The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xii Part 172

You’re reading novel The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xii Part 172 online at LightNovelFree.com. Please use the follow button to get notification about the latest chapter next time when you visit LightNovelFree.com. Use F11 button to read novel in full-screen(PC only). Drop by anytime you want to read free – fast – latest novel. It’s great if you could leave a comment, share your opinion about the new chapters, new novel with others on the internet. We’ll do our best to bring you the finest, latest novel everyday. Enjoy!

"Well, they are and they ain't. Pax--that's what he calls himself--signals NAA, our number, you understand, and then says what he has to say to the whole world, care of the United States. The first message I thought was a joke and stuck it in a book I was reading, 'Silas Snooks'----"

"What?" e.j.a.c.u.l.a.t.ed Von Koenitz impatiently.

"Snooks--man's name--feller in the book--nothing to do with this business," explained the operator. "I forgot all about it. But after the earthquake and all the rest of the fuss I dug it out and gave it to Mr. Thornton. Then on the 27th came the next one, saying that Pax was getting tired of waiting for us and was going to start something. That came at one o'clock in the afternoon, and the fun began at three sharp. The whole observatory went on the blink. Say, there ain't any doubt in your minds that it's him, is there?"

Von Koenitz looked cynically round the room.

"There is not!" exclaimed Rostoloff and Liban in the same breath.



The German laughed.

"Speak for yourselves, Excellencies," he sneered. His tone nettled the wireless representative of the sovereign American people.

"Do you think I'm a liar?" he demanded, clenching his jaw and glaring at Von Koenitz.

The German Amba.s.sador shrugged his shoulders again. Such things were impossible in a civilized country--at Potsdam--but what could you expect---- "Steady, Hood!" whispered Thornton.

"Remember, Mr. Hood, that you are here to answer our questions," said the President sternly. "You must not address his Excellency, Baron von Koenitz, in this fas.h.i.+on."

"But the man was making a monkey of me!" muttered Hood. "All I say is, look out. This Pax is on his job and means business. I just got another call before I came over here--at nine o'clock."

"What was its purport?" inquired the President.

"Why, it said Pax was getting tired of nothing being done and wanted action of some sort. Said that men were dying like flies, and he proposed to put an end to it at any cost. And--and----"

"Yes! Yes!" e.j.a.c.u.l.a.t.ed Liban breathlessly.

"And he would give further evidence of his control over the forces of nature to-night."

"Ha! Ha!" Von Koenitz leaned back in amus.e.m.e.nt. "My friend," he chuckled, "you--are--the 'nut'!"

What form Hood's resentment might have taken is problematical; but as the German's words left his mouth the electric lights suddenly went out and the windows rattled ominously. At the same moment each occupant of the room felt himself sway slightly toward the east wall, on which appeared a bright yellow glow. Instinctively they all turned to the window which faced the north. The whole sky was flooded with an orange-yellow aurora that rivalled the sunlight in intensity.

"What'd I tell you?" mumbled Hood.

The Executive Mansion quivered, and even in that yellow light the faces of the amba.s.sadors seemed pale with fear. And then as the glow slowly faded in the north there floated down across the aperture of the window something soft and fluffy like feathers. Thicker and faster it came until the lawn of the White House was covered with it. The air in the room turned cold. Through the window a large flake circled and lit on the back of Rostoloff's head.

"Snow!" he cried. "A snowstorm--in August!"

The President arose and closed the window. Almost immediately the electric lights burned up again.

"Now are you satisfied?" cried Liban to the German.

"Satisfied?" growled Von Koenitz. "I have seen plenty of snowstorms in August. They have them daily in the Alps. You ask me if I am satisfied. Of what? That earthquakes, the aurora borealis, electrical disturbances, snowstorms exist--yes. That a mysterious bugaboo is responsible for these things--no!"

"What, then, do you require?" gasped Liban.

"More than a snowstorm!" retorted the German. "When I was a boy at the gymnasium we had a thunderstorm with fishes in it. They were everywhere one stepped, all over the ground. But we did not conclude that Jonah was giving us a demonstration of his power over the whale."

He faced the others defiantly; in his voice was mockery.

"You may retire, Mr. Hood," said the President. "But you will kindly wait outside."

"That is an honest man if ever I saw one, Mr. President," announced Sir John, after the operator had gone out. "I am satisfied that we are in communication with a human being of practically supernatural powers."

