Murray Leinster.

The Wailing Asteroid online

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They went out of the ship and through the metal door with rounded
corners. They went along the long corridor with the seeming river of
light-tubes in its ceiling. They passed the doorway of the great room
which had held the globes. It looked singularly empty, now.

On the next level they passed the mess-halls and bunk-rooms, and on the
third the batteries of grisly weapons which could hurl enormous charges
of electricity at a chosen target, if the target could be ranged. They
went on up into the instrument-room by the final flight of stairs.

They settled down there. That is, they did not leave. But far too much
depended on the next hour or less for anybody to be truly still in
either mind or body. Holmes paced jerkily back and forth, his eyes on
the vision-screens that now relayed what the observer-globes with the
globe-fleet saw.

For a long time they gazed at the emptiness of deepest space. The
picture was of an all-encompassing wall of tiny flecks of light.
They did not move. They did not change. They did not waver. The
observer-globes reported from nothingness, and they reported nothing.

Except one item. There were fewer red specks of light and more blue
ones. There were some which were distinctly violet. The globes had
attained a velocity so close to the speed of light that no available
added power could have pushed them the last fraction of one per cent
faster. But they had no monstrous mass-fields to change the constants
of space and let them travel more swiftly. The Enemy ships did. But
there was no sign of them. There could be none except on such a
detector as the instrument-room had in its ten-foot transparent disk.

Time passed, and passed. And passed. Finally, Burke broke the silence.

"Of course the globes don't have to make direct hits. We hope! If
they multiply the gravity-field that hits them and shoot it back hard
enough, it ought to burn out the gravity-generators in the ships."

There was no answer. Pam watched the screens and bit nervously at her

Seconds went by. Minutes. Tens of minutes....

"I fear," said Keller with some difficulty, "that something is wrong.
Perhaps I erred in adjusting the globes - "

If he had made a mistake, of course, the globe-fleet would be useless.
It wouldn't stop the Enemy. It wouldn't do anything, and in a very
short time the sun and all its planets would erupt with insensate
violence, and all the solar system would shatter itself to burning
bits - and the Enemy fleet would be speeding away faster than exploding
matter could possibly follow it.

Then, without warning, a tiny bluish line streaked across one of the
screens. A second. A third-fourth-fifth-twentieth-fiftieth - The screens
came alive with flashing streaks of blue-green light.

Then something blew. A sphere of violet light appeared on one of the
screens. Instantly, it was followed by others with such rapidity that
it was impossible to tell which followed which. But there were ten of

The silence in the instrument-room was absolute. Burke tried vainly to
imagine what had actually happened. The Enemy fleet had been traveling
at thirty times the speed of light, which was only possible because of
its artificial mass which changed the properties of space to permit it.
And then the generators and maintainers of that artificial mass blew
out. The ships stopped - so suddenly, so instantly, so absolutely that a
millionth part of a second would have been a thousand times longer than
the needed interval.

The energy of that enormous speed had to be dissipated. The ships
exploded as nothing had ever exploded before. Even a super-nova would
not detonate with such violence. The substance of the Enemy ships
destroyed itself not merely by degenerating to raw atoms, but by the
atoms destroying themselves. And not merely did the atoms fly apart,
but the neutrons and protons and electrons of which they were composed
ceased to exist. Nothing was left but pure energy - violet light. And it

Then there was nothing at all. What was left of the globe-fleet went
hurtling uselessly onward through space. It would go on and on and
on. It would reach the edge of the galaxy and go on, and perhaps in
thousands of millions of years some one or two or a dozen of the
surviving spheres might penetrate some star-cloud millions of millions
of light-years away.

In a pleased voice, Keller said, "I think everything is all right now."

And Sandy went all to pieces. She clung to Burke, weeping
uncontrollably, holding herself close to him while she sobbed.

On Earth, of course, there was no such eccentric jubilation. It was
observed that crawling red sparks in the gravity-field detectors winked
out. As hours and days went by, it was noticed that the solar system
continued to exist, and that people stayed alive. It became evident
that some part of the terror some people had felt was baseless. And
naturally there was much resentment against Burke because he had caused
so many people so much agitation.

Within two weeks a fleet of small plastic ships hurtled upward from
the vicinity of Earth's north magnetic pole and presently steadied on
course toward the fortress asteroid. Burke was informed severely that
he should prepare to receive the scientists they carried. He would be
expected to coöperate fully in their investigations.

He grinned when Pam handed him the written sheet.

"It's outrageous!" snapped Sandy. "It's ridiculous! They ought to get
down on their knees to you, Joe, to thank you for what you've done!"

Burke shook his head.

"I don't think I'd like that. Neither would you. We'll make out, Sandy.
There'll be a colony started on that world the matter-transposer links
us to. It might be fun living there. What say?"

Sandy grumbled. But she looked at him with soft eyes.

"I'd rather be mixed up with - what you might call pioneers," said
Burke, "than people with reputations to defend and announced theories
that are going to turn out to be all wrong. The research in this
fortress and on that planet will make some red faces, on Earth. And
there's another thing."

"What?" asked Sandy.

"This war we've inherited without doing anything to deserve it," said
Burke. "In fact, the Enemy. We haven't the least idea what they're
like or anything at all about them except that they go off somewhere
and spend a few thousand years cooking up something lethal to throw at
us. They tired out our ancestors. If they'd only known it, they won
the war by default. Our ancestors moved away to let the Enemy have its
own way about this part of the galaxy, anyhow. And judging by past
performances, the Enemy will just stew somewhere until they think of
something more dangerous than artificial sun-masses riding through our
solar systems."

"Well?" she demanded. "What's to be done about that?"

"With the right sort of people around," said Burke meditatively, "we
could do a little contriving of our own. And we could get a ship ready
and think about looking them up and pinning their ears back in their
own bailiwick, instead of waiting for them to take pot-shots at us."

Sandy nodded gravely. She was a woman. She hadn't the faintest idea
of ever letting Burke take off into space again if she could help
it - unless, perhaps, for one occasion when she would show herself off
in a veil and a train, gloating.

But it had taken the Enemy a very long time to concoct this last method
of attack. When the time came to take the offensive against them, at
least a few centuries would have passed. Five or six, anyhow. So Sandy
did not protest against an idea that wouldn't result in action for some
hundreds of years. Argument about Burke's share in such an enterprise
could wait.

So Sandy kissed him.

* * * * *

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Online LibraryMurray LeinsterThe Wailing Asteroid → online text (page 14 of 14)