- Author: Robert H. Wilson
Read book online «Out Around Rigel by Robert H. Wilson (books to read in your 20s female TXT) 📕». Author - Robert H. Wilson
Transcriber's notes are indicated in the text by [TN-#].
An astounding chronicle of two Lunarians' conquest of time and interstellar space.
The sun had dropped behind the Grimaldi plateau, although for a day twilight would linger over the Oceanus Procellarum. The sky was a hazy blue, and out over the deeper tinted waves the full Earth swung. All the long half-month it had hung there above the horizon, its light dimmed by the sunshine, growing from a thin crescent to its full disk three times as broad as that of the sun at setting. Now in the dusk it was a great silver lamp hanging over Nardos, the Beautiful, the City Built on the Water. The light glimmered over[Pg 296] the tall white towers, over the white ten-mile-long adamantine bridge running from Nardos to the shore, and lit up the beach where we were standing, with a brightness that seemed almost that of day.
"Once more, Garth," I said. "I'll get that trick yet."
The skin of my bare chest still smarted from the blow of his wooden fencing sword. If it had been the real two-handed Lunarian dueling sword, with its terrible mass behind a curved razor edge, the blow would have produced a cut deep into the bone. It was always the same, ever since Garth and I had fenced as boys with crooked laths. Back to back, we could beat the whole school, but I never had a chance against him. Perhaps one time in ten—
The silvered swords whirled in the Earth-light. I nicked him on one wrist, and had to duck to escape his wild swing at my head. The wooden blades were now locked by the hilts above our heads. When he stepped back to get free, I lunged and twisted his weapon. In a beautiful parabola, Garth's sword sailed out into the water, and he dropped to the sand to nurse his right wrist.
"Confound your wrestling, Dunal. If you've broken my arm on the eve of my flight—"
"It's not even a sprain. Your wrists are weak. And I supposed you've always been considerate of me? Three broken ribs!"
"For half a cent—"
He was on his feet, and then Kelvar came up and laid her hand on his shoulder. Until a few minutes before she had been swimming in the surf, watching us. The Earth-light shimmered over her white skin, still faintly moist, and blazed out in blue sparkles from the jewels of the breastplates and trunks she had put on.
When she touched Garth, and he smiled, I wanted to smash in his dark face and then take the beating I would deserve. Yet, if she preferred him— [TN-1]And the two of us had been friends before she was born. I put out my hand.
"Whatever happens, Garth, we'll still be friends?"
We clasped hands.
"Garth," Kelvar said, "it's getting dark. Show us your ship before you go."
"All right." He had always been like that—one minute in a black rage, the next perfectly agreeable. He now led the way up to a cliff hanging over the sea.
"There," said Garth, "is the Comet. Our greatest step in conquering distance. After I've tried it out, we can go in a year to the end of the universe. But, for a starter, how about a thousand light-years around Rigel in six months?" His eyes were afire. Then he calmed down. "Anything I can show you?"
Editor's Note: The manuscript, of which a translation is here presented, was discovered by the rocket-ship expedition to the moon three years ago. It was found in its box by the last crumbling ruins of the great bridge mentioned in the narrative. Its final translation is a tribute at once to the philological skill of the Earth and to the marvelous dictionary provided by Dunal, the Lunarian. Stars and lunar localities will be given their traditional Earth names; and measures of time, weight, and distance have been reduced, in round numbers, to terrestrial equivalents. Of the space ship described, the Comet, no trace has been found. It must be buried under the rim of one of the hundreds of nearby Lunar craters—the result, as some astronomers have long suspected and as Dunal's story verifies, of a great swarm of meteors striking the unprotected, airless moon.
I had seen the Comet before, but never so close. With a hull of shining helio-beryllium—the new light, inactive alloy of a metal and[Pg 297] a gas—the ship was a cylinder about twenty feet long, by fifteen in diameter, while a pointed nose stretched five feet farther at each end. Fixed in each point was a telescopic lens, while there were windows along the sides and at the top—all made, Garth informed us, of another form of the alloy almost as strong as the opaque variety. Running half-way out each end were four "fins" which served to apply the power driving the craft. A light inside showed the interior to be a single room, ten feet high at the center of its cylindrical ceiling, with a level floor.
"How do you know this will be the bottom?" I asked, giving the vessel a shove to roll it over. But it would not budge. Garth laughed.
"Five hundred pounds of mercury and the disintegrators are under that floor, while out in space I have an auxiliary gravity engine to keep my feet there."
"You see, since your mathematical friends derived their identical formulas for gravity and electromagnetism, my job was pretty easy. As you know, a falling body follows the line of least resistance in a field of distortion of space caused by mass. I bend space into another such field by electromagnetic means, and the Comet flies down the track. Working the mercury disintegrators at full power, I can get an acceleration of two hundred miles per second, which will build up the speed at the midpoint of my trip to almost four thousand times that of light. Then I'll have to start slowing down, but at the average speed the journey will take only six months or so."
"But can anyone stand that acceleration?" Kelvar asked.