"What, then, shall be done?" inquired Rostoloff anxiously. "The world will be annihilated!"

"Your Excellencies"--Von Koenitz arose and took up a graceful position at the end of the table--"I must protest against what seems to me to be an extraordinary credulity upon the part of all of you. I speak to you as a rational human being, not as an amba.s.sador. Something has occurred to affect the earth's...o...b..t. It may result in a calamity. None can foretell. This planet may be drawn off into s.p.a.ce by the attraction of some wandering world that has not yet come within observation. But one thing we know: No power on or of the earth can possibly derange its relation to the other celestial bodies. That would be, as you say here, 'lifting one's self by one's own boot-straps.' I do not doubt the accuracy of your clocks and scientific instruments. Those of my own country are in harmony with yours. But to say that the cause of all this is a man is preposterous. If the mysterious Pax makes the heavens fall, they will tumble on his own head. Is he going to send himself to eternity along with the rest of us? Hardly! This Hood is a monstrous liar or a dangerous lunatic. Even if he has received these messages, they are the emanations of a crank, as, he says, he himself first suspected. Let us master this hysteria born of the strain of constant war. In a word, let us go to bed."

"Count von Koenitz," replied Sir John after a pause, "you speak forcefully, even persuasively. But your argument is based upon a proposition that is scientifically fallacious. An atom of gunpowder can disintegrate itself, 'lift itself by its own boot-straps!' Why not the earth? Have we as yet begun to solve all the mysteries of nature? Is it inconceivable that there should be an undiscovered explosive capable of disrupting the globe? We have earthquakes. Is it beyond imagination that the forces which produce them can be controlled?"

"My dear Sir John," returned Von Koenitz courteously, "my ultimate answer is that we have no adequate reason to connect the phenomena which have disturbed the earth's rotation with any human agency."

"That," interposed the President, "is something upon which individuals may well differ. I suppose that under other conditions you would be open to conviction?"

"a.s.suredly," answered Von Koenitz. "Should the sender of these messages prophesy the performance of some miracle that could not be explained by natural causes, I would be forced to admit my error."

Monsieur Liban had also arisen and was walking nervously up and down the room. Suddenly he turned to Von Koenitz and in a voice shaking with emotion cried: "Let us then invite Pax to give us a sign that will satisfy you."

"Monsieur Liban," replied Von Koenitz stiffly, "I refuse to place myself in the position of communicating with a lunatic."

"Very well," shouted the Frenchman, "I will take the responsibility of making myself ridiculous. I will request the President of the United States to act as the agent of France for this purpose."

He drew a notebook and a fountain pen from his pocket and carefully wrote out a message which he handed to the President. The latter read it aloud: "Pax: The Amba.s.sador of the French Republic requests me to communicate to you the fact that he desires some further evidence of your power to control the movements of the earth and the destinies of mankind, such phenomena to be preferably of a harmless character, but inexplicable by any theory of natural causation. I await your reply.

"THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.".

"Send for Hood," ordered the President to the secretary who answered the bell. "Gentlemen, I suggest that we ourselves go to Georgetown and superintend the sending of this message."

Half an hour later Bill Hood sat in his customary chair in the wireless operating room surrounded by the President of the United States, the amba.s.sadors of France, Germany, Great Britain, and Russia, and Professor Thornton. The faces of all wore expressions of the utmost seriousness, except that of Von Koenitz, who looked as if he were partic.i.p.ating in an elaborate hoax. Several of these distinguished gentlemen had never seen a wireless apparatus before, and showed some excitement as Hood made ready to send the most famous message ever transmitted through the ether. At last he threw over his rheostat and the hum of the rotary spark rose into its staccato song. Hood sent out a few V's and then began calling: "PAX--PAX--PAX.".

Breathlessly the group waited while he listened for a reply. Again he called: "PAX--PAX--PAX.".

He had already thrown in his Henderson ballast coils and was ready for the now familiar wave. He closed his eyes, waiting for that sharp metallic cry that came no one knew whence. The others in the group also listened intently, as if by so doing they, too, might hear the answer if any there should be. Suddenly Hood stiffened.

"There he is!" he whispered. The President handed him the message, and Hood's fingers played over the key while the spark sent its singing note through the ether.

"Such phenomena to be preferably of a harmless character, but inexplicable by any theory of natural causation," he concluded.

