Plot Summary:

Cosmic Encounter
by A.E. van Vogt

A review of this novel can be read here.

This is one of van Vogt's rarest and most obscure novels, printed only three times in English. Like a handful of his other 1980s output, it has the added curiosity of having been published first in French by the publisher J'ai Lu, under the editorship of Jacques Sadoul, who was well known for consistently promoting Van's work in Europe.

Chapter 1

In the Caribbean of the year 1704, a spaceship falls into the ocean near the pirate ship Orinda. The object's fall is witnessed by one solitary man named Figarty. In his surprise and panic, he alarms most of the crew. They search the horizon and see no other ships, they grow angry with Figarty for scaring them for no good reason. Captain Fletcher saves Figarty from being lynched and takes him to his cabin for questioning. He and his first mate Shradd hear the story of the falling object.

Chapter 2

That night, Fletcher is busy in his cabin while the crew is asleep, plotting a course to intercept a ship he knows is coming his way. One of the passengers aboard is a young lady of nobility who has a price on her head, and Fletcher — originally from the upper-class himself — intends to return to England after the raid and assassination to collect the payment and retire. He takes a moment to consider where he would like to settle down, and eventually decides Naples would do nicely. At that moment his mind is suddenly filled with memories of having lived there in retirement for 35 years. Baffled and disturbed by this, he goes to sleep.

The next morning, they spot and board the target vessel. They take all its cargo, kill the men, and offer the women the choice of rape or death. The woman he intends to assassinate, Lady Patricia Hemistan, unhesitatingly chooses death. The captain does however hesitate, since the beautiful young woman arouses a protective instinct in him that had been long forgotten. He however carries through his decision and has her thrown overboard.

Chapter 3

The spaceship that fell into the sea is a "Transit-Craft" from the far future. The ship settles on the sea-bed and some of its crew take note of Lady Patricia's dead body falling towards them. They bring it aboard, and recreate a very accurate facsimile of her, giving her new life. She awakens with great confusion — remembering sucking in a lung-full of water to kill herself instantly, she is puzzled by the fact that she isn't dead. She explores the strange interior of the ship — discovering thousands of thin silvery threads hanging everywhere — and is amazed to see the ocean bed outside one of the windows.

Chapter 4

That night, a small shuttle from the Transit-Craft pulls alongside the Orinda and a small boy boards the pirate ship, with the automated shuttle immediately returning to the Craft. The boy is in fact the captain of the ship from the future — in their era, young people are as fully matured as 18th century adults. He is discovered and taken before the captain, but Billy uses various devices to ensure that he comes to no harm.

The boy gives his name as Billy, and says that he was aboard an English merchant ship that sank nearby, and that he and a few other crew members escaped in lifeboats. Fletcher offers Billy life aboard the Orinda as his cabin boy, and he accepts.

As the captain calculates the course back to England and goes to sleep, Billy goes up on deck and using his unique abilities opens the cargo hatch and places eight medium-sized machines that rose out of the sea at his summons into the cargo hold, making sure that they will be difficult to discover. (These machines are later revealed to be the damaged engines of the Transit-Craft.)

Chapter 5

He goes to bed in his assigned place and considers his situation. He and his cargo ship — from the 83rd century — had fallen through a "space-time convulsion" and landed in the 18th century. He needs metallurgical industry to repair his Transit-Craft's engines, and hopes that his grasp of ancient Earth history is reliable enough that such things are indeed available in this time period. He goes to sleep, but during the night the pirate Figarty picks Billy's pocket, taking the small devices and instruments scattered about his person. However, Figarty assumes them to be useless children's toys and throws them overboard. In the morning Billy and the crew awaken, and he is horrified by the absence of these important devices. He is now virtually helpless and surrounded by dangerous men.

Chapter 6

That morning the crew of the Orinda are terrified to see an enormous spaceship hovering above the horizon. Billy immediately recognizes it as a Lantellan battleship from around the 25th century, a race of conquering robots that warred with humanity. He tries to warn the captain of the danger, but since he has lost his devices he is unable to influence Fletcher's decision.

