Monday, 14 June 2021

Interview with Robert M. Leonard

Interview - Robert M. Leonard 

Q. You’re the author of the critically acclaimed Alexander Gambit sci-fi trilogy and I’d like to ask you about this one first. The premise and main ‘character’ is quite an interesting idea.

A: It took a few years to evolve into the final state. It started off as a man, returning fifty years after being abducted, living in a new body, creating a new life, new identities, and playing all the parts himself. Somewhere along the way, I said to myself “this guy would have to be crazy to try to carry all this himself!” Voila! The birth of an artificial intelligence with multiple personalities.

Q. To add to the Alexander Gambit trilogy, you’re the author of the Brotherhood of Freeswords epic fantasy series, and the ‘genre-bending’  Thomas Hunter sci-fi series. I guess one could say that you enjoy writing sequels.

A: It’s not so much about writing sequels as it is I can’t let good characters go. I put so much time and effort into creating them to make them real, giving them a childhood, childhood events, growing up, education, etc, that they become like children to me. Hard to let them go after one story.

And besides, I’m long-winded. Trying to get better, but it’s still an issue. The original draft of Alexander Gambit was over 330k words.

Q. I’ve heard that you’re also working on a new trilogy but that rather than releasing them one at a time, you’re going to wait until all three books are finished and release them all at once.

A: I’m still kicking the idea around, not sure yet which way to go. I’ve learned that readers tend to not buy the first book of a series or trilogy or the like from an “indie” unless there’s more than one book published of said series. I’m not sure if I’ll wait to publish until all three are ready, but I will wait to publish the first until after I’ve gone through a couple of drafts of the whole trilogy. Nothing worse than getting to book three and realizing you wish you’d done something different in book one, because now you have glaring plot hole of the like.

Q. I read somewhere that you’re a big fan of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time fantasy series. Has this been an influence on your work? Could you give us a quick introduction to this series for those who may not be familiar with it?

A: I am a big fan of Robert Jordon and made sure to buy a hardback copy of each instalment on the day it came out. Once I got my first Nook, downloaded copies on it so I could reread the series without destroying the books.

Quick introduction? Hmmm. Brevity in writing is my kryptonite, but I’ll try.

The story primarily revolves around three main characters, three young men (late teens when this starts, I assume) although there is a plethora of other interesting, pivotal characters. It’s a wide-ranging action and adventure yarn, told from multiple POVs, taking all the characters not just all over their world, but through various forms of “magic” to other worlds, alternate worlds, copies of their own. It’s a tale of personal growth, tragedy and triumph, of discovering oneself, and growing up to accept adult responsibilities and burdens. Romance, intrigue, adventure, conflict, combat, all intricately woven in a series of 14 massive books.

Extremely well-written, I often found myself staying up all night reading each new book the day it came out, then would spend the next couple of years eagerly awaiting the next instalment.

On a personal note, news of Robert Jordan’s passing, especially since he died before he was able to personally finish the series, was the initial spur which goaded me into taking up writing again. I was glad he left enough notes that Brandon Sanderson was able to do a decent job of finishing the series for him, and for his fans. But it was the idea of “work unfinished” that prodded me to getting off my arse and start putting down the stories running around in my head into tangible form. Few things sadder to me than a great story that is never finished.

Q. Are you more a fan of modern or traditional sci-fi?

A: Traditional, which apparently shows based upon comparisons from readers to some of the late great writers like Herbert, Asimov, and Heinlein. It’s not that I don’t like modern touches, and I certainly try to be visionary in my own work, but it’s about the style of writing. Something about the way the old-school masters put their stories together that captivated my imagination far more than can be said for most modern authors. I’ve enjoyed much of David Weber’s works, for instance, but I usually have a lot of trouble reading to the end works written within the last couple of decades.

Q. You’ve been praised for your gift for language and dialogue, and your ability to balance detail and plot. What in your opinion are the ingredients for a great novel?

A: It all revolves around the characters. I like to say that I am just the conduit through which my characters tell their own stories.

Part of it may well be my greatest pet peeve when it comes to writing, and that’s using the same major word or words more than once in a paragraph, or sometimes on the same page. If, as an example, I see a writer use the word “lightsaber” two or more times in close proximity, it vexes me greatly.

