The narrator kept his gender but the protagonist and main McGuffin had theirs swapped.And yet, the dynamics didn’t really change.
Even Einstein knew better to try explaining love.
(Based on The Meteor Girl by Jack Williamson)
The Meteor Boy
“What’s the good in Einstein, anyhow?”
I shot the question at lean young Charlene King. In a moment he looked up at me; I thought there was pain in the back of her clear brown eyes. Lips closed in a thin white line across her wind-tanned face; nervously she tapped her fingers on the metal cowling of the Golden Gull’s cockpit.
“I know that space is curved, that there is really no space or time, but only space-time, that electricity and gravitation and magnetism are all the same. But how is that going to pay my grocery bill – or yours?”
“That’s what Virgil wants to know.”
“Virgil Randall!” I was astonished. “Why, I thought – ”
“I know. We’ve been engaged a year. But he’s called it off.”
Charlene looked into my eyes for a long minute, her lips still compressed. We were leaning on the freshly painted, streamline fuselage of the Golden Gull, as neat a little amphibian monoplane as ever made three hundred miles an hour. The plane stood on the glistening white sand of our private landing field on the eastern Florida coast. Below us the green Atlantic was running in white foam on the rocks.
In the year that Charlene King and I had been out of the Institute of Technology, we had built the nucleus of a commercial airplane business. We had designed and built here in our own shops several very successful seaplanes and amphibians. Charlene’s brilliant mathematical mind was of the greatest aid, except when she was too far lost in her abstruse speculations to descend to things commercial. Mathematics is painful enough to me when it is used in calculating the camber of an airplane wing. And pure mathematics, such as the theories of relativity and equivalence, I simply abhor.
I was amazed. Virgil Randall was a boy as strong and beautiful as our shining Golden Gull. I had thought them devotedly in love, and had been looking forward to the wedding.
“But it isn’t two weeks, since Virgil was out here! You took him up in our Western Gull IV!”
Nervously Charlene chewed on her fingers. Her face, lean and drawn beneath the flying goggles pushed up on her forehead, sought mine anxiously.
“I know. I drove him back to the station. That was when – when we quarreled.”
“But why? About Einstein? That’s silly.”
“He wanted me to give it up here, and go in with his father in his Wall Street brokerage business. The old gent is willing to take me, and make a business tycoon of me.”
“Why, I couldn’t run the business without you, Charlene!”
“We talked about that, Hammond. I don’t really do much of the work. Just play around with the mathematics, and leave the models and blueprints to you.”
“Oh, Charlene, that’s not quite – ”
“It’s the truth, right enough,” she said, bitterly. “You design aircraft, and I play with Einstein. And as you say, a gal can’t eat equations.”
“I’d hate to see you go.”
“And I’d hate to give up on you, and our business, and the math. Really no need of it. My tastes are simple enough. And old ‘Iron-clad’ Randall has made all one family needs. Virgil’s not exactly a pauper, himself. Two or three millions, I think.”
“And where did Virgil go?”
“He took the Valhalla yesterday at San Francisco. Going to join his father at Panama. He cruises about the world in a steam yacht, you know, and runs Wall Street by radio. I was to telegraph him if I’d changed my mind. I decided to stick to you, Hammond. I telegraphed a bottle of scotch, and sent him the message, ‘Einstein forever!'”
“If I know Virgil, those were not very politic words.”
“Well, a man – ”
Her words were cut short by a very startling incident.
A thin, high scream came suddenly from above our neat stuccoed hangars at the edge of the white field. I looked up quickly, to catch a glimpse of a bright object hurtling through the air above our heads. The bellowing scream ended abruptly in a thunderous crash. I felt a tremor of the ground underfoot.
“What – ” I shouted.
“Look!” cried Charlene.
She pointed. I looked over the gleaming metal wing of the Golden Gull, to see a huge cloud of white sand rising like a fountain at the farther side of the level field. Deliberately the column of debris rose, spread, rained down, leaving a gaping crater in the earth.
“It sounded like a shell from a big gun, except that it didn’t explode. Let’s get over and see!”
We ran to where the thing had struck, three hundred yards across the field. We found a great funnel-shaped pit torn in the naked earth. It was a dozen yards across, fifteen feet deep, and surrounded with a powdery ring of white sand and pulverized rock.
“Something like a shell-hole,” I observed.
“I’ve got it!” Charlene cried. “It was a meteor!”
“A meteor? So big?”
“Yes. Lucky for us it was no bigger. If it had been like the one that fell in Siberia a few years ago, or the one that made the Winslow crater in Arizona – we wouldn’t have been talking about it. Probably we have a chunk of nickel-iron alloy here.”
