A Powerful Novel of Intrigue and Action in the Not-So-Distant Future
CLIFFORD D. SIMAK
A Complete ORIGINAL Book, UNABRIDGED
WORLD EDITIONS, INC. 105 WEST 40TH STREET NEW YORK 18, NEW YORK
Copyright 1951 by WORLD EDITIONS, INC.
PRINTED IN THE U.S.A.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and typographical errors have been corrected without note.
Spencer Chambers frowned at the spacegram on the desk before him. John Moore Mallory. That was the man who had caused so much trouble in the Jovian elections. The troublemaker who had shouted for an investigation of Interplanetary Power. The man who had said that Spencer Chambers and Interplanetary Power were waging economic war against the people of the Solar System.
Chambers smiled. With long, well-kept fingers, he rubbed his iron-gray mustache.
John Moore Mallory was right; for that reason, he was a dangerous man. Prison was the place for him, but probably a prison outside the Jovian confederacy. Perhaps one of the prison ships that plied to the edge of the System, clear to the orbit of Pluto. Or would the prison on Mercury be better?
Spencer Chambers leaned back in his chair and matched his fingertips, staring at them, frowning again.
Mercury was a hard place. A man's life wasn't worth much there. Working in the power plants, where the Sun poured out its flaming blast of heat, and radiations sucked the energy from one's body, in six months, a year at most, any man was finished.
Chambers shook his head. Not Mercury. He had nothing against Mallory. He had never met the man but he rather liked him. Mallory was just a man fighting for a principle, the same as Chambers was doing.
He was sorry that it had been necessary to put Mallory in prison. If the man only had listened to reason, had accepted the proposals that had been made, or just had dropped out of sight until the Jovian elections were over ... or at least had moderated his charges. But when he had attempted to reveal the offers, which he termed bribery, something had to be done.
Ludwig Stutsman had handled that part of it. Brilliant fellow, this Stutsman, but as mean a human as ever walked on two legs. A man utterly without mercy, entirely without principle. A man who would stoop to any depth. But a useful man, a good one to have around to do the dirty work. And dirty work sometimes was necessary.
Chambers picked up the spacegram again and studied it. Stutsman, out on Callisto now, had sent it. He was doing a good job out there. The Jovian confederacy, less than one Earth year under Interplanetary domination, was still half rebellious, still angry at being forced to turn over its government to the hand-picked officials of Chambers' company. An iron heel was needed and Stutsman was that iron heel.
* * * * *
So the people on the Jovian satellites wanted the release of John Moore Mallory. "They're getting ugly," the spacegram said. It had been a mistake to confine Mallory to Callisto. Stutsman should have thought of that.
Chambers would instruct Stutsman to remove Mallory from the Callisto prison, place him on one of the prison ships. Give instructions to the captain to make things comfortable for him. When this furor had blown over, after things had quieted down in the Jovian confederacy, it might be possible to release Mallory. After all, the man wasn't really guilty of any crime. It was a shame that he should be imprisoned when racketeering rats like Scorio went scot-free right here in New York.
A buzzer purred softly and Chambers reached out to press a stud.
"Dr. Craven to see you," his secretary said. "You asked to see him, Mr. Chambers."
"All right," said Chambers. "Send him right in."
He clicked the stud again, picked up his pen, wrote out a spacegram to Stutsman, and signed it.
Dr. Herbert Craven stood just inside the door, his black suit wrinkled and untidy, his sparse sandy hair standing on end.
"You sent for me," he said sourly.
"Sit down, Doctor," invited Chambers.
* * * * *
Craven sat down. He peered at Chambers through thick-lensed glasses.
"I haven't much time," he declared acidly.
"Cigar?" Chambers offered.
"A drink, then?"
"You know I don't drink," snapped Craven.
"Doctor," said Chambers, "you're the least sociable man I've ever known. What do you do to enjoy yourself?"
"I work," said Craven. "I find it interesting."
"You must. You even begrudge the time it takes to talk with me."
"I won't deny it. What do you want this time?"
Chambers swung about to face him squarely across the desk. There was a cold look in the financier's gray eyes and his lips were grim.
"Craven," he said, "I don't trust you. I've never trusted you. Probably that's no news to you."
"You don't trust anyone," countered Craven. "You're watching everybody all the time."
"You sold me a gadget I didn't need five years ago," said Chambers. "You outfoxed me and I don't hold it against you. In fact, it almost made me admire you. Because of that I put you under a contract, one that you and all the lawyers in hell can't break, because someday you'll find something valuable, and when you do, I want it. A million a year is a high price to pay to protect myself against you, but I think it's worth it. If I didn't think so, I'd have turned you over to Stutsman long ago. Stutsman knows how to handle men like you."
"You mean," said Craven, "that you've found I'm working on something I haven't reported to you."
"That's exactly it."
"You'll get a report when I have something to report. Not before."
"That's all right," said Chambers. "I just wanted you to know."
Craven got to his feet slowly. "These talks with you are so refreshing," he remarked.
"We'll have to have them oftener," said Chambers.
Craven banged the door as he went out.
Chambers stared after him. A queer man, the most astute scientific mind anywhere, but not a man to be trusted.
* * * * *
The president of Interplanetary Power rose from his chair and walked to the window. Below spread the roaring inferno of New York, greatest city in the Solar System, a strange place of queer beauty and weighty materialism, dreamlike in its super-skyscraper construction, but utilitarian in its purpose, for it was a port of many planets.
The afternoon sunlight slanted through the window, softening the iron-gray hair of the man who stood there. His shoulders almost blocked the window, for he had the body of a fighting man, one, moreover, in good condition. His short-clipped mustache rode with an air of dignity above his thin, rugged mouth.
His eyes looked out on the city, but did not see it. Through his brain went the vision of a dream that was coming true. His dream spun its fragile net about the planets of the Solar System, about their moons, about every single foot of planetary ground where men had gone to build and create a second homeland—the mines of Mercury and the farms of Venus, the pleasure-lands of Mars and the mighty domed cities on the moons of Jupiter, the moons of Saturn and the great, cold laboratories of Pluto.
Power was the key, supplied by the accumulators owned and rented by Interplanetary Power. A monopoly of power. Power that Venus and Mercury had too much of, must sell on the market, and that the other planets and satellites needed. Power to drive huge spaceships across the void, to turn the wheels of industry, to heat the domes on colder worlds. Power to make possible the life and functioning of mankind on hostile worlds.
In the great power plants of Mercury and Venus, the accumulators were charged and then shipped out to those other worlds where power was needed. Accumulators were rented, never sold. Because they belonged at all times to Interplanetary Power, they literally held the fate of all the planets in their cells.
A few accumulators were manufactured and sold by other smaller companies, but they were few and the price was high. Interplanetary saw to that. When the cry of monopoly was raised, Interplanetary could point to these other manufacturers as proof that there was no restraint of trade. Under the statute no monopoly could be charged, but the cost of manufacturing accumulators alone was protection against serious competition from anyone.
Upon a satisfactory, efficient power-storage device rested the success or failure of space travel itself. That device and the power it stored were for sale by Interplanetary ... and, to all practical purposes, by Interplanetary only.
Accordingly, year after year, Interplanetary had tightened its grip upon the Solar System. Mercury was virtually owned by the company. Mars and Venus were little more than puppet states. And now the government of the Jovian confederacy was in the hands of men who acknowledged Spencer Chambers as their master. On Earth the agents and the lobbyists representing Interplanetary swarmed in every capital, even in the capital of the Central European Federation, whose people were dominated by an absolute dictatorship. For even Central Europe needed accumulators.
"Economic dictatorship," said Spencer Chambers to himself. "That's what John Moore Mallory called it." Well, why not? Such a dictatorship would insure the best business brains at the heads of the governments, would give the Solar System a business administration, would guard against the mistakes of popular government.
Democracies were based on a false presumption—the theory that all people were fit to rule. It granted intelligence where there was no intelligence. It presumed ability where there was not the slightest trace of any. It gave the idiot the same political standing as the wise man, the crackpot the same political opportunity as the man of well-grounded common sense, the weakling the same voice as the strong man. It was government by emotion rather than by judgment.
* * * * *
Spencer Chambers' face took on stern lines. There was no softness left now. The late afternoon sunlight painted angles and threw shadows and created highlights that made him look almost like a granite mask on a solid granite body.
There was no room for Mallory's nonsense in a dynamic, expanding civilization. No reason to kill him—even he might have value under certain circumstances, and no really efficient executive destroys value—but he had to be out of the way where his mob-rousing tongue could do no damage. The damned fool! What good would his idiotic idealism do him on a prison spaceship?
Russell Page squinted thoughtful eyes at the thing he had created—a transparent cloud, a visible, sharply outlined cloud of something. It was visible as a piece of glass is visible, as a globe of water is visible. There it lay, within his apparatus, a thing that shouldn't be.
"I believe we have something there, Harry," he said slowly.
Harry Wilson sucked at the cigarette that drooped from the corner of his mouth, blew twin streams of smoke from his nostrils. His eyes twitched nervously.
"Yeah," he said. "Anti-entropy."
"All of that," said Russell Page. "Perhaps a whole lot more."
"It stops all energy change," said Wilson, "as if time stood still and things remained exactly as they were when time had stopped."
"It's more than that," Page declared. "It conserves not only energy in toto, not only the energy of the whole, but the energy of the part. It is perfectly transparent, yet it has refractive qualities. It won't absorb light because to do so would change its energy content. In that field, whatever is hot stays hot, whatever is cold can't gain heat."
He scraped his hand over a week's growth of beard, considering. From his pocket he took a pipe and a leather pouch. Thoughtfully he filled the pipe and lit it.
It had started with his experiments in Force Field 348, an experiment to observe the effects of heating a conductor in that field. It had been impossible to heat the conductor electrically, for that would have upset the field, changed it, twisted it into something else. So he had used a Bunsen burner.
