The Battle of the Infinite Trilogy: The Black Star Passes; Islands of Space; Invaders from the Infinite
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by John W. Campbell
Category: Science Fiction Hugo Award Winner
Description: "Visions of time and space that have haunted me ever since I first read it!" Isaac Asimov raved about this "joyful" 1930s space opera trilogy. "By the end, Arcot, Morey, Fuller and Wade venture into space and (with the help of both human and non-human) have driven end to end of the Universe, have encountered creatures of superior technology from whom they learned and surpassed, and have ended with powers like gods. The working of a brilliant imagination, together with a sheer drive and enthusiasm that carries the reader along. An example of the old "super-science epic." The best of their kind and an enriching experience." While The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction says, "the heroes face a succession of battles of ever increasing size fought with a succession of wonderful weapons. Campbell was Doc Smith's chief rival in writing galactic epics of superscience." From the Hugo winning editor/author.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner Editions,
eBookwise Release Date: January 2007
54 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [874 KB]
Reading time: 578-810 min.
THE BLACK STAR PASSES * * * * PROLOGUE
Taj Lamor gazed steadily down at the vast dim bulk of the ancient city spread out beneath him. In the feeble light of the stars its mighty masses of up-flung metal buildings loomed strangely, like the shells of some vast race of crustacea, long extinct. Slowly he turned, gazing now out across the great plaza, where rested long rows of slender, yet mighty ships. Thoughtfully he stared at their dim, half-seen shapes.
Taj Lamor was not human. Though he was humanoid, Earth had never seen creatures just like him. His seven foot high figure seemed a bit ungainly by Terrestrial standards, and his strangely white, hairless flesh, suggesting unbaked dough, somehow gave the impression of near-transparency. His eyes were disproportionately large, and the black disc of pupil in the white corneas was intensified by contrast. Yet perhaps his race better deserved the designation homo sapiens than Terrestrians do, for it was wise with the accumulated wisdom of uncounted eons.
He turned to the other man in the high, cylindrical, dimly lit tower room overlooking the dark metropolis, a man far older than Taj Lamor, his narrow shoulders bent, and his features grayed with his years. His single short, tight fitting garment of black plastic marked him as one of the Elders. The voice of Taj Lamor was vibrant with feeling:
"Tordos Gar, at last we are ready to seek a new sun. Life for our race!"
A quiet, patient, imperturbable smile appeared on the Elder's face and the heavy lids closed over his great eyes.
"Yes," he said sadly, "but at what cost in tranquility! The discord, the unrest, the awakening of unnatural ambitions-a dreadful price to pay for a questionable gain. Too great a price, I think." His eyes opened, and he raised a thin hand to check the younger man's protest. "I know-I know-in this we do not see as one. Yet perhaps some day you will learn even as I have that to rest is better than to engage in an endless struggle. Suns and planets die. Why should races seek to escape the inevitable?" Tordos Gar turned slowly away and gazed fixedly into the night sky.
Taj Lamor checked an impatient retort and sighed resignedly. It was this attitude that had made his task so difficult. Decadence. A race on an ages-long decline from vast heights of philosophical and scientific learning. Their last external enemy had been defeated millennia in the past; and through easy forgetfulness and lack of strife, ambition had died. Adventure had become a meaningless word.
Strangely, during the last century a few men had felt the stirrings of long-buried emotion, of ambition, of a craving for adventure. These were throwbacks to those ancestors of the race whose science had built their world. These men, a comparative handful, had been drawn to each other by the unnatural ferment within them; and Taj Lamor had become their leader. They had begun a mighty struggle against the inertia of ages of slow decay, had begun a search for the lost secrets of a hundred-million-year-old science.
Taj Lamor raised his eyes to the horizon. Through the leaping curve of the crystal clear roof of their world glowed a blazing spot of yellow fire. A star-the brightest object in a sky whose sun had lost its light. A point of radiance that held the last hopes of an incredibly ancient race.
The quiet voice of Tordos Gar came through the semi-darkness of the room, a pensive, dreamlike quality in its tones.
"You, Taj Lamor, and those young men who have joined you in this futile expedition do not think deeply enough. Your vision is too narrow. You lack perspective. In your youth you cannot think on a cosmic scale." He paused as though in thought, and when he continued, it seemed almost as though he were speaking to himself.
"In the far, dim past fifteen planets circled about a small, red sun. They were dead worlds-or rather, worlds that had not yet lived. Perhaps a million years passed before there moved about on three of them the beginnings of life. Then a hundred million years passed, and those first, crawling protoplasmic masses had become animals, and plants, and intermediate growths. And they fought endlessly for survival. Then more millions of years passed, and there appeared a creature which slowly gained ascendancy over the other struggling life forms that fought for the warmth of rays of the hot, red sun.
"That sun had been old, even as the age of a star is counted, before its planets had been born, and many, many millions of years had passed before those planets cooled, and then more eons sped by before life appeared. Now, as life slowly forced its way upward, that sun was nearly burned out. The animals fought, and bathed in the luxury of its rays, for many millennia were required to produce any noticeable change in its life-giving radiations.
"At last one animal gained the ascendancy. Our race. But though one species now ruled, there was no peace. Age followed age while semi-barbaric peoples fought among themselves. But even as they fought, they learned.
