Tom Swift and the Cosmic Astronauts

BOOK: Tom Swift and the Cosmic Astronauts
6.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub






This unauthorized tribute is based upon the original TOM SWIFT JR. characters.

As of this printing, copyright to The New TOM SWIFT Jr. Adventures is owned by SIMON & SCHUSTER

This edition privately printed by RUNABOUT © 2011





"ONE HUNDRED miles to the west is Lake Disappointment," noted Tom Swift. "Let’s hope it isn’t a bad omen!"

Texas-sized Chow Winkler scratched a broad swath of forehead spread beneath his ten-gallon hat.
"Lake Disappointment,
huh. Bet they have a hard time gettin’ th’ tourists."

"Ah now, mates, I require optimism in this little room. Let’s send happy healing waves to our multi-hundred-million dollars worth of machinery. It’s very sensitive, you know!" The speaker, Dr. Clarke MacIllheny, was making every attempt to keep his voice firm and confident, but the tension was unmistakable. His life and career had led him to this moment. Everything was on the line, awaiting the touch of a button.

Tom and his friends and colleagues had come to the Gibson Desert of central Australia to oversee the debut of the world’s mightiest particle accelerator. Built with technical assistance from Swift Enterprises in Shopton, New York, the new Hyper-Celerator, an in-spiraling tube of metal and plastic, was eight miles across at the outside, its curled tunnel fully sixty-three miles in length. The project of an Aussie scientific consortium called Advanced Research Technics, the gargantuan instrument was to probe further into the heart of matter than ever before.

Tom’s close pal Bud Barclay squinted out the reinforced window of the main control room, which topped a two-story tower. "I see a lot of desert out there, guys—dirt and sun. That curvy gray thing looks more like a great big coiled snake than a mega-microscope."

"Yet that is precisely what it is, young Budworth," retorted MacIllheny with a nervous smile. "A sort of powerful microscope, with which we shall see wondrous things far too small for the unaided eye to reveal."

"An’ don’t knock dirt an’ sun, buddy boy," Chow added. "That there’s most o’ Texas, an’ it works jest fine."

"Final sequence done and green," called out a nearby technician from his monitoring board. "All stations report ready."

"Then I do believe it’s time to loose our protons on their racecourse," murmured Dr. MacIllheny. A stubby finger depressed a small, innocuous button.

"And they’re off!" pronounced Tom gleefully. His youthful face bespoke the sheer thrill of scientific adventure.

Seconds ticked past, and the only words spoken in the room were numbers. Bud bent down and spoke softly into Tom’s ear. "I guess there won’t be much to see, hmm, genius boy?"

"Afraid not," was the reply. "All the action is inside that acceleration corridor. But the idea is exciting, even if the view isn’t—the stream of protons is already more than halfway to the speed of light."

"Which is mighty fast, I hear," Chow put in.

"You could say that, if you call 186,000 miles per second

The grizzled chef, some thirty years Tom and Bud’s senior, couldn’t help an audible and visible gulp. "I’d say so!"

MacIllheny conferred with the technical staff in the room, then walked back to Tom and his friends. "All is most satisfactory," declared the physicist, chief of the project. "We’re near the point where we’ll bring your matter-lenses into play. How do they look to you, Tom?"

"They look great, Doctor Mac," the young inventor responded. "All the readings are holding steady and nominal."

that means ‘good’," cracked Bud to Chow.

The final stage of the Hyper-Celerator’s process made use of a technology Tom had invented for his revolutionary matter maker, the space solartron. In the terminus section of the corridor that was to function as a target for the hurtling subatomic particles, field-flux coherers would force the protons—repelling one another with tremendous power—into a close single-file path that ended between the facing points of a pair of conical devices fabricated of a mix of exotic materials. It was expected that as the protons were crammed at lightspeed into this inconceivably small gap, narrower than the breadth of the nucleus of a single atom, particles never before detected would be trapped and recorded.

"It’s time," the physicist said to Tom as calmly as possible.

Tom instantly threw a switch, sending a control signal to the matter-lens array while simultaneously closing off the shunt that allowed the proton stream to bypass the target module.

