The Skylark of Space, E. E. "Doc" Smith, Amazing Stories August, September and October 1928. Note: The copyright for this magazine short fiction has expired in the United States and was not renewed, thus, The Skylark of Space now resides in the public domain.

For forty-eight hours the uncontrolled atomic motor dragged the masterless vessel with its four unconscious passengers through the illimitable reaches of empty space, with an awful and constantly increasing velocity. When only a few traces of copper remained in the power-plant, the acceleration began to decrease and the powerful springs began to restore the floor and the seats to their normal positions. The last particle of copper having been transformed into energy, the speed of the vessel became constant. Apparently motionless to those inside it, it was in reality traversing space with a velocity thousands of times greater than that of light. As the force which had been holding them down was relaxed, the lungs, which had been able to secure only air enough to maintain faint sparks of life, began to function more normally and soon all four recovered consciousness, drinking in the life-giving oxygen in a rapid succession of breaths so deep that it seemed as though their lungs must burst with each inhalation.

DuQuesne was the first to gain control of himself. His first effort to rise to his feet lifted him from the floor, and he floated lightly to the ceiling, striking it with a gentle bump and remaining suspended in the air. The others, who had not yet attempted to move, stared at him in wide-eyed amazement. Reaching out and clutching one of the supporting columns, he drew himself back to the floor and cautiously removed his leather suit, transferring two heavy automatic pistols as he did so. By gingerly feeling of his injured body, he discovered that no bones were broken, although he was terribly bruised. He then glanced around to learn how his companions were faring. He saw that they were all sitting up, the girls resting, Perkins removing his aviator's costume.

"Good morning, Doctor DuQuesne. What happened when I kicked your friend?"

DuQuesne smiled.

"Good morning, Miss Vaneman. Several things happened. He fell into the controls, turning on all the juice. We left shortly afterward. I tried to shut the power off, and in doing so I balled things up worse than ever. Then I went to sleep, and just woke up."

"Have you any idea where we are?"

"No, but I can make a fair estimate, I think," and glancing at the empty chamber in which the bar had been, he took out his notebook and pen and figured for a few minutes. As he finished, he drew himself along by a handrail to one of the windows, then to another. He returned with a puzzled expression on his face and made a long calculation.

"I don't know exactly what to make of this," he said thoughtfully. "We are so far away from the earth that even the fixed stars are unrecognizable. The power was on exactly forty-eight hours, since that is the life of that particular bar under full current. We should still be close to our own solar system, since it is theoretically impossible to develop any velocity greater than that of light. But in fact, we have. I know enough about astronomy to recognize the fixed stars from any point within a light-year or so of the sun, and I can't see a single familiar star. I never could see how mass could be a function of velocity, and now I am convinced that it is not. We have been accelerating for forty-eight hours!"

He turned to Dorothy.

"While we were unconscious, Miss Vaneman, we had probably attained a velocity of something like seven billion four hundred thirteen million miles per second, and that is the approximate speed at which we are now traveling. We must be nearly six quadrillion miles, and that is a space of several hundred light-years—away from our solar system, or, more plainly, about six times as far away from our earth as the North Star is. We couldn't see our sun with a telescope, even if we knew which way to look for it."

At this paralyzing news, Dorothy's face turned white and Margaret Spencer quietly fainted in her seat.

"Then we can never get back?" asked Dorothy slowly.

At this question, Perkins' self-control gave way and his thin veneer of decency disappeared completely.

"You got us into this whole thing!" he screamed as he leaped at Dorothy with murderous fury gleaming in his pale eyes and his fingers curved into talons. Instead of reaching her, however, he merely sprawled grotesquely in midair, and DuQuesne knocked him clear across the vessel with one powerful blow of his fist.

"Get back there, you cowardly cur," he said evenly. "Even though we are a long way from home, try to remember you're a man, at least. One more break like that and I'll throw you out of the boat. It isn't her fault that we are out here, but our own. The blame for it is a very small matter, anyway; the thing of importance is to get back as soon as possible."

