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WHAT had happened during the few hours that Hart Niles, Carole, and Dr. Beckwith were away?

HOW had nearly the entire Earth been transformed into a burning desert?

WHEN had New York, London, Paris, and all the other cities disappeared?

WHERE was civilization? Were they three the only human beings alive?

WHY did all roads seem to lead to this fantastic and utterly strange City of Glass? What were the Glassmen?

You'll find the answers to all these questions, and many others, in this rousing tale of adventure in worlds to come.

A DOUBLE-ACTION POCKETBOOK

CITY OF GLASS

A Complete
SCIENCE FICTION
Novel

by Noel Loomis

CITY OF GLASS, published by COLUMBIA PUBLICATIONS, Inc., 241 Church Street, New York 13, New York Copyright 1955 by Columbia Publications, Inc. Copyright 1942 by Noel Loomis. Single copy 35#. Printed in the U. S. A.

Chapter One
Hunger — 1941

THE SUN came up and scattered mist through the park trees in sloWtmoving swirls. It fell across a park bench where a man lay sleeping on his back. The man stirred, pushed the damp newspaper off his face and sat up, shivered and pulled his coat collar tighter around his neck. He knew now why they said Amarillo was the coldest spot in Texas.

The man was tall, the lines of his face a little angular, and his jaw was hard and defiant. He stared at the swirling fog and dug deep into his coat pocket. He brought out a tiny package of something wrapped in the corner of a newspaper, unfolded it and counted the coins again.

"Sixty-two cents—and for the last week I've had nothing but pancakes, one stack a day." What I'd give, he thought grimly, to set my teeth into a real steak!

He stared at the thinning fog, remembered for the thousandth time that he was in a strange country, unknown, even hoping he would not be recognized, watching his last nickels slip away in those tiresome stacks of pancakes.

He got up and stretched some of the stiffness out of his muscles. He rubbed his ten-day beard, and then abruptly caught himself getting careless. He looked around. Behind his own bench, thirty feet away, a heavy-bodied tramp sat reading a paper. The tramp's head moved quickly, as if he had not been looking at the printed words.

Hart Niles approached him casually, remembering just in time to let his strong shoulders slump with his shapeless coat. "Is that the morning paper, buddy? Could I see the classified?"

The tramp glared over the top of the paper. Niles swore mentally at the University of Berlin that had taught him flawless English but hadn't shown him how to take the gutturals out of his speech.

"Git movin'." The tramp's voice was ugly. "I been watchin' you, mister. You ain't no bum—and you talk like a foreigner."

"But—"

"But nothin'. Us hoboes have got honor, too. You can't git anything out of us. Move on." He jerked his dirty thumb.

Niles moved; there was nothing else to do. He found a saloon and made his way to the restaurant counter at the back.

"Hot cakes," he said.

"Stack!" the girl called, and set out a glass of water. "Brother, you like your hot cakes, don't you?"

He fingered the little packet in his coat.

"Yes," he said slowly, listening to the sizzle as the cakes spread out on the griddle. The warm smell of food made him weak all over. The girl brought his coffee. "You've been around here about a week now. Where you working?"

He looked straight at her, seeing her peroxide hair for the first time. Working!

She saw something in his gaunt face, and the rest she heard in his flat statement. "I'm not working."

She was instantly sorry. "A man can't do much when his luck goes bad." She slid the butter plate across the counter. "There's some mighty smart men out of work."

It relieved his grimness a little and he smiled at her. "That's right."

The stack came, four high. The first bites hit his stomach with a jar. For a moment he was sick, but he got over it and finished the meal. The girl poured him a second cup of coffee. He unfolded the little packet of money and paid for the hot cakes, wrapped carefully the coins that were left.

"Thanks, mister." She eyed him as he got up.

Niles headed for the employment agency; maybe a job would turn up today. And if he ever got a couple of dollars, he'd buy himself a steak as big as a table. He sat on a low iron railing next to a poster urging young- men to enlist in the Marine Corps, and rubbed his whiskers. He was tempted to spend twenty cents for a shave—but that represented more than a day's food. What was the difference, anyway, how he looked? His hand came out of his pocket.