An uncanny dread seized on Thornton, who had withdrawn himself into the background. What was this strange communion? Who was this mysterious Pax? Were these real men or creatures of a grotesque dream? Was he not drowsing over his eyepiece in the meridian-circle room? Then a simultaneous movement upon the part of those gathered round the operator convinced him of the reality of what was taking place. Hood was laboriously writing upon a sheet of yellow pad paper, and the amba.s.sadors were unceremoniously crowding each other in their eagerness to read.

"To the President of the United States," wrote Hood: "In reply to your message requesting further evidence of my power to compel the cessation of hostilities within twenty-four hours, I"--there was a pause for nearly a minute, during which the ticking of the big clock sounded to Thornton like revolver shots--"I will excavate a channel through the Atlas Mountains and divert the Mediterranean into the Sahara Desert. PAX."

Silence followed the final transcription of the message from the unknown--a silence broken only by Bill Hood's tremulous, half-whispered: "He'll do it all right!"

Then the German Amba.s.sador laughed.

"And thus save your ingenious nation a vast amount of trouble, Monsieur Liban," said he.

VI.

A Tripolitan fisherman, Mohammed Ben Ali el Bad, a holy man nearly seventy years of age, who had twice made the journey to Mecca and who now in his declining years occupied himself with reading the Koran and instructing his grandsons in the profession of fis.h.i.+ng for mullet along the reefs of the Gulf of Cabes, had anch.o.r.ed for the night off the Tunisian coast, about midway between Sfax and Lesser Syrtis. The mullet had been running thick and he was well satisfied, for by the next evening he would surely complete his load and be able to return home to the house of his daughter, Fatima, the wife of Abbas, the confectioner. Her youngest son, Abdullah, a lithe lad of seventeen, was at that moment engaged in folding their prayer rugs, which had been spread in the bow of the falukah in order that they might have a clearer view as they knelt toward the Holy City. Chud, their slave, was cleaning mullet in the waist and chanting some weird song of his native land.

Mohammed Ben Ali el Bad was sitting cross-legged in the stern, smoking a hookah and watching the full moon sail slowly up above the Atlas Range to the southwest. The wind had died down and the sea was calm, heaving slowly with great orange-purple swells resembling watered silk. In the west still lingered the fast-fading afterglow, above which the stars glimmered faintly. Along the coast lights twinkled in scattered coves. Half a mile astern the Italian cruiser Fiala lay slowly swinging at anchor. From the forecastle came the smell of fried mullet. Mohammed Ben Ali was at peace with himself and with the world, including even the irritating Chud. The west darkened and the stars burned more brilliantly. With the hookah gurgling softly at his feet, Mohammed leaned back his head and gazed in silent appreciation at the wonders of the heavens. There was Turka Kabar, the crocodile; and Menish el Tabir, the sleeping beauty; and Rook Hamana, the leopard, and there--up there to the far north--was a shooting star. How gracefully it shot across the sky, leaving its wake of yellow light behind it! It was the season for shooting stars, he recollected. In an instant it would be gone--like a man's life! Saddened, he looked down at his hookah. When he should look up again--if in only an instant--the star would be gone. Presently he did look up again. But the star was still there, coming his way!

He rubbed his old eyes, keen as they were from habituation to the blinding light of the desert. Yes, the star was coming--coming fast.

"Abdullah!" he called in his high-pitched voice. "Chud! Come, see the star!"

Together they watched it sweep onward.

"By Allah! That is no star!" suddenly cried Abdullah. "It is an air-flying fire chariot! I can see it with my eyes--black, and spouting flames from behind."

"Black," echoed Chud gutturally. "Black and round! Oh, Allah!" He fell on his knees and knocked his head against the deck.

The star, or whatever it was, swung in a wide circle toward the coast, and Mohammed and Abdullah now saw that what they had taken to be a trail of fire behind was in fact a broad beam of yellow light that pointed diagonally earthward. It swept nearer and nearer, illuminating the whole sky and casting a s.h.i.+mmering reflection upon the waves.

A shrill whistle trilled across the water, accompanied by the sound of footsteps running along the decks of the cruiser. Lights flashed. m.u.f.fled orders were shouted.

"By the beard of the Prophet!" cried Mohammed Ali. "Something is going to happen!"

