"Douglass--ah, you're through. Get on the trail of MacBride, and get him and his crew to work making half a dozen smaller things like this. Tell 'em they can leave off the tungsten shield. I want different metals in the receiver of each. Use--hmmm--sodium--copper--magnesium--aluminium, iron and chromium. Got it?"
"Yes, sir." He left, just as Devin returned with a large electrostatic voltmeter.
"I'd like," said he, "to know how you know the voltage will range around eighty thousand."
"K-ring excitation potential for mercury. I'm willing to bet that thing simply shoved the whole electron system of the mercury out a notch--that it simply hasn't any K-ring of electrons now. I'm trying some other metals. Douglass is going to have MacBride make up half a dozen more machines. Machines--they need a name. This--ah--this is an 'atostor.' MacBride's going to make up half a dozen of 'em, and try half a dozen metals. I'm almost certain that's not mercury in there now, at all. It's probably element 99 or something like it."
"It looks like mercury--"
"Certainly. So would 99. Following the periodic table, 99 would probably have an even lower melting point than mercury, be silvery, dense and heavy--and perhaps slightly radioactive. The series under the B family of Group II is Magnesium, Zinc, Cadmium, Mercury--and 99. The melting point is going down all the way, and they're all silvery metals. I'm going to try copper, and I fully expect it to turn silvery--in fact, to become silver."
"Then let's see." Swiftly they hooked up the apparatus, realigned the projector, and again Kendall took his place at the power-board. As he closed the switch, on no-load, the electrostatic voltmeter flopped over instantly, and steadied at just over 80,000 volts.
"I hate to say 'I told you so,'" said Kendall. "But let's hook in a load. Try it on about 100 amps first."
Devin began cutting in load. The resistors began heating up swiftly as more and more current flowed through them. By not so much as by a vibration of the voltmeter needle, did the apparatus betray any strain as the load mounted swiftly. 100--200--500--1000 amperes. Still, that needle held steady. Finally, with a drain of ten thousand amperes, all the equipment available could handle, the needle was steady as a rock, though the tremendous load of 800,000,000 watts was cut in and out. That, to atoms, atoms by the nonillions, was no appreciable load at all. There was no internal resistance whatever. The perfect accumulator had certainly been discovered.
"I'll have to call McLaurin--" Kendall hurried away with a broad, broad smile.
The telephone rattled in a peeved sort of way. "Yes, it is. What now? And when am I going to see you in a social sort of way again?"
"Not for a long, long time; I'm busy. I'm busy right now as a matter of fact. I'm calling up the vice-president of Faragaut Interplanetary Lines, and I want to place an order."
"Why bother me? We have clerks, you know, for that sort of thing," suggested Faragaut in a pained voice.
"Tom, do you know how much I'm worth now?"
"Not much," replied Faragaut promptly. "What of it? I hear, as a matter of fact that you're worth even less in a business way. They're talking quite a lot down this way about an alleged bank you're setting up on Luna. I hear it's got more protective devices, and armor than any IP station in the System, that you even had it designed by an IP designer, and have a gang of Colonels and Generals in charge. I also hear that you've succeeded in getting rid of money at about one million dollars a day--just slightly shy of that."
"You overestimate me, my friend. Much of that is merely contracted for. Actually it'll take me nearly nine months to get rid of it. And by that time I'll have more. Anyway, I think I have something like ten million left. And remember that way back in the twentieth century some old fellow beat my record. Armour, I think it was, lost a million dollars a day for a couple of months running.
"Anyway, what I called you up for was to say I'd like to order five hundred thousand tons of mercury, for delivery as soon as possible."
"What! Oh, say, I thought you were going in for business." Faragaut gave a slight laugh of relief.
"Tom, I am. I mean exactly what I say. I want five--hundred--thousand--tons of metallic mercury, and just as soon as you can get it."
"Man, there isn't that much in the system."
"I know it. Get all there is on the market for me, and contract to take all the 'Jupiter Heavy-Metals' can turn out. You send those orders through, and clean out the market completely. Somebody's about to pay for the work I've been doing, and boy, they're going to pay through the nose. After you've got that order launched, and don't make a christening party of the launching either, why just drop out here, and I'll show you why the value of mercury is going so high you won't be able to follow it in a space ship."
"The cost of that," said Faragaut, seriously now, "will be about--fifty-three million at the market price. You'd have to put up twenty-six cash, and I don't believe you've got it."
