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Title: Classified object

Author: John Victor Peterson

Release date: April 8, 2024 [eBook #73358]

Language: English

Original publication: New York, NY: King-Size Publications, Inc, 1954

Credits: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at


Classified object

By John Victor Peterson

There was a comic book in the
alien space ship—of a sort. But
it wasn't meant for children.

Whether in science fiction or on the screen the starkly realistic documentary has become increasingly popular in recent months. When handled with deftness, and brilliant technical skill it is very likely to ring the bell at the apex of the entertainment meter. John Victor Peterson lives in Jackson Heights, close to the scene he describes. He has also a sound grasp of the intricacies of space navigation on all levels.

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Fantastic Universe July 1954.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

This, for the greater part, George Winthrop learned later:

The harried controller observing the airport surveillance radarscope in the La Guardia Airport control tower that sultry night at first ignored the uncommonly bright blip creeping in from the 'scope's periphery.

Blips thirty miles out are of little significance; there are too many other airports within the radius with their own traffic problems. This return was coming from northwest of Teterboro, New Jersey. Let Teterboro Tower worry about it!

The weather was worsening and the Air Route Traffic Control Center already had traffic stacked up and holding—traffic he could not ignore!

But his tired eyes were repeatedly drawn to the fantastically registering blip as it traced some object's bee line path in from the northwest, progressively advancing across the electronic range-marks, and maintaining a constant course toward the Airport, as charted by the indicator's reference bearing mark. Over New Hackensack now, moving across the 'scope's overlay map toward the George Washington Bridge—

The return's strength easily equaled that from a dirigible and far exceeded that from a commercial ship. The blip was too bright, the trail behind it too long, too remarkably persistent.

Possibly the Air Force has some super-Globemaster that might account for the blip. But in that case a flight plan would have been filed on so huge a craft's trip into the metropolitan area.

It was damnably puzzling!

There was something inexorable about the steady, precise progress of the object which brought mounting, unaccountable alarm.

He raised his head, his thin, tense face doubly shadowed by the amber light of the 'scope's filter and the radar tent's ultra-violet lighting.

"Hey, Bill!" he shouted. "I've either picked up something strictly unclassified, or gone cockeyed!"

The chief controller crowded into the radar tent beside him.

"Where—oh, oh! I'm calling Mitchel Field. This is for the Air Force!"


It was warm that night with the breathless, enervating warmth before a summer storm—too warm certainly to sit below in the apartment in idle discussion, knowing that his brother and sister-in-law would have resented missing the TV shows which a modest purse made their sole entertainment.

Earlier George Winthrop had excused himself and gone to the apartment building's roof to watch the steady procession of planes coming in under the murky, threatening overcast over Jackson Heights—planes which swept spectacularly low over Grand Central Parkway to the runway, their throttled engines coughing loudly in the closeness of the night.

He leaned against the concrete and brick parapet, looking disinterestedly at the round red eyes of the airport's approach light lane staring unblinkingly at the threatening sky toward Brooklyn.

He was chokingly filled with thoughts of yesterday's work, and of his planned tomorrow, impatient with the enforced vacation of today.

His eyes wandered blindly toward the northern sky, and cleared suddenly, focussing.

Coming in over the airport at less than four hundred feet altitude was an unilluminated cylinder, pointed at the nose, bulbous at the stern. It was descending almost imperceptibly, moving with unbelievable slowness for its apparent size and lack of airfoils.

He knew at once that he beheld something the like of which no nation on Earth had presumed to make—except as a mockup on a picture lot.

Spaceship, his mind registered.

With mounting excitement he saw the object slowly crossing through the beam of the ceiling light pointing up from the airport's Administration Building. It moved without visible means of propulsion. Was it moving silently? He couldn't be sure, for several planes were noisily warming for takeoff between it and his vantage point.

He'd watched aircraft, V-2's and various missiles too long to miss the significance of the object's glide angle. Unless it lifted under power it would surely descend in the Flushing area. He turned, raced across the roof, and descended quickly to the street, his heart beating like a bass drum. Ten minutes later, as he swung his car toward Grand Central Parkway, he felt time's urgency, the beating pulse that had measured out minutes that so often could have been the last minutes—when he'd perched upon high towers removing the connecting plugs of fission bombs that had failed to detonate—

Oh, God! Not this stomach-wrenching nervousness again!

