Astounding Stories of Super-Science May 1931: The Exile of Time - Chapter XIII by@astoundingstories

Astounding Stories of Super-Science May 1931: The Exile of Time - Chapter XIII

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Tugh came limping forward. His cloak hung askew upon his thick shoulders, one of which was much higher than the other, with the massive head set low between. As he advanced, Migul moved aside.
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Astounding Stories of Super-Science May 1931, by Astounding Stories is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. The Exile of Time - Chapter XIII: In the Burned Forest

CHAPTER XIII. In the Burned Forest

Tugh came limping forward. His cloak hung askew upon his thick shoulders, one of which was much higher than the other, with the massive head set low between. As he advanced, Migul moved aside.

"Master, I have done well. There is no reason to punish."

"Of course not, Migul. Well you have done, indeed. But I do not like your ideas of mastery, and so I came just to make sure that you are still very loyal to me. You have done well, indeed. Who is in this other cage which follows us?"

"Master, Harl was in it. And the Princess Tina."

"Ah!"

"And a stranger. A man—"

"From 1935? Did they stop there?"

"Master, yes. But they stopped again, I think, in that same night of 1777, where I did your bidding. Master, the man Major Atwood is—"

"That is very good, Migul," Tugh said hastily. Mary and I standing gazing at him, did not know then that Mary's father had been murdered. And Tugh did not wish us to know it. "Very good, Migul." He regarded us as though about to speak, but turned again to the Robot.

"And so Tina's cage follows us—as you hoped?"

"Yes, Master. But now there is only Harl in it. He approached us very close a while in the past. He is alone."

"So?" Tugh glanced at the Time-dials. "Stop us where we planned. You remember—in one of those years when this space was the big forest glade."

He fronted Mary and me. "You are patient, young sir. You do not speak."

His glittering black eyes held me. They were red-rimmed eyes, like those of a beast. He had a strangely repulsive face. His lips were cruel, and so thin they made his wide mouth like a gash. But there was an intellectuality stamped upon his features.

He held the black cloak closely around his thick, misshapen form. "You do not speak," he repeated.

I moistened my dry lips. Tugh was smiling now, and suddenly I saw the full inhuman quality of his face—the great high-bridged nose, and high cheek-bones; a face Satanic when he smiled.

I managed, "Should I speak, and demand the meaning of this? I do. And if you will return this girl from whence she came—"

"It will oblige you greatly," he finished ironically. "An amusing fellow. What is your name?"

"George Rankin."

"Migul took you from 1935?"

"Yes."

"Well, as you doubtless know, you are most unwelcome.... You are watching the dials, Migul?"

"Yes, Master."

"You can return me," I said. I was standing with my arm around Mary. I could feel her shuddering. I was trying to be calm, but across the background of my consciousness thoughts were whirling. We must escape. This Tugh was our real enemy, and for all the gruesome aspect of the pseudo-human Robot, this man Tugh seemed the more sinister, more menacing.... We must escape. Tugh would never return us to our own worlds. But the cage was stopping presently. We were loose: a sudden rush—

Dared I chance it? Already I had been in conflict with Migul, and lived through it. But this Tugh—was he armed? What weapons might be beneath that cloak? Would he kill me if I crossed him?... Whirling thoughts.

Tugh was saying, "And Mary—" I snapped from my thoughts as Mary gripped me, trembling at Tugh's words, shrinking from his gaze.

"My little Mistress Atwood, did you think because Tugh vanished that year the war began that you were done with him? Oh, no: did I not promise differently? You, man of 1935, are unwelcome." His gaze roved me. "Yet not so unwelcome, either, now that I think of it. Chain them up, Migul; use a longer chain. Give them space to move; you are unhuman."

He suddenly chuckled, and repeated it: "You are unhuman, Migul!" Ghastly jest! "Did not you know it?"

"Yes, Master."

The huge mechanism advanced upon us. "If you resist me," it murmured menacingly, "I will be obliged to kill you. I—I cannot be controlled."

It chained us now with longer chains than before. Tugh looked up from his seat at the instrument table.

"Very good," he said crisply. "You may look out of the window, you two. You may find it interesting."

