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Title: Before the Dawn
Author: Taine, John [Bell, Eric Temple] (1883-1960)
Date of first publication: 1934
Edition used as base for this ebook: Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins Company, 1934 [first edition]
Date first posted: 2 September 2015
Date last updated: 2 September 2015
Project Gutenberg Canada ebook #1270

This ebook was produced by Al Haines

Publisher's Note: As part of the conversion of the book to its new digital format, we have made certain minor adjustments in its layout.



[Eric Temple Bell, Professor of Mathematics,
California Institute of Technology; Member
National Academy of Sciences; Past-president
Mathematical Society of America]







I. The Claw
II. The Calcite Woman
III. The Little Folk
IV. Strong Runners
V. The Lotus Eater
VI. Smoking Waters
VII. Sand
VIII. Invasion
IX. Revolution
X. Pursuit
XI. The Bridge
XII. Jezebel's Folly
XIII. The Scientist
XIV. Sunset and Evening Star


When a house that has devoted its attention wholly to factual books and journals in the realm of research science or its applications publishes a romance, it is no more than reasonable to explain the phenomenon.

Dr. Bell's Before the Dawn is fiction, written for the love and fun of the thing, and to be read in the same spirit. It is a romance. But it is not mere unguided romancing. There is scientific background for everything he writes. If the actual scenes depicted in Before the Dawn are fictitious, nevertheless what science has discovered lets us know that they are "true" in the essential sense—according, of course, to the present state of knowledge. If there is no television in time as a matter of sober fact, it is also a matter of sober fact that the thing is possible; science has sown the seeds. The conjecture lies in guessing which way the seeds will grow.

While it is not to be understood that Dr. Bell is making serious prediction, it is obvious that fantasy of this sort differs vastly from idle dreaming and unfettered imaginings; or from imaginings which start from hints in science and proceed most unscientifically. Such fantasy is not less entertaining and has the added intriguing quality of peeping at a distant horizon which is not impossible of attainment.

Such fiction seems to be in a class by itself. It seems to be within the function of a publisher of science books, rather than within the function of the general publisher. For the publisher of science books is in the habit of certifying to the authenticity as well as the readability of his manuscripts. And in fiction of this sort, authenticity is a factor.

Indeed so decidedly did it appear that this class of book differed from others that an identifying tag seemed useful, if not imperative, Dr. Bell coined the word fantascience, which may be roughly defined as literary work having a warp of science and a weft of fantasy.

As "John Taine" Dr. Bell has a wide reputation as a writer of romances. The Purple Sapphire, Quayle's Invention, Green Fire, Gold Tooth, and several others are his. He brings therefore to the first book in fantascience not only a scientific training and achievement of the first rank, but a nimble imagination, a ready pen, and a rich experience as a teller of good tales.



An invisible needle of light pried its way into the minute cavities of an uncut diamond.

Of the three men watching that epochal experiment with the electronic analyser, Langtry alone was at ease. He had invented the 'clock', as he called his ingenious decipherer of the secrets of light, and he felt confident of success. Bronson, the stocky, practical president of the American Television Corporation, breathed heavily and kept his eyes on the diamond. Old Professor Sellar the archaeologist, erect and tense, tried not to seem too expectant, although it was his own restless curiosity that had started the whole series of experiments of which this was the climax.

"Watch for the violet—it is coming," Langtry warned.

As the invisible needle-point of light found its mark in the heart of the diamond, a soft violet radiance shimmered on the air, bathing the crystal.

"We've got it," Bronson exclaimed, starting forward.

"Yes; but what?" Sellar muttered. "How far back, Langtry?"

"I can't tell. Wait and see if anything condenses."

The violet light palpitated and gradually expanded. From a globule the size of a cherry it swelled to a huge ball, five yards or more in diameter, and seemed to live. Through the clear violet atmosphere of the pulsating sphere swift flashes of crimson and yellow, of blue and green, like the changing colors of a fire opal, flashed and instantly disappeared.

"Does either of you see anything?" Bronson demanded. "The focus is all wrong. I get nothing but a blur of color."

"Wait," Langtry counselled confidently. He stepped back a few feet. "We are not looking at it in scale," he said. "Ah, I see the trouble. The image is upside down." He made a delicate readjustment of the 'clock'. "How's that?"

"I still see nothing—" Sellar began. Before he could finish they all saw it—the first record of television in time ever to be seen by human eyes.

The record was stimulating but disappointingly brief. The swirling crimson and yellow wisps of light suddenly rushed together near the centre of the violet globe, shimmered indecisively for a second, and congealed. A monstrous curved talon like a vulture's, but as long as a man's arm and twice as thick at the base, hovered for an instant in the violet haze. Then, still crimson and smoking with the blood of its prey, the murderous claw flashed down and out of the solid picture.

For some moments there was silence. Then Langtry spoke.

"Well?" he queried.

"We've done it," Bronson agreed to the inventor's unexpressed question. "That was no figment of our disordered imaginations. What about it, Sellar?"

"Too far back for me," Sellar sighed. "I wanted not more than ten thousand years—if that."

"You and your Mayas," Bronson snapped impatiently. "Can't you see that we have something worth millions more than any peepshow of prehistoric America? Wait till this gets on the market. Think of it, man, all past time to tune in on and play with!"

But from Bronson's enthusiasm to commercial success was to be many a weary month, and even now the expense of constructing a serviceable analyser is all but prohibitive. Nevertheless Bronson's great corporation has not given up hope of making the analyser as cheap as the radio. When they succeed, every amateur will be able to reproduce for himself the glorious epics that are now to be seen only in the laboratories of American Television.

Before giving some indication of what is to be seen in those laboratories today, I should like to put down a brief history of the invention which has made these marvels possible. I shall then relate the outcome of a particular experiment which Sellar asked Langtry to perform. Although less spectacular than those now daily shown in the laboratories, it was decisive. Mr. Bronson has asked me to do this, as already there seems to be some misunderstanding as to who should be given the credit.

Bronson thinks Sellar deserves the most. I personally believe that Bronson himself deserves as much. Unless he had encouraged the world authorities—inventors, scientists and engineers—to take up Langtry's first crude device and make it practical, we should still be in the laboratory stage of development, instead of where we now are.

Langtry made the basic discovery while engaged on a purely practical and humdrum detail of ordinary television engineering. He modestly insists that it was all a lucky accident and perhaps he is right. If so, it was that fortunate kind of mischance that happens only to the right man looking for the wrong thing—like Röntgen, when he surprised himself by discovering x-rays.

Langtry's 'clock', or 'televisor', or electronic analyser, to give the device its scientific name, does for light what a phonograph does for sound. The records which the televisor 'plays' are nature's, and the older they are the clearer.

But one serious defect remains to be overcome before the televisor can be marketed profitably, that of 'unscrambling' a particular record and reassembling it in the natural time sequence. At present this has been done only at enormous expense in the laboratories. The difficulty is similar to that of getting a perfect symphony out of bucketfuls of badly smashed phonograph records. Before the symphony can be played, the puzzle of fitting the shattered fragments into smooth, whole records must be solved.

To return to Langtry's 'accident', for which Professor Sellar was directly responsible. For over thirty years Sellar had devoted all his working hours to the apparently hopeless puzzle of reading the grotesque stone records left by the Mayan priests and astronomers. His own early work contributed to the decipherment of the Mayan numeral system. Later workers, going far beyond him, had made out the calendar. There seemed to be little doubt that at least some of the bizarre inscriptions referred to eclipses of the moon. This detail proved of the highest importance in the earlier developments of Langtry's televisor.

Sellar was no ordinary archaeologist. Instead of accepting the conclusions of his fellow workers, he learned to calculate lunar eclipses for himself, and disputed every date they seemed to fix. The dates were reasonable enough, 704 A.D. for one monument, 212 B.C. for another, and so on. If one had come out 10,000 B.C., Sellar would have thrown up all the theories of his friends in disgust. He knew better than that by instinct; America simply could not have been civilized before Egypt was.

All his mature life Sellar had been tormented by a vague feeling that there must be some exact physical means for dating historical monuments. Must not something happen to a slab of polished limestone or granite in the course of centuries, to store up forever the record of the days and nights, the dawns and the sunsets, the frosts and the scorching summers it has taken, year after year and century after century? That every dead or living thing must carry with it the whole of its history, in some readable shape or another, seems obvious to anyone who believes, as Sellar did, that nature is something more than a welter of utterly lawless accidents.

Granted that Sellar's belief was not baseless, his problem came down to finding what language is nature's own, and in what script she conceals her secrets from too curious eyes. The script is light itself, and the language is the simplest and most direct of all, the moving record of events as they happen. Only when the very atoms of the rocks are dissipated into their primal electricities and smoothed out in eternal nothing, will nature be inscrutable and the past forgotten beyond recall.

Unable to believe wholeheartedly in his rivals' theory of dating by eclipses, and not being a physicist, Sellar at last confided his problems to his old friend Bronson. The president of American Television did not laugh; he did not even smile. He had risen to the top because he harnessed imagination to a sound financial sense. The commercial possibilities were obvious enough. Such a 'dating engine' as Sellar desired would be saleable. Every museum in the world would want at least one. Apart from the business aspects, Bronson was interested on his own account. Science had done a lot for him; he would now do something for science.

"I'll ask young Langtry to think about it," he promised. "If he gets an idea, I'll let you know."

Langtry scarcely needed to think. His lucky 'accident' had already happened. When Bronson stated Sellar's problem, Langtry saw the solution in a flash. The practical details might take centuries to work out, but the problem was solved. He resolved to devote all his spare minutes to the 'clock'.

At the time, Langtry was perfecting an intricate amplifying device for measuring the exact degree of worn-outness of the large and expensive grids used in the television tubes of his company. The theory behind these practical measurements was simple in the extreme. When light impinges on a smooth metal surface some of the outer electrons in the atoms are knocked off—to speak the older language of a much modified theory. By measuring the amount of electric current thus liberated by the light, it was possible to calculate for how long the surface of the metal had been bombarded and pitted by earlier impacts of light or other intense radiation. The earlier light left its own record in the metal.

From that hint to the end was a long way, but one marked at every step by legible signposts. Langtry read the easier of these; it required the combined efforts of the world's greatest engineers and experts on theories of quanta and radiation to decipher the rest. But the signs were finally read, and by properly amplifying the variable photoelectric current emitted by a lump of dead matter, men at last deciphered the unaging records of all the light that had ever shone on the lump.

Just as the phonograph restores the music recorded in the serrated grooves of a disc, which apparently are as unlike sound as the roughened surface of a crystal is unlike a living picture of events long past and forgotten, so the televisor unweaves from the slightly modified atoms all the history of the light which, ages ago, robbed them of a few electrons.

For nearly a year Sellar heard nothing from Bronson. For all he knew, his problem might have been shelved. Nor did Bronson hear anything from Langtry, until the young man called one evening at his chief's house.

"I'm ready for a test," he announced.

"Of what?"

"Professor Sellar's 'dating machine'. I think I've got it. With the proper amplifiers it should give results accurate to one part in ten thousand."

Bronson was rather incredulous. The accuracy claimed seemed excessive.

"Aren't you a trifle too optimistic?"

"Not at all. If anything, the mistake is on the other side. You see, I use crystals exclusively for measuring the differences in frequency and wave length. The intensities are easily controlled."

"Oh. Well, we can soon see where we stand. I'll ask Sellar to bring something to the laboratory tomorrow to be dated."



The next morning, Sellar offered his most treasured possession for the test. This was a beautiful Mayan calendar stone, as smooth in its polished perfection as it was the day it left its maker's hands.

All of Sellar's archaeological friends agreed that the stone dated itself, for on its reverse was the record of a certain total eclipse of the moon. That eclipse, they claimed, was recorded in the year in which the stone was set in position. Sellar scarcely went so far. He checked that a total lunar eclipse actually had occurred when and where his friends said it had, but he could not follow their reading of everything on the reverse of the calendar.

"See in what year this was finished," he directed Langtry. "If your tubes date it within a century of that eclipse, I'll begin to believe you may have something. I'll not tell you my date till you give me yours."

To Sellar's archaeological eye the televisor resembled an amateur's dream of the working parts of a high-powered radio transmitter. He kept a guarded silence as Langtry adjusted the calendar stone on the revolving steel platform and prepared to focus the exploring needle of monochromatic light. The inventor turned a screw switch, and announced that he was ready.

"Will one of you take down the intensities as I call them off?"

Bronson produced a pad and pencil. "All right. Go ahead."

A switch was closed, and the invisible needle began feeling its way into every microscopic cavity of the polished stone. As the trickle of current liberated by the light began to do work, a delicately balanced pointer, suspended by a single quartz fibre above a graduated scale, almost budged. "I shall have to amplify it more than I thought," Langtry muttered. "That's better."

The pointer quivered. Then, all but imperceptibly, it shuddered and seemed to live. A hairsbreadth at a time it crept over the scale a full sixteenth of an inch, hesitated, crept back, gained another sixteenth, and tentatively felt its way in jerks around a quadrant of the scale. At each hesitation Langtry called off the corresponding division mark, which Bronson recorded. The whole run took about five minutes and furnished nearly two hundred readings.

"I'll have to reduce the observations," Langtry remarked, disconnecting the tubes. "It will only take a few minutes."

Sellar began to grow impatient as the few minutes lapsed into half an hour. At last Langtry was satisfied.

"I date your calendar stone, with a probable error of less than a year, as 704 A.D."

For a moment Sellar's face was a blank. Then he turned accusingly on Bronson. "You told him what the eclipse gives," he said reproachfully.

"I did nothing of the kind," Bronson retorted with considerable heat. "I didn't know myself. Is Langtry's date anywhere near the truth?"

"As near as the eclipse puts it," Sellar admitted grudgingly. "But I'm not convinced."

"A wild coincidence, eh?" Langtry smiled. "Let's see if I can hit another. Anything else you want me to try?"

Flushing slightly, Sellar fished about in the roomy pocket of his work jacket, and somewhat shamefacedly produced a greenish lump of translucent crystal. He held it up for their inspection.

"This was found in the gravel near Xlitctl. The gravel bed has been buried under a lava outflow eight feet thick." He paused for a moment with a wry smile. "No geologist will risk his reputation guessing when that outflow occurred. They admit that it must have been before the Christian era, because the lava itself is buried under three distinct strata of rubbish from prehistoric ruins, and the strata are separated by layers of silt washed down from the mountains. So," he concluded confidently, "whatever this is, it is at least as old as anything human in America." He passed it to Bronson. "See what you think it represents."

Bronson turned the greenish lump over and over till he accidentally found which position was intended to be right side up. "Why," he exclaimed, "it's a crude statuette of a woman in a sitting posture."

"Precisely," Sellar agreed. "And there's not a legible scratch anywhere on her to give a clue to her age. The crystal is calcite—fairly soft and quite easily worked. Well, Langtry, see what you make of this. I'll accept anything up to 2000 B.C."

What followed will doubtless be remembered long after our time as one of the great moments in the history of the world. Langtry adjusted the calcite statuette in the apparatus, and Bronson stood ready to take down the readings. Slowly at first, then jerkily in great staggering jumps, the pointer swept over a full two-thirds of the scale. Gradually the pointer came to rest, trembled as if struggling to exceed the limit of its feeble strength, and then, so gently that it seemed to die, slid back over the scale. The life-giving impulse of the light was spent, the story told.

Langtry hesitated long before venturing to announce the result of his carefully checked calculations.

"The date is preposterous," he began diffidently. "But I can't help how absurd it may seem. I've run that clock backwards and forwards, and I know it can't lie. Your calcite woman dates 35937 B.C."

Neither Bronson nor Sellar remembered much of the geology they had learned at school, so neither could say with any confidence where that astonishing date fell with respect to the last ice age. Langtry thought it must be more recent.

"That woman may be ancient," Sellar remarked dryly; "but she is not that old. Try it again."

The list of intensities which Langtry called off to Bronson on the second run sounded nothing like the first. No two readings in the two sets coincided. He was not disturbed. As anyone knows who has ever done even the simplest experiment, nature never repeats herself letter for letter, or word for word. There is something incurably wrong with a man who can weigh an egg accurately and get the same answer, time after time, to the sixth decimal place. Nevertheless, nature does give rational answers to sane questions and, within reason, the same answer to one and the same question. That astounding date came out 35845 B.C., only 91 years off the first answer, a discrepancy well within the probable observational error of the first crude televisor.

"Once more, Langtry," Bronson insisted. He turned to Sellar. "Are you reasonably confident that woman can't be earlier than 2000 B.C.?"

"I'm sure of nothing," Sellar admitted. "If we only had an etched mastodon bone, we might feel sure of something—of what, exactly, I don't know."

"Nor do I," Bronson agreed. "Possibly Langtry knows, but he's not saying anything."

Not only the third run, but the fourth, fifth and all subsequent tests up to the fifty-third, gave substantially the same date, 35937 B.C., well within the probable error of plus or minus a century.

"A last run," Bronson suggested, "and we'll call it a day. If this agrees, we can't beat your clock. Whatever Sellar says, that woman was chipped out of the crystal over 36000 years ago."

Why the fifty-fourth run should have proved the turning point, neither Langtry nor any of the radiation experts of the world understands to this day. Did Langtry accidentally expose some deep, invisible fissure of the calcite image to the penetrating needle of light, letting light meet light in a clash of transcendant remembrance? Or had the prolonged exposures at last broken down the resistance—"darkness"—of the hardened shell of the image, thus permitting the prisoned history of a thousand million years to escape in one blinding revelation of ages that the very minerals of the earth have forgotten?

There was a faint, sharp hiss; the greenish lump of crystal melted and became a shapeless, soapy mass of yellow glass; a blinding violet light filled the room, and for one brief moment the three amazed spectators caught fleeting glimpses of a cosmic tragedy which flashed up and out with the speed of light.

No two of the three agreed on what they had seen. Each remembered but a fragment of the whole that slowly developed, like the image on a photographic film, on their over-stimulated retinas. Sellar still insists that he saw teeming cities and vast battles flash by; Bronson recalls only the upheaval of a colossal mountain range as it seemed to shoulder its bulk up through the crust of the earth—a vision of millions of years compressed to a fraction of a second; while Langtry saw nothing but a whirling fire compact of the tragedies of worlds, stars and galaxies.

Their first thought when their eyes again became normal was the same. They had blundered onto a greater thing than they had sought. Bronson broke the silence.

"We must learn how to slow it down. Then we shall really see."

"Perhaps," Sellar agreed. "But what?"

"Everything that lump of calcite has seen," Langtry spoke up with quiet confidence. "It may take a thousand years, but it will be done. And it will be worth doing."

Success was delayed, but not for so long as Langtry had anticipated. It was early discovered that crystals had preserved the best light records of the past. From there it was but a short step to use diamonds almost exclusively in the earlier experiments. The results as a whole were rather disappointing. Evidently the diamonds had been buried for too much of their existence to have stored up the light impulses from many events of interest.

Diamonds are mentioned because the first actual image, that of the gigantic talon, was obtained by the use of a diamond, as has been described. That success was important. It induced Bronson to turn all the vast resources of American Television, its capital, its physicists, its inventors and all the scientific talent it could buy, onto the problem of perfecting the televisor.

Of all the prehistoric objects analyzed by the televisor, fossil plants consistently gave the best results. From one fossil leaf alone an almost complete record of what is probably the fiercest and most decisive single combat in history was condensed out of the violet—Langtry's name for the haze of light which always preceded clear images—in ten minutes of perfect 'seeing'. From fossil bones or footprints the projection engineers also got remarkably clear restorations.

Before presenting a few 'pictures' from one of the great sequences which have been pieced together in the laboratories of American Television, I add a word of caution at Mr. Bronson's request. Most emphatically the televisor has nothing whatever to do with spiritualism. It does not evoke spirits or bodies of the dead; to say that it does would be more absurd than claiming that a photograph of a deceased person is that person's vanished personality. The televisor is a purely physical apparatus, and the effects it produces are natural consequences of well known physical laws. It is in fact no more mysterious than the radio. But it is not commonplace. A faint violet mist no larger than a man's hand, when properly analyzed and amplified, may yield the history of millions of years. That history has been recorded on the unaging records of light itself stored up in the ultimate particles of matter.

What of the individual histories which the engineers finally condensed in complete detail out of the violet mist? They restored every movement and imaged every changing shade of color of the perished actors. But whether the actors uttered any sound, or whether they were capable of cries of joy or screams of agony, we never learned. The dramas which we witnessed were soundless. Their last echoes passed into the eternal silence hundreds of millions of years before the human race emerged from the compelling shadows of the past.

So real were those intangible shapes of solid, moving color evoked by modern science, that we frequently found ourselves fleeing in instinctive terror, although we realized that the gigantic actors had vanished from the face of the earth ages ago—ages before the Andes slowly heaved up their massive bulk above the desolation. In the perfected records the actors were life size and the stage acres in extent. We too walked upon the stage, but as spectators, not actors.

Often we were surprised into striking out blindly to protect ourselves from the hurtling onslaught of a hundred tons of snarling, reptilian fury, only to realize that the attack was aimed, not at us, but at another actor in the drama. Both had passed from the scene of life millions of years before the first cave dwellers crouched shivering over their smoky hearths. We passed through the bodies of the combatants as if they were air. They were not air, but insubstantial, living light.

If at times we felt dwarfed and puny in the presence of nature's giants—her masterpieces so far as almost brainless feeding, fighting, and breeding machines are in any sense masterpieces—we usually recovered when we remembered that we, after all, survived, while they had perished. And if nature had tried to erase forever the record of a futility which took all of nine million years to work out to its predestined failure, we flattered ourselves that men had succeeded in exposing the records of her blunder for all to see.

Bronson, who is rather inclined to seek a purpose in every fact of nature, believes the reading of these records was inevitable. Sooner or later, he declares, human beings must discover whatever has been hidden, or perish. If, he says, the human race is incurably stupid in spite of its highly developed brain and nervous system, then nature will see to it that our race is sponged off as were the magnificent reptiles who had no brain worth mentioning.

Sellar pooh-poohs Bronson's theory. Like the majority of those who have seen the glorious records in the laboratories of American Television, he is content to say that nature has put on a good show for us, and no doubt will make of us an even better spectacle for our successors to rediscover and criticize—sympathetically, let us hope.



The technicians like to think that their first real success with the televisor recorded the birth of that superb brute of the later records whom they have affectionately named Belshazzar. Whether it was actually Belshazzar's birth that they saw is of no particular importance. Their hero's entrance upon the stage of life cannot have been much distant in time from the accouchement which they witnessed. Nature had painstakingly set the stage for the greatest of Belshazzar's kind, and whether he was a little late in appearing after the curtain rose matters little. Sooner or later he was bound to put in his appearance.

Encouraged by Langtry's success with the uncut diamond, the engineers at once repeated his experiment, using the same diamond. They first worked to get a more extensive globe of violet light. Having accomplished that, they labored for three months to slow down the speed of the color condensation. I shall not give any account of their numerous failures and partial triumphs, but report only the final result. This was the first perfect, controlled image which the technicians obtained. It is the one usually reproduced in the laboratories for casual visitors. Some of the later records are too strong a meat for the inexperienced.

The violet had all condensed, leaving the air of the laboratory as clear as rock crystal. On the steel projection platform the vivid, solid image of the record shimmered in perfect focus.

It was difficult to realize that we were looking at a mere image, painted in light, and not at the tawny sands of a real desert sweltering under a tropical sun. The transparent air quivered above the yellow sands in the heat haze, and we all but felt the vast silence crushing us down into the burning desolation.

The scale of the image at first puzzled us. Was this a mere patch of the desert, or were we seeing thousands of square miles focussed into the blinding intensity of a fifty foot image? At the first glance there was nothing to give us the scale. No unmistakable horizon was visible, and no distant peak loomed up to set a relative standard.

An exclamation from Sellar directed our eyes to a spot on the sand about five feet from the centre of the image.


We followed his finger, and instantly adjusted our eyes to the true scale. It was a patch of sand we were viewing, and not the whole desert. What some of us had mistaken for a curious, haphazard three dozen or so of brownish stones the size of large potatoes, was revealed as a badly scattered bushel of smooth, long eggs. The depression in the sand which had formed the nest was still plainly visible. It was obvious that the eggs had only recently been scattered. By whom? We soon discovered. Langtry saw her first.

"There!" he exclaimed. "In the nest."

She was a beautiful little creature with her tawny, hairless skin mimicking the desert sands, and her quick, enquiring brown eyes. Although it was only a guess in the absence of any absolute scale, we judged her to be about the size of a large house cat. Somehow she reminded us of a greatly overgrown but very young mouse.

When we first spied her she was busy with both forepaws readjusting her troublesome young. These she carried conveniently in a capacious pouch on her stomach. She might have been a small kangaroo, except for her sharp pointed ears and the long whiplash tail which rested on the sands behind her in a graceful sinusoid. Art could not have devised a curve more pleasing to the eye than the careless grace of that resting tail.

Having seen that her young were getting their proper food, the mother concentrated her mind on her own wants. The tail flickered, and she hopped forward. One of the long potato-like eggs was her objective. Settling down luxuriously in the warm sands, she reached quickly forward and picked up the egg in her paws. Then for the first time we saw her dainty teeth, sharper than needles. They were ideal for piercing the tough skin of that snaky egg. With one expert nibble she punctured the leathery hide. In two minutes she had sucked the egg dry, and was hopping to the next.

This time her lunch was not so good. Possibly the egg she coveted had been the first laid, or had rested in the hottest spot of the nest. Anyway it was ripe to the hatching point. Unable to obtain any liquid nourishment, the hungry mother ripped open the sac with her incisors, and thrust her nose into the vent.

Something in that evil purse disgusted her, for she quickly flung it wide. As the egg struck the sand a feeble, squirming reptile like a salamander fell out and sprawled on its back, pawing at the sky. Its ridiculously short forelegs were mere vestiges of hands, but its hind legs already gave promise of tremendous muscular development and invincible brutality. If that puny wriggler was indeed Belshazzar, his entrance was extremely undignified and no prophecy of his heroic exit.

The voracious little robber of reptile nests was about to attack her third egg when she stiffened as if suddenly frozen. Her intelligent brown eyes widened and she clutched frantically at the pouch containing her young. In her alert, wary tenseness she made a perfect picture of listening.

We of course heard nothing. But the nervous rigidity of that small creature's body conveyed more to us than a cannonade. Before the battle began we felt the barrage and sensed the enemy's charge. Her anxious, intelligent awareness made us her allies—across the abyss of millions of years. She was of our own kind, her enemy was not.

In viewing the charge we were in the position of a cavalryman who has been thrown from his mount and who sees nothing but the flash of galloping hoofs. Our diminutive ally saw the charge coming, and through her wary movements we also followed every manoeuvre of the advancing enemy. She waited till the charge was about to overwhelm her. Our instinctive but futile shout of warning coincided with her own sideward leap as she deftly evaded the plunging foot. One talon of it would have obliterated her and her family. The huge birdlike foot with its four vicious talons, each the length of a man's arm, buried itself in the sands, flashed up, and again plunged down with the impact of a triphammer, only again to miss its mark.

