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Empire
by Clifford Donald Simak
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"Can you help us, doctor?" he asked.

Craven shrugged. "Perhaps," he said acidly. "If I could only be left to my work undisturbed, instead of being dragged into these stupid conferences, I might be able to do something."

"You already have, haven't you?" asked Chambers.

"Very little. I've been able to blank out the televisor that Manning and Page are using, but that is all."

"Do you have any idea where Manning and Page are?"

"How could I know?" Craven asked. "Somewhere in space."

"They're at the bottom of this," snarled Stutsman. "Their damned tricks and propaganda."

"We know they're at the bottom of it," said Craven. "That's no news to us. If it weren't for them, we wouldn't have this trouble now, despite your bungling. But that doesn't help us any. With this new discovery of mine I have shielded this building from their observation. They can't spy on us any more. But that's as far as I've got."

"They televised the secret meeting of the emergency council when it met in Satellite City on Ganymede the other day," said Chambers. "The whole Jovian confederacy watched and listened to that meeting, heard our secret war plans, for fully ten minutes before the trick was discovered. Couldn't we use your shield to prevent such a situation again?"

"Better still," suggested Stutsman, "let's shield the whole satellite. Without Manning's ghostly leaders, this revolt would collapse of its own weight."

Craven shook his head. "It takes fifty tons of accumulators to build up that field, and a ton of fuel a day to maintain it. Just for this building alone. It would be impossible to shield a whole planet, an entire moon."

* * * * *

"Any progress on your collector field?" asked Chambers.

"Some," Craven admitted. "I'll know in a day or two."

"That would give us something with which to fight Manning and Page, wouldn't it?"

"Yes," agreed Craven. "It would be something to fight them with. If I can develop that collector field, we would be able to utilize every radiation in space, from the heat wave down through the cosmics. Within the Solar System, our power would be absolutely limitless. Your accumulators depend for their power storage upon just one radiation ... heat. But with this idea I have you'd use all types of radiations."

"You say you could even put the cosmics to work?" asked Chambers.

Craven nodded. "If I can do anything at all with the field, I can."

"How?" demanded Stutsman.

"By breaking them up, you fool. Smash the short, high-powered waves into a lot of longer, lower-powered waves." Craven swung back to face Chambers. "But don't count on it," he warned. "I haven't done it yet."

"You have to do it," Chambers insisted.

Craven rose from his chair, his blue eyes blazing angrily behind the heavy lenses. "How often must I tell you that you cannot hurry scientific investigation? You have to try and try ... follow one tiny clue to another tiny clue. You have to be patient. You have to hope. But you cannot force the work."

He strode from the room, slammed the door behind him.

Chambers turned slowly in his chair to face Stutsman. His gray eyes bored into the wolfish face.

"And now," he suggested, "suppose you tell me just why you did it."

Stutsman's lips curled. "I suppose you would rather I had allowed those troublemakers to go ahead, consolidate their plans. There was only one thing to do—root them out, liquidate them. I did it."

"You chose a poor time," said Chambers softly. "You would have to do something like this, just at the time when Manning is lurking around the Solar System somewhere, carrying enough power to wipe us off the face of the Earth if he wanted to."

"That's why I did it," protested Stutsman. "I knew Manning was around. I was afraid he'd start something, so I beat him to it. I thought it would throw a scare into the people, make them afraid to follow Manning when he acted."

* * * * *

"You have a low opinion of the human race, don't you?" Chambers said. "You think you can beat them into a mire of helplessness and fear."

Chambers rose from his chair, pounded his desk for emphasis.

"But you can't do it, Stutsman. Men have tried it before you, from the very dawn of history. You can destroy their homes and kill their children. You can burn them at the stake or in the electric chair, hang them or space-walk them or herd them into gas chambers. You can drive them like cattle into concentration camps, you can keep the torture racks bloody, but you can't break them.

"Because the people always survive. Their courage is greater than the courage of any one man or group of men. They always reach the man who has oppressed them, they always tear him down from the place he sits, and they do not deal gently with him when they do. In the end the people always win."

Chambers reached across the desk and caught Stutsman by the slack of the shirt. A twist of his hand tightened the fabric around Stutsman's neck. The financier thrust his face close to the wolfish scowl. "That is what is going to happen to you and me. We'll go down in history as just a couple of damn fools who tried to rule and couldn't make the grade. Thanks to you and your damned stupidity. You and your blood purges!"

Patches of anger burned on Stutsman's cheeks. His eyes glittered and his lips were white. But his whisper was bitter mockery. "Maybe we should have coddled and humored them. Made them just so awful happy that big bad old Interplanetary had them. So they could have set up little bronze images of you in their homes. So you could have been sort of a solar god!"

"I still think it would have been the better way." Chambers flung Stutsman from him with a straight-armed push. The man reeled and staggered across the carpeted floor. "Get out of my sight!"

Stutsman straightened his shirt, turned and left.

Chambers slumped into his chair, his hands grasping the arms on either side of his great body, his eyes staring out through the window from which flooded the last rays of the afternoon Sun.

* * * * *

Drums pounded in his brain ... the drums of rebellion out in space, of rebellion on those other worlds ... drums that were drowning out and shattering forever the dream that he had woven. He had wanted economic dictatorship ... not the cold, passionless, terrible dictatorship that Stutsman typified ... but one that would bring peace and prosperity and happiness to the Solar System.

He closed his eyes and thought. Snatches of ambition, snatches of hopes ... but it was useless to think, for the drums and the imagined shouting drowned out his thoughts.

Mankind didn't give a damn for good business administration, nor a hoot for prosperity or peace or happiness. Liberty and the right to rule, the right to go risk one's neck ... to climb a mountain or cross a desert or explore a swamp, the right to aim one's sights at distant stars, to fling a taunting challenge into the teeth of space, to probe with clumsy fingers and force nature to lay bare her secrets ... that was what mankind wanted. That was what those men out on Mars and Venus and in the Jovian worlds were fighting for. Not against Spencer Chambers or Ludwig Stutsman or Interplanetary Power, but for the thing that drove man on and made of him a flame that others might follow. Fighting for a heritage that was first expressed when the first man growled at the entrance to his cave and dared the world to take it from him.

Spencer Chambers closed his eyes and rocked back and forth in the tilting office chair.

It had been a good fight, a hard fight. He had had a lot of fun out of it. But he was licked, after all these years. He had held the biggest dream of any man who ever lived. Alexander and Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin and those other fellows had been pikers alongside of Spencer Chambers. They had only aimed at Earthly conquest while he had reached out to grab at all the worlds. But by heaven, he'd almost made it!

A door grated open.

"Chambers!" said a voice.

His feet hit the floor with a thud and he sat stiff and staring at the figure in the door.

It was Craven and the man was excited. His glasses were slid far down on his nose, his hair was standing on end, his tie was all awry.

"I have it!" Craven whooped. "I have it at last!"

Hope clutched at Chambers, but he was almost afraid to speak.

"Have what?" he whispered tensely.

"The collector field! It was under my nose all the time, but I didn't see it!"

Chambers was out of his chair and striding across the room. A tumult buzzed within his skull.

Licked? Hell, he hadn't even started! He'd win yet. He'd teach the people to revolt! He'd run Manning and Page out to the end of space and push them through!



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

It was a weird revolution. There were few battles, little blood shed. There seemed to be no secret plots. There were no skulking leaders, no passwords, nothing that in former years had marked rebellion against tyranny.

It was a revolution carried out with utter boldness. Secret police were helpless, for it was not a secret revolution. The regular police and the troopers were helpless because the men they wanted to arrest were shadows that flitter here and there ... large and substantial shadows, but impossible to seize and imprison.

Every scheme that was hatched within the government circles was known almost at once to the ghostly leaders who stalked the land. Police detachments, armed with warrants for the arrests of men who had participated in some action which would stamp them as active rebels, found the suspects absent when they broke down the doors. Someone had warned them. Troops, hurried to points where riots had broken out, arrived to find peaceful scenes, but with evidence of recent battle. The rioters had been warned, had made their getaway.

When the rebels struck it was always at the most opportune time, when the government was off balance or off guard.

In the first day of the revolt, Ranthoor fell when the maddened populace, urged on by the words of a shadowy John Moore Mallory, charged the federation buildings. The government fled, leaving all records behind, to Satellite City on Ganymede.

In the first week three Martian cities fell, but Sandebar, the capital, still held out. On Venus, Radium City was taken by the rebels within twenty-four hours after the first call to revolt had rung across the worlds, but New Chicago, the seat of government, still was in the government's hands, facing a siege.

Government propagandists spread the word that the material energy engines were not safe. Reports were broadcast that on at least two occasions the engines had blown up, killing the men who operated them.

But this propaganda failed to gain credence, for in the cities that were in the rebel hands, technicians were at work manufacturing and setting up the material engines. Demonstrations were given. The people saw them, saw what enormous power they developed.

* * * * *

Russ Page stared incredulously at the television screen. It seemed to be shifting back and forth. One second it held the distorted view of Satellite City on Ganymede, and the next second the view of jumbled, icy desert somewhere outside the city.

"Look here, Greg," he said. "Something's wrong."

Greg Manning turned away from the calculator where he had been working and stared at the screen.

