A magnetic lure swept over Sutter. He felt an overwhelming desire to step into that cone of light....
Whether the exoskeleton expanded to admit his entrance or whether his own figure magically dwindled he could not tell, but the next instant he found himself in a fairy palace with all about him a world of silence.
A long broad hallway stretched before him. At the far end a ramp angled upward to a higher level. Sutter walked forward slowly, aware in a vague way that he had entered another plane that was at once a microcosm and a macrocosm. On the second level the way ahead divided. After a moment's hesitation he chose the left-hand passage, passing through a keyhole-shaped archway into a broad amphitheater, empty of furnishings, with a kind of terrace or gallery at the far end. Emerging upon that gallery, Sutter saw that he had reached the outer limit of the shell. The edges of the wall before him were cut off, jagged and rough, where his saw had done its work.
He was looking out upon the normal world that was his living room.
He stiffened as the door to the room opened and Lucien Travail entered. He sat down before the center table and carefully, systematically began going through the contents of the table drawer. Startled, Sutter watched from his strange vantage point. Travail had not noticed that the television set was turned on, and the high-backed davenport apparently hid the cone of blue light from his view.
He took a sheet of paper from the drawer, began reading it. With a start Sutter recognized his letter from the Federal Arts Museum.
And as a wave of wrath swept over him, Sutter saw that the beach scene on the television set was slowly fading away. Fear and a realization of his strange position struck him. He turned and ran madly back across the amphitheater, down the ramp and along the long hallway to the point where he had entered the shell. Even as he approached it the cone of blue light dimmed, wavered and was replaced by a wall of partial blackness.
Sutter sent his hands clawing desperately at that wall as it flickered twice and momentarily became translucent again. He forced his body between folds of palpable darkness, slid into the vanishing blue cone. Instantly he found himself in his normal world, standing in the center of the sitting room. Travail looked up, startled.
"Hullo. Where did you come from?" he said finally.
Sutter said, "What are you doing in my drawer?"
"I was looking for my tobacco pouch," Travail replied easily. "I'm sure I left it here on the table last night. I thought the maid might have put it in the drawer."
In his bedroom Sutter wrapped each of the alien shells in a sheet of newspaper and restored them to the basket. He placed the basket on the top shelf of the closet, concealing it with a couple of old hats.
He didn't sleep well that night. His mind reviewed over and over his strange experience. Toward morning he fell into a deep sleep and dreamed a wild dream of walking down a broad highway, flanked on one side by an endless line of television sets and on the other by man-high hills of alien shells.
He had his breakfast at the little coffee shop around the corner. But halfway back to his apartment he suddenly thought of Travail alone in the house with his shells. He broke into a run and he was panting for breath when he reached his door.
The basket of shells was still on the shelf, but the newspaper wrappings were loosened, and the bisected shell was entirely free of covering. And he had not left them that way last evening.
Had atomic transmigration attempted to draw the shells back into the Time sphere to which they really belonged? Sutter was a logical man, and even as this thought came his mind rejected it. It must be Travail. He had taken a sample shell from the basket and even now perhaps was dickering with the officials of the Federal Arts Museum on a price.
Sutter picked up the bisected shell and went into the sitting room. He carefully placed the shell upon the table so that the light from the television set would fall directly upon it. Then he sat down to wait.
As he waited he mentally viewed the material prospects of his discovery.
If the Federal Arts Museum had offered five thousand credits for his old collection, they would surely double their price on these rarities. He saw himself the recipient of a fat check, his name and picture in the papers, television interviews, lecture assignments, world fame ...
And to think that Travail had the brazen nerve to believe he could cash in on his good fortune!
"Damned bearded coot!" Sutter mumbled to himself. "He must take me for an utter fool!"
Footsteps sounded and his bearded roommate entered the room. Was it fancy or did Sutter see in those grey eyes a gleam of mingled avarice and satisfaction?
"Have a cigar?" said Travail casually.
Sutter shook his head. "You know I don't smoke." He crossed the room, adjusted the controls of the television set and watched the familiar beach scene come into sharper focus. As the sound of the washing waves boomed from the speaker, the cone of bluish light took form before the bisected shell. Sutter moved the shell slightly so that it lay at directly right angles to the panel of the TV set. Travail, drawing on his cigar, watched him curiously.
"What are you doing?" he asked at length.
"Little experiment. Stand over here and I'll show you. Here, in front of this cone of light."
Travail took the place indicated. His face was emotionless as he looked beyond the light into the bisected shell.
"Now walk forward," commanded Sutter.
"I'll do nothing of the sort," said Travail, starting to back away. "What are you up to anyway?"
Sutter had no plan in mind beyond an overwhelming desire to put a bad fright into his roommate in payment for what he considered a monstrous act of duplicity. It would serve Travail right if, once he entered the secondary plane of the shell, he would be forced to stay there a while. A good scare would cause him to leave, maybe.
Sutter moved up behind the bearded man and gave him a violent shove forward. "In you go!" he cried hysterically.
Travail pitched head foremost. But, spinning, he clutched at Sutter's arm, gripping it with the desperation of a drowning man. Half inside, half outside the cone of blue light he seemed propelled into the depths of the bisected shell by an irresistible force. In vain did Sutter fight to release the hold upon his arm. His squirming legs fastened themselves about the legs of a heavy Windsor chair, kicked frantically