CHAPTER 1. THE IRON STAR
CHAPTER 2. EPSILON TUCANAE
CHAPTER 3. CAPTIVES OF THE DARK
CHAPTER 4. THE RIVER OF TIME
CHAPTER 5. THE HORSE ON THE SEA BED
CHAPTER 6. THE LEGEND OF THE BLUE SUNS
CHAPTER 7. SYMPHONY IN F-MINOR, COLOUR TONE 4.75 μ
CHAPTER 8. RED WAVES
CHAPTER 9. A THIRD CYCLE SCHOOL
CHAPTER 10. TIBETAN EXPERIMENT
CHAPTER 11. THE ISLAND OF OBLIVION
CHAPTER 12. THE ASTRONAUTICAL COUNCIL
CHAPTER 13. ANGELS OF HEAVEN
CHAPTER 14. THE STEEL DOOR
CHAPTER 15. THE ANDROMEDA NEBULA
MEMBERS OF COSMIC EXPEDITION No. 37 IN THE SPACESHIP TANTRA
CHARACTERS ON EARTH:
In the faint light emitted by the helical tube on the ceiling the rows of dials on the instrument panels had the appearance of a portrait gallery-the round dials had jovial faces, the recumbent oval physiognomies were impudently self-satisfied and the square mugs were immobile in their stupid complacency. The light- and dark-blue, orange and green lights flickering inside the instruments served to intensify the impression.
A big dial, glowing dull red, gazed out from the middle of the convex control desk. The girl in front of it had forgotten her chair and stood with her head bowed, her brow almost touching the glass, in the attitude of one in prayer. The red glow made her youthful face older and sterner, cast clear-cut shadows round her full lips and even made her slightly snub nose look pointed. Her thick eyebrows, knitted in a frown, looked jet black in that light and gave her eyes the expression of despair seen in the eyes of the doomed.
The faint hum of the meters was interrupted by a soft metallic click. The girl started and raised her head, straightening her tired back.
The door opened behind her, a big shadow appeared and turned into a man with abrupt and precise movements. A flood of golden light sprang up, making the girl's thick, dark-auburn hair sparkle like gold. She turned to the newcomer with a look that told both of her love for him and of her anxiety.
"Why aren't you sleeping? A hundred sleepless hours!" "A bad example, eh?" There was a note of gaiety in his voice but he did not smile; it was a voice marked by high metallic notes that seemed to rivet his words together. "The others are all asleep," the girl began timidly. "and ... don't know anything ..." she added, whispering instinctively.
"Don't be afraid to speak. Everybody else is asleep, we're the only two awake in the Cosmos and it's fifty billion1 kilometres to Earth-a mere parsec2 and a half!"
"And we've got fuel for just one acceleration!" There was fascinated horror in the girl's exclamation.
In two rapid strides Erg Noor, Commander of Cosmic Expedition No. 37, reached the glowing dial.
"The fifth circle!"
"Yes, we've entered the fifth ... and ... still nothing." The girl cast an eloquent glance at the loudspeaker of the automatic receiver.
"And so I have no right to sleep, as you see. I have to think over all the variants and all the possibilities. We must find a solution by the end of the fifth circle."
"But that's another hundred and ten hours."
"All right, I'll go to sleep in the armchair here as soon as the effect of the sporamin3 wears off. I took it twenty-four hours ago."
The girl stood deep in thought for a time but at last decided to speak.
"Perhaps we should decrease the radius of the circle? Suppose something's gone wrong with their transmitter?"
"Certainly not! If you reduce the radius without reducing speed you'll break up the ship. If you reduce speed you'll be left without anameson4... with a parsec and a half to go at the speed of the ancient lunar rockets! At that rate we'd get somewhere near our solar system in about a hundred thousand years."
"I know that. But couldn't they .."
"No, they couldn't. Aeons ago people could be careless or could deceive each other and themselves. But not today!"
"That's not what I wanted to say." The sharpness of her retort showed that the girl was offended. "I was going to say that Algrab may have deviated from its course looking for us."
"It couldn't have deviated so much. It must have left at the time computed and agreed on. If the improbable had happened and both transmitters had been put out of action it would have had to cross the circle diametrically and we should have heard it on the planetary receiver.
There's no possibility of a mistake-there it is, the rendezvous planet."
Erg Noor pointed to the mirror screens in deep niches on all four sides of the control tower. Countless stars burned in the profound blackness. A tiny grey disc, barely illuminated by a sun very far away from them, from the outer edge of the system B-7336-S+87-A, was crossing the forward port screen.
"Our bomb beacons 5 are working well although we put them up four independent years " ago." Erg Noor pointed to a clear-cut line of light running along a glass panel that stretched the whole length of the left-hand wall. "Algrab should have been here three months ago. That means,"
Erg Noor hesitated as though he did not wish to finish the sentence, "Algrab is lost!"
"But suppose it isn't, suppose it has only been damaged
by a meteoroid and cannot regain its speed?" objected the auburn-haired girl.
"Can't regain its speed!" repeated Erg Noor. "Isn't that the same thing? If there is a journey thousands of years long between the ship and its goal, so much the worse-instead of instantaneous death there will be years of hopelessness for the doomed. Perhaps they will call. If they do, we'll know ... on Earth ... in about six years' time."
With one of his impetuous movements Erg Noor pulled a folding armchair from under the table of the electronic computer, a little MNU-11; on account of its great weight, size and fragility, the ITU electronic brain that could make any computation was not fitted in spaceships to pilot them unaided. A navigator had always to be on duty in the control tower, especially as it was impossible to plot an exact course over such terrific distances.
The commander's hands flashed over the levers and knobs with the rapidity of a pianist's. The sharply defined features of his pale face were as immobile as those of a statue and his lofty brow, inclined stubbornly over the control desk, seemed to be challenging the elemental forces that menaced that tiny world of living beings who bad dared penetrate into the forbidden depths of space.
Nisa Greet, a young astronavigator on her first Cosmic expedition, held her breath as she watched Erg Noor in silence, and the commander himself seemed oblivious of everything but his work. How cool and collected, how clever and full of energy was the man she loved. And she had loved him for a long time, for the whole of the five years. There was no sense in hiding it from him, lie knew it already, Nisa could feel that. Now that this great misfortune had happened she had the tremendous joy of serving a watch with him, three months alone with him while the other members of the crew lay in deep hypnotic sleep. Another thirteen days and they, too, would be able to sleep for six months while the other two watches-the navigators, astronomers and mechanics-served their turns. The other members of the expedition, the biologists and geologists who would only have work to do when they arrived at their destination, could sleep longer, but the astronomers-oh! theirs was the greatest strain of all.
Erg Noor got up from his seat and Nisa's train of thought was broken.
"I'm going to the charthouse. You'll be able to sleep in-" he looked at the clock showing dependent or ship's time, "nine hours. I'll have time for some sleep before I relieve you."
"I'm not tired, I can stay here as long as is necessary -you must get some rest!"