"How long has it been acting that way?" he asked.

"Just started," said Russ.

Greg straightened and glanced down the row of television machines. Some of them were dead, their switches closed, but on the screens of many of the others was the same effect as on this machine. Their operators were working frustratedly at the controls, trying to focus the image, bring it into sharp relief.

"Can't seem to get a thing, sir," said one of the men. "I was working on the fueling station out on Io, and the screen just went haywire."

"Mine seems to be all right," said another man. "I've had it on Sandebar for the last couple of hours and there's nothing wrong."

A swift check revealed one fact. The machines, when trained on the Jovian worlds, refused to function. Anywhere else in space, however, they worked perfectly.

Russ stoked and lit his pipe, snapped off his machine and swung around in the operator's chair.

"Somebody's playing hell with us out around Jupiter," he stated calmly.

"I've been expecting something like this," said Greg. "I have been afraid of this ever since Craven blanketed us out of the Interplanetary building."

* * * * *

"He really must have something this time," Russ agreed. "He's blanketing out the entire Jovian system. There's a space field of low intensity surrounding all of Jupiter, enclosing all the moons. He keeps shifting the intensity so that, even though we can force our way through his field, the irregular variations make it impossible to line up anything. It works, in principle, just as effectively as if we couldn't get through at all."

Greg whistled soundlessly through suddenly bared teeth.

"That takes power," he said, "and I'm afraid Craven has it. Power to burn."

"The collector field?" asked Russ.

Greg nodded. "A field that sucks in radiant energy. Free energy that he just reaches out and grabs. And it doesn't depend on the Sun alone. It probably makes use of every type of radiation in all of space."

Russ slumped in his chair, smoking, his forehead wrinkled in thought.

"If that's what he's got," he finally declared, "he's going to be hard to crack. He can suck in any radiant vibration form, any space vibration. He can shift them around, break them down and build them up. He can discharge them, direct them. He's got a vibration plant that's the handiest little war machine that ever existed."

Greg suddenly wheeled and walked to a wall cabinet. From it he took a box and, opening it, lifted out a tiny mechanism.

He chuckled deep in his throat. "The mechanical shadow. The little machine that always tells us where Craven is—as long as he's wearing his glasses."

"He always wears them," said Russ crisply. "He's blind as a bat without them."

Greg set the machine down on the table. "When we find Craven, we'll find the contraption that's blanketing Jupiter and its moons."

Dials spun and needles quivered. Rapidly Russ jotted down the readings on a sheet of paper. At the calculator, he tapped keys, depressed the activator. The machine hummed and snarled and chuckled.

Russ glanced at the result imprinted on the paper roll.

"Craven is out near Jupiter," he announced. "About 75,000 miles distant from its surface, in a plane normal to the Sun's rays."

"A spaceship," suggested Greg.

Russ nodded. "That's the only answer."

The two men looked at one another.

"That's something we can get hold of," said Greg.

He walked to the ship controls and lowered himself into the pilot's chair. A hand came out and hauled back a lever.

The Invincible moved.

From the engine rooms came the whine of the gigantic power plant as it built up and maintained the gravity concentration center suddenly created in front of the ship.

Russ, standing beside Greg at the control panel, looked out into space and marveled. They were flashing through space, their speed building up at a breath-taking rate, yet they had no real propulsion power. The discovery of the gravity concentrator had outdated such a method of driving a spaceship. Instead, they were falling, hurtling downward into the yawning maw of an artificial gravity field. And such a method made for speed, terrible speed.

Jupiter seemed to leap at them. It became a great crimson and yellow ball that filled almost half the vision plate.

* * * * *

The Invincible's speed was slacking off, slower and slower, until it barely crawled in comparison to its former speed.

Slowly they circled Jupiter's great girth, staring out of the vision port for a sight of Craven's ship. They were nearing the position the little mechanical shadow had indicated.

"There it is," said Russ suddenly, almost breathlessly.

Far out in space, tiny, almost like a dust mote against the great bulk of the monster planet, rode a tiny light. Slowly the Invincible crawled inward. The mote of light became a gleaming silver ship, a mighty ship—one that was fully as large as the Invincible!

"That's it all right," said Greg. "They're lying behind a log out here raising hell with our television apparatus. Maybe we better tickle them a little bit and see what they have."

Rising from the control board, he went to another control panel. Russ remained standing in front of the vision plate, staring down at the ship out in space.

Behind him came a shrill howl from the power plant. The Invincible staggered slightly. A beam of deep indigo lashed across space, a finger suddenly jabbing at the other ship.

Space was suddenly colored, for thousands of miles, as the beam struck Craven's ship and seemed to explode in a blast of dazzling indigo light. The ship reeled under the impact of the blow, reeled and weaved in space as the beam struck it and delivered to it the mighty power of the screaming engines back in the engine room.

"What happened?" Greg screamed above the roar.

Russ shrugged his shoulders. "You jarred him a little. Pushed him through space for several hundred miles. Made him know something had hit him, but it didn't seem to do any damage."

"That was pure cosmic I gave him! Five billion horsepower—and it just staggered him!"

"He's got a space lens that absorbs the energy," said Russ. "The lens concentrates it and pours it into a receiving chamber, probably a huge photo-cell. Nobody yet has burned out one of those things on a closed circuit."

Greg wrinkled his brow, perplexed. "What he must have is a special field of some sort that lowers the wave-length and the intensity. He's getting natural cosmics all the time and taking care of them."

"That wouldn't be much of a trick," Russ pointed out. "But when he takes care of cosmics backed by five billion horsepower ... that's something else!"

Greg grinned wickedly. "I'm going to hand him a long heat radiation. If his field shortens that any, he'll have radio beam and that will blow photo-cells all to hell."

He stabbed viciously at the keys on the board and once again the shrill howl of the engines came from the rear of the ship. A lance of red splashed out across space and touched the other ship. Again space was lit, this time with a crimson glow.

* * * * *

Russ shook his head. "Nothing doing."

Greg sat down and looked at Russ. "Funny thing about this. They just sat there and let us throw two charges at them, took everything we gave them and never tried to hand it back."

"Maybe they haven't anything to hand us," Russ suggested hopefully.

"They must have. Craven wouldn't take to space with just a purely defensive weapon. He knew we'd find him and he'd have a fight on his hands."

Russ found his pipe was dead. Snapping his lighter, he applied flame to the blackened tobacco. Walking slowly to the wall cabinet, he lifted two other boxes out, set them on the table and took from them two other mechanical shadows. He turned them on and leaned close, watching the spinning dials, the quivering needles.

"Greg," he whispered, "Chambers and Stutsman are there in that ship with Craven! Look, their shadows register identical with the one that spotted Craven."

"I suspected as much," Greg replied. "We got the whole pack cornered out here. If we can just get rid of them, the whole war would be won in one stroke."

Russ lifted a stricken face from the row of tiny mechanisms. "This is our big chance. We may never get it again. The next hour could decide who is going to win."

Greg rose from the chair and stood before the control board. Grimly he punched a series of keys. The engines howled again. Greg twisted a dial and the howl rose into a shrill scream.

From the Invincible another beam lashed out ... another and another. Space was speared with beam after beam hurtling from the great ship.

Swiftly the beams went through the range of radiation, through radio and short radio, infra-red, visible light, ultra-violet, X-ray, the gammas and the cosmics—a terrific flood of billions of horsepower.

Craven's ship buckled and careened under the lashing impacts of the bombardment, but it seemed unhurt!

Greg's face was bleaker than usual as he turned from the board to look at Russ.

"We've used everything we have," he said, "and he's stopped them all. We can't touch him."

* * * * *

Russ shivered. The control room suddenly seemed chilly with a frightening kind of cold.

"He's carrying photo-cells and several thousand tons of accumulator stacks. Not much power left in them. He could pour a billion horsepower into them for hours and still have room for more."

Greg nodded wearily. "All we've been doing is feeding him."

The engines were humming quietly now, singing the low song of power held in leash.

But then they screamed like a buzz saw biting into an iron-hard stick of white oak. Screamed in a single, frightful agony as they threw into the protecting wall that enclosed the Invincible all the power they could develop.

The air of the ship was instantaneously charged with a hazy, bluish glow, and the sharp, stinging odor of ozone filled the ship.

* * * * *

Outside, an enormous burst of blue-white flame splashed and spattered around the Invincible. Living lightning played in solid, snapping sheets around the vision port and ran in trickling blazing fire across the plates.

Russ cried out and backed away, holding his arm before his eyes. It was as if he had looked into a nova of energy exploding before his eyes.

In the instant the scream died and the splash of terrific fire had vanished. Only a rapidly dying glow remained.

"What was it?" asked Russ dazedly. "What happened? Ten engines every one of them capable of over five billion horsepower and every one of them screaming!"

"Craven," said Greg grimly. "He let us have everything he had. He simply drained his accumulator stacks and threw it all into our face. But he's done now. That was his only shot. He'll have to build up power now and that will take a while. But we couldn't have taken much more."

"Stalemate," said Russ. "We can't hurt him, he can't hurt us."

"Not by a damn sight," declared Greg. "I still have a trick or two in mind."

He tried them. From the Invincible a fifty-billion-horsepower bolt of living light and fire sprang out as all ten engines thundered with an insane voice that racked the ship.