His eyes flicked momentarily to the dashboard's vacant panel which had held the clock he'd smashed that day when time's pressure had grown too great....

Forget it! he told himself almost frantically. You're over that! You're well again!

He sped past the airport, curved under the bridge where Northern Boulevard's eastbound lane crosses the parkway, and found the heavy late evening traffic out of Manhattan stalled, blocking all three lanes ahead.

It must have landed in Flushing Meadow Park!

On impulse, he swung right and up around to Northern Boulevard, crossing over the parkway. He cut left through a half-moon turn-around—the wrong way—and swung deftly through the westbound traffic into the Boat Basin, and then back under the boulevard on the undulating road through the park.

Passing under the towering elevated structure and the railroad overpass, he discovered with a strange mixture of exultation and apprehension that his deduction had been correct. The cylinder lay in smothering folds of darkness on the gently rising slope near The City of New York Building.

He stopped, leaving the car's motor running, its headlights on high beam. Quickly he took a Geiger counter from the glove compartment and, dismounting, approached the object.

The counter failed to respond. There was not even heat radiation. To his cautious touch the stern was neither warmer nor cooler than the night.

He gazed fascinatedly at the object's expanse. Two hundred feet long, he guessed, increasing from its pointed bow to about a thirty foot diameter at its midpoint. The diameter was constant back to a point thirty feet forward of the stern, then became abruptly bulbous. It resembled a monstrous gourd—bearing what strange seeds?

Undoubtedly this silent, implacable thing came from far beyond man's ken, a misshapen Nautilus fitted out to probe the void. Had it come deliberately or had it blundered—a derelict?—to Earth?

The sultry night suddenly filled with sound. Awed and frightened motorists broke through the fence from Grand Central Parkway, and streamed across the park until a voice cried out authoritatively:

"Keep back! This is the Army! This is a restricted area!"

Other figures raced from within the park. Anti-aircraft crews, Winthrop thought.

The man who had shouted the orders was coming toward him.

"What are you doing here?"

"It isn't just idle curiosity, lieutenant," Winthrop said, quickly. "I'm a physicist. Los Alamos and other places. I'm afraid I'm damnably curious when something unclassified drops into our ordered world."

"I see. All right, stick around, maybe you can help us classify it!"

The lieutenant smiled, and swung away.

Winthrop stood there alone as the soldiers got rid of the other civilians and established guardposts, then as prime movers urgently and noisily brought up ack-ack guns, searchlights, and engine generators.

There was a bawling of commands, a tense, noisy excitement. Under the encircling searchlights' glare guards walked short posts, sub-machine guns ready. The noise subsided.

Everything was in readiness and, Winthrop thought, God grant that everything would be enough!

Suddenly lightning forked across the sky. With the crashing thunder came a teeming rain which drove Winthrop hastily back to his car.

The radiator coolant was boiling murmurously amid the rain's driving tumult. Winthrop shut off the lights and engine, sat staring through the streaming windshield at the smooth, enigmatic surface of the cylinder on the slope.

There was a sleep-provoking magic in the downpour's prolonged pattern.

Oh, ship of space, the rains of Earth will wash your surface clean!


He awoke at dawn, stiff from the unnatural position of his sleep, momentarily confused as to his whereabouts. Then he caught sight of the cylinder, and memory came sweeping back.

Had something come out of it?

Descending from the car, he approached a group of men standing near the object. A short, heavy-set major general who appeared to be in command turned sharp, suspicious eyes toward him.

"What are you doing here?"

Winthrop introduced himself. The general's suspicion vanished and he clasped the younger man's hand warmly.

"I'm Bert Hill, Winthrop. I heard of your work from Benton Allan. He's a close personal friend."

"Of mine, too," Winthrop nodded. "Haven't seen him since Nevada."

"He's flying up from Los Alamos," Hill said. "Many of your colleagues are coming—everyone who might conceivably be useful."

"Any sign of life?" Winthrop asked, gesturing toward the cylinder.

"No. There's a port amidships, and some small apertures forward. But it might as well be a coffin! Why don't you look it over? But perhaps you'd like to get comfortable and have breakfast first. We've set up a temporary mess kitchen in the City Building."

"Thanks, General Hill."

"Call me Bert."

When George Winthrop returned he found that a sizable group of tired-looking civilians had joined the military. Most of them were men with whom he had been associated. Greetings were brief, detailed personal reminiscences sternly contraindicated.

