INVADERS FROM THE INFINITE
JOHN W. CAMPBELL
Ace Books, Inc. 1120 Avenue of the Americas New York, N.Y. 10036
Copyright, 1961, by John W. Campbell, Jr. An earlier version Copyright, 1932, by Experimenter Pub. Co. An Ace Book, by arrangement with the Author. All Rights Reserved Cover by Gray Morrow. Printed in U.S.A.
GALAXIES IN THE BALANCE
The famous scientific trio of Arcot, Wade and Morey, challenged by the most ruthless aliens in all the universes, blasted off on an intergalactic search for defenses against the invaders of Earth and all her allies.
World after world was visited, secret after secret unleashed, and turned to mighty weapons of intense force—and still the Thessian enemy seemed to grow in power and ferocity.
Mighty battles between huge space armadas were but skirmishes in the galactic war, as the invincible aliens savagely advanced and the Earth team hurled bolt after bolt of pure ravening energy—until it appeared that the universe itself might end in one final flare of furious torrential power....
Russ Evans, Pilot 3497, Rocket Squad Patrol 34, unsnapped his seat belt, and with a slight push floated "up" into the air inside the weightless ship. He stretched himself, and yawned broadly.
"Red, how soon do we eat?" he called.
"Shut up, you'll wake the others," replied a low voice from the rear of the swift little patrol ship. "See anything?"
"Several million stars," replied Evans in a lower voice. "And—" His tone became suddenly severe. "Assistant Murphy, remember your manners when addressing your superior officer. I've a mind to report you."
A flaming head of hair topping a grinning face poked around the edge of the door. "Lower your wavelength, lower your wavelength! You may think you're a sun, but you're just a planetoid. But what I'd like to know, Chief Pilot Russ Evans, is why they locate a ship in a forlorn, out of the way place like this—three-quarters of a billion miles, out of planetary plane. No ships ever come out here, no pirates, not a chance to help a wrecked ship. All we can do is sit here and watch the other fellows do the work."
"Which is exactly why we're here. Watch—and tell the other ships where to go, and when. Is that chow ready?" asked Russ looking at a small clock giving New York time.
"Uh—think she'll be on time? Come on an' eat."
Evans took one more look at the telectroscope screen, then snapped it off. A tiny, molecular towing unit in his hand, he pointed toward the door to the combined galley and lunch room, and glided in the wake of Murphy.
"How much fuel left?" he asked, as he glided into the dizzily spinning room. A cylindrical room, spinning at high speed, causing an artificial "weight" for the foods and materials in it, made eating of food a less difficult task. Expertly, he maneuvered himself to the guide rail near the center of the room, and caught the spiral. Braking himself into motion, he soon glided down its length, and landed on his feet. He bent and flexed his muscles, waiting for the now-busied assistant to get to the floor and reply.
"They gave us two pounds extra. Lord only knows why. Must expect us to clean up on some fleet. That makes four pound rolls left, untouched, and two thirds of the original pound. We've been here fifteen days, and have six more to go. The main driving power rolls have about the same amount left, and three pound rolls in each reserve bin," replied Red, holding a curiously moving coffee pot that strove to adjust itself to rapidly changing air velocities as it neared the center of the room.
"Sounds like a fleet's power stock. Martian lead or the terrestrial isotope?" asked Evans, tasting warily a peculiar dish before him. "Say, this is energy food. I thought we didn't get any more till Saturday." The change from the energy-less, flavored pastes that made up the principal bulk of a space-pilot's diet, to prevent over-eating, when no energy was used in walking in the weightless ship, was indeed a welcome change.
"Uh-huh. I got hungry. Any objections?" grinned the Irishman.
"None!" replied Evans fervently, pitching in with a will.
Seated at the controls once more, he snapped the little switch that caused the screen to glow with flashing, swirling colors as the telectroscope apparatus came to life. A thousand tiny points of flame appeared scattered on a black field with a suddenness that made them seem to snap suddenly into being. Points, tiny dimensionless points of light, save one, a tiny disc of blue-white flame, old Sol from a distance of close to one billion miles, and under slight reverse magnification. The skillful hands at the controls were turning adjustments now, and that disc of flame seemed to leap toward him with a hundred light-speeds, growing to a disc as large as a dime in an instant, while the myriad points of the stars seemed to scatter like frightened chickens, fleeing from the growing sun, out of the screen. Other points, heretofore invisible, appeared, grew, and rushed away.
The sun shifted from the center of the screen, and a smaller reddish-green disc came into view—a planet, its atmosphere coloring the light that left it toward the red. It rushed nearer, grew larger. Earth spread as it took the center of the screen. A world, a portion of a world, a continent, a fragment of a continent as the magnification increased, boundlessly it seemed.
Finally, New York spread across the screen; New York seen from the air, with a strange lack of perspective. The buildings did not seem all to slant toward some point, but to stand vertical, for, from a distance of a billion miles, the vision lines were practically parallel. Titanic shafts of glowing color in the early summer sun appeared; the hot rays from the sun, now only 82,500,000 miles away, shimmering on the colored metal walls.
The new Airlines Building, a mile and a half high, supported at various points by actual spaceship driving units, was a riot of shifting, rainbow hues. A new trick in construction had been used here, and Evans smiled at it. Arcot, inventor of the ship that carried him, had suggested it to Fuller, designer of that ship, and of that building. The colored berylium metal of the wall had been ruled with 20,000 lines to the inch, mere scratches, but nevertheless a diffraction grating. The result was amazingly beautiful. The sunlight, split up to its rainbow colors, was reflected in millions of shifting tints.
In the air, supported by tiny packs strapped to their backs, thousands of people were moving, floating where they wished, in any direction, at any elevation. There were none of the helicopters of even five years ago, now. A molecular power suit was far more convenient, cost nothing to operate, and but $50 to buy. Perfectly safe, requiring no skill, everyone owned them. To the watcher in space, they were mere moving, snaky lines of barely distinguishable dots that shivered and seemed to writhe in the refractions of the air. Passing over them, seeming to pass almost through them in this strange perspectiveless view, were the shadowy forms of giant space liners, titanic streamlined hulls. They were streamlined for no good reason, save that they looked faster and more graceful than the more efficient spherical freighters, just as passenger liners of two centuries earlier, with their steam engines, had carried four funnels and used two. A space liner spent so minute a portion of its journey in the atmosphere that it was really inefficient to streamline them.
"Won't be long!" muttered Russ, grinning cheerily at the familiar, sunlit city. His eyes darted to the chronometer beside him. The view seemed to be taken from a ship that was suddenly scudding across the heavens like a frightened thing, as it ran across from Manhattan Island, followed the Hudson for a short way, then cut across into New Jersey, swinging over the great woodland area of Kittatiny Park, resting finally on the New Jersey suburb of New York nestled in the Kittatinies, Blairtown. Low apartment buildings, ten or twelve stories high, nestled in the waving green of trees in the old roadways. When ground traffic ceased, the streets had been torn up, and parkways substituted.
Quickly the view singled out a single apartment, and the great smooth roof was enlarged on the screen to the absolute maximum clarity, till further magnification simply resulted in worse stratospheric distortion. On the broad roof were white strips of some material, making a huge V followed by two I's. Russ watched, his hand on the control steadying the view under the Earth's complicated orbital motion, and rotation, further corrections for the ship's orbital motion making the job one requiring great skill. The view held the center with amazing clarity. Something seemed to be happening to the last of the I's. It crumpled suddenly, rolled in on itself and disappeared.
"She's there, and on time," grinned Russ happily.
He tried more magnification. Could he—
He was tired, terribly, suddenly tired. He took his hands from the viewplate controls, relaxed, and dropped off to sleep.
"What made me so tired—wonder—GOD!" He straightened with a jerk, and his hands flew to the controls. The view on the machine suddenly retreated, flew back with a velocity inconceivable. Earth dropped away from the ship with an apparent velocity a thousand times that of light; it was a tiny ball, a pinpoint, gone, the sun—a minute disc—gone—then the apparatus was flashing views into focus from the other side of the ship. The assistant did not reply. Evans' hands were growing ineffably heavy, his whole body yearned for sleep. Slowly, clumsily he pawed for a little stud. Somehow his hand found it, and the ship reeled suddenly, little jerks, as the code message was flung out in a beam of such tremendous power that the sheer radiation pressure made it noticeable. Earth would be notified. The system would be warned. But light, slow crawling thing, would take hours to cross the gulf of space, and radio travels no faster.
