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THERE IS A SAYING in the Service that when Liner 40 N runs late the whole world waits. It may be true enough; I suppose it is. But to me, as Commander 3 of Liner 40 N on that night in May, 1998, it was a particularly annoying truth.
For I was running late; at the Azores I was a good twenty-eight minutes behind where I should have been, and it hardly made things any easier for me to contemplate an impatient world awaiting me.
All the way from Madrid our port meter 8 had been giving trouble. Then at 15 W. I had no sooner left the coast than a surge of wind from the northwest had swung down upon us, and I lost a good eight minutes trying unsuccessfully to climb over it. A mood of ill-nature possessed me. I was just twenty-four years old, the youngest of the three commanders who alternated on successive flights of the 40 N; this was only my seventh circle since promotion from the small equatorial liner of the East, and running the famous 40 N late under the eyes of a disapproving world disgruntled me.
At Meridian 45 W. the connecting Director at New York called me up. The Northern Express, flying north on Meridian 74 W., was already at New York waiting for me. The Director wasn't very pleasant about it. If I held up the express in its flight over the Pole and down 106 E., every connection in the Eastern Hemisphere would be disarranged.
The mercurial screen on my desk glowed with its image of the director's reproving face.
"You can't expect McIleny to make up your lost time," he told me. "Not on a night like this. The Bureau reports head winds for him all up to Baffin Land."
"I'm having a few head windsmyself," I reported.
But I grinned, and he caught my grin, and smiled back at me.
"Do the best you can," he said. And disconnected.
I made no ocean stops; but the director at 55 was a fussy fellow. I was due to pass him at ten thousand feet, to clear the north-south lanes for the non-stop Polar freighters; and with this wind and the fog which was now upon me I knew I would receive a sharp rebuke from 55 if I passed too high.
A hum sounded at one of the dozen mercurial screens beside me. Director 55 already annoyed! But it was not he. The small rectangle of screen glowed with its formless silver blurs, took form and color. A girl's face, ash-blond hair wound around her forehead, her white throat, with the square neck of a pale-blue jacket showing. And her earnest azure eyes searching mine, lighting with recognition as on her own screen she caught my image. Alice!
My annoyance at the threatened director's call-down died. I seized my headphone, heard her voice.
"I've been trying to get you all the way from Greenwich. They wouldn't let me through, not until I told them it was important--I had to get you." She spoke fast against the moment when the Vocal Traffic Timer would cut her off. "Len, grandfather wants you to come up and see us. At once--when you're through with this circle. Will you?"
She saw the question on my lips.
"Don't ask me now--no time, now, Len. But it's important, and grandfather ... do you know where I can find Jim? We want him too, you and Jim."
"He's in the Anglo-Detective Division, London Air Service, New York Branch."
"Yes, I know. But he's in the air tonight. How can I get him?" Her smile was whimsical. "When I asked for a tracer, the Timer over there told me to get the hell off the air. I guess he thought I wanted to find Jim just to tell him I loved him."
Her image blurred.
The Mid-Atlantic Timer's voice broke in. "Fifteen seconds. Last call."
"I'll get Jim," I said hastily. "Bring him with me. Soon as we can get there."
"Yes. We're waiting for you. And Len, you won't need to sleep first. You can sleep after you get here. And tell Jim--"
A click silenced her. The screen went dark.
What could she want of me? It was pleasant to have seen and heard from her, this granddaughter of old Dr. Weatherby. In the stress of getting my appointment and continuous examinations and tests between voyages, I had not seen Alice since leaving the Equatorial Run. Nor Jim Dunkirk either.
I went after him now. The tracers could not rebuff me as they did Alice. They found him at last--at 120 degrees E., 85 degrees N. He was coming up over the Pole, and down Baffin Bay making for New York. His jolly face, with its ever present grin and the shock of fiery red hair above it, glowed on my screen.
"Well, Len, say, it's great to see you!"
"Alice just called me--Alice Weatherby. Doc wants us both--you and me--something important. Wants to see us. You off at New York?"
"You bet," he grinned. "Had a chase down through Tibet; every cursed murderer thinks the grand idea is for him to swoop it for Lhasa and parts unknown. I have one here, now. When I get him in his airy cage I'm off duty for a while. Alice wants us?"