Fireworks exploded in space when the bolt struck Craven's ship. Screen after screen exploded in glittering, flaming sparks, but the ship rode the lashing charge, finally halted the thrust of power. The beam glowed faintly, died out.

Perspiration streamed down Greg's face as he bent over a calculator and constructed the formula for a magnetic field. He sent out a field of such unimaginable intensity that it would have drawn any beryl-steel within a mile of it into a hard, compact mass. Even the Invincible, a hundred miles away, lurched under the strain. But Craven's ship, after the first wild jerk, did not move. A curious soft glow spread out from the ship, veered sharply and disappeared in the magnetic field.

Greg swore softly. "He's cutting it down as fast as I try to build it up," he explained, "and I can't move it any nearer."

From Craven's ship lashed out another thunderbolt and once again the engines screamed in terrible unison as they poured power into the ship's triple screen. The first screen stopped all material things. The second stopped radiations by refracting them into the fourth dimension. The third shield was akin to the anti-entropy field, which stopped all matter ... and yet the ten engines bellowed like things insane as Craven struck with flaming bolts, utilizing the power he had absorbed from the fifty billion horsepower Greg had thrown at him.

There was anger in Greg Manning's face ... a terrible anger. His fists knotted and he shook them at the gleaming ship that lay far down near Jupiter.

"I've got one trick left," he shouted, almost as if he expected Craven to hear. "Just one trick. Damn you, see if you can stop this one!"

He set up the pattern on the board and punched the activating lever. The ten engines thrummed with power. Then the howling died away.

Four times they screamed and four times they ebbed into a gentle hum.

"Get on the navigation controls!" yelled Greg. "Be ready to give the ship all you've got."

Greg leaped for the control chair, grasped the acceleration lever.

"Now," growled Greg, "look out, Craven, we're coming at you!"

Greg, teeth gritted, slammed the acceleration over.

Suddenly all space wrenched horribly with a nauseating, terrible thud that seemed to strain at the very anchors of the Universe.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Jupiter and the Jovian worlds leaped suddenly backward, turned swiftly green, then blue, and faded in an instant into violet. The Sun spun crazily through space, retreating, dimming to a tiny ruby-tinted star.

The giant generators in the Invincible hummed louder now, continually louder, a steel-throated roar that trembled through every plate, through every girder, through every bit of metal in the ship.

The ship itself was plunging spaceward, streaking like a runaway star for the depths of space beyond the Solar System. And behind it, caught tight, gripped and held, Craven's ship trailed at the end of a tractor field that bound it to the space-rocketing Invincible.

The acceleration compensator, functioning perfectly, had taken up the slack as the ship had plunged from a standing start into a speed that neared the pace of light. But it had never been built to stand such sudden, intense acceleration, and for an instant Russ and Greg seemed to be crushed by a mighty weight that struck at them. The sensation swiftly lifted as the compensator took up the load.

* * * * *

Greg shook his head, flinging the trickling perspiration from his eyes.

"I hope their compensator worked as well as ours," he said.

"If it didn't," declared Russ, "we're towing a shipload of dead men."

Russ glanced at the speed dial. They were almost touching the speed of light. "He hasn't cut down our speed yet."

"We threw him off his balance. His drive depends largely on the mass of some planet as a body to take up the reaction of his ship. Jupiter is the ideal body for that ... but he's leaving Jupiter behind. He has to do something soon or it'll be too late."

"He's getting less energy, too," said Russ. "We're retreating from his main sources of energy, the Sun and Jupiter. Almost the speed of light and that would cut down his energy intake terrifically. He has to use what he's got in his accumulators, and after that last blast at us, they must be nearly drained."

As Russ watched, the speed needle fell off slightly. Russ held his breath. It edged back slowly, creeping. The speed was being cut down.

"Craven is using whatever power he has," he said. "They're alive back there, all right. He's trying to catch hold of Jupiter and make its gravity work for him."

The Invincible felt the strain of the other ship now. Felt it as Craven poured power into his drive, fighting to get free of the invisible hawser that had trapped him, fighting against being dragged into outer space at the tail-end of a mighty craft heading spaceward with frightening speed.

Girders groaned in the Invincible, the engines moaned and throbbed. The speed needle fell back, creeping down the dial, slowly, unwillingly, resisting any drop in speed. But Craven was cutting it down. And as he cut it, he was able to absorb more energy with his collector lens. But he was fighting two things ... momentum and the steadily decreasing gravitational pull of Jupiter and the Sun. The Sun's pull was dwindling slowly, Jupiter's rapidly.

The needle still crept downward.

"What's his point of equality to us?" demanded Greg. "Will we make it?"

Russ shook his head. "Won't know for hours. He'll be able to slow us up ... maybe he'll even stop us or be able to jerk free, although I doubt that. But every minute takes him farther away from his main source of power, the Solar System's radiation. He could collect power anywhere in space, you know, but the best place to collect it is near large radiant bodies."

Russ continued to crouch over the dial, begrudging every backward flicker of the needle.

This was the last play, the final hand. If they could drag Craven and his ship away from the Solar System, maroon him deep in space, far removed from any source of radiation, they would win, for they could go back and finish the work of smashing Interplanetary.

But if Craven won—if he could halt their mad dash for space, if he could shake free—they'd never have another chance. He would be studying that field they had wrapped around him, be ready for it next time, might even develop one like it and use it on the Invincible. If Craven could win his way back to the Sun, he would be stronger than they were, could top them in power, shatter all their plans, and once again the worlds would bow to Interplanetary and Spencer Chambers.

Russ watched the meter. The speed was little more than ten miles a second now and dropping rapidly. He sat motionless, hunched, sucking at his dead pipe, listening to the thrumming of the generators.

* * * * *

"If we only had a margin," he groaned. "If we just had a few more horsepower. Just a few. But we're wide open. Every engine is developing everything it can!"

Greg tapped him on the shoulder, gently. Russ turned his head and looked into the face of his friend, a face as bleak as ever, but with a hint of smile in the corners of the eyes.

"Why not let Jupiter help us?" he asked. "He could be a lot of help."

Russ stared for a moment, uncomprehending. Then with a sob of gladness he reached out a hand, shoved over a lever. Mirrors of anti-entropy shifted, assumed different angles, and the Invincible sheered off. They were no longer retreating directly from the Sun, but at an angle quartering off across the Solar System.

Greg grinned. "We're falling behind Jupiter now. Letting Jupiter run away from us as he circles his orbit, following the Sun. Adds miles per second to our velocity of retreat, even if it doesn't show on the dial."

The cosmic tug of war went on, grimly—two ships straining, fighting each other, one seeking to escape, the other straining to snake the second ship into the maw of open, hostile space.

The speed was down to five miles a second, then a fraction lower. The needle was flickering now, impossible to decide whether it was dropping or not. And in the engine rooms, ten great generators howled in their attempt to make that needle move up the dial again.

Russ lit his pipe, his eyes not leaving the dial. The needle was creeping lower again. Down to three miles a second now.

He puffed clouds of smoke and considered. Saturn fortunately was ninety degrees around in his orbit. On the present course, only Neptune remained between them and free space. Pluto was far away, but even if it had been, it really wouldn't count, for it was small and had little attraction.

In a short while Ganymede and Callisto would be moving around on the far side of Jupiter and that might help. Everything counted so much now.

The dial was down to two miles a second and there it hung. Hung and stayed. Russ watched it with narrowed eyes. By this time Craven certainly would have given up much hope of help from Jupiter. If the big planet couldn't have helped him before, it certainly couldn't now. In another hour or two Earth would transit the Sun and that would cut down the radiant energy to some degree. But in the meantime Craven was loading his photo-cells and accumulators, was laying up a power reserve. As a last desperate resort he would use that power, in a final attempt to break away from the Invincible.

Russ waited for that attempt. There was nothing that could be done about it. The engines were developing every watt of power that could be urged out of them. If Craven had the power to break away, he would break away ... that was all there would be to it.

An hour passed and the needle crept up a fraction of a point. Russ was still watching the dial, his mind foggy with concentration.

* * * * *

Suddenly the Invincible shuddered and seemed to totter in space, as if something, some mighty force, had struck the ship a terrific blow. The needle swung swiftly backward, reached one mile a second, dipped to half a mile.

Russ sat bolt upright, holding his breath, his teeth clenched with death grip upon the pipe-stem.

Craven had blasted with everything he had! He had used every last trickle of power in the accumulators ... all the power he had been storing up.

Russ leaped from the chair and raced to the periscopic mirror. Stooping, he stared into it. Far back in space, like a silver bauble, swung Craven's ship. It swung back and forth in space, like a mighty, cosmic pendulum. Breathlessly he watched. The ship was still in the grip of the space field!

"Greg," he shouted, "we've got him!"

He raced back to the control panel, snapped a glance at the speed dial. The needle was rising rapidly now, a full mile a second. Within another fifteen minutes, it had climbed to a mile and a half. The Invincible was starting to go places!

The engines still howled, straining, shrieking, roaring their defiance.

In an hour the needle indicated the speed of four miles a second. Two hours later it was ten and rising visibly as Jupiter fell far behind and the Sun became little more than a glowing cinder.