“I’ll get some of the hands out here with digging tools, and we’ll see what we can find.”
Our mechanics were already hurrying across the field. I shouted at them to bring picks and shovels. In a few minutes five of us were at work throwing sand and shattered rock out of the pit.
Suddenly I noticed a curious thing. A pale bluish mist hung in the bottom of the pit. It was easily transparent, no denser than tobacco smoke. Passing my spade through it did not seem to disturb it in the least.
I rubbed my eyes doubtfully, said to Charlene, “Do you see a sort of blue haze in the pit?”
She peered. “No. No…. Yes. Yes, I do! Funny thing. Kind of a blue fog. And the tools cut right through it without moving it! Queer! Must have something to do with the meteor!” She was very excited.
We dug more eagerly. An hour later we had opened the hole to a depth of twenty feet. Our shovels were clanging on the gray iron of the rock from space. The mist had grown thicker as the excavation deepened; we looked at the stone through a screen of motionless blue fog.
We had found the meteor. There were several queer things about it. The first to touch it – a big Swede mechanic named Olson – was knocked cold as if by a nasty jolt of electricity. It took half an hour to bring him to consciousness.
As fast as the rugged iron side of the meteorite was uncovered, a white crust of frost formed over it.
“It was as cold as outer space, nearly at absolute zero,” Charlene explained. “And it was heated only superficially during its quick passage through the air. But how it comes to be charged with electricity – I can’t say.”
She hurried up to the laboratory behind the hangars, where she had equipment ranging from an astronomical telescope to a delicate seismograph. She brought back as much electrical equipment as she could carry. She had me touch an insulated wire to the frost-covered stone from space, while she put the other end to one post of a galvanometer.
I think she got a current that wrecked the instrument. At any rate, she grew very much excited.
“Something odd about that stone!” she cried. “This is the chance of a lifetime! I don’t know that a meteor has ever been scientifically examined so soon after falling.”
She hurried us all across to the laboratory. We came back with a truck load of coils and tubes and batteries and potentiometers and other assorted equipment. She had men with heavy rubber gloves lift the frost-covered stone to a packing box on a bench. The thing was irregular in shape, about a foot long; it must have weighed two hundred pounds. She sent a rider racing on a motorcycle to the drug store to get dry ice to keep the iron stone at a low temperature.
In a few hours she had a complete laboratory set up around the meteorite. She worked feverishly in the hot sunshine, reading the various instruments she had set up, and arranging more. She contrived to keep the stone cold by packing it in a box of dry ice.
The mechanics stopped for dinner, and I tried to get her to take time to eat.
“No, Hammond,” she said. “This is something big! We were talking about Einstein. This rock seems energized with a new kind of force: all meteors are probably the same way, when they first plunge out of space. I think this will be to relativity what the falling apple is to gravity. This is a big thing.”
She looked up at me, brown eyes flashing.
“This is my chance to make a name, Hammond. If I do something big enough – Virgil might reconsider his opinion.”
Charlene worked steadily through the long hot afternoon. I spent most of the time helping her, or gazing in fascination at the curious haze of luminous blue mist that clung like a sphere of azure fog about the meteor stone. I did not completely understand what she did; the reader who wants the details may consult the monograph she is preparing for the scientific press.
She had the workers string up a line from our direct current generator in the shops, to supply power for the electrical instruments. She mounted a powerful electromagnet just below the meteorite, and set up an X-ray tube to bombard it with rays.
Night came, and the fire of the white sun faded from the sky. In the darkness, the curious haze about the stone became luminescent, distinct, a dim, motionless sphere of blue light. I fancied that I saw grotesque shapes flashing through it. A ball of blue fire, shimmering and ghost-like, shrouded the instruments.
Charlene’s induction coil buzzed wickedly, with purple fire playing about the terminals. The X-ray tube flickered with a greenish glow. She manipulated the rheostat that controlled the current through the electromagnet, and continued to read the instruments.
“Look at that!” she cried.
The bluish haze about the stone grew brighter; it became a ball of sapphire flame, five feet thick, bright and motionless. A great sphere of shimmering azure fire! Wisps of pale, sparkling bluish mist ringed it. The stone in its box, the X-ray bulb and other apparatus were hidden. The end of the table stuck oddly from the ball of light.
I heard Charlene move a switch. The hum of the coils changed a note.
The ball of blue fire vanished abruptly. It became a hole, a window in space!
Through it, we saw another world!
The darkness of the night hung about us. Where the ball had been was a circle of misty blue flame, five feet across. Through that circle I could see a vast expanse of blue ocean, running in high, white-capped rollers, beneath a sky overcast with low gray clouds.
It was no flat picture like a movie screen. The scene had vast depth; I knew that we were really looking over an infinite expanse of stormy ocean. It was all perfectly clear, distinct, real!
