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This is where I started. Everybody has to start somewhere, but I’ve got to admit that a lot of writers have done so more auspiciously.

In 1961 I borrowed a few issues of Weird Tales from my high school teacher. One had a box ad for Skull-Face and Others by Robert E. Howard, who’d written the Conan stories. I’d read Conan the Conqueror as half of an Ace Double and loved it. Even though the ad was over ten years old, I took a chance and wrote the publisher, Arkham House, to see if the book was still available.

Mr. August Derleth wrote back, saying Skull-Face was out of print but enclosed a catalog of available titles. I began buying Arkham House books, getting an introduction to pulp fantasy and horror as Mr. Derleth selected it. (Incidentally, a few years later he sold me a copy of Skull-Face, which wasn’t quite as out of print to a good customer as it had been to a stranger.)

In the Summer of 1965 my fiancÈe Jo (since 1967 my wife Jo) and I drove from Dubuque to Sauk City to see Arkham House. We met Mr. Derleth and his children, saw Arkham House, Publishers (which he was running out of his house), and bought books.

One of those books had just come in; The Inhabitant of the Lake: a collection of horror stories by a young Briton, J. Ramsey Campbell. There was a flap photo of the author. Young was right—Ramsey looked no more than fifteen and in fact was only eighteen. He’d sold Mr. Derleth his first story two years earlier for an Arkham House anthology.

I was nineteen. The teacher who’d loaned me the Weird Tales, Mr. Eugene Olson, had sold fiction himself; indeed, the year after I graduated, he became a full-time writer under what’s now his legal name, Brad Steiger. Because of Mr. Olson I knew it was possible to write professionally, and I’d told myself for a number of years that when I got old enough I was going to sell a story.

“Old enough” was obviously sixteen. I was well past that already.

I went home (with the pile of books I’d bought) and sent Mr. Derleth a letter asking whether he might be willing to buy a story if I wrote one good enough to publish. He grudgingly said yes.

I wrote what I thought was a story and sent it to him. It was 1,600 words long and titled “Post Mortem.” (I was a Latin major and thought a Latin pun was a great idea for a title. Really.) Mr. Derleth sent the story back with the note that it was a good outline, now I should expand it into a story; and by the way, the title was terrible. I went busily to work and emerged with a piece about 4,000 words long and titled (as I best I can remember) “The Stars Are Hell.”

Mr. Derleth sent it back again, saying that I was close. I just needed to take out the purple passages. I didn’t know what a purple passage was, but I did my best. Since I was modeling the writing style on that of Mr. Derleth’s own worst copies of bad H.P. Lovecraft prose, there was a lot of florid writing in the story. I sent it off again.

This time I got back a check for $35 and a note from Mr. Derleth saying that the story still wasn’t right. He’d edit it himself; I should compare the published version with my carbon (this was in the days before copy machines were everywhere) to learn how not to write a story the next time.

I hadn’t even known I was supposed to keep a carbon.

I don’t think the edit was very extensive, but Mr. Derleth changed the title to the name of the central character. I don’t like that style of title (which Mr. Derleth used frequently in his own work), but it was better than any of mine.

I recently reread “Denkirch” for the first time in forty years and realized it was a good pastiche of minor Weird Tales stories from about 1938. That’s a positive comment on my craftsmanship, but it was a very silly thing to do in 1966.

So that was my first sale. You could call it a remarkable success story: I sold the first story I submitted to the first editor I sent it to. But—

I’ve heard of would-be writers being crushed by rejection letters. I was so devastated by my first acceptance that it was six months before I even tried to write another story.

* * *

Now I sleep only by day or when the sky is cloudy, and when the stars gleam bright in the heavens I walk little back streets, avoiding other people, for I do not care to be reminded of my humanity and my inevitable fate. My acquaintances think me odd, but they would not understand if I told them that on dear nights the stars speak to me, and that if I did not walk I would go mad. So I walk the lonely streets, and the echoing cadence of my stride helps to muffle the rhythmic whispers, but still my mind is forced back to Denkirch, who proved Man’s unique place in the universe.

