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The Terrors Of Light






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

I was weary from the trials of the day on Earth, and fell asleep easily.
It was the red sunlight streaming in at the port-hole that awakened me.
I thought I had slept but a very short time, but the night was evidently
over. As soon as the doctor heard me moving, he cried out to me,--

"Here is the daylight I promised you. Did you ever see it at midnight
before?"

"How do you know it is midnight? It looks more like a red sunset to me,"
I said, for the sun was just in the horizon.

"The sun has just set, and is now rising. It did not go out of sight,
but gradually turned about and began to mount again. That is how I know
it is midnight."

"Sunset presses so closely upon sunrise that night is crowded out
altogether. Then this must be the land of the midnight sun that I have
read about?"

"Yes, we are very near the Earth again, and this is far inside the
arctic polar circle, where the sun never goes down during summer, but
sets for a long night in the winter. I have kept far to the westward to
avoid the magnetic pole, which might play havoc with my apparatus."

"Then your little side-trip is----"

"To the North Pole, of course!" he cried triumphantly.

How simple this vexed problem had become, after all! It had worsted the
most daring travellers of all countries for centuries. Thousands upon
thousands spent in sending expeditions to find the Pole had only called
for other thousands to fit out relief expeditions. Ship after ship had
been crashed, life after life had been clutched in its icy hand! But now
it had become an after-thought, a side-trip, a little excursion to be
made while waiting for midnight! And it is often that such a simple
solution of the most baffling difficulties is found at last.

The doctor had been observing his quadrant, and was now busy making
calculations. He called me up to his compartment.

"Longitude, 144 degrees and 45 minutes west; Latitude, 89 degrees 59
minutes and 30 seconds north. That is the way it figures out. We were
half a mile from the Pole when I took my observation. We must have just
crossed over it since then."

"Go down a little nearer, so we may see what it looks like!" I said
excitedly.

"I dare not go too close to all that ice, or we may freeze the mercury
in our thermometer and barometer. We must keep well in the sunlight, but
I will lower a little."

What mountains of crusted snow! What crags and peaks of solid ice! It
was impossible to tell whether it was land or sea underneath. Judging by
the general level it must have been a sea, but no water was visible in
any direction. The great floes of ice were piled high upon each other. A
million sharp, glittering edges formed ramparts in every direction to
keep off the invader by land. How impotent and powerless man would be to
scale these jagged walls or climb these towering mountains! How
absolutely impossible to reach by land, how simple and easy to reach
through the air! The North Pole and Aerial Navigation had been cousin
problems that baffled man for so long, and their solution had come
together.

"Empty a biscuit tin to contain this record, and we will toss it out
upon this world of ice, so that if any adventurer ever gets this far
north he may find that we have already been here," said the doctor,
bringing down a freshly-written page for me to sign. It read as
follows:--

"Aboard Anderwelt's Gravity Projectile, 12.25 a.m., June 12th, 1892.
The undersigned, having left the vicinity of Chicago at nine o'clock
on the evening of June 11th, took bearings here, showing that they
passed over the North Pole soon after midnight. Then they took up
their course to the planet Mars.

"(Signed) HERMANN ANDERWELT.
ISIDOR WERNER."

This was duly enclosed in the biscuit tin, which I bent and crimped a
little around the top so that the cover would stay on tightly. Then I
learned how such things were conveyed outside the projectile. A
cylindrical, hollow plunger fitting tightly into the rear wall was
pulled as far into the projectile as it would come. A closely fitting
lid on the top of the cylinder was lifted, and the tin deposited within.
The lid was then fitted down again, and the plunger was pushed out and
turned over until the weight of the lid caused it to fall open and the
contents to drop out. The tin sailed down, struck a tall crag, bounded
off, and fell upon a comparatively level plateau. The cylinder was then
turned farther over, causing the lid to close, and the plunger was
pulled in again. I remember how crisply cold was that one cubic foot of
air that came back with the cylinder. My teeth had been chattering ever
since I wakened, and I had been too excited to put on a heavier coat.

"What is the thermometer?" asked the doctor. It was a Fahrenheit
instrument we were carrying.

"Thirty-eight degrees below zero, and still falling!" I told him.

"Then we must be off at once, and at a good speed, to warm up. Now say a
long good-bye to Earth, for it may be nothing more than a pale star to
us hereafter."

The doctor steered to westward as he rose steadily to a height of about
ten miles. Then he fell with a long slant to the south-west. He was
working back into the darkness of night again. We had lost the sun long
before we started to rise again.

"We are now well above the Pacific Ocean, about fifteen hundred miles
north-west of San Francisco," said the doctor, consulting his large
globe.

"It seems to me you cross continents with remarkable ease and swiftness.
From Chicago to San Francisco alone is almost three thousand miles," I
ventured.

"But we have been gone four hours, and if we had simply stood still
above the Earth for four hours it would have travelled under us about
four thousand miles, so that San Francisco would already have passed the
place where we started."

"Then one only needs to get off somewhere and remain still in order to
make a trip around the World!" I exclaimed.

