"They're out of the question, because of the air difficulty."
"Why not apply that idea of spring blinds--Cavorite blinds in strong steel cases--to lifting weights?"
"It wouldn't work," he insisted. "After all, to go into outer space is not so much worse, if at all, than a polar expedition. Men go on polar expeditions."
"Not business men. And besides, they get paid for polar expeditions. And if anything goes wrong there are relief parties. But this--it's just firing ourselves off the world for nothing."
"Call it prospecting."
"You'll have to call it that.... One might make a book of it perhaps," I said.
"I have no doubt there will be minerals," said Cavor.
"Oh! sulphur, ores, gold perhaps, possibly new elements."
"Cost of carriage," I said. "You know you're not a practical man. The moon's a quarter of a million miles away."
"It seems to me it wouldn't cost much to cart any weight anywhere if you packed it in a Cavorite case."
I had not thought of that. "Delivered free on head of purchaser, eh?"
"It isn't as though we were confined to the moon."
"There's Mars--clear atmosphere, novel surroundings, exhilarating sense of lightness. It might be pleasant to go there."
"Is there air on Mars?"
"Seems as though you might run it as a sanatorium. By the way, how far is Mars?"
"Two hundred million miles at present," said Cavor airily; "and you go close by the sun."
My imagination was picking itself up again. "After all," I said, "there's something in these things. There's travel--"
An extraordinary possibility came rushing into my mind. Suddenly I saw, as in a vision, the whole solar system threaded with Cavorite liners and spheres deluxe. "Rights of pre-emption," came floating into my head--planetary rights of pre-emption. I recalled the old Spanish monopoly in American gold. It wasn't as though it was just this planet or that--it was all of them. I stared at Cavor's rubicund face, and suddenly my imagination was leaping and dancing. I stood up, I walked up and down; my tongue was unloosened.
"I'm beginning to take it in," I said; "I'm beginning to take it in." The transition from doubt to enthusiasm seemed to take scarcely any time at all. "But this is tremendous!" I cried. "This is Imperial! I haven't been dreaming of this sort of thing."
Once the chill of my opposition was removed, his own pent-up excitement had play. He too got up and paced. He too gesticulated and shouted. We behaved like men inspired. We _were_ men inspired.
"We'll settle all that!" he said in answer to some incidental difficulty that had pulled me up. "We'll soon settle that! We'll start the drawings for mouldings this very night."
"We'll start them now," I responded, and we hurried off to the laboratory to begin upon this work forthwith.
I was like a child in Wonderland all that night. The dawn found us both still at work--we kept our electric light going heedless of the day. I remember now exactly how these drawings looked. I shaded and tinted while Cavor drew--smudged and haste-marked they were in every line, but wonderfully correct. We got out the orders for the steel blinds and frames we needed from that night's work, and the glass sphere was designed within a week. We gave up our afternoon conversations and our old routine altogether. We worked, and we slept and ate when we could work no longer for hunger and fatigue. Our enthusiasm infected even our three men, though they had no idea what the sphere was for. Through those days the man Gibbs gave up walking, and went everywhere, even across the room, at a sort of fussy run.
And it grew--the sphere. December passed, January--I spent a day with a broom sweeping a path through the snow from bungalow to laboratory--February, March. By the end of March the completion was in sight. In January had come a team of horses, a huge packing-case; we had our thick glass sphere now ready, and in position under the crane we had rigged to sling it into the steel shell. All the bars and blinds of the steel shell--it was not really a spherical shell, but polyhedral, with a roller blind to each facet--had arrived by February, and the lower half was bolted together. The Cavorite was half made by March, the metallic paste had gone through two of the stages in its manufacture, and we had plastered quite half of it on to the steel bars and blinds. It was astonishing how closely we kept to the lines of Cavor's first inspiration in working out the scheme. When the bolting together of the sphere was finished, he proposed to remove the rough roof of the temporary laboratory in which the work was done, and build a furnace about it. So the last stage of Cavorite making, in which the paste is heated to a dull red glow in a stream of helium, would be accomplished when it was already on the sphere.
And then we had to discuss and decide what provisions we were to take--compressed foods, concentrated essences, steel cylinders containing reserve oxygen, an arrangement for removing carbonic acid and waste from the air and restoring oxygen by means of sodium peroxide, water condensers, and so forth. I remember the little heap they made in the corner--tins, and rolls, and boxes--convincingly matter-of-fact.
It was a strenuous time, with little chance of thinking. But one day, when we were drawing near the end, an odd mood came over me. I had been bricking up the furnace all the morning, and I sat down by these possessions dead beat. Everything seemed dull and incredible.
