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Islands of Space
by John W Campbell
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As Earth's faster-than-light spaceship hung in the void between galaxies, Arcot, Wade, Morey and Fuller could see below them, like a vast shining horizon, the mass of stars that formed their own island universe. Morey worked a moment with his slide rule, then said, "We made good time! Twenty-nine light years in ten seconds! Yet you had it on at only half power...."

Arcot pushed the control lever all the way to full power. The ship filled with the strain of flowing energy, and sparks snapped in the air of the control room as they raced at an inconceivable speed through the darkness of intergalactic space.

But suddenly, far off to their left and far to their right, they saw two shining ships paralleling their course! They held grimly to the course of the Earth ship, bracketing it like an official guard.

The Earth scientists stared at them in wonder. "Lord," muttered Morey, "where can they have come from?"

* * * * *

John W. Campbell first started writing in 1930 when his first short story, When the Atoms Failed, was accepted by a science-fiction magazine. At that time he was twenty years old and still a student at college. As the title of the story indicates, he was even at that time occupied with the significance of atomic energy and nuclear physics.

For the next seven years, Campbell, bolstered by a scientific background that ran from childhood experiments, to study at Duke University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote and sold science-fiction, achieving for himself an enviable reputation in the field.

In 1937 he became the editor of Astounding Stories magazine and applied himself at once to the task of bettering the magazine and the field of s-f writing in general. His influence on science-fiction since then has been great. Today he still remains as the editor of that magazine's evolved and redesigned successor, Analog.



ISLANDS

OF

SPACE

by

JOHN W. CAMPBELL

ACE BOOKS, INC. 1120 Avenue of the Americas New York, N.Y. 10036



ISLANDS OF SPACE

Copyright, 1956, by John W. Campbell, Jr. Copyright, 1930, by Experimenter Publications, Inc.

An Ace Book, by arrangement with the author.

All Rights Reserved

Cover by McKeon

Also by John W. Campbell In Ace editions:

THE BLACK STAR PASSES (F-346) THE MIGHTIEST MACHINE (F-364)

Printed in U.S.A.



PROLOGUE

In the early part of the Twenty Second Century, Dr. Richard Arcot, hailed as "the greatest living physicist", and Robert Morey, his brilliant mathematical assistant, discovered the so-called "molecular motion drive", which utilized the random energy of heat to produce useful motion.

John Fuller, designing engineer, helped the two men to build a ship which used the drive in order to have a weapon to seek out and capture the mysterious Air Pirate whose robberies were ruining Transcontinental Airways.

The Pirate, Wade, was a brilliant but neurotic chemist who had discovered, among other things, the secret of invisibility. Cured of his instability by modern psychomedical techniques, he was hired by Arcot to help build an interplanetary vessel to go to Venus.

The Venusians proved to be a humanoid race of people who used telepathy for communication. Although they were similar to Earthmen, their blue blood and double thumbs made them enough different to have caused distrust and racial friction, had not both planets been drawn together in a common bond of defense by the passing of the Black Star.

The Black Star, Nigra, was a dead, burned-out sun surrounded by a planetary system very much like our own. But these people had been forced to use their science to produce enough heat and light to stay alive in the cold, black depths of interstellar space. There was nothing evil or menacing in their attack on the Solar System; they simply wanted a star that gave off light and heat. So they attacked, not realizing that they were attacking beings equal in intelligence to themselves.

They were at another disadvantage, too. The Nigrans had spent long millennia fighting their environment and had had no time to fight among themselves, so they knew nothing of how to wage a war. The Earthmen and Venusians knew only too well, since they had a long history of war on each planet.

Inevitably, the Nigrans were driven back to the Black Star.[A]

The war was over. And things became dull. And the taste of adventure still remained on the tongues of Arcot, Wade, and Morey.

[Footnote A: See "The Black Star Passes", Ace Books, F-346.]



I

Three men sat around a table which was littered with graphs, sketches of mathematical functions, and books of tensor formulae. Beside the table stood a Munson-Bradley integraph calculator which one of the men was using to check some of the equations he had already derived. The results they were getting seemed to indicate something well above and beyond what they had expected.

And anything that surprised the team of Arcot, Wade, and Morey was surprising indeed.

The intercom buzzed, interrupting their work.

Dr. Richard Arcot reached over and lifted the switch. "Arcot speaking."

The face that flashed on the screen was businesslike and determined. "Dr. Arcot, Mr. Fuller is here. My orders are to check with you on all visitors."

Arcot nodded. "Send him up. But from now on, I'm not in to anyone but my father or the Interplanetary Chairman or the elder Mr. Morey. If they come, don't bother to call, just send 'em up. I will not receive calls for the next ten hours. Got it?"

"You won't be bothered, Dr. Arcot."

Arcot cut the circuit and the image collapsed.

Less than two minutes later, a light flashed above the door. Arcot touched the release, and the door slid aside. He looked at the man entering and said, with mock coldness:

"If it isn't the late John Fuller. What did you do—take a plane? It took you an hour to get here from Chicago."

Fuller shook his head sadly. "Most of the time was spent in getting past your guards. Getting to the seventy-fourth floor of the Transcontinental Airways Building is harder than stealing the Taj Mahal." Trying to suppress a grin, Fuller bowed low. "Besides, I think it would do your royal highness good to be kept waiting for a while. You're paid a couple of million a year to putter around in a lab while honest people work for a living. Then, if you happen to stub your toe over some useful gadget, they increase your pay. They call you scientists and spend the resources of two worlds to get you anything you want—and apologize if they don't get it within twenty-four hours.

"No doubt about it; it will do your majesties good to wait."

With a superior smile, he seated himself at the table and shuffled calmly through the sheets of equations before him.

Arcot and Wade were laughing, but not Robert Morey. With a sorrowful expression, he walked to the window and looked out at the hundreds of slim, graceful aircars that floated above the city.

"My friends," said Morey, almost tearfully, "I give you the great Dr. Arcot. These countless machines we see have come from one idea of his. Just an idea, mind you! And who worked it into mathematical form and made it calculable, and therefore useful? I did!

"And who worked out the math for the interplanetary ships? I did! Without me they would never have been built!" He turned dramatically, as though he were playing King Lear. "And what do I get for it?" He pointed an accusing finger at Arcot. "What do I get? He is called 'Earth's most brilliant physicist', and I, who did all the hard work, am referred to as 'his mathematical assistant'." He shook his head solemnly. "It's a hard world."

At the table, Wade frowned, then looked at the ceiling. "If you'd make your quotations more accurate, they'd be more trustworthy. The news said that Arcot was the 'System's most brilliant physicist', and that you were the 'brilliant mathematical assistant who showed great genius in developing the mathematics of Dr. Arcot's new theory'." Having delivered his speech, Wade began stoking his pipe.

Fuller tapped his fingers on the table. "Come on, you clowns, knock it off and tell me why you called a hard-working man away from his drafting table to come up to this play room of yours. What have you got up your sleeve this time?"

"Oh, that's too bad," said Arcot, leaning back comfortably in his chair. "We're sorry you're so busy. We were thinking of going out to see what Antares, Betelguese, or Polaris looked like at close range. And, if we don't get too bored, we might run over to the giant model nebula in Andromeda, or one of the others. Tough about your being busy; you might have helped us by designing the ship and earned your board and passage. Tough." Arcot looked at Fuller sadly.

Fuller's eyes narrowed. He knew Arcot was kidding, but he also knew how far Arcot would go when he was kidding—and this sounded like he meant it. Fuller said: "Look, teacher, a man named Einstein said that the velocity of light was tops over two hundred years ago, and nobody's come up with any counter evidence yet. Has the Lord instituted a new speed law?"

"Oh, no," said Wade, waving his pipe in a grand gesture of importance. "Arcot just decided he didn't like that law and made a new one himself."

"Now wait a minute!" said Fuller. "The velocity of light is a property of space!"

Arcot's bantering smile was gone. "Now you've got it, Fuller. The velocity of light, just as Einstein said, is a property of space. What happens if we change space?"

Fuller blinked. "Change space? How?"

Arcot pointed toward a glass of water sitting nearby. "Why do things look distorted through the water? Because the light rays are bent. Why are they bent? Because as each wave front moves from air to water, it slows down. The electromagnetic and gravitational fields between those atoms are strong enough to increase the curvature of the space between them. Now, what happens if we reverse that effect?"

"Oh," said Fuller softly. "I get it. By changing the curvature of the space surrounding you, you could get any velocity you wanted. But what about acceleration? It would take years to reach those velocities at any acceleration a man could stand."

