Heart of light
Originally printed in Amazing Stories, July, 1944
Gardner F Fox
Carbon is the basis of human life; and here in the crypt was a figure made of pure diamond could it be human could it be alive?
HUBBARD unearthed the statue in a rubble of sand and masonry a thousand centuries old. He brushed it off and set it up in his tent amid the rest of his archaeological finds. And that night it spoke to him.
It was just after he had seated himself at his tiny desk to examine the odd, delicately carven vases and broken urns that had so piqued his curiosity that morning. Hubbard was an archaeologist, and an expert despite his thirty years. He had chosen this remote and unexplored section of the Australian desert land for his researches, hoping to unearth proof of the fabulously ancient land continent of Gondwanaland.
Already he felt certain of some measure of success, for these shards of bronze were ages old, worn with the passage of countless centuries. And with curve and angle and bas-relief so etched that his breath caught in his throat as he surveyed them.
But they were—strange!
He knew of no race whose carvings took such drastic tangents from recognized art forms. The things they depicted, too: this one, for instance, showed a space ship curving against the sky. Elongated and with a flaring tail that seemed to be rocket jets. Hubbard paused, startled. What is wrong with me? He thought. I'm letting these things get on my nerves. Spaceship? A meteor, rather, curving against the background that was speckled with stars. A meteor, he said to himself, and laughed.
“Laughter!” whispered a voice.
“Eh? What's that?”
Hubbard lifted his head and stared around him, into the gloomy corners, at the piled reliquaries whose shadows chased one another in the light of the flickering oil lamp on the desk. Nothing here. Probably his imagination; he'd been too long alone, out on these vast distances.
“Laughter. Human laughter, again. After all these eons, these untold eons of darkness. Someone did laugh?”
Hubbard stared at the statue, the skin prickling on his neck. “I laughed," he answered slowly, curiosity beating back the nameless fear that pulsed against him. “I laughed at this—this bas-relief I'm holding. You don't—mind?”
“Laugh again for me. Please. It is so long since I heard the sound of the human voice. So long . . .”
It was the statue. God!
Hubbard got up and eased the revolver in the holster at his side around in front of him. He unfastened the flap-catch, and wrapped his big brown hand around the butt. Holding the gun, he walked to the statue, bent to look closer.
It was life-size, this bronze representation of some angular being that squatted as if with cold, long arms about bony knees, its small head staring upward. Funny, that. Hubbard scowled, remembering how he had carried it. For a statue of solid bronze, it had not weighed so much. Yet he was a strong man, over six feet in height. Perhaps he was even stronger than he thought.
He swore softly, staring at the eyes.
They looked back at him, unwinking: orbs of pure crystal!
“Can you see me?” he asked suddenly.
“I see you. You are—man! A thought—a thought had come to me that there were no more men. Are there other men, besides you?”
“Millions. I—but how can you speak? I didn't see your lips move at all.”
“I am speaking with my mind. Many Ikorians can do that. I will tell you all about me, later.”
Hubbard drew a deep breath. His great chest bulged the tan flannel shirt he wore. He rubbed his hands on his riding breeches, fighting his thoughts.
“Do you mean to tell me that you're —alive?”
“Alive? Of course I'm alive. That seems strange to you, naturally. It has been long since this shell of mine was—flesh. Come, help me. This wrapping about me, this bronze material —it was just sprayed on. It will rip off easily. Free me!”
HUBBARD found the thing spoke truth. The metal was thin, and crumbly with unguessable age. It came to pieces, like brittle candy, in his fingers. He tore it loose, dropping it in tiny shards at his feet. He worked swiftly, with powerful hands. The last bit of lacquer fluttered to the floor.
The statue moved; stood up, slowly stretching.
It was a figure of gleaming crystal that stood before him. The lamplight glittered back from its polished surfaces, from the facets that gleamed and sparkled, casting off brilliant rays that nearly blinded.
Hubbard did not believe the credence of his eyes.
He opened them further, staring.
This man—this statue—this thing was made of —diamonds!
