Mary’s job was helping to turn out the weapons of war — but suddenly she found herself snatched into a world where the menace of war had ended!
Mary Sweeney was fighting too! Not with a gun; but she was fighting to get those guns (mounted on planes) out there to the front where Jimmy Wright could use them to fight. Mary Sweeney was one of the women engaged in war work. She operated an electric overhead crane in an airplane factory. Her number was 17 . . .
“There’s another one for you, Jimmy,” she was saying now. She looked down from her perch in the crane cab at the finished bomber being wheeled toward the great doors of the plant. Jimmy Wright was the man she was go- ing to marry, when he came back from the front line . . .
For a moment her eyes took on a faraway look, and in the gleaming halo of reflected sunlight from the surface of the shiny new plane as it moved through the great doors she saw his grinning face, his curly hair, his freckled nose . . .
She jerked back to reality with the ringing of the signal bell.
“Get busy, Mary!” she said aloud. “More wing-sections to be moved down the line!”
Quite a few more wing sections had made their impressive way through the air over the maze of construction littering the floor of the huge factory when Mary heard a voice shouting up at her from below. She looked down.
“What did you say, Cal?” she called.
Cal Thompson was shop foreman. He knew Mary better than most of the workers, because he owned the little bungalow right next to where Mary roomed, and he gave her a lift each morning and evening.
“Guess who’s come home! “ he yelled up at her.
Mary’s heart leaped. Her lips framed, but did not utter the word lest her hopes be too high.
“Jimmy . . .?”
Thompson grinned from ear to ear. He nodded vigorously and walked on, peering into half-formed fuselages, climbing up beside a girl working in a bomber’s top “blister” and nodding approval of her work.
Mary’s heart was singing, in rhythm with its quickened beat.
“Jimmy’s home! Jimmy’s home! Jimmy’s home . . .”
And then it happened.
A giant swinging chain began to glow redly, then with incredible swiftness turned to blinding white-heat, melted and dropped its burden to the floor. A wave of electrical shock and a brilliant bluish light flashed out toward the cab of the crane, enveloped it.
Mary screamed, but even to her own ears the scream sounded far away and queerly muffled. She lost her own thoughts. A giant hand had closed down on her, blackness came, and she knew no more.
How long the blackness lasted, Mary didn’t know. In fact, it didn’t seem to her to have lasted any time at all, because almost instantly her eyes began to register the scene around her again. Everything seemed illuminated by a weird reddish light, as though she were wearing glasses with red lenses. Yet everything was crystal clear, and Mary was reminded of her treasured set of wine-colored Cambridge crystal-stemmed goblets. Jimmy had given them to her sort of as an engagement present; he’d said it was because he’d gotten a bargain on the ring, and had a little money left over . , ,
All thoughts of Cambridge goblets and Jimmy abruptly fled her mind as the scene about her registered. At first it seemed — “The machinery!” she gasped. “All the machinery’s been taken out of the . . .”
And then she realized this great building wasn’t the factory at all. True, it was very similar, in a way. It was long, high-roofed, and its walls were quasi-opaque glass, or something like glass, except that the light that was coming through it was wine-red — or was it the panes themselves that were red? Mary didn’t know.
Mary was lying on a large circular mat of what seemed to be very soft and resilient sponge rubber. And beyond the circular mat was a queerly woven coil of intricate wires that formed a perfect circle around her. Cables led from this coil to several monster generators which she hadn’t seen before because they were behind her.
Mary’s little scream came from her startled lips as she saw the strange figures who were standing beside those generators. Tall figures, human, but somehow not human, dressed in vivid orange robes that fell straight to the floor from level shoulders so that their bodies presented almost the appearance of solid columns, stood silently watching her.
Filled with a horrible fear, Mary struggled to her feet and stood swaying dizzily, facing the orange-clad figures. There were three of them, she saw now, and their bodies seemed to grow taller before her eyes, loom over her, then shrink again as waves of dizziness swept over her. She tottered on her feet, and clasped her hands to her temples.
As she fell, she felt the rubber pad on which she stood yield to the rush of feet nearing her, and felt a strong arm catch her. Then she was lifted and carried. The lifting motion was soothing, and somehow it swayed her fear away. It seemed there could be no harm in this comforting motion, this capable pair of arms that was carrying her firmly yet gently along . . .
