There was, of course, no sound at all on the moon itself. There was no air to carry it. But from each plastic helmet a six-inch antenna projected straight upward, and the microwaves of suit-talkies made a jumble of slightly metallic sounds in the headphones of each suit.
As soon as Cochrane got out of the jeep's air-lock and was recognized, Dabney said agitatedly:
"Mr. Cochrane! Mr. Cochrane! I have to discuss something with you! It is of the utmost importance! Will you come into the laboratory?"
Cochrane helped Babs to the ground and made his way to the airlock in the dust-heap against the cliff. He went in, with two other space-suited figures who detached themselves from the rest to follow him. Once inside the odorous, cramped laboratory, Dabney opened his face-plate and began to speak before Cochrane was ready to hear him. His companion beamed amiably.
"—and therefore, Mr. Cochrane," Dabney was saying agitatedly, "I insist that measures be taken to protect my scientific reputation! If this test should fail, it will militate against the acceptance of my discovery! I warn you—and I have my friend Mr. Simms here as witness—that I will not be responsible for the operation of apparatus made by a subordinate who does not fully comprehend the theory of my discovery! I will not be involved—"
Cochrane nodded. Dabney, of course, didn't understand the theory of the field he'd bought fame-rights to. But there was no point in bringing that up. Johnny Simms beamed at both of them. He was the swimmer Babs had pointed out in the swimming-pool. His face was completely unlined and placid, like the face of a college undergraduate. He had never worried about anything. He'd never had a care in the world. He merely listened with placid interest.
"I take it," said Cochrane, "that you don't mind the test being made, so long as you don't have to accept responsibility for its failure—and so long as you get the credit for its success if it works. That's right, isn't it?"
"If it fails, I am not responsible!" insisted Dabney stridently. "If it succeeds, it will be because of my discovery."
Cochrane sighed a little. This was a shabby business, but Dabney would have convinced himself, by now, that he was the genius he wanted people to believe him.
"Before the test," said Cochrane gently, "you make a speech. It will be recorded. You disclaim the crass and vulgar mechanical details and emphasize that you are like Einstein, dealing in theoretic physics only. That you are naturally interested in attempts to use your discovery, but your presence is a sign of your interest but not your responsibility."
"I shall have to think it over—," began Dabney nervously.
"You can say," promised Cochrane, "that if it does not work you will check over what Jones did and tell him why."
"Y-yes," said Dabney hesitantly, "I could do that. But I must think it over first. You will have to delay—"
"If I were you," said Cochrane confidentially, "I would plan a speech to that effect because the test is coming off in five minutes."
He closed his face-plate as Dabney began to protest. He went into the lock. He knew better than to hold anything up while waiting for a neurotic to make a decision. Dabney had all he wanted, now. From this moment on he would be frantic for fear of losing it. But there could be no argument outside the laboratory. In the airlessness, anything anybody said by walkie-talkie could be heard by everybody.
When Dabney and Simms followed out of the lock, Cochrane was helping Jones set up the device that had been prepared for this test. It was really two devices. One was a very flat cone, much like a coolie-hat and hardly larger, with a sort of power-pack of coils and batteries attached. The other was a space-ship's distress-signal rocket, designed to make a twenty-mile streak of red flame in emptiness. Nobody had yet figured out what good a distress signal would do, between Earth and moon, but the idea was soothing. The rocket was four feet long and six inches in diameter. At its nose there was a second coolie-hat cone, with other coils and batteries.
Jones set the separate cone on the ground and packed stones around and under it to brace it. His movements were almost ridiculously deliberate. Bending over, he bent slowly, or the motion would lift his feet off the ground. Straightening up, he straightened slowly, or the upward impetus of his trunk would again lift him beyond contact with solidity. But he braced the flat cone carefully.
He set the signal-torpedo over that cone. The entire set-up was under six feet tall, and the coolie-hat cones were no more than eighteen inches in diameter. He said flatly:
"I'm all ready."
The hand and arm of a space-suited figure lifted, for attention. Dabney's voice came worriedly from the headphones of every suit:
"I wish it understood," he said in some agitation, "that this first attempted application of my discovery is made with my consent, but that I am not aware of the mechanical details. As a scientist, my work has been in pure science. I have worked for the advancement of human knowledge, but the technological applications of my discovery are not mine. Still—if this device does not work, I will take time from my more important researches to inquire into what part of my discovery has been inadequately understood and applied. It may be that present technology is not qualified to apply my discovery—"
Jones said without emotion—but Cochrane could imagine his poker-faced expression inside his helmet:
"That's right. I consulted Mr. Dabney about the principles, but the apparatus is my doing, I take the responsibility for that!"
Then Cochrane added with pleasant irony:
"Since all this is recorded, Mr. Dabney can enlarge upon his disinterest later. Right now, we can go ahead. Mr. Dabney disavows us unless we are successful. Let us let it go at that." Then he said: "The observatory's set to track?"
A muffled voice said boredly, by short-wave from the observatory up on the crater's rim:
"We're ready. Visual and records, and we've got the timers set to clock the auto-beacon signals as they come in."
The voice was not enthusiastic. Cochrane had had to put up his own money to have the nearside lunar observatory put a low-power telescope to watch the rocket's flight. In theory, this distress-rocket should make a twenty-mile streak of relatively long-burning red sparks. A tiny auto-beacon in its nose was set to send microwave signals at ten-second intervals. On the face of it, it had looked like a rather futile performance.
"Let's go," said Cochrane.
He noted with surprise that his mouth was suddenly dry. This affair was out of all reason. A producer of television shows should not be the person to discover in an abstruse scientific development the way to reach the stars. A neurotic son-in-law of an advertising tycoon should not be the instrument by which the discovery should come about. A psychiatrist should not be the means of associating Jones—a very junior physicist with no money—and Cochrane and the things Cochrane was prepared to bring about if only this unlikely-looking gadget worked.
"Jones," said Cochrane with a little difficulty, "let's follow an ancient tradition. Let Babs christen the enterprise by throwing the switch."
Jones pointed there in the shadow of the crater-wall, and Babs moved to the switch he indicated. She said absorbedly:
"Five, four, three, two, one—"
She threw the switch. There was a spout of lurid red flame.
The rocket vanished.
It vanished. It did not rise, visibly. It simply went away from where it was, with all the abruptness of a light going out. There was a flurry of the most brilliant imaginable carmine flame. That light remained. But the rocket did not so much rise as disappear.
Cochrane jerked his head up. He was close to the line of the rocket's ascent. He could see a trail of red sparks which stretched to invisibility. It was an extraordinarily thin line. The separate flecks of crimson light which comprised it were distant in space. They were so far from each other that the signal-rocket was a complete failure as a device making a streak of light that should be visible.
The muffled voice in the helmet-phones said blankly:
"Hey! What'd you do to that rocket?"
The others did not move. They seemed stunned. The vanishing of the rocket was no way for a rocket to act. In all expectation, it should have soared skyward with a reasonable velocity, and should have accelerated rather more swiftly from the moon's surface than it would have done from Earth. But it should have remained visible during all its flight. Its trail should have been a thick red line. Instead, the red sparks were so far separated—the trail was so attenuated that it was visible only from a spot near its base. The observatory voice said more blankly still:
"Hey! I've picked up the trail! I can't see it nearby, but it seems to start, thin, about fifty miles up and go on away from there! That rocket shouldn't ha' gone more than twenty miles! What happened?"
"Watch for the microwave signals," said Jones' voice in Cochrane's headphones.
The voice from the observatory squeaked suddenly. This was not one of the highly-placed astronomers, but part of the mechanical staff who'd been willing to do an unreasonable chore for pay.
"Here's the blip! It's crazy! Nothing can go that fast!"
And then in the phones there came the relayed signal of the auto-beacon in the vanished rocket. The signal-sound was that of a radar pulse, beginning at low pitch and rising three octaves in the tenth of a second. At middle C—the middle of the range of a piano—there was a momentary spurt of extra volume. But in the relayed signal that louder instant had dropped four tones. Cochrane said crisply:
"Jones, what speed would that be?"
"It'd take a slide-rule to figure it," said Jones' voice, very calmly, "but it's faster than anything ever went before."
Cochrane waited for the next beep. It did not come in ten seconds. It was easily fifteen. Even he could figure out what that meant! A signal-source that stretched ten seconds of interval at source to fifteen at reception ...
The voice from the observatory wailed:
"It's crazy! It can't be going like that!"
They waited. Fifteen seconds more. Sixteen. Eighteen. Twenty. The beep sounded. The spurt of sound had dropped a full octave. The signal-rocket, traveling normally, might have attained a maximum velocity of some two thousand feet per second. It was now moving at a speed which was an appreciably large fraction of the speed of light. Which was starkly impossible. It simply happened to be true.
They heard the signal once more. The observatory's multiple-receptor receiver had been stepped up to maximum amplification. The signal was distinct, but very faint indeed. And the rocket was then traveling—so it was later computed—at seven-eighths of the speed of light. Between the flat cone on the front of the distress-torpedo, and the flat cone on the ground, a field of force existed. The field was not on the back surface of the torpedo's cone, but before the front surface. It went back to the moon from there, so all the torpedo and its batteries were in the columnar stressed space. And an amount of rocket-push that should have sent the four-foot torpedo maybe twenty miles during its period of burning, had actually extended its flight to more than thirty-seven hundred miles before the red sparks were too far separated to be traced any farther, and by then had kicked the torpedo up impossibly close to light-speed.