"But how can we get back?" asked Perkins sullenly from the corner where he was crouching, fear in every feature. "The power is gone, the controls are wrecked, and we are hopelessly lost in space."

"Oh, I wouldn't say 'hopelessly,'" returned the other, "I have never been in any situation yet that I couldn't get out of, and I won't be convinced until I am dead that I can't get out of this one. We have two extra power bars, we can fix the board, and if I can't navigate us back close enough to our solar system to find it, I am more of a dub than I think I am. How about a little bite to eat?"

"Show us where it is!" exclaimed Dorothy. "Now that you mention it, I find that I am starved to death."

DuQuesne looked at her keenly.

"I admire your nerve, Miss Vaneman. I didn't suppose that that animal over there would show such a wide streak of yellow, but I was rather afraid that you girls might go to pieces."

"I'm scared blue, of course," Dorothy admitted frankly, "but hysterics won't do any good, and we simply must get back."

"Certainly, we must and we will," stated DuQuesne calmly. "If you like, you might find something for us to eat in the galley there, while I see what I can do with this board that I wrecked with my head. By the way, that cubby-hole there is the apartment reserved for you two ladies. We are in rather cramped quarters, but I think you will find everything you need."

As Dorothy drew herself along the handrail toward the room designated, accompanied by the other girl who, though conscious, had paid little attention to anything around her, she could not help feeling a thrill of admiration for the splendid villain who had abducted her. Calm and cool, always master of himself, apparently paying no attention to the terrible bruises which disfigured half his face and doubtless half his body as well, she admitted to herself that it was only his example, which had enabled her to maintain her self-control in their present plight. As she crawled over Perkins' discarded suit, she remembered that he had not taken any weapons from it. After a rapid glance around to assure herself that she was not being watched, she quickly searched the coat, bringing to light not one, but two pistols, which she thrust into her pocket. She saw with relief that they were regulation army automatics, with whose use she was familiar from much target practise with Seaton.

In the room, which was a miniature of the one she had seen on the Skylark, the girls found clothing, toilet articles, and everything necessary for a long trip. As they were setting themselves to rights, Dorothy electing to stay in her riding suit, they surveyed each other frankly and each was reassured by what she saw. Dorothy saw a girl of twenty-two, of her own stature, with a mass of heavy, wavy black hair. Her eyes, a singularly rich and deep brown, contrasted strangely with the beautiful ivory of her skin. She was normally a beautiful girl, thought Dorothy, but her beauty was marred by suffering and privation. Her naturally slender form was thin, her face was haggard and worn. The stranger broke the silence.

"I'm Margaret Spencer," she began abruptly, "former secretary to His Royal Highness, Brookings of Steel. They swindled my father out of an invention worth millions and he died, broken-hearted. I got the job to see if I couldn't get enough evidence to convict them, and I had quite a lot when they caught me. I had some things that they were afraid to lose, and I had them so well hidden that they couldn't find them, so they kidnapped me to make me give them back. They haven't dared kill me so far for fear the evidence will show up after my death—which it will. However, I will be legally dead before long, and then they know the whole thing will come out, so they have brought me out here to make me talk or kill me. Talking won't do me any good now, though, and I don't believe it ever would have. They would have killed me after they got the stuff back, anyway. So you see I, at least, will never get back to the earth alive."

"Cheer up—we'll all get back safely."

"No, we won't. You don't know that man Perkins—if that is his name. I never heard him called any real name before. He is simply unspeakable—vile—hideous—everything that is base. He was my jailer, and I utterly loathe and despise him. He is mean and underhanded and tricky—he reminds me of a slimy, poisonous snake. He will kill me: I know it."

"But how about Doctor DuQuesne? Surely he isn't that kind of man? He wouldn't let him."

