As the vibrations died down in the laboratory the big man arose from the glass chair and viewed the compli-cated apparatus on the table. It was complete to the last detail. He glanced at the calendar. It was September 1st in the year 2660. Tomorrow was to be a big and busy day for him, for it was to witness the final phase of the three-year experiment. He yawned and stretched himself to his full height, revealing a physique much larger than that of the average man of his times and approaching that of the huge Martians.
His physical superiority, however, was as nothing com-pared to his gigantic mind. He was Ralph 124C
41 +, one of the greatest living scientists and one of the ten men on the whole planet earth permitted to use the Plus sign after his name. Stepping to the Telephot on the side of the wall he pressed a group of buttons and in a few minutes the faceplate of the Telephot became luminous, re-vealing the face of a clean shaven man about thirty, a pleasant but serious face.
As soon as he recognized the face of Ralph in his own Telephot he smiled and said, "Hello Ralph."
"Hello Edward, I wanted to ask you if you could come over to the laboratory tomorrow morning. I have some-thing unusually interesting to show you. Look!"
He stepped to one side of his instrument so that his friend could see the apparatus on the table about ten feet from the Telephot faceplate.
Edward came closer to his own faceplate, in order that he might see further into the laboratory.
"Why, you've finished it!" he exclaimed. "And your famous—" At this moment the voice ceased and Ralph's faceplate became clear. Somewhere in the Teleservice company's central office the connection had been broken. After sev-eral vain efforts to restore it Ralph was about to give up in disgust and leave the Telephot when the instrument began to glow again. But instead of the face of his friend there appeared that of a vivacious beautiful girl. She was in evening dress and behind her on a table stood a lighted lamp.
Startled at the face of an utter stranger, an unconscious Oh! escaped her lips, to which Ralph quickly replied:
"I beg your pardon, but 'Central' seems to have made another mistake. I shall certainly have to make a com-plaint about the service."
Her reply indicated that the mistake of "Central" was a little out of the ordinary, for he had been swung onto the Intercontinental Service as he at once understood when she said, "Pardon, Monsieur, je ne comprends pas!"
He immediately turned the small shining disc of the Language Rectifier on his instrument till the pointer rested on "French."
"The service mistakes are very annoying," he heard her say in perfect English. Realizing however, that she was hardly being courteous to the pleasant looking young man who was smiling at her she added, "But sometimes Cen-tral's 'mistakes' may be forgiven, depending, of course, on the patience and courtesy of the other person involved."
This, Ralph appreciated, was an attempt at mollifica-tion with perhaps a touch of coquetry. Nevertheless he bowed in acknowledgment of the pretty speech.
She was now closer to the faceplate and was looking with curious eyes at the details of the laboratory—one of the finest in the world.
"What a strange place! What is it, and where are you?" she asked naively.
"New York," he drawled.
"That's a long way from here," she said brightly. "I wonder if you know where I am?"
"I can make a pretty shrewd guess," he returned. "To begin with, before I rectified your speech you spoke French, hence you are probably French. Secondly, you have a lamp burning in your room although it is only four o'clock in the afternoon here in New York. You also wear evening dress. It must be evening, and inasmuch as the clock on your mantelpiece points to nine I would say you are in France, as New York time is five hours ahead of French time."
"Clever, but not quite right. I am not French nor do I live in France. I am Swiss and I live in western Switzer-land. Swiss time, you know, is almost the same as French time." Both laughed. Suddenly she said:
"Your face looks so familiar to me, it seems I must have seen you before."
"That is possible," he admitted somewhat embarrassed. "You have perhaps seen one of my pictures."
"How stupid of me!" she exclaimed. "Why of course I should have recognized you immediately. You are the great American inventor, Ralph 124C 41 +."
He again smiled and she continued:
"How interesting your work must be and just think how perfectly lovely that I should be so fortunate as to make your acquaintance in this manner. Fancy, the great Ralph 124C 41 + who always denies himself to society."
She hesitated, and then, impulsively, "I wonder if it would be too much to ask you for your autograph?" Much to his astonishment Ralph found himself pleased with the request. Autograph-hunting women he usually dismissed with a curt refusal.
"Certainly," he answered, "but it seems only fair that I should know to whom I am giving it."
"Oh," she said, blushing a little, and then, with dancing eyes, "Why?"
"Because," replied Ralph with an audacity that sur-prised himself, "I don't want to be put to the necessity of calling up all Switzerland to find you again."
"Well, if you put it that way," she said, the scarlet mounting in her cheeks, "I suppose I must. I am Alice 212B 423, of Ventalp, Switzerland."