The small black object from which the incandescent beam descended pa.s.sed at that moment athwart the face of the moon, and Abdullah saw that it was round and flat like a ring. The ray of light came from a point directly above it, pa.s.sing through its aperture downward to the sea.

"Boom!" The fis.h.i.+ng-boat shook to the thunder of the Fiala's eight-inch gun, and a blinding spurt of flame leaped from the cruiser's bows. With a whining shriek a sh.e.l.l rose toward the moon. There was a quick flash followed by a dull concussion. The sh.e.l.l had not reached a tenth of the distance to the flying machine.

And then everything happened at once. Mohammed described afterward to a gaping mult.i.tude of dirty villagers, while he sat enthroned upon his daughter's threshold, how the star-s.h.i.+p had sailed across the face of the moon and come to a standstill above the mountains, with its beam of yellow light pointing directly downward so that the coast could be seen bright as day from Sfax to Cabes. He saw, he said, genii climbing up and down on the beam. Be that as it may, he swears upon the Beard of the Prophet that a second ray of light--of a lavender colour, like the eye of a long-dead mullet--flashed down alongside the yellow beam. Instantly the earth blew up like a cannon--up into the air, a thousand miles up. It was as light as noonday. Deafened by t.i.tanic concussions he fell half dead. The sea boiled and gave off thick clouds of steam through which flashed dazzling discharges of lightning accompanied by a thundering, grinding sound like a million mills. The ocean heaved spasmodically and the air shook with a rending, ripping noise, as if Nature were bent upon destroying her own handiwork. The glare was so dazzling that sight was impossible. The falukah was tossed this way and that, as if caught in a simoon, and he was rolled hither and yon in the company of Chud, Abdullah, and the headless mullet.

This earsplitting racket continued, he says, without interruption for two days. Abdullah says it was several hours; the official report of the Fiala gives it as six minutes. And then it began to rain in torrents until he was almost drowned. A great wind arose and lashed the ocean, and a whirlpool seized the falukah and whirled it round and round. Darkness descended upon the earth, and in the general mess Mohammed hit his head a terrific blow against the mast. He was sure it was but a matter of seconds before they would be dashed to pieces by the waves. The falukah spun like a marine top with a swift sideways motion. Something was dragging them along, sucking them in. The Fiala went careening by, her fighting masts hanging in shreds. The air was full of falling rocks, trees, splinters, and thick clouds of dust that turned the water yellow in the lightning flashes. The mast went cras.h.i.+ng over and a lemon tree descended to take its place. Great streams of lava poured down out of the air, and ma.s.ses of opaque matter plunged into the sea all about the falukah. Scalding mud, stones, hail, fell upon the deck.

And still the fis.h.i.+ng-boat, gyrating like a leaf, remained afloat with its crew of half-crazed Arabs. Suffocated, stunned, scalded, petrified with fear, they lay among the mullet while the falukah raced along in its wild dance with death. Mohammed recalls seeing what he thought to be a great cliff rush by close beside them. The falukah plunged over a waterfall and was almost submerged, was caught again in a maelstrom, and went twirling on in the blackness. They all were deathly sick, but were too terrified to move.

And then the nearer roaring ceased. The air was less congested. They were still showered with sand, clods of earth, twigs, and pebbles, it is true, but the genii had stopped hurling mountains at each other. The darkness became less opaque, the water smoother. Soon they could see the moon through the clouds of settling dust, and gradually they could discern the stars. The falukah was rocking gently upon a broad expanse of muddy ocean, surrounded by a yellow sc.u.m broken here and there by a floating tree. The Fiala had vanished. No light shone upon the face of the waters. But death had not overtaken them. Overcome by exhaustion and terror Mohammed lay among the mullet, his legs entangled in the lemon tree. Did he dream it? He cannot tell. But as he lost consciousness he thinks he saw a star shooting toward the north.

When he awoke the falukah lay motionless upon a boundless ochre sea. They were beyond sight of land. Out of a sky slightly dim the sun burned pitilessly down, sending warmth into their bodies and courage to their hearts. All about them upon the water floated the evidences of the cataclysm of the preceding night--trees, shrubs, dead birds, and the distorted corpse of a camel. Kneeling without their prayer rugs among the mullet they raised their voices in praise of Allah and his Prophet.

VII.