They examined the cylinder. With a great deal of effort an engineer succeeded in unfastening the port lugs. Signal Corps movie cameras whirred as the port opened, but nothing emerged.

"Carry on, George," General Hill said. "You've priority."

"Hadn't we better wait?" the other protested. "Who knows what an alien might consider trespass?"

"We've got to risk it," the general said. "Perhaps they need our help. Perhaps they're ill or injured."

Hill and Winthrop peered into the interior.

Vacuum tubes shone dully through an indistinct maze of ductwork, circuitry, relay banks. And directly before them, facing the port—

"It's a fission bomb!" Bert's nervousness was suddenly wild within Winthrop. He fought it. "Amazingly like ours!" He grasped the port tightly, fighting trembling unease with taut muscles.

"I must look at it more closely," he went on. "It may not be fully armed, but I'd better disarm the detonating device if I can. If it's anything like ours, it wouldn't take much tinkering to set it off. There's probably enough explosive in the detonator alone to ruin the interior completely. We could be trapped inside, and blown apart." He paused, then added courageously, "I'll need light to get the plugs out quickly."

"That looks like a button switch," the general volunteered, reaching into the port.

Winthrop slapped his hand away. "Don't be a fool. The slightest touch might detonate it."

"Guess you're right," the general conceded, turning away. "Montemur, run an extension over here."

Winthrop crawled into the ship, arose, and stared in bitter indecision.

He remembered a blockhouse at Bikini, another at Frenchman's Flat, voices harsh on loudspeakers counting the seconds away to zero. He remembered armed bombs on ghastly, towering frameworks of steel vibrating beneath his touch with the furious kiss of atomic death awaiting the slightest slipping of his fingers.

Get on with it!

He did. The plugs were out. He was faint, drenched with perspiration.

The general was peering intently through the port.

"It's okay now, Bert."

Cautiously the general entered, then turned back with an abrupt gesture. "Montemur," he cried to the Signal Corps major, "the equipment in here is still energized. Take shots of everything. We mustn't chance accidentally disarranging a single circuit. We've perhaps acquired a means of conquering space. We mustn't ruin it through carelessness."

Major Montemur joined them with a camera.

"The electronics boys will love this," Winthrop said, pointing sternward.

Catwalks crisscrossed the complicated cluster of machinery. Everything was amazingly accessible, the ductwork transparent.

"Strange, George," the general mused. "The science that constructed this must closely parallel ours. Can't you see the similarities?"

Winthrop nodded. "I think so. Not that I'm qualified to judge—"

Behind the bomb was a bulkhead shutting off the ship's forward portion in the middle of which was a great round door. Set securely in the door was a complicated instrument. The symbols on the dials and controls were utterly alien.

Among the dials was what was apparently a timing device with twenty-eight subdivisions, a slowly sweeping hand. It was silent but Winthrop heard whispering in his mind the pounding time of the spinning planet of some other sun, and the urgency and great import of time returned to torment him. He had fought it while working on the bomb, and now he fought it again.

"Bert," he said, "this part of the ship wasn't designed for entrance during space flight. In a pressure suit, maybe, yes. Otherwise we can only assume that the crew doesn't require an atmosphere. Life may have evolved quite differently elsewhere."

"I don't believe it. I doubt that there's a thinking being of our equal anywhere that isn't human or humanoid. Take your own comments about the machinery. And what about the books?"

"Books?" Winthrop followed the general's gaze.

Protruding from beneath the bomb's afterbody was a thick, finely-bound volume lying upon a thinner, very tattered one. Picking both books up with trepidation, he examined the larger volume first. Its hard covers were marked with alien characters similar to those on the bulkhead instrument. He skimmed the pages, finding sections of either printed language or mathematics, still others of detailed schematics and precise drawings.

"The electronics engineers and linguists can work on this," he said. "Association of the schematics with the equipment, and the equipment's physical measurements and functionings with the printing may allow us to crack both math and language!"

The other volume was more puzzling. "No cover," the general said. "Pages missing. Bert, it looks like a comic book!"

They thumbed through that second book, sickened by the abysmal thought that somewhere some alien artist had perverted an obviously great talent to please and amuse the immature. Their hasty perusal revealed an obviously imaginative tale of a pastoral world's invasion by the rapacious, plundering vanguard of a humanoid race with many-digited, strangely-jointed hands.

