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"Remember, now; don't make a sound, no matter what you see!"
Mrs. Kinney eyed her caller anxiously as they came to a pause in front of the door. His glance widened at her caution, but he nodded briefly. She turned the key in the lock.
Next second the two stepped softly into the room. Mrs. Kinney carefully closed and locked the door behind them; and meanwhile the man, peering closely into the shadows of the place, made out a scene of such strangeness that he nearly forgot the woman's injunction.
The room was the private study of Dr. William Kinney. In itself, it was not at all out of the ordinary. Shelves of books, cases of surgical and psychological instruments, star charts, maps and astronomical apparatus—these told at once both the man's vocation and avocation. With these contents and rather severe furnishings the room was merely interesting, not remarkable.
But its four chairs certainly were. Each of them was occupied by a human being; and as Mrs. Kinney and her caller entered, neither of the four so much as stirred. They were all asleep.
In the nearest chair was the doctor himself, half sitting and half reclining; in fact, all four of the sleepers were in attitudes of complete relaxation. The doctor's gray head was resting on one shoulder wearily.
On his left was a man of medium height and commonplace countenance. "Mr. Smith," whispered Mrs. Kinney, placing her mouth close to the caller's ear, so that he might hear the better.
Opposite these two sat a man and a woman, their chairs placed close together. The one was a slender, well-dressed, boyishly good looking young woman of perhaps thirty; the other a large, aggressively handsome fellow possibly five years older. "Mr. and Mrs. Van Emmon," explained Mrs. Kinney, still in a whisper.
The four sat absolutely motionless; the caller, looking very closely, could hardly make out the rising and falling of their chests as they breathed. Also, he saw that they were all connected, the one with the other by means of insulated wires which ran to brass bracelets around their wrists. At one point in this curious circuit, a wire ran to a small group of electrical appliances placed on a pedestal at the doctor's side; while the caller was still further puzzled to note that each of the sleepers was resting his or her feet on a stool, the legs of which, like the legs of each chair, were tipped with glass.
After a minute of this the caller turned upon Mrs. Kinney in such complete bewilderment that she instantly unlocked the door, and again cautioning perfect silence, led the way into the corridor. Here she again locked the door. Upon leaving the spot, a quiet young man with keen gray eyes stepped from a room opposite, and at a nod from Mrs. Kinney proceeded to do sentry duty outside the study.
Once down-stairs and safely within the living-room—
"This is rather mean of you Mrs. Kinney!" protested the man. "Tell me all about it, quick!"
The lady complacently took a chair. "Well," she remarked innocently, "I knew you'd want to see him."
"It serves you right," she went on blithely, "for staying away so long. Let's see—you left a year ago June, didn't you, Mr. Hill?"
He swallowed something and managed to reply, "Great guns, yes! I've been in the wilds of New Guinea for a year—without news of any kind! I saw my first newspaper on board the dirigible this morning!"
"Ah, well," commented Mrs. Kinney provokingly, "you'll have to be humored, I suppose." She cogitated unnecessarily long, then left the room to get a folio of newspapers and magazines. One of these she selected with great deliberation, and opened it at the leading article. Even then she would not hand it over right away. "You remember that sky-car idea of the doctor's, don't you?"
"His machine to explore space? He couldn't talk of anything else when I—you don't mean to say"—incredulously—"that he made a success of that!"
"He certainly did. Took a three weeks' tour of the planets, month before last!"
Hill stared in amazement, then leaned forward suddenly and whisked the magazine out of Mrs. Kinney's fingers. He held the paper with hands that trembled in excitement; and this is what he read, in the matter-of-fact black-and-white of The Scientific New Zealander:
STAR EXPLORERS RETURN
Dr. Kinney and Party Visit Venus and Mercury
Bringing proofs which will satisfy the most skeptical, Dr. William G. Kinney, G. Van Emmon, E. Williams Jackson, and John W. Smith, who left the earth on December 9 in a powerful sky-car of the doctor's design, returned on the 23rd, after having explored the two planets which lie between the earth and the sun.
They found Mercury to be a dead world, like the moon, except that it once supported a civilization nearly as advanced as our own. They tell of a giant human, a veritable colossus, who was the planet's last survivor.
But on Venus they discovered people still living! They are marvelously developed people, infinitely more advanced than the people of the earth, and enjoying a civilization that is well-nigh incredible. Among other things, they have learned how to visit other worlds without themselves leaving their planet. They do it by a kind of telepathy; they know all about us here on the earth; and they have accumulated data regarding the peoples of hundreds of thousands of other planets! The four explorers are able to prove their statements beyond the shadow of doubt. They possess photographs which speak for themselves; they have brought back relics from Mercury and materials from Venus, such as never existed on the earth. They submit a vast library of extraordinarily advanced scientific literature, which was given to them by the Venusians.
The article went on to detail, to the extent of some eight or ten pages, the main features of the exploration. Hill, however, did not stop to read it all just then. He looked up, his thoughts flying to the strange scene in the room up-stairs. "What are they doing—recuperating?"
