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The Valley Of The Shadow






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

"Light! Where have you seen any light?"

"I saw the Earth begin to shine like a New Moon on the eastern edge,
but----"

"Ah, that was a danger signal. I am glad you awakened me. But you are
actually pale and trembling! There is no danger if you keep the course.
You see, that rim of light has faded and disappeared since I corrected
the course."

"Yes, but you cannot keep in this little Earthly shadow much longer; and
what can we possibly do when we emerge into the fathomless, trackless
effulgence of eternal sunshine? Let us turn back before we plunge into
it," I pleaded.

"So that is what terrified you! Well, you have hit upon one of the
greatest difficulties of the trip; but it is far from insurmountable. We
will not turn back yet, especially as we have started in the most
opportune time. You have mentioned this 'little shadow.' It is eight
thousand miles wide at the surface of the Earth, and gradually, very
gradually, tapers down to nothing far out in space. Have you ever
calculated how far it reaches?"

"No," I answered. "But we moved out of it and back into it at the
surface very easily, and besides, as the Earth moves forward in its
orbit, the shadow will leave us."

"This little shadow is eight hundred and fifty-six thousand miles long,
and we will never leave it as long as it lasts!" exclaimed the doctor.
"Just at this time it points like a long arrow out in the direction of
Mars. It is moving gradually as the Earth moves and hourly correcting
its aim. At opposition time it will point directly and unerringly at
Mars. Therefore it is a way prepared, surveyed, and marked for us
through the all-enveloping sunlight, which otherwise would be dreadful
enough."

"But how can we be sure of keeping in it? It is rapidly narrowing as it
reaches farther out."

"I see I should have explained that to you before I went to sleep, and
saved you this fright. The shadow now points behind Mars, as it is many
days yet before it overtakes that planet in opposition. That is why I
told you to steer always a little behind the planet. But you went a
little out of the course, and immediately something warned us. That rim
of light on the east of the Earth was notice to us that we were not in
the centre of the shadow, but bearing too far to the left. We must keep
absolutely in the dark of the Earth, with no light visible on either
side of it. If a thin rim should appear on one side, we must turn toward
the other until it is all dark again."

"Grant that this shadow is so enormously long, yet it is only scarcely
one-fortieth of the distance to Mars," I objected. "After we emerge from
it, what then?"

"With the aid of my telescope we shall probably be able to see the Earth
as an orb, half or quarter as large as the Moon usually appears to us,
and to observe its phases until we are several million miles from it. We
must continue to keep the rim of light, which will then surround it,
equal on all sides."

"Ah, but I am afraid," I interrupted, "that as soon as we pass out of
this shadow the sunlight will be so bright that we cannot see any
planets, not even the Earth. You know we cannot see the Moon only a
quarter of a million miles away when the sun shines."

"In that case we must move the telescope to your window, put on a
darkened lens, and steer so as to keep the Earth as a spot in the middle
of the Sun. It must appear to us as Venus does to the Earth when she is
making a transit across the face of the sun. But by our continual
shifting we prevent the Earth from making a transit, and hold it as a
steady spot in the centre of the Sun. This we can do for many, many
million miles, continuing until we have reached the vicinity of Mars.

"And you must also remember," continued the doctor, "that the brighter
the light the darker will be the shadow. Now, this projectile is a
perfectly black, non-reflecting object five feet wide. It will cast a
shadow in front of it five hundred feet long. When we are comparatively
near Mars my telescope, situated in the miniature night cast by the
projectile, will find the planet, and we can then steer directly for
him. If we should chance within eighty thousand miles of him, he would
attract us to him in a straight line. But we shall not rely upon chance.
Moreover, when we are as near to him as that, the light and heat of the
Sun's rays will have decreased sixty or seventy per cent. When Mars is
farthest from the Sun, he receives only one-third as much light as the
Earth does. But he is now almost at his nearest point to the Sun, and
receives half as much light."

"Well, you certainly have a pretty clear idea of how to steer the course
all the way, Doctor. And I was hasty enough to think you had overlooked
this entire phase of the subject!" I ejaculated.

"Indeed, I have thought of it very much. And we should not enjoy all
these advantages if we had not started just before opposition. At any
other time the Earth's shadow would not point toward Mars, nor would the
transit of the Earth over the Sun be of any use to us."

