TOM SWIFT LIVES!
TOM SWIFT IN
THE RACE TO THE MOON
This unauthorized tribute
Is based upon
the original TOM SWIFT JR. characters.
SCOTT DICKERSON, AUTHOR
As of this printing,
The New TOM SWIFT Jr. Adventures
is owned by
SIMON & SCHUSTER
This edition privately printed by
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
TOM SWIFT IN
THE RACE TO THE MOON
“TOM! What’s wrong with your machine? We’re going into a dive!” Fighting the controls, pilot Bud Barclay risked a brief sideways glance at his cockpit companion, who was also his best friend.
“I don’t know what’s wrong,” replied Tom Swift, his keen eyes tensely focused on the instrument panel before him. “The repelatron’s still operating at full power, but we’re losing force!” The blond-haired young inventor stretched forward a hand and adjusted a control dial, once, twice, three times. “Not working—no change.”
Forcing himself to remain calm as their aircraft, a Pigeon Special, began to nose down, Bud again flicked the ignition switch to restart the compact but powerful motor that normally drove the plane’s rear-mounted propeller. The youths had deliberately silenced the motor in order to give Tom’s invention the workout that was the reason for their flight. Now the motor refused to come back to life! “The instruments are still okay,” grated the young pilot in desperation, a lock of dark hair creeping down over his forehead. “But the electronics toward the tail are stone dead. I can’t budge the rudder.”
As the ground slowly rolled before their eyes at a steepening angle, drawing frighteningly near, Bud suddenly yanked on Tom’s shirtsleeve. “Squeeze over to my side, Tom, all the way to the wall—hurry!”
Tom burst free of his safety straps and scrambled across the top of Bud’s seat-back, flattening himself against the wall just behind and to the left of his pal. Bud also half-rose and pressed leftward as far as possible. The tiny, lightweight Special, uniquely designed to maintain aerial stability during sharp maneuvers and unusual conditions, responded as sensitively as a trained palomino, slightly dipping its wings and sliding into a corkscrew turn to port. For a moment the curve made the situation even worse—they were diving straight groundward! But then, terrifyingly close to disaster, they swung through the low point of the arc and began to regain altitude. The plane had now reversed course and was heading back the way it came.
Tom made his way back to his seat as Bud continued to try to start the prop motor. Both young men were breathing hard.
“We’re through the worst,” said Bud. “We’ll be able to reach the lake.”
Tom nodded. “Plan to ditch her?”
As the glittering crescent of Lake Carlopa drew close ahead, Tom radioed the Swift Enterprises airfield. Though located in Shopton at the far end of the lake, the Swift invention facility was nevertheless the closest site equipped for rescue. “Roger, Special,” replied tower control. “I’m dispatching a water crash team. We’re tracking you—won’t be long.”
Signing off, Tom groaned in frustration. “Thanks for the ace flying, Bud. Believe it or not, I’m more worried about my repelatron going to the bottom than I am about our scrawny necks.”
Bud managed a ragged grin. “Oh, I believe it!”
The repelatron was perhaps the young prodigy’s most revolutionary invention, a device which generated an invisible beam of force that could repel any material it was attuned to. Some months before, while constructing his deep-sea hydrodome on the floor of the mid-Atlantic, the young inventor had used the machine to push back the ocean waters, creating a bubble-like airspace for workers to live in.
Since that peril-fraught success, Tom had labored to overcome certain features of the repelatron that limited its practical capacity to switch rapidly from one substance to another. His goal was to develop a super-repelatron that could utilize its recoil-thrust for propulsion—specifically to propel a radically new kind of spacecraft into the stark vacuum above the earth’s atmosphere. Tom conceived this step as a key to interplanetary exploration, and had made well-publicized plans to make the moon his first port of call.
Having finally hit upon a version of the repelatron that promised the sort of performance Tom required, the young inventor had anxiously had the new test model bolted into the cargo compartment of the Pigeon Special, a popular line of two-seat aircraft manufactured by the Swift Construction Company, which was owned, like Swift Enterprises, by the Swift family. Soaring out over Lake Carlopa, Tom had had Bud cut the engines, phasing in the repelatron as substitute thrust. The boys had been thrilled as the device seemed to function perfectly, keeping them smoothly and silently airborne as they traversed the length of the long, narrow lake.
But trouble had cropped up almost immediately upon crossing the shoreline and heading on out over farmland. With no warning or evident cause the repelatron seemed to become powerless, sending the Special into its dive.
Now they recrossed the lakeshore at a low, faltering altitude, preparing to bail out just before the Special hit the water. Suddenly Tom and Bud reacted with surprise as the whole plane give a violent shake and surged forward, putting on speed and altitude. The acceleration pressed the boys back into their seats.
“Wha—what’s going on?” gasped Bud. “Tom!—the repelatron’s working again!”
“Water,” Tom muttered. “That must be it. It’s repelling the water—nothing else.”
The boys relaxed as the plane mounted higher and higher above the lake. Tom contacted Enterprises again and explained the situation. “Have the crash team on standby,” he advised. “We may still have a problem getting back to the airfield.”
“You’re right about that,” said Bud. “I still can’t start the motor or work the flaps or the rudder. The best we can hope for is a pancake landing, and that’ll be rough.”
“Let’s try something, flyboy. Get ready to flip the switch again. I’m going to kill the repelatron.”
Bud gave his friend a look of wide-eyed skepticism, but poised his hands above the controls as Tom switched off the power feed to his invention. Instantly the Special slowed and wavered, gliding along unpowered. Bud flicked the ignition.
The motor jerked to life! The plane shot forward under full power and control.
“Jetz! Everything’s back on line, Skipper,” Bud declared gratefully.
“I think I know where the problem is,” commented Tom in a musing voice. “When the repulsion ray doesn’t find anything to interact with, there’s some kind of back-surge across the spacewave field with electromagnetic induction as a side effect. All the power cables that pass through the fuselage near the machine were affected. But if I focus the field more narrowly, it won’t― ”
Bud interrupted his friend with a laugh. “Please, genius boy, do your inventing on the ground—after we’ve landed!”
They proceeded on to Enterprises without incident, and Bud, an expert pilot, brought them down in a perfect landing, taxiing into a waiting hangar. Disembarking, Tom directed the ground crew to unbolt the test repelatron and convey it to one of his laboratories on a handtruck as he and Bud ambled along beside.
Reaching the lab they were surprised to find a small crowd of unfamiliar faces gathered in the hallway next to the slowly-moving ridewalk ramp. Tom recognized one face among them: the round, somewhat rumpled, perpetually harried face of George Dilling, longtime head of the plant’s Office of Communications and Public Interest.
“Hi, George,” said Tom, curiosity on his brow and in his voice. “A tour?”
“Ah, Tom! Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, you’re in luck! Here’s Tom Swift himself!” An unconvincing grin firmly in place, Dilling led the crowd in a wave of applause, accented by ooo-ing and ahh-ing. Dilling approached Tom and Bud and said softly, “It’s that Brungarian student group, two days early. Imagine my surprise.”
I can just imagine, thought Tom.
Swift Enterprises actively encouraged young people to explore their interest in science and invention, and to consider careers in that area. To that end Dilling’s office frequently set up special tours of the installation, usually for high school students. He considered it good public relations; Tom and his father valued it for its own sake and enjoyed meeting the students and answering their questions.
This tour was unique. The students, some as young as fifteen, others in their later twenties, were visiting the United States from Brungaria, a newly democratic nation that in decades past had been unfriendly to the U.S. and its allies. The students, all carefully screened and selected for native ability, attended the Academy for Advanced Scientific Studies in Volkonis, the Brungarian capital.
“I’m very pleased to meet you all,” said Tom with a warm smile. “Welcome to Swift Enterprises! What have you seen so far?”
The students looked at one another shyly, and for a moment Tom wondered if they had understood him. Then a young girl stepped forward and said, “Already we have seen your cowboy man.”
The students all nodded vigorously.
“He was most cool!” a boy piped up. “Do you sell the shirts?”
Bud broke out laughing. “You’ll have to go to Texas if you want one of those Chow Winkler Brand shirts! Shopton has a city ordinance against selling loud colors like that!”
Seeing that the students didn’t know what to make of Bud’s joke, Tom quickly explained. “The man you met is my friend Chow. He prepares our meals and travels with us around the world. He’s from Texas, where real cowboys live. Those colorful shirts of his are— sort of a hobby. We don’t sell them here.”
“Not as of yet!” Dilling rushed to say. “But we do have Swift Enterprises souvenir shirts in the Visitor Center gift shop. If you want to impress the folks back home and show that you’re a real American inventor, pick up one of the blue-striped white tees, like Tom himself wears.”
Tom answered a few questions and shook a few hands. Then the middle-aged man who appeared to be the tour leader and supervisor, a sour-faced type, said: “We have now seen the hangars and the great airship underground. The students were hoping to see one of the laboratories where you, as one might say, put together the inventions. This one, perhaps?”
Tom nodded. “Why not? I’ll show you the machine I have that makes water fly!”
“And soup, too,” Bud added.
Inside the lab Tom demonstrated a small hand-held model of his repelatron and explained how he had used it to outwit some bad men who had tried to take over his undersea hydrodome. The students were wide-eyed with wonder at these American marvels.
Suddenly a sharp, splintering crash caused Tom to whirl about. One of the young men, who had drifted somewhat away from the group, was bending down and holding his hand, a tray of shattered microscope slides on the floor by his feet.
“Ow!” he cried. “I am bleeding, I—I think I― ” His face was white and he seemed about to topple over. Tom rushed up to support him, and the student leaned close against him.
“I’ll call the infirmary,” Tom said reassuringly. “Dr. Simpson will take care of your cut.”
The young man bent his head down low to his chest. His back, and Tom’s, were turned to the rest of the group. “Tom, listen!” he whispered, almost inaudibly. “I must speak to you. Something horrible is going to happen! But the others can’t know that I’ve talked to you!”
His voice was desperate—and terrified!
“IS PETAR all right?” demanded the tour leader worriedly. “Is he ill?”
“He’ll be fine,” said Tom, thinking furiously.
“Shall I call Doc over?” Bud asked.
“No, Bud. Listen, why don’t you go on with George and the tour—show them the observatory. I’ll take Petar over to the infirmary myself. We’ll join up with you.”
“Sure, Skipper,” replied Bud. He sensed something in his pal’s voice that warned him not to ask any questions.
Before the group could leave, Tom guided the student out into the hall and on to the ridewalk, which whisked them out into the sunlight. “Are you really hurt?” the scientist-inventor asked.
The young man, who appeared to be about 20 years old, stood up straight. “No. I apologize for the glass things—it was necessary.”
“I thought Brungaria was over all that thought-control, cloak-and-dagger stuff,” commented Tom wryly.
“Brungaria has changed much,” said the student; “some things—they are slower to change. Mr. Atkossov watches over us carefully. If he reported I was talking to you secretly, the state police would ask me what we talked about, and it would not go so well.”
Tom led Petar into an employee lounge, deserted for the moment. “We can talk here.”
They sat down on a sofa and the young man fixed Tom in a serious gaze. “My name is Petar Nevolyan. I am in—you would call it the graduate level of instruction, in electrical technology. At the Academy.”
“Is there something wrong at the Academy?” asked Tom.
“It has not to do with the school, no. It is this.” Petar paused, gathering difficult thoughts. “My older brother, Samimel, works for COSMOSA. You know of that?”
Tom nodded. “Yes, the agency of your government in charge of space and rocketry, like our NASA. I met people from COSMOSA up on Nestria—the astronauts with Col. Mirov.”
Nestria was Earth’s tiny new moon, an asteroid that Tom had landed on and begun exploring in the name of the United States, as recounted in Tom Swift on The Phantom Satellite.
“Samimel works there; computer work,” continued Petar. “Sometimes he hears things, or intercepts messages—computer messages. He does not try to, but it happens. Late one night, just before we left for America, he called me from a phone at a restaurant, a place in the country. He was very upset—what do you say?—distraught. You know?”
“He said, one of the messages, he thinks it came from a secret group, scientists who work for COSMOSA but also meet in secret. There is a group in my country, i-Szentimentalya—that is to say, the Sentimentalists. They wish to bring back the old way, the government as it was before.”
“I’ve heard of them,” Tom said. “It’s thought they have sympathizers planted in the current government.”
“Some say so, yes. The planted persons are those who think they would benefit if the new democracy were overthrown. But the point is, Samimel told me that this group has made radio contact with the space people, the ones you call your space friends!”
Tom suppressed a gasp of surprise at the news. Ever since these friendly scientists from another planet had guided a missile to Swift Enterprises bearing a message, they had chosen to communicate only with Tom, whom they seemed to trust, or with the young inventor’s father. Though the world knew of the alien beings, their messages, now sent by radio in symbolic form, had normally been directed to special receiving equipment at Swift Enterprises or, on occasion, to Swift spacecraft. The thought that the anti-democratic Sentimentalists faction might be in touch with the space friends was deeply disturbing.
Petar seemed to read the expression in Tom’s eyes. “It is bad, yes. But there is worse.”
“Samimel thinks a ship, a capsule, is being sent to us from space. Tom, it contains sick animals, animals dying of a disease that could pass on to the living cells of earth creatures and kill them—all of them! Like an epidemic!”
Tom Swift felt the horror of the idea! “If it can really cross over from alien life-forms to our kind of life, we would have no defense against it. But why would the space friends do such a thing?”
“I think—Samimel thinks—the secret scientists have made promises to help them, as if they knew about such diseases and could cure it for the space people. But Tom, listen to me, they will use it as a threat against the government, against the whole world!”
“I understand,” said Tom quietly. “Does your brother know you were going to tell me all this?”
“He knew I was to come here and begged me to tell you, to convince you! And then― ”
“What else, Petar?”
Tears sprung into the young Brungarian’s eyes. “I tried to call Samimel when I got to America, but they said he was sick, in a hospital. When I called there, they had no record! I—I am much afraid—they have killed him.” Tom grasped his hand in sympathy. “And now I have told you all I know. Take me back to the others now, please. Surely the professor, Atkossov, is already suspicious.”
They stood. Tom looked the other in the eye. “You’re very brave, Petar. I hope your brother is all right, but whatever might have happened, I know he’d be proud of you.”
In deep silence Tom guided Petar Nevolyan back to the tour group, meeting up with them at the big observatory dome at the edge of the plant. “The doctor says he’ll be fine,” Tom told the overseer of the group, who nodded but gave Tom a suspicious look.
As the tour went on along its way, Tom motioned for Bud to stay behind. As they began to ridewalk back to the main lab building, Bud nudged his friend. “Okay, Tom, that fishy smell in the air isn’t from Chow’s catfish stew. It looked to me like that guy knocked over those slides deliberately.”
“Ten points for Barclay,” Tom confirmed.
“What’s it all about?”
Tom told Bud the story, speaking carefully and calmly. “We don’t know how much of it’s true, if any of it is,” he concluded. “But if Petar was play-acting, he’s mighty good at it.”
“An epidemic from outer space!” Bud boggled. “What do you plan to do?”
“The first step is pretty obvious,” said the young inventor. “Contact our space friends!”
The two friends hurried to the space communications center that had been established in the airfield control tower. Here the imaging oscilloscope, which translated the signals received by the experimental magnifying antenna into visual form, was located. The center was staffed round the clock by specialists trained in the mathematical symbol-code used by the friendly beings, the team supervised by Nels Gachter, a brilliant student of the application of mathematical logic to communications theory.
“Tom! Bud!” Nels exclaimed as the boys rushed in. “You have the look of someone expecting an important message—or wanting to send one.”
“I hope she’s all warmed up, Nels,” said Tom. “We need to transmit something immediately.”
“The transmitter awaits you,” replied Gachter with a smile. “Mars is getting a bit low on the horizon, but you still have a fair window, perhaps forty minutes.” The alien scientists had hinted that they operated from a scientific base in orbit about the red planet.
Tom frowned. “It may take longer than that just to put the message together. But we can relay the signal through the space outpost; they almost always have a line-of-sight to Mars.”
“I’ll contact Major Horton immediately.” Ken Horton was the commander of the famous Swift Enterprises space station.
Tom sat down to work at a computer flatscreen, Bud at his elbow. “What exactly are you going to say, Tom?” he asked.
Tom looked at his friend soberly. When Bud called him by his first name, instead of a nickname like genius boy or Skipper, it was a sign the matter at hand was grave indeed! “I need to tell them, as briefly as possible, about the report we’ve received. And if it’s true what Nevolyan said, I have to make them understand that what they’re doing is dangerous!”
“Who knows if these guys even understand concepts like danger or good and evil,” muttered the dark-haired young pilot. “We don’t even know what kind of bodies they have—if they have bodies at all!”
“We know they understand danger in some sense or other,” commented the young inventor as he adjusted the computer controls. “Don’t forget, they’ve warned us about it before. They attach some sort of value to life. But there’s another big problem on top of all that.”
“If the Brungarian faction is already in communication with the space friends, they may be able to pick up our own outgoing signals as well. We’ve got to figure out a way to get our message through without saying anything that would put Petar or his brother in danger.”
“I get it,” said Bud. But he lay a hand on his pal’s wrist. “And I know something else, Tom, and so do you. We may just have to take that risk. Because it sounds like it could come down to those two lives versus the lives of every living thing on Earth!”
TOM NOW set his formidable young mind to the difficult task before him. Communication between earthly humans and the other-planetary scientists was based upon complicated visible symbols that represented universal concepts in mathematics and logic, concepts that were presumed to be the same on any world, anywhere in space or time. As interpreted by Tom and his father, these concepts paralleled concepts in the natural languages of society.
Yet it seemed there were many barriers to understanding, many unexpected difficulties. So much of human communication depended upon a prior familiarity with ordinary human institutions, human needs, and human emotions. The space friends had none of these, so far as was known. Their mode of society was as unknown as the form of their bodies, their scientific technology as strange and inexplicable as magic. Even their motives in making contact with our planet were far from clear.
And now, somehow, Tom Swift had to construct a message of the gravest importance, understandable to those meant to receive it, but completely opaque to mankind’s earthly enemies!
He muttered, half to himself and half to Bud, as he worked out the various figures on the flatscreen, consulting frequently with the “space dictionary,” a computerized record of symbols previously used which had been compiled by Tom and his father, Damon Swift. “Let’s see, I can use the same cluster of symbols they used to signify ‘danger’ when they transmitted that warning to us in the Star Spear. And I can pair their symbol for negation, or reversal, with the shapes we’ve interpreted to mean ‘friend’ or ‘friendly,’ as when they say ‘we are friends’.”
“I see,” Bud remarked, not intending to provoke an answer. “That’s their call-sign—like a signature.”
“They’ve talked about the environment for life often enough,” murmured Tom, “and here, I think I can abstract part of this cluster to represent bodily health… something like ‘completion’ or ‘satisfaction of the equation’…” Perspiration broke out on the young inventor’s forehead as he focused his concentration to the utmost. Finally he gave a sharp nod and flashed Bud a grin of triumph.
“Done!” he exclaimed. “That wasn’t too bad. How long did it take, flyboy? About an hour?”
Bud chuckled. “About three! So what did you come up with?”
Tom showed his pal the translated message on the screen, reminding him that it was only an approximation of the intended meaning.
TOM SWIFT TO SPACE FRIENDS. DATA RECEIVED CONCERNING ARRIVAL OF LIFE FORMS UNABLE TO MAINTAIN LIFE FUNCTIONS. CAUSAL FACTOR MAY BE DANGER TO ALL LIFE HERE. NEW METHODS NECESSARY TO SOLVE PROBLEM. RESTRICT COMMUNICATION TO THIS SOURCE! AWAIT YOUR REPLY.
“Wow! Not bad!” exclaimed Bud admiringly. “I almost understand it myself! You’re telling them the diseased animals are a danger to us, and they need a better plan.”
“Exactly! And I’m hoping my wording will suggest to any ‘eavesdroppers’ that we’ve already exchanged messages with the space friends on the subject, as if this were a follow-up.” He pointed with his finger to the exclamation mark ending the next-to-last sentence. “I used their ‘exponentiation’ symbol to give emphasis and urgency, as they have done in the past.”
“I remember,” Bud said excitedly. “So let’s send it off and see what happens!”
With the assistance of Nels Gachter Tom fed the array of symbols into the messaging computer, which beamed it off into space via the big antenna. In moments they received confirmation that the signal had been relayed by the outpost in space.
Then came the most difficult phase of all—waiting. As the long afternoon became longer, Tom and Bud grabbed sandwiches for a late lunch, but remained close to the communications center. At four eighteen the alert bell rang on the translating computer, and the boys rushed up to the screen in great excitement. A cluster of the strange hieroglyphs appeared on the imaging oscilloscope’s readout monitor. Beneath the symbols appeared the computer’s tentative translation, derived from the space dictionary.
“Good night!” Bud grumbled. “All that time for a dinky message like that?”
Tom gave his pal a friendly poke. “Patience, space cadet! Most of that time was just transit time to their base and back again. With something this complex, it may take hours or even days for them to put together―” Tom was interrupted in midsentence as the alert bell rang again!
Gachter’s eyes widened. “Another message already!”
TO TOM SWIFT. WE ARE FRIENDS. A CONDITION OF DANGER
There the translation stopped and a buzzer sounded. Tom sighed. “No surprise—new symbols that the computer can’t even guess at! I’ll put them on the flatscreen and see what I can come up with.”
Tom’s experience in interpreting the space beings’ mode of thought seemed to lend skill and speed to his efforts. By supper time he had put together what seemed a reasonable continuation of the interrupted message from space, which he showed to Bud and to his father, who had arrived in the meantime and had been briefed on the developing crisis.
A CONDITION OF DANGER HAS DEVELOPED ON OUR PLANET OF ORIGIN. THE LIFE FUNCTIONS OF FORMS OF ALL KINDS HAVE BEEN IMPAIRED BY COMPONENT UNITS ALTERING MASSED LIFE STRUCTURES FROM WITHIN. ALTERNATE SOURCE ON YOUR PLANET REPLIED TO FIRST MESSAGE. IN CONSEQUENCE A SPECIMEN CONTAINER WAS SENT BY OUR ####. WE ARE NOT ABLE TO ACT TO PREVENT THE COMPLETION OF ITS SEQUENCE. CONTAINER COURSE WILL TERMINATE AT #### SEVENTEEN ROTATIONS. SOLVE FOR POSITIVE RESULTANT IF YOU ARE ABLE. NO COMMUNICATION PENDING RESOLUTION.
“Great day!” muttered Tom’s father in grim astonishment. “A terrible predicament.”
“What about those two squiggles in the middle of the translation?” Bud asked. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Untranslatable symbol clusters,” explained Tom. “At least Dad and I can’t make them out on our first attempts.”
“But we do have a few likely ideas, son,” Damon Swift reminded him. “The first term suggests something dominating or controlling, perhaps a word like authorities or even masters.”
“In other words, the guys in charge back home,” Bud said.
“Right,” confirmed Tom. “And it seems the local group of scientists—the ones based at the Martian station—won’t, or can’t, block what the others have already set in motion. As to the second unknown term― ”
Tom exchanged glances with his father.
“What is it? Where’s the thing going to come down?” Bud demanded nervously.
“The most likely translation,” began Mr. Swift, “is along the lines of ‘the mass in orbital period of thirty rotations’.”
“Thirty rotations,” Bud repeated. “Doesn’t rotation mean a rotation of the earth—a day?”
Tom nodded. “That’s right. And the mass in orbital period of thirty days has to be the moon—Earth’s moon!”
Bud gaped in amazement. “Then—they’re landing that animal capsule on the moon!”
“Precisely, seventeen days from now. Which shows considerable wisdom and foresight,” noted Mr. Swift. “The sterile, airless lunar environment is a perfect place to land a vessel of animals bearing an unknown infectious agent.”
“But—but—!” For a moment Bud’s excited thoughts outraced his voice. “So we take a trip to the moon. No big deal! But how do we find the capsule? They didn’t give a location!”
“Which is also pretty clever of them,” Tom mused. “They understand now—the local scientists, at least—that the gang that responded to their first message may not be helpful contactees after all. So they’re not broadcasting the precise location of the landing, assuming that we will be able to get up there first and can use our own technology to find the craft.”
“I get it now,” said Bud. “It’s the seacopter hunt all over again—but on the moon this time!”
Not long after the construction of the Swift space outpost, the space friends had transported a sealed capsule of plantlife specimens to Earth for Tom and his associates to study. As in the present situation, a rival communicator had interfered, and the space vessel had been brought down in the Atlantic ocean. It had been up to Tom to search out the location of the lost rocket in his diving seacopter.
The animated discussion continued as the two Swifts and Bud had supper in Tom’s nearby electronics lab, a meal provided by Chow Winkler—who listened in as a welcome participant.
“So them space folks have got sick animals on their hands?” Chow said with a frown across his broad, billowy face. “When we had sick cattle back in Texas, we’d pull ’em out—quarantine ’em.”
“This situation sounds a lot more serious, Chow, if we’re interpreting the message correctly,” Tom responded. “It seems this ‘disease,’ if that’s even the right word for it, is a sort of phenomenon we’ve never seen here on Earth—something very general that can pass from organism to organism without regard for species.”
“There seems to be a suggestion that the phenomenon acts on living cells internally,” commented Damon Swift thoughtfully; “perhaps on the nucleotide chains of the cell nucleus itself. Even alien life would probably be based upon some such structuring element.”