Arcot shook his head. "Take a look at the glass of water again. What happens when the light comes out of the water? It speeds up again instantaneously. By changing the space around a spaceship, you instantaneously change the velocity of the ship to a comparable velocity in that space. And since every particle is accelerated at the same rate, you wouldn't feel it, any more than you'd feel the acceleration due to gravity in free fall."

Fuller nodded slowly. Then, suddenly, a light gleamed in his eyes. "I suppose you've figured out where you're going to get the energy to power a ship like that?"

"He has," said Morey. "Uncle Arcot isn't the type to forget a little detail like that."

"Okay, give," said Fuller.

Arcot grinned and lit up his own pipe, joining Wade in an attempt to fill the room with impenetrable fog.

"All right," Arcot began, "we needed two things: a tremendous source of power and a way to store it.

"For the first, ordinary atomic energy wouldn't do. It's not controllable enough and uranium isn't something we could carry by the ton. So I began working with high-density currents.

"At the temperature of liquid helium, near absolute zero, lead becomes a nearly perfect conductor. Back in nineteen twenty, physicists had succeeded in making a current flow for four hours in a closed circuit. It was just a ring of lead, but the resistance was so low that the current kept on flowing. They even managed to get six hundred amperes through a piece of lead wire no bigger than a pencil lead.

"I don't know why they didn't go on from there, but they didn't. Possibly it was because they didn't have the insulation necessary to keep down the corona effect; in a high-density current, the electrons tend to push each other sideways out of the wire.

"At any rate, I tried it, using lux metal as an insulator around the wire."

"Hold it!" Fuller interrupted. "What, may I ask, is lux metal?"

"That was Wade's idea," Arcot grinned. "You remember those two substances we found in the Nigran ships during the war?"

"Sure," said Fuller. "One was transparent and the other was a perfect reflector. You said they were made of light—photons so greatly condensed that they were held together by their gravitational fields."

"Right. We called them light-metal. But Wade said that was too confusing. With a specific gravity of 103.5, light-metal was certainly not a light metal! So Wade coined a couple of words. Lux is the Latin for light, so he named the transparent one lux and the reflecting one relux."

"It sounds peculiar," Fuller observed, "but so does every coined word when you first hear it. Go on with your story."

Arcot relit his pipe and went on. "I put a current of ten thousand amps through a little piece of lead wire, and that gave me a current density of 10^{10} amps per square inch.

"Then I started jacking up the voltage, and modified the thing with a double-polarity field somewhat similar to the molecular motion field except that it works on a sub-nucleonic level. As a result, about half of the lead fed into the chamber became contraterrene lead! The atoms just turned themselves inside out, so to speak, giving us an atom with positrons circling a negatively charged nucleus. It even gave the neutrons a reverse spin, converting them into anti-neutrons.

"Result: total annihilation of matter! When the contraterrene lead atoms met the terrene lead atoms, mutual annihilation resulted, giving us pure energy.

"Some of this power can be bled off to power the mechanism itself; the rest is useful energy. We've got all the power we need—power, literally by the ton."

Fuller said nothing; he just looked dazed. He was well beginning to believe that these three men could do the impossible and do it to order.

"The second thing," Arcot continued, "was, as I said, a way to store the energy so that it could be released as rapidly or as slowly as we needed it.

"That was Morey's baby. He figured it would be possible to use the space-strain apparatus to store energy. It's an old method; induction coils, condensers, and even gravity itself are storing energy by straining space. But with Morey's apparatus we could store a lot more.

"A torus-shaped induction coil encloses all its magnetic field within it; the torus, or 'doughnut' coil, has a perfectly enclosed magnetic field. We built an enclosed coil, using Morey's principle, and expected to store a few watts of power in it to see how long we could hold it.

"Unfortunately, we made the mistake of connecting it to the city power lines, and it cost us a hundred and fifty dollars at a quarter of a cent per kilowatt hour. We blew fuses all over the place. After that, we used the relux plate generator.

"At any rate, the gadget can store power and plenty of it, and it can put it out the same way."

Arcot knocked the ashes out of his pipe and smiled at Fuller. "Those are the essentials of what we have to offer. We give you the job of figuring out the stresses and strains involved. We want a ship with a cruising radius of a thousand million light years."

"Yes, sir! Right away, sir! Do you want a gross or only a dozen?" Fuller asked sarcastically. "You sure believe in big orders! And whence cometh the cold cash for this lovely dream of yours?"

"That," said Morey darkly, "is where the trouble comes in. We have to convince Dad. As President of Transcontinental Airways, he's my boss, but the trouble is, he's also my father. When he hears that I want to go gallivanting off all over the Universe with you guys, he is very likely to turn thumbs down on the whole deal. Besides, Arcot's dad has a lot of influence around here, too, and I have a healthy hunch he won't like the idea, either."

"I rather fear he won't," agreed Arcot gloomily.

A silence hung over the room that felt almost as heavy as the pall of pipe smoke the air conditioners were trying frantically to disperse.

The elder Mr. Morey had full control of their finances. A ship that would cost easily hundreds of millions of dollars was well beyond anything the four men could get by themselves. Their inventions were the property of Transcontinental, but even if they had not been, not one of the four men would think of selling them to another company.

Finally, Wade said: "I think we'll stand a much better chance if we show them a big, spectacular exhibition; something really impressive. We'll point out all the advantages and uses of the apparatus. Then we'll show them complete plans for the ship. They might consent."

"They might," replied Morey smiling. "It's worth a try, anyway. And let's get out of the city to do it. We can go up to my place in Vermont. We can use the lab up there for all we need. We've got everything worked out, so there's no need to stay here.

"Besides, I've got a lake up there in which we can indulge in a little atavism to the fish stage of evolution."

"Good enough," Arcot agreed, grinning broadly. "And we'll need that lake, too. Here in the city it's only eighty-five because the aircars are soaking up heat for their molecular drive, but out in the country it'll be in the nineties."

"To the mountains, then! Let's pack up!"



II

The many books and papers they had collected were hastily put into the briefcases, and the four men took the elevator to the landing area on the roof.

"We'll take my car," Morey said. "The rest of you can just leave yours here. They'll be safe for a few days."

They all piled in as Morey slid into the driver's seat and turned on the power.

They rose slowly, looking below them at the traffic of the great city. New York had long since abandoned her rivers as trade routes; they had been covered solidly by steel decks which were used as public landing fields and ground car routes. Around them loomed titanic structures of glistening colored tile. The sunlight reflected brilliantly from them, and the contrasting colors of the buildings seemed to blend together into a great, multicolored painting.

The darting planes, the traffic of commerce down between the great buildings, and the pleasure cars above, combined to give a series of changing, darting shadows that wove a flickering pattern over the city. The long lines of ships coming in from Chicago, London, Buenos Aires and San Francisco, and the constant flow from across the Pole—from Russia, India, and China, were like mighty black serpents that wound their way into the city.

Morey cut into a Northbound traffic level, moved into the high-speed lane, and eased in on the accelerator. He held to the traffic pattern for two hundred and fifty miles, until he was well past Boston, then he turned at the first break and fired the ship toward their goal in Vermont.

Less than forty-five minutes since they had left New York, Morey was dropping the car toward the little mountain lake that offered them a place for seclusion. Gently, he let the ship glide smoothly into the shed where the first molecular motion ship had been built. Arcot jumped out, saying:

"We're here—unload and get going. I think a swim and some sleep is in order before we start work on this ship. We can begin tomorrow." He looked approvingly at the clear blue water of the little lake.

Wade climbed out and pushed Arcot to one side. "All right, out of the way, then, little one, and let a man get going." He headed for the house with the briefcases.

Arcot was six feet two and weighed close to two hundred, but Wade was another two inches taller and weighed a good fifty pounds more. His arms and chest were built on the same general plan as those of a gorilla. He had good reason to call Arcot little.

Morey, though still taller, was not as heavily formed, and weighed only a few pounds more than Arcot, while Fuller was a bit smaller than Arcot.

Due to several factors, the size of the average human being had been steadily increasing for several centuries. Only Wade would have been considered a "big" man by the average person, for the average man was over six feet tall.

They relaxed most of the afternoon, swimming and indulging in a few wrestling matches. At wrestling, Wade consistently proved himself not only built like a gorilla but muscled like one; but Arcot proved that skill was not without merit several times, for he had found that if he could make the match last more than two minutes, Wade's huge muscles would find an insufficient oxygen supply and tire quickly.

That evening, after dinner, Morey engaged Wade in a fierce battle of chess, with Fuller as an interested spectator. Arcot, too, was watching, but he was saying nothing.

After several minutes of uneventful play, Morey stopped suddenly and glared at the board. "Now why'd I make that move? I intended to move my queen over there to check your king on the red diagonal."