Little diamonds, big diamonds, all held together by some strange magnetic attraction: forming a human-shaped body on two legs, with two arms and an angular knob for a head. But this jewel-thing was exquisite For Hubbard saw prisms within prisms, flawless Squares and pointed pyramids, cones and cubes of solid diamonds, clusters of glittering jewels: multi-formed, bright with imprisoned reds and blues and vivid whites that gleamed and coruscated, pulsating with inner life!
The statue moved about the tent, examining everything curiously. It lifted bronze images and urns, setting them down as it had found them. Sadly, Hubbard thought.
The thing caught Hubbard staring at it.
"I amaze you. You are astounded. But—why?”
Hubbard laughed softly, rebuckling his holster strap. No use bullets against a being made of solid diamonds!
“I was thinking that body of yours as worth a powerful lot of money. It's as if a miser found a trunk-load of his gold talking to him. After all—I did unbury you. Why, you're a walking Kimberly mine, and then some!”
“Oh. You mean this shell of mine is valuable to you. You could use it to get things you desire.”
“I could, but that doesn't bother me. I have more money than I know what to do with. It's just the sheer, utter—fantasy—of the thing.”
He laughed, enjoying the nonsense of the situation. The statue listened, frozen; listened to his laughter, drinking it in as a musician might drink in melody after years of deafness.
It spoiled his laughter, that thing listening so. He scowled.
Thought seeped through his brain, searing it. God! I'm dreaming all this. I'm asleep over my desk, with one of those bronze pieces in my fingers. I'll wake up in a moment. It isn't real, isn't real. How can a statue speak? How can a man live, encased in—diamonds?
“I am real. After all, diamond is pure—how would you name it?”
HUBBARD felt his skin prickle, and the short hairs at the base of his neck rise in awe. Something was inside his brain, searching, exploring suddenly it released him, content.
“Yes. Carbon, pure carbon. And carbon is the stuff of life, the base of the living force in every living being.”
Hubbard wiped his hands on his thighs.
“Who are you?” he almost snarled, He didn't like being treated like a laboratory guinea pig? “What are you? How in the name of all that's sane did you get—down there?" he nodded toward the dark hole of his excavation beyond the open flaps of his tent.
“My name it Tonal Tu. I am an Ikorian. I have been down in that dark hole for a long time. It must have been a long time. Let me see—“
The statue moved effortlessly to the tent opening: stood there, looking out over the vast waste of sand. After a while it lifted its head and stared at the stars. It made a brilliant image of countless colors and hues, reflected rays of light, the tints locked inside the glittering prisms of its body softly pulsing.
Hubbard came and stood beside it.
“They are different, the stars. I do not know them at all. And the earth That is different, too. I remember teeming jungles, and a vast ocean, and green grass waving where we built our city. All gone. Gone into the dead past!”
The image looked at Hubbard suddenly.
“The Heart! The Heart of Light—I had almost forgotten. Is he here? Did you find the Glitterer?”
Hubbard looked blank, but felt the strong anxiety, the powerful fear that gripped this queer being. It was as if it did not dare contemplate losing something that was worth existence itself to it.
“No,” he answered slowly. “I found nothing but those bronze bits and—you.”
“We must go below, into that hole you dug. If we could, we could find the Heart of Light. I must find him. He is—everything I need. He could tell you about me, and whence I came. He knows everything, is all-powerful!”
Hubbard turned back to the tent, took down an oil lamp and lighted it. He ran questing fingers about the cartridge belt at his waist, making sure the greased cylinders were there. He strode into the night, holding the lamp by his knees, casting radiance ahead of him. By his side walked the statue.
They crouched to enter the little tunnel under the earth that Hubbard had re-inforced with wooden beams brought for that purpose in his big plane. It stretched back for many yards, into darkness. Into the tunnel they walked, until they came to a blank wall of earth.
“This is as far as I went," explained Hubbard. “I found you here, with those broken bits of metal scattered about. I think that at one time they held food and drink for you—in case you needed it.”