Bud gulped down a swallow of soda during the grim silence that followed, breaking it with: “Then what you’re saying is—the disease could affect life on Earth—animals and humans, too!”
“Brand my cosmic cough drops!” gasped Chow. “It could be the gol-sarned end o’ the world!”
“Especially if this renegade Brungarian faction gets their hands on it,” Tom declared. “Even if they intend to use it only as a threat, who knows if they’ll be able to contain and control it?”
“Who knows if we will!” Bud pointed out.
As Chow began to clear the plates, Mr. Swift noted that a number of issues remained completely unresolved. “To name just one thing, where exactly is the container-vessel coming from? The message implies that it’s coming from the space friends’ home planet, but that’s surely in another star system light years distant. How could it be directed across interstellar space in the brief span of time since communication has been established with the Brungarians?”
Tom snorted. “Dad, you might as well ask how the Mars station communicates with ‘home’ so quickly! All we know is the same thing we’ve known all along—these beings have some sort of technology that allows them to manipulate space and time, matter and energy.”
“Well,” Bud said, “us earthlings can do a little manipulating of our own—especially earthlings named Swift! But do you really think you can get your Gyro-Jumper up and running for a moon trip before those secret scientists beat you to the capsule?”
Chow, tray in hand, shifted a puzzled gaze between Bud and Tom. “Gyro-Jumper! What in tarnation’s that?”
Despite the grave situation Tom and his father couldn’t resist some soft laughter. “You know Bud, Chow,” Mr. Swift said. “He has a weakness for puns and nicknames.”
Tom crossed the room and picked up a lightweight plastic model, holding it for Chow to see. “It’s the new spaceship, pard. I know you’ve seen photos of it in the papers.”
The model consisted of a cube-shaped central cabin that gleamed like whitish chrome, suspended in the middle of a set of circling ringlike rail-beams. There were two vertical rings at right-angles to one another, which connected at the top and bottom, and another horizontal ring of equal size which girdled the “equator” of the strange craft. The overall configuration resembled a sort of gyroscope—hence Bud’s nickname for it.
“Oh, you mean that there repelly-tron rocket you’re buildin’ out on Fearing Island,” Chow nodded. “But ya still don’t have a real name fer it, do you.”
“Not so far,” Tom agreed. “But we’ve sure been getting a load of suggestions.”
To promote interest in space exploration, George Dilling had come up with the notion of inviting the public to send in ideas for the name of the new Swift space vehicle, under construction at the Enterprises rocket and sub-craft base on tiny Fearing Island off the coast of Georgia. There was nothing secret about the huge, oddly-shaped vehicle; photos of it had appeared in world publications for weeks, and letters and emails from the public had flooded Swift Enterprises.
“She’s officially named the XRTV-1, you know—the Experimental Repelatron Thrust Vehicle,” noted Bud. “That’s too much of a mouthful for me.”
“Fer me too, buddy boy,” Chow agreed.
Damon Swift picked up the thread of the conversation. “To go back to your question, Bud, the spaceship is already virtually finished. The last remaining problems have to do with― ”
“These!” Tom concluded, pointing at one of a number of parabolic dish-antennas that were fastened to the circular rails. “We won’t be going anywhere soon unless I can figure out how to get the repelatrons to change their settings rapidly. Otherwise we’ll have the same sort of problem we ran into this morning in the Special—the mix of compounds and substances on the ground beneath the ship varies from place to place in such a complex way that the repelatron can’t re-tune itself with sufficient precision.”
“And then down she goes!” Chow declared. “And down’s a might long way!”
Mr. Swift drew the tense discussion to a close by observing that it would be prudent to add some specialists in life-science fields to the roster of personnel already selected for the planned moon voyage. “Tom, your mother has often mentioned one of her old professors—Glennon’s his name—who’s the world expert in the application of quantum physics methodologies to molecular biochemistry. And given the gravity of the threat, I’m sure our government would have no objection to lending us Dr. Faber.” Tom agreed enthusiastically. Anton Faber, who had accompanied the Swift expedition to Antarctica during the atomic earth blaster mission, was a renowned zoologist who had become a good friend.
“It’ll be great to see him again,” said Tom. To which Bud added:
“Let’s just hope scoping out outer-space animals isn’t a little too far out of his league!”
By the next day plans to speed the preparations for the completion of the repelatron spaceship and the journey to the moon were proceeding apace. When Bud returned from an early-morning test flight of a new plane under study at Swift Construction, he was told by Munford Trent, the Swifts’ shared secretary, that Tom was already at work in the shielded high-energy test complex. Bud, an athletic youth, felt a need to stretch his muscles, so he avoided the cross-facility ridewalk and walked over to the building the old-fashioned way: by muscle power.
It was a warm but overcast morning. “Hardly seems like the sun came up,” he murmured to himself as he approached the big, square building.
Suddenly Bud stopped short—then broke into a run. A flash of brilliant blue-white light had burst through the row of small windows just beneath the line of the roof. At the same moment came a cry of fear from within—the voice of Tom Swift!
BUD BARCLAY exploded through the unlocked double-doors of the test complex like the footballer he had been, not slackening his speed. His best friend was in danger! “Tom! Tom! Answer me!”
It took only an instant to discover which room Tom occupied. Blazing light poured through the open door. Bud skidded to a stop, a hand shielding his eyes. The blue-white glare seemed as formidable as a solid object.
He called out Tom’s name again, and this time was rewarded. “I’m here, Bud—next to the wall!”
Bud spied a pair of heavily tinted work goggles hanging from the wall and hastily slipped them on. Now he could see. But what he saw was hard to understand!
Tom, clad in a bulky protective suit with a helmet, was pressed against the far wall next to a complicated assemblage of equipment that Bud could barely make out. Between Bud and Tom the way was blocked by a weird floating object, a rounded mass of pure blinding light, crackling like a faulty electrical transformer and filling the air with the pungent smell of ozone.
The object did not hang stably in the air, but bobbed and weaved in violent, jagged motion, like a toy balloon caught in a windstorm. Its shape seemed to be constantly changing, elongating, flattening out, twisting into a crescent shape with no rhyme or reason. Brilliant flashes pulsed from it each time it changed direction, bolts of electrical fire lashing any grounded piece of metal in the area.
“Stay back!” Tom shouted desperately. “It’s unstable—it’ll fry you!”
But Bud was not inclined to stay back, or even hesitate. He could see that the vicious-looking electrical effects were writhing agonizingly close to Tom. They seemed to be closing in on him! Bud’s eyes searched his surroundings, frantic to discover something that could help him rescue his friend. Finally he made out a broad coil of thick, uninsulated wire lying on a nearby workbench. It was the matter of a moment to clip the free end of the wire to a metal bar protruding up from the cement floor which he knew, from previous experiments, was well-grounded.
Bud’s powerful arms sent the coil spinning through the air directly toward the ball of lightning, the coil smoothly unreeling as it arced across the big lab space. As the wire came within two feet of the phenomenon, there came a deafening bang and a blast of hot wind that almost knocked Bud off his feet.
Dazed and dazzled, he steadied himself. The sphere of light had vanished completely, dissolved into nothingness!
Bud ran up to his friend, but the young inventor lurched back. “No!” he warned in tones muffled by his helmet, which seemed to have turned almost opaque. “The suit’s hot and may have picked up a residual static charge. Give me a second—I’m all right.”
Tom staggered a few yards and grasped one of the grounding-bars firmly. After a half-minute or so, he let go and began to shakily strip off the protective suit. “Good night!” he panted.
“Didn’t look like any night I’ve ever seen!” Bud retorted. “What in space was it—some kind of weapon?”
Tom shook his head. “No, chum. Call it a sign of success.”
“That’s right.” Tom gestured vaguely toward the equipment heaped next to the lab wall. “My new radiation converter—power for the spaceship.”
“Just about powered you to a cinder!”
“It created a self-sustaining high-voltage plasma, bottled-up in its own magnetic field, which is what prevented it from dissipating. Basically, ball lightning!”
“I’ve heard of that,” Bud said. “And that’s what you were aiming for in your experiment?”
A weak grin spread across Tom’s face. “Not exactly. But the power produced by my machine was an order of magnitude higher than I’d expected. That great pass of yours really saved my bacon, flyboy—or maybe I should say, kept my bacon from frying!”
Bud shook his head. “What’re we gonna do with you, genius boy? But anyway, does this mean your converter is ready for the flight?”
“It’ll need some adjustment,” replied Tom ruefully. “But it sure looks like it’ll produce enough power to run the Gyro-Jumper’s big repelatrons.”
“Uh-huh. You couldn’t just stick with those solar batteries that almost vaporized us both a few adventures ago?”
“It’d take a thousand of ’em,” the young scientist-inventor explained. “The converters—there’ll be a pair of them—will be mounted outside the hull of the ship. What they do is capture and focus high-energy cosmic particles in a way that separates the charges by polarity, creating a voltage gradient that― ”
“I’ll take your word for it, Skipper!” Bud interrupted.
Later that day Tom and Bud drove to Shopton’s small, but rapidly growing, commercial airport to pick up Drs. Faber and Glennon. It had been arranged for the two scientists to fly in together so that they might become acquainted.
Dr. Faber was first off the plane. The tall, keen-eyed scientist beamed at Tom and Bud through his thick-lensed spectacles. “How delightful to see the two of you again,” he exclaimed, shaking the boys’ hands with gentle warmth. “Such a great deal has happened in, and to, our little world since the polar trip! And I do thank you for seating me next to Evan here, who turns out to be quite as voluble a talker as I myself.” Then he added humorously: “Though I fear one cannot always make out what he is trying to say—eh, Evan?”
“Nonsense!” chuckled the other man good naturedly. “Sut hwyl, Tom Swift! And you too, friend of Tom! What cheer?” The professor greeted them heartily, seizing their hands in turn in a meaty grip. He was a short, thick-set, jovial Welshman with a shock of gray hair still streaked with traces of red, thatched above a pair of twinkling blue eyes.
Tom, who had looked up a few words in Welsh, grinned back at him. “Do iawn, diotch! Very good, thanks. This is my friend, Bud Barclay.”
Bud wincingly regained ownership of his hand. “Glad to know you, Professor.”
“Look you, lad! The name’s Evan and don’t you forget it!” On his tongue Evan was ay-van and don’t was dawn’t.
Soon after they reached the plant, they proceeded by electric nanocar to the conference room in the administration building where Mr. Swift and Harlan Ames, chief of Enterprises security, were waiting. Bud politely excused himself.
The two had only been provided a sketchy, minimal report on the nature of the problem at hand; though naturally a thorough report had been given the United States government. They understood that they were being asked to accompany the Swift expedition to the moon, and that the main goal, unannounced to the general public, involved attempting to advise the extraterrestrials as to the deadly plague. As the discussion began, Dr. Faber said, “I’m willing to be very suave and blasé about going to the moon with Tom Swift. But if we’re to help, we’ll need to know more about the symptoms of the disease.”
Evan Glennon nodded between puffs on his huge briar pipe. “Quite right. And for me, the most precise molecular and chemical data. We can hardly make a diagnosis until we have the facts.”
“Unfortunately, it appears the aliens have cut off all communications for the duration,” responded Ames. “From a security standpoint that’s a good thing, but it certainly puts you gentlemen in the most difficult position imaginable.”
“Quite so,” frowned Dr. Faber. “To be frank, I fear success may be well out of reach.”
The group exchanged frustrated, baffled looks. Then Evan Glennon said, “Ah, no sense giving up the game in the first round, Anton. We’ll make our examinations on the spot and put our wits to the test, eh?”
“I don’t wish to be discouraging, but I’m afraid it’s hopeless without something more to go on.” Dr. Faber said. “We might tell them about our new synthetic drugs and antibiotics. However, the chance is slim that these would conquer a totally unknown disease affecting a completely unearthly biology.”
Mr. Swift drummed his fingers on the conference table. “Even if we convinced them of the necessity of providing detailed information in advance, trying to translate those unknown symbols might take weeks,” he said, frowning. “If we could accomplish it at all.”
“Do we at least know what caused the outbreak, Damon?” put in Glennon.
Mr. Swift shook his head. “No. That’s what puzzles me. Our space friends are highly advanced in science, so one would expect them to have all disease-causing germs or viruses under control—unless it’s something new on their planet.”
“Exactly what I was thinking,” Tom said. “The infection may have been picked up from another planet—perhaps from earth itself.”
Evan Glennon puffed thoughtfully on his pipe. Dr. Faber muttered, “I take it we know absolutely nothing of the basic biological structure of these life-forms. One would like to have at least some tissue samples or germ cultures.”
Tom brightened. “That may be the solution!” He looked at his father. “What do you think, Dad? Do you know what I’m referring to?”
Mr. Swift nodded thoughtfully. “It’s worth a try,” he agreed.
At this point Harlan Ames objected. “Tom, Damon, it’s your decision—but I have to point out that there are legal and security issues involved—if you’re referring to what I assume you’re referring to.”
Glennon uttered a few terms in Welsh that were best left untranslated. “The life and death of a planet or two hang in the balance, and you’re concerned with such things? Preposterous!”
“I do understand the issues involved, Professor,” Ames responded coolly.
“Harlan is doing his job,” said Mr. Swift. “And now I’ll do mine. Tom, go ahead and explain what we’re talking about.”
The younger Swift took a deep breath. “By telling you this I’m breaching security regulations issued by Washington.”
“We’ll be good,” stated Faber with an ironic smile.
“The Welsh have no program for world conquest,” added Dr. Glennon. “At least, none that I am aware of.”
“All right then,” Tom continued. “The world knows about the meteor-missile that landed at Enterprises, and our subsequent radio contacts. But the world doesn’t yet know that we have already received samples of extraterrestrial life.”
Wide-eyed, Glennon exclaimed. “But that’s marvelous! Marvelous!”
“Not quite as marvelous as you think, Doctor,” Tom observed wryly. “These were samples of vegetation sent to Earth in a sealed transport capsule which we recovered from the ocean. Apparently, the capsule was engineered so that it could not be opened unless the external environment was safe for the plants inside. But before we could even begin to create such an environment, the plants all died from some unknown cause. Nothing we’ve come up with has been able to penetrate the shell, and the space friends don’t answer our inquiries on the subject.”
“If you can’t open it up, how do you know the plants have died?” objected Dr. Faber.
“The shell is completely transparent,” explained the scientist-inventor. “We saw them wilt. Subsequently they’ve become desiccated and very fragile.”
Harlan Ames picked up the thread of the account. “After hashing out questions of jurisdiction, the Federal government directed Enterprises to place the capsule in their control. It is now maintained in a low-temperature, high-security holding facility—essentially a large underground vault—in Ohio, near Dayton. Access is carefully limited, though Tom and his father are among the privileged ones.”
“Hmmph! Typical!” muttered Glennon from behind his pipe. “Well, it won’t do us any good, not if we can’t get at the goods.”
“The point is, there may be a way after all!” Tom declared.
ANTON FABER responded to Tom’s announcement with a warm chuckle. “You see, Evan, it’s just as I told you on the plane. No problem is beyond the ingenuity of these Swifts!”
“It’s something Dad and I have been working on for a while,” Tom said. “It works in a lab setting, but we don’t yet know if it’ll work on the life-capsule.”
“What is it then, lad?” inquired Evan Glennon.
“We call it a leptoscope, after the smallest quantity known to the ancient Greeks,” was the answer. “Think of it as a combination super-microscope and telescope. It also uses certain aspects of the technology we developed for the Swift Spectroscope.” Tom explained that the leptoscope picked up the penetrating spectronic radiation generated by the atomic nucleus and computer-analyzed the holographic information contained in the wave-fronts. “We use the data to construct an image on a monitor screen. You can see representations almost all the way down to the level of individual atoms!”
“In this case, its special virtue is its ability to work up to a distance of several yards from the subject, without contact,” Damon Swift added. “If the spectronic rays penetrate the transparent shell as easily as photons do, the leptoscope will allow you gentlemen to examine the plantlife remains in great detail.”
The meeting broke up with the Swifts promising to acquire clearance for the scientists to conduct the examination in the underground chamber. “It will probably take a few days,” Harlan Ames noted. “I’ll try to get our government contacts to rush the process.”
As it was lunchtime, Tom arranged with Chow to set a table in the executive dining room. When they arrived the rounded ex-Texan, who had met Anton Faber during the South Pole project, greeted the scientist with friendly enthusiasm. “Brand my skillets, with s’many different folks comin’ and goin’ at this here invention factory, it shor is good to run into a familiar face now’n then!”
“And the best part is,” responded Faber, “that now we can have the great pleasure of regaling Evan Glennon here with our tales of the frozen south.” He added with a twinkle: “And in this sort of discourse, strict scientific accuracy is not required.”
Shaking hands with Glennon, Chow said, “I reckon he means I won’t get inta trouble fer a Texas whopper or two.”
“No trouble from me,” chuckled the scientist. “I’m a Welshman, you see. What’s a life for, but song and story?”
Chow beamed. “I’d say you Welcher-types have a little Texas blood in you!”
Tom called in Bud and they all ate a delicious meal together. For a time the talk and laughter provided a welcome vacation from the dark, deadly situation. Then Tom took the two guests on a tour of Enterprises, by nanocar. Finally they were shown to their well-appointed living quarters, a duplex bungalow for company guests somewhat shielded from the constant rumble of the Enterprises airfield.
Tom rejoined Bud and they headed for the gleaming, glass-fronted laboratory complex. “I did what you suggested,” said Bud. “Just got off the phone. Sandy and Bash love to put together parties, you know, even at late notice.”
“Didn’t think they’d mind,” Tom grinned. “It’s a nice way to express appreciation to our guests. Good thing Bash is between quarters at the Institute.” Bashalli Prandit, a close friend of Bud and the Swift family, was a part-time student at the nearby DuBrey Art Institute.
“What’s next, genius boy?” Bud asked as they reached Tom’s lab.
“Back to work on my new spaceship repelatron.”
“Brief me again on it, will you?” the broad-shouldered young flier urged. “The problem, I mean.”
Tom grinned. “Sure—maybe you’ll come up with the answer! Well, if you’ve ever looked at a newspaper photo closely, you’ve seen how what appears, from a little distance away, to be an image is really made up of rows of printed dots, dark or light, big or small.”
“Right,” Bud said. “Same thing with TV pictures.”
“So when you’re close up you see the individual dots, and when you move back they blur together. Now the repelatron has to deal with something similar if it’s going to function over long distances—as compared to the hydrodome’s water-repeller, which is never more than a couple hundred feet from what it’s tuned to.”
Tom gestured with his hands to illustrate the movement of the new spaceship. “When the ship is parked on the ground, it’s not hard to focus each of the repelatrons on one particular mixture or combination of elements and substances; we use an adaptation of our long-range spectrometers to take a reading, and the computer makes the tuning adjustment. But as the ship rises up, the ‘angle of vision’ gets broader, so to speak, and― ”
“And the dots—the particular stuff you’re focusing on—start blurring together,” Bud interjected, always proud to be a quick study.
“Yup! The wavefronts start overlapping and interfering with one another. That’s what happened to us up in the Pigeon Special: the technique I was using just wasn’t powerful enough to bring the repelatron into focus when we left the lake and flew out over solid ground. The lag effect in the Lunite antenna rod also plays into the problem.”
Bud scratched his head. “Wish I had an idea, Tom, but all I can say is—get that machine some glasses!”
Tom resumed his experiments with the small prototype of the space repelatron that Arvid Hanson, Enterprises’ chief modelmaker, had created for him. This was the same model that the youths had taken aloft the other day—a compact rectangular chassis sporting a parabolic dish antenna, the repulsion-force radiator with the spectrometer sensor built in. Bud watched eagerly as his pal tried different new approaches, speaking his thoughts aloud in a continuous narration. Most of it was beyond Bud, but he found himself grasping a bit of it now and then, and he liked playing backstop.
Hours later, Tom was still busy at his workbench with a jumble of electronic parts and test gear when a knock sounded on the door.
“Come in!” Tom called without looking up. He heard the door open and close.
“Well, aren’t you two even going to say hello?” a girlish voice complained.
Tom whirled in surprise. “Sandy and Bash!” he exclaimed.
The two girls giggled at his startled expression.
“At least you remember our names after all this time!” Sandra Swift said accusingly. Blond and blue-eyed, Sandy was a year younger than her famous brother.
“Don’t jump to conclusions, Sandra,” warned pretty, dark-haired Bashalli. “He knows us collectively, but you must ask him which one is which!”
“Hey, we’re not so bad,” said Bud in mock protest. “At least we remembered about the… the… say, Tom, wasn’t somethin’ going on tonight—somewhere?”
“Something tonight? Involving the girls?” Tom said uncertainly. He pretended to search his memory.
“We should have known, Bashi!” Sandy groaned. “How in the world are these two lame-brains ever going to find their way to the moon?”
Tom slapped his forehead and grinned apologetically. “Oh, the party! I’m sorry. It slipped my mind completely!”
“And in case you didn’t know,” Bud said, “the moon isn’t ‘in the world’ anyway.”
They all laughed together.
“You know, Thomas, I have heard that ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’,” Bashalli commented. “I will admit that you are not such a dull boy—yet.” She smiled. “But I give you fair warning, I just might change my mind by the end of this evening.”
“Okay, I’m warned.” Tom grinned back at the young Pakistani. “But don’t expect me to put aside my poor repelatron before I’ve fixed it up.”
“Ohhh, more work!” Sandy pouted. “I know it’s important, Tom, life and death and so on, but can’t you and Bud ever think of anything but work?”
“Unlike you two, I think we girls will not be young and pretty forever,” teased Bashalli. “We must sow our wild oats and make hay while the sun is shining, even at night.”
Tom gave her an apologetic hug. “Okay, Bash. We’ll try to make up for it this evening.”
“I’m already working up a line of witty banter and boyish quips,” Bud announced with a wink.
Just then a loud, shrill drone startled the foursome. A siren!
“What is it?” asked Bashalli, wincing.
Tom’s face had suddenly become very serious. “That’s the general alert siren. It means someone’s broken into the plant in a big way! I’d better call… H-Harlan…” He passed an unsteady hand across his eyes.
“Goodness,” murmured Sandy, “I feel so…”
Her voice trailed off and Bud cried out as she began to slump down to the floor! Bud managed to catch her in his arms—but he too was sinking down, with Bashalli next to him.
“Enterprises is being attacked!” Tom gasped. And he himself was starting to collapse!
BY AN ACT of sheer will Tom forced his hands to grip the edge of a lab table and his strong, slender arms to prop him up. Assuming that some invisible, odorless gas had been released into the air, he held his breath as his eyes probed the lab for something that could help him.
Tom’s blue eyes lit upon the repelatron. In a series of lurching motions he half-dragged, half-fell toward the machine. Fumbling fingers switched on the power, and the twist of a flat palm against a control knob adjusted the intake spectrosensor so that it would detect the unusual substance in the air and tune the repelatron accordingly.
It’ll take a moment, he thought, lungs ready to burst. The lag effect!
Finally the young inventor could stand it no longer. He sucked air into his lungs convulsively. But the air was good! Almost instantly he felt stronger, more alert, energized. The repelatron beam was forcing the knockout gas aside.
The warning sirens were still wailing.
Tom swiveled the antenna so it took in the area of the lab where Sandy, Bashalli, and Bud lay unconscious. After a moment he hastened over and checked their pulses.
“Pulses strong,” he murmured. “They’re doing okay—for now.” Tom then tried to telephone Ames’s office, then the main switchboard. The phones rang without an answer.
Tom made his way to the lab’s wall of tinted windows and stood gazing out on a scene of eerie silence and desolation. Aircraft sat on the runways unmoving and inert; one prop-plane, caught in the act of landing, was leaning over on one wing, its prop still spinning. Everywhere Tom could see motionless figures sprawled on the ground, tools and equipment scattered about them.
A movement caught Tom’s eye. On the far side of the airfield several figures in Swift Enterprises work garments came staggering out of the portal that led to the rampway connecting the surface with the huge underground hangar where Tom’s great Flying Lab was berthed. Of course! thought Tom excitedly. The hangar has its own air supply and recirculation system—those guys wouldn’t have been affected!
But Tom’s hopes were dashed. The employees managed only a few wavering steps into the open—then they too sunk down and collapsed into unconsciousness.
Tom wondered frantically what he could do. How far was the effect felt? Was Shopton also affected?
Just as he resolved to telephone the municipal police, he discerned another movement outside—and this one didn’t falter! A strangely clad, almost unearthly figure was striding rapidly and confidently across the airfield. His garment, covering his entire body and hiding his face, resembled a pressurized space suit. The figure’s goal was soon made clear: the very lab Tom was standing in!
Tom looked about for a weapon and finally grabbed a metal support strut used in experimental setups. Hearing the sound of footsteps in the main hallway, Tom lay down on the floor, the strut hidden beneath him.
The lab door whisked open. Through slitted eyes Tom saw a pair of black boots of some shiny material step cautiously across the floor, pausing now and then. A fluttering sound told the young inventor that the invader was leafing through the pages of notes on his workbench.
The figure approached Tom, a slight hesitation showing that he wanted to be certain that Tom was as unconscious as he appeared. Tom could sense the intruder bending close, then straightening again, satisfied. As the black boots stepped over the young inventor’s body, Tom struck like a cobra, reaching up and grabbing the trailing ankle. With a sudden jerk, he sent the raider sprawling!