Erg Noor frowned and wanted to object but was captivated by the tenderness of her words and by the golden hazel eyes that appealed to him so trustingly; he smiled and went out without another word.
Nisa sat down in the chair, cast an accustomed glance over the instruments and was soon lost in deep meditation.
The reflector screens through which those in the control tower could see what was happening in the space surrounding the ship gleamed black overhead. The lights of differently coloured stars pierced the eyes like needles of fire.
The spaceship was overtaking a planet and its pull made the ship vacillate in a gravitation field of changing intensity. The magnificent but malignant stars also made wild leaps in the reflector screens. The outlines of the constellations changed with a rapidity that the memory could not register.
Planet K2-2N 88, cold, lifeless, far from its sun, was known as a convenient rendezvous for spaceships ... for the meeting that had not taken place. The fifth circle- Nisa could picture her ship travelling with reduced speed around a monster circle with a radius of a thousand million kilometres and constantly gaining on a planet that crawled at tortoise speed. In a hundred and ten hours the ship would complete the fifth circle-and what then? Erg Noor's tremendous brain was now strained to the utmost to find the best solution. As commander both of the expedition and the ship he could not make mistakes for if he did First Class Spaceship Tantra with its crew of the world's most eminent scientists would never return from outer space! But Erg Noor would make no mistakes.
Nisa Greet was suddenly overcome by a feeling of nausea which meant that the spaceship had deviated from its course by a tiny fraction of a degree, something possible only at the reduced speed at which they were travelling: at full speed not one of the ship's fragile human load would have remained alive. The grey mist before the girl's eyes had not had time to disperse before the nausea swept over her again as the ship returned to its course. Delicately sensitive feelers had located a meteoroid, the greatest enemy of the spaceships, in the black emptiness ahead of them and had automatically made the deviation. The electronic machines guiding the ship (only they could carry out all manipulations with the necessary rapidity, since human nerves arc unsuited to Cosmic speeds) had taken her off her course in a millionth of a second and, the danger past, had returned her with equal speed.
"What could have prevented machines like these from saving Algraby wondered Nisa when she had recovered. That ship had most certainly been damaged by a meteoroid. Erg Noor had told her that up to then one spaceship in ten had been wrecked by meteoroids, despite the invention of such delicate locators as Voll Head's and the power screens that repelled smaller particles. After everything had been so well planned and provided for, the loss of Algrab had placed them in a dangerous position. Mentally Nisa went over everything that had happened since they had taken off.
Cosmic Expedition No. 37 had been sent to the planetary system of the nearest star in the Ophiuchus Constellation whose only inhabited planet, Zirda, had long been in communication with Earth and other worlds through the great Circle. Suddenly the planet had gone silent, and for over seventy years nothing more had been heard from there. It was the duty of Earth, as the nearest of the Circle planets to Zirda, to find out what had happened. With this aim in view the expedition's ship had taken on board a large number of instruments and several prominent scientists, those whose nerves, after lengthy testing, had proved capable of standing up to confinement in a spaceship for several years. The ship was fuelled with anameson; only the barely necessary amount had been taken, not because of its weight but because of the tremendous size of the containers in which it was stored. It was expected that supplies could be renewed on Zirda. In case something serious had happened to Zirda, Second Class Spaceship Algrab was to have met Tantra with fuel supplies on the orbit of planet K2-2N 88.
Nisa's attuned ear caught the changed tone in the hum of the artificial gravitational field. The discs of three instruments on the right began to wink irregularly as the starboard electron feeler came into action. An angular mass flashed on to the screen, brightening it up. It flew straight at Tantra like a shell which meant that it was a long way away-a huge fragment of material such as is seldom met with in cosmic space, and Nisa hurried to determine its volume, mass, velocity and direction. She did not return to her meditations until the spool of the automatic log gave a click to show that the entries were finished.
Her most vivid memory was that of a blood-red sun that had been steadily growing in their field of vision during the last months of their fourth space-borne year. It had been the fourth year for the inhabitants of the spaceship as it travelled with a speed of 5/6ths of the absolute unit, the speed of light, but on Earth seven of the years known as independent years had passed.
The filters on the screens were kind to human eyes;
they reduced the composition of the rays of any celestial body to what they would have been had they been seen through the thick terrestrial atmosphere with its protective screens of ozone and water vapours. The indescribable ghostly violet light of the high temperature bodies was toned down to blue or white and the gloomy greyish-pink stars took on jolly golden-yellow hues, like our Sun. A celestial body that burned triumphantly with bright crimson fire took on a deep, blood-red colour, the tone that a terrestrial observer sees in stars of the spectral class M5.7 The planet was much nearer to its star than Earth is to the Sun and as the ship drew nearer to Zirda the star grew into a tremendous crimson disc that irradiated a mass of heat rays.
For two months before approaching Zirda Tantra had begun attempts to get in touch with the planet's outer space station. There was only one such station-on a small natural satellite with no atmosphere that was much nearer to Zirda than the Moon is to Earth.
The spaceship continued calling when the planet was no more than thirty million kilometres away and the terrific speed of Tantra had been reduced to three thousand kilometres a second. It was Nisa's watch but all the crew were awake, sitting in anticipation in front of the control-tower screens.
Nisa kept on calling, increasing the power of the transmissions and sending rays out fanwise ahead of the ship.
At last they saw the tiny shining dot of the satellite.
The spaceship came into orbit around the planet, approaching it in a spiral and gradually adjusting its speed to that of the satellite. Soon Tantra's speed was the same as that of the fast-moving little satellite and it seemed as though an invisible hawser held them fast. The ship's electronic stereotelescope searched the surface of the satellite until the crew of Tantra were suddenly confronted with an unforgettable sight.
A huge, flat-topped glass building seemed to be on fire in the rays of the blood-red sun. Directly under the roof was something in the nature of an assembly hall. There a number of beings-unlike terrestrial humans but unmistakably people-were frozen into immobility. Excitedly, Pour Hyss, the astronomer of the expedition, continued to adjust the focus. The vague rows of people visible under the glass roof were absolutely motionless. Pour Hyss increased the instrument's magnification. Out of the vagueness a dais surrounded by instrument panels appeared, and on it a long table on which a man sat cross-legged facing the audience, his crazy, terrifying eyes staring into the distance.
"They're dead, frozen!" exclaimed Erg Noor. The spaceship continued to hover over Zirda's satellite and fourteen pairs of eyes remained fixed on that glass tomb, for such, indeed, it was. How long had the dead been sitting there in their glass house? The planet had broken off communication seventy years before and if we add to that six years for the rays to reach Earth it meant three quarters of a century.
All eyes were turned on the commander. Erg Noor, his face pale, was staring into the yellow, smoky atmosphere of the planet through which the lines of the mountain ranges and the glint of the sea were faintly discernible. But there was nothing to provide the answer they had come there for.
"The station perished seventy-five years ago and has not been re-established! That can only mean a catastrophe on the planet. We must go down into the atmosphere, perhaps even land. Everybody is present now so I'll ask your opinion."