"Yeah," replied Wade gloomily, "that's what I wanted you to do. I had a sure checkmate in three moves."

Arcot smiled quietly.

They continued play for several moves, then it was Wade who remarked that something seemed to be influencing his play.

"I had intended to trade queens. I'm glad I didn't, though; I think this leaves me in a better position."

"It sure does," agreed Morey. "I was due to clean up on the queen trade. You surprised me, too; you usually go in for trades. I'm afraid my position is hopeless now."

It was. In the next ten moves, Wade spotted the weak points in every attack Morey made; the attack crumbled disastrously and white was forced to resign, his king in a hopeless position.

Wade rubbed his chin. "You know, Morey, I seemed to know exactly why you made every move, and I saw every possibility involved."

"Yeah—so I noticed," said Morey with a grin.

"Come on, Morey, let's try a game," said Fuller, sliding into the chair Wade had vacated.

Although ordinarily equally matched with Fuller, Morey again went down to disastrous defeat in an amazingly short time. It almost seemed as if Fuller could anticipate every move.

"Brother, am I off form today," he said, rising from the table. "Come on, Arcot—let's see you try Wade."

Arcot sat down, and although he had never played chess as extensively as the others, he proceeded to clean Wade out lock, stock, and barrel.

"Now what's come over you?" asked Morey in astonishment as he saw a very complicated formation working out, a formation he knew was far better than Arcot's usual game. He had just worked it out and felt very proud of it.

Arcot looked at him and smiled. "That's the answer, Morey!"

Morey blinked. "What—what's the answer to what?"

"Yes—I meant it—don't be so surprised—you've seen it done before. I have—no, not under him, but a more experienced teacher. I figured it would come in handy in our explorations."

Morey's face grew more and more astonished as Arcot's strange monologue continued.

Finally, Arcot turned to Wade, who was looking at him and Morey in wide-eyed wonder. And this time, it was Wade who began talking in a monologue.

"You did?" he said in a surprised voice. "When?" There was a long pause, during which Arcot stared at Wade with such intensity that Fuller began to understand what was happening.

"Well," said Wade, "if you've learned the trick so thoroughly, try it out. Let's see you project your thoughts! Go ahead!"

Fuller, now understanding fully what was going on, burst out laughing. "He has been projecting his thoughts! He hasn't said a word to you!" Then he looked at Arcot. "As a matter of fact, you've said so little that I don't know how you pulled this telepathic stunt—though I'm quite convinced that you did."

"I spent three months on Venus a while back," said Arcot, "studying with one of their foremost telepathists. Actually, most of that time was spent on theory; learning how to do it isn't a difficult proposition. It just takes practice.

"The whole secret is that everyone has the power; it's a very ancient power in the human brain, and most of the lower animals possess it to a greater degree than do humans. When Man developed language, it gave his thoughts more concreteness and permitted a freer and more clearly conceived type of thinking. The result was that telepathy fell into disuse.

"I'm going to show you how to do it because it will be invaluable if we meet a strange race. By projecting pictures and concepts, you can dispense with going to the trouble of learning the language.

"After you learn the basics, all you'll need is practice, but watch yourself! Too much practice can give you the great-granddaddy of all headaches! Okay, now to begin with ..."

Arcot spent the rest of the evening teaching them the Venerian system of telepathy.

* * * * *

They all rose at nine. Arcot got up first, and the others found it expedient to follow his example shortly thereafter. He had brought a large Tesla coil into the bedroom from the lab and succeeded in inducing sufficient voltage in the bedsprings to make very effective, though harmless, sparks.

"Come on, boys, hit the deck! Wade, as chief chemist, you are to synthesize a little coffee and heat-treat a few eggs for us. We have work ahead today! Rise and shine!" He didn't shut off the coil until he was assured that each of them had gotten a considerable distance from his bed.

"Ouch!" yelled Morey. "Okay! Shut it off! I want to get my pants! We're all up! You win!"

After breakfast, they all went into the room they used as a calculating room. Here they had two different types of integraph calculators and plenty of paper and equipment to do their own calculations and draw graphs.

"To begin with," said Fuller, "let's decide what shape we want to use. As designer, I'd like to point out that a sphere is the strongest, a cube easiest to build, and a torpedo shape the most efficient aerodynamically. However, we intend to use it in space, not air.

"And remember, we'll need it more as a home than as a ship during the greater part of the trip."

"We might need an aerodynamically stable hull," Wade interjected. "It came in mighty handy on Venus. They're darned useful in emergencies. What do you think, Arcot?"

"I favor the torpedo shape. Okay, now we've got a hull. How about some engines to run it? Let's get those, too. I'll name the general things first; facts and figures can come later.

"First: We must have a powerful mass-energy converter. We could use the cavity radiator and use cosmic rays to warm it, and drive the individual power units that way, or we can have a main electrical power unit and warm them all electrically. Now, which one would be the better?"

Morey frowned. "I think we'd be safer if we didn't depend on any one plant, but had each as separate as possible. I'm for the individual cavity radiators."

"Question," interjected Fuller. "How do these cavity radiators work?"

"They're built like a thermos bottle," Arcot explained. "The inner shell will be of rough relux, which will absorb the heat efficiently, while the outer one will be of polished relux to keep the radiation inside. Between the two we'll run a flow of helium at two tons per square inch pressure to carry the heat to the molecular motion apparatus. The neck of the bottle will contain the atomic generator."

Fuller still looked puzzled. "See here; with this new space strain drive, why do we have to have the molecular drive at all?"

"To move around near a heavy mass—in the presence of a strong gravitational field," Arcot said. "A gravitational field tends to warp space in such a way that the velocity of light is lower in its presence. Our drive tries to warp or strain space in the opposite manner. The two would simply cancel each other out and we'd waste a lot of power going nowhere. As a matter of fact, the gravitational field of the sun is so intense that we'll have to go out beyond the orbit of Pluto before we can use the space strain drive effectively."

"I catch," said Fuller. "Now to get back to the generators. I think the power units would be simpler if they were controlled from one electrical power source, and just as reliable. Anyway, the molecular motion power is controlled, of necessity, from a single generator, so if one is apt to go bad, the other is, too."

"Very good reasoning," smiled Morey, "but I'm still strong for decentralization. I suggest a compromise. We can have the main power unit and the main verticals, which will be the largest, controlled by individual cosmic ray heaters, and the rest run by electric power units. They'd be just heating coils surrounded by the field."

"A good idea," said Arcot. "I'm in favor of the compromise. Okay, Fuller? Okay. Now the next problem is weapons. I suggest we use a separate control panel and a separate generating panel for the power tubes we'll want in the molecular beam projectors."

The molecular beam projector simply projected the field that caused molecular motion to take place as wanted. As weapons, they were terrifically deadly. If half a mountain is suddenly thrown into the air because all the random motion of its molecules becomes concentrated in one direction, it becomes a difficult projectile to fight. Or touch the bow of a ship with the beam; the bow drops to absolute zero and is driven back on the stern, with all the speed of its billions of molecules. The general effect is similar to that produced by two ships having a head-on collision at ten miles per second.

Anything touched by the beam is broken by its own molecules, twisted by its own strength, and crushed by its own toughness. Nothing can resist it.

"My idea," Arcot went on, "was that since the same power is used for both the beams and the drive, we'll have two separate power-tube banks to generate it. That way, if one breaks down, we can switch to the other. We can even use both at once on the drive, if necessary; the molecular motion machines will stand it if we make them of relux and anchor them with lux metal beams. The projectors would be able to handle the power, too, using Dad's new system.

"That will give us more protection, and, at the same time, full power. Since we'll have several projectors, the power needed to operate the ship will be about equal to the power required to operate the projectors.

"And I also suggest we mount some heat beam projectors."

"Why?" objected Wade. "They're less effective than the molecular rays. The molecular beams are instantly irresistible, while the heat beams take time to heat up the target. Sure, they're unhealthy to deal with, but no more so than the molecular beam."

"True enough," Arcot agreed, "but the heat beam is more spectacular, and we may find that a mere spectacular display will accomplish as much as actual destruction. Besides, the heat beams are more local in effect. If we want to kill an enemy and spare his captive, we want a beam that will be deadly where it hits, not for fifty yards around."

"Hold it a second," said Fuller wearily. "Now it's heat beams. Don't you guys think you ought to explain a little bit to the poor goon who's designing this flying battlewagon? How did you get a heat beam?"

Arcot grinned. "Simple. We use a small atomic cavity radiator at one end of which is a rough relux parabolic filter. Beyond that is a lux metal lens. The relux heats up tremendously, and since there is no polished relux to reflect it back, the heat is radiated out through the lux metal lens as a powerful heat beam."

