Hours later, Arcot regained consciousness. It was quiet in the ship. He was still strapped in his seat in the control room. The relux screens were in place, and all was perfectly peaceful. He didn't know whether the ship was motionless or racing through space at a speed faster than light, and his first semiconscious impulse was to see.
He reached out with an arm that seemed to be made of dry dust, ready to crumble; an arm that would not behave. His nerves were jumping wildly. He pulled the switch he was seeking, and the relux screens dropped down as the motors pulled them back.
They were in hyperspace; beside them rode the twin ghost ships.
Arcot looked around, trying to decide what to do, but his brain was clogged. He felt tired; he wanted to sleep. Scarcely able to think, he dragged the others to their rooms and strapped them in their bunks. Then he strapped himself in and fell asleep almost at once.
Still more hours passed, then Arcot was waking slowly to insistent shaking by Morey.
"Hey! Arcot! Wake up! ARCOT! HEY!"
Arcot's ears sent the message to his brain, but his brain tried to ignore it. At last he slowly opened his eyes.
"Huh?" he said in a low, tired voice.
"Thank God! I didn't know whether you were alive or not. None of us remembered going to bed. We decided you must have carried us there, but you sure looked dead."
"Uhuh?" came Arcot's unenthusiastic rejoinder.
"Boy, is he sleepy!" said Wade as he drifted into the room. "Use a wet cloth and some cold water, Morey."
A brisk application of cold water brought Arcot more nearly awake. He immediately clamored for the wherewithal to fill an aching void that was making itself painfully felt in his midsection.
"He's all right!" laughed Wade. "His appetite is just as healthy as ever!"
They had already prepared a meal, and Arcot was promptly hustled to the galley. He strapped himself into the chair so that he could eat comfortably, and then looked around at the others. "Where the devil are we?"
"That," replied Morey seriously, "was just what we wanted to ask you. We haven't the beginnings of an idea. We slept for two days, all told, and by now we're so far from all the Island Universes that we can't tell one from another. We have no idea where we are.
"I've stopped the ship; we're just floating. I'm sure I don't know what happened, but I hoped you might have an idea."
"I have an idea," said Arcot. "I'm hungry! You wait until after I've eaten, and I'll talk." He fell to on the food.
After eating, he went to the control room and found that every gyroscope in the place had been thrown out of place by the attractions they had passed through. He looked around at the meters and coils.
It was obvious what had happened. Their attempt to escape had been successful; they had shot out between the stars, into the space. The energy had been drained from the power coil, as they had expected. Then the power plant had automatically cut in, recharging the coils in two hours. Then the drive had come on again, and the ship had flashed on into space. But with the gyroscopes as erratic as they were, there was no way of knowing which direction they had come; they were lost in space!
"Well, there are lots of galaxies we can go to," said Arcot. "We ought to be able to find a nice one and stay there if we can't get home again."
"Sure," Wade replied, "but I like Earth! If only we hadn't all passed out! What caused that, Arcot?"
Arcot shrugged. "I'm sure I don't know. My only theory is that the double gravitational field, plus our own power field, produced a sort of cross-product that effected our brains.
"At any rate, here we are."
"We certainly are," agreed Morey. "We can't possibly back track; what we have to do is identify our own universe. What identifying features does it have that will enable us to recognize it?
"Our Galaxy has two 'satellites', the Greater and Lesser Magellanic Clouds. If we spent ten years photographing and studying and comparing with the photographs we already have, we might find it. We know that system will locate the Galaxy, but we haven't the time. Any other suggestions?"
"We came out here to visit planets, didn't we?" asked Arcot. "Here's our chance—and our only chance—of getting home, as far as I can see. We can go to any galaxy in the neighborhood—within twenty or thirty million light years—and look for a planet with a high degree of civilization.
"Then we'll give them the photographs we have, and ask them if they've any knowledge of a galaxy with two such satellites. We just keep trying until we find a race which has learned through their research. I think that's the easiest, quickest, and most satisfactory method. What do you think?"
It was the obvious choice, and they all agreed. The next proposition was to select a galaxy.
"We can go to any one we wish," said Morey, "but we're now moving at thirty thousand miles per second; it would take us quite a while to slow down, stop, and go in the other direction. There's a nice, big galactic nebula right in front of us, about three days away—six million light years. Any objections to heading for that?"