THE statue paid him no heed, but looked instead at the bare brown earthen wall. As Hubbard watched, startled, that soil began to melt away into wisps of brownish matter that evaporated swiftly in the hot, dry air. It smacked of wizardry, seeing the ground being eaten away like that, but Hubbard was past the point of amazement. Dimly he thought of atomic power controlled by the electrical waves the brain emanates. A form of mental energy, poured by this jewel-thing into a force that ate its way through clumps of earth . . .
But he didn't think much, because at that moment the earthen wall was gone, and he was staring into a stygian gulf beyond. He crouched beside the statue on a shelf of rock that was part of a stone precipice bordering this abyss of eternal night. It was black, black out there: the utter ebon of solid darkness.
“I can't see a thing,” muttered Hubbard, seeing the statue kneeling, and looking down. “Can you?”
"Quiet! I am casting my thoughts. . .”
Hubbard knelt silent, waiting. Furtively he loosened his revolver, taking no chances.
His breath caught in his throat—
A light flicked far below! It grew slowly, that light, glowing from somewhere far within that mighty jet emptiness. It shone dully at first, then grew brighter, blue and brilliant. It pulsed and quivered in bands of blue-white rays that billowed out from some hidden core hidden deep beneath them. It danced and beamed like a live thing, gaily swaying and beating, sentient.
Almost Hubbard could feel its—joy.
And as that light grew brighter, Hubbard saw the white roofs and towers of a city, far below.
The statue stood erect on the lip of rock.
“Come. The Heart of Light still dwells in his temple. It is glad to see us. We must go to it!”
“That city,” said Hubbard. “The sands of the desert should have covered it”
Then he saw the dome of curving rocks above his head; rocks set flush to one another, forming a perfect hemisphere of solid stone that could have supported tremendous weight.
“The Ikorians built it long ago to protect their city from the mountains that were crumpling as this planet went through its maturing pangs!" the statue said, and took him by the hand.
It stepped out into the abyss, putting a foot on a ray of the queer bluish light that was reaching to their rocky foothold.
“The light will bear you,” it said.
HUBBARD felt the amusement of the thing. It angered him, made him reckless. He stepped forward, felt solid matter beneath his feet, matter that bore him easily, without tremor. He stood on a beam of light that was shrinking, drawing back upon other curved beams of light that merged into it, and shrank in turn. It was an elevator of pure light! That, and more, for this light did not jerk and jump. It flowed smoothly and rhythmically, without a jar.
Down, down went the curved beam of light, to the floor of the great cavern.
Hubbard stepped out on smooth marble flagging that was strangely free of dust; looked about him, marveling. White stone buildings rose on all sides. Walls that curved, roofs that were perfect domes, towers that were needles of flawless granite glimmered ghostly in the blue radiance that bathed the city. It was an exquisite place. It filled the heart of an archaeologist, overflowed it with a lust to run from building to building, exploring, hunting, searching—
“I am very anxious to see the Heart of Light,” said the statue, looking at him, and Hubbard followed obediently.
They came to a large square where stood a small, lovely white tower. Hubbard sucked in his breath in awe. It was a temple. It shone white in the blue light, a white so stunning it seemed translucent, like a white jade vase of the Ch'ien Lung period of Ch'ing dynasty China, that Hubbard had once seen in the summer palace in Peking. Great doors of carven gold were open, and on both sides of the doors square monoliths rose to glitter high above the square. From the opalescent dome of the building, around its perimeter, slim marble spears thrust their points.
“It's magnificent,” Hubbard whispered.
“It is the shrine of Heart of Light.” Past the golden doors, up a curving flight of marble steps that shone beneath their feet strode Hubbard and the jewel-thing. Up past walls of a smooth coolness, to a level flooring—
“God!” whispered Hubbard.
A shining screen of opalescent hues and colors hung in midair, quivering and pulsing, alive. Within the lambent richness of its moving, restless chromatism were millions and millions of cones and cubes of moving jewels, weaving to and fro in eternal restlessness. Scarves of limpid tints flashed and glittered. Pencilings of light grew and richened within that living curtain, interwoven, living, threads of coloration. Motes of brilliant starlings sparkled and oscillated.
