I may as well say here and now, quite frankly, that I always despised fantastic and scientific literature. It seemed to me simply a waste of time to go speculating wildly on a basis of half-proved scientific theories, building up weird pictures of life on other planets, dreams of the future, and visions of marvellous inventions. And as for space and time travelwell, the very mention of such things made me hoot with contempt. That shows you the kind of sceptic I was. And it shows you that the story I'm going to tell you isn't merely a mad flight of fancy, because my fancies don't run that way. It's a plain record of what happened to Josh Harner and me.
Josh had been keen on writing since his schooldays, and we all knew that he was going to be a writer. But it was a disappointment to me when I found that he was turning his talents into what seemed a dead end. I couldn't help thinking that he was wasting his gifts writing these mad tales of fantastic, unearthly beings, incredible machines, unbelievable universes. Even in the face of his rapid success I kept on trying to dissuade him. But it was no good.
From time to time he sent along magazines containing his tales, and one evening I came home to find a new one awaiting me. Without much interest I glanced down the contents page, and sure enough there it wasThe Multiple Being, by Josh Harner. I settled down to read it. Josh appeared just as I was finishing.
"Don't let me interrupt your enjoyment of my masterpiece", he greeted me, sitting down and putting his feet on the table.
"I'd finished it", I said dourly. I was determined to give him no rope; he'd see this time that I had no patience with a man who could fritter away his talents as he was doing.
"And what do you think of it?" asked Josh airily.
"Frankly, I think your writing's becoming more absurd and childish every day", I said. "You know quite well you're wasting your time over this stuff; and at the same time you're cultivating a distorted imagination which will do you no good when you come to write serious work. This is only money-grubbing. Why don't you chuck it and try to find your real bent?"
"But this is my real bent!" Josh answered. "It's in my blood. Still, I suppose now that you've read The Multiple Being you think the idea behind it is simply nonsense?"
"Of course it is!" I cried. "A four-dimensional man-being who can be in several places at once, who exists in past, present, and future simultaneously! It's insane. The whole thing's utterly impossible."
"But is it, Frankis it?" asked Josh earnestly. "When I first thought of it, it seemed merely an attractive idea for a story. But now I've been reading up the subject more closely, and I wonder if there isn't more in my idea that I first imagined."
"Well, when you actually begin to believe in the feverish inventions of your own brainthere's a name for that, Josh!" I said with a laugh. I was determined not to take him seriously.
Josh removed his feet from the table, drew his chair up to the fire, and settled himself comfortably with one foot on the mantelpiece and the other on the coal-scuttle.
"What if I told you", he said, "that in my opinion, every one of us is a Multiple Being? Wait a minute!" he went on, holding up his hand. "I've explained in my story the idea that, just as a plane is part of a solid, so what we call a solid may be merely part of a four-dimensional body. A being who lived in two dimensions would perceive nothing but the plane; it would be his whole world and he could never imagine a solid body, because that would involve the concept of a third dimension. Yet all the time his plane might beindeed, must bepart of a three-dimensional solid. So with us. We live in a world of solids, and because we cannot perceive a fourth dimension, we cannot imagine any body higher, so to speak, than a solid. But that's not to say there may not be such bodies."
"No, of course not", I said agreeably. "With my limited imagination, I can't conceive of pigs flying, but that's not by any means to say . . ."
Josh silenced me with a glare, and then looked round the room.
"Have you got anything like a cube here?" he asked.
I searched through a few drawers and finally produced a white box which had once held a one-inch typewriter ribbon. It was a fair approximation to a cube. Josh took it from me and held it in the air.
"Now, listen", he said. "This ought to convince you. Supposing we have a two-dimensional being living on one surface of this box. He can't get off, that's obvious, unless he slides off the edge, and that's not in the game. You see that besides his plane there are five others on the outside of the box, none of which he is capable of visiting, because to get on to one of them, he would have to enter the third dimension, which is out of bounds to him. He doesn't know of these other worlds like his, and if he were like you, he'd deny the possibility of their existence. Yet if he could by any means reach one of the other planes, he'd find himself in a world of two dimensions exactly like his own. So in our case. Our solid world is merely a parta surfaceof a greater four-dimensional body which must have other similar surfaces, worlds like ours, but inaccessible to us because we cannot move in the fourth dimension."
"I'm afraid I can't take all this seriously, Josh", I said impatiently. "But how does it link up with your story of the Multiple Being?"
Josh twirled the little white box.
'We've postulated a two-dimensional being on one of these flat worlds", he continued thoughtfully. "Now, supposing he is actually a three-dimensional being? As such, it would be possible for him to be in contact with several or all of the planes at once; he could be living simultaneously in more than one world."
"Then he's no longer the being you first postulated", I protested, bewildered. "You're only making things unnecessarily confused."
"I'm trying to make things clear, but it's very difficult", he said. "The idea I have in mind is a being, limited to a three-dimensional mind, who is yet, without knowing it, part of a greater four-dimensional creature. In my story the Multiple Being was aware of his true nature, but he need not necessarily have been so. We, each of us, you and I, may be part of greater four-dimensional beings, just as this table may be only a surface of a four-dimensional object whose entirety we cannot see. There may be hundreds of other you's and me's living in other worlds, just round the corner from us in four-dimensional space; and each of those beings, including our present selves, is merely am aspect of the real, the greater, you and me."
He was gazing at me eagerly, this time with both feet in the scuttle and the copy of Space Tales twisted in his hands. I was completely baffled. Such amazing theories were right out of my province.
"But why should you think so?" I demanded. "Granted there is such a thing as a fourth-dimension, it does not follow that we are four-dimensional beings. I don't see how you can ever hope to prove it."
Josh drew a paper from his pocket and turned it over rapidly, then handing it to me he tapped a paragraph which was encircled in red pencil. I glanced at the column.
KARMA SOCIETY CONVENES
“I spoke with Hannibal!” President Claims.
I shook my head over it. It was the usual small paragraph reporting the activities of the sort of crazy society which is run by some lunatic. Re-incarnation is a proven fact, the society claimed. Experiences of members were described at the convention, including that of the President, Dr James Aquarius, who related how, in his previous life, he had been in the ranks of Carthage when Hannibal swore his dreadful oath to destroy Rome, and later had marched with Hannibal's army through Spain and across the Alps. To me it was simply a piece of nonsense, and I marvelled that Josh, who usually poked fun at such things as being sheer superstition, should attach any importance to the item.
"I wish you'd explain. what you're getting at", I said. "what on earth has this to do with the nonsense you've just been talking?"
"Simply that Dr Aquarius, whoever he may be, is speaking the truth. He did march with Hannibal. Frank, this little limited three-dimensional spark of consciousness isn't the whole of usit's only one small part of our greater, our four-dimensional life. In a dozen other worlds, worlds distant in time and space, you live, and I liveNOW! In the past, in the future, here, there, everywhere, there are beings that are ME, and we're all part of a bigger me. Andunderstand thisbecause they are me, I ought to be able to get in touch with them and understand their experiences. Don't you see, Frank, that's the true origin of re-incarnation; that's what it really means. A chain of successive lives is simply a theory evolved by Eastern thinkers to account for the fact that some people can remember other lives. Men know that life on this plane is not their only life; men have crossed the fourth dimension and penetrated other worlds. And the truth is that we live on many planes, but because we are here bound down by a three-dimensional consciousness, we cannot in the normal way experience any other than our own life."
Josh sank back in the chair, his eyes glittering and his hair wildly disordered. To someone who did not know, him he might almost have seemed insane. But I had seen him before in the grip of an idea and knew what to expect. I sat silent for a few minutes.
"Well, that's the nearest I've ever heard you come to Spiritualism!" I said finally. "Life on other planes! Surely your views have changed?"
"You haven't understood!" he exclaimed. "I didn't think you would. But don't you see, Frank, there's nothing ghostly about it. These other worlds are realas real and solid and tangible as this one; only they happen to be round the corner from ours, if I may put it so. And if we could get to one of them, you'd see, there wouldn't be any nonsense about spooks, it would be just like our flesh and blood world."
"And are you proposing to take me on a visit?" I asked.
"I'm trying to think of a way", he said. "But to conquer the fourth dimensionto force my mind from this Me to some other Me, to the edition of Josh Harner who lives perhaps hundreds of years in the future; to go forward to a world where disease is conquered, war abolished, fear driven out, where man is the true master of the earth. That's the world I've dreamt of, and now, can I find my way to it?"
"Why don't you consult Dr Aquarius?" I suggested, with a grin.
"Frank, I will!" shouted Josh. "Can't do any harm; might give me a few hints. See you sometime!" And with that he departed.
It was nearer a year than six months when I saw him again. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was just nodding off to sleep over Space Talesinsulting as the admission may be to the editor of this admirable publicationwhen the doorbell rang.
It continued to ring all the time I was shuffling into my slippers and crossing the hall, and by this sign I knew who the ringer was. The noise ceased only as I opened the door.
"May we come in?" asked Josh.
Slightly behind him stood a small, dark, sallow man, with a long clean-shaven face and a nervous twitch in one eye. He was carrying a dramatic black hat in his hand.
"Mr Frank PerryDr Aquarius", said Josh, stepping inside and waving the stranger in as well. "Mr Perry is one of my most valued critics", he added, with a grimace at me.
"Glad to know you, Mr Perry", said Doctor Aquarius. "I have heard of you, of course."
"I've heard of you too", I replied, as we sat down. "Seen anything of Hannibal lately?"
Josh pulled me up sharp with a frown.
"Dr Aquarius and I have been collaborating over the problem I mentioned to you some time ago", he announced. "you may remember that you were a bit sceptical. Well, you'll be annoyed to hear that we have achieved complete success."
I must admit I was a bit downed. Could it be an elaborate leg-pull, I wondered? But Josh never gave a sign.
"You mean", I said doubtfully, "that you've been hobnobbing with Hannibal as well?"
"I had the honour to be on the Roman side", said Josh, quietly, but with devastating effect on me. I gaped at him as if he had all at once taken leave of his sensesas, indeed, I thought he had.
Suddenly Josh dropped his formal manner and began to laugh. I was relieved to hear his usual light-hearted tones.
"It's all right, Frank, we're not pulling your leg", he said. "Dr Aquarius has assisted me. In fact, he has become completely converted to my theory. Through our work together we have discovered an almost perfect method of forcing our consciousness from one life to another."
Dr Aquarius leaned forward, his eye twitching nervously.
"Before I met Mr Harner", he said, "I believed that our past lives were gone forever; that only the effect of our past deeds remained. How we were able to relive those vanished lives I could not imagine, although I knew it to be possible. Mr Harner's theory explains that, and also reveals something of vastly greater importance."
He paused, and flicked his hat thoughtfully.
"According to the theory of four-dimensional life", he went on, waving the hat to and fro, "we are at liberty to travel not only in the past, but also in the future, for in four-dimensional space the future already exists. We have therefore been working to this end."
"But what sort of method are you adopting, Dr Aquarius?" I asked. "I must confess that I'm totally at a loss to conceive how such a journey, if I may call it that, could be made."
"In dreams, our minds are slightly loosened from the bonds of three-dimensional rigiditythat has already been discovered", explained Josh. "You know how it is, you go wandering about in space and time quite easily. Some people even have dreams of other lives. It seems apparent that the dreaming state, especially the sort of dream-state induced by certain drugs, approximates fairly closely to the sort of state we wish to bring about. So Dr Aquarius will explain . . ."
"I can understand your confusion, Mr Perry", said the Doctor smiling remotely. "Mr Harner and I have been working at it for months, and of course the experience I gained with the Karma Society has given us something to go on. First of all, we concentrate on complete silence, except only for some slight monotonous sound such as the ticking of a clock; then follows the injection of a drug we have prepared. Mr Harner has suggested also the use of certain pungent inhalants. In a few minutes the beam of consciousness is switched from this plane to another. The transition is quite simple."