Through half-closed eyes, he still could see that slender strand of imperm wire, how its silvery length had turned to red under the blue flame. Deep red at first and then brighter until it flamed in almost white-hot incandescence. And all the while the humming of the transformer as the force field built up. The humming of the transformer and the muted roaring of the burner and the glowing heat in the length of wire.
Something had happened then ... an awesome something. A weird wrench as if some greater power, some greater law had taken hold. A glove of force, invisible, but somehow sensed, had closed about the wire and flame. Instantly the roaring of the burner changed in tone; an odor of gas spewed out of the vents at its base. Something had cut off the flow of flame in the brass tube. Some force, something ...
The flame was a transparent cloud. The blue and red of flame and hot wire had changed, in the whiplash of a second, to a refractive but transparent cloud that hung there within the apparatus.
* * * * *
The red color had vanished from the wire as the blue had vanished from the flame. The wire was shining. It wasn't silvery; it wasn't white. There was no hint of color, just a refractive blur that told him the wire was there. Colorless reflection. And that meant perfect reflection! The most perfect reflectors reflect little more than 98 per cent of the light incident and the absorption of the two per cent colors those reflectors as copper or gold or chromium. But the imperm wire within that force field that had been flame a moment before, was reflecting all light.
He had cut the wire with a pair of shears and it had still hung, unsupported, in the air, unchanging within the shimmer that constituted something no man had ever seen before.
"You can't put energy in," said Page, talking to himself, chewing the bit of his pipe. "You can't take energy out. It's still as hot as it was at the moment the change came. But it can't radiate any of that heat. It can't radiate any kind of energy."
Why, even the wire was reflective, so that it couldn't absorb energy and thus disturb the balance that existed within that bit of space. Not only energy itself was preserved, but the very form of energy.
But why? That was the question that hammered at him. Why? Before he could go ahead, he had to know why.
Perhaps the verging of the field toward Field 349? Somewhere in between those two fields of force, somewhere within that almost non-existent borderline which separated them, he might find the secret.
Rising to his feet, he knocked out his pipe.
"Harry," he announced, "we have work to do."
Smoke drooled from Wilson's nostrils.
"Yeah," he said.
Page had a sudden urge to lash out and hit the man. That eternal drooling of smoke out of his nostrils, that everlasting cigarette dangling limply from one corner of his mouth, the shifty eyes, the dirty fingernails, got on his nerves.
But Wilson was a mechanical genius. His hands were clever despite the dirty nails. They could fashion pinhead cameras and three-gram electroscopes or balances capable of measuring the pressure of electronic impacts. As a laboratory assistant he was unbeatable. If only he wouldn't answer every statement or question with that nerve-racking 'yeah'!
Page stopped in front of a smaller room, enclosed by heavy quartz. Inside that room was the great bank of mercury-vapor rectifiers. From them lashed a blue-green glare that splashed against his face and shoulders, painting him in angry, garish color. The glass guarded him from the terrific blast of ultra-violet light that flared from the pool of shimmering molten metal, a terrible emanation that would have flayed a man's skin from his body within the space of seconds.
* * * * *
The scientist squinted his eyes against the glare. There was something in it that caught him with a deadly fascination. The personification of power—the incredibly intense spot of incandescent vapor, the tiny sphere of blue-green fire, the spinning surge of that shining pool, the intense glare of ionization.
Power ... the breath of modern mankind, the pulse of progress.
In an adjacent room were the accumulators. Not Interplanetary accumulators, which he would have had to rent, but ones he had bought from a small manufacturer who turned out only ten or fifteen thousand a year ... not enough to bother Interplanetary.
Gregory Manning had made it possible for him to buy those accumulators. Manning had made many things possible in this little laboratory hidden deep within the heart of the Sierras, many miles from any other habitation.
Manning's grandfather, Jackson Manning, had first generated the curvature field and overcome gravity, had left his grandson a fortune that approached the five-billion mark. But that had not been all. From his famous ancestor, Manning had inherited a keen, sharp, scientific mind. From his mother's father, Anthony Barret, he had gained an astute business sense. But unlike his maternal grandfather, he had not turned his attention entirely to business. Old Man Barret had virtually ruled Wall Street for almost a generation, had become a financial myth linked with keen business sense, with an uncanny ability to handle men and money. But his grandson, Gregory Manning, had become known to the world in a different way. For while he had inherited scientific ability from one side of the family, financial sense from the other, he likewise had inherited from some other ancestor—perhaps remote and unknown—a wanderlust that had taken him to the farthest outposts of the Solar System.
* * * * *
It was Gregory Manning who had financed and headed the rescue expedition which took the first Pluto flight off that dark icebox of a world when the exploration ship had crashed. It was he who had piloted home the winning ship in the Jupiter derby, sending his bulleting craft screaming around the mighty planet in a time which set a Solar record. It was Gregory Manning who had entered the Venusian swamps and brought back, alive, the mystery lizard that had been reported there. And he was the one who had flown the serum to Mercury when the lives of ten thousand men depended upon the thrumming engines that drove the shining ship inward toward the Sun.
Russell Page had known him since college days. They had worked out their experiments together in the school laboratories, had spent long hours arguing and wondering ... debating scientific theories. Both had loved the same girl, both had lost her, and together they had been bitter over it ... drowning their bitterness in a three-day drunk that made campus history.
After graduation Gregory Manning had gone on to world fame, had roamed over the face of every planet except Jupiter and Saturn, had visited every inhabited moon, had climbed Lunar mountains, penetrated Venusian swamps, crossed Martian deserts, driven by a need to see and experience that would not let him rest. Russell Page had sunk into obscurity, had buried himself in scientific research, coming more and more to aim his effort at the discovery of a new source of power ... power that would be cheap, that would destroy the threat of Interplanetary dictatorship.
Page turned away from the rectifier room.
"Maybe I'll have something to show Greg soon," he told himself. "Maybe, after all these years...."
* * * * *
Forty minutes after Page put through the call to Chicago, Gregory Manning arrived. The scientist, watching for him from the tiny lawn that surrounded the combined home and laboratory, saw his plane bullet into sight, scream down toward the little field and make a perfect landing.
Hurrying toward the plane as Gregory stepped out of it, Russell noted that his friend looked the same as ever, though it had been a year or more since he had seen him. The thing that was discomfiting about Greg was his apparently enduring youthfulness.
He was clad in jodhpurs and boots and an old tweed coat, with a brilliant blue stock at his throat. He waved a hand in greeting and hurried forward. Russ heard the grating of his boots across the gravel of the walk.
Greg's face was bleak; it always was. A clean, smooth face, hard, with something stern about the eyes.
His grip almost crushed Russ's hand, but his tone was crisp. "You sounded excited, Russ."
"I have a right to be," said the scientist. "I think I have found something at last."
"Atomic power?" asked Manning. There was no flutter of excitement in his voice, just a little hardening of the lines about his eyes, a little tensing of the muscles in his cheeks.
Russ shook his head. "Not atomic energy. If it's anything, it's material energy, the secret of the energy of matter."
They halted before two lawn chairs.
"Let's sit down here," invited Russ. "I can tell it to you out here, show it to you afterward. It isn't often I can be outdoors."
"It is a fine place," said Greg. "I can smell the pines."
The laboratory perched on a ledge of rugged rock, nearly 7,000 feet above sea level. Before them the land swept down in jagged ruggedness to a valley far below, where a stream flashed in the noonday sun. Beyond climbed pine-clad slopes and far in the distance gleamed shimmering spires of snow-capped peaks.
From his leather jacket Russ hauled forth his pipe and tobacco, lighted up.
"It was this way," he said. Leaning back comfortably he outlined the first experiment. Manning listened intently.
"Now comes the funny part," Russ added. "I had hopes before, but I believe this is what put me on the right track. I took a metal rod, a welding rod, you know. I pushed it into that solidified force field, if that is what you'd call it ... although that doesn't describe it. The rod went in. Took a lot of pushing, but it went in. And though the field seemed entirely transparent, you couldn't see the rod, even after I had pushed enough of it in so it should have come out the other side. It was as if it hadn't entered the sphere of force at all. As if I were just telescoping the rod and its density were increasing as I pushed, like pushing it back into itself, but that, of course, wouldn't have been possible."
He paused and puffed at his pipe, his eyes fixed on the snowy peaks far in the purple distance. Manning waited.
"Finally the rod came out," Russ went on. "Mind you, it came out, even after I would have sworn, if I had relied alone upon my eyes, that it hadn't entered the sphere at all. But it came out ninety degrees removed from its point of entry!"
"Wait a second," said Manning. "This doesn't check. Did you do it more than once?"
"I did it a dozen times and the results were the same each time. But you haven't heard the half of it. When I pulled that rod out—yes, I could pull it out—it was a good two inches shorter than when I had pushed it in. I couldn't believe that part of it. It was even harder to believe than that the rod should come out ninety degrees from its point of entry. I measured the rods after that and made sure. Kept an accurate record. Every single one of them lost approximately two inches by being shoved into the sphere. Every single one of them repeated the phenomenon of curving within the sphere to come out somewhere else than where I had inserted them."
* * * * *
"Any explanation of it?" asked Manning, and now there was a cold chill of excitement in his voice.
"Theories, no real explanations. Remember that you can't see the rod after you push it into the sphere. It's just as if it isn't there. Well, maybe it isn't. You can't disturb anything within that sphere or you'd change the sum of potential-kinetic-pressure energies within it. The sphere seems dedicated to that one thing ... it cannot change. If the rod struck the imperm wire within the field, it would press the wire down, would use up energy, decrease the potential energy. So the rod simply had to miss it somehow. I believe it moved into some higher plane of existence and went around. And in doing that it had to turn so many corners, so many fourth-dimensional corners, that the length was used up. Or maybe it was increased in density. I'm not sure. Perhaps no one will ever know."
"Why didn't you tell me about this sooner?" demanded Manning. "I should have been out here helping you. Maybe I wouldn't be much good, but I might have helped."