"I've never met him before, but from what I heard of him in the office, he's even worse than Perkins, but in an entirely different way. There's nothing small or mean about him, and I don't believe he would go out of his way to hurt anyone, as Perkins would. But he is absolutely cold and hard, a perfect fiend. Where his interests are concerned, there's nothing under the sun, good or bad, that he won't do. But I'm glad that Perkins had me instead of 'The Doctor,' as they call him. Perkins raises such a bitter personal feeling, that anybody would rather die than give up to him in anything. DuQuesne, however, would have tortured me impersonally and scientifically—cold and self-contained all the while and using the most efficient methods, and I am sure he would have got it out of me some way. He always gets what he goes after."

"Oh, come, Miss Spencer!" Dorothy interrupted the half-hysterical girl. "You're too hard on him. Didn't you see him knock Perkins down when he came after me?"

"Well, maybe he has a few gentlemanly instincts, which he uses when he doesn't lose anything by it. More likely he merely intended to rebuke him for a useless action. He is a firm Pragmatist—anything that is useful is all right, anything that is useless is a crime. More probably yet, he wants you left alive. Of course that is his real reason. He went to the trouble of kidnapping you, so naturally he won't let Perkins or anybody else kill you until he is through with you. Otherwise he would have let Perkins do anything he wanted to with you, without lifting a finger."

"I can't quite believe that," Dorothy replied, though a cold chill struck at her heart as she remembered the inhuman crime attributed to this man, and she quailed at the thought of being in his charge, countless millions of miles from earth, a thought only partly counteracted by the fact that she was now armed. "He has treated us with every consideration so far, let's hope for the best. Anyway, I'm sure that we'll get back safely."

"Why so sure? Have you something up your sleeve?"

"No—or yes, in a way I have, though nothing very definite. I'm Dorothy Vaneman, and I am engaged to the man who discovered the thing that makes this space-car go...."

"That's why they kidnapped you, then—to make him give up all his rights to it. It's like them."

"Yes, I think that's why they did it. But they won't keep me long. Dick Seaton will find me, I know. I feel it."

"But that's exactly what they want!" cried Margaret excitedly. "In my spying around I heard a little about this very thing—the name Seaton brings it to my mind. His car is broken in some way, so that it will kill him the first time he tries to run it."

"That's where they underestimated Dick and his partner. You have heard of Martin Crane, of course?"

"I think I heard his name mentioned in the office, together with Seaton's, but that's all."

"Well, besides other things, Martin is quite a wonderful mechanic, and he found out that our Skylark was spoiled. So they built another one, a lot bigger, and I am sure that they are following us, right now."

"But how can they possibly follow us, when we are going so fast and are so far away?" queried the other girl, once more despondent.

"I don't quite know, but I do know that Dick will find a way. He's simply wonderful. He knows more now than that Doctor DuQuesne will ever learn in all his life, and he will find us in a few days. I feel it in my bones. Besides, I picked Perkins' pockets of these two pistols. Can you shoot an automatic?"

"Yes," replied the other girl, as she seized one of the guns, assured herself that its magazine was full, and slipped it into her pocket. "I used to practise a lot with my father's. This makes me feel a whole lot better. And call me Peggy, won't you? It will seem good to hear my name again. After what I've been through lately, even this trip will be a vacation for me."

"Well, then, cheer up, Peggy dear, we're going to be great friends. Let's go get us all something to eat. I'm simply starved, and I know you are, too."

The presence of the pistol in her pocket and Dorothy's unwavering faith in her lover, lifted the stranger out of the mood of despair into which the long imprisonment, the brutal treatment, and the present situation had plunged her, and she was almost cheerful as they drew themselves along the hand-rail leading to the tiny galley.

"I simply can't get used to the idea of nothing having any weight—look here!" laughed Dorothy, as she took a boiled ham out of the refrigerator and hung it upon an imaginary hook in the air, where it remained motionless. "Doesn't it make you feel funny?"

"It is a queer sensation. I feel light, like a toy balloon, and I feel awfully weird inside. If we have no weight, why does it hurt so when we bump into anything? And when you throw anything, like the Doctor did Perkins, why does it hit as hard as ever?"