The scene swiftly shifts to the battleship. We learn that the Lantellans are communal robots, who share command positions via duty shifts, and serve an entity called the Universal Mind that permeates all of their vessels and communicates with the crew. However, having fallen victim to the same "time collapse" phenomenon as Billy's Transit-Craft, they have been cut off from the Mind and no longer have the advantage of receiving its wisdom and advice.

A member of the Lantellan crew named Nodo is brought to action by the ship's alarm. He knows that they are on Earth, with whom they are at war. He does not know, however, that they have fallen backwards through time. He momentarily senses that he has experienced this situation before, only without the unforeseen diverting to Earth, but reassures himself that that is impossible. A primitive sailing ship has been spotted, and he is ordered to lead the boarding party.

Chapter 7

Captain Fletcher is awed and overwhelmed by seeing the Lantellan boarding vessel flying towards his ship from the battlecruiser. Billy successfully advises the captain to let him speak with the boarding party, since it would be useless to resist them and he senses they're only seeking information.

After boarding the ship, Nodo asks Billy what has happened to their connection with the Universal Mind. Billy explains to Fletcher that the Mind originated on a space station in orbit around Earth, a computer filled with all of humanity's knowledge. Something went wrong and the station left orbit. The next thing man knew, it had created servants for itself and was waging war against mankind. Nodo overhears this explanation and refutes it as false — their version of events is mystical and quasi-religious, with the Mind as a god figure . Billy tells Nodo that they are several centuries too soon for the Mind to have even existed, and that is why they have lost contact.

The Lantellans then insist on injecting the pirate crew with an substance that will make it possible to track them. Captain Fletcher reluctantly submits. While his men are getting injections he asks the boy some questions.

Billy explains that the universe has suffered a phenomenon known as "time collapse." Normally, every moment in time is just as real as any other, and even accessible to those with the right technology. However, the timeline has contracted to a single year, 1704, destroying every other moment in time and bringing in objects from all of Earth's history.

The injections now finished, the increasingly angry pirate crew suddenly attack the Lantellans without the captain's orders.

Chapter 8

The crew's attack is largely ineffective, though the Lantellans do leave the ship after shooting four men with L-beams, rendering them unconscious.

When the boarding party returns to the Lantellan battlecruiser, they discover that a technical delay is preventing them from immediately following the Orinda to England.

Chapter 9

Fletcher orders the injured crewmen to be taken below decks. While examining them, he wonders what the L-beam did to them — and suddenly finds himself in mental contact with the unconscious men, who advise him to collect the bounty for killing Lady Patricia, and to not worry about them, as they will be waking in about an hour. Although greatly alarmed by this unexpected development, the captain maintains his composure and assures the rest of the crew that the men will recover shortly.

Chapter 10

The captain indulges in a bit of introspection while waiting for the four crewmen to awaken. He has puzzling memories of this voyage that do not include the Lantellans or Billy, and is still bewildered by the vision he had of the last years of his life, as a wealthy man in his late seventies living in Italy. He is however relieved that the Lantellan ship is not pursuing them on their way back to London.

His thoughts are interrupted by the arrival of the four injured crewmen. During their conversation it becomes clear that the L-beam has cleared and purified their minds — turning them into well-behaved, reformed gentlemen — as well as giving them the ability to read minds and transmit thought.

Chapter 11

On board the Transit-Craft at the bottom of the sea, the recreated form of Lady Patricia is having difficulty adjusting to her new existence and strange surroundings. She is put to sleep by the ship's crew and moved to a small futuristic boat, which immediately departs for London. For the next few days she is amazed by the speedy little boat, with its food and running water, warm bedchamber, and unfamiliar craftsmanship, and comforts herself with the realization that some unknown party is caring for her. During the week-long journey, she takes time to reflect on how her cousin Keith put a price on her head after she refused to marry him. As she falls asleep that night she is struck by the sudden knowledge that the crew of the Transit-Craft are depending on her, since their captain disappeared.

She examines the contents of the boat and encounters a metallic rod that coerces her to keep it on her person. Later, the boat goes up the Thames and docks at a London wharf. She is reluctant to disembark, knowing the kind of evil men that stalk the streets looking for victims such as herself. She suddenly finds herself transported onto the dock, and she sees the boat leave. The rod she is carrying forces her to hold it in her hand, and it activates its defenses whenever she is assaulted, driving off her assailants.