In a sense, the Dabney field had an effect similar to the invention of railways. The same horsepower moved vastly more weight faster, over steel rails, than it could haul over a rutted dirt road. The same rocket-thrust moved more weight faster in the Dabney field than in normal space. There would be a practical limit to the speed at which a wagon could be drawn over a rough road. The speed of light was a limit to the speed of matter in normal space. But on a railway the practical speed at which a vehicle could travel went up from three miles an hour to a hundred and twenty. In the Dabney field it was yet to be discovered what the limiting velocity might be. But old formulas for acceleration and increase-of-mass-with-velocity simply did not apply in a Dabney field.
Jones rode back to Lunar City with Cochrane and Holden and Babs. His face was dead-pan.
Babs tried to recover the mien and manner of the perfect secretary.
"Mr. Cochrane," she said professionally, "will you want to read the publicity releases Mr. Bell turns out from what Mr. West and Mr. Jamison tell him?"
"I don't think it matters," said Cochrane. "The newsmen will pump West and Jamison empty, anyhow. It's all right. In fact, it's better than our own releases would be. They'll contradict each other. It'll sound more authentic that way. We're building up a customer-demand for information."
The small moon-jeep rolled and bumped gently down the long, improbable highway back to Lunar City. Its engine ran smoothly, as steam-engines always do. It ran on seventy per cent hydrogen peroxide, first developed as a fuel back in the 1940s for the pumps of the V2 rockets that tried to win the Second World War for Germany. When hydrogen peroxide comes in contact with a catalyst, such as permanganate of potash, it breaks down into oxygen and water. But the water is in the form of high-pressure steam, which is used in engines. The jeep's fuel supplied steam for power and its ashes were water to drink and oxygen to breathe. Steam ran all motorized vehicles on Luna.
"What are you thinking about, Jones?" asked Cochrane suddenly.
Jones said meditatively:
"I'm wondering what sort of field-strength a capacity-storage system would give me. I boosted the field intensity this time. The results were pretty good. I'm thinking—suppose I made the field with a strobe-light power-pack—or maybe a spot-welding unit. Even a portable strobe-light gives a couple of million watts for the forty-thousandth of a second. Suppose I fixed up a storage-pack to give me a field with a few billion watts in it? It might be practically like matter-transmission, though it would really be only high-speed travel. I think I've got to work on that idea a little ..."
Cochrane digested the information in silence.
"Far be it from me," he said presently, "to discourage such high-level contemplation. Bill, what's on your mind?"
Holden said moodily:
"I'm convinced that the thing works. But Jed! You talk as if you hadn't any more worries! Yet even if you and Jones do have a way to make a ship travel faster than light, you haven't got a ship or the capital you need—."
"I've got scenery that looks like a ship," said Cochrane mildly. "Consider that part settled."
"But there are supplies. Air—water—food—a crew—. We can't pay for such things! Here on the moon the cost of everything is preposterous! How can you try out this idea without more capital than you can possibly raise?"
"I'm going to imitate my old friend Christopher Columbus," said Cochrane. "I'm going to give the customers what they want. Columbus didn't try to sell anybody shares in new continents. Who wanted new continents? Who wanted to move to a new world? Who wants new planets now? Everybody would like to see their neighbors move away and leave more room, but nobody wants to move himself. Columbus sold a promise of something that had an already-established value, that could be sold in every town and village—that had a merchandising system already set up! I'm going to offer just such a marketable commodity. I'll have freight-rockets on the way up here within twenty-four hours, and the freight and their contents will all be paid for!"
He turned to Babs. He looked more sardonic and cynical than ever before.
"Babs, you've just witnessed one of the moments that ought to be illustrated in all the grammar-school history-books along with Ben Franklin flying a kite. What's topmost in your mind?"
She hesitated and then flushed. The moon-jeep crunched and clanked loudly over the trail that led downhill. There was no sound outside, of course. There was no air. But the noise inside the moon-vehicle was notable. The steam-motor, in particular, made a highly individual racket.
"I'd—rather not say," said Babs awkwardly. "What's your own main feeling, Mr. Cochrane?"
"Mine?" Cochrane grinned. "I'm thinking what a hell of a funny world this is, when people like Dabney and Bill and Jones and I are the ones who have to begin operation outer space!"
Cochrane said kindly into the vision-beam microphone to Earth, "Cancel section C, paragraph nine. Then section b(1) from paragraph eleven. Then after you've canceled the entire last section—fourteen—we can sign up the deal."
There was a four-second pause. About two seconds for his voice to reach Earth. About two seconds for the beginning of the reply to reach him. The man at the other end protested wildly.
"We're a long way apart," said Cochrane blandly, "and our talk only travels at the speed of light. You're not talking from one continent to another. Save tolls. Yes or no?"
Another four-second pause. The man on Earth profanely agreed. Cochrane signed the contract before him. The other man signed. Not only the documents but all conversation was recorded. There were plugged-in witnesses. The contract was binding.
Cochrane leaned back in his chair. His eyes blinked wearily. He'd spent hours going over the facsimile-transmitted contract with Joint Networks, and had weeded out a total of six joker-stipulations. He was very tired. He yawned.
"You can tell Jones, Babs," he said, "that all the high financing's done. He can spend money. And you can transmit my resignation to Kursten, Kasten, Hopkins and Fallowe. And since this is a pretty risky operation, you'd better send a service message asking what you're to do with yourself. They'll probably tell you to take the next rocket back and report to the secretarial pool, I'm afraid. The same fate probably awaits West and Jamison and Bell."
Babs said guiltily:
"Mr. Cochrane—you've been so busy I had to use my own judgment. I didn't want to interrupt you—."
"What now?" demanded Cochrane.
"The publicity on the torp-test," said Babs guiltily, "was so good that the firm was worried for fear we'd seem to be doing it for a client of the firm—which we are. So we've all been put on a leave-with-expenses-and-pay status. Officially, we're all sick and the firm is paying our expenses until we regain our health."
"Kind of them," said Cochrane. "What's the bite?"
"They're sending up talent contracts for us to sign," admitted Babs. "When we go back, we would command top prices for interviews. The firm, of course, will want to control that."
Cochrane raised his eyebrows.
"I see! But you'll actually be kept off the air so Dabney can be television's fair-haired boy. He'll go on Marilyn Winter's show, I'll bet, because that has the biggest audience on the planet. He'll lecture Little Aphrodite Herself on the constants of space and she'll flutter her eyelashes at him and shove her chest-measurements in his direction and breathe how wonderful it is to be a man of science!"
"How'd you know?" demanded Babs, surprised.
"Heaven help me, Babs, I didn't. I tried to guess at something too impossible even for the advertising business! But I failed! I failed! You and my official gang, then, are here with the firm's blessing, free of all commands and obligations, but drawing salary and expenses?"
"Yes," admitted Babs. "And so are you."
"I get off!" said Cochrane firmly. "Forward my resignation. It's a matter of pure vanity. But Kursten, Kasten, Hopkins and Fallowe do move in a mysterious way to latch onto a fast buck! I'm going to get some sleep. Is there anything else you've had to use your judgment on?"
"The contracts for re-broadcast of the torp-test. The original broadcast had an audience-rating of seventy-one!"
"Such," said Cochrane, "are the uses of fame. Our cash?"
She showed him a neatly typed statement. For the original run of the torp-test film-tape, so much. It was to be re-run with a popularization of the technical details by West, and a lurid extrapolation of things to come by Jamison. The sponsors who got hold of commercial time with that expanded and souped-up version would expect, and get, an audience-rating unparalleled in history. Dabney was to take a bow on the rebroadcast, too—very much the dignified and aloof scientist. There were other interviews. Dabney again, from a script written by Bell. And Jones. Jones hated the idea of being interviewed, but he had faced a beam-camera and answered idiotic questions, and gone angrily back to his work.
Spaceways, Inc., had a bank-account already amounting to more than twenty years of Cochrane's best earning-power. He was selling publicity for sponsors to hang their commercials on, in a strict parallel to Christopher Columbus' selling of spices to come. But Cochrane was delivering for cash. Freight-rockets were on the way moonward now, whose cargoes of supplies for a space-journey Cochrane was accepting only when a bonus in money was paid for the right to brag about it. So-and-so's oxygen paid for the privilege of supplying air-reserves. What's-his-name's dehydrated vegetables were accepted on similar terms, with whoosit's instant coffee and somebody else's noodle soup in bags.
"If," said Cochrane tiredly, looking up from the statement, "we could only start off in a fleet instead of a single ship, Babs, we'd not only be equipped but so rich before we started that we'd want to stay home to enjoy it!" He yawned prodigiously. "I'm going to get some sleep. Don't let me sleep too long!"