Hubbard heard a faint tinkling, as gems might make if cast into a tiny whirlpool; heard joyful peals, a tintinnabulation of gay and laughing purlings . . .
“Heart of Light. Master of Ikor, and the planets of Ikor!”
THE diamond statue leaped upward, was gathered within the living, pulsing, sparkling screen. The sussurrating tinklings spun faster, more abandoned, louder, seeming to call forth blessings from its rhapsody of sound.
No longer diamond statue, no longer being of radiant colors—
Hubbard choked, awed. Tonal Tu stood naked in the quivering screen, smiling down at him. A woman was Tonal Tu, radiantly beautiful! Her rich red hair hung to her waist, her slant green eyes looked forth from long and curling lashes. Her mouth was scarlet, full and moist. Her body was pearly, creamy; touched with crimson. She hung suspended in the living curtain, gazing down at him. She laughed, and Hubbard heard rich music.
“I too can—laugh!"
The screen pulsed suddenly, angrily. It seemed aware of Hubbard for the first time. It looked down upon him, questioningly; stretched out tendrils of light to his face. The light entered into his brain, probed it clean, as Tonal Tu had probed.
Hubbard quivered with the forces that were within him. Alien they were, and strong. Oh, so strong-godlike. They searched his soul as he stood there, not daring to move. He felt no rage. This—this being was beyond that.
The light released him, flowed back within the screen.
“Is this a being of outer Earth, daughter?" said the Heart. Its voice was filled with supernal majesty, deep, calmly powerful.
“Yes, Heart of Light. He found me above, in the bronze sheath you put me in, to escape the—them! He removed the sheath, and I brought him here. I had to find you, to learn—“
The curtain grew scarlet, raging. It threw sparks and showers of glowing crimson lights.
“Too late, too late. I was too late. I came, but not in time, O my handmaiden. They had come, and when they went away, there were none left. None!”
Hubbard was aware that the Light knew a profound sorrow. It beat against him, and tinted the hues of the screen a pale purple.
“All those who came from Ikor to find shelter here—gone in a way I tremble to think of. Taken by them who dwell in the black pits so very far below.”
The Heart grew red, deep crimson. It billowed and surged and rippled. The music of its billions of gems was fiery, hating, ired!
“Ahh, but they have paid. Many have I slain in the eons I remained here, on guard. Many, many—but not enough! There are more. I must destroy them all—or seal forever their stenching pits.”
Tonal Tu brushed back a strand of her red hair, smiling down at Hubbard.
“We could help you, Master—the Earth man and I.”
Hubbard grinned suddenly. He was on familiar ground. He scented a fight. His hand touched the revolver, fell away. He felt the interest of the screen turning on him.
“The Earthman loves to fight, daughter. See how his hand brushes his weapon. He likes you, too, daughter.”
HUBBARD caught the undertone of gentle amusement. He heard Tonal Tu gasp, and saw her cheeks flame red. He laughed aloud. He liked this Heart of Light.
“He likes me, too. Now that is a strange thing, for I have never sought the affections of these Earth beings. I have been too busy—slaying!”
Hubbard dared, and spoke.
“I sense the humanity in you, Heart. You are not human as I know humanity, but you do understand emotions: love, and sorrow, and hate. I would like to help, if I could. I could get more weapons. Machine-guns, grenades, rifles, poison gas—“
The Glitterer put forth a thin stream of light, touched a block of metal that stood in a corner. The light covered the block, flickering lightly over it, and was gone.
The metal block, too, was—gone!
“Have you weapons to match that, Earth being? Nay, fret not. I was but boasting. I can boast to no one, these days. And I always did enjoy a good boast. Still—I may use you yet. There may be a way.
“Leave me for a little while, you and Tonal Tu . . .”
The voice halted. Hubbard knew it had detected his thought. It laughed, shouted rich with mirth.