"It's mass or inertia or something like that. A thing has it everywhere, whether it weighs anything or not. Dick explained it all to me. I understood it when he told me about it, but I'm afraid it didn't sink in very deep. Did you ever study physics?"

"I had a year of it in college, but it was more or less of a joke. I went to a girls' school, and all we had to do in physics was to get the credit; we didn't have to learn it."

"Me too. Next time I go to school I'm going to Yale or Harvard or some such place, and I'll learn so much mathematics and science that I'll have to wear a bandeau to keep my massive intellect in place."

During this conversation they had prepared a substantial luncheon and had arranged it daintily upon two large trays, in spite of the difficulty caused by the fact that nothing would remain in place by its own weight. The feast prepared, Dorothy took her tray from the table as carefully as she could, and saw the sandwiches and bottles start to float toward the ceiling. Hastily inverting the tray above the escaping viands, she pushed them back down upon the table. In doing so she lifted herself clear from the floor, as she had forgotten to hold herself down.

"What'll we do, anyway?" she wailed when she had recovered her position. "Everything wants to fly all over the place!"

"Put another tray on top of it and hold them together," suggested Margaret. "I wish we had a birdcage. Then we could open the door and grab a sandwich as it flies out."

By covering the trays the girls finally carried the luncheon out into the main compartment, where they gave DuQuesne and Perkins one of the trays and all fell to eating hungrily. DuQuesne paused with a glint of amusement in his one sound eye as he saw Dorothy trying to pour ginger ale out of a bottle.

"It can't be done, Miss Vaneman. You'll have to drink it through a straw. That will work, since our air pressure is normal. Be careful not to choke on it, though; your swallowing will have to be all muscular out here. Gravity won't help you. Or wait a bit—I have the control board fixed and it will be a matter of only a few minutes to put in another bar and get enough acceleration to take the place of gravity.

He placed one of the extra power bars in the chamber and pushed the speed lever into the first notch, and there was a lurch of the whole vessel as it swung around the bar so that the floor was once more perpendicular to it. He took a couple of steps, returned, and advanced the lever another notch.

"There that's about the same as gravity. Now we can act like human beings and eat in comfort."

"That's a wonderful relief, Doctor!" cried Dorothy. "Are we going back toward the earth?"

"Not yet. I reversed the bar, but we will have to use up all of this one before we can even start back. Until this bar is gone we will merely be slowing down."

As the meal progressed, Dorothy noticed that DuQuesne's left arm seemed almost helpless, and that he ate with great difficulty because of his terribly bruised face. As soon as they had removed the trays she went into her room, where she had seen a small medicine chest, and brought out a couple of bottles.

"Lie down here, Doctor DuQuesne," she commanded. "I'm going to apply a little first-aid to the injured. Arnica and iodine are all I can find, but they'll help a little."

"I'm all right," began the scientist, but at her imperious gesture he submitted, and she bathed his battered features with the healing lotion and painted the worst bruises with iodine.

"I see your arm is lame. Where does it hurt?"

"Shoulder's the worst. I rammed it through the board when we started out."

He opened his shirt at the throat and bared his shoulder, and Dorothy gasped—as much at the size and power of the muscles displayed, as at the extent and severity of the man's injuries. Stepping into the gallery, she brought out hot water and towels and gently bathed away the clotted blood that had been forced through the skin.

"Massage it a little with the arnica as I move the arm," he directed coolly, and she did so, pityingly. He did not wince and made no sign of pain, but she saw beads of perspiration appear upon his face, and wondered at his fortitude.

"That's fine," he said gratefully as she finished, and a peculiar expression came over his face. "It feels one hundred per cent better already. But why do you do it? I should think you would feel like crowning me with that basin instead of playing nurse."

"Efficiency," she replied with a smile. "I'm taking a leaf out of your own book. You are our chief engineer, you know, and it won't do to have you laid up."