Astounded, I turned to find Charlene standing back and looking into the ring of blue fire, with a curious mixture of surprise and delighted satisfaction.
“What – what – ” I gasped.
“It’s amazing! Wonderful! More than I had dared hope for! The complete vindication of my theory! If Virgil cares for scientific reputation – ”
“But what is it?”
“It’s hard to explain without mathematical language. You might say that we are looking through a hole in space. The new force in the meteorite, amplified by the X-rays and the magnetic field, is causing a distortion of space-time coordinates. You know that a gravitational field bends light; the light of a star is deflected in passing the sun. The field of this meteorite bends light through space-time, through the four-dimensional continuum. That scrap of ocean we can see may be on the other side of the earth.”
I walked around the circle of luminous smoke with the marvelous picture in the center. It seemed that the window swung with me. I surveyed the whole angry surface of that slate-gray, storm-beaten sea, to the misty horizon. Nowhere was it broken by land or ship.
Charlene fell to adjusting the rheostat and switches.
It seemed that the gray ocean moved swiftly beyond the window. Vast stretches of it raced below our eyes. Faint black stains of steamer smoke appeared against the blue-gray horizon and swept past. Then land appeared – a long, green-gray line. We had a flash of a long coast that unreeled in endless panorama before us. It was such a view as one might get from a swift airplane – a plane flying thousands of miles per hour.
The Golden Gate flashed before us, with the familiar skyline of San Francisco rising on the hills behind it.
“San Francisco!” Charlene cried. “This is the Pacific we’ve been seeing. Let’s find the Valhalla. We might be able to see Virgil!”
The coast-line vanished as she manipulated the instruments. Staring into the circle of shining blue mist, I saw the endless ocean racing below us again. We picked up a pleasure yacht, running under bare poles.
“I didn’t know there was such a storm on,” Charlene murmured.
Other vessels swam past below us, laboring against heavy seas.
Then we looked upon an ocean whipped into mighty white-crowned waves. Rain beat down in sheets from low dense clouds; vivid violet lightnings flashed before us. It seemed very strange to see such lightning and hear not the faintest whisper of thunder – but no sound came from anything we saw through the blue-rimmed window in space.
“I hope the Valhalla isn’t in weather like this!” cried Charlene.
In a few minutes a dark form loomed through the wind-riven mist. Swiftly it swam nearer; became a black ship.
“Only a tramp,” Charlene said, breathing a sigh of relief.
It was a dingy tramp steamer, with wrecked superstructure and dead fires. The tramp lay across the wind, rolling sluggishly, threatening to sink with every monstrous wave. We saw no living person aboard the ship; it seemed a sinking derelict. We made out the name Roma on the side.
Charlene moved the dials again.
In a few minutes the slender prow of another great steamer came through the sheets of rain. It was evidently a passenger vessel. The craft was limping along, half wrecked, with mighty waves breaking over its rail.
Charlene grew white with alarm. “The Valhalla!” she gasped. “And it’s headed straight for that wreck!”
In a moment, as she brought the liner closer below our blue-rimmed window, I, too, made out the name. The wet, glistening decks were almost deserted. Here and there a sailor struggled futilely against the force of the storm.
In a few minutes the drifting wreck of the Roma came into our view, dead ahead of the limping liner. Through the mist and falling rain, the derelict could not have been in sight of the lookout of the passenger vessel until it was almost too late.
We saw the white burst of steam as the siren was blown. We watched the desperate effort of the liner to check its way, to come about. But it was too much for the already crippled ship. Charlene cried out as a mighty wave drove the Valhalla down upon the sluggishly drifting wreck.
All the mad scene that ensued was strangely silent. We heard no crash when the collision occurred; heard no screams or shouts while the mob of desperate, white-faced passengers were fighting their way to the deck. The vain struggle to launch the boats was like a silent movie.
One boat was splintered while being lowered. Another, already filled with passengers, was lifted by a great wave and crushed against the side of the ship so that only shivered wood and red foam were left. The ship listed so rapidly that the boats on the lee side were useless. It was impossible to launch the others in that terrible, lashing sea.
“Virgil can swim.” Charlene said hopefully. “You know he tried the Channel last year, and nearly made it, too.”
She stopped to watch that terrible scene in white-faced, anxious silence.
The tramp went down before the steamer, drawing fragments of wrecked boats after it. The liner was evidently sinking rapidly. We saw dozens of hopeless, panic-stricken passengers diving off the lee side, trying to swim off far enough to avoid the tremendous suction.
Then, with a curious deliberation, the bow of the Valhalla dipped under green water; its stern rose in the air until the ship stood almost perpendicular. The Valhalla slipped quickly down, out of sight.
