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The Mysterious Projectile

AS silently as he had rowed along the breakwater, the Japanese made the boat fast at the grated edge of the lowest step of this remarkable island. He got out first and looked around. Already during the trip Korus had made him acquainted with the American, though the Japanese had certainly given him no friendly looks. “It was against the agreement.” Korus shrugged his shoulders.

“Was I to get myself knocked into the water?” said he, turning to Al Right. “In fact, that talk about swimming the Channel was all bluff.”

The latter smiled and said, “So was knocking yon into the water.”

Peace was established, and now the pair waited until Nagao Hazumi beckoned to them.

“The miserable swine are already fast asleep. There is no danger.”

To be sure, one pigtailed gentleman staggered past them, as all three stood on the top step, but his eyes were already half glazed, and the longing for opium had complete possession of him.

“First a look into the barracks.”

“The devil! The yellow race isn’t so bad. On the contrary, I am afraid they will give us all a nut to crack, but when opium has them in its claws—”

They now approached the central elevation. What they now saw was a phantastically uncanny structure. Four towers, something like those of a radio station. Four slim towers of ironwork, with the immense projectile in their centre. Only now did they see how immense it was.

“Of course!” nodded Korus. “A regular four story dwelling house is at most seventeen meters high. This projectile, as Apel explained, is thirty-five meters long and six wide. It is upright, with the tip toward the sky. See, the rocket is very loosely held by four elastic rings running from the four towers. At its four sides are wheels which will also slip along elastic tracks, when the thing goes up. Below the wheels, which are probably cast off during the flight, are the gyroscopic controls of which Apel spoke. And below, that is at the rear end of the rocket, are the exhausts. That is to say, it is really the auxiliary rocket, which is fitted over the actual stern like an overshoe. There are the knives with which one can cut off this auxiliary rocket.”

“Would you like to go with the thing, Nagao?” he turned to the Jap.

“Buddha forbid.”

“All right!”

The American was fond of making a pun of his name. They now saw a sort of stairway in one of the towers.

“Probably that leads to the cabin.”

“Just say to the coffin, for whoever is the first to shut himself up in this cabin and begin the flight is ready for burial.”

“But Apel—”

“Is right in theory, but in practice it is nothing but a mad dream. I am sorry for the man who is sacrificing himself.”

“He firmly believes in it.”

“I certainly don’t. How about it, colleague Korus, we don’t go along with him, do we?”

“We two certainly do not, Sir All Right. But we must now take a good look around and earn our pay.”

They had climbed up about twenty-five meters and were now standing on a little platform which was full of holes. From here they could get a perfect view of the whole little concrete island, which had nothing on it besides the rocket structure but two barracks. They also had a view far out over the sea.

“Hello, do you see out there?”

“Good Heavens, lights out on the sea.”

All Right took out his spyglass.

“Damn it, that is no chance steamer. That is Allister’s yacht.”

“Then let us be quick.”

They went to the door of the rocket, which was not locked. It could not be, because there was no possibility of having anything like a keyhole in the outer wall. The lock was inside only, and now there was even a metal strip wedged in between, to keep it open.

“The whole ship is pure beryllium.”

They entered, and Korus took out his flashlight.

“We had better not light up. Who knows how far it might be visible. We would get the guard ship after us.”

The cabin was small, about five meters wide and two meters deep. It took in almost the entire width of the rocket, right behind the bow. At the back was a bench, very softly padded and mounted on strong springs, capable of holding three or four people comfortably. The entire forward wall was covered with levers, with all sorts of mysterious switches bearing inscriptions. Otherwise this wall was also padded, and each of the levers was in a depression, over which a little cushion was now bent back and secured by a leather loop.


It was clear that all these cushions were to cover the depressions before the start, when all four walls of the cabin would be completely covered with padding. Likewise the ceiling.

“Damn it, the pilot must get a good shaking up in the cabin, if such padding is needed.”

Again the American shook his head.

“I am not going along!”

The Japanese had opened a cupboard by turning a knob over at the side.

“Well, the food supplies are not so bad, just look here!”

“It is a pity that no one will have a chance to enjoy them.”

The three journalists now were sitting on the padded bench. The American had placed his flashlight on one of the shelves drawn out of the wall, and all were busy in writing notes with hasty fingers. Korus even attempted to take a flashlight picture with his pocket kodak. Occasionally they looked out carefully. The steamer, which they took to be Joe Allister’s yacht, was rapidly coming nearer, being already close to the guard ships.

All Right closed his notebook, saying, “I will bet ten thousand dollars that whoever carries out the crazy idea of exposing himself in this thin-walled ship to the pressure of the rocket force will be smashed to bits right in the first moment. Do you hear, squashed flat, torn to atoms, annihilated! I will bet ;ten thousand dollars, do you understand?”

