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Farewell To Earth






Part of: Secrets of Space
From: Pharaoh's Broker

The next day I quietly bought in my wheat, and told Flynn I was thinking
of taking a little vacation. I said I was worn out fighting the contrary
market, and told him to run the office as if it were his own until I
returned. At home I said nothing about the vacation, for I didn't care
to have my stories agree very perfectly. I simply packed a few
necessities for the trip in a dress-suit case. My uncle was used to
seeing me carry my evening clothes to the Club in this manner, and I
casually told him I should remain the night this time.

I could not leave without kissing cousin Ruth good-bye, but this excited
no suspicion, as it was a thing I did on every pretext. Then I slipped
out and took back streets till I was several blocks away from the house.
Taking a closed carriage here, I was driven to the same station and took
the same train for Whiting as on the previous evening. I found the
doctor awaiting me with a lantern. As we walked down the tracks in the
twilight I said to him,--

"I never made so quick a preparation, nor attempted so long a trip. I
have left my friends a lot of guessing! Now, how soon shall we be off?"

"Within an hour," he answered. "Mars will not be directly overhead until
midnight, but there is a little side trip I wish to make first, to test
the projectile before we get too far above the Earth's surface."

The sky was densely cloudy, there was no Moon, and it was already
growing very dark. As we began to have difficulty in finding the way,
the doctor lighted his lantern. Peering up into the darkness, I said to
him,--

"There is not a star visible. How are you to find your way in the
heavens a night like this?"

"That is all perfectly easy. We shall soon rise far above those clouds,
and then the stars will come out. Besides, I shall show you perfect
daylight again before midnight."

"I don't see just how, but I will take your word for it, Doctor. I
daresay you have thought it all out, and the whole trip will contain no
surprises for you."

"I have tried to think it all out and prepare for everything. But I am
certain I have forgotten something. I have a feeling amounting to a
dreadful presentiment that I have overlooked something important. I wish
you would see if you can think of anything I have omitted."

"The only really important thing I have remembered is half a dozen boxes
of the best cigars," I replied.

"Leave them right here in Whiting," he said with emphasis. "We are
carrying only a limited supply of pure air, and we cannot afford to
contaminate it with tobacco smoke. No, sir, you can't smoke on this
trip."

"Then I won't go! Imagine not smoking for two whole months! Do you think
I have sworn off?"

"No, not yet. But you must. It pollutes the air, which we must keep
clean and fresh as long as possible."

"Now, Doctor, you must let me have a good smoke once a day, just before
pumping the air out of my compartment."

"No, not even that. It is impossible to pump all the air out, and what
is left mixes back with what is in my compartment. Once contaminated
with tobacco smoke, we could never get it perfectly pure again."

"Well, may I smoke on Mars, then? I will take them along for that. But,
I warn you, I eat like a farm horse when I can't smoke."

"I have provided plenty to eat, but I know I have forgotten something.
Mention something now, mention everything you can think of, so that I
may see if it is provided for."

"Have you any money?" I asked. "I have changed some into gold, and have
a fairly heavy bag here."

"Oh, yes, I have some gold and silver money, besides a lot of beads,
trinkets, and gaudy tinsel things, such as earthly savages have been
willing to barter valuable merchandise for."

"So you are going on a trading expedition, are you?" I asked.

"Not exactly. I leave all that to your superior abilities. But we may
find these things valuable to give as presents. Many of them are of tin,
and if they do not happen to have that useful metal on Mars, they will
be of rare value there."

We had now reached the little grove where the projectile was hidden. I
proceeded to open the rear port-hole, saying,--

"Let me look inside, and when I see what you have, some other necessary
thing may suggest itself."

"Let me go in first, for I am afraid you will allow the menagerie to
escape," he said, as he peered in by the light of the lantern. A
diminutive fox terrier barked from the inside, and wagged his tail
faster than a watch ticks, so glad he was to see us. The bright light
also awakened a small white rabbit that had been asleep in the doctor's
compartment.

"You are taking these along for companions, I suppose?"

"Yes, for that and for experiments. We may reach places where it will
be necessary to determine whether living, breathing things can exist
before we try it ourselves. Then we shall put one of these out and
observe the effects."

"You may experiment on the rabbit all you please, but this little puppy
and I are going to be fast friends, and we shall die together; shan't
we, Two-spot?"

"Why do you call him Two-spot? There is only one spot on him, and his
name is Himmelshundchen."

"Rubbish! The idea of such a long, heavy name for such a little puppy! I
shall call him Two-spot because he is the smallest thing in the pack.
Heavenly-puppy, indeed!"

The doctor had entered and lighted a small gas jet, supplied on the
Pintsch system from compressed gas stored in one of the chambers. The
rear compartment, which was to be mine, looked half an arsenal and half
a pantry. On the right side a cupboard was filled with newly-cooked
meats. I remember how plentiful the store looked at the time, but, alas!
how soon it vanished and we were reduced to tinned and bottled foods!
There was a cold joint of beef, a quarter of roast mutton, three boiled
hams and four roast chickens.