She opened her eyes, to stare up at the face of the man who was carrying her. Yes, he was a man. Funny how her first impression of these orange-clad men had been one of un-humanity. True, there was something odd about his face — his eyes for instance; they were a jewel-like ruby in color, with ebony-black pupils. Even the portion of the eye that should have been white was crimson. Yet, in spite of these amazing eyes, the man was handsome. Mary found herself admiring him for an instant . . .
Abruptly she felt herself flushing with embarrassment, and at first failed to realize why. Then, with a shock that struck the strangeness of all about her back into her heart, she knew it was because he knew she was admiring him. Knew, and liked the knowledge!
She struggled in his arms, and he set her down on her feet. He didn’t speak, but his questioning look was obvious. Would she like to walk?
“I feel better,” said Mary in answer. “I can walk okay.”
The handsome crimson-eyed stranger smiled and pointed down the great length of the building toward a door that led outside. That was the way he wanted her to walk.
Mary walked along, acutely conscious of the man at her side, and of the other two walking along behind
them. But she was absorbed, too, in staring about her. This huge building — what was it? Where was it?
The floor seemed to be made of glass, yet it had a satiny, soft smoothness that certainly wasn’t glass; and her heels made no sound as she walked along. The walls were composed entirely of the red semi-transparent panes, beyond which she could see nothing except the looming suggestion of either great masses in the distance, or less imposing structures immediately nearby. It was hard to tell which . . .
The building was entirely empty, except for the apparatus which lay behind them; the apparatus on which she had been the central figure just a few moments ago. What purpose for such a giant building; and almost empty?
They emerged into the outside daylight now, and then all sense of the familiar fell away from Mary. This sunlight . . . !
Nowhere on Earth had there ever been sunlight like this! Light, red as blood, came from it. Every object in sight was brilliantly and clearly sunlit in crimson that was at the same time terrifying and restful. It was extremely bright, yet didn’t hurt her eyes.
Even when she turned her head upward and stared directly into the sun there was no painful contraction of the pupils. That sun! It was twice as large as the sun she had been accustomed to, and it seemed to flicker in waves of red very much like the red glow that Mary had often delighted in looking at when she was a child by the simple expedient of staring at the sun with lids closed.
Where on Earth was she?
“Oh God,” whimpered Mary. “This
She saw now the great city spread out before her. Obviously this wasn’t Oakland, California! Fantastic buildings, set widely spaced with park-like areas between, towered into the heavens. Each of the buildings were a mile apart. And the base of each was a vast double arch, through which two levels of traffic ran, from all four points of the compass.
The roads were miracles of traffic efficiency, and all composed of the same satiny-soft, smooth substance as the floor of the building from which she had just come. Strange vehicles moved at an orderly and regulated pace along these roads, perfectly managed by traffic controls that seemed automatic, because at no time did any vehicle swerve from an orderly progress in any manner that might indicate the possibility of an accident.
The figures of countless people, all dressed simply, moved through the park areas, strolling about calmly and happily. Other figures rose into the air without any means of locomotion, and moved at greater speed than the ground vehicles, usually to one of the many graduated levels on the building, to disappear inside.
Atop each building was a tremendous metallic-appearing ball which sometimes flashed brilliantly violet, or glowed in a range of color that covered the whole spectrum, with one exception — always the colors were tainted by the red light of the weird sun overhead, which caused surprising combinations.
Over all this incredible scene lay the ruby light of the sun, lighting things perfectly, and restfully, yet so predominantly with a reddish cast that Mary’s sensation of exotic otherworldliness grew morbidly oppressive. Had it not been for the fear that surged wildly within her, she might have considered the whole scene one of incredible beauty.
She turned wildly to the man who had carried her.
“Where am I?” she asked. “What is this place? Please tell me . . . !”
The man looked at her, only to speak a few words in a language she could not identify. Then he smiled, and the smile held such assurance and such promise that no harm would come to her that Mary felt her fears fall away. They were replaced now by an all-consuming curiosity that flamed to increasing heights because there was no one to answer her questions.
Then once again Mary screamed — because she was no longer standing on the ground, but shooting upward, through the air, toward the top of one of the most magnificent of all the tremendous buildings of this vast city in nowhere!
Before Mary had time to be afraid of the depths below her, and to get over her shock and surprise at her mysterious and abrupt flight into the air, she found herself standing high on the balcony of one of the giant buildings. From her vantage point she could see the whole city stretching off perhaps a hundred miles toward the horizon. But she had little time to look about, for she was led into the interior of the building. Almost instantly she found herself admiring the immaculate and streamlined furnishings, which were more exotically lovely than any she had ever seen.
