Krag and Nightspore meanwhile had gone on ahead with the light, so that he had to complete the ascent in darkness. When he was near the top, he saw yellow light shining through the crack of a half - opened door. His companions were standing just inside a small room, shut off from the staircase by rough wooden planking; it was rudely furnished and contained nothing of astronomical interest. The lantern was resting on a table.
Maskull walked in and looked around him with curiosity. "Are we at the top?"
"Except for the platform over our heads," replied Krag.
"Why didn't that lowest window magnify, as it did earlier in the evening?"
"Oh, you missed your opportunity," said Krag, grinning. "If you had finished your climb then, you would have seen heart - expanding sights. From the fifth window, for example, you would have seen Tormance like a continent in relief; from the sixth you would have seen it like a landscape.... But now there's no need."
"Why not - and what has need got to do with it?"
"Things are changed, my friend, since that wound of yours. For the same reason that you have now been able to mount the stairs, there was no necessity to stop and gape at illusions en route."
"Very well," said Maskull, not quite understanding what he meant. "But is this Surtur's den?"
"He has spent time here."
"I wish you would describe this mysterious individual, Krag. We may not get another chance."
"What I said about the windows also applies to Surtur. There's no need to waste time over visualising him, because you are immediately going on to the reality."
"Then let us go." He pressed his eyeballs wearily.
"Do we strip?" asked Nightspore.
"Naturally," answered Krag, and he began to tear off his clothes with slow, uncouth movements.
"Why?" demanded Maskull, following, however, the example of the other two men.
Krag thumped his vast chest, which was covered with thick hairs, like an ape's. "Who knows what the Tormance fashions are like? We may sprout limbs - I don't say we shall."
"A - ha!" exclaimed Maskull, pausing in the middle of his undressing.
Krag smote him on the back. "New pleasure organs possible, Maskull. You like that?"
The three men stood as nature made them. Maskull's spirits rose fast, as the moment of departure drew near.
"A farewell drink to success!" cried Krag, seizing a bottle and breaking its head off between his fingers. There were no glasses, but he poured the amber - coloured wine into some cracked cups.
Perceiving that the others drank, Maskull tossed off his cupful. It was as if he had swallowed a draught of liquid electricity.... Krag dropped onto the floor and rolled around on his back, kicking his legs in the air. He tried to drag Maskull down on top of him, and a little horseplay went on between the two. Nightspore took no part in it, but walked to and fro, like a hungry caged animal.
Suddenly, from out - of - doors, there came a single prolonged, piercing wail, such as a banshee might be imagined to utter. It ceased abruptly, and was not repeated.
"What's that?" called out Maskull, disengaging himself impatiently from Krag.
Krag rocked with laughter. "A Scottish spirit trying to reproduce the bagpipes of its earth life - in honour of our departure."
Nightspore turned to Krag. "Maskull will sleep throughout the journey?"
"And you too, if you wish, my altruistic friend. I am pilot, and you passengers can amuse yourselves as you please."
"Are we off at last?" asked Maskull.
"Yes, you are about to cross your Rubicon, Maskull. But what a Rubicon! .. . Do you know that it takes light a hundred years or so to arrive here from Arcturus? Yet we shall do it in nineteen hours."
"Then you assert that Surtur is already there?"
"Surtur is where he is. He is a great traveller."
"Won't I see him?"
Krag went up to him and looked him in the eyes. "Don't forget that you have asked for it, and wanted it. Few people in Tormance will know more about him than you do, but your memory will be your worst friend."
He led the way up a short iron ladder, mounting through a trap to the flat roof above. When they were up, he switched on a small electric torch.
Maskull beheld with awe the torpedo of crystal that was to convey them through the whole breadth of visible space. It was forty feet long, eight wide, and eight high; the tank containing the Arcturian back rays was in front, the car behind. The nose of the torpedo was directed toward the south-eastern sky. The whole machine rested upon a flat platform, raised about four feet above the level of the roof, so as to encounter no obstruction on starting its flight.
Krag flashed the light on to the door of the car, to enable them to enter. Before doing so, Maskull gazed sternly once again at the gigantic, far - distant star, which was to be their sun from now onward. He frowned, shivered slightly, and got in beside Nightspore. Krag clambered past them onto his pilot's seat. He threw the flashlight through the open door, which was then carefully closed, fastened, and screwed up.
He pulled the starting lever. The torpedo glided gently from its platform, and passed rather slowly away from the tower, seaward. Its speed increased sensibly, though not excessively, until the approximate limits of the earth's atmosphere were reached. Krag then released the speed valve, and the car sped on its way with a velocity more nearly approaching that of thought than of light.
Maskull had no opportunity of examining through the crystal walls the rapidly changing panorama of the heavens. An extreme drowsiness oppressed him. He opened his eyes violently a dozen times, but on the thirteenth attempt he failed. From that time forward he slept heavily.
The bored, hungry expression never left Nightspore's face. The alterations in the aspect of the sky seemed to possess not the least interest for him.
Krag sat with his hand on the lever, watching with savage intentness his phosphorescent charts and gauges.
A Voyage to Arcturus -by- David Lindsay