Pistol in hand, the two men watched the oncoming lights.
The Solar Magnet
By Capt. S. P. Meek
Another episode in Dr. Bird's long scientific duel with his
country's arch-enemy, Saranoff.
The milling crowd in front of the Capitol suddenly grew quiet. A tall
portly figure came out onto the porch of the building and stepped before
a microphone erected on the steps. A battery of press cameras clicked. A
newsreel photographer ground away on his machine. Wild cheers rent the
air. The President held up his hand for silence. As the cheering died
away he spoke into the microphone.
"My countrymen," he said, "the Congress of the United States has met in
extraordinary session and is ready to cope with the condition with
which we are confronted. While they deliberate as to the steps to be
taken, it is essential that you meet this danger, if it be a danger,
with the bravery and the calm front which has always characterized the
people of the United States in times of trial and danger. You may rest
A slightly built, inconspicuous man who had followed the President out
onto the porch was surveying the crowd intently. He turned and spoke in
an undertone to a second man who mysteriously appeared from nowhere as
the first man spoke. He listened for a moment, nodded, and edged closer
to the President. The first man slipped unobtrusively down the Capitol
steps and mingled with the crowd.
"—that no steps will be neglected which may prove of value," went on
the President. "The greatest scientists of the country have gathered in
this city in conference and they undoubtedly will soon find a simple and
natural explanation for what is happening. In the meantime—"
The President paused. From the crowd in front of him came a sudden
disturbance. A man sprang free of the crowd and broke through the
restraining cordon of police. In his hand gleamed an ugly blue steel
automatic pistol. Quickly he leveled it and fired. A puff of dust came
from the Capitol. The bullet had landed a few inches from one of the
lower windows, fifty feet from where the President stood. He raised his
weapon for a second shot but it was never fired. The man who had come
down the Capitol steps sprang forward like a cat and grasped the weapon.
For a moment the two men struggled, but only for a moment. From the
crowd, stunned for a moment by the sheer audacity of the attack, came a
roar of rage. The police closed in about the struggling men but the
crowd rolled over them like a wave. The captor shouted his identity and
tried to display the gold badge of the secret service but the mob was
in no state of mind to listen. The police were trampled underfoot and
the would-be assassin torn from the hands of the secret service
operative. Every man in reach tried to strike a blow. The secret service
man was buffeted and thrown aside. Realizing that the affair had been
taken out of his hands, he made his way to the rear of the Capitol where
his badge gained him ready passage through the cordon of police. He
entered the building and reappeared in a few moments by the side of the
Two hours later he leaned forward in his chair in Dr. Bird's private
laboratory in the Bureau of Standards and spoke earnestly.
"Dr. Bird," he said, "that bullet was never meant for the President.
That man was after bigger game."
The famous scientist nodded thoughtfully.
"Even a very rotten pistol shot should have come closer to him," he
replied. "He must have missed by a good forty feet."
"He missed by a matter of inches. Doctor, that bullet struck the Capitol
only two inches from a window. In that window was standing a man. The
bullet was intended for the occupant of that window. I was directly
behind him when he raised his weapon for a second shot and I am sure of
his aim. He deliberately ignored the President and aimed again at that
window. That was when I tackled him."
"Who was standing there, Carnes?"
"You were, Doctor."
Dr. Bird whistled.
"Then you think that bullet was intended for me?"
"I am sure of it, Doctor. That fact proves one thing to me. You are
right in your idea that this whole affair is man-made and not an
accident of nature. The guiding intelligence back of it fears you more
than he fears anyone else and he took this means to get rid of you
unobtrusively. Attention was focused on the President. Your death would
have been laid to accident. It was a clever thought."
"It does look that way, Carnes," said the doctor slowly. "If you are
right, this incident confirms my opinion. There is only one man in the
world clever enough to have disturbed the orderly course of the seasons,
and such a plan for my assassination would appeal to his love of the
"Ivan Saranoff, of course."
"We are pretty sure that he hasn't got back to the United States,
"You may be right but I am sure of nothing where that man is concerned.
However, that fact has no bearing. He may be operating from anywhere.
His organization is still in the United States."
A knock sounded at the door. In response to the doctor's command a
messenger entered and presented a letter. Dr. Bird read it and dropped
it in a waste basket.
"Tell them that I am otherwise engaged just now," he said curtly. The
messenger withdrew. "It was just a summons to another meeting of the
council of scientists," he said to Carnes. "They'll have to get along
without me. All they'll do anyway will be to read a lot of dispatches
and wrangle about data and the relative accuracy of their observations.
Herriott will lecture for hours on celestial mechanics and propound some
fool theory about a hidden body, which doesn't exist, and its possible
influence, which would be nil, on the inclination of the earth's axis.
After wasting four hours without a single constructive idea being put
forward, they will gravely conclude that the sun rose fifty-three
seconds earlier at the fortieth north parallel than it did yesterday and
correspondingly later at the fortieth south parallel. I know that
without wasting time."
"Was it fifty-three seconds to-day, Doctor?"
"Yes. This is the twentieth of July. The sun should have risen at 4:52,
sixteen minutes later than it rose on June twentieth and fifty-three
seconds later than it rose yesterday. Instead it rose at 4:20, sixteen
minutes earlier than it did on June twentieth and fifty-three seconds
earlier than yesterday."
"I don't understand what is causing it, Doctor. I have tried to follow
your published explanations, but they are a little too deep for me."
"As to the real underlying cause, I am in grave doubts, Carnes, although
I can make a pretty shrewd guess. As to the reason for the unnatural
lengthening of the day, the explanation is simplicity itself. As you
doubtless know, the earth revolves daily on its axis. At the same time,
it is moving in a great ellipse about the sun, an ellipse which it takes
it a year to cover. If the axis of rotation of the earth were at right
angles to the plane of its orbit; in other words, if the earth's equator
lay in the plane of the earth's movement about the sun, each day would
be of the same length and there would be no seasons. Instead of this
being the case, the axis of rotation of the earth is tipped so that the
angle between the equator and the elliptic is 23½°."
"I seem to remember something of the sort from my school days."
