by Sterner St. Paul
A loud hum filled the
air, and suddenly the
projectile rose, gaining
Many of my readers will remember
the mysterious radio
messages which were
heard by both amateur and
professional short wave operators during
the nights of
even more will remember
discovery made by Professor
Montescue of the Lick Observatory on
the night of September twenty-fifth.
At the time, some inspired writers tried
to connect the two events, maintaining
that the discovery of the fact that the
earth had a new satellite coincident
with the receipt
of the mysterious
messages was evidence
was inhabited and
that the messages
were attempts on the part of the inhabitants
to communicate with us.
The fact that the messages were on a
lower wave length than any receiver
then in existence could receive with
degree of clarity, and the additional
fact that they appeared to come from
an immense distance lent a certain air
of plausibility to these in
the Sunday magazine sections. For
some weeks the feature writers harped
on the subject, but the hurried construction
of new receivers which would
work on a lower wave length yielded no
results, and the solemn pronouncements
of astronomers to the effect that
the new celestial body could by no possibility
have an atmosphere on account
of its small size finally put an end to
the talk. So the matter lapsed into
While quite a few people will remember
the two events I have noted, I
doubt whether there are five hundred
people alive who will remember anything
at all about the disappearance of
Dr. Livermore of the University of
Calvada on September twenty-third.
He was a man of some local prominence,
but he had no more than a local
fame, and few papers outside of California
even noted the event in their
columns. I do not think that anyone
ever tried to connect up his disappearance
with the radio messages or the discovery
of the new earthly satellite; yet
the three events were closely bound up
together, and but for the Doctor's disappearance,
the other two would never
Dr. Livermore taught physics
at Calvada, or at least he taught
the subject when he remembered that
he had a class and felt like teaching.
His students never knew whether he
would appear at class or not; but he
always passed who took his
courses and so, of course, they were always
crowded. The University authorities
used to remonstrate with him, but
his ability as a research worker was so
well known and recognized that he was
allowed to as he pleased. He
was a bachelor who lived alone and who
had no interests in life, so far as anyone
knew, other than his work.
I first made contact with him when
I was a freshman at Calvada, and for
some unknown reason he took a liking
to me. My father had insisted that I
follow in his footsteps as an electrical
engineer; as he was paying my bills, I
had to make a show at studying engineering
while I clandestinely pursued
my hobby, literature. Dr. Livermore's
courses were the easiest in the
school and they counted as science, so
I regularly registered for them, cut
them, and attended a class in literature
as an auditor. The Doctor used to meet
me on the campus and laughingly scold
me for my absence, but he was really
in sympathy with my ambition and he
regularly gave me a passing mark and
my units of credit without regard to
my attendance, or, rather, lack of it.
When I graduated from Calvada I
was theoretically an electrical engineer.
Practically I had a pretty good
knowledge of contemporary literature
and knew almost nothing about my so-called
profession. I stalled around
Dad's office for a few months until I
landed a job as a cub reporter on the
San Francisco Graphic and then I quit
him cold. When the storm blew over,
Dad admitted that you couldn't make
a silk purse out of a sow's ear and
agreed with a grunt to my new line of
work. He said that I would probably
be a better reporter than an engineer
because I couldn't by any possibility be
a worse one, and let it go at that. However,
all this has nothing to do with
the story. It just explains how I came
to be acquainted with Dr. Livermore,
in the first place, and why he sent for
me on September twenty-second, in the
The morning of the twenty-second
the City Editor called me in and
asked me if I knew "Old Liverpills."
"He says that he has a good story
ready to break but he won't talk to anyone
but you," went on Barnes. "I offered
to send out a good man, for when
Old Liverpills starts a story it ought
to be good, but all I got was a high
powered bawling out. He said that he
would talk to you or no one and would
just as soon talk to no one as to me any
longer. Then he hung up. You'd better
take a run out to Calvada and see
what he has to say. I can have a good
man your drivel when you get
I was more or less used to that sort
of talk from Barnes so I paid no attention
to it. I drove my flivver down to
Calvada and asked for the Doctor.
"Dr. Livermore?" said the bursar.
"Why, he hasn't been around here for
the last ten months. This is his sabbatical
year and he is spending it on
a ranch he owns up at Hat Creek, near
Mount Lassen. You'll have to go there
if you want to see him."