"You'll have your chance," Russ told him. "We're just starting. I wanted to be sure I had something before I troubled you. I tried other things with that first sphere. I found that metal pushed through the sphere will conduct an electrical current, which is pretty definite proof that the metal isn't within the sphere at all. Glass can be forced through it without breaking. Not flexible glass, but rods of plain old brittle glass. It turns without breaking, and it also loses some of its length. Water can be forced through a tube inserted in the sphere, but only when terrific pressure is applied. What that proves I can't even begin to guess."
"You said you experimented on the first sphere," said Manning. "Have you made others?"
Russ rose from his chair.
"Come on in, Greg," he said, and there was a grin on his face. "I have something you'll have to see to appreciate."
* * * * *
The apparatus was heavier and larger than the first in which Russ had created the sphere of energy. Fed by a powerful accumulator battery, five power leads were aimed at it, centered in the space between four great copper blocks.
Russ's hand went out to the switch that controlled the power. Suddenly the power beams flamed, changed from a dull glow into an intense, almost intolerable brilliance. A dull grumble of power climbed up to a steady wail.
The beams had changed color, were bluish now, the typical color of ionized air. They were just power beams, meeting at a common center, but somehow they were queer, too, for though they were capable of slashing far out into space, they were stopped dead. Their might was pouring into a common center and going no farther. A splash of intensely glowing light rested over them, then began to rotate slowly as a motor somewhere hummed softly, cutting through the mad roar and rumble of power that surged through the laboratory.
The glowing light was spinning more swiftly now. A rotating field was being established. The power beams began to wink, falling and rising in intensity. The sphere seemed to grow, almost filling the space between the copper blocks. It touched one and rebounded slightly toward another. It extended, increased slightly. A terrible screaming ripped through the room, drowning out the titanic din as the spinning sphere came in contact with the copper blocks, as force and metal resulted in weird friction.
With a shocking wrench the beams went dead, the scream cut off, the roar was gone. A terrifying silence fell upon the room as soon as the suddenly thunking relays opened automatically.
* * * * *
The sphere was gone! In its place was a tenuous refraction that told where it had been. That and a thin layer of perfectly reflective copper ... colorless now, but Manning knew it was copper, for it represented the continuation of the great copper blocks.
His mind felt as if it were racing in neutral, getting nowhere. Within that sphere was the total energy that had been poured out by five gigantic beams, turned on full, for almost a minute's time. Compressed energy! Energy enough to blast these mountains down to the primal rock were it released instantly. Energy trapped and held by virtue of some peculiarity of that little borderline between Force Fields 348 and 349.
Russ walked across the room to a small electric truck with rubber caterpillar treads, driven by a bank of portable accumulators. Skillfully the scientist maneuvered it over to the other side of the room, picked up a steel bar four inches in diameter and five feet long. Holding it by the handler's magnetic crane, he fixed it firmly in the armlike jaws on the front of the machine, then moved the machine into a position straddling the sphere of force.
With smashing momentum the iron jaws thrust downward, driving the steel bar into the sphere. There was a groaning crash as the handler came to a halt, shuddering, with only eight inches of the bar buried in the sphere. The stench of hot insulation filled the room while the electric motor throbbed, the rubber treads creaked, the machine groaned and strained, but the bar would go no farther.
Russ shut off the machine and stood back.
"That gives you an idea," he said grimly.
"The trick now," Greg said, "is to break down the field."
Without a word, Russ reached for the power controls. A sudden roar of thunderous fury and the beams leaped at the sphere ... but this time the sphere did not materialize again. Again the wrench shuddered through the laboratory, a wrench that seemed to distort space and time.
Then, as abruptly as it had come, it was gone. But when it ended, something gigantic and incomprehensibly powerful seemed to rush soundlessly by ... something that was felt and sensed. It was like a great noiseless, breathless wind in the dead of night that rushed by them and through them, all about them in space and died slowly away.
But the vanished steel did not reappear with the disappearance of the sphere and the draining away of power. Almost grotesquely now, the handler stood poised above the place where the sphere had been and in its jaws it held the bar. But the end of the bar, the eight inches that had been within the sphere, was gone. It had been sliced off so sharply that it left a highly reflective concave mirror on the severed surface.
"Where is it?" demanded Manning. "In that higher dimension?"
Russ shook his head. "You noticed that rushing sensation? That may have been the energy of matter rushing into some other space. It may be the key to the energy of matter!"
Gregory Manning stared at the bar. "I'm staying with you, Russ. I'm seeing this thing through."
"I knew you would," said Russ.
Triumph flamed briefly in Manning's eyes. "And when we finish, we'll have something that will break Interplanetary. We'll smash their stranglehold on the Solar System." He stopped and looked at Page. "Lord, Russ," he whispered, "do you realize what we'll have?"
"I think I do, Greg," the scientist answered soberly. "Material energy engines. Power so cheap that you won't be able to give it away. More power than anybody could ever need."
Russ hunched over the keyboard set in the control room of the Comet and stared down at the keys. The equation was set and ready. All he had to do was tap that key and they would know, beyond all argument, whether or not they had dipped into the awful heart of material energy; whether, finally, they held in their grasp the key to the release of energy that would give the System power to spare.
His glance lifted from the keyboard, looked out the observation port. Through the inkiness of space ran a faint blue thread, a tiny line that stretched from the ship and away until it was lost in the darkness of the void.
One hundred thousand miles away, that thread touched the surface of a steel ball bearing ... a speck in the immensity of space.
He thought about that little beam of blue. It took power to do that, power to hold a beam tight and strong and steady through the stress of one hundred thousand miles. But it had to be that far away ... and they had that power. From the bowels of the ship came the deep purr of it, the angry, silky song of mighty engines throttled down.
He heard Harry Wilson shuffling impatiently behind him, smelled the acrid smoke that floated from the tip of Wilson's cigarette.
"Might as well punch that key, Russ," said Manning's cool voice. "We have to find out sooner or later."
Russ's finger hovered over the key, steadied and held. When he punched that key, if everything worked right, the energy in the tiny ball bearing would be released instantaneously. The energy of a piece of steel, weighing less than an ounce. Over that tight beam of blue would flash the impulse of destruction....
His fingers plunged down.
Space flamed in front of them. For just an instant the void seemed filled with an angry, bursting fire that lapped with hungry tongues of cold, blue light toward the distant planets. A flare so intense that it was visible on the Jovian worlds, three hundred million miles away. It lighted the night-side of Earth, blotting out the stars and Moon, sending astronomers scurrying for their telescopes, rating foot-high streamers in the night editions.
Slowly Russ turned around and faced his friend.
"We have it, Greg," he said. "We really have it. We've tested the control formulas all along the line. We know what we can do."
"We don't know it all yet," declared Greg. "We know we can make it work, but I have a feeling we haven't more than skimmed the surface possibilities."
* * * * *
Russ sank into a chair and stared about the room. They knew they could generate alternating current of any frequency they chose by use of a special collector apparatus. They could release radiant energy in almost any quantity they desired, in any wave-length, from the longest radio to the incredibly hard cosmics. The electrical power they could measure accurately and easily by simple voltmeters and ammeters. But radiant energy was another thing. When it passed all hitherto known bonds, it would simply fuse any instrument they might use to measure it.
But they knew the power they generated. In one split second they had burst the energy bonds of a tiny bit of steel and that energy had glared briefly more hotly than the Sun.
"Greg," he said, "it isn't often you can say that any event was the beginning of a new era. You can with this—the era of unlimited power. It kind of scares me."
Up until a hundred years ago coal and oil and oxygen had been the main power sources, but with the dwindling of the supply of coal and oil, man had sought another way. He had turned back to the old dream of snatching power direct from the Sun. In the year 2048 Patterson had perfected the photo-cell. Then the Alexanderson accumulators made it possible to pump the life-blood of power to the far reaches of the System, and on Mercury and Venus, and to a lesser extent on Earth, great accumulator power plants had sprung up, with Interplanetary, under the driving genius of Spencer Chambers, gaining control of the market.
The photo-cell and the accumulator had spurred interplanetary trade and settlement. Until it had been possible to store Sun-power for the driving of spaceships and for shipment to the outer planets, ships had been driven by rocket fuel, and the struggling colonies on the outer worlds had fought a bitter battle without the aid of ready power.
Coal and oil there were in plenty on the outer worlds, but one other essential was lacking ... oxygen. Coal on Mars, for instance, had to burned under synthetic air pressures, like the old carburetor. The result was inefficiency. A lot of coal burned, not enough power delivered.
Even the photo-cells were inefficient when attempts were made to operate them beyond the Earth; that was the maximum distance for maximum Solar efficiency.
Russ dug into the pocket of his faded, scuffed leather jacket and hauled forth pipe and pouch. Thoughtfully he tamped the tobacco into the bowl.
"Three months," he said. "Three months of damn hard work."
"Yeah," agreed Wilson, "we sure have worked."
Wilson's face was haggard, his eyes red. He blew smoke through his nostrils.
"When we get back, how about us taking a little vacation?" he asked.
Russ laughed. "You can if you want to. Greg and I are keeping on."
"We can't waste time," Manning said. "Spencer Chambers may get wind of this. He'd move all hell to stop us."
Wilson spat out his cigarette. "Why don't you patent what you have? That would protect you."
* * * * *
Russ grinned, but it was a sour one.
"No use," said Greg. "Chambers would tie us up in a mile of legal red tape. It would be just like walking up and handing it to him."
"You guys go ahead and work," Wilson stated. "I'm taking a vacation. Three months is too damn long to stay out in a spaceship."
"It doesn't seem long to me," said Greg, his tone cold and sharp.
No, thought Russ, it hadn't seemed long. Perhaps the hours had been rough, the work hard, but he hadn't noticed. Sleep and food had come in snatches. For three months they had worked in space, not daring to carry out their experiments on Earth ... frankly afraid of the thing they had.
He glanced at Manning.