"Okay, fine," said Fuller. "But stop springing new gadgets on me, will you?"

"I'll try not to," Arcot laughed. "Anyway, let's get on to the main power plant. Remember that our condenser coil is a gadget for storing energy in space; we are therefore obliged to supply it with energy to store. Just forming the drive field alone will require two times ten to the twenty-seventh ergs, or the energy of about two and a half tons of matter. That means a whale of a lot of lead wire will have to be fed into our conversion generators; it would take several hours to charge the coils. We'd better have two big chargers to do the job.

"The controls we can figure out later. How about it? Any suggestions?"

"Sounds okay to me," said Morey, and the others agreed.

"Good enough. Now, as far as air and water go, we can use the standard spacecraft apparatus, Fuller, so you can figure that in any way you want to."

"We'll need a lab, too," Wade put in. "And a machine shop with plenty of spare parts—everything we can possibly think of. Remember, we may want to build some things out in space."

"Right. And I wonder—" Arcot looked thoughtful. "How about the invisibility apparatus? It may prove useful, and it won't cost much. Let's put that in, too."

The apparatus he mentioned was simply a high-frequency oscillator tube of extreme power which caused vibrations approaching light frequency to be set up in the molecules of the ship. As a result, the ship became transparent, since light could easily pass through the vibrating molecules.

There was only one difficulty; the ship was invisible, all right, but it became a radio sender and could easily be detected by a directional radio. However, if the secret were unknown, it was a very effective method of disappearing. And, since the frequency was so high, a special detector was required to pick it up.

"Is that all you need?" asked Fuller.

"Nope," said Arcot, leaning back in his chair. "Now comes the kicker. I suggest that we make the hull of foot-thick lux metal and line it on the inside with relux wherever we want it to be opaque. And we want relux shutters on the windows. Lux is too doggone transparent; if we came too close to a hot star, we'd be badly burned."

Fuller looked almost goggle-eyed. "A—foot—of—lux! Good Lord, Arcot! This ship would weigh a quarter of a million tons! That stuff is dense!"

"Sure," agreed Arcot, "but we'll need the protection. With a ship like that, you could run through a planetoid without hurting the hull. We'll make the relux inner wall about an inch thick, with a vacuum between them for protection in a warm atmosphere. And if some tremendous force did manage to crack the outer wall, we wouldn't be left without protection."

"Okay, you're the boss," Fuller said resignedly. "It's going to have to be a big ship, though. I figure a length of about two hundred feet and a diameter of around thirty feet. The interior I'll furnish with aluminum; it'll be cheaper and lighter. How about an observatory?"

"Put it in the rear of the ship," Wade suggested. "We'll mount one of the Nigran telectroscopes."

"Control room in the bow, of course," Morey chipped in.

"I've got you," Fuller said. "I'll work the thing out and give you a cost estimate and drawings."

"Fine," said Arcot, standing up. "Meanwhile, the rest of us will work out our little exhibition to impress Mr. Morey and Dad. Come on, lads, let's get back to the lab."



III

It was two weeks before Dr. Robert Arcot and his old friend Arthur Morey, president of Transcontinental Airways, were invited to see what their sons had been working on.

The demonstration was to take place in the radiation labs in the basements of the Transcontinental building. Arcot, Wade, Morey, and Fuller had brought the equipment in from the country place in Vermont and set it up in one of the heavily-lined, vault-like chambers that were used for radiation experiments.

The two older men were seated before a huge eighty-inch three-dimensional television screen several floors above the level where the actual demonstration was going on.

"There can't be anyone in the room, because of radiation burns," explained Arcot, junior. "We could have surrounded the thing with relux, but then you couldn't have seen what's going on.

"I'm not going to explain anything beforehand; like magic, they'll be more astounding before the explanation is given."

He touched a switch. The cameras began to operate, and the screen sprang into life.

The screen showed a heavy table on which was mounted a small projector that looked something like a searchlight with several heavy cables running into it. In the path of the projector was a large lux metal crucible surrounded by a ring of relux, and a series of points of relux aimed into the crucible. These points and the ring were grounded. Inside the crucible was a small ingot of coronium, the strong, hard, Venerian metal which melted at twenty-five hundred degrees centigrade and boiled at better than four thousand. The crucible was entirely enclosed in a large lux metal case which was lined, on the side away from the projector, with roughened relux.

Arcot moved a switch on the control panel. Far below them, a heavy relay slammed home, and suddenly a solid beam of brilliant bluish light shot out from the projector, a beam so brilliant that the entire screen was lit by the intense glow, and the spectators thought that they could almost feel the heat.

It passed through the lux metal case and through the coronium bar, only to be cut off by the relux liner, which, since it was rough, absorbed over ninety-nine percent of the rays that struck it.

The coronium bar glowed red, orange, yellow, and white in quick succession, then suddenly slumped into a molten mass in the bottom of the crucible.

The crucible was filled now with a mass of molten metal that glowed intensely white and seethed furiously. The slowly rising vapors told of the rapid boiling, and their settling showed that their temperature was too high to permit them to remain hot—the heat radiated away too fast.

For perhaps ten seconds this went on, then suddenly a new factor was added to the performance. There was a sudden crashing arc and a blaze of blue flame that swept in a cyclonic twisting motion inside the crucible. The blaze of the arc, the intense brilliance of the incandescent metal, and the weird light of the beam of radiation shifted in a fantastic play of colors. It made a strange and impressive scene.

Suddenly the relay sounded again; the beam of radiance disappeared as quickly as it had come. In an instant, the blue violet glare of the relux plate had subsided to an angry red. The violent arcing had stopped, and the metal was cooling rapidly. A heavy purplish vapor in the crucible condensed on the walls into black, flakey crystals.

The elder Arcot was watching the scene in the screen curiously. "I wonder—" he said slowly. "As a physicist, I should say it was impossible, but if it did happen, I should imagine these would be the results." He turned to look at Arcot junior. "Well, go on with your exhibition, son."

"I want to know your ideas when we're through, though, Dad," said the younger man. "The next on the program is a little more interesting, perhaps. At least it demonstrates a more commercial aspect of the thing."

The younger Morey was operating the controls of the handling robots. On the screen, a machine rolled in on caterpillar treads, picked up the lux case and its contents, and carried them off.

A minute later, it reappeared with a large electromagnet and a relux plate, to which were attached a huge pair of silver busbars. The relux plate was set in a stand directly in front of the projector, and the big electromagnet was set up directly behind the relux plate. The magnet leads were connected, and a coil, in the form of two toruses intersecting at right angles enclosed in a form-fitting relux case, had been connected to the heavy terminals of the relux plate. An ammeter and a heavy coil of coronium wire were connected in series with the coil, and a kilovoltmeter was connected across the terminals of the relux plate.

As soon as the connections were completed, the robot backed swiftly out of the room, and Arcot turned on the magnet and the ray projector. Instantly, there was a sharp deflection of the kilovoltmeter.

"I haven't yet closed the switch leading into the coil," he explained, "so there's no current." The ammeter needle hadn't moved.

Despite the fact that the voltmeter seemed to be shorted out by the relux plate, the needle pointed steadily at twenty-two. Arcot changed the current through the magnet, and the reading dropped to twenty.

The rays had been on at very low power, the air only slightly ionized, but as Arcot turned a rheostat, the intensity increased, and the air in the path of the beam shone with an intense blue. The relux plate, subject now to eddy currents, since there was no other path for the energy to take, began to heat up rapidly.

"I'm going to close the switch into the coil now," said Arcot. "Watch the meters."

A relay snapped, and instantly the ammeter jumped to read 4500 amperes. The voltmeter gave a slight kick, then remained steady. The heavy coronium spring grew warm and began to glow dully, while the ammeter dropped slightly because of the increased resistance. The relux plate cooled slightly, and the voltmeter remained steady.

"The coil you see is storing the energy that is flowing into it," Arcot explained. "Notice that the coronium resistor is increasing its resistance, but otherwise there is little increase in the back E.M.F. The energy is coming from the rays which strike the polarized relux plate to give the current."

He paused a moment to make slight adjustments in the controls, then turned his attention back to the screen.

The kilovoltmeter still read twenty.

"Forty-five hundred amperes at twenty thousand volts," the elder Arcot said softly. "Where is it going?"

"Take a look at the space within the right angle of the torus coils," said Arcot junior. "It's getting dark in there despite the powerful light shed by the ionized air."

Indeed, the space within the twin coils was rapidly growing dark; it was darkening the image of the things behind it, oddly blurring their outlines. In a moment, the images were completely wiped out, and the region within the coils was filled with a strangely solid blackness.