"Tonal Tu, he wants you as you are not with diamonds all over you, in you, part of you. He wants no statue, this man!”
The laughter again boomed forth, joyous; heedless of Tonal Tu's flush, of Hubbard's embarrassment. It was—no, not annoying, having your thoughts read by this Being. Say rather, pleasantly confusing.
“Oh, I'll let her go as she is, Hubbard. The diamonds you saw, the hard statue was me. My force, my essence all about her, shielding her from them. She is young, Hubbard, younger than you. Only her mind is old, but that is because my mind was part of her mind, with her throughout her eon-long wait, comforting.”
Hubbard wondered a moment, and the curtain spoke again.
“Then. You think of what they are, eh? You know. You have read of them. Certain writers of your upper crust: men like Lovecraft, Derleth— they came very close to guessing. How they imagined, I know not, but they—guessed Eternal evil, dwelling just without the earth, under it, in the caverns of its seas. . .
The Heart pushed Tonal Tu forth, wisped about her figure for an instant, hung about her a shimmering gown of light that hardened to a metallic cloth that hung close at hip and breast, and flowed down the shapeliness of her legs.
Tonal Tu stood beside Hubbard, gowned magnificently.
“Go now, and leave me with my thoughts. I must think on how we will entrap them.”
HUBBARD took her hand in his, found it soft and white, tenderly smooth. Her green eyes stared back into his, and her crimson mouth quivered into a smile. They laughed, and started for the stairs.
The brilliant Heart of Light pulsed once, radiantly; then stilled, withdrew within itself.
On the flagging of the great square, Hubbard turned to the girl.
“What was he? How magnificent, how awesome!”
“He is the Heart of Light. He has always been. He came to my people on the planet Ikor ages ago, and dwelt among them. But I cannot explain him. He is light, and his jewels are the stuff of life, and contain the rich power of color. Legend says he was born on a fiery sun, a sun that was—intelligent! He may be a part of that sun, a part that is endowed with life and motion. I do not know.”
She smiled up at him as they walked.
“Do you truly—like me, Hubbard?” He grinned and pressed her arm, drew her close to him.
“I love you, Tonal Tu,” he said slowly. “I’ve never been much of a man for the ladies. I don't know just how to put these things into words, but —I know I couldn't live without you.”
"I'm glad. I—need you, too!”
“You are strange, different,” he murmured. "You are alien in some ways. But when I saw you there in that shimmering screen—I knew.”
They crossed the square together, wandering. Tonal Tu stopped suddenly, looking up at him.
“You would like to know about me, wouldn't you, Hubbard? About my people, the planet from which my race came to Earth. Come, I will show you, while he ponders—“
Hubbard laughed softly as they went forward. It was almost like going to meet his best girl's folks—only how utterly different. He was to see people dead before Cro-Magnon man hunted his first meal! Her people, his—his in-laws! He laughed, telling her. Tonal Tu laughed, and Hubbard knew she understood, somehow. It drew her closer.
They passed into a huge building, past open metal doors. Mightly instruments stood in the vast hallway as it stretched back away from them. Tall bronze engines that served some forgotten purpose, small ships carved from some rare red metal, knobbed and levered machines, wired things with copper discs caught Hubbard's eyes. They stretched along, row on row, fathomless, dead, relics of a majestic past.
"This is the museum of Ikora,” said Tonal Tu. “Here my people placed various engines that they used in trade and war. I know not their use. Perhaps you can detect their purpose.”
But Hubbard would not even hazard a guess. They were as utterly beyond his explanation as a description of a new color. He accepted them as they were, and was content. Tonal Tu drew him on.
THEY halted before a block of translucent metal that shimmered and gleamed with imprisoned lights. Tonal Tu stepped upon it, beckoned Hubbard to join her.
Light came pulsing up from the flat metal beneath their feet, came leaping in wisps and waves, flowing all about them. And where the light was—empty space! The room grew hazy, fading. . .
