One hundred thousand miles apart, the twin worlds Sthor and Asthor rotated about their common center of gravity, eternally facing each other. Ten million miles from their common center of gravity, Teelan rotated in a vast orbit.
Sthor and Asthor were capped at each pole now by gigantic white icecaps. Mira was sulking, and as a consequence the planets were freezing.
The expedition ship sank slowly toward Sthor. A swarm of smaller craft had flown up at its approach to meet it. A gaily-colored small ship marked the official greeting-ship. Gresth had withheld his news purposely. Now suddenly he began broadcasting it from the powerful transmitter on his ship. As the words came through on a thousand sets, all the little ships began to whirl, dance and break out into glowing, sparkling lights. On Sthor and Asthor even commotions began to be visible. A new planetary system had been found-- They could move! Their overflowing populations could be spread out!
The whole Insthor system went mad with delight as the great Expeditionary Ship settled downward.
There was a glint of humor in Buck Kendall's eyes as he passed the sheet over to McLaurin. Commander McLaurin looked down the columns with twinkling eyes.
"'Petition to establish the Lunar Mining Bank,'" he read. "What a bank! Officers: President, General James Logan, late of the IP; Vice-president, Colonel Warren Gerardhi, also late of the IP; Staff, consists of 90% ex-IP men, and a few scattered accountants. Designed by the well-known designer of IP stations, Colonel Richard Murray." Commander McLaurin looked up at Kendall with a broad grin. "And you actually got Interplanetary Life to give you a mortgage on the structure?"
"Why not? It'll cut cost fifty-eight millions, with its twelve-foot tungsten-beryllium walls and the heavy defense weapons against those terrible pirates. You know we must defend our property."
"With the thing you're setting up out there on Luna, you could more readily wipe out the IP than anything else I know of. Any new defense ideas?"
"Plenty. Did you get any further appropriations from the IP Appropriations Board?"
McLaurin looked sour. "No. The dear taxpayers might object, and those thickheaded, clogged rockets on the Board can't see your data on the Stranger. They gave me just ten millions, and that only because you demonstrated you could shoot every living thing out of the latest IP cruiser with that neutron gun of yours. By the way, they may kick when I don't install more than a few of those."
"Let 'em. You can stall for a few months. You'll need that money more for other purposes. You've installed that paraffin lining?"
"Yes--I got a report on that of 'finished' last week. How have you made out?"
Buck Kendall's face fell. "Not so hot. Devin's been the biggest help--he did most of the work on that neutron gun really--"
"After," McLaurin interrupted, "you told him how."
"--but we're pretty well stuck now, it seems. You'll be off duty tomorrow evening, can't you drop around to the lab? We're going to try out a new system for releasing atomic energy."
"Isn't that a pretty faint hope? We've been trying to get it for three centuries now, and haven't yet. What chance at it within a year or so?--which is the time you allow yourself before the Stranger returns."
"It is, I'll admit that. But there's another factor, not to be forgotten. The data we got from correlating those 'misreadings' from the various IP posts mean a lot. We are working on an entirely different trail now. You come on out, and you can see our new apparatus. They are working on tremendous voltages, and hoping to smash the thing by a brutal bombardment of terrific voltage. We're trying, thanks to the results of those instruments, to get results with small, terrifically intense fields."
"How do you know that's their general system?"
"They left traces on the records of the post instruments. These records show such intensities as we never got. They have atomic energy, necessarily, and they might have had material energy, actual destruction of matter, but apparently, from the field readings it's the former. To be able to make those tremendous hops, light-years in length, they needed a real store of energy. They have accumulators, of course, but I don't think they could store enough power by the system they use to do it."
"Well, how's your trick 'bank' out on Luna, despite its twelve-foot walls, going to stand an atomic explosion?"
"More protective devices to come is our only hope. I'm working on three trails: atomic energy, some type of magnetic shield that will stop any moving material particle, and their faster-than-light thing. Also, that fortress--I mean, of course, bank--is going to have a lot of lead-lined rooms."
"I wish I could use the remaining money the Board gave me to lead-line a lot of those IP ships," said McLaurin wistfully. "Can't you make a gamma-ray bomb of some sort?"
"Not without their atomic energy release. With it, of course, it's easy to flood a region with rays. It'll be a million times worse than radium 'C,' which is bad enough."
"Well, I'll send through this petition for armaments. They'll pass it all right, I think. They may get some kicks from old Jacob Ezra Stubbs. Jacob Ezra doesn't believe in anything war-like. I wish they'd find some way to keep him off of the Arms Petition Board. He might just as well stay home and let 'em vote his ticket uniformly 'nay.'" Buck Kendall left with a laugh.
