1/ OPERATION: OTHER WORLD
THE MYSTERIOUS CURTAIN. Of time. It swept inexorably over Tats-Tor and like a giant invisible vacuum sucked up all organic life, leaving in its wake an empty world: cities intact but uninhabited by any form of life. The men and women who had breathed, lived, loved and striven there to realize their individual destinies, were missing from the planet. They were not dead or destroyed but they no longer existed in the normal scheme of things: they existed now in another time dimension.
The star Morag was 7132 light-years from Earth. For a period of 5 millenniums its 2nd planet, Tats-Tor, had been colonized and settled by Arkonides. They made their living as exporters of valuable raw materials and through general commerce with the peoples of the Arkonide Empire, which was governed by a gigantic positronic Brain.
Perry Rhodan had a very special reason for landing on Tats-Tor: to organize a Time Expedition under the leadership of Lt. Marcel Rous. Here it was that the expedition had disappeared into an enigmatic… nothingness.
That had been in January, more than 7 months ago—January in the year 2041.
So now on the 16th of July, Perry Rhodan was returning to Tats-Tor for the 3rd time. As the depopulated planet began to emerge on the viewscreens of the mighty spaceship Drusus, its commander’s thoughts returned to his first 2 visits to this distant world. Unfortunately they had been fruitless and barren of hope for the members of the ill-fated expedition.
13 January 2041: for 10 days there had not been the slightest trace of the time expedition. Lt. Rous and his 5 companions had penetrated the circular field window produced by his energy lens generator and had just entered the alien time dimension when the frontal overlap of the 2 planes of existence had rolled over Tats-Tor and lapped up all life there like a ravenous giant. Contrary to expectations, Marcel Rous did not return.
Rhodan landed on Tats-Tor in the super battleship Drusus, a spherical spaceship measuring a mile in diameter. After some searching he found the deserted Gazelle, in which the energy lens generator had been installed.
With the help of this ingeniously constructed apparatus it was possible to penetrate the other time-plane at the moment of overlap without losing one’s own time relationship. The critically different time-ratio of the other plane had not the slightest effect on a person coming through the energy lens.
The normal universe was being traversed by an alien time-plane. At every location where a direct interface of intercepting planes occurred, any organic life disappeared. The most monstrous menace ever known was threatening all life in the Milky Way.
It was with very mixed feelings that Rhodan, Reginald Bell and a few of the Mutant corps approached the Gazelle where it stood lonely and deserted in the middle of the desert. Other than themselves there was no life left on this world, not even the smallest insect that crawled, the lowliest worm. The time curtain had swept everything with it except lifeless matter and plants. Oddly, there was a definite indication that a difference between fauna and flora was recognized by the natural laws of the other time dimension.
Reginald Bell cleared his throat unobtrusively and attempted to conceal his anxiety. Under no circumstances must the others know that he was fearful or apprehensive.
However his voice was slightly strained when he spoke: “They have—uh—disappeared since 10 days ago. If they went into that other time plane through the energy ring, then why haven’t they come back?”
Rhodan glanced askance at him briefly while continuing calmly. “We came here to find an answer to that question, Bell. I have a feeling that there could be a hundred answers—but it’s going to be our job to discover the right one. Well, there’s the Gazelle.” He pointed to the long-range reconnaissance flier, a disc that was 100 feet in diameter and 60 feet high. It was still about 200 yards away. “In its control room are the controls for the energy-ring generator. We’ll soon find out what’s the matter with it.”
“What can be wrong with it?” grumbled Bell in a welter of uncertainties.
Rhodan didn’t look at him when he replied: “There’s actually nothing that can’t go out of commission…”
Bell fell into a stubborn silence the rest of the way.
The outer lock was open and they were able to enter the small spaceship without hindrance. Slightly more than a half mile away towered the mighty shape of the Drusus. At the slightest sign of danger the giant’s guns would open fire.
But nothing occurred as Perry Rhodan and his companions passed through the airlock of the Gazelle and moved onward to the control room. It didn’t take long to find a very graphic answer to their question but it was by no means a satisfactory one.
The cooled droplets of melted metal on the smooth deck of the control room said enough but Rhodan was never satisfied with halfway answers. He attempted personally to get the equipment into operation but he soon had to realize how futile his efforts were.
The energy-ring generator of the Gazelle was knocked out, completely ruined for all time. The coils were burned through and the conductors were melted. Under the circumstances the thought of repairing it was hopeless.
“At least now we know the actual facts,” murmured Bell.
Rhodan nodded. “A small consolation, I’m afraid, because it’s not any help to the members of our vanished time-expedition. How are we going to get them out of their time prison?”
“We build another generator,” suggested one of the mutants.
“Quite right,” Rhodan agreed. “There’s no other alternative. But in that case we’ve got to return to the Earth. Only the research centre in Terrania has the means to complete such a project. Let’s hope that in the meantime Rous and his crew don’t lose their courage or hope.”
Bell stared pensively at the blank viewscreen of the Gazelle. “If they just don’t lose too much time in the process…”
Rhodan shook his head. “Or we, either,” he said and without further ado left the small spaceship. He knew that they couldn’t accomplish anything more here without losing valuable hours and days.
And so it was that Perry Rhodan returned a 2nd time a few weeks later and landed on Tats-Tor, this time with a very large and powerful energy-ring generator on board.
* * * *
They required an entire day to erect the equipment on the desert next to the Gazelle. The technicians who had come along from the Earth were very confident that their newest creation would function. Rhodan and Bell hoped they were right.
And also Pucky, of course, who had been permitted to come along this time. The mouse-beaver waddled gravely along behind the 2 men, his ears sticking straight up and his broad beaver’s tail lending him both guidance and support. In his brown hound-dog eyes was a faint glimmer of despair but the intelligent animal maintained an outward appearance that led none to suspect his inner feelings.
Moreover, Pucky was really much more than a mere animal. As a member of the Mutant Corps he was endowed with at least 3 parapsychological faculties and no one was quite sure whether other gifts of this nature were not slumbering within him also. At any rate, he was a telepath, a psychokinesist and a teleporter all in one package, besides being able to speak a number of languages with perfect fluency. And he possessed an IQ level that many humans might have envied.
Pucky walked in an upright position, measuring about 3 feet in height. He was a cross between mouse and beaver but comported himself in a completely human manner, although for the most part he chose to skip the matter of clothing. His rust-brown furry pelt seemed to be fully adequate for his needs.
Rhodan came to a halt when he reached the technicians, who had set up their equipment directly alongside the deserted Gazelle. The projectors were turned in the same direction that the ruined generator had been pointing toward. Barring anything unforeseen, an activation of the machine should now produce the circular ring of light which would form a doorway into the other time dimension.
“Are you ready?” Rhodan inquired of the head engineer as he indicated the complicated apparatus. “When can we make the first try?”
“As soon as we hook up the main conduits to the power generators on board the Drusus, sir. The energy-ring generator requires a lot of energy for building up its time-field.”
Rhodan nodded and turned around. “I’m going through myself. Pucky and the mutants will accompany me. Bell will stay behind and take over the command in case anything goes wrong…”
“Wrong…?” inquired Pucky in his sharp, squeaky voice. “What could go wrong?”
“Whatever, Pucky—we have to take the risk,” Rhodan explained calmly. “That’s what Lt. Rous did and he’s vanished; but at least we know the reason why. Without a generator there isn’t any way back. But this equipment here isn’t going to break down. Our technicians will see to that. So we’ll be able to return at any time.” He turned once more to the scientists. “When will you be all set?”