He went off to his hotel-room and was out cold before his head had drifted down to its pillow. But he was not pleased with himself. It annoyed him that his revolt against being an expendable employee had taken the form of acting like one of his former bosses in collecting ruthlessly for the brains—in the case of Jones—and the neurotic idiosyncrasies—in the case of Dabney—of other men. The gesture by which he had become independent was not quite the splendid, scornful one he'd have liked. The fact that this sort of gesture worked, and nothing else would have, did not make him feel better.
But he slept.
He dreamed that he was back at his normal business of producing a television show. Nobody but himself cared whether the show went on or not. The actual purpose of all his subordinates seemed to be to cut as many throats among their fellow-workers as possible—in a business way, of course—so that by their own survival they might succeed to a better job and higher pay. This is what is called the fine spirit of teamwork by which things get done, both in private and public enterprise.
It was a very realistic dream, but it was not restful.
While he slept, the world wagged on and the cosmos continued on its normal course. The two moons of Earth—one natural and one artificial—swung in splendid circles about. A psychiatrist should not be the means of associ-[Missing text] that planet's divided rings. The red spot of Jupiter and the bands on that gas-giant world moved in orderly fashion about its circumference. Light-centuries away, giant Cepheid suns expanded monstrously and contracted again, rather more rapidly than their gravitational fields could account for. Double stars sedately swung about each other. Comets reached their farthest points and, mere aggregations of frigid jagged stones and metal, prepared for another plunge back into light and heat and warmth.
And various prosaic actions took place on Luna.
When Cochrane waked and went back to the hotel-room in use as an office, he found Babs talking confidentially to a woman—girl, rather—whom Cochrane vaguely remembered. Then he did a double take. He did remember her. Three or four years before she'd been the outstanding television personality of the year. She'd been pretty, but not so pretty that you didn't realize that she was a person. She was everything that Marilyn Winters was not—and she'd been number two name in television.
Cochrane said blankly:
"Aren't you Alicia Keith?"
The girl smiled faintly. She wasn't as pretty as she had been. She looked patient. And an expression of patience, on a woman's face, is certainly not unpleasant. But it isn't glamorous, either.
"I was," she said. "I married Johnny Simms."
Cochrane looked at Babs.
"They live up here," explained Babs. "I pointed him out at the swimming-pool the day we got here."
"Wonderful," said Cochrane. "How—"
"Johnny," said Alicia, "has bought into your Spaceways corporation. He got your man West drunk and bought his shares of Spaceway stock."
Cochrane sat down—not hard, because it was impossible to sit down hard on the moon. But he sat down as hard as it was possible to sit.
"Why'd he do that?"
"He found out you had hold of the old Mars colony ship. He understands you're going to take a trip out to the stars. He wants to go along. He's very much like a little boy. He hates it here."
"Then why live—." Cochrane checked the question, not quite in time.
"He can't go back to Earth," said Alicia calmly. "He's a psychopathic personality. He's sane and quite bright and rather dear in his way, but he simply can't remember what is right and wrong. Especially when he gets excited. When they fixed up Lunar City as an international colony, by sheer oversight they forgot to arrange for extradition from it. So Johnny can live here. He can't live anywhere else—not for long."
Cochrane said nothing.
"He wants to go with you," said Alicia pleasantly. "He's thrilled. The lawyer his family keeps up here to watch over him is thrilled, too. He wants to go back and visit his family. And as a stockholder, Johnny can keep you from taking a ship or any other corporate property out of the jurisdiction of the courts. But he'd rather go with you. Of course I have to go too."
"It's blackmail," said Cochrane without heat. "A pretty neat job of it, too. Babs, you see Holden about this. He's a psychiatrist." He turned to Alicia. "Why do you want to go? I don't know whether it'll be dangerous or not."
"I married Johnny," said Alicia. Her smile was composed. "I thought it would be wonderful to be able to trust somebody that nobody else could trust." After a moment she added: "It would be, if one could."
A few moments later she went away, very pleasantly and very calmly. Her husband had no sense of right or wrong—not in action, anyhow. She tried to keep him from doing too much damage by exercising the knowledge she had of what was fair and what was not. Cochrane grimaced and told Babs to make a note to talk to Holden. But there were other matters on hand, too. There were waivers to be signed by everybody who went along off Luna. Then Cochrane said thoughtfully:
"Alicia Keith would be a good name for film-tape ..."
He plunged into the mess of paper-work and haggling which somebody has to do before any achievement of consequence can come about. Pioneer efforts, in particular, require the same sort of clearing-away process as the settling of a frontier farm. Instead of trees to be chopped and dug up by the roots, there are the gratuitous obstructionists who have to be chopped off at the ankles in a business way, and the people who exercise infinite ingenuity trying to get a cut of something—anything—somebody else is doing. And of course there are the publicity-hounds. Since Spaceways was being financed on sales of publicity which could be turned on this product and that, publicity-hounds cut into its revenue and capital.
Back on Earth a crackpot inventor had a lawyer busily garnering free advertisement by press conferences about the injury done his client by Spaceways, Inc., who had stolen his invention to travel through space faster than light. Somebody in the Senate made a speech accusing the Spaceway project of being a political move by the party in power for some dire ultimate purpose.
Ultimately the crackpot inventor would get on the air and announce triumphantly that only part of his invention had been stolen, because he'd been too smart to write it down or tell anybody, and he wouldn't tell anybody—not even a court—the full details of his invention unless paid twenty-five million in cash down, and royalties afterward. The project for a congressional investigation of Spaceways would die in committee.
But there were other griefs. The useless spaceship hulk had to be emptied of the mining-tools stored in it. This was done by men working in space-suits. Occupational rules required them to exert not more than one-fourth of the effort they would have done if working for themselves. When the ship was empty, air was released in it, and immediately froze to air-snow. So radiant heaters had to be installed and powered to warm up the hull to where an atmosphere could exist in it. Its generators had to be thawed from the metal-ice stage of brittleness and warmed to where they could be run without breaking themselves to bits.
But there were good breaks, too. Presently a former moonship-pilot—grounded to an administrative job on Luna—on his own free time checked over the ship. Jones arranged it. With rocket-motors of adamite—the stuff discovered by pure accident in a steel-mill back on Earth—the propelling apparatus checked out. The fuel-pumps had been taken over in fullness of design from fire-engine pumps on Earth. They were all right. The air-regenerating apparatus had been developed from the aeriating culture-tanks in which antibiotics were grown on Earth. It needed only reseeding with algae—microscopic plants which when supplied with ultraviolet light fed avidly on carbon dioxide and yielded oxygen. The ship was a rather involved combination of essentially simple devices. It could be put back into such workability as it had once possessed with practically no trouble.
Jones moved into it, with masses of apparatus from the laboratory in the Lunar Apennines. He labored lovingly, fanatically. Like most spectacular discoveries, the Dabney field was basically simple. It was almost idiotically uncomplicated. In theory it was a condition of the space just outside one surface of a sheet of metal. It was like that conduction-layer on the wires of a cross-country power-cable, when electricity is transmitted in the form of high-frequency alterations and travels on the skins of many strands of metal, because high-frequency current simply does not flow inside of wires, but only on their surfaces. The Dabney field formed on the surface—or infinitesimally beyond it—of a metal sheet in which eddy-currents were induced in such-and-such a varying fashion. That was all there was to it.
So Jones made the exterior forward surface of the abandoned spaceship into a generator of the Dabney field. It was not only simple, it was too simple! Having made the bow of the ship into a Dabney field plate, he immediately arranged that he could, at will, make the rear of the ship into another Dabney field plate. The two plates, turned on together, amounted to something that could be contemplated with startled awe, but Jones planned to start off, at least, in a manner exactly like the distress-torp test. The job of wiring up for faster-than-light travel, however, was not much more difficult than wiring a bungalow, when one knew how it should be done.
Two freight-rockets came in, picked up by radar and guided to landings by remote control. The Lunar City beam receiver picked up music aimed up from Earth and duly relayed it to the dust-heaps which were the buildings of the city. The colonists and moon-tourists became familiar with forty-two new tunes dealing with prospective travel to the stars. One work of genius tied in a just-released film-tape drama titled "Child of Hate" to the Lunar operation, and charmed listeners saw and heard the latest youthful tenor gently plead, "Child of Hate, Come to the Stars and Love." The publicity department responsible for the masterpiece considered itself not far from genius, too.
There was confusion thrice and four and five times confounded. Cochrane came in to dispute furiously with Holden whether it was better to have a psychopathic personality on the space-ship or to have a legal battle in the courts. Cochrane won. Jones arrived, belligerent, to do battle for technical devices which would cost money.
"Look!" said Cochrane harassedly. "I'm not trying to boss you! Don't come to me for authority! If you can make that ship take off I'll be in it, and my neck will be in as much danger as yours. You buy what will keep my neck as safe as possible, along with yours. I'm busy raising money and fighting off crackpots and dodging lawsuits and getting supplies! I've got a job that needs three men anyhow. All I'm hoping is that you get ready to take off before I start cutting out paperdolls. When can we leave?"
"We?" said Jones suspiciously. "You're going?"