I knew better than to report back to
Barnes without the story, so there was
nothing to it but to drive up to Hat
Creek, and a long, hard drive it was.
I made Redding late that night; the
next day I drove on to Burney and
asked for directions to the Doctor's
"So you're going up to Doc Livermore's,
are you?" asked the Postmaster,
my informant. "Have you got an
I assured him that I had.
"It's a good thing," he replied, "because
he don't allow anyone on his
place without one. I'd like to go up
there myself and see what's going on,
but I don't want to get shot at like
old Pete Johnson did when he tried
to drop in on the Doc and pay him a
little call. There's something mighty
funny going on up there."
Naturally I tried to find out
what was going on but evidently
the Postmaster, who was also the express
agent, didn't know. All he could
tell me was that a "lot of junk" had
come for the Doctor by express and
that a lot more had been hauled in by
truck from Redding.
"What kind of junk?" I asked him.
"Almost everything, Bub: sheet
steel, machinery, batteries, cases of
glass, and Lord knows what all. It's
been going on ever since he landed
there. He has a bunch of Indians working
for him and he don't let a white
man on the place."
Forced to be satisfied with this
meager information, I started old Lizzie
and lit out for the ranch. After I
had turned off the main trail I met
no one until the ranch house was in
sight. As I rounded a bend in the road
which brought me in sight of the building,
I was forced to put on my brakes
at top speed to avoid running into a
chain which was stretched across the
road. An Indian armed with a Winchester
rifle stood behind it, and when
I stopped he came up and asked my
"My business is with Dr. Livermore,"
I said tartly.
"You got letter?" he inquired.
"No," I answered.
"No ketchum letter, no ketchum Doctor,"
he replied, and walked stolidly
back to his post.
"This is absurd," I shouted, and
drove Lizzie up to the chain. I saw
that it was merely hooked to a ring
at the end, and I climbed out and
started to take it down. A thirty-thirty
bullet embedded itself in the post an
inch or two from my head, and I
changed my mind about taking down
"No ketchum letter, no ketchum Doctor,"
said the Indian laconically as he
pumped another shell into his gun.
I was balked, until I noticed a pair
of telephone wires running from
the house to the tree to which one end
of the chain was fastened.
"Is that a telephone to the house?"
The Indian grunted an assent.
"Dr. Livermore telephoned me to
come and see him," I said. "Can't I
call him up and see if he still wants to
The Indian debated the question
with himself for a minute and then
nodded a doubtful assent. I cranked
the old coffee mill type of telephone
which I found, and presently heard the
voice of Dr. Livermore.
"This is Tom Faber, Doctor," I said.
"The Graphic sent me up to get a story
from you, but there's an Indian here
who started to murder me when I tried
to get past your barricade."
"Good for him," chuckled the Doctor.
"I heard the shot, but didn't know
that he was shooting at you. Tell him
to talk to me."
The Indian took the telephone at
my bidding and listened for a minute.
"You go in," he agreed when he hung
up the receiver.
He took down the chain and I drove
on up to the house, to find the Doctor
waiting for me on the veranda.
"Hello, Tom," he greeted me heartily.
"So you had trouble with my
guard, did you?"
"I nearly got murdered," I said ruefully.
"I expect that Joe would have drilled
you if you had tried to force your way
in," he remarked cheerfully. "I forgot
to tell him that you were coming .
I told him you would be here
yesterday, but yesterday isn't to-day to
that Indian. I wasn't sure you would
get here at all, in point of fact, for I
didn't know whether that old fool I
talked to in your office would send you
or some one else. If anyone else had
been sent, he would have never got by
Joe, I can tell you. Come in. Where's
"I haven't one," I replied. "I went
to Calvada yesterday to see you, and
didn't know until I got there that you
were up here."
The Doctor chuckled.
"I guess I forgot to tell where I
was," he said. "That man I talked to
got me so mad that I hung up on him
before I told him. It doesn't matter,
though. I can dig you up a new toothbrush,
and I guess you can make out
with that. Come in."
I followed him into the house,
and he showed me a room fitted
with a crude bunk, a washstand, a bowl
and a pitcher.