"They moved from caves into structures of wood and stone-and engineering had its beginning. With the buildings came little chemical engines to destroy them; warfare was developing. Then came the first crude flying-machines, using clumsy, inefficient engines. Chemical engines! Engines so crude that one could watch the flow of their fuel! One part in one hundred thousand million of the energy of their propellants they released to run the engines, and they carried fuel in such vast quantities that they staggered under its load as they left the ground! And warfare became worldwide. After flight came other machines and other ages. Other scientists began to have visions of the realms beyond, and they sought to tap the vast reservoirs of Nature's energies, the energies of matter.
"Other ages saw it done-a few thousand years later there passed out into space a machine that forced its way across the void to another planet! And the races of the three living worlds became as one-but there was no peace.
"Swiftly now, science grew upon itself, building with ever faster steps, like a crystal which, once started, forms with incalculable speed.
"And while that science grew swiftly greater, other changes took place, changes in our universe itself. Ten million years passed before the first of those changes became important. But slowly, steadily our atmosphere was drifting into space. Through ages this gradually became apparent. Our worlds were losing their air and their water. One planet, less favored than another, fought for its life, and space itself was ablaze with the struggles of wars for survival.
"Again science helped us. Thousands of years before, men had learned how to change the mass of matter into energy, but now at last the process was reversed, and those ancestors of ours could change energy into matter, any kind of matter they wished. Rock they took, and changed it to energy, then that energy they transmuted to air, to water, to the necessary metals. Their planets took a new lease of Me!
"But even this could not continue forever. They must stop that loss of air. The process they had developed for reformation of matter admitted of a new use. Creation! They were now able to make new elements, elements that had never existed in nature! They designed atoms as, long before, their fathers had designed molecules. At last their problem was solved. They made a new form of matter that was clearer than any crystal, and yet stronger and tougher than any metal known. Since it held out none of the sun's radiations, they could roof their worlds with it and keep their air within!
"This was a task that could not be done in a year, nor a decade, but all time stretched out unending before them. One by one the three planets became tremendous, roofed-in cities. Only their vast powers, their mighty machines made the task possible, but it was done."
The droning voice of Tordor Gar ceased. Taj Lamor, who had listened with a mixture of amusement and impatience to the recital of a history he knew as well as the aged, garrulous narrator, waited out of the inborn respect which every man held for the Elders. At length he exclaimed: "I see no point--"
"But you will when I finish-or, at least, I hope you will." Tordos Gar's words and tone were gently reproving. He continued quietly:
"Slowly the ages drifted on, each marked by greater and greater triumphs of science. But again and again there were wars. Some there were in which the population of a world was halved, and all space for a billion miles about was a vast cauldron of incandescent energy in which tremendous fleets of space ships swirled and fused like ingredients in some cosmic brew. Forces were loosed on the three planets that sent even their mighty masses reeling drunkenly out of their orbits, and space itself seemed to be torn by the awful play of energies.
"Always peace followed-a futile peace. A few brief centuries or a few millennia, and again war would flame. It would end, and life would continue.
"But slowly there crept into the struggle a new factor, a darkening cloud, a change that came so gradually that only the records of instruments, made during a period of thousands of years, could show it. Our sun had changed from bright red to a deep, sullen crimson, and ever less and less heat poured from it. It was waning!
"As the fires of life died down, the people of the three worlds joined in a conflict with the common menace, death from the creeping cold of space. There was no need for great haste; a sun dies slowly. Our ancestors laid their plans and carried them out. The fifteen worlds were encased in shells of crystal. Those that had no atmosphere were given one. Mighty heating plants were built-furnaces that burned matter, designed to warm a world! At last a state of stability had been reached, for never could conditions change-it seemed. All external heat and light came from far-off stars, the thousands of millions of suns that would never fail.
"Under stress of the Great Change one scarcely noticed, yet almost incredible, transformation had occurred. We had learned to live with each other. We had learned to think, and enjoy thinking. As a species we had passed from youth into maturity. Advancement did not stop; we went on steadily toward the goal of all knowledge. At first there was an underlying hope that we might some day, somehow, escape from these darkened, artificial worlds of ours, but with the passing centuries this grew very dim and at length was forgotten.
"Gradually as millennia passed, much ancient knowledge was also forgotten. It was not needed. The world was unchanging, there was no strife, and no need of strife. The fifteen worlds were warm, and pleasant and safe. Without fully realizing it, we had entered a period of rest. And so the ages passed; and there were museums and libraries and laboratories; and the machines of our ancestors did all necessary work. So it was-until less than a generation ago. Our long lives were pleasant, and death, when it came, was a sleep. And then--"
"And then" Taj Lamor interrupted, a sharp edge of impatience in his tone, "some of us awakened from our stupor!"
The Elder sighed resignedly. "You cannot see-you cannot see. You would start that struggle all over again!" His voice continued in what Taj Lamor thought of as a senile drone but the younger man paid scant attention. His eyes and thoughts were centered on that brilliant yellow star, the brightest object in the heavens. It was that star, noticeably brighter within a few centuries, that had awakened a few men from their mental slumbers.
