Murray Leinster.

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to assure everybody that now the plague would cease since somebody had
been killed for spreading it.

Organizations came into being with the official and impassioned purpose
of seeing that space research ceased immediately. Even more violent
organizations demanded the punishment of everybody who had ever
considered space travel a desirable thing. Congress cut some hundreds
of millions from a guided-missile-space-exploration appropriation as
a starter. A poor devil of a crackpot in Santa Monica, California,
revealed what he said was a spaceship he'd built in his back yard
to answer the signals from M-387. He intended to charge a quarter
admission to inspect it, using the money to complete the drive
apparatus. The thing was built of plywood and could not conceivably
lift off the ground, but a mob wrecked his house, burned the puerile
"spaceship" and would have lynched its builder if they'd thought to
look in a cellar vegetable closet. Other crackpots who were more
sensitive to public feelings announced the picking up of messages
addressed to the distant Something. The messages, said this second
class of crackpot, were reports from spies who had been landed on Earth
from flying saucers during the past few decades. They did not explain
how they were able to translate them. A rush of flying-saucer sightings
followed inevitably - alleged to be landing-parties from M-387 - and in
Peoria, Illinois, a picnicking party sighted an unidentified flying
object shaped like a soup spoon, the handle obviously being its tail.
Experienced newspapermen anticipated reports of the sighting of
unidentified flying objects shaped like knives and forks as soon as
somebody happened to think of it.

Sandy called a conference on the subject of security. She did not look
well, nowadays. She worried. Other people thought about the messages
from space, but Sandy had to think of something more concrete. Six
months earlier, the construction going on within a plaster of Paris
mould would have been laughed at, tolerantly, and some hopeful people
might have been respectful about it. But now it was something utterly
intolerable to public opinion. Newspapers who'd lost circulation by
talking sanely about space travel now got it back by denouncing the
people who'd answered the first broadcast. And naturally, with the
whole idea of outer space agitatedly disapproved, everybody connected
with it was suspected of subversion.

"A reporter called up today," said Sandy. "He said he'd like to do a
feature story on Burke Development's new research triumph - the new
guided missile that flew thirty miles and froze everything around where
it landed. I said it fell out of an aeroplane and the last completed
project was for Interiors, Inc. Then he said that he'd been talking to
one of Mr. Holmes' men and the man said something terrific was under
way."

Burke looked uneasy. Holmes said uncomfortably, "There's no law against
what we're building, but somebody may introduce a bill in Congress any
day."

"That would be reasonable under other circumstances. There's a time for
things to be discovered. They shouldn't be accomplished too soon. But
the time for the ship out there is right now!" Burke said.

Pam raised her eyebrows. "Yes?"

"Those signals have to be checked up on," explained Burke. "It's
necessary now. But it could have been bad if our particular enterprise
had started, say, two years ago. Just think what would have happened
if atomic fission had been worked out in peacetime ten years before
World War Two! Scientific discoveries were published then as a matter
of course. Everybody'd have known how to make atom bombs. Hitler would
have had them, and so would Mussolini. How many of us would be alive?"

Sandy interrupted, "The reporter wants to do a feature story on what
Burke Development is making. I said you were working on a bomb shelter
for quantity production. He asked if the rocket you shot off through
the construction-shed wall was part of it. I said there'd been no
rocket fired. He didn't believe me."

"Who would?" asked Holmes.

"Hmmmmm," said Burke. "Tell him to come look at what we're doing. The
ship can pass for a bomb shelter. The wall-garden units make sense.
I'm going to dig a big hole in the morning to test the drive-shaft in.
It'll look like I intend to bury everything. A bomb shelter should be
buried."

"You mean you'll let him inside?" demanded Sandy.

"Sure!" said Burke. "All inventors are expected to be idiots. A lot of
them are. He'll think I'm making an impossibly expensive bomb shelter,
much too costly for a private family to buy. It will be typical of the
inventive mind as reporters think of it. Anyhow, everybody's always
willing to believe other people fools. That'll do the trick!"

Pam said blandly, "Sandy and I live in a boardinghouse, Joe. You don't
ask about such things, but an awfully nice man moved in a couple of
days ago - right after that shaft got away and went flying thirty miles
all by itself. The nice man has been trying to get acquainted."