"But according to Josh, the being on the other plane, as part of our greater being, has its own separate consciousness", I objected. "Or so I took him up. He seemed to say that each being, on each plane, is an equal part of the main being, and therefore each must be alive and sentient at the same time. Supposing we switch to this other plane, then we'll be, not us, but those other beings who are in some way connected with us. We'll still have this 'I' feeling, but we'll be people with different minds, different ideas, different memories. We'll know, not with our own minds, but with theirs."
Josh glanced at Dr Aquarius and raised his brows.
"That's odd, Frank", he said. "we've been thinking over that very problem. What you're trying to say is that we, as our present selves, will have no control over the other beings whose experiences we are going through; we'll be in the position of observer rather than operator. That's true; Dr Aquarius and myself both found that during our experiments. But I rather fancy that my latest development in the method will alter that. That's why I am so anxious to have another trial soon."
"You mean, you'll be able to act as yourselves and not as the beings of the other plane?" I asked.
"That's right", smiled the Doctor. "we shall be able to superimpose our minds on theirs and usurp their mental control, putting their minds temporarily in abeyance."
I flopped back in my chair, speechless. The whole thing was too mad for words.
"Well, how about it, Frank?" asked Josh.
"Oh, all right, I believe you", I said wearily. "I suppose there is some truth in your fantastic story, although I may say that I think you're both the victims of self-delusion."
"I didn't mean that", answered Josh. "I meant, are you coming with us?"
'WHAT?" I cried.
Josh came and stood over me, gripping the back of my chair hard.
"Listen!" he said. "Next time we go, it's the future. We're going to venture beyond anything else we've attempted. We intend to search for a forward plane in space-time, where we can live in an era perhaps hundreds of years in advance of this time. We'll see the world to comeall our problems solved, all the madness and folly of the present time washed away, and the bright day of Science established. We'll see the tall white cities of the future, the moving ways, the happy, healthy people of a peaceful era made fit for humanity by untrammelled scientific research. We'll see marvels undreamt of, things we can't hope to understand, and when we come back, it will be with a new hope for the future, for it will be more than hopeit will be certainty!"
He was blazing with excitement. Now the dreams he had so often poured out in his tales were almost within his reach. No wonder his hands were shaking as he bent over me.
What else could I do but nod my head feebly and say, "All right, Josh, I'll come."
Scarcely had I spoken the words before Dr Aquarius leapt up and seemed to turn suddenly into a whirlwind. He rushed to the windows and began pulling down the blinds. Meanwhile Josh pounced on the cat, grabbed it by the scruff of the neck, and shoved it outside the door. Then he swung round, flashed a glance between the little clock on the bureau and the tall grandfather's clock by the door, instantly snatched up the little clock, and dashed out with it to the hall.
I watched them dumbly.
"Must have absolute darkness", explained Josh, nodding towards Dr Aquarius, who was busily drawing the curtains of the first window. "And absolute silence, except for grandfather's soothing tick. Therefore I must eject the cat and your small clock with its nervous chatter."
"But good Lord, Josh, you're not going to start hereright away?" I cried.
"Of course!" he smiled. "That's why we came here, because your house is the quietest I know of, it's so far from the main roads. Where I stay there's far too much traffic. That's right, Dr Aquarius, shut out every chink."
The Doctor had pulled the second blind and plunged us into total darkness. I switched on the desk light and Josh frowned, then nodded.
"All right, we can put it out at the last minute", he said.
"Bring up three comfortable chairs, Frank".
I arranged three chairs side by side and silently took my place in the middle one as Josh gestured to me.
"We'll send you off first", said Josh. "Sniff!"
He thrust a wad of cottonwool up one of my nostrils, and my head was filled with a sharp, earthy perfume. My stomach seemed to shudder, and for a moment I felt sick, then all at once my brain turned into a horrible sort of mush. I felt confused and terrified; I struggled feebly. There was a sharp prick in my wrist, and then for a long while nothing but sickness and the distant sound of the ticking clock.
Then the clock began to chuckle, as if it were choking and couldn't manage to tick any longer. Or was it the clock? Someone was laughingwas a roar of mighty mirth, a multitudinous mirth. I opened my eyes, and an amazing sight met my vision.
I was lying tilted back upon something at an angle of about thirty degrees from the vertical, with my feet on the floor. It was like leaning on a plank. Around me was a vast room whose walls and ceiling were painted pale grey and decorated with geometrical figures and symbols outlined in black. But most astonishing of all was the figure that stood in front of me.
In height it seemed to be about the normal stature of a man, but in shape it was like nothing so much as a walking cone with a square box on top. Long stiff grey garments, stretching from throat to floor, stood out on all sides round it, while a hard grey box on a firm frame surrounded the head and came down to rest on the shoulders. But in the square opening in front of the box was framed the familiar face of Josh Harner. Josh had his mouth wide open and was laughing uproariously.
I struggled to move and the plank against which I was leaning instantly shot upright and permitted me to stand square on my feet. Glancing down, I found to my astonishment that I was wearing, as far as I could see, exactly the same extraordinary garb as Josh. I moved my legs and discovered that the thing was a sort of wire framework, covered with cloth, which allowed just enough movement of the legs to permit a sort of shuffling gait. My arms were pinned down inside the frame, but I noticed that there were two narrow slots in front, about waist-level, through which I could just manage to stick my fingers. My head likewise was covered with a curious structure, presumably the same as Josh's.
As I stared at him in bewilderment, he gave a last chuckle, and abruptly his face was hidden by a metal curtain which slid down from the top of his head-box. There were slots for eyes and mouth, but most astonishing of all, painted on the vizor, as I can only call it, was an expressionless mask of a face, with straight black brows, colourless cheeks, and narrow red lips around the mouth-slot.
"Josh!" I gasped. "What on earth is all this?"
I heard a stifled laugh and with a click the vizor shot up again to reveal Josh's face.
'I woke up before you did", he said, "and this is how I found us. The point is that we're not on earth, we're somewhere in our own world's future. And I must saymy hatyou do look like nothing on earth!"
"So do you! I retorted. "And where's Dr Aquarius?" Josh shook his head.
"I don't know", he said in a worried tone. "He must have wakened up as soon as I didwe would wake before you because we're more used to itbut I looked for him as soon as I opened my eyes and he wasn't here. I can only suppose his place in this world is remote from ours, which is very unlucky for him."
"Well, I suppose the first thing is to get out of these", I suggested. "Have you any idea how it's done?"
Josh put his fingers out of the slots and waggled them helplessly. I grinned and began fumbling with the wire arrangement inside my cone. It was thin wire and bent easily, and before long I was able to twist it aside and get the use of my hands by tearing at the cloth. Then I fumbled with the head-box until I was able to wrench it off, and finally completed my emergence from my prison. Josh was following my example, and before long we were both standing clad in long, narrow garments of some coarse grey material.
Just as I was stretching thankfully, a scream rang through the room. I spun round and saw a grey cone scurrying away through an opening in the wall, which was immediately closed behind it by a panel, which slid down.
"Dr Aquarius gone mad?" I asked Josh.
"No, that wasn't Aquarius; too tall", answered Josh. "I wondercould it have been some other
being of this world? Remember, we're inhabitants of this place ourselves, and when the others meet us we'll seem as if we've lost our memories, or something like that. And this rigout we're wearingwell!"
"Perhaps we're patients in a mental home", I suggested, "and these are strait-jackets."
We were not left much longer in doubt, for suddenly the panel in the wall flew up and there entered three cones. Just inside the doorway they paused, and seemed to confer among themselves. Then as they came slowly forward, one of them advanced in front of the others.
"What is the meaning of this outrage?" he asked in fairly clear English with a slight foreign flavouring.
"I'm afraid weahwe're strangers here", muttered Josh, evidently daunted by the tone.
I noticed that the faces of the three cones were each covered with a metal vizor, and on each vizor was painted exactly the same expressionless mask that I had seen on Josh's.
"Strangers?" queried the cone icily. "You appear indeed to be strangersstrangers to decency and right thinking. Do you realise that you are committing a criminal offence?"
We both stared in amazement. This was a fine reception to our wonderful world of the futures
"Would you please explain?" Josh said. "You see, it's hard for us to make it clear, but if you'll let us speak to some of your scientists, we'll prove our case. At the moment we aren't well up in your customs, and you must pardon us if we offend you in any way."
It seemed to me a fine speech, but I thought I heard a sound like a snort from behind one of the painted masks.
"That is no excuse for your gross indecency", replied the first cone coldly. "In this country it is not customary to appear unclothed in a public building."
"Unclothed! " hooted Josh, We glanced down at the grey garments which covered us from neck to heel.
A short grey stick appeared from one of the slots in front of the cone and tapped the tangled wire frameworks we had discarded.
"Oh!" said Josh weakly. We felt like a couple of schoolboys in front of a trio of particularly old-fashioned masters. "Oh, is that what you mean?"
The stick signed and one of the cones, shuffling over to a dial like that of a telephone set in the wall, thrust out a similar stick and swiftly dialled. After a short time a trolley on which stood upright two of the cone dresses, complete with head-pieces, glided in. Deftly using its grey stick, the first cone opened one of the dresses down one sideit split in two with an appearance horribly reminiscent of the ancient form of torture known as the Maidenprodded Josh into it, and fastened it again.
Meanwhile the other cones had shoved me into the second dress, and in a few minutes I found myself fastened up as before, with a metal vizor in front of my face through which I could see only a limited section of my surroundings. Still with the same skilful use of the sticks, one of the cones removed a little dark metal disc from each of our discarded dresses, and slipped them over neat hooks on the breasts of our new outfits.
"Come with us!" ordered the first cone, and off we went, shuffling along like a crowd of elderly penguins. I found myself wondering what would happen if one of us were to fall; it would be impossible to get up again unaided. So much alike were we all that when we had passed through the doorway and were standing in a long passage outside, I could not for a moment be sure which was Josh. Then as we began walking again I knew him by his clumsy, unpractised gait.
We didn't walk far, for going opposite ways in the centre of the passage were two moving belts, and stepping on one of these we were carried along between walls of the same monotonous grey on which the same geometrical symbols were repeated with but little variation. Everywhere we saw straight lines; there seemed not a curve in the whole place.
At last we stepped off opposite a high door, which at once slid up. Entering, we found ourselves in what might have been the same room all over again. It was identical as far as decorations went. Here and there stood a few upright boards, painted grey and shaped like shoelifts.
"You may rest", said one of the cones.
We hesitated, but the two other cones immediately went to the boards and each leant against one. The boards tilted back slightly, so that they were able to take up a half-standing, half-lying position which didn't look very comfortable. Josh and I remained standing while the leader cone went over to a small pedestal in the middle of the room, where he started twirling dials with his stick.
"Can't sit down in this get-up", I muttered to Josh. "But I don't fancy their method of 'resting'. What kind of mad place is this we've come to?"
"Heaven knows!" answered Josh. "And the devil of it is that we won't get away again until the drug wears off, which may not be for hours. Better keep quiet and see what happens."
The grey cone was coming towards us again, and behind him we now saw a black cone who had evidently entered by some door outwith our limited range of vision. The black cone came up quite close and stared at us. We could see black eyes glittering through the mask, and for the first time I felt a sudden stab of terror. Were they like us, these people in the queer garments? Were they human at all? Any form might be hidden within these cone-shaped frames, although we had assumed them to hide beings like ourselves. How were we to know? Those eyessomehow they did not seem human.
The black cone drew back a few paces.
"In the west Library, you say?" he asked, in a slightly thick voice.
"Yes, my lord", answered the grey chap.
"Stark naked?" continued the black fellow.
"Yes, my lord", said the other.
Josh gave a yelp of protest, but they ignored him.
"This sort of thing has got to be stopped", said the black cone harshly. "There's too much of it. Take them downstairs; they can be dealt with later."