They were throwbacks, men who had the divine gift of curiosity; and sparked by their will to know, they had gone to the museums and looked carefully at the ancient directions for the use of the telectroscope, the mighty electrically amplified vision machine, had gazed through it. They had seen a great sun that seemed to fill all the field of the apparatus with blazing fire. A sun to envy! Further observation had revealed that there circled about the sun a series of planets, five, definitely; two more, probably; and possibly two others.
Taj Lamor had been with that group, a young man then, scarcely more than forty, but they had found him a leader and they had followed him as he set about his investigation of the ancient books on astronomy.
How many, many hours had he studied those ancient works! How many times had he despaired of ever learning their truths, and gone out to the roof of the museum to stand in silent thought looking out across the awful void to the steady flame of the yellow star! Then quietly he had returned to his self-set task.
With him as teacher, others had learned, and before he was seventy there were many men who had become true scientists, astronomers. There was much of the ancient knowledge that these men could not understand, for the science of a million centuries is not to be learned in a few brief decades, but they mastered a vast amount of the forgotten lore.
They knew now that the young, live sun, out there in space, was speeding toward them, their combined velocities equaling more than 100 miles each second. And they knew that there were not seven, but nine planets circling about that sun. There were other facts they discovered; they found that the new sun was far larger than theirs had ever been; indeed, it was a sun well above average in size and brilliance. There were planets, a hot sun-a home! Could they get there?
When their ancestors had tried to solve the problem of escape they had concentrated their work on the problem of going at speeds greater than that of light. This should be an impossibility, but the fact that the ancients had tried it, seemed proof enough to their descendants that it was possible, at least in theory. In the distant past they had needed speeds exceeding that of light, for they must travel light years; but now this sun was coming toward them, and already was less than two hundred and fifty billion miles away!
They would pass that other star in about seventy years. That was scarcely more than a third of a man's lifetime. They would make the journey with conceivable speeds-but in that brief period they must prepare to move!
The swift agitation for action had met with terrific resistance. They were satisfied; why move?
But, while some men had devoted their time to arousing the people to help, others had begun doing work that had not been done for a long, long time. The laboratories were reopened, and workshops began humming again. They were making things that were new once more, not merely copying old designs.
Their search had been divided into sections, search for weapons with which to defend themselves in case they were attacked, and search for the basic principles underlying the operation of their space ships. They had machines which they could imitate, but they did not understand them. Success had been theirs on these quests. The third section had been less successful. They had also been searching for secrets of the apparatus their forefathers had used to swing the planets in their orbits, to move worlds about at will. They had wanted to be able to take not only their space ships, but their planets as well, when they went to settle on these other worlds and in this other solar system.
But the search for this secret had remained unrewarded. The secret of the spaceships they learned readily, and Taj Lamor had designed these mighty ships below there with that knowledge. Their search for weapons had been satisfied; they had found one weapon, one of the deadliest that their ancestors had ever invented. But the one secret in which they were most interested, the mighty force barrage that could swing a world in its flight through space, was lost. They could not find it.
They knew the principles of the driving apparatus of their ships, and it would seem but a matter of enlargement to drive a planet as a ship, but they knew this was impossible; the terrific forces needed would easily be produced by their apparatus, but there was no way to apply them to a world. If applied in any spot, the planet would be torn asunder by the incalculable strain. They must apply the force equally to the entire planet. Their problem was one of application of power. The rotation of the planet made it impossible to use a series of driving apparatus, even could these be anchored, but again the sheer immensity of the task made it impossible'.
Taj Lamor gazed down again at the great ships in the plaza below. Their mighty bulks seemed to dwarf even the huge buildings about them. Yet these ships were his-for he had learned their secrets and designed them, and now he was to command them as they flew out across space in that flight to the distant star.
He turned briefly to the Elder, Tordos Gar. "Soon we leave," he said, a faint edge of triumph in his voice. "We will prove that our way is right."
The old man shook his head. "You will learn--" he began, but Taj Lamor did not want to hear.
He turned, passed through a doorway, and stepped into a little torpedo-shaped car that rested on the metal roof behind him. A moment later the little ship rose, and then slanted smoothly down over the edge of the roof, straight for the largest of the ships below. This was the flagship. Nearly a hundred feet greater was its diameter, and its mile and a quarter length of gleaming metal hull gave it nearly three hundred feet greater length than that of the ships of the line.
This expedition was an expedition of exploration. They were prepared to meet any conditions on those other worlds-no atmosphere, no water, no heat, or even an atmosphere of poisonous gases they could rectify, for their transmutation apparatus would permit them to change those gases, or modify them; they knew well how to supply heat, but they knew too, that that sun would warm some of its planets sufficiently for their purposes.
Taj Lamor sent his little machine darting through the great airlock in the side of the gigantic interstellar ship and lowered it gently to the floor. A man stepped forward, opened the door for the leader, saluting him briskly as he stepped out; then the car was run swiftly aside, to be placed with thousands of others like it. Each of these cars was to be used by a separate investigator when they reached those other worlds, and there were men aboard who would use them.