On the left, folding up into the concavity of the wall, like the upper
berth of a Pullman sleeping car, was my bunk. On the walls not thus
occupied the arms were hung. There were two repeating rifles, each
carrying seventeen cartridges; two large calibre hammerless revolvers;
two long and heavy swords, designed for cleaving rather than for
stabbing; two chain shirts, to be worn under the clothing to protect
against arrows; and finally two large shields, made of overlapping steel
plates and almost four feet high. The doctor explained to me that the
idea was to rest the lower edge of these on the ground and crouch behind
them. They were rather heavy and cumbersome to be carried far, and were
grooved in three sections, so that they slipped together into an arc
one-third of their circumference.

I examined everything closely and asked a hundred questions, but the
doctor seemed to have provided for every necessity or contingency.

"Let us waste no more time," said I. "If we have forgotten anything, we
must get along without it. All aboard! What is our first stop?"

"The planet Mars, only thirty-six million miles away, if we are
successful in meeting him just as he comes into opposition on the third
day of August. This is the most favourable opposition in which to meet
him for the past quarter of a century. Back in the year 1877 he was only
about thirty-five million miles away, and it was then that we learned
most that we know of his physical features. But we shall not have a more
favourable time than this for the next seventeen years."

"Still it seems like nonsense to talk about travelling such an
incomprehensible distance, doesn't it?" I ventured.

"Not at all!" he replied positively. "If the Earth travels a million
miles per day in her orbit, without any motion being apparent to her
inhabitants, why should we not travel just as fast and just as
unconsciously? We are driven by the same force. The same engine of the
Creator's which drives all the universe, drives us. When we have left
the atmosphere we shall rush through the void of space without knowing
whether we are travelling at a thousand miles per minute or standing
perfectly still. Our senses will have nothing to lay hold on to form a
judgment of our rate of speed. But if we make an average of only five
hundred miles per minute we shall accomplish the distance in about fifty
days, and arrive soon after opposition."

"But have you given up stopping on the Moon?" I asked. "I had great
hopes of making those rich discoveries there."

"We must leave all that until our return trip. I have chosen this
starting time in the dark of the Moon in order to have the satellite on
the other side of the Earth and out of the way. She would only impede
our progress, as we wish to acquire a tremendous velocity just as soon
as we leave the atmosphere. We must accelerate our speed as long as
gravity will do it for us. When we can no longer gain speed, we shall
at least continue to maintain our rapid pace.

"But if we stopped on the Moon, we should only have her weak gravity to
repel us towards Mars, and we could make but little speed. On our
return, the stop on the Moon will be a natural and easy one. We shall be
near home and can afford to loiter."

While the doctor was saying this, he had been busy making tests of his
apparatus. He now called me to see his buoyancy gauge, which was a
half-spherical mass of steel weighing just ten pounds. It was pierced
with a hole at right angles to its plane surface and strung upon a
vertical copper wire. Small leaden weights, weighing from an ounce to
four pounds each, were provided to be placed upon the plane surface of
the steel. The doctor explained its action to me thus:--

"The polarizing action of the gravity apparatus affects only steel and
iron, and has no effect upon lead. Therefore, when the current is
conducted through the copper wire into the soft steel ball, it will
immediately rise up the wire, by the repulsion of negative gravity. Now,
if the leaden weights are piled upon the steel ball one by one, until it
is just balanced half way up the wire, our buoyancy is thus measured or
weighed. For instance, with the first two batteries turned in we have a
buoyancy a little exceeding one pound. That means, we should rise with
one-tenth the velocity that we should fall. Turning in two more
batteries, you see the buoyancy is three pounds, or our flying speed
will be three-tenths of our falling speed. With all the batteries acting
upon the gauge, you see it will carry up more than ten pounds of lead,
because the pressure of the air is against weight and in favour of
buoyancy. So long as we are in atmospheres, then, it is possible to fall
up more rapidly than to fall down; but, on account of friction and the
resultant heat, it is not safe to do so."

"So we have been doing the hard thing, by falling all our lives, when
flying would really have been easier!" I put in.

"We have been overlooking a very simple thing for a long time, just as
our forefathers overlooked the usefulness of steam, being perfectly well
acquainted with its expansive qualities. But let us be off. Close your
port-hole, and screw it in tightly and permanently for the trip. Then
let down your bunk and prepare for a night of awkward, cramped
positions. We shall be more uncomfortable to-night than any other of the
trip. You see, when we start, this thing will stand up on its rear end,
and that end will continue to be the bottom until we begin to fall into
Mars. Then the forward end will be the bottom. But after the first night
our weight will have so diminished that we can sleep almost as well
standing on our heads as any other way. Within fifteen hours you will
have lost all idea which end of you should be right side up, and we
will be quite as likely to float in the middle of the projectile as to
rest upon anything."

