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by A. E. Van Vogt
Category: Science Fiction
Description: Their combined military power could not stand up to the tremendous might of Earth's greatest battleship. But one force could yet smash it--and give the Dellians the freedom they sought!
eBook Publisher: Wildside Press, 1943 USA
eBookwise Release Date: December 2008
6 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [63 KB]
Reading time: 33-46 min.
Over the miles and the years, the gases drifted. Waste matter from ten thousand suns, diffuse miasm of spent explosions, of dead hellfires and the furies of a hundred million raging sunspots--formless, purposeless.
But it was the beginning.
Into the great dark the gases crept. Calcium was in them, and sodium, and hydrogen; and the speed of the drift varied up to twenty miles a second.
There was a timeless period while gravitation performed its function. The inchoate mass became masses. Great blobs of gas took a semblance of shape in widely separate areas, and moved on and on and on.
They came finally to where a thousand flaring seetee suns had long before doggedly "crossed the street" of the main stream of terrene suns. Had crossed, and left their excrement of gases.
The first clash quickened the vast worlds of gas. The electron haze of terrene plunged like spurred horses and sped deeper into the equally violently reacting positron haze of contraterrene. Instantly, the lighter orbital positrons and electrons went up in a blaze of hard radiation.
The storm was on.
The stripped seetee nuclei carried now terrific and unbalanced negative charges and repelled electrons, but tended to attract terrene atom nuclei. In their turn, the stripped terrene nuclei attracted contraterrene.
Violent beyond all conception were the resulting cancellations of charges.
The two opposing masses heaved and spun in a cataclysm of partial adjustment. They had been heading in different directions. More and more they became one tangled, seething whirlpool.
The new course, uncertain at first, steadied and became a line drive through the midnight heavens. On a front of nine light years, at a solid fraction of the velocity of light, the storm roared toward its destiny.
Suns were engulfed for half a hundred years--and left behind with only a hammering of cosmic rays to show that they had been the centers of otherwise invisible, impalpable atomic devastation.
In its four hundred and ninetieth Sidereal year, the storm intersected the orbit of a Nova at the flash moment.
It began to move!
* * * *
On the three-dimensional map at weather headquarters on the planet Kaider III, the storm was colored orange. Which meant it was the biggest of the four hundred odd storms raging in the Fifty Suns region of the Lesser Magellanic Cloud.
It showed as an uneven splotch fronting at Latitude 473, Longitude 228, Center 190 parsecs, but that was a special Fifty Suns degree system which had no relation to the magnetic center of the Magellanic Cloud as a whole.
The report about the Nova had not yet been registered on the map. When that happened, the storm color would be changed to an angry red.
They had stopped looking at the map. Maltby stood with the councilors at the great window staring up at the Earth ship.
The machine was scarcely more than a dark sliver in the distant sky. But the sight of it seemed to hold a deadly fascination for the older men.
Maltby felt cool, determined, but also sardonic. It was funny, these--these people of the Fifty Suns in this hour of their danger calling upon him.
He unfocused his eyes from the ship, fixed his steely, laconic gaze on the plump, perspiring chairman of the Kaider III government--and, tensing his mind, forced the man to look at him. The councilor, unaware of the compulsion, conscious only that he had turned, said:
"You understand your instructions, Captain Maltby?"
Maltby nodded. "I do."
The curt words must have evoked a vivid picture. The fat face rippled like palsied jelly and broke out in a new trickle of sweat.
"The worst part of it all," the man groaned, "was that the people of the ship found us by the wildest accident. They had run into one of our meteorite stations and captured its attendant. The attendant sent a general warning and then forced them to kill him before they could discover which of the fifty million suns of the Lesser Magellanic Cloud was us.
"Unfortunately, they did discover that he and the rest of us were all descendants of the robots who had escaped the massacre of the robots in the main galaxy fifteen thousand years ago. But they were baffled and without a clue. They started home, stopping off at planets on the way on a chance basis. The seventh stop was us. Captain Maltby--"
The man looked almost beside himself. He shook. His face was as colorless as a white shroud. He went on hoarsely:
"Captain Maltby, you must not fail. They have asked for a meteorologist to guide them to Cassidor VII, where the central government is located. They mustn't reach there. You must drive them into the great storm at 473.
"We have commissioned you to do this for us because you have the two minds of the Mixed Men. We regret that we have not always fully appreciated your services in the past. But you must admit that, after the wars of the Mixed Men, it was natural that we should be careful about--"
Maltby cut off the lame apology.
"Forget it," he said. "The Mixed Men are robots, too, and therefore as deeply involved, as I see it, as the Dellians and non-Dellians. Just what the Hidden Ones of my kind think, I don't know, nor do I care. I assure you, I shall do my best to destroy this ship."
"Be careful!" the chairman urged anxiously. "This ship could destroy us, our planet, our sun in a single minute. We never dreamed that Earth could have gotten so far ahead of us and produced such a devastatingly powerful machine, After all, the non-Dellian robots and, of course, the Mixed Men among us are capable of research work; the former have been laboring feverishly for thousands of years.
"But, finally, remember that you are not being asked to commit suicide. The battleship is absolutely invincible. Just how it will survive a real storm we were not told when we were shown around. But it will. What happens, however, is that everyone aboard becomes unconscious. As a Mixed Man, you will be the first to revive. Our combined fleets will be waiting to board the ship the moment you open the doors. Is that clear?"
It had been clear the first time it was explained, but these non-Dellians had a habit of repeating themselves, as if thoughts kept growing vague in their minds.
* * * *
As Maltby closed the door of the great room behind him, one of the councilors said to his neighbor:
"Has he been told that the storm has gone Nova?"
The fat man overheard. He shook his head. His eyes gleamed as he said quietly: "No. After all, he is one of the Mixed Men. We can't trust him too far no matter what his record."