"This angle of tilt may be assumed to be constant, for I won't bother
with the precessions, nutations and other minor movements considered in
accurate computations. As the earth moves around the sun, this tilt
gives rise to what we call the sun's declination. You can readily see
that at one time in the year, the north pole will be at its nearest
point to the sun, speaking in terms of tilt and not in miles, while at
another point on the elliptic, it will be farthest from the sun and the
south pole nearest. There are two midway points when the two poles are
"Then the days and nights should be of equal length."
"They are. These are the periods of the equinoxes. The point at which
the sun is nearest to the south pole we call the winter solstice, and
the opposite point, the summer solstice. The summer solstice is on June
twenty-first. At that time the declination of the sun is 23½° north
of the equatorial line. It starts to decrease until, six months later,
it reaches a minus declination of 23½° and is that far south of the
line. The longest day in the northern hemisphere is naturally June
"And the shortest day when the sun has the greatest minus declination."
"Precisely, at the winter solstice. Now to explain what is happening.
The year went normally until June twenty-first. That day was of the
correct length, about fourteen hours and fifty minutes long. The
twenty-second should have been shorter. Instead, it was longer than the
twenty-first. Each day, instead of getting shorter as it should at this
time of year, is getting longer. We have already gained some thirty-two
minutes of sunlight at this latitude. The explanation is that the angle
between the equator and the elliptic is no longer 23½° as it has been
from time immemorial, but it is greater. If the continuing tilt keeps up
long enough, the obliquity will be 90°. When that happens, there will be
perpetual midday at the north pole and perpetual night at the south
pole. The whole northern hemisphere will be bathed in a continuous flood
of sunlight while the southern hemisphere will be a region of cold and
dark. The condition of the earth will resemble that of Mercury where the
same face of the planet is continually facing the sun."
"I understand that all right, but I am still in the dark as to what is
causing this increase of tilt."
"No more than I am, old dear. Herriott keeps babbling about a hidden
body which is drawing the earth from its normal axial rotation, but the
fool ignores the fact that a body of a size sufficient to disturb the
earth would throw every motion of the solar system into a state of
chaos. Nothing of the sort has happened. Ergo, no external force is
causing it. I am positive that the force which is doing the work is
located on the earth itself. Furthermore, unless my calculations are
badly off, this force is located on or very near the surface of the
earth at approximately the sixty-fifth degree of north latitude."
"How can you tell that, Doctor?"
"It would take me too long to explain, Carnes. I will, however, qualify
my statement a little. Either a variable force is being used or else a
constant force located where I have said. The sixty-fifth parallel is a
long line. The exact location and the nature of that force, we have to
find. If it be man-made, and I'll bet my bottom dollar that it is, we
will also have to destroy it. If we fail, we'll see this world plunged
into such a riot of war and bloodshed as has never before been known. It
will be literally a fight of mankind for a place in the sun. Due to its
favorable location in the new position of the earth, it is more than
probable that Russia would emerge as the dominant power."
"Undertaking to destroy a thing that you don't know the location of and
of whose existence you aren't even sure is a pretty big contract."
"We've tackled bigger ones, old dear. We have the President behind us. I
haven't made much headway selling my idea to that gang of old fossils
who call themselves the council of scientists, but I did to his nibs.
Just before that attempt at assassination, I had a chin-chin with him.
The fastest battle cruiser in the Navy, the Denver, is to be placed at
my service. It will carry a big amphibian plane, so be equipped to
assemble and launch it. Bolton will relieve you from the Presidential
guard to-day. We sail in the morning."
"Where for, Doctor?"
"I feel sure that the force is caused and controlled by men and I know
of but one man who has the genius and the will to do such a thing. That
man is Saranoff. Because he must be concealed and work free from
interruption, I fancy he is working in his own country. Does that answer
"It does. We sail for Russia."
"Carnesy, old dear, at times you have flashes of such scintillating
brilliance that I have hopes for the future of the secret service. In
time they may even show human intelligence. Toddle along now and pay
your fond farewells to the bright lights of Washington. Meet me at the
Pennsy station at six. We'll sail from New York in the morning."
With the famous scientist and his assistant as passengers, the Denver
steamed at her best speed across the Atlantic. As soon as New York
harbor was cleared, Dr. Bird charted the course. Captain Evans raised
his eyebrows when he saw the course laid out, but his orders had been
positive. Had Dr. Bird ordered him to steam at full speed against the
shore, he would have obeyed without question.
The Denver avoided the usual lanes of traffic and bore to the north of
the summer lane. Not a vessel was sighted in the eight days which
elapsed before the Faroe Islands came in sight on the starboard bow. The
Denver bore still more to the north and skirted around North Cape five
days later. At Cape Kanin she headed south into the White Sea.
Surprisingly little ice was encountered. When Captain Evans mentioned
this, Dr. Bird pointed out to him that it was August and that the days
were still lengthening. Once in the White Sea, the Denver was made
ready for instant action. A huge amphibian plane was hoisted in sections
from the hold and mechanics started to assemble it. Dr. Bird spent most
of his time working on some instruments he had assembled in the radio
"This is an ultra-short wave detector," he explained to Carnes. "It will
receive vibrations to the lowest limit of waves that we have ever been
able to measure. The X-ray is high on the scale and even the cosmic ray
is far above its lower limit of detection. We are hunting for an
electro-magnet, the largest and strangest electro-magnet that has ever
been constructed. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we are
seeking for a generator of magnetic force. It does not generate the
ordinary magnetism which attracts iron and steel, nor the special type
of magnetism which we call gravity, but something between the two. It
attracts the sun enough to disturb the tilt of the earth's axis, but not
enough to pull the earth out of its orbit. Such a device should give out
a wave that can be detected, if we get a receiver delicate enough and
operating on the right wave length."
He spent hours improving and refining the apparatus, but in the end he
confessed himself beaten.
"It's no use, Carnes," he said the day after Cape Kanin faded from view
to the north. "Either the apparatus we are seeking gives out no wave
that we can detect or my apparatus is faulty. Luckily we have other
things to guide us."
"What are they, Doctor?"