His breakfast settled at last, and he went into the employment office. It was dirty and bare. A blackboard on the wall had one scrawled notation in chalk.

DAIRY HAND AT LUBBOCK.
$30 A MONTH

Hart Niles grinned. "The hand that runs a cyclotron isn't worth a cent for milking cows," he said to himself.

But he pushed through the men at the counter—big men, little men, all stubbled with whiskers, all wearing coats with pockets that sagged from carrying a man's belongings in the sun and rain.

He stopped short. A small, well-dressed man stood with his back to the counter., "Fifty dollars a day," he was saying.

Niles caught his breath. Fifty dollars a day! But the men were shaking their heads stubbornly.

"Sixty dollars a day," said the little man defensively.

He had a very gentle face and absent-looking blue eyes. He, too, wore whiskers, but they werte trimmed and parted in the middle of his chin and carefully brushed back to each side.

Niles pushed up. One day's work would— "I'll take it," he said quickly. "When do I start?"

THE ABSENT-MINDEDNESS faded from the man's eyes. He looked at Niles as if he was startled that some one actually had accepted. He started to nod his head, but a quick film of suspicion came over the small man's face. Niles shrank a little. He had forgotten his erect bearing, the correctness of his shoulders; he knew he didn't look like a bum.

"I'm a college man," he explained. "I need the work."

"I'm Dr. Beckwith," the little man answered scrutinizing him. "I want someone to help me on an experimental rocket flight."

"I—" Niles repeated eagerly.

"But I don't want anybody who might be trying to steal my secrets," Dr. Beckwith said firmly. "This is a time of war, and I can't take a chance."

"But I could help," Niles said earnestly.

He was thinking fast. It would be fatal to let this man see how much he really knew about rocket ships. 'Tve helped on experiments with rocket motors. I know something about pressures and heat."

Dr. Beckwith began to shake his head stubbornly.

"I know all about the proper shape and efficiency of the nichrome nozzle," Niles said quickly.

That should do the trick. Nichrome nozzles had been discarded by most inventors in favor of tungsten alloys.

It worked. Dr. Beckwith barely suppressed a smile at the out-ofdate knowledge of this tall young man. "Well, perhaps," he said. "Come along and we'll see."

Niles drew a deep breath; he had a chance, anyway. One day's pay would seem a fortune. He followed Dr. Beckwith put, so excited that he hit the door frame with his shoulder and it turned him half around. They walked along the street.

"By the way." The absent-minded look was in Beckwith's eyes again. "We have already—I mean, have you had breakfast?"

Niles looked down at him. "Uh—yes."

"And my theory is—oh, yes, breakfast. I haven't eaten. Perhaps you'd like a steak or something."

Steak? Hart Niles swallowed, then he grinned. The pancakes seemed already to have evaporated, and he was hungry again. "If you insist," he said.

They went into a restaurant. "Order anything you like," Beckwith invited.

He looked well able to pay, and Niles ordered a sixteen-ounce sirloin with onions and mushrooms. He watched the waitress go toward the kitchen, and his mouth began to water.

"Now, then," said Beckwith. He rubbed his eyes as if they were tired. "I've been working out here in the New Mexico desert."

Niles remembered his role. "With Dr. Goddard?"

"No, my work is not connected with his; I've been trying to attain higher speeds by the—by a different method."

Hart Niles checked the excitement in his throat. He leaned forward. "You mean—you are aiming at critical velocity?"

Beckwith nodded.

"But I thought the fuel weight—" Niles was watching his words with care; he frowned involuntarily.

Beckwith smiled at this novice. "I dropped liquid fuel long ago."

"Oh." Niles flushed. "You mean —you are using uranium?"

"Yes. It's a process developed first by Dr. Gerhard Wolff, a Hollander who unquestionably is the world's foremost authority on thfc fission of uranium. Or, that is, he was. I haven't heard a word from him since the war started."