Half conscious, fighting for his faculties with all his will, the pilot turned to the screen. A ship! A strange, glistening thing streamlined to the nth degree, every spare corner rounded till the resistance was at the irreducible minimum. But, in the great pilotport of the stranger, the patrol pilot saw faces, and gasped in surprise as he saw them! Terrible faces, blotched, contorted. Patches of white skin, patches of brown, patches of black, blotched and twisted across the faces. Long, lean faces, great wide flat foreheads above, skulls strangely squared, more box-like than man's rounded skull. The ears were large, pointed tips at the top. Their hair was a silky mane that extended low over the forehead, and ran back, spreading above the ears, and down the neck.
Then, as that emotion of surprise and astonishment weakened his will momentarily, oblivion came, with what seemed a fleeting instant of memories. His life seemed to flash before his mind in serried rank, a file of events, his childhood, his life, his marriage, his wife, an image of smiling comfort, then the years, images of great and near great men, his knowledge of history, pictures of great war of 2074, pictures of the attackers of the Black Star—then calm oblivion, quiet blankness.
The long, silent ship that had hovered near him turned, and pointed toward the pinhead of matter that glowed brilliantly in the flaming jewel box of the heavens. It was gone in an instant, rushing toward Sun and Earth at a speed that outraced the flying radio message, leaving the ship of the Guard Patrol behind, and leaving the Pilot as he leaves our story.
"And that," said Arcot between puffs, "will certainly be a great boon to the Rocket Patrol, you must admit. They don't like dueling with these space-pirates using the molecular rays, and since molecular rays have such a tremendous commercial value, we can't prohibit the sale of ray apparatus. Now, if you will come into the 'workshop,' Fuller, I'll give a demonstration with friend Morey's help."
The four friends rose, Morey, Wade and Fuller following Arcot into his laboratory on the thirty-seventh floor of the Arcot Research Building. As they went, Arcot explained to Fuller the results and principles of the latest product of the ingenuity of the "Triumvirate," as Arcot, Morey and Wade had come to be called in the news dispatches.
"As you know, the molecular rays make all the molecules of any piece of matter they are turned upon move in the desired direction. Since they supply no new energy, but make the body they are turned upon supply its own, using the energy of its own random molecular motion of heat, they are practically impossible to stop. The energy necessary for molecular rays to take effect is so small that the usual type of filter lets enough of it pass. A ship equipped with filters is no better off when attacked than one without. The rays simply drove the front end into the rear, or vice versa, or tore it to pieces as the pirates desired. The Rocket Patrol could kill off the pirates, but they lost so many men in the process, it was a Phyrric victory.
"For some time Morey and I have been working on something to stop the rays. Obviously it can't be by means of any of the usual metallic energy absorption screens.
"We finally found a combination of rays, better frequencies, that did what we wanted. I have such an apparatus here. What we want you to do, of course, is the usual job of rearranging the stuff so that the apparatus can be made from dies, and put into quantity production. As the Official Designer for the A.A.L. you ought to do that easily." Arcot grinned as Fuller looked in amazement at the apparatus Arcot had picked up from the bench in the "workshop."
"Don't get worried," laughed Morey, "that's got a lifting unit combined—just a plain ordinary molecular lift such as you see by the hundreds out there." Morey pointed through the great window where thousands of those lift units were carrying men, women and children through the air, lifting them hundreds, thousands of feet above the streets and through the doors of buildings.
"Here's an ordinary molecular pistol. I'm going to put the suit on, and rise about five feet off the floor. You can turn the pistol on me, and see what impression it makes on the suit."
Fuller took the molecular ray pistol, while Wade helped Arcot into the suit. He looked at the pistol dubiously, pointed it at a heavy casting of iron resting in one corner of the room, and turned the ray at low concentration, then pressed the trigger-button. The casting gave out a low, scrunching grind, and slid toward him with a lurch. Instantly he shut off the power. "This isn't any ordinary pistol. It's got seven or eight times the ordinary power!" he exclaimed.
"Oh yes, I forgot," Morey said. "Instead of the fuel battery that the early pistols used, this has a space-distortion power coil. This pistol has as much power as the usual A-39 power unit for commercial work."
By the time Morey had explained the changes to Fuller, Arcot had the suit on, and was floating five or six feet in the air, like a grotesque captive balloon. "Ready, Fuller?"
"I guess so, but I certainly hope that suit is all it is claimed to be. If it isn't—well I'd rather not commit murder."
"It'll work," said Arcot. "I'll bet my neck on that!" Suddenly he was surrounded by the faintest of auras, a strange, wavering blue light, like the hazy corona about a 400,000-volt power line. "Now try it."
Fuller pointed the pistol at the floating man and pushed the trigger. The brilliant blue beam of the molecular ray, and the low hum of the air, rushing in the path of the director beam, stabbed out toward Arcot. The faint aura about him was suddenly intensified a million times till he floated in a ball of blue-white fire. Scarcely visible, the air about him blazed with bluish incandescence of ionization.
"Increase the power," suggested Morey. Fuller turned on more power. The blue halo was shot through with tiny violet sparks, the sharp odor of ozone in the air was stifling; the heat of wasted energy was making the room hotter. The power increased further, and the tiny sparks were waving streamers, that laced across the surface of the blue fire. Little jets of electric flame reached out along the beam of the ray now. Finally, as full power of the molecular ray was reached, the entire halo was buried under a mass of writhing sparks that seemed to leap up into the air above the man's head, wavering up to extinction. The room was unbearably hot, despite the molecular ray coolers absorbing the heat of the air, and blowing cooled air into the room.
Fuller snapped off the ray, and put the pistol on the table beside him. The halo died, and went out a moment later, and Arcot settled to the floor.
"This particular suit will stand up against anything the ordinary commercial sets will give. The system now: remember that the rays are short electrical waves. The easiest way to stop them is to interpose a wave of opposite phase, and cause interference. Fine, but try to get in tune with an unknown wave when it is moving in relation to your center of control. It is impossible to do it before you yourself have been rayed out of existence. We must use some system that will automatically, instantly be out of phase.
"The Hall effect would naturally tend to make the frequency of a wave through a resisting medium change, and lengthen. If we can send out a spherical wave front, and have it lengthen rapidly as it proceeds, we will have a wave front that is, at all points, different. Any entering wave would, sooner or later, meet a wave that was half a phase out, no matter what the motion was, nor what the frequency, as long as it lies within the comparatively narrow molecular wave band. What this apparatus, or ray screen, consists of, is a machine generating a spherical wave front of the nature of a molecular wave, but of just too great a frequency to do anything. A second part generates a condition in space, which opposes that wave. After traveling a certain distance, the wave has lengthened to molecular wave type, but is now beyond the machine which generated it, and no longer affects it, or damages it. However, as it proceeds, it continues to lengthen, till eventually it reaches the length of infra-light, when the air quickly absorbs it, as it reaches one of the absorption bands for air molecular waves, and any molecular wave must find its half-wave complement somewhere in that wedge of waves. It does, and is at once choked off, its energy fighting the energy of the ray screen, of course. In the air, however, the screen is greatly helped by the fact that before the half-wave frequency is met in the ray-wedge, the molecular ray is buried in ions, leaving the ray screen little work to do.
"Now your job is to design the apparatus in a form that machines can make automatically. We tried doing it ourselves for the fun of it, but we couldn't see how we could make a machine that didn't need at least two humans to supervise."
"Well," grinned Fuller, "you have it all over me as scientists, but as economic workers—two human supervisors to make one product!"
"All right—we agree. But no, let's see you—Lord! What was that?" Morey started for the door on the run. The building was still trembling from the shock of a heavy blow, a blow that seemed much as though a machine had been wrecked on the armored roof, and a big machine at that. Arcot, a flying suit already on, was up in the air, and darting past Morey in an instant, streaking for the vertical shaft that would let him out to the roof. The molecular ray pistol was already in his hand, ready to pull any beams off unfortunate victims pinned under them.
In a moment he had flashed up through the seven stories, and out to the roof. A gigantic silvery machine rested there, streamlined to perfection, its hull dazzingly beautiful in the sunlight. A door opened, and three tall, lean men stepped from it. Already people were collecting about the ship, flying up from below. Air patrolmen floated up in a minute, and seeing Arcot, held the crowd back.
The strange men were tall, eight feet or more in height. Great, round, soft brown eyes looked in curiosity at the towering multicolored buildings, at the people floating in the air, at the green trees and the blue sky, the yellowish sun.
Arcot looked at their strangely blotched and mottled heads, faces, arms and hands. Their feet were very long and narrow, their legs long and thin. Their faces were kindly; the mottled skin, brown and white and black, seemed not to make them ugly. It was not a disfigurement; it seemed oddly familiar and natural in some reminiscent way.
"Lord, Arcot—queer specimens, yet they seem familiar!" said Morey in an undertone.