No one seemed to want to take the bet. The Japanese eyed the food in the cupboards.

“It really is a pity. I am sure that not one of the three of us has had a bite to eat tonight. The good food will needlessly perish—”

He looked cunningly at the other two, but Korus shook his head.

“A real journalist would set the world on his head, like Atlas, to discover what he could learn, but he would not steal.”

“All right,” said the American, with a nod, looking threateningly at the Japanese.

The latter was already again among the levers.

“If we only knew—if we at least could see some of the apparatus in action—”

“Look out!”

Korus pushed back his hand.

“But the levers here are simply for steering. I never saw the working of such a gyroscope.”

Before the other two could prevent it, Nagao Hazumi had turned one of the levers. For a moment everything was quiet, but then there came from behind or rather from below, from the rear of the rocket, a humming sound, as though a clockwork were set in motion.

“Turn the lever back!”

“Let us wait—”

The humming became stronger, the structure of the rocket was already beginning to tremble a little.

“For Heaven’s sake, push back the lever!”

At this moment the American knocked the flashlight off the shelf, the little bulb smashed on striking the metal floor, and it became dark, while the humming and the vibration increased.

“A match!”

They searched their pockets.

“I haven’t any!”


The match flared up.

“Now I don’t know which lever I turned.”

His hand felt from handle to handle. Other sounds became audible. Outside at the breakwater a whistle sounded. Evidently the yacht had reached the island.

“Let’s get away.”

“Those must be levers that don’t matter. The doctor will arrive any minute and shut everything off.”

“Where are my notes?”

The three intruders were groping about in the dark, for the Japanese had dropped the match. Because the rocket stood upright, the bench was with the back downward, and they fell over it. Because the shelf, which swung in all directions, was hard to push back into the wall in the darkness, time was lost. At the same time the sounds became louder every second. There was a very gentle explosion, at which the Japanese tore open the door and leaped out. In so doing he collided with someone outside.


At the Lick Observatory, the great California observatory on the southern peak of Mt. Hamilton, thirteen miles east of San Jose, built by the generosity of Lick, the manufacturer of organs and pianos, in the year 1888, was still located the second largest refractor in the world. It was surpassed only by that of the Chicago Observatory. In the night about which we have been speaking there was great activity there.

Director Campbell himself was in the observation room.

“When is the space rocket to ascend?”

“Tomorrow forenoon.”

“Have you found the mysterious island of New Atlantis?”

“Not yet. Its place is kept secret and will be disclosed only tomorrow.”

“Ridiculous secrecy. Here, I will look for it myself.”

He turned the dome, seated himself in the observation chair, and pointed one of the best telescopes out to sea.

He sat there for nearly an hour. Then he shook his head.

“The air is not clear, there is nothing to be found.”

At this moment he looked again into the eyepiece, to turn it back again, when he cried softly—began to tremble, and fell off the chair.

“What has happened?”

“I don’t know—I think it was the space rocket!”

He was so startled that he could not talk. He jumped up, ran to the great refractor, and gazed silently and tensely into the blackness of the cloudy night.

It was only toward morning that the director, weary and vexed, left his seat without saying a word to his assistant and went back to his dwelling.

* * *

The white yacht had traversed half the distance between San Francisco and the artificial island. Egon Helmstatter was in the cabin. He was very serious. Some inner voice was telling him that he would make the ascent either immediately or never. He was thinking about the rocket. What if something were happening? What if something were happening now, to prevent the flight? He shook his head. He did not wish that, he wanted to make the flight?

He knelt down and opened his suitcase. He began to pack a knapsack. He had brought with all sorts of things which Waldemar Apel had not given him until to-day. He had intended to have them carried to the rocket the next day, but now he filled the knapsack and buckled it. Then he went up on deck and took his place forward, scanning the sea with his telescopes. There was nothing to be seen of the little motorboat. On the contrary, ahead was a yellowish glow, the lighthouses of New Atlantis.

* * *

Irene Allister was in her father’s cabin. Joe Allister was sitting in a chair and reading the newspaper, calmly reading the stock market reports unaware of any danger.


“What is it?”

“Does the rocket have to start tomorrow?”

“Of course.”

“Can’t you postpone it a week?”


“Because I should like to go along, too.”

“You are foolish—or are you in love with the doctor?”

“I should like to go along. I should not care to have him get all the glory. I am your daughter.”

“Just because you are my only child, you may not risk your life. If the first flight is successful—”

She pouted and said, “Then the chance for a record is over— father—I should like to go, too!”

Allister slowly rose and stepped over to her,

“It enough for me to sacrifice the million, not you too.”

She gave a little cry.

“What do you mean, don’t you still believe that it will be successful?”

“Not since this evening.”

“For Heaven’s sake, why?”

