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The Three Alone

EGON awoke from his unconsciousness. He was totally unable to comprehend what had happened to him. He was in an apparently narrow and absolutely dark room.

He was not alone, for about him were vague sounds evidently caused by living beings.

Helmstatter tried to collect his thoughts. It was not easy, for he had a violent headache and nausea. He felt like a person still suffering from the after effects of sea-sickness.

Very slowly his thoughts became lucid, and he reviewed what had happened. He had seen a light in the rocket, he had rushed up the stairs, he had leaped in the cabin—and that was all. He listened. The walls trembled slightly. The rocket was in motion. He felt a surging of limitless joy. The rocket was in motion! Then the start was made. Successfully made!

This start had happened quite suddenly through some chance still inexplicable to him.

In the conviction that for the moment his life was probably in no direct danger, he became calm. He groped his way along the walls. He himself had installed every switch and lever, and he could find them even in the dark.

He pushed a button, and an electric light was turned on.

Egon stood up and looked at two terrified faces, totally unknown to him, which were gazing up at him.

The expression of these faces, these deathly white persons who were crouching before him, dirty, upset, and at the same time embarrassed, had an almost comical effect on Egon’s once more confident feeling.

“How did you get here?”

“Excuse me, my name is Korus.”

Even now the reporter could not entirely suppress his impertinent nature.

“A German?”

“Correspondent of the Berlin Press.” “And the other gentleman?”

“All Right, correspondent of the New York Evening Ledger.” “Gentlemen, with what right did you enter this cabin?”

“With none at all, simply with the boldness with which a diligent reporter risks anything for his paper.”

“Yes.” echoed Right.

The frankness of the two pleased Egon.

“You nearly killed the three of us.”

“That was not our intention. We three, that is we two and the Japanese Nagao Hazumi, wanted only to get acquainted with the internal equipment of the rocket. Chance must have caused one of us to turn a lever. At once a clockwork began to hum, we were terrified, and we knew no longer which lever we had turned. The Japanese jumped out and you burst in. Then in that very instant the end of the world came for all of us.”

“God Almighty!”

Egon had hardly heard the last few words. He had leaped to the velocity meter and cast a glance at it. Then he opened a narrow door above the padded bench at the back of the cabin, crept through, and disappeared for a moment in the rear rooms, leaving the two reporters alone.

Korus slowly stood up.

“My bones are most remarkably unbroken.”

“Mine, too.”

“The rocket has started.”

“It is too bad that the doctor arrived. If not, we two alone would have—”

“Nonsense, my dear fellow, we should never have arrived on earth again. Besides, Mr. All Right, may I ask you for ten thousand dollars?”

“How so?”

“You bet this amount that the rocket would explode at the start.”

The American said with a grin, “I propose that we wash up first. We found the water tank yonder in the cabinet.”

They cleaned themselves and also the floor, observing how the water oozed away under the latter.

“It is remarkable how good the air is here.”

“Everything is remarkable.”

Egon returned with a very serious face.

“Gentlemen, it would be absolutely useless for me to reproach you further for your irresponsible conduct, by which you have cost Joe Allister a million and ourselves most probably our lives. By the wrong use of the levers you set in action at the same time both the auxiliary rocket and the actual ship. Most extraordinary explosions must have occurred, and I suspect that you have destroyed the island of New Atlantis and unfortunately probably a large number of human lives as well.”

“We really did not—”

“I already told you that is pointless to talk about these things. We have, though certainly very much against my wish, become traveling companions, and now there is nothing to be done but to keep a good comradeship. We are now already en route. The pressure, tremendously increased by the premature immense explosions—a pressure sufficient to deprive us of our senses— prevented me from managing the steering controls at the right time. It is impossible for us to carry out our intention of landing in Madagascar.”

The American slowly turned around.

“Excuse me!”

Egon continued. We have already left the terrestrial atmosphere some time ago and are flying through empty space.”

“Good Heavens!”


Korus had jumped up from the bench. He did not manage to stand

on the floor but flew headfirst against the padded ceiling of the cabin, rebounded from this like a rubber ball, struck his feet on the floor, flew up again from this, and doubtless he would for some time have continued this sport, which was very amusing for the two onlookers, if Egon had not drawn him down on the bench again with a very gentle movement.