Buck Kendall had his troubles though. When he had reached Earth again, he found that his properties totaled one hundred and three million dollars, roughly. One doesn't sell properties of that magnitude, one borrows against them. But to all intents and purposes, Buck Kendall owned two half-completed ship's hulls in the Baldwin Spaceship Yards, a great deal of massive metal work on its way to Luna, and contracts for some very extensive work on a "bank." Beyond that, about eleven million was left.
A large portion of the money had been invested in a laboratory, the like of which the world had never seen. It was devoted exclusively to physics, and principally the physics of destruction. Dr. Paul Devin was the Director, Cole was in charge of the technical work, and Buck Kendall was free to do all the work he thought needed doing.
Returned to his laboratory, he looked sourly at the bench on which seven mechanicians were working. The ninth successive experiment on the release of atomic energy had failed. The tenth was in process of construction. A heavy pure tungsten dome, three feet in diameter, three inches thick, was being lowered over a clear insulum dome, a foot smaller. Inside, the real apparatus was arranged around the little pool of mercury. From it, two massive tungsten-copper alloy conductors led through the insulum housing, and outside. These, so Kendall had hoped, would surge with the power of broken atoms, but he was beginning to believe rather bitterly, they would never do so.
Buck went on to his offices, and the main calculator room. There were ten calculator tables here, two of them in operation now.
"Hello, Devin. Getting on?"
"No," said Devin bitterly, "I'm getting off. Look at these results." He brought over a sheaf of graphs, with explanatory tables attached. Rapidly Buck ran through them with him. Most of them were graphs of functions of light, considered as a wave in these experiments.
"H-m-m-m--not very encouraging. Looks like you've got the field--but it just snaps shut on itself and won't work. The lack of volume makes it break down, if you establish it, and makes it impossible to establish in the first place without the energy of matter. Not so hot. That's certainly cock-eyed somewhere."
"I'm not. The math may be."
"Well"--Kendall grinned--"it amounts to the same thing. The point is, light doesn't. Let's run over that theory again. Light is not only magnetic; but electric. Somehow it transforms electric fields cyclically into magnetic fields and back again. Now what we want to do is to transform an electric into a magnetic field and have it stay there. That's the first step. The second thing, is to have the lines of magnetic force you develop, lie down like a sheath around the ship, instead of standing out like the hairs on an angry cat, the way they want to. That means turning them ninety degrees, and turning an electric into a magnetic field means turning the space-strain ninety degrees. Light evidently forms a magnetic field whose lines of force reach along its direction of motion, so that's your starting point."
"Yes, and that," growled Devin, "seems to be the finishing point. Quite definitely and clearly, the graph looped down to zero. In other words, the field closed in on itself, and destroyed itself."
"Light doesn't vanish."
"I'll make you all the lights you want."
"I simply mean there must be something that will stop it."
"Certainly. Transform it back to electric field before it gets a chance to close in, then repeat the process--the way light does."
"That wouldn't make such a good magnetic shield. Every time that field started pulsing out through the walls of the ship it would generate heat. We want a permanent field that will stay on the job out there. I wonder if you couldn't make a conductor device that would open that field out--some special type of oscillating field that would keep it open."
"H-m-m-m--that's an angle I might try. Any suggestions?"
Kendall had suggestions, and rapidly he outlined a development that appeared from some of the earlier mathematics on light, and might be what they wanted.
Kendall, however, had problems of his own to work on. The question of atomic energy he was leaving alone, till the present experiment either succeeded, or, as he rather suspected, failed as had its predecessors. His present problem was to develop more fully some interesting lines of research he had run across in investigating mathematically the trick of turning electric to magnetic fields and then turning them back again. It might be that along this line he would find the answer to the speed greater than that of light. At any rate, he was interested.
He worked the rest of that day, and most of the next on that line--till he ran it into the ground with a pair of equations that ended with the expression: dx.dv=h/(4[pi]m). Then Kendall looked at them for a long moment, then he sighed gently and threw them into a file cabinet. Heisenberg's Uncertainty. He'd reduced the thing to a form that simply told him it was beyond the limits of certainty and he ran it into the normal, natural uncertainty inevitable in Nature.
Anyway he had real work to do now. The machine was about ready for his attention. The mechanicians had finished putting it in shape for demonstration and trial. He himself would have to test it over the rest of the afternoon and arrange for power and so forth.
