- Author: Jr. John W. Campbell
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As Earth's faster-than-light spaceship hung in the void between galaxies, Arcot, Wade, Morey and Fuller could see below them, like a vast shining horizon, the mass of stars that formed their own island universe. Morey worked a moment with his slide rule, then said, "We made good time! Twenty-nine light years in ten seconds! Yet you had it on at only half power...."
Arcot pushed the control lever all the way to full power. The ship filled with the strain of flowing energy, and sparks snapped in the air of the control room as they raced at an inconceivable speed through the darkness of intergalactic space.
But suddenly, far off to their left and far to their right, they saw two shining ships paralleling their course! They held grimly to the course of the Earth ship, bracketing it like an official guard.
The Earth scientists stared at them in wonder. "Lord," muttered Morey, "where can they have come from?"
John W. Campbell first started writing in 1930 when his first short story, When the Atoms Failed, was accepted by a science-fiction magazine. At that time he was twenty years old and still a student at college. As the title of the story indicates, he was even at that time occupied with the significance of atomic energy and nuclear physics.
For the next seven years, Campbell, bolstered by a scientific background that ran from childhood experiments, to study at Duke University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wrote and sold science-fiction, achieving for himself an enviable reputation in the field.
In 1937 he became the editor of Astounding Stories magazine and applied himself at once to the task of bettering the magazine and the field of s-f writing in general. His influence on science-fiction since then has been great. Today he still remains as the editor of that magazine's evolved and redesigned successor, Analog.ISLANDS OF SPACE by JOHN W. CAMPBELL
ACE BOOKS, INC.
1120 Avenue of the Americas
New York, N.Y. 10036
ISLANDS OF SPACE
Copyright, 1956, by John W. Campbell, Jr.
Copyright, 1930, by Experimenter Publications, Inc.
An Ace Book, by arrangement with the author.
All Rights Reserved
Cover by McKeon
Also by John W. Campbell In Ace editions:
THE BLACK STAR PASSES (F-346)
THE MIGHTIEST MACHINE (F-364)
Printed in U.S.A.
In the early part of the Twenty Second Century, Dr. Richard Arcot, hailed as "the greatest living physicist", and Robert Morey, his brilliant mathematical assistant, discovered the so-called "molecular motion drive", which utilized the random energy of heat to produce useful motion.
John Fuller, designing engineer, helped the two men to build a ship which used the drive in order to have a weapon to seek out and capture the mysterious Air Pirate whose robberies were ruining Transcontinental Airways.
The Pirate, Wade, was a brilliant but neurotic chemist who had discovered, among other things, the secret of invisibility. Cured of his instability by modern psychomedical techniques, he was hired by Arcot to help build an interplanetary vessel to go to Venus.
The Venusians proved to be a humanoid race of people who used telepathy for communication. Although they were similar to Earthmen, their blue blood and double thumbs made them enough different to have caused distrust and racial friction, had not both planets been drawn together in a common bond of defense by the passing of the Black Star.
The Black Star, Nigra, was a dead, burned-out sun surrounded by a planetary system very much like our own. But these people had been forced to use their science to produce enough heat and light to stay alive in the cold, black depths of interstellar space. There was nothing evil or menacing in their attack on the Solar System; they simply wanted a star that gave off light and heat. So they attacked, not realizing that they were attacking beings equal in intelligence to themselves.
They were at another disadvantage, too. The Nigrans had spent long millennia fighting their environment and had had no time to fight among themselves, so they knew nothing of how to wage a war. The Earthmen and Venusians knew only too well, since they had a long history of war on each planet.
Inevitably, the Nigrans were driven back to the Black Star.[A]
The war was over. And things became dull. And the taste of adventure still remained on the tongues of Arcot, Wade, and Morey.
[A] See "The Black Star Passes", Ace Books, F-346.I
Three men sat around a table which was littered with graphs, sketches of mathematical functions, and books of tensor formulae. Beside the table stood a Munson-Bradley integraph calculator which one of the men was using to check some of the equations he had already derived. The results they were getting seemed to indicate something well above and beyond what they had expected.
And anything that surprised the team of Arcot, Wade, and Morey was surprising indeed.
The intercom buzzed, interrupting their work.
Dr. Richard Arcot reached over and lifted the switch. "Arcot speaking."
The face that flashed on the screen was businesslike and determined. "Dr. Arcot, Mr. Fuller is here. My orders are to check with you on all visitors."
Arcot nodded. "Send him up. But from now on, I'm not in to anyone but my father or the Interplanetary Chairman or the elder Mr. Morey. If they come, don't bother to call, just send 'em up. I will not receive calls for the next ten hours. Got it?"
"You won't be bothered, Dr. Arcot."
Arcot cut the circuit and the image collapsed.
Less than two minutes later, a light flashed above the door. Arcot touched the release, and the door slid aside. He looked at the man entering and said, with mock coldness:
"If it isn't the late John Fuller. What did you do—take a plane? It took you an hour to get here from Chicago."
