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   Chapter 4 No.4

Islands of Space By Jr. John W. Campbell Characters: 17196

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The Ancient Mariner was built in the big Transcontinental shops in Newark; the power they needed was not available in the smaller shops.

Working twenty-four hours a day, in three shifts, skilled men took two months to finish the hull according to Fuller's specifications. The huge walls of lux metal required great care in construction, for they could not be welded; they had to be formed in position. And they could only be polished under powerful magnets, where the dense magnetic field softened the lux metal enough to allow a diamond polisher to do the job.

When the hull was finished, there came the laborious work of installing the power plant and the tremendous power leads, the connectors, the circuits to the relays-a thousand complex circuits.

Much of it was standard: the molecular power tubes, the molecular ray projectors, the power tubes for the invisibility apparatus, and many other parts. All the relays were standard, the gyroscopic stabilizers were standard, and the electromagnetic braking equipment for the gyros was standard.

But there would be long days of work ahead for Arcot, Wade, and Morey, for only they could install the special equipment; only they could put in the complicated wiring, for no one else on Earth understood the circuits they had to establish.

During the weeks of waiting, Arcot and his friends worked on auxiliary devices to be used with the ship. They wanted to make some improvements on the old molecular ray pistols, and to develop atomic powered heat projectors for hand use. The primary power they stored in small space-strain coils in the handgrip of the pistol. Despite their small size, the coils were capable of storing power for thirty hours of continuous operation of the rays. The finished weapon was scarcely larger than a standard molecular ray pistol.

Arcot pointed out that many of the planets they might visit would be larger than Earth, and they lacked any way of getting about readily under high gravity. Since something had to be done about that, Arcot did it. He demonstrated it to his friends one day in the shop yard.

Morey and Wade had just been in to see Fuller about some details of the ship, and as they came out, Arcot called them over to his work bench. He was wearing a space suit without the helmet.

The modern space suit is made of woven lux metal wires of extremely small diameter and airproofed with a rubberoid fluorocarbon plastic, and furnished with air and heating units. Made as it was, it offered protection nothing else could offer; it was almost a perfect insulator and was resistant to the attack of any chemical reagent. Not even elemental fluorine could corrode it. And the extreme strength of the lux metal fiber made it stronger, pound for pound, than steel or coronium.

On Arcot's back was a pack of relux plated metal. It was connected by relux web belts to a broad belt that circled Arcot's waist. One thin cable ran down the right arm to a small relux tube about eight inches long by two inches in diameter.

"Watch!" Arcot said, grinning.

He reached to his belt and flipped a little switch.

"So long! See you later!" He pointed his right arm toward the ceiling and sailed lightly into the air. He lowered the angle of his arm and moved smoothly across the huge hangar, floating toward the shining bulk of the rapidly forming Ancient Mariner. He circled the room, rising and sinking at will, then headed for the open door.

"Come out and watch me where there's more room," he called.

Out in the open, he darted high up into the air until he was a mere speck in the sky. Then he suddenly came dropping down and landed lightly before them, swaying on his feet and poised lightly on his toes.

"Some jump," said Morey, in mock surprise.

"Yeah," agreed Fuller. "Try again."

"Or," Wade put in, "give me that weight annihilator and I'll beat you at your own game. What's the secret?"

"That's a cute gadget. How much load does it carry?" asked Morey, more practically.

"I can develop about ten tons as far as it goes, but the human body can't take more than five gravities, so we can only visit planets with less than that surface gravity. The principle is easy to see; I'll show you."

He unhooked the cables and took the power pack from his back. "The main thing is the molecular power unit here, electrically heated and mounted on a small, massive gyroscope. That gyro is necessary, too. I tried leaving it out and almost took a nosedive. I had it coupled directly to the body and leaned forward a little bit when I was in the air. Without a gyro to keep the drive upright, I took a loop and started heading for the ground. I had to do some fancy gymnastics to keep from ending up six feet under-literally.

"The power is all generated in the pack with a small power plate and several storage coils. I've also got it hooked to these holsters at my belt so we can charge the pistols while we carry them.

"The control is this secondary power cable running down my arm to my hand. That gives you your direction, and the rheostat here at the belt changes the velocity.

"I've only made this one so far, but I've ordered six others like it. I thought you guys might like one, too."

"I think you guessed right!" said Morey, looking inside the power case. "Hey! Why all the extra room in the case?"

"It's an unperfected invention as yet; we might want to put some more stuff in there for our own private use."

Each of the men tried out the apparatus and found it quite satisfactory.

Meanwhile, there was other work to be done.