Ralph then attached the Telautograph to his Telephot while the girl did the same. When both instruments were connected he signed his name and he saw his signature appear simultaneously on the machine in Switzerland.
"Thank you so much!" she exclaimed, and added, "I am really proud to have your autograph. From what I have heard of you this is the first you have ever given to a lady. Am I right?" she asked.
"You are perfectly correct, and what is more, it affords me a very great pleasure indeed to present it to you."
"How lovely," she said as she held up the autograph, "I have never seen an original signature with the +, for there are only ten of you who have it on this planet, and now to actually have one seems almost unbelievable,"
The awe and admiration in her dark eyes began to [ make him feel a little uncomfortable. She sensed this immediately and once more became apologetic.
"I shouldn't take up your time in this manner," she went on, "but you see, I, have not spoken to any living be-ing for five days and I am just dying to talk."
"Go right ahead, I am delighted to listen. What caused your isolation?"
"Well, you see," she answered, "father and I live in our villa half way up Mount Rosa, and for the last five days such a terrible blizzard has been raging that the house is entirely snowed in. The storm was so terrific that no aeroflyer could come near the house; I have never seen such a thing. Five days ago my father and brother left for Paris, intending to return the same afternoon, but they had a bad accident in which my brother dislocated his knee-cap; both were, therefore, obliged to stay somewhere near Paris, where they landed, and in the meanwhile the blizzard set in. The Teleservice line became disconnected somewhere in the valley, and this is the first connection I have had for five days. How they came to connect me with New York, though, is a puzzle!"
"Most extraordinary—but how about the Radio?" "Both the Power mast and the Communico mast were blown down the same day, and I was left without any means of communication whatever. However, I managed to put the light magnesium power mast into a temporary position again, and I had just called up the Teleservice Company, telling them again to direct the power, and getting some other information when they cut me in on you."
"Yes, I knew something was wrong when I saw the old-fashioned Radialamp in your room, and I could not quite understand it. You had better try the power now; they probably have directed it by this time; anyhow, the Luminor should work;"
"You are probably right," and raising her voice, she called out sharply: "Lux!" The delicate detectophone mechanism of the Luminor responded instantly to her command; and the room was flooded at once with the beautiful cold pink-white Luminor-light, emanating from the thin wire running around the four sides of the room below the white ceiling.
The light, however, seemed too strong, and she sharply cried, "Lux-dah!" The mechanism again responded; the cold light-radiation of the Luminor wire decreased in in-tensity at once and the room appeared in an exquisite pink light.
"That's better now," she laughed. "The heater just be-gins to get warm, too. I am frozen stiff; just think, no heat for five days! I really sometimes envy our ancestors, who, I believe, heated their houses with stoves, burning strange black rocks or tree-chunks in them!"
"That's too bad! It must be a dreadful predicament to be cut off from the entire world, in these days of weather control. It must be a novel experience. I cannot under-stand, however, what should have brought on a blizzard in midsummer."
"Unfortunately, our governor had some trouble with the four weather-engineers of our district, some months ago, and they struck for better living. They claimed the authorities did not furnish them with sufficient luxuries, and when their demands were refused, they simultaneously turned on the high-depression at the four Meteoro-Towers and then fled, leaving their towers with the high-tension currents escaping at a tremendous rate.
"This was done in the evening, and by midnight our entire district, bounded by the four Meteoro-Towers, was covered with two inches of snow. They had erected espe-cially, additional discharge arms, pointing downward from the towers, for the purpose of snowing in the Meteoros completely.
"Their plans were well laid. It became impossible to approach the towers for four days and they finally had to be dismantled by directed energy from forty other Me-teoro-Towers, which directed a tremendous amount of energy against the four local towers, till the latter were fused and melted.
"The other Meteoros, I believe, will start in immediately to direct a low-pression over our district; but, as they are not very near us, it will probably take them twenty-four hours to generate enough heat to melt the snow and ice. They will probably encounter considerable difficulty, because our snowed-under district naturally will give rise to some meteorological disturbances in their own districts, and therefore they will be obliged, I pre-sume, to take care of the weather conditions in their dis-tricts as well as our own."
"What a remarkable case!" Ralph said.
She opened her mouth as if to say something. But at that moment an electric gong began to ring furiously, so loud that it vibrated loudly in Ralph's laboratory, four thousand miles away. Immediately her countenance changed, and the smile in her eyes gave way to a look of terror.
"What is that?" Ralph asked sharply.
"An avalanche! It's just started—what shall I do, oh, what shall I do! It'll reach here in fifteen minutes and I'm absolutely helpless. Tell me—what shall I do?"
The mind of the scientist reacted instantly.
"Speak quick!" he barked. "Is your Power Mast still up?"
"Yes, but what good—?"