I met Denkirch at college when, at the end of our first semester, each of our roommates requested transfers and we found ourselves shifted together. Although he was a physics and electronics engineering major, and I was prelaw in history, we found we had a surprising amount in common. Our general outlooks were very similar, both of us vaunting pure knowledge and refusing to accept anything sacred or profane, as being beyond the grasp of human intelligence.

I was as bored by Denkirch’s majors as he was contemptuous (albeit silently) of mine, but I had a tremendous respect for the work he was doing. Not only did he take staggering course loads by special permission so that he could complete both majors in four years, but he taught himself a vast assortment of foreign languages as well. These included Oriental and Oceanic dialects in addition to the normal European and classical languages, there were a few tongues of which I had never heard before. Once in particular I remember seeing an aged, oddly unpleasant-looking book bound in faded snakeskin lying on Denkirch’s desk. When I asked him what it was, he had answered, “A treatise on certain antiquities, in R’lyehan.”

I am a reasonably intelligent man, but Denkirch was beyond a doubt one of the most brilliant men of this or any age. He had a superb, balanced intellect—far less common than genius—and it was this that gave him the drive and the ability to turn our idle discussions into something very tangible.

Mostly we argued about the place of the individual man in the Universe, both from interest and because it was equally outside our dissimilar majors. We were both romantics, believing the universe was purposeful, but I argued that each man was only a steppingstone to that purpose, while Denkirch insisted that the individual was immortal. I based my argument on the extreme rarity of even possible spiritual manifestations and Denkirch took the other tack, pointing out the exceptions for which no other explanation was satisfactory. It was an inexhaustible topic since neither of us had concrete proof, but the question caught Denkirch’s fancy and even in college he began to go deeper into the subject than I could follow.

After graduation I entered a Chicago law firm while Denkirch had no trouble getting an excellent teaching position at Cal Tech. We kept in touch, and in the mounting excitement of my friend’s letters I saw that the material he was uncovering on his fancy was rapidly turning it into an obsession, After a few years he left Cal Tech for MIT, simply because it would bring him nearer to the great eastern libraries he wanted to consult and, when he stopped mentioning his project a little later, I realized that it was a result of success, not failure. He was on the brink of a great discovery but feared, like all scholars, to blurt out his suspicions until he was absolutely sure. Then one day he resigned his teaching post and moved to southern Illinois, and even without his letter I would have known that he was searching for privacy to put his theories into practice.

For six months I heard no more from Denkirch. Then a short letter came, asking me to join him and giving directions on how to reach him. I noticed that he was not actually living in any town but was several miles outside the nearest one, a tiny place called Merriam, of only three hundred souls.

It was foolish for me to leave then. I was a junior partner with great things ahead of me if I were successful in a major case to be tried within the month, but despite this I had no thought of refusal. Denkirch was my friend and to us who have few, that is no little thing, but even more convincing was the sense of overwhelming importance which clung to even that prosaic letter. It was not just that I knew the answer to a great philosophical question might be close at hand, it was more; and if I had known how much more, I would have hidden myself in a place so remote that I never again would have heard of Denkirch or he of me.

In the late afternoon of the next day I reached Merriam, which was just a straggle of houses on the highway, and then turned left on to a narrow, rutted gravel road marked by a big country-type mailbox with “Samuel Denkirch” stenciled on it. On the right side of the lane the ground was cut away in a high bank to a level above the top of the car and crowned with a wobbling barbed wire fence silhouetted against the low sun. The pasture to the left looked rocky and unpromising, an occasional clump of wild sumac standing out among the tall thistles and rank grass as a deep red blotch in the waning light and giving a frightful, blood-spattered appearance to an otherwise merely ugly landscape. The road was in as uncared-for a condition as the pasture and fences but had obviously been used much more recently. Heavy trucks seemed to have driven over it shortly after a rain, and the resultant ruts were nearly six inches deep except in places where a slab of rock underlay the sprinkling of gravel and jarred my teeth, even though I was proceeding in second gear.