Buck laughed. "Tom, loan me a dozen million, will you? You send that order through, and then come see what I've got. I've got a break, too! Mercury's the best metal for this use--and it'll stop gamma rays too!"
"So it will--but for the love of the system, what of it?"
"Come and see--tonight. Will you send that order through?"
"I will, Buck. I hope you're right. Cash is tight now, and I'll probably have to put up nearer twenty million, when all that buying goes through. How long will it be tied up in that deal, do you think?"
"Not over three weeks. And I'll guarantee you three hundred percent--if you'll stay in with me after you start. Otherwise--I don't think making this money would be fair just now."
"I'll be out to see you in about two hours, Buck. Where are you? At the estate?" asked Faragaut seriously.
"In my lab out there. Thanks, Tom."
McLaurin was there when Tom Faragaut arrived. And General Logan, and Colonel Gerardhi. There was a restrained air of gratefulness about all of them that Tom Faragaut couldn't quite understand. He had been looking up Buck Kendall's famous bank, and more and more he had begun to wonder just what was up. The list of stockholders had read like a list of IP heroes and executives. The staff had been a list of IP men with a slender sprinkling of accountants. And the sixty-million dollar structure was to be a bank without advertising of any sort! Usually such a venture is planned and published months in advance. This had sprung up suddenly, with a strange quietness.
Almost silently, Buck Kendall led the way to the laboratory. A small metal tank was supported in a peculiar piece of apparatus, and from it led a small platinum pipe to a domed apparatus made largely of insulum. A little pool of mercury, with small red crystals floating in it rested in a shallow hollow surrounded by heavy conductors.
"That's it, Tom. I wanted to show you first what we have, and why I wanted all that mercury. Within three weeks, every man, woman and child in the system will be clamoring for mercury metal. That's the perfect accumulator." Quickly he demonstrated the machine, charging it, and then discharging it. It was better than 99.95% efficient on the charge, and was 100% efficient on the discharge.
"Physically, any metal will do. Technically, mercury is best for a number of reasons. It's a liquid. I can, and do it in this, charge a certain quantity, and then move it up to the storage tank. Charge another pool, and move it up. In discharge, I can let a stream flow in continuously if I required a steady, terrific drain of power without interruption. If I wanted it for more normal service, I'd discharge a pool, drain it, refill the receiver, and discharge a second pool. Thus, mercury is the metal to use.
"Do you see why I wanted all that metal?"
"I do, Buck--Lord, I do," gasped Faragaut. "That is the perfect power supply."
"No, confound it, it isn't. It's a secondary source. It isn't primary. We're just as limited in the supply of power as ever--only we have increased our distribution of power. Lord knows, we're going to need a power supply badly enough before long--" Buck relapsed into moody silence.
"What," asked Faragaut, looking around him, "does that mean?"
It was McLaurin who told him of the stranger ship, and Kendall's interpretation of its meaning. Slowly Faragaut grasped the meaning behind Buck's strange actions of the past months.
"The Lunar Bank," he said slowly, half to himself. "Staffed by trained IP men, experts in expert destruction. Buck, you said something about the profits of this venture. What did you mean?"
Buck smiled. "We're going to stick up IP to the extent necessary to pay for that fort--er--bank--on Luna. We'll also boost the price so that we'll make enough to pay for those ships I'm having made. The public will pay for that."
"I see. And we aren't to stick the price too high, and just make money?"
"That's the general idea."
"The IP Appropriations Board won't give you what you need, Commander, for real improvements on the IP ships?"
"They won't believe Kendall. Therefore they won't."
"What did you mean about gamma rays, Buck?"
"Mercury will stop them and the Commander here intends to have the refitted ships built so that the engine room and control room are one, and completely surrounded by the mercury tanks. The men will be protected against the gamma rays."
"Won't the rays affect the power stored in the mercury--perhaps release it?"
"We tried it out, of course, and while we can't get the intensities we expect, and can't really make any measurements of the gamma-ray energy impinging on the mercury--it seems to absorb, and store that energy!"
"What's next on the program, Buck?"
"Finish those ships I have building. And I want to do some more development work. The Stranger will return within six months now, I believe. It will take all that time, and more for real refitting of the IP ships."
"How about more forts--or banks, whichever you want to call them. Mars isn't protected."
