Chapter 16

 

The period of Ganymede’s revolution round its gigantic primary is seven days, three hours, and forty-three minutes, practically a terrestrial week, and on their return to their native world both the daring navigators of Space described this as the most interesting and delightful week in their lives, excepting always the period which they spent in the Eden of the Morning Star. Yet in one sense, it was even more interesting.

There the inhabitants had never learnt to sin; here they had learnt the lesson that sin is mere foolishness, and that no really sensible or properly educated man or woman thinks crime worth committing.

The life of the Crystal Cities, of which they visited four in different parts of the satellite, using the Astronef as their vehicle, was one of peaceful industry and calm, innocent enjoyment. It was quite plain that their first impressions of this aged world were correct. Outside the cities spread a universal desert on which life was impossible. There was hardly any moisture in the thin atmosphere. The rivers had dwindled into rivulets and the seas into vast, shallow marshes. The heat received from the Sun was only about a twenty-fifth of that which falls on the surface of the Earth, and this was drawn to the cities and collected and preserved under their glass domes by a number of devices which displayed superhuman intelligence.

The dwindling supplies of water were hoarded in vast subterranean reservoirs, and, by means of a perfect system of redistillation, the priceless fluid was used over and over again both for human purposes and for irrigating the land within the cities. Still the total quantity was steadily diminishing, for it was not only evaporating from the surface, but, as the orb cooled more and more rapidly towards its centre, it descended deeper and deeper below the surface, and could now only be reached by means of marvellously constructed borings and pumping machinery which extended several miles below the surface.

The fast-failing store of heat in the centre of the little world, which had now cooled through more than half its bulk, was utilised for warming the air of the cities, and to drive the machinery which propelled it through the streets and squares. All work was done by electric energy developed directly from this source, which also actuated the repulsive engines which had prevented the Astronef from descending.

In short, the inhabitants of Ganymede were engaged in a steady, ceaseless struggle to utilise the expiring natural forces of their world to prolong their own lives and the exquisitely refined civilisation to which they had attained to the latest possible date. They were, indeed, in exactly the same position in which the distant descendants of the human race may one day be expected to find themselves.

Their domestic life, as Zaidie and Redgrave saw it while they were the guests of their host, was the perfection of simplicity and comfort, and their public life was characterised by a quiet but intense intellectuality which, as Zaidie had said, made them feel very much like children who had only just learnt to speak.

As they possessed magnificent telescopes, far surpassing any on Earth, their guests were able to survey, not only the Solar System, but the other systems far beyond its limits as no others of their kind had ever been able to do before. They did not look through or into the telescopes. The lens was turned upon the object, and this was thrown, enormously magnified, upon screens of what looked something like ground glass some fifty feet square. It was thus that they saw, not only the whole visible surface of Jupiter as he revolved above them and they about him, but also their native Earth, sometimes a pale silver disc or crescent close to the edge of the Sun, visible only in the morning and the evening of Jupiter, and at other times like a little black spot crossing the glowing surface.

But there was another development of the science of the Crystal Cities which interested them far more than this—for after all they could not only see the Worlds of Space for themselves, but circumnavigate them if they chose.

During their stay they were shown on these same screens the pictorial history of the world whose guests they were. These pictures, which they recognised as an immeasurable development of what is called the cinematograph process on Earth, extended through the whole gamut of the satellite’s life. They formed, in fact, the means by which the children of Ganymede were taught the history of their world.

It was, of course, inevitable that the Astronef should prove an object of intense interest to their hosts. They had solved the problem of the Resolution of Forces, as Professor Rennick had done, and, as they were shown pictorially, a vessel had been made which embodied the principles of attraction and repulsion. It had risen from the surface of Ganymede, and then, possibly because its engines could not develop sufficient repulsive force, the tremendous pull of the giant planet had dragged it away. It had vanished through the cloud-belts towards the flaming surface beneath—and the experiment had never been repeated.

Here, however, was a vessel which had actually, as Redgrave had convinced his hosts by means of celestial maps and drawings of his own, left a planet close to the Sun, and safely crossed the tremendous gulf of six hundred and fifty million miles which separated Jupiter from the centre of the system. Moreover, he had twice proved her powers by taking his host and two of his newly-made friends, the chief astronomers of Ganymede, on a short trip across Space to Calisto and Europa, the second satellite of Jupiter, which, to their very grave interest, they found had already passed the stage in which Ganymede was, and had lapsed into the icy silence of death.