The only objection was raised by Pour Hyss, a man on his first Cosmic trip; he had been substituted for an experienced worker who had fallen ill just before the start. Nisa looked with indignation at his big, hawk-like nose and his ugly ears set low down on his head.
"If there has been a catastrophe on the planet there is no possibility of our getting anameson there. If we circle the planet at low level we shall reduce our supply of planetary fuel, if we land, we reduce it to a still greater extent. Apart from that we don't know what's happened, there may be some powerful radiations that will kill us."
The other members of the expedition supported their commander.
"There is no planetary radiation that can be dangerous to a ship with Cosmic shielding. Weren't we sent here to find out what has happened? What are we going to tell the Great Circle? It isn't enough to establish a fact, we have to explain it-excuse me if this sounds like a lecture to schoolboys!" said Erg Noor and the usual metallic tones in his voice now had a note of ridicule in them. "I don't imagine we can evade doing what is our plain duty."
"The upper layers of the atmosphere have a normal temperature!" exclaimed Nisa, happily, on completion of her rapidly performed measurements.
Erg Noor smiled and began to put the ship down in a spiral each turn of which was slower than the last as they neared the surface of the planet. Zirda was somewhat smaller than Earth and no great speed was needed to circumnavigate it at low level. The astronomers and the geologist checked the maps of the planet with what was observed by Tantra's optical instruments. There had been no noticeable change in the outlines of the continents and the seas gleamed calmly in the red sun. Nor had the chains of mountains changed the shapes that were known from former photographs-but the planet was silent.
The crew spent thirty-five hours at their instruments, relieving each other occasionally.
The composition of the atmosphere, the radiation of the red sun, everything agreed with formerly recorded Zirda data. Erg Noor looked for the Zirda stratosphere tables in his reference book. Ionization was higher than they showed. A vague and alarming concept was taking form in Noor's mind.
On the sixth turn of the descending spiral the outlines of big cities became clearly visible. And still not a sound was recorded by the spaceship's receivers.
Nisa Greet was relieved from her post for a meal and seemed to have dozed off for a while. She thought, however, that she had not slept for more than a few minutes. The spaceship was crossing Zirda's night disc at a speed no greater than that of a terrestrial helicopter. Below them there should have been cities, factories and ports, but not a single light showed in the pitch blackness no matter how thoroughly the powerful stereotelescopes searched the ground. The thunder of the spaceship cutting through the atmosphere should have been audible for dozens of miles. Another hour passed and still no light was seen. The anxious waiting was becoming unbearable. Noor switched on the warning sirens hoping that their awe-inspiring howl, added to the roar of the spaceship, would be heard by the mysteriously silent inhabitants of Zirda.
A wave of fiery light swept away the evil darkness as Tantra reached the daylight side of the planet. Below them everything was still black. Rapidly developed and enlarged photographs showed that the earth was covered with a solid carpet of flowers something like the velvety-black poppies that grow on Earth. The masses of black poppies stretched for thousands of miles to the exclusion of all other vegetation-trees and bushes, reeds and grass. The streets of the cities looked like the ribs of giant skeletons lying on a black carpet; metal structures formed gaping rusty wounds. Not a living being, not a tree anywhere, nothing but the black poppies!
Tantra dropped an observation bomb beacon and again plunged into the night. Six hours later the robot reported the content of the air, temperature, pressure and other conditions obtaining on the surface of the planet. Everything was normal for Zirda with the exception of increased radioactivity.
"What an awful tragedy!" muttered Eon Thai, the expedition's biologist, in a dull voice as he recorded the data supplied by the station. "They have killed themselves and everything on their planet!"
"How could they?" asked Nisa, hiding the tears that were ready to flow. "Is it as bad as that? The ionisation isn't so very high."
"A long time has passed since then," answered the biologist, glumly. His manly Circassian face with its aquiline nose assumed an expression of sternness, despite his youth. "Radioactive disintegration is dangerous just because it accumulates unnoticed. For hundreds of years the total radiation could increase corns by corus, the unit of radiation; then suddenly there comes a qualitative change, heredity collapses, the reproduction of the species ceases and added to that there are epidemics of radiation diseases. This has happened more than once before, the Circle knows of similar catastrophes."
"Such as the so-called 'planet of the lilac sun,'" came Erg Noor's voice from behind them.
"Whose sun of spectral class A", with a light intensity equal to 78 of our suns, provided its inhabitants with very high energy," added the morose Pour Hyss.
"Where is that planet?" asked Eon Thai, the biologist. "Isn't that the one the Council intends to colonize?"
"That's the one, the lost Algrab was named after its star."
"The star Algrab, that's Delta Corvi," exclaimed the biologist. "But it's such a long way off!"
"Forty-six parsecs. But we're constantly increasing the power of our spaceship...."
The biologist nodded his head and muttered that it was hardly right to call a spaceship after a star that had perished.
"The star didn't perish and the planet is still safe and sound. Before another century has passed we shall plant vegetation there and settle the planet," said Erg Noor with confidence.
He had decided to perform a difficult manoeuvre-to change the ship's orbit from latitudinal to meridional, sending the ship along a north-south line parallel to the planet's axis of rotation. How could they leave the planet until they were sure that there were no survivors? It might be that survivors were unable to communicate with the spaceship because power installations had been wrecked and instruments damaged.
This was not the first time Nisa had seen her commander at the control desk in a moment of great responsibility. With his impenetrably expressionless face and his abrupt but always precise movements he seemed like a hero of legendary times to the auburn-haired astronavigator.
Again Tantra continued her hopeless journey round Zirda, this time from pole to pole. In some places, especially in the temperate latitudes, there were wide belts of bare earth, a yellow haze hung over them and through it, from time to time, appeared the lines of gigantic red dunes from which the wind sent up clouds of sand.
Then again came the funereal pall of black velvet poppies, the only plant that had withstood radioactivity or had produced a mutation of its species viable under irradiation.
The whole picture was clear. It was not only useless,
it was even dangerous to search for supplies of anameson that had, on the recommendation of the Great Circle, been laid in for visitors from other worlds (Zirda had no spaceships of her own, only planetships). Tantra began slowly unwinding the spiral away from the planet. She gained a velocity of 17 kilometres a second using her ion trigger motors, the planetary motors that gave her speed enough for trips between adjacent planets and for taking off and landing, and drew away from the dead planet. Tantra turned her nose towards an uninhabited system known only by its code name where bomb beacons had been thrown out and where Algrab should have awaited her. The anameson motors were switched on and in fifty-two hours they accelerated the spaceship to her normal speed of 900,000,000 kilometres an hour. Fifteen months' journey would take them to the meeting place-eleven months of the dependent time of the ship-and the whole crew, with the exception of those on watch, could spend that time in sleep. A month, however, passed in discussion, in calculations and in the preparation of a report for the Council. From reference books it was discovered that risky experiments had been made on Zirda with partially disintegrating atomic fuels. They found references to statements by leading scientists who warned the people that there were symptoms of the adverse biological effect of the experiments and demanded that they be stopped.