He sighed. "My own problem is to: ascertain what speed I can attain. If it is the speed of"—his eyes had grown bright, but suddenly they filmed over and he watched Niles intently—"if it is the speed of escape," he went on, "I'll offer my invention to the President. It might be enough to win the war."

Niles drew a deep breath. Critical velocity, the speed of escape from Earth, was seven miles a second—over twenty-five thousand miles an hour. Incredible speed in itself. But that was not the most amazing thing about Dr. Beckwith's statement.

For Hart Niles knew this little professor was concealing something. He saw that Beckwith was not concerned about the speed of. escape, that he probably had attained that already, and now had something else in mind—something bigger, tremendously bigger.

NILES PICKED his next question with care. "Have you made a flight with "human passengers?"

Beckwith answered abstractedly. "Oh, yes; my daughter and I have been up. Past the troposphere, in fact. But it is hard work for just the two of us— Ah! Here comes our meal."

Niles' eyes grew round. The steak was brown and juicy and sizzling. His fingers fumbled as he picked up the knife and fork. He cut a small piece, controlling himself to avoid betrayal of his hunger. The first bite was halfway to his mouth when Dr. Beckwith laid down his fork. "There's Carole. I wonder what—"

The girl was small like her father. A green-and-red plaid skirt swirled as she hurried to the table. Niles put his fork down and stood up. The girl glanced at him but spoke to Dr. Beckwith. "The plane is leaving in twenty minutes, father."

Dr. Beckwith frowned absent-mindedly. "I thought—"

"The plans have been changed," she said patiently but firmly.

Her lips parted. She was about to say more—to explain why the takaoff time had been set forward, Niles thought—but she glanced at him and her lips closed.

Dr. Beckwith sighed. "Very well." He got his hat. "Carole, this young man wants to work with us."

"My name is Niles," said the object of Carole's scrutiny.

"How do you do."

She studied his face and looked into his eyes for a moment. Then she smiled quickly and turned to her father, who was gazing absently at the floor. "We must hurry, father."

Beckwith looked up. "This young man knows something of rocket ships, and—"

Carole's brown eyes studied Niles with new interest. "That's fine." she said.

Dr. Beckwith put on his hat.

"It takes a week to get through the mountains by mule," he explained to Niles. "I'm sorry you have to leave your meal. I hope you don't mind."

Hart Niles looked at the steak, browned in crisscrosses like a waffle. His jaws tightened and he drew a deep breath. Then he gazed at Carole. She was quite like her father, but very much alert; her eyes were alive, and her firm little chin showed practicality. She seemed apologetic, and he stepped to her side. "I don't mind," he said, "at all."

But another thought was more prominent. Dr. Beckwith had not actually hired him yet; Carole's entrance had disturbed the absentminded little man's train of thought. It might be that the professor expected Carole to pass on Niles' suitability. It seemed so, from the way Beckwith had spoken to her.

But now, concerned because she had disturbed Niles at his meal, she seemed to take for granted that her father had hired him. Well, either way, the further he should go with them, the harder it would be for them to send him back.

Niles drew a deep breath and went through the door at the girl's side. They followed Dr. Beckwith to a taxi. But Carole, with her slim fingers on Niles' rough coat sleeves, held him back. "Father isn't very practical," she said, "but the War Department—" She stopped, watching him.

"Do you mean," Niles asked as casually as he could, "that your father's work is under the War Department?"

"Not exactly. But the commander of the Seventh Corps Area, at San Antonio, is an old friend of father's. There's nothing official—yet."

There was an undertone of apology in her statement. Niles understood that she was begging him to be warned. He studied her brown eyes, but Dr. Beckwith called from the taxi window. Niles helped the girl into the cab. calmly and smoothly, and followed her in as if he were quite sure of himself.

Chapter Two
Take-Off Time

FOUR HOURS later the plane bellied down through hot winds to the high desert plain of central New Mexico. It bumped along a cleared space in the sand and stopped. Hart Niles, Dr. Beckwith and Carole got out.