Taj Lamor made his way to a door in the side of a great metal tube that threaded the length of the huge ship. Opening the door he sat down in another little car that shot swiftly forward as the double door shut softly, with a low hiss of escaping air. For moments the car sped through the tube, then gently it slowed and came to rest opposite another door. Again came the hissing of gas as the twin doors opened, and Taj Lamor stepped out, now well up in the nose of the cruiser. As he stepped out of the car the outer and inner doors closed, and, ready now for other calls, the car remained at this station. On a ship so long, some means of communication faster than walking was' essential. This little pneumatic railway was the solution.
As Taj Lamor stepped out of the tube, a half-dozen men, who had been talking among themselves, snapped quickly to attention. Following the plans of the long-gone armies of their ancestors, the men of the expedition had been trained to strict discipline; and Taj Lamor was their technical leader and the nominal Commander-in-Chief, although another man, Kornal Sorul, was their actual commander.
Taj Lamor proceeded at once to the Staff Cabin in the very nose of the great ship. Just above him there was another room, walled on all sides by that clear, glass-like material, the control cabin. Here the pilot sat, directing the motions of the mighty ship of space.
Taj Lamor pushed a small button on his desk and in a moment a gray disc before him glowed dimly, then flashed into life and full, natural color. As though looking through a glass porthole, Taj Larnor saw the interior of the Communications Room. The Communications Officer was gazing at a similar disc in which Taj Lamor's features appeared.
"Have they reported from Ohmur, Lorsand, and Throlus, yet Morlus Tal?" asked the commander.
"They are reporting now, Taj Lamor, and we will be ready within two and one half minutes. The plans are as before; we are to proceed directly toward the Yellow Star, meeting at Point 71?"
"The plans are as before. Start when ready."
The disc faded, the colors died, and it was gray again. Taj Lamor pulled another small lever on the panel before him, and the disc changed, glowed, and was steady; and now he saw the preparations for departure, as from an eye on the top of the great ship. Men streamed swiftly in ordered columns all about and into the huge vessels. In an incredibly short time they were in, and the great doors closed behind them. Suddenly there came a low, dull hum through the disc, and the sound mounted quickly, till all the world seemed humming to that dull note. The warning!
Abruptly the city around him seemed to blaze in a riot of colored light! The mighty towering bulks of the huge metal buildings were polished and bright, and now, as the millions of lights, every color of the spectrum, flashed over all the city from small machines in the air, on the ground, in windows, their great metal walls glistening with a riot of flowing color. Then there was a trembling through all the frame of the mighty ship. In a moment it was gone, and the titanic mass of glistening metal rose smoothly, quickly to the great roof of their world above them. On an even keel it climbed straight up, then suddenly it leaped forward like some great bird of prey sighting its victim. The ground beneath sped swiftly away, and behind it there came a lone line of ships, quickly finding their position in the formation. They were heading toward the giant airlock that would let them out into space. There was but one lock large enough to permit so huge a ship to pass out, and they must circle half their world to reach it.
On three other worlds there were other giant ships racing thus to meet beyond their solar system. There were fifty ships coming from each planet; two hundred mighty ships in all made up this Armada of Space, two hundred gargantuan interstellar cruisers.
One by one the giant ships passed through the airlock and out into space. Here they quickly reformed as they moved off together, each ship falling into its place in the mighty cone formation, with the flagship of Taj Lamor at the head. On they rushed through space, their speed ever mounting. Suddenly there seemed to leap out of nowhere another mass of shining machines that flew swiftly beside them. Like some strange, shining ghosts, these ships seemed to materialize instantly beside and behind their fleet. They fell in quickly in their allotted position behind the Flagship's squadron. One-two more fleets appeared thus suddenly in the dark, and together the ships were flashing on through space to their goal of glowing fire ahead!
Hour after hour, day after day the ships flashed on through the awful void, the utter silence relieved by the communications between themselves and the slowly weakening communications from the far-off home planets.
But as those signals from home grew steadily weaker, the sun before them grew steadily larger. At last the men began to feel the heat of those rays, to realize the energy that that mighty sea of flame poured forth into space, and steadily they watched it grow nearer.
Then came a day when they could make out clearly the dim bulk of a planet before them, and for long hours they slowed down the flying speed of the ships. They had mapped the system they were approaching; there were nine planets of varying sizes, some on the near and some on the far side of the sun. There were but three on the near side; one that seemed the outermost of the planets, about 35,000 miles in diameter, was directly in their path, while there were two more much nearer the sun, about 100,000,000 and 70,000,000 miles distant from it, each about seven to eight thousand miles in diameter, but they were on opposite sides of the sun. These more inviting and more accessible worlds were numbers two and three of the planetary system. It was decided to split the expedition into two parts; one part was to go to planet .two, and the other to three. Taj Lamor was to lead his group of a hundred ships to the nearer planet at once.
In a very brief time the great ships slanted down over what seemed to be a mighty globe of water. They were well in the northern hemisphere, and they had come near the planet first over a vast stretch of rolling ocean. The men had looked in wonder at such vast quantities of the fluid. To them it was a precious liquid, that must be made artificially, and was to be conserved, yet here they saw such vast quantities of natural water as seemed impossible. Still, their ancient books had told of such things, and of other strange things, things that must have been wondrously beautiful, though they were so old now, these records, that they were regarded largely as myths.