"The facts that Saranoff must have easy transportation and a source of
power. The first precludes him from locating his station far from the
sea-coast and the second indicates that it will be near a river or other
source of power. The only Russian points on the sixty-fifth parallel
that are open to water transport are the Gulf of Anadyr, north of
Kamchatka, and the vicinity of Archangel. I passed up Kamchatka because
it would mean too long a haul through unfriendly waters from Leningrad
and because there is not much water power. Archangel is easy of access
at this time of the year and it has the Dwina river for power. That will
be our first line of search."
"We will explore by plane, of course?"
"Certainly. We wouldn't get far on foot, especially as neither of us
speaks Russian. We'll head south for another day and then— What's that?"
He paused and listened. From the distance came a dull drone of sound
which brought him to his feet with a start. He raced out onto deck with
Carnes at his heels. Far overhead in the blue, a tiny speck of black
"We're on the right trail, Carnes," he said grimly. The plane passed
over them. In huge circles it sank toward the ground. Dr. Bird turned to
Captain Evans. Orders flew from the bridge and a detail of marines
rapidly stripped the covers from the two forward anti-aircraft rifles.
"I dislike to fire on that craft before it makes a hostile
demonstration, Dr. Bird," demurred Captain Evans. "We are at peace with
Russia. My action in firing might precipitate a war, or in any event,
serious diplomatic misunderstandings."
"Allow me to correct you, Captain Evans, we are at war with Russia. The
whole world is at war with the man who has pulled the earth out of her
course. In any event, your orders are positive and the responsibility is
mine. Wait until that plane gets within easy range and then shoot it
down. Do not fail to get it; it must not get back to shore with word of
Captain Evans bowed gravely. Shells came up from the magazines and were
piled by the guns. From the fire control stations came a monotonous
calling of firing data. The guns slowly changed direction as the plane
descended. Nearer and nearer it came, intent on positive identification
of the war vessel below it. It passed over the Denver less than five
thousand feet up. As it passed it swung off to one side and began to
climb sharply. Dr. Bird glanced at the fighting top of the cruiser and
swore softly. From the top the stars and stripes had been broken to the
"Fire at once!" he cried, "and then court-martial the fool who broke out
The two three-inch rifles barked their message of death into the sky.
For agonizing seconds nothing happened. The guns roared again. Below and
behind the fleeing plane, two puffs of white smoke appeared in the sky.
The staccato calls of the observers came from the control station and
the guns roared again and again. Now above and now below the Russian
plane appeared the white puffs that told of bursting shells, but the
plane droned on, unharmed.
"It's away safely," groaned the doctor. "Now the fat is in the fire.
Saranoff will know in an hour that we are coming. If we had a pursuit
plane ready to take off, we might catch him, but we haven't. Oh, well,
there's no use in crying over spilt milk. How soon will that amphibian
be ready to take off?"
"In twenty minutes. Doctor," replied the Engineering Officer. "As soon
as we finish filling the tanks and test the motor, she'll be ready to
"Hurry all you can. Hang a half dozen hundred-pound bombs and a few
twenty-fives on the racks. Lower her over the side as soon as she's
ready. Where's Lieutenant McCready?"
"Below, getting into his flying togs, Doctor."
"Good enough. Come on, Carnes, we'll go below and put on our fur-lined
panties, too. We'll probably need them."
In half an hour the amphibian rose from the water. Lieutenant McCready
was at the controls, with Carnes and the doctor at the bomb racks. The
plane rose in huge spirals until the altimeter read four thousand feet.
The pilot straightened it out toward the south. The plane was alone in
the sky. For two hours it flew south and then veered to the east,
following the line of the Gulf of Archangel. The town came in sight at
"Better drop down a couple of thousand, Lieutenant," said Dr. Bird into
the speaking tube. "We can't see much from this altitude."
The plane swung around in a wide circle, gradually losing altitude.
Carnes and the doctor hung over the side watching the ground below them.
As they watched a puff of smoke came from a low building a mile from the
edge of the town. Dr. Bird grabbed the speaking tube.
"Bank, McCready!" he barked, "They're firing at us."
The plane lurched sharply to one side. From a point a few yards below
them and almost directly along their former line of flight, a burst of
flame appeared in the air. The plane lurched and reeled as the blast of
the explosion reached it. From other points on the ground came other
"Get out of here," shouted Dr. Bird. "There must be a dozen guns firing
at us. One of them will have the range directly."
From all around them came flashes and the roar of explosions. The plane
lurched and yawed in a sickening fashion. Lieutenant McCready fought
heroically with the controls, trying to prevent the sideslips which were
costing him altitude. Gradually the plane came under control and started
to climb. The shells burst nearer as the plane took a straighter course
and strove to fly out of the danger zone. Dr. Bird looked at the
"A hundred and eighty," he shouted to Carnes. "We'll be safely out of
range in a minute."
The bursts were mostly behind them now. Suddenly a blast of air struck
them with terrific force. Half a dozen holes appeared in the fabric of
the wings. A bit of high explosive shell plowed a way through the after
compartment and wrecked the duplicate instrument board. In another
moment they were out of range. Lieutenant McCready turned the nose of
his plane toward the north.
"We came out of that well," cried Carnes. Dr. Bird dropped the speaking
tube which he had held pressed to his ear and smiled grimly at the
"I wish we had," he replied. "Our main gas tank is punctured."
An expression of alarm crossed the detective's face.
"Is it injured badly?" he asked.
"I don't know yet. McCready says that the gauge is dropping pretty
rapidly. I'm going to go out and see what I can do."
"Can't I go, Doctor? I'm a good deal lighter than you are."
"You're not as strong or as agile, Carnes, and you haven't the
mechanical ability to make the repair. Hand me that line."
He fastened one end of a coil of manila rope which Carnes handed him to
his waist, while the detective fastened the other end to one of the
safety belt hooks. With a word of farewell, he climbed out of the
cockpit and onto a wing. In the pocket of his flying suit he carried a
tool kit and repair material. Carnes shuddered as the doctor's figure
disappeared under the plane. He snubbed the rope about a seat bracket
and held it taut. For ten minutes the strain continued. It slackened at
last, and the figure of the doctor reappeared on the wing. Slowly he
climbed into the cockpit.