The three months had left no mark upon him, no hint of fatigue or strain. Russ understood now how Manning had done the things he did. The man was all steel and flame. Nothing could touch him.
"We still have a lot to do," said Manning.
Russ leaned back and puffed at his pipe.
Yes, there was a lot to do. Transmission problems, for instance. To conduct away such terrific power as they knew they were capable of developing would require copper or silver bars as thick as a man's thigh, and even so at voltages capable of jumping a two-foot spark gap.
Obviously, a small machine such as they now had would be impractical. No matter how perfectly it might be insulated, the atmosphere itself would not be an insulator, with power such as this. And if one tried to deliver the energy as a mechanical rotation of a shaft, what shaft could transmit it safely and under control?
"Oh, hell," Russ burst out, "let's get back to Earth."
* * * * *
Harry Wilson watched the couple alight from the aero-taxi, walk up the broad steps and pass through the magic portals of the Martian Club. He could imagine what the club was like, the deference of the management, the exotic atmosphere of the dining room, the excellence of the long, cold drinks served at the bar. Mysterious drinks concocted of ingredients harvested in the jungles of Venus, spiced with produce from the irrigated gardens of Mars.
He puffed on the dangling cigarette and shuffled on along the airy highwalk. Below and above him, all around him flowed the beauty and the glamor, the bravery and the splendor of New York. The city's song was in his ears, the surging noises that were its voice.
Two thousand feet above his head reared giant pinnacles of shining metal, glinting in the noonday sun, architecture that bore the alien stamp of other worlds.
Wilson turned around, stared at the Martian Club. A man needed money to pass through those doors, to taste the drinks that slid across its bar, to sit and watch its floor shows, to hear the music of its orchestras.
For a moment he stood, hesitating, as if he were trying to make up his mind. He flipped away the cigarette, turned on his heel, walked briskly to the automatic elevator which would take him to the lower levels.
There, on the third level, he entered a Mecho restaurant, sat down at a table and ordered from the robot waiter, pushing ivory-tipped buttons on the menu before him.
He ate leisurely, smoked ferociously, thinking. Looking at his watch, he saw that it was nearly two o'clock. He walked to the cashier machine, inserted the metallic check with the correct change and received from the clicking, chuckling register the disk that would let him out the door.
"Thank you, come again," the cashier-robot fluted.
"Don't mention it," growled Wilson.
Outside the restaurant he walked briskly. Ten blocks away he came to a building roofing four square blocks. Over the massive doorway, set into the beryllium steel, was a map of the Solar System, a map that served as a cosmic clock, tracing the movement of the planets as they swung in their long arcs around the Sun. The Solar System was straddled by glowing, golden letters. They read: INTERPLANETARY BUILDING.
It was from here that Spencer Chambers ruled his empire built on power.
Wilson went inside.
The new apparatus was set up, a machine that almost filled the laboratory ... a giant, compact mass of heavy, solidly built metal work, tied together by beams of girderlike construction. It was meant to stand up under the hammering of unimaginable power, the stress of unknown spatial factors.
Slowly, carefully, Russell Page tapped keys on the control board, setting up an equation. Sucking thoughtfully at his pipe, he checked and rechecked them.
Harry Wilson regarded him through squinted eyes.
"What the hell is going to happen now?" he asked.
"We'll have to wait and see," Russ answered. "We know what we want to happen, what we hope will happen, but we never can be sure. We are working with conditions that are entirely new."
Sitting beside a table littered with papers, staring at the gigantic machine before him, Gregory Manning said slowly: "That thing simply has to adapt itself to spaceship drive. There's everything there that's needed for space propulsion. Unlimited power from a minimum of fuel. Split-second efficiency. Entire independence of any set condition, because the stuff creates its own conditions."
He slowly wagged his head.
"The secret is some place along the line," he declared. "I feel that we must be getting close to it."
Russ walked from the control board to the table, picked up a sheaf of papers and leafed through them. He selected a handful and shook them in his fist.
"I thought I had it here," he said. "My math must have been wrong, some factor that I didn't include in the equation."
"You'll keep finding factors for some time yet," Greg prophesied.
"Repulsion would have been the answer," said Russ bitterly. "And the Lord knows we have it. Plenty of it."
"Too much," observed Wilson, smoke drooling from his nostrils.
"Not too much," corrected Greg. "Inefficient control. You jump at conclusions, Wilson."
"The math didn't show that progressive action," said Russ. "It showed repulsion, negative gravity that could be built up until it would shoot the ship outside the Solar System within an hour's time. Faster than light. We don't know how many times faster."
"Forget it," advised Greg. "The way it stands, it's useless. You get repulsion by progressive steps. A series of squares with one constant factor. It wouldn't be any good for space travel. Imagine trying to use it on a spaceship. You'd start with a terrific jolt. The acceleration would fade and just when you were recovering from the first jolt, you'd get a second one and that second one would iron you out. A spaceship couldn't take it, let alone a human body."
* * * * *
"Maybe this will do it," said Wilson hopefully.
"Maybe," agreed Russ. "Anyhow we'll try it. Equation 578."
"It might do the trick," said Greg. "It's a new approach to the gravity angle. The equation explains the shifting of gravitational lines, the changing and contortion of their direction. Twist gravity and you have a perfect space drive. As good as negative gravity. Better, perhaps, more easily controlled. Would make for more delicate, precise handling."
Russ laid down the sheaf of papers, lit his pipe and walked to the apparatus.
"Here goes," he said.
His hand went out to the power lever, eased it in. With a roar the material energy engine built within the apparatus surged into action, sending a flow of power through the massive leads. The thunder mounted in the room. The laboratory seemed to shudder with the impact.
Wilson, watching intently, cried out, a brief, choked-off cry. A wave of dizziness engulfed him. The walls seemed to be falling in. The room and the machine were blurring. Russ, at the controls, seemed horribly disjointed. Manning was a caricature of a man, a weird, strange figure that moved and gestured in the mad room.
Wilson fought against the dizziness. He tried to take a step and the floor seemed to leap up and meet his outstretched foot, throwing him off balance. His cigarette fell out of his mouth, rolled along the floor.
Russ was shouting something, but the words were distorted, loud one instant, rising over the din of the apparatus, a mere whisper the next. They made no sense.
There was a peculiar whistling in the air, a sound such as he had never heard before. It seemed to come from far away, a high, thin shriek that was torture in one's ears.
Giddy, seized with deathly nausea, Wilson clawed his way across the floor, swung open the laboratory door and stumbled outdoors. He weaved across the lawn and clung to a sun dial, panting.
He looked back at the laboratory and gasped in disbelief. All the trees were bent toward the building, as if held by some mighty wind. Their branches straining, every single leaf standing at rigid attention, the trees were bending in toward the structure. But there was no wind.
And then he noticed something else. No matter where the trees stood, no matter in what direction from the laboratory, they all bent inward toward the building ... and the whining, thundering, shrieking machine.
Inside the laboratory an empty bottle crashed off a table and smashed into a thousand fragments. The tinkling of the broken glass was a silvery, momentary sound that protested against the blasting thrum of power that shook the walls.
Manning fought along the floor to Russ's side. Russ roared in his ear: "Gravitational control! Concentration of gravitational lines!"
The papers on the desk started to slide, slithering onto the floor, danced a crazy dervish across the room. Liquids in the laboratory bottles were climbing the sides of glass, instead of lying at rest parallel with the floor. A chair skated, bucking and tipping crazily, toward the door.
* * * * *
Russ jerked the power lever back to zero. The power hum died. The liquids slid back to their natural level, the chair tipped over and lay still, papers fluttered gently downward.
The two men looked at one another across the few feet of floor space between them. Russ wiped beads of perspiration from his forehead with his shirt sleeve. He sucked on his pipe, but it was dead.
"Greg," Russ said jubilantly, "we have something better than anti-gravity! We have something you might call positive gravity ... gravity that we can control. Your grandfather nullified gravity. We've gone him one better."
Greg gestured toward the machine. "You created an attraction center. What else?"
"But the center itself is not actually an attracting force. The fourth dimension is mixed up in this. We have a sort of fourth-dimensional lens that concentrates the lines of any gravitational force. Concentration in the fourth dimension turns the force loose in three dimensions, but we can take care of that by using mirrors of our anti-entropy. We can arrange it so that it turns the force loose in only one dimension."
Greg was thoughtful for a moment. "We can guide a ship by a series of lenses," he declared at last. "But here's the really important thing. That field concentrates the forces of gravity already present. Those forces exist throughout all of space. There are gravitational lines everywhere. We can concentrate them in any direction we want to. In reality, we fall toward the body which originally caused the force of gravitation, not to the concentration."
* * * * *
Russ nodded. "That means we can create a field immediately ahead of the ship. The ship would fall into it constantly, with the concentration moving on ahead. The field would tend to break down in proportion to the strain imposed and a big ship, especially when you are building up speed, would tend to enlarge it, open it up. But the field could be kept tight by supplying energy and we have plenty of that ... far more than we'd ever need. We supply the energy, but that's only a small part of it. The body emitting the gravitational force supplies the fulcrum that moves us along."
"It would operate beyond the planets," said Greg. "It would operate equally well anywhere in space, for all of space is filled with gravitational stress. We could use gravitational bodies many light years away as the driver of our ships."
A half-wild light glowed momentarily in his eyes.
"Russ," he said, "we're going to put space fields to work at last."
He walked to the chair, picked it up and sat down in it.
"We'll start building a ship," he stated, "just as soon as we know the mechanics of this gravity concentration and control. Russ, we'll build the greatest ship, the fastest ship, the most powerful ship the Solar System has ever known!"
* * * * *
"Damn," said Russ, "that thing's slipped again."
He glared at the offending nut. "I'll put a lock washer on it this time."
Wilson stepped toward the control board. From his perch on the apparatus, Russ motioned him away.
"Never mind discharging the field," he said. "I can get around it somehow."