Yet here were the strange proofs! They saw great masses of fleecy water vapor, huge billowy things that seemed solid, but were blown lightly in the wind. And natural air! The atmosphere extended for hundreds of miles off into space; and now, as they came closer to the surface of this world the air was dense, and the sky above them was a beautiful blue, not black, even where there were stars. The great sun, so brilliantly incandescent when seen from space, and now a glowing globe of reddish-yellow.
And as they came near land, they looked in wonder at mighty masses of rock and soil that threw their shaggy heads high above the surrounding terrain, huge masses that rose high, like waves in the water, till they towered in solemn grandeur miles into the air! What a sight for these men of a world so old that age long erosion had washed away the last traces of hills, and filled in all of the valleys!
In awe they looked down at the mighty rock masses, as they swung low over the mountains, gazing in wonder at the green masses of the strange vegetation; strange, indeed, for they for uncounted ages had grown only mushroom-like cellulose products, and these mainly for ornament, for all their food was artificially made in huge factories.
Then they came over a little mountain lake, a body of water scarcely large enough to berth one of their huge ships, but high in the clear air of the mountains, fed by the melting of eternal snows. It was a magnificent sapphire in a setting green as emerald, a sparkling lake of clear water, deep as the sea, high in a cleft in the mountains.
In wonder the men looked down at these strange sights. What a marvelous home!
Steadily the great machines proceeded, and at last the end of the giant mountain was reached, and they came to a great plain. But that plain was strangely marked off with squares, as regularly as though plotted with a draftsman's square. This world must be inhabited by intelligent beings!
Suddenly Taj Lamor saw strange specks off in the far horizon to the south, specks that seemed to grow in size with terrific velocity; these must be ships, the ships of these people, coming to defend their home. The strangely pallid face of Taj Lamor tightened into lines of grim resolution. This was a moment he had foreseen and had dreaded. Was he to withdraw and leave these people un-molested, or was he to stand and fight for this world, this wonderfully beautiful home, a home that his race could live in for millions of years to come? He had debated this question many times before in his mind, and he had decided. There would never, never be another chance for his people to gain a new home. They must fight.
Swiftly he gave his orders. If resistance came, if, an attack were made, they were to fight back at once, with every weapon at their disposal.
The strangers' ships had grown swiftly larger to the eye, but still, though near now, they seemed too small to be dangerous. These giant interstellar cruisers were certainly invulnerable to ships so small; their mere size would give them protection! These ships were scarcely as long as the diameter of the smaller of the interstellar ships-a bare two hundred and fifty feet for the largest.
The interstellar cruisers halted in their course, and waited for the little ships to approach. They were fast, for they drew alongside quickly, and raced to the front of the flagship. There was one small one that was painted white, and on it there was a large white banner, flapping in the wind of its passage. The rest of the ships drew off as this came forward, and stopped, hanging motionless before the control room of the giant machine. There were men inside-three strange men, short and oddly pink-skinned-but they were gesturing now, motioning that the giant machine settle to the ground beneath. Taj Lamor was considering whether or not to thus parley with the strangers, when suddenly there leaped from the white craft a beam of clear white-a beam that was directed toward the ground, then swung up toward the great cruiser in a swift arc!
As one, a dozen swift beams of pale red flared out from the giant and bathed the pigmy craft. As they reached it, the white ray that had been sweeping up suddenly vanished, and for an instant the ship hung poised in the air; then it began to swing crazily, like the pendulum of a clock-swung completely over-and with a sickening lurch sped swiftly for the plain nearly five miles below. In moments there came a brief flare, then there remained only a little crater in the soft soil.
But the red beams had not stopped with the little ship; they had darted out to the other machines, trying to reach them before they could bring those strange white rays into play. The cruisers obviously must win, for they carried dozens of projectors, but they might be damaged, their flight delayed. They must defeat those strangers quickly. The rays of Taj Lamor's ship lashed out swiftly, but almost before they had started, all the other ships, a full hundred, were in action, and the flagship was darting swiftly up and away from the battle. Below, those pale red rays were taking a swift toll of the little ships, and nearly twenty of them rolled suddenly over, and dashed to destruction far below.
But now the little ships were in swift darting motion. Because of their small size, they were able to avoid the rays of the larger interstellar cruisers, and as their torpedo-shaped hulls flashed about with bewildering speed, they began to fight back. They had been taken utterly by surprise, but now they went into action with an abandon and swiftness that took the initiative away from the gigantic interstellar liners. They were in a dozen places at once, dodging and twisting, unharmed, out of the way of the deadly red beams, and were as hard to hit as so many dancing feathers suspended over an air jet.
And if the pilots were skillful in avoiding enemy rays, their ray men were as accurate in placing theirs. But then, with a target of such vast size, not so much skill was necessary.
These smaller vessels were the ships of Earth. The people of the dark star had entered the solar system quite unannounced, except that they had been seen in passing the orbit of Mars, for a ship had been out there in space, moving steadily out toward Neptune, and the great interstellar cruisers, flashing in across space, away from that frigid planet, had not seen the tiny wanderer. But he had seen those mighty hulks, and had sent his message of danger out on the ether, warning the men of Earth. They had relayed it to Venus, and the ships that had gone there had received an equally warm reception, and were even now finding their time fully occupied trying to beat off the Interplanetary Patrol.
