Intergalactic Space

“Well, Sirius has retreated a bit,” observed Arcot. The star was indeed several trillions of miles away. Evidently they had not been motionless as they had thought, but the interference of the Thessian ship had thrown their machine off.

“Shall we go back, or go on?” asked Morey.

“The ship works. Why return?” asked Wade. “I vote we go on.”

“Seconded,” added Arcot.

“If they who know most of the ship vote for a continuance of the journey, then assuredly we who know so little can only abide by their judgment. Let us continue,” said Zezdon Afthen gravely.

Space was suddenly black about them. Sirius was gone, all the jewels of the heavens were gone in the black of swift flight. Ten seconds later Arcot lowered the space-control. Black behind them the night of space was pricked by points of light, the infinite multitude of the stars. Before them lay⁠—nothing. The utter emptiness of space between the galaxies.

“Thlek Styrs! What happened?” asked Morey in amazement, his pet Venerian phrase rolling out in his astonishment.

“Tried an experiment, and it was overly successful,” replied Arcot, a worried look on his face. “I tried combining the Thessian high speed time distortion with our high speed space distortion⁠—both on low power. ‘There ain’t no sich animals,’ as the old agriculturist remarked of the giraffe. God knows what speed we hit, but it was plenty. We must be ten thousand light years beyond the galaxy.”

“That’s a fine way to start the trip. You have the old star maps to get back however, have you not?” asked Wade.

“Yes, the maps we made on our first trip out this way are in the cabinet. Look ’em up, will you, and see how far we have to go before we reach the cosmic fields?”

Arcot was busy with his instruments, making a more accurate determination of their distance from the “edge” of the galaxy. He adopted the figure of twelve thousand five hundred light years as the probable best result. Wade was back in a moment with the information that the fields lay about sixteen thousand light years out. Arcot went on, at a rate that would reach the fields in two hours.

Several hours more were spent in measurements, till at last Arcot announced himself satisfied.

“Good enough⁠—back we go.” Again in the control room, he threw on the drive, and shot through the twenty-seven thousand light years of cosmic ray fields, and then more leisurely returned to the galaxy. The star maps were strangely off. They could follow them, but only with difficulty as the general configuration of the constellations that were their guides were visibly altered to the naked eye.

“Morey,” said Arcot softly, looking at the constellation at which they were then aiming, and at the map before him, “there is something very, very rotten. The Universe either ‘ain’t what it used to be’ or we have traveled in more than space.”

“I know it, and I agree with you. Obviously, from the degree of alteration off the constellations, we are off by about 100,000 years. Question: how come? Question: what are we going to do about it?”

“Answer one: remembering what we observed in re Sirius, I suspect that the interference of that Thessian ship, with its time-field opposing our space-field did things to our time-frame. We were probably thrown off then.

“As to the second question, we have to determine number one first. Then we can plan our actions.”

With Wade’s help, and by coming to rest near several of the stars, then observing their actual motions, they were able to determine their time-status. The estimate they made finally was of the order of eighty thousand years in the past! The Thessian ship had thrown them that much out of their time.

“This isn’t all to the bad,” said Morey with a sigh. “We at least have all the time we could possibly use to determine the things we want for this fight. We might even do a lot of exploring for the archeologists of Earth and Venus and Ortol and Talso. As to getting back⁠—that’s a question.”

“Which is,” added Arcot, “easy to answer now, thank the good Lord. All we have to do is wait for our time to catch up with us. If we just wait eighty thousand years, eight hundred centuries, we will be in our own time.”

“Oh, I think waiting so long would be boring,” said Wade sarcastically. “What do you suggest we do in the intervening eighty millenniums? Play cards?”

“Oh, cards or chess. Something like that,” grinned Arcot. “Play cards, calculate our fields⁠—and turn on the time rate control.”

“Oh⁠—I take it back. You win! Take all! I forgot all about that,” Wade smiled at his friend. “That will save a little waiting, won’t it.”

“The exploring of our worlds would without doubt be of infinite benefit to science, but I wonder if it would not be of more direct benefit if we were to get back to our own time, alive and well. Accidents always happen, and for all our weapons, we might easily meet some animal which would put an abrupt and tragic finish to our explorations. Is it not so?” asked Stel Felso Theu.

“Your point is good, Stel Felso Theu. I agree with you. We will do no more exploring than is necessary, or safe.”

