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Skylark Three
by Edward Elmer Smith
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Skylark Three

By

Edward E. Smith, Ph. D.

Sequel to "The Skylark of Space"

"All set," he reported crisply, and barked a series of explosive syllables at Shiro, ending upon a rising note. The Tale of the Galactic Cruise Which Ushered in Universal Civilization



For two years readers of AMAZING STORIES have literally clamored for a sequel to the famous story, "The Skylark of Space," which appeared exactly two years ago. Except that "Skylark Three" is more thrilling, more exciting and even more chockful of science than the other. Dr. Smith tells about the story in his author's note far better than we can do. Illustrated by WESSO

Transcriber's Note This etext was produced from Amazing Stories August, September and October 1930. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Other Transcriber Notes and Errata are given at the end of the text.



AUTHOR'S NOTE:

To all profound thinkers in the realms of Science who may chance to read SKYLARK THREE, greetings:

I have taken certain liberties with several more or less commonly accepted theories, but I assure you that those theories have not been violated altogether in ignorance. Some of them I myself believe sound, others I consider unsound, still others are out of my line, so that I am not well enough informed upon their basic mathematical foundations to have come to any definite conclusion, one way or the other. Whether or not I consider any theory sound, I did not hesitate to disregard it, if its literal application would have interfered with the logical development of the story. In "The Skylark of Space" Mrs. Garby and I decided, after some discussion, to allow two mathematical impossibilities to stand. One of these immediately became the target of critics from Maine to California and, while no astronomer has as yet called attention to the other, I would not be surprised to hear about it, even at this late date.

While I do not wish it understood that I regard any of the major features of this story as likely to become facts in the near future—indeed, it has been my aim to portray the highly improbable—it is my belief that there is no mathematical or scientific impossibility to be found in "Skylark Three."

In fact, even though I have repeatedly violated theories in which I myself believe, I have in every case taken great pains to make certain that the most rigid mathematical analysis of which I am capable has failed to show that I have violated any known and proven scientific fact. By "fact" I do not mean the kind of reasoning, based upon assumptions later shown to be fallacious, by which it was "proved" that the transatlantic cable and the airplane were scientifically impossible. I refer to definitely known phenomena which no possible future development can change—I refer to mathematical proofs whose fundamental equations and operations involve no assumptions and contain no second-degree uncertainties.

Please bear in mind that we KNOW very little. It has been widely believed that the velocity of light is the limiting velocity, and many of our leading authorities hold this view—but it cannot be proved, and is by no means universally held. In this connection, it would appear that J. J. Thompson, in "Beyond the Electron" shows, to his own satisfaction at least, that velocities vastly greater than that of light are not only possible, but necessary to any comprehensive investigation into the nature of the electron.

We do not know the nature of light. Neither the undulatory theory nor the quantum theory are adequate to explain all observed phenomena, and they seem to be mutually exclusive, since it would seem clear by definition that no one thing can be at the same time continuous and discontinuous. We know nothing of the ether—we do not even know whether or not it exists, save as a concept of our own extremely limited intelligence. We are in total ignorance of the ultimate structure of matter, and of the arrangement and significance of those larger aggregations of matter, the galaxies. We do not know nor understand, nor can we define, even such fundamental necessities as time and space.

Why prate of "the impossible"?

Edward Elmer Smith, Ph.D.



CHAPTER I

DuQuesne Goes Traveling

In the innermost private office of Steel, Brookings and DuQuesne stared at each other across the massive desk. DuQuesne's voice was cold, his black brows were drawn together.

"Get this, Brookings, and get it straight. I'm shoving off at twelve o'clock tonight. My advice to you is to lay off Richard Seaton, absolutely. Don't do a thing. Nothing, hold everything. Keep on holding it until I get back, no matter how long that may be," DuQuesne shot out in an icy tone.

"I am very much surprised at your change of front, Doctor. You are the last man I would have expected to be scared off after one engagement."

"Don't be any more of a fool than you have to, Brookings. There's a lot of difference between scared and knowing when you are simply wasting effort. As you remember, I tried to abduct Mrs. Seaton by picking her off with an attractor from a space-ship. I would have bet that nothing could have stopped me. Well, when they located me—probably with an automatic Osnomian ray-detector—and heated me red-hot while I was still better than two hundred miles up, I knew then and there that they had us stopped; that there was nothing we could do except go back to my plan, abandon the abduction idea, and eventually kill them all. Since my plan would take time, you objected to it, and sent an airplane to drop a five-hundred-pound bomb on them. Airplane, bomb, and all simply vanished. It didn't explode, you remember, just flashed into light and disappeared, with scarcely any noise. Then you pulled several more of your fool ideas, such as long-range bombardment, and so on. None of them worked. Still you've got the nerve to think that you can get them with ordinary gunmen! I've drawn you diagrams and shown you figures—I've told you in great detail and in one-syllable words exactly what we're up against. Now I tell you again that they've got something. If you had the brains of a pinhead, you would know that anything I can't do with a space-ship can't be done by a mob of ordinary gangsters. I'm telling you, Brookings, that you can't do it. My way is absolutely the only way that will work."

"But five years, Doctor!"

"I may be back in six months. But on a trip of this kind anything can happen, so I am planning on being gone five years. Even that may not be enough—I am carrying supplies for ten years, and that box of mine in the vault is not to be opened until ten years from today."

"But surely we shall be able to remove the obstructions ourselves in a few weeks. We always have."

"Oh, quit kidding yourself, Brookings! This is no time for idiocy! You stand just as much chance of killing Seaton——"

"Please, Doctor, please don't talk like that!"

"Still squeamish, eh? Your pussyfooting always did give me an acute pain. I'm for direct action, word and deed, first, last, and all the time. I repeat, you have exactly as much chance of killing Richard Seaton as a blind kitten has."

"How do you arrive at that conclusion, Doctor? You seem very fond of belittling our abilities. Personally, I think that we shall be able to attain our objectives within a few weeks—certainly long before you can possibly return from such an extended trip as you have in mind. And since you are so fond of frankness, I will say that I think that Seaton has you buffaloed, as you call it. Nine-tenths of these wonderful Osnomian things, I am assured by competent authorities, are scientifically impossible, and I think that the other one-tenth exists only in your own imagination. Seaton was lucky in that the airplane bomb was defective and exploded prematurely; and your space-ship got hot because of your injudicious speed through the atmosphere. We shall have everything settled by the time you get back."

"If you have, I'll make you a present of the controlling interest in Steel and buy myself a chair in some home for feeble-minded old women. Your ignorance and unwillingness to believe any new idea do not change the facts in any particular. Even before they went to Osnome, Seaton was hard to get, as you found out. On that trip he learned so much new stuff that it is now impossible to kill him by any ordinary means. You should realize that fact when he kills every gangster you send against him. At all events be very, very careful not to kill his wife in any of your attacks, even by accident, until after you have killed him."

"Such an event would be regrettable, certainly, in that it would remove all possibility of the abduction."

"It would remove more than that. Remember the explosion in our laboratory, that blew an entire mountain into impalpable dust? Draw in your mind a nice, vivid picture of one ten times the size in each of our plants and in this building. I know that you are fool enough to go ahead with your own ideas, in spite of everything I've said; and, since I do not yet actually control Steel, I can't forbid you to, officially. But you should know that I know what I'm talking about, and I say again that you're going to make an utter fool of yourself; just because you won't believe anything possible, that hasn't been done every day for a hundred years. I wish that I could make you understand that Seaton and Crane have got something that we haven't—but for the good of our plants, and incidentally for your own, please remember one thing, anyway; for if you forget it, we won't have a plant left and you personally will be blown into a fine red mist. Whatever you start, kill Seaton first, and be absolutely certain that he is definitely, completely, finally and totally dead before you touch one of Dorothy Seaton's red hairs. As long as you only attack him personally he won't do anything but kill every man you send against him. If you kill her while he's still alive, though—Blooie!" and the saturnine scientist waved both hands in an expressive pantomime of wholesale destruction.

"Probably you are right in that," Brookings paled slightly. "Yes, Seaton would do just that. We shall be very careful, until after we succeed in removing him."

"Don't worry—you won't succeed. I shall attend to that detail myself, as soon as I get back. Seaton and Crane and their families, the directors and employees of their plants, the banks that by any possibility may harbor their notes or solutions—in short, every person and everything standing between me and a monopoly of 'X'—all shall disappear."

"That is a terrible program, Doctor. Wouldn't the late Perkins' plan of an abduction, such as I have in mind, be better, safer and quicker?"

"Yes—except for the fact that it will not work. I've talked until I'm blue in the face—I've proved to you over and over that you can't abduct her now without first killing him, and that you can't even touch him. My plan is the only one that will work. Seaton isn't the only one who learned anything—I learned a lot myself. I learned one thing in particular. Only four other inhabitants of either Earth or Osnome ever had even an inkling of it, and they died, with their brains disintegrated beyond reading. That thing is my ace in the hole. I'm going after it. When I get it, and not until then, will I be ready to take the offensive."

"You intend starting open war upon your return?"

"The war started when I tried to pick off the women with my attractor. That is why I am leaving at midnight. He always goes to bed at eleven-thirty, and I will be out of range of his object-compass before he wakes up. Seaton and I understand each other perfectly. We both know that the next time we meet one of us is going to be resolved into his component atoms, perhaps into electrons. He doesn't know that he's going to be the one, but I do. My final word to you is to lay off—if you don't, you and your 'competent authorities' are going to learn a lot."