The raider fought back viciously, trying to use his thickly-gauntleted forearm as a club. But Tom managed to roll out of the way and launch himself into action, butting his opponent squarely in the stomach! The figure went down again, landing heavily on his back.
Before he could get to his feet, Tom was on top of him, hammering away with rights and lefts that made the intruder’s opaque helmet whip left and right, producing the satisfying sound of a fleshly head bouncing off a hard inner surface. The raider, despite the fact that he was at a disadvantage in his cumbersome space suit, squirmed and fought like a cornered wildcat. But Tom had a weapon as well as his fists. In a few seconds, Tom overpowered him. Then he bound his limply quivering, semi-conscious prisoner hand and foot with insulated duct-tape.
“Whew!” Panting from the struggle, Tom paused to catch his breath. Everything had happened so fast there had been no time to take stock of the situation. He stared at the invader in the strange suit and helmet, and a staggering possibility leapt to mind.
Was his prisoner a space being of some kind?
“I’ll soon find out,” Tom muttered. He ripped off the clothlike, flexible covering that shrouded the raider’s helmet and found a sullen-looking man staring back at him through the plastic faceplate. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’d say you’re just an earth dweller after all. Okay. Start talking!” Not a sound left the prisoner’s lips, which were bruised and swollen from combat. He merely shrugged, jerked his head as if he did not understand English, and glared at Tom like a captured beast.
Suddenly Tom heard the distant whine of a jet gathering power for take-off. The noise roused the young inventor from his puzzled reflections. Dashing to the window, he was just in time to see a Swift jetcraft taxi to the end of a runway and power-down again. Enterprises employees were beginning to stir and struggle to their feet, and suddenly the warning sirens faded away.
“Good night! What’s happened to everybody?” came a husky voice. Bud was awake! And Tom turned, he was relieved to see that Sandy and Bashalli were also moving, their eyelids fluttering.
Sitting up, Sandy stared dully at Tom’s prisoner. “If that’s a Martian invader, Tomonomo, I don’t think much of the species,” she murmured groggily.
“He’s as human as we are,” Tom said. “Except this human doesn’t mind using sleep gas against innocent people.”
“Maybe we should rip off that helmet and give him a dose!” Bud grated. The prisoner did not react.
Making a series of frantic calls, Tom was able to ascertain that the attack had caused no serious injury, though it had affected almost the entire plant—every lab, building, and workshop that did not have its own separate air supply.
To Tom’s surprised pleasure the installation’s talented young medic, Doc Simpson, had already diagnosed the cause of the sleeping plague. “It’s not a gas, but a mist,” he explained over the phone, “tiny droplets suspended in the air. I’m familiar with the formula, Tom; it was used in Europe for a time as a surgical anesthetic, but now its use is largely abandoned—the effect wears off too quickly.” Simpson described how the substance, entering the bloodstream by way of the lung tissues, acted as a powerful depressant of central nervous system functions. “It’s related to the formulation still used by security forces in Russia, as when they took down those hostage-takers in that Moscow theater.”
“Eastern Europe,” Tom repeated. “As in Brungaria! Thanks, Doc. I think you’re going to have a pretty busy afternoon.”
“Don’t I know it!”
After speaking to his father and to Harlan Ames, Tom switched on the plant’s public-address system and boomed out some reassuring words over the mike. Gradually, reports began to filter in to the supervisory offices in the administration building. Everyone had blacked out for about twenty-five minutes.
A security squad armed with Swift electric i-guns came to Tom’s lab on the run and took the silent prisoner into custody. One of the men said to Tom, “It was a fleet of micro-missiles, about a dozen, that set off the alarms when radar showed them entering our airspace. They overflew the joint, but Ames thinks they must’ve been spraying the sleep-stuff all the way along. This guy climbed the north fence—no sign of any other invaders, though. What do you think he was after?”
Tom shrugged. “He came directly here, and this is where I’ve been working on my repelatron. I’m guessing that’s the connection.”
“Then someone working at Enterprises must’ve told him!”
“Not necessarily,” said the young inventor. “I’ve found that the repelatron field sometimes generates an electromagnetic effect. Someone might have doped that out and used some kind of instrument to detect it from a distance.”
Tom drove Bud and the girls to the Enterprises infirmary, where an anxious crowd had already begun to line up. Doc Simpson confirmed that they, like everyone else, had all recovered without ill effects from the sprayed drug.
“Who do you suppose pulled the raid?” Bud asked, when he heard what had happened. “The Brungarian faction?”
Tom shrugged despairingly. “Makes sense. Your guess is as good as mine, but I wouldn’t put it past them. Let’s hope we can learn something from that man I captured.”
Leaving Bud with the girls, Tom hurried to the room used by Enterprises security to temporarily restrain and isolate violators. The prisoner’s pressure suit had now been removed, and he was dressed in loose, comfortable clothes.
Harlan Ames and his assistant, Phil Radnor, had been questioning the man. But he only looked at them, silent and insolent. Tom felt like taking another swing at him as he realized the medical danger to which the Enterprises workforce had been exposed by the attack. But he clenched his fists and managed to swallow his anger. “Find anything on him?” he asked the security men. “Any clues?”
“Not a thing,” replied Radnor. “Our pal’s pockets proved to be empty. Neither his space suit nor his inner clothing bore any clues to his nationality.”
Ames gave a snort. “No label in the suit—not even laundering instructions.”
Forcing himself to speak mildly, Tom tried to engage the man in conversation. But the prisoner merely shook his head to all questions and maintained a stubborn silence.
“Maybe we ought to work him over a bit, and then see if he’ll talk!” growled one of the watching security crew, who had suffered a nasty blow on the temple when he was felled by the sleep-drug.
“Nothing doing,” Tom said firmly. “The Brungarians may mistreat prisoners in their own country, but we won’t use their tactics.”
Ames nodded. “We can’t keep him. Jack here, and Paul Hann, will drive him into Shopton and hand him over to the police as soon as we’ve made the arrangements. He can wait for the Feds in jail.”
Tom nodded. “It’s about all we can do, I guess.”
Ridewalking back to the infirmary, Tom noted that the sun was low and red. Now that he bad time to turn his attention to Sandy and Bash, he realized that their event for the evening was ruined. “I’m sorry,” he told them soberly. “I suppose it’s too late for the party now.”
Sandy nodded. “I’ve already called Mother; she told everyone we’d have to give them a raincheck. Don’t worry, Tom. It wasn’t your fault.”
“Maybe we should apologize for bringing you such bad luck,” Bashalli added sympathetically. “Lately we have been nothing but albatrosses hanging themselves from your neck.”
“Cut it out!” Tom grinned. “Nobody got hurt, nothing was wrecked or stolen, and now we have a prisoner!”
“Yes,” said Bashalli sourly, “how wonderful it is. We must get together soon for another sleepover!”
Bud offered to take the girls to dinner in town. After they had left, Tom contacted Evan Glennon and Anton Faber in the guest bungalow to make certain the scientists, older men, had suffered no ill effects from the attack.
“Ach, we two are fine and spry, m’lad!” Glennon exclaimed heartily. “In truth and fact, we both slept right through it!”
After meeting for a time with his father, Ames, and Radnor, Tom followed his father home for a late supper admidst drooping, bedraggled party streamers and sad, listless balloons.
Tom was clearing the table when the telephone rang. “Tom? This is Captain Rock!” came the familiar voice of the head of Shopton PD, grimly excited.
“What’s wrong, Captain? Has something happened?”
“Absolutely. It’s enough to make me swear off my dissolute lifestyle for a year. Tom, your prisoner has escaped!”
“OH NO,” Tom groaned. “Please tell me you didn’t say that, Captain.”
“Feel bad? Think how I feel!” retorted Captain Rock. “This outfit hasn’t lost a Brungarian spy in years! Seriously, Tom, we’re all just sick about it.”
Trying not to sound upset, not succeeding very well, Tom asked the police captain what had occurred. “Your two men, Jack Dellingmoor and Paul Hann, came barreling in to our parking lot, in one of those Enterprises SUV’s you folks use, just a while ago. We were already starting to wonder where they were.
“They said the prisoner had somehow worked his way out of his restraints in the back seat and had looped a strap around Hann’s neck, as if he were gonna strangle him. Your men gathered that he was demanding to be set loose—not much need for deduction on that point. The guy had them pull on to one of those unpaved side roads that cross through the Freyner Woods—what’s left of it; they’re putting in a Guess-What-Mart, you know—anyway, they let him out in the woods and he hightailed it out of there, as we police-types say. He’s gonna have some trouble if he’s still got cuffs on him.”
“I get the picture, Captain,” Tom said. But his voice was heavy with thought. “Mind doing something for me before we hang up?”
“Can you see our vehicle from your office window?—I know it fronts the parking lot.”
There was a pause, and then Rock said, “Sure can.”
“Can you see the door handle on the backseat door, driver’s side?”
“Well—yes.” Captain Rock sounded puzzled.
“How’s it look?”
“The handle? Matter of fact, it looks sprung, hanging on by one end.”
Tom nodded to himself. “And are our two employees still there, at the station?”
“They’re filling out reports. Why? Want to speak to them?”
“No,” said Tom; “I’d just like you to take a look at their knuckles, closely—especially the one named Jack. Would you mind?”
The voice at the other end gave a verbal shrug. “S’pose not. Playing detective, are you?”
Tom chuckled but did not answer, and Rock set down the phone. After a minute he had returned. “They acted a little funny about it, Tom,” he reported. “Jack Dellingmoor’s knuckles are a little scraped up. I didn’t ask, but he volunteered that he scraped ’em on a tree trunk when he tried to chase after the prisoner. That’s the first time he’s mentioned that.”
“What do you think, Captain?” Tom asked. “Did it look to you like a tree trunk ‘dunnit’?”
“Not really,” the man responded. “I would’ve expected parallel scratches—striations. This looks more like the guy got into a fistfight.”
“And I think that’s exactly what happened,” said the young inventor with smoldering anger. “Dellingmoor was plenty angry and wanted to take it out on the prisoner. My guess is that he decided to pull the car off the road on his own, so it’d be out of sight. Then he forced the prisoner out of the car—to give him room to swing his arm—re-shackled the guy to the side handle by his handcuffs, then went off on him with his fists. But the prisoner was able to pull the handle half-off and work the cuffs free. That’s when he started running.”
“Good gravy,” muttered Captain Rock, half in awe of Tom’s logic, half in disgust at the actions of the men. “You’ve given us reason to charge them both. But what about the escapee?”
“Nothing much to do,” was Tom’s rueful reply. “The FBI will probably take over the search. It seems pretty likely that the prisoner was in the employ of a foreign power. National security is involved.”
“Usually is, where Swift Enterprises is concerned,” noted Rock. “I’ll keep you, and Ames, posted.”
After hanging up, Tom told his father of the new developments—and headed for bed. I didn’t get to sleep in the middle of the day like everyone else did, he thought wryly.
Tom spent the following day hard at work in the Barn, as it was called, the big assembly building on the Swift Enterprises grounds. With the assistance of Hank Sterling, Enterprises’ young chief engineer, Tom was preparing a special small test vehicle for the latest version of his super-repelatron. Later that afternoon, after Sterling and the other workers had left, Chow Winkler came into the building, bringing a cup of hot chocolate. “Somethin’ to perk you up, pardner,” he announced.
“Thanks.” Tom grinned. He took a few sips. “Really hits the spot, Chow!” He gave the cook a quizzical smile. “What brought this about?” he needled.
“Oh, jest got t’ thinkin’—about the moon and them sick space critters and suchlike. You know, up there a person wouldn’t be moonstruck—he’d be earthstruck! Makes ya stop an’ think.” The old cowpoke did not change expression. He waited until he felt his young boss was in the proper mood, then he announced the purpose of his visit. “Real reason I came around, Tom, is to ask you a favor.”
“Probably granted,” said Tom. “But let’s hear it.”
“Wa-aal, boss, all this time you’ve been talkin’ about that Gyro-Jumper o’ yours goin’ up to the moon, and you never once mentioned my name. You figger you’ve got enough cooks an’ friends, or what?”
Tom looked at the stout, balding cook. The westerner was no longer a young man—yet he was years younger than Dr. Faber and Dr. Glennon. In spite of his paunch and bow-legs, Chow had proven tough and useful on previous expeditions—not only in outer space, but also in the frozen Antarctic, tropic jungles, and the depths of the ocean. The young inventor liked having Chow along. Yet he was concerned about the stress and strain of this voyage, and the two-world crisis looming in the background.
“Pard, there’s nobody I’d rather have at my side than you and Bud. But― ”
“Aw, now, you hadta go an’ say that there ‘but,’ dintcha.” Chow’s broad face fell like a curtain. “Guess you don’t expect I kin keep up no more.”
Tom stood and rested a reassuring hand on his friend’s arm. “It’s not that. It’s just that this is a dangerous mission with a lot of unknown factors. I guess I’ve been feeling uncertain—that’s my honest answer.”
The big ex-Texan nodded sadly. “Okay, then. I shor don’t mean to bother you none.”
“I’m not saying no, Chow, I’m just― ”
“Aaa, let’s jest talk about somethin’ else,” interrupted the cook. Chow paused as his eye fell on the new device Tom had spent the day assembling. “Say, what’s this do-jigger yuh’re workin on now? Somethin’ new? Brand my sweet p’taters, you don’t have to allus tell Bud about your inventions afore anybody else, Tom. Mebbe I’d have somethin’ to say now and then.”
The young inventor nodded with an affectionate smile on his face. “Good point. Well, this is a test-vehicle to see if my new repelatron circuitry is up to snuff. If it works, we’ll use things like this on the moon to get around as we search for the animal capsule. I’ve decided to call it a ‘flying carpet’—or maybe a ‘repelatron donkey’.”
Chow squinted at Tom suspiciously. “Brand my buffalo stew, if I didn’t know the things you cook up sometimes, I’d think you was pullin’ my leg. How can you ride on this contraption? Don’t have no wheels that I kin see.”
The “donkey” consisted of a flat, disk-shaped platform about five feet across, standing upon four curving struts, or legs, each one tipped with a small circular pad. The parabolic antenna dish of Tom’s new repelatron was attached to the underside of the platform, pointing straight downward toward the ground. A thin conventional antenna wire extended up from a small metal housing bolted to the platform.
Tom smiled at the skeptical look on Chow’s face. “I wouldn’t kid you, old-timer. That’s really what it is—a sort of flying carpet. As I said, it’s for use on the moon, to transport persons or supplies. You see, in some places the terrain’s pretty rugged up there, with lots of clefts and craters, so ground travel may be difficult. We don’t know exactly where we’ll find the capsule. Flying platforms like this will allow our searchers to spread out.”
“How’s this thing work?”
“The body of the platform contains the repelatron circuitry and a solar-battery power source. Here underneath is a force-radiator to direct the repulsion beam downward so as to hold the disk suspended above the ground. It’s swivel-mounted; by tilting the antenna slightly you can steer the platform in any direction while staying aloft.”
“How about that li’1 ole box on the end of the wire?”
“That’s the remote-control ‘brain-box’ for testing the platform here on Earth,” Tom explained. “I’ll be running it from the ground like one of those remote-control model planes.” He added that a metal column with steering controls on top would be installed in the lunar models, replacing the box.
Chow scratched his bald head. “Sounds pretty neat, boss. Only ain’t that metal kind o’ thin for haulin’ heavy loads?”
“Not on the moon, Chow. Up there, the pull of gravity is six times weaker than on earth. So objects will only weigh one-sixth as much.”
“Hot ziggety!” The cook snapped his fingers. “Why, up there I’ll be a reg'lar gazelle. Even with this bay window I tote around with me, I’ll run like a ole deer. That is― ” he suddenly added, interrupting himself, “if’n you jest happen to decide to—you know.” Chow forced himself to recover his spirits. “When you goin’ to try ’er out, boss?’
“Hank and I already did some testing in here. As soon as he comes back, we plan to really put her through her paces—you can watch if you like. As a matter of fact,” Tom added, “I’ll take it out into the open right now, to get it ready.”
Tom switched on the power and picked up the handheld controller, which had a joystick and miniature steering wheel. Chow’s eyes widened as the Donkey rose smoothly and silently off the concrete floor. With the faint hum of a motor, the antenna dish swung very slightly to an angle off the vertical, and the disk seemed to slide sideways through the air toward the big open doorway. In a moment Tom had landed the platform in the middle of a clear area of hard-packed dirt outside the building.
A group of curious workers gathered to watch. Tom warned them to stay off the platform until he had given it a thorough tryout. “Might be an accident if it doesn’t work right,” he explained. “No need to take chances.”
Chow, meanwhile, was looking on with intense interest. He had carefully watched his young boss’s manipulation of the control unit. “So ole Chow Winkler is jest a tuckered-out old-timer! Brand my sagebrush ’n saddles!” he muttered to himself, “Mebbe I’ll jest get me a ride on that there flyin’ carpet!”
Setting down the hand unit, Tom stepped away from the test platform, walking over to greet Bud, who was approaching with Hank Sterling. “Your figures checked out to the tenth digit, Skipper,” said Hank. “I couldn’t believe it, but my engineering computer doesn’t lie.”
“We saw you fly the platform out of the Barn. Nice going, pal!” Bud cheered. Then he shifted his gaze past his friend, and the cheering stopped. “Good grief, should he be doing that?”
Tom swiveled and his face drained of color. “Chow!”
The rotund cowpoke had stepped onto the disk and picked up the control unit. Now the Repelatron Donkey was beginning a slow rise into the air!
Chow was grinning with excitement. He whipped his customary ten-gallon cowboy hat from his shiny head and waved it wildly in the air. “Yippee!” he shouted, like an airborne rodeo rider. “Let ‘er rip!”
Bud was aghast. “Chow, are you nuts?” he yelled. “Get down off there!”
The watching workers added their pleas. But Chow was unperturbed. “You think an ole cowpoke like me can’t stick to this li’l ole donkey?” he snorted. “Well, I’ll show you how a real Texas bronco-buster does it. Yahoo! Ride ’em, cowboy!”
At first all was well, and the watching crowd fell silent. Chow’s jaunty enthusiasm faded as Tom’s flying carpet continued to rise. Soon he was at second-floor height. Then the device began to slide sideways through the air, spiralling out in broad lazy circles, and picking up speed. The westerner looked down; the twenty feet to the hard ground suddenly seemed like a very long twenty feet!
And then the disk began to waver and buck! The onlookers stared in horror as Chow teetered and wobbled frantically, trying to maintain his balance on the railless platform. His face was rapidly assuming a greenish tinge that almost matched his shirt. “H-howlin’ prairie winds!” Chow gasped.
Bud grabbed Tom’s arm and cried out, “This is awful! We have to do something before Chow breaks his neck!”
Dashing over to the nearest outlet of the plant’s public-address system, Tom switched on the microphone and punched in his personal access code. “Chow!” Tom’s voice boomed, echoing off the buildings. “Push the slider switch forward—slowly!”
But the cook was mightily distracted at that moment. The flat disk seemed bound and determined to pitch him off into space! Skimming high above the crowd of watchers, he had begun flapping his arms like an hysterical eaglet.
Meanwhile Bud pulled Hank to a position under the platform. They ran along with their arms outstretched.
“At least we can break his fall,” said Hank.
“If we don’t get a few more people to help us,” Bud muttered, “the fall’s gonna break us!”
The growing crowd seemed to have decided that this was all a performance. Chow’s antics left them convulsed with laughter. But Tom was very much afraid that his friend might lose his balance and fall. He repeated his instructions over and over into the microphone, and finally Chow seemed to understand. He managed to maneuver the platform gently back to the ground—almost: for at the last moment the Donkey seemed to get skittish and whooshed sideways, finally skidding to a sudden stop that put Chow into a stumble that ended with him sitting on the ground and rubbing his backside.
His audience gave forth a burst of laughter, followed by loud sustained applause. Face brightening, Chow struggled to his feet and acknowledged them with a bob of the head and a wave of his hat.
Bud, Hank, and Tom converged on the cook, and Chow cringed back. But Tom held up a hand, blocking any discouraging words. “Your first solo aboard the Donkey, Chow!” he said, slapping him on the back. “You’ve earned your wings!”
“You can keep ’em, boss,” Chow replied ruefully. “I’ll stick to broncs!” But then Tom’s words hit him. “Tom Swift, are you meanin’ to say― ”
“I sure am, pard,” Tom declared. “From here on you’re an official member of the Swift Enterprises Moon Expedition!”
Beaming, Chow strutted away as if feeling lighter than air.
“But Tom,” said Hank Sterling softly, “I thought you told me this morning that you’d already decided to bring Chow along!” But Tom put a warning finger to his lips, eyes twinkling, and Bud burst out laughing.
That evening Tom had supper at home with his family, recounting Chow’s adventure in a way that brought gales of laughter. Then, the meal over, Tom and his father returned to Enterprises. An important task awaited them.
“Thanks for letting me make the decision, Dad,” Tom said as they rode the elevator up to their shared office.
“It’s what I promised,” replied Mr. Swift after a slight pause. “Which way are you leaning, son? I know we’ve received thousands of those cards.”
“I’m just glad naming the spaceship isn’t decided by majority vote. I refuse to call it the Enterprise! If for no other reason, I won’t have people thinking we’re trying to promote Swift Enterprises.”
As they exited the elevator, Tom suddenly came to a startled stop. “Dad!—what in the world― ”
“It’s all right, son,” Damon Swift responded with a smile. “Come on. There are some people you need to meet.”
THE COMMON area in front of the Swifts’ office, where their secretary Trent was usually stationed, was crowded with people. There were men and women, elderly and young, some who looked like white-haired grandparents, some who appeared no more than a few years of age. Their expressions were sober, and as the elevator doors opened they stopped their quiet conversations and turned in silence to look at Tom and his father.
“This came to my attention at the last minute, Tom,” murmured Mr. Swift softly. “I apologize for springing it on you. I wanted you to hear what they have to say the same way I did, without any preconceptions. Then it’s your decision.”
Tom stepped forward. “I’m Tom Swift. I haven’t been told anything about this, so― ”
A handsome woman of middle years, neatly dressed, stepped to meet him and shook hands with the young inventor. “I’m Maureen Kesey,” she said. “That’s my married name. Let me tell you my maiden name, Tom.” She did so, and Tom looked blank. The woman smiled. “You might recognize a few of these other names.”
She introduced a dozen others in the crowd, and after the first few Tom had begun to understand. “I do recognize your last names,” he said. “I’m sorry not to have caught on right away.”
Mrs. Kesey nodded. “We’re the parents, children, spouses, grandchildren—and a few close friends—of those who lost their lives on the space shuttle Challenger.”
Tom nodded, waiting politely for her to continue. “Tom, Mr. Swift, there have been other tragedies and other heroes since that terrible day. We know there’s a time for letting go. But your ship is going where our loved ones yearned to go, into space. Their dream was shattered; but now you’re returning to the moon on behalf of our country, for the first time since the last Apollo flight thirty years ago. Over the years, we all have kept in contact informally; on this occasion we’ve decided to get together and come to you as a group, with a request from our hearts. We’re asking you to name your ship in their honor. We’re asking that the return to the moon take place in a ship bearing the name Challenger.”
Tom let out a long, deep breath and looked at his father. They both had been moved by Mrs. Kesey’s speech.
Before Tom could find words to respond, a young boy stepped forward from the group, a sealed metal box in his hand. “Mr. Swift, my grandfather was one of the crew. I never got to meet him. But inside this box is something of his that he carried with him.” Tom took the box in his hands, and gave the youngster a warm hug, tears touching his eyes.
“The box contains some of the personal effects recovered from the crash site and returned to the families,” said Mrs. Kesey. “Whatever you decide as far as naming the ship, we hope you’ll take the box with you to the moon, and if it works out, perhaps you could leave it there on the surface. Like a little memorial, a monument.”
Tom kissed her cheek and turned to take in the entire delegation, speaking in a choking voice. “I—I won’t try to match you folks for eloquence. Let me say just this. I don’t need to think it over. My new spaceship will carry the proud name Challenger to the moon!”
The room erupted in cheers and tears, and Tom and his father were a part of all of it.
The next morning a telephone call from Swift Enterprises interrupted the family breakfast. “It’s Phil Radnor, Tom. We just got word from the Subcommittee in Washington—our request to have the two docs admitted to the capsule storage chamber has been approved, and they also give permission for use of your new probe machine.”
“Fantastic!” exclaimed Tom. “I’ll have to call― ”
“Already called ’em, chief. They’re rarin’ to go.”
“Then we just have to get the Sky Queen ready for― ”
“Already took care of that too,” laughed Radnor. “And I’ve had the leptoscope camera loaded aboard!”
“Rad, you’re a gem!” cried Tom, joining in the laughter.
“Don’t tell my wife,” the security man replied. “She hates being contradicted.”
Late morning found Bud landing the Sky Queen at the Dayton airport, where a buslike vehicle, spacious but sporting bars on its windows like a prison conveyance, was waiting to carry Tom, Bud, and Drs. Glennon and Faber, with the leptoscope equipment stored in the back. They were driven onto the grounds of Warrenton Air Force Base, where they passed a series of armed checkpoints before stopping in an enclosed parking area, where they entered an elevator and dropped down into the ground.
“Just how far down is this place, eh?” asked Evan Glennon.