Holmes growled, and looked both startled and angry when he realized it.

Pam added cheerfully, "Most evenings I've been busy, but I think I'll
let him take me to the movies. Just so I can make us all out to be
idiots," she added.

"I'll make the hole big enough to be convincing," said Burke. "Sandy,
you make inquiries for a rigger to lift and move the bomb shelter into
its hole when it's ready. If we seem about to bury it, nobody should
suspect us of ambitions they won't like."

"Why the hole, really?" asked Sandy.

"To put the shaft in," said Burke. "I've got to get it under control or
it won't be anything more than a bomb shelter."

Keller, the instrument man, had listened with cheerful interest and
without speaking a word. Now he made an indefinite noise and looked
inquiringly at Burke. Burke said, explanatorily, "The shaft seems to
be either on or off - either a magnet that doesn't quite magnetize, or
something that's hell on wheels. It flew thirty miles without enough
power supplied to it to make it quiver. That power came from somewhere.
I think there's a clue in the fact that it froze everything around
where it landed, in spite of traveling fast enough to heat up from
air-friction alone. I've got some ideas about it."

Keller nodded. Then he said urgently, "Broadcast?"

Burke frowned, and turned to Sandy. "That's part of the broadcast from
space that changes - is it still changing?"

"Still changing," said Sandy.

"I didn't think to ask you to keep a check on that. Thanks for thinking
of it, Sandy. Maybe someday I can make up to you for what you've been
going through."

"I doubt it very much," said Sandy grimly. "I'll call the reporter
back."

She waited for them to leave. When they'd gone, she moved purposefully
toward the telephone.

Pam said, "Did you hear that growl when I said I'd go to the movies
with somebody else? I'm having fun, Sandy!"

"I'm not," said Sandy.

"You're too efficient," the younger sister said candidly. "You're
indispensable. Burke couldn't begin to be able to put this thing
through without you. And that's the trouble. You should be irresistible
instead of essential."

"Not with Joe," said Sandy bitterly.

She picked up the telephone to call the newspaper. Pam looked very,
very reflective.

There was a large deep pit close by the plaster mould when the reporter
came next afternoon. A local rigger had come a little earlier and
was still there, estimating the cost for lifting up the contents of
the mould and lowering it precisely in place to be buried as a bomb
shelter under test should be. It was a fortunate coincidence, because
the reporter brought two other men who he said were civilian defense
officials. They had come to comment on the quality of the bomb shelter
under development. It was not too convincing a statement.

When they left, Burke was not happy. They knew too much about the
materials and equipment he'd ordered. One man had let slip the fact
that he knew about the very expensive computer Burke had bought. It
could have no conceivable use in a bomb shelter. Both men painstakingly
left it to Burke to mention the thirty-mile flight of a bronze object
which arrived coated with frost of such utter frigidity that it
appeared to be liquid-air snow instead of water-ice. Burke did not
mention it. He was excessively uneasy when the reporter's car took them
away.

He went into the office. Pam was in the midst of a fit of the giggles.

"One of them," she explained, "is the nice man who moved into the
boardinghouse. He wants to take me to the movies. Did you notice that
they came when it ought to be my lunchtime? He asked when I went to
lunch ..."

Holmes came in. He scowled.

"One of my men says that one of those characters has been buying him
drinks and asking questions about what we're doing."

Burke scowled too.

"We can let your men go home in three days more."

"I'm going to start loading up," Holmes announced abruptly. "You don't
know how to stow stuff. You're not a yachtsman."

"I haven't got the shaft under control yet," said Burke.

"You'll get it," grunted Holmes.

He went out. Pam giggled again.

"He doesn't want me to go to the movies with the nice man from
Security," she told Burke. "But I think I'd better. I'll let him ply me
with popcorn and innocently let slip that Sandy and I know you've been
warned that bomb shelters won't find a mass market unless they sell for
less than the price of an extra bathroom. But if you want to go broke
we don't care."

"Give me three days more," said Burke harassedly.

"Well try," said Sandy suddenly. "Pam can fix up a double date with one
of her friend's friends and we'll both work on them."