"You do not care to inform me more fully as to your destination or your plans?"

"I do not. Goodbye."



CHAPTER II

Dunark Visits Earth

Martin Crane reclined in a massive chair, the fingers of his right hand lightly touching those of his left, listening attentively. Richard Seaton strode up and down the room before his friend, his unruly brown hair on end, speaking savagely between teeth clenched upon the stem of his reeking, battered briar, brandishing a sheaf of papers.

"Mart, we're stuck—stopped dead. If my head wasn't made of solid blue mush I'd have had a way figured out of this thing before now, but I can't. With that zone of force the Skylark would have everything imaginable—without it, we're exactly where we were before. That zone is immense, man—terrific—its possibilities are unthinkable—and I'm so cussed dumb that I can't find out how to use it intelligently—can't use it at all, for that matter. By its very nature it is impenetrable to any form of matter, however applied; and this calc here," slapping viciously the sheaf of papers containing his calculations, "shows that it must also be opaque to any wave whatever, propagated through air or through ether, clear down to cosmic rays. Behind it, we would be blind and helpless, so we can't use it at all. It drives me frantic! Think of a barrier of pure force, impalpable, immaterial, and exerted along a geometrical surface of no thickness whatever—and yet actual enough to stop even a Millikan ray that travels a hundred thousand light-years and then goes through twenty-seven feet of solid lead just like it was so much vacuum! That's what we're up against! However, I'm going to try out that model, Mart, right now. Come on, guy, snap into it! Let's get busy!"

"You are getting idiotic again, Dick," Crane rejoined calmly, without moving. "You know, even better than I do, that you are playing with the most concentrated essence of energy that the world has ever seen. That zone of force probably can be generated——"

"Probably, nothing!" barked Seaton. "It's just as evident a fact as that stool," kicking the unoffending bit of furniture half-way across the room as he spoke. "If you'd've let me, I'd've shown it to you yesterday!"

"Undoubtedly, then. Grant that it is impenetrable to all matter and to all known waves. Suppose that it should prove impenetrable also to gravitation and to magnetism? Those phenomena probably depend upon the ether, but we know nothing fundamental of their nature, nor of that of the ether. Therefore your calculations, comprehensive though they are, cannot predict the effect upon them of your zone of force. Suppose that that zone actually does set up a barrier in the ether, so that it nullifies gravitation, magnetism, and all allied phenomena; so that the power-bars, the attractors and repellers, cannot work through it? Then what? As well as showing me the zone of force, you might well have shown me yourself flying off into space, unable to use your power and helpless if you released the zone. No, we must know more of the fundamentals before you try even a small-scale experiment."

"Oh, bugs! You're carrying caution to extremes, Mart. What can happen? Even if gravitation should be nullified, I would rise only slowly, heading south the angle of our latitude—that's thirty-nine degrees—away from the perpendicular. I couldn't shoot off on a tangent, as some of these hot-heads have been claiming. Inertia would make me keep pace, approximately, with the earth in its rotation. I would rise slowly—only as fast as the tangent departs from the curvature of the earth's surface. I haven't figured out how fast that is, but it must be pretty slow."

"Pretty slow?" Crane smiled. "Figure it out."

"All right—but I'll bet it's slower than the rise of a toy balloon." Seaton threw down the papers and picked up his slide-rule, a twenty-inch trigonometrical duplex. "You'll concede that it is allowable to neglect the radial component of the orbital velocity of the earth for a first approximation, won't you—or shall I figure that in too?"

"You may ignore that factor."

"All right—let's see. Radius of rotation here in Washington would be cosine latitude times equatorial radius, approximately—call it thirty-two hundred miles. Angular velocity, fifteen degrees an hour. I want secant fifteen less one times thirty-two hundred. Right? Secant equals one over cosine—um-m-m-m—one point oh three five. Then point oh three five times thirty-two hundred. Hundred and twelve miles first hour. Velocity constant with respect to sun, accelerated respecting point of departure. Ouch! You win, Mart—I'd kinda step out! Well, how about this, then? I'll put on a vacuum suit and carry rations. Harness outside, with the same equipment I used in the test flights before we built Skylark I—plus the new stuff and a coil. Then throw on the zone, and see what happens. There can't be any jar in taking off, and with that outfit I can get back O. K. if I go clear to Jupiter!"

Crane sat in silence, his keen mind considering every aspect of the motions possible, of velocity, of acceleration, of inertia. He already knew well Seaton's resourcefulness in crises and his physical and mental strength.

"As far as I can see, that might be safe," he admitted finally, "and we really should know something about it besides the theory."

"Fine, Mart—let's get busy! I'll be ready in five minutes. Yell for the girls, will you? They'd break us off at the ankles if we pull anything new without letting them in on it."

A few minutes later the "girls" strolled out into Crane Field, arms around each other—Dorothy Seaton, her gorgeous auburn hair framing violet eyes and vivid coloring; black-haired, dark-eyed Margaret Crane.

"Br-r-r, it's cold!" Dorothy shivered, wrapping her coat more closely about her. "This must be the coldest day Washington has seen for years!"

"It is cold," Margaret agreed. "I wonder what they are going to do out here, this kind of weather?"

* * * * *

As she spoke, the two men stepped out of the "testing shed"—the huge structure that housed their Osnomian-built space-cruiser, "Skylark II." Seaton waddled clumsily, wearing as he did a Crane vacuum-suit which, built of fur, canvas, metal and transparent silica, braced by steel netting and equipped with air-tanks and heaters, rendered its wearer independent of outside conditions of temperature and pressure. Outside this suit he wore a heavy harness of leather, buckled about his body, shoulders, and legs, attached to which were numerous knobs, switches, dials, bakelite cases, and other pieces of apparatus. Carried by a strong aluminum framework in turn supported by the harness, the universal bearing of a small power-bar rose directly above his grotesque-looking helmet.

"What do you think you're going to do in that thing, Dickie?" Dorothy called. Then, knowing that he could not hear her voice, she turned to Crane. "What are you letting that precious husband of mine do now, Martin? He looks as though he were up to something."

While she was speaking, Seaton had snapped the release of his face plate.

"Nothing much, Dottie. Just going to show you-all the zone of force. Mart wouldn't let me turn it on, unless I got all cocked and primed for a year's journey into space."

"Dot, what is that zone of force, anyway?" asked Margaret.

"Oh, it's something Dick got into his head during that awful fight they had on Osnome. He hasn't thought of anything else since we got back. You know how the attractors and repellers work? Well, he found out something funny about the way everything acted while the Mardonalians were bombarding them with a certain kind of a wave-length. He finally figured out the exact ray that did it, and found out that if it is made strongly enough, it acts as if a repeller and attractor were working together—only so much stronger that nothing can get through the boundary, either way—in fact, it's so strong that it cuts anything in two that's in the way. And the funny thing is that there's nothing there at all, really; but Dick says that the forces meeting there, or something, make it act as though something really important were there. See?"

"Uh-huh," assented Margaret, doubtfully, just as Crane finished the final adjustments and moved toward them. A safe distance away from Seaton, he turned and waved his hand.

Instantly Seaton disappeared from view, and around the place where he had stood there appeared a shimmering globe some twenty feet in diameter—a globe apparently a perfect spherical mirror, which darted upward and toward the south. After a moment the globe disappeared and Seaton was again seen. He was now standing upon a hemispherical mass of earth. He darted back toward the group upon the ground, while the mass of earth fell with a crash a quarter of a mile away. High above their heads the mirror again encompassed Seaton, and again shot upward and southward. Five times this maneuver was repeated before Seaton came down, landing easily in front of them and opening his helmet.

"It's just what we thought it was, only worse," he reported tersely. "Can't do a thing with it. Gravitation won't work through it—bars won't—nothing will. And dark? Dark! Folks, you ain't never seen no darkness, nor heard no silence. It scared me stiff!"

"Poor little boy—afraid of the dark!" exclaimed Dorothy. "We saw absolute blackness in space."

"Not like this, you didn't. I just saw absolute darkness and heard absolute silence for the first time in my life. I never imagined anything like it—come on up with me and I'll show it to you."

"No you won't!" his wife shrieked as she retreated toward Crane. "Some other time, perhaps."

Seaton removed the harness and glanced at the spot from which he had taken off, where now appeared a hemispherical hole in the ground.

"Let's see what kind of tracks I left, Mart," and the two men bent over the depression. They saw with astonishment that the cut surface was perfectly smooth, with not even the slightest roughness or irregularity visible. Even the smallest loose grains of sand had been sheared in two along a mathematically exact hemispherical surface by the inconceivable force of the disintegrating copper bar.

"Well, that sure wins the——"

An alarm bell sounded. Without a glance around, Seaton seized Dorothy and leaped into the testing shed. Dropping her unceremoniously to the floor he stared through the telescope sight of an enormous ray-generator which had automatically aligned itself upon the distant point of liberation of intra-atomic energy which had caused the alarm to sound. One hand upon the switch, his face was hard and merciless as he waited to make sure of the identity of the approaching space-ship, before he released the frightful power of his generator upon it.

"I've been expecting DuQuesne to try it again," he gritted, striving to make out the visitor, yet more than two hundred miles distant. "He's out to get you, Dot—and this time I'm not just going to warm him up and scare him away, as I did last time. This time that misguided mutt's going to get frizzled right.... I can't locate him with this small telescope, Mart. Line him up in the big one and give me the word, will you?"