"You are quite right, and travelling upon the Earth's surface is the
most awkward method, because it is impossible to take advantage of the
Earth's own rapid motion. Around the World in eighty days was once
considered a remarkable feat, but if we were to travel steadily
westward we should make the circuit in very much less than twenty-four
hours. The motion of the Earth upon its axis is such an immense
advantage that if we were only going from Chicago to London, the trip
could be more easily and quickly made by going to the westward some
twenty-one thousand miles, rather than going directly eastward less than
four thousand miles. For going eastward we should have to travel a
thousand miles an hour in order to keep up with the Earth. It is
questionable whether we could make that speed tacking up and slanting
down."

"Then we shall have to follow the course of Empire, always westward!" I
laughed.

While we were talking thus, the whizzing and whistling of the wind,
which had been at first very loud and hissing, had gradually died down.
I looked at the barometer, and reported that there was scarcely
three-eighths of an inch of mercury in the tube.

"We are practically above the atmosphere, then," said the doctor,
turning in all the batteries. He tried the rudder in the ether, and
found it turned her when fully extended and turned rather hard over.

"I tried to sleep this morning at Whiting to prepare for to-night's
work," said the doctor presently; "but I find I am getting
uncontrollably drowsy. Come up, and I will show you the course we most
keep, and then I will lie down to get a little rest."

I mounted to his compartment and gazed through the telescope at Mars,
looking like a little, red baby-moon, floating in one side of the blue
circle.

"Keep him always in view, but in the edge of the field like that," said
the doctor. "We must always steer a little to the right of him--that is,
a little behind him."

"But he travels around the sun in the same direction the Earth does," I
objected. "I should think we ought to aim a little ahead of him, or to
the left, to allow for his motion forward in his orbit."

"That looks reasonable at first sight, doesn't it?" said the doctor.
"But a little learning is a dangerous thing. I will explain to you why
we must steer a little behind him after I have had my nap. I am too
sleepy now;" and he finished with a yawn.

He soon fell asleep, and I was left alone to think over the events of
the day and the still more strange happenings of the night. It hurt my
eyes to look long through the telescope, so I closed them and gave free
rein to my thoughts.

How soon will it be morning? How shall I know when it is morning? That
term "morning" applies only to the surface of revolving planets. I had
just seen the morning come at midnight, and then the darkness of night
fall again directly after morning. After all, what are night and
morning? The one is a passing into the shadow of the Earth, and the
other is simply the emerging into the light. They depend on a rotation,
and we shall know no more of them until we land on a revolving planet
again. But which shall we have on the trip, night or daylight? Naturally
we would very soon emerge from the little shadow cast by the Earth. It
had taken us but an hour or two to travel out of it into the daylight
and then back into the darkness again. Even if we did not leave it, the
Earth would move on and leave us.

And what then? Nothing but uninterrupted, untempered, unhindered
daylight! Eternal, dazzling, direct sunlight, unrelieved by any night,
unstrained through any clouds! This deep blue of the starry night would
be succeeded by the hot, white light of a scorching, gleaming Sun. And
then (the thought chilled my bones as it fell upon me!), then how would
we see Mars? How would we see any star, or perchance the Moon? Even the
Earth might be drowned in that sea of everlasting, all-engulfing
brilliancy! Nothing in all the Universe would be visible but the beaming
Sun, and he too blindingly bright to look upon.

As the truth of all this took hold of me, it filled me with a growing
terror. At any moment we might emerge from this grateful shadow of the
Earth, and then we would be lost, drowned, engulfed in a blinding,
sight-suffocating light! In desperate terror I looked around toward the
doctor, as if for assistance. He was sleeping peacefully. He had never
thought of it! This was the great thing he had overlooked! Even at
starting he had a dreadful presentiment of it.

He was a great man, and his discovery a wonderful one; but here was the
trouble with it. He had solved the question of navigating space, but the
sunlight! the dazzling, burning, terrible sunlight! how was he to
navigate that? It was simply impossible! We would have to turn back
before we emerged into it. We would have to retrace our path while we
were still in the grateful shadow. Ah, the blessedness of night after
all!

Then slowly and cautiously, so that I might not waken him, I crept down
to the rear window to see how far away the Earth was. We were at so
great a distance that I could see the whole outline of it, as a great
dull globe filling all the view behind us. And as I looked again I
started and uttered a cry! A thin sickle of bright, white light
glimmered over the whole eastern edge of it, like the first glimpse of
the new Moon, but a hundred times larger! It was the sunlight! It must
be creeping around the eastern edge, and would soon engulf us.

The doctor had been aroused by my cry. Not seeing me in his compartment,
he had gone at once to the telescope.

"What is the matter?" he said. "You have lost the course a little." And
as I peered out of my port-hole I saw that narrow sickle of light grow
thinner and thinner, and finally go out. Had I imagined it all? No, I
had seen it.

"Ah, Doctor, I am so glad you have wakened. I am frightened, terrified,
by the light!"





Next: The Valley Of The Shadow

Previous: Farewell To Earth



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