It was these two journeys which led to the last adventure of the Astronef in the Jovian System. Both Redgrave and Zaidie had determined, at whatever risk, to pass through the cloud-belts of Jupiter, and catch a glimpse, if only a glimpse, of a world in the making. Their host and the two astronomers, after a certain amount of quiet discussion, accepted their invitation to accompany them, and on the morning of the eighth day after their landing on Ganymede, the Astronef rose from the plain outside the Crystal City, and directed her course towards the centre of the vast disc of Jupiter.

She was followed by the telescopes of all the observatories until she vanished through the brilliant cloud-band, eighty-five thousand miles long and some five thousand miles broad, which stretched from east to west of the planet. At the same moment the voyagers lost sight of Ganymede and his sister satellites.

The temperature of the interior of the Astronef began to rise as soon as the upper cloud-belt was passed. Under this, spread out a vast field of brown-red cloud, rent here and there into holes and gaps like those storm-cavities in the atmosphere of the Sun, which are commonly known as sun-spots. This lower stratum of cloud appeared to be the scene of terrific storms, compared with which the fiercest earthly tempests were mere zephyrs.

After falling some five hundred miles further they found themselves surrounded by what seemed an ocean of fire, but still the internal temperature had only risen from seventy to ninety-five. The engines were well under control. Only about a fourth of the total R. Force was being developed, and the Astronef was dropping swiftly, but steadily.

Redgrave, who was in the conning-tower controlling the engines, beckoned to Zaidie and said:

Shall we go on?”

Yes,” she said. “Now we’ve got as far as this I want to see what Jupiter is like, and where you are not afraid to go, I’ll go.”

If I’m afraid at all it’s only because you are with me, Zaidie,” he replied, “but I’ve only got a fourth of the power turned on yet, so there’s plenty of margin.”

The Astronef, therefore, continued to sink through what seemed to be a fathomless ocean of whirling, blazing clouds, and the internal temperature went on rising slowly but steadily. Their guests, without showing the slightest sign of any emotion, walked about the upper deck now, singly and now together, apparently absorbed by the strange scene about them.

At length, after they had been dropping for some five hours by Astronef time, one of them, uttering a sharp exclamation, pointed to an enormous rift about fifty miles away. A dull, red glare was streaming up out of it. The next moment the brown cloud-floor beneath them seemed to split up into enormous wreaths of vapour, which whirled up on all sides of them, and a few minutes later they caught their first glimpse of the true surface of Jupiter.

It lay, as nearly as they could judge, some two thousand miles beneath them, a distance which the telescopes reduced to less than twenty; and they saw for a few moments the world that was in the making. Through floating seas of misty steam they beheld what seemed to them to be vast continents shape themselves and melt away into oceans of flames. Whole mountain ranges of glowing lava were hurled up miles high to take shape for an instant and then fall away again, leaving fathomless gulfs of fiery mist in their place.

Then waves of molten matter rose up again out of the gulfs, tens of miles high and hundreds of miles long, surged forward, and met with a concussion like that of millions of earthly thunder-clouds. Minute after minute they remained writhing and struggling with each other, flinging up spurts of flaming matter far above their crests. Other waves followed them, climbing up their bases as a sea-surge runs up the side of a smooth, slanting rock. Then from the midst of them a jet of living fire leapt up hundreds of miles into the lurid atmosphere above, and then, with a crash and a roar which shook the vast Jovian firmament, the battling lava-waves would split apart and sink down into the all-surrounding fire-ocean, like two grappling giants who had strangled each other in their final struggle.

It’s just Hell let loose!” said Murgatroyd to himself as he looked down upon the terrific scene through one of the port-holes of the engine-room; “and, with all respect to my lord and her ladyship, those that come this near almost deserve to stop in it.”

Meanwhile, Redgrave and Zaidie and their three guests were so absorbed in the tremendous spectacle, that for a few moments no one noticed that they were dropping faster and faster towards the world which Murgatroyd, according to his lights, had not inaptly described. As for Zaidie, all her fears were for the time being lost in wonder, until she saw her husband take a swift glance round upwards and downwards, and then go up into the conning-tower. She followed him quickly, and said:

What is the matter, Lenox, are we falling too quickly?”