"I see him, Dick, but it is not DuQuesne's ship. It is built of transparent arenak, like the 'Kondal.' Even though it seems impossible, I believe it is the 'Kondal'."

"Maybe so, and again maybe DuQuesne built it—or stole it. On second thought, though, I don't believe that DuQuesne would be fool enough to tackle us again in the same way—but I'm taking no chances.... O. K., it is the 'Kondal,' I can see Dunark and Sitar myself, now."

The transparent vessel soon neared the field and the four Terrestrials walked out to greet their Osnomian friends. Through the arenak walls they recognized Dunark, Kofedix of Kondal, at the controls, and saw Sitar, his beautiful young queen, lying in one of the seats near the wall. She attempted a friendly greeting, but her face was strained as though she were laboring under a burden too great for her to bear.

As they watched, Dunark slipped a helmet over his head and one over Sitar's, pressed a button to open one of the doors, and supported her toward the opening.

"They mustn't come out, Dick!" exclaimed Dorothy in dismay. "They'll freeze to death in five minutes without any clothes on!"

"Yes, and Sitar can't stand up under our gravitation, either—I doubt if Dunark can, for long," and Seaton dashed toward the vessel, motioning the visitor back.

But misunderstanding the signal, Dunark came on. As he clambered heavily through the door he staggered as though under an enormous weight, and Sitar collapsed upon the frozen ground. Trying to help her, half-kneeling over her, Dunark struggled, his green skin paling to a yellowish tinge at the touch of the bitter and unexpected cold. Seaton leaped forward and gathered Sitar up in his mighty arms as though she were a child.



"Help Dunark back in, Mart," he directed crisply. "Hop in, girls—we've got to take these folks back up where they can live."

Seaton shut the door, and as everyone lay flat in the seats Crane, who had taken the controls, applied one notch of power and the huge vessel leaped upward. Miles of altitude were gained before Crane brought the cruiser to a stop and locked her in place with an anchoring attractor.

"There," he remarked calmly, "gravitation here is approximately the same as it is upon Osnome."

"Yes," put in Seaton, standing up and shedding clothing in all directions, "and I rise to remark that we'd better undress as far as the law allows—perhaps farther. I never did like Osnomian ideas of comfortable warmth, but we can endure it by peeling down to bedrock——"

* * * * *

Sitar jumped up happily, completely restored, and the three women threw their arms around each other.

"What a horrible, terrible, frightful world!" exclaimed Sitar, her eyes widening as she thought of her first experience with our earth. "Much as I love you, I shall never dare try to visit you again. I have never been able to understand why you Terrestrials wear what you call 'clothes,' nor why you are so terribly, brutally strong. Now I really know—I will feel the utterly cold and savage embrace of that awful earth of yours as long as I live!"

"Oh, it's not so bad, Sitar." Seaton, who was shaking both of Dunark's hands vigorously, assured her over his shoulder. "All depends on where you were raised. We like it that way, and Osnome gives us the pip. But you poor fish," turning again to Dunark, "with all my brains inside your skull, you should have known what you were letting yourself in for."

"That's true, after a fashion," Dunark admitted, "but your brain told me that Washington was hot. If I'd have thought to recalculate your actual Fahrenheit degrees into our loro ... but that figures only forty-seven and, while very cold, we could have endured it—wait a minute, I'm getting it. You have what you call 'seasons.' This, then, must be your 'winter.' Right?"

"Right the first time. That's the way your brain works behind my pan, too. I could figure anything out all right after it happened, but hardly ever beforehand—so I guess I can't blame you much, at that. But what I want to know is, how'd you get here? It would take more than my brains—you can't see our sun from anywhere near Osnome, even if you knew exactly where to look for it."

"Easy. Remember those wrecked instruments you threw out of Skylark I when we built Skylark II?" Having every minute detail of the configuration of Seaton's brain engraved upon his own, Dunark spoke English in Seaton's own characteristic careless fashion. Only when thinking deeply or discussing abstruse matter did Seaton employ the carefully selected and precise phrasing, which he knew so well how to use. "Well, none of them was beyond repair and the juice was still on most of them. One was an object-compass bearing on the Earth. We simply fixed the bearings, put on some minor improvements, and here we are."

"Let us all sit down and be comfortable," he continued, changing into the Kondalian tongue without a break, "and I will explain why we have come. We are in most desperate need of two things which you alone can supply—salt, and that strange metal, 'X'. Salt I know you have in great abundance, but I know that you have very little of the metal. You have only the one compass upon that planet?"

"That's all—one is all we set on it. However, we've got close to half a ton of the metal on hand—you can have all you want."

"Even if I took it all, which I would not like to do, that would be less than half enough. We must have at least one of your tons, and two tons would be better."

"Two tons! Holy cat! Are you going to plate a fleet of battle cruisers?"

"More than that. We must plate an area of copper of some ten thousand square miles—in fact, the very life of our entire race depends upon it."

"It's this way," he continued, as the four earth-beings stared at him in wonder. "Shortly after you left Osnome we were invaded by the inhabitants of the third planet of our fourteenth sun. Luckily for us they landed upon Mardonale, and in less than two days there was not a single Osnomian left alive upon that half of the planet. They wiped out our grand fleet in one brief engagement, and it was only the Kondal and a few more like her that enabled us to keep them from crossing the ocean. Even with our full force of these vessels, we cannot defeat them. Our regular Kondalian weapons were useless. We shot explosive copper charges against them of such size as to cause earthquakes all over Osnome, without seriously crippling their defenses. Their offensive weapons are almost irresistible—they have generators that burn arenak as though it were so much paper, and a series of deadly frequencies against which only a copper-driven ray screen is effective, and even that does not stand up long."

"How come you lasted till now, then?" asked Seaton.

"They have nothing like the Skylark, and no knowledge of intra-atomic energy. Therefore their space-ships are of the rocket type, and for that reason they can cross only at the exact time of conjunction, or whatever you call it—no, not conjunction, exactly, either, since the two planets do not revolve around the same sun: but when they are closest together. Our solar system is so complex, you know, that unless the trips are timed exactly, to the hour, the vessels will not be able to land upon Osnome, but will be drawn aside and be lost, if not actually drawn into the vast central sun. Although it may not have occurred to you, a little reflection will show that the inhabitants of all the central planets, such as Osnome, must perforce be absolutely ignorant of astronomy, and of all the wonders of outer space. Before your coming we knew nothing beyond our own solar system, and very little of that. We knew of the existence of only such of the closest planets as were brilliant enough to be seen in our continuous sunlight, and they were few. Immediately after your coming I gave your knowledge of astronomy to a group of our foremost physicists and mathematicians, and they have been working ceaselessly from space-ships—close enough so that observations could be recalculated to Osnome, and yet far enough away to afford perfect 'seeing,' as you call it."

"But I don't know any more about astronomy than a pig does about Sunday," protested Seaton.

"Your knowledge of details is, of course, incomplete," conceded Dunark, "but the detailed knowledge of the best of your Earthly astronomers would not help us a great deal, since we are so far removed from you in space. You, however, have a very clear and solid knowledge of the fundamentals of the science, and that is what we need, above all things."

"Well, maybe you're right, at that. I do know the general theory of the motions, and I studied some Celestial Mechanics. I'm awfully weak on advanced theory, though, as you'll find out when you get that far."

"Perhaps—but since our enemies have no knowledge of astronomy whatever, it is not surprising that their rocket-ships can be launched only at one particularly favorable time; for there are many planets and satellites, of which they can know nothing, to throw their vessels off the course.

"Some material essential to the operation of their war machinery apparently must come from their own planet, for they have ceased attacking, have dug in, and are simply holding their ground. It may be that they had not anticipated as much resistance as we could offer with space-ships and intra-atomic energy. At any rate, they have apparently saved enough of that material to enable them to hold out until the next conjunction—I cannot think of a better word for it—shall occur. Our forces are attacking constantly, with all the armament at our command, but it is certain that if the next conjunction is allowed to occur, it means the end of the entire Kondalian nation."'

"What d'you mean 'if the next conjunction is allowed to occur?'" interjected Seaton. "Nobody can stop it."

"I am stopping it," Dunark stated quietly, grim purpose in every lineament. "That conjunction shall never occur. That is why I must have the vast quantities of salt and 'X'. We are building abutments of arenak upon the first satellite of our seventh planet, and upon our sixth planet itself. We shall cover them with plated active copper, and install chronometers to throw the switches at precisely the right moment. We have calculated the exact times, places, and magnitudes of the forces to be used. We shall throw the sixth planet some distance out of its orbit, and force the first satellite of the seventh planet clear out of that planet's influence. The two bodies whose motions we have thus changed will collide in such a way that the resultant body will meet the planet of our enemies in head-on collision, long before the next conjunction. The two bodies will be of almost equal masses, and will have opposite and approximately equal velocities; hence the resultant fused or gaseous mass will be practically without velocity and will fall directly into the fourteenth sun."

"Wouldn't it be easier to destroy it with an explosive copper bomb?"