"The psych boys can have this," Winthrop said, apprehensively searching the shadows about them.

They looked at the bulkhead door, then simultaneously at each other.

"Do you think there may be something alive in there?" the general asked.

"Perhaps. It's pointless to try to open the door now, though. The occupants may be in suspended animation. It might be tricky to bring them out of it without harming them. We've thought of suspended animation as one solution to survival in the big jump once we've found a means of propulsion plus suspended animation."

"The propulsion's arrived, George. Maybe we'll find the other. We'll let the electronics men in here now. They should be able to shed some light on this equipment."

As General Hill assembled the electronics men, Winthrop walked away. Associates addressed him curiously, but he merely nodded in absent-minded fashion. He was several yards from the ship when he suddenly became aware that someone was challenging him—the lieutenant he had met the night before.

"Just walking," Winthrop explained.

He saw a gnarled, forlorn apple tree just beyond the perimeter of the guard posts. Almost pleadingly he said, "I'd like to go over there if you don't mind."

"Hell, I don't mind," the lieutenant said, "but don't go any farther!"

Winthrop still clutched the picture book. A warning? A chill swept him. Was the ship indeed a coffin for the corpses of the survivors of a pastoral race who had sought to escape, but whose knowledge of time and space had not been adequate?

The lieutenant was surveying him quizzically.

"Thanks," Winthrop said, and walked to the tree.

He sat down, and opened the book again. He thumbed through it repeatedly, the pictures creating a sickness in him.

"Hello," a little girl's voice said.

Winthrop looked up. Six? Seven? He could only be sure that she was blond and blue-eyed, and had apparently come from the direction of the botanical gardens. She clutched roller skates in her arms.

"Hello," Winthrop said. "Where are you going?"

"To the skating rinks."

"Oh, you can't. They're closed."

Her face grew solemn. "But Mommy and Daddy said I could." She was about to cry.

He felt a bachelor's inadequacy. "Where are they?" he asked.

"Over in the bot—bot—" She struggled valiantly and then said, "the flower gardens!" She eyed the book eagerly. "May I see the comics?"

Comics? Oh, the book!

He handed it to her wordlessly, saw her eyes show immediate, outright horror. He stared aghast as she threw it down and ran wildly away, her skates forgotten on the grass, her broken sobs and screams echoing back.

He called after her uselessly. Stunned, he watched the little scurrying figure vanish along the broken road toward the botanical gardens, wishing that he could follow her and solace her, cursing himself for ever having thought of showing her the book.


Lunch was over and General Hill had taken the floor.

"Gentlemen, while we're awaiting the occupants' awakening or until we decide we've waited long enough, we must learn all we can. If they awake and decide to leave, we'll at least have obtained specific knowledge of how one spaceship works!

"We've only a vague suspicion of how the propulsion mechanism operates. But fortunately we've found equipment very similar to ours. Simpler in some respects. Probably worked from transistors instead of to them.

"The electronics men may have a free hand except for the bulkhead instrument. We'd better not tinker there until we're reasonably sure we know what we're doing. It may spell life or death to the crew. Some may prefer to study the books which we found," he added thoughtfully. "If so, speak up!"

"I would," Winthrop cut in. "I'd like Rabin and Norris to join me."

"An electronics engineer should round out the group," General Hill said. "Okay, Lizio. Now, gentlemen, shall we go?"

Rabin was a practicing psychologist with a strong background in semantics, linguistics, astronomy and a half-dozen other curiously diversified sciences. Yet, as Winthrop looked at him again, there was doubt—not as to Rabin's capability, but as to his dependability?

Was it some sense of inward nervousness, something contained in himself which he could not tolerate in others?

Rabin was studying the horribly graphic pictures as though each were a major work of art. Winthrop saw in the man's dark eyes something that had been in the little girl's eyes. He looked away.

The other men he felt more sure of. Norris—a top physicist at White Sands, thoroughly familiar with man's attempts at space flight. Lizio, an electronics engineer, with an alert, intelligent face, and excellent reputation.

Reassured by their competence he joined them as they bent over the larger volume. They found upon each drawing what certainly indicated a scale. Preceding the last, persistently identical symbol was a tailless arrow pointing left. They quickly named the last symbol "scale" and the arrow "equals."