“What was that?” asked Korus.

“Well, gentlemen, you must already start to accustom yourselves a bit to our changed mode of life. Since we are floating in space, the laws of good mother Earth no longer hold for us. Gravity is entirely changed., We have become independent, and for us the force of attraction of the earth no longer counts. We have only a much slighter one, which the centre of gravity of our own rocket (purposely placed under the floor of this cabin) exerts upon us. You see, we need not necessarily float about helplessly in our cabin, but we must avoid all violent motions. Look!”

From his trousers-pocket he took a heavy bunch of keys and let it fall from his hand. It did not fall quickly to the floor but floated down very slowly, somewhat like a thin leaf of a tree.

All Right, who was just as much excited as Korus but did not seem at all despairing, said, “Then are we on the way to the moon?”

Egon’s face was set, “We have no more fuel. By your foolishness our entire supply of hydrogen and oxygen has been prematurely destroyed, except for a few oxygen cylinders which we need for our diving helmets. I have no reason to conceal anything from you. We have absolutely no more chance to return to the earth.”

“I thought you could steer the rocket at will?”

“So I can. Now I can at once turn around, so that we shall reach the earth again in a very short time.”

All Right nodded his head and said, “Well, do it.!”

“But I no longer have the possibility of braking the descent by exploding the gas in the opposite direction to the line of flight. Once we have again reached the field of terrestrial gravity, we shall of course plunge downward with a velocity increasing every second. On striking the earth we shall obviously be smashed to atoms.”

“The devil!”

“I have therefore decided to go to the moon.”

“And then return?”

“I already told you that this is impossible. We are men, and there is no use in deceiving ourselves, There is no return for us. We can only try to use the hours which fate still allots us to increase our own knowledge.”

Korus shrugged his shoulders.

“My own knowledge is actually of very little use to me, if I can not report it to my newspaper.”

Egon replied seriously, “Each of us will record his observations exactly. We will act like a physician who knows that he must die and yet records up to the last moment his sensations and his study of his own body, hoping to help humanity thereby. Each evening we will together draw up a record and each time enclose it in a watertight beryllium case. If we are destroyed perhaps some chance might carry some of these capsules back to the earth and thereby benefit science.”

Korus jumped up, again almost becoming a rubber ball, and pressed Egon’s hand.

“Thank you, doctor!”

“What for?”

“I thought to spend my life as a simple reporter, but now chance or rather your energy is giving me a life-work.”

The American also extended his hand, taking care however not to change his position, and said, “All right.”

Egon got up, saying, “We cannot expend our electric light foolishly,”

He pressed a button. On the right side of the ship the beryllium plates, externally attached, slipped away from the thick glass panes of the windows. At the same instant there poured in such a flood of infinite dazzling light that they shut their eyes, while Egon had to feel for another button and darken the windows again. Now he uncovered the windows on the left side of the rocket, and after the eyes of the three men had adjusted themselves again, they saw a most extraordinary sight.

About them was dense black space. There was no blue or cloudy sky, such as they knew on earth, nothing but a deep black.

And out of this black there shone, harsh, cold, sharp in outline, the stars. Back of them, directly behind, the earth could be seen as an immense disk gleaming in the sunlight, on which they could readily distinguish the different continents.


Korus shook his head.

“How incredible it is. We went up vertically, point on. Therefore the earth is below us; but we see it behind us. Yet we should have to stand with our feet on the rear wall and be with our heads toward the bow, which is ‘up’ for us.”

“No,” said Egon., “We were in this position as long as we were in the field of the earth. I already told you that for us now only the centre of gravity of the rocket determines matters. For us the destination of our flight is always ‘ahead’ and the place which we have left, this time accordingly the earth, is ‘behind’.”

“The rocket is a marvel.”

“It is only the practical application of scientific knowledge which has long been known.”

“One more marvel which I must ask you to explain.”

“What is it, please?”