"You won't have many luxuries
here, Tom," he said, "but you won't
need to stay here for more than a few
days. My work is done: I am ready
to start. In fact, I would have started
yesterday instead of to-day, had you
arrived. Now don't ask any questions;
it's nearly lunch time."
"What's the story, Doctor?" I asked
after lunch as I puffed one of his excellent
cigars. "And why did you pick
me to tell it to?"
"For several reasons," he replied, ignoring
my first question. "In the first
place, I like you and I think that you
can keep your mouth shut until you
are told to open it. In the second place,
I have always found that you had the
gift of vision or imagination and have
the ability to believe. In the third
place, you are the only man I know
who had the literary ability to write up
a good story and at the same time has
the scientific background to grasp what
it is all about. Understand that unless
I have your promise not to write this
story until I tell you that you can, not
a word will I tell you."
I reflected for a moment. The
Graphic would expect the story when
I got back, but on the other hand I
knew that unless I gave the desired
promise, the Doctor wouldn't talk.
"All right," I assented, "I'll promise."
"Good!" he replied. "In that case,
I'll tell you all about it. No doubt you,
like the rest of the world, think that
"Why, not at all," I stammered. In
point of fact, I had often harbored
such a suspicion.
"Oh, that's all right," he went on
cheerfully. "I am crazy, crazy as a
loon, which, by the way, is a highly
sensible bird with a well balanced
mentality. There is no doubt that I
am crazy, but my craziness is not of
the usual type. Mine is the insanity of
He looked at me sharply as he
spoke, but long sessions at poker
in the San Francisco Press Club had
taught me how to control my facial
muscles, and I never batted an eye. He
seemed satisfied, and went on.
"From your college work you are familiar
with the laws of magnetism," he
said. "Perhaps, considering just what
your college career really was, I might
better say that you are supposed to be
familiar with them."
I joined with him in his laughter.
"It won't require a very deep knowledge
to follow the thread of my argument,"
he went on. "You know, of
course, that the force of magnetic attraction
is inversely proportional to the
square of the distances separating the
magnet and the attracted particles, and
also that each magnetized particle had
two poles, a positive and a negative
pole, or a north pole and a south pole,
as they are usually called?"
"Consider for a moment that the laws
of magnetism, insofar as concerns the
relation between distance and power of
attraction, are exactly matched by the
laws of gravitation."
"But there the similarity between the
two forces ends," I interrupted.
"But there the similarity does not
end," he said sharply. "That is the
crux of the discovery which I have
made: that magnetism and gravity are
one and the same, or, rather, that the
two are separate, but similar manifestations
of one force. The parallel between
the two grows closer with each
succeeding experiment. You know,
for example, that each magnetized particle
has two poles. Similarly each
gravitized particle, to coin a new word,
had two poles, one positive and one
negative. Every particle on the earth
is so oriented that the negative poles
point toward the positive center of the
earth. This is what causes the commonly
known phenomena of gravity or
"I can prove the fallacy of that in a
moment," I retorted.
"There are none so blind as those
who will not see," he quoted with an
icy smile. "I can probably predict
your puerile argument, but go ahead
and present it."
"If two magnets are placed so that
the north pole of one is in juxtaposition
to the south pole of the other,
they attract one another," I said. "If
the position of the magnets be reversed
so that the two similar poles are opposite,
they will repel. If your theory
were correct, a man standing on his
head would fall off the earth."
"Exactly what I expected," he replied.
"Now let me ask you a question.
Have you ever seen a small bar magnet
placed within the field of attraction of
a large electromagnet? Of course you
have, and you have noticed that, when
the north pole of the bar magnet was
pointed toward the electromagnet, the
bar was attracted. However, when the
bar was reversed and the south pole
pointed toward the electromagnet, the
bar was still attracted. You doubtless
remember that experiment."
"But in that case the magnetism of
the electromagnet was so large that the
polarity of the small magnet was reversed!"
"Exactly, and the field of gravity of
the earth is so great compared to the
gravity of a man that when he stands
on his head, his polarity is instantly
I nodded. His explanation was too
logical for me to pick a flaw in it.
