The Atom-smasher
Chapter 8: A Fruitless Journey

Public Domain

“Why don’t you stop the boat, Parrish?”

“I’m trying to, lad!”

The Atom Smasher was still vibrating, even more violently than before. A column of violet light was pouring from her funnel. The pool, the mud, the walls of heaped up water were discernible, but all quivering and reproduced, line after line, to infinity. It was like looking into the rear-view mirror of a car that is vibrating rapidly. It was like one of those Cubist paintings of a woman descending the stairs, where one had to puzzle out which is the woman and which is the stairs.

A dreadful thought shot through Jim’s mind. He remembered what he had said to Tode: “You can’t hold the boat still in four-dimensional space.”

This was not quite the same. By stopping the infernal mechanism, one re-entered three-dimensional space, and landed. Certainly the Atom Smasher could land. They were not like the motorcyclist who got on a machine for the first time, and rode to the admiration of all who saw him, except that he couldn’t find out how to stop.

Yet there was Parrish still fumbling with the controls, and the boat was still vibrating at a terrific rate of speed. It is impossible to dream of leaping out, for there was no solidity, no continuity in the scenery outside.

It was not like attempting to leap from a moving train, for instance. In that case one knows that there is solid earth beneath, however hard one lands. Here everything was distorted, a sort of mirror reflection. And Jim noticed a strange thing that had never occurred to him before. Everything was reversed, as in a mirror picture. That clump of trees, for instance, which should have been on the right, was on the left.

Parrish looked up. “There’s some means of stopping her, of course,” he said. “There must be a lever--but I don’t know where to look for it in all this mess.” He pointed to the revolving wheels. No, it might be a matter of days of experimenting in order to discover the elusive switch.

“It may be a combination of switches,” said Parrish. “I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

“Suppose I jumped and chanced it,” Jim suggested.

Lucille caught his arm with a little cry. Parrish shook his head.

“That devil--Listen: there was a Drilgo he disliked. He threw him out of the boat just before she landed at the cave. Everything was in plain sight, plainer than things are here. But he was never seen again. For God’s sake, lad, sit still. I’ll try--”

Hours later Parrish was still trying. And gradually Jim and Lucille had ceased to hope.

Side by side they had sat, watching that glimmering scene about them. Sometimes everything receded into a blur, across which sunlight and shadow, and then moonlight raced, at others the surroundings were so clear that it almost seemed as if, by steadying the boat, they could leap ashore. And once there happened something that sent a thrill of cold fear through both of them.

For where the pool had been there appeared suddenly a hut--and Tode, standing in the doorway, looking about him, a malicious sneer curving his lips.

Jim leaped to his feet, and old Parrish, who had seen Tode too, sprang up in wild excitement.

“Sit down, lad,” he shouted. “It’s nothing. I--I turned the micrometer screw a trifle hard. I got us back to five years ago, when we were living here with Tode. That’s just a picture--out of the past, Jim!”

Jim understood, but he sank down again with cold sweat bathing his forehead. The terrific powers of the Atom Smasher were unveiling themselves more and more each moment. Jim felt Lucille’s hand on his arm. He looked into her face.

“Jim, darling, what’s going to happen to us if dad can’t find how to work the machine?”

“I don’t know, dear. I’ve thought that we might all jump out and chance it. If we held each other tight, we’d probably land in the same place--”

Old Parrish stood up. “I can’t work it, Jim,” he said. “Tode’s got us beat. There’s only one thing for us to do. You can guess what it is.”

“I think I can,” said Jim, glancing askance at Lucille. Yes, he knew, but he lacked the heart to tell her. “If we were all to jump out, tied together--don’t you think we might land--somewhere near where we want to land?” he asked.

“Jim, do you realize what each vibration of this boat means?” asked Parrish. “There’s a table on the instrument-board. It’s a wave length of four thousand miles in space and nineteen years in time.”

“You mean we’re moving to London or San Francisco and back--”

“Further than that, every infinite fraction of a second,” answered Parrish. “No, Jim, we--we wouldn’t land. So we must just go back to where we came from, and--”

He had been speaking in a low voice, calculated not to reach Lucille’s ears. The girl had been leaning back, her eyes closed, as if half asleep. Now she rose and stepped up to her father and lover. “You can tell me the truth,” she said. “I’m not afraid.”

“We’ve got to go back, Lucille,” answered her father. “It’s our only chance. By following the course in reverse we can expect to make Atlantis again--”

“Back to that horrible place?”

“No, my dear. The chart will lead us, obviously, back to the cave where Tode has his headquarters. We must try to surprise him, and force him to bring us back to Long Island.”

“And then?” asked Lucille.

Parrish shrugged his shoulders. “We’ll face that problem when we come to it,” he answered.

“But how do you expect to be able to land at the other end any more than this?” asked Jim. “Suppose the machine continues to vibrate instead of coming to a standstill?”

“I think,” said Parrish, “that we’ll be able to strike a bargain with Tode. Obviously he will be willing to bring the machine to a standstill in order to parley with us. We’ll make terms--the best we can. After all, he can’t afford to remain marooned on the isle of Atlantis without the Atom Smasher.”

“I hate the idea of bargaining with that wretch,” said Lucille.

“So do we all, dear,” answered Jim. “But there’s nothing else that we can do. It’s just a matter of give and take. And I’d be glad to consent to any terms that would bring us three safe back to earth, with all this business behind us.”

“I’ll start back, then,” said Parrish, turning back to the instrument board.

And, to the familiar thump, thump of the electrical discharge, the Atom Smasher took up its backward journey once more.

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