Now Hubbard saw figures all about him; saw men in stately halls and noble homes, men with worried frowns, with care and a bleak despair etched on their brows. Men of the planet Ikor of some ancient, distant galaxy, men who faced destruction from the cold that seeped on them from space as their thin girdle of atmosphere was slowly oozing forth.
The men and women gathered and spoke, and went together to a great white temple wherein dwelt the Heart of Light. Him they woke from his eternal slumberings, sought his aid. One way only was left to them: to transverse space itself to another planet. Only light could pass through the cosmic cold, yet the Heart was light itself! He could transfer them, a small part of their population. Their lot it was to pick and choose. He would find the planet, and bring them in his jeweled warmth across the void. Came the day when the men and women entered into the Heart, merged into particles of light, small molecules of radiant glory, traveled interstellar space at tremendous speed. From his vast, fathomless power, the Heart fed them, warmed them, kept them in comatose hibernation.
They arrived on a young Earth where teeming jungles swelled with life, and heaving oceans battered craggy shores. Gigantic reptiles fought and mated on this planet. It was young: spawning, lush with tropic vegetation, alive with a strength that was indulging in its first experiments. Here would the people of Ikor grow and thrive!
They built their white city with the Heart of Light's aid. They walled out the too voracious dinosaurs. They lived and died here, amid new scenes, amid this fresh and glorious world. Here was new hope, new life. The Heart of Light went back to Ikor, to transplant others, Everything was perfect—
The blight struck!
Hubbard knew utter horror, seeing what came crawling up from beneath the earth that night. Oozing white stuff, with the look of the long buried dead: bulging strangely, fish-belly white, swollen in monstrous ways. Men went mad that night. Death and horror ran amok in this white city, as mankind fought and writhed and died horribly. Screams of agony and despair, of barren hopelessness, were the only sounds in the city.
When dawn came, there were not many left.
Those that remained were frozen with a nameless dread. They watched the sky for the Glitterer's return.
HE came at last, and with him more Ikorians. When he learned what had transpired, the Heart of Light raged, and gleamed with fiery crimson hues. He sought out the horrors, but they had powers, too—borrowed from those outside, whom they served and worshiped with nameless rites and blasphemies. Not into their infernal pits could the Light go. He had to wait for them, and they were patient. So patient!
Among the first born on Earth was a little girl, a girl with red hair and dancing green eyes. Hubbard watched her grow, loving her even then. He saw the Heart of Light with her, speaking to her, teaching, instructing. She was beloved of the Heart of Light, his daughter.
When she was twenty, the Glitterer had to cross the void. The people on frozen Ikor needed him. But first he drew Tonal Tu within his brilliant colors, among his clashing jewels turning her body into light, and imprisoning that light within the diamonds that were part of his own essence. He coated her with bronze, and left her hidden.
That night the Heart of Light went back to Ikor.
That night they oozed up from below.
There were none left, then. Only—Tonal Tu!
The light faded, grew dim. Hubbard looked at the softly weeping girl; put his tanned arm about her, drew her close.
“The Heart of Light found Ikor a world of ice," she sobbed softly. “None lived on it! When he returned here, he found an empty city. He thought me gone, too. He vowed vengeance. He struck again and again as they came up: slaying, slaying.
“But death never brought life. My people—all gone!”
Her lips were close. Hubbard bent to kiss them, felt them quiver in response, felt her strain close—
Her eyes widened, filling with stark horror, staring past him. Hubbard dropped hand to gun, whirling—
They were here, in the museum!
They moved slowly across the marble floor: squat white masses of gelatinous flesh, with membranous tentacles stretching forth over the flagging, shifting, moving, dragging them forward, leaving a trail of slime behind. Long strands of cilia hung from their heaving, mottled masses; shreds of flabby flesh, limp and evil in the still air.
There were many of them. They came pulping in through door and window, flowing forward ceaselessly. From the pits they had come, drawn by the scent of humankind, exposing their flaccid bodies to the dim light—bodies that only eternal darkness could bear to look upon. From under drooping folds of flesh, reddened eyes glared forth. Eyes that were vacant and dull, eyes that gleamed with evil hunger, eyes that could madden—gloated upon their prey!