"If you think I'll stay behind and face what'll happen if this business flops," Cochrane told him, "you're crazy! There are too many people on Earth already. There's no room for a man who tried something big and failed! If this flops I'd rather be a frozen corpse with a happy smile on my face—I understand that in space one freezes—than somebody living on assisted survival status on Earth!"
"Oh," said Jones, mollified. "How many people are to go?"
"Ask Bill Holden," Cochrane told him. "Remember, if you need something, get it. I'll try to pay for it. If we come back with picture-tapes of outer space—even if we only circumnavigate Mars!—we'll have money enough to pay for anything!"
Jones regarded Cochrane with something almost like warmth.
"I like this way of doing business," he said.
"It's not business!" protested Cochrane. "This is getting something done! By the way. Have you picked out a destination for us to aim at?" When Jones shook his head, Cochrane said harassedly; "Better get one picked out. But when we make out our sail-off papers, for destination we'll say, 'To the stars.' A nice line for the news broadcasts. Oh, yes. Tell Bill Holden to try to find us a skipper. An astrogator. Somebody who can tell us how to get back if we get anywhere we need to get back from. Is there such a person?"
"I've got him," said Jones. "He checked the ship for me. Former moon-rocket pilot. He's here in Lunar City. Thanks!"
He shook hands with Cochrane before he left. Which for Jones was an expression of overwhelming emotion. Cochrane turned back to his desk.
"Let's see ... That arrangement for cachets on stamps and covers to be taken along and postmarked Outer Space. Put in a stipulation for extra payment in case we touch on planets and invent postmarks for them ..."
He worked on, while Babs took notes. Presently he was dictating. And as he talked, frowning, he took a fountain-pen from his pocket and absently worked the refill-handle. It made ink exude from the pen-point. On the moon, the surface tension of the ink was exactly the same as on earth, but the gravity was five-sixths less. So a drop of ink of really impressive size could be formed before the moon's weak gravity made it fall.
Dictating as he worked the pen, Cochrane achieved a pear-shaped mass of ink which was quite the size of a large grape before it fell into his waste-basket. It was the largest he'd made to date. It fell—slow-motion—and splashed—violently—as he regarded it with harried satisfaction.
More time passed. A moon-rocket arrived from Earth. There were new tourists under the thousand-foot plastic dome. Out by the former Mars-ship Jones made experiments with small plastic balloons coated with a conducting varnish. In a vacuum, a cubic inch of air at Earth-pressure will expand to make many cubic feet of near-vacuum. If a balloon can sustain an internal pressure of one ounce to the square foot, a thimbleful of air will inflate a sizeable globe to that pressure. Jones was arranging tiny Dabney field robot-generators with tiny atomic batteries to power them. Each such balloon would be a Dabney field "plate" when cast adrift in emptiness, and its little battery would keep it in operation for twenty years or more.
Baggage came up from Earth for Johnny Simms. It was mostly elephant-guns and ammunition for them. Johnny, as the heir to innumerable millions back on earth, had had a happy life, but hardly one to give him a practical view of things. To him, star-travel meant landing on such exotic planets as the fictioneers had been writing about for a hundred years or so. He really looked upon the venture into space as a combined big-game expedition and escape from Lunar City. And he did look forward, too, to freedom from his family's legal representative and the constant reminder of ethical and moral values which Johnny preferred happily to ignore.
Film-tape came up, and cameras to use it in. Every imaginable item an expedition to space could use or even might use, was thrust upon Spaceways, Inc. Manufacturers yearned to have their products used in connection with the hottest news story in decades. There was a steady trailing of moon-jeeps from the airlocks of Lunar City to the ship.
The time of lunar sunset arrived—503:30 o'clock, half-past five hundred and three hours. Time was measured from midnight to midnight, astronomical fashion. The great, blazing sun whose streamer prominences, even, were too bright to be looked at with the naked eye—the sun neared and reached the horizon. There was no change in the star-studded sky. There were no sunset colorings. The incandescent brightness on the mountains was not lessened in the least. Only the direction of the stark black shadows shifted.
The glaring sun descended. Its motion was almost infinitely slow. Its disk was of the order of half a degree of arc, and it took a full hour to be fully obscured. And then there was at first no difference in the look of things save that the Mare Imbrium—the solidified, arid Sea of Showers—was as dark as the shadows in the mountains.
They still gleamed brightly. For a very long time the white-hot sunshine glowed on their flanks. The brightness rose and rose, and blackness followed it. At long last only the topmost peaks of the Apennines blazed luridly against a background of stars whose light seemed feeble by comparison.
Then it was night indeed. But the Earth shone forth, a half-globe of seas and clouds and continents, vast and nostalgic in the sky. And now Earthshine fell upon the moon. It was many times brighter than moonlight ever was upon the Earth. Even at lunar sunset the Earthlight was sixteen times brighter. At midnight, when the Earth was full, it would be bright enough for any activity. Actually, the human beings on Luna were nearly nocturnal in their habits, because it was easier to run moon-jeeps in frigidity and keep men and machines warm enough for functioning, than it was to protect them against the more-than-boiling heat of midday on the moon.
So the activity about the salvaged space-ship increased. There were electric lights blazing in the demi-twilight, to guide freight vehicles with their loads. The tourist-jeeps went and returned and went and returned. The last shipload of travelers from Earth wanted to see the space-craft about which all the world was talking.
Even Cochrane presently became curious. There came a time when all the paper-work connected with what had happened was done with, and conditional contracts drawn up on everything that could be foreseen. It was time for something new to happen.
Cochrane said dubiously:
"Babs, have you seen the ship?"
She shook her head.
"I think we'd better go take a look at it," said Cochrane. "Do you know, I've been acting like a damned business man! I've only been out of Lunar City three times. Once to the laboratory to talk, once to test a signal-rocket across the crater, and once when the distress-torp went off. I haven't even seen the nightclub here in the City!"
"You should," said Babs matter-of-factly. "I went once, with Doctor Holden. The dancing was marvelous!"
"Bill Holden, eh?" said Cochrane. He found himself annoyed. "Took you to the nightclub; but not to see the ship!"
"The ship's farther," explained Babs. "I could always be found at the nightclub if you needed me. I went when you were asleep."
"Damn!" said Cochrane. "Hm ... You ought to get a bonus. What would you rather have, Babs, a bonus in cash or Spaceways stock?"
"I've got some stock," said Babs. "Mr. Bell—the writer, you know—got in a poker game. He was cleaned out. So I gave him all the money I had—I told you I cleared out my savings-account before we came up, I think—for half his shares."
"Either you got very badly stuck," Cochrane told her cynically, "or else you'll be so rich you won't speak to me."
"Oh, no!" said Babs warmly. "Never!"
"Let's get out and take a look at the ship. Maybe I can stow cargo or something, now there's no more paper-work."
Babs said with an odd calm:
"Mr. Jones wanted you out there today—in an hour, he said. I promised you'd go. I meant to mention it in time."
Cochrane did not notice her tone. He was dead-tired, as only a man can be who has driven himself at top speed for days on end over a business deal. Business deals are stimulating only in their major aspects. Most of the details are niggling, tedious, routine, and boring—and very often bear-trapped. Cochrane had done, with only Babs' help, an amount of mental labor that in the offices of Kursten, Kasten, Hopkins and Fallowe would have been divided among two vice-presidents, six lawyers, and at least twelve account executives. The work, therefore, would actually have been done by not less than twenty secretaries. But Babs and Cochrane had done it all.
In the moon-jeep on the way to the ship he felt that heavy, exhausted sense of relaxation which is not pleasurable at all. Babs annoyed him a little, too. She was late getting to the airlock, and seemed breathless when she arrived.
The moon-jeep crunched and clanked and rumbled over the gently undulating lava sea beneath its giant wheels. Babs looked zestfully out of the windows. The picture was, of course, quite incredible. In the relatively dim Earthlight the moonscape was somehow softened, and yet the impossibly jagged mountains and steep cliffsides and the razor-edged passes of monstrous stone,—these things remained daunting. It was like riding through a dream in which everything nearby seemed fey and glamorous, but the background was deathly-still and ominous.
There were the usual noises inside the jeep. The air had a metallic smell. One could detect the odors of oil, and ozone, and varnish, and plastic upholstery. There were the crunching sounds of the wheels, traveling over stone. There was the paradoxic gentleness of all the jeep's motions because of the low gravity. Cochrane even noted the extraordinary feel of an upholstered seat when one weighs only one-sixth as much as back on Earth. All his sensations were dreamlike—but he felt that headachy exhaustion that comes of overwork too long continued.
"I'll try," he said tiredly, "to see that you have some fun before you go back, Babs. You'll go back as soon as we dive off into whatever we're diving into, but you ought to get in the regular tourist stuff up here, anyhow."
Babs said nothing. Pointedly.
The moon-jeep clanked and rumbled onward. The hissing of steam was audible. The vehicle swung around a pinnacle of stone, and Cochrane saw the space-ship.
In the pale Earthlight it was singularly beautiful. It had been designed to lure investors in a now-defunct promotion. It was stream-lined, and gigantic, and it glittered like silver. It stood upright on its tail-fins, and it had lighted ports and electric lights burned in the emptiness about it. But there was only one moon-jeep at its base. A space-suited figure moved toward a dangling sling and sat in it. He rose deliberately toward an open airlock-hatch, and the other moon-jeep moved soundlessly away back toward Lunar City.