Wilson squinted at him. "This tooth is near killing me."
"Still got a toothache?" asked Russ.
"Never got a wink of sleep last night."
"You better run down to Frisco and have it yanked out," suggested the scientist. "Can't have you laid up."
"Yeah, that's right," agreed Wilson. "Maybe I will. We got a lot to do."
Russ reached out and clamped his wrench on the nut, quickly backed it off and slipped on the washer. Viciously he tightened it home. The wrench stuck.
Gritting his teeth on the bit of his pipe, Russ cursed soundlessly. He yanked savagely at the wrench. It slipped from his hand, hung for a minute on the nut and then plunged downward, falling straight into the heart of the new force field they had developed.
Russ froze and watched, his heart in his throat, mad thoughts in his brain. In a flash, as the wrench fell, he remembered that they knew nothing about this field. All they knew was that any matter introduced in it suddenly acquired an acceleration in the dimension known as time, with its normal constant of duration reduced to zero.
When that wrench struck the field, it would cease to exist! But something else might happen, too, something entirely unguessable.
The wrench fell only a few feet, but it seemed to take long seconds as Russ watched, frozen in fascination.
He saw it strike the hazy glow that defined the limits of the field, saw it floating down, as if its speed had been slowed by some dense medium.
In the instant that hazy glow intensified a thousand times—became a blinding sun-burst! Russ ducked his head, shielded his eyes from the terrible blast of light. A rending, shuddering thud seemed to echo ... in space rather than in air ... and both field and wrench were gone!
A moment passed, then another, and there was the heavy, solid clanging thud of something striking metal. This time the thud was not in space, but a commonplace noise, as if someone had dropped a tool on the floor above.
Russ turned around and stared at Wilson. Wilson stared back, his mouth hanging open, the smoldering, cigarette dangling from his mouth.
"Greg!" Russ shouted, his cry shattering the silence in the laboratory.
A door burst open and Manning stepped into the main laboratory room, a calculation pad in one hand, a pencil in the other.
"What's the matter?" he demanded.
"We have to find my wrench!"
"Your wrench?" Greg was puzzled. "Can't you get another?"
"I dropped it into the field. Its time-dimension was reduced to zero. It became an 'instantaneous wrench'."
"Nothing new in that," said Greg, unruffled.
"But there is," persisted Russ. "The field collapsed, you see. Maybe the wrench was too big for it to handle. And when the field collapsed the wrench gained a new time-dimension. I heard it. We have to find it."
The three of them pounded up the stairs to the room where Russ had heard the thump. There was nothing on the floor. They searched the room from end to end, then the other rooms. There was no wrench.
At the end of an hour Greg went back to the main laboratory, brought back a portable fluoroscope.
"Maybe this will do the trick," he announced bleakly.
* * * * *
It did. They found the wrench inside the space between the walls!
Russ stared at the shadow in the fluoroscope plate. Undeniably it was the shadow of the wrench.
"Fourth dimension," he said. "Transported in time."
The muscles in Greg's cheeks were tensed, that old flame of excitement burning in his eyes, but otherwise his face was the mask of old, the calm, almost terrible mask that had faced a thousand dangers.
"Power and time," he corrected.
"If we can control it," said Russ.
"Don't worry. We can control it. And when we can, it's the biggest thing we've got."
Wilson licked his lips, dredged a cigarette out of a pocket.
"If you don't mind," he said, "I'll hit for Frisco tonight. This tooth of mine is getting worse."
"Sure, can't keep an aching tooth," agreed Russ, thinking of the wrench while talking.
"Can I take your ship?" asked Wilson.
"Sure," said Russ.
Back in the laboratory they rebuilt the field, dropped little ball bearings in it. The ball bearings disappeared. They found them everywhere—in the walls, in tables, in the floor. Some, still existing in their new time-dimension, hung in mid-air, invisible, intangible, but there.
Hours followed hours, with the sheet of data growing. Math machines whirred and chuckled and clicked. Wilson departed for San Francisco with his aching tooth. The other two worked on. By dawn they knew what they were doing. Out of the chaos of happenstance they were finding rules of order, certain formulas of behavior, equations of force.
The next day they tried heavier, more complicated things and learned still more.
A radiogram, phoned from the nearest spaceport, forty miles distant, informed them that Wilson would not be back for a few days. His tooth was worse than he had thought, required an operation and treatment of the jaw.
"Hell," said Russ, "just when he could be so much help."
With Wilson gone the two of them tackled the controlling device, labored and swore over it. But finally it was completed.
Slumped in chairs, utterly exhausted, they looked proudly at it.
"With that," said Russ, "we can take an object and transport it any place we want. Not only that, we can pick up any object from an indefinite distance and bring it to us."
"What a thing for a lazy burglar," Greg observed sourly.
Worn out, they gulped sandwiches and scalding coffee, tumbled into bed.
* * * * *
The outdoor camp meeting was in full swing. The evangelist was in his top form. The sinners' bench was crowded. Then suddenly, as the evangelist paused for a moment's silence before he drove home an important point, the music came. Music from the air. Music from somewhere in the sky. The soft, heavenly music of a hymn. As if an angels' chorus were singing in the blue.
The evangelist froze, one arm pointing upward, with index finger ready to sweep down and emphasize his point. The sinners kneeling at the bench were petrified. The congregation was astounded.
The hymn rolled on, punctuated, backgrounded by deep celestial organ notes. The clear voice of the choir swept high to a bell-like note.
"Behold!" shrieked the evangelist. "Behold, a miracle! Angels singing for us! Kneel! Kneel and pray!"
* * * * *
Andy McIntyre was drunk again. In the piteous glare of mid-morning, he staggered homeward from the poker party in the back of Steve Abram's harness shop. The light revealed him to the scorn of the entire village.
At the corner of Elm and Third he ran into a maple tree. Uncertainly he backed away, intent on making another try. Suddenly the tree spoke to him:
"Alcohol is the scourge of mankind. It turns men into beasts. It robs them of their brains, it shortens their lives ..."
Andy stared, unable to believe what he heard. The tree, he had no doubt, was talking to him personally.
The voice of the tree went on: "... takes the bread out of the mouths of women and children. Fosters crime. Weakens the moral fiber of the nation."
"Stop!" screamed Andy. "Stop, I tell you!"
The tree stopped talking. All he could hear was the whisper of wind among its autumn-tinted leaves.
Suddenly running, Andy darted around the corner, headed home.
"Begad," he told himself, "when trees start talkin' to you it's time to lay off the bottle!"
* * * * *
In another town fifty miles distant from the one in which the tree had talked to Andy McIntyre, another miracle happened that same Sunday morning.
Dozens of people heard the bronze statue of the soldier in the courtyard speak. The statue did not come to life. It stood as ever, a solid piece of golden bronze, in spots turned black and green by weather. But from its lips came words ... words that burned themselves into the souls of those who heard. Words that exhorted them to defend the principles for which many men had died, to grasp and hold high the torch of democracy and liberty.
In somber bitterness, the statue called Spencer Chambers the greatest threat to that liberty and freedom. For, the statue said, Spencer Chambers and Interplanetary Power were waging an economic war, a bloodless one, but just as truly war as if there were cannons firing and bombs exploding.
For a full five minutes the statue spoke and the crowd, growing by the minute, stood dumbfounded.
Then silence fell over the courtyard. The statue stood as before, unmoving, its timeless eyes staring out from under the ugly helmet, its hands gripping the bayoneted rifle. A blue and white pigeon fluttered softly down, alighted on the bayonet, looked the crowd over and then flew to the courthouse tower.
* * * * *
Back in the laboratory, Russ looked at Greg.
"That radio trick gives me an idea," he said. "If we can put a radio in statues and trees without interfering with its operation, why can't we do the same thing with a television set?"
Greg started. "Think of the possibilities of that!" he burst out.
Within an hour a complete television sending apparatus was placed within the field and a receptor screen set up in the laboratory.
The two moved chairs in front of the screen and sat down. Russ reached out and pulled the switch of the field control. The screen came to life, but it was only a gray blur.
"It's traveling too fast," said Greg. "Slow it down."
Russ retarded the lever. "When that thing's on full, it's almost instantaneous. It travels in a time dimension and any speed slower than instantaneity is a modification of that force field."
On the screen swam a panorama of the mountains, mile after mile of snow-capped peaks and valleys ablaze with the flames of autumn foliage. The mountains faded away. There was desert now and then a city. Russ dropped the televisor set lower, down into a street. For half an hour they sat comfortably in their chairs and watched men and women walking, witnessed one dog fight, cruised slowly up and down, looking into windows of homes, window-shopping in the business section.
"There's just one thing wrong," said Greg. "We can see everything, but we can't hear a sound."
"We can fix that," Russ told him.
He lifted the televisor set from the streets, brought it back across the desert and mountains into the laboratory.
"We have two practical applications now," said Greg. "Space drive and television spying. I don't know which is the best. Do you realize that with this television trick there isn't a thing that can be hidden from us?"
"I believe we can go to Mars or Mercury or anywhere we want to with this thing. It doesn't seem to have any particular limits. It handles perfectly. You can move it a fraction of an inch as easily as a hundred miles. And it's fast. Almost instantaneous. Not quite, for even with our acceleration within time, there is a slight lag."
By evening they had an audio apparatus incorporated in the set, had wired the screen for sound.
"Let's put this to practical use," suggested Greg. "There's a show at the New Mercury Theater in New York I've been wanting to see. Let's knock off work and take in that show."
"Now," said Russ, "you really have an idea. The ticket scalpers are charging a fortune, and it won't cost us a cent to get in!"
Pine roots burned brightly in the fireplace, snapping and sizzling as the blaze caught and flamed on the resin. Deep in an easy chair, Greg Manning stretched his long legs out toward the fire and lifted his glass, squinting at the flames through the amber drink.
"There's something that's been worrying me a little," he said. "I hadn't told you about it because I figured it wasn't as serious as it looked. Maybe it isn't, but it looks funny."