The pilot waved and the plane roared off in a vortex of sand. "What do you think of it?" asked Dr. Beckwith.

Niles stretched his arms in shapeless coat sleeves toward the clear blue sky. "This is wonderful," he said, breathing the clean dry air.

He studied the purple mountains in the west and the endless stretch of gray-green sage to the east. "It feels so—so free," he added.

He caught himself. He hadn't meant to say that, but all during the flight he had watched for a black speck in the sky behind them.

Carole looked at him oddly. He avoided her eyes and stared at the countless miles of white soil on the south—an alkali plain that covered bear-grass and prickly pear and mesquite bushes with heavy white dust.

"I've never seen so much room going to waste," he said.

"It isn't good for anything," Carole agreed. "That's why it's isolated—and why we like it out here."

"Back—"

Niles caught himself. He had been about to say that back in Europe, a space like this would have supported five million persons. But he remembered in time.

"Back over there"—he pointed—"are those mountains?"

"The Saguaches," Beckwith told him. "Rough country."

His bilateral beard nodded absently at the hills, hazy in purple clouds, then he turned to the right. "I'll show you your room and then we'll inspect the ship."

Niles stared ahead. Nothing was there but the endless gray-green spikes of sage. "I don't see anything," he frowned.

"The buildings are down in the canyon," said Carole, "so they won't be so noticeable."

Niles didn't set the small canyon until they were nearly at the edge. The sides went straight down for two hundred feet; and at the bottom were four adobe buildings, exactly the color of the soil. They'd be invisible even from the air. Dr. Beckwith might be absent-minded, but he must have a hidden strain of practicality somewhere behind that divided beard.

They walked down a steep trail no more than a foot wide. At the bottom of the canyon Niles glanced around. "1 don't see the ship," he said, puzzled.

"The ship is in another branch of the canyon, around the turn there," Beckwith told him. "There's a hangar blasted out of the canyon wall."

"The Army men insisted on that," Carole added.

"How do you bring in supplies? Where is the road?"

Carole looked at him quickly. "There isn't a road. That's nothing but a trail through the sand up above. The nearest town is Encino, and the census gives it about four hundred population"—a little gay maliciousness crept into her voice—"most of them Mexicans."

Niles gazed at her. She was very personable, even in the glaring light of the midday sun. Her eyes were a russet brown and they were deep. She turned away from his direct appraisal, and Niles liked the swing of her red-and-green plaid skirt.

Niles smiled. "Well," he said, "it looks as if Saturday nights would be dull around here, since we're off the beaten track."

She raised her chin abruptly but didn't answer.

IN ONE OF the adobe huts Niles left his coat. He looked over his dirty white shirt and shrugged. If they had water around here he'd wash it tonight.

Beckwith took him down the canyon. They rounded a chalk butte and walked into a maze of steel girders. Up above, near the top of the cliff; the steel supported two cradlelike runways a hundred yards apart. The runways pointed toward the sky at their outer ends, and their inner ends slanted down and disappeared inside the cliff.

Beckwith led Niles into a small tunnel at the base of the chalk wall; they went inside.

At first Niles couldn't see, but then his vision began to discern things in the dim light He stepped onto a wooden floor and stopped, his eyes trying vainly to see better.

There in the bowels of the earth was a spaceship, thirty feet of sleek beryllium steel, gleaming darkly and powerfully in the near gloom.

Beckwith led Niles up the iron steps of the ship. The walls inside were covered with dials round and square, levers, green and red indicator lights. Niles studied them in amazement. This absent-minded man with the divided beard actually had constructed a spaceship—and the world knew nothing about it!

Except, of course, the War Department. For that matter, who knew how many ships like this were hidden over the Earth, with scientists everywhere working feverishly to perfect them?

Beckwith's examination of the ship was perfunctory. He led Niles back outside into the dazzling light.