"According to the instruments," young Arcot said, "we have stored fifteen thousand kilowatt hours of energy in that coil and there seems to be no limit to how much power we can get into it. Just from the power it contains, that coil is worth about forty dollars right now, figured at a quarter of a cent per kilowatt hour.

"I haven't been using anywhere near the power I can get out of this apparatus, either. Watch." He threw another switch which shorted around the coronium resistor and the ammeter, allowing the current to run into the coil directly from the plate.

"I don't have a direct reading on this," he explained, "but an indirect reading from the magnetic field in that room shows a current of nearly a hundred million amperes!"

The younger Morey had been watching a panel of meters on the other side of the screen. Suddenly, he shouted: "Cut it, Arcot! The conductors are setting up a secondary field in the plate and causing trouble."

Instantly, Arcot's hand went to a switch. A relay slammed open, and the ray projector died.

The power coil still held its field of enigmatic blackness.

"Watch this," Arcot instructed. Under his expert manipulation, a small robot handler rolled into the room. It had a pair of pliers clutched in one claw. The spectators watched the screen in fascination as the robot drew back its arm and hurled the pliers at the black field with all its might. The pliers struck the blackness and rebounded as if they had hit a rubber wall. Arcot caused the little machine to pick up the pliers and repeat the process.

Arcot grinned. "I've cut off the power to the coil. Unlike the ordinary induction coil, it isn't necessary to keep supplying power to the thing; it's a static condition.

"You can see for yourself how much energy it holds. It's a handy little gadget, isn't it?" He shut off the rest of the instruments and the television screen, then turned to his father.

"The demonstration is over. Got any theories, Dad?"

The elder Dr. Arcot frowned in thought. "The only thing I can think of that would produce an effect like that is a stream of positrons—or contraterrene nuclei. That would explain not only the heating, but the electrical display.

"As far as the coil goes, that's easy to understand. Any energy storage device stores energy in the strain in space; here you can actually see the strain in space." Then he smiled at his son. "I see my ex-laboratory assistant has come a long way. You've achieved controlled, usable atomic energy through total annihilation of mass. Right?"

Arcot smiled back and nodded. "Right, Dad."

"Son, I wonder if you'd give me your data sheets on that process. I'd like to work out some of the mathematical problems involved."

"Sure, Dad. But right now—" Arcot turned toward the elder Mr. Morey. "—I'm more interested in the mathematics of finance. We have a proposition to put to you, Mr. Morey, and that proposition, simply stated, is—"

Perhaps it was simply stated, but it took fully an hour for Arcot, Wade, and Morey to discuss the science of it with the two older men, and Fuller spent another hour over the carefully drawn plans for the ship.

At last, the elder Mr. Morey settled back and looked vacantly at the ceiling. They were seated now in the conference room of Transcontinental Airways.

"Well, boys," said Mr. Morey, "as usual, I'm in a position where I'm forced to yield. I might refuse financial backing, but you could sell any one of those gadgets for close to a billion dollars and finance the expedition independently, or you could, with your names, request the money publicly and back it that way." He paused a moment. "I am, however, thinking more in terms of your safety than in terms of money." There was another long pause, then he smiled at the four younger men.

"I think, however, that we can trust you. Armed with cosmic and molecular rays, you should be able to put up a fair scrap anywhere. Also, I have never detected any signs of feeblemindedness in any of you; I don't think you'll get yourselves in a jam you can't get out of. I'll back you."

"I hate to interrupt your exuberance," said the elder Dr. Arcot, "but I should like to know the name of this remarkable ship."

"What?" asked Wade. "Name? Oh, it hasn't any."

The elder Morey shook his head sadly. "That is indeed an important oversight. If a crew of men can overlook so fundamental a thing, I wonder if they are to be trusted."

"Well, what are we going to call it, then?" asked Arcot.

"Solarite II might do," suggested Morey. "It will still be from the Solar System."

"I think we should be more broadminded," said Arcot. "We aren't going to stay in this system—not even in this galaxy. We might call it the Galaxian."

"Did you say broadminded?" asked Wade. "Let's really be broad and call it the Universite or something like that. Or, better yet, call it Fluorine! That's everywhere in the universe and the most active element there is. This ship will go everywhere in the universe and be the most active thing that ever existed!"

"A good name!" said the elder Morey. "That gets my vote!"

Young Arcot looked thoughtful. "That's mighty good—I like the idea—but it lacks ring." He paused, then, looking up at the ceiling, repeated slowly:

"Alone, alone, all, all alone; Alone on a wide, wide sea; Nor any saint took pity on My soul in agony."

He rose and walked over to the window, looking out where the bright points of light that were the stars of space rode high in the deep violet of the moonlit sky.

"The sea of all space—the sea of vastness that lies between the far-flung nebulae—the mighty void—alone on a sea, the vastness of which no man can imagine—alone—alone where no other man has been; alone, so far from all matter, from all mankind, that not even light, racing at billions of miles each day, could reach home in less than a million years." Arcot stopped and stood looking out of the window.

Morey broke the silence. "The Ancient Mariner." He paused. "'Alone' will certainly be right. I think that name takes all the prizes."

Fuller nodded slowly. "I certainly agree. The Ancient Mariner. It's kind of long, but it is the name."

It was adopted unanimously.



IV

The Ancient Mariner was built in the big Transcontinental shops in Newark; the power they needed was not available in the smaller shops.

Working twenty-four hours a day, in three shifts, skilled men took two months to finish the hull according to Fuller's specifications. The huge walls of lux metal required great care in construction, for they could not be welded; they had to be formed in position. And they could only be polished under powerful magnets, where the dense magnetic field softened the lux metal enough to allow a diamond polisher to do the job.

When the hull was finished, there came the laborious work of installing the power plant and the tremendous power leads, the connectors, the circuits to the relays—a thousand complex circuits.

Much of it was standard: the molecular power tubes, the molecular ray projectors, the power tubes for the invisibility apparatus, and many other parts. All the relays were standard, the gyroscopic stabilizers were standard, and the electromagnetic braking equipment for the gyros was standard.

But there would be long days of work ahead for Arcot, Wade, and Morey, for only they could install the special equipment; only they could put in the complicated wiring, for no one else on Earth understood the circuits they had to establish.

During the weeks of waiting, Arcot and his friends worked on auxiliary devices to be used with the ship. They wanted to make some improvements on the old molecular ray pistols, and to develop atomic powered heat projectors for hand use. The primary power they stored in small space-strain coils in the handgrip of the pistol. Despite their small size, the coils were capable of storing power for thirty hours of continuous operation of the rays. The finished weapon was scarcely larger than a standard molecular ray pistol.

Arcot pointed out that many of the planets they might visit would be larger than Earth, and they lacked any way of getting about readily under high gravity. Since something had to be done about that, Arcot did it. He demonstrated it to his friends one day in the shop yard.

Morey and Wade had just been in to see Fuller about some details of the ship, and as they came out, Arcot called them over to his work bench. He was wearing a space suit without the helmet.

The modern space suit is made of woven lux metal wires of extremely small diameter and airproofed with a rubberoid fluorocarbon plastic, and furnished with air and heating units. Made as it was, it offered protection nothing else could offer; it was almost a perfect insulator and was resistant to the attack of any chemical reagent. Not even elemental fluorine could corrode it. And the extreme strength of the lux metal fiber made it stronger, pound for pound, than steel or coronium.

On Arcot's back was a pack of relux plated metal. It was connected by relux web belts to a broad belt that circled Arcot's waist. One thin cable ran down the right arm to a small relux tube about eight inches long by two inches in diameter.

"Watch!" Arcot said, grinning.

He reached to his belt and flipped a little switch.

"So long! See you later!" He pointed his right arm toward the ceiling and sailed lightly into the air. He lowered the angle of his arm and moved smoothly across the huge hangar, floating toward the shining bulk of the rapidly forming Ancient Mariner. He circled the room, rising and sinking at will, then headed for the open door.

"Come out and watch me where there's more room," he called.

Out in the open, he darted high up into the air until he was a mere speck in the sky. Then he suddenly came dropping down and landed lightly before them, swaying on his feet and poised lightly on his toes.

"Some jump," said Morey, in mock surprise.

"Yeah," agreed Fuller. "Try again."

"Or," Wade put in, "give me that weight annihilator and I'll beat you at your own game. What's the secret?"

"That's a cute gadget. How much load does it carry?" asked Morey, more practically.

"I can develop about ten tons as far as it goes, but the human body can't take more than five gravities, so we can only visit planets with less than that surface gravity. The principle is easy to see; I'll show you."