My bed was hinged in the middle, and one end lifted up until it looked
like a letter L, with the shorter part extending across the projectile
and the longer part reaching up the side. I could sit in it in a half
reclining posture. The doctor then pulled out a fan-like, extending
lattice-work of steel slats, to form a sort of false floor over the
port-hole. This was full of diamond-shaped openings between the slats,
so that the view out of the rear window was not obstructed. Then he did
the same to form a false floor for his compartment. Finally he said to
me,--

"Now, if you are all ready, I will stand her on end;" and by applying
the currents to the forward end only he caused her to rise slowly until
she stood upright. The cupboard in my compartment and the desk in his
end were each hung upon a central bolt, and they righted themselves as
the projectile stood up, so that nothing in them was disarranged. I was
sitting on the lower hinge of my bed, clutching tightly and watching
everything, when the doctor called to me to turn the little wheel which
operated a screw and served to push out the rudder.

"But the whole weight of the projectile is now on the rudder," I
objected.

"You will have to make over all your ideas of weight," he said, with
some impatience. "Run the rudder out. The gauge shows an ounce of
buoyancy, which is nearly enough to counteract all the dead weight we
have. You can lift the rest with the rudder-screw."

And, true enough, it was perfectly easy to whirl the little wheel around
which made the rudder creep out. There was a steering wheel in the
doctor's compartment and one in my own. He set it exactly amidships, and
told me to prepare for the ascent. I turned out the gas in my
compartment and crouched nervously over the port-hole window to watch
the panorama of Earth fade away.

"Here go two batteries!" he cried. I held on frantically, expecting that
we would leap into the heavens in one grand bound, as I had seen the
model do. But we began to rise very slowly, a foot and a half the first
second, three feet the next, and so on, as the doctor told me
afterwards. It was all so slow and quiet that I was suddenly possessed
with a fear that after all the projectile was a failure. Had a balloon
started so slowly, it would never have risen far. This fear held me for
only a minute, for when I looked down again, the landscape below was
beginning to look like a dim map or a picture, instead of the reality.
The doctor was steering to the northward, directly over the lake. I
could see its great purple, restful surface below me, but more plainly
could I discern the outline where its silvery edge bathed the white
sands of the shore. Following this outline I could see a web of
railroads, like ropes bent around the lower end of the lake. The night
was too dark to see it long. The hundreds of huge oil tanks of Whiting
had now disappeared, and I could see only the flaming tops of the iron
furnaces of South Chicago. Suddenly they went out in an instant, as if a
thick fog had smothered them, and there was a long minute of pale mist;
and then suddenly a bright blue sky, the twinkling stars and a veil of
grey shutting off all view of the Earth.

"We have passed through the clouds," said the doctor cheerily. "What
does the barometer register?"

I looked, and was astonished to see the mercury down to fifteen. I asked
him if he thought the barometer might be broken.

"No, that is quite right," he replied. "That is half the surface
pressure, which shows that we are two and a half miles high. I have four
batteries in, and we are going at a constantly increasing speed now."

I could easily believe it, for the wind howled around my compartment and
whistled over the rudder aperture in a most dismal way. Whenever the
rudder was changed, there was a new sound to the moaning. Still, as I
looked back at the clouds, I saw that no wind was moving them. It was
not wind, but only the air whistling as we rushed through it.

"Watch the barometer, and let me know the exact time when it registers
seven and a half inches," said the doctor. "We shall be five miles high
then, and we started at nine o'clock to a second."

I noted the rapidly sinking mercury and opened my watch. When it was
just at seven and a half, I looked at the watch, and it said half a
minute after nine. Knowing that could not be correct, I held it to my
ear and discovered it was stopped. I attempted to wind it, but found it
almost wound up.

"Something wrong with my watch, Doctor. You will have to look."

"Half a minute after nine, that can't be right!" he exclaimed. Then as
the truth flashed upon him he added,--

"There is the first thing I have overlooked! Our watch springs are
steel, and the magnetic currents affect them. It is strange I did not
think of that, for I knew a mariner's compass would be of no use to us
in steering on account of the currents. For that reason I have risen
above the clouds so as to steer by the stars. I am making for the North
Star yonder, now."

"We will have to get back to the same primitive methods of measuring
time," I put in. "Neither weight clocks nor spring clocks would have
been of any account. And an hour glass would tell a different tale just
as gravity varied. We will have to rely on the Moon and stars, and it
may be rather awkward." But I did not then appreciate how awkward it
would be when even the markings of day and night would be taken away
from us.

"We can count our pulse or go by our stomachs," said the doctor, who was
really disappointed at having forgotten anything. But he was destined to
get used to that. Presently he inquired,--

"What is the barometer now? Perhaps we are high enough for the present."

"There is scarcely two inches of mercury in the tube!" I cried out.

He hesitated for a moment as if calculating, and then said,--

"That makes us ten miles high. Work the rudder gradually very much
farther out for this thinner atmosphere, and we will try falling awhile,
with a long slant to northward."

And so saying, the doctor detached all the polarizing batteries, and I
could hear the monotonous howling of the wind die down; and the
whistling ceased altogether as the feeble resistance of the rarefied air
slowly but surely overcame our momentum. As we began to fall, the doctor
turned the rudder hard down, in order to give us a long sailing slant.
This modified the position of the projectile so that it lay almost flat
again, with a dip of the forward end downward.

"Lie down and have a nap while she is in this comfortable position," he
said to me. "When you waken, I shall have a surprise for you."





Next: The Terrors Of Light

Previous: Final Preparations



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