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   Chapter 8 No.8

Islands of Space By Jr. John W. Campbell Characters: 14317

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Forty hours later, Arcot was running the ship smoothly at top speed once again. The four men had gone to bed after more than thirty hours of hard work. That, coupled with the exhaustion of working under four gravities, as they had while the ship was going through the storm, was enough to make them sleep soundly.

Arcot had awakened before the others and had turned on the drive after resetting their course.

After that was done, there was little to do, and time began to hang heavily on Arcot's hands. He decided to make a thorough inspection of the hull when the others awoke. The terrific strain might have opened cracks in the lux metal hull that would not be detectable from the inside because the inner wall was separated from the outer envelope.

Accordingly, he got out the spacesuits, making sure the oxygen tanks were full and all was ready. Then he went into the library, got out some books, and set about some calculations he had in mind.

When Morey woke, some hours later, he found Arcot still at work on his calculations.

"Hey!" he said, swinging himself into the chair beside Arcot, "I thought you'd be on the lookout for more cosmic rays!"

"Curious delusion, wasn't it?" asked Arcot blandly. "As a matter of fact, I've been busy doing some figuring. I think our chance of meeting another such region is about one in a million million million million. Considering those chances, I don't think we need to worry. I don't see how we ever met one-but the chances of hitting one are better than hitting two."

Just then Fuller stuck his head in the door.

"Oh," he said, "so you're at it already? Well, I wonder if one of you could tell me just what it was we hit? I've been so busy I haven't had a chance to think."

"Don't take the chance now, then," grinned Morey. "You might strain your brain."

"Please!" Fuller pleaded, wincing. "Not before breakfast. Just explain what that storm was."

"We simply came to a region in space where cosmic rays are created," explained Arcot.

Fuller frowned. "But there's nothing out here to generate cosmic rays!"

Arcot nodded. "True. I think I know their real source, but I believe I'll merely say they are created here. I want to do more work on this. My idea for an energy source greater than any other in the universe has been confirmed.

"At any rate, they are created in that space, a perfect vacuum, and the space there is distorted terrifically by the titanic forces at work. It is bent and twisted far out of the normal, even curvature, and it was that bumpy spot in space that threw us about so.

"When we first entered, using the space-strain drive, the space around the ship, distorted as it was, conflicted with the region of the cosmic ray generation and the ship lost out. The curvature of space that the ship caused was sometimes reinforced and sometimes cancelled out by the twisted space around it, and the tremendous surges of current back and forth from the main power coil to the storage coils caused the electric discharges that kept burning through the air. I notice we all got a few burns from that. The field was caused by the terrific surges of current, and that magnetic field caused the walls of the ship to heat up due to the generation of electric current in the walls."

Fuller looked around at the walls of the ship. "Well, the Ancient Mariner sure took a beating."

"As a matter of fact, I was worried about that," said Arcot. "Strong as that hull is, it might easily have been strained in that field of terrific force. If it happened to hit two 'space waves' at once, it might have given it an acceleration in two different directions at once, which would strain the walls with a force amounting to thousands of tons. I laid out the suits up front, and I think we might reasonably get out there and take a look at the old boat. When Wade gets up-well, well-speak of the devil! My, doesn't he look energetic?"

Wade's huge body was floating in through the library door. He was yawning sleepily and rubbing his eyes. It was evident he had not yet washed, and his growing beard, which was heavy and black on his cheeks, testified to his need for a shave. The others had shaved before coming into the library.

"Wade," said Arcot, "we're going outside, and we have to have someone in here to operate the airlock. Suppose you get to work on the hirsute adornment; there's an atomic hydrogen cutting torch down in the lab you can use, if you wish. The rest of us are going outside." Then Arcot's voice became serious. "By the way, don't try any little jokes like starting off with a little acceleration. I don't think you would-you've got good sense-but I like to make certain. If you did, we'd be left behind, and you'd never find us in the vast immensity of intergalactic space."

It wasn't a pleasant idea to contemplate. Each of the suits had a radio for communication with each other and with the ship, but they would only carry a few hundred miles. A mere step in space!

Wade shook his head, grinning. "I have no desire to be left all by myself on this ship, thank you. You don't need to worry."

A few minutes later, Arcot, Morey, and Fuller stepped out of the airlock and set to work, using power flashlights to examine the outer hull for any signs of possible strain.

The flashlights, equipped as they were with storage coils for power, were actually powerful searchlights, but in the airlessness of space, the rays were absolutely invisible. They could only be seen when they hit the relux inner wall at such an angle that they were reflected directly into the observer's eyes. The lux metal wall, being transparent, was naturally invisible, and the smooth relux, reflecting one hundred percent of the incident light, did not become illuminated, for illumination is the result of the scattering of light.

It was necessary to look closely and pass the beams over every square inch of the surface. However, a crack would be rough, and hence would scatter light and be even more readily visible than otherwise.

To their great relief, after an hour and a half of careful inspection, none of them had found any signs of a crack, and they went back into the ship to resume the voyage.

Again they hurled through space, the twin ghost ships following them closely. Hour after hour the ship went on. Now they had something else to do. They were at work calculating some problems that Arcot had suggested in connection with the velocities of motion that had been observed in the stars at the edge of the island universe they were approaching. Since these stars revolved about the mass of the entire galaxy, it was possible to calculate the mass of the entire universe by averaging the values from several stars. Their results were not exact, but they were reliable enough. They found the universe to have a mass of two hundred and fifty million suns, only a little less than the home Galaxy. It was an average-sized nebula.

Still the hours dragged as they came gradually nearer their goal-gradually, despite their speed of twenty-four light years per second!