Wade had been given the job of gathering the necessary food and anything else in the way of supplies that he might think of. Arcot was collecting the necessary spare parts and apparatus. Morey was gathering a small library and equipping a chemistry laboratory. Fuller was to get together the necessary standard equipment for the ship-tables, seats, bunks, and other furniture.

It took months of work, and it seemed it would never be finished, but finally, one clear, warm day in August, the ship was completely equipped and ready to go.

On the last inspection, the elder Dr. Arcot and the elder Mr. Morey went with the four younger men. They stood beside the great intergalactic cruiser, looking up at its shining hull.

"We came a bit later than we expected, son," said Dr. Arcot, "but we still expect a good show." He paused and frowned, "I understand you don't intend to take any trial trip. What's the idea?"

Arcot had been afraid his father would be worried about that, so he framed his explanation carefully. "Dad, we figured this ship out to the last decimal place; it's the best we can make it. Remember, the molecular motion drive will get a trial first; we'll give it a trial trip when we leave the sun. If there's any trouble, naturally, we'll return. But the equipment is standard, so we're expecting no trouble.

"The only part that would require a trial trip is the space-control apparatus, and there's no way to give that a trial trip. Remember, we have to get far enough out from the sun so that the gravitational field will be weak enough for the drive to overcome it. If we tried it this close, we'd just be trying to neutralize the sun's gravity. We'd be pouring out energy, wasting a great deal of it; but out away from the sun, we'll get most of the energy back.

"On the other hand, when we do get out and get started we will go faster than light, and we'd be hopelessly beyond the range of the molecular motion drive in an instant. In other words, if the space-control drive doesn't work, we can't come back, and if it does work, there's no need to come back.

"And if anything goes wrong, we're the only ones who could fix it, anyway. If anything goes wrong, I'll radio Earth. You ought to be able to hear from me in about a dozen years." He smiled suddenly. "Say! We might go out and get back here in time to hear ourselves talking!

"But you can see why we felt that there was little reason for a trial trip. If it's a failure, we'll never be back to say so; if it isn't, we'll be able to continue."

His father still looked worried, but he nodded in acquiescence. "Perfect logic, son, but I guess we may as well give up the discussion. Personally, I don't like it. Let's see this ship of yours."

The great hull was two hundred feet long and thirty feet in diameter. The outer wall, one foot of solid lux metal, was separated from the inner, one-inch relux wall by a two inch gap which would be evacuated in space. The two walls were joined in many places b

y small lux metal cross-braces. The windows consisted of spaces in the relux wall, allowing the occupants to see through the transparent lux hull.

From the outside, it was difficult to detect the exact outline of the ship, for the clear lux metal was practically invisible and the foot of it that surrounded the more visible part of the ship gave a curious optical illusion. The perfect reflecting ability of the relux made the inner hull difficult to see, too. It was more by absence than presence that one detected it; it blotted out things behind it.

The great window of the pilot room disclosed the pilot seats and the great switchboard to one side. Each of the windows was equipped with a relux shield that slid into position at the touch of a switch, and these were already in place over the observatory window, so only the long, narrow portholes showed the lighted interior.

For some minutes, the elder men stood looking at the graceful beauty of the ship.

"Come on in-see the inside," suggested Fuller.

They entered through the airlock close to the base of the ship. The heavy lux door was opened by automatic machinery from the inside, but the combination depended on the use of a molecular ray and the knowledge of the correct place, which made it impossible for anyone to open it unless they had the ray and knew where to use it.

From the airlock, they went directly to the power room. Here they heard the soft purring of a large oscillator tube and the indistinguishable murmur of smoothly running AC generators powered by large contraterrene reactors.

The elder Dr. Arcot glanced in surprise at the heavy-duty ammeter in a control panel.

"Half a billion amperes! Good Lord! Where is all that power going?" He looked at his son.

"Into the storage coils. It's going in at ten kilovolts, so that's a five billion kilowatt supply. It's been going for half an hour and has half an hour to run. It takes two tons of matter to charge the coil to capacity, and we're carrying twenty tons of fuel-enough for ten charges. We shouldn't need more than three tons if all goes well, but 'all' seldom does.

"See that large black cylinder up there?" Arcot asked, pointing.

Above them, lying along the roof of the power room, lay a great black cylinder nearly two feet in diameter and extending out through the wall in the rear. It was made integral with two giant lux metal beams that reached to the bow of the ship in a long, sweeping curve. From one of the power switchboards, two heavy cables ran up to the giant cylinder.

