McCray thumbed down the transmitter button and gave a concise report of his situation and his guesses. "I don't know how I got here. I don't know how long I've been gone, since I was unconscious for a time. However, if the transmission lag is a reliable indication—" he swallowed and went on—"I'd estimate I am something more than five hundred light-years away from you at this moment. That's all I have to say, except for one more word: Help."
When we started, it was in that clear crystal dark that looks as if you could see through it forever till you reached infinite things, and we seemed to be in a great hollow sphere, and the stars were like living beings who had the night to themselves. Always, when I’m up late, I feel as if it were something unlawful, as if affairs were in progress which I had no right to witness, a kind of grand freemasonry. I’ve felt it nights when I’ve been watching with mother, and there has come up across the heavens the great caravan of constellations, and a star that I’d pulled away the curtain on the east side to see came by and by and looked in at the south window; but I never felt it as I did this night. The tide was near the full, and so we went slipping down the dark water by the starlight; and as we saw them shining above us, and then looked down and saw them sparkling up from beneath,——the stars,——it really seemed as if Dan’s oars must be two long wings, as if we swam on them through a motionless air. By and by we were in the island creek, and far ahead, in a streak of wind that didn’t reach us, we could see a pointed sail skimming along between the banks, as if some ghost went before to show us the way; and when the first hush and mystery wore off, Mr. Gabriel was singing little French songs in tunes like the rise and fall of the tide. While he sang he rowed, and Dan was gangeing the hooks. At length Dan took the oars again, and every now and then he paused to let us float along with the tide as it slacked, and take the sense of the night. And all the tall grass that edged the side began to wave in a strange light, and there blew on a little breeze, and over the rim of the world tipped up a waning moon. If there’d been anything needed to make us feel as if we were going to find the Witch of Endor, it was this. It was such a strange moon, pointing such a strange way, with such a strange color, so remote, and so glassy,——it was like a dead moon, or the spirit of one, and was perfectly awful.
Perhaps, however, he detected a tinge of irritation in my own look, for that evening, as we sat over the fire after Leila had yawned herself off to bed, he glanced up at the armoured image, and said:
They walked on in silence for a few yards, pondering the significance of that last pronouncement before Hubert said,——
Did that mean—did it possibly mean—that there was a lag of an hour or two each way? Did it, for example, mean that at the speed of his suit's pararadio, millions of times faster than light, it took hours to get a message to the ship and back?
Sandra nodded. The players were making it as hard on the Machine as possible, she decided with a small rush of sympathy.
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