"Yes. I don't know what for. She didn't have a chance to--"
"Fifteen seconds. Last call."
"The infernal bedamned it is!" came Jim's belligerent voice.
"Last call, Liner 40 N--limit ninety seconds by general orders." The Timer was imperturbably impersonal.
But not Jimmy Dunkirk. "You cut me off," he roared. "I'll have the General Inspector tell you who you are in thirty seconds. This is Chief Dunkirk, Patrol Liner A 22, Anglo-Detective Division. I've got a murderer here--understand? A murderer! Important official business."
With the Timer cowed, Jimmy would have talked all night. But I was on duty.
"Good," I said. "I'll call you at your office after you get in."
"Old Weatherby wants us?"
"Yes. Off, Jim."
IT WAS WELL TOWARD dawn when I hooked up with him; together we flew up the river, where on the Tappan Zee, at the northern borders of the city, Dr. Weatherby had his home.
Alice was under the landing stage when we descended in the hand lift.
"Len, Jim, I'm glad to see you." She gave each of us one of her cool white hands. "Grandfather is waiting to--Jim, let go of my hand; you're squeezing my fingers. That hurts!"
He flung it away. He had always done that with Alice, to devil her.
"Next time," she said soberly, "you bow to me. That's all."
He laughed gleefully. "Right. Sure, that's safer when you look so pretty."
She was indeed pretty. A tall, slender girl--an inch taller than Jim. Big, serious blue eyes she had, and that braided mass of ash-blond hair. She was dressed now in a pale blue jacket like a tunic, to her thighs, and long silver stockings beneath the China-silk trousers that flared above her knees.
She smiled at Jim. "I'd never take you seriously. Dolores says--"
Jim sobered. "Dolores."
"Dolores is waiting to see you both. She's very excited."
Dolores, the little sister of Alice. I never saw her without a pang. In this great age of science she is a pathetic example of what science cannot do.
Our wonderful, marvelous age of science! We pride ourselves on it. But this girl had been born blind, and she was one of those rare cases where all the learned surgeons of our learned world could not bring the light to her.
Jim called, "'Lo there, Dolores."
"Jimmy! Is that you? I'm so glad to see you!"
See him! There was, to me, a grim pathos in her conventional words.
"Len is here too, Dolores," Alice said gently.
"Len? Oh, how do you do, Len?" Her hand reached and touched my hair in recognition. Then she turned back to Jim. "I'm glad you're here, Jimmy. They told me you were coming."
He swept her up, whirled her through the air like a child, and set her gasping upon her feet.
"Well, well, how's my little friend Dolores, huh? Want to do that again? Come one!" He whirled her again and panted. "Getting too big ... all grown up. Say, Len, she's prettier every day, isn't she?"
DR. WEATHERBY was seventy-five years old at this time when he sent for Jim and me. He met us on the lower terrace of his home. He was a squat, powerfully thick-set figure, with long ape-like arms and a thick back slightly humped.
His head was overlarge, made to seem larger by its great mass of iron-gray hair. His face, large of feature, was unlined, save by the marks of character stamped upon it. A kindly face it was, smiling with friendship, but always stern in repose.
"Well, my boys, you came promptly," he greeted us. "That's fine. Come in." His huge hands gripped us with a strength that made Jim pretend to wince and grin mockingly at Alice. "Come in. We'll sit in the garden upstairs."
He led us up the inclines through his rambling house and to its roof, where in the starlight we sat on leafy couches in a garden blooming with flowers, shrubs and coned ferns.
It was about an hour before dawn, cloudless, moonless--a brilliant firmament of gems strewn upon their purple velvet. Venus was rising now to be the morning star and herald the dawn; red Mars, lying opposite and low, glowed like the ashless end of a cigarro.
Below us over the parapet of roof was the crowded countryside, wan and still in the starlight, with the tread of river beyond--a river of silver with the blue-white lights of its boats skimming the surface. A few planes were overhead, the small local airline from Albany skimming past with a whir of its fans.
Dr. Weatherby chatted with us, rebuked me smilingly for running the 40 N late, and listened gravely, with occasional interested questions, to Jim's vivid account of his world chase after the murderer, while Dolores snuggled up against him, thrilled, and timidly held his hand.
