Improvements and Calculations

“It is still incredible. But you have done it. It is certainly successful!” said the Talsonian scientist with conviction.

Arcot shook his head. “Far from it⁠—we have not realized a thousandth part of the tremendous possibilities of this invention. We must work and calculate and then invent.

“Think of the possibilities as a shield⁠—naturally if we can make the matter we should be able to control its properties in any way we like. We should be able to make it opaque, transparent, or any color.” Arcot was speaking to Morey now. “Do you remember, when we were caught in that cosmic ray field in space when we first left this universe, that I said that I had an idea for energy so vast that it would be impossible to describe its awful power?1 I mentioned that I would attempt to liberate it if ever there was need? The need exists. I want to find that secret.”

Stel Felso Theu was looking out through the window at a group of men excitedly beckoning. He called the attention of the others to them, and himself went out. Arcot and Wade joined him in a moment.

“They tell me that Fellsheh, well to the poleward of here has used four of its eight shots. They are still being attacked,” explained the Talsonian gravely.

“Well, get in,” snapped Arcot as he ran back to the ship. Stel Felso hastily followed, and the Ancient Mariner shot into the air, and darted away, poleward, to the Talsonian’s directions. The ground fled behind them at a speed that made the scientist grip the handrail with a tenseness that showed his nervousness.

As they approached, a tremendous concussion and a great gout of light in the sky informed them of the early demise of several Thessians. But a real fleet was clustered about the city. Arcot approached low, and was able to get quite close before detection. His ray screen was up and Morey had charged the artificial matter apparatus, small as it was, for operation. He created a ball of substance outside the Ancient Mariner, and thrust it toward the nearest Thessian, just as a molecular hit the Ancient Mariner’s ray screen.

The artificial matter instantly exploded with terrific violence, slightly denting the tremendously strong lux metal walls. The pressure of the light was so great that the inner relux walls were dented inward. The ground below was suddenly, instantaneously fused.

“Lord⁠—they won’t pass a ray screen, obviously,” Morey muttered, picking himself from where he had fallen.

“Hey⁠—easy there. You blinked off the ray screen, and our relux is seriously weakened,” called Arcot, a note of worry in his voice.

“No artificial matter with the ray screen up. I’ll use the magnet,” called Morey.

He quickly shut off the apparatus, and went to the huge magnet control. The power room was crowded, and now that the battle was raging in truth, with three ships attacking simultaneously, even the enormous power capacity of the ship’s generators was not sufficient, and the storage coils had been thrown into the operation. Morey looked at the instruments a moment. They were all up to capacity, save the ammeter from the coils. That wasn’t registering yet. Suddenly it flicked, and the other instrument dropped to zero. They were in artificial space.

“Come here, will you, Morey,” called Arcot. In a moment Morey joined his much worried friend.

“That artificial matter control won’t work through ray screens. The Thessians never had to protect against moleculars here, and didn’t have them up⁠—hence the destruction wrought. We can’t take our screen down, and we can’t use our most deadly weapon with it up. If we had a big outfit, we might throw a screen around the whole ship, and sail right in. But we haven’t.

“We can’t stand ten seconds against that fleet. I’m going to find their base, and make them yell for help.” Arcot snapped a tiny switch one notch further for the barest instant, then snapped it back. They were several millions miles from the planet. “Quicker,” he explained, “to simply follow those ships back home⁠—go back in time.”

With the telectroscope, he took views at various distances, thus quickly tracing them back to their base at the pole of the planet. Instantly Arcot shot down, reaching the pole in less than a second, by carefully maneuvering of the space device.

A gigantic dome of polished relux rose from rocky, icy plains. The thing was nearly half a mile high, a mighty rounded roof that covered an area almost three-quarters of a mile in diameter. Titanic⁠—that was the only word that described it. About it there was the peculiar shimmer of a molecular ray screen.

Morey darted to the power room and set his apparatus into operation. He created a ball of matter outside the ship and hurled it instantly at the fort. It exploded with a terrific concussion as it hit the wall of the ray screen. Almost instantly a second one followed. The concussion was terrifically violent, the ground about was fused, and the ray screen was opened for a moment. Arcot threw all his moleculars on the screen, as Morey sent bomb after bomb at it. The coils supplied the energy, cracked the rock beneath. Each energy release disrupted the ray-screen for a moment, and the concentrated fury of the molecular beams poured through the opened screen, and struck the relux behind. It glowed opalescent now in a spot twenty feet across. But the relux was tremendously thick. Thirty bombs Morey hurled, while they held their position without difficulty, pouring their bombs and rays at the fort.