“We are at present exposed to the frightful heat of the sun’s rays, which are beating down upon our rocket, unmoderated by any layer of air. How is it possible that we do not absolutely dry up and that the metal of our rocket does not simply melt?”

Egon smiled. “That is actually a secret of Mr. Apel,” he said, “Now we have to endure not only the extraordinary heat but also, during the night, the chill of space with its 273 degrees (Centigrade) below zero. The entire ship is not only painted black but also covered with a substance which is absolutely impermeable to heat and cold, so that here in our cabin, independently of the outside world, we have at all times the temperature which we produce for ourselves.”

“How is it on the moon?” asked the American.

“That I cannot tell you. This is the first visit there for me.” The smite which had played about Egon’s mouth at these words vanished again. “The astronomers hold different views. If Horbiger is correct in his certainly very ingenious theory of congelation, the moon is an absolutely frozen body, without any atmosphere, having at all times the pleasant temperature which I mentioned, 273 degrees below zero.”

Korus, who had already become an enthusiastic science student, said sorrowfully, “Then even if we arrive there and might be able to land, getting out of the rocket would be impossible. In such cold we would certainly freeze to death in a fraction of a second,”

“That is not quite correct. Just because there is no atmosphere there, the cold cannot be transmitted to us, provided we wear over our skins a suit of the same material, impervious to heat, as the covering of the rocket, so that we do not give off our own bodily heat. Of course we must also wear absolutely airtight diving helmets covered with the same material and having oxygen cylinders in them, to make breathing there possible for our lungs.”

Now the American had a question: “One last point. In this cabin there is at all times good air. Therefore it is probably constantly renewed by artificial addition of oxygen. But now you say that we have only a few more oxygen cylinders. Then a time will soon come when we shall very simply suffocate.”

“Not at present.”

“How so?”

“Here we have followed further developments of the plans and ideas of Hermann Oberth. The consumed air flows through a black tube filled with potassium hydroxide, which runs along the shady side of the rocket. In this all the impurities are deposited. Only the purified oxygen and nitrogen are conducted to the sunny side, are warmed again there, and return once more into the cabin as perfectly good air.”

“Then it is an eternal cycle which is carried on.”

Meanwhile Korus had been looking intently out of the window.

“Where are we actually?”

“That I can tell you with fair exactness. Apart from the initial velocity caused by the explosion, which could not be recorded at all, we traveled during the first two hours, as long as we still had fuel, at the rate of 3600 kilometers an hour. Since the fuel gave out, our motion has become constant at 3000 kilometers an hour. Since we have now been about six hours en route, we have gone about 20,000 kilometers.”

“And how far is it to the moon?”

“The moon is about 360,000 kilometers from the earth. If we keep going at the rate of 3000 kilometers an hour, we should need therefore 120 hours for our trip, or, in round numbers, five days.”

“And for how long a time have we food and drink?”

“It is accidental that we have any, because I expected to be only two hours en route. If Apel nevertheless insisted on my taking along the most varied sorts of supplies, it was done to test out which things were best suited, in case it became a question of longer flights later on. It was also because he wanted to have the rocket make its ascent, so to speak, with full war load.”


While Egon was busy examining his apparatus and making trials of the gyroscopic controls, which showed him that the rocket obeyed every touch of his hand with extreme ease, the two young reporters set to work to go over the supplies.

“Damn it, Joe Allister knows the right sort of things. Here are fifty cans of preserved meat, here are some vegetables, here is stewed fruit. Here is ship-biscuit—soda water—wine—coffee— evaporated milk—tea—cocoa!”

In truth, it constantly happened that they forgot about the lessened gravity, picking up the cans too quickly, so that these floated around like balloons.

The two young men became more and more pleased, since they saw that exactly the proper temperature for them prevailed in the various wall-cabinets in which they were kept.

The American put his hand on Egon’s shoulder, saying, “We have food for at least six weeks, and now I am hungry.”

“I too.”

Egon roused himself from his thoughts.

“Then we will eat.”

Korus gave a loud cry of joy, as he opened a new cabinet.

“Here is a whole meal ready. Even a roast goose.”