There was something evil about his voice that gave me the creeps. That creature means us no good, I thought, as Josh and I followed our guide out of the room again. The other two cones remained leaning on their supports. In silence we stepped once more on the moving belt. This time we hadn't gone far before the moving way suddenly whisked us round a corner, and there before us was a vast doorway, an open doorway giving on to what seemed to be a street. We could see figures passing to and fro, and I even thought I caught a glimpse of blue sky between two tall buildings. The moving belt ran straight to the door.
Suddenly Josh's voice muttered in my ear, "Watch this!"
Our guide was standing in front of us, and all at once Josh glided silently past me so that he came up beside the cone. Then with a quick movement Josh flung himself against the other. The man stumbled, swayed, and fell on his back at the side of the moving path. Shouting in a thin voice he lay there unable to move hand or foot. Meanwhile we went gliding on, not rapidly, by any means, but swiftly enough to leave our fallen friend behind. In a few minutes we had emerged into the streets of our city of the future.
Evidently the moving ways were not used out of doors, or, at least, not in this quarter of the town, for we saw small, square vehicles hastening by, soundlessly, speedily, and without dust or smoke. The pavements were raised five or six feet above the level of the road, so that we were looking down at the traffic, while flights of steps descended at intervals from the pavement to what appeared to correspond to bus stops.
The roads were crossed by slender bridges between the pavements. On either side high buildings with square façades rose into a cloudless blue sky. Every building was painted grey and was decorated with exactly the same design of geometrical figures in black. The effect, although clean and neat, was dreary and monotonous in the extreme.
Crowds of cones hurried along the pavements in both directions. All were grey, with here and there, a few black ones. We noticed that whenever a black cone appeared his path was at once cleared, and he passed by with much bowing of head-boxes. Officials or rulers of some kind, evidently. Hadn't we heard a grey cone calling a black one "my lord"? There was no distinction between male and female, child and adult. Some of the cones were shorter than others, that was all. And in front of every face hung that inane plate of thin metal, with exactly the same inhuman mask painted on them all. As far as eye could tell there was not a hair's difference between one creature and another.
"So this is your wonderful city of the future, Josh?" I couldn't help remarking. "Give me dirty London any old times"
"It certainly isn't what I expected", he said. "Did you ever in all your life imagine such a ghastly place? How can people live in a world like this?"
"Perhaps it's not all the same", I suggested. "But there's one thingperhaps one shouldn't mention it when one has just made a thrilling journey into the futurebut it seems a long while since dinner and I'd like very much to sample the food of the future."
"So would I!" said Josh. "Let's see if we can find a place to eat."
We wandered along through street after street, but always the same square-fronted buildings hemmed us in, and always the same maddening triangles and polygons leered from their walls. They did leer, finally; they looked as if they were mocking our hunger as we searched vainly for some restaurant or snack-bar. There seemed to be no shops. Then we came to a part of the town where there were long shining arcades of windows. Our hopes soared.
Row after row of windows we scanned, Books filled some, scientific instruments others, while one was full of framed diagrams showing various theorems in spherical geometry. All this was so much torture to us. At last Josh paused by a window full of unfamiliar glass instruments and said:
"Frank, we may cause some surprise by our odd accent, or we may do something wrong, but I'm going to ask the first person who passes where we can get some grub."
We waited and presently a small grey cone came gliding along, stopping now and then to gaze into windows. As it drew level Josh stepped forward and said, "Excuse me!"
"Can I help you?" asked the cone politely, in a soft feminine voice.
"Madam", said Josh, "could you tell us where we can get something to eat?"
The result was such as to amaze even me, although I had thought myself proof against surprises. The cone emitted a faint stifled shriek, swayed, and then swiftly turned and ran from us as if we had threatened her very life.
Josh looked at me and I saw a sparkle of amusement in his eyes through the mask-holes.
"Perhaps the language has changed a bit", I suggested. "we may have been unintentionally rude."
"We'll have to try someone else, then", said Josh. "And this time we'll make it quite clear what we want."
The next passerby was a tall grey cone, and we accosted him with extreme politeness. Josh pointed to his mouth, rubbed that part of his costume most likely to be opposite his stomach, and said, "Food! Hungry! We want eat:. You savvy?"
There followed a sort of frozen silence. I could have sworn that the cone drew itself up a couple
of inches, and certainly I could see a pair of eyes staring through the holes in the mask with an
expression which I could interpret only as fury and disgust. In my less balanced moments I have
sometimes imagined myself in the position of walking up to a grave, respectable gentleman in the street and addressing him with the most obscene remark I could think of. Actually I have never done so; but at this moment I felt sure that behind the mask was the very expression of that respectable gentleman as my remark fell on his ears. In short, I could see that we had put our foot in it again.
After a few speechless moments the cone gave a strangled snort and said loudly, "Filthy young
swine!" Then the usual short grey stick was shot out of his front slot and he vigorously prodded
a large black button which was let into the wall behind us. Meanwhile Josh turned to run and I
hastily followed him. We had shuffled perhaps fifty yards down the pavement when I saw four
grey cones with black head-pieces coming towards the alarm as rapidly as if they had been on
roller-skates. They were whistling shrilly as they came and the passers-by scattered quickly in front
"Police!" shouted Josh. We dodged into an arcade, but our guilty flight had betrayed us and like a flash they were after us. Two of them came dashing forward with a length of thin rope stretched between them. We were too clumsily attired to get away. Literally they skated rings round us, and in a few minutes we were roped together by several turns of the rope round our middles. Then we were marched off at the rope's end, led down one of the flights of steps from the pavement to the traffic road, and presently bundled into a square black and grey car.
In a short while we stopped outside what might have been the very building we had left, for it looked exactly the same as every other. Inside there was as usual an almost complete absence of furniture; a few leaning-boards and here and there a pedestal with several dials made up all the contents of the rooms. We were led swiftly through the main hall, taken down several floors in a lift, and jostled into a smaller room. The police removed the ropes and left us.
We looked around gloomily at the wretched grey walls and the black diagrams adorning them. If we were in prison, the scene seemed fitting, and yet it was no different from every other room we had so far seen in the city. The whole place, in fact, now began to strike me as being one enormous prison camp. I wondered if we had perchance strayed into a city of lepers whose people had devised the odd dress they wore in order to conceal the hideousness of their decaying bodies. But my light-headed speculations, almost worthy of Josh himself, were soon cut short.
"Good-afternoon!" said a voice politely.
Limited in our range of vision, we were forced to turn almost completely round in order to see the speaker. At the opposite side of the room a cone was lounging idly against a leaning-board. The face-mask was up, and we could see the face of a young man, darkish, intelligent, and with a pleasant smile which yet had behind it an awareness of danger and an alert readiness. So they were human, after all! I must confess I felt a pang of relief.
"You might as well take off your masks", said the young man. "Public morals don't matter so much here."
He spoke in what I have previously described as English with a strong foreign flavour, but which might better be described as a sort of mixture of English, French, and German, with the emphasis on the first. Words, phrases, and constructions from all three languages entered into his speech, as we gradually found out later, but fortunately it was fairly easy for us to understand what he said. As he spoke he glanced keenly at us and it seemed to me that his words were a sort of challenge. Josh's mask at once slid up.
"There's a sort of button inside your suit, Frank", he said to me. "If you fumble about with your left hand you'll feel it, just about waist-level. That's what works the mask. I found it out when we first arrived here."
I felt for the button, pressed, and thankfully found myself looking out on the world without that
wretched, hot, metal thing constantly in front of my face.
"That's better!" Josh said, with a friendly grin at the stranger.
"It is!" he agreed. "They allow us that much, but if you try to remove anything else they find out, and then they turn off the ventilation and put on the heating until you simply can't bear it any longer."
"But what is this place?" I asked impatiently. "Why on earth are we here? And in heaven's name, do people never eat in this ghastly world?"
The young man looked at us curiously.
"What part of the world do you come from?" he asked in astonishment. "Don't you know that you're in prison, that this is the condemned cell, and that as soon as they come for usfini!"
"Oh!" I said. "I see. And do they put people in prison here for being hungry?"
"Perhaps they've arrested us as vagrants", Josh suggested. "After all, that's what we are, for we've no homes and no money."
The stranger tipped himself up from his board and came across the room, staring at us intently all the time.
"You can trust me, you know", he said, abruptly and seriously. "I'm a member of the League myself. I thought for a moment when you came in that you might bewell, two of the others, you know, sent to find out how much we of the League know. But of course I see you aren't and since you're here I presume you are members".
"You seem about the least insane person we've met since we came here", said Josh. "And even though we don't know what you're talking about, we may as well tell you our story. We're not members of any League. We've come from the year 1946 A.D., which I imagine is somewhere in the past as far as you're concerned. My name is Josh Harner, and this is Frank Perry, my partner."
"Jawn Bagot", replied the young man, introducing himself with a bow of the head. "Well, things certainly must have changed a lot since your day, I should think."
I couldn't be sure whether he regarded us as a pair of amiable lunatics or a couple of jokers. In any case he took our statement quite calmly, and stood for a moment calculating mentally with a slight frown.
"1946 A.D.well, that's almost exactly a thousand years age, he said finally. "This is 868 Y.P., and as far as my history goes the last year of your era end the first of ours was the year 2082 A.D. So that's right, isn't itone thousand and four years between our times."
"Eight hundred and sixty-eight Y.P.?" asked Josh. "Then you've started a new epoch?"
"That's right. This is the eight hundred and sixty-eighth Year of the Peace", answered Yawn Bagot. "Eight hundred and sixty-eight years since the end of the last international war."
Josh looked at me with a brilliant light in his eyes.
"Almost nine hundred years since man last raised his weapons against man!" he breathed. "No
more murder, no more destruction of cities and lands. Nine hundred years of peaceand progress!"
"Yes, we fight our wars by other means now", said Bagot bitterly.
I looked at him inquiringly but before he could continue we saw that a door had opened and a black cone had entered. We stood silent as he glided swiftly towards us.
"Your names?" he said. Josh gave them, and the cone nodded.
"Jawn Bagot, Josh Harner, Frank Perry", he recited, "you are charged with behaving indecently in public buildings and upon the public streets, and with corrupting the morals of the citizens. Have you anything to say in your defence before I pass sentence?"
"Here, you can't do that! " shouted Josh. "This isn't a fair trial. I refuse to make any statement. You'll have to bring witnesses."
The cone took absolutely no notice.
"Guilty!" he went on calmly. "You are sentenced to be confined in this prison at the convenience of Their Lordships, and after death your bodies to be given to science."
I was frankly too flabbergasted to take the thing seriously. It seemed absolutely incredible that things could happen like this outside a nightmare. The sentence of death was something too fantastic to be believed. As I stood dazed, Bagot stepped forward. He had thrust his hand out of
the slot in front of his dress, which he had forced further open for the purpose. Stretching out, he
wrenched at the mask which covered the black cone's face.
Instantly the cone gave a hideous cry of fury and spun around on its heels. But before it turned away the mask fell, and we had a glimpse of something so loathsome, so utterly bestial in its ghastly inhumanity, that the very sight made me sick with dread.
No human face was concealed behind that mask. Instead peered forth a horribly wrinkled, reddish thing; chinless, with a wide crimson mouth fringed with dangling red gobbets of flesh; no nose, but a diagonal slit like a nostril in each cheek; and eyesgreenish-black eyesthe eyes of a raging animal.
Evidently unable to adjust the mask, the black cone walked swiftly to the door. As the panel slid up it paused, without turning.
"Jawn Bagot", it said, in a tone crackling with rage and evil, "here we have many deaths, some easy, some hard. Of these you can die but one: for that mercy be thankful."
Then it marched out and the door clicked behind it. Bagot turned to us, flushed and excited.