Only a few swimming humans, and the wrecks of a few boats, were left on the rough gray sea. Charlene fumbled nervously with the dials, trying to get the scene near enough so that we could see the identity of the struggling swimmers.
A long boat, which must have been swept below by the suction of the ship, came plunging above the surface, upside down. It drifted swiftly among the swimmers, who struggled to reach it. I saw one person, evidently a boy, grasp it and drag himself upon it. It swept on past the few others still struggling.
The wrecked boat with the boy upon it seemed coming swiftly toward our blue-rimmed window. In a few minutes I saw something familiar about him.
“It’s Virgil!” Charlene cried. “God! We’ve got to save him, somehow!”
The long rollers drove the over-turned boat swiftly along. Virgil Randall clung desperately to it, deluged in foam, whipped with flying spray, the wild wind tearing at him.
About us, the clear still night was deepening. The air was warm and still; the hot stars shone steadily. Quiet lighted houses were in sight above the beach. It was very strange to look through the fire-rimmed circle, to see a boy struggling for life, clinging to a wrecked boat in a stormy sea.
Charlene watched in a fog of grief and horror, trembling and speechless doing nothing except move the controls to keep the floating boy in our sight.
Hours went by as we watched. Then Charlene cried out in sudden hope. “There’s a chance! I might do it! I might be able to save him!”
“Might do what?”
“We are able to see what we do because the field of the meteor bends light through the four-dimensional continuum. The world line of a ray of light is a geodesic in the continuum. The field I have built distorts the continuum, so we see rays that originated at a distant point. Is that clear?”
“Clear as mud!”
“Well, anyhow, if the field were strong enough, we could bring physical objects through space-time, instead of mere visual images. We could pick Virgil up and bring him right here to the crater! I’m sure of it!”
“You mean you could move a person through some four or five thousand miles of space!”
“You don’t understand. He wouldn’t come through space at all, but through space-time, through the continuum, which is a very different thing. He is four thousand miles away in our three-dimensional space, but in space-time, as you see, he is only a few yards away. He is only a few yards from us in the fourth dimension. If I can increase the field a little, he will be drawn right through!”
“You’re a wizard if you can do it!”
“I’ve got to do it! He’s a fine swimmer – that’s the only reason he’s still alive – but he’ll never live to reach the shore. Not in a sea like that!”
Charlene fell to work at once, mounting another electromagnet beside the one she had set up, and rigging up two more X-ray bulbs beside the packing box which held the meteor. The motion of the boat in the fire-rimmed window kept drawing it swiftly away from us, and Charlene showed me how to move the dial of the rheostat to keep the boy in view.
Before she had completed her arrangements, a patch of white foam came into view just ahead of the drifting boat. In a moment I made out a cruel black rock, with the angry sea breaking into fleecy spray upon it. The boat was almost upon it, driving straight for it. Charlene saw it, and cried out in horror.
The long black hull of the splintered boat, floating keel upward, was only a few yards away. A great white-capped breaker lifted it and hurled it forward, with the boy clinging to it. He drew himself up and stared in terror at the black rock, while another long surging roller picked up the boat and swept it forward again.
I stood, paralyzed in horror, while the shattered boat was driven full upon the great rock. I could imagine the crash of it, but it was all as still as a silent picture. The boat, riding high on a crest of white foam, smashed against the rock and was shivered to splinters. Virgil was hurled forward against the slick wet stone. Desperately he scrambled to reach the top of the boulder. His hands slipped on the polished rock; the wild sea dragged at him. At last he got out of reach of the angry gray water, though spume still deluged him.
I breathed a sigh of relief, though his position was still far from enviable.
“Virgil! Virgil! Why did I let you go?” Charlene cried.
Desperately she fell to work again, mounting the magnet and tubes. Another hour went by, while I watched the shivering boy on the rock. Short-cropped hair, wet and glistening, was plastered close against his head, and his clothing was torn half off. He looked utterly exhausted; it seemed to take all his ebbing energy to cling to the rock against the force of the wind and the waves that dashed against him. He looked cold, blue and trembling.
The water stood higher.
“The tide is rising!” Charlene exclaimed. “It will cover the rock pretty soon. If I don’t get him off in time – he’s lost!”
She finished twisting her wires together.
“I’ve got it all ready,” she said. “Now, I’ve got to find out exactly where he is, to know how to set it. Even then it’s fearfully uncertain. I hate to try it, but it’s the only chance.
“You can find out?”
“Yes. From the spectral shift and other factors. I’ll have to get some other apparatus.” She ran up to the laboratory, across the level field that lay black beneath the stars. She came back, panting, with spectrometer, terrestrial globe, and other articles.