A hundred and eighteen years before a brief warning had been sent through the Great Circle; it would have been sufficient for people of the higher intellectual categories but apparently it had not been treated seriously by the government of Zirda.
There could be no doubt that Zirda had perished from an accumulation of harmful radiations following numerous careless experiments and the reckless use of dangerous forms of nuclear energy instead of wisely continuing the search for other, less harmful sources.
The mystery had long since been solved, twice the spaceship's crew had changed their three months' period of sleep for normal periods of activity of the same length.
Tantra had been circling round the grey planet for many days and with each passing hour the possibility of meeting Algrab grew less and less. Something terrible loomed ahead.
Erg Noor stood in the doorway with his eyes on Nisa as she sat there in meditation-her inclined head with its cap of thick hair like a luxuriant golden flower, the mischievous, boyish profile, the slightly slanting eyes that were often screwed up by restrained laughter and were now wide open, apprehensively but courageously probing the unknown.... The girl did not realize what a tremendous moral support her selfless love had become for him. Despite the long years of trial that had steeled his willpower and his senses, he sometimes grew tired of being commander, of having to be ready at any moment to shoulder any responsibility for the crew, for the ship and for the success of the expedition. Back there on Earth such single-handed responsibility had long since been abandoned-decisions there were taken collectively by the group of people who had to carry them out. If anything unusual occurred on Earth you could always get advice, and consultations on the most intricate problems could be arranged. Here there was nobody to turn to and spaceship commanders were granted special rights. It would have been easier if such responsibility had been for two or three years instead of the ten to fifteen years that were normal for space expeditions! Erg Noor entered the control tower.
Nisa jumped up to meet him. "I've got all the necessary material and the charts," he said, "we'll start the machine working!"
The commander stretched himself in his armchair and slowly turned over the thin metal sheets he had brought, calling out the numbers of coordinates, the strength of magnetic, electric and gravitational fields, the power of Cosmic dust streams and the velocity and density of me-teoroid streams. Nisa, all her muscles tensed with excitement, pressed the buttons and turned the knobs of the computing machine. Erg Noor listened to a series of answers, frowned and lapsed into deep thought.
"There's a strong gravitational field in our way, the area in the Scorpion where there is an accumulation of dark matter near star 6555 CR+11 PKU," began Noor. "We can save fuel by deviating this way, towards the Serpent. In the old days they flew without motors, using the gravitational fields as accelerators, along their edges." "Can we do the same?" asked Nisa.
"No, our spaceships are too fast. At a speed of 5/6ths of the absolute unit or 250,000 kilometres a second our weight would be 12,000 times greater in a field of gravitation and that would turn the whole expedition into dust. We can only fly like this in the Cosmos, far from large accumulations of matter. As soon as the spaceship enters a gravitational field we have to reduce speed, the stronger the field the more we must reduce."
"So there's a contradiction here," said Nisa, resting her head on her hand in a childish manner, "the stronger the gravitational field the slower we have to fly!"
"That's only true where velocities close to the speed of light are concerned, when the spaceship is something like a ray of light and can only move in a straight line or along the so-called curve of equal tension."
"If I've understood you correctly we have to aim our Tantra light ray straight at the solar system."
"That's where the great difficulty of space travel comes in. It's practically impossible to aim directly at any star although we make all the corrective calculations imaginable. Throughout the entire journey we have to compute the accumulating error and constantly change the course of the ship so that no automatic piloting is possible. Our position now is a dangerous one. We have nothing left to start another acceleration going so that a halt or even a considerable reduction in speed after this acceleration would be certain death. Look, the danger is here-in area 344 4- 2U that has never been explored. Here there are no stars, no inhabited planets, nothing is known except the gravitational field-there is its edge. We'll wait for the astronomers before we make the final decision -after the fifth circle we'll wake up everybody but in the meantime...." The commander rubbed his temples and yawned.
"The effect of the sporamin is wearing off," exclaimed Nisa, "you can go to sleep!"
"Good, I'll be all right here, in this chair. Suppose a miracle happens ... just one sound from them!"
There was something in Erg Noor's voice that sent Nisa's heart palpitating with her love for him. She wanted to take that stubborn head of his, press it to her breast and stroke the dark hair with its prematurely grey threads.
Nisa got up, placed the reference sheets carefully together and turned out the light, leaving only a dull green glow that illuminated the instrument panels and the clocks. The spaceship was travelling quite quietly in a complete vacuum as it described its gigantic curve. The auburn-haired navigator silently took her place at the "brain" of the giant ship. The instruments, tuned to a particular note, hummed softly; the slightest disorder made them sing false. Today, however, the quiet humming kept on the right note. On rare occasions she heard soft blows, like the sounds of a gong-that was the auxiliary planet motor switching in to keep the ship truly on her curve. The powerful anameson motors were silent. The peace of a long night hung over the sleepy ship as though no serious danger threatened her and her inhabitants. At any moment the long-awaited call signal would be heard in the loudspeaker and the two ships would begin to check their unbelievably rapid flight, would draw closer on parallel courses and would at last so equalize their speeds that they would be as good as lying still beside each other. A wide tubular gallery would connect the two ships and Tantra would regain her tremendous strength.
Deep down in her heart Nisa was calm, she had faith in her commander. Five years of travel had not seemed either long or tiring. Especially since Nisa had begun to love.... But even before that the absorbingly interesting observations, the electronic recordings of books, music and films gave her every opportunity to increase her fund of knowledge and not feel the loss of beautiful Earth, that tiny speck of dust lost in the depths of the infinity of darkness. Her fellow-travellers were people of great erudition and then, when her nerves were exhausted by a surfeit of impressions or lengthy, strenuous work, there was continued sleep. Sleep was maintained by attuning the patient to hypnotic oscillations and, after certain preliminary medical treatment, big stretches of time were lost in forgetfulness and passed without leaving a trace. Nisa was happy because she was near the man she loved. The only thing that troubled her was the thought that others were having a harder time, especially Erg Noor. If only she could ... no, what could a young and still very green astronavigator do, compared with such a man! Perhaps her tenderness, her constant fund of good will, her ardent desire to give up everything in order to make easier that tremendous labour would help.
The commander of the expedition woke up and raised his sleep-heavy head. The instruments were humming evenly as before, there were still the occasional thuds of the planetary motors. Nisa Greet was at the instruments, bending slightly over them, the shadows of fatigue on her young face. Erg Noor cast a glance at the clock showing spaceship time and in a single athletic bound leaped out of the deep chair.
"I've been asleep fourteen hours! And you didn't wake me, Nisa! That's...." Meeting her radiant glance he cut himself short. "Off to bed at once!"
"May I sleep here, like you did?" asked the girl. She took a hurried meal, washed herself and dropped into the deep armchair. Her flashing hazel eyes, framed in dark rings, were stealthily following Erg Noor as he took his place at the instrument panels after a refreshing wave bath and a good meal. He checked up the indicators on the electronics communications protector and then began to walk up and down with rapid strides.