"I'll do some measuring," Lizio said, and left. Winthrop and Norris began listing the various symbols, noting their frequency of appearance and relative positions.

An hour later Lizio returned, and began comparing his measurements with symbols on the drawings.

"They're definitely drawn to different scales," he said. "The symbols and measurements are not alike. That means different identifiable numbers. Lads, we can crack the math!"

They arrived at a unit, found that one hundred ninety-six units equaled slightly less than one meter, and from the precisely-marked drawings managed to label the symbols from one to fourteen. The fifteen symbol proved to be a fourteen followed by a one.

They were interrupted then as the book was taken to the Astoria signal center for photostating. They talked, while General Hill telephonically cut red tape to have computers rushed to them.

Suddenly Rabin cried, "I know the ship's point of origin!"

He displayed the book's center-spread, a beautiful skyscape from the plundered planet's surface. The stars and constellations seemed unfamiliar at first, but as Rabin remarked their luminosities and relative positions Norris exclaimed, "Of course—Sirius!"

Winthrop's troubled mind soared. Sirius! Over two and a half parsecs, eight and a half light years from the Solar System. Small wonder the crew was in a big sleep!

Knowledge of the ship's apparent point of origin kindled a deeper fire—the necessity to find out what they could while they could. Even if the ship's occupants proved friendly they just might be firmly reticent.

The computers came, and an intense Benton Allan and his associates—a young man who immediately buried his thin, bespectacled nose in the math, and bent his thin frame to the instruments.

The ship swarmed with technicians. Engineers examined the gyros and swore without hesitation that they could be duplicated. Others studied the electronics computer tied into the bulkhead instrument and its related schematics, or huddled excitedly with astronomers and spatiologists.

One by one they tied the schematics and drawings to the instruments and equipment, at length realizing that nothing in the volume related to the ship forward of the bulkhead.

They'd been talking it over.

"If you were in a spaceship," Winthrop said, "you'd certainly keep on hand the mechanics of what keeps your living quarters livable. There'll be another book up forward."

They left it at that.

Winthrop realized that with men here to whom math was sustenance, the sought-after answers might well be attained more quickly if he did not try to help further. As he went out, his gaze swept Rabin. The man's face was still drawn and pale in silent, fascinated study of the picture book.

The ship again. In the bright sunlight Winthrop asked questions while study of the stern went on apace. The bow retained its mystery. The many electronic listening devices attached forward had not recorded one decibel of sound.

In his mind the thought raced again: Was there something lurking in the bow—something the little girl and Rabin had sensed—some unspeakable horror from the stars?

He sought the general.

"Bert, what about the bulkhead door?" he asked. "Are we going to open it?"

"Not immediately," General Hill replied. "The occupants will, if alive, probably come out in their own way and time. If we try to break in prematurely we may bring on their deaths."

His face grew somber. "It's a problem. The ship drifted down as if with a dead man's hand at the helm. It didn't come at that speed from origin. Someone or something cut its speed when it hit our atmosphere. Had it come in fast the hull would have heated, and the occupants would have been roasted alive.

"Let's not force the issue. If alive they'll come out eventually. Meanwhile we're learning."

But can we wait? Winthrop thought. Are we sensible in waiting?


Night. Benton Allan beckoned Winthrop to his side.

"You're familiar with Einstein's math, George. What do you think of this?"

Winthrop studied the recorded results with mounting trepidation. "Similar processes. The end result will probably be E equals MC2!"

"Which explains the reactor and the fission bomb. We've cracked their math, George!"

Lizio came in at a half-run then, his eyes excited, proud with discovery.

"Gentlemen," he said quickly, "we could duplicate everything electronic if the ship soared away this minute! I guess we all thought we'd come across a product of a vastly more intelligent race. But their science is not superior to ours except in application. It found anti-gravity, for one thing!"

He nodded, then went on quickly. "Something, however, puzzles us. There's either a draftsman's error, or a technician's error. One circuit leading forward should be connected to a junction box on the main power dynamo. Instead, it's connected to one of the gyro assemblies. Its function was undoubtedly intended to transmit a pulse to activate some mechanism forward, probably to arouse the crew. It probably acted on the anti-gravity apparatus instead, slowing the ship practically to a standstill and letting it drift in with the crew unawakened.

"The circuit's forward connections are in the bulkhead instrument which is in part an autopilot/computer. We found a punched tape which we believe spelled Destination: Earth, and should also have led to activation of the awakening apparatus.