Chapter 12

The Orinda docks in the Thames at night, and sells its plundered cargo to various people. The Transit-Craft engines that Billy brought on board (in Chapter 4) are sold to a man named Julius MacDonald, who buys them as scrap metal.

Captain Fletcher considers what Billy had said about the world's timeline collapsing onto the year 1704. He glumly ponders the possibilities of a future built by the scum he is surrounded by.

The money gained from the stolen cargo is divided among the pirate crew, who then take their leave, to return a few days later. While at a tavern, Fletcher drinks too much and babbles about his past. He was a Whig supporter who fell afoul of the Tories and had his inheritance confiscated under flimsy pretenses, and a warrant put out for his arrest. This great injustice and sudden destitution drove him to piracy.

He returns to the Orinda, which is left with but a few men on board. While troubled with the problem of wanting to warn somebody about the Lantellans, he looks at the horizon and is horrified to see the Lantellan battleship slowly cruising up the Thames. He suddenly remembers how he and his crew were marked by the robots, and can be tracked anywhere. He hastily grabs a bagful of money and possessions and leaves the ship.

Chapter 13

Before being ruined by the Tories, Fletcher was deeply involved in high society, and was friends with Queen Anne and her husband Prince George of Denmark — it was the latter who gave Fletcher advance warning of the Tories' hostile intentions, allowing him time to escape the country. Feeling obligated to let the government know of this new threat he returns to the Queen's castle, taking a secret stairway to her personal chambers, a route he often took in times long past to visit with them and play cards. Still possessing a document bearing the Queen's open invitation for his admittance, he is allowed in by the guard at the top of the stairs who has him wait while his arrival is announced.

Fletcher's current reputation being well known, he is not surprised when armed guards arrive and disarm him before the Prince enters the room. The Lantellan battleship's arrival has already caused great alarm, and Fletcher explains that he is the only one who knows what they are and can offer any valuable advice on defending against them. After getting no immediate response, he gets the Prince's full attention by telling him of his memories of the rest of his life in Italy — memories which include hearing of the Prince's death in four years due to a lung disease. The Prince immediately goes to get Queen Anne.

The Queen admits to Fletcher that she and several others have impossible memories. They each discuss what they remember, and conclude that their memories are indeed of future events. He tells them of the danger from the Lantellans, and the possible assistance by the crew of the Transit-Craft. George's ailment, for instance, can presumably be easily cured with their advanced medical knowledge.

They are interrupted by the arrival of Robert Harley, the man responsible for Fletcher's downfall and disgrace. Harley immediately orders the guards to kill Fletcher. Everyone is too shocked by this to react, and Fletcher uses this time to reclaim his sword and subdue Harley without harming anyone. The Queen prevents further hasty action and instantly appoints Fletcher a general, to be in charge of coordinating the defense of England — this grants him immunity from anything but a trial by his peers, and allows him to escape the castle alive. Before he departs, he warns the Queen to move inland, and to do her best to counter the Lantellan threat.

Chapter 14

On board both the Lantellan ship and the Transit-Craft, their respective scientists conclude that although the timeline has undergone a drastic collapse, the nature and progression of time itself seems unaffected, so they will be able to live out their lives in this new period of history.

Riding on a stagecoach, Fletcher has it confirmed that some people remember their "future" lives, while others don't, or at least ignore them for peace of mind. He arrives at the Hemistan Castle estate where he collects the bounty from Keith for his cousin Patricia's assassination, and leaves.

Keith considers the possibility of later "dealing" with the pirate captain, since he knows that he will visit the nearby Fletcher Estate where his mother and sister live.

Chapter 15

After leaving a few false trails for anyone who may be following him, Fletcher treks across a swampy area to reach his family's estate. He is let in by his sister, who inquires about his recent activities. He lies, saying that he was the captain of a merchant ship for the past few years, a post which he obtained thanks to a friend who aided his escape from England several years previously. Though dubious, she gives him his old room for the remainder of the night.