“How lovely!” she exclaimed. “What I wouldn’t give to own such an apartment back in Oakland ! “
Her guide smiled at her; and as if he sensed what she was talking about, waved a hand at the surroundings and nodded at her. She smiled back and nodded vigorously.
He led her now through a door into a room which was another miracle of furnishing, but this one was obviously furnished with an eye to technical utilization. It was most certainly a laboratory, although for the life of her, Mary could not have decided whether it was a chemical laboratory, an astronomical laboratory, or a super-scientific movie and television experimental room.
There was, among other things, what seemed to be a movie projection screen, a projection camera of a fantastic design, and comfortable lounge seats grouped before it. There were strange helmets that looked like gas masks without the gas-filter cannister attached. Wires led from them to unfathomable machines grouped around the room.
The three tall men in their striking yellow robes took up stations around the room, set various machines in op- eration. An almost non-existent humming came to her ears, and various tubes bloomed into lovely glowing light.
Mary felt a nervous sensation sweep over her. What was going to happen to her now?
The man who had carried her, indicated that she be seated in one of the comfortable lounge chairs, and then placed one of the helmets over her head.
She found herself looking at him through tinted lenses that made every feature leap out in startling clarity. Mary looked around the room, and was amazed at her own eyesight. All at once she realized that the eyes she had always considered so good — twenty- twenty vision — had really been very imperfect. They had been out of focus, faulty in register of color and distance value, and incapable of comprehending the light-power available.
One of the men spoke to her now. One word . . .
“Tell,” he said.
“You speak English!” she cried. “You can understand English?”
His eyes lighted up. He repeated his
first word and added two more.
“Tell, speak English!” he commanded.
Mary realized that he knew no English, but had merely selected from memory the one word that she had previously spoken which came nearest to what he wanted her to do. He wanted her to speak more words! More words so that he could select them and speak to her more intelligently. What sort of intelligence was his, which out of the few words she had spoken could select the one which came nearest to expressing what he wanted. Tell!
She spoke rapidly, speaking all the words in any sort of sequence that made any kind of sense. And her listeners drank in everything eagerly.
“My name is Mary Sweeney. I work in a war plant; help make planes, mo- tors, guns — you know. We are engaged in a war. We use guns to fight the war. For instance, hand weapons, a revolver, used to kill at close range. Then larger guns. . . .”
Mary went on:
“. . . these helmets you have here. We have things like that too. Gas masks, to keep us from dying in gas attacks . . . masks are also used by criminals to rob people and prevent identification . . .”
For perhaps ten minutes Mary spoke of everything that came to mind.
“. . . children go to school until eighteen years of age. At twenty-one they become of age, as we say, and are permitted to participate in the democratic right to vote their own governing officials into office, and make their own laws and law enforcement officers. . . , Our numerical system is the multiple of ten system. One — two — three — four — Ten — twenty — thirty — “
Finally Mary stopped speaking, certain that she had given these strange men a great portion of her vocabulary. Now, would they be able to rise it?
“I hope you know what I’ve been talking about,” she concluded breathlessly.
The tall man who had carried her spoke.
“We certainly do understand you,” he said with a smile. “You are a very clever girl. And we are more than surprised at the advanced civilization from which you come — and extremely shocked to discover that you use that civilization to wage war. In fact, we are so shocked that we have decided that perhaps we can do something to remedy the situation, perhaps only by giving you a complete picture of our own civilization, and the means we use to insure it, before sending you back.”
Mary leaped to her feet with a glad exclamation.
“You’re going to send me backl”
“Of course. We have no desire to harm you. We only delve into other universes as a matter of learning more about the things we know exist outside our own particular vibratory sphere.
Never before have we managed to transfer so intelligent a being to our laboratory for study. And your cooperation has been wonderful. From you we have learned enough to satisfy our search in your particular vibration range. When we return you, we will bother your world no more.”
Mary’s voice was awed.
“I’ve read fiction stories where things like this happened, but I never believed them . . .”
The tall man rose.
“There are so many things we don’t believe, but which really do exist. We are finding that out to a greater degree every day. But come now. Perhaps we can return the favor you have done for us and show you the wonders of our own world . . . Oh, by the way, would you like to see what you told us?”
