“GO ON,” said Cavor, as I sat across the edge of the manhole, and looked down into the black interior of the sphere. We two were alone. It was evening, the sun had set, and the stillness of the twilight was upon everything.
I drew my other leg inside and slid down the smooth glass to the bottom of the sphere, then turned to take the cans of food and other impedimenta from Cavor. The interior was warm, the thermometer stood at eighty, and as we should lose little or none of this by radiation, we were dressed in shoes and thin flannels. We had, however, a bundle of thick woollen clothing and several thick blankets to guard against mischance.
By Cavor’s direction I placed the packages, the cylinders of oxygen, and so forth, loosely about my feet, and soon we had everything in. He walked about the roofless shed for a time seeking anything we had overlooked, and then crawled in after me. I noted something in his hand.
“What have you got there?” I asked.
“Haven’t you brought anything to read?”
“Good Lord! No.”
“I forgot to tell you. There are uncertainties — The voyage may last — We may be weeks!”
“We shall be floating in this sphere with absolutely no occupation.”
“I wish I’d known”
He peered out of the manhole. “Look!” he said. “There’s something there!”
“Is there time?”
“We shall be an hour.”
I looked out. It was an old number of Tit-Bits that one of the men must have brought. Farther away in the corner I saw a torn Lloyd’s News. I scrambled back into the sphere with these things. “What have you got?” I said.
I took the book from his hand and read, “The Works of William Shakespeare”.
He coloured slightly. “My education has been so purely scientific —” he said apologetically.
“Never read him?”
“He knew a little, you know — in an irregular sort of way.”
“Precisely what I am told,” said Cavor.
I assisted him to screw in the glass cover of the manhole, and then he pressed a stud to close the corresponding blind in the outer case. The little oblong of twilight vanished. We were in darkness. For a time neither of us spoke. Although our case would not be impervious to sound, everything was very still. I perceived there was nothing to grip when the shock of our start should come, and I realised that I should be uncomfortable for want of a chair.
“Why have we no chairs?” I asked.
“I’ve settled all that,” said Cavor. “We won’t need them.”
“You will see,” he said, in the tone of a man who refuses to talk.
I became silent. Suddenly it had come to me clear and vivid that I was a fool to be inside that sphere. Even now, I asked myself, is to too late to withdraw? The world outside the sphere, I knew, would be cold and inhospitable enough for me — for weeks I had been living on subsidies from Cavor — but after all, would it be as cold as the infinite zero, as inhospitable as empty space? If it had not been for the appearance of cowardice, I believe that even then I should have made him let me out. But I hesitated on that score, and hesitated, and grew fretful and angry, and the time passed.
There came a little jerk, a noise like champagne being uncorked in another room, and a faint whistling sound. For just one instant I had a sense of enormous tension, a transient conviction that my feet were pressing downward with a force of countless tons. It lasted for an infinitesimal time.
But it stirred me to action. “Cavor!” I said into the darkness, “my nerve’s in rags. I don’t think —”
I stopped. He made no answer.
“Confound it!” I cried; “I’m a fool! What business have I here? I’m not coming, Cavor. The thing’s too risky. I’m getting out.”
“You can’t,” he said.
“Can’t! We’ll soon see about that!”
He made no answer for ten seconds. “It’s too late for us to quarrel now, Bedford,” he said. “That little jerk was the start. Already we are flying as swiftly as a bullet up into the gulf of space.”
“I—” I said, and then it didn’t seem to matter what happened. For a time I was, as it were, stunned; I had nothing to say. It was just as if I had never heard of this idea of leaving the world before. Then I perceived an unaccountable change in my bodily sensations. It was a feeling of lightness, of unreality. Coupled with that was a queer sensation in the head, an apoplectic effect almost, and a thumping of blood vessels at the ears. Neither of these feelings diminished as time went on, but at last I got so used to them that I experienced no inconvenience.
I heard a click, and a little glow lamp came, into being.
I saw Cavor’s face, as white as I felt my own to be. We regarded one another in silence. The transparent blackness of the glass behind him made him seem as though he floated in a void.
“Well, we’re committed,” I said at last.
“Yes,” he said, “we’re committed.”
“Don’t move,” he exclaimed, at some suggestion of a gesture. “Let your muscles keep quite lax — as if you were in bed. We are in a little universe of our own. Look at those things!”
He pointed to the loose cases and bundles that had been lying on the blankets in the bottom of the sphere. I was astonished to see that they were floating now nearly a foot from the spherical wall. Then I saw from his shadow that Cavor was no longer leaning against the glass. I thrust out my hand behind me, and found that I too was suspended in space, clear of the glass.
I did not cry out nor gesticulate, but fear came upon me. It was like being held and lilted by something — you know not what. The mere touch of my hand against the glass moved me rapidly. I understood what had happened, but that did not prevent my being afraid. We were cut off from all exterior gravitation, only the attraction of objects within our sphere had effect. Consequently everything that was not fixed to the glass was falling — slowly because of the slightness of our masses — towards the centre of gravity of our little world, which seemed to be somewhere about the middle of the sphere, but rather nearer to myself than Cavor, on account of my greater weight.
“We must turn round,” said Cavor, “and float back to back, with the things between us.”
It was the strangest sensation conceivable, floating thus loosely in space, at first indeed horribly strange, and when the horror passed, not disagreeable at all, exceeding restful; indeed, the nearest thing in earthly experience to it that I know is lying on a very thick, soft feather bed. But the quality of utter detachment and independence! I had not reckoned on things like this. I had expected a violent jerk at starting, a giddy sense of speed. Instead I felt — as if I were disembodied. It was not like the beginning of a journey; it was like the beginning of a dream.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02