The Power of the Thought

But it seemed, or must have seemed to any infinite being capable of watching it as it moved now, that the Thought was a mad thought. With the time control opened to the limit, and a touch of the space control, it fled across the Universe at a velocity such as no other thing was capable of.

One star⁠—it flashed to a disc, loomed enormous⁠—overpowering⁠—then suddenly they were flashing through it! The enormous coils fed their current into the space-coils and the time field, and the ship seemed to twist and writhe in distorted space as the gravitational field of a giant star, and a giant ship’s space field fought for a fraction of time so short as to be utterly below measurement. Then the ship was gone⁠—and behind it a star, the center of which had suddenly been hurled into another space forever, as the counteracting, gravitational field of the outer layers was removed for a moment, and only its own enormous density affected space, writhed and collapsed upon itself, to explode into a mighty sea of flames. Planets it formed, we know, by a process such as can happen when only this man-made accident happens.

But the ship fled on, its great coils partly discharged, but still far more charged than need be.

It was minutes to Talso where it had been hours with the Ancient Mariner, but now they traveled with the speed of Thought!

Talso too was the scene of a battle, and more of a battle than Ortol had been, for here where more powerful defensive forces had been active, the Thessians had been more vengeful. All their remaining ships seemed concentrated here. And the great molecular screen that terrestrian engineers had flung up here had already fallen. Great holes had opened in it, as two great forts, and a thousand ships, some mighty battleships of the intergalactic spaces, some little scout cruisers, had turned their rays on the struggling defensive machines. It had held for hours, thanks to the tremendous tubes that Talso had in their power-distribution stations, but in the end had fallen, but not before many of their largest cities had been similarly defended, and the people of the others had scattered broadcast.

True, wherever they might be, a diffused molecular would find them and destroy all life save under the few screens, but if the Thessians once diffused their rays, without entering the atmosphere, the broken screen would once more be able to hold.

No fleet had kept the Thessian forces out of this atmosphere, but dozens of more adequately powered artificial matter bomb stations had taught Thett respect for Talso. But Talso’s own ray screen had stopped their bombs. They could only send their bombs as high as the screen. They did not have Arcot’s tremendous control power to maintain the matter without difficulty even beyond a screen.

At last the screen had fallen, and the Thessian ships, a hole once made, were able to move, and kept that hole always under them, though if it once were closed, they would again have the struggle to open it.

Exploding matter bombs had twice caused such spatial strains and ionized conditions as to come near closing it, but finally the Thessian fleet had arranged a ring of ships about the hole, and opened a cylinder of rays that reached down to the planet.

Like some gigantic plow the rays tore up mountains, oceans, glaciers and land. Tremendous chasms opened in straight lines as it plowed along. Unprotected cities flashed into fountains of rock and soil and steel that leaped upwards as the rays touched, and were gone. Protected cities, their screens blazing briefly under the enormous ray concentrations as the ships moved on, unheeding, stood safe on islands of safety amidst the destruction. Here in the lower air, where ions would be so plentiful, Thett did not try to break down the screens, for the air would aid the defenders.

Finally, as Thett’s forces had planned, they came to one of the ionized layer ray-screen stations that was still projecting its cone of protective screening to the layer above. Every available ray was turned on that station, and, designed as it was for protecting part of a world, the station was itself protected, but slowly, slowly as its already heated tubes weakened their electronic emission, the disc of ions retreated more and more toward the station, as, like some splashing stream, the Thessian rays played upon it forcing it back. A rapidly accelerating retreat, faster and faster, as the disc changed from the dull red of normal defense to the higher and bluer quanta of failing, less complete defense, the disc of interference retreated.

Then, with a flash of light, and a roar as the soil below spouted up, the station was gone. It had failed.

Instantly the ring of ships expanded as the great screen was weakened by the withdrawal of this support. Wider was the path of destruction now as the forces moved on.

But high, high in the sky, far out of sight of the naked eye, was a tiny spot that was in reality a giant ship. It was flashing forward, and in moments it was visible. Then, as another deserted city vanished, it was above the Thessian fleet.

Their rays were directed downward through a hole that was even larger. A second station had gone with that city. But, as by magic, the hole closed up, and chopped their rays off with a decisiveness that startled them. The interference was so sharp now that not even the dullest of reds showed where their beams touched. The close interference was giving off only radio! In amazement they looked for this new station of such enormous power that their combined rays did not noticeably affect it. A world had been fighting their rays unsuccessfully. What single station could do this, if the many stations of the world could not? There was but one they knew of, and they turned now to search for the ship they knew must be there.

“No horrors this time; just clean, burning energy,” muttered Arcot.

It was clean, and it was burning. In an instant one of the forts was a mass of opalescence that shifted so swiftly it was purest white, then rocketed away, lifeless, and no longer relux.

The other fort had its screen up, though its power, designed to withstand the attack of a fleet of enormous intergalactic, matter-driven, fighting ships lasted but an instant under the driving power of half a million million suns, concentrated in one enormous ray of energy. The sheer energy of the ray itself, molecular ray though it was, heated the material it struck to blinding incandescence even as it hurled it at a velocity close to that of light into outer space. With little sparkling flashes battleships of the void after giant cruisers flashed into lux, and vanished under the ray.