Tonal Tu shook against Hubbard. Her breath choked in her throat. “They have come—before the Heart of Light was ready!”
HUBBARD swore and yanked his gun from its holster, fired. The bullets bit in, sank and lost themselves in that striated, rubbery white flesh. The things came on, unhurried.
“No use,” whimpered Tonal Tu, shuddering. “We are cut off. The Heart is dreaming. He does not know.”
Hubbard snarled low in his throat, caught the girl and lifted her high on his chest. He sprang upward from the translucent metal, reaching for a bronze lamp-chain. He caught it, drew himself and Tonal Tu upwards to hang for a moment.
“We can't fight them,” he said savagely. “Bullets them seem to eat. But—but if that stone block is what I think it is—some substance indigenous to the Heart of Light, it will warn him they are here I think we saw his thoughts a while ago, transmitted through that metal that holds the lights.”
But the white monstrosities shied from the metal block. The seemed to know, too. They could wait, for they were patient. The muscles of a man's arms will not bear his and another's weight on a bronze chain forever—even the muscles of a man like Hubbard.
Even so, there were some who would not wait. They went to the walls, began to slither up them, toward the ceiling, from which they could drop down along the chain—
Hubbard hooked a leg among the links, easing Tonal Tu over to one hip. He lifted his revolver and aimed it. It belched flame.
The bullet hit the block of shimmering metal.
It clanged aloud, and for one swift instant flared brilliant red, then grew dull and spiritless.
"He knows. He is awake. The bullet roused him!”
But the air did not grow bright with the radiant lights of the Heart. It remained dull, dim. Hubbard felt ice at his heart. Had he failed? Did the Heart still slumber on, pondering, thinking them safe?
Hubbard heard dull thunder. The walls of the building quivered almost imperceptibly. The chain swayed, swinging its human weights to and fro. The noise came slowly, muffled; and the earth, hearing it, quaked.
They heard it, too. Their flaccid feelers lifted to sway in puzzlement, curious, somewhat—fearful. They covered the whole floor now, a vast sea of pulpy flash, dappled and noisome. They hung from the walls and the ceiling, clutching their smooth sides with their fetid tentacles.
“What—was—that?" whispered Tonal Tu, her green eyes wide and frightened.
“Sounded like an earthquake. But far away. Distant. It won't help us—”
THE mottled things were moving now, away from the building, out of it into the dead streets. They flowed swiftly, and Hubbard heard an alarmed chittering, a piercing squaking, as they called and shrilled to one another: questioning, curious. They seemed vaguely disturbed, as though aware of some terrible catastrophe. They went rapidly, scurrying . . .
“They can travel when they want to,” muttered Hubbard, dropping to the floor and setting Tonal Tu on her feet. “Wonder what set them off?”
A moon window was pierced through the west wall of the museum. Hubbard and Tonal Tu went to stand there, staring out. The streets outside were white with the squamous horrors. From building-wall to building-wall they formed a great torrent of oozing, stenching flesh.
“There are thousands of them," he said. “They fill the entire city! They must have thought more Ikorians had come from space—“
“Hubbard! The temple! It glows, it brightens!”
The shrine was flaring with a mad potpourri of colored light that lifted from its transparent dome. The light surged upward, glaring crimson, angry red, raging scarlet. It blooded the city in vermilion, like a mad moon. Shot with white and green and yellow, that mighty red tongue of light danced in frenzy, rearing upward above the temple, filling the abyss above the city!
“They have seen the light. Listen!”
A babel of shrill titters and sobbing squeals rose from the massed ranks in the streets. It was sound, alive with bleak despair, a keening wail of hopelessness. The sound welled, grew in volume.
The things began to pour along the streets, seeking to escape.
“Hubbard, Hubbard,” screamed Tonal Tu, pointing. “The harbor—where they emerged from their pits—gone!”