Due to my slow progress the road seemed much longer than it probably was, and I began to wonder whether I had made the correct turn after all, despite the mailbox. It would have been quite impractical to try to turn around since the road itself was far too narrow and was hemmed in by the high bank and, on the left, a drainage ditch, but the feeling of portentousness that had been with me ever since I had received Denkirch’s invitation was growing steadily and beginning to take on a distinctly sinister cast. The car’s jouncings and scrapings were an almost welcome diversion from the formless depression that was settling over my mind, a depression not wholly to be explained by my worry that I had taken the wrong turn or even by the funereal scenery. However, just as I had decided to return to the highway even if I had to back out to avoid being lost at night amid a maze of unfamiliar country roads, I came to the top of a gently rising hill and saw what had to be Denkirch’s house only a half mile beyond.

That it had to be my friend’s house was quite clear from the forest of antennas sprouting from and around it. The area around the house had probably been thickly wooded before Denkirch had bought the farm; now almost a score of thick stumps ringed the worn but otherwise normal looking two-story house, the boles having been dragged into a great pile in a nearby field where, presumably, they could no longer interfere with the antennas which had usurped the grounds. Indeed, the antennas were all that kept the house from seeming as deserted as the pastures around it. The roof of the house sagged and the white paint had cracked and blistered in those places in which it had not peeled off completely. The barn and sheds had been pulled down or had simply collapsed by themselves, and the grass on the lawn was high and weed-choked,

The antennas, seeming to have a life of their own, presided over this slowly decaying ruin: a horizontal grid on the roof, a ten-foot dish just west of the house, and at least a score of poles and beams and coils mounted on stumps, chimney, roof, and sidewalls—some static and some in constant jerky motion, spinning or nodding like crows on a fence. But the lowering ruler of the scene was a great, copper-mesh cone whose wide mouth opened to the sky more than twenty feet above the ground. As I watched, it caught a last ray from the setting sun and, its color deepened like that of the sumac, loomed over the house like a monster cobra. For a moment I felt a twinge of inexplicable panic which, although it quickly passed, still further heightened my feeling of black foreboding.

I stopped in front of the house where, in fact, the road ended. It was a warm August evening, just at that time when normally everything seems to be at its most serene; but tonight there was a sinister difference. Perhaps it was the low hum of the antenna rotors, so out of place among the cicadas and lonely bird calls. Even the stars seemed evil, although they were unusually splendid against the dark blue evening sky. They glared back as I glanced at them, and I quickly looked down again to see Denkirch just opening the screen door of the porch.

“I was afraid you’d broken down on this miserable road,” he said as we shook hands, and I too had been worried by the thought. But somehow the weeds and rocks were at least natural, while the antennas, especially the cone, had a very strange aura about them that increased my nervousness even more.

Denkirch apologized for the appearance of the house and the unburnt pile of trees.”I’ve been meaning to get someone in to really clean up the place, but I just haven’t gotten around to it,” he said. “Besides, I have trouble getting any kind of help out here. I even have to pick up my own groceries in Merriam.”

“Is the place supposed to be haunted?” I asked, gazing through the screen at the dark-muffled ruins of the farmyard.

“No, nothing like that. The farm just ran down as its last owner grew older, and by the time he died the buildings were even more worthless than the land, which never had been good. No,” he repeated, “the problem is me and my gear. The townsfolk seem to be afraid of it. I suppose some ignorant fool has been spreading the story that I have everything here from an atomic pile to a death ray. But let’s not stand here talking—come in and see the shop.”

I watched Denkirch himself with as much interest as I did the tremendous mass of instrumentation and printed material which he showed me. He had changed a great deal since I had last seen him. He had been thin and active; now he was cadaverous and jumpy. Worse and yet more subtle was the change in his attitude toward his project, his deep interest having become a burning fanaticism that would carry through at any cost. All these things could be easily explained as normal results of overwork which would pass with the completion of the experiment, but deep within me I knew that Denkirch, too, felt the shadowy terror that slowly approached.