Chapter 16

Keith Hemistan is enjoying his victory when a visitor comes to the house. He is shocked to find that it is his cousin Patricia, whom he knows for a fact to be dead based on eyewitness accounts of her drowning, as well as Captain Fletcher's collection of the bounty. Her first order to the servants is to have Keith thrown out.

Keith had spent almost all of his inheritance on Fletcher's payment, and is desperate to get it back now that he has lost control of Patricia's share of the inheritance. He hires a man to kidnap Fletcher and bring him to Patricia for identification and, hopefully, subsequent execution for piracy. While that's going on, Keith visits Fletcher's home and reclaims the money.

Chapter 17

There is an interval of a few days between Chapters 16 & 17, as we next see Fletcher in the dungeon of Hemistan Castle, having been convicted for piracy. He discovers that his cellmate, Abdul Jones, is from New York City of the year 2242, who had suddenly found himself in 18th century England and was soon arrested for trying to use his credit card to pay for a meal.

Chapter 18

At dawn, shortly before his appointed time for hanging, he is visited by Robert Harley. Fletcher inquires whether the Queen has been moved to safety; Harley replies that she has, but they have much else to discuss. Lady Patricia also appears, inviting the men to continue their conversation in her house. Fletcher insists that Jones accompany him.

Chapter 19

Meanwhile, Billy had been tracked down and captured by Nodo. The two have an uneasy alliance as they try to locate Fletcher using one of the Lantellan's smaller vessels.

Meanwhile, Fletcher tries to explain all he knows about recent odd events to Harley and Patricia. The two men then discuss Fletcher's current situation. Since he was appointed a general by the Queen, he must be tried before other high government officials before being sentenced for his piracy. His execution has therefore been indefinitely postponed.

They are interrupted by the arrival of a soldier who is in a state of panic. Fletcher rushes out and sees the Lantellan shuttle land and Billy disembark.

Chapter 20

Billy informs Fletcher and the others that Nodo has enough firepower to destroy any resistance, and that the Lantellan wishes them all to accompany it to London as prisoners.

Also during the conversation, it becomes apparent that Patricia has been granted limited telepathic ability when she was "reconstructed" by the crew of the Transit-Craft. She tells Fletcher that she will ensure that he is not hanged for piracy, given that he becomes a wholly "purified" individual. This gets Fletcher to thinking about what happened to the four men hit by the L-beam (described in Chapters 8 and 10).

They all board Nodo's shuttle, which swiftly departs.

Chapter 21

The people from the 18th century are amazed by the ship's acceleration and smooth movement. Jones — from the 23rd century — takes this opportunity to assert his superiority and greater technical knowledge, but since he is such a nonentity no one pays him any attention.

Billy informs Fletcher that the Lantellans are intent on conquering Earth and making it their new home. He also explains that he had stored the Transit-Craft's damaged engines in the Orinda's cargo hold, intending to take them to London to see if the current level of metalworking was sophisticated enough to make their repair possible. However, the engines were sold with the other plunder (in Chapter 12), and Nodo is currently taking them to the Orinda — currently back at sea — to consult the records to see who purchased them.

Chapter 22

They arrive on the pirate ship, and Fletcher boards. After getting the purchase logs from Shradd — now the captain — he asks about the four men who were hit by the L-beam. Shradd relates how they failed to rejoin the crew at the end of their leave, saying that they could no longer be pirates and had a responsibility towards their women. Fletcher is encouraged by this news and decides to somehow fall victim the L-beam to achieve a similar change in character for himself — and, of course, for the telepathy it would give him, which he could use to his own ends.

The job finished, they then depart the Orinda to return to England. Nodo asks Billy if there is a reason for sparing the pirate ship from destruction. Billy thinks long and hard before answering, knowing that a hasty, illogical, or poorly-phrased response could be disastrous when dealing with machine minds. He eventually explains to Nodo that something on the ship may be required later on, so it would be most prudent to leave the ship alone.

Chapter 23

Harley makes conciliatory gestures towards Fletcher, as comrades in arms defending England.

Billy explains that he has realized that the current level of technology on Earth is definitely not high enough to make the repair of his engines possible, and that he is cooperating with the Lantellans in the hope that after the engines are reclaimed that he can somehow persuade the robots to repair them.