"What's that?" asked Russ.
"The stock market," replied Greg. "There's something devilish funny going on there. I've lost about a billion dollars in the last two weeks."
"A billion dollars?" gasped Russ.
Greg swirled the whiskey in his glass. "Don't sound so horrified. The loss is all on paper. My stocks have gone down. Most of them cut in half. Some even less than that. Martian Irrigation is down to 75. I paid 185 for it. It's worth 200."
"You mean something has happened to the market?"
"Not to the market. If that was it, I wouldn't worry. I've seen the market go up and down. That's nothing to worry about. But the market, except for a slight depression, has behaved normally in these past two weeks. It almost looks as if somebody was out to get me."
"Who'd want to and why?"
Greg sighed. "I wish I knew. I haven't really lost a cent, of course. My shares can't stay down for very long. The thing is that right now I can't sell them even for what I paid for them. If I sold now I'd lose that billion. But as long as I don't have to sell, the loss is merely on paper."
He sipped at the drink and stared into the fire.
"If you don't have to, what are you worrying about?" asked Russ.
"Couple of things. I put that stock up as collateral to get the cash to build the spaceship. At present prices, it will take more securities than I thought. If the prices continue to go down, I'll have the bulk of my holdings tied up in the spaceship. I might even be forced to liquidate some of it and that would mean an actual loss."
He hunched forward in the chair, stared at Russ.
"Another thing," he said grimly, "is that I hate the idea of somebody singling me out as a target. As if they were going to make a financial example of me."
"And it sounds as if someone has," agreed Russ.
Greg leaned back again, drained his glass and set it down.
"It certainly does," he said.
Outside, seen through the window beside the fireplace, the harvest moon was a shield of silver hung in the velvet of the sky. A lonesome wind moaned in the pines and under the eaves.
"I got a report from Belgium the other day," said Greg. "The spaceship is coming along. It'll be the biggest thing afloat in space."
"The biggest and the toughest," said Russ, and Greg nodded silent agreement.
The ship itself was being manufactured at the great Space Works in Belgium, but other parts of it, apparatus, engines, gadgets of every description, were being manufactured at other widely scattered points. Anyone wondering what kind of ship the finished product would be would have a hard time gathering the correct information, which, of course, was the idea. The "anyone" they were guarding against was Spencer Chambers.
* * * * *
"We need a better television set," said Russ. "This one we have is all right, but we need the best there is. I wonder if Wilson could get us one in Frisco and bring it back."
"I don't see why not," said Greg. "Send him a radio."
Russ stepped to the phone, called the spaceport and filed the message.
"He always stays at the Greater Martian," he told Greg. "We'll probably catch him there."
* * * * *
Two hours later the phone rang. It was the spaceport.
"That message you sent to Wilson," said the voice of the operator, "can't be delivered. Wilson isn't at the Greater Martian. The clerk said he checked out for New York last night."
"Didn't he leave a forwarding address?" asked Russ.
Russ hung up the receiver, frowning. "Wilson is in New York."
Greg looked up from a sheet of calculations.
"New York, eh?" he said and then went back to work, but a moment later he straightened from his work. "What would Wilson be doing in New York?"
"I wonder ..." Russ stopped and shook his head.
"Exactly," said Greg. He glanced out of the window, considering, the muscles in his cheeks knotting. "Russ, we both are thinking the same thing."
"I hate to think it," said Russ evenly. "I hate to think such a thing about a man."
"One way to find out," declared Greg. He rose from the chair and walked to the television control board, snapped the switch. Russ took a chair beside him. On the screen the mountains danced weirdly as the set rocketed swiftly away and then came the glint of red and yellow desert. Blackness blanked out the screen as the set plunged into the ground, passing through the curvature of the Earth's surface. The blackness passed and fields and farms were beneath them on the screen, a green and brown checkerboard with tiny white lines that were roads.
New York was in the screen now. Greg's hand moved the control and the city rushed up at them, the spires speeding toward them like plunging spears. Down into the canyons plunged the set, down into the financial district with its beetling buildings that hemmed in the roaring traffic.
Grimly, surely, Greg drove his strange machine through New York. Through buildings, through shimmering planes, through men. Like an arrow the television set sped to its mark and then Greg's hand snapped back the lever and in the screen was a building that covered four whole blocks. Above the entrance was the famous Solar System map and straddling the map were the gleaming golden letters: INTERPLANETARY BUILDING.
"Now we'll see," said Greg.
He heard the whistle of the breath in Russ's nostrils as the television set began to move, saw the tight grip Russ had upon the chair arms.
The interior of the building showed on the screen as he drove the set through steel and stone, offices and corridors and brief glimpses of steel partitions, until it came to a door marked: SPENCER CHAMBERS, PRESIDENT.
Greg's hand twisted the control slightly and the set went through the door, into the office of Spencer Chambers.
Four men were in the room—Chambers himself; Craven, the scientist; Arnold Grant, head of Interplanetary's publicity department, and Harry Wilson!
Wilson's voice came out of the screen, a frantic, almost terrified voice.
"I've told you all I know. I'm not a scientist. I'm a mechanic. I've told you what they're doing. I can't tell you how they do it."
Arnold Grant leaned forward in his chair. His face was twisted in fury.
"There were plans, weren't there?" he demanded. "There were equations and formulas. Why didn't you bring us some of them?"
Spencer Chambers raised a hand from the desk, waved it toward Grant. "The man has told us all he knows. Obviously, he can't be any more help to us."
"You told him to go back and see if he couldn't find something else, didn't you?" asked Grant.
"Yes, I did," Chambers told him. "But apparently he couldn't find it."
"I tried," pleaded Wilson. Perspiration stood out on his forehead. The cigarette in his mouth was limp and dead. "One of them was always there. I never could get hold of any papers. I asked questions, but they were too busy to answer. And I couldn't ask too much, because then they would have suspected me."
"No, you couldn't do that," commented Craven with an open sneer.
* * * * *
In the laboratory Russ pounded the arm of his chair with a clenched fist. "The rat sold us out!"
Greg said nothing, but his face was stony and his eyes were crystal-hard.
On the screen Chambers was speaking to Wilson. "Do you think you could find something out if you went back again?"
Wilson squirmed in his chair.
"I'd rather not." His voice sounded like a whimper. "I'm afraid they suspect me now. I'm afraid of what they'd do if they found out."
"That's his conscience," breathed Russ in the laboratory. "I never suspected him."
"He's right about one thing, though," Greg said. "He'd better not come back."
Chambers was talking again: "You realize, of course, that you haven't been much help to us. You have only warned us that another kind of power generation is being developed. You've set us on our guard, but other than that we're no better off than we were before."
Wilson bristled, like a cowardly animal backed into a corner. "I told you what was going on. You can be ready for it now. I can't help it if I couldn't find out how all them things worked."
"Look here," said Chambers. "I made a bargain with you and I keep my bargains. I told you I would pay you twenty thousand dollars for the information you gave me when you first came to see me. I told you I'd pay you for any further additional information you might give. Also I promised you a job with the company."
Watching the financier, Wilson licked his lips. "That's right," he said.
Chambers reached out and pulled a checkbook toward him, lifted a pen from its holder. "I'm paying you the twenty thousand for the warning. I'm not paying you a dime more, because you gave me no other information."
Wilson leaped to his feet, started to protest.
"Sit down," said Chambers coldly.
"But the job! You said you'd give me a job!"
Chambers shook his head. "I wouldn't have a man like you in my organization. If you were a traitor to one man, you would be to another."
"But ... but ..." Wilson started to object and then sat down, his face twisted in something that came very close to fear.
Chambers ripped the check out of the book, waved it slowly in the air to dry it. Then he arose and held it out to Wilson, who reached out a trembling hand and took it.
"And now," said Chambers, "good day, Mr. Wilson."
For a moment Wilson stood uncertain, as if he intended to speak, but finally he turned, without a word, and walked through the door.
* * * * *
In the laboratory Russ and Greg looked at one another.
"Twenty thousand," said Greg. "Why, that was worth millions."
"It was worth everything Chambers had," said Russ, "because it's the thing that's going to wreck him."
Their attention snapped back to the screen.
Chambers was hunched over his desk, addressing the other two.
"Now, gentlemen," he asked, "what are we to do?"
Craven shrugged his shoulders. There was a puzzled frown in the eyes back of the thick-lensed glasses. "We haven't much to go on. Wilson doesn't know a thing about it. He hasn't the brain to grasp even the most fundamental ideas back of the whole thing."
Chambers nodded. "The man knew the mechanical setup perfectly, but that was all."
"I've constructed the apparatus," said Craven. "It's astoundingly simple. Almost too simple to do the things Wilson said it would do. He drew plans for it, so clear that it was easy to duplicate the apparatus. He himself checked the machine and says it is the same as Page and Manning have. But there are thousands of possible combinations for hookups and control board settings. Too many to try to go through and hit upon the right answer. Because, you see, one slight adjustment in any one of a hundred adjustments might do the trick ... but which of those adjustments do you have to make? We have to have the formulas, the equations, before we can even move."
"He seemed to remember a few things," said Grant hopefully. "Certain rules and formulas."
Craven flipped both his hands angrily. "Worse than nothing," he exploded. "What Page and Manning have done is so far in advance of anything that anyone else has even thought about that we are completely at sea. They're working with space fields, apparently, and we haven't even scratched the surface in that branch of investigation. We simply haven't got a thing to go on."
* * * * *
"No chance at all?" asked Chambers.
Craven shook his head slowly.
"At least you could try," snapped Grant.
"Now, wait," Chambers snapped back. "You seem to forget Dr. Craven is one of the best scientists in the world today. I'm relying on him."
Craven smiled. "I can't do anything with what Page and Manning have, but I might try something of my own."
"By all means do so," urged Chambers. He turned to Grant. "I observed you have carried out the plans we laid. Martian Irrigation hit a new low today."