Arcot threw the ship into space, moved, and reappeared suddenly nearly three hundred yards further on. A snap of the eyes, and he saw that the fleet was approaching now. He went again into space, and retreated. Discretion was the better part of valor. But his plan had worked.

He waited half an hour, and returned. From a distance the telectroscope told him that one lone ship was patrolling outside the fort. He moved toward it, creeping up behind the icy mountains. His magnetic beam reached out. The ship lurched and fell. The magnetic beam reached out toward the fort, from which a molecular ray had flashed already, tearing up the icy waste which had concealed him. The ray-screen stopped it, while again Morey turned the magnetic beam on⁠—this time against the fort. The ray remained on! Arcot retreated hastily.

“They found the secret, all right. No use, Morey, come on up,” called the pilot. “They evidently put magnetic shielding around the apparatus. That means the magnetic beam is no good to us any more. They will certainly warn every other base, and have them install similar protection.”

“Why didn’t you try the magnetic ray on our first attack?” asked Zezdon Afthen.

“If it had worked, their sending apparatus would have been destroyed, and no message could have been sent to call their attackers off Fellsheh. By forcing them to recall their fleet I got results I couldn’t get by attacking the fleet,” Arcot said.

“I think there is little more I can do here, Stel Felso Theu. I will take you to Shesto, and there make final arrangements till my return, with apparatus capable of overthrowing your enemies. If you wish to accompany me⁠—you may.” He glanced around at the others of his party. “And our next move will be to return to Earth with what we have. Then we will investigate the Sirian planets, and learn anything they may have of interest, thence⁠—to the real outer space, the utter void of intergalactic space, and an attempt to learn the secret of that enormous power.”

They returned to Shesto, and there Arcot arranged that the only generator they could spare, the one already in their possession, might be used till other terrestrian ships could bring more. They left for Earth. Hour after hour they fled through the void, till at last old Sol was growing swiftly ahead of them, and finally Earth itself was large on the screens. They changed to a straight molecular drive, and dropped to the Vermont field from which they had taken off.

During the long voyage, Morey and Arcot had both spent much of the time working on the time-distortion field, which would give them a tremendous control over time, either speeding or slowing their time rate enormously. At last, this finished, they had worked on the artificial matter theory, to the point where they could control the shape of the matter perfectly, though as yet they could not control its exact nature. The possibility of such control was, however, definitely proven by the results the machines had given them. Arcot had been more immediately interested in the control of form. He could control the nature as to opacity or transparency to all vibrations that normal matter is opaque or transparent to. Light would pass, or not as he chose, but cosmics he could not stop nor would radio or moleculars be stopped by any present shield he could make.

They had signaled, as soon as they slowed outside the atmosphere, and when they settled to the field, Arcot’s father and a number of very important scientists had already arrived.

Arcot senior greeted his son very warmly, but he was tremendously worried, as his son soon saw.

“What’s happened, Dad⁠—won’t they believe your statements?”

“They doubted when I went to Luna for a session with the Interplanetary Council, but before they could say much, they had plenty of proof of my statements,” the older man answered. “News came that a fleet of Planetary Guard ships had been wiped out by a fleet of ships from outer space. They were huge things⁠—nearly half a mile in length. The Guard ships went up to them⁠—fifty of them⁠—and tried to signal for a conference. The white ship was instantly wiped out⁠—we don’t know how. They didn’t have ray screens, but that wasn’t it. Whatever it was⁠—slightly luminous ray in space⁠—it simply released the energy of the lux metal and relux of the ship. Being composed of light energy simply bound by photonic attraction, it let go with terrible energy. They can do it almost instantly from a distance. The other Guards at once let loose with all their moleculars and cosmics. The enemy shunted off the moleculars, and wiped out the Guard almost instantly.

“Of course, I could explain the screen, but not the detonation ray. I am inclined to believe from other casualties that the destruction, though reported as an instantaneous explosion, was not that. Other ships have been destroyed, and they seemed to catch fire, and burn, but with terrific speed, more like gun powder than coal. It seems to start a spreading decomposition, the ship lasts perhaps ten minutes. If it went instantly, the shock of such a tremendous energy release would disrupt the planet.