We were retarding with a steady drag. I could plainly see trees out of the window—gray, spectral trees which changed their shape as I watched them. They grew with a visible flow of movement, flinging out branches. Occasionally one would melt suddenly down. A living, growing forest pressed close about us. And then it began opening, and moving away a few hundred feet. We were in the glade Tugh mentioned, which now was here. There was unoccupied space where we could stop and unoccupied space five hundred feet distant.

Tugh and Migul were luring the other cage into stopping. Tugh wanted five hundred feet of unoccupied space between the cages when they stopped. His diabolical purpose in that was soon to be disclosed.

"700 A. D.," Tugh called.

"Yes, Master. I am ready."

It seemed, as our flight retarded further, that I could distinguish the intervals when in the winter these trees were denuded. There would be naked branches; then, in an instant, blurred and flickering forms of leaves. Sometimes there were brief periods when the gray scene was influenced by winter snows; other times it was tinged by the green of the summers.

"750, Migul.... Hah! You know what to do if Harl dares to follow and stop simultaneously?"

"Yes, Master."

"It will be pleasant to have him dead, eh, Migul?"

"Master, very pleasant."

"And Tina, too, and that young man marooned in 1777!" Tugh laughed. This meant little to Mary and me; we could not suspect that Larry was the man.

"Migul, this is 761."

The Robot was at the door. I murmured to Mary to brace herself for the stopping. I saw the dark naked trees and the white of a snow in the winter of 761; the coming spring of 762. And then the alternate flashes of day and night.

The now familiar sensations of stopping rushed over us. There was a night seconds long. Then daylight.

We stopped in the light of an April day of 762 A. D. There had been a forest fire: so brief a thing we had not noticed it is we passed. The trees were denuded over a widespread area; the naked blackened trunks stood stripped of smaller branches and foliage. I think that the fire had occurred the previous autumn; in the silt of ashes and charred branches with which the ground was strewn, already a new pale-green vegetation was springing up.

Our cage was set now in what had been a woodland glade, an irregularly circular space of six or eight hundred feet, with the wreckage of the burned forest around it. We were on a slight rise of ground. Through the denuded trees the undulating landscape was visible over a considerable area. It was high noon, and the sun hung in a pale blue sky dotted with pure white clouds.

Ahead of us, fringed with green where the fire had not reached, lay a blue river, sparkling in the sunlight. The Hudson! But it was not named yet; nearly eight hundred and fifty years were to pass before Hendrick Hudson came sailing up this river, adventuring, hoping that here was the way to China.

We were near the easterly side of the glade; to the west there was more than five hundred feet of vacant space. It was there the other cage would appear, if it stopped.

As Mary and I stood by the window at the end of the chain-lengths which held us, Tugh and Migul made hurried preparations.

"Go quickly, near the spot where he will arrive. When he sees you, run away, Migul. You understand?"

"Yes, Master." The Robot left our doorway, tramping with stiff-legged tread across the glade. Tugh was in the room behind us, and I turned to him and asked:

"What are you going to do?"

He was at the telespectroscope. I saw on its recording mirror the wraith-like image of the other vehicle. It was coming! It would be retarding, maneuvering to stop at just this Time when now we existed here; but across the glade, where Migul now was leaning against a great black tree-trunk, there was yet no evidence of it.

Tugh did not answer my question. Mary said quaveringly:

"What are you going to do?"

He looked up. "Do not concern yourself, my dear. I am not going to hurt you, nor this young man of 1935. Not yet."

He left the table and came at us. His cloak parted in front and I saw his crooked hips, and shriveled bent legs.

"You stay at the window, both of you, and keep looking out. I want this Harl to see you, but not me. Do you understand?"

"Yes," I said.

"And if you gesture, or cry out—if you do anything to warn him,"—he was addressing me, with a tone grimly menacing—"then I will kill you. Both of you. Do you understand?"

I did indeed. Nor could I doubt him. "We will do what you want." I said. What, to me, was the life of this unknown Harl compared to the safety of Mary Atwood?

Tugh crouched behind the table. From around its edge he could see out the doorway and across the glade. I was aware of a weapon in his hand.

"Do not look around again," he repeated. "The other cage is coming; it's almost here."

I held Mary, and we gazed out. We were pressed against the bars, and sunlight was on our heads and shoulders. I realized that we could be plainly seen from across the glade. We were lures—decoys to trap Harl.