The conversion of the ramshackle farm into a modern experimental station must have been a tremendous job in itself. More fascinating to me than the instruments was the room filled with thousands of books, mostly technical handbooks and circuit diagrams, but a surprising number of very ancient manuscripts or facsimiles of manuscripts in languages I could not identify, much less read. These were the pre-scientific works dealing with spiritual escape from the temporal shell which Denkirch had considered most accurate and informative.

“There’s a tendency among moderns who use the ancient texts at all, “he said, “to abide by them strictly, muttering the precise gibberish and using all manner of abominations in the ritual, usually something pertaining to a corpse. Now this is both foolish, since the true spells were a form of self-hypnosis, most unlikely to work identically on two different people, and dangerous as well—or at least liable to be disconcerting—because it just might work. These works tell of a great number of seers who went into trances but instead of awakening with wonderful stories of far-distant places, just didn’t awaken at all. Still, their mishaps gave me the clue I needed and now I can proceed with electronic help where a direct attempt was so often final.”

The other rooms were filled with equipment which, although impressive to me, did not hold the marvels that it doubtless would have had for another engineer. Quite a lot of the instrumentation was search radar, fairly basic and only unusual in its almost completely automatic functioning. It not only ran itself but could even check itself in case of failure, making an operator necessary only to replace the faulty parts. Denkirch had found that iron tended to distort some of his instruments, and the radar was to give warning if a plane were close overhead (the house was not far from the Chicago-St. Louis air route) so that he would not attempt to return then. At the time I did not understand just what Denkirch meant, but, as with other things, I soon learned.

Even with a similar high degree of automation, the remaining instruments—everything from a radio-telescope to devices for registering the precise rotational speed of the Earth at any given instant—seemed to be more than one man could reasonably handle, and I asked Denkirch why he did not have at least a lab assistant.

“I did,” he said with a frown, “two of them, as a matter of fact. They had been students of mine at MIT and should have been perfect for the job, but I guess neither one of them liked the country. Two weeks after they had helped me to set up here they said that they couldn’t take the atmosphere any longer and left.” Then he shivered slightly, and when he spoke again his eyes shone with something of the fear that he must have been feeling for the last six months, perhaps even longer. “You know, Johnnie,” he said, “I can’t really blame them. I suppose it’s the isolation of this god-forsaken place. Do you feel it too?”

I admitted I did feel somewhat uneasy, but as I spoke the blackness I had pushed to the back of my mind flooded over me again, an inky coldness of fear that was all the worse for being unreasonable. How even Denkirch’s rigid will had kept him from insanity for all the time he must have been subjected to the same thing, I do not know.

Finally, having toured the whole of the upper floors, Denkirch led me down a steep flight of steps to what had been the cellar and was now, he said, the heart of his project. At the bottom he flipped a bank of light switches and I saw that a large diesel generator stood near the stairs, while the rest of the cellar was separated by a recent-looking partition with a curtained doorway towards which Denkirch motioned me. When I entered, shoving aside the curtains, a terribly familiar sheen of copper met me. Another cone, a duplicate of the one outside, hung from its apex within.

Taking a closer look as Denkirch entered behind me, I saw the considerable amount of labor that had been expended to mount the great antenna. Both upper floors had been pierced on account of its height and the well closed in, explaining why I had seen no indication of it upstairs. The delicate copper cobwebbing was streaked with the shadows of the aluminum framework by which it was supported, and at the point at which it was attached some twenty feet above my head a large crystal glittered in the fluorescent light. It was truly awe-inspiring, yet still a sense of active malignity hung over it.

Another disquieting object intruded on my awareness when I glanced down from the cone, for directly beneath it and completely covered by its wide opening was a normal single bed and mattress, but one equipped with wide canvas straps and with its legs bolted to the floor. On three sides of the bed and underneath it were instrument racks, and on one of them rested a large helmet to which were attached dozens of leads.