"Not exactly." Mrs. Kinney was a little disappointed. "Here—let me point out the paragraph." And she ran a finger down the column until it indicated this line:
Among other things they have learned how to visit other worlds without themselves leaving their planet. They do this by a kind of telepathy.
"That's the explanation," Mrs. Kinney said quietly. Hill fairly blinked when he read the paragraph. "They are trying out one of the Venusian experiments?"
"Of course; you know the doctor. He couldn't resist the temptation. And I must say the others are just as bad.
"Mr. Smith is quite as much interested as Mr. Van Emmon. Mr. Smith is an electrical engineer; the other man is a geologist, and a very adventurous spirit. As for Mrs. Van Emmon—"
"But this account mentions"—Hill referred to the magazine—"'E. Williams Jackson.' Who was he?"
"She—not he. Mrs. Van Emmon now; she used to be an architect. She had the other three fooled for ten days; she passed herself off as a man!"
But Hill was too absorbed in the general strangeness of the affair to note this amazing item. He again glanced at the article, opened his mouth once or twice as though to ask a question, thought better of it each time, and finally got to his feet.
"Let me have this?" referring to the magazine.
Mrs. Kinney handed over the rest of the collection.
"I am sure the doctor would want you to read them. I remember he said, just before they started away, that he wished you could have gone with him."
"Did he?" much pleased. Hill made some affectionate remark, under his breath about "the star-gazing old fraud"; then, evidently in a hurry to get off by himself and read, he made his excuses and left the house.
Mrs. Kinney returned to the book she had been reading, glanced at the clock, and noted that it was almost at the hour, previously agreed upon, that she should arouse the four up-stairs. She put the book down and started toward the stairs.
At that instant a large gong sounded in the hall. In the study up-stairs, the doctor's hand moved away from a pushbutton. He stirred in his chair; and as he did so, the other three awakened. First Van Emmon, then "Billie," his wife, and lastly the engineer.
Next second all four were sitting bolt upright, and looking at each other eagerly.
"Talk about results!" Billie was first to speak. "Why—where do you suppose I found myself? Out in mid-ocean, in a small boat, with the spray flying into my—that is, into the face of—" She broke off, confused.
"Your agent?" the doctor put in. All Billie could do was to nod; Van Emmon was bursting to talk.
"My agent was a Parisian apache, or I'm a bum guesser! I didn't catch all that was going on, but it certainly sounded like the plans and specifications of a garroting!"
"No such excitement here," said Smith. But his eyes were sparkling. "I was going the rounds with a mail-carrier. How do you explain that, doc? I've never given mail-carrying a second thought."
"That would have nothing to do with it. As for myself, I was looking through the eyes of some member of the House of Representatives, in Washington. I recognized the building. They were calling the roll at the time."
He paused while he made a note of the incident, for the sake of checking up the hour with the newspaper accounts later on. Then he rubbed the knuckles of one hand in the palm of the other—a habit which indicated that a diagnosis was going on in his mind. The others waited expectantly.
"There's a big difference," commented he, thoughtfully, "between these experiences and our last experiments. Then, each of us knew exactly what to expect. Each had a definite image of a certain particular person in mind when he went into the teleconscious state. That made it comparatively easy for us to communicate the way we did, even when you"—indicating the bride and groom—"were still in Japan.
"But to-day neither of us had the slightest idea what was coming. That is, if we followed the rule. Did you"—addressing Smith—"take care to concentrate strictly upon the one idea of view-point?"
"Nothing else. I kept my attention fixed upon eyes and ears, only, just as the instructions read."
"Same here," answered Billie, for herself and the geologist.
"Then we know this much: So long as the four of us are connected up in this fashion"—holding up his braceleted wrists—"we combine our forces to such an extent that we do not need a definite object. It's simply the power of harmony."
Billie was anxious to get it down pat. "In other words, there's nothing to prevent me from locating some one, although unknown to me, so long as we four agree upon the same locality?"
"That's it exactly. If we agree to concentrate upon Greenland, even, we shall find four people there whose view-points resemble our own. The main thing is to find similar view-points."
There was some discussion along this line, in which the doctor made it clear that view-point was simply another name for perspective, and that it had nothing whatever to do with actual mental accomplishments. The view-point was really the soul.
"As yet," he went on, "we should make no attempt to 'put ourselves in the other fellow's place.' Such efforts require a violent exertion of the imagination, and we need practice before tackling the more advanced problems.
"Time enough, after a while, to get in touch with the Venusians. There's none of them that has a view-point like ours. And once we've done that—"
"What?" from Billie, breathlessly.
"Anything! The whole universe will be open to us! Why, I understand from reading these books"—indicating the Venusian manuscripts—"that there is such a thing as an intelligent creature, so utterly unlike ourselves that—" He stopped short.
"For the time being," said Smith quickly, "we'd better be content with something familiar. Is there some other planet in our solar system that would do, doc?"