"That's a logical explanation, but it doesn't go far enough," he rejoined, still studying her intently. She did not reply, but turned to Perkins.

"How are you, Mr. Perkins? Do you require medical attention?"

"No," growled Perkins from the seat in which he had crouched immediately after eating. "Keep away from me, or I'll cut your heart out!"

"Shut up!" snapped DuQuesne. "Remember what I said?"

"I haven't done anything," snarled the other.

"I said I would throw you out if you made another break," DuQuesne informed him evenly, "and I meant it. If you can't talk decently, keep still. Understand that you are to keep off Miss Vaneman, words and actions. I am in charge of her, and I will put up with no interference whatever. This is your last warning."

"How about Spencer, then?"

"I have nothing to say about her, she's not mine," responded DuQuesne with a shrug.

An evil light appeared in Perkins' eyes and he took out a wicked-looking knife and began to strop it carefully upon the leather of the seat, glaring at his victim the while.

"Well, I have something to say...." blazed Dorothy, but she was silenced by a gesture from Margaret, who calmly took the pistol from her pocket, jerked the slide back, throwing a cartridge into the chamber, and held the weapon up on one finger, admiring it from all sides.

"Don't worry about his knife. He has been sharpening it for my benefit for the last month. He doesn't mean anything by it."

At this unexpected show of resistance, Perkins stared at her for an instant, then glanced at his coat.

"Yes, this was yours, once. You needn't bother about picking up your coat, they're both gone. You might be tempted to throw that knife, so drop it on the floor and kick it over to me before I count three.

"One." The heavy pistol steadied into line with his chest and her finger tightened on the trigger.

"Two." He obeyed and she picked up the knife. He turned to DuQuesne, who had watched the scene unmoved, a faint smile upon his saturnine face.

"Doctor!" he cried, shaking with fear. "Why don't you shoot her or take that gun away from her? Surely you don't want to see me murdered?"

"Why not?" replied DuQuesne calmly. "It is nothing to me whether she kills you or you kill her. You brought it on yourself by your own carelessness. Any man with brains doesn't leave guns lying around within reach of prisoners, and a blind man could have seen Miss Vaneman getting your hardware."

"You saw her take them and didn't warn me?" croaked Perkins.

"Why should I warn you? If you can't take care of your own prisoner she earns her liberty, as far as I am concerned. I never did like your style, Perkins, especially your methods of handling—or rather mishandling—women. You could have made her give up the stuff she recovered from that ass Brookings inside of an hour, and wouldn't have had to kill her afterward, either."

"How?" sneered the other. "If you are so good at that kind of thing, why didn't you try it on Seaton and Crane?"

"There are seven different methods to use on a woman like Miss Spencer, each of which will produce the desired result. The reason I did not try them on either Seaton or Crane is that they would have failed. Your method of indirect action is probably the only one that will succeed. That is why I adopted it."

"Well, what are you going to do about it?" shrieked Perkins. "Are you going to sit there and lecture all day?"

"I am going to do nothing whatever," answered the scientist coldly. "If you had any brains you would see that you are in no danger. Miss Spencer will undoubtedly kill you if you attack her—not otherwise. That is an Anglo-Saxon weakness."

"Did you see me take the pistols?" queried Dorothy.

"Certainly. I'm not blind. You have one of them in your right coat pocket now."

"Then why didn't you, or don't you, try to take it away from me?" she asked in wonder.

"If I had objected to your having them, you would never have got them. If I didn't want you to have a gun now, I would take it away from you. You know that, don't you?" and his black eyes stared into her violet ones with such calm certainty of his ability that she felt her heart sink.

"Yes," she admitted finally, "I believe you could—that is, unless I were angry enough to shoot you."

