seamless envelope crackled open, almost with the sound of cellophane.

An object fell from the envelope, a ring of the red metal bearing the simple crest 'C.' I barely noticed it in my excitement. There was lettering on the inside of the envelope, which had opened in a manner surprisingly like a foreign air-mail letter, where the envelope serves also as stationery. The lettering was in the same script as my name on the outside of the envelope. I noticed the date and froze, my hands clenched on the metallic paper. It was dated the third of February, 1640. It was dated more than three hundred years ago, and I was reading it in the sixth decade of the twentieth century. Oddly enough, also, the day on which I was reading it was the third of February. The signature at the bottom was not in the old script, but might have been done in modern cursive English.

I had seen the signature once or twice before, on some letters my aunt had saved. I knew the signature, though I could not remember the man. It was the signature of my father, Matthew Cabot, who had disappeared when I was an infant.

I was dizzy, unsettled. It seemed my vision reeled; I couldn't move. Things grew black for a moment, but I shook myself and clenched my teeth, breathed in the sharp, cold mountain air, once, twice, three times, slowly, gathering the piercing contact of reality into my lungs, reassuring myself that I was alive, not dreaming, that I held in my hands a letter with an incredible date, delivered more than three hundred years later in the mountains of New Hampshire, written by a man who presumably, if still alive, was, as we reckon time, no more than fifty years of age — my father.

Even now I can remember the letter to the last word. I think I will carry its simple, abrupt message burned into the cells of my brain until, as it is elsewhere said, I have returned to the Cities of Dust.

The third day of February, in the Year of Our Lord 1640. Tarl Cabot, Son: Forgive me, but I have little choice in these matters. It has been decided. Do whatever you think is in your own best interest, but the fate is upon you, and you will not escape. I wish health to you and to your mother. Carry on your person the ring of the red metal, and bring me, if you would, a handful of our green earth. Discard this letter. It will be destroyed. With affection, Matthew Cabot

I read and reread the letter and had become unnaturally calm. It seemed clear to me that I was not insane, or if I was, that insanity was a state of mental clarity.and comprehension quite apart from the torment that I had conceived it to be. I placed the letter in my knapsack.

What I must do was fairly obvious — make my way out of the mountains as soon as it was fight. No, that might be too late. It would be mad, scrambling about in the darkness, but there seemed to be nothing else that would serve. I did not know how much time I had, but even if it was only a few hours, I might be able to reach some highway or stream or perhaps a cabin.

I checked my compass to get the bearing back to the highway. I looked uneasily about in the darkness. An owl hooted once, perhaps a hundred yards to the right. Something out there might be watching me. It was an unpleasant feeling. I pulled on my boots and coat, rolled my sleeping bag, and fixed the pack. I kicked the fire to pieces, stamping out the embers, scuffing dirt over the sparks.

Just as the fire was sputtering out, I noticed a glint in the ashes. Bending down, I retrieved the ring. It was warm from the ashes, hard, substantial — a piece of reality. It was there. I dropped it into the pocket of my coat and started off on my compass — bearing, trying to make my way back to the highway.

I felt stupid trying to hike in the dark. I was asking for a broken leg or ankle, if not a neck. Still, if I could put a mile or so between myself and the old camp, that should be sufficient to give myself the margin of safety I needed — from what I didn't know. I might then wait until morning and start off in the light, secure, confident. Moreover, it would be a simple matter to cover one's tracks in the light. The important thing was not to be at the old camp.

I had made my way perilously through the darkness for perhaps twenty minutes when, to my horror, my knapsack and bedroll seemed to burst into blue flame on my back. It was an instant's action to hurl them from me, and I gazed, bewildered, awe-stricken, at what seemed to be a furious blue combustion that lit the pines on all sides as if with acetylene flames. It was like staring into a furnace. I knew that it was the envelope that had burst into flame, taking with it my knapsack and bedroll. I shuddered, thinking of what might have happened if I had been carrying it in the pocket of my coat.

Strangely enough, now that I think of it, I didn't run headlong from the spot, though I can't see why, and the thought did cross my mind that the bright, flarelike luminescence would reveal my position, if it was of interest to anyone or anything. With a small flashlight I knelt beside the flakes of my knapsack and bedroll. The stones on which they had fallen were blackened. There was no trace of the envelope. It seemed to have been totally consumed. There was an unpleasant, acrid odor in the air, some fumes of a sort that I was not familiar with.

The thought came to me that the ring, which I had dropped in my pocket, might similarly burst into flame, but, unaccountably perhaps, I doubted it. There might be a point in someone's destroying the letter, but presumably there would be little point or no point in destroying the ring. Why should it have been sent if not to have been kept?

Besides, I had been warned about the letter — a warning I had foolishly neglected — but had been asked to carry the ring. Whatever it was, father or no, that was the source of these frightening events, it did not seem to wish me harm, but then, I thought, somewhat bitterly, floods and earthquakes presumably wish no one harm either. Who knew the nature of the things or forces that were afoot that night in the mountains, things and forces that might perhaps smash me, casually, as one innocently steps on an insect without being aware of it or caring?