“The details are classified,” Tom replied. “But a few hundred feet easily—and we’re moving on a slant. The entire facility is surrounded by layers of metal and concrete.”
“Man! Sounds like a great place to go in case of nuclear attack!” Bud remarked.
Tom grinned at his pal. “They tell me that’s what it was built for!”
The elevator stopped, and the four entered a long, brightly-lit hallway, busy with armed men in uniform and a smattering of civilian types whose purposeful, abstracted air suggested that they were scientists. Behind them, the elevator doors clicked shut as it prepared to go back up for the leptoscope.
A broad-shouldered man in uniform approached them in the hallway. “Hello again, Gen. Jedreigh,” Tom greeted him. The young inventor introduced his companions.
“It seems you’re here to solve a few of the mysteries from our crypt of secrets,” said the general to Faber and Glennon. “It will make my job a bit less romantic if you do. But I don’t mind, gentlemen—can’t talk about it anyway.”
He led them past a code-keyed door that slid shut behind them. Then another opened in front of them, in the manner of an airlock. They emerged into another hallway, featuring three long, narrow windows spaced along a wall nearly half a block in length. This hall was dimly lit by a reddish light which, leaking through the windows, barely illuminated the chambers beyond.
The first chamber contained a rounded, bullet-shaped object about the size of a small sofa. It was blackened in places, but retained a sheen in others. On one side a cluster of hieroglyph-like inscriptions could be discerned. “The original meteor-missile that came down in Enterprises,” Tom remarked, speaking softly in the library-like atmosphere of the underground facility.
In the chamber behind the second window they could make out several table units upon which dozens of small, strangely formed objects had been arranged. “Recognize that stuff, flyboy?” Tom asked.
“Sure do!” replied the dark-haired pilot. “From the cave on Little Luna.” The Swift expedition to Little Luna—the earth’s tiny new moonlet Nestria—had explored a cave of artifacts left by the space friends for their terrestrial colleagues to study. These implements had eventually been moved to the security chamber, leaving behind only the mysterious cube-shaped device that maintained the satellite’s gravitational field—which could not be moved in any event.
At the third chamber they followed Gen. Jedreigh through a double-sealed hatchway, and soft overhead lights were flicked on. Before them, lying on its side, a transparent cylinder awaited them, about ten feet long by six feet in diameter and partially filled with some sort of soil.
“There it is,” said Tom simply.
Evan Glennon approached, a tentative hand extended. He rested a single finger on the curving surface of the alien life capsule. “To think, to think—I am touching a piece of outer space.”
“Yes, yes, wonderful and impressive,” Faber said. “But now we must get to work.”
The camera equipment was carted in and speedily assembled and tested. Tom was delighted to find that the spectronic rays appeared to penetrate the transparent capsule shell without diminution or distortion. “We’re in business!” he announced.
For three hours the scientists studied the microstructure of the remnants of life heaped inside the vessel. The exotic dripping spikes and mushroom-shaped plants had collapsed to a brownish rubble, and the queer creeping vegetative forms looked like rotted-out carrots. Yet the leptoscope images, carefully recorded, revealed the preserved traces of a cellular structure. “A nice surprise, this,” remarked Dr. Glennon. “They contain something like plant cells, and within the cells something like a nucleus of complex, twisted molecular chains.”
“Quite unlike the earth’s,” added Anton Faber, “yet I know enough of these cellular matters to say that they are pleasantly familiar.”
“Perhaps life has to take a somewhat similar form everywhere in the universe, by some basic principle,” Tom mused in response. “And that’s good news. It gives us hope about curing the space disease—or at least containing its spread.”
Their reserved time drawing to a close, they began to pack the equipment away. Leaving Bud in charge of this portion of the operation, Tom approached Gen. Jedreigh and spoke to him quietly. “Sir, I assume you also received word about my other request.”
“Are you ready?” The general smiled at Tom. “Everything’s been set up in the Quiet Room, and the contact sequence has been input. Just press the button and start talking.”
The man led Tom to a small, bare room, equipped only with a comfortable chair and a small table, upon which a plain boxlike console had been placed. A single red button was visible. Tom seated himself and, after Jedreigh had left the room, pressed it.
“I greet you, Tom Swift,” said a deep, cultured voice. “Greetings from Brungaria!”
“HOW ARE you these days, Col. Mirov?” was Tom’s response to the familiar accented voice.
“Not bad, not bad,” he replied. “We have a very efficient healthcare system in Brungaria, you know; which was efficient enough to send me out of the country to a convalescent facility in Berne, Switzerland. Beautiful view! And now I am quite recovered from my little spill up on New Brungaria—pardon me, Nestria.” Tom could sense the older man’s eyes twinkling in mischievous good humor.
“That’s good to hear,” Tom said politely.
“Yes, and good to say—but I doubt it is why you have called me here in Volkonis over the high-security link. After all, it is now perfectly legal, even recommended, for we Brungarians to be friendly to you Americans. I take it you have some serious business to discuss, eh?”
“I do, sir,” confirmed the young inventor. “Mighty serious stuff affecting us both.”
Col. Streffan Mirov had headed the Brungarian mission to the phantom satellite Nestria, a rather cutthroat race with the American expedition, headed by Tom Swift. Facing perils together on the moonlet, they had ended becoming, if not close friends, persons who deeply respected and valued one another.
“Tell me of this, then,” Mirov encouraged.
Tom gave a sketchy account of the recent communications with the space beings. He refrained from mentioning the threat of the disease, but only said, “The space friends are landing a craft containing animal life somewhere on the moon, but they’ve felt forced to leave it for us to discover the exact location, because their signals have been intercepted by some of your countrymen. There are rumors that the secret Sentimentalists faction plans its own trip to the moon to seize the vessel.”
Mirov grunted. “Mm, the Sentimentalists. Bad people, anti-democratic—I have learned to love democracy, you know, my friend. But how can I help you? I trust you recall that I am a patriotic Brungarian.”
“Yes, Colonel, just as I am a patriotic American. But you might agree that putting information about extraterrestrial biology in the hands of― ”
“Bah!” he interrupted. “Unthinkable! They are barbarians, boorish people. I do not call them good Brungarians, I call them scoundrels. This is another race you must win, Tom Swift, this race to the moon.”
Tom smiled to himself. “I certainly agree!”
“But now, how can I assist you?” asked Mirov. “There is little I can do openly, and to seek official permission—weeks, months, years of bureaucratic struggle. Civil war by another name, and not so civil.”
“I was hoping you might have some basic information.”
“No doubt I do.”
“Does COSMOSA have any sort of craft ready that could, conceivably, carry a team to the moon?”
There was a lengthy pause. Then Col. Mirov began to speak slowly and carefully. “It is good we are communicating by means of this special mechanism, Tom. Or I should be most hesitant. What I am telling you now is not authorized.
“Yes,” he continued, “the space commission has—or had—such a thing. It was, as you say, in the works even before the Gamma series. It was called Dyaune, after the goddess of the moon.”
“We say Diana,” Tom interjected.
“Same thing. The Dyaune-1 was to be propelled by a nuclear-ion thrust system—do I use the right words?—and was constructed in a valley in the Northern Mountains. The goal of the project was a landing on the moon. That is, a landing and a return—a round trip. I imagine you have heard the rumors—? No matter.”
“Was the ship completed?”
“Here I think matters become uncertain,” Mirov replied with a verbal shrug. “Officially, no, it was abandoned deliberately just before the democratic revolt. Unofficially we were told that there was a terrible accident, a spillage of radioactive materials that caused many deaths. Even today that valley is off-limits and well-guarded. But Tom, it is not beyond possibility that some special branch of COSMOSA was permitted to continue the project and, perhaps, perfect the spaceship. And if that branch has come under the control of i-Szentimentalya—well then.”
“I see,” Tom said. “Do you recommend a course of action, sir? If our government worked in cooperation with yours, perhaps― ”
“No no no, and many more of the same! You do not realize how unstable, how confused is this democratic government of ours. If the Dyaune exists, it has surely been moved, perhaps to foreign territory—our friends in the Middle East. Announce that it does exist after all, and imagine the loud patriotic outcry: Brungaria racing America to the moon, for a great prize! No, young man, get there first in your Challenger, and if you see a sign of these fools, shoot them down! Then say, as countries do, it was an unexplained accident.”
Tom thanked Col. Mirov warmly, then added as he was about to sign off: “By the way, Colonel, my compliments to somebody or other. The decision to name our repelatron moonship the Challenger was made late last night, and has not yet been announced to the public.”
Mirov chuckled. “Yes, well, one doesn’t wish to await the daily papers, eh? My good luck to you, young man. You saved my life up there, in space, and I do not forget.”
Flying back to Shopton in the Sky Queen, Tom told Bud of his discussion with Mirov. “Are you sure we can trust that guy?” asked Bud skeptically.
Tom nodded. “Yes, I am. Of course― ”
“I could be wrong!”
After a time the young inventor went up to the lounge, where Faber and Glennon were discussing their findings. “Now I have a bit more optimism, Tom,” said Dr. Faber. “However these animals may appear superficially, to earthly eyes, there is reason to think their basic structure will be at least somewhat responsive to conventional techniques.”
“Aye, indeed so, yes!” agreed Glennon with hearty enthusiasm. “But unlike Anton I was never less than enthusiastic. Was I? Well, lad, I’ve repented.”
Back at Enterprises Tom headed for Harlan Ames’s office made a detailed report of his contact with Streffan Mirov. “If you Swifts didn’t have a few friends in high places, this sort of extracurricular communication could get us all in a lot of hot water,” Ames observed. “But it seems they’re willing to tolerate a bit of it—the eccentricities of genius.”
“Good to know my ‘eccentric’ act is paying off!” Tom laughed.
Tom spent the balance of the day working with Hank Sterling to iron out some final minor problems with the space repelatron system. Finally he pronounced himself satisfied. “I’m ready to give the go-ahead to have the modified versions turned out and hooked-up to the frame of the ship.”
Sterling grinned with enthusiasm. “At last! And it shouldn’t take long, either.”
“We’ll give the spaceship as a whole unit a test flight,” Tom said. “Then it’s off to the moon!”
Hank left. As Tom also prepared to leave and was reaching for the light switch, he paused, looking at his compact computer setup. I really should make some entries in my electronic journal, he thought. But I’m beat—I’ll make up for it tomorrow!
That night, after dinner, Tom was relaxing in the living room reading when the house telephone rang. He heard Sandy say hello; then after a moment of silence came the click of a hangup.
“Who was it, San?” Tom called out.
“No one there,” his sister replied. “Wrong number, I guess.”
But not a minute later the same thing happened. This time Tom scooped up the receiver, but was met only with dead air. He checked the caller identification panel—unidentified.
The incidents seemed to stick in Tom’s mind. Finally, acting on a hunch, he went into the small room next to the laundry room that he had made into a workshop. He switched on the computer that sat on the workbench and accessed the server that held his electronic journal. He typed the day’s date, then waited. Suddenly, just as he had hoped, two words unreeled across the screen just below his own entry.
“Call it scientific intuition,” Tom typed. “Do you have something to tell me?”
LATEST HOT TIPS
FROM YOUR FRIENDS AT COLLECTIONS
Several times now Tom had been contacted in this mysterious manner by a secret US government agency known only as “Collections”—a joke based on their catchphrase “Your tax dollars at work.” They did not involve themselves in every Swift project, not even on occasions of great danger, but seemed to reserve their efforts to cases involving space exploration and certain international espionage groups.
SO YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT DIANA EH
Tom knew the secretive “Taxman” was referring to the Brungarian Dyaune project. “Is she alive?”
LAUNCHES IN FIVE DAYS
YOU CAN BEAT HER TOM
“I hope so,” he typed. “What can you tell us about our enemies?”
FOOLISH OLD MEN
FREEDOM MAKES THEM NERVOUS
WANT THOSE SPACE GERMS
BAD NEWS IF THEY GET THERE FIRST
Tom was not surprised to learn that Collections knew about the capsule of diseased animals. “Since you know everything, how about a tip on the cure?”
YOURE DREAMIN KID
ITS UP TO YOU
YOU ECCENTRIC GENIUS YOU
BUT WE DO HAVE AN IN
COUNTERSPY PLANTED AMONG THEM
MAY SUSPECT HIM THOUGH
KEEPING EYE ON HIM
CHERRY TREES NEED PRUNING
Tom could not imagine what that last phrase might mean, and wrote it off to his communicator’s odd sense of humor. “When will we hear from him?” was Tom’s next message.
GOT TO GO NOW
YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK
JUST THROW MONEY
As his family had already retired for the evening, Tom went up to his room. Though the interchange of message with the Taxman had been cordial, even humorous, he remained upset and worried. If he failed to win this race—but he would not think of that. When he went to bed, Tom tossed restlessly for hours before he finally fell asleep.
Somewhat later he was awakened by a slight noise. Opening his eyes, he turned silently in bed. A stealthy figure, silhouetted in the moonlight, was climbing in through his open bedroom window!
SCARCELY daring to draw a breath, Tom closed his eyes to mere slits, twisting under the blankets and tensing his strong young muscles. He waited until the intruder was well inside the room. Then, in a flash, he leapt out of bed and grabbed the prowler in a tight armlock!
Taken by surprise, the man floundered wildly. Grappling and swinging, he managed to butt Tom in the stomach and they tumbled to the floor in a heap.
As Tom tightened his grip, the man hissed, “I’m Warturo! The one you were told about! But don’t get up yet or turn on the light. I’m being watched!”
Tom was amazed. He did not know whether to believe his midnight visitor or not. Was it just a trick?
“It’s the truth!” the man gasped. “You’ve got to believe me, Swift!”
Tom stopped struggling and loosened his wrestling hold just enough to let the man speak more freely. “All right, keep talking,” he said in a grim whisper.
“I think I’m suspected,” the man explained, “because someone planted a secret transmitter in the midget digital recorder I have with me. I found the transmitter turned on. But,” he added quickly, “I turned it off.”
“But why come here if you’re being watched?” Tom demanded.
“I was ordered to,” was the whispered reply. “I’m supposed to threaten you with a gun and force information out of you—when your spaceship launches, that kind of thing. Details about how to convince the space guys that we’re you. Get it? Then I’m to hold this under your nose”—he managed to extract a small vial from his pocket—“and put you to sleep.’’
Tom’s heart pounded nervously, his thoughts racing. Was this a madman, a spy, a counterspy, or what? Could he be the real Josef Warturo? A man whose existence Tom had not known about until a mere few hours before?
Stalling for time and still suspicious, Tom asked, “How did you get past our alarm system?”
The entire Swift house and grounds were surrounded by a controlled magnetic field. Any person entering the field automatically touched off an alarm inside the house, unless he carried a deactivator mechanism.
“Better upgrade your system, kid—those magnetic nullifier coils are in circulation on the espionage market. Got one in my watch, just like you do,” the man explained.
Still Tom was not completely convinced. There was too much at stake to risk falling victim to a clever impostor. Then a thought occurred to him. “Are you a gardener, Warturo?” he demanded.
“Thought you’d never ask!” the man answered promptly. “Sure am—cherry trees my passion. Mine needs pruning.”
Tom let out a faint sigh of relief. Only Josef Warturo would have known enough to identify himself with the extra remark provided Tom by the Taxman.
“Okay,” Tom murmured, releasing the other from his wiry grip. “Sorry if I handled you a bit roughly.”
Warturo heaved himself tip on one elbow and mopped his forehead. “I don’t blame you,” he muttered. “In this game, it doesn’t pay to take chances!”
“Anything you can tell me?” Tom asked.
“Plenty,” Warturo replied. “But quickly! The Brungarian faction is ready to launch in their ship, called the Dyaune-1, some sort of real high-tech advanced job. They have a base in the Ahaggar Mountains in the Sahara—don’t expect any help from the host country in shutting it down. Their goal is to make a big propaganda coup by capturing the alien rocket and bringing it back to Brungaria, to use as a bargaining chip with the legal government and maybe set off another revolution, this time in their favor. Naturally they’re not concerned with helping your space friends.”
“I figured as much,” Tom gritted.
“The man in charge of the operation is named Nattan Volj,” Warturo went on, “A bigshot in COSMOSA who’s been secretly meeting with the Sentimentalists. He’ll be leading the expedition. Swift, he’s ruthless!”
Tom’s throat tightened as he realized the deadly weapon the space disease might prove to be in the hands of such an enemy.
Warturo drew out a tiny pocket transmitter. “I don’t dare leave this off any longer. They’re testing me—it could mean my life. We’ll stand up in plain sight of the window. I’ll be covering you with my gun, as though I’ve just managed to subdue you after a struggle. Then I’ll start pumping you for secret information. Make your answers sound good.”
“Okay. Do your immediate bosses know anything about science?”
“Very little,” Warturo answered.
“I’m sure,” said Tom, “that the reason you were sent here was to test your loyalty, not to get any secrets from me. I’ll cover up for you with something that sounds like it makes sense.”
Warturo flicked on the micro-transmitter and slipped it back into his pocket. He and Tom got to their feet, with Warturo holding his gun in the young inventor’s ribs.
“Okay, Swift,” he snarled. “Now give me the answers!”
“Wh-what do you want to know?” Tom replied in a husky, frightened tone.
“That new spaceship of yours—how does it work?”
“I’ve developed a new meson-dyxon engine, working on a system of pion propulsion. The power transmission depends upon a reflex baffle chamber.”
“Have you tested the ship?” Warturo went on.
Tom pretended to hesitate. “N-no—not exactly. You see, it’s not really perfected yet.”
“Come on, quit stalling!” Warturo growled. “We know different, so tell the truth.”
“All right, I—I admit we’ve flown it once or twice. But not beyond the atmosphere. Some bugs showed up.
“Like for instance?”
“Well, the neutrons are charged in the high velocity plasma and can’t be held back.” Tom faltered. “I souped it up with a small hydrogen reactor, but the fusion got out of control and overdrove the tweeter. So now I am trying to fix it by adding a thermo-emetic quasartron and a cathode follower. We should be ready for space in about a month if all goes well.”
As Tom continued, be could hardly stifle his mirth and keep a straight face. Finally Warturo pretended to be satisfied. “Okay. Now inhale this, you lowbrow egghead!” he ordered, thrusting the vial under Tom’s nose.
Tom pretended to be overcome by the drug. He swayed and staggered forward, then collapsed limply to the floor. As he lay there, quaking with silent mirth, Warturo crawled out the window. He climbed down a light, collapsible metal ladder which he had placed against the side of the house.
Tom waited for several moments, then cautiously pulled himself to his feet, out of range of the window. He stood behind the drapes, well out of the moonlight so as not to be visible, and peered out.
A man was standing on the roadway, beyond the hedge which bordered the wide grounds of the Swifts’ residence. He was Warturo. His back was turned to the house, as though he were waiting to be picked up.
Suddenly a car roared into view. Instead of slowing down, it sped past, striking Warturo with its right fender, and knocking him to the side of the road! It roared off.
Tom was horrified. His first inclination was to dash out of the house and help the unconscious counterspy, who lay without moving, perhaps seriously injured.
“But I’d better not,” Tom decided as another thought struck him. This might be a trick of the faction to find out which side Warturo was on! The Brungarians were certainly ruthless enough to use such tactics. It was possible that the occupants of the car were watching even now from some vantage point farther down the road. If Tom appeared, Warturo’s life might be at stake!
Tom hesitated in fearful uncertainty. What should he do?
Suddenly he remembered that a bachelor dinner had been planned that evening for an Enterprises employee named Dick Hampton, who was about to be married. The party was being held at the Stacy Hotel downtown.
Tom glanced at his watch. “Maybe I can get Dick to help me!” he said to himself, and grabbed his bedside phone. He dialed the hotel’s number. Fortunately, the party was just ending.
“What’s up?” Dick asked when he heard who was calling.
“Will you do me a favor?” Tom said. “It’s urgent!”
“Sure. Just name it.”
“There’s no time to explain, but please drive past my house—pronto! If you see an injured man lying alongside the road, act surprised. Get out and help him. Whisper to him I sent you, and if he has any message, call me back as soon as possible!”
Though puzzled, Dick promised to comply.
Tom was watching anxiously from his bedroom window. Ten minutes later he saw the lights of an oncoming car. As it slowed to a halt near the Swifts’ driveway, he recognized Dick’s hardtop coupe.
The driver sprang out and bent over the prostrate figure which lay sprawled in the glare of his headlights. Dick picked up the unconscious counterspy in his arms, lugged him back to the car, and drove away.
Tom waited tensely. Minutes later, the phone rang. Tom scooped up the receiver. Dick Hampton was calling from the hospital.
“The man’s okay,” Dick reported. “Just shaken tip. He said to tell you he’s glad you figured out the ruse and didn’t fall for it. Said he’d be back on the job soon, and you’d understand what he meant.”
“I do, Dick. And thanks a million. Tell you later what it’s all about.”
Relieved, Tom went back to bed and slept soundly, exhausted by the excitement and emotional strain of the night’s adventure.
The next morning, as he showered and dressed, Tom decided to report the matter to Harlan Ames immediately. When he phoned the security office, Ames listened to the story in silence, then broke into a chuckle. “Tom Swift, inventor and actor! But you sure pulled it off.”
In high good humor over the outcome of the whole incident, Tom ate a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs and drove off to the plant. Here he plunged into work at his desk. Last-minute parts, supplies, and equipment had to be ordered and checked. After conferring with his father and Hank Sterling, he had decided to test the Challenger on Fearing the day following, and—with luck—to take off for the moon forty-eight hours thereafter.
Early the next morning the dawn was pierced by the mighty Flying Lab roaring its way southward toward Fearing Island. Experienced pilot Slim Davis had the controls, and the entire moon crew from Shopton was aboard—Tom and Bud, Chow, Hank Sterling, Arv Hanson, Drs. Glennon and Faber, and several others.
Also aboard were some who would not be traveling into space, but were to play a role in the launching of the spaceship. These included Mr. and Mrs. Swift, Sandy, Bashalli, and, by last-minute special arrangement, Maureen Kesey.
“This is such an incredible thrill, Tom,” gasped Mrs. Kesey as she gazed out the floor-to-ceiling windows of the Sky Queen’s top deck lounge. He expression suddenly sobered. “I just realized… I’m now higher in the sky than… than my husband reached that day.”
“He’d be proud,” Tom said gently.
The Flying Lab crossed the Georgia coastline and in minutes was slowly circling the tiny, thumb-shaped island that served as a base for Enterprises space efforts as well as most of its fantastic undersea fleet of jetmarines and seacopters.
But the attention of the group was attracted like iron to a magnet by the strange object that towered in the middle of the island’s complex of buildings and airstrips.
“Great space snakes!” gulped Chow. “That there Challenger don’t look like nothin’ these ol’ eyes have ever seen!”
“Hey, cowpoke, you saw Tom’s model, didn’t you?” joked Bud.
“Shor did. But thet was a mite smaller!”
The lifesize Challenger looked like a world unto itself. The gleaming central cube was a good fifty feet in every direction, its smooth face interrupted by a pair of big rectangular picture-windows that slightly protruded out into space. Strong, curving struts above and below connected the cabin module to the hooplike rails, horizontal and vertical, that completely encircled it. Each rail had an outer diameter of 92 feet, according to Tom. A large number of parabolic repelatron reflector dishes were attached to the rails. “The gripping brackets are motorized and fit into recessed tracks in the rail-rings,” Tom explained proudly. “That way we can move the radiator dishes wherever we need them, depending on what we need to repel in order to go in our chosen direction. We can also make smaller adjustments of angle at the base of the dish.”
“Those reflectors look about eight feet across, and the metal isn’t terribly thick,” remarked Tom’s mother. “Even working all together it’s hard to imagine them being able to lift such a huge mass of metal into space.”
“The rails, struts, and braces do have to be especially strong,” agreed Tom. “But the ship isn’t really as heavy as it looks. It’s primarily Tomasite plastic over a magtritanium mesh, which is pretty light in weight.” He added that the spaceship was coated with transparent Inertite for protection against solar and cosmic radiation.
“Thomas, if it would not brand me as an old-fashioned girl, I would tell you just what this ship looks like to me,” said Bashalli.
“An enormous earring,” she replied with half a giggle, “looking for its mate!”
Upon landing, the members of the party had lunch with the base personnel, and then were shown to their quarters.
The flight test of the Challenger, newly outfitted with the revamped repelatrons, was set for late afternoon. Tom, Bud, and Hank Sterling boarded the vast ship by means of a pressurized elevator that dropped down from the underside of the cabin-cube. As Hank went to the control deck to check on various preparations, Tom showed Bud around.
The pilot’s eyes were wide. “Four floors in this thing!—man, that beats the old Sky Queen.”
Tom shrugged. “Guess that’s progress, flyboy. The Challenger also has plenty of storage and engine space above and below the crew levels—which are connected by both elevators and emergency ladders, by the way.”
“What’s that thing in front, down below the view windows? It looked kinda like a front porch.”
“You’re nearly right, chum. It’s a staging area for other, smaller craft that we’ll be carrying in the hangar—on this trip, that’s the six Repelatron Donkeys we’re bringing along.” Tom continued his tour, pointing out other features of the giant craft—the mess hall, private sleeping cabins, a recreation room, a fully-equipped workshop, and one entire level devoted to lab cubicles and scientific work.
“What about the power plant?” Bud asked. “That’d have to be a big one.”