“The tide is higher!” she cried as she looked through the blue-rimmed circle at the boy on the rock. “He’ll be swept off before long!”
She mounted the spectrometer and fell to work with a will, taking observations through the telescope, adjusting prisms and diffraction gratings, reading electrometers and other apparatus, and stopping to make intricate calculations.
I helped her when I could, or stared through the ring of shining blue mist, where I could see the waves breaking higher about the exhausted boy who clung to the rock. Clouds of wind-whipped spray often hid him from sight. I knew that he would not have the strength to hold on much longer against the force of the rising sea.
Although driven almost to distraction by the horror of Virgil’s predicament, Charlene worked with a cool, swift efficiency. Only the pale, anxiety-drawn expression on her face showed how great was the strain. She finished the last spectrometer observation, snatched out a pad and fell to figuring furiously.
“Something odd here,” she said presently, frowning. “A shift of the spectrum that I can’t explain by distortion through three-dimensional space alone. I don’t understand it.”
We stared at the chilled and trembling boy on the rock.
“I’m almost afraid to try it. What if something went wrong?”
She turned to the terrestrial globe she had brought down and traced a line over it. She made a quick calculation on her pad, then made a fine dot on the globe with the pencil point.
“Here he is. On a rock some miles off Point Eugenia, on the coast of the Mexican State of Lower California. Most lonely spot in the world. No chance for a rescue. We must –
“My god!” she screamed in sudden horror. “Look!”
I looked through the blue-ringed window and saw the boy. Green water was surging about his waist. It seemed that each wave almost tore him off. Then I saw that he was struggling with something. A great coiling tentacle, black and leathery and glistening, was thrust up out of the green water. It wavered deliberately through the air and grasped at the boy. He seemed to scream, though we could hear nothing. He beat at the monster, weakly, vainly.
“He’s gone!” cried Charlene.
“An octopus!” I said. “A giant cuttlefish!”
Virgil made a sudden fierce effort. With a strength that I had not thought his chilled limbs possessed, he tore away from the dreadful creature and clambered higher on the rock. But still a hideous black tentacle clung about his ankle, tugging at him, drawing him back despite her desperate struggle to break free.
“I’ve got to try it!” Charlene said, determination flashing in her eyes. “It’s a chance!”
She closed a switch. Her new coils sung out above the old one. X-ray tubes flickered beside the blue fire that ringed the window. She adjusted the rheostats and closed the circuit through the new magnet.
A curtain of blue flame was drawn quickly between us and the round, fire-rimmed window. A huge ball of blue fire hung, about the meteorite and the instruments. For minutes it hung there, while Charlene, perspiring, worked desperately with the apparatus. Then it expanded; became huge. It exploded noiselessly, in a great flash of sapphire flame, then vanished completely.
Meteor, bench, and apparatus were gone!
In the light of the stars we could make out the huge crater the meteorite had torn, with a few odds and ends of equipment scattered about it. But all the apparatus Charlene had set up, connected with the meteoric stone, had disappeared.
She was dumbfounded, staggered with disappointment.
“Virgil! Virgil!” she called out, in a hopeless tone. “No, he isn’t here. It didn’t draw him through. I’ve failed. And we can’t even see him anymore!”
Desperately I searched for consolation for her.
“Maybe the octopus won’t hurt him,” I offered. “They say that most of the stories of their ferocity are somewhat exaggerated.”
“If the monster doesn’t get him, the tide will!” she said bitterly. “I made a miserable failure of it! And I don’t know why! I can’t understand it!”
Apathetically, she picked up her pad and held it in the light of her electric lantern.
“Something funny about this equation. The shift of the spectrum lines can’t be accounted for by distortion through space alone.”
With wrinkled brow, she stared for many minutes at the bit of paper she held in the white circle of light. Suddenly she seized a pencil and figured rapidly.
“I have it! The light was bent through time! I should have recognized these space-time coordinates.”
She calculated again.
“Yes. The scene we saw in that circle of light was distant from us not only in space but in time. The Valhalla probably hasn’t sunk yet at all. We were looking into the future!”
“But how can that be? Seeing things before they happen!”
I have the profoundest respect for Charlene King’s mathematical genius. But when she said that I was frankly incredulous.
“Space and time are only relative terms. Our material universe is merely the intersection of tangled world lines of geodesics in a four-dimensional continuum. Space and time have no meaning independently of each other. Jeans says. ‘A terrestrial astronomer may reckon that the outburst on Nova Persei occurred a century before the great fire of London, but an astronomer on the Nova may reckon with equal accuracy that the great fire occurred a century before the outburst on the Nova.’ The field of this meteorite deflected light waves so that we saw them earlier, according to our conventional ideas of time, than they originated. We saw several hours into the future.