Russ swung the controls to provide side acceleration and the two ships swung far to the rear of Neptune. They would pass that massive planet at the safe distance of a full hundred million miles.

"He won't even make a pass at it," said Greg. "He knows he's licked."

"Probably trying to store some more power," suggested Russ.

"Sweet chance he has to do that," declared Greg. "Look at that needle walk, will you? We'll hit the speed of light in a few more hours and after that he may just as well shut off his lens. There just won't be any radiation for him to catch."

Craven didn't make a try at Neptune. The planet was far away when they intersected its orbit ... furthermore, a wall of darkness had closed in about the ships. They were going three times as fast as light and the speed was still accelerating!

Hour after hour, day after day, the Invincible and its trailing captive sped doggedly outward into space. Out into the absolute wastes of interstellar space, where the stars were flecks of light, like tiny eyes watching from very far away.

* * * * *

Russ lounged in the control chair and stared out the vision plate. There was nothing to see, nothing to do. There hadn't been anything to see or do for days. The controls were locked at maximum and the engines still hammered their roaring song of speed and power. Before them stretched an empty gulf that probably never before had been traversed by any intelligence, certainly not by man.

Out into the mystery of interstellar space. Only it didn't seem mysterious. It was very commonplace and ordinary, almost monotonous. Russ gripped his pipe and chuckled.

There had been a day when men had maintained one couldn't go faster than light. Also, men had claimed that it would be impossible to force nature to give up the secret of material energy. But here they were, speeding along faster than light, their engines roaring with the power of material energy.

They were plowing a new space road, staking out a new path across the deserts of space, pioneering far beyond the 'last frontier.'

Greg's steps sounded across the room. "We've gone a long way, Russ. Maybe we better begin to slow down a bit."

"Yes," agreed Russ. He leaned forward and grasped the controls. "We'll slow down now," he said.

Sudden silence smote the ship. Their ears, accustomed for days to the throaty roarings of the engines, rang with the torture of no sound.

Long minutes and then new sounds began to be heard ... the soft humming of the single engine that provided power for the interior apparatus and the maintenance of the outer screens.

"Soon as we slow down below the speed of light," said Greg, "we'll throw the televisor on Craven's ship and learn what we can about his apparatus. No use trying it now, for we couldn't use it, because we're in the same space condition it uses in normal operation."

"In fact," laughed Russ, "we can't do much of anything except move. Energies simply can't pass through this space we're in. We're marooned."

Greg sat down in a chair, gazed solemnly at Russ.

"Just what was our top speed?" he demanded.

Russ grinned. "Ten thousand times the speed of light," he said.

Greg whistled soundlessly. "A long way from home."

* * * * *

Far away, the stars were tiny pinpoints, like little crystals shining by the reflection of a light. Pinpoints of light and shimmering masses of lacy silver ... star dust that seemed ghostly and strange, but was in reality the massing of many million mighty stars. And great empty black spaces where there was not a single light, where the dark went on and on and did not stop.

Greg exhaled his breath softly. "Well, we're here."

"Wherever that might be," amended Russ.

There were no familiar constellations, not a single familiar star. Every sign post of the space they had known was wiped out.

"There really aren't any brilliant stars," said Russ. "None at all. We must be in a sort of hole in space, a place that's relatively empty of any stars."

Greg nodded soberly. "Good thing we have those mechanical shadows. Without them we'd never find our way back home. But we have several that will lead us back."

Outside the vision panel, they could see Craven's ship. Freed now of the space field, it was floating slowly, still under the grip of the momentum they had built up in their dash across space. It was so close that they could see the lettering across its bow.

"So they call it the Interplanetarian," said Russ.

Greg nodded. "Guess it's about time we talk to them. I'm afraid they're getting pretty nervous."

* * * * *

"Do you have any idea where we are?" demanded Ludwig Stutsman.

Craven shook his head. "No more idea than you have. Manning snaked us across billions of miles, clear out of the Solar System into interstellar space. Take a look at those stars and you get some idea."

Spencer Chambers stroked his gray mustache, asked calmly: "What do you figure our chances are of getting back?"

"That's something we'll know more about later," said Craven. "Doesn't look too bright right now. I'm not worrying about that. What I'm wondering about is what Manning and Page are going to do now that they have us out here."

"I thought you'd be," said a voice that came out of clear air.

They stared at the place from which the voice had seemed to come. There was a slight refraction in the air; then, swiftly, a man took shape. It was Manning. He stood before them, smiling.

"Hello, Manning," said Craven. "I figured you'd pay us a call when you got around to it."

"Look here," snarled Stutsman, but he stopped when Chambers' hand fell upon his shoulder, gripped it hard.

"Got plenty of air?" asked Greg.

"Air? Sure. Atmosphere machines working perfectly," Craven replied.

"Fine," said Greg. "How about food and water? Plenty of both?"

"Plenty," said Craven.

"Look here, Manning," broke in Chambers, "where's all this questioning leading? What have you got up your sleeve?"

"Just wanted to be sure," Greg told him. "Would hate to have you fellows starve on me, or go thirsty. Wouldn't want to come back and find you all dead."

"Come back?" asked Chambers wonderingly. "I'm afraid I don't understand. Is this a joke of some sort?"

"No joke," said Greg grimly. "I thought you might have guessed. I'm going to leave you here."

"Leave us here?" roared Stutsman.

"Keep your shirt on," snapped Greg. "Just for a while, until we can go back to the Solar System and finish a little job we're doing. Then we'll come back and get you."

Craven grimaced. "I thought it would be something like that." He squinted at Manning through the thick lenses. "You never miss a bet, do you?"

Greg laughed. "I try not to."

A little silence fell upon the three men and Manning's image.

Greg broke it. "How about your energy collector?" he asked Craven. "Will it maintain the ship out here? You get cosmic rays. Not too much else, I'm afraid."

Craven grinned wryly. "You're right, but we can get along. The accumulators are practically drained, though, and we won't be able to store anything. Would you mind shooting us over just a little power? Enough to charge the accumulators a little for emergency use."

He looked over his shoulder, almost apprehensively.

"There might be an emergency out here, you know. Nobody knows anything about this place."

"I'll give you a little power," Greg agreed.

"Thank you very much," said Craven, half in mockery. "No doubt you think yourself quite smart, Manning, getting us out here. You know you have us stranded, that we can't collect more than enough power to live on."

"That's why I did it," Greg said, and vanished.



CHAPTER NINETEEN

Craven watched the Invincible gather speed and tear swiftly through the black, saw it grow tiny and then disappear entirely, either swallowed by the distance or snapping into the strange super-space that existed beyond the speed of light.

He turned from the window, chuckling.

Stutsman snarled at him: "What's so funny?"

The scientist glared at the wolfish face and without speaking, walked to the desk and sat down. He reached for pencil and paper.

Chambers walked over to watch him.

"You've found something, Doctor," he said quietly.

Craven laughed, throatily. "Yes, I have. I've found a lot. Manning thinks he can keep us out here, but he's wrong. We'll be in the Solar System less than a week after he gets there."

Chambers stifled a gasp, tried to speak calmly. "You mean this?"

"Of course I mean it. I don't waste my time with foolish jokes."

"You have the secret of material energy?"

"Not that," the scientist growled, "but I have something else as valuable. I have the secret of Manning's drive: I know what it is that enables him to exceed the speed of light ... to go ten thousand times as fast as light ... the Lord knows how much faster if he wanted to."

"No ordinary drive would do that," said Chambers. "It would take more than power to make a ship go that fast."

"You bet your life it would, and Manning is the boy who's got it. He uses a space field. I think I can duplicate it."

"And how long will it take you to do this work?"

"About a week," Craven told him. "Perhaps a little longer, perhaps a little less. But once we go, we'll go as fast as Manning does. We'll be short on power, but I think I can do something about that, too."

Chambers took a chair beside the desk. "But do we know the way home?"

"We can find it," said Craven.

"But there are no familiar constellations," objected Chambers. "He dragged us out so far that there isn't a single star that any one of us can identify."

"I said I'd find the Solar System," Craven declared impatiently, "and I will. Manning started out for it, didn't he? I saw the way he went. The Sun is a type G star and all I'll do is look for a type G star."

"But there may be more than one type G star," objected the financier.

"Probably are," Craven agreed, "but there are other ways of finding the Sun and identifying it."

He volunteered no further information, went back to work with the pad and pencil. Chambers rose wearily from his chair.

"Tell me when you know what we can do," he said.

"Sure," Craven grunted.

* * * * *

"That's the Sun," said Craven. "That faint star between those two brighter ones."

"Are you sure of it?" demanded Stutsman.

"Of course. I don't make blunders."

"It's the only type G star in that direction," suggested Chambers, helpfully.

"Not that, either," declared Craven. "In fact, there are several type G stars. I examined them all and I know I'm right."

"How do you know?" challenged Stutsman.

"Spectroscopic examination. That collector field of ours gathers energy just like a burning glass. You've seen a burning glass, haven't you?"

He stared at Stutsman, directing the question at him.

Stutsman shuffled awkwardly, unhappily.

"Well," Craven went on, "I used that for a telescope. Gathered the light from the suns and analyzed it. Of course it didn't act like a real telescope, produce an image or anything like that, but it was ideal for spectroscopic work."