"They are. Their race is that of man's first and best friend, the dog! See the brown eyes? The typical teeth? The feet still show the traces of the dog's toe-step. Their nails, not flat like human ones but rounded? The mottled skin, the ears—look, one is advancing."
One of the strangers walked laboriously forward. A lighter world than Earth was evidently his home. His great brown eyes fixed themselves on Arcot's. Arcot watched them. They seemed to expand, grow larger; they seemed to fill all the sky. Hypnotism! He concentrated his mind, and the eyes suddenly contracted to the normal eyes of the stranger. The man reeled back, as Arcot's telepathic command to sleep came, stronger than his own will. The stranger's friends caught him, shook him, but he slept. One of the others looked at Arcot; his eyes seemed hurt, desperately pleading.
Arcot strode forward, and quickly brought the man out of the trance. He shook his head, smiled at Arcot, then, with desperate difficulty, he enunciated some words in English, terribly distorted.
"Ahy wizz tahk. Vokle kohds ron. Tahk by breen."
Distorted as it was, Arcot recognized the meaning without difficulty. "I wish (to) talk. Vocal cords wrong. Talk by brain." He switched to communication by the Venerian method, telepathically, but without hypnotism.
"Good enough. When you attempted to hypnotize me, I didn't known what you wanted. It is not necessary to hypnotize to carry on communication by the method of the second world of this system. What brings you to our system? From what system do you come? What do you wish to say?"
The other, not having learned the Venerian system, had great difficulty in communicating his thoughts, but Arcot learned that they had machines which would make it easier, and the terrestrian invited them into his laboratory, for the crowd was steadily growing.
The three returned to their ship for a moment, coming out with several peculiar headsets. Almost at once the ship started to rise, going up more and more swiftly, as the people cleared a way for it.
Then, in the tiniest fraction of a second, the ship was gone; it shrank to a point, and was invisible in the blue vault of the sky.
"Apparently they intend to stay a while," said Wade. "They are trusting souls, for their line of retreat is cut off. We naturally have no intention of harming them, but they can't know that."
"I'm not so sure," said Arcot. He turned to the apparent leader of the three and explained that there were several stories to descend, and stairs were harder than a flying unit. "Wrap your arms about my legs, when I rise above you, and hold on till your feet are on the floor again," he concluded.
The stranger walked a little closer to the edge of the shaft, and looked down. White bulbs illuminated its walls down its length to the ground. The man talked rapidly to his friends, looking with evident distaste at the shaft, and the tiny pack on Arcot's back. Finally, smiling, he evinced his willingness. Arcot rose, the man grasped his legs, and then both rose. Over the shaft, and down to his laboratory was the work of a moment.
Arcot led them into his "consultation room," where a number of comfortable chairs were arranged, facing each other. He seated them together, and his own friends facing them.
"Friends of another world," began Arcot, "we do not know your errand here, but you evidently have good reason for coming to this place. It is unlikely that your landing was the result of sheer chance. What brought you? How came you to this point?"
"It is difficult for me to reply. First we must be en rapport. Our system is not simple as yours, but more effective, for yours depends on thought ideas, not altogether universal. Place these on your heads, for only a moment. I must induce temporary hypnotic coma. Let one try first if you desire." The leader of the visitors held out one of the several headsets they had brought, caplike things, made of laminated metal apparently.
Arcot hesitated, then with a grin slipped it on.
"Relax," came a voice in Arcot's head, a low, droning voice, a voice of command. "Sleep," it added. Arcot felt himself floating down an infinite shaft, on some superflying suit that did not pull at him with its straps, just floating down lightly, down and down and down. Suddenly he reached the bottom, and found to his surprise that it led directly into the room again! He was back. "You are awake. Speak!" came the voice.
Arcot shook himself, and looked about. A new voice spoke now, not the tonelessly melodious voice, but the voice of an individual, yet a mental voice. It was perfectly clear, and perfectly comprehensible. "We have traveled far to find you, and now we have business of the utmost import. Ask these others to let us treat them, for we must do what we can in the least possible time. I will explain when all can understand. I am Zezdon Fentes, First Student of Thought. He who sits on my right is Zezdon Afthen, and he beyond him, is Zezdon Inthel, of Physics and of Chemistry, respectively."
And now Arcot spoke to his friends.
"These men have something of the greatest importance to tell us, it seems. They want us all to hear, and they are in a hurry. The treatment isn't at all annoying. Try it. The man on the extreme right, as we face them, is Zezdon Fentes of Thought, Zezdon apparently meaning something like professor, or 'First Student of.' Those next him are Zezdon Afthen of Physics and Zezdon Inthel of Chemistry."
Zezdon Afthen offered them the headsets, and in a moment everyone present was wearing one. The process of putting them en rapport took very little time, and shortly all were able to communicate with ease.
"Friends of Earth, we must tell our strange story quickly for the benefit of your world as well as ours, and others, too. We cannot so much as annoy. We are helpless to combat them.
"Our world lies far out across the galaxy; even with incalculable velocity of the great swift thing that bore us, three long months have we traveled toward your distant worlds, hoping that at last the Invaders might meet their masters.
"We landed on this roof because we examined mentally the knowledge of a pilot of one of your patrol ships. His mind told us that here we would find the three greatest students of Science of this Solar System. So it was here we came for help.
"Our race has arisen," he continued, "as you have so surely determined from the race you call canines. It was artificially produced by the Ancient Masters when their hour of need had come. We have lost the great science of the Ancient Ones. But we have developed a different science, a science of the mind."
"Dogs are far more psychic than are men. They would naturally tend to develop such a civilization," said Arcot judiciously.
A QUARTER OF A MILLION LIGHT YEARS
"Our civilization," continued Zezdon Afthen, "is built largely on the knowledge of the mind. We cannot have criminals, for the man who plots evil is surely found out by his thoughts. We cannot have lying politicians and unjust rulers.
"It is a peaceful civilization. The Ancient Masters feared and hated War with a mighty aversion. But they did not make our race cowards, merely peaceful intelligence. Now we must fight for our homes, and my race will fight mightily. But we need weapons.
"But my story has little to do with our race. I will tell the story of our civilization and of the Ancient Ones later when the time is more auspicious.
"Four months ago, our mental vibration instruments detected powerful emanations from space. That could only mean that a new, highly intelligent race had suddenly appeared within a billion miles of our world. The directional devices quickly spotted it as emanating from the third planet of our system. Zezdon Fentes, with my aid, set up some special apparatus, which would pick up strong thoughts and make them visible. We had used this before to see not only what an enemy looked upon, but also what he saw in that curious thing, the eye of the mind, the vision of the past and the future. But while the thought-amplification device was powerful, the new emanations were hard to separate from each other.
"It was done finally, when all but one man slept. That one we were enable to tune sharply to. After that we could reach him at any time. He was the commander. We saw him operate the ship, we saw the ship, saw it glide over the barren, rocky surface of that world. We saw other men come in and go out. They were strange men. Short, squat, bulky men. Their arms were short and stocky. But their strength was enormous, unbelievable. We saw them bend solid bars of steel as thick as my arm. With perfect ease!
"Their brains were tremendously active, but they were evil, selfishly evil. Nothing that did not benefit them counted. At one time our instruments went dead, and we feared that the commander had detected us, but we saw what happened a little later. The second in command had killed him.
"We saw them examine the world, working their way across it, wearing heavy suits, yet, for all the terrific gravity of that world, bouncing about like rubber balls, leaping and jumping where they wanted. Their legs would drive out like pistons, and they soared up and through the air.
"They were tired while they made those examinations, and slept heavily at night.
"Then one night there was a conference. We saw then what they intended. Before we had tried desperately to signal them. Now we were glad that we had failed.
"We saw their ship rise (in the thoughts of the second in command) and sail out into space, and rush toward our world. The world grew larger, but it was imperfectly sketched in, for they did not know our world well. Their telescopes did not have great power as your electric telescopes have.
"We saw them investigate the planet. We saw them plan to destroy any people they found with a ray which was as follows: 'the ray which makes all parts move as one.' We could not understand and could not interpret. Thoughts beyond our knowledge have, of course, no meaning, even when our mental amplifiers get them, and bring them to us."
"The Molecular ray!" gasped Morey in surprise. "They will be an enemy."
"You know it! It is familiar to you! You have it? You can fight it?" asked Zezdon Afthen excitedly.
"We know it, and can fight it, if that is all they have."
"They have more—much more I fear," replied Zezdon Afthen. "At any rate, we saw what they intended. If our world was inhabited, they would destroy every one on it, and then other men of their race were to float in on their great ships, and settle on that largest of our worlds.