There was no debris about. There was no cargo waiting to be loaded. Cochrane did see a great metal plate, tilted on the ground, with a large box attached to it by cables. That would be the generators and the field-plate for a Dabney field. It was plainly to remain on the moon. It was not underneath the ship. Cochrane puzzled tiredly over it for a moment. Then he understood. The ship would lift on its rockets, hover over the plate—which would be generating its half of the field—and then Jones would switch on the apparatus in the ship itself. The forward, needle-pointed nose of the ship would become another generator of the Dabney field. The ship's inertia, in that field, would be effectively reduced to a fraction of its former value. The rockets, which might give it an acceleration of a few hundred feet per second anywhere but in a Dabney field, would immediately accelerate the ship and all its contents to an otherwise unattainable velocity. The occupants of the rocket would lose their relative inertia to the same degree as the ship. They should feel no more acceleration than from the same rocket-thrust in normal space. But they would travel—
Cochrane felt that there was a fallacy somehow, in the working of the Dabney field as he understood it. If there was less inertia in the Dabney field—why—a rocket shouldn't push as hard in it, because, it was the inertia of the rocket-gases that gave the rocket-thrust. But Cochrane was much too tired to work out a theoretic objection to something he knew did work. He was almost dozing when Babs touched his arm.
"Space-suits, Mr. Cochrane."
He got wearily into the clumsy costume. But he saw again that Babs wore the shining-eyed look of rapturous adventure that he had seen her wear before.
They got out of the moon-jeep, one after the other. The sling came down the space-ship's gleaming side. They got in it, together. It lifted them.
The vast, polished hull of the space-ship slid past them only ten feet away. The ground diminished. They seemed less to be lifted than to float skyward. And in this sling, in this completely unreal ascent, Cochrane roused suddenly. He felt the acute unease which comes of height. He had looked down upon Earth from a height of four thousand miles with no feeling of dizziness. He had looked at Earth a quarter-million miles away with no consciousness of depth. But a mere fifty feet above the surface of the moon he felt like somebody swinging out of a skyscraper window.
Then the airlock opening was beside them, and the sling rolled inward. They were in the lock, and Cochrane found himself pushing Babs away from the unrailed opening. He was relieved when the airlock closed.
Inside the ship, with the space-suits off, there was light and warmth, and a remarkably matter-of-fact atmosphere. The ship had been built to sell stock in a scheme for colonizing Mars. Prospective investors had been shown through it. It had been designed to be a convincing passenger-liner of space.
It was. But Cochrane found himself not needed for any consultation, and Jones was busy, and Bill Holden highly preoccupied. He saw Alicia Keith—but her name was Simms now. She smiled at him but took Babs by the arm. They went off somewhere.
Cochrane waited for somebody to tell him what to look at and to admire. He saw Jamison, and Bell, and he saw a man he had not seen before. He settled down in a deeply upholstered chair. He felt neglected. Everybody was busy. But mostly he felt tired.
Then Babs was shaking his arm, her eyes shining.
"Mr. Cochrane!" she cried urgently. "Mr. Cochrane! Wake up! Go on up to the control-room! We're going to take off!"
He blinked at her.
"We!" Then he started up, and went five feet into the air from the violence of his uncalculated movement. "We? No you don't! You go back to Lunar City where you'll be safe!"
Then he heard a peculiar drumming, rumbling noise. He had heard it before. In the moonship. It was rockets being tested; being burned; rockets in the very last seconds of preparation before take-off for the stars.
He didn't drop back to the floor beside the chair he'd occupied. The floor rose to meet him.
"I've had our baggage brought on board," said Babs, happily. "I'm going because I'm a stockholder! Hold on to something and climb those stairs if you want to see us go up! I'm going to be busy!"
The physical sensations of ascending to the ship's control-room were weird in the extreme. Cochrane had just been wakened from a worn-out sleep, and it was always startling on the moon to wake and find one's self weighing one-sixth of normal. It took seconds to remember how one got that way. But on the way up the stairs, Cochrane was further confused by the fact that the ship was surging this way and swaying that. It moved above the moon's surface to get over the tilted flat Dabney field plate on the ground a hundred yards from the ship's original position.
The Dabney field, obviously, was not in being. The ship hovered on its rockets. They had been designed to lift it off of Earth—and they had—against six times the effective gravity here, and with an acceleration of more gravities on top of that. So the ship rose lightly, almost skittishly. When gyros turned to make it drift sidewise—as a helicopter tilts in Earth's atmosphere—it fairly swooped to a new position. Somebody jockeyed it this way and that.
Cochrane got to the control-room by holding on with both hands to railings. He was angry and appalled.
The control-room was a hemisphere, with vertical vision-screens picturing the stars overhead. Jones stood in an odd sort of harness beside a set of control-switches that did not match the smoothly designed other controls of the ship. He looked out of a plastic blister, by which he could see around and below the ship. He made urgent signals to a man Cochrane had never seen before, who sat in a strap-chair before many other complex controls with his hands playing back and forth upon them. A loudspeaker blatted unmusically. It was Dabney's voice, highly agitated and uneasy.
" ... my work for the advancement of science has been applied by other minds. I need to specify that if the experiment now about to begin does not succeed, it will not invalidate my discovery, which has been amply verified by other means. It may be, indeed, that my discovery is so far ahead of present engineering—."
"See here!" raged Cochrane. "You can't take off with Babs on board! This is dangerous!"
Nobody paid any attention. Jones made frantic gestures to indicate the most delicate of adjustments. The man in the strap-chair obeyed the instruction with an absorbed attention. Jones suddenly threw a switch. Something lighted, somewhere. There was a momentary throbbing sound which was not quite a sound.
"Take it away," said Jones in a flat voice.
The man in the strap-chair pressed hard on the controls. Cochrane glanced desperately out of one of the side ports. He saw the moonscape—the frozen lava sea with its layer of whitish-tan moondust. He saw many moon-jeeps gathered near, as if most of the population of Lunar City had been gathered to watch this event. He saw the extraordinary nearness of the moon's horizon.
But it was the most momentary of glimpses. As he opened his mouth to roar a protest, he felt the upward, curiously comforting thrust of acceleration to one full Earth-gravity.
The moonscape was snatched away from beneath the ship. It did not descend. The ship did not seem to rise. The moon itself diminished and vanished like a pricked bubble. The speed of its disappearance was not—it specifically was not—attributable to one earth-gravity of lift applied on a one-sixth-gravity moon.
The loudspeaker hiccoughed and was silent. Cochrane uttered the roar he had started before the added acceleration began. But it was useless. Out the side-port, he saw the stars. They were not still and changeless and winking, as they appeared from the moon. These stars seemed to stir uneasily, to shift ever so slightly among themselves, like flecks of bright color drifting on a breeze.
Jones said in an interested voice:
"Now we'll try the booster."
He threw another switch. And again there was a momentary throbbing sound which was not quite a sound. It was actually a sensation, which one seemed to feel all through one's body. It lasted only the fraction of a second, but while it lasted the stars out the side-ports ceased to be stars. They became little lines of light, all moving toward the ship's stern but at varying rates of speed. Some of them passed beyond view. Some of them moved only a little. But all shifted.
Then they were again tiny spots of light, of innumerable tints and colors, of every conceivably degree of brightness, stirring and moving ever-so-slightly with relation to each other.
"The devil!" said Cochrane, raging.
Jones turned to him. And Jones was not quite poker-faced, now. Not quite. He looked even pleased. Then his face went back to impassiveness again.
"It worked," he said mildly.
"I know it worked!" sputtered Cochrane. "But—where are we? How far did we come?"
"I haven't the least idea," said Jones mildly as before. "Does it matter?"
Cochrane glared at him. Then he realized how completely too late it was to protest anything.
The man he had seen absorbed in the handling of controls now lifted his hands from the board. The rockets died. There was a vast silence, and weightlessness. Cochrane weighed nothing. This was free flight again—like practically all of the ninety-odd hours from the space platform to the moon. The pilot left the controls and in an accustomed fashion soared to a port on the opposite side of the room. He gazed out, and then behind, and said in a tone of astonished satisfaction:
"This is good!—There's the sun!"
"How far?" asked Jones.
"It's fifth magnitude," said the pilot happily. "We really did pile on the horses!"
Jones looked momentarily pleased again. Cochrane said in a voice that even to himself sounded outraged:
"You mean the sun's a fifth-magnitude star from here? What the devil happened?"
"Booster," said Jones, nearly with enthusiasm. "When the field was just a radiation speed-up, I used forty milliamperes of current to the square centimetre of field-plate. That was the field-strength when we sent the signal-rocket across the crater. For the distress-torpedo test, I stepped the field-strength up. I used a tenth of an ampere per square centimetre. I told you! And don't you remember that I wondered what would happen if I used a capacity-storage system?"
Cochrane held fast to a hand-hold.
"The more power you put into your infernal field," he demanded, "the more speed you get?"