"But look here, Cavor," I said. "After all! What's it all for?"
He smiled. "The thing now is to go."
"The moon," I reflected. "But what do you expect? I thought the moon was a dead world."
He shrugged his shoulders.
"We're going to see."
"Are we?" I said, and stared before me.
"You are tired," he remarked. "You'd better take a walk this afternoon."
"No," I said obstinately; "I'm going to finish this brickwork."
And I did, and insured myself a night of insomnia. I don't think I have ever had such a night. I had some bad times before my business collapse, but the very worst of those was sweet slumber compared to this infinity of aching wakefulness. I was suddenly in the most enormous funk at the thing we were going to do.
I do not remember before that night thinking at all of the risks we were running. Now they came like that array of spectres that once beleaguered Prague, and camped around me. The strangeness of what we were about to do, the unearthliness of it, overwhelmed me. I was like a man awakened out of pleasant dreams to the most horrible surroundings. I lay, eyes wide open, and the sphere seemed to get more flimsy and feeble, and Cavor more unreal and fantastic, and the whole enterprise madder and madder every moment.
I got out of bed and wandered about. I sat at the window and stared at the immensity of space. Between the stars was the void, the unfathomable darkness! I tried to recall the fragmentary knowledge of astronomy I had gained in my irregular reading, but it was all too vague to furnish any idea of the things we might expect. At last I got back to bed and snatched some moments of sleep--moments of nightmare rather--in which I fell and fell and fell for evermore into the abyss of the sky.
I astonished Cavor at breakfast. I told him shortly, "I'm not coming with you in the sphere."
I met all his protests with a sullen persistence. "The thing's too mad," I said, "and I won't come. The thing's too mad."
I would not go with him to the laboratory. I fretted bout my bungalow for a time, and then took hat and stick and set out alone, I knew not whither. It chanced to be a glorious morning: a warm wind and deep blue sky, the first green of spring abroad, and multitudes of birds singing. I lunched on beef and beer in a little public-house near Elham, and startled the landlord by remarking apropos of the weather, "A man who leaves the world when days of this sort are about is a fool!"
"That's what I says when I heerd on it!" said the landlord, and I found that for one poor soul at least this world had proved excessive, and there had been a throat-cutting. I went on with a new twist to my thoughts.
In the afternoon I had a pleasant sleep in a sunny place, and went on my way refreshed. I came to a comfortable-looking inn near Canterbury. It was bright with creepers, and the landlady was a clean old woman and took my eye. I found I had just enough money to pay for my lodging with her. I decided to stop the night there. She was a talkative body, and among many other particulars learnt she had never been to London. "Canterbury's as far as ever I been," she said. "I'm not one of your gad-about sort."
"How would you like a trip to the moon?" I cried.
"I never did hold with them ballooneys," she said evidently under the impression that this was a common excursion enough. "I wouldn't go up in one--not for ever so."
This struck me as being funny. After I had supped I sat on a bench by the door of the inn and gossiped with two labourers about brickmaking, and motor cars, and the cricket of last year. And in the sky a faint new crescent, blue and vague as a distant Alp, sank westward over the sun.
The next day I returned to Cavor. "I am coming," I said. "I've been a little out of order, that's all."
That was the only time I felt any serious doubt our enterprise. Nerves purely! After that I worked a little more carefully, and took a trudge for an hour every day. And at last, save for the heating in the furnace, our labours were at an end.
Inside the Sphere "Go on," said Cavor, as I sat across the edge of the manhole, and looked down into the black interior of the sphere. We two were alone. It was evening, the sun had set, and the stillness of the twilight was upon everything.
I drew my other leg inside and slid down the smooth glass to the bottom of the sphere, then turned to take the cans of food and other impedimenta from Cavor. The interior was warm, the thermometer stood at eighty, and as we should lose little or none of this by radiation, we were dressed in shoes and thin flannels. We had, however, a bundle of thick woollen clothing and several thick blankets to guard against mischance.
By Cavor's direction I placed the packages, the cylinders of oxygen, and so forth, loosely about my feet, and soon we had everything in. He walked about the roofless shed for a time seeking anything we had overlooked, and then crawled in after me. I noted something in his hand.
"What have you got there?" I asked.
"Haven't you brought anything to read?"
"Good Lord! No."
"I forgot to tell you. There are uncertainties-- The voyage may last-- We may be weeks!"
"We shall be floating in this sphere with absolutely no occupation."
"I wish I'd known--"
He peered out of the manhole. "Look!" he said. "There's something there!"
