It’ll be harder for him to get control of them when they’re running." He pulled the master switch back into place with a jerk. There was a hum, as scores of machines leaped into violent life in the engine room a hundred feet below. The noises sank to a steady vibration of throbbing power.
Three hours later, Morton paced up and down before the men gathered in the salon. His dark hair was uncombed; the space pallor of his strong face emphasized rather than detracted from the out-thrust aggressiveness of his jaw. When he spoke, his deep voice was crisp to the point of sharpness: "To make sure that our plans are fully coordinated, I’m going to ask each expert in turn to outline his part in the overpowering of this creature. Morton thought, yet he looked big, perhaps because of his air of authority. Morton had heard him trace a machine through its evolution from a simple toy to the highly complicated modern instrument. He had studied machine development on a hundred planets; and there was literally nothing fundamental that he didn’t know about mechanics.
It was almost weird to hear Pennons, who could have spoken for a thousand hours and still only have touched upon his subject, say with absurd brevity: "We’ve set up a relay in the control room to start and stop every engine rhythmically. The trip lever will work a hundred times a second, and the effect will be to create vibrations of every description. There is just a possibility that one or more of the machines will burst, on the principle of soldiers crossing a bridge in step—you’ve heard that old story, no doubt—but in my opinion there is no real danger of a break of that tough metal. The main purpose is simply to interfere with the interference of the creature, and smash through the doors." "Gourlay next!" barked Morton. He looked sleepy, as if he was somewhat bored by the whole proceedings— yet Morton knew he loved people to think him lazy, a good-for-nothing slouch, who spent his days in slumber and his nights catching forty winks. His title was chief communication engineer, but his knowledge extended to every vibration field; and he was probably, with the possible exception of Kent, the fastest thinker on the ship. His voice drawled out, and—Morton noted—the very deliberate assurance of it had a soothing effect on the men—anxious faces relaxed, bodies leaned back more restfully: "Once inside," Gourlay said, "we’ve rigged up vibration screens of pure force that should stop nearly everything he’s got on the ball. They work on the principle of reflection, so that everything he sends will be reflected back to him. In addition, we’ve got plenty of spare electric energy that we’ll just feed him from mobile copper cups. There must be a limit to his capacity for handling power with those insulated nerves of his." "Selenski!" called Morton. The chief pilot was already standing, as if he had anticipated Morton’s call. His nerves had that rock-like steadiness which is the first requirement of the master controller of a great ship’s movements; yet that very steadiness seemed to rest on dynamite ready to explode at its owner’s volition. He was not a man of great learning, but lie "reacted" to stimuli so fast that he always seemed to be anticipating. "The impression I’ve received of the plan is that it must be cumulative. Just when the creature thinks that he can’t stand any more, another thing happens to add to his trouble and confusion. When the uproar’s at its height, I’m supposed to cut in the anti-accelerators. The commander thinks with Gunlie Lester that these creatures will know nothing about anti-acceleration. It’s a development, pure and simple, of the science of interstellar flight, and couldn’t have been developed in any other way. We think when the creature feels the first effects of the anti-acceleration—you all remember the caved-in feeling you had the first month—it won’t know what to think or do." "KORITA next." "I can only offer you encouragement," said the archeologist, "on the basis of my theory that the monster has all the characteristics of a criminal of the early ages of any civilization, complicated by an apparent reversion to primitiveness. The suggestion has been made by Smith that his knowledge of science is puzzling, and could only mean that we are dealing with an actual inhabitant, not a descendant of the inhabitants of the dead city we visited. This would ascribe a virtual immortality to our enemy, a possibility that is borne out by his ability to breathe both oxygen and chlorine—or neither—but even that makes no difference. He comes from a certain age in his civilization; and he has sunk so low that his ideas are mostly memories of that age. "In spite of all the powers of his body, he lost his head in the elevator the first morning, until he remembered. He placed himself in such a position that he was forced to reveal his special powers against vibrations. In fact, his whole record is one of the low cunning of the primitive, egotistical mind, which has little or no conception of the vast organization with which it is confronted.
"He is like the ancient German soldier who felt superior to the elderly Roman scholar, yet the latter was part of a mighty civilization of which the Germans of that day stood in awe. "You may suggest that the sack of Rome by the Germans in later years defeats my argument; however, modern historians agree that the ’sack’ was an historical accident, and not history in the true sense of the word. The movement of the ’Sea-peoples’ which set in against the Egyptian civilization from 1400 B. succeeded only as regards the Cretan island-realm—their mighty expeditions against the Libyan and Phoenician coasts, with the accompaniment of Viking fleets, failed as those of the Huns failed against the Chinese Empire. Ancient, glorious Samarra was desolate by the tenth century; Pataliputra, Asoka’s great capital, was an immense and completely uninhabited waste of houses when the Chinese traveler Hsinan-tang visited it about A. "We have, then, a primitive, and that primitive is now far out in space, completely outside of his natural habitat.
I say, let’s go in and win." One of the men grumbled, as Korita finished: "You can talk about the sack of Rome being an accident, and about this fellow being a primitive, but the facts are facts. It looks to me as if Rome is about to fall again; and it won’t be no primitive that did it, either.