Tom laughed. “Don’t tell me you’ve already forgotten about my cosmic-ray energy converters! That’s those two round things that look like searchlights at the opposite ends of the ‘porch’.” Amplifying on the point, Tom noted that within the earth’s atmosphere, where the cosmic rays were weakened and blocked, the Challenger would be able to use stored power. “But we’ll only have enough to get us up into space. Up there we’ll not only tap the rays directly, but replenish the storage reservoirs.”
“I take it you’re pretty sure you’ve solved the repelatron problem.”
“As sure as I can be without a real-time test flight,” was the answer. “One thing that helps is using multiple repelatrons at the same time instead of just one, as we did in the Special. Each one can be tuned slightly differently, to more efficiently repel differing mixtures and concentrations down below.”
A voice erupted from a nearby intercom. “Tom, Hank here. Ready when you are in Main Control.”
The boys elevatored to the broad but shallow control deck behind the twin view windows. Tom briefly pointed out the various instruments to his pal. “As you can see, these dials are labeled for the earth, moon, sun, Mars, Venus, and so on—output from a new-model Spacelane Brain, plus data piped in from the long-range telespectrometers in the various repelatrons. The meters tell the distance and relative angle of each body to our spaceship. In other words, they give us an exact reading of how much power we have to feed to the radiators for any desired acceleration,” Tom explained. “See how the bottom of this screen is solid red? It’ll look that way whenever we’re sitting down flat on a surface.”
A warning buzzer sounded in the compartment. “There’s the launch blockhouse giving us the green light,” said Hank. “Radar’s clear in all directions, and the robot drones have been told to ignore this big birdie.”
Tom gave a muted cheer of pure excitement. “Let’s take ’er up, Spaceman Barclay! You have the copilot’s chair.”
Quickly Hank and the boys strapped themselves into their seats. “Speaking of chairs,” Bud murmured, “these upright seats aren’t much like acceleration cots.”
“No need for big, eyeball-popping accelerations in the Challenger,” Tom replied as he set the controls. “We’ll rise smoothly into space in a continuous, mild acceleration. This time, though, we won’t even do that—we’ll just take a jaunt up to the ionosphere, then loop back down. If the repelatrons give us enough power for that, we’ll know they can deliver enough thrust for space travel.”
Through the view windows the three-person crew could see that the various watchers and ground crew had retreated from the launching area for a bit of extra safety, even though the ship produced no conventional blast of heat and exploding gases. They would be immune to the repelatron force rays, which had been carefully attuned to various materials in the solid ground beneath them. But they were sensibly cautious.
Tom switched on the spectron-wave detector and analyzer circuits. As lights lit up on the materials selector panel, his hands flew busily over the track-location and angle controls for the individual repelatron radiators. Bud and Hank could see the parabolic reflectors sliding smoothly into position along the rails. When most had moved into arrangement for maximum ground thrust, Tom glanced at his friends, gulped, and fed power to the repelatrons.
Tom had promised them a smooth liftoff, but such was not the case. With an audible whoo-o-osh, the multistory spaceship shot upward like a ricocheting bullet!
“Leapin’ rockets!” Bud choked. The boys had been jarred almost senseless by the shock of takeoff! In a matter of seconds the accelerating Challenger had climbed miles, and another minute would bring them across the lower borders of the stratosphere.
Tom was aghast. “Something’s gone haywire!” he cried out. “Take-off should be smooth as silk!”
As Tom maneuvered the ship hastily, the voice from the control blockhouse came over the radio in a restrained shriek. “Tom Swift, this is Fearing space control. Return to base immediately! Come back! Emergency situation! But land gently!”
The three exchanged startled glances. What was wrong?
The answer was instantly revealed as Tom brought the ship down and climbed out onto the porch area. The buildings near the launching pad looked as though they had just undergone a blitz attack! Roofs and walls were crumpled, windows shattered, airstrips shredded by cracks, and the ground nearby strewn with bricks and hunks of concrete.
“Good night!” Tom gasped. “We did this! The Challenger’s liftoff just about leveled the whole base!”
AS TOM, Bud, and Hank stood boggling at the disaster, emergency vehicles with blaring sirens came charging out onto the airstrips and launch areas—firetrucks and ambulances. All about, stunned ground crewmen stood gaping at the damage.
“What happened?” Bud demanded faintly, horrified.
“This flying powerhouse of ours practically flattened everything in sight,” Hank replied.
Shocked by the sight, Tom said dolefully, “No doubt about the cause. When we rose, the buildings took a massive blast of repulsion force—an even stronger thrust from the repelatrons than the ground did, because they were closer.”
“But weren’t the repelatrons tuned to repel only the elements in the ground?” Bud asked.
Tom nodded unhappily. “Right, but those same elements are present in the building materials, asphalt, concrete, glass—almost everything around us. The computer was supposed to have adjusted each repelatron radiator to exclude the waveforms of specific combinations we didn’t want to repel― ”
Hank sighed, dismayed and disgusted. “We thought we’d overcome this problem with the new circuitry, but the interference from such a huge number of sources must’ve overwhelmed the analyzers. Now, the repelatrons aren’t being selective enough—the space-wave pattern is too general.”
“Does this mean—the trip’s off?” asked Bud. “Do the Brungarians win this one?”
“We can’t allow them to,” stated Tom firmly. “This damage here on Fearing is nothing compared to the catastrophe an alien contagion could cause!”
“Then I’m putting all bets on my pal!” Bud declared with a reassuring grin.
“Any way to correct the problem?” Hank asked Tom. “I’m stumped.”
The young inventor shrugged. “I’ll have to redesign the radiators, so they’ll direct the repulsion wave downward in a much narrower, focused beam. But it’ll take time and we may not have much time left.” Tom leaned over the edge and yelled down to one of the employees he knew, “Anyone hurt, Narsa?”
“I think not, Tom. Nearly everyone was outside watching the take-off when the walls started to crumble.”
Fortunately, the only injuries were minor cuts and bruises from falling fragments, and the damage to the buildings mostly involved the older structures left from the island’s earlier use by the United States military. A work crew was promptly organized to clear away the debris.
Meanwhile, Tom gave orders for the repelatron radiators to be removed from the ship. One was carted to Tom’s private laboratory, where the young scientist-inventor worked the night through, determined to correct the radiator design as quickly as possible.
By morning he had worked out an improved antenna-reflector design and turned it over to Fearing’s large machine shop facility for immediate production and substitution onto all the repelatron units. Yawning, Tom leaned back in his chair and stretched his weary muscles. Suddenly a voice behind him said:
“How about a nice juicy steak to warm up your innards, pardner?”
Looking around, Tom saw Chow Winkler waddling into the laboratory.
“Sounds mighty tempting, Chow, but I still have some things to attend to.”
“Now don’t argue, son,” the old Westerner protested. “Besides, I got a mystery fer you to clear up. I kinda think it might be important.”
“A mystery?” Tom frowned, thinking: just what I need!
“That’s sure what I’d call ’er, boss. First off I thought Bud was playin’ another one o’ his jokes on me. But it’s happened more’n once since we got here on Fearin’ Island. So I figure somethin’ mighty queer is goin’ on.”
“What do you mean, Chow?” Tom asked.
“Wa-aal, doggone, it’s my pots an’ pans—they talk to me!”
Tom had to take Chow’s statement as a joke. “Are you kidding, Chow?”
The stout old cook looked indignant. “Brand my coyote stew, o’ course I ain’t kiddin’! You think I’d joke about th’ tools of m’ trade? I tell you my pots an’ pans have been spoutin’ all kinds o’ funny lingo. Had me thinkin’ I was goin’ plumb loco for a while!”
Tom grinned sympathetically. “Okay, I believe you, Chow. So what did they say? More salt, please?”
“Well, there was one voice sayin’ ‘Rocket due at Sky Haven—Horton to spoke module four.’ Then there was some gibble-gibble about a cosmic radiator report from Wright Field Arrow-medical Lab. And this mornin’ my big stew kettle starts reeling off some stuff about lox-zinc an’ Ethyl’s solid fuel propeller-ants or some such foolishness.”
“Foolishness!” Tom had bolted up out of his chair. “Chow, do you realize what all that stuff was?”
“Shucks, no. Nuthin’ t’ do with cookin’, though.”
“Those were top-secret radio messages coming into or out of Fearing!” Tom asserted. “They’re supposed to be encrypted—coded!”
The bald-headed chef was thunderstruck. “R-r-radio messages?” Chow stuttered. “But I didn’t hear this stuff over the radio. Like I told you, my pots an’ pans was speakin’ it out loud! Kind of a tinny voice, but what’d you expect a metal pan to sound like?”
“The metal cookware must have been functioning as loud-speakers, somehow,” Tom said urgently. “And if they’re coming through uncoded—! Come on, pard, show me where all this happened.”
Bouncing along as fast as his paunch and high-heeled cowboy boots would permit, Chow led the way to his private white-tiled kitchen, adjacent to the cottage used by Tom and his family.
“They was sittin’ right there, Tom,” he said, pointing to his electronic range.
“No wonder!” Tom made a quick examination of the stove and the pans. “The electronic circuits here in your range must have picked up the output signal from our receiving station by inductive resonance. Then the pans, sitting on the burner elements, acted as detectors and broadcast the messages just as if they were coming through a speaker.”
Chow stared at the young inventor, open-mouthed. “Brand my skillet, I don’t savvy a word you’re sayin’, but it sure sounds bad!”
“It could be very bad,” Tom replied. “If your stove could pick up those secret messages, our enemies might do the same thing!”
Dashing to the island communications building, he reported the trouble to the radio crew. “The stuff Chow heard was already decoded, so the source-signal must have been coming either from our decoder output or the audio output amplifier,” Tom said. “And it must be powerful!”
“Dave Bogard installed a new decoder system for us two days ago,” one of the radio staffers reported. “It may have some bugs in it.”
On Tom’s orders, the staffer phoned Dave, one of the Swifts’ electrical engineers, to scan the system immediately. Meanwhile, Tom himself began to check the whole receiver system.
Working together they pinpointed the transmission leak. “There’s your trouble, Dave,” Tom announced twenty minutes later. “The decoder output is overdriving—putting out entirely too much voltage. Induction is pumping the analog frequencies right into the base’s power setup.”
“Sure am sorry, Skipper,” Bogard replied, somewhat red-faced. “Man alive, sometimes I think I must be jinxed! I’ll fix it right away.”
Tom reassured him, but inwardly he was worried that his enemies might have picked up some valuable information. But he was thankful that through Chow he had discovered what was going on. “Good old Chow!” he said to himself. “This rates a reward.”
Later that morning, when Tom returned to Fearing from a quick trip over the waters to the mainland, he was carrying three western-style shirts in a clothing store bag.
“I didn’t know which of these to give Chow, so I bought all three and told the store I’d be returning two of ’em,” Tom said, showing his purchases to Sandy and Bashalli. “What do you two think?”
“You want the feminine point of view? Very wise,” said Sandy smugly. “Well, this gold one is nice, but either of these two is better than that awful blue thing.”
Bashalli nodded. “I slightly incline toward the red one, but I do agree that the blue one is simply impossible—who could wear such a gaudy thing in public?”
“Just as I thought. Thanks, ladies.” Tom picked up one shirt and began to fold it into a box for wrapping. “The blue one it is!”
He headed for the kitchen and handed the giftwrapped package to his big friend. “A little present to you for helping me discover that radio leak,” he told the surprised cook.
Chow opened the package and took out the deep blue shirt embroidered with gold threads and silver crescent moons. “Great jumpin’ Jehoshephat!” the old chef gasped. “If that ain’t the most bee-yoo-tiful thing I ever laid eyes on!”
Gaudy shirts were Chow’s great weakness. With trembling fingers, he tried on his new prize. Then the stout, grizzled old cowpoke eyed the result, using a polished skillet as a mirror and preening himself like a fat peacock.
“By jingo, I could pass for a movie cowboy in this getup, if’n I do say so myself!” Chow declared. “Tom, I don’t know how to thank you. I’m plumb touched by your thoughtfulness.”
“Forget it, Chow. I figured you’d like it. It’s just your style—and that suits me just fine!”
Thoroughly exhausted, Tom went to his quarters and fell into bed, sleeping until sundown. Arising, Tom checked with Hank Sterling and the machine shop tech crew and found that the new repelatron radiators would be ready, tested, and installed by first light of morning. The news pleased him—the project was back on track.
But his good feelings lasted only as long as it took him to call Harlan Ames in Shopton. “You don’t dare let up the pace, Tom. Government sources are telling me that the country supposedly in authority over that Sahara site is spreading word that they’ll be testing what they call an ‘unarmed experimental defensive missile’ sometime during the next forty-eight hours. They don’t want anyone going on nuclear rapid-response. I’ll bet it’s the Brungarian moonship.”
“I’m sure you’re right, Harlan,” Tom commented glumly. “That means we’ve got to get going!”
Tom ate dinner with the large group that had accompanied him from Shopton aboard the Sky Queen, and announced that departure for the moon was immanent. “Are you sure you won’t blast the whole rocket base apart this time?” Sandy asked with a mischievous twinkle in her blue eyes.
“Now stop teasing,” Mrs. Swift reproved her.
Bashalli added, “Yes, it isn’t often these manly astronauts ask us out on a date that doesn’t self-destruct midway through, so don’t spoil it.”
“Thanks, Bash,” Tom said, grinning. “I know Bud and I had to break our promise to let you throw us a big going-away party—the least we could do was actually let you see us going away.”
“You’ll take a test flight before leaving for space, I presume,” said Mr. Swift.
“Tomorrow morning, Dad—early as possible.”
Early was early indeed. The first rays of the Atlantic sun caught the gyroscope-shaped vehicle rising majestically from the island. This time the performance of the Challenger was flawless. Emboldened, Tom took her all the way to the black edge of space, where the ship hovered, silent and motionless. As Bud and Hank clapped their leader on the back, Tom grinned at them and said, “There’s no reason to wait any longer. We leave for the moon at one this afternoon!” He pointed through the viewport at the pale, beaming lunar disk. “Be seeing you soon!”
Back on the ground after a perfect landing, Tom was greeted by his family and an excited mob of island employees and Enterprises technicians. They rushed out en masse to congratulate Tom as he and the others disembarked. His radio reports had already indicated that the test had proven successful.
“What’s the verdict?” asked Dr. Glennon of the young inventor. “As good as the second-hand reports?”
“Even better than I’d hoped,” Tom replied. He described the shakedown flight briefly, and grinned as the men crowded around to slap him on the back and shake hands. Bud, Bashalli, and Sandy all beamed with reflected pride at Tom’s latest achievement. Tom’s parents, and Mrs. Kesey, were fully as excited as the others.
After hours of loading the ship and making the final preparations, the fateful moment arrived. A small ceremony had been planned. The selected crew, seventeen in all, filed aboard. They took their places in various compartments and adjusted their safety belts.
“Ready for take-off!” Tom’s voice on the radio was relayed over the loud-speaker.
The count-down began. Blushing and a trifle nervous, Tom’s mother and Maureen Kesey stepped forward on the special platform which had been erected for the occasion. Each held a champagne bottle wrapped in silver foil.
As the count reached one, Mrs. Kesey said clearly, “I christen thee Challenger!” Together the two women swung their bottles against the spaceship’s outer frame. Mrs. Kesey’s cracked in half, neatly, and champagne came fizzing out of the gaps in the foil.
But Mrs. Swift’s bottle exploded in her hand, splintering into a thousand pieces and showering her with glass!
WITH a gasp of unbelieving dismay, Anne Swift staggered back, holding her face. Blood oozed from her fingers and neck!
“She’s hurt!” Mrs. Kesey cried out, rushing to her side to keep Tom’s mother from falling. Fortunately, she herself had escaped most of the flying glass. She supported Mrs. Swift as shocked workers scrambled up on the platform to assist, pushed aside almost at once by Mr. Swift and Sandy.
“We’ll take her to the infirmary at once,” Damon Swift directed, hoping that his wife’s eyes had not been affected.
“Oh, Mom!” gasped Sandy tearfully. She could not go on.
Meanwhile, Tom and his crew were soaring high above the island, unaware of the accident. As different selector lights flashed on and faded on the master control board, indicating changing dominant mixtures of compounds and elements in the receding ground far below, Tom manipulated the controls, seeking the most efficient combination. He cautiously opened the power feed, gradually switching from the storage reservoirs to the energy converters as the atmosphere dropped away around them. The ship rose into blackness like a huge majestic visitor from another planet.
The ground fell away below them. In minutes the whole of Fearing Island was no more than a speck on the waters lapping the Atlantic coast. Higher and higher they zoomed till the earth’s curvature became noticeable.
“My word,” Dr. Faber murmured in an awe-struck voice, “All the things I’ve seen, yet I never in my life imagined I’d see anything like this!”
Tom smiled, ecstatic with the performance of his new invention. For a time he remained busy at the controls, always trying to produce the maximum lift with the least amount of power consumption. As the ship got above the blanket of atmosphere, Tom reduced the force on the rock-silicates, iron, and aluminum of the crust of the planet, and retuned the repelatrons for sea water, atmospheric nitrogen, and oxygen.
“At this height we’re starting to be able to select Earth’s general, overall mix of frequencies,” Hank Sterling explained. “The effect becomes more pronounced the farther we travel from the repulsion focus.”
“Let’s try a little globe-trotting,” Bud suggested to Tom, and his pal readily agreed.
The Challenger arced eastward. Soon they could make out, on the eastern rim, the shores of Europe, clouded by drifting blankets of evening mist. Tom grinned in triumph as he swiveled the radiating antennas to enhance forward motion. Like a circling comet, they glided further eastward over the face of Europe, then down across Africa, and back into full view of the continents of North and South America.
“Good way to learn geography, eh?” Bud quipped. But the young pilot was almost left speechless by the ease and smoothness of the ship’s action. “Tom, this has rocket flight beat to a frazzle!”
“What a fantastic shape the ship has!” murmured a senior crew member, a veteran of the construction of the space outpost. Staring out the viewport at the great, arching metal beams, he added doubtfully, “It isn’t exactly streamlined, is it?”
“Doesn’t have to be for traveling through the space void,” Tom explained. “As for the earth’s atmosphere, we can get clear of that easily enough with our repelatrons, slowly as we choose.”
“We could even get through a brick wall,” Bud put in jokingly.
Meanwhile, the spaceship having long since dwindled into the blue, an ambulance from the Fearing Island infirmary came rushing to the scene of the accident. Mrs. Swift was helped aboard with Sandy and Mr. Swift comforting her.
The ambulance sped back to the infirmary. Here the base physician, Dr. Carman, made an examination and cleaned and dressed the patient’s cuts. Then she was put to bed.
As the injured woman sank into a restful slumber, Sandy turned to the doctor. “How bad are the cuts?” she asked anxiously. “Will she—will she be all right?”
Carman nodded briskly. “Oh yes, I’m quite sure they’ll heal without scars. Fairly superficial. Fortunately, none of the splinters went into Mrs. Swift’s eyes. But what was in the bottle?”
Mrs. Kesey looked surprised and troubled. “It was supposed to be water. Why?”
At that moment a white-jacketed chemist walked in from the laboratory, holding a fragment of glass and a test printout, which Damon Swift examined. “We’re running some tests on the stuff,” he reported, “but it certainly wasn’t water.”
The worried onlookers were stunned. Had one of the Swifts’ enemies done this? Had the lunar race become so fierce that the Sentimentalists were retaliating against the families of the participants?
Later, Harlan Ames called Mr. Swift at the infirmary from Shopton. “We’ve traced that liquid, Damon,” he reported. “The whole thing was an unfortunate mistake by a young stockroom helper working for our supplier. He got his orders crossed and filled one of the bottles with an unstable liquid used in cleaning. The company will dismiss the boy, of course.”
“No, please,” said Anne Swift weakly from her bed, listening to the phone speaker. “It was just an accident, and I’m sure he feels terrible enough. Harlan, please tell the supplier that we’d like to see them treat the boy leniently.” Ames agreed to do so.
By this time the space communications center on Fearing had made contact with the Challenger, which was then returning from its quick excursion and was readying itself for the plunge into deep space. Tom and the others were horrified to learn of the mishap on the ground, but relieved by Mrs. Swift’s prognosis for recovery. “Tell Mom she’s as much a hero as anyone here,” Tom radioed, “and tell her I’ll send my love from the moon!”
Breaking the connection, Tom activated the ship intercom. “Okay, buckle your seat belts, everybody,” Tom said. “We’ll be using a strong acceleration for a time.” Looking around him in the command deck compartment, he was glad to see that neither Anton Faber nor Evan Glennon seemed the slightest bit nervous at the prospect of spearing off into space. They appeared as calm as the others in the compartment—Tom, Bud, Sterling, Hanson, and Chow Winkler. “Everything all right?” Tom asked them.
Dr. Faber nodded and smiled, his keen gray eyes twinkling behind his spectacles. Evan Glennon beamed at the young Skipper with jovial heartiness. “Gad I ni fynd, laddie! In other words, let’s go!”
Tom switched on the repelatrons again, taking a reading of the earth below. Watching the needles, the youthful astronaut fed power to the radiators. The mighty spaceship responded instantly, zooming away from Earth on a tangent with such a powerful acceleration that the crew were shoved deeply against their seat-cushioned. “Brand my stardust!” grumbled Chow. “Almost knocked my hat off!”
“It’ll only last for twenty minutes or so,” Arv Hanson reassured him. “Then we start decelerating.”
“This is how we make up for the time we’re spending on our stopover,” added Tom.
Tom had made a decision to make a stop en route at Earth’s other moon, Nestria. He intended to take on board one further crew member whose knowledge of space biology and medicine might prove helpful.
Though the first period of acceleration made the passengers feel heavy as lead, they experienced no real discomfort. Still, Chow expressed relief when, at the midpoint of the trip to the tiny satellite, the acceleration eased away while Tom rotated the spaceship so that its “down” orientation now pointed away from the earth.
“Feel better now, cowpoke?” asked Arv.
“Sure do. I got more’n enough weight on me without—awp!” The feeling of pressure had abruptly resumed, sending Chow thudding back in his seat. “What in consarnation—?”
“I told you, Chow,” commented Hanson with an innocent smile. “Now we go through the deceleration phase to counteract the speed we’ve picked up. You realize, don’t you, that deceleration generates as much G-force as acceleration?—just in the opposite direction.”
“Sure,” muttered the Texan sourly. “Any dang fool would know that!”
Soon enough the ship was in view of Nestria, and the repulsion thrust that was slowing them—reacting not only against the entire moonlet, but against several more distant celestial objects—was reduced almost to zero. They spherical asteroid, 41 miles in diameter and a dark auburn in color, loomed ahead. They were now more than 50,000 miles from their home world.
“Looks like a mighty rugged territory to live on,” observed Dr. Glennon. “But what are those white patches I see? Not clouds—not in space, eh?”
“That’s just what they are, Doctor,” explained Bud. “Tom has a couple machines down there that make air for Little Luna, enough to breathe. Clouds form just like they do back home. There’s even rain now and then!”
The Challenger made a half-circle about the satellite, scarcely needing its repelatrons due to Nestria’s almost negligible gravitational force. Finally Tom announced that they were nearing their immediate destination, the twin surface bases of Astra-Volkon and Base Galileo. These two installations, side by side, represented the Brungarian and American research teams, respectively.
“I wonder how the Brungarians down there will greet us,” mused Hank as the dual space-towns grew larger before his eyes. “After all, we’re competing against their own countrymen.”
Tom pointed out that the central government of Brungaria was officially unaware of the planned expedition of the Sentimentalists faction. “Or if they do know about it, they may not want to announce the fact. They probably find it a source of embarrassment.”
The ship penetrated the shallow atmospheric envelope with ease, and settled down onto the craggy surface of Nestria on its four shock-absorbing landing struts. An enthusiastic delegation from both camps was on hand to greet Tom and Bud, in shirtsleeves, as they exited by way of the elevator, leaving the other passengers aboard.
“Welcome back to Little Luna!” shouted young Kent Rockland, bounding forward in the asteroid’s slight gravity to pump Tom’s hand.
“Wow!” exclaimed Bud. “Tom told me to expect changes up here, but you folks have really gone to town!”
When Tom had left Nestria along with the other Swift expeditioners, only three Americans had remained behind. In the ensuing period, a regular trade route had been opened up between the moonlet and the earth, with the Enterprises outpost in space as a way-station. Using small cargo capsules and spacecraft too fragile to return all the way to Earth, both the Brungarian and American settlements had grown rapidly as researchers from around the world had set up shop.
“Base Galileo now has a population of 43,” declared Kent proudly, “with a baby on the way!”
“It is the same with Astra-Volkon,” added a Brungarian. “Though with us, two babies!”
Tom and Bud could only afford a few minutes to walk through the base and inspect the cultivated patches where the Nestrians were beginning to grow their own food.
“I’ll take you to see Vi now,” said Rockland. He led Tom and Bud to the small prefabricated enclosure that was home to Dr. Violet Wohl during her stay on Nestria. The vivacious Enterprises employee came bounding out to meet the visitors from Earth.
“Tom! Bud! I’m so excited by all this I can hardly talk!” she cried. “Henrick has been watching your new ship through his telescope during its approach.” Dr. Henrick Jatczak, a world-famous astronomer and, now, permanent resident of Nestria, was a treasured friend of all of them.
“How’s he doing these days, Doc Vi?” Bud asked.