For dialogue, I create my characters from birth as previously mentioned, and in my head they develop their own voices, word usages, verbal idiosyncrasies, etc. And in my Brotherhood series, they speak in their own accents and dialects, and I try very hard to make the reader hear how different each one talks, to be able to know immediately who is doing the speaking without having to “he said/she said” them to death.

As for plot, I guess it’s my attention to detail. I hate plot holes. Hate them with a passion. If I can’t find a way to put my characters in and walk them through a situation without it seeming at least reasonable, possible, or logical, I find another way, or scrap the scene all together.

The English language is so rich, so fluid, our thesaurus is so thick, there’s no excuse for not finding a couple of dozen different and entertaining ways to say the same thing. Not doing so is literary laziness.

Q. How long does it take you to write a book? Do you plan it all out first or do the details, subplots and overall story arch emerge as you write? Do short stories turn into novels? Do stand alone novels turn into trilogies?

A: I am mostly a pantser. I haven’t written an outline or done much in the way of notes since college. And that was a long, long time ago.

Most of my initial writing is accomplished in my head. My day job (very, very few writers are able to support themselves and a family through publishing, in case a reader hadn’t been told this before) often has me drive long distances between appointments. I’m averaging about 800 miles a week. This gives me a lot of time in my head, and I use that to rehearse scenes, action, dialogue, etc. Sometimes endlessly. I can spend an hour on one paragraph, going over and over and over in my head until it’s perfect. Once I get a chance to physically write, which is usually during lunch, dinner, and just before bedtime, I often end up changing everything I’d spent hours putting together.

It works for me.

As for how long it takes, that depends greatly. The Alexander Gambit trilogy took me over ten years from start to publishing book one. I’ve got one I should publish sometime next year that took me thirty days to complete the first draft. I don’t set myself to a schedule, or make myself write so many words or pages per day. I think that’s counter-productive, creates stress where none is needed, and that’s how you end up with plot holes and jumping the shark.

Being short with my words (if you haven’t already guessed that through my answers) is difficult for me. I’ve only ever written four short stories, only two of them intended to be such. The Wraith was supposed to be one, but I couldn’t cut it down below 40k words. Single novels become trilogies because the first draft ends up with more than 300k words. And I usually end up adding a lot in subsequent drafts.

Q. Last year your short story Siege of Vertalska won an award in the Writers of the Future contest. What can you tell us about that, and how did it feel to gain this recognition?

A: FANTASTIC. My first official acknowledgement from objective and professional sources that I have the talent I believe I have. This was especially true for the following reasons:

It’s only the largest sci-fi/fantasy contest in the world.

Thousands will enter, only a couple of dozen will emerge.

That was only my third submission to the contest, the first submission for that story.

Q. So I’ve been asking mostly about your writing, but on your official facebook page you invite readers to ask you: Can you tell me more about yourself and Can I learn more about your background? How about it?

A: Ehhhhh. Not really. Not much personal stuff as I try to keep author me and Real World me in separate cages. I’m married, just starting my second half-century of life, we’ve got four lovable and annoying fur babies (the cat can’t help but try to assist me with my writing and editing, up to and including using my keyboard with me), I graduated from the University of Kentucky a couple of decades ago (no, my degree had nothing to do with writing or literature), and my day job affords me the luxury of writing, publishing, and promoting without having to decide on paying for cover art or the electric bill.

I will further add that I grew up literally dirt poor. The house in which I lived my first five years was four rooms total with no indoor plumbing. I’m one of the few of my childhood contemporaries who found the want, need, desire, or ambition to leave behind our small little towns, to take chances, and move out into the greater world. Most of them are still living within a few miles of where they were born, if not in the same house.

Reading was my escape from reality, especially those first few years. Being “different” growing up, the only redhead in school for a number of years, and having very few friends, books became my best and constant companions.

That is why I write. All my favorite authors save one are now in the great library in the sky.

Not only must I write so I can keep reading the type of stories I love the most, but it’s an homage to those who got me through so rough a childhood. And, I hope, not only can I pass on the love of reading they inspired in me unto future generations, but if I can influence and help just one young boy or girl make it through a difficult childhood and grow up to be a happy, productive, well-rounded, member of society, then I will consider all my efforts here to be worth it.