"I've made a temporary repair, Lieutenant," he called into the speaking
tube, "and the leakage has stopped. How much gas have we left?"
"Enough for about an hour of flying, including the emergency tank."
"Thunder! No chance to get back to the Denver. Better head inland and
follow the course of the Dwina. If we can locate the place we are
looking for we may be able to drop a few eggs on it before we are washed
out. In any event, it will be better to come down on land than on
McCready headed the plane south and followed the winding ribbon below
him which marked the channel of the Dwina. He kept his altitude well
over eight thousand feet. For a few minutes the plane roared along.
Without warning the motor sputtered once or twice and died.
"Gas finished?" asked Dr. Bird into the speaking tube.
"No, there is plenty of gas for another forty-five minutes. It acted
like a short in the wiring. Maybe another fragment got us that we didn't
know about. I can glide to a safe landing, Doctor. Which direction shall
"It doesn't matter," replied Dr. Bird as he looked over the side. "Wait
a minute, it does matter. See that long low building down there with the
projection like a tower on top? I'll bet a month's pay that that is the
very place we're looking for. Glide over it and let's have a look at it.
If I am convinced of it, I'll drop a few eggs on it."
McCready glided on a long slope toward the suspected building. Dr. Bird
kept his eye glued to the bomb sight.
"It's suspicious enough for me to act," he cried. "Drop one!"
Carnes pulled a lever and a hundred-pound high explosive bomb detached
itself from the plane and fell toward the ground.
"Another!" cried the doctor.
A second messenger of death followed the first.
"Bank around and back over while we give them the rest."
The plane swung around in a wide circle.
"Volley!" cried the doctor. Carnes pulled the master lever and the rest
of the bombs fell earthward.
"Now glide to the east, McCready, until you are forced down."
McCready banked the plane and started on a long glide toward the east.
Carnes and the doctor watched the falling bombs. The doctor's aim had
been perfect. The first bomb released struck the building squarely while
the other landed only a few feet away. Instead of the puffs of smoke
which they had expected, the bombs had no effect. The volley which
Carnes had discharged fell full on the building as harmlessly as had the
two pilot shots.
"Were these bombs armed, Lieutenant?" demanded the doctor.
"Yes, sir. I inspected them myself before we took off and they were
fused and armed. They had always fused and should have gone off, no
matter in what position they landed."
"Well, they didn't. That building is our goal all right. Saranoff would
naturally expect an air raid and he has perfected some device which
renders a bomb impotent before it lands. How far from the building will
"A couple of miles, Doctor."
"Get as far as you can. If you can make that line of thicket ahead,
we'll take to our heels and hope to hide in it."
"I don't think we'll have much luck, Doctor," said Carnes.
Dr. Bird looked back toward the building they had tried to bomb. Across
the country, a truck loaded with armed men followed the course of the
plane. The plane was gaining slightly on the truck but it was evident
that the plane's occupants would have little chance of escaping on foot.
Dr. Bird gave a grim laugh.
"We're cornered all right," he said. "If we did elude the men in that
truck, we would have a plane after us in no time. You might as well turn
back, McCready, and land fairly near the building. We are sure to be
captured and our best chance is to have the plane near us. They'll
probably patch it up and if we get a chance to escape later, it may be a
lifesaver. At any rate, we've lost for the present."
McCready turned the plane again to the west. The truck halted at their
new maneuver. As the plane passed over, it turned and again followed
them. The ground was approaching rapidly. With a final dip, McCready
leveled off and made a landing. The machine rolled to a stop about a
mile from the building. The truck was less than three hundred yards
away. It came up rapidly and disgorged a dozen men armed with rifles who
hurried forward. In the lead was a tall, slight figure who carried no
gun. Dr. Bird stepped forward to meet them.
"Do you understand English?" he asked.
An incomprehensible jargon of Russian answered him. The men raised their
rifles threateningly. Dr. Bird turned back to his companions.
"Resistance is hopeless," he said. "Surrender gracefully and we'll see
what comes of it."
He faced the Russians and held one hand high above his head. The Russian
leader stepped forward and confiscated the doctor's pistol. He repeated
the process with Carnes and McCready, frisking them thoroughly for
concealed weapons. At his command, six of the Russians stepped forward.
The Americans took their place in the midst of the guard and were
marched to the truck. The balance of the Russians moved over to the
American's plane. The truck rolled forward and approached the low
building. The projection which Dr. Bird had noticed from the air proved
to be a metal tube projection from the roof, fully twenty feet in
diameter and fifty feet long.
"A projection tube of some sort," said the doctor, pointing. An excited
command came from the Russian in command. A rifle was leveled
threateningly at the doctor. He took the hint and maintained silence
while they climbed down from the truck and approached the door of the
It swung open as they approached. As they entered a strong garlic-like
smell was evident. The hum of heavy machinery smote their ears.
They were led down a corridor to a flight of steps. On the floor below
they went along another corridor to a heavy iron-studded door. The guide
unlocked it with a huge key and swung it open. With a shrug of his
shoulders, Dr. Bird led the way into the cell. The door closed behind
them and they were left alone. Dr. Bird turned to his companions.
"Be careful what you say," he whispered. "I am not at all convinced that
there is no one here who knows English and we are probably spied upon.
There is almost sure to be a dictaphone somewhere in this room. We don't
want to give them any more information than we have to."
Carnes and McCready nodded. Dr. Bird spoke aloud of inconsequential
matters while they explored the cell. It was a room some twenty feet
square, fitted with three bunks on one side, built into the wall like
the berths on shipboard. The room was lighted by a single electric light
overhead. A door opened into a lavatory equipped with running water.
"We're comfortable here, at any rate," said the doctor cheerfully. "They
evidently don't mean to make us suffer. I'd like to know why they took
the trouble to capture us, anyway. It would seem to be more in line with
their usual policy to have shot us on sight. It must be that they want
some sort of information from us."
