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My name Theodor Andresson. I will write my story if you wish. I was at one time Resident in Astrophysics at Krajputnii, which I may safely describe as the greatest center of learning in the Middle East, perhaps of the entire Eastern Hemisphere. Later--until the chain of incidents which brought me to this Zucht-Haus--I professor emeritus in radio-astronomy at Calimyrna University, where I did the work leading to the discovery of the solar pulsation cycle.
I am sure that this work is not credited to me; that is of no importance. I would like it clearly understood that I am not making this record for your benefit, but for mine. Your request means nothing to me, and your pretense of interest in what I may write cannot deceive me. My erstwhile colleagues in the so-called sciences were masters of this kind of pretense; but they, too, were unable to prevent me from penetrating the masquerade at the end. How then does a simple doctor hope to succeed ... where the finest charlatanry has failed?
And what is allocation of credit--of what importance is priority of discovery before the inexorability of the pulsation cycle? It will work to its new conclusion without regard for your beliefs, my colleagues', or mine. Neither the pretended solicitude nor the real metal bars with which you have surrounded me will matter after that.
I proceed, therefore, to the matter at hand. My position at Calimyrna in that remote time before the cycle was discovered, befit my age (eighty-four years) and the reputation I had achieved in my specialty. I was inexcellent health, though subject occasionally to depressions of spirit, readily ascribable to my being in a still-strange land and to those scars inflicted upon me in earlier times.
Despite these fits of moodiness, I had every reason to be happy. My eminence in my field afforded me the utmost satisfaction; despite poverty and persecution in youth, I had won to security. I had married Marguerita L--, in her youth and mine the toast of twelve continents, not only for her beauty but for her voice. I can still hear now the sound of her singing as I heard it for the first time--singing, on the stage of La Scala in Moscow, the rapturous quartet from the second act of Wagner's Tristan et Messalina.
It is quite true--I admit it immediately and calmly--that there were certain flaws in my world, even at Calimyrna. I do not mean the distractions which in old age replace, in the ordinary man, the furies of youth, but rather certain faults and fissures which I found in the world outside myself.
Even a man of my attainments expects at some time to grow old, and to find that process changing the way in which he looks at the world around him. There comes a time, however, when even the most rational of men must notice when these changes exceed the bounds of reason--when they begin to become extraordinary, even sinister. Shall I be specific? Consider, then--quite calmly--the fact that Marguerita did not herself grow old.
I passed into my eighth decade without taking more than perfunctory notice. I was deeply involved in the solar work we were then carrying on at Calimyrna. I had with me a young graduate student, a brilliant fellow of about thirty, who assisted me and who made certain original contributions of his own to the study. His name, and you will recognize it, was Mario di Ferruci. Calimyrna had completed its thousand-inch radio-telescope, the largest such antenna anywhere in the world--except for the 250-foot Manchester instrument. This was at once put to work in the search for so-called radio stars--those invisible bodies, many of them doubtless nearer to Earth than the nearest visible star, which can be detected only by their emission in the radio spectrum.
Completion of the thousand-inch freed the 600-inch paraboloid antenna for my use in solar work. The smaller instrument had insufficient beam-width between half-power points for the critical stellar studies, but it was more suitable for my purpose.
I had in mind at that time a study of the disturbed sun. Hagen of the Naval Research Laboratory had already done the definite study on the sun in its quiet state. I found myself more drawn to what goes on in the inferno of the sunspots--in the enormous, puzzling catastrophes of the solar flares--the ejection of immense radioactive clouds from the sun's interior high into its atmosphere.
It had already become clear that the radio-frequency emission from the disturbed sun was not, and could not be, thermal in origin, as in the RF emission of the quiet sun. The equivalent temperature of the disturbed sun in selected regions at times rises to billions of degrees, rendering the whole concept of thermal equivalency meaningless.
That the problem was not merely academic impressed me from the first. I have, if you will allow me the term, always had a sense of destiny, of Schicksal, an almost Spenglerian awareness of the pressure of fate against the retaining walls of human survival. It is not unique in me; I lay it to my Teutonic ancestry. And when I first encountered the problem of the disturbed sun, something within me felt that I had found destiny itself.
For here, just here was the problem in which destiny was interested, in which some fateful answer awaited the asking of the omnipotent question. I felt this from the moment when I had first opened Hagen's famous paper--NRL Report 3504--and the more deeply I became interested in the sun as an RF radiator, the more the sensation grew.
