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   Chapter 3 No.3

Islands of Space By Jr. John W. Campbell Characters: 13306

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


It was two weeks before Dr. Robert Arcot and his old friend Arthur Morey, president of Transcontinental Airways, were invited to see what their sons had been working on.

The demonstration was to take place in the radiation labs in the basements of the Transcontinental building. Arcot, Wade, Morey, and Fuller had brought the equipment in from the country place in Vermont and set it up in one of the heavily-lined, vault-like chambers that were used for radiation experiments.

The two older men were seated before a huge eighty-inch three-dimensional television screen several floors above the level where the actual demonstration was going on.

"There can't be anyone in the room, because of radiation burns," explained Arcot, junior. "We could have surrounded the thing with relux, but then you couldn't have seen what's going on.

"I'm not going to explain anything beforehand; like magic, they'll be more astounding before the explanation is given."

He touched a switch. The cameras began to operate, and the screen sprang into life.

The screen showed a heavy table on which was mounted a small projector that looked something like a searchlight with several heavy cables running into it. In the path of the projector was a large lux metal crucible surrounded by a ring of relux, and a series of points of relux aimed into the crucible. These points and the ring were grounded. Inside the crucible was a small ingot of coronium, the strong, hard, Venerian metal which melted at twenty-five hundred degrees centigrade and boiled at better than four thousand. The crucible was entirely enclosed in a large lux metal case which was lined, on the side away from the projector, with roughened relux.

Arcot moved a switch on the control panel. Far below them, a heavy relay slammed home, and suddenly a solid beam of brilliant bluish light shot out from the projector, a beam so brilliant that the entire screen was lit by the intense glow, and the spectators thought that they could almost feel the heat.

It passed through the lux metal case and through the coronium bar, only to be cut off by the relux liner, which, since it was rough, absorbed over ninety-nine percent of the rays that struck it.

The coronium bar glowed red, orange, yellow, and white in quick succession, then suddenly slumped into a molten mass in the bottom of the crucible.

The crucible was filled now with a mass of molten metal that glowed intensely white and seethed furiously. The slowly rising vapors told of the rapid boiling, and their settling showed that their temperature was too high to permit them to remain hot-the heat radiated away too fast.

For perhaps ten seconds this went on, then suddenly a new factor was added to the performance. There was a sudden crashing arc and a blaze of blue flame that swept in a cyclonic twisting motion inside the crucible. The blaze of the arc, the intense brilliance of the incandescent metal, and the weird light of the beam of radiation shifted in a fantastic play of colors. It made a strange and impressive scene.

Suddenly the relay sounded again; the beam of radiance disappeared as quickly as it had come. In an instant, the blue violet glare of the relux plate had subsided to an angry red. The violent arcing had stopped, and the metal was cooling rapidly. A heavy purplish vapor in the crucible condensed on the walls into black, flakey crystals.

The elder Arcot was watching the scene in the screen curiously. "I wonder-" he said slowly. "As a physicist, I should say it was impossible, but if it did happen, I should imagine these would be the results." He turned to look at Arcot junior. "Well, go on with your exhibition, son."

"I want to know your ideas when we're through, though, Dad," said the younger man. "The next on the program is a little more interesting, perhaps. At least it demonstrates a more commercial aspect of the thing."

The younger Morey was operating the controls of the handling robots. On the screen, a machine rolled in on caterpillar treads, picked up the lux case and its contents, and carried them off.

A minute later, it reappeared with a large electromagnet and a relux plate, to which were attached a huge pair of silver busbars. The relux plate was set in a stand directly in front of the projector, and the big electromagnet was set up directly behind the relux plate. The magnet leads were connected, and a coil, in the form of two toruses intersecting at right angles enclosed in a form-fitting relux case, had been connected to the heavy terminals of the relux plate. An ammeter and a heavy coil of coronium wire were connected in series with the coil, and a kilovoltmeter was connected across the terminals of the relux plate.

As soon as the connections were completed, the robot backed swiftly out of the room, and Arcot turned on the magnet and the ray projector. Instantly, there was a sharp deflection of the kilovoltmeter.

"I haven't yet closed the switch leading into the coil," he explained, "so there's no current." The ammeter needle hadn't moved.

Despite the fact that the voltmeter seemed to be shorted out by the relux plate, the needle pointed steadily at twenty-two. Arcot changed the current through the magnet, and the reading dropped to twenty.

The rays had been on at very low power, the air only slightly ionized, but as Arcot turned a rheostat, the intensity increased, and the air in the path of the beam shone with an intense blue. The relux plate, subject now to eddy currents, since there was no other path for the energy to take, began to heat up rapidly.

"I'm going to close the switch into the coil now," said Arcot. "Watch the meters."

A relay snapped, and instantly the ammeter jumped to read 4500 amperes. The voltmeter gave a slight kick, then remained steady. The heavy coronium spring grew warm and began to glow dully, while the ammeter dropped slightly because of the increased resistance. The relux plate cooled slightly, and the voltmeter remained steady.

"The coil you see is storing the energy that is flowing into it," Arcot explained. "Notice that the coronium resistor is increasing its resistance, but otherwise there is little increase in the back E.M.F. The energy is coming from the rays which strike the polarized relux plate to give the current."

He paused a moment to make slight adjustments in the controls, then turned his attention back to the screen.

The kilovoltmeter still read twenty.

"Forty-five hundred amperes at twenty thousand volts," the elder Arcot said softly. "Where is it going?"

"Take a look at the space within the right angle of the

torus coils," said Arcot junior. "It's getting dark in there despite the powerful light shed by the ionized air."