It was true. Where once the ships of the Ikorians had plied the young oceans of Earth, where the stone quays and wharfs jutted out, where had stood an ancient, blackened harbor filled with mud—was crumpled slag and cinders!
“He closed it while we thought he slept! Your bullet did arouse him. He knew. The light about the museum whispered to him. He went at once to their entrance in the harbor; sealed it, knowing they were with us, trapped above it”
The Light was pulsing savagely, glowing red and inflamed, hovering over the city. It whispered its hate and vengeance in wild tinklings of clanging jewels, arrogant, boastful. It whispered of hate and death and utter extinction; whispered and—struck!
FROM the great screen of colors in the gulf above darted red flame—crimson light that spun downwards at terrific speed. It laved itself about the chittering white pulps that heaved and squirmed, bathing them in scarlet hues, roving over them, torturing with light, with the pure incandescence of a billion red lumens!
Hubbard and Tonal Tu watched from their window, awed.
Here and there sped the Light, devouring. Where it had been, was now black pools of liquid that bubbled once or twice, then seeped between the cracked flaggings to merge with the soil of earth. Like animate red hammers, the light poised and hit! And the white things died by the hundreds, squealing.
How long they stood by the window, Hubbard will never know. But when it was over he sighed; and beside him Tonal Tu sighed also, sadly.
“He will not stay here now. There is no cause. He has trapped them, at last.”
Hubbard held her close, wondering, saying, “But you—?”
A beam of light dipped toward them, gathered them up. It lifted them out of the window and toward the temple. Once again they stood before the Heart of Light.
“It was good, that slaying,” the Light said. “I waited a long time for it. Now I am content.
“You, Hubbard—you are wondering what I am, from whence I draw my power. I am light, pure light. I am a tiny sun, in many respects. I am intelligent, and I have power. Yes, pure light has power! Your scientists know that, dimly. They have tested a beam of light in a vacuum, and found that it will move a strip of metal foil. That knowledge I drew from you.
“But your arts and sciences are so young, so undeveloped, Hubbard! Not far along the right paths have you humans progressed. Still—they will discover that light can nauseate, light can kill. Why is man the only mammal with a sense of color? For a reason—as they shall learn. Cold light is still a dream of your scientists, black light, but recently discovered.
“Yes, Hubbard, light is very powerful. It contains the stuff of life. It can cause an animal to breed twice where it only bred once before; it can make an animal grow its winter coat, though it be summer. It can effect seasonal changes in the wrong seasons! The life essence is—light!
“If light can create, it can also—destroy!”
The curtain quivered, glittered, waxed boastful. It quieted.
“Come, Tonal Tu. My time grows short. I hunger for the cool stretches of space, out there among the stars. I want to see things, for I have been long a self-made prisoner, here in Ikora.”
THE Heart of Light lifted Tonal Tu within its pulsing radiance, caressing, making joyful tinklings with its myriad jewels. It peered down at Hubbard.
“You will take her with you, Hubbard. I can tell that. Guard her well! For she will be no part of me this time. She will be a normal maid of Ikora, twenty years of age. You will have to teach, to educate her. But it should prove a pleasant tutelage.”
The Heart cast Tonal Tu forth, placed her beside Hubbard.
“Go forth, my children. Go up to outer Earth. Raise strong children. In their veins will flow the ancient Ikorian blood. Perhaps their olden knowledge, too, will bloom. If you ever need me—“
A tendril of light flashed out, played over Tonal Tu's hand: moving, forming metal, and placing diamond within it.
“GO . . .”
* * *
Hubbard calls her Toni today. He worships her, of course. Those of his friends who know her beauty find it exquisite, if slightly alien. But she and Hubbard keep to themselves, most of the time. They plan a trip back to Australia. They have a date, they say.
Toni Hubbard does not wear jewelry, except for a curiously wrought ring. It contains a large diamond. Lapidaries claim it is the most unusual gem they have ever studied. In it sparkles a tiny, bluish flame, alive.
They do not know, naturally.
It is the bridge to the Heart of Light.