"You're all alone out here." said Niles. "Except—I suppose you have some helpers."

"No." Beckwith replied. "The Army Engineering Corps furnished men to build the runway and fit the ship together, but I can't do my work with a lot of people around. Besides." he said absently, "our isolation itself is a protection." He dismissed the matter entirely. "Let's get back and see about dinner."

They met Carole on the canyon floor, with the sunlight shining in her eyes and a hawklike bird on her wrist. She clapped a leather hood over its head when she saw them.

"You have a falcon." Niles said admiringly.

The bird raised one clawed foot and a tiny bronze bell tinkled. It set the foot back on the girl's wrist and settled down.

"It's a yearling goshawk. I have a pair that I hive trained myself," Carole said proudly.

"Excellent," murmured Niles.

"She treats those birds as she would her own brother and sister," Beckwith added indulgently. "She even takes them up in the ship with us."

"I imagine," said Niles, "it does get lonely out here."

Carole looked-at him with gratitude shining in her eyes.

"What about dinner?" asked her father. "I suppose Mr. Niles is hungry."

"The man hasn't come from Encino with the eggs and meat," she said. "But we'll have lunch."

The lunch wasn't steak, but it tasted good. Carole had warmed a can of beans, and there was salmon, coffee with evaporated milk, and oranges for dessert. Niles didn't leave any food on the table.

"We'll have to get up at four o'clock in the morning," Beckwith told him. "I'll call you."

"Fine," said Niles.

After lunch he helped Dr. Beckwith wheel wooden boxes into the ship, and a large crate of live cottontail rabbits, which Beckwith said were for testings effects of gravity. When this work was finished, he went to his adobe hut.

After dark Niles took a bar of soap and went outside. Through the windows of the main hut he saw Carole and her father working over charts. He walked on down the sandy floor of the canyon. The cliffs brooded in mysterious shadows under the light of brilliant stars. The stars looked close, out here on the western desert, but Niles pondered that it took four years for light to reach the Earth from the nearest one.

He walked down a different branch of the canyon and came to a tiny creek. He took off his soiled shirt, washed it out, rinsed it, took it back to the hut and hung it over a mesquite-root chair to dry in the cool night air.

WHEN DR. BECKWITH called him in the morning, the desert was fully lighted but the canyon was still cool and quiet, as if all life had hidden from the advancing heat of the sun. Niles put on his shirt and went outside.

"Good morning," said Carole. She was fresh and cool, and her eyes sparkled with energy. "Did you sleep well?"

"Very well," Niles assured her.

He watched the red-and-green of her skirt swinging as she went down to the creek. He carried three big cartons of food—bread, oranges, canned goods—into the tunnel and placed it inside the ship. Then Carole came with a falcon on each wrist.

"Are just we three going up?" Niles asked her.

She studied his face for an instant. "We can handle the ship," she said, and added, "Father and I are armed."

Niles studied her a moment and drew his shoulders erect. "I need the work," he said, "but I don't want to go any further on a misunderstanding. It would only cause unpleasantness when you find out the truth."

"What do you mean?"

"You handle most of the details when your father deals with the outside world, don't you?"

"Yes," Carole said wonderingly.

"Then why didn't you hire me?"

"Why—father did that himself."

"No, he didn't," Niles told her frankly.

"Well—"

"I thought," said Niles, "that you and he would find that out before this. To be candid, I didn't think you'd send me back, but—"

Carole had been studying him. Now she held up her hand. "I think you're honest, so consider yourself officially hired, Mr. Niles. Now excuse me; there's work to do."

Her plaid skirt swirled as she went past him into the ship.

Hart Niles grinned. It must be the way he combed his hair. He rubbed his hand across his. face, then he studied his reflection in the beryllium side of the ship. He really didn't look bad in a beard.

The take-off time was near. Dr. Beckwith came up the tunnel, carrying a steel box as if it were made of the most fragile glass. Niles followed him into the ship and watched him disappear into the stern compartment, to return a few minutes later empty-handed. The professor sh%nt to the bow, seated himself before banked masses of dials and needles and indicator lights.