"Why aren't you sleeping?" he asked the navigator. She shook her red curls that were by then in need of clipping-women on extra-terrestrial expeditions did not wear long hair.
"I was thinking ..." she began hesitantly, "and now, when we are faced with great danger I bow my head before the might and majesty of man who has penetrated to the stars, far, far into the depths of space! Much of this is customary for you, but I'm in the Cosmos for the first time. Just think of it, I'm taking part in a magnificent journey through the stars to new worlds!"
Erg Noor smiled wanly and rubbed his forehead. "I shall have to disappoint you, or rather, I must show you the real measure of our might. Look ..." he stopped beside a projector and on the back wall of the control tower the glittering spiral of the Galaxy appeared. Erg Noor pointed to a ragged outer branch of the spiral composed of sparse stars looking like dull dust and scarcely perceptible in the surrounding darkness.
"This is a desert area in the Galaxy, an outer fringe poor in light and life, and it is there that our solar system is situated and where we are at present. That branch of the Galaxy stretches, as you can see, from Cygnus to Carina and, in addition to being far removed from the central zone, it contains a dark cloud, here.... Just to travel along that one branch of the Galaxy would take our Tantra 40,000 independent years. To cross the empty space that separates our branch from our neighbours would take 4,000 years. So you see that our flights into the depths of space are still nothing more than just marking time on our own ground, a ground with a diameter of no more than fifty light years! How little we should know of the Universe if it were not for the might of the Great Circle. Reports, images and ideas transmitted through space that is unconquerable in man's brief span of life reach us sooner or later, and we get to know still more distant worlds. Knowledge is constantly piling up and the work goes on all the time!"
Nisa listened in silence.
"The first interstellar flights ..." continued Erg Noor, still lost in thought. "Little ships of low speed with no powerful protective installations ... and people in those days lived only half as long as we do-that was the period of man's real greatness!"
Nisa jerked up her head as she usually did when she disagreed.
"'And when new ways of overcoming space have been discovered and people don't just force their way through it like we do, they'll say the same about you-those were the heroes who conquered space with their primitive methods!"
The commander smiled happily and held out his hand to the girl.
"They'll say it about you, too, Nisa!"
"I'm proud to be here with you!" she answered, blushing. "And I'm prepared to give up everything if I can only travel into the Cosmos again and again!"
"I know that," said Erg Noor, thoughtfully, "but that's not the way everybody thinks!"
Feminine intuition gave her an insight into the thoughts of her commander. In his cabin there were two stereopor-traits, splendidly done in violet-gold tones. Both were of her, Veda Kong, a woman of great beauty, a specialist in ancient history; eyes of that same transparent blue as the skies above Earth looked out from under long eyebrows. Tanned by the sun, smiling radiantly, she had raised her hands to her ash-blonde hair. In the other picture she was seated, laughing heartily, on a ship's bronze gun, a relic of ancient days....
Erg Noor lost some of his impetuosity-he sat down slowly in front of the astronavigator.
"If you only knew, Nisa, how brutally fate dealt with my dreams, there on Zirda!" he said suddenly, in a dull voice, placing his fingers cautiously on the lever controlling the anameson motors as though he intended accelerating the spaceship to the limit.
"If Zirda had not perished and we had got our supplies of fuel," he continued, in reply to her mute question, "I would have led the expedition farther. That is what I had arranged with the Council. Zirda would have made the necessary report to Earth and Tantra would have continued its journey with those who wanted to go. The others would have waited for Algrab, it could have gone on to Zirda after its tour of duty here."
"Who would have wanted to stay on Zirda?" exclaimed the girl, indignantly. "Unless Pour Hyss would. He's a great scientist though, wouldn't he be interested in gaining further knowledge?"
"And you, Nisa?"
"I'd go, of course."
"Where to?" asked Erg Noor suddenly, fixing his eyes on the girl.
"Anywhere you like, even..." and she pointed to a patch of abysmal blackness between two arms of the starry spiral of the Galaxy; she returned Noor's fixed stare with one equally determined, her lips slightly parted.
"Oh, no, not as far as that! You know, Nisa, my dear little astronavigator, about eighty-five years ago. Cosmic Expedition No. 34, the so-called 'Three-Stage Expedition' left Earth. It consisted of three spaceships carrying fuel for each other and left Earth for the Lyra Constellation. The two ships that were not carrying scientists passed their anameson on to the third and then came back to Earth. That is the way mountain-climbers reached the tops of the highest peaks. Then the third ship, Parus...."
"That's the ship that never returned!" whispered Nisa excitedly.
"That's right, Parus didn't return. It reached its objective and was lost on the return journey after sending a message. The goal was the big planetary system of Vega, or Alpha Lyrae, a bright blue star that countless generations of human eyes have admired in the northern sky. The distance to Vega is eight parsecs and people had never been so far away from our Sun. Anyway, Parus got there. We do not know the cause of its loss, whether it was a meteoroid or an irreparable break-down. It is even possible that the ship is still moving through space and the heroes whom we regard as dead are still alive."
"That would be terrible!"
"Such is the fate of any spaceship that cannot maintain a speed close to that of light. It is immediately separated from the home planet by thousands of years." "What message did Parus send?" asked the girl. "There wasn't much of it. It was interrupted several times and then broke off altogether. I remember every word of it: 'I am Parus. I am Parus, travelling twenty-six years from Vega ... enough ... shall wait... Vega's four planets ... nothing more beautiful... what happiness...."
"But they were calling for help, they wanted to wait somewhere!"
"Of course they were calling for help, otherwise the spaceship wouldn't have used up the tremendous energy needed for the transmission. But nothing could be done, not another word was received from Parus."
"'They were twenty-six independent years on their way back and the journey from Vega to the Sun is thirty-one years. They must have been somewhere near us, or even nearer to Earth."
"Hardly, unless, of course, they exceeded the normal speed and got close to the quantum limit.8 That would have been very dangerous!"
Briefly Erg Noor explained the mathematical basis for the destructive change that takes place in matter when it approaches the speed of light, but he noticed that the girl was not paying any great attention to him.
"I understand all that!" she exclaimed the moment the commander had finished his explanation. "I would have realized it at once if your story of the loss of the spaceship hadn't taken my mind off it. Such losses are always terrible and one cannot become reconciled to them!"
"Now you realize the chief thing in the communication," said Erg Noor gloomily. "They discovered some particularly beautiful worlds. I have long been dreaming of following the route taken by Parus; with modern improvements we can do it with one ship now: I've been living with a dream of Vega, the blue sun with the beautiful planets, ever since early youth."
"To see such worlds ..." breathed Nisa with a breaking voice, "but to see them and return would take sixty terrestrial or forty dependent years ... and that's ... half a lifetime."
"Great achievements demand great sacrifices. For me, though, it would not be a sacrifice. My life on Earth has only been a few short intervals between journeys through space. I was born on a spaceship, you know!"
