Chapter 9: The Welcome to Norlamin
Copyright© 2012 by E. E. Smith (Edward Elmer)
The Skylark was now days upon her way toward the sixth planet, Seaton gave the visiplates and the instrument board his customary careful scrutiny and rejoined the others.
"Still talking about the human fish, Dottie Dimple?" he asked, as he stoked his villainous pipe. "Peculiar tribe of porpoises, but I'm strong for 'em. They're the most like our own kind of folks, as far as ideas go, of anybody we've seen yet--in fact, they're more like us than a lot of human beings we all know."
"I like them immensely--"
"You couldn't like 'em any other way, their size--"
"Terrible, Dick, terrible! Easy as I am, I can't stand for any such joke as that was going to be. But really, I think they're just perfectly fine, in spite of their being so funny-looking. Mrs. Carfon is just simply sweet, even if she does look like a walrus, and that cute little seal of a baby was just too perfectly cunning for words. That boy Seven is keen as mustard, too."
"He should be," put in Crane, dryly. "He probably has as much intelligence now as any one of us."
"Do you think so?" asked Margaret. "He acted like any other boy, but he did seem to understand things remarkably well."
"He would--they're 'way ahead of us in most things." Seaton glanced at the two women quizzically and turned to Crane. "And as for their being bald, this was one time, Mart, when those two phenomenal heads of hair our two little girl-friends are so proud of didn't make any kind of hit at all. They probably regard that black thatch of Peg's and Dot's auburn mop as relics of a barbarous and prehistoric age--about as we would regard the hirsute hide of a Neanderthal man."
"That may be so, too," Dorothy replied, unconcernedly, "but we aren't planning on living there, so why worry about it? I like them, anyway, and I believe that they like us."
"They acted that way. But say, Mart, if that planet is so old that all their land area has been eroded away, how come they've got so much water left? And they've got quite an atmosphere, too."
"The air-pressure," said Crane, "while greater than that now obtaining upon Earth, was probably of the order of magnitude of three meters of mercury, originally. As to the erosion, they might have had more water to begin with than our Earth had."
"Yeah, that'd account for it, all right," said Dorothy.
"There's one thing I want to ask you two scientists," Margaret said. "Everywhere we've gone, except on that one world that Dick thinks is a wandering planet, we've found the intelligent life quite remarkably like human beings. How do you account for that?"
"There, Mart, is one for the massive old bean to concentrate on," challenged Seaton: then, as Crane considered the question in silence for some time he went on: "I'll answer it myself, then, by asking another. Why not? Why shouldn't they be? Remember, man is the highest form of earthly life--at least, in our own opinion and as far as we know. In our wanderings, we have picked out planets quite similar to our own in point of atmosphere and temperature and, within narrow limits, of mass as well. It stands to reason that under such similarity of conditions, there would be a certain similarity of results. How about it, Mart? Reasonable?"
"It seems plausible, in a way," conceded Crane, "but it probably is not universally true."
"Sure not--couldn't be, hardly. No doubt we could find a lot of worlds inhabited by all kinds of intelligent things--freaks that we can't even begin to imagine now--but they probably would be occupying planets entirely different from ours in some essential feature of atmosphere, temperature, or mass."
"But the Fenachrone world is entirely different," Dorothy argued, "and they're more or less human--they're bipeds, anyway, with recognizable features. I've been studying that record with you, you know, and their world has so much more mass than ours that their gravitation is simply frightful!"
"That much difference is comparatively slight, not a real fundamental difference. I meant a hundred or so times either way--greater or less. And even their gravitation has modified their structure a lot--suppose it had been fifty times as great as it is? What would they have been like? Also, their atmosphere is very similar to ours in composition, and their temperature is bearable. It is my opinion that atmosphere and temperature have more to do with evolution than anything else, and that the mass of the planet runs a poor third."
"You may be right," admitted Crane, "but it seems to me that you are arguing from insufficient premises."
"Sure I am--almost no premises at all. I would be just about as well justified in deducing the structure of a range of mountains from a superficial study of three pebbles picked up in a creek near them. However, we can get an idea some time, when we have a lot of time."
"Remember that planet we struck on the first trip, that had an atmosphere composed mostly of gaseous chlorin? In our ignorance we assumed that life there was impossible, and didn't stop. Well, it may be just as well that we didn't. If we go back there, protected as we are with our rays and stuff, it wouldn't surprise me a bit to find life there, and lots of it--and I've got a hunch that it'll be a form of life that'd make your grandfather's whiskers curl right up into a ball!"