"Well, well, you boys do have an interesting life. Youth coming forward. Youth can do anything--the world waits on youth."
"It did tonight," said Alice, with a sly glance at me.
I wondered what Dr. Weatherby wanted us for. He had not hinted at it. He had spoken of a morning meal, and then we must have some sleep.
Then, abruptly he said, "I should not have sent for you unless it was important. It is. The fact that I need you--" He stopped as suddenly as he had begun.
I don't know why a great tenseness should have fallen upon us all. But it did. I felt it. And in the ensuing silence little Dolores left Jim and crept to her grandfather, leaning against him.
I began, lamely, "We came, of course--"
DR. WEATHERBY was staring off at the stars moodily, with a look so far away I could have fancied he was gazing, not at the stars, but beyond them. And then he tore himself back, and smiled, lighting a cigarro, flipping the torch at me and asking me to step on it.
"I have so much to tell you," he said. "I hardly know how or where to begin. You know, of course, something of my life, my work.
"Leonard, and you, Jim, I believe you're familiar in a general way with what the physicists think of the atom? Radiant matter--these electro-rays that seem to solve everything and yet only add to the mystery?
"You know that savants would tell us that space is curved; so Einstein told us years ago? Well, I will tell you this. Tomorrow, after you have slept, I believe I can make clear to you the real construction of our material universe."
His hand checked us. "I have been working since 1970 along these lines. Alice recently has been helping me. And then Dolores--
"This child here, in the dark, it has been given her to see things denied to our science. Years and years ago a scientist proclaimed that thoughts themselves are a mere vibration, like light and heat and sound, and all these mysterious rays and flying electrons--electricity itself. They are all the same, though we name them differently."
He had been talking swiftly, but quietly. "Tell them, Dolores."
"A big open space," she said slowly. "Mountains and a broad valley. A cliffside. People there on a ledge. A young man and a young woman, very white and pale, with blood on the man's face. They were standing on a height, with a dark cavern behind them.
"Other people, or monsters down in the valley: something vague but horrible as a nightmare with a nameless horror. And the man was calling, Help. Not the word. I could not hear that, but I knew. Calling to me. He keeps on calling. I can hear him so often. Calling to me!"
She said it so strangely. At once it seemed uncanny, weird, almost gruesome. A thrill very akin to fear ran over me. This was not science. But Dr. Weatherby's calm, precise voice was scientific enough.
"That was several years ago. We have found since that she is receiving thought-vibrations, not from here on Earth, not from the planets, or the stars, but from beyond the stars. The greater realms out there, suspected to exist for so long, which now I know and can prove to exist!"
His voice had risen in an excitement, an exaltation. He went on more swiftly, "But all that is nothing. I wanted you to come here and help me. Dolores has had thoughts from out there beyond the stars ... and her own answering thoughts have been answered. Communication!
"Oh, I have guarded against delusion! I have sent messages through Dolores of scientific import, and been answered with scientific thoughts all beyond this child's comprehension. Communications with the great unknown--the infinity of distance un-fathomable.
"That started a year ago. Now I have done more. I have learned how to get there. I can transport myself, my girls and you! I am ready to make the journey now. That is why I want you, and need you. We are going. We want you to come with us, out beyond the stars!"
"IN THE PLAN of the universe," said Dr. Weatherby, "we find a conception gigantic, infinite, and yet it all has a simplicity. I want most earnestly to have you understand me, Leonard and Jim."
He gazed at us with a gentle smile. We had had our morning meal, and had slept long and heavily, and now it was evening twilight. We sat in the big living room on the lower floor of the Weatherby home. Dolores, as before, cuddled against her grandfather's side. Alice busied about the house, but presently she joined us. Dr. Weatherby's manner was as earnest as his words. He added, looking at me, "I want to be very clear, Leonard. This thing that we are to do--this journey, in which if you will not join me I shall make alone--"
"By the infernal, you won't make it alone while I'm alive," Jim cried. "The detective service loses its best tracker, beginning right away!"
Dr. Weatherby held out his hand. "My boy!" He could say no more. And on Dolores's face was a radiance. Then Dr. Weatherby turned to me.
"And you, Leonard--will you go?"
The direct question startled me.