Indeed, the space within the twin coils was rapidly growing dark; it was darkening the image of the things behind it, oddly blurring their outlines. In a moment, the images were completely wiped out, and the region within the coils was filled with a strangely solid blackness.

"According to the instruments," young Arcot said, "we have stored fifteen thousand kilowatt hours of energy in that coil and there seems to be no limit to how much power we can get into it. Just from the power it contains, that coil is worth about forty dollars right now, figured at a quarter of a cent per kilowatt hour.

"I haven't been using anywhere near the power I can get out of this apparatus, either. Watch." He threw another switch which shorted around the coronium resistor and the ammeter, allowing the current to run into the coil directly from the plate.

"I don't have a direct reading on this," he explained, "but an indirect reading from the magnetic field in that room shows a current of nearly a hundred million amperes!"

The younger Morey had been watching a panel of meters on the other side of the screen. Suddenly, he shouted: "Cut it, Arcot! The conductors are setting up a secondary field in the plate and causing trouble."

Instantly, Arcot's hand went to a switch. A relay slammed open, and the ray projector died.

The power coil still held its field of enigmatic blackness.

"Watch this," Arcot instructed. Under his expert manipulation, a small robot handler rolled into the room. It had a pair of pliers clutched in one claw. The spectators watched the screen in fascination as the robot drew back its arm and hurled the pliers at the black field with all its might. The pliers struck the blackness and rebounded as if they had hit a rubber wall. Arcot caused the little machine to pick up the pliers and repeat the process.

Arcot grinned. "I've cut off the power to the coil. Unlike the ordinary induction coil, it isn't necessary to keep supplying power to the thing; it's a static condition.

"You can see for yourself how much energy it holds. It's a handy little gadget, isn't it?" He shut off the rest of the instruments and the television screen, then turned to his father.

"The demonstration is over. Got any theories, Dad?"

The elder Dr. Arcot frowned in thought. "The only thing I can think of that would produce an effect like that is a stream of positrons-or contraterrene nuclei. That would explain not only the heating, but the electrical display.

"As far as the coil goes, that's easy to understand. Any energy storage device stores energy in the strain in space; here you can actually see the strain in space." Then he smiled at his son. "I see my ex-laboratory assistant has come a long way. You've achieved controlled, usable atomic energy through total annihilation of mass. Right?"

Arcot smiled back and nodded. "Right, Dad."

"Son, I wonder if you'd give me your data sheets on that process. I'd like to work out some of the mathematical problems involved."

"Sure, Dad. But right now-" Arcot turned toward the elder Mr. Morey. "-I'm more interested in the mathematics of finance. We have a proposition to put to you, Mr. Morey, and that proposition, simply stated, is-"

Perhaps it was simply stated, but it took fully an hour for Arcot, Wade, and Morey to discuss the science of it with the two older men, and Fuller spent another hour over the carefully drawn plans for the ship.

At last, the elder Mr. Morey settled back and looked vacantly at the ceiling. They were seated now in the conference room of Transcontinental Airways.

"Well, boys," said Mr. Morey, "as usual, I'm in a position where I'm forced to yield. I might refuse financial backing, but you could sell any one of those gadgets for close to a billion dollars and finance the expedition independently, or you could, with your names, request the money publicly and back it that way." He paused a moment. "I am, however, thinking more in terms of your safety than in terms of money." There was another long pause, then he smiled at the four younger men.

"I think, however, that we can trust you. Armed with cosmic and molecular rays, you should be able to put up a fair scrap anywhere. Also, I have never detected any signs of feeblemindedness in any of you; I don't think you'll get yourselves in a jam you can't get out of. I'll back you."

"I hate to interrupt your exuberance," said the elder Dr. Arcot, "but I should like to know the name of this remarkable ship."

"What?" asked Wade. "Name? Oh, it hasn't any."

The elder Morey shook his head sadly. "That is indeed an important oversight. If a crew of men can overlook so fundamental a thing, I wonder if they are to be trusted."

"Well, what are we going to call it, then?" asked Arcot.

"Solarite II might do," suggested Morey. "It will still be from the Solar System."

"I think we should be more broadminded," said Arcot. "We aren't going to stay in this system-not even in this galaxy. We might call it the Galaxian."

"Did you say broadminded?" asked Wade. "Let's really be broad and call it the Universite or something like that. Or, better yet, call it Fluorine! That's everywhere in the universe and the most active element there is. This ship will go everywhere in the universe and be the most active thing that ever existed!"

"A good name!" said the elder Morey. "That gets my vote!"

Young Arcot looked thoughtful. "That's mighty good-I like the idea-but it lacks ring." He paused, then, looking up at the ceiling, repeated slowly:

"Alone, alone, all, all alone;

Alone on a wide, wide sea;

Nor any saint took pity on

My soul in agony."

He rose and walked over to the window, looking out where the bright points of light that were the stars of space rode high in the deep violet of the moonlit sky.

"The sea of all space-the sea of vastness that lies between the far-flung nebulae-the mighty void-alone on a sea, the vastness of which no man can imagine-alone-alone where no other man has been; alone, so far from all matter, from all mankind, that not even light, racing at billions of miles each day, could reach home in less than a million years." Arcot stopped and stood looking out of the window.

Morey broke the silence. "The Ancient Mariner." He paused. "'Alone' will certainly be right. I think that name takes all the prizes."

Fuller nodded slowly. "I certainly agree. The Ancient Mariner. It's kind of long, but it is the name."

It was adopted unanimously.

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