Through the utter void of intergalactic space sped a tiny shell, a wee mite of a ship. Scarcely twenty feet long, it was one single power plant. The man who sat alone in it, as it tore through the void at the maximum speed that even its tiny mass was capable of, when every last twist possible had been given to the distorted time fields, watched a far, far galaxy ahead that seemed unchanging.

Hours, days sped by, and he did not move from his position in the ship. But the ship had crossed the great gulf, and was speeding through the galaxy now. He was near the end. At a reckless speed, he sat motionless before the controls, save for slight movements of supple fingers that directed the ship at a mad pace about some gigantic sun and its family of planets. Suns flashed, grew to discs, and were left behind in the briefest instant.

The ship slowed, the terrific pace it had been holding fell, and dull whine of overworked generators fell to a contented hum. A star was looming, expanding before it. The great sun glowed the characteristic red of a giant as the ship slowed to less than a light-speed, and turned toward a gigantic planet that circled the red sun. The planet was very close to 50,000 miles in diameter, and it revolved at a distance of four and one half billions of miles from the surface of its sun, which made the distance to the center of the titanic primary four billion, eight hundred million miles, in round figures, for the sun’s diameter was close to six hundred and fifty million miles! Greater even than Antares, whose diameter is close to four hundred million miles, was this star of another universe, and even from the billions of miles of distance that its planet revolved, the disc was enormous, a titanic disc of dull red flame. But so low was its surface temperature, that even that enormous disc did not overheat the giant planet.

The planet’s atmosphere stretched out tens of thousands of miles into space, and under the enormous gravitational acceleration of the tremendous mass of that planet, it was near the surface a blanket dense as water. There was no temperature change upon it, though its night was one hundred hours long, and its day the same. The centrifugal force of the rapid rotation of this enormous body had flattened it when still liquid till it seemed now more of the shape of a pumpkin than of an orange. It was really a double planet, for its satellite was a world of one hundred thousand miles diameter, yet smaller in comparison to its giant primary than is Luna in comparison to Earth. It revolved at a distance of five million miles from its primary’s center, and it, too, was swarming with its people.

But the racing ship sped directly toward the great planet, and shrieked its way down through the atmosphere, till its outer shell was radiating far in the violet.

Straight it flew to where a gigantic city sprawled in the heaped, somber masonry, but in some order yet, for on closer inspection the appearance of interlaced circles came over the edge of the giant cities. Ray screens were circular and the city was protected by dozens of stations.

The scout was going well under the speed of light now, and a message, imperative and commanding, sped ahead of him. Half a dozen patrol boats flashed up, and fell in beside him, and with him raced to a gigantic building that reared its somber head from the center of the city.

Under a white sky they proceeded to it, and landed on its roof. From the little machine the single man came out. Using the webbed hands and feet that had led the Allied scientists to think them an aquatic race, he swam upward, and through the water-dense atmosphere of the planet toward the door.

Trees overtopped the building, for it had but four stories, above ground, though it was the tallest in the city. The trees, like seaweed, floated most of their enormous weight in the dense air, but the buildings under the gravitational acceleration, which was more than one hundred times Earth’s gravity, could not be built very high ere they crumple under their own weight. Though one of these men weighed approximately two hundred pounds on Earth, for all their short stature, on this planet their weight was more than ten tons! Only the enormously dense atmosphere permitted them to move.

And such an atmosphere! At a temperature of almost exactly 360 degrees centigrade, there was no liquid water on the planet, naturally. At that temperature water cannot be a liquid, no matter what the pressure, and it was a gas. In their own bodies there was liquid water, but only because they lived on heat, their muscles absorbed their energy for work from the heat of the air. They carried in their own muscles refrigeration, and, with that aid, were able to keep liquid water for their life processes. With death, the water evaporated. Almost the entire atmosphere was made up of oxygen, with but a trace of nitrogen, and some amount of carbon dioxide.

Here their enormous strength was not needed, as Arcot had supposed, to move their own bodies, but to enable them to perform the ordinary tasks of life. The mere act of lifting a thing weighing perhaps ten pounds on Earth, here required a lifting force of more than half a ton! No wonder enormous strength had been developed! Such things as a man might carry with him, perhaps a ray pistol, would weigh half a ton; his money would weigh near to a hundred pounds!

But⁠—there were no guns on this world. A man could throw a stone perhaps a short distance, but when a gravitational acceleration of more than a half a mile per second acted on it, and it was hurled through an atmosphere dense as water⁠—what chance was there for a long range?

But these little men of enormous strength did not know other schemes of existence, save in the abstract, and as things of comical peculiarity. To them life on a planet like Earth was as life to a terrestrian on a planetoid such as Ceres, Juno or Eros would have seemed. Even on Thettsost, the satellite planet of Thett, life was strange, and they used lux roofs over their cities, though their weight there was four tons!

As the scout swam through the dense atmosphere of his world toward the entrance way to the building, guards stopped him, and examined his credentials. Then he was led through long halls, and down a shaft ten stories below the planet’s surface, to where a great table occupied a part of a low ceilinged, wide room. This room was shielded, interference screens of all known kinds lined the hollow walls, no rays could reach through it to the men within. The guard changed, and new men examined the scout’s credentials, and he was led still deeper into the bowels of the planet. Once more the guard changed, and he entered a room guarded not by single shields but by triple, and walled with six foot relux, and ceiled with the same strong material. But here, under the enormous gravity, even its great strength required aid in the form of pillars.

A giant of his race sat before a low table. The table ran half the length of the room, and beside it sat four other men. But there were places for more than two dozen.