“At any rate, the great fleet separated, twelve went to the North Pole of Earth, twelve to the south, and similarly twelve to each pole of Venus. Then one of them turned, and went back to wherever it had come from, to report. Just turned and vanished. Similarly one from Venus turned and vanished. That leaves twelve at each of the four poles, for, as I said, there were an even fifty.

“They all followed the same tactics on landing, so I’ll simply tell what happened in Attica. In the North they had to pick one of the islands a bit to the south of the pole. They melted about a hundred square miles of ice to find one.

“The ships arranged themselves in a circle around the place, and literally hundreds of men poured out of each and fell to work. In a short time, they had set up a number of machines, the parts coming from the ships. These machines at once set to work, and they built up a relux wall. That wall was at least six feet thick; the floor was lined with thick relux as well as the roof, which is simply a continuation of the wall in a perfect dome. They had so many machines working on it, that within twenty-four hours they had it finished.

“We attacked twice, once in practically our entire force, with some ray-shield machines. The result was disastrous. The second attack was made with ray shielded machines only, and little damage was done to either side, though the enemy were somewhat impeded by masses of ice hurled into their position. Their relux disintegration ray was conspicuous by its absence.

“Yesterday⁠—and it seems a lot longer than that, son⁠—they started it again. They’d been unloading it from the ship evidently. We had had ray-shielded machines out, but they simply melted. They went down, and Earth retreated. They’re in their fortress now. We don’t know how to fight them. Now, for God’s sake, tell us you have learned of some weapon, son!”

The older man’s face was lined. His iron gray head showed his fatigue due to hours of concentration on his work.

“Some,” replied Arcot briefly. He glanced around. Other men had arrived, men whom he met in his work. But there were Venerians here, too, in their protective suits, insulated against the cold of Earth, and against its atmosphere.

“First, though, gentlemen, allow me to introduce Stel Felso Theu of the planet Talso, one of our allies in this struggle, and Zezdon Afthen and Fentes of Ortol, one of our other allies.

“As to progress, I can say only that it is in a more or less rudimentary stage. We have the basis for great progress, a weapon of inestimable value⁠—but it is only the basis. It must be worked out. I am leaving with you today the completed calculations and equations of the time field, the system used by the Thessian invaders in propelling their ships at a speed greater than that of light. Also, the uncompleted calculations in regard to another matter, a weapon which our ally, Talso, has given us, in exchange for the aid we gave in allowing them the use of one of our generators. Unfortunately the ship could not spare more than the single generator. I strongly advise rushing a number of generators to Talso in intergalactic freighters. They badly need power⁠—power of respectable dimensions.

“I have stopped on Earth only temporarily, and I want to leave as soon as possible. I intend, however, to attempt an attack on the Arctic base of the Thessians, in strong hopes that they have not armored against one weapon that the Ancient Mariner carries⁠—though I sadly fear that old Earth herself has played us false here. I hope to use the magnetic beam, but Earth’s polar magnetism may have forced them to armor, and they may have sufficiently heavy material to block the effects.”

Morey already had a ground crew servicing the ship. He gave designs to machinists on hand to make special control panels for the large artificial matter machines. Arcot and Wade got some badly needed equipment.

In six hours, Arcot had announced himself ready, and a squadron of Planetary Guard ships were ready to accompany the refitted Ancient Mariner.

They approached the pole cautiously, and were rewarded by the hiss and roar of ice melting into water which burst into steam under a ray. It was coming from an outpost of the camp, a tiny dome under a great mass of ice. But the dome was of relux. A molecular reached down from a Guard ship⁠—and the Guard ship crumbled suddenly as dozens of moleculars from the points hit it.

“They know how to fight this kind of a war. That’s their biggest advantage,” muttered Arcot. Wade merely swore.

“Ray screens, no moleculars!” snapped Arcot into the transmitter. He was not their leader, but they saw his wisdom, and the squadron commander repeated the advice as an order. In the meantime, another ship had fallen. The dome had its screen up, allowing the multitudes of hidden stations outside to fight for it.

“Hmm⁠—something to remember when terrestrians have to retire to forts. They will, too, before this war is over. That way the main fort doesn’t have to lower its ray screen to fight,” commented Arcot. He was watching intensely as a tiny ship swung away from one of the larger machines, and a tremendously powerful molecular started biting at the fort’s ray screen. The ship seemed nothing but a flying ray projector, which was what it was.

