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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK POINT OF DEPARTURE *** Produced by Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at
Point of Departure


Illustrated by WEISS

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Galaxy Science Fiction April 1956.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

As if Donner's troubles weren't bad
enough—they were a repetition of something
that had created chaos thousands of years ago!

"Halleck, for Pete's sake, sit down! You act as if you were ready to attack Donner with your bare hands." The president of the Research Foundation removed an expensive cigar from its plastic cocoon and lit it from young Taplin's eagerly offered lighter.

Halleck sat down. "Sorry, G. W. This business has me on edge. I feel responsible for Donner's activities—and for the missing $300,000, too. The whole thing reeks of larceny."

"You are responsible, Hal." The president's tone was crisp but not accusing. "That's what a general manager gets paid for. Isn't it time Donner showed up?"

"He's to be here at ten, Mr. Caples. The girl will buzz us as soon as he comes in." Orville Taplin was a very good secretary, but his eagerness to prove it sometimes irked his superiors. "Shall I order some coffee sent up, Mr. Caples?"

"Not just now. Look, Hal, have you checked on this Simon Kane that Donner mentions in his letter? He doesn't sound quite real. Do we know if there is such a person?"

Taplin interrupted the general manager to answer the question. "Yes, sir. There really is a Simon Kane. I talked to Dr. Reed by transatlantic telephone last night. He said Kane was public relations man on his first expedition to Egypt in 1958."

"Why the blazes didn't you let me talk to him?" Halleck was on his feet again, a sharp-faced, balding man with a temper that suggested ulcers. "G. W., I—"

"Forget it, Hal! What else, young man?"

"Well, Dr. Reed said he fired him at the request of the Egyptian government and sent him back to the States. He said it was a long story and he didn't want to get into it on the phone."

Leaning across the wide mahogany desk and tapping the blotter for emphasis, Halleck said, "Look, G. W., Kane doesn't matter. He's just a name. The Utah Flats plant is short $300,000. Let Donner explain it in court. If Kane or anyone else was involved, let Donner prove it."

The buzzer wheezed and Orville Taplin's finger shot to the key. "Yes?"

"Mr. Donner is here."

G. W. Caples nodded to the question in the secretary's face. "Send him in."

The man in the doorway was tall, sandy and rather stooped for early middle age. His straight lined features looked competent, but the mouth was compressed to a narrow hyphen, as if he had lived through this ordeal many times in anticipation and always come out of it badly. His gray business suit was wrinkled with travel.

"Good morning, Mr. Caples. Gentlemen."

Although he closed the door gently, the click of it sounded loud in the silence. "I hope I'm not late."

"Right on the dot, Ray. Glad to see you. Pick a comfortable chair." The president smoothed the crumpled letter in front of him on the desk and waved the silent Halleck to a seat. "You can order that coffee now, young man."

When Taplin had called for the coffee and started the recording machine, G. W. Caples addressed the newcomer again with heavy, executive affability. It was authentic enough to ease the watch-spring tension in the room.

"Before we start, Ray, keep it in mind that this isn't a trial or anything like that. I, for one, have an open mind. If your record hadn't been beyond reproach, you wouldn't be a research plant manager in the first place."

"Thank you."

"But your letter here mentions an unauthorized experiment that cost $300,000, a missing man—two missing men, in fact—your fear of ugly publicity and—well, various other details that leave me thoroughly confused. Now, you're going to give us all the facts—not as a culprit, but as a trusted official."

"I appreciate that, sir. Shall I begin at the beginning?"

"Yes. Forget the letter. Begin where you like."

"Well, first, you know Dr. Wilson Reed, the archeologist. Top man in the field. He made the Yucatan discoveries and located the Poseidon Tablets in the vaults under the Sphinx—the newspapers called him the 'Columbus of the Past.' But I don't need to tell you that. This all began with a letter I had from Dr. Reed shortly after he left for his second expedition to Egypt."

Caples nodded. "I know his reputation, but I never met the man."

"That's one of the many things I don't understand, Mr. Caples." Raymond Donner sat on the edge of the leather lounge chair and kneaded his long, thin hands. "You see, the letter asked me to cooperate with Simon Kane in every way and there was an interoffice memo from you enclosed, instructing me to do so, written in your own handwriting."

Caples leaned across the desk, startled. "A memo from me! Now see here, Ray—Where is the memo? Where's the letter?"

"They're gone, Mr. Caples. They were stolen."

The buzzer sounded and a cheerful redhead brought in a tray with four cups, cream and sugar bowls and a large aluminum coffee urn. It remained untouched on the desk when she had gone.

"I see. They were stolen." The president's casual manner was gone and the tension returned unchecked. "Go on."

"I'm sorry, sir. But the letter and memo were the keys to the whole business. And I want to remind you at the beginning that I'm not a scientist or an aviation engineer, but an administrative officer—"

"Maybe we should say you were."

"Shut up, Halleck! Let him go on."

The president glanced at the recorder spinning silently and drew short, angry puffs on his cigar.

"And I want to remind you, too, gentlemen, that I'm here of my own volition. My fears are for the Foundation's reputation, not for myself alone. After all, there's no motive for murder and—"

"Murder!" The two executives looked frozen. Taplin, starting to reach for the coffee, changed his mind.