"Well, what do you think of that?" he asked. "You see now why I was doubtful when you first came in; I apologise if I seemed suspicious. In these times it is impossible to trust anyone until you have seen him with his mask lifted."
"But what one earth is it?" demanded Josh. "It's not a human being, is it? Or can it be afflicted with some awful disease?"
"It's not human", replied Bagot quietly. "But you were hungry; you must have some food. You see, nowadays it is considered indecent to mention any bodily function in public or in private, and it is positively obscene to be found eating or drinking. We do such things in the seclusion of closed cabinets. The inspectors of public morals enforce the laws, and anyone who is found lifting his mask in the open street or in a public building is very heavily fined. As for eating in the openwell, I suppose that even in your semi-civilised times there were things you didn't care to do in public."
"And I suppose you represent the more enlightened views of your age?" asked Josh, slightly sarcastic because he was obviously a bit nettled by that remark about our semi-civilised times.
"Well, we of the League have tried to throw off a lot of those absurd prohibitionsespecially as we know now why they are so strictly enforced", said Bagot, with a grim expression as he spoke the last words. "But I must say that, even to me, it does seem a bit disgusting when one reads in histories of how people used to gather together and sit round a table for the sole purpose of cramming themselves with food. It's all very well to be enlightened, but one has to draw the line somewhere. Still, I'm wasting your time; come along."
He led the way to where a couple of door panels were set in the wall.
"Do you know how to use your sticks?" he asked.
I had discovered the little wand fixed to the wire framework inside my dress, convenient to my hand, and after some fumbling I managed to poke it out through the slot in my cone and jab awkwardly at a stud indicated by Bagot. The panel flew open to reveal a small room with a grey-painted table and the first chair I had seen in the new world. A board above the table bore a row
"You're allowed to take off the outer dress while you're inside, so that you can have the full use
of your hands," Bagot told us. "Press the buttons and you'll get anything you want."
He showed me how to unfasten my cone, and I stepped eagerly inside. Josh was about to
follow me, when Bagot cleared his throat and muttered in am embarrassed tone, "Next door for you, please:"
A solitary meal is something that has never appealed to me, and although I was starving and the
food which shot at me out of a hatch as soon as I pressed the first button was well-cooked and tasty, my dinner was not much of a success. I felt sorry for Josh, who never could eat without talking. His digestion, I felt sure, would be ruined by the enforced silence. It was not long before, feeling somewhat better, I squeezed myself into my suit of armour again and returned to the main room. Josh was already there, and Bagot was standing over by the door, staring intently at the floor beside it. As I appeared he joined us.
"Won't you explain what all this is about?" Josh began at once. "Who is thatthat creature we saw? Are there many of them? And if they're not human, what in the name of the world are they?"
"I told you we don't fight our wars the way you did", replied Jawn Bagot, after a few moments' silence. "I only wish to Heaven we did. But the good old days are gone. Now it's cunning and secret murder and clever concealment that win wars. At this very moment there is going on in our countryall over the world, in facta struggle of such bitterness and terror as you can never have known. Yet the vast majority of the human race is totally unaware of its occurrence."
"But I don't follow you", said Josh. "Are you speaking metaphorically? A war on, and yet most people don't know of it! Where is the fightingwho are the soldiers?"
"I'm not speaking in riddles", answered Bagot. "There's a real old-fashioned war ragingone race trying to dominate another and drive it from its land. What's that if it's not war? Where is the fighting, you ask? Everywhere! Who are the soldiers? We are!We members of the League of Freedom who are trying to seek out the enemy and drive him from our planet!"
"From your planet?" I cried.
Bagot nodded heavily.
"We are invaded by Mars", he said solemnly. "And as things stand we are fighting a losing battle."
We stared at him unbelievingly. Even Josh who, since they had figured in many of his tales, was more accustomed than I was to the idea of Martian invaders, was struck dumb.
"The creature you have just seen is one of Them", continued Bagot, with some agitation. "All the black ones, the officials, are. As for the others, we don't know; they are everywhere. We never know whether we are speaking to friend or foe."
"You meanthese monsters are the Martians?" I cried. "But howGood Lord, why don't you round them all up? It's easy enough to tell . . ."
"Could you go into the streets and tell by sight whether a human or a Martian face was hidden behind any given mask?" demanded Bagot. "The numbered disc is the only clue to identity, and that is useless. Faces are never seen in the street, because the law is that no part of the human body may be exhibited in public. It is considered indecent. Inspectors of Public Morals are everywhere; the least infringement of the laws is severely punished. Don't you see how clever it is?"
"But it must be awful for everyone:" I exclaimed. "Why, you wouldn't know whether you were passing a human being or one of these frightful monstrosities!"
"It isn't awful because, except for a few of us, people don't know", said Bagot. "That's why I say that the vast majority of the human race doesn't know there's a war on. As far as the ordinary person can tell, every one of these cones hides a perfectly normal man or woman."
He walked up and down a few paces and then came close to us.
"I've read history", he said, "and this is how I see it. Years and years ago this purity movement started. I suppose it was a reaction from the freedom of previous years. At first it seemed only a few cranks; they were laughed to scorn. Then it began to grow and spread. Soon it became a social duty to conceal the shape of the human form. It was thought disgusting to do otherwise. Then it became a government regulation, and finally a strictly enforced law. Soon everyone, man, woman, and child, was wearing the same dress, designed to make a human being look like a geometrical figure. Face-veils came into fashion for everybody about the same time, and then the
wearing of the metal mask became compulsory. Eating in public was banned as shocking and degrading; everything that could possibly make the baring of hands or face necessary has to be done in strict privacy. Instead of using our hands, we were brought up to use short sticks which we poked out through the slots in our dresses, and soon everything possible was done by the pressing of a button by one of the sticks. I believe some people even go to bed in their cone dresses!"
"I think I begin to see light", said Josh. "Then all this was engineered by the invaders?"
"First of all by their human agentsfor some men actually turned traitor to the cause of humanity", answered Bagot. "As time went on, 'morals' became stricter and stricter. Animals were banished, or else camouflaged as rectangular boxes. The growing and selling of flowers was prohibited because of their disgusting nakedness. The representation of living creatures in painting and design was not allowed; only geometrical designs were used. This was partly to keep the fun going and partly because the Martian has a mathematical mind with no artistic sympathies.
He loves nothing so much as a straight line. They hate colours too; everybody must dress in grey or black, and it is illegal to wear anything else."
"And this has been going on for a long while?" asked Josh.
"About fifty years, as far as we can make out", replied Bagot. "All that time, slowly and steadily, the Martians have been coming over and mingling with us. Agents started the campaign, the Martians fostered it, and now we don't know how many of them are here. The dress is cunningly designed to conceal the differences between the Martian and the human figure, so that is impossible to distinguish the two apart. You've seen the hideous face. In addition the Martian has a long grotesque body and short awkward legs, and there are various other differences which are cleverly hidden. The plan seems to be that more and more invaders will be sent over until they are in the majority, when they will quietly take over control, as they have almost done already,
and assume mastery of the earth. Earth-men won't know what's happeningperhaps they never will, for the plan may be to kill us off secretly one by one until there are only Martians left. Already our homes, buildings, and transport are on the Martian design and system. Soon the earth will be a Martian planet; man will be crowded out, and all without a stroke of resistance. For the horrible, maddening, hopeless thing about it is that mankind doesn't know of the enemy; mankind goes quietly about its business without the faintest notion that our planet is gradually being
wrested from us!"
"But how do you know about it?" I asked. " How did you happen to find out?"
"Because I am a member of the Freedom League", he expiated. "The League started ten years ago, and was an innocent enough club, simply got up by a few young people who were fed up with the absurd 'morals' of their parents and wanted some fun out of life. But as soon as they came against the law, they found that there was something more behind the business than mere misguided morality. They found their members being taken secretly away for comparatively slight offences, and those members never came back. Suspicion was aroused, some of the League investigated, and just about the time I joined, three years ago, they were getting on the trail."
"Then, if you know now, isn't it possible to arouse the public?" cried Josh. "why not proclaim your discovery, demand an examination of every man and woman in the state, exterminate the invaders?"
"What chance have we of being believed?" said Bagot wearily. "Nearly all the rulers are Martians; the majority of the police and heaven knows how many of the common people are the same. For all we know we three may at this moment be the last human beings left alive In the world."
We stood silent, while Jawn Bagot stared despairingly into space. I couldn't help thinking again of Josh's wonderful cities of the future, and the contrast presented by this city of greyness and creeping terror. The only way out seemed for us to transport Jawn back with us to our own sane, healthy days of the past when men honestly blasted each other to bits with shells and bombs instead of crawling about in wretched canvas cones, rubbing shoulders with loathsome inhuman things from another planet. But unfortunately I feared that this solution was out of the question.
"I've been trying to decide whether it's worth it", said Bagot abruptly. "I think there's a way we might get out of this place, but on the other hand it might be a trap. Are you willing to risk it?"
"I'd give anything to get out of this!" cried Josh, and I agreed.
Bagot went over to the door-panel.
"It's odd, but simple", he said. "As he went out our black friend seems to have dropped his stick in his haste, and it's got wedged under the door. So you see, there's just the least bit of a handhold. Do you think we could manage to work the door up and hold it long enough to slip under it?"
"We can try!" said I, full of enthusiasm, and instantly Jawn Bagot unfastened his cone and stepped out in his long coarse grey robe. We quickly followed his example, and then bent to the task of getting the door open. It was very heavy, or else worked with a strong spring, and for a while we strained and heaved to no effect. Josh cursed in despair. It seemed as if the hope had been a delusion.
We rested and then Bagot stretched his limbs and motioned us back. A lift, a heave, another lift, and in a few minutes we had raised the door several feet. I got my shoulder under it and Josh did the same. The edge bit into flesh and muscle agonizingly, but we bore the weight while Bagot crept under and then gave his support to the door from the outside. I followed him, and in another minute we were all standing in the passage outside. Hastily we resumed our cones, for although they hampered our movements there was more chance of escape, as Bagot rightly
insisted, if we were wearing the regulation clothing.
With shuffling steps and beating hearts we followed the passage to the left. Whether we had chosen the right direction we could not say, but Bagot went forward as if sure of himself, and we accepted his leadership. We were on the way to liberty once more.
“One of the black cones is following us", Josh suddenly muttered to me. "I've glimpsed his reflection several times in shop windowsthe good old detective dodge!and I'm sure he's after us. Tell BagotI daren't speak any louder."
I whispered the news to Bagot, who was walking at my other side. We had by this time safely reached the street, and were mingling with the crowds, among whom we hoped to pass unknown. Bagot had guided us easily from the prison building for, as he afterwards explained, all buildings of Martian construction had exactly the same mathematical plan.
"Perhaps Harner's mistaken", Jawn Bagot replied. "They all look alikehe may be walking behind us purely by chance. Should we slow down a bit and see what he does?"
We agreed, thinking that the cone behind might do the same if he were really following us. Instead, however, he hurried on until he came up to us. Then he stopped, his masked face turning uncertainly from one to the other of our group.
"Mr Harner?" he asked doubtfully.
I thought it best not to reply, but Josh instantly said: "Haven't you made some mistake?"
The black cone shuffled closer.
"It is! It is!" he cried. "I know you! Josh Harner! Thank God I've found you at last!"
There was heart-felt relief in his tones, but the memory of what we had seen behind the mask of one of the black cones kept back a friendly reply from our lips. We turned without a word and walked away. The cone instantly hastened after us.
"Don't godon't leave me!" he cried. "Don't you know me? HarnerPerryI am James Aquarius!"
We drew up sharp while Bagot vainly tried to urge us on. James Aquarius! But how had he managed to obtain the black dress, the garb of the officials who were supposed all to be Martians? The black cone had reached our sides once more.