A tremendous combined ray of magnetism and cosmic ray energy replaced the molecular, and the ships exploded into a dust as fine as the primeval gas from which came all matter.

Sweeping energy, so enormous that the defenses of the ships did not even operate against it, shattered ship after ship, till the few that remained turned, and, faster than the pursuing energies could race through space, faster than light, headed for their base.

“That was fair fight; energy against energy,” said Arcot delightedly, for his new toy, which made playthings of suns and fed on the cosmic energy of a universe, was behaving nicely, “and as I said, Stel Felso Theu, at the beginning of this war, the greater Power wins, always. And in our island here, I have five hundred thousand million separate power plants, each generating at the rate of decillions of ergs a second, backing this ship.

“Your world will be safe now, and we will head for our last embattled ally, Sirius.” The titanic ship turned, and disappeared from the view of the madly rejoicing billions of Talso below, as it sped, far faster than light, across a universe to relieve another sorely tried civilization.

Knowing their cause was lost, hopeless in the knowledge that nothing known to them could battle that enormous force concentrated in one ship, the Thought, the Thessians had but one aim now, to do all the damage in their power before leaving.

Already their tremendous, unarmed and unarmored transports were departing with their hundreds of thousands from that base system for the far-off Island of Space from which they had come. Their battlefleets were engaged in destroying all the cities of the allies, and those other helpless races of our system that they could. Those other inhabited worlds, many of which were completely wiped out because Arcot had no knowledge of them, were relieved only when the general call for retreat to protect the mother planet was sent out.

But Sirius was looming enormous before them. And its planets, heavily defended now by the combined Sirian, Terrestrial and Venerian fleets and great ray screens as well as a few matter-bomb stations, were suffering losses none the less. For the old Sixth of Negra, the Third here, had fallen. Slipping in on the night side of the planet, all power off, and so sending forth no warning impulses till it actually fell through the ray screen, a small fleet of scouts had entered. Falling still under simple gravity, they had been missed by the rays till they had fallen to so small a distance, that no humans or men of our allied systems could have stopped, but only their enormous iron boned strength permitted them to resist the acceleration they used to avert collision with the planet. Then scattering swiftly, they had blasted the great protective screen stations by attacking on the sides, where the ray screen projectors were not mounted. Designed to protect above, they had no side armor, and the Sixth was opened to attack.

Two and one-half billion people lost their lives painlessly and instantaneously as tremendous diffused moleculars played on the revolving planet.

Arcot arrived soon after this catastrophe. The Thessians left almost immediately, after the loss of three hundred or more ships. One hundred and fifty wrecks were found. The rest were so blasted by the forces which attacked them, that no traces could be found, and no count made.

But as those ships fled back to their base, Arcot, with the wonderfully delicate mental control of his ship, was able to watch them, and follow them; for, invisible under normal conditions, by twisting space in the same manner that they did he was able to see them flee, and follow.

Light year after light year they raced toward the distant base. They reached it in two hours, and Arcot saw them from a distance sink to the various worlds. There were twelve gigantic worlds, each far larger than Jupiter of Sol, and larger than Stwall of Talso’s sun, Renl.

“I think,” said Arcot as he stopped the ship at a third of a light year, “that we had best destroy those planets. We may kill many men, and innocent noncombatants, but they have killed many of our races, and it is necessary. There are, no doubt, other worlds of this Universe here that we do not know of that have felt the vengeance of Thett, and if we can cause such trouble to them by destroying these worlds, and putting the fear of our attacking their mother world into them, they will call off those other fleets. I could have been invisible to Thett’s ships as we followed them here, and for the greater part of the way I was, for I was sufficiently out of their time-rate, so that they were visible only by the short ultraviolet, which would have put in their infrared, and, no photoelectric cell will work on quanta of such low energy. When at last I was sure of the sun for which they were heading, I let them see us, and they know we are aware of their base, and that we can follow them.

“I will destroy one of these worlds, and follow a fleet as it starts for their home nebula. Gradually, as they run, I will fade into invisibility, and they will not know that I have dropped back here to complete the work, but will think I am still following. Probably they will run to some other nebula in an effort to throw me off, but they will most certainly send back a ship to call the fleets here to the defense of Thett.

“I think that is the best plan. Do you agree?”

“Arcot,” asked Morey slowly, “if this race attempts to settle another Universe, what would that indicate of their own?”

“Hmmm⁠—that it was either populated by their own race or that another race held the parts they did not, and that the other race was stronger,” replied Arcot. “The thought idea in their minds has always been a single world, single solar system as their home, however.”

“And single solar systems cannot originate in this Space,” replied Morey, referring to the fact that in the primeval gas from which all matter in this Universe and all others came, no condensation of mass less than thousands of millions of times that of a sun could form and continue.

