With Galaxies in the Balance

The Thought arose from Venone after long hours, and at Arcot’s suggestion, they assumed an orbit about the world, at a distance of two million miles, and all on board slept, save Torlos, the tireless molecular motion machine of flesh and iron. He acted as guard, and as he had slept but four days before, he explained there was really no reason for him to sleep as yet.

But the terrestrians would feel the greatest strain of the coming encounter, especially Arcot and Morey, for Morey was to help by repairing any damage done, by working from the control board of the Banderlog. The little tender had sufficient power to take care of any damage that Thett might inflict, they felt sure.

For they had not learned of the triple ray.

It was hours later that, rested and refreshed, they started for Thett. Following the great space-chart that they had been given by the Venonians, a series of blocks of clear lux metal, with tiny points of slowly disintegrating lux, such as had been used to illuminate the letters of the Thought’s name representing suns, the colors and relative intensity being shown. Then there was a more manageable guide in the form of photographs, marked for route by constellations formations as well, which would be their actual guide.

At the maximum speed of the time apparatus, for thus they could better follow the constellations, the Thought plunged along in the wake of the tiny scout ship that had already landed on Thett. And, hours later, they saw the giant red sun of Antseck, the star of Thett and its system.

“We’re about there,” said Arcot, a peculiar tenseness showing in his thoughts. “Shall we barge right in, or wait and investigate?”

“We’ll have to chance it. Where is their main fort here?”

“From the direction, I should say it was to the left and ahead of our position,” replied Zezdon Afthen.

The ship moved ahead, while about it the tremendous Thessian battlefleet buzzed like flies, thousands of ships now, and more coming with each second.

In a few moments the titanic ship had crossed a great plain, and came to a region of bare, rocky hills several hundred feet high. Set in those hills, surrounded by them, was a huge sphere, resting on the ground. As though by magic the Thessian fleet cleared away from the Thought. The last one had not left, when Arcot shot a terrific cosmic ray toward the sphere. It was relux, and he knew it, but he knew what would happen when that cosmic ray hit it. The solometer flickered and steadied at three as that inconceivable ray flashed out.

Instantly there was a terrific explosion. The soil exploded into hydrogen atoms, and expanded under heat that lashed it to more than a million degrees in the tiniest fraction of a second. The terrific recoil of the ray-pressure was taken by all space, for it was generated in space itself, but the direct pressure struck the planet, and that titanic planet reeled! A tremendous fissure opened, and the section that had been struck by the ray smashed its way suddenly far into the planet, and a geyser of fluid rock rolled over it, twenty miles deep in that world. The relux sphere had been struck by the ray, and had turned it, with the result that it was pushed doubly hard. The enormously thick relux strained and dented, then shot down as a whole, into the incandescent rock.

For miles the vaporized rock was boiling off. Then the fort sent out a ray, and that ray blasted the rock that had flowed over it as Arcot’s titanic ray snapped out. In moments the fort was at the surface again⁠—and a molecular hit it. The molecular did not have the energy the cosmic had carried, but it was a single concentrated beam of destruction ten feet across. It struck the fort⁠—and the fort recoiled under its energy. The marvelous new tubes that ran its ray screen flashed instantly to a temperature inconceivable, and, so long as the elements embedded in the infusible relux remained the metals they were, those tubes could not fail. But they were being lashed by the energy of half a sun. The tubes failed. The elements heated to that enormous temperature when elements cannot exist⁠—and broke to other elements that did not resist. The relux flashed into blinding iridescence⁠—

And from the fort came a beam of pure silvery light. It struck the Thought just behind the bow, for the operator was aiming for the point where he knew the control room and pilot must be. But Arcot had designed the ship for mental control, which the enemy operator could not guess. The beam was a flat beam, perhaps an inch thick, but it fanned out to fifty feet width. And where it touched the Thought, there was a terrific explosion, and inconceivably violent energy lashed out as the cosmium instantaneously liberated its energy.

A hundred feet of the nose was torn off the ship, and the enormously dense air of Thett rushed in. But that beam had cut through the very edge of one of the ray projectors, or better, one of the ray feed apparatus. And the ray feed released it without control; it released all the energy it could suck in from space about it, as one single beam of cosmic energy, somewhat lower than the regular cosmics, and it flashed out in a beam as solid matter.

There was air about the ship, and the air instantly exploded into atoms of a different sort, threw off their electrons, and were raised to the temperature at which no atom can exist, and became protons and electrons. But so rapidly was that coil sucking energy from space that space tended to close in about it, and in enormous spurts the energy flooded out. It was directed almost straight up, and but one ship was caught in its beam. It was made of relux, but the relux was powdered under the inconceivable blow that countless quintillions of cosmic ray photons struck it. That ray was in fact, a solid mass of cosmium moving with the velocity of light. And it was headed for that satellite of Thett, which it would reach in a few hours time.