"Mars is abandoned," replied General Logan seriously. "We haven't any too much to protect old Earth, and she must come first. Mars will, of course, be protected as best the IP ships can. But--we're expecting defeat. This isn't a case of glorious victory. It will be a case of hard won survival. We don't know anything about the enemy--except that they are capable of interstellar flights, and have atomic energy. They are evidently far ahead of us. Our battle is to survive till we learn how to conquer. For a time, at least, the Strangers will have possession of most of the planets of the system. We do not think they will be able to reach Earth, because Commander McLaurin here will withdraw his ships to Earth to protect the planet--and the great 'Lunar Bank' will display its true character."
Faragaut looked unsympathetically at Buck Kendall, as he stood glaring perplexedly at the apparatus he had been working on.
"What's the matter, Buck, won't she perk?"
"No, damn it, and it should."
"That," pointed out Faragaut, "is just what you think. Nature thinks otherwise. We generally have to abide by her opinions. What is it--or what is it meant to be?"
"Make a nice mirror. What else, and how come?"
"A mirror is just what I want. I want something that will reflect all the radiation that falls on it. No metal will, even in its range of maximum reflectivity. Aluminum goes pretty high, silver, on some ranges, a bit higher. But none of them reaches 99%. I want a perfect reflector that I can put behind a source of wild, radiant energy so I can focus it, and put it where it will do the most good."
"Ninety-nine percent. Sounds pretty good. That's better efficiency than most anything else we have, isn't it?"
"No, it isn't. The accumulator is 100% efficient on the discharge, and a good transformer, even before that, ran as high as 99.8 sometimes. They had to. If you have a transformer handling 1,000,000 horsepower, and it's even 1% inefficient, you have a heat loss of nearly 10,000 horsepower to handle. I want to use this as a destructive weapon, and if I hand the other fellow energy in distressing amounts, it's even worse at my end, because no matter how perfect a beam I work out, there will still be some spread. I can make it mighty tight though, if I make my surface a perfect parabola. But if I send a million horse, I have to handle it, and a ship can't stand several hundred thousand horsepower roaming around loose as heat, let alone the weapon itself. The thing will be worse to me than to him.
"I figured there was something worth investigating in those fields we developed on our magnetic shield work. They had to do, you know, with light, and radiant energy. There must be some reason why a metal reflects. Further, though we can't get down to the basic root of matter, the atom, yet, we can play around just about as we please with molecules and molecular forces. But it is molecular force that determines whether light and radiant energy of that caliber shall be reflected or transmitted. Take aluminum as an example. In the metallic molecule state, the metal will reflect pretty well. But volatilize it, and it becomes transparent. All gases are transparent, all metals reflective. Then the secret of perfect reflection lies at a molecular level in the organization of matter, and is within our reach. Well--this thing was supposed to make that piece of silver reflective. I missed it that time." He sighed. "I suppose I'll have to try again."
"I should think you'd use tungsten for that. If you do have a slight leak, that would handle the heat."
"No, it would hold it. Silver is a better conductor of heat. But the darned thing won't work."
"Your other scheme has." Faragaut laughed. "I came out principally for some signatures. IP wants one hundred thousand tons of mercury. I've sold most of mine already in the open market. You want to sell?"
"Certainly. And I told you my price."
"I know," sighed Faragaut. "It seems a shame though. Those IP board men would pay higher. And they're so damn tight it seems a crime not to make 'em pay up when they have to."
"The IP will need the money worse elsewhere. Where do I--oh, here?"
"Right. I'll be out again this evening. The regular group will be here?"
Kendall nodded as he signed in triplicate.
That evening, Buck had found the trouble in his apparatus, for as he well knew, the theory was right, only the practical apparatus needed changing. Before the group composed of Faragaut, McLaurin and the members of Kendall's "bank," he demonstrated it.
It was merely a small, model apparatus, with a mirror of space-strained silver that was an absolutely perfect reflector. The mirror had been ground out of a block of silver one foot deep, by four inches square, carefully annealed, and the work had all been done in a cooling bath. The result was a mirror that was so nearly a perfect paraboloid that the beam held sharp and absolutely tight for the half-mile range they tested it on. At the projector it was three and one-half inches in diameter. At the target, it was three and fifty-two one hundredths inches in diameter.
"Well, you've got the mirror, what are you going to reflect with it now?" asked McLaurin. "The greatest problem is getting a radiant source, isn't it? You can't get a temperature above about ten thousand degrees, and maintain it very long, can you?"
"Why not?" Kendall smiled.
"It'll volatilize and leave the scene of action, won't it?"
"What if it's a gaseous source already?"
"What? Just a gas-flame? That won't give you the point source you need. You're using just a spotlight here, with a Moregan Point-light. That won't give you energy, and if you use a gas-flame, the spread will be so great, that no matter how perfectly you figure your mirror, it won't beam."
