“Write Off the Magnet”

“Squadron commander Tharnton speaking: Squadron 73-B of Planetary Guard will follow orders from Dr. Arcot directly. Heading south to Antarctica at maximum speed,” droned the communicator. Under the official tone of command was a note of suppressed rage and determination. “And the squadron commander wishes Dr. Arcot every success in wiping out Antarctica as thoroughly and completely as he destroyed the Arctic base.”

The flight of ships headed south at a speed that heated them white in the air, thin as it was at the hundred mile altitude, yet going higher would have taken unnecessary time, and the white heat meant no discomfort. They reached Antarctica in about ten minutes. The Thessian ships were just entering through great locks in the walls of the dome. At first sight of the terrestrial ships they turned, and shot toward the guard-ships. Their screens were down, for, armored as they were with very heavy relux they expected to be able to overcome the terrestrial thin relux before theirs was seriously impaired.

“Ships will put up screens.” Arcot spoke sharply⁠—a new plan had occurred to him. The moleculars of the Thessians struck glowing screens, and no damage was done. “Ships, in order of number, will lower screen for thirty seconds, and concentrate all moleculars on one ship⁠—the leader. Solar investigator will not join in action.”

The flagship of the squadron lowered its screen, and a tremendous bombardment of rays struck the leading ship practically in one point. The relux glowed, and the opalescence shifted with bewildering, confusing colors. Then the terrestrial ship’s screen was up, before the Thessians could concentrate on the one unprotected ship. Immediately another terrestrial ship opened its screen and bombarded the same ship. Two others followed⁠—and then it was forced to use its screen.

But suddenly a terrestrial ship crashed. Its straining screen had been overworked⁠—and it failed.

Arcot’s magnetic beam went into action. The Thessian ray did not go out⁠—it flickered, dimmed, but was apparently as deadly as ever.

“Shielded⁠—write off the magnet, Morey. That is one asset we lose.”

Arcot, protected in space, was thinking swiftly. Moleculars⁠—useless. They had to keep their own screens up. Artificial matter⁠—bound in by their own molecular screen! And the magnet had failed them against the protected mechanism of the dome. The ships were not as yet protected, but the dome was.

“Guess the only place we’d be safe is under the ground⁠—way under!” commented Wade dryly.

“Under the ground⁠—Wade, you’re a genius!” Arcot gave a shout of joy, and told Wade to take over the ship.

“Take the ship back into normal space, head for the hill over behind the Dome, and drop behind it. It’s solid rock, and even their rays will take a moment or so to move it. As soon as you get there, drop to the ground, and turn off the screen. No⁠—here, I’ll do it. You just take it there, land on the ground, and shut off the screen. I promise the rest!” Arcot dived for the artificial matter room.

The ship was suddenly in normal space; its screen up. The dogfight had been ended. The terrestrial ships had been completely defeated. The Ancient Mariner’s appearance was a signal for all the moleculars in sight. Ten huge ships, half a dozen small forts and now the unshielded Dome, joined in. Their screen tubes heated up violently in the brief moment it took to dive behind the hill, a tube fused, and blew out. Automatic devices shunted it, another tube took the load⁠—and heated. But their screen was full of holes before they were safe for the moment behind the hill.

Instantly Wade dropped the defective screen. Almost as quickly as the screen vanished, a cylinder of artificial matter surrounded the entire ship. The cylinder was tipped by a perfect cone of the same base diameter. The entire system settled into the solid rock. The rock above cracked and filled in behind them. The ship was suddenly pushed by the base of the cylinder behind them, and drove on through the rock, the cone parting the hard granite ahead. They went perhaps half a mile, then stopped. In the light of the ship’s windows, they could see the faint mistiness of the inconceivably hard, artificial matter, and beyond the slick, polished surface of the rock it was pushing aside. The cone shape was still there.

There was a terrific roar behind them, the rock above cracked, shifted and moved about.

“Raying the spot where we went down,” Arcot grinned happily.

The cone and cylinder merged, shifted together, and became a sphere. The sphere elongated upward and the Ancient Mariner turned in it, till it, too, pointed upward. The sphere became an ellipsoid.

Suddenly the ship was moving, accelerating terrifically. It plowed through the solid rock, and up⁠—into a burst of light. They were inside the dome. Great ships were berthed about the floor. Huge machines bulked here and there⁠—barracks for men⁠—everything.

The ellipsoid shrank to a sphere, the sphere grew a protuberance which separated and became a single bar-like cylinder. The cylinder turned, and drove through the great dome wall. A little hole but it whirled rapidly around, sliced the top off neatly and quickly. Again, like a gigantic teapot lid, the whole great structure lifted, settled, and stayed there. Men, scrambling wildly toward ships, suddenly stopped, seemed to blur and their features ran together horribly. They fell⁠—and were dead in an instant as the air disappeared. In another instant they were solid blocks of ice, for the temperature was below the freezing point of carbon dioxide.

The giant tamper set to work. The Thessian ships went first. They were all crumpled, battered wrecks in a few seconds of work of the terrible disc.

The dome was destroyed. Arcot tried something else. He put on his control machine the equation of a hyperboloid of two branches, and changed the constants gradually till the two branches came close. Then he forced them against each other. Instantly they fought, fought terribly for existence. A tremendous blast of light and heat exploded into being. The energy of two tons of lead attempted to maintain those two branches. It was not, fortunately, explosive, and it took place over a relux floor. Most of the energy escaped into space. The vast flood of light was visible on Venus, despite the clouds.

But it fused most of Antarctica. It destroyed the last traces of the camp in Antarctica.

“Well⁠—the Squadron was wiped out, I see.” Arcot’s voice was flat as he spoke. The Squadron: twenty ships⁠—four hundred men.

“Yes⁠—but so is the Arctic camp, and the Antarctic camp, as well,” replied Wade.

“What next, Arcot. Shall we go out to intergalactic space at once?” asked Morey, coming up from the power room.

“No, we’ll go back to Vermont, and have the time-field stuff I ordered installed, then go to Sirius, and see what they have. They moved their planets from the gravitation field of Negra, their dead, black star, to the field of Sirius⁠—and I’d like to know how they did it.2 Then⁠—Intergalactia.” He started the ship toward Vermont, while Morey got into communication with the field, and gave them a brief report.