The battle ended as swiftly as it began, for Taj Lamor, in his machine high above, saw that they were outclassed, and ordered them to withdraw at once. Scarcely ten minutes had elapsed, yet they had lost twenty-two of their giant ships.
The expedition that had gone to Venus reported a similarly active greeting. It was decided at once that they should proceed cautiously to the other planets, to determine which were inhabited and which were not, and to determine the chemical and physical conditions on each.
The ships formed again out in space, on the other side of the sun, however, and started at once in compact formation for Mercury.
Their observations were completed without further mishap, and they set out for their distant home, their number depleted by forty-one ships, for nineteen had fallen on Venus. * * * * CHAPTER I
The Terrestrian and Venerian governments had met in conference, a grim, businesslike discussion with few wasted words. Obviously, this was to be a war of science, a war on a scale never before known on either world. Agreements were immediately drawn up between the two worlds for a concerted, cooperative effort. A fleet of new and vastly more powerful ships must be constructed-but first they must have a complete report on the huge invading craft that had fallen in western Canada, and on Venus, for they might conceivably make their secrets their own.
They called for the scientists whose work had made possible their successful resistance of the marauders: Arcot, Morey and Wade. They found them working in the Arcot Laboratories.
"Wade," called Arcot tensely as he snapped the switch of the televisophone, "bring Morey and meet me at the machine on the roof at once. That was a call from Washington. I'll explain as soon as you get there."
On the roof Arcot opened the hangar doors, and entered the five-passenger molecular-motion ship inside. Its sleek, streamlined sides spoke of power and speed. This was a special research model, designed for their experiments, and carrying mechanisms not found in commercial crafts. Among these were automatic controls still in the laboratory stage, but permitting higher speed, for no human being could control the ship as accurately as these.
It took the trio a little less than a quarter of an hour to make the 5,000 mile trip from New York to the battlefield of Canada. As they sped through the air, Arcot told them what had transpired. The three were passed through the lines at once, and they settled to the ground beside one of the huge ships that lay half buried in the ground. The force of the impact had splashed the solid soil as a stone will splash soft mud, and around the ship there was a massive ridge of earth. Arcot looked at the titanic proportions of this ship from space, and turned to his friends:
"We can investigate that wreck on foot, but I think it'll be far more sensible to see what we can do with the car. This monster is certainly a mile or more long, and we'd spend more time in walking than in investigation. I suggest, we see if there isn't room for the car inside. This beats even those huge Kaxorian planes for size." Arcot paused, then grinned. "I sure would have liked to mix in the fight they must have had here-nice little things to play with, aren't they?"
"It would make a nice toy," agreed Wade as he looked at the rows of wicked-looking projectors along the sides of the metal hull, "and I wonder if there might not be some of the crew alive in there? If there are, the size of the ship would prevent their showing themselves very quickly, and since they can't move the ship, it seems to me that they'll let us know shortly that they're around. Probably, with the engines stopped, their main weapons are useless, but they would doubtless have some sort of guns. I'm highly in favor of using the car. We carry a molecular director ray, so if the way is blocked, we can make a new one."
Wade's attention was caught by a sudden flare of light a few miles across the plain. "Look over there-that ship is still flaming-reddish, but almost colorless. Looks like a gas flame, with a bit of calcium in it. Almost as if the air in the ship were combustible. If we should do any exploring in this baby, I suggest we use altitude suits-they can't do any harm in any case."
Three or four of the great wrecks, spread over a wide area, were burning now, hurling forth long tongues of colorless, intensely hot flame. Several of the ships had been only slightly damaged; one had been brought down by a beam that had torn free the entire tail of the ship, leaving the bow in good condition. Apparently this machine had not fallen far; perhaps the pilot had retained partial control of the ship, his power failing when he was only a comparatively short distance from Earth. This was rather well to one side of the plain, however, and they decided to investigate it later.
The ship nearest them had crashed nose first, the point being crushed and shattered. Arcot maneuvered his craft cautiously toward the great hole at the nose of the ship, and they entered the mighty vessel slowly, a powerful spotlight illuminating the interior. Tremendous girders, twisted and broken by the force of impact, thrust up about them. It soon became evident that there was little to fear from any living enemies, and they proceeded more rapidly. Certainly no creature could live after the shock that had broken these huge girders! Several times metal beams blocked their path, and they were forced to use the molecular director ray to bend them out of the way.
"Man," said Arcot as they stopped a moment to clear away a huge member that was bent across their path, "but those beams do look as if they were built permanently! I'd hate to ram into one of them! Look at that one-if that has anywhere near the strength of steel, just think of the force it took to bend it!"
At last they had penetrated to the long tube that led through the length of the ship, the communication tube. This admitted the small ship easily, and they moved swiftly along till they came to what they believed to be about the center of the invader. Here Arcot proposed that they step out and see what there was to be seen.
The others agreed, and they at once put on their altitude suits of heavy rubberized canvas, designed to be worn outside the ship when at high altitude, or even in space. They were supplied with oxygen tanks that would keep the wearer alive for about six hours. Unless the atmosphere remaining in the alien ship was excessively corrosive, they would be safe. After a brief discussion, they decided that all would go, for if they met opposition, there would be strength in numbers.