Q. I read the poem on your blog, Nobody Remembers. I don’t know a lot about poetry but can tell you that it moved me and then some. Any plans to write more poetry?

A: No plans, no. Poetry really isn’t my thing, but that one just came to me. Part and parcel from all that driving alone and seeing so many empty, abandoned houses along the way on some of the rural roads down which I must travel. Some of them with rusted swing sets in the front yards, abandoned toys or cars or the like, and it just haunted me. I couldn’t help but wonder what the lives of those who had lived there had been like, who had been the last one there, and why the place had been abandoned. It became something of an obsession with me, for some reason. All those stories untold, I suppose. Questions I would never get answered. The only way to get it all out of my head was to write it down, and Nobody Remembers is what emerged.

Q. Okay, lastly, anything you’d like to say to your readers? You seem to have built up quite a loyal fanbase.

A: Just this. I will keep trying to surprise and entertain you, keep bringing you fresh new stories, believable plots, and realistic characters, until they pry the keyboard off my cold, dead face.

I thank you, one and all, for your words of encouragement and praise, for your feedback and critiques. Entertaining you has been and will continue to be my pleasure.

Thanks very much for the interview Robert M. Leonard.

You can find Robert’s amazon page here

his website here

his facebook page here

and his goodreads page here

Sunday, 6 June 2021

Baby Cats


Baby Cats

by Chris Morton

When an imaginary friend turns up at your house, it’s difficult to pinpoint its exact time of arrival. One moment it’s not there, the next moment it is. And then later, eventually …

Jie Jie, my daughter had been talking about a cat for a while and at first I figured it to be just a game. She liked cats. She’d invented one. It would sit beside her when she was watching TV. I’d come into the room and ask her, “Is your cat here too?”

Yes, Daddy.”

That’s nice,” I’d say, handing her a cup of warm milk. It was that time of day when it would be just the two of us. Mummy was upstairs, studying, busy – I’d take over the reigns after my long day at work. I’d look forward to the evenings, catching up with my daughter before bedtime.

So how was your day?” I’d ask.

Nestling against me, she’d quietly say, “Bad.”

Made any friends at kindergarten yet?”

No,” she’d answer, though according to Mummy she was happy enough. She just missed me, that was all. And now she’d invented a cat.

One day I asked her, “What colour is this cat of yours?”

Green and yellow,” she replied without hesitation.

When it was time for bed, the cat would follow.

Over there,” Jie Jie would say, pointed to a space beside her, and it was easy to imagine it curled up between her stuffed toys and pillows.

I’d tell Jie Jie stories before going to sleep. Often these stories would involve her toys coming to life with little personalities of their own. Her baby owl, her baby fox. They’d be off on adventures. There was Hello Kitty and the grumpy rabbit that sat beside her on the aeroplane, always asleep when the air hostess came round with food. From time to time these stories would include Mummy and Daddy too. They’d be about our days out, picnics in the park or shopping in the department store at weekends.

These stories, however, never involved the cat and now I wonder why. Maybe because it was right there next to us. And that was a story in itself.

Your cat sleeping now?” I’d ask, while we lay there eyes half shut and almost asleep.


The cat’s gone downstairs?”


Why is it downstairs?”

Don’t know.”

It likes to walk around when we’re asleep?”

Yes,” she replied dreamily.


Jie Jie never referred to her friend as a kitten. It was always a cat, but a baby cat all the same. Small and she’d hold it in her little hands. Talk to it.

What’s it saying?”

Meow!” Jie looked at me, her face beaming. “She likes you, Daddy. You want to hold her?”

So it’s a girl cat, is it?”

Jie Jie paused. “Don’t know,” she said, screwing her face up in thought.

Well …”

Hold her, Daddy, hold her!”

Ok, ok.”

Jie Jie passed the cat into my outstretched palms. I felt nothing.

Oh. It jumped down.”

Where is it now?”

Over there,” she said, pointing to under the wicker chair.

Jie Jie was off to her dance class. It was a Saturday morning and Mummy was waiting in the car.

Your cat going with you?”

No, Daddy.”

It doesn’t want to?”

It’s sleeping.”

