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The Last Of The Earth






Part of: LAST OF EARTH
From: A Journey In Other Worlds

Finding that they were rapidly swinging towards their proper
course, and that the earth in its journey about the sun would
move out of their way, they divided their power between repelling
the body they had left and increasing the attraction of the moon,
and then set about getting their house in order.

Bearwarden, having the largest appetite, was elected cook, the
others sagely divining that labour so largely for himself would
be no trial. Their small but business- like-looking electric
range was therefore soon in full blast, with Bearwarden in
command. It had enough current to provide heat for cooking for
four hundred hours, which was an ample margin, and it had this
advantage, that, no matter how much it was used, it could not
exhaust the air as any other form of heat would.

There were also a number of sixteen-candle-power incandescent
lamps, so that when passing through the shadow of a planet, or at
night after their arrival on Jupiter, their car would be brightly
illuminated. They had also a good search-light for examining the
dark side of a satellite, or exploring the spaces in Saturn's
rings. Having lunched sumptuously on canned chicken soup, beef
a la jardiniere, and pheasant that had been sent them by some of
their admirers that morning, they put the bones and the glass can
that had contained the soup into the double-doored partition or
vestibule, placing a large sheet of cardboard to act as a wad
between the scraps and the outside door. By pressing a button
they unfastened the outside door, and the articles to be disposed
of were shot off by the expansion of the air between the
cardboard disk and the inside door; after which the outside door
was drawn back to its place by a current sent through a magnet,
but little power being required to reclose it with no resisting
atmospheric pressure. As the electricity ran along a wire
passing through a hermetically sealed opening in the floor, there
was no way by which more air than that in the vestibule could
escape; and as the somewhat flat space between the doors
contained less than one cubic foot, the air- pressure inside the
Callisto could not be materially lessened by a few openings.

"By filling the vestibule as full as possible," said Bearwarden,
"and so displacing most of its air, we shall be able to open the
outside door oftener without danger of rarefaction."

The things they had discharged flew off with considerable speed
and were soon out of sight; but it was not necessary for them to
move fast, provided they moved at all, for, the resistance being
nil, they would be sure to go beyond the range of vision,
provided enough time was allowed, even if the Callisto's speed
was not being increased by apergy, in which case articles outside
and not affected would be quickly left behind.

The earth, which at first had filled nearly half their sky, was
rapidly growing smaller. Being almost between themselves and the
sun, it looked like a crescent moon; and when it was only about
twenty times the size of the moon they calculated they must have
come nearly two hundred thousand miles. The moon was now on what
a sailor would call the starboard bow--i. e., to the right and
ahead. Being a little more than three quarters full, and only
about fifty thousand miles off, it presented a splendid sight,
brilliant as polished silver, and about twenty-five times as
large as they had ever before seen it with the unaided eye.

It was just ten hours since they had started, and at that moment
9 A. M. in New York; but, though it was night there, the Callisto
was bathed in a flood of sunlight such as never shines on earth.
The only night they would have was on the side of the Callisto
turned away from the sun, unless they passed through some shadow,
which they intended to avoid on account of the danger of
colliding with a meteor in the dark. The moon and the Callisto
were moving on converging lines, the curve on which they had
entered having swung them to the side nearest the earth; but they
saw that their own tremendous and increasing speed would carry
them in front of the moon in its nearly circular orbit. Wishing
to change the direction of their flight by the moon's attraction,
they shut off the power driving them from the earth, whereupon
the Callisto turned its heavy base towards the moon. They were
already moving at such speed that their momentum alone would
carry them hundreds of thousands of miles into space, and were
then almost abreast of the earth's satellite, which was but a few
thousand miles away. The spectacle was magnificent. As they
looked at it through their field glasses or with the unaided eye,
the great cracks and craters showed with the utmost clearness,
sweeping past them almost as the landscape flies past a railway
train. There was something awe-inspiring in the vast antiquity
of that furrowed lunar surface, by far the oldest thing that
mortal eye can see, since, while observing the ceaseless
political or geological changes on earth, the face of this dead
satellite, on account of the absence of air and water and
consequent erosion, has remained unchanged for bygone ages, as it
doubtless will for many more.