"If that same bar magnet were held
in the field of the electromagnet with
its north pole pointed toward the magnet
and then, by the action of some
outside force of sufficient power, its
polarity were reversed, the bar would
be repelled. If the magnetism were
neutralized and held exactly neutral,
it would be neither repelled nor attracted,
but would act only as the force
of gravity impelled it. Is that clear?"
"Perfectly," I assented.
"That, then, paves the way for what
I have to tell you. I have developed
an electrical method of neutralizing the
gravity of a body while it is within
the field of the earth, and also, by a
slight extension, a method of entirely
reversing its polarity."
I nodded calmly.
"Do you realize what this
means?" he cried.
"No," I replied, puzzled by his great
"Man alive," he cried, "it means that
the problem of aerial flight is entirely
revolutionized, and that the era of interplanetary
travel is at hand! Suppose
that I construct an airship and
then render it neutral to gravity. It
would weigh nothing, absolutely nothing!
The tiniest propeller would drive
it at almost incalculable speed with a
minimum consumption of power, for
the only resistance to its motion would
be the resistance of the air. If I were
to reverse the polarity, it would be repelled
from the earth with the same
force with which it is now attracted,
and it would rise with the same acceleration
as a body falls toward the
earth. It would travel to the moon in
two hours and forty minutes."
"Air resistance would—"
"There is no air a few miles from the
earth. Of course, I do not mean that
such a craft would take off from the
earth and land on the moon three hours
later. There are two things which
would interfere with that. One is the
fact that the propelling force, the gravity
of the earth, would diminish as the
square of the distance from the center
of the earth, and the other is that when
the band of neutral attraction, or rather
repulsion, between the earth and the
moon had been reached, it would be
necessary to so as to avoid
a smash on landing. I have been over
the whole thing and I find that it would
take twenty-nine hours and fifty-two
minutes to make the whole trip. The
entire thing is perfectly possible. In
fact, I have asked you here to witness
and report the first interplanetary trip
to be made."
"Have you constructed such a device?"
"My space ship is finished and ready
for your inspection," he replied. "If
you will come with me, I will show it
Hardly knowing what to believe,
I followed him from the house
and to a huge barnlike structure, over
a hundred feet high, which stood
nearby. He opened the door and
switched on a light, and there before
me stood what looked at glance to
be a huge artillery shell, but of a size
larger than any ever made. It was constructed
of sheet steel, and while the
lower part was solid, the upper sections
had huge glass windows set in them.
On the point was a mushroom shaped
protuberance. It measured perhaps
fifty feet in diameter and was one hundred
and forty feet high, the Doctor
informed me. A ladder led from the
floor to a door about fifty feet from the
I followed the Doctor up the ladder
and into the space flier. The door led
us into a comfortable living room
through a double door arrangement.
"The whole hull beneath us," explained
the Doctor, "is filled with batteries
and machinery except for a space
in the center, where a shaft leads to a
glass window in the bottom so that I
can see behind me, so to speak. The
space above is filled with storerooms
and the air purifying apparatus. On
this level is my bedroom, kitchen, and
other living rooms, together with a
laboratory and an observatory. There
is a central control room located on
an upper level, but it need seldom be
entered, for the craft can be controlled
by a system of relays from this room or
from any other room in the ship. I
suppose that you are more or less
familiar with imaginative stories of
I nodded an assent.
"In that case there is no use in
going over the details of the air purifying
and such matters," he said. "The
story writers have worked out all that
sort of thing in great detail, and there
is nothing novel in my arrangements.
I carry food and water for six months
and air enough for two months by constant
renovating. Have you any question
you wish to ask?"
"One objection I have seen frequently
raised to the idea of interplanetary
travel is that the human body could not
stand the rapid acceleration which
would be necessary to attain speed
enough to ever get anywhere. How do
you overcome this?"
"My dear boy, who knows what the
human body can stand? When the
locomotive was first invented learned
scientists predicted that the limit of
speed was thirty miles an hour, as the
human body could not stand a higher
speed. the human body stands
a speed of three hundred and sixty
miles an hour without ill effects. At
any rate, on my first trip I intend to
take no chances. We know that the
body can stand an acceleration of
thirty-two feet per second without
trouble. That is the rate of acceleration
due to gravity and is the rate at
which a body increases speed when it
falls. This is the acceleration which I
"Remember that the space traveled
by a falling body in a vacuum is equal
to one half the acceleration multiplied
by the square of the elapsed time. The
moon, to which I intend to make my
first trip, is only 280,000 miles, or
1,478,400,000 feet, from us. With an
acceleration of thirty-two feet per second,
I would pass the moon two hours
and forty minutes after leaving the
earth. If I later take another trip, say
to Mars, I will have to find a means of
increasing my acceleration, possibly
by the use of the rocket principle.
