Lords of the Stratosphere
Lords of the Stratosphere
Chapter 1 The Take-off
I t seemed only fitting and proper that the greatest of all leaps into space should start from Roosevelt Field, where so many great flights had begun and ended. Fliers whose names had rung-for a space-around the world, had landed here and been received by New York with all the pomp of visiting kings. Fliers had departed here for the lands of kings, to be received by them when their journeys were ended.
Of course Lucian Jeter and Tema Eyer were disappointed that Franz Kress had beaten them out in the race to be first into the stratosphere above fifty-five thousand feet. There was a chance that Kress would fail, when it would be the turn of Jeter and Eyer. They didn't wish for his failure, of course. They were sports-men as well as scientists; but they were just human enough to anticipate the plaudits of the world which would be showered without stint upon the fliers who succeeded.
"At least, Tema," said Jeter quietly, "we can look his ship over and see if there is anything about it that will suggest something to us. Of course, whether he succeeds or fails, we shall make the attempt as soon as we are ready."
"Indeed, yes," replied Eyer. "For no man will ever fly so high that another may not fly even higher. Once planes are constructed of unlimited flying radius ... well, the universe is large and there should be no end of space fights for a long time."
Eyer, the elder of the two partner scientists, was given sometimes to quiet biting sarcasm that almost took the hide off. Jeter never minded greatly, for he knew Eyer thoroughly and liked him immensely. Besides they were complements to each other. The brain of each received from the other exactly that which he needed to supplement his own knowledge of science.
They had one other thing in common. They had been "child prodigies," but contrary to the usual rule, they had both fulfilled their early promise. Their early precocious wisdom had not vanished with the passing of childhood. Each possessed a name with which to conjure in the world of science. And each possessed that name by right of having made it famous. And yet-they were under forty.
Jeter was a slender athletic chap with deep blue eyes and brown hair. His forehead was high and unnaturally white. There was always a still sort of tenseness about him when his mind was working with some idea that set him apart from the rest of the world. You felt then that you couldn't have broken his preoccupation in any manner at all-but that if by some miracle you did, he would wither you with his wrath.
Tema Eyer was the good nature of the partnership, with a brain no less agile and profound. He was a swart fellow, straight as an arrow, black of eyes-the sort which caused both men and women to turn and look after him on the street. Children took to both men on sight.
The crowd which had come out to watch the take-off of Franz Kress was a huge one-huge and restless. There had been much publicity attendant on this flight, none of it welcome to Kress. Oh, later, if he succeeded, he would welcome publicity, but publicity in advance rather nettled him.
Jeter and Eyer went across to him as he was saying his last words into the microphone before stepping into his sealed cabin for the flight. Kress saw them coming and his face lighted up.
"Lord," he said, "I'm glad to see you two. I've something I must ask you."
"Anything you ask will be answered," said Jeter, "if Tema and I can answer it. Or granted-if it's a favor you wish."
Kress motioned people back in order to speak more or less privately with his brother scientists. His face became unusually grave.
"You've probably wondered-everybody has-why I insist on making this flight alone," he said, speaking just loudly enough to be heard above the purring of the mighty, but almost silent motor b