Burke frowned absorbedly and went out. Sandy looked indignant. He
hadn't protested.

Burke got Holmes' four workmen out of the ship and had them help him
roll the bronze shaft to the pit and let it down onto a cradle of
timbers. Now if it moved it would have to penetrate solid earth.

The most trivial of computations showed that when the bronze shaft had
flown thirty miles, it hadn't done it on the energy of a condenser
shorted through its coils. The energy had come from somewhere else.
Burke had an idea where it was.

Presently he verified it. The cores and windings he'd adapted from a
transparent hand-weapon seen in an often-repeated dream - those cores
and windings did not make electromagnets. They made something for
which there was not yet a name. When current flows through a standard
electromagnet, the poles of its atoms are more or less aligned. They
tend to point in a single direction. But in this arrangement of wires
and iron no magnetism resulted, yet, the random motion of the atoms in
their framework of crystal structure was coördinated. In any object
above absolute zero all the atoms and their constituent electrons and
nuclei move constantly in all directions. In such a core as Burke had
formed and repeated along the shaft's length, they all tried to move
in one direction at the same time. Simultaneously, a terrific surge of
current appeared in the coils. A high-speed poleward velocity developed
in all the substance of the shaft. It was the heat-energy contained
in the metal, all turned instantly into kinetic energy. And when its
heat-energy was transformed to something else, the shaft got cold.

Once this fact was understood, control was easy. A single variable
inductance in series with the windings handled everything. In a certain
sense, the gadget was a magnet with negative - minus - self-inductance.
When a plus inductance in series made the self-inductance zero,
neither plus nor minus, the immensely powerful device became docile.
A small current produced a mild thrust, affecting only part of the
random heat-motion of atoms and molecules. A stronger current produced
a greater one. The resemblance to an electromagnet remained. But
the total inductance must stay close to zero or utterly violent and
explosive forward thrust would develop, and it was calculable only in
thousands of gravities.

Burke had worked for three weeks to make the thing, but he developed a
control system for it in something under four hours.

That same night they got the bronze shaft into the ship. It fitted
perfectly into the place left for it. Burke knew now exactly what he
was doing. He set up his controls. He was able to produce so minute a
thrust that the lath-and-plaster mould merely creaked and swayed. But
he knew that he could make the whole mass surge unstoppably from its
place.

Holmes sent his workmen home. Sandy and Pam went to the movies with
two very nice men who pumped them deftly of all sorts of erroneous
information about Burke and Holmes and Keller and what they were about.
The nice men did not believe that information, but they did believe
that Sandy and Pam believed it. For themselves, the combination of
an object made by Burke which flew thirty miles plus the presence of
Holmes, who built plastic yachts, and the arrival of Keller to adjust
instruments of which they had a complete list - these things could not
be overlooked. But they did feel sorry for two nice and not over-bright
girls who might be involved in very serious trouble.

Holmes and Burke installed directional controls, wiring, recording
instruments, etc. Stores and water and oxygen, for emergency use only,
went into the lath-and-plaster construction. Holmes took a hammer and
chisel and painstakingly cracked the mould so that the top half could
be lifted off, leaving the bottom half exposed to the open air and sky.

Then the broadcast from space cut off. It had been coming continuously
for something like five weeks; one sharp, monotonous note every two
seconds, with a longer, fluting broadcast every seventy-nine minutes.
Now a third, new message began. It was yet another grouping of the
musical tones, with a much longer interval of specific crackling
sounds.

Keller had adjusted every instrument and zestfully retested them over
and over. Burke asked him to see if the third space message compared
in any way with the second. Keller put them through a hook-up of
instruments, beaming to himself, and the answer began to appear.

Newspapers burst into new headlines. "_Ultimatum from Space_" they
thundered. "_Threats from Alien Space Travelers._" And as they
presented the situation it seemed believable that the third message
from the void was a threat.

The first had been a call, requiring an answer. When the answer went
out from Earth, a second message replaced the call. It contained not
only flute tones which might be considered to represent words, but
cracklings which might be the equivalent of numbers. The continuous
beepings between repetitions of the second message were plainly a
directional signal to be followed to the message source.