"That wouldn't help you. I can shoot faster and straighter than you can, and would shoot it out of your hand. However, I have no objection to your having the gun, since it is no part of my plan to offer you any further indignity of any kind. Even if you had the necessary coldness of nerve or cruelty of disposition—of which I have one, Perkins the other, and you neither—you wouldn't shoot me now, because you can't get back to the earth without me. After we get back I will take the guns away from both of you if I think it desirable. In the meantime, play with them all you please."

"Has Perkins any more knives or guns or things in his room?" demanded Dorothy.

"How should I know?" indifferently; then, as both girls started for Perkins' room he ordered brusquely:

"Sit down, Miss Vaneman. Let them fight it out. Perkins has his orders to lay off you—you lay off him. I'm not taking any chances of getting you hurt, that's one reason I wanted you armed. If he gets gay, shoot him; otherwise, hands off completely.

Dorothy threw up her head in defiance, but meeting his cold stare she paused irresolutely and finally sat down, biting her lips in anger, while the other girl went on.

"That's better. She doesn't need any help to whip that yellow dog. He's whipped already. He never would think of fighting unless the odds were three to one in his favor."

When Margaret had returned from a fruitless search of Perkins' room and had assured herself that he had no more weapons concealed about his person, she thrust the pistol back into her pocket and sat down.

"That ends that," she declared. "I guess you will be good now, won't you, Mr. Perkins?"

"Yes," that worthy muttered. "I have to be, now that you've got the drop on me and DuQuesne's gone back on me. But wait until we get back! I'll get you then, you...."

"Stop right there!" sharply. "There's nothing I would rather do than shoot you right now, if you give me the slightest excuse, such as that name you were about to call me. Now go ahead!"

DuQuesne broke the silence that followed.

"Well, now that the battle is over, and since we are fed and rested, I suggest that we slow down a bit and get ready to start back. Pick out comfortable seats, everybody, and I'll shoot a little more juice through that bar."

Seating himself before the instrument board, he advanced the speed lever slowly until nearly three-quarters of the full power was on, as much as he thought the others could stand.

For sixty hours he drove the car, reducing the acceleration only at intervals during which they ate and walked about their narrow quarters in order to restore the blood to circulation in their suffering bodies. The power was not reduced for sleep; everyone slept as best he could.

Dorothy and Margaret talked together at every opportunity, and a real intimacy grew up between them. Perkins was for the most part sullenly quiet, knowing himself despised by all the others and having no outlet here for his particular brand of cleverness. DuQuesne was always occupied with his work and only occasionally addressed a remark to one or another of the party, except during meals. At those periods of general recuperation, he talked easily and well upon many topics. There was no animosity in his bearing nor did he seem to perceive any directed toward himself, but when any of the others ventured to infringe upon his ideas of how discipline should be maintained, DuQuesne's reproof was merciless. Dorothy almost liked him, but Margaret insisted that she considered him worse than ever.

When the bar was exhausted, DuQuesne lifted the sole remaining cylinder into place.

"We should be nearly stationary with respect to the earth," he remarked. "Now we will start back."

"Why, it felt as though we were picking up speed for the last three days!" exclaimed Margaret.

"Yes, it feels that way because we have nothing to judge by. Slowing down in one direction feels exactly like starting up in the opposite one. There is no means of knowing whether we are standing still, going away from the earth, or going toward it, since we have nothing stationary upon which to make observations. However, since the two bars were of exactly the same size and were exerted in opposite directions except for a few minutes after we left the earth, we are nearly stationary now. I will put on power until this bar is something less than half gone, then coast for three or four days. By the end of that time we should be able to recognize our solar system from the appearance of the fixed stars."

He again advanced the lever, and for many hours silence filled the car as it hurtled through space. DuQuesne, waking up from a long nap, saw that the bar no longer pointed directly toward the top of the ship, perpendicular to the floor, but was inclined at a sharp angle. He reduced the current, and felt the lurch of the car as it swung around the bar, increasing the angle many degrees. He measured the angle carefully and peered out of all the windows on one side of the car. Returning to the bar after a time, he again measured the angle, and found that it had increased greatly.