He threw switches, pressed buttons and set dials. He leaned back for a moment to'check his work, his beard sweeping in quick, jerky motions from one side to the other. Then he seized a copper knife-switch and closed it firmly. A hum arose from the stern of the ship.

"Warming up the activator," Beckwith said, his eyes on a moving needle.

Niles watched sharply but said nothing.

THREE MINUTES later a tiny red light began to blink. Beckwith started a motor. He moved a lever and a clatter came from the stern. It grew into a roar. Beckwith watched his.dials; he shifted a lever and Niles felt the ship jerk forward. Stop. Jerk forward again.

Beckwith inched it around the curve of the track, slowly. He returned the lever and the roar died to a hum.

"You can help me outside," he said to Niles.

They descended. Far ahead, up a straight track of gleaming steel, Niles saw an opening in the sky. At Beckwith's direction, he lifted a big steel hook into a ring at the stern of the ship. They got back in. Niles screwed tight the oval door. Beckwith seated himself and moved the lever upward.

A roar shot out at the stern, but Beckwith pushed the lever up until the roar grew into a giant rumble of power. The professor slipped on a pair of heavy green lenses.

The tunnel outside became charged with a dazzling white light that flooded the spaceship through small quartz windows. The rumble grew into a deep, vibrant hum that made the ship strain at its anchor. It quivered on the rails; the hum deepened and deepened; the tunnel became brighter until the blast of light was unbearable and Niles closed his eyes.

"Nozzle velocity, twenty thousand," he heard Beckwith mutter tensely. "Hold on!"

Niles seized a railing around the wall of the ship. He sensed Beckwith's quick movement. The ship hurtled up the rails like a steel dragon charging from its cave, roaring and quivering and spouting unbearable fire. Niles' arms were wrenched at their sockets; he was sick for an instant, but he felt the cessation of light and opened his eyes. The tunnel mouth was behind them and they roared on into the sky.

"Lord," Niles breathed. "We made it! We're up!"

No one heard him. Carole and her father were intent on their instruments. He glanced down. They were three thousand feet high already. He found an air-speed dial. It read six hundred miles an hour. He looked down again. The earth was turning into a miniature map of brown and white and dull green.

Hart Niles stared. Down on the desert an olive-drab speck was crawling through the sage. It was a car and from the cloud of dust that trailed behind, it was coming fast. Niles caught his breath. He knew that olive-drab color.

Chapter Three
Test Flight

DR. BECKWITH was watching his instruments. The ship roared up at a steep slant. Beckwith set his lever and glanced back; he saw the olive-drab car. Suddenly he looked up at Niles, frowning.

"They're from Albuquerque," said Carole behind them. "The pilot must have called them."

"They should have got here sooner," Beckwith grumbled, "if they have business with us."

"There might have been some trouble on the road," Carole suggested.

Dr. Beckwith frowned. He stared at Niles. "We can't go down now," he declared. "They'll be there when we get back." He turned to his instruments. "I want you to help Carole," he said.

In silence Niles took three steps through the narrow aisle, holding himself back against the pull created by acceleration.

"Your principal job," Carole told him, "is to pull this big lever if anything happens. It opens a section of the top and releases two big parachutes."

"Okay," he said. He looked around. "Where are your fuel tanks?" he asked.

He knew there wasn't much space for fuel. This ship weighed thirty tons. By the mechanics of ordinary space flight they would have to carry at least a hundred and twenty tons of fuel for take-off and landing alone. But this ship wasn't crowded with fuel tanks.

"Father brought it in that lead box. It's ten pounds of Uranium."

"Ten pounds!" Niles pretended to be amazed. "There isn't supposed to be that much isolated."

"Father did it," Carole said in a manner that settled everything.

"But all Uranium can do is boil water; that would take—" He stopped suggestively.

She shook her head and the brown eyes were deep. "Not by father's process. He doesn't use heat. The exhaust from the tubes is only a by-product."