“And the amplified field of the magnet, though strong enough to move Virgil through space, was not sufficiently powerful to draw him back to us across time. Yet he must have felt the pull. Some dreadful thing may have happened. The problem is rather complicated.”
She lifted her pencil again. In the glow of the little electric lantern I saw her lean young face tense with the fierce effort of thought. Her pencil raced across the little pad, setting down symbols that I could make nothing of.
My own thoughts were racing. Seeing into the future was a rather revolutionary idea to me. My mind is conservative; I have always been skeptical of the more fantastic ideas suggested by science. But Charlene seemed to know what she was talking about. In view of the marvelous things she had done that night, it seemed hardly fair to doubt her now. I decided to accept her astounding statement at face value and to follow the adventure through.
She lifted his pencil and consulted the luminous dial of his wrist watch.
“We saw that last scene some twelve hours and forty minutes before it happened – to put it in conventional language. The distortion of the time coordinates amounted to that.”
In the light of dawn – for we had been all night at the meteor pit, and silver was coming in the east – she looked at me with fierce resolve in his eyes.
“Hammond, that gives us over twelve hours to get to Virgil!”
“You mean to go? But just twelve hours! That’s better than the transcontinental record – to say nothing of the time it would take to find a little rock in the Pacific!”
“We have the Golden Gull! She’s as fast as any ship we’ve ever flown.”
“But we can’t take the Gull! Those alterations haven’t been made. And that new engine! A bear-cat for power, but it may go dead any second. The Gull can fly, but it isn’t safe!”
“Safety be damned! I’ve got to get to Virgil, and get there in the next twelve hours!”
“The Gull will fly, but – ”
“All right. Please help me get off!”
“Help you off? It’s a fool thing to do! But if you go, I do!”
“Thanks, Hammond. Awfully!” She gripped my hand. “We’ve got to make it!”
With a last glance into the gaping pit from which we had dug the marvelous stone, we turned and ran across to the hangars. As we ran the sun came above the sea in the east: its first rays struck us like a fiery lance. The mechanics had not yet appeared. Charlene pushed the doors back, and we ran out the trim little Golden Gull, beautiful with its slender wing and its graceful, tapering lines.
I seized the starting crank and Charlene sprang into the cockpit. I cranked until the mechanism was droning dismally, and pulled the lever that engaged it with the engine. I had been in too much haste to get up the proper speed, and the powerful new engine failed to fire. Charlene almost cried with vexation while I was cranking again.
This time the motor coughed and fell into a steady, vibrant roar. With the wind from the propeller screaming about me, I disengaged the crank and stood waiting while the motor warmed. Charlene gave it scant time to do so before she motioned me to kick out the blocks. I tumbled into the enclosed cockpit her, she gave the ship the gun, and we roared across the field.
In five minutes we were flying west, at a speed just under three hundred miles per hour. Charlene was crouched over the stick, scanning the instrument board, and flying the Gull almost at top speed. Again and again her eyes went to the little clock on the panel.
“Twelve hours and forty minutes,” she said. “And an hour gone already! We’re got to be there by five minutes after six.”
We were flying over Louisiana when the oil line clogged. The engine heated dangerously. Reluctantly, Charlene cut off the ignition, and fell in a swift spiral to an open field.
“We’re got to fix it!” she said. “Another hour gone! And we needed every minute!”
“This new engine! It’s powerful enough, but we should have had time to overhaul it, and make those changes.”
Charlene landed with her usual skill, and we fell to work in desperate haste. A grizzled farmer, a wad of tobacco in his cheek and three ragged urchins at his heels, stopped to watch us. He had just been to the mailbox, and had a morning paper in his hand. Charlene questioned him about the storm.
“Storm-center nears the American coast,” he read in a nasal drawl. “Greatest storm of year drives shipping upon west coast. Six vessels reported lost. S. S. Valhalla, disabled, sends S. O. S.
“A thousand lives are the estimated toll to-night of the most terrific storm of the year, which is sweeping toward the Pacific coast, driving all shipping before it. Radiograms from the Valhalla at 5 P. M. report that it is disabled and in danger. It is doubtful that rescue vessels can reach the ship through the storm.”
We got the engine repaired, took off again. Charlene looked at the little clock.
“Five minutes to ten. Eight hours and ten minutes left, and we’ve got a darn long ways to go.”
We had to stop at San Antonio, Texas, to replenish gasoline and oil.
“Ten minutes lost!” Charlene complained as we took off. “And that monster – waiting in the future to drag Virgil to a hideous death!”