Fuller shook his head sadly. "Most of the time was spent in getting past your guards. Getting to the seventy-fourth floor of the Transcontinental Airways Building is harder than stealing the Taj Mahal." Trying to suppress a grin, Fuller bowed low. "Besides, I think it would do your royal highness good to be kept waiting for a while. You're paid a couple of million a year to putter around in a lab while honest people work for a living. Then, if you happen to stub your toe over some useful gadget, they increase your pay. They call you scientists and spend the resources of two worlds to get you anything you want—and apologize if they don't get it within twenty-four hours.
"No doubt about it; it will do your majesties good to wait."
With a superior smile, he seated himself at the table and shuffled calmly through the sheets of equations before him.
Arcot and Wade were laughing, but not Robert Morey. With a sorrowful expression, he walked to the window and looked out at the hundreds of slim, graceful aircars that floated above the city.
"My friends," said Morey, almost tearfully, "I give you the great Dr. Arcot. These countless machines we see have come from one idea of his. Just an idea, mind you! And who worked it into mathematical form and made it calculable, and therefore useful? I did!
"And who worked out the math for the interplanetary ships? I did! Without me they would never have been built!" He turned dramatically, as though he were playing King Lear. "And what do I get for it?" He pointed an accusing finger at Arcot. "What do I get? He is called 'Earth's most brilliant physicist', and I, who did all the hard work, am referred to as 'his mathematical assistant'." He shook his head solemnly. "It's a hard world."
At the table, Wade frowned, then looked at the ceiling. "If you'd make your quotations more accurate, they'd be more trustworthy. The news said that Arcot was the 'System's most brilliant physicist', and that you were the 'brilliant mathematical assistant who showed great genius in developing the mathematics of Dr. Arcot's new theory'." Having delivered his speech, Wade began stoking his pipe.
Fuller tapped his fingers on the table. "Come on, you clowns, knock it off and tell me why you called a hard-working man away from his drafting table to come up to this play room of yours. What have you got up your sleeve this time?"
"Oh, that's too bad," said Arcot, leaning back comfortably in his chair. "We're sorry you're so busy. We were thinking of going out to see what Antares, Betelguese, or Polaris looked like at close range. And, if we don't get too bored, we might run over to the giant model nebula in Andromeda, or one of the others. Tough about your being busy; you might have helped us by designing the ship and earned your board and passage. Tough." Arcot looked at Fuller sadly.
Fuller's eyes narrowed. He knew Arcot was kidding, but he also knew how far Arcot would go when he was kidding—and this sounded like he meant it. Fuller said: "Look, teacher, a man named Einstein said that the velocity of light was tops over two hundred years ago, and nobody's come up with any counter evidence yet. Has the Lord instituted a new speed law?"
"Oh, no," said Wade, waving his pipe in a grand gesture of importance. "Arcot just decided he didn't like that law and made a new one himself."
"Now wait a minute!" said Fuller. "The velocity of light is a property of space!"
Arcot's bantering smile was gone. "Now you've got it, Fuller. The velocity of light, just as Einstein said, is a property of space. What happens if we change space?"
Fuller blinked. "Change space? How?"
Arcot pointed toward a glass of water sitting nearby. "Why do things look distorted through the water? Because the light rays are bent. Why are they bent? Because as each wave front moves from air to water, it slows down. The electromagnetic and gravitational fields between those atoms are strong enough to increase the curvature of the space between them. Now, what happens if we reverse that effect?"
"Oh," said Fuller softly. "I get it. By changing the curvature of the space surrounding you, you could get any velocity you wanted. But what about acceleration? It would take years to reach those velocities at any acceleration a man could stand."
Arcot shook his head. "Take a look at the glass of water again. What happens when the light comes out of the water? It speeds up again instantaneously. By changing the space around a spaceship, you instantaneously change the velocity of the ship to a comparable velocity in that space. And since every particle is accelerated at the same rate, you wouldn't feel it, any more than you'd feel the acceleration due to gravity in free fall."
Fuller nodded slowly. Then, suddenly, a light gleamed in his eyes. "I suppose you've figured out where you're going to get the energy to power a ship like that?"
"He has," said Morey. "Uncle Arcot isn't the type to forget a little detail like that."
"Okay, give," said Fuller.
Arcot grinned and lit up his own pipe, joining Wade in an attempt to fill the room with impenetrable fog.
"All right," Arcot began, "we needed two things: a tremendous source of power and a way to store it.
"For the first, ordinary atomic energy wouldn't do. It's not controllable enough and uranium isn't something we could carry by the ton. So I began working with high-density currents.
"At the temperature of liquid helium, near absolute zero, lead becomes a nearly perfect conductor. Back in nineteen twenty, physicists had succeeded in making a current flow for four hours in a closed circuit. It was just a ring of lead, but the resistance was so low