How long an interval went by I cannot judge. The scene was very silent, the blackened forest lying sullen in the noonday sunlight. Against the tree, five hundred feet or so from us, the dark towering metal figure of the Robot stood motionless.

Would the other cage come? I tried to guess in what part of this open glade it would appear.

At a movement behind me I turned slightly. At once the voice of Tugh hissed:

"Do not do that! I warn you!"

His shrouded figure was still hunched behind the table. He was peering toward the open door. I saw in his hand a small, barrel-like weapon, with a wire dangling from it. The wire lay like a snake across the floor and terminated in a small metal cylinder in the room corner.

"Turn front," he ordered vehemently. "One more backward look and—Careful! Here he comes!"

Strange tableau in this burned forest! We were on the space of New York City in 762 A. D. There was no life in the scene. Birds, animals and insects shunned this fire-denuded area. And the humans of the forest—were there none of them here?

Abruptly I saw a group of men at the edge of the glade. They had come silently creeping forward, hiding behind the blackened tree-trunks. They were all behind Migul. I saw them like dark shadows darting from the shelter of one tree-trunk to the next, a group of perhaps twenty savages.

Migul did not see them, nor, in the heavy silence, did he seem to hear them. They came, gazing at our shining cage like animals fascinated, wondering what manner of thing it was.

They were the ancestors of our American Indians. One fellow stopped in a patch of sunlight and I saw him clearly. His half-naked body had an animal skin draped over it, and, incongruously, around his forehead was a band of cloth holding a feather. He carried a stone ax. I saw his face; the flat, heavy features showed his Asiatic origin.

Someone behind this leader impulsively shot an arrow across the glade. It went over Migul's head and fell short of our cage. Migul turned, and a rain of arrows thudded harmlessly against its metal body. I heard the Robot's contemptuous laugh. It made no answering attack, but stood motionless. And suddenly, thinking it a god whom now they must placate, the savages fell prostrate before him.

Strange tableau! I saw a ball of white mist across the glade near Migul. Something was materializing; an imponderable ghost of something was taking form. In an instant it was the wraith of a cage; then, where nothing had been, stood a cage. It was solid and substantial—a metal cage-room, gleaming white in the sunlight.

The tableau broke into sound and action. The savages howled. One scrambled to his feet; then others. The Robot pretended to attack them. An eery roar came from it as it turned toward the savages, and in a panic of agonized terror they fled. In a moment they had disappeared among the distant trees, with Migul's huge figure tramping noisily after them.

From the doorway of the cage across the glade, a young man was cautiously gazing. He had seen Migul make off; he saw, doubtless, Mary and me at the window of this other cage five hundred feet away. He came cautiously out from the doorway. He was a small, slim young man, bareheaded, with a pallid face. His black garments were edged with white, and he seemed unarmed. He hesitated, took a step or two forward, stopped and stood cautiously peering. In the silence I could have shouted a warning. But I did not dare. It would have meant Mary's and my death.

She clung to me. "George, shall we?" she asked.

Harl came slowly forward. Then suddenly from the room behind us there was a stab of light. It leaped knee-high past us, out through our door across the glade—a tiny pencil-point of light so brilliantly blue-white that it stabbed through the bright sunlight unfaded. It went over Harl's head, but instantly bent down and struck upon him. There it held the briefest of instants, then was gone.

Harl stood motionless for a second; then his legs bent and he fell. The sunlight shone full on his crumpled body. And as I stared in horror, I saw that he was not quite motionless. Writhing? I thought so: a death agony. Then I realized it was not that.

"Mary, don't—don't look!" I said.

There was no need to tell her. She huddled beside me, shuddering, with her face pressed against my shoulder.

The body of Harl lay in a crumpled heap. But the clothes were sagging down. The flesh inside them was melting.... I saw the white face suddenly leprous; putrescent.... All in this moment, within the clothes, the body swiftly, decomposed.

In the sunlight of the glade lay a sagging heap of black and white garments enveloping the skeleton of what a moment before had been a man!

(To be continued.)

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Various. 2009. Astounding Stories of Super-Science, May 1931. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/30532/30532-h/30532-h.htm#The_Exile_of_Time

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