“I saw nothing, except that he walked as if he were carrying something under his coat,” the Controller replied.
“Then we must act at once. He will have been able to set up a chain of circumstance by this time that our Stabilizers will have trouble in breaking. Perhaps we should visit Mr. Benton.”
Benton sat in his living room and stared. His eyes were set in a kind of glassy rigidness and he had not moved for some time. The globe had been talking to him, telling him of its plans, its hopes. Now it stopped suddenly.
“They are coming,” the globe said. It was resting on the couch beside him, and its faint whisper curled to his brain like a wisp of smoke. It had not actually spoken, of course, for its language was mental. But Benton heard.
“What shall I do?” he asked.
“Do nothing,” the globe said. “They will go away.” The buzzer sounded and Benton remained where he was. The buzzer sounded again, and Benton stirred restlessly. After a while the men went down the walk again and appeared to have departed.
“Now what?” Benton asked. The globe did not answer for a moment.
“I feel that the time is almost here,” it said at last. “I have made no mistakes so far, and the difficult part is past. The hardest was having you come through time. It took me years — the Watcher was clever. You almost didn’t answer, and it was not until I thought of the method of putting the machine in your hands that success was certain. Soon you shall release us from this globe. After such an eternity –”
There was a scraping and a murmur from the rear of the house, and Benton started up.
“They are coming in the back door!” he said. The globe rustled angrily. The Controller and the Council Members came slowly and warily into the room. They spotted Benton and stopped.
“We didn’t think that you were at home,” the First Member said. Benton turned to him.
“Hello,” he said. “I’m sorry that I didn’t answer the bell; I had fallen asleep. What can I do for you?”
Carefully, his hand reached out toward the globe, and it seemed almost as if the globe rolled under the protection of his palm.
“What have you there?” the Controller demanded suddenly. Benton stared at him, and the globe whispered in his mind.
“Nothing but a paperweight,” he smiled. “Won’t you sit down?” The men took their seats, and the First Member began to speak. “You came to see us twice, the first time to register an invention, the second time because we had summoned you to appear, as we could not allow the invention to be issued.”
“Well?” Benton demanded. “Is there something the matter with that?”
“Oh, no,” the Member said, “but what was for us your first visit was for you your second. Several things prove this, but I will not go into them just now. The thing that is important is that you still have the machine. This is a difficult problem. Where is the machine? It should be in your possession. Although we cannot force you to give it to us, we will obtain it eventually in one way or another.”
“That is true,” Benton said. But where was the machine? He had just left it at the Controller’s Office. Yet he had already picked it up and taken it into time, whereupon he had returned to the present and had returned it to the Controller’s Office!
“It has ceased to exist, a non-entity in a time-spiral,” the globe whispered to him, catching his thoughts. “The time-spiral reached its conclusion when you deposited the machine at the Office of Control. Now these men must leave so that we can do what must be done.”
Benton rose to his feet, placing the globe behind him. “I’m afraid that I don’t have the time machine,” he said. “I don’t even know where it is, but you may search for it if you like.”
“By breaking the laws, you have made yourself eligible for the Cart,” the Controller observed. “But we feel that you have done what you did without meaning to. We do not want to punish anyone without reason, we only desire to maintain Stability. Once that is upset, nothing matters.”
“You may search, but you won’t find it,” Benton said. The Members and the Controller began to look. They overturned chairs, searched under the carpets, behind pictures, in the walls, and they found nothing.
“You see, I was telling the truth,” Benton smiled, as they returned to the living room.
“You could have hidden it outside someplace,” the Member shrugged. “It doesn’t matter, however.”
The Controller stepped forward.
“Stability is like a gyroscope,” he said. “It is difficult to turn from its course, but once started it can hardly be stopped. We do not feel that you yourself have the strength to turn that gyroscope, but there may be others who can. That remains to be seen. We are going to leave now, and you will be allowed to end your own life, or wait here for the Cart. We are giving you the choice. You will be watched, of course, and I trust that you will make no attempt to flee. If so, then it will mean your immediate destruction. Stability must be maintained, at any cost.”
Benton watched them, and then laid the globe on the table. The Members looked at it with interest.
“A paperweight,” Benton said. “Interesting, don’t you think?” The Members lost interest. They began to prepare to leave. But the Controller examined the globe, holding it up to the light.
“A model of a city, eh?” he said. “Such fine detail.” Benton watched him.
“Why, it seems amazing that a person could ever carve so well,” the Controller continued. “What city is it? It looks like an ancient one such as Tyre or Babylon, or perhaps one far in the future. You know, it reminds me of an old legend.”
He looked at Benton intently as he went on.
“The legend says that once there was a very evil city, it was so evil that God made it small and shut it up in a glass, and left a watcher of some sort to see that no one came along and released the city by smashing the glass. It is supposed to have been lying for eternity, waiting to escape.
“And this is perhaps the model of it.” the Controller continued.
“Come on!” the First Member called at the door. “We must be going; there are lots of things left to do tonight.”
The Controller turned quickly to the Members. “Wait!” he said. “Don’t leave.”
He crossed the room to them, still holding the globe in his hand. “This would be a very poor time to leave,” he said, and Benton saw that while his face had lost most of its color, the mouth was set in firm lines. The Controller suddenly turned again to Benton.
“Trip through time; city in a glass globe! Does that mean anything?” The two Council Members looked puzzled and blank. “An ignorant man crosses time and returns with a strange glass,” the Controller said. “Odd thing to bring out of time, don’t you think?” Suddenly the First Member’s face blanched white. “Good God in Heaven!” he whispered. “The accursed city! That globe?” He stared at the round ball in disbelief. The Controller looked at Benton with an amused glance.
“Odd, how stupid we may be for a time, isn’t it?” he said. “But eventually we wake up. Don’t touch it!”
Benton slowly stepped back, his hands shaking.
“Well?” he demanded. The globe was angry at being in the Controller’s hand. It began to buzz, and vibrations crept down the Controller’s arm. He felt them, and took a firmer grip on the globe.
“I think it wants me to break it,” he said, “it wants me to smash it on the floor so that it can get out.” He watched the tiny spires and building tops in the murky mistiness of the globe, so tiny that he could cover them all with his fingers.
Benton dived. He came straight and sure, the way he had flown so many times in the air. Now every minute that he had hurtled about the warm blackness of the atmosphere of the City of Lightness came back to help him. The Controller, who had always been too busy with his work, always too piled up ahead to enjoy the airsports that the City was so proud of, went down at once. The globe bounced out of his hands and rolled across the room. Benton untangled himself and leaped up. As he raced after the small shiny sphere, he caught a glimpse of the frightened, bewildered faces of the Members, of the Controller attempting to get to his feet, face contorted with pain and horror.
The globe was calling to him, whispering to him. Benton stepped swiftly toward it, and felt a rising whisper of victory and then a scream of joy as his foot crushed the glass that imprisoned it.
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