"Allan can work on the related math. I've identified it with the schematics. Then perhaps we'll be convinced that we must correct the wiring and arouse the crew."

General Hill snapped from the doorway, "Lizio, we can't be hasty. We must not only correlate everything you electronics men find and everything the computers reveal, but re-check our findings ten times over. Incidentally, copies of the book and details of our findings have been flown to the Bureau of Standards. They're busy on it, too.

"If the crew is dead, delay won't matter. If they've been in suspended animation across eight plus light years, delay shouldn't matter either—to them or to us! We can't try to be rescuers and wind up murderers by mistake!"

Three hours later Benton Allan came again from the computers.

"It's undoubtedly anti-gravity," he announced. "I've done considerable work on magnetic lines of force and theoretical work on possible creation of force fields for use as meteor screens. This math weaves in and out of mine like a pulse across a synchroscope. I'd been incredibly close to anti-gravity myself! That one blasted equation! Amazing!

"Lizio has been working with others on the autopilot computer. They suspected it was oriented off the galactic hub and the math verifies it. Doctor Englander from Palomar plotted courses to various star systems with the hub as reference point, and Lizio had the instrument punching tape from Englander's data.

"The unit not only plots courses to any star system in the galaxy, but apparently to any planet of any system! How could the memory bank have been developed? Have they better equipment for probing and photographing distant space? Have they known space travel for millennia and explored and catalogued the galaxy?

"Now, gentlemen, I hate to provoke a heated discussion but the computers back me up. The amount of anti-gravitational energy produced should drive the ship at over twenty times light-speed!"

"Wait, Al," Winthrop said. "Certainly Einstein's whole theory of—"

"You wait," Allan said with tired exasperation. "This math doesn't parallel Einstein's as we first thought! The differences I haven't determined. The computers have done that. They do in minutes what it would take years for me to compute. Perhaps you're faster!"

General Hill said sharply, "No arguments, please! Standards will double check. All the computers won't err, if these do. Let's assume these haven't erred. What does it mean, then?"

"That the ship came from Sirius in about half an Earth year," Winthrop said. "That it may have departed after they realized from visually observing our first atomic blast that there must be life here, probably a haven for them."

Englander laughed. "So they fled the beasties! Don't take your comics so seriously, George!"

"Are you sure it's a comic?" Winthrop snapped back. "Ask Rabin what he thinks!"

And Rabin screamed—

Shocked, the memory of the little girl's hysteria strong in him, Winthrop spun toward Rabin, and found the man's dark face suddenly vacuous. Rabin's hands were spread out, clutching the table's edge. His eyes were blank, blind.

"Rabin!" Winthrop yelled. He slapped the man's face stingingly. The dark head rocked, but the expression did not change.

A doctor administered a sedative and took Rabin away, silent, stumbling in a trance provoked, it seemed, by concentrated study of pictures too vividly drawn in some extra-solar abyss of depravity.

Benton Allan returned to the computers. Winthrop followed. There was much in Winthrop's mind then that he had still to rationalize.

At length he whispered, "Al—" and it was urgent then. "There's more to the ship than we suspect. To the books, too. I'm not sure about Rabin. He may have been on the verge of a breakdown. The book may have simply contributed. I don't know. It's hard to be sure.

"I'm just getting over a breakdown myself. I studied the book, and I haven't had a decent moment's rest since the ship came. But I haven't cracked. Be that as it may, there's something wrong in all this, Al. Whatever you find from this point on, let me know about it first, please!"

Allan turned quickly from the computer, peering owlishly over his glasses. "Why, George?" He searched Winthrop's tense face.

"A crazy hunch, Al. Just let me know."

"I will," Allan promised. "But, damn it, man, stop giving me the creeps!"


It was nearly midnight but no one moved toward his cot. Most of those who had witnessed Rabin's collapse could not sleep. Winthrop himself felt he would never sleep again.

General Hill came from the telephone. "Rabin's resting comfortably," he said. "His personal physician confirms Doctor Vigderman's suspicion that he'd been receiving psychiatric treatment. The casualty, then, is a normal one. It might have happened anywhere, any time. We can't attribute it to some baleful, alien influence."

What about the little girl? Winthrop was tempted to ask. Surely there was no imbalance there?