"How could that have happened?" asked the girl in amazement.
"Cosmic Expedition No. 35 consisted of four ships. My mother was astronomer on one of them. I was born halfway to the binary star MN19026 +, 7AL and managed to Contravene the law twice over. Twice-firstly by being born on a spaceship and secondly because I grew up and was educated by my parents and not in a children's school. What else could they have done? When the expedition returned to Earth I was eighteen years old. I had learnt the art of piloting a spaceship and had acted as astronavigator in place of one who was taken ill. I could also work as a mechanic at the planetary or the anameson motors and all this was accepted as the Labours of Hercules I had to perform on reaching maturity." "Still I don't understand ..." began Nisa. ''About my mother? You'll understand when you get a bit older! Although the doctors didn't know it then, the Anti-T serum wouldn't keep.... Well, never mind what the reason was I was brought to a control tower like this one to look at the screens with my uncomprehending baby eyes and watch the stars dancing up and down on them. We were flying towards the Lupus Constellation where there was a binary star close to the Sun. The two dwarfs, one blue and the other orange, were hidden by a dark cloud. The first tiling that impinged on my infant consciousness was the sky over a lifeless planet that I observed from under the glass dome of a temporary station. The planets of double stars are usually lifeless on account of the irregularity of their orbits. The expedition made a landing and for seven months engaged in mineral prospecting. As far as I remember there were enormous quantities of platinum; osmium and iridium there. My first toys were unbelievably heavy building blocks made of iridium. And that sky, my first sky, was black and dotted with the pure lights of unwinking stars, and there were two suns of indescribable beauty, one a deep blue and the other a bright orange. I remember how their rays sometimes crossed and at those times our planet was inundated with so much jolly green light that I shouted and sang for joy!" Erg Noor stopped. "That's enough, I got carried away by my reminiscences and you have to sleep."
"Go on, please do, I've never heard anything so interesting," Nisa begged him, but the commander was implacable. He brought a pulsating hypnotizer and, either because of his impelling eyes or the sleep-producing apparatus, the girl was soon fast asleep and did not wake up until the day before they were to enter the sixth circle. By the cold look on the commander's face Nisa Greet realized that Algrab had not shown up.
"You woke up just at the right time!" he said as soon as Nisa had taken her electric and wave baths and returned ready for work. "Switch on the animation music and light.
Swiftly Nisa pressed a row of buttons sending intermittent bursts of light accompanied by a specific music of low, vibrant chords that gradually increased in intensity, to all the cabins where members of the Cosmic expedition were sleeping. This initiated the gradual awakening of the inhibited nervous system to bring it back to its normal active state. Five hours later all the members of the expedition gathered in the control tower; they had by then fully recovered from their sleep and had taken food and nerve stimulants.
News of the loss of the auxiliary spaceship was received in different ways by different people. As Erg Noor expected, the expedition was equal to the occasion. Not a word of despair, not a glance of fear. Pour Hyss, who had not shown himself particularly brave on Zirda heard the news without a tremor. Louma Lasvy, the expedition's young physician, went slightly pale and secretly licked her dry lips.
"To the memory of our lost comrades!" said the commander as he switched on the screen of a projector showing Algrab, a photograph that had been taken before Tantra took off. All rose to their feet. On the screen one after another came the photographs of the seven members of Algrab's crew, some serious, some smiling. Erg Noor named each of them in turn and the travellers gave him the farewell salute. Such was the custom of the astronauts. Spaceships that set off together always carried photographs of all the people of the expedition. When a ship disappeared it might keep travelling in Cosmic space for a long time with its crew still alive. But this made no difference, the ship would never return. There was no real possibility of searching for the ship and rendering it aid. Minor faults never, or seldom, occurred and were easily repaired, but a serious break-down in the machinery had never been successfully repaired in the Cosmos. Sometimes ships, like Parus, managed to send a last message, but in the majority of cases such messages did not reach their destination on account of the great difficulty of directing them. The Great Circle had, for thousands of years, been investigating exact routes for its transmissions and could vary them by directing them from planet to planet. The spaceships were usually in unexplored areas where the direction for a message could only be guessed.
There was a conviction amongst astronauts that there existed in the Cosmos certain neutral fields or zero areas in which all radiation and all communications sank like stones in water. Astrophysicists, however, regarded the zero areas to be nothing more than the idle invention of Cosmic travellers who were, in general, inclined to monstrous fantasies.
After that sad ceremony and a very short conference, Erg Noor turned Tantra in the direction of Earth and switched on the anameson motors. Forty-eight hours later they were switched off again and the spaceship began to approach its own planet at the rate of 21,000 million kilometres in every twenty-four hours. The journey back to the Sun would take about six terrestrial, or independent, years. Everybody was busy in the control tower and in the ship's combined library and laboratory where a new course was being computed and plotted on the charts.
The task was to fly the whole six years and use anameson only for purposes of correcting the ship's course. In other words the spaceship had to be flown with as little loss of acceleration as possible. Everybody was worried about the unexplored area 344 +2U that lay between the Sun and Tantra. There was no way of avoiding it: on both sides of it, as far as the Sun, lay belts of free meteoroids and, apart from that, they would lose velocity in turning the ship.
Two months later the computation of the line of flight had been completed. Tantra began to describe a long, flat curve.
The wonderful ship was in excellent condition and her speed was kept within the computed limits. Now nothing but time, about four dependent years, separated the ship from its home.
Erg Noor and Nisa Creet finished their watch and, dead tired, started their period of long sleep. Together with them two astronomers, the geologist, biologist, physician and four engineers departed into temporary forgetful-ness.
The watch was taken over by an experienced astronavigator, Pel Lynn, who was on his second expedition, assisted by astronomer Ingrid Dietra and electronic engineer Kay Bear who had volunteered to join them. Ingrid, with Pel Lynn's consent, often went away to the library adjoining the control tower. She and her old friend, Kay Bear, were writing a monumental symphony. Death of a Planet, inspired by the tragedy of Zirda. Pel Lynn, whenever he grew tired of the hum of the instruments and his contemplation of the black void of the Cosmos, left Ingrid at the control desk and plunged into the thrilling task of deciphering puzzling inscriptions brought from a planet in the system of the nearest stars of the Centaur whose inhabitants had mysteriously quit it. He believed in the success of his impossible undertaking....
Twice again watches were changed, the spaceship had drawn ten billion kilometres nearer Earth and still the anameson motors had only been run for a few hours.
One of Pel Lynn's watches, the fourth since Tantra had left the place where she was to have met Algrab, was coming to an end.
Ingrid Dietra, the astronomer, had finished a calculation and turned to Pel Lynn who was watching, with melancholy mien, the constant flickering of the red arrows on the graded blue scales of the gravitation meters. The usual sluggishness of psychic reaction that not even the strongest people could avoid made itself felt during the second half of the watch. For months and years the spaceship had been automatically piloted along a given course. If anything untoward had happened, something that the electronic machines were incapable of dealing with, it would have meant the loss of the ship, for human intervention could not have saved it since the human brain, no matter how well trained it may be, cannot react with the necessary alacrity.
