- Author: E. E. Smith
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Beginning a thrilling New Serial of Interplanetary Life and Travel by Edward E. Smith, Ph.D.
Author of "Skylark of Space" and "Skylark Three"PART I
Spacehounds of IPC
A good many of us, who are now certain beyond a doubt that space travel will forever remain in the realm of the impossible, probably would, if a rocket that were shot to the moon, for instance, did arrive, and perhaps return to give proof of its safe arrival on our satellite, accept the phenomenon in a perfectly blas�, twentieth century manner. Dr. Smith, that phenomenal writer of classic scientific fiction, seems to have become so thoroughly convinced of the advent of interplanetary travel that it is difficult for the reader to feel, after finishing "Spacehounds of IPC," that travel in the great spaces is not already an established fact. Dr. Smith, as a professional chemist, is kept fairly busy. As a writer, he is satisfied with nothing less than perfection. For that reason, a masterpiece from his pen has become almost an annual event. We know you will like "Spacehounds" even better than the "Skylark" series.
Illustrated by WESSO
CHAPTER I The IPV Arcturus Sets Out for Mars
A narrow football of steel, the Interplanetary Vessel Arcturus stood upright in her berth in the dock like an egg in its cup. A hundred feet across and a hundred and seventy feet deep was that gigantic bowl, its walls supported by the structural steel and concrete of the dock and lined with hard-packed bumper-layers of hemp and fibre. High into the air extended the upper half of the ship of space—a sullen gray expanse of fifty-inch hardened steel armor, curving smoothly upward to a needle prow. Countless hundred of fine vertical scratches marred every inch of her surface, and here and there the stubborn metal was grooved and scored to a depth of inches—each scratch and score the record of an attempt of some wandering cosmic body to argue the right-of-way with the stupendous mass of that man-made cruiser of the void.
A burly young man made his way through the throng about the entrance, nodded unconcernedly to the gatekeeper, and joined the stream of passengers flowing through the triple doors of the double air-lock and down a corridor to the center of the vessel. However, instead of entering one of the elevators which were whisking the passengers up to their staterooms in the upper half of the enormous football, he in some way caused an opening to appear in an apparently blank steel wall and stepped through it into the control room.
"Hi, Breck!" the burly one called, as he strode up to the instrument-desk of the chief pilot and tossed his bag carelessly into a corner. "Behold your computer in the flesh! What's all this howl and fuss about poor computation?"
"Hello, Steve!" The chief pilot smiled as he shook hands cordially. "Glad to see you again—but don't try to kid the old man. I'm simple enough to believe almost anything, but some things just aren't being done. We have been yelling, and yelling hard, for trained computers ever since they started riding us about every one centimeter change in acceleration, but I know that you're no more an I-P computer than I am a Digger Indian. They don't shoot sparrows with coast-defense guns!"
"Thanks for the compliment, Breck, but I'm your computer for this trip, anyway. Newton, the good old egg, knows what you fellows are up against and is going to do something about it, if he has to lick all the rest of the directors to do it. He knew that I was loose for a couple of weeks and asked me to come along this trip to see what I could see. I'm to check the observatory data—they don't know I'm aboard—take the peaks and valleys off your acceleration curve, if possible, and report to Newton just what I find out and what I think should be done about it. How early am I?" While the newcomer was talking, he had stripped the covers from a precise scale model of the solar system and from a large and complicated calculating machine and had set to work without a wasted motion or instant—scaling off upon the model the positions of the various check-stations and setting up long and involved integrals and equations upon the calculator.
The older man studied the broad back of the younger, bent over his computations, and a tender, almost fatherly smile came over his careworn face as he replied:
"Early? You? Just like you always were—plus fifteen seconds on the deadline. The final dope is due right now." He plugged the automatic recorder and speaker into a circuit marked "Observatory," waited until a tiny light above the plug flashed green, and spoke.
"IPV Arcturus; Breckenridge, Chief Pilot; trip number forty-three twenty-nine. Ready for final supplementary route and flight data, Tellus to Mars."
"Meteoric swarms still too numerous for safe travel along the scheduled route," came promptly from the speaker. "You must stay further away from the plane of the ecliptic. The ether will be clear for you along route E2-P6-W41-K3-R19-S7-M14. You will hold a constant acceleration of 981.27 centimeters between initial and final check stations. Your take-off will be practically unobstructed, but you will have to use the utmost caution in landing upon Mars, because in order to avoid a weightless detour and a loss of thirty-one minutes, you must pass very close to both the Martian satellites. To do so safely you must pass the last meteorological station, M14, on schedule time plus or minus five seconds, at scheduled velocity plus or minus ten meters, with exactly the given negative acceleration of 981.27 centimeters, and exactly upon the pilot ray M14 will have set for you."
"All x." Breckenridge studied his triplex chronometer intently, then unplugged and glanced around the control room, in various parts of which half a dozen assistants were loafing at their stations.
"Control and power check-out—Hipe!" he barked. "Driving converters and projectors!"