Blundering brute force proved itself a poor second against the spark of intelligence behind that insignificant mammal's eyes. Wherever the huge birdlike foot blundered and smashed its futile fury into the sands, she was simply absent, often by a margin of an inch, but still absent.

We began to wonder what our ally's strategy was. One rigid forepaw was clutched tightly over the pouch on her stomach. If she was solicitous for her young why did she not flee? Instead of seeking absolute safety, she skirted its margin with a reckless deviltry that brought our hearts into our mouths. Two plunging feet, eight terrible talons in all, now menaced her. One of the talons, we noted, was crimson with smoking blood. The gigantic brute whose feet alone were visible in that first partial image had blundered from one battle, in which he—or possibly she—had triumphed over an enemy his own size into another, only to be baffled and defeated by an opponent who might have perched like an inconspicuous mouse on the tip of the least claw of the attacker.

Our ally received not so much as a scratch. We surmised that she was waiting for the fury of her brainless enemy to fritter itself out in futile stamping. Then she would calmly resume her feast on the enemy's eggs. Few were now left; the outraged parent had smashed most of them in a stupid, instinctive attack to safeguard an unborn generation. Against a single spark of intelligence the gigantic brute had less chance than an animated tractor.

All but three of the eggs had now been pulped in the sand. Belshazzar—if indeed it was he—had also escaped. During the battle he had somehow managed to flop over on his belly. When we next noticed him, he was wriggling pathetically toward our ally, feebly propelling himself in spasmodic jerks by his hind legs. He was favored with one quick, bright glance from our ally just as she gracefully sidestepped a flashing talon. There was something not altogether kind in that swift, direct glance.

"What a murderous look," Sellar muttered. "That little devil means business."

Indeed she did. Before the wriggler came within a yard of her safety zone, she changed her tactics. The long whiplike tail stiffened, and she was off. In three hops she was out of the picture.

For some minutes the brainless attacker continued to dent the sand, unaware that his foe had withdrawn. Worn out at last—we simply could not credit the owner of those blundering feet with sufficient intellect to organize a pursuit—the enemy staggered off and vanished from the narrow compass of the image. The huge birdlike feet were all we saw, but their shuffling exhaustion was as complete a picture of hopeless frustration as any masterpiece of Napoleon's flight from Moscow. He was beaten, and he did not know it, because he was incapable of knowing anything.

Our bright-eyed friend did not delay her return long. As coolly as if there had been no recent unpleasantness, she hopped back into the arena. The three eggs were still intact, as was also the wriggler. First she disposed of the eggs. All were evidently fresh and palatable. Then she turned her attention to the child of her enemy and the enemy of her children. With bared teeth she hopped toward it. As clearly as if she had spoken across the abyss of ages she told us by her every movement what her purpose was. She had no intention of devouring the helpless wriggler. She merely wished to kill it by nipping it in the neck.

A fair, brainy fight is not unpleasant to witness. Cold blooded murder revolts normal intelligence. We wished she would not do it. But she had no conscience, only a fierce and natural loathing for the hereditary enemies of her parvenu race. Fortunately for our squeamishness she was balked.

Not till many months later did we fully understand what urged the rout which we now witnessed. The tantalizing meagreness of the image exasperated us, but the engineers could do nothing at the time to widen the narrow horizon. What we saw was a mere patch, about fifty feet in diameter, of a teeming panorama which must have occupied hundreds of square miles.

Just as she was about to nip the helpless reptile, our friend stiffened and jerked erect. For two seconds she was a rigid statue of fear. Then she wheeled on her haunches, pressed both forepaws over her pouch, and leapt from our view.

The manner of her disappearance was so incongruous that we shouted with laughter. She vanished as if she had plunged through an invisible wall. It all happened in less than two seconds. First her head vanished, then her body, and finally the stiffened tail was rammed into the void after her. She had merely leapt through and clear out of the spherical image projected by the televisor. Millions of years now separated us from her.

The wriggler also seemed to be anxious to get away. Crude, automatic reflexes urged it into desperate, floundering efforts to move faster. We ourselves almost sensed the sudden drop in temperature as the air above the scorching sand ceased to quiver, and the sand dimmed from blinding yellow to dusky gold.

Although we saw no vegetation in the patch of desert visible to us, we could only hope that some dry twig lay not far beyond the range of the televisor. Even a newly hatched reptile is entitled to a sporting chance for his life, and we trusted that the young son of our late enemy would manage to crawl aboard some seaworthy ark. For we could almost feel the approaching deluge.

Long before it came—we did not see it—the rout of the valiant mammals was in full tide. What must have been their multitude could be guessed from the fleeing horde which streamed across the narrow circle of our vision. For the most part they were smaller than our vanished friend, although now and then a larger hopper of a different species bounded over the rabble.

The spark of intelligence which we had admired in our friend's eyes was absent from those of this precipitate mob. Fear, and fear alone, animated them. Whatever it might be that had routed their host, it was no ordinary enemy that courage might face and intelligence overcome. They were vanquished by one whom it would be folly to resist.

A swift change came over the image. The gold of the sands deepened to brown; the routed mammals became blurs of fleeting purple, and the whole image quivered uncertainly as if in the throes of death. The light which millions of years ago had left its record in the atoms of the diamond was dying.

The engineers' efforts to amplify the expiring light failed. But their ineffectual effort gave us one last fleeting vision, as the crystal canted—a black sky ablaze with stars. In that glimpse we recognized an old landmark of our race. Sirius glittered in all his flaming brilliance, and almost at the zenith a cluster of stars like a bunch of grapes glistened icily. We recognized the Pleiades. But their aspect was unfamiliar, as if the cluster were richer in stars than our race has known it. Orion too was strange, but recognizable. We were gazing out on a younger heavens.



One of the most obstinate difficulties with the earlier televisors was that of superposed images. The same specimen—crystal or fossil—frequently threw into the projector a wild confusion of several conflicting scenes, so that it was all but impossible to follow a particular action clearly from setting to climax. The trouble was similar to that which a careless amateur encounters when he takes a dozen photographs on the same film.

To overcome this difficulty it was necessary, in the experimental stage, to study large scale images intensively. For this purpose Bronson ordered the construction of a twenty acre arena, where events of considerable magnitude might be reproduced precisely as they had happened, without distortion in any detail.

The project was less formidable than it sounds. All that was necessary was twenty acres of level, hard ground suitably screened from premature publicity and idle interference. A circular fence forty feet high enclosing twenty acres of level, packed dirt covered by an inch of concrete was finally constructed as an ideal outdoor laboratory.

For technical reasons the projecting lenses, condensers, analysers, amplifiers, and the rest of the scientific necessities were assembled in the centre of the arena. Under the steel roof of the open rotunda sheltering the scientific apparatus, the engineers toiled day and night, in all weathers, to perfect the images and bring ordered sequences of events out of a whirling chaos of conflicting dramas.

The necessity of assembling the apparatus in the centre of the arena precipitated more than one comedy, which delighted everyone except the unfortunate human actors. So absolutely real were the solid, rushing images, that months elapsed before even the least imaginative of the electricians could force himself to walk and not run when some particularly monstrous reptile bore down on him with the ruthless determination of a hundred ton truck.

Another strange effect of these vast outdoor pictures may be mentioned, as we never got used to its dreamlike quality. In midwinter, when the thin concrete of the stage was cracking and snapping under the intense cold, the blinding heat of sun smitten deserts, or the sticky humidity of tropical jungles, sweltered on the biting air. It was perhaps even more strange to witness the frozen glare of a dying continent on an August afternoon, when the thermometer registered 90° and the humidity stood at 80.

A raw February day gave the engineers their first satisfactory full image. Langtry had called up Bronson the preceding evening, advising him to drop in at the arena if he should have time the next morning.

"The preliminary run promises something pretty good. Better come if you can."

"But there is a meeting of the board of directors," Bronson objected.

"Cut it," Langtry counselled. "Or bring them with you. They'll enjoy the fun—if we can coax them onto the concrete."

Bronson decided to postpone the meeting and go alone. Langtry's suggestion regarding the directors tempted the president. But he was a humane man, and he feared the consequences of sudden, violent exertion on ageing financiers with hardening arteries.

Promptly at eight the morning of the test, Bronson met Langtry outside the arena, and they proceeded at once to the engineers' rotunda.

"Infernally cold, isn't it?" Bronson remarked to Sellar, who had arrived half an hour earlier.

"Ugh," Sellar grunted. He hated cold mornings, cold afternoons and cold nights with an undiscriminating hatred. "I wish I were in Guatemala again, instead of freezing to death in this forsaken stadium, or whatever you call it."

"You'll soon warm up when we get going," Langtry promised him.

"What do you mean by that?" Sellar demanded suspiciously.

"Oh, nothing much. I was just thinking of a little preview the engineers put on last night when you were tucked up asleep in your warm bed."

"Ugh," Sellar grunted again. "Hullo! What the dickens is that? I could swear I saw those mountains in Guatemala thirty years ago. Am I—?"

"Not in the least," Langtry reassured him. "The technicians are just feeling out the true focus of the projectors."

"But those mountains—."

"I know. If they're anywhere near Guatemala, they're probably buried under thirty thousand feet of slime, mud, sand and rock at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea. They were wiped off the map before Guatemala lifted itself out of the ocean."

"But I saw them—."

"Take another look." Langtry shouted an instruction to the three men struggling with the projectors. "Distort it eight to one for a second or two. Professor Sellar wants to see the vegetation on the foothills."

The purple and azure mass of the distant range quivered, vanished like a mirage, and instantly in the air forty feet from the rotunda, a streaming jungle of stunted conifers, tall ferns and clublike palms shimmered in sultry silence.

"Ever see trees like those in Guatemala?"

"No, nor anywhere else," Sellar admitted testily. "Phew, how hot it is." He stripped off his heavy topcoat, only to put it on again in a hurry, as the image blurred and the precipitous range once more sprang into purple and azure shadow in the distance.

"It's coming up clear now," one of the engineers shouted. "Better get out near the wall if you want to be in the best of it. Over there—due north."

As they hastened toward the indicated location, the color condensations on the concrete floor of the arena began to swarm into definite images. Again the scene was desert sands. But this time they saw the horizon, a dark blue band of dense vegetation, deepening mile after mile to the base of the shadowy mountains.

The image condensed with startling rapidity. If the reader has ever enjoyed one of those old fashioned indoor panoramas of vast scenes which were popular a generation ago—there was a very fine one of the siege of Paris at the old Crystal Palace in London—he will appreciate the dwarfed feeling experienced by the three men as they penetrated this incomparably vaster panorama taking solid shape all around them. These images were not mere paint on plaster or canvas. They were solid light, and it required a conscious exertion of the will to walk resolutely forward, instead of weaving one's way around jagged outcrops of glistening black rock.

Bronson was the first to betray himself. Directly in his path an enormous gray boulder blocked further progress. Changing his course he skirted its edge, and looked back to see whether the others were following. Langtry was doubled up with laughter; Sellar stood stock still, waiting to see what Langtry would do before committing himself. Langtry straightened up, walked straight into the boulder, emerged on the farther side, and rejoined Bronson.

"That is the most extraordinary thing I have seen yet in all of this," Bronson remarked when he could speak.

"There's nothing to it," Langtry remarked. "You just walk through. It's nothing but light. Try it yourself."

"I wasn't referring to the apparent solidity of the image. There's nothing new in that. But do you know what you did just then?"

"No," Langtry admitted, somewhat crestfallen. "Except that I walked through the image. There was nothing to stop me."

"Why, man, you disappeared. When you walked into that boulder you vanished as if you had been annihilated. Then you suddenly materialized on the other side. Didn't he, Sellar?"

"If you saw it too, I suppose he did. But I will admit nothing till I see it again."

They repeated the experiment till even Sellar was convinced. Langtry's explanation was the obvious one. If he had not disappeared when he walked into that solid image of an opaque boulder, it would be possible for human eyes to see through a brick wall by means of ordinary daylight. What we were seeing across the abyss of ages was a fragment of this same world which our race has known from its infancy, a world in which the laws of nature do not deviate from their iron course by a hairs-breadth in thousands of millions of years.

So intent had we been on convincing Sellar that we did not see the condensation of the panorama about us until it had risen to its full solidity of intense color. We found ourselves standing in a dry river bed of majestic distances. Our eyes quickly adjusted themselves to the natural scale of the vast panorama. A reasonable estimate of the breadth of the stony bed put it at twenty miles. We were almost exactly midway between the precipitous walls, which seemed to cut the blue-black sky miles over our heads.

The river bed was drenched in sunlight—no milder word can describe the stunning, all-pervading intensity of that withering light which beat down upon the tumbled boulders as if to stamp them flat in the gravel. Every particle of dust had been scoured from the dry bed by the rushing of innumerable torrents dumped into the gorges of the mountains for century after century of violent cloudbursts and unrestrained tempests from torrid seas.

Only the most brainless of reptiles would ever blunder into this blazing death trap. No mammal with the least glimmer of a dawning intelligence would ever gamble its life away against such odds smiting it in the eyes.

By an effort of the will we remembered where and what we were. But we could not restrain the instinctive habits of countless generations of intelligence and foresight bred into the very marrows of our bones. We stared apprehensively at the distant banks of the trap. Ten miles, or possibly nine by the shortest route, separated us from our one chance of escape. Could we make it, if suddenly we should see the torrent wheel round the slow curve of the river bed, a scant twenty-five miles away? Obviously not. We were as helpless as rats in a sewer.

"Let's get out of here," Bronson suggested, fingering at the muffler about his neck. "It's stuffy."

"We can't," Langtry reminded him, "unless one of us can find his way out of this maze and tell the engineers to alter the scale. I wouldn't undertake to get out inside of twelve hours on a bet. I know, because I tried last night."

"What's the difference?" Sellar spoke up. "Nothing material can happen. Keep your head and let whatever comes pass over you.

"I'll keep my head all right," Bronson retorted. He rewrapped the muffler tightly around his neck. "But what about my mind? Why didn't we choose a warmer day for this? Come on, I'm freezing. Anyone coming?" He glanced back. "I'm going to warm up at the rotunda."

"You think you are," Langtry chuckled, "Try it. Which way is south? We came north, you know."

Bronson did not deign to reply. We followed at a safe distance. When put out Bronson could be quite explosive. Presently he stopped short. "What the devil's the matter with me? I must have walked five hundred yards, and I'm no nearer that bank than when I started. On the scale of this image we should be half way out of it by now."

"Perhaps the image condenses 'round you as you walk," Sellar suggested maliciously. "What you think is ten miles off is only a few hundred yards at most. The perspective does the trick. I shouldn't be surprised if all this moves more or less with us. That bank is just as far off in time as it would be if it were real. Langtry, suppose you lead us back?"

"I can't," Langtry confessed. "Once into an image of these dimensions you're lost. It is precisely as real, optically, as the original.

"Then how are we to get back to the rotunda?" Bronson demanded. "Hang it! I wish we had chosen a cooler day. That infernal sun is baking me like a potato."

"Merely your eyes," Sellar reminded him. "I'm shivering. But at that I'm the one practical mind of the lot." He began shouting to the engineers to cut off the projection. Nothing happened. Langtry looked on with an amused smile.

"The boys won't hear you," he remarked. "They follow the racket of the electrons by means of head phones specially constructed to keep out all external noises. I told them to give us exactly sixty minutes of this. We've had about thirty."

The remaining thirty minutes passed swiftly enough, for they were crowded with action. The excitement began when Bronson blundered into a sizeable, lizard-like reptile taking a siesta in the shade of a large blue boulder. The brute was a mere pigmy compared to some that we might equally well have met. From the tip of its tail to its snout it measured probably nine feet, and in bulk it did not exceed a large calf.

With one yell Bronson vanished into the image of a blue boulder. Instinct kicked us in after him. We had merely sprung high and wide, not knowing where we should land. Our previous experience with solid images should have prepared us for the total darkness in which we found ourselves. For the moment we thought we had gone blind. We had merely leapt into a spot totally devoid of light.

Bronson began to swear, denouncing the experiment, Langtry, the televisor and everything connected with it. In his exasperation at being unable to find his way out into the light, he threatened to suppress the 'infernal thing' the moment he got back to the office. Langtry's efforts to soothe him only made him more irritable. The last straw was Sellar's half-serious suggestion that we now had an infallible means of escape should we ever see more than we had bargained for. Luckily we all blundered into one another and out into the blazing light before Bronson could reply, or he might have carried out his threat.

"Quietly," Langtry cautioned. "We don't want to waken the brute."

Whether Langtry's lapse was merely diplomatic or not, it had the desired effect. Bronson recovered his temper in a roar of laughter.

"Do you expect it to hear us?" he whooped.

"I forgot," Langtry dissembled. "Let's have a look at it, anyway."

We walked round the boulder to the image of the sleeping reptile. It was sleeping the sleep of starved exhaustion. The stark ribs all but burst the drum-tight, leathery hide of its thorax, and the dished-in pelvis was like that of a mummy. Yet the devil was not dead. The chest rose and fell like that of a man fighting off death.

The whole appearance of the sleeper was that of an incredibly old devil. Something about the glistening white teeth, sharper than a shark's, which the starved lips had bared, made us wish to kill the sleeping fiend. The utter irrationality of our murderous impulse could not check it; we were answering an instinct. Although none of us knew enough about the anatomy of such a reptile to have a competent opinion, we felt that at least two of those teeth were needles for the injection of venom. And we wondered what hapless creature this sleeping devil dreamed of in its starved exhaustion. Its dirty yellowish-green hide reeked of evil. We turned from it in disgust and sought a cleaner prospect.

An ominous blue shadow was sliding over the distant north wall of the water course. Quickly it slipped down to the gravel bed and and raced toward us. Glancing up we saw massive clouds, black as pitch, gathering above the chasm. The deluge was about to burst upon us. Instinct prevailed, and we started running toward the north wall, only to come to an embarrassed halt after a few yards. No one made any remark; we had all been tricked by our senses. We wished the engineers would have a breakdown with their infernal projectors.

"Let's sit down," Bronson suggested. "There can't be over fifteen minutes more of this torture." He carefully lowered himself to sit on a smooth boulder, when he remembered that it wasn't there in any material sense. Straightening up, he stared anxiously toward the distant bend in the river bed. "I feel something coming," he muttered. "Whatever comes, I'll not turn my back. I imagine there's a very considerable cloudburst coming down right now a few miles beyond that bend."

We said nothing, feeling like the spectators in a play when the assassin steals upon his sleeping victim a step at a time. If only it would happen, whatever it might turn out to be, we could breathe normally again. As it was, we were stifled by thwarted, irrational instincts we could neither repress nor control. It was like being drowned and retaining consciousness clear through the end of life, of the world and everything. The living contradiction of our plight terrified us with a totally new and unreasonable fear.

The particular climax that we dreaded did not happen—at least it did not sweep on to its overwhelming finality while we retained our faculties. What if it had? Should we now be living? Does anyone who dreams of falling off a precipice ever dream that he smashes on the rocks and live to tell of his dreams? I believe not. And I feel certain that if the flood actually had overwhelmed us our hearts would have stopped.

Sellar saw it first. "The bend," he shouted. "Run!"

Twenty-five miles away a tumbling, flashing wall of water a quarter of a mile high wheeled round the bend and swept toward us. Bronson stood like a rock, staring at the rushing wall. True to his determination, he never flinched. Sellar stumbled off toward a high outcrop of black shale, and stopped, his back to the plunging flood. Langtry stood by Bronson, white faced and alert. What transpired next ran its course in less than a minute.

Between us and the rushing wall, two gigantic runners pelted down toward us over the gravel. Both were in the last stages of exhaustion. The roar of the pursuing flood, which of course we could not hear, urged them on to the last spark of their vitality. They reeled toward us, blind with brute fear. Of course they did not see us, although we stood directly in their path. As they lurched panting toward us we photographed every detail of their monstrous bodies on our eyes.

First the lumbering, three-toed splay feet, like those of a gigantic and awkward bird fascinated our attention. The shuffling rise and fall of those blundering feet spelled out the utter exhaustion of the runners in showers of scattered gravel. But the reeling brutes continued to cover the ground, twelve feet or more at a stride. The massive muscles of the legs contracted and expanded with the regularity of a well balanced machine.

Behind each runner the short, massive tail arched well over the gravel, maintaining the precarious balance of the lurching body as it strained forward to attain the limit of speed. The huge, baglike bellies sagged till they all but interfered with the piston motion of the legs, and each reptile, whether by purely mechanical reflexes or instinct, clutched frantically at the swaying obstruction in an effort to hold it up and free of the legs. The hand clutching the belly was more plainly seen than the other, which sawed the air in clumsy arcs to aid the tail in balancing. That hand was grotesquely human. The sloping shoulders joined directly into the massive, columnar neck. All the hopeless struggle was pictured in the tense neck as thick as the body of an ox and rigid with great cables of muscle strained to the limit of endurance.

One of the runners began to outdistance the other. It forged swiftly ahead, urged by its keener senses as its body all but felt the ram of waters upon it. As it reeled by, the knee joint of one colossal leg passed well above the level of our heads, and we caught a vivid image of a blunt, flattened reptilian head thirty feet above us. That inadequate head with its compressed mouth snapped close shut like a turtle's beak, was a living portrait of brainless stupidity animated by brute fear. A mere crested ridge of horny hide surmounted the staring reptilian eyes to contain whatever brain the lumbering creature possessed. Such a machine of ponderous bone and muscle could respond but slowly to external stimuli, and the momentum of any response would carry it far beyond the reasonable limit.

The laggard stumbled toward us, on the point of collapse, its strangely human arms whirling desperately and unavailingly to maintain a balance. The massive, stubby tail sank; the runner had lost his race. Death was upon him. Less than five miles behind the merciless deluge came trampling after him with the speed of a nightmare. But he was not to drown. A shout from Sellar wheeled us sharply about. We thought at first that he was calling our attention to the faster runner, still pounding its ponderous way down the river bed. Then we saw the object of his consternation. The sleeping yellow devil beyond the boulder had roused itself, and was gathering all its dying strength for the supreme crime of its life. The clamor that we could not hear had broken the reptile's poisoned stupor. Crouching low like a cat about to spring on a bird, it glided toward the exhausted runner.

The doomed brute saw its enemy. All the life it was about to lose surged to its great heart. The massive muscles stiffened, the tail sprang up, and the sinews of the neck stood out like cables. Its two horribly human hands shot up to guard the softer flesh of the chin. The attacker was as a lizard to a crocodile beside the defender.

For the first time we apprehended the curious aspect of the defender's hands. Each had four stunted fingers and a thumb. But the thumb did not oppose the fingers as in a human hand; the brute could not have picked up so much as a club or a stone with its futile hand. Of what conceivable use could it be? Was it just another of nature's cruel jests?

We never learned the purpose of the stubby fingers. All that the ungainly hand was intended to be was concentrated in the thumb. This was the creature's weapon of defense, a murderous, overgrown, hornlike excrescence nearly two feet long and sharper than a stiletto.

The starving yellow devil crouched and leapt for the other's throat. It was a good leap, for one in the last stages of starvation, and the evil fangs found their mark. A shudder of intolerable pain convulsed the massive neck. Evidently the yellow devil was indeed venomous; even the brainless mass of bone and muscle felt the penetrating fire and sting of that venom. But it was a quick and merciful execution.

The great legs collapsed, and the creature tottered to its death. But in dying it shot one convulsed arm up to its head and spitted its slayer on the dagger-like thumb. A second more and the trampling water overwhelmed the dead and the dying.

All but Bronson turned instinctively to flee. Less than a second—.

"How's that?" It was one of the technicians shouting from the rotunda. The sixty minutes were up. We tried to shout back, and choked.

"Oh, this blessed, solid concrete," Sellar sighed, as he sat down on the floor of the arena and pressed it hard with both hands.



Even the earliest successes with the televisor were not hit or miss shots in the dark of a forgotten past. As the engineers became more proficient in the technique of analysing, they saw clearly that every apparently trivial incident fitted into one superb picture of a vanished epoch. And as they progressed, they perceived that all the histories they deciphered were records of a conflict between two great races. One of these early split into two hostile factions and warred upon its own kind. Finally, both factions were exterminated by a fourth combatant whom they had overlooked, and before whose irresistible strength they perished, while the nimbler third party fled to safety.

We who followed the unrolling of the histories conceived a new respect for an old doctrine—that of the four 'elements', earth, air, fire and water. Our modern, sophisticated knowledge recognizes none of these as an 'element', except as a metaphor. Our more imaginative ancestors went to the root of the matter and put their finger on the eternal tetrad of destruction.

If our parvenu race vanquishes the 'invincible four', as we came to call the major protagonists of the conflict, it will be the first in the history of the world to do so. But, as has been pointed out by Sellar, who is something of an historian, nature seldom repeats herself. The particular weapon she has reserved for us is probably of a totally different calibre than that which sufficed for the vast, brainless and near-brainless hordes whose decline we witnessed.

Measured against the ages of that forgotten struggle, the whole slow rise of our race from brutehood to manhood is as a second to a day. So perhaps it is premature to make predictions from the records we saw. We, after all, may have it in us to win.

Bronson, who is a practical man with a tinge of pessimism, thinks we shall lose. Intelligence, he believes, is the subtle weapon which nature has reserved for our undoing. However, as he says this only after he has had a bad night, the rest of those who saw the records discount it to zero and predict the exact opposite—as does Bronson himself when he is feeling fit. Anyhow, as Sellar remarks, it was a good show, and we shall have done our part if we can put on one half as entertaining.

As there was little in all the records that could justly be called a picture of lazy peace and contentment, I shall give the one that qualifies in this respect more than its due share of space. The finishing touch to the picture may be disregarded if desired; in fact the assemblers have suggested that it be cut from the completed record. But as Sellar insists that the cut be not made in the interests of historical accuracy and fidelity to nature, I shall leave the record intact.

This particular episode was followed from the roof of the rotunda. We thus obtained an unobstructed view of the whole panorama. Behind us stretched the milky blue placidity of a vast lake or fresh water inland sea. Vision set no limit to the expanse. We might have been gazing out over one of our own Great Lakes, except for the peculiar chalky appearance of the water. Directly opposite us in the other direction, and about a hundred yards distant at the nearest point, the almost level shore line ran for league after league to the limit of seeing.

The shallow water between us and the shore was the scene of the afternoon idyll of the lotus eater, as we named the happy, harmless creature enjoying himself beneath the sunny ripples. The afternoon was one of those flawless fragments of eternity which we remember for a lifetime. Time seemed to stand still against the motionless masses of white cumulus clouds piled mountain high around the horizon, and the lush reeds in the boundless marshes shone with an unforgettable, quiet green, unstirred by the passing of any breeze. Even the ordinarily drab mud of the shoreline dividing the marshlands from the water was a band of delicate violet like another, softer sky, in which the stately masses of the clouds shone as in a mirror of infinite depth.

