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"Yes, I should like very much to know," replied the professor.
"Our greatest mathematician, 459C-79, will tell it to you." The mathematician stepped forward. Upon one side of his cube were many b.u.t.tons arranged in long columns and squares.
"What is your unit of measuring?" he asked.
"How many times more is a mile than is the length of your rocket satellite?"
"My rocket is fifteen feet long. A mile is five thousand two hundred and eighty feet."
The mathematician depressed a few b.u.t.tons.
"How far, or how many miles from the sun was your planet at that time?"
"Ninety-three million miles," was the reply.
"And your world's satellite--which you call moon from your planet--earth?"
"Two hundred and forty thousand miles."
"And your rocket?"
"I figured it to go about sixty-five thousand miles from the earth."
"It was only twenty thousand miles from the earth when we picked it up,"
said the mathematician, depressing a few more b.u.t.tons. "The moon and sun are also much nearer your planet now."
Professor Jameson gave way to a mental e.j.a.c.u.l.a.t.i.o.n of amazement.
"Do you know how long you have cruised around the planet in your own satellite?" said the mathematician. "Since you began that journey, the planet which you call the earth has revolved around the sun over forty million times."
"Forty--million--years!" exclaimed Professor Jameson haltingly.
"Humanity must then have all perished from the earth long ago! I'm the last man on earth!"
"It is a dead world now," interjected 25X-987.
"Of course," elucidated the mathematician, "those last few million years are much shorter than the ones in which you lived. The earth's...o...b..t is of less diameter and its speed of revolution is greatly increased, due to its proximity to the cooling sun. I should say that your year was some four times as long as the time in which it now takes your old planet to circ.u.mnavigate the sun.
"How many days were there in your year?"
"Three hundred and sixty-five."
"The planet has now ceased rotating entirely."
"Seems queer that your rocket satellite should avoid the meteors so long," observed 459C-79, the mathematician.
"Automatic radium repulsion rays," explained the professor.
"The very rays which kept us from approaching your rocket," stated 25X-987, "until we neutralized them."
"You died and were shot out into s.p.a.ce long before any life occurred on Zor," soliloquized one of the machine men. "Our people had not yet even been born when yours had probably disappeared entirely from the face of the earth."
"Hearken to 72N-4783," said 25X-987, "he is our philosopher, and he just loves to dwell on the past life of Zor when we were flesh and blood creatures with the threat of death hanging always over our heads. At that time, like the life you knew, we were born, we lived and died, all within a very short time, comparatively."
"Of course, time has come to mean nothing to us, especially when we are out in s.p.a.ce," observed 72N-4783. "We never keep track of it on our expeditions, though back in Zor such accounts are accurately kept. By the way, do you know how long we stood here while you recounted to us the history of your planet? Our machine bodies never get tired, you know."
"Well," ruminated Professor Jameson, giving a generous allowance of time. "I should say about a half a day, although it seemed scarcely as long as that."
"We listened to you for four days," replied 72N-4783.
Professor Jameson was really aghast.
"Really, I hadn't meant to be such a bore," he apologized.
"That is nothing," replied the other. "Your story was interesting, and if it had been twice as long, it would not have mattered, nor would it have seemed any longer. Time is merely relative, and in s.p.a.ce actual time does not exist at all, any more than your forty million years'
cessation of life seemed more than a few moments to you. We saw that it was so when your first thought impressions reached us following your revival."
"Let us continue on to your planet earth," then said 25X-987. "Perhaps we shall find more startling disclosures there."
As the s.p.a.ce s.h.i.+p of the Zoromes approached the sphere from which Professor Jameson had been hurled in his rocket forty million years before, the professor was wondering how the earth would appear, and what radical changes he would find. Already he knew that the geographical conditions of the various continents were changed. He had seen as much from the s.p.a.ce s.h.i.+p.
A short time later the earth was reached. The s.p.a.ce travelers from Zor, as well as Professor Jameson, emerged from the cosmic flyer to walk upon the surface of the planet. The earth had ceased rotating, leaving one-half its surface always toward the sun. This side of the earth was heated to a considerable degree, while its antipodes, turned always away from the solar luminary, was a cold, frigid, desolate waste. The s.p.a.ce travelers from Zor did not dare to advance very far into either hemisphere, but landed on the narrow, thousand-mile strip of territory separating the earth's frozen half from its sun-baked antipodes.
As Professor Jameson emerged from the s.p.a.ce s.h.i.+p with 25X-987, he stared in awe at the great transformation four hundred thousand centuries had wrought. The earth's surface, its sky and the sun were all so changed and unearthly appearing. Off to the east the blood red ball of the slowly cooling sun rested upon the horizon, lighting up the eternal day.
The earth's rotation had ceased entirely, and it hung motionless in the sky as it revolved around its solar parent, its...o...b..t slowly but surely cutting in toward the great body of the sun. The two inner planets, Mercury and Venus, were now very close to the blood red orb whose scintillating, dazzling brilliance had been lost in its cooling process.
Soon, the two nearer planets would succ.u.mb to the great pull of the solar luminary and return to the flaming folds, from which they had been hurled out as gaseous bodies in the dim, age-old past, when their careers had just begun.
The atmosphere was nearly gone, so rarefied had it become, and through it Professor Jameson could view with amazing clarity without discomfort to his eyes the bloated body of the dying sun. It appeared many times the size he had seen it at the time of his death, on account of its relative nearness. The earth had advanced a great deal closer to the great star around which it swung.
The sky towards the west was pitch black except for the iridescent twinkle of the fiery stars which studded that section of the heavens. As he watched, a faint glow suffused the western sky, gradually growing brighter, the full moon majestically lifted itself above the horizon, casting its pale, ethereal radiance upon the dying world beneath. It was increased to many times the size Professor Jameson had ever seen it during his natural lifetime. The earth's greater attraction was drawing upon the moon just as the sun was pulling the earth ever nearer itself.
This cheerless landscape confronting the professor represented the state of existence to which the earth had come. It was a magnificent spread of loneliness which bore no witness to the fact that it had seen the teeming of life in better ages long ago. The weird, yet beautiful scene, spread in a melancholy panorama before his eyes, drove his thoughts into gloomy abstraction with its dismal, depressing influence. Its funereal, oppressive aspect smote him suddenly with the chill of a terrible loneliness.
25X-987 aroused Professor Jameson from his lethargic reverie. "Let us walk around and see what we can find. I can understand how you feel in regard to the past. It is quite a shock--but it must happen to all worlds sooner or later--even to Zor. When that time comes, the Zoromes will find a new planet on which to live. If you travel with us, you will become accustomed to the sight of seeing dead, lifeless worlds as well as new and beautiful ones pulsating with life and energy. Of course, this world being your own, holds a peculiar sentimental value to you, but it is really one planet among billions."
Professor Jameson was silent.
"I wonder whether or not there are any ruins here to be found?" queried 25X-987.
"I don't believe so," replied the professor. "I remember hearing an eminent scientist of my day state that, given fifty thousand years, every structure and other creation of man would be obliterated entirely from off the earth's surface."
"And he was right," endorsed the machine man of Zor. "Time is a great effacer."