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   Chapter 19 No.19

Islands of Space By Jr. John W. Campbell Characters: 14082

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Torlos spread his hands eloquently. "That is the history of our war. Can you wonder that my people were suspicious when your ship appeared? Can you wonder that they drove you away? They were afraid of the men of Sator; when they saw your weapons, they were afraid for their civilization.

"On the other hand, why should the men of Sator fear? They knew that our code of honor would not permit us to make a treacherous attack.

"I regret that my people drove you away, but can you blame them?"

Arcot had to admit that he could not. He turned to Morey. "They were certainly reasonable in driving us from their cities; experience has taught them that it's the safest way. A good offense is always the best defense.

"But experience has taught me that, unlike Torlos, I have to eat. I wonder if it might not be a good idea to get a little rest too-I'm bushed."

"Good idea," agreed Morey. "I'll ask Wade to stand guard while we sleep. If Torlos wants company, he can talk to Wade as well as anyone. I'm due for some sleep myself."

Arcot, Morey, and Fuller went to their rooms for some rest. Arcot and Morey were tired, but after an hour, Fuller rose and went down to the control room where Wade was communicating telepathically with Torlos.

"Hello," Wade greeted him. "I thought you were going to join the Snoring Chorus."

"I tried to, but I couldn't get in tune. What have you been doing?"

"I've been talking with Torlos-and with fair success. I'm getting the trick of thought communication," Wade said enthusiastically. "I asked Torlos if he wanted to sleep, and it seems that they do it regularly, one day in ten. And when they sleep, they sleep soundly. It's more of a coma, something like the hibernation of a bear or a possum.

"If you want to do business with Mr. John Doe, and he happens to be asleep, your business will have to wait. It takes something really drastic to wake these people up.

"I remember a remark one of my classmates made while I was going to college. He was totally unconscious of the humor in the thing. He said: 'I've got to go to more lectures. I've been losing a lot of sleep.'

"He intended them to be totally disconnected thoughts, but the rest of us knew his habits, and we almost knocked ourselves out laughing.

"I was just wondering what would happen if a Nansalian were to drop off in class. They'd probably have to call an ambulance or something to carry him home!"

Fuller looked at the giant. "I doubt it. One of his classmates would just tuck him under his arm and take him on home-or to the next lecture. Remember, they only weigh about four hundred pounds on Nansal, which is no more to them than fifty pounds is to us."

"True enough," Wade agreed. "But you know, I'd hate to have him wrap those arms of his about me. He might get excited, or sneeze or something, and-squish!"

"You and your morbid imagination." Fuller sat down in one of the seats. "Let's see if we can't get a three-way conversation going; this guy is interesting."

Arcot and Morey awoke nearly three hours later, and the Earthmen ate their breakfast, much to Torlos' surprise.

"I can understand that you need far more food than we do," he commented, "but you only ate a few hours ago. It seems like a tremendous amount of food to me. How could you possibly grow enough in your cities?"

"So that's why they don't have any farms!" Fuller said.

"Our food is grown out on the plains outside the cities, where there is room," Arcot explained. "It's difficult, but we have machines to help us. We could never have developed the cone type of city you have, however, for we need huge huge quantities of food. If we were to seal ourselves inside our cities as your people have to protect themselves from enemies, we would starve to death very quickly."

"You know," Morey said, "I'll have to admit that Torlos' people are a higher type of creation than we are. Man, and all other animals on Earth, are parasites of the plant world. We're absolutely incapable of producing our own foods. We can't gather energy for ourselves. We're utterly dependent on plants.

"But these men aren't-at least not so much so. They at least generate their own muscular energy by extracting heat from the air they breathe. They combine all the best features of plants, reptiles, and mammals. I don't know where they'd be classified biologically!"

After the meal, they went to the control room and strapped themselves into the control seats. Arcot checked the fuel gauge.

"We have plenty of lead left," he said to Morey, "and Torlos has assured me that we will be able to get more on Nansal. I suggest we show him how the space control works, so that he can tell the Nansalian scientists about it from personal experience.

"In this sun's gravitational field, we'll lose a lot of power, but as long as it can be replaced, we're all right."

Turning to the Nansalian, Arcot pointed out towards the little spark of light that was Torlos' home planet. "Keep your eyes on that, Torlos. Watch it grow when we use our space control drive."

Arcot pushed the little red switch to the first notch. The air around them pulsed with power for an instant, then space had readjusted itself.

The point that was Nansal grew to a disc, and then it was swiftly leaping toward them, welling up to meet them, expanding its bulk with awesome speed. Torlos watched it tensely.

There was a sudden splintering crash, and Arcot jerked open the circuit in alarm. They were almost motionless again as the stars reeled about them.

Torlos had been nervous. Like any man so effected, he had unconsciously tightened his muscles. His fingers had sunk into the hard plastic of the arm rest on his chair, and crushed it as though it had been put between the jaws of a hydraulic press!

"I'm glad we weren't holding hands," said Wade, eyeing the broken plastic.

"I am very sorry," Torlos thought humbly. "I did not intend to do that. I forgot myself when I saw that planet rushing at me so fast." His chagrin was apparent on his face.

Arcot laughed. "It is nothing, Torlos. We are merely astonished at the terrific strength of your hand. Wade wasn't worried; he was joking!"

Torlos looked relieved, but he looked at the splintered arm rest and then at his hand. "It is best that I keep my too-strong hands away from your instruments."

The ship was falling toward Nansal at a relatively slow rate, less than four miles a second. Arcot accelerated toward the planet for two hours, then began to decelerate. Five hundred miles above the planet's surface, their velocity cut the ship into a descending spiral orbit to allow the atmosphere to check their speed.