By evening, when Commander McLaurin called around with some of the other investors in Kendall's "bank" on Luna, the thing was already started, warming up. The fields were being fed and the various scientists of the group were watching with interest. Power was flowing in already at a rate of nearly one hundred thousand horsepower per minute, thanks to a special line given them by New York Power (a Kendall property). At ten o'clock they were beginning to expect the reaction to start. By this time the fields weren't gaining in intensity very rapidly, a maximum intensity had been reached that should, they felt, break the atoms soon.
At eleven-thirty, through the little view window, Buck Kendall saw something that made him cry out in amazement. The mercury metal in the receiver, behind its layers of screening was beginning to glow, with a dull reddish light, and little solidifications were appearing in it! Eagerly the men looked, as the solidifications spread slowly, like crystals growing in an evaporating solution.
Twelve o'clock came and went, and one o'clock and two o'clock. Still the slow crystallization went on. Buck Kendall was casting furtive glances at the kilowatt-hour meter. It stood at a figure that represented twenty-seven thousand dollars' worth of power. Long since the power rate had been increased to the maximum available, as the power plant's normal load reduced as the morning hours came. Surely, this time something would start, but Buck had two worries. If all the enormous amount of energy they had poured in there decided to release itself at once-- And at any rate, Buck saw they'd never dare to let a generator stop, once it was started!
The men were a tense group around the machine at three-fifteen A.M. There remained only a tiny, dancing globule of silvery mercury skittering around on the sharp, needle-like crystals of the dull red metal that had resulted. Slowly that skittering drop was shrinking-- Three twenty-two and a half A.M. saw the last fraction of it vanish. Tensely the men stared into the machine--backing off slowly--watching the meters on the board. At nearly eighty thousand volts the power had been fed into it.
The power continued to flow, and a growing halo of intense violet light appeared suddenly on those red, needle-like crystals, a swiftly expanding halo-- Without a sound, without the slightest disturbance, the halo vanished, and softly, gently, the needle-like crystals relapsed, melted away, and a dull pool of metallic mercury rested in the receiver.
At eighty thousand volts, power was flowing in-- And it didn't even sparkle.
The apparatus of the magnetic shield had been completed two days later, and set up in Buck's own laboratory. On the bench was the powerful, but small, little projector of the straight magnetic field, simply a specially designed accumulator, a super-condenser, and the peculiar apparatus Devin had designed to distort the electric field through ninety degrees to a magnetic field. Behind this was a curious, paraboloid projector made up of hundreds of tiny, carefully orientated coils. This was Buck's own contribution. They were ready for the tests.
"I would invite McLaurin in to see this," said Kendall looking at them, and then across the room bitterly toward the alleged atomic power apparatus on the opposite bench. "I think it will work. But after that--" He stared, glaring, at the heavy tungsten dome with its heavy tungsten contacts, across which the flame of released atomic energy was supposed to have leapt. "That was probably the flattest flop any experiment ever flopped."
"Well--it didn't blow up. That's one comfort," suggested Devin.
"I wish it had. Then at least it would have shown some response. The only response shown, actually, was shown on the power meter. It damn near wore out the bearings turning so fast."
"Personally, I prefer the lack of action." Devin laughed. "Have you got that circuit hooked up?"
"Right," sighed Kendall, turning back to the work in hand. "Is Douglass in on this?"
"Yes--in the next room. He'll let us know when he's ready. He's setting up those instruments."
Douglass, a young junior physicist, late of the IP Physics Department, stuck his head in the door and announced his instruments were all set up.
"Keep an eye on them. They'll move somehow, at any rate. This thing couldn't go as flat as that atom-buster of mine."
Carefully Kendall made a few last-minute adjustments on the limiting relays, and took up his position at the power board. Devin took his place near the apparatus, with another series of instruments, similar to those Douglass was now watching in the next room, some thirty feet away, through the two-inch metal wall. "Ready," called Kendall.
The switch shot home. Instantly Kendall, Devin, and all the men in the building jumped some six feet from their former positions. A monstrous roar of sound crashed out in that laboratory that thundered from one wall to the other, and bellowed in a Titan's fury. It thundered and growled, it bellowed and howled, the walls shook with the march and counter-march of crashing waves of sound.
And a ten-foot wavering flame of blue-white, bellying electric fire shuddered up to the ceiling from the contact points of the alleged atomic generator. The heat, pouring out from the flashing, roaring arc sent prickles of aching burns over Kendall's skin. For ten seconds he stood in utter, paralyzed surprise as his flop of flops bellowed its anger at his disdain. Then he leapt to the power board and shut off the roaring thing, by cutting the switch that had started it.
"Spirits of Space! Did that come to life!"
"Atomic Energy!" Devin cried.