Denkirch then gave me my first real knowledge of what he intended to do and how he would accomplish it as he explained the various pieces of apparatus. He began by plugging a set of earphones into the panel at the head of the bed and telling me to put them on. As I did so, he seated himself at an instrument consol along one wall and set several switches on it. The lights dimmed slightly as the surrounding machinery began to hum, and then a faint crackling began to come through the earphones. After a minute or so individual words stood out from the buzz in the background, and then a sudden, constant stream of names and occupations poured out, one after another without pause or stop. Some were in languages that I knew and some I could not even guess at, but all were delivered in the same flat, expressionless monotone of a congregation reading a unison prayer. “Maria Varrones, dependiente. . . . Daniel Mulvihill, solicitor. . . . Hauptmann Gerhard Kleppe, Leibstandarte Adolph Hitler. . . .”

“What is this?” I gasped as I took off the earphones. “They sound like talking corpses.”

“The minds of the dead,” Denkirch corrected me, “not their bodies. And they’re not even dead in the usual sense, of course. I always told you that the human mind was too wonderful an instrument to be thrown away after one using, Johnnie. There’s my proof, out among the stars.”

Then he went on to tell me the whole story, the story of the masterpiece of the most talented man of our generation. First he read everything he could on earlier attempts to penetrate the afterlife; the Elijahs and Bridey Murphies, the Cagliostros and Buddhas, and many explorers more ancient and terrible than they, hinted at on little-known parchments and inscriptions which must in themselves have raised a dark shadow over Denkirch’s mind. This prodigious labor was followed by yet a greater one, the correlation of this data and the elimination of the less promising areas of endeavor.

In the end Denkirch had come to startling yet well-buttressed conclusions regarding human minds and bodies. As he had believed from the start, the mind did have an eternal existence apart from that of any one body, but it became clear that at no time could the mind be totally free; in other words, if it left one body it would be forced to instantly enter another.

I did not then understand why my palms began to sweat at those words; now it is only too clear what my subconscious mind realized and my conscious did not, but I merely wiped my hands on my thighs as I listened.

The obvious inference to be drawn from the situation Denkirch had just explained was that minds were transferred from the dead to the newborn—reincarnation or transmigration of souls. This was seductively simple but could not be applied to the human race alone since births and deaths would almost never balance precisely. An excess of minds might possibly be accommodated by housing two or more in one body, and this was the probable explanation of the trance visions of some of the greater wizards. They had simply suppressed the original mind of another body and looked through its eyes for a time, and the body’s normal owner shortly drove the intruder back. Still, the large surplus of births over deaths meant that at least some minds had to be created afresh with their bodies, and the great rarity of provable cases of reincarnation—in human bodies, at least—indicated that this was true in all but a handful of cases. Where then did the minds of most dead men go? To the stars, Denkirch decided, and set about to prove it.

His first attempts were based on radio-telescopes and were complete failures. Then he began to work from the opposite end, modifying an encephalograph, and with this relatively crude instrument he caught the first hints of those terrible whispers from the stars, and that night he held all the knowledge of this primal mystery that he later only reinforced. All, that is, but its underlying meaning.

Later improvements had followed, far simpler than that final result that hung above the bed on which I sat, but just as effective for listening to the minds of our ancestors. Denkirch had earlier noted that different historical periods were grouped in recognizable parts of the sky, although there was considerable overlapping. Meaningful names were rare, of course, but many occupations gave keys to determine their dating. For instance, an auto mechanic had to be fairly recent, and a private of the Iron Brigade was just as useful as Abraham Lincoln. In general the most recent names were clustered on or in the direction of Deneb in Orion, while those of the period around World War One could be expected to be heard when the antenna was directed toward the Pleiades, and so on. It seemed probable that with the death of each occupied body, the human mind marched one more step in a slow, majestic procession around the universe.

This knowledge, this proof of his contentions, was soon not enough for Denkirch. He had a list of names, but what he now wanted was first-hand knowledge of the universe.