“We can only investigate⁠—and hope that they do not inhabit the whole system, for I am determined that, unpleasant as the idea may be, there is one race that we cannot afford to have visiting us, and it is going to be permanently restrained in one way or another. I will first have a conference with their leaders and if they will not be peaceful⁠—the Thought can destroy or make a Universe! But I think that a second race holds part of that Universe, for several times we have read in their minds the thought of the ‘Mighty Warless Ones of Venone.’ ”

“And how do you plan to destroy so large a planet as these are?” asked Morey, indicating the telectroscope screen.

“Watch and see!” said Arcot.

They shot suddenly toward the distant sun, and as it expanded, planets came into view. Moving ever slower on the time control, Arcot drove the ship toward a gigantic planet at a distance of approximately 300,000,000 miles from its primary, the sun of this system.

Arcot fell into step with the planet as it moved about in its orbit, and watched the speed indicator carefully.

“What’s the orbital speed, Morey?” asked Arcot.

“About twelve and a half miles per second,” replied the somewhat mystified Morey.

“Excellent, my dear Watson,” replied Arcot. “And now does my dear friend know the average molecular velocity of ordinary air?”

“Why, about one-third of a mile a second, average.”

“And if that planet as a whole should stop moving, and the individual molecules be given the entire energy, what would their average velocity be? And what temperature would that represent?” asked Arcot.

“Good⁠—Why, they would have to have the same kinetic energy as individuals as they now have as a whole, and that would be an average molecular velocity in random motion of 12.5 miles a second⁠—giving about⁠—about⁠—about⁠—twelve thousand degrees centigrade!” exclaimed Morey in surprise. “That would put it in the far blue-white region!”

“Perfect. Now watch.” Arcot donned the headpiece he had removed, and once more took charge. He was very far from the planet, as distances go, and they could not see his ship. But he wanted to be seen. So he moved closer, and hung off to the sunward side of the planet, then moved to the night side, but stayed in the light. In seconds, a battlefleet was out attempting to destroy him.

Surrounding the ship with a wall of artificial matter, lest they annoy him, he set to work.

Directly in the orbit of the planet, a faint mistiness appeared, and rapidly solidified to a titanic cup, directly in the path of the planet.

Arcot was pouring energy into the making of that matter at such a rate that space was twisted now about them. The meter before them, which had not registered previously, was registering now, and had moved over to three. Three sols⁠—and was still climbing. It stopped when ten were reached. Ten times the energy of our sun was pouring into that condensation, and it solidified quickly.

The Thessians had seen the danger now. It was less than ten minutes away from their planet, and now great numbers of ships of all sorts started up from the planet, swarming out like rats from a sinking vessel.

Majestically the great world moved on in its orbit toward the thin wall of infinite strength and infinite toughness. Already Thessian battleships were tearing at that wall with rays of all types, and the wall sputtered back little gouts of light, and remained. The meters on the Thought were no longer registering. The wall was built, and now Arcot had all the giant power of the ship holding it there. Any attempt to move it or destroy it, and all the energy of the Universe would rush to its defense!

The atmosphere of the planet reached the wall. Instantly, as the pressure of that enormous mass of air touched it, the wall fought, and burst into a blaze of energy. It was fighting now, and the meter that measured sun-powers ran steadily, swiftly up the scale. But the men were not watching the meter; they were watching the awesome sight of Man stopping a world in its course! Turning a world from its path!

But the meter climbed suddenly, and the world was suddenly a tremendous blaze of light. The solid rock had struck the giant cup, 110,000 miles in diameter. It was silent, as a world pitted its enormous kinetic energy against the combined forces of a universe. Soundless⁠—and as hopeless. Its strength was nothing, its energy pitted unnoticed against the energy of five hundred thousand million suns⁠—as vain as those futile attempts of the Thessian battleships on the invulnerable walls of the Thought.

What use is there to attempt description of that scene as 2,500,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons of rock and metal and matter crashed against a wall of energy, immovable and inconceivable. The planet crumpled, and split wide. A thousand pieces, and suddenly there was a further mistiness about it, and the whole enormous mass, seeming but a toy, as it was from this distance in space, and as it was in this ship, was enclosed in that same, immovable, unalterable wall of energy.

The ship was as quiet and noiseless, as without indication of strain as when it hummed its way through empty space. But the planet crumpled and twirled, and great seas of energy flashed about it.

The world, seeming tiny, was dashed helpless against a wall that stopped it, but the wall flared into equal and opposite energy, so that matter was raised not to the twelve thousand Morey had estimated but nearer twenty-four thousand degrees. It was over in less than half an hour, and a broken, misshapen mass of blue incandescence floated in space. It would fall now, toward the sun, and it would, because it was motionless and the sun moved, take an eccentric orbit about that sun. Eventually, perhaps, it would wipe out the four inferior planets, or perhaps it would be broken as it came within the Roches limit of that sun. But the planet was now a miniature sun, and not so very small, at that.

And from every planet of the system was pouring an assorted stream of ships, great and small, and they all set panic-stricken across the void in the same direction. They had seen the power of the Thought, and did not contest any longer its right to this system.