Neither of his companions had a better reason to offer and conversation
languished. For an hour they sat almost without speech. A sound at the
door brought them to their feet. It opened and a Russian girl pushed in
a cart laden with food. She made no reply to the remarks which Dr. Bird
addressed to her but quickly and silently put their food on the table.
When she had completed her task, she left the room without having spoken
"Beautiful, but dumb," Dr. Bird remarked. "Let's eat."
"Do you suppose that it's safe to eat this food, Doctor?" asked Carnes
in a whisper.
"I don't know, and I don't care. If we've got to go out, we might as
well be poisoned as shot. If we refuse food, they can poison us through
our water. We couldn't refuse that for any length of time. I'm hungry
and I'm going to make a good meal. What's this stuff, bortsch?"
They soon received proof that they were under observation. Hardly had
they pushed back their chairs at the completion of the meal than the
door opened and the Russian girl who had brought their food removed the
empty dishes. Silence settled down over the cell. For another hour they
waited before the door opened again. A tall bearded Russian entered with
a younger man at his heels. The bearded man dropped into a chair while
his companion sat at the table and opened a notebook.
"Stand up!" barked the Russian sternly.
Carnes and McCready rose to their feet but Dr. Bird remained stretched
out on a bed.
"What for?" he demanded languidly.
The Russian bristled with rage.
"When I speak to you, you shall obey," he said in curiously clipped
English, "else it will be the worse for you. Would you rather be
questioned while in the strelska than while standing?"
"Not by a long shot," replied Dr. Bird promptly as he rose to his feet.
"Fire away, old fellow. I'll talk."
"What are your names?"
"I am Addison Sims of Seattle," replied Dr. Bird gravely, "and my
friends are Mr. Earle Liedermann and Mr. Bernarr Macfadden. You may have
read of us in the American magazines."
"Their names," said the Russian to his clerk, "are Dr. Bird, of the
Bureau of Standards; Operative Carnes, of the United States Secret
Service; and Lieutenant McCready, of the United States Navy. Dr. Bird,
you will save yourself trouble if you will answer my future questions
"Then ask questions to which I am not sure that you know the answer,"
replied the doctor dryly.
"What vessel brought you here?"
"What is her armament?"
"Consult the Navy list. You will doubtless find a copy in your files. It
may be purchased from the Superintendent of Public Documents at
"What is your errand here?"
"To consult with Ivan Saranoff and learn his future plans. If he means
merely to bestow on the northern hemisphere additional sunshine and
warmth, it is possible that the United States will not oppose him. We
would benefit equally with Russia, you know. Possibly the northern
countries could form some sort of an alliance against the southern
hemisphere which is already threatening war."
"You chose a peculiar way of showing your peaceable intentions. You shot
down our plane without warning and you dropped bombs on us at first
"But they didn't explode."
"No, thanks to our ray operators. Dr. Bird, I have no time to waste.
Either you will answer my questions fully and truthfully or I will
resort to torture."
"You don't dare. You were merely bluffing when you mentioned the
strelska. If you tortured us, you would have to answer to Ivan
Saranoff on his return."
"How did you know that he is—" The Russian paused and bit his lip.
"Shall I tell him that you refuse to talk?"
"When he returns, you may tell him that I will be glad to talk frankly
with him. I came to Russia for that purpose, but I will not talk with
one of his underlings. In the meanwhile, we are having lovely weather
for this time of year, aren't we?"
With a muttered curse the Russian rose and left the room. Carnes turned
to Dr. Bird.
"How did you know that Saranoff was away?" he demanded.
"I didn't," replied Dr. Bird with a chuckle, "it was merely a shrewd
guess. We have twisted his tail so often that I figured he could not
resist the temptation to come here and gloat a few gloats over us if he
were here. I know his ruthless methods in dealing with his subordinates
and I knew that they would never dare to resort to torture in his
absence. No, old dear, we are safe until he returns. I hope he stays
away a long time."
Four days passed monotonously. Three times a day the Russian girl
appeared with ample meals. Despite their attempts to engage her in
conversation, not a word would she reply or give any indication that she
either heard or understood their remarks. The bearded Russian appeared
daily and tried to question them, but Dr. Bird laughed at his threats
and reaffirmed his intention of talking to no one but Saranoff.
"Your chance will soon come," replied the Russian with an evil leer on
the fourth day. "He will be here the day after to-morrow. He will be
able to make you talk."
"If he's telling the truth, the jig's about up," said Dr. Bird when the
Russian had left. "I don't fancy that Saranoff will show us much mercy
when he finds out what we've attempted to do."
"How would it be to overpower our waitress and make a break?" asked
McCready in a guarded whisper.
"No good at all," replied the doctor decisively. "We wouldn't have a
Chinaman's chance. Our best bet is to talk turkey to Saranoff. He may
spare us if I can make him believe that I am willing to work for him.
What a man he is! If we could turn his genius into the right channels,
he would be a blessing to the world."
He paused as the door swung open and the Russian girl appeared with
their food. She placed the cart against the wall and suddenly turned and
"Dr. Bird," she said in excellent English, "I am Feodrovna Androvitch."
"I'm glad to know you," said Dr. Bird with a bow.
"Do you recognize my name?"
"I'm very sorry, my dear, but it simply doesn't register."
"Do you remember Stefan Androvitch?"
A sudden light came into Dr. Bird's face.
"Yes," he exclaimed, "I do. He used to work for me in the Bureau some
time ago. I had to let him go under peculiar circumstances. Is he
related to you?"
"He was my twin brother. The peculiar circumstances you refer to were
that you caught him stealing platinum. Instead of turning him over to
the police, you asked him why he stole. He told you his wife was dying
for lack of things that money would buy and he stole for her. You
allowed him to quit his position honorably and you gave him money for
his immediate needs. For that act of mercy, I am here to reward you."
"Bread cast upon the waters," murmured Carnes. The Russian girl turned
on him like a wildcat.
"Unless you wish to deprive yourself and your companions of my help, you
will not quote the Bible, that sop thrown by the church to their slaves,
to me," she said venomously. "I am a woman of the proletariat!"