I can still remember how Denkirch looked that night as he talked, unconsciously pacing the room and waving his arms, the glitter in his eyes far brighter than that the soft fluorescents could give them. “Johnnie, you used to tell me that death would be oblivion. Now I can prove to you that it’s not oblivion, it’s the universe in all its wonder and glory! Think of it, Johnnie—thundering nitrogen cataracts under a pale green sun. Night in the dazzling center of a globular cluster! What have you ever wanted to see? You will—just wait for it. And now with this”—he waved toward the great cone waiting silently above me—”we won’t even have to wait.”

With that last sentence—his declaration of triumph—my spirits, which had been caught up despite themselves by his wild enthusiasm, sagged again into blind despair. I knew there was something wrong. Not in the theories, for they had been confirmed by the instruments; not in the instruments, for Denkirch was far too logical even in his fanaticism to accept his results without duplicating them in numerous cross-checks; still, somewhere. . . .

“Do you mean the cones are matter transmitters?” I asked as the full significance of Denkirch’s words sank in.

“Well, not transmitters, at least,” he answered, “and I only designed them to receive minds, but I dare say they’d work quite well for matter too, if it could somehow be sent to them. Basically, though, they’re designed to do a job similar to that of my earlier passive receivers and they will do everything the earlier ones would, as you heard. They go just one step farther. Not throwing a body across the universe, but pulling a mind back, and that’s all that’s necessary.”

As Denkirch went on to explain his masterpiece I felt the same awe at its magnitude of conception as I had when he recounted the steps leading up to it, but under the soft cushion of marvel lay the same rending claws of fear, and my stomach knotted as I listened.

The difference between the cones and their forerunners lay in their ability to actively snatch a mind back from wherever it had gone when it left its original body. Lack of this feature, Denkirch thought, had prematurely exiled many ancient mystics to far worlds. If they, by sheer force of will, directed their spirits to another already occupied body, they would quickly be forced back into their own again. If instead they freed their minds without giving them any basic direction, as was probably the more common occurrence, they would be pulled irresistibly to Deneb just as though their bodies had died, unable to return without the same spiritual discipline by means of which they had come and which the alien environment might well make impossible until after their terran bodies had slipped into a mindless death.

The cones, keyed to Denkirch’s mind when it was released from his body (also an electronic process, since Denkirch was a scientist rather than a mystic), would pull it back from Deneb when they were activated. Between the time his mind was severed from his brain by what he described as an interference field and the time I turned on the cones, Denkirch would have as much freedom on some strange planet as his new-born body would give him; freedom to run or burrow or fly or perhaps just to sit and absorb the newness of his surroundings.

At this point he stopped pacing and returned to the control consol, motioning me to join him. Most of its eight-foot length was covered with dials, but to one end a helmet much like the one on the bed was connected. There were only two other things built into the three feet of the consol nearest the helmet, a large three-position switch and a small red indicator light similar to the generator lights of most new cars.

“You’ll wear this helmet,” Denkirch said. “With it on you’ll be in perfect contact with all my senses as long as the switch is in the second position. That is, as long as I’m on Deneb everything I experience in any way will be as clear to you as if it were you who were undergoing it. The only difference is that you won’t be able to control the new body, as I will. In ten minutes or so—you’ll be able to use your own eyes when they’re open, though things may look like a double exposure—make sure the red light isn’t on and pull the switch to the third position to turn on the cones. The light is connected to the radar, and if it’s on, a plane is nearly overhead. Just wait till it blinks out before pulling the switch.”

Then, always a scientist, his mind picked up the puzzling thread it had brushed and he asked a simple, musing question that caused me to break out into a sweat again:”I wonder why I can only pick up the identities of the dead? You’d think that either all the surface thoughts would come through, or none at all. Surely members of other races don’t spend all their time repeating their human names, do they?”

But this seemed only a minor matter, soon to be clarified along with much greater mysteries, and Denkirch returned to the business at hand.

“All you have to do,” he repeated, “is put your helmet on, move the switch to the second jog to free my mind, and then to the third in ten minutes to bring me back.”

I waited a moment, locking my hands across my knees to keep them from shaking, and asked the question whose answer I already feared: “When do you plan to try it out?”

