They were moving sluggishly along the red light, seeming to flow rather than crawl. McQUARRİE, the City Editor, looked up as I entered his office. “Bond,” he asked, “do you know Jim Carpenter?” “I know him slightly,” I replied cautiously. “I have met him several times and I interviewed him some years ago when he improved the Hadley rocket motor. I can’t claim a very extensive acquaintance with him.” “I thought you knew him well. It is a surprise to me to find that there is any prominent man who is not an especial friend of yours. At any rate you know him as well as anyone of the staff, so I’ll give you the assignment.” For eighty vertical miles Carpenter and Bond blasted their way—only to be trapped by the extraordinary monsters of the heaviside layer. “What’s he up to now?” I asked. “He’s going to try to punch a hole in the heaviside layer.” “But that’s impossible,” I cried. “How can anyone….” My voice died away in silence. True enough, the idea of trying to make a permanent hole in a field of magnetic force was absurd, but even as I spoke I remembered that Jim Carpenter had never agreed to the opinion almost unanimously held by our scientists as to the true nature of the heaviside layer.
“It may be impossible,” replied McQuarrie dryly, “but you are not hired by this paper as a scientific consultant. For some reason, God alone knows why, the owner thinks that you are a reporter. Get down there and try to prove he is right by digging up a few facts about Carpenter’s attempt. Wire your stuff in and Peavey will write it up. On this one occasion, please try to conceal your erudition and send in your story in simple words of one syllable which uneducated men like Peavey and me can comprehend. That’s all.” HE turned again to his desk and I left the room. At one time I would have come from such an interview with my face burning, but McQuarrie’s vitriol slid off me like water off a duck’s back. He didn’t really mean half of what he said, and he knew as well as I did that his crack about my holding my job with the Clarion as a matter of pull was grossly unjust. It is true that I knew Trimble, the owner of the Clarion, fairly well, but I got my job without any aid from him.
McQuarrie himself hired me and I held my job because he hadn’t fired me, despite the caustic remarks which he addressed to me. I had made the mistake when I first got on the paper of letting McQuarrie know that I was a graduate electrical engineer from Leland University, and he had held it against me from that day on. I don’t know whether he really held it seriously against me or not, but what I have written above is a fair sample of his usual manner toward me. In point of fact I had greatly minimized the extent of my acquaintance with Jim Carpenter. I had been in Leland at the same time that he was and had known him quite well. When I graduated, which was two years after he did, I worked for about a year in his laboratory, and my knowledge of the improvement which had made the Hadley rocket motor a practicability came from first hand knowledge and not from an interview. That was several years before but I knew that he never forgot an acquaintance, let alone a friend, and while I had left him to take up other work our parting had been pleasant, and I looked forward with real pleasure to seeing him again. JIM Carpenter, the stormy petrel of modern science! The eternal iconoclast: the perpetual opponent! He was probably as deeply versed in the theory of electricity and physical chemistry as any man alive, but it pleased him to pose as a “practical” man who knew next to nothing of theory and who despised the little he did know. His great delight was to experimentally smash the most beautifully constructed theories which were advanced and taught in the colleges and universities of the world, and when he couldn’t smash them by experimental evidence, to attack them from the standpoint of philosophical reasoning and to twist around the data on which they were built and make it prove, or seem to prove, the exact opposite of what was generally accepted. No one questioned his ability.
When the ill-fated Hadley had first constructed the rocket motor which bears his name it was Jim Carpenter who made it practical. Hadley had tried to disintegrate lead in order to get his back thrust from the atomic energy which it contained and proved by apparently unimpeachable mathematics that lead was the only substance which could be used. Jim Carpenter had snorted through the pages of the electrical journals and had turned out a modification of Hadley’s invention which disintegrated aluminum. The main difference in performance was that, while Hadley’s original motor would not develop enough power to lift itself from the ground, Carpenter’s modification produced twenty times the horsepower per pound of weight of any previously known generator of power and changed the rocket ship from a wild dream to an everyday commonplace. WHEN Hadley later constructed his space flyer and proposed to visit the moon, it was Jim Carpenter who ridiculed the idea of the attempt being successful. He proposed the novel and weird idea that the path to space was not open, but that the earth and the atmosphere were enclosed in a hollow sphere of impenetrable substance through which Hadley’s space flyer could not pass. How accurate were his prognostications was soon known to everyone. Hadley built and equipped his flyer and started off on what he hoped would be an epoch making flight. It was one, but not in the way which he had hoped. His ship took off readily enough, being powered with four rocket motors working on Carpenter’s principle, and rose to a height of about fifty miles, gaining velocity rapidly.