Patricia and Fletcher's relationship deepens, and he is able to borrow the large sum of money she is carrying to buy back the engines.

Chapter 24

Nodo finally locates Julius MacDonald in London, who purchased the "scrap metal" from the Orinda (in Chapter 12), which included Billy's engines. Fletcher buys back the engines for the exact price that Julius obtained them — the greedy merchant's bartering is abruptly halted by Nodo's appearance in his shop.

Nodo and his prisoners then leave, heading now for the Lantellan battleship. First, they locate and pick up the "boat" which took Patricia from the Transit-Craft to London, after Billy orders its defenses to stand down.

Fletcher asks Nodo to have a L-beam fired into his head. Nodo eventually agrees, only because it is suspected that Fletcher is an important player in the time collapse, and that the ship's biophysicist wants the captain brought on board unconscious for questioning. The Lantellans were also previously unaware of the beam's exact effect on humans and wish to study what it does to him. As Nodo fires the beam, Fletcher expresses his regret to Patricia for having murdered her.

Chapter 25

Fletcher awakens back in the dungeon of Hemistan Castle (in the exact same circumstances as at the beginning of Chapter 17). After carefully reviewing his memories, he concludes that the various errands ran by Nodo with himself, Patricia, Harley, Jones, and Billy as prisoners was just a very vivid dream.

Patricia enters the dungeon in a panic, claiming that a large beast is loose in the castle grounds and that she has come to him hoping that he, as a man of violence, will be able to defeat it.

He leaves the dungeon and spots the beast — a creature that would be in later centuries be identified as a dinosaur, brought here by the time collapse. Patricia and Fletcher agree that such a beast, presumably the last of its kind now, should be captured and preserved. He is embroiled in creating a plan to capture it when Abdul Jones volunteers to use his 23rd century devices to aid them.

Chapter 26

The dinosaur now captured and safely contained in a stable, Patricia gives the two men dinner at her table. Fletcher has had time to think through the odd change in time and location, and realizes another time shift must have occurred — the past eighteen hours have "reset" themselves, leaving only the memory of the experience. Wondering if he is the only one with such recollections, he relates his entire tale to Patricia and Jones. Patricia admits to never having had any memories of an alternate reality.

Fletcher asks Patricia how she still lives despite having drown. She tells him her experiences on the sea bed, and later on the mysterious boat that took her to London. He upsets her by stating that her story is not entirely true, that there is no way she could have survived walking through so many London streets undefended — she then tells about the rod that protected her from assailants. Jones uses this opportunity to try to ingratiate himself with Patricia, whom he has taken a fancy to.

After being returned to their cell, Fletcher pleads for his life on the grounds that she thought him redeemable, and that he possess knowledge vital to England's survival. She agrees to reconsider it, but warns him not to try to escape.

Chapter 27

Jones tries to make a deal with Fletcher — he will let Fletcher free using his devices if Fletcher agrees to not interfere with his advances on Patricia. Fletcher is caught in a moral dilemma of betraying the woman he regrets killing, but being utterly exhausted falls asleep while considering it.

Jones cuts open the lock with an energy beam, and uses a multi-purpose tool to induce a hypnotic sleepwalking state on Fletcher, ordering him to escape. He then finds Patricia's room and intends to use the same method to force her to do his bidding. She however wakes up, reads his mind and seeing his intentions, and rings for the servants. She also discovers what he did to Fletcher. She reminds him that she still carries the defensive rod on her person. He tries to convince her that only his special knowledge and skills can ensure her safety, but it does no good. She has him confined to the guest room, and says his great knowledge will come in useful in the hands of the government.

Chapter 28

Meanwhile on the battlecruiser, the Lantellans are alarmed by the eighteen hour time reversal. Those in charge order all the other robots to erase their memories of these lost hours, while they retain the knowledge for their own use. Nodo is ordered by his superior to again collect the engines from Julius MacDonald and the boat that brought Patricia to London. When his superiors further stipulate that picking up the original group of prisoners is unnecessary, Nodo insists that Billy be "recaptured" since he had offered sound advice on many occasions.