"We had to stop them so we did what we could. We had powerful machines, which would amplify and broadcast our thoughts. So we broadcast our thought-waves, and implanted in the mind of their leader that it would be wise to land, and learn the extent of the civilization, and the weapons to be met. Also, as the ship drew nearer, we made him decide on a certain spot we had prepared for him.
"He never guessed that the thoughts were not his own. Only the ideas came to him, seeming to spring from his own mind.
"He landed—and we used our one weapon. It was a thing left to one group of rulers when the Ancient Masters left us to care for ourselves. What it was, we never knew; we had never used it in the fifteen thousand years since the Great Masters had passed—never had to. But now it was brought out, and concealed behind great piles of rock in a deep canyon where the ship of the enemy would land. When it landed, we turned the beam of the machine on it, and the apparatus rotated it swiftly, and a cone of the beam's ray was formed as the beam was swung through a small circle in the vertical plane. The machine leaped backward, and though it was so massive that a tremendous amount of labor had been required to bring it there, the push of the pencil of force we sent out hurled it back against a rocky cliff behind it as though it were some child's toy. It continued to operate for perhaps a second, perhaps two. In that time two great holes had been cut in the enemy ship, holes fifteen feet across, that ran completely through the hull as though a die had cut through the metal of the ship, cutting out a disc of metal.
"There was a terrific concussion, and a roar as the air blasted out of the ship. It did not take us long to discover that the enemy were dead. Their terrible, bloated corpses lay everywhere in the ship. Most of the men we were able to recognize, having seen them in the mentovisor. But the colors were distorted, and their forms were peculiar. Indeed, the whole ship seemed strange. The only time that things ever did seem normal about that strange thing, when the angles of it seemed what they were, when the machines did not seem out of proportion, out of shape, twisted, was when on a trial trip we ventured very close to our sun."
Arcot whistled softly and looked at Morey. Morey nodded. "Probably right. Don't interrupt."
"That you thought something, I understood, but the thoughts themselves were hopelessly unintelligible to me. You know the explanation?" asked Zezdon Afthen eagerly.
"We think so. The ship was evidently made on a world of huge size. Those men, their stocky, block legs and arms, their entire build and their desire for the largest of your planets, would indicate that. Their own world was probably even larger—they were forced to wear pressure suits even on that large world, and could jump all over, you said. On so huge a sphere as their native world seems to be, the gravity would be so intense as to distort space. Geometry, such as yours seems to be, and such as ours was, could never be developed, for you assume the existence of a straight line, and of an absolute plane surface. These things cannot exist in space, but on small worlds, far from the central sun's mass, the conditions approach that without sufficient discrepency to make the error obvious. On so huge a globe as their world the space is so curved that it is at once obvious that no straight line exists, and that no plane exists. Their geometry would never be like ours. When you went close to your sun, the attraction was sufficient to curve space into a semblance of the natural conditions on their home planet, then your senses and the ship met a compromise condition which made it seem more or less normal, not so obviously strange to you.
"But continue." Arcot looked at Afthen interestedly.
"There were none left in their ship now, and we had been careful in locating the first hole, that it should not damage the propulsive machinery. The second hole was accidental, due to the shift of the machine. The machine itself was wrecked now, crushed by its own reaction. We forgot that any pencil of force powerful enough to do what we wanted, would tear the machine from its moorings unless fastened with great steel bolts into the solid rock.
"The second hole had been far to the rear, and had, by ill-luck, cut out a portion of the driving apparatus. We could not repair that, though we did succeed at last in lifting the great discs into place. We attempted to cut them, and put them back in sections. Our finest saws and machines did not nick them. Their weight was unbelievable, and yet we finally succeeded in lifting the things into the wall of the ship. The actual missing material did not represent more than a tiny cut, perhaps as wide as one of your credit-discs. You could slip the thin piece of metal in between them, but not so much as your finger.
"Those slots we welded tight with our best steel, letting a flap hang over on each side of the cut, and as the hot metal cooled, it was drawn against the shining walls with terrific force. The joints were perfectly airtight.
"The machines proper were repaired to the greatest possible extent. It was a heartbreaking task, for we must only guess at what machines should be connected together. Much damage had been done by the rushing air as it left, for it filled the machines, too, and they were not designed to resist the terrific air pressure that was on them when the pressure in the ship escaped. Many of the machines had been burst open, and these we could repair when we had the necessary elements and knew their construction from the remnants, or could find unbroken duplicates in the stock rooms.
"Once we connected the wrong things. This will show you what we dealt with. They were the wrong poles—two generators, connected together in the wrong way. There was a terrific crash when the switch was thrown, and huge sheets of electric flame leaped from one of them. Two men were killed, incinerated in an instant, even the odors one might expect were killed in that flash of heat. Everything save the shining metal and clear glass within ten feet of it was instantly wiped out. And there was a fuse link that gave. The generator was ruined. One was left, and several small auxiliary generators.
"Eventually, we did the job. We made the machine work. And we are here.
"We have come to warn you, and to ask aid. Your system also has a large planet, slightly smaller than the largest of our system, but yet attractive. There are approximately 50,000 planetary systems in this universe, according to the records of the Invaders. Their world is not of this system. It is the World Thett, sun Antseck, Universe Venone. Where that is, or even what it means, we do not know. Perhaps you understand.
"But they investigated your world, and its address, according to their records, was World 3769-8482730-3. This, I believe, means, Universe 3769, sun 8482730, world 3. They have been investigating this system now for nearly three centuries. It was close to 200 years ago that they visited your world—two hundred years of your time."
"This is 2129—which makes it about the year 1929-30 that they floated around here investigating. Why haven't they done anything?" Arcot asked him.
"They waited for an auspicious time. They are afraid now, for recently they visited your world, and were utterly amazed to find the unbelievable progress your people have made. They intend to make an immediate attack on all worlds known to be intelligently populated. They had made the mistake of letting one race learn too much; they cannot afford to let it happen again.
"There are only twenty-one inhabited worlds known, and their thousands of scouts have already investigated nearly all the central mass of this universe, and much of the outer rings. They have established a base in this universe. Where I do not know. That, alone, was never mentioned in the records. But of all peoples, they feared only your world.
"There is one race in the universe far older than yours, but they are a sleeping people. Long ago their culture decayed. Still, now they are not far from you, and perhaps it will be worth the few days needed to learn more about them. We have their location and can take you there. Their world circles a dead star—"
"Not any more," laughed Morey grimly. "That's another surprise for the enemy. They had a little jog, and they certainly are wide awake now. They are headed for big things, and they are going to do a lot."
"But how do you know these things? You have ships that can go from planet to planet, I know, but the records of the enemy said you could not leave the system of your sun. They alone knew that secret."
"Another surprise for them," said Morey. "We can—and we can move faster than your ship, if not faster than they. The people of the dead star have moved to a very live star—Sirius, the brightest in our heavens. And they are as much alive now as their new sun. They can move faster than light, also. We had a little misunderstanding a while back, when their star passed close to ours. They came off second best, and we haven't spoken to them since. But I think we can make valuable allies there."
For all Morey's jocular manner, he realized the terrible import of this announcement. A race which had been able to cross the vast gulf of intergalactic space in the days when Terrestrians were still developing the airplane—and already they had mapped Jupiter, and planned their colonies! What developments had come? They had molecular rays, cosmic rays, the energy of matter, then—what else had they now? Lux and Relux, the two artificial metals, made of solidified light, far stronger than anything of molecular structure in nature, absolutely infusible, totally inert chemically, one a perfect conductor of light and of all radiation in space, the other a perfect reflector of all radiations—save molecular rays. Made into the condition of reflection by the action of special frequencies in its formation from light, molecular frequencies were, unfortunately, able to convert it into perfectly transparent lux metal, when the protective value was gone.
They had that. All Earth had, perhaps.
"There was one other race of some importance, the others were semi-civilized. They rated us in a position between these races and the high races—yours, those of the dead star, and those of world 3769-37:478:326:894-6. Our science had been investigated two hundred or so years ago.
"This other race was at a great distance from us, greater than yours, and apparently not feared as greatly as yours. They cannot cross to other worlds, save in small ships driven solely by fire, which the Thessians have called a 'hopelessly inefficient and laughably awkward thing to ride in.'"
"Rockets," grinned Morey. "Our first ship was part rocket."
Zezdon Fentes smiled. "But that is all. We have brought you warning, and our plea. Can you help us?"
"We cannot answer that. The Interplanetary Council must act. But I am afraid that it will be all we can do to protect our own world if this enemy attacks soon, and I fear they will. Since they have a base in this universe, it is impossible to believe that all ships did not report back to the home world at stated intervals. That one is missing will soon be discovered, and it will be sought. War will start at once. Three months it took you to reach us—they should come soon.
"Those men who left will be on their way back from the home world from which they came. What do you call your planet, friend?"
