Authors: Clifford D. Simak
Wilson’s voice came out of the screen, a frantic, almost terrified voice.
“I’ve told you all I know. I’m not a scientist. I’m a mechanic. I’ve told you what they’re doing. I can’t tell you how they do it.”
Arnold Grant leaned forward in his chair. His face was twisted in fury.
“There were plans, weren’t there?” he demanded. “There were equations and formulas. Why didn’t you bring us some of them?”
Spencer Chambers raised a hand from the desk, waved it toward Grant. “The man has told us all he knows. Obviously, he can’t be any more help to us.”
“You told him to go back and see if he couldn’t find something else, didn’t you?” asked Grant.
“Yes, I did,” Chambers told him. “But apparently he couldn’t find it.”
“I tried,” pleaded Wilson. Perspiration stood out on his forehead. The cigarette in his mouth was limp and dead. “One of them was always there. I never could get hold of any papers. I asked questions, but they were too busy to answer. And I couldn’t ask too much, because then they would have suspected me.”
“No, you couldn’t do that,” commented Craven with an open sneer.
* * * *
the laboratory Russ pounded the arm of his chair with a clenched fist. “The rat sold us out!”
Greg said nothing, but his face was stony and his eyes were crystal-hard.
On the screen Chambers was speaking to Wilson. “Do you think you could find something out if you went back again?”
Wilson squirmed in his chair.
“I’d rather not.” His voice sounded like a whimper. “I’m afraid they suspect me now. I’m afraid of what they’d do if they found out.”
“That’s his conscience,” breathed Russ in the laboratory. “I never suspected him.”
“He’s right about one thing, though,” Greg said. “He’d better not come back.”
Chambers was talking again: “You realize, of course, that you haven’t been much help to us. You have only warned us that another kind of power generation is being developed. You’ve set us on our guard, but other than that we’re no better off than we were before.”
Wilson bristled, like a cowardly animal backed into a corner. “I told you what was going on. You can be ready for it now. I can’t help it if I couldn’t find out how all them things worked.”
“Look here,” said Chambers. “I made a bargain with you and I keep my bargains. I told you I would pay you twenty thousand dollars for the information you gave me when you first came to see me. I told you I’d pay you for any further additional information you might give. Also I promised you a job with the company.”
Watching the financier, Wilson licked his lips. “That’s right,” he said.
Chambers reached out and pulled a checkbook toward him, lifted a pen from its holder. “I’m paying you the twenty thousand for the warning. I’m not paying you a dime more, because you gave me no other information.”
Wilson leaped to his feet, started to protest.
“Sit down,” said Chambers coldly.
“But the job! You said you’d give me a job!”
Chambers shook his head. “I wouldn’t have a man like you in my organization. If you were a traitor to one man, you would be to another.”
“But . . . but . . .” Wilson started to object and then sat down, his face twisted in something that came very close to fear.
Chambers ripped the check out of the book, waved it slowly in the air to dry it. Then he arose and held it out to Wilson, who reached out a trembling hand and took it.
“And now,” said Chambers, “good day, Mr. Wilson.”
For a moment Wilson stood uncertain, as if he intended to speak, but finally he turned, without a word, and walked through the door.
* * * *
the laboratory Russ and Greg looked at one another.
“Twenty thousand,” said Greg. “Why, that was worth millions.”
“It was worth everything Chambers had,” said Russ, “because it’s the thing that’s going to wreck him.”
Their attention snapped back to the screen.
Chambers was hunched over his desk, addressing the other two.
“Now, gentlemen,” he asked, “what are we to do?”
Craven shrugged his shoulders. There was a puzzled frown in the eyes back of the thick-lensed glasses. “We haven’t much to go on. Wilson doesn’t know a thing about it. He hasn’t the brain to grasp even the most fundamental ideas back of the whole thing.”
Chambers nodded. “The man knew the mechanical setup perfectly, but that was all.”
“I’ve constructed the apparatus,” said Craven. “It’s astoundingly simple. Almost too simple to do the things Wilson said it would do. He drew plans for it, so clear that it was easy to duplicate the apparatus. He himself checked the machine and says it is the same as Page and Manning have. But there are thousands of possible combinations for hookups and control board settings. Too many to try to go through and hit upon the right answer. Because, you see, one slight adjustment in any one of a hundred adjustments might do the trick . . . but which of those adjustments do you have to make? We have to have the formulas, the equations, before we can even move.”
“He seemed to remember a few things,” said Grant hopefully. “Certain rules and formulas.”
Craven flipped both his hands angrily. “Worse than nothing,” he exploded. “What Page and Manning have done is so far in advance of anything that anyone else has even thought about that we are completely at sea. They’re working with space fields, apparently, and we haven’t even scratched the surface in that branch of investigation. We simply haven’t got a thing to go on.”
chance at all?” asked Chambers.
Craven shook his head slowly.
“At least you could try,” snapped Grant.
“Now, wait,” Chambers snapped back. “You seem to forget Dr. Craven is one of the best scientists in the world today. I’m relying on him.”
Craven smiled. “I can’t do anything with what Page and Manning have, but I might try something of my own.”
“By all means do so,” urged Chambers. He turned to Grant. “I observed you have carried out the plans we laid. Martian Irrigation hit a new low today.”
Grant grinned. “It was easy. Just a hint here and there to the right people.”
Chambers looked down at his hands, slowly closing into fists. “We have to stop them some way, any way at all. Keep up the rumors. We’ll make it impossible for Greg Manning to finance this new invention. We’ll take away every last dollar he has.”
He glared at the publicity man. “You understand?”
“Yes, sir,” said Grant, “I understand perfectly.”
“All right,” said Chambers. “And your job, Craven, is to either develop what Page has found or find something we can use in competition.”