When the image first condensed we saw no living creatures. Their presence however was recorded in the spoors criss-crossing the mud of the shoreline in all directions. Having adjusted the perspective, we got the true scale and made a rough estimate of the size of some of those fresh footprints. The deepest of them could easily have accommodated a large wash tub. From that they ranged down to mere pockets the size of a teacup.

Following out one of the larger spoors, we easily deduced the kind of monster which had made the tracks. Whatever its usual habit, it had lumbered along on all four feet over the mud, letting its enormous tail drag. Once in its slow journey it had rested on its belly. The outline of the roughly oval depression could have embraced the bulk of four cows without undue crowding.

Where were the inhabitants of this lush paradise? We guessed them to be off in the tall reeds gorging themselves into insensibility. Our guess was only partly right. The first inhabitant appeared from a totally unexpected quarter. The surface of the water all round our rotunda was completely covered by dense masses of some aquatic plant with fleshy green leaves and large, lily-like scarlet blossoms. If we had stopped to think we should have realized that this flaming cress would make an ideal salad for frequenters of mud flats.

Langtry was admiring the gently rising and falling mantle of scarlet when suddenly he gave a violent start.

"Am I seeing things? There it is again—quick!"

The scarlet water weeds were thrust aside, and a bland, expressionless face the size of a bathtub beamed up at us with a welcoming smile of complete and amiable imbecility. To say that the face smiled is an exaggeration. A smile presupposes at least the rudiments of a central nervous system. There was none behind that vast, flat, vacuous face. The huge slit of the tight-lipped mouth, slightly tilted at the corners, did however give the empty face a semblance of intelligence to which it was not entitled. Even the surly countenance of the dullest hippopotamus would have sparkled with vivacity beside that vacant dishpan of a face.

The lidless pig eyes opened to their fullest extent, the slit of a mouth became less compressed, and the stupid face opened to the sky in an abysmal yawn. It was the most perfect expression of indolence imaginable, and we furtively covered our own sympathetic imitations.

The red chasm into which we peered was as innocent of teeth as the mouth of a mud sucker. A bony ridge along the gums might conceal degenerated teeth for all we could see. But if so, the teeth were too tired to cut through. We marvelled that such a mass of laziness could command energy enough to breathe and keep alive. Probably its too bulky ancestors had taken to the shallow waters in order to float and save their legs the fatigue of supporting inert tons of superfluous flesh.

The gaping mouth closed, apparently of its own weight, for the sluggish creature seemed to lack the energy for even so simple an act. For some moments the huge flat head floated lazily among the scarlet blossoms, rising and falling listlessly on the gentle swell.

We thought the beast had gone to sleep. But it had not. It was merely trying to make up what passed for its mind whether or not it was hungry. At last it decided. Feeding time had come again. The flat head seemed to open six or eight inches like a split pie, and very slowly it began to glide over the water, skimming off the cress. As that efficient natural skimmer slid over the surface of the water, a perfectly straight path four feet wide and twenty feet long was swept clean of the floating plants. Not so much as a single fleshy leaf or one scarlet petal eluded the scoop. That mouthful alone, sucked down into the creature's invisible interior as fast as it was skimmed, must have weighed at least a ton. We thought it enough, but we underestimated the beast's capacity for food.

For perhaps two minutes the head rested on the water at the end of the lane it had swept. Then, with exasperating deliberation, it was withdrawn to the starting point. If enjoying a meal was no more exciting than those loutish movements seemed to indicate, we wondered why the sluggish beast bothered to feed itself at all. It would have required less effort to drown in peace.

Again the head rested, this time for over five minutes. Once more the flat face split open just wide enough to take in the plants, and again a twenty foot lane was skimmed clean. Another ton of unnourishing vegetation disappeared into the invisible interior. Surely it should now be satisfied. But the meal had barely started. Fifteen tons or more of the flimsy stuff vanished before the feeder desisted. It stopped, apparently, merely because it had skimmed the water almost clean in the semicircle it could reach without budging on the muddy bottom. What it could reach by merely extending its neck was the natural limit of its ambition.

"That thing hasn't the brains of a worm," Sellar remarked disgustedly. "By the way, where's the rest of it? We've only seen the head, and by inference the neck. There must be a body floating somewhere nearby to absorb all that fodder."

"Not necessarily," Langtry objected. "I shouldn't be surprised to find the bulk of this beast in the next county. They seem to have gone in for size in the good old days."

"Bigger and stupider lummoxes," Bronson added. He seemed to dislike the harmless creature whose face alone we had seen so far. "Living on salad like that it must be as flabby as a dead cod. I wish there were some way of making it move."

As if in response to his wish, a huge ripple moved out from the base of the rotunda and sped out to the floating plants. The main bulk of the monster was hidden by the rotunda. There being no way of shifting the centre of the image, we had to wait patiently till the beast floated into view.

It did not hurry; it merely drifted. A slate colored island bobbed up slowly and moved toward the muddy beach. This was the creature's rump. The smooth hide looked like rubber. There was not a protective wart or scale anywhere on that vulnerable, open expanse. Small wonder the beast was in no hurry to wade ashore. The devil only knew what might be lurking in the towering reeds. Certainly that defenseless mass of flesh did not. Otherwise it would have taken to the water for good and have abandoned the atavistic attempt to be half a land animal. Possibly the rubbery hide was tougher than it looked, but we had our doubts. We had seen some pretty sharp teeth in contemporary records.

The sluggish wader slowly approached the shore, and its body emerged from the water. The twenty foot neck now rose stiffly from the water, elevating the head like a periscope. To our intense surprise the massive flat head now turned twice slowly through an arc of nearly 180 degrees. The great beast had sharper instincts than we had given it credit for. It was spying out the coast before going ashore. Apparently satisfied with its observations, the wader proceeded.

From our vantage point on the roof of the rotunda we had a somewhat better view of the marshes than was possible to the wary reptile. Had we been consulted we should have counselled watchful waiting. The afternoon was perfectly clear. Yet we had observed a suspicious tremor pass over the top of one lush thicket of reeds.

To give any adequate idea of the enormous bulk of that vegetarian reptile as it appeared when it finally floundered onto the beach is difficult. We judged that its total length exceeded that of two freight cars. The awkward rump, the highest part of the beast, would easily have overtopped the largest locomotive.

What use the clumsy tail might be we could not fathom. It began nowhere in particular as a meaningless prolongation of the creature's vast hinder parts, and tapered out to a blunt nub sixty feet behind. We could not believe that the listless encumbrance of flabby flesh dragging in the mud had ever been used as a weapon of defense. There was not a ripple of hard, healthy muscle anywhere down its whole, futile length; it was nothing but an unnecessary parody of a vigorous tail. Nature had endowed her offspring with the hugest tail in history. The recipient might do with it what he pleased. It was no longer any concern of hers.

As a final, crowning piece of irony, the useless tail was nearly three times as long as the inadequate neck. To have made a reasonable job of her idiotic masterpiece, nature should have stuck the head on the end of the tail, as indeed one famous paleontologist did when he articulated the skeleton of a similar monster. Then the sluggish brute would have had a not utterly inadequate periscope.

Viewing that imbecilic jest, Bronson suddenly lost what remained of his respect for natural law as manifested in living matter. If, he declared, nature has a purpose in evolution, that purpose is wholly sinister. A half-witted child of sadistic tendencies could not be so stupidly cruel as to devise a meaningless, helpless monstrosity like that poor brute shuffling along the beach. Sellar calmed him by pointing out that the creature probably enjoyed life in its own simple way, and got more happiness out of it than the most complex human being ever has imagined. After all, it had evidently relished its late dinner.

Feeding did indeed seem to be the monster's only function. Dragging the useless tail laboriously after it, the sluggish reptile squashed its way over the mud flats to the reeds. Reaching a lush clump, it extended its neck, tilted the flat head sideways, and began to feed gluttonously on the tender tops. Such watery stuff would have to be sucked down by the ton lot to furnish sufficient heat to keep the mountain of flesh alive. A vegetarian the size of this beast must spend all of its waking hours in feeding. Here again nature had gone the limit. There was no denying that the feeding machine was efficient. The vast creature epitomized the final and complete confusion between eating to live and living to eat.

Feeling the need of roughage to digest the bales of fodder it gulped down unchewed, the beast began ripping at the thicker stalks of the reeds. We looked on in silent apprehension. The utter defenselessness of the feeder had won us over to its side, and we did wish it would show a flicker of common sense. The inviting slimness of the unprotected neck filled us with dread for an accident that might easily happen down there near the roots.

The insatiable feeder moved forward a few feet over the space it had cleared into the thicket. At this spot the reeds were less dense, and it was possible to catch glimpses of an enchanting bayou just beyond the sheltering screen. Enormous orange lilies floated on the brown water. Evidently these were a special delicacy, for our friend greedily thrust his head through the sparse reeds and began skimming off the largest. He advanced a yard or two and stopped—quite suddenly.

The huge body bounded twenty feet into the air as if electrified, and smacked down on the mud with an impact that shook the beach and sent long ripples scudding over the lake. The writhing neck flashed up and out of the reeds, spraying them with torrents of blood like water from a fire hose.

The hapless creature had lost its head. Some efficient devil lurking beneath the water lilies had severed the neck about two feet below the head at one snap.

The creature did not immediately expire. Its last moments recapitulated the whole tragedy of its inhibited instincts and its inherited futilities. The loss of its head did not incapacitate the blundering machine of bone and flabby flesh. So far as intelligence was concerned the dying reptile was almost precisely as it had been before the accident. As most of us were aware, the monster's main nervous system was concentrated in the rump, above the haunches, and conveniently near the tail. Whatever coordinated the slow movements of the legs was probably distributed all along the spinal column. All of this now came into violent action. The severance of the head had jarred the whole body into one supreme effort to live.

Showing a speed it never could have been capable of while uninjured, the dying monster bounded over the beach in terrific leaps that shook the lake, drenching the mud with the last of its life. Instinct, resident in its ganglia, urged it to the water. Twice it smashed belly down on the scarlet cress thirty feet from the shore, only to rebound as if made of rubber, and plunge its writhing withers deep into the mud. The crimsoned wash of its desperate plunges surged over the dying creature, bathing it in its own blood. It lay where it had fallen, twitching convulsively.

"Pretty fierce," Bronson muttered. "Damn nature."

"It's not over yet," Sellar remarked. "Here comes the murderer, or the appointed instrument of fate, or evolution, or whatever you want to call him. Engaging devil, isn't he?"

To have wrought the irreparable havoc which he had done, the executioner was strangely undersized and insignificant. What he lacked in size he made up in grotesque repulsiveness. He emerged from the reed screen walking erect.

There was not much to him but jaws, sagging belly and hind legs. The forelegs were mere vestiges of what might once have been powerful arms weaponed with ruthless talons. They flipped against the palpitating wrinkles of his throat in a disgusting parody of light-hearted, jaunty dandyism. He was tripping out to dinner and he was in a merry, mischievous mood.

His total height, had he held his broad snout vertical instead of horizontal, might have reached that of a very tall man; certainly it was not over seven feet. Fully three feet of him was absorbed in the powerful jaws, still red with the insignia of their victory. Head joined belly without the intermediary of a neck. From his horny armor we judged that he too spent most of his days and nights in blind terror of his life. Probably he quarrelled with his friends when easier food was scarce.

For the moment however he was in good humor. He minced daintily toward his prospective meal. Others no doubt would soon join him, but for the moment he, the victor, would enjoy the choicest spoils of his valor.

What followed caused Bronson to modify slightly his somewhat harsh verdict on natural mercy and justice. The balance was partially restored—when it could do the injured party neither harm nor good. Still, it was restored.

The executioner, being a reptile himself, should have remembered that it takes many, many hours for his kind to die completely, especially when the victim is of vast proportions. But, being a reptile half of whose body was belly, and half jaws to rend flesh in sufficient quantities to appease the constant voracity of his hunger, the executioner was incapable of remembering anything. The inherited experience of his forefathers had not yet registered on his rudimentary instincts.

The luscious softness of the quivering tail attracted the feaster first. For a second or two he stood erect, contemplating the prospective banquet. Then, opening his huge jaws to their fullest extent, he plunged in, about six feet from the tapered tip. The cruel, incurved teeth ripped at the flesh like sabres. Although the dying tail quivered excessively, the feaster managed to tear out a huge gobbet of smoking meat. He stepped back and raised his enormous jaws skyward, like a bird drinking, the better to swallow the morsel.

All the vestigial instincts of the dying monster awoke once more before they died forever, and the posterior brain remembered its functions. A last reflex contraction of the flabby tail muscles sufficed. Just as the executioner swallowed, his belly was driven clear through his backbone by the terrific impact of twenty tons of outraged, dying flesh.



As the technicians have been largely responsible for the selection of records in this series, I shall follow their preference and describe only those which have an unmistakable reference to their special hero Belshazzar. To understand his history it is necessary to consider several broader records in which he played no part. These have been carefully chosen by the technicians from the complete series, of which they form only a very small sample.

For many weeks we had been puzzled by the frequent recurrence of one type of record which seemed to have no particular bearing on the history we were striving to unravel. We first observed it incidentally in the episode of the decapitated vegetarian. This was the peculiar milkiness of the lake water. Thereafter in scores of records we encountered the same inexplicable feature—boundless inland seas whose placid waters invariably were as turbid as dirty milk.

A radical improvement in the technique of projecting the televisor records was necessary before the riddle of the lakes was solved. The scale of what we were trying to decipher was evidently vast, both in space and in time. The mere extent of the lakes offered no difficulty; the time factor seemed to present an insuperable obstacle. This was finally overcome in a ridiculously simple manner, suggested by the similar problem in motion pictures.

The history of years, of centuries, and perhaps even of thousands of centuries had to be condensed and reproduced in a sequence which the human eye could follow clearly in a total exposure of only a few seconds or minutes, or at the most two hours. The record of a long-time event was simply speeded up, like the moving picture of, say, an opening rosebud.

Such was the simple solution suggested by experience and common sense. Unfortunately it did not work. The speeded records turned out as confused gray blurs of swirling fog, in which no detail was visible. These disappointing records were obtained by letting the exploring needle of monochromatic light play continuously for several days on a specimen—crystal or fossil—instead of for a matter of minutes or hours.

The cause of the trouble was so simple that the rankest amateur should have foreseen the difficulty before the experiment of long exposures was ever attempted. The exploring needle was not at fault. It understood the commonest fact of everyday life better than did the engineers—the fact that a night is always interposed between two consecutive days. The needle analysed the hours of daylight and then superposed a blank corresponding to the unstimulated motion of the electrons during the nightlong absence of light.

Once that elementary fact was grasped, it was a straight-forward problem in laboratory mechanics to devise the proper automatic shutter or interrupter to filter out the nights and leave the recorder open to the days. This of course was no crude mechanical contrivance of diaphragms like a camera shutter. The fastest camera shutter ever made would have been quite useless. The actual device finally used with complete success was a battery of delicately balanced selenium cells—a hint the engineers got from the astronomers.

The first test of the interrupter was made on the lake of the lotus eater. By speeding up the recording, the technicians restored the history of approximately ten thousand years in a total exposure of two hours. At such a speed no details of life were visible; we saw only the milky expanse of the lake and its muddy shore line.

Again the image was unsatisfactory. This time the difficulty was spotted at once. A slower shutter was devised to filter out the sunless days, whether the absence of full sunlight was due to a mere cloudy day or two or to a whole winter season. This improvement produced entirely satisfactory records, until a third, vaster-scale obstacle to perfection, which will be described later, gradually blurred the records in a most puzzling way.

The history of that first ten-thousand-year stretch when accelerated to a one hour record for exhibition presented a singularly restful picture after some of the ruthless violence we had witnessed. The cloudiness of the water dissolved, and the lake changed from a milky blue opal to a transparent aquamarine. So clear was the water that we saw the chalky floor of the lake at a depth of hundreds of feet as clearly as if we were looking through a lens.

The speed of the recording was so great that of course we could make out no minor details. But we saw much, some of which puzzled us. Whatever action might be taking place, we observed only as the gradual shading of some vast patch of red into a softer expanse of russet, or as the mazy interplay of irregular patterns of color that seemed to meet, interpenetrate, and separate, both transformed into more intricate mosaics of color. The slow changes which we witnessed actually were flashing by at the rate of about a hundred and seventy years of real, historical time for each second of the projected image.

The technicians continued to run the analyser at the same prodigious speed for eighteen hours longer, thus restoring the history of about ninety thousand years after the water of the lake first became transparent giving a total run of one hundred thousand years.

Through all that ninety thousand years we detected no variation in the quality of the water. It remained as clear and as transparent as a flawless crystal. Nor could we observe any significant change in the sweep of the shore line beyond a slight rhythmic advance and recession, as the image recorded the periodic recurrence of long stretches of exceptional drought followed by more abundant rainfalls for perhaps a millenium or two. Beyond that slow, regular breathing of the sleeping waters we observed nothing worth recording.

Continuing the exposure slightly beyond the hundred thousand year mark on the scale, we noticed that the water of the lake was again growing turbid. The milkiness reappeared first on the colorful floor of the lake. Before following this history further, we reset the analyser and sampled the hundred thousand years at every thousandth year mark all down the long record. These samples were slowed down to the speed where visibility of details fell just within the powers of the human eye.

The living panoramas were of course still greatly accelerated at this threshold of speed, but they sufficed for our purpose. We wished merely to see what happened to the tribe of lotus eaters in a stretch of one hundred thousand years. As there were ninety-nine such sample records, it is out of the question to report on the whole series. One or two specimens must suffice.

The first significant change appeared when the waters of the lake finally cleared—about the ten thousand year mark. In the slower record we noticed that the huge wading reptiles were now venturing out into the water much farther than they had previously dared.

Bronson suggested a plausible explanation for this apparent increase in boldness: all of those reptiles which were incapable of long absences from the land had fallen prey to the rapacious flesh eaters lurking in the marshes. Only those with the capacities for keeping themselves floating and comfortable for considerable periods without having to return to the beach eluded their enemies long enough to have a reasonable chance of reaching maturity. The offspring of this better adapted breed inherited their parents' superiorities of lung and muscle, and made it increasingly difficult for the flesh eaters to earn a substantial living.

Sellar pointed out that the flesh eaters had probably not been idle in the meantime. Only the offspring of the wariest, most voracious, strongest and quickest devils of the tribe would be able to come through the lean centuries unscathed. Their race was now probably a marvel of Spartan endurance and modern efficiency. The balance had not been destroyed; the conflict had merely grown fiercer and the competition keener.

Wishing to see something of the facts and check up on facile theorizing, we stopped down the projections to a more easily followed speed. The effect was at first ludicrous in the extreme, as the action was still transpiring at about twenty times the natural rate at which it had actually happened. The transparent waters of the lake for five or six miles from the shoreline teemed with enormous monsters skimming the scarlet weeds with frantic industry, or darting like electrified swans, their periscopes elevated in tense alertness, from one field to another of the watery pasture.

A stiff breeze freshened far out on the lake, riffled the surface of the water, and blew in vast beds of cress from the inexhaustible supply blanketing the deeper waters. Sensing the breeze, the paddlers faced it, impatiently waiting the arrival of fresh fodder.

The epoch was evidently one of unprecedented abundance. To keep abreast of the unlimited food supply, the huge feeding machines had increased their bulk to the very limit fixed by the laws of mechanics. Ten centuries more of such inexhaustible stores of low grade nourishment, and the huge consumers would be unable to support their own weight on dry land. They must inevitably take to the water permanently to keep from collapsing of their own massiveness. But nature, as we were to see presently, had not yet decided to evolve the whales—or their equivalent, for the whales took to the water down another channel. For the time being, wind and weather conspired to glut the champion vegetable feeders of all time with an excess of food which they had not the wit to refuse.

Along the muddy shore the greatly accelerated action also presented a ludicrous parody of animated vivacity. The ungainly monsters shuffled busily hither and thither like gigantic rats, thrusting their snaky necks into the reed thickets from time to time, or browsing with feverish haste on the succulent tops. Now and then a glutted feeder would lurch back to the water like a runaway locomotive and plunge in. The absence of the prodigious splash which we anticipated only made the scene more ridiculous. Even the greatly accelerated projection could not create a splash where the deliberate beast itself was too indolent to lift its lumbering feet more than six inches out of the mud. But the ripple which the monster set up would have done credit to a freighter.

We were beginning to think the lotus eaters utterly incapable of anything but feeding when a lucky chance, just below the three thousand year mark of the record, shot up a comedy which revised our estimate. Probably the episode was a mere accident, the sort of happy chance that occurs only once or twice in a hundred thousand years—like tossing heads twenty times consecutively with an honest coin. Given time enough, any event not sheerly impossible is as likely as not to happen. But we had no wish to disparage the lotus eaters. We agreed to give at least one of them full credit for his apparent exhibition of intelligence, although not one of those who observed the great beasts really believes that a single giant of the lot had the wits of a worm.

The scene was that of early morning. For fully three miles from the shore the water was bare of cress. Either the gluttonous reptiles had pumped the entire week's supply into their vast bags, or an unfavorable wind had blown it all far out beyond reach of even the most daring waders. The whole population resident in that section was ashore, greedily browsing on the reeds, or cavorting—under the greatly accelerated rate of projection—in ungainly evolutions on the mud.

Where was the enemy? Why did he not take advantage of the bountiful windfall right on his own doorstep? Could he possibly be overawed by a mere display of numbers? Not he surely, with his invincible superiority of jaw and sabre teeth, to say nothing of his all but impenetrable armor of horny plates.

The enemy was not bluffed by the impressive concentration of the lotus eaters. But he was a cowardly sort of reptile in spite of his superior armament, and he would take no chances. Not until his victims were delivered practically bound and helpless to his jaws would he venture to attack. Chance—or stupidity—gave the enemy his chance, and he seized it immediately.

One enormous feeder had lurched away from the main herd on its way to the water. It was glutted, and moved even more sluggishly than usual. Instantly five of the enemy darted from the reeds and made at top speed for the isolated monster. Like grotesque, squat crocodiles they raced erect over the mud on their stout hind legs, flipping their feeble hands in anticipatory ecstasy, their murderous horny jaws already agape to their widest. This was to be a quick victory and an easy banquet.

Chancing to turn its head sideways, the helpless monstrosity of flabby flesh saw the enemy coming. The five raced over the mud in a compact squad. Their objective, curiously enough, was not the defenceless neck, but the awkward, upstanding rump. Not till long afterwards did we comprehend the full significance of that instinctive but nevertheless intelligent strategy. The rump certainly was vulnerable enough, but the neck, we should have guessed, would be an even safer place to attack.

What the intended victim now automatically did avenged the murder of its helpless fellow creature—thousands of years before. Like a mechanical toy operated by surprising springs, the startled monster sprang straight up off the mud, partly by reflex action of its flabby tail, partly by the equally automatic action of the shoulder muscles. The vertical leap shot the huge body up a good fifteen feet. When gravity brought it down again with an impact that jarred every monster on the beach, the five fierce attackers vanished. Their too eager momentum had carried them directly under the ponderous creature's enormous belly, distended and stodged as it was with tons of undigested vegetation.

For some minutes the unconscious victor squatted in the mud incapable of motion. It was paralyzed with fright. Probably it just brooded in the mud in helpless resignation to the momentarily expected slash and rip of the sabre teeth. It might have continued to squat there till the wash of the lake buried its bones in the mud of centuries, had not the precipitate retreat of its own kind roused it to sluggish motion. Terrified by the unprecedented leap of their fellow monster, and urged into motion by the subsequent jarring of the mud flats, all were lumbering toward the water as fast as their stunted legs would take them.

The paralyzed victor instinctively got to its feet and followed the herd. As it rose we saw the five attackers, their vicious jaws still agape, reposing in their last sleep. Squashed flat in the mud they offered a perfect museum exhibit to be exhumed and chipped out of the rock millions of years later by some ingenious paleontologist. If ever we see that particular group of five in a museum we shall know where it came from, and how five complete warriors all happened to be caught together in the same attitude of arrested flight. The hind legs of all five were extended as if still straining forward to the limit of speed. Even Sellar, usually so sympathetic, could find no softer epitaph than "serve the vicious brutes right."

Having witnessed this unique example of prehistoric justice, we were loath to tempt our luck by searching for another. Accordingly we speeded up the record and passed directly to the hundred and ten thousand year mark. The water of the lake was again growing turbid, but slowly. Then, suddenly, so great was the speed of the record, the whole lake flashed out in a vast sheet of slate gray. The technicians cut off the projection in order to carry the analysis forward half a million years.

For many days our attempts to decipher the resulting record failed. Nothing clearer than vast smudges of impenetrable black blotting out all but small, irregular patches of gray rewarded our patience, and we began to think the specimens being analyzed must be defective. The device of systematic sampling at long intervals gave nothing better. The technicians were on the point of discarding the whole record as a failure when a chance projection, thrown up at random, gave the clue, and the entire record was carefully tabulated for future detailed analysis as being probably one of the most spectacular yet obtained.

In that lucky accident the black smudges instantly flamed up into blinding crimson and orange. The projector was stopped down immediately, and we proceeded to explore the ten years on either side of the reading minutely.

Ten years before the moment of crimson and orange the lake appeared as a vast uniform expanse of chalky water. Slowing down the speed, we observed a chain of lazy vortices, like enormous millraces, churning the turbid surface for mile after mile in an almost straight course roughly parallel to the shoreline. The troubled water began far beyond the range of vision behind us, and continued to the horizon in the opposite direction.

The comparatively calm water between the whirlpools and the shore still teemed with unwieldy monsters, although the scarlet cress had disappeared completely. Wisps of fog drifted shoreward from the troubled water, yet those innocent leviathans continued to wade and splash in the tepid waters without the slightest apprehension of impending danger. The gentle heat which had warmed their bath to the point of luxury, and which had killed no inconsiderable part of their food supply, conveyed no threat to their grateful bodies. Doubtless they had gradually adapted themselves to the longer foraging journeys into the marshes now necessary, as by imperceptible degrees the temperature of the lake rose and killed the floating cress.

The agelong transformation which had changed the transparent waters of the lake to thin, tepid mud had stolen upon the monsters so slowly that it now fitted their needs as the old order could not have done. Cold blooded reptiles originally, they had welcomed the beneficent heat as a gift from heaven. They now had an unfailing refuge from the miseries of cloudy days and inclement winters. The long journeys to the marshes for fodder were somewhat of a bore, but they were not without their good points, for they stimulated the appetite and eliminated those with weak legs. This race on the whole was a better one than its predecessor, even if it did spend much of its life in warm mud.