"But—"

"It's direct atomic power," Carole explained patiently. "It's different from anything else, the same as electric power is different from steam. You will understand that I can't be more specific now."

"Oh," said Niles.

This was what he had wanted to hear, but he dismissed it as if it meant nothing to him. "You've been up before, your father said."

She nodded and started to speak, but a red light flashed.

"Number One tube thirty-two hundred degrees," she called to her father. He reached to the left and shifted a lever; the red light grew dim.

"We've been up before," Carole went on, "but this is the final test, the one toward which father has been working for years. He thinks"—she hesitated—"he thinks this power will give us infinite speed."

Niles' eyes widened. He'd been expecting this, but still it was a shock. "Infinite speed?" he repeated, "Do you mean the speed of light?"

He tried to sound only superficially impressed, but it was hard to control his real eagerness.

Then Carole's face was turned toward, him, and he saw that it was white. "Yes," she whispered. "The speed of light; we're going to try for that now. I'm afraid something—something will go wrong."

Niles stared at her, trying to take her words in and fully appreciate them. But Dr. Beckwith's voice came to them. "Twenty thousand feet."

Carole opened an oxygen valve.

Niles glanced at the gravity indicator. It showed a constant acceleration of four gravities.

He studied the instruments and asked questions of Carole.

"We're at eighty thousand feet," she announced presently.

"Lord!" exclaimed Niles. "That's a world's altitude record." He looked out. "You can see the curvature of the Earth quite plainly."

THE SKY was purple-black. Stars stood out like yellow pin-heads. Niles looked at the pressure gauge. "The mercury is almost at the bottom," he noted. "Temperature eighty below zero."

A bell sounded one note. Beckwith switched a control knob.

"Father has a special air-speed indicator." Carole explained. "When the velocity reaches a hundred thousand miles an hour, father switches in a dial that indicates miles per minute."

"A hundred thousand miles an hour!" Niles exclaimed.

The needle dropped to fifteen hundred when Beckwith shifted the knob. That represented miles per minute, Niles reminded himself. The needle settled once and then began to climb; it was almost impossible to believe.

This little man and his daughter, working alone, out of contact with the world, had done what a thousand scientists would give their lives for. They had harnessed atomic power to a vehicle. Now they were traveling two hundred times as fast as man had ever gone before!

"How much faster—"

"I don't know." Carole watched her instruments. "There is a dial to register miles per second." Her voice was tight. "We've never used it—yet."

But it was apparent they would use it soon. Dr. Beckwith held the ship at four gravities. The miles-per-minute needle crawled steadily to the top of its arc. Through the windows, the Earth was now a distinct ball, the globes' continents like those flour-and-paste relief maps Niles had made in school.

"Which way are we going?"

"In the general direction of Sirius," Carole told him. "See there, ahead?"

Niles looked at the blackest, most perfectly defined sky he had ever seen. Ahead of them was the constellation of the Great Dog and the dazzling whiteness of Sirius, brightest star in the heavens. Niles shuddered; if they kept going at this rate, they themselves soon would be in the heavens.

Dr. Beckwith came out of his abstraction and spoke to them. "We're going over the asteroid belt," he announced.

Niles stared at the professor. He looked at the chronometer over the professor's head and down at the accelerometer, which still showed four G's.

"It isn't possible," Niles said. "We've been gone only a few hours. At four G's it would take—let's see—" He thought a moment. "It would take about thirty hours to reach the asteroid belt. And we—"

"You forget," Dr. Beckwith said, "that gravity itself is relative. Near the Earth's surface you would fall thirty-two feet per second. A force of four gravities would carry you away from the Earth at a speed that would increase by one hundred and twenty-eight feet each second. But that speed moves against the force of gravity; in other words, it lifts whatever you weigh."

"Of course," said Niles. "I—"

"Sh-h!" Carole warned. "When he gets started you can't stop him till he delivers his lecture."