Helmstatter stepped up, lifted the goose, and found under it a sheet of paper, which he read and at once hid away. There was nothing on it but the one name “Irene”.

For an instant he had to collect himself, in order not to betray his emotions. Irene Allister had provided this meal for him. He choked down his emotion and said, “Let us eat!”

He drew out of the wall the little shelf which served as a table. The American fetched dishes and “silver” from the cupboard. Indeed, everything was of unbreakable metal. Korus brought the roast goose, white bread, and the other delicacies. Of course all had been packed in tightly closed containers so placed between metal spring-devices so that the pressure had not been able to destroy them. Now they all began to eat. At first they had to accustom themselves to the fact that whatever they took in hand seemed to have become incredibly light. The morsels flew right into their mouths, and when Korus wanted to carve the goose, the heavy bird seemed to him lighter than a postage stamp. It was a good thing for all of them that the ever recurring comical events kept giving them cause for laughter.

Then Korus opened one of the ten champagne bottles, which he had found among the supplies.

Likewise these bottles, which were not made of glass but of metal, like all the rest of the vessels, had suffered no injury. When Korus now loosened the wire, to open the bottle, the cork flew with a quite extraordinary violence against the ceiling, while the champagne shot like a fountain into the air.

“Of course, the carbon dioxide has a much stronger effect now, too.”

Korus raised his glass, saying, “Here’s to the first trip to the moon!”

The American drank the toast. Then he refilled his glass and said, “Here’s to the first three travelers to the moon.”

Korus responded, “Here’s to the lucky chance that brought us together.”

Egon had also emptied the first glass quickly, but now he merely sipped slowly. He looked at these two young men. They could not be much over twenty-five. Carefree youth appeared in their eyes. Enthusiasm and boyish frivolity had made them quite forget that they were doomed to death. He had heard of such young men, during the frightful World War back in 1918, who, unconscious of danger, obeying only the feeling of ambition, hastened with song and laughter to meet the deadly bullet. He could not speak to them. Their gay spirit cut him to the heart. Still he could not disturb their mood. He crept into the narrow room, aft in the rocket, to investigate the apparatus, to determine what had been destroyed at the start and what was still serviceable.

Again a long time had passed. Egon found by feeling about that he was lying full length in the narrow room in which the hydrogen pumps were installed. He had been reflecting. Mentally he had gone over what had probably happened when the rocket was so suddenly torn from its supports and hurled up into space. Of course the barracks and the Chinese were destroyed. It was a pity in the case of the poor devils being victims to opium!

Probably the island was split—his heart almost stopped. Close by the shore had been anchored Joe Allister’s yacht.

The explosion must have cast up a most monstrous tidal wave. Surely the little yacht was covered with fragments and sunk.

Allister was dead—Irene was dead!

There was a pain in his heart and yet a feeling of calmness. He himself had no one on earth. There was neither a mother nor brothers and sisters to mourn the orphan. By scholarships and tutoring he had painfully secured his education. There was nobody dear to his heart except Irene Allister, and she was dead. Compared to him there was no person on earth so fit to sacrifice his life to science.

He returned to the cabin. It was late at night by earth standards. Exactly twelve-thirty. The first twenty-four hours of the trip were over. The measuring apparatus showed that they had gone 75,000 kilometers. Korus and the American were sitting at the table writing busily.

“What are you doing?”

“We are writing the reports for our newspapers.”

Egon smiled sorrowfully and thought to himself, “Reports that will never be read.” He seated himself and on his part wrote briefly the day’s observations. Then he took from one of the cupboards a beryllium case which could be sealed. This container was actually intended for containing small amounts of hydrogen.

“Are you finished, gentlemen?”

They both handed him their reports. Each had carefully sealed his manuscript in an envelope, addressed to his newspaper.

Egon smiled again. He added his notes and sealed the case, which he put away in the cupboard.

“Now we will sleep.”

All three stretched out side by side on the padded floor. The light was extinguished, and soon Egon heard his two frivolous young companions breathing evenly in peaceful sleep. He himself lay with open eyes. At ever constant speed the rocket shot through the blackness of space toward the moon, under the hard and brilliant stars.

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