The Thought, due to the spatial strains of the wounded coil, was constantly rushing away to an almost infinite distance, as the ship approached that other space toward which the coil tended with its load, and rushing back, as the coil, reaching a spatial condition which supplied no energy, fell back. In a hundredth of a second it had reached equilibrium, and they were in a weirdly, terribly distorted space. But the triple-ray of the Thessians seemed to sheer off, and miss, no matter how it was directed. And it was painfully weak, for the coil sucked up the energy of whatsoever matter disintegrated in the neighborhood.

Then suddenly the performance was over. And they plunged into artificial space that was black and clean, and not a thing of wavering, struggling energies. Morey, from his control in the Banderlog, had succeeded in getting sufficient energy, by using his space distortion coils, to destroy the great projector mechanism. Instantly Arcot, now able to create the artificial space without the destruction of the coils by the struggling ray-feed coil, had thrown them to comparative safety.

Space writhed before they could so much as turn from the instruments. The Thessians had located their artificial space, and reached it with an attraction ray. They already had been withstanding the drain of the enormous fields of the giant planet and the giant sun; the attractive ray was an added strain. Arcot looked at his instruments, and with a grim smile set a single dial. The space about them became black again.

“Pulling our energy⁠—merely let ’em pull. They’re pulling on an ocean, not a lake this time. I don’t think they’ll drain those coils very quickly.” He looked at his instruments. “Good for two and a half hours at this rate.

“Morey, you sure did your job then. I was helpless. The controls wouldn’t answer, of course, with that titanic thing flopping its wings, so to speak. What are we going to do?”

Morey stood in the doorway, and from his pocket drew a cigarette, handed it to Arcot, another to each of the others who smoked, and lit them, and his own. “Smoke,” he said, and puffed. “Smoke and think. From our last experience with a minor tragedy, it helps.”

“But⁠—this is no minor tragedy, they have burst open the wall of this invulnerable ship, destroyed one of those enormous coils, and can do it again,” exclaimed Zezdon Afthen, exceedingly nervous, so nervous that the normal courage of the man was gone. His too-psychic breeding was against him as a warrior.

“Afthen,” replied Stel Felso Theu calmly, “when our friends have smoked, and thought, the Thought will be repaired perfectly, and it will be made invulnerable to that weapon.”

“I hope so, Stel Felso Theu,” smiled Arcot. He was feeling better already. “But do you know what that weapon is, Morey?”

“Got some readings on it with the Banderlog’s instruments, and I think I do. Twin-ray is right,” replied Morey.

“Hm-hm⁠—so I think. It’s a super-photon. What they do is to use a field somewhat similar to the field we use in making cosmium, except that in theirs, instead of the photons lying side by side, they slide into one another, compounding. They evidently get three photons to go into one. Now, as we know, that size photon doesn’t exist for the excellent reason that it can’t in this space. Space closes in about it. Therefore they have a projected field to accompany it that tends to open out space⁠—and they are using that, not the attractive ray, on us now. The result is that for a distance not too great, the triple-ray exists in normal space⁠—then goes into another. Now the question is how can we stop it? I have an idea⁠—have you any?”

“Yes, but my idea can’t exist in this space either,” grinned Morey.

“I think it can. If it’s what I think, remember it will have a terrific electric field.”

“It’s what you think, then. Come on.” Arcot and Morey went to the calculating room, while Wade took over the ship. But one of the ray-feeds had been destroyed, and they had three more in action, as well as their most important weapon, artificial matter. Wade threw on the time field, and started the emergency lead burner working to recharge the coils that the Thessians were constantly draining. Being in their own peculiar space, they could not draw energy from the stars, and Arcot didn’t want to return to normal space to discharge them, unless necessary.

“How’s the air pressure in the rest of the ship?” asked Wade.

“Triple normal,” replied Morey. “The Thessian atmosphere leaked in and sent it up terrifically, but when we went into our own space, at the halfway point, a lot leaked out. But the ship is full of water now. It was a bit difficult coming up from the Banderlog, and I didn’t want to breathe the air I wasn’t sure of. But let’s work.”

They worked. For eight hours of the time they were now in they continued to work. The supply of lead metal gave out before the end of the fourth hour, and the coils were nearing the end of their resistance. It would soon be necessary for Arcot to return to normal space. So they stopped, their calculations very nearly complete. Throwing all the remaining energy into the coils, they a little more than held the space about them, and moved away from Thett at a speed of about twice that of light. For an hour more Arcot worked, while the ship plowed on. Then they were ready.