At the end of the second day after their trouble with

the cosmic ray field, they stopped for observation. They were now so near the Island Universe that the stars spread out in a huge disc ahead of them.

"About three hundred thousand light years distant, I should guess," said Morey.

"We know our velocity fairly accurately," said Wade. "Why can't we calculate the distance between two of these stars and then go on in?"

"Good idea," agreed Arcot. "Take the angle, will you, Morey? I'll swing the ship."

After taking their measurements, they advanced for one hour. Knowing this distance from experience, they were able to calculate the diameter of this galaxy. It turned out to be on the order of ninety thousand light years.

They were now much closer; they seemed, indeed, on the very edge of the giant universe. The thousands of stars flamed bright below them, stretching across their horizon more and more-a galaxy the eyes of men had never before seen at such close range! This galaxy had not yet condensed entirely to stars, and in its heart there still remained the vast gas cloud that would eventually be stars and planets. The vast misty cloud was plainly visible, glowing with a milky light like some vast frosted light bulb.

It was impossible to conceive the size of the thing; it looked only like some model, for they were still over a quarter of a million light years from it.

Morey looked up from his calculations. "I think we should be there in about three hours. Suppose we go at full speed for about two hours and then change to low speed?"

"You're the astronomical boss, Morey," said Arcot. "Let's go!"

They swung the ship about once more and started again. As they drew nearer to this new universe, they began to feel more interest in the trip. Things were beginning to happen!

The ship plunged ahead at full speed for two hours. They could see nothing at that velocity except the two ghost ships that were their ever-present companions. Then they stopped once more.

About them, they saw great suns shining. One was so close they could see it as a disc with the naked eye. But they could not see clearly; the entire sky was misty and the stars that were not close were blotted out. The room seemed to grow warm.

"Hey! Your calculations were off!" called Arcot. "We're getting out of here!"

Suddenly the air snapped and they were traveling at low speed under the drive of the space-strain apparatus. The entire space about them was lit with a dim violet glow. In ten minutes, the glow was gone and Arcot cut the drive.

They were out in ordinary dark space, with its star-studded blackness.

"What was the matter with my calculations?" Morey wanted to know.

"Oh, nothing much," Arcot said casually. "You were only about thirty thousand light years off. We landed right in the middle of the central gas cloud, and we were plowing through it at a relative velocity of around sixteen thousand miles per second! No wonder we got hot!

"We're lucky we didn't come near any stars in the process; if we had, we could have had to recharge the coil."

"It's a wonder we didn't burn up at that velocity," said Fuller.

"The gas wasn't dense enough," Arcot explained. "That gas is a better vacuum than the best pump could give you on Earth; there are fewer molecules per cubic inch than there are in a radio tube.

"But now that we're out of that, let's see if we can find a planet. No need to take photographs going in; if we want to find the star again, we can take photos as we leave. If we don't want to find it, we would just waste film.

"I'll leave it to Morey to find the star we want."

Morey set to work at once with the telescope; trying to find the nearest star of spectral type G-0, as had been agreed upon. He also wanted to find one of the same magnitude, or brilliance. At last, after investigating several such suns, he discovered one which seemed to fulfill all his wishes. The ship was turned, and they started toward the adventure they had really hoped to find.

As they rushed through space, the distorted stars shining vividly before them, they saw the one which was their goal. A bright, slowly changing violet point on the cross-hairs of the aiming telescope.

"How far is it?" asked Arcot.

"About thirty light centuries," replied Morey, watching the star eagerly.

They drove on in silence. Then, suddenly, Morey cried out: "Look! It's gone!"

"What happened?" asked Arcot in surprise.

Morey rubbed his chin in thought. "The star suddenly flared brightly for an instant, then disappeared. Evidently, it was a G-0 giant which had burned up most of the hydrogen that stars normally use for fuel. When that happens, a star begins to collapse, increasing in brilliance due to the heat generated by the gas falling toward the center of the star.

"Then other nuclear reactions begin to take place, and, due to the increased transparency of the star, a supernova is produced. The star blows away most of its gaseous envelope, leaving only the superdense core. In other words, it leaves a white dwarf." He paused and looked at Arcot. "I wonder if that star did have any planets?"

They all knew what he meant. What was the probable fate of beings whose sun had suddenly collapsed to a tiny, relatively cold point in the sky?

Suddenly, there loomed before them the dim bulk of the star, a disc already, and Arcot snapped the ship over to the molecular motion drive at once. He knew they must be close. Before them was the angry disc of the flaming white star.

Arcot swung the ship a bit to one side, running in close to the flaming star. It was not exceedingly hot, despite the high temperature and intense radiation, for the radiating surface was too small.

They swung about the star in a parabolic orbit, for, at their velocity, the sun could not hold them in a planetary orbit.

"Our velocity, relative to this star, is pretty high," Arcot announced. "I'm swinging in close so that I can use the star's attraction as a brake. At this distance, it will be about six gravities, and we can add to that a molecular drive braking of four gravities.

"Suppose you look around and see if there are any planets. We can break free and head for another star if there aren't."

Even at ten gravities of deceleration, it took several hours to reduce their speed to a point which would make it possible to head for any planet of the tiny sun.

Morey went to the observatory and swept the sky with the telectroscope.

It was difficult to find planets because the reflected light from the weak star was so dim, but he finally found one. He took angular readings on it and on the central sun. A little later, he took more readings. Because of the changing velocity of the ship, the readings were not too accurate, but his calculations showed it to be several hundred million miles out.

They were decelerating rapidly, and soon their momentum had been reduced to less than four miles a second. When they reached the planet, Arcot threw the ship into an orbit around it and began to spiral down.

Through the clear lux windows of the control room, the men looked down upon a bleak, frozen world.

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