A welcome electronic tone sang out from the main control board. "Yes, yes! There we are!" cried Dr. MacIllheny gleefully. "Very solid registrations from the gap."

"Does that mean you’re getting those new particles you’re looking for?" asked Bud.

Tom answered for the physicist. "Not just yet, Bud. We have to narrow the gap—sharpen the focus, in other words." Eyes trained on dancing oscilloscope patterns, his slender, expert fingers began to manipulate the dials that told the managing computer what to do next.

"Wait!" shouted a technician in sudden alarm. "The field is destabilizing!"

"Cut the lens power!" commanded MacIllheny. But even as Tom jabbed the emergency cutoff button, a flare of light filled the room, followed in a moment by a sickening reverberation.

"Oh no!" gasped Tom.
"The target chamber’s blown up!"
Even over a distance of several miles the distraught observers could see a plume of back smoke jetting up into the dry desert air.

"Powering down," reported a team member dully.

Clarke MacIllheny stood in numbed silence, gazing out the observation window. Tom put a sympathetic hand on his arm. "The damage may be confined to the target chamber, Doctor," he noted. "The accelerator is probably still in good shape. The damage can be repaired and the experiment can resume."

"We don’t know the cause of the failure," said the physicist despondently. "Did you see anything on your monitors?"

Tom shook his head. "No, sir. But the computer records will give us the clues we need. This is some kind of freakish circuit failure, a low-probability event we couldn’t have planned for."

The physicist was grimly unwilling to be consoled. "We considered the possibility of a field-stress rupture, a ‘kink in the fabric.’ We went over it extensively—didn’t we?"

"We sure did," Tom agreed. "No one can predict everything."

"Guess that’s why they call it
Chow added helpfully.

"That’s right, pardner," said Bud. He refrained from his customary joking manner.

Fire had broken out in the target chamber, and it took nearly an hour to fully extinguish the blaze. Finally Tom announced that he had reacquired contact with the surviving instruments and sensors in the module.

"Then at least we can download some data to tell us what failed," noted MacIllheny. "I’ll re-cork the champagne."

But when Tom looked up from the readout panel, his blue eyes were gleaming with the thrill of the unexpected. "Not yet, Doctor Mac!" he exclaimed. "If these numbers mean what I think they do, something tremendous has happened!"



MACILLHENY stared at Tom Swift as if he half suspected that his young American colleague was merely trying to lift his shattered spirits. "What are you saying?"

"Look at this!" Tom said excitedly. "This is the consolidated readout from the final three nanos before the field collapsed."

Bud whispered to Chow.

"Brand my stopwatch, I know!" retorted the ex-Texan. "I been hangin’ around Tom fer a long time now."

Dr. MacIllheny studied the stilled pattern on the oscilloscope screen. He seemed to look it over once, twice, three times, and then he traced its lines with a finger. "Hardly dare believe it, mate," he murmured. "Wish it were true."

"I don’t suppose I’d understand what those lines mean, would I?" inquired Bud politely. "Something good?"

Tom cast a glance toward the young dark-haired pilot, his best friend. "There are some strong indications that we
trap a zoo of particles after all, a split-instant before the explosion," he explained.

"More than that,
particle!" declared MacIllheny, eyes glued to the screen. "My Moby Dick!"

Chow’s brow creased. "What’d you say? Yer what?"

"That’s what I call it, Chow. My special quest, the very thing I’ve been hunting for a quarter of a century." The physicist’s face was losing its skepticism and gaining pure joy. "I just may have caught a glimpse of LARS—the Lepto-Aleph Rho Subtrino!"

"An’ that’s whut you been after all this time?"

"It’s a revolutionary discovery," pronounced Tom. "If it pans out, it’ll sure give Doctor Mac a place in the history books."

"I hate to admit it," Bud said, "but even after Tom explained it all to me, the simplified way he always does—I don’t think I really understand it. It’s a subatomic particle, right?"