"In my opinion we are already deep in the unknown area 344 - 2U. The commander wanted to take over the watch himself when we reached it," said Ingrid to the astronavigator. Pel Lynn glanced up at the counter that marked off the days.
"Another two days and we change watches. So far there doesn't seem to be anything to worry about. Shall we see the watch through?"
Ingrid nodded assent. Kay Bear came into the control tower from the stern of the ship and took his usual seat beside the equilibrium mechanism. Pel Lynn yawned and stood up.
"I'll get some sleep for a couple of hours," he said to Ingrid. She got up obediently and went forward to the control desk.
Tantra was travelling smoothly in an absolute vacuum.
Not a single meteoroid, not even at a great distance, had been registered by the super-sensitive Voll Hoad detectors. The spaceship's course now lay somewhat to one side of the Sun, about one and a half flying years. The screens of the forward observation instruments were of an astounding blackness, it seemed as though the spaceship was diving into the very heart of universal darkness. The side telescopes still showed needles of light from countless
Ingrid's nerves tingled with a strange sensation of alarm.
She returned to her machines and telescopes, again and again checked their readings as she mapped the unknown area. Everything was quiet but still Ingrid could not take her eyes off the malignant blackness ahead of the ship. Kay Bear noticed her anxiety and for a long time studied and listened to the instruments.
"I don't see anything," he said at last, "aren't you imagining things?"
"I don't know why, but that unusual blackness ahead of us bothers me. It seems to me that our ship is diving straight into a dark nebula."
"There should be a dark cloud here," Kay Bear agreed, "but we shall only scratch the edge of it. That's what was calculated! The strength of the gravitational field is increasing slowly and regularly. On our way through this area we should pass close to some centre of gravity. What does it matter whether it's light or dark?"
"That's true enough," admitted Ingrid, more calmly.
"We've got the finest commander and officers there are. We're proceeding along a set course even faster than was computed. If there are no changes we'll be out of our trouble and we'll get safely to Triton despite our short supply of anameson."
Even at the thought of the spaceship's station on Triton, Neptune's satellite on the fringe of the solar system, Ingrid felt much happier. To reach Triton would mean that they were home.
"I was hoping we'd be able to work on the symphony together but Lynn's asleep. He'll sleep six or seven hours so I'll think over the orchestration of the coda of the second movement-you know, the place where we couldn't find a means of expressing the integrated accession of the menace. This piece...." Kay sang a few notes.
"Tee-ee-e, tee-ee-e, ta-rara-ra," came the immediate response from the very walls of the control tower. Ingrid started and looked round, but a moment later realized what it was. There had been an increase in the force of gravity and the instruments had responded by changing the melody of the artificial gravitation apparatus.
"What an amusing coincidence," laughed Ingrid, with an air of guilt.
"There is stronger gravitation, as there should be in a black cloud. Now you can calm yourself altogether and let Lynn sleep."
Kay Bear left the control tower and entered the brightly-lit library where he sat down at a tiny electronic violin-piano. He was soon deeply immersed in his work and, no doubt, several hours must have passed before the hermetically sealed door of the library flew open and Ingrid appeared.
"Kay, please wake up Lynn."
"The strength of the gravitation field is much more than was computed."
"What is ahead of us?"
"The same blackness!" Ingrid went out.
Kay Bear woke the astronavigator, who jumped up and ran to the instruments in the control tower.
"There's nothing especially dangerous. Only where does such a gravitational field come from in this area? It's too strong for a black cloud and there are no stars here." Lynn thought for a time and then pressed the knob to awaken the commander of the expedition and after another moment's thought pressed the knob of Nisa Creel's cabin as well.
"If nothing extraordinary happens they can simply take over their watch," Lynn explained to the anxious Ingrid.
"And if something does happen? Erg Noor won't return to normal for another five hours. What shall we do?"
"Wait quietly," answered the astronavigator. "What can happen here in five hours when we are so far from all stellar systems?"
The tone of the measuring instruments grew lower and lower telling of the constantly changing conditions of the flight. The tense waiting dragged out endlessly. Two hours dragged by so slowly that they seemed like a whole watch. Outwardly Pel Lynn was still calm but Ingrid's anxiety had already infected Kay Bear. He kept looking at the control-tower door expecting Erg Noor to appear with his usual rapid movements although he knew that the awakening from prolonged sleep is a lengthy process.
The long ringing of a bell caused them all to start. Ingrid grasped hold of Kay Bear.
Tantra was in danger! The gravitation was double the computed figure!
The astronavigator turned pale. The unexpected bad happened and an immediate decision was essential. The fate of the spaceship was in his hands. The steadily increasing gravitational pull made a reduction in speed necessary, both because of increasing weight in the ship and an apparent accumulation of solid matter in the ship's path. But after reducing speed what would they use for further acceleration? Pel Lynn clenched his teeth and turned the lever that started the ion trigger motors used for braking. Gong-like sounds disturbed the melody of the measuring instruments and drowned the alarming ring of those recording the ratio of gravitational pull to velocity. The ringing ceased and the indicators showed that speed had been reduced to a safe level and was normal for the growing gravitation. But no sooner had Pel Lynn switched off the brake motors than the bells began ringing again. Obviously the spaceship was flying directly into a powerful gravitation centre which was slowing it down.
The astronavigator did not dare change the course that had been plotted with such great difficulty and absolute precision. He used the planetary motors to brake the ship again although it was already clear that there had been an error in plotting the course and that it lay through an unknown mass of matter.
"The gravitational field is very great," said Ingrid softly, "perhaps...."
"We must slow down still more so as to be able h turn," exclaimed the navigator, "but what can we accelerate with after that?..." There was a note of fatal hesitancy in his words.
"We have already passed the zone of outer vortices," Ingrid told him, "gravitation is increasing rapidly all the time.''
The frequent clatter of the planet motors resounded through the ship; the electronic ship's pilot switched them on automatically as it felt a huge accumulation of solid matter in front of them. Tantra began to pitch and toss. No matter how much the ship's speed was reduced the people in the control tower began to lose consciousness. Ingrid fell to her knees. Pel Lynn, sitting in his chair, tried to raise a head as heavy as lead. Kay Bear experienced a mixture of unreasoning brute fear and puerile hopelessness.
The thuds of the motors increased in frequency until they merged into a continual roar-the electronic brain had taken up the struggle in place of its semi-conscious masters; it was a powerful brain but it had its limits, it could not foretell all possible complications and find a way out of unusual situations.
The tossing abated. The indicators showed that the supply of ion charges for the motors was dropping with catastrophic rapidity. As Pel Lynn came to he realized that the strange increase of gravity was taking place so fast that urgent measures had to be taken to stop the ship and then make a complete change of course away from the black void.