"Easier, yes, but much more dangerous to the rest of our solar system. We cannot calculate exactly the effect of the collisions we are planning—but it is almost certain that an explosion of sufficient violence to destroy all life upon the planet would disturb its motion sufficiently to endanger the entire system. The way we have in mind will simply allow the planet and one satellite to drop out quietly—the other planets of the same sun will soon adjust themselves to the new conditions, and the system at large will be practically unaffected—at least, so we believe."

Seaton's eyes narrowed as his thoughts turned to the quantities of copper and "X" required and to the engineering features of the project; Crane's first thought was of the mathematics involved in a computation of that magnitude and character; Dorothy's quick reaction was one of pure horror.

"He can't, Dick! He mustn't! It would be too ghastly! It's outrageous—it's unthinkable—it's—it's—it's simply too horrible!" Her violet eyes flamed, and Margaret joined in:

"That would be awful, Martin. Think of the destruction of a whole planet—of an entire world—with all its inhabitants! It makes me shudder, even to think of it."

* * * * *

Dunark leaped to his feet, ablaze. But before he could say a word, Seaton silenced him.

"Shut up, Dunark! Pipe down! Don't say anything you'll be sorry for—let me tell 'em! Close your mouth, I tell you!" as Dunark still tried to get a word in, "I tell you I'll tell 'em, and when I tell 'em they stay told! Now listen, you two girls—you're going off half-cocked and you're both full of little red ants. What do you think Dunark is up against? Sherman chirped it when he described war—and this is a real he-war; a brand totally unknown on our Earth. It isn't a question of whether or not to destroy a population—the only question is which population is to be destroyed. One of them's got to go. Remember those folks go into a war thoroughly, and there isn't a thought, even remotely resembling our conception of mercy in any of their minds on either side. If Dunark's plans go through the enemy nation will be wiped out. That is horrible, of course. But on the other hand, if we block him off from salt and 'X,' the entire Kondalian nation will be destroyed just as thoroughly and efficiently, and even more horribly—not one man, woman, or child would be spared. Which nation do you want saved? Play that over a couple of times on your adding machine, Dot, and let me know what you get."

Dorothy, taken aback, opened and closed her mouth twice before she found her voice.

"But, Dick, they couldn't possibly. Would they kill them all, Dick? Surely they wouldn't—they couldn't."

"Surely they would—and could. They do—it's good technique in those parts of the Galaxy. Dunark has just told us of how they killed every member of the entire race of Mardonalians, in forty hours. Kondal would go the same way. Don't kid yourself, Dimples—don't be a child. War up there is no species of pink tea, believe me—half of my brain has been through thirty years of Osnomian warfare, and I know precisely what I'm talking about. Let's take a vote. Personally, I'm in favor of Osnome. Mart?"

"Osnome."

"Dottie? Peggy?" Both remained silent for some time, then Dorothy turned to Margaret.

"You tell him, Peggy—we both feel the same way."

"Dick, you know that we wouldn't want the Kondalians destroyed—but the other is so—such a—well, such an utter shrecklichkeit—isn't there some other way out?"

"I'm afraid not—but if there is any other possible way out, I'll do my da—to help find it," he promised. "The ayes have it. Dunark, we'll skip over to that 'X' planet and load you up."

Dunark grasped Seaton's hand. "Thanks, Dick," he said, simply. "But before you help me farther, and lest I might be in some degree sailing under false colors, I must tell you that, wearer of the seven disks though you are, Overlord of Osnome though you are, my brain brother though you are; had you decided against me, nothing but my death could have kept me away from that salt and your 'X' compass."

"Why sure," assented Seaton, in surprise. "Why not? Fair enough! Anybody would do the same—don't let that bother you."

"How is your supply of platinum?" asked Dunark.

"Mighty low. We had about decided to hop over there after some. I want some of your textbooks on electricity and so on, too. I see you brought a load of platinum with you."

"Yes, a few hundred tons. We also brought along an assortment of books I knew you would be interested in, a box of radium, a few small bags of gems of various kinds, and some of our fabrics, Sitar thought your Karfediro would like to have. While we are here, I would like to get some books on chemistry and some other things."

"We'll get you the Congressional Library, if you want it, and anything else you think you'd like. Well, gang, let's go places and do things! What to do, Mart?"

"We had better drop back to Earth, have the laborers unload the platinum, and load on the salt, books, and other things. Then both ships will go to the 'X' planet, as we will each want compasses on it, for future use. While we are loading, I should like to begin remodeling our instruments; to make them something like these; with Dunark's permission. These instruments are wonders, Dick—vastly ahead of anything I have ever seen. Come and look at them, if you want to see something really beautiful."

"Coming up. But say, Mart, while I think of it, we mustn't forget to install a zone-of-force apparatus on this boat, too. Even though we can't use it intelligently, it certainly would be a winner as a defense. We couldn't hurt anybody through it, of course, but if we should happen to be getting licked anywhere, all we'd have to do would be to wrap ourselves up in it. They couldn't touch us. Nothing in the ether spectrum is corkscrewy enough to get through it."

"That's the second idea you've had since I've known you, Dicky," Dorothy smiled at Crane. "Do you think he should be allowed to run at large, Martin?"

"That is a real idea. We may need it—you never can tell. Even if we never find any other use for the zone of force, that one is amply sufficient to justify its installation."

"Yes, it would be, for you—and I'm getting to be a regular Safety-First Simon myself, since they opened up on us. What about those instruments?"

* * * * *

The three men gathered around the instrument-board and Dunark explained the changes he had made—and to such men as Seaton and Crane it was soon evident that they were examining an installation embodying sheer perfection of instrumental control—a system which only those wonder instrument-makers, the Osnomians, could have devised. The new object-compasses were housed in arenak cases after setting, and the housings were then exhausted to the highest attainable vacuum. Oscillation was set up by means of one carefully standardized electrical impulse, instead of by the clumsy finger-touch Seaton had used. The bearings, built of arenak and Osnomian jewels, were as strong as the axles of a truck and yet were almost perfectly frictionless.

"I like them myself," admitted Dunark. "Without a load the needles will rotate freely more than a thousand hours on the primary impulse, as against a few minutes in the old type; and under load they are many thousands of times as sensitive."

"You're a blinding flash and a deafening report, ace!" declared Seaton, enthusiastically. "That compass is as far ahead of my model as the Skylark is ahead of Wright's first glider."

The other instruments were no less noteworthy. Dunark had adopted the Perkins telephone system, but had improved it until it was scarcely recognized and had made it capable of almost unlimited range. Even the guns—heavy rapid-firers, mounted in spherical bearings in the walls—were aimed and fired by remote control, from the board. He had devised full automatic steering controls; and meters and recorders for acceleration, velocity, distance, and flight-angle. He had perfected a system of periscopic vision, which enabled the pilot to see the entire outside surfaces of the shell, and to look toward any point of the heavens without interference.

"This kind of takes my eye, too, prince," Seaton said, as he seated himself, swung a large, concave disk in front of him, and experimented with levers and dials. "You certainly can't call this thing a periscope—it's no more a periscope than I am a polyp. When you look through this plate, it's better than looking out of a window—it subtends more than the angle of vision, so that you can't see anything but out-of-doors—I thought for a second I was going to fall out. What do you call 'em, Dunark?"

"Kraloto. That would be in English ... Seeing-plate? Or rather, call it 'visiplate'."

"That's a good word. Mart, take a look if you want to see a set of perfect lenses and prisms."

Crane looked into the visiplate and gasped. The vessel had disappeared—he was looking directly down upon the Earth below him!

"No trace of chromatic, spherical, or astigmatic aberration," he reported in surprise. "The refracting system is invisible—it seems as though nothing intervenes between the eye and the object. You perfected all these things since we left Osnome, Dunark? You are in a class by yourself. I could not even copy them in less than a month, and I never could have invented them."

"I did not do it alone, by any means. The Society of Instrument-Makers, of which I am only one member, installed and tested more than a hundred systems. This one represents the best features of all the systems tried. It will not be necessary for you to copy them. I brought along two complete duplicate sets for the Skylark, as well as a dozen or so of the compasses. I thought that perhaps these particular improvements might not have occurred to you, since you Terrestrials are not as familiar as we are with complex instrumental work."

Crane and Seaton spoke together.

"That was thoughtful of you, Dunark, and we appreciated it fully."

"That puts four more palms on your Croix de Guerre, ace. Thanks a lot."

"Say, Dick," called Dorothy, from her seat near the wall. "If we're going down to the ground, how about Sitar?"

"By lying down and not doing anything, and by staying in the vessel, where it is warm, she will be all right for the short time we must stay here," Dunark answered for his wife. "I will help all I can, but I do not know how much that will be."

"It isn't so bad lying down." Sitar agreed. "I don't like your Earth a bit, but I can stand it a little while. Anyway, I must stand it, so why worry about it?"

"'At-a-girl!" cheered Seaton. "And as for you, Dunark, you'll pass the time just like Sitar does—lying down. If you do much chasing around down there where we live, you're apt to get your lights and liver twisted all out of shape—so you'll stay put, horizontal. We've got men enough around the shop to eat this cargo in three hours, let alone unload it. While they unload and load you up, we'll install the zone apparatus, put a compass on you, put one of yours on us, and then you can hop back up here where you're comfortable. Then as soon as we can get the 'Lark' ready for the trip, we'll jump up here and be on our way. Everything clear? Cut the rope, Mart—let the old bucket drop!"