“We might just as well travel slowly on the time retarder, and work on the way. I think the thing to do is to go back to Earth, or better, the solar system, and follow the sun in its path.”

They returned, and the desolation that the sun in its journey passes through is nothing to the utter, oppressive desolation of empty space between the stars, for it has its family of planets⁠—and it has no conscious thought.

The Sun was far from the point that it had occupied when the travelers had left it, billions on billions of miles further on its journey around the gravitational center of our galactic universe, and in the eighty millenniums that they must wait, it would go far.

They did not go to the planets now, for, as Arcot said in reply to Stel Felso Theu’s suggestion that they determine more accurately their position in time, life had not developed to an extent that would enable them to determine the year according to our calendar.

So for thirty thousand years they hung motionless as the sun moved on, and the little spots of light, that were worlds, hurled about it in a mad race. Even Pluto, in its three-hundred-yearlong track seemed madly gyrating beneath them; Mercury was a line of light, as it swirled about the swiftly moving sun.

But that thirty thousand years was thirty days to the men of the ship. Their time rate immensely retarded, they worked on their calculations. At the end of that month Arcot had, with the help of Morey and Wade, worked out the last of the formulas of artificial matter, and the machines had turned out the last graphical function of the last branch of research that they could discover. It was a time of labor for them, and they worked almost constantly, stopping occasionally for a game of some sort to relax the nervous tension.

At the end of that month they decided that they would go to Earth.

They speeded their time rate now, and flashed toward Earth at enormous speed that brought them within the atmosphere in minutes. They had landed in the valley of the Nile. Arcot had suggested this as a means of determining the advancement of life of man. Man had evidently established some of his earliest civilizations in this valley where water and sun for his food plants were assured.

“Look⁠—there are men here!” exclaimed Wade. Indeed, below them were villages, of crude huts made of timber and stone and mud. Rubble work walls, for they needed little shelter here, and the people were but savages.

“Shall we land?” asked Arcot, his voice a bit unsteady with suppressed excitement.

“Of course!” replied Morey without turning from his station at the window. Below them now, less than half a mile down on the patchwork of the Nile valley, men were standing, staring up, collecting in little groups, gesticulating toward the strange thing that had materialized in the air above them.

“Does everyone agree that we land?” asked Arcot.

There were no dissenting voices, and the ship sank gently toward a road below and to the left. A little knot of watchers broke, and they fled in terror as the great machine approached, crying out to their friends, casting affrighted glances at the huge, shining monster behind them.

Without a jar the mighty weight of the ship touched the soil of its native planet, touched it fifty millenniums before it was made, five hundred centuries before it left!

Arcot’s brow furrowed. “There is one thing puzzles me⁠—I can’t see how we can come back. Don’t you see, Morey, we have disturbed the lives of those people. We have affected history. This must be written into the history that exists.

“This seems to banish the idea of free thought. We have changed history, yet history is that which is already done!

“Had I never been born, had⁠—but I was already⁠—I existed fifty-eighty thousand years before I was born!”

“Let’s go out and think about that later. We’ll go to a psych hospital, if we don’t stop thinking about problems of space and time for a little while. We need some kind of relaxation.”

“I suggest that we take our weapons with us. These men may have weapons of chemical nature, such as poisons injected into the flesh on small sticks hurled either by a spring device or by pneumatic pressure of the lungs,” said Stel Felso Theu as he rose from his seat unstrapping himself.

“Arrows and blowguns we call ’em. But it’s a good idea, Stel Felso, and I think we will,” replied Arcot. “Let’s not all go out at once, and the first group to go out goes out on foot, so they won’t be scared off by our flying around.”

Arcot, Wade, Zezdon Afthen, and Stel Felso Theu went out. The natives had retreated to a respectful distance, and were now standing about, looking on, chattering to themselves. They were edging nearer.

“Growing bold,” grinned Wade.

“It is the characteristic of intelligent races manifesting itself⁠—curiosity,” pointed out Stel Felso Theu.

“Are these the type of men still living in this valley, or who will be living there in fifty thousand years?” asked Zezdon Afthen.

“I’d say they weren’t Egyptians as we know them, but typical Neolithic men. It seems they have brains fully as large as some of the men I see on the streets of New York. I wonder if they have the ability to learn as much as the average man of⁠—say about 1950?”