“See what I told you?” Mary was mystified. “But how . . .?
The tall man waved to the screen.
“Watch,” he directed.
All at once Mary saw herself on the screen. She was in the war plant. She saw herself go through a multitude of actions — saw vast and swift pictures of all phases of her work, her surroundings, the war. All these things she re- membered now had flashed through her mind as thoughts even as she spoke. Much more than she had said had been recorded on this screen. . . .
Suddenly she uttered a cry of amazement, then horror.
“Oh! I never did such a thing!”
On the screen she saw herself, wearing a black mask and holding a revolver in hand. And as she watched, she saw a dramatic scene from a play she remembered, except that she herself was in the leading role — and saw herself
shoot a man!
“We realize that,” said the tall man, smiling. “Your mind is vividly imaginative, and you gave us a marvelous cross-section of almost every type of human being in your civilization — perhaps unconsciously, it is true; but all the same, you did it. We presume that your own presence in almost every scene is in the nature of an escapist complex. All imaginative persons inject themselves into every situation.”
Mary watched a literal encyclopedic description flash visually across the miraculous screen. When it was finished, she had blushed many times.
“If I had known all my thoughts were being recorded . . .”
The tall man smiled.
“We are glad you didn’t.”
He took her hand and led her toward the door. The other two men remained behind.
“Where are we going, Mr. . . .” she hesitated . “What is your name, any- way?”
“Call me George,” he said. “My true name would mean nothing to you.”
“All right, George,” she smiled. “Now, where are we going?”
He waved an arm at the landscape before them as they stepped out onto the balcony.
“To see the world!” he said dramatically. “A world where there are no wars. I hope that what you see you can carry back to your own sphere.”
“I’m afraid no matter what you show me, it won’t help. You see, in my world, force is such a big word.”
“Yes,” he said. “I have seen. But sometimes a dream, if repeated enough times, can become reality. And let us say that what you see now, you will consider as a dream. Perhaps in the telling, the dream may have a chance in your world to become real also. After all our world is the result of the hopeful dreams of our forebears. They imagined this peaceful world, and later made it so. We had our period of wars too — long ago.”
For the next few hours, Mary saw things that were almost impossible to describe. She saw a vast globe, studded with great cities where millions of people lived in perfect harmony, yet in perfect freedom. Individuality was the rule, rather than the exception. And yet, the whole vast globe was one unit of civilization. Where work was to be done, all did their share. And there was no such thing as money — nor capital and labor — nor rich and poor — nor favoritism and party politics. It was while passing over a city that Mary noticed a small plane flying very swiftly. From it dropped tiny pellets, directly toward the tops of buildings. And with incredible accuracy, perfect accuracy, these little pellets fell into tiny shafts atop the building and were swallowed in their depths.
“What is that?” asked Mary, wonderingly.
“You mean the communications plane?”
“Communications?” George nodded.
“You would call that plane the ‘mail man.’ It is automatically controlled. It covers a pre-arranged route, and if any ‘mail’ is addressed to a particular person in a particular building, it is re- leased from the plane, and dropped into the main communications shaft. Here it is sorted by an automatic arrangement which delivers it to the proper person. We can send an object to the most distant point on the planet within an hour, by this means. We are working on radio transmission of matter now, and perhaps soon this more primitive means will also be eliminated.”
Mary gripped her guide’s arm.
“Did you really mean it when you said you were going to send me back to my own world; and that you hoped we might eliminate wars?”
“And you realize that to the civilization that is ours, force is a far more effective means in establishing peace right now than education and dreams?”
“Unfortunately for your civilization, yes.”
Mary pointed to the disappearing mail plane.
“Then give me the mechanical details of that delivery plane, and the means used to drop the mail so accurately into the mail shaft of each building!”
George lifted his eyebrows.
“But how can such a device help to make your world peaceful?” he asked in astonishment.
Mary looked at him.
“Before I tell you, will you promise faithfully to give me the information?”
“I see no harm in it. Yes, I promise.”
“Well, George, those planes I help make in that factory on my own Earth, are used to drop bombs, destructive, killing bombs. They are guided by what we call “bomb-sights” which are regrettably inaccurate. But if we had this mail-dropping device of yours, we could end the war in a few months and, ever after, enforce peace in our world with it!”
George looked astonished, then reflective.