Jones said contentedly:
"There's a limit. It depends on the temperature of the things in the field. But I've fixed up the field, now, like a spot-welding outfit. Like a strobe-light. We took off with a light field. It's on now—we have to keep it on. But I got hold of some pretty storage condensers. I hooked them up in parallel to get a momentary surge of high-amperage current when I shorted them through my field-making coils. Couldn't make it a steady current! Everything would blow! But I had a surge of probably six amps per square centimetre for a while."
"The field was sixty times as strong as the one the distress-torpedo used? We went—we're going—sixty times as fast?"
"We had lots more speed than that!" But then Jones' enthusiasm dwindled. "I haven't had time to check," he said unhappily. "It's one of the things I want to get at right away. But in theory the field should modify the effect of inertia as the fourth power of its strength. Sixty to the fourth is—."
"How far," demanded Cochrane, "is Proxima Centaurus? That's the nearest star to Earth. How near did we come to reaching it?"
The pilot on the other side of the control-room said with a trace less than his former zest:
"That looks like Sirius, over there ..."
"We didn't head for Proxima Centaurus," said Jones mildly. "It's too close! And we have to keep the field-plate back on the moon lined up with us, more or less, so we headed out roughly along the moon's axis. Toward where its north pole points."
"Then where are we headed? Where are we going?"
"We're not going anywhere just yet," said Jones without interest. "We have to find out where we are, and from that—"
Cochrane ran his hand through his hair.
"Look!" he protested. "Who's running this show? You didn't tell me you were going to take off! You didn't pick out a destination! You didn't—"
Jones said very patiently:
"We have to try out the ship. We have to find out how fast it goes with how much field and how much rocket-thrust. We have to find out how far we went and if it was in a straight line. We even have to find out how to land! The ship's a new piece of apparatus. We can't do things with it until we find out what it can do."
Cochrane stared at him. Then he swallowed.
"I see," he said. "The financial and business department of Spaceways, Inc., has done its stuff for the time being."
"The technical staff now takes over?"
Jones nodded again.
"I still think," said Cochrane, "that we could have done with a little interdepartmental cooperation. How long before you know what you're about?"
Jones shook his head.
"I can't even guess. Ask Babs to come up here, will you?"
Cochrane threw up his hands. He went toward the spiral-ladder-with-handholds that led below. He went down into the main saloon. A tiny green light winked on and off, urgently, on the far side. Babs was seated at a tiny board, there. As Cochrane looked, she pushed buttons with professional skill. Bill Holden sat in a strap-chair with his face a greenish hue.
"We took off," said Holden in a strained voice.
"We did," said Cochrane. "And the sun's a fifth magnitude star from where we've got to—which is no place in particular. And I've just found out that we started off at random and Jones and the pilot he picked up are now happily about to do some pure-science research!"
Holden closed his eyes.
"When you want to cheer me up," he said feebly, "you can tell me we're about to crash somewhere and this misery will soon be over."
Cochrane said bitterly:
"Taking off without a destination! Letting Babs come along! They don't know how far we've come and they don't know where we're going! This is a hell of a way to run a business!"
"Who called it a business?" asked Holden, as feebly as before. "It started out as a psychiatric treatment!"
Babs' voice came from the side of the saloon where she sat at a vision-tube and microphone. She was saying professionally:
"I assure you it's true. We are linked to you by the Dabney field, in which radiation travels much faster than light. When you were a little boy didn't you ever put a string between two tin cans, and then talk along the string?"
Cochrane stopped beside her scowling. She looked up.
"The press association men on Luna, Mr. Cochrane. They saw us take off, and the radar verified that we traveled some hundred of thousands of miles, but then we simply vanished! They don't understand how they can talk to us without even the time-lag between Earth and Lunar City. I was explaining."
"I'll take it," said Cochrane. "Jones wants you in the control-room. Cameras? Who was handling the cameras?"
"Mr. Bell," said Babs briskly. "It's his hobby, along with poker-playing and children."
"Tell him to get some pictures of the star-fields around us," said Cochrane, "and then you can see what Jones wants. I will do a little business!"
He settled down in the seat Babs had vacated. He faced the two press-association reporters in the screen. They had seen the ship's take off. It was verified beyond any reasonable question. The microwave beam to Earth was working at capacity to transmit statements from the Moon Observatory, which annoyedly conceded that the Spaceways, Inc., salvaged ship had taken off with an acceleration beyond belief. But, the astronomers said firmly, the ship and all its contents must necessarily have been destroyed by the shock of their departure. The acceleration must have been as great as the shock of a meteor hitting Luna.
"You can consider," Cochrane told them, "that I am now an angel, if you like. But how about getting a statement from Dabney?"
A press-association man, back on Luna, uttered the first profanity ever to travel faster than light.
"All he can talk about," he said savagely, "is how wonderful he is! He agrees with the Observatory that you must all be dead. He said so. Can you give us any evidence that you're alive and out in space? Visual evidence, for broadcast?"
At this moment the entire fabric of the space-ship moved slightly. There was no sound of rockets. The ship seemed to turn a little, but that was all. No gravity. No acceleration. It was a singularly uncomfortable sensation, on top of the discomfort of weightlessness.
Cochrane said sardonically:
"If you can't take my word that I'm alive, I'll try to get you some proof! Hm. I'll send you some pictures of the star-fields around us. Shoot them to observatories back on Earth and let them figure out for themselves where we are! Displacement of the relative positions of the stars ought to let them figure things out!"
He left the communicator-board. Holden still looked greenish in his strap-chair. The main saloon was otherwise empty. Cochrane made his way gingerly to the stair going below. He stepped into thin air and descended by a pull on the hand-rail.
This was the dining-saloon. The ship having been built to impress investors in a stock-sales enterprise, it had been beautifully equipped with trimmings. And, having had to rise from Earth to Luna, and needing to take an acceleration of a good many gravities, it had necessarily to be reasonably well-built. It had had, in fact, to be an honest job of ship-building in order to put across a phoney promotion. But there were trimmings that could have been spared. The ports opening upon emptiness, for example, were not really practical arrangements. But everybody but Holden and the two men in the control-room now clustered at those ports, looking out at the stars. There was Jamison and Bell the writer, and Johnny Simms and his wife. Babs had been here and gone.
Bell was busy with a camera. As Cochrane moved to tell him of the need for star-shots to prove to a waiting planet that they were alive, Johnny Simms turned and saw Cochrane. His expression was amiable and unawed.
"Hello," said Johnny Simms cheerfully.
Cochrane nodded curtly.
"I bought West's stock in Spaceways," said Johnny Simms, amusedly, "because I want to come along. Right?"
"So I heard," said Cochrane, as curtly as before.
"West said," Johnny Simms told him gleefully, "that he was going back to Earth, punch Kursten, Kasten, Hopkins and Fallowe on their separate noses, and then go down to South Carolina and raise edible snails for the rest of his life."
"An understandable ambition," said Cochrane. He frowned, waiting to talk to Bell, who was taking an infernally long time to focus a camera out of a side-port.
"It's going to be good when he tries to cash my check," said Johnny Simms delightedly. "I stopped payment on it when he wouldn't pick up the tab for some drinks I invited him to have!"
Cochrane forced his face to impassiveness. Johnny Simms was that way, he understood. He was a psychopathic personality. He was completely insensitive to notions of ethics. Ideas of right and wrong were as completely meaningless to him as tones to a tone-deaf person, or pastel tints to a man who is color-blind. They simply didn't register. His mind was up to par, and he could be a charming companion. He could experience the most kindly of emotions and most generous of impulses, which he put into practice. But he also had a normal person's impulse to less admirable behavior, and he simply could not understand that there was any difference between impulses. He put the unpleasing ones into practice too. He'd been on the moon to avoid extradition because of past impulses which society called murderous. On this ship it was yet to be discovered what he would do—but because he was technically sane his lawyers could have prevented a take off unless he came along. Cochrane, at the moment, felt an impulse to heave him out an airlock as a probable danger. But Cochrane was not a psychopathic personality.
He stopped Bell in his picture-taking and looked at the first of the prints. They were excellent. He went back to the vision-set to transmit them back to Luna. He sent them off. They would be forwarded to observatories on Earth and inspected. They literally could not be faked. There were thousands of stars on each print—with the Milky Way for background on some—and each of those thousands of stars would be identified, and each would have changed its relative position from that seen on earth, with relation to every other star. Astronomers could detect the spot from which the picture had been taken. But to fake a single print would have required years of computation and almost certainly there would have been slip-ups somewhere. These pictures were unassailable evidence that a human expedition had reached a point in space that had been beyond all human dreaming.
Then Cochrane had nothing to do. He was a supernumerary member of the crew. The pilot and Jones were in charge of the ship. Jamison would take care of the catering, when meal-time came. Probably Alicia Keith—no, Alicia Simms—would help. Nothing else needed attention. The rockets either worked or they didn't. The air-apparatus needed no supervision. Cochrane found himself without a function.
He went restlessly back to the control-room. He found Babs looking helpless, and Jones staring blankly at a slip of paper in his hands, while the pilot was still at a blister-port, staring at the stars through one of those squat, thick telescopes used on Luna for the examination of the planets.
