Man, Creator and Destroyer

“What we must find,” said Arcot, between contented puffs, for he had slept well, and his breakfast had been good, “is some weapon which will attack them, but won’t attack us. The question is, what is it? And I think, I think⁠—I know.” His eyes were dreamy, his thoughts so cryptically abbreviated that not even Morey could follow them.

“Fine⁠—what is it?” asked Morey after vainly striving to deduce some sense from the formulas that were chasing through Arcot’s thoughts. Here and there he recognized them: Einstein’s energy formula, Planck’s quantum formulas, Nitsu Thansi’s electron interference formulas, Stebkowfski’s proton interference, Williamson’s electric field, and his own formulas appeared, and others so abbreviated he could not recognize them.

“Do you remember what Dad said about the way the Thessians made the giant forts out in space⁠—hauled matter from the moon and transformed it to lux and relux. Remember, I said then I thought it might be a ray⁠—but found it wasn’t what I thought? I want to to use the ray I was thinking of. The only question in my mind is⁠—what is going to happen to us when I use it?”

“What’s the ray?”

“Why is it, Morey, that an electron falls through the different quantum energy levels, falls successively lower and lower till it reaches its ‘lowest energy level,’ and can radiate no more. Why can’t it fill another step, and reach the proton? Why has it no more quanta to release? We know that electrons tend to fall always to lower energy level orbits. Why do they stop?”

“And,” said Morey, his own eyes dreamily bright now, “what would happen if it did? If it fell all the way?”

“I cannot follow your thoughts, Earthmen, beyond a glimpse of an explosion. And it seems it is Thett that is exploding, and that Thett is exploding itself. Can you explain?” asked Stel Felso Theu.

“Perhaps⁠—you know that electrons in their planetary orbits, so called, tend to fall away to orbits of lower energy, till they reach the lowest energy orbit, and remain fixed till more energy comes and is absorbed, driving them out again. Now we want to know why they don’t fall lower, fall all the way? As a matter of fact, thanks to some work I did last year with disintegrating lead, we do know. And thanks to the absolute stability of artificial matter, we can handle such a condition.

“The thing we are interested in is this: Artificial matter has no tendency to radiate, its electrons have no tendency to fall into the proton, for the matter is created, and remains as it was created. But natural matter does have a tendency to let the electron fall into the proton. A force, the ‘lowest energy wall,’ over which no electron can jump, caused by the enormous space distorting of the proton’s mass and electrical attraction, prevents it. What we want to do is to remove that force, iron it out. Requires inconceivable power to do so in a mass the size of Thett⁠—but then⁠—!

“And here’s what will happen: Our wall of protonic material won’t be affected by it in the least, because it has no tendency to collapse, as has normal matter, but Thett, beyond the wall, has that tendency, and the ray will release the energy of every planetary electron on Thett, and every planetary electron will take with it the energy of one proton. And it will take about one one-hundred-millionth of a second. Thett will disappear in one instantaneous flash of radiation, radiation in the high cosmics!

“Here’s the trouble: Thett represents a mass as great as our sun. And our sun can throw off energy at the present rate of one sol for a period of some ten million million years, three and a half million tons of matter a second for ten million years. If all of that went up in one one-hundred-millionth of a second, how many sols?” asked Morey.

“Too many, is all I can say. Even this ship couldn’t maintain its walls of energy against that!” declared Stel Felso Theu, awed by the thought.

“But that same power would be backing this ship, and helping it to support its wall. We would operate from⁠—half a million miles.”

“We will. If we are destroyed⁠—so is Thett, and all the worlds of Thett. Let that flood of energy get loose, and everything within a dozen light years will be destroyed. We will have to warn the Venonians, that their people on nearby worlds may escape in the time before the energy reaches them,” said Arcot slowly.

The Thought started toward one of the nearer suns, and as it went, Arcot and Morey were busy with the calculators. They finished their work, and started back from that world, having given their message of warning, with the artificial matter constructors. When they reached Thett, less than a quarter of an hour of Thessian time had passed. But, before they reached Thett, Arcot’s viewplates were blinded for an instant as a terrific flood of energy struck the artificial matter protectors, and caused them to flame into defense. Thett’s satellite was sending its message of instantaneous destruction. That terrific ray had reached it, touched it, and left it a shattered, glowing ball of hydrogen.

“There won’t be even that left when we get through with Thett!” said Arcot grimly. The apparatus was finished, and once more they were over the now fiery-red lava sea that had been mountains. The fort was still in action. Arcot had cut a sheet of sheer energy now, and as the triple-ray struck it, he knew what would happen. It did. The triple-ray shunted off at an angle of forty-five degrees in the energy field, and spread instantly to a diffused beam of blackness. Arcot’s molecular reached out. The lava was instantly black, and mountains of ice were forming over the struggling defenses of the fort. The molecular screen was working.

“I’d like to know how they make tubes that’ll stand that, Morey,” said Arcot, pointing to an instrument that read .01 millisols. “They have tubes now, that would have wiped us out in minutes, seconds before this.”