“Yes,” he said with dawning conviction. “You could! And I know that your nation, and your allied nations, want peace. It is your enemies who start all the wars. And I saw, too, how your nations plan to prevent future wars by education, and foresight . . . Yes, Mary, you are right! You shall have this device! And the sooner the better. Come, we must return, and send you back.”
Later, as they flashed through the crimson sky of the strange planet, on the invisible force that needed no mechanism, George looked peculiarly at Mary several times. Finally she noted it.
“What is the matter?” she asked “Why do you stare at me?”
They were nearing the huge building they had left earlier in the day now.
“Does your hair always change color as the day passes?” asked George curiously. “And your skin . . .”
Mary was startled. She touched her face with her hand, and a shiver of horror ran through her. Her face felt strangely wrinkled under her palm. And she saw now that her hand looked strangely emaciated … as though it were the hand of an old woman . . .
“What about my hair?” asked Mary, in trembling tones.
“Why, it’s almost white,” said George. “But you look alarmed . . . Then this isn’t a natural phenomenon ! “ There was consternation in his voice.
“No,” faltered Mary, “it … it isn’t . . .”
They reached the building now, and Mary’s legs trembled as she walked into the fascinatingly furnished living quarters. Trembled with a weakness that was not entirely that born of the sudden fear that was sweeping through her body.
And as she faced a mirror, she uttered a hoarse cry and covered her face with her hands.
The figure that had looked at her out of the mirror was that of an old woman! A woman of perhaps sixty years of age!
“Old!” she moaned. “I’m an old woman ! This world of yours . . . ! “
Once more she was conscious of George’s strong arms carrying her hastily into the laboratory.
Perhaps an hour later the three other-world scientists had completed a complex examination of her. And now George spoke to her as she sat, tired and old, in one of the lounge chairs.
“Our world,” he said, “is different from yours — in Time. Here, Time moves at a different rate. It would seem that a day here, in our world, is equal to forty of your years. Thus, what has happened . . .”
“You mean I’ve actually aged forty years . . .” Mary’s tragic voice interrupted his “. . . in a day?” *
George looked very perturbed.
“Yes. And now, if we send you back . . .”
“I’ll be sixty years old?” faltered Mary. “An old woman, even in my own world . . .?”
George nodded dumbly.
Mary’s heart almost stopped beating in her breast, and a great wave of constricting darkness and terror beat its way in on her consciousness. But she fought it off, and after a few moments regained a composure born of sheer shock. Her body seemed numb and cold.
Abruptly she struggled to rise to her feet.
“Quick,” she said hoarsely. “Send me back. Send me back with the secret of the mail plane . . .”
George leaped to her side, held her arm, steadied her.
“If you stay, perhaps we can find a way . . .”
“No. If you don’t, I’ll be dead before another day. And I must get back with that secret. My life means nothing beside that . . .”
George looked stricken.
“I can’t begin to tell you how sorry we are. We had no suspicion of such a horrible thing. Never have we encountered such a strange . . .”
“Send me back!” Mary said wildly. “Send me back . . .”
George leaped into action. A quick barrage of commands went to his two companions, and then he took Mary once more in his arms. She was conscious of swift flight through the air, then of her presence in the vast long room where she had regained consciousness to find herself snatched from her own world.
She recovered enough now to make her own way, and in a few moments stood beside the great circular mat of sponge rubber with its surrounding wire coils and its great generators. There she waited, her aged limbs trembling weakly under her.
The other two scientists arrived, bearing with them a small machine, and a bundle of diagrams and specifications. They were complete in every detail, and in English!
“How . . .?” began Mary in a falsetto voice, then stopped. “Yes, of course, you can do many things that seem miracles to me.”
George lifted her, carried her to the center of the rubber disc, then gripped both her hands in his. The other scientists placed their burden on the rubber disc.
“I would rather that it was my life that we had wasted,” said George. “Never again will we tamper with other worlds. We called ourselves civilized! We are worse than beasts! What right had we . . .?”
Mary put one hand to his lips, stopped him.
“You couldn’t have known,” she said. “Knowledge is always gained that way — at the cost of sorrow and pain. And it will be more than worth my own youth to end wars for all time on my Earth. I don’t regret giving my years to save the millions of years of life of other human beings.”
George bowed his head humbly.
“Perhaps someday we will realize what real civilization is,” he said. He stooped, kissed her on the forehead, then turned and stepped off the circle of rubber. Mary watched as he made his way to the machines, and turned them on. As many-colored tubes lit up, Mary smiled at him and waved a thin, blue-veined hand . . .