Within twenty-four hours of the destruction of the Mountains of Atlas by the Flying Ring and the consequent flooding of the Sahara, the official gazettes and such newspapers as were still published announced that the Powers had agreed upon an armistice and accepted a proposition of mediation on the part of the United States looking toward permanent peace. The news of the devastation and flood caused by this strange and terrible dreadnought of the air created the profoundest apprehension and caused the wildest rumours, for what had happened in Tunis was a.s.sumed as likely to occur in London, Paris, or New York. Wireless messages flashed the story from Algiers to Cartagena, and it was thence disseminated throughout the civilized world by the wireless stations at Paris, Nauen, Moscow, and Georgetown.

The fact that the rotation of the earth had been r.e.t.a.r.ded was still a secret, and the appearance of the Ring had not as yet been connected with any of the extraordinary phenomena surrounding it; but the newspaper editorials universally agreed that whatever nation owned and controlled this new instrument of war could dictate its own terms. It was generally supposed that the blasting of the mountain chain of Northern Africa had been an experiment to test and demonstrate the powers of this new demoniacal invention, and in view of its success it did not seem surprising that the nations had hastened to agree to an armistice, for the Power that controlled a force capable of producing such an extraordinary physical cataclysm could annihilate every capital, every army, every people upon the globe or even the globe itself.

The flight of the Ring machine had been observed at several different points, beginning at Cape Race, where at about four A.M. the wireless operator reported what he supposed to be a large comet discharging earthward a diagonal shaft of orange-yellow light and moving at incredible velocity in a southeasterly direction. During the following day the lookout on the Vira, a fishguard and scout cruiser of the North Atlantic Patrol, saw a black speck soaring among the clouds which he took to be a lost monoplane fighting to regain the coast of Ireland. At sundown an amateur wireless operator at St. Michael's in the Azores noted a small comet sweeping across the sky far to the north. This comet an hour or so later pa.s.sed directly over the cities of Lisbon, Linares, Lorca, Cartagena, and Algiers, and was clearly observable from Badajoz, Almaden, Seville, Cordova, Grenada, Oran, Biskra, and Tunis, and at the latter places it was easily possible for telescopic observers to determine its size, shape, and general construction.

Daniel W. Quinn, Jr., the acting United States Consul stationed at Biskra, who happened to be dining with the abbot of the Franciscan monastery at Linares, sent the following account of the flight of the Ring to the State Department at Was.h.i.+ngton, where it is now on file. [See Vol. 27, pp. 491-498, with footnote, of Official Records of the Consular Correspondence for 1915-1916.] After describing general conditions in Algeria he continues: We had gone upon the roof in the early evening to look at the sky through the large telescope presented to the Franciscans by Count Philippe d'Ormay, when Father Antoine called my attention to a comet that was apparently coming straight toward us. Instead, however, of leaving a horizontal trail of fire behind it, this comet or meteorite seemed to shoot an almost vertical beam of orange light toward the earth. It produced a very strange effect on all of us, since a normal comet or other celestial body that left a wake of light of that sort behind it would naturally be expected to be moving upward toward the zenith, instead of in a direction parallel to the earth. It looked somehow as if the tail of the comet had been bent over. As soon as it came near enough so that we could focus the telescope upon it we discovered that it was a new sort of flying machine. It pa.s.sed over our heads at a height no greater than ten thousand feet, if as great as that, and we could see that it was a cylindrical ring like a doughnut or an anchor ring, constructed, I believe, of highly polished metal, the inner aperture being about twenty-five yards in diameter. The tube of the cylinder looked to be about twenty feet thick, and had circular windows or portholes that were brilliantly lighted.

The strangest thing about it was that it carried a superstructure consisting of a number of arms meeting at a point above the centre of the opening and supporting some sort of apparatus from which the beam of light emanated. This appliance, which we supposed to be a gigantic searchlight, was focused down through the Ring and could apparently be moved at will over a limited radius of about fifteen degrees. We could not understand this, nor why the light was thrown from outside and above instead of from inside the flying machine, but the explanation may be found in the immense heat that must have been required to generate the light, since it illuminated the entire country for fifty miles or so, and we were able to read without trouble the fine print of the abbot's rubric. This Flying Ring moved on an even keel at the tremendous velocity of about two hundred miles an hour. We wondered what would happen if it turned turtle, for in that case the weight of the superstructure would have rendered it impossible for the machine to right itself. In fact, none of us had ever imagined any such air monster before. Beside it a Zeppelin seemed like a wooden toy.