Two hours later the plane developed trouble in the ignition system. The motor was new, with several radical changes that we had introduced to increase power and lessen weight. As I had objected to Charlene, we had not done enough experimental work on it to perfect it.
We limped into the field at El Paso and spent another priceless half-hour at work. I got some sandwiches at a luncheon counter beside the field, and listened a moment to a radio loudspeaker there.
“Many thousands are dead,” came the crisp, metallic voice of the announcer, “as a result of the storm now raging on the Pacific coast, the worst in several years. The storm-center is spending its force on the coastal regions to-day. Millions of dollars in damage are reported in cities from San Francisco to Manzanillo, Mexico.
“The greatest disaster of the storm is the loss of the passenger liner Valhalla, of the Red Star Line. It is believed to have collided with the abandoned hulk of an Italian-owned tramp freighter, the Roma, which was left by its crew yesterday in a sinking condition. Radiograms from the liner ceased three hours ago, when the Valhalla was said to be sinking. The officers doubted that her boats could be launched in such a sea – ”
I waited to hear no more. Charlene checked our route while we were stopped. And we took off; we crossed the Rio Grande and flew across the rocky, brush-scattered hills of Mexico, in a direct line for the rock in the sea.
“If anything happens so we have to land again – well, it’s just too bad,” Charlene said grimly. “But we’ve got to go this way. It’s something over six hundred miles in a straight line. Fifteen minutes to four, now. We have to average nearly three hundred miles an hour to get there.”
She was silent and intent over her maps and instruments as we flew on over the lofty Sierra Madre Range, and over a long slope down to the Gulf of California. Head-winds beset us as we were over the stretch of blue water, and we flew on into a storm.
“We had hardly time to make it, without the wind against us,” Charlene said. “If it holds us back many miles – well, it just mustn’t!”
Purple lightning flickered ominously in the mass of blue storm-clouds that hung above the mountainous peninsula of Lower California. I had a qualm about flying into it in our untested machine. But Charlene leaned tensely forward and sent the Golden Gull on at the limit of its speed. Gray vapor swirled about us, rent with livid streaks of lightning. Thunder crashed and rumbled above the roar of our racing engine. Wild winds screeched in the struts; rain and hail beat against us. The plane rose and fell; we were swirled about like a falling leaf. The stick struggled in Charlene’s hands like a living thing. With lips tightened to a thin line, she fought silently, fiercely, desperately.
Suddenly we were sucked down until I had an uneasy feeling at the pit of my stomach. I saw the grim outline of a bare mountain peak dangerously close below us, shrouded in wind-whipped mist.
In sudden alarm I shouted, “We’d better get out of this, Charlene! We can’t live in it long!”
In the roar of the storm she did not hear me, and I shouted again.
She turned to face me, after a glance at the clock. “We’ve less than an hour, Hammond. We’ve got to go on!”
I sank back in my seat. The plane rolled and tossed until I thanked my lucky stars for the safety strap. In nervous anxiety I watched Charlene bring the ship up again, and fight her way on through the storm. For an eternity, it seemed, we battled through a chaos of wind-driven mist, bright with purple lightning and shaken with crashing thunder.
Charlene struggled with the controls until she was dripping with perspiration. She must have been utterly worn out, after thirty-six hours of exhausting effort. A dozen times I despaired of life. The compass had gone to spinning crazily; we dived through the rain until we could pick up landmarks below. Three times a great bare peak loomed suddenly up ahead of us, and Charlene averted collision only by zooming suddenly upward.
Then slate-gray water was beneath us, running in white-crested mountains. I knew that we were at last out over the Pacific.
“We’ve passed Point Eugenia,” Charlene said. “It can’t be far, now. But we have only fifteen minutes left. Fifteen minutes to get to him – before the attraction of the meteor jerks Virgil away, perhaps to a horrible fate.”
We flew low and fast over the racing waves. Charlene looked over her charts and made a swift calculation. She changed our course a bit and we flew on at top speed. We scanned the vast, mad expanse of sea below the blue-gray clouds. Here and there were lines of white breakers, but nowhere did we see a rock with a girl upon it. Presently the green outline of an island appeared out of the wild water on our right.
“That’s Del Tiburon,” Charlene said. “We missed the rock.”
She swung the plane about and we flew south over the hastening waves. I looked at the little clock. It showed two minutes to six. I turned to Charlene.
“Seven minutes!” she whispered grimly.
On and on we flew, in a wide circle. The motor roared loudly. An endless expanse of racing waves unreeled below us. The little hand crawled around the dial. One minute past six. Only four minutes to go.
We saw a speck of white foam on the mad gray water. It was miles away, almost on the horizon. We plunged toward it, motor bellowing loud. Five miles a minute we flew. The white fleck became a black rock smothered in snowy foam. On we swept, and over the rock, with bullet-like speed.