The paradise of those trusting sybarites suddenly became a red hell. By careful experiments the technicians succeeded in locating the precise moment of the transformation, and were therefore enabled to project it in full detail in the arena. The scale in space was greatly reduced to enable us to get most of the picture in one seeing. We had looked for the eruption to burst through the floor of the lake along the line of whirlpools, but we were disappointed. A more active fault under the floor of the lake, far below the horizon, went into action centuries before ours did—if indeed ours ever erupted.

The whole horizon burst into a fury of orange and crimson fire. Before we could count five the solid wall of flame had overwhelmed a full third of the sky. This was no solitary volcano erupting from the floor of the lake; the crust of the earth had cracked and split asunder for hundreds of miles, letting the pent-up fountains of incandescent lava gush skyward in a deluge of flaming rock and iron.

The spectacle ended as abruptly as it began. Steam billowing up in vast clouds from the vaporized depths of the lake obscured the curtained fire behind an impenetrable pall.

Then came the climax which we should have foreseen, but which none of us anticipated. The terrific concussion of the explosion, travelling through the water with prodigious speed, struck the bodies of the reptiles in the shallows like the recoil of a gigantic gun, killing them instantly.

It was some minutes before the following tidal wave leapt over the horizon and bore down on the floating bodies, a swiftly rolling mountain of glassy black water. In one tremendous surge it lifted the dead multitude and hurled it far back over the marshes.

A second wave toppled over the horizon, racing to overtake the first. For a second it seemed to hesitate, as if gathering momentum for the onslaught on the land. Then it suddenly flattened as it ceased to advance. The shallow waters, augmented by the surge and ebb of the first wave, instantly steepened, dipping backwards toward the depths. Like water being emptied from a flat dish, the waters of the lake from shore line to horizon slipped over the tilted floor and disappeared. The whole lake was being drained over the brink of some chasm beyond range of our vision.

Shifting the incidence of the analyser, we explored the marshes. Along the high water mark, twenty miles or more from the shoreline, left by the recession of the first wave, a tumbled shambles of gigantic bodies stretched for league after league to the limit of seeing. Mingled with the huge bodies were numberless carcasses of their enemies. All this useless driftwood tossed aside in the gesture of a second was the sum total of half a million years' meaningless struggle for survival.

But was it all without meaning? The wave had retreated after dumping the bodies. Beyond the high water mark a hungering population still clamored for food. Nature fed them generously. Already they were scurrying to the banquet.



Still striving to understand the character of their hero Belshazzar, the technicians analyzed specimen after specimen in an effort to place him properly against the background of appalling wastage which produced him. Perhaps this way of looking at his career throws him into a false perspective. But if so, it is at least as true as the estimate we form of any of the more notorious heroes of our own race.

The record which follows was assembled from the analysis of nearly thirty specimens, each of which contributed its images to the whole in an orderly sequence. That the separate records were indeed parts of one consecutive action was proved by the overlapping of episodes.

This record is of peculiar interest in the history of the televisor. For the first time the fossil of a flying creature was used as one of the specimens in the analysis. The fossil was not that of a bird, but of a winged reptile. Only the impression of a fragment of one membrane was used. The mud in which the creature had left its impression to harden into stone with the lapse of millions of years had absorbed the decaying organic matter of the membrane, thus preserving the atoms required in the analysis.

The atoms of that prehistoric flyer's batlike wing had recorded hundreds of epics of land, air and water. To unravel these will be a task for an entire generation of patient decipherers. In the present record the assemblers used only an occasional fleeting fragment, to verify that widely separated parts of the record were indeed related. What the wing recorded in an hour's flight would have been physically impossible for any stationary object, say a mass of crystal in the face of a cliff, to have 'observed' by the impact of direct or scattered light. In subsequent recordings free use was made of the remains of wings—insects', reptiles', and those of great seagoing birds.

Sellar, who is aiding me by his critical remarks, insists that I include here a brief historical note before describing the record. He says this is necessary in the interests of historical accuracy. Bronson doubts this, for he has never believed that history has the slightest claim to accuracy. So far as he has been able to discover, history is largely an exposition of the historian's personal tastes, which are frequently antagonistic to his own. However, he asks me to comply with Sellar's wish.

First, Sellar declares, the epoch we were restoring gives a rather unfair picture of nature. We saw her at her worst, from our narrowly human point of view. The most terrible fighters of prehistoric times graced—or disgraced—the scene, which was one of insane overproduction, ruthless competition, and merciless conflicts. Reptile warred upon reptile with an appalling and utterly brainless ferocity. What might they not have done had they been endowed with reason?

As it was, they did pretty well. More efficient weapons of attack were continually met by more adequate means of defense, until only the fittest could hope to survive. When the defensive armament became too cumbersome the defenders simply faded from the scene, bankrupt by their own inordinate expenditures of horn, bone, muscle and energy in preparation for the expected attack—which never came, because they were in fact impregnable.

The enemy in the meantime also collapsed, largely because the enormous quantities of flesh which he required to keep his magnificent offensive armament in fighting trim had disappeared. For this famine his own rapacious aggressiveness was wholly responsible. Those whom he could not kill and devour he drove to such an excess of armored security that they perished of their own preparedness. To say that all this is but another instance of the survival of the fittest is, Sellar declares, a grotesque lie, as none survived. Rather, he insists, it was the total extinction of the fit.

On another score also, according to Sellar, the record is unfair to nature. The experts whom we consulted on the interpretation of records agreed that we were analyzing one of the three or four periods of greatest natural activity in the earth's history—what the geologists call a revolution. We chanced, as it were, to spy on nature in one of her grand rages. Our ridiculously young race has never seen the like, and probably never will. By the time the next revolution reshapes our continents and oceans we shall have departed, or at least have lost all memory of our race as we now conceive it.

In the epoch of our records, not only did life war upon life with a ruthlessness for which our race can show no parallel, unless it be from recent times, but also the inanimate crust of the earth tore itself asunder in a suicidal frenzy as if utterly weary of all the teeming life it had brought forth. All nature's forces of destruction were hurled into action. What tempests could not uproot, fire destroyed, and what fire could not abolish, water submerged. Our race has not had to endure this.

So much for Sellar's apology. Bronson asks me to add that nature needs none, so far as we are concerned. I proceed with the records.

Mountain, desert, and jungle contributed their parts to the action. The first projection in the arena threw up a scene with which we were now familiar—that of a sun-smitten, parched wilderness of sand and glaring rock. In our own time we should expect such a treeless, roasting waste to be a breeding place for reptiles, and we should usually be right, provided sustenance was not too far away.

As we picked our way over the blazing desolation—so real was the image that we shed our coats, although the morning was sharp—we instinctively kept a lookout for eggs, and soon found them. The whole desert was a vast rookery or breeding ground of the heat-loving reptiles. Their eggs were abundant enough, but where were the reptiles? Probably a hundred miles away. The eggs could get on well enough in the sweltering sun, without being brooded. The marvel was that they were not cooked solid. It is not improbable that many of them were.

Confidently expecting to find diminutive mammals looting the nests, we continued our explorations far into the desert. To our surprise we saw not so much as a prehistoric mouse. Evidently this rookery was too far from water for any mammal to venture into it. Whatever a reptile may do in the way of supplying itself with sufficient water by the chemistry of its body, nearly all mammals require at least an occasional drink. The selection of this waterless sink as a breeding ground seemed to show that the great predatory reptiles were wiser than we had imagined.

The eggs varied greatly in size. Some nests contained twenty or more no larger than hens' eggs, while others exhibited a solitary, sausage-like monstrosity the size of a watermelon. We would have given a good deal to rip open one of those evil melons to see what was inside. But of course we could not, and the analyser then (as now) could show us nothing of the interior of an opaque object.

It was on one of those bloated eggs that we saw our first insect, and we instantly restored our initial estimate of the reptiles' intelligence. After all they were brainless beyond redemption. The merest rudiment of a maternal instinct would have forced the negligent mother to keep pests away from her half-born young by sitting on the egg. But she was probably a hundred miles away, gorging herself.

If some divine messenger could have made her understand that she had laid an egg, which at this moment was in urgent need of her protection, she would have called him a liar, for the laying of the egg meant as little to her as the shedding of a dried scale. To say that she had forgotten the egg the moment it was laid would be undeserved slander. She was unaware of ever having done anything to perpetuate her kind. Any mammal invading the rookery would be promptly chased, not as a potential killer of the unborn, but as an annoying pest that should furnish food but that always eluded tooth and talon.

The industrious insect fascinated us, as we had never seen one exactly like it, even in the museum fossils. It was a cross between a tropical cockroach and a hornet. The hinder part and the wings were the hornet's. Instead of the familiar black and yellow livery, this prehistoric specimen patterned itself in scarlet and bright green. In size it was about as big as a man's thumb. When we first saw her—she soon proved her sex—she was busily traversing the huge egg in a systematic search for the softest spot in the rubbery skin. Having found what she wanted, she drilled a neat puncture and deposited her eggs. Her young, at least, would not die of starvation in infancy.

Proceeding further into the scorching wilderness, we soon discovered that the place was infested. Everywhere the scarlet and green livery flickered over the simmering rocks as the busy insects sought their own breeding grounds. Presently we noticed two other species of the winged workers, one a dull blue all over, the other a muddy brown. Neither of these much exceeded a common wasp in bulk. They too were busy with the reptile eggs. But they never poached on one another's preserves. Each selected its own type of egg, and neither ever interfered with the largest—which were already efficiently attended to by the scarlet and green depositors of eggs. In all we distinguished five distinct species. All were specialists of the narrowest type. It was an easy deduction that exactly five kinds of reptiles patronized the rookery.

At Bronson's request I censor the account of what we saw happening to the eggs when nature had taken her usual prolific course. It was devastatingly effective. If any unborn reptile escaped that massacre, it was merely because his careless mother had unwittingly gorged in such a manner as to endow her egg with an extra tough hide, to her own discomfort and her offspring's preservation.

Wishing to find where the absent parents were hiding themselves, we turned back and made our way toward a distant range of low, barren, gray hills. As on previous similar attempts we overestimated our ability to beat the image. The perspective seemed to move with us, and the barren hills drew no nearer. In the clear air of the desert what looked like five miles might easily be fifty. To add to our confusion, intensely real mirages began to shimmer the sands between us and the hills like vast sheets of rippling water. We were as hopelessly lost as if we had strayed into the middle of the Sahara desert.

Our first warning of approaching danger was the passing of a swift shadow. A few yards to our left a patch of deep purple skimmed over the dazzling sands and vanished. Looking up involuntarily we saw the leader of a vast squadron sailing due south with the speed of a racing plane. Far to the north a flapping, tumultuous multitude swept into view, straining to overtake the leader. Within ten seconds they were directly overhead.

For all of five minutes the routed rabble flapped its precipitate course over our heads, their long necks outstretched and their batlike membranes fanning the air in strong, steady strokes. We of course heard nothing. But we almost did. The long heads, with jaws like an alligator's, opened and shut—the whole head seemed to gape, not merely the mouth—rhythmically, keeping time to the flapping of the membranes. Every fifth flap the head opened and, no doubt, emitted a screech.

Presently the weaklings of the flock began to lag. The sudden and prolonged flight was too much for their untried membranes. First one teetered crazily as its exhausted forelimbs refused to function further, recovered its balance for a few yards, glided a hundred feet farther, and collapsed. As its body shot into the sand others began to hesitate, until the sky rained crumpled reptiles while the main flock flapped on its course as straight as an arrow. They knew where they were going, or anyhow their leader did.

We were about to examine one of the fallen weaklings, when the light began to fail. The glance we got was sufficient. This young one must have had a wing spread of five or six feet. Its grinning skull was as long as that of a horse, and its straight, narrow jaws were crammed with reptilian teeth. This monstrosity of a head graced a swanlike neck. The creature was part bat, part bird, but still mostly reptile, in spite of the bristly feathers on its scaly legs.

"Look behind!" Langtry shouted. "That's what chased them."

As if a gigantic broom were making a clean sweep of the desert sands clear down to bedrock, a tempest of yellow sand billowed skyward from horizon to horizon. The sun was already blood red, although the whirling sandstorm was still a good thirty miles distant.

Peering at the volleying sand clouds racing toward us, we made out what appeared to be a crawling black band at the base of the oncoming storm. It was as if invisible hands were rolling up a black carpet before the fury of the wind. At first we thought this crawling band was a freakish shadow cast by the sand clouds. But its far slower advance proved that it was no shadow. In half a minute the sandstorm overtook the band, obliterating it. Before we realized that the storm was upon us the last of the sunlight flickered out in broad flashes of dull yellow and we found ourselves in total darkness.

For what seemed like days we endured the scouring tempest. The very absence of all sound but made the storm less supportable. Flickering sheets of dull gray lived for a second or two in the enveloping black, and by the transient flashes we saw stones and tattered branches of trees streak by like bullets. Presently larger objects began to roll by with the speed of cannon balls. Soon the air was thick with them, trundling and crashing into one another as the violence of the wind hurled them before it like tufts of thistledown.

In one of the more continuous gray flashes we saw what these black things were. The bodies of countless thousands of gigantic reptiles were being swept from the desert floor like so much refuse. And for good measure the bodies of innumerable diminutive mammals were swept along like rubbish with the carcasses of their enemies. The grim reaper of our human mythology had degenerated to a mere crossing sweeper or scavenger. The path of the mammals crossed that of the desert reptiles. Let them both be swept out of the way.

When the wind died and the sand settled no sign of life broke the desolation. An occasional slight swelling of the desert sands might mark the tomb of some buried reptile, but so thorough had been the sweeping that neither head nor limb stuck up to mark the creature's last bed. The eggs, of course, were smothered under yards of sand. Less than an hour of nature's major violence had done more for the desert reptiles than a thousand years of internecine war and prolific pests could ever have accomplished. Once more the illusive mirages shimmered on the crystal air as if there never had been reptiles or storms to trouble the desert solitudes.

Several things had impressed themselves on our eyes during the storm. We remembered the tattered branches that had flashed by, and the black carpet of fleeing monsters. They probably were expelled from their feeding grounds by the wind and had instinctively tried to outrace it to their true home, the more familiar desert. With reasonable patience we might hope now to locate the green paradise on our records and follow there the happier domestic life of the giant reptiles—happier, that is, for at least some of them. For there is no escape from the fundamental law of natural economics that all living land animals ultimately draw their sustenance from the land, and that those who do not live directly off the crops which the land provides live on the farmer. We were now anxious to visit the industrious farmer and see how he passed his time. Surely there must be tranquility somewhere in all this troubled world.

Another thought occurred to Bronson. Putting several things together, he predicted that should we be lucky enough to light upon the paradise we were seeking we should find another of nature's forces heavily engaged. As a young man Bronson had travelled extensively in Africa, and he recalled one very dramatic instance of nature's inexhaustible fertility in devising new checks and balances. To anticipate slightly, I may say that Bronson's guess was verified in every detail. For the moment we decided to continue the explorations which the sandstorm had interrupted.

Giving up the attempt to reach the distant hills unaided, we signalled to the engineers to 'forward' the image thirty miles. I have not mentioned, I think, that one member of our party now always trundled a small wireless set by which we could communicate with the rotunda when a particular scene proved baffling. Instantly the image flickered and shifted. The location again was not right. We were about to signal for another thirty miles forward, when nature obliged us by shifting the action directly under our feet, and we learned what the low hills concealed without further exploration.

"Look over there," Bronson exclaimed, indicating a wonderful mirage about five miles away on our left. "That's the best yet. It beats the one I saw once in the Sudan, and that was the realest thing I ever saw—only it wasn't real. Even the Arab guides said it would have fooled them too if they hadn't known there was nothing but sand for a hundred miles in all directions. This is better. No," he added critically after a long look, "I'll have to give it second best after all. The African one had twice the brilliance of this."

We who had not seen mirages in Africa thought this one quite fair. For long we stood watching the curiously real sheets of water gradually advancing, shining like polished silver as they came. Sand dunes were slowly surrounded and quickly dissolved. The more distant expanses reflected the blue of the sky like mirrors, and even the paler violet around the horizon was reproduced with startling fidelity to nature.

"You are quite sure the African mirage beat this one?" Sellar asked.

"Oh, undoubtedly," Bronson asserted confidently. "This one hasn't half the brilliance of the other."

"Then it must have been pretty good," Sellar remarked dryly. "In fact better than the real thing."

"What do you mean?" Bronson demanded, ruffling.

"Why, don't you see what that is? Look at the gap in the hills back there. You can see it crumble and widen as you watch. There's a real river behind those hills, and it has broken through. That's real, wet water you're looking at. We had better signal for a change of base if we want to see anything. The flood will be over our heads inside of ten minutes."

Sellar was right. The millions of tons of sand dumped into the invisible river by the recent storm had either dammed it at a bend or raised the level of its bed at some weak spot of the hills, and it was now gouging out a new channel in the desert floor. Knowing now that it was no mirage, we easily interpreted the puzzling image. As the advancing water fingered its swift way over the parched sands, steam and clouds of dust rose before it, drifted back over the already deep water, and settled quickly. The new river came on like a gigantic plow, turning aside the smoking sands and furrowing deep its untried channel.

The sands at our feet crawled toward the water and crumbled. Signalling for an advance both in space and time, we leapt forward with the image to the point where the torrent had traversed the entire desert. A blue wall of dense vegetation blocked the advance of the river. As if feeling out the weakest spot of the barrier, the tumbling brown torrent took a long swerve to the right, straightened out, and shot directly at the lowest spot in the blue barrier. On a ten mile front the wall collapsed as the water struck it, and straight through the jungle a clean swath was cut, opening up the desert to whatever hostile forces the barrier of vegetation had blocked.

"Now," said Bronson, "if that had happened anywhere near the Congo basin, I could have told you what to expect."

It happened anyway.



Acting on a strong hint from Bronson, we decided that it would be more profitable to follow the course of the new river before exploring the forests. That irresistible volume of water, broader than the Mississippi, had at last found the channel it had been seeking for ages. Instead of meandering thousands of miles along the desert's edge to a salty ocean, it now rushed down the shortest course to an inland sea. But it did not reach its grave without obstruction.

To see how inevitable was the conflict in the forest which came as a slow climax to the sandstorm, we retraced the history of the river many times. The final struggle began the moment the river burst its old banks. The end did not come for many centuries. Only one scene each, from the beginning, the middle and the end of the record need be described.

Our first ascent took us swiftly through the steaming forest, as the projectors canted forward, without anywhere halting. The river was still swift and deadly, although its waters slipped along as clear as glass. As the trees thinned out and full sunlight again broke through and dissipated the steam of rotting vegetation, we advanced with the flood into a low, broad valley carpeted with rich, tall grass. By properly resetting the projectors, the engineers at last timed our entry into this, 'the middle valley', with the first arrival of the river as it rushed from the forest.

The floor of the valley in our vicinity was almost level. Consequently the flood gushed out over it without dredging a definite channel at first. Still advancing with the flood, we followed it for nine days and nights. The days were a confusion of blurred images as stampeded herds fled to higher ground before the sudden assault of the onrushing water. At the greatly accelerated rate of projection we failed to make out what these reptiles were, beyond two striking differences which distinguished them from those we had already seen.

These monsters lurched over the ground on all four feet, and many of them were grotesquely armored and extravagantly horned. An occasional bewildered giant, stumbling along upright on its hind legs, towered above the first herds we saw, but from its blundering actions the creature was clearly an interloper. As we left the forest farther and farther behind us, only the fleeing quadrupeds flashed by. Whatever these armored monstrosities might be in times of peace, they showed themselves capable of swift flight before an enemy. That not all had endurance enough to reach the higher ground, probably twenty miles or more from the spreading water, was proved by the floating bodies of those who had lost their race. But, judged by the teeming thousands in the maddened herds, the casualties were negligible.

For nine days and nights the flood traversed the great valley, seeking an outlet to the unknown sea. On the morning of the tenth day we saw the first serious obstacle to further progress directly athwart the course of the river. A long range of black hills about a thousand feet high in the mass blocked the horizon against the rising sun.

What rocks composed those hills? If basalt without a pass through, the valley behind us, and every creature in it, was doomed. Advancing the projectors, the engineers enabled us to predict the sequel. The hills were dense volcanic ash. At their highest and narrowest point they formed a barrier less than eleven hundred feet high and thirty miles broad. The herds behind us were safe.

To follow the filling up of that enormous natural reservoir in detail was out of the question. It filled so slowly that every living creature spared by the flood had ample time to browse its way to higher ground. At intervals of ten years we sampled the accelerated records to gauge the rising of the water. Between consecutive readings we barely detected the slow creeping of the water line up the barren hills. Evaporation all but balanced the inflow, and over two hundred readings—two thousand years or more—elapsed before the first, thin rivulet, crumbling the weakest part of the wall, burst through and began to trickle down its own pass.

We slowed the projectors to the natural speed and followed the trickle. Three days sufficed to drain the stored up floods of twenty centuries. The whole range of hills crumbled and dissolved into the ever widening chasm, and the pent-up mass of water gushed over the sloping plain beyond like the race from a spillway.

This time the water did not hesitate. Its channel had been dredged for it ages before. The valley was a long, gently sloping trough between precipitous cliffs of basalt. Brimming this natural sluiceway to the banks, the flood surged down it in one leap, all of a day's journey, to a boundless inland sea.

Again forwarding the projectors, we passed to the inland sea and waited the coming of the flood. Unlike the lake of the lotus eater, this fresh water sea was walled by precipices of black volcanic rock, and there was no beach. Far in the violet distance we made out massive promontories jutting far into the water. More than one of these still smoked ominously. The same furnaces which had voided their slag to build the cliffs were still actively pouring molten rock into the sea.

The flood surged home, spreading so swiftly over the black water that the surface of the lake threw back the reflection of the foaming front without a ripple.

The next record, twenty-five years farther on, showed a strong, deep river flowing swiftly and evenly into the sea. So far as we could judge, the level of the water had not risen perceptibly.

It was now time, according to Bronson's theory, to explore the surrounding territory. As the reptiles in this valley of the inland sea, as we called it, were quite similar to those of the middle valley, I shall not go into detail regarding them, but defer particulars till I report on the forest bounding the other valley. It is sufficient for the moment to state that the bulk of the population were four-footed browsers, heavily armored. They were an essentially unclean race. Their pastures glittered with iridescent flies of all the brassier hues twinkling over the abundant offal. The great plated beasts paid not the least attention to the swarming pests searching out the crevices of their armor, or circling the horny rims of their eyes.

Bronson was somewhat crestfallen at the outcome of our brief exploration, until Langtry suggested a possible way of saving his chief's theory. The armored monsters were so healthy in spite of the busy biters, stingers and suckers, merely because all those who were not immune had perished ages ago and had left no delicate offspring. Bronson had confidently expected to find at least one weakling dying of some quick plague. Walled in as they had been before the river opened a wide door into their green paradise, the browsing reptiles had bred a sturdy, resistant race by the simple process of letting the insects eliminate the unresistant.

If indeed any of those gaudy insects were potential murderers, they caused the armored herds no more inconvenience than a passing fever—like human measles. What the stingers might do in a virgin field remained to be seen—as we have seen in our own time what measles can do to Esquimaux.

Between the valley of the inland sea and the middle valley we noted one significant difference. The middle valley was free of any considerable expanse of dead water; the other was pockmarked with foul pools standing black and evil in every depression of the volcanic rocks. The freedom of the middle valley from annoying pests was due most probably to the absence of standing water in which the insects might develop from larvae to winged stingers.

The barren hills between the valleys having been washed out by the flood, it could only be a matter of a century or two until the populations should begin to mix. But long before they did, the winds passed back and forth through the gap, commercing in evil. Sampling the record fifty years after the river first burst through, we found the channel between the valleys infested with glittering, wind-borne hordes.

The valley which the river had taken nine days to conquer held up the advancing insects for less than a month. This was their paradise—till they perished for lack of still water in which to breed. But before they lived out their brief season they had subdued the valley.

Passing over that merciless conquest, I shall briefly report on its recoil upon the desert folk—the rapacious, bipedal lizards who stalked through the green silences of the forest in quest of worthy enemies and well earned feasts. These were a different tribe from the cowardly reptiles of the marshes by the flats who attacked only the defenceless. These were kings and conquerors, and they walked like kings. The deserts were their domain; the steaming forests and the plains beyond, their well stocked farms.

Their queens laid their eggs in the sands, and promptly forgot them, to follow their mates into battle. The puniest of those giants had the courage of a mad rhinoceros and the direct abandon of an enraged rattlesnake. In point of endurance alone this great race represents one of nature's major efforts. She gave them a long trial—so long indeed that her latest experiment with our own race is as less than a day in the centuries of their existence.

No one who has seen them in action in the records can patronize these kingly reptiles or speak of them with contempt. They lacked what we call reason, perhaps, but their riches in other respects make us beggars in comparison. Being devoid of the higher faculties which we boast of, rationalization was impossible to them. They acted, and took the consequences of their actions without squealing for quarter, no matter who or what opposed them, and they died as they had lived, without fear. To have seen them is to respect them.

The glittering insects had made a clean sweep of the middle valley. Seen from a distance the lush meadows resembled melon fields after a severe frost has passed. Under the blistering sun the bloated bodies swelled and all but burst the armor plate. These impregnable fortresses, huger and stronger than rhinoceroses, had fallen before the assault of an insignificant fly. No gas attack against helpless civilians was ever more devastating. Not one reptile of all the herds on the meadows survived.

Those which had taken refuge in the shadows of the forest fared better. Sunlight seemed to be necessary for the health and well-being of the flies. Nevertheless they pursued the refugees into the forest, slowly feeling their way from one sunny glade to the next.

Our first intimation of the enemy's advance was an interrupted love scene in a perfect setting of delicate tree ferns and encircling conifers. The tiny glade was idyllic for love making, and two of the four-footed browsers had chosen it for the scene of their courtship.

In spite of their grotesque ugliness there was something singularly attractive about that happy pair. Each had the bulk of a prize hippopotamus. But their gait was far from awkward, as they lightly circled one another in the simple steps of the prenuptial dance. The enormous heads, turtle-beaked and armored with five spikes the length of a man's arm, were constantly turned toward the centre of the circle as the beasts gyrated, and the hind feet executed a well timed waltz with unerring precision. We pitied the enemy that might be rash enough to tempt a charge from either of those light-footed, heavy-headed monsters.

The head indeed composed almost a third of the body. Being practically one piece of stout horny armor, it somewhat ridiculously suggested a huge copper pot hammered onto the body and riveted well back over the shoulder blades. The temptation to wrench that awkward pot off must have been all but irresistible to any romping lizard who could get his hands on the scalloped rim. But nature had blocked any such easy sport by doing a job of riveting capable of baffling the strongest and most expert of predatory lizards. A rear attack offered the only prospect of victory. The mountainous hind quarters were protected only by a drum-tight expanse of tough, billowing hide. Once astride and out of reach of the murderous horns, even a comparatively feeble lizard might ride the ungainly quadruped to death. The problem resolved itself into keeping behind the defender. From the lightness of the beasts on their feet we guessed that any possible contest would not be too uneven.