They closely watched the Callisto's course. At first it did not
seem to deflect from a straight line, and they stood ready to
turn on the apergetic force again, when the car very slowly began
to show the effect of the moon's near pull; but not till they had
so far passed it that the dark side was towards them were they
heading straight for Jupiter. Then they again turned on full
power and got a send-off shove on the moon and earth combined,
which increased their speed so rapidly that they felt they could
soon shut off the current altogether and save their supply.

"We must be ready to watch the signals from the arctic circle,"
said Bearwarden. "At midnight, if the calculations are finished,
the result will be flashed by the searchlight." It was then ten
minutes to twelve, and the earth was already over four hundred
thousand miles away. Focusing their glasses upon the region near
the north pole, which, being turned from the sun, was towards
them and in darkness, they waited.

"In this blaze of sunlight," said Cortlandt, "I am afraid we can
see nothing."

Fortunately, at this moment the Callisto entered the moon's
tapering shadow.

"This," said Ayrault, "is good luck. We could of course have
gone into the shadow; but to change our course would have delayed
us, and we might have lost part of the chance of increasing our
speed."

"There will be no danger from, meteors or sub-satellites here,"
said Bearwarden, "for anything revolving about the moon at this
distance would be caught by the earth."

The sun had apparently set behind the moon, and they were
eclipsed. The stars shone with the utmost splendour against the
dead-black sky, and the earth appeared as a large crescent, still
considerably larger than the satellite to which they were
accustomed. Exactly at midnight a faint phosphorescent light,
like that of a glow-worm, appeared in the region of Greenland on
the planet they had left. It gradually increased its strength
till it shone like a long white beam projected from a lighthouse,
and in this they beheld the work of the greatest search-light
ever made by man, receiving for a few moments all the electricity
generated by the available dynamos at Niagara and the Bay of
Fundy, the steam engines, and other sources of power in the
northern hemisphere. The beam lasted with growing intensity for
one minute; it then spelled out with clean-cut intervals,
according to the Cable Code: "23@ no' 6". The southern
hemisphere pumps are now raising and storing water at full blast.
We have already begun to lower the Arctic Ocean."

"Victory!" shouted Bearwarden, in an ecstasy of delight. "Nearly
half a degree in six months, with but one pole working. If we
can add at this rate each time to the speed of straightening
already acquired, we can reverse our engines in five years, and
in five more the earth will be at rest and right."

"Look!" said Ayrault, "they are sending something else." The
flashes came in rapid succession, reaching far into space. With
their glasses fixed upon them, they made out these sentences:
"Our telescopes, in whatever part of the earth was turned towards
you, have followed you since you started, and did not lose sight
of you till you entered the moon's shadow. On your present
course you will be in darkness till 12.16, when we shall see you
again."

On receiving this last earthly message, the travellers sprang to
their searchlight, and, using its full power, telegraphed back
the following: "Many thanks to you for good news about earth,
and to Secretary Deepwaters for lending us the navy. Result of
work most glorious. Remember us to everybody. Shadow's edge
approaching."

This was read by the men in the great observatories, who
evidently telephoned to the arctic Signal Light immediately, for
it flashed back: "Got your message perfectly. Wish you greatest
luck. The T. A. S. Co. has decked the Callisto's pedestal with
flowers, and has ordered a tablet set up on the site to
commemorate your celestial journey."

At that moment the shadow swept by, and they were in the full
blaze of cloudless day. The change was so great that for a
moment they were obliged to close their eyes. The polished sides
of the Callisto shone so brightly that they knew they were easily
seen. The power temporarily diverted in sending them the message
then returned to the work of draining the Arctic Ocean, which, as
the north pole was now returning to the sun, was the thing to do,
and the travellers resumed their study of the heavenly bodies.





Next: Space And Mars

Previous: Good-bye



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