Pel Lynn turned the handle switching on the anameson motors. Four tall cylinders of boron nitride that could be seen through a slit in the control desk were lit up from inside. A bright green flame beat inside them with lightning speed, it flowed and whirled in four tight spirals. Up forward, in the nose of the spaceship, a strong magnetic field enveloped the motor jets, saving them from instantaneous destruction.
The astronavigator moved the handle farther-through the whirling green wall of light a directing ray appeared, a greyish stream of K-particles." Another movement and the grey stream was cut by a blinding flash of violet lightning, a signal that the anameson had begun its tempestuous emission. The huge bulk of the spaceship responded with an almost inaudible, unbearable, high-frequency vibration....
Erg Noor had eaten the necessary amount of food and was lying half asleep enjoying the indescribably pleasurable sensation of an electric nerve massage. The veil of forgetfulness that still covered mind and body left him very slowly. The music of animation changed to a major key and to a rhythm that increased in rapidity....
Suddenly something evil coming from without interrupted the joy of awakening from a ninety-day sleep. Erg Noor realized that he was commander of the expedition and struggled desperately to get back to normal consciousness. At last he recognized the fact that the spaceship was being braked and that the anameson motors were switched on, all of which meant that something serious had occurred. He tried to get up. His body still would not obey his will, his legs doubled under him and he collapsed like a sack on the floor of his cabin. After some time he managed to crawl to the door and open it. Consciousness was breaking through the mist of sleep-in the corridor he rose on all fours and made his way into the control tower.
The people staring at the screens and instrument dials looked round in alarm and then ran to their commander. He was not yet able to stand but he muttered:
"The screens ... the forward screen ... switch over to infrared ... stop the motors!"
The borason cylinders were extinguished at the same time as the vibration of the ship's hull ceased. A gigantic star, burning with a dull reddish-brown light, appeared on the forward starboard screen. For a moment they were all flabbergasted and could not take their eyes off the enormous disc that emerged from the darkness directly ahead of the spaceship.
"Oh, what a fool!" exclaimed Pel Lynn bitterly, "I was sure we were in a dark nebula! And that's...."
"An iron star!" exclaimed Ingrid Dietra in horror.
Erg Noor, holding on to the back of a chair, stood up. His usually pale face had a bluish tinge to it but his eyes gleamed brightly with their usual fire.
"Yes, that's an iron star," he said slowly and the eyes of all those in the room turned to him in fear and hope, "the terror of astronauts! Nobody suspected that there would be one in this area."
"I only thought about a nebula," Pel Lyn said softly and guiltily.
"A dark nebula with such a gravitational field would contain comparatively large solid particles and Tantra would have been destroyed already. It would be impossible to avoid a collision in such a swarm," said the commander in a calm firm voice.
"But these sharp gravitational changes and these vortex things-aren't they a direct indication of a cloud?"
"Or that the star has a planet, perhaps more than one...."
The astronavigator bit his lip so badly that it began to bleed. The commander nodded his head encouragingly and himself pressed the buttons to awaken the others.
"A report of observations as quickly as possible! We'll work out the gravitation contours."
The spaceship began to rock again. Something flashed across the screen with colossal speed, something of terrific size that passed behind them and disappeared.
"There's the answer, we've overtaken the planet. Hurry up, hurry up, get the work done!" The commander's glance fell on the fuel supply indicator. His hands gripped the back of the chair more tightly, he was going to say something but refrained.
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1. Billion-is used in its European meaning of a million millions (1012).
2. Parsec-the unit of measure of astronomical distance, equal to 3.26 light years or 32X1012 km.
3. Sporamin-a drug to maintain the organism active over long periods without sleep (imaginary).
4. Anameson-atomic fuel in which the meson bonds of the nucleus have been disrupted; it has an exhaust velocity equal to the speed of light (imaginary).
5. Bomb Beacons-automatic radio robots transmitting signals powerful enough to penetrate the atmosphere of a planet. They were dropped from the spaceships for reconnaissance purposes (imaginary).
6. Independent Year-a terrestrial year that is Independent of the speed of the spaceship.
7. Spectral Classes-are indicated by the letters 0, B, A, F, G, K, M. They range from hot blue stars with a surface temperature of 100,000° C. to red stars with a temperature of 3,000° C. Each class has ten descending degrees of magnitude shown by indices, as A;. There are special classes N, P, R and S with an augmented content of carbon, cyanogen, titanium and zirconium in their spectra. N. B. In other systems of classification the spectral classes 0, B, A and F are all called ,,white stars" and not ,,blue stars" as here.
8. Quantum Limit-velocity close to that of light (subphotonic velocity) at which a solid body cannot exist: the point at which the mass is equal to infinity and time is equal to zero.
9. K-particles-particles formed inside the atomic nucleus from fragments of the circular meson cloud (imaginary).
10. Isograves-lines of equal intensity in a gravitational field (imaginary).
11. Atomized Solid Oxygen-oxygen that is not in its usual molecular form (02) but in the form of separate atoms. This form produces more intensive chemical reactions and permits of greater compression than the molecular state.
12. Optimal Radiant-the optimal radius of the orbit of the spaceship about a planet and outside its atmosphere; the radius that gives ship a constant, unchanging orbit; depends on the volume and mass of the planet (imaginary).
13. Kelvin Scale-a temperature scale beginning from absolute zero which is - 273° C, or - 459° F. The temperature 320° K is equal to 4- 47° C. or 116.6° F.
14. Silicolloid-made of silicon, a transparent material produced from fibrous silicon-organic compounds (imaginary).
15. Silicoborum-an amalgam of borum carbide and silicon to produce an extremely hard, transparent material (imaginary).
16. Chlorella-a seaweed with a considerable albumin content.
17. Chromokatoptric Colours-artist's colours with a strong reflection of light from the inner layers (imaginary).
18. Repagular Calculus-a calculus in bipolar mathematics that deals with moments of transition (repagulum) from one state or condition to another and from one mathematical sign to another (imaginary).
19. Bipolar Mathematics-mathematics based on dialectic logic, with opposite analyses and solutions (imaginary).
20. Cochlear Calculus-a division of bipolar mathematics dealing with progressive spiral movement (imaginary).
21. Tiratron-an electronic instrument (electron lamp) to stimulate and maintain the nervous processes in the human organism, in particular the beating of the heart (imaginary).
22. Neurosecretory Stimulators-drugs made from the nervous excretions of the organism (neurosecretory substances) acting specifically on certain nerves (imaginary).
23. Geological Bomb-a bomb of great explosive power dropped on to a planet under exploration to get samples of matter contained on the surface of the planet and hurled into the upper layers of the atmosphere by the explosion (imaginary).
24. Stochastics-a branch of mathematics studying the laws of large numbers.
25. Cytoarchitectonics-a detailed study of the structure of the brain according to the distribution and specialization of the nerve cells.
26. Third System of Signals-thought transmission without speech (imaginary).
27 Overtone Diaphragms-diaphragms that transmit the overtones of the human voice and so remove all difference between the living voice and the sounds of its reproduction (imaginary).