"Ortol is our home," replied Zezdon Inthel.
"At any rate, I can only assure you that your world will be given weapons that will permit your people to defend themselves and I will get you to your home within twenty-four hours. Your ship—is it in the system?"
"It waits on the second satellite of the fourth planet," replied Zezdon Afthen.
"Signal them, and tell them to land where a beacon of intense light, alternating red and blue, reaches up from—this point on the map." Arcot pointed out the spot in Vermont where their private lake and laboratory were.
He turned to the others, and in rapid-fire English, explained his plans. "We need the help of these people as much as they need ours. I think Zezdon Fentes will stay here and help you. The others will go with us to their world. There we shall have plenty of work to do, but on the way we are going to stop at Mars and pick up that valuable ship of theirs and make a careful examination for possible new weapons, their system of speed-drive, and their regular space-drive. I'm willing to make a bet right now, that I can guess both. Their regular drive is a molecular drive with lead disintegration apparatus for the energy, cosmic ray absorbers for the heating, and a drive much like ours. Their speed drive is a time distortion apparatus, I'll wager. Time distinction offers an easy solution of speed. All speed is relative—relative to other bodies, but also to time-speed. But we'll see.
"I'm going to hustle some workmen to installing the biggest spare power board I can get into the storerooms of the Ancient Mariner, and pack in a ray-screen. It will be useful. Let's move."
"Our ship," said Zezdon Afthen, "will land in three of your hours."
THE FIRST MOVE
The Ortolians were standing on a low, green-clad hill. Below them stretched the green flank of the little rise, and beyond lay ridge after ridge of the broad, smooth carpet of the beautiful Vermont hills.
"Man of Earth," said Zezdon Afthen, turning at last to Wade, who stood behind him. "It took us three months of constant flight at a speed unthinkable, through space dotted with the titanic gems of the Outer Dark, stars gleaming in red, and blue and orange, some titanic lighthouses of our course, others dim pinpoints of glowing color. It was a scene of unspeakable grandeur, but it was so awesomely mighty in its scope, one was afraid, and his soul shriveled within him as he looked at those inconceivable masses floating forever alone in the silence of the inconceivable nothingness of eternal cold and eternal darkness. One was awed, suppressed by their sheer magnitude. A magnificent spectacle truly, but one no man could love.
"Now we are at rest on a tiny pinpoint of dust in a tiny bit of a tiny corner of an isolated universe, and the magnitude and stillness is gone. Only the chirpings of those strange birds as they seek rest in darkness, the soft gurgling of the little stream below, and the rustle of countless leaves, break the silence with a satisfying existence, while the loneliness of that great star, your sun, is lost in its tintings of soft color, the fleeciness of the clouds, and the seeming companionship of green hills.
"The beauty of boundless space is awe-inspiring in its magnitude. The beauty of Earth is something man can love.
"Man of Earth, you have a home that you may well fight for with all the strength of your arms, all the forces of your brain, and all the energies of Space that you can call forth to aid you. It is a wondrous world." Silently he stood in the gathering dusk, as first Venus winked into being, then one by one the stars came into existence in the deepening color of the sky.
"Space is awesomely wonderful; this is—lovable." He gazed long at the heavens of this world so strange, so beautiful to him, looking at the unfamiliar heavens, as star after star flashed into the constellations so familiar to terrestrians and to those Venerians who had been above the clouds of Venus' eternal shroud.
"But somewhere off there in space are other races, and far beyond the power of our eyes to see is the star that is the sun of my world, and around it circles that little globe that is home to me. What is happening there now? Does it still exist? Are there people still living on it? Oh, Man of Earth, let us reach that world quickly, you cannot guess the pangs that attack me, for if it be destroyed, think—forever I am without home—without friends I knew. However kind your people may be to me, I would be forever lonely.
"I will not think of that—only it is time your ship was ready, is it not?"
"I think we had better return," replied Wade softly, his English words rousing thoughts in his mind intelligible to the Ortolians.
The three rose in the air on the molecular suits and drove quickly down toward the blue gem of the lake to the east, nestled among still other green hills. Lights were showing in the great shop, where the Ancient Mariner was being fitted with the ray-shields, and all possible weapons. Men streaming through her were hastily stocking her with vast quantities of foods, stocks of fuel, all the spare parts they could cram into her stock rooms.
When the men arrived from the hilltop, the work was practically done, and Wade stepped up to Morey, busily checking off a list of required items.
"Everything you ordered came through?" he asked.
"Yes—thanks to the pull of a two-billion dollar private fortune. Who says credit-units don't have their value? This expedition never would have gotten through, if it hadn't been for that.
"But we have the main space distortion power bank, and the new auxiliary coils full. Ten tons of lead aboard for fuel. There's one thing we are afraid of. If the enemy have a system of tubes that is able to handle more power than our last tube—we're sunk. These brilliant people that suggest using more tubes to a ray-power bank forget the last tube has to handle the entire output of all the others, and modulate it correctly. If the enemy has a better tube—it will be too bad for us." Morey was frankly worried.
"My end is all set, Morey. How soon will you be ready?" Arcot asked.
"'Bout ten-fifteen minutes." Morey lit a cigarette and watched as the last of the stuff was carried aboard.
At last they were ready. The Ancient Mariner, originally built for intergalactic exploration, was kept in working condition. New apparatus had been incorporated in it, as their research had led to improvements, and it was constantly in condition, ready for a trip. Many exploration trips to the nearer stars had already been made.
The ship was backed out from the hangar now, and rested on the great smooth landing field, its tremendous quarter million ton mass of lux and relux sinking a great, smooth depression in the turf of the field. They were waiting now for the arrival of the Ortolian ship. Zezdon Afthen assured them it would be there in a few minutes.
High in the sky, came the whining whistle of an approaching ship, coming at terrific velocity. It came nearer the field, darting toward the ground at an unheard of speed, flashing down at a speed of well over three thousand miles an hour, and, only in the last fifty feet slowed with a sickening deceleration. Even so it landed with a crash of fully two hundred miles of speed. Arcot gasped at the terrible landing the pilot had made, fully expecting to see the great hull dent somewhat, even though made of solid relux. And certainly the jar would kill every man on board. Yet the hull did not seem harmed by the crash, and even the ground under the ship was but slightly disturbed, though, at a distance of some thirty feet, the entire block of soil was crushed, and cracked by the terrific impact of hundreds of thousands of tons striking with terrific energy.
"Lord, it's a wonder they didn't kill themselves. I never saw such a rotten landing," exclaimed Morey with disgust.
"Don't be too sure. I think they landed gently, and at very low speed. Notice how little the soil directly under them was dented?" replied Arcot, walking forward. "They have time control, as I suspected. Ask them. They drifted in gently. Their time rate was speeded up tremendously, so that what was hundreds of miles per hour to us was feet per minute to them. But come on, get the handlers to bring that junk up to the door—they are coming out."
One of the tall, kindly-faced canine people was standing in the doorway now, the white light streaming out around him into the night, casting a grotesque shadow on the landing field, for all the flood lights bathing in it.
Zezdon Afthen came up and spoke quickly to the man evidently in command of the ship. The entire party went into the ship, and the cream of their laboratory instruments was brought in.
For hours Arcot, Morey and Wade worked at the apparatus in the ship, measuring, calculating, following electrical and magnetic and sheer force hook-ups of staggering complexity. They were not trying to find the exact method of construction, only the principles involved, so that they could perform calculations of their own, and duplicate the results of the enemy. Thus they would be far more thoroughly familiar with the machinery when done.
Little attention was paid to the actual driving plant, for it was a molecular drive with the same type of lead-fuel burner they used in their own ship. The tubes of the power bank were, however, a puzzle to them. They were made of relux, so that it was impossible to see the interior of the tube. To open one was to destroy it, but calculations made from readings of their instruments showed that they were more efficient, and could readily carry nearly half again the load that the best terrestrian tubes could sustain. This meant the enemy could send heavier rays and heavier ray screens.
But finally they returned to the Ancient Mariner, and as the Ortolian ship whined its way out to space, the Ancient Mariner started, rising faster and faster through the atmosphere till it was in the night of space. Then the molecular power was shut off. The ship suddenly seemed to writhe, space was black and starless about them, then sparkling weirdly distorted stars, all before them. They were moving already. Almost before the Ortolians fully realized what was happening, a dozen stars had swung past the ship, driving on now at better than five light years in every second. At this speed, approximately fourteen hours would be needed to reach Ortol.
"Now, Arcot, perhaps you will explain to me the secret of this ship," said Zezdon Afthen at last, turning from the great lux pilot's window, to Arcot seated in the pilot's chair. "I know that only the broadest principles will be intelligible to me, for I could not understand that ship we captured, after almost four months of study. Yet it crept through space compared with this ship. Certainly no ship could outdistance this in a race!"