At that point his velocity suddenly began to drop. He was in constant radio communication with the earth and he reported his difficulty. Carpenter advised him to turn back while he could, but Hadley kept on. Slower and slower became his progress, and after he had penetrated ten miles into the substance which hindered him, his ship stuck fast. Instead of using his bow motors and trying to back out, he had moved them to the rear, and with the combined force of his four motors he had penetrated for another two miles. There he insanely tried to force his motors to drive him on until his fuel was exhausted. He had lived for over a year in his space flyer, but all of his efforts did not serve to materially change his position. He had tried, of course, to go out through his air locks and explore space, but his strength, even although aided by powerful levers, could not open the outer doors of the locks against the force which was holding them shut. Careful observations were continuously made of the position of his flyer and it was found that it was gradually returning toward the earth. Its motion was very slight, not enough to give any hope for the occupant.
Starting from a motion so slow that it could hardly be detected, the velocity of return gradually accelerated; and three years after Hadley’s death, the flyer was suddenly released from the force which held it, and it plunged to the earth, to be reduced by the force of its fall to a twisted, pitiful mass of unrecognizable junk. THE remains were examined, and the iron steel parts were found to be highly magnetized. This fact was seized upon by the scientists of the world and a theory was built up of a magnetic field of force surrounding the earth through which nothing of a magnetic nature could pass. This theory received almost universal acceptance, Jim Carpenter alone of the more prominent men of learning refusing to admit the validity of it. He gravely stated it as his belief that no magnetic field existed, but that the heaviside layer was composed of some liquid of high viscosity whose density and consequent resistance to the passage of a body through it increased in the ratio of the square of the distance to which one penetrated into it. There was a moment of stunned surprise when he announced his radical idea, and then a burst of Jovian laughter shook the scientific press. Carpenter was in his glory. For months he waged a bitter controversy in the scientific journals and when he failed to win converts by this method, he announced that he would prove it by blasting a way into space through the heaviside layer, a thing which would be patently impossible were it a field of force. He had lapsed into silence for two years and his curt note to the Associated Press to the effect that he was now ready to demonstrate his experiment was the first intimation the world had received of his progress. I DREW expense money from the cashier and boarded the Lark for Los Angeles.
When I arrived I went to a hotel and at once called Carpenter on the telephone. “Jim Carpenter speaking,” came his voice presently. “Good evening, Mr. Carpenter,” I replied, “this is Bond of the San Francisco Clarion.” I would be ashamed to repeat the language which came over that telephone. I was informed that all reporters were pests and that I was a doubly obnoxious specimen and that were I within reach I would be promptly assaulted and that reporters would be received at nine the next morning and no earlier or later. “Just a minute, Mr. Carpenter,” I cried as he neared the end of his peroration and was, I fancied, about to slam up the receiver. “Don’t you remember me? I was at Leland with you and used to work in your laboratory in the atomic disintegration section.” “What’s your name?” he demanded.
“Bond, Mr. Carpenter.” “Oh, First Mortgage! Certainly I remember you. Mighty glad to hear your voice. How are you?” “Fine, thank you, Mr. Carpenter. I would not have ventured to call you had I not known you. I didn’t mean to impose and I’ll be glad to see you in the morning at nine.” “Not by a long shot,” he cried. “You’ll come up right away.
Where are you staying?” “At the El Rey.” “Well, check out and come right up here. There’s lots of room for you here at the plant and I’ll be glad to have you. I want at least one intelligent report of this experiment and you should be able to write it. I’ll look for you in an hour.” “I don’t want to impose—” I began; but he interrupted. “Nonsense, glad to have you. I needed someone like you badly and you have come just in the nick of time. I’ll expect you in an hour.”