He unhooked the cables and took the power pack from his back. "The main thing is the molecular power unit here, electrically heated and mounted on a small, massive gyroscope. That gyro is necessary, too. I tried leaving it out and almost took a nosedive. I had it coupled directly to the body and leaned forward a little bit when I was in the air. Without a gyro to keep the drive upright, I took a loop and started heading for the ground. I had to do some fancy gymnastics to keep from ending up six feet under—literally.

"The power is all generated in the pack with a small power plate and several storage coils. I've also got it hooked to these holsters at my belt so we can charge the pistols while we carry them.

"The control is this secondary power cable running down my arm to my hand. That gives you your direction, and the rheostat here at the belt changes the velocity.

"I've only made this one so far, but I've ordered six others like it. I thought you guys might like one, too."

"I think you guessed right!" said Morey, looking inside the power case. "Hey! Why all the extra room in the case?"

"It's an unperfected invention as yet; we might want to put some more stuff in there for our own private use."

Each of the men tried out the apparatus and found it quite satisfactory.

Meanwhile, there was other work to be done.

Wade had been given the job of gathering the necessary food and anything else in the way of supplies that he might think of. Arcot was collecting the necessary spare parts and apparatus. Morey was gathering a small library and equipping a chemistry laboratory. Fuller was to get together the necessary standard equipment for the ship—tables, seats, bunks, and other furniture.

It took months of work, and it seemed it would never be finished, but finally, one clear, warm day in August, the ship was completely equipped and ready to go.

On the last inspection, the elder Dr. Arcot and the elder Mr. Morey went with the four younger men. They stood beside the great intergalactic cruiser, looking up at its shining hull.

"We came a bit later than we expected, son," said Dr. Arcot, "but we still expect a good show." He paused and frowned, "I understand you don't intend to take any trial trip. What's the idea?"

Arcot had been afraid his father would be worried about that, so he framed his explanation carefully. "Dad, we figured this ship out to the last decimal place; it's the best we can make it. Remember, the molecular motion drive will get a trial first; we'll give it a trial trip when we leave the sun. If there's any trouble, naturally, we'll return. But the equipment is standard, so we're expecting no trouble.

"The only part that would require a trial trip is the space-control apparatus, and there's no way to give that a trial trip. Remember, we have to get far enough out from the sun so that the gravitational field will be weak enough for the drive to overcome it. If we tried it this close, we'd just be trying to neutralize the sun's gravity. We'd be pouring out energy, wasting a great deal of it; but out away from the sun, we'll get most of the energy back.

"On the other hand, when we do get out and get started we will go faster than light, and we'd be hopelessly beyond the range of the molecular motion drive in an instant. In other words, if the space-control drive doesn't work, we can't come back, and if it does work, there's no need to come back.

"And if anything goes wrong, we're the only ones who could fix it, anyway. If anything goes wrong, I'll radio Earth. You ought to be able to hear from me in about a dozen years." He smiled suddenly. "Say! We might go out and get back here in time to hear ourselves talking!

"But you can see why we felt that there was little reason for a trial trip. If it's a failure, we'll never be back to say so; if it isn't, we'll be able to continue."

His father still looked worried, but he nodded in acquiescence. "Perfect logic, son, but I guess we may as well give up the discussion. Personally, I don't like it. Let's see this ship of yours."

The great hull was two hundred feet long and thirty feet in diameter. The outer wall, one foot of solid lux metal, was separated from the inner, one-inch relux wall by a two inch gap which would be evacuated in space. The two walls were joined in many places by small lux metal cross-braces. The windows consisted of spaces in the relux wall, allowing the occupants to see through the transparent lux hull.

From the outside, it was difficult to detect the exact outline of the ship, for the clear lux metal was practically invisible and the foot of it that surrounded the more visible part of the ship gave a curious optical illusion. The perfect reflecting ability of the relux made the inner hull difficult to see, too. It was more by absence than presence that one detected it; it blotted out things behind it.

The great window of the pilot room disclosed the pilot seats and the great switchboard to one side. Each of the windows was equipped with a relux shield that slid into position at the touch of a switch, and these were already in place over the observatory window, so only the long, narrow portholes showed the lighted interior.

For some minutes, the elder men stood looking at the graceful beauty of the ship.

"Come on in—see the inside," suggested Fuller.

They entered through the airlock close to the base of the ship. The heavy lux door was opened by automatic machinery from the inside, but the combination depended on the use of a molecular ray and the knowledge of the correct place, which made it impossible for anyone to open it unless they had the ray and knew where to use it.

From the airlock, they went directly to the power room. Here they heard the soft purring of a large oscillator tube and the indistinguishable murmur of smoothly running AC generators powered by large contraterrene reactors.

The elder Dr. Arcot glanced in surprise at the heavy-duty ammeter in a control panel.

"Half a billion amperes! Good Lord! Where is all that power going?" He looked at his son.

"Into the storage coils. It's going in at ten kilovolts, so that's a five billion kilowatt supply. It's been going for half an hour and has half an hour to run. It takes two tons of matter to charge the coil to capacity, and we're carrying twenty tons of fuel—enough for ten charges. We shouldn't need more than three tons if all goes well, but 'all' seldom does.

"See that large black cylinder up there?" Arcot asked, pointing.

Above them, lying along the roof of the power room, lay a great black cylinder nearly two feet in diameter and extending out through the wall in the rear. It was made integral with two giant lux metal beams that reached to the bow of the ship in a long, sweeping curve. From one of the power switchboards, two heavy cables ran up to the giant cylinder.

"That's the main horizontal power unit. We can develop an acceleration of ten gravities either forward or backward. In the curve of the ship, on top, sides, and bottom, there are power units for motion in the other two directions.

"Most of the rest of the stuff in this section is old hat to you, though. Come on into the next room."

Arcot opened the heavy relux door, leading the way into the next room, which was twice the size of the power room. The center of the floor was occupied by a heavy pedestal of lux metal upon which was a huge, relux-encased, double torus storage coil. There was a large switchboard at the opposite end, while around the room, in ordered groups, stood the familiar double coils, each five feet in diameter. The space within them was already darkening.

"Well," said Arcot, senior, "that's some battery of power coils, considering the amount of energy one can store. But what's the big one for?"

"That's the main space control," the younger Arcot answered. "While our power is stored in the smaller ones, we can shoot it into this one, which, you will notice, is constructed slightly differently. Instead of holding the field within it, completely enclosed, the big one will affect all the space about it. We will then be enclosed in what might be called a hyperspace of our own making."

"I see," said his father. "You go into hyperspace and move at any speed you please. But how will you see where you're going?"

"We won't, as far as I know. I don't expect to see a thing while we're in that hyperspace. We'll simply aim the ship in the direction we want to go and then go into hyperspace. The only thing we have to avoid is stars; their gravitational fields would drain the energy out of the apparatus and we'd end up in the center of a white-hot star. Meteors and such, we don't have to worry about; their fields aren't strong enough to drain the coils, and since we won't be in normal space, we can't hit them."

The elder Morey looked worried. "If you can't see your way back you'll get lost! And you can't radio back for help."

"Worse than that!" said Arcot. "We couldn't receive a signal of any kind after we get more than three hundred light years away; there weren't any radios before that.

"What we'll do is locate ourselves through the sun's light. We'll take photographs every so often and orient ourselves by them when we come back."

"That sounds like an excellent method of stellar navigation," agreed Morey senior. "Let's see the rest of the ship." He turned and walked toward the farther door.

The next room was the laboratory. On one side of the room was a complete physics lab and on the other was a well-stocked and well-equipped chemistry lab. They could perform many experiments here that no man had been able to perform due to lack of power. In this ship they had more generating facilities than all the power stations of Earth combined!

Arcot opened the next door. "This next room is the physics and chemistry storeroom. Here we have a duplicate—in some cases, six or seven duplicates—of every piece of apparatus on board, and plenty of material to make more. Actually, we have enough equipment to make a new ship out of what we have here. It would be a good deal smaller, but it would work.

"The greater part of our materials is stored in the curvature of the ship, where it will be easy to get at if necessary. All our water and food is there, and the emergency oxygen tanks.

"Now let's take the stairway to the upper deck."

The upper deck was the main living quarters. There were several small rooms on each side of the corridor down the center; at the extreme nose was the control room, and at the extreme stern was the observatory. The observatory was equipped with a small but exceedingly powerful telectroscope, developed from those the Nigrans had left on one of the deserted planets Sol had captured in return for the loss of Pluto to the Black Star. The arc commanded by the instrument was not great, but it was easy to turn the ship about, and most of their observations could be made without trouble.

Each of the men had a room of his own; there was a small galley and a library equipped with all the books the four men could think of as being useful. The books and all other equipment were clamped in place to keep them from flying around loose when the ship accelerated.