Then will be time enough to worry
about what my body will stand."
A short calculation verified the
figures the Doctor had given me, and I
"Are you really going?" I asked.
"Most decidedly. To repeat, I would
have started yesterday, had you arrived.
As it is, I am ready to start
at once. We will go back to the house
for a few minutes while I show you the
location of an excellent telescope
through which you may watch my
progress, and instruct you in the use
of an ultra-short-wave receiver which
I am confident will pierce the Heaviside
layer. With this I will keep in communication
with you, although I have
made no arrangements for you to send
messages to me on this trip. I intend
to go to the moon and land. I will
take atmosphere samples through an
air port and, if there is an atmosphere
which will support life, I will step out
on the surface. If there is not, I will
return to the earth."
A few minutes was enough
me to grasp the simple
manipulations which I would have to
perform, and I followed him again to
the space flier.
"How are you going to get it out?" I
"Watch," he said.
He worked some levers and the roof
of the barn folded back, leaving the
way clear for the departure of the
huge projectile. I followed him inside
and he climbed the ladder.
"When I shut the door, go back to
the house and test the radio," he directed.
The door clanged shut and I hastened
into the house. His voice came
plainly enough. I went back to the
flier and waved him a final farewell,
which he acknowledged through a
window; then I returned to the receiver.
A loud hum filled the air, and
suddenly the projectile rose and flew
out through the open roof, gaining
speed rapidly until it was a mere speck
in the sky. It vanished. I had no
trouble in picking him up with the
telescope. In fact, I could see the Doctor
through one of the windows.
"I have passed beyond the range of
the atmosphere, Tom," came his voice
over the receiver, "and I find that
everything is going exactly as it
should. I feel no discomfort, and my
only regret is that I did not install a
transmitter in the house so that you
could talk to me; but there is no real
necessity for it. I am going to make
some observations now, but I will call
you again with a report of progress in
For the rest of the afternoon and
all of that night I received his messages
regularly, but with the coming
of daylight they began to fade. By
nine o'clock I could get only a word
here and there. By noon I could hear
nothing. I went to sleep hoping that
the night would bring better reception,
nor was I disappointed. About eight
o'clock I received a message, rather
faintly, but none the less distinctly.
"I regret more than ever that I did
not install a transmitter so that I could
learn from you whether you are receiving
my messages," his voice said faintly.
"I have no idea of whether you can
hear me or not, but I will keep on repeating
this message every hour while
my battery holds out. It is now thirty
hours since I left the earth and I
should be on the moon, according to
my calculations. But I am not, and
never will be. I am caught at the neutral
point where the gravity of the
earth and the moon are exactly equal.
"I had relied on my momentum to
carry me over this point. Once over
it, I expected to reverse my polarity
and fall on the moon. My momentum
did not do so. If I keep my polarity
as it was when left the earth, both the
earth and the moon repel me. If I reverse
it, they both attract me, and
again I cannot move. If I had
equipped my space flier with a rocket
so that I could move a few miles, or
even a few feet, from the dead line,
I could proceed, but I did not do so,
and I cannot move forward or back.
Apparently I am doomed to stay here
until my air gives out. Then my body,
entombed in my space ship, will endlessly
circle the earth as a satellite
until the end of time. There is no
hope for me, for long before a duplicate
of my device equipped with
rockets could be constructed and come
to my rescue, my air would be exhausted.
Good-by, Tom. You may
write your story as soon as you wish.
I will repeat my message in one hour.
At nine and at ten o'clock the message
was repeated. At eleven it started
again but after a few sentences the
sound suddenly ceased and the receiver
went dead. I thought that the fault
was with the receiver and I toiled
feverishly the rest of the night, but
without result. I learned later that
the messages heard all over the world
ceased at the same hour.
The next morning Professor Montescue
announced his discovery of the
world's new satellite.