She laughed and pointed. “Take a look!” The frail, dark-haired scientists was ambling up the dirt path between structures, waving a vigorous greeting.
“I feel like a young man again!” he exclaimed heartily. “Under this low gravitation and with Violet’s attentive care, my heart problems are in remission.”
“How wonderful!” Tom said, shaking the man’s hand warmly. “What’s new here at the base? New discoveries?”
Kent Rockland and Violet Wohl exchanged veiled glances. “There is something we need to report to you, Tom,” said Kent quietly. “Not everyone knows about it just yet.”
“What?” asked Tom worriedly. “Not a problem with the atmosphere-making machines?”
Kent shook his head. “No, something weird and possibly dangerous—a phantom figure!”
Tom’s eyebrows flew up in surprise. “What do you mean—phantom?”
“A little walking figure, like a human but much too small,” Wohl responded. “It wears some kind of protective garment with a helmet, and flees when anyone approaches.”
As Tom’s and Bud’s mouths dropped open in amazement, Dr. Jatczak added: “I can quite understand your skepticism, you two. But I have seen this phantom myself, with my own eyes. It is my considered opinion that it can only be an extraterrestrial intelligent being, Tom—perhaps one of the beings who first moved this satellite into― ”
Bud interrupted with a sudden startled cry. “G-good grief, look! There it is!”
Tom followed Bud’s gaze to a spot between two craggy boulders not thirty feet distant. He started violent at the sight that met his eyes.
Was he dreaming?
A tiny figure in a green spacesuit was making its way toward them!
THE BIZARRE figure moved with a hesitant waddling gait, as if uncertain whether to approach. Tom looked into the being’s eyes, visible through a slitlike helmet visor, and felt the hairs at the nape of his neck bristle. It gazed back at Tom questioningly through two black, beady eyes. There was no possibility that the creature was human. It was barely two feet tall, if that!
Suddenly Dr. Wohl darted forward, as if to seize the creature and protect the others. “Doc Vi!” Tom shouted in dismay.
She scooped the creature up in her two hands—and flipped up its opaque helmet.
The stranger proved to be a small, delicate rhesus monkey!
“Meet Nicky!” exclaimed Violet Wohl, cradling the tiny creature affectionately as the other inhabitants of Nestria shouted with laughter. “One of my test subjects for space medicine—and my favorite!” As Tom and Bud joined in the laughter, she added with a pleading look, “You will let me take him along on the moon ship, won’t you, Tom? See, we’ve already made him his own little space suit!”
“After that entrance, I wouldn’t turn him down!” Tom chuckled. “From here on he’s our ship’s new mascot.”
“Cute little cuss,” said Bud. “Here, let me hold him.” Violet passed Nicky to Bud. Halfway there the monkey sprang out of her grasp and landed on Bud’s shoulder. “Hey! He likes me!” the copilot cried. But a second later he let out a surprised yelp as the monkey twisted his ear and started to climb over his head. Reaching up Bud tried to corner him, but his chattering quarry evidently thought of Bud’s head as a new kind of palm tree. The little monkey darted up and down, right and left across the geography of the athletic youth’s upper body, playing a fine game of keep-away.
Finally Dr. Wohl retrieved Nicky as the onlookers roared with laughter. “He’s really very sweet and docile,” she said apologetically. “Most of the time!”
Bud pushed his dark hair back into place and grinned. “So am I.”
“Most of the time!” Tom gibed.
Carrying a small suitcase and bag of medical instruments, and with her pet hugging her neck, Violet Wohl entered the Challenger and was shown around, introducing Nicky to the other expeditioners, who were delighted by their tiny new comrade.
“Brand my flyin’ chuck wagon,” Chow gabbled excitedly, “I think I’m in love—more so’n with them there rats you had last time, Doc Vi! And this ship of Tom’s—this sure is some buckboard, ainnit!”
“Goodness, it surely is, Chow,” she replied.
“Even our polar expedition seems pale by comparison,” Dr. Faber added, a trifle breathlessly, as he shook hands. “But there are more fantastic moments to come for us, Doctor, I do believe!”
As Tom was showing Dr. Wohl to her private quarters, Arv Hanson’s voice blared over the ship intercom: “Tom Swift, please report to the control deck!”
Tom rushed to comply, taking the interdeck ladder. “What’s up?” he asked Hanson, who had been on duty as command officer while Tom was off-ship.
“We just received an encrypted message from NATO headquarters, relaying a report from Cairo,” Hanson said excitedly. “The radio-telescope at Al Qaddriz is tracking a moving signal-source in space, apparently on a lunar trajectory!”
“Deep-space radar tracking should have warned us!” Tom exclaimed.
“They must have radar-trapping capability. But look, chief!” The crewman pointed to the gleaming bank of monitors. “I’ve been able to isolate their signal and lock on.”
A tiny blip of light was visible on one of the screens! Tom studied the digitized frequency readout beneath. “They’re surely not intending to emit this signal, Arv. It must be a byproduct of their propulsion system. Can you make out any more detail?” Tom asked.
Arv studied several dials and adjusted the signal filter for maximum strength. “She’s traveling fast,” he reported. “Very fast, high constant acceleration.” He brought up another set of figures and his face blanched. “Skipper!—They’ve already passed the 40,000-mile mark!”
“Swell,” Tom grated. He grabbed up the intercom microphone. “Attention, everyone—assume liftoff stations. We’re departing immediately at high speed. Destination moon!”
Even through the deck floor Tom thought he could hear Chow Winkler’s foghorn cheer!
“Da iawn!” Evan Glennon cried. “Very good! And about time, lad!”
As the others strapped down, Tom Swift leapt to the intercom and barked out orders. A bustle of activity followed as Violet Wohl and the Challenger’s other passengers hastily donned their space suits, a precautionary measure for what promised to be a desperate sprint moonward. The sudden break in tension seemed to fill everyone with new vim and enthusiasm.
“Good luck, Tom,” radioed Kent Rockland from Base Galileo.
“And from me as well,” came the voice of Dr. Jatczak; “luck and Godspeed to you and Violet and all of you brave souls. How wish I were going with you!”
“If we make the moon safely, this won’t be our final voyage,” Tom told him. “You’ll be on the next expedition, Doctor.”
Helmets were clamped on, and Tom took his place in the flight compartment.
“Here goes!” he murmured.
As he fed power to the repelatrons, each unit was represented on the display before him as a point of light, glowing lines connecting the points to the repulsion targets at which they were aimed. The lines thickened and brightened as the computers tuned the emitting antennas more precisely. Tom made careful adjustments to the strength and angles of the force beams, not wanting to affect the rotation or orbit of the minute space rock that was Nestria. The Challenger began to rise.
Abruptly strange, woozy vibrations racked the huge spaceship, and it began drifting sideways toward the dome of the Astra-Volkon settlement. Hank Sterling exclaimed in alarm, “Tom! We’re― ”
“I’m on it!” the young inventor shot back, tersely. His hands jumped about on the controls.
Bud uttered a moan of alarm—it appeared certain that the lower rails of the ship would strike the dome! But then his moan became a gasp as the ship took off like a comet, beaming its thrust broadly against the bulk of the moonlet. Sharing the motion of Nestria in her orbit, they had been hurtling along at a high velocity all along. Tom now directed the repelatron force in such a way that the ship left Little Luna’s orbit and started on a long, graceful curve toward her great elder sister in space.
As things settled down, Bud demanded: “What happened down there, Skipper?”
“The Lunite in the force-emitters developed some sort of resonant feedback as they reacted against the Lunite veins in the crust,” was Tom’s answer. “Wasn’t all that hard to compensate.”
Suddenly the intercom crackled. “We’ve picked up that rocket, Skipper,” a crewman reported from one of the compartments along the reverse side of the cabin-cube. “That must be what it is—a moving flare of light.”
The operator read off the relative angle from his instruments. Tom rotated the Challenger and the crew of the control deck peered through their view panes into the starry dark.
“There she is!” Bud cried out.
The rival rocket was little more than a glittering speck in the distance. Tom veered course and increased power to bring it within closer range. Mile after mile they drew nearer their foe. Soon they were racing neck and neck, separated by only a few thousand feet.
Chow Winkler and most of the other astronauts were now crowding into the cube-wide compartment behind Tom, Bud, and Hank, anxious to catch a glimpse of their space rival. “Brand my space boots, what kind o’ loco contraption d’ya call that?” Chow muttered.
The space-streaking vehicle was unlike anything the earthmen had yet seen. It’s front end consisted of a green, spherical capsule sitting like an egg in an egg-cup in the long section below. This section, bright silver, tapered to a narrow waist, then widened again in an hourglass-shape. The ship flared out in a stern assembly—evidently the propulsion unit—consisting of oval segments spreading like the petals of a weird metal flower. A faint, luminous exhaust trail extended behind.
“What do you think, Hank?” Tom asked quietly.
As if in response, Nicky the monkey chattered a few shrill syllables. “Hey, the captain was asking me, Nick!” Sterling reproved jokingly. “Tom, like the man said—some sort of nuclear-ion propulsion.”
“Tell me, are we certain this is, indeed, the vehicle of our enemies?” asked Dr. Faber in an awe-stricken voice. “Might it not be the ‘space ark’—the capsule of diseased animals?”
“According to the original message, the capsule from space was not to arrive at the moon for another two days,” Tom replied. “And besides—look!”
The vehicle had been slowly rotating along its major axis, spindle-fashion. Now a section of the prow capsule rotated into view that bore a small insignia—a flag. “Black, red, and gold, lads,” said Dr. Glennon. “And sure as I live, that’s the national colors of Brungaria.”
“I suppose she uses nuke power,” Bud remarked.
But Tom pointed to the way the harsh sunlight rebounded from some transparent substance that coated the middle section, producing a rainbow sheen like a prism. “I think it’s drawing on power from the sun,” he said. “That may be why it’s rotating, to expose the entire surface to the solar rays.”
Even as Tom spoke, the rival ship, presumably the Dyaune-1, seemed to gather a new burst of power. “Great creepin’ coyotes, she’s pullin’ ahead! Do somethin’, boss!”
In answer Tom opened the throttle levers wider, gunning the repelatrons still more as they braced their focused rays of force against the distant globe of Earth. The sudden acceleration that resulted drove the watching crew downward against the deck as the mighty Challenger picked up speed—and more speed!
The race to the moon was on as the two ships ripped through the void at unthinkable speed!
In minutes the Challenger astronauts gave forth a muted cheer—the Brungarian ship was clearly falling behind. Without warning it suddenly veered to starboard, as if wanting to put distance between the competitors. In five minutes it was no longer visible to the eye.
“Should we chase her, Skipper?” Bud asked.
Tom shook his head. “No point to that.” He rose from his seat. “Take over, Bud,” Tom ordered. Leaving the main controls, he relieved the communications engineer at his post and beamed a prepared message into the void in the symbolic space code:
TOM SWIFT TO SPACE FRIENDS. WE HAVE TAKEN OFF FOR THE MOON. ENEMY SHIP ALSO ON THE WAY. PLEASE INFORM US OF PLANS FOR ANIMAL ROCKET. IT IS NECESSARY THAT WE REACH IT FIRST.
“I hope they can grasp the idea that inconsistent negative resultant means enemy,” muttered the young inventor to himself. If only they would reply and break the puzzling curtain of self-imposed silence. Tom waited hopefully, eyes glued to the space oscilloscope’s imaging screen. But as the minutes dragged by, his heart sank—there was no response.
“Looks like they expect us to work this out on our own,” said Arv Hanson. “Kind of a compliment to their ‘space friend’ Tom Swift, don’t you think?”
Arv’s comment filled Tom with fresh determination. He must reach the rocket first to save his space friends, and perhaps his own world, from possible destruction!
MULLING over the situation, Tom decided to try communicating directly with the Brungarian ship. After all, the men aboard were scientists themselves. Maybe they would cooperate if asked in a friendly fashion.
The scientist-inventor radioed a call signal across the void, using a wide mix of frequencies. But repeated efforts brought no response. Finally Tom gave up and returned to the controls.
“Where are they?” he asked. “Still getting a frequency signature?”
“Not for a while,” Hank replied. “They may have cut back on their power outflow—might even be coasting, unpowered.”
“Maybe they gave up the race!” Bud speculated excitedly. “They’d fallen way astern last time we checked.”
“Not likely,” retorted Tom. “Let’s step up the pace!” He fed more power to the repelatrons. Slowly but steadily, the earth dwindled in the distance as the bright moon swelled before them.
“Brand the Bull constellation, we’ll lick them space rustlers yet!” Chow whooped.
“But soon we’ll have to start a hard deceleration,” Tom pointed out. “Head back to your seats, everyone, and strap in.”
Tom flicked on the space position finder. The earth had shrunken now on the screen to a small disk, its diminished cross-section illustrating the greater difficulty the repelatron beams were having as they strained to interact with its distant bulk. By the same token the colored patch representing the moon was growing rapidly in size. Tom reoriented the Challenger and altered the array of radiators on the rail-ring tracks. He cut in the repelatrons to produce a deceleration by pushing against the moon, and “down” now meant the lunar surface.
Fifty minutes later the moon loomed ahead in the viewpanes, immense and radiant, a strange dust-colored world that spread out in all directions to a curving horizon.
“Incredible!” Dr. Faber gasped to his companions on Deck 2, almost in a whisper.
Numerous features were clearly visible to the naked eye—jagged mountain ranges, yawning cracks and craters, great darkened plains of cooled, solidified lava left behind by the cataclysms of aeons past.
Slowing continuously, the Swift spaceship drew ever closer to the harsh surface, baked beneath an unforgiving sun and a black-velvet universe of glittering stars.
“Say there, Tom,” intercommed Chow from his station on a lower deck, “we’re lookin’ out this here winder o’ ours and—something’s going on down there!”
“Down on the surface?” Tom repeated in doubtful alarm. Had the Brungarian ship somehow beat them after all? Tom stood up from the pilot’s seat to look, slightly tilting the vertical axis of the ship. Hundreds of miles below on one of the great lunar plains he could make out a dark spreading cloud. The others with him took turns examining it and offered various theories as to the cause.
“Maybe there’s life on the moon after all,” Bud said, only half in jest. “Could be a flock of moon creatures rushing for cover now that they’ve seen us!”
“I’d suggest some sort of eruption of subsurface gases,” said Hank thoughtfully. “But as I recall, the moon is pretty quiet and dead, geologically speaking.”
Tom felt that more likely it was a storm of rock fragments or volcanic ash churned up by waves from their repulsion beams. Some of the force-rays being used to slow down the Challenger had been given a broad sideways slant and could produce such an effect. As the ship continued its approach, Tom’s theory was confirmed.
“Don’t worry, Chow,” Tom intercommed. “Just a little sideways avalanche—a repelatron rock stampede!”
As they drew closer and closer to their destination, the first ripple of excitement that surged through the crew was replaced by a somber feeling, a feeling of awe and of separation from everything they had ever known. “We’re a good 200,000 miles from Shopton, from New York, from Los Angeles, from Kansas—from everything!” Hank Sterling remarked quietly. “It’s no wonder we feel a little homesick.”
The historic journey was nearing its end. When they were within a hundred miles of the moon’s surface, the Challenger came to a gentle stop and hovered, as if taking its bearings and catching its breath. With a significant look at his comrades, Tom eased off on the repelatrons and began the final slow descent.
An awed hush fell over the space travelers. They stared ahead, as if spellbound, until Tom brought the ship to a floating halt mere yards above the floor of the Crater of Copernicus.
He picked up the ship microphone. “Well, we’re here, folks,” Tom Swift announced.
The young inventor’s simple words broke the silence, and instantly the Challenger reverberated from top to bottom with wild cheers from its crew.
Chow half-bounced, half-flew up the inter-deck ladder to the control compartment. “Yippee!” yelled the range cook as he and Bud grabbed Tom and hugged him excitedly.
“Tom Swift, first earthman to come back to the moon!” Bud cried. “You’re a wonder, pal!”
Others came crowding up and in, expressing the same feelings of awe, pride, and gratitude. Heart thudding, Tom grinned, pleased and touched. “Thanks, fellows—all of you.” Then he grew serious. “But I just want to say that everyone here has helped me to reach our destination. Every step came after the step before. And now, here we are!”
“Here we are at the finish line,” added Arv. “But where are the others?”
“Aaa, let us not waste our thoughts on those dunces and schemers!” urged Evan Glennon. “Now on to the next item—saving a couple worlds, you know.”
Tom and the others went to take a closer look at the enormous crater spread out around them, approaching the twin viewports to peer outside. To provide a broader view, Tom gave the spaceship some altitude. Stretching fifty or sixty miles across, Copernicus was rimmed by towering rock walls. The inner bowl seemed filled with gritty debris and rubble from ancient landslides. Tom knew he would have to check the composition and depth of the surface material before allowing anyone to set foot on it. If it were loose dust and fine particles, it could prove a deathtrap for anyone falling into it.
Just then Dinah Ingraham, who had remained at her station to monitor the Challenger’s tracking instruments, sang out a warning through the ship intercom. “Tom, I’m getting that frequency signature again—the other ship! It’s closing fast!”
Instantly Tom flew at the controls and slightly turned the ship. “There she is, coming over the horizon,” he grated. “While we’ve been dawdling and admiring the scenery, the Dyaune must’ve come in on the far side and looped back toward us.”
The rival ship was still miles distant, but some details had become visible. Tiny flashes of light erupted from her prow. “Radar blips!” shouted Bud. Missiles!
Tom jabbed the master control levers, yelling for everyone to brace themselves. The Challenger leapt spaceward like a fantastic jackrabbit! Instants later a string of shiny objects flashed across the crater beneath them. The missiles plowed into the ancient walls of Copernicus and dissolved in silent bursts of blinding orange light.
“Slithe-ea-simeon!” gasped Dr. Glennon as the deck of the Challenger rocked under the impact of the waves of jetting gases spreading from the blast centers.
The ship’s leap accelerated and became a horizon-spanning arc. Tom poured on the power, pushing the ship to the limit as he strove to escape his enemies.
Chow started to erupt, an angry and resentful look on his face, but Tom cut him off. “I know—I don’t like to turn tail any more than you do. But we didn’t come to the moon to fight a space war. We have a duty to save ourselves!”
Chow nodded reluctantly. “Leastways I don’t hafta like it!”
They crossed the crater wall and fled over the curve of the far horizon at top speed. The Dyaune seemed about to pursue them, but then turned about and zoomed back where she had come from, finally disappearing with distance.
“Thank the lord!” panted Anton Faber.
Perched on Violet Wohl’s shoulder, Nicky chattered and scolded. “Sorry sweetheart,” the physician said gently. “You can twist their ears some other time.”
Some time later, having crossed into the lunar farside unseen from the vantage point of the earth, Tom again slowed the Challenger and brought it to a halt at a height of thirty miles. At last he felt he had time to contact his father through the powerful long-range transmitter, which could penetrate the near edge of the lunar horizon.
“What is your plan, son?” asked Damon Swift.
“Wish I could tell you,” replied Tom. “I could use your advice right now. But we both know we don’t dare speak freely about—the situation.”
“Yes—understood. It seems someone has managed to relay word of your course to your enemy, though. The Tomasite composition of your ship should make you as invisible to their radar as their ship is to yours, as it seems.”
“Actually, Dad, there’s a more straightforward explanation. After our courses diverged on the way to the moon, we kept pretty much to a straight line in order to save time. They could have projected our trajectory all the way to the vicinity of the moon. Their only assumption, which turned out to be correct, was that we would hang around in one spot for a time. That’s what allowed them to sneak up on us below the horizon.”
Tom received a report on his mother’s health, rapidly improving. They spoke a bit more, cautiously and elliptically, and then signed off with expressions of love and luck.
“Okay, genius boy, so what is your plan?” Bud asked. “And don’t tell me you don’t have one!”
Tom shrugged. “We have a couple days to kill—44 hours. At zero hour we need to stand-to out in space in hopes of seeing the capsule in transit. Between now and then, all we have to do is stay clear of the Brungarians.”
“That’s all, hmm?” chuckled Arv Hanson with irony.
“I would think this a good opportunity to engage in scientific work,” suggested Dr. Faber. “After all, we have come rather a long way, and may not be up this way again for a while.”
Tom laughed. “You have a point! All right, a little science before dinner.” The young captain took the ship down to within a few miles of the surface, then gave orders for the depth and consistency of the dust layer directly below to be checked by the Challenger’s specialized radar instruments. The report he received back was that the answer was somewhat indeterminable. “The bounceback looks funny to me, Skipper,” declared the radar crewman with a frown. “I’d avoid walking on that stuff until we know a little more.”
Tom turned to Bud. “Like to do a little exploring by flying carpet?”
“Would I!” Bud grinned enthusiastically. “Pal, I can hardly wait to get my space-legs uncoiled!”
Leaving Hank in charge, Tom descended to the hangar compartment with Bud, Chow, and several others who were anxious to begin some lunar exploration. Here they sealed their helmets to the space suits they already wore, and hauled the six Repelatron Donkeys out through the big air lock—which rolled up and down like a garage door—to the landing platform.
“This is great,” said one of the men. “We’re miles up and I don’t feel dizzy! But say, Tom, where are we exactly? Some place unexplored?”
“We’re just east of the Hilbert Crater on the farside,” was the answer. “That ridge on the horizon is the edge of it.”
Chow suddenly called out, “Boss! Brand my hemispheres, where’s the earth got to? Cain’t see it, an’ I thought you could see it from anyplace up here!”
Bud laughed. “Cowpoke, there’s a reason they call this part of the moon the farside! It’s always turned away from the earth so you can’t see it—not no-how!” he added.
The six explorers now mounted their vehicles, one to a disk. “One thing from your training I especially want you to remember,” Tom radioed via his suit transiphone. “Unlike the spaceship these Donkeys only have one repelatron apiece, and it can’t be retuned quickly and precisely enough to deal with the changing mixtures and proportions of ground composition as we travel along. Don’t risk flying lower than about three miles. Below that, the generalized surface frequency you can use at this height starts to break up, and you could run into trouble.”
One by one the six lifted off the porch-platform, forming a flying caravan with Tom in the lead. As they soared through the brilliant sunlight, gradually spreading out into a broad flying wedge, Chow whooped and waved an imaginary 10-gallon hat.
Bud seethed with excitement. “Just think, Tom,” he exclaimed over the radio, “this is really it—the moon! Mrs. Barclay’s little boy sure has― ”
Bud stopped with a squawk. His flying platform had suddenly tilted.
“Bud!” Tom cried in panicked alarm. “You’ve gone too low! Pull up quick!”
But the disk had begun to waver violently, knocking Bud away from the control pedestal and against the encircling safety rails. For a moment the Donkey seemed to steady itself, and Bud stretched out an arm toward the controls. But the next instant, bucking and jolting, it spilled Bud toward disaster!
FRANTICALLY Bud clawed for the nearest support as he whirled over the safety rail like a runaway windmill. He failed to grasp the edge of the disk. But as the platform bobbled over on its side he managed to snag the end of one of the leg struts and cling to it. But the platform refused to right itself! Despite his light lunar weight, Bud’s position was indeed perilous.
Tom had immediately begun to drop down and loop back to rescue his friend. But as he came close to the same level, his own Donkey began to act up, twisting and faltering wildly in its course.
“You can’t go this low either, Skipper!” Bud exclaimed, panting. “You’ll end up like me! Let me try to—uhhh!”
Trying to swing his legs up to the platform, he had lost his grip instead!
Tom’s heart stopped. Even though the moon’s gravity was only a sixth that of Earth, they were miles above the surface, with no atmosphere to slow a falling object even slightly. By the time Bud’s plummeting body hit the ground, Tom knew he would be traveling at bone-smashing speed!
Before Tom could think of what to do, a shadow flashed by him on the left, angling downward. Chow! The seasoned Texan’s rodeo-trained eyes locked on to where his straight trajectory would cross Bud’s falling form. “Knew I shoulda taken m’ lasso out with me!” he muttered.
As Chow’s platform went lower in its flight, the same interference effect that had turned Bud’s and Tom’s Donkeys unstable began to affect his repelatron as well. Instantly the cowpoke switched off the power. Hurtling free through space, the Donkey was now an arrow!
“Buddy boy,” Chow called, “keep yer eyes on me an’ reach out. Only got me one chance at this, partner!”
Tumbling slowly as his fall accelerated, Bud stretched out a desperate arm and Chow, passing below, reached upward and, at the last instant, gave a slight jump. Chow’s fingers raked along Bud’s gauntleted forearm and for a sickening moment it seemed they would be unable to connect. Then their hands came together—and locked in a firm grasp. Chow yanked his young friend down onto the Donkey, and immediately switched the power back on at full force. The repelatron seemed to stutter. But it held, and the platform rocketed up into the black sky out of the danger zone. “Brand my octopus soup, you had a mighty close call, buddy boy!” Chow remarked.
Bud was white. “Chow—all the dumb jokes I ever played on you― ”
“Naw, fergit it, hombre. You jest keep bein’ you!” Chow said. His leathery face wore the satisfied smile of a Texas hero.
As they neared Tom’s Repelatron Donkey Bud began to stumble through an apology for his carelessness, but Tom’s look of anger and sheer relief cut him off. Then the team soared off to recover Bud’s Donkey, which, freed of Bud’s weight, had rebounded to a high altitude. Catching up to it at last, Bud transferred over to it.