The Ring pa.s.sed over the mountains toward Cabes and within a short time a volcanic eruption occurred that destroyed a section of the Atlas Range. [Mr. Quinn here describes with considerable detail the destruction of the mountains.] The next morning I found Biskra crowded with Arabs, who reported that the ocean had poured through the pa.s.sage made by the eruption and was flooding the entire desert as far south as the oasis of Wargla, and that it had come within twelve miles of the walls of our own city. I at once hired a donkey and made a personal investigation, with the result that I can report as a fact that the entire desert east and south of Biskra is inundated to a depth of from seven to ten feet and that the water gives no sign of going down. The loss of life seems to have been negligible, owing to the fact that the height of the water is not great and that many unexpected islands have provided safety for the caravans that were in transitu. These are now marooned and waiting for a.s.sistance, which I am informed will be sent from Cabes in the form of flat-bottomed boats fitted with motor auxiliaries.

Respectfully submitted, D. W. QUINN, Jr., Acting U. S. Consul.

The Italian cruiser Fiala, which had been carried one hundred and eighty miles into the desert on the night of the eruption, grounded safely on the plateau of Tasili, but the volcanic tidal wave on which she had been swept along, having done its work, receded, leaving too little water for the Fiala's draft of thirty-seven feet. Four launches sent out in different directions to the south and east reported no sign of land, but immense quant.i.ties of floating vegetable matter, yellow dust, and the bodies of jackals, camels, zebras, and lions. The fifth launch after great hards.h.i.+ps reached the seacoast through the new channel and arrived at Sfax after eight days.

The mean tide level of the Mediterranean sank fifteen inches, and the water showed marked discoloration for several months, while a volcanic haze hung over Northern Africa, Sicily, Malta, and Sardinia for an even longer period.

Though many persons must have lost their lives the records are incomplete in this respect; but there is a curious doc.u.ment in the mosque at Sfax touching the effect of the Lavender Ray. It appears that an Arab mussel-gatherer was in a small boat with his two brothers at the time the Ring appeared above the mountains. As they looked up toward the sky the Ray flashed over and illuminated their faces. They thought nothing of it at the time, for almost immediately the mountains were rent asunder and in the t.i.tanic upheaval that followed they were all cast upon the sh.o.r.e, as they thought, dead men. Reaching Sfax they reported their adventures and offered prayers in grat.i.tude for their extraordinary escape; but five days later all three began to suffer excruciating torment from internal burns, the skin upon their heads and bodies began to peel off, and they died in agony within the week.

VIII.

It was but a few days thereafter that the President of the United States received the official note from Count von Koenitz, on behalf of the Imperial German Commissioners, to the effect that Germany would join with the other Powers in an armistice looking toward peace and ultimately a universal disarmament. Similar notes had already been received by the President from France, Great Britain, Russia, Italy, Austria, Spain, and Slavia, and a mult.i.tude of the other smaller Powers who were engaged in the war, and there was no longer any reason for delaying the calling of an international council or diet for the purpose of bringing about what Pax demanded as a ransom for the safety of the globe.

In the files of the State Department at Was.h.i.+ngton there is secreted the only record of the diplomatic correspondence touching these momentous events, and a transcript of the messages exchanged between the President of the United States and the Arbiter of Human Destiny. They are comparatively few in number, for Pax seemed to be satisfied to leave all details to the Powers themselves. In the interest of saving time, however, he made the simple suggestion that the present amba.s.sadors should be given plenary powers to determine the terms and conditions upon which universal peace should be declared. All these proceedings and the reasons therefore were kept profoundly secret. It began to look as though the matter would be put through with characteristic Yankee promptness. Pax's suggestion was acceded to, and the amba.s.sadors and ministers were given unrestricted lat.i.tude in drawing the treaty that should abolish war forever.

Now that he had been won over no one was more indefatigable than Von Koenitz, none more fertile in suggestions. It was he who drafted with his own hand the forty pages devoted to the creation of the commission charged with the duty of destroying all arms, munitions, and implements of war; and he not only acted as chairman of the preliminary drafting committee, but was an active member of at least half a dozen other important subcommittees. The President daily communicated the progress of this conference of the Powers to Pax through Bill Hood, and received daily in return a hearty if laconic approval.