Walking along outside in his induced sleepwalking state, Fletcher comes across a series of coaching containing Queen Anne and Robert Harley. Still capable of behaving logically despite his condition, he informs the Queen of the latest developments, and advises them to locate and hide the boat that brought Patricia to London, while letting the Lantellans take the engines. They arrive at Hemistan Castle and take Jones and Patricia along with them. Fletcher eventually returns to normal sleep.

Chapter 29

He awakens with confusion, finding himself aboard Nodo's shuttle with himself and the others prisoner. He has no memory of what had happened while in the sleepwalking state, but assumes the Lantellans tracked him down and took his companions prisoner as well. The boat which took Patricia to London has also been taken again.

When Fletcher asks why he seems unaffected by the L-beam, Billy has to explain that it hasn't happened yet in their present version of events. However, it is a unique phenomenon, in that it will occur at the same moment in time regardless of what happens this time around, or indeed after any time reversal. In other words, the L-beam will hit Fletcher in each version of reality at a specific time, even if the Lantellans decide not to use it.

The shuttle docks within the battleship, and Nodo takes Fletcher to his superiors.

Chapter 30

Layed, the ship's current chief biophysicist, takes Fletcher to his laboratory.

Chapter 31

He is hooked up to a machine that acts as an advanced lie-detector, and is asked various questions. They discover that throughout his life he has had an incredibly large number of nearly fatal accidents involving lightning, landslides, falling objects, and so on.

It is soon revealed that Fletcher is the center and cause of the time collapse. Layed explains that special atoms that originated in the early universe were joined together in his body at the moment of his conception. Such atoms are scattered throughout time and space, and the various objects attracted to him throughout his life contained other such primal atoms seeking to join with all the rest, with Fletcher's body as the catalyst and centerpoint. As a result, all primal atoms in other time periods caused the time collapse when they traveled to Fletcher's time period. It has taken 33 years for this process to reach its current state — which happens to be Fletcher's exact age.

Layed explains that although the time collapse will continue whether Fletcher is alive or dead, they have decided to kill him just to simply their own situation with the humans. His execution is to take place one minute before the L-beam is scheduled to hit him.

Fletcher takes a desperate gamble and momentarily pretends to be under the influence of the Lantellans' now-disconnected Universal Mind. He expresses Its displeasure at Layed and the others for failing the test, to see if they would continue the command-rotation system without the Mind's prompting. He orders that the next period's group of commanders are to be given their scheduled posts, and those who have refused to relinquish their positions of authority are to be punished. He informs them that the Mind will use Fletcher from now on as its messenger, and that the humans are to be freed.

The Lantellans unfortunately do not fall for this, and he is taken back to the other prisoners. He has however given the idea to the lower-ranking Lantellans that perhaps Layed and the other current rotation-commanders are abusing their power.

Chapter 32

The prisoners are being kept in comfortable, unguarded quarters. They all then set out to find the boat from the Transit-Craft that Nodo had captured, in a desperate hope that its special abilities will make escape possible.

Billy and Fletcher discuss the robot's theory about him being the cause of the time collapse. Billy takes this opportunity to finally explain to Patricia how she was duplicated in his Transit-Craft after her death, which gave her a fully developed 83rd century body with telepathic abilities. She reads Fletcher's mind and learns of his upcoming execution.

Chapter 33

Fletcher awakens several weeks in the past, shortly before his hearing before the local authorities. He remembers his last moments on the Lantellan battleship — he and the others were massacred by the robots.

He meets with Patricia and learns that this time she remembers the "past" alternate events, as he does, and that she has already prepared for the Lantellans' eventual arrival. They however still go through the motions of the pre-trial hearing.

As Fletcher is being led away, Nodo's craft appears and tries to kill him by indiscriminately slaughtering everyone present. Nodo hopes that by dispersing the atoms of Fletcher's body, that the key atom that caused the time collapse will be driven from Earth leaving it for them to conquer without being continually set back by having events constantly reversed. Fletcher and those around him perish.

Chapter 34

(The history and explanation of the key atom is given in this chapter.)