Grant grinned. "It was easy. Just a hint here and there to the right people."
Chambers looked down at his hands, slowly closing into fists. "We have to stop them some way, any way at all. Keep up the rumors. We'll make it impossible for Greg Manning to finance this new invention. We'll take away every last dollar he has."
He glared at the publicity man. "You understand?"
"Yes, sir," said Grant, "I understand perfectly."
"All right," said Chambers. "And your job, Craven, is to either develop what Page has found or find something we can use in competition."
Craven growled angrily. "What happens if your damn rumors can't ruin Manning? What if I can't find anything?"
"In that case," said Chambers, "there are other ways."
Chambers suddenly smiled at them. "I have a notion to call Stutsman back to Earth."
Craven drummed his fingers idly on the arm of his chair. "Yes, I guess you do have other ways," he said.
* * * * *
Greg's hand snapped the switch and the screen suddenly was blank as the televisor set returned instantly to the laboratory.
"That explains a lot of things," he said. "Among them what has happened to my stocks."
Russ sat in his chair, numbed. "That little weak-kneed, ratting traitor, Wilson. He'd sell his mother for a new ten-dollar bill."
"We know," said Greg, "and Chambers doesn't know we know. We'll follow every move he makes. We'll know every one of his plans."
Pacing up and down the room, he was already planning their campaign.
"There are still a few things to do," he added. "A few possibilities we may have overlooked."
"But will we have time?" asked Russ.
"I think so. Chambers is going to go slow. The gamble is too big to risk any slip. He doesn't want to get in bad with the law. There won't be any strong-arm stuff ... not until he recalls Stutsman from Callisto."
He paused in mid-stride, stood planted solidly on the floor.
"When Stutsman gets into the game," he said, "all hell will break loose."
He took a deep breath.
"But we'll be ready for it then!"
"If we can get television reception with this apparatus of ours," asked Greg, "what is to prevent us from televising? Why can't we send as well as receive?"
Russ drew doodles on a calculation sheet. "We could. Just something else to work out. You must remember we're working in a four-dimensional medium. That would complicate matters a little. Not like working in three dimensions alone. It would ..."
He stopped. The pencil fell from his finger and he swung around slowly to face Manning.
"What's the matter now?" asked Greg.
"Look," said Russ excitedly. "We're working in four dimensions. And if we televised through four dimensions, what would we get?"
Greg wrinkled his brow. Suddenly his face relaxed. "You don't mean we can televise in three dimensions, do you?"
"That's what it should work out to," declared Russ. He swung back to the table again, picked up his pencil and jotted down equations. He looked up from the sheet. "Three-dimensional television!" he almost whispered.
"Something new again," commented Greg.
"I'll say it's new!"
Russ reached out and jerked a calculator toward him. Rapidly he set up the equations, pressed the tabulator lever. The machine gurgled and chuckled, clicked out the result. Bending over to read it, Russ sucked in his breath.
"It's working out right," he said.
"That'll mean new equipment, lots of it," Greg pointed out. "Wilson's gone, damn him. Who's going to help us?"
"We'll do it ourselves," said Russ. "When we're the only ones here, we can be sure there won't be any leak."
It took hours of work on the math machines, but at the end of that time Russ was certain of his ground.
"Now we go to work," he said, gleefully.
In a week's time they had built a triple televisor, but simplifications of the standard commercial set gave them a mechanism that weighed little more and was far more efficient and accurate.
During the time the work went on they maintained a watch over both the office of Spencer Chambers and the laboratory in which Dr. Herbert Craven worked 16 hours a day. Unseen, unsuspected, they were silent companions of the two men during many hours. They read what the men wrote, read what was written to them, heard what they said, saw how they acted. Doing so, the pair in the high mountain laboratory gained a deep insight into the characters of unsuspecting quarries.
"Both utterly ruthless," declared Greg. "But apparently men who are sincere in thinking that the spoils belong to the strong. Strange, almost outdated men. You can't help but like Chambers. He's good enough at heart. He has his pet charities. He really, I believe, wants to help the people. And I think he actually believes the best way to do it is to gain a dictatorship over the Solar System. That ambition rules everything in his life. It has hardened him and strengthened him. He will crush ruthlessly, without a single qualm, anything that stands in his path. That's why we'll have a fight on our hands."
* * * * *
Craven seemed to be making little progress. They could only guess at what he was trying to develop.
"I think," said Russ, "he's working on a collector field to suck in radiant energy. If he really gets that, it will be something worth having."
For hours Craven sat, an intent, untidy, unkempt man, sunk deep in the cushions of an easy chair. His face was calm, with relaxed jaw and eyes that seemed vacant. But each time he would rouse himself from the chair to pencil new notations on the pads of paper that littered his desk. New ideas, new approaches.
The triple televisor was completed except for one thing.
"Sound isn't so easy," said Russ. "If we could only find a way to transmit it as well as light."
"Listen," said Greg, "why don't you try a condenser speaker."
"A condenser speaker?"
"Sure, the gadget developed way back in the 1920s. It hasn't been used for years to my knowledge, but it might do the trick."
Russ grinned broadly. "Hell, why didn't I think of that? Here I've been racking my brain for a new approach, a new wrinkle ... and exactly what I wanted was at hand."
"Should work," declared Greg. "Just the opposite of a condenser microphone. Instead of radiating sound waves mechanically, it radiates a changing electric field and this field becomes audible directly within the ear. Even yet no one seems to understand just how it works, but it does ... and that's good enough."
"I know," said Russ. "It really makes no sound. In other words it creates an electric field that doubles for sound. It ought to be just the thing because nothing can stop it. Metal shielding can, I guess, if it's thick enough, but it's got to be pretty damn thick."
It took time to set the mechanism up. Ready, the massive apparatus, within which glowed a larger and more powerful force field, was operated by two monstrous material energy engines. The controls were equipped with clockwork drives, designed so that the motion of the Earth could be nullified completely and automatically for work upon outlying planets.
* * * * *
Russ stood back and looked at it. "Stand in front of that screen, Greg," he said, "and we'll try it on you."
Greg stepped in front of the screen. The purr of power came on. Suddenly, materializing out of the air, came Greg's projection. Hazy and undefined at first, it rapidly assumed apparent solidity. Greg waved his arm; the image moved its arm.
Russ left the controls and walked across the laboratory to inspect the image. Examined from all sides, it looked solid. Russ walked through it and felt nothing. There was nothing there. It was just a three-dimensional image. But even from two feet away, it was as if the man himself stood there in all the actuality of flesh and blood.
"Hello, Russ," the image whispered. It held out a hand. "Glad to see you again."
Laughing, Russ thrust out his hand. It closed on nothing in mid-air, but the two men appeared to shake hands.
They tested the machine that afternoon. Their images strode above the trees, apparently walking on thin air. Gigantic replicas of Greg stood on a faraway mountain top and shouted with a thunderous voice. Smaller images, no more than two inches high, shinnied up a table leg.
Satisfied, they shut off the machine.
"That's one of the possibilities you mentioned," suggested Russ.
Greg nodded grimly.
* * * * *
An autumn gale pelted the windows with driving rain, and a wild, wet wind howled through the pines outside. The fire was leaping and flaring in the fireplace.
Deep in his chair, Russ stared into the flame and puffed at his pipe.
"The factory wants more money on the spaceship," said Greg from the other chair. "I had to put up some more shares as collateral on a new loan."
"Market still going down?" asked Russ.
"Not the market," replied Greg. "My stocks. All of them hit new lows today."
Russ dragged at the pipe thoughtfully. "I've been thinking about that stock business, Greg."
"So have I, but it doesn't seem to do much good."
"Look," said Russ slowly, "what planets have exchanges?"
"All of them except Mercury. The Jovian exchange is at Ranthoor. There's even one out at Pluto. Just mining and chemical shares listed, though."
Russ did not reply. Smoke curled up from his pipe. He was staring into the fire.
"Why do you ask?" Greg wanted to know.
"Just something stirring around in my mind. I was wondering where Chambers does most of his trading."
"Ranthoor now," said Greg. "Used to do it on Venus. The listing is larger there. But since he took over the Jovian confederacy, he switched his business to it. The transaction tax is lower. He saw to that."
"And the same shares are listed on the Callisto market as on the New York boards?"
"Naturally," said Greg, "only not as many."
Russ watched the smoke from his pipe. "How long does it take light to travel from Callisto to Earth?"
"Why, about 45 minutes, I guess. Somewhere around there." Greg sat upright. "Say, what's light got to do with this?"
"A lot," said Russ. "All commerce is based on the assumption that light is instantaneous, but it isn't. All business, anywhere throughout the Solar System, is based on Greenwich time. When a noon signal sent out from Earth reaches Mars, it's noon there, but as a matter of fact, it is actually 15 minutes or so past noon. When the same signal reaches Callisto, the correct time for the chronometer used in commerce would be noon when it is really a quarter to one. That system simplifies things. Does away with varying times. And it has worked all right so far because there has been, up to now, nothing that could go faster than light. No news can travel through space, no message, no signal can be sent at any speed greater than that. So everything has been fine."
Greg had come out of the chair, was standing on his feet, the glow of the blaze throwing his athletic figure into bold relief. That calm exterior had been stripped from him now. He was excited.
"I see what you are getting at! We have something that is almost instantaneous!"
"Almost," said Russ. "Not quite. There's a time lag somewhere. But it isn't noticeable except over vast distances."
"But it would beat ordinary light signals to Callisto. It would beat them there by almost 45 minutes."
"Almost," Russ agreed. "Maybe a split second less."
Greg strode up and down in front of the fireplace like a caged lion. "By heaven," he said, "we've got Chambers where we want him. We can beat the stock quotations to Callisto. With that advance knowledge of what the board is doing in New York, we can make back every dime I've lost. We can take Mr. Chambers to the cleaners!"
Russ grinned. "Exactly," he said. "We'll know 45 minutes in advance of the other traders what the market will be. Let's see Chambers beat that."