"How goes the research?" asked Cochrane.
"We're stumped," said Jones painfully. "I forgot something."
"Whenever I wanted anything," said Jones, "I wrote it out and gave a memo to Babs. She attended to it."
"My system, exactly," admitted Cochrane.
"I wrote out a memo for her," said Jones unhappily, "asking for star-charts and for her to get somebody to set up a system of astrogation for outside the solar system. Nobody's ever bothered to do that before. Nobody's ever reached even Mars! But I figured we'd need it."
Cochrane waited. Jones showed him a creased bit of paper, closely written.
"I wrote out the memo and put it in my pocket," said Jones, "and I forgot to give it to Babs. So we can't astrogate. We don't know how. We didn't get either star-charts or instructions. We're lost."
"Apparently Al was mistaken in the star he spotted as our sun," added Jones. He referred to the pilot, whom Cochrane had not met before. "Anyhow we can't find it again. We turned the ship to look at some more stars, and we can't pick it out any more."
"You'll keep looking, of course."
"For what?" asked Jones.
He waved his hand out the four equally-spaced plastic blister-ports. From where he stood, Cochrane could see thousands of thousands of stars out those four small openings. They were of every conceivable color and degree of brightness. The Milky Way was like a band of diamonds.
"We know the sun's a yellow star," said Jones, "but we don't know how bright it should be, or what the sky should look like beyond it."
"Constellations?" asked Cochrane.
"Find 'em!" said Jones vexedly.
Cochrane didn't try. If a moon-rocket pilot could not spot familiar star-groups, a television producer wasn't likely to see them. And it was obvious, once one thought, that the brighter stars seen from Earth would be mostly the nearer ones. If Jones was right in his guess that his booster had increased the speed of the ship by sixty to the fourth power, it would have gone some millions of times as fast as the distress-torpedo, for a brief period (the ratio was actually something over nineteen million times) and it happened that nobody had been able to measure the speed of that test-object.
Cochrane was no mathematician, but he could see that there was no data for computation on hand. After one found out how fast an acceleration of one Earth-gravity in a Dabney field of such-and-such strength speeded up a ship, something like dead reckoning could be managed. But all that could be known right now was that they had come a long way.
He remembered a television show he'd produced, laid in space on an imaginary voyage. The script-writer had had one of the characters say that no constellation would be visible at a hundred light-years from the solar system. It would be rather like a canary trying to locate the window he'd escaped from, from a block away, with no memories of the flight from it.
Cochrane said suddenly, in a pleased tone:
"This is a pretty good break—if we can keep them from finding out about it back home! We'll have an entirely new program, good for a thirteen-week sequence, on just this!"
Babs stared at him.
"Main set, this control-room," said Cochrane enthusiastically. "We'll get a long-beard scientist back home with a panel of experts. We'll discuss our problems here! We'll navigate from home, with the whole business on the air! We'll have audience-identification up to a record! Everybody on Earth will feel like he's here with us, sharing our problems!"
Jones said irritably:
"You don't get it! We're lost! We can't check our speed without knowing where we are and how far we've come! We can't find out what the ship will do when we can't find out what it's done! Don't you see?"
Cochrane said patiently:
"I know! But we're in touch with Luna through the Dabney field that got us here! It transmitted radiation before, faster than light. It's transmitting voice and pictures now. Now we set up a television show which pays for our astrogation and lets the world sit in on the prettier aspects of our travels. Hm.... How long before you can sit down on a planet, after you have all the navigational aids of—say—the four best observatories on Earth to help you? I'll arrange for a sponsor—."
He went happily down the stairs again. This was a spiral stair, and he zestfully spun around it as he went to the next deck below. At the bottom he called up to Babs:
"Babs! Get Bell and Alicia Keith and come along to take dictation! I'm going to need some legal witnesses for the biggest deal in the history of advertising, made at several times the speed of light!"
And he went zestfully to the communicator to set it up.
And time passed. Data arrived, which at once solved Jones' and the pilot's problem of where they were and how far they had come—it was, actually, 178.3 light-years—and they spent an hour making further tests and getting further determinations, and then they got a destination.
They stopped in space to extrude from the airlock a small package which expanded into a forty-foot plastic balloon with a minute atomic battery attached to it. The plastic was an electric conductor. It was a field-plate of the Dabney field. It took over the field from Earth and maintained it. It provided a second field for the ship to maintain. The ship, then, could move at any angle from the balloon. The Dabney field stretched 178.3 light-years through emptiness to the balloon, and then at any desired direction to the ship.
The ship's rockets thrust again—and the booster-circuit came into play. There were maneuverings. A second balloon was put out in space.
At 8:30 Central U. S. Time, on a period relinquished by other advertisers—bought out—a new program went on the air. It was a half-hour show, sponsored by the Intercity Credit Corporation—"Buy on Credit Guaranteed"—with ten straight minutes of commercials interjected in four sections. It was the highest-priced show ever put on the air. It showed the interior of the ship's control-rooms, with occasional brief switches to authoritative persons on Earth for comment on what was relayed from the far-off skies.
The first broadcast ensured the success of the program beyond possible dispute. It started with curt conversation between Jones and the pilot, Al—Jones loathed this part of it, but Al turned out to be something of a ham—on the problems of approaching a new solar system. Cut to computers back on Earth. Back to the control-room of the starship. Pictures of the local sun, and comments on its differentness from the sun that had nourished the human race since time began.
Then the cameras—Bell worked them—panned down through the ship's blister-ports. There was a planet below. The ship descended toward it. It swelled visibly as the space-ship approached. Cochrane stood out of camera-range and acted as director as well as producer of the opus. He used even Johnny Simms as an offstage voice repeating stern commands. It was corny. There was no doubt about it. It had a large content of ham.
But it happened to be authentic. The ship had reached another planet, with vast ice-caps and what appeared to be no more than a twenty-degree-wide equatorial belt where there was less than complete glaciation. The rockets roared and boomed as the ship let down into the cloud-layers.
Television audiences back on Earth viewed the new planet nearly as soon as did those in the ship. The time-lag was roughly three seconds for a distance of 203.7 light-years.
The surface of the planet was wild and dramatic beyond belief. There were valleys where vegetation grew luxuriantly. There were ranges of snow-clad mountains interpenetrating the equatorial strip, and there were masses of white which, as the ship descended, could be identified as glaciers moving down toward the vegetation.
But as the ship sank lower and lower—and the sound of its rockets became thunderous because of the atmosphere around it—a new feature took over the central position in one's concept of what the planet was actually like.
The planet was volcanic. There were smoking cones everywhere—in the snow-fields, among the ice-caps, in between the glaciers, and even among the tumbled areas whose greenness proved that here was an environment which might be perilous, but where life should thrive abundantly.
The ship continued to descend toward a great forest near a terminal moraine.
Jamison declaimed, wearing a throat-mike as Bell zestfully panned his camera and the ship swung down. It was an impressive broadcast. The rockets roared. With the coming of air about the ship, they no longer made a mere rumbling. They created a tumult which was like the growl of thunder if one were in the midst of the thunder-cloud. It was a numbing noise. It was almost a paralyzing noise. But Jamison talked with professional smoothness.
"This planet," he orated, while pictures from Bell's camera went direct to the transmitter below, "this planet is the first world other than Earth on which a human ship has landed. It is paradoxic that before men have walked on Mars' red iron-oxide plains and breathed its thin cold air, or fought for life in the formaldehyde gales of Venus, that they should look upon a world which welcomes them from illimitable remoteness. Here we descend, and all mankind can watch our descent upon a world whose vegetation is green; whose glaciers prove that there is air and water in plenty, whose very smoking volcanoes assure us of its close kinship to Earth!"
He lifted the mike away from his throat and framed words with his lips. "Am I still on?" Cochrane nodded. Cochrane wore headphones carrying what the communicator carried, as this broadcast went through an angled Dabney field relay system back to Lunar City and then to Earth. He spoke close to Jamison's ear.
"Go ahead! If your voice fades, it will be the best possible sign-off. Suspense. Good television!"
Jamison let the throat-mike back against his skin. The roaring of the rockets would affect it only as his throat vibrated from the sound. It would register, even so.
"I see," said Jamison above the rocket-thunder, "forests of giant trees like the sequoias of Mother Earth. I see rushing rivers, foaming along their rocky beds, taking their rise in glaciers. We are still too high to look for living creatures, but we descend swiftly. Now we are level with the highest of the mountains. Now we descend below their smoking tops. Under us there is a vast valley, miles wide, leagues long. Here a city could be built. Over it looms a gigantic mountain-spur, capped with green. One would expect a castle to be built there."
He raised his eyebrows at Cochrane. They were well in atmosphere, now, and it had been an obvious defect—condition—necessity of the Dabney field that both of its plates should be in a vacuum. One was certainly in air now. But Cochrane made that gesture which in television production-practice informs the actors that time to cutting is measured in tens of seconds, and he held up two fingers. Twenty seconds.
"We gaze, and you gaze with us," said Jamison, "upon a world that future generations will come to know as home—the site of the first human colony among the stars!"