"The answer is easy. Not an ordinary gas-flame--a very extra-special kind of gas-flame. Know anything about Renwright's ionization-work?"
"Renwright--he's an IP man isn't he?"
"Right. He's developed a system, which, thanks to the power we can get in that atostor, will sextuply ionize oxygen gas. Now: what does that mean?"
"Spirits of space! Concentrated essence of energy!"
"Right. And in preparation, Cole here had one made up for me. That--and something else. We'll just hook it up--"
With Devin's aid, Kendall attached the second apparatus, a larger device into which the silver block with its mirror surface fitted. With the uttermost care, the two physicists lined it up. Two projectors pointed toward each other at an angle, the base angles of a triangle, whose apex was the center of the mirror. On very low power, a soft, glowing violet light filtered out through the opening of the one, and a slight green light came from the other. But where the two streams met, an intense, violet glare built up. The center of action was not at the focus, and slowly this was lined up, till a sharp, violet beam of light reached out across the open yard to the target set up.
Buck Kendall cut off the power, and slowly got into position. "Now. Keep out from in front of that thing. Put on these glasses--and watch out." Heavy, thick-lensed orange-brown goggles were passed out, and Kendall took his place. Before him, a thick window of the same glass had been arranged, so that he might see uninterruptedly the controls at hand, and yet watch unblinded, the action of the beam.
Dully the mirror-force relay clicked. A hazy glow ran over the silver block, and died. Then--simultaneously the power was thrown from two small, compact atostors into the twin projectors. Instantly--a titanic eruption of light almost invisibly violet, spurted out in a solid, compact stream. With a roar and crash, it battered its way through the thick air, and crashed into the heavy target plate. A stream of flame and scintillating sparks erupted from the armor plate--and died as Kendall cut the beam. A white-hot area a foot across leaked down the face of the metal.
"That," said Faragaut gently, removing his goggles. "That's not a spotlight, and it's not exactly a gas-flame. But I still don't know what that blue-hot needle of destruction is. Just what do you call that tame stellar furnace of yours?"
"Not so far off, Tom," said Kendall happily, "except that even S Doradus is cold compared to that. That sends almost pure ultra-violet light--which, by the way, it is almost impossible to reflect successfully, and represents a temperature to be expressed not in thousands of degrees, nor yet in tens of thousands. I calculated the temperature would be about 750,000 degrees. What is happening is that a stream of low-voltage electrons--cathode rays--in great quantity are meeting great quantities of sextuply ionized oxygen. That means that a nucleus used to having two electrons in the K-ring, and six in the next, has had that outer six knocked off, and then has been hurled violently into free air.
"All by themselves, those sextuply ionized oxygen atoms would have a good bit to say, but they don't really begin to talk till they start roaring for those electrons I'm feeding them. At the meeting point, they grab up all they can get--probably about five--before the competition and the fierce release of energy drives them out, part-satisfied. I lose a little energy there, but not a real fraction. It's the howl they put up for the first four that counts. The electron-feed is necessary, because otherwise they'd smash on and ruin that mirror. They work practically in a perfect vacuum. That beam smashes the air out of the way. Of course, in space it would work better."
"How could it?" asked Faragaut, faintly.
"Kendall," asked McLaurin, "can we install that in the IP ships?"
"You can start." Kendall shrugged. "There isn't a lot of apparatus. I'm going to install them in my ships, and in the--bank. I suspect--we haven't a lot of time left."
"How near ready are those ships?"
"About. That's all I can say. They've been torn up a bit for installation of the atostor apparatus. Now they'll have to be changed again."
"Anything more coming?"
Buck smiled slowly. He turned directly to McLaurin and replied: "Yes--the Strangers. As to developments--I can't tell, naturally. But if they do, it will be something entirely unexpected now. You see, given one new discovery, a half-dozen will follow immediately from it. When we announced that atostor, look what happened. Renwright must have thought it was God's gift to suffering physicists. He stuck some oxygen in the thing, added some of his own stuff--and behold. The magnetic apparatus gave us directly the shield, and indirectly this mirror. Now, I seem to have reached the end for the time. I'm still trying to get that space-release for high speed--speed greater than light, that is. So far," he added bitterly, "all I've gotten as an answer is a single expression that simply means practical zero--Heisenberg's Uncertainty Expression."
"I'm uncertain as to your meaning"--McLaurin smiled--"but I take it that's nothing new."