I helped Jie Jie to put her coat on. We were by the door.

Over there,” she said, pointing to the sofa. “And there,” she said, again pointing to under the wicker chair. “And in the kitchen.”

The kitchen?”

She paused. “And there,” she said, her finger outstretched.

Wait a minute. How many cats are there now?”

So many,” she laughed.

I was putting on her shoes. Mummy was waiting in the car and I kissed Jie Jie goodbye.

Be a good girl,” I said. “Maybe you’ll make some friends at this dance class of yours.”

As she was running to the car, Jie Jie shouted back to me: “The cats like you, Daddy.”

Well that’s nice to know.”

They’re good cats, don’t worry.”

The horn of the car beeped.


It wasn’t long before the house was full of the creatures. Through Jie Jie’s eyes I’d see them poking their heads out of toy boxes, in my place on the sofa, sat sullenly on the kitchen draining board, gathered under the dining table; on the pillow beside me as I slept.

They were watching me from dark corners.

Why are there so many?” I’d ask her.

They like you, Daddy.”

Oh, yeah? They like Mummy too?”


And they’re your friends?”

Yes, Daddy.”

What are they doing?”

Don’t know,” Jie Jie would say. Or sometimes the answer would be, “sleeping,” or, “looking.”

Looking at what?”

At Mummy and Daddy.”

Ah, so we’re interesting, are we?”

They’re just looking, Daddy. Don’t worry.”

Why should I be worried?” I said, gazing around nervously. Settling back into the sofa I asked: “Do they mind if I turn the TV on?”

Jie Jie was sat on the floor playing with a toy car, pushing it forwards and backwards. There were building blocks and she’d made a house for her cars and dolls. She was a girl but I’d buy her toy cars and action figures – she’d give them makeovers, give them tea parties. Jie Jie screwed up her face. “They don’t mind,” she said. Then she stood up and came over to me She rested her hands on my legs. “They’re just cats, Daddy.”

I picked Jie Jie up and put her on my lap. Switching on the TV, I selected her favourite channel. “You hungry?”




Tired?” I asked, though I knew the answer to that one. I glanced at the clock.

Jie Jie nestled into my arms, making herself comfortable. From every corner of the room the cats observed our interaction, taking note.

Mummy will be down in a minute. Time for your shower.”

Watch Dora first.”

That’s what the TV was showing. Dora the Explorer, friends with all the animals.

Ok, then. You like Dora?”


Her best friend is a monkey.”

Boots,” Jie Jie sighed sleepily, for that was the monkey’s name.

Like you, I guess. Friends with all these cats.”

Jie Jie again sighed sleepily. Her eyelids were drooping. When Mummy came into the room the two of us were almost asleep. I felt my shoulder being squeezed.

Come on, you two.”

My wife took our daughter up into her arms.

Daddy, Daddy,” Jie Jie called from over Mummy’s shoulder.

Yes, yes, I’ll be up in a minute.”

Such a Daddy’s girl,” my wife smiled. She gave Jie Jie a kiss and called back to me, “Don’t be long.”


Who knows for how many weeks or months they were there for. But at some point I noticed that the cats weren’t around any more.

Where did they go?” I asked Jie Jie some time later.

Finished,” she told me happily.


Yes, Daddy.”

They’ve gone?”


Oh, yeah? Got what they wanted, did they?”

I watched her screwing her face up as she often did. I could see her mind working away.

Back to wherever it is they came from,” I sighed.

That’s right,” she answered. But then seemed to changed her mind.

I guess she sensed my disappointment.

Here, Daddy,” she said, picking up an imaginary kitten from the floor. She handed it to me and I pretended to hold it in my palms.

What colour’s this one?”

Pink!” Jie Jie smiled. “Pink and blue. And white. And red! And brown,” she added thoughtfully. “Baby cat!” Jie Jie pretended to stroke it. “It likes you, Daddy.”

Leaning forward she gave me a peck on the cheek, then leaving me with the cat, she ran off into another room.

Chris Morton is the creator of this blog.
He has released two sci-fi novels,
one collection of short stories
and a few other scribblings.
You can find his amazon page here.