"As a matter of fact—watch!" Arcot pushed a little metal button along a slide to the extreme end. Again the ship seemed to writhe. Space was no longer black, but faintly gray, and beside them, on either side, floated two exact replicas of their ship! Zezdon Afthen stared. But in another moment, both were gone, and space was black, yet in but a few moments a grayness was showing, and light was appearing from all about, growing gradually in intensity. For three seconds Arcot continued thus, then he pulled the metal button down the slide, and flicked over another that he had pulled to cause the second change. The stars were again before them, their colors changed beyond all recognition at that speed. But the orientation of the stars behind them had been familiar. Now an entirely different set of constellation showed.
"I merely opened the ship out to her maximum speed for a moment. I was able to see any large star 2000 light years in our path, and there were none. Small stars do not bother us as I will explain. When I put on full power of the main power coils, I drove the ship up to a speed of 30 light years a second. When I turned in the full power of the auxiliary coils as well I doubled the power, and the speed was multiplied by eight. The result was that in the four seconds of racing, we made approximately 1000 light years!"
Zezdon Afthen gasped. "Two hundred and forty light years per second"! He paused in bewilderment. "Suppose we had struck a small sun, a dark star, even a meteor at that speed? What would have been the result?"
Arcot smiled. "The chances are excellent that we plowed through more than one meteor, more than one dark star, and more than one small sun.
"But this is the secret: the ship attains the speed only by going out of space. Nothing in space can attain the speed of light, save radiation. Nothing in normal space. But, we alter space, make space along patterns we choose, and so distort it that the natural speed of radiation is enormously greater. In fact, we so change space that nothing can go slower than a speed we fix.
"Morey—show Afthen the coils, and explain it all to him. I've got to stay here."
Morey rose, and diving through the weightless ship, went down to the power room, Zezdon Afthen following. Here, giant pots five feet high were in close packed rows. The "pots" contained specially designed coils storing tremendous energy, the energy of four tons of disintegrated lead, in the only form that energy may be stored, as a strain, or distortion in space. These charged coils distorted only the space within themselves, making a closed field entirely within themselves. But in the exact gravitational center of the quarter of a million ton ship was a single high coil of different design that distorted space around it as well as the space within it. This, as Morey explained, was the control that altered the constants of space to suit. The coils were charged, and the energy stored. Their energy could be pumped into the big coil, and then, when the ship slowed to normal space, could be pumped back to them. The pumping energy, as well as any further energy needed for recharging the coils could be supplied by three huge power generators.
"These energy-producers," Morey explained, "work on a principle known for hundreds of years on Earth. Lead, when reduced to a temperature approaching absolute zero as closely as, for instance, liquid helium, has no electrical resistance. In other words, no matter how great a current is sent through it, there is no resistance, and no heat is produced to raise the temperature. What we do is to send a powerful current through a lead wire. The wire has a current density so huge that the atoms are destroyed, and the protons and electrons coalesce into pure radiant energy. Relux, under the influence of a magnetic field, converts this directly into electrical potential. Electricity we can convert to the spatial strain in the power coils, and thus the ship is driven." Morey pointed out the huge molecular power cylinder overhead, where the main power drive was located in the inertial center of the ship, or as near as the great space coil would permit.
The smaller power units for vertical lift, and for steering, were in the side walls, hidden under heavy walls of relux.
"The projectors for throwing molecular and heat rays are on the outside of course. Both of these projectors are protected. The walls of the ship are made of an outer wall of heavy lux metal, a vacuum between, and an inner wall of heavy relux. The lux is stronger than relux, and is therefore used for an outer shell. The inner shell of relux will reflect any dangerous rays and serve to hold the heat in the ship, since a perfect reflector is a perfect non-radiator. The vacuum wall is to protect the occupants of the ship against any undue heat. If we should get within the atmosphere of a sun, it would be disastrous if the physical conduction of heat were permitted, for though the relux will turn out any radiated heat, it is a conductor of heat, and we would roast almost instantly. These artificial metals are both absolutely infusible and non-volatile. The ship has actually been in the limb of a star tremendously hotter than your sun or mine.
"Now you see why it is we need not fear a collision with a small sun, meteor or such like. Since we are in our own, artificial space, we are alone, and there is nothing in space to run into. But, if we enter a huge sun, the terrific gravitational field of the mass of matter would be enough to pull the energy of our coil away from us. That actually happened the time we made our first intergalactic exploration. But it is almost impossible to fall into a large star—they are too brilliant. We won't be worrying about it," grinned Morey.
"But how did the ship we captured operate?" asked Zezdon Afthen.
"It was a very ingenious system, very closely related to ours, really.
"We distort space and change the velocity characteristics; in other words, we distort the rate of motion through distance characteristics of normal space. The Thessian ships work on the principle of distorting the rate of progress through time instead of through space.
"Velocity is really 'units of travel through space per unit of travel through time.' Now if we make the time unit twice as great, and the units traveled through space are not changed, the velocity is twice as great. That is, if we are moving five light years per second, make the second twice as long and we are moving ten light years per double-second. Make it ten thousand times as long, and we are traveling fifty thousand light years per ten-thousand-seconds. This is the principle—but there is a drawback. We might increase the velocity by slowing time passage, that is, if it takes me a year for one heartbeat, two years to raise my arm thus, and six months to turn, my head, if all my body processes are slowed down in this way, I will be able to live a tremendous length of time, and though it takes me two hundred years to go from one star to another, so low is my time rate that the two hundred years will seem but a few minutes. I can then make a trip to a distant star—one five light years distant, let us say, in three minutes to me. I then will say, looking at my chronometer (which has been similarly slowed) 'I have gone five light years in three minutes, or five thirds light years per minute. I have exceeded the speed of light.'
"But people back on Earth would say, he has taken two hundred years to go five light years, therefore he has gone at a speed one fortieth of that of light, which would be true—for their time rate.
"But suppose I can also speed up time. That is, I can live a year in a minute or two. Then everyone else will be exceedingly slow. The ideal thing would be to combine these two effects, arranging that space about your ship will have a very rapid time rate, ten thousand times that of normal space. Then the speed of radiation through that space will be 1,860,000,000 miles per second, and a speed of 1,000,000,000 miles per second would be possible, but still you, too, will be affected, so that though the people back home will say you are going far faster than light, you will say 'No, I am going only 100,000 miles per second.'
"But now imagine that your ship and surrounding space for one mile is at a time rate 10,000 times normal, and you, in a space of one hundred feet within your ship, are affected by a time rate 1/10,000 that, or normal, due to a second, reversing field. The two fields will not fight, or be mutually antagonistic; they will merely compound their effects. Result: you will agree that you are exceeding the speed of light!
"Do you understand? That is the principle on which your ship operated. There were two time-fields, overlapping time-fields. Remember the terrible speed with which your ship landed, and yet there was no appreciable jar according to the men? The answer of course was, that their time rate had been speeded enough, due to the fact that one field had been completely shut off, the other had not.
"That is the principle. The system is so complex, naturally, that we have not yet learned the actual method of working the process. We must do a great deal of mathematical and physical research.
"Wish we had it done—we could use it now," mused the terrestrian.
"We have some other weapons, none as important, of course, as the molecular ray and the heat ray. Or none that have been. But, if the enemy have ray shields, then perhaps these others also will be important. There are molecular motion guns, metal tubes, with molecular director apparatus at one end. A metal shell is pulling the power turned on, and the shell leaps out at a speed of about ten miles per second—since it has been super-heated—and is very accurately aimed, as there is no terrific shock of recoil to be taken up by the gun.
"But a more effective weapon, if these men are as I expect them to be, will be a peculiarly effective magnetic field concentrator device, which will project a magnetic field as a beam for a mile or more. How useful it will be—I don't know. We don't know what the enemy will turn against us!"
After Morey's explanation of the ship was completed, Wade took Arcot's place at the controls, while Morey and Arcot retired to the calculating room to do some of the needed mathematics on the time-field investigation.
Their work continued here, while the Ortolians prepared a meal and brought it to them, and to Wade. When at last the sun of Ortol was growing before them, Arcot took over controls from Wade once more. Slowing their speed to less than fifty times that of light, they drove on. The attraction of the giant sun was draining the energy from the coils so rapidly now, that at last Arcot was forced to get into normal space, while the planet was still close to a million miles from them. Morey was showing the Ortolians the operation of the telectroscope and had it trained now on the rapidly approaching planet. The planet was easily enlarged to a point where the features of continents were visible. The magnification was increased till cities were no longer blurs, but truly cities.