The lovers were not unobserved. A dense clump of shrubs and towering tree ferns attracted our attention. The clump remained absolutely still. Nevertheless it was inhabited, at least temporarily. A curious scaly black object cautiously rose above the tops of the tallest fronds, and as cautiously disappeared. In a few minutes it was back. This time it ventured an inch or two higher. Again it withdrew.

Fully a minute passed before the third materialization. With increasing boldness the spy elevated his head till one eye was visible. His glance was wholly indirect—from the side of his head, his natural way of looking closely at anything. For half a minute the top of the huge head remained motionless as the hard, reptilian eye took in every intimate detail of the courtship in the glade. Then, almost as if the watcher were sympathetically amused, the whole head was slowly raised and a devilish grin appeared above the lacy fronds. The grin was not altogether pleasing, revealing as it did the full double battery of incurved sabre teeth embedded from snout to neck in the massive four foot head. If ever a reptile deserved the name of terrible lizard, this gigantic brute certainly did. He was not our hero Belshazzar, but a mere commoner of our hero's great race. The king could have cut this one's muscular neck in two with one snap of his invincible jaws.

What thus far had been pure comedy took a a sinister turn. As the grinning head slowly descended behind the ferns, a single metallic green fly circled twice round the scaly head, hesitated for an instant at the angle of the horny lips, and finally darted directly for the staring eye, where it settled, securely in the corner. A dragon hand clawed frantically at the eye, but the green stinger never budged. The terrible claws which had grappled powerful prey, or ripped aggressive enemies in the ferocious equality of a fair fight, were powerless to dislodge the deadliest enemy of all. In its helpless fury the maddened reptile abandoned all caution and bounded at one leap clear over the ferns directly between the lovers.

There was not a second's hesitation on the part of the quadrupeds. Their reflexes hurled them automatically into battle. The massive heads lowered instantly. One charged the dancing reptile from the front, the other from the rear. The defender towered a full ten feet over the charging bodies of the attackers. He also was ripe for battle. The tremendous muscles of the neck stiffened and bulged as the four foot head tipped sharply downward with parted jaws in readiness for whichever battering ram should crash into him first. The whole aspect of the terrible head was fiendish cruelty incarnate; the ramping devil knew exactly what he should do, and he did it. As the longest horn of the rear attacker grazed his knee joint, he sprang backwards. With a splintering of horns the charging quadrupeds smashed together. Turtle beak fractured turtle beak, invincible head shot over invincible head and, as they frantically tried to disengage, the two were locked fast by the scalloped edges of their impenetrable armor. Their unprotected backs were now exposed to the enemy without the remotest possibility of a counter offensive.

As the grinning devil leapt like a tarantula to the back of his first victim, we noted that the green stinger still stuck to the corner of the fast reddening eye. Possibly the pain in which the killer undoubtedly was accounts for the needless ferocity with which the talons of his hind feet slashed at the unprotected back, but however that may be, he showed no mercy. One of the helpless creatures tattered to ribbons, he leapt upon the other. And as he began his second butchery the green stinger also changed its base of operations. After hovering undecided for a moment about the bloody jaws, it selected the other eye. A convulsive, purely involuntary and quite unnecessary slash of the dripping talons registered the victor's annoyance.

We had agreed to report nature as she is, and not as we would have her be. But we did not feel that our agreement bound us to witness the feast. The fight after all had been of a different order. It was as fair as any we could have asked to see; two against one is not bad odds. Forwarding the projection in both time and space at Bronson's suggestion, we proceeded to the desert edge of the forest and observed the sequel, about a month later, of the battle in the glade.

As when we had first seen this desert, it was calm, brilliant with reds and yellows and, in its simmering heat, a reptiles' heaven. The forest lay some miles behind us. Our quest was not reptile eggs this time, but the great desert-lovers themselves. Their birdlike tracks were everywhere, but the giants themselves were invisible. It was easy to guess where they were.

By this time the plague should have done most of its work among the quadrupeds of the forest. We did not yet know whether the insects were capable of infecting the great predatory reptiles who walked like kings. And if these were not immune to the infections spread by the insects we had no idea in what form disease would manifest itself. If on the other hand the flesh eaters were indeed immune to all the plagues which devastated their herbage-feeding cousins, they would most likely be gorging themselves on the bodies of the slain.

Studying the birdlike tracks in the sand, we tried to spell out their story. All were erratic, and many spiraled or circled aimlessly. Were these the records of courtships in the manner of the birds? For a moment we almost believed they were, until we saw the first bipedal giant reel from the forest.

We watched him long and curiously. From his drunken failure to walk through the shadows to the sunlight which his great body craved we read his tragedy. He was totally blind. Presently others blundered out from the trees. All were blind, and all showed plainly the ravages of merciless starvation. The bodies of the dead quadrupeds had long since been devoured.

One shambling beast half a head taller than the rest attracted our attention. It might have been our friend of the lovers' glade; we could not feel sure, as he at last stumbled into the sunlight and reeled toward us. His bulging ribs all but burst the skin of his scaly hide; his head drooped in utter exhaustion, and his huge birdlike feet shuffled clumsily through the sand. The trivial obstructions in his erratic path all but threw him a score of times, but at each stumble a feeble effort of the sagging tail restored his balance, and he staggered on.

Others found their way into the light. All gravitated down a slight declivity directly toward us. In their blind exhaustion they frequently blundered into one another, to recoil snarling with all their teeth. They were not yet dead, but apparently they were beyond fighting.

Our friend finally stumbled heavily and pitched forward on his head. He rolled clean over and lay on his back, all his futile armory clawing at the sky. Even in death his instincts flung him into the most effective attitude of self defense.

Two smaller reptiles, gravitating down the slope, fell over their prostrate comrade almost together. Instantly the dying brute became a terrible machine of unerring precision, ripping and tearing at the bellies of the two who had fallen foul of his talons. They also summoned all of their expiring life for one last battle. In less than two minutes the three blind brutes had torn one another to shreds.

The invasion of the flies was finished.



As we became more accustomed to the images, we developed a subtle time sense. Our experience was not unique. All those who experiment for a few weeks with the televisor gradually find themselves scanning the expanse of past time with a strange ease. Centuries become seconds, a million years shrink to a generation, and the evolution of a splendid race from its first flush of youth to extinction is no more startling or unnatural than the slow growth to maturity and the gradual decline to old age and death of a single human being. In fact the passing of a mutual friend three of us had known for many years seemed less natural than the extinction of the reptiles.

On the vaster scale the record of the great revolution which overwhelmed the terrible lizards loses the false impression of rushing speed which it first gives. Only those who have followed the images for several weeks see the revolution as the majestically slow upheaval which it was, and not as the sudden catastrophe which at a first viewing it seems to be. Continents are not submerged in a day, in spite of the persistent legend of the mythical Atlantis. Nor did the ratlike first mammals, whose scurrying, ravenous hordes we saw, evolve into horses or elephants or tigers in any flash so brief as that which lights the whole history of our own race.

All such natural but wrong impressions are corrected by a week or two with the televisor. In the revolution there were submersions of continents and flaming upheavals of sea floors. But they did not all happen within the living memory of any race of creatures. Even our own kind, the only one with the power to pass the memory or tradition of universal disasters from father to son for generation after generation, would have forgotten the first upheavals of the revolution ages before the faint stirrings of the last slow catastrophe began to trouble the crust of the earth. What human legend recalls the shivering miseries of the cavemen as the last ice age overwhelmed them only yesterday? Yet those shaggy hunters were our grandfathers.

I have included the above remarks at Sellar's request—to placate his historical conscience. He has spent so much of his life over the Mayas that he has never succeeded in developing a true time sense. However, the rest of us admit on our own account that we had a somewhat stunned feeling after our first view of the two hour record into which the engineers finally compressed the entire course of the revolution, all except the last dying upheaval. This record put the finishing touches to Belshazzar's background—if he needed any.

A fragment of a meteorite, chipped from the hardened sands in which it had been buried for millions of years, gave us the first hint of the revolution. In this record we saw but one living creature. A true bird with fully developed wings sailed low before a steady wind over the whitecaps of a tumultuous ocean. But for the pillars of inky smoke on the horizon, streaming almost straight up till the higher winds sheared them flat, we might have been in the middle of the Atlantic. The almost black water, brightened only by the glassy green of breaking billows, was that of a cold ocean.

Whither was the strong seagoing bird bound? Without faltering it sped as straight as a bullet toward one of the smoking pillars. The broad wings flapped only enough to keep the great bird on its even course before the wind; without effort it soared homeward.

To get some estimate of distances, the technicians followed the bird with the analyser and counted the crests passed over in a minute. The average trough between crests had to be guessed at by a sailor. The speed of the bird came out at just over a hundred miles an hour—a not unreasonable estimate.

We followed the homing bird for four thousand miles—speeding the projectors through a total exposure of an hour—until we lost it. Whether it ever reached land we were unable to learn. But we feel certain that it never rediscovered its winter home. The history of that baffled flight summarizes the earliest stage of the revolution.

As the bird neared the smoking pillar it slightly changed its course. The unhesitating and just sufficient deviation told us that the bird was navigating a familiar course, no landmark of which had changed since its last long flight. Following the bird we passed the first volcano in midocean. A cold, black cone loomed up at our left and seemed to follow us for twenty miles, till we again saw the open water beyond its shoulder. From the icy clarity of the air about the base of the cone we inferred that centuries had elapsed since the last eruption cooled. The volcano was not dead, merely sleeping to replenish its fires. The black smoke rushed up in a straight pillar stronger than the lower winds.

In all the bird passed eighteen of the stupendous cones, with never more than a slight dip of the wings from time to time, so true was its homing instinct. The last cone fell far behind, and the flattened top of its black pillar sank below the billows. No landmark was now visible. Still the unwearying bird did not falter. Even when a low bank of dense yellowish fog rolled over the horizon ahead, the bird did not deviate from its course, but soared on till it cleft the first thin wisps, and we lost it for a moment. Twice it reappeared for a flash, still strong of wing and true on its course. Then it vanished in the dun wall, and we never saw it again.

Specimen after specimen was now analyzed in an endeavor to recover the records of the bird's winter home. As it is a detail of some interest, I may briefly state how the assemblers were at last guided to the right sort of specimens to be used. Being unable to follow the bird into the yellow smoke, the engineers took a night record to get their bearings.

The almost black sky blazed with unfamiliar constellations which nevertheless were not entirely strange. All of one long night we followed their slow circling about the pole, without guessing where we were. Only when the sky paled did we recognize a compact bevy of brilliant stars as the constellation which our race knows as the Big Dipper or the Great Bear. At that remote epoch the loose cluster which we know had not yet spread; visibly it was a family of stars sailing through space like a flock of homing swallows. Millions of years hence the gradually spreading flock will have ceased to survive, even as a legend of our race, and whatever creatures may navigate the oceans of the future will steer by other stars.

Having located the home of the bird, the technicians begged priceless museum specimens for the analysis. As the analysis never leaves any visible mark on even the most fragile specimen, they were permitted to analyze all the treasured fossils and rocks collected years ago by three of the greater expeditions which explored the north arctic, close up to the pole. By rare good fortune several of the specimens contained traces of meteoric iron, without which some of the larger scale records would have been impossible.

Throwing the analyzer far back, we deciphered the records of the lost continent from its early spring, clear through its long golden summer, down to its last, lingering winter. This vanished land was the ancestral home of the bird. Year after year, and generation after generation, the inherited instincts of all the bird's mature race recalled those which had summered in cooler lands to the unfailing warmth and sunshine of the long polar winter—if any season could be called winter in that place of almost perpetual light.

When we first saw the winter paradise every shallow inland sea of it teemed with bright-plumaged waders and paddlers. So vast were the feathered multitudes that even the swarming water-reptiles could make no appreciable inroads into the flapping, diving, splashing concourses. The wet flash of a rubbery flipper, or the unexpected ripple of a sinuous tail just beneath the surface, scattered a flock for a moment, but instantly the lane closed when some slower bird disappeared in the snap and crunch of flat, reptilian jaws. The prolific birds were in no danger of extinction from the rapacious water-reptiles. What mattered the death of one bird, when she had hatched twenty eggs in the sheltering grasses of the dunes? The birds were invincible by sheer weight of numbers. But they were not without dangerous enemies, whose final defeat was the slow work of ages of evolution.

If the contest had been on water alone the birds would have conquered the world. But their reptilian cousins still infested the mudflats, the windy dunes and the treacherous marshes.

These quick enemies of the birds were the only reptiles in any of the records which could be called beautiful. Their slim grace as they skimmed or leapt, all but flying, along the beaches in pursuit of their feathered prey put even the gliding birds to shame. Their perfectly proportioned bodies, delicately balanced on slender legs, were a sheen of changing blues and greens as they flashed after the heavier birds. The sudden leap, the quick and unerring snatch with the talons of the short forelimbs as the agile reptile executed a half turn in mid-air, never missed their purpose. There was neither wasted effort nor squandered motion in that perfectly coordinated pursuit and attack. Nor did the leaping reptiles attack wantonly. What they caught they devoured on the spot.

It was difficult to realize that these graceful creatures no bulkier than dogs were kin to the terrible bipedal lizards who stalked their armored cousins, the quadruped reptiles, and that they, the birds, and the sluggish lotus eaters were of one great stock. Lavish as ever of invention, nature had elaborated the reptilian pattern into a marvel of intricate design, in which the least detail echoed the grand conception of the whole.

Seeing a corner or two of that masterpiece we could only speculate on what nature will weave from us and the rest of the mammals. Already—according to Bronson—we with our over-developed central nervous system are as outdated as the over-protected, over-armored monstrosities we saw in some of the later records, unless—again according to Bronson when he is feeling fit—this very excess of psychic development is indeed the weapon which will subdue nature, reversing the position of master and slave. However this may be, we saw nothing in the records of the revolution which swept the reptiles from the earth to justify either Pollyanna or her sour traducers.

The deadliest weapons of the reptiles were mere feather dusters compared to those which science puts into our hands, and one man with a steady eye and machine gun could have reduced a whole regiment of nature's most heavily armored living tanks in five minutes. Again, thanks to science, one of our human revolutions can upset more applecarts in one year than nature could in a hundred million. If, Bronson says, our career is to be short, it will certainly be merry. Having dutifully included these reflections at the request of my collaborators, I return to the records of the revolution, which speak for themselves.

All the ingenious or terrible variations of the reptilian pattern were worked out at one time or another on that lost continent of the north. As the record swept forward in time, a hundred thousand or half a million years at a stride, we paused now and then for an occasional glimpse at the dying age. What was a vast inland sea teeming with life in an early record became a sandfilled sink in the later histories, too far from greenery to support even the hardiest of the heat-loving reptiles. A still later record showed the same sink again inhabited to saturation with a ravenous population, as torrential rivers from younger mountains again filled the basin and made life possible.

Still later the resurrected sea dried once more as the aged mountains were levelled and the rivers ceased to flow. What had been a lush paradise in the golden age slowly withered as the lake shrank to streaks of alkali marsh. Those whose natural habitat was the water struggled to adapt themselves to the land, while those that had developed beyond all reason on the land, made a feeble attempt to lead a half watery existence as their food supplies diminished and finally disappeared beneath the advancing sands. In the last slow struggle opposing instincts met and locked in a ruthless conflict which rapidly eliminated all but the fiercest and wariest, until in the end those who would overtake the retreating water were annihilated by those who sought a foothold on the starving land. Migrations in search of fresher seas ended in disaster in the deserts after centuries of futile struggle and ever sharper war of like upon like, and only the birds made the journey.

Everywhere the record was the same. At first the strong, vigorous races responded magnificently to their changing environments, and rapidly reached the peak of their superb efficiency. Then nature forgot them.

The horny armor that had made one giant invincible against the attacks of its most powerful enemy continued to develop like a horrible disease. Utterly useless excrescences of bone or horn impeded every movement in the jungles and forests, and drove the clumsy creatures into the open, to be slaughtered by enemies that loved the sunlight. Overdeveloped claws forced those who had leapt lightly as birds upon their prey to hobble lamely after the punier offspring of degenerating herds, and what had been joyous battle in a more vigorous age became a disgusting exhibition of starving senility pursuing spiritless cowardice. Often the shambling tracker was sheerly incapable of killing his quarry. In the end the pursuers became scavengers of carrion.

But all these consequences of nature's forgetfulness were of but minor importance. These tragedies of indifference counted as nothing beside those of the major offensives of the revolution.

At this point of the record we first encountered the difficulty to which I alluded before. The technicians had successfully eliminated the gray blur due to interposed nights or seasons of little sunshine. A more puzzling defect now spoiled the long-exposure records. At the time we were following the gradual subsidence of the western shore of the continent. To render the creeping advance of the ocean over the land visible, it was necessary to compress a million year analysis into an hour's projection. The record was a continuous flicker of black or yellow flashes against a gray background.

Thinking the specimen defective for the particular span being analyzed, the engineers hurried the televisor through the next half million years. The flickering gradually ceased, and a dazzling record of pure, blinding white flashed out and remained stationary. Remembering the former difficulties, we now sampled the record systematically. After many trials the trouble was located, and we read the story of those recurrent black and yellow flashes. The records of two will suffice.

At first we failed to appreciate what we saw under the greatly accelerated rate of projection. The scene might have been that of the vast fertile central plains of North America. A stop-down gave us a glimpse of teeming reptilian life at the very peak of its glory. The boundless prairies, paradises of luxuriantly tall grasses, rich shrubs and edible trees, were populated to the limit of their capacity to support life. Speeding the projection again we let the image flash out in smooth green, like a sheet of ice, in which no detail of life registered.

For long the green expanse remained precisely as we had first projected it. Then, like ice beginning to split on a frozen river in the spring thaw, a jagged fissure severed the plain in two. In a second the fissure brightened and lived like a streak of fire. Another second and the crimson was blotted out in rapidly spreading black. Other fissures opened from the first, these in turn branched and glowed, until finally the whole plain cracked in a million places and seemed to crawl.

We stopped down and followed the beginning of the record at its natural rate. Red hot lava was oozing from every crack and creeping over the plain. As it crept it blackened and dense, dun smoke rolled lazily up, blotting out the last stampedes of the few that had not been suffocated by the first outgush of deadly gases.

The interpretation of the other yellow flash which was analyzed in detail was quite similar. It chanced to be near the ocean. The water heaved convulsively and sent wave after wave toppling over the headlands far back onto the plain. The terrified monsters were swept by swarms into the sea. Those farther back on the plain, beyond reach of the tidal waves, collapsed where they stood. No living thing could stand on the pitching ground that rolled and tossed like a stormy sea. As the fissures burst open and the lava gushed out, the violence of the earthquakes abated, and the stunned reptiles got to their feet.

Where to flee? Some ventured onto the blackening crust and plunged steaming into solid fire. Others stampeded toward the sea, blind with terror, the pursuing lava rolling after them. At the edge of the cliffs they milled back and forth, seeking a way down to the water. Again the floor of the sea heaved, and a wall of black water hurled the refugees back on the lava. Clouds of steam overwhelmed the day in impenetrable darkness for a moment. Then the marriage of fire and water was consummated in a cataclysm that split the sky.

The last we saw on that record was a rolling mountain of yellowish smoke trampling over the sea, and we imagined that it hid the last flight of our bird, still cleaving the air on steady wing, homeward bound.

Knowing the significance of the yellowish flickers on the record, we postponed further examination of them, and sought to decipher the last blank flash of enduring white. To get an intelligible record we approached the last white slowly, at ten thousand year steps.

The fate of those who perished in the volcanic outbursts was happier than that of those who survived. As I have tried to indicate, there was never, at any stage of the revolution, any such disaster as universal and continuous volcanic activity. Even at the peak of violence at least one vast plain escaped the lava. It was a period of furious earthquakes and devastating invasions of the land by the oceans, but even these appalling violences lost their full terror when eased over the course of a hundred thousand years. The constantly terrified herds gradually adapted themselves to accept violence as the immemorial order of nature, and a more alert race, swifter of foot and keener of muscular sense, survived from the merciless discipline. They grew immune to the terrors which had paralyzed their untried ancestors. But for all their courage they dared not oppose the invincible enemy which nature brought up as her last reserve for their annihilation.

All the spectacular fury of earthquakes and volcanic fires was but the nerve-racking barrage before the charge. It did comparatively little damage—except to the land. Here the time scale played its fatal part. If the pulverized ash of the eruptions had been released a thousand times more slowly into the air, the cold-blooded reptiles might have won. But in what amounted to no more than a few days in the life history of their tribes, their heat supply was cut down a full two thirds. A dense blanket of fine pumice blocked the sun's radiation in the upper lanes of the atmosphere circling the pole. The reptiles had no time to adapt their shivering bodies to the cold, or to evolve a resistant race.

The great migration toward the south began. But retreat had been cut off. Only a long, narrow bridge of barren basalts united the dying continent and the sunny southern land, with its boundless green plains and open inland seas, which was the emigrant's promised paradise. On that bridge only stunted shrubs and wind blown low grasses grew. The seeds might suffice for ratlike mammals on the trek, but not for the lumbering reptiles. These required bales of fodder at a meal, and their horny mouths were not adapted for cropping.

A thousand years before the hardiest explorers of the kingly reptiles accidentally blundered onto the narrow bridge, the first snow had fallen far behind them, and the thin ice had floated on the surface of the northernmost inland sea. Had more than that thread of barren rock united the continents, whole nations would have escaped. But long before the first reptile dared put out on the long, hungry journey across the bridge, millions had perished on the bleak cliffs.

Few ever discovered the bridge. The majority endured centuries of slow starvation as season after season of sleety cold stunted the grass and killed the shrubs. As the winters lengthened and the chilly summers grew steadily colder, the vitality of the struggling survivors ebbed and they became incapable of sustained journeys. Starving and listless they crawled like dying flies over the ravaged plains in search of a tuft of living reeds. The flesh eaters dogged the emaciated browsers, waiting for one to collapse of exhaustion. They had grown incapable of killing all but the youngest, and few young now survived more than a day after emerging from the egg.

If only the listless hosts had discovered the bridge they need not have perished. Heat and food in plenty lay less than a year's journey to the south. The passage of the barren bridge need not have baffled the resolute; a foodless week at most would have traversed the worst of it. But nature had denied them the intelligence of the insignificant mammals, who for all of two thousand years now had been streaming like a river across the bridge and debouching in uncountable millions over the sunny continent beyond. Those of the reptiles that wandered far enough south to reach the ocean lacked the wit to traverse the cliffs systematically in search for a bridge across the channel. Almost in sight of the promised land they perished of cold and hunger, dying miserably. But one remnant did escape. These were the geniuses of their tribes.

Such was the fate of the majority—the listless multitudes who never reached the bridge, and who lacked the energy to fare far afield in search of more abundant food. As the few who escaped the last cold reached the bridge, the continent shivered in one final, feeble outburst of volcanic activity. The tremors of that last outbreak shook even the sunny continent to the south. It was nature's last gift to those of the reptiles who had not discovered the bridge and her welcoming threat to the newer race which had already passed over. As the slow lava oozed down to the ocean the emaciated reptiles swarmed around it in a last effort to restore their ebbing vitality. For half a generation the dying remnant marooned on a dead continent recovered a tithe of their ancient vigor in the grateful heat. The herb eaters scoured the quaking plain in search of food, and the flesh eaters followed and attacked. Presently the powdered ash sifting down day and night, month after month and year after year, smothered the last of the herbage, and the final starvation began. The flesh eaters outlived their cousins less than a month.

That final gift of heat for a brief season was the marooned reptiles' undoing. Within half a year's journey of the bridge the last survivor on the continent perished. A sterner climate would have urged them ever southward to warmth and safety.

We reset the analyzer and followed the bolder remnant which, half a generation before, had ventured—probably without intention—onto the bridge.



But for a succession of unusually open winters and warm springs about fifty years before the last outburst of lava, it is doubtful whether any of the great reptiles would ever have ventured onto the bridge. There was but little on the forbidding basalt to tempt a browser so long as a single shrub or tuft of grass remained uneaten on the mainland. Nor could any flesh eater find much to lure him far onto the bridge. The puny mammals hopping or scurrying along like rats to meet the warmer winds might be ignored so long as a single herbivorous reptile could still nourish itself. For one thing the scampering mammals were too hard to catch, and for another they were scarcely worth catching. A hundred of them would not have made a satisfying meal for one of the terrible lizards.

In following the record of the bridge we realized as never before that only the swiftest, the strongest and the most brutal survive—in nature's own, unsoftened, version of natural selection. Only the hardiest fighters and the most heavily armored vegetarians produced offspring capable of making the gruelling, life-long treks southward as the continent slowly died, and only the pick of any generation, browsers or flesh eaters, left their bones on the plains more than a hundred miles south of the spot where they were born. Intelligence played no part where none was intelligent. Brute force and brute endurance alone won through the desperate exodus.

It was a strange assortment of reptiles that finally fought its way to the southern shore of the dying continent within reach of the bridge. Monsters that should have been extinct a thousand years before had somehow contrived to send their representative down the centuries to uphold their honor in the last struggle. In some instances we saw but single specimens of once populous tribes; in others, a scant half dozen, giants of their kind, had outlived their nations ten thousand years or more. Nearly all of these survivors exhibited some gross deformity, whether of mere bulk or overdevelopment of head, armor or weapons, almost sufficient to mark them off as new sports of the races they were supposed to represent. That they were not futile, incompetent freaks was proved by the brute fact that they had come through the fiercest struggle in the history of the world with their lives and no inconsiderable part of their strength. They were the geniuses of their respective kinds.

Among those who reached the southern-most shore of the continent half a century before the last eruptions were three gigantic ambassadors from the race of the strong runners with the stiletto thumbs. They should have been dead thousands of years before we saw them. But natural selection had spared their rapacious ancestors, and here they were, lean and full of murder. The running pair we had seen in the dry river bed of an earlier record were weaklings compared to these.

When we first saw them they were squatting together in the middle of a beautiful little spring meadow. The mild winters had encouraged the shrubs, the shrubs had fattened the vegetarians, and the turtle-beaked racers had fared well. At this moment they seemed to be holding a council of war. We thought they were sticking together for mutual protection. Our experiences with reptiles should have taught us caution in theorizing. To our surprise what looked like a gentle conspiracy in the hatching suddenly developed into a violent courtship.

There were two males and one female, probably a more provocative triangle than the other way about—at least in this instance. If indeed the continuance of the race had been entrusted to this trio, one of the males was superfluous. Two females and one male would have been a less highly explosive mixture and a safer one for the endurance of the race.