Once more that vivid flash of light, and the darkness of unconsciousness swept over her. All went silent.
“How did you get here, old lady!” The stupefied astonishment in Cal Thompson’s voice penetrated Mary’s consciousness as though it came from a great distance. With an effort, she struggled up from the depths and opened her eyes. She stared weakly up from where she lay on the factory floor amid a tangle of debris.
All around her were shattered machines, splintered wreckage of wood supports, a smashed airplane motor, the remains of a great metal chain, fused as though struck by an all-consuming lightning. In the air was still the heavy cloud of smoke, and the dust of crashing objects.
“How’d you get here?” Cal Thompson said again, bending over her. “What on Earth . . .?”
Mary stared up at him.
“Cal . . .” she began weakly.
Thompson stopped, stared at her in blank surprise.
“You know me?”
“Yes, Cal. Do you recognize me?”
Thompson shook his head.
“Can’t say’s I do. But forget that. Are you hurt, old lady? My God, how did you get here! You might have been killed . . .”
“I’m not hurt, Cal,” said Mary in her cracked, aged voice. “But, please, Cal, don’t you recognize me at all?”
Thompson put an arm around her shoulder, lifted her to a sitting position, then stared intently into her face as he held her.
A look of dawning comprehension, tinged with perplexity, spread over his face.
“Say!” he said in an awed voice. “You look like — why, you might be poor Mary Sweeney’s mother! Sure, you must be. You look just like I’d imagine . . . although I can’t remember ever having seen you. You lived in Kansas City, didn’t . . .”
“Cal ! “ said Mary desperately. “I’m not my mother!”
Cal Thompson’s face went gray, then ashen.
“Mother of Mercy!” he breathed. “It can’t be . . . !”
He swallowed hard, tightened his arm about her aged shoulders.
“Mary ! Mary Sweeney ! “ he said in shocked tones. “It can’t be . . . but it is! But how . . .?”
“It’s me, Cal,” said Mary. “That . . . that ray or whatever it was, did this to me. I’ve got so much to tell you … but we haven’t time for that!” Mary stared around wildly, struggled in Cal’s arms. “The model … the plans . . . oh, there they are ! Thank God …”
Thompson looked bewildered.
“What model? What plans . . .?” He stopped abruptly as his eyes fell upon the small machine and the bundle of diagrams. “For Pete’s sake ! “
“Get them into a safe place, quick!” begged Mary. “They’re the model and plans for the most accurate bomb-sight ever devised. With it, we can win the war in a few months! Get the experts down here . . .”
Thompson looked dazed.
“Girl ! “ he breathed. “Are you daft? Or am I daft! Just a few minutes ago, hell broke loose in here, and your crane was wrecked. We couldn’t find your body in the wreckage. I called for wrecking crews — cleared the place out, and a military guard is being called. Then I called Jimmy, and he’s on his way down now . . .!” Thompson stopped speaking abruptly and a look of horror spread over his face. Mary’s face, too, went white. She struggled to her feet. Then she stood, wan and pale as a ghost, staring beyond Thompson toward the factory entrance.
Striding toward them, anguish on his youthful features, was Jimmy Wright.
He came up to Thompson, grasped his arm and swung him around. He looked once at Mary, then after a little puzzled frown, turned once more to Thompson.
“Where is she, man?” he asked hoarsely. “For God’s sake, tell me ! “
“No . . .!” came from Mary’s lips in a frightened rasp. “Oh, God . . . ! “
Cal Thompson’s face was gray. He stared from Mary to Jimmy, his tongue hopelessly tired. His eyes roved to the tangle of wreckage where even now dozens of expert rescue workers were at work.
Jimmy caught his look, and his face blanched.
“Under . . . there?” he asked in agonized tones. Then he released his grip of Thompson’s arm, ignored the trembling old lady beside him, plunged into the group of workmen and began desperately heaving aside timbers and tangled metal intestines.
Mary Sweeney fainted.
It seemed hours later when she awakened in a hospital bed. A doc- tor was bending over her,
“There,” he said. “You’ll be as good as new tomorrow.” He rose to his feet and spoke to the nurse. “She can get up if she wants to. She hasn’t a mark on her. Just fainted. I’m sure she wasn’t in the accident. In fact, she
couldn’t have been. That’s right, Mr. Thompson, isn’t it?”