"Is there time?"
"We shall be an hour."
I looked out. It was an old number of _Tit-Bits_ that one of the men must have brought. Farther away in the corner I saw a torn _Lloyd's News_. I scrambled back into the sphere with these things. "What have you got?" I said.
I took the book from his hand and read, "The Works of William Shakespeare".
He coloured slightly. "My education has been so purely scientific--" he said apologetically.
"Never read him?"
"He knew a little, you know--in an irregular sort of way."
"Precisely what I am told," said Cavor.
I assisted him to screw in the glass cover of the manhole, and then he pressed a stud to close the corresponding blind in the outer case. The little oblong of twilight vanished. We were in darkness. For a time neither of us spoke. Although our case would not be impervious to sound, everything was very still. I perceived there was nothing to grip when the shock of our start should come, and I realised that I should be uncomfortable for want of a chair.
"Why have we no chairs?" I asked.
"I've settled all that," said Cavor. "We won't need them."
"You will see," he said, in the tone of a man who refuses to talk.
I became silent. Suddenly it had come to me clear and vivid that I was a fool to be inside that sphere. Even now, I asked myself, is to too late to withdraw? The world outside the sphere, I knew, would be cold and inhospitable enough for me--for weeks I had been living on subsidies from Cavor--but after all, would it be as cold as the infinite zero, as inhospitable as empty space? If it had not been for the appearance of cowardice, I believe that even then I should have made him let me out. But I hesitated on that score, and hesitated, and grew fretful and angry, and the time passed.
There came a little jerk, a noise like champagne being uncorked in another room, and a faint whistling sound. For just one instant I had a sense of enormous tension, a transient conviction that my feet were pressing downward with a force of countless tons. It lasted for an infinitesimal time.
But it stirred me to action. "Cavor!" I said into the darkness, "my nerve's in rags. I don't think--"
I stopped. He made no answer.
"Confound it!" I cried; "I'm a fool! What business have I here? I'm not coming, Cavor. The thing's too risky. I'm getting out."
"You can't," he said.
"Can't! We'll soon see about that!"
He made no answer for ten seconds. "It's too late for us to quarrel now, Bedford," he said. "That little jerk was the start. Already we are flying as swiftly as a bullet up into the gulf of space."
"I--" I said, and then it didn't seem to matter what happened. For a time I was, as it were, stunned; I had nothing to say. It was just as if I had never heard of this idea of leaving the world before. Then I perceived an unaccountable change in my bodily sensations. It was a feeling of lightness, of unreality. Coupled with that was a queer sensation in the head, an apoplectic effect almost, and a thumping of blood vessels at the ears. Neither of these feelings diminished as time went on, but at last I got so used to them that I experienced no inconvenience.
I heard a click, and a little glow lamp came into being.
I saw Cavor's face, as white as I felt my own to be. We regarded one another in silence. The transparent blackness of the glass behind him made him seem as though he floated in a void.
"Well, we're committed," I said at last.
"Yes," he said, "we're committed."
"Don't move," he exclaimed, at some suggestion of a gesture. "Let your muscles keep quite lax--as if you were in bed. We are in a little universe of our own. Look at those things!"
He pointed to the loose cases and bundles that had been lying on the blankets in the bottom of the sphere. I was astonished to see that they were floating now nearly a foot from the spherical wall. Then I saw from his shadow that Cavor was no longer leaning against the glass. I thrust out my hand behind me, and found that I too was suspended in space, clear of the glass.
I did not cry out nor gesticulate, but fear came upon me. It was like being held and lifted by something--you know not what. The mere touch of my hand against the glass moved me rapidly. I understood what had happened, but that did not prevent my being afraid. We were cut off from all exterior gravitation, only the attraction of objects within our sphere had effect. Consequently everything that was not fixed to the glass was falling--slowly because of the slightness of our masses--towards the centre of gravity of our little world, which seemed to be somewhere about the middle of the sphere, but rather nearer to myself than Cavor, on account of my greater weight.
"We must turn round," said Cavor, "and float back to back, with the things between us."
It was the strangest sensation conceivable, floating thus loosely in space, at first indeed horribly strange, and when the horror passed, not disagreeable at all, exceeding restful; indeed, the nearest thing in earthly experience to it that I know is lying on a very thick, soft feather bed. But the quality of utter detachment and independence! I had not reckoned on things like this. I had expected a violent jerk at starting, a giddy sense of speed. Instead I felt--as if I were disembodied. It was not like the beginning of a journey; it was like the beginning of a dream.