The female seemed to show no particular preference for either of the males over the other. She accepted the nearer. A ludicrous touch—purely accidental we mistakenly imagined at first—was added by the rejected suitor. For fully half a minute he balanced on one leg, his stubby tail stiff in the air behind him, pensively scratching one enormous foot with the longest talon of the other. He looked exactly like a meditating devil in a sacred painting of the thirteenth century—except that his flat head lacked horns. Presently he slowly raised his right hand till the three-foot stiletto grazed his beak. Then, for a minute or so, he stood thoughtfully chewing that bizarre thumbnail. What we mistook for an absent minded exhibition of jealous chagrin turned out to be a foresighted act of preparation. He was sharpening his longest dagger. The other was beyond repair, having been broken off about a foot below the tip. The dark red tongue protruded for an instant as the vicious beak half opened. It just grazed the sharpened point. The tongue vanished and the beak snapped shut. The stiletto was just right; another nibble and the tip would have been too fragile.

These enormous brutes did not leap into battle when they fought; they charged. Having sharpened his stiletto, the rejected suitor backed twenty paces on springy legs, and gave a little hop like a boxer about to leap in and land a knockout. Then the whole thirty tons of him charged. The lovers parted before he arrived.

Evidently such brawls between her mates were an old story to the female. She turned her back and marched calmly off to view the duel from a safe distance. Just as the males engaged she wheeled about and squatted comfortably on her haunches, her stubby hands clasped contentedly over her capacious stomach. She also had indulged in some rare rows in her time, for both of her daggers were broken off short. A spectator's or referee's part was the only safe one for her.

The defender had the best of it—at first. Both of his stilettos were intact. Like a boxer guarding his chin, the wary reptile shot both hands up to the level of his throat. His next action, if not the result of intelligence, was so much like it that we gave him full credit for his ingenuity. He turned both daggers quickly inward, till they formed a protective bar just below his vulnerable throat. All this was done instantly, instinctively. When the enraged attacker lunged up at the other's throat with a terrific jab of his sharpened stiletto, the crossed daggers of the defender shot down and deflected the stab. As the charging attacker, thrown off his balance, lunged past, the defender wheeled in a flash and his daggers came into instant play. First the right, then the left was plunged to the hilt into the attacker's back, about six inches below the massive shoulder blades. It was like a matador pricking a bull.

Unfortunately for our ingenious matador, he could not relinquish his long daggers after he had so successfully planted them. Neither had passed anywhere near the heart or the lungs. The net result of that brainy strategy was a quite irresistible fury on the part of the enraged reptile with the crimsoned shoulders. His strength doubled. Hunching his muscular back, he shot the other clean over his head; the daggers were wrenched out, and the brave defender landed squarely on his head thirty feet away. In a flash the other was upon him, trampling like a maddened horse killing a rattlesnake. For the moment he was too furious with pain to remember what his talons were for. That momentary forgetfulness saved the other's valiant life. It also had a more important consequence, at least for these records, as to it was directly due the discovery of the bridge.

Belshazzar had been taking a much needed nap, when the courtship began, in a gravelly watercourse skirting the meadow. Sounds which we could not hear had broken his dreams, and the clash of dagger on dagger had roused him fully. That peculiar sound evidently had a significance as stimulating for him as the clang of a dinner gong. He was over the top instantly. When his gigantic bulk first loomed over the meadow we thought the image must be distorted. He towered over the combatants as a full grown man overtops a couple of brawling schoolboys. The squatting female's flat head barely reached to the middle of the marching giant's stomach.

Belshazzar marched, without haste, but at a swift, even speed which covered the ground like the shadow of a tall man running from the setting sun. His demeanor was one of ruthless, capable determination. Whatever he might undertake he would carry through, though it might cost him a leg. But it was unlikely that any enterprise undertaken by Belshazzar would cost him so much as a horny grin of his reptilian lips. No living creature could successfully oppose this colossus, this masterpiece and invincible tyrant of a race of tyrants.

Belshazzar belonged to the same tribe as the great reptile we had seen in the lovers' glade. His kin, in an earlier record, had perished of blindness and starvation. But no disease had ever thriven in this superb body, and no enemy had ever so much as scratched a single plate of the protective armor down the back. The muscular tail was long and fully developed. Even the exposed chest was amply protected by short but powerful forelimbs armed with stout claws that could either grapple or rip. And nothing short of plates of bone or horn six inches thick could withstand the slash of the huge talons of the feet or the snap and crunch of the broad jaws. The whole head was a perfectly balanced engine of aggressive destruction. At least five feet long and three broad where it joined the massive neck, its entire length was jammed full of teeth that could slash or tear as occasion demanded or rage inspired. Not one of those splendid teeth had been broken, although many a horny shield or thighbone far back on the plains bore deep grooves which fitted some of the teeth exactly. Some few of the larger bones that had been cracked for their marrow showed what Belshazzar could do when he was really hungry.

Nature never surpassed this magnificent reptile in any of her creations. If he lacked human intelligence he exhibited a substitute—fierce cunning and consummate skill in forcing his inhospitable environment to yield him the necessities of life—which was singularly like the power of reason. Possibly we who saw him in action judged him too sympathetically. Had we looked at him critically according to our present ethical standards we should have condemned him as a brutal tyrant. But we could not. Belshazzar fought his battles himself. If any life was to be risked, and possibly sacrificed, it was his own which was placed in jeopardy. Further, he fought the entire world, for the whole age was against him and his kind. That he had the instinctive, brute courage to face insuperable odds, even without knowledge of what was against him, instead of accepting the inevitable defeat before he was forced to, was not evidence of stupidity but of sportsmanship. He would see it through to the end, and be damned to it. No apology from any human being is in order. Having seen Belshazzar we respect him, the more perhaps because he was totally devoid of what we somewhat arrogantly call our higher faculties. He was a brute, some would say, but God had made him and he would walk the earth unashamed before his maker, as he had been made.

Belshazzar's advance must have been almost noiseless. Neither of the duelists was aware of his approach, and the female heard him coming only when it was too late. As her head shot 'round and she jumped erect, Belshazzar leapt thirty feet through the air like an agile bird. All the tremendous muscles of his legs were behind that leap.

Before the terrified female could turn her head again preparatory to flight, Belshazzar had unbuttoned her. One expert slash by the middle talon of his left foot down her back, from the nape of her neck to the root of her stubby tail, exposed the backbone, and in another second she was stripped. He killed her on the spot, one fierce eye fixed on her fighting mates. They were next on his program. But they were too quick for him. As he sprang to the slaughter the enraged brute trampling the other leapt into midair, his sharpened dagger aimed for Belshazzar's throat. Belshazzar kicked the maddened reptile squarely in the chest, hurling him forty feet, to land flat on his bleeding back. The other, with the two sound daggers, was now on its feet, running like a bird. We never saw him again. Belshazzar strode toward the prostrate reptile he had kicked.

It heard him coming, but it was still too stunned to rise. Instinctively it thrust its strong hind legs straight out to meet the expected leap. Its single sound dagger stuck straight up from the stubby hand clutched tightly over the middle of the belly. The stunned brute could not have devised a more effective defense in the full possession of all its senses.

Belshazzar's reptilian eye took in the possibilities. Changing his course, he circled so as to get at his prostrate enemy's head. One snap of his jaws could have crunched it to pulp. The detour squandered many precious seconds. Before Belshazzar had completely worked out his plan of attack the wounded duelist was on its feet, running as it had never run in all its athletic life. It was not a cowardly retreat; only a fool stands up to the devil of his particular race.

For a moment Belshazzar seemed to hesitate. Prudence urged him to devour the kill he had already made, while sport impelled him to pursue. What followed looked like an act of self-sacrifice, but to interpret it as such is probably a libel. No reptile, so far as we observed, ever gave up anything it wanted for itself. The strange capacity for appreciating the feelings of others to the possible hurt of one's own seems to be peculiar to the birds and the mammals. So what Belshazzar now did need not be ascribed to anything but his preference for a good fight over a mediocre meal. After all, the flesh he had killed was too close to his own to be really tempting.

Two battered reptiles of his own magnificent tribe now emerged somewhat diffidently from the shelter of the watercourse. Although both had evidently been splendid specimens of their race in their prime, neither approached Belshazzar in size. From their gait and the many scars on their sagging hides it was clear that both were much older than Belshazzar. From his tolerance of their rather timid intrusion we judged them to be old acquaintances, perhaps even close friends of his infancy. For even the most ferocious of tyrants must have protectors when he is too feeble to fight for himself.

But again it is dangerous to impute altruism where none exists. As a baby, Belshazzar no doubt had been lively enough to stick pretty close to the strongest of his tribe. Otherwise he would have been eliminated. As he grew up, habit and the lifelong association of seeing the old folks around would accustom him to tolerating their humble presence and letting them share the less lordly of his feasts. In time he might even imitate very closely the behaviour which in higher mammals is analyzed into filial affection or less pleasing complexes. Indeed, from the manner in which the middle aged couple clung to one another for better or for worse all through their troubled record, it is not impossible that they were life-long mates. If such was the case, then Belshazzar might well have been their son, which would account for much. On the other hand, we found no evidence that any of the reptiles believed in monogamy, as some of the birds and a few of the mammals seem to, nor that any of them were capable of either constancy or affection.

However, speculation as to the precise degree of kinship—if any—between the members of that strange trio is not without interest, especially to those who have endeavored to analyze Belshazzar's behaviour in the light of modern theories. One thing is certain, whatever may have been the relationships of those three: Belshazzar's character cannot be explained in terms of any of the classical complexes which have received Greek names. If he had any sort of a complex or fixation, it was of a new kind, and it deserves a name of its own. He was a reptile, and he cannot be pigeon-holed in any mammalian psychology.

For similar reasons the engineers refused to name Belshazzar's two middle-aged camp-followers after any of the Greek or Roman heroes and heroines. The lady they called Jezebel, simply because she looked like what they thought Jezebel should have looked like. The other looked as if his name was Bartholomew. He was called Bartholomew. These labels have the advantage of not suggesting any possibly non-existing kinship among the three.

It was the humble entrance of Jezebel and Bartholomew which decided Belshazzar in favor of pursuit. He abandoned his kill to them, and strode off after the fleeing refugee. Having seen Jezebel and Bartholomew well started on their dinner with a friendly little family row that did not amount to much, we decided to follow Belshazzar.

The fleeing duelist was still pelting over the plain at top speed as if the devil were after him—as indeed he was. Belshazzar did not run. With steady, untiring speed he marched like an Assyrian king after the mean slave who had irritated him, confident of his own superior wind. The runner could not maintain the killing pace indefinitely. Presently he must slow down to recover his breath. While he dawdled, Belshazzar would continue to stride over the plain with relentless endurance. Then the runner would burst into a short spurt, and lose more wind. His next sprint would be shorter. And so it would go for a week if necessary.

As a matter of fact the chase lasted three days. With the first daylight we picked up Belshazzar, still striding evenly along. His enemy was nowhere visible, but his huge bird-like tracks, to say nothing of an occasional clot of blood, betrayed him to Belshazzar's all-seeing, reptilian eye.

Belshazzar seemed fresher than ever after his night's rest. About noon he spied the duelist, jogging along over a sandy waste, about three miles ahead. Probably the poor slave had passed a restless night with his aching, stinging wounds. Anyhow he was not covering much ground. Without apparent effort Belshazzar almost doubled his stride. In fifteen minutes his earth-shaking pursuit was heard by the refugee. A quick glance back confirmed his fears. He was off in a magnificent burst of speed which gained him a good five miles. But his wind was not what it had been. Pressing his stubby hands against his heaving stomach, he squatted to recover his breath. The hard-earned gain netted him nothing. The poor devil stood up and tried to run, but he could only walk. Still, by calling up his last reserves, he won the day. At nightfall he was still ahead.

Belshazzar must have got up before daybreak. When we picked him up again it was just a few minutes before sunrise. The resolute tyrant's undeviating tracks disappeared in the far distance; those of the refugee wove uncertainly hither and thither, crossing the straight line of unerring pursuit many times in a single mile. Belshazzar, we suspected, was using his sense of smell to supplement his hard, keen eyes.

The pursuer had now begun to show unmistakable signs of ravenous hunger. His abdomen had shrunk to a concave nothing, his horny lips snarled back from the murderous teeth, and his merciless eyes were staring and brilliant. What was a three foot dagger to the infuriated strength and cold science of this ravenous tyrant? We began to wish that nature would once in a while play with honest dice. The exhausted brute still running for its life would have no chance whatever against its pursuer. In its private battle it had put up a plucky, intelligent fight.

The chances were evened late that afternoon. The stunted shrubs of the desert became less meagre, and a dark blue band of real vegetation stretched across the horizon. This was possibly the last oasis of true fertility in all the southern part of the dying continent, and the mild seasons had restored its luxuriance.

When the blue band first came into view, Belshazzar was a scant half mile behind the exhausted dueller. The wretched devil was stumbling along with hanging head and blundering feet, spiritless and dejected. Even Belshazzar was beginning to show the strain, although his stride had not shortened. A puff of breeze caught the dust from a particularly bad stumble and blew it back toward the pursuer. Instantly the exhausted duelist's head flashed up, alert. The wind bore a refreshing, familiar fragrance. The scent put new life into his reeling body, and in one splendid burst of speed he was off, full tilt, on this last great race. His arms suddenly tensed and became strong once more as he balanced to attain the maximum speed. The long stiletto rose and fell in a quick, energetic rhythm, keeping perfect time to the piston-like thrust and plunge of the muscular legs. He raced toward the greenery like a gigantic bird, sure of his ability to reach cover before the devil could catch him. By a good margin he beat Belshazzar to the forest and disappeared behind its green wall. That was the last we saw of him for years. Wishing him well, we concentrated our attention on the baffled Belshazzar.

The rage of a thwarted tiger would be mere kittenish play beside the frothing fury of the cheated reptile. He actually slavered with impotent rage as he almost broke into a run to overtake his vanished quarry. Twice he stopped for a few seconds, ramping like a maddened vulture, to sharpen his talons by ripping them through the gravel. To add to his chagrin, he had forgone the meal which prudence had advised him to devour before starting his chase, and he was now ravenously hungry. He could have devoured the runner, daggers and all, at one sitting. We would have given much to hear his yells as he scattered the gravel far and wide, but we had to be content with staring into his murderous mouth. Lashing himself like a demon with his magnificent tail he proceeded rapidly and strode into the forest.

We had expected to find the greenery thickly populated, and we were not disappointed. Unfortunately for Belshazzar, the triumphant runner had already started the stampede. The heavily armored tribes of browsers had almost forgotten what one of his fleet-footed, stabbing kind looked like. The sudden apparition of the monster who had become almost a legend to their placid, all but invincible herds, sent them crashing through the forest as if the day of judgment were upon them. The first smashing rout startled those still browsing in the depths, and by the time Belshazzar arrived the whole population was well started on its exodus to the plains beyond.

Trees were splintered and trampled like dry shrubs before the blind stampede of maddened monsters—stupidly abandoning their safest refuge in a moment of terror. Once started, nothing could stop the panic. The slower moving tanks, armored out of all necessity or reason, lumbered in the wake of the shock troops who had battered down great avenues through the forest, although they had not the slightest grounds for alarm. As long as they lived they were impregnable; only when they became lifeless hulks would they offer a possible meal to the more ingenious of the scavengers. But the mob spirit swept them along with the rest, and they trundled stupidly forward like gigantic turtles in the direction of greatest disturbance.

Possibly they should not be censured for their stupidity. After all, it may have been intelligence in disguise. Nature had pursued their kind with disaster for as long as their instincts could recall, and only those who had fled had survived. That she tricked them now with a very realistic imitation of an earthquake and eruption was no fault of theirs.

Being unable to obtain sufficient light to follow the rout clear through the forest, we canted forward and awaited the emergence of the herds on the farther side. Fortunately the riot had started in the narrowest band, so we had not long to wait. Belshazzar's efficient cooperation hastened the exodus. Without his help it is a question whether the herds ever would have emerged. He kept after them with splendid resolution, urged on to the limit of his efficiency by a constantly sharpening hunger. For these and other equally obvious reasons, we credit Belshazzar with the important discovery of the bridge.



We stood on a sloping, barren strip of sandy waste between the forest and the ocean, waiting for the stampede to break through. About twenty miles behind us the continent tapered to a narrow tip which vanished in a thin line over the horizon. This was the bridge, sharply clear as a stretched string in the brilliant air, connecting the dying continent and the sunny land of promise far to the south. Even from our elevation of four or five hundred feet above sea level we could not see the distant shoreline of the southern continent; the stark blue of the salty channel humped slightly, hiding the shore behind the curvature of the earth.

Over that slight hump the basalt bridge also disappeared, and we could only guess that it actually joined the invisible continent. At its broadest the bridge was about five miles wide. From that it tapered to a scant quarter of a mile at the narrowest point, when it again rapidly broadened to about five miles.

Although we could not see the southern continent, we knew that it existed. Barely distinguishable against the violet haze of the farther sky, four snowy cones loomed up against the light, only just more substantial than the pale haze itself. By glancing away after a long look, and glancing back again, we made out one further significant detail. Above each of the cones was a faint, purplish cloud. The cones were still active. What appeared at this great distance as faint discolorations of the sky were no doubt dense, stationary clouds of black smoke.

We had been so interested in tracing the bridge over the horizon that we missed the actual emergence of the first monster. When we next turned our eyes to the forest we saw him already far out on the sandy waste, still humping along as fast as he could go. The engineers dubbed him Old Rumpy on the spot. He seemed to know where he was going, and he headed straight down the slope toward the bridge. Probably his momentum and his fright carried him far beyond his logical halting place. Anyway, he had the appearance of consciously heading for the bridge.

As Old Rumpy played an important part in the passage of the bridge, I shall describe him in some detail. He was like none of the great reptiles we had yet seen, although he might have passed for a distant cousin of the lotus eaters. He was much less bulky than they, being not over thirty feet from tip to tip, but like them he walked on all four feet.

Except for his rump, he was well proportioned. Neither the neck nor the tail was too long, and even the ridiculously small head with its insignificant mouth was in keeping with the rest. The head in fact was little more than a blunted extension of the neck—like a harmless snake's head—with a characterless slit of a mouth and two nondescript holes for indifferent grayish green eyes.

Unlike the lotus eaters, Old Rumpy was well protected. His hide looked as tough as an aged elephant's, and it was covered with huge, close-set hexagonal warts of what might have been thick horn. Each wart in itself was quite a masterpiece of defensive ingenuity, with its sharp spike sticking up in the centre, and its irregular sides grooved to interlock with those of the six adjacent warts. When Old Rumpy sat down, as he presently did, and tucked all four legs and his neck under him, the warts joined like a bristling mat with not a single crevice. In this defensive position he resembled a grotesque cross between a badly deformed turtle and a pineapple.

Two thirds of Old Rumpy's personality was concentrated in his hind end. The huge rump stuck up like a hillock above the rest of him, as if he had been heavily sat upon and squashed flat except for that upstanding bulge. He was the most harmless looking creature imaginable. All his ingenuity had gone into making himself attack proof. To imagine this mild creature assaulting anything more savage than a cabbage was impossible.

It was not long before the mob crashed out of the forest and hurtled down the slope. Although we made no attempt to count the milling monsters there must have been several hundred of them, all giants of their respective kinds, and all armored to the limit of their carrying capacity. This hurtling rush however was but the first wave of the panic. It had been started by our friend with the dagger. Confident that more must follow, we let the herds trample past us without attempting to remember individual monsters. If any were to be worth recollection, we felt sure that we should see them later.

The first wave was a mere splash compared to the second. As far as we could see in either direction the forest belched out fleeing monsters in droves. The initial panic had started an exodus that neither instinct nor the faint beginnings of intelligence could stop. Imagining that some major disaster was about to burst upon them, if indeed it had not already done so, the panicky reptiles rushed for their immemorial refuge. The free, open sand was their natural habitat. There they could face the enemy in a fair fight with all of their inherited instincts.

The second wave followed the first, blindly. During all this wild commotion Old Rumpy plugged steadily forward, doing his asthmatic best to keep up with the crowd. But the quadruped gallopers with the forward-pointing horns and the plated heads left him far behind, and even the trundling, animated tanks that were little more than moving land fortresses overtook him and showed him their dust. The old fellow could have outraced them in his prime; now he had to content himself with conserving his wind and not losing his way—wherever he might be going, if he knew. Even two humpbacked monstrosities walking like low-swung camels, their arched backbones overloaded with huge triangular shields of bone, lumbered past him and vanished in the clouds of sandy dust. Before long Old Rumpy had the visible part of the slope to himself.

If our friend with the dagger was responsible for the first wave, the second must be credited to Belshazzar. Leaving Old Rumpy to follow the rabble, we canted the projector and watched the forest for the coming of the king. By great good luck we caught an unobstructed view of Belshazzar as he strode from the forest.

The long chase and the foodless pursuit through the forest had doubled his ferocity. Never have we seen a living creature, reptile or mammal, which conveyed such an unmistakable threat of cold, calculating courage and invincible fury—about the worst combination an enemy can have. Others may have equalled Belshazzar's murderous determination as he marched over the sand after the fleeing rabble, for millions had faced starvation all through the past age, as he was now facing it unless he could shortly make a successful kill. But none that we had ever seen had shown the intelligence to conserve and govern their passions for the inevitable conflict. Belshazzar had a devil of a temper, but he only let it run away with him when he needed all of his rage to win.

Wheezy Old Rumpy was soon overtaken. He heard Belshazzar coming. Instantly he tucked in his legs and his neck, and hugged the sand. His enormous rear end sticking up like a thorny pineapple presented a new problem to Belshazzar. A more precipitate hunter would have leapt on that upstanding hump to slash at it with his talons, and he would have earned only a pair of badly cut feet for his pains.

Belshazzar was not carried away by his raging hunger. We could almost feel him think as he twice circled the tempting lump. How could he get at the meat? Once he approached the highest point and leaned over toward it, his evil jaws agape to their widest. But he could not quite make the desired nip without cutting his lips to tatters on the protective spikes. Accordingly he did not attempt it.

What he next did certainly refutes those who deny intelligence to all of the great reptiles. He strode to the front end, where Old Rumpy was narrowest, and quickly squatted, just opposite the horny corner of the shoulder covering. With one powerful push he thrust his great head under the corner. All the muscles of his massive neck and thighs tensed. Then he put his back into it, and heaved. Old Rumpy was capsized on his side. But he still had sense enough not to elongate his neck to see what was happening.

Belshazzar wasted no strength in attempting to roll his victim over on its back. It would have been impossible with that exaggerated hind end. Nor did Belshazzar waste time by walking 'round to the vulnerable spot. Straightening up, he sprang over the body. The peak of the back was now horizontal, and could be reached without danger of cuts. Belshazzar squatted, thrust out his head, and in one quick nibble with the front part of his mouth executed his prey mercifully by destroying the most important part of its nervous system. The under, unprotected region of the dead reptile offered no resistance to the rest of the proceedings, which, at Bronson's request, I censor from the record.

Gorged long before the available food supply was exhausted, Belshazzar retired to a convenient outcrop of basalt and sat down in the hottest spot available. Resting his broad back against the scorching rocks he sat at ease like an alderman after a banquet. His gigantic legs relaxed, his huge paunch rose and fell gently in the cheering sunshine, his stout tail relaxed and flopped limply to the sand, and his heavy head lolled over his shoulder. We almost heard him snore, and regretted that we could not.

After viewing his exhibition of intelligence we were somewhat disappointed with his carelessness now. Sitting fast asleep there with his back against the rocks and his enormous, vulnerable stomach fully exposed, he offered an irresistible temptation to any passing reptile who might feel inclined to tickle him. One quick slash by even a mediocre talon would have undone him completely. But probably Belshazzar knew as well as any of us that he and the old folks were the only reptiles in the vicinity capable of such a mean, efficient trick. His dreams were untroubled; not once did he twitch nor shift his comfortable position.

While Belshazzar dreamed, a few stragglers from the fleeing herds, having recovered their senses, began to drift back toward the forest. By twos and threes, looking somewhat foolish, they lumbered over the waste toward the succulent greenery. They were never to reach it. A third wave of refugees, smaller than either of the others, crashed out of the forest and sent them spinning back the way they had come. We guessed the cause; the old folks were catching up with Belshazzar to see whether he had spared them any tidbits.

Bartholomew emerged a few paces before Jezebel. It was not long before he got the wind of Belshazzar's opulent success. His tail flashed up. Unlike Belshazzar, he permitted himself to run. The shambling scuffle of the exhausted reptile covered the ground less successfully than Belshazzar's long, even stride. When he arrived at the scene of Belshazzar's feast he was too winded to take immediate advantage of his opportunity.

Jezebel in the meantime had tottered out, too exhausted to run. But she reached the banquet in better condition than her mate to enjoy it, and at once dived in.

Bartholomew was infuriated that she should dare to eat before he was ready. His first act when he recovered his wind was to reprove her sharply by a quite vicious nip in the neck. Jezebel retaliated in kind by leaping straight into the air and coming down like a vulture on her mate's tail with all six of her killing talons. With surprising agility for a reptile of her apparent age she hung on and, quickly arching her neck, closed her teeth on the fleshiest part.

The fight was on. Had not Belshazzar intervened that maddened pair of starving reptiles would have slashed one another to ribbons within easy reach of plenty for both. It was as brainless an exhibition of ferocity as any we had seen. This pair, literally, would rather fight than eat, even when both of them were on the point of starvation.

The combined racket of the stampede from the forest and the old folks' brawl fully roused Belshazzar. Stretching his stiff hind legs he gave three terrific thumps with his tail and got to his feet. One swift glance took in the stampeding herds. They could wait. Striding toward the disorderly couple, he smacked his back with his tail, as if limbering it up. It was in perfect working order. Before they were aware of his approach the old folks found themselves knocked silly by one tremendous swipe of the tyrant's tail. He sent them spinning as he passed, without turning his head.

To attempt analysis of Belshazzar's motives in reproving the brawlers would be futile; his actions spoke. Seating himself comfortably he made a fastidious repast while the old folks, still dazed and fightless, looked humbly on from a safe distance. Once or twice Jezebel's very capable talons scraped through the sand as if she were itching to scratch the tyrant's broad back, but her courage failed her at the critical moment and she never dared the leap.

Having guzzled to the popping point, Belshazzar was now ready for hard work. Old Rumpy had done his bit by making Belshazzar's epic march possible. A band of browsers trying to sneak back to the forest first caught the tyrant's attention. Opening his bloody jaws to their widest he turned his head toward them. They heard him, even if we could not. The effect was instantaneous. They wheeled as one and dashed down the slope. Evidently Belshazzar was still shouting commands, for his mouth was still wide open, and the monsters doubled their speed. Not till the last of them had vanished in the whirling dust did he take up the pursuit. He now had them where he wanted them—coralled on a narrow strip of desert which one capable flesh eater could hold against an army of vegetarians. But Belshazzar did not know about the bridge. Otherwise he might have hastened.