The control room at the nose was surrounded by a hemisphere of transparent lux metal which enabled them to see in every direction except directly behind, and even that blind spot could be covered by stationing a man in the observatory.

There were heat projectors and molecular ray projectors, each operated from the control room in the nose. To complete the armament, there were more projectors in the stern, controlled from the observatory, and a set on either side controlled from the library and the galley.

The ship was provisioned for two years—two years without stops. With the possibility of stopping on other planets, the four men could exist indefinitely in the ship.

After the two older men had been shown all through the intergalactic vessel, the elder Arcot turned to his old friend. "Morey, it looks as if it was time for us to leave the Ancient Mariner to her pilots!"

"I guess you're right. Well—I'll just say goodbye—but you all know there's a lot more I could say." Morey senior looked at them and started toward the airlock.

"Goodbye, son," said the elder Arcot. "Goodbye, men. I'll be expecting you any time within two years. We can have no warning, I suppose; your ship will outrace the radio beam. Goodbye." Dr. Arcot joined his old friend and they went outside.

The heavy lux metal door slid into place behind them, and the thick plastic cushions sealed the entrance to the airlock.

The workmen and the other personnel around the ship cleared the area and stood well back from the great hull. The two older men waved to the men inside the ship.

Suddenly the ship trembled, and rose toward the sky.



V

Arcot, at the controls of the Ancient Mariner, increased the acceleration as the ship speared up toward interplanetary space. Soon, the deep blue of the sky had given way to an intense violet, and this faded to the utter black of space as the ship drew away from the planet that was its home.

"That lump of dust there is going to look mighty little when we get back," said Wade softly.

"But," Arcot reminded him, "that little lump of dust is going to pull us across a distance that our imaginations can't conceive of. And we'll be darned happy to see that pale globe swinging in space when we get back—provided, of course, that we do get back."

The ship was straining forward now under the pull of its molecular motion power units, accelerating at a steady rate, rapidly increasing the distance between the ship and Earth.

The cosmic ray power generators were still charging the coils, preventing the use of the space strain drive. Indeed, it would be a good many hours before they would be far enough from the sun to throw the ship into hyperspace.

In the meantime, Morey was methodically checking every control as Arcot called out the readings on the control panel. Everything was working to perfection. Their every calculation had checked out in practice so far. But the real test was yet to come.

They were well beyond the orbit of Pluto when they decided they would be safe in using the space strain drive and throwing the ship into hyperspace.

Morey was in the hyperspace control room, watching the instruments there. They were ready!

"Hold on!" called Arcot. "Here we go—if at all!" He reached out to the control panel before him and touched the green switch that controlled the molecular motion machines. The big power tubes cut off, and their acceleration ceased. His fingers pushed a brilliant red switch—there was a dull, muffled thud as a huge relay snapped shut.

Suddenly, a strange tingling feeling of power ran through them—space around them was suddenly black. The lights dimmed for an instant as the titanic current that flowed through the gigantic conductors set up a terrific magnetic field, reacting with the absorption plates. The power seemed to climb rapidly to a maximum—then, quite suddenly, it was gone.

The ship was quiet. No one spoke. The meters, which had flashed over to their limits, had dropped back to zero once more, except those which indicated the power stored in the giant coil. The stars that had shone brilliantly around them in a myriad of colors were gone. The space around them glowed strangely, and there was a vast cloud of strange, violet or pale green stars before them. Directly ahead was one green star that glowed big and brilliant, then it faded rapidly and shrank to a tiny dot—a distant star. There was a strange tenseness about the men; they seemed held in an odd, compelled silence.

Arcot reached forward again. "Cutting off power, Morey!" The red tumbler snapped back. Again space seemed to be charged with a vast surplus of energy that rushed in from all around, coursing through their bodies, producing a tingling feeling. Then space rocked in a gray cloud about them; the stars leaped out at them in blazing glory again.

"Well, it worked once!" breathed Arcot with a sigh of relief. "Lord, I made some errors in calculation, though! I hope I didn't make any more! Morey—how was it? I only used one-sixteenth power."

"Well, don't use any more, then," said Morey. "We sure traveled! The things worked perfectly. By the way, it's a good thing we had all the relays magnetically shielded; the magnetic field down here was so strong that my pocket kit tried to start running circles around it.

"According to your magnetic drag meter, the conductors were carrying over fifty billion amperes. The small coils worked perfectly. They're charged again; the power went back into them from the big coil with only a five percent loss of power—about twenty thousand megawatts."

"Hey, Arcot," Wade said. "I thought you said we wouldn't be able to see the stars."

Arcot spread his hands. "I did say that, and all my apologies for it. But we're not seeing them by light. The stars all have projections—shadows—in this space because of their intense gravitational fields. There are probably slight fluctuations in the field, perhaps one every minute or so. Since we were approaching them at twenty thousand times the speed of light, the Doppler effect gives us what looks like violet light.

"We saw the stars in front of us as violet points. The green ones were actually behind us, and the green light was tremendously reduced in frequency. It certainly can't be anything less than gamma rays and probably even of greater frequency.

"Did you notice there were no stars off to the side? We weren't approaching them, so they didn't give either effect."

"How did you know which was which?" asked Fuller skeptically.

"Did you see that green star directly ahead of us?" Arcot asked. "The one that dwindled so rapidly? That could only have been the sun, since the sun was the only star close enough to show up as a disc. Since it was green and I knew it was behind us, I decided that all the green ones were behind us. It isn't proof, but it's a good indication."

"You win, as usual," admitted Fuller.

"Well, where are we?" asked Wade. "I think that's more important."

"I haven't the least idea," confessed Arcot. "Let's see if we can find out. I've got the robot pilot on, so we can leave the ship to itself. Let's take a look at Old Sol from a distance that no man ever reached before!"

They started for the observatory. Morey joined them and Arcot put the view of Sol and his family on the telectroscope screen. He increased the magnification to maximum, and the four men looked eagerly at the system. The sun glowed brilliantly, and the planets showed plainly.

"Now, if we wanted to take the trouble, we could calculate when the planets were in that position and determine the distance we have come. However, I notice that Pluto is still in place, so that means we are seeing the Solar System as it was before the passing of the Black Star. We're at least two light years away."

"More than that," said Morey. He pointed at the screen. "See here, how Mars is placed in relation to Venus and Earth? The planets were in that configuration seven years ago. We're seven light years from Earth."

"Good enough!" Arcot grinned. "That means we're within two light years of Sirius, since we were headed in that direction. Let's turn the ship so we can take a look at it with the telectroscope."

Since the power had been cut off, the ship was in free fall, and the men were weightless. Arcot didn't try to walk toward the control room; he simply pushed against the wall with his feet and made a long, slow dive for his destination.

The others reached for the handgrips in the walls while Arcot swung the ship gently around so that its stern was pointed toward Sirius. Because of its brilliance and relative proximity to Sol, Sirius is the brightest star in the heavens, as seen from Earth. At this much lesser distance, it shone as a brilliant point of light that blazed wonderfully. They turned the telectroscope toward it, but there was little they could see that was not visible from the big observatory on the Moon.

"I think we may as well go nearer," suggested Morey, "and see what we find on close range observation. Meanwhile, turn the ship back around and I'll take some pictures of the sun and its surrounding star field from this distance. Our only way of getting back is going to be this series of pictures, so I think we had best make it complete. For the first light century, we ought to take a picture every ten light years, and after that one each light century until we reach a point where we are only getting diminishing pictures of the local star cluster. After that, we can wait until we reach the edge of the Galaxy."

"Sounds all right to me," agreed Arcot. "After all, you're the astronomer, I'm not. To tell you the truth, I'd have to search a while to find Old Sol again. I can't see just where he is. Of course, I could locate him by means of the gyroscope settings, but I'm afraid I wouldn't find him so easily visually."

"Say! You sure are a fine one to pilot an expedition in space!" cried Wade in mock horror. "I think we ought to demote him for that! Imagine! He plans a trip of a thousand million light years, and then gets us out seven light years and says he doesn't know where he is! Doesn't even know where home is! I'm glad we have a cautious man like Morey along." He shook his head sadly.

They took a series of six plates of the sun, using different magnifications.

"These plates will help prove our story, too," said Morey as he looked at the finished plates. "We might have gone only a little way into space, up from the plane of the ecliptic and taken plates through a wide angle camera. But we'd have had to go at least seven years into the past to get a picture like this."

The new self-developing short-exposure plates, while not in perfect color balance, were more desirable for this work, since they took less time on exposure.

Morey and the others joined Arcot in the control room and strapped themselves into the cushioned seats. Since the space strain mechanism had proved itself in the first test, they felt they needed no more observations than they could make from the control room meters.