They waited for him to explain. Finally, he continued:

"All of the stars I examined were just type G stars, nothing else, but there was a difference in one of them. First, the spectroscope showed lines of reflected light passing through oxygen and hydrogen, water vapor and carbon dioxide. Pure planetary phenomena, never found on a star itself. Also it showed that a certain per cent of the light was polarized. Now remember that I examined it for a long time and I found out something else from the length of observation which convinces me. The light varied with a periodic irregularity. The chronometers aren't working exactly right out here, so I can't give you any explanation in terms of hours. But I find a number of regularly recurring changes in light intensity and character ... and that proves the presence of a number of planetary bodies circling the star. That's the only way one could explain the fluctuations for the G-type star is a steady type. It doesn't vary greatly and has no light fluctuations to speak of. Not like the Cepheid and Mira types."

"And that proves it's our Sun?" asked Chambers.

Craven nodded. "Fairly definitely, I'd say."

"How far away is it?" Stutsman wanted to know.

* * * * *

Craven snorted. "You would ask something like that."

"But," declared Stutsman, "there are ways of measuring how far a star is away from any point, measuring both the distance and the size of the star."

"Okay," agreed Craven, "you find me something solid and within reach that's measurable. Something, preferably, about 200 million miles or so across. Then I'll tell you how far we are from the Sun. This ship is not in an orbit. It's not fixed in space. I have no accurate way of measuring distances and angles simultaneously and accurately. Especially angles as small as these would be."

Craven and Stutsman glared at one another.

"It's a long way however you look at it," the financier said. "If we're going to get there, we'll have to start as soon as possible. How soon can we start, Doctor?"

"Very soon. I have the gravity concentration field developed and Manning left me just enough power to get a good start." He chuckled, took off his glasses, wiped the lenses and put them back on again. "Imagine him giving me that power!"

"But after we use up that power, what are we going to do?" demanded Chambers. "This collector lens of yours won't furnish us enough to keep going."

"You're right," Craven conceded, "but we'll be able to get more. We'll build up what speed we can and then we'll shut off the drive and let momentum carry us along. In the meantime our collector will gather power for us. We're advancing toward the source of radiation now, instead of away from it. Out here, where there's little gravity stress, fewer conflicting lines of gravitation, we'll be able to spread out the field, widen it, make it thousands of miles across. And the new photo-cells will be a help as well."

"How are the photo-cells coming?" asked Chambers.

Craven grinned. "We'll have a bank of them in within a few hours, and replace the others as fast as we can. I have practically the whole crew at work on them. Manning doesn't know it, but he found the limit of those photo-cells when he was heaving energy at us back in the Solar System. He blistered them. I wouldn't have thought it possible, but it was. You have to hand it to Manning and Page. They are a couple of smart men."

To the eye there was only one slight difference between the old cells and the new ones. The new type cell, when on no load, appeared milky white, whereas the old cells on no load were silvery. The granular surface of the new units was responsible for the difference in appearance, for each minute section of the surface was covered with even more minute metallic hexagonal pyramids and prisms.

"Just a little matter of variation in the alloy," Craven explained. "Crystalization of the alloy, forming those little prisms and pyramids. As a result, you get a surface thousands of times greater than in the old type. Helps you absorb every bit of the energy."

* * * * *

The Interplanetarian arrowed swiftly starward, driving ahead with terrific momentum while the collector lens, sweeping up the oncoming radiations, charged the great banks of accumulators. The G-type star toward which they were heading was still pale, but the two brighter stars to either side blazed like fiery jewels against the black of space.

"You say we'll be only a week or so behind Manning?" asked Chambers.

Craven looked at the financier, his eyes narrowed behind the heavy lenses. He sucked in his loose lips and turned once again to the control board.

"Perhaps a little longer," he admitted finally. "We're losing time, having to go along on momentum in order to collect power. But the nearer we get to those stars, the more power we'll have and we'll be able to move faster."

Chambers drummed idly on the arm of his chair, thinking.

"Perhaps there's time yet," he said, half to himself. "With the power we'll have within the Solar System, we can stop Manning and the revolution. We can gain control again."

* * * * *

Craven was silent, watching the dials.

"Manning might even pass us on the way back to look for us," Chambers went on. "He thinks we're still out there. He wouldn't expect to find us where we are, light years from where we started."

Craven shot him a curious look. "I wouldn't be too sure of that. Manning has a string of some sort tied to us. He's got us tagged ... good and proper. He's always been able to find us again, no matter where we were. I have a hunch he'll find us again, even way out here."

Chambers shrugged his shoulders. "It really doesn't matter. Just so we get close enough to the Sun so we can load those accumulators and jam the photo-cells full. With a load like that we can beat him hands down."

The financier fell into a silence. He stared out of the vision plate, watching the stars. Still far away, but so much nearer than they had been.

His brain hummed with dreams. Old dreams, revived again, old dreams of conquest and of empire, dreams of a power that held a solar system in its grip.

Craven broke his chain of thoughts. "Where's our friend Stutsman? I haven't seen him around lately."

Chambers chuckled good-naturedly. "He's sulking. He seems to have gotten the idea neither one of us likes him. He's been spending most of his time back in the engine room with the crew."

"Were you talking about me?" asked a silky voice.

They spun around to see Stutsman standing in the doorway of the control room. His face was twisted into a wolfish grin and in his right hand he held a heat gun.

Chambers' voice was sharp, like the note of a clanging bell. "What's this?"

Stutsman's face twisted into an even more exaggerated grin. "This," he said, "is mutiny. I'm taking over!" He laughed at them.

"No use calling the crew. They're with me."

"Damn you!" shouted Chambers, taking a step forward. He halted as Stutsman jerked the pistol up.

"Forget it, Chambers. You're just second man from now on. Maybe not even second man. You tried out this dictator business and you bungled it. You went soft. You're taking orders from me from now on. No questions, no back talk. You do as I say and maybe you won't get hurt."

"You're mad, Stutsman!" cried Chambers. "You can't get away with this."

Stutsman barked out a brittle laugh. "Who is going to stop me?"

"The people," Chambers shouted at him. "The people will. They won't allow this. When you get back to the Solar System ..."

Stutsman growled, stepping toward Chambers, pistol leveled. "The people won't have anything to say about this. I'll rule the Solar System the way I want to. There won't be anyone else who'll have a thing to say about it. So you dreamed of empire, did you? You dreamed of a solar dictatorship. Well, watch me! I'll build a real empire. But I'll be the head of it ... not you."

Craven sat down in his chair, crossed his knees. "Just what do you plan to do, Dictator Stutsman?"

* * * * *

Stutsman fairly foamed at the mouth over the insolence of Craven's voice. "I'll smash Manning first. I'll wipe him out. This ship will do it. You said yourself it would. You have ten times the power he has. And then ..."

Craven raised a hand and waved him into silence. "So you plan to reach the Solar System, do you? You plan to meet Manning, and destroy his ship. Nice plan."

"What's wrong with it?" challenged Stutsman.

"Nothing," said Craven calmly. "Absolutely nothing at all ... except that we may never reach the Solar System!"

Stutsman seemed to sag. The wolfish snarl on his lips drooped. His eyes stared. Then with an effort he braced himself.

"What do you mean? Why can't we?" He gestured toward the vision plate, toward the tiny yellow star between the two brighter stars.

"That," said Craven, "isn't our Sun. It has planets, but it isn't our Sun."

Chambers stepped quickly to Craven, reached out a hand and hoisted him from the chair, shook him.

"You must be joking! That has to be the Sun!"

Craven shrugged free of Chambers' clutch, spoke in an even voice. "I never joke. We made a mistake, that's all. I hadn't meant to tell you yet. I had intended to get in close to the star and take on a full load of power and then try to locate our Sun. But I'm afraid it's a hopeless task."

"A hopeless task?" shrieked Stutsman. "You are trying to trick me. This is put up between the two of you. That's the Sun over there. I know it is!"

"It isn't," said Craven. "Manning tricked us. He started off in the wrong direction. He made us think he was going straight back to the Solar System, but he didn't. He circled and went in some other direction."

The scientist eyed Stutsman calmly. Stutsman's knuckles were white with the grip he had upon the gun.

"We're lost," Craven told him, looking squarely at him. "We may never find the Solar System!"



CHAPTER TWENTY

The revolution was over. Interplanetary officials and army heads had fled to the sanctuary of Earth. Interplanetary was ended ... ended forever, for on every world, including Earth, material energy engines were humming. The people had power to burn, to throw away, power so cheap that it was practically worthless as a commodity, but invaluable as a way to a new life, a greater life, a fuller life ... a broader destiny for the human race.

Interplanetary stocks were worthless. The mighty power plants on Venus and Mercury were idle. The only remaining tangible asset were the fleets of spaceships used less than a month before to ship the accumulators to the outer worlds, to bring them Sunward for recharging.

Patents protecting the rights to the material energy engines had been obtained from every government throughout the Solar System. New governments were being formed on the wreckage of the old. John Moore Mallory already had been inaugurated as president of the Jovian confederacy. The elections on Mars and Venus would be held within a week.

