Cautiously the young flight engineer stretched his cramped legs across some gadgets in his crowded little compartment. Leaning back in his swivel chair he folded a pair of freckled hands behind his neck and smiled at Lee.
"This is it doctor; we're almost there."
The tall and lanky man at the frame of the door didn't seem to understand. Bending forward he peered through the little window near the engineer's desk, into the blue haze of the jets and down to the earth below, a vast bowl of desert land gleaming like silver in the glow of the sunrise.
"But this couldn't possibly be Washington," he finally said in a puzzled tone. "Why, we crossed the California coast only half an hour ago. Even at 1200 miles an hour we couldn't be almost there."
The engineer's smile broadened into a friendly grin: "No, we're not anywhere near Washington. But in a couple of minutes you'll see Cephalon and that's as far as we go. One professor and 15 tons of termites to be flown from Wallabawalla Mission station, Northern Territory, Australia, to Cephalon, Arizona, U.S.A., one way direct. Those are our instructions. Say, this is the queerest cargo I've ever flown, doctor, if you don't mind my saying so."
Lee blinked. Removing his glasses which were fairly thick, he wiped them carefully and put them on again as if to get a clearer picture of an unexpected situation. His long fingered hand went through his greying hair and then down the cheek which was sallow, stained with the atabrine from his latest malaria attack and badly in need of a shave. His mouth formed a big "O" of surprise as nervously he said:
"I don't get it. I don't understand this business at all. First the Department of Agriculture extends an urgent letter of invitation to a completely forgotten man out there in the Never-Never land. Then almost on the heels of the letter the government sends a plane. I would have been glad to mail to the Department samples of "Ant-termes Pacificus" sufficient for most scientific purposes if they needed them for experiments in termite control; that would have been the simple and the sensible thing to do. But no, they want everything I have; you fellows drop out of the sky with a sort of habeas corpus and a whole wrecking crew. You disturb the lives of my species, which took me ten years to breed; you pack up their mounds lock, stock and barrel. And then you drop me at some place I never even heard about—Cephalon. What is this Cephalon, anyway? If the place had any connotations to entomology, I would have known about it…."
* * * * *
The flight engineer glanced at the irritated scientist curiously and sympathetically: "If you don't know, I couldn't tell you what it's all about myself, I'm sure," he said slowly. "Cephalon—Cephalon is a place alright, but it doesn't show on the map. Sort of a Shangri-la, if you know what I mean."
This cryptic statement failed to have a calming effect on Lee. "Nonsense," he frowned. "If it is an inhabited place it must be on the map and if it isn't on the map the place doesn't exist."
"Look here," the flight engineer pointed through the window to the horizon ahead....