The rest looked at the glowing point of the nebula. Out in space, a star is a hard, brilliant, dimensionless point of light. But a nebula glows with a faint mistiness; they are so far away that they never have any bright glow, such as stars have, but they are so vast, their dimensions so great, that even across millions of light years of space they appear as tiny glowing discs with faint, indistinct edges. As the men looked out of the clear lux metal windows, they saw the tiny blur of light on the soft black curtain of space.
It was as good a course as any, and the ship's own inertia recommended it; they had only to redirect the ship with greater accuracy.
Setting the damaged gyroscopes came first, however. There were a number of things about the ship that needed readjustment and replacement after the strain of escaping from the giant star.
After they had made a thorough inspection Arcot said:
"I think we'd best make all our repairs out here. That flame that hit us burned off our outside microphone and speaker, and probably did a lot of damage to the ray projectors. I'd rather not land on a planet unarmed; the chances are about fifty-fifty that we'd be greeted with open cannon muzzles instead of open arms."
The work inside was left to Arcot and Fuller, while Morey and Wade put on spacesuits and went out onto the hull.
They found surprisingly little damage—far less than they had expected. True, the loudspeaker, the microphone, and all other instruments made of ordinary matter had been burned off clean. They didn't even have to clean out the spaces where they had been recessed into the wall. At a temperature of ten thousand degrees, the metals had all boiled away—even tungsten boils at seven thousand degrees, and all other normal matter boils even more easily.
The ray projectors, which had been adjusted for the high power necessary to stop a sun in its orbit, were readjusted for normal power, and the heat beams were replaced.
After nearly four hours work, everything had been checked, from relays and switch points to the instruments and gyroscopes. Stock had been taken, and they found they were running low on replacement parts. If anything more happened, they would have to stop using some of the machinery and break it up for spare parts. Of their original supply of twenty tons of lead fuel, only ten tons of the metal were left, but lead was a common metal which they could easily pick up on any planet they might visit. They could also get a fresh supply of water and refill their air tanks there.
The ship was in as perfect condition as it had ever been, for every bearing had been put in condition and the generators and gyroscopes were running smoothly.
They threw the ship into full speed and headed for the galaxy ahead of them.
"We are going to look for intelligent beings," Arcot reminded the others, "so we'll have to communicate with them. I suggest we all practice the telepathic processes I showed you—we'll need them."
The time passed rapidly with something to do. They spent a considerable part of it reading the books on telepathy that Arcot had brought, and on practicing it with each other.
By the end of the second day of the trip, Morey and Fuller, who had peculiarly adaptable minds, were able to converse readily and rapidly, Fuller doing the projecting and Morey the receiving. Wade had divided his time about equally between projecting and reading, with the result that he could do neither well.
Early on the fourth day, they entered the universe toward which they were heading. They had stopped at about half a million light years and decided that a large local cluster of very brilliant suns promised the best results, since the stars were closer together there, and there were many of the yellow G-0 type for which they were seeking.
They had penetrated into the galaxy as far as was safe, using half speed; then, at lower speeds, they worked toward the local cluster.
Arcot cut the drive several light years from the nearest sun. "Well, we're where we wanted to be; now what do we do? Morey, pick us out a G-0 star. We await your royal command to move."
After a few minutes at the telectroscope, Morey pointed to one of the pinpoints of light that gleamed brightly in the sky. "That one looks like our best bet. It's a G-0 a little brighter than Sol."
Morey swung the ship about, pointing the axis of the ship in the same direction as its line of flight. The observatory had been leading, but now the ship was turned to its normal position.
They shot forward, using the space-strain drive, for a full hour at one-sixteenth power. Then Arcot cut the drive, and the disc of the sun was large before them.
"We're going to have a job cutting down our velocity; we're traveling pretty fast, relative to that sun," Arcot told the others. Their velocity was so great that the sun didn't seem to swerve them greatly as they rushed nearer. Arcot began to use the molecular drive to brake the ship.
Morey was busy with the telectroscope, although greatly hampered by the fact that it was a feat of strength to hold his arm out at right angles to his body for ten seconds under the heavy acceleration Arcot was applying.
"This method works!" called Morey suddenly. "The Fuller System For Finding Planets has picked another winner! Circle the sun so that I can get a better look!"
Arcot was already trying vainly to decrease their velocity to a figure that would permit the attraction of the sun to hold them in its grip and allow them to land on a planet.
"As I figure it," Arcot said, "we'll need plenty of time to come to rest. What do you think, Morey?"
Morey punched figures into the calculator. "Wow! Somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred days, using all the acceleration that will be safe! At five gravities, reducing our present velocity of twenty-five thousand miles per second to zero will take approximately twenty-four hundred hours—one hundred days! We'll have to use the gravitational attraction of that sun to help us."