Mercury, its usefulness gone with the smashing of the accumulator trade, had been abandoned. No human foot now trod its surface. Its mighty domes were empty. It went its way, as it had gone for billions of years, a little burned out, worthless planet, ignored and shunned. For a brief moment it had known the conquering tread of mankind, had played its part in the commerce of the worlds, but now it had reverted to its former state ... a lonely wanderer of the regions near the Sun, a pariah among the other planets.

* * * * *

Russell Page looked across the desk at Gregory Manning. He heaved a sigh and dug the pipe out of his jacket pocket.

"It's finished, Greg," he said.

Greg nodded solemnly, watching Russ fill the bowl and apply the match.

Except for the small crew, they were alone in the Invincible. John Moore Mallory and the others were on their own worlds, forming their own governments, carrying out the dictates of the people, men who would go down in solar history.

The Invincible hung just off Callisto. Russ looked out at the mighty moon, saw the lonely stretches of its ice-bound surface, saw the silvery spot that was the dome of Ranthoor.

"All done," said Greg, "except for one thing."

"Go out and get Chambers and the others," said Russ, puffing at the pipe.

Greg nodded. "We may as well get started."

Russ rose slowly, went to the wall cabinet and lifted out a box, the mechanical shadow with its tiny space field surrounding the fleck of steel that would lead them to the Interplanetarian. Carefully he lifted the machine from its resting place and set it on the desk. Bending over it, he watched the dials.

Suddenly he whistled. "Greg, they've moved! They aren't where we left them!"

Greg sprang to his side and stared at the readings. "They're moving farther away from us ... out into space. Where can they be going?"

Russ straightened, scowling, pulling at the pipe. "They probably found another G-type star, and are heading for that. They must think it is old Sol."

"That sounds like it," said Greg. "We spun all over the map to throw Craven off and looped several times so he'd lose all sense of direction. Naturally he would be lost."

"But he's evidently got something," Russ pointed out. "We left him marooned ... dead center, out where he didn't have too much radiation and couldn't get leverage on any single body. Yet he's moving—and getting farther away all the time."

"He solved our gravitation concentration screen," said Greg. "He tricked us into giving him power to build it."

The two men looked at one another for a long minute.

"Well," said Russ, "that's that. Craven and Chambers and Stutsman. The three villains. All lost in space. Heading for the wrong star. Hopelessly lost. Maybe they'll never find their way back."

He stopped and relit his pipe. An aching silence fell in the room.

"Poetic justice," said Russ. "Hail and farewell."

Greg rubbed his fist indecisively along the desk. "I can't do it, Russ. We took them out there. We marooned them. We have to get them back or I couldn't sleep nights."

Russ laughed quietly, watching the bleak face that stared at him. "I knew that's what you'd say."

He knocked out the pipe, crushed a fleck of burning tobacco with his boot. Pocketing the pipe, he walked to the control panel, sat down and reached for the lever. The engines hummed louder and louder. The Invincible darted spaceward.

* * * * *

"It's too late now," said Chambers. "By the time we reach that planetary system and charge our accumulators, Manning and Page will have everything under control back in the Solar System. Even if we could locate the star that was our Sun, we wouldn't have a chance to get there in time."

"Too bad," Craven said, and wagged his head, looking like a solemn owl. "Too bad. Dictator Stutsman won't have a chance to strut his stuff."

Stutsman started to say something and thought better of it. He leaned back in his chair. From his belt hung a heat pistol.

Chambers eyed the pistol with ill-concealed disgust. "There's no point in playing soldier. We aren't going to try to upset your mutiny. So far your taking over the ship hasn't made any difference to us ... so why should we fight you?"

"It isn't going to make any difference either," said Craven. "Because there are just two things that will happen to us. We're either lost forever, will never find our way back, will spend the rest of our days wandering from star to star, or Manning will come out and take us by the ear and lead us home again."

Chambers started, leaned forward and fastened his steely eyes on Craven. "Do you really think he could find us?"

"I have no doubt of it," Craven replied. "I don't know how he does it, but I'm convinced he can. Probably, however, he'll find that we are lost and get rid of us that way."

"No," said Chambers, "you're wrong there. Manning wouldn't do that. He'll come to get us."

"I don't know why he should," snapped Craven.

"Because he's that sort of man," declared Chambers.

"What you going to do when he does get out here?" demanded Stutsman. "Fall on his neck and kiss him?"

Chambers smiled, stroked his mustache. "Why, no," he said. "I imagine we'll fight. We'll give him everything we've got and he'll do the same. It wouldn't seem natural if we didn't."

"You're damned right we will," growled Stutsman. "Because I'm running this show. You seem to keep forgetting that. We have power enough, when we get those accumulators filled, to wipe him out. And that is exactly what I'm going to do."

"Fine," said Craven, mockingly, "just fine. There's just one thing you forget. Manning is the only man who can lead us back to the Solar System."

"Hell," stormed Stutsman, "that doesn't make any difference. I'll find my way back there some way."

"You're afraid of Manning," Chambers challenged.

Stutsman's hand went down to the heat pistol's grip. His eyes glazed and his face twisted itself into utter hatred. "I don't know why I keep on letting you live. Craven is valuable to me. I can't kill him. But you aren't. You aren't worth a damn to anyone."

* * * * *

Chambers matched his stare. Stutsman's hand dropped from the pistol and he slouched to his feet, walked from the room.

Afraid of Manning! He laughed, a hollow, gurgling laugh. Afraid of Manning!

But he was.

Within his brain hammered a single sentence. Words he had heard Manning speak as he watched over the television set at Manning's mocking invitation. Words that beat into his brain and seared his reason and made his soul shrivel and grow small.

Manning talking to Scorio. Talking to him matter-of-factly, but grimly: "I promise you that we'll take care of Stutsman!"

Manning had taken Scorio and his gangsters one by one and sent them to far corners of the Solar System. One out to the dreaded Vulcan Fleet, one to the Outpost, one to the Titan prison, and one to the hell-hole on Vesta, while Scorio had gone to a little mountain set in a Venus swamp. They hadn't a chance. They had been locked within a force shell and shunted through millions of miles of space. No trial, no hearing ... nothing. Just terrible, unrelenting judgment.

"I promise you that we'll take care of Stutsman!"

* * * * *

"Craven's only a few billion miles ahead now," said Gregory Manning. "With our margin of speed, we should overhaul him in a few more hours. He is still short on power, but he's remedying that rapidly. He's getting nearer to that sun every minute. Running in toward it as he is, he tends to sweep up outpouring radiations. That helps him collect a whole lot more than he would under ordinary circumstances."

Russ, sitting before the controls, pipe clenched in his teeth, watching the dials, nodded soberly.

"All I'm afraid of," he said, "is that he'll get too close to that sun before we catch up with him. If he gets close enough so he can fill those accumulators, he'll pack a bigger wallop than we do. It'll all be in one bolt, of course, for his power isn't continuous like ours. He has to collect it slowly. But when he's really loaded, he can give us aces and still win. I'd hate to take everything he could pack into those accumulators."

Greg shuddered. "So would I."

The Invincible was exceeding the speed of light, was enveloped in the mysterious darkness that characterized the speed. They could see nothing outside the ship, for there was nothing to see. But the tiny mechanical shadow, occupying a place of honor on the navigation board, kept them informed of the position and the distance of the Interplanetarian.

Greg lolled in his chair, watching Russ.

"I don't think we need to worry about him throwing the entire load of the accumulators at us," he said. "He wouldn't dare load those accumulators to peak capacity. He's got to leave enough carrying capacity in the cells to handle any jolts we send him and he knows we can send him plenty. He has to keep that handling margin at all times, over and above what he takes in for power, because his absorption screen is also a defensive screen. And he has to use some power to keep our television apparatus out."

Russ chuckled. "I suppose, at that, we have him plenty worried."

The thunder of the engines filled the control room. For days now that thunder had been in their ears. They had grown accustomed to it, now hardly noticed it. Ten mighty engines, driving the Invincible at a pace no other ship had ever obtained, except, possibly, the Interplanetarian, although lack of power should have held Craven's ship down to a lower speed. Craven wouldn't have dared to build up the acceleration they had now attained, for he would have drained his banks and been unable to charge them again.

"Maybe he won't fight," said Russ. "Maybe he's figured out by this time that he's heading for the wrong star. He may be glad to see us and follow us back to the Solar System."

"No chance of that. Craven and Chambers won't pass up a chance for a fight. They'll give us a few wallops if only for the appearance of things."

"We're crawling up all the time," said Russ. "If we can catch him within four or five billion miles of the star, he won't be too tough to handle. Be getting plenty of radiations even then, but not quite as much as he would like to have."

"He'll have to start decelerating pretty soon," Greg declared. "He can't run the chance of smashing into the planetary system at the speed he's going. He won't want to waste too much power using his field as a brake, because he must know by this time that we're after him and he'll want what power he has to throw at us."

Hours passed. The Invincible crept nearer and nearer, suddenly seemed to leap ahead as the Interplanetarian began deceleration.

"Keep giving her all you got," Greg urged Russ. "We've got plenty of power for braking. We can overhaul him and stop in a fraction of the time he does."

Russ nodded grimly. The distance indicator needle on the mechanical shadow slipped off rapidly. Greg, leaping from his chair, hung over it, breathlessly.