The moment it became clear that Belshazzar was really going, the old folks crept up to share what was left of his banquet. This time they did not argue but fell to, cheek by jowl, as if it were their wedding anniversary. Confident that they would trail Belshazzar when they had finished, we followed the tyrant. Unfortunately the rolling dust hid him from the prying analyzer, and we were forced to cant forward and await his arrival at the beginning of the bridge. The barren basalts would be practically dustless.

The first of the mob had reached the bridge by the time we arrived. Some few had already ventured a mile or two onto the bridge to crop the stunted shrubs. All that was needed now to start the long journey to the southern continent was an energetic kick from behind. Belshazzar administered it early the next morning, in fact almost an hour before the sun rose. He had rested comfortably in the warm sands and was now full of energy, meat and enthusiasm. There was a wild commotion in the outskirts of the sluggish herds, a sudden rising of dust, and before we realized what was happening, the last trek of the great reptiles had started. Already they were jostling one another in their mad haste to get as far away as possible from the king of killers.

We were unable to form any very exact estimate of how long that last migration took. Much of it was hidden in the heavy storms which rolled up from the ocean or gathered in the upper air as the cold breath of the dying continent mingled with the warm young life of the sunny land far to the south. Often an image would suddenly blur out in wisps of spindrift and all would rush up sheer black. Twice we saw the precipitous basalts shaken by severe earthquakes, as if the crust of the earth were determined that the last stragglers of an outworn race should perish suddenly. But the end was to be delayed for many years, as we reckon time by our modest human standards. To the harassed remnant which made the dangerous passage the respite was but one last agonized moment in the life of their great race.

Had nature been merciful she would have split the floor of the channel then and there, to hurl the refugees skyward in fire and sudden death. But evolution has nothing to do with mercy; it is concerned largely with the elimination of the unfit, and whether it takes one quick season or a hundred thousand years of lingering death to get rid of the outworn and ailing is of no importance in the grand process which unfolds in moments a million years long.

One detailed picture of the passage of the bridge will suffice to give some conception of the whole. This may be centered around Belshazzar, as we managed to follow him more closely than any of the others. He must have been one of the last to venture onto the bridge in the main exodus. Bartholomew and Jezebel of course followed closely, and played a worthy part in keeping the slowly starving mob moving forward when many would have rushed back to perish in the homeland.

Our clearest connected image of Belshazzar was the episode of the tank. It occurred at the narrowest part of the bridge, where a jagged, absolutely barren ribbon of black basalt less than a quarter of a mile wide hung in midair far above the cold blue depths of the channel. For a reptile with the feet of an exaggerated bird the going was difficult enough; for an armored tank it was practically impossible. More than one too heavily fortified monster was condemned to rot in the futile armor which it could not wedge loose from the basalt vises. The horned quadrupeds with the light, quick feet stumbled and cut themselves on the sharp ridges, but they escaped and proceeded—till three out of four dropped in their tracks and perished of starvation.

When Belshazzar first flashed up at the narrows he was furiously engaged in trying to get himself a meal. A completely armored tank fully twenty feet long was his immediate objective. Great plates of talon-proof bone and horn encased the monstrosity from stem to stern. The feet and head had protruded like those of a turtle, but were now torn off and nowhere to be seen. The enormous hulk was immovably wedged between two jagged pillars which the deceased tank had vainly tried to negotiate. That it was completely dead was evident from the appearance of the head and leg sockets. Belshazzar was furious. With tons of edible flesh right under his feet he was unable to get at a morsel of it. Twice while we watched him he tried his ingenious tactics of attempting to lever the tank over on its back. But the deceased had been almost as strong as Belshazzar himself, and he had done a thorough job of wedging. Only the slow decay of centuries could ever free his hulk from its rocky prison.

Failing to get more than a backache for all his heaving and straining, Belshazzar leapt upon the impregnable citadel, ramping with rage. The sparks flew as he danced and scraped his talons furiously over the plates, but no damage was done. For once nature had beaten him; she had forged an armor that not even his superb weapons could pierce.

Here Belshazzar showed his superiority over the rest of his kind—and for that matter over the majority of any kind. Knowing he was beaten, he gave up. One last, defiant rip that sent the sparks flying like the streaks from an emery wheel, and he leapt to the rocks, carefully selecting the least spiky spot for his landing.

What would he do next? An exasperating fog swirled up and destroyed the image just as Belshazzar turned his back on his failure and began gingerly picking his way over the sharp rocks. Was he abandoning the whole sublime project of herding a life's supply of living food over the bridge to a warm climate where he might round out his career with one gorgeous orgy of battle and luxury? For a moment we doubted our hero. He was turning back, northward, toward the dying continent. When we discovered his purpose we regretted that we could not tender him an apology.

The next glimpse we got of Belshazzar was about two hours later, several miles north of the narrows. In his march south he had left many of the fleeing browsers far behind. He now went back to pay his respects. For the most part these were unsociable reptiles who shunned the main herds and made their solitary way along the edges of the bridge. Most of these hermits were slow moving monstrosities whose chances of reaching the southern continent were negligible. Instead of slowly starving on the scanty fare of the bridge they would have been much happier had they taken the six hundred foot plunge to the ocean.

On the main travelled path down the middle of the bridge Belshazzar met his first prospect. This amiable reptile was boldly plodding along in the most conspicuous manner possible, entirely confident of its immunity from attack. This was one of the hump-backed monstrosities that walked like a camel. The triangular shields on its invincible backbone undulated gracefully as the ungainly beast swung steadily forward, its strong tail held stiffly off the ground. The tail, as we were to see in a moment, was even less inviting as a point of attack than the jagged back.

Masterful as ever, Belshazzar strode at once to the tiny head bobbing up and down on a stiffened six foot neck like that of a tortoise. To reach the vulnerable part Belshazzar was forced to hump himself double. We expected to see the head and no inconsiderable length of the neck vanish when Belshazzar snapped his jaws tight shut, and I am sure we were quite as astonished as he himself was at the result. The neck and head vanished, it is true, but not into Belshazzar's jaws. Like a stout rubber band being snapped back, neck and head vanished into that admirable reptile's interior. No startled turtle ever withdrew its head so quickly. Presently the wormlike head advanced an inch or two in its burrow, and we saw two bright green eyes peering down the tube. The monster could see perfectly what was in front of it. So why stick its head out, as it was going forward anyway? It continued to advance, swinging evenly along at an undulating gait which covered the ground surprisingly.

Belshazzar was infuriated. Possibly it was his first encounter with such a problem. We saw him tense his muscles for a leap to the ridge of shields. Then he changed his mind. Having had poor luck at the front end he would try the rear. One look was enough. He strode off toward the cliffs, almost dancing with rage. The massive, muscular tail of the amiable monster was a huge club bristling with two foot daggers of horn or bone like a giant's mace. One broadside from that murderous weapon could have smashed the ribs and punctured the lungs of any lizard on earth. The creature was indeed impregnable to any living enemy. Cold might make it miserable; hunger could conquer it in less than a week. We know that it never reached the narrows. It died in peace.

Along the cliffs Belshazzar's luck improved. An impressive procession of fourteen of the tank reptiles, like the one whose remains he had abandoned at the narrows, was moving slowly along the smoother rock at the edge of the cliffs. Hearing Belshazzar's battle cry they quickened their pace—a totally unnecessary manoeuvre we thought. Either they were impregnable as they were, and therefore beyond harm from any flesh-eater, or running would do them no good. The slowest of the bipedal lizards could have given them a ten mile start and beaten them without drawing an extra breath. This time Belshazzar made no mistake. Heading directly for the largest, who happened to be third in the procession, he walked directly to the creature's head. This unfortunate tank could not completely withdraw its head; Belshazzar might easily have snapped if off then and there had he wished. But he was not so foolish. What good would the immovable tank of meat be to him dead? To turn it over and expose its vulnerable underside was beyond his strength, tremendous though it was. He solved his problem with genius by compelling the tank to turn itself over.

One rough kick on the side of the head and two admonitory scratches on its horny top warned the tank that it must edge over toward the cliffs. We saw now why Belshazzar had picked number three out of the fourteen. Opposite this particular tank the basalt cliffs were not precipitous, but shattered and tumbled by earthquake shocks into a steep cascade of enormous blocks. Shepherding his victim to the brink, Belshazzar ended the unhappy tank's indecision as it balanced crazily on the edge. He shoved it over by bracing his legs and humping his back against the bulging side. Still keeping his head, Belshazzar did not follow immediately, but waited till the bounding tank zig-zagged its precipitous way to the inevitable end. Only when it struck a leaning black pillar and burst like a ripe watermelon did he begin to pick his cautious way down over the tumbled blocks.

Leaving him to his business, we attended to our own. Like most human beings, we were more shocked at the death of one by violence than at the slow elimination of hundreds by exhaustion and hunger or, what comes to the same thing, poverty. Accustomed as we were to the human scene, we found the merciless extermination of the majority of those who attempted the bridge less tragic than the death of the tank, merely because it was slower.

To get an adequate idea of what that natural murder by lack of food meant, Sellar suggested that we accelerate the record. We did so, and saw the wretched reptiles dying like butterflies in a snowstorm. Only the hardiest survived, and they reached the promised land so impoverished of spirit that for long they were unable to enjoy their heaven. It may be seriously doubted whether their reward was worth the effort of the earning.

Sellar's disagreeable passion for historical justice compels me to add one remark in extenuation of nature's apparent ruthlessness in this matter of the bridge. Unless many of the vegetarians had perished on the way, Belshazzar, Jezebel, Bartholomew, and any other flesh eaters who happened to attempt the passage, must inevitably have died of starvation on the trek. Is there any particular virtue in preferring herbs to flesh, he asks, that one should be spared at the expense of the other, when the circumstances—lack of sufficient herbage on the bridge, among other things—were such that many of the herb eaters were doomed the moment they set foot on the basalt? The dinner is not always to the hungriest nor the tidbit to the greediest.

Bronson, I am glad to say, has told Sellar to shut up. The flesh eaters, he points out, organized the expedition across the bridge, and therefore they were entitled to the major share of the profits.

Langtry, the only scientist of the lot, holds his tongue.



Nearly half a century elapsed before our friend with the three foot dagger and a passion for duelling found his way across the bridge. We recognized him instantly by his one broken dagger and the two scars symmetrically placed below his shoulder blades.

By sampling the record at five year intervals we had learned that a steady but alarmingly slim stream of refugees trickled over the bridge all through the fifty year period. Most of these were so exhausted when they finally set foot in paradise that they fell an easy prey to Belshazzar, Jezebel and Bartholomew, who seldom strayed very far from the source of supplies.

Our friend however came over romping, in splendid condition. Although he must have been approaching middle age—for a reptile—he was more active and fuller of the devil than he had ever been in his youth. Possibly the lack of a mate through his lonely years had something to do with his aggressive devilishness. We felt morally certain that he was the last of his kind.

His sound three foot dagger was still intact. It had earned him a good living. The harassed herd of exhausted herb eaters which preceded him by several hours bore many a mark of his efficiency as a herdsman on their ill-protected backs. He seemed to have specialized in rounding up the sturdiest survivors of the fleet-footed chargers with the five horns—or sometimes as many as seven—which we had first seen in the lovers' glade. These fierce creatures he had herded like cows after he succeeded in stampeding them onto the bridge. Semi-starvation did the rest, till the roughest of them could not have launched a charge more dangerous than a kitten's. His first fights of course had been fair enough. That his stiletto and quick legs were superior to his cattle's numerous horns and nimble feet accounted for his own lusty buoyancy and their emaciated dejection. He had hustled them to the best of his ability, but they could not cover many miles a day on practically nothing to eat.

As this skilful dueller and expert herdsman was probably the last survivor of his tribe the engineers felt that he deserved a name. Taking everything into account—his striking appearance, his almost human cunning and his bachelorhood, they decided to call him Satan. The rest of us thought this somewhat of a libel on both parties, but let it pass. Indeed Sellar objected quite violently at first, claiming that the dueller had no right to be called after Milton's great hero, as Belshazzar, not he, was the undoubted ruler of the green paradise.

Belshazzar unfortunately was not present to receive Satan as the latter stepped jauntily off the harsh basalt of the bridge onto the first patch of bright green grass. At the moment the tyrant was fifteen miles away, giving all of his ingenuity to the solution of a difficulty which was rapidly becoming desperate. The food supply was steadily diminishing, and what did find its way over the bridge made pretty lean picking. Bartholomew and Jezebel of late had even been reduced to faring farther and farther afield and smashing what diminutive mammals they could with their poor old awkward feet. Belshazzar left them practically nothing now. What he got was barely sufficient for his own gigantic frame. Soon it would be less than sufficient and then—well, it was better not to look too far into the future. By his praiseworthy attention to the needs of himself and his camp-followers, Belshazzar missed the liberal supply of fresh meat which Satan imported. In all Satan contributed about twenty souls to the population. Bartholomew's dunderheadedness and Jezebel's greed squandered Satan's considerable gift in utter folly. Had Belshazzar been present things might have gone otherwise.

The herd preceded Satan by about ten hours. Probably he had stopped for refreshments before undertaking the last lap. The smell of fresh greenery put new life into the starving monsters. Here was peace, here was food beyond their power to consume, here in short was heaven at last. They rushed into the thickets and tore at the ferns and shrubs.

For nearly ten hours the refugees stuffed themselves. Incidentally they completely incapacitated themselves for anything even faintly resembling a defense should they be suddenly attacked. So when Jezebel and Bartholomew returned from a three days' shopping expedition on the plain beyond the jungle, the plums almost fell into their jaws. Jezebel was so ravenous that she attacked the herd from the rear without a moment's forethought.

It was the stupidest thing she could have done. Even the gorged quadrupeds were still capable of flight. Seeing one of their flock brutally murdered on the very threshold of what they had thought was paradise, they crashed through the shrubs and vanished down a deep ravine, swept along by the old familiar fear. That they would ever return to the vicinity of the bridge was extremely improbable.

Belshazzar would have patrolled the herd and kept it within easy reach. Jezebel had blundered precipitately and fatally, betrayed by her treacherous hunger. She was so hard pressed in fact that she permitted poor old Bartholomew to snuggle down beside her and share the feast.

Their foolish enjoyment did not last long. The racket of the fleeing herd as it crashed down the ravine reached Satan's ears as he stepped onto real grass at last. For a second or two he stood listening. Then he seemed to sniff. He smelt the old folks' dinner. The stubby tail flicked up perkily and he leapt forward in a joyous, skipping gallop. This was almost more than he had expected of heaven—to be met at the gates with a fresh dinner which he had not been forced to prepare himself.

The poor old folks had barely started when Satan burst in on them. Both heard him coming long before he arrived, but Bartholomew saw him first. To the old lizard's credit he instantly forgot his interrupted dinner. Here was a dangerous rival entering the field to compete for what remained of the shrinking food supply. The interloper should be eliminated immediately if he resisted deportation back over the bridge.

Satan resisted, vigorously. As Bartholomew flew at him with all the verve and fury of his forgotten youth, Satan charged without a moment's hesitation. Jezebel might have helped. But she lacked the wit to see that twenty meals in the future are better than one in the present—when it is not a question of actual starvation. Returning to her dinner, she let her mate take care of the enemy.

Bartholomew did his best. But his vision was not what it had been, and he misjudged his leap badly. Instead of landing squarely on Satan's head and shoulders as he had intended, he sailed clean over by a margin of at least two feet. Satan's accurate eye had foreseen what must happen. As Bartholomew sailed over his head like an eagle about to strike, Satan instantly put all the momentum of his irresistible charge into one magnificent leap. All of that leap was under the lunge of the three foot dagger which penetrated Bartholomew's back just above the pelvis. Satan staggered and all but lost his balance as Bartholomew lit and the dagger was disengaged by the momentum of the old fellow's leap. Quickly recovering he wheeled about and landed on Bartholomew's stomach the instant the wounded reptile's shoulders struck the dirt.

Satan got much more than he had bargained for. If it had been one of his own kind he was trampling he need not have greatly feared his enemy's hind legs. Their talons might have scratched him severely, but they could not have slashed him within danger of his life. Bartholomew was badly wounded, but he had fallen into the deadliest of his fighting postures and the pain of his grievous hurt restored all the fury of his terrible prime. Before Satan could escape, his tail and legs were badly gashed. The wounds were not serious—except for the maddened reptile that had inflicted them. Their stinging pain sent all the hate and murder in Satan's great body surging to his heart.

Even Belshazzar could not have faced the maddened stabber with impunity as he now was. He waited till Bartholomew got to his feet, so he could be reached easily. The valiant old fighter put all his courage into a noble attempt at a sailing leap. But the spurting wound had already drained much of his vitality, and the muscles of his legs, stiffening with pain, refused to function. The intended leap was a mere flutter. It landed him squarely in front of Satan, within easy reach of the waiting devil's arm. To Satan's credit it should be stated that he put his opponent out of pain as speedily as was possible. Whether the stab was at random or calculated we could not decide. It pierced Bartholomew's heart.

Even the killing of her mate—if she was aware of it—failed to distract Jezebel from the serious business of feeding her starved body. She might herself be slain within the next three minutes, but she was not going to face eternity on an empty stomach. Only when Satan charged at her back after finishing Bartholomew did she turn her snarling head. Something in Satan's aspect must have told her it was time to be off. With one last snarl of fiendish hatred she abandoned her kill and raced down the ravine after the retreating refugees. This was her second blunder, as we were presently to see. Any retreat—-and there were several open—other than down the ravine would have been less stupid.

Under the circumstances there was but one course open to Satan, and he promptly took it. His tribe and Jezebel's were evidently hereditary enemies. Their feud seemed irreconcilable. So long as one remained alive to compete for the food supply which Satan had so efficiently shepherded across the bridge his own future was in danger. One opponent was disposed of; he must rout the other. With scarcely a passing glance at the tempting luxury all about him, Satan jerked his arms to the running balance and pelted down the ravine after Jezebel.

The records of the next few days are exceedingly difficult to analyze. Much of the action took place in dense jungle, where the analyzer could make out but little in the dim light. Again, toward the end of the week, nature went on another of her grand rampages. In the resulting confusion we lost much, both because the records themselves were hopelessly intermixed in several crises, and because the very specimens which were being analyzed had been damaged in the last upheaval. For these reasons I am compelled to omit much which has an undoubted bearing on the peculiar relations which must have existed between Belshazzar, Jezebel and the late Bartholomew, most probably the last three survivors of their great kind.

It would hardly be fair to substitute innuendo for fact. Sellar, for one, would not tolerate such a proceeding. Until more detailed analysis is possible, I shall leave all partial revelations aside, however convincing they may be to certain minds, and state as a fact only that detail which seems to be well established: Belshazzar almost certainly was Jezebel's son. The numerous close resemblances of scale pattern and other distinguishing marks establish the kinship beyond any reasonable doubt. This is the considered opinion of the experts on the great sauria who have studied the records exhaustively.

The evidence regarding Bartholomew is less clear. The experts from the American Museum of Biological Science see much to substantiate Bartholomew's claim—if he would ever have made it—to be Belshazzar's father. Those from the corresponding British institution, on the other hand, fail to find indisputable evidence of any blood relationship between the two. Psychologists who have studied the records agree with the American experts in this dispute. Unfortunately, for the reasons already stated, I cannot reproduce any of the evidence on which this agreement is based, interesting as it is. My collaborators, especially Sellar with his peculiar loyalty to what he calls historical accuracy, insist that nothing be given out until the whole truth is available. In the meantime they ask all to accept the facts as presented, and not to enlarge upon those fragmentary facts, however attractive the temptation. I return to the record.

Pursuit of Jezebel and Satan down the green gloom of the ravine being beyond the powers of the analyzer, the engineers canted forward and explored for its lower exit. This was found without difficulty, about fifteen miles in an airline from the entrance near the bridge. The exit was quite a respectable valley opening out on the gently sloping beach of the most beautiful lake we had ever seen. While waiting for Jezebel or the fleeing vegetarians to emerge we explored our perfect surroundings and silently estimated their potentialities of good or evil for those who had survived the discipline of the bridge.

To a casual inspection the spot was a nature lover's dream of heaven. No description of it could do it justice. I shall not attempt any, but merely catalogue the unmistakable evidences which at once caught our attention and seemed to prove that, whatever the superstructure of this thing of beauty might be, its foundations were probably sunk deep in a very fair copy of a mediaeval hell. The southern continent was about to part from its stricken neighbor slowly dying to the north, and this beautiful spot lay directly across one of the major planes of cleavage.

The four stupendous volcanoes which we had seen from the dying continent only as faint patches of slightly deeper blue against the blue of the sky, loomed up bold and black, snow-capped and furiously fuming against the horizon to the south. An unscalable wall of sheer precipices, ten thousand feet or more in height, linked the smoking four with an impassable barrier. Whatever came over the bridge would have to make a long detour to the west to pass that barrier and escape to the savannahs to the south. No browsing reptile would be tempted to make the long journey while hundreds of miles of luxuriant forests lay between it and a doubtful freedom. Nor could any flesh eater reconcile his cold blooded body for perhaps years to the gloom of inhospitable forests where the herbage eaters were rarer than miracles. Only the ratlike, hairless mammals would make the journey, drawn ever southward by the promise of warmer lands which blew in every wind.

From the smoking cones our eyes dropped to the azure expanse at our feet. This beautiful water had variety and character. Never had we seen such marvellous blues as those of the lazy whirlpools which dredged up the brilliant sands from the floor of the lake and spun them into lazy patterns over the surface. Nor had we ever seen greener and fresher islands than the gems which flashed and sparkled less than a mile from the shore, as the wind set all the fronds of their glossy tree ferns tossing. The slowly rising steam from the black rocks at the base of the nearest but enhanced the beauty of the slight violet haze over the whole island; the wind quickly blew it away. We were to see much of this island, the most beautiful of all.

Looking farther down the black shoreline we gradually picked out one promontory after another jutting far out into the blue. As on the lake by the valley of the flies, we soon identified these promontories as huge tongues of smoking slag being slowly pushed out into the water, and we wondered whether the new continent and the new race upon it, just starting its long climb up the slope of evolution, were to be plagued as the old had been by fire and water, by submersions and centuries of appalling earthquakes. If so, anything approaching the violence of what we had witnessed is still in the future of our race. The scurrying mammals escaped the outburst which we saw in the brewing. Whether their descendants, including ourselves, are to escape the next major revolution—should there ever be another of any magnitude—is a question which may be left to those who believe in the invincible supremacy of the human race. We who saw the passing of the reptiles are too chastened at present to rush into rash prophecies.

Having formed a fair estimate of the paradise of the azure lake, we asked the engineers to organize a search for the missing reptiles. They were long overdue, we thought, but we had forgotten their starved condition when they stampeded into the ravine. Even a ten hour guzzle can not make up for weeks and possibly months of semistarvation. Just as the technicians began to get good results at the lower end of the ravine, the first of Satan's harassed herd staggered out.

The poor brute was on the point of collapse. After its heavy meal it should have had a fifteen hour sleep, not a fifteen mile race with two devils. But it had beaten Jezebel. That for the moment was sufficient.

But it was only for the moment. The others—such as made the descent at all—were but a few hundred yards behind. Within ten minutes fifteen had blundered out on the slope leading to the lake. One of the technicians was detailed to watch for more, while we observed the bewildered, breathless herd. There should have been five or six more to follow, according to our estimate at the bridge. They never emerged. Their history however was easily inferred from the events of the next seven days.

Neither Jezebel nor Satan had yet emerged from the ravine. Sellar began to grow quite hopeful that one—he did not greatly care which—had murdered the other. As the minutes passed, and still neither appeared, his optimism rose to ridiculous heights. Just as he was on the point of wagering two to one that the laggards had succeeded in assassinating one another, Jezebel scuttled from the ravine. To anticipate slightly, I may report here that she had not eliminated Satan. Her greater familiarity with the shrubbery of the ravine had enabled her to win the race by nearly ten minutes, in spite of Satan's incomparably higher class as a runner.

The next ten minutes were crucial. In that brief span the entire action which precipitated the climax of a drama that had been in the making for all of nine million years was worked out with machine-like precision. It is only fair to state that none of those who witnessed that epoch-making ten minutes realized the importance of what they saw at the time.

It began with a nerve-shattering roar. Of course we heard nothing. But we easily inferred the cause from the effect. Our friend Belshazzar had been basking on a suspiciously warm outcrop of rock jutting far into the lake just opposite the opening of the ravine.

There was a perfectly good reason for Belshazzar's presence in that particular spot at that particular moment, as we learned later. Indeed a reptile of his high intelligence—or what passed for it—could not logically have been anywhere else when the refugees debouched on the slope. But at the time it looked like a wildly improbable coincidence—such is the silly logic of reason when confronted with inevitable, brute facts.

The hapless refugees were now neatly trapped between two such facts. Behind them Jezebel cut off retreat up the ravine; in front of them the terrible Belshazzar, hungrier than a fasting monk, strode up the sloping beach to pick off whichever one might take his fancy. They did the only sensible thing. Without blundering the fifteen split into two groups. Seven went east, eight west. Belshazzar leapt with rage. For once in his life he ran—and how he ran. The eight were his. To our amazement he did not run after them, but before. From behind he might have leapt down the slope, forty feet if necessary, and have knocked two out with the mere impact of his terrible talons before the bunch could have time to scatter.

Jezebel, to our way of thinking, showed better strategy. Had she been thirty years younger her poor legs would have been equal to the twenty foot leap which was all that separated her from the nearest of her seven. Drumming along at her hardest she let six go as they spread out like a fan, and pursued her victim to the very water's edge. Then we realized why Belshazzar's strategy was the superior, and began to guess why he happened to be sunning himself where and when he did.

Jezebel's awkward beast did not hesitate a second. Whether by instinct or from sheer fright it splashed straight into the water. Hearing the splash, Belshazzar involuntarily turned his head to see it. His too good memory had betrayed him. It was not the first he had heard, and all the chagrin of those other splashes lived again to taunt him with the remembrance of many good meals almost won and irretrievably lost. As his head turned and the great jaws gaped to hurl some deserved epithet at the blundersome Jezebel, his own eight scattered and raced around him to the water. Jezebel's cow had shown them an old way which they most probably had long forgotten as individuals, but which was familiar enough to their adventurous ancestors on their long marches south. All fifteen took to the water ungracefully but expertly and swam like hippopotamuses toward the green island. To do Jezebel justice, it must be recorded that she did her poor old best to retrieve her heartbreaking blunder. But she could not swim. Her kind had never mastered the simple trick, being desert born and desert bred, and disliking water, even as a wash. As her intended victim splashed and gurgled its breathless way out, she leapt a good twelve feet over the hateful water and landed squarely on the swimmer's exposed buttocks. Two talons even dug a considerable foothold. But it was no use. The water was rapidly deepening, and the swimmer submerged for a moment, hurling the terrified Jezebel flat on her back in the wet she detested. Having dumped its passenger, the ferry proceeded on its swift way toward the island, two dark streaks crimsoning its wake.