The triple-ray snapped off. They were realigning it to hit the ship now, correcting for the shield. Arcot threw out his protonic shield, and retreated to half a million miles, as he had said.

“Here goes.” But before even his thoughts could send Theft to radiation, the entire side of the planet blazed suddenly incandescent. Thett was learning what had happened when their ray had wounded the Thought.

And then, in the barest instant of time, there was no Thett. There was an instant of intolerable radiation, then momentary blackness, and then the stars were shining where Thett had been. Thett was utterly gone.

But Arcot did not see this. About him there was a tremendous roar, titanic generator-converters that had not so much as hummed under the impact of Thett’s greatest weapons, whined and shuddered now. The two enormous generators, the blackness of the protonic shield, and the great artificial matter generator, throwing an inner shield impervious to the cosmics Thett gave off as it vanished, both were whining. And the six smaller machines, which Arcot had succeeded in interconnecting with the protonic generator, were whining too. Space was weirdly distorted, glowing gray about them, the great generators struggling to maintain the various walls of protecting power against the surge of energy as Thett, a world of matter, disintegrated.

But the very energy that fought to destroy those walls was absorbed in defending it, and by that much the attacking energy was lessened. Still, it seemed hours, days that the battle of forces continued.

Then it was over, and the skies were clear once more as Arcot lowered the protonic screen silently. The white sky of Thett was gone, and only the black starriness of space remained.

It’s gone!” gasped Torlos. He had been expecting it⁠—still, the disappearance of a world⁠—

“We will have to do no more. No ships had time to escape, and the risk we run is too great,” said Morey slowly. “The escaping energy from that world will destroy the others of this system as completely, and it will probably cause the sun itself to blow up⁠—perhaps to form new planets, and so the process repeats itself. But Venone knows better now, and their criminals will not populate more worlds.

“And we can go⁠—home. To our little dust specks.”

“But they’re wonderfully welcome dust specks, and utterly important to us, Earthman,” reminded Zezdon Afthen.

“Let us go then,” said Arcot.

It was dusk, and the rose tints of the recently-set sun still hung on the clouds that floated like white bits of cotton in the darkening blue sky. The dark waters of the little lake, and the shadowy tree-clad hills seemed very beautiful. And there was a little group of buildings down there, and a broad cleared field. On the field rested a shining, slim shape, seventy-five feet long, ten feet in diameter.

But all, the lake, the mountains even, were dwarfed by the silent, glistening ruby of a gigantic machine that settled very, very slowly, and very, very gently downward. It touched the rippled surface of the lake with scarcely a splash, then hung, a quarter submerged in that lake.

Lights were showing in the few windows the huge bulk had, and lights showed now in the buildings on the shore. Through an open door light was streaming, casting silhouettes of two men. And now a tiny door opened in the enormous bulk that occupied the lake, and from it came five figures, that floated up, and away, and toward the cottage.

“Hello, Son. You have been gone long,” said Arcot, senior, gravely, as his son landed lightly before him.

“I thought so. Earth has moved in her orbit. More than six months?”

His father smiled a bit wryly. “Yes. Two years and three months. You got caught in another time field and thrown the other way this time?”

“Time and force. Do you know the story yet?”

“Part of it⁠—Venone sent a ship to us within a month of the time you left, and said that all Thett’s system had disappeared save for one tremendous gas cloud⁠—mostly hydrogen. Their ships were met by such a blast of cosmic rays as they came toward Thett that the radiation pressure made it almost impossible to advance. There were two distinct waves. One was rather slighter, and was more in the gamma range, so they suspected that two bodies had been directly destroyed; one small one, and one large one were reduced completely to cosmics. Your warning to Sentfenn was taken seriously, and they have vacated all planets near. It was the force field created when you destroyed Thett that threw you forward? Where are the others?”

“Zezdon Afthen and Zezdon Inthel we took home, and dropped in their power suits, without landing. Stel Felso Theu as well. We will visit them later.”

“Have you eaten? Then let us eat, and after supper we’ll tell you what little there is to tell.”

“But Arcot,” said Morey slowly, “I understand that Dad will be here soon, so let us wait. And I have something of which I have not spoken to you as yet. Worked it out and made it on the back trip. Installed in the Thought with the Banderlog’s controls. It is⁠—well, will you look?⁠—Fuller! Come and see the new toy you designers are going to have to work on!”

They had all been depressed by the thought of their long absence, by the scenes of destruction they had witnessed so recently. They were beginning to feel better.

“Watch.” Morey’s thoughts concentrated. The Thought outside had been left on locked controls, but the apparatus Morey had installed responded to his thoughts from this distance.

Before them in the room appeared a cube that was obviously copper. It stayed there but a moment, beaming brightly, then there was a snapping of energies about them⁠—and it dropped to the floor and rang with the impact!

“It was not created from the air,” said Morey simply.

“And now,” said Arcot, looking at it, “Man can do what never before was possible. From the nothingness of Space he can make anything.

“Man alone in this space is Creator and Destroyer.

“It is a high place.

“May he henceforth live up to it.”

And he looked out toward the mighty starlit hull that had destroyed a solar system⁠—and could create another.