"Never mind. Your wave length?"
"Can you direct it yourself?"
"Could you attach a six-foot piece of your blown-down Communico mast to the base of the Power aerial?"
"Certainly—it's of alomagnesium and it is very light."
"Good! Now act quick! Run to the roof and attach the Communico mastpiece to the very base of the power mast, and point the former towards the avalanche. Then move the directoscope exactly to West-by-South, and point the antenna of the power mast East-by-North. Now run—I'll do the rest!" He saw her drop the receiver and rush away from the Telephot. Immediately he leaped up the glass stairs to the top of his building, and swung his big aerial around so that it pointed West-by-South. He then adjusted his directoscope till a little bell began to ring. He knew then that the instrument was in perfect tune with the far-off instrument in Switzerland; he also noted that its pointer had swung to exactly East-by-North.
"So far, so good," he whistled with satisfaction. "Now for the power!" He ran down to the laboratory and threw in a switch. Then he threw in another one with his foot, while clasp-ing his ears tightly with his rubber-gloved hands. A terrible, whining sound was heard, and the building shook. It was the warning siren on top of the house, which could be heard within a radius of sixty miles, sounding its warn-ing to all to keep away from tall steel or metal structures, or, if they could not do this, to insulate themselves.
He sounded the siren twice for ten seconds, which meant that he would direct his ultra-power for at least twenty minutes, and everybody must be on guard for this length of time. No sooner had the siren blast stopped, than he had seen Alice at the Telephot, signaling him that everything was ready.
He yelled to her to insulate herself, and he saw her jump into a tall glass chair where she sat perfectly still, deathly white. He could see that she clasped her hands to her ears; and he knew that she must be trying to shut out the thunder of the descending avalanche.
He ran up his high glass ladder; and having reached the top, began to turn the large glass wheel the shaft of which was connected with the ultra-generator.
As he started turning the wheel, for the first time he looked at the clock. He observed that it was just nine minutes after he first had heard the gong and he smiled, coldly. He knew he was in time. A terrifying roar set in as soon as he began to turn the wheel. It was as if a million devils had been let loose. Sparks were flying everywhere. Small metal parts not en-cased in lead boxes fused. Long streamers of blue flames emanated from sharp objects, while ball-shaped objects glowed with a white aureole.
Large iron pieces became strongly magnetic, and small iron objects continually flew from one large iron piece to another. Ralph's watch chain became so hot that he had to discard it, together with his watch. He kept on turning the wheel, and the roar changed to a scream so intense that he had to pull out his rubber ear vacuum-caps so that he might not hear the terrible sound. As he turned the wheel farther around the tone of the ultra-generator reached the note where it coincided with the fundamental note of the building, which was built of steelonium (the new substitute for steel). Suddenly the whole building "sang," with a shriek so loud and piercing that it could be heard twenty miles away.
Another building whose fundamental note was the same began to "sing" in its turn, just as one tuning fork produces sympathetic sounds in a similar distant one.
A few more turns of the wheel and the "singing" stopped. As he continued turning the wheel of the gen-erator, the latter gave out sounds sharper and sharper, higher and higher, shriller and shriller, till the shrieking became unendurable.
And then, suddenly, all sound stopped abruptly.
The frequency had passed over twenty thousand, at which point the human ear ceases to hear sounds.
Ralph turned the wheel a few more notches and then stopped. Except for the flying iron pieces, there was no sound. Even the myriads of sparks leaping around were strangely silent, except for the hissing noise of flames streaming from sharp metal points.
Ralph looked at the clock. It was exactly ten minutes after the first sounding of the gong. He then turned the wheel one notch further and instantly the room was plunged into pitch-black darkness. To anyone unacquainted with the tremendous force un-der the control of Ralph 124C 41 +, but having the te-merity to insulate himself and stand on a nearby roof there would have been visible an unusual sight. He would also have undergone some remarkable experiences.
The uninitiated stranger standing—well insulated—on a roof not very far off from Ralph's laboratory, would have witnessed the following remarkable phenomena:
As soon as Ralph threw the power of the Ultra-Gener-ator on his aerial, the latter began to shoot out hissing flames in the direction of West-by-South.
As Ralph kept turning on more power, the flames be-came longer and the sound louder. The heavy iridium wires of the large aerial became red-hot, then yellow, then dazzling white, and the entire mast became white-hot. Just as the observer could hardly endure the shrill hissing sound of the outflowing flames any more, the sound stopped altogether, abruptly, and simultaneously the whole landscape was plunged into such a pitch-black darkness as he had never experienced before. He could not even see his hand before his eyes. The aerial could riot be seen either, although he could feel the tremendous energy still flowing away.