“When?”he echoed, surprised. “Why tonight, of course. The sky is clear, the static level is low—what more could we ask?”

For the next forty-five minutes I waited in silent resignation as Denkirch gave his equipment a final check, until at last he stepped back, and regarded it for a moment, arms akimbo, and said, “Well, I guess all that remains is to turn it on and let it warm up.”

He touched a switch on the far end of the consol and the room shook as the nearby generator picked up speed. The shaking died away again to a low purr after a few minutes and Denkirch explained, “That was just the capacitors charging. The cones will soak up a lot of power when they kick in. There’s a light switch above the consol that you ought to flip before you turn on the apparatus. It turns off everything but the necessary instruments, to keep the load down when you turn on the cones. The dial lights will be enough for you to see by when your eyes adjust, and besides, most of what you’ll see will be through my eyes.”

With that Denkirch sat down on the bed, slipped on the helmet there, and lay down full length with his arms at his sides.”Would you strap me in, Johnnie?” he said with his words somewhat muffled by the chinstrap of the helmet. “I doubt that it makes much difference, but there is a slim chance that my body might move a little after my mind is disconnected, and I wouldn’t want to damage my helmet and keep you from seeing what is going on, you know.”

The clasp clicked shut and I walked from the bed to the consul trying to think of words to explain to Denkirch what I feared. But it wasn’t a fear that could be explained; it was too basic for that.

The helmet leads were too short for me to reach the light switch with the helmet on, so I turned out the lights and then sat down to wait until I could see again before attempting to put the cumbersome thing on . . . perhaps more, and in a way that minute was the most horrible thing I underwent that night. It was as if I had awakened an instant before my alarm went off in the morning, still comfortably composed in bed but knowing the strident clamor would burst out at any moment. This and more, for it was the ultimate blissful dream that was about to be shattered, and my subconscious knew it though it could not speak.

Denkirch called out from the darkness behind me, “Are you ready?”

The hours of fear I had been feeling finally broke through my dignity and I cried, Denny, this is wrong! For God’s sake forget about this and just publish the rest of your findings. Those alone are enough to make you as rich and famous as you could want.”

No,” he answered, “I already am as rich and famous as I want to be. I just want truth. I’m not taking a wild risk, but even if I were it would be worth it for the chance of advancing human understanding as much as this will. Pull the switch, Johnnie.”

Just as he finished, the red aircraft-warning light winked on in front of me.

“There’s a plane overhead,” I said eagerly, certain now of at least a short delay. If we had delayed. . . . But it might have made no difference.

“That doesn’t matter for the first stage and it will be gone before I come back. Pull the switch.”

And, God help me, I did. But there is no god, is there? No god, no heaven, only the hells that glitter down on us every clear night. It was obvious as soon as I closed the switch that Denkirch had been perfectly correct. What neither of us had realized until then was how completely powerless the terran ego would be in the new body. I had not even begun to move my hand before it yanked down the switch almost of its own accord and I sat, quivering in the darkness with my own and Denkirch’s screams still echoing through my mind.

Can you imagine—can you begin to imagine!—what it is to be totally alien? Your body, your world, even your mind except for that tiny, impotent speck of ego that screams, “This is not I,” and screams the louder for knowing that it is and it will be forever, body after body, eon after eon, until space and time are no more! And that is why I no longer sleep on cloudless nights, for the stars in their myriads greet me in my dreams whispering, “Soon you will be with us, every one of us,” and a high, thin scream from the Pleiades tells me where Denkirch is now.

An unlikely story, I know, and I myself might have thought it a dream had I not turned and seen in the green witchlight of the glowing dials the last earthly remains of Samuel Denkirch. Then I hurled my helmet into the consol and fled from the cellar that blazed behind me as sputtering arcs from the shattered instruments ignited the frame walls; nor do I remember anything afterwards but my own screams until a highway patrol car stopped me in Indiana. Perhaps the return itself had been fatal, but I rather think it was the atmosphere; for Denkirch had returned to Earth as the tentacled abomination he had become on Deneb. . . .

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