"Harner", he said, "what is all this about? What has happened to me? Heavens, I little dreamt when I took up your experiment so enthusiastically that I should come to this end. The very thought of the body I inhabit makes me sick with horror!"
For a moment, as I realised his meaning, I felt faint. Was it possible? Aquariusa Martian! But he was a human being like ourselves; how could he have undergone such a ghastly change?
Then all at once my fear and disgust left me. I was seeing things from the point of view of Aquarius; I was imagining how I should feel if I discovered myself inhabiting a body as loathsome as a Martian's. It was like the way you feel about some ghastly deforming disease. When you think of it abstractly, it seems repulsive and hideous; but when you realise it in connection with someone who was once sound and healthy, it seems just pitiful. Jawn Bagot was still trying to hurry us on and get away from the black figure, but I deliberately halted, and I saw that Josh was doing the same. Bagot was forced to linger with us.
"Is there anywhere we can go to talk?" Aquarius asked. "It's better not to linger in the streets, even with me."
I saw Josh trying to catch Bagot's eye through his mask-holes and Bagot turning away.
"Haven't you got some place, Bagot?" Josh appealed. "We can vouch for Dr Aquarius; he is a friend of ours who came with on our journey, although some horrible accident has landed him into this mess. He'll work for us. Don't you see", she went on, eagerly, as Bagot remained silent. "He'll be a great help to us. He'll be able to tell us something of the Martianshow they live and perhaps what we can do to rid ourselves of the menace. It will be like having a spy in the campa spy who will be absolutely indetectable."
He had unconsciously raised his voice in his excitement, and Dr Aquarius suddenly edged against him in the only form of nudge possible in the clumsy canvas cones.
"Not so loud, Harner!" he muttered. "Those were three Martians who passed just now mercifully they don't seem to have heard us."
We gazed after the three grey cones who were waddling slowly down the street in front of us. They looked to me exactly like any other cones. I could never have told whether they were earthmen or Martians. While I puzzled, Josh took the direct way.
"How do you know, Dr Aquarius?" he asked curiously. "A far as I can see they might be perfectly honest earthmen."
Dr Aquarius gave a queer kind of "Oh!" as if he had just made an interesting discovery.
"Then you're different from me", he said. "I can always tell; we all can. It's by smell that we know. We Martians must have a keener sense of smell than you have. I assure you that to me there is an unmistakable difference; I can even tell the difference between the three of you, now that I know which is which."
"Oh, that's interesting", said Josh thoughtfully. He pondered for a while. But to me it was not so much the revealed fact that was interesting, as that casual, unthinking expression, "we Martians" used by Aquarius. To human beingsand surely at heart he must still be human?it seemed unnatural to speak of the invaders in any other way than Bagot's; to refer to the Martians as anything else than "They". But Aquariuswas he actually thinking of himself now as one of them? Was he, after all, as much on our side as Josh seemed to think? I remembered ominously the moment, now so far away, when I had jestingly asked Josh if he too had been hobnobbing with Aquarius. "I had the honour to be on the Roman side", he had answered. They had been enemies,
then, in those lives so far back in time. And now, in another life, in a future world, was it possible that the enmity still lived? Was it possible that I, had I gone on that earlier journey with them, might have found myself with Josh on the Roman side? I wondered uneasily.
Bagot had evidently been reassured by the disclosure Aquarius had made. Added to Josh's reasoning, it convinced him sufficiently well. During my reverie they had been conferring and now the three of them started off down the streets leaving me to shuffle after them as fast as I could.
"Bagot is taking us to the Freedom Club", Josh explained, when we were walking side by side again. "He wants us to meet some of the others, and perhaps with the aid of Aquarius we'll be able to think out some way of defeating the invasion."
"Josh", I said quietly but urgently. "Are you quite sure of Dr Aquarius? After all, he is a Martian and he's bound to have some sympathy with the people of whom he is one, more so than with us, who are foreign to him. Don't you think we should try to get rid of himtactfully, of course?"
"Don't be a fool, Frank", said Josh. "It's only an accident that he's a Martian; fundamentally he's on our sidehow could he possibly be otherwise? And we can't go off and leave him alone in this world which is utterly strange to him. It's our duty to help him in his misfortune, or at least I feel it's mine, because I brought him into this Adventure."
I shrugged but without effect since the gesture was invisible within the cone. We marched on, turning through street after street and now and then crossing the slender bridges over the traffic ways. Grey and a few black cones passed and overtook us, lingered on the ways, mounted and alighted from the public conveyances, wandered in and out of buildings. My skin crept every time one passed close to me. There might be a human creature within, but on the other handLord, what a ghastly situation it was: The hidden, unknown invaders, walking calmly among the people they planned to rob of a world, their alien hideousness concealed craftily under the mask which man's folly permitted them to wear! Even we, rebels against the Martian-imposed rule, were walking side by side with one of the monstrous creatures. My distrust of Aquarius grew minute by minute.
The presence of the black cone with us certainly guaranteed respect. Everywhere heads bowed
as we passed and strollers stepped aside to give us free passage. When we mounted a swift street-car the other passengers stood up respectfully until the black cone had settled himself comfortably against a leaning-board.
At last when we seemed to have travelled for about an hour, Bagot led us into one of the square buildings. We went up in the lift to the very top floor and then down a long corridor on a moving belt. Bagot stepped off at one of the doors and tapped out with his stick a peculiar rhythma familiar device of conspirators The door opened and we entered. In a small ante-room three or four grey cones were leaning about idly. They stood erect instantly on seeing the black cone with us, and one came over quickly.
"Masks?" he said, with quiet authority. Bagot immediately raised his and we did the same. The cone turned to Aqarius, but Bagot hastily struck in, "We can vouch for our friend here; he is one of us. But as a new member he prefers not to raise his mask. These old-fashioned prejudices, you know!" He added a strained and obviously forced laugh which brought the suspicious eyes of the grey cone on him.
"Why is he wearing the black?" he inquired sharply. "You're not such an old member yourself, Bagot; you'd better be careful what you do here."
"Listen! Let me explain!" cried Josh. "The three of us are friends; we've all come from a world far from yours."
He went on to explain the whole story of our adventure, and I must say that to me, listening quietly, it seemed so wildly fantastic that I could not bring myself to believe it would convince the cone. In fact I was sure that I could see disbelief growing in his half-hidden eyes as Josh went on.
Josh must have felt the same, for concluding the tale in a rush he went on, before anyone else could speak, "Listen! I'll prove our good faith! I'll tell you something you don't know, and never could have known; something that may be of inestimable value to you. Do you know how the Martians recognise each other, even though you couldn't see any difference between us and them?
Do you know how it is they never give themselves away to earthmen?"
The grey cone shook his head. His formerly scornful eyes were now glittering with excitement,
but he was evidently trying to conceal it.
"Smell!" said Josh. "Smell! That's how. They've a wonderfully developed sense of smell, and they
can tell the difference without the least trouble. Now do you see the sense of having a spy in the camp?"
The grey cone stood silent for a moment, and then said quietly "pass in". He evidently had come
to the conclusion that the risk was worth taking. Although he gave no sign of being impressed by
the news we had just given him, I could tell by the way he went hastily to his companions the
instant we turned away, and by the way in which they all started up from their boards in obvious
excitement, that the discovery we had made was of first-rate importance to the cause of the Free
We passed through a second door and entered a large room where a number of young men and
women, freed of their cones and clad in the usual long, narrow. garments, were sitting on
cushions' on the floor or on chairs evidently purloined from eating-cabinets. Most were clad in
sober grey, but one or two, in defiance of the laws, were daringly wearing dark blues and greens.
One young man, obviously an advanced spirit, was sporting a scarlet sash.
Jawn Bagot shed his cone with a sigh of relief, and with equal pleasure we followed his
example. Aquarius held beck, shrinking against the door.
"Where on earth did he get that?" cried a dark girl, one of the emancipated women in green.
"The exclusive dress of the officialsheavens, you'd better not be seen wearing that outside the
club! If one of the Martians catches youwell!"
Bagot coughed tactfully and spun some garbled yarn about a secret escapade in which the black
cone-dress had been stolen from an official.
"So you see, our friend is naturally proud of his exploit and wishes to wear his trophy", he
finished up. The yarn had been fairly plausible, and was calculated to appeal to the romantic
minds of the younger Freedom Leaguers. we were thus relieved of all worry as to what might
happen if Aquarius were forced to remove his cone.
A leaning-board was hastily brought for Aquarius and we all grouped ourselves round him. I
was dying to hear the story of what had happened to him since our arrival, but those young
people kept talking and laughing and adoring him as a hero until I was nearly driven distracted. I could see Josh fuming and Bagot growing more and more bored. Presently, to my relief, on the sound of a distant bell they all sprang up.
"Cones, my children!" shouted the youth in the red sash. "Back to our shackles!"
Giggling and chattering, they scrambled into their cones and scampered away. Bagot sighed.
"Thank heaven we've got rid of that crowd", he said. "You get that sort of thing in every society, a crowd of young idiots who come in for fun and haven't a serious idea of what's at stake. Put we've simply got to try and educate them; time is precious, and it's the young people we can get at most easily. They've gone off now to a lecture on the history of the invasion, got up by the League."
"Well, tell us what's been happening to you, Aquarius", said Josh eagerly. "How did you feel when you woke up?"
Aquarius sighed and as if he had been in a dream shook his head stupidly. For a while he was silent, and just as I was about to repeat Josh's question he began to speak.
"It's been harder for me than it has for you, I think", he said, in the slightly thick voice which I had noticed in wearers of the black cones. "when I came to I was alone lying on a soft bed in a grey room, a room like all the others in the city. The scheme of decoration is the same everywhere. But from the first I realised that I was in the position, not of operator, but of observer, just as we both were in our previous experiments. I was there, but the thoughts and ideas and memories of the other me, the future me, were there also, dominant. I could only watch this other me as he went on calmly with his daily life. You remember how it felt, Harner?"
"But I don't understand it, Aquarius!" exclaimed Josh. "My improvements in the injection and the introduction of the inhalant were designed to overcome that. It worked all right with us."
"I have discovered the reason for the difference", replied Aquarius. "I'll explain later. But for the present I am speaking of the 'future-me' as 'I'you understand? It's very confusing."
We nodded, and sat waiting with our eyes fixed on the painted mask which hid Aquarius's face.
"At once, therefore, I knew who I was and the sort of things I had to do", continued the Doctor. "It would have been awkward otherwise, for we Martians are very different from Earthmen in many ways. Just as in our last trip I was an ardent soldier of Carthage, willing to risk my last drop of blood for the downfall of Rome, so in this life I knew the whole story of our gradual penetration of the earth. I knew of the arid planet we had left. Scientists in our own distant era have told us that Mars must be a dying planet for any kind of life similar to ours; they've said that Martian life must be older and further developed. That's true; in many ways we are further developed than you. We have discovered the secret of space-travel. Fifty years ago we made our first successful crossing, and since then we have worked unceasingly to make the earth ours."
He paused for breath. My heart was beating hard and strange doubts assailed me. Always this
way of talkingthis opposition of "we Martians" and "youthe Earthmen". Why would he not call them "They"were not they his enemies too? Was he not one of us? I tried to catch Josh's eye
but he was gazing at the floor deep in thought. Then I looked at Bagot, in whom I hoped to find
a readier confirmation of my fears, but he refused to meet my eye.
"Our first pioneers succeeded in enlisting some discontented earthmen", went on Aquarius at last, "Working through these men, we started our gradual campaign which would enable Martians to walk among men as freely as if they were invisible. One by one we removed the men in high office and, under cover of our perfect disguise, took over their functions. Now all officials are Martians; every wearer of the black is one of Us. Then slowly we began to reform the earth, to do away with the worthless and stupid forms of life, the dumb animals, the silly horses and dogs and cats kept by so many people, the useless and ugly and poisonous flowers they persisted in cultivating. We brought into order the wild and fantastic architectural ideas of men and imposed on them our own neat system of mathematical beauty. Earthmen have no sense of the straight line, whereas we have explored all its possibilities and have built many a city of exquisite wonder on the face of our new planet. This is the most beautiful of all the Martian cities on earth. Every building is exactly the same, every street is precisely straight. It is a marvel of architectural skill!"