"What's the matter, Doctor DuQuesne?" asked Dorothy, who had also been asleep.

"We are being deflected from our course. You see the bar doesn't point straight up any more? Of course the direction of the bar hasn't changed, the car has swung around it."

"What does that mean?"

"We have come close enough to some star so that its attraction swings the bottom of the car around. Normally, you know, the bottom of the car follows directly behind the bar. It doesn't mean much yet except that we are being drawn away from our straight line, but if the attraction gets much stronger it may make us miss our solar system completely. I have been looking for the star in question, but can't see it yet. We'll probably pull away from it very shortly."

He threw on the power, and for some time watched the bar anxiously, expecting to see it swing back into the vertical, but the angle continually increased. He again reduced the current and searched the heavens for the troublesome body.

"Do you see it yet?" asked Dorothy with concern.

"No, there's apparently nothing near enough to account for all this deflection."

He took out a pair of large night-glasses and peered through them for several minutes.

"Good God! It's a dead sun, and we're nearly onto it! It looks as large as our moon!"

Springing to the board, he whirled the bar into the vertical. He took down a strange instrument, went to the bottom window, and measured the apparent size of the dark star. Then, after cautioning the rest of the party to sit tight, he advanced the lever farther than it had been before. After half an hour he again slackened the pace and made another observation, finding to his astonishment that the dark mass had almost doubled its apparent size! Dorothy, noting his expression, was about to speak, but he forestalled her.

"We lost ground, instead of gaining, that spurt," he remarked, as he hastened to his post. "It must be inconceivably large, to exert such an enormous attractive force at this distance. We'll have to put on full power. Hang onto yourselves as best you can."

He then pushed the lever out to its last notch and left it there until the bar was nearly gone, only to find that the faint disk of the monster globe was even larger than before, being now visible to the unaided eye. Revived, the three others saw it plainly—a great dim circle, visible as is the dark portion of the new moon—and, the power shut off, they felt themselves falling toward it with sickening speed. Perkins screamed with mad fear and flung himself grovelling upon the floor. Margaret, her nerves still unstrung, clutched at her heart with both hands. Dorothy, though her eyes looked like great black holes in her white face, looked DuQuesne in the eye steadily.

"This is the end, then?"

"Not yet," he replied in a calm and level voice. "The end will not come for a good many hours, as I have calculated that it will take at least two days, probably more, to fall the distance we have to go. We have all that time in which to think out a way of escape."

"Won't the outer repulsive shell keep up from striking it, or at least break the force of our fall?"

"No. It was designed only as protection from meteorites and other small bodies. It is heavy enough to swing us away from a small planet, but it will be used up long before we strike."

He lighted a cigarette and sat at case, as though in his own study, his brow wrinkled in thought as he made calculations in his notebook. Finally he rose to his feet.

"There's only one chance that I can see. That is to gather up every scrap of copper we have and try to pull ourselves far enough out of line so that we will take an hyperbolic orbit around that body instead of falling into it."

"What good will that do us?" asked Margaret, striving for self-control. "We will starve to death finally, won't we?"

"Not necessarily. That will give us time to figure out something else."

"You won't have to figure out anything else, Doctor," stated Dorothy positively. "If we miss that moon, Dick and Martin will find us before very long."

"Not in this life. If they tried to follow us, they're both dead before now."

"That's where even you are wrong!" she flashed at him. "They knew you were wrecking our machine, so they built another one, a good one. And they know a lot of things about this new metal that you have never dreamed of, since they were not in the plans you stole."

DuQuesne went directly to the heart of the matter, paying no attention to her barbed shafts.

"Can they follow us through space without seeing us?" he demanded.

"Yes—or at least, I think they can."

"How do they do it?"

"I don't know—I wouldn't tell you if I did."

"You'll tell if you know," he declared, his voice cutting like a knife. "But that can wait until after we get out of this. The thing to do now is to dodge that world."