"We'll have to use the space control," said Arcot. "If we move close to the sun by the space control, all the energy of the fall will be used in overcoming the space-strain coil's field, and thus prevent our falling. When we start to move away again, we will be climbing against that gravity, which will aid us in stopping. But even so, it will take us about three days to stop. We wouldn't get anywhere using molecular power; that giant sun was just too damned generous with his energy of fall!"
They started the cycles, and, as Arcot had predicted, they took a full three days of constant slowing to accomplish their purpose, burning up nearly three tons of matter in doing so. They were constantly oppressed by a load of five gravities except for the short intervals when they stopped to eat and when they were moving in the space control field. Even in sleeping, they were forced to stand the load.
The massive sun was their principal and most effective brake. At no time did they go more than a few dozen million miles from the primary, for the more intense the gravity, the better effect they got.
Morey divided his time between piloting the ship while Arcot rested, and observing the system. By the end of the third day, he had made very creditable progress with his map.
He had located only six planets, but he was certain there were others. For the sake of simplicity, he had assumed circular orbits and calculated their approximate orbital velocities from their distance from the sun. He had determined the mass of the sun from direct weighings aboard their ship. He soon had a fair diagram of the system constructed mathematically, and experimental observation showed it to be a very close approximation.
The planets were rather more massive than those of Sol. The innermost planet had a third again the diameter of Mercury and was four million miles farther from the primary. He named it Hermes. The next one, which he named Aphrodite, the Greek goddess corresponding to the Roman Venus, was only a little larger than Venus and was some eight million miles farther from its primary—seventy-five million miles from the central sun.
The next, which Morey called Terra, was very much like Earth. At a distance of a hundred and twenty-four million miles from the sun, it must have received almost the same amount of heat that Earth does, for this sun was considerably brighter than Sol.
Terra was eight thousand two hundred miles in diameter, with a fairly clear atmosphere and a varying albedo which indicated clouds in the atmosphere. Morey had every reason to believe that it might be inhabited, but he had no proof because his photographs were consistently poor due to the glare of the sun.
The rest of the planets proved to be of little interest. In the place where, according to Bode's Law, another planet, corresponding to Mars, should have been, there was only a belt of asteroids. Beyond this was still another belt. And on the other side of the double asteroid belt was the fourth planet, a fifty-thousand-mile-in-diameter methane-ammonia giant which Morey named Zeus in honor of Jupiter.
He had picked up a couple of others on his plates, but he had not been able to tell anything about them as yet. In any case, the planets Aphrodite and Terra were by far the most interesting.
"I think we picked the right angle to come into this system," said Arcot, looking at Morey's photographs of the wide bands of asteroids. They had come into the planetary group at right angles to the plane of the ecliptic, which had allowed them to miss both asteroid belts.
They started moving toward the planet Terra, reaching their objective in less than three hours.
The globe beneath them was lit brightly, for they had approached it from the daylight side. Below them, they could see wide, green plains and gently rolling mountains, and in a great cleft in one of the mountain ranges was a shimmering lake of clearest blue.
The air of the planet screamed about them as they dropped down, and the roar in the loudspeaker grew to a mighty cataract of sound. Morey turned down the volume.
The sparkling little lake passed beneath them as they shot on, seventy-five miles above the surface of the planet. When they had first entered the atmosphere, they had the impression of looking down on a vast, inverted bowl whose edge rested on a vast, smooth table of deep violet velvet. But as they dropped and the violet became bluer and bluer, they experienced the strange optical illusion of "flopping" of the scene. The bowl seemed to turn itself inside out, and they were looking down at its inner surface.
They shot over a mountain range, and a vast plain spread out before them. Here and there, in the far distance, they could see darker spots caused by buckled geological strata.
Arcot swung the ship around, and they saw the vast horizon swing about them as their sensation of "down" changed with the acceleration of the turn. They felt nearly weightless, for they were lifting again in a high arc.
Arcot was heading back toward the mountains they had passed over. He dropped the ship again, and the foothills seemed to rise to meet them.
"I'm heading for that lake," Arcot explained. "It seems absolutely deserted, and there are some things we want to do. I haven't had any decent exercise for the past two weeks, except for straining under high gravity. I want to do some swimming, and we need to distill some water for drink; we need to refill the tanks in case of emergencies. If the atmosphere contains oxygen, fine; if it doesn't, we can get it out of the water by electrolysis.
"But I hope that air is good to breathe, because I've been wanting a swim and a sun bath for a long time!"