As we plunged by, I saw Virgil’s slender form, tattered, brine-soaked, straggling in the hideous tentacles of the monster octopus. It was the same terrible scene that we had viewed, through the amazing phenomenon of distortion of light through space-time, four thousand miles away and twelve hours before.
In a few minutes the time would come when Charlene had ended our view of the scene by her attempt to draw the boy through the fourth dimension to our apparatus in Florida. What terrible thing might happen then?
Charlene brought the ship about so quickly that we were flung against the sides. Down we came toward the mad waves in a swift glide. In sudden apprehension, I dropped my hand on her shoulder.
“Are you crazy? You can’t land in a sea like that! It’s suicide!”
Without a word, she shook off my hand and continued our steep glide toward the rock. I drew my breath in apprehension of a crash.
I do not blame Charlene for what happened. She is as skilful a pilot as I know. It was a mad freak of the sea that did the thing.
The gray waste of mountainous, white-crested waves rose swiftly up to meet us, with the rock with the boy clinging to it just to our right. The Golden Gull struck the crest of a wave, buried itself in the foam, and plunged down the long slope to the trough. We rose safely to the crest of the oncoming roller, and I saw the black outline of the rock not a dozen yards away.
Charlene had landed with all her skill. It was not her fault that the blustering wind caught the ship as it reached the crest of the wave and flung the Golden Gull sidewise toward the rock. It is no fault of hers that the white-capped mountain of racing green water completed what the wind had begun and hurled the frail plane crashing on the rock.
I have a confused memory of the wild plunge at the mercy of the wave, of my despair as I realized that we were being wrecked. I must have been knocked unconscious when we struck. The next I remember I was opening my eyes to find myself on the rock, Charlene’s strong arm on my shoulder. I was soaked with icy brine and my head was aching from a heavy blow.
Virgil, shivering and blue, was perched beside us. I could see no sign of the plane: the mighty sea had swept away what was left of it. Clinging to the lee side of the rock I saw the black tentacles of the giant octopus – waiting for a wave to dash us to its mercy.
“All right, Hammond?” Charlene inquired anxiously. “I’m afraid you got a pretty nasty bump on the head. About all I could do to fish you out before the Gull was swept away.”
She helped me to a better position to withstand the force of the great roller that came plunging down upon us like a moving mountain. Virgil was in her arms, too exhausted to do more than cling to her.
“What can we do?” I sputtered, shaking water from my head.
“Not a thing! We’re in a pretty bad fix, I imagine. In a few seconds we will feel the attraction of the meteor’s field – the force with which I tried to draw Virgil to the crater through the fourth dimension. I don’t know what will happen; we may be jerked out of space altogether. And if that doesn’t get us, the tide and the octopus will!”
Her voice was drowned in the roar of the coming wave. A mountain of water deluged us. Half drowned, I clung to the rock against the mad water.
Then blinding blue light flashed about me. A sharp crash rang in my ears, like splintering glass. I reeled, and felt myself falling headlong.
I brought up on soft sand.
I sat up, dumbfounded, and opened my eyes. I was sitting on the steep sandy side of a conical pit. Charlene and Virgil were sprawled beside me, looking as astonished as I felt. Charlene got to her knees and lifted the limp form of the boy in his arms.
Something snapped in my brain. The sand-walled pit was suddenly familiar. I got to my feet and clambered out of it. I saw that we were on our own landing field.
Astonishingly, we were back in the meteor crater. Charlene’s vanished apparatus was scattered about us. I saw the gray side of the rough iron meteorite itself, half-buried in the sand at the bottom of the pit.
“What – what happened?” I demanded of Charlene.
“Don’t you see? Simple enough. I should have thought of it before. The field of the meteorite brought Virgil – and us – through to this point in space. But it could not bring us back through time; instead, the apparatus itself was jerked forward through time. That is why it vanished. We got here just twelve hours and forty minutes after I closed the switch, since we had been looking that far into the future. The mathematical explanation – ”
“That’s enough for me!” I said hastily. “We better see about a warm, dry bed for Virgil, and some hot soup or something.”
Now the rough gray meteorite, in a neat glass case, rests above the mantle in the library of a beautiful home where I am a frequent guest. I was there one evening, a few days ago, when Charlene King fell silent in one of her fits of mathematical speculation.
“Einstein again?” I chaffingly inquired.
He raised his brown eyes and looked at me. “Hammond, since relativity enabled us to find the Meteor Bopy, you ought to be convinced!”
Virgil – whom his wife calls the Meteor Boy – came laughingly to the rescue.
“Yes, Mr. Hammond, what do you think of Einstein now?”