“I do not know myself, but I feel so, and my feeling never deceives me.”

“And still you are letting him go?”

“If he does not start, if I admit that it is impossible, then I am the one who ridiculous. If it does not succeed, the German bears the blame.”

“What a terrible thing to say!”


Allister shrugged his shoulders and buried himself again in his newspaper. Irene went out and climbed up on deck. Egon was still standing forward, looking out into the night.


He turned and gazed at her. In this hour he had not been thinking of Irene.

“Have you faith in your work?”

“Firm faith, if scoundrels are not now taking a hand.”

“Father no longer believes in it.”

“That does not matter. He has given the money, the rest is our affair, Waldemar Apel’s and mine.”

He could not understand why she suddenly fled away. He did not know that she was crying. Again he gazed over at the lights which were growing brighter and brighter.

* * *

Swiftly the Swallow approached New Atlantis. As soon as the bright lights of the yacht rose above the horizon, the searchlight of the foremost guardship by the breakwater began to play. Signals were exchanged, and a boat set out from the steamer. The captain had recognized the Swallow and came to report to Joe Allister. “Good morning, captain, is all well?”

“Everything in order, sir, no ships sighted and nothing occurring on the island.” Egon took a hand in the conversation.

“Didn’t a small motorboat try to get into the harbor?”

The captain laughed, saying, “It tried all right. But when it came into the range of our searchlight, it turned and fled back to San Francisco.”

Joe Allister nodded. “You see,” he said, “I know my captains. What are the Chinese doing on the island?”

“Probably nothing at all.”

Egon looked questioningly at him.

“Chinese are keeping guard?”

“Intentionally. They know nothing of science and can reveal nothing.”

Allister was completely at ease and looked sideways at Egon. But the latter was far from reassured. On the contrary, he had an almost still more worried look on his face. With his telescope he scanned the island.

“Doctor, doctor, I believe you are nervous.”

“Indeed I am. I beg of you, let us land.”

Joe Allister shrugged his shoulders and smiled to himself. He had his own ideas about all this.

“I understand, I should be nervous myself, surely, if I—”

He stopped speaking, because he saw Irene coming. The yacht was entering one of the sectional harbors. It moored at the pier, and Egon was the first to spring ashore.

“Hey! Look here!”

No answer—nobody—no guard at the shore. There was only the great steel colossus, which held the upright rocket in its spidery arms as if in a tender embrace, rising up alone into the air.

“Mr. Allister! Where is the guard?”

“They are surely sleeping soundly. They are only Chinese after all!”

Hurriedly Egon raced into the great barracks which served the guards as a dwelling. It was meagerly lighted by a few electric bulbs. At a glance Egon perceived what had happened here.

In a long row the Chinese lay on their benches, their faces distorted into hideous grins, their eyes half open, with a look of absolute entrancement.


He saw in their hands the long thin pipe stems and beside the benches the little lamps over which their greedy fingers had rolled the opium to little pellets. Unspeakable horror seized him, but likewise renewed anxiety, for which he had no explanations.

Allister and Irene had remained on board the yacht and had called to Egon that they were awaiting his return. Remaining on the luxurious little ship was very much pleasanter than in the second barracks, which were far from comfortably equipped.

Egon ran toward the rocket. All of a sudden his worry increased tremendously. He could not believe his eyes, and yet he saw it plainly: there was light in the rocket. A tiny wavering light, as though someone were moving a flashlight around.

Now he stood on the summit, leaped up the stairs in the tower, and was about to open the door. But at this instant it was flung open from within. Out slid a man, a small man, apparently a Japanese, leaping from the room. He fell on Egon and nearly carried him along with him.

Egon plunged forward into the little cabin.

But he saw nothing, for at this moment the door was hurled shut by a frightful force. At the same time there resounded about him a crashing and roaring. He was hurled by an irresistible force against the padding of the cabin and lost his senses.


Irene was standing on the deck of the yacht. Joe Allister was just about to descend to the cabin.


She gave a piercing shriek. Allister was beside her. He saw her terrified face and followed the direction of her finger.

“What is it?”

“There is a light in the rocket!”

Now they both saw Egon rushing across the open place, saw the doors open and something plunge out. But at the same instant both of them were hurled to the deck. A brilliant flame flared up, there was a fearful crash of thunder, and the white yacht was raised up by a gigantic wave which suddenly burst forth from the ocean.

Irene lay on the deck, gripping the iron railing in deadly anxiety, in frightful terror. She felt herself drenched by the monstrous wave as it broke downward, but she did not lose conciousness. Her staring eyes saw rays of fire burst out from the bottom of the artificial island, fantastic and gigantic flashes, followed by a dreadful concussion. Explosions of elemental forces!