"No. According to the Venusians, the only others that are habitable besides Venus and the earth, are Mars and Jupiter. And it seems that the people on these two are so totally different—"
"We couldn't get an answer?"
"Very unlikely. Besides, I am having the cube refitted for a two-months' cruise. Rather thought I'd like to visit Mars and Jupiter in person.
"But when it comes to leaving the solar system entirely the telepathic method is the only one that will work; even the nearest of the fixed stars is out of the question."
"How far is that?" Smith inquired.
"The nearest? About four and a half light-years."
"Yes, but what's a light-year?"
"It amounts to sixty-three thousand times the distance from here to the sun!"
Smith whistled. "Nothing doing in the cube, that's sure. Besides, could we expect to find any people like us in the neighborhood of that star?"
"Not Alpha Centauri." The doctor reached for one of the Venusian books, and pointed out certain pages. "It seems that the Class IIa stars—that is, suns—are the only ones which have planets in the right condition for the development of humans. The astronomers already suspected as much, by the way. But the Venusians have definitely named a few systems whose evolution has reached points almost identical with that of the earth.
"Now, until we have acquired a certain amount of ability" —examining the books more closely—"our best chance will lie in the neighborhood of a giant star known to us as Capella."
"Capella." Billie had drawn a star-chart to her side. "Where is that located?"
"In Auriga, about half-way from Orion to the Pole Star. She's a big yellow sun.
"At any rate, the Venusians say that this particular planet of Capella's has people almost exactly the same as those of the earth, except"—speaking very clearly—"except that they have had about one century more civilization!"
Billie exclaimed with delight. "Say—this is going to be the best yet! To think of seeing what the earth is going to be like, a hundred years from now!"
Instantly Van Emmon's interest became acute. "By George! Is that right, doc? Are we likely to learn what the next hundred years will do for us?"
"Don't know exactly." The doctor spoke cautiously. "That's merely what I infer from these books."
"If we do," ran on the geologist excitedly, "we'll see how a lot of our present day theories will be worked out! I'm curious to see what comes of them. Personally, I think most of them are plain nonsense!"
"That remains to be seen." The doctor glanced around. "Remember: what we want is the view-point only; and the place is Capella's planetary system. Ready?"
For answer the others leaned back in their chairs. The doctor touched the button at his side, as a signal to his wife; he settled himself in his chair; and in a minute his head was dropping over against his shoulder. In another second the minds of the four experimenters were out of their bodies; out, and in the twinkling of an eye, traversing space at absolute speed.
For thought, like gravitation, is instantaneous.
Secretly Smith hoped he might find an agent who also was an engineer. He had this in mind all the while he was repeating the Venusian formula, the sequence of thought-images which was necessary to bring on the required state of mind. The formula had the effect of closing his mind to all save telepathic energy, and opening wide the channels through which it controlled the brain.
No sooner had he repeated the words, meanwhile concentrating with all the force of his newly trained will upon the single idea of seeing and hearing what was happening on the unknown, yet quite knowable planet—no sooner had his head sunk on his chest than he became aware of a strange sound.
On all sides unseen apparatus gave forth a medley of subdued jars and clankings. A variety of hissing sounds also were distinguishable. And meanwhile Smith was staring hard, with the eyes he had borrowed along with the ears, at a pair of human hands.
These hands were manipulating a group of highly polished levers and hand-wheels. So long as his borrowed sight was fixed upon that group Smith was entirely ignorant of the surroundings. All he could surmise was that his agents operated some sort of machinery.
Then the agent glanced up; and Smith got his first shock. For he now saw a cluster of indicating dials, such as one may see on the instrument board of any automobile; but the trained engineer found himself absolutely unable to interpret one of them. They were marked with unknown figures!
Nevertheless, the engineer received an unmistakable impression, quite as vivid as though something had been said aloud. "Progress; all safe," was the thought-image that came to him.
He listened closely in hope of hearing a spoken word. Also, he tried his best to make his agent look around the place. Other people might be within sight. However, for a couple of minutes the oddly familiar hands kept manipulating the unfamiliar instruments.
Then, somewhere quite close at hand, a deep-toned gong sounded a single stroke. Instantly the agent looked up; and Smith saw that he was inspecting the interior of a large engine-room. He had time to note the huge bulk of a horizontal cylinder, perhaps fifty feet in diameter, in the immediate background; also a variety of other mechanisms, more like immensely enlarged editions of laboratory apparatus than ordinary engines. Smith looked in vain for the compact form of a dynamo or motor, and listened in vain for the sound of either. Then, in swift succession, came two strokes on the unseen gong, followed by a shrill whistle.
Smith's borrowed eyes became fixed upon that group of dials again. Their indicators began to shift, some rapidly, some slowly. Once the agent gave a swift glance through a round window—the place seemed to be lighted by ordinary daylight—and Smith saw something unrecognizable flit by.
A little further progress, and then came three strokes on the gong, followed by a low thrumming. In response to these, the agent deliberately picked out two levers, and pulled them down. When his glance returned to the dials, one of them showed immense acceleration.