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To Save The World







From: The Fire People

Two days later Alan and Miela were quietly married in Bay Head. She still
wore the long cloak, and no one could have suspected she was other than a
beautiful stranger in the little community. When we got back home Alan
immediately made her take off the cloak. He wanted us to admire her
wings--to note their long, soft red feathers as she extended them, the
symbol and the tangible evidence of her freedom from male dominance.

She was as sweet about it all as she could be, blushing, as though to
expose the wings, now that she was married, were immodest. And by the way
she regarded Alan, by the gentleness and love in her eyes, I could see she
would never be above the guidance, the dominance, of one man, at least.

The day before their marriage Alan had taken me up the bayou to see the
little silver car in which Miela had come. I was intensely curious to
learn the workings of this strange vehicle. As soon as we were inside I
demanded that Alan explain it all to me in detail.

He smiled.

"That's the remarkable part of it, Bob," he answered. "Miela herself
didn't thoroughly understand either the basic principle or the mechanism
itself when she started down here."

"Good Lord! And she ventured--"

"Tao was already on the point of leaving when she conceived the idea. He
had already made one trip almost to the edge of the earth's atmosphere,
you know, and now was ready to start again."

"That first trip was last November," I said. "Tell me about that. What
were those first light-meteors for?"

"As far as I can gather from what Miela says," Alan answered, "Tao wanted
to make perfectly sure the light-ray would act in our atmosphere. He
came--there were several vehicles they had ready even then--without other
apparatus than those meteors, as we called them. Those he dropped to earth
with the light-ray stored in them. They did discharge it properly--they
seemed effective. The thing was merely a test. Tao was satisfied, and went
back to arrange for this second preliminary venture in which he is engaged
now."

"I understand," I said. "Go on about Miela."

"Well, she and her mother went before the Scientific Society, she calls
it--the men who own and control these vehicles in the Light Country. They
called it suicide. No one could be found to come with her. Lua, her
mother, wanted to, but Miela would not let her take the risk, saying she
was needed more there in her own world.

"As a matter of fact, the thing, while difficult perhaps to understand in
principle, in operation works very simply. Miela knew that, and merely
asked them to show her how to operate it practically. This they did. She
spent two days with them--she learns things rather easily, you know--and
then she was ready."

I waited in amazement.

"For practical purposes all she had to understand was the operation of
these keys. The pressure of the light-ray in these coils"--he was standing
beside a row of wire coils which in the semidarkness I had not noticed
before--"is controlled by the key-switches." He indicated the latter as he
spoke. "They send a current to the outer metal plates of the car which
makes them repel or attract other masses of matter, as desired.

"All that Miela had to understand then was how to operate these keys so as
to keep the base of the vehicle headed toward the earth. They took her to
the outer edge of the atmosphere of Mercury over the Dark Country and
showed her the earth. They have used terrestrial telescopes for
generations, and since the invention of this vehicle telescopes for
celestial observation have been greatly improved.

"All Miela had to do was keep the air in here purified. That is a simple
chemical operation. By using this attractive and repellent force she
allowed the earth's gravity and the repelling power of the sun and Mercury
to drive her here."

He paused.

"But, doesn't she--don't you understand the thing in detail?" I asked
finally.

"I think father and I understand it now better than she does," he
answered. "We have studied it out here and questioned her as closely as
possible. We understand its workings pretty thoroughly. But the exact
nature of the light-ray we do not understand, any more than we understand
electricity. Nor do we understand this metallic substance which when
charged with the current becomes attractive or repellent in varying
degrees."

"Yes," I said. "That I can appreciate."

"Father has a theory about the light-ray," he went on, "which seems rather
reasonable from what we can gather from Miela. The thing seems more like
electricity than anything else, and father thinks now that it is generated
by dynamos on Mercury, similar to those we use here for electricity."

"Along that line," I said, "can you explain why this light-ray, which will
immediately set anything on fire that is combustible, and which acts
through metal, like those artillery shells, for instance, does not seem to
raise the temperature of the ground it strikes to any extent?"

"Because, like electricity, it is dissipated the instant it strikes the
ground. The earth is an inexhaustible storehouse and receptacle for such a
force. That is why the broken country around the Shoshone River protected
Garland and Mantua from its direct rays."

"Tell me about the details of this mechanism," I said, reverting to our
original subject. "You say you understand its workings pretty thoroughly
now."

"Yes, I do," he admitted, "and so does father. But I cannot go into it now
with you. You see," he added hastily, as though he feared to hurt my
feelings, "the scientific men of Mercury--some of them--objected to
Miela's coming, on the ground that the inhabitants of the earth, obtaining
from her a knowledge that would enable them to voyage through space, might
take advantage of that knowledge to undertake an invasion of Mercury.

"As a matter of fact, that was a remote possibility. I could explain to
you all I know about this mechanism without much danger of your ever being
able to build such a car. But Miela promised them that she would use all
possible precautions, in the event of her having any choice in the matter,
to prevent the earth people learning anything about it.

"Father and I have examined everything here closely. But no one else
has--and I am sure Miela would prefer no one else did. You understand,
Bob?"

I did understand; and of course I had to be satisfied with that.

"It seems to me," I said when, later in the day, we were discussing
affairs in Wyoming, "that with things in Mercury as we now know they are,
it would help the situation tremendously if Tao and these Twilight People
with him were prevented from ever returning."

"That's my idea exactly," Professor Newland agreed.

I could see by the look on his face he was holding on to this thought as a
possibility that might make Alan's plan unnecessary.

"I've thought about it constantly," the professor said, "ever since these
facts first came to us through Miela. It would be important. With his
expedition here a total failure, I think we might assume that nothing more
would be done up there in attempting to conquer the earth. I've tried to
make Alan see that we should give the authorities all the information we
have. It might help--something might be accomplished--"

"Nothing would, father," Alan interrupted. "There wouldn't be time. And
even if this expedition of Tao's were destroyed, I don't see why that's
any guarantee another attempt would not be made. Miela doesn't, either,
and she ought to know.

"Besides, don't you see, Bob"--he turned to me earnestly--"I can't have
the eyes of the world turned on Miela and her affairs? Why, think of
it--this little woman sent to Washington, questioned, photographed,
written about, made sport of, perhaps, in the newspapers! And all for
nothing. It is unthinkable."

"You may be right, my boy," said the professor sadly. "I am giving in to
you, but I still--"

"The thing has come to me," said Alan. "A duty--a responsibility put
squarely up to me. I've accepted it. I'll do my best all the way."

A week after Alan and Miela were married the report came that the
Mercutians had suddenly departed, abandoning, after partly destroying,
their apparatus. The world for a few days was in trepidation, fearing a
report that they had landed somewhere else, but no such report came.

Three days later Alan and Miela followed them into space.

Professor Newland, Beth and I went up the bayou with them that morning
they left. We were a solemn little party, none of us seemingly wishing to
voice the thoughts that possessed us all.

Professor Newland never spoke once during the trip. When the moment of
final parting came he kissed Miela quietly, and, pressing Alan's hand,
said simply: "Good luck, my boy. We appreciate what you are doing for us.
Come back, some day, if you can."

Then he faced about abruptly and trudged back to the launch alone, as
pathetic a figure as I have ever seen. We all exchanged our last good-bys,
little Beth in tears clinging to Alan, and then kissing Miela and making
her promise some day to come back with Alan when he had accomplished his
mission.

Then they entered the vehicle. Its heavy door closed. A moment later it
rose silently--slowly at first, then with increasing velocity until we
could see it only as a little speck in the air above us. And then it was
gone.





Next: The Landing On Mercury

Previous: Miela's Story



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