"I think," he said, "we better slow down now. If we don't, we'll be inside the planetary system."

"How far out is Craven?" asked Russ.

"Not far enough," Greg replied unhappily. "He can't be more than three billion miles from the star and that star's hot. A class G, all right, but a good deal younger than old Sol."

* * * * *

"We'll let them know we've arrived," grinned Greg. He sent a stabbing beam of half a billion horsepower slashing at the Interplanetarian.

The other ship staggered but steadied itself.

"They know," said Russ cryptically from his position in front of the vision plate. "We shook them up a bit."

They waited. Nothing happened.

Greg scratched his head. "Maybe you were right. Maybe they don't want to fight."

Together they watched the Interplanetarian. It was still moving in toward the distant sun, as if nothing had happened.

"We'll see," said Greg.

Back at the controls he threw out a gigantic tractor beam, catching the other ship in a net of forces that visibly cut its speed.

Space suddenly vomited lashing flame that slapped back and licked and crawled in living streamers over the surface of the Invincible. The engines moaned in their valiant battle to keep up the outer screen. The pungent odor of ozone filtered into the control room. The whole ship was bucking and vibrating, creaking, as if it were being pulled apart.

"So they don't want to fight, eh?" hooted Russ.

Greg gritted his teeth. "They snapped the tractor beam."

"They have power there," Russ declared.

"Too much," said Greg. "More power than they have any right to have."

His hand went out to the lever on the board and pulled it back. A beam smashed out, with the engines' screaming drive behind it, billions of horsepower driving with unleashed ferocity at the other ship.

Greg's hand spun a dial, while the generators roared thunderous defiance.

"I'm giving them the radiation scale," said Greg.

The Interplanetarian was staggering under the terrific bombardment, but its screen was handling every ounce of the power that Greg was pouring into it.

"Their photo-cells can't handle that," cried Russ. "No photo-cell would handle all that stuff you're shooting at them. Unless ..."

"Unless what?"

"Unless Craven has improved on them."

"We'll have to find out. Get the televisor."

* * * * *

Russ leaped for the television machine.

A moment later he lifted a haggard face.

"I can't get through," he said. "Craven's got our beams stopped and now he has our television blocked out."

Greg nodded. "We might have expected that. When he could scramble our televisors back in the Jovian worlds, he certainly ought to be able to screen his ship against them."

He shoved the lever clear over, slamming the extreme limit of power into the beam. The engines screamed like demented things, howling and shrieking. Instantly a tremendous sheet of solid flame spun a fiery web around the Interplanetarian, turning it into a blazing inferno of lapping, leaping fire.

A dozen terrific beams, billions of horsepower in each, stabbed back at the Invincible as the Interplanetarian shunted the terrific energy influx from the overcharged accumulators to the various automatic energy discharges.

The Invincible's screen flared in defense and the ten great engines wailed in utter agony. More stabbing flame shot from the Interplanetarian in slow explosions.

The temperature in the Invincible's control room was rising. The ozone was sharp enough to make their eyes water and nostrils burn. The vision glass was blanked out by the lapping flames that crawled and writhed over the screen outside the glass.

Russ tore his collar open, wiped his face with his shirt sleeve. "Try a pure magnetic!"

Greg, his face set and bleak as a wall of stone, grunted agreement. His fingers danced over the control manual.

Suddenly the stars outside twisted and danced, like stars gone mad, as if they were dancing a riotous jig in space, some uproariously hopping up and down while others were applauding the show that was being provided for their unblinking eyes.

The magnetic field was tightening now, twisting the light from those distant stars and bending it straight again. The Interplanetarian reeled like a drunken thing and the great arcs of electric flame looped madly and plunged straight for the field's very heart.

* * * * *

The stars danced weirdly in far-off space again as the Interplanetarian's accumulators lashed out with tremendous force to oppose the energy of the field.

The field glowed softly and disappeared.

"They have us stopped at every turn," groaned Russ. "There must be some way, something we can do." He looked at Greg. Greg grinned without humor, wiping his face. "There is something we can do," said Russ grimly. "We should have thought of it long ago."

He strode to the desk, reached out one hand and drew a calculator near.

"You keep them busy," he snapped. "I'll have this thing figured out in just a while."

From the engine rooms came the roar and hum of the laboring units and the Invincible shuddered once again as Greg grimly hurled one beam after another, at the Interplanetarian.

The Interplanetarian struck back, using radio frequency that flamed fiercely against the Invincible's outer screen. Simultaneously the Interplanetarian leaped forward with a sudden surge of accumulated energy, driving at the star that lay not more than three billion miles away.

Greg worked desperately, cursing under his breath. He pulled down the outer screen that was fighting directly against the radio frequency, energy for energy, and allowed the beam to strike squarely on the second screen, the inversion field that shunted the major portion of the energy impacting against it through 90 degrees into another space.

The engines moaned softly and settled into a quieter rumble as the necessity of supplying the first screen was eliminated. But they screamed once again as Greg sent out a tractor beam that seized and held, dragged the Interplanetarian to a standstill. Craven's ship had gained millions of miles, though, and established a tremendous advantage by fighting nearer to its source of energy.

"Russ," gasped Greg, "if you don't get that scheme of yours figured out pretty soon, we're done for. They've stopped everything we've got. They're nearer the sun. We won't stand a chance if they make another break like that."

Russ glanced up to answer, but his mouth fell open in amazement and he did not speak. A streak of terrible light was striking at them from the Interplanetarian, blinding white light, and along that highway of light swarmed a horde of little green figures, like squirming green amebas. Swarming toward the Invincible, stretching out hungry, pale-green pseudopods toward the inversion barrier ... and eating through it!

Wherever they touched, holes appeared. They drifted through the inversion screen easily and began drilling into the inner screen of anti-entropy. Eating their way into the anti-entropy ... into a state of matter which Russ and Greg had thought would resist all change!

* * * * *

For seconds both men stood transfixed, unable to believe the evidence of their eyes. But the ameba things came on in ever-increasing throngs, creatures that gnawed and slobbered at the anti-entropy, eating into it, flaking it away, drilling their way through it.

When they pierced the anti-entropy, they would cut through the steel plates of the Invincible like so much paper!

And more were coming. More and more!

With a grunt of amazement, Greg slammed a beam straight into the heart of the amebas. They ate the beam and vanished as mistily as before, little glowing things that ate and died. But there were always more to take their place. They overwhelmed the beam and ate back along its length, attacked the screen again.

They ate through walls of force and walls of metal, and a rush of hissing air began to flame into ions in the terrific battle of energies outside the Invincible.

Russ was crouching over the manual of the televisor board. His breath moaned in his throat as his fingers flew.

"I have to have power, Greg," he said. "Lots of power."

"Take it." Greg replied. "I haven't been able to do anything with it. It isn't any use to me."

Russ's thumb reached out and tripped the activating lever. The giant engines shrieked and yowled.

Something was happening on the television screen ... something terrifying. Craven's ship seemed to retreat suddenly for millions of miles ... and as suddenly the Invincible appeared on the screen. For a single flashing instant, the view held; then it was gone in blank grayness. For seconds nothing happened on the screen, unnerving seconds while the two men held their breath.

The screen's grayness fled and they looked into the control room of the Interplanetarian. Craven was hunched in a chair, intent upon a series of controls. Behind him and to one side stood Stutsman, a heat pistol dangled from his hand, his face twisted into a sneer of triumph. There was no sign of Chambers.

"You damn fool," Craven was snapping at Stutsman. "You're cheating us out of the only chance we ever had of getting home."

* * * * *

"Shut up," snarled Stutsman, the pistol jerking in his hand. "Have you got that apparatus on full power?"

"It's been on full power for minutes now," said Craven. "It must be eating holes straight through Manning's ship."

"See you keep it that way. I really don't need you any more, anyhow. I've watched and I know all the tricks. I could carry on this battle single-handed."

Craven did not reply, merely hunched closer over the controls, eyes watching flickering dials.

Greg jogged Russ's elbow. "That must be the apparatus over there, in the corner of the room. That triangular affair. A condenser of some sort. That stuff they're throwing at us must be super-saturated force fields and they'd need a space-field condenser for that."

Russ nodded. "We'll take care of that."

His fingers moved swiftly and a transport beam whipped out, riding the television beam. Bands of force wrapped around the triangular machine and wrenched viciously. In the screen the apparatus disappeared ... simply was gone. It now lay within the Invincible's control room, jerked there by the tele-transport.

The flood of dazzling light reaching out from the Interplanetarian snapped off and the little green ameba things were gone. The shrill whistle of escaping air stopped as the eaten screens clamped down again, sealing in the atmosphere despite the holes bored through the metal plates.

In the television screen, Craven leaped from his chair, was staring with Stutsman at the place where the concentrator had stood. The machine had been ripped from a welded base and jagged, bright, torn metal gleamed in the control room lights. Snapped cables and broken busbars lay piled about the room.

"What happened?" Stutsman was screaming. They heard Craven laugh at the terror in the other's voice. "Manning just walked in and grabbed it away from us."

"But he couldn't! We had the screen up! He couldn't get through!"

Craven shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know how he did it, but he did. Probably he could clean out the whole place if he wanted to."