After the Big Bang, the new matter stabilized in the form of an incredibly gigantic sun, with a single immobile atom at the center. The atoms around it became accustomed to their relation to this key atom, and were forced to follow it when it "decided" to move outward — causing the second Big Bang.

Over billions of years the key atom went from place to place, and became separated from its former companion atoms. The key atom ended up in the body of Fletcher's father whose wife had such a companion atom in her body. When Fletcher was conceived, the two atoms met again, and the key atom "decided" it wanted to be with all of its old companions again.

So in all points of time and space, the universe began contracting to allow these companion atoms to rejoin the key atom in the year 1704.

Chapter 35

The final time reversal occurs, putting events back to where they were at the end of Chapter 28.

Fletcher (still sleepwalking, due to Jones' actions in Chapter 27) and the others arrive at the Thames dockyards where the boat from the Transit-Craft is being taken in under the Queen's orders.

Patricia warns the Queen that "last time" they boarded the boat, they were attacked by the Lantellans and captured. This time, however, the Queen dismisses her memories of previous realities as strange dreams and does not heed Patricia's advice.

Just as they board the boat and set out to sea, the Lantellan shuttle makes its approach. Fletcher hurriedly gets the women safely down below deck. He remembers that Billy kept the boat from defending itself in a previous reality ( Chapter 24), and dumps as many machines on board as he can find, hoping that one is the mechanism that inhibits the boat's defenses. It works, and this time the boat nullifies the attacking ship's engines, causing it to crash into the water where it floats to the surface.

Chapter 36

Jones is annoyed by Fletcher's persistent ability to deal with exceptional circumstances — even despite his induced sleepwalking state — and concludes that such actions are intended to distract Patricia from Jones' advances. So he spitefully uses his machine to take Fletcher out of his sleepwalking state, hoping to confuse the captain and use this opportunity to make Patricia more dependent on himself. However, this scheme doesn't work, as Fletcher takes new events in his stride and quickly adapts to the situation.

British sailors capture the downed shuttle and its two occupants, as the boat returns to the dock and its passengers disembark. Billy, one of the shuttle's occupants, explains to them how the Lantellans rebelled against their leaders, an idea given to them by Fletcher (at the end of Chapter 31). As a result, a robot named Narat has taken Nodo's place, and has come to get Fletcher whom they believe is instilled by the presence of the Universal Mind.

Billy tells Fletcher that the L-beam is due to strike in a few minutes, and as a result there will be no more time reversals. His full explanation is missed, however, as the captain is too busy being amazed that his desperate bluff actually worked.

Under Billy's instructions, Fletcher commands the Lantellans to repair the Transit-Craft engines, and to take himself, the engines, and the boat to where Billy's ship crashed into the sea.

Harley approaches him and offers to reinstate all his old prestige and wealth if he agrees to be the Queen's ambassador to the Lantellans — an offer the former pirate captain agrees to. Fletcher is then hit by the L-beam and rendered unconscious. The Lantellans follow their orders, taking him and the engines to Billy's ship in the Caribbean.

Patricia agrees to let Jones stay at her castle for a while until the government is ready to take over caring for and learning from him. She reminds him that she can read his mind and intentions, and still has her defensive rod for protection.

Chapter 37

Fletcher regains consciousness on board the Transit-Craft at the bottom of the sea. The effects of the L-beam are immediately apparent, as his mind is filled with perceptive philosophical thoughts and a determination to fulfill his responsibilities to England and Patricia. He also realizes that an ideal society is one where each person is fully responsible for his actions, and fulfills all his obligations.

Fletcher finds himself in the presence of a man named Ahlone. The man explains that he is one of the adult passengers of the Craft whom Billy had taken out of stasis to help reinstall the repaired engines and care for Fletcher. Billy has since returned to the Lantellan battleship to coordinate future dealings, and Patricia has taken Jones back to her castle. Ahlone notices the captain's concern for the woman, and explains that her defensive rod relies on the proximity of the boat to keep it working. Ahlone therefore resolves to bring to boat to Patricia at the earliest opportunity.

Chapter 38

Fletcher is somewhat annoyed by his apparent lack of telepathic ability, but Ahlone assures him that he has not spoken a single word, that Fletcher has been reading his mind all along.