"I've had it on and felt nothing. With a rocket exhaust shoving the ship, it couldn't be done, but my gravitational field attracts the occupant of the Comet just as much as the vessel itself."
"You're sure," I interrupted, "that you have enough power to keep up the acceleration?"
"Easily. There's a two-thirds margin of safety."
"And you haven't considered that it may get harder to push? You know the increase of mass with velocity. You can't take one-half of the relativity theory without the other. And they've actually measured the increase of weight in an electron."
"The electron never knew it; it's all a matter of reference points. I can't follow the math, but I know that from the electron's standards it stayed exactly the same weight. Anything else is nonsense."
"Well, there may be a flaw in the reasoning, but as they've worked it out, nothing can go faster than light. As you approach that velocity, the mass keeps increasing, and with it the amount of energy required for a new increase in speed. At the speed of light, the mass would be infinite, and hence no finite energy could get you any further."
"Maybe so. It won't take long to find out."
A few of the brightest stars had begun to appear. We could just see the parallelogram of Orion, with red Betelguese at one corner, and across from it Rigel, scintillant like a blue diamond.
"See," Garth said, pointing at it. "Three months from now, that's where I'll be. The first man who dared to sail among the stars."
"Only because you don't let anyone else share the glory and the danger."
"Why should I? But you wouldn't go, anyway."
"Will you let me?"
I had him there.
"On your head be it. The Comet could hold three or four in a pinch,[Pg 298] and I have plenty of provisions. If you really want to take the chance—"
"It won't be the first we've taken together."
"All right. We'll start in ten minutes." He went inside the ship.
"Don't go," Kelvar whispered, coming into the Comet's shadow. "Tell him anything, but don't go."
"I've got to. I can't go back on my word. He'd think I was afraid."
"Haven't you a right to be?"
"Garth is my friend and I'm going with him."
"All right. But I wish you wouldn't."
From inside came the throb of engines.
"Kelvar," I said, "you didn't worry when only Garth was going."
"And there's less danger with two to keep watch."
"I know, but still...."
"You are afraid for me?"
"I am afraid for you."
My arm slipped around her, there in the shadow.
"And when I come back, Kelvar, we'll be married?"
In answer, she kissed me. Then Garth was standing in the doorway of the Comet.
"Dunal, where are you?"
We separated and came out of the shadow. I went up the plank to the door, kicking it out behind me. Kelvar waved, and I called something or other to her. Then the door clanged shut. Seated before the control board at the front of the room, Garth held the switch for the two projectors.
"Both turned up," he yelled over the roar of the generators. His hands swung over and the noise died down, but nothing else seemed to have happened. I turned back again to look out the little window fixed in the door.
Down far below, I could see for a moment the city of Nardos with its great white bridge, and a spot that might be Kelvar. Then there was only the ocean, sparkling in the Earth-light, growing smaller, smaller. And then we had shot out of the atmosphere into the glare of the sun and a thousand stars.
On and up we went, until the moon was a crescent with stars around it. Then Garth threw the power forward.
"Might as well turn in," he told me. "There'll be nothing interesting until we get out of the solar system and I can put on real speed. I'll take the first trick."
"How long watches shall we stand?"
"Eighteen hours ought to match the way we have been living. If you have another preference—"
"No, that will be all right. And I suppose I might as well get in some sleep now."
I was not really sleepy, but only dazed a little by the adventure. I fixed some things on the floor by one of the windows and lay down, switching out the light. Through a top window the sunlight slanted down to fall around Garth, at his instrument board, in a bright glory. From my window I could see the Earth and the gleaming stars.
The Earth was smaller than I had ever seen it before. It seemed to be moving backward a little[TN-2], and even more, to be changing phase. I closed my eyes, and when I opened them again, sleepily, the bright area was perceptibly smaller. If I could stay awake long enough, there would be only a crescent again. If I could stay awake—But I could not....
Only the rattling of dishes as Garth prepared breakfast brought me back to consciousness. I got to my feet sheepishly.[Pg 299]
"How long have I slept?"
"Twenty hours straight. You looked as if you might have gone on forever. It's the lack of disturbance to indicate time. I got in a little myself, once we were out of the solar system."
A sandwich in one hand, I wandered over the vessel. It was reassuringly solid and concrete. And yet there was something lacking.
"Garth," I asked, "what's become of the sun?"
"I thought you'd want to know that." He led me to the rear telescope.
"But I don't see anything."
"You haven't caught on yet. See that bright yellowish star on the edge of the constellation Scorpio. That's it."
Involuntarily, I gasped. "Then—how far away are we?"
"I put on full acceleration fifteen hours ago, when we passed Neptune, and we have covered thirty billion miles—three hundred times as far as from the moon to the sun, but only one half of one per cent of a light-year."
I was speechless, and Garth led me back to the control board. He pointed out the acceleration control, now turned up to its last notch forward; he also showed me the dials which were used to change our direction.
"Just keep that star on the cross hairs. It's Pi Orionis, a