"I am satisfied of the sincerity of the Powers and with the progress made. PAX."

was the ordinary type of message received. Meantime word had been sent to all the governments that an indefinite armistice had been declared, to commence at the end of ten days, for it had been found necessary to allow for the time required to transmit the orders to the various fields of military operations throughout Europe. In the interim the war continued.

It was at this time that Count von Koenitz, who now was looked upon as the leading figure of the conference, arose and said: "Your Excellencies, this distinguished diet will, I doubt not, presently conclude its labours and receive not only the approval of the Powers represented but the grat.i.tude of the nations of the world. I voice the sentiments of the Imperial Commissioners when I say that no Power looks forward with greater eagerness than Germany to the accomplishment of our purpose. But we should not forget that there is one menace to mankind greater than that of war--namely, the lurking danger from the power of this unknown possessor of superhuman knowledge of explosives. So far his influence has been a benign one, but who can say when it may become malignant? Will our labours please him? Perhaps not. Shall we agree? I hope so, but who can tell? Will our armies lay down their arms even after we have agreed? I believe all will go well; but is it wise for us to refrain from jointly taking steps to ascertain the ident.i.ty of this unknown juggler with Nature, and the source of his power? It is my own opinion, since we cannot exert any influence or control upon this individual, that we should take whatever steps are within our grasp to safeguard ourselves in the event that he refuses to keep faith with us. To this end I suggest an international conference of scientific men from all the nations to be held here in Was.h.i.+ngton coincidently with our own meetings, with a view to determining these questions."

His remarks were greeted with approval by almost all the representatives present except Sir John Smith, who mildly hinted that such a course might be regarded as savouring a trifle of double dealing. Should Pax receive knowledge of the suggested conference he might question their sincerity and view all their doings with suspicion. In a word, Sir John believed in following a consistent course and treating Pax as a friend and ally and not as a possible enemy.

Sir John's speech, however, left the delegates unconvinced and with the feeling that his argument was over-refined. They felt that there could be no objection to endeavouring to ascertain the source of Pax's power--the law of self-preservation seemed to indicate such a course as necessary. And it had, in fact, already been discussed vaguely by several less conspicuous delegates. Accordingly it was voted, with but two dissenting voices,[2] to summon what was known as Conference No. 2, to be held as soon as possible, its proceedings to be conducted in secret under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences, with the president of the Academy acting as permanent chairman. To this conference the President appointed Thornton as one of the three delegates from the United States.

[Footnote 2: The President of the United States also voted in the negative.]

The council of the Powers having so voted, Count von Koenitz at once transmitted, by way of Sayville, a message which in code appeared to be addressed to a Herr Karl Heinweg, Notary, at 12^{BIS} Bunden Stra.s.se, Stra.s.sburg, and related to a mortgage about to fall due upon some of Von Koenitz's properties in Thuringen. When decoded it read: "To the Imperial Commissioners of the German Federated States: "I have the honour to report that acting according to your distinguished instructions I have this day proposed an international conference to consider the scientific problems presented by certain recent phenomena and that my proposition was adopted. I believe that in this way the proceedings here may be delayed indefinitely and time thus secured to enable an expedition to be organized and dispatched for the purpose of destroying this unknown person or ascertaining the secret of his power, in accordance with my previous suggestion. It would be well to send as delegates to this Conference No. 2 several professors of physics who can by plausible arguments and ingenious theories so confuse the matter that no determination can be reached. I suggest Professors Gasgabelaus, of Munchen, and Leybach, of the Hague.

"VON KOENITZ.".

And having thus fulfilled his duty the count took a cab to the Metropolitan Club and there played a discreet game of billiards with Senor Toma.s.so Varilla, the ex-minister from Argentina.

Von Koenitz from the first had played his hand with a skill which from a diplomatic view left nothing to be desired. The extraordinary natural phenomena which had occurred coincidentally with the first message of Pax to the President of the United States and the fall of Cleopatra's Needle had been immediately observed by the scientists attached to the Imperial and other universities throughout the German Federated States, and had no sooner been observed than their significance had been realized. These most industrious and thorough of all human investigators had instantly reported the facts and their preliminary conclusions to the Imperial Commissioners, with the recommendation that no stone be left unturned in attempting to locate and ascertain the causes of this disruption of the forces of nature. The Commissioners at once demanded an exhaustive report from the faculty of the Imperial German University, and notified Von Koenitz by cable that until further notice he must seek in every way to delay investigation by other nations and to belittle the importance of what had occurred, for these astute German scientists had at once jumped to the conclusion that the acceleration of the earth's motion had been due to some human agency possessed of a hitherto unsuspected power.