CHAPTER III

Skylark Two Sets Out

"Say, Mart, I just got conscious! It never occurred to me until just now, as Dunark left, that I'm as good an instrument-maker as Dunark is—the same one, in fact—and I've got a hunch. You know that needle on DuQuesne hasn't been working for quite a while? Well, I don't believe it's out of commission at all. I think he's gone somewhere, so far away that it can't read on him. I'm going to house it in, re-jewel it, and find out where he is."

"An excellent idea. He has even you worrying, and as for myself——"

"Worrying! That bird is simply pulling my cork! I'm so scared he'll get Dottie, that I'm running around in circles and biting myself in the small of the back. He's got a hen on, you can bet your shirt on that—what gravels me is he's aiming at the girls, not at us or the job."

"I should say that someone had aimed at you fairly accurately, judging by the number of bullets stopped lately by that arenak armor of yours. I wish that I could take some of the strain, but they are centering all their attacks upon you."

"Yes—I can't stick my nose outside our yard without somebody throwing lead at it. It's funny, too. You're more important to the power-plant than I am."

"You should know why. They are not afraid of me. While my spirit is willing enough, it was your skill and rapidity with a pistol that frustrated four attempts at abduction in as many days. It is positively uncanny, the way you explode into action. With all my practice, I didn't even have my pistol out yesterday until it was all over. And besides Prescott's guards, we had four policemen with us—detailed to 'guard' us—because of the number of gunmen you had to kill before that!"

"It ain't practice so much, Mart—it's a gift. I've always been fast, and I react automatically. You think first, that's why you're slow. Those cops were funny. They didn't know what it was all about until it was all over—all but calling the wagon. That was the worst yet. One of their slugs struck directly in front of my left eye—it was kinda funny, at that, seeing it splash—and I thought I was inside a boiler in a riveting shop when those machine-guns cut loose. It was hectic, all right, while it lasted. But one thing I'll tell the attentive world—we're not doing all the worrying. Very few, if any, of the gangsters they send after us are getting back. Wonder what they think when they shoot at us and we don't drop?

"But I'm afraid I'm beginning to crack, Mart," Seaton went on, his voice becoming grimly earnest. "I don't like anything about this whole mess. I don't like all four of us wearing armor all the time. I don't like living constantly under guard. I don't like all this killing. And this constant menace of losing Dorothy, if I let her out of my sight for five seconds, is driving me mad. To tell you the real truth, I'm devilishly afraid that they'll figure out something that'll work. I could grab off two women, or kill two men, if they had armor and guns enough to stock a war. I believe that DuQuesne could, too—and the rest of that bunch aren't imbeciles, either, by any means. I won't feel safe until all four of us are in the Skylark and a long ways from here. I'm sure glad we're pulling out; and I don't intend to come back until I get a good line on DuQuesne. He's the bird I'm going to get, and get right—and when I get him I'll tell the cock-eyed world he'll stay got. There won't be any two atoms of his entire carcass left in the same township. I meant that promise when I gave it to him!"

"He realizes that fully. He knows that it is now definitely either his life or our own, and he is really dangerous. When he took Steel over and opened war upon us, he did it with his eyes wide open. With his ideas, he must have a monopoly of 'X' or nothing; and he knows the only possible way of getting it. However, you and I both know that he would not let either one of us live, even though we surrendered."

"You chirped it! But that guy's going to find he's started something, unless I get paralysis of the intentions. Well, how about turning up a few R. P. M.? We don't want to keep Dunark waiting too long."

"There is very little to do beyond installing the new instruments; and that is nearly done. We can finish pumping out the compass en route. You have already installed every weapon of offense and defense known to either Earthly or Osnomian warfare, including those ray-generators and screens you moaned so about not having during the battle over Kondal. I believe that we have on board every article for which either of us has been able to imagine even the slightest use."

"Yes, we've got her so full of plunder that there's hardly room left for quarters. You ain't figuring on taking anybody but Shiro along, are you?"

"No. I suppose there is no real necessity for taking even him, but he wants very much to go, and may prove himself useful."

"I'll say he'll be useful. None of us really enjoys polishing brass or washing dishes—and besides, he's one star cook and an A-1 housekeeper."

* * * * *

The installation of the new instruments was soon completed, and while Dorothy and Margaret made last-minute preparations for departure, the men called a meeting of the managing directors and department heads of the "Seaton-Crane Co., Engineers." The chiefs gave brief reports in turn. Units Number One and Number Two of the immense new central super-power plant were in continuous operation. Number Three was almost ready to cut in. Number Four was being rushed to completion. Number Five was well under way. The research laboratory was keeping well up on its problems. Troubles were less than had been anticipated. Financially, it was a gold mine. With no expense for boilers or fuel, and thus with a relatively small investment in plant and a very small operating cost, they were selling power at one-sixth of prevailing rates, and still profits were almost paying for all new construction. With the completion of Number Five, rates would be reduced still further.

"In short, Dad, everything's slick," remarked Seaton to Mr. Vaneman, after the others had gone.

"Yes; your plan of getting the best men possible, paying them well, and giving them complete authority and sole responsibility, has worked to perfection. I have never seen an undertaking of such size go forward so smoothly and with such fine co-operation."

"That's the way we wanted it. We hand-picked the directors, and put it up to you, strictly. You did the same to the managers. Everybody knows that his end is up to him, and him alone—so he digs in."

"However, Dick, while everything at the works is so fine, when is this other thing going to break?"

"We've won all the way so far, but I'm afraid something's about due. That's the big reason I want to get Dot away for a while. You know what they're up to?"

"Too well," the older man answered. "Dottie or Mrs. Crane, or both. Her mother—she is telling her goodbye now—and I agree that the danger here is greater than out there."

"Danger out there? With the old can fixed the way she is now, Dot's a lot safer there than you are in bed. Your house might fall down, you know."

"You're probably right, son—I know you, and I know Martin Crane. Together, and in the Skylark, I believe you invincible."

"All set, Dick?" asked Dorothy, appearing in the doorway.

"All set. You've got the dope for Prescott and everybody Dad. We may be back in six months, or we may see something to investigate, and be gone a year or so. Don't begin to lose any sleep until after we've been out—oh, say three years. We'll make it a point to be back by then."

Farewells were said; the party embarked, and Skylark Two shot upward. Seaton flipped a phone set over his head and spoke.

"Dunark!... Coming out, heading directly for 'X'.... No, better stay quite a ways off to one side when we get going good.... Yes, I'm accelerating twenty six point oh oh oh.... Yes. I'll call you now and then, until the radio waves get lost, to check the course with you. After that, keep on the last course, reverse at the calculated distance, and by the time we're pretty well slowed down, we'll feel around for each other with the compasses and go in together.... Right.... Uh-huh.... Fine! So long!"

In order that the two vessels should keep reasonably close together, it had been agreed that each should be held at an acceleration of exactly twenty-six feet per second, positive and negative. This figure represented a compromise between the gravitational forces of the two worlds upon which the different parties lived. While considerably less than the acceleration of gravitation at the surface of the Earth, the Terrestrials could readily accustom themselves to it; and it was not enough greater than that of Osnome to hamper seriously the activities of the green people.

Well clear of the Earth's influence, Seaton assured himself that everything was functioning properly, then stretched to his full height, wreathed his arms over his head, and heaved a deep sigh of relief.

"Folks," he declared, "This is the first time I've felt right since we got out of this old bottle. Why, I feel so good a cat could walk up to me and scratch me right in the eye, and I wouldn't even scratch back. Yowp! I'm a wild Siberian catamount, and this is my night to howl. Whee-ee-yerow!"

Dorothy laughed, a gay, lilting carol.

"Haven't I always told you he had cat blood in him, Peggy? Just like all tomcats, every once in a while he has to stretch his claws and yowl. But go ahead, Dickie, I like it—this is the first uproar you've made in weeks. I believe I'll join you!"

"It most certainly is a relief to get this load off our minds: I could do a little ladylike yowling myself," Margaret said; and Crane, lying completely at ease, a thin spiral of smoke curling upward from his cigarette, nodded agreement.

"Dick's yowling is quite expressive at times. All of us feel the same way, but some of us are unable to express ourselves quite so vividly. However, it is past bedtime, and we should organize our crew. Shall we do it as we did before?"

"No, it isn't necessary. Everything is automatic. The bar is held parallel to the guiding compass, and signal bells ring whenever any of the instruments show a trace of abnormal behavior. Don't forget that there is at least one meter registering and recording every factor of our flight. With this control system we can't get into any such jam as we did last trip."

"Surely you are not suggesting that we run all night with no one at the controls?"

"Exactly that. A man camping at this board is painting the lily and gilding fine gold. Awake or asleep nobody need be closer to it than is necessary to hear a bell if one should ring, and you can hear them all over the ship. Furthermore, I'll bet a hat we won't hear a signal a week. Simply as added precaution, though, I've run lines so that any time one of these signals lets go, it sounds a buzzer on the head of our bed, so I'm automatically taking the night shift. Remember, Mart, these instruments are thousands of times as sensitive as the keenest human senses—they'll spot trouble long before we could, even if we were looking right at it."

"Of course, you understand these instruments much better than I do, as yet. If you trust them, I am perfectly willing to do the same. Goodnight."

* * * * *

Seaton sat down and Dorothy nestled beside him, her head snuggled into the curve of his shoulder.

"Sleepy, cuddle-pup?"

"Heavens, no! I couldn't sleep now, lover—could you?"

"Not any. What's the use?"