Would I go out there into eternity? Beyond the stars, into eternal time, and over space unfathomable, to encounter what now no human mind could grasp? But, like Jim, I was practically alone in the world and I was free to make any decision without fear of hurting others.
Nevertheless, to give up my commission, as youngest commander of the great 40 N, to disappear, lose all I had earned, gave me pause. To return, perhaps never. Wanderers beyond the stars! Was this not, perhaps, too bold a thing for human endeavor?
I heard my voice saying quietly, "Why, of course I'm going with you, Dr. Weatherby."
I was aware that Alice had come in to sit beside me, her cool white hand impulsively pressing mind. And Dolores was saying,
"Alice, they're going! Isn't that wonderful? We're all going just as soon as we can get ready!"
"A STRANGE SIMPLICITY," Dr. Weatherby was saying. "First, let me make this clear: when I say universe--the construction of our universe--I mean everything that exists, or has, or will exist, the smallest entity of our infinitesimal atomic world to the greatest conception of what may lie beyond the stars. Does that sound complicated? Let me say again, it is simple."
He leaned toward us, with his thick, strong hands gripped in his lap. "I want you to realize first that we are dealing with infinities. The human mind is so finite, so limited. You must cast off most of your instinctive methods of reasoning. You understand me?"
"We'll try," I said.
He nodded and went on.
"Conceive a void of nothingness. No space, no time, no material bodies. Just nothing. That was the beginning. Do not try to wonder when it was. A billion years ago ... a billion billion. Not at all. You must not think of when, because when implies time. There was no time. There could be no time without material bodies to create movement and events. For time in itself is nothing but the measurement between events.
"We have then, a nothingness. A vortex. A whirlpool."
"A vortex of nothingness?" I exclaimed.
"Exactly. Why, back in the 1920's, Leonard, scientists recognized that the basic entities of matter were only whirlpools. They hoped then to find some fundamental substance, like ether. But there is none.
"A whirlpool, but its very motion, simulates substance. And, in the last analysis, that is all which exists--an apparent solidity. Divide anything, probe into anything, you find only a motion of something else smaller which is apparently real. But then take that smaller thing. Divide it. You find more empty spaces, more nothingness. And other yet smaller things in violent motion.
"Why, Leonard, don't you realize that's what puzzled scientists? From 1900 on, they puzzled over it. They found a solid bar of iron to be composed of molecules. They said: 'Oh yes, we understand. This solidity of iron is only apparent. It really consists of molecules of iron with empty spaces in between them, and the molecules are in motion.'
"But then, Leonard--this was way back--they suddenly found that the reality of the molecules was only apparent. It was just like the iron! Empty spaces, with atoms in motion. Ah, at last they had got to the bottom of it. Atoms.
"But then they found that an atom was no more a solidity than the molecule, or the iron bar. Still other spaces, with other vibrating particles. And fatuously they said: 'We have found electrons, revolving around a central nucleus.' But that meant nothing, and at last they began to realize it.
"Let your mind leap beyond all that, Leonard. It is too fatuous to think that each division of matter is the last, simply because you cannot make another division. Let's go back to that original vortex of nothingness. It created an apparent solidity, exactly as the vibrating molecules of iron create iron. That's clear, isn't it?"
"But," said Jim, "how small is this smallest vortex?"
Dr. Weatherby laughed. "It has no size. It is infinitely small. An abstract quality, beyond human conception. If you try to name its size, then no longer is it infinitely small. It is not the smallest vortex; there is no such thing. It is the infinitely small vortex, which is very different.
"Conceive, then, this vortex, which creates an apparently solid particle of matter. I call this particle an intime. This intime, in turn, with myriads of its fellows clustering about it, vibrating with empty nothingness between, creates another, larger entity--another apparently solid substance. And so on up to what we now call an electron."
"Well," I said, "between the intime and the electron, how many separate densities might there be?"
"An infinite number," he replied smilingly. "A number that cannot be conceived. Each has distinct characteristics, just as iron differs from lead or gold."
He paused a moment, but none of us said anything. "With this conception," he went on, "we can build the definition that a material substance is a density of other substances. It maintains its separate existence by virtue of having around its exterior an emptiness greater than the emptiness of its interior. Think of that for a moment.
"The Earth itself is such a density. The space around it is greater than any of the spaces within its molecules, its atoms, its electrons--down to its finitely small intimes--to the ultimate nothingness of which it is composed.