"Out here," Beckwith went on with a reproving glance, "you weigh only a fraction of an ounce, as far as the Earth is concerned. Thus the same force that moves one hundred and eighty pounds on earth, at an acceleration of four gravities, will move you now at an acceleration of hundreds of gravities and cause less discomfort than it did when we left Earth."

"Then," said Niles slowly, "acceleration can progress infinitely."

"Exactly. The only approximation of our actual speed is the ether indicator."

The bell sounded a single tone. Niles' eyes shot to the speed dial. It went dark for an instant, then the needle that showed miles per second left its starting post and began to climb. The last figure on this dial was 186,000—the speed of light.

CAROLE saw the movement of Niles' eyes. "The bell will sound twice just before we reach that velocity—if we ever do," she said huskily.

It was some comfort to Niles to know that she was scared. He walked up to Beckwith's side, astounded to realize that time had passed so swiftly that he himself must have stood in one spot for hours, watching Carole and examining the controls. He still had to lean forward against acceleration, for of course that had increased as his weight decreased. Now it must be terrific; the needle on the dial was mounting steadily.

"You know what will happen if we should reach the speed of light?" Niles asked.

Beckwith didn't hear him, so he said it again. The professor glanced around quickly, confused. His beard lifted. "What? Oh, yes. Yes, I—I mean, I know. Don't worry, don't worry." Impatiently he turned back to his instruments.

Time went very slowly from then on. Hours, and possibly days, passed. Niles quit watching the chronometer. They took turns sleeping in a narrow bunk. They ate lunches and fed the rabbits. Dr. Beckwith examined the animals from time to time. Carole had Niles kill a rabbit to feed the falcons.

Eat and sleep and eat. And always Beckwith drove the ship on and on and on, never slackening that terrific velocity through the black cold of space. It grew by the hour, by the minute, by the second. The ether-speed needle crawled so slowly they couldn't see it move, but always, when they looked, it was a little higher than before.

It reached the top of its arc, the halfway mark, and started down on the other side.

The stars seemed to grow closer and closer. Finally, when the velocity was a hundred and twenty-five thousand miles a second, Niles spoke to Carole. "Shouldn't we at least start back? We've been gone several days, haven't we?"

Carole's brown eyes looked bravely at him. "Father won't let anything happen." She was trying to reassure him, but her voice was ragged.

The velocity passed a hundred and sixty-five thousand; Carole's face lost its color. The needle went to a hundred and seventy-five thousand. The stars glowed in the quartz windows, glowed brightly and receded. One hundred and eighty thousand.

Niles' throat became tight. He didn't seem even to be hungry any more. His gaze was always fixed on Beckwith. This little man with the bifurcated beard had done the impossible; he was attaining infinite velocity, and with infinite velocity they would have infinite mass.

Thev would outgravitate the universe. No man could know what would happen.

The needle hovered over a hundred and eighty-five thousand. The bell rang twice. It broke Niles' restraint. He leaped up the narrow aisle and shouted at Beckwith "You've got to stop! Another thousand miles a second and you'll upset the whole universe!"

Niles was hardly prepared for Beckwith's reaction. The whiskered head shot around. Beckwith's dreamy blue eyes were sharp. He stared at Niles with more presence of mind than he had yet shown. "What do you know," he demanded, "of infinite mass?"

"1 was just thinking of Einstein's—"

"Why were you thinking of Einstein? Why did you, at a time like this, relate his theory to the conditions under which we are traveling? Why—"

NILES INTERRUPTED this time. He forced a smile. "You're a true scientist. Dr. Beckwith. Always hunting the answer. But now—" His eyes swept the mass of dials and his face became grave. "You must—"

"Why?" Dr. Beckwith repeated, talking to himself. "You're well taught, you've had much work in physics, familiar with rocket ships—" His voice trailed off.

Carole had come up on the other side of her father. She stared at Niles, her brown eyes wide. "Niles." She said the name thoughtfully. "I've seen your face—or your picture."

She hesitated. Something hard to define came into her eyes. ...

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