A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
"I went back to science fiction to try a few experiments …and my first experiment was a disaster…"
- Alfred Bester
|Self-Sustaining Nuclear Reaction
|An 'atomic fire' is started that consumes all matter in reach!
Like Edison, a human and an alien try endless combinations of materials to create an atomic fire:
The cover was removed from the
great caldron-like furnace and an odd set of metallic
plates was placed inside, together with a small quantity
of mercury. Then the cover was replaced and the air
exhausted from the interior by means of a small electric
pump. For a whole day a current with titanic voltage
and strength crackled between the plates. Aggar Ho
and Sark Ahar, wearing thick goggles and hiding behind
lead shields, which alone saved their lives from the
dangerous emanations, watched the white-hot inferno
through a little quartz window set in the side of the
furnace. The whole ship fairly reeked with heat, and
the meters registered an enormous consumption of
power. Finally Aggar Ho threw the great switches.
The light slowly faded from the plates. The first attempt had been a failure. Mercury had refused to give
up its atomic energy.
The plates were changed and another substance was
placed in the furnace — this time silicon. Another trial
was made — also without any hint of success.
Day after day the same soul-searing work went on —
new elements, new compounds, new plates, new voltages
— all to no avail.
Finally, the two are successful.
|Sark Ahar awoke with a start. His dream had been
part reality. The chamber was glowing like a white hot
inferno, and flickering black shadows of fantastic pieces
of apparatus were dancing on the walls. The light in
the illuminating globes had somehow died out. The
young Aerthian could hear a thunderous roar quite dis-
tinct from the noise the furnace had once produced. It
was louder and more terrible. The air all about was
terrifically hot. It scalded Sark Ahar's lungs. There
was a vapor in it — a strange fiery gas. He could see
long, slender pencilings of it reaching over and under the
thick lead shields around the furnace like the tentacles
of a luminous octopus. Luckily for him he was behind
one of those lead shields ; if he had not been, the deadly
emanations would have killed him.
What had happened? Atomic energy! Atomic
energy at last! The words fairly shrieked through his
brain. But what of it? It was too late to do anything.
Besides, that terrific power couldn't be controlled. He'd
almost forgotten that. It couldn't be controlled!
He grabbed a long buckler-like sheet of lead which had
a hand-grip on one side of it. It was convex and was
as tall as a man and resembled the shields which archers
of a forgotten antiquity had used. It would protect
him from the dangerous rays.
He held it out in front of him and peered through the
glazed peep-hole which was on a level with his eyes.
The bottom of the furnace must have melted away.
There was a dazzling mass of bluish incandescence visible beneath the lead shields around the caldron-like
piece of apparatus. It was hissing and spitting like a
violently active chemical. The steel floor was burning!
And the atomic fire was spreading — consuming everything in its path! In a few minutes the whole ship
would be a fiery mass of incandescence!
...A CRAZY idea, that marked him forever as a genius,
came to Sark Ahar. How it was born no man
may tell. Quick as a flash he gripped the steering lever
and swung it around a full quarter turn. The space
flier lurched, then it swung inward and headed straight
toward the moon, falling more and more rapidly every
...The pieces of the space-ship glowed brighter and
continued their headlong descent. Still Sark Ahar
dove after them. In a few minutes the fragments
crashed into the satellite, scattering themselves over
mountain, crater and dead sea bottom. Nor did their
fire die out! It increased in intensity fed by the fine
sand which covered most of the moon. It was spreading rapidly, enveloping everything in its path.
Sark Ahar was smiling. "Do you understand,
Chief?" he asked.
Aggar Ho had completely forgotten his habitual calm.
"I do !" he cried. "You meant to kindle an atomic fire
on the moon and make it take the place of our sun!
And you have succeeded!"
The two men returned to Aerth. Within three days
the moon's surface had become entirely incandescent.
|Technovelgy from Atomic Fire,
by Raymond Z. Gallun.
Published by Amazing Stories in 1931
Additional resources -
Arthur C. Clarke uses the same basic idea at the end of 2010.
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