Jezebel crawled out, spluttering and swearing, to find Belshazzar towering over her like the day of judgment. To say that there was murder in his eye is putting it mildly. She saw as much as we did, if not more. Hating the water only less violently than she hated Belshazzar, she gave a half flop and splashed clumsily back to the limit of her depth. She dared go no farther. Belshazzar ramped along the water's edge, calling down all the floods of heaven to dump their deluges on Jezebel's stupid head. He dared not wade in and drown her himself, for he hated like sin to get his feet wet. Once he accidentally came down with one smashing foot in about six inches of water and splashed the other leg and his tail. His rage at the mishap was the worst exhibition of fury we had yet seen from him. It was as inconceivable for him to wade out to Jezebel as it would be for any man in his right mind to walk over ten yards of red-hot plowshares with his eternal salvation as the reward for impossible success.

How the contest would have ended had not Satan intervened we cannot guess. Satan probably saved the day for poor old Jezebel. The uproar of Belshazzar's fury had reverberated far up the ravine, and Satan probably had mistaken the racket for old Jezebel's boastful challenge. Well, he was ready. Had he not recently slain her mate in a fair fight? He charged out of the ravine at top speed. Emerging onto the sloping beach he had difficulty in stopping himself in time.

It is extremely improbable that Satan remembered Belshazzar after nearly fifty years, in spite of the deep impression his three day flight before the marching tyrant must have made on his consciousness at the time. But whether Satan remembered Belshazzar or not, he recognized the devil when he saw him. With a scuffling slide he wheeled on the slope and raced back the way he had come.

Belshazzar immediately gave chase, marching up the slope with the long, even stride we remembered so well.

Not till Belshazzar disappeared behind a shoulder of the ravine did Jezebel venture to crawl out of her hateful bath. She might hate Belshazzar with all the unappeasable ferocity of her reptilian nature, but she could not despise him. Where he went, she would go, not because she hated him, but because he was more likely than she to make a killing and secure a meal.



At this point Langtry puts forward a strong plea that some space be given to Belshazzar's place among the pioneers of science. This is not meant literally, of course, for Belshazzar departed millions of years before our race arrived. But, Langtry insists, at least three of Belshazzar's discoveries would have given him high rank as a pioneer had he been human.

As Langtry was the only professional scientist directly connected with our party in all its explorations, and as he attended strictly to his scientific knitting all through, Bronson proposes that the plea be granted. Sellar, as might be expected, makes objection on historical grounds, and further he declares that Langtry is only joking.

Langtry quite firmly denies the last. He is fed up, he says, with the snobbish superiority which ascribes every human act to intelligence, even if the intellect be that of an imbecile, while no animal is credited with more than behaviour. In short, Langtry leans toward the behaviourist school of psychology and believes it has done us a service in taking our human conceit down a peg or two. If Belshazzar lacked intellect Archimedes was an idiot with the behaviour of a mathematical genius.

To pacify our scientist, Bronson advises that a full account be given of Belshazzar's researches—to use Langtry's word—at the lake. These fit in very well with the rest of the record, so no detour will be necessary. Belshazzar's scientific accomplishments can be pointed out merely by labeling certain episodes of the orderly record as Langtry wishes.

First, to go back a bit, there was the incident of Old Rumpy. According to Langtry this proves that Belshazzar had mastered the laws of levers. The principle of the lever has always been regarded as one of Archimedes' greatest achievements. Europeans took over a thousand years to rediscover the principle. Next, Belshazzar certainly understood the fundamental law of falling bodies when he eased the tank over the edge of the bridge. This surpasses Aristotle, for Aristotle nowhere states anything regarding falling bodies that rises to the level of good nonsense. The world had to wait for Galileo to use his eyes as well as his head. These considerable successes however are trivial beside Belshazzar's work on hydrostatics. Just as Archimedes achieved immortal notoriety with his law of floating bodies, so Belshazzar—Langtry believes—deserves to be remembered for his discoveries in flotation and navigation. The greater credit is due Belshazzar because he hated water, while Archimedes spent half his life in a bath. Belshazzar had no experience with water to aid him to his discoveries. Archimedes could hardly have claimed normal intelligence had he failed to observe that when he floated the weight of the displaced water exactly balanced that of his body. If half his life had been spent under a modern shower, instead of an honest Greek bath as it was, the case would have been different. But even then his handicap would have been no greater than that of Belshazzar—who always sought shelter at the first threat of rain.

Having pacified Langtry I can get on with the record, thankful that no military critic accompanied our party to insist upon a catalogue of Belshazzar's abilities as a leader.

For all of five days and nights we lost Belshazzar and Satan in the depths of the jungle. What they were doing there is probably known only to the spirits of the five or six refugees who had failed to emerge from the ravine and escape to the island. Anyhow, when we next saw the efficient pair both were gorged to a degree dangerous to their own safety. Belshazzar's unrestrained feast might well have cost him his life, and as for Satan, the only thing that had saved him in the jungle was Belshazzar's bloated inability to catch him.

The lusty pair had proved too much for poor old Jezebel. She might have played camp-follower to the fairly tolerant Belshazzar, but to risk interruption from Satan at every scanty picking over of her son's leavings was beyond her failing courage. After all she was old enough now to be Satan's grandmother. We were therefore not surprised to see her crawl up out of the ravine at the bridgehead a few hours after she followed Belshazzar from the beach. More than half starved she scrambled over to the feast from which Satan had chased her. Alas, she had been anticipated.

Like pigs, rats will eat anything they can get their teeth into. And many of those primitive mammals were not unlike rats—at least in the catholicity of their tastes. Although they probably preferred seeds and fruits they were not averse to flesh when it was thrown at them. We had indeed seen one little mammal in an earlier record getting away with eggs—which no true vegetarian would dream of touching.

Jezebel's kill had been completely mined. The rapacious mammals however were still endeavoring to scrape sustenance off the underside of the protective armor. Feeling the jar of Jezebel's approach they boiled from the hulk and scurried into the ferns. She hopped and danced with fury and succeeded in smashing not a single robber.

Bartholomew was practically intact. Satan's workmanlike execution had opened up no great gash, and the tough hide was quite beyond the capacity of nibbling teeth to damage.

Bronson demands that I censor the history of the next eight hours. His demand is superfluous. Darkness mercifully intervened to release us from our agreement to report nature as she is, and not as she might have been had we made her and not she us.

Four days later Belshazzar strode out into the arena before the bridgehead, masterful and full of meat. Jezebel was again on the point of starvation, but he paid not the slightest attention to her; the episode of the swimmer was ignored. In spite of his repletion he was chilled to the bone. The green gloom of the ferny jungles had penetrated to his very marrows and he lusted for the sun. Striding past Jezebel he made his swift way to the basalts of the bridge, now black and sultry as Tophet in the early afternoon blaze. Selecting the hottest spot he squatted, flopped sideways, rolled over on his back and let the grateful, sizzling sun cook the vast expanse of his mountainous belly through and through. Presently he was fast asleep, his hind legs trussed up like a roasting bird's, and his front talons resting lightly on his scaly chest. The enormous jaws gaped and he seemed to snore. Even in sleep he kept his head. The attitude of relaxed indolence into which he had flung himself was no brainless accident, but his most effective attitude of self defense.

Satan did not appear to share Belshazzar's siesta. The technicians reported him patrolling the beach at the lower end of the ravine. Evidently he had guessed Belshazzar's secret. While his enemy slept he paced the volcanic outcrop in the foolishly optimistic hope that some rash swimmer from the island would join him for dinner. A glance at his capacious stomach showed that he had fared well, but not so well as his great enemy. Even now he could do justice to a considerable repast. But he lacked Belshazzar's finesse. Instead of concealing himself in the warm rocks he paraded back and forth like Ajax defying the lightning, daring the browsers to swim the narrow channel and enjoy the greater variety of the vegetation on the mainland.

Satan's blustering got him nothing. The wily reptiles on the island—other than his own contribution, still too panicky to adventure out of their refuge—had been well trained by Belshazzar. For fifty years the pick of the immigrants had raced down the ravine to take to the water, scared into intelligence largely by Belshazzar himself.

Of late years however the refugees had tired of being cooped up on a narrow roost completely surrounded by water, and many had made successful trips back and forth between the island and the mainland. With the ever-diminishing stream across the bridge lessening the desirability of the bridgehead as a base of operations, Belshazzar had shifted his great headquarters to the beach. Between what the late blundering Bartholomew or the greedy Jezebel stampeded down the ravine from time to time, and the occasional rash adventurers who sought to try their luck once more on the mainland, Belshazzar had kept well ahead of starvation. But so efficient had he been that only the timidest of the refugees now survived on the island, and it was now a question of his going to them rather than of their coming to him. Only an occasional 'calf'—green at life and ignorant of the traditions of his family—was silly enough now to attempt the swim to the mainland. Occasionally a frantic 'cow', with the dawnings of a maternal instinct just lightening her darkness as her whole race was about to be extinguished forever, would swim after her foolish child and endeavor to head it back to the island. On such occasions Belshazzar was happy for nearly a week; some of the mothers were of gigantic bulk.

Leaving the technicians to keep an eye on Satan, we concentrated on the starving Jezebel. As sociologists have observed, one crime begets another, and nothing is so disastrous for the criminal as success. Caution becomes slovenly carelessness, boldness degenerates to recklessness, and what started as a safe and sane robbery ends in a twenty foot shuffle to the scaffold or the electric chair. So it was with poor old Jezebel. The secret of that eight hours of darkness was her undoing.

Hunger respects no law, human, natural or divine. So what Jezebel now attempted may be explained by an appeal to the old problem of the immovable body and the irresistible force. Belshazzar, snoring on his back on the sizzling rocks, was the immovable body. Jezebel foolishly solved the impossible problem by setting him in motion.

The sun was about to dip into the cold blue of the ocean when Jezebel stole up on the still snoring Belshazzar. She could stand the pangs of hunger no longer. What she now did was an act of blundering madness, no matter how ravenous she was. For some seconds she stood perfectly still, hunched together for the battle leap. Then she thought better—or worse—of her intention, and limply straightened up. Belshazzar's terrific feet were still curled over his stomach in the ideal defensive position. Old Jezebel might have had a chance had she sprung clear of the hind feet to land squarely on Belshazzar's throat. A young, agile reptile might have killed him before the talons had time to come into action. But not Jezebel. Her decision did her intelligence credit.

Had she turned her back on temptation then and there she might have faced her last sunset side by side with her great son. But she was as hungry as hell. Like a poor, infantile old woman she stood shilly-shallying, unable to make up her mind. The sun had set, and it was fast growing dusk. Belshazzar began to stir uneasily in the rapidly chilling air. His unconscious movements roused all of Jezebel's ebbing courage to a futile, utterly silly exhibition of ineffectual bravery. Walking round to the sleeper's side she raised her left foot and held it indecisively for fully three seconds above the enormous paunch. If she meant anything by her absurd antics she should have got at it at once, instead of dilly-dallying like a nerveless craven. She finally half made up her mind, and immediately changed it when it was too late. The net result of her indecision was an irritating four foot scratch, not deep enough to draw blood, across the tenderest region of Belshazzar's stomach.

In the rapidly failing light we lost the details of the sequel to Jezebel's rashness. Having attacked from the side she was clear of the first terrific slash, automatically delivered, of the murderous talons as Belshazzar's legs shot up, forward, and back, like released catapults. Already she was fleeing up the bridge toward the dying continent.

Belshazzar was not to be denied. He had been insulted, challenged, and the sanctity of his body had been invaded by one of his own tribe. It mattered not who the challenger was; he would have his revenge.

He had it. Again, at the request of my collaborators, I suppress the scanty record of what the analyzers caught before darkness obliterated everything.

The sun rose red and angry over the deep waters of the channel at our left. We were on the basalt bridge, about ten miles from the shore of the southern continent, and we were facing northeast when the sun rose.

None of us, I think, can be accused of harboring a particle of superstition. All the more remarkable then was our common feeling that the sunrise was ominous, threatening and heavy with brooding evil. But as every superstition is either dissipated into nothing or reasonably accounted for when examined dispassionately, so our primitive fear was rationalized when we faced south. The sun was indeed redder than it should have been because the air was already loaded with finely divided volcanic ash. The four stupendous cones to the south were in violent eruption. Even from our distance we clearly made out the torrents of lava rolling and tumbling their smoky rivers down to the lake.

With something like fear as we watched we became aware of a peculiar blurring of the image, as if the projectors were being rapidly shaken. Presently the long stretch of the bridge between us and the shore blurred at the edges like a badly fogged photograph, and we guessed what was happening. Instinctively we started racing toward the end of the bridge to reach the comparative safety of the mainland before the earthquake should split the bridge into a thousand pieces and hurl us with it into the depths of the channel. Then, somewhat foolishly, we stopped, remembering where and what we were.

Nature had decided to end an epoch. In this last outburst of a long revolution she wrote finis to the agelong epic of violence by severing the dying continent from its young sister to the south. The earth was exhausted and ripe for peace. But before peace could be established the very memory of old violence must be obliterated. We faced north to watch the end.

To give any adequate account of that last upheaval, which had been thousands of centuries in troubled preparation, would take a volume, and even then the story would not be half told—for no one could tell it. To be realized it must be seen in the records. By those living images any other restoration must be cold and trivial. Art may be competent to depict and analyze human nature to the satisfaction of human beings, but it is impotent to render nature as nature renders herself. These remarks, I may state, are Bronson's. They are not sales talk for the televisor, but the humble expression of the conviction of a practical man who had read many books before seeing the real thing.

There is however one caution which must be repeated. The last upheaval of the revolution was no affair of a summer morning—as we humans think of summers and mornings. Before the last tremor of the final outburst died, the ratlike mammals had outgrown their insignificance, although man was still an undreamed-of possibility far in the misty future, and their race had acquired the beginnings of natural dignity.

From the records of the final upheaval I shall select only those fragments which relate to Belshazzar, without attempting more than a bare statement of the necessary facts.

We faced north on the shaking bridge. As the true violence began, a black monster about a quarter of a mile away leapt snarling to its feet, abandoning the remnants of its ghastly feast, and strode toward us. Knowing what he had done we had difficulty in calling him by his old name Belshazzar. But as no one could think of a more appropriate appellation, we swallowed our pharisaical human feelings and remembered that he was a reptile. Nature perfected him ages before she ever thought of us, and if she gave him a different set of tabus and a tougher ethical hide than our own, it was not for us to criticize him. And as for brute nature herself, she may continue to soften as she gets her bloody hand used to decent material. Nevertheless it cost us something of an effort to follow Belshazzar's movements with sympathy.

A major shock struck the bridge just as Belshazzar decided it was time to break into a run. At the moment he was about a hundred yards north of us, coming down the basalt causeway full tilt. His jaws parted in a defiant snarl just as the chasm opened at his feet. If this was to be his end, then let it come, and be damned to it, to himself and to the whole world rising up against him. Never was a more perfect expression of contempt spat by any helpless creature at the tyrannical author of its darkened mind, its pain and its misery.

If this was not to be the end, he would not give in. To the last he would match strength against strength and what wits he had against blind chance. As the black mass beneath his feet heaved slowly over for the plunge to the sea, Belshazzar leapt like a gigantic bird. It was the leap of his life—nearly fifty feet. As he sailed over the chasm we thought he was done. But he was not. The rigid tail dipped slightly, shifting the centre of gravity so the straightened legs advanced the necessary yard, and his talons grasped the nearer lip of the chasm. Instantly the tail smacked up hard against the back, and Belshazzar pitched forward to safety. In a flash he was on his feet, leaping and racing his way over the jarring bridge as it crumbled like sand and cascaded in black torrents into the foam.

The worst of the shock passed before Belshazzar reached the mainland. Having followed him into the ravine, and having seen him safely started on his descent to the beach, we went in search of Satan.

Satan was, so to speak, in heaven. The sublime spectacle of four volcanoes belching up fire and brimstone meant nothing to Satan. And as for the earthquake, he had positively revelled in it. But for that rough prank of nature he might still be patrolling the lava spit as hungry as the devil with not a meal in sight.

The first severe shock had jarred the island to its very roots. Every living creature on it rushed down to the water and plunged in. "The mainland—the mainland," might have been their cry had they been capable of reason. It certainly would endure longer than the island, already beginning to smoke in a hundred places. Old and young, those who could swim and those who forgot how in their terror, strong and weak, big and little, splashed pell mell for the pitching shore.

Satan received them, joyously, precipitately. Fear of a killer of their own race vanquished fear of the universal destroyer, and as the first victim fell those who had reached the shore stampeded back into the boiling water. Two panic stricken factions milled through one another in mid channel. Soon they were exhausted. Many drowned; only those on the rim of the mob made their way around it and back to the shaking island, and only one floating fortress drifted shoreward and crawled out on the mainland.

Satan paid no attention to the newcomer. It was impregnable, and he had all he could do for the present to dispose of the weakling he had killed.

While waiting for Belshazzar to arrive we followed the progress of the eruptions. The lava had reached the forests, and to the murk of falling ashes was now added the pitchy smoke of blazing conifers. The visibility in our vicinity was still good, although the rocks were a sombre crimson and the vegetation almost black in the glare of a blood red sun.

I described the water of the lake as boiling, and to a certain extent this was literally true. Mud and sand were being churned up in prodigious quantities; great tracts of the surface of the water bubbled furiously, and steam drifted lazily from more than one expanse of comparative calm. Between us and the island however the water was still undisturbed, although as red and thick as paint.

Belshazzar arrived on the beach resolute and defiant. If nature chose to make a fool of herself by staging this ridiculous pantomime it was no concern of his. He had his own cattle to farm, and as long as he minded his own business he would continue to eat. Let the landscape play the fool if it liked; he had lived through almost as bad fifty years ago. In the hellish light his towering body glowed like a gigantic ember.

He strode down the beach toward his customary lookout. Suddenly he stopped, leaping with rage. Satan was defiling his favourite spot by celebrating some unclean rite of his own.

Satan looked up sharply. There was no mistaking that battle cry. Like a grotesque devil clambering out of the pit he pulled himself up by his hands, vaulted over a barrier of sombre red rock, and vanished in a flash of scarlet as the sun caught the lighter skin of his distended belly. He had dined long and completely, and now he was off. Belshazzar might have the uncracked skull and the three sharp baby horns if he cared for them.

Belshazzar did not; a greater prize was his for the taking. The bewildered tank which had floundered ashore, already demoralized by the earthquake, lost its head completely when it saw this dancing apparition going mad on the beach. The king and master of all devils had come in fire to judge the world.

As the awkward beast lumbered right about face and headed for the water, Belshazzar leapt upon its back, insane with rage. The racing feet sent sparks flying, but not even a minor injury was registered. Watching the tyrant's fury, we were almost persuaded that he remembered his futile attack on a similar fortress on the bridge nearly fifty years before. Whether he did or not, he so lost himself in unavailing fury that before he knew what was happening the tank had taken to the water.

It was then that Belshazzar established his claim to intelligence beyond any reasonable shadow of a doubt. Noticing the swash of the waves, he ceased profitless ramping instantly and dashed for the rear end of the floating fortress. Twelve feet of water separated him from the shore. He could have made the leap without an effort, and for a moment the muscles of his legs tensed automatically. To escape the hated water was his natural impulse; his reaction was instinctive. Reason got the better of instinct—which is another way of saying that intelligence was born, if not already full grown but in abeyance. The muscles relaxed, Belshazzar wheeled about and strode to the forward end of the ferry, as it moved toward the island. Thirty feet from the shore he hunched down for an instant before he sailed like a bird high up to an overhanging ledge of black rock. In another instant he had crashed through the brake of tree ferns and vanished.

That last leap clinched his title to—whatever Langtry claims in his behalf. For the shore at that point was precipitous, without an inch of beach. A landing for the floating tank at that spot was impossible. The bewildered creature lacked the wits or the intelligence to swim around half a mile till it found a beach. Turning tail as it crashed head-on into the cliffs, it paddled frantically for the shore which it had left. We abandoned it there.

Forty-eight hours of the utmost violence obliterated the record in swirling clouds of crimson and black. An occasional spurt of clearer flame revealed splinters of red rock being thrust steaming up from the floor of the lake, only to vanish as if snatched down to the seething fires by invisible hands for more thorough smelting. Bridges were elaborated and destroyed in a second; the lake was twice drained for miles from the shore and twice refilled with clashing waters in less than an hour, and gradually more permanent structures began to emerge. A smoking causeway united the island to the mainland, and seemed to survive the assaults of the earthquakes for several hours. At intervals all through the second night we caught flashes of this smouldering causeway still intact, but still too hot to bear a living foot. Then, at the very peak of the violence which within five minutes shattered the causeway and tilted the island crazily so that its whole western half was submerged, we saw Satan.

He was not on the causeway—its scorching rocks would have burned his feet to wisps in twenty yards—but far out in the water, galloping knee high parallel to the causeway. In the flash we caught of him he was running—or rather splashing—along the cooler floor of the lake, now elevated to within a yard or two of the surface by the upheaval of the causeway. The muscular arms swung at the running balance, and the long dagger flashed back and forth in the crimson light, redder than it had ever been in any of its hundreds of fights, fair or foul.



We had almost given up hope of getting a decipherable record when Sellar remembered that volcanic eruptions are usually accompanied by deluges of rain—for simple reasons that need not be gone into here. Our slogan became 'Wait for the rain', while the engineers continued to run the specimens through the analyzer at half the natural rate. This record was of such importance that we felt no chance should be taken of losing even the smallest fragment. As a consequence we caught many fleeting glimpses of Belshazzar's brief sojourn on the ruined island, which we hope some day to incorporate into a worthy memorial to this greatest of reptiles. For the present, however, we are agreed that one episode is sufficient.

As Sellar had anticipated, the deluge was not long delayed. It registered in the record by a gradual strengthening of the light and a general sharpening of image. Colors began to appear—muddied, it is true, owing to the superposition of the universal red, but still colors. At this point the specimens being analyzed exhibited serious defects (not yet remedied), so we cannot say how many hours or days of real time passed before the deluges cleared the atmosphere and the downpour finally ceased.

The air was as clear as glass. Lava had ceased temporarily to gush from the erupting cones, but they were still active. The lake was a slaty expanse of thick, bubbling mud broken by a confusion of jagged outcrops of black rock. The island had been all but submerged; a scant half acre of scorched greenery sloped steeply down to the boiling mud, and even this had been penetrated by the savage upthrust of a huge splinter of shattered rock as sharp as a trainload of scrap iron. Supporting the green slope an upturned wall of basalt leaned up at an angle of forty-five degrees from the bottom of the lake. This wall was one boundary of the fracture which had split the island in two; the rest of the island was sunk in the boiling mud. Only this scorched fragment remained of the reptiles' last refuge.

Knowing Belshazzar as we did we confidently expected to find him somewhere on that last fragment. His invincible resourcefulness surely had been able to overcome nature's hit or miss methods, and he could not have failed to find himself on the one scrap of the island, no matter how small, which had not been snatched into the boiling mud.

The causeway had long since disappeared. There was now no link with the mainland. Nevertheless we felt that Belshazzar somehow would find a way to get ashore in the next outburst—whose signs were already evident in the fuming cones. They were steaming up again for a major eruption, and no doubt there would be sudden outcrops in the mud by which Belshazzar could leap ashore. Nothing could down him, we felt, not even the supreme anarchy to come.

The broken crest of the scorched greenery shook vigorously not far from the splintered rock. We almost felt Belshazzar coming.

The ferns parted; a birdlike foot hesitated and advanced. Satan stepped out. To hoist himself up the last yard of the steep slope he grasped a jagged spear of the overhanging rock by crooking the stubby fingers of his hand with the sound three foot dagger, and pulled. His weight was too much for the fractured rock. The spear toppled. As he leapt back another loosened mass of rock shot after the spear, struck his hand, and broke the dagger off short.

"If he murdered Belshazzar," Sellar remarked, "it serves him right."

The words were barely uttered before Belshazzar appeared. He had heard his enemy, and no doubt had been stalking him. Limping badly he made his precarious way around the splinter, hugging the rock. Satan had disappeared into the tree ferns. Belshazzar did not pursue—he hated gloom. As if this were a normal sunny afternoon he clawed his way round to the front of the splinter where the sun was hottest, leaned his back against the rock, and eased himself into a sitting posture, letting his tail flop carelessly to the ground. Leaning back, he stared at the sun and let its beneficent rays cook him through and through. His paunch, we noted without surprise, was distended to the natural limit. Belshazzar cared not what nature might do; he would continue to live a normal, happy life.

As his eyes closed and his enormous head nodded toward his shoulder, we noticed for the first time that he was badly wounded. The longest talon of his left foot was crushed. His days of leaping were over. Nature had got the better of him by one of her usual low subterfuges. Instead of killing him outright she had condemned him to death by starvation. Bronson's comment is unprintable.

Was Belshazzar defeated? The drum-tight expanse of his paunch shouted that he was not. So long as his unwilling ally Satan would continue to herd timid cattle into pens from which only the bravest might hope to escape, Belshazzar would continue to do himself well. The supply was now probably exhausted, but Belshazzar was not downhearted. Instead of moping over his crushed talon and the blank, black future, he snored like a Roman emperor after a debauch and put his trust in Satan. Should the worst come to the worst, Satan himself would provide at least one square meal. Belshazzar was still equal to the task of dressing the devil for dinner in spite of his injured foot. The future? One day at a time, and be damned to tomorrow.

Within ten minutes of sunset Satan put in his first appearance since losing his dagger. One glance at his sagging belly proved his hunger. For days and nights of terror he had fasted. Coming round the splinter from the back, he lost not a precious second.

This resolute devil was no shilly-shallying craven like the wretched Jezebel. Although one dagger was completely gone, and the other was but a blunt stub, he charged. Even the charge was but a broken parody of what it might have been in a fair fight, as there was no take-off worth mentioning. Habit overmastered him, and he struck with all his strength at Belshazzar's throat—with the wrong thumb.

Belshazzar was now on his feet. Instinctively he tried to spring, and failed. The injured foot collapsed. He lost his balance and crashed into the splintered rock. Satan was on him in a flash, stabbing blindly with both thumbs at Belshazzar's throat as a great slab of rock pinned the king of reptiles to the ground. The blunt stump of a dagger tore a great gash in Belshazzar's throat and the blood spurted like wine from a cask when the spigot is knocked out. As Satan leapt upon him, the thrashing tail broke both the devil's legs and, as he fell, came down in one terrific slash which broke his neck.

The sun set and the evening star stole out. Belshazzar raised his head. The last light died in his eyes as the head dropped back, the unconquerable jaws still wide in their last snarl of defiance.

[End of Before the Dawn, by John Taine]