In this context, the newspapers furiously asserted that the third
message was a threat. The first had been merely a summons, the second
had been a command to repair to the signaling entities, and the third
was a stern reiteration of the command, reinforced by threats.

The human race does not take kindly to threats, especially when
it feels helpless. In the United States, there was such explosive
resentment as to require spread-eagle oratory by all public figures.
The President declared that every space missile in store had been
fitted with atomic-fusion warheads and that any alien spacecraft which
appeared in American skies would be shot down immediately. Congress
reported out of committee a bill for rocket weapons which was stalled
for six days because every senator and representative wanted to make a
speech in its favor. It was the largest appropriation bill ever passed
by Congress, which less than five weeks before had cut two hundred
millions out of a guided-missile-space-exploration budget.

And in Europe there was frenzy.

For Burke and Holmes and Sandy and Pam and the smiling, inarticulate
Keller, the matter was deadly serious. Fury such as the public felt
constituted a witch-hunt in itself. Suspicious private persons
overwhelmed the FBI and the Space Agency with information about
characters they were sure were giving military secrets to the
space travelers on M-387. There were reports of aliens skulking
about American cities wearing luxuriant whiskers and dark glasses
to conceal their non-human features. Artists, hermits, and mere
amateur beard-growers found it wise to shave, and spirit mediums,
fortunetellers and, in the South, herb doctors reaped harvests by the
sale of ominous predictions and infallible advice on how to escape
annihilation from space.

And Burke Development, Inc., was building something that neither
Civilian Defense nor the FBI believed was a bomb shelter.

The three days Burke had needed passed. A fourth. He and Holmes
practically abandoned sleep to get everything finished inside the
plaster mould. Keller happily completed his graphs and took them to
Burke. They showed that the cracklings, which presumably meant numbers,
had been expanded. What they said was now told on a new scale. If the
numbers had meant months or years, they now meant days and hours. If
they had meant millions of miles, they now meant thousands or hundreds.

Burke was struggling with these implications when there was a tapping
at the air-lock, through which all entry and egress from the ship took
place. Holmes opened the inner door. Sandy and Pam crawled through the
lock which lay on its side instead of upright. Sandy looked at Burke.

Pam said amiably, "We figured the job was about finished and we wanted
to see it. How do you fasten this door?"

Holmes showed her. The vessel that had been built inside the mould
did not seem as large as the outside structure promised. It looked
queer, too, because everything lay on its side. There were two
compartments with a ladder between, but the ladder lay on the floor.
The wall-gardens looked healthy under the fluorescent lamps which kept
the grass and vegetation flourishing. There were instrument dials
everywhere.

Sandy went to Burke's side.

"We're all but done," said Burke tiredly, "and Keller's just about
proved what the signals are."

"Can we go with you?" asked Sandy.

"Of course not," said Burke. "The first message was a distress call. It
had to be. Only in a distress call would somebody go into details so
any listener would know it was important. It called for help and said
who needed it, and why, and where."

Pam turned to Holmes. "Can that air-lock be opened from outside?"

It couldn't. Not when it was fastened, as now.

"Somebody answered that call from Earth," said Burke heavily, "and the
second message told more about what was wrong. The clickings, we think,
are numbers that told how long help could be waited for, or something
on that order. And then there was a beacon signal meant to lead whoever
was coming to help to that place."

Keller smiled pleasantly at Pam. He made an electrical connection and
zestfully checked the result.

"Now there's a third message," said Burke. "Time's running out for
whoever needs whatever help is called for. The clickings that seem
to be numbers have changed. The - what you might call the scale of
reportage - is new. They're telling us just how long they can wait or
just how bad their situation is. They're saying that time is running
out and they're saying, 'Hurry!'"

There was a thumping sound. Only Sandy and Pam looked unsurprised.
Burke stared.

Sandy said firmly, "That's the police, Joe. We've been going to the
movies with people who want to talk about you. Yesterday one of them
confided to us that you were dangerous, and since he told us to get
away from the office, we did. There might be shooting. He tipped us a
little while ago."

Burke swore. There were other thumpings. Louder ones. They were on the
air-lock door.