I ventured a slight cough and noticed that Josh was smiling secretly. It sounded as if Aquarius
was trying to be funny at the expense of the Martians, and yet if I knew Aquarius he was not a
funny man. And his tone was very serious.
"Of course", he went on, "we've got to persuade the earth people by different means. They are not far enough up the scale of intelligence to be swayed by reason. We had to get rid of their unhealthy animals and flowers and trees by cultivating an absurd sense we had noticed in themthe sense of shame. It's like training children; you can't be reasonable with them when they are very young."
This time Josh looked at me and I saw a twinkle in the depths of his eyes.
"To come back to myself, however", said Aquarius, "I'm an Inspector of Prisons. It's all earthmen we have in the prisons, of course; Martians never break the laws. we have to be very strict about what we call the public morals, because if people started getting slack in that waywell, we'd soon have them casting off their cones and looking askance at those who wouldn'tor couldn't. And then they'd start growing those horrible flowers of theirsno, we've got to keep the public morals up. The majority of our prisoners are offenders against the morality laws. In severe cases the penalty is death."
"Death!" cried Josh. "It seems unreasonably severe to me, I must say. But of course we ourselves have been up against it."
"I know", said the other calmly. "It was I who read your death sentence. It was just after that that Iwell, that I found it possible to assume control over my future self, as you were able to do from the beginning."
We stared amazed. Aquarius had been that hideous monster in the prison! It was hard to keep
remembering that he was our friend and to force ourselves not to shrink from him in terror. I
couldn't keep my mind from dwelling on the horror his mask concealed.
"And at that time you were in the position of observer?" Josh asked. "So I take it you found a
way to assume the position of operator in the new consciousness?"
"I was going to explain that", said Aquarius. "You earthmen have developed differently from us.
You believe in individual thought, in each man battling for himself against the problems of the
universe. We believe in co-operation, in collective thought. We prefer to pool our mentality, so
that each Martian is, as it were, part of the mind of his race. As we die, it is as if a brain-cell were
to die; it is soon replaced. In this way we gain mental power such as you earthmen with your
single-handed efforts can never achieve. The effect on me, however, was that when I landed in
this world I had a struggle to establish my beam of consciousness in the mind of my future-self,
since that mind was reinforced by links with all the other minds of his race. Even now there are
times when I am confused and when the Martian memories mingle with my own. I sometimes do
not know who I am."
"Then there must be a central control of the race-mind?" Josh asked with interest. I could see
the glimmering of an idea in his mind. In fact, he had once written a story centred on that very
"There are several centres of control", explained Aquarius. "These are the teachers. After they
have finished training a young mind they keep in constant touch with it, so that every teacher is
the centre of a group which grows as more pupils pass through his hands. They themselves are
closely linked together by mental bonds, but it would be impossible to say that any one of them
is a central control for the whole race. When a teacher dies, the mental links he had had with
others ensure that his pupils shall still be in touch with the mind of the race."
"So you all have the same ideas about things?" I inquired. "No differences of opinion? No
"There is no need to have difference of opinion when we know we are right", said Aquarius
heavily and crushingly. "And we have no time for argument. Our job is to colonize earth so that
in time the whole Martian race will be able to migrate here. And then other worlds will have to be sought, for the earth will not live for ever. If we could persuade earthmen to look at things the way we do, it might be possible to unite the two races. But that we never can do. Even the very youngest resist our training. They insist on drawing curves and can never master the fundamental art of drawing straight lines without assistance from some instrument. The only solution is to remove them all and then, when there is no chance of resistance, we can cast off our disguise and walk freely on the planet we have conquered."
Even Josh was now beginning to look uneasy at this dangerous talk; I could see it in his eye. Aquarius spoke as if he were in complete sympathy with the Martian view-point, and not by any means as if he would be prepared to help us in our campaign to exterminate the invaders. It puzzled me when I recalled the Doctor's agitation at our first meeting in the street, when he had begged us to stay with him and had cried out that the body he was forced to inhabit was horrible to him. Now it seemed as if his thoughts had swung round and his sympathies were all with the people of whom physically he was one.
I wished I could think of some way to get Josh alone for a few minutes, for I was anxious to warn him of my misgivings. It would be the height of folly, it seemed to me, to disclose any of our plans to Aquarius. He had given us a lot of information, but unless I was greatly mistaken he was even now falling back under the domination of the Martian race-mind from which he had escaped so briefly, and perhaps before long he would be our bitter enemy. Just as I was trying to conjure up an excuse, the door slid up and a grey cone entered. In a moment the cone-dress was discarded and a tall ruddy-faced man with iron-grey hair came forward.
"Managed to get away at last!" he said, smiling at Bagot and nodding cordially to us. "I'd like to have a talk with your friend, if I may?" He shot a curious glance at Aquarius, who had closed his eyes behind his mask.
I snatched the opportunity to take Josh to the other end of the room while Bagot and the other man, Ter Tanna, spoke earnestly to Aquarius. Josh nodded agreement with me.
"There is something queer about him", he said. "I think his fear was genuine when he followed us in the street. Probably he had just taken over control and the full horror of the thing was in his mind. But now I think you're right; he is looking at things definitely from a Martian view-point, and that most likely means he is coming under the power of what he calls collective thinking again. We'd better be careful. I hope those two aren't telling him too much. "
"His view is quite reasonable, according to his lights", I remarked. "Not that I subscribe to the Martian ideasfar from it!but they clearly think of us as an inferior race, and one can almost admire the cool and crafty way in which they set about conquering the planet by pandering to our little follies while all the time they're gently stealing our world. It's like an adult pinching an apple from a baby. Makes our kind of wars seem rather childish."
As I talked half idly I noticed that Bagot and Tanna were having some trouble with Aquarius. They seemed to be asking question after question and getting no reply. Bagot was ruffling up his back hair and the other man was turning redder than ever in the face. Presently they called us over.
"We can't get any more out of him", said Bagot aside to Josh. "He keeps saying he's tired and doesn't wish to talk any more, and that he'd like to rest."
"Perhaps he is tired", laid Josh. "He's been through a lot, you know. Better give him some time off."
But as Bagot turned away Josh looked at me significantly. I knew what he meant. The Martian habit of mind was once more claiming Aquarius, and naturally it was scarcely to the interest of a Martian that more secrets should be revealed to the enemies of the race.
At that moment the door slid up and a crowd of cones came in. When they slipped off their dresses we saw that they were the younger members who had been at the history lecture. I didn't know whether to welcome the diversion or not. The chances were that in their adolescent exuberance they might easily let slip things that it would not be good for Aquarius in his present frame of mind to know. And yet we could scarcely warn them to keep quiet without arousing their suspicions.
The dark girl in the green robe had come in last, and as soon as she got out of her cone she came running to us eagerly, holding up something she had been hiding inside it: It was a little box containing three large blossoms. The sweet, familiar scent of roses came to my nostrils and brought back vividly the memory of my strip of garden at home and the Dorothy Perkins clambering over the toolshed. Earth all at once seemed very far away, although Josh would have assured me that it was merely round the corner.
More strongly than ever was brought home to me the deadly dreariness of this world of the future, where no flower or tree was ever seen. At that moment I longed with all my heart to be home.
"Where did you get those?" Bagot asked the girl. "You'd better not let them be seen outside this place."
"It's a secret!" she answered, smiling and blushing. "Somebody brought them to me from far away in the country, from a place where they haven't been burned out. He said that in the old days people used to give flowers to their friends to show that theythat they were fond of them." The blush deepened until it almost matched the roses.
"Let's see them", said Bagot, looking curiously at the flowers as a savage might look at a watch. "You know, I've never seen things like this before. I suppose they'll be familiar to you?"
"We call them 'roses', I said. "These are beauties, considering the fact that they've probably been running wild for years."
"They are lovely!" said the girl, drinking in the perfume rapturously. "Aren't old people stupid to banish such things and say they're ugly and indecent? We ought to grow them everywhere."
We were all standing in a group close to where Aquarius was leaning against his board and remembering his declared hatred of flowers, I tried to get the others to move away a bit. It would be foolish to run into trouble over the business and Aquarius had made it plain that the Martians were determined to stamp out the beauties of earth. Probably, I theorized, their arid world bore neither flowers nor trees, and so I suppose it was only logical that they should regard such things as ugly and unnatural growths of a foreign planet. Just as I made a move to shepherd the group across the room, however, we heard a stifled moan from Aquarius.
Josh and I swung round. The Doctor was sagging against his board as if on the point of collapse. We went to him and I saw that he was struggling feebly within his cone and moving his limbs jerkily as if trying to get out. His head was turning from side to side. Then all at once his hand must have found the button, for the mask abruptly flew up.
Fortunately our bodies were hiding him from the others and we at once moved nearer him to complete the eclipse. At all costs the sight revealed must be hidden from the youngsters.
The hideous scarlet mouth, with its dangling, quivering gobbets of flesh, was panting open. The eyes were staringgreenish-black eyes with small whites and great jet pupils. The face was twitching nervously, and from the nostril-slits in the cheeks was oozing a sort of thick greenish matter which formed into scab on the face. Aquarius was moaning terribly, as if in unbearable pain, and hideous as his appearance was I could not help feeling, not exactly sympathy, but the compassion one has fo a suffering animal.
"Get the women out of the room!" cried Josh urgently. "In fact, everyone had better go except Bagot and you, Tanna. Quick! Dr Aquarius is seriously ill."
They went silently, the girl dropping her roses in agitation. Bagot and Tanna came closer. Aquarius seemed to be growing steadily worse. His mouth, a gaping slit across the lower edge of his chinless face, hung wide, and we could hear his breath rasping in a dry throat. He was evidently held erect only by his stiff cone.
"What's the matter with him?" Bagot asked in a hushed voice.
"I don't know: it looks bad", said Josh hurriedly. "We'd better get a doctor, for I've no idea what to do for him. How do these things workcan we phone?" He turned towards the dials set in the wall, but Tanna held him back.
"You can't!" he said. "I forbid you! We daren't send for a doctor, for if it should be a human doctor he'd go off his head with shock, and if it should be a Martianwell, it would be the end of everyone in this place when they saw how much we'd found out. We must let him recover as best he can."
"But that's inhuman!" Josh protested. "He's our friend."
"We're not inhuman; he's the inhuman being here", retorted Tanna. "You're not going to risk the lives of the members for the sake of a Martian. If he dies, so much the better; it will be one less for us to fight against."
Josh tightened his lips and turned back to Aquarius. Swiftly he unfastened the cone and rolled him out on to the floor. I wondered how Josh had the courage to do it; for my part, the sight of the hideously unnatural body, with its enlarged chest and horribly deformed torso, and, above all, the scaly hands with their three long snaky fingers waswell, it made me feel just about as sick
as Aquarius himself seemed to be. The two others turned away for a moment, and when they looked back I could see that they were putting out every ounce of self-control.
"You haven't any drugs here, I suppose"? asked Josh desperately; 'Haven't you something that might soothe him a bit? We can't just sit here and watch him suffer."
"I'm afraid not . . ." Tanna was beginning in a hostile tone, when all at once we were startled by a scream of agony from Aquarius. He was rolling over and over on the floor, his hands clawing at his face, and we could see a stream of blood and greenish stuff flowing through his fingers.
"It's a fit of some kind!" I said.
We all went white and Bagot sat down abruptly on the nearest chair.
Then as we watched helplessly Aquarius suddenly drew up his legs convulsively under his grey robe, straightened out, and lay still. For a moment we thought he was done for, and then Josh bent over him.