They met their first difficulty in opening the door leading out of the communication tube. It was an automatic door, and resisted their every effort-until finally they were forced to tear it out with a ray. It was impossible to move it in any other way. The door was in what was now the floor, since the ship seemed to have landed on one side rather than on its keel.
They let themselves through the narrow opening one at a time, and landed on the sloping wall of the corridor beyond.
"Lucky this wasn't a big room, or we'd have had a nice drop to the far wall!" commented Wade. The suits were equipped with a thin vibrating diaphragm that made speech easy, but Wade's voice came through with a queerly metallic ring.
Arcot agreed somewhat absently, his attention directed toward their surroundings. His hand light pierced the blackness, finally halting at a gaping opening, apparently the entrance to a corridor. As they examined it, they saw that it slanted steeply downward.
"It seems to be quite a drop," said Wade as he turned his light into it, "but the surface seems to be rather rough. I think we can do it. I notice that you brought a rope, Morey; I think it'll help. I'll go first, unless someone else wants the honor."
"You go first?" Arcot hesitated briefly. "But I don't know-if we're all going, I guess you had better, at that. It would take two ordinary men to lower a big bulk like you. On the other hand, if anybody is going to stay, you're delegated as elevator boy!
"Hold everything," continued Arcot. "I have an idea. I think none of us will need to hold the weight of the others with the rope. Wade, will you get three fairly good-sized pieces of metal, something we can tie a rope to? I think we can get down here without the help of anyone else. Morey, will you cut the rope in three equal pieces while I help Wade tear loose that girder?"
Arcot refused to reveal his idea till his preparations were complete, but worked quickly and efficiently. With the aid of Wade, he soon had three short members, and taking the rope that Morey had prepared, he tied lengths of cord to the pieces of metal, leaving twenty foot lengths hanging from each. Now he carefully tested his handiwork to make sure the knots would not slip.
"Now, let's see what we can do." Arcot put a small loop in one end of a cord, thrust his left wrist through this, and grasped the rope firmly with his hand. Then he drew his ray pistol, and adjusted it carefully for direction of action. The trigger gave him control over power. Finally he turned the ray on the block of metal at the other end of the rope. At once the metal pulled vigorously, drawing the rope taut, and as Arcot increased the power, he was dragged slowly across the floor.
"Ah-it works." He grinned broadly over his shoulder. "Come on, boys, hitch your wagon to a star, and we'll go on with the investigation. This is a new, double action parachute. It lets you down easy, and pulls you up easier!
I think we can go where we want now." After a pause he added, "I don't have to tell you that too much power will be very bad!"
With Arcot's simple brake, they lowered themselves into the corridor below, descending one at a time, to avoid any contact with the ray, since the touch of the beam was fatal.
The scene that lay before them was one of colossal destruction. They had evidently stumbled upon the engine room. They could not hope to illuminate its vast expanse with their little hand lights, but they could gain some idea of its magnitude, and of its original layout. The floor, now tilted at a steep angle, was torn up in many places, showing great, massive beams, buckled and twisted like so many wires, while the heavy floor plates were crumpled like so much foil. Everywhere the room seemed covered with a film of white silvery metal; it was silver, they decided after a brief examination, spattered broadcast over the walls of the room.
Suddenly Morey pointed ceilingward with his light. "That's where the silver came from!" he exclaimed. A network of heavy bars ran across the room, great bars of solid silver fully three feet thick. In one section gaped a ragged hole, suggesting the work of a disintegration ray, a hole that went into the metal roof above, one which had plainly been fused, as had the great silver bars.
Arcot looked in wonder at the heavy metal bars. "Lord-bus bars three feet thick! What engines they must have! Look at the way those were blown out! They were short circuited by the crash, just before the generator went out, and they were volatilized! Some juice!"
With the aid of their improvised elevators, the three men attempted to explore the tremendous chamber. They had scarcely begun, when Wade exclaimed:
They crowded around his gruesome find and caught their first glimpse of the invaders from space. Anatomical details could not be distinguished since the bodies had been caught under a rain of crushing beams, but they saw that they were not too different from both Terrestrians and Venerians-though their blood seemed strangely pallid, and their skin was of a ghastly whiteness. Evidently they had been assembled before an unfamiliar sort of instrument panel when catastrophe struck; Morey indicated the dials and keys.
"Nice to know what you're fighting," Arcot observed. "I've a hunch that we'll see some of these critters alive-but not in this ship!"
They turned away and resumed their examination of the shattered mechanisms.
A careful examination was impossible; they were wrecks, but Arcot did see that they seemed mainly to be giant electrical machines of standard types, though on a gargantuan scale. There were titanic masses of wrecked metal, iron and silver, for with these men silver seemed to replace copper, though nothing could replace iron and its magnetic uses.
"They are just electrical machines, I guess," said Arcot at last. "But what size! Have you seen anything really revolutionary, Wade?"
Wade frowned and answered. "There are just two things that bother me. Come here." As Arcot jumped over, nearly suspended by his ray pistol, Wade directed his light on a small machine that had fallen in between the cracks in the giant mass of broken generators. It was a little thing, apparently housed in a glass case. There was only one objection to that assumption. The base of a large generator lay on it, metal fully two feet thick, and that metal was cracked where it rested on the case, and the case, made of material an inch and a half thick, was not dented!