Arcot gazed out at the spot that was their immediate goal and said slowly: "How much bigger than Sol is that star, Morey?"

"It all depends on how you measure size," Morey replied. "It is two and a half times as heavy, has four times the volume, and radiates twenty-five times as much light. In other words, one hundred million tons of matter disappear each second in that star.

"That's for Sirius A, of course. Sirius B, its companion, is a different matter; it's a white dwarf. It has only one one-hundred-twenty-five-thousandths the volume of Sirius A, but it weighs one third as much. It radiates more per square inch than our sun, but, due to its tiny size, it is very faint. That star, though almost as massive as the sun, is only about the size of Earth."

"You sure have those statistics down pat!" said Fuller, laughing. "But I must say they're interesting. What's that star made of, anyway? Solid lux metal?"

"Hardly!" Morey replied. "Lux metal has a density of around 103, while this star has a density so high that one cubic inch of its matter would weigh a ton on Earth."

"Wow!" Wade ejaculated. "I'd hate to drop a baseball on my toe on that star!"

"It wouldn't hurt you," Arcot said, smiling. "If you could lift the darned thing, you ought to be tough enough to stand dropping it on your toe. Remember, it would weigh about two hundred tons! Think you could handle it?"

"At any rate, here we go. When we get there, you can get out and try it."

Again came the shock of the start. The heavens seemed to reel about them; the bright spot of Sirius was a brilliant violet point that swelled like an expanding balloon, spreading out until it filled a large angle.

Then again the heavens reeled, and they were still. The control room was filled with a dazzling splendor of brilliant blue-white light, and an intense heat beat in upon them.

"Brother! Feel that heat," said Arcot in awe. "We'd better watch ourselves; that thing is giving off plenty of ultraviolet. We could end up with third-degree sunburns if we're not careful." Suddenly he stopped and looked around in surprise. "Hey! Morey! I thought you said this was a double star! Look over there! That's no white dwarf—it's a planet!"

"Ridiculous!" snapped Morey. "It's impossible for a planet to be in equilibrium about a double star! But—" He paused, bewildered. "But it is a planet! But—but it can't be! We've made too many measurements on this star to make it possible!"

"I don't give a hang whether it can or not," Wade said coolly, "the fact remains that it is. Looks as if that shoots a whole flock of holes in that bedtime story you were telling us about a superdense star."

"I make a motion we look more closely first," said Fuller, quite logically.

But at first the telectroscope only served to confuse them more. It was most certainly a planet, and they had a strange, vague feeling of having seen it before.

Arcot mentioned this, and Wade launched into a long, pedantic discussion of how the left and right hemispheres of the brain get out of step at times, causing a sensation of having seen a thing before when it was impossible to have seen it previously.

Arcot gave Wade a long, withering stare and then pushed himself into the library without saying a word. A moment later, he was back with a large volume entitled: "The Astronomy of the Nigran Invasion," by D. K. Harkness. He opened the volume to a full-page photograph of the third planet of the Black Star as taken from a space cruiser circling the planet. Silently, he pointed to it and to the image swimming on the screen of the telectroscope.

"Good Lord!" said Wade in astonished surprise. "It's impossible! We came here faster than light, and that planet got here first!"

"As you so brilliantly remarked a moment ago," Arcot pointed out, "I don't give a hang whether it can or not—it is. How they did it, I don't know, but it does clear up a number of things. According to the records we found, the ancient Nigrans had a force ray that could move planets from their orbits. I wonder if it couldn't be used to break up a double star? Also, we know their scientists were looking for a method of moving faster than light; if we can do it, so could they. They just moved their whole system of planets over here after getting rid of the upsetting influence of the white dwarf."

"Perfect!" exclaimed Morey enthusiastically. "It explains everything."

"Except that we saw that companion star when we stopped back there, half an hour ago," said Fuller.

"Not half an hour ago," Arcot contradicted. "Two years ago. We saw the light that left the companion before it was moved. It's rather like traveling in time."

"If that's so," asked Fuller, suddenly worried, "what is our time in relation to Earth?"

"If we moved by the space-strain drive at all times," Arcot explained, "we would return at exactly the same time we left. Time is passing normally on Earth as it is with us right now, but whenever we use the space-strain, we move instantaneously from one point to another as far as Earth and the rest of the universe is concerned. It seems to take time to us because we are within the influence of the field.

"Suppose we were to take a trip that required a week. In other words, three days traveling in space-strain, a day to look at the destination, and three more days coming back. When we returned to Earth, they would insist we had only been gone one day, the time we spent out of the drive. See?"

"I catch," said Fuller. "By the way, shouldn't we take some photographs of this system? Otherwise, Earth won't get the news for several years yet."

"Right," agreed Morey. "And we might as well look for the other planets of the Black Star, too."

They made several plates, continuing their observations until all the planets had been located, even old Pluto, where crews of Nigran technicians were obviously at work, building giant structures of lux metal. The great cities of the Nigrans were beginning to bloom on the once bleak plains of the planet. The mighty blaze of Sirius had warmed Pluto, vaporizing its atmosphere and thawing its seas. The planet that the Black Star had stolen from the Solar System was warmer than it had been for two billion years.

"Well, that's it," said Arcot when they had finished taking the necessary photographs. "We can prove we went faster than light easily, now. The astronomers can take up the work of classifying the planets and getting details of the orbits when we get back.

"Since the Nigrans now have a sun of their own, there should be no reason for hostility between our race and theirs. Perhaps we can start commercial trade with them. Imagine! Commerce over quintillions of miles of space!"

"And," interrupted Wade, "they can make the trip to this system in less time than it takes to get to Venus!"

"Meanwhile," said Morey, "let's get on with our own exploration."

They strapped themselves into the control seats once more and Arcot threw in the molecular drive to take them away from the sun toward which they had been falling.

When the great, hot disc of Sirius had once more diminished to a tiny white pinhead of light, Arcot turned the ship until old Sol once more showed plainly on the cross-hairs of the aiming telescope in the rear of the vessel.

"Hold on," Arcot cautioned, "here we go again!"

Again he threw the little red tumbler that threw a flood of energy into the coils. The space about them seemed to shiver and grow dim.

Arcot had thrown more power into the coils this time, so the stars ahead of them instead of appearing violet were almost invisible; they were radiating in the ultra-violet now. And the stars behind them, instead of appearing to be green, had subsided to a dull red glow.

Arcot watched the dull red spark of Sirius become increasingly dimmer. Then, quite suddenly, a pale violet disc in front of them ballooned out of nowhere and slid off to one side.

The spaceship reeled, perking the men around in the control seats. Heavy safety relays thudded dully; the instruments flickered under a suddenly rising surge of power—then they were calm again. Arcot had snapped over the power switch.

"That," he said quietly, "is not so good."

"Threw the gyroscopes, didn't it?" asked Morey, his voice equally as quiet.

"It did—and I have no idea how far. We're off course and we don't know which direction we're headed."



VI

"What's the matter?" asked Fuller anxiously.

Arcot pointed out the window at a red star that blazed in the distance. "We got too near the field of gravity of that young giant and he threw us for a loss. We drained out three-fourths of the energy from our coils and lost our bearings in the bargain. The attraction turned the gyroscopes and threw the ship out of line, so we no longer know where the sun is.

"Well, come on, Morey; all we can do is start a search. At this distance, we'd best go by Sirius; it's brighter and nearer." He looked at the instrument panel. "I was using the next lowest power and I still couldn't avoid that monster. This ship is just a little too hot to handle."

Their position was anything but pleasant. They must pick out from the vast star field behind them the one star that was home, not knowing exactly where it was. But they had one tremendous help—the photographs of the star field around Sol that they had taken at the last stop. All they had to do was search for an area that matched their photographs.

They found the sun at last, after they had spotted Sirius, but they had had to rotate the ship through nearly twenty-five degrees to do it. After establishing their bearings, they took new photographs for their files.

Meanwhile, Wade had been recharging the coils. When he was finished, he reported the fact to Arcot.

"Fine," Arcot said. "And from now on, I'm going to use the least possible amount of power. It certainly isn't safe to use more."

They started for the control room, much relieved. Arcot dived first, with Wade directly behind him. Wade decided suddenly to go into his room and stopped himself by grabbing a handhold. Morey, following close behind, bumped into him and was brought to rest, while Wade was pushed into his room.

But Fuller, coming last, slammed into Morey, who moved forward with new velocity toward the control room, leaving Fuller hanging at rest in the middle of the corridor.

"Hey, Morey!" he laughed. "Send me a skyhook! I'm caught!" Isolated as he was in the middle of the corridor, he couldn't push on anything and remained stranded.

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