Much faster than we should,” he replied, sending a signal to Murgatroyd to increase the force by three-tenths.

The answering signal came back, but still the Astronef continued to fall with terrific rapidity, and the awful landscape beneath them—a landscape of fire and chaos—broadened out and became more and more distinct.

He sent two more signals down in quick succession. Three-fourths of the whole repulsive power of the engines was now being exerted—a force which would have been sufficient to hurl the Astronef up from the surface of the Earth like a feather in a whirlwind. Her downward course became a little slower, but still she did not stop. Zaidie, white to the lips, looked down upon the hideous scene beneath and slipped her hand through Redgrave’s arm. He looked at her for an instant and then turned his head away with a jerk, and sent down the last signal.

The whole energy of the engines was now directing the maximum of the R. Force against the surface of Jupiter, but still, as every moment passed in a speechless agony of apprehension, it grew nearer and nearer. The fire-waves mounted higher and higher, the roar of the fiery surges grew louder and louder. Then in a momentary lull, he put his arm round her, drew her close up to him and kissed her and said:

That’s all we can do, dear. We’ve come too close and he’s too strong for us.”

She returned his kiss and said quite steadily:

Well, at any rate, I’m with you, and it won’t last long, will it?”

Not very long now, I’m afraid,” he said between his clenched teeth. And then he pulled her close to him again, and together they looked down into the storm-tossed hell towards which they were falling at the rate of nearly a hundred miles a minute.

Almost the next moment they felt a little jerk beneath their feet—a jerk upwards; and Redgrave shook himself out of the half stupor into which he was falling and said:

Hullo, what’s that? I believe we’re stopping—yes, we are—and we’re beginning to rise, too. Look, dear, the clouds are coming down upon us—fast too! I wonder what sort of miracle that is. Ay, what’s the matter, little woman?”

Zaidie’s head had dropped heavily on his shoulder. A glance showed him that she had fainted. He could do nothing more in the conning-tower, so he picked her up and carried her towards the companion-way, past his three guests, who were standing in the middle of the upper deck round a table on which lay a large sheet of paper.

He took her below and laid her on her bed, and in a few minutes he had brought her to and told her that it was all right. Then he gave her a drink of brandy-and-water and went back to the upper deck. As he reached the top of the stairway one of the astronomers came towards him with a sheet of paper in his hand, smiling gravely, and pointing to a sketch upon it.

He took the paper under one of the electric lights and looked at it. The sketch was a plan of the Jovian System. There were some signs written along one side, which he did not understand, but he divined that they were calculations. Still, there was no mistaking the diagram. There was a circle representing the huge bulk of Jupiter; there were four smaller circles at varying distances in a nearly straight line from it, and between the nearest of these and the planet was the figure of the Astronef, with an arrow pointing upwards.

Ah, I see!” he said, forgetting for a moment that the other did not understand him, “that was the miracle! The four satellites came into line with us just as the pull of Jupiter was getting too much for our engines, and their combined pull just turned the scale. Well, thank God for that, sir, for in a few minutes more we should have been cinders!”

The astronomer smiled again as he took the paper back. Meanwhile the Astronef was rushing upward like a meteor through the clouds. In ten minutes the limits of the Jovian atmosphere were passed. Stars and suns and planets blazed out of the black vault of Space, and the great disc of the World that Is to Be once more covered the floor of Space beneath them—an ocean of cloud, covering continents of lava and seas of flame, the scene of the natal throes of a world which some day will be.

They passed Io and Europa, which changed from new to full moons as they sped by towards the Sun, and then the golden yellow crescent of Ganymede also began to fill out to the half and full disc, and by the tenth hour of Earth-time, after they had risen from its surface, the Astronef was once more lying beside the gate of the Crystal City.

At midnight on the second night after their return, the ringed shape of Saturn, attended by his eight satellites, hung in the zenith magnificently inviting. The Astronef’s engines had been replenished after the exhaustion of their struggle with the might of Jupiter. They said farewell to their friends of the dying world. The doors of the air-chamber closed. The signal tinkled in the engine-room, and a few moments later a blurr of white lights on the brown background of the surrounding desert was all they could see of the Crystal City under whose domes they had seen and learnt so much.