As they had hoped, the deadly new ray stabbed out from somewhere on the side of the fort. It was not within the fort.

“Which means,” pointed out Morey, “that they can’t make stuff to stand that. Probably the projector would be vulnerable.”

But a barrage of heat rays which immediately followed had no apparent effect. The little radio-controlled molecular beam projector lay on the rock under the melted ice, blazing incandescent with the rapidly released energy of the relux.

“Now to try the real test we came here for,” Morey clambered back to the power room, and turned on the controls of the magnetic beam. The ship was aligned, and then he threw the last switch. The great mass of the machine jerked violently, and plunged forward as the beam attracted the magnetic core of the Earth.

Morey could not see it, but almost instantly the shimmer of the molecular screen on the fort died out. The deadly ray sprang out from the Thessian projector⁠—and went dead. Frantically the Thessians tried weapon after weapon, and found them dead almost as soon as they were turned on⁠—which was the natural result in the terrific magnetic field.

And these men had iron bones, their very bones were attracted by the beam; they plunged upward toward the ship as the beam touched them, but, accustomed to the enormous gravitation accelerations of an enormous world, most of them were not killed.

“Ah⁠—!” exclaimed Arcot. He picked up the transmitter and spoke again to the Squadron Commander. “Squadron Commander Tharnton, what relux thickness does your ship carry?”

“Inch and a quarter,” replied the surprised voice of the commander.

“Any of the other ships carry heavier?”

“Yes, the special solar investigator carries five inches. What shall we do?”

“Tell him to lower his screen, and let loose at once on all operating forts. His relux will stand for the time needed to shut them down for their own screens, unless some genius decides to fight it out. As soon as the other ships can lower their screens, tell them to do so, and tell them to join in. I’ll be able to help then. My relux has been burned, and I’m afraid to lower the screen. It’s mighty thin already.”

The squadron commander was smiling joyously as he relayed the advice as a command.

Almost at once a single ship, blunt, an almost perfect cylinder, lowered its screen. In an instant the opalescence of the transformation showed on it, but its dozen ray projectors were at work. Fort after fort glowed opalescent, then flashed into protective ionization of screening. Quickly other ships lowered their screens, and joined in. In a moment more, the forts had been forced to raise their screens for protection.

A disc of artificial matter ten feet across suddenly appeared beside the Ancient Mariner. It advanced with terrific speed, struck the great dome of the fort, and the dome caved, bent in, bent still more⁠—but would not puncture. The disc retreated, became a sharp cone, and drove in again. This time the point smashed through the relux, and made a small hole. The cone seemed to change gradually, melting into a cylinder of twenty foot diameter, and the hole simply expanded. It continued to expand as the cylinder became a huge disc, a hundred feet across, set in the wall.

Suddenly it simply dissolved. There was a terrific roar, and a mighty column of white rushed out of the gaping hole. Figures of Thessians caught by the terrific current came rocketing out. The inside was at last visible. The terrific pressure was hurling the outside line of ships about like thistledown. The Ancient Mariner reeled back under the tremendous blast of expanding gas. The snow that fell to the boiling water below was not water, in toto; some was carbon dioxide⁠—and some oxygen chilled in the expansion of the gas. It was snowing within the dome. The falling forms of Thessians were robbed of the life-giving air pressure to which they were accustomed. But all this was visible for but an instant.

Then a small, thin sheet of artificial matter formed beside the fort, and advanced on the dome. Like a knife cutting open an orange, it simply went around the dome’s edge, the great dome lifted like the lid of a teapot under the enormous gas pressure remaining⁠—then dropped under its own weight.

The artificial matter was again a huge disc. It settled over the exact center of the dome⁠—and went down. The dome caved in. It was crushed under a load utterly inestimable. Then the great disc, like some monstrous tamper, tamped the entire works of the Thessians into the bedrock of the island. Every ship, every miniature fort, every man was caught under it⁠—and annihilated.

The disc dissolved. A terrific barrage of heat beams played over the island, and the rock melted, flowed over the ruins, and left only the spumes of steam from the Arctic ice rising from a red-hot: mass of rock, contained a boiling pool.

The Battle of the Arctic was done.