“Now let’s head back and put dinner ahead of science!” Tom declared shakily.
“Best idee yet!” amened Chow.
The ensuing hours passed slowly aboard the Challenger. There was no sign of the Dyaune, but also no word from the space friends.
“It’s a real mystery,” Tom remarked to Hank Sterling. “Obviously the space people want us to find the ark—we’re their only chance. Why don’t they transmit detailed arrival and landing information?”
“I’d say it shows a high level of ethical development,” responded Hank thoughtfully. “They now know that their first contact was an error, that they’ve placed Earth in danger as well as their own ‘planet X’. So they’re being extra cautious about sending any messages that could fall into the wrong hands—or ears. I’m not so sure we humans would, ultimately, give such priority to the welfare of strangers on another world—not if our own civilization were in danger.”
Tom nodded at the logic of Hank’s comments. “Yet somehow they seem too clever to leave the situation there. Even if their craft is like their original contact missile and doesn’t show up on our radar, they may be expecting us to sight it visually as it comes in.”
“They seem able to play around with light and visibility, too,” the engineer reminded him. “Remember that object you and Horton encountered on your way to the outpost?”
“Guess we can’t do anything but stay alert,” Tom said.
When the stated time for arrival was finally near at hand, Tom pumped power into the repelatrons and sent the Challenger zooming up into space to an altitude of 800 miles above the lunar surface. He had the entire crew focus their attentions on the surrounding dark void and its field of stars, looking intently for any sign of movement as the ship’s radar, and other detection instruments, scanned back and forth.
But the hour came and went.
“Frustrating, frustrating,” grumbled Dr. Faber. “No doubt their vehicle has been delayed. But for how long?”
Tom disagreed. “I’d be very surprised if they didn’t keep to their stated schedule. More likely they’ve arrived along some route out of sight to us here—or made the vessel impossible to see by some technological means.”
Tom unrolled a detailed map of the two lunar hemispheres and spread it before him on a worktable. Next to it he placed the last space message for reference. “It’s a logic problem, just like the symbols themselves. They must expect me to be able to dope out the most likely landing site just by thinking it through. I wonder if I’m up to it.”
“You are!” Bud declared. “That’s why they trust you—why they picked you to be their point of contact in the first place.”
Bud’s words started a train of thought. “That’s true. It’s me personally they prefer to deal with. So, maybe, the key to all this has to do with me personally—something about me, or something I would know that the Brungarians wouldn’t.” As his agile mind ran over the whole sequence of his contacts with the space friends, his deep-set blue eyes fell upon the copy of the final space message they had received.
WE ARE NOT ABLE TO ACT TO PREVENT THE COMPLETION OF ITS SEQUENCE. CONTAINER COURSE WILL TERMINATE AT #### SEVENTEEN ROTATIONS. SOLVE FOR POSITIVE RESULTANT IF YOU ARE ABLE. NO COMMUNICATION PENDING RESOLUTION.
“Bud!” Tom cried suddenly. “This previous message!”
“Huh? What about it?”
“‘Solve for positive resultant’! Don’t you get it? It has a double meaning! We took it as a reference to solving the disease problem, but what if it means that there’s something else embedded in the message itself that we are to ‘solve for’?”
Bud’s eyes widened, as certain eyes are prone to do. “Genius boy! That’s got to be it! The key they’re counting on is you yourself—your genius! They figure you’re the only person on Earth who can pull the secret second meaning out of what they sent you!”
Tom set to work with renewed vigor, going back to the original array of received symbols. “It might even have to do with the exact transmission frequencies they used,” he muttered.
The young inventor tried one approach after another as the hours fell away. At last inspiration came to him. “I’ve got it! If you take the base coefficients of the row delimiters and then― ”
“That stuff’s as hard t’ figger as them drawins, boss,” Chow interrupted. “Mebbe you kin just tell us what the space folks have to say.”
Tom rubbed an hand across his forehead, streaked with the perspiration of hours. “Sure, pardner. They’ve sent us radial coordinates based on the lunar sphere, and repeated them several times for confirmation. It’s beautiful! And they’ve used the moon’s orbital plane, which is slightly inclined to the plane of the solar system, as an anchoring point.”
Tom drew a number of precise lines and circles on the lunar map, plotting a series of X’s that formed an octagonal figure. “There, where the lines cross inside that octagon—that’s the landing site.”
“But where is it?” asked Dr. Wohl.
“Here on the farside, but much closer to the southern pole.” Tom read the small writing on the map. “The Lucian Plateau—probably right in this feature here, a small valley.”
“Then it’s waiting for us, lad!” exclaimed Evan Glennon. “Let’s go!”
TOM SWIFT took Dr. Glennon’s advice immediately. Swiveling and adjusting the repelatron array on the ring-rails, he sent the Challenger lunging off on a southern tack, pulling closer to the surface at the same time. The craters, mountains, and rippling fore-edges of ancient lava flows sped by beneath them faster and faster as the huge ship seemed to strain forward in anticipation.
“Here’s the edge of the plateau,” said the young inventor breathlessly. “Coming up portside—I think that’s the valley. Anyone see anything?”
A dozen pairs of eyes scanned the stark terrain in tense silence. Then a dozen shoulders flinched as Nicky the monkey gave forth and excited, unearthly screech!
“Nicky!” reproved Violet Wohl. “What’s the matter with you?”
“Mebbe he sees somethin’,” said Chow. “Animals kin see better’n us human beins can.”
“I think I see something,” Tom murmured in awestruck tones, pointing.
A circular, unearthly object was hanging immobilely one thousand feet above the floor of the lunar valley!
“Jetz!” breathed Bud.
“You found it, Tom!” said Arv Hanson. But like everyone else, he seemed compelled to speak in a whisper.
“What do you suppose holds it up like that?” mused Hank. “Our instruments don’t detect anything at all—like it isn’t there!”
The space ark had an overall discoid shape, flattened on top and bottom but curving smoothly around its periphery, top and bottom merging together without a rim or seam like the end of an egg. It was utterly featureless, its color a nonreflective white. Yet the watchers could make out a very faint, hazy corona against the blackness of space, a rainbow-colored luminance that seemed in constant shifting motion over and around the entire hull.
“I’m not receiving any energy readings at any frequency,” intercommed Dinah Ingraham from her station. “Dead blank.”
“Yeah,” gulped Chow, “dead’s the word fer it—like a blame ghost from outer space!”
“Let’s not get spooked by it,” said Tom with a smile. “We need to get moving before the Dyaune runs across it too. I’m taking one of the Donkeys over for a closer look. As long as I move very slowly the platform should remain stable.”
Bud put a hand on his pal’s shoulder. “Not you, Tom—us!”
But the young inventor shook his head. “I have to do this alone.”
Then Dr. Wohl said, “Well, Tom, my little friend here is acting like he really wants to go with you—and he has a working spacesuit. Why not take him along on your shoulder? Seriously, if that corona has any harmful properties Nicky might show an early reaction to it. You can use him like they used canaries in mines to check the air, in the old days.”
Tom nodded reluctantly. “I don’t like putting anyone in danger, not even Nicky. But I suppose it makes sense.”
In minutes, Nicky perched contentedly on his shoulder and grasping Tom’s helmet antenna, the scientist-inventor was gliding toward the alien vessel on one of the Donkeys. As he approached and attempted to photograph it with a digital videocam, he received a startling shock—the screen showed the lunar background, but not a sign of the disk!
“Guys,” Tom radioed, “the space ark is invisible!”
“But Tom, we all see it!” was Bud’s puzzled reply. “Even Nicky seemed to be seeing it!”
“Don’t ask me to explain it.”
Man and monkey cruised about the eerie craft in the dazzling sunlight. After circling it completely, Tom descended to inspect the hull more closely.
Suddenly a staticky blast came over Tom’s suit transiphone. “Tom!” exclaimed the communications engineer, “the Brungarian rocket’s coming!”
The Dyaune-1, exhaust glowing, was arrowing in just over the horizon. It drew a bead and swooped down toward Tom and the space ark, then backed off a half-mile and slowed, turning its rounded prow in Tom’s direction and hovering on a bank of small thrusters. The next moment, fire spurted from its forward ports as their enemy loosed another volley of their small missiles.
Tom maneuvered his platform with practiced skill to avoid being struck or caught in the blasts—doubly difficult for Tom, who had to steer with one hand and cling to Nicky, chattering frantically, with the other. But, as the missiles continued whizzing past the Repelatron Donkey, Tom decided that the onslaught was intended chiefly to frighten him. Otherwise, they could’ve hit us long before this, he thought.
“Challenger calling Tom!” The operator’s voice came over his suit radio, choking with anger. “The Brungarians just flashed us a message. It said: ‘This attack is only to show you that we will not stand for any interference. Return to earth at once or face a real battle here!’ Bud Barclay suggests that you― ”
“I can imagine, Dinah.” Heart pounding, Tom thought fast, trying not to let his own rage get the better of him. “Send me the frequency,” he radioed back. “I’ll try talking to them myself.”
“You will not need our frequency,” came a cool voice in Tom’s earphone, “for we already have yours, Tom Swift.”
“Am I speaking to Nattan Volj?”
“That is my name—Professor Volj will do. I take it my reputation has reached American shores, eh?”
“Yes, Professor, it has,” Tom confirmed, trying to keep the quaver from his voice. “And we know you are in command of the Dyaune—and acting in defiance of your government.”
Volj responded angrily. “You will not repeat this lying propaganda! We of i-Szentimentalya form the true government of our beloved Brungaria, the government of patriots, not craven collaborators and traitors who have sold us out to the West.” The man paused, calming himself. “But I think we have more to discuss than these political matters, young Mr. Swift. You have received our warning. Accept our offer and leave for Earth in your marvelous ship of rings and dishes—and you will not be harmed.”
“Please listen, Professor—all of you over there.” Tom spoke slowly and carefully, knowing that his words were probably being translated. “The space beings have learned to trust us. Though you were allowed to exchange messages with them, they now understand that your motives are—questionable. If you attempt to approach their craft, or enter it, or steal it, they may decide that it’s in their best interest to destroy you!”
“Improbable,” said Volj. “Such highly ethical beings, life-lovers?—they would not act so.” There was contempt in his voice.
“Their planet is at stake,” Tom pointed out. “In any event, there is also the problem of the animal plague. It may not be containable in Earth’s atmosphere. It could kill you—and then hundreds of millions!—if you try to take the container back to Earth.”
There was a long silence. Tom could well imagine the vigorous debate going on in the Brungarian ship! “What do you propose to us, then?” was Volj’s eventual response.
“Let us examine the space ark, as we call it, together, you and I—just the two of us.” Tom was playing for time, hoping a solution would come to him.
“The two of us, eh? With your pet, it is three!” Volj chuckled without humor. “No matter, as we shall not be putting anything to a vote. Perhaps your proposal has a speck of merit to it.” After another pause, Volj radioed his acceptance.
The Challenger crew had monitored the entire exchange. “Tom, do you mean that?” Bud exclaimed unbelievingly. “Can’t we― ”
Tom cut him short. “Stand down, Challenger!” he ordered. “If the Dyaune approaches too close, or starts firing on us—go to Plan Nine!”
Tom could imagine Bud smiling at the bluff. “Roger, Captain!”
Tom again approached the ark, moving cautiously. The craft loomed larger; and in a strange way the changes of perspective as he neared the ship seemed abnormal, as if Tom were somehow entering a different kind of space set sideways to our own. There was no reaction as the Repelatron Donkey crossed through the hazy aura of light, nor when Tom landed on the flat hull. The disk seemed to be about 100 feet across, and Tom had set down near its edge.
At the same time, a spacesuited figure had emerged through a portal on the Dyaune, riding a sort of framework rocket-scooter. The figure drew nearer and landed neatly ten feet from Tom.
“I am Professor Nattan Volj,” said the grim-faced man behind the suit visor. “You need not pretend to be pleased to met me, Mr. Swift. I have at my side a small weapon. If you have not come similarly armed, I pity your trusting stupidity.”
“You won’t need the weapon,” Tom said. “And I’d advise you to keep it holstered. Might not be smart to make our space friends nervous.”
Opening the safety railing, Tom stepped down onto the hull, then knelt down to feel it through his gloved fingers as best he could. He could feel its resistant pressure, yet nothing of texture. Even close up there was no sign of any opening or means of access in the mirrorlike smooth surface.
Volj had unstrapped his conveyance and set it aside. “An assumed part of our bargain is our ability to inspect the interior. Have you been given some means to breach the hull?”
Tom gave the white metal a baffled glance through his transparent helmet-bubble. He frowned thoughtfully. “Nothing. But I’ve brought some portable test equipment with me,” he stated. “It may show up something we can’t see with the naked eye.”
“Then you will proceed immediately!”
The young inventor selected a compact flashlamp-like device and began to play it across large areas of the surface, studying the dials that analyzed the reflected response. “Nothing in the high infrared range,” he said at last. “Now I’ll try ultraviolet.” He began checking every square inch of the hull with ultraviolet rays, knowing that they make certain materials fluoresce.
Suddenly Professor Volj hissed out over the radio, “Stop there! Something is showing up!”
Tom nodded, watching intently. Under the continued bombardment of the ultraviolet, a series of symbols gradually became visible along the hull of the ship. They glowed weirdly with an orange radiance standing out against the whitish metal.
“Those symbols again!” muttered Volj. “Can you read what they mean?”
“I think so,” Tom replied. “Most of them are familiar.” He translated slowly. “‘Concentrate electromagnetic waves upon this point.’ And then it gives frequency and amplitude information.”
Tom radioed the Challenger and Bud answered. “What should we do, Skipper?” he asked.
“Have Hank aim the long-range antenna at the spot indicated. I’ll read the tuning numbers to you.” Tom grinned. “Better write ’em down, flyboy,” he added. “One digit off and the saucer may take off for Andromeda!”
“Roger… Wilco,” the young pilot replied.
From the Challenger’s control deck the assembled astronauts watched in great suspense as Hank Sterling programmed the transmitter setup. They saw that Tom and Volj had stepped back, waiting while the radio impulses were beamed toward the ark. Moments later the Challenger crew gasped as one. Bud choked out a single shocked word.
Professor Volj stood alone on the hull of the space ark. Tom Swift had vanished without a trace!
THE WATCHERS aboard the American ship were stunned, but none moreso than Professor Volj. “What trickery is this?” he radioed in fury. “I demand that you honor the bargain and allow me equal access to the interior of the animal container!”
“We would if we could,” Bud radioed back. “But we don’t know what’s going on any more than you do. We’ve repeated the signal several times now.”
“Do you take me for a fool?”
“Frankly, Volj, I don’t take you at all!” Bud growled back. “For all we know this is something you Brungarians are doing!”
Volj did not reply, but hastily strapped on his rocket-conveyor and lifted off in the direction of the Dyaune. In moments he had disappeared behind the closing port-hatch.
Bud turned to Hank Sterling. “Something tells me we’re about to be graced with another missile barrage!”
Tom, meanwhile, knew nothing of all this. He had been startled but not alarmed when his view of the bright moonscape and hovering Challenger had been replaced, in an instant, with utter blackness. There had been no feeling of motion, but he was sure that he had somehow been transferred into the interior of the space ark. He could feel a flat surface beneath his boots, and his outstretched hand brushed against a smoothly curving wall.
After a moment he switched on one of the small lamps built into his spacesuit. The scene that leapt into view was intriguing yet strangely disappointing. He was standing next to a featureless bulkhead—obviously the inner wall of the craft’s hull at the periphery. The deck below his boots was as free of detail or texture as the wall. Turning slowly, he found that he was in a curving passageway. He guessed that it wrapped all the way around the disk.
And that was all. There was nothing to see—no equipment, no air vents, no control apparatus. Nothing!
They sure run an efficient operation! Tom joked to himself. He was not concerned with what had transpired—for the space symbols, for which he had purposely given only a partial translation, had indicated that the access mechanism was not a conventional hatch or panel, but something inexplicable by earthly science.
He was surprised, though, that he alone had been let down into the ship. Somehow the space beings, or perhaps their vessel itself, knew friend from foe! Then a knocking on the back of his helmet reminded him that he wasn’t alone. Nicky had come too, and seemed none the worse for it.
Checking his suit instruments Tom had another surprise. The corridor contained an oxygen-nitrogen mix identical to that of the earth at sea level! Bet it’s the exact same as the air on Runway 3 at Enterprises! he speculated. But keep your helmet on, pal—for now!
He began to walk along the corridor, hoping to come across a doorway or control mechanism that would afford him entrance into the central part of the ark. But he walked and walked, for a long time, before finally concluding that he had passed his starting point at least once. He set a tool from his suit pack down on the deck and tried again; in less the a minute of slow ambling he had returned to it.
In the interim he had been trying to contact the Challenger. The result was bizarrely puzzling! After several attempts his helmet headset cracked with an incoming message—but it was his own voice, his outgoing message simply replayed to him! The effect was disorienting, and he gave up for the moment.
Meanwhile Bud and Hank had allowed the Challenger to drop down gently to the lunar surface, its multiple repelatrons steadying it against the proximity-interference effect.
“You’re trying to evade them, are you?” asked Dr. Faber.
“Nope!” Bud insisted fiercely. Grins broke out on the crew’s faces as they realized the bold young pilot and expert engineer had a plan in mind.
“What cooks, buddy boy?” asked Chow. “We gonna let those sidewinders have it?”
“We’ll try a new type of defense—repulsion wave,” the dark-haired youth explained. “Seems like just the other day that I was talking about it with Tom.”
“I’ve scanned-in the material of the Dyaune’s hull,” Hank reported from the repelatron master control. “Also fragments of their missiles, which they provided so thoughtfully.”
The Swift spaceship braced itself, anchor-screws protruding from its four circular landing-pads drilling into the crumbly surface of the moon.
“We’re ready for ’em!” Bud announced.
Inside the silent ark from space, Tom Swift had begun to feel concerned by his being so utterly cut off from his friends. Did the space beings intend not to let him go until and unless the animals were cured? What if such a cure proved impossible?
He pried along the wall with his armored space gauntlets, seeking to locate any sign of a sliding panel or other hatchway. But once again he noted that the whole surface seemed smooth as glass! Tom was seized by a growing pang of alarm.
“Relax, boy, relax,” he told himself. “If this rocket let you in, it’ll let you out again.”
He again considered the air in the corridor. Another mystery! Had his space friends been investigating the phantom satellite, Nestria, and learned how to create this atmosphere just for Tom and his companions to work in?
Whatever the answer, his space suit was no longer needed. Tom took off his helmet, glad to be free of the bulky gear, removing Nicky’s helmet as well. The little rhesus chattered his thanks. Tom noticed that the monkey seemed strangely calm, looking at Tom with big dark eyes that were questioning and almost intelligent.
Tom continued his search. Still the secret of manually opening, or de-materializing, the ark’s wall eluded him. He could feel beads of sweat on his forehead. I assumed this was all deliberate on the part of the space people, Tom thought; what if I’m wrong? What if it’s a malfunction—or what if the Brungarians are responsible for it? He waited anxiously, thinking his friends surely would figure how to outwit the Brungarians if they were responsible for the trouble. Minutes went by, but there was nothing but deadly stillness.
Despite his best efforts a claustrophobic panic finally took him over. In its grip he began to wildly claw and hammer at the walls of the ark.
He was a prisoner in a spaceship from a strange planet, full of diseased animals!
Outside, the desolate moon had become a dangerous place. As anticipated, the Dyaune launched a new missile barrage—this time directly at the Challenger, waiting on the valley floor like a sitting duck. The crew flinched back as the missiles converged on their target.
“Any second now!” choked Arvid Hanson, eyeing the tracking monitor.
“You, er, might try turning your equipment on!” gasped Dr. Glennon. “A bit close for comfort—!”
“Closer… closer…” Bud murmured. “Now!” Hank’s finger stabbed a red button.
To the enemy’s amazement, the swarm of small projectiles came to a stop a hundred feet from the Challenger! They hung suspended for a moment, quivering and straining against unseen forces, then rebounded violently in the direction of those who had fired them!
“Oh, brother!” Bud roared as the swarm scattered in all directions and the missiles plunged into the far corners of the valley, some barely missing the Dyaune. “I can just see those guys’ faces!”
The entire crew rocked with laughter.
“That’ll hold ’em fer a stretch, th’ dang idjits!” boomed Chow scornfully.
Sterling grinned as he swiveled the radiators for a quick take-off. A few seconds later the Challenger was speeding toward the moon’s umbra—its moving zone of shadow.
“We’re not running away,” Bud declared. “We’ll be back for Tom a lot sooner than those Brungarians think!”
REALIZING that panic would only make his plight worse, Tom stopped his frantic pounding. As always, when in trouble, he asked himself, What would Dad do in this situation?
“He’d try to collect his wits, that’s for sure!” Tom muttered ruefully. He looked at Nicky, who obligingly crawled down onto his forearm and regarded him coolly. “Right, buddy?” In a moment he felt calmer. “Now that I’m in here, I may as well take a look at those animals,” he decided. “Assuming I can find my way in!”
Suddenly, as if his thoughts had been overheard, a change came over the corridor. The inner wall began to glow, softly at first and then more brilliantly, as if lit by some inner radiance. But in fact it was not becoming luminous, but becoming transparent. Tom did not touch the wall, thinking that its transition back and forth might be triggered by a current passing through it.
Tom gasped at the sight revealed beyond the wall. A huge zoo garden lay spread out before his eyes—a garden from the distant planet of his space friends!
The young inventor had set eyes on some of this interplanetary life before, in the capsule recovered by the seacopter. Here again were curious plants glistening with a red metallic sheen and seeming to grow directly out of rocks. Some looked like honeycombed tulips or inverted mushrooms. Others bore flowers with long spikes, dripping an oily liquid. Here and there were the mobile plant-forms he had seen previously, rodent-sized pods slowly crawling about in search of nutrition.
“But those animals!” Tom gasped as he gazed at the animals in the ark’s fantastic “space zoo.” The creatures lay among the rocks, basking in the strange blue-tinged light, or moved about in slow, sickly fashion, scarcely turning their heads to look at Tom.
Though even the biggest were no larger than horses, they resembled the primeval monsters of earth’s dim past. Tom saw what looked like a miniature edition of an alosaurus, with its clumsy body, long neck, and tiny head. Near it was an animal which looked like a glyptodon or ancient armadillo. A small tyrannosaur squatted on its hind legs, slowly opening and closing its bone-crusher jaws. And there were other creatures too that earthly words were inadequate to describe. Yet none seemed to be mammalian, and though feathers and scales were plentiful, there was not a sign of fur.
As Tom stared in amazement, a triceratops-like beast, the size of a Shetland pony, waddled a few paces toward him. Its horned head made it look something like a rhinoceros, with a frilled bony plate around the neck. It gazed at him with alien eyes that seemed almost kindly.
It’s strange, Tom thought, utterly lost in wonder, that the animals of Planet X are so primitive in form, while their masters are so highly advanced in science. Suddenly it struck him that, for all he knew, some of these creatures might be the space beings themselves! Yet none gave a hint of any humanlike intelligence.
He cautiously stretched forward a gloved hand to touch the wall of the zoo. Other than a very slight resistance, as if penetrating the surface of a fluid, he felt nothing. Like the Inertite envelope around Nestria, the containing barrier enclosing the zoo was permeable to solid objects, at least in its transparent state. And, the worrisome thought called out to Tom, at least going inward!
Tom resealed his and Nicky’s spacesuits for protection. Then, gathering his courage, he stepped through the barrier, Nicky in his arms, lying docilely. Inside Tom checked the atmosphere meter built into his suit. Now it showed a very different atmosphere, presumably the air of the space friends’ distant star-world. The pressure was low, like that on a high mountain-top, and the air was very dry. Yet Tom decided earthlings might be able to breathe it, with perhaps a bit of help: though low in nitrogen, it was very rich in oxygen. “Hmm,” he muttered to himself, “lots of argon; helium too.” The temperature felt sultry at 88 degrees Fahrenheit.
He jumped back, startled, as something nudged his leg. One of the tiny tyrannosaurs, dog-sized, was nuzzling his knee with its snout. Amazed at the creature’s friendliness, he rubbed his hand between its eyes. It seemed to react with pleasure!
“Good night!” Tom said wonderingly. “I’ve made a friend!”
Outside, as the Challenger rounded out of the dazzling sunshine into the area of lunar night, Hank Sterling powered-down the energy converters, using barely enough power to keep the ship aloft.
“What’s next?” Dr. Wohl asked.
Her inquiry overlapped one from Anton Faber: “How long will Tom be safe inside that vessel?”
“Not sure on either question,” was Bud Barclay’s terse reply. “What we do depends on whether the Brungarians act as Hank and I think they will. But people can surprise you, right?—I’m surprising myself by not going over to the Dyaune and taking it apart with my bare hands!”
“Aye, Bud bach, you and me both!” declared Dr. Glennon. “I’ll gladly blow a bit of smoke up their fancy tailpipe!”
“As for Tom, wherever he is, for now we’ll have to rely on the space friends to keep him well,” Hank added.
The Dyaune was momentarily out of sight below the horizon, which still blazed with sunlight like a burning crescent of white. Suddenly one of the crewmen sang out, “Here they come again!”
“At least we’re protected against their missiles,” murmured Arv.
“Ye-ah, but who know what else they got in their holsters!” retorted Chow nervously.