Yet how to describe it? I was eighty-four, and this was early in 1976; in all those preceding years I had not known that the mortal frame could sustain such an emotion. Shall I call it a sensation of enormous unresolvable dread? But I felt at the same time an ecstasy beyond joy, beyond love, beyond belief; and these transports of rapture and terror did not alternate as do the moods of an insane man, but occurred simultaneously--they were one and the same emotion.
Nor did the solar flares prove themselves unworthy of such deep responses. Flares have been observed in many stars. Some of them have been major outbursts, as indeed they would have to be to be visible to us at all. That such a flare could never occur on our own sun, furthermore, could not be said with certainty, for flares are local phenomena--they expend their energy only on one side of a star, not in all directions like a nova--and we had already seen the great detonation of July 29, 1948 on our own sun, which reached an energy level one hundred times the output of the quiet sun, which showed that we did not dare to set limits to what our own sun might yet do.
It was here, however, that I ran into trouble with young di Ferruci. He persistently and stubbornly refused to accept the analogy.
"It's penny-dreadful," he would say, as he had said dozens of times before. "You remind me of Dr. Richardson's stories--you know, the ones he writes for those magazines, about the sun going nova and all that. Whenever it's cloudy at Palomar he dreams up a new catastrophe."
"Richardson is no fool," I would point out. "Other suns have exploded. If he wants to postulate that it could happen to ours, he has every right to do so."
"Sure, Dr. Andresson, in a story," di Ferruci would object. "But as a serious proposition it doesn't hold water. Our sun just isn't the spectral type that goes nova; it hasn't ever even approached the critical instability percentage. It can't even produce a good flare of the Beta Centauri type."
"I don't expect it to go nova. But it's quite capable of producing a major flare, in my opinion. I expect to prove it."
Di Ferruci would shrug, as he always did. "I wouldn't ride any money on you, Dr. Andresson. But I'll be more than interested in what the telescope shows--let's see what we have here right now. The thermocouple's been calibrated; shall I cut in the hot load?"
At this point--I am now reporting a particular incident, although it, too, was frequently typical of these conversations--I became aware that Marguerita was in the observatory. I swung sharply around, considerably annoyed. My wife is innocent of astronomical knowledge, and her usually ill-timed obtrusions upon our routine--although I suppose they were of the desire to "take an interest" in her husband's profession--were distracting.
Today, however, I was not only annoyed, but stunned. How had I failed to notice this before--I, who pride myself on the acuity of my observation? What stood before me was a young woman!
How shall I say how young? These things are relative. We had married when she was thirty-six and I was forty-four; a difference of eight years is virtually no difference during the middle decades, though it is enormous when both parties are young. Marguerita had been in no sense a child at the time of our marriage.
Yet now, as I was finding, a spread as small as eight years can again become enormous when the dividing-line of old age insensibly approaches. And the difference was even greater than this--for now Marguerita, as she stood looking down at our day's three-dimensional graph of solar activity, seemed no older to me than the day on which I had first met her: a woman, tall, graceful, lithe, platinum-haired, and with the somber, smoldering, unreadable face of Eve--and yet compared to me now a child in truth.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Andresson," di Ferruci said, smiling.
She looked up and smiled back. "Good afternoon," she said. "I see you're about to take another series of readings. Don't let me interrupt you."
"That's quite all right; thus far it's routine," di Ferruci said. I glanced sidewise at him and then back to my wife. "We'd just begun to take readings to break up the monotony of the old argument."
"That's true," I said. "But it would be just as well if you didn't drop in on us unexpectedly, Marguerita. If this had been a critical stage--"
"I'm sorry," she said contritely. "I should have phoned, but I'm always afraid that the telephone will interrupt you, too. When I'm here I can hope to see whether or not you're busy--and you can see who's calling. The telephone has no eyes."
She touched the graph, delicately. This graph, I should explain, is made of fourteen curves cut out in cardboard, and assembled so that one set of seven curved pieces is at right angles to the other set. It expresses the variation in intensity of RF emanation across the surface of the sun at the ten-centimeter wavelength, where our readings commonly are taken; we make a new such model each day. It shows at a glance, by valley or peak, any deviation from the sun's normal output, thus helping us greatly in interpreting our results.
"How strange it looks today," she said. "It's always in motion, like a comber racing toward the shore. I keep expecting it to begin to break at the top."
Di Ferruci stopped tinkering with the drive clock and sat down before the control desk, his blue-black helmet of hair--only a little peppered by his memories of the Inchon landing--swiveling sharply toward her. I could not see his face. "What an eerie notion," he said. "Mrs. Andresson, you and the doctor'll have me sharing your presentiments of doom any minute now."