What had happened? The aerial on top of Ralph's house had obtained such a tremendously high frequency, and had become so strongly energized, that it acted to-ward the ether much the same as a vacuum pump acts on the air.
The aerial for a radius of some forty miles attracted the ether so fast that a new supply could not spread over this area with sufficient rapidity.
Inasmuch as light waves cannot pass through space without the medium of ether, it necessarily follows that the entire area upon which the aerial acted was dark.
The observer who had never before been in an etherless hole (the so-called negative whirlpool), experienced some remarkable sensations during the twenty minutes that followed. It is a well known fact that heat waves cannot pass through space without their medium, ether, the same as an electric bell, working in a vacuum, cannot be heard outside of the vacuum, because sound waves cannot pass through space without their medium, the air.
No sooner had the darkness set in, than a peculiar feel-ing of numbness and passiveness would have come over him.
As long as he was in the etherless space, he absolutely stopped growing older, as no combustion nor digestion can go on without ether. He furthermore, had lost all sense of heat or cold. His pipe, hot previously, was neither hot nor cold to his touch. His own body could not grow cold as its heat could not be given off to the atmosphere, nor * could his body grow cold, even if he had sat on a cake of ice, because there was no ether to permit the heat to pass from one atom to another. He would have remembered how one day, he had been in a Tornado Center and how, when the storm center had created a partial vacuum around him, he all of a sudden had felt the very air drawn from his lungs. He would have remembered people talking about an airless hole, in which there was no medium but ether (inasmuch as he could see the light). Now things were reversed. He could hear and breathe, because the ether has no effect on these functions; but he had been robbed of his visual senses, and heat or cold could not affect him, as there was no means by which the heat or cold could traverse the ether-hole.
Alice's father, who had heard of the strike of the Meteoro-Tower operators and guessed of his daughter's pre-dicament, rushed back from Paris in his aeroflyer. He had speeded up his machine to the utmost, scenting impend-ing disaster as if by instinct. When finally his villa came into sight, his blood froze in his veins and his heart stopped beating at the scene below him.
He could see that an immense avalanche was sweeping down the mountain-side, with his house, that sheltered his daughter, directly in the path of it.
As he approached, he heard the roar and thunder of the avalanche as it swept everything in its path before it. . He knew he was powerless, as he could not reach the house in time, and it only meant the certain destruction of himself if he could; and for that reason he could do nothing but be a spectator of the tragedy which would enact itself before his eyes in a few short minutes. At this juncture a miracle, so it seemed to the distracted father, occurred. His eye chanced to fall on the Power mast on the top of his house. He could see the iridium aerial wires which were pointing East-by-North suddenly become red-hot; then yellow, then white-hot, at the same time he felt that some enormous etheric disturbance had been set up, as sparks were flying from all metallic parts of his machine. When he looked again at the aerial on his house, he saw that a piece of the Communico mast, which apparently had fallen at the base of the Power mast, and which was pointing directly at the avalanche, was streaming gigantic flames which grew longer and longer, and gave forth shriller and shriller sounds. The flames which streamed from the end of the Communico-mast-piece looked like a tremendously long jet of water leaving its nozzle under pressure. For about five hundred yards from the tip of the Com-munico mast it was really only a single flame about fif-teen feet in diameter. Beyond that it spread out fan-wise. He could also see that the entire Power mast, including the Communico mast, was glowing in a white heat, showing that immense forces were directed upon it. By this time the avalanche had almost come in contact with the furthest end of the flames.
Here the unbelievable happened. No sooner did the avalanche touch the flames, than it began turning to wa-ter. It seemed that the heat of those flames was so intense and powerful that had the avalanche been a block of solid ice it would not have made any marked difference. As it was, the entire avalanche was being reduced to hot water and steam even before it reached the main shaft of the flame. A torrent of hot water rushing down the mountains was all that remained of the menacing avalanche; and while the water did some damage, it was insignificant.
For several minutes after the melting of the avalanche the flames continued to stream from the aerial, and then faded away.
Ralph 124C 41 +, in New York, four thousand miles distant, had turned off the power of his ultra-generator.
He climbed down his glass ladder, stepped over to the Telephot, and found that Alice had already reached her instrument.
She looked at the man smiling in the faceplate of the Telephot almost dumb with an emotion that came very near to being reverence.
The voice that reached him was trembling and he could see her struggle for coherent speech.
"It's gone," she gasped; "what did you do?"
"Melted it!" she echoed, "I—"
Before she could continue, the door in her room burst violently open and in rushed a fear-stricken old man. Alice flew to his arms, crying, "Oh father—"
Ralph 124G 41 + with discretion disconnected the Telephot.