"If you try to put us out," said Sandy calmly, "you'll have to open
that door and they'll try to fight their way in - and then where'll you
be?"

Keller turned from the checking of the last instrument He looked at the
others with excited eyes. He waited.

"I don't know what they can arrest you for," said Sandy, "and maybe
they don't either, unless it's unauthorized artillery practice. But you
can't put us out! And you know darn well that unless you do something
they'll chop their way in!"

Burke said, "Dammit, they're not going to stop me from finding out if
this thing works!"

He squirmed in a chair which had its base firmly fastened to a wall and
began to punch buttons.

"Hold fast!" he said angrily. "At least we'll see...."

There were loud snapping sounds. There were creakings. The room
stirred. It turned in a completely unbelievable fashion. Violent
crashings sounded outside. Abruptly, a small television screen before
Burke acquired an image. It was of the outside world reeling wildly.
Holmes seized a hand-hold and grabbed Pam. He kept her from falling
as a side wall became the floor, and what had been the floor became a
side wall, with the ceiling another. It seemed that all the cosmos
changed, though only walls and floors changed places.

Suddenly everything seemed normal but new. The surface underfoot was
covered with a rubber mat. The hydroponic wall-garden sections were
now vertical. Burke sat upright, and something over his head rotated a
half-turn and was still. But it became coated with frost.

More crashes. More small television screens acquired images. They
showed the office of Burke Development, Inc., against a tilted
landscape. The landscape leveled. Another showed the construction shed.
One showed cloud formations, very bright and distinct. And two others
showed a small, armed, formidable body of men instinctively backing
away from the outside television lens.

"So far," said Burke, "it works. Now - "

There was a sensation as of a rapidly rising elevator. Such a sensation
usually lasts for part of a second. This kept on. One of the six
television screens suddenly showed a view of Burke Development from
straight overhead. The buildings and men and the four-acre enclosure
dwindled rapidly. They were very tiny indeed and nearly all of the town
was in the camera's field of vision when a vague whiteness, a cloud,
moved in between.

"The devil!" said Burke. "Now they'll alert fighter planes and rocket
installations and decide that we're either traitors or aliens in
disguise and better be shot down. I think we simply have to go on!"

Keller made gestures, his eyes bright. Burke looked worried.

"It shouldn't take more than ten minutes to get a Nike aloft and after
us. We must have been picked up by radar already.... We'll head north.
We have to, anyhow."

But he was wrong about the ten minutes. It was fifteen before a rocket
came into view, pouring out enormous masses of drive-fumes. It flung
itself toward the ship.




Chapter 5


From a sufficient height and a sufficient distance, the rocket's
repeated attacks must have appeared like the strikings and twistings of
a gigantic snake. It left behind it a writhing trail of fumes which was
convincingly serpentine. It climbed and struck, and climbed and struck,
like a monstrous python flinging itself furiously at some invisible
prey. Six, seven, eight times it plunged frenziedly at the minute
egg-shaped ship which scuttled for the heavens. Each time it missed and
writhed about to dart again.

Then its fuel gave out and for all intents and purposes it ceased to
exist. The thick, opaque trail it left behind began to dissipate.
The path of vapor scattered. It spread to rags and tatters of
unsubstantiality through which the rocket plummeted downward in the
long fall which is a spent rocket's ending.

Burke cautiously cut down the drive and awkwardly turned the ship on
its side, heading it toward the north. The state of things inside the
ship was one of intolerable tenseness.

"I'm a new driver," said Burke, "and that was a tough bit of driving to
do." He glanced at the exterior-pressure meter. "There's no air outside
to register. We must be fifty or sixty miles high and maybe still
rising. But we're not leaking air."

Actually the plastic ship was eighty miles up. The sunlit world beneath
it showed white patches of cloud in patterns a meteorologist would
have found interesting. Burke could see the valley of the St. Lawrence
River between the white areas. But the Earth's surface was curiously
foreshortened. What was beneath seemed utterly flat, and at the edge of
the world all appeared distorted and unreal.

Holmes, still pale, asked, "How'd we get away from that rocket?"

"We accelerated," said Burke. "It was a defensive rocket. It was


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