As Arcot took over the controls, space reeled once more, and they were alone, far from Thett. The suns of this space were flashing and glowing about them, and the unlimited energy of a universe was at Arcot’s command. But all the remaining atmosphere in the ship had either gone instantaneously in the vacuum, or solidified as the chill of expansion froze it.

To the amazement of the extra-terrestrians, Arcot’s first move was to create a titanic plane of artificial matter, and neatly bisect the Thought at the middle! He had thrown all of the controls thus interrupted into neutral, and in the little more than half of the ship which contained the control cabin, was also the artificial matter control. It was busy now. With bewildering speed, with the speed of thought trained to construct, enormous masses of cosmium were appearing beside them in space as Arcot created them from pure energy. Cosmium, relux and some clear cosmium-like lux metal. Ordinary cosmium was reflective, and he wanted something with cosmium’s strength, and the clearness of lux.

In seconds, under Arcot’s flying thought manipulation, a great tube had been welded to the original hull, and the already gigantic ship lengthened by more than five hundred feet! Immediately great artificial matter tools gripped the broken nose-section, clamped it into place, and welded it with cosmium flowing under the inconceivable pressure till it was again a single great hull.

Then the Thessian fleet found them. The coils were charged now, and they could have escaped, but Arcot had to work. The Thessians were attacked with moleculars, cosmics, and a great twin-ray. Arcot could not use his magnet, for it had been among those things severed from the control. He had two ray feeds, and the artificial matter. There were nearly three thousand ships attacking him with a barrage of energy that was inconceivably great, but the cosmium walls merely turned it aside. It took Arcot less than ten seconds to wipe out that fleet of ships! He created a wall of artificial matter at twenty feet from the ship⁠—and another at twenty thousand miles. It was thin, yet it was utterly impenetrable. He swept the two walls together, and forced them against each other until his instruments told him only free energy remained between them. Then he released the outer wall, and a terrific flood of energy swept out.

“I don’t think we’ll be attacked again,” said Morey softly. They were not. Thett had only one other fleet, and had no intention of losing the powers of their generators at this time when they so badly needed them. The strange ship had retired for repairs⁠—very well, they could attack again⁠—and maybe⁠—

Arcot was busy. In the great empty space that had been left, he installed a second collector coil as gigantic as the main artificial matter generator. Then he repaired the broken ray feed, and it, and the companion coil which, with it, had been in the severed nose section, were now in the same relative position to the new collector coil that they had had with relation to the artificial matter coil. Next Arcot built two more ray feeds. Now in the gigantic central power room there loomed two tremendous power collectors, and six smaller ray feed collectors.

His next work was to reconnect the severed connectors and controls. Then he began work on the really new apparatus. Nothing he had constructed so far was more than a duplicate of existing apparatus, and he had been able to do it almost instantly, from memory. Now he must vision something new to his experience, and something that was forced to exist in part in this space, and partly in another. He tried four times before the apparatus had been completed correctly, and the work occupied ten hours. But at last it was done. The Thought was ready now for the battle.

“Got it right at last?” asked Wade. “I hope so.”

“It’s right⁠—tried it a little. I don’t think you noticed it. I’m going down now to give them a nice little dose,” said Arcot grimly. His ship was repaired⁠—but they had caused him plenty of trouble.

“How long have we been out here, their time?” asked Wade.

“About an hour and a half.” The Thought had been on the time field at all times save when the Thessian fleet attacked.

“I think, Earthman, that you are tired, and should rest, lest you make a tired thought and do great harm,” suggested Zezdon Afthen.

“I want to finish it!” replied Arcot, sharply. He was tired.

In seconds the Thought was once more over that fortified station in the mountains⁠—and the triple-ray reached out⁠—and suddenly, about the ship, was a wall of absolute, utter blackness. The triple-ray touched it, and exploded into coruscating, blinding energy. It could not penetrate it. More energy lashed at the wall of blackness as the operators within the sphere-fort turned in the energy of all the generators under their control. The ground about the fort was a great lake of dazzling lava as far as the eye could see, for the triple-ray was releasing its energy, and the wall of black was releasing an equal, and opposing energy!

“Stopped!” cried Arcot happily. “Now here is where we give them something to think about. The magnet and the heat!”

He turned the two enormous forces simultaneously on the point where he knew the fort was, though it was invisible behind the wall of black that protected him. From his side, the energy of the spot where all the system of Thett was throwing its forces, was invisible.