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Total Recall by Larry Sternig


Total Recall

by Larry Sternig

The face of Brian Wargan, chief of the Solar Bureau of Investigation, was gray with strain and fatigue. "This Corvo North business," he said. "It's almost a myth by now, but it's our only chance. We might as well face that."

His features and that of the younger man across the desk from him might have formed a study in contrasts. Roger Kay was keen, alert. There were signs of weariness about his eyes, but the firm set of his jaw revealed a tendency to action rather than introspection.

"Then, sir," he urged, "let's take that chance. The department has located him, I believe? I haven't seen the reports."

The S.B.I. chief nodded. "His laboratory is right here on Gany." He indicated a spot on the global map of Ganymede, some distance from the spaceport.

"That's the mining district," Kay observed.

"Yes. He's been doing some research for the Inter-Planetary Mining Syndicate. We've assigned a special wave band and are in constant communication. Here, I'll introduce you."

Wargan set the dials on the visi-communicator that occupied one corner of his desk; then looked up at the screen on the wall. A blurred rectangle of light flickered and then coalesced into sharpness – and Roger Kay involuntarily drew a deep breath. The girl looking out from the visi-screen was the most beautiful he'd ever seen.

"Is your father making progress, Miss North?" asked Wargan.

The girl in the screen shook her head. "I'm afraid not, Mr. Wargan. He's in the lab now, working, and won't let me disturb him except to bring in coffee and sandwiches. I've been trying to get him to sleep."

"This is Roger Kay, Miss North," said the S.B.I. chief. "One of my assistants. I'm sending him out to your place to see if he can help."

Ann North frowned slightly. "We're doing everything we possibly can already."

"I'm sure of that. But Mr. Kay is rather outstanding as a scientist himself, Miss North. He'll be able to help – at least in some of the detail work, to save time."

Roger Kay grinned. "He means, Miss North, that I can clean the test tubes and solder the wires and let your father save his energy for the brain-work."

His smile was infectious, and the scientist's daughter capitulated. Wargan flicked the switch and threw the screen into blankness.

"I'll give you an order for the fastest helio we have," he said.

"You'll be there in three hours. And that means there will be a little less than three days left!"

Roger Kay drew a deep breath, his face suddenly serious. Three days to save the System from an invasion that could not possibly prove to be less than a major catastrophe, less than the end of things as he knew them.

* * * * *

Even now the invaders from Andromeda were approaching the System's outermost defenses; converging upon the virtually helpless garrisons on Pluto. Patrol spacers off the frigid planet had already contacted spearheads of the huge armada – with fatal results.

Once before the System had been periled by these devils from the distant galaxy. Victory had been costly then, but the combined Planetary fleets could not now hope to stave off the full force on this new attack. They would have to yield space; fall back to more favorable positions.

Trionite alone would prove the decisive factor in any war of worlds, and the United Planets had not been able to learn the secret of manufacturing the new explosive, one ton of which could wreck an invading army.

As Roger Kay set the robot-course dial of his speedy helio for the mining settlement, he switched in for a moment on Wargan's private wave-band. "Leaving now, sir," he reported crisply. "Be there in two hours. Any further instructions?"

"Do your best, Kay, that's all," came the weary voice of the S.B.I. chief. "New reports in confirm the old ones. We expect the first blow by noon Friday. Pluto is doomed; now being evacuated."

"We've got to stop them," Roger Kay said fiercely as he snapped the switch. "We've just got to!"

He settled back to get in a much-needed two hours of sleep while the robot pilot held his course.

The alarm bell awakened him, and he pointed the craft down under the great red disk of Big Jupe, toward the low range of purple cliffs indicated on his map.

A few minutes later he was knocking at the door of the dome-shaped laboratory.

Ann North was twice as beautiful in the flesh as she had seemed on the visi-screen. Attired in the modish shorts and tunic that had become universal garb for Earth-women, she looked like a figure from a Grecian frieze. She led him to the library.

"Dad's asleep at last," she said. "I persuaded him to rest for a few hours – on the strength of my argument that he'd accomplish more in the long run if he kept his brain clear."

Roger Kay nodded understandingly. "I just had a bit of sleep myself en route. Nobody at headquarters has slept much the last few days. By the way, I'm woefully in the dark about a lot of things. Will you tell me just what your father's trying to re-discover? If you can enlighten me, I'll not have to ask him so many darn-fool questions."