Cochrane began to beat time. Ten, nine, eight—.
"We are about to land," Jamison declaimed. "We do not know what we shall find—What's that?" He paused dramatically. "A living creature?—A living creature sighted down below! We sign off now—from the stars!"
The ending had been perfectly timed. Allowing for a three-second interval for the broadcast to reach the moon, and just about two more for it to be relayed to Earth, his final word, "Stars!" had been uttered at the precise instant to allow a four-minute commercial by Intercity Credit, in the United States, by Citroen in Europe, by Fabricanos Unidos in South and Central America, and Near East Oil along the Mediterranean. At the end of that four minutes it would be time for station identification and a time-signal, and the divers eight-second flashes before other programs came on the air.
The rockets roared and thundered. The ship went down and down. Jamison said:
"I thought we'd be cut off when we hit air!"
"That's what Jones thought," Cochrane assured him. He bellowed above the outside tumult, "Bell! See anything alive down below?"
Bell shook his head. He stayed at the camera aimed out a blister-port, storing up film-tape for later use. There was the feel of gravitation, now. Actually, it was the fact that the ship slowed swiftly in its descent.
Cochrane went to a port. The ship continued its descent.
"Living creature? Where?"
Jamison shrugged. He had used it as a sign-off line. An extrapolation from the fact that there was vegetation below. He looked somehow distastefully out the port at a swiftly rising green ground below. He was a city man. He had literally never before seen what looked like habitable territory of such vast extent, with no houses on it. In a valley easily ten miles long and two wide, there was not a square inch of concrete or of glass. There was not a man made object in view. The sky was blue and there were clouds, but to Jamison the sight of vegetation implied rooftops. There ought to be parapets where roofs ended to let light down to windows and streets below. He had never before seen grass save on elevated recreation-areas, nor bushes not arranged as landscaping, and certainly not trees other than the domesticated growths which can grow on the tops of buildings. To Jamison this was desolation. On the moon, absence of structures was understandable. There was no air. But here there should be a city!
The ship swayed a little as the rockets swung their blasts to balance the descending mass. The intended Mars-ship slowed, and slowed, and hovered—and there was terrifying smoke and flame suddenly all about—and then there was a distinct crunching impact. The rockets continued to burn, their ferocity diminished. They slackened again. And yet again. They were reduced to a mere faint murmur.
There was a remarkable immobility of everything. It was the result of gravity. Earth-value gravity, or very near it. There was a distinct pressure of one's feet against the floor, and a feeling of heaviness to one's body which was very different from Lunar City, and more different still from free flight in emptiness.
Nothing but swirling masses of smoke could be seen out the ports. They had landed in a forest, of sorts, and the rocket-blasts had burned away everything underneath, down to solid soil. In a circle forty yards about the ship the ground was a mass of smoking, steaming ash. Beyond that flames licked hungrily, creating more dense vapor. Beyond that still there was only coiling smoke.
Cochrane's headphones yielded Babs' voice, almost wailing:
"Mr. Cochrane! We must have landed! I want to see!"
Cochrane pressed the hand-mike button.
"Are we still hooked up to Lunar City?" he demanded. "We can't be, but are we?"
"We are," said Babs' voice mutinously. "The broadcast went through all right. They want to talk to you. Everybody wants to talk to you!"
"Tell them to call back later," commanded Cochrane. "Then leave the beam working—however it works!—and come up if you like. Tell the moon operator you'll be away for ten minutes."
He continued to stare out the window. Al, the pilot, stayed in his cushioned seat before the bank of rocket-controls. The rockets were barely alight. The ship stayed as it had landed, upright on its triple fins. He said to Jones:
"It feels like we're solid. We won't topple!"
Jones nodded. The rocket-sound cut off. Nothing happened.
"I think we could have saved fuel on that landing," said Jones. Then he added, pleased, "Nice! The Dabney field's still on! It has to be started in a vacuum, but it looks like it can hold air away from itself once it's established. Nice!"
Babs rushed up the stairs. She gazed impassionedly out of a vision-port. Then she said disappointedly:
"It looks like—"
"It looks like hell," said Cochrane. "Just smoke and steam and stuff. We can hope, though, that we haven't started a forest fire, but have just burned off a landing-place."
They stared out. Presently they went to another port and gazed out of that. The smoke was annoying, and yet it could have been foreseen. A moon-rocket, landing at its space-port on Earth, heated the tarmac to red-hotness in the process of landing. Tender-vehicles had to wait for it to cool before they could approach. Here the ship had landed in woodland. Naturally its flames had seared the spot where it came down. And there was inflammable stuff about, which caught fire. So the ship was in the situation of a phoenix, necessarily nesting in a conflagration. Anywhere it landed the same thing would apply, unless it tried landing on a glacier. But then it would settle down into a lake of boiling water, amid steam, and could expect to be frozen in as soon as its landing-place cooled.
Now there was nothing to do. They had to wait. Once the whole ship quivered very slightly, as if the ground trembled faintly under it. But there was nothing at which to be alarmed.
They could see that this particular forest was composed mainly of two kinds of trees which burned differently. One had a central trunk, and it burned with resinous flames and much black and gray-black smoke. The other was a curious growth—a solid, massive trunk which did not touch ground at all, but was held up by aerial roots which supported it aloft through very many slender shafts widely spread. Possibly the heavier part was formed on the ground and lifted as its air-roots grew.
It was irritating, though, to be unable to see from the ship so long as the fire burned outside. The pall of smoke lasted for a long time. In three hours there were no longer any fiercely blazing areas, but the ashes still smouldered and smoke still rose. In three hours and a half, the local sun began to set. There were colorings in the sky, beyond all comparison glorious. Which was logical enough. When Krakatoa, back on Earth, blew itself to bits in the eighteen hundreds, it sent such volumes of dust into the air that sunsets all around the globe were notably improved for three years afterward. On this planet, smoking cones were everywhere visible. Volcanic dust, then, made nightfall magnificent past description. There was not only gold and crimson in the west. The zenith itself glowed carmine and yellow, and those in the space-ship gazed up at a sky such as none of them could have imagined possible.
The colors changed and changed, from yellow to gold all over the sky, and still the glory continued. Presently there was a deep, deep red, deep past imagining, and presently faint bluish stars pierced it, and they stared up at new strange constellations-some very bright indeed—and all about the ship there was a bed of white ash with glowing embers in it, and a thin sheet of white smoke still flowed away down the valley.
It was long after sunset when Cochrane got up from the communicator. Communication with Earth was broken at last. There was a balloon out in space somewhere with an atomic battery maintaining all its surface as a Dabney field plate. The ship maintained a field between itself and that plate. The balloon maintained another field between itself and another balloon a mere 178.3 light-years from the solar system. But the substance of this planet intervened between the nearer balloon and the ship. Jones made tests and observed that the field continued to exist, but was plugged by the matter of this newly-arrived-at world. Come tomorrow, when there was no solid-stone barrier to the passage of radiation, they could communicate with Earth again.
But Cochrane was weary and now discouraged. So long as talk with Earth was possible, he'd kept at it. There was a great deal of talking to be done. But a good deal of it was extremely unsatisfactory.
He found Bill Holden having supper with Babs, on the floor below the communicator. Very much of the recent talk had been over Cochrane's head. He felt humiliated by the indignation of scientists who would not tell him what he wanted to know without previous information he could not give.
When he went over to the dining-table, he felt that he creaked from weariness and dejection. Babs looked at him solicitously, and then jumped up to get him something to eat. Everybody else was again watching out the ship's ports at the new, strange world of which they could see next to nothing.
"Bill," said Cochrane fretfully, "I've just been given the dressing-down of my life! You're expecting to get out of the airlock in the morning and take a walk. But I've been talking to Earth. I've been given the devil for landing on a strange planet without bringing along a bacteriologist, an organic chemist, an ecologist, an epidemiologist, and a complete laboratory to test everything with, before daring to take a breath of outside air. I'm warned not to open a port!"
"You sound as if you'd been talking to a biologist with a reputation. You ought to know better than that!"
"I wanted to talk to somebody who knew more than I did! What could I do but get a man with a reputation?"
Holden shook his head.
"We psychiatrists," he observed, "go around peeping under the corners of rugs at what people try to hide from themselves. We have a worm's-eye view of humanity. We know better than to throw a difficult problem at a man with an established name! They're neurotic about their reputations. Like Dabney, they get panicky at the idea of anybody catching them in a mistake. No big name in medicine or biology would dare tell you that of course it's all right for us to take a walk in the rather pretty landscape outside."
"Then who will?" demanded Cochrane.
"We'll make what tests we can," said Holden comfortingly, "and decide for ourselves. We can take a chance. We're only risking our lives!"
Babs brought Cochrane a plate. He put food in his mouth and chewed and swallowed.
"They say we can't afford to breathe the local air at all until we know its bacteriology; we can't touch anything until we test it as a possible allergen; we can't."
"What would those same authorities have told your friend Columbus? On a strange continent he'd be sure to find strange plants and strange animals. He'd find strange races of men and he ought to find strange diseases. They'd have warned him not to risk it. They wouldn't!"