Mary became aware of Cal Thompson in the room, and looked at him.
“Yeah,” said Thompson in strained tones. “She couldn’t have. But I’m glad you’re sure there’s no injury. I didn’t want to take any chances . . .”
“I’d advise you to take her home,” said the doctor. “She’s okay.”
“Yes,” said Thompson. “I’ll be glad to . . .”
Fifteen minutes later Mary was seated beside him in his car.
“Where are we going?” she asked dully, then her eyes took on a frightened light. “Not home! Oh, Cal. Not home! I can’t go there!”
Thompson shook his head.
“No, Mary. We aren’t going there. If you feel entirely able, we’ve got to see the war department officials. They are awfully excited about that strange machine and diagrams we found beside you in the plant. I told them you mentioned their presence before either of us saw them — so you knew they were there . . .”
“Yes,” said Mary. “I knew. And we’ve got to see the officials right away. They’re terribly important.”
“That’s what they said to me. And that’s why we’re going down there now. But how about explaining some of this to me? I don’t know what terrible thing happened to you, except that somehow that accident made an . . .” he hesitated, and Mary whitened.
“Don’t say it, Cal,” she said slowly.
He went on.
“From what you said, I got the idea something stranger than that had happened to you. But I can’t imagine what. Except I do know you weren’t on the floor where I eventually found you, nor was that machine and those drawings.”
“I’ll explain the whole thing when we get to the war officials,” said Mary in a drawn, tired voice. “I don’t think I could go over it twice.”
“Sure, Mary,” said Thompson, his voice troubled. “I understand.”
An hour later Mary and Thompson sat in the office of the Oakland Area Military Intelligence Unit, before two serious-faced men whose eyes were alight with an amazed exultance as they looked at the strange metal machine on a desk before them, and peered through the series of complex diagrams spread out beside the model.
“Incredible,” said one, “but we can’t do otherwise than believe every word of it. The bomb-sight is here, and I know enough about these things to realize that it’s the most terrific thing that ever hit this man’s army. But just to make sure, I’ve sent for some experts on the Norden sight. They can confirm it.”
“You won’t have to worry about that confirmation,” said Mary. “I’ve seen that bomb-sight work. And I’m sure it’ll deliver bombs just as accurately as it does mail in that — that strange world where the sun is red, and there are no wars.”
“Can’t you tell us more about that world?” asked the other official earnest- ly. “Maybe we can learn still some- thing. Those metal coils and that rubber disc . . . what’d they look like?”
Mary shook her head.
“George said one thing before he sent me back to my own world,” she said, “which I think was the wisest thing he ever said. He promised that never again would he or his fellow scientists delve into other worlds and trespass on the rights of other living beings as he did upon me. That’s why I’m not going to give you any clues that might en- able you to do the same thing. What might happen to one of those innocent people, snatched from their world, into ours? Would you want to do something like what has happened to me, to another? Not if I can help it! “
Mary’s eyes misted with tears. She got to her feet, and looked at Thompson.
“Can we go, Cal?” she asked tremulously. “I … I think I’d better get somewhere where I … I can have a good cry.”
“Of course, Mary,” said Cal Thompson huskily. “If it’s all right with you gentlemen . . .?”
“Certainly,” said the military intelligence official. “If we want to talk further with Miss Sweeney, we’ll let you know. But I think not . . . we’ve got plenty of work to do now — setting a plant in operation to manufacture these bomb-sights. And when we do — look out, Japan ! “
Thompson put an arm around Mary’s shoulder and led her out.
“Might get the chill out of my bones.” She smiled a bit. “Now I know what it means to be ‘old folks’!”
Thompson leaned over, patted her hand, then proceeded to put down the automatic top of his convertible. Once it was down he looked at Mary’s white hair critically, then settled back in the driver’s seat and devoted himself to driving slowly out into the country- side.
Fifty miles later he looked at the gasoline gauge and grunted.
“Far’s we can go on an A card,” he said. “It’s back to town for us.”
Mary smiled at him and nodded.
“It’s been wonderful,” she said. “I feel much better. But where am I go- ing to go when we get back to town?”
“To my place,” said Thompson firmly. “You’re going to bunk there for a few days. Then we’ll decide after that where you’ll go. Besides, there’s a little something I want to try out . . .”
Outside, in the car once again, he spoke.
“What about Jimmy?” he said.
Slaty turned swiftly, an agonized look on her face.