“Hang tight,” Bud said.
The Dyaune approached slowly, its form turning into a silhouette as it passed into the shadow zone. “Okay, let’s get moving!” Hank exclaimed. As he and Bud worked the controls, the Challenger leapt spaceward and sped further into the shadows only a few hundred feet above the surface. The Brungarian ship gave chase, its ion corona flaring brightly!
The crew huddled onto the control deck said nothing, but watched the enemy ship intently and with growing alarm. The miles that separated the two ships dissolved away.
“C-can’t we go any faster?” demanded one young astronaut.
“We could,” said Bud. “But we’re not gonna.”
“Hey, them sneaks must be tryin’ to pull a fast one!” Chow exclaimed. “They turned off their tail lights!”
The ion-drive flare behind the Dyaune had abruptly dwindled away to the faintest of sparks. Bud gave a sharp cry. “They’re in trouble!”
Something had happened for sure. The Brungarian ship had ceased to accelerate, gliding along on momentum alone. “Just what we’ve been waiting for!” Hank proclaimed. Swiveling the repelatron array to a pre-programmed setting, he again stabbed the master control. The converging beams of invisible force had an immediate effect. The Dyaune markedly slackened its speed. Then, moving too slowly to remain in orbit, it began to arc down toward the moon’s surface!
“They’ll crash!” Glennon muttered.
“This is what we were banking on—the chance that they might lose power,” Bud said with a whoop of pleasure.
Chow stared at him in amazement. “How come?”
Sterling answered for Bud. “Since we doped out that their ship operates on solar energy, they can’t use their main drive here in the umbra,” he explained with a broad grin. “And apparently their auxiliary power supply isn’t enough to allow the smaller thrusters to resist our repelatron—something they didn’t anticipate as we lured ’em into the shadow.”
“We rope-a-doped and sucker-punched ’em,” Bud chortled.
As he spoke, Bud was gunning ahead full speed, seeking to maneuver the Challenger between the falling craft and the moon’s surface.
“Buddy boy, you gone loco?” Chow gasped. “They’ll crash right plumb on top of us!”
“Not if our repelatrons work properly,” the dark-haired pilot replied. “We’re adjusting for the changing angles as we go.”
The others held their breaths as Bud and Hank, daring pilot and cool engineer, put their daring plan to the test. The other ship, completely out of control, was plunging straight toward the Challenger which by now had come to rest on the surface of the moon. In seconds would come the crash!
But the bank of repelatrons proved their worth and held steady. Gasps and cheers sounded from the Challenger’s crew as the Brungarian rocket ship slowed and then froze motionless. The repelatron beams were holding them off successfully!
“Message coming in, control deck!” intercommed Dinah Ingraham.
“Now we’ll see some fast and fancy verbal footwork, I’ll wager,” noted Dr. Faber.
Inside the space saucer, the head of the moon expedition found himself communing with the stricken animals almost as an equal. They reacted to Tom not with self-protective fear, but with a friendly curiosity touched with only a trace of shyness. One by one they gathered near him, regarding him calmly.
“This is something, isn’t it, Nicky?” Tom said, astonished yet somehow moved. “These folks aren’t like most animals back home—they’re thinkers, just like you and I! Maybe they’ve been bred that way by the space friends, or maybe they’ve been altered or genetically engineered. It’s as if they understand who I am and why I’m here.” He looked down at his tiny charge. “So what d’you think, pal?”
Suddenly the rhesus monkey reached up and tapped Tom on his helmet in front of his mouth, then jumped from the young inventor’s arms. As Tom watched in bewilderment, Nicky scrambled about in the alien soil, trailing a gauntleted arm behind him.
Then the monkey stood aside, as if waiting. Tom’s jaw dropped.
Nicky had drawn one of the alien space symbols on the ground of the zoo!
As the monkey clambered back up on Tom’s shoulder, Tom again gazed into the creature’s eyes. “Nicky, what’s happening to us? What’s the space ark doing to us?” He looked up and turned slowly around, trying to make some sort of visual contact with each of the beasts that encircled him. I know you’re sick and in pain, he thought with all his force. We’ll do what we can for you. Please trust me.
Acting together, almost as one, the mob of animals bowed their grotesque heads or lowered their strange-shaped bodies down onto the ground, as if in honor to their rescuer from Earth!
HOLDING the captive Dyaune high above the American ship like a prize, Hank Sterling began to gently maneuver the Challenger back toward the space ark, while Bud engaged Professor Volj in a surreal conversation.
“I do think we have gotten off on the wrong feet, as you say,” radioed Volj. “Perhaps you mistook our monitor probes as weapons, eh?”
“Perhaps we did,” Bud agreed. “And perhaps we feel like doing a little probing of our own.”
“Let us resolve these matters in peaceful amity.”
“Let us not use diplomatic terms like amity and try talking turkey instead.”
“And what sort of turkey do you have in mind?” asked Volj.
“Haven’t decided yet,” was Bud’s reply. “I’ll send over a gobble when I do. Meanwhile, you’re not going anywhere, so I’d suggest starting a good book.”
He signed off. Violet Wohl asked him what were would do when they arrived in the sunlit area. “Won’t the Dyaune regain its power?”
“It would if we allowed it to,” Hank said. “But the edge of the umbra is close to the valley where the ark is. We’ll park where we can see the ark while keeping our enemies in the dark.”
“Ah, such a poetic flow of words!” chuckled Glennon. “Part Welsh, I’d say.”
The ship landed again in sight of the space ark, and Bud once again transmitted the signal that had had such an unexpected effect on Tom. And this time, at long last, it worked—Tom Swift was suddenly standing atop the saucer, Nicky on his shoulder!
As the crew cheered joyously, none louder than Bud, Tom radioed that all was well and reboarded his waiting Repelatron Donkey. He returned to the ship and the warm bearhugs of his friends, the spaceship rising to meet him.
They exchanged stories. “You really outsmarted them, flyboy, Hank!” Tom exclaimed with gusto.
“But what we did can’t compare to what you’ve found within the capsule,” said Anton Faber soberly. “Intelligent, telepathic animals! Fantastic to think of all you discovered in such a very short span of time.”
Tom smiled but looked slightly puzzled. “Thanks. But it wasn’t all that brief, you know—several hours, wasn’t it?”
Bud laughed. “Several hours? Maybe it seemed that way to you, chum, but you were only inside the ark for about fifteen or twenty minutes at most.”
“But—but that can’t be!” Frowning, Tom looked at his suit chronometer. It matched Bud’s estimate perfectly!
“How could they control my subjective sense of time without altering the objective flow― ” Tom began, when their came an interruption from the communications cabin.
“A message coming in!”
“From the Brungarians?” Tom asked.
“From deep space! I’ll send the oscilloscope output up to your console.”
Tom rushed to the control panel and watched as space symbols appeared on the scope. In a few moments words in English began appearing as provided by the electronic translator.
TO TOM SWIFT. WE ARE FRIENDS. WE ARE AWARE OF YOUR CONTACT WITH THE TRANSMISSION VEHICLE. ANIMAL SPECIMENS CANNOT LIVE LONG. LIFE SITUATION ON OUR PLANET IS DESPERATE. REQUEST YOU CARRY OUT OPERATIONS WITH GREATEST POSSIBLE SPEED. DO NOT RESPOND TO THIS MESSAGE. DANGER TO US IS PROBABLE RESULTANT.
Chow groaned colorfully, scratching his bald head. “Typical! What sort o’ cockamie plot twist are they spoutin’ off about now? Why don’t they want you to answer?”
“It may have something to do with the relationship between the Martian base and the ‘masters’ on their home planet,” Arv Hanson suggested. “They may be defying a direct order by contacting us now, without higher-level permission.”
“Wa-aal,” grumped Chow, “the more I hear about this here Planet X, the more I appreciate the X in Texas!”
“We have no time to waste, lads,” said Evan Glennon softly. “Now that we have our enemies helpless, we three bioscientists must go aboard the ark and tend to the animals as best we can.”
“As far as I can see, you guys won’t be completely safe as long as those Sentimentalistas, or whatever they call themselves, are hangin’ around right over our heads,” Bud said bitterly. “I don’t trust them any further than I can repela-throw them!”
A crewman chimed in. “Barclay’s right, Tom. Let ’em drop on the moon while they’re still helpless!”
Others urged the same course, but Tom shook his head. “As long as they’re in our power, we can’t let them crash to their deaths. That may be their way, but it isn’t ours. Some day we may teach the world’s fanatics to play square.”
“Why not call the Brungarians and parley a bit more?” Dr. Faber suggested in a quiet voice. “If we offer to share the scientific honors and the chance to work with the infected animals, or at least observe our own activities, perhaps they’ll reconsider their attitude. They might allow some of us onto their ship, to ensure our safety from any more hostile acts.”
Some of the listeners groaned. Tom shrugged. “We tried it once and it blew up in our faces, but it certainly won’t do any harm to make another offer. We’re in a position of strength now, I guess.”
But the Brungarian ship promptly returned a negative answer. “To allow you onto our ship, that is something you can hardly expect of us. But consider this counter offer. Permit me, with two of my scientists, to join you inside the vessel. We will observe, nothing more. And of course we will be at your mercy. The Dyaune can make no moves against the ship while we accompany you.”
Tom accepted with the logic of Volj’s proposal. He agreed to rendezvous with the three Brungarians on the hull of the saucer.
“Brand my six-shooters, what’re we waitin’ for?” Chow whooped. “Let’s saddle up our repelly-jet broncs an’ get movin’, buckaroos!”
A team of eight was quickly selected—Tom, Bud, Hank, Arv, Chow, and the three scientists. “I suggest you make it nine, Tom,” urged Violet Wohl. “As a form of earthly animal life with some near-human characteristics, Nicky could be valuable to you—sort of a telepathic relay station.”
Tom nodded. “You’re right, Doc Vi. Nicky deserves to come along.” The little monkey had shown no further signs of enhanced intelligence since leaving the interior of the space ark, but Tom was curious to observe the effect of further exposure.
As all the remaining crew rushed to their posts, Tom and his team descended to the Challenger’s hangar. Doubling up on some of the Donkeys, they soon were standing on the alien hull, where Nattan Volj and his colleagues were already awaiting them. Glennon, Faber, and Wohl had brought along cases containing instruments and medical supplies of different types.
“It will not be to your advantage to disappear as you did before,” Volj warned Tom.
“I have no control over it,” was Tom’s cool answer. He radioed the Challenger: “Transmit the signal.”
An instant later, the top of the hull of the ark was blank. Even the Repelatron Donkeys had vanished!
“B-b-brand my somethin’ ’r other!” stammered Chow. “If’n you hadn’t o’ warned me, boss, I think I’d be spread out on this here deck about now!”
The large group, and their equipment, stood in the curving corridor that surrounded the zoo enclosure. The inner barrier wall was as transparent as when Tom left it.
The bioscientists reacted with amazed awe at the sight of the other-planetary life forms. “Wonder of wonders!” cried Dr. Glennon. “The dinosaurs live again, eh?—in miniature!”
“Do you propose to examine and treat those creatures through this transparent wall?” asked Volj.
Tom smiled. “Watch us, Professor!” He led the way right through the soft barrier, and Volj and his men followed, eyebrows raised.
“I imagine the wall was included for our own protection, in case we didn’t want to get close to them,” Tom replied. “Or perhaps to help maintain the special environment they require.”
“Let’s set up the equipment,” urged Anton Faber, his brow creased at the sight of the animals. Soon various pieces of examination apparatus, including the leptoscope that they had brought along, were in place and ready for operation.
“At last we can begin the real job,” Dr. Faber said with satisfaction. “Tom, this project is a zoologist’s dream!”
“You sure these babies won’t bite?” Bud asked, eying the animals cautiously.
“They hardly look as if they have enough appetite,” Tom remarked. “And look how calm and friendly they are toward us!”
“Not quite all of us,” whispered Arv Hanson. Tom and Bud grinned as they noticed how the creatures skittered away from Nattan Volj as he tried to approach them with hand outstretched.
“Like you said, Tom, them’s mighty smart animals!” Chow exclaimed approvingly. “Reckon they’s good judges o’ character, too.”
“Ayach! More of their mind-sensing powers, no doubt,” Evan Glennon observed. “In any event I’d say they’re either too sick or too docile to harm us, perhaps both. Look at the way that poor fellow’s ribs stick out. Probably hasn’t put away a square meal for days.”
“Well, don’t look at me—I’m no candidate!” Bud said hastily.
Chuckling, Glennon went up to one of the dinosaurs, took its head between his hands, and proceeded to inspect its heavy-lidded eyes. His gentle manner and friendly murmurings in Welsh seemed to have a soothing effect on the beast.
Tom and Bud looked at one another, grinning. “You’d think he was an old hand with these space monsters,” Bud whispered.
Meanwhile, Dr. Faber and Violet Wohl were similarly engaged. During the next half hour, they examined all the animals cursorily, conferred together, and finally reported to Tom.
“The symptoms are similar to those of Brucellosis,” Wohl announced.
“Is that good news or bad?” Tom asked.
“Both, in a way,” Faber explained. “The symptoms are very familiar. But of course, despite the symptoms, the etiology is quite different.”
“Now we must track the effects to their causes,” said Glennon. “Perhaps the trail shall lead down to molecule and atom, where my own quantum expertise shall prove a blessing to us.”
As Professor Volj and his crewmen looked on with a keen and cunning interest, Hank Sterling rolled the leptoscope scanner up to the first selected animal, a creature shaped like a large mongoose but covered in layers of iridescent feathers. As the engineer switched on the apparatus, its slight hum seemed to alarm the animal. It shrank back in evident fear, and even Glennon’s Welsh coaxings failed to persuade it to come closer.
“I have an idea,” Tom said. “Doc Vi, see if you can get Nicky to stand under the receiving antenna.” Almost before Tom had finished speaking, the monkey had scurried over to take his place. Not quite sure of what he was doing, Tom sent Nicky “good thoughts”—feelings of comfort and reassurance. You’ll come to no harm—trust us! Tom “transmitted,” hoping that somehow the gist of it would be spread to the other animals.
The method worked! The mongoose-bird suddenly seemed to take heart and crept its way into position, gently nudging Nicky aside, as if thanking him.
Now a lengthy period of study ensued. Though as before the personal time of the visitors seemed to stretch out while “real” time was almost slowed to a stop, everyone was well aware that another sort of clock was also ticking. The planet of the space friends was facing catastrophe.
As the three bioscientists approached Tom in a group, he glanced at them expectantly. “Any cure?”
Dr. Wohl spoke for them. “Tom, there simply is not enough time. What could we have been thinking, to imagine that we could work out an alien biology in a few hours? It’s hopeless!”
Tom shook his head. “I can’t accept that, Dr. Wohl. Tell me what you’ve found, what you’ve observed with the instruments.”
“Ach, most interesting, lad. But in this case, I think ’twould be better to be boring and familiar.” Evan Glennon shrugged helplessly. “As previously determined, their tissues do have an inner structure somewhat akin to our own—something like cells, something like cytoplasm, something like a nucleus. Under the electron microscope, the minute sample we extracted reveals twisted braids of organic molecules—chromosomes, genes, alien DNA. But then…”
He activated the taped record of the instrument’s visual output. “Good grief, what are those?” Bud gasped.
“The enemy!” pronounced Dr. Faber.
The screen showed strange geometric forms, rotating and moving about in a determined way, constantly changing shape, as if able to grow appendages at will.
“Look more like spots in front o’ your eyes than germs,” muttered Chow in awe.
“Nanobots,” pronounced Tom grimly. “I’m almost sure of it!”
“A sort of virus, chief?” asked Arv.
“In a way—but not the kind we’re used to,” he responded. “I think we’re looking at something artificial, molecule-sized robots that can manufacture replicas of themselves using local materials. Highly-adaptive mechanisms, in other words, with some sort of basic programming that has turned destructive. Perhaps the space people themselves created them; it might be how they originally began to manipulate the genetic instructions of their animals.”
“But there was a major malfunction somewhere along the way,” commented Hank. “Now they don’t have a clue how to attack the problem.”
Faber nodded. “Our speculations were along the same lines, Tom. The symptoms of illness are the reactions of the animals’ bodies to the invasion.”
“To a great extent, I think the bodies have been quite effective in fighting the infection,” put in Violet Wohl. “The nanobots seem to be confined to ‘colonies’ in a certain central organ that all these animals share. But the techno-microbes trapped there are ‘experimenting,’ so to speak, and they’ve developed resistance factors more rapidly than the immune systems can wipe them out.”
“You’d almost have to, somehow, switch off all the mechanisms at once,” said Dr. Faber. “If that happened, I’d think the animals would be able to eliminate the deactivated remains as waste.”
Professor Volj now approached them closely. “Most interesting, these speculations from you academics of the decadent West. But tell me, what probability is there that this infestation could be used against—that is, cross over to—terrestrials?”
The scientists exchanged glances. “It depends on the details of how the nanobots are programmed, of course,” Glennon replied. “But I tell you, my man, there is no reason to presume that they couldn’t cross over. And should such a thing happen, abandon all hope—we humans would have no defense at all!”
“WE HAVE to exercise our human ingenuity,” said Tom with fierce determination. “The space friends set this problem for us because they knew that as an entirely different form of life, there was a good chance we’d have a completely different ‘take’ on it. Let’s prove them right!”
“American optimism, the envy of the world!” snorted Volj. “I suggest we take some tissue samples to Earth with us in sealed containers, for further study. Then I offer the use of certain materials from the Dyaune to incinerate this sad tank of disease.”
Tom glared at the Brungarian. “Bud—Chow—Arv—keep watch on the Professor and his colleagues. Herd them off in a corner somewhere before I start the next world war!”
For some time Tom and Hank conferred in quiet tones with Wohl, Glennon, and Faber while from across the zoo Bud and the others looked on with whatever watery optimism they could muster.
Finally there was a nodding of heads. Tom and Hank dragged one of the Donkeys into the space and tilted it onto its side.
“What’s he goin’ to do?” murmured Chow. “Repel them little robots right out o’ the animals?”
“Whatever he does, pardner, it’s sure to be something nobody else has thought of,” Bud declared. “And it’s probably our best hope!”
Tom and Hank opened up the repelatron circuitry and worked on it for a time using microtools from their spacesuits. Then Tom waved the others over to join them.
“We’d best stand outside the barrier while I try this,” said the young inventor.
“Is this a bad time to ask for an explanation?” Bud asked.
“It’s nothing complex, pal. Remember how that feedback effect knocked out the Pigeon Special’s electrical system? Well, I― ”
“Of course, genius boy!” Bud exulted. “These are just little machines—it could switch ’em right off, all at once!”
“That’s the idea,” Tom confirmed. “The repelatron will also help things along by being tuned very precisely to the materials of which the nanobots are composed. A one-two punch!”
Reaching in through the barrier, Tom switched on the repelatron controls. Very slowly, he swiveled the bottom of the platform from side to side, taking in the entirety of the zoo. The animals stood in understanding silence.
“Nothin’ happening,” said Chow.
“Something is,” was Wohl’s rejoinder, and suddenly Nicky began to make a weird screeching sound, as if relaying the sensations and fears of the animals.
“Oh lord,” gulped Anton Faber, “I’m afraid it’s killing them!”
The creatures had begun to tremble violently and gasp for breath, collapsing one by one to the ground!
“Wait and hope,” advised Glennon. “We’ve put a great strain on their immune systems all at once.”
Like the turning off of a switch, Nicky fell silent. All the animals lay still in the bluish alien light. Then a startling roar echoed through the chamber. One of the micro-tyrannosaurs had struggled to his feet!
“Sounds kinda—healthy,” Bud ventured.
The other beasts were stirring, muttering, bleating, growling. But they were most definitely alive. And now Nicky joined in the clamor, with a chattering that seemed joyous.
“I think it worked,” said Tom softly. “I think.”
In minutes the scientists began to test the animals with their instruments, and at long last Anton Faber made the hoped-for announcement. “A miracle cure! The infesting mechanisms are inert and dissolving away rapidly.”
The space ark rang with cheers. Even Volj’s two colleagues joined in—though Volj himself only looked dark and supercilious.
“Say, ya know,” Chow remarked musingly, “now that I see that armer-dillo feller lookin’ right healthy, it seems to me he’d make― ” But Chow got no further. The creature bolted away in alarm! As the others laughed, Chow grumbled, “Aw, no call t’ get het up—I ’as thinkin’, that’s all.”
“Around here, that’s enough,” Tom grinned.
After some further examinations, and feeling that they had done all they could, Tom decided to leave the space zoo so that the ark could return to its point of origin. He would leave the curative repelatron aboard, and transmit to the space beings simple instructions as to its operation.
In the outer passageway, they waited silently, expecting that the vessel would divine their intentions in its usual mysterious way. In an instant, the inner wall again became opaque; another, and they all stood on the upper hull again with the remaining five Repelatron Donkeys.
“Go back to your ship, Professor,” Tom said. “The sun’s started to touch your hull, anyway. I don’t suppose we should let you go, but there isn’t much to be done—I don’t intend to freight you back aboard the Challenger. But I do recommend that you look seriously into making an honest living somewhere.” Volj glared contemptuously and turned toward his rocket scooter. “Wait!” Tom called, stopping him.
“One thing. Does the name Samimel Nevolyan mean anything to you?”
The man turned. “Perhaps. What of it?”
“I’ve played fair with you, Professor,” Tom declared. “I ask you for this one favor as we part company. If Nevolyan is still alive, let me relay his location to the authorities of your country. You can warn your people if you want, but I’m asking that you free him.”
“As we are in a period of amicable negotiation, why not?” Volj gave Tom the information brusquely, and departed, a sneer on his face.
Returning to the Challenger, Tom found the crew that remained behind anxiously waiting to learn what had transpired aboard the space ark. He found it hard to repress a smile at their gasps of disbelief when he described the queer animals aboard, and how they had been cured.
“And it hasn’t even been an hour!” marveled Dinah.
Tom chuckled and shrugged. “Seemed a lot longer to us!”
They now watched through the big twin viewports as the Dyaune’s engines were activated. The ship began to move off, and Tom powered-down the repelatron beams as it did so.
“They’re looping back around,” muttered Bud in surprise and alarm. “Tom, I think they’re― ”
A new missile volley flashed from the hull in their direction!
Can’t adjust the repelatrons quickly enough! Tom thought frantically. There was no way to hold back the deadly, treacherous attack!
But as the swarm passed close to the space ark—
It was gone!
“Where’d them missiles go?” demanded Chow breathlessly. “Jest not there no more!”
“More scientific magic from our space friends,” said Tom slowly.
“Nice way to say thanks,” Bud noted with wide-eyes. He called out jokingly: “You’re welcome!”
Tom took the controls and focused all the repelatron power he could muster squarely on the Brungarian rocket ship. To the delight of everyone aboard the Challenger, the enemy craft was hurled outward by the force of the repulsion beam, faster and faster still!
“Yippee! The sneakin’ foxes are beaten!” Chow cheered. “Now this here star-studded sky ranch is ours!”
The others were not so sure of this and kept a close watch on the enemy ship for any attempt to renew hostilities. But, after a few minutes, the Brungarians suddenly veered their now-distant rocket about and sped off into space.
Bud heaved a great sigh. “Guess you’re right, Chow. Looks as if they’ve finally given up.”
Hank Sterling agreed. “Your repelatron was too much for those guys, Tom! Maybe they’re even grateful you saved them from crashing into the moon.”
“That,” said Evan Glennon, “is hardly a likely hypothesis, eh?”
“Hmmph!” Chow snorted in disbelief. “Grateful? Them underhanded critters? Bet they don’t even have a word fer it. Nope, they’re givin’ up cause Tom got to that there space ark first and there’s nothin’ left fer ’em.”
“Speaking of which,” said Violet Wohl softly. “Where is it? The ark?”
“Gone!” cried Bud.
“Not quite,” was Tom’s response. “Look out there!”
Among the glittering stars they could make out a hazy point of light. Even as they watched, it became a streak, fast as lightning. And, fast as lightning, it was gone.
Tom looked after the space saucer enviously. “Guess I have a long way to go,” he sighed, “before I can catch up to my space friends and develop a super-spaceship like that.”
Chow consoled him. “Don’t worry, son. This here Challenger’s super enough! Took us all th’ way to th’ blame moon, dinnit?” The cook gazed out longingly at the huge ball of earth, hanging low in the sky. “And I’m sure feelin’ earthstruck, jest like I wanted to be. Let’s go back home pronto, Tom!”
The youthful inventor was willing. He had several ideas which needed to be worked out on the drawing board. But the thought of the beckoning moon hung with him, in his imagination. One day, as he pored over a problem in his lab, it suddenly occurred to him how valuable the solution to it would be in solving the immense challenge of establishing a permanent lunar colony—with astounding results to be related in the next volume, Tom Swift and His Space Solartron.
Tom slapped his old friend Chow on the back. “I’m earthstruck, too, Chow. But there’s one more thing we have to do before we leave.”
An hour later, the mighty Challenger stood in the center of Copernicus Crater, the earth a blue beacon high above them. The crew stood with bowed heads before a plaque of immortal metal, to which a small, sealed metal box had been welded. Tom Swift said a few eloquent words of ceremony and read aloud the words inscribed on the plaque.
HERE THE BRAVE SOULS OF
COMPLETED THEIR MISSION.
“Let’s go home,” said Tom.