“A scout from the colony? What news?” demanded the leader. His voice was a growl, deep and throaty.

“Oh mighty Sthanto, I bring news of resistance. We waited too long, in our explorations, and those men of World 3769⁠–⁠8482730⁠–⁠3 have learned too much. We were wrong. They had found the secret of exceeding the speed of light, and can travel through space fully as rapidly as we can, and now, since by some means we cannot fathom, they have learned to combine both our own system and theirs, they have one enormous engine of destruction that travels across their huge universe in less time than it takes us to travel across a planetary system.

“Our cause is lost, which is by far the least of our troubles. Thett is in danger. We cannot hope to combat that ship.”

“Thalt⁠—what means have we. Can we not better them?” demanded Sthanto of his chief scientist.

“Great Sthanto, we know that such a substance can be made when pressure can be brought to bear on cosmic rays under the influence of field 24⁠–⁠7649⁠–⁠321, but that field cannot be produced, because no sufficient concentration of energy is available. Energy cannot be released rapidly enough to replace the losses when the field is developing. The fact that they have that material indicates their possession of an unguessed and terrific energy source. I would have said that there was no energy greater than the energy of matter, but we know the properties of this material and that the triple ray which has at last been perfected, can be produced providing your order for all energy sources is given, will release its energy at a speed comparable to the rate of energy relux in a twin ray, but that the release takes place only in the path of the ray.”

“What more, Scout?” asked Sthanto smoothly.

“The ship first appeared in connection with our general attack on world 3769⁠–⁠8482730⁠–⁠3. The attack was near success, their screens were already failing. They have devised a new and very ionized layer as a conductor. It was exceedingly difficult to break, and since their sun had been similarly screened, we could not throw masses of that matter upon them.

“In another sthan of time, we would have destroyed their world. Then the ship appeared. It has molecular rays, magnetic beams and cosmic rays, and a fourth weapon we know nothing of. It has molecular screens, we suspect, but has not had occasion to use them.

“Our heaviest molecular screens flash under their molecular rays. Ordinary screens fall instantly without momentary defense. The ray power is incalculable.

“Their magnetic beams are used in conjunction with cosmics. The action of the two causes the relux to induce current, and due to reaction of currents on the magnetic field⁠—”

“And the resistance due to the relux, the relux is first heated to incandescence and then the ship opens out as the air pressure bends the magnetically softened relux?” finished Thalt.

“No, the effect is even more terrific. It explodes into powder,” replied the scout.

“And what happens to worlds that the magnetic ray touches?” inquired the scientist.

“A corner of it touched the world we fought over, and the world shook,” replied the colonist.

“And the last weapon?” asked Sthanto, his voice soft now.

“It seems a ghost. It is a mistiness that comes into existence like a cloud, and what it touches is crushed, what it rams is shattered. It surrounds the great ship, and machines crashing into it at a speed of more than six times that of light are completely destroyed, without in the slightest injuring the shield.

“Then⁠—what caused my departure from the colony⁠—it showed once more its unutterable power. The mistiness formed in the path of our colonial world, number 3769⁠–⁠1⁠–⁠5, and the planet swept against that wall of mistiness, and was shattered, and turned in less than five sthan to a ball of blue-white fire. The wall stopped the planet in its motion. We could not fight that machine, and we left the worlds. The others are coming,” finished the scout.

The ruler turned his slightly smiling face to the commander of his armies, who sat beside him.

“Give orders,” he said softly, almost gently, “that a triple ray station be set up under the direction of Thalt, and further notice that all power be made instantly available to it. Add that the colonists are returning defeated, and bringing danger at their heels. The triple ray will destroy each ship as it enters the system.” His hand under the table pushed an invisible protuberance, and from the perfectly conducting relux floor to the equally perfectly conducting ceiling, and between four pillars grouped around the spot where the scout stood, terrific arcs suddenly came into being. They lasted for the thousandth part of a second, and when they suddenly died away, as swiftly as they had come, there was not even ash where the scout had been.

“Have you any suggestions, Thalt?” he asked of the scientist, his voice as soft as before.

“I quite agree with your conduct so far, but the future conduct you had planned is quite unsatisfactory,” replied the scientist. The ruler sat motionless in his great seat, staring fixedly at the scientist. “I think it is time I take your place, therefore.” The place where the ruler had been was suddenly seen as through a dark cloud, then the cloud was gone, and with it the king, only his relux chair, and the bits of lux or relux that had been about his garments remained.

“He was a fool,” said the scientist softly, as he rose, “to plan on removing his scientist. Are there any who object to my succession?”

“No one objects,” said Faslar, the ex-king’s Prime Minister and councilor.

“Then I think, Phantal, Commander of planetary forces, that you had best see Ranstud, my assistant, and follow out the plan outlined by my predecessor. And you Tastal, Commander of Fleets, had best bring your fleets near the planets for protection. Go.”

“May I suggest, mighty Thalt,” said Faslar after the others had left, “that my knowledge will be exceedingly useful to you. You have two commanders, neither of whom loves you, and neither of whom is highly capable. The family of Thadstil would be glad to learn who removed that honored gentleman, and the family of Datstir would gladly support him who brought the remover of their head to them.

“This would remove two unwelcome menaces, and open places for such as Ranstud and your son Warrtil.

“And,” he said hastily as he saw a slight shift in Thalt’s eyes, “I might say further that the bereaved ones of Parthel would find great interest in certain of my papers, which are only protected by my personal constant watchfulness.”

“Ah, so? And what of Kelston Faln, Faslar?” smiled the new Sthanta.

Thalt’s hand relaxed and they started a conversation and discussion on means of defense.