"Respect the lady's anti-religious prejudices, Carnesy, old dear," said
the doctor with a smile. "How do you propose to aid us, Miss
"I will give you exactly what you gave my brother, your freedom and
money for your immediate needs."
"Thanks. But, er—haven't you considered what your position here will
be if you aid us to escape? Saranoff doesn't deal kindly with traitors,
The girl spat on the floor.
"That swine!" she hissed, "I would like to kill him. I would have done
so long ago had not the hope of the people rested on his genius. When
the people finally triumph, I will feed his heart to my cat."
"Nice, gentle, loving disposition," murmured the doctor. "All right, my
dear, we're ready for anything. What's the first move?"
The girl whisked the covers from the food cart and displayed three
pistols and belts of ammunition.
"Put these on," she said, "and take this food with you. I will take you
to a hiding place outside the walls where you may safely stay for a few
days. I will bring you fresh supplies of food. As quickly as possible I
will arrange for you to escape from Russia. When you have left Russia
safely, my debt is paid and you are again my enemies."
"But, listen here," said Dr. Bird persuasively, "why don't you come with
us? You know the object of our coming here. We aim to destroy this plant
and let the earth take its normal tilt. You hate Saranoff, although I
don't know why. If you'll help us to destroy him, we'll guarantee you a
welcome in the United States and you can join your brother. I'll take
him back into my laboratory."
"My brother is dead," she said bitterly. "After he left you, he fell
into more evil times. His wife died and he swore revenge upon the
society which had murdered her. An opportunity came to him to join
Saranoff, and he did so. Saranoff hated him and distrusted him, although
he was the soul of loyalty. As a reward for his genius and aid to
Saranoff in constructing the black lamp, Saranoff abandoned him to you.
It was your men who killed him when you blew into nothingness the
helicopter he was piloting in your state of Maryland, near Washington."
"All the more reason why you should revenge yourself upon Saranoff,"
replied the doctor. "We will give you a chance to do so and aid you. We
also give you an opportunity to be received in a free country with
An expression of rage distorted the girl's features.
"I am a woman of the proletariat!" she cried. "I hate Ivan Saranoff for
what he has done but I am loyal to him. He alone will force the
bourgeoisie to their knees and establish the rule of the people. I hate
your country and your government; yes, and I hate you. I aid you because
I must pay my just debts. Come, the way is clear for your escape. Don't
ask how I cleared it."
"Come on," said Dr. Bird with a shrug of his shoulders. "There is no
arguing with convictions. She must act according to her lights, even as
we must act according to ours. Grab your guns and let's go."
The three buckled on the weapons and belts of ammunition and followed
the girl from the cell. Once outside she touched her lips for silence. A
door barred their way but she opened it with a key which she withdrew
from her dress. Outside the door, a guard slumbered noisily. At a motion
from the girl, Carnes rolled him over on his face to quiet his snoring.
He moved and stirred, but did not wake.
A few feet from the door the girl paused and faced the wall. She
manipulated a hidden lever and a panel swung open in the wall. She led
the way silently into the dark. As the panel closed behind her, a beam
of light from an electric torch stabbed the darkness. Down a sloping
tunnel they followed her for half a mile. The tunnel turned at right
angles and led upward. At length they paused before another door. The
girl opened it and they stepped out into the night. As they did so, a
dull booming struck their ears. The girl paused.
"The ship!" she cried. "Your ship! It is attacking Fort Novadwinskaja.
The factory will be awake in a moment! Run for your lives!"
Even as she spoke a pair of twinkling lights appeared far down the
tunnel through which they had come. She turned as if to return down the
tunnel. Dr. Bird caught her about the waist and clapped his hand over
"Quick, Carnes, your belt," he cried. "Tie her up. She meant to go down
that tunnel and give her life to delay them while we escaped. We'll save
her in spite of herself."
Carnes and McCready quickly bound the struggling girl with their belts.
They laid her on the ground beside the door and watched the oncoming
"You two hold them back for the present," said the doctor. "I'm going to
take Feodrovna away a bit and argue gently with her. If I can make her
see the light, we may accomplish our mission yet. If I can't, I'll come
back and help you."
He picked up the girl in his arms and disappeared into the darkness.
Pistol in hand, the two men watched the oncoming lights. The men behind
the lights could not be seen, but from the sound of their footsteps it
was evident that there were quite a few of them.
"Had we better let them emerge from the door and then get them?"
"No. These heavy guns will drive a bullet through three men at short
range. Level your gun down the tunnel and fire when I give the word.
Remember, every one is apt to shoot high in the dark."
The lights approached slowly. When they were twenty-five yards away,
Lieutenant McCready spoke. The quiet was shattered by the roar of two
Luger pistols. Again and again the guns barked. A volley of fire came
from the tunnel, but Carnes and the lieutenant were standing well away
from the opening and they escaped unharmed. Their deadly fire poured
into the shambles until they were rewarded by the sound of retreating
"So ends round one," said Carnes with a laugh. "I think we win on
"They won't try a direct attack again," replied the lieutenant. "Look
out for a flank attack or from some new weapon. I don't like the way
those bombs failed to explode the other day."
Dr. Bird appeared from the darkness.
"McCready," he said in a voice vibrant with excitement, "we're in luck.
We have come out less than a hundred yards from the point where our
plane came down. It is still there. If the Denver has approached
within shooting range, we will have enough gas to make it. Try to get
your motor going."
"If it isn't completely washed out I'll have it going in a few minutes,
Doctor," cried the pilot. "I'm going down the tunnel and get those
flash-lights those birds dropped when they pulled out. Where's the
"She's back by the plane," said the doctor with a chuckle. "She is a
spit-fire, all right. I took her gag off and she tried to bite me. I
couldn't get a word of anything but abuse out of her. Go ahead and get
the lights and I'll show you the plane."
In a few minutes they stood before the ship. It was apparently
uninjured, but the spark was dead. Carnes went back to the tunnel mouth
to guard against surprise while Dr. Bird and McCready labored over the
motor. Despite the best of both of them, no spark could be coaxed from
the coil. As a last resort, Dr. Bird short-circuited the cells with a
screwdriver blade. No answering spark came from the terminals.