The outer lux hull began to heat up, and he closed the relux screens to cut down the radiation from it. When he opened them again, the ship was speeding over the broad plains of the planet.

Torlos told Arcot that by far the greater percentage of the surface of Nansal was land. There was still plenty of water, for their seas were much deepe

r than those of Earth. Some of the seas were thirty miles deep over broad areas-hundreds of square miles. As if to compensate, the land surfaces were covered with titanic mountain ranges, some of them over ten miles above sea level.

Torlos, his eyes shining, directed the Earthmen to his home city, the capital of the world-nation.

"Is there no traffic between the cities here, Torlos?" Morey asked. "We haven't seen any ships."

"There's continuous traffic," Torlos replied, "but you have come in far to the north, well away from the regularly scheduled routes. The commerce must be densely populated with warships as well, and both warships and commercial craft are made to look as much alike as possible so that the enemy can not know when ships of war are present and when they are not, and their attacks are more easily beaten off. They are forced to live off our commerce while they are here. Before we invented the magnetic storage device, they were forced to get fuel from our ships in order to make the return journey; they could not carry enough for the round trip."

Suddenly his smile broadened, and he pointed out the forward window. "Our city is behind that next range of mountains!"

They were flying at a height of twenty miles, and the range Torlos indicated was far off in the blue distance, almost below the horizon. As they approached them, the mountains seemed to change slowly as their perspective shifted. They seemed to crawl about on one another like living things, growing larger and changing from blue to blue-green, and then to a rich, verdant emerald.

Soon the ship was rocketing smoothly over them. Ahead and below, in the rocky gorge of the mountains, lay a great cone city, the largest the Earthmen had yet seen. As they approached, they could see another cone behind it-the city was a double cone! They resembled the circus tents of two centuries earlier, connected by a ridge.

"Ah-home!" smiled Torlos. "See-that twin cone idea is new. It was not thus when I left it, years ago. It is growing, growing-and in that new section! See? They have bright colors on all the buildings! And already they are digging foundations out to the left for a third cone!" He was so excited that it was difficult for Arcot to read his thoughts coherently.

"But we won't have to build more fortifications," Torlos continued, "if you will give us the secret of the rays you use!

"But, Arcot, you must hide in the hills now; drop down and deposit me in the hills. I will walk to the city on foot.

"I will be able to identify myself, and I will soon be inside the city, telling the Supreme Three that I have salvation and peace for them!"

"I have a better idea," Arcot told him. "It will save you a long walk. We'll make the ship invisible, and take you close to the city. You can drop, say ten feet from the ship to the ground, and continue from there. Will that be all right?"

Torlos agreed that it would.

Invisible, the Ancient Mariner dove down toward the city, stopping only a few hundred feet from the base of the magnetic wall, near one of the gigantic beam stations.

"I will come out in a one-man flier, slowly, and at low altitude, toward that mountain there," Torlos told Arcot, pointing. "Then you may become visible and follow me into the city.

"You need fear no treachery from my people," he assured them. Then, smiling: "As if you need fear treachery from the hands of any people! You have certainly proven your ability to defend yourselves!

"Even if my people were treacherously inclined, they would certainly have been convinced by your escape from the Satorians. And they have undoubtedly heard all about it by now through the secret radios of our spies. After all, I was not the only Nansalian spy there, and some of the others must surely have escaped in the ships that ran away after I destroyed the city." Arcot could feel the sadness in his mind as he thought of the fact that his inadvertent destruction of the city had undoubtedly killed some of his own people.

Torlos paused a moment, then asked: "Is there any message you wish me to give the Supreme Council of Three?"

"Yes," replied Arcot. "Repeat to them the offer we so foolishly made to the Commanding One of Sator. We will give them the molecular ray which tore the city out of the ground, and, as your people have seen, also tore a mountain down. We will give them our heat beam, which will melt anything except the material of which this ship is made. And we will give them the knowledge to make this material, too.

"Best of all, we will give them the secret of the most terrific energy source known to mankind; the energy of matter itself. With these in your hands, Sator will soon be peaceful.

"In return, we ask only two things. They will cost you almost nothing, but they are invaluable to us. We have lost our way. In the vastness of space, we can no longer locate our own galaxy. But our own Island Universe has features which could be distinguished on an astronomical plate, and we have taken photographs of it which your astronomers can compare with their own to help us find our way back.

"In addition, we need more fuel-lead wire. Our space control drive does not use up energy except in the presence of a strong gravitational field; most of it is drained back into our storage coils, with very little loss. But we have used it several times near a large sun, and the power drainage goes up exponentially. We would not have enough to get back home if we happened to run into any more trouble on the way."

Arcot paused a moment, considering. "Those two things are all we really need, but we would like to take back more, if your Council is willing. We would like samples of your books and photographs and other artifacts of your civilization to take back home to our own people.

"That, and peace, are all we ask."

Torlos nodded. "The things you ask, I am sure the Council will readily agree to. It seems little enough payment for the things you intend to do for us."

"Very well, then. We will wait for you. Good luck!"

Torlos turned and jumped out of the airlock. The ship rose high above him as he suddenly became visible on the plain below. He was running toward the city in great leaps of twenty feet-graceful, easy leaps that showed his tremendous power.

Suddenly, a ship was darting down from the city toward him. As it curved down, Torlos stopped and made certain signals with his arms, then he stood quietly with his hands in the air.

The ship hovered above him, and two men dropped thirty feet to the ground and questioned him for several minutes.

Finally, they motioned to the ship, which dropped to ten feet, and the three men leaped lightly to its door and entered. The door snapped shut, and the ship shot toward the city. The magnetic wall opened for a moment, and the ship shot through. Within seconds, if was out of sight, lost in the busy air traffic above the city.

"Well," said Arcot, "now we go back to the hills and wait."

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