It was for this reason that at the first meeting at the White House the Amba.s.sador had pooh-poohed the whole matter and talked of snowstorms in the Alps and showers of fish at Heidelburg, but with the rending of the northern coast of Africa and the well-attested appearances of "The Ring" he soon reached the conclusion that his wisest course was to cause such a delay on the part of the other Powers that the inevitable race for the secret would be won by the nation which he so astutely represented. He reasoned, quite accurately, that the scientists of England, Russia, and America would not remain idle in attempting to deduce the cause and place the origin of the phenomena and the habitat of the master of the Ring, and that the only effectual means to enable Germany to capture this, the greatest of all prizes of war, was to befuddle the representatives of the other nations while leaving his own unhampered in their efforts to accomplish that which would make his countrymen, almost without further effort, the masters of the world. Now the easiest way to befuddle the scientists of the world was to get them into one place and befuddle them all together, and this, after communicating with his superiors, he had proceeded to do. He was a clever man, trained in the devious ways of the Wilhelmstra.s.se, and when he set out to accomplish something he was almost inevitably successful. Yet in spite of the supposed alliance between Kaiser and Deity man proposes and G.o.d disposes, and sometimes the latter uses the humblest of human instruments in that disposition.

IX.

The Imperial German Commissioner for War, General Hans von Helmuth, was a man of extraordinary decision and farsightedness. Sixty years of age, he had been a member of the general staff since he was forty. He had sat at the feet of Bismarck and Von Moltke, and during his active partic.i.p.ation in the management of German military affairs he had seen but slight changes in their policy: Ma.s.s--overwhelming ma.s.s; sudden momentous onslaught, and, above all, an attack so quick that your adversary could not regain his feet. It worked nine times out of ten, and when it didn't it was usually better than taking the defensive. General von Helmuth having an approved system was to that extent relieved of anxiety, for all he had to do was to work out details. In this his highly efficient organization was almost automatic. He himself was a human compendium of knowledge, and he had but to press a b.u.t.ton and emit a few gutturals and any information that he wanted lay typewritten before him. Now he sat in his office smoking a Bremen cigar and studying a huge Mercatorial projection of the Atlantic and adjacent countries, while with the fingers of his left hand he combed his heavy beard.

From the window he looked down upon the inner fortifications of Mainz--to which city the capital had been removed three months before--and upon the landing stage for the scouting planes which were constantly arriving or whirring off toward Holland or Stra.s.sburg. Across the river, under the concealed guns of a sunken battery, stood the huge hangars of the now useless dirigibles Z^{51~57}. The landing stage communicated directly by telephone with the adjutant's office, an enormous hall filled with maps, with which Von Helmuth's private room was connected. The adjutant himself, a worried-looking man with a bullet head and an iron-gray moustache, stood at a table in the centre of the hall addressing rapid-fire sentences to various persons who appeared in the doorway, saluted, and hurried off again. Several groups were gathered about the table and the adjutant carried on an interrupted conversation with all of them, pausing to read the telegrams and messages that shot out of the pneumatic tubes upon the table from the telegraph and telephone office on the floor below.

An elderly man in rather shabby clothes entered, looking about helplessly through the thick lenses of his double spectacles, and the adjutant turned at once from the officers about him with an "Excuse me, gentlemen."

"Good afternoon, Professor von Schwenitz; the general is waiting for you," said he. "This way, please."

He stalked across to the door of the inner office.

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xii Part 172

You're reading novel The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xii Part 172 online at LightNovelFree.com. You can use the follow function to bookmark your favorite novel ( Only for registered users ). If you find any errors ( broken links, can't load photos, etc.. ), Please let us know so we can fix it as soon as possible. And when you start a conversation or debate about a certain topic with other people, please do not offend them just because you don't like their opinions.


The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xii Part 172 summary

You're reading The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Xii Part 172. This novel has been translated by Updating. Author: Various already has 143 views.

It's great if you read and follow any novel on our website. We promise you that we'll bring you the latest, hottest novel everyday and FREE.

LightNovelFree.com is a most smartest website for reading novel online, it can automatic resize images to fit your pc screen, even on your mobile. Experience now by using your smartphone and access to LightNovelFree.com