Sometimes worlds can meet without the inhabitants of either
by KATHERINE MACLEAN
The old one said, "Stick close by me, child."
"What'll it be like, Grandpa?" The youngster was frightened.
"Dark, very dark, and big. It moves fast, but we'll keep up with it."
The tone was consciously reassuring.
"Yes, it sucks heat and absorbs light. You'll find out when you're old
and strong enough to swim down to the bottom and see what's there. Now
stay with me when we follow it, and don't get lost in the crowd; and
don't get ahead of me or get too close to it—you might take in too
much, and get overcharged."
"What's 'overcharged,' Grandpa? Can you really get too much?" The
youngster jigged up and down a little with excitement and
For a moment, the oldster turned his attention from watching for the
thing that was coming, and considered him fondly. "Poor youngling. I
forget. You've had no chance to learn what it means to get enough.
You're too young to ride the storms and tap the lightnings.... Listen
now. When a grownup has to let out a flash of blue light, that means
that he's overcharged and spinning off balance inside, and so he has
to save himself by letting out his energy to let down the pressure. So
be careful; take enough, but don't be greedy and take in too much too
suddenly. Now let's just float here with the others and be ready."
It was a beautiful bright day. The sun poured down its flood of light,
here and there energizing a molecule of the blue air into little
sparkles of ionization; and below, a mist of bright clouds half veiled
the darkness that was the bottom.
"What's it mean when someone blinks blue light in lots of flashes, and
then glows red and starts sinking, huh, Grandpa?"
"I'll tell you later when you're older. Just be careful and don't get
too close." He was abruptly excited. "Here it comes!"
Out of the blue translucence far below, a black dot appeared and grew
rapidly, rushing closer until it was a huge fish-shaped object with
widespread fins, rushing towards them. It would pass slightly to the
left of them, and already the waiting crowd was moving to intercept
It flashed by, and the youngster thought they were going to lose
it—it was going so much faster than they; but as the thought crossed
his mind, and he saw the two churning glowing openings in its rear, a
burning blast of energy struck him. A multitude of glowing, charged
particles crackled around him, streamed against him. His fields
shifted to reach out and capture them; the spin of stored energy
within spun faster, absorbing the new energy into its drive, its
life-pulse rising to a deep hum, and he felt strong, stronger than he
had ever felt before in his life.
They were flying faster now, accelerating faster than he had ever
flown, and it was easy. They drew up closer to the dark thing,
matching it speed for speed, laving in the glowing cloud of
energy-particles that roared backward from its jets. The youngster was
astounded and exhilarated at the tremendous, effortless speed with
which they were driving forward. This was the first time he had ever
had so much power. It was ten times more than any aurora borealis with
its pale wash of energy waves.
Drunken in his new found strength, he pulled ahead closer to the
At the peak of the arc of climb of the New York-Istanbul stratoliner,
high in the ionosphere where the Earth was merely a giant globe far
below, the pilot of the stratoliner boredly cut the jets for the
fuel-saving glide that turned their nose toward Earth again.
The radar was clanging its usual senseless warning of imminent
collision with some solid objects, which had approached closer than
the automatic relays considered safe. It had been clanging for several
minutes. The pilot glanced in annoyance at the radar screen, where
several hundred globes—from two to seven feet in diameter—showed
vividly, trailing the ship in a fan-shaped cluster. "Some day I'm
going to take a hammer to that thing."
The co-pilot, looking back from the control blister's rear window, saw
nothing, as usual, except a few of the shining globes, which showed
themselves transiently in a brief flash of blue light as they
carelessly overloaded and discharged—and one, smaller than the rest,
who blinked on and off rapidly in brilliant flashes of blue. As he
watched, it ran suddenly down the color-scale to red and began to lag
behind, a glowing red globe, sinking.
"I wonder what the hell they think they're doing?" he grumbled.
This etext was produced Science Fiction Stories 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.