"You do get the weirdest ideas, Dick!" protested Dorothy. "I hope you aren't planning on exploring it, just to prove your point?"
"Never thought of it before. Can't do it now, anyway--got our hands full already. However, after we get this Fenachrone mess cleaned up we'll have to do just that little thing, won't we, Mart? As that intellectual guy said while he was insisting upon dematerializing us, 'Science demands it.'"
"By all means. We should be in a position to make contributions to science in fields as yet untouched. Most assuredly we shall investigate those points."
"Then they'll go alone, won't they, Peggy?"
"Absolutely! We've seen some pretty middling horrible things already, and if these two men of ours call the frightful things we have seen normal, and are planning on deliberately hunting up things that even they will consider monstrous, you and I most certainly shall stay at home!"
"Yeah? You say it easy. Bounce back, Peg, you've struck a rubber fence! Rufus, you red-headed little fraud, you know you wouldn't let me go to the corner store after a can of tobacco without insisting on tagging along!"
"You're a..." began Dorothy hotly, but broke off in amazement and gasped, "For Heaven's sake, what was that?"
"What was what? It missed me."
"It went right through you! It was a kind of funny little cloud, like smoke or something. It came right through the ceiling like a flash--went right through you and on down through the floor. There it comes back again!"
Before their staring eyes a vague, nebulous something moved rapidly upward through the floor and passed upward through the ceiling. Dorothy leaped to Seaton's side and he put his arm around her reassuringly.
"'Sall right folks--I know what that thing is."
"Well, shoot it, quick!" Dorothy implored.
"It's one of those projections from where we're heading for, trying to get our range; and it's the most welcome sight these weary old eyes have rested upon for full many a long and dreary moon. They've probably located us from our power-plant rays. We're an awful long ways off yet, though, and going like a streak of greased lightning, so they're having trouble in holding us. They're friendly, we already know that--they probably want to talk to us. It'd make it easier for them if we'd shut off our power and drift at constant velocity, but we'd use up valuable time and throw our calculations all out of whack. We'll let them try to match our acceleration If they can do that, they're good."
The apparition reappeared, oscillating back and forth irregularly--passing through the arenak walls, through the furniture and the instrument boards, and even through the mighty power-plant itself, as though nothing was there. Eventually, however, it remained stationary a foot or so above the floor of the control-room. Then it began to increase in density until apparently a man stood before them. His skin, like that of all the inhabitants of the planets of the green suns, was green. He was tall and well-proportioned when judged by Earthly standards, except for his head, which was overly large, and which was particularly massive above the eyes and backward from the ears. He was evidently of great age, for what little of his face was visible was seamed and wrinkled, and his long, thick mane of hair and his square-cut, yard-long beard were a dazzling white, only faintly tinged with green.
While not in any sense transparent, nor even translucent, it was evident that the apparition before them was not composed of flesh and blood. He looked at each of the four Earth-beings intensely for a moment, then pointed toward the table upon which stood the mechanical educator, and Seaton placed it in front of the peculiar visitor. As Seaton donned a headset and handed one to the stranger, the latter stared at him, impressing upon his consciousness that he was to be given a knowledge of English. Seaton pressed the lever, receiving as he did so a sensation of an unbroken calm, a serenity profound and untroubled, and the projection spoke.
"Dr. Seaton, Mr. Crane, and ladies--welcome to Norlamin, the planet toward which you are now flying. We have been awaiting you for more than five thousand years of your time. It has been a mathematical certainty--it has been graven upon the very Sphere itself--that in time someone would come to us from without this system, bringing a portion, however small, of Rovolon--of the metal of power, of which there is not even the most minute trace in our entire solar system. For more than five thousand years our instruments have been set to detect the vibrations which would herald the advent of the user of that metal. Now you have come, and I perceive that you have vast stores of it. Being yourselves seekers after truth, you will share it with us gladly as we will instruct you in many things you wish to know. Allow me to operate the educator--I would gaze into your minds and reveal my own to your sight. But first I must tell you that your machine is too rudimentary to work at all well, and with your permission I shall make certain minor alterations."
Seaton nodded permission, and from the eyes and from the hands of the figure there leaped visible streams of force, which seized the transformers, coils and tubes, and reformed and reconnected them, under Seaton's bulging eyes, into an entirely different mechanism.