His arm tightened around her. Apparently motionless to its passengers, the cruiser bored serenely on into space, with ever-mounting velocity. There was not the faintest sound, not the slightest vibration—only the peculiar violet glow surrounding the shining copper cylinder in its massive universal bearing gave any indication of the thousands of kilowatts being generated in the mighty intra-atomic power-plant. Seaton studied it thoughtfully.

"You know, if that violet aura and copper bar were a little different in shade and tone of color, they'd be just like your eyes and hair," he remarked finally.

"You burn me up, Dick!" she retorted, her entrancing low chuckle bubbling through her words. "You do say the weirdest things at times! Possibly they would—and if the moon were made of different stuff than it is and had a different color, it might be green cheese, too! What say we go over and look at the stars?"

"As you were, Rufus!" he commanded sternly. "Don't move a millimeter—you're a drive fit, right where you are. I'll get you any stars you want, and bring them right in here to you. What constellation would you like? I'll get you the Southern Cross—we never see it in Washington."

"No, I want something familiar; the Pleiades or the Big Dipper—no, get me Canis Major—'where Sirius, brightest jewel in the diadem of the firmament, holds sway'," she quoted. "There! Thought I'd forgotten all the astronomy you ever taught me, didn't you? Think you can find it?"

"Sure. Declination about minus twenty, as I remember it, and right ascension between six and seven hours. Let's see—where would that be from our course?"

He thought for a moment, manipulated several levers and dials, snapped off the lights, and swung number one exterior visiplate around, directly before their eyes.

"Oh.... Oh ... this is magnificent, Dick!" she exclaimed. "It's stupendous. It seems as though we were right out there in space itself, and not in here at all. It's ... it's just too perfectly darn wonderful!"

Although neither of them was unacquainted with interstellar space, it presents a spectacle that never fails to awe even the most seasoned observer: and no human being had ever before viewed the wonders of space from such a coign of vantage. Thus the two fell silent and awed as they gazed out into the abysmal depths of the interstellar void. The darkness of Earthly night is ameliorated by light-rays scattered by the atmosphere: the stars twinkle and scintillate and their light is diffused, because of the same medium. But here, what a contrast! They saw the utter, absolute darkness of the complete absence of all light: and upon that indescribable blackness they beheld superimposed the almost unbearable brilliance of enormous suns concentrated into mathematical points, dimensionless. Sirius blazed in blue-white splendor, dominating the lesser members of his constellation, a minute but intensely brilliant diamond upon a field of black velvet—his refulgence unmarred by any trace of scintillation or distortion.

As Seaton slowly shifted the field of vision, angling toward and across the celestial equator and the ecliptic, they beheld in turn mighty Rigel; The Belt, headed by dazzlingly brilliant-white Delta-Orionis; red Betelguese; storied Aldebaran, the friend of mariners; and the astronomically constant Pleiades.

Seaton's arm contracted, swinging Dorothy into his embrace; their lips met and held.

"Isn't it wonderful, lover," she murmured, "to be out here in space this way, together, away from all our troubles and worries? I am so happy."

"It's all of that, sweetheart mine!"

"I almost died, every time they shot at you. Suppose your armor cracked or something? I wouldn't want to go on living—I'd just naturally die!"

"I'm glad it didn't—and I'm twice as glad that they didn't succeed in grabbing you away from me...." His jaw set rigidly, his gray eyes became hard as tempered drills. "Blackie DuQuesne has something coming to him. So far, I have always paid my debts.... I shall settle with him ... IN FULL."

"That was an awfully quick change of subject," he continued, his voice changing instantly into a lighter vein, "but that's one penalty of being human. We can't live in high altitudes all our lives—if we could there would be no thrill in ascending them so often.

"Yes, we love each other just the same—more than anybody else I ever heard of." After a moment she eyed him shrewdly and continued:

"You've got something on your mind besides that tangled mop of hair, big boy. Tell it to Red-Top."

"Nothing much...."

"Come on, 'fess up—it's good for the soul. You can't fool your own wife, guy; I know your little winning ways too well."

"Let me finish, woman; I was about to bare my very soul. To resume—nothing much to go on but a hunch, but I think DuQuesne's somewhere out here in the great open spaces, where men are sometimes schemers as well as men; and if so, I'm after him—foot, horse, and marines."

"That object compass?"

"Yes. You see, I built that thing myself, and I know darn well it isn't out of order. It's still on him, but doesn't indicate. Ergo, he is too far away to reach—and with his weight, I could find him anywhere up to about one and a half light-years. If he wants to go that far away from home, where is his logical destination? It can't be anywhere but Osnome, since that is the only place we stopped at for any length of time—the only place where he could have learned anything. He's learned something, or found something useful to him there, just as we did. That is certain, since he is not the type of man to do anything without a purpose. Uncle Dudley is on his trail—and will be able to locate him pretty soon."

"When will you get that new compass-case exhausted to a skillionth of a whillimeter or something, whatever it is? I thought Dunark said it took five hundred hours of pumping to get it where he wanted it?"

"It did him—but while the Osnomians are wonders at some things, they're not so hot at others. You see, I've got three pumps on that job, in series. First, a Rodebush-Michalek super-pump[A] then, backing that, an ordinary mercury-vapor pump, and last, backing both the others, a Cenco-Hyvac motor-driven oil pump. In less than fifty hours that case will be as empty as a flapper's skull. Just to make sure of cleaning up the last infinitesimal traces, though, I'm going to flash a getter charge of tantalum in it. After that, the atmosphere in that case will be tenuous—take my word for it."

[A] J. Am. Chem. Soc. 51: 3, 750.

"I'll have to; most of that contribution to science being over my head like a circus tent. What say we let Skylark Two drift by herself for a while, and catch us some of Nature's sweet restorer?"



CHAPTER IV

The Zone of Force Is Tested

Seaton strode into the control room with a small oblong box in his hand. Crane was seated at the desk, poring over an abstruse mathematical treatise in Science. Margaret was working upon a bit of embroidery. Dorothy, seated upon a cushion on the floor with one foot tucked under her, was reading, her hand straying from time to time to a box of chocolates conveniently near.

"Well, this is a peaceful, home-like scene—too bad to bust it up. Just finished sealing off and flashing out this case, Mart. Going to see if she'll read. Want to take a look?"

He placed the compass upon the plane table, so that its final bearing could be read upon the master circles controlled by the gyroscopes; then simultaneously started his stop-watch and pressed the button which caused a minute couple to be applied to the needle. Instantly the needle began to revolve, and for many minutes there was no apparent change in its motion in either the primary or secondary bearings.

"Do you suppose it is out of order, after all?" asked Crane, regretfully.

"I don't think so," Seaton pondered. "You see, they weren't designed to indicate such distances on such small objects as men, so I threw a million ohms in series with the impulse. That cuts down the free rotation to less than half an hour, and increases the sensitivity to the limit. There, isn't she trying to quit it?"

"Yes, it is settling down. It must be on him still." Finally the ultra-sensitive needle came to rest. When it had done so, Seaton calculated the distance, read the direction, and made a reading upon Osnome.

"He's there, all right. Bearings agree, and distances check to within a light-year, which is as close as we can hope to check on as small a mass as a man. Well, that's that—nothing to do about it until after we get there. One sure thing, Mart—we're not coming straight back home from 'X'."

"No, an investigation is indicated."

"Well, that puts me out of a job. What to do? Don't want to study, like you. Can't crochet, like Peg. Darned if I'll sit cross-legged on a pillow and eat candy, like that Titian blonde over there on the floor. I know what—I'll build me a mechanical educator and teach Shiro to talk English instead of that mess of language he indulges in. How'd that be, Mart?"

"Don't do it," put in Dorothy, positively. "He's just too perfect the way he is. Especially don't do it if he'd talk the way you do—or could you teach him to talk the way you write?"

"Ouch! That's a dirty dig. However, Mrs. Seaton, I am able and willing to defend my customary mode of speech. You realize that the spoken word is ephemeral, whereas the thought, whose nuances have once been expressed in imperishable print is not subject to revision—its crudities can never be remodeled into more subtle, more gracious shading. It is my contention that, due to these inescapable conditions, the mental effort necessitated by the employment of nice distinctions in sense and meaning of words and a slavish adherence to the dictates of the more precise grammarians should be reserved for the print...."

He broke off as Dorothy, in one lithe motion, rose and hurled her pillow at his head.

"Choke him, somebody! Perhaps you had better build it, Dick, after all."

"I believe that he would like it, Dick. He is trying hard to learn, and the continuous use of a dictionary is undoubtedly a nuisance to him."

"I'll ask him. Shiro!"

"You have call, sir?" Shiro entered the room from his galley, with his unfailing bow.

"Yes. How'd you like to learn to talk English like Crane there does—without taking lessons?"

Shiro smiled doubtfully, unable to take such a thought seriously.

"Yes, it can be done," Crane assured him. "Doctor Seaton can build a machine which will teach you all at once, if you like."

"I like, sir, enormously, yes, sir. I years study and pore, but honorable English extraordinary difference from Nipponese—no can do. Dictionary useful but ..." he flipped pages dexterously, "extremely cumbrous. If honorable Seaton can do, shall be extreme ... gratification."

He bowed again, smiled, and went out.

"I'll do just that little thing. So long, folks, I'm going up to the shop."