Suddenly, as city after city was brought under the action of the machine, the Ortolians recognizing them with glad exclamations, one swept into view—and as they watched, it leapt into the air, a vast column of dust, then twisting, whirling, it fell back in utter, chaotic ruin.
Zezdon Fentes staggered back from the screen in horror.
"Arcot—drive down—increase your speed—the Thessians are there already and have destroyed one city," called Morey sharply. The men secured themselves with heavy belts, as the deep toned hum of the warning echoed through the ship. A moment later they staggered under an acceleration of four gravities. Space was dark for the barest instant of time, and then there was the scream of atmosphere as the ship rocketed through the air of the planet at nearly fifteen hundred miles per second. The outer wall was blazing in incandescence in a moment, and the heavy relux screens seemed to leap into place over the windows as the blasting heat, radiated from the incandescent walls flooded in. The millions of tons pressure of the air on the nose of the ship would have brought it to a stop in an instant, and had it not been that the molecular drive was on at full power, driving the ship against the air resistance, and still losing. The ship slowed swiftly, but was shrieking toward the destroyed city at terrific speed.
"Hesthis—to the—right and ahead. That would be their next attack," said the Ortolian. Arcot altered the ship's course, and they shot toward the distance city of Hesthis. They were slowing perceptibly, and yet, though the city was half around the world, they reached it in half a minute. Now Arcot's wizardry at the controls came into play, for by altering his space field constants, he succeeded in reaching a condition that slowed the ship almost instantly to a speed of but a mile a second, yet without apparent deceleration.
High in the white Ortolian sky was a shining point bearing down on the now-visible city. Arcot slanted toward it, and the approaching ship grew like an expanding rubber balloon.
A ray of intense, blindingly brilliant light flashed out, and a gout of light appeared in the center of the city. A huge flame, bright blue, shot heavenward in roaring heat.
Seeing that a strange ship had arrived was enough for the Thessians, and they turned, and drove at Arcot instantly. The Thessian ship was built for a heavy world, and for heavy acceleration in consequence, and, as they had found from the captured ship, it was stronger than the Ancient Mariner. Now the Thessians were driving at Arcot with an acceleration and speed that convinced him dodging was useless. Suddenly space was black around them, the sunlit world was gone.
"Wonder what they thought of that!" grinned Arcot. Wade smiled grimly.
"It's not what they thought, but what they'll do, that counts."
Arcot came back to normal space, just in time to see the Thessian ship spin in a quick turn, under an acceleration that would have crushed a human to a pulp. Again the pilot dived at the terrestrian ship. Again it vanished. Twice more he tried these fruitless tactics, seeing the ship loom before him—bracing for the crash—then it was gone instantaneously, and though he sailed through the spot he knew it to have occupied, it was not there. Yet an instant later, as he turned, it was floating, unharmed, exactly where his ship had passed!
Rushing was useless. He stood, and prepared to give battle. A molecular ray reached out—and disappeared in flaring ions on a shield utterly impenetrable in the ionizing atmosphere.
Arcot meanwhile watched the instrument of his shield. The Thessian shield would have been impenetrable, but his shield, fed by less efficient tubes, was not, and he knew it. Already the terrific energy of the Thessian ray was noticeably heating the copper plates of the tube. The seal would break soon.
Another ray reached out, a ray of flaring light. Arcot, watching through the "eyes" of his telectroscope viewplates, saw it for but an instant, then the "eyes" were blasted, and the screen went blank.
"He won't do anything with that but burn out eyes," muttered the terrestrian. He pushed a small button when his instruments told him the rays were off. Another scanner came into action, and the viewplate was alive again.
Arcot shot out a cosmic ray himself, and swept the Thessian with it thoroughly. For the instant he needed the enemy ship was blinded. Immediately the Ancient Mariner dove, and the automatic ray-finders could no longer hold the rays on his ship. As soon as he was out of the deadly molecular ray he shut off his screen, and turned on all his molecular rays. The Thessian ship, their own ray on, had been unable to put up their screen, as Arcot was unable to use his ray with the enemy's ray forcing him to cover with a shield.
Almost at once the relux covering of the Thessian ship shone with characteristic iridescence as it changed swiftly to lux metal. The molecular ray blinked out, and a ray screen flashed out instead. The Thessians were covering up. Their own rays were useless now. Though Arcot could not hope to destroy their ray shield, they could no longer attack his, for their rays were useless, and already they had lost so much of the protective relux, that they would not be so foolhardy as to risk a second attack of the ray.
Arcot continued to bathe the ship in energy, keeping their "eyes" closed. As long as he could hold his barrage on them, they would not damage him.
"Morey—get into the power room, strap onto the board. Throw all the power-coil banks into the magnets. I may burn them out, but I have hopes—" Arcot already had the generators going full power, charging the power coils.
Morey dived. Almost simultaneously the Thessians succeeded in the maneuver they had been attempting for some time. There were a dozen rays flaring wildly from the ship, searching blindly over the sky and ground, hoping to stumble on the enemy ship, while their own ship dived and twisted. Arcot was busily dodging the sweeping rays, but finally one hit his viewplates, and his own ship was blind. Instantly he threw the ray screen out, cutting off his own molecular ray. His own cosmics he set rotating in cones that covered the three dimensions—save below, where the city lay. Immediately the Thessian had retreated to this one segment where Arcot did not dare throw his own rays. The Thessian cosmics continued to make his relux screens necessary, and his ship remained blind.
His ray screen was showing signs of weakening. The Thessians got a third ray into position for operation, and opened up. Almost at once the tubes heated terrifically. In an instant they would give way. Arcot threw his ship into space, and let the tubes cool under the water jacket. Morey reported the coils ready as soon as he came out of space.
Arcot cut in the new set of eyes, and put up his molecular ray screen again. Then he cut the energy back to the coils.
Half a mile below the enemy ship was vainly scurrying around an empty sky. Wade laughed at the strange resemblance to a puppy chasing its tail. The Ancient Mariner was utterly lost to them.
"Well, here goes the last trick," said Arcot grimly. "If this doesn't work, they'll probably win, for their tubes are better than ours, and they can maneuver faster. By win I mean force us to let them attack Ortol. They can't really attack us; artificial space is a perfect defense."
Arcot's molecular ray apprized the Thessians of his presence. Their screen flared up once more. Arcot was driving straight toward their ship as they turned. He snapped the relux screens in front of his eyes an instant before the enemy cosmics reached his ship. Immediately the thud of four heavy relays rang through the ship. The quarter of a million ton ship leaped forward under a terrific acceleration, and then, as the four relays cut out again, the acceleration was gone. The screen regained life as Arcot opened the shutters. Before them, still directly in their path, was the huge Thessian ship. But now its screen was down, the relux iridescent in decomposition. It was falling, helplessly falling to the rocky plateau seven miles below. Its rays reached out even yet—and again the Ancient Mariner staggered under the terrific pull of some acceleration. The Thessian ship lurched upward, and a terrific concussion came, and the entire neighborhood of that projector disappeared in a flash of radiation.
Arcot drove the Ancient Mariner down beneath the Thessian ship in its long fall, and with a powerful molecular beam ripped a mighty chasm in the deserted plateau. The Thessian ship fell into a quarter mile rift in the solid rock, smashing its way through falling debris. A moment later it was buried beneath a quarter mile of broken rock as Arcot swept a molecular beam about with the grace of a mine foreman filling breaks.
An instant later, a heat ray followed the molecular in dazzling brilliance. A terrific gout of light appeared in the barren rocks. In ten minutes the plateau was a white hot cauldron of molten rocks, glowing now against a darkening sky. Night was falling.
"That ship," said Arcot with an air of finality, "will never rise again."
THE SECOND MOVE
"What happened to him, though?" asked Wade, bewildered. "I haven't yet figured it out. He went down in a heap, and he didn't have any power. Of course, if he had his power he could have pulled out again. He could just melt and burn all the excess rock off, and he would be all set. But his rays all went dead. And why the explosion?"
"The magnetic beam is the answer. In our boat we have everything magnetically shielded, because of the enormous magnetic flux set up by the current flowing from the storage coils to the main coil. But—with so many wires heavily charged with current, what would have happened if they had not been shielded?
"If a current cuts across a magnetic field, a side thrust is developed. What do you suppose happened when the terrific magnetic field of the beam and the currents in the wires of their power-board were mutually opposed?"
"Lord, it must have ripped away everything in the ship. It'd tear loose even the lighting wires!" gasped Wade in amazement.
"But if all the power of the ship was destroyed in this way, how was it that one of their rays was operating as they fell?" asked Zezdon Afthen.