"—and, to put it bluntly, no dead body. But let me take it from the beginning."

"As I said, the letter and memo came in May, just after Dr. Reed left for Egypt again. A week after that, Simon Kane phoned from Salt Lake City to make an appointment for the following afternoon.

"He turned out to be a dark-featured, very distinguished type in his late forties. His eyes were an intense black, heavily browed and, though he wasn't big, his voice was deep and arrestingly modulated. Listening to him, it was easy to lose track of what he was saying. His mouth was wide and—well, sympathetic.

"We talked for about an hour that first day, mostly about Dr. Reed's marvelous discovery in Egypt. Kane said the Poseidon Tablets described a magnificent civilization, scientifically advanced, that had flourished on an equatorial continent until it was destroyed by the Biblical Flood—around 10,700 B.C.

"He spoke of Dr. Reed as an intimate friend and said he had been greatly impressed with you, Mr. Caples."

The president scowled. "I've never heard of the man. But it seems pretty strange that he should have turned up when Halleck was in Persia and I was in Europe on atomic-inspection duty and Reed was off to Egypt."

"Looking back at it, I agree with you," said Donner, taking out a cigarette and lighting it. "But it didn't occur to me at the time."

"Well, get on with it."

"If I could give you a better idea of Kane's remarkable voice, its hypnotic quality—but I guess I can't. Maybe that's just an excuse. I wish I'd thrown him out of the office the first day.

"When we got around to the reason for his call, he asked if there was any chance of our being overheard. I assured him there wasn't and he told me his weird story.

"It seemed Dr. Reed had found another series of fourteen tablets along with the others, but these hadn't been publicized. A translation of the first half dozen showed that they concerned an outstanding—perhaps the ultimate—scientific achievement of the Poseidon civilization: a small solar energy converter, able to deliver such fantastic power that it made our nuclear sources look as primitive as the windmill.

"When I said the invention wouldn't be very welcome in a country where the entire economy was geared to atomic power, Kane agreed and said that explained the secrecy. He said you, Mr. Caples, and Dr. Reed felt the device should be tested under wraps and then turned over to the government, since private ownership of a dirt-cheap power source—if it worked—might precipitate economic chaos."

G. W. Caples sat stiffly in the same position. "The whole idea is pure nonsense, the most transparent fraud. A child wouldn't swallow it."

"You may be right. It was my misfortune not to be a child."

"Simon Kane made it sound completely plausible. He said two good men could build the gadget in a month. He agreed to bring the specifications to my office the next morning and I showed him out, feeling very excited about the thing. I had a lot to learn about Mr. Kane.

"In the morning, I called in Ruhl and Heiniger and told them they were to work on a project involving 100% security. They agreed, of course. The hush-hush jobs are usually the most interesting. Then Kane came in with his sheets of specifications and gave them the details. Their faces were—I was going to say like children viewing their first Christmas tree.

"Since it was all Greek to me, I left the three of them to discuss the project and went off about some other business. Kane was gone when I got back and had left a note inviting me out to his house for a cocktail or two that afternoon.

"When I could get away, I drove out to his place, a great, sprawling ranchhouse he'd rented a few miles from the plant. No one else was there, but Kane was an ingratiating host and a couple of hours passed very pleasantly. I kept wondering why he wanted such a big place, way out in the hills, just for himself.

"Around five, I phoned Ruhl at the plant. He's rather a stolid type ordinarily, but he was stuttering with excitement. He said the power unit was revolutionary and might change the course of history.

"Kane laughed when I repeated that to him. 'Maybe it already did,' he said. 'A few thousand years ago.'"

"We shook hands at the door and agreed to meet the next morning and get to work.

"As I was walking along the house toward the drive where my car stood, a movement at one of the windows near the end of the building caught my eye. I paused and looked up—into the face of one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen.

"She was youngish, not over 27 or 28, pale in coloring with rich, black hair piled up behind her neck. The large, dark eyes were looking squarely into mine. I must have stopped and stared for several seconds, for, in addition to her beauty, I thought I saw a great dread written in the girl's face. Then she was gone.

"All the way home, I kept wondering why Simon Kane hadn't mentioned the woman in his house. The silly thought that she was being held captive there kept coming to me, no matter how often I dismissed it."

Caples poured a cup of coffee and made a face when he sipped it. "Donner, I don't know why you have to ornament this yarn with hypnotic-voiced villains and captive girls. Can't you just tell us if your expensive gadget worked?"

Halleck slumped glumly. Taplin fluttered over the cold coffee and ordered some more.

"The device did work, Mr. Caples. I set Ruhl and Heiniger up in the isolated shop at the west corner of the plant area and they had it functioning in three weeks. We brought in a skilled glass-cutter to form the big, faceted eye to receive the Sun's radiations. Naturally, he didn't know what it was for.

"By the time the eye was ready, they'd assembled the conversion elements. They rigged the thing to deliver electrical current through a series of step-down transformers. The result was appalling. Until the current was reduced to a tiny fraction of the potential, it blew out every testing gauge they plugged into it.

"Up to this time, I think all three of us—Heiniger, Ruhl and myself—had been kept hopped up by curiosity and Kane's

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