* * * * *

Day after day the Skylark plunged through the vast emptiness of the interstellar reaches. At the end of each second she was traveling exactly twenty-six feet per second faster than she had been at its beginning; and as day after day passed, her velocity mounted into figures which became meaningless, even when expressed in thousands of miles per second. Still she seemed stationary to her occupants, and only different from a vessel motionless upon the surface of the Earth in that objects within her hull had lost three-sixteenths of their normal weight. Acceleration, too, had its effect. Only the rapidity with which the closer suns and their planets were passed gave any indication of the frightful speed at which they were being hurtled along by the inconceivable power of that disintegrating copper bar.

When the vessel was nearly half-way to "X," the bar was reversed in order to change the sign of their acceleration, and the hollow sphere spun through an angle of one hundred and eighty degrees around the motionless cage which housed the enormous gyroscopes. Still apparently motionless and exactly as she had been before, the Skylark was now actually traveling in a direction which seemed "down" and with a velocity which was being constantly decreased by the amount of their negative acceleration.

A few days after the bar had been reversed Seaton announced that the mechanical educator was complete, and brought it into the control room.

In appearance it was not unlike a large radio set, but it was infinitely more complex. It possessed numerous tubes, kino-lamps, and photo-electric cells, as well as many coils of peculiar design—there were dozens of dials and knobs, and a multiple set of head-harnesses.

"How can a thing like that possibly work as it does?" asked Crane. "I know that it does work, but I could scarcely believe it, even after it had educated me."

"That is nothing like the one Dunark used, Dick," objected Dorothy. "How come?"

"I'll answer you first, Dot. This is an improved model—it has quite a few gadgets of my own in it. Now, Mart, as to how it works—it isn't so funny after you understand it—it's a lot like radio in that respect. It operates on a band of frequencies lying between the longest light and heat waves and the shortest radio waves. This thing here is the generator of those waves and a very heavy power amplifier. The headsets are stereoscopic transmitters, taking or receiving a three-dimensional view. Nearly all matter is transparent to those waves; for instance bones, hair, and so on. However, cerebin, a cerebroside peculiar to the thinking structure of the brain, is opaque to them. Dunark, not knowing chemistry, didn't know why the educator worked or what it worked on—he found out by experiment that it did work; just as we found out about electricity. This three-dimensional model, or view, or whatever you want to call it, is converted into electricity in the headsets, and the resulting modulated wave goes back to the educator. There it is heterodyned with another wave—this second frequency was found after thousands of trials and is, I believe, the exact frequency existing in the optic nerves themselves—and sent to the receiving headset. Modulated as it is, and producing a three-dimensional picture, after rectification in the receiver, it reproduces exactly what has been 'viewed,' if due allowance has been made for the size and configuration of the different brains involved in the transfer. You remember a sort of flash—a sensation of seeing something—when the educator worked on you? Well, you did see it, just as though it had been transmitted to the brain by the optic nerve, but everything came at once, so the impression of sight was confused. The result in the brain, however, was clear and permanent. The only drawback is that you haven't the visual memory of what you have learned, and that sometimes makes it hard to use your knowledge. You don't know whether you know anything about a certain subject or not until after you go digging around in your brain looking for it."

"I see," said Crane, and Dorothy, the irrepressible, put in:

"Just as clear as so much mud. What are the improvements you added to the original design?"

"Well, you see, I had a big advantage in knowing that cerebrin was the substance involved, and with that knowledge I could carry matters considerably farther than Dunark could in his original model. I can transfer the thoughts of somebody else to a third party or to a record. Dunark's machine couldn't work against resistance—if the subject wasn't willing to give up his thoughts he couldn't get them. This one can take them away by force. In fact, by increasing plate and grid voltages in the amplifier, I can pretty nearly burn out a man's brain. Yesterday, I was playing with it, transferring a section of my own brain to a magnetized tape—for a permanent record, you know—and found out that above certain rather low voltages it becomes a form of torture that would make the best efforts of the old Inquisition seem like a petting party."

"Did you succeed in the transfer?" Crane was intensely interested.

"Sure. Push the button for Shiro, and we'll start something."

"Put your head against this screen," he directed when Shiro had come in, smiling and bowing as usual. "I've got to caliper your brains to do a good job."

The calipering done, he adjusted various dials and clamped the electrodes over his own head and over the heads of Crane and Shiro.

"Want to learn Japanese while we're at it, Mart? I'm going to."

"Yes, please. I tried to learn it while I was in Japan, but it was altogether too difficult to be worth while."

Seaton threw in a switch, opened it, depressed two more, opened them, and threw off the power.

"All set," he reported crisply, and barked a series of explosive syllables at Shiro, ending upon a rising note.

"Yes, sir," answered the Japanese. "You speak Nipponese as though you had never spoken any other tongue. I am very grateful to you, sir, that I may now discard my dictionary."

"How about you two girls—anything you want to learn in a hurry?"

"Not me!" declared Dorothy emphatically. "That machine is too darn weird to suit me. Besides, if I knew as much about science as you do, we'd probably fight about it."

"I do not believe I care to...." began Margaret.

She was interrupted by the penetrating sound of an alarm bell.

"That's a new note!" exclaimed Seaton, "I never heard that note before."

He stood in surprise at the board, where a brilliant purple light was flashing slowly. "Great Cat! That's a purely Osnomian war-gadget—kind of a battleship detector—shows that there's a boatload of bad news around here somewhere. Grab the visiplates quick, folks," as he rang Shiro's bell. "I'll take visiplate area one, dead ahead. Mart, take number two. Dot, three; Peg, four; Shiro, five. Look sharp!... Nothing in front. See anything, any of you?"

* * * * *

None of them could discover anything amiss, but the purple light continued to flash, and the bell to ring. Seaton cut off the bell.

"We're almost to 'X'," he thought aloud. "Can't be more than a million miles or so, and we're almost stopped. Wonder if somebody's there ahead of us? Maybe Dunark is doing this, though. I'll call him and see." He threw in a switch and said one word—"Dunark!"

"Here!" came the voice of the Kofedix from the speaker. "Are you generating?"

"No—just called to see if you were. What do you make of it?"

"Nothing as yet. Better close up?"

"Yes, edge over this way and I'll come over to meet you. Leave your negative as it is—we'll be stopped directly. Whatever it is, it's dead ahead. It's a long ways off yet, but we'd better get organized. Wouldn't talk much, either—they may intercept our wave, narrow as it is."

"Better yet, shut off your radio entirely. When we get close enough together, we'll use the hand-language. You may not know that you know it, but you do. Turn your heaviest searchlight toward me—I'll do the same."

There was a click as Dunark's power was shut off abruptly, and Seaton grinned as he cut his own.

"That's right, too, folks. In Osnomian battles we always used a sign-language when we couldn't hear anything—and that was most of the time. I know it as well as I know English, now that I am reminded of the fact."

He shifted his course to intercept that of the Osnomian vessel. After a time the watchers picked out a minute point of light, moving comparatively rapidly against the stars, and knew it to be the searchlight of the Kondal. Soon the two vessels were almost side by side, moving cautiously forward, and Seaton set up a sixty-inch parabolic reflector, focused upon a coil. As they went on, the purple light continued to flash more and more rapidly, but still nothing was to be seen.

"Take number six visiplate, will you, Mart? It's telescopic, equivalent to a twenty-inch refractor. I'll tell you where to look in a minute—this reflector increases the power of the regular indicator." He studied meters and adjusted dials. "Set on nineteen hours forty-three minutes, and two hundred seventy-one degrees. He's too far away yet to read exactly, but that'll put him in the field of vision."

"Is this radiation harmful?" asked Margaret.

"Not yet—it's too weak. Pretty soon we may be able to feel it; then I'll throw out a screen against it. When it's strong enough, it's pretty deadly stuff. See anything, Mart?"

"I see something, but it is very indistinct. It is moving in sharper now. Yes, it is a space-ship, shaped like a dirigible airship."

"See it yet, Dunark?" Seaton signaled.

"Just sighted it. Ready to attack?"

"I am not. I'm going to run. Let's go, and go fast!"

Dunark signaled violently, and Seaton shook his head time after time, stubbornly.

"A difficulty?" asked Crane.

"Yes. He wants to go jump on it, but I'm not looking for trouble with any such craft as that—it must be a thousand feet long and is certainly neither Terrestrial nor Osnomian. I say beat it while we're all in one piece. How about it?"

"Absolutely," concurred Crane and both women.

The bar was reversed and the Skylark leaped away. The Kondal followed, although the observers could see that Dunark was raging. Seaton swung number six visiplate around, looked once, and switched on the radio.

"Well, Dunark," he said grimly. "You get your wish. That bird is coming out, with at least twice the acceleration we could get with both motors full on. He saw us all the time, and was waiting for us."

"Go on—get away if you can. You can stand a higher acceleration than we can. We'll hold him as long as possible."

"I would, if it would do any good, but it won't. He's so much faster than we are that he could catch us anyway, if he wanted to, no matter how much of a start we had—and it looks now as though he wanted us. Two of us stand a lot better chance than one of licking him if he's looking for trouble. Spread out a mile or two, and pretend this is all the speed we've got. What'll we give him first?"

"Give him everything at once. Rays six, seven, eight, nine, and ten...." Crane, with Seaton, began making contacts, rapidly but with precision. "Heat wave two-seven. Induction, five-eight. Oscillation, everything under point oh six three. All the explosive copper we can get in. Right?"