Ben Wrail was taking things easy. Stretched out in his chair, with his cigar lit and burning satisfactorily, he listened to a radio program broadcast from Earth.
Through the window beside him, he could look out of his skyscraper apartment over the domed city of Ranthoor. Looming in the sky, slightly distorted by the heavy quartz of the distant dome, was massive Jupiter, a scarlet ball tinged with orange and yellow. Overwhelmingly luminous, monstrously large, it filled a large portion of the visible sky, a sight that brought millions of tourists to the Jovian moons each year, a sight that even the old-timers still must stare at, drawn by some unfathomable fascination.
Ben Wrail stared at it now, puffing at his cigar, listening to the radio. An awe-inspiring thing, a looming planet that seemed almost ready to topple and crash upon this airless, frigid world.
Wrail was an old-timer. For thirty years—Earth years—he had made his home in Ranthoor. He had seen the city grow from a dinky little mining camp enclosed by a small dome to one that boasted half a million population. The dome that now covered the city was the fourth one. Four times, like the nautilus, the city had outgrown its shell, until today it was the greatest domed city in the Solar System. Where life had once been cheap and where the scum of the system had held rendezvous, he had seen Ranthoor grow into a city of dignity, capital of the Jovian confederacy.
He had helped build that confederacy, had been elected a member of the constitution commission, had helped create the government and for over a decade had helped to make its laws.
But now ... Ben Wrail spat angrily and stuffed the cigar back in his mouth again, taking a fresh and fearsome grip. Now everything had changed. The Jovian worlds today were held in bond by Spencer Chambers. The government was in the hands of his henchmen. Duly elected, of course, but in an election held under the unspoken threat that Interplanetary Power would withdraw, leaving the moons circling the great planet without heat, air, energy. For the worlds of the Jovian confederacy, every single one of them, depended for their life upon the accumulators freighted outward from the Sun.
Talk of revolt was in the air, but, lacking a leader, it would get nowhere. John Moore Mallory was imprisoned on one of the prison spaceships that plied through the Solar System. Mallory, months ago, had been secretly transferred from the Callisto prison to the spaceship, but in a week's time the secret had been spread in angry whispers. If there had been riots and bloodshed, they would have been to no purpose. For revolution, even if successful, would gain nothing. It would merely goad Interplanetary Power into withdrawing, refusing to service the domed cities on the moons.
* * * * *
Ben Wrail stirred restlessly in his chair. The cigar had gone out. The radio program blared unheard. His eyes still looked out the window without seeing Jupiter.
"Damn," said Ben Wrail. Why did he have to go and spoil an evening thinking about this damned political situation? Despite his part in the building of the confederacy, he was a businessman, not a politician. Still, it hurt to see something torn down that he had helped to build, though he knew that every pioneering strike in history had been taken over by shrewd, ruthless, powerful operators. Knowing that should have helped, but it didn't. He and the other Jovian pioneers had hoped it wouldn't happen and, of course, it had.
"Ben Wrail," said a voice in the room.
Wrail swung around, away from the window.
"Manning!" he yelled, and the man in the center of the room grinned bleakly at him. "How did you come in without me hearing you? When did you get here?"
"I'm not here," said Greg. "I'm back on Earth."
"You're what?" asked Wrail blankly. "That's a pretty silly statement, isn't it, Manning? Or did you decide to loosen up and pull a gag now and then?"
"I mean it," said Manning. "This is just an image of me. My body is back on Earth."
"You mean you're dead? You're a ghost?"
The grin widened, but the face was bleak as ever.
"No, Ben, I'm just alive as you are. Let me explain. This is a television image of me. Three-dimensional television. I can travel anywhere like this."
Wrail sat down in the chair again. "I don't suppose there'd be any use trying to shake hands with you."
"No use," agreed Manning's image. "There isn't any hand."
"Nor asking you to have a chair?"
Manning shook his head.
"Anyhow," said Wrail, "I'm damn glad to see you—or think I see you. I don't know which. Figure you can stay and talk with me a while?"
* * * * *
"Certainly," said Manning. "That is what I came for. I want to ask your help."
"Listen," declared Wrail, "you can't be on Earth, Manning. I say something to you and you answer right back. That isn't possible. You can't hear anything I say until 45 minutes after I say it, and then I'd have to wait another 45 minutes to hear your answer."
"That's right," agreed the image, "if you insist upon talking about the velocity of light. We have something better than that."
"Russell Page and myself. We have a two-way television apparatus that works almost instantaneously. To all purposes, so far as the distance between Earth and Callisto is concerned, it is instantaneous."
Wrail's jaw fell. "Well, I be damned. What have you two fellows been up to now?"
"A lot," said Manning laconically. "For one thing we are out to bust Interplanetary Power. Bust them wide open. Hear that, Wrail?"
Wrail stared in stupefaction. "Sure, I hear. But I can't believe it."
"All right then," said Manning grimly, "we'll give you proof. What could you do, Ben, if we told you what was happening on the stock market in New York ... without you having to wait the 45 minutes it takes the quotations to get here?"
Wrail sprang to his feet. "What could I do? Why, I could run the pants off every trader in the exchange! I could make a billion a minute!" He stopped and looked at the image. "But this isn't like you. This isn't the way you'd do things."
"I don't want you to hurt anyone but Chambers," said Manning. "If somebody else gets in the way, of course they have to take the rap along with him. But I do want to give Chambers a licking. That's what I came here to see you about."
"By Heaven, Greg, I'll do it," said Wrail. He stepped quickly forward, held out his hand to close the deal, and encountered only air.
Manning's image threw back its head and laughed.
"That's your proof, Ben. Good enough?"
"I'll say it is," said Wrail shakily, looking down at the solid-seeming hand that his own had gone right through.
* * * * *
November 6, 2153, was a day long remembered in financial circles throughout the Solar System. The Ranthoor market opened easy with little activity. Then a few stocks made fractional gains. Mining dropped fractionally. Martian Irrigation still was unexplainably low, as was Pluto Chemical and Asteroid Mining.
Trading through two brokers, Ben Wrail bought 10,000 shares of Venus Farms, Inc. when the market opened at 83-1/2. A few minutes later they bought 10,000 shares of Spacesuits Ltd. at 106-1/4. The farm stocks dropped off a point. Spacesuits gained a point. Then suddenly both rose. In the second hour of trading the Venus stocks had boomed a full five points and Wrail sold. Ten minutes later they sagged. At the end of the day they were off two points from the opening. In late afternoon Wrail threw his 10,000 shares of Spacesuits on the market, sold them at an even 110. Before the close they had dropped back with a gain of only half a point over the opening.
Those were only two transactions. There were others. Spaceship Fabrication climbed three points before it fell and Wrail cashed in on that. Mercury Metals rose two points and crashed back to close with a full point loss. Wrail sold just before the break. He had realized a cool half million in the day's trade.
The next day it was a million and then the man who had always been a safe trader, who had always played the conservative side of the market, apparently sure of his ground now, plunged deeper and deeper. It was uncanny. Wrail knew when to buy and when to sell. Other traders watched closely, followed his lead. He threw them off by using different brokers to disguise his transactions.
Hectic day followed hectic day. Ben Wrail did not appear on the floor. Calls to his office netted exactly nothing. Mr. Wrail was not in. So sorry.
His brokers, well paid, were close-mouthed. They bought and sold. That was all.
Seated in his office, Ben Wrail was busy watching two television screens before him. One showed the board in the New York exchange. In the other was the image of Gregory Manning, hunched in a chair in Page's mountain laboratory back on Earth. And before Greg likewise were two screens, one showing the New York exchange board, the other trained on Ben Wrail's office.
"That Tourist stuff looks good," said Greg. "Why not buy a block of it? I happen to know that Chambers owns a few shares. He'll be dabbling in it."
Ben Wrail grinned. "It's made a couple of points, hasn't it? It's selling here for 60 right now. In 45 minutes it'll be quoted at 62."
He picked up a telephone. "Buy all you can of Tourist," he said. "Right away. I'll tell you when to sell. Get rid of whatever you have in Titan Copper at 10:30."
"Better let go of your holdings of Ranthoor Dome," suggested Greg. "It's beginning to slip."
"I'll watch it," promised Ben. "It may revive."
They lapsed into silence, watching the board in New York.
"You know, Greg," said Ben finally, "I really didn't believe all this was true until I saw those credit certificates materialize on my desk."
"Simple," grunted Greg. "This thing we've got can take anything any place. I could reach out there, grab you up and have you down here in a split second."
Ben sucked his breath in between his teeth. "I'm not doubting anything any more. You sent me half a billion two days ago. It's more than doubled now."
He picked up the phone again and spoke to his broker on the other end.
"Unload Ranthoor Dome when she reaches 79."
* * * * *
The real furor came on the Ranthoor floor when Wrail cornered Titan Copper. Striking swiftly, he purchased the stock in huge blocks. The shares rocketed as the exchanges throughout the System were thrown into an uproar. Under the cover of the excitement he proceeded to corner Spacesuits Ltd. Spacesuits zoomed.
For two days the main exchanges on four worlds were in a frenzy as traders watched the shares climb swiftly. Operators representing Interplanetary Power made offerings. No takers were reported. The shares climbed.
Within one hour, however, the entire Wrail holdings in both stocks were dumped on the market. The Interplanetary Power traders, frantic over the prospect of losing control of the two important issues, bought heavily. The price plummeted.
Spencer Chambers lost three billion or more on the deal. Overnight Ben Wrail had become a billionaire many times over. Greg Manning added to his own fortune.
"We have enough," said Greg. "We've given Chambers what he had coming to him. Let's call it off."
"Glad to," agreed Ben. "It was just too damned easy."
"Be seeing you, Ben."
"I'll get down to Earth some day. Come see me when you have a minute. Drop in for an evening."
"That's an invitation," said Greg. "It's easy with this three-dimension stuff."