"A phantom particle, a ghost, a dream!" responded MacIllheny with a laugh. "It always fit into the big picture mathematically, like a single missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle. My word, it explains the ‘neutrino gap’ perfectly! But my esteemed colleagues the world over spoke as one, a great chorus of discouragement
Its physical characteristics, you see, are paradoxical." He paused. "I’m afraid I’m too excited to try to explain it in layman’s terms. Tom, perhaps you—"

"Of course," said Tom. "It’s what I do! Guys, elementary subatomic particles are either bosons or fermions—think of it as their family names. Bosons are, for example, the photons that make up light. They have no rest mass at all, which is just fine because they never
at rest; they always scoot along at the maximum possible speed, velocity C, the speed of light."

"Stands t’ reason," Chow noted.

"Bosons don’t interact with one another. But what we think of as solid matter is made from fermions," Tom continued. "Those are the particles you’ve heard of, electrons, neutrons, and protons. Think of them as bits of matter with mass and solidity, meaning that they can’t just pass through one another, but interact."

Bud nodded enthusiastically. "Like billiard balls, right?"

"A common but worthy analogy," chuckled Dr. MacIllheny.

"Okay then," said Chow. "So which o’ those two is that there sub-marino you ’as talkin’ about?"

"Eh now, that’s the whole point, my cowboyish friend," was MacIllheny’s reply. "The subtrino is an ambivalent particle that can’t manage to make up its mind. Like its unimaginative cousin the neutrino, the subtrino ordinarily blows through solid matter at light speed, like wind through a chicken-wire fence. It has, in a word, a
identity. But astoundingly, it
has a secret identity as a
a mass-particle. Do I see on your faces a look of incredulity?"

"Betcha you would if’n I knew what it meant," Chow agreed.

"I guess he’s saying that the little guy can flip over from one to the other. Is that it?" asked Bud.

"That’s it, flyboy," Tom confirmed. "The theory says that under certain very rare and very weird circumstances, the subtrino converts its energy of motion into the locked-up form of energy we call
. Its speed drops from velocity C to—what was it, Doctor Mac?"

"Quite easy to remember. You merely apply the reciprocal of Pi to exponent four…"

muttered Chow beneath his breath.

"Which gives you a final velocity of, oh, a shade less than twenty miles per second, let’s say." The physicist’s eyes twinkled. "Turns the little boy into a slowpoke!"

"And the wonderful thing is, it looks like we forced a few of these characters to put in an appearance," Tom grinned.

Having determined that reactivation of the Hyper-Celerator would be months away, Tom, Bud, and Chow began the flight back to Shopton aboard the Swift Enterprises commuter jet that had brought them to Australia.

"We didn’t do much sightseeing," Bud complained to the others as he piloted the supersonic craft out over the Pacific. "As in
I hear they’ve got some great surfing down in Sidney." The youth’s muscular, athletic form advertised his recreational interests.

"Me, I allus wanted t’see one o’ them herds o’ kangaroos," Chow declared. "Mebbe next time, huh, boss?"

"Mebbe so, pard." Tom smiled affectionately at his two close comrades. "But I need to get back to Enterprises to resume work on my own project, the challenge Dad gave me."

"You’ve mentioned that, but haven’t said what it is," Bud remarked. "What’s your Dad challenging you to do?" Bud knew that the young inventor and his father Damon, grandson of the famous inventor after whom Tom had been named, often engaged in a bit of friendly family rivalry.

"Well, chum, as I’ve hinted to you, it has to do with space travel."

Tom and Bud, and even Chow, had already won their space-wings as veteran astronauts. They had helped construct the Swift Enterprises outpost in space, orbiting 22,300 miles above the earth. They had undertaken the pioneering journey to Earth’s new moon, the tiny asteroid Nestria—as well as to the old moon aboard Tom’s huge spaceship, the
. They had even dared a long, desperate flight to the environs of the planet Venus, made possible by Tom’s solartron invention. But it had now been awhile since that perilous voyage. Tom’s most recent exploit had taken him into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, where his spectromarine selector had proven itself vital to uncovering the secrets of Aurum City, the sunken city of gold.

BOOK: Tom Swift and the Cosmic Astronauts
6.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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