"That is our Earth. It is in movement. And another density near it we call Venus, and another Mars, vibrating with a space between them. All our starry universe; you see, Leonard?"
My mind leaped with the thrill of it. The great vault of the heavens with its myriad whirling stars shrank before my far-flung imagination into a tiny space teeming with its agitated particles!
Dr. Weatherby added gently, "A fragment of iron is microscopically no different in structure from our starry universe. The distances between our heavenly bodies compared to the size of them are quite the same as the distances between electrons, or intimes, compared to their size. You get my point?"
"I do," Jim exclaimed. "What we call the sky would seem a solid mass of matter--like a fragment of iron--to some greater viewpoint?"
"Exactly. Our microscopes show nothing which is actually more solid than the sky itself. From here, on Earth, to the Milky Way is to us a tremendous distance. But suppose that we were so gigantic--so vast in comparative size--that we needed a powerful microscope even to perceive that space. What would we see? A multiplicity of vibrating particles! And without the microscope the whole space would seem solid. We could call it ... well, say a grain of gold."
For a moment we were silent. There was to all this an awesome aspect. Yet its actual simplicity was overwhelming.
Dolores said timidly, "It seems strange that so simple a thing should have been unknown for so long."
"Not at all," said Dr. Weatherby. "The knowledge came step by step. It is only the final conception which seems so startling. To me it is the logical, inevitable conclusion. How could the facts be otherwise?
"Always, therefore, we have conceived ourselves and our Earth to be some masterful dividing line between what is smaller and what is larger than ourselves. That is fatuous.
"We call the one our microscopic world. The other astronomical world. And we sit between them, puzzling over their difference! They are both one, and we are in them--a mere step of the ladder."
"It makes me feel very small," said Alice.
"Or large," I said. "According to the viewpoint."
I added to Dr. Weatherby, "I realize now why no size, no motion, no time, nor density can be absolute. Everything must be relative to something else."
"Exactly," he nodded.
Jim was puzzling. "This voyage we're going to make--beyond the stars. How are we going to make this trip? What in? By what method? By the nine airy demons, Dr. Weatherby, there's an awful lot you haven't told us yet!"
"Not so much," said Dr. Weatherby smilingly.
"Because," I interposed, "you don't need to know very much, Jim."
"We're going in a projectile," said Dolores. "At least they say it looks like a projectile."
"Like Mallen's Moon rocket of 1989," Jim exclaimed.
Dr. Weatherby shook his head. "The various anti-gravity methods devised so far would help us very little, except Elton's electronic neutralization of gravity. I use that principle merely in starting the flight. A trip to the Moon, such as Mallen's rocket made, had nothing in common with this journey of ours."
"They say Mallen is going himself next year--to Mars," Alice remarked.
"Let's see our projectile," Jim demanded.
"In a moment," Dr. Weatherby said. "There is, first, one conception I want to make sure you have grasped. Forget our Earth now. Forget yourself. Conceive the material universe to be a vast void in which various densities are whirling.
"From the infinitely small to the infinitely large, they are of every size and character. Yet all are inherently the same, merely apparently solid. I will ask you, Leonard, this space between the Earth and Mars--of what would you say it is composed?"
I hesitated. "Nothingness," I ventured finally.
"No!" he exclaimed warmly. "There is where you fail to grasp my fundamental conception. The void of space itself is a mass of particles, a mass of densities, of every possible size and character.
"The Earth is one; a wandering asteroid is another. And meteors, meteorites, are the particles of light, far flung everywhere through space. Other entities are again still smaller--call them intimes--down in size to infinity.
"Space then, you must realize, is not empty. The emptiness, the nothingness, is only the infinitely small. Ah, I see now that you begin to understand!"
I said slowly, "I'm imagining space as ... as a jelly. Unsolid, because we ourselves are more solid, and it seems unsolid to us. But ... if we were less dense, and larger ... gigantic--" I stopped.
"That," said Dr. Weatherby, "is precisely the point of view I've wanted you to get. You can understand now why to beings of some greater outside realm all our interstellar space would shrink into apparent solidity, and they would call it an atom.
"CONCEIVE YOURSELF now a scientist of that vast universe outside. You are living on a density--a great conglomeration of particles clinging together--and you call it your Earth.