"You know, of course," said Ann North when they were comfortably seated, "that it's a ray that will explode any explosive at a distance. Or perhaps I shouldn't have said a ray – it's really a sound wave, in the ultra-sonic belt, traveling on a beam. It disrupts any unstable chemical compound."

Roger Kay nodded. "That much I know. I've examined one of the projectors. We've installed them at all the outposts. They're all ready, except –"

"Except for the catalyst. The part of the discovery that's lost in the chemical compound that produces the catalytic gas. The ultra-sonic waves, passing through the gas, change their vibration in some way."

"I see now," said Kay, "why it is directional. The ultra-sonic waves go in all directions, of course, but only those passing through the gas are disruptive. Right?"

The girl nodded her beautiful blond head. "It's all very simple, and it's all in the hands of the government, except for the formula for that catalyst. Fortunately my father has a reputation as a scientist. That's why the government was willing to take a chance on having those projectors set up, even though –"

Roger Kay smiled wryly. "Your father is the outstanding scientist of the System, Miss North. But even if he wasn't, we might have taken that chance. It's about the only chance. If he fails, three days from today –"

"As bad as that?"

"I'm afraid so. But let's not talk about it. One thing I don't know: How was the formula lost?"

"Dad destroyed it. He discovered it accidentally twenty years ago, while working on something else. Never thinking that the fate of worlds might hinge upon it, he destroyed his notes almost as soon as he had made them. He's always been awfully opposed to war, you know, and he saw the terrible possibilities in the weapon if it should fall into the wrong hands."

"That is still true," said a quiet voice from the doorway. Roger Kay recognized Corvo North at once from the many photographs he had seen. He rose and offered his hand.

"I'm glad you're here, Mr. Kay," said the scientist. "Ann told me you were coming. Yes, it's still true that I'm opposed to war – but this isn't war. Even disregarding personal interests and patriotism, it's an attempt to save the human race. Come on into the laboratory. We've no time to waste."

* * * * *

Roger whistled softly under his breath as Corvo North closed the door behind them. The laboratory, spacious and well equipped, was a research worker's dream.

The scientist led the way past rows of pieces of apparatus whose purpose Roger could but dimly guess, to a table at the far end of the room. Upon the table was a small box bristling with dials. The back and top were open, showing a maze of wires and coils and condensers.

"Looks like a radio set with hydrophobia," Roger observed. "What connection has this with the catalyst formula?"

"Nothing, directly. There's no chance, through experimentation, of my recovering that formula in time. Three years, possibly. Three days, never."

"You mean that it's hopeless to try? That the System is lost?" Roger Kay was appalled.

"I don't quite mean that," said North. "But what chance there is lies through this apparatus you're looking at now. Sit down; I'll explain while I work. You can help later, when I've explained the machine."

He began to tinker amidst the maze of wires.

"My discovery of trionite was purely accidental. It was empiric; not based on any theory. There were six or seven chemicals, and I recall the identity of only two of them. The others? Well, count the chemicals in the pharmacopoeia! The only way I could re-discover it would be by accident as I did before – and that would involve too many experiments and too much time. But the formula is buried somewhere in my subconscious mind. I might remember it."

Roger Kay eyed the box with some misgivings. "You mean this is – "

"The memory of everything we've ever done or seen is latent in our minds – in the molecular structure of the brain. Almost, I might say, in concentric layers. When the present crisis arose, I had been studying the human brain and the nature of thought and memory. Do you follow me?"

He looked up from his work and as Roger nodded, he saw how haggard and weary was the face of the elderly scientist.

"Consciousness is basically electrical in nature. The act of memory is the shift of that electrical impulse back to a buried stratum of the brain. But the shift is never complete; most of the consciousness stays in the present. We never remember anything perfectly."

"Then this machine is to –"

"To create a magnetic field of such a nature as to shift the

consciousness as a whole. By shifting the magnetic field's intensity, I can move back the consciousness, or memory, to complete remembrance of any given moment of the past. In other words, under its influence, I hope to send back my memory to the moment when I jotted down the formula. Earlier or later won't do; I didn't memorize it at any time."