"Oh, I see!" he gasped. "Say, what are you anyway?"
"Pardon me; in my eagerness I became forgetful. I am Orlon, the First of Astronomy of Norlamin, in my observatory upon the surface of the planet. This that you see is simply my projection, composed of forces for which you have no name in your language. You can cut it off, if you wish, with your ray-screens, which even I can see are of a surprisingly high order of efficiency. There, this educator will now work very well. Please put on the remodeled headsets, all four of you."
They did so, and the rays of force moved levers, switches, and dials as positively as human hands could have moved them, and with infinitely greater speed and precision. As the dials moved, each brain received clearly and plainly a knowledge of the customs, language, and manners of the inhabitants of Norlamin. Each mind became suffused with a vast, immeasurable peace, calm power, and a depth and breadth of mental vision theretofore undreamed of. Looking deep into his mind they sensed a quiet, placid certainty, beheld power and knowledge to them illimitable, perceived depths of wisdom to them unfathomable.
Then from his mind into theirs there flowed smoothly a mighty stream of comprehension of cosmic phenomena. They hazily saw infinitely small units grouped into planetary formations to form practically dimensionless particles. These particles in turn grouped to form slightly larger ones, and after a long succession of such grouping they knew that the comparatively gigantic aggregates which then held their attention were in reality electrons and protons, the smallest units recognized by Earthly science. They clearly understood the combination of these electrons and protons into atoms. They perceived plainly the way in which atoms build up molecules, and comprehended the molecular structure of matter. In mathematical thoughts, only dimly grasped even by Seaton and Crane, were laid before them the fundamental laws of physics, of electricity, of gravitation, and of chemistry. They saw globular aggregations of matter, the suns and their planets, comprising solar systems; saw solar systems, in accordance with those immutable laws, grouped into galaxies, galaxies in turn--here the flow was suddenly shut off as though a valve had been closed, and the astronomer spoke.
"Pardon me. Your brains should be stored only with the material you desire most and can use to the best advantage, for your mental capacity is even more limited than my own. Please understand that I speak in no derogatory sense; it is only that your race has many thousands of generations to go before your minds should be stored with knowledge indiscriminately. We ourselves have not yet reached that stage, and we are perhaps millions of years older than you. And yet," he continued musingly, "I envy you. Knowledge is, of course, relative, and I can know so little! Time and space have yielded not an iota of their mystery to our most penetrant minds. And whether we delve baffled into the unknown smallness of the small, or whether we peer, blind and helpless, into the unknown largeness of the large, it is the same--infinity is comprehensible only to the Infinite One: the all-shaping Force directing and controlling the Universe and the unknowable Sphere. The more we know, the vaster the virgin fields of investigation open to us, and the more infinitesimal becomes our knowledge. But I am perhaps keeping you from more important activities. As you approach Norlamin more nearly, I shall guide you to my observatory. I am glad indeed that it is in my lifetime that you have come to us, and I await anxiously the opportunity of greeting you in the flesh. The years remaining to me of this cycle of existence are few, and I had almost ceased hoping to witness your coming."
The projection vanished instantaneously, and the four stared at each other in an incredulous daze of astonishment. Seaton finally broke the stunned silence. "Well, I'll be kicked to death by little red spiders!" he ejaculated. "Mart, did you see what I saw, or did I get tight on something without knowing it? That sure burned me up--it breaks me right off at the ankles, just to think of it!"
Crane walked to the educator in silence. He examined it, felt the changed coils and transformers, and gently shook the new insulating base of the great power-tube. Still in silence he turned his back, walked around the instrument board, read the meters, then went back and again inspected the educator.
"It was real, and not a higher development of hypnotism, as at first I thought it must be," he reported seriously. "Hypnotism, if sufficiently advanced, might have affected us in that fashion, even to teaching us all a strange language, but by no possibility could it have had such an effect upon copper, steel, bakelite, and glass. It was certainly real, and while I cannot begin to understand it, I will say that your imagination has certainly vindicated itself. A race of beings, who can do such things as that, can do almost anything--you have been right, from the start."
"Then you can beat those horrible Fenachrone, after all!" cried Dorothy, and threw herself into her husband's arms.
"Do you remember, Dick, that I hailed you once as Columbus at San Salvador?" asked Margaret unsteadily from Crane's encircling arm. "What could a man be called who from the sheer depths of his imagination called forth the means of saving from destruction all the civilization of millions of entire worlds?"