"Right—and if worse comes to worst, remember the zone of force. Let him shoot first, because he may be peaceable—but it doesn't look like olive branches to me."

"Got both your screens out?"

"Yes. Mart, you might take number two visiplate and work the guns—I'll handle the rest of this stuff. Better strap yourselves in solid, folks—this may develop into a kind of rough party, by the looks of things right now."

* * * * *

As he spoke, a pyrotechnic display enveloped the entire ship as a radiation from the foreign vessel struck the other neutralizing screen and dissipated its force harmlessly in the ether. Instantly Seaton threw on the full power of his refrigerating system and shot in the master switch that actuated the complex offensive armament of his dreadnought of the skies. An intense, livid violet glow hid completely main and auxiliary power bars, and long flashes leaped between metallic objects in all parts of the vessel. The passengers felt each hair striving to stand on end as the very air became more and more highly charged—and this was but the slight corona-loss of the frightful stream of destruction being hurled at the other space-cruiser, now scarcely a mile away!

Seaton stared into number one visiplate, manipulating levers and dials as he drove the Skylark hither and yon, dodging frantically, the while the automatic focusing devices remained centered upon the enemy and the enormous generators continued to pour forth their deadly frequencies. The bars glowed more fiercely as they were advanced to full working load—the stranger was one blaze of incandescent ionization, but she still fought on; and Seaton noticed that the pyrometers recording the temperature of the shell were mounting rapidly, in spite of the refrigerators.

"Dunark, put everything you've got upon one spot—right on the end of his nose!"

As the first shell struck the mark, Seaton concentrated every force at his command upon the designated point. The air in the Skylark crackled and hissed and intense violet flames leaped from the bars as they were driven almost to the point of disruption. From the forward end of the strange craft there erupted prominence after prominence of searing, unbearable flame as the terrific charges of explosive copper struck the mark and exploded, liberating instantaneously their millions upon millions of kilowatt-hours of intra-atomic energy. Each prominence enveloped all three of the fighting vessels and extended for hundreds of miles out into space—but still the enemy warship continued to hurl forth solid and vibratory destruction.

A brilliant orange light flared upon the panel, and Seaton gasped as he swung his visiplate upon his defenses, which he had supposed impregnable. His outer screen was already down, although its mighty copper generator was exerting its utmost power. Black areas had already appeared and were spreading rapidly, where there should have been only incandescent radiance; and the inner screen was even now radiating far into the ultra-violet and was certainly doomed. Knowing as he did the stupendous power driving those screens, he knew that there were superhuman and inconceivable forces being directed against them, and his right hand flashed to the switch controlling the zone of force. Fast as he was, much happened in the mere moment that passed before his flying hand could close the switch. In the last infinitesimal instant of time before the zone closed in, a gaping black hole appeared in the incandescence of the inner screen, and a small portion of a ray of energy so stupendous as to be palpable, struck, like a tangible projectile, the exposed flank of the Skylark. Instantly the refractory arenak turned an intense, dazzling white and more than a foot of the forty-eight-inch skin of the vessel melted away, like snow before an oxy-acetylene flame: melting and flying away in molten globes and sparkling gases—the refrigerating coils lining the hull were of no avail against the concentrated energy of that titanic thrust. As Seaton shut off his power, intense darkness and utter silence closed in, and he snapped on the lights.

"They take one trick!" he blazed, his eyes almost emitting sparks, and leaped for the generators. He had forgotten the efforts of the zone of force, however, and only sprawled grotesquely in the air until he floated within reach of a line.

"Hold everything, Dick!" Crane snapped, as Seaton bent over one of the bars. "What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to put as heavy bars in these ray-generators as they'll stand and go out and get that bird. We can't lick him with Osnomian rays or with our explosive copper, but I can carve that sausage into slices with a zone of force, and I'm going to do it."

"Steady, old man—take it easy. I see your point, but remember that you must release the zone of force before you can use it as a weapon. Furthermore, you must discover his exact location, and must get close enough to him to use the zone as a weapon, all without its protection. Can those ray-screens be made sufficiently powerful to withstand the beam they employed last, even for a second?"

"Hm ... m ... m. Never thought of that, Mart," Seaton replied, the fire dying out of his eyes. "Wonder how long the battle lasted?"

"Eight and two-tenths seconds, from first to last, but they had had that heavy ray in action only a fraction of one second when you cut in the zone of force. Either they underestimated our strength at first, or else it required about eight seconds to tune in their heavy generators—probably the former."

"But we've got to do something, man! We can't just sit here and twiddle our thumbs!"

"Why, and why not? That course seems eminently wise and proper. In fact, at the present time, thumb-twiddling is distinctly indicated."

"Oh, you're full of little red ants! We can't do a thing with that zone on—and you say just sit here. Suppose they know all about that zone of force? Suppose they can crack it? Suppose they ram us?"

"I shall take up your objections in order," Crane had lighted a cigarette and was smoking meditatively. "First, they may or may not know about it. At present, that point is immaterial. Second, whether or not they know about it, it is almost a certainty that they cannot crack it. It had been up for more than three minutes, and they have undoubtedly concentrated everything possible upon us during that time. It is still standing. I really expected it to go down in the first few seconds, but now that it has held this long it will, in all probability, continue to hold indefinitely. Third, they most certainly will not ram us, for several reasons. They probably have encountered few, if any, foreign vessels able to stand against them for a minute, and will act accordingly. Then, too, it is probably safe to assume that their vessel is damaged, to some slight extent at least; for I do not believe that any possible armament could withstand the forces you directed against them and escape entirely unscathed. Finally, if they did ram us, what would happen? Would we feel the shock? That barrier in the ether seems impervious, and if so, it could not transmit a blow. I do not see exactly how it would affect the ship dealing the blow. You are the one who works out the new problems in unexplored mathematics—some time you must take a few months off and work it out."

"Yes, it would take that long, too, I guess—but you're right, he can't hurt us. That's using the old bean, Mart! I was going off half-cocked again, darn it! I'll pipe down, and we'll go into a huddle."

* * * * *

Seaton noticed that Dorothy's face was white and that she was fighting for self-control. Drawing himself over to her, he picked her up in a tight embrace.

"Cheer up, Red-Top! This man's war ain't started yet!"

"Not started? What do you mean? Haven't you and Martin just been admitting to each other that you can't do anything? Doesn't that mean that we are beaten?"

"Beaten! Us? How do you get that way? Not on your sweet young life!" he ejaculated, and the surprise on his face was so manifest that she recovered instantly. "We've just dug a hole and pulled the hole in after us, that's all! When we get everything doped out to suit us, we'll snap out of it and that bird'll think he's been petting a wildcat!"

"Mart, you're the thinking end of this partnership," he continued, thoughtfully. "You've got the analytical mind and the judicial disposition, and can think circles around me. From what little you've seen of those folks, tell me who, what, and where they are. I'm getting the germ of an idea, and maybe we can make it work."

"I will try it." Crane paused. "They are, of course, neither from the Earth nor from Osnome. It is also evident that they have solved the secret of intra-atomic energy. Their vessels are not propelled as ours are—they have so perfected that force that it acts upon every particle of the structure and its contents...."

"How do you figure that?" blurted Seaton.

"Because of the acceleration they can stand. Nothing even semi-human, and probably nothing living, could endure it otherwise. Right?"

"Yes—I never thought of that."

"Furthermore, they are far from home, for if they were from anywhere nearby, the Osnomians would have known of them—particularly since it is evident from the size of the vessel that it is not a recent development with them, as it is with us. Since the green system is close to the center of the Galaxy, it seems reasonable, as a working hypothesis, to assume that they are from some system far from the center, perhaps close to the outer edge. They are very evidently of a high degree of intelligence. They are also highly treacherous and merciless...."

"Why?" asked Dorothy, who was listening eagerly.

"I deduce those characteristics from their unprovoked attack upon peaceful ships, vastly smaller and supposedly of inferior armament; and also from the nature of that attack. This vessel is probably a scout or an exploring ship, since it seems to be alone. It is not altogether beyond the bounds of reason to imagine it upon a voyage of discovery, in search of new planets to be subjugated and colonized...."

"That's a sweet picture of our future neighbors—but I guess you're hitting the old nail on the head, at that."

"If these deductions are anywhere nearly correct, they are terrible neighbors. For my next point, are we justified in assuming that they do or do not know about the zone of force?"

"That's a hard one. Knowing what they evidently do know, it's hard to see how they could have missed it. And yet, if they had known about it for a long time, wouldn't they be able to get through it? Of course it may be a real and total barrier in the ether—in that case they'd know that they couldn't do a thing as long as we keep it on. Take your choice, but I believe that they know about it, and know more than we do—that it is a total barrier set up in the ether."

"I agree with you, and we shall proceed upon that assumption. They know, then, that neither they nor we can do anything as long as we maintain the zone—that it is a stalemate. They also know that it takes an enormous amount of power to keep the zone in place. Now we have gone as far as we can go upon the meager data we have—considerably farther than we really are justified in going. We must now try to come to some conclusion concerning their present activities. If our ideas as to their natures are even approximately correct, they are waiting, probably fairly close at hand, until we shall be compelled to release the zone, no matter how long that period of waiting shall be. They know, of course, from our small size, that we cannot carry enough copper to maintain it indefinitely, as they could. Does that sound reasonable?"

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