His interest completely gripped, Roger Kay stared into the intricate mechanism. "But, sir," he asked, "do you know the exact time that was – down to the minute?"

"Fortunately, yes. I recall that it was the day Ann was being given a party for her third birthday. My wife had told me to be home at three o'clock in the afternoon. I was a little late – didn't leave the lab until on the stroke of three, and it was two or three minutes before then that I wrote down the formula."

"And you think you can hit that exact moment?"

"With a couple of preliminary experiments, yes. If I find that given setting of the dial and the vernier adjustments give me a certain date and time of day, I can calculate the proper adjustment for the time I want."

"Amazing!" exclaimed Roger. "Frankly, if it weren't for the wonderful things you've accomplished in other fields, I'd say it was visionary."

Corvo North shook his gray head. "The theory is sound; it should work. But three days! Man, we're working against a deadly deadline!" He grabbed a pad and pencil. "Here, I'll show you what to do and you can start on the headpiece that connects to the machine here."

* * * * *

And thus started the busiest, dizziest hours of Roger Kay's life. Sleep was a chimera that haunted every leaden-eyed hour, a mirage that beckoned and pleaded in vain.

And the hands of the laboratory clock crept inexorably onward. At three in the morning on Friday, Terran time, with nine hours left before the invaders would strike, Kay staggered to the televis and dialed Wargan.

"I think we'll finish in time," he reported. "We'll be ready for the first test in a couple of hours. Have you made the preparations we suggested?"

The S.B.I. chief nodded. "At the base of each projector we've installed practically a chemical warehouse. There is at least a small quantity of every available known chemical. And expert chemists waiting at each."

"Good. Then within fifteen minutes after I send you the formula, the projectors can be in operation?"

"Ten minutes, unless the formula is more complex than you believe. You say that Corvo North believes there are but six or seven ingredients?"

Roger Kay nodded wearily. "And the communications?"

"Open constantly. An operator on duty at each projector at all times. Test messages going through every fifteen minutes. Incidentally, latest reports still confirm early ones. The deadline is still noon today."

Roger Kay saluted, then snapped the switch. Back to work at the little box in the laboratory.

During those last hours, as well as the ones preceding them, Ann North had been a ministering angel. Sleeping almost as little as the two men, she was ever ready with encouragement – and hot coffee. At times, almost by force, she would pry one or the other of them away from their work for a brief period of rest.

On her own initiative she had called in Dr. Dane. Once he understood the situation, the doctor was invaluable. He took no part in the work on the machine, but he watched over Corvo North constantly and kept him at the highest point of efficiency under the circumstances.

Ten o'clock came – and ten-thirty – and they were ready for the preliminary test.

As he placed the metal plates on his head with shaking hands, Corvo North seemed a mere shell of his former self.

Roger Kay sat at the controls. At North's instructions they ran the wires to an easy chair several yards away, as they were uncertain just how far the magnetic field would extend beyond the headset.

"Better tie me to the chair," North cautioned. "When the field is thrown on, I'll have no recollection of the present or why I'm here. Don't forget that. Until you bring me back by setting the dials to zero, mentally, I'll be back where I was whatever time we hit upon. It will seem to me that I'm waking suddenly in utterly strange circumstances and surroundings. You know what questions to ask, of course."

"Yes, Mr. North," said Roger. He turned to Dr. Dane. "Will you attend to the tying? Just sufficiently so that he can't rise in his bewilderment."

Ann North brought straps, and a few moments later Corvo North nodded that he was ready; then leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

Roger Kay glanced at the instruments and then shifted two of the dials. There was a sudden hum from within the box, and Corvo North's eyes snapped open.

"What – what is this?" he demanded. "Why am I here?"

"Everything's all right, Mr. North," said Roger soothingly. "We'll release you in a moment. First please tell us what is the date."

"It's January twelfth, of course. Why do you –"

"And the year?"

"Twenty forty-five. Now will you kindly –"

"Just one more question, Mr. North. Do you know the exact time of day when you awoke here?"

"How can I when I don't know how I got here? The last thing I remember is walking through the door of the bank to keep my appointment, at nine. What's happened? Did I faint?"

A glow of satisfaction lodged itself in Roger's mind; they were getting the time more accurately than he'd dared expect on the first trial. He pushed his luck a bit farther.