The first assistant scanned his meters narrowly as he swung a multi-point switch in a flashing arc. "Converter efficiency 100, projector reactivity 100; on each of numbers one to forty-five inclusive. All x."
Two more gleaming switches leaped from point to point. "Converter efficiency 100, projector reactivity 100, dirigibility 100, on each of numbers one to thirty-two, inclusive, of upper band; and numbers one to thirty-two, inclusive, of lower band. All x."
"35,000. Drivers in equilibrium at ten degrees plus. All x."
"Upper lights and lookout plates!"
The second assistant was galvanized into activity, and upon a screen before him there appeared a view as though he were looking directly upward from the prow of the great vessel. The air above them was full of aircraft of all shapes and sizes, and occasionally the image of one of that flying horde flared into violet splendor upon the screen as it was caught in the mighty, roving beam of one of the twelve ultra-light projectors under test.
"Upper lights and lookout plates—all x," the second assistant reported, and other assistants came to attention as the check-out went on.
"Lower lights and lookout plates!"
"All x," was the report, after each of the twelve ultra-lights of the stern had swung around in its supporting brackets, illuminating every recess of the dark depths of the bottom well of the berth and throwing the picture upon another screen in lurid violet relief.
"Lateral and vertical detectors!"
"Laterals XP2710—all x. Verticals AJ4290—all x."
"15,270 kilofranks—all x."
"700,000 kilofrank-hours—all x."
Having thus checked and tested every function of his department, Breckenridge plugged into "Captain," and when the green light went on:
"Chief pilot check-out—all x," he reported briefly.
"All x," acknowledged the speaker, and the chief pilot unplugged. Fifteen minutes remained, during which time one department head after another would report to the captain of the liner that everything in his charge was ready for the stupendous flight.
"All x, Steve?" Breckenridge turned to the computer. "How do you check acceleration and power with the observatory?"
"Not so good, old bean," the younger man frowned in thought. "They figure like astronomers, not navigators. They've made no allowances for anything, not even the reversal—and I figure four thousands for that and for minor detours. Then there's check station errors...."
"Check-station errors! Why, they're always right—that's what they're for!"
"Don't fool yourself—they've got troubles of their own, the same as anybody else. In fact, from a study of the charts of the last few weeks, I'm pretty sure that E2 is at least four thousand kilometers this side of where he thinks he is, that W41 is ten or twelve thousand beyond his station, and that they've both got a lateral displacement that's simply fierce. I'm going to check up, and argue with them about it as we pass. Then there's another thing—they figure to only two places, and we've got to have the third place almost solid if we expect to get a smooth curve. A hundredth of a centimeter of acceleration means a lot on a long trip when they're holding us as close as they are doing now. We'll ride this trip on 981.286 centimeters—with our scheduled mass, that means thirty six points of four seven kilofranks plus equilibrium power. All set to go," the computer stated, as he changed, by fractions of arc, the course-plotters of the automatic integrating goniometer.
"You're the doctor—but I'm glad it's you that'll have to explain to the observatory," and Breckenridge set his exceedingly delicate excess power potentiometer exactly upon the indicated figure. "Well, we've got a few minutes left for a chin-chin before we lift her off."
"What's all this commotion about? Dish out the low-down."
"Well, it's like this, Steve. We pilots are having one sweet time—we're being growled at on every trip. The management squawks if we're thirty seconds plus or minus at the terminals, and the passenger department squalls if we change acceleration five centimeters total en route—claims it upsets the dainty customers and loses business for the road. They're tightening up on us all the time. A couple of years ago, you remember, it didn't make any difference what we did with the acceleration as long as we checked in somewhere near zero time—we used to spin 'em dizzy when we reversed at the half-way station—but that kind of stuff doesn't go any more. We've got to hold the acceleration constant and close to normal, got to hold our schedule on zero, plus or minus ten seconds, and yet we've got to make any detours they tell us to, such as this seven-million kilometer thing they handed us just now. To make things worse, we've got to take orders at every check-station, and yet we get the blame for everything that happens as a consequence of obeying those orders! Of course, I know as well as you do that it's rotten technique to change acceleration at every check-station; but we've told 'em over and over that we can't do any better until they put a real computer on every ship and tell the check-stations to report meteorites and other obstructions to us and then to let us alone. So you'd better recommend us some computers!"
"You're getting rotten computation, that's a sure thing, and I don't blame you pilots for yelling, but I don't believe that you've got the right answer. I can't help but think that the astronomers are lying down on the job. They are so sure that you pilots are to blame that it hasn't occurred to them to check up on themselves very carefully. However, we'll know pretty quick, and then we'll take steps."
"I hope so—but say, Steve, I'm worried about using that much plus equilibrium power. Remember, we've got to hit M14 in absolutely good shape, or plenty heads will drop."
"I'll say they will. I know just how the passengers will howl if we hold them weightless for half an hour, waiting for those two moons to get out of the way, and I know just what the manager will do if we check in minus thirty-one minutes. Wow! He'll swell up and bust, sure. But don't worry, Breck—if we don't check in all right, anybody can have my head that wants it, and I'm taking full responsibility, you know."