Ahlone tells him that they have tinkered with the key atom in his body, altering its desire from wishing to bring together its old companions, to wishing the other atoms to depart.

But before they return to England to rescue Patricia, they must first unload all of the Transit-Craft's passengers. Fletcher is amazed when the view outside the portal swiftly changes from the view of the sea bed, to the surface of the ocean, and then space. Within minutes the ship lands in what will eventually be California. It then splits in half.

Fletcher is taken to a room with another viewing portal, and is filled with thousands of silvery threads hanging from the ceiling — he recalls that Patricia told him of these threads when she was aboard the ship (in Chapter 3). As Ahlone explains that each thread is an individual passenger in a special kind of compressed chemical stasis, Fletcher sees hundreds of naked men and women departing the ship. Now that they are stranded in the 18th century, they are restoring the passengers to their normal forms and letting them off here to start a colony. Billy has gained the Lantellans' cooperation in manufacturing the colonists some clothing. The colonists intend to have commerce and trade with Europe, gaining material needs in exchange for their vast knowledge.

The half-ship containing Fletcher and Ahlone then departs for England, shortly arriving at Hemistan Castle. Before leaving, Ahlone gives him a portable power source that will keep Patricia's defensive rod functioning as long as he is near her.

Chapter 39

Fletcher is instantly contacted mentally by Patricia. She tells him of how Jones attempted to rape her the previous night, and had taken away her now-useless defense rod. Fletcher informs her that the rod will now work, since he has the power crystal on his person. She tells him that Jones is on his way out to subdue him, and that while he is absent she will try to find where Jones hid the rod.

With her help Fletcher locates a sword in a nearby storage building, just in time to confront Jones. He smugly informs the captain that he can electrocute him through the sword if he attacks. Fletcher feigns defeat, only to pick up a nearby club and render Jones unconscious. He takes all his futuristic clothing and devices and burns them, thereby eliminating Jones' only advantage in this time period.

When Jones comes to, Fletcher offers him an ultimatum. He himself used to be a professional criminal, but has since turned from his past misdeeds — Jones has shown himself to be criminal, but he too can turn from his evil ways. Patricia congratulates Fletcher for truly being reformed, and the two look forward to a long life together.


The key atom and its companions, having been manipulated by the crew of the Transit-Craft, decide that although their reunion was pleasant, that they should return to where they came from. As a result, the constant time reversals cease, and it is again possible to progress forward into a new future.

The influence of the people from the 83rd century allows the rest of humanity to reach their state of social perfection millennia sooner than "before" — meaning each individual has become fully responsible for his own actions and fulfills all his obligations.

Time Reversal Chart

Since it is rather difficult to keep track of all the time reversals, and how far back each reversal went, I've produced a chart below that sets out in columns the key occurrences in each version of events, along with which chapters they encompass as well as which they lead off from.

The big blue bars indicate which events are directly shown in the text. There are two significant gaps in the narrative — one between Chapters 16 & 17, and one between 28 & 29. As a result, there are corresponding gaps in the blue bars. The events of the first gap are partly shown in Chapter 33, and of the second in Chapters 35 -36.

Please note that this chart is not to scale, but is meant merely as a visual aid — the time between events does not exactly correspond with the original version of events. For instance, the L-beam hits Fletcher in Chapter 36 several hours before it should have. My guess is that van Vogt got a little careless here, and its early appearance was to help the plot move along quicker towards the end.

Reality #2:
After Initial Time Collapse
Reality #3:
After 1st Reversal
Reality #4:
After 2nd Reversal
Reality #5:
After Final Reversal
Chapters 1-24 Chapters 25-32 Chapter 33 Chapters 35-Epilogue
Patricia killed
Billy appears
Lantellans board Orinda
Fletcher arrives in London
Visits the Queen
Collects bounty
Turned in
(events revert to end of Chapter 16)
Pre-trial hearing (events revert to start of Chapter 17) Nodo kills Fletcher
Imprisoned Dinosaur
Captured by Lantellans
(events revert to end of Chapter 28)
Nodo overthrown
Engines recovered Interrogation L-beam hits Fletcher
Layed kills Fletcher
L-beam fired L-beam fired Patricia rescued