"That's the main horizontal power unit. We can develop an acceleration of ten gravities either forward or backward. In the curve of the ship, on top, sides, and bottom, there are power units for motion in the other two directions.

"Most of the rest of the stuff in this section is old hat to you, though. Come on into the next room."

Arcot opened the heavy relux door, leading the way into the next room, which was twice the size of the power room. The center of the floor was occupied by a heavy pedestal of lux metal upon which was a huge, relux-encased, double torus storage coil. There was a large switchboard at the opposite end, while around the room, in ordered groups, stood the familiar double coils, each five feet in diameter. The space within them was already darkening.

"Well," said Arcot, senior, "that's some battery of power coils, considering the amount of energy one can store. But what's the big one for?"

"That's the main space control," the younger Arcot answered. "While our power is stored in the smaller ones, we can shoot it into this one, which, you will notice, is constructed slightly differently. Instead of holding the field within it, completely enclosed, the big one will affect all the space about it. We will then be enclosed in what might be called a hyperspace of our own making."

"I see," said his father. "You go into hyperspace and move at any speed you please. But how will you see where you're going?"

"We won't, as far as I know. I don't expect to see a thing while we're in that hyperspace. We'll simply aim the ship in the direction we want to go and then go into hyperspace. The only thing we have to avoid is stars; their gravitational fields would drain the energy out of the apparatus and we'd end up in the center of a white-hot star. Meteors and such, we don't have to worry about; their fields aren't strong enough to drain the coils, and since we won't be in normal space, we can't hit them."

The elder Morey looked worried. "If you can't see your way back you'll get lost! And you can't radio back for help."

"Worse than that!" said Arcot. "We couldn't receive a signal of any kind after we get more than three hundred light years away; there weren't any radios before that.

"What we'll do is locate ourselves through the sun's light. We'll take photographs every so often and orient ourselves by them when we come back."

"That sounds like an excellent method of stellar navigation," agreed Morey senior. "Let's see the rest of the ship." He turned and walked toward the farther door.

The next room was the laboratory. On one side of the room was a complete physics lab and on the other was a well-stocked and well-equipped chemistry lab. They could perform many experiments here that no man had been able to perform due to lack of power. In this ship they had more generating facilities than all the power stations of Earth combined!

Arcot opened the next door. "This next room is the physics and chemistry storeroom. Here we have a duplicate-in some cases, six or seven duplicates-of every piece of apparatus on board, and plenty of material to make more. Actually, we have enough equipment to make a new ship out of what we have here. It would be a good deal smaller, but it would work.

"The greater part of our materials is stored in the curvature of the ship, where it will be easy to get at if necessary. All our water and food is there, and the emergency oxygen tanks.

"Now let's take the stairway to the upper deck."

The upper deck was the main living quarters. There were several small rooms on each side of the corridor down the center; at the extreme nose was the control room, and at the extreme stern was the observatory. The observatory was equipped with a small but exceedingly powerful telectroscope, developed from those the Nigrans had left on one of the deserted planets Sol had captured in return for the loss of Pluto to the Black Star. The arc commanded by the instrument was not great, but it was easy to turn the ship about, and most of their observations could be made without trouble.

Each of the men had a room of his own; there was a small galley and a library equipped with all the books the four men could think of as being useful. The books and all other equipment were clamped in place to keep them from flying around loose when the ship accelerated.

The control room at the nose was surrounded by a hemisphere of transparent lux metal which enabled them to see in every direction except directly behind, and even that blind spot could be covered by stationing a man in the observatory.

There were heat projectors and molecular ray projectors, each operated from the control room in the nose. To complete the armament, there were more projectors in the stern, controlled from the observatory, and a set on either side controlled from the library and the galley.

The ship was provisioned for two years-two years without stops. With the possibility of stopping on other planets, the four men could exist indefinitely in the ship.

After the two older men had been shown all through the intergalactic vessel, the elder Arcot turned to his old friend. "Morey, it looks as if it was time for us to leave the Ancient Mariner to her pilots!"

"I guess you're right. Well-I'll just say goodbye-but you all know there's a lot more I could say." Morey senior looked at them and started toward the airlock.

"Goodbye, son," said the elder Arcot. "Goodbye, men. I'll be expecting you any time within two years. We can have no warning, I suppose; your ship will outrace the radio beam. Goodbye." Dr. Arcot joined his old friend and they went outside.

The heavy lux metal door slid into place behind them, and the thick plastic cushions sealed the entrance to the airlock.

The workmen and the other personnel around the ship cleared the area and stood well back from the great hull. The two older men waved to the men inside the ship.

Suddenly the ship trembled, and rose toward the sky.

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