"Each ray is a power plant in itself," explained Arcot, "and so it was able to function. I do not know the cause of the explosion, though it might well have been that they had light-bombs such as the Kaxorians of Venus have," he added, thoughtfully.
They landed, at Zezdon's advice, in the city that their arrival had been able to save. This was Ortol's largest city, and their industrial capital. Here, too, was the University at which Afthen taught.
They landed, and Arcot, Morey and Wade, with the aid of Zezdon Afthen and Zezdon Fentes worked steadily for two of their days of fifty hours each, teaching men how to make and use the molecular ships, and the rays and screens, heat beams, and relux. But Arcot promised that when he returned he would have some weapon that would bring them certain and easy salvation. In the meantime other terrestrians would follow him.
They left the morning of their third day on the planet. A huge crowd had come to cheer them on their way as they left, but it was the "silent cheer" of Ortol, a telepathic well-wishing.
"Now," said Arcot as their ship left the planet behind, "we will have to make the next move. It certainly looks as though that next move would be to the still-unknown race that lives on world 3769-37, 478, 326, 894-6. Evidently we will have to have some weapon they haven't, and I think that I know what it will be. Thanks to our trip out to the Islands of Space."
"Shall we go?"
"I think it would be wise," agreed Morey.
"And I," said Wade. The Ortolians agreed, and so, with the aid of the photographic copies of the Thessian charts that Arcot had made, they started for world 3769-37, 478, 326, 894-6.
"It will take approximately twenty-two hours, and as we have been putting off our sleep with drugs, I think that we had better catch up. Wade, I wish you'd take the ship again, while Morey and I do a little concentrated sleeping. We have by no means finished that calculation, and I'd very much like to. We'll relieve you in five hours."
Wade took the ship, and following the course Arcot laid out, they sped through the void at the greatest safe speed. Wade had only to watch the view-screen carefully, and if a star showed as growing rapidly, it was proof that they were near, and nearing rapidly. If large, a touch of a switch, and they dodged to one side, if small, they were suddenly plunged into an instant of unbelievable radiation as they swept through it, in a different space, yet linked to it by radiation, not light, that were permitted in.
Zezdon Afthen had elected to stay with him, which gave him an opportunity he had been waiting for. "If it's none of my business, just say so," he began. "But that first city we saw the Thessians destroy—it was Zezdon Fentes' home, wasn't it? Did he have a family?"
The words seemed blunt as he said them, but there was no way out, once he had started. And Zezdon Afthen took the question with complete calm.
"Fentes had both wives and children," he said quietly. "His loss was great."
Wade concentrated on the screen for a moment, trying to absorb the shock. Then, fearing Zezdon Afthen might misinterpret his silence, he plunged on. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't realize you were polygamous—most people on Earth aren't, but some groups are. It's probably a good way to improve the race. But ... Blast it, what bothers me is that Zezdon Fentes seemed to recover from the blow so quickly! From a canine race, I'd expect more affection, more loyalty, more...."
He stopped in dismay. But Zezdon Afthen remained unperturbed. "More unconcealed emotion?" he asked. "No. Affection and loyalty we have—they are characteristic of our race. But affection and loyalty should not be uselessly applied. To forget dead wives and children—that would be insulting to their memory. But to mourn them with senseless loss of health and balance would also be insulting—not only to their memory, but to the entire race.
"No, we have a better way. Fentes, my very good friend, has not forgotten, no more than you have forgotten the death of your mother, whom you loved. But you no longer mourn her death with a fear and horror of that natural thing, the Eternal Sleep. Time has softened the pain.
"If we can do the same in five minutes instead of five years, is it not better? That is why Fentes has forgotten".
"Then you have aged his memory of that event?" asked Wade in surprise.
"That is one way of stating it," replied Zezdon Afthen seriously.
Wade was silent for a while, absorbing this. But he could not contain his curiosity completely. Well, to hell with it, he decided. Conventional manners and tact don't have much meaning between two different races. "Are you—married?" he asked.
"Only three times," Zezdon Afthen told him blandly. "And to forestall your next question—no, our system does not create problems. At least, not those you're thinking of. I know my wives have never had the jealous quarrels I see in your mind pictures."
"It isn't safe thinking things around you," laughed Wade. "Just the same, all of this has made me even more interested in the 'Ancient Masters' you keep mentioning. Who were they?"
"The Ancient Ones," began Zezdon Afthen slowly, "were men such as you are. They descended from a primeval omnivorous mammal very closely related to your race. Evidently the tendency of evolution on any planet is approximately the same with given conditions.
"The race existed as a distinct branch for approximately 1,500,000 of your years before any noticeable culture was developed. Then it existed for a total of 1,525,000 years before extinction. With culture and learning they developed such marvelous means of killing themselves that in twenty-five thousand years they succeeded perfectly. Ten thousand years of barbaric culture—I need not relate it to you, five thousand years of the medieval culture, then five thousand years of developed science culture.
"They learned to fly through space and nearly populated three worlds; two were fully populated, one was still under colonization when the great war broke out. An interplanetary war is not a long drawn out struggle. The science of any people so far advanced as to have interplanetary lines is too far developed to permit any long duration of war. Selto declared war, and made the first move. They attacked and destroyed the largest city of Ortol of that time. Ortolian ships drove them off, and in turn attacked Selto's largest city. Twenty million intelligences, twenty million lives, each with its aims, its hopes, its loves and its strivings—gone in four days.
"The war continued to get more and more hateful, till it became evident that neither side would be pacified till the other was totally subjugated. So each laid his plans, and laid them to wipe out the entire world of the other.
"Ortol developed a ray of light that made things not happen," explained Zezdon Afthen, his confused thoughts clearly indicating his own uncertainty.
"'A ray of light that made things not happen,'" repeated Wade curiously. "A ray, which prevented things, which caused processes to stop—The Negrian Death Ray!" he exclaimed as he suddenly recognized, in this crude and garbled description of its powers, the Negrian ray of anti-catalysis, a ray which tended to stop the processes of life's chemistry and bring instant, painless death.
"Ah, you know it, too?" asked the Ortolian eagerly. "Then you will understand what happened. The ray was turned first on Selto, and as the whirling planet spun under it, every square foot of it was wiped clean of every living thing, from gigantic Welsthan to microscopic Ascoptel, and every man, woman and child was killed, painlessly, but instantly.
"Then Thenten spun under it, and all were killed, but many who had fled the planets were still safe—many?—a few thousand.
"The day that Thenten spun under that ray, men of Ortol began to complain of disease—men by the thousands, hundreds of thousands. Every man, every woman, every child was afflicted in some way. The diseases did not seem all the same. Some seemingly died of a disease of the lungs, some went insane, some were paralyzed, and lay helplessly inactive. But most of them were afflicted, for it was exceedingly virulent, and the normal serums were helpless. Before any quantity of new serum was made, all but a slender remnant had died, either of starvation through paralysis, none being left to care for them, or from the disease itself, while thousands who had gone mad were painlessly killed.
"The Seltonians came to Ortol, and the remaining Ortolians, with their aid, tried to rebuild the civilization. But what a sorry thing! The cities were gigantic, stinking, plague-ridden morgues. And the plague broke among those few remaining people. The Ortolians had done everything in their power with the serums—but too late. The Seltonians had been protected with it on landing—but even that was not enough. Again the wild fires of that loathsome disease broke out.
"Since first those men had developed from their hairy forebears, they had found their eternal friends were the dogs, and to them they turned in their last extremity, breeding them for intelligence, hairlessness, and resemblance to themselves. The Deathless ones alone remained after three generations of my people, but with the aid of certain rays, the rays capable of penetrating lead for a short distance, and most other substances for considerable distances." X-rays, thought Wade. "Great changes had been wrought. Already they had developed startling intelligence, and were able to understand the scheme of their Masters. Their feet and hands were being modified rapidly, and their vocal apparatus was changing. Their jaws shortened, their chins developed, the nose retreated.
"Generation after generation the process went on, while the Deathless Ancient Ones worked with their helpers, for soon my race was a real helping organization.
"But it was done. The successful arousing of true love-emotion followed, and the unhappy days were gone. Quickly development followed. In five thousand years the new race had outstripped the Ancient Masters, and they passed, voluntarily, willingly joining in oblivion the millions who had died before.
"Since then our own race has risen, it has been but a short thousand years, a thousand years of work, and hope, and continuous improvement for us, continual accomplishment on which we can look, and a living hope to which we could look with raised heads, and smiling faces.
"Then our hope died, as this menace came. Do you see what you and your world was meant to us, Man of Earth?" Zezdon Afthen raised his dark eyes to the terrestrian with a look in their depths that made Wade involuntarily resolve that Thet and all Thessians should be promptly consigned to that limbo of forgotten things where they belonged.