"Don't talk that way, please, folks," Seaton was plainly very uncomfortable. He blushed intensely, the burning red tide rising in waves up to his hair as he wriggled in embarrassment, like any schoolboy. "Mart's done most of it, anyway, you know; and even at that, we ain't out of the woods yet, by forty-seven rows of apple trees."
"You will admit, will you not, that we can see our way out of the woods, at least, and that you yourself feel rather relieved?" asked Crane.
"I think we'll be able to pull their corks now, all right, after we get some dope. It's a cinch they've either got the stuff we need or know how to get it--and if that zone is impenetrable, I'll bet they'll be able to dope out something just as good. Relieved? That doesn't half tell it, guy--I feel as if I had just pitched off the Old Man of the Sea who's been sitting on my neck! What say you girls get your fiddle and guitar and we'll sing us a little song? I feel kind of relieved--they had me worried some--it's the first time I've felt like singing since we cut that warship up."
Dorothy brought out her "fiddle"--the magnificent Stradivarius, formerly Crane's, which he had given her--Margaret her guitar, and they sang one rollicking number after another. Though by no means a Metropolitan Opera quartette, their voices were all better than mediocre, and they had sung together so much that they harmonized readily.
"Why don't you play us some real music, Dottie?" asked Margaret, after a time. "You haven't practiced for ages."
"I haven't felt like playing lately, but I do now," and Dorothy stood up and swept the bow over the strings. Doctor of Music in violin, an accomplished musician, playing upon one of the finest instruments the world has ever known, she was lifted out of herself by relief from the dread of the Fenachrone invasion and that splendid violin expressed every subtle nuance of her thought.
She played rhapsodies and paeans, and solos by the great masters. She played vivacious dances, then "Traumerei" and "Liebestraum." At last she swept into the immortal "Meditation," and as the last note died away Seaton held out his arms.
"You're a blinding flash and a deafening report, Dottie Dimple, and I love you," he declared--and his eyes and his arms spoke volumes that his light utterance had left unsaid.
Norlamin close enough so that its image almost filled number six visiplate, the four wanderers studied it with interest. Partially obscured by clouds and with its polar regions two glaring caps of snow--they would be green in a few months, when the planet would swing inside the orbit of its sun around the vast central luminary of that complex solar system--it made a magnificent picture. They saw sparkling blue oceans and huge green continents of unfamiliar outlines. So terrific was the velocity of the space-cruiser, that the image grew larger as they watched it, and soon the field of vision could not contain the image of the whole disk.
"Well, I expect Orlon'll be showing up pretty quick now," remarked Seaton; and it was not long until the projection appeared in the air of the control room.
"Hail, Terrestrials!" he greeted them. "With your permission, I shall direct your flight."
Permission granted, the figure floated across the room to the board and the rays of force centered the visiplate, changed the direction of the bar a trifle, decreased slightly their negative acceleration, and directed a stream of force upon the steering mechanism.
"We shall alight upon the grounds of my observatory upon Norlamin in seven thousand four hundred twenty-eight seconds," he announced presently. "The observatory will be upon the dark side of Norlamin when we arrive, but I have a force operating upon the steering mechanism which will guide the vessel along the required curved path. I shall remain with you until we land, and we may converse upon any topic of most interest to you."
"We've got a topic of interest, all right. That's what we came out here for. But it would take too long to tell you about it--I'll show you!"
He brought out the magnetic brain record, threaded it into the machine and handed the astronomer a head-set. Orlon put it on, touched the lever, and for an hour there was unbroken silence as the monstrous brain of the menace was studied by the equally capable intellect of the Norlaminian scientist. There was no pause in the motion of the magnetic tape, no repetition--Orlon's brain absorbed the information as fast as it could be sent, and understood that frightful mind in every particular.
As the end of the tape was reached and the awful record ended, a shadow passed over Orlon's face.
"Truly a depraved evolution--it is sad to contemplate such a perversion of a really excellent brain. They have power, even as you have, and they have the will to destroy, which is a thing that I cannot understand. However, if it is graven upon the Sphere that we are to pass, it means only that upon the next plane we shall continue our searches--let us hope with better tools and with greater understanding than we now possess."
"'Smatter?" snapped Seaton gravely. "Going to take it lying down, without putting up any fight at all?"