“He mustn’t know!” she exclaimed. “Let him think I was killed, even my body destroyed in that ray. I couldn’t bear to have him know— to see and pity me. He couldn’t love me now; only pity me. That would be torture I couldn’t stand I“
Cal Thompson looked at Mary for a long moment, and as he looked, a peculiar look came into his eye.
“Mary,” he said, “do you mind if I put down the top, and we take a drive in the sunshine? I think it’ll do you good. You look pretty pale. Little sun might pep you up.”
“It would be nice,” she said slowly.
The next morning Mary was awakened by the sound of the curtain going up in her bedroom. She opened her eyes to find Cal Thompson and his wife in the room. Cal was standing beside the bed looking down at her.
“Mary,” he said, “you remember what George, that fellow in that world with the red sun, told you about the difference in Time between our two worlds?”
Mary sat up in bed, surprised at his question, and answered.
“Why, yes,” she said. “But why?”
“I’ve been suspicious of that all along,” said Thompson. “Yesterday, when we came out of the intelligence office, I saw something about your hair in the sunlight . . . that’s why I suggested a long ride in the sunshine. I wanted to see if my suspicions were right. And I think they were. But I had to wait until this morning, to make sure.”
“What are you driving at?” asked Mary in troubled tones.
“Time,” said Thompson. “It seems to me that people who live in a world where Time is regulated to twenty- four hours a day, or something like that — I don’t know how to explain it — ought to live by the rules of that Time, don’t you think? Well, so long as you were in that other world, you were living by the rules of a Time that wasn’t natural to you. And now, back in this world, you live by the Time you are accustomed to?”
Mary nodded tiredly.
“Yes,” she said dully, her eyes filling with tears. “I guess you’re right, Cal. And so, I’ve got maybe five years of creaky joints and ulcers to live yet . . .”
“Now, Mary,” said Thompson bluffly. “Don’t be saying that. You got a lot of years left before you . . .”
Mary dropped her head on her knees and burst into tears. For a moment there was an awkward silence, then Mary quieted her sobs and at the sound of quiet footsteps, lifted her head.
“I’m sorry, Cal . . .” she began, then her eyes widened.
“Jimmy!” she said, startled.
Jimmy Wright dropped down on the bed beside her and gathered her into his arms and kissed her tear-dampened cheeks.
“Honey!” he said huskily. “Thank God you’re alive !”
Mary drew back, her face pale, agonized.
“Why did he do it?” she asked, stricken. “Why did he do it?”
“Do what, darling?”
“Tell you, call you here. I didn’t want you ever to know. I wanted you to think I was dead. I’m old, Jimmy. An old woman . . . !”
“Old?” Jimmy Wright grinned at her. Then he got up, crossed to the dresser and picked up a mirror. He handed it to her. “Take a squint into that, honey,” he said. “If you’re old, I’m an octogenarian!”
Amazed, Mary took the mirror in trembling fingers, trembling fingers that she saw now were smooth and white and youthful. She looked uncomprehendingly into the mirror a moment, then became aware of the truth. Staring out at her were the wondering features of a young girl ! Herself ! “Oh!” she cried.
The sound of her voice brought Cal Thompson into the room, closely followed by his wife. Both wore wide smiles on their faces.
“It’s that there Time thing,” said Cal triumphantly. “You see, there must be laws that regulate the value of Time in all worlds. And the way I figure it, the Time laws in that other world don’t apply to people that don’t belong to that world. And you belong here!
“You see, I got an idea that was what was going to happen yesterday in the car, when I saw a touch of gold in your hair when the sun hit it. When we got back from the drive I was sure. Your hair was a couple of shades darker, and your face hadn’t nearly so many wrinkles.
“You were in that other world only a few minutes, our Time, and when you got back, the natural laws came back into effect, and all that Time that was piled on your body in the other world just sloughed away . . .”
“Cal,” said Mary Sweeney, in glad tones. “Would you mind doing me a favor?”
“Sure, girl, what is it?”
“Why don’t you and Mrs. Thompson go downstairs and talk it over. I just don’t feel interested in Time right now — except I wish it would stand still I And besides, Jimmy has only a few days’ furlough left. That’s one Time that’s entirely too short!”
Cal Thompson chuckled and turned to the door. He beckoned to his wife.
“You heard what the young lady said,” he ordered. “Get going. Time’s a’wasting! Time’s a’wastingl”
He shut the door behind him.