"Atomic energy, hell. That's my thirty thousand dollars' worth of power breaking loose again," chortled Kendall. "We missed the atomic energy, but, sweet boy, what an accumulator we stubbed our toes on! I wondered where in blazes all that power went to. That's the answer. I'll bet I can tell you right now what happened. We built that mercury up to a new level, and that transitional stage was the red, crystalline metal. When it reached the higher stage, it was temporarily stable--but that projector over there that we designed for the purpose of holding open electric and magnetic fields just opened the door and let all that power right out again."
"But why isn't it atomic energy? How do you know that no more than your power that you put in is coming out?" demanded Devin.
"The arc, man, the arc. That was a high-current, and low-voltage arc. Couldn't you tell by the sound that no great voltage--as atomic voltages go--was smashing across there? If we were getting atomic voltage--and power--there'd have been a different tone to it, high and shriller.
"Now, did you take any readings?"
"What do you think, man? I'm human. Do you think I got any readings with that thing bellowing and shrieking in my ears, and burning my skin with ultra-violet? It itches now."
Kendall laughed. "You know what to do for an itch. Now, I'm going to make a bet. We had those points separated for a half-million volts discharge, but there was a dust-cover thrown over them just now. That, you notice, is missing. I'll bet that served as a starter lead for the main arc. Now I'm going to start that projector thing again, and move the points there through about six inches, and that thing probably won't start itself."
Most of the laboratory staff had collected at the doorway, looking in at the white-hot tungsten discharge points, and the now silent "atomic engine." Kendall turned to them and said: "The flop picked itself up. You go on back, we seem to be all in one piece yet. Douglass, you didn't get any readings, did you?"
Sheepishly, Douglass grinned at him. "Eh--er--no--but I tore my pants. The magnetic field grabbed me and I jumped. They had some steel buttons, and a lot of steel keys--they're kinda' hard to keep on now."
The laboratory staff broke into a roar of laughter, as Douglass, holding up his trousers with both hands was beheld.
"I guess the field worked," he said.
"I guess maybe it did," adjudged Kendall solemnly. "We have some rope here if you need it--"
Douglass returned to his post.
Swiftly, Kendall altered the atomic distortion storage apparatus, and returned to the power-board. "Ready?"
Kendall shoved home the switch. The storage device was silent. Only a slight feeling of strain made itself felt, and the sudden noisy hum of a small transformer nearby. "She works, Buck!" Devin called. "The readings check almost exactly."
"All good then. Now I want to get to that atomic thing. We can let that slide for a little bit--I'll answer it."
The telephone had rung noisily. "Kendall Labs--Kendall speaking."
"This is Superintendent Foster, of the New York Power, Mr. Kendall. We have some trouble just now that we think your operations may be responsible for. The sub-station at North Beaumont blew all the fuses, and threw the breakers at the main station. The men out there said the transformers began howling--"
"Right you are--I'm afraid I did do that. I had no idea that it would reach so far. How far is that from my place here?"
"It's about a thousand yards, according to the survey maps."
"Thanks--and I'll be careful about it. Any damage, I am responsible for? All okay?"
"Yes, sir, Mr. Kendall."
Kendall hung up. "We stirred up a lot more dust than we expected, Devin. Now let's start seeing if we can keep track of it. Douglass, how did your readings show?"
"I took them at the ten stations, and here they are. The stations are two feet apart."
"H-m-m--.5--.55--.6--.7--20--198--5950--6010--6012--5920. Very, very nice--only the darned thing's got an arm as long as the law. Your readings were about .2, Devin?"
"Then these little readings are just leakage. What's our normal intensity here?"
"About .19. Just a very small fraction less than the readings."
"Perfect--we have what amounts to a hollow shell of magnetic force--we can move inside, and you can move outside--far enough. But you can't get a conductor or a magnetic field through it." He put the readings on the bench, and looked at the apparatus across the room. "Now I want to start right on that other. Douglass, you move that magnetostat apparatus out of the way, and leave just the 'can-opener' of ours--the projector. I'm pretty sure that's what does the deed. Devin, see if you can hunt up some electrostatic voltmeters with a range in the neighborhood of--I think it'll be about eighty thousand."
Rapidly, Douglass was dismounting the apparatus, as Devin started for the stock room. Kendall started making some new connections, reconnecting the apparatus they had intended using on the "atomic engine," largely high-capacity resistances. He seemed to perform this work mechanically, his mind definitely on something else. Suddenly he stopped, and looked carefully into the receiver of the machine. The metal in it was silvery, liquid, and here and there a floating crystal of the dull red metal. Slowly a smile spread across his face. He turned to Douglass.