The Neolithic men were warming up. There was an orator among them, and his grunts, growls, snorts and gestures were evidently affecting them. They had sent the women back (by the simple and direct process of sweeping them up in one arm and heaving them in the general direction of home). The men were brandishing polished stone knives and axes, various instruments of war and peace. One favorite seemed to be a large club.

“Let’s forestall trouble,” suggested Arcot. He drew his ray pistol, and turned it on the ground directly in front of them, and about halfway between them and the Neoliths. A streak of the soil about two feet wide flashed into intense radiation under the impact of millions on millions of horsepower of radiant energy. Further, it was fused to a depth of twenty feet or more, and intensely hot still deeper. The Neoliths took a single look at it, then turned, and raced for home.

“Didn’t like our looks. Let’s go back.”

They wandered about the world, investigating various peoples, and proved to their own satisfaction that there was no Atlantis, not at this time at any rate. But they were interested in seeing that the polar caps extended much farther toward the equator; they had not retreated at that time to the extent that they had by the opening of history.

They secured some fresh game, an innovation in their larder, and a welcome one. Then the entire ship was swept out with fresh, clean air, their water tanks filled with water from the cold streams of the melting glaciers. The air apparatus was given a new stock to work over.

Their supplies in a large measure restored, thousands of aerial photographic maps made, they returned once more to space to wait.

Their time was taken up for the most part by actual work on the enormous mass of calculation necessary. It is inconceivable to the layman what tremendous labor is involved in the development of a single mathematical hypothesis, and a concrete illustration of it was the long time, with tremendously advanced calculating machines, that was required in their present work.

They had worked out the problem of the time-field, but there they had been aided by the actual apparatus, and the possibilities of making direct tests on machines already set up. The problem of artificial matter, at length fully solved, was a different matter. This had required within a few days of a month (by their clocks; close to thirty thousand years of Earth’s time), for they had really been forced to develop it all from the beginning. In the small improvements Arcot had instituted in Stel Felso Theu’s device, he had really merely followed the particular branch that Stel Felso Theu had stumbled upon. Hence it was impossible to determine with any great variety, the type of matter created. Now, however, Arcot could make any known kind of matter, and many unknown kinds.

But now came the greatest problem of all. They were ready to start work on the data they had collected in space.

“What,” asked Zezdon Afthen, as he watched the three terrestrians begin their work, “is the nature of the thing you are attempting to harness?”

“In a word, energy,” replied Arcot, pausing.

“We are attempting to harness energy in its primeval form, in the form of a space-field. Remember, mass is a measure of energy. Two centuries ago a scientist of our world proposed the idea that energy could be measured by mass, and proceeded to prove that the relationship was the now firmly intrenched formula E=Mc2.

“The sun is giving off energy. It is giving off mass, then, in the form of light photons. The field of the sun’s gravity must be constantly decreasing as its mass decreases. It is a collapsing field. It is true, the sun’s gravitational field does decrease, by a minute amount, despite the fact that our sun loses a thousand million tons of matter every four minutes. The percentage change is minute, but the energy released is⁠—immeasurable.

“But, I am going to invent a new power unit, Afthen. I will call it the ‘sol,’ the power of a sun. One sol is the rating of our sun. And I will measure the energy I use in terms of sun-powers, not horsepower. That may tell you of its magnitude!”

“But,” Zezdon Afthen asked, “while you men of Earth work on this problem, what is there for us? We have no problems, save the problem of the fate of our world, still fifty thousand years of your time in the future. It is terrible to wait, wait, wait and think of what may be happening in that other time. Is there nothing we can do to help? I know our hopeless ignorance of your science. Stel Felso Theu can scarcely understand the thoughts you use, and I can scarcely understand his explanations! I cannot help you there, with your calculations, but is there nothing I can do?”

“There is, Ortolian, decidedly. We badly need your help, and as Stel Felso Theu cannot aid us here as much as he can by working with you, I will ask him to do so. I want your knowledge of psycho-mechanical devices to help us. Will you make a machine controlled by mental impulses? I want to see such a system and know how it is done that I may control machines by such a system.”

“Gladly. It will take time, for I am not the expert worker that you are, and I must make many pieces of apparatus, but I will do what I can,” exclaimed Zezdon Afthen eagerly.

So, while Arcot and his group continued their work of determining the constants of the space-energy field, the others were working on the mental control apparatus.