Craven growled angrily. “What happens if your damn rumors can’t ruin Manning? What if I can’t find anything?”
“In that case,” said Chambers, “there are other ways.”
Chambers suddenly smiled at them. “I have a notion to call Stutsman back to Earth.”
Craven drummed his fingers idly on the arm of his chair. “Yes, I guess you do have other ways,” he said.
* * * *
hand snapped the switch and the screen suddenly was blank as the televisor set returned instantly to the laboratory.
“That explains a lot of things,” he said. “Among them what has happened to my stocks.”
Russ sat in his chair, numbed. “That little weak-kneed, ratting traitor, Wilson. He’d sell his mother for a new ten-dollar bill.”
“We know,” said Greg, “and Chambers doesn’t know we know. We’ll follow every move he makes. We’ll know every one of his plans.”
Pacing up and down the room, he was already planning their campaign.
“There are still a few things to do,” he added. “A few possibilities we may have overlooked.”
“But will we have time?” asked Russ.
“I think so. Chambers is going to go slow. The gamble is too big to risk any slip. He doesn’t want to get in bad with the law. There won’t be any strong-arm stuff . . . not until he recalls Stutsman from Callisto.”
He paused in mid-stride, stood planted solidly on the floor.
“When Stutsman gets into the game,” he said, “all hell will break loose.”
He took a deep breath.
“But we’ll be ready for it then!”
we can get television reception with this apparatus of ours,” asked Greg, “what is to prevent us from televising? Why can’t we send as well as receive?”
Russ drew doodles on a calculation sheet. “We could. Just something else to work out. You must remember we’re working in a four-dimensional medium. That would complicate matters a little. Not like working in three dimensions alone. It would . . .”
He stopped. The pencil fell from his finger and he swung around slowly to face Manning.
“What’s the matter now?” asked Greg.
“Look,” said Russ excitedly. “We’re working in four dimensions. And if we televised through four dimensions, what would we get?”
Greg wrinkled his brow. Suddenly his face relaxed. “You don’t mean we can televise in
dimensions, do you?”
“That’s what it should work out to,” declared Russ. He swung back to the table again, picked up his pencil and jotted down equations. He looked up from the sheet. “Three-dimensional television!” he almost whispered.
“Something new again,” commented Greg.
“I’ll say it’s new!”
Russ reached out and jerked a calculator toward him. Rapidly he set up the equations, pressed the tabulator lever. The machine gurgled and chuckled, clicked out the result. Bending over to read it, Russ sucked in his breath.
“It’s working out right,” he said.
“That’ll mean new equipment, lots of it,” Greg pointed out. “Wilson’s gone, damn him. Who’s going to help us?”
“We’ll do it ourselves,” said Russ. “When we’re the only ones here, we can be sure there won’t be any leak.”
It took hours of work on the math machines, but at the end of that time Russ was certain of his ground.
“Now we go to work,” he said, gleefully.
In a week’s time they had built a triple televisor, but simplifications of the standard commercial set gave them a mechanism that weighed little more and was far more efficient and accurate.
During the time the work went on they maintained a watch over both the office of Spencer Chambers and the laboratory in which Dr. Herbert Craven worked 16 hours a day. Unseen, unsuspected, they were silent companions of the two men during many hours. They read what the men wrote, read what was written to them, heard what they said, saw how they acted. Doing so, the pair in the high mountain laboratory gained a deep insight into the characters of unsuspecting quarries.
“Both utterly ruthless,” declared Greg. “But apparently men who are sincere in thinking that the spoils belong to the strong. Strange, almost outdated men. You can’t help but like Chambers. He’s good enough at heart. He has his pet charities. He really, I believe, wants to help the people. And I think he actually believes the best way to do it is to gain a dictatorship over the Solar System. That ambition rules everything in his life. It has hardened him and strengthened him. He will crush ruthlessly, without a single qualm, anything that stands in his path. That’s why we’ll have a fight on our hands.”
* * * *
seemed to be making little progress. They could only guess at what he was trying to develop.
“I think,” said Russ, “he’s working on a collector field to suck in radiant energy. If he really gets that, it will be something worth having.”
For hours Craven sat, an intent, untidy, unkempt man, sunk deep in the cushions of an easy chair. His face was calm, with relaxed jaw and eyes that seemed vacant. But each time he would rouse himself from the chair to pencil new notations on the pads of paper that littered his desk. New ideas, new approaches.
The triple televisor was completed except for one thing.
“Sound isn’t so easy,” said Russ. “If we could only find a way to transmit it as well as light.”
“Listen,” said Greg, “why don’t you try a condenser speaker.”
“A condenser speaker?”
“Sure, the gadget developed way back in the 1920s. It hasn’t been used for years to my knowledge, but it might do the trick.”
Russ grinned broadly. “Hell, why didn’t I think of that? Here I’ve been racking my brain for a new approach, a new wrinkle . . . and exactly what I wanted was at hand.”
“Should work,” declared Greg. “Just the opposite of a condenser microphone. Instead of radiating sound waves mechanically, it radiates a changing electric field and this field becomes audible directly within the ear. Even yet no one seems to understand just how it works, but it does . . . and that’s good enough.”
“I know,” said Russ. “It really makes no sound. In other words it creates an electric field that doubles for sound. It ought to be just the thing because nothing can stop it. Metal shielding can, I guess, if it’s thick enough, but it’s got to be pretty damn thick.”
It took time to set the mechanism up. Ready, the massive apparatus, within which glowed a larger and more powerful force field, was operated by two monstrous material energy engines. The controls were equipped with clockwork drives, designed so that the motion of the Earth could be nullified completely and automatically for work upon outlying planets.