At the same time such a breaking and bursting as though the world were being rent asunder. There came an icy blast of air. She saw iron and fragments of concrete flying about her like a chaotic rain of the Judgment Day. She saw how the rocket vibrated, how the iron structure broke and splintered, how the narrow projectile, shooting out at the rear immense flames, now left the ground with a hissing and roaring. Now there was only darkness where a few seconds before the lights of New Atlantis had gleamed. The glare of the great arc lights was gone. Her senses were weakened from the poisonous breath of the gases of the explosion. Her last glance took in once more the form of the rocket.

It looked red hot, was surrounded by flames, and—she drifted into unconsciousness. The little yacht bounded like a rubber ball on the wild waves. The deck, the superstructure being destroyed, looked like a heap of ruins. It was covered with fragments of iron, listed badly, and almost flooded with water. Bleeding men were rushing about, sailors with eyes full of horror, men just escaped from seemingly certain death.

Joe Allister was standing erect, clutching some chance support with his bleeding hands and staring at the place where New Atlantis had vanished. Single great fragments, able to float, were still attached to the mighty anchors. Human beings, Chinese, who had been hurled out, barracks and all, by the air pressure, were struggling in the waves. Some boats from the guard ships were fishing them out.

Irene came to her senses, battered in every limb. Loudly she cried. What has happened?”

“All New Atlantis has been blown up. The rocket started, but everything is destroyed.”

For the first time in his life Joe Allister felt his teeth chattering, and in trying to talk he stammered.


Irene stood up, while one of the steamers now approached and took in tow the yacht, the sinking of which was not perceived by these two terrified persons. Men boarded it and took them to the steamer.

Allister paid no heed at first. Only when he and Irene were safely settled, when the steamer cut the towline and the Swallow sank dose by them, did he find speech again: “My million!”

Irene could have struck him. In this hour she hated him. She lay weeping on the deck, murmuring, “Egon—I loved him so!”

Untitled 2

From the chaos of the wildly raging waters rose a human head. Two arms swimming automatically, swimming without actual volition. It was Nagao Hazumi, the Japanese, who was far out beyond the breakwater, raising himself above the water and gazing about. Near him floated a great flat thing. It was part of the wooden barracks in which the Chinese had slept. He pulled himself up and sat on this unstable raft, wiping the water from his face with his hand and now for the first time actually coming to himself. The fact that he had been standing up on the platform of the stairs had caused his being simply blown away by the first fearful air pressure of the explosion, which hurled him through the air like a ball and then plunged him into the sea far out.

Nagao Hazumi was a sinewy little fellow with a body steeled by all sorts of sports. He felt his limbs to see if they were broken. He felt the feeling of having been flayed, but he was uninjured, merely scratched to bleeding by the impact with the water, perhaps also by fragments which had brushed against him. He looked about and slowly began to comprehend. The rocket, the towers, the barracks with the Chinese—everything was gone. Dark and dead was the remnant of the island, and the sea foamed up high with violence of a spring-tide.

In his eyes was a painful horror. He, he himself, had caused the catastrophe. He had caused it by his frivolous playing with the levers, though he was not certain of the actual reason. He had murdered his colleagues, wrecking the work for which Allister had squandered a million!

About him were shrieks of terror and cries for help. The four guard ships, two of them themselves suffering from heavy damage, were sweeping the sea with their searchlights. In their beams he could see Chinese swimming or rather being tossed about on the waves.

He tore a plank from his raft and used it as an oar. Tirelessly, again and again imperiling his own life, he rescued the Chinese, wondered if the wave had driven away the sharks, and pulled one body after another on to his unsteady raft, until someone hailed him.

“Hello, who is there?”

“‘Guards of New Atlantis!”

A boat came over, belonging to the guard ship.

“Take over the men—Chinese from the barracks.”

The sailors, who were surprised to see a Japanese, were still more surprised that he had disappeared again by the time they had brought the Chinese from the raft into the boat. Nagao Hazumi had been thinking things over. If he were found, he would have to talk, and he would have to give himself away. Only now it became clear to him that they would take him to court and pin the responsibility on him. He had spied around and seen a little boat, tossing keel-uppermost on the waves. Once more he sprang into the water, swam to the boat, clung to it, and managed to right it again. He even found the oars fixed in the oarlocks. With swift strokes he propelled the boat further out to sea. Cautiously he stood up and looked around. The waves had become calm again, and in the distance he saw the lights of a steamer which was heading toward the island.

Relieved in mind, he rowed toward this.

After all, he was to blame and he was not. How did the other two concern him? He had risked his life for his newspaper. So had they for theirs. Certainly he had not intended to cause the accident.

Nagao Hazumi dropped his oars, left the guidance of the boat to the waves, and rested.

The steamer came nearer. Nagao had formed his plan and became still more content when an hour later, he recognized, with his sharp eyes which penetrated even the night, the approaching steamer.

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