He searched the vessel for copper, ruthlessly tearing out almost everything that contained the metal, hammering it flat and throwing it into the power-plant. He set the bar at right angles to the line of their fall and turned on the current. When the metal was exhausted, he made another series of observations upon the body toward which they were falling, and reported quietly:

"We made a lot of distance, but not enough. Everything goes in, this time."

He tore out the single remaining light-wire, leaving the car in darkness save for the diffused light of his electric torch, and broke up the only remaining motor. He then took his almost priceless Swiss watch, his heavy signet ring, his scarf pin, and the cartridges from his pistol, and added them to the collection. Flashing his lamp upon Perkins, he relieved him of everything he had which contained copper.

"I think I have a few pennies in my pocketbook," suggested Dorothy.

"Get 'em," he directed briefly, and while she was gone he searched Margaret, without result save for the cartridges in her pistol, as she had no jewelry remaining after her imprisonment. Dorothy returned and handed him everything she had found.

"I would like to keep this ring," she said slowly, pointing to a slender circlet of gold set with a solitaire diamond, "if you think there is any chance of us getting clear."

"Everything goes that has any copper in it," he said coldly, "and I am glad to see that Seaton is too good a chemist to buy any platinum jewelry. You may keep the diamond, though," as he wrenched the jewel out of its setting and returned it to her.

He threw all the metal into the central chamber and the vessel gave a tremendous lurch as the power was again applied. It was soon spent, however, and after the final observation, the others waiting in breathless suspense for him to finish his calculations, he made his curt announcement.

"Not enough."

Perkins, his mind weakened by the strain of the last few days, went completely insane at the words. With a wild howl he threw himself at the unmoved scientist, who struck him with the butt of his pistol as he leaped, the mighty force of DuQuesne's blow crushing his skull like an eggshell and throwing him backward to the opposite side of the vessel. Margaret lay in her seat in a dead faint. Dorothy and DuQuesne looked at each other in the feeble light of the torch. To the girl's amazement, the man was as calm as though he were safe in his own house, and she made a determined effort to hold herself together.

"What next, Doctor DuQuesne?"

"I don't know. We have a couple of days yet, at least. I'll have to study awhile."

"In that time Dick will find us, I know."

"Even if they do find us in time, which I doubt, what good will it do? It simply means that they will go with us instead of saving us, for of course they can't pull away, since we couldn't. I hope they don't find us, but locate this star in time to keep away from it."

"Why?" she gasped. "You have been planning to kill both of them! I should think you would be delighted to take them with us?"

"Far from it. Please try to be logical. I intended to remove them because they stood in the way of my developing this new metal. If I am to be out of the way—and frankly, I see very little chance of getting out of this—I hope that Seaton goes ahead with it. It is the greatest discovery the world has ever known, and if both Seaton and I, the only two men in the world who know how to handle it, drop out, it will be lost for perhaps hundreds of years."

"If Dick's finding us means that he must go, too, of course I hope that he won't find us, but I don't believe that. I simply know that he could get us away from here."

She continued more slowly, almost speaking to herself, her heart sinking with her voice:

"He is following us, and he won't stop even if he does see this dead star and knows that he can't get away. We will die together."

"There's no denying the fact that our situation is critical, but you know a man isn't dead until after his heart stops beating. We have two whole days yet, and in that time, I can probably dope out some way of getting away from here."

"I hope so," she replied, keeping her voice from breaking only by a great effort. "But go ahead with your doping. I'm worn out." She drew herself down upon one of the seats and stared at the ceiling, fighting to restrain an almost overpowering impulse to scream.

Thus the hours wore by—Perkins dead; Margaret still unconscious; Dorothy lying in her seat, her thoughts a formless prayer, buoyed up only by her faith in God and in her lover; DuQuesne self-possessed, smoking innumerable cigarettes, his keen mind grappling with its most desperate problem, grimly fighting until the very last instant of life—while the powerless space-car fell with an appalling velocity, faster and faster; falling toward that cold and desolate monster of the heaven.