"I think he's still alive", he said. "Is there anywhere we could put him? Perhaps he'll be all right when he comes to."
Tanna went over and opened a panel which led into a small room. Josh and I were left to carry Aquarius as best we could, for the others silently refused to lend a hand. Half dragging him, we got his limp body into the side-room and laid him on the floor.
When we rejoined the others the empty black cone was still lying stiffly beside the three roses which were spattered with blood and mucus.
"Well, I suppose we ought to get together and talk things over", suggested Josh, with an uneasy geniality which faltered in the face of two decidedly unfriendly stares. "We've got something to go on now, and between us we may be able to think of a way out."
Tanna glanced nervously at Bagot, and then clasping his hands behind his back, he answered in a low hesitating voice:
"Yes, of course, it is time we had a talk."
This was obviously not what he had meant to say. He stood silent for a moment, staring in an embarrassed way at the bloodstained roses, and then looked up abruptly.
"I may as well be frank", he said crisply. "You're not members of the League. Jawn Bagot is willing to vouch for you, but membership of the League requires more than one sponsor. We realise that you are on our side, and that you are willing to help, but as a matter of form we cannot admit you to our council. Purely formal, I'd like to emphasise, but there it is. We can't go against the rules."
"But surely rules don't matter at a time like this!" I was crying indignantly, when Josh warningly touched my arm.
"We understand", he said politely. "As you wish."
"You'd better wait here, then", said Tanna, with a look of relief, "We'll be back later. Meanwhile, there's a vision set in the corner over thereTelevision, I mean: do you know what that is? And then there's a micro-projector behind this panel at the door, with a store of filmsthey're mostly biography, history, and scientific works. You may find something that will interest you."
As soon as they had gone out I turned to Josh with a grin. "What kind of place do they think we've come from?" I asked. "Have you ever heard of television, indeed! Good Lord!"
"Well, after all, it was only in its infancy during our age", argued Josh. "Say we'd been born fifty years earlier, we wouldn't have known a thing about it. And fifty years won't seem much difference after a thousand. They've evidently got it on tap now. And it seems as if all their books are on microfilm, judging from what he said."
"That explains something that puzzled me", I pondered. "Do you remember that room we first landed in? The West Library, they called it, and yet there wasn't a book in it. Microfilm, I suppose. Shall we try them?"
"Not just now; I want to think", said Josh.
He began walking round the room, sitting down, springing up, tugging at his hair, glaring at the walls, until I was almost distracted. Goodness knows, I wanted to think as well, but how could anyone concentrate with that maniac prowling about the place? Finally in despair I went over to the microfilm projector panel and was about to open it when Josh gave a shout.
"Flowers!" he cried. "Roses!"
"Noare they really?" I said, rather cheaply. I kicked the flowers savagely aside. "What the hell . . ." I muttered. Josh seemed madder than ever.
"Listen!" said Josh, coming close to me. "Don't bother with that thing; I've got an idea. Do you remember what Aquarius said about flowers and treesdo you? He said They were going to do away with them, didn't he?"
"He said they were ugly and useless", I supplemented with a nod. "Did I tell you the idea I got about thatthat since probably Mars isn't capable of nourishing flowers and plants, such things would naturally seem ugly to the Martians because they aren't used to them?"
"Quite good!" said Josh. "Not a bad idea at all, Frank. But there was something else he said, something else he called them that stuck to me. Do you remember he said something about earthmen and their poisonous flowers? Poisonous, eh?"
I looked at him with a wild speculation spinning in my brain. I glanced down at the roses and then jerked my head to the door behind which lay the unconscious Aquarius. Josh nodded solemnly.
"It's the smell", he went on, pacing to and fro. "That's how I figure it. They've got a keen sense of smell; they can detect scents of the human body that we can'tusuallyperceive. Like a dog,
you know. And so the smell of a rose, which is easily perceptible even to our dull seses, must be overpoweringly strong to them. And as you say, they're probably not used to these strong perfumes. Mars, a dying world, can bear nothing but the very sparsest and hardiest of vegetation, and has no time for such extravagances as scented flowers. It's as if a man who had lived all his life in twilight were suddenly thrust into full daylight. They can't stand it. That's why they forbid the growing of trees and flowers."
"And that's what got Aquarius?" I said. "Yes, it seems quite plausible. And that greenish stuffa discharge from the overstimulated membrane, probably. Must have been devilish painful."
"Its not just plausible!" exclaimed Josh. "I think it's pretty well watertight. Remember, the minute that girlwhat's her nameMeera?brought her flowers up near him, he turned queer. And then when I got him out of his cone and laid him on the floor, I didn't notice the roses lying there where she'd dropped them.
"Even if I had I probably wouldn't have bothered, although I might have shoved them away. But as it was, Aquarius was lying with his head almost on them. And you remember what a yell he let out, and it was just then he got so much worse and became unconscious."
It was all clear to me now. The whole theory seemed to hang together perfectlythe Martian hatred of flowers, their sense of smell, Aquarius's mysterious illness. But, as with all other theories it must be capable of extension. Would all Martians react to the scent of a rose in the same way as Aquarius had done? I put it to Josh, and he simply pointed to the empty black cone.
'Quite easy!" he said. "Just put that on, stuff it inside with the strongest-scented flowers you can lay your hands on, and march into some official building. The black cone will secure your entry anywhere. Then there's nothing to do but stroll along and pick out the sheep from the goats. By the time the goats are shown up, they will be helpless and unable to resist."
"No risk of detection, either", I added. "The human scent will be disguised by the smell of the flowers."
"It seemed almost impossible to defeat the devils", Josh said, in a glowing tone. "And now we've got the way. Every member of the Freedom League must go out, all through the city, smelling to heaven of any strong scent we can get hold of, and the rest follows! Round up everybody who falls sick and before twenty-four hours have passed we can have every Martian in the city captive. And another thingwe must warn other cities. I suppose the League has branches all over the world: I hope so, at any rate. Don't you seeit's foolproof. They can't touch us! They can't get near us! Can you imagine the police trying to arrest us when they were in a state like Aquarius?"
It seemed wonderful. And yet it was so ludicrous that I could have rolled on the floor with mirth. The thought of us walking quietly and anonymously among the cones thronging the streets, bringing to some merely an unfamiliar scent and to others deadly, betraying sicknessit really was crazy. Was ever a war fought with stranger weapons? But all at once another thought pulled me up.
"Josh", I said, "what if they have arms?"
"They may have", be answered. The jubilation was suddenly wiped from his face. "They may even have developed things like the heat-ray guns featured in stories, or guns firing poisoned needles; yes, it seems very likely that they will be armed. The fact that they have chosen to encroach on earth by stealth doesn't rule out the possibility."
"We'll have to risk it!" I said. "When the others come back we'll put it to them and get them to . . ."
Something in Josh's face made me turn round. The panel of the little side-room had slid up and framed in its opening was the ungainly figure of Dr Aquarius. His already loathesome features were even more hideously distorted by the green scab formed from the mucus, and his eyes were blazing at us with a hatred which surpassed even what we had seen there before in the prison. Gone was the terrified, bewildered Dr Aquarius; in his place was a furious, alien being, a being whose race was determined to crush man from his own world. And yet all the while we knew that the real Dr Aquariusthe Dr Aquarius who was real to uswas helplessly watching the actions of this being over whom he now could have no control.
Without a word the Martian strode forward. Incontinently we both shrank back a few paces, but he stopped beside the black cone, swiftly got into it and fastened it, and walked to the door. Still in silence he pressed the button with his stick, and a moment later the panel had closed behind him.
Josh recovered his wits almost instantly.
"Stop him!" he shouted. "Don't let him get away! He may have been listening, and in any casehe knows enough!"
I hauled him back as he was dashing through the doorway and forced him to stop long enough to put on his cone. We would certainly be hampered by them, but we might be held up even more if we met someone in the corridor while in a state of undress.
Then together we hobbled through the empty ante-room and out to the passage. In the distance a black cone was sailing down the moving belt. "Come onrun!" cried Josh, leaping on after him.
Foolishly, forgetting his constricting cone, he began to run along the belt. In a moment he was struggling for balance, and unable to use arms or legs to regain equilibrium, he went crashing down on his back. I couldn't stop myself, but went flying over him. Writhing and twisting helplessly, we were carried along in a heap. When we rounded the corner Dr Aquarius had vanished.
Coming towards us on the opposite belt were a number of grey cones and we shouted to them for help. They at once stepped on to the path between the moving ways, and sticks were thrust out. "Roll off!" cried one, and by neat timing we managed to do so just as we passed them. Then by means of a great deal of prodding and levering and hauling they contrived to get us on our feet again. If you can imagine the task of raising a fallen shop-window dummy by the sole use of several short sticks, limited in their scope, you can picture the struggle we had. When we at last stood erect again we were filled with fresh fury at the folly of man's way of life in an age when he might have been master of the world.
"What on earth happened to you?" asked a laughing voice which I recognised as belonging to one of the Freedom Leaguers. "I've never seen anyone do that before!"
"We just hurried too much", said Josh moodily. The escape of Aquarius was going to complicate things considerably.
We rejoined the cones on the moving way and soon we were once more entering the Freedom Club. The instant the door had closed behind us Josh burst out with his story, his idea, and the disappearance of Aquarius.
"I should have warned you!" he cried. "He was our friend, but he's come under the domination of those damned Martians until his mind is not his own. And now he's gone to tell Them. I'm sure he had been listeninghis eyes were burning with hatred! He must know, and soon they'll all know. We've got to hurry. ListenMeerawhich of you is Meera? Where did these roses come
The little cone which was Meera stepped forward.
"I don't know", she said, in a frightened voice. "I only know it was in the country somewhere. But Vantmy friendwill be able to take you there."
"Get him here right away!" ordered Josh, and Meera at once ran to the central pedestal where she dialled with her stick and then spoke briefly into the crystal top. We heard a small voice squeaking a reply and Meera came back to us.
"He'll be outside in five minutes", she told us. "Shall I go with him? He will have a car."
"Better not", said Tanna. "Things might be rough. One of the men. . ."
"I'll go!" cried Bagot, and in a moment he was at the door.
"Hurry all you can!" Tanna shouted after him. "Remember, the authorities are being warned, and soon the gates may be closed against you. You can trust Vant", he added to Josh and me, as the door clicked shut. "He's been a member of the League for some time."
With Bagot gone, Tanna issued orders all round. The members present were to split up into pairs and get in touch with all other members of the League as soon as possible. Every one of the Free Earthmen must be made acquainted with the plan, and above all they must keep out of the way and under cover for the next two hours, after which they were to assemble at Tanna's flat.
"We'll go there right away ourselves", said Tanna, turning to Josh and me. "Bagot will know to come there, and two hours is enough to give them; these cars travel fast, and they may be back even sooner. But every known or suspected member will be unsafe from now on, so we'd better use the utmost care."
We left the club at once. For me it was a nerve-racking experience to walk through those grey, quiet streets, hampered by my idiotic dress when I was longing to stride along as fast as my legs would take me. The other cones who thronged the ways seemed all at once rather a silly crowd, like sheep in uniforms. I almost felt sympathy with the Martians who could so easily impose on the gullible owners of the earth. Then, as I saw a member of the wheeled police gliding rapidly along the opposite side of the street, my heart sank. The symbols on our identity discs were probably known to him by this time, and to all his fellows, and at any moment I expected the pursuit to begin.
It was with relief that we cast off our cones in Tanna's flat, and gathered round a plan of the city. For the next two hours we planned the campaign. Members, working in pairs, were to parade the main street and gain entry by any pretext and at any risk to the government offices and the council buildings. If Aquarius was any guide, we expected the Martians to collapse almost right away under their strange sickness.