"That's a good idea," said Russ, judiciously.

He stripped bank after bank of the other ship's photo-cells from their moorings, wrecked the force field controls, ripped cables from the engines and left the ship without means of collecting power, without means of using power, without means of movement, of offense or defense.

* * * * *

He leaned back in his chair and regarded the screen with deep satisfaction.

"That," he decided, "should hold them for a while."

He hauled the pipe out of his pocket and filled it from the battered leather pouch.

Greg regarded him with a quizzical stare. "You sent the televisor back in time. You got it inside the Interplanetarian before Craven had run up his screen and then you brought it forward."

"You guessed it," said Russ, tamping the tobacco into the bowl. "We should have thought of that long ago. We have a time factor there. In fact, the whole thing revolves around time. We move the televisor, we use the tele-transport, by giving the objects we wish to move an acceleration in time."

Greg wrinkled his brow. "Maybe that means we can really investigate the past, or even the future. Can sit here before our screen and see everything that has happened, everything that is going to happen."

Russ shook his head. "I don't know, Greg. Notice, though, that we got no screen response until the televisor came up out of the past and actually reached the point which coincided with the present. That is, the screen and the televisor itself have to be on the same time level for them to operate. We might modify the screen, even modify the televisor so that we could travel in time, but it will take a lot of research, a lot of work. And especially it will take a whale of a lot of power."

"We have the power," said Greg.

Russ moved the lighter back and forth over the tobacco, igniting it carefully. Clouds of blue smoke swirled around his head. He spoke out of the smoke.

"Right now," he said, "we better see how Craven and our other friends are getting along. I didn't like the way Stutsman was talking or the way he was swinging that gun around. And Chambers wasn't anywhere in sight. There's something screwy about the entire thing."

* * * * *

"What are we going to do now?" demanded Stutsman.

Craven grinned at him. "That's up to you. Remember, you're the master mind around here. You took over and said you were going to run things." He waved a casual hand at the shattered machines, the ripped-out apparatus. "Well, there you are. Go ahead and run the joint."

"But you will have to help," pleaded Stutsman, his face twisted until it seemed that he was suffering intense physical agony. "You know what to do. I don't."

Craven shook his head. "There isn't any use starting. Manning will be along almost anytime now. We'll wait and see what he has in mind."

"Manning!" shrieked Stutsman, waving the pistol wildly. "Always Manning. One would think you were working for Manning."

"He's the big shot out in this little corner of space right now," Craven pointed out. "There isn't any way you can get around that."

Stutsman backed carefully away. His gun came up and he looked at Craven appraisingly, as if selecting his targets.

"Put down that gun," said a voice.

Gregory Manning stood between Stutsman and Craven. There had been no foggy forerunner of his appearance. He had just snapped out of empty air.

Stutsman stared at him, his eyes widening, but the gun remained steady in his hand.

"Look out, Craven," warned Greg. "He's going to fire and it will go right through me and hit you."

* * * * *

There was the thump of a falling body as Craven hurled himself out of his chair, hit the floor and rolled. Stutsman's gun vomited flame. The spouting flame passed through Greg's image, blasted against the chair in which Craven had sat, fused it until it fell in on itself.

"Russ," said Greg quietly, "disarm this fellow before he hurts somebody."

An unseen force reached out and twisted the gun from Stutsman's hand, flung it to one side. Swiftly Stutsman's hands were forced behind his back and held there by invisible bonds.

Stutsman cried out, tried to struggle, but he was unable to move. It was as if giant hands had gripped him, were holding him in a viselike clutch.

"Thanks, Manning," said Craven, getting up off the floor. "The fool would have shot this time. He's threatened it for days. He has been developing a homicidal mania."

"We don't need to worry about him now," declared Greg. He turned around to face Craven. "Where's Chambers?"

"Stutsman locked him up," said Craven. "I imagine he has the key in his pocket. Locked him up in the stateroom. Chambers jumped him and tried to take the gun away from him and Stutsman laid him out, hit him over the head. He kept Chambers locked up after that. Hasn't allowed anyone to go near the room. Hasn't even given him food and water. That was three days ago."

"Get the key out of his pocket," directed Greg. "Go and see how Chambers is."

Alone in the control room with Stutsman, Greg looked at him.

"I have a score to settle with you, Stutsman," he said. "I had intended to let it ride, but not now."

"You can't touch me," blustered Stutsman. "You wouldn't dare."

"What makes you think I wouldn't?"

"You're bluffing. You've got a lot of tricks, but you can't do the things you would like me to think you can. You've got Chambers and Craven fooled, but not me."

"It may be that I can offer you definite proof."

Chambers staggered over the threshold. His clothing was rumpled. A rude bandage was wound around his head. His face was haggard and his eyes red.

"Hello, Manning," he said. "I suppose you've won. The Solar System must be in your control by now."

He lifted his hand to his mustache, brushed it, a feeble attempt at playing the old role he'd acted so long.

"We've won," said Greg quietly, "but you're wrong about our being in control. The governments are in the hands of the people, where they should be."

Chambers nodded. "I see," he mumbled. "Different people, different ideas." His eyes rested on Stutsman and Greg saw sudden rage sweep across the gray, haggard face. "So you've got him, have you? What are you going to do with him? What are you going to do with all of us?"

"I haven't had time to think about it," said Greg. "I've principally been thinking about Stutsman here."

"He mutinied," rasped Chambers. "He seized the ship, turned the crew against me."

"And the penalty for that," said Greg, quietly, "is death. Death by walking in space."

Stutsman writhed within the bands of force that held him tight. His face contorted. "No, damn you! You can't do that! Not to me, you can't!"

"Shut up," roared Chambers and Stutsman quieted.

"I was thinking, too," said Greg, "that at his order thousands of people were mercilessly shot down back in the Solar System. Stood against a wall and mowed down. Others were killed like wild animals in the street. Thousands of them."

* * * * *

He moved slowly toward Stutsman and the man cringed.

"Stutsman," he said, "you're a butcher. You're a stench in the nostrils of humanity. You aren't fit to live."

"Those," said Craven, "are my sentiments exactly."

"You hate me," screamed Stutsman. "All of you hate me. You are doing this because you hate me."

"Everyone hates you, Stutsman," said Greg. "Every living person hates you. You have a cloud of hate hanging over you as black and wide as space."

The man closed his eyes, trying to break free of the bonds.

"Bring me a spacesuit," snapped Greg, watching Stutsman's face.

Craven brought it and dropped it at Stutsman's feet.

"All right, Russ," said Greg. "Turn him loose."

Stutsman swayed and almost fell as the bands of force released him.

"Get into that suit," ordered Greg.

Stutsman hesitated, but something he saw in Greg's face made him lift the suit, step into it, fasten it about his body.

"What are you going to do with me?" he whimpered. "You aren't going to take me back to Earth again, are you? You aren't going to make me stand trial?"

"No," said Greg, gravely, "we aren't taking you back to Earth. And you're standing trial right now."

Stutsman read his fate in the cold eyes that stared into his. Chattering frightenedly, he rushed at Greg, plunged through him, collided with the wall of the ship and toppled over, feebly attempting to rise.

Invisible hands hoisted him to his feet, gripped him, held him upright. Greg walked toward him, stood facing him.

"Stutsman," he said, "you have four hours of air. That will give you four hours to think, to make your peace with death." He turned toward the other two. Chambers nodded grimly. Craven said nothing.

"And now," said Greg to Craven, "if you will fasten down his helmet."

The helmet clanged shut, shutting out the pleas and threats that came from Stutsman's throat.

* * * * *

Stutsman saw distant stars, cruel, gleaming eyes that glared at him. Empty space fell away on all sides.

Numbed by fear, he realized where he was. Manning had picked him up and thrown him far into space ... out into that waste where for hundreds of light years there was only the awful nothingness of space.

He was less than a speck of dust, in this great immensity of emptiness. There was no up or down, no means of orientation.

Loneliness and terror closed in on him, a terrible agony of fear. In four hours his air would be gone and then he would die! His body would swirl and eddy through this great cosmic ocean. It would never be found. It would remain here, embalmed by the cold of space, until the last clap of eternity.

There was one way, the easy way. His hand reached up and grasped the connection between his helmet and the air tank. One wrench and he would die swiftly, quickly ... instead of letting death stalk him through the darkness for the next four hours.

He shivered and his hand loosened its hold, dropped away. He was afraid to hasten death. He wanted to put it off. He was afraid of death ... horribly afraid.

The stars mocked him and he seemed to hear hooting laughter from somewhere far away. Curiously, it sounded like his own laughter....

* * * * *

"I'll make it easy for you, Manning," Chambers said. "I know that all of us are guilty. Guilty in the eyes of the people and the law. Guilty in your eyes. If we had won, there would have been no penalty. There's never a penalty for the one who wins."

"Penalty," said Greg, his eyes half smiling. "Why, yes, I think there is. I'm going to order you aboard the Invincible for something to eat and to get some rest."

"You mean to say that we aren't prisoners?"

Greg shook his head. "Not prisoners," he said. "Why, I came out here to guide you back to Earth. I hauled you out here and got you into this jam. It was up to me to get you out of it. I would have done the same for Stutsman, too, but ..."

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