"All this reassures me greatly," I replied; "but I shall keep a close
watch from my rear window for danger lights on the Earth."

"It must be time for breakfast," put in the doctor. "Will you see how
tempting a meal you can prepare?"

There was one reservoir built inside the compartments, from which we
drew cool water, and another built next to the outer steel framework,
from which we could draw boiling water. As this tank was connected with
the discharge pipe of the air-pump, and thus with the exterior, I was
disgusted to find that, although the water boiled furiously, and was
rapidly wasting away in steam, it did not become hot enough to make good
beef tea. The heat escaped with the steam at a comparatively low
temperature, so that I was compelled to boil water over my gas jet for
the meat extract, which we drank instead of coffee. I also prepared some
sandwiches of roast beef and cold ham, and with great relish we began
our diet of ready cooked foods, which was to continue for so long.

After this meal I felt quite sleepy, for I had enjoyed but three hours'
rest. The doctor saw my yawns and told me to turn out the gas and have a
long doze, and I was glad enough to do so.

I must have slept soundly for an hour or two, and then I remember dozing
and rolling lazily in my bed, as I usually did at home on Sunday
mornings. During my previous nap the bunk had seemed hard and cramped,
and I had privately grumbled at the doctor for overlooking personal
comforts; but now I felt that luxurious sensation of sleeping on soft
mattresses and yielding springs, though of course I had neither. I do
not know how soon I should have thoroughly awakened had I not lifted my
hand to rub my eye, and unwittingly dealt myself a stinging blow in the
face. This roused me.

But what was the matter with that arm? It was as it had once been in a
nightmare, when it felt detached from its place, and moved lightly and
without effort, like a bough in the wind. I pinched it with my other
hand, and it was quite sensible to the pain. In fact, the other arm was
now acting in the same queer way. I arose in bed quickly to see what was
the matter, and the upper part of my body bent violently over and struck
against my knees. Then my effort to take an upright position threw me on
my back again. Evidently my muscles were not working as they were when I
went to bed. They must be over-excited and over-active. I immediately
thought of my heart as the principal and controlling muscle, and in my
eagerness to feel its beating my hand dealt me a slap in the chest.
These blows, though rapid, did not seem to hurt as much as they ought,
after the first stinging sensation. I found my heart was beating
regularly enough.

"Doctor!" I cried out presently, more to test my voice than for
anything else. It sounded perfectly natural, and my vocal chords were
not over-stimulated or abnormal.

He came half way down from his compartment soon after hearing me, and
rested his elbow against one side of the aperture between the
compartments, leaning against the other side easily. He had a scale made
of heavy coiled spring in his hand.

"I wish to calculate our distance from the Earth," he said. "Do you mind
weighing yourself on these scales?" and he held the spiral down toward
me.

"You can't support my weight!" I exclaimed, and springing up from the
bed I bumped my head against the partition between the compartments,
eight feet above my floor. I grasped the lower ring of the scale he held
down and lifted up my feet. It seemed as if something were still
supporting me from below, for scarcely one-tenth my weight had fallen
upon my hands.

"You weigh twenty and a half pounds," he said, and then inquired, "What
did you weigh on Earth?"

"One hundred and eighty-five pounds," I answered, just beginning to
understand that our greatly increased distance from the Earth had much
reduced her attraction for us.

"That is disappointing," he answered, "for we are only eight thousand
miles from home; but our velocity is still constantly increasing."

"I would like to buy things here and sell them at the surface," I
exclaimed.

"You wouldn't make anything by it if you used the ordinary balance
scales," replied the doctor.

Try as hard as I would, I could not accustom my muscles to these new
conditions. They were too gross and clumsy for the fine and delicate
efforts which were now necessary. I was constantly hitting and slapping
myself, though these blows scarcely hurt, and never resulted in bruises.
I attempted a thorough re-training of my muscles, which was to all
intents an utter failure, for weight continued diminishing much more
rapidly than my stubborn muscles could appreciate. After another eight
thousand miles, which were quickly made, we had but one twenty-fifth our
usual weight, which reduced me to seven pounds. And for most of the trip
we weighed practically nothing, suffering many inconveniences on that
account.





Next: Tricks Of Refraction

Previous: The Terrors Of Light



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