medical supplies or even a strongbox filled with gold or whatever else passed for money in this future time.

Common robbers!  I showed my teeth in a grin.  It muttered no one iota to me whether the Council was stripped of some of its wealth, but this might be the opportunity I needed to free myself.  Work out a deal with the pirates, get them to take me back to Earth, try and contact Glynna Sarn…it was worth a try.

I stepped over the officer and walked through the chamber doorway.  I found myself on a narrow companionway that went up and down inside the tube amid a complexity of beams and girders.  I could see the floor of the next compartment above my own, and the ceiling of the one below. Judging from my position on the catwalk, I was high up in the tube, just beneath the nose.

Obviously, then, the pirate ship would be attaching its walkway to the middle part of the mooner.  I ran down the steps of the companionway, gripping my rayer tightly, my heart hammering with excitement.

I heard a clang where the walkway hit the hull, and angled my feet toward it.  A door opened to the press of my hand and I found myself in a control room where half a dozen technicians in the gold and white dress of the Federation Council lay slumped over their activation panels.   From one of them I yanked a second rayer for my left hand.

Now I could hear footsteps beyond a  further door. I swung in the direction and lifted both weapons.  I waited.

The door slid open.  Five men came through the doorway and were well into the room before they noticed me.  My rayers were full on their chests. As they skidded to a halt, their faces were ludicrous in shock and disbelief.

“He’s on his feet!”

“But he can’t be.  the comatibeam would have knocked him out!”

“Well, it didn’t! What do we do now?”

I grinned as they stared at me and at the rayers I held leveled on them.  “Just stay where you are—and talk. What do you want here?”

One of the men smiled ingratiatingly.  “A payroll, no more. You don’t want to risk your neck to save a few thousand credicoins, do you?”

They waited on my words.  They were big men, clad in tight black and red uniforms and cling-pants, with black leather trappings and matching holsters that held rayers at their sides.  They had expected no opposition, but they were fast getting over their surprise. Narrowed eyes watched my every move, my every expression. Let my guard go down just a little and they would be all over me.

Something nagged at the back of my mind.  They were surprised, yes, but it was only the surprise of confrontation, not—not—

What was it that bothered me about them?

I said, “The hell with the credicoins.  I want to make a deal. Take me with you and you can have all the money you find here.”

The man who had spoken before relaxed suddenly, grinning.  “Fair enough. We can always use a new recruit.”

One of the men behind him laughed harshly. as at a joke.  Then it struck me, suddenly, what it was that bothered me so.  They did not seem surprised at my clothing! I wore the same slacks and sport shirt I had worn into Shore-dune to get my six-pack.  Nobody in the year 121,345 wore clothes like this, yet these black raiders never blinked an eyelid at my antique garments.

They had been expecting to see me!

Why?

I drew back a step as realization swept over me.  The foremost of the raiders came off his feet at me.  My fingers pressed the trigger. A thin red line ran out of the rayer—missing the man who came for me but hitting two of the men behind him.  Where the red beam hit, there was nothing. Parts of human beings rained down on the floor.

I was so sickened by the sight that the raider sent me reeling back before I could gather my wits.  My back hit the floor and I bounced. The raider was sprawled half on top of me, reaching with both hands for my rayers.  I twisted sideways, driving the barrel of the rayer at his face. It slammed home with a dull thud.

The raider went limp, but the other two men were racing toward me.  Still on my knees, I dived forward, ramming into their legs a little below their knees.  They went down as if poleaxed. I whirled and caught them across their jaws with the metal rayers.

We were a tangle on the floor when I heard more footsteps.  I whirled, both weapons up and covering the doorway as a man in a long black robe stepped into the room.  His face was hard and white, almost waxen, but his eyes burned red. There was no hair on his skull, so that he seemed almost like a carved stone image.  His stare touched the dead men and the three unconscious raiders sprawled behind me.

“You are not Chan Dahl,” he said softly.

“How can you be so sure? The Council technicians couldn’t say as much, even with all their instruments.”

“If you were Chan Dahl, the comatibeam would have worked.  It is geared to the physical structure of men of this period.  But your body is different.”

“And what if I’m not Chan Dahl?  What do you intend to do?”

“Take you with me, as I had planned doing if you were Chan Dahl.  You’re too dangerous to leave behind…yet you’re too valuable to kill.”

“Why?” I asked bluntly.

The red eyes did not waver.  The thin, almost bloodless lips said, “Your brain convolutions are those of Chan Dahl.  Your every physical property is that of—the traitor. As such, you may be able to serve me.”

“Suppose I refuse?”

“You cannot refuse.”

The red eyes burned like flames in the waxen skull.  Too late, I understood what those eyes were doing to me.  My muscles were frozen in my body. I could not stir, even to blink an eye.  The rayers in my hands with which I covered the cloaked figure in the doorway were no more than heavy weights that slowly sank downward.

When the rayers pointed at the floor, my fingers opened.

The weapons hit the metal control room floor with sharp clanks.  I stood as if paralyzed, staring right into those red hell-flames.  They were not eyes, as we know eyes to be. They were…something else.  Something inhuman. And they held me in their grip as if they were vises around my body.

Behind me there was sound as one of the raiders pulled himself to his feet.  The man in the cloak said no word but the raider came and picked up the rayers, tossing them to one side.  His companions stirred, sat up. As they passed in front of me on their way to the door they glared at me, and I saw red welts and blood where I had hit them with the rayer barrels.

hunter out of time interplanetary romance gardner f fox ebook pulp paperback novel kurt brugel kindle gardner francis fox men's adventure library historical romance