Then he released them. Instantly there was a terrific gout of light on that wall of blackness. The ship trembled, and space turned gray about them. The black wall dissolved into grayness in one spot, as a flood of energy beyond comprehension exploded from it. The enormously strong cosmium wall dented as the pressure of the escaping radiation struck it, and turned X-ray hot under the minute percentage it absorbed. The triple-ray bent away, and faded to black as the cosmic force playing about it, actually twisted space beyond all power of its mechanism to overcome. Then, in the tiniest fraction of a second it was over, and again there was blackness and only the brilliant, blinding blue of the cosmium wall testified to its enormous temperature, cooling now far more slowly through green to red.

“Lord⁠—you’re right, Zezdon Afthen. I’m going to sleep,” called Arcot. And the ship was suddenly far, far away from Thett. Morey took over, and Arcot slept. First Morey straightened the uninjured wall and ironed out the dents.

“What, Morey, is the wall of Blackness?” asked Stel Felso Theu.

“It’s solid matter. A thing that you never saw before. That wall of matter is made of a double layer of protons lying one against the other. It absorbs absolutely every and all radiation, and because it is solid matter, not tiny sprinklings of matter in empty space, as is the matter of even the densest star, it stops the triple-ray. That matter is nothing but protons; there are no electrons there, and the positive electrical field is inconceivably great, but it is artificial matter, and that electrical field exerts its strain not in pulling and electrifying other bodies, but in holding space open, in keeping it from closing in about that concentrated matter, just as it does about a single proton, except that here the entire field energy is so absorbed.

“Arcot was tired, and forgot. He turned his magnet and his heat against it. The heat fought the solid matter with the same energy that created it, and with an energy that had resources as great. The magnet curved space about it, and about us. The result was the terrific energy release you saw, and the hole in the wall. All Thett couldn’t make any impression on it. One of the rays blasted a hole in it,” said Morey with a laugh. For he, too, loved this mighty thing, the almost living ideas of his friend’s brain.

“But it is as bad as the space defense. It works both ways. We can’t send through it but neither can they. Anything we use that attacks them, attacks it, and so destroys it⁠—and it fights.”

“We’re worse off than ever!” said Morey gloomily.

“My friend, you, too, are tired. Sleep, sleep soundly, sleep till I call⁠—sleep!” And Morey slept under Zezdon Afthen’s will, till Torlos carried him gently to his room. Then Afthen let the sleep relax to a natural one. Wade decided he might as well follow under his own power, for now he knew he was tired, and could not overcome Zezdon Afthen, who was not.

On Thett, the fort was undestroyed, and now floating on its power units in a sea of blazing lava. Within, men were working quickly to install a second set of the new tubes in the molecular motion ray screen, and other men were transmitting the orders of the Sthanto who had come here as the place of actually greatest safety.

“Order all battleships to the nearest power-feed station, and command that all power available be transmitted to the station attacked. I believe it will be this one. There is no limit on the power transmission lines, and we need all possible power,” he commanded his son, now in charge of all land and spatial forces.

“And Ranstud, what happened to that molecular ray screen?”

“I do not know. I cannot understand such power.

“But what most worries me is his wall of darkness,” said Ranstud seriously.

“But he was forced to retire for all his wall of darkness, as you saw.

“He can maintain it but a short time, and it was full of holes when he fled.”

“Old Sthanto is much too confident, I believe,” said an assistant working at one of the great boards in the enemy’s fort, to one of his friends. “And I think he has lost his science-knowledge. Any power-man could tell what happened. They tried to use their own big rays against us, and their screen stopped them from going out, just as it stopped ours on the way in. Ours had been working at it for seconds, and hadn’t bothered them. Then for a bare instant their ray touched it⁠—and they retired. That shield of blackness is absolutely new.”

“They have many men on that ship of theirs,” replied his friend, helping to lift the three hundred ton load of a vacuum tube into place, “for it is evident that they built new apparatus, and it is evident their ship was increased in size to contain it. Also the nose was repaired. They probably worked under a time field, for they accomplished an impossible amount of work in the period they were gone.”

Ranstud had come up behind them, and overheard the later part of this conversation. “And what,” he asked suddenly, “did your meters tell you when our ray opened his ship?”

“Councilor of Science-wisdom, they told us that our power diminished, and our generators gave off but little power when his power was exceedingly little, we still had much.”

“Have you heard the myth of the source of his power, in the story that he gets it from all the stars of the Island?”

“We have, Great Councilor. And I for one believe it, for he sucked the power from our generators. So might he suck the power from the inconceivably greater generators of the Suns. I believe that we should treat with them, for if they be like the peace-loving fools of Venone, we might win a respite in which to learn their secret.”

Ranstud walked away slowly. He agreed, in his heart, but he loved life too well to tell the Sthanto what to do, and he had no intention of sacrificing himself for the possible good of the race.

So they prepared for another attack of the Thought, and waited.