"Were you on time to make that appointment, Mr. North?"

"I'd have been five minutes early. Now will you –"

"Perfect!" exclaimed Roger. He turned back the dials.

Corvo North went limp for an instant, then reopened his eyes. Dr. Dane rushed to him and unbuckled the straps.

"Get anything?" asked the scientist weakly.

"Perfect!" said Roger again. "I've got a note of the exact setting – and you were able to give the time exactly." He scribbled hasty calculations on the pad. "And that setting took you back to January of Twenty forty-five. To be exact – six thousand seven hundred twenty-eight days, twenty-seven hours, seven minutes!"

Corvo North nodded weakly, but excitedly tried to rise. Dr. Dane, his hand on North's pulse, motioned him back.

"That was a tremendous strain on your heart, North," he cautioned. "I forbid you to do it again until you've rested."

"Absurd!" Corvo North glanced at the clock. "There isn't time! It's eleven now!"

"Repeat that again right away and you'll never live to report what you see," warned the physician solemnly. "Half an hour of rest – or the entire experiment will be in vain."

* * * * *

Ann North's face was pale; she looked from her father to Roger Kay pleadingly.

He nodded slowly. "We can just do it. I'll check and recheck the calculations meanwhile – get the dial settings exact. And the next try – Well, it's make or break anyway." His voice was grim. "One more chance, and we get it or we don't."

During that half hour he checked and counter-checked his figures until he was as sure as possible to hit the exact instant in the past – the instant when Corvo North had jotted down the lost formula.

At eleven-thirty, the headset was replaced on Corvo North's head. This time his arms were left free and a pad of paper placed on his lap. His fingers held a pencil. He leaned back and again closed his eyes.

Roger Kay turned the dials.

Corvo North's face tensed, then relaxed. His eyes remained closed. For a half minute, aside from the faint hum from the machine, there was utter stark silence in the laboratory. It was maddening.

Then a faint scratching sound. The others, holding their breath from sheer suspense, saw the pencil in Corvo North's hand begin to move across the pad. Three lines it wrote; stopped.

The formula!

* * * * *

Suddenly the scientist's eyes snapped opened, widened with terror and bewilderment. With a movement so swift that no one could stop him, he ripped the sheet of paper from the pad, crumpled it, and hurled it at the glowing coil of an electric heater!

The paper flashed into flame, crumpled into ash as Corvo North himself crumpled, went limp in the chair.

Roger Kay turned the dials back to zero as Ann and the doctor leaped forward, unstrapped the unconscious scientist. Dr. Dane felt the fluttering pulse, then picked up the frail body and headed for the living quarters. Ann, her blue eyes wide with anxiety, ran ahead to open doors and prepare for the doctor's ministrations.

When she returned, Roger Kay stood before the visi-screen. Ann put a hand on his shoulder. "Dad will be all right," she said, her voice flat with despair, "but we've failed. Dr. Dane says it will be days before he'd dare –"

"Shh," said Roger gently. "Watch." He slipped his left arm around her slim waist, drew her to toward the screen.

The vista past the purple range showed at once that the view was eastward from the spaceport. There was no shipping in sight. In the red sky, far out and very high, was a thin silvery line, growing larger.

"The invaders." Unconsciously, Roger Kay whispered rather than spoke. "A thousand spheres at least for us alone. Watch, in a moment we'll know."

"Know what, Roger? Do you mean –"

The visi-screen answered for him. Out there high up in the sky there was a single bright flash – and then a thousand flashes that blended into one blinding one. A roar from the receiver rose to deafening pitch, stopped abruptly.

"Shattered the diaphragm of the transmitter," said Roger quietly. "That was trionite in action, Ann, it's all over. Your father – won!"

"But the formula! He destroyed it!"

Roger Kay put his other arm about her, smiled down. "That was why I was sent here, Ann. To eliminate possible hitches."

"But how –"

"Your father destroyed the formula the first time, and I guessed he might do it again – in his mind he was back some twenty years ago, remember – so I took the elementary precaution of placing carbon paper between the third and fourth sheets of that pad of paper. And I sent Wargan the formula while you were with your father, twelve minutes ago."

This story was produced from

                      Planet Stories, Fall 1946.
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