"Dead as a mackerel," he remarked. "I guess that ends that hope. Let's
get the machine guns out of her. Well have another attack soon and
they'll be more effective than our pistols."
It was the work of a few minutes to dismount the two Brownings from the
plane. Carrying the two guns, Dr. Bird joined Carnes while McCready
staggered along laden down with belts of ammunition.
"Do you remember that rocky knoll we passed just before we landed?"
asked the lieutenant. "If we can get this stuff there before we are
attacked, we'll have a much better chance than we will in the open."
"Good idea, Lieutenant. Carnes, connect yourself to one of these guns.
I'll fasten the other on my back and carry Feodrovna. We can't leave her
here to Saranoff's tender mercies."
Through the night the little cavalcade made its way. The thunder of guns
from Fort Novadwinskaja kept up and the sky to the north was lighted by
their flashes. McCready's bump of direction proved to be a good one for
the sought-for retreat was soon located. As they deposited their burdens
and looked back, the lights of two trucks could be seen approaching
across the plain from the factory. Hurriedly they mounted the machine
gun. Dr. Bird straightened up and listened carefully.
"The guns are sounding less frequently," he said. "Possibly the Denver
has had enough and is pulling out."
"If I know Captain Evans as well as I think I do, the Denver is not
retreating," replied McCready grimly.
"I hope she's hammering the fort out of existence," said the doctor.
"However, our main interest just now is on the land front. Gunners to
the fore. Carnes, you aren't so good at this, better let McCready and me
The trucks approached slowly. Presently the American plane loomed up in
the glare of their headlights. A powerful searchlight mounted on the
leading truck swept the country. Discovery was a matter of moments.
Lieutenant McCready trained his gun carefully and pressed the trigger. A
rattle of fire came from the Browning. A crash was heard from the truck
and the searchlight winked out.
"Bull's-eye!" cried Carnes exultantly.
"Down, you fool!" cried the doctor as he swept the detective from his
feet and threw him down behind a rock. His action was none too soon. A
burst of machine gun fire came from the trucks and a hail of bullets
splattered on the rocks a few yards from them. McCready crawled back to
"Wait a minute, Lieutenant," counseled the doctor. "A burst of fire from
here will give them our location and probably do them little damage.
Wait until they try to rush us."
They did not have long to wait. A guttural shout came from a point a few
yards away and the sound of running feet came to their ears. The rush
was directed toward a point a few yards to the left of where they
crouched. Dr. Bird swung his gun around. As the rush passed them, he
released his trigger. A volley of screams and oaths from the plain
answered the crackle of the Browning. McCready's gun joined in with a
staccato burst of fire. The attack could not live before that rain of
death. A few running feet were heard from the darkness and a few
groans. Presently the roar of a motor came from the direction of the
parked trucks. It retreated into the distance and all was quiet.
"Round two goes to us on a knock-down," said Carnes jubilantly. "What
will they do next, Doctor?"
"Probably nothing until daylight, now that they know we have machine
guns. I wish that we could make that thicket, but it's too far to try.
It'll be daylight in an hour or so."
The night was normally short in Archangel at that season of the year and
the unnatural lengthening of the day which Saranoff had accomplished
made it shorter still. In an hour red streamers in the east announced
the approach of daylight. Hardly had they appeared than a dull drone of
truck motors came from the direction of the factory.
"Round three is about to commence," announced Carnes. "I wish that I
could do something."
"You can as soon as our ammunition runs out, which won't be long,"
replied McCready. "It will be a matter of pistols at close quarters."
The trucks approached to within a half mile and stopped. The distance
was too great to warrant wasting any of their scanty store of ammunition
at such long range. In the dim light they would see the Russians working
at the trucks. Presently a flash came from the plain. A whining sound
filled the air. With a crash a three-inch shell broke behind them.
"No fun," remarked the doctor. "We'll have to get better cover than
A second shell whined through the air and burst over their heads. A
third burst a few yards in front of them.
"They have us bracketed now," said McCready. "We'd better slide back a
piece before they start rapid fire."
Dragging their prisoner with them, the three men made their way to the
reverse side of the knoll. A short search revealed an overhanging ledge
under which they crouched in comparative safety from anything but a
direct hit above them.
"We're all right here except for the fact that they may rush us under
cover of the fire," said the doctor. "One man will have to keep watch
all the time and it will be a dangerous detail. I'll take the first
"You will not!" exclaimed Carnes emphatically. "I have done nothing so
far and I am the least important member of the party. I'll do the
"Let's draw straws," suggested McCready. "I'm willing to do that, but if
it's a matter of volunteering, I refuse to yield to the civilian
branches of the government. The Navy has traditions to uphold, you
"McCready's right," replied the doctor. "Get straws, Lieutenant, and
McCready picked up three bits of grass and held them out.
"The shortest goes on watch," he said. Carnes and the doctor drew,
McCready exhibited the remaining bit of grass. It was the shortest of
the three. He waited until the next shell burst above them and then
stepped out from the shelter.
"I'll relieve you in fifteen minutes," said Carnes as he left.
When the lieutenant had left, Dr. Bird removed the gag from Feodrovna's
mouth and tried to argue with her, but the Russian girl only glared her
hatred and refused to talk other than to abuse him. With a sigh, the
doctor gave over his efforts and talked to Carnes. The time passed
slowly with a constant rain of shells on the knoll.
"It's time for my relief," said Carnes at length. As he spoke the hail
of shells on the knoll ceased.
"What the dickens?" cried the doctor.
He and Carnes jumped from their shelter and ran over the knoll. On the
plain a few hundred yards from them, a straggling line of Russians were
advancing with fixed bayonets. McCready was nowhere in sight.
"Where the devil is McCready?" cried the doctor. "He must have been
killed. Hello, one of the guns is gone, too. There's only a belt and a
half of ammunition left. I'll try to break that attack up."
He advanced to the gun and trained it carefully. When he pressed the
trigger a dull click came from the gun.