"Whewww-that's a nice kind of glass to have!" Morey commented. "I'd like to have a specimen for examination. Oh-I wonder-yes, it must be! There's a window in the side up there toward what was the bow that seemed to me to be the same stuff. It's buried about three feet in solid earth, so I imagine it must be."
The three made their way at once to where they had seen the window. The frame appeared to be steel, or some such alloy, and it was twisted and bent under the blow, for this was evidently the outer wall, and the impact of landing had flattened the rounded side. But that "glass" window was quite undisturbed! There was, as a further proof, a large granite boulder lying against it on the outside-or what had been a boulder, though it had been shattered by the impact.
"Say-that's some building material!" Arcot indicated the transparent sheet. "Just look at that granite rock-smashed into sand! Yet the window isn't even scratched! Look how the frame that held it is torn-just torn, not broken. I wonder if we can tear it loose altogether?" He stepped forward, raising his pistol. There was a thud as his metal bar crashed down when the ray was shut off. Then, as the others got out of the way, he stepped toward the window and directed his beam toward it. Gradually he increased the power, till suddenly there was a rending crash, and they saw only a leaping column of earth and sand and broken granite flying up through the hole in the steel shell. There was a sudden violent crash, then a moment later a second equally violent crash as the window, having flown up to the ceiling, came thumping back to the floor.
After the dust had settled they came forward, looking for the window. They found it, somewhat buried by the rubbish, lying off to one side. Arcot bent down to tilt it and sweep off the dirt; he grasped it with one hand, and pulled. The window remained where it was. He grasped it with both hands and pulled harder. The window remained where it was.
"Uh-say, lend a hand will you, Wade." Together the two men pulled, but without results. That window was about three feet by two feet by one inch, making the total volume about one-half a cubic foot, but it certainly was heavy. They could not begin to move it. An equal volume of lead would have weighed about four hundred pounds, but this was decidedly more than four hundred pounds. Indeed, the combined strength of the three men did not do more than rock it.
"Well-it certainly is no kind of matter we know of!" observed Morey. "Osmium, the heaviest known metal, has a density of twenty-two and a half, which would weigh about 730 pounds. I think we could lift that, so this is heavier than anything we know. At least that's proof of a new system. Between Venus and Earth we have found every element that occurs in the sun. These people must have come from another star!"
"Either that," returned Arcot, "or proof of an amazing degree of technological advancement. It's only a guess, of course-but I have an idea where this kind of matter exists in the solar system. I think you have already seen it-in the gaseous state. You remember, of course, that the Kaxorians had great reservoirs for storing light-energy in a bound state in their giant planes. They had bound light, light held by the gravitational attraction for itself, after condensing it in their apparatus, but they had what amounted to a gas-gaseous light. Now suppose that someone makes a light condenser even more powerful than the one the Kaxorians used, a condenser that forces the light so close to itself, increases its density, till the photons hold each other permanently, and the substance becomes solid. It will be matter, matter made of light-light matter-and let us call it a metal. You know that ordinary matter is electricity matter, and electricity matter metals conduct electricity readily. Now why shouldn't our 'light matter' metal conduct light? It would be a wonderful substance for windows."
"But now comes the question of moving it," Wade interposed. "We can't lift it, and we certainly want to examine it. That means we must take it to the laboratory. I believe we're about through here-the place is clearly quite permanently demolished. I think we had better return to the ship and start to that other machine we saw that didn't appear to be so badly damaged. But-how can we move this?"
"I think a ray may do the trick." Arcot .drew his ray pistol, and stepped back a bit, holding the weapon so the ray would direct the plate straight up. Slowly he applied the power, and as he gradually increased it, the plate stirred, then moved into the air.
"It works! Now you can use your pistol, Morey, and direct it toward the corridor. I'll send it up, and let it fall outside, where we can pick it up later." Morey stepped forward, and while Arcot held it in the air with his ray, Morey propelled it slowly with his, till it was directly under the corridor leading upward. Then Arcot gave a sudden increase in power, and the plate moved swiftly upward, sailing out of sight. Arcot shut off his ray, and there came to their ears a sudden crash as the plate fell to the floor above.
The three men regained their ropes and "double action parachutes" as Arcot called them, and floated up to the next floor. Again they started the process of moving the plate. All went well till they came to the little car itself. They could not use the ray on the car, for fear of damaging the machinery. They had to use some purely mechanical method of hoisting it in.
Finally they solved the problem by using the molecular director ray to swing a heavy beam into the air, then one man pulled on the far end of it with a rope, and swung it till it was resting on the door of the ship on one end, and the other rested in a hole they had torn in the lining of the tube.
Now they maneuvered the heavy plate till it was resting on that beam; then they released the plate, and watched it slide down the incline, shooting through the open doorway of the car. In moments the job was done. The plate at last safely stowed, the three men climbed into the car, and prepared to leave.
The little machine glided swiftly down the tube through the mighty ship, finally coming out through the opening that had admitted them. They rose quickly into the air, and headed for the headquarters of the government ships.