I still had the compass, and that constituted a firm link to reality. The silent but intense explosion of the envelope into flames had caused me momentarily to become confused — that and the sudden return to the darkness from the hideous glaring light of the disintegrating envelope. My compass would get me out. With my flashlight I examined it. As the thin, sharp beam struck the face of the compass, my heart stopped. The needle was spinning crazily, and oscillating backward and forward, as if the laws of nature had suddenly been abridged in its vicinity.

For the first time since I had opened the envelope, I began to lose my control. The compass had been my anchor and trust. I had counted on it. Now it had gone crazy. There was a loud noise, but I now think it must have been the sound of my own voice, a sudden frightened shriek for which I shall always bear the shame.

The next thing I was running like a demented animal, in any direction, every direction. How long I ran I don't know. It may have been hours, perhaps only a few minutes. I slipped and fell dozens of times and ran into the prickly branches of the pines, the needles stabbing at my face. I may have been sobbing; I remember the taste of salt in my mouth. But mostly I remember a blind, headlong flight, a panic-stricken, unworthy, sickening flight. Once I saw two eyes in the darkness and screamed and ran from them, hearing the flap of wings behind me and the startled cry of an owl. Once I startled a small band of deer and found myself in the midst of their bounding shapes buffeting me in the darkness.

The moon came out, and the mountainside was suddenly lit with its cold beauty, white on the snow in the trees and on the side of the slope, sparkling on the rocks. I could run no further. I fell to the ground, gasping for breath, suddenly asking myself why I had run. For the first time in my life I had felt full, unreasoning fear, and it had gripped me like the paws of some grotesque predatory animal. I had surrendered to it for just a moment, and it had become a force that had carried me, hurling me about as if I were a swimmer captured in surging waves — a force that could not be resisted. It had departed now. I must never surrender to it again. I looked around and recognized the platform of rock near which I had set my bedroll. I saw the ashes of my fire. I had returned to my camp. Somehow I'd known that I would.

As I lay there in the moonlight, I felt the earth beneath me, against my aching muscles and the body that was covered with the foul-smelling sheen of fear and sweat. I felt then that it was good even to feel pain. Feeling was the important thing. I was alive.

I saw the ship descend. For a moment it looked like a falling star, but then it suddenly became clear and substantial, like a broad, thick disk of silver. It was silent and settled on the rock platform, scarcely disturbing the light snow that was scattered on it. There was a slight wind in the pine needles, and I rose to my feet. As I did so, a door in the side of the ship slid quietly upward. I must go in. My father's words recurred in my memory: 'The fate is upon you.' Before entering the ship, I stopped at the side of the large, flat rock on which it rested. I bent down and scooped up, as my father had asked, a handful of our green earth. I, too, felt that it was important to take something with me, something which, in a way, was my native soil. The soil of my planet, my world.

Chapter 2

The Counter-Earth

I REMEMBERED NOTHING, FROM THE time I'd boarded the silver disk in the mountains of New Hampshire until now. I awoke, feeling rested, and opened my eyes, half expecting to see my room in the alumni house at the college. I turned my head, without pain or discomfort. I seemed to be lying on some hard, flat object, perhaps a table, in a circular room with a low ceiling some seven feet high. There were five narrow windows, not large enough to let a man through; they rather reminded me of ports for bowmen in a castle tower, yet they admitted sufficient light to allow me to recognize my surroundings.

the earth was blue. My first thought was that this must be the earth and the sun's apparent size an illusion.

Obviously, I was breathing, and that meant necessarily an atmosphere containing a large percentage of oxygen. It must be the earth. But as I stood at the window, I knew that this could not be my mother planet. The building in which I found myself was apparently one of an indefinite number of towers, like endless flat cylinders of varying sizes and colors, joined by narrow, colorful bridges that arched lightly between them.

I could not lean far enough outside the window to see the ground. In the distance I could see hills covered with some type of green vegetation, but I could not determine whether or not it was grass. Wondering at my predicament, I turned back to the table. I strode over to it and nearly bruised my thigh on the stone structure. I felt for a moment as though I must have stumbled, have been dizzy. I walked around the room. I leaped to the top of the table almost as I would have climbed a stair in the alumni house. It was different, a different movement. Less gravity. It had to be. The planet, then, was smaller than our earth, and, given the apparent size of the sun, perhaps somewhat closer to it.

My clothes had been changed. My hunting boots were gone, my fur cap and the heavy coat and the rest of it. I was clad in some sort of tunic of a reddish color, which was tied at the waist with a yellow cord. It occurred to me that I was clean, in spite of my adventures, my panic — stricken rout in the mountains. I had been washed. I saw that the ring of red metal, with the crest of a 'C,' had been placed on the second finger of my right hand. I was hungry. I tried to put my thoughts together, sitting on the table, but there was too much. I felt like a child, knowing nothing, taken to some complex factory or store, unable to sort out his impressions, unable to

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