"Misfire!" he cried. He drew back the bolt and inserted a fresh
cartridge. Again the gun clicked harmlessly. Dr. Bird ejected the shell
and examined it. A deep indentation appeared on the primer. Hurriedly he
tried a half dozen more cartridges but they refused to explode. He
turned a keen gaze toward the trucks. On the ground was set a tube-like
projector pointing toward them. Dr. Bird swore softly and jerked his
pistol from its holster. The hammer clicked futilely on a cartridge.
"Stymied!" he exclaimed. "They have that portable ray mechanism, with
them, which disabled our bombs. It's hand to hand, Carnesy, old dear. I
wonder where McCready is."
The Russians approached slowly, keeping their lines straight. They were
within two hundred yards of the knoll. Suddenly from a point a hundred
yards to the left of the end of the land came a rattle of fire. The
attacking line dropped in a pile of grotesque heaps.
"It's McCready!" shouted Carnes. A little ravine ran from the knoll
toward the trucks. Sitting in the ravine was the lieutenant, playing a
Browning machine gun on the line of attackers. When there were no more
of them on their feet, he turned his gun on the trucks. Panic seized the
Russians and they made a rush for their truck. Their leader leaped among
them, yelling furiously. They paused and turned to the projector tube.
Slowly they swung it around. The lieutenant's gun ceased firing.
As the Russians rushed the now silent gun, Dr. Bird stepped to the gun
on the knoll. He trained it and pressed the trigger. A rattle of fire
came from it and two of the rushing figures fell. The attack paused for
an instant. McCready had risen to his feet and was running up the ravine
with his gun under his arm.
"Good head!" cried Dr. Bird, "Clever work! Watch the fun now."
He ceased firing his gun. The Russians wavered and then rushed the point
from which McCready had fired. The lieutenant allowed them to get to
within a short distance and then crumpled the attack with another burst
of fire from the flank. With cries of alarm, the Russians turned and
fled toward their trucks. McCready ran along the ravine until he was
within fifty yards of the standing machines. As the Russians approached,
one of them stepped to the truck crank. McCready's pistol spoke and he
dropped. A second shared his fate. With cries of despair, the Russians
climbed into the remaining truck whose motor was running. Rapidly it
drove away across the plain. McCready rose from the ravine and ran
toward the standing truck. He started the motor and headed for the
"He's got a truck," cried Carnes. "We can get away in it."
"Where to?" demanded Dr. Bird. "Archangel is between us and the
The truck came up.
"Come on, Doctor," cried McCready. "Hurry up. We'll take the battery out
of this truck and get our plane going."
"Oh, clever!" cried Dr. Bird admiringly. "Load that gun while I get
Feodrovna, Carnesy. We'll get away safely yet."
The truck rolled up to the plane and stopped. While Carnes transferred
the prisoner and the guns to the plane, the lieutenant and Dr. Bird
ripped up the floor boards of the truck and exposed the battery. It was
a matter of moments to detach it and carry it to the plane. It would not
fit in place but they anchored it in place with wire.
"You'd better hurry," cried Carnes. "Here come a couple more trucks over
"That'll do, Doctor," said McCready. "Get on the prop and we'll see if
the old puddle jumper will take off."
Dr. Bird ran to the propeller.
"Ready!" he cried.
"Contact!" snapped McCready.
The plane motor roared into life. The ship moved slowly forward as Dr.
Bird climbed on board. Toward the oncoming trucks they rushed across the
plain. A crash seemed imminent. In the nick of time McCready pulled back
on his joystick and the plane rose gracefully into the air, clearing the
leading truck by inches. The truck halted and hastily mounted a machine
"Too late!" laughed the lieutenant. "Now it's our turn for some fun."
He tapped the key of his radio transmitter. In a few seconds he received
"They have reduced Fort Novadwinskaja," he reported to the rear cockpit,
"but they don't know what to fire at next. Their largest guns will reach
the factory easily. Shall I start some fireworks?"
"You may fire when ready, Gridly," chuckled Dr. Bird.
Again the lieutenant depressed his key. From their altitude of four
thousand feet, they could see the Denver. From its forward turret
came a puff of smoke. There were a few moments of pause and then a cloud
of black rose from the plain below them, half a mile from the factory.
McCready reported the position of the burst to the ship. A second shell
burst beyond the factory and the third just in front of it.
"It's a clear bracket," said McCready. "Now watch the gun. I'll give
them a salvo."
From the side of the Denver came a cloud of black smoke as all of her
turret guns fired in unison. The aim was perfect. For a few moments all
was quiet and then the factory disappeared in a smother of bursting high
Hardly had the shells landed than a terrific sheet of lightning ripped
across the sky. The thunderclap which seemed to come simultaneously,
rocked the plane like a feather. Sheet after sheet of lightning
illuminated the sky while the roar of thunder was continuous. Rain fell
in solid sheets. Even as they watched, it began to turn into snow. The
air grew bitterly cold.
"The solar magnet is wrecked," shouted the doctor, "and these storms are
the efforts of nature to return to normal."
"If they get any worse, we're doomed."
"But in a good cause."
Through the storm the plane raced. Suddenly the motor died with
"Our haywire battery connections are gone," shouted McCready. "Say your
The wind tossed the plane about like a feather. Rapidly it lost
altitude. A building loomed up before them. As a crash seemed imminent,
a gust of wind caught the plane and tossed it up into the air again. For
several minutes the ground could not be seen through the rain. Suddenly
the plane hit an airpocket and dropped like a stone. With a splash it
fell into the sea. A rift came for a moment in the curtain of rain.
"Look!" cried Carnes.
A hundred yards away, the Denver rode at anchor.
"I'm only sorry about one thing," said Carnes ten minutes later as they
changed to dry clothes aboard the battle cruiser, "and that is that
Saranoff wasn't in the factory when that salvo fell on it."
"I'm glad he was away," replied Dr. Bird. "With him absent, we succeeded
in destroying it. If he had been there, our task would have been more
difficult and perhaps impossible. I am an enemy of Saranoff's, but I
don't underrate his colossal genius."
Transcriber's Note: This e-text was produced from Astounding Stories
October 1931. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.