"Meanwhile", said Tanna earnestly, "it is essential for some of us to seize broadcasting headquarters and the loud-speakers, and to have the gates closed to all traffic. We must prevent the Martians from warning their comrades in other cities, and above all, we must have the loud-speakers, because only in this way can we announce to the entire city the discovery we have made. But this will be the most dangerous task of all. We must ask for volunteers."
I could see Josh on the point of volunteering when there came a rhythmic tap at the door. Tanna pressed the knob and the panel slid up. Slipping up their masks as they entered, several cones, among them Meera, crowded in.
"First batch?" Meera asked, and I knew her eyes were searching for Vant. We reassured her as well as possible. After all, we told her, it must have been a very long way to the place where the flowers were grown, for otherwise the Martians would have found and destroyed them. Other groups appeared at intervals, until the whole room was full of members.
I had realised that there were no windows in these houses, and that the light, almost an exact duplicate of sunlight, came from tubes in the ceiling, while the air was as fresh sweet as country air. But the fact had not come to the front of my mind until now, when I felt an urge to look out and see whether there was any sign of a car drawing up outside, or whether any police were assembling.
Tanna must have guessed my thought, or else been struck with the same one himself, for he went to a wall, pressed a switch, and slid back a panel which revealed a square of opaque metal set in the wall. There was a humming sound and slowly the square grew transparent, so that soon the sky, the building opposite, and a part of the street were clearly seen through it.
Josh was staring in surprise. This was more like it, he was evidently thinking; the wonders of his marvellous future were beginning to come to light at last. But I was more interested in the view and I dragged him over to the artificial window beside Tanna. Far below us, on the other side of the street, was standing motionless a little group of cones. They were in grey with black headpieces, and by this we knew that they were police. Although it was a fair distance, I could almost have sworn that one of them tilted his head back and looked straight into my eyes through the holes in his mask. I shrank back.
"Can't they see us? You'd better be careful!" I warned Tanna.
He looked at me in surprise for a moment, and then laughed. "They can't", he said. "Light doesn't pass out through this screen."
He pressed the button and the panel slid back as the screen began to grow opaque again.
"Police outside", he told the others. "They may be armed. We'll just have to hang on here for a while and hope for the best."
Believe it or not, we had to explain to some of the younger members what we meant by arms. It was 868 Y.P., and they'd scarcely heard of a gun, let alone seen one. Evidently the earthmen had no weapons, but it seemed hardly likely that the Martians were in a similar state of innocence.
In the midst of our explanations Tanna, who had been standing by the door, suddenly let it up. There was a scuffle, a rush, a click, and in a moment the door was shut again and two grey figures, with the boxes and bunches of flowers they had been carrying, were sprawling on the floor. We helped them out of their cones, and Bagot breathlessly gasped out: "They're after us!"
"We saw them waiting", Tanna nodded. "But you've got the stuff; what's all this?"
They must have visited some luxurious pleasure-garden of the older days, for besides clusters and bunches of roses they had boxes full of miraculously-lovely bluish flowers, like outsize hyacinths, with the sweetest scent I've ever smelt; a little yellow bell with a tickling, musty smell; and a white flower with big green leaves smelling strongly of garlic. The girls turned up their noses at the yellow and white flowers, and began adorning themselves with the others. Bagot and Tanna soberly started twining wreaths of them about the frameworks of the opened cones.
All the time our ears were, so to speak, glued to the door. In a few minutes there was a loud thump with a stick, and a thickish voice shouted "Open the door! Open to the police!"
"What'll they do if we won't?" asked Josh, and Bagot shrugged his shoulders.
"If we don't open it, they will", he said. "They carry a flame-knife that cuts through metal in a few minutes. What's it to be, Tanna?"
Tanna gathered up an armful of the hyacinths, motioned to Josh to do the same, and went swiftly to the door. Meera followed and pressed the catch. We had a swift glimpse of the door shooting up, Tanna and Josh rushing out among a group of grey figures, thrusting forward the flowers, pressing them violently against the face-masks of the police cones, and then there were gasps, moaning cries, as one by one the grey cones sagged, although they could not fall because of the stiff wire. Some of the others dashed forward, and in an instant there were seven inert cones lying inside the room. The first battle was ours!
Josh was grinning.
"Seems insane, doesn't it?" he said to me. "A sort of carnival of flowers, you'd think, and yetwell, it's war! A bit more humane than bombs, I must admit, although I shouldn't mind having a few bombs at this very moment."
While he spoke we had both been unstrapping from the feet of the unconscious police the wheeled sandals they wore. The rest of the Leaguers examined them with interest. They consisted of metal soles, which could be strapped on over the ordinary light shoes, each with four wheelsin fact, they were roller-skates of a slightly unusual design. Josh, Bagot, Tanna, three other men, and myself put them on, and found ourselves gliding gracefully over the floorgracefully, that is, until our legs went flying off in opposite directions and we crashed down.
It didn't take us long to get used to our wheels, and soon we were all fastening ourselves into flower-lined cones which gave off delicious and powerful fragrances. Those of us who had wheels
donned the black headpieces of the police, and we were ready.
"All got your orders?" asked Tanna, taking a last look round. "Harner and myself to broadcasting headquarters, Perry and Bagot to the loud-speakers, Vant and you two others on wheels to the
main gates, and the rest of you in pairs through the streets as we planned."
We all nodded or chorused "Yes!", and with wild excitement in our hearts pressed forward to the adventure. At last Earth was to win her freedom from the insidious thrall of the invaders, and ours was the peril and the glory. At all costs we must succeed. By showing some results ire might bring other earthmen to a realisation of what was going on, and enlist them in the fight for freedom.
Jawn Bagot and I sped off to Loudspeaker House. In our police uniforms we commanded almost
as much respect as did the black cones, and the feeling of speeding light as air on our wheels, where formerly we had shuffled along like kids in a sack-race, was to me one of the most delightful I had experienced since my arrival in the future. Bagot seemed to feel the same, for when we were in the quieter streets he executed wild whirls and sweeps on his wheels in sheer exuberance. It was just the sort of thing Josh would have done, and my heart warmed towards this man of a thousand years hence as it never had before.
On we swept, and before long reached the square building which Bagot told me was our destination. How he knew I never found out, for it was an exact replica of every other building in the city. I concluded afterwards that the men of the future must have developed a sense of direction far beyond ours. But all this came later. As we turned in at the high doorway and glided on the moving way through the entrance hall, my thoughts were solely concentrated on the struggle before us.
There were numerous cones in the vast hall, but none came near us until, at length, we saw a couple approaching us on the opposite belt. I braced myself for the passing; would they prove to be human or Martian? Or was the test infallible? I was shaken by doubt for a moment, and then, remembering the seven policemen, my spirits rose again. The cones came nearer, now they were passingand then all at once, there came from one that gasping, moaning cry of pain that we now knew so well.
The further cone swayed, lost his footing on the moving way, and fell with a thump, helpless. As we glided on we saw that his companion was leaning over him and, morality forgotten, trying to prize away the mask with his stick. If that companion was human, and we had every reason to believe that he was, there was a severe shock in store for him when he got that mask off and found out what kind of creature he had been walking beside! Even now there must be dozens of ordinary citizens in the same predicament, and our duty was to gain control of the loudspeakers as fast as possible, so that we could broadcast our explanation to the whole city and give earthmen a chance to free themselves.
We shot up in a swift, silent lift and then followed a long corridor, Several cones we passed on the way slumped in their stiff frames as we went, and then we were at the great broadcasting room. The door was wide open. Since the room was not then in use, it was empty of officials, and only a few grey cones, probably minor employees, were standing in a group near a big, solid table. Bagot and I went straight to them. The heat of our bodies had brought out the flower scents even more strongly, and before we reached the group two of its members were helpless. The others turned to aid them, only to be overcome in their turn as we approached. Evidently the whole crowd were Martians.
"Get the door shut!" Bagot directed me, as he hastened to the pedestal which equipped this room as all others. "I've a vague idea how to work this, and I must start it up instantly."
I obeyed, and as I turned from the down sliding panel a cry of warning broke from me. One of the Martians, not completely downed, was staggering uncertainly towards the table. He was swaying from side to side, scarcely able to keep his feet, but slowly he was advancing. As I rushed forward he stumbled and fell, still some distance from his goal, but even as I reached him he gave a convulsive twist, rolled over and over, and came to rest right at the side of the table.
His grey stick shot out, jabbed vigorously a signal on the black button on the front of the table, and then clattered to the floor. When I got to him he was unconscious.
Bagot had seen nothing of this, and when I told him he gave a startled glance at the door, as if expecting pursuers to burst in that very moment. Then hastily he stepped out of his cone.
"Take my supply of flowers and stand by the door", he ordered sharply. "Hold them back as long as possible. Every minute counts."
Leaving my own cone beside his I retreated to the door, and at once Bagot's voice rang out boldly: "People of Manker! All round you, in streets and buildings and shops, you will see men falling to the ground, collapsing unconscious within their cones. Lift their masks, people of Manker! Lift the masks of the fallen, and see what alien horror stalks beside you in the very streets of your beloved city. Lift the masks of the fallen! Lift the masks of the fallen!
"Look at them, look at their faces, the invaders from another planet who would drive you out of your world. This isn't a joke, this isn't madnessit's truth! Look on their faces and you will see. People of Manker! All round you, in the streets . . ."
He repeated his message over and over again, while age-long minutes crept over our heads. I wondered what things were like out in the city. It scarcely seemed possible that those words of Bagot's were really thundering forth over the whole city; that in every street men were pausing to listen, to look around them, to wonder.
Were they obeying, I asked myself? Were they boldly tearing the masks from the invaders, unmasking the hideous creatures from Mars? Or were they merely pausing, raising an eyebrow, and then walking on in unconcerned amusement? No, it didn't seem possible!
They must see that something queer was happening, something that could override their absurd "morality".
How was Josh faring, I wondered? And the others?
"Lift their masks! Tear off their masks! Look on the faces of the monsters from another world who would crush you out of your heritage! Don't be afraid: we are fighting for your freedom!"
Bagot's voice went on and on, insisting, persuading, driving the news into the probably incredulous heads of the earthmen. Then I thought I heard a sound outside. I tensed myself. The door flew up and a horde of cones surged in. Shoved aside by the crowd I staggered against the wall. Then as they shuffled hastily forward I threw Bagot's flowers among them, bunch after bunch, as fast as I could. Some fell, some slumped down, the others went on.
"Get away from there!" shouted the leading cone.
As if he had not heard, Bagot went on repeating his warning in emphatic, measured tones.
Darkness. And a soundit was a clock ticking. I was sitting in an armchair in a darkened room. In my own home. And I could hear the soothing rhythm of the grandfather clock.
"Frank?" said a voice beside me.
"Josh?" I said, rasping a bit as my throat felt dry.
Someone coughed on my other side. Dr Aquarius. I felt a moment of dread. Was he still under the influence of the Martians?
"I fear the drug wore off rather too soon," said Dr Aquarius.
"Now, we shall never know if Frank and Yawn Bagot managed to expose the presence of the Martians", said Josh.
"A disadvantage of going into the future," said Dr Aquarius. "The history of the future has yet to be written."
I heard Josh rise from his chair, then light flooded into the room from one of the windows. I was a little surprised to see Josh dressed normally. I had been expecting to see him in one of the hateful cone outfits.
"We can know only as much as we ourselves know," said Dr Aquarius.
"And some of us, having gone our own way, know things which the others don't," said Josh as he began to move the armchairs out of their straight line and into their usual places. "Perhaps we could do some catching up with refreshments?"
I took the hint and crossed to the sideboard to fill glasses. An empty vase caught my eye as I was unstoppering the decanter. Perhaps the room would benefit from some fresh flowers, I thought. Say, a few of my much prized Dorothy Perkins roses. Just to brighten it up, of course. But maybe also to help me to be absolutely certain that we were in no danger from secret Martian invaders.
written in 1946?