"What can we do? Violence is contrary to our very natures. No man of Norlamin could offer any but passive resistance."
"You can do a lot if you will. Put on that headset again and get my plan, offering any suggestions your far abler brain may suggest."
As the human scientist poured his plan of battle into the brain of the astronomer, Orlon's face cleared.
"It is graven upon the Sphere that the Fenachrone shall pass," he said finally. "What you ask of us we can do. I have only a general knowledge of rays, as they are not in the province of the Orlon family; but the student Rovol, of the family Rovol of Rays, has all present knowledge of such phenomena. Tomorrow I will bring you together, and I have little doubt that he will be able, with the help of your metal of power, to solve your problem."
"I don't quite understand what you said about a whole family studying one subject, and yet having only one student in it," said Dorothy, in perplexity.
"A little explanation is perhaps necessary," replied Orlon. "First, you must know that every man of Norlamin is a student, and most of us are students of science. With us, 'labor' means mental effort, that is, study. We perform no physical or manual labor save for exercise, as all our mechanical work is done by forces. This state of things having endured for many thousands of years, it long ago became evident that specialization was necessary in order to avoid duplication of effort and to insure complete coverage of the field. Soon afterward, it was discovered that very little progress was being made in any branch, because so much was known that it took practically a lifetime to review that which had already been accomplished, even in a narrow and highly specialized field. Many points were studied for years before it was discovered that the identical work had been done before, and either forgotten or overlooked. To remedy this condition the mechanical educator had to be developed. Once it was perfected a new system was begun. One man was assigned to each small subdivision of scientific endeavor, to study it intensively. When he became old, each man chose a successor--usually a son--and transferred his own knowledge to the younger student. He also made a complete record of his own brain, in much the same way as you have recorded the brain of the Fenachrone upon your metallic tape. These records are all stored in a great central library, as permanent references.
"All these things being true, now a young person may need only finish an elementary education--just enough to learn to think, which takes only about twenty-five or thirty years--and then he is ready to begin actual work. When that time comes, he receives in one day all the knowledge of his specialty which has been accumulated by his predecessors during many thousands of years of intensive study."
"Whew!" Seaton whistled, "no wonder you folks know something! With that start, I believe I might know something myself! As an astronomer, you may be interested in this star-chart and stuff--or do you know all about that already?"
"No, the Fenachrone are far ahead of us in that subject, because of their observatories out in open space and because of their gigantic reflectors, which cannot be used through any atmosphere. We are further hampered in having darkness for only a few hours at a time and only in the winter, when our planet is outside the orbit of our sun around the great central sun of our entire system. However, with the Rovolon you have brought us, we shall have real observatories far out in space; and for that I personally will be indebted to you more than I can ever express. As for the chart, I hope to have the pleasure of examining it while you are conferring with Rovol of Rays."
"How many families are working on rays--just one?"
"One upon each kind of ray. That is, each of the ray families knows a great deal about all kinds of vibrations of the ether, but is specializing upon one narrow field. Take, for instance, the rays you are most interested in; those able to penetrate a zone of force. From my own very slight and general knowledge I know that it would of necessity be a ray of the fifth order. These rays are very new--they have been under investigation only a few hundred years--and the Rovol is the only student who would be at all well informed upon them. Shall I explain the orders of rays more fully than I did by means of the educator?"
"Please. You assumed that we knew more than we do, so a little explanation would help."
"All ordinary vibrations--that is, all molecular and material ones, such as light, heat, electricity, radio, and the like--were arbitrarily called waves of the first order; in order to distinguish them from waves of the second order, which are given off by particles of the second order, which you know as protons and electrons, in their combination to form atoms. Your scientist Millikan discovered these rays for you, and in your language they are known as Millikan, or Cosmic, rays.
"Some time later, when sub-electrons were identified the rays given off by their combination into electrons, or by the disruption of electrons, were called rays of the third order. These rays are most interesting and most useful; in fact, they do all our mechanical work. They as a class are called protelectricity, and bear the same relation to ordinary electricity that electricity does to torque--both are pure energy, and they are inter-convertible. Unlike electricity, however, it may be converted into many different forms by fields of force, in a way comparable to that in which white light is resolved into colors by a prism--or rather, more like the way alternating current is changed to direct current by a motor-generator set, with attendant changes in properties. There is a complete spectrum of more than five hundred factors, each as different from the others as red is different from green.