"Now," the general said, dismissing the tragedy of Rabin from his mind, "let's sum up. We've progressed beautifully. We have anti-gravity here, and proof that the speed of light can be exceeded. Standards fully verifies Allan's findings.

"Tomorrow, those most eminently qualified should try to determine how the bulkhead door may be opened. The General Staff has just ordered that it must be opened within forty-eight hours. All precautions will of course be taken to obviate damage to the ship."

"How about to us?" Winthrop asked sharply.

The general ignored him. "Now let's call it a day. You all must be as tired as I am."

"Stick with me, Al," Winthrop whispered urgently. Aloud he said, "Doctor Allan and I would like to go over the data now. We believe we've found the key to the door and that—"

The general laughed. "If you're that close, George, it can wait until morning."

"I disagree," Winthrop cut in sharply. "Time may be of the essence. How do we know whether the occupants are of the pastoral race or the other race depicted in that ghastly comic book? If they've anti-gravity and fission bombs, what else may they have up forward?"

"Let's not be pessimistic," General Hill said. "If they had come meaning harm, they'd have set their awakening apparatus properly. They'd not have erred if they'd come with evil intent. Let's not drag in a monstrous hint of invasion. If you wish to keep on, well and good. I'm for the cot. Goodnight, gentlemen!"


"Why can't it wait, George?" Benton Allan asked tiredly.

"You'd better let me ask the questions!" Winthrop urged. "You said you understood that autopilot/computer. Do you think we could send the ship back?"

"Yes," Allan said. "The tape can be reversed. The computer would compensate for elapsed time and orbital factors."

"Will you help me?"

Slowly Allan removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "That would be the height of stupidity. We've a workable spaceship here. If we sent it back without awaiting the awakening of its occupants we'd be acting like congenital idiots!"

"Put your glasses back on!" Winthrop said irritably. His right forefinger stabbed at the schematics, drawings, translated math. "Add it up, Mister Computer!"

For a long moment Allan stared in silence. Then, suddenly, realization blanched his face. "The trees for the forest," he murmured. "Let's go, George!"

The sentry halted them at the ship's port, but passed them quickly when they told him their mission was urgent. But as they entered the ship they heard him calling for the officer-of-the-day.

Allan attacked the autopilot/ computer, inserting the reversed tape carefully. Winthrop with utmost care rearranged the wiring in accordance with the construction charts, and replaced everything else as it had been on the ship's arrival.

"Agreed?" Winthrop asked.

"Agreed!" said Benton Allan.

They left the ship hurriedly, fastening the port securely behind them. A moment later their triumph came. It was not a triumph to the general. In stunned horror and desperation, he watched the gleaming ship lift silently, slowly into the cool night air over Flushing Meadow Park, a monstrous silver gourd stippled with starlight.

"What have you done, man?" he cried.

"We sent it back, Bert," Winthrop said with a calmness he had not felt in years.

"But why? Why? What in God's name shall I tell the General Staff?"

"The simple truth," Winthrop told him. "We reviewed the data and reached an inescapable conclusion. Bert, when it came, the disarranged circuitry cut into the anti-gravity mechanism and landed it safely, as we suspected. Had it been wired properly, something forward would have been awakened. I'm sure of that!

"The math explained the autopilot/computer, the anti-gravity mechanism, the reactor, the fission bomb—and something sinister!

"The history book—not comic book—showed where the ship originated, and it also showed clearly who launched it. The math is based on fourteen symbols. The invaders in the history book have seven-fingered hands, the pastoral folk five!"

Steadily Winthrop returned the general's stare. "I shouldn't have said 'ship'! It wasn't designed for passengers or crew. We thought the forward portion wasn't described. But it was—in the same equations that explained the reactor and the fission bomb!

"We use fission bombs to detonate fusion bombs. The missile's warhead contains a fusion bomb which the math proves would have caused a spontaneous carbon chain reaction which would almost instantaneously have wiped out the Earth! Through a technician's error it came to Earth a dud. Its launchers will never know that. It will be back where it belongs twenty times quicker than the light now leaving Sol—and it's no longer a dud!"

They all were silent then.

You licked it, Winthrop told himself, when you armed the greatest bomb.

Verification of classification came almost nine years later. Then a flareup of near-nova intensity was noted in Sirius, the finest photographs being obtained by Englander in New Palomar Observatory on Pluto.