"One tiny particle of your Earth is beneath your microscope. You call it a grain of gold. You examine it. You find it is not solid. You see 'empty spaces.' They are not really empty, but the particles of matter swimming in them are too small for you to see. But you do see what you call molecules of gold.
"You increase the power of your microscope. You examine just one molecule of this gold. Now you see more supposedly empty spaces, with smaller whirling entities which you choose to call atoms.
"You examine one atom. The same result and you call the still smaller particles electrons. Down and down--who can say how far? Until, at last, you are looking into one intime. You see yet smaller particles whirling in space. That is the space between our stars!
"And these whirling points of light--perhaps you can distinguish no more than a million of them. They are the million largest, brightest of our stars. You cannot see our own sun; it is too small. Or our Earth--too small. And too dark.
"But if you did see our Earth, and were a fatuous scientist, you might say, 'Ah, at last I have seen the smallest thing!' Which is amusing, because our Earth has a good many rocks composing it. And each rock has a good many rocks composing it. And each rock goes down to pebbles, grains of sand, molecules, atoms, electrons--to infinity.
"Do you get the conception now? This whole universe we see and feel from here on Earth, from a greater viewpoint would all shrink into a tiny, apparently solid particle."
"I can visualize it," I said. "It's stupendous."
But Jim interposed, "This trip we are to make--"
Alice interrupted him, explaining, "Grandfather has been making tests. We have several models; he saved one of them to show you. We can see it now?" She looked inquiringly at her grandfather.
Dr. Weatherby rose to his feet. "We'll try it now. I'll show you the model and we'll send it ... away.
"Come," he added. "When you see it start, you will understand."
We left the house. Night had closed down, a soft, cloudless night. Never had I seen the stars so brilliant.
Dr. Weatherby led us up a path, beneath spreading trees, past gardens of flowers, past his lake with its pool and a cascading brook for its outlet down the hillside to the Hudson; past the shadowy landing stage where high overhead my plane lay moored; up the slope of a hill to a long, narrow outbuilding.
Jim and I had noticed this building when we landed at dawn. It was new to us, erected during the year or so since we had last been here.
"My workshop," Dr. Weatherby said as we approached it.
I GAZED AT IT curiously. It was a single-story building, without windows, flat-roofed and no more than twenty feet high. In width, possibly thirty feet, but it was at least five times that long.
It lay crosswise on the hill. At a glance I could not guess of what materials it might be constructed. Wood, stone, metal--it seemed none of these. Its aspect was whitish, not silvery, or milky; rather was it a dead flesh white, with a faintly lurid cast of green to it.
In the starlight it lay silent and unlighted. But there seemed to it a glow, as though it were bathed in moonlight. And then I saw that the glow was inherent in it, almost a phosphorescence. Abruptly I felt that there was something uncanny, unnatural about this structure.
I made no comment. But I saw surprise on Jim's face, and at the lower end of the building where there appeared to be a door, he stopped, irresolute.
"Is ... is the projectile in here?"
"Yes," said Alice. "Inside. But we're going to the test room first, aren't we, Grandfather?"
We went through a door and along a narrow passage. It was dimly illuminated by small blue vacuum tubes overhead. I found myself with Dolores.
"It's very wonderful," she said. "You will see, very soon. Oh, yes, where is Jim? I want Jim to see it."
"You're not afraid, Dolores? Afraid of the voyage they talk about?"
"Afraid? Oh, no!"
The passageway widened. "Here is Jim," I said. "Jim, stay with Dolores. She wants to show you this ... this thing we've come to see."
We entered a room some thirty feet square. Dr. Weatherby switched on the lights. There were furniture, rugs, small tables of apparatus, instruments, and banks of vacuum tubes on tripods standing about, with wires in insulated cables connecting them. The cables littered the floor, like huge snakes.
Dr. Weatherby drew aside a portiere which cut off a corner of the room. Lying on a large table, flooded with a vacuum light from above, was a model of this building we were in. It was about two feet wide, by ten feet long--the same dead white, uncanny-looking structure.
A thought sprang to my mind. Was this building we were in itself the projectile? I think I murmured the question, for Dr. Weatherby smiled.
"No. Here is a small replica of the vehicle."
He unbolted the roof of the model. Resting inside was a tiny, dead white object about six inches long, cigarro-shaped, but with a pointed end and blunt stern. It rather suggested the ancient sub-sea vessels.
It had fin-shaped projections, like very small wings for its slow transit through air. A tiny tower was forward, on top, and there were bull's-eye windows lining the sides and in every face of the octagon tower.
Dr. Weatherby pointed out all these details to us, speaking in his low, earnest voice. "I'm wondering, Leonard, and you, Jim, if you are familiar with Elton's principle of the neutralization of gravity?"
"No," I said, and Jim shook his head. "Not in detail."
In 1988 Elton perfected it. I knew of it only as an electronic stream of radiant matter which when directed against a solid substance, destroyed--or partially destroyed--the attraction of that other substance for the Earth.
"I'll explain it when we get into the vehicle itself," Dr. Weatherby said.
He was connecting wires to the little model building on the table; and he closed its roof, and opened a wide doorway at its end. "I am going to charge this small building with the Elton current. The electronic stream will carry that tiny projectile with it.
"This will be the same as the start of our own voyage, Leonard, except that with this model, I have intensified the rapidity of the successive changes. What happens here in minutes, will take us hours. Sit down over there, all of you."
WE RANGED OURSELVES in the gloom across the room. The model of the building, and its end doorway open like an airplane hangar, was pointing past us. Jim and I sat together, with Alice near me, and Dolores by Jim. He put his arm around her.
A moment, and then Dr. Weatherby touched a switch. The room was plunged into darkness. From the table came a low electrical hum.
I strained my eyes. A glow was over there. It brightened. The little building on the table was glowing with a faint, blue-white light. A minute passed, or it might have been ten minutes. I do not know.
The hum of the Elton current intensified; a whir, then a faint, very tiny screaming throb. The building was now outlined completely; a luminous white, shot through with a cast of green, and red and yellow sparks snapping about it. From where I sat I could see partially into its open doorway, as the interior was not dark. It was glowing inside, and now I became aware of a very faint red stream, like light, pouring from the doorway, crossing the room, spreading like a fan.
It was the Elton ray, escaping its bonds, its tiny particles plunging outward with the speed of light, or more. The red glow stuck the blank, dead white wall of our room, stained the wall with its red sheen. Sparks were snapping in the air around me. To my nostrils came a faint, sulphurous smell. My skin was prickling.
"Look," whispered Alice.
The opposite wall where the red ray was striking, now seemed glowing of itself, a blank, opaque wall, stained red by the billions of imponderable particles bombarding it.
But it was no longer an opaque wall. Of itself it was now glowing, becoming translucent, transparent! The stars! Through the wall I could see the placid night outside, the dark hillside, the stars!
I felt Alice's hand gripping my arm. From the glowing model on the table, the tiny vehicle was issuing. The dead white thing. It came very slowly, floating out the doorway, as though drawn by the red diverging stream of light.
Slowly, it passed me, ascending a trifle, no longer dead white, for it was transfigured--alive now, shimmering, its outlines wavy, unreal. It moved a trifle faster, came to the wall of the room, passed through it.
"Watch," breathed Alice.
The vehicle--that tiny oblong shape smaller than my hand--was outside over the treetops, plunging onward in the red stream of light. Yet at that distance I could see it plainly, its image as large as when it was a few feet from my face.
And suddenly I realized I was staring after a thing gigantic. It showed now far over the hilltop. I could have sworn it was but some great air liner. A patch of stars was blotted out behind it.
Another moment; the silver thing off there was far away. Was it as far as the Moon? It was larger now than the Moon would have seemed, hanging out there!
I watched. I could still see it as plainly as when it started. But then suddenly came a change. Its image became fainter, thinner, and rapidly expanding. There was a faint image of it out there in the heavens, an image larger than the hillside.
There was an instant when I fancied that the image had expanded over all the sky--a wraith, a dissipating ghost of the projectile. It was gone. The stars gleamed alone in the deep purple of the night.
A click sounded. The hum of the Elton ray died into silence. The luminous wall of the room sprang